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2002-04-08

Martin Heidegger
B. 9.22.1889 Messkirch, Germany / D. 5.26.1976 Freiberg, Germany
Death

Sein und Zeit. The urge to read Heidegger—where does it come from?
I:3:16. To the everydayness of Being-in-the-world there belong certain modes of concern. Out of the blue—a passing scan of a reference or two, nothing unusual—all of a sudden Boom! There it is.
These permit the entities with which we concern ourselves to be encountered in such a way that the worldly character of what is within-the-world comes to the fore. Say my forbearance towards the Jews is waning as it waned last week—where can I go for a re-fill? Not to the news, that’s for sure. A little more news and one step below pork or not, this infidel gal would been seen at a pro-Palestinian rally.
When we concern ourselves with something, the entities which are most closely ready-to-hand may be met as something unusable, not properly adapted for the use we have decided upon. The tool turns out to be damaged, or the material unsuitable. Not to my mad landlord. Not to my boss. Not to my pill-pushing neighborhood therapist.
In each of these cases equipment is here, ready-to-hand. We discover its unusability, however, not by looking at it and establishing its properties, but rather by the circumspection of the dealings in which we use it. When its unusability is thus discovered, equipment becomes conspicuous. And Murray Hill’s no help at all.
The conspicuousness presents the ready-to-hand equipment as in a certain un-readiness-to-hand. But this implies that what cannot be used just lies there; it shows itself as an equipmental Thing which looks so and so, and which, in its readiness-to-hand as looking that way, has constantly been present-at-hand. . . A tried and true resort then—maybe to Nietzsche—no not again, not so soon. Shakespeare? The Bible? Silence. Silence.
In our concernful dealings, however, we not only come up against unusable things within what is ready-to-hand already; we also find things are not ‘to hand’ [“zur Hand”] at all. Again, to miss something in this way amounts to coming across something un-ready-to-hand. Or shall I just go ahead and scold the Jews by finally reading Being and Time by Martin Heidegger, a huge black book whose purchase subjected me, from a pinch-faced Harvard Square clerk, to 1997’s most memorable “like this you’re gonna understand”-ing sneer.
When we notice what is un-ready-to-hand, that which is ready-to-hand enters the mode of obtrusiveness. The more urgently we need what is missing, and the more authentically it is encountered in its un-readiness-to-hand, all the more obtrusive [um so aufdringlicher] does that which is ready-to-hand become—so much so, indeed, that it seems to lose its character of readiness-to-hand. Yes—Heidegger’s Being and Time—to fill a few weeks on the brink, what better bedside reading topic than Being—or Time for that matter? I’ll stock up, take two birds with one stone—or two less a wing, a claw, a lower beak, lost in translation.
It reveals itself as something just present-at-hand and no more, which cannot be budged without the thing that is missing. The helpless way in which we stand before it is a deficient mode of concern, and as such it uncovers the Being-just-present-at-hand-and-no-more of something ready-to-hand. . . (Or was it an “observe the pathetic unawareness that he was a Nazi” sneer—I'd need more detailed records from those days to determine the likeliest course of my projections.)
Anything which is un-ready-to-hand in this way is disturbing to us, and enables us to see the obstinacy of that with which we must concern ourselves in the first instance before we do anything else. Being: me. Time: Sunday, an hour later, in Brooklyn—my bed. My personal urge to read Heidegger: spent; he is cracked in the head on a fault line clearly visible from space as fatal and decisive. I choose forbearance over falling in.
With this obstinacy, the presence-at-hand of the ready-to-hand makes itself known in a new way as the Being of that which still lies before us and calls for our attending to it. But what it meant (or might) to whomever or whatever is counting—how many cash-poor hunchers in bookstore aisles; how many studious kooks scribbling in hovels; how many of the relaxed and rewarded, sinking down for a tingle; how many fingers parting the pages—counting every one. Waiting for the signal to fire up the skillet for our lava yolk’s release.

Quotation from Being and Time (1927)

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