HEIDEGGER’S BEING AND TIME, part 7: TEMPORALITY
Written by Simon Critchley
Time should be grasped in and of itself as the unity of the three dimensions of future, past and present
To try and compress 437 dense pages of Being and Time into eight brief articles was obviously a difficult exercise from the start. But, I must admit, this was also part of the attraction. Despite the limits of this virtual medium, I hope that something of the book has been conveyed in a way that might encourage people to read more and further. Being and Time is extraordinarily rich, difficult and systematic work of philosophy that repays careful reading and rereading.
That Heidegger continues to arouse controversy and heated misunderstanding is evidenced by some of the responses to these articles. All I would ask is that Heidegger's detractors (you know, the "this is bullshit" brigade) take the trouble to read his work with a little care and to pause before reacting.
Although there is so much more we could say about division two of Being and Time, there is one final topic that I'd briefly like to explore and which some readers think is the climax of the book: temporality. Let me begin by describing what Heidegger is trying to avoid in his discussion of time.
Firstly, he is trying to criticise the idea of time as a uniform, linear and infinite series of "now-points". On this model, which derives ultimately from Aristotle's Physics, the future is the not-yet-now, the past is the no-longer-now, and the present is the now that flows from future to past at each passing moment. This is what Heidegger calls the "vulgar" or ordinary conception of time where priority is always given to the present. Heidegger thinks that this Aristotelian conception of time has dominated philosophical inquiries into time from the ancient Greeks to Hegel and even up to his near contemporary Bergson. Secondly, he is trying to avoid any conception of time that begins with a distinction between time and eternity. On this understanding of time, classically expressed in Augustine's Confessions, temporality is derived from a higher non-temporal state of eternity, which is coextensive with the infinite and eternal now of God.
In order to understand what Heidegger means by temporality, we have to set it in the context of the existential analytic of Dasein that I have sought to describe. The discussion of being-towards-death in part six led to the idea of anticipation, namely that the human being is always running ahead towards its end. For Heidegger, the primary phenomenon of time is the future that is revealed to me in my beingtowards- death. Heidegger makes play of the link between the future (Zukunft) and to come towards (zukommen). Insofar as Dasein anticipates, it comes towards itself. The human is not confined in the present, but always projects towards the future.
But what Dasein takes over in the future is its basic ontological indebtedness, its guilt, as discussed in the previous blog. There is a tricky but compelling thought at work here: in anticipation, I project towards the future, but what comes out of the future is my past, my personal and cultural baggage, what Heidegger calls my "having-been-ness" (Gewesenheit). But this does not mean that I am somehow condemned to my past. On the contrary, I can make a decision to take over the fact of who I am in a free action. This is what Heidegger calls "resoluteness".
This brings us to the present. For Heidegger, the present is not some endless series of now points that I watch flowing by. Rather, the present is something that I can seize hold of and resolutely make my own. What is opened in the anticipation of the future is the fact of our having-been which releases itself into the present moment of action.
This is what Heidegger calls "the moment of vision" (Augenblick, literally "glance of the eye"). This term, borrowed from Kierkegaard and Luther, can be approached as a translation of the Greek kairos, the right or opportune moment. Within Christian theology, the kairos was the fulfilment or redemption of time that occurred with the appearance of Christ. Heidegger's difference with Christian theology is that he wants to hang on to the idea of the moment of vision, but to do so without any reference to God. What appears in the moment of vision is authentic Dasein. To put the matter mildly, it is a moot point whether Heidegger can inhabit these Christian forms without accepting or at least aping their content.
The key to Heidegger's understanding of time is that it is neither simply reducible to the vulgar experience of time, nor does it originate in distinction from eternity. Time should be grasped in and of itself as the unity of the three dimensions – what Heidegger calls "ecstases" – of future, past and present. This is what he calls "primordial" or "original" time and he insists that it is finite. It comes to an end in death.
For Heidegger, we are time. Temporality is a process with three dimensions which form a unity. The task that Heidegger sets himself in Being and Time is a description of the movement of human finitude. As many readers have pointed out and Heidegger himself acknowledged, Being and Time is unfinished. The question that he leaves hanging at the end of the book is the issue that began the whole enterprise, namely the question of being as such. We have been given an answer to the question what it means to be human, but no sense of how we might answer the question of being as such. The task that Heidegger set himself, from the publication of Being and Time in 1927 to his death nearly a half-century later in 1976, was the elucidation of that question.