First Take on “What is Metaphysics?” by Martin Heidegger. By Gareth Williams.

Here’s a very preliminary impression of, and take on, “What is Metaphysics?”

Via the approach to the nothing, Heidegger ultimately unveils the “deconstruction” of God via a manifesto for the de-fetishization of the idols (God, Christ, philosophy, the common, the koinon, and, presumably, humanism) by attuning thinking to the originariness of the nothing. Heidegger does this by taking Nietzsche at his word (Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ) and then taking on the question of concealment and unconcealment in relation to the two emergent modern sciences:  the Hegelian (and, as such, Marxist) legacy (the nothing-negative relation) and Freudian psychoanalysis (the nothing-uncanny relation), both of which are overturned, or de-naturalized, by the originary nature of the nothing, though, it must be said, Heidegger seems to be closer to Freud’s death drive than he is to the dialectic of negativity, even though he only ever says that Hegel is right, though the implication is that Hegel is right to the extent that he is more a sociologist of the ontic (a thinker of the world inverted) than he is a thinker of the question of metaphysics.  The essay offers a dismantling, or an attempt to dismantle, Hegelian negativity and its understanding of history/time, in conjunction therefore with Marxism as the science of historical understanding.

The question of science could perhaps be questioned now, as outdated, since if the definition of science is that of the concealment of the nothing via logic and “exactness”, or as the rejection of the nothing, then one would now have to take a serious look at the way in which astrophysics, for example, is indeed science confronting and striving to grasp the nothing. Though that would be too fast.  Of course, the Heideggerean response would be that it is science striving to instrumentalize the nothing, once again striving to camouflage the nothing itself.  It is no longer that science wants to know nothing of the nothing: in the contemporary world it wants to know absolutely everything, even about the nothing. Fundamental shift in the world/science relation in full blown techno-globalization?

As such, via the legacy of the positing of the subject-object relation (techne, science), can one encounter the nothing that is with us in our daily chatter (the problem of the unavoidability of the word “we”—the koinon– here appears to be fundamental) yet that is more originary:  “The nothing is the complete negation of the totality of beings” (in which case, the God of the Ten Commandments would be the nothing reconverted, into the word, as the merely negative; the sociological, as opposed to the “fundamental experience of the nothing”).

It is here that Heidegger begins to turn toward the ontic world of the inexact (perhaps the world of a certain zone of the affective, but at a distance from all will to power) that begins to emerge through words such as boredom, attunement, feeling, anxiety, and then the uncanny: in the shadow of the world of techne, in which the mathematical reigns supreme even as “mere exactness”, language both conceals and unconceals the silence of the hovering of the nothing in the everyday of speech. In this encounter, what is required is “the fundamental attunement of anxiety” (I would call this attunement poetry, art, music, thinking etc). It is here that we encounter Heidegger’s manifesto:  to “actively complete the transformation of the human being into the Da-sein that every instance of anxiety occasions in us, in order to get a grip on the nothing announced there as it makes itself known” (89); to give language to the presencing towards knowledge (“as it makes itself known”) of the nothing, attuned to the fact that “anxiety is no kind of grasping”.  To dwell, then, in the non-grasping of the nothing, that’s the only question.

It is this non-grasping of the nothing for thinking that keeps thinking open to the essence of the nothing:  nihilation (perhaps here, against Hegelian negativity, which is only every about grasping and instrumentalizing, Heidegger comes closer to the death drive), to the “unconcealed strangeness” of being-towards-death understood as the coming to presence of the uncanny, which “brings Da-sein for the first time before beings as such”.

It is here, in the nihiliation that anxiety is, that Heidegger utilizes the words “selfhood” (rather than subject) and “freedom” (rather than “emancipation”). It is also here that we can see the way his thinking would circumvent the philosophies of life (bios/zoe, the whole Italian tradition), turning toward an attunement to existence: “Must we not hover in this anxiety constantly in order to be able to exist at all”?

So what can be understood by “attunement”?  Heidegger notes that originary anxiety “only seldom springs, and we are snatched away and left hanging”. But neither is it exceptional. It is everywhere.  Attunement is the never-ending preparation for the snatching away (from logic, exactness, calculation, negativity); it is thinking dwelling in the hanging—the being held out in the nothing—that makes the human being a lieutenant of nothing” (dismantling, as such, of every humanism). Again, poetry would be the ground of concealed anxiety and the site of its unveiling simultaneity. Attunement would be the work of the work of art and of its thinking with a view to existence.

If the nothing is “the counterconcept to . . . God” then the nothing is not a mere secularization of God, but the destruction of God, and of the ontological difference itself; and the releasement into the nothing is a liberation from “those idols everyone has and to which they are wont to go cringing”. This is the turn toward the de-fetishization of, and the distance taken in thinking from, God, Christ, the common, Capitalism etc; in such a way as to be the lieutenant of the nothing, attuned to the nothing that compels (existence; being toward death, the experience of finitude etc). Heidegger says (without saying) that Nietzsche was spot on, but didn’t go far enough.

For all of the above “philosophy can never be measured by the standard of the idea of science”. And no university can control the savagery of attunement toward existence, toward the unconcealed strangeness of the nothing, though it can certainly silence it in the name of common sense, hegemony, exactness, calculation, means and ends etc.

One thought on “First Take on “What is Metaphysics?” by Martin Heidegger. By Gareth Williams.

  1. Pingback: Beyond rigorisms: notes on Martin Heidegger’s “What is Metaphysics?” (1929). By Gerardo Muñoz. | Infrapolitical Deconstruction

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