Richard Capobianco, The Ereignis Interview
July 04, 2010
The point of the story that I tell in these chapters is not simply that there was a most interesting (albeit unacknowledged) development in Heidegger's thinking, but, moreover, that this development represented an intensification of his critique of the Western onto-theological tradition of thinking and its core metaphor of light. Put briefly, I suggest that one important way that Heidegger found to ‘step back' from Western onto-theological thinking was to turn away from the visual metaphor of light in favor of spatial metaphors (Offene, Weite, Bereich, Gegnet)-and this ultimately necessitated in his late writings denying any Licht to Lichtung.
There are also important existential implications to all of this that I try to bring to light (so to speak) in the studies, but I will pass over these here in order to address your tough question about ‘spatiality.' I am thinking along with you on this, since my thoughts are by no means fully formed on the matter. It appears evident that Heidegger became unsatisfied with thinking about time and space in terms of Dasein's fundamental temporality and spatiality as he uncovered these in Being and Time. After the ‘turn,' he was more interested in the ‘time-space' (Zeit-Raum) that unfolds and enfolds Dasein. His focus shifted to the time-space of Being itself, this free and open and giving expanse, this ‘play space,‘ ‘leeway,' or ‘elbow room' (Spielraum) in which all beings, including Dasein, are let be and allowed to flourish in the first place. The later Heidegger attempted to think time-space, what he called ‘this puzzling onefold,' in a more primordial way than he was able to in Being and Time, but he approached this by offering evocative indications rather than a sustained analysis. Nonetheless, he was pointing to a temporal-spatial character of Being itself that was more fundamental still than the peculiar temporal-spatial character of Dasein, which he had laid bare in Being and Time.
Ereignis In Plato's cave allegory, prisoners are shackled in a cave, forced to watch shadows on a wall. A prisoner is unshackled, and realizes the shadows are produced by people passing between a fire and the wall. The freed prisoner climbs out of the cave, and encounters the onto-theological sun, the source of good light.
As with his notion of die Lichtung, there's a Kehre, from the luminescent to the spatial, in his interpretation of Plato's cave allegory.
As you show in your chapter on Plato's allegory, Heidegger works with the allegory in several texts from the 1920s and 30s, interpreting the light in his own way. In his later writings, Heidegger deprecated the importance of the light in his interpretation, stressing the cave itself (Parmenides, p. 92). Is the Allegory of the Cave still helpful in understanding Heidegger after the turn from luminescence? Or do we need other metaphors to help us make sense of the later Heidegger?
Richard Well, I have to take issue with the first part of your question! In Heidegger's multiple readings of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, from 1926 to 1940, he does not read the light of the sun as ‘ontic' or ‘onto-theological' at all. Indeed, the sun, this ‘light-source' or ‘primordial light,' as he puts it, is precisely what makes possible all that is lighted and therefore visible. In other words, for Heidegger, the sun, Plato's ‘symbol' for the Idea of the Good, is what enables/ lets through/ opens up/ frees up all beings and all ontic truth about beings-and that's the fundamental matter for thought, die Sache selbst. In all of these readings, Heidegger elucidated his own fundamental concern-the letting be of beings in their beingness-in terms of the metaphor of light that he appropriated from Plato. While you are quite right that he regarded the manifested light as ‘ontic,' this is not the case with respect to the manifesting light of the sun-which represents Being itself. Therefore, this distinction between the manifesting/manifested light is the figurative equivalent of the ‘ontological difference' between Being and beings.
Even into the 1950s, Heidegger continued to employ the metaphor of luminosity to unfold his focal topic. It's not until the 1960s that he explicitly rejected-and emphatically so-the trope of light and luminosity in discussing die Lichtung. In his statements in the 1960s, he refused any Licht to Lichtung, and even went so far as to deny any linguistic connection between the words Licht and Lichtung (which as I point out in an Appendix, is highly dubious). This development has something important to do with his deepening meditation on aletheia, as I discuss in the book. But as I also put it more pointedly, ‘by the 1960s Heidegger had decided to step back-and step away altogether-from the brilliance of Plato's light.' The overcoming of metaphysics, indeed.
I myself do not think that we have to relinquish the visual metaphor of light in favor of the spatial metaphors that Heidegger ultimately preferred-the open, the expanse, the region, the clearing, and so forth-in order to think Being as a-letheia as the revealing-concealing of beings. I tend to think that the metaphor can be reappropriated-just as Heidegger attempted to do in much of his own work. Yet, at the same time, we can appreciate how his life-long struggle to set his own thinking apart from the tradition of metaphysical thinking led him, in the end, to turn away from Plato's light.
Ereignis Is it correct to say then about the role of the sun in the Allegory of the Cave, that Plato understood the sun onto-theologically, as the (ontic) prima causa of light, while Heidegger always interpreted the sun as that which makes beings possible?
Richard It's not that simple-and that's the beauty of Heidegger's readings of Plato (and of Aristotle). Especially in the earlier readings, Heidegger highlights Plato's words in the Allegory that the Idea of the Good (and its correlate image of the sun) are epekeina tes ousias-‘beyond beingness.' As Heidegger reads this, the Good, properly understood, is not a being or cause or value at all but rather the (temporal) enabling or empowering of all beings in their beingness. So, Plato did indeed have a glimpse of what is more fundamental than the Ideas, namely, what makes possible all beings in their beingness (Ideas). To this extent, then, Plato's thinking retained a connection to the originary and ‘founding' thinking of Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus. Nevertheless, Heidegger detects a development in Plato's thinking. Plato was in thrall to the sheer presence of beings, their ‘full look,' their eidos, their idea-and this became the focal point of his thinking, which, in turn, served to inaugurate the metaphysical tradition of thinking and its preoccupation with the timeless, immaterial, immutable ‘essences' of things. Plato's thinking may have tended in this direction, but it is only in the later metaphysical thinking that the Idea of the Good (and the sun) became reflexively interpreted as a supreme essence or highest being or first and final cause. But this observation, too, needs to be nuanced because the Neoplatonists certainly took up the epekeina tes ousias in their own unique and interesting way. But let's leave that matter for another time.
Ereignis In the chapter titled "Ereignis: (Only) Another Name for Being Itself" you examine Heidegger's use of Ereignis in several texts from the mid-thirties onwards, including some of his private manuscripts, which have not been translated yet; it will probably be several years before non-German speakers can read them. In one of them, Über den Anfang (GA 70), Heidegger writes that Ereignis is die Anfängnis, which you translate as the Originating. Does Heidegger explain in this text what he means by die Anfängnis, and does that change our understanding of Ereignis?
Richard This key word, die Anfängnis, which Heidegger uses to characterize Ereignis, is not a neologism, as some have maintained. Although the word does not appear in the Grimm's Wörterbuch, it can be found in the Early New High German lexicon, which covers the language from roughly 1350-1650. So, Heidegger retrieved a very old word in the German language, and what I suggest in this chapter is that the word's structural resemblance to Ereignis has some importance.
As you and the readers of the website well know, das Ereignis is Heidegger's term d'art, but despite the many pages of commentary over the years, the matter concerning how things stand between Ereignis and Being itself in his thought has remained unclarified. That was the task that I set for myself in the chapter in the book. And after a careful consideration of the relevant texts, I think that it emerges clearly that Heidegger always understood his signature word Ereignis to be but another name for Being (Being itself, Being as such, Being as Being, Beyng).
Nevertheless, Heidegger's characterization of Beyng as Ereignis in the 1936-38 Beiträge , and in the other private writings from this period that you mention, is quite different from the one he offered in his published writings from the late 1950s and 1960s. In Beiträge, Heidegger highlighted Beyng as Ereignis as die Anfängnis as the dramatic and even traumatic event-fulness and moment-ousness of historical epochal happening or ‘originating.' Richard Polt has carefully covered this ground in his book The Emergency of Being .
Yet what I emphasize is that these were private reflections that Heidegger was working out in the turbulent 1930s and that they do not represent his mature position (or core position) on the matter. We need always to keep in mind that he did not consider the Beiträge text to be a publishable work. When in later years, beginning in the late 1950s, he turned to a public presentation of his notion of Ereignis, the whole theme is unfolded in a remarkably different manner. The temporal dimension of Ereignis remains from the earlier work-but not much else. He brings Ereignis (as Being) into close relation with the ancient Chinese Tao, the Way, and characterizes Ereignis as the ‘simplest and most gentle of all laws,' the ‘law' that grants but does not dictate. Thus, in his later rendition, which I consider to be closer to the core of his lifetime of thinking about Being, Ereignis is the ‘originating' as the simple temporal letting be of beings; the serene laying out and gathering together of beings; the gentle appropriating of beings, each unto itself and each in relation to one another. In other words, Ereignis as the Way of all things-the Chinese Tao, the primordial Logos.
Ereignis In various texts Heidegger says that die Sache selbst = Ereignis = Beyng. In other places he describes them in specific ways. For example, Ereignis as a round dance ringing the mirror play of the fourfold ("The Thing", p. 180), as the historical epochal happening of the first beginning (Beiträge), as disclosing coming to pass ("The Turning", p. 45), and as Heidegger's own singulare tantum ( Identity and Difference , P. 36). At different times he writes about Ereignis differently, and its importance goes up and down.
As you point out in your book, when asked to summarize his life's work in a late seminar, he said it was and had always been the question of Being. In the end, were his different descriptions of Ereignis useful ways to elucidate aspects of Being, or were they dead ends?
Richard Your question cuts to the chase: On balance, did Heidegger's introduction and deployment of the term Ereignis serve to clarify or obfuscate the fundamental matter for thought? On the one hand, as I will elaborate in a moment, the word assisted him in conveying his core insight. But on the other hand, the term, at least as he employed it in certain contexts, proved to muddy the waters. In the book, I discuss this difficulty in relation to his 1962 lecture ‘Time and Being,' but it is also a relevant issue with respect to the 1957 lecture that you mention, ‘The Principle of Identity.' In both instances, Heidegger spoke about Ereignis ‘giving' or ‘appropriating' ‘being' (Sein). Only a painstakingly close reading of these texts can discern that what Heidegger appeared to be saying was that Ereignis as Being itself (Sein selbst) ‘gives' or ‘appropriates' ‘beingness' (Seiendheit) in each particular historical ‘epoch.' But it remains that in such later texts, Heidegger invited confusion-and (arguably) poorly served his own thinking and die Sache-by using ‘Sein' in such an imprecise manner in relation to Ereignis.
Nonetheless, on the positive side, Heidegger found in the word Ereignis a way of bringing forth more vividly the features of the Ur-phenomenon that is Being itself. From the beginning of his path of thinking, he was concerned to step back from the ‘beingness' of the metaphysical tradition in order to make manifest Being as the movement, the way, in which and through which beings emerge, linger in their ‘full look,' wane, and depart. This is what I call the ‘Being-way,' as mentioned earlier. The word Ereignis brings the Being-way into view by virtue of the three basic resonances of the word: (1) the ‘event' that is the efflorescence of beings coming into (2) their ‘own' and thereby (3) coming out into full view, all in relation to one another. Of course, for Heidegger, this Ereignis of beings, this ‘singular' unfolding process, is finite and negatived, but just in case this might be overlooked, he sometimes had recourse to pair Ereignis with the word Enteignis as a reminder. But in any case, ‘Ereignis' conveys the simple and quiet but also profound and astonishing ‘coming to pass' of all things, such as the tree coming into bloom-suddenly, or so it seems. I observe that many Chinese and Japanese commentators find this central Heideggerian insight very accessible and see clearly what is being made manifest by this word Ereignis. Koichi Tsujimura is one example.
To sum up, then: The temporal-spatial flow that issues forth all things-this is the Simple, this is the One (hen), this is the singulare tantum that is Being as Ereignis.
Ereignis This interview has opened up new aspects of Heidegger's thought for me and I hope for others too. What will you be working on after Engaging Heidegger?
Richard I very much enjoyed the exchange; thank you.
There is an essay in the book on how Heidegger's thinking has enriched the study of architecture, and this is a continuing interest of mine. I've been fortunate over the years to have been able be to discuss with students the lecture ‘Building Dwelling Thinking' in the presence of several H.H. Richardson masterpieces, which are just a short walk from the college campus.
I've recently translated a small section from Heidegger's 1928-29 lecture course ‘Introduction to Philosophy' (GA 27) that I think is crucial to understanding in a more detailed and nuanced manner how he shifted the ‘phenomenological' concern to the ‘truth' at the site of the being. My task is to trace his line of thinking from 1924 to 1930-and then to show, or at least to suggest, how this led Heidegger into the ‘turn' (die Kehre) and to rethink die Sache under the rubric of the ‘truth of Being.'
I'll leave it at that for now. But to come back to where I started in our interview, I would simply add that what is truly special about Heidegger's thinking is that it always seeks to turn us-or, better, return us-to the experience of Being.
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