Attunements in the Task of Thinking. 

In the 1956 text “Was ist das–die Philosophie?”  Heidegger uses the German word Abbauen, which literally rendered might be “deconstruction,” to talk about the “destruction” of the history of philosophy he had already recommended in Being and Time.  The paragraph says in the available English translation: 

This path to the answer to our question is not a break with history, no repudiation of history, but is an adoption and transformation of what has been handed down to us.  Such an adoption of history is what is meant by the word “destruction.”  . . .  Destruction does not mean destroying but dismantling [Abbauen], liquidating, putting to one side the merely historical [that is, historiographical] assertions about the history of philosophy.  Destruction means–to open our ears, to make ourselves free for what speaks to us in tradition as the Being of being.  By listening to this interpellation we attain the correspondence [to that towards which philosophy is on the way, necessary for an adequate answer to the question What is philosophy?] (What is Philosophy?, Rowan & Littlefield, 2003, 71-73)

Heidegger presents his notion of destruction as part of a Stimmung, an attunement, a specific mode of pathos that our historical epoch prompts in us and that grounds the possible correspondence.  Thaumadsein is the classical name for that attunement.  Heidegger claims that thaumadsein was not left behind, which for us, after Cartesian doubt, includes anew a step back and a restraint: “Im Erstaunen halten wir an uns . . . Wir treten gleichsam zurück vor dem Seiendem” (84).  And yet, Heidegger says, our “fundamental tuning” “is still hidden from us” (89): “What we come across is only this–various tunings of thinking.  Doubt and despair, on the one hand, blind obsession by untested principles, on the other, conflict with one another.  Fear and anxiety are mixed with hope and confidence” (91).  It is here, following those considerations, to which Heidegger offers no particular answer, that Heidegger makes the claim that such an attunement might best be explored through poetic language: “our discussion, which follows philosophy’s thinking, necessarily leads to a discussion of the relationship between thinking and poetic creation.  Between these two there exists a secret kinship because in the service of language both intercede on behalf of language and give lavishly of themselves.  Between both there is, however, at the same time an abyss for they ‘dwell on the most widely separated mountains'” (95).  To my knowledge, Alain Badiou, the great critic of the “suture” of philosophy to poetry in Heidegger, never referenced the fact that Heidegger places the closest proximity between the two at the level of a fundamental attunement–away from any psychology and certainly away from the identification of philosophy with poetry, but certainly on the way to the possible naming of an epochal pathos that could restitute an orientation on the path of thinking.  At stake is the correspondence with the epochal logos, which remains hidden from us. 

In the first part of the essay, which is really a lecture explicitly framed as an introduction to a conversation with his listeners, Heidegger had introduced André Gide’s dictum, in his book on Dostoyevski, that “with fine sentiments bad literature is made” (23).  In retrospect we read that the search not for fine but for the proper “sentiment” is crucial for a good answer to the question of philosophy. And yet the answer as to the sentiment is not given–hence there is no corresponding answer as to the question of philosophy.  Only the two questions subsist.  Heidegger has indeed risked that the question of philosophy has to do with establishing a correspondence with the sending of Being and also that the possibility of attaining it would include not just thaumadsein but also restraint and a step-back from an exclusive concern with das Seiende or present presence.  But that is all he risks.  Except that he does tell us that the notion of philosophy is historically situated as well: 

for Heraclitus philosophia did not yet exist.  An aner philosophos is not a “philosophical” man.  The Greek adjective philosophos expresses something completely different from the adjective philosophical.  An aner philosophos is hos philei to sophon, he who loves the sophon.  . . . What this word means for Heraclitus is hard to translate.  But we can explain it according to Heraclitus’ own interpretation.  According to this the sophon means, Hen Panta, One (is) All.  All means here, all things that exist, the whole, the totality of being.  Hen, one, means, the one, the unique, the all-uniting.  But all being is united in Being.  The sophon says–all being is in Being [Alles Seiende ist im Sein].  To put it more pointedly–being is Being . . . Being is the gathering together [Das Sein ist die Versammlung]–Logos. (47-49)

The Sophists attacked this conception, Heidegger says, and they caused the birth of philosophy by doing so.  The sophos–Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus–lost his harmony, his homologein, the Sophists made sure of it.  From then on, only a striving was possible.  “Because the loving is no longer an original harmony with the sophon but is a particular striving towards the sophon, the loving of the sophon become philosophia” (51).  “The step into philosophy, prepared for by Sophism, was first accomplished by Socrates and Plato” (53). 

If so, it is legitimate to ask whether thaumadsein was already a derived and secondary attunement–in fact, the attunement proper to metaphysics, which Heidegger also calls, although not in this text, ontotheology.  The sophoi would have corresponded through a different attunement.  What was it?  And: was Sophism a historical disruption also in the sense of bringing forth a different attunement?  Was that precisely its fateful accomplishment?  Can we take Sophism to be an actualization or institutionalization of the Parmenidean third way?  Let me put it this way:  Sophism interrupted the sophon, the hen panta, the immersion of Seiende im Sein which was still the thought-character of Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus, presumably Pindar and Aeschylus and even Sophocles.  Sophism was powerful enough to displace the aner philosophos toward a miswandering into a common sense no longer attuned to logos: attuned to doxa, to the marketplace of ideas, to the back and forth of the polis (which brought the polis to its doom at the same time it made it flourish).  That would be the claim.  It is fateful because the reaction to it–Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the ti question–forced the move into metaphysics and the forgetting of the ontological difference and it opened Western history as such. 

When Heidegger says in “On the Essence of Truth” that Kant opens up the last stage of metaphysics he must be talking about the stage where another disruption happened, this time the one that brings metaphysics to its culmination and its end: the stage of the death of God, announced by Kant and expressly formulated by Hegel and then taken up by Nietzsche and reformulated by Heidegger as the stage of the flight of the gods and the wait for the “last god.”  It is dubious that the reaction to such a stage could lead in the direction of a reestablishment, a restoration of the Hen Panta.  That is perhaps what the Heideggerian “other beginning” says: that the other beginning would be different from the “first beginning.”  But will there be an “other beginnning”?  If so, it could only be through some confidence in the possibility that somehow that “other beginning” will start to take place as a new fateful instantiation of Western (perhaps by now already global) history.   I lack that confidence myself, which may make me a pessimist.  We do not have a name, or any awareness, of the fundamental attunement of the last stage of metaphysics opened by Kant–no longer Aristotelian thaumadsein, not really, no longer Cartesian doubt.  Could it be Nietzsche’s probity?  Perhaps.  But restraint, or restraint in probity, still tells us nothing about the fundamental attunement needed to move to a different epoch of thought. 

Unless it is the terror that Rilke mentioned in his Duino Elegies, which crosses in many ways the essential poetry of the century, from Mandelstam and Pessoa to Celan and Claudio Rodríguez and José Angel Valente.  A thinking attuned by terror to the terror of planetary disruption through climate change, a new if long announced word of Being–hardly enough to accomplish a new beginning. 

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