A puzzling paragraph in Being and Time

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been going through Being and Time with a student volunteer, in anticipation of teaching it. Yesterday we went over chapter 5 of the first division, “Being-in-the-World as Being-With and Being-One’s-Self. The ‘They,'” and there was a line that I found somewhat puzzling (in bold):

The world not only frees the ready-to-hand as entities encountered within-the-world; it also frees Dasein — the Others in their Dasein-with. But Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being is such that this entity (which has been freed environmentally) is Being-in in the same world in which, as encounterable for Others, it is there with them. We have interpreted worldhood as that referential totality which constitutes significance (Section 18). In Being-familiar with this significance and previously understanding it, Dasein lets what is ready-to-hand be encountered as discovered in its involvement. In Dasein’s Being, the context of references or assignments which significance implies is tied up with Dasein’s ownmost being — a Being which essentially can have no involvement, but which is rather that Being for the sake of which Dasein itself is as it is.

Die Welt gibt nicht nur das Zuhandene als innerweltlich begegnendes Seiendes frei, sondern auch Dasein, die Anderen in ihrem Mitdasein. Dieses umweltlich freigegebene Seiende ist aber seinem eigensten Seins-sinn entsprechend In-Sein in derselben Welt, in der es, für andere begegnend, mit da ist. Die Weltlichkiet wurde interpretiert (§18) als das Verweisungsganze der Bedeutsamkeit. Im vorgängig verstehenden Vertrautsein mit dieser läßt das Dasein Zuhandenes als in seiner Bewandtnis Entdecktes begegnen. Der Verweisungszusammenhang der Bedeutsamkeit ist festgemacht im Sein des Daseins zu seinem eigensten Sein, damit es wesenhaft keine Bewandtnis haben kann, das vielmehr das Sein ist, worumwillen das Dasein selbst ist, wie es ist.

(M&R translation; Section 26; Heidegger’s page 123)

So on the one hand, we have this network of relations (significations, assignments), and on the other hand, something which “can have no involvement.” Musing over it without the benefit of the German text in front of me, I figured that it meant “involvement” precisely in the network of significations, and it does appear that Bewandtnis literally means “explanation” (so that “can have no involvement” would be more of a paraphrase, albeit perhaps not a very felicitous one) — Stambaugh has “a being which cannot be in a relation of relevance” for the bolded phrase.

Hence Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being does not participate in the network of signification, etc., that we might normally associate with the term “meaning.” Here an analogy with Meister Eckhart occurred to me — there are many passages where he emphasized the fact that there’s no answer to the question, “Why do you want to live?” I want to live because I want to live. Similarly, the search for meanings in the sense of explanations (in the style of “that boat is out there because X. had it made and wants to use it for Y., etc.”) ends. In other words, “Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being” cannot be interpreted like another entity in the world — which we already knew. But does that make “Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being” a kind of master signifier or quilting-point for the totality of reference, etc. — a constitutive exception that founds the realm of relevance while being excluded from it?

This formulation also seems to imply an underlying individualism, which has been pointed out by Nancy: “Sure, sure, Dasein is always-already Being-With, but if you want to get at what Dasein really is, you need to get past all that.” The hugely negative and even cynical tone of this chapter (which is one of the things that makes it so appealling, actually!) also contributes to that. The persistent references to what is Dasein’s “own” (a more literal translation of what’s familiar to English-language readers as the “authentic,” eigentlich; I take this point from Nancy as well) or “ownmost” also seem to point toward an underlying individualism — and indeed, such a formulation seems like it would almost inevitably mislead one into thinking of “Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being” precisely as an object present-to-hand (i.e., as property or as waiting to be appropriated).

Is he undertaking a kind of “deconstruction” of the notion of ownership here? After all, we know that Dasein’s “ownmost potentiality of Being” is precisely death, the moment at which it will cease to exist, will have no Being at all (as Dasein). What is most my own is so radically inappropriable that there will no longer be an “I” to do the appropriating. Similarly, my “ownmost meaning of Being” is a kind of unaccountable brute fact that may be similarly inappropriable in the sense that I can’t “take credit” for it — the fact that I exist in this network of significations and assignments.

If this is what is going on, I wonder if the convention of translating eigentlich as “authentic” might be doubly misleading insofar as it makes the slippage into individualism more likely — if you don’t notice the weird ambivalence of what is “one’s own” and instead have only an unqualifiedly “good” term like authenticity to work with, the deconstructive tension is undermined and you get toward more of a stereotypically existentialist quest to penetrate down to your “authentic self” that is unmediated by others, by language, by cliche, etc., etc.

What do you think?

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12 Responses to “A puzzling paragraph in Being and Time

  1. Ruth Marshall Says:

    I’d say that there’s nothing ‘unqualifiedly good’ about the term authenticity, and I wonder why we’d assume it’s not weirdly ambivalent, at the very least? The dangers aren’t simply that of a failed deconstruction which lead to existentialist quest for the ‘real self’, but the way it enables the conflation between (authentic) culture/historicity and ontology (believe it or not, some anthropologists still insist on holding that ontology is ‘just another word for culture’). I take Nancy’s concern with the political problem of the ‘propre’ (which I guess would be a French translation of eigentlich, and clearly more ambivalent that authentic) in The Being-With of Being-There and BSP to be his main point. The way Heidegger resolves the tension between the ‘improper’ Anyone and their solitary death, and the ‘proper’ people with a heroic destiny expressed through a sacrificial politics, makes me want to put authentic on the ‘unqualifiably bad’ side of ambivalence.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I agree that authenticity isn’t desirable, but it generally puts itself forward as such — and there seems to be something self-evidently desirable about it at first glance. (I guess I’m thinking primarily in terms of how a typical college student would hear the word, since my reason for studying it right now in the way I’m doing it is primarily pedagogical.)

    There are already hints of the “sacrificial politics” later in the chapter, when he talks about the contrast between those “hired for an affair” and those who “devote themselves to an affair in common.”

  3. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Your page reference is off by a page: it’s Heidegger page 123 (p.160 in M&R).

    “But does that make “Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being” a kind of master signifier or quilting-point for the totality of reference, etc. — a constitutive exception that founds the realm of relevance while being excluded from it?”

    I don’t see this. As the passage continues, he only notes that Dasein’s ownmost being “can have no involvement” because it “is rather that Being for the sake of which Dasein itself is as it is.” So it’s not a “quilting-point” (an item within the totality that ends up playing a role outside of it), it’s an old-fashioned Aristotelian telos, the final link in an explanatory chain. The “realm of relevance” is a chain of for-the-sake-of-which relations which always has Dasein as its terminus; this we were already told in section 18 (Heidegger 84, M&R 116-117). The ready-to-hand entities are what they are because Dasein must have its being as an issue; that is what ultimately explains what a hammer or a word is “for” when they show up as ready-to-hand. There doesn’t need to be an explanation for why Dasein has its being as an issue, because that is what Dasein is as a telos in itself: there’s no gap that an explanation would need to cross.

    I don’t see the individualism you’re (Nancy is?) accusing Heidegger of in the quoted passage: In this paragraph I just see him reminding the reader that Dasein is not a piece of equipment, and introducing thematically the idea of an “Other” as the thing which uses equipment within the world. Both are things “in” the world, but in difference senses of “in”.

    Further on in this same section, I see Heidegger explicitly attacking the sort of individualism (Cartesianism) that has haunted philosophy: the closing parts of section 26 are about “the theoretical problem of understanding ‘the psychical life of Others'”, AKA the problem of other minds. The way Heidegger presents the problem of other minds is traditional: I know myself as a self, and I see other things in the world that I imagine to be like myself, and that is how I know other minds. In Heidegger’s words: “It might be said that this relationship [to Dasein] is already constitutive for one’s own Dasein, which, in its own right, has an understanding of Being, and which thus relates itself towards Dasein. The relationship-of-Being which one has towards Others would then be a Projection of one’s own Being-towards-oneself ‘into something else’. The Other would be a duplicate of the Self.” But Heidegger denies the implicit premise “that Dasein’s Being towards itself is Being towards an Other” — in English, he denies that I know myself as a self prior to knowing other selves as other selves. So there can be no question of getting “beyond” others to a “real” self: being a self at all is being-with. In John Haugeland’s phrase, “one is just another other”. (His “Heidegger on Being a Person” guides how I read Heidegger on these issues. RIP.)

    “Is he undertaking a kind of “deconstruction” of the notion of ownership here? After all, we know that Dasein’s “ownmost potentiality of Being” is precisely death, the moment at which it will cease to exist, will have no Being at all (as Dasein).”

    What do you mean by “here”? At this point in the book, we do not know that Dasein’s “ownmost potentiality of Being” is death (or at least we don’t know that in any sort of detail); that stuff is all in division II. I think it is fair to say (in a very general way) that in chapter IV Heidegger is trying to show that notions like “subject” and “person” and “res cogitans” are founded on something social; this is part of his general attack on Cartesian attempts to ground structures of being in a subject. But I suspect that the tone is this chapter isn’t part of that strategy: I think Heidegger just lets his grumpiness take over at some points, and the prose gets ahead of the philosophy. In my view it’s the weakest chapter in all of division I. (Though it is appealing in its way, as grumpiness is.)

    I’m not sure I follow what is at issue in whether or not “authenticity” is desirable. I think Heidegger’s philosophical point is that inautheticity is only possible as a derivative mode of authenticity, as being a sick horse is only possible as a derivative mode of being a horse. Again, it’s an Aristotelian point: the one kind of being explains the other, and this direction of explanation is asymmetrical. That’s independent of ethical questions about whether people should be authentic or inauthentic: Heidegger was right that ethics is just not what he’s talking about. The Aristotelian point that being a castrated dog is only comprehensible with reference to what an uncastrated dog is (and what his castratable bits do) does not settle the question of whether to spay or neuter your pets. Again, I think Heidegger’s prose sometimes gets carried away (as in the passage Kotsko mentions), but I think the philosophical point is clear enough.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Thanks for the page number correction. I could picture it as being on the right-hand page, so no idea how I could’ve typed an even page number!

  5. Peter Says:

    Why would it not simply be that as ou heneka it is cause of involvement, source of involvement but not involvement itself?

  6. cruth01 Says:

    “it’s an old-fashioned Aristotelian telos, the final link in an explanatory chain.”

    Except it isn’t a link in the chain, it’s the chain as a whole qua possibility. In other words, I agree with Peter above me. The world is not in the world. That’s why it is meaning, and thus it is meaningless.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Almost like a master signifier!

  8. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    “Except it isn’t a link in the chain, it’s the chain as a whole qua possibility. In other words, I agree with Peter above me. The world is not in the world. That’s why it is meaning, and thus it is meaningless.”

    Dasein’s ownost being isn’t the world. What you said just *is* Lacan’s master signifier story; it’s not Heidegger. Point me to places in SuZ that say otherwise.

  9. Peter Says:

    Re But does that make “Dasein’s ownmost meaning of Being” a kind of master signifier or quilting-point for the totality of reference, etc. — a constitutive exception that founds the realm of relevance while being excluded from it?

    Being as the ou heneka of involvement is itself founded in Temporality

    What is tricky is is that Temporality itself as a transcendental reveals meaning or Being (including and especially the meaning of Being as Dasein) but in such a way that it is yoked to what withdraws such that it is held between the denial of what has been and the withholding of the coming.

    Being or meaning then as revealed never simply loses the withdrawal but is constituted by it and involvement when it is qenuinely founded in Being would likewise in its own way be constituted by withdrawal.

    So in that sense one could perhaps say Being is
    “a constitutive exception that founds the realm of relevance while being excluded from it.”

  10. cruth01 Says:

    Heidegger says that Dasein is anxious in the face of “Dasein itself,” then a few sentences later Dasein is anxious in the face of “being-in-the-world as such,” and “the world as such.” Also: “Being-anxious discloses, primordially and directly, the world as world.” “Ontologically…the world belongs essentially to Dasein’s being as being-in-the-world” and “World as a wholeness ‘is’ not a being, but that from out of which Dasein gives itself the signification of whatever beings it is able to comport itself toward in whatever way.”

  11. cruth01 Says:

    I’m not too up on Lacan, that may be the same as a master signifier. Is the master signifier the chain as a whole as such?

  12. cruth01 Says:

    Or I suppose what names it. Here the notion of formal indication would be helpful, though.


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