More essential than the institution of any
rules is that man find the way into the truth
of being so as to dwell there. This abode
alone yields the experience of what he can
hold onto. It is the truth of being that
dispenses the hold for all conduct.
“Letter on ‘Humanism’ ”1
According to received philosophies, the ‘hold’ (Halt) for all conduct (Verhalten) was ‘dispensed’ by various species of the genus ‘rules’—norms, standards, measures. In these lines, Heidegger offers an alternative to the inherited metaphysics of mensuration. The normative experience, he claims, is man’s dwelling in ‘the truth of being’. The way this is to be understood emerges from the preceding analysis of the categories: ‘truth’ not as that to which the mind gives its assent by conforming propositions to a state of affairs, but rather as an arena for ever-shifting constellations, that is, as a historical era; ‘being’ not as that which fills the senses or fulfills the mind, but as an economy of presencing describable only through the traits read off the reversals from one order of presence to the next. This historicized notion of truth in the later Heidegger completes and prolongs what he had described earlier as the ‘sense of being’, a phrase in which ‘sense’ (Sinn) was not to be taken as signification, meaning, or semantic unity, but as temporal directedness. What we can hold onto in action, what ‘measures’ it, is the economy dispensed to our era. Such a hold is not open to challenge, it is the injunction that assigns us our very dwelling place. If this new understanding of measurement takes the issue of action and its norms out of metaphysics, out of even the deconstruction of metaphysics, then it must be asked: What happens to the question, What is to be done? at the end of metaphysics?
The way Heidegger displaces the received issues of norms, standards, and commands for action—‘rules’, ‘holds’, and ‘injunctions’—is the most striking proof that his thinking has indeed moved beyond the mere deconstruction of transmitted referential edifices. It had already gone beyond deconstruction with the anticipatory incidences of the transitional categories. From their deduction it appeared furthermore that what deconstruction prepares is not some reconstruction. Contrary to many of his commentators, Heidegger does not look for a few valuable pieces of the tradition worth preserving. Nor does he declare anything valueless. What he prepares is more modest than any value assessment, more modest, too, than building and rebuilding: it is what he calls simple dwelling. It has to be ‘simple’ since it consists in espousing economic transmutations in their precariousness, and it is ‘dwelling’ since it brings to completion the modern project of rendering to man what is his own, of assigning him to his finite economic site.
The method of Heideggerian phenomenology results directly from the understanding of the ‘truth of being’ as our historical abode. As it follows the temporal course of those successive arenas and eras—the hodos, path or itinerary of the economies2—that method is besinnlich in the literal sense: not ‘meditative’, but adherent to the time route that is Sinn. As it strives to attend to the sequence of past aletheiological contexts, wresting them from systematic constructs, it is both commemorative and deconstructive. It also strives to attend to the emergence of a new reversal in history, to the ‘turn’; as such it is preparatory and has gone beyond deconstruction. The transitional categories—‘ontological difference/world and thing’, ‘ “there is”/favor’, ‘unconcealment/event’, ‘epoch/clearing’, ‘nearness/fourfold’, ‘corresponding/thinking’—in their bifrontality are all commemorative as well as preparatory.3 In each of the pairs, only the first term is deconstructionist.
The practical impact of Heideggerian phenomenology, too, results from his understanding of the truth of being as our abode. Just as, for the methodological reasons mentioned, thinking (Denken) is to become a resolutely accompanying, attentive thinking (Mitdenken), so action, too, is to turn resolutely attentive, obedient (hörig) to the constellations and their succession. The transformation of acting and thinking called for by Heidegger’s turn must be ‘resolute’ not in the sense of the will’s contraction, but literally: resolved into their essential constituent. In acting and thinking we have always belonged (gehören) to the aletheiological order of the epoch. In the age of closure, that implicit belonging can and must be made explicit through a turn from constructive philosophy to a more elementary attention paid to the truth of being, our abode. Attentive thinking is also resolute in dissolving such overdeterminations of economic injunctions as those established by eidetic intuition and, more primordially, by the intellectual vision of the Good. With being understood as time, all such ideative over-determinations lapse before the hearing (hören) of the economies to which acting and thinking are to yield. Hearing has indeed proved to be that one of our faculties that is most attuned to time. With the turn from building to dwelling, from seeing to hearing, from referential to systemic legitimation, few inherited ‘holds’ remain, many are to be let go; few ‘rules’ are to be instituted, many to be heard to fade away; fewer and fewer arch-present standards to be observed and ideals to be contemplated, many new injunctions—ever new injunctions—to be listened to. These injunctions are neither visible nor invisible, but audible to an ear as yet to be sensitized to them.4 With a greater or lesser degree of deafness, more resolutely or less resolutely, we have always given allegiance to them. They are unforseeable injunctions but their kind is not exactly unheard of. The threshold where stable norms give way to economic injunctions, the threshold of post-modernity, introduces anarchy into action. What happens at the end of metaphysics to the question What is to be done?, then, is that the figures of archē from which any answers could be drawn give way to mobile determinations. To belong fully and for all practical purposes to our age, we are to follow that giving-way as well as to take up the struggle against whatever remnants of archic representations can still be shown to “linger unjustly” (see below, Heidegger’s understanding of dikē and adikia, justice and injustice.)
Such is the result of the two types of displacement, now to be examined, that happen when the economies of presence become phenomenology’s ‘very issue’. On one hand, this Sache selbst inverts the traditional relation between thinking and acting and makes action—a type of action—the transcendental condition for thought. On the other hand, it entails several concrete negations and transformations in the realm of the doable. Thinking, which is action in the broadest sense, will show itself to be flanked by action in the narrow sense as both thinking’s condition and its consequence.