I found an article after writing the last post by Thomas Sheehan, the excellent scholar of Heidegger at Stanford, that sums up what I was saying Zizek forgets in his engagement with Heidegger in The Ticklish Subject:
Heidegger’s focal topic was not “Being” (the givenness or availability of entities for human engagement) but rather what brings the opening of clearing within which entities can appear as this or that.
-From "Kehre and Ereignis," in A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics ed. Richard Polt and Gregory Fried New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, 3.
This "what" that brings beings forth for us is the structure of alethia or unconcealment, in other words, truth as something other than adequation (this structure is designated by Heidegger's reflections on ereignis, but we won't really get too much into this). Put differently, this all simply means that Heidegger is a philosopher of truth and not of Being: a philosopher that definitively dispenses with the ways Being has been determined through the ages as the present.
I said that Zizek forgets this, and thus focuses his criticism of Heidegger too much on the issue of ontological difference--the difference between the ontological and the ontic--when this difference is only a product or effect of the real issue, truth as unconcealment. Now, how is this the case? Why is truth a more primary phenomenon or issue? And what was the real locus of the perversity in Heidegger's thinking that we said Zizek should really focus his attention on?
As I said, truth is a more primary phenomenon because, as truth without adequation or without presence as its primary trait, it lends determinacy to the ontological. That is, Zizek harps upon the distinction between the ontological and the ontic essentially because, against his own better judgement, he renders the ontic as determinate, as definite, as certain, and the ontological as indefinite, hard to grasp. How is one to get from the ontic to the ontological, and not supposed to substitute an ontic phenomenon for an ontological one? Zizek complains. Is this not what happened to Heidegger in his espousing Nazism as the supreme moment in the history or destining of Being through its (active, not passive, as in democratic capitalism) confrontation with technology? If the ontological were more definite, this could be avoided. But, as Zizek reasons, this would mean sacraficing the break with the metaphysical tradition of determining Being as the foundation of beings or entities that Heidegger effectuates.
Now, we know this break to be due to Heidegger's reconception of truth: Being is not the foundation of beings or the "most-in-being" of beings because Being as what engages with the phenomenon of unconcealment, with truth, is not something that is present. Zizek, however, attributes this type of truth to be a property of the conception of Being that Heidegger possesses--Heidegger, for him is a philosopher of Being in precisely this way. But neither is it true that the ontological is indefinite, nor is it true that dispensing with the category of the ontological as opposed to the ontic would mean a repudiation and rejection of the conception of Being that Heidegger outlines. This is because, as might now be obvious, if Heidegger is a philosopher of truth, the ontological will itself be a category of truth and not of Being. The same with the ontic: the ontic is a mode of unconcealment just as much as the ontolgical. In short: Zizek thinks that by proving the ontological-ontic distinction untenable, one has to turn one's back on Heidegger's greatest achievement, a conception of Being as that which is non-present. But since we know that Heidegger's greatest achievement was a conception of truth as non-present, we see no problem in dispensing with the distinction. But at the same time, we see no need to dispense with the distinction at all. Neither did Heidegger. While he doesn't use the terms ontological and ontic in his later writings, he does not remove the essential dependency on the truth of the ontological for his mode of inquiry.
What we have proven, then, thus far, is that the ontological is a realm of truth alongside the ontic, and thus is just as (if not moreso) determinate as the ontological. The problem remains, however, of how we are to access the ontological and bring it to the fore and not the ontic--that is, how we are able not to substitute something ontic for something ontological.
But conceiving it as a mode of truth, and truth as unconcealing rather than as adequation, already has allowed us to discern the difference. If the distinction between the ontic and the ontological is a distinction in the way that truth unconceals itself rather than primarily a distinction between the ways Being comes about, what this means is that the problem is not one of "embodying" the Being that we might ascertain as the supreme element of a particular time with the beings or entities we deal with in our everyday way of existing. In other words, the if we conceive of the problem of the distinction between the ontological and the ontic as one that is based not in the essence of Being but in the essence of truth and only thereby in Being, the ontological does not have to be grasped instead of the ontic, as Zizek makes it seem. What we are getting at can be illustrated in the example of the political that Zizek thinks this problem of ontological difference bears upon most: in his words, the ontological difference makes...
Heideggerians ...eternally in search for a positive ontic political system that would come closest to the epochal ontological truth, a strategy that inevitably ends in error.
-The Ticklish Subject, 13.
The political system is the ontic "embodiment" of the ontological truth--by which Zizek means something like the way of interpreting Being (Being as present, Being as the ens creatum, Being as will to power)--and this is so by virtue of there being a difference between the ontic and the ontological. Now, I'm not debating whether Zizek's remark is exact when it comes to past Heideggerians, but his rhetoric of necessity and inevitability is only the sign that Zizek interprets Heidegger as a philosopher of Being, as a philosopher that proffers two choices in the way that Being can manifest itself to us. If we instead stick to a view of Heidegger as a philosopher of truth, and the truth he philosophizes as unconcealment rather than correspondence, there are not two choices as far as Being goes. There are two ways that the unconcealment of Being--i.e. truth--comes about. The operative term is not Being, but unconcealment or truth. In other words, it is not that Being is "what" gets unconcealed that matters, though this is the case. The operative term is unconcealment itself and whether it conceals or unconceals: no matter what, whether Being is accessed ontically or ontologically, unconcealment occurs in some way.
Why this is the case is a different matter, discussed in Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy and Time and Being, and with respect to the Being of Dasein is explained in the portion on the historizing of Dasein in Being and Time. I'll explicate it more some other time. To put it succinctly, the reason why truth is more basic than Being has to do with the way Being withdraws from becoming present. Being, if it is not present in its unconcealment, withdraws into presence that is never present--that is, neither a type of presence we could properly call presence nor non-presence. The withdrawing of Being allows Being to be a presence in this way, and yet keeps it from being present, and thus withdrawing is just as essential as Being itself for the existence of anything: the withdrawing of Being is coextensive with the presence of Being itself, and just as much as Being allows beings or entities to be. Heidegger puts it this way: something gives Being in its allowing Being to withdraw or conceal itself; something conceals and unconceals Being at the same time. This " something" Heidegger calls Ereignis, which literally means "event," but, because of the sense Heidegger gives to it, is variously translated as "event of appropriation," "appropriation," or, more recently, "openness." Ereignis thus designates the structure of unconcealment, that is, truth, as the movement between the presence and withdrawing of Being, and thus essentially determines how Being is accessed more than how Being is "destined"--that is, more than how Being is taken up as the present, ens creatum, will to power, etc.
As we said then, the problem is not one of "embodying" the Being that we might ascertain as the supreme element of a particular time with the beings or entities we deal with in our everyday way of existing. The problem that Zizek is harping on is a subordinate problem. That is, it is not as if the problem is trying to get from the ontic to the ontological. The real problem is in trying to grasp the unconcealment/concealment of Being that makes possible both an ontic and ontological grasp. Thus, in the political example Zizek refers to, the real problem is in discerning what in the particular political situation allows both epic ontological truth as well as the ontic political system to come forth. In short, it is this "what" that is designated by Heidegger by "epochal:" Zizek reifies what Heidegger says and then accuses him of reifying it, it is clear. But we are getting beside the point. The question posed by this real problem is, how do we go about this grasping of this this primordial "what?" We must also answer another question: why does Heidegger still confer more importance on the ontological?
The person that most explicitly brought this way of grasping this "real" problem is Hans-Georg Gadamer, in his Truth and Method. Gadamer explicates it in much of his remarks regarding fore-having, but then also in his reflections on prejudice. He introduces a foreign vocabulary to Heidegger's though, and so it might not be as clear for us now if we were to look at his work extensively. For Heidegger himself also outlines in a general way how to grasp this more primordial problem of unconcealment already in Being and Time. We'll take an example of how he approaches it and shows how this approach is to be made, however, from his essay "On the Essence of Truth." As Heidegger remarks in On Time and Being, the important thing we shall be explicating is not exactly what is said, the "series of propositions," but rather, "the movement of showing" that underlies and constitutes this series (2). What is shown in the following passage is not a discourse on "common sense," but the fundamental movement whereby we are able to grasp the truth of a situation, the unconcealment/concealment that gives Being:
Our topic is the essence of truth... Yet with this question concerning essence do we not soar too high into the void of generality that deprives all thinking of breath? ...No one can evade the evident certainty of these considerations [regarding whether we soar too high]... But what is it that speaks in these considerations? "Sound" common sense. It harps on the demand for palpable utility and inveighs against knowledge of the essence of beings, which essential knowledge has long been called "philosophy"... [Moreover, we ourselves remain trapped within common sense so long as we do not question it as to its essence... and so even in our questioning, at first] ...we then demand an answer to the question as to where we stand today. We want to know what our situation is today. We call for the goal that should be posited for man in and for his history. We want the actual "truth." Well then--truth!
But in calling for the actual "truth" we must already know what truth as such means.
-"On the Essence of Truth" in Basic Writings, 115-6.
I've emphasized the last sentence because it contains the crucial turn that penetrates into the truth of a situation, its unconcealment/concealment that gives Being. In calling for truth in the mode of its having "palpable utility" to us, in calling it forth with "common sense," we think ontically about Being. But at the same time we think ontologically when we inquire into its essence, in a manner that "soars too high." It is only in coupling this ontological thinking with the phenomenon of unconcealment/unconcealment that announces itself in our potential to already possess some meaning for truth. That is, ontological inquiry does this: it does not specify a truth that shall serve as truth in the sense of something able to be used palpably, but rather inquires into how this specification might be possible at all. It considers the possibility of an ontic specification or grasping of something as indicative of a structure that belongs to the kind of Being of something. In other words, it grasps nothing other than the possibility of the ontic. But this is still too little. There is something even more primordial in this grasping that must be emphasized if the ontological inquiry is to become fruitful and not soar too high. This is this possibility's residing already within the ontic and the ontological. To put it differently, no matter if we specify how this possibility constitutes itself, so long as we overlook its facticity, the factuality of it in its possibility, we miss something and merely specify something ontological that can easily fall back into the ontic. The facticity of this possibility lies in the already of the thing (here, an understanding of truth), taken as a fact and not as a structure. As a fact, this "already residing" means that there is a tension of unconcealment and witholding of this unconcealment--i.e. a concealment. What this fact pertains to is what is specified by the ontological inquiry proper: the possibility in its existentiality or existence--in the way it is--is what is developed. But this mode of inquiry is allowed by this possibility's facticity as much as the ontological itself allows for the ontic. As such, the mode goes nowhere when it loses sight of this fact, this fact of its already residing in some unconcealment/concealment. Heidegger in the above passage, looking at how to specify the ontological essence of truth, thus directs us to this. We might say we have answered our above question regarding why the ontological is important: where the ontic will never lead us to this primordial unconcealment/concealment, the ontological will because it specifies the kind of Being of something. Indeed, it will always lack the ability to bring this kind of Being into truth, but it allows a truth to be grasped as a way Being is unconcealed and concealed.
Furthermore, our first question is answered: we know how to discern the concealment/unconcealment of a situation by paying attention to the ontological's determinancy. In the above example, it is by directing ourself and our inquiry into the ontological constitution of truth that brings us to the fact of this constitution, the specific determination of it. Through this, we access a particular type of tension between concealment and unconcealment that makes the giving of Being as ontologically or ontically grasped, possible. To make this a bit clearer, we can turn to Zizek's example. In the political situation, as we said above, the real problem is in discerning what in the particular political situation allows both epic ontological truth as well as the ontic political system to come forth. The ontological analysis of the political situation would find something like an essence of the political situation. But it is not this essence that is ultimately important: it merely specifies what makes the ontic possible and what the kind of Being of the current political situation exists as. The real important thing is that this kind of Being has been unconcealed/concealed already, and that it as such determines the kind of Being of this situation. In other words, what is essential to get at is how there is unconcealment and concealment in a situation already and that it is this that gives Being in its ontological essence, an essence that makes the ontical understanding of this essence as merely "an" essence possible. So it is not a matter of discerning political systems that hit at the essence of the time at all: we can see now that this is quite a stupid way to approach the political, and why Zizek would want to lambast it. But he misses something more important in doing so.
The real question that should make all of this unify itself and become extremely clear, as well as prescribe a type of Heideggerian politics in lieu of the mistaken model of Zizek, is how this unconcealment and concealment that exists already in a situation looks.
As Heidegger specifies as early as Being and Time, the tension between unconcealment and concealment works itself out as a prescription of the proper, of the appropriate. The proper is what unconcealment gets concealed by: it is characteristic of there existing, factically, a withdrawing of Being. As Heidegger puts it in On Time and Being, "what is appropriate shows itself in the detstiny, what is appropriate shows itself in the belonging together of the epochs" (9), where "destiny" and the "epochs" are the holding-back or withdrawing or concealing of the manifestation of Being. In other words, by focusing on the unconcealing of Being, we can see that the proper constitutes itself as that which forms an injunction to interpret or take over the unconcealed in a particular way: and this injunction itself constitutes a concealing. The injunction for Being to to exist, or to be Being, the injunction that Being exist in a particular way ontologically already veils the unconcealing that gives Being in the first place. Thus Being is never given as something present, as Being. It is always given as something that is proper. Now, how does this apply to the political question of Zizek? In a political situation, the question that allows us to access the unconcealment/concealment that determines how Being is given is what definition of the proper is presupposed or expounded or endorced or debated within the current political situation. When there is an instability in our interpretation of the ontological (and not the ontic--thus our ability to discern the ontological still is extremely necessary), there is a witholding and concealing of the unconcealment that gives Being. This witholding constitutes, then, a "destiny" of Being, or rather a "destining" in the sense of distribution or sending: Being can only be grasped in its unconcealment with a particular type of witholding or concealment that is constituted in the injunction to take it over or grasp it as this kind of Being, as ontologically this and not that.
In this way, then, Heidegger was right in championing the confrontation between man and technology as the definitive political potential of Nazism, because he was not talking about the ontological nature of Being, but specifying a way that the unconcealment which gives Being gets concealed: in other words, Heidegger was specifying an aspect of Nazism that embodied the "epochal" or "destined" concealment of the unconcealing of Being: in the 1930's it was this confrontation that decisively concealed the unconcealment of Being. Where Heidegger went wrong is in championing this insight into the unconcealment of his age as an ontological pheonomenon. That is, in merely making it into the kind of Being of his time or epoch. It should be clear now why this is impossible and stupid: the truth of the time is more determinative of the kind of Being of a time than any kind of Being one can ontologically champion or even discern. This is the real perversity at work in Heidegger: that he did not bring this aspect of unconcealment into contrast enough with the ontological such that one could see that one determines the other. It is a perversity that allows Zizek, then, to make the same mistake as Heidegger: in specifying perversity as inherent or ontologically constitutive for the ontological/ontic distinction, just like Heidegger he overlooks that perversity really announces itself in the unconcealment that makes the ontological what it is, a covering up to some degree.
To put it all a different way, where Heidegger was wrong is in seeing Nazism as the only manifestation of this concealment that appears as man vs. technology. As a witholding of unconcealment, what matters is that this witholding indicates the way Being will give itself. If it gives itself in a conflict between man and technology, that is, in warring distinctions of the essence of man as either something human or as something that has some affinity with technology or as something that can be enhanced with technology, it it obviously a mistake to think that one political system can privelige this witholding against all others, which is what Heidegger did. What is important is the confrontation itself: reducing it to the confrontation of a specific system is obviously making it into the ontological essence of something--and thus to substitute the phenomenon that merely is given by this confrontation for the confrontation itself. In other words, the confrontation between man and technology precisely took place elsewhere than in Nazi Germany: reducing the ways that this unconcealment conceals to an ontological phenomenon that is local to one place confuses the relationship between things.
This should make clear somewhat, I hope, the mistake Zizek makes. Like many Lacanians, there is a distaste for looking at the proper--that field that Derrida brought out as so determinative, precisely as Heidegger specified it--and an eagerness to reduce this phenomenon of appropriateness to something that is perverse in order to undo it or integrate it into a social-psychical economy. What is accomplished in this is a rendering of the proper as something that pertains to the ontological essence of a way of existing, rather than seeing it as a phenomenon of witholding that gives this ontological essence. That is, it too quickly makes the real potential for perversity dissappear and the perversity itself into something that is essential to something. What Heidegger shows us, and what he perversely did not stress enough (and it is inherent to the way he articulated the issue of unconcealment and concealment--that is, truth--that this perverseness is a consequence), is that it is in the destiny of unconcealment, in the way truth must be taken, instituted, debated, etc. as Being, that any perverseness lies. Perverseness is the potential for perversity--not in the sense of potentiality as the opposite to actuality, but in the sense of being the way unconcealment gets withheld.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I found an article after writing the last post by Thomas Sheehan, the excellent scholar of Heidegger at Stanford, that sums up what I was saying Zizek forgets in his engagement with Heidegger in The Ticklish Subject: