Category Archives: Heidegger

This side of pessimism and optimism

The turning of the age does not take place by some new god, or the old one renewed, bursting into the world from ambush at some time or other. Where would he turn on his return if men had not first prepared an abode for him? How could there ever be for the god an abode fit for a god, if a divine radiance did not first begin to shine in everything that is?

The gods who “were once there,” “return” only at the “right time”—that is, when there has been a turn among men in the right place, in the right way. For this reason Holderlin writes:

. . . The heavenly powers

Cannot do all things. It is the mortals

Who reach sooner into the abyss. So the turn is

With these. Long is

The time, but the true comes into

Its own.

Long is the destitute time of the world’s night. To begin with, this requires a long time to reach to its middle. At this night’s midnight, the destitution of the time is greatest. Then the destitute time is no longer able even to experience its own destitution. That inability, by which even the destitution of the destitute state is obscured, is the time’s absolutely destitute character. The destitution is wholly obscured, in that it now appears as nothing more than the need that wants to be met. Yet we must think of the world’s night as a destiny that takes place this side of pessimism and optimism. Perhaps the world’s night is now approaching its midnight. Perhaps the world’s time is now becoming the completely destitute time. But also perhaps not, not yet, not even yet, despite the immeasurable need, despite all suffering, despite nameless sorrow, despite the growing and spreading peacelessness, despite the mounting confusion. Long is the time because even terror, taken by itself as a ground for turning, is powerless as long as there is no turn with mortal men. But there is a turn with mortals when these find the way to their own nature. That nature lies in this, that mortals reach into the abyss sooner than the heavenly powers. Mortals, when we think of their nature, remain closer to that absence because they are touched by presence, the ancient name of Being. But because presence conceals itself at the same time, it is itself already absence. Thus the abyss holds and remarks everything.

— Heidegger, ‘What are Poets For?’ (tr. Hofstadter)

Always more

The presence of things to us is never exhausted by meaning: a friend, the sea, the tree, the flower — all that present themselves to us — are always more than how we present them. Cezanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire more than sixty times by several accounts, but never once did he think he had exhausted its showing, its manifestation.

— Richard Capobianco, Heidegger’s Way of Being

It is sufficient to name a “being,” and we mean, in a merely approximate yet portentous thinking, the being of this being. We name being along with it. Being is said along with every word and verbal articulation, if not named each time with its own name. Speaking says being “along with,” not as an addition and a supplement that could just as well be left out, but as the pre-giving of what always first permits the naming of beings.


Must not being, due to its multiple and constant saying, be already so articulated and well-known that its essence lies uncovered before us in complete determinacy? But what if the most said in saying kept its essence secret, if being kept to itself in the disclosure of its essence, and this not only occasionally and incidentally but according to its essence? Then not only would concealment belong to being, but concealment would have a marked relation to “saying” and would be silence.

— Heidegger, Basic Concepts (tr. Aylesworth)

Being remains constantly available to us

If we now consider that being conceals itself, indeed that self-concealment belongs to being’s essence, it might seem once again as if being remains completely and necessarily withdrawn from us. But again, it can only seem so. For we lay claim to being everywhere, wherever and whenever we experience beings, deal with them and interrogate them, or merely leave them alone. We need being because we need it in all relations to beings. In this constant and multiple use, being is in a certain way expended.

And yet we cannot say that being is used up in this expenditure. Being remains constantly available to us. Would we wish to maintain, however, that this use of being, which we constantly rely upon, leaves being so untouched? Is not being at least consumed in use? Does not the indifference of the “is,” which occurs in all saying, attest to the wornness of what we thus name?

Being is certainly not grasped, but it is nevertheless worn-out and thus also “empty” and “common.” Being is the most worn-out.

“Being” stands everywhere and at each moment in our understanding as what is most self-understood. It is thus the most worn-out coin with which we constantly pay for every relation to beings, without which pay no relation to beings as beings would be allotted us. Being, the most worn-out and the most indifferent! And yet: we do not throw the “is” away; we also never become weary of the being of beings. Even where one might sometimes wish, oneself, no longer to be, ennui pertains only to oneself as this existing human being, but not to being. Even in that most extreme satiety that secretly remains a wishing, and wishes there might be the Nothing instead of beings, even there being remains the only thing called upon that resists expenditure and consumption. For also where we expect that it would be preferable for the Nothing to be, the last saving grasp is aimed at the most worn-out—at being. Therefore being can never become worn-out to the point of complete exhaustion and disparagement. On the contrary, in the extremity of the desired annihilation of all beings, and precisely here, being must appear. It appears here as something unprecedented and untouched, from out of which stem all beings and even their possible annihilation. Being first lets every being be as such, that means to spring loose and away, to be a being, and as such to be “itself.” Being lets every being as such originate. Being is the origin.

— Heidegger, Basic Concepts (tr. Aylesworth)

Excerpts from Susan Taubes’ letters 1

Below some excerpts from Susan Taubes’ letters to her husband, published in Korrespendez mit Jacob Taubes 1950 – 1951. (The letters were written in English. ST was in her early twenties.)


1949 (not sent)

Darling – I am very sad without you and troubled about many things and my meditations this evening lead me to feel very hopeless about there ever growing an understanding between us. And as to prayer I can only pray to an unknown light to save me from the nightmare of what men call religion.

We went tonight to the orthodox service and afterwards to the reform temple. I went with a very open heart and I wanted so deeply to come into my temple and participate in a service the thought of which I felt was noble and holy but I walked into a very awful farce instead and I felt very embittered. The whole room was illuminated with lightbulbs even on candles and full of the din of chattering people – all around me the women were gossiping during the service – the rabbi had to use a microphone even though it was quite a small temple and there was such a noise that he had to ask the people to shut up several times. People were running around, nobody listened and they looked utterly brutal and stupid – not one measure less than the Puerto Ricans you detest. The singing was monotonous and unmoving. The sermon was below the level of pulp magazines. The reform service was at least tolerable. The people were quiet the organ played well and Rabbi Bernstein at least did not presume to bring in God but spoke simply and humanly. But it was quite unnecessary.

It is clear to me that I must follow the voice that speaks in my soul and not to deceive myself by any talmudic or jesuitical rationalization that I can attach and commit myself to any mass belief and tradition. It simply is not true – what I believe and what the laws and scriptures and traditions uphold are two different things they are of different dimension and I am not at the moment concerned with how to discipline the masses or how to keep priests and rabbis employed and although there is nothing I desire more than to worship in community and not in loneliness I will suffer my loneliness rather than to give myself to hypocrasy and falsehood. I don’t think you have a right to force me to repeat and repeat the same process of decision. I am tired of being deceived in the same thing again and again. Because I love you and because we must build our lives together I want to see truth where you see truth and I strain many times in myself to open myself to it and every time I find that it is deception. I cannot go on in this endless repetition I want to build my own altar. It is awful, it is perhaps the most frightening thing not to be able to worship and live in the tradition of any people – it is truly death – but we must live this awfulness and not make sentiment or political compromises. This is my belief at least, and the few people I know of both semitic and non-semitic strain believe this. And I can no more keep to the laws of the Bible and the exile traditions than I can cross myself or take the sacrament because I would perjure myself and my honesty and my nakedness is all I possess.

There is only one sin and that is to destroy the image of God. Belief does not matter – ultimately where we have ceased to be children faith is not a spiritual matter. We would like human beings to wear the image of God in their lives, in their being, their acts and their handy-work. Calendar days for rest and atonement and being holy are simply a caricature of how a man ought to live. The law of the Torah may make life more simple, it saves us from searching all the time to distinguish between the holy and the unholy by an arbitrary rule; and it is easier to fast one day a year than to abstain from swinishness every day of the year and to judge our actions every moment of our lives; and it is more simply to dedicate one day of the week to rest and quietude than strive for quietude and dignity every day of the week; but I cannot live by this kind of logic and I cannot participate in the traditions of a people who live by it. And this is the last time I want to dwell on this thing.

I would be deeply hurt if you would expect that because you are good to me I must compromise my beliefs and to please you go along with the ritual. This would be very cheap. You cannot threaten me with love because there is a more awful thing than to be without human affection – hypocrisy rottenness, damnation. I am not wise and I am not “looking out for my interests” or interested in playing a part or saving my face. I feel I am writing to a rock and not to you – because I want you to be a priest, and I think you must withdraw very far from politics and people in the mass and find your own-way with God because otherwise you have no right to talk to the people.

And if your whole life and truth is the Torah and your whole aim to build a life and family according to its law you were unjust not to make your conditions clear to me before because you will not be able to force me in this mould. I am just sick from it and you must admit that this was not the basis on which we married and I am simply terrified

Sept. 15/16 1950

I pray that you have arrived safely, dear Jacob. It is before midnight and it is about now that the sun leaps out from behind the mountains in Jerusalem and I pray that you are sleeping well. Now that nothing is “happening” externally and – at least according to Parmenides – “nothing” is happening internally it is more difficult to write.

I found a book of yours, MYSTIC UND LYRIK by Hederer which is of some help. I begin to work on my thesis.

It seems that wherever one raises the lid of a question the same old Gnostic serpent twists up its seductive head and gives me its key to enter the problem of the “double truth” in scientific and mythopoietic language. (The pre-Socratic formulation of the problem centers around the opposition of Mythos and Logos rather than the logistics of modern positivism; but since the Logos concept is so problematic I feel safer in tackling the problem from the point of the modern antithesis of “fact and Fancy” – which squeezes so called philosophy out of existence altogether since it suits neither fact nor fancy.)

A word about the word. (I speak as a positivist.) An artificial sign or word is an object substituted for a natural sign (sense datum) the advantage of the thought-sign being that it is fixed, manageable and accessible to the subject at will, whereas the nature sign is passing, ponderable and cannot be produced by will. The common pivoting point whereon this translation from object to name turns is at the decisive point of the dialectical act of naming: for in the act of naming the object itself is created in the name and the nature-sign or object and the thought-sign or name stand for and fix identically a field of possible relations between confronting beings.

The act of naming for the increase of human powers even as Prometheus’ theft of fire for the same ends is an instance of the fall. Then, “the naming of the holy” or let us say the whole whence we have been cast out would mean: to regain IN the word what has been lost THROUGH the word. That is to create in the substance in the very corporeality of language that destroyed the immediacy of the whole, the totality. And in this effort to regain the holy the poet drives the cursed-godgiven language through all the excluded and forbidden realms of genesis, through all the secret passages of the creation out of nothing.

Forgive me for being so “academic” the Muses weep when I speak so; but I listen to the serpent, for he seduced us away from the source only to seduce us back to the source. And I trust the serpent who knows the secret of the passage and who embodies the mysterious necessity wherein “the way up and the way down are the same'” and the way of going hence is the way of returning.

Since in the attempt at naming the holy the whole sphere of opposition of true and non-true created by the naming of the object, is negated there is no longer a question of double truth, there is correctness or in- correctness as regards the scientific language and the term “truth” must find its mythical sense. (Is not this, in fact, what Heidegger does? Even if he does not create the word mythos anew he discovers the old mythos in the words at the point of the original createdness, Please try to explain to me a little what Heidegger means by the naming of the holy!!!) [Heidegger: “The thinker evokes Being. The poet names the holy.”]

What shall become of me “in absentia”! Be my good friend and genius. It is so good to speak to you – do you listen will you answer me in a word?

Sept. 21

My good child, I think of you all day long, how deeply we belong to each other, that the powers of sea and earth have no deeper and more secret sources than our love.

I try to be cheerful which is for me very very difficult. – And will you grow chaste and tranquil! The priest’s “duties” by the altar in the refuge of the temple are rather his reward, we cannot wait till the moment at the altar – that moment may perhaps never even come in our lives. But we must walk like priests through the world, homeless in the absence of temples and altars, through the daily toil, rush and disorder, always searching among the many crooked, distorting lines for the true and holy countenance of the day and season. How can we hope, how shall we dare to build anything graceful, noble and rooted in the essential power of things, unless we first strengthen what is graceful and noble in our own powers. What does it help us to cover ourselves with what is no longer our own – ? The heavens shall hardly help anyone who is afraid of being naked for a while.

We should have days of fasting our eyes and ears from the human word, the printed words and the chatter, that after the food, the warmth and shelter is the last human comforts, of the human refuge, in itself a blessing even as the bread, fire, and covering – but at certain moments like food – like all comfort that is a sign of our dependence and relativity: something dirty, unclean, whereof we must purify ourselves.

I ache and tremble for you my lovely one, oh, terribly. Each evening I dress in all my jewels only for you and chatter with the men. How boring is all conversation! How much wiser are the southern peoples who do not talk about social problems but embrace a woman and touch her breasts. All talk is so fatally boring.

Sept. 26


150 W4 57

Jacob, my dearest One, how good it was to receive two letters from you! I begin to feel like a sleep walker through the world – very efficient and quite dreamless but a sleep walker and in the gray hues of this sleep I taste the blackness of death. And, Oh, New York is so gray, pleasantly and relaxingly gray like a nice black and white movie.


The customs examination both for Mother and me was so smooth and gentlemanly that I was really moved. I was asked to open one book-case and was having difficulty finding the right key – so the man said I should not bother, he’ll take my word for it. It didn’t last five minutes. The whole S.S. America with immigrants and everything was cleared (trunks brought from hole to pier and examined) in less than three hours.


I managed to escape for a few hours to look through book stores: found a lovely new edition of “Anabasis” (Perse, trans. by Eliot) bought it. I am reading it – it is more much more than Darius’ boasting of how many conquered men’s ears he cut off: he makes the earth emerge in its primeval and mysterious – yet – open nakedness as a people first confront it. And this meeting between the people full of fresh arrogance and the earth full of a fresh and sensuous shyness is like the meeting of man and woman, before all reflection, before any distinction between “rape” and “holy marriage”, and therefore like the meeting of man and woman at the point when they no longer belong to themselves, utterly clear and of concrete and practical character, utterly beyond good and bad and beyond love in any romantic sense: It is naming at last the “inorgisches” the unfeeling, unorganized elemental being and no longer humanity or even the “gods” – and it comes closer to the longing of Holderlin and Heidegger than perhaps anything they themselves were able to utter. I came across some very interesting new poets – one feels a new heartbeat and breath struggling in the language of the new Poetry still half smothered in intellectual confusion and self-consciousness.


I am waiting very much for your pictures – oh my lovely body and soul, how awful it is not to be able to touch you – I must find graceful names for all the nameless, or shame-named parts of the body – that must be the first page for “The Book of Words” something I want to begin to work on – to begin to create the language of cult and sacrament.


“We are a footnote to Parmenides'” is not so simple: with “Being” and “Nothing” our vocabulary is not yet closed: there is movement, Becoming, “Eros” or quite prosaically DOING – neither in the pure Being of Parmenides nor in the pure Nothing of the Indians can the “doing” conceive and bring about itself neither does the Indian “passivity” escape the circle of “doing”, the circle of polarity, and it derives its power from being a term of the polarity. I realize all this is “metaphysical” whereas your look is more mystical. Nevertheless think about it.

Sept. 27

Oh my dearest child – it is a deep sacrifice to be “brave” I cannot indulge in the deep suffering to remind me + compensate me of the deep joy + ecstacy of being with you. It is cold + gray; something military + monastic; but I cannot let the grief of separation be as intense as the joy ofbeing together. Perhaps this is a blessing, because I am really very well and cheerful + good. – But now I am getting sad. Cherish yourself dearest one. Goodnight.

Sept. 29

Slowly, my dear we will give all of ourselves to the Holy, not in a sudden, catastrophic, apocalyptic fire (as one wishes at moments of despair when sinking from one’s own weight) but we will be consumed slowly in our own rhythm, through ripening and old age, give ourselves like the most solitary ones who in becoming monks relinquish all their privacy.

It is twelve days since we have parted. And whether one stands at the extreme point of union or the extreme point of separation one stays at the vanishing point of time. I think of you Jacob in awe and trembling and pray that my blessings reach you and preserve you.

Oct. 5

We must yet think Jacob how we shall manage our lives, and think boldly my dear, no longer in the old language of our parents either yours or mine, for their world has crumbled – but find a language adequate to the chaos in which we live where the distinction of “dignity” between a “professor” and a bus driver has become sheerly romantic; and look with clear eyes into the job itself: what is more dignified to make a kindergarten affair of the Logos or simply to go and wipe little children’s noses. I am in no way relaxing in my “ambassadorship” and I think it will be arranged. But I doubt if this will be our way. You will get your legal status and then other possibilities may be open. Another thing: we will not be pressed by parents, yours or mine, to settle and begin to collect silver etc. Gerda spoke to me very strongly about this. And the truth is there is no “settling-down” for us ultimately unless we create this settlement.


And about the dark hours – I tremble before the terrible one against whose terror we put on the euphemising spectacles of religion: the power that has joined can also tear apart: who has given life can take it back. If manna can drop from the sky there can be a rain of plague + curses: I am witness to the manna and I fear terribly the wrath, deep and infinite as the grace.

Oct. 6

Morning. Your letter of Sept. 27 just arrived via Rochester and I am very well! How good it is to have your words! And I kiss the sign of the “always” that is made of the union of man and woman. Dear Jacob, your probings in the Being and Nothing are deep and dangerous; that the fullness, the compactness – the continuity (in the stricktest mathematical sense) of the Being is the Nothing in the Being says that Being in its pure Beingness, replaces, supplants or “fills in” the nothing to the point of becoming identical with it – and however one terms the problem the two by necessity always merge and collapse into one another – there is no way of keeping them apart from the necessity of the 2 terms themselves; I wonder therefore if beyond the Being and the Nothing there must be a third: that which keeps the poles in separation, in a tension of opposition so that they are poles – since out of their own nature they fall back into identity. I wonder if there must not be a third – what we call God, the holy, the mystery beyond the Being + Nothing that composes “the structure of reality “who even as he separates light from darkness has sundered Being from non-Being and keeps them apart. For the separation of light and darkness so that there is light + darkness, and the separation of Being and nothing so that the world is and is lifted out of the ambiguity of Being-Nothing – this is the mystery of the IS that is the holy fiat of the Creator, that is a mystery because it will never be “deduced” from any manipulation, calculation or prestidigitation on the Being-Nothing. He has set the poles and keeps them apart, and the “metaphysical” distance between the poles, between the light and the darkness is his substance, and the life of the universe as the opposites strain toward each other and Being and non-Being merge and are freshly polarized, this life, this Eros circulates through his substance. But it is better to pray and to do service than to think and talk about this thing too much.

Oct. 6

My dear, the night of the Sabbath has entered and I have lit the candle of the serpent and asked for the blessing of the bread and of the fruit as I have no wine, and sat on the ground and prayed, and with writing to you end my prayer.

Today it may be more difficult to obtain the blessing for the bread, but it is no less necessary. That all those who have toiled the earth and toiled their machines in sweat, smoke and confusion should for an instant meet at the common center of the mystery: and contemplate the mystery of their lives and their toil in the fire and the serpent. The serpent that is the AΩ – the seducer and enchanter that leads away from the source only to lead back to the source. And the fire, sign of the Holy itself and our most primordial coming to terms with the Holy: the fire that if we touch with naked fingers – we burn and perish; but if we handle it cautiously, indirectly, with many defences, some cunning and distance, gives us its power of warmth, light, motion for the fulfilment of our human needs – and thus makes it possible for us [to] live with the holy.

Oct. 8

And I begin to grow into my life of wandering + migration even as the peasant grows into the climates of the land, and even as the peasant after a while learns to love the hoe whereon he breaks his back, the lands of his sweat and the stubborn seasons – so the wanderer, the uprooted, learns to love the dusty routes, the trunks, the warehouses, freight trucks and ticket-booths, the packing and unpacking. One grows into a familiarity with all the strange faces of Fate – slowly a pattern lights through the daily toil and redeems the sweat, backache and anxiety; the moment comes when the exile also celebrates his fate.

We are only ourselves, and are only those who we are, in our pointing towards what withdraws. This pointing is our essence. We are, insofar as we show in the direction of what withdraws. As the one who shows in this direction, man is the one who shows.

— Heidegger

The Nothing

There is given [es gibt] the Nothing in spite of the fact that beings are. And perhaps it is one of the greatest of human errors to believe oneself always secure before the Nothing so long as beings can be encountered and dealt with and retained. Perhaps the predominance of this error is a main reason for blindness vis-à-vis the Nothing, which cannot affect beings, and least of all when beings become more and more ‘existant’ [seiender]. Perhaps the belief that the Nothing is just ‘nothing’ is also the main support for a popular piece of intelligence, namely: every reflection upon the Nothing leads to nothingness and endangers the legitimate trust in beings.

— Heidegger, Basic Concepts (tr. Aylesworth)

We must listen our way into that place where we ourselves belong. With this, reflection leads us through the question as to whether we still belong anywhere at all. Even to merely anticipate where we could belong it is necessary to experience ourselves. This means “ourselves” not according to an historiologically given condition, “ourselves” not according to a currently existing situation, “ourselves” not according to other people, but “ourselves” in respect to what determines us and is other than us, which nevertheless governs our essence.

— Heidegger, Basic Concepts

What makes a claim upon us

The worst way to practice thinking would be an academic course in “logic.” The usual, orthodox logic thinks, at best (if it thinks at all), “about” thinking. But we do not learn to think originarily when someone shows us how to think, in an inferior and long-since impossible manner, “about” thinking. Rather, we learn to think only when we try to attain an essential and genuine relation to what above all else is thought-worthy. And what is thought-worthy is certainly not “thinking” but what challenges thinking, what places thinking in its service and thus bestows rank and value upon it. We do not learn this essential thinking by means of any “logic.”

“Ground-Concepts” means to say: grasping the ground of everything, and that means to attain a relation to the “ground” of everything. What “ground” means here must be clarified step by step, along with what the relation to the ground consists in, to what extent a knowing belongs to this relation, and to what extent this relation is even itself a knowing. Thus it would be premature if we wanted to equate “ground” with “cause” of everything, and wanted furthermore to interpret this cause as a first cause in the sense of a creator according to the Bible and Christian dogma. It would also be premature to believe that with these “concepts” it is solely a matter of representing the ground. It is rather a question of extending our thinking toward the manner in which the ground includes us in its essence, not the manner in which we take the ground to be merely an “object” and use it for an “explanation of the world.”

However the essence of the ground, but also “the concepts,” i.e., the relation to the ground, might explain and confirm themselves to us, one thing remains clear in advance: no individual with a worked-out doctrine and viewpoint can arbitrarily, at any particular time, expound something and decide it by decree. It is also easy to see that an examination of previous viewpoints and doctrines concerning the “ground” and the “relation” to the “ground” at best provides a “historiological” familiarity and avoids precisely what is all-important: the relation through which we ourselves come into proximity with what strikes us essentially and makes a claim upon us. We do not wish to discuss doctrines. Rather, we want to become aware of the essential, in which we stand, or within which we are perhaps still driven to and fro without a footing and without understanding.

— Heidegger, Basic Concepts (tr. Aylesworth)

A false individualism

The connection between [Weil and Heidegger] can be seen in what Heidegger calls the “subjectivism” of modern philosophy (which cuts people off from each other and from the world and Presence and confines them in a metaphysical privacy) and what Simone Weil calls “personalism” (which reduces the human being entirely to the dimensions of the I and we, the psychological and the social, not recognizing anything about them that belongs to the superpersonal). The modern oppression of the individual by the social (found in both Communist and non-Communist states) and the metaphysical humanism of scientism and technocracy, while they may appear to have nothing in common, actually contain the same element, a false individualism that produces the lonely, locked-away solitary ego, a ready victim for the exploitations and manipulations of mob consciousness. This is the nationalistic or ideological man whose normal and sane intelligence has been smothered by commercial and political indoctrination. For both Heidegger and Weil, this is the closed private individualism of modern philosophy, the counterpart of the world of scientific and technological objects. The absolute privacy of the Cartesian thinking is the horror of the modern human self.

In answer to this, Heidegger finds the essence of the human being in an openness to Being as Presence, an openness receptive to all its self-revealings and self-concealings, while Simone Weil finds a supernatural element in every human soul, which is the basis for all justice, the universal expectation that good will be done to us.

—  Henry Le Roy Finch, Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace