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39 6 Departures In the nineteenth century the structural malady diagnosed in individuals and also in society was conceptualized with the term “alienation.” Dysfunctional and sociopathic individuals were called alienated, conceived to be possessed by alien forces, though these aliens were no longer identified with supernatural beings and the alienated no longer treated with exorcism but with psychiatry. The malfunctioning of modern society was analyzed as alienation: in capitalism workers are dispossessed of the products of their labor and dispossessed of their desires, understanding, and will; it is those of the capitalist that act in them. Twentieth-century philosophers found alienation in the Socratic, metaphysical, and Christian doctrines that our body and this world are not the true home for humans. The critique of alienation engendered reflection on what it would mean, positively, to not be alienated. The concept of home became the central concept in Martin Heidegger’s work. Heidegger declared that for humans to exist is to exist in the world, and explained that we are not simply in the world like a rock is in a meadow; we inhabit the world. We inhabit the world by making a home for ourselves here, by building. In Heidegger building and dwelling become the very definition of human existence.1 Building for Heidegger is assembling, assembling earth and skies, mortals and immortals. While assembling stones and boards and thatching or tar roofing we assemble the supporting and sustaining substance of the earth. A house is open to the skies, assembling on itself light and darkness, warmth and cold, rain and sun. A building is a shelter for us because we are mortal; it harbors our vulnerability. It assembles what is good and wholesome, and brings near the giving that lays out the world and that is holy. We exist in the world by building, assembling an environment , a world. For Heidegger dwelling with beings that we do not construct is also assembling. Farming is building up one’s herds and flocks and building up the fertility of the land. Nature is the array of natural resources with which we build; it is also, Heidegger says, the sun whose position our initiatives take account of; it is the wind “in the sails”; it is the inclement weather we situate in time and place with our covered bus stops and railway platforms.2 40 V I O L E N C E A N D S P L E N D O R For Heidegger all the fundamental activities of our existence are aspects of building a home here. Everything we do is for the future; we build homes for our children and grandchildren; we build for history. We build for immortals, to receive among us the harbingers of the healing and the wholesome. Heidegger’s conception of building and dwelling is also a conception of thought and truth. Thought, which in the metaphysics established by Socrates served to liberate us from our bodies and this world and put us in touch with the realm of the ideal forms, has instead to be seen to serve building a home for ourselves on this earth and under these skies. The supporting and sustaining earth, the illuminating and vitalizing skies, the vulnerability and mortality of humans, and the harbingers of immortal things are brought to light through building and dwelling. Truth is set forth not only in discourse but also in institutions and buildings. Yet ours is not a sedentary anatomy; our feet are made to move on. Heidegger does not recognize our compulsion to leave the home that we had built for ourselves, to leave the landscape in which vital human interests and spiritual values have been embedded, to depart for realms unmarked by human intentions and manipulations. We go off to the nearby or far-off forests, the mountains, the glaciers, the beaches, the oceans. We make our way across mountains and continents as the continental plates collide and buckle up those mountains that freeze the west winds and dry out these deserts. We descend into the Grand Canyon treading the eons that deposited those fifty layers of petrified sediment. In the crystal nights of deserts and mountains our gaze travels the lightyears of the stars. We visit excavations and monitor the millions of years from algae to dinosaurs. We trip through the savannah with the wildebeests and the impalas and stroll the beach tacking the waves with the plovers. Spaces, just because they are exterior, exotic, enthrall us and summon us...


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