Marina Ludwigs is proposing a dissertation at UC Irvine that will explore both Generative Anthropology and Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (SZ) [Being and Time] as joint bases for an anthropology of narrative. Reading and discussing her proposal recalled to me that, although few readers may be aware of it, Heidegger’s ontology of Dasein (lit. “being-there”: the human as existent) is an important source of GA. I share, and have been inspired by, Heidegger’s impatience with ontic or empirical explanations of the human. A number of chapters of Originary Thinking and Signs of Paradox–on being, thinking, signification–were attempts to redirect Heidegger’s “ontological turn” toward GA. The present Chronicle only scratches the surface of Heidegger’s seminal text as an indication of the wealth of anthropological riches that originary analysis may uncover there. (All quotes are from the standard 1960 Niemeyer edition; translations are mine–with a little help from the French translation.)


The great unsolved problem of the phenomenological method is its essential solipsism, which is no mere methodological problem. Phenomenology assumes, given that we can have no direct experience of any other mind, that the individual mind must generate its own ontology and that of the world on the basis of its “existential” experience in this world. For Husserl, other people have no special status among the variously-structured objects of one’s mental universe. I assume they have minds like my own, but they need not be taken into account in my investigation of my own mental processes. Heidegger, unlike Husserl, recognizes the existence not merely of other individuals but ofbeing-with [Mitsein] and coexistence [Mitdasein]; but for Heidegger as for Rousseau, the effect of society as a collectivity is not to lead us to Being but to tempt us with loss of self in the mimetic crowd–das Man: “people,” no one in particular–which expresses “its” opinions in impersonal talk [Gerede]. No path in Heidegger’s philosophy leads, as in Durkheim, from the social group to the sacred and Being itself.

Originary thinking adds to phenomenological introspection the “empirical” knowledge, crystallized in language, of the communal nature of human reality. The originary hypothesis takes us minimally outside ourselves in a collective scene that provides a common basis for the scenes of representation we all experience within our separate minds but on whose essential identity we rely when we engage in phenomenological reflection. The originary scene is not empirically given; its postulation of communal rather than individual reality can be expressed only in hypothetical terms. But this minimal postulation of a common scene allows us to model the cultural or what Durkheim called the “social” essence of humanity. Heidegger precedes GA in pointing out the limits of empirical anthropology, but where GA situates the co-emergence of the human and of sacred Being in an ethical event, Heidegger defines the human in relation to Being alone. The ontolatry of the later writings and even his pseudo-Nietzschean glorification of Nazism can be traced to this ethical lacuna.

The individual mind begins by acquiring a language that comes to it from without. But this is not what Heidegger and Sartre call “falling” into a pre-given human reality. Our participation in the self-consciousness of Heidegger’s Dasein or Sartre’s pour-soi [for-itself] depends on our participation in a culture of shared representations at the center of which is language. Human consciousness without language or language without society is an ontological absurdity. We do not come to being-with-others from our individual experiences, we come to these experiences as a “withdrawal” from the originary communal scene. As Heidegger says, being-alone is a form of being-with. But Heidegger’s “being-with,” even in its “authentic” mode of free participation in a common project, cannot serve as a model for human culture because it is not our primary relationship to Being: “But the expression ‘Dasein’ clearly shows that ‘first of all’ this being is unrelated to others” (SZ §26, p. 120). Nor does the discussion of language as “speech” [Rede] in §34 ever tell us the source of the language by which we “express ourselves” and “understand,” nor what precisely the relation is between my self-expression and the fact that it is formulated in a mode of communication to others. Indeed, in a rare note of modesty, Heidegger ends this section on language by recommending further “philosophical research” in this area.

When Heidegger comes to analyzing the concrete use of language, in SZ as in his later works, he falls back on what is in effect a crude reflection-theory of signification: the truth of Being is revealed in language. For example, in §44a, he speaks of the relation between the sentence “The picture on the wall is hanging crooked” and the fact of the picture’s hanging crooked as an “uncovering” or “revelation” [Entdeckung] unmediated by “representations” [Vorstellungen]. By the latter, Heidegger refers to whatever empirical contents of my brain may be activated when I hear this particular sentence. But the notion of “revelation” does not tell us how we come to share, not empirical representations–a question that troubled Enlightenment empiricism from Locke on–but the Saussurian “signified” or concept that allows us to communicate with each other. “Uncovering,” like Heidegger’s many references to the Greek aletheia, truth as unveiling, points to a revelatory scene in which the empirical or “horizontal” world comes to be thought as Being by means of the sign. Language can “reveal” truth only because it was inaugurated as a means of sacred communication within the human community.


A similar analysis may be given of Heidegger’s analysis of human temporality as defined by “being toward death.” Chronicle 224 expressed the idea that the source of our awareness of death-in-general is each participant’s deferral of “cultural” death at the hands of his fellows in the originary scene. The sacred and its cultural matrix are defined not by the simple transcendence of the human sphere but by transcendence on the plane of the sign originating from deferral on that of the real world. The worldly temporality within which the participants experience the scene, in contrast to their revelatory relationship with the sign, is one of deferral, deferral of violence but also of appetitive satisfaction. By means of this appetitive deferral we learn to distinguish the atemporal being of the sign from the time-bound being of the central object that the sign originally designates. We speak of the linguistic sign as atemporal, but in reference to the sacred we prefer the term immortal since the sacred is not merely the significant but the significant that reveals itself in the world. Any individual revelation of Being is necessarily mediated by the collective revelation that revealed/established sacred Being in the first place. The tribal shaman or the romantic poet visited by the divinity is a representative of a human community coeval with this divinity.

Derrida’s différance, deferral-as-(significant)-difference, teaches us all we know about “human time.” As the postponement of appetitive satisfaction, deferral is the temporality of the Sartrean project, the projection of an intention into the future as a goal against which action will be measured. At the same time, as the averting of violent conflict and potential death, deferral is also the temporality of Heideggerian care [Sorge]. What Heidegger calls the “resoluteness” [Entschlossenheit] of Being-toward-death is not a simple category but a synthesis of these two moments of deferral in which the human temporality of the project, freed from the scene of its origin by the communal deferral of violence inaugurated by the scene itself, “remembers” its origin after having “forgotten” it in worldly activity–constituted not merely by “diversion” but also by economic exchange. Différance is inseparable from language and therefore from the human; but the language we derive from sacred interdiction and which, through the separation between sign and referent, permits the destruction of the central being to our appetitive benefit, allows us to consider our own death on the same model, as the separation of our worldly being from its “signified” or self/soul, and therefore as a thematic object of contemplation.

This analysis helps us to grasp the socio-historical specificity hidden in what we usually call “authenticity,” being “genuinely oneself.”

Dasein is genuinely [eigentlich] itself in the original solitariness of resoluteness that keeps silent and disposes itself to sustain anxiety [Angst]. Genuinebeing-oneself as keeping-silent does not indeed say “I-I” but “is” in silence the thrown being as which it genuinely can be. (SZ §64, p. 322-23; emphases the author’s)

The genuine self is a speaking being that keeps silent lest it join the mimetic attraction of the crowd, whose  distracting chatter [Gerede] separates the self from its “primitive and originary relations of being to the world, from being-with and from being-in itself” (§35, p. 170). But this contrast between silent being-in and -with and the voice of faceless Man is a romantic one, historically aroused by the recentering of society on the marketplace in the post-Revolutionary era. The language of mimesis can be opposed only to the language of mimesis deferred. There is no path from Being to the individual human mind that does not pass through the language of the human community that defines itself and is defined by the sacred.

By aborting the appetitive gesture into a sign, we become capable of experiencing time independently of the events that fill it. Our experience of originary deferral explains what Heidegger calls our “ek-static” temporality: we experience not only the past and future but even the present as a standing-outside-our-immediate-existence-in-time. What is missing from Heidegger’s analysis of time-consciousness is reference to the linguistic sign or to representation as such. Although, for Heidegger, “representations” [Darstellungen] are mental images, of interest only to empirical psychology, yet to stand before the future, past, or present is only possible in the context of a shared system of representations, themselves experienced as invulnerable to temporal change, on which our notion of time depends. It is not enough to say that I “stand outside myself” in that moment. I represent to myself a given temporal state, not as a mere image or “representation” in Heidegger’s sense–which would reduce time-consciousness to a simple extension of the now: I feel fear now because I now experience the (past, present, future) image of X–but as a scene communicable in principle to my fellow humans because derived from the shared originary scene of representation.


“Resolute” Dasein refuses the Pascalian divertissement [Abkehr, diversion] into which it falls when it lets itself be determined by any particular worldly goal. The existential project requires our constant free recommitment of ourselves to its worldly finitude. The specific goal of a given praxis is finite, yet its ultimate source of meaning is transcendent. The human can emerge only in relation to a sacred that it represents as the transcendental guarantee of its representations. The ethical function of the sacred is to defer human violence, but this deferral must be continually renewed; no ultimate or final peace is conceivable. Deferral of violence is our “ultimate” goal in the dynamic sense that it transcends any particular goal.

To call this ultimate guarantee “Being” dehumanizes what is perhaps too human when we call it God; above all it founds the fallacious image of Being revealing itself to humanity on a scene of “its own” creation. Authentic Dasein cares for its being-toward-death in an ethical context because both being and death as the ultimate object of deferral were revealed in such a context. This is the kernel of the originary hypothesis as a minimal guarantee of the moral model of human reciprocity that Heidegger’s notion of Dasein allowed him at a crucial historical moment to deny. In anthropology, the ultimate argument is always ethical, even if it requires that we postulate for it a foundation beyond ethics.