Tuesday, July 24, 2007

B&T 6: The They

Part 5

I’ve already said that Da-sein is not a question of “human.” This leaves us with what is still basically a negative statement. Just who is this Da-sein? Chapter 4 of Division I answers this very question. The chapter is entitled The They.

Now, Da-sein is a being with I myself always am. Da-sein is always mine. This indicates an ontological constitution, but also an ontic one. “I am this Da-sein, not another one.” Here’s the problem: if Da-sein is not objectively present, then what could that ontological statement mean? Maybe in an average, everyday way, the who of Da-sein is not myself. Maybe the “I” isn’t an obvious given. It is one thing to make an ontic statement about the I... but ontologically speaking, the average everyday way of being of Da-sein is exactly the opposite? Maybe it is a way of being in which the I has lost itself. Perhaps are others are are not those that I am most clearly distinguished from - perhaps others are those that I mostly don’t distinguish myself from.

Da-sein has two equiprimordial structures that are relevant here. Being-With (BW) and mitda-sein.

Being-in-the-world (BitW) always has others. There are always other people assumed in work; the shoes referenced earlier are made for an other. The lecture I’ve written refers to the listeners. The parking lot refers to car owners. An isolated “I” - the good ‘ol cogito - is never given. Da-sein is always being-with, even on a desert island. Being-with, because it is an existential and not a Kantian catagory, has nothing to do with how many humans are standing next to you.

Now, handiness and objective presence are modes of being for beings unlike Da-sein, so others aren’t handy or present anymore than my own Da-sein is. The BW of others is mitda-sein.

A few times through this presentation it has been mentioned that Da-sein understands itself in terms of what it is not. Da-sein doesn’t first discover itself - an act of self-reflection, I think therefore I know I am - than the world. Da-sein actually first discovers itself by looking away from itself into taking care of the world. We take care of inner worldly beings around us.

BW is different. We don’t have care towards other Da-sein, but concern. There are many modes of concern - being against, not mattering to one another, being-for - these are all ways of concern.

There are two extreme possibilities of concern. One can leap in for another and take their care away; take care for them, Do their work. Make them dependant on you. This is a subtle form of domination. The other extreme is leaping ahead; this is giving care back to the other. Freeing them for their possibilities. Concern can be guided by considerateness and tolerance, or inconsiderateness and a tolerance that more resembles indifference.

Heidegger says that in a group of people all working on similar tasks, the BW is often founded on a mode of mistrust. Think competitive academics. I know I certainly don’t trust any of you. However, there is a different mode - that of an authentic alliance. Truly taking up a task in common first, as Heidegger says, “makes possible the kind of objectivity which frees the other for himself in his freedom.”

But this idea that the others are those that I mostly don’t distinguish myself from... this is still unclear. What might this mean? There is a certain distantiality here - I am so close to the others as to lose myself in them. Da-sein stands in subservience to the others; that is, all of Da-seins everyday possibilities are connected to others. Not any particular others, but rather the generalized mass - the They. A little bit like the They of “they say.” Heidegger describes the They as an “inconspicuous and unascertainable dictatorship” We do things the way “they” do. This is one of those points in B&T that I think most people can relate to, easily enough. We all tend to act according to the way One acts in a given situation. From gender roles to proper classroom conduct. I.e., I’m not sitting here shirtless. Or for a less disturbing example, when one goes to a funeral, one does not wear a t-shirt that says “Life is so rad.”

In addition to this distantiality, the They is concerned with averageness. A certain mediocrity, even. Why was The Departed such a great movie? Because they said so. It also seeks to level down all possible ways of being. Keeping a lid on things. These three things - distantiality, averageness and leveling - constitute publicness.

One of the best things about the They is that events happen in such a way that no particular person did them. No one did it. The They disburdens Da-sein of responsibility; accommodates Da-sein slacking off. Possibilities are closed off; Da-sein is told what it is. It does not have to interpret itself. One does what one does.

When Da-sein is dispersed in the They, when all its possibilities are dominated by the They, Da-sein is said to be inauthentic. When Da-sein has grasped itself, it is authentic. Now hearing this next bit for the first time might seem a bit strange, but authenticity is not somehow a more valuable or higher stage of development for Da-sein than inauthenticity is. It’s not a state of Da-sein that manages to detach itself from the They. This isn’t Sartre’s bad faith. Authenticity is in fact an existentiell modification of the They as an essential existential structure. One of the texts we’ve already read this year pretty clearly had an influence on Heidegger, at least in terms of vocabulary - Augustine’s Confessions. Book 8, I think.

So, re-capping. Just like there isn’t a world and a Da-sein that are somehow just added together like a sum, but rather being a unitary phenomena, there isn’t an isolated Da-sein that is surrounded by other Da-sein - sometimes one, sometimes 5, sometimes none; rather, BW is a fundamental constitution of Da-sein. Da-sein exists in a With-World - mit-velt, in the German. Da-sein is always mine, but as most of its possibilities come to it from the They, it is dominated by and dispersed into the They; Da-sein loses itself and its ownmost possibilities. Taking its possibilities from the They, Da-sein is in the mode of inauthenticity and must recover itself. It’s worth pointing out here that the phrase “ownmost possibility” is one of those points that projects forward into the book.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

B&T 5: Tools

Part 4

Useful things are the objects we encounter in the course of our projects; like my laptop. They are always nested in a referential totality; a little like those Russian nesting dolls. Your pen, the paper, this table, these are all inner worldly beings that refer to one another and the project of being a student. The totality is like an empty structure that our specific projects fill in. Every totality has a “for the sake of which, which signifies an in order to, the in order to signifies a what for, the what for signifies a what-in of letting something be relevant, and the latter a what-with of relevance.”

Tools are “together... with...” For example, the pen goes together with your paper. Or think of game pieces, like chess; the individual pieces all exist within a referential structure. The pawn is not a piece of carved wood; it is a position within a structure. The activity of work always involves a totality; Heidegger’s example is production. Making a shoe implies the existence of one who will wear it. The actual production uses leather, nails, etc; the leather and the nails each refer to their respective sources, etc. Each of these pieces are interconnected; a totality is discovered.

Useful things are either handy or objectively present. Think about your experience when working intently on something. Furiously typing away on your keyboard, are you thinking about typing? Are you thinking about your keyboard? No, you’re not. The tool that you’re using recedes; it becomes transparent. This is the mode of handiness. This isn’t a significance that we project onto the entity; it is a mode of being. This is the way things are, initially and for the most part; everything just recedes into the background; this is how things are “in themselves.”

There are three possible ways this can change. Tools can become damaged or unusable; in which case, they enter the mode of conspicuousness. If your pen breaks or my laptop suddenly shuts down, they cease to be handy. It becomes objectively present. When a tool is missing, not in its proper region, our awareness of its absence discovers the properly placed parts of the totality as present; everything becomes obtrusive. And finally when something is in the way, when it is in a place it shouldn’t be, or when we don’t have time for it, what is to be taken care of is obstinate.

Conspicuousness, obtrusiveness and obstinacy bring to the fore the objective presence in the inner worldly beings at hand. This disrupts the chain of references; when your pen runs out of ink, the handy connection to the paper is disrupted. The referential structure of “for the sake of which, in order to,” etc, comes to the fore.

Part of the chapter on the worldliness of the world involves a discussion of Descartes’ notions of the world. Substance, and what not. I’m not going to pay much attention to this chapter except to point out something on page 89. I point this out because it relates back to Chris’s Nietzsche presentation. When Descartes describes the world in terms of substance, the sole access to this world is in terms of math and physics. What math makes accessible in a being constitutes its being. Remember the bridge example; Sturdy Gurdy holds up because the engineers used what amounts to brute force - an extremely solid structure. However, if the proper formulas were developed, than a bridge could be built that would “go with the flow.” Brute force would no longer be needed. In Descartes’ world, that formula would constitute the being of the bridge, rather than being an ontic description of it.

Ok, so I’ll toss in another brief recap here. Da-sein is being in the world. In this world, Da-sein enters into projects in order to understand itself; it encounters useful things that can either be disclosed as handy, or in breakdown conditions, objectively present. These inner worldly beings are always part of a referential totality; each thing refers to another thing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

B&T 4: Being-in-the-World

Part 3

Now, since Da-sein is the being that must be interrogated in order to ask after the meaning of being, an analysis of Da-sein must be completed. It is the analysis of Da-sein that is meant to yield a horizon to investigate the meaning of being. This means going over several concepts. Da-sein and its possibilities, the world / referential totality, the average everyday “who” of Da-sein, and an introduction to care.

So Da-sein is not objectively present; it does not have a way of being in the way a “thing” does. Analyzing Da-sein’s existential structure is thus not a question of psychology, anthropology, biological, neurology, etc. These disciplines all taken humans as an objectively present object to be studied. Heidegger isn’t dismissing their activities; he merely wants to do what Kant might have called an “ontological analytic of the subjectivity of the subject.” I mention Kant because Heidegger’s project has a similar a-priori interest.

If you want to ask about what Da-sein is, the answer is that Da-sein is its possibilities. That is, Da-sein’s average understanding of itself is in terms of what it is not - the world. It takes up projects and roles and understands itself in terms of them. Heidegger characterizes the fundamental constitution of Da-sein as being-in-the-world.

That’s a loaded sentence. Being-in-the-world sounds as if Heidegger is saying Da-sein is inside a world - like we are inside this room. This obvious interpretation needs to be dispelled immediately. That kind of spatial idea - of things next to one another - is a category. Relationships in three dimensional space is a matter for objectively present entities.

Rather, being-in-the-world (BitW) is an existential. It’s not about the location of your body; it’s not something we have and could do with out. BitW is described as something like “dwelling” or a “familiarity” with the world. The world here is an ontological concept; just like “being-in” is not about being in this room, and just like Da-sein is not human, Heidegger’s “world” is not the Earth.

Rather, BitW is about being absorbed in the world; Heidegger will eventually refer to this as fallenness. The relationship between Da-sein and the world is not a subject/object relationship; Da-sein is not a subject that somehow needs to get out to the world. This is Heidegger’s major rebuke to the Cartesian view of things; a dualism between mind and extension has no place in B&T. We are absorbed in the projects and possibilities that we find in the world. We encounter useful things that exist as part of the referential totality of the world. The upshot of this is that our closest association with the world is not a perceptual cognition, but a taking care.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

B&T 3: Questioning, Da-sein

Part 1
Part 2

Heidegger begins the book with a discussion of exactly why this question of being has been covered over throughout the tradition. Part of the answer is that we always already understand being, as I’ve said. There are, however, prejudices that lie in the way of asking this question; being is seen as either being a universal concept, an indefinable concept, or the most self-evidence concept. Heidegger’s retort is that none of these prejudices actually take being as a problematic; they cover it over with the covert judgements of common sense.

Because we are concerned here with questioning, we must start with the structure of the question itself. You don’t ask questions about subjects of which you are 100% ignorant, and you don’t ask random sources. You look for a likely place to enquire. So there are 3 elements here. You need an idea of what you are asking after - being. An idea of what you are actually asking - the meaning of being. And who you are asking. The very structure of questioning answers the “who” – only one being actually asks anything.

The who is Da-sein. Literally in the German, there-being. Being there. Da-sein is the human way of being; thus it is not the same as human. Da-sein is not homo-sapien. Keep in mind the ontological difference here; ontically, homo sapien; ontologically, Da-sein. It’s very easy to slip into equating Da-sein and homo sapien, but to do so is to miss the whole point of the ontological difference; calling Da-sein human or vice versa is to equate an entity with its being.

Why is Da-sein the privileged entity? Because it already has something like an understanding of being. Da-sein has a pre-ontological understanding of being — this is strictly separate from knowledge. It’s not cognitive, either. Understanding is a way of being; this isn’t a question of epistemology. We understand the “is” without being able to conceptually define it. This is what makes Da-sein ontically different from other beings - we are concerned in our being about being. Da-sein related to existence understandingly; the structures by which we do this are existential structures. You might hear echos of Kant’s a-priori transcendental structures here.

Da-sein understands itself in terms of existence, as well. It understands itself through possibilities that come to it through various means; these are existentiell possibilities. These are the possibilities we understand ourselves through; it is an existentiell possibility to be a student.

Rephrased, existentiells are our projects. The stuff we do. They are ontic characteristics specific to Da-sein. Existentials, on the other hand, are what you might think of as our ontological side; the way(s) in which we exist understandingly. One example is mood, attunement.

So here we have Da-sein as the privileged entity that we can question. The problem is that Da-sein is entangled in a particular tradition - a philosophical tradition that covers over the ontological difference and the question of being. What Heidegger wants is a “productive appropriate” of the tradition - a destructuring. It’s worth emphasizing that Heidegger’s intended destructuring is a positive move; it does not “bury the past in nullity.” Heidegger is the hero of the tradition; he’s saving everyone from themselves. This discussion of destructuring and the tradition’s concern over presence appears on pages 20 to 22, for the Derrida fans here.

I guess we all have a passing familiarity with the whole metaphysics of presence thing. Well this is where it appears. The tradition - beginning with Parmenides - takes the objective presence of beings as the guide for interpreting being. This is a rephrasing of what has already been said about onto-theology; the tradition takes a being, a being that is present - in both a spacial and temporal way - and uses this to discuss being as such. This is a “making present.” This table, here, now, is our guide to being. Really.

This presence is to Heidegger only one way of being. This German phrase Vorhandenheit is variously translated as present to hand or objective presence. Another way of being is Zuhandenheit - translated as ready to hand, or handiness. This refers to a particular usefulness of an entity, within a certain kind of context, which Heidegger calls the referential totality of the world. I’ll elaborate on both of this later, but for now I’ll just say that both objective presence and handiness are ways of being for entities that are unlike Da-sein. Da-sein cannot be made present and cannot become handy. This will all be elaborated later on; I just want the terms introduced here.

All right, I’ll pause here to summarize the terms and claims that will continue to be important.

The ontological difference is that difference between being as such and entities. Being is the background upon which something appears as the thing that it is. Entities are basically things - anything you care to name is an entity. All entities have being, but the being of an entity is not itself an entity. This difference has been ignored by the tradition since Plato; entities (usually one entity in particular) are always privileged over being. That entity is judged in terms of its objective presence; all that is real is seen as fully present. Heidegger wants to ask after the meaning of being; the entity that must be asked is the only entity that is concerned about being in its being - Da-sein. Da-sein relates to the world understandingly through ontological existential structures; it relates to itself through ontic existentiell projects.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics

Hey, look. I've finally gotten around to doing what I said I'd do all the way back in this post. All of these posts on ethical works are one part introduction and two parts subjective (but not arbitrary) reflection and interpretation.

Obviously, Aristotle's stuff is insanely rich. It has to be, or it wouldn't be some of the guiding source material for western civilization. So what I'm saying here isn't even the tip of an iceberg; it's a tiny chip from a tiny corner of the iceberg that is Aristotle. It's just what I was thinking about when I decided I needed to get cracking on an ethics series. This theme will re-appear when I write about other ethical works.

There's a common story floating around the philosophy orientated bits of the internet about the history of western philosophy. It's a standard view that Plato began a rational tradition, focussed on describing the world in terms of concepts and ideal forms. Aristotle, on the other hand, began an empirical tradition. As the story goes, he was focussed on observing the world and then commenting upon it. This story will also claim that Plato was a "collectivist," and Aristotle was an "individualist." Plato thought the person was subordinated to the state in all things, and Aristotle the opposite.

I'm not sure that I buy this story, partly for the same reason I don't buy the rationalist/empiricist distinction that supposedly ran through the modern period. This kind of reductionism, that lumps multiple thinkers together, is kind of lazy. It reduces all things to the same. If you ever do read Aristotle or Plato, or anyone else, try not to read them through someone elses' eyes. This being said, I do think Aristotle is worth reading in terms of a particular binary pair, but it isn't individualism vs. collectivism or rationalism vs. empiricism, but immanance vs. transcendance.

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle is concerned with ends and goods. Final Ends and supreme Goods, to be more exact. Immanance and transcendance are possible locations for these Ends and Goods: either they exist within human life (immanance), or human life must go beyond itself to find these things (transcendance). Aristotle seems to be very much concerned with immanance.

Every activity aims at a good; an ideal end is the good. Everything man does is an attempt to reach this end, this good. As such, our lives are determined by our activities. Our lives are a series of activities dedicated to ends, ends that are more or less related to finding happiness.

The supreme good, then, is happiness. As Aristotle defines it, happiness is the virtuous activity of the soul. Happiness is not simply a state of mind, but rather continuous activity - what I'd want to call a way of being. It is attained through effort, through training. Happiness is not something that falls into your lap - it is a result of activities and being a certain way.

As such, and this is my own take on it, happiness for Aristotle has nothing to do with conforming to an external image. It has nothing to do with following Natural Law or paying attention to a list of rules. What the Ethics does is describe a life that is happy; it says "if you want to be happy, you will be this kind of person." It does not say, "if you want to be moral, you will follow these rules." For myself, I'd take that as the basic distinction between an ethics and a morality.

Aristotle does speak of moral rules, of course. But it is never morality in a legal sense, which is what morality commonly is. Moral virtues are not inscribed by or against nature; they are more guides to a certain way of being, or a permanant disposition. Again, right conduct - which for Aristotle is avoiding both excess and deficiency - is how one becomes good and therefore happy. Right conduct is not something handed over by a rule giver or an outside source - it is something immanant to the human as such.

It is that avoidance of excess and deficiency - aka the golden mean - that one is to strive for. The idea is to feel fear, confidence, and all other feelings at the right time and in the right way. Because this is not a list of transcendant laws or rules, what the right times and ways are will differ for every individual. This isn't math, as Aristotle insists on at least twice. Expecting exact rules from ethics or politics is like expecting "mere plausibility" from math.

For example, the mean of fear and rashness is courage. Not taking unnecessary risks and not avoiding risks that are necessary is courage. Know when you have to risk your life, and know when you retreat. One of the oddities of the mean is that it often seems closer to one extreme - a brave man will appear rash next to a brave one. This means that the mean is not the "middle" - courage really is closer to rashness than to cowardice. It is one of Aristotle's practical rules that one should, when aiming for the mean, keep further from the extreme that seems further from the mean. In other words, it is better to be closer to rashness than to cowardice.

In Book IV, there is a passage that exemplifies what the Ethics is in my reading. It is a section called "A Portrait of the Magnanimous Man," and it is a description of a man that knows exactly what his own worth is, and acts accordingly. It is a description of what a person will be like if they have a certain disposition, a disposition that can be attained by anyone through the practice of ethics.

This is a portion of that passage:

He does not run into trifling dangers, nor is he fond of danger, because he honours few things; but he will face great dangers, and when he is in danger he is unsparing of his life, knowing that there are conditions on which life is not worth having. And he is the sort of man to confer benefits, but he is ashamed of receiving them; for the one is the mark of a superior, the other of an inferior. And he is apt to confer greater benefits in return; for thus the original benefactor besides being paid will incur a debt to him, and will be the gainer by the transaction. They seem also to remember any service they have done, but not those they have received (for he who receives a service is inferior to him who has done it, but the proud man wishes to be superior), and to hear of the former with pleasure, of the latter with displeasure; this, it seems, is why Thetis did not mention to Zeus the services she had done him, and why the Spartans did not recount their services to the Athenians, but those they had received. It is a mark of the proud man also to ask for nothing or scarcely anything, but to give help readily, and to be dignified towards people who enjoy high position and good fortune, but unassuming towards those of the middle class; for it is a difficult and lofty thing to be superior to the former, but easy to be so to the latter, and a lofty bearing over the former is no mark of ill-breeding, but among humble people it is as vulgar as a display of strength against the weak.

Again, it is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honour, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where great honour or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones. He must also be open in his hate and in his love (for to conceal one's feelings, i.e. to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward's part), and must speak and act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar.

He must be unable to make his life revolve round another, unless it be a friend; for this is slavish, and for this reason all flatterers are servile and people lacking in self-respect are flatterers. Nor is he given to admiration; for nothing to him is great. Nor is he mindful of wrongs; for it is not the part of a proud man to have a long memory, especially for wrongs, but rather to overlook them. Nor is he a gossip; for he will speak neither about himself nor about another, since he cares not to be praised nor for others to be blamed; nor again is he given to praise; and for the same reason he is not an evil-speaker, even about his enemies, except from haughtiness. With regard to necessary or small matters he is least of all me given to lamentation or the asking of favours; for it is the part of one who takes such matters seriously to behave so with respect to them. He is one who will possess beautiful and profitless things rather than profitable and useful ones; for this is more proper to a character that suffices to itself.

The translation I have is more readable, but this is the best one I could find to copy from the 'net.

I don't have much to add to that passage. I was also going to copy in my other favourite passege, from Book VIII "The Kinds of Friendship," but the translations I can find on the internet are so dissappointing as to not make it worth it. Find the most modern translation you can if you care to read this great book.

B&T 2: The Question of Being

Part 1

On roman numeral page 19, the page right before the introduction begins, Heidegger tells you everything that’s in Being and Time. This page is the little chestnut that the whole tree grows from. His quote from Plato. “For manifestly you have been long aware of what you mean when you use the expression ‘being.’ We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed.”

Heidegger takes this statement very seriously. Do we have a serious, adequate answer as to what we meaning by being? No. No we don’t. So we need to ask this question again: what is the meaning of being?

But the questioning doesn’t begin there. Heidegger says we don’t even realize the question needs to be asked in the first place. So, we need to reawaken an understanding for the meaning of this question. Two things to say here. First, the word reawaken is pretty loaded. It is not offer an explanation for the understanding of the meaning of this question. It is not developing an argument in the sense of stringing together propositions. There’s a path and process here. Following the spiral is an attempt to have the question reawakened - not necessarily answered.

Secondly, it’s not just high minded intellectual obfuscation to point out we don’t even have an understanding of the question, never mind an answer to the question. For example, consider how often being is written with a capital B. In German, of course, all nouns are capitalized. But when it is translated into English and the capital B remains, all this does is suggest that being is somehow a first principle or a substance, - perhaps a euphemism for God. What lurks behind this is the idea that being is a thing, an entity - finally on the same plane as this table.

Explaining why that’s a bad thing offers an opportunity to give an introduction to the ontological difference. There is a difference between being and beings. Being is always the being of a being and the being of a being is not itself a being. Which is to say, being is always the being of a thing, an entity and the being of an entity is not itself an entity.

Being is that from which something is understandable as the thing that it is. Everything that is has being - this chair, the thoughts in your head, numbers these are things that have being. The ontological difference is between ontic things and their ontological being.

This is the tradition’s blind spot, as Heidegger sees it. Being is always taken as the universal, empty concept; an assumed category that is not thought about further. The tradition consistently takes an ontic entity, capitalizes the first letter, and says “viola, this is the thing that defines all reality!” A common version of this is to say everything relates back to God - hence a snappy name for the tradition is “onto-theological.” No matter how you predicate your ontic thing - no matter how powerful and super your posited God is - it is still a thing, and the matter of being remains unthought.

So the question needs to be reawakened. Like Plato said, we have been long aware of what we mean by “being.” The thing is, this is basically true. We are always already living in an understanding of being - it just happens to be a pre-ontological understanding. We’re all perfectly capable of using the verb “to be”; we just don’t have an ontological grasp on being.

So The aim of this book is to work out the question, to gain an ontological understanding of being; the provisional aim is the interpretation of time as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of being.

Notice the reticent language. It’s working out the question, not the answer. There is a “provisional aim,” not a final one. Time is a “possible horizon.” Heidegger is very much concerned with questioning - the question tends to have priority over the answer. The reticence is also interesting in light of the fact that B&T is an incomplete work. Whether for practical reasons - like the need to publish to get a job - or for philosophical reasons - ie the recognition that B&T is still a transcendental project or an alleged recoiling from the imagination - B&T is only a fraction of what is laid out in the introduction.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Martin Heidegger's Being and Time Intro

Martin Heidegger's Being and Time is one of the monsters of 20th century philosophy. Its influence ranges far and wide, and the extent of this influence is matched by the extent of its difficulty. It is an attempt to answer the stereotypical philosopher's question, "what is the meaning of being?"

This is the text of another assignment, just like the Theory of Religion posts. It was written for classmates who hadn't yet read Being and Time, so it shouldn't be too technical. This is only an introduction to roughly the first half of the book, since that was all that was assigned. Still, there's an awful lot of meat.

When I was thinking about how to begin this introduction, one particular difficulty kept coming back to me. Part of the reason this book is such a pleasure to read is the way the ideas move; the form and the content of Being and Time (B&T) reflect one another. We’ve seen this in other readings this year - for example, in the way Spinoza’s Ethics works in a geometrical fashion. Definitions followed by explanations followed by axioms followed by scholia; the form and the content work together. B&T has an entirely different set of internal movements. It is not a linear progression of arguments; individual chapters are not self-contained works that can be read on their own. My presentation won’t mimic that, of course. To try and compensate for this, I’m going to talk about three movements that take place in the text; I think being able to watch out for these movements will help you read it.

If one were going to spatially represent the overall movement of ideas in this book, it would have to be in the form of a spiral. Like I said, it’s not a linear movement, and absolutely nothing is self contained, like one might be able to say for Kant’s Critique. The part is the whole and the whole is in the part. If you only read the first half of a more typically structured book, then you’re just missing the end. You don’t know whodunnit, you don’t know why the cosmological argument for the existence of God doesn’t work, etc. etc. If you only read Division I of Being and Time, then what you’re doing is erasing half the spiral. There are all these little points that where its almost as if Heidegger stopped halfway through the sentence. I don’t say that to suggest a clumsiness or a fault, but to say that the book only works as a whole.

A second movement involves repeated demonstration of the ontological difference. I’ll explain that term below. Anyways, Heidegger very often takes a common concept; explains our usual notions of it, and then shows how that typical, common sense notion isn’t so much wrong as insufficient. For example, truth as correspondence; what exactly this “correspondence” is supposed to be is entirely obscure. So Heidegger moves underneath this to find the ontological basis. I’d suggest this offers a good way to read B&T for the first time; find the common sense notions that you already have, than follow Marty to their foundations. I’ll come to a few more examples later on.

Another movement in the text, the purpose of which I guess doesn’t become obvious until Division II, is the way the text is constantly reaching back and projecting forward. Heidegger is always either saying “remember when we said this? Now we’re going to retrieve this idea and modify it” or he’s dropping hints about the future of the book. It is worthwhile to watch out for this moments while you read, because they offer useful recaps of what has come before.

That’s my little preamble, and ever so subtle injunction to just read the whole freakin’

ToR 7: Conclusion

Part 6

Bataille references the idea of salvation by faith alone - attaining the sacred by destroying the value of these works. This is an improvement over the utilitarian mediation, but only a marginal one. Salvation by faith alone pushes off intimacy into the next world It is this deferral to the next world that the final separation between the divine world, the beyond, and the real world, the here below, occurs. The divine order can never be brought into a world that is entirely thing-ish, as it once was with festivals.

With the radical separation of the real world from the divine, the reign of autonomous things begins - industry. Non-productive destruction has long been subordinated to production by the military order, so production grows more and more - kind of a snowball effect. Everything is given over to production, including man. And, of course, large quantities of consumption.

The reduction of all things to thing hood actually allows intimacy to affirm itself in this vast expenditure; the macro development of the means of production reveals the meaning of production - that is, the non-productive consumption of wealth. That revelation is the fulfillment of self consciousness in outbursts of the intimate order. When consciousness reflects back on itself, reveals itself to itself in that self-consciousness and sees production as something to be consumed is the point at which the world of production no longer knows what to do with itself.

The condition for achieving this self consciousness - that is, consciousness that can reflect back on itself - is science - that is, a clear consciousness of the real world of objects. As science developed itself, it was turned onto the intimate order - but of course the sacred is unreal, and in order to translate it into scientifically understandable terms, it had to be calculated into the real.

If the intimate order is to be restored, it must be restored by clear consciousness; intimacy will appear to be given in that distinct knowledge discussed at the beginning of the book. The problem with the seeming appearance of the intimate in knowledge is that knowledge and intimacy have different temporal modes. As we said all the way back at the beginning, knowledge is always incomplete and differed into the future, while intimacy is immediate.

So, we may only speak of non-knowledge. If clear consciousness is going to be involved in this at all, there must be a recognition of the obscure nature of divine life. Intimacy is then the limit of clear consciousness; we cannot know anything distinct about intimacy except for the modifications of things that are linked to it. Intimacy is the shore we must stop at lest we drown in the ocean. And it is, of course, the weakness of traditional religion that it attempts to make intimacy a matter of knowledge.

Self consciousness doesn’t really need to destroy things; that would be futile anyways. Neither order can destroy the other. What consciousness can do is “reclaim its own operations,” placing them into reverse, cancelling out these operations and discursive thought with them; ultimately encountering intimacy in a kind of darkness.

The finale of the book proper is just such a reversal of operations. Clear consciousness of objects makes their destruction possible, and overflowing production makes that destruction necessary.

Bataille sits in his room, and looks around at the tools there which are a result of labor. Labor is an act that exists for the future; all work is done for a future goal. The tools Bataille has are used for his own labor. Labor produced his tools, and he will use the tools for further labor.

BUT! The booze, it ruins the productive value of the table/tool. It negates the productive value of the table *and* the labor that created the table. This negation is quite temporal, quite retro-active. All the work leading up to the moment is negated, in that brief moment.

This negation of past work and production offers a basis of self consciousness; it is a return to the state of the animal that eats another. Insofar as the productive tool is destroyed in consciousness, the tool and the profane world dissolves around me. The tool can’t be destroyed in consciousness unless there are consequences in the real order; the real reduction of the real order is a fundamental reversal of the economic order. There will always be a point in any economy when production will be negated, that is, it will flow outside. This could be done without any human thought at all, but then the expenditure turns to war; this is not inevitable. War is not the conscious, human form of expenditure.


And there you have it, a seven part summary of Georges Bataille's Theory of Religion.