rupture and continuity (Dilthey), sense and matter (Nancy), the ontic and the ontological (Heidegger), and public and private (Arendt); it leaves us struggling with absence and presence, and with the gap at the origin of our being that will be characterized in what follows as enigma (Heidegger), the center of incomprehensibility (Dilthey), darkness (Arendt), and syncope (Nancy).

The philosophical practice I have in mind could be described as metaphysics, ontology, metontology, phenomenology, philosophy of history, or philosophy of life; but, since the proliferation of such labels is hardly helpful and the selection of just one of them, even with all the elaboration and justification that would be called for, would still prove inadequate, I will instead sketch a historical philosophical context in which I see a practice taking shape. Artur Boelderl has identified a shift to natological thinking in twentieth-century French and German philosophy and has detailed the development of that strand of thinking running through Husserl, Heidegger, and Fink to Derrida, Kristeva, and Nancy.16 Christina Schües has worked to develop the thought in a tradition that does not just include Husserl but is specifically dominated by his thinking.17

The starting point for the trajectory I will follow is in the version of finite existence laid out in Heidegger’s Being and Time, where for the most part we are finite beings by virtue of our mortality. Yet late in the work, Heidegger acknowledges that death is not the only end of our being. The admission that our existence is characterized not only by mortality but also by natality proves enormously disruptive. The attempt Heidegger had made to provide an analysis of Dasein as a whole is interrupted by the dual realization that a newness erupts into the world with each birth and that our natal arrival remains vital but irretrievably lost to our experience. Thus it is natality that drives Heidegger to consider historicity—the fact that we are born into a world that is older than us but that we must make our own—in the closing sections of Being and Time and to attempt the radical shift from fundamental ontology to metontology in the 1928 lectures published as The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.18 I argue that in the process he reveals the metaphysical motivation behind the phenomenological work of Being and Time; if the fact that there are beings rather than no beings gives rise to the first question of metaphysics,


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Natality and Finitude by Anne O'Byrne