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«Logocentrism and the Gathering Λόγος: Heidegger, Derrida, and the Contextual Centers of Meaning1 Jussi Backman University of Helsinki Abstract ...»

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Heidegger initially translates λόγος either as Rede47, which does not mean simply “speech” but rather “discourse” or “articulation” and is cognate with the English verb “to read,” and later as Lese, which as a noun means “gathering” or “picking the harvest,” but also relates to the verb lesen, “to read,” and to Lege, “lay” or “placement.”48 Like the Latin lego/legere, “to read,” lesen and legen are cognates of the Greek λέγειν, the most concrete meaning of which is “(selective) gathering,” “picking out,” or “collecting.”49 What is the connection between λόγος, reading, and gathering? According to Thomas Sheehan, “ ‘[R]eading’... translates what the early Heidegger (but not Derrida) meant by logos.”50 In the activity of reading, a multiplicity of written symbols, which in alphabetic systems have no intrinsic meaning but simply represent Jacques Derrida, “La dissémination” [1969], in La dissémination (Paris: Seuil, 1982), 405; translated by Barbara Johnson as “Dissemination,” in Dissemination (London: Continuum, 2004), 399.

46 Jacques Derrida, “ ‘Une “folie” doit veiller sur la pensée’ ” [1991], in Points de suspension: entretiens, ed.

Elisabeth Weber (Paris: Galilée, 1992), 365; translated by Peggy Kamuf as “ ‘A “Madness” Must Watch Over Thinking,’ ” in Points…: Interviews, 1974–1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 354. Cf. Timothy Clark, The Poetics of Singularity: The Counter-Culturalist Turn in Heidegger, Derrida, Blanchot and the Later Gadamer (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 132.

47 Heidegger, SZ, 32–34, 160–66; Being and Time, 30–32, 155–61.

48 See, for example, Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 33: Aristoteles, Metaphysik Θ 1–3: Von Wesen und Wirklichkeit der Kraft [1931], ed. Heinrich Hüni (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1981), 117–48; translated by Walter Brogan and Peter Warnek as Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ 1–3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995), 99–126; GA 55, 266–70; “Logos (Heraklit, Fragment 50),” in VA, 199–221; “Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50),” 59–78.

49 See Hjalmar Frisk, Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, vol. 2 (Heidelberg: Winter, 1970), 94–96; Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque (Paris: Klincksieck, 1999), 625–26.

50 Thomas Sheehan, “Derrida and Heidegger,” in Hermeneutics and Deconstruction, ed. Hugh J. Silverman and Don Ihde (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1985), 213. On the interpretation of λόγος as “reading,” see also Wilhelm S. Wurzer, “Heidegger’s Turn to Germanien—A Sigetic Venture,” in Heidegger toward the Turn: Essays on the Work of the 1930s, ed. James Risser (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999), 196.

individual phonemes, are selectively collected—not by any active effort but, after one has learned to read, more or less automatically—into more and more comprehensive meaningful units: words, phrases, and sentences. As the formation of meaning through the selective combination of units into unified and articulated wholes, reading is gathering.

Heidegger’s early lecture courses devote much attention to Aristotle’s account of the complex structure of λόγος, defined in De Interpretatione as a meaningful linguistic utterance composed of inherently meaningful parts. What particularly interests Heidegger is Aristotle’s analysis of the predicative structure, captured with the formula “something as/of something” (τὶ κατὰ τινός), of the declarative assertion (λόγος ἀποφαντικός), i.e., the particular form of discourse capable of being true or false.51 Heidegger derives the declarative “as”-structure, which he takes to be characteristic of a theoretical statement primarily oriented to presence-athand or accessibility (Vorhandenheit), from the more primordial, temporally multidimensional “in-order-to”-structure of readiness-to-hand or availability (Zuhandenheit). Λόγος as a complex propositional unity is thereby referred back to the complex temporal unity of a practical situation.52 Heidegger also stresses the fact that Aristotle characterizes discursiveness in terms of a collecting that preserves apartness and articulation: the “something-as-something” structure of λόγος both connects (σύνθεσις) its elements and holds them apart (διαίρεσις).53 As Aristotle, De Int., 5.17a8–22.

See Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 20: Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs [1925], ed. Petra Jaeger (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1979), 210–92; translated by Theodore Kisiel as History of the Concept

of Time: Prolegomena (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 156–214; Gesamtausgabe, vol. 21: Logik:

Die Frage nach der Wahrheit [1925–26], ed. Walter Biemel (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1976), 127–61 [hereafter, GA 21]; translated by Thomas Sheehan as Logic: The Question of Truth (Bloomington, IN: Indiana

University Press, 2010), 107–35; SZ, 66–72, 153–60; Being and Time, 66–72, 149–55; Gesamtausgabe, vol. 29/30:

Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik: Welt–Endlichkeit–Einsamkeit [1929–30], ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1983), 416–532 [hereafter, GA 29/30]; translated by William McNeill and





Nicholas Walker as The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (Bloomington, IN:

Indiana University Press, 1995), 287–366.

53 Aristotle, De Anima, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956), III.5.430b1–4. Cf. Martin

Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 19: Platon: Sophistes [1924–25], ed. Ingeborg Schüssler (Frankfurt am Main:

Klostermann, 1992), 184–86, 614–15; translated by Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer as Plato’s Sophist (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997), 126–28, 425–26; GA 21, 135–61; Logic: The Question of Truth, 114–35; Gesamtausgabe, vol. 27: Einleitung in die Philosophie [1928–29], ed. Otto Saame and Ina Saame-Speidel (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1996), 46–47; GA 29/30, 454–55; The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, 313–14; GA 55, 383–84. See also Sheehan, “Derrida and Heidegger,” 215.

such a differentiated unity, the Aristotelian λόγος points to the wide and rudimentary sense of

the word that Heidegger discovers in the Heraclitus fragments:

The Λόγος of which Heraclitus speaks is, as selection [Lese] and collection [Sammlung], as the One that unifies all,... the original gathering [Versammlung] that preserves [verwahrt] beings as the beings that they are. This Λόγος is being [Sein] itself, in which

–  –  –

The Heraclitean λόγος, Heidegger maintains, is not primarily a human faculty, but rather simply the formation of unified meaning from differentiated elements through a selective and collecting gathering. However, the other central meaning of λόγος and λέγειν, “saying, speaking out, telling,” is neither secondary nor derivative. On the contrary, λόγος is in itself a discursive and linguistic gathering; even more, it is the very essence of discursiveness and language. In an important and revealing passage, Heidegger tells us that λόγος is also the basic narrative structure of discursiveness, i.e., the formation of consistent and “logical” narrative meaning in the form of a “story” or “tale” (Sage), which precisely presupposes a selective placing-together or “collocation” (Lege) of narrative elements.

Ὁ Λόγος, τὸ Λέγειν, is selective collocation [lesende Lege]. But at the same time λέγειν always means for the Greeks to lay before [vorlegen], to exhibit [darlegen], to narrate [erzählen], to tell [sagen]. Ὁ Λόγος then would be the Greek name for speaking as telling, for language [Sprache]. Not only this. Ὁ Λόγος, thought as selective collocation, would be the essence of the tale [Sage] as thought by the Greeks. Language would be the tale.

Language would be the gathering letting-lie-before [versammelnde Vor-liegen-lassen] of what is present [Anwesenden] in its presencing [Anwesen]. In fact, the Greeks dwelt in this Heidegger, GA 55, 278.

essence of language. But they never thought this essence—Heraclitus included.55 In other words, the very beginning of Western “logic” in Heraclitus, i.e., the emergence of the predominant role of discursive rationality as the internally coherent and consistent unity of articulate thought and experience, is inherently oriented by the narrative function of human language. However, the Greek thinkers, Heraclitus included, never explicitly regarded λόγος as language in the modern sense, i.e., as historically and culturally situated, constantly evolving, and context-sensitive discourse. On the contrary, language was conceptualized “logocentrically” as a derivative material and vocal representation of λόγος, as its culturally specific expression.

[L]anguage came to be represented... as vocalization, φωνή, as sound and voice, hence phonetically.... Language is φωνὴ σημαντική, a vocalization which signifies something. This suggests that language attains at the outset that preponderant character which we designate with the name “expression” [Ausdruck].56 Dislodging this hierarchy between discursiveness and language—which Heidegger himself to a certain extent upholds in Being and Time in establishing discourse (Rede) as the foundation of language (Sprache) and the latter, in turn, as the “utteredness” (Hinausgesprochenheit) of discourse57—and understanding λόγος as inherently linguistic would therefore bring about a profound transformation with regard to the “logocentric” conception of the ideal and universal essence of discursiveness. The Heraclitean λόγος is absolutely universal. However, there is no universal language; there are only particular languages that constitute particular historical communities and the particular ways in which they experience meaningfulness.

Heidegger, “Logos (Heraklit, Fragment 50),” in VA, 220; “Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50),” 77 (translation modified).

56 Heidegger, “Logos (Heraklit, Fragment 50),” in VA, 220–21; “Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50),” 77.

57 Cf. Heidegger, SZ, 160–66; Being and Time, 155–61.

“The” language is “our” language; “our language” not only as native language, but also as the language of our history.... Our history—not as the course of our destinies and accomplishments, known from historical accounts, but we ourselves in the instant [Augenblick] of our relationship to be-ing [Seyn].58 When discursive meaningfulness is situated within such a linguistic framework, the absolute unity of λόγος turns into the more modest, temporally situated and contextual unity of a particular historical instant. This transformation is an integral part of what the later Heidegger

refers to as the postmetaphysical “other beginning” of thinking:

That Greek interpretation of ὂν ᾗ ὄν [sc., being qua being] as ἕν [one], that heretofore unclear priority which oneness and unity have everywhere in thinking of being....

Seen more deeply, that unity is merely the foreground—seen from the vantage point of collecting re-presentation [sammelnden Vor-stellen] (λέγειν)—of presencing [Anwesung] as such.... Presence can be grasped as collection [Sammlung] and thus be conceived of as unity—and with the priority of λόγος must be so grasped. But unity itself is not of its own accord an originary and essential determination of the being of beings.... In terms of the other beginning, that unshaken and never questioned determination of being (unity) can and must nevertheless become questionable; and then unity points back to “time.”... But then it also becomes clear that with the priority of presence (the present) wherein unity is grounded, something has been decided, that in this most self-evident priority, the strangest decision [Entscheidung] lies concealed, that this decisive character indeed belongs to the abidance [Wesung] of be-ing [Seyns] and hints at the uniqueness [Einzigkeit], in each instance, and the most originary historicity of be-ing itself.59 Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 65: Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) [1936–38], ed. FriedrichWilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1989), 501 [hereafter, GA 65]; translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly as Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 353 (translation modified).

59 GA 65, 459–60; Contributions to Philosophy, 323–24 (translation modified).

For Heidegger, the unity of the Heraclitean λόγος as gathering is based on the ultimate primacy of the pure, absolute, and undifferentiated presence as such that unifies all particular beings. As Heidegger understands it, the Greek “first beginning” of the Western metaphysical mode of thought essentially consisted in the absolutization of pure presence, of the sheer fact of the intelligible accessibility of meaningful reality to (human) awareness, epitomized by Parmenides’ fragment B 3: “For thinking [νοεῖν] and being [εἶναι] are one and the same.”60 The result of this absolutization is the “purification” of presence of any references beyond itself, to any other-than-presence.61 However, such purification entails an implicit “de-cision” in the literal sense of a “cutting-off” of presence from the temporal background context in terms of which the present is encountered in concrete singular situations—in other words, an abstraction from the historical uniqueness (Einzigkeit) of meaningfulness. While the metaphysical tradition basically looked for the unity of being in the realm of radical transcendental universality, Heideggerian postmetaphysics would look for this unity precisely in the internal unity of every instance of meaningful presence, characterized by radical heterogeneity and irreducible singularity. The “essence” of things is no longer a universal identity shared by particular instances, but rather the singular situatedness of things in a context.



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