Sunday, July 12, 2009

Extreme Humanism and the Name(d): A Leap over the Threshold of Language (Part III of IV)

At first glance, the abyss separating human beings from animals within Heidegger’s work seems to allow for the greater possibility that human beings can be seen as privileged subjects and that they remain in a dominant position within a hierarchy of beings, thereby reestablishing the Judeo-Christiano-Islamic creation mythology. The reestablishing of such a hierarchy, however, runs counter to Heidegger’s call to deep thinking about being and our experience of dwelling within the truth of being in the world. Within his thoughtful delineation of the human being’s existence, Heidegger emphasizes, “The proposition ‘the human being alone exists’ does not at all mean that the human being alone is a real being while all other beings are unreal and mere appearances or human representations” (“Introduction” 284). Rather, Heidegger questions the questionability of such a hierarchy throughout his lecture course, insisting that even amoebae are no less perfect or complete than elephants or apes: “Every animal and every species of animal as such is just as perfect and complete as any other” (Concepts 194). Any difference that may exist between the human being and the animal, especially with an attribution of some specific difference to the human being, abandons “the human being to the essential realm of animalitas (“Letter” 246). As far as Heidegger is concerned, we are on the wrong track if this is our method. Instead, he wants to think humanism while not privileging the human, especially over being. The human being is not the animal which has logos (as logic) but rather the (animal) being that lets him- or herself be gathered by logos (as legein). Just as Buber is aware of how easily the mutuality of I-Thou can collapse into the instrumentalized I-It, Heidegger too considers how easy it is for the human being to stray away from his or her destiny of being. He warns that if we human beings do not allow being to in-form us, we deform into something less than animal: “However ready we are to rank man as a higher being with respect to the animal, such an assessment is deeply questionable, especially when we consider that man can sink lower than any animal. No animal can become depraved in the same way as man” (Concepts 194). Human beings can become deformed when we privilege our grasp of information as if objective information were an unconcealing of the truth of being. If indeed “knowledge is the remembrance of being” as Heidegger reminds us in “Anaximander’s Saying” (263), then, the memorization of mere information (as so-called objective fact) is the being’s forgetting.

We human beings also tend to forget the fact that our being is always already a being with. Heidegger defines the human being as one who is able to transpose him- or herself into the being of another human being. Even asking the question whether a human being can transpose into another is “fundamentally redundant”:

Insofar as human beings exist at all, they already find themselves transposed in their existence into other human beings, even if there are factically no other human beings in the vicinity. Consequently the Da-sein of man, the Da-sein in man means, not exclusively but amongst other things, being transposed into other human beings. The ability to transpose oneself into others and go along with them, with the Dasein in them, always already happens on the basis of man’s Dasein, and happens as Dasein. For the being-there of Da-sein means being with others, precisely in the manner of Dasein, i.e., existing with others. (Concepts 205)

It is the misperception of a gap that needs to be bridged between (and among) human beings that leads philosophy astray into metaphysics and a calling for(th) empathy—a seriously flawed concept that posits a lone, solipsistic, singular subject who is isolated from others (Concepts 206-7). Here Heidegger pulls back from explicitly defining the Da-sein of the human being as a being also with other non-human beings, but he leaves an opening into that possibility by “not exclusively” ruling out a transposition into the dumb animal. Is this “amongst others” a gesturing toward the possibility of a co-mingling of the human being’s world and the partial world of the animal? Can the misperceived gap between human beings not also point toward a misperceived abyss between human being and animal?

If we were to keep this possibility open—that being is always already a being with all other beings—then one can perhaps ask an even more difficult question: is there something human beings can learn from dumb animals? Can we begin to understand better our own (concealed) nest in being by thinking toward the animal’s nest? If a transposing into the animal is possible, how do we “translate” ourselves across the abyss in order to relate to our animal relations? Would such a transposition lead to a new elation (a new ecstasy vis-à-vis ek-stasis) due to a closer relation to animals, a relation in which we human beings divest ourselves of our prelate positionality? Buber suggests that we can indeed learn something from animals:

The eyes of an animal have the capacity of a great language. Independent, without any need of the assistance of sounds and gestures, most eloquent when they rest entirely in their glance, they express the mystery in its natural captivity, that is, in the anxiety of becoming. This state of the mystery is known only to the animal, which alone can open it up to us—for this state can only be opened up and not revealed … . This language is the stammering of nature under the initial grasp of spirit, before language yields to spirit’s cosmic risk which we call man. But no speech will ever repeat what the stammer is able to communicate. (144-5)

We human beings may indeed be separate from animals, and animals may indeed be mute and unable to respond to language’s call. But despite this, we nevertheless are responsible for animals—that is, we have in a Lévinasian sense the ability to respond to animals, to realize a response to them even within their muteness. We allow animals to enter into relation with us within language—the house of being we share with all other beings. Our responsibility for animals heuristically mirrors our responsibility to being. Human beings are the shepherds of being. “Shepherd” is informed by nature, by the nature of sheep. The shepherd is he or she who gathers together the dispersed herd of sheep, the human being who gathers together that which disperses itself, namely, being (as physis). Our proximity to (the presence of) dumb animals offers a heuristic opening to the (absence of the) gods who speak the truth of being.

No comments:

Post a Comment