File spoon-archives/heidegger.archive/heidegger_2001/heidegger.0107, message 2

Date: Mon, 02 Jul 2001 16:09:30 +0800

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These sorts of things I love to handle. For one thing, considering the whole context from the beginning, they bring revelations to me. I usually pay little attention to the first sentence of a work because I expect it to be mere introduction to what follows in much greater detail. But in "Letter on Humanism" the first sentence is a blockbuster: "We are still far from pondering the essence of action decisively enough." My first reaction is, This is a response . . . but to what? Hell, if I know. Maybe if my head were clearer, (now, you know we Macedonians drink what you all call so piteously “wine” which would either knock you on your ass or simply kill you and makes your ‘whisky’ less than horse piss) or Serapis sent Hermes down to be with a divine message . . .for, after all, I too, am Pharaoh, a god, so why shouldn't he? Maybe He's mad at me because I just murdered my new wife, who happens to be my step-mother, after nineteen days of marriage. Maybe I was hasty. But Heidegger goes on, i.e., saying action causes effect, effect is valued by its utility. (Strange words from Heidegger which serve as warning signs) "But the essence of action is accomplishment. To accomplish means to unfold something into the fullness of its essence, to lead it forth into its fullness -- producere. THEREFORE ONLY WHAT ALREADY IS CAN REALLY BE ACCOMPLISHED. (Richard to Jud, "I think Gary has really gone all the way around the bend. Should we notify somebody?) But wait a minute before you put me in a straight-jacket.


Heidegger has just precisely said what I have being saying all along about the nature of the present 'tense'. For one thing 'tense' is a VERY poor word to describe ”the present.” This is not a grammar lesson in English class. THE PRESENT IS THE WHOLENESS, THE “ONE”, THE ALL-INCLUSIVE ACTUALITY OF WHAT WE CALL REALITY INCLUDING PAST AND FUTURE AS THE FANTASIES THAT JUSTIFY OUR LIVES WHERE "ONLY WHAT ALREADY IS CAN REALLY BE ACCOMPLISHED." God resides only in the future and is completely harmless there. Immortality is the future and lives as a dream only there. God created the heavens and the earth in the, if you think about it in terms of actual experience, immeasurable past and therefore awes us with something that, again quite literally, we KNOW nothing about, I mean ABSOLUTELY nothing about. Pericles made his stirring, noble speech over the Athenian plague dead that Thucydides, of course, 'accurately’ wrote down ("Beware Greeks bearing gifts" though). But the fact almost no one wants to face is that NONE of these things ever exist  present-at-hand. Our minds are stuffed to overflowing with these things we have "faith" in to such an extent that even the most skeptical atheist, if pushed to the edge, would have to say we have to 'believe' in something (actually, in lots of ‘somethings’), so that everything fits into meaningful context, a plan by which these fantasies are and therefore ‘real’, a fate and destiny that, though not understood, we know is guided, aimed, directed – because it is a plan that we no longer dare say WE imagined. The reason for this is simple. We know we do not control things. But to know that NOTHING WHATSOEVER is controlling them is debilitating. "Therefore only what is already is can really be accomplished" amplifies the saying, "A bird in the hand is better than a golden palace sitting in the clouds." You might even say this is a variation of Hegel's "What is, is rational." Yes, it is an obvious statement, it is trivial, but has that not exactly what I have been saying about the "present" AS IT ACTUALLY IS HERE AND NOW? That it is trivial, and that NO human being can abide that for long. The present cannot have any value or meaning as it stands by itself despite the fact it gives the ground to all our fantasies of meaning, hope, purpose, sorrow, regret, anger, etc., etc. 


(Richard: But what the hell does this have to do with what I requested?) The next sentence is, "But what 'is' above all is Being." Now this makes me think twice since you put me in a bind. I usually consider such statements buzz words and go to something more substantial. Yet, being consistent with what I just said, this meaningless, dead, de trop, superfluous reality of the present is "what 'is' ", and is ALSO "above all," that word so very many people want to make into "God", that is, "Being", I then become Satan, Beelzebub, and Mephistophiles in one quick breath. For I think Heidegger has made it excruciatingly plain that "Being" is nothing much, nothing much at all. In fact it is Nothing at all, and he has said this numerous times from the beginning to the end of his philosophical life. Now, what immediately happens in our minds is – THE COMPULSION TO NECESSARILY CREATE AN OPPOSITE! Because how can there be a nothing, in, of, and all by itself? HOW CAN IT BE COMPREHENDED WITHOUT COMPARISON? There has to be then, common sense says, a SOMETHING! "Go ye, and gather all of your gold, and pour it into the smelting pot, and we shall make ourselves a Golden Calf, a God we can see!" But Heidegger NEVER considers this opposition of the visible and the invisible.  Why? "Only what already is can be accomplished." And so guess what the next sentence is? "Thinking accomplishes the relation of Being to the essence of man." Abstruse? No. Terrifying? Yes. But ‘terrifying more like a dream every night of unending, Sisyphusian drudgery. This is the present-at-hand. Any past relating to it is ridiculous fantasy so far. And I tell my cowardly self the same applies to the future. But this is where one is irrevocably trapped like a wild and frightened animal in this present, right this moment, this moment that can have no relief, no distraction, and no escape. This is the meaning of "originary time", this is fundamental ontology.


If there are any Heideggerians out there (Gary?), perhaps they can decipher the following abstruse passage from the great man’s LETTER ON HUMANISM:



I know you meant no disrespect, but please do not imply I am a Heideggerian.”

Thinking accomplishes the relation of Being to the essence of man. It does not make or cause the relation. Thinking brings this relation to Being solely as something handed over to it from Being. Such offering consists in the fact that in thinking Being comes to language. 



Now, in an earlier letter you said if we got rid of abstractions, would we not also get rid of language and words? But abstractions merely serve as couplings between train cars. In a sense, they are an inferior version of mathematical formulas. But a mathematical formula without external input or use for a purpose is the most utterly meaningless and useless of things. In other words, abstractions and mathematical formulas are merely intellectual devices, tools like the screwdriver and pliers hanging on your tool shelf. And yet we have made these abysmal trivialities the meaning and goal of our lives. I think that is sufficient in itself to prove irrefutably that the dog and the dolphin and the sperm whale are the only intelligent forms of life on earth. But Heidegger wants to at least make man a kindly servant to such superior beings. To him, the word contains everything that is and ever has been human. It has a multifarious history, a complex and contradictory context, and lives in a world where it, means different things to EACH different person. It is by words that human beings as human beings live.

Let me put it another way. Let me try to put it in a way that is graphically literal which is very difficult precisely because I am in side the beating heart of abstractions, the life’s blood of nations and religions. The primary existence of a word is that it is spoken, not that it is understood. Like the word “Fire!” shouted in the crowded auditorium, its existence has nothing to do with the conveyance of information from one point to another. Its existence is a thrust, a call to attention, a revelation, a confrontation, a drama. As an abstraction fitting into Aristotle’s or Kant’s categories, it may tell you that such-and-such is happening, thereupon you are to make decisions about what to do with the information. But as an existential, a structure of “the essence of action” with which Heidegger begins the “Letter on Humanism,” it is an attempt at “pondering the essence of action decisively enough.” In abstraction, in a sense Heidegger goes on to say, “We view action only as causing an effect. The actuality of the effect is valued according to its utility,” that is, we stand back in detachment and we study the situation. But did I not say this was an unusual way for Heidegger to write? Because one does not “stand back in detachment” when one shouts “Fire!” For Heidegger goes on, “But the essence of action is accomplishment. To accomplish means to unfold something into the fullness of its essence, to lead forth into this fullness . . . “ He is not being abstract, he is not delivering categorical knowledge, he is trying to say what it means when we shout “Fire!” – “Therefore only what already is can really be accomplished.” That is why he considers poetry a superior mode of thought to philosophy - and nothing else really seriously comes into consideration. In poetry, the words are “the essence of action.” In philosophy, you stand back in detachment. 


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