Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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

Throughout his later work, Heidegger carefully divests us human beings from our subjectivism, our techno-productionist views of the world, as well as our various forms of humanisms; that is, he allows no room for the privileging of the human being, particularly that over being itself. The human being—the only being that being languages—has his or her dwelling in being concealed by language. This essence of the human being alone counters any argument that Heidegger somehow privileges human beings over other beings. How could the homelessness of the human being indeed assert a privileged position? Instead of just such a reassertion of the primacy of human beings, Heidegger seeks the human being outside metaphysical systems that confuse being with beings. He has no need for systems which define human beings simply in contradistinction to plant, beast, and God (“Letter” 246). One of the problems with humanism is that it comes to us by way of a Latin worldview; a Roman (mis)understanding of late Greek culture mediates our knowledge of Greek civilization (as well as of being). All humanisms—whether Roman, Marxist, existentialist, or Christian—“agree in this, that the humanitas of homo humanus is determined with regard to an already established interpretation of nature, history, world, and the ground of the world, that is, of beings as a whole” (“Letter” 245). But for Heidegger, being, on the contrary, is the openness wherein the essence of the human being unfolds. Our entry into that openness is language, the “clearing-concealing advent of being itself” (“Letter” 249). Being, as the clearing from which all physis arises, dwells within language. Language is not a purely objective phenomenon, however; it can be manipulated, surrendering itself “to our mere willing and trafficking as an instrument of domination over beings” (“Letter” 243). As being arrives in language, it does not simply become yet another being among beings. Instead, the ek-sisting human being—the one who stands out in the clearing of being—guards, preserves, sustains, and takes into “care” the clearing of being.

Heidegger, however, is not purely anti-humanism. Instead he offers an extreme humanism “that thinks the humanity of the human being from nearness to being” (“Letter” 261). This extreme humanism depends on thinking the truth of being which in turn “depends upon this alone, that the truth of being come to language and that thinking attain to this language” (“Letter” 261). Every language, though, is always already a metaphysics. Existing in the namelessness, for Heidegger, is a move beyond the metaphysics of language (toward an anarchical arche before the concealment of being within language): “But if the human being is to find his way once again into the nearness of being he must first learn to exist in the nameless” (“Letter” 243). Heidegger’s own discarding of his key terms “hermeneutics” and “phenomenology,” he confesses to a Japanese interlocutor, was “in order to abandon [his] own path of thinking to namelessness” (“Dialogue” 29). Perhaps here Heidegger is pointing toward a way of being more originary than the myth of Genesis, prior to the naming of the “lower” animals which established human beings as superior, thereby naming us their lords (instead of their shepherds). Perhaps this is the lesson we can learn from dumb animals: if we humans can learn to exist in our own namelessness, then maybe we can somehow make the leap (Ursprung) past all shoddy humanisms throughout history and even past metaphysics itself to Heidegger’s own extreme humanism which thinks the human being from within the nearness of being and as always already with all other beings.

Works Cited

Atterton, Peter. “Face-to-Face with the Other Animal?” Levinas & Buber: Dialogue & Difference. Eds. Peter Atterton, Matthew Calarco, and Maurice Friedman. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 2004. 262-281.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Scribner’s, 1970.

Heidegger, Martin. “Anaximander’s Saying.” Off the Beaten Track. Ed. and Trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes. New York: Cambridge UP, 2002. 242-281.

---. “A Dialogue on Language (Between a Japanese and an Inquirer).” On the Way to Language. Trans. Peter D. Hertz. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. 1-54.

---. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.

---. “Introduction to ‘What is Metaphysics?’” Pathmarks. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. Ed. William McNeill. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998. 277-290.

---. “Letter on ‘Humanism.’” Pathmarks. Trans. Frank A. Capuzzi. Ed. William McNeill. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998. 239-276.

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