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Howard Eiland THE WAY TO NEARNESS: HEIDEGGER'S INTERPRETATION OF PRESENCE WHAT DO WE mean when we speak of "presence"? Do we refer to the ostensibly concrete, pragmatic presence of things at hand, of objects lying before us which we may touch and manipulate? Do we include the often nonproximate presence of persons, for example, an author's mediated influence, or the emergent presence of moods, of weathers, of responsibilities — in other words, things which we cannot touch but which nonetheless touch us? Have we pondered this wide-ranging parasensuous sense of "touch"? Have we distinguished between the presence of now and of here or, alternately, grasped the intimate complicity of spatial presence and temporal present, as something that goes beyond mere terminology? For that matter, what about the intangible but weighty presence of words, meaning not just external signs — written or phonetic, not just language as a body of information or a scheme for communication , but language as a universal function transcending the status of instrument or entity, a function neither objective nor subjective, language as the very condition of intelligibility and multidimensional articulation? In what sense is the sense of what is said — whether verbally, in "body language," or in other modes of expression (such as images) — present to one who follows? For the words "sense" and Sinn, as Martin Heidegger explains in his preoccupation with the latent poetry of idiom, originally signify way, course.1 Is presence, as something that elusively concerns and bears upon, homes in, touches, means, perhaps associated with following a way or going through? These questions announce the main themes of my discussion. If presence has to do with "throughness," it is probably no accident that Heidegger's approach to the problem, which claimed his attention practically from start to finish of his long career, comes itself to resemble a series of ever renewed attacks on an ever receding stronghold. Conceived as necessarily experimental and provisional, this project involves, as I shall indicate, the assumption of now one word, now another, in the endeavor to name, invoke, and thus draw into a luminous clearing, the specter ofpresence. But throughout 43 44Philosophy and Literature these various thought-forays, which he understands as constellatory facets of "the same," that specter refuses open manifestation. After all, to grasp, or even thematize, presence is like touching touch: the subject matter is at once too abstract and too near. Which is to say, it remains, to the eye of inquiry, unavailingly far. What is nearest is paradoxically most remote; and if this is so, then how much further still from any apprehension is nearness itself. Heidegger raises these issues as a way into the problematic of presence, a way of focusing this most abstract of subjects. For if presence involves a spatial-temporal going through, then it accordingly comprises a fabric of nears and fars — though these are not to be taken as contradictory attributes. If presence is what occupies and weighs upon us, then becoming present may be thought of as a nearing: what means something to us we hold near. The problem comes in reflecting on this holding near of what holds our closest attention. In such reflection we gain distance from the phenomenon as a phenomenon and thus make possible an approach to its meaning. It is distance, then, which, hard won, frees the advent ofwhat is to be thought, what "calls," while nearness actually impedes access: the nearer, indeed, the more impenetrable. "Nearness maintains farness."2 We should not confuse this interplay of near and far, which Heidegger insists is neither complementary nor dialectical, with the grid of geometric parameters. Diminution of extension is not the same as nearing. In Being and Time (Section 23), he essays some deceptively familiar examples of what he means by nearness. An easily accessible road of many miles may not be so long a haul, so considerable a span, as a shorter but more difficult route. Two farmhouses separated by acres of fields may yet be in closer touch than adjacent townhouses (or adjacent apartments, we might interject). Other examples, broaching the problem from a different angle, include the relative remoteness ofthe eyeglasses resting on one's nose...


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