Unlike Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger almost never mentioned women, woman, or sexuality. Far from being fascinated by such issues, as Nietzsche seemed to be, Heidegger appears, at least at first glance, not to have had the slightest philosophical interest in them. Sein und Zeit, his groundbreaking existential analysis of “Dasein,” the “Being-there” of human beings, contained not one allusion to gender or sexual differentiation, and the many works that followed it maintained a comparable silence on this issue.
Yet an analysis of Heidegger’s works from a perspective that attempts to pay attention to what is not said in them reveals that, like Nietzsche, Heidegger, too, in his struggle to discover primordial and appropriate ways of speaking about Being and its self-disclosure, developed a relationship to the “feminine” in language. In what follows, I will argue that Heidegger’s description of the human tendency to become lost in the “inauthentic” corresponds closely to a portrait of the subject given over to what Kristeva calls the “symbolic” dimension in language. To respond to the call of Care, in Heidegger’s terms, entails an entry into the “semiotic” dimension, associated with the feminine. We shall trace this connection first in selected sections of Being and Time, and then through some of the later essays.
The Hidden Inner Passion
The central aim of Being and Time, first published in 1929, was to reopen the question of the meaning of “Being,” a question which Heidegger believed to have been covered over and forgotten by the history of Western philosophy. “That which, as concealed, drove ancient philosophizing into unrest and kept it there,” the mystery of what Being itself might be, had ceased to be a question for serious thought.1 Being and Time sought a means of reentry into this “unrest,” into the sense for “riddle” or “enigma” that is crucial for fruitful thinking about Being.
In any way of comporting oneself towards entities as entities—even in any Being towards entities as entities—there lies a priori an enigma [Rätset]. The very fact that we already live in an understanding of Being and that the meaning of Being is still veiled in darkness proves that it is necessary in principle to raise this question again.2
Heidegger’s sense for the paradox of our prereflective understanding of Being and its simultaneous “veiledness” in darkness, and his desire for the “riddle,” for “unrest,” and for insight into that which “demands its own way of showing,”3 remain, I believe, a mystery. David Krell notes that Heidegger’s fascination with this question of Being is itself an “enigma,” and he too wonders about the sources of Heidegger’s “early, intense, and never abated passion” for it.4
In what follows we shall approach what might be one of the sources of Heidegger’s sustained passion and lifelong energy for this most obscure and baffling of questions. The most encouraging model for such an attempt is Heidegger himself, who described thoughtful dialogue with another’s thought as an “ever audacious undertaking of putting one’s trust in the hidden inner passion of a work, in order thus to be led into the unsaid in it and be constrained to say that.”5 Seeking what is unsaid here, and trying to say it, we shall pursue what might be the “hidden inner passion” of Heidegger’s work, that which fuels and motivates and plays it from within.
If the original aim of Being and Time was to reopen the question of Being, the work’s method toward that goal has been its most powerful accomplishment. Heidegger determined first to approach Being itself through the Being of the one who asks about it. “To work out the question of Being adequately, we must make an entity—the imquirer—transparent in his own Being.”6 To make Dasein transparent in its own Being thus became the first major task of Being and Time; the sections which were to have gone beyond this never appeared. Heidegger hoped by way of the interpretation of Dasein to “arrive at the horizon for the understanding of Being”;7 his preliminary phenomenology of Dasein remains the best-known and most influential of his philosophical contributions. Having come close to the “horizon” he sought, he seems significantly to have revised his ways of thinking within language, but always with the same end in view, that of illuminating the question of Being itself.
Although the later works are far richer in imagery and metaphorical play of language, we shall see that Being and Time also yields considerable fruit when it is approached by way of a hermeneutic concerned with language and “the feminine.”
Lost in the “They”
Let us begin with a look at a basic dichotomy outlined in Being and Time, the distinction between “inauthentic” and “authentic” modes of existence. Having rejected such traditional dualities as subject and object, self and world, essence and existence, Heidegger describes three “equiprimordial existentialia” or existential structures of Dasein (or “human” Being-in-the-world): “state-of-mind” or “disposition,” “understanding,” and “discourse.” He defines each of these structures in a radically new way, as a dimension or component of “the unitary primordial structure of Dasein’s Being, in terms of which its possibilities and the ways for it ‘to be’ are ontologically determined.”8
Each of these equiprimordial structures affords Dasein an opportunity to come into relation with the question of Being, for Dasein is “distinguished by the fact that, in its Being, this being is concerned about its very Being.”9 It is of the essence of Dasein that “in each case it has its Being to be, and has it as its own. . . . Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence—in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself.”10
But Dasein for the most part chooses not to be itself; it chooses instead to lose itself, and to evade its potential for letting its own Being become an issue for it. Heidegger’s description of this “average, everyday” mode of Dasein’s existence is developed throughout Being and Time, with a subtlety and acuity that have impressed generations of readers. Here we shall focus our attention on aspects of the mode of inauthenticity that resonate strongly with Kristeva’s “symbolic” dimension in language.
Two sections of Being and Time are especially rich in characterizations of inauthenticity. They are entitled “Being-in-the-world as Being-with and Being-one’s-self. The ‘they’ ”; and “Being-in-as-such.”11 Here the notion of das Man or the “they” is spelled out, and its characteristics are enumerated. One of the most important terms in this context is the overall description of Dasein as benommen, which appears in the first paragraph of Section IV. “Das Dasein ist zunächst und zumeist von seiner Welt benommen.”12 Macquarrie and Robinson translate benommen as “fascinated,” although “fascinated” does not appear as a translation of benommen in Cassell’s German-English Dictionary. Rather, “confused, distraught, dazed, bemused, stupefied” are proposed.13 For the moment, however, let us rely on Macquarrie and Robinson’s translation to provide a sense for the meaning of Benommenheit; we shall return to “fascination” below.
Dasein is, for the most part, overtaken, overwhelmed, lost to itself in its world: Dasein is, after all, Being-in-the-world. But what is further asserted here is that Dasein is immersed in self-forgetting and lets itself be defined by others. “Dasein, as everyday Being-with-one-another, stands in subjection to Others. It itself is not; its Being has been taken away by the Others. . . . One belongs to the Others oneself and enhances their power. . . . The ‘who’ [of Dasein] is the neuter, the ‘they’ [das Man].”14
Heidegger’s intention may have been an unbiased objective analysis of the human condition (he claims that his analysis is “purely ontological in its aims, and is far removed from any moralizing critique”),15 but the passion of his language suggests a fairly severe judgment of the “average, everyday” existence of Dasein. He writes: “We take pleasure and enjoy ourselves as they [man] take pleasure; we read, see, and judge about literature and art as they see and judge; likewise we shrink back from the ‘great mass’ as they shrink back; we find ‘shocking’ what they find shocking.”16 To be sure, Heidegger makes no exceptions; all of us live this way. But does this fact mitigate the harshness, or even bitterness, of the language he uses to describe our state?
Heidegger describes the world of the “they” further:
In this averageness. . . . every kind of priority gets noiselessly suppressed. Overnight, everything that is primordial gets glossed over as something that has long been well known. Everything gained by a struggle becomes just something to be manipulated. Every secret loses its force. This care of averageness reveals in turn an essential tendency of Dasein which we call the “leveling down” [Einebnung] of all possibilities of Being.17
“Averageness,” suppression of the exceptional, glossing over of what is primordial, manipulation, “leveling down”: can we read these characteristics as anything but a scathing indictment of the everyday mode of existence of Dasein? Of course, Heidegger speaks so strongly here partly out of a desire to demonstrate the power of the question of Being for Dasein. If Dasein’s escape from this question were easy and “natural,” such drastic suppression, manipulation, and forceful turning away would not be necessary. Much of the energy here derives from the power of the repressed relation to Being.
Losing oneself in the “they” “disburdens” Dasein; it relieves Dasein of “answerability” or “responsibility,” and “accommodates Dasein if Dasein has any tendency to take things easily and make them easy.”18 The “they” for the most part holds Dasein captive; it is the nearest and most available mode of existence. “Inauthenticity and failure to stand by one’s Self”19 are primordial, and if they are to be overcome, to whatever extent such overcoming is possible, it must be through an active process of “owning,” making one’s own, the Self. Heidegger will elaborate on this possibility in his sections on authenticity.
If Dasein discovers the world in its own way and brings it close, if it discloses to itself its own authentic Being, then this discovery of the “world” and this disclosure of Dasein are always accomplished as a clearing-away of concealments and obscurities, as a breaking up of the disguises with which Dasein bars its own way.20
The German diction of this last phrase is worth noting: “als Wegräumen der Verdeckungen und Verdunkelungen, als Zerbrechen der Verstellungen, mit denen sich das Dasein gegen es selbst albriegelt”: “as a removing or clearing-away of the coverings and darkenings, as a shattering of the pretenses with which Dasein barricades itself against itself.” Thus the process of becoming authentic will involve a clearing-away and a shattering, an intrusion into the falsely peaceful world of the they-self.
Inauthenticity and the “Symbolic”
Before we complete our brief review of the Being-in-the-world of the inauthentic, it might be wise to comment, at least in a preliminary way, on the relevance of Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein to the theories about language and the feminine under examination here.
My claim is that Dasein’s loss of itself in the “they,” its Benommenheit, “confusion,” “bemusement,” and “stupefaction,” its surrender of answerability, its tendency toward “leveling down,” and its own self-barricading against itself, can all be interpreted as effects of the tendency to lose oneself in the “symbolic” dimension, as defined by Kristeva. To understand oneself as fully and adequately constituted by what is “public,” by what is “understood” rather than secret, by what “has long been well known,”21 and by what can be manipulated, is to be wholly a creature of the dominant cultural symbol system. It is to be limited and confined to what can be understood by all, rationalized, universalized. In patriarchal culture, it is to belong only to the Father.
Let us go back for a moment to Kristeva’s succinct description of the “double brinksmanship” of the speaking being. She writes: “On the one hand, there is pain—but it also makes one secure—caused as one recognizes oneself as subject of (others’) discourse, hence tributary of a universal Law. . . . The overly constraining and reductive meaning of a language made up of universals causes us to suffer.”22
The security of being the subject of the discourse of others, the immersion in a “language made up of universals” with its “constraining and reductive meaning,” is recognized as pain or suffering only when a hint of the possibility of other modes of existence has been heard. For Heidegger, too, the inauthentic and the authentic are not simple categorical choices, but are in tension with one another, and Dasein is always between these two possibilities, whether consciously or not.
Kristeva has posited, as we have seen, that jouissance takes place between the symbolic and the semiotic, and that the “restructuring” that is writing or art results from the tension of the precarious balance between these two modes of being in language.23 Here I am arguing that Heidegger’s own jouissance begins as early as Being and Time to show itself as just such a balancing. In Being and Time, Heidegger describes the oscillation between symbolic and semiotic in terms of the equiprimordial possibilities of authenticity and inauthenticity, while in later works he images it very differently; but throughout his career, Heidegger was engaged by a barely articulable question that issued from a region beyond the boundaries of symbolic discourse, and drew him ever deeper into the mystery of the relation of language and Being.
Let us now complete our review of Heidegger’s portrait of the in-authentic modes of existence with an eye to the correspondences with Kristeva’s symbolic dimension. Heidegger devotes several sections to showing how the basic existential structures of state-of-mind, understanding, and discourse manifest themselves in the “they.”24
The first phenomenon Heidegger examines here is “idle talk” (Gerede). Again he cautions that his use of this term (translatable as “idle talk, gossip, tittle-tattle; report, rumour”)25 is not meant to be “disparaging.”26 He intends simply to anayze what most commonly constitutes Dasein’s way of talking, without pronouncing any judgment on it.
Yet the same kind of impatience or even contempt that fueled his earlier discussion of the “they” underlies much of these four sections as well. Heidegger begins by noting the extent to which the language that is available for Dasein already includes a certain amount of interpretation: “In language, there is hidden a way in which the understanding of Dasein has been interpreted. . . . Dasein is constantly delivered over to this interpretedness, which controls and distributes the possibilities of average understanding and of the state-of-mind belonging to it.”27
But beyond this given level of preinterpretation, we have a tendency to collaborate with the preinterpretation, perhaps in order never to find ourselves in the embarrassing or uneasy position of having to question the assumptions buried in our inherited language. This way of going along with the averageness of language, Heidegger calls Gerede. Gerede “communicates” by “gossiping and passing the word along. . . . Things are so because one says so.” This process “even spreads to what we write, where it takes the form of ‘scribbling’ [das ‘Geschreibe’].”28
The basic problem Heidegger sees in this form of discourse is the way in which it predigests what might otherwise be up for question, liable to some inquiry which might lead to genuine, or “authentic,” understanding. He says: “Idle talk is the possibility of understanding everything without previously making the thing one’s own. . . . it serves not so much to keep Being-in-the-world open for us in an articulated understanding, as rather to close it off, and cover up the entities within-the-world.”29
Since all Dasein is constantly immersed in this Gerede, and since nearly everything we learn and hear about is inevitably presented to us as already understood, as passed along, as not up for question, idle talk is prior to authentic speech. “In it, out of it, and against it, all genuine understanding, interpreting, and communicating, all rediscovering and appropriating anew, are performed.”30
Perhaps we may interpret Heidegger’s category of Gerede in Kristeva’s terms, as talk that stays uncritically or uninterruptedly within the framework of representation and mastery. Merely to pass along what is already “well understood” is an “idle” use of language. Heidegger, in spite of his disclaimers, seems to say that to do this is to be less than fully human. It is to avoid or refuse the painful jouissance to which Dasein is called.
The second phenomenon of everyday Dasein analyzed in this section is “curiosity,” Neugier, desire for the new.
Curiosity . . . concerns itself with seeing, not in order to understand what is seen . . . but just in order to see. It seeks novelty only in order to leap from it anew to another novelty. . . . [It] seeks restlessness and the excitement of continual novelty and changing encounters. . . . curiosity is concerned with the constant possibility of distraction [Zerstreuung].31
Curiosity in this sense is also a pathology of the dominance of the symbolic. Lacking the zerbrechen or “shattering” always introduced by the semiotic, Dasein seeks relief from the one-dimensional tedium of a universalized, homogenized world in which nothing is up for question, and everything is already understood. “Restlessness, excitement, Zerstreuung or distraction” are the inevitably sought but finally inadequate compensations for the univocality of the world as construed by the “they”-self. Heidegger’s picture of this “lebendiges Leben,” “lively life,” is a penetrating portrait of “life in the fast lane.”
Heidegger is careful to distinguish Neugier, lust for the new, from true wonder: “observing entities and marveling at them—thaumazein. To be amazed to the point of not understanding is something in which [curiosity] has no interest.” For curiosity always goes along with “idle talk.” To find oneself confronted by a phenomenon that is not reportable in second-hand language and that cannot in fact be understood is anything but satisfying to curiosity. Such an experience calls into question the comprehensiveness and adequacy of the symbolic system so carefully defended by everyday Dasein; it functions as a message from the other side, a reminder of the “unnameable,” of that which is beyond signification, beyond meaning, and outside our inherited realms of truth, mastery, and representation.
Perhaps the most obscure of the existential structures of everydayness is Zweideutigkeit, or “ambiguity.” This might better be translated as “equivocality,” for it seems to point not to the “presence of two or more possible meanings” but to “a hedging to avoid exposure of one’s position.”32
Heidegger opens the section on ambiguity by connecting the phenomenon of Zweideutigkeit to idle talk and curiosity: “When, in our everyday Being-with-one-another, we encounter the sort of thing which is accessible to everyone, and about which anyone can say anything, it soon becomes impossible to decide what is disclosed in a genuine understanding, and what is not.”33 It is impossible to distinguish what should be taken as authentic, appropriated, thought out, and “understood” from what is merely passed along as an imitative, casual by-product of the ceaseless chatter and search for relief from boredom that characterize everyday Dasein. How do we know the difference? When a speaker seems to be “in on” what is happening, “with it,” and clear as to what is important and what is not, we are paradoxically left in “ambiguity”: “S/he seems to know; how can we get in on this?”
Heidegger says in no uncertain terms that this kind of knowing is inauthentic: “This Being-on-the-scent is of course based on hearsay, for if anyone is genuinely ‘on-the-scent’ of anything, he does not speak about it.”34 Ambiguity, however, and its counterparts idle talk and curiosity “ensure that what is new and genuinely created is out of date as soon as it emerges before the public.”35 They constitute Being-with-one-another as “an intent, ambiguous watching of one another, a secret and reciprocal listening-in.”36
I interpret ambiguity, like idle talk and curiosity, as a feature of total submission to the power of the symbolic. The closed universe of publicly available meaning and interpretation gives rise not only to groundless speculation and restless wandering in search of the new, but also to an addiction to rumor, to being on the inside, to knowing what is happening, and where, and to knowing the exact moment at which it is already passe. The finitude of this field whose horizons are predetermined and known to all makes “ambiguity” a necessity for everyday Dasein’s self. Heidegger contrasts it to the “reticence of carrying [something] through or even of genuinely breaking down [scheitern, shipwreck] on it,” either of which requires a commitment to one’s own fully appropriated interpretation of what is important.37
Falling into the “Symbolic”
Heidegger’s analysis of the everyday manner of existence of Dasein concludes with Section 38, entitled “Falling and Thrownness.” Here he collects the characteristics of idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity under a single notation, “a basic kind of Being which belongs to everydayness; we call this the ‘falling’ [Verfallen] of Dasein.”38 Again Heidegger emphasizes that “this term does not express any negative evaluation.”39 Dasein’s fallenness does not mean a “ ‘fall’ from a purer and higher ‘primal status’ ” or “a bad and deplorable ontical property of which, perhaps, more advanced stages of human culture might be able to rid themselves.”40
Dasein’s Verfallen means that “Dasein has . . . fallen away from itself as an authentic potentiality for Being its self, and has fallen into the ‘world.’ “ Of course, the “world” is not over against or separate from Dasein, so that Dasein might be able either to fall into it or not; rather, falling constitutes the normal way in which Dasein is in the world, insofar as it is caught up in the everyday absorption in idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity.
As we will see in the section on authenticity, the alternative to being wholly subsumed in this falling is not some sort of final release from falling. This is not a possibility for Dasein. “Authentic existence is not something which floats above falling everydayness; existentially, it is only a modified way in which such everydayness is seized upon.”41 That is to say, it is a way of relating to, appropriating, or understanding one’s falling.
Heidegger describes the falling of Dasein in terms of four characteristics. Falling is first of all “tempting.” Dasein itself “presents to itself the possibility of losing itself in the ‘they’ and falling into groundlessness . . . Dasein prepares for itself a constant temptation towards falling.”42 This temptation is not thrust upon Dasein from outside, but is a part of Dasein’s way of Being-in-the-world; Dasein itself toys with and succumbs to its self-presented temptation to “take it easy and make it easy,” and to fall for the most part into the prefabricated understanding of the “they.”
Second, falling is “tranquilizing” (beruhigend): “The supposition of the ‘they’ that one is leading and sustaining a full and genuine ‘life’ brings Dasein a tranquillity, for which everything is ‘in the best of order’ and all doors are open.”43 Nothing disturbs or interferes with the security of an existence fully immersed in the “they.” It is peaceful, calm, and pacified, because protected from genuine questioning, from mystery, from the threats of disruption, meaninglessness, or death.
The tempting tranquilization of inauthenticity “does not seduce one into stagnation and inactivity, but drives one into uninhibited ‘hustle’ [Betrieb]”44 “Activity, bustle, commotion” take the place of genuine questioning, and this “versatile curiosity and restlessly ‘knowing it all’ ” lead Dasein to attempt to comprehend itself in terms of and through comparison to everyone and everything else. Heidegger calls this “alienation” (Entfremdung) or “estrangement,” a state in which the nature of one’s existence is so thoroughly obscured that Dasein becomes strange or alien to itself.
Finally, this alienation produces what Heidegger calls “self-entanglement,” a kind of activity in which Dasein attempts to get a grasp on its existence through all sorts of “exaggerated self-dissection, characterologies, and typologies.” These objectifying and ultimately trivializing schemas for self-understanding are both products of and useless antidotes for the temptation, tranquilization, and alienation of falling. Heidegger says that such misguided attempts at explanation merely compound the alienation which “closes off from Dasein its authenticity and possibility, even if only the possibility of genuinely foundering.”45
Again we may interpret these four major characteristics of the “falling” of Dasein as consequences of a one-sided addiction to or plunge into the symbolic side of the situation of the subject, in Kristeva’s terms. To see oneself solely in terms of what may be explained, understood by all, available for universal discourse, and subject to the common limits of meaning is surely tempting, tranquilizing, alienating, and self-entangling, in Heidegger’s terms. Security, self-certainty, pacification, “busyness,” “knowing it all,” mastery through technique and knowledge46 are characteristics both of the falling of Dasein and of what Kristeva sees as the speaking being’s relation to the symbolic dimension of language, the side associated with meaning and “the absolute.”
When we recall that for Kristeva this absolute, this source of meaning, is fully implicated with the “universe of socially signifying performances . . . the order of the phallus,”47 it is perhaps more appropriate (though not for that less mysterious) that Macquarrie and Robinson chose to translate Benommenheit, Dasein’s bemusement or stupefaction in the “they,” as “fascination.”48 This word benommen has reappeared in the section currently under examination. Heidegger says in the introductory passage to the section on “falling”: “ ‘Inauthenticity’. . . amounts . . . to a quite distinctive kind of Being-in-the-world—the kind which is completely fascinated [benommen] by the ‘world’ and by the Dasein-with of Others in the ‘they.’ ”49
“Fascination” is absorption and loss of self into the “they”-world, into the realm of the symbolic, governed by the absolute, the Father, the phallus. Why did Macquarrie and Robinson select “fascination” to translate Benommenheit? The English word “fascinate” is defined thus: “To be an object of intense interest to; attract irresistibly. 2. To hold motionless; to spellbind or mesmerize. 3. Obsolete. To bewitch; cast under a spell. [Latin fascināre, to enchant, bewitch, from fascinus, a bewitching amulet in the shape of a phallus.]”50 Is it possible that in their choice of “fascination” as a translation of Benommenheit, Macquarrie and Robinson were unknowingly guided by the ancient history of the English word, and that they fortuitously managed indirectly to connect the falling of Dasein into the “they” with the phallic, Father-associated character of the symbolic disposition at work on the speaking subject? “Fascinated” by the public domain of a language made of universals, Dasein is confronted by the magic amulet in the shape of a phallus—and is struck dumb, unable to speak other than through Gerede, idle talk.
Benommen (adj.) is the past participle of
benehmen, irr.v.t. (obs.) ihm etwas or ihn etwas (gen.) benehmen, take something away from him, remove something from him, deprive him of something, dispel his (doubt, etc.); ihm die Sprache benehmen, strike him dumb; das benimmt mir den Atem, that takes my breath away. 2. irr.v.r. behave oneself.51
Thus, even in the German, there is this association between (transitively) depriving one of something (his speech, his breath; perhaps his autonomy, individuality, self, or spirit?) and (reflexively) controlling one’s behavior, conforming to the standards set by the social situation. Both in the German and the English, then, benommen and “fascinated” suggest the kind of loss of subject that can result from uninterrupted submersion in the symbolic, or from bedazzlement by the “phallic amulet” of the discourse of mastery and representation.
Explicit imagery linking the inauthentic, the symbolic and the father or phallus is almost nonexistent in Being and Time; the fortuitous translation of Benommenheit as “fascination” provides only a bizarrely contorted confirmation of this connection. In Heidegger’s discussion of the possibility of authenticity, however, as we shall see in the next chapter, it is a female figure that presides over Heidegger’s early attempt to account for a “semiotic” dimension in language.