What Is the Problem of the Meaning of Being? > 67


from the inevitable and, one might say, ontologically appropriate sort of “concealing” (more a kind of elusiveness) in the “work of art”—a Greek temple, say. And even when we have in view properly such a picture of utterly contingent dispensations, the focus seems to be on something Heidegger also wants to take back, even as he provides such characterizations, as when he is driven, in his 1955 essay Zur Seinsfrage, to graphological extremes in writing “Sein.”

However, it must be said that Heidegger’s occasional discussions of these epochal inflections of the metaphysical tradition post- Plato do not seem to be very important to his project, at least not comparted to what they are all inflections of, the “metaphysics of presence.” That is, he makes no real attempt to justify these divisions, to show us what might have prompted these crises or how what they prompt might be said to be responsive to the crises. They are suggested somewhat casually, and one gets no sense, as one does, say, with the later Foucault, that there are just massive and completely discontinuous and incommensurable shift s in historical worlds, that we are subject to radical contingency in horizons of possible meaningfulness. Th is is because he does not think we are so subject. For one thing, in Heidegger’s treatment, these historical worlds, horizons of possible significance, are immensely complicated networks of interconnected meaningfulness. It is the interconnectedness (a kind of meaningfulness holism) and the enormous stake persons have in the comforts of ordinariness in such worlds that create the great weight that makes this sort of possibility (fickle epochality, let us say) impossible. Much more importantly, there is also, according to Heidegger, despite rare crises of meaningfulness, like the tragic closure of the possibility of the ancient Greek form of life, or Nietzsche and the advent of modern nihilism, still a remarkable (declensionist) continuity in Heidegger’s account. Plato and Aristotle set us in a direction we have found it impossible to free ourselves from— the metaphysics of presence, the primordial mattering of intelligibility, knowing, which shows up even in Nietzsche’s claim to have freed us of metaphysical illusions. It is not even the case that this continuous orientation itself should be said to be “contingent,” at least if we mean arbitrary or mysterious. It is existentially motivated by an attempt at a reconciliation with the world through the exercise of reason, a project that culminates in Hegelian self- consciousness and the implication


The Culmination by Robert Pippin