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


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

Hope beyond all hope

There are areas of the human psyche that remain little-known because they haven’t been much explored, because luckily few people have found themselves in a situation of needing to explore them, and those who have done so have, as a general rule, preserved too little of their reason to produce an acceptable description of them. Those areas can hardly be approached except by the use of paradoxical and even absurd formulas, of which the phrase hope beyond all hope is the only one that really comes to mind. It’s not like night, it’s worse than that; and without having personally known that experience I have a sense that even when you plunge into true night, polar night – the one that lasts for six months in a row – the concept or the memory of the sun remains. I had entered an endless night, and yet there remained, deep within me, there remained something less than a hope, let’s say an uncertainty. One might also say that even when one has personally lost the game, when one has played one’s last card, for some people – not all, not all – the idea remains that something in heaven will pick up the hand, will arbitrarily decide to deal again, to throw the dice again, even when one has never at any moment in one’s life sensed the intervention or even the presence of any kind of deity, even when one is aware of not especially deserving the intervention of a favourable deity, and even when one realises, bearing in mind the accumulation of mistakes and errors that constitute one’s life, that one deserves it less than anyone.

– Houellebecq, Serotonin (tr. Whiteside)