By: Richard Oxenberg
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
chickensWilliam Carlos Williams
In order to appreciate Heidegger’s thought it is necessary to see it in relation to the Western metaphysical tradition from which it has emerged. This would be true, of course, for any thinker, but it is especially so for Heidegger, because Heidegger’s thinking represents a radical challenge to the tradition itself. Heidegger does to the traditional view of Being and the world what Marx is said to have done to Hegel’s dialectic: he stands it on its head. He stands it on its head – so he might contend – in order that we might finally see it right-side-up.
The problem with the traditional view, from Heidegger’s perspective, is not that it fails to illuminate the most abstract and remote issues, the Alpha and Omega of Being, but that it fails to properly grasp what is most obvious, what is everyday, what is right before our eyes; what is, perhaps, so close that it is uncomfortably close. And in this failure it has institutionalized an interpretation of life that is inauthentic and self-alienated. Perhaps the best way to see this is to examine something that is itself rather simple and everyday, first from the traditional and then from the Heideggarian standpoint.
The poem quoted above will serve this purpose well. It is, apparently, the expression of a simple moment of life; perhaps it is a worried sigh, a moment’s nervous reflection. It might have been uttered at the end of a long day’s work, or in preparation for a new one. It is almost too simple to say anything about. We are finished with it before we have begun. And yet it is precisely here, in the obvious, in the everyday, that Heidegger begins his revolutionary investigations.