A Thinking of Propriation

In his 1944 seminar on Heraclitus Heidegger advances the notions of essential thinking and conventional thinking. I think both notions, or their polarity, must be understood as part of a long process one of whose hallmarks is the departure from the framework provided by Being and Time (1927), in which a crucial segment of their genealogy appears under the terms Eigentlichkeit and Uneigentlichkeit, translated some times as “authenticity” and “inauthenticity.” Their replacement with “essential” and “conventional” thinking in 1944 is itself part of a long process that might lead to as far as “On Time and Being” and the need simultaneously, if that is the right word (it probably is not), to think the “Es gibt” of be-ing and the “Es gibt” of time. The taking-place of be-ing and the taking place of time and also the taking-place of place itself. To this extent these things must be connected to the Greek notion of the Khora, particularly developed, albeit enigmatically, in Plato’s Timaeus, but also mentioned by Heraclitus (the 1944 seminars includes some thoughts on the Heraclitean khora). (Later on the khora would be identified with matter, hyle, in the Aristotelian tradition, but probably wrongly, to the extent that the khora is a triton genos, a third kind of being.) Derrida published an article in 1976 about it, entitled “Khora,” but it is an inconclusive essay, probably part of a seminar (I have not done the proper research to determine it, but the essay sounds like a part of a larger whole).

One must think, then, on the opportunity to think the khora as the uncanny gift without giver that at the same time makes possible and impossible the opportunity for essential thinking, or for carrying it to its end. There is a limit to essential thinking, which is the necessary concealment warranted by an inescapable structure: essential thinking cannot think beyond the taking-place of thought, and yet that is what needs to be thought.

The question that intrigues me is whether such a possibility is fulfilled or interrupted by poetry. I assume that discursive thinking, the kind of thinking we may associate with philosophical reflection, at least with philosophical writing, cannot get to it. So poetry is the only modality.

In What Is Philosophy? Giorgio Agamben suggests something else: music. There would be a museicological (Museic, from the Muse, or from the Mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne) approach to thinking the khora as what is most worthy of thought. For Agamben, such a museicological path is at the same time the fulfilment and the interruption of philosophy, as far as I can tell. It is unclear to me how poetry and music would relate to each other at this juncture.

But thinking fulfilllment and interruption at the same time, if that is the right phrase (and it probably is not), is not an easy task.

Heidegger proposed Ereignis as the advent of a historical possibility for thought. Given its connection with “eigen” the word is often dismissed, particularly in the texts of Derrida and the deconstructionists, as intolerably contaminated by the notions of property and propriety. It may be time to get rid of such obstacle to thought–the deconstructive prohibition to think propriation.

At the end of On Time and Being the notion of Enteignis, to be translated as Disappropriation, comes to supplement Ereignis.

I wonder whether the play Ereignis-Enteignis could be a version of the game of fulfillment and interruption. We could talk about an uncanny propriation in the khora as the contemporary limit of thought. Of a certain kind of thought, obviously banned by common sense, obviously disadvised to worthy doctoral candidates and assistant professors. But nevertheless. And I wonder whether it is also a form of imperative thought, in the Eckhartian-Schürmanian sense: something that, no matter its unadvisability or its danger, one has no choice about.

12 thoughts on “A Thinking of Propriation

  1. Apart from selected passages, I have not read the Heraclitus-seminar, but might the distinction between essential and conventional thinking developed there map onto that between meditative and representational thinking in “Gelassenheit,” or simply that between thinking (which is not without rigor) and philosophy in, for example, “Das Ende der Philosophie und die Aufgabe des Denkens”? And yet, if what you say about the necessary limit to “essential thinking” holds, then would not the later Heidegger be after a thinking that is at once a way of being and the very way of being itself (or beyng, if you like)—a way of being or Ereignis that is deeper than the being of beings (that is hypo- or hyper-ontological) and is always pulled, from within, by a counterthrust of Enteignis (a lesson to be learned already in the Beiträge, as Schürmann so masterfully demonstrates at the end of Broken Hegemonies)? Is not the ambition of Gelassenheit to think (hypo- or hyper-phenomenologically) beneath or beyond the taking-place of thought, beneath or beyond its horizons and phenomenalizations? This gelassene thinking is, I maintain, infra-discursive; hence the poetic (in which I’d be inclined to include the musical) is not “the only modality,” although it’s doubtless necessary to be in dialogue with. And that to which this thinking corresponds, namely the event of being as Gelassenheit, could it be the pure gift? I’m sure we’ll talk about this more in a few weeks at the A&M conference, as well as whether the gift and the khora should be thought together. See p. 76 of God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, though, which I just read this morning and where I was surprised to see Derrida curiously dissociating them, or rather hierarchizing them in such a way that the non-gift of the khora is conceived as the condition for the possibility of the gift. Lastly, as for the imperative, I will, for now, leave you with a laconic yes.


  2. Thank you so much for this, Ian! I would think Gelassenheit, as a goal of praxis, is also at the same time fulfillment and interruption, hence not an event of being but rather an event of thought. And I would think it cannot go beyond khora, it can only ever approach it–ankhibasie. I have not read the Caputo et al book, but it is hard for me to think of the khora as the condition of possibility for some gift to occur, which would seem to introduce the notion of some divine demiurgue’s agency.


  3. Thanks for your reply, Alberto. I’m glad to hear you agree about human/thought-ful Gelassenheit as both fulfilling and interrupting philosophy as it has been traditionally conceived. There’s much more to say and develop here. I will just note that, for me, this Gelassenheit must be thought in conjunction with the Gelassenheit of being—and for Heidegger, too, at least according to a couple remarkable passages in the Black Notebooks. E.g., GA 97: 296: “das Sein-lassen ist schon eingelassen in das Sein und kommt aus diesem her, das doch wohl das Menschenwesen eingelassen und gelassen haben muß in die Gewahrung von Seyn—so daß das Seyn selber als dieses Gelassen-haben, als wesendes je Gelassen-haben—als die Gelassenheit sich ereignet”; or GA 99: 40: “Gelassenheit, sei jetzt nicht mehr der Name für eine menschliche Haltung im Verhältnis zum Seienden—sondern das Welten der Enteignis.”
    At any rate, I’ll try to make the case in a few weeks that, if there is a gift, it must be thought above all as the gift of onto-evental Gelassenheit, and not merely, as Derrida suggests but unfortunately does not develop in Donner le temps II, as a disinterested interest, as love for the other, or as a letting that does not oblige or even acquit.
    Would you be willing to say not only that, in the event of thought/uncanny propriation, it is we who are ever approaching, but also that, in the event, we are able to catch sight of being itself (beyng) as ever approaching too, ever ‘needing’ and ‘using’ (cf. Brauch) us to safeguard and name it in ever varied ways?


    1. Ian, I am not sure I could make that move. I can´t think of beyng as having “personal” characteristics, from “persona” of course, an intentionality regarding Dasein, or having a particular interest in human Dasein, even a comportment towards Dasein, except in metaphoric terms derived from language–language would need and use us, etc. I know Heidegger says those things, always a bit ambiguously, but I have difficulty following him there, and cannot take him literally–it is beyond me!


      1. I’m wary of anthropomorphism too, but wouldn’t Heidegger say here, as he does with so much else, that we can only understand giving, use, letting be, etc. when we have understood them as of the very essence of being? It’s worth considering, I believe, even as I would also want to bring everything I have learned from deconstruction into the consideration.


  4. Ian, since very few people read this blog, I will not be revealing anything in advance of our meeting next month. So let me run by you the preliminary thought that might lead to my paper: it is only this, that being is the gift, but being should be thought of as “our essential nature.” Heidegger says it in Was heisst Denken, in the 3rd lecture of the second half of the seminar, that thinking is connected to thanks through the old Germanic word thanc, which means remembering, memory. He says: “the highest and most lasting gift, our essential nature.” There is a vertiginous quality to those pages: memory (that is, thanc) is the gathering of thinking back into what must be thought, that is, being. “Original thanking is the thanks owed for being.” The gift is then the possibility of memory, and memory is memory of being, but the memory of being is the recollection of our “essential nature.”

    At the beginning of his second lecture Heidegger quotes Hölderlin: “Who the deepest has thought, loves what is most alive.” In the seminar on Heraclitus, Heidegger also referred to that line by Hölderlin. And he said: “This makes it sound as though the love for what is most alive is a consequence of thinking, as though this love activates itself once thinking has been consummated. Yet, the truth is otherwise: it is rather the case that thinking is itself the love, the love for what is ‘most alive,’ for that in which all that is alive has gathered itself in life” (Heraclitus 161). As it turns out, then, love and thinking are conjoined in essential thinking, but “not as an indistinct monotony, but rather as a conjoined simplicity whose unity as thinking and life is named but nevertheless remains unsaid” (161).

    Our essential nature, that is, what makes the human human, is the possibility of an attunement to being, that is, what is “most alive,” what is most “thought-worthy”–the fact that the world worlds, the fact that the world is. “The human is the place of the truth of being [where being comes to unconcealment], and this is why the human can [also], at the same time, be the confusion of the madness of empty nothingness. The human is what s/he is by constantly not being what s/he is. In fact, this ‘not’ is the foundation of both nobility and presumptuous mismeasurement” (280).

    So, to answer your question, yes, being braucht, in the double sense of uses and needs, but what braucht is our essential nature, not some being out there talking to us from beyond the khora. Being=the khora. The khora=thanc. In memory (which is ultimately a memory of our taking place) we think/thank the khora in its receiving vastness.

    The pages on the khora in the Heraclitus seminar are inconclusive, but I would like to push them a bit.

    I also keep thinking about Socrates’ second speech in Phaedrus about thinking as memory of the idea. But the idea is also the triton genos, the khora, the taking place of the idea.


  5. I have just come across a passage that seems highly relevant if not decisive for the previous discussion, Ian. From the Heraclitus seminar: “Seiendes is aber ein Seiendes dadurch und allein dadurch, dass es ‘ist, d. h. durch ‘das Sein,’ to on, das Seiende, ist to dstoumenon, das Gesuchte, aber gesucht wird im Denken, das das Seiende denkt, das Sein das Seienden und dasjenige, was diesem, dem Sein zukommt.” In Laurence Hemming translation: “Be-ing is, however in be-ing only, and absolutely only, because it ‘is,’ that is, through ‘being:’ to on, be-ing, is to dsetoumenon, the searched-out-after, but is sought in thinking itself, which be-ing thinks, the being of be-ing, and whatever therefore arrives in this, arrives in being.”

    Das Seiende thinks, not Sein.


    1. Thanks for the passage, but it’s not decisive on my reading. I maintain that we must understand the ways in which Sein gives, lets, uses, if we are to understand how we should give, let, and use. I don’t maintain and don’t recall Heidegger ever saying that Sein thinks, which would seem to be unique to the human. (Even so, there is a moment of letting in thinking/thanking, perhaps even an event in which thought “happens” in a middle-voiced manner. Schelling says somewhere, Ich denke nicht, es denkt in mir.) I wonder how you read “Time and Being,” then, which is all about the ES that gives and lets, and is interpreted by Heidegger independently of the human. Lastly, I like what you say about the khora, but I read that as another way in which to think being in its deepest sense. That’s what Heidegger is doing with die Gegnet in the first Feldweggespäch, which I read as a variation on the khora.


  6. In my reading, Heidegger is not personalizing the Es–which is for me the same thing as saying the Es has no agency whatsoever (to that extent I prefer the il y a or the Spanish hay; or the eon emmenai in Parmenides). I´d say the same about die Gegnet, and the other connected figures Heidegger used. Although I will grant you that ultimately I am not necessarily interpreting Heidegger. I think he always stuck to the notion in the 1922 lecture on Aristotle that what he then called philosophy was atheistic–do you think he changed in the 1960s? I have not read Caputo and Scanlon’s book yet, but what do they think? But surely the Es in On Time and Being cannot be the god who dances in the abyss from “The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics”? The gods for Heidegger are already internal to Sein, not epekeina tes ousias.


  7. I agree that Heidegger is not trying to personalize the ES, even when he uses grammatically active verbs. These verbs need ultimately to be understood in the middle voice, hence prior to the distinctions between passivity and activity and and between subjects (agents) and objects (patients). This is why he uses what I like to call cognate nominative structures, such as Welt weltet or even Sein istet. But—let me be clear here—I don’t wish thereby to divinize the ES, nor do I think Heidegger is doing so. I don’t think he changed his mind in the 1960s, at least not when it comes to the deepest layer of his thought. Recall the derivation-schema Being-Holy-Godhead-Gods in the Letter on Humanism, or his varied comments on faith being wholly other, with need for a wholly different vocabulary, than thinking. The ES is not the god before whom one dances. But that doesn’t mean the ES doesn’t engage in lassen, geben, brauchen, etc.


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