Friday, February 19, 2010

Ereignis


Thinking, Heidegger never fails to remind us, is preliminary. But the reason for this, its preliminary nature, is often, and quite wrongly, understood as the limitation of a perspectival horizon ---as if this preliminary nature of thinking were simply the result of the fact that "one can always learn more." But the preliminary nature of thinking consists in just the opposite: one already knows too much --indeed long before he has ever tried to think about what it is that he already knows. The preliminary nature of thinking has nothing to do with the constantly expanding itinerary of some "philosopher of infinite tasks". It is rather a consequence of the radical confinement of thinking to what it already has to think; the proper matter always comes too late to thinking, refusing thinking the luxury of "forging ahead", compelling it to retract itself from the outset, taking back its very beginning. Therefore, it must be vigilantly recalled that the preliminary nature of thinking is a consequence of its dilatory arrival. The thoughtful word hesitates. Otherwise, what there is for thinking to first of all think would be missed entirely.

It is with this dilatory essence of thinking in mind that Heidegger writes in his letter to Jean Beaufret:

Things that really matter, although they are not defined for all eternity, even when they come very late still come at the right time.



4 comments:

  1. It all snarls up for me at "The proper matter always comes too late to thinking." Is this "always" not incompatible with the "too late?" Or if it were simply that thinking were already too late from the beginning, then would its proper matter not happily arrive at once? Then wherein lies the "confinement" of thinking, if it has within itself the stuff of its contentment?

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  2. If I tell you that you always show up late for class, have I spoken in terms incompatible with one another? This is one response to your first question, and it stands, but it does not take advantage of the opportunity that your question may offer. For your question also perceptively underscores the more implausible, yet more THOUGHTFUL possibility latent in the phrase "always comes too late," one that is teeming with tension. Let me try to further bring this out at the risk of redundancy. Everything lies in our emphasis. If something ALWAYS comes late --then does it ever arrive. And yet we say it does indeed come, but late. A late arrival is fine. But one that is ALWAYS late ---what does this absolute qualification mean? In the instance I mentioned in the first sentence of my response, it is clear what it means. Why? Because it is HYPERBOLIC. But here, in the realm in which language is goaded by a unique (though to be sure wholesome) pressure of precision, this "always" could not be hyperbolic, could it? At least not in the same way as the teacher's chastisement --if for no other reason (grund)then because they belong to realms separated by an abyss (ab-grund). I have written two posts now on hyperbole with the third to come. Much of what I have to say here will be fully grounded in that later post. But variation and invention belong as a necessity to proper speech, so let me try to speak within the scope of this comment about what is essential, while not yet addressing its hyperbolic character.

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  3. Something --the proper matter for thinking--always comes too late. Here we have the impression that the aim of thought, i.e. what it is properly supposed to think, lies at a distance from it ---a distance which is not just "spatial," but is, rather, a SPAN OF TIME (in German this is ordinarily referred to as zeitraum). The proper matter for thought lies far afield and is by no means immediately able to be thought. Not only that, but when it finally comes to be thought, it is LATE. The lateness is a property of what is to be thought. This is the dilatory essence of die sache des denkens and its propriety is made possible by what shall we say, an event that gives what is most proper, that is, das Ereignis. But forget that last sentence if you do not wish to yet speak of Heidegger's naming. Thinking does not, right off the bat and in front of its face, have its proper matter. Ok. We have to learn to think. But so what? Well, learning to think is not like, for example, learning to walk (contrary to what some have said ---but that too I will post on later). And in fact, this is the initial (or preliminary?)point of my post above. When one learns to walk he does so because he does not yet know how . He does not know nothing, but rather knows, as the Schoolmen would put it, in potentia. His not-yet awaits an actuality. (cont. in next comment)

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  4. We could therefore say that when, as a child, one takes his first step, he ventures into a preliminary exercise required for walking. The preliminary nature of this first step is oriented from the outset toward the achievement of actually walking, effortlessly, as we all do who are not impaired in someway, or who have not definitively embarked on that other childhood of old age. Such, at any rate, is how things stand with our first step. Things stand differently with thinking, however. Thinking's first step is different. So different in fact, that it never goes BEYOND its first step. Instead it takes its first step slowly and in great trepidation. The first step takes so long that it lasts over two millenia --only to afterwards step back!
    But let me back up for a second. The preliminary nature of thinking is not preliminary because it, like learning how to walk, is waiting for a full (read "actual") acquisition that it does not yet have, as I say above:

    "the reason for this, its preliminary nature, is often, and quite wrongly, understood as the limitation of a perspectival horizon ---as if this preliminary nature of thinking were simply the result of the fact that "one can always learn more." But the preliminary nature of thinking consists in just the opposite: one already knows too much --indeed long before he has ever tried to think about what it is that he already knows."

    Thinking is preliminary, that is, out of joint with the time of the arrival of its matter, because the parsimony of thought is not yet in accord with waht it has ALREADY BEEN GIVEN TO THINK. The paradox that ensues from this state of affairs is that, the more generous thinking becomes, the MORE IT HAS TO THINK.

    So,to wrap up this protracted comment and redirect it to your question. You ask:
    "Or if it were simply that thinking were already too late from the beginning, then would its proper matter not happily arrive at once? Then wherein lies the "confinement" of thinking, if it has within itself the stuff of its contentment." The possiblity that is still not thought in your tarin of questioning is one which belongs to this superabundant beginning of thought that I have tried to speak about as the source of the preliminary nature of thinking. When you ask: "would its proper matter not happily arrive at once?" I respond: once the proper matter for thinking arrives, it arrives AS LATE.

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