52 The Emergency of Being

between a historical event of our thinking of being and a constant, necessary relation between us and being.45

If being is given to us in an event of appropriation, we can think of history as centered on, or springing from, moments when appropriation happens. “History” here does not mean occurrences as studied by historians, but the way our shared lives extend from our past to our future. This is not just a sequence like the flowing of a stream—the next moment following upon the heels of the last—but a happening in which, for the sake of the future, we appropriate the past to which we belong, opening the present. The notion of be-ing as appropriation suggests a semiotic understanding of history as a sending and receiving of messages that sustains and refreshes the significance of beings.46 Such messages include not only texts and sayings, but all the practices that are handed down to us as our heritage. Even the most everyday, habitual act is arguably an event of appropriation, since it receives and interprets an inherited practice. However, events of profound appropriation must be rare. The interplay between past and future may light up the present most deeply and intensely at moments of crisis—moments when fundamental questions emerge, moments of emergency.

This movement of historical appropriation might unify the various forms of belonging we have considered. The belonging-together of entities within a meaningful world of spatiotemporal appropriateness is founded on our reception of inherited messages and practices. As soon as we sense that these patterns of appropriateness are founded, we sense that they are contingent; their historical foundation is not an absolute ground. The contingency of meaning makes it possible for us to be expropriated, or alienated from the world, in an emergency—a moment of defamiliarization. But if being can become our own only within history, then this moment must impel us to re-appropriate the familiar—making it more deeply our own. This response to our crisis will then found a new configuration of appropriateness.

Earlier I suggested three models for types of human “activity” that would lie beyond ordinary choice, and would be activities of self-creation as well as the creation of being: culture, psychological reactions, and mathematical thought. If being and being-there are in a reciprocal relation, it would be misleading to say that we “create” being. However, we could say that we make being our own at the same time as it makes us its own; this is what happens

45. I explore this possibility further in my discussion of “bethinking” in chapter 2, where I also distinguish Heidegger’s approach from that of Hegel, who could be said to tell a story about how we come to appropriate being.

46. As Kenneth Maly puts it: “thinking that is seynsgeschichtlich thinks the handing-over or sending, gathering-throw, shaping-sending, carrying-forth that is be-ing as enowning”: “Turnings in Essential Swaying and the Leap,” in Scott et al., Companion, 164