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Thinking, Thanking, Remembering

Every morning, after my usual fare of a double-shot coffee, two cigarettes and two newspapers, I stand outside the porch thinking of what to write for either of my two projects. Most of the time, I would just try to remember a thought which I noted the previous day or which came to me before without having the chance to test it yet. But this morning, a rather unusual thing happened: I suddenly did not know what to write and I could not remember anything worth writing--and not only that, there were no signs which confirmed each thought that passed my mind (the air was windless, the butterflies were absent and the sun was hiding).

So I told myself that perhaps I could take the morning off as I should not force it--if there has been one lesson I have learned from both my thesis and life, or which comes to the same, the thesis of my life, it was to not force or will anything as that would merely be myself doing the work and not letting an other speak (another, the God, the world). For I do not choose what I write about; it chooses me. Not to sound silly or pretend to be a sage which I am not, it has just been a rule I have discovered and thereby maintained: that as Heidegger says, we do not come to thoughts as thoughts come to us. There is nothing more beautifully simple than a receptive mind.

And then it came to me like a thief in the night or like an angel in broad daylight. Upon opening my mind to receive what may come, I suddenly remembered Heidegger and his "play" on the words "thinking" (Denken), "thanking" (Danken) and "remembering" (Andenken).

We do not come to thoughts--this means that we only receive them by remembering them, and in this receptive remembering one can do nothing but be thankful.


Heidegger says that initially and for the most part, "to think is to will." This is so because thinking had long been interpreted as reasoning, which, as coming from man's ratio, means to reckon (L. rationem, G. rechnen). As the reckoning of reason, to think is to force itself on what it thinks, that is, to stand under it as to powerfully carry it and finally understand it. Man is the reckoner par excellance. And man is only able to reckon the world by standing before it so as to oppose it by determining what is before it as an object (that which stands against the subject). The object can be any old object (other, world, the God); yet no object as object can withstand the gaze of a subject which wishes to see and understand. All objects stand and fall before a reckoning gaze. And the reckoning of thinking deploys from its arsenal what is necessary in order for the thinker to reckon with the object: perception, sensation, circumspection, abstraction, comprehension, determination, etc. For the object to come to the fore, that is to say, for the object to be, the reckoner must necessarily first arrive before the coming of any object. Like an ambush lying in wait, the reckoner determines a priori that what crosses its territory will and must be an object opposed to it or against it. Like an enemy which must be crushed, the gaze of reckoning can only destroy the chance object which offers itself as a target for a trigger-happy thinker. Like war, to think in this way is to engage in a battle of will and power. The completion of reckoning: the assault on the object leading to its surrender, capture and finally to its torture where it is forced to reveal all its secrets.

But thinking essentially because primordially did not first show itself as the reckoning of reason. The Greeks thought that thinking was originally a letting-be: to let that which comes from its hiding show itself, to let that which cannot be seen reveal itself, to let what had hitherto been covered be dis-covered. The letting-be of thinking: letting-truth-be by letting what may show itself show itself on its own and on its own "terms." The Greeks called this coming-forth of truth aletheia or un-concealment.

And the Greeks also thought that the proper attunement to aletheia was a kind of thinking which let the event of unconcealment happen on its own, that is, they thought that to think was legein--to let and to say. To let what shows itself show itself and to say the same (homolegein) of what speaks by listening to it. Gathered together, thinking was originally called Logos by the Greeks. And Logos precisely but ambiguously meant a "letting," a "saying," and finally a "gathering." Why "gathering"? Perhaps because in letting unconcealment be and in saying the same by listening to the speaking of revealing, thinking was a gathering of itself in order to thoughtfully let the truth be and listen to it attentively. It is impossible to listen when you are "all over the place."

Thinking as reckoning would hence acquire more prestigious names such as "logical thinking," "scientific thinking," or more aptly, "objective thinking." Thinking as letting would then hide or disappear from the fore and, as this hidden-from-view way of thinking, it would eventually be named "meditative," "mystical" or even "philosophical thinking"--a thinking which is high-flown, even arbitrary, and as such, an impractical thinking done only by those who had the time to waste or had nothing better (more productive things) to do.

Nowadays, it is no longer fashionable to think "philosophically" as to think "objectively" has taken the ranks and has changed the world into a better because more progressive place.

Why did thinking as letting surrender so easily? And for that matter, why did philosophy give up its place as the "queen of the sciences" so helplessly to its own offspring called the "hard sciences"? This is easy to answer: because thinking as letting cannot contradict itself by forcing itself and its powerless-power to other ways of thinking such as thinking as reckoning. Thinking as letting has only one thought: to let what is be what it is--even if what is already goes against it and finally overcomes it. Thinking as letting will always be powerless because it can only let and listen: it has no hands and it has no voice, and as such, it can never be violent. Reason as reckoning is the inverted Logos: reckoning cannot but (and must) overcome what comes before it and there distort it and in distorting it, finally destroy it. The reckoning of the world: the condition of the possibility of violence.

To let what is be what it is: this means to be powerless before what is. To listen to the speaking of what speaks: this means to be helpless before what speaks. To think primordially and essentially: powerlessness and helplessness, or in one word, poverty --and only this. The poverty of thought is precisely the poverty of being needy of thought, that is, of being powerless before a showing or being helpless before a speaking. The poverty of thought is nothing else but the poverty of a thinking that can never give itself what it does not have because it can only receive. A thinker will always necessarily be poor. He can only wait for the gift of thinking. While reckoning reckons and can only reckon whatever it wishes to reckon, letting can only let itself wait for the possible coming of the gift of thinking. Possible--this means, like any true gift, one can never expect it or anticipate it. But perhaps, one can prepare for it.

To think in a way which lets thinking be what it essentially is is to let thinking be and leave it alone. And what does thinking do when it is alone? It can only fall silent--and it is this silence amidst the machination of the world that lets thinking be open to receive what may be given quietly without a herald before it or without a condition after it.

Thinking can only let itself fall silent before the gift to receive it and after the gift to thank and remember whoever gave it.

Now do we finally understand the meaning of the drawing on the cover of Gelassenheit and why Heidegger let the title be translated into English as Discourse on Thinking?



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