To think is to confine yourself to a
single thought that one day stands
still like a star in the world’s sky.
— Poetry, Language, Thought
Martin Heidegger’s life work as a thinker has been a struggle to attain a single thought.
By this thought he has worked to take the measure of man’s Being. By it he has sought to illuminate man’s nature and world, his personal and social existence, his art and poetry, his language, his past and present and future.
This thought becomes more and more articulate in the sequence of the writings. It is most stringently spoken of in the lecture On Time and Being. That is fitting, since the second part of Being and Time was supposed to be a reversal, a Kehre, although perhaps the turn itself took a surprising turn. While there are only hints of the possibility of the thought’s later form in that early book, it is brought out as clearly as its nature permits only in the later writings — like Identity and Difference, On Time and Being, and the essays in Poetry, Language, Thought.
The poem The Thinker as Poet was written in 1947 and published in 1954. Its original title is Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, From the Experience of Thinking. This poem does not name the single thought, although it does name Being. It says many things about Being: about Being’s relation to the world, to man, to thought, destiny, and language. It speaks of the call of Being to man, man’s thinking of Being, Being’s topology, the source of singing, thinking, and poetry in Being, and the truth of Being. But it does not give a specific name to the single thought. It speaks of it only in its singleness.
Out of the experience of a lifetime of thinking, Martin Heidegger reflects upon that experience and finds its meaning in the struggle to attain a single thought.
We are interested in that thought. It has something to do with Being: it thinks Being. Being is presence, presencing; it is the letting-presence which lets beings be, as they presence, whether present or absent. This thought of Being Heidegger found initiated by the pre-Socratic thinkers of Greece. It could be called the matter of thought, that which thinking is called upon to think. But just to think Being as presence, Anwesen, and letting-presence, Anwesenlassen, is not yet to think it in its truth. It is only first to approach it as the matter of thought.
In mutual belonging with it is time. Time too is presencing: enduring, remaining, as presencing, anwesen. Neither time nor Being is a being that absences and presences, yet the absencing and presencing of beings is what is thought as their timing Being. Time, too, is the matter of thought, which thinking is called upon to think. But to think time as presencing, again, is not yet to think it in its truth, but only first to approach it as the matter of thought.
Being and time, both, have been the matter of thought from the beginning, before philosophy and throughout the history of philosophy. What does thinking think when it seeks to apprehend Being and time?One could speak of the mystery of Being — which is also the mystery of time — as Heidegger does toward the close of The End of Philosophy.
It is one thing just to use the earth, another to receive the blessing of the earth and to become at home in the law of this reception in order to shepherd the mystery of Being and watch over the inviolability of the possible. (EP, 109)1
The image of man as the shepherd of Being pervades Heidegger’s writings. What man shepherds is the mystery of Being. To do this he must be able to receive the blessing of the earth, to become at home in the law of this reception. Instead of willfully using the earth, as he has done since the days of classical antiquity and at an accelerating pace since the first Industrial Revolution, he is to receive its blessing. The imagery moves from imposing to receiving, taking to being granted, wresting to being blessed.
The single thought had to do with the mystery of Being, the mystery of time. Thinking is confining oneself to this thought that one day stands still in the world’s sky. After the search and the struggle for the mystery, if fortune nods her head, one looks up one auspicious night and sees a certain star in the sky and knows that this star, this one thought, is the thought that enlightens.
It is not any indiscriminately encountered thought. It is a unique thought, one that stands still while all the others shift and change, light up and become extinguished once again. It is a steadfast thought, staying throughout, to which one can confine oneself with confidence, just because it stays firm and stays all. It is the trustworthy thought, just as it is the thought that is worthy of being thought.
How does it stay all? An early thinker, Heraclitus, said:
Wisdom is one thing: to know the gnome — the thought token — by which all things are guided through all.
The star that stays is the pole star. Wanderers tell the directions from it, sailors steer by it, the sky of solstices, equinoxes, and seasons turns about it, and man knows when and where he is only as he takes sight of it, keeping it firmly and constantly in view. So it leads and directs all. Knowing it or not knowing it, men are guided by it. Those who know it see the guidance. The shepherds in the night can tell when and where they and their flocks are, too.
What is this thought? What is the name of the mystery of Being and of time? What is the guidance it gives? How shall we come to view it? How shall we tell when we have seen it? To such questions as these, once asked by a young student, a Mr. Büchner, Heidegger replied in a letter dated 18 June 1950:
Everything here is the path of a responding that examines as it listens. Any path risks going astray, leading astray. To follow such paths takes practice in going. Practice needs craft. Stay on the path, in genuine need, and learn the craft of thinking, unswerving, yet erring. (PLT, 186)
This answer does not yet name the thought. Nor does it give criteria for checking off the traits of the thought in order to determine whether it agrees with antecedently given specifications. It admonishes the student only to stay on the path that swings around the thought of the mystery of Being and time. When the student grows older, perhaps he will then genuinely have become old.
To be old means: to stop in time at
that place where the unique
thought of a thought train has
swung into its joint. (PLT, 10)
But the letter was appended in publication to a lecture bearing the title The Thing given earlier that month on June 6 at the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. In it Heidegger not only names the thought but also shows how it guides errant man in regard to things. By means of this thought the thing — any thing — is grasped as own to man and man is grasped as own to it. In the thing thought by it, earth, sky, mortals, divinities all become own to and with one another. By way of the light this thought brings into the gloomy thicket of the world, the things of the world are able to stand out as what they are, gatherers into ownment, and man is first able to descry them there and to come out toward them, joining with them in the freedom of the clearing they have opened, entering into their gathering.
Even if one cannot offer specifications beforehand for checking the characteristics and the validity of the thought by means of some methodological computation, nevertheless the freedom into which one steps vouches for something by its very openness.
It is a matter of experience — the experience of (a lifetime of) thinking.
How are Being and time to be thought? They are the matter of thinking, to be sure. But what is this matter of thinking?
The early Greeks, Heraclitus, Anaximander, Parmenides, first thought Being and time as presencing. This presencing was thought as a coming out into openness, an unconcealment, deconcealment. Even Aristotle, for whom potentiality and actuality were the chief thoughts, could not help thinking actuality as a coming out into openness, an unconcealing, deconcealing, a becoming manifest and overt of what was beforehand hidden and concealed as potentiality. The Greek name for unconcealment aletheia, which is at the same time a name for truth.
But the truth that is taken into view here is not the truth of ordinary thought. It is not just correctness, the agreement between thought and being, concept and thing, statement and fact. It is the truth that lies at the foundation of any possibility of such a truth of correctness. For one cannot tell whether statement agrees with fact, concept with thing, or thought with being, unless first the fact, thing, or being becomes manifest, evident, comes out into the open, and is given as a datum. This openness of evidence is the basis of truth as correctness. The nature of truth lies in openness, unconcealment, aletheia, die Entbergung, die Unverborgenheit, unhiddenness.
If Being is presencing and time is presencing, then this presencing must be thought by way of de-concealing, un-concealing. What presences does so by coming out into the open and staying there; its staying is its presencing. As it leaves, it becomes absent, absences; but in its absencing it stays, as absent, and this is its presencing as having been. Both the beings that presence and the beings that absence are, and persist, in their way of staying in the open that has been deconcealed. Being, as presencing, is being and staying unconcealed. Time, as presencing, is coming into the open, staying, departing, yet remaining in the unconcealment in just that way. Being and time are both thinkable only by way of aletheia.
From his early writings, Heidegger already began to see the meaning of Being and of time by way of the nature of truth as aletheia. This vision of truth, lying at the core of Being and Time, has remained with him throughout. In a lecture of 1958, published in 1960, “Hegel and the Greeks,” he says (following a charge that Hegel failed to assess properly the nature of truth and its relation to thought, Greek and subsequent):
Thus we discover, looking toward aletheia, that with it our thinking is appealed to by something which drew thinking to itself before the beginning of “philosophy” and throughout its whole history. Aletheia forestalled the history of philosophy, but in such a way that it withholds itself from philosophical definability as that which demands to be discussed by means of thinking. Aletheia is the trustworthy that has not been thought, the matter of thinking. Thus, then, aletheia remains for us that which is first and above all to be thought — we are to think it as released from regard to the notions, furnished by metaphysics, of “truth” as correctness and of “Being” in the sense of actuality.2
From this, as from the almost countless statements about truth scattered through the writings, and as from the equally manifold uses of the notions of concealment and unconcealment, hiddenness and overtness, the closed and the open, it is plain that the clue to the mystery of Being and of time lies for Heidegger in truth as aletheia.
It is the same with the idea of freedom — the third of the great concepts in the philosophical tradition, along with Being and truth. In Heidegger’s view, freedom can be truly understood only by way of aletheia. In the essay Die Technik (whose earlier version is the lecture by the same name, also dated as having been given on 6 June 1950 at the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts) we read:
The essential nature of freedom is originally not coördinate with the will nor with the causality of human volition at all. Freedom governs the free in the sense of the cleared or illuminated, that is, of the unconcealed. It is the happening of unconcealing, that is, of truth, with which freedom stands in closest and most intimate affinity. All deconcealing belongs within a sheltering, hiding, and concealing. But what is hidden and always conceals itself is that which liberates, the mystery. All deconcealing comes out of the free, goes into the free, and brings into the free. The freedom of the free consists neither in the arbitrary will’s being unbound nor in being bound by mere laws. Freedom is the clearing concealer, in which clearing there flutters the veil which covers all that presences of truth and lets the veil appear as covering. Freedom is the domain of the destiny which, in each instance, brings a deconcealment on the latter’s way. (V&A, 32f.;T&K, 24f.)
So, now, the clue to the meaning of Being and of time is the same as the clue to the meaning of freedom, and this clue is the thought of truth as aletheia. But what is deconcealed is first concealed. Presupposed in deconcealment is necessarily the concealment out of which what is concealed is brought and liberated. And what liberates is, as we now hear, precisely the mystery which always conceals itself.
This mystery which liberates is the trustworthy that has not been thought, the matter of thinking; and the truth of man’s Being consists above all in shepherding this mystery — the mystery of Being, time, truth, and freedom. If any thought is the polar thought, then this mystery is it.
Thinking is called upon to perform a unique task, thoroughly paradoxical. It must think what by its very nature appears to be incapable of being reached by thought, the mystery that conceals itself, withholding itself from thought in the very act of liberating everything that is brought into the clearing of truth. Thinking must think what retracts itself from the very clearing which it brings about. Thinking can do this only by holding back on its own account. Of all the dangers that threaten thinking,
The evil and thus keenest danger is
thinking itself. It must think
against itself, which it can only
seldom do. (PLT, 8)
We are back to our question. What is the thought of the mystery of Being and of time? The clue is to be found in the thought of truth as aletheia, which is also the clue to the same mystery of freedom. But the clue is not the thought. For the thought of truth as deconcealment includes within itself the thought of the mystery of concealment without specifically thinking that thought. The word “truth” rather names the mystery as a mystery than thinks it:
What this name names is not the crude key that unlocks every riddle of thought; rather, aletheia is the riddle itself — the matter of thought. (W, 268)
The word “truth” names the clue to the mystery but still leaves untraveled the pathway into it.
Is there such a pathway? Can there be any meaning to the idea that man, as thinking being, can do more than name the fact that in the constitution of truth as the presencing of Being and time and the liberating of freedom there persists the self-withholding giver/giving of this truth? Can thinking think against itself in such a way as to envision its way into the darkness of the concealment out of which the clearing of truth emerges?
What we are in search of is what conceals itself in unconcealment. If we could think this, then we would be thinking Being in its truth, time in its truth, freedom in its truth. If there is any sense in asking questions like “What is Being?,” “What is time?,” “What is freedom?,” and “What is truth?,” then, if there is any answer at all, it would have to be given in some such form as “Being is such-and-such,” “Time is such and such,” and so forth. A statement of this nature would bring into view Being as such-and-such, time, freedom, and truth as the same. Is there then such a such-and-such?
At one point in the lecture On Time and Being Heidegger says that “the sole purpose of this lecture aims at bringing into view Being itself as das Ereignis” (T&B, 20; SD, 22). For the moment let us leave this noun untranslated. As a noun it is presumably the name of something, and what it names would presumably be just the such-and-such desiderated. The lecture, in its own peculiar way, says, “Being is das Ereignis.” Heidegger is careful to point out immediately that in the context of the lecture this German word does not mean what it ordinarily does. He specifies that the word “as” in the expression “Being as das Ereignis” is also to be interpreted in a special way suitable to the special sense of das Ereignis.
Leaving das Ereignis temporarily untranslated allows us to keep it as a mystery. The mystery deepens when, toward the end of the lecture, Heidegger uses the corresponding verb ereignen to answer the question, “What remains to be said?” The reply is, “Only this: Das Ereignis ereignet.” The such-and-such such-and-suches. Saying this, he says, we say the same from the same to the same.
To all appearances this says nothing. It says nothing indeed, as long as we hear what is said as a mere propositional statement and submit it to examination by logic. But suppose we take what is said as clue for reflection and consider that this same is not even something new but is the oldest of the old in Western thought: the immemorially ancient that conceals itself in the name a-letheia?
From what is prompted or initially said by this earliest of all the leitmotifs of thought there speaks an obligation that binds all thinking, provided that thinking complies with the bidding of what is to be thought. (T&B, 24; SD, 24f.)
What primordially has hidden itself in the name aletheia must be what conceals itself in unconcealment. The word das Ereignis names the thought which we seek, Heidegger’s single orienting thought.
This earliest of leitmotifs of thought fore-speaks something which provides an obligation that binds all thinking that tries to think the matter of thought. If we are to try to think the matter of thought, then we are bound to think das Ereignis and, indeed, to think it in such a way that we grasp the truth that das Ereignis ereignet. Das Ereignis is the mystery which liberates, the trustworthy that has not been thought, the self-concealing which brings all into the clear, Being, time, truth, freedom. Not only Being as das Ereignis. The word is introduced by definition as
what determines both, time and Being, in their own, that is, in their belonging together. (T&B, 19; SD, 20)
And this is repeated more intensively:
What lets both matters belong to one another, what not only brings the two into their own but keeps and holds them in their belonging together . . . is das Ereignis.3 (T&B, 19; SD, 20)
There are two important facets of the meaning of das Ereignis to which we shall have to attend. The first is already stated in these defining statements. Heidegger places emphasis upon what is own to time and Being. And, specifically, their own is their belonging together. Das Ereignis lets time and Being belong to one another. It not only brings them into their own — that is, their belonging together — but keeps and holds them in that mutual belonging.
As what determines, lets, brings, keeps, and holds, it could be said, in some suitable sense, to be quite active. But we cannot think of it as some special being which is active, as, for instance, a symphony conductor is active in bringing and keeping the orchestra members together into their musical belonging. A close analogy might be the music which does this, bringing the conductor in as well as keeping him in his own. Not the ghost of Beethoven still lingering, but the Eroica itself. Still, that is only one analogy and should not be allowed to fixate our thinking. It is but one of innumerable analogies, others being, for instance, friendship or enmity.
The mutual belonging of what belongs together is a theme which runs through Heidegger’s thinking. It turns up again at a decisive juncture of Identity and Difference, published in 1957. Here too it appears in a statement determining the use of the term das Ereignis. In this context it is especially the belonging together of man and Being which occupies Heidegger’s attention. Metaphysics would think of this belonging together as if man were something given on the one hand and Being something given on the other hand. Their belonging together would then be conceived as a kind of coördination of the two. But that is not how Heidegger thinks. Man is man only in his belonging together with Being, and Being is Being only in its belonging together with man. They are not given antecedently to the belonging. First of all there is the belonging to one another; and only as a result of this is it possible to see that the essential natures of man and Being, as metaphysics conceives them, have their source in this mutual belonging.
Man is a being. But man’s distinctive feature lies in the fact that as the thinking being, unlike stone, tree, or eagle, he is placed before Being, open to Being, that he remains referred to Being and thus co-responds to Being. Indeed, Heidegger goes so far as to say that strictly speaking man is this relation of co-respondence, and, he adds, “he is only this.” The “only” signifies not a limitation but an excess, an overmeasure (l&D, 31, 94).
Being is presence. But Being does not presence to man incidentally or exceptionally. Being presences and stays only by making its claim on man as it concerns him, goes to him.
For it is only man who, open for Being, lets Being arrive as presence.
The two belong to one another as what they are, man and Being. This is not an idealism. Being is not posited first and only by man. On the contrary, Being and man are übereignet — made over, assigned — to each other. They belong together (l&D, 31, 95).
This mutual belonging, which has to be thought prior to any metaphysical or representational conception of man and Being as co-related, and by virtue of which man is man and Being is Being — this belonging is the matter of thought which has yet to be thought. In order to reach this thought we have to go to the belonging together itself. We have to experience it. It is a matter of experience, as well as of thinking. Heidegger speaks of the going to the experience as a leap, a Sprung (hinting at a leap to the origin, Ursprung), and declares that it is only the leap into the domain of the belonging together of man and Being that attunes and determines the experience of thinking.
In the present epoch, according to Heidegger’s diagnosis, the belonging together of man and Being occurs in the form of a mutual challenge. Being challenges man through technology and man challenges Being to let beings appear as calculable. This reciprocal challenge he calls das Ge-Stell — the frame, the framework, the whole set-up and setting-up in the context of which all beings, whether men or things, are calculable. The significance of this mutual challenge, as a disclosure of Being to man which is its self-hiding and as man’s opening of himself to Being which is a complete forgetting of it, lies beyond this essay’s sphere. I mention it only because, by its central position today, it is where we are said to stand. When we become aware of it, we become dismayed, startled that (and how) man is delivered over to be owned by Being and Being is appropriated to human being: strange ownership, strange appropriation.
It is imperative to experience simply this Eignen (suiting, fitting), in which man and Being are ge-eignet (suited, fitted, en-owned) to one another, that is, to enter into that which we call das Ereignis. (l&D, 35, 100)
The importance of das Ereignis as the matter of thought which is the mystery of Being and time, the nature and source of truth and freedom, is expressly underlined in Identity and Difference. I use these expressions “nature” and “source” only with great hesitation, since they are essentially misleading here, corresponding to the language of metaphysics which Heidegger believes it indispensable to leave behind. What has to be stressed, in any event, is the central and dominating significance of the thought of das Ereignis as the object of thinking’s search, the pole star in the sky to which thinking looks in its attempt to fulfill the task of the shepherding of Being. Thus we are told, in successive paragraphs, the following:
Das Ereignis is the realm, vibrating within itself, through which man and Being reach one another in their nature, achieve what is natural to them by losing those characteristics which metaphysics conferred on them.
To think das Ereignis as Er-eignis means to be a builder in the building of this realm that vibrates within itself. Thinking receives the building equipment for this self-suspended structure (or: this structure that hovers within itself, intrinsically) from language. For language is the most delicate, but also (and therefore) the most susceptible vibration, holding everything, in the hovering structure of das Ereignis. Inasmuch as our nature is given over to (vereignet) language, we dwell in das Ereignis.
. . . .
Das Ereignis appropriates, gives man and Being over to their essential Together. In the Ge-Stell, the frame, we catch sight of a first, distressing flash of das Ereignis. This frame constitutes the essential nature of the modern technical world. (l&D, 37f, l00ff.)
In a word, das Ereignis is the letting-belong-together, das Zusammengehörenlassen, in and through and by which man and Being belong together. It is the self-suspended, self-hovering Bau, building-structure, Bereich, realm or domain, within which language vibrates and holds all together. We recall from the essay “Building Dwelling Thinking” that building and dwelling are in truth Being, that man’s Being is his building and dwelling, and that the thinking which also belongs to his Being is the thinking involved in his building and dwelling. Building and thinking
are, each in its own way, inescapable for dwelling. The two, however, are also insufficient for dwelling so long as each busies itself with its own affairs in separation instead of listening to one another. They are able to listen if both — building and thinking — belong to dwelling, if they remain within their limits and realize that the one as much as the other comes from the workshop of long experience and incessant practice. (PLT, 160f.)
With regard to language we remember also the remark in the essay “Language” that to discuss language, to place it (erörtern)
means to bring to its place of Being not so much language as ourselves: our own gathering into das Ereignis. (PLT, 190)
So das Ereignis is that which lets both Being and time belong to one another. It is the letting-belong-together of Being and time. But, too, it is the letting-belong-together of Being and man, of building and dwelling and thinking. Language is a potent agent in this letting-belong-together: it is the delicate, susceptible vibration that holds everything in the hovering structure of the letting-belong-together.
That is the first significant facet of the meaning of das Ereignis, namely, its being the letting-belong-together by which Being, time, man, building, dwelling, thinking — in the end, all beings as well as the fundamental matters of thought like Being and time, which are not beings — belong together .
We can see this part of the meaning of das Ereignis announced in the word itself. We have already had abundant illustration of the operation of the root portion of the word, eig-, as it now stands, in words like eigen, own; vereignen, deliver over as own to; zueignen, dedicate or appropriate; eignen, to own, suit, or fit; eigentlich, true, essential, proper. It appears in other shapes too, which Heidegger uses on occasion, as for instance Eigentum, property, and eigentümlich, peculiar. Belonging together is being own to one another, in the specific manner of the specific belonging. Man and Being belong to one another in the way in which man and Being today challenge one another through the technical nature of contemporary civilization. They belong to one another always by the fact that Being presences to man and man lets Being arrive as presence. Building and dwelling belong to thinking, and thinking to building and dwelling in a different way. Language belongs to all things in its own special universal way, and all things belong to it in their special ways.
At a time when he had not yet come to name das Ereignis as the thought of the mystery of Being, Heidegger was already thinking this belonging together and the letting-belong-together which is now called by that name. So in the essay “The Origin of the Work of Art,” the most important and incisive phrase in the entire piece is “the intimacy of simple belonging to one another” (PLT, 49). In the work of art, world and earth strive, as opponents, raising each other into the self-assertion of their own natures.
The more the struggle overdoes itself on its own part, the more inflexibly do the opponents let themselves go into the intimacy of simple belonging to one another. . . . It is because the struggle arrives at its high point in the simplicity of intimacy that the unity of the work comes about in the fighting of the battle. . . . The repose of the work that rests in itself thus has its presencing in the intimacy of striving. (UK, 51 f; PLT, 49f.)
Only later, in an “Addendum” to this essay written in 1956, does Heidegger identify das Ereignis as the real thought that enables us to comprehend the nature of art by way of its relation to Being and truth.
Art is considered neither an area of cultural achievement nor an appearance of spirit; it belongs to das Ereignis by way of which the “meaning of Being” (see Being and Time) can alone be defined. (PLT, 86)
At the center of das Ereignis is own.
If we were to give the most literal possible translation of das Ereignis it would have to consist of en-, -own-, and -ment: enownment. Enownment is the letting-be-own-to-one-another of whatever is granted belonging-together. It is the letting be married of any two or more — Being and time, Being and man, earth and world, earth and sky and mortals and divinities (the fourfold), bridge and river, automobile and speedway, buying and selling commodities, management and labor — which can only be by means of belonging to one another. Enownment is not their belonging, but what lets their belonging be. Sein is not Seiendheit.
Heidegger is not the man to speak of love — for his own reasons, whatever they may be. So it is we, rather, who have to say also that enownment is what lets love be. And as Nietzsche celebrated those who were his most active opponents as those dearest to him, so also it must be said that enownment is what lets conflict, with all its hatred, opposition, and destruction, be. Heidegger has no God. Enownment is the god beyond God. It is that Being, or that Non-Being, which is beyond all beings, even beyond all divine beings, which grants both Being and Non-Being and all the dimensions of time, without being and being itself. In On Time and Being he presents enownment as the source which gives Being and gives time, as gifts are given. It sends the destiny of Being and extends time, expropriating itself so that man can stand in appropriation — enownment — with Being within time. Enownment is the mystery which withdraws itself in letting Being and time appear. It dedicates Being as presence and time as the realm of the open while, and through, keeping itself back. We can say “das Ereignis ereignet,” “enownment enowns,” but this does not mean that there is some being, named Enownment, who or which is doing something, as a king might grant gifts to his subjects. It hovers; it does not act. It is hovering in the very act of my writing this and your reading it.
The second important facet of the meaning of enownment is also reflected by the root portion of the word, eig-, seen from a different vantage point. For eig- is in fact the result of an auditory-etymological conflation. As Heidegger points out, ereignen orignally meant eräugen. Äugen is a verb form whose noun form is Auge, eye. Eräugen is, as it were, to en-eye.
The word Ereignis is taken from natural language. Originally er-eignen means: er-äugen, that is to say, er-blicken, to see or catch sight of, to call to oneself in looking, an-eignen, to en-own, ap-propriate.4 (l&D, 100f.)
Other interpretations of the etymology are possible. The earlier word, eräugen, bears the sense “to place before the eyes, to show,” and hence also, “to show itself, sich zeigen.” The present word ereignen in its ordinary sense of “to happen” develops naturally out of this notion of manifestation and self-manifestation. The connection is that which is designated by a word like show, show up: something that happens shows, it shows up, turns up, shows itself. Someone who has been missing or absent shows up. Showing is a metaphor for happening and thus can come to mean happening literally. It is perhaps surprising that Heidegger did not make more specific use of this connection, precisely in view of the present aspect of the meaning of enownment which is under consideration.
Enownment is not just the belonging together of the beings (and non-beings) that belong together. It is the letting be of that mutual belonging, the letting be of the mutuality of belonging. If the first facet of its meaning lays stress on the belonging, the second stresses the letting-be. For one can ask about enownment how it comes about — how das Ereignis ereignet. The how is not something distinct from the enownment, added to it, so that it may be brought into being. The enownment is itself the letting-be of the mutuality of ownness of all that is and is not. Our question is only, “How are we to think the letting-be?”
If own is at the center of enownment, nevertheless en- is at the beginning and -ment is at the end, and the beginning and the end are one: letting-be. God creates. The god beyond God lets be. God lets light be. The god beyond God lets be . . . . what?
It is imperative, Heidegger thinks, not only to think das Eigensein des Seienden, the being-own or ownness of beings, in thinking enownment, but before and above all, das Ereignen, enowning, enownment. And the meaning of enowning, Ereignen, is evident specifically in the working of language. (God said, Let there be light. And there was light.) Saying, die Sage, which is able to let-be-heard, which (by a peculiar coincidence in German, in which gehörenlassen means not only to let be heard but also to let belong) is able to let-belong, is showing.
Die Sage ist Zeigen. (UZS, 257; OWL, 126)
Etymologically the German for to say, sagen — from which Heidegger derives the noun die Sage, which is not to be interpreted as saga, but as saying in a special and fundamental sense, a sense in which saying is the silence in which language allows of being spoken and heard — belongs also to a word group bearing the meanings to let see, to show. Heidegger is etymologically accurate in making saying showing. But showing too is understood in a special and fundamental sense, in which, without itself appearing or being a being that appears, it is what lets what appears appear. What presences — what is essential — in language is this saying as showing (UZS, 254; OWL, 121).
This Saying is not to be understood as mere human saying, as speaking or being silent in a human way. It is therefore natural to capitalize its name. It has to be thought of as the Saying of language itself. It is explicitly introduced by Heidegger as the name for the whole being of language, the multiform saying that pervades the entire structure of language (UZS, 253; OWL, 122f). Human saying is made possible because humans dwell within this Saying of Language.
As Being and man belong to one another mutually, so that man needs Being for the presencing of what presences, and Being needs man so that it may presence and grant presencing to beings, so Saying and man belong to one another mutually. For, while man needs Saying in order to be able to listen and speak, Saying needs man’s listening and speaking in order that it may do what it has to do. As the ultimate nature of Being is enownment, so too the ultimate nature of Saying is enownment, granting Saying its nature. Because Saying is enownment, one can ask also about it, whether
Saying is itself the bringer of rest, which grants the repose of the belonging-together of that which belongs within the structure of language? (UZS, 256; OWL, 125)
Language, as Saying, is enownment, because it is showing, Zeigen.
In everything that speaks to us, that touches us by being spoken and spoken about, in everything that gives itself to us in speaking, or waits for us as unspoken, but also in the speaking that is done by us, there is at work the showing that lets what presences appear, what absences disappear. Saying is in no way the linguistic expression added on to what is appearing; rather, all appearing and disappearing is grounded in the showing Saying. (UZS, 257; OWL, 126)
The essential nature of language is showing. The essential nature of Saying is showing. What is this showing? What does Saying do when it shows?
It liberates what presences into its specific presencing, de-liberates what absences into its specific absencing. Saying pervades, ordains, disposes the free of the clearing which all appearing must seek out, all disappearing must leave behind, the place into which every presence and absence must show itself, into which it must say itself. (UZS, 257; OWL, 126)
The connection of Saying’s showing with freedom is essential. The freedom of the clearing in which what appears appears, what disappears disappears, what presences presences and what absences absences — this freedom is the same freedom we have met with earlier. It stands in closest affinity with the happening of truth — unconcealing. Appearing is the unconcealing of what has been concealed. What disappears returns to its concealment, yet remains revealed precisely as concealed. We are alerted once more to the mystery which, being hidden and always concealing itself, is nevertheless that which liberates. But what liberates is the Saying which is showing. The mystery lies in the Saying which is showing.
What is this mystery that quickens within the showing Saying? We can only name it, says Heidegger, because it will not endure any discussion, any argument. For it is the locale of all places and of all time-play-spaces. An ancient word is available for naming it:
What quickens in the showing of Saying is das Eignen.
Das Eignen — how, now, shall we read this? Of course, it is owning. But das Eignen is das Äugen, and so it must be showing as coming out to be seen or as letting be seen or as seeing or being seen or both. Appearing is owning and owning is appearing. The sameness of appearing and owning immediately strikes the eye here.
What appears can appear only as it owns and is owned. What is to own and be owned can do so only by appearing. What quickens within Saying’s showing is that which lets be the appearing of mutual belonging, the belonging of mutual appearing, the truth and Being of all that is, the presencing together of Being, time, man, things, places and times, earth and sky and mortals and divinities. And so once more Heidegger defines the words Ereignen, Ereignis, enowning, enownment. Das Eignen , the letting-own-show,
brings what presences and what absences each into its own; each shows itself, as it is, in this own; each stays in it in its own way. (UZS, 258; OWL, 127)
This letting-own-show is what quickens within Saying’s showing. It is the bringer. It quickens Saying as the show in its showing. Let it be called, says Heidegger, das Ereignen, the enowning. Enowning, we now realize, can be what it is only as the showing that quickens language’s Saying, and therefore as bringer of what presences and absences each into its own, what liberates the present and de-liberates the absent. The intimacy of simple belonging to one another can come about only by an enowning which, as enowning, is the bringer of appearing and disappearing.
It is imperative — this needs to be repeated — not only to think the being-own of beings when we think enownment, but before and above all, the enowning itself. This enowning
yields the free of the clearing in which what presences can stay, from which what absences can escape and keep its staying in this escape. (UZS, 258; OWL, 127)
Enowning yields and brings. It yields the free and it brings its presences and absences. What is it that does the yielding and bringing in this enowning? It is the enownment itself, and nothing but that.
Enownment thus is two things that are one and the same. It is the letting-belong-together, the letting-be-own-to-one-another of all that belong together, and it is the yielder of the free, the clearing in which those that belong together are able to be together. It is the original and originary letting-belong out of which presencing and absencing as showing, appearing, disappearing, staying in presence or in absence, come to be. It lets all this come to be.
One thinks, in thinking of coming-to-be, of the Greek physis, not in the Aristotelian sense, but in the sense that Heidegger believes he can find in the pre-Aristotelian thinkers, as for instance in Heraclitus. The original sense of physis (the Roman natura, our nature) is Being, but Being as das sich verbergende Entbergen, the deconcealing that conceals itself.
Self-deconcealing is coming forth into unhiddenness, and this means to hide, to shelter unhiddenness as such in the essential being: unhiddenness is called a-letheia — truth, as we translate it, is primordial, and this means that it is essentially not a character of human knowledge and statement. Truth, also, is not mere value or an “Idea” toward whose realization man — the reason is not very clear — ought to strive. Truth, rather, as self-deconcealing, belongs to Being itself: physis is aletheia, deconcealment, and therefore kryptesthai philei, it loves to hide itself. (W, 371)
Enownment, the letting-be-shown-own, names the mystery that loves to hide itself in showing all that is to be shown; and the mystery is that it is the letting-be of the mutual belonging of all — beings and non-beings — which need one another.
How can we speak of this letting-be? How are we to think it? The questions do not ask for a discussion, disputation, argument. They are intended only to initiate a search for an appropriate way of thinking and speaking about that which is the yielder and the bringer, the locale and hovering structure, of all the beings and nonbeings that fit into the opened sphere of belonging.
How are we to think our way into and through that sphere? The answer to this question is not to be given here. It is given only by the actual effort of the thinking itself. Heidegger has not outlined his own path or the paths that could or must be followed. We must say on our own responsibility what path opens before us.
Life and history follow the paths that are opened to them through the enownment which the opening of Being and time provides for them. Within life, every stratum and dimension partakes of the ownment that enownment opens. Perception, for instance, is an ownment between man, Being, and time, in which the world opens up for man in his seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. In perception, what is other to the individual human being appears as enowned in its otherness. The house we see over there is seen as the dwelling place, whose entrance beckons or repels, which harbors within it the family, the hidden place of love and hate, conflict and healing. Saying, in uttering “house,” has allowed this structure of enownment to appear and has opened up the possibility of ourselves grasping it and even entering into it to partake of the mode of life-presencing and -absencing which it makes accessible. These brief sentences must do as example for the whole of a path of thinking that has hardly begun to become plain as the way in which thinking is challenged to proceed now and for the present epoch.
Every shape of experience familiar to man is a shape of a limited enownment. As earth, sky, mortals, and divinities constitute the encompassing fourfold which saying first opens for humans and within which all four are own to and with each other, the encompassing enownment within which human history happens, so every stratum and strand of history is thinkable in its truth as a way of staying within some finite form of this mutual ownness. The social order, for instance, is an order of enownment. In it, women and men, children and adults, classes, castes, creeds, and colors all presence together, finding, making, receiving statuses, entering into groups, associations, and institutions, under norms — ranging from statutory laws, rules, and regulations to customs and mores, rites and rituals, ceremonies and conventions — which make explicit what the saying that constitutes the social order says. That saying opens up the realm of the social order within which each individual presences in the encompassing and pervading mode of being-own which characterizes his community. The community is the com+munus, in which gifts, obligations, services, and duties are exchanged, that is, in which each one is granted the opportunity to be (presence) among the entitled ones. It is the Ge-mein-de, that is, the collectivity of all those who are mine to and with the individual, his own, the ones for whom he too is own. The opening of that clearing of earth-world, mortals-divinities, which is a human society is the opening of a sphere of enownment in which the heroes and villains of bygone days remain in their absence and in which the historic events of the past and the actualities and possibilities of the present and future take shape as a destiny which the group takes upon itself as its own. The myths and legends by which it imagines itself in its world express its sense of how all belongs to all. The material means of which it disposes — clothing, utensils, machines, vehicles, foodstuffs — all bear its imprint and lend their imprint to it, the two, the culture and its material, belonging to one another in a mutually constitutive ownness. This socio-cultural Being is constantly opening up, constantly vibrating as a clearing in the total world-fourfold, in and through the enownment that lets it be and that it lets be. In it, man and Being and time are together in their mutual belonging in the specific, limited, finite, tragedy-ridden configuration of being-own characteristic of the society and the epoch. If we are to reach the real meaning of the group’s life and history, it can only be by way of thinking of the enownment in which this life and history take shape in presencing.
What has been said here should be taken as a mere hint at the possibilities of thinking which are made accessible to us by the concept of the opening of the own. Heidegger has set his eyes toward one direction of these possibilities — the one described in the present essay under the heading of “enownment” as the source which gives Being and gives time, which sends Being’s destiny and out-reaches the time for it, which expropriates itself so that man can enter appropriation. Hegel’s entire thought was an exploration of the systematic context discernible in his day, uttered in the language of enownment which saying allowed at the time: the enownment of the dialectical unity of opposites. Modern existentialism has attempted over and over, from Kierkegaard to Jaspers, Marcel, Buber, and Sartre, to enter into the thinking of enownment, even if it did not yet know how to name its thought. In Sartre’s case, particularly, enownment beckoned as an unreachable and untrustable illusion, a haunting ghostly shape forever eluding him. Therefore he had to declare that man is essentially incapable of living in enownment.
The meaning of politics in the Marxian and post-Marxian age can be understood in its essential character only, again, in terms of the thought of the enownment that lets contemporary communities presence in their character. Heidegger has attempted to name this mode of enownment by way of das Gestell, but there is little actual concrete political analysis in his writing; and indeed the whole task remains to be done as a real project.
What is true of the socio-cultural order, of philosophical thinking, and of politics, is true also of the meaning of literature and the arts. Heidegger has had more to say about these, perhaps, than about any other of the dimensions of culture. But his thinking here has in fact only reached so far as to begin to name the basic thought. The essays in Poetry, Language, Thought, and essays of a similar nature outside that volume, offer as yet only impressionistic touches of a picture that calls for painting and repainting.
Once the thought of enownment has come to stand still in the world’s sky, new journeys begin to announce their possibilities, guided by the vision.5
University of California, Santa Cruz
1 The abbreviated bibliographical references in the text are to the following works, all by Heidegger:
|EP||The End of Philosophy. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.|
|l&D||Identity and Difference. Trans, and introd. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.|
|OWL||On The Way To Language. Trans. Peter D. Hertz. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.|
|PLT||Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans, and introd. Albert Hofstadter New York: Harper and Row, 1971.|
|SD||Zur Sache des Denkens. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1969.|
|T&B||On Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.|
|T&K||Die Technik und die Kehre. Pfullingen: Neske, 1962.|
|UK||Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes. Mit einer Einführung von Hans-Georg Gadamer. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1960.|
|UZS||Unterwegs zur Sprache. Pfullingen: Neske, 1959.|
|V&A||Vorträge und Aufsätze. Pfullingen: Neske, 1954.|
|W||Wegmarken. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1967.|
2 This statement expresses Heidegger’s evaluation of philosophy, as he understands it historically, as something to be surpassed by returning to the thinking that already preceded it in ancient Greece and by carrying on from there. I shall not attend to this part of his view here. What philosophy is, has been, and can be, remains for me an open question. I do not hesitate to think of Heidegger as a philosopher, despite his disclaimer of that name. Indeed his thinking appears to me to fall within that great tradition, alternative to the Aristotelian thinking of Being, in which the clue to Being is sought not in Being itself but beyond Being, as in Plato’s The Good (which was not a being) and in Plotinus’ The One (which was not a being). On this point, Etienne Gilson’s Being and Some Philosophers remains enlightening even if it does not yet reach to the time of Heidegger’s vision. Heidegger would not see himself in this way, of course, but when does anyone see himself as others see him? Moreover, in my view, Hegel’s concept of Spirit, when rightly understood, represents a halfway stage between philosophies of Being and philosophies transcending or alternative to Being. It therefore has a certain affinity to the latter, just as Heidegger’s thought does. It is an essential affinity and it holds despite all criticism that Heidegger may wish to make of Hegel.
3 The portion of the text which I have omitted, . . der Verhalt beider Sachen, der Sach-Verhalt. . . ,” is virtually untranslatable. Joan Stambaugh renders it “the way the two matters stand, the matter at stake.” It contains — more than a pun — a metamorphosis of the word Sachverhalt, which ordinarily means the facts of the case, the circumstances, state of affairs, etc. One could say: the fact of the matters of Being and time, their situation, their factual circumstances, that which gives them the hold they have on one another and as fact, that which lets them hold together as belonging together in fact. We could venture: the matter-hold, on the analogy of the wrestler’s hold, imagining Being and time as holding to each other, where das Ereignis is that which lets this matter-hold be. More simply — bearing in mind that sich verhalten also means, in the case of a thing (a matter, Sache) to be, and in the case of a person, to behave, to conduct oneself, to take up and hold an attitude (toward) — we could say that this Sach-verhalt is what Being and time are, how they conduct themselves, in their belonging together.
4 The references to German etymology are omitted in the English translation of this passage. See l& D, 36.
5 The research for this study was done under a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and with the aid of funds from the Research Committee of the University of California at Santa Cruz, for which grateful acknowledgment is here made.