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'Demolishing the house of being'

Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021

Demolition ball on Dr John Dunn. Martin Heidegger saw philosophy as the task of destroying ontological concepts. In his view, the tradition that had given rise to these had become calcified.

This destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition. (Being and Time)

In Heidegger’s philosophy of porosity, the individual has no separate existence as a human being as such. This is in contrast to the Cartesian way of understanding the individual as a stand alone entity, which in Heideggerian terminology might best be described as Dasein as Vorhandenheit, where Vorhandenheit is an attitude like that of a scientist or theorist who observes something as a specimen in isolation.

Heidegger’s analysis is rather of Dasein as Zuhandenheit, where Zuhandenheit refers to things in a web of inter-referentiality. Meaning comes from athing’s relationship to other things in the world around it. Dasein as Zuhandenheit means:

The individual is porous and open to the world of objects.

He is an indistinguishable continuation of the world of objects.

There is no boundary delineating where human starts and human ends.

To be human is in Heidegger’s conception to be part of a deeper underlying unity - the Unus Mundus of Jung if you like.

The individual is not even a distinguishable part of the Oneness, he is at best a mode of existence of the Oneness.

The underlying unity that Heidegger describes is ‘Dasein as being-in-the-world’.

Being-in-the-worldis Heidegger's replacement for terms such as subject, object, consciousness, and world. For him, the split of things into subject/object, as we find in the Western tradition must be overcome, even in our language.

Derrida took up Heidegger’s challenge with regard to language, and intertextuality is his version of Heidegger’s Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit.

Objects described as Vorhandenheit are completely self-contained, like Descartes’ Cogito, a self-sufficient entity.

It is Zuhandenheit and the web of inter-referentiality that provides the matrix for Derrida’s idea of différance.

Meaning comes from a word’s relationship to things in the world around it, and in a text this means other words.

For Derrida, words are signifiers that have been cut off from the things they originally signified.

Signifiers in a text are embedded in an endless web of other signifiers that constantly refer to each other ad infinitum. They no longer refer to thesignifieds. God, Being, Logos, i.e. the transcendental signifieds, have all gone.

All that is left are signifieds that have turned into signifiers, that have meaning only through the endless play of signification. That is différance, a pseudo-metaphysics of absence. The signifier as supplement to the signified has no presence, it is pure absence, through an endless chain of substitutions of signifiers.

With these observations, Derrida provided the tools with which to counter the metaphysics of presence.

In the mould of Martin Luther, Heidegger may only have wanted to ‘stake out the positive possibilities’ of tradition, but he opened a Pandora’s Box in doing so.

Derrida delved into the box and found a way of deconstructing the whole of tradition rather than revitalising it.

Heidegger had identified language as the ‘house of being’. Being, arguably the core transcendental signified of the humanist tradition, was the target of Derrida’s deconstructionist project. This meant demolishing the ‘house’, leaving no grand metanarratives standing, only texts within texts within texts…ad infinitum. No subject, or author will be left, these are not necessary if the text simply refers to other texts.

Derrida left us with textual pantheism.

© John Dunn.

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