Propositions on Heidegger's 'Being-Historical Thinking'

Peter Trawny

1. “Hermeneutics of facticity” (GA 58) was one of the first projects of Heidegger as an authentic philosopher, a period of Heidegger’s work that highlights the importance of history in Heideggerian philosophy. In effect, factical life is necessarily located in history. The German word “Geschichte” like the English word “history” is characterized by the ambiguity of the thing itself and its science. “Geschichte”/“history” is the sequence of events in time and space, and the scientific approach to those events.

2. The problem is whether history is an element of factical life. History as science must be a thematization and an objectification of something, what in factical life is not thematized and, thus, objectified. For if in factical life history as such is thematized, life would not be factical anymore. A presupposition and feature of factical life is that it is lived. A discourse about this life is already an interruption of it.

3. For Heidegger philosophy is not a science. Philosophy must be hermeneutics of factical life in factical life. Thinking, then, is not an objectification, but a certain performance (Vollzug) of factical life. Even if philosophical thinking is thinking about history, it is thinking in history.

4. The non-objectified relation to history is what Heidegger (like Hegel and Dilthey) calls “historicality” (Geschichtlichkeit). When Heidegger found his main philosophical project, namely, the question for the meaning of Being, he perceived the following: if all thinking is thinking in history, the question of the meaning of Being itself is historical (Geschichtlich) (GA 2, 28).

5. This is the case, because the Being of the Dasein as temporality (Zeitlichkeit) is the “condition of the possibility of historicality” (GA 2, 27). The hermeneutical circle, namely, Dasein’s question of the meaning of Being is “historical, because the Being of Dasein is the condition of the possibility of historicality, is a transcendental circle. History unfolds itself from the historicality of Dasein.

6. History is experienced as fate (Schicksal) if Dasein projects itself as anticipation of death.1 History can also become a collective experience of a community, of a people (Volk), as destiny (Geschick). One could make a difference between these two kinds of historical experiences, but it seems that Dasein will have the destiny of its people as its own fate if it decides to or let itself become the member of a collective historicality.

7. Here a question can be marked: When does a people performs its anticipation of death? When something happens, what is usually called an “event.” Certainly the happening of an event is barely recognized in the event itself. When on July 14th, 1789, in Paris a crowd of citizens gathered to take the Bastille, nobody thought that the French Revolution was taken placed, particularly because the Bastille was never taken in the course of a violent turmoil, it was just delivered to the violent citizens. A historical event is always emerging retrospectively, monumentally, so to speak. In this sense, a collective performance of the anticipation of death can be called a “future monument“, “a date to come“. Here, the history of a factical life is on the threshold to its own objectification.

8. Therefore it cannot be amazing that Heidegger was so much attracted by the Machtergreifung of the national-socialist party in 1933. This event, the Machtergreifung, was the performance of the destiny of a people. But in this attraction something became clearer and clearer: the monumental dimension of the historical event shattered the idea that history must be understood as an epiphenomenon of Dasein’s historicality. If history manifests itself in a monument to come, Dasein becomes the epiphenomenon. It is not that history is transformed by Dasein, but Dasein by history. It may be not an accident that the turning (Kehre) of the relation between Being and beings had taken place in times of the national revolution.

9. Historicality is not the presupposition, as well as Dasein is not the source of history. Being is the source of history. Or, better: history is of Being, emerges from Being, it is “Being” itself.

10. History is emerging from Being. This emergence is a feature of Being itself. What is shown and hidden becomes an element of history. Heidegger locates this element at first in the early thinking of the Greeks. In Heraclitus’ and Parmenides’ fragments he interprets ἀλήθεια as “unconcealment” (Unverborgenheit). The Greek term “ἀλήθεια“ should be a certain understanding of truth, in which revealement and concealment is not a quality of the λόγος and the νοεῖν, but an event in itself. Later, when Heidegger writes Ἀ-Λήθεια, he works within the being-historical thinking. Ἀ-Λήθεια is now the revealing and concealing axis of a history, which challenged new non-objectifying forms of emergence.

11. Being reveals and conceals not in but as history. This particular way of emergence can not be expressed in forms of the objectifying history as one of beings. Here, a difficulty becomes significant, which is at stake since the first proposition: the representation of history is always a narrative; it does not matter whether this narrative represents real or unreal events. History has a special relation to language: it finds its objects throughout language. Where the science of history tells the sequence of and thus refers to certain events in time and space, the being-historical thinking narrates and refers to what? With the new understanding of “history” Heidegger had to find a new way to represent it.

12. The first response to this problem was the attempt to declare poetry as the true access to history. “How can one know, what is history, if one does not know, what is poetry” (GA 76, 233). In a certain sense, Heidegger tried to refresh a German tradition of philosophy. It stepped to poetry, myth, and mythology, if it came to define the “historical consciousness.” Hölderlin, Schelling, and Nietzsche explained the poetical power of myths, but later Heidegger gave up this attempt.

13. The being-historical thinking had to find its own narrative. This being-historical narrative tells the tale of a beginning, of a nearly complete loss of this beginning, of a crisis, of an eschatological end; as a possibility of another beginning or the complete loss of it. It tells the tale of a metaphysical thinking finding its peak in the will to will, and another way of thinking finding its own character in forms of self- reservation. The significations and interpretations of this narrative are not fixed, because for Heidegger “being-historical thinking” means to move in this narrative through always opening up other fields of significations.

14. The organizing center of this narrative is the event of appropriation (das Ereignis). This event of appropriation is organizing all significations of the history of Being, because it is the center. Every narrative needs this specific location, where the signifying decisions are done. In the usual theory of narration one could call this institution the narrator. In the history of Being there cannot be a narrator in the form of a subject or a person. No one tells the tale of the history of Being. It must tell its tale itself. Therefore, the narrator of the history of Being is the event of appropriation. Even the Ἀ-Λήθεια is one of its tales.

15. The event of appropriation is the perfect center of the narrative of Being, because it transforms the concept of the concept, the signification of the signification. It does so because of the concept of the event. An “event“ signifies something happening in time and space. If I use the term “event, I necessarily refer to. It is true that events can happen in a novel or a movie, but even a fictional event refers to something happening in time and space. The question is, whether I can refer to time and space of Heidegger’s “event of appropriation”? Is there a non-objectifiable reality of “the event of appropriation”?

16. A thread of the history of Being is what I called and still call “being-historical anti-Semitism”: “it would be to ask, in what the peculiar predetermination of the Jewish community for the planetary criminality is based”, which in German it is said as follows: “Zu fragen wäre, worin die eigentümliche Vorbestimmung der Judenschaft für das planetarische Verbrechertum begründet liegt”.2 The keywords of “eigentümliche Vorbestimmung” unfold a significant connection with the “history of Being”. The adjective “eigentümlich” is the character of what Heidegger calls the “Eigentum”. The “Eigentum” belongs to the character of the “Ereignis” and its movement of the “Ereignen”. In all these significations what is own, what belongs to the event of appropriation, is at stake. The predetermination mentioned before cannot be caused by (a) God or a substance, but belongs to (is owned by) the organizing center of the history of Being.

17. The last consequence of Heidegger’s being-historical thinking is the abandonment of every objectifiable signification. Thinking does not anymore refer to something beyond itself. It becomes its mere performance by opening up more and more ways to move in new and different significations. The being-historical thinking is the tale of itself. But was philosophy –by all claims to transcend its discourses– ever something else than the tale of itself?

1 See GA 2, 349 and 508.

2 Trawny (2015: 63).

Peter Trawny - Propositions on Heidegger's 'Being-Historical Thinking'.
Original PDF version.