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«Heidegger on Gelassenheit Barbara Dalle Pezze Abstract Martin Heidegger’s Conversation On A Country Path About Thinking (1966a) deals with the ...»

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ISSN 1393-614X

Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy 10 (2006): 94-122


Heidegger on Gelassenheit

Barbara Dalle Pezze


Martin Heidegger’s Conversation On A Country Path About Thinking (1966a) deals with the concept of

Gelassenheit experienced as the essence of thinking, a thinking that is not intended as representing, as

self-determining thinking, but is conceptualized as “meditative thinking.” Meditative thinking is the kind of thinking that thinks the truth of being, that belongs to being and listens to it. To understand Gelassenheit as the essence of thinking means to have a different and more radical insight into the essence of who we are. The aim of this paper is to investigate what Heidegger means by Gelassenheit, but not proposing an answer to a “what is” question. This paper is instead an attempt to enact a thinking transformation that through a close reading of Heidegger’s work will lead us on that path towards Gelassenheit, on which a different understanding of man’s innermost being can be glimpsed.

Conversation on a Country Path about Thinking One of the major problems we face when approaching Heidegger’s thought is that we are forced to dwell in uncertainty. When Heidegger speaks, he does not give any assurance regarding his saying. He willingly puzzles us; he always tries to undermine and rouse us from our comfortable thinking zone. And in so doing, Heidegger wants his reader to be open to something unusual that could occur. This is particularly evident in Heidegger’s work Conversation on a Country Path about Thinking (1966a), a work that deals on and with the essence of thinking investigated as Gelassenheit. That will be the central focus of the present paper.

Before beginning this paper, I would like to make a preliminary remark. I am aware that there are many different ways to approach Heidegger’s thought, and I am also Barbara Dalle Pezze ISSN 1393-614X Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy 10 (2006): 94-122 ____________________________________________________

aware of the importance of a critical reading of it. Nonetheless, before being in the position of putting forward a critique, it is necessary to spend time and efforts to work through the complexity and richness of Heidegger’s own thought. The aim of the present paper, therefore, is not to be a critique of Heidegger’s concept of Gelassenheit – this remains in fact a task to be developed in a further study. Aim of the present paper is instead, to be an in depth analysis of Heidegger’s own concept of Gelassenheit. Having said that, let us now proceed in the investigation.

The Conversation, written between 1944 and 1945, was published for the first time in 1959, together with a “Memorial Address” that Heidegger delivered in 1955 on the occasion of the 175th birthday of composer Conradin Kreutzer. The title of the book containing these two works is Discourse on Thinking (1966b). In the “Memorial Address,” Heidegger talks about Gelassenheit in relation to technical devices [technische Dinge]. But, as von Herrmann (1994) suggests, if we want to understand how Heidegger thinks Gelassenheit in its essential features, we must consider the Conversation, a dialogue on the nature of thinking conceived as Gelassenheit.

Heidegger’s Conversation is a dialogue between a scientist, a scholar and a teacher.

The scientist represents one who conducts scientific research, and who is therefore accustomed to thinking according to a deductive and representational model of thinking. The scholar represents an academic “learned in the history of philosophical thought” (Lovitts 1995, p. 599), who thinks from within a metaphysical perspective.

–  –  –

The teacher, through whom Heidegger speaks, we can consider to represent the Heideggerian idea of ‘thinker’. In this dialogue these three speakers conduct an inquiry into the nature of thinking, a type of thinking that does not involve willing.

They search for a “will-less thinking” (Lovitts 1995, p. 599) that will be found to occur as ‘Gelassenheit’.

At the beginning of the dialogue the scientist and the scholar appear to deal with the search in accordance with their scientific way of thinking, which is to say thinking with the mindset proper to their scientific role and speaking from well determined and clear positions. But gradually, under the guidance of the teacher, the interlocutors begin to give up their own standpoints and, with that, their accustomed form of thinking. They let the dialogue itself take charge, so to speak. As they abandon the will to dictate and lead the search, a different approach and way of thinking discloses itself through the dialogue. The interlocutors, as the dialogue proceeds, no longer impose their view, but let the elements of their search emerge from their dialogue with one another. In the Conversation the standpoint of the single speakers is gradually abandoned, in the sense that the focus is on what is disclosed during the dialogue by and through the interaction of the three speakers. We could venture to say that, at a certain point, it does not matter anymore who said what, because what reveals itself in the dialogue is beyond the distinction of ‘whatness’. What the Conversation shows is the transformed nature of thinking, in its transforming process. During the Conversation we witness in the interaction between the three speakers what I would

–  –  –

call the transforming transformation of our own way of thinking, which is forced to change in its core in order to be part of the scene settled by Heidegger.

Heidegger’s Conversation does not present a linear structure. We do not find a form of deductive reasoning that brings the dialogue forth. Rather, we witness and experience a continuous circular movement. In the dialogue we do not find a series of stages that takes us closer to the goal we are aiming at. In the dialogue it is possible, instead, to recognize hermeneutical circles that are nourished by the dialogue itself.

The dialogue, that is, the interplay between the interlocutors, shows the movement and counter-movement that constitutes the structure of the dialogue as the expanse in which it occurs, as the experience of Gelassenheit. That is why we can say that, at every moment of the dialogue, what we are looking for is already showing itself, and the investigation itself is already an experience of it.

Now, the aim of the present paper is to investigate what Heidegger means by Gelassenheit through a careful study of the Conversation. To reach this goal, I will firstly present the difference between our common way of thinking and meditative thinking. I shall then explore the first step needed to move towards Gelassenheit, that is, what Heidegger indicates as “keeping awake” for Gelassenheit. I will look, then, at Gelassenheit as “higher acting” and “waiting”. After that I will contend with the dialogue form chosen by Heidegger for this search. Finally, I shall introduce Heidegger’s concept of Gegnet and its relation to Gelassenheit.

–  –  –

This investigation, however, remains an interpretation that, as such, does not pretend to be exhaustive, though I hope it will give a valuable contribution to the understanding of Heidegger’s thought on Gelassenheit.

Meditative Thinking When we use the word thinking, our thought immediately goes back to a well known set of definitions that we have learnt in our life or in our studies. To us thinking is a mental activity that helps us to solve problems, to deal with situations, to understand circumstances and, according to this understanding, to take action in order to move forward. Thinking for us also means to have an opinion, to have an impression that something is in a certain way. Thinking means reasoning, the process of reaching certain conclusions through a series of statements. Thinking is “a means of mastery” (Lovitts 1995, p. 586).

We already mentioned that this is a paper about the essence of thinking, sought as Gelassenheit. But the kind of thinking whose essence we are about to investigate is not the common way of thinking. The kind of thinking that we need to think of is “the thinking of the thinker.” This is not a general philosophical concept of thinking, but we need to consider what, in the Discourse, Heidegger calls “meditative thinking” [das besinnliche Denken].

–  –  –

The kind of thinking we are probably accustomed to is what Heidegger names “calculative thinking” [das rechnende Denken] (1966b, p. 46), and it is the thinking proper to the sciences and economics, which we, belonging to the technological age, mainly — if not solely — employ. Calculative thinking, says Heidegger, “calculates,” “plans and investigates” (1966b, p. 46); it sets goal and wants to obtain them. It “serves specific purposes” (ibid., p. 46); it considers and works out many new and always different possibilities to develop. Despite this productivity of a thinking that “races from one aspect to the next”; despite the richness in thinking activities proper to our age, and testified by the many results obtained; despite our age’s extreme reach in research activities and inquiries in many areas; despite all this, nevertheless, Heidegger states that a “growing thoughtlessness” (1966b, p. 45) is in place and needs to be addressed. This thoughtlessness depends on the fact that man is “in flight from thinking” (ibid., p. 45). “Thoughtlessness” [Gedankenlosigkeit], Heidegger states, is an uncanny visitor who comes and goes everywhere in today’s world. For nowadays we take in everything in the quickest and cheapest way, only to forget it just as quickly, instantly. Thus one gathering follows on the heels of another. Commemorative celebrations grow poorer and poorer in thought. Commemoration and thoughtlessness are found side by side. (1966b, p. 45) Calculative thinking, despite being of great importance in our technological world, is a thinking “of a special kind.” It deals, in fact, with circumstances that are already given, and which we take into consideration, to carry out projects or to reach goals that we want to achieve. Calculative thinking does not pause to consider the meaning

–  –  –

collects itself” (Heidegger 1966b, p. 46). This fact hides and shows that man is actually “in flight from thinking.” Now, if it is not a question of calculative thinking, then what kind of thinking does Heidegger refer to when he speaks of “meditative thinking”? And why, if at all, is there a need for it? Because if we have no problem in understanding the importance of calculative thinking, we probably are not so clear about the need, for our existence, of a different kind of thinking.

In the “Memorial Address,” Heidegger speaks of two kinds of thinking: the above mentioned “calculative thinking” and “meditative thinking” (1966b, p. 46).

Meditative thinking is a kind of thinking man is capable of, it is part of his nature; but nevertheless it is a way of thinking that needs to be awoken. When Heidegger states that man is “in flight from thinking” (1966b, p. 45), he means flight from meditative thinking. What distinguishes meditative thinking from calculative thinking? What does meditative thinking mean? It means to notice, to observe, to ponder, to awaken an awareness of what is actually taking place around us and in us.

Meditative thinking does not mean being detached from reality or, as Heidegger says, “floating unaware above reality” (1966b, p. 46). It is also inappropriate to consider it as a useless kind of thinking, by stating that it is of no use in practical affairs or in business. These considerations, Heidegger states, are just “excuses” that, if on one hand appears to legitimize avoiding any engagement with this kind of thinking, on the other hand attests that meditative thinking “does not just happen by itself any more

–  –  –

than does calculative thinking” (1966b, p. 46-47). Meditative thinking requires effort, commitment, determination, care, practice, but at the same time, it must “be able to bide its time, to await as does the farmer, whether the seed will come up and ripen” (Heidegger 1966b, p. 47).

Meditative thinking does not estrange us from reality. On the contrary, it keeps us extremely focused on our reality, on the hic et nunc of our being, ‘existence’. To enact meditative thinking, Heidegger says that we need to

–  –  –

By remaining focused on the moment, we “notice” aspects of our reality and we keep them in mind. We then “remember” elements, events, circumstances related to them.

This invite us to “think further”, and by doing so we clarify, discern, elements that pertain to our situation. Through this process we “grow thoughtful”, and this generates questions that further deepen our thinking and awareness of the roots of what moved us to think; and that was just something barely noticed before. An attempt to enact meditative thinking is carried out by Heidegger himself when, during the "Memorial Address," he tries to conduct the audience from a situation where they are passive 'consumers' of the address to a situation in which they actually meditate and think about what is going on, beyond the simple event of commemoration. What

–  –  –

Even though “man is a thinking, that is, a meditating being” [der Mensch das denkende, d.h. sinnende Wesen ist] (ibid., p. 47), we need to train ourselves in the ability to think meditatively, to confront reality, and thus ourselves, in a meditative way. The cost of not doing so would be, Heidegger states, to remain a “defenseless and perplexed victim at the mercy of the irresistible superior power of technology” (ibid., p. 52-53). We would be — and today, more so than sixty years ago, when Heidegger gave this speech — victims of “radio and television,” “picture magazines” and “movies”; we would be, and perhaps already are, “chained” to the imaginary

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