Ambition (Or, A Brief Comment On Heidegger’s "Building Dwelling Thinking")

It is empty and cold here. On the ground are wires, atop a table are papers, in front of me is a screen. These are things that are nothing – when I die, all of this will be disposed of promptly, and new occupants will bring in new objects.

Heidegger discusses a farmhouse in “Building Dwelling Thinking,” and how generations were buried in the yard, how the house was built in particular ways to weather all seasons, and how it was placed such that it would overlook all but overlord none.

I say that dominion – I am well aware he would not use this term and gasp that I characterized his thought this way – is easy to discuss when situated in the imagination. The past is memory, and the mind organizes and assigns value simply.

What surrounds me is valueless, and fashioning it into something greater feels the result of chance. And again, he’d hate that I used that term. Don’t I realize that building occurs with locales, where by nature I can join spaces according to nature? Spaces are where Being happens, where things are thought through. If I say I “fashion,” I have denied the primacy of thought in my own labors. I have said that nature is merely elemental, and does not act as a guide for its own best use. If I say “fashion,” I am saying I was thrown into this locale – that it was not picked for any purpose – and that the fusing of spaces is beyond my comprehension.

I like Heideggerean metaphor, but I think it can miss how artificial these objects around me are. There is no oneness here, and it is precisely because the mind is striving. If thoughts are had here that will inspire others one day, then these items that are scraps will be looked at as a whole of sorts. For now, they are scraps.

And one need not move entirely to atomism to describe what is happening here. Heidegger’s primal unity is curiously devoid of eros; it sees mastery as a wrong and emphasizes unity as right. His unity is a piety that posits wholeness only and sidesteps striving. Striving is what Being consists in: the limits of things, the horizon of Being, is how things are and what they reach for. Heidegger says this and finds a way of softening it – nowhere is the fundamental Platonic and even Machiavellian struggle of how to deal with those who strive that they will overturn everything. Nowhere is it seen that wisdom, however incomplete, can set a direction for striving that breaks our seeing any sort of primal unity in the world.

The martial metaphor Machiavelli dwells on – man at war with man – is a beginning for classical thought which classical thought transcends. Questions of war for Machiavelli become the question of how martial energies can be directed such that man can be relatively peaceful and free. Questions of war for Plato and Aristotle become questions of justice and what is Good, and that in turn brings up the human longing for the divine. When Heidegger says at the beginning of his essay that language is the master of man, one has to wonder how God speaks to us, and whether it is as simple as Heidegger seems to think it is.

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