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Preface to the Preface

What was held back in prolonged hesitation,
Is here held fast, hinting,
As the "level" used for giving it shape.
--Heidegger, epigraph to Contributions to Philosophy (On Enowning)

The title of the work reads: Heidegger and the Destruction of the History of the Metaphysics of the Will in Modern Philosophy from Descartes to Nietzsche: A Prolegomena to Gelassenheit.

Since it is a long title, and an even longer work, it is only natural that we begin with the end. And from there, we shall work our way to the beginning.

What is Gelassenheit? Or what does it mean to let something be? This is the question that the work was supposed to answer. This is also the question that the work was unable to answer.

Gelassenheit originally comes from Meister Eckhart, the German mystic philosopher and theologian at the turn of the 14th century. A Dominican who survived his Brother Thomas Aquinas by a few decades, and who is also hailed as the father of German thought, Meister Eckhart was the preacher of letting be.

In his popular sermons, Eckhart said that the path to the mystical union with the dark Godhead passed through the twin roads of abegescheidenheit (or detachment or “letting go”) and gelazenheit (releasement or “letting be”). The Master believed that by freeing ourselves from the vanities of the world and by allowing ourselves to wander in the quiet desert of the Godhead, created man can finally come to home to its Creator. But in order to reach the hidden God, man must first rid himself of all images and concepts of “God.” The mystic’s famous prayer then reads: “God, rid me of “God.” Eckhart’s gelazenheit can therefore be summarized in his exhortation that we must learn how to “let God be God.” But of course, such a formula or mantra does not explain much and neither does it lighten the burden of the question: how is this letting be played out in everyday life? Or no less troubling: what do I do when I say I let God be God?

Martin Heidegger, one of the most important and controversial thinkers of the 20th century, was also perplexed by Meister Eckhart’s gelazenheit. Heidegger held Eckhart in high regard: in his later writings, he would advise that Eckhart was the master to read and to live by.

And Eckhart’s otherwise unnoticed importance to Heidegger’s thought can be gleaned from how Heidegger gives one of his own works the very title he borrows from the mystic. It was in the 1959 work Gelassenheit that Heidegger appropriates Eckhart and attempts to reflect upon what letting be may mean.

To be sure, Heidegger’s short work, translated into the English as Discourse on Thinking, does not present a systematic inquiry into Gelassenheit. On the contrary, Heidegger only suggests what letting be means. In contrast to Eckhart’s moral and religious gelazenheit, Heidegger’s Gelassenheit dwells in the realm of thinking—in the solace of meditation, in the quiet of recollection, and in the ease of conversation. And to again summarize Heidegger’s intimations of Gelassenheit into a hasty maxim, it can be said that the later Heidegger is a philosopher who tells us to let Being be.

To summarize, Eckhart’s gelazenheit teaches us to let God be God. Heidegger’s Gelassenheit, meanwhile, teaches us to let Being be. One is a preacher and the other a teacher, one is a theologian and the other a philosopher, one is a mystic and the other a metaphysician: but both say the same—they say Gelassenheit.

The Master and the Successor of German thought both teach us that the path to God or to Being, or the path to what is most near, may nevertheless lie farthest from man: because initially and for the most part, we do not know how to let go, we do not know how to leave things as they are, or we do not know how to let things be.

Thus, with no less difficulty, I ask here, if I be allowed, in a Kantian manner, these four questions:
What does it mean to let something be?
What must I do to let something be?
What may I hope if I let something be?
—What is Gelassenheit?

These are the questions that go behind or go beyond the work that I present before you today. If it is true that we must pay attention to what remains unsaid behind what is said, or to what remains outside the text as Derrida would say, then it is also true that we must pay attention to what questions are not raised behind questions that are raised. This is how the work that I wrote can be understood: it can only be discerned in view of a larger whole, a whole, to be sure, that has only just begun and is therefore far from complete, but a whole, nevertheless, which can already be envisioned—or imagined—like a horizon within which everything takes its stance and its proper place. And the horizon is Gelassenheit.

This is why the work is only a prolegomena or a preface to Gelassenheit: these are only words before the proper saying of letting be. The work is only an attempt to clear a path on the way to the clearing or the Lichtung of Gelassenheit. These are only intimations or hints as, for now, I can only hint on Gelassenheit, hint on what it can be, and hint on what it may mean.

What the work before you claims to have done, however, is to work out the problem of Gelassenheit—that is, to problematize it, make it a philosophical problematic, or even perhaps make it an urgent question, a question—finally—that may put us in question here and now.

And to make a question problematic or philosophical: this means testing the question against other questions—past or present; letting the idea stand before other ideas—past or present; or, what comes to the same, locating the problem in the history of problems otherwise known as the history of philosophy.

This is why I had to go through the history of philosophy, particularly, the history of modern philosophy, in order to work out the problem of Gelassenheit. It was in modern philosophy that the question of letting be comes to fore and becomes most questionable—albeit in an inverted or in a distorted or in a negative way. It was in modern philosophy, as the work claims, that a metaphysics of an anti-Gelassenheit was established and hardened into a tradition that we in turn received. I am speaking about the tradition of the metaphysics of the will. It is therefore this tradition of the will in modern philosophy which I deconstruct and attempt to liquefy in the body of the work. Following Heidegger’s unfinished task of the destruction of the history of ontology in Being and Time, I confront seven thinkers from modern philosophy: namely, Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant in the first chapter; Schelling in the second; Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in the third.

The rather awkward term “metaphysics of the will in modern philosophy” indicates how Being manifests and hides itself as the Will in the epoch of modern thought. “In the final and highest instance,” as Schelling says, “there is no other Being than Will. Will is primordial Being.” In simpler but in nowise easier terms: everything becomes a matter of the will for the modern subject because modern philosophy places man in the center of a constellation of beings that he himself posits and creates, sustains and controls, empowers and overcomes—and in the last instance may eventually destroy.

If the Greeks gazed in wonder at the order and harmony of nature; if the medieval philosophers admired the beauty of creation; modern man finds himself alone in a world he can no longer understand and he can no longer call home. And without stable ground to stand on and without a God to believe in, modern thought begins in diminished light and in the loneliness of doubt. It is no small coincidence that the father of modern philosophy begins his famous meditations in a dark room—in a dressing gown, and alone with his thoughts for company.

But doubt before a difficult world was to be overcome—quickly, universally and methodically. If the world remains uncanny and if the gods have already fled, man then must by himself build a world that could reflect his image and likeness. Man then had to create himself and the world, sustain himself and the world, and ultimately be his own god and be his own world. Man, in short, must by necessity will himself.

Enter Descartes. It was with Descartes that the metaphysics of the will in modern thought finds its first and therefore its most decisive expression. By grounding the ego cogito as the fundamentum inconcussum of the sciences, Descartes initiates what he saw would be the new prima philosophia, a first philosophy which places the idea clara et distincta of the cogito first, a philosophy, in other words, that places man’s reason first—first above all and nothing else besides. With Descartes, the ground upon which other philosophers will build their own towering philosophical systems becomes established. And the ground is nothing else than the stable ground of man’s reason.

Most of you know the rest of the story. Modern philosophy will be an attempt to confront Descartes by taking him to his logical conclusion (in the form of rationalism) or by correcting him (in the form of empiricism); subsequently, the correction will be corrected (transcendental idealism) and, in turn, that correction will be taken to its extreme conclusion (Absolute Idealism) and so on and so forth.

That is to say: Following Descartes, Leibniz would construct his system of panlogism upon the principium rationis, and therefore, through his planned universal calculus, he would declare that absolutely everything can be known by reasonable man. Kant, through Hume, would correct Leibniz and investigate on the limits of reason, showing through his critique that the subject can in fact know, but this knowledge is finite knowledge and is limited by the ignorance of the noumenon or the object or the thing itself. But to know the limits of reason already implies that the limit had already been transgressed. Thus, Fichte would later show that the subject is also the object; Schelling will say that the object is a matter of the will of the subject; and Hegel will thereby do away with the object and declare that the subject alone is Absolute, because the subject alone is Will or Spirit. With Hegel, all difference is overcome by the Absolute Idea which wills its way through nature and history in order to be made real. Or as Hegel himself puts it: the rational ultimately becomes the real, and the real the rational. This means that reason, through the will of the spirit, becomes what Parmenides said it would be—thinking and Being become the Same.

After Hegel, it would be easy for Schopenhauer to take the next logical step and famously conclude that the world is my will and my representation; that is, Being is objectively my will—what I make of it, what I will it to be, what I empower it to be—and that Being is phenomenally the world I represent—what I understand it to be, what I imagine it to be, what I think it to be. With Schopenhauer, the metaphysics of the will in modern philosophy reaches a quivering point as Being becomes both will and reason. Or what comes to the same, as will and reason, Being is on the way to becoming power.

This brings me to Nietzsche, the last philosopher that I confront in the work. Nietzsche occupies a special place in the canon in how he claims to have summarized not only modern philosophy but the whole history of philosophy itself—from Plato to Hegel. According to Nietzsche, all the truths of philosophy, whether arrived at by Plato’s reason or by Hegel’s Spirit, are but idols that philosophers project in order to hide the real desire of man and the real meaning of the earth. Because for Nietzsche, everything is the endless striving for power. For Nietzsche, Being is the eternal recurrence of the will to power.

Which takes us back to Heidegger. Following Nietzsche, Heidegger too will diagnose our times. Heidegger will say that we find ourselves not only in the epoch of the will to power but already in the epoch of the will to will. And as the will to will, Being no longer hides itself behind any idol of reason or of spirit or even of power; Being reveals itself simply as will: as a will which strenuously wills itself repeatedly and endlessly; as a will which strives with no goal or purpose; as an autistic will which only knows and sees itself reflected in the world it made; and a will, therefore, which suffers from its own powerless power. (There is profound reason why Camus depicts modern man as the mythic Sisyphus who labors without end or hope on his mountain in hell.)

“The desert grows. Woe to him who hides deserts within,” says Nietzsche, in a rather uncomfortable poem which resounds to this day. In hindsight, Nietzsche’s suspicion that all is will to power is a suspicion that cannot be easily dismissed. Any philosophy after Nietzsche, any metaphysical claim to truth, however rational or empirical, however optimistic or pessimistic, however holy or benevolent, must face and suffer from the blows of Nietzsche’s hammer. This is why Heidegger calls Nietzsche “the last metaphysician of the West.” And this is also why Heidegger calls our epoch—what some call the “post-modern” age—or our age, as the age when philosophy comes to its end. If after Hegel, nothing new can be said; then after Nietzsche nothing more can be said.

We, today, are at the end of philosophy. But not to worry, my dear philosophers, for the end of philosophy, according to Heidegger, may take longer than its beginning or its middle or both combined. The will to will, which is the last stage of the end of philosophy, has only just begun. But we already see the will to will and its planetary consequences. We see it most distinctly in our capitalism with no bounds, our politics with no grounds, terror without pause, suffering with no cause.

But for Heidegger, the end of philosophy, as alarming as it may sound, is not about scaring anybody with apocalyptic messages which herald the cessation of thinking and the collapse of mankind.

What the end of philosophy positively indicates, however, is the possibility of a new beginning, the possibility of what Heidegger called the “other beginning.” Thus the end of philosophy signals the opportunity for philosophy to begin again. And Heidegger, above all, knew this: it was his teacher, Edmund Husserl, who after all said that the philosopher is the perpetual beginner. And in a letter to his former prefect of the seminary in Constance in 1928, Heidegger wrote: “Perhaps philosophy shows itself most forcibly and persistently how much Man is a beginner. Philosophizing ultimately means nothing other than being a beginner.”

But it must be asked: What do we concretely do today now that we are at the end of philosophy? Or what do we concretely do today in order to reach the “other beginning”? Heidegger, in fact, was silent about these questions. As if it was a matter of doing something, achieving something, or, again, willing something. Because by doing that, by willing ourselves and forcing the arrival of other beginning, we fall into the waiting hands of the will to will. In the end, the will to will cannot be destroyed.

But Heidegger does hint on what can still be done today at the end of philosophy.

In Discourse on Thinking, he does give Gelassenheit a tentative name. He called it “waiting” o paghihintay. And real waiting is that uncanny experience of not knowing what you are waiting for; not knowing its face or name; not seeing any herald or escort; and not even knowing if and when what shall come will ever arrive. In a word, real waiting is releasement into the open; Gelassenheit is openness itself.

Perhaps, for now, the end of philosophy calls us to learn how to wait upon what can and may arrive in the other beginning with steadfast patience and openness.

But if you ask me what lies in the other beginning, my guess is Gelassenheit lies in the other beginning. That is to say, the other beginning is the epoch where we may finally leave the will behind and properly begin to let things be.

We philosophers are therefore tasked with envisioning an epoch of philosophy which is no longer grounded on the metaphysics of the will; we are tasked with thinking the possibility of an ethics of the other rather than of the self; we are tasked, finally, with imagining a world otherwise than willing.

13 May 2008
Loyola Heights, Quezon City


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