This is a letter I sent to a philosophy professor at the University of New Mexico. His only response was: "You're welcome Bill. Best wishes for your own journey."
I am attempting to read your review of Carol White’s “In Time and Death: Heidegger’s Analysis of Finitude”. You called it “On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Reading Heidegger Backwards: White’s Time and Death.
The difficulty I am having is that it appears to be written by a person who is standing on the edge of an abyss and who can theoretically explain what’s on the other side but can’t help you get there. I suspect that he hasn’t made the leap for himself, doesn’t know how to make the leap, or maybe he isn’t aware that there is a ‘leap’ to be made.
As an example, in your review, you said “White’s view, put simply, is that ‘‘death’’ is Heidegger’s name for the collapse of an historical understanding of being, a collapse which creates the space for a rare authentic individual to disclose a new historical understanding of being and so inaugurate a new age.”
What you said is accurately and eloquently stated yet I ask you, did it create any space in you “for a rare authentic individual”? Did what you read and wrote about “disclose a new historical understanding of being” and move the world of philosophy forward or are you just ‘reporting’ on something you read?
Don’t take what I am saying personally, that would be a waste of your valuable time. What I am addressing here is a condition that permeates every philosophy department and household in this country and I suspect, in the world.
Every philosopher has been listened to and read by people standing on the edge of the abyss. Every review of every philosopher’s work has been written by people who are intimately aware of the edge they are standing on and that there is ‘something’ on the other side. Nobody has written about how to get to the other side and if they did, the people on the edge of the abyss wouldn’t be able to hear it because it’s “outside the box” of ‘edge thinking’. I call ‘getting to the other side’ the ‘Leap’. Nobody writes about how to bring about “the collapse of an historical understanding of being”. They haven’t even identified the “historical understanding of being”. They still treat it as if it is a ‘thing’ that needs to collapse.
How do we “create the space” for authentic individuals? How do you tell a goldfish about water?
Why is it that in approximately 2500 years of philosophy nobody has written about ‘how to get to the other side’? This is the question that needs to be asked.
The world is standing on the edge of the abyss wanting to make the ‘leap’. If you read philosophy while standing on the edge of the abyss you get explanation about the ‘edge of the abyss’ and you don’t even notice that it’s the same ‘edge of the abyss’ it’s been for 2500 years from a variety of points-of-view. You might be able to impress the other people around you while standing on the edge. You might be able to present yourself as knowledgeable with guesses about what lies on the other side. But down deep inside you know you don’t know and you keep looking for the one thing the knowing of which will change everything, if you could only put your finger on it.
You went on to say, “Still, every Heidegger scholar will want to read Dreyfus’s Preface for themselves, because this mature and insightful work, in which the world’s leading expert on Being and Time critically synthesizes almost every major interpretation of Heidegger on death, represents an uncircumventable contribution to our understanding of Heidegger, one with respect to which all future interpreters of Heidegger’s views on death will want to situate themselves.”
Hubert Dreyfus’ is not “the world’s leading expert on Being and Time” because he hasn’t made the leap. Here’s an interesting point, “If you haven’t made the ‘leap’ you don’t know what you’re talking about”.
In 1995 I purchased a copy of “Being and Time” and am currently reading it for the 73rd time. I also have a copy of “The History of the Concept of Time” and have read it over 70 times. My collection of books by Martin Heidegger has grown to over 70. I bring this to your attention because somewhere between the 70th and 72nd reading of “Being and Time” something changed.
I realized that for 61 years I had been standing on the “edge of the abyss” becoming familiar with the ‘edge’ and not leaping. The next thing I noticed is that somewhere in that 61 years I discovered that what I was looking for wasn’t contained in what I was reading. All of the best minds in history, Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Plato, Kant, Descartes, Frankl, Jung, etc. had nothing more to say to me. I had nowhere to turn to and in hindsight I realized that I wasn’t ready to make the ‘leap’.
Like I said earlier, I picked up a copy of “Being and Time” in 1995 (the black and white dust jacket wouldn’t leave me alone). In the beginning I could only read a couple of paragraphs at a time and I would put it back on the shelf. But like I said, the dust cover wouldn’t leave me alone so I’d pick it up again and again and again. One day I noticed that I was reading the book expecting to get ‘something’ out of reading it, so I read it to get what I got and didn’t concern myself with what I wasn’t getting. That seemed to work because I was no longer asking “What the hell does he mean” and grinding to a halt. About the 5th or 6th reading I noticed that I was racing ahead of Heidegger and my conclusions and presuppositions were getting in the way of what he was saying (I was guessing, a lot). To keep this from happening I spent the next 6 months typing all 387 pages on my computer. Focusing on the typing of the book seemed to work for me. I was ‘reading’ without ‘reading’ and I was hearing Heidegger through osmosis. Every time I came to the end of the book I noticed that I was not the same person I was at the beginning of the book, so I read it again. I kept asking myself “What is it about this book that causes change in me when no other book did?” Somewhere around 50 or 60 readings I noticed that there was no more subject (me) and object (book), I was be-ing the conversation. Shortly after that I realized there was no Heidegger, there was only me be-ing a conversation. As I said earlier, somewhere around the 70th to 72nd reading something changed. I remember waking up one morning knowing that I had made the ‘leap’ and that “Being and Time” is an operator’s manual.
(The last 3 paragraphs Heidegger calls “Dasein’s potentiality-for-Be-ing” and that it is an issue for Dasein.)
Earlier I asked, “Why is it that in approximately 2500 years of philosophy nobody has written about ‘how to get to the other side’?” Maybe they have and maybe they haven’t. A philosopher ‘standing on the edge’ may have written something about the ‘other side’ only to flee in the face of be-ing. Maybe he did that several times in the writing of his book. A student reading philosophy may have read something about the ‘other side’ and fled in the face of be-ing just like the philosopher did. I really don’t know. All I know is this, until a person makes the ‘leap’ into be-ing, every book (the bible, the Koran, philosophy, etc.) will be nothing more than some ‘object’ being read by some ‘subject’. It will be nothing more than a ‘thing’ to read, analyze, talk about, and impress your friends with your knowledge about instead of being the operator’s manual that it is. The books will only produce more standing on the edge of the abyss; it will not produce any ‘leaping’. I guess what is to be gleaned from all this is what Heidegger said, which is, “The very fact that we already (underline mine) live in an understanding of Be-ing and that the meaning of Be-ing is still veiled in darkness proves that it is necessary in principle to raise this (the question of the meaning Be-ing) again” and that resolving this question is apriori to all other study, no matter what the subject.
All thought, be it theological, sociological, biological, or physics begins with philosophy, philosophy holds the future of the world in the palm of its hands. There is a world full of people ‘chomping at the bit’ to “disclose a new historical understanding of being”. For 2500 years philosophy has been imploring us to ‘make the leap’ and we still choose the safety of the ‘edge of the abyss’. Life is not a concept to be understood. You are not a being, the “animal rationale”, a combination of characteristics (concepts), you are be-ing.. “The collapse of an historical understanding of being” will happen when individuals take the ‘leap’ into be-ing, that’s when “rare authentic individuals” will show up.
What follows is a short dialog between Socrates and Glaucon in the “Allegory of the Cave”.
[Socrates] And now shall we consider in what way such guardians will be produced, and how they are to be brought from darkness to light, -- as some are said to have ascended from the world below to the gods?
[Glaucon] By all means, he replied.
[Socrates] The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better than night to the true day of be-ing, that is, the ascent from below, which we affirm to be true philosophy?
[Glaucon] Quite so.
Plato and Socrates knew it 2500 years ago. The time has come for the rest of the world to stop hiding out on the edge and make the ‘leap’. This is what philosophy is all about! This is the ‘calling’ of philosophy!
If you have read this far I thank you for be-ing there to write to so I could work this out for myself. And thank you for taking the time to include me in your busy schedule.