Monthly Archives: December 2019

The pathway

The hardness and smell of oakwood began to speak more distinctly of the slowness and constancy in the tree’s growth. The oak itself spoke: Only in such growth is grounded what lasts and fructifies. Growing means this: to open oneself up to the breadth of heaven and at the same time to sink roots into the darkness of earth. Whatever is genuine thrives only if man does justice to both—ready for the appeal of highest heaven, and cared for in the protection of sustaining earth.

Again and again the oak says this to the pathway passing securely by. The pathway collects whatever has its being along the way; to all who pass this way it gives what is theirs. The same fields and meadows accompany the pathway through each season with an ever-changing nearness. Whether the Alps above the forests are sinking away into the evening twilight, whether there where the pathway swings over the rolling hill the lark climbs into the summer morning, whether the East-wind approaches in storm from over where mother’s home lies, whether a woodsman as night nears drags his bundle of brushwood to the hearth, whether a harvesting wagon sways homeward in the pathway’s tracks, whether children are gathering the first flowers at meadow’s edge, whether fog for days moves its gloom and burden over the fields—always and everywhere the message of the same rests on the pathway:

The Simple preserves the puzzle of what remains and what is great. Spontaneously it enters men and needs a lengthy growth. With the unpretentiousness of the ever-same it hides its blessing. The breadth of all growing things which rest along the pathway bestows world. In what remains unsaid in their speech is—as Eckhardt, the old master of letter and life, says—God, only God.

But the message of the pathway speaks just so long as there are men (born in its breeze) who can hear it. They are hearers of their origin, not servants of their production. In vain does man try with his plans to bring order to his globe if he does not order himself to the message of the pathway. The danger looms that today’s men are hard of hearing towards its language. They have ears only for the noise of media, which they consider to be almost the voice of God. So man becomes distracted and path-less. The Simple seems monotonous to the distracted. The monotonous brings weariness. The annoyed find only the uniform. The Simple has fled. Its quiet power is exhausted. Certainly the number of those who still recognize the Simple as their hard-earned possession is quickly diminishing.

[…]

In the pathway’s seasonally changing breeze this knowing serenity (whose mien often seems melancholy) thrives. This serene knowing is ‘das Kuinzige’. No one wins it who does not have it. Those who have it, have it from the pathway. Along its path winter’s storm encounters harvest’s day, the agile excitation of Spring and the detached dying of Autumn meet, the child’s game and the elder’s wisdom gaze at each other. And in a unique harmony, whose echo the pathway carries with it silently here and there, everything is sparked serene.

This knowing serenity is a gate to the eternal. Its door turns on hinges once forged out of the puzzles of human existence by a skilled smith.

From Ehnried the way turns back to the park gate. Over a final hill its narrow ribbon runs through moorland until it reaches the town wall. It shines dimly in the starlight. Behind the Schloss the tower of Saint Martin’s church rises. Slowly, almost hesitatingly, eleven strokes of the hour sound in the night. The old bell, on whose ropes boys’ hands have been rubbed hot, shakes under the blows of the hour’s hammer whose dark-droll face no one forgets.

With the last stroke the stillness becomes yet more still. It reaches out even to those who have been sacrificed before time in two world wars. The Simple has become simpler. The ever-same surprises and frees. The message of the pathway is now quite clear. Is the soul speaking? Is the world speaking? Is God speaking?

Everything speaks abandonment unto the same. Abandonment does not take. Abandonment gives. It gives the inexhaustible power of the Simple. The message makes us at home after a long origin here.

— Heidegger, ‘The Pathway’, 1949 (trans. O’Meara)

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A moment of vision

 Arising, as it does, from a resolute projection of oneself, repetition does not let itself be persuaded of something by what is ‘past’, just in order that this, as something which was formerly actual, may recur. Rather, the repetition makes a reciprocative rejoinder to the possibility of that existence which has-been-there. But when such a rejoinder is made to this possibility in a resolution, it is made in a moment of vision; and as such it is at the same time a disavowal of that which in the ‘today is working itself out as the ‘past’. Repetition does not abandon itself to that which is past, nor does it aim at progress. In the moment of vision authentic existence is indifferent to both these alternatives.

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

The ordinary way of experiencing time divides it into a series of present-at-hand now-points. Experienced in this way, the now-time (Jetzt-Zeit ) is totally emptied of meaning, rendered homogeneous, repetitive, one-dimensional: it becomes a decayed version of Plato’s “image of eternity”, a form of endless suffering, dull and meaningless, bereft of radical hope. Heidegger argues that neither the authentic “will be” nor the authentic “having-been” can be understood in terms of such a series of “now-times.” Thus, just as there is a fallen, pathological experience of the future and the present, so too there is a fallen, pathological memory-experience of the past: a way of remembering that is really, when more deeply experienced, a kind of forgetting; a way of relating to what is past which is incapable of receiving it in a way that is open to what it bears—the unrealized “potentialities-for-being,” the possible “destinies,” that the past always carries forward. Dasein’s “has-been” is not a reified past, exhausted and final, but that out of which futures are yet to be made.

— Levin, The Philosopher’s Gaze

Being in the World

When he was old and dying he wrote great poems. Early in January of 1939 he wrote his last poem. He did not know that he had written his last poem, and on 4 January he began a letter:

‘I know for certain that my time will not be long. I have put away everything that can be put away that I may speak what I have to speak … In two or three weeks — I am now idle that I may rest after writing much verse — I will begin to write my most fundamental thoughts … It seems to me that I have found what I wanted. When I try to put it all into a phrase I say, “Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.” … The abstract is not life and everywhere draws out its contradictions. You can refute Hegel but not the Saint or the Song of Sixpence …’

Three weeks later Yeats died — instead of writing his ‘most fundamental thoughts’. But he had done it all along, and he had done it because he never thought he had done it. It is the best possible death, still to pursue the desire of a life, into the grave.

Donald Hall

A moment that founds belonging

If there is such a pre-theoretical belonging, then thinking about it would have to be a non-theoretical thinking. This thinking would be an attention that dwelled in and on one’s own, that accepted its own belonging to belonging. Such thought would have to search for the source of belonging itself — the event of the upsurge of the own and the alien, the appropriate and the inappropriate, coherence and incoherence. And such an event may be an emergency — a moment that founds belonging by unsettling us, that outlines the whole by exposing us to nothingness.

— Richard Polt, The Emergency of Being: Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy

Dull suffering

In everydayness, Dasein can undergo dull ‘suffering’, sink away in the dullness of it, and evade it by seeking new ways in which its dispersion in its affairs may be further dispersed. In the moment, but often just for that moment, existence can even gain mastery over the ‘everyday’, but it can never extinguish it.

– Heidegger, Being and Time

Emergency

Maybe without the opportunity to make being our own that is provided by ruptures in our familiar world, we could not return to that world and truly inhabit it. Maybe without emergency, we could never truly belong. Our starting point – immersion in a familiar whole – may be nothing but the effect of forgotten emergencies. Emergency generates being, opening a world – but then we lapse or relapse *into* this world. Once again, we take the given for granted. The un-settling emergency that made genuine settlement possible tends to be forgotten as we settle into our home and settle for the quotidian. Fighting against this lapse would mean allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to emergency – an emergency that is not simply handed to us but which we must also seize; an event in which all being, including our own, would become urgent; an event in which we would fully *be there*; an event that would found belonging.

– Richard Polt, The Emergency of Being: Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy

The everyday has lost its authority

For most of us most of the time, the given as such is no problem at all. Things in general are simply available and present. We take them for granted: we do not recognize them either as something taken or as something granted. In ordinary experience we rely on beings, use them, and refer to them, without reflecting on the fact that they are accessible in the first place. Just as we automatically expect the ground to support us when we take a step, we count on the subsistence of the whole of beings in our every act. Plato’s word for our relation to corporeal things is also the right word for our prephilosophical relation to all things: pistis (Republic 511e), which is best interpreted neither as belief nor as faith, but as trust.

Of course, within the sphere of things as a whole, there are problems and limits in abundance. Particulars are often untrustworthy or unavailable, painfully and importantly so. Our need for these nongiven things consumes our energy and our thought. We hunt, plan, communicate, and calculate as we try to secure the insecure. Getting beings can even become our main way to relate to them; we then treat action as a matter of getting and keeping objects, and knowledge as a matter of getting and keeping information. But while we are engaged in this attempt to get things, we take the whole for granted as reliable and thus for-get it. Strictly speaking, since we may never have recognized the whole in the first place, one can say that it lies in oblivion.

We are primally familiar with the whole; we inhabit it. It is our own in the sense that we are comfortable in it, as a fish is comfortable in the sea. But this is why we cannot recognize it as our own, any more than a fish can recognize that it belongs in the sea and not on land. Precisely because we trust the whole, we cannot experience it as a whole. As long as we are immersed in it, it is impossible for us to encounter it as such.

In terms of philosophical positions, this moment corresponds to a naïve empiricism. In order to find the truth we are simply supposed to perceive what is there, get the facts about it, and generalize. This concept of knowledge will always be the most popular, because within our everyday immersion in the whole it functions perfectly well as a way of accumulating information. This attitude can pervade the most advanced scientific research no less than it pervades the most thoughtless, routine behavior; the questions and techniques may differ while the basic relation to the whole remains the same.

The experience of a whole as such requires a space that, paradoxically, is not contained within the whole. The verge of this space is the boundary that defines the whole, that allows it to be a “well-rounded sphere” (Parmenides, frag. 8). This limit divides what is from what is not. But in ordinary experience, nothingness is nothing; absence is absent. Particulars may be lacking and desired, but a radical other to beings as a whole is unsuspected. Things in general are present so thoroughly, so reliably, so inexhaustibly that they do not come into question.

How do we emerge from this immersion in the whole? Somehow, some of us sometimes draw back from everything and feel the breath of nothingness that makes it possible to encounter beings as a whole. From the everyday perspective, this event must remain not just mysterious but impossible: a relation to nothing is no relation at all. But from the perspective of this transformed relation to the whole, the everyday attitude has lost its authority.

– Richard Polt, The Emergency of Being: Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy