restricted access 5 Historical Beginnings
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FIVE Historical Beginnings Moment and Rupture in Heidegger’s Work of the 1930s Das Geschichtliche aller Geschichte geschieht in jener großen Stille, für die der Mensch nur selten das rechte Ohr hat. The historical in all history occurs in that great stillness for which the human being only seldom has the right ear. —Heidegger, Basic Questions of Philosophy Die stillsten Worte sind es, welche den Sturm bringen. Gedanken, die mit Taubenfüßen kommen, lenken die Welt. It is the quietest words that bring the storm. Thoughts that come on doves’ feet change the world. —Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra In the preceding chapter we have seen that in his Marburg and Freiburg lectures of 1927–30, Heidegger’s thinking of the Being of Dasein as temporality (Zeitlichkeit) shifted increasingly toward understanding that temporality, not in terms of the historicity of Dasein (as though Dasein were the “subject” of its own historicity), but in terms of the Temporality of Being itself (Temporalität des Seins) and of the transcendence of world. In the 1930s, he began to conceive Dasein’s Being—that is to say, its time—in terms of the way in which the Being of a world is itself historically determined in the coming to pass, or Ereignis, of world-horizons. In the following remarks we shall try to examine more closely Heidegger’s developing understanding , in the early to mid-1930s, of how worlds are historically determined by focusing on the issue of historical beginnings. The task is to shed further light on what we have seen Heidegger describe as “the concealed moments [Augenblicken] of the history of Being” (GA 65, 92), or, more specifically, “the historical moment of 115 116 THE TIME OF LIFE transition” from the first beginning of Western philosophy to an “other beginning.”1 The term historical beginnings is ambiguous: on the one hand, it implies that all beginnings, in the realm of human activity, are already and inevitably historically determined; on the other hand, it refers to the beginnings of historical worlds, epochs, or human actions, the moments of disruption and irruption in which those worlds, epochs, or actions emerge and are sent or destined into their own historicality. ĒTHOS AND CONCEALMENT: THE POWER OF BEGINNINGS We might begin, perhaps, with a question of translation. Such a beginning is necessary, indeed, not only on account of an apparently terminological difficulty in the present instance, where we are faced with the task of rendering some of Heidegger’s German usage into English, but because wherever there is a question of beginning or of beginnings, translation will inevitably be the issue facing us, an issue that we may confront or evade in various ways. This is simply another way of saying that, for mortals, there can be no possibility of any pure or absolute beginning; that translation, in the broadest sense (which is not restricted to the largely paradigmatic case of translating between different languages), is itself the very enactment of beginnings. Such issues should become somewhat clearer in the course of this chapter. Let us start, however, with the particular and quasitechnical difficulty that should at least be remarked upon here. The difficulty concerns the fact that what, in the title of this chapter, is referred to as “beginning” is intended as a rendition of the German Anfang, the meaning of which Heidegger himself explicitly distinguishes from that of Beginn, the Germanic counterpart of our English word “beginning.” For this reason, “beginning” might appear not to be the best choice for translating the German Anfang into English. Moreover, Anfang is etymologically derived from the verb fangen, to catch or seize hold of something (and thus secure it or set it in place), as in to catch a ball, and thus carries connotations that are not immediately conveyed in the word beginning.2 It is presumably for such reasons that Heidegger translators have sometimes sought to convey the meaning of Anfang in other ways, rendering it as “commencement” or “inception,” to name but two.3 And yet, 117 HISTORICAL BEGINNINGS one should also be cautious before leaping to the conclusion that the word beginning should be avoided as a translation of Anfang. For despite their etymological proximity, or even identity, the English “beginning” does not carry the same sense exactly as the German Beginn, nor are the two words Anfang and Beginn necessarily so clearly differentiated in German usage. Thus, what is decisive is ultimately not so much the word that we choose...