Wednesday, 21 August 2013

How to Become Master of the World

Young Arendt and Heidegger


Two quotes shed light on what this philosophical poem was attempting:

Genealogy of Morality,
First Essay
"They are now informing me that not only are they better than the powerful, the masters of the world whose spittle they have to lick (not from fear, not at all from fear! but because God orders them to honour those in authority) - not only are they better, but they have a 'better time', or at least will have a better time one day. [...] This workshop where ideals are fabricated - it seems to me just to stink of lies." 
Hölderlin, in a letter to Dr Ebel
"Habit is such a powerful goddess that no one, presumably, can rebel against her without being punished."
The philosophical poem Habitation aimed at the simple distillation of truth achieved by the Pre-socratic philosophers in their economy of language. Heidegger, a huge influence on me at the time, was sceptical of Karl Marx's work and on video (available on YouTube: poked fun at the following sentence by Marx:
"The philosopher has hitherto interpreted the world. The point is, to change it.”
Heidegger's commentary runs, in English translation, as follows:
"By citation of this sentence and by following this sentence one overlooks that a world change presupposes a change of the world’s representation, and that a world representation, can be won only by the fact that one interprets the world sufficiently. That is, Marx bases [the sentence] on a completely certain world interpretation to demand his change. And, doing this, he himself knows that this sentence is not a sound sentence. He gives the impression as though it were directly spoken against philosophy, [but] in the second part of the sentence, just as unspoken is the philosophical claim that is presupposed [namely, that the world as concept needs to be interpreted].”
It would seem that for Heidegger, changing the world means, first, changing or a least reinterpreting under a strong lens what is understood by the word "world". Heidegger, to my knowledge, did this very thing in several of his works, such as Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, the essay The Essence of Ground, anthologized in Pathmarks and his most famous book, Being and Time.
The piece is entitled Habitation and provides an interpretation of that concept. Heidegger in What is Called Thinking?, a lecture transcript, said (concerning our profoundly unscientific expectation that the sun will rise every morning or that, indeed, such an expectation is neither founded on nor in need of scientific proofs) , 
"It will be objected that men have become habituated to the regularity of these phenomena. As though the habitual went without saying, as though it were understood! As though there could be anything habitual without habitation! As though we had ever given thought to habitation!. . ."
This piece, more than anything, shows my past devotion to the altar of philosopher Martin Heidegger as well as his one time lover and fellow intellectual Hannah Arendt. A preoccupation with language and the concept of mastery is also evident.


I. Habitation means Habituation

Hannah Arendt wrote that men [live on the earth and] inhabit the world. (The Human Condition)

What does this mean?

It means

(1) that we inhabit the world. The world is a matter of habit. We are in the world in habituation.

(2) that the world inhabits us. The world is in us who inhabit it. Without us there is no world.

It follows that the world we inhabit - and inhabits us - habituates us.

II. Case of a Thoughtless World

If the world we inhabit - and inhabits us - is thoughtless, then this thoughtlessness habituates us thoughtlessly.

In such a world, because thoughtlessness is so habitual, the inhabitants are habituated thereto, that thoughtlessness is.

Can habituation be overcome?

Not in so far as we inhabit the world.

III . Thoughtful Habituation

Habituation, in a thoughtless world, can nonetheless be thoughtful.

In thoughtful habituation, the world's thoughtlessness no longer habituates us thoughtlessly.

In thoughtful habituation, the world's thoughtlessness is to us no longer habitual.

How does thoughtful habituation differ from thoughtless habituation?

IV. Mastered and Masterful Habituations

In thoughtless habituation our habits are thoughtless. If the world we inhabit - and habituates us - is thoughtless, our habits become thoughtless.

The world masters our habits.

In thoughtful habituation our habits are thoughtful. If the world we inhabit - and habituates us - is thoughtless, our habits do not become thoughtless.

Our habits master the world.

V. Mastery means Containment

Martin Heidegger observed that man is man and not animal in so far as he is world-forming.  (Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics). 

One might add, following

(1) that man is man and not animal (who is world-poor) when his habituation is thoughtful for then his habits master the world and he is world-forming. He is world-forming because his habits master the world; therefore his habits contain the world but the world does not contain his habits.

(2) that man is animal and not man when his habituation is thoughtless for then his habits are mastered by the world and he is world-poor. He is world-poor because the world masters his habits; therefore the world contains his habits but his habits contain no world.

N.B (1) Thoughtful or, which is the same, mindful habituation, however awkward that formulation may sound, could be interpreted as an ethic and readers who happen to know Greek will see the link - the Greek word ἔθος translates as habit. Habits can be ethical or unethical. The decision between thoughtful or thoughtless habituation, as Aristotle insisted, is part and parcel of any ethical project in life (see Nichomachean Ethics).

In this vein, Hannah Arendt drew up a link between thoughtlessness and evil or, to put it the other way round, the act of thinking helps prevent against the possibility of doing bad in so far as when I think, I take responsibility for my actions, good or bad. A thoughtless world, according to Hannah Arendt, would be an evil world, a world overrun by unthinking, harmful and life-denying banality, which does not stop and think about its own words or deeds.

See also this sentence from Contributions to Philosophy: On The Event

Will the time of the gods then be over and done and a relapse into the mere life of world-poor creatures commence, ones for whom the earth has always remained only something to be exploited.
N.B. (2) "[H]umans are the still undetermined animals" according to Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, 62). See also Writings from the Late Notebooks, 2[13], "for up to now man has been the 'unfixed animal'." Heidegger preempted the possibility for a redefinition of the essence of man, over and above the rational animal (from the Latin, animal rationale, a translation of the Greek ζῷον λόγον ἐχῶν, the living being who is possessed of speech) in Part 1 of his lecture course What is Called Thinking? and indeed many other of his works. Is man man, i.e. is the essence of man determined, in so far as he thinks his habituation and thereby apprehends the world as world? For a sustained analysis of the difference that lies between man and animal see Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. To quote a passage from my online review for that book:
'Heidegger, in perhaps my favourite analysis of his I have read so far, distinguishes man and animal not on the basis of the absence or presence of "reason" but in terms of their relationship to the world, defined as "the accessibility of beings as such and as a whole". The animal is poor-in-world in that while it is taken by or captivated by beings in its own "encircling disinhibiting ring" it does not apprehend beings as beings. A dog may lie under a table, say, but the dog does not apprehend the table as table. For Heidegger behaviour is proper to animals whereas comportment is proper to human beings, because we are not merely taken up by beings and captivated by them in a moving behavioural pattern, or at least not always, but we apprehend them and acknowledge them as such. Man, therefore, is world-forming, world is given to man as world and from this manifestness of beings (world) derives the logos apophantikos, propositional discourse.'
In Part Two of What is Called Thinking?, Heidegger asks "ist das Denken ein Danken?" (Is thinking a giving of thanks?) - Heidegger draws a link between thoughtfulness and thankfulness so that, in his terminology, thoughtlessness is a form of thanklessness, a lack of heed paid to what makes us be, what gives us life as human beings. A thoughtless world, therefore, is a world which does not give thanks, which prefers to "blink"rather than think and thereby give thanks to  that which makes us possible as human beings.

N.B. (3) "Without us there is no world" intends the exact same thing as the sentence

"World is only, if, and as long as a Dasein exists."
which was uttered by Heidegger in his lecture book Basic Problems of Phenomenology.

Conclusion: I can only conclude, along with Nietzsche in his Gay Science (aphorism 295) that

"the most intolerable, the truly terrible, would of course be a life entirely without habits, a life that continually demanded improvisation - that would be my exile and my Siberia."

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