The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics • 39

The portal of an early Romanesque church is a being. How and to whom does Being reveal itself? To the art historian who visits and photographs it on an excursion, or to the abbot who [27|38] passes through the portal with his monks for a religious celebration, or to the children who play in its shadow on a summer’s day? How does it stand with the Being of this being?

A state—it is. What does its Being consist in? In the fact that the state police arrest a suspect, or that in a ministry of the Reich so and so many typewriters clatter away and record the dictation of state secretaries and ministers? Or “is” the state in the discussion between the Führer and the English foreign minister? The state is. But where is Being to be found? Is it located anywhere at all?

A painting by Van Gogh: a pair of sturdy peasant shoes, nothing else. The picture really represents nothing. Yet you are alone at once with what is there, as if you yourself were heading homeward from the field on a late autumn evening, tired, with your hoe, as the last potato fires smolder out. What is in being here? The canvas? The brushstrokes? The patches of color?

In everything we have mentioned, what is the Being of beings? Really, how is it that we can run around and stand about in the world with our stupid pretensions and our so-called cleverness? Everything we have mentioned is, after all, and nevertheless—if we want to lay hold of Being it is always as if we were reaching into a void. The Being that we are asking about is almost like Nothing, and yet we are always trying to arm and guard ourselves against the presumption of saying that all beings are not.

But Being remains undiscoverable, almost like Nothing, or in the end entirely so. The word “Being” is then finally just an empty word. It means nothing actual, tangible, real. Its meaning is an unreal vapor.

Introduction to Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (GA 40) by Martin Heidegger

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