Der Verstand dient als Fackelträger

Der Verstand dient als Fackelträger, jedenfalls dienend; und was heißt Fackeltragen -- erleuchten! Er ist gerade nicht das Licht gebender, sondern der Lichtung bedürftiger; als Verstand bestimmen nur. Er erleuchtet nur als schematisierter Verstand; er von sich aus vermag gerade nicht einmal zu dienen. (Heidegger, 'Zu Odebrechts und Cassirers Kritik des Kantbuches', 1932?, GA 3, S 300)


a) This is one of the notes which Heidegger made to reviews of his Kantbuch written by Ernst Cassirer (in 1931) and Rudolf Odebrecht (in 1931/32). While the note is rough, it is highly suggestive and should be required reading (and thinking) for all those interpreters of Heidegger who believe him to argue that 'Sein' stands in some kind of privative need of 'Dasein'. (A 'privative need' is a need based on a privation, a need whose aim is to put an end to itself, as when we speak of a need for money.) While Heidegger does indeed write of Sein having a 'need' (Brauch) of Dasein, this is a 'need' belonging to overflow (Überfluß), a need that wants continued activation of itself and not at all to put an end to itself, as when we speak of an artist's need to express. (See 'Sein and Dasein in SZ' for further discussion of this point.) (Not yet online)

b) In characteristic fashion, Heidegger runs together in this note two different aspects of the Kantian 'Verstand' or what he usually calls 'Dasein'. On the one hand, Dasein as it functions 'in the world' is 'always already' (immer schon) determined by one of the ontologies which contest at the gigantomachia (which Heidegger calls the 'da' of 'Sein'). He therefore says that "Er [der Verstand] erleuchtet nur als schematisierter Verstand." Understanding orients itself in the world only as already shaped (schematisiert) in some fundamental fashion. On the other hand, in order to be shaped in this fundamental way, Dasein as 'der Lichtung bedürftig' must previously have undergone some sort of peculiar process whereby, not yet schematisiert, 'it' was yet subjected to a plurality of schema-possibilities and adopted or chose or accepted or elected (etc) one of them (in order to become schematisiert).

c) These two aspects of Dasein are very different: one essentially in the world, the other in a peculiar way essentially out of it. While one of Heidegger's central contentions is exactly that Dasein is the fundamental unity of this difference, he was acutely aware that one or the other of the two sides of this difference ('Sein-in-der-Welt' vs 'Da') is usually privileged in such a way that the central insight (of their fundamental difference and unity) is lost. In the end, he seems to have consigned the understanding of his work to fate. Here another tact is suggested. Since 'Sein' as the gigantomachia is what Heidegger wanted to consider and to communciate (the Daseinsanalytik being only a means to this end, one with which Heidegger became increasing disenchanted), and since the gigantomachia is the contest of fundamental relations (Wesensbezüge), and since these relations govern in advance how something like Dasein is to be understood, the suggestion here is that focus be made first and foremost on the relation-possibilities of the gigantomachia itself (including the abysmal relations of the relation-possibilities themselves).

d) When Dasein is exposed in the 'da' of 'Sein' to the contesting possibilities of being (Seinsmöglichkeiten, Grundbewegungen, Wesensbezüge, usf) it is not yet 'schematisiert'. It is 'Lichtung bedürftig". Schematisierung is exactly what is to befall it 'da'. Heidegger calls this peculiar process, exposure to 'das Freie'. Here Dasein is free in a way that it never is 'in der Welt' because it is before the possibilities of being, not yet in one of them. Acording to Heidegger, exposure to this sort of freedom is one of the essential characteristics of human being (compare Beckett on the space of the door) such that the life of Dasein is figured as a sort of wave, moving both horizonally and vertically, not only through space and time, but in and through essentially different space-times. The always already schematisierte world is (at any given time, or 'je' as Heidegger says) one of these space-times. The gigantomachia is an esentially different space-time. Human being is the movement in and between these...

e) Since the gigantomachia is a dynamic process, it takes place in a time of its own: 'Urzeit'. This is essentially different from 'Uhrzeit' or even from the complexity of times (past, present and future) which are knotted in the life of every human being. Time is essentially times.

f) Heidegger's use of the word 'nur' in this passage demands special notice. He writes: "Er [der Verstand] erleuchtet nur als schematisierter Verstand" (emphasis in the original). As is always the case in Heidegger, this is a reference to the end of Hegel's Phänomenologie: 'nur aus dem Kelche dieses Geisterreiches / schäumt ihm [dem absoluten Geist] seine Unendlichkeit.' Following Hegel, Heidegger wants to draw attention to a double matter. On the one hand, Verstand "als schematisierter" is limited, particular, finite. It is never some general understanding or or some combination of the possibilities of understanding; instead, it is some one, highly particular, finite mode of understanding - here and now. On the other hand, it is exactly this particularity and limitation in which Dasein has its own life. Now exactly because such limitation and finitude is essentially characteristic of Dasein, it is continually exposed to the borders of its understanding (ie, of its world and self) and therefore to the fundamental possibility of these being essentially different from what they currently are. Dasein's 'own' points out of itself to other possible 'owns'. 'Nur' names the fundamentality of this owning/disowning way of human being. (Heidegger's use of the word dient-dienend-dienen in this text points in the same direction. Through finite 'service', human being comes into its own. But because there are different modalities of service to which humans are exposed, they are equally exposed beyond themselves, beyond their always limited current services and selves.)

g) The treatment of 'light' in this passage is noteworthy and difficult. Heidegger says that "Der Verstand dient als Fackelträger (...) und was heißt Fackeltragen -- erleuchten! "; but he also states that 'Er [der Verstand] ist gerade nicht das Licht gebender, sondern der Lichtung bedürftiger". It would seem that the light borne by Verstand, when it 'dient als Fackelträger', derives from Schematisierung: "Er [der Verstand] erleuchtet nur als schematisierter Verstand; er von sich aus vermag gerade nicht einmal zu dienen." So the light carried by Dasein is a correlate of the particular shape or schema through which it opens (ie, is opened to) its world of concern; and this particular shape, in turn, is secondary to some prior source of it: Dasein is "der Lichtung bedürftig".

Several important conclusions follow. First, the Erleuchten of Verstand/Dasein cannot be something given, fixed, singular, vorhanden. If it were, it would not be the case that "er von sich aus vermag gerade nicht einmal zu dienen." The root of this possibility lies elsewhere. Second, if Erleucten is plural, and if all the possibilities of Erleucten are forever equally possible, it must be that Dasein is always both some particular shape of being and that it is 'at the same time' (gleichzeitig) essentially exposed to other possibilities. Third, these plural possibilities of Lichtung constitute the gigantomachia. But the gigantomachia must have a prior, peculiar light of its own if Dasein is to witness the possibilities there. Perhaps it is this Urlichtung which Hekate provided in the mythology of the Greeks? Fourth, what Heidegger here calls "das Licht gebender" is no single possibility of Lichtung, nor is it the range of Lichtungen together, nor even is it this range plus the peculiar light at origin which allows the range of Lichtungen to be witnessed. Instead, all of these are derivative (Fackelträger) of a prior light whose shining-forth it is 'only' to enable the other lights: "nur - aus dem Kelche dieses Geisterreiches / schäumt ihm seine Unendlichkeit."

July 16, 2004 in Heidegger, MH/'nur', MH/Fire | Permalink