restricted access 7 The Telling of Ethos
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SEVEN The Telling of Ēthos Heidegger, Aristotle, Sophocles Der Mensch ist jenes Nicht-bleiben-können und doch nicht von der Stelle Können. Man is that inability to remain and is yet unable to leave his place. —Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics In his “Letter on ‘Humanism’ ” (1946), Heidegger pointed unequivocally to the fundamental significance of Greek tragedy from the point of view of his own thinking of Being. “The tragedies of Sophocles,” he stated, “—provided such a comparison is at all permissible—shelter the ªthos in their sayings more primordially than Aristotle’s lectures on ‘ethics’ ” (W, 184). The more original Greek meaning of ªthos—more original than that of the “ethical” and of “ethics”—is one’s abode, one’s place of dwelling. Heidegger goes on to indicate this by reference to Heraclitus’s saying ªthos anthrøpøi daimøn, which he translates: “The abode (of the ordinary) is, for human beings, the site that is open for the presencing of the god (of the extra-ordinary)” (W, 187). To say that Sophocles’ tragedies shelter in their sayings and in their telling the ªthos of human beings, of their thinking and of their actions, is thus to say that these tragedies shelter—and thus also may bring to light—the very meaning and truth of human dwelling, that is, of our Being. For already in Being and Time (1927) Heidegger had identified the primary meaning of our Being-in-the-world as dwelling:1 Being-in does not mean a spatial “containedness” of things lying present before us, nor does the word “in” originarily signify a spatial relation of this kind. “In” comes from innan-, to dwell, habitare, to have an abode; “an” signifies: I am in the habit of, familiar with, I tend to something; it has the 153 154 THE TIME OF LIFE signification of colo in the sense of habito and diligo. We characterized this being, to which Being-in in this sense belongs, as the being that I myself in each case am [bin]. The expression bin is connected with bei; Ich bin [I am] means in turn: I dwell, I have my abode in the presence of [bei] . . . the world as something familiar to me in such and such a way. Being [Sein] as the infinitive of Ich bin . . . means dwelling in the presence of . . . , being familiar with . . . (SZ, 54).2 Dwelling, in this sense, does not refer to a “physical” place that could be located in mathematical terms; it is precisely that which resists any mathematical or scientific localization. Being in the world in the sense of dwelling means being in the presence of (bei) other beings, and thus also always being situated in a particular context; it means being an open site, not just or primarily for beings, but for beings in their presence and presencing. To exist as such a site is also to be an exceptional presence in the midst of other beings— exceptional because although it is the site of disclosure of other beings as a whole, this site itself is never fully disclosed as such. The site of un-concealment is equally, indeed even more so, a site of concealment, itself concealed in its innermost essence. What the tragedies of Sophocles shelter and may reveal to us is not so much the “essence” of this site in the sense of what it is, but the site itself in its very prevailing and occurrence, in its worldly happening and unfolding. In other words, the tragedies shelter, not the “essence” of dwelling in the philosophical-Aristotelian sense of Wesen (of the to ti ªn einai), but in the verbal sense of Wesen as the “essential happening” or enduring self-showing and self-concealing of something.3 Yet the latter is unveiled—if it comes to be unveiled at all—not as an already existent ground, but in a historical , or, as Heidegger would also say, in a destinal and epochal manner; and such unveiling occurs, if and when it occurs, not in a descriptive logos that contemplates (theørein) that which is in its permanent form (eidos), but poetically, in a telling and saying that is poetic and that in its very happening not merely discloses, but enacts and thus accomplishes the “poetic dwelling” (to use Hölderlin’s word) of human beings upon this Earth.4 To say that it enacts and accomplishes human dwelling means that the poetic telling of Sophocles’ tragedies is...