Monday, April 6, 2009

Faithful Heidegger

I had my first Heideggerian thoughtful "twitch" so I figured that I better post it before it goes away. Unfortunately, I think it falls out of line with Heidegger's project to stray from "... the habit of always hearing only what we already understand" (58). Anyhow, I thought maybe I could share this thoughtful "twitch" and maybe others can gain something from it. Particularly speaking, on page 65 Heidegger is talking about the relationship that we have with words as they relate to things that are represented by the world. He's talking, again, about the last line of the George's poem and why he used a colon where it doesn't look as though that would be the normal usage of such a grammatical mark. "'So I renounced and sadly see: Where word breaks off no thing can be.'... What follows the colon does not name what the poet renounces; rather, it names the realm into which the renunciation must enter; it names the call to enter inot the relation between thing and word which has now been experienced" (65). He says that it is a 'command which the poet follows' to make clear something about language itself. In short, this command "would mean: do not henceforth admit any thing as behing where the word breaks off"(65).

In order to explain the connection that I made here, I'll need to resort to another philosopher to make this clear. I've always been fond of the panrelational argument that sidesteps the problem of essentialism as expounded upon by Rorty. Specifically, panrelationalism talks about defining things in terms of the relationships that we are aware of between that thing and all other things around it. The famous 17 argument (that I can't find a source for, at the moment). Take the number 17 and define it by calling to its essence. Don't think too hard, it can't be done, really. No! Really... don't work at it too hard. In order to talk about 17 we can only talk about what it is composed of or of the relationships it has with other numbers. 17 is 10 + 7, 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 2, etc. It is one more than 16, half of 34, greater than 6, etc. What this argument does is say that when we talk about what something is, we can't get at the essence of that thing (and we might go as far as to say that essence is unavailable to us or doesn't exist...). We ultimately rely upon the relationships that the thing has in order to understand our relationship with it.

I'll use another relationship to show the connection now between what Heidegger said (I think) and what Rorty said. Consider the giraffe and all the relationships that you are aware of that the giraffe has with the world. The word is complete to you in the state that it is. However, imagine that you learn something new about the giraffe; suppose you find a new (to you) way that the giraffe interacts with another thing. The word giraffe takes on new dimension for you that it hadn't had before. It means all of those other things it used to, but has increased, too! Was the word before incomplete? I think it could be argued both ways. The important thing, though, is that the being-giraffe changed when you discovered this new dimension of it. This new relationship wasn't anything to you before you discovered it. It didn't exist to you. Obviously, it probably literally existed, but the word giraffe didn't represent it until you understood the concept of giraffe as having that new dimension. The term was 'broken off' where that relationship existed and thus, couldn't have existed in the later realized state before it was realized. "Where word breaks off no thing may be."

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