Home > Uncategorized > Krzysztof Ziarek “The Limits of Life”

Krzysztof Ziarek “The Limits of Life”

Ziarek, Krzysztof 2011. The Limits of Life. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 16(4): 19-30.


The bind between the anthropological conception of the human being and the anthropocentric notion of reality relies on the articulation of the human as a rational animal, that is, as an animal form of life endowed with reason. (20)


Heidegger’s still insufficiently understood point is that, even if technology – technological products, processes, transformations, etc. – can be understood as anthropological, produced by humans, what is at work in technology, namely the momentum driving modern science and its simultaneous development and reliance on technological advances, does not originate simply in the human and cannot be explained in terms of human production. (20)


Four Seminars provides the following gloss on the enframing (Ge-stell): „In the Ge- one hears the gathering, the unification, the bringing together of all the modes of positing [stellen]. Let us be more precise about the positing. Heidegger says: the meaning of positing is here that of a challenging. It is in this sense that one can say: ‘‘Nature is set upon [hin gestellt] to yield energy’’ or nature is compelled [gezwungen] to deliver its energy. The meaning is that of being held to something, whereby that which is held to something is at the same time forced to adopt a certain form, to play a role, a role to which it is henceforth reduced. Nature, held to delivering its energy, henceforth appears as a ‘‘reserve of energy.’’ (75) (21)


Since for Heidegger animals are not capable of Dasein, this means that Heidegger’s discourse on animality, even if it tries to avoid hierarchy or teleology, remains based on the notion of privation: ‘‘Thus, no hierarchy, no teleology, neither finalism nor mechanicism, and the grand tradition of the Aristoteliansteresis,of privation’’ (Animal, 156). This privation means here that animals are seen to be deprived of three key capacities: world, logos, and finitude, and that these animal ‘‘deficiencies’’ solidify the uncrossable limit between the human and the animal in Heidegger’s thought. (23)


What is clear is that Heidegger keeps a double perspective on the relation between the human and the animal: if one thinks the difference between the human and animals within the spectrum of living beings, as Derrida proposes, then the animal mode of behavior appears as privation (lack of world but also lack of work, laboring, etc.). Yet if one looks at this difference from the perspective of Dasein and the question of being – and not of living beings – that is, from the perspective of being and not of beings, then this difference is not privation but rather being able to do without, perhaps even being able to spare. In later Heidegger,Gelassenheithas something of this tenor, as it bespeaks a critique of making, laboring, manipulating, which indicates that, as a relation to being, Dasein happens as a letting go of the priority of the technical comportment to being. (23)


[…] I want nonetheless to call into question the ‘‘privilege’’ or priority which Derrida’s thought continues to extend to living, life, and living beings. For it appears that, in Derrida, ethics coincides with the realm of the living, no longer affording priority to human beings but, nonetheless, operative within the sphere of the living. Is ethics inescapably bound with life, limited to beings that can be said to be alive, and thus exclusive of beings that cannot claim the status of the living? (24)


Does an ethics need to be based on the notion of the face, which, as Derrida shows, can be extended to animals but certainly fails to include non-living beings? (24)


While ‘‘world’’ is a complex and evolving notion throughout Heidegger’s work, I want to highlight here the way in which the thought of Da-sein (the term denotes ‘‘existence’’ in German but hyphenated by Heidegger comes to refer idiomatically to ‘‘being-there’’ as characteristic of the human mode of being) from the start moves the emphasis away from life to the import of the nonhuman and the non-living (world, being, event) in understanding the human. (25-26)


In this context Da-sein (being-there), where the hyphen marks precisely the site (Da) of the relation to being (Sein), refers to the clearing or lightening (Lichtung) as the opening out into the

dimension which can then be spanned by humans. Understood this way, Dasein, as Heidegger put it in Mindfulness, is in its unfolding (Wesen), in its becoming essential, non-human: ‘‘Da-sein is not man but that through which the ‘dehumanization’ [Entmenschung] of man (the overcoming of the ‘historical’ animal) becomes possible, since Da-sein above all provides beforehand the site for the exposedness of man unto being…Da-sein is not just the ground of man’’ (Mindfulness 186). (26)


Heidegger’s is a thinking which proceeds by way of a certain ‘‘topology’’ of sites and the relatedness they open and span, rather than being primarily determined by or limited to beings. This is why Dasein is not about beings to begin with, whether living or non-living, but about being, which needs to be thought for Heidegger in terms of the event (das Ereignis) and not life. This site marked as the Da happens as the between opening the dimensionality and meting out the relations configuring the world, the between irreducible either to the non-living or to the living: it is the meting out of the span of their (un)folding. (26)


It is because of this emphasis on being – over and beyond beings – that Heidegger undertakes repeated critique of life, living beings (Lebewesen) and lived experience (Erlebnis). Key to understanding this ‘‘critique’’ of life is the distinctive manner in which Heidegger thinks mortality primarily not in relation to living and its unavoidable cessation but instead by way of openness of Da-sein to the singular and one-time occurrence (event) of the world. (26)


Mortality in this context refers not so much to the cessation of life as it does to the attunement

(Stimmung) to the Da, that is, to the specific event of the dimensioning of the mirror-play of the world. It allows for the experience of the folding as differential binding, a breaking open of the between in its mirroring continuation and renewed meting out. It is the experience of the temporal and the spatial afforded to this „between’“ which never becomes a separation or a cut. Mortality marks humans in a way that allows them to be on occasion in tune with this time-space, the dimensionality, of the event of the world, that is, it lets them do the spanning, as Heidegger puts it. In other words, the Da marks the site of the human care for being, and thus also for any and all beings. (26)


Ethics in Heidegger’s sense would not be about relations among beings but about the ethos of the event, that is, about the possibility of dwelling in the site (Da) of the relation to being. Such ethos breaks out not only of the human–animal relation but also the circle of living beings, contextualizing beings, living and non-living, within the broader expanse of the world and its each time singular and one-time event. (27)


Heidegger claims here that the techno-scientific development, which has led to the distinct possibility of annihilating the globe, has been possible because the experience of things has been proscribed for the benefit of developing the facility of manipulating, altering, and profiting from objects, materials, and resources. This is why things have not yet been able to appear as things, which means that they have always already been annihilated, appeared as nil, as non-things: objects, entities, resources. The surprising concern for things takes center stage, as Heidegger delivers perhaps the most thought-provoking remark in the essay, stating that the possibility of physical annihilation is ‘‘only the grossest of all gross confirmations of the long-since-accomplished annihilation of the thing’’ (168). (27-28)


Crucial to my point here is this juxtaposition between things and living beings, the numbing numbers of living beings vs. the rare manifestation of things. The hint we might read in these lines is that it is precisely the thinking of living beings, and especially the calculus of the living, as in, for instance, ‘‘human resources,’’ that blocks the experience of the thing. This experience of the thing in its ‘‘thinging’’ is related to the opening of the world: ‘‘Men alone, as mortals, by dwelling attain to the world as world. Only what conjoins itself out of the world becomes a thing’’ (180). Mortality allows world to attain world by way of letting things be things, and thus, in their thinging, stay the world. (28)


One could say that it is perhaps for the sake of living beings, that is, for the sake of their survival, that, paradoxically, the centrality of living has to be called into question. Yet this transformation is important not only for the sake of living beings or even for the sake of all other beings but for the sake of being. This is the moment which marks Heidegger’s departure from human-centric models of experience, as the human being becomes reinscribed as only a part of the site of relation to being, that is, as participating in the always and primarily more than human or living Da-sein. And such a radical shift away from the priority of the interhuman, the relations among living beings or even inanimate beings can occur by the displacement of the concern from beings to being, that is, to the worlding, the onefolding and infolding (Einfalt) of the world in its spatio-temporal dimensionality. It is with things, with world and the non-human, that is, with attending to being in its event, never reducible to or even con-figurable through the prism of beings, let alone of the living, that human existence unfolds, tracing the relatedness of the event and the mirroring of the non-living and the living. (29)

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