Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dread in Kierkegaard, continued

I felt that my last post had gotten a little messy as far clarifying Kierkegaard's structure of dread (Angst), so here we will continue where we left off after a short, clean summary of what we have already elaborated, and then continue on to show why precisely this is read by Heidegger as "thrown-ness" (Geworfenheit), as well as how the structure of dread reorients the phenomenon of the prohibition of desire.
We started out with the case of Adam, who was brought out of innocence and into guilt without knowledge of what might make him guilty--i.e. in ignorance. Kierkegaard explains that dread is what brings about this type of guilt, because it operates precisely by preserving the subject's ignorance. The key was to see how this preservation is accomplished. This is where things got a little too complicated, thanks to Kierkegaard's confusing language on this matter--although we may remark that the language is confused because it attempts to reduplicate and stay true to the very confusing and ambiguous nature of dread itself. But how it all unfolds is actually quite simple.
Dread brings one out of innocence and into guilt ignorantly--i.e. it preserves ignorance while rendering guilty--by confronting the subject with nothing that is knowable. That is, it confronts the subject with a nothing; something that is nothing to him as far as his knowledge goes. Thus the particularly uncanny nature of dread--and Heidegger brings this out more explicitly: one dreads something, but one does not know what one dreads. Something is there, and yet it is nothing to me. Why this is the case is simply because what is brought before one in this instance is not really what is important. In bringing something dreadful before a subject (i.e. a nothing), what dread accomplishes is to bring precisely the subject's own ability to dread to the fore along with this something. How? The act itself comes to be what is dreaded.
However, splitting the act up into a content and a form, as if what is dreaded is different from the act of dreading is dangerous, precisely because it covers up the depth of the interplay between the two. This is what I did in my last post, and I regret it. I should have explicated the following remark of Kierkegaard, which brings the phenomenon into complete clarity:

Innocence has now reached its apex. It is ignorance... but which precisely is dread, because its ignorance is about nothing. Here there is no knowledge... but the whole reality of knowledge is projected in dread as the immense nothing of ignorance.
-Nineteenth-Century Philosophy ed. Patrick Gardner, p. 313.

The moment of dread is the apex of ignorance. Everything revolves upon grasping the intricacies of the structure of dread at this particular point. At this moment, one is still ignorant, and is therefore still innocent--as we have often pointed out, one cannot really be held guilty regarding something one did not do knowingly. If we understand this state of the subject, we can then see that it is not only ignorant at this moment. In fact, "the whole reality of its knowledge," which is precisely its lack of knowledge, is made manifest, is "projected". One's ignorance in dread is such that it is made explicit and real. Why? Because in dread one is confronted with that which one cannot possibly know--a nothing. Nothing comes before one, and yet they dread it. This fact alone presses the ignorance of the innocent towards the most concrete state of reality. One is still ignorant, but at the same time this ignorance is made real to them, making them more suddenly than just ignorant.
Now, what is the character of this "more?" How is this new reality constituted? It is by answering this question that we can get a handle on the whole structure of dread. For it is also here, and here only, that one can begin to specify a difference between what is dreaded and dread itself. The concreteness or reality of one's ignorance is brought out in dread because, as we said, what is dreaded is precisely nothing. In saying this, we are saying two things: 1) that the subject's ignorance gathers itself together astonishingly such that we can say that it attains a level of "reality" that it did not previously possess, and 2) that reality itself is the byproduct of this gathering. It is by specifying the latter point as the real "object" of dread that we can say that it is what is "really" dreaded. This is slightly a distortion of what is happening, but only because what is happening is circular and feeds off of itself. If we wish to see what dread is, we have to break it up as this:

dread → what is dreaded

what is "really" dreaded

Which, because there is nothing actually being dreaded, becomes this:

dread → nothing, that of which one is ignorant

reality of ignorance

This is why we said in the last post that there was a difference between what is dreaded and dread itself--when there really isn't. It is just that the nothing in the face of which one has dread precisely engenders something that provokes the dread to confront this nothing more and more to the extent that one has to call this provocation itself that is engendered the "real" object of dread--that is, precisely because it has a consequence one has to point to it as the real thing that is dreaded. This is the real nature of the "dreamlike" state of dread--not because dread itself is like a fantasy of a particular object. The word "fantasy," and others like it ("wish," "desire") imply that one has an object that is not nothing, that there is another way that the knowledge, which merely appears as nothing to the ignorant subject, is known. This is not really what Kierkegaard is saying--though it is essentially commensurate with his structure. It is only insofar as we do not call this "different knowing" (perhaps unconscious knowing) a type of knowing at all that he will accept it however--otherwise one would still be knowing in some way, and therefore, on some level, guilty. This indeed is what Freud holds: it is the aim of psychoanalysis to confront the "different knowing" (the unconscious) precisely as the thing that is responsible and guilty in various acts and thereby to assuage its effects upon the conscious person. But Kierkegaard wants to maintain a stricter notion of ignorance (because he wants to maintain a stricter notion of guilt), and thus does not recognize any other type of knowing than knowing. I explain all this just to make the difference clear and to bring out why the usage of Freudian terms slipped its way into the last post--when terms like drive and desire are not quite accurate. Thus, what one dreads is and always will be nothing for Kierkegaard. He does not care to look behind the curtain of any subject's ignorance to see what is really there because he does not think that knowing what it is will change anything. (Here obviously Freud would disagree--an unconscious impulse to kill is a lot different than an unconscious impulse to desire something for him, and this admits of different ways for the subject to approach the unconscious. For Kierkegaard, all these ways are the same, and reduce to dread.) Kierkegaard stays on this side of subjectivity always, so that what comes to the fore is only ignorance.
Now, we have not answered our question. If the reality of one's own ignorance is what is really dreaded, what is this reality composed of if it is not a "different type of knowing?" Nothing other than the subject's own freedom, Kierkegaard says. How is this so?
Let's recap, one more time. In dreading nothing, and thereby producing the concreteness and reality of one's continual ignorance, it can be said that what is really dreaded is this reality. This reality is therefore composed of one's ability in the face of nothing to actually produce something real--even if it is only (and precisely) the reality of one's own inability to know the nothing that confronts one in dread. Thus, this ability is really what is brought out through dreading; it is really what makes up the reality of the ignorance that dread of the nothing produces. This ability Kierkegaard names the "possibility" of the subject. Thinking through what happens, we can say that it is essentially the constancy of one's ability to be--that is, to be ignorant. The bare fact that one can stay in front of nothing that one can know is what is made real for one in this moment, and this fact is of the essence of the subject.

I'll clear this up more later tonight--as of yet it is taking up too much time to explicate! No doubt this is because of my approach (as well as Kierkegaard's). There is an easier way to talk of the phenomenon of dread. Kierkegaard does it himself, and I'll leave you with that for now:

One may liken dread to dizziness. He whose eyes chances to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But the reason for it is just as much his eye as it is the precipice. For suppose he had not looked down.
Thus dread is the dizziness of freedom which occurs when... freedom gazes down into its own possibility, grasping at finiteness to sustain itself. In this dizziness freedom succumbs... That very instant everything is changed, and when freedom rises again it sees that it is guilty (315).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dread in Kierkegaard

Dread (what we can also call anxiety) has a specific structure for Kierkegaard, a structure Heidegger elaborates as thrown-ness in Being and Time.  In a footnote Heidegger indeed acknowledges that he is indebted to Kierkegaard as well as to Christian theology: "The man who has gone farthest in analyzing the phenomenon of anxiety--and again in the theological context of a 'psychological' exposition of the problem of original sin--is Soren Kierkegaard." But more important than the indebtedness is the exactitude, the meticulousness, of his understanding of what Kierkegaard says--of that structure of dread.  Let's see what that structure is and how he reached this understanding.

Kierkegaard outlines the structure of dread in the following passage in The Concept of Dread, taking Adam's fall into sin as the phenomenon's most concrete instance:

...When it is related in Genesis that God said to Adam, "Only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat," it is a matter of course that Adam did not understand this word [i.e. that he was "innocent"]. For how could he have understood the difference between good and evil, seeing that this distinction was in fact consequent upon the enjoyment of the fruit?

When one assumes that the prohibition awakens the desire, one posits a knowledge instead of ignorance; for Adam would have had to have a knowledge of freedom, since his desire was to ["freely"] use it [i.e. the distinction between good and evil]. The explanation therefore anticipates what was subsequent. The prohibition alarms Adam [or induces a state of dread] because the prohibition awakens in him the possibility of freedom... [And yet this freedom] is a nothing, the alarming possibility of being able... Thus innocence is brought to its last extremity.

-The Concept of Dread, in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, 103-104.

Kierkegaard is saying that dread is fundamentally what allows innocence--exemplified in Adam before he ate of the tree of knowledge--to be "brought to its last extremity," or, in other words, to let itself fall into the state of sin, whose essence, Kierkegaard later says, is guilt. Let's represent this structure in this way:

innocence → dread → guilt

Some initial remarks should be made here on this and on the passage.  First, in this passage Kierkegaard points out explicitly that this structure completely ignores the relevance of transgression as we normally understand it to the narrative of Adam's fall into sin. Sin is not the result of disobeying the prohibition. The prohibition doesn't matter: what matters is the relationship between innocence and guilt.  He's also slyly indicating what the result of this analysis will be: understanding guilt will better allow us to rethink prohibition; the concept of prohibition is what will be re-evaluated or revalued by his analysis of how dread engenders guilt. Next, even if we are to turn to the prohibition, Kierkegaard thinks of things differently.  Christian theology has often focused on the prohibition of the eating of the tree when it comes to Adam's fall in Genesis, although it has often interpreted this widely. But what actually is prohibited for Kierkegaard, is something like the desire to know. We'll specify exactly what Kierkegaard thinks is prohibited by God in this statement later (he's even more precise about it), and thus get a chance to look at what he conceives of as desire as well. But for now, the first question to put to ourselves is why he wants to bypass the issue of prohibition in the first place? How will looking at dread, and not transgression, as the origin of guilt eventually make us rethink what the concept of prohibition involves?

Because the key to understanding dread is to understand it as also bound up with knowledge. As Kierkegaard says, "when one assumes that the prohibition awakens the desire, one posits a knowledge instead of ignorance.", and this covers up the essential phenomenon of how guilt arises. Essentially, understanding prohibition as the thing that awakens desire covers up the fundamental ignorant innocence that is constitutive for the act of eating of the tree--the ignorance that is precisely what makes the story (like the story of Job) so extremely disturbing to us. Why would God punish what essentially is an act done without our ability to know that it was wrong? Positing that Adam was focused on the prohibition itself when he ate of the tree requires that he know what the tree will do when he eats of it--in short, if the prohibition awakens the desire, it is precisely because Adam would know beforehand why what is prohibited is prohibited. Obviously this is untenable: how could Adam know beforehand what the tree would give him? No, the whole instance proceeded in complete ignorance. But how, then, could Adam have become guilty of trespassing against God's word? That is where dread comes in.

Dread is what, for Kierkegaard, leads us out of innocence and ignorance and into guilt, instead of knowledge. Knowledge is not what causes the fall of Adam, but dread, and with it, freedom. Thus to the structure we outlined above, there would seem to correspond a structure that looks like this:

ignorance → dread → knowledge

But because we do not know how dread begets knowledge, this statement as yet is empty. Furthermore, if we were to try and tie freedom into this structure by representing it as the following we would be fundamentally wrong:

ignorance → dread → knowledge, freedom

Freedom is not a consequence of dread for Kierkegaard, but rather underlies it as what dread itself activates or actualizes in dread's becoming actual. Thus, we must ask, how does dread lead us out of innocence and ignorance by way of being connected with freedom for Kierkegaard?

It should be noted that all the foregoing has done is to outline the interconnected nature of two structures, the structure of innocence and guilt, and the structure of ignorance and knowledge, which we can represent by combining our previous representations:

innocence → dread → guilt
ignorance → dread → knowledge

It is also clear from the foregoing that two concepts remain to be connected to this nexus: prohibition and, most essentially, freedom. But it is not by specifying what either of these are for Kierkegaard that we get a handle on what he means by them and dread more generally. Rather, it is by proceeding with the structures that we already have outlined that we can specify their nature. In other words, though Kierkegaard has a specific nature of freedom, he does not specify what freedom is concretely and then derive his analysis of dread (not to mention his reading of Scripture) from it--this would be too abstract for him. Rather he sticks close to what he already knows and what Scripture already tells him about the transition between ignorance and innocence and guilt and knowledge. We'll do the same.

Indeed, it should be obvious by bringing the two structures we have outlined that, if we posit some other term--dread--instead of the prohibition itself as the thing that leads us out of ignorance and innocence, that this third term--dread--will be responsible for relating both ignorance and innocence. In other words, from what we have already seen Kierkegaard say, it should be obvious that dread leads us out of innocence ignorantly, and that dread leads us out of ignorance innocently. It is by analyzing these relations that Kierkegaard sticks close to what he already knows and does not give in to a pressure to cover up the disturbing nature of Adam's fall--not to mention the fall of anyone innocently or ignorantly into guilt and knowledge.

Now, if one is led out of innocence, or, as we normally call it, is guilty for some reason, and yet is led out of innocence ignorantly, he still seems innocent: indeed, this is why Kierkegaard says "he who... becomes guilty is innocent" (102)--that is, if they become guilty ignorantly. Why should this be the case? Why do we normally make this provision for guilt? Or, put differently, how can one who is guilty be innocent at the same time if they are ignorant? By our normal reasoning, we say that if an innocent person is lead to guilt ignorantly, it is something other that effectuates the guilt, not the person who was lead into guilt. "They didn't really mean it," we say, "it wasn't really their fault." Guilt must be tied up with this "something other," then. Kierkegaard simply names this "something other," "dread." That is, instead of pursuing the issue of guilt by making an exception of the case in which someone is led to guilt ignorantly, as we usually do, he analyzes it as a positive phenomenon. In other words, he is not excluding this instance from the rest of our codified ways of assigning guilt, making of it a case where the "rules don't apply in the same way:" rather, he will eventually conclude that this instance is the exemplary instance of the way guilt arises.

But let us continue--how could one be led into guilt ignorantly, if guilt essentially lies in knowingly doing something? Where is the knowledge located in this instance? If someone is guilty innocently because of ignorance, and thus has become guilty by "something other" than her or himself, and if this "something other" is dread, then we might say that it is precisely dread that effectuates the guilt knowingly. In other words, if the innocent person is still innocent after being made guilty through dread, it is not the person who is responsible for this guilty status: for how could he have known--being ignorant--whatever it was that rendered him guilty? Dread knows, somehow, or has some relationship to the knowledge of which the person is ignorant, and thus Kierkegaard continues the sentence just quoted ("he who through dread becomes guilty is innocent") by saying "for it was not he himself but dread, an alien power which laid hold of him" in the transition between innocence and guilt (102). Thus by specifying the relationship of dread to knowledge we get a handle on exactly the way someone innocent and ignorant can be led to guilt. If they are seized by dread, they are seized by something that has a relationship to a knowledge that they do not know. We might represent this the following way before we go on to analyze this relationship:

innocence/ignorance → ( dread ← knowledge ) → guilt

Notice that this gets rid of our previous schema where knowledge was somehow a product of the dread of an innocent person along with guilt, which was represented this way:

ignorance → dread → knowledge

Knowledge is intimately connected with dread, and not with ignorance. Thus it does not directly oppose and obviate ignorance itself; knowledge does not suddenly come along and wipe out innocence because it wipes out ignorance. Rather, knowledge has a direct relationship to dread, and only can effect ignorance through this mediation.

We can specify the relationship of knowledge to dread by asking what must necessarily be the essence of a knowledge that preserves ignorance. The answer to this is that it must be a fantasy, something that is not real in content but is real in its ability or possibility to be real. As Kierkegaard says, at the center of dread is that which in an innocent act could have been, that which in an act was that person's particular "I can" (104), in the sense of an ignorant "I can do this which I currently fantasize about" at the moment of one's fantasizing. This is why Kierkegaard specifies dread as a "dreaming" (101) of the spirit: the moment at which a subject dreads is the moment in which that subject indeed "projects its own reality" even though "this reality is nothing" and "this nothing constantly sees innocence outside of it" (101). The reality it projects is precisely its own ability to do whatever it is that it projects.

Now it should be obvious that by "seeing innocence outside of it," Kierkegaard means that in the particular moment of dread, what is, is only that which is for someone who is ignorant, or does not know reality, and is therefore innocent in the way we determined before. Let's penetrate deeper into this phenomenon. What is real in the moment of dread is nothing, and dread itself is thus dread "about nothing" as we usually say. But this nothing is not really nothing, as Kierkegaard says. It is only nothing insofar as what the dread is about in reality is nothing. In reality, whatever is dreaded has the constitution of a dream, a wish. But the fact that the dread occurs and is about something that is not real does not make the act of dreading itself disappear. The act of dreading is precisely everything, it is so much not nothing--it is and remains one of the most keenest and most real psychological feelings possible. We thus might represent dread as the following, making a distinction between the act of dread and what is dreaded.

dread → content, what is dreaded → nothing, dream

form, the act of dreading

real, reality

More appropriately, we might call the act of dread a desire, since a desire is precisely a relationship to something that is, as of yet, nothing. Indeed, if we are going to call this act a wish or a dream as well this seems legitimate. But in recharacterizing this act this way, we can see desire come into play--and it should be quite clear now that it is precisely not the desire of some particular bit of knowledge like the distinction between good and evil. What is dreaded, what is desired is something that is not, and since the act of dread or desire occurs anyway, we are left to conclude that that which it is really about is precisely unrealized possibility itself, in other words, the reality of nothing--the reality of something that, as of yet, is not real and is therefore nothing. Put differently (and perhaps more clearly), what the desire is about is (in Freudian/Lacanian terms) really the drive, the act of desiring alone. Similarly, what is dreaded is really only the possibility of the individual to realize that particular thing one dreads. Thus the above relationship can be redrawn like this:

dread → desire, what is dreaded → nothing, dream

drive, what is really dreaded

real, reality

This continual play on the word "nothing" Kierkegaard uses (and which we are merely reduplicating) he uses perhaps to curb the impact of the radical thesis he is putting forth here. What he is saying is that what dread is drive itself, the desire for the realization of what is unrealized and, as the desire of someone who is ignorant, is the desire of something that is not known. Desire, as dread and therefore as drive, is desire for that of which one is ignorant, that which is nothing currently. As such, it is not fundamentally that thing that is desired, but (because one does not really know that thing, the act one could have done), it is really the possibility of the realization of that thing. This is what is meant by us saying desire is desire of "the reality of nothing:" it is fundamentally the desire for the possibility to realize what is now nothing, the desire of drive. Furthermore, as a dream or wish or desire, one possesses already in dread this possibility--it is there in one's desiring of that which does not exist. This is why it is, as Kierkegaard implies, the greatest inner possibility of a subject.

Let's sum this up to be a little clearer. What is desired in dread is precisely that of which one is completely ignorant--to the subject it appears as nothing, making him say characteristically when asked what he is worried about, "it's nothing." Thus, what is desired is precisely not knowledge, because what is desired is precisely that of which one as of yet cannot actually know. However, desiring (and we should mention that we do not even know of this desire--desire is not like a willing)--desiring that of which one is ignorant is indeed desiring the possibility of knowing that which is not known--this is, as it were, the side effect of desiring precisely that which one cannot know. In desiring non-knowledge, as we might put it, we are precisely desiring the possibility not of knowing the non-knowledge itself, but of knowing our own possibility to know, our own possibility to not be as ignorant as we are now. This side-effect we call drive, or the reality of the act of dread. We might represent this structure of knowledge thusly:

dread/desire → (desire as such) that of which one is ignorant
↓ (drive)
possibility of knowing

It should be obvious that this is just a condensed version of what we have already specified. It is this downward arrow that is active: the desire for that of which one is ignorant opens up a general, indeterminate possibility of knowing anything--i.e. not just that of which one is ignorant. Rightly, Kierkegaard does not speak of this indeterminate result as genuine knowledge yet: dread brings into view only "a nothing in lively communication with the innocence of ignorance". It is "lively communication" only that is really going on here, since what is being known is precisely only the reality of the possibility of knowing (drive). Thus, one can still speak of this knowledge of a possibility of knowing as ignorance, and we will indeed do so. It is ignorance in lively communication with only the possibility of knowing, and as such, it produces no knowledge and continues to preserve ignorance itself. We can represent this thus within the larger structure of dread:

ignorance → { dread ← ( [ desire → that of which one is ignorant ] → possibility of knowing (drive)/ignorance ] ) } → guilt

This specified, we can show exactly what this type of ignorance is and does. It should be noted that grasping the role of desire has allowed us to specify the role of prohibition, but we will put this off to later when the whole phenomenon of dread comes fully into view. Now, this particular type of ignorance, this knowledge only of an open-ended possibility of knowledge this "I can," this result of a desire based in dread, Kierkegaard names "freedom." As Kierkegaard puts it, "dread is the reality of freedom as possibility anterior to possibility" (101). By "possibility anterior to possibility" Kierkegaard means that freedom is the reality of possibility itself as the reality of possibility in the nothing, in the unrealized, in that of which the subject is and remains ignorant. Thus we might rewrite our above structure as the following, having it retain the same meaning:

ignorance → ( dread ← freedom ) → guilt

Now, it is obviously this freedom that brings one from innocence into guilt. How does this occur according to Kierkegaard--especially if it is not really knowledge still? I'll save this answer for another post.

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Idle-talk" and information

The more profound way to interpret Heidegger's term "idle-talk" that is found throughout Being and Time is as information, the concept that is really signified by "standing-reserve" in Heidegger's late work and especially in "The Question Concerning Technology." Reading this early term of Heidegger into the later and especially the later into the former would lend a greater understanding of exactly what he is getting at. Also handy for this would be his elaboration of the Greek concept doxa in his Introduction to Metaphysics.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nazism, Heidegger and Derrida

Isn't the upshot of all of Derrida's comments on Heidegger's Nazism the imperative "Be careful!"? Indeed, as an elaboration of Heidegger's projected "destruction" of metaphysics (cf. Being and Time ¶5) isn't Derrida's entire project of "deconstruction" merely "careful" (that is, productive) destruction of metaphysics--whence the cautious "-con-" that merely makes explicit the sense Heidegger gave to "destruction" in saying "this destruction is ... far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition" or "a vicious relativizing of ontological standpoints"? The objection I am making is not really to the content of those comments on Heidegger or to deconstruction, but one to its particularly annoying style: that of the imperative. If one (correctly) understands deconstruction as the carrying out of the destruction of metaphysics that Heidegger describes or as the leading of philosophy into an era where metaphysics is something other than what it was, why put the "-con-" into "destruct" other than to force imperatively the productive character of destruction that Heidegger outlines upon us?
Indeed, what Heidegger says is an imperative. Metaphysics, in 1927 (the year in which he first uttered the imperative to destroy) was in need of this destruction. Wittegenstein too (and with him, analytic philosophy as well as math) realized that metaphysics, as philosophy that takes truth to be correspondence between a representation and an object or Being to be something that is present, had to go (in his Tractatus we see an almost Heideggerian elucidation of how the truth or elucidatory power of a proposition is to be ascertained--that is, in terms not of correspondence but of "surmounting:" "My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climed out through them, on them, over them. ... He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly."). And he too gave an imperative: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 7). In other words, "that truth which philosophy cannot grasp by way of correspondence must be replaced by a truth that is grasped philosophically by logic" or, quite simply, "metaphysics must be destroyed."
Why, then, this imperative again on the part of Derrida in the "-con-"? And why does it have to take the character of caution? That is my objection. Put differently it is this: It seems that if we understand Heidegger's sense of "destruction" correctly, we would recognize the imperative. Derrida then appends an imperative to recognize the imperative on top of that imperative itself. Isn't this superfluous?
The answer is no, and that my original position is wrong. The whole point of deconstruction is to recognize that the imperative to destroy metaphysics will never be superfluous because it will able to be recognized. This is the essential "ethic" of deconstruction, and why its labor must always appear superfluous. Because truth is not correspondence, its own nature can never even be grasped by a philosophy that would "recognize" it. That is, non-correspondent truth cannot even be theorized by philosophy. Why? Precisely because correspondent truth is a truth constituted by presence, the presence of what will be correspondent to a representation--that is, precisely because truth as correspondence is what is recognized. If truth is not what is able to be recognized (presence), philosophy will never recognize the imperative to move towards another concept of truth.
Is this thesis true, however? Was this really not recognized? At the time Derrida first wrote, this was the case. This is one reason why he attacked the structuralists so fiercely: they completely seemed to ignore this imperative and, like many "natural language" analytic philosophers (including the late Wittegenstein) had avoided the issues Wittegenstein brought up in 1921, returned to a philosophy of presence (while, indeed, including many of the amazing other breakthroughs Heidegger made). The early book on Husserl and the articles that originally made up Of Grammatology are really the first articulations of this superfluous imperative.
But where does that lead us regarding Heidegger's Nazism? In "Comment donner raison" (Diacritcs, 19:3-4, 4-9) Derrida said the following regarding the proclaimations of various members of the French philosophical community in the late 1980's and the press that Heidegger should not be read because he was (briefly--though the meaning of "brief" here was precisely what was in question) a Nazi:

That in the name of which we immediately--or nearly so--condemn Nazism can no longer, must no longer, I believe, be formulated so simply in the language of a philosophy that, for essential reasons has never been sufficient for this and that Heidegger has alsotaught us to question. ...More than ever, the vigilant but open reading of Heidegger remains in my eyes one of the indespensible conditions, one of them but not the least, of trying to comprehend and to tell better why, with so many others, I have always condemned Nazism, in the horror of what, in Heidegger precisely, and so many others, in Germany or elsewhere, has ever been able to give in to it.

Two things are apparent here. First, that a philosopher's Nazism does not entirely implicate all of what a philosopher does, because all these doings in light of this (brief) Nazism prompt us to contemplate what was wrong this Nazism. Second, that philosophy must change the way it conceives itself and its mission if it continues to force these implications upon not only Heidegger but--since Heidegger is a philosopher--itself. Both these points are superfluous, in the sense we outlined above: they call imperatively to a move beyond metaphysics. But it is the second that accomplishes this superfluity most thoroughly: philosophy cannot "recognize" what is wrong about itself and then cut that part out. To do so one would have to be able to recognize nothing less than truth. In short, the demand that we condemn all of Heidegger and his work is unreasonable not because of the scope of what Heidegger himself did, but because to do so is to remain in a philosophy of metaphysics, to remain convinced that what Heidegger did might suddenly present itself to be recognized as evil. As if we did not ourselves determine precisely through reading (not recognizing) Heidegger what is evil in it! Derrida is not trying to show that the amount of Heidegger's complicity philosophically with Nazism is small compared to the majority of his work. He rejects this approach outright, and rather calls imperatively for a transformation of philosophy into a state in which we might be able to more richly entertain the question as to Heidegger's Nazism.
And yet, my objection I think was not entirely wrong, in the end. For why does this point have to be made imperatively--in the form of an imperative precisely to go and re-read Heidegger? Doesn't this make us want to re-read Heidegger precisely in order to find a "genuine" reading of him (or "true" by way of correspondence to what Heidegger actually meant) that will allow us to adequately pose the question of Nazism? I guess the real objective of Derrida is to bring up this precise question. In other words, this is the real issue necessitating the form of the superfluous imperative. In a philosophy beyond metaphysics, one will not re-read Heidegger to try and find a Heidegger that will correspond with the reality of his Nazism. In a philosophy beyond metaphysics, we re-read Heidegger for another reason, a reason that does not entail us recognizing anything. Imperatively, the question comes before us: What would this reason be?
In other words, to those who will say to Derrida that this form of the imperative could never itself be enough to bring about that new philosophy beyond metaphysics, he would concede that they are wrong. The form of the imperative itself will never be enough, but in saying that it is insufficient it has already done its work. That is, in already asking "what would be the reason to re-read Heidegger beyond metaphysics?" that was prompted by the imperative to re-read Heidegger, to revisit the destruction of metaphysics, to reclaim what seemed (in its presence, in being "recognized") superfluous as essential, we merely rephrased the same imperative: "Be careful!" or, more fundamentally, "Respect the non-present!" What seems to lead us back to a place where we need to supply an answer to yet another imperative really is a step forward towards conceiving a philosophy beyond metaphysics: we have conceived its necessity from yet another level, a necessity that leads us forward back to its imperative. Eventually we will hit upon this philosophy, though it will never be something we can recognize.
In fact, we might have already hit upon it in the form of the imperative itself. If an imperative can possess an answer that is non-present, as we are asking it to do here in our question, "What would this reason be? Yet be careful! Respect the non-present!" we have something completely other than a Kantian imperative. The Kantian imperative respected only presence, in wanting a definite answer in the form of an action that made morality itself present. If there is a way of generally being able to respect the non-present in an answer to an imperative, we have produced a new basis for a new philosophy beyond metaphysics. This is the fundamental move of the work of Emmanuel Levinas as Derrida sees him: thus Derrida's turn towards him in his later work (we should note that it is also the move of Lacan, precisely through Kant himself, although Derrida does not use him). The imperative that began the work of Derrida's deconstruction of philosophy therefore itself engenders a philosophy that Derrida can work out such that he can move even beyond Heidegger.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What's going on

Currently three threads of argument are going on within this blog, which all consist of posts I said I would continue and supplement later with other posts. I'll lay them out here so we don't get confused.

There is:
1. Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx, which is nearly done.
2. Heidegger and the "ready-to-hand" which is even closer to done than 1 and will be completed next
3. Heidegger and "Authenticity" which will be the last to be posted.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Authenticity" and "inauthenticity"

I suggested in my last post on Heidegger that the distinction Heidegger makes between "authentic" and "inauthentic" understanding is not related to genuineness essentially. To support this, I cite the following:

...Authentic understanding, no less than that which is inauthentic, can be either genuine or not genuine.
-Being and Time, I.5.31, 186

The implication is that genuineness is not the defining characteristic of authenticity: what is authentic is not necessarily genuine. Now, I also said that because genuineness is not part of the picture, this distinction authentic/inauthentic is also not related to a traditionally metaphysical conception of truth as correspondence or (fundamentally) mimesis. I'll elaborate this latter point some other time. The first, however, is just as important for setting up this elaboration. What does Heidegger mean by saying that the phenomenon of understanding can occur in these two ways? Where does the distinction originate?
It originates in two places, only one of which we'll discuss--though both of course as features of Dasein's Being are reflections of each other and two aspects of the same phenomenon (for simplification, however, we'll keep them seperate). The first, which we will not discuss, is in the type of temporality characteristic of Dasein. The second (which appears first in Being and Time) can be found in Heidegger's following remarks:

Why does the understanding... always press forward into possibilities? It is because the understanding has in itself the existential structure which we call projection. With equal primordiality the understanding projects Dasein's Being both upon its "for-the-sake-of-which" and upon significance as te worldhood of its current world... Understanding can devote itself primarily to the disclosedness of the world; that is, Dasein can, proximally and for the most part, understand itself in terms of its world. Or else, understanding throws itself into the "for-the-sake-of-which"; that is, Dasein exists as itself. Understanding is either authentic, arising out of one's own Self as such, or inauthentic.
-Being and Time I.5.31, 184-6.

Dasein either understands itself in terms of its Self (in terms of its own "for-the-sake-of-which," its own existentiality, its Being), or in terms of its world (in terms of significance). Authentic understanding is the first, inauthentic the latter. To this should be added the crucial sentence that follows these remarks: "The 'in-' of 'inauthentic' does not mean that Dasein cuts itself off from its Self and understands 'only' the world." That is, understanding "in terms of" the world (inauthentic understanding) does not mean that the world only is what a Dasein understands. It means Dasein transforms its existentiality into something with significance and not into the Self; or that Dasein transforms itself into something that is understood like the things within the world instead of seeking out that character that is not worldly but is distinctive for it (the chraracter of the Self as existence).
I'll elaborate all this later in a clearer fashion.


A good quote from Emerson, that seems like a mix of Hegel, Coleridge, and Poe:

What is that abridgment and selection we observe in all spiritual activity, but itself the creative impulse? for it is the inlet of that higher illumination which teaches to convey a larger sense by simpler symbols. What is a man but nature's finer success in self-explication?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bad translation, continued

The real sense of the the sentence mentioned in my last post is something like this:

In that case what is "not-I" or what is outside the self-conscious "I" is by no means that which would belong only to a being which essentially is "not-I-like" or something other than the "I," but this stuff that is "not-I" is rather a definite kind of Being which the "I" itself possesses...

Let us just take this part. Heidegger is saying that when we say to ourselves "I am," we might in fact be farthest from anything like an immediate grasp of our Self. What is the Self? Well, our being or existing in Being, our being or existing at home in Being, our being or existing in such a way that we are appropriate to that which constitutes what we are, Being. Descartes and the philosophy that stems from him believe that in merely saying "I am" to ourselves, we accomplish this appropriateness, we grasp immediately (that is, without mediation, without anything interposing itself between our grasp and what is grasped) that part of us that is most constitutive for us. If we characterize this grasp this way (and it is here that Heidegger perhaps could be wrong--but that is a different question) it is clear that the link between the grasp of the "I am" and the Self is pretty arbitrary. Just saying "I am" doesn't really necessitate any grasp of the self: in fact, it could be that in that moment in which we say "I am," that moment when we are fully self-conscious, what we grasp is something that is totally not the Self. In other words, self-consciousness indeed grasps something, but there is no guarantee that what it grasps is itself in its most appropriate existence as to that which constitutes what it is.
Thus, that which is not grasped by saying "I am," the "not-I," doesn't necessarily have to be something that lacks self-consciousness. Philosophy stemming from Descartes proceeds as if this is the case naturally. In other words, if I do not grasp my Self necessarily by saying "I am" to myself, well, it does not follow that what is not-me, what is not included in the statement "I am," is something which is not self-conscious.
Usually, we say "I am" and contain this moment in which we say "I am," distinguishing it from all the rest of our moments of relation to ourselves. Furthermore, we say that this self-conscious moment is the moment in which we are most genuinely in relation to ourselves. We even go farther than this: we say that all these other moments that are not this moment of self-consciousness completely lack any relation of ourselves to ourselves.
What Heidegger is saying here is that this is paranoid. We may have other moments in which we relate ourselves to ourselves--that is, moments other than self-consciousness. This moment of self-consciousness is in fact so far from being the sole moment in which we relate ourselves to ourselves that we could hypothesize another moment which is in fact more of a relation of ourselves to ourselves and make this self-conscious moment a mere function of it. Freud in fact does this, and Heidegger eventually will also.
An great example of what might be a moment other than self-consciousness in which we are in relation to ourselves is the body. At any moment I have a body. This body is doing all sorts of things so that I can relate to my surroundings: it is processing nutrients, it is circulating vital fluids, it is keeping itself safe and protecting the organs and tissues and cells that make it up, it is allowing me to stand up. Now, if I am standing in a room, who are we to say that this standing does not constitute a relation of myself to myself in some way? My body stands: it orients me (who it houses in some way) to my surroundings by keeping itself upright and maintaining itself there. It makes me able to relate to what is there before me. In a way, it is a relation of ourselves to ourselves because it is a relation of something that is important to the self (the thing before me) and the self itself (the body standing such that it allows me to be there to grasp the thing, or merely stand towards the thing). I could stand differently: this would constitute a different relation of that which surrounds me to me, and thus would be a different relation of myself to myself. In order for it to be a different relation, I must already have a relation in some way. The body itself therefore effectuates this relation in some way, even in the most simple example of standing. Saying that only the moment in which we declare to ourselves "I am" constitutes a relation of ourselves to ourselves denies this moment this property and this effective ability. Indeed, usually the body is the first thing to go when we say this.
The property of grasping the Self, or of relating ourselves to ourselves that we attribute only to the moment of self-consciousness, then, can be a property of other moments. Thus we understand why we said "that which is not grasped by saying "I am," the "not-I," doesn't necessarily have to be something that lacks self-consciousness." In a way, the body is self-conscious, if we mean by self-consciousness primarily the phenomenon of relating ourselves to ourselves.
When Heidegger says that "the "not-I" is rather a definite kind of Being which the "I" itself possesses," then, we should now be able to undersand him. What is not self-conscious, like the body (if we are not to call it something like "self-consciousness" and retain for that word a distinct moment) can still belong or be possessed by that moment of self-consciousness. By "possessing" Heidegger means that it can be present at the same time as that moment and therefore enter into relation with that moment merely on that basis or even as its presupposition. In other words, if I think "I am," and am self-conscious, I can in that moment and in that thought actually possess a body, actually have another self-relation at the same time and even as something that makes possible my self-consciousness.
(We should note the upshot of all this clearly: we are not digressing into a talk about epiphenomenalism, but instead are outlining a new way of the Self to come into existence, a new way of conceiving the relation of ourselves to ourselves. The body/mind distinction is only the best example to do this with.)
Now, let us add in the last part, what the translators render as "such as having lost itself" and what I suggested should be rendered as "such as having lost the Self." It remains a question what exactly prompted the use of "such as" I'll have to check the German, but it seems that the meaning of this little passage could be clarafied much better if the sense of these two words were made clearer in English. Working with what we have, we can safely bet that Heidegger is giving us a case in which the rest of the sentence is true. This would be a case in which the non-self-conscious still is able to have a relation of itself to itself. More specifically, he is specifying a "kind of Being" that is shared between the self-conscious and the not-self-conscious such that the non-self-conscious can have a relation to itself, and thus so that both possess a Self relating itself to itself. In other words, he is specifying that kind of Being that allows what is not-self-conscious to have a relation to itself along with and even besides the "I" having a relation to itself.
It is at this point that he writes "Selbstverlorenheit:" literally, Self-lost-ness. So let's write the sentence in the following way, with the bit we have above:

In that case what is "not-I" or what is outside the self-conscious "I" is by no means that which would belong only to a being which essentially is "not-I-like" or something other than the "I," but this stuff that is "not-I" is rather a definite kind of Being which the "I" itself possesses, such as when the Self is lost.

"Itself" in the original English translation lends credence to the reading in which that to which "itself" refers is the "I," and thus that what is being lost here is the "I"'s relation to itself. It should be obvious that this is wrong--and I doubt that many make this mistake: the relation to itself of the "I" does not matter here. But just because few make a mistake with this translation doesn't mean what we've outlined here is obvious, nor the suggested change irrelevant. The translation really fails to bring out the fact that we are dealing with a case in which there is a relation of ourselves to ourselves and in fact makes the opposite reading sound plausible: that is, if we read the "itself" in the English translation as referring to the "I," one can then assume that the kind of Being that allows the relation of ourselves to ourselves is due to the "I" merely finding itself in a moment of self-conscious clarity.
But this is all besides the point. The point is that Heidegger is specifying a kind of Being that is indeed "not-I" or not self-conscious and that is also what allows a relation of ourselves to ourselves to be accomplished whether we are self-conscious or not. This has the radical result of essentially declaring that such that when we lose our relation to ourselves this occurs. In other words, we relate ourselves to ourselves precisely when we lose our relation to ourselves, when we lose our Self.
This may seem odd, but this is really the case. Let us step back and see the context of this remark. It is one in which Heidegger is specifying the "I" as a "formal indicator" for his existential analytic. That is, he is specifying how this term "I" will function for him. This function is in opposition to a Cartesian tradition which we ourselves have already looked at. In this sentence, then, he is essentially saying how "not-I" will work. This is why the sentence starts in the following way: "in that case [if we take the 'I' as a formal indicator] the 'not-I' is by no means tantamount to a being which essentially lacks 'I-hood'." Thus, he is stating what he often states throughout Being and Time, that the term "not" works by way of privation and not negation. That is, he is saying that what is "not-I" shall not be what is opposed to the "I," but what is merely another case of something that could be said to also be "I:" a "kind of Being" which the "I" itself as well as what is "not-I" "possesses."
This context clarified, we must ask the following: why is "Selbstverlorenheit" a good case of this term being used? That is the question that prompts us to take this whole passage as more of a reflection of the way Heidegger is conceiving a relation of ourselves to ourselves, rather than as a mere terminological issue regarding the "I" as a "formal indicator."
Well, if the loss of the Self is conceived by us as merely another kind of Being which both the "I" and "not-I," the self-conscious and the not-self-conscious possess, we will be conceiving of the phenomenon of self-consciousness and non-self-consciousness correctly according to Heidegger. In other words, if we see the loss of the Self as the relation to the Self, we are not conceiving of the Self in the wrong way. If we adopt the position of the Cartesian tradition, however, and say that we only consider the "I" the Self, then the loss of the Self will be seen as something that is necessarily "not-I:" it will not be seen as merely another mode of the Self. This is obviously important for Heidegger who does not want to reify the phenomenon of the Self, to reduce it from esti, Being, to something resembling techne, the "objectified."
But there still is the implication in the passage, if we stress its last part by taking it as the loss of Self and not merely any type of "loss" or "losing"--which is what the current English translation effectively does--that the state in which we lose ourselves is in fact the state where we most relate ourselves to ourselves. This is the meaning of the "such as," right? No. He is merely giving a case in which "I" is used correctly. But still there is a reason for him putting "Selbstverlorenheit" there instead of any other word. We are led back to the question as to why this is the best case to prove what Heidegger is talking about, and thus to the following question, that resembles the implication we have just outlined in its general thrust against Heidegger: in what way would the loss of the Self indeed be the way in which we relate ourselves to ourselves the most? Surely there cannot be such a state.
Heidegger contends that there is. He sets up this reflection with regard to how we are to conceive the "I," right? And he has been talking about how it is possible perhaps for the moment of self-consciousness itself to be perhaps the moment in which we are precisely not self-conscious. What is the point here?
That it is indeed precisely when we conceive of ourselves as fully related to ourselves in saying or thinking "I am," in being self-conscious, that we lose that relation of ourselves to ourselves which we attempt to grasp in that moment. The reason for that is it is not something we can grab at all in the first place: it is not a Thing, but Being. Now, this doesn't mean that our sense of "I" is always a loss of Self: Freud, who sees the "I" as a fantasy, doesn't even hold this. However, it means that this "sense" we have, this vague feeling or mood in which we feel at home with ourselves, cannot be captured by an "I." In other words, the Self is a much deeper and much more expansive notion that does justice to this vague sense as vague, as something that is lost most of the time, as something that is self-concealing precisely in its self-relating.
Our question will be answered, then, if we flip this around and see the implication as elaborated by the just-mentioned point. If we are least ourselves when we conceive of ourselves as an "I," how can we be most ourselves when we lose our Self? In the sense that losing our Self is what we do as Selves not merely "most of the time," but most essentially. In other words, it is of the deepest of the essence of the Self to be something that is able to be lost. Thus we find underneath this reorientation of the relationship of ourselves to ourselves being accomplished in this passage an even deeper reflection on the nature of the Self itself. The Self for Heidegger is not something that is supposed to be what we are "most genuinely." The Self is something that has its nature in self-concealment and therefore is nothing like "originalness" or even "propriety." That is, throughout Western philosophy what has been considered the Self has been something like "what we are really," or, "what we are in the most thorough and original (in the sense of independent) way," or, "what is the farthest from being counterfeit" (this is what we mean by "genuine"). Heidegger explodes this notion of the Self and replaces it with something that is less concerned with the counterfeit. The Self is not related to the "genuine," but to Being. The Self as the existing at home in Being of a being could be precisely existence as what is most counterfeit, repeated, unoriginal. This is because the Self is what able to be lost and able to be recovered, and not the moment of losing it nor the moment of recovering it. The Self is the phenomenon that underlies and is pressupposed by any "losing of the Self." As such, we are most ourselves when we inhabit this presupposition, when we lose the self. "Genuineness" has nothing to do with the Self in its essence. More fundamentally, it is not what we are "truly." "True" is not conceived for Heidegger as something that is opposed to falsity, but as that which makes possible falsity, as that which makes possible both the true and the false. For this, however, we should discuss his essay on "The Essence of Truth." But that is for another time.
Indeed, we might conclude by saying that this reflection gives a whole different sense--a proper sense that should be how we take this word--to an oft-used term throughout Being and Time: "authenticity." What is "authentic" is not what is most genuine. What is "authentic" is what is a Self, or what is relating most to itself in the manner of the Self.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bad translation

Perhaps when Dasein addresses itself in the way which is closest to itself [i.e. in a self-conscious utterance of "I am this being"] it always says "I am this being," and in the long run says this loudest when it is "not" this being. Dasein is in each case mine, and this is its constitution, but what if this should be the very reason why, proximally and for the most part, Dasein is not itself [italics Heidegger's]. What if the aforementioned approach, starting with the givenness of the "I" to Dasein itself, and with a rather patient self-interpretation of Dasein, should lead the existential analytic, as it were, into a pitfall? ...[Thus] the word "I" is to be understood [in Being and Time, the "existential analytic" under discussion] only in the sense of a non-committal formal indicator [italics again H's] indicating something which may perhaps reveal itself as its "opposite" in some particular phenomenal context of Being. [The following italics are mine:] In that case the "not-I" is by no means tantamount to a being which essentially lacks "I-hood," but is rather a definite kind of Being which the "I" itself possesses, such as having lost itself.
-Being and Time , Chapter IV, 151-152.

"Such as having lost itself" is the really key part. The sentence in German ends with the word "Selbstverlorenheit," or "Self-losing-ness," which does not refer to the "I"'s remaining itself and losing itself, but rather to "the Self" of Dasein (which is not merely the "I") being lost by the "I." In other words, the sentence should read like this:

In that case the "not-I" is by no means tantamount to a being which essentially lacks "I-hood," but is rather a definite kind of Being which the "I" itself possesses, such as having lost the Self.

I'll comment on the interesting ramifications of this translation in a little post after this (and don't worry, I'll complete my Heidegger posts on the ready-at-hand, too: this just came up in the meantime).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Seeing things

Here is a great blog on Merleau-Ponty with some lively (though sometimes needlessly tedious, thanks to people who know too much) discussion of his Phenomenology of Perception. Also some exciting, great previews of a much needed re-translation of the work by the author of the blog, Sean Kelly. This is probably the most important thing going on in the world of books in American philosophy--all sorts of cognitive neuroscientists will be able to really see how pertinent Merleau-Ponty (and "existential" interpretations of the lived-body and physicality in general, perhaps even the "world" as a phenomenon and not as a collection of things) really is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The ready-at-hand, phusis, and physis

We know that the ready-at-hand is related to things in the world, and we have sort of established what a world is, but we still don't know what the hell Heidegger is up to with his term Vorhanden. We saw Heidegger say the following in my last entry:

The Greeks had an appropriate term for "things:" pragmata--that is to say, that which one has to do with in one's concernful dealings (praxis). But ontologically the specifically "pragmatic" character of the pragmata is just what the Greeks left in obscurity (Being and Time, 96-7).

Essentially, what I was suggesting--though did not really bring to the fore explicitly--was that Heidegger here meant that because the Greeks were closer to the phenomenon of Being, they left the "pragmatic character" of pragmata vague. This is why he thinks that his investigation of things in the world must lay this character out clearly: it must not only bring back the Greek closeness to Being, but also do so more rigorously so as to actually bring it to explicitness. This is also why this is not a return to the Greeks in any way: Heidegger is saying precisely what was left unsaid by the Greeks, and in a more coherent and acute way. But bringing in the Greeks serves a specific function not only for Heidegger, but for us, who understand him. In the end I was getting at this: it is only by seeing Heidegger's analysis of the "ready-at-hand" as this bringing to language of a concealed Greek experience of Being in the pragmata that we fully understand what Heidegger means by his term "Vorhanden," and, I suggested, why he feels he must coin this word rather than adopt a new one. We must take Heidegger's clue that there is a better word for things within the world than the "ready-at-hand," and that the Greeks possessed this word. This will allow us to grasp the central thrust of his remarks as well as the deficiency of the term "Vorhanden." Knowing not only what is signified by this term, but why the term in its current construction is insufficent and odd will fully bring what Heidegger means by it to light.
So, in order to understand what is Vorhanden, what is ready-at-hand--which we remember constitutes the world of Being-in-the-world--we have to look at pragmata. Heidegger in his Introduction to Metaphysics (a seminar at Freiburg in 1935) gives us many clues for interpreting pragmata through his analysis of another Greek word, phusis, and its eventual derivation, physis. Heidegger says that phusis was the early Greek word for Being itself--when they were prompted by Being itself as to give an answer to why they existed, they characterized this prompting as a definite force, phusis. What is phusis, then? Let us look at what Heidegger says:

In the age of the first and definitive unfolding of Western philosophy among the Greeks, when questioning about beings as such and as a whole received its true inception, beings were called phusis. This fundamental Greek word for beings is usually translated "nature." We use the Latin translation natura which really means "to be born," "birth." But with this Latin translation, the originary content of the Greek word phusis is already thrust aside, the authentic philosophical naming force of the Greek word is destroyed... Now, what does the word phusis say? It says what emerges from itself (for example, the emergence, the blossoming, of a rose), the unfolding that opens itself up, the coming-into-appearance in such unfolding and holding itself and persisting in appearance--in short, the emerging-abiding sway... phuein [the noun form of phusis] means to grow, to make grow (Introduction to Metaphysics, 14-15).

This is a lot of text, but I feel it gives a sense both of what is to come for us and the correctness of what has already been said regarding the importance Heidegger gives to the Greek understanding of things. That now fully grasped, we can move on to phusis. Let us get a general sense of the assumptions required to grasp its distinctive character before we return to exactly what Heidegger says here.
For the Greeks, what prompted them to exist and answer the question as to their existence was a character of the atmosphere around them itself, an aspect of what was around them always, a place in which they found themselves always: the environment was the means to their answering this question such that they took it alone as this questioning force (that is, as Being, the being of beings, the beingness of beings--this is why Heidegger says the Greek word for "being" as well as "Being" is phusis) itself. Something in the world was what asked the question of Being--it was Being precisely in this sense. A Greek would be maneuvering through her or his environment and doing her or his thing, and would be confronted by phusis such that she or he felt like it was asking them--and not only them but the entirety of the existing itself--a question as to why and how they existed, whether that existence had any justification. This phusis inhered in the environment or atmosphere essentially as its chief characteristic, as what brought the questionability of whatever existed in that place before them most fundamentally.
Now, as we know, for Heidegger the "world" as he uses this term is not this atmosphere or environment. The world for Heidegger is a phenomenon that reflects and offsets the intention of Dasein to answer the question of Being: as such, the world does not really appear as like Being itself--the world is only an answer to Being or a means of answering Being and nothing more. For the Greeks, what was most inherent in the structure of their environment, phusis, was like Being, was Being. Why did they think this?
Well, let's put ourselves in Greek shoes for a second. The environment is what is encountered all the time as that which brings about the question Being puts to us--namely, "why do you exist instead of not?" There is an "environmental" characteristic that all things have within that environment, then, that is essentially like Being, in that it seems to make manifest the question most acutely; that is essentially like Being in that it seems to characterize the phenomenon of existence so much that it would bring that existence into question as perhaps not possible; that is essentially like Being in that it seems to be the most real, and thus allows a conception of the unreal, the non-existent, non-existence itself as an equal possibility for existence such that one can all of a sudden ask "why does one exist instead of not?" Now, there must be a particular characteristic of the things in the environment such that they can make the environment bring up the question of Being in this way. This quality will be phusis.
But what is phusis? As something that is most environmental, it must look like something inherent in things, since things are of the environment. What does this characteristic inherence in things look like? How exactly does it appear to inhere? In what way is it so characteristic? We have not gotten even near answering these questions in merely delineating phusis as what is "most environmental" about the things we encounter in the environment. We'll have to be more specific, especially with respect to how we come across and experience these things.
Now, when we say "things" in the phrase "phusis looks like something inherent in things" and then delineate the Greek "enviornment" as where these things set up, we are talking not about physical things and a physical environment, like a table, lamp, etc. in a three dimensional space like a room. For the Greeks, what was a thing was what was encounterable, claims Heidegger. In fact, a thing was this encounter itself--not in the sense that some subjective viewpoint "created" the thing such as it was in "perceiving" it (a la Berkeley's idealism or even the formative power of Kant's transcendental subjectivity), but rather in that something one happened upon suddenly thrust itself to the fore in a concrete way that was not in that way before (and yet occurred prior to any thematizing thought of it, any perception as such). It was this encounter in that something in it and not in you allowed you to encounter it. To be more clear: one suddenly becomes aware of a thing there, within the field of intention or--since the Greeks didn't really think of "intention"--within the field of action, possibility, potentiality. Something comes before me and I encounter it, it encounters me, it thrusts itself into my field of action and possibility as something to be taken up by myself and engaged with, and at the same time I thrust myself upon it such that it becomes something to be engaged by my action. This moment or rather structure of engaged encountering is the thing in that it is in the distinctive power of the thing to come before me in this specific way. In other words, the thing's being-there makes possible this structure and this encounter as if by itself. What I come across in my environment comes before me in this particular way, and doing so is what is characteristic of the thing itself as a thing in my environment. Thus, what is a "thing" can be said to be that and only that which encounters me: it is never a thing like a table in three dimensional Cartesian space.
If we realize all this--that is, not only the difference between an encounterable thing and a Cartesian thing, but also the distinctive characteristic of something that is encounterable as that which has a vague power to thrust itself at me--if we realize all this we can begin to see why this thing seems like "nature" in the sense of "what grows." And indeed, with this realization we begin to understand Heidegger's entire passage from his Introduction to Metaphysics such that we can begin to explicate it--all the foundations of a basic Greek experience of things has been set up.
What comes before me in such a way that it seems to do this by itself seems to possess a force behind it that impels it towards my field of action, encounters me by coming towards me out of my environment. What comes out of the environment towards me in the mode of an encounter and does so such that it comes out by itself can be said to be what "emerges," as Heidegger calls it in his passage from the Introduction, above. More: it "emerges from itself," emerges by itself, comes before me as a force that is propelled by its own essence towards me. The crucial question in order to define phusis is: What is this essence? Well, we answer with the following: the essence that forces the thing to encounter me and thus to emerge is this essence's being characteristic not of whatever particular thing it is, but characteristic of the distinctive quality of the environment as environment itself. The essence of a thing in the environment is its "environmentality."
Now, this is the key to grasping the Greek sense of emergence that is the essence of phusis, so let us elaborate upon this thought, proceeding slowly and delicately through what it implies.
Whatever comes before me with a force that is not necessarily inherent to the thing itself as whatever particular and individual thing it is, but with a force characteristic of the distinctive quality of an encounterable thing in general--this is what emerges, this is the essence of the emerging-character that is constitutive of a thing as a thing. This is why we said that the encounter itself is the thing: it is what in general is most like the encounter itself that makes the thing most like an encounterable thing, a thing in the environment--and this "what" is what is environmental in a thing. This may not be clear, so we'll use the rough and ready example of Heidegger's in the passage: the rose emerges, emerges by or out of itself. This means that the rose that I come across in my daily activities in a garden does not seem to come before me just as this particular rose and no other. What I encounter is not this rose as opposed to that rose, but the "possibility of roseiness" that constitutes this particular rose as a rose. To what belongs this possibility? Well, to the rose as an environmental thing--that is, not just to the rose itself, as distinct from all things, but to the rose as a realized possibility of that which is most characteristic of the environment, environmentality. Something in the rose seems to thrust itself as a "possibility of rosiness" at me: this is not its particularity as a thing, but its more universal quality of environmentality.
Let's be clearer. The essence of the object is not inherent in its just being there, but in its fundamental abiltity to just be there that announces itself suddenly in its just being there in that particular way--in its being a rose. Now, this essence is not really pertinent to the rose itself but it pertinent to the rose as a thing with possibility: the possibility to be itself. This is the crucial step. As soon as we realize that what is announcing itself in the essence of the rose being there is not the rose but the possibility that is inherent in the rose as a rose, it suddenly seems as if there is a force beind the rose that allows it to be what it is. This force is what allows the rose to emerge, to come to be. In other words, we begin to sense an inner connection between an individual thing as something that is encounterable and the environment that we encounter.
We continue to clarify, however. This force--the force that makes it possible for the rose to emerge--this force we have discerned must be of the envionment, not of the rose, if it is what is in the rose but only as that which makes it possible. Whatever a Greek came upon in the world that encountered him in a definite way made a point of not just being itself but being itself as an environmental thing. It remains itself, but also allows us to grasp the possibility of itself as constitutive for itself. This possibility is not confined to the thing itself, to the rose, but is characteristic of something larger than it--a context that is the environment. The opening up of what is environmental is what characterizes something as not really itself but as "growing into" itself--this is because this opening up of what is environmental is the opening up and bringing forth of the essence of the thing, the rose for example, as including in itself its own possibility--as including in itself the environmental quality of possibility.
This "growing into itself" of the environment in things, then, is phusis. It is what we most generally think of as the "power of nature," or "life," a sort of general force that unites all things in their ability to bring themselves out of the world as living things. But, as Heidegger says, calling this "life" is symptoatic of a really limited view of a much larger and much more definite phenomenon: we only have to show that this sense of the power of nature and of life applies equally to inanimate things and not even to grand sublime scenes that enthrall us: anything in the world as soon as we take notice of it, as soon as it encounters us genuinely and concretely, possesses this force as a thing. What "grows" in the rose is not life, then, or "nature:" it is phusis, the characteristic possibility of things in the world that makes them come to be what they are.
Now that we have a sense of phusis we have to see how this term relates to physis if we are to grasp pragmata as (here we put fort our provisional definition--one that Heidegger himself does not make and that we are making based on an interpretation of his texts) the manipulation of physis.
It is clear from the passage that phusis for Heidegger means not merely "emerging," but is really only encapsulated for him by the phrase "emerging-abiding sway." Why is this the case, and why have we asserted that phusis is adequately defined just by "emerging?" Well, we haven't really asserted this--we have just left "abiding" there as something yet to be interpreted. However, it is important to interpret phusis as "emerging" before anything else (Heidegger's characterization of phusis in the passage itself attests to this), because "abiding" is a phenomenon that is less dependent on the phenomenon of the environmentality of the Greek environment. That is, "abiding" is more of a secondary phenomenon associated with phusis as what comes out of the environment by itself in order to encounter. It really belongs to a fall in the interpretation of the emergence characteristic of phusis that reifies it into the term physis--a fall we will now briefly characterize.

I will continue this (with the below fragments integrated into the text) in a revision of this either later tonight or tomorrow morning. The key is Heidegger's interpretation of phusis and emergence as appearance or coming-to-appearance, which he is hesistant to embrace because it sounds too Nietzschian and is essentially too wrapped up in a knowledge of Being as presence as opposed to a knowledge of Being as presence defined by time, which is what Heidegger is trying to articulate in his opus... For characterizing the Greek that underlies the ready-at-hand, however, appearance will do fine and holding-in appearance will be a fall away from that, a fall from emerging towards abiding towards physis and the physical. I'll get to this soon.

Things' coming to be what they are is what Heidegger means by "abiding" in the phrase "emerging-abiding." What emerges is also what holds itself as what it is, that is, realizes its possibility such that it becomes itself and stays itself. It is what has come to limit its possibility to take a definite form in its emergence. The rose comes to be itself and remains itself in this coming to be, limiting down its possibilities to what it is. It emerges and abides as emergence, the emergence of the environment.
Thus what emerges is more fundamental to the sense of phusis than what abides. we can see this in the word unfolding that according to Heidegger seems also to characterize phusis and is not related to either emerging or abiding. Unfolding means primarily growing out of itself or emerging, rather than abiding. what unfolds only abides after it has unfolded. no doubt this is a process that is pretty essential to anything that unfolds, but it is secondary. it is the symptom of a fall in the interpretation of phusis.
What encounters seems to grow out of itself: this is why Heidegger calls it an "unfolding that opens itself up." It is an unfolding that is the opening of its own unfolding. In the case of a rose, the unfolding is the rose, but what unfolds most essentially to the rose in the encounter is the unfolding of the unfolding of itself--the possibility of itself inherent in the environment. It seems to "birth" itself by itself--this is the origin of the Latin according to Heidegger. But what is signified by this birth is not the birth of the thing, but the power of the birth of the thing as a thing that is within the environment. It is the environment's birth in the things that appear in the natural environment that characterizes these things most fundamentally as encounterable.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What the hell...

...is Heidegger up to with his odd terms "readiness-to-hand" and "presence-at-hand?" Since my posts have been getting tedious and long lately, I'll keep this short and to the point. I'll explicate these terms and what they do in probably three posts, and, if we take them together, we'll hopefully get a full sense of what he means.
First, the "ready-to-hand." This horrible neologism is a translation of another horrible neologism in the German: Zuhanden. Let's break it down. "Zu-" means "to," or "towards," while "Hand" means "hand," in the sense of one's anatomical appendage as well as something more like one's ability to grasp either with the hand or with one's potential to use or manipulate. So, we have Zu-handen: towards the hand. "Zur Hand" is the German expression for "at hand" or "readily available," and this is the sense that the word really has. Towards the hand: whatever is available and in a sense comes towards my ability to manipulate or use it or involve it in my existence is what possesses Zuhandenheit. In English, we say that something is "ready at hand" whenever it is there where we want it to be when we are in need of it: my gun was ready at hand when the robber came into my home and because it was so, it allowed me to fend him off successfully. My (military) general was ready at hand to deploy my orders--therefore they were carried out efficiently. This is why the translators adopt the stilted phrase "ready-to-hand," running all the words together to make them seem to signify a more integrated phenomenon.
But despite the good work of the translators here, this new word can be a bit misleading--and this is simply because Heidegger's word itself is also misleading and doesn't really get at what he means by it. Let's trace its genealogy and then specify what it really relates to.
Now, the word comes into use while Heidegger is explaining what he calls "Being-in-the-world," and specifically in the chapter of Being and Time in which Heidegger is trying to specify the "worldhood of the world." Let's establish this context concretely, then. Being-in-the-world is the mode in which we exist for the most part. It is the most basic "state" in which we carry out our lives. As beings that interrogate our own existence and our various possibilities of existence--this is what Hedegger specifies as "Dasein," what he determined as the basic type of being that can grasp Being, or what makes existence possible--as this being we produce and inhabit this basic state as the primary way in which we can be those beings--that is, as the primary way in which we can interrogate our existence. Being-in-the-world is a sort of state of our understanding of ourselves at any particular moment. But this understanding is not a superficial kind of understanding. Indeed, it is the understanding that makes possible all superficial understandings of ourselves. What is a superficial understanding? Well, "what I want," "what is making me angry," "what I feel like:" all these understandings, while essential to who we are, do not really get at who we are essentially. If one was to characterize oneself completely and fully and to only be considered as someone who characterized her or himself thus, then one would be understanding oneself more in this way of understanding that Heidegger specifies: Heidegger calls this state of understanding a laying-out of one's "mine-ness," one's most essential essence as oneself. Now it becomes clear that Being-in-the-world is the way that we go about understanding ourselves in this essential way. We interrogate ourselves as to why and how our existence is possible on the basis of our being-in-the-world. Now, what is being-in-the-world? Nothing other than what we might call "living out our life." We construct a world in which we live, an environment in which we are always, out of the various ways we see and understand our possibilities for existing, our possibilities for answering the question as to how and why our existence is possible. Put differently, we answer the question "what is Being," what makes existence possible, not through any formalized answer, but through existing. While we pursue this answer, we construct a world in which we exist and move such that it too is part of the answer. Thus when Heidegger himself asks about Being, he has to go to look at what the world is, and what being in it would be like for mostly everyone.
We haven't really specified yet what a "world" is, however. I mean, what isn't an answer to or understanding of Being if that answer articulates itself through existence? Well, the world is most basically characterized as that which is not Dasein but which nonetheless is what Dasein has constructed for itself in order to be itself. It is what is necessary for "mineness," for understanding. It is nothing like what we normally mean by saying "world:" it is not the planet Earth, it is not what is objective and outside subjectivity, it is not any immaterial and idealistic Spirit-world of various ideas and cultures which we specify by the words "world of ideas." Rather, it is what is, most fundamentally, familiar to Dasein, to the being that understands itself in order to interrogate itself as to why and how it is possible for it to exist. As Heidegger says, "'I am' means in its turn 'I reside' or 'dwell alongside' the world, as that which is familiar to me in such and such a way" (Being and Time, 80). It is this "in such and such a way," this qualifying of the world that constitutes it as a world, as what is specific to any particular Dasein and indeed constitutes any Dasein as Dasein. In other words, we all understand ourselves differently (and sometimes similarly) and what is familiar to us then, what constitutes the place where our existence seems to dwell most at home, reflects this fact and is produced as a way of bringing that understanding to the fore. The spatial metaphor of "dwelling" is apt: Heidegger indeed will use this later to characterize being-in-the-world instead of that particular term (cf. "Being, Dwelling, Thinking"). Why is this apt? Because the world is "where" Dasein understands itself, "where" Dasein is familiar to itself such that it can successfully penetrate into its own essence and bring its own existence to the fore as an answer to the question posed by Being. When Descartes says "I am," he says it after supposedly abstracting himself away from what he considered his world--and yet, for Heidegger, Descartes in that moment was most thoroughly grounded in his own world, was dwelling in it most comfortably and appreciating it profoundly, because it was that space that actually allowed him to really assert that he was, that he existed. What appeared as the world to Descartes was not really the world--this was the world of thought, of cogitation. Descartes was being-in-the-world most fundamentally when he said "I am," cogito ergo sum. it was indeed this lack of attention to the world that made Descartes so blind to his own existence and his proof of his own existence so weak for Heidegger. Interrogating his existence through this world, is what would have ensured a more grounded idea of existence for Descartes, holds Heidegger, and this interrogation through the world is precisely what is specified by the term "being-in-the-world."
So, that clarified, how do we get to the ready-to-hand? In order for Heidegger to show that specific way of interrogating existence that is and that occurs through a world, Heidegger must characterize what that world consists of. It consists of the ready-to-hand. Now, all Heidegger is getting at here is that we go through our lives essentially oblivious to and yet always answering the question that Being puts to us, namely, why and how is is possible that we should exist--let us not complicate things for ourselves too much with all this terminology. The world is what allows this answer, is what allows us to understand ourselves, is what is around us always throughout this process of being oblivious and yet of answering the question of Being. This is composed of what is ready-to-hand. Now, what the hell does this mean?
Well, Heidegger uses the example of walking into a room (97-98). Let us take it over to show concretely what he means. At any point in my life, I can walk into a room. Now, at this point, I am obviously walking into the room for a reason--I can be done with a day of work and walking into my home, I can be ready to get fit at a gym and walking into it, I can be pensive and viewing art in a particular room at a gallery, I can be a worker and rushing into a place where a crucial part is when it is needed elsewhere. All these various reasons for entering the room are my particular answer to the question of Being, that is, as to why my existence is possible. It is possible because of the way I exist: I constitute an answer by existing, by going to the gym ("I exist to get fit"), by viewing the art ("I exist to understand existence through art"), by rushing into the room with the part ("I exist to build that structure"). Now, the room itself will get constituted in accordance with this particular answer such that it will allow this answer to be. In other words, the room will become part of my world, it will appear to me and even exist for me in such a way that it conforms itself to this particular answer that I am constructing in my existence. For example, if I am urgently seeking one part I need to build a structure outside, I will enter a room and it will constitute itself such that I only see, only grasp, only understand the particular bolt which is necessary. After grabbing it, I will leave the room, and it will disappear from my intentional field, the field in which things come before me in order to allow me to exist in a particular way, the field that is my world. The room will become my world, and it will then disappear from my world. Similarly, I will enter a room in an art gallery that is dedicated to the paintings of Monet, and I will do so slowly, pensively, such that the space itself becomes my world in such a way as to reflect my intention to exist and answer the question Being poses to me. I might notice the stillness of the room, the sombre tones of its walls: all these things will constitute my world for me and will be taken up into my existence. When I come to view a painting, it will be there before me as part of my world, as something that I will use and utilize in order to construct a mode and a way of existing: I will take over whatever it represents and even see only that in it which is necessary for me to do this, to exist with it--I may only see one water-lily out of all those represented because it perhaps speaks to me more than all the others. I will then leave the room with this world there, with my world as it were added on to, made richer or enhanced, and I will carry this world with me into other rooms where I will use it and construct it to exist as well. It should be obvious that the world has no relationship to anything like "objective reality:" what is there might not be what enters into my existence. Being-in-the-world is a lot like walking through an unlit room at night: you bump into objects and they (as Heidegger says) light up for you, reveal themselves to you as there, as part of a space and a place you should be attentive to and would like to be attentive to in your trek to get some water from the fridge.
If we understand being-in-the-world a bit better, then, we can finally grasp what is ready-to-hand as what makes up this world, as that of which this world consists--and do so in the appropriate way. Let's continue using our examples. When you bump into something at night and then grasp its presence there in the form of a sort of basic awareness (that is, not explicitly in a reflective, fully-conscious way), what do you grasp? Obviously not the object as it is, but rather a perspective on the object shaded and colored and constructed to fit your intention and your relationship to it. That is, when you bump into a table in the middle of the night, you might only perceive or feel the corner of the table--in fact, you might only grasp that there is a corner there, not even that it is a corner "of the table." By no means do you instantly perceive the entire object such as it appears and is in daylight, and it is impossible to grasp as an object present there in its full presence, with all its dimensions available to you and all of its possible orientations, like in a carpenter's plan or a scientific rendering of the table in Cartesian space. You are simply getting up to get some water, and... corner. It is there. You orient yourself towards it as you continue to the fridge. You may even forget about it on your way back, or not remember exactly where it is, and bump into it again. Again it is only a corner, this time approached from a different angle. Refreshed, you go back to bed. What you have just encountered was in your world, as you existed in order to go get the water. As what composed that world, the corner was ready-at-hand, simply there, part of the means with which you attained your goal of getting to the fridge. The fridge itself and the glass of water were ready-at-hand too. At any point you approached and appropriated these things into the trajectory or path of your existence as it made its way towards its projected goal, and could access them again and again as these types of things, as means. Thus they were ready there for your hand, for your potential to manipulate on your way of forming and shaping and witnessing your world, the reflection and condition of your existence.
Now, for Heidegger, all our grasping of the world occurs in this type of manner, and always encounters this type of thing, the ready-at-hand: indeed, one could be at the height of their awareness at noon and the way one makes her or his way through the world would not differ essentially from this example. Turning to the other examples we have used (which all take place during the day and with varying moods of high awareness) should make this more than clear--that is, should make it clear that the sort of structure of this nighttime experience isn't necessarily connected to the night but, phenomenologically, is similar to the way it is with Being-in-the-world always. That is, it isn't the case that our vision is always impared such that we cannot fully conceive of the object fully. But it is the case that our awareness of things even in the daytime only extends so far--that is, only extends about as far as it does in this nighttime situation. The night reveals us for what we are, in this way--Maurice Merleau-Ponty continually uses it (and primarily nighttime sleepiness) for a setting to demonstrate his own take on Heideggerian Being-in-the-world in his Phenomenology of Perception. But let us look at the other examples.
When I am running into the room or warehouse to get the bolt necessary for completing the metal structure I am building outside, the bolt is my concern and in fact I never really become aware of the room that constructs itself around my rush to the bolt. I simply grab it and run out: the bolt appears there before me, it drops into my purview, and the objects in the room drop into my purview as objects that are merely obstacles on my way to getting that bolt to drop there before me. The bolt and the room have no existence beforehand, and they disappear afterwards. The only way I become aware of it and the room is if the bolt is not present to me in some way, if I drop it, if my intention and my existence is hampered by it or another object suddenly being there. In a similar way, I only become aware of the artwork insofar as it fails in some way to my discerning eye: integrated in an intention and an existence towards the work that seeks to take it up and be with it, it is only available to me as something there in the world when it becomes a problem for me. We will return to this precise aspect of the ready-to-hand later, but for now the point is that the objects get integrated into my world in a hazy and concealed way that is fused with my various intentions and modes of existence. I do not perceive the bolt acutely because it is merely something that is there to be included in the work I am producing outside--I need the bolt to complete my larger intention, that to which I am devoting my existence as an answer to the question posed by Being. The room too falls into place on the basis of this intention or devotion, and gets oriented obscurely around my rush to the object. A series of boxes on the left of me as I rush to a table there in the room do not really exist for me explicitly even if I see them there. My concern is the bolt, and they become merely things that are there in such a way as they compose a general space that acts as a means for my grasping it. The boxes and the room more generally are a big misty haze of means as I pass them, a blur that does indeed exist--we are not denying what is not "important to us" the right of existence--but which merely exists in a particular way that is such that they are in the background. This "way" is the way of the ready-at-hand: the room as part of my world gets oriented towards my existence and experienced by it in this way. More precisely stated, my world gets constituted as a world in its being ready-at-hand there. The ready-at-hand, then, is as we said what constitutes the world, and we understand this verb "constitute" now in the right way: those things that exist as ready-at-hand for me throughout my world do not make up this world as parts get combined together one by one into a whole, but rather they exist as a world when they exist in the particular way of the ready-at-hand. Being ready-at-hand, they are the way the world is experienced and thus the way in which the world is.
This should clarify some of the relationships between the world and the ready-at-hand, but it still isn't clear what the hell Heidegger is getting at here. Though we showed what a ready-at-hand thing could be experienced like--namely, various rooms--we don't understand what this has to do with an inquiry into Dasein and its ability to grasp Being. Still less do we understand why objects in the world have to exist in this fuzzy and intentional manner rather than as objects like we normally see them. But all these questions arise and persist because we have stuck to the term "ready-at-hand" and elaborated what it meant without paying attention to our original reservations about it--namely, that it was a cruddy neologism. What we have to turn to in order to get a real understanding of what Heidegger is doing with the ready-at-hand is this reservation.
Why would Heidegger coin this new word? It is not merely because Heidegger does this a lot--indeed it is one of the main techniques of his particular hermeneutic, his way of engaging with philosophy. Heidegger is doing this here for a more basic reason. We read in Being and Time the following right before Heidegger characterizes the ready-at-hand through his example of entering a room, where Heidegger is simply trying to give a name to those basic things that exist within the world:

The Greeks had an appropriate term for "things:" pragmata--that is to say, that which one has to do with in one's concernful dealings (praxis). But ontologically the specifically "pragmatic" character of the pragmata is just what the Greeks left in obscurity (96-7).

There is a word that is better than Zuhanden, "the ready-at-hand," a Greek word. It is because this better word exists that Heidegger feels he should make a word in German that would bring its Greek sense back into modern times. Now, Heidegger does not believe that the Greek time was any better than modern times, though many still characterize him in this way. Heidegger is not another Winkelmann nostalgic for the age in which "real men" lived; he does not wish he was Greek. Heidegger conducted an intense study of the Greek and early Greek writings in the years before and during the composition of Being and Time in seminars and privately because he realized that the Greeks had a closer understanding of the real ground of ontology than many throughout history. It is not that this understanding allowed them to grasp it better and define it concretely. Indeed, it is often their misunderstandings of Being that Heidegger finds most informative as to what Being is. What is crucial for Heidegger about the Greeks is that they brought Being, the ground of ontology and metaphysics, to words more explicitly than the rest of Western history. Indeed, this did not make them better in any way, but made them engage with philosophy in a way Heidegger thought was particularly important for his time. Their language reflects this closer understanding and misunderstanding of Being, and so it brings into the sphere of signification more subtleties in the characterization of Being and beings that relate to Being (like Dasein) than a more modern vocabulary. This simple difference is, at bottom, why they are valuable, and why they can have a word for something that we must create a neologism for.
We might see, then, the passages on the ready-at-hand in Being and Time as merely explicating in a language more rigorously interrogating the phenomenon of Being that which the Greeks meant by pragmata--specifically that which was produced in the relationship of praxis and physis, what Heidegger calls "world." I will get into this in my next entry--this is enough for now.