One's Own Life
Whatever direction seizes upon this question,
there will follow one's ownmost pursuit.
If one raises the question
in a call,
out into the darkness, only
one's own voice
What of this return?
What returns is the resolve,
the courage to face the darkness,
to send the question
on its ownmost way.
Nothing more can speak in response.
It gives only the open,
the bursting cleavage of Be-ing,
from which may spring
a different life,
one's own life,
for the very first time.
Thinking may follow the concerning question, and yet will wander lost if it cannot seize upon its ownmost way. One may think the question of the meaning of Being; one may be led to the unfolding openness of truth. One may study philosophy, after time become a philosopher, and someday, perhaps, abandon philosophy altogether. Yet thinking will be lost, it will fall prey, and it will find only illusions if it does not take hold of its own way forth. There is no way forward but through darkness, and so one should take heed: when you are lost, you won't know it; you will imagine you have found the right way, perhaps the only way; and yet you will wander on endlessly, unable to find your way, your own way. There is no way forward, but through darkness, and so one must discover, one must bring to light, one's ownmost way of Being. Otherwise, the question, concerning the truth of Being, will lead only into the abyss.
What can this mean, to speak of thinking's own way, the way due to thinking by right? A primary, if not the paramount, impetus behind Martin Heidegger's works is to discover a way of thinking (and to thinking) that can leave metaphysics to itself.1 Metaphysics, and the whole of philosophy that has bowed before it, can only produce answer upon answer to whatever question thinking poses; and yet it cannot deliver to thinking that way of answering that would be thinking's own. Metaphysics can only pose thinking's essential question in an abstract, thematic way. It can only speak the question in a voice that is not one's own, in a public voice.2 These public words have, throughout the epochs, accumulated so many tangled and knotted senses that we can no longer hear that softness, that lightness, with which thinking gives them voice.
We must deliver thinking over to belonging, to the realm of its belonging: the realm in which thinking belongs, and which belongs to thinking. What could this belonging, this enowning3, mean or represent? Perhaps the question is poorly posed. Casting light on this belonging, and owning over to thinking its ownmost, was a life's work for Heidegger, and we should not expect to answer it hastily without falling prey to misunderstanding. And we might come to find that what we speak of as belonging has no affinity to representation, is not and cannot be represented. Its meaning is not something representable, but rather is only a question whose unfolding-opening reveals the luminous advent of the destiny of truth.
We must enable thinking to claim this question in its ownmost voice, and to enown the way to truth this claim opens.
We must enact thinking by owning over our words, those words we are already following, to the claim of Ereignis.
We must deliver thinking over to the giving, so that thinking will arrive at belonging.
When we speak of owning and belonging, this first and foremost does not mean the ownership of a property or possession.4 It is not the ownership of an ontic thing, a being. If we follow the question of Being and avoid getting lost in the tangles of metaphysics, we will find that the truth of Being, and thus thinking's ownmost way to truth, cannot lie in beings. “Whenever a being is, be-ing [Seyn] must sway...From where else does thinking decide here if not according to the truth of be-ing? Thus be-ing can no longer be thought of in the perspective of beings; it must be enthought from within be-ing itself.”5 This is imperative. The belonging of thinking with Being in the advent of truth's destiny does not entail a belonging in the way a thing belongs to a person or people, be it private or public property. If we cannot think of owning and belonging otherwise than beings, ontic things as present-at-hand, then we will lose the way of thinking and of Being, and the sense of thinking, Being, man, time, and history will fall prey to metaphysics once more. “The attempt to think Being without beings becomes necessary because otherwise, it seems to me, there is no longer any possibility of explicitly bringing into view the Being of what is today all over the earth, let alone of adequately determining the relation of man to what has been called 'Being' up to now.”6
If we follow Heidegger's own way after the question, we find this sense of owning as early as the first approach of Being and Time. The Analysis of Dasein begins: “We ourselves are the entities to be analyzed. The Being of any such entity is in each case mine. These entities, in their Being, comport themselves towards their Being. As entities with such Being, they are delivered over to their own Being.”7 Moreover, this Being that is Dasein's own, is as such at issue for it. That is, Dasein's own Being is the matter of its essential questioning. Dasein poses the question concerning the meaning of Being, of its ownmost Being, and this questioning is Dasein's constitutive way of Being.8 “That Being which is an issue for this entity in its very Being, is in each case mine.”9 Heidegger says that this mineness leads us to ontically designate Dasein with the personal pronoun, 'I myself...', but that this should not mislead us. We may answer the 'who' of Dasein by responding 'I, myself, am Dasein', and yet this ontical answer only indicates the way to an ontological response, as long as we do not go beyond the mere formal, reflective sense of the 'I' as a conscious subject. We must grasp this ontical, reflective, 'subject' self as only an indication of a more primordial ontological Self, as 'only' a way of Being of Dasein. The ontological Self that 'owns', that has as its own, Dasein, is not physical substance, nor is it pure consciousness, but is rather existence itself.10
The danger confronting Dasein, in its constitutive questioning of its ownmost Being, is seen ontologically as its inability to distinguish what is its own, to answer the 'who' of Dasein: 'my own Self'; rather than 'one self ['they-self'] amongst Others'. Heidegger calls this danger 'inauthenticity', literally 'not-ownness' or 'un-ownness'.11 It arises whenever Dasein fails to distinguish itself from the 'Others', who are not definite, ontical others, but are in an existential sense those to whom Dasein's average, everyday actions are connected via equipment.12 Dasein loses its ownmost Self amongst the Others, and the 'who' is no longer answered with 'my own Self', but rather as 'one' [das Man], 'anyone', 'nobody in particular'. Dasein becomes unable to claim what is its own, its ownmost Being, and its question is thereby led off course. It will no longer strive to discover the meaning of its ownmost Being, but will be content with the meaning that would satisfy anyone, actually satisfying nobody in particular. One can only think of one's self as 'anyone' amongst the Others. “When Dasein is absorbed in the world of its concern – that is, at the same time, in its Being-with towards Others – it is not itself.” “Every kind of priority gets noiselessly suppressed. Overnight, everything that is primordial gets glossed over as something that has long been well known.”13
The question now becomes: how can Dasein seize what is its ownmost?
Insofar as Dasein is constituted by its questioning, it has understanding as its characteristic way of Being. It understands itself in its Being, in that it understands the possibility of meaning for that Being, and the possibility of questioning into that meaning for its way of Being.14 Dasein's absorbsion and dispersion in the 'they-self' leads it to lose hold on its ownmost possibilities, finding only those possibilities of 'anyone', 'nobody in particular'. Dasein cannot seize what is its ownmost: its way of Being as the projecting possibilities, its questioning into the meaning of its own Being, its ownmost Self. It becomes alienated from everything that is its own. “This alienation closes off from Dasein its authenticity ['ownness'] and possibility...”15 Understanding has the existential structure of 'projection', that is, Dasein can hold before itself its ownmost possibilities. This projection of possibilities makes up Dasein's ownmost way of Being, which is potentiality-for-Being. “Dasein is in every case what it can be, and in the way in which it is its possibility.”16
The effect of alienation is that Dasein flees in the face of its ownmost possibilities. Dasein experiences anxiety in the face of its authentic potentiality-for-Being, which, as alienated, it finds as completely indefinite.17 Dasein confronts in anxiety its ownmost possibilities as indefinite, and thus has the chance to seize its authentic Self and escape from das Man, from understanding itself as 'nobody in particular'. “Anxiety makes manifest in Dasein its Being towards its ownmost potentiality-for-Being – that is, its Being-free for the freedom of choosing itself and taking hold of itself.”18 Yet there is as great a chance that Dasein, when confronted with anxiety, will retreat into the Others, failing to seize its ownmost. The outcome hinges on Dasein's attitude toward its own mortality, toward death.
“No one can take the Other's dying away from him.”19 That is, one's death cannot be given up in dispersion amongst the Others, as each Other always has his own death as his own. “Death is a possibility-for-Being which Dasein itself has to take over in every case. With death, Dasein stands before itself in its ownmost potentiality-for-Being.”20 In anxiety, in which one's potentiality-for-Being is completely indefinite, Dasein may recognize in this indefinition its own death, as the possibility of no longer projecting any possibilities, the possibility of being unable to define one's possibilities any further. Death is, in this way, the possibility of the impossibility of any existence at all: not my own, and not anyone's.21 When Dasein finds itself anxious in the face of death, it can either seize its death as its ownmost possibility, that which cannot be outstripped, or it can evade owning up to this possibility, and attempt to pass it off on 'anyone'. This marks the crucial difference between authentic and inauthentic projection. If Dasein is to have its way of Being as its own, it must own up to the possibility that it may no longer exist at all. This is the recognition that anxiety in the face of death is not fear in the face of an ontic event that could 'happen to anyone', but is rather Dasein's defining ontological structure, enabling the possibility of its ownmost definition. No one else can die this death, my death, because only I have this existence, my existence, as my own, and so only I can confront its utter, singular, impossibility.22
In confronting its ownmost death, Dasein becomes resolved to have its possibilities as its own, refusing to yield them to conformity with those of 'anyone'. This is authenticity. In this way, Dasein holds itself open to the light, the truth, of its Being, rather than passively accepting whatever passes for anyone's truth. It “brings one without Illusions into the resoluteness of 'taking action.'”23 In the face of the anxiety that arises from fleeing from one's own self into the Others, and among them confronting one's own as absolutely indefinite, one recovers the joy of having one's own possibilities as absolutely singular and unstrippable. “Along with the sober anxiety which brings us face to face with our individualized potentiality-for-Being, there goes an unshakable joy in this possibility.”24
Yet we still must attempt to think of the ownmost belonging free of any being, even Dasein. We must allow Being to claim its ownmost truth as we unfold our questioning, and this obliges us to follow the giving of Being itself, free of the gift of Dasein's there. This giving is not only that by which Being is given, but that in which Being will claim what is its own, that is, its truth. Heidegger speaks of this giving in terms of the 'It gives...', Es gibt. “As the gift of this It gives, Being belongs to giving. As a gift, Being is not expelled from giving.”25 Being is a gift, insofar as it lets beings presence; it is the gift of their presence. But it is also a part of the giving insofar as it is the presencing itself, which is not a property of beings, given along with them, but rather belongs to giving. “Being, presencing is transmuted.”26 Heidegger says later that the giving of presence, which is presencing, does not belong to the gift that reaches us, but that the giving is the reaching concealed in the gift. “Does this giving lie in this, that it reaches us, or does it reach us because it is in itself a reaching? The latter.”27 The giving holds itself back, conceals itself, in the gift it gives and unconceals. Thus, metaphysics thinks Being in terms of beings that are given, but misses the sense in which 'It gives Being', in which Being is only in and of the concealed giving itself.28
Heidegger tells us that Being's belonging, be it with time,29 or with man and thought,30 is determined by this concealed giving, which he calls Ereignis, 'en-owning'. “What determines both, time and Being, in their own, that is, in their belonging together, we shall call: Ereignis...”31 Yet we must not misunderstand the sense of 'belonging together'. This does not mean that time is a property of Being, is thus determined by Being, any more than the reverse. That man and Being belong together does not mean that one determines the other. These would take on the sense of a belonging together, in which the belonging of the elements is determined by the unified order they form. We must instead look to the sense of belonging together, meaning that the 'together' is determined by the 'belonging'.32 The specificity of this will become clear in a moment.
Man belongs to Being, man is Being's own, in that man as Dasein is always questioning after the meaning of Being, and responds to the question as long as its Being is its own, authentically. “[M]an's distinctive feature lies in this, that he, as the being who thinks, is open to Being, face to face with Being; thus man remains referred to Being and so answers to it...A belonging to Being prevails within man, a belonging which listens to Being because it is appropriated [owned over] to Being.”33 Yet at the same time, Being belongs to man, is man's own, in that man is open to Being's presencing and can receive the gift of presence. “Being is present and abides only as it concerns man through the claim it makes on him. For it is man, open toward Being, who alone lets Being arrive as presence. Such becoming present needs the openness of a clearing, and by this need remains appropriated [owned over] to human being.”34
In order to think the sense of this mutual belonging that determines the togetherness, the constellation, of man and Being, of time and Being, of thought and Being...we must leave behind the given and well known sense of these. We must 'spring' away from the rigid, metaphysically well-worn possibilities of these terms, out into the darkness.35 Yet if we must leave behind not only time as a linear passage of ‘nows’, and man as a rational animal, but also Being as the ground of beings, where will we arrive but the abyss of darkness? If we have this spring, this projection, as our ownmost possibility as thinkers, then we will be enowned by, we will find our belonging in, the concealed giving itself: Ereignis, enowning, giving-belonging. If we call resolutely into the darkness, we will be claimed by the giving-belonging of Ereignis. We will arrive at the belonging of Being and man, Being and time, as the active essence [Wesen] of thought,36 which finds their identity in giving. Being as the self-identity of present beings, time as the succession of self-identical 'nows', man as the identity of his self, can be thought as such,37 and authentically thought otherwise, only in and of the giving-belonging that gathers them and holds them together in unconcealing-sending:
The giving-belonging of Ereignis does not pertain to something owned, something that can be given or appropriated, some property or possession. It speaks only of the possibility of giving and of belonging that wells up in and exceeds every being that is given and belongs in the order of a unifying 'together'. It speaks not of appropriation of property, but of the possibility of Being appropriate, well-suited, fitting. It speaks of 'owning' not in the sense of something I own that I can exchange or dispossess, but in the sense of that which is my ownmost, that which I can not give up, that which cannot be given because it is purely giving as such. It speaks of that which I cannot leave, for my disappearance in death is at once its disappearance as well: a life that is my own. We give one another, we belong to one another; I am no more its keeper than it is my keeper, but we are in keeping with one another. We, together – man and Being, man and Being and time, man and Being and time and thought – are only a giving, a belonging, with no owner or owned.
All works by Martin Heidegger
EBW – Selections from Being and Time, trans. Macquarrie and Robinson, in Existentialism: Basic Writings. Guignon and Pereboom, eds. Second Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001.
OTB – On Time and Being. trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
CP – Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). trans. Emad and Maly. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999.
ID – Identity and Difference. trans. Joan Stambaugh. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.