Philosophical Retreat

Bert and I are holed up in Arlington grappling with the final edits to the manuscript, so blog posting will be light this week.  See some interesting comments from Jermaine and Standing Eagle on the Kobe Bryant post, though.

In the meantime, we can report a big success for the East Coast premiere of Tao Ruspoli’s film Being in the World last week.  The film features Bert, me, and several other philosophers discussing the relation between mastery and meaning, and is interspersed with interviews of masters from the worlds of New Orleans cooking, Japanese carpentry, Flamenco and Jazz music, and various others.  Underground copies of the DVD are starting to circulate, and a theater opening is tentatively scheduled for January.  See it soon!

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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15 Responses to Philosophical Retreat

  1. Khan says:

    Hi Sean and Bert!
    I’m a philosophy student eagerly awaiting the release of All Things Shining. As a student of early and middle Heidegger, I used to believe that a new rebirth of Homeric polytheism was the only thing that could save our world from enframing. But now I feel that the Greeks and the history of being offer us moderns no real help. I did my best to experience the history of being under the guidance of Heidegger’s early and middle works, trying to figure a concrete plan of action that would lead to an overcoming of enframing and metaphysics. I learned a great deal of ancient greek, devouring everything from Pindar to Homer to Aeschylus to Pausanias etc. Everyday, I would read Heidegger’s What is Philosophy, where he writes such high praise for the greek language “The greek language and it alone is Logos.” Indeed, I am somewhat able to “think” in the greek language and can personally testify to the shining wonder it produces in one’s life. When one looks up and sees ho ouranos instead of “the sky,” it is certainly a fuller experience.
    But, due to my own thinking and also my reading of late, late Heidegger, I have come come to think that ultimately, there is nothing us “moderns” can learn from the Homeric Greeks that will save us from the technological understanding of being. Allow me to spell out why I came to this conclusion.
    My first doubts arose when I read one of Heidegger’s last publications “On Time and Being.” On page 70, the professor taking notes records Heidegger as saying “In the scope of this question, we must acknowledge the fact that aletheia, unconcealment in the sense of the opening of presence, was originally only experienced as orthotes, as the correctness of represen­tations and statements. But then the assertion about the essential transformation of truth, that is, from unconcealment to correctness, is also untenable.” For me this was shocking. Not even Homer (in the surviving text we have) experienced truth as disclosedness! The idea of the history of the west as covering up the truth of being cannot be maintained if the Homeric Greeks were unable to experience truth as disclosedness! If I am wrong to draw this conclusion, please show me where my error lies, for this conclusion troubles me deeply!!
    The story would have to now be something like, “some thinkers, presocratics, holderlin, heidegger have experienced truth as disclosedness, and they give us poetic thinking. Most other thinkers experience truth as correctness of representation, and they give us metaphysical thinking and science.” Because there is no longer a story about how truth as adequatio is derivative from truth as unconcealment, there seems to be no meaningful relationship between metaphysical thinking and poetic thinking, historically or otherwise. They seem to simply be different ways of thinking, one is conducive to wonder, appreciation, and gratitude for the giving of being, the other is conducive to calculation, efficiency, and gaining control.
    At this point, I realized that neither way of thinking can “criticize” the other way of thinking. First of all, poetic thinking is outside the domain of tallying pros and cons and weighing options in terms of their utility. I cannot sum it up in any phrase, but I will say it is something like a deeply respectful beholding. Metaphysical thinking is about trying to figure out what is “really going” on so the processes can be manipulated; pure beholding, wonder, and appreciation are always at best a temporary beginning that should be got over as quickly as possible. Being respectful of what is being given adds nothing to efficiency and efficiency cannot help us to become more respectful. Respect can learn nothing from efficiency, efficiency can learn nothing from respect. For poetic thinking to claim that metaphysical thinking does not pay heed to what is most meaningful is the same as metaphysical thinking asserting that poetic thinking is not efficient enough. There can be serious dialogue between the two kinds of thinking.
    For an individual who considers himself capable of both kinds of thinking, what can be done? I have tried going for one or the other. Going completely metaphysical for me meant lots of plato, aristotle, liebniz, german idealists etc. It meant maximazing my day to the point where I ate the correct number of calories, worked out the proper number of times, read the recommended books, stayed up to date on the latest news, planned for my future etc etc. After not too long, I saw everything as banal. Everything in my life became something that could be done better or worse, all of my behavior was directed towards some intended gain and there was nothing else. I was eventually overwhelmed by complete boredom, appreciated nothing, and eventually fell into deep depression. Life seems pointless when everything has been optimized and made efficient with all surprise and risk taken away.
    So then, for some years, I tried to go entirely in poetic thinking. I stopped learning the sciences, read only poetry and heidegger, and tried to really find a path that was conducive to that gentle but inexhaustable wonder for things so beautifully shown by Holderlin. But metaphysical thinking is everywhere now. Phones, computers, jobs, social status, money, banking, current events, the book industry, the university, modern films, music, and lord help us even personal relationships… all of it has been taken under that ever-optimizing technological attitude. The poetic thinker has next to no way to live a life and remain sane in this context. His gentle, unassuming openness is absolutely obliterated in the unceasing oblivion of rational intention that confronts him everywhere. Holderlin spent the majority of his life insane, Trakl killed himself, Celan killed himself, Hart Crane killed himself… the list goes on. Perhaps I am drawing a false correlation here, as poets tend to lead turbulent lives. But from personal experience trying to maintain that Holderlin’s gentle openness without living a completely sheltered life or feeling incredibly (to an unhealthy level) depressed by global nihilsm that grows ever-stronger is becoming more and more impossible in the technological age.
    As a sidenote, I realize that metaphysical thinking and poetic thinking are beyond the realm of intention. It is not necessarily “up to me” to decide, nor is it within my power to be fully one or the other. The phenomena I encounter is that I can be sensitive to the presencing of the present and stand back in wonder and gratitude, but eventually the realm of enframing confronts me and I am forced into metaphysical thinking. Example: I have a few moments everyday of really feeling a deep appreciation for my family, my job, my life, for being, but eventually I am thrown into the everday and find myself falling back into the routine competitions, rational planning of life, technological vortex. I am trying to have a meaningful life while remaining in tune with my culture…
    So what am I doing now? For awhile I would allow myself to be metaphysical when the constraints of my life demand it, and otherwise I tried to cultivate poetic thinking. But this itself is the rational, efficient answer to the problem. I suspect this is largely what most people do. What we really need however, is another way through, a god unlike those worshipped by the polytheistic Greeks and unlike the monotheistic rationality that has taken hold of modern society. It seems that beginning with Homer and the presocratics, man has experienced truth and therefore being in two fundamentally different and irreconcilbale ways. It seems to me that the only resource we have in confronting this issue is the same single resource all other thinkers in our history have had… our culture. And what is our culture now? Enframing. The only way through seems to be to push enframing to its own limit and break it over its own back. I see no other option.
    But of course this would mean that the history of being and the especially the Homeric Greeks cannot help us. This result is terrifying as it means I have to look once again (and this time more fully) into enframing at its worst. My hope is that eventually the culture would turn to its self to see that all its attempts at control and figuring things out are really just fearful reaction to how radically not in control of things we are. Enframing is the complete denial that everything meaningful has always already been decided and given in no predictable or rational way and there is nothing we can do about that. The phenomenon that our moods are determined by presencing of presence in the thinging of things etc., in conjunction with the fact that presencing of the presence is determined by nothing is all known as enowning. Enowning is what ‘lets’ presencing and therefore what lets our moods be the way they are, lets things thing. It is my hope that pushing enframing’s denial of enowning to its completion will change something but I have no idea what this would be like. I think that Heidegger himself in his final years realized that all we can do is push enframing to fulfill its course.
    In Four Seminars, on page 60-61, he says
    “An excellent way of approaching enowning would be to look into the essence of enframing [Ge-Stell], insofar as it is a passage from metaphysics to another thinking (“a Janus head” it is called in On Time and Being), for enframing is essentially ambiguous. “The Principle of Identity” already says: enframing (the gathering unity of all ways of positing) is the completion and consummation of metaphysics and at the same time the disclosive preparation of enowning. This is why it is by no means a question of viewing the advent of technology as negative occurrence (but just as little a positive occurrence in the sense of a paradise on Earth).” and
    “Enframing is, as it were, the photographic negative of enowning.”
    And what I think is especially pertinent to the idea of “luring back the gods”:
    “Thinking enowning with the concepts of being and the history of being will not be successful; nor will it be with the assistance of the Greek (which is precisely something “to go beyond”). With being, the ontological difference also vanishes. Looking ahead, one would likewise have to view the continual references to the ontological difference from 1927 to 1936 as a necessary impasse.”
    In conclusion I just want to say that I think Heidegger has shown us how to think poetically and what makes a life meaningful. I think that the Homeric Greeks were the best example of what makes a life meaningful. But I do not think anything the Greeks did or said can help us in our current situation. Heidegger, like all great thinkers, is far, far ahead of his time. As he says in the Spiegel interview, there is no plan of action, no reading list, no doctrine or program that poetic thinking can expound in order to turn the world towards enowning. The only thing to do is push enframing to its limit. For Heideggarians like myself this is so terribly hard to admit since, in concrete terms, it amounts to just going along with enframing while preparing a readiness for the turn. I know Heidegger would deplore this passive characterization, but I don’t know how else to put it.
    So Bert and Sean, while I admire and will certainly read thoroughly All Things Shining once it is released, if your program of action is to read classical literary and philosophical texts hoping to find some way to combat the nihilism of enframing then I feel that the book ultimately cannot help us to escape enframing. Of course, I have not read a page of it, my Heidegger interpretations (i am not entirely sure about enowning) could be completely wrong-headed, my ideas completely absurd. I am open to all of this and am not here to win arguments or judge people’s work. Rather, I feel acutely the profound nihilism of our age and simply want to know what the great thinkers of my own time (that’s you guys!) think we can do about it.
    As a note on all this, I realize setting up the problem in terms of an opposition between poetic and metaphysical thinking may be too much of a simplification, but because what I quoted above in Time and Being, it seems to me that there is thinking with truth as disclosedness and truth as adequatio and all we can do is ask “why is the opening self-concealing?” that is to say, why does man continually think metaphysically if he can have the wonder of thinking poetically? As Heidegger says, it is with this question that we reach the end of philosophy.
    Thanks for your papers, books (Sean I am reading The Relevance of Phenomenology… for the 3rd time now!), audio lectures, blogs, movies, interviews, and dedication. Engaging your thoughts has truly changed my life and I cannot express how happy it makes me to be able to engage with you guys on this blog!!
    Finally, as Malick put it, “excuse the grammar.” I wrote this pretty quickly and realize it may be full of typing mistakes.

  2. Khan says:

    I meant to write:
    “There can be NO serious dialogue between the two kinds of thinking.”

  3. Sean D. Kelly says:


    Bert and I have read your long and fascinating comment, and though we don’t have time to respond to it in detail, we do want to make one short point. Namely, you seem to miss something crucial about Heidegger’s interpretation of the pre-Socratic Greeks. He’s clear (and our project of re-appropriating Homer is based on this) that although the Greeks experienced being as disclosure, they failed to articulate that experience. The difference between them and our appropriation of them is that we don’t just experience disclosure, we recognized it *as* disclosure. This is the distinction, in the Question Concerning Technology, between technology being a danger, and its being a saving possibility when we recognize it as a danger. This is cryptic now, but from what you’ve written we think you will understand it. Hoping it helps.

    Sean and Bert

    • Khan says:

      Sean and Bert,
      You’re completely right about the Presocratics failing to name disclosure. The greats, Parmenides and Heracleitus, both think disclosure but the excess is too much for them and it all gets lost with Plato. I see your point now, Parmenides and Heracleitus DID draw from disclosure and this is why stand together and not opposed as all historians of philosophy would say.
      I want to take back the claim that truth as disclosedness and truth as correctness have no relationship to each other. Truth as disclosedness CAN be transformed into truth as correctness. How does this change my interpretation of the quote from ON TIME AND BEING? I think that when Heidegger says that “the assertion about the essential transformation of truth is untenable” he is talking about the history of being he propounded for most of his life. The story goes like this: humanity dwelled in truth as disclosedness without being aware of it but then there was a transformation and great decline into metaphysics. Finding out that Homer uses truth in the sense of correctness makes this story about humanity in the west untenable. The story now goes like this: We came out of an understanding of truth of correctness, almost got out of it with the Presocratics, but then plunged into the history of metaphysics. What then is the relationship between truth as disclosedness and truth as correctness? It is analogous to the transition from the ready-to-hand to the present-at-hand understanding of things. That is to say, we dwell in transparent coping, breakdown occurs and we then begin thinking in terms of objects and the present-at-hand. Rationality becomes useful only when there is a breakdown and a problem to be solved. To try and see everything rationally is to look at everything like a problem to be solved. In our culture, the preponderance of optimization and making efficient is a result of trying to figure out a rational basis for everything. This means that your project of re-examining those at he beginning (the Greeks) is indeed very important.
      Not only that. Our place seems to be even more special than the Greeks in that we, with the help of thinkers and poets, can both see AND name disclosure – do what even the greatest Greeks could not! The project seems now to be to appropriate the Greeks, reclaim that excess that was lost but also try and keep our eyes on it long enough to articulate it. Seeing disclosure as disclosure will allow us also to see enframing as enframing, enframing can then be seen as the saving possibility. Such thinking encourages as a strategy intense rethinking and re-appropriation of the Greeks. This is a big part of your project as I understand it.
      But despite all this I still think that the above quotes from later Heidegger have important consequences for the project of All Things Shining. The most important consequence is this: re-appropriating the Greeks is only half of what is required of us!
      The following may sound very contradictory but I think the quotations from Heidegger would support this. The Greeks must be re-appropriated and then completely abandoned. I say this because I think that thinking in a greek way will not allow one to see disclosure as disclosure. There is something intrinsic to greek thought that prevents naming disclosure, and this is why we were lead into metaphysics. I will support this with a quote from Heidegger’s “Basic Questions of Philosophy.” page 155 reads:
      “This basic attitude toward phusis, techne, as the carrying out of the necessity and need of wonder, is at the same time, however, the ground upon which arises homoiousis, the transformation of aletheia as unconcealedness into correctness. In other words, in carrying out the basic disposition itself there resides the danger of its disturbance and destruction. For in the essence of techne, as required by phusis itself, as the occurrence and establishment of the unconcealedness of beings, there lies the possibility of arbitrariness, of an unbridled positing of goals and thereby the possibility of escape out of the necessity of the primordial need.”
      There is alot in there that I cannot full flesh out but I want to draw the conclusion that the Greek thinking of techne and poiesis is not up to the task of naming disclosure. Thinking in a Greek way, which means in the way of techne and poiesis, will help us to see disclosedness, but we must look elsewhere if we are to name it appropriately. It was not some personal or psychological failure of thinkers like Parmenides and Plato that led to truth as correctness, it was the essence of Greek thinking that began metaphysics.
      What role then does Greek thinking play for us? Lets look more at what has happened. Just as enframing is coming into play, just after the completion and the reversal of metaphysics by Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, we have Heidegger. The experience of the simplicity of peasant life was completely at odds with thinkers like Kant, Hegel, and Husserl. For me, the experience of Holderlin is completely at odds with tracking all the news on finance and current events and trading stock high speed on two different computers all linked to endless technology (one of my other interests). Or is it? It seems that there is something about going through the metaphysics sequence and ending up with enframing that allows Heidegger and therefore us to grasp what the Greeks could not. That is to say, there is something about enframing that is even more powerful than the Greeks!
      I was wrong to say that proper appropriation of Greeks cannot help us at all. But I also think that the saving power lies just as much in enframing as it does in the Greeks. Now, how can enframing save us? I think when enframing tries to complete itself, its bottom will fall out and we will enter a new age beyond even the Greeks and Heidegger. Enframing is not at its completion yet, meaning that we dont yet see EVERYTHING as resources. I think, however, that when enframing becomes as dangerous as possible, when we begin to see even ourselves, even our lives and moods as resources, enframing will have reached its tipping point. What will this look like? Paradoxically, this will result in the greatest openness and sensitivity in the culture. It will be a complete turn and a deep and profound respect for what we are not in control of. Seeing disclosure as disclosure will be just one result of such a respect. This all sounds so paradoxical but I think late, late Heidegger realized this and is why he says the feeling of terror is helpful to us moderns.
      Now, what would this all look like? I have found this phenomena in what I believe to be the current peak of enframing, financial markets. Since the 1970s there has been an almost exponential rise in the use of mathematical models in the stock market. Quants are the name for mathematically minded financial thinkers working in the field. Once marginal kind of geeks, they came to completely dominate the industry. What was the result of this? Mathematics and formalization work best in small doses in these fields. But in these times, when applied to something like the totality of global economic activity, trying to mathematize EVERYTHING leads to disaster. What could be more metaphysical than trying to find a mathematical formula describing all of economic human acticvity? All investments, all financial instruments become inter-linked. Everything has been over-optimized and there is no room for unpredictable events. All these insanely optimized instruments become intertwined and the whole system becomes absurdly fragile. Mathematics cannot deal with the unpredictable randomness of the world and so complete optimization results in incredible fragility. The financial sector is becoming more and more sensitive to events whose happenings are not susceptible to rational formalization. Witness the crisis of 2008. One thinker who has touched on this is Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan (despite his powerful assessment of the financial services industry, Taleb still remains deep in the grips of metaphysics).
      Now, imagine such complete optimization in ALL domains. Once our lives were completely optimized, what is not under rational control, what cannot be made efficient will show up readily. I do not know what this will look like but it will be something like how the finance industry is now… they are trying to continue with business but they simply cannot start use the same strategy of mathematize everything… they don’t know what to do and there is alot of uncertainty. Returning to the old strategy will just result in more crises but they cannot see any alternative. Nothing short of a complete gestalt shift of economic thinking (seeing humans as rational thinking subjects is great in theory but worse than nothing in practice).
      It is my feeling that the completion of enframing will result in a similar kind of uncertainty at the culutural level. The new sensitivity to that which cannot be optimized or put under human control would be equal if not greater than Greek thinking. It will also be immune to any kind of fall or decline that occurred at the beginning of Greek thought. Why is this the case? Why would the completion of enframing be able to see disclosedness as disclosedness in a way that the greeks never could? Because enframing is a result of the history of metaphysics, beginning metaphysics is no longer an option. The problem with Greek thinking is that it could not name that excess and therefore saw metaphysics as the next step. With enframing however, this cannot happen. This is because any sort of new metaphysics would be a regress. Regress is inimical to the essence of technology, where getting better and more efficient is the ONLY thing that is important. The profound sensitivity brought about by the completion of enframing IN CONJUNCTION with metaphysics no longer being an option would be an understanding of being even greater than the Greeks.
      So I think that your book is one half of what is necessary. We do need to look at the Greeks so that we can have some idea of disclosedness. However, simply repeating the Greeks would lead us to miss naming disclosedness once more. What is missing? The answer of how to keep disclodness in view cannot be found in Greek culture… it can only be found in ours and that is what allowed heidegger to think what he did. The first step is recognizing disclosure by looking into the Greeks… the second step is pushing enframing to its limit so that we can go beyond the Greeks.
      I don’t think I had fully developed this idea in my first post so if I have contradicted myself I apologize, take this post as my position.

  4. Sean D. Kelly says:

    Tao’s film Being in the World just won the audience appreciation award at the Brooklyn Film Festival. A few months ago it won the Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Vail Film Festival. Small festivals, of course, but good news for Tao’s film anyhow.

  5. Ed says:

    Hello Bert and Sean,
    Congratulations on the wonderful film! Mr. Ruspoli did beautiful work bringing these Heideggerian ideas to cinematic light. I had the fortune of attending the Saturday screening. Bert, your presence there was a real treat! I only wish Heidegger himself had been more musical…
    Cheers, and looking forward to the lure of the Gods-

  6. Britt Z. says:

    Hi, I’m a literature student heavily influenced by Martin Heidegger and the ideas behind your current project. To say the least, it’s my guiding paradigm. I just wanted to add that Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther” is a very counter-Enlightenment work, undermining the mature Subject, and very attuned with Martin’s philosophy of moods. The novel is part of the “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Urge/Storm and Stress) movement, instantly reminding me of Dante’s retelling of Francesca and Paola (there is actually an entire scene where Werther and Lotte give into their passions while reading “Ossian” translations). Werner is passionately seized by an overwhelming array of dispositions, recounting, in one of his letters, his “transitions from grief, to excessive joy, from sweet melancholy to fatal passion,” noting that “there are those who would strongly disapprove” of such behavior ( 7-8).” In addition, I found this quote very relevant, keeping in mind that there are “gems” throughout the entire novel articulating my point:
    “O you rational people…. …Passion! Drunkenness! Madness! …it is
    unbearable to hear people say of almost anyone who acts in a rather free, noble or unexpected way: ‘That man is drunk, or he is crazy!’” (58).

    I know that your project, from what I am guessing, relies mainly on “works of art,” pieces of literature that “shine” for an epoch; however, are not marginal works, those pieces that stand in opposition to any central “standing” and mode of revealing just as important? I know such an opposition is very important to Heidegger’s later thought. To best articulate how Western civilization got “off track,” so to speak, includes not only finding major works of art through the various clearings, but also finding the marginal works that kept elements of the “Homeric” understanding alive in safe keeping. If this is so, then “The Sorrows of Young Werther” is a key marginal text! I hope in your free time, which I’m sure with a book about to be released you have little, that you at least glance through the novel (that is if you have not already read it, I apologize for being presumptuous). Thanks and best of luck with your work!

    Oh, and Dr. Dreyfus, please record more of your lectures!

    • Khan says:

      Britt Z,

      Sorrows is an incredible book and it is certainly a classic of western literature. However, I do not think Heidegger would agree. Heidegger never liked Goethe and in fact never even purchased any of Goethe’s books, scholars that have kept track of his library records have shown how he would take out Goethe books but never buy them like he did all his other books. Although he does quote Goethe late in his life, it is mostly from Goethe’s random thoughts in letters etc. and never from his works.

      Additionally, on page 70 something (i forget which one) of heidegger’s lecture book “Parmenides” Heidegger criticizes Goethe severely. Goethe completely misundersttod the greeks and saw them in line with the humanist tradition of dante and shakespeare. this is a huge mistake. In fact, if you read goethe’s biographies, Goethe never even learned greek beyond a superficial level. Goethe’s depiction of moods throughout his works remains in the clutches of romanticism and therefore views moods as emotions and expressions of the human spirit… even more to the point, goethe tries to react against newtonian science by making his own goethean science wherein all of nature is in harmony. As heidegger very astutely remarks ( i forget where) Goethe failed to properly escape metaphysical-scientific projections of nature and therefore was doing nothing different from Newton. This idea of nature as a harmony and moods as an expression of the human spirit is completely alien to the greeks and I would also say completely alien to heidegger. As Heidegger writes in “Parmenides” “Goethe is a disaster.”

      • Britt Z. says:

        Thanks for the response Khan. Though I think you missed my key point. It is important to get beyond the author-ity of the author. Goethe’s later writings are irrelevant to “Sorrows,” especially since he rejected the Storm and Urge movement and all the themes found in the novel. In “Sorrows,” Werther’s moods come over him, ending autonomy, affecting how entities reveal themselves, in a similar fashion of that found in the Homeric Greeks (It’s interesting that Werther only read Homer as well). Nowhere in “Sorrows” do we find evidence that moods are an expression of the human spirit, as is often the case in Romanticism. The generalized, loose label known as “Goethe” may be a disaster, alien to Heideggerian and Greek thought, but not “Sorrows,” making it something incredible and special!

    • Khan says:

      You are right about Sorrows here, Britt Z. I went back and looked at the relationships between wether’s moods and the way nature presents itself in various ways. Perhaps Sorrows may be quite the Heideggerian text indeed.

  7. Charles Spinosa says:

    Sean, Bert, and other All Things Shining bloggers,

    Anticipation for _All Things Shining_ grows sharp. I hear from Sean that he is now working over the copy edited notes. That is the report from the front, but changeable, as all reports are. Sean’s and Bert’s thought happens in wonder, and a blinding light could easily shine out of the page where Sean is double-checking the reference.

    What new blinding lights should we anticipate? I suspect that most who write or read her are wondering that. Most will know well Bert’s philosophy 6 lectures, “From gods to God and Back,” and know that Bert continuously sharpens and reinvents. Over the years he has put in then removed such figures as Shakespeare and Milton. Will we see T. S. Eliot, Auden, and David Foster Wallace as some of Sean’s comments suggest?

    Will this book shine (perhaps blindingly) on the path for leaving the technological way of being. Khan, who has written in response to Sean’s “Philosophical Retreat,” does not request this directly, but writes to make sure that Bert and Sean do not make any mistakes along that trail out of technology. He makes sure they do not simply try to reinvigorate the Greek way of being and so fail at the apocalyptic task. Britt Z. asks Bert and Sean to remember some of the marginal works of art, though it is hard to think of Romanticism without the _Sorrows of Young Werther_. Her invitation is indirect but clear. Sean and Bert should do _Werther_ justice either in _All Things Shining_, the next book, or the blog itself. Britt Z has the honor of heading the list in making such requests. I believe that there will be many others.

    Why do we care about Sean and Bert’s project so much? Why do we want to make sure that Sean and Bert don’t go down a wrong path? (I am there with Khan.) Why do we want them to cover this or that favorite text? (I am there with Brit Z. too.) What kind of writers generate this form of care and enthusiasm? My answer is: Bert admires his subjects and his readers, and especially his readers in admiring his subjects. That has been the hallmark of his writing. He has always shown admiration for readers, even hostile ones. When I wrote with him, he would never let a sentence go that did not take care of the difficulties a reader might face. In thinking of Bert’s writerly mood, it is hard not to recall one of his favorite lines from Melville, “Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror and could still be social with it.” No matter how much he disagreed with a reader or an argument, he would be sociable. He would extend good humor. He would shine light. To feel admired by an author is rare. Having seen a couple of draft chapters, I can attest that Sean and Bert’s corporate voice heightens Bert’s own. Sean brings the sensibility of a gift giver, a bestower, to the voice. In each page, the two of them write to make sure we receive a gift. Sometimes they draw our hearts and minds up to where the gift can come into our grip on its own. Sometimes they simply give it directly. Hence, we anticipate Shining all the more.

    Since we are in anticipation, I want to propose a way to anticipate _All Things Shining_ to make sure that it grips us with its accounts when it arrives. Nothing would be worse than for us to be awed by its brilliance but not to be gripped by its shining. In his lecture course captured in the _Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics_, Heidegger saw Neitzsche and writers following him as giving us brilliantly correct accounts of who we are and our way of being. But the accounts failed to grip us (69-77). Heidegger diagnosed that contemporary man is bored with himself, bored with human being (132). It was not the fault of Nietzsche or of the accounts. It was us. Heidegger wrote this before he thought about technology and its way of being, but the diagnosis fits with the later thinking. Bert and his graduate students have always faced this dilemma in many guises. Years ago, Bert and his graduate students used to ask themselves, “How can Heidegger write about artworks, words of a thinker, and other cases of truth establishing itself when the world established by the artworks and words is dead?” The worlds of the Greek temple and the Medieval cathedral are dead. We would answer, “Heidegger was sensitive to the marginal practices left over from those worlds. He interprets them in light of those practices.” But as Bert stood in front of the lecture halls and as we led discussions in sections, it became clear that Heidegger was doing more and that we had to do more. We were engaging students. But ultimately they were bored. We did not generate, if only for a short while, a new fundamental mood.

    “What if,” we wondered, “former works of art and former words of thinkers could shine like things thinging?” A thing things when we engage with it in such a way where we experience four critical aspects of being: First, we experience our identity as finite mortals. Consider a family meal, which when it works, is a thing thinging. During it, we experience ourselves in the fragile role of father, mother, son, daughter, each with an allotted time to be lived in the rhythm of the time of a human being. We experience the thing under a sky that brings clear intelligibility to it. In the family meal, the intelligibility is maintained by the nourishing food sorted and delivered—in a beginning, middle, and end—to invoke the telling of the stories of the day to each other. We experience as well the earthy, generative mystery, upon which the mortals and sky depend. The combination of tastes, seating arrangements, and nuclear family roles (as invented in the 17th century) are parts of an unfathomable, earthy mood that mysteriously reconciles the differences around the table. Last, if we live this family meal fully, we feel blessed—and it does not make much sense to say it any other way—by the divinities, the attuning figures, of family. (Leave the ontology of divinities minimal. Know them by acknowledging their powers.) The divinity makes the reconciling mood, the light of the meal’s intelligibility, and our own fragility shine through our hearts so intensely that it brings us to tears of joy. That is a power. That’s a thing thinging. That is what Bert and Sean are offering to do for us with each of the artworks and thinker’s words they take up.

    It is a tall order.

    It is the tall order Bert and his graduate assistants have tried to fill for two decades now.

    The monuments of the Western canon are to come alive and shine, each in its own way. To do that readers are to experience monument as the original mortals seeing the world in the its light and standing on its mystery. Readers are to experience the blessing of the monument’s divinities. But readers will miss the destiny the monument inspired. We cannot live in worlds which have passed. We draw on only marginal practices. It requires sensitivity to our finite situation to find such practices. With that sensitivity readers will experience the Western tradition anew and, so far as they can travel from world to world, experience unconcealing anew. I think that the experience will only open for us if we prepare by attending to things thinging now in our midst and admiring them as we prepare to be admired in reading the book.

  8. Charles Spinosa says:


    I was interested in your messages and I want to say right away that Sean and Bert have obviously not been recently dwelling on the passage in “The End of Philosophy” where Heidegger says that the Greeks never experienced truth except as correctness (70). As you suggest, Heidegger goes on to say that the forgetting of unforgetting [Greek for truth] was strong for the Greeks.

    Remember (and I am not sure that you have forgotten), Heidegger does not take back the other words the Greek thinkers used for being: physis [wushing up] for Anaximander, logos [gathering] for Heraclitus, or moira [bestowing or destining] for Parmenides. These are all far closer to unconcealing than enframing or world-picturing. As you acknowledge, the Greeks do offer us a fuller sense of unconcealing, even if not an answer to our deprived way of being.

    Sean and Bert, I suspect, have been dwelling in a more radical and surprising text from very late Heidegger in “Summary of a Seminar” where Heidegger is reported to say,

    From the perspective of Ereignis [“enowning”] it becomes necessary to free thinking from the ontological difference. From the perspective of Ereignis, this relationship shows itself as the relation of world and thing, a relation that could be understood as the relation of being and beings. But then its peculiar quality would be lost. (37)

    That is my wow moment. Heidegger challenges us to think of the West in terms of world and thing and suggests that that way of thinking captures better the way people, things, and worlds come forth than the ontological difference or the epochs of being.

    Though the Greeks might never have experienced truth in any other way than correctness, Heidegger leaves us with the assignment of understanding how the ancient Greeks experienced world and thing. I believe that Bert and Sean are taking up that assignment. In completing it, they might will find out why forgetting of unforgetting overpowered even the ancient Greeks.

    • Khan says:


      I am delighted to see you on this blog! Your essay highway bridges and feasts absolutely blew my mind. I am sad sean did not record your guest lecture for his later heidegger class that he posted online.

      As far as the words for being in the first beginning, phusis, logos, and moira, I agree that these are incredible words. But this is where I get confused… for me I think that abandoning the ontological difference would be like abandoning the claim “being is not a being” and therefore, without the ontological difference, phusis, logos, and moira would lose their special significance. I guess what I do not understand is how thinking from ereignis
      abandons the ontological difference, names what the greeks failed to name, and saves us from enframing. can you help me out here? thanks so much


      • Charles Spinosa says:

        Khan and other interested parties,

        Thanks for your kind words about “Highway Bridges and Feasts.” Bert and I had one insight after another flowing when we wrote it. In light of _All Things Shining_, a companion to their book would be my “Heidegger on Living Gods,” where I work on making sense of gods as attuners and give the best case I could give at the time for the experience of attuners. I wish I had time to return to and refine the thinking of that essay. I expect that Bert and Sean’s book will go beyond where I went.

        I don’t think we should read Heidegger as abandoning the ontological difference. Rather, he is putting it on a new footing where the difference between being and beings comes out as the difference between world and thing. Again, I suspect that Bert and Sean have signed up to unravel what this means in historical and phenomenological detail.

        In anticipation, I’ll say what I think. I read Ereignis (enowning) as the tendency in the practices to bring things out in their ownmost. Bringing something out in its ownmost, however, requires a world, a context of practices, tools, roles, and so forth for making things, people, and so forth intelligible. Worlds change as practices start gathering around different kinds of things to bring them out in their ownmost. The practices for caring for tools in their uniqueness gave way to practices for dealing with things as standard. I believe the change was motivated by insufficient fitters (making custom parts to fix guns) on the battlefield. Once guns came to be made of standard parts, those practices gathered in all sorts of other things like furniture, steam engines, and so forth until these practices became dominant and the practices for caring for things (and the role of fitter) became marginal. Standardization progressed to disposability. We can see how one world brings a hand-made piece of furniture out in its ownmost and fails to bring a gun made of standard parts out in its ownmost. (I recall that it took a very long time for anyone to get that you could actually make the whole gun out of standard parts and that that might be something worth doing.) But the world of standard guns does not bring out hand-made chairs or any other thing out in its ownmost. Disposability gives us another new world with new things brought out in their ownmost, say, disposable razors and cups. I’ve just raced though the shift from techne, to a world-picturing understanding of things, to a technological understanding.

        If I am right about Ereignis, then four things follow regarding the ontological difference. First, Ereignis drives the history of being and the ontological difference. But Ereignis also drives the maintenance of marginal practices where craftsman make wonderful, unique wooden furniture costing top dollar today or where standard-construction lovers make airplanes or ships that last for half a century or more.

        Second, something happened in the West to get Ereignis gathering totalizing historical worlds. It might have been the naming of being as phusis or one of the other names that got Ereignis going that way. It could have been the alphabet. Money? If the totalizing side of being is not fundamental to Ereignis, then the distinction between being and beings is not as important as the distinction between world and thing, out of which emerges in the West the distinction between being and beings. The distinction between being and beings emphasizes some form of totalizing.

        Third, Ereignis could lead us to a world more like that Odysseus than of, say, Parmenides. In the _Odyssey_, Odysseus encounters multiple worlds with their things. There is no single triumphant world. I believe that _All Things Shining_ considers an Odyssian experience of world and thing as a future and a saving power. In any case, Heidegger might be suggesting that kind of future when he advises us to cultivate little things.

        Fourth, Heidegger’s attempts to think being and truth in their general terms–say, presencing or, in Dreydeggerian, showing up for being or unconcealing for truth–are not, from the point of view of Ereignis, his most important work. The particular ways in which things appear in their particular worlds under the attunement of the particular gods matter more.

        Khan, thanks again for your note.

  9. Charles Spinosa says:

    In considering what I last wrote, it occurred to me that, given your scholarship, you are probably already familiar with my “Heidegger on Living Gods.”
    Best regards,

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