Heidegger‘s “Fork”

Patrik Mehrens

Heidegger‘s “Fork”:

Doxa and the Apophatic Sacrifice of Passivity


Ingår i: Shadows in the Cave. Revisiting Mats Rosengren’s Doxology. Erik Bengtson, Karl Ekeman, Mirey Gorgis, Louise Schou Therkildsen & Alexander Stagnell (eds.), Retorikförlaget 2022.
Artikel s 223-240


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Patrik Mehrens is Senior Lecturer in Literature at Uppsala University. 0000-0001-8528-2008



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Among the peculiarities in the tradition of theorizing doxa [gr. δόξα] – whether these discussions are ontologically or epistemologically oriented, or whether they are critical or constructive – is the widespread tendency to metaphorically and/or allegorically or even graphically represent and explain the concept. When Mats Rosengren states that “[i]n order to grasp a concept as elusive as doxa, one needs a bit of imagination,” it appears not only as a normative statement, but also as a testimony to the imagina­tive efforts invested in the tradition of expounding on the concept. Thus even Plato, in distinguishing doxa from epistēmē [gr. ἐπιστήμη], illuminated the concept by using a verbal image, the image of the doxastic state of mind [gr. δοξάζειν (doxazein)] as a “dream” [gr. ὄναρ (ónar)]. During the 20th century and later, verbal images picturing the status, nature and essence of doxa have flourished, but it is also apparent that these accounts have turned toward more corporeal analogies, in line with how doxa is often described as “the very material of rhetoric”. Roughly speaking, metaphors along this path of imagery can be di­vid­ed into three groups. At the one end they appear in constructive readings of doxa, where it becomes important to overthrow the negative hierarchy between doxa and epistēmē established by Plato, and where the status of doxa is enforced by rather conventional images such as “foundation,” “basis,” or, as in the case of Jim Kuypers, “the under­pin­ning of society’s rationality and conception of ethical values.” Another tendency, how­ever still in the tradition of constructive, restorative readings, are images that emphasize the double nature of doxa, its elusiveness, and incessantly changing appearances, and where the explanatory value of the metaphors also increases. This is prominent in, for instance, Robert Hariman, who – inspired by Martin Heidegger’s view of doxa as grounded in the interplay between concealment and unconcealment – compares doxa to the act of “clothing”. In the third group, critical rather than constructive views on doxa make their appearance. At this end, Roland Barthes stands out most sharply with his conspicuous image of doxa as Medusa, “who petrifies those who look at her.” Regarding this critical understanding of doxa, which is part of a derogatory understanding of bourgeois ideology as naturalizing doxa, Barthes has a correlate in Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu, not as prone to the iconophilia characteristic of Barthes, nevertheless connects doxa to the imagery of cultural fields and rules and strategies of games, thereby incorporating the agonies and tensions between different social classes in his imagery.

Shadows in the Cave. Revisiting Mats Rosengren’s Doxology
Shadows in the Cave. Revisiting Mats Rosengren’s Doxology

Caves, images, and symbols are recurring topics in the work of Mats Rosengren, from his reading of Plato in his dissertation Psychagōgia – Konsten att leda själar, to his investigation of the world of paleolithic cave art in Cave Art, Perception and Knowledge. While other philosophers might have descended into the cave with the aim of guiding visitors back up into the blinding light of eternal truths, Rosengren seems to be at home in the underworld. Instead of dismissing the paintings that adorn its walls as merely shadowy copies or distorted images, or claiming that the truth of these pictures is readily available to us, Mats Rosengren invites any traveler joining him to understand them as different forms of sensemaking, forms which at first might appear foreign, but that, upon closer inspection, reveal themselves in all their complexity. In this volume, the contributors take on some of the key themes found in Rosengren’s work, mirroring the stylistic, generic, and topical range that characterizes it. The volume is titled “Shadows in the Cave”, signaling a focus not on eternal truth, but – alluding to Plato – on the shadowplay of our human caves. Läs mer...

Against this backdrop of the ‘iconomania’ surrounding the concept of doxa, I intend to focus on one of the most elaborate and complex metaphors, as well as graphical representations, of doxa: Martin Heidegger’s analogy between doxa and a fork [ge. Gabel], and his description of doxastic seeing as forked [ge. gegabelt]. This metaphor – part of what I consider to be one of the most groundbreaking attempts to challenge Plato’s subordination of doxa to epistēmē – appears in a series of lectures on truth and untruth that Heidegger gave in 1931–32 at the University of Freiburg, and which was later assembled in The Essence of Truth [Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, 1988]. In the second part of this treatise, titled “An Inter­pretation of Plato’s Theaetetus with Respect to the Question of the Essence of Untruth,” Heidegger downplays the traditional understanding of doxa as “opinion” and instead connects doxa to the appearing and unconcelament that distinguishes our being in the world [ge. Dasein]. In Heidegger’s view this appearing is neither entirely tied to the objective nor to our subjective perspectives. Instead, doxa is brought forward as “a comportment that is unitarily directed both to what is bodily present and to what making-present presents in advance.” (222) It is this double nature of doxa that leads Heidegger to metaphorically speak of doxastic seeing as “two-pronged or forked.” (222) Furthermore, Heidegger expands his metaphor and provides a graphic drawing illustrating the forked character of doxa and doxastic seeing. Interestingly enough, however, he also points to the preliminary qualities of the drawing, stating that “it [the diagram] does not present the matter in a more exact way, but the reverse,” and that the drawing is simply a “scaffolding around the phenomenon, a scaffolding that must be torn down immediately.” (222) Given the complexity of Heidegger’s conceptual understanding, and of the imagery surrounding his comprehension of doxa, the trajectory of my undertaking will be as follows:

First, and in order to provide a context for the understanding of Heidegger’s metaphor, I will give an account of the role of doxa in Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole, and how the concept relates to his understanding of being and beings. Secondly, I will summarize the role of doxa in The Essence of Truth specifically, and describe the path of Heidegger’s reasoning towards his metaphoric and graphic representation of doxa. Furthermore, I intend to critically discuss Heidegger’s rather peculiar reservation as to the qualifications of this graphic diagram: What does it mean that this image must be both built up and “torn down”? In my understanding, this proposed elimination of the image both performs and reflects a gesture of apophatic sacrifice in Heidegger’s conception of doxa. The concept of apophatic sacrifice will be clarified later in the article, but in short it reflects how Heidegger both in his theory and in his graphic representation of doxa establishes a passive image of the perception of beings, i.e. of “having-present”, which he at the same time sacri­fices in order to launch his understanding of an active being.  Apophatic sacrifice can thus be seen as an essential element of the doxastic seeing that intricately collaborates with the essence of being and truth in Heidegger’s philosophy. I also intend to show how this sacri­ficial logic is discretely reproduced in some of the – typically scarce, however distinct – value judgements that Heidegger aims at Plato and “the Greeks” throughout his discussion.

Our first question concerns the role of doxa in Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole. The significance of doxa in Heidegger’s thinking asserts itself if we look at how his philosophy constitutes a fundamental challenge to the specifically metaphysical dimension of Plato’s philosophy. As Heidegger’s mode of reasoning often develops as an exegetic reading of Plato, his aim is also to “go beyond” Plato (222). Following the account of Bernard Alan Miller, one decisive point of departure in Heidegger’s philosophy is thus “the Platonic separation of the world of ideas from the world of opinion, manifestly truth from appearances, epistēmē from doxa […].” This separation can also be understood in terms of a distinction between being (das Sein) and beings, or things, entities (das Seienden). According to Heidegger, this distinction, this manifestation of the “ontological difference”, implies a fundamental loss of being in the world [ge. Dasein]. As a consequence of Plato’s separation, being has disappeared or been forgotten, it has been “banished from the world and lodged in some transcendental realm.” In Heidegger’s view, however, the relationship between being and beings (entities) is characterized by an “ontological inseparability”. Although he maintains the conceptual distinction between being and beings, he considers the latter as phainestai [gr. φαίνεσθαι (what appears)], i.e. as something which “’brings-itself-to-stand’ as being, as the medium or manner in which being is manifest […].” The relationship between being and beings is thus characterized by what George Steiner has called a “radical immanence”, where being is the “occurrence” of existence in all things. And in Heidegger’s insistence on the immanence of being in beings, doxa comes to play an essential role. Coinciding with the “view” of human beings, i.e. both to how they “appear” and how they view appearances, doxa is precisely the worldly, humane, yet “self-sufficient emergence that ‘shines forth’ in Being as ‘that which is’,” and that allows Heidegger to turn attention away from the world of ideal forms (Plato) and instead direct attention to our being in the world, as well as to our possibilities to formulate truths and knowledge about this world.

In order to further understand how doxa plays this fundamental role, it is necessary to clarify the relation between doxa and logos [gr. λόγος] in Heidegger’s thinking. For Heidegger, one essential problem with Plato’s understanding of doxa is that it emanates from a reductive understanding of logos. Plato narrows the pre-Socratic understanding of logos as speech and writing in a broader sense, to the distinction between logos as monological speech (doxa as opinion) on the hand, and dialogical reasoning (epistēmē) on the other, where Plato comes to favor the latter. In order to claim the ontological inseparability of being and beings, Heidegger must return to the pre-Socratic understanding of both logos and doxa, and recover the manifold significations and implications of both concepts. Thus logos, for Heidegger, is not primarily language in service of knowing, epistēmē. Instead, logos is “the interwovenness of being [gr. φύσις (physis)], unconcealment, and appearance”. By using language, i.e. logos, we contribute to the unconcealment of our existence, or, in the words of Victor J. Vitanza, logos “gives us grounds, or the way, so that we might unconceal what has been concealed […].” However, logos cannot, according to Heidegger, fully reveal or unconceal the grounds of our existence, i.e. it is not possible to reach the permanent unconcealment desired in Plato’s epistēmē. Instead, by using logos, we are constantly engaged in a process of both unconcealment and concealment. In other words, when speaking, when using logos, we speak doxa, however not doxa as “mere opinion”, or simply “subjectively”, but doxa as partly epistemic, as unconcealing and concealing the essence of being. Or, again in the words of Vitanza: “[…] logos speaks doxa which is an unconcealment and simultaneously a concealment of some aspect of episteme/truth, which can never be completely gathered, or unconcealed.”

Central to Heidegger’s conception is thus his abandonment of Plato’s reductive view of doxa as “opinion”. For Heidegger, it is of vital importance to direct our attention to the pre-Socratic diversity of the concept. At one moment he even indicates that it is important to narrow the discussion of being, truth and knowledge to “the total meaning of doxa”, thereby covering the ambiguities implicated by the ancient Greeks. (181) These ambiguities appear along an axis assembling such disparate meanings of doxa as “1) aspect, or respect, as glory; 2) aspect as the sheer view that something offers; 3) aspect as merely looking so, ‘seeming’ as mere semblance; 4) a view that a person constructs for himself, opinion.” (181) As is clear from this exposition, opinion is one signification of doxa that Heidegger approves of, however not the most important. Doxa is opinion only when it is assumptive, or as stated in Introduction to Metaphysics: “We assume a thing to be thus or thus. Then we are only opining.” More important for Heidegger is that doxa signifies glory, fame. Glory is what, more specifically, ties doxa to being, or as Heidegger states in Introduction to Metaphysics: “[…] appearing belongs to Being […]: Being has its essence together with appearing. […] Glory means doxa. Dokeō [gr. δοκέω] means: I show myself, I appear, I step into the light.” However, what ties this appearance to being, is the fact that at the same time as something appears, it also appears as something, and these two aspects are covered by the second and third meaning of doxa in Heidegger’s inventory above. This double nature of doxa is at the core of Heidegger’s understanding, and also the reason why he, although having difficulties finding a proper German translation for the word “doxa”, sett­les for “Ansicht” [view]. “Ansicht” comprises both “look” [Aussehen] and “the taking of something as such and such” [Ansehen] (183). As Heidegger clarifies: “Doxa is the respect (Ansehen) in which someone stands, and in a wider sense, the aspect (Ansehen) that each being possesses and displays in its look (Aussehen) […].” For Heidegger, it is of critical importance that we understand that, for the Greeks, these two aspects of doxa are not unconnected, but on the contrary “essentially related to each other” (183). Doxa is neither exclusively tied to the object in view, nor to a purely subjective point of view: “The word δόξα, ‘view’ […] obtains its meaning from two opposed directions, from the object and from the comportment.”(183)

One crucial aspect of this double meaning is, of course, that doxastic seeing constantly runs the risk of being distorted. As Heidegger writes in Introduction to Metaphysics: “In experiencing and busying ourselves with beings, we constantly construct views for ourselves from their look. This often happens without our looking closely at the thing itself. […] We construct an opinion for ourselves about it.” An important question for Heidegger thus becomes how we can separate true doxa [gr. ἀληθής δόξα (alêthes doxa)] from false doxa [gr. ψευδής δόξα (pseudēs doxa)]. And this is what the discussion in the latter part of The Essence of Truth is all about. More specifically, Heidegger’s concern in this treatise is the fundamental question raised in Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus as to how – if “the essence of knowledge consists in that comportment of the soul which is called δοξάζειν [doxazein]” – we can theoretically distinguish between correct views (truth) and distorted views (un-truth). The dialogue consists in the probing of doxa as a way to knowledge, and in order for Socrates to claim any epistemic value inherent in doxa, he must also prove the inner possibility of the false view. And this is where Socrates fails. In his colloquy with the young philosopher Theaetetus, Socrates makes three attempts to prove the possibility of the distorted view: First, by considering pseudēs doxa from the distinction between know­ing and not knowing, secondly by probing pseudēs doxa alongside the distinction between being and non-being, and lastly by considering the false view as a form substitution of something rather than as confusion. None of these attempts succeeds. In Heidegger’s words, all that Plato’s dialogue adds up to is the conclusion “that the distorted view is in its essence utterly null [nichtig], therefore cannot exist at all.” (188) Since, in Plato’s dialogue, the distorted view at the same time appears as given, i.e. as an indubitable fact, something that we actually experience, both Socrates and Theaetetus marvel at the absence of an answer to the question; it appears as a “wonder” [gr. τέρας (teras)] or, as Mary-Jane Rubenstein puts it: “The discovery of this simultaneous ‘factuality and impossibility’ brings the conversation into the full force of [its] astonishment […].“

Heidegger, however, is not content with this acute distinction between what is true and what is untrue, but instead determined to reach beyond the “wonder” of Socrates and Theaetetus, and solve “the puzzle of the distorted view”. According to Heidegger, Socrates’ inability to figure out the problem of the pseudēs doxa implicates that untruth in Plato’s philosophy becomes equivalent to an incorrect logos. For Plato, truth is the result of a correct logos, and untruth simply becomes an incorrect proposition, i.e. “opinion”. In this way truth and untruth are seen as mutually exclusive or, as Heidegger puts it: “[…] when truth becomes correctness, and untruth becomes incorrectness, correctness and incorrectness simply stand alongside each other, indeed they have opposing directions, they even exclude one another”. (227) According to Heidegger this is a fundamental mistake in Plato’s philosophy: Plato “interprets the phenomenon of truth in terms of logos […]” instead of connecting truth to “the unhiddenness of being”. (227) It is precisely in order to illustrate how truth and untruth, in doxa, do not stand alongside each other, but instead are connected that Heidegger introduces the metaphor of doxastic seeing as forked and doxa as a fork, and where the metaphor materializes into a diagram projecting  the essential features of doxa and doxastic seeing (222, fig. 1):

fig. 1

Now, what does this “fork” represent, more specifically? The first thing to notice is that in Heidegger’s diagram the object of doxa appears as one object, represented by the diminutive square in the lower right corner. This stands in sharp contrast to Plato’s view of doxa. One important consequence of Plato’s distinction between doxa and epistēmē, and his view of un-truth as an incorrect logos, is that doxa is viewed as incorporating two different objects. On the one hand, it is considered as an object for perception [αἴσθησις (aisthesis)] and on the other as an object for perceiving [μνημονεύειν, mnēmoneuein (calling to mind)]. These two faculties are represented by the two prongs in Heidegger’s diagram. The lower prong, looking ­“straight ahead” coincides with perception [gr. αἴσθησις (aisthesis)], or what Heidegger calls “having-present”, and the upper prong – looking “over and past” – represents perceiving [μνημονεύειν, mnēmoneuein (calling to mind)], what Heidegger calls “making-present”. What is consciously left out in the diagram, however, is Plato’s logos; logos, i.e. “a description of something, a claiming of something as something” (220) does not appear as a faculty for the separation between true and distorted views. Instead, what Heidegger’s diagram illustrates – again in stinging contrast to the logic of Plato’s distinction between doxa and epistēmē – is how correct views and distorted views, as different aspects of one and the same doxa, are bound together, how they are subject to the same conditions (223), i.e. how truth and un-truth never “stand alongside each other” (227), but are fundamentally interrelated.

Another way to describe this fundamental interrelationship is to emphasize how doxastic seeing is essentially dependent upon the simultaneous presence of both having-present and making-present, i.e. of both perception and perceiving. Heidegger writes: “[…] it is the nature of a fork to spike with both prongs. The essence of δόξα is neither the one prong nor the other, but rather: to see someone approaching in the distance as…; or e.g. to make present this approaching person in advance as Theaetetus, who could very well be coming.” (222) In other words, when we make something present (perceive), we actually have the object present in front of us (in perception), although we might perceive it erroneously. Correspondingly, in perception, we can also see the object in either a correct or an incorrect way.

It is important to notice that what we see in Heidegger’s diagram above is a representation of a true doxastic view. The arrows connecting the two prongs, i.e. “making-present” and “having-present”, all point to the same object (the object of doxa), and there is no conflict between perception and perceiving. What must be remembered, though, is that Heidegger intends to go “beyond Plato” and prove the “inner possibility” of pseudēs doxa. Thus, according to Heidegger, a distorted view appears when making-present (the upper prong) does not coincide with having-present, but rather touches upon representations previously formed by the retention in making-present, i.e. when making-present is “looking-past” (224) the object that is present, and instead hits what is not present but still in view. This is an important, however at the same time deeply puzzling moment in Heidegger’s reasoning. The peculiar thing is that when we make-present something as something that it is not, according to Heidegger, we still have a look of what we mistake for something else. In other words, although the object we mistake for something else is not present, we actually have a view of it. To have a distorted view means that the thing distorted is hidden. However, Heidegger writes, “[…] the thing is not completely hidden, for it shows itself, offers a look, we have a view of it.” (227) This is also what “seeming” means; in seeming, something is “self-hiding” through “self-showing”. (227) As becomes acutely apparent, this is also the moment in The Essence of Truth, when Heidegger’s reasoning, with increasing intensity, resorts to manifestly paradoxical propositions. Seeming is described as a mode of “unhiddenness”, which in itself, however, is “essentially, hiddenness”, but also “a truth to whose essence there belongs un-truth,” (227) which brings Heidegger to the conclusion that “[i]f appearing is a self-showing wherein what shows itself hides itself, then self-hiding belongs to the essence of self-showing and vice versa. So there is an inner connection between ψεῦδος [pseudos (un-truth)] and ἀλήθεια [aletheia (truth)] […].“(227 f)

As must be remembered, the overall aim in Heidegger’s challenging of Plato’s sharp distinction between a true and a distorted doxa, is to bring being itself back to the world, i.e. to describe how being appears in the world, and is not confined to any transcendental realm of ideal forms. Thus, the separation between being and beings must be resolved. Beings, i.e. the appearance of ourselves and other objects in the world, must be connected with being itself. In the above diagram, however, the illustration is restricted to beings, i.e. objects or entities in the world. What Heidegger wants to accomplish, though, is an illu­stration of being as such, and of the essential constitution of our being in the world (Dasein). In order to do this, Heidegger, at the very end of The Essence of Truth, expands his illustration of doxa, the fork, to include being itself (229, fig. 2):

fig. 2

In this extended fork we still have the beings discussed before, i.e. the two lower prongs representing beings as captured by having-present (perception) and making-present (perceiving). However, the diagram is extended to include being itself (the third prong from below), and Heidegger’s purpose is to illustrate how “our comportment to beings is always already oriented to being.” (228) In other words, in order for beings to become “familiar to us” (228) there must be “striving” for being (the bent arrow above), which also means that “the Dasein of man must from the outset have insight into the essence of being, must have freed itself to the ιδέα [idea], in whose light alone beings can be encountered as unhidden.” (228) This is actually how being “appears” in the world, according to Heidegger, who furthermore writes: “Anything which can be existent to us can [was uns ein Seiendes sein kann], in so far as it shows itself as unhidden, also seem (appear). So much being, so much seeming. Untruth belongs to the most primordial essence of truth as the hiddenness of being, i.e. to the inner possibility of truth.” (228 f)

At this moment, I want to pause the account of Heidegger’s reasoning, in order to provide a critical comment. The paradoxical nature of Heidegger’s descriptions is of course dependent on the double nature of doxa, i.e. that it comprises both “the look of something and the taking of something as such and such” (183), thereby crossing the dividing line between what is usually considered, however not by Heidegger, as the realms of the objective and the subjective. In order to draw attention away from such Platonically featured opposites, and instead direct attention to being, Heidegger must impart the interdependent relationship of having-present and making-present, on the one hand, and of the striving for being and being itself on the other. Therefore, it is of essential interest to look closer at how the relationship between these two aspects of doxa are being described by Heidegger, i.e. how he outlines the relationship between on the one hand having-present and making-present, and on the other between being and striving for being, i.e. between the various prongs of his metaphor and diagram. In the following I will confine my discussion to the relationship between having-present and making-present. A both interesting and telling example of how Heidegger conceives of this relationship can be found in his parable of the Feldberg Tower in a previous section of The Essence of Truth. (210–215)

Heidegger says that when walking in the Black Forest and coming across the Feldberg Tower, we have the tower in immediate presence (having-present). However, when we no longer have the tower in front of us, say a few days later in a lecture hall, we can make the tower present. The question is how we should understand this making-present. One way would be to say that we “imagine” the tower. To say this, however, is both correct and incorrect, according to Heidegger (211). In this situation, we do not merely relate to a representation or an image of the tower. Instead, Heidegger insists, we are oriented towards the tower itself or, in Heidegger’s words: “[…] existing in this lecture room, we can orient ourselves to the thing in quite a natural way, intending and having before us just this thing and nothing else; admittedly, in such a way that the thing does not stand bodily before us but is in a certain sense removed, without, however, having disappeared.” (211) It is also important, for Heidegger, that this making-present, is not necessarily a “recollection” of the tower: “Recollecting is a specific mode of making-present,” however, “not every making-present is necessarily a recollection.“ (212). The point is that in making-present; we are not “inwardly directed” (212): “On the contrary, when we make-present the thing we are outside with it, oriented towards the tower, so that we can bring before ourselves all its properties, its full appearance.” (212, last emphasis added) Then Heidegger adds a comment which I find decisive in relation to his view of the interrelationship between having-present and making-present:

It can even happen that we can see the thing much more clearly and fully in making-present than in the having-present of immediate perception. Suddenly, we have something before ourselves which, as we say, we ‘did not notice’ in immediate bodily seeing. But it is not representations, images, memory-traces and the like, that we have before ourselves; it is rather that to which this having-before-oneself is directed, and solely directed – the existing tower itself.” (212, first emphasis added)

This is the most pronounced example in Heidegger’s discussion on doxa, of a hierarchy established between making-present and having-present, and where the latter stands out as subordinated to making-present. But it is also an example of an outspoken separation between the two faculties. Although an essential aspect of Heidegger’s theory is the understanding of doxa as “both the object and the comportment, i.e. the look of something and the taking of something as such and such […]” (183), metaphorically represented by the fork spiking with both prongs, Heidegger at this instance treats of making-present as something not necessarily coincident with and adherent to having-present, but as a faculty separate from perception and charged with an ability to capture the object more completely than having-present might be capable of. This separation as well as subordination is also visually reflected in Heidegger’s diagram, where perception occupies the lower part of the image, while making-present, with its “wider domain” (222), is placed closer to being and to our striving for being. This separation and subordination appears several times in Heidegger’s treatise. At one point, for example, Heidegger describes making-present as “set over [ge. Abgehoben] and against the immediate having-present of what is bodily present […]” (218, emphasis added) and at another he maintains that “making-present is oriented to the beings themselves and not to anything physical […].” (213) What I find problematic in Heidegger’s reasoning is that in order for him to describe the “radical immanence” of being in beings, i.e. the ontological inseparability of having-present and making present, he must nevertheless keep these ‘opposites’ apart, he must treat them as separate faculties. In doing so, he unavoidably establishes a hierarchy between having-present and making-present which, as we will see, in the end serves the annihilation of the image of having-present as perception devoid of the activity of making-present.

At this point I wish to introduce the concept of an apophatic sacrifice in order to describe and discuss what is going on in Heidegger’s reasoning. To begin with, it is important to notice how this concept is both derived but also differs from the rhetorical figure “apophasis” which traditionally signifies the strategy to say something by not saying it or, more specifically, to give something a stronger claim by denying the claim made. In this context, a more specific definition is suggested where the apophatic is understood as the projection of an image of passivity in order to generate the image of something active. The specifically sacrificial aspect of this apophatic gesture lies in the fact that the projected passivity appears as a momentary or provisional occurrence whose sole function is to express this dynamism. Apophatic sacrifice thus illustrates how the appearance of an image of passivity is oriented towards its disappearance, its elimination, which coincides with its transformation into something dynamic.

This specific definition is important when identifying the apophatic sacrifice in Heidegger’s reasoning. Heidegger does not, in this context, use the rhetorical figure apophasis in the traditional sense. Apophatic sacrifice rather appears as a momentary projection of, in this case, having-present as something immediate and passive which, however, becomes qualified by something active, namely making-present. The passive quality of having-present stands out already in its designation (“having” [ge. haben]) in relation to the active calling to mind of making-present (“making” [ge. machen]). In having-present, for instance the Feldberg Tower, we simply have the tower in front of us, in perception. And in the Feldberg parable, when Heidegger describes making-present as a faculty distinct from having-present, he also projects this having-present as a faculty unattached to the processes of making-present, when at the same time projecting the potential supremacy of making-present over having-present. However, this indeed out­spoken distinction between the two faculties clearly aims at the dissociation of the same distinction.

This dissociation of the distinction between having-present and making-present is of a clearly sacrificial nature. Although Heidegger repeatedly projects having-present as a facul­ty of immediacy and passivity separate from making-present, he sacrifices this immediacy by also describing having-present as something invested with the active processes of making-present. Consider for example the following quote, where seeing is described as one essential mode of having-present:

“[…] seeing, holding in view, is in point of fact the predominant, most conspicuous, most immediate, at the same time the most impressionable and far-reaching mode of the having-present of something. Owing to its distinctive character of making-present […], sensory seeing comes to be the definitive example of knowledge as the apprehending of beings. The essence of seeing is making-present and holding-present, keeping something in presence, so that it is manifest, so that it is there in its unhiddenness.” (116)

On the one hand, seeing as an example of having-present is brought forward as something “most immediate” [ge. unmittelbarste], i.e. implicitly as something potentially not invested with the retention and “wider domain” of making-present. On the other hand, making-present is described as a distinctive aspect of the same seeing, whereby – in my under­stand­ing – it loses its immediacy. If the essence of seeing is, as the quote says, making-present, then what is immediate seeing? What is perception as distinct from the calling to mind of making-present? Yet another example of having-present as bereft of immediacy is the following: “[…] making-present can be conceived as a mode of having-present, a way of holding beings in our presence, whereby the sphere of this presence broadens out in a particular way.” (213) Again, having-present appears as both something distinct from making-present and as something already characterized by the latter. So it appears as if the ‘glimpses’ we get of having-present as an instance of immediate perception separate from making-present are preliminaries that Heidegger needs in order to argue for the primacy of making-present in our striving for being. In other words, having-present as immediate perception appears as an auxiliary provisional for the transgressive movement between the object itself and the existence of the object, i.e. its being. Accordingly, Heidegger is anxious to narrow the range of making-present to the world of objects, thereby appropriating features of the immediate having-present to making-present, as for instance when he states that “it cannot be overlooked that making-present, just like the perceiving having present of αἴσθησις [aisthesis], has a corporeal aspect.” (213, emphasis added). Again, having-present and making-present appear as separate faculties, but an essential function of this separation seems to be the equipment of making-present with the immediacy and presence associated with having-present. The apophatic sacrifice of having-present can thus be understood more specifically as the sacrifice of the very distinction between having-present and making-present. This distinction in itself appears as something ‘passive’ that must be dissolved through a process of dissociation where the ‘activity’ of making-present becomes the governing principle throughout the entire spectrum of doxastic seeing. The fol­low­ing statement by Heidegger is perhaps the most pronounced example of how the distinction itself becomes the object of apophatic sacrifice: “So we must say: the distinction between having-present and making-present again returns in a modified form within the sphere of making-present.” (217) Here, the appearance of the distinction between having-present and making-present appears as fully dependent upon its very disappearance.

I do think it is possible to speak of a discretely ‘violent’ dimension of the apophatic sacri­fice in Heidegger’s reasoning. This becomes clear if we return to the diagram representing doxa and doxastic seeing, and to Heidegger’s reservation as to the ability of this imagery to capture the essence of doxa properly. As mentioned before, Heidegger adds a pronounced restriction to his use of the diagram. The restriction is spelled out as follows: “I shall provide a diagram, naturally with great reservation. It does not present the matter in a more exact way, but the reverse. It is nevertheless an aid for understanding, simply a scaffolding around the phenomenon, a scaffolding that must be torn down [ge. abgebrochen] immediately.” (222) Several elements in this clause attract interest. First, we can of course associate Heidegger’s reservation with the rather conventional excuses that sometimes accompany the application of metaphors. However, in this specific reservation, given its detailed elaboration, more is at stake than plain courteous humility. To begin with, it is important to observe the precision with which Heidegger assesses the inability of the diagram to picture the matter at stake. This diagram does not “present the matter in a more exact way, but the reverse.” Heidegger thus captures the potential of the diagram in terms of direct opposition: the “reverse” aspect emphasizes the status of the image as a direct contrast (i.e. in-exact) to something far more apposite. In my understanding, this restrictive gesture of Heidegger in a subtle manner repeats the hierarchy of the relationship between having-present and making-present. Looking at the diagram, we are having-present the diagram, it stands before us in bodily presence. However, this having-present does not, in itself, provide access to knowledge, truth and being. Having-present, instead, shows us something which is inaccurate, blurred. It might thus be a necessary aid for our understanding of the matter at hand, but it is also an obstacle. Therefore, it must be “torn down”, a description which adds to the impression of violence in Heidegger’s imagery. The English translation of “abgebrochen,” indeed captures an important dimension of the original, where “abbrechen” does not only mean “abort” but is also the verb designating, for instance, the tearing down of buildings, and is furthermore used in analogy with demolishment and termination. It is important also to notice the performative dimension of both Heidegger’s use of the diagram and of his proposed annihilation of the same. When Heidegger insists on the tearing down of this image, he draws our attention to the potentially deceptive qualities of our sensory impressions, and directs our attention to the necessity of making-present in order to induce knowledge. He also, however, albeit discretely, exposes how this making-present, which in his extended diagram is connected to “striving for being”, is utterly dependent on sacrifice, on the violence manifest in tearing down the diagram as well as what is bodily present in immediate perception.

This performative as well as ‘violent’ gesture reflects the mechanism of doxa itself, as conceived by Heidegger. The proposed disappearance, i.e. concealment of the image, illustrates how this concealment is at the same time a prerequisite for unconcealment, for the opening of being itself. In order for something to appear, something else must be eliminated. It is important not to underestimate this sacrificial aspect of Heidegger’s theory. It stands out even more sharply if we attend to the cultural as well as intertextual echoes reverberating in his use of the fork as a metaphor for doxa. First, it is puzzling that Heidegger choses an image that, apart from bringing together various aspects of one and the same phenomenon (as in, if we stick to forks, for instance Hume’s fork), emphasizes the sharp quality of doxastic seeing. In Heidegger’s metaphor, doxastic seeing is illustrated by the verb to “spike” [ge. spießen]: “[…] it is the nature of a fork to spike with both prongs.” (222, first emphasis added) Why, one might wonder, is the sheer act of seeing conceived by means of an image of stabbing? What does this emphasis of a penetrating force in seeing tell us about the processes of making-present and striving for being? In my understanding, “spike” certainly adds to the impression not only of the activity involved in doxastic seeing, but also to the sacrificial necessity involved in this seeing. Moreover, it is difficult to read Heidegger’s description of his diagram, as a “scaffolding,” ignoring the double signification of “scaffolding” as a stage for executions, notably the platform of the guillotine, a signification even more apparent in the German original, “Gerüst”. Furthermore, the guillotine, as a fast and efficient tool for acts of execution, connects to the immediacy invoked in Heidegger’s reservation. What does it mean that this image, this diagram, must be torn down “immediately”? To which moment in the process of seeing, understanding and being in the world does this immediacy refer? Heidegger’s quest for immediacy not only illustrates the subordinated status of having-present, but also how this having-present must become an object of active sacrifice. The immediacy of having-present must be replaced by the immediate destruction of the same having-present. Thus, Heidegger’s imagery illustrates how immediacy is transformed from something we passively experience to something we actively perform. And again, the apophatic gesture is obvious: The ‘passive’ image becomes ‘activated’ through the proposed act of violence, and the sole function of the immobility of the diagram is to potentially express this activity through sacrifice. In my understanding, this active annihilation of what we have in front of us, of what we see, must also be understood as an essential component of what Heidegger describes as the “striving for being”. Heidegger’s insistence on the “ontological difference”, i.e. his preservation of the distinction between being and beings, rests on the necessity to retain an element for active concealment, i.e. sacrifice. The specifically agonistic, potentially violent character of this sacrificial logic, stands out more clearly when Heidegger later, in Being and Truth, connects the “forked” character of doxastic seeing with “struggle” [ge. Kampf], and with the historical mission of a people:

This bifurcation makes possible both truth and the false. These, truth and falsehood, stand under the same conditions, namely, that the domain is broader than the object. Whether truth or untruth is attained is always a question of decision, a question of struggle [eine Frage der Entscheidung, eine Frage des Kampfes]. […] What is conceived formally here as the inner constitution of man is nothing other than the distinguishing fact that man – man as historical – exists in the togetherness of a historical people, with a specific historical mission, and exists in the preservation of the forces that carry him forward and to which he is bound. δόξα is just the offshoot, formally conceived, of this distinguishing feature. This fundamental constitution is the domain within which the struggle for the truth [Kampf um der Wahrheit] must play itself out.

It would be interesting to further the discussion on the specifically ideological aspects of Heidegger’s theory on doxa and doxastic seeing. This, however, will not be the object of my discussion here. Instead, I wish to end my considerations on Heidegger by pointing to yet another feature pertaining to the sacrificial logic of his reasoning. This consists in how Heidegger’s acts of sacrifice are accompanied by a simultaneous sacralization of what is being victimized. In my understanding, this sacralization appears in how Heidegger repeatedly both elevates and depresses what is being sacrificed. We have already seen how this double gesture characterizes the appearances of having-present in Heidegger philosophy. Having-presence both appears as a prerequisite for knowledge and as something left outside the essence of seeing. We have also seen it in Heidegger’s use of the metaphor and diagram of the fork, which on the one hand is exalted as an “aid for understanding” but on the other must be “torn down”. However, this double gesture of sacralization and victimization can also be distinguished in Heidegger’s use of value-judgements in The Essence of Truth.

To begin with, value-judgements are extremely scarce in Heidegger’s discourse. Nevertheless, this also makes them all the more conspicuous. In the chapter under scrutiny, apart from complaints about fatal inaccuracies in Schleiermacher’s German translation of Plato’s dialogue, value-judgments are generally restricted to either comments on the structure or significance of Plato’s discourse, or comments on Plato and “the Greeks”. For instance, at one moment, Heidegger refers to the “wonderful [wundervoll] structure” (206) of Plato’s dialogue. However, this judgement does not really add anything to the content of Heidegger’s philosophical reasoning. What it accomplishes, though, is an ironic contrast to Heidegger’s critique of the way in which Socrates´ dialogue with Theaetetus develops. Heidegger’s point is that Socrates deceives Theaetetus with his argumentative tricks, which eventually leads to the inability to solve the puzzle of pseudēs doxa. Heidegger’s allusion to the “wonderful structure” of the dialogue thus serves to amplify the feeling of surprise before the philosophical path taken in Socrates´ reasoning. This is one example of how Heidegger both elevates Plato, sacralizes him, through the “wonderful structure of the dialogue”, but at the same time disparages him. And the important thing is that the sacralization serves no other purpose than the disparagement itself. Another example, also deeply ironic, is when Heidegger writes: “Nothing in a Platonic dialogue, however laughable and non-sensical it may appear, is without significance.” (223) Plato is praised for his lack of insignificances; however, the devaluation of his reasoning is just as obvious. It is actually striking how Heidegger, whenever he condescends to a value judgment towards Plato or the Greeks, in one way or another, adds this double, ironic, gesture. When he points to the moment in Plato’s dialogue where truth is connected to correctness and untruth to incorrectness, and where Plato overlooks Heidegger’s own understanding of the “primordial essence of truth”, namely “the unhiddenness of beings”, Heidegger states: “Why Plato and the Greeks ‘failed’ in this way is a further question” (227), adding that it is “a mystery of the spirit itself” why Plato did not capture the essence of the problem. The simple quotes in ‘failed’, just as before, add an ironic dimension to Heidegger’s proposition. Plato may have ‘failed’, but his ’failure’ is also what is needed in order for Heidegger to argue for our being in the world. In striking analogy with the apophatic sacrifice, where the projection of passivity serves to reflect and reinforce an image of activity, Heidegger here projects an image of weakness in order to reinforce the power of his own philosophical discourse.


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