Thursday, April 5, 2012

Das Selbe: A Seynsgeschichtlich Definition

Heidegger has always sought to properly avoid (vermeiden) the ensarements of Hegel's historical thinking, and for just this reason Heidegger's thought regarding history, from Destruktion to Seynsgeschichte,  has always respected Hegel's acknowledgment of the necessity that anyone asking the question of the meaning of history be beset from the outset with the immanent criticism of his own historical predjudices at work in the posing of this question. In short, Hegel's Universal History was the first to carry itself out in constant awareness of this limit, and Heidegger's Seynsgeschichte does not fall prey to some retrogressive naivete regarding the matter. Thinking regarding history must be historically situated; one cannot consider history save from within history ---nor is it, according to both thinkers and for drastically different reasons, desirable to even try to do so.

Keeping this necessity of immanent criticism in mind then, I would like to refine one of my own previous considerations of a crucial aspect of Seynsgeschichte that I articulated more than a year ago in a great discussion here. The aspect under consideration is Das Selbe. Previously I had tried to give a formal sketch of Das Selbe --an attempt destined for a certain kind of failure. But now I would like to offer a step toward a more concrete consideration of Das Selbe. Previously, I had offered the following gloss:

The Same is the name for Being as it has been granted throughout each epoch. But each epoch understands Being differently. The Same, therefore, does not designate an identity among epochal sendings of Being, nor does it designate another underlying thing (subjectum) in terms of which the unity of the epochs can be thought. Rather the Same designates that in terms of which each epoch may be called an epoch, or in other words, that in terms of which each epoch differs from the other yet remains epochal. What is this? It is the ἐποχή, that is, the withholding of the beginning which is proper to the beginning, and which destines in advance all possible epochs. The identical requires the present. The Same, unlike the identical, is that which cannot any longer be grasped now, in the present age, but rather lies in our future as the beginning. The Same is thus the still unthought jointure in terms of which the epochs are related. It is therefore a unity that can account for the plurality without reducing it to some one present thing. The attempt to say the Same explicitly must accordingly necessarily diversify itself.

I do not quote myself to be redundantly self-approving, but to point out an inherent shortcoming of this previous characterization. What the above sketch misses is the requirement that, if das Selbe is to be thought appropriately, it must be thought from out of the current age --and when we do this we avoid the tendency to think of it emptily in a mere formal logical fashion. Das Selbe is now --that is to say in the present age, the non-identical unity of Sein and Nichts. This very timely definition must be understood in terms of a state of affairs that has persisted, as it were, throughout Beyng's history, namely, that what das Selbe designates is that which has, up to the present time, always referred to both "Being as such" (i.e. that Sein which is understood in a seinsverstaendnisand "Beyng itself" (that which is not yet understood in and as "Being as such"). In fact, it refers more precisely to this "and", their very conjunction. What sort of conjunction is this? When we speak in terms of beings, "the same" almost always designates a relation between two things. By contrast, when we speak in terms of Being, "the same" refers to a difference within Being itself, namely, the difference opened up by Being sending itself.

If it is true that to speak of Das Selbe in the current age is to speak of the dangerous coincidence of Sein and Nichts, then this is so only because the present understanding of Being has been given Nothing to understand. In keeping with the duality that results from the opening between Being as such and Beyng itself we must hear this last assertion in the full range of its ambiguity.

"The present understanding of Being has been given Nothing..." 

This means first the present age has been refused a grant of Being which would enable a succeeding epoch to subsequently take its place. Because the present age has been given nothing it is also the last age, the age which ends the ages. However, just as soon as we admit this meaning of our assertion we must immediately consider another meaning --namely, that the present age, having been given Nothing to understand, has been assigned a peculiar mandate, indeed, has been given (geben) nothing but an auf-gabe, in order even to properly take place as an age at all. The two meanings of this assertion, dangerously coinciding in the same words, could hardly be in greater strife with one another. One claims the age has been left without a future, the other claims that it is precisely nothing other than this future which the present age must claim in order to be itself. However this apparent opposition is only a semblance resulting from the unique confluence of Das Selbe. For, to be given Nothing to think, i.e. to be thoughtlessly commanded by what is no longer present, namely Gestell, is to be offered the perilous possibility that we must, in a manner unprecedented, think precisely what this Nothing itself is. If we have nothing to think about in the present age, then we may no longer take even this Nothing for granted. Nothing now becomes the present form of what must still be thought as Being itself (Seyn). For this reason, Being and Nothing can never be considered identical, but they may be called the Same, das Selbe.


  1. I find your comment to be coherent with what I already believe I understand of MH and to be suggestive of further nuances that appear to be inviting of some promising journeys. As it has taken thought for you to articulate the position, it will take further thought for me to relate what I know and do not know to what you offer.

    Most recently, I have been thinking about the abyss, particularly in terms of death. Taking time to consider it has reduced some of my former avoidance of thinking about death while the concept of abyss preserves death's potent reality. Abyss helps me to keep Sein and Nichts as living realities apart from the unique reality (not opposite, not a polemical struggle) of death.

    I am coming to see abyss as a placeholder required for a more complete understanding of my human experience. Since I did not yet have any such notion when originally becoming acquainted with MH's use of abyss, I cannot yet say that my interpretation is coherent. Any comments you can offer will be appreciated.

  2. Thanks for the interesting remarks, January! I am grateful for the relation you underscore here. If all goes well, I will put up a post on this matter in the the next few days. However, allow me to offer a few indications of how I think Heidegger most succinctly considers these abiding themes of his denkweg.

    The first --and I think most important --thing to keep in mind regarding the abyss is that it is not really the abyss. What do I mean? Well. for one thing take me literally, i.e. in terms of the letters here involved; abyss is a translation of abgrund. Why, beyond the obvious precautions about any translation, is this important? Because, according to Heidegger himself, the "original" or "most primordial" or "oldest" or "earliest" meaning of abgrund is not a simple absence of grund. Rather, Heidegger tells us, the original meaning of this word is something like a sudden steep descent, where the ground indeed does drop, but it lies hidden in the depths below, entirely concealed but not simply negated. This is highly significant for many reasons. This abgrund remains essentially related to grund --which we must remember always means both the foundation beneath your feet and the foundation of an argument. To emphasize the transparency of this relation, namely the way in which grund is not merely nullified into a panic of irrationalism and freefall, Heidegger will employ the ol' hyphenation mechanism: ab-grund. However, in its richest seynsgeschichtlich resonance, we should hear the word grund as a translation of what is concealed in the Greek αρχη So what ground really means is: the ruling beginning, or if you prefer "the beginning that holds sway." What, then, does abyss, understood as abgrund mean? It means the ruling beginning which has withdrawn into complete concealment. In order to think such a concealed origin, i.e. an abgrund, one must do what we always do in order not fall when the ground is abruptly missing, namely leap (springen). For this reason abyssal thinking is actually a leap (spring) which pursues the retracted origin (ur-sprung). The abyss, like death, is not only an experience of a given individual but --even more importantly -- of history itself. The ages, that is, epochs, die. They lose their grounding. But the result is not simply anarchy. Rather, ages only collapse according to a concealed principle --an abgrund.

  3. "Abyss helps me to keep Sein and Nichts as living realities apart from the unique reality (not opposite, not a polemical struggle) of death."

    One more word on this. Sein as the Sein of seinendes --or in other words Sein als solches, conceals Das Nichts. But Das Nichts is itself the hiding of Seyn selbst. Beyng itself, i.e. Ereignis, is that which makes the abyss possible. But what about death? Heidegger tells us succintly it is "the shrine of Das Nichts."

  4. Thank you for the clarification. I had drifted to the possibility that death is the shrine of abyss, But the relation of abyss to the concealing of Being itself does fit the references more coherently.

    Those subtleties need to be kept in proper order.

  5. Thanks for this post. I myself constantly run the risk of working with an overly formalized understanding of Heidegger's thought since I tend to prefer having a grasp of a general framework before getting down to details. It is helpful to be reminded of the hermeneutic necessity of then recognizing my own rootedness, and that of thought in general, in the particularity of history and engaging in the work of destabilizing the very framework I required to gain access to the thought in question. Das Selbe is a difficult subject for me, and one which I feel requires extensively more thought on my part. Posts like this are very helpful in that regard.

  6. Great to hear from you, Bill! I am really looking forward to your thoughts on the proceedings of the Heidegger Circle. Thanks also for the favorable mention from your neck of the woods. I sympathize with your own confession that you "constantly run the risk of working with an overly formalized understanding of Heidegger's thought". Indeed my sympathy gives me pause for thought: perhaps we can say that this risk is the very risk of thinking itself? If so, it seems to me we would eventually have to 'formulate' this very danger more concretely and, indeed, abandon thinking of it as merely the danger of formalization.

  7. Thank you for a wonderful post! I notice the reference to Derrida's criticism of Heidegger's so-called "strategy of avoidance [Vermeidung]." It is fitting too, that you mention Hegel in conjunction with this avoidance, because for Derrida it Heidegger's avoidance centers around the avoidance of "spirit" [Geist]], the avoiding of its improper use, and thus in particular, of avoiding the use of "spirit" as a necessary step to properly explicating the Being of Dasein in Being and Time.
    I won't here delve into a discussion of Derrida's analysis of Heidegger's Vermeidung, but I did wish to remark on just one aspect of it, namely, the relationship of the "propriety" to the movement of "avoidance" in Heidegger's thinking.
    It is difficult not to notice that when one thinks with Heidegger, one is bound to think Being properly. This qualification of "proper" in Heidegger's thinking always seems to say more than the word it modifies at the time. For example, you say in your post at one point that "if das Selbe is to be thought appropriately, it must be thought out of the current age…", and by this usage promise the reader an authentic exegesis of the significance of das Selbe.
    Yet, as soon as we reflect on the relationship of this propriety to das Selbe as it later is unfolded in your post, it becomes noticeable that it is by no means a fittingness of a type which, for example, follows upon one's alignment with the custom or tradition. And as you say, neither can das Selbe be represented as the accordance of two beings. In short, this "appropriateness" is not a consequence of thinking about das Selbe, of saying something correct about it as if it were a matter of fact.
    Rather, thinking das Selbe appropriately means acknowledging from the very beginning , i.e., from out of the present, the coincidence of Seyn and Nichts as a unique state of affairs that already determines the present age through and through, and which threatens in advance any attempt to make a decision concerning the truth of Being itself, that is to say, of deciding whether the question "Is there Being?" has any meaning whatsoever.
    The "propriety" of thinking concerning Seyn thus has everything to do with thinking in the present, in thinking through the presentness [die Anwesenheit] of this present. In short, such propriety corresponds to the manner in which time is thought of in the present. What is remarkable then, about such an "appropriate" thinking, is that when it arrives in its special form of questioning concerning Being, it at the same time also illuminates a risk intrinsic to its own accomplishment, a risk in which it finds itself already involved. Put baldly, the risk concerns the failure to explicitly think of Being as presence--precisely the failure which characterizes the entire history of Western thought for Heidegger from its "first beginning" in the pre-Socratics up through Hegel and Nietzsche. I only mean to suggest here that, for Heidegger, the recognition that Being has been understood predominantly in terms of presence already marks a sort of liberation from this history.

  8. At any rate, my point in all this is just that Heidegger's "avoidance" and liberation of thinking from the uninterrogated and interpretation of Being as presence arises simultaneously with the "propriety", or perhaps we could now say the "timeliness", of raising the question of Being. The important thing, I think, is seeing that for Heidegger, even when it is though explicitly, this "propriety" conserves or withholds its truth as a task for future thinking. I'll end my remark here, but I just want add that with this last sentence I have in mind the appearance of the "proper" [das Eigen] in one of Heidegger's words (perhaps the word) for the truth of Seyn, "das Er-eignis" , which has been variously translated as "(ap)propriation" or "enowning". But I'll save my reflections on this for a later time.

  9. I like the pun of your last sentence, Thief! I think I am in general agreement with the 'spirit' of your remarks --I especially want to underscore the importance of your comment that "what is remarkable then, about such an "appropriate" thinking, is that when it arrives in its special form of questioning concerning Being, it at the same time also illuminates a risk intrinsic to its own accomplishment, a risk in which it finds itself already involved. " I think it would be easy to understand this as a natural extension of our last exchange. During that conversation, which was still mired in the language of SZ, you had asked: " doesn't this founding of ontology in the existentiell-ontic understanding--envisioned by fundamental ontology itself--suggest a somewhat impossible task for ontology? Can ontology accomplish/create [schaffen/schaffen] this question as a fact? " My response to this previous question, if I may be permitted to condense it into a few words, was to stress that the "somewhat impossible task" was not so much impossible as ONLY possible --not because we could never 'be sure' if it was actualized, nor because it had to remain incomplete at of the respect for the limitation of finite knowing, but rather because the very actuality of this task is not factual but factical --it is actually the seizure of a factical possibility. The ontic instantiation of ontology --say, in the very philosopher himself --is a making present and an actualizing of the possibility of presence. The upshot of such an over-weaning activity is that, in doing this, the philosopher must bow to the necessity of the dissipation of himself --i.e. of the presence of the thing which is summoned forth into presence by his language. It is this peculiar reversal that allows us to hear the following Heidegger adage in a literal fashion: "Do not ask what you can do with philosophy; the question is rather what philosophy can do with you!"

  10. @Thief...One addendum to your comment that I just noticed ---you say:
    "Rather, thinking das Selbe appropriately means acknowledging from the very beginning , i.e., from out of the present, the coincidence of Seyn and Nichts as a unique state of affairs that already determines the present age through and through"

    What I would like to draw attention to is that, in the nomenclature I was trying to emphasize in the post above, it is precisely NOT Seyn but Sein that coincides with Nichts. This is important because Seyn remains unthought in (and in order for the possibility of) Sein as Nichts. The primary reason for this is that Sein, as the correlate of the ontological difference's seienden, remains related to beings as a whole as such. This relation is also the case of Das Nichts, since it is an extreme possibility of that sending of whereby beings as a whole as such are founded (or founder). But Seyn can only be thought in the attempt to think Being apart from its grounding in beings, including that of the ontic foundations of ontology. This dinstinction between sein and Seyn also shows in what way our past discussion regarding SZ is not applicable to the current one.