Dec 152016

Lee Braver (ed.), Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time: The Unanswered Question of Being. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2015; 362 pp. ISBN: 978-0-262-02968-1

Reviewed by Clinton Debogorski, University of Toronto

Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time: The Unanswered Question of Being, a recent volume of sixteen essays edited, introduced, and contributed to by Lee Braver, offers the reader diverse occasions to think on the philosophical stakes of a glaring absence. The basic question posed and responded to by the contributors to this collection runs roughly as follows: how is one to understand the lack in Being and Time of what could well have been the most significant, difficult, problematic, and rewarding of its projected six divisions? As anyone who studies Being and Time in its frustrating quasi-entirety must be aware, only the first two divisions of its Part One—a paltry one-third of the projected work—were to see the light of publication. And as Braver points out in his introduction, the steresis of Division III, which Heidegger entitled “Time and Being,” appears particularly grave. In an attempt to correct Spiegelberg’s metaphorical description of Being and Time as an “astonishing torso of a text,” Braver, in his editorial introduction, claims that, without its “heart” (namely, the interpretation of being in general in terms of temporality, which was supposed to have been the content of “Time and Being”), it might be more apt to refer to the text handed down to us as “an astonishing pile of limbs.” (4)

However, for all its obscure transitions and interpretive layers, the truncated pathway through Being and Time has an undeniable cohesion: an ever-present sense of direction, an angst-ridden heart, a formidable hermeneutic circulatory system that flows back into itself at least three times before apparently flat-lining: from its point of departure in inauthentic, everyday being-in-the-world, through the strategic interpretation of Angst that renders explicit the modally indifferent care-structure of Dasein’s existence, to the conscientious attestation that a resolute, authentic, finite temporality is indeed concretely possible for Dasein to take upon itself—and then, finally…a Sackgasse—a dead-end! In its quasi-final pages, Heidegger’s attempted revitalization of ontology appears to choke on the rote repetition of its initial questions: “How is this [primordial] mode of temporalizing of temporality [which “makes the ecstatic project of being in general possible”] to be interpreted? Is there a way leading from primordial time to the meaning of being? Does time itself reveal itself as the horizon of being?” (BT, 415) What Heidegger’s first major contribution presents us with—rather than Spiegelberg’s famous “torso” or Braver’s even more unsettling image of “a pile of limbs”—is, I think, a weirdly writhing, wriggling foetus, concerning whose viability or unviability its progenitor at no point makes any definitive decision.

Braver’s preferred metaphor, on the other hand, seems to be an instance of projection in the psychoanalytic, rather than the Heideggerian, sense: it would be more suitable as an image for his own volume than for what we have of Being and Time. Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time is rather choppy and uneven in character. (The inclusion of two essays by Alain Badiou, which have nothing to do with the issue at stake, are most conspicuous. Especially given its hauntedness by the absence of any selection from Heidegger’s 200-odd pages of unpublished notes on Division III, the obtrusive inclusion of Badiou’s essays, to my mind, is the greatest shortcoming of the volume.) What we have before us is a pile of essays (alphabetically arranged by writer—or, as Heidegger might put it, enframed) whose functional interrelationships, important similarities, and interpretive differences the reader is left to sort out for themselves; the volume lacks the organic, though developmentally arrested, unity of Heidegger’s magnum non opus.

Metaphorics and Gestell suspicions aside, it makes sense to ask: what motivated such a compilation of articles on a non-extant part of a broken off would-be totality like Being and Time? Given that Division III, in particular, has been obliterated, what sense could there be in producing secondary literature on it? As Braver playfully observes in his editor’s introduction, citing a number of examples from fictional literature, as well as from Heidegger’s own efforts to delve into the unsaid though allegedly retrievable presuppositions of the writings of the great Western thinkers, “It turns out that there exists a considerable literature on nonexistent literature.” (2) Quite uncannily true! Braver’s concept here, to my mind, is quite ingenious. It is difficult to imagine anything more consistent with Heidegger’s own approach to ontology than to linger on the hulking absences, conspicuous lacunae, major withdrawals and reservations at work in, before, after, and beyond what would otherwise stagnate as a mere present-at-hand lettre du texte, idly passed along as unphenomenological hearsay. If the broken hammer, qua broken, can help us uncover as much as Heidegger establishes that it can concerning its own manner of being—as ready-to-hand in the nexus of its in-order-to references—then careful investigation of the breaking-off of Being and Time might well harbour the potential to render the turn from the projected Treatise on Being to the receptive, meandering modes of thrownness expressed in his later Holzwege more explicit than it was before.

Let us turn to the biographical dimension of Division III’s abandonment. François Raffoul’s, Theodore Kisiel’s, and others’ pieces in the volume relate it for us: sometime near the end of 1926, following a series of “friendly and intense discussions” with Karl Jaspers, Heidegger would commit Division III of Being and Time to the flames. (240) He took this drastic and (even by one of his own retrospective assessments) unfortunate measure, he later said, because “the elaboration that I had managed up to this point of this most important section would necessarily be unintelligible.” (84) A strange explanation indeed, coming from a thinker who would go on to say that “To make itself understandable is suicide for philosophy!” (Heidegger, 2012, 344)

In their bundle of limbs, the contributors do a fine job demonstrating that Heidegger’s published lectures, books, notes, and correspondences give us plenty to contemplate concerning what blocked the coming to fruition of Division III, and perhaps inspired its incineration. §69c of Being and Time, “The Temporal Problem of the Transcendence of the World,” along with the more traditionally, historically oriented reuptake of its indications in the final two sections (§§20–21) of the Basic Problems of Phenomenology lectures of the same year, appear throughout Braver’s collection as crucial hermeneutical hints into what the strategy for Division III may have been—and why it had to fail. In particular, the account of ecstatic-horizonal temporality, initiated in the former text and developed further in the latter, appears to be the primary locus of the Daseinsanalytik strategy’s dramatic self-implosion. In his intricate historical survey of Heidegger’s many abandoned attempts to elaborate Division III, “The Drafts of ‘Time and Being’: Division III of Part One of Being and Time and Beyond,” Theodore Kisiel shows how these attempts lent themselves—even explicitly, in Heidegger’s own words—to an untenable objectification of being. By late 1930, Heidegger saw how such an ecstatic-horizon-based “schematic-phenomenological construction of the concept of being by way of time” blocked the possibility of saying the truth of being from out of its genuine source. (163) This origin, as simple as it is elusive in its abyssal refusal throughout the history of Western metaphysics, Heidegger would come to call the event (Ereignis). As François Raffoul points out in his piece, “The Incompletion of Being and Time and the Question of Subjectivity,” we are confronted in Heidegger’s later works with an emphasis on the truth of being (or beyng, Seyn), rather than its meaningfulness, intelligibility, and so on. (250) On account of its ineluctable historicity and elusive uniqueness, the event of beyng primordially resists explication in terms of meaning, if by this we mean any sort of representation or determination of the being of beings by way of ontological concepts.

Does the persistence of objectification—understood in this context as the persistence of a conceptual style that tempts thinkers to reify being, to betray the intimation that it is not a being—suggest a lingering subjectivism in Being and Time, a subjectivism fatal enough to render Division III a dead end? This question, to my mind, is one of the main hermeneutic battlegrounds in Braver’s compilation. As Richard Polt argues in his essay “From the Understanding of Being to the Happening of Being,” Heidegger’s failure to express the turn (die Kehre) from Dasein’s temporal understanding of being to the temporality of being as such may not be so much a matter of persistent subjectivism as it is one of residual transcendentalist ahistoricism. Dasein’s understanding of the being of beings, as Polt points out, is not interpreted there as an achievement of subjectivity in the traditional manner. (232) The traditional, Descartes-inspired, idealist brand of constitutive subjectivity, as Heidegger claims in both The Essence of Truth lectures of 1930 and his Letter on Humanism (1947), has already been dismantled and left behind in Being and Time, where the Daseinsanalytik exposes the so-called subject’s mode of being as a way of always already being open to, in, and for the sake of a factical region of significance. The openness in question is nothing like an activity emanating from Dasein’s understanding, but rather characterizes Dasein itself in its way of being—always already. In each case Dasein finds itself thrown into a veritable web of significance that overwhelmingly shapes their more or less authentically pursued projections in advance. Such an interpretation of the subject, qua ontological, gives the lie to any subjectivist interpretation according to which pure forms of receptivity or determinative activity would characterize our experiential apparatus a priori as present-at-hand, pre-worldly, inner capacities for rendering the world into an intelligible system of appearances. Through a transcendental investigation into the conditions of possibility of Dasein’s ontological understanding, Heidegger comes to see that the continuance of such an investigation would necessarily be unintelligible, for the universality implied by the je (“in each case”) and the necessity implied by the immer (“always”) of je schon (“in each case already”) and immer schon (“always already”), respectively, must revolt against the embrace of radical historicality and bottomless contingency implied by Dasein’s thrownness. (235–6)

As Charles Guignon stresses in “The Place of Division III in Heidegger’s Plan for Being and Time,” Heidegger came to see that the inquiry into the meaning of being (to be concluded with Division III of Part One) and the inquiry into the history of Western metaphysics (planned for Part Two, as a concretization of the temporal interpretation of being) were more deeply entwined than he had projected in Being and Time. Heidegger’s insight into the inseparability of systematicity and historicity in the question of being may have played the central role in preventing the completion of the crucial turn from the Daseinsanalytik to the destruction of the history of ontology that was to be performed in the joint between the first and second halves of Being and Time: Part One, Division III. And the consensus of many of the contributors is that Heidegger’s most radical, decisive, and protracted abandonment of the still-too-thematizing language of ecstatic temporal horizons, for the sake of an unrelenting meditation on the baseless basis of the radical historicity of being (by now intimated as beyng) comes in the 1936–38 text Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event). The playing out of the conjunction of Being and Time proved to be, if not too subjectivistic (see the essays by Braver, Guignon, Harries, Nelson, Polt, Raffoul, Thompson, and Sheehan on this dispute), then in any case still insufficiently historical in its presentation. Vis-à-vis the Western-philosophical penchant for unified, architectonic, all-encompassing transcendental/metaphysical systems, one might think that the incompletion of Being and Time is a symptom of its already resolutely pushing against the metaphysical language of “a priori conditions of possibility,” “constitutive structures,” “fundamentally ontological schemata,” and so on. What the turn amounts to, at least in part, is Heidegger’s hard-won realization that the temporal interpretation of the meaning of being in general could not be laid out as a ground independent from Part Two’s projected destruction of the history of ontology. As early as the 1927 lecture course on the Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger set out, as Kisiel and others quote him, “on a more historical path” than that of the first two Divisions of Being and Time. (149) Still dissatisfied with the ecstatic-horizonal schematization pursued in the aforementioned lectures (as well as the Metaphysical Foundations of Logic lectures of 1928), Heidegger finally abandoned the project of Division III to tread what he regarded as an utterly historical path—a path he referred to as “being-historical thinking”—in the Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event). In “The Antinomy of Being and the End of Philosophy,” Karsten Harries explains: The Contributions, “which is said to make the turn from a Dasein-centred explication of the problem of time as horizon of the question of Being to a restatement of this question in terms of the history of Being…can thus be understood as the most worked out, certainly the most ambitious attempt to meet the promise made for Division III of Part One of Being and Time.” (140)

With the help of the converging limbs of Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time, it becomes clearer to the reader why Heidegger should have considered the dead-ended character of the path of Being and Time to be an important contribution, precisely qua dead-ended, to the later course of his thought. In and through experiencing his magnum non opus’ failure to arrive at a fundamental sense of what it means to be, we are able to watch the metaphysical aspiration for an ahistorical system of transcendental conditions devour itself with the help of its own ineluctably situated, temporally specific categories. Rather than attempting to gain access to the meaning of being by way of an analysis of Dasein’s structural totality, Heidegger comes to see that the very gesture of identifying constitutive ontological structures is a manifestation of an objectifying, ultimately technological representation of being—including that of Dasein itself—over which Dasein, as Braver points out, has little to no “initiative and control.” (72) In the transcendental phenomenological language of Being and Time, “thrownness [has swallowed] up projection.” (67)

What the contributors to this experimental collection of essays show, I think, is that by lingering on the oblivion of Division III of Being and Time, the oblivion of “Time and Being,” interpreters might let otherwise taken-for-granted contours of Heidegger’s anti-transcendental, radically situated early lectures, and otherwise unnoticed turnings of his later being-historical wanderings, light up in potentially decisive ways.


Additional Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin (2010). Being and Time, tr. J. Stambaugh. Albany: SUNY Press. Referred to parenthetically in the text as BT.

Heidegger, Martin (2012). Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event), tr. R. Rojcewicz and D. Vallega-Neu. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.