Derrida’s Heidegger: la question de l’Etre et l’Histoire. Second Session. Second Set of Notes. By Alberto Moreiras.

Notes on Derrida´s Heidegger: la question de l´Etre et l´histoire

Second session–Second set of notes.

Derrida calls our attention to two words in the Sein und Zeit manuscript, that is, “ontic metaphor,” two underlined words, as a comment to the end of the Introduction, where Heidegger is making a difference between the great difficulty of thinking the being of beings and “telling stories” about beings (ueber Seiendes erzahlende zu berichten).

[This is very significant in light of what will come later. Just keep it in mind.]

[We do not want postmetaphysical, postontological, postphilosophical thought to be a matter of telling ourselves, and others, stories.   We need to break away from novel writing when it comes down to thought.   It is de-narrativization, in a sense, that is called forth. The interruption of narration.] Derrida asks: “why, at the moment when historicity must finally be taken absolutely seriously, must we stop telling stories?”

 A necessary caveat: it is not, as it has classically been, a matter of stopping the story-making in order to access a superior realm of abstraction.   Being is not in the beings, it is nothing outside beings, it is not another being, it is ontically nothing outside its ontic determinations. It is nothing, therefore, outside its own history.   Which is the reason why the thought of (the truth) of being cannot be pursued outside history, and outside the history of ontology, through its destruction.

It is, rather, and this is the difficulty Heidegger proposes, a matter of stopping the story-making from within ontic fields–say, religion tells itself a story, science tells itself a story, metaphysics tells itself a story BECAUSE they have already closed off the question of being in favor of their own internal ontic regionality.

So, to stop telling ourselves stories means to start thinking from the ontico-ontological difference, that is, from the difference that keeps the question of being apart from every ontic determination.

[Simple thing: we tell ourselves stories when we turn being into a character.   Say, I want to teach a class on being and I say, “Hey, remember the joke about two Jewish rabbis . . . ” The example given is the moment in Plato’s Sophist when the Stranger calls for taking the question of Being strictly on its own terms instead of muthon tina diegesthai, telling ourselves stories. Say, being appears as movement, or being appears as force, or being appears as god, or being appears as production. . .   All of this is crucial, because “telling ourselves stories” already in Plato, as Derrida notes, is assimilated to “what men do,” that is, to the natural attitude, to what one does when one finds nothing better to do, that is, practically all the time. Which sets up the theme of the “necessity of the ontic metaphor.”]

[What Heidegger calls for, therefore, is a certain breakaway from the natural attitude, that is, from the necessity of the ontic metaphor.   This is the great difficulty. Because, how does one break away from a necessity? Is the necessity not waiting around the corner every time when one thinks one has escaped it?]  

Once again, through references to Hegel, Derrida explains how, on the one hand, Hegel understood the problem, the philosophical problem of having to break away from the natural attitude, in order to, on the other hand, close it off within metaphysics, which of course turns Hegel into the “plus grand” story teller of all, but still a story-teller.

The step beyond ontological history might resemble a step outside history altogether, but it is, on the contrary, “the condition of access to a radicalization of the thought of history as history of being itself.”   Stopping the story-telling is the condition of access to a radical notion of historicity.

Even in Heidegger it is a long process. For instance, the fifth chapter of Sein und Zeit seems to be devoted to historicity, but it is the historicity of Dasein, not of Sein.   It is still introductory, therefore, preliminary to the question. It is only part of a preliminary investigation into the modalities of historical access for the human being, and it still says nothing about history AND being.

And yet, as preliminary, the question of the historicity of Dasein is already “immense progress.”

Why, then, must the question of the historicity of being go through the question of the historicity of Dasein?

Heidegger must begin somewhere. But that somewhere must be without presuppositions, without “stories.” Derrida says Heideger gives himself at this point two “assurances” in order to proceed.

The first assurance has to do with the “always already.”   There is an a priori that takes us away from mere empiricism, and that must not be understood as a presupposition, but as an entry point.

In order for us to be able to ask the question of being, it must be because the question of being is already obscurely accessible.   The accessibility posits an “already” not as presupposition, but as entry point enabling the question.   Now, this “already” points in the direction of an originary history.   Heidegger calls the obscure accessibility a Faktum.

As such, it is a Faktum of language. Since “being” is a matter of linguistic signification.

So, those are the two “assurances:” there is the possibility of the question, and the possibility of the question is a matter of language.

It is these two assurances that, Derrida maintains, open up–just open up–the question of being as history, since “there is no language without history and no history without language.” [Derrida’s reasoning seems a little weak here, not persuasive, at least to me.  Something does not quite click here.  Is it just me?]


One thought on “Derrida’s Heidegger: la question de l’Etre et l’Histoire. Second Session. Second Set of Notes. By Alberto Moreiras.

  1. Thanks Alberto, again, an excellent summary of the lectures. What is particularly interesting to me here is the way that the question itself that Derrida here engages with (die Seinsfrage) becomes a preliminary step which is “more than preliminary” and thus, in a sense, perhaps no longer preliminary in the moment it is posed as preliminary from Heidegger’s earliest elaborations in Sein und Zeit. It is like a can of worms that, once out of the bag, has a series of effects that, as I think Derrida suggests, Heidegger’s work thereafter effectively tries to catch up with in some way.

    So, just to mention some of these effects that are opened by a preliminary question that is no longer preliminary. I’m sorry for the messiness of the reflections, but it is hard for me to organize this mentally:

    (1) Immediately, we have the question of the Befragte and the Gefragte. It is the Erfragte – Derrida doesn’t say this explicitly, but I understand the latter to always already be the Seinsfrage itself in its final determination, even if the line of questioning itself never fully brings this to light – that maintains a distance between these two aforementioned relations (see page 61). That is, the Erfragte, as that which refuses in itself to reduce the Gefragte to the Befragte, is that which resists simply “telling tales” (and from here the logical radical consequences of the “preliminary question” itself, none other than that of the Erfragte). Yet this would necessarily question the relationship between these two sets of relations (76): “…here the preliminary is perhaps more than preliminary and there is not, between Da-Sein and Sein, between the Befragte and the Gefragte, a simple rapport of means and ends, a path of access accessible to each or from threshold to threshold.” What does this “radical” re-thinking of this relation mean, what is its necessary link to history and language?

    (2) The “always already” that Alberto mentions above. What I find important here is that the “always already” posits for Derrida two seemingly contradictory consequences. The first is the historical conditioning of the Seinsfrage. For Derrida, the condition of possibility of the Erfragte, as described above, is the historical condition of the use of the word “to be,” that is, the fact that we understand that there “is” at all, the object of being that is taken for granted. Even though we have forgotten the question of being, it is there and gives the historical condition of possibility for the question itself. The second, however, is the universal unconditionality of the “already” as “always already.” It is in this sense that, for Derrida, the kind of historicity about which is being questioned is originary. The always already as historical condition and unconditional historicity (seemingly a paradox) gives way to the originary as the very condition of being in history and language. All of which, as Derrida himself points out, opens onto more questions than it provides answers.

    (3) Finally, and connected to the last two points, the question of investigation or questioning itself, one which as researchers is very close to our hearts, seems to open up here to a question of a certain way of inhabiting history and language. If there is a Suchen, it is because the Gesuchten is somehow already (always already) verfugbar (available… but “not available/disposed as an object at our disposition [recentering on the question of the subject and appropriation — PB], but welcoming (acogedor), disposed/available to let itself be understood, to let itself be approached in some way, close to us (we still do not know what we must put under this us – neither understanding, nor reason, nor man) in a certain familiarity” (78). What is at stake here, it seems to me, is rethinking the intellectual work itself in its historical immanence.

    (4) Finally, in the last quote here above Derrida opens up a question of the “us” (one which is not so far removed, perhaps, from a conversation that took place in C&T not so long ago), an “us” which is removed from a subjectival logic. Once we have taken the question of being seriously, what is the “us” that now concerns “us”. Qu’est-ce que le nous qui nous regard – an essential separation now takes place between the subject of enunciation (“us”, here the direct object) and the proximity/familiarity which gives us the us of Da-Sein. The question then is – how do we understand the latter? And what does this mean for the metaphysical tradition of thought which would center on the subject and individual consciousness?

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