Toward Appropriation 25

while we are engaged in this attempt to get things, we take the whole for granted as reliable and thus for-get it. Strictly speaking, since we may never have recognized the whole in the first place, one can say that it lies in oblivion.

We are primally familiar with the whole; we inhabit it. It is our own in the sense that we are comfortable in it, as a fish is comfortable in the sea. But this is why we cannot recognize it as our own, any more than a fish can recognize that it belongs in the sea and not on land. Precisely because we trust the whole, we cannot experience it as a whole. As long as we are immersed in it, it is impossible for us to encounter it as such.

In terms of philosophical positions, this moment corresponds to a naive empiricism. In order to find the truth we are simply supposed to perceive what is there, get the facts about it, and generalize. This concept of knowledge will always be the most popular, because within our everyday immersion in the whole it functions perfectly well as a way of accumulating information. This attitude can pervade the most advanced scientific research no less than it pervades the most thoughtless, routine behavior; the questions and techniques may differ while the basic relation to the whole remains the same.

The experience of a whole as such requires a space that, paradoxically, is not contained within the whole. The verge of this space is the boundary that defines the whole, that allows it to be a “well-rounded sphere” (Parmenides, frag. 8). This limit divides what is from what is not. But in ordinary experience, nothingness is nothing; absence is absent. Particulars may be lacking and desired, but a radical other to beings as a whole is unsuspected. Things in general are present so thoroughly, so reliably, so inexhaustibly that they do not come into question.


Emergency as a Break in Familiarity


How do we emerge from this immersion in the whole? Somehow, some of us sometimes draw back from everything and feel the breath of nothingness that makes it possible to encounter beings as a whole. From the everyday perspective, this event must remain not just mysterious but impossible: a relation to nothing is no relation at all. But from the perspective of this transformed relation to the whole, the everyday attitude has lost its authority.

The break in everydayness can be provoked by many events—an error in judgment, an illness, a surprise, an experience of beauty. Sometimes the provocation is trivial; but even when it is important, it cannot fully account for the occurrence of the break. The break can also take many forms. In the opening of Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger expresses it in the question,


Richard Polt - The Emergency of Being