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Archetypical Techniques and the House of Being:

Space to Play and the Temporal Question of Structure

Randall E. Auxier
To ask the hard question is simple
The simple act of the confused will
But the answer
Is hard and hard to remember
W.H. Auden
While it would be fair to say, in my estimation, that a number of concerns will
be raised in the following, and that none of them will find any completion of
their own, nevertheless, the provisional character of this study has
implications beyond those traceable to the insufficiencies caused by limited
scope. More straightforwardly, what I mean to say is that this study should be
provisional even though it had been a lifetime in the preparation, and even if
it offered to read the cube of the texts it does. So this may be taken as
apologetic, if not as an apology, by way of preface. 1
This is to be a study of the ambiguous relation between Jacques Derrida and
Martin Heidegger. It is not only of interest in that the one is a Jew and the
other was once a Nazi, but also because the work of the former has a peculiar
dependence upon that of the latter. The evidence suggests that Derrida has
recently become somewhat defensive about his reliance upon a thinker alleged by
many to be more than just a Nazi-by-circumstance. An example of this
defensiveness has recently appeared in the popular press. Thomas Sheehan reports
in the New York Review of Books, January 14, 1993, 2 that Derrida has shown a
willingness to use something like strong-arm tactics to prevent the publication
in English of an interview he granted to Le Nouvel Observateur in 1987 (entitled
Philosophers Hell). What may be motivating Derrida to act as a censor, or to put
hjs earlier self under erasure, is difficult to divine.
Now, evidently either regretting the remarks he made about Heidegger in that
interview, or not wishing to have them associated with other literature critical
of Heidegger, Derrida calls Richard Wolins book: a sneaky war-machine for
attacking Heidegger (according to Sheehans review). The critics seem not to
agree, however. In an area where much mud has been irresponsibly slung in
Heideggers direction, 3 Wolins book The Heidegger Controversy, seems not to be
another addition to the smear campaign. The present essay is not another one on
Heidegger and National Socialism, however. Derridas current activities aside,
there was an earlier time when he exhibited a more careful ambivalence towards
Heidegger, for it is difficult to decide whether so profound a man as Heidegger
can or should be forgiven for a serious mistake. If Derrida is taken to be
defending Heidegger now, I would have to count that as a change in his view from
the late 60s and early 70s.
The aim here is not an historical but a philosophical investigation of that
complex early relationship between Heideggers thought and Derridas struggle with
it. Heidegger was first viewed through husserlian eyes by Derrida, and in the
gaze cast by Heideggers former Jewish teacher, Heidegger can appear no better
than a naughty and ungrateful apprentice. Still, he appears little worse than
this either. What I mean by this cannot be made clear too quickly.

Historicity at the Onset

Heidegger and Derrida have in common, among other things, Geschichtlichkeit,
historicity. Generally speaking, Heidegger is credited with the introduction of
this concept (if one could call it that) into the philosophical vocabulary.4 The
way in which the term geschichtlichkeit or historicity gets its inaugural use in
philosophical discourse is not insignificant, and it will be worth quoting at
some length:
Laying the foundations, as we have described it, is rather a productive logic
--in the sense that it leaps ahead, as it were into some area of Being,
discloses it for the first time in the constitution of its Being, and, after
thus arriving at the structures within it, makes these available to the
positive sciences as transparent assignments for their inquiry. To give an
example, what is philosophically primary is neither a theory of the
concept-formation of historiology nor the theory of historiological knowledge,
nor yet the theory of history as the Object of historiology; what is primary
is rather the Interpretation of authentically historical entities as regards
their historicity. 5
It is worth noting that the dynamic described above is that of an entering into
the text (in this case the text would be presently available words about
history, or historiology) and arriving at structures so that it is clear that
the entering in is not itself an aspect or modification of the structures
disclosed. This general insight becomes much more than an example by the end of
Being and Time. Heidegger later says:
The movement of existence is not the motion of something present-at-hand. It
is definable in terms of the way Dasein stretches along. The specific movement
in which Dasein is stretched along and stretches itself along, we call its
historizing. The question of Daseins connectedness is the ontological problem
of Daseins historizing. To lay bare the structure of historizing, and the
existential-temporal conditions of it possibility, signifies that one has
achieved an ontological understanding of historicity. 6
The implications here are legion, but offer themselves as something of a puzzle.
What makes them so difficult to comprehend is that we have, in the space of
these two quotes, stripped the concept of historicity of every familiar
association which would derive from our ordinary understanding of the cluster of
meanings which revolve around history and the historical. Whatever historicity
may be, it seems not to be associated with the study of history, or the writing
of history, and it no longer seems restricted to time past, or even human
self-under-standing as it arises from one place/time and leads to another
I will ultimately want to claim that historicity is a word which names the order

which is presupposed in the concept of structure itself. But this order is not
itself merely another structure. Rather, it is the structurality of structure,
but what this means is not yet altogether clear (and is not likely to become so,
given that every essential configuration of Geist has two meanings, according to
Heidegger). Let us not get ahead of ourselves, except insofar as there is no
helping it. Heidegger offers more by way of explanation of historicity, and
historicity turns out to be still more fundamental than we have previously seen:

Dasein factically has its history, and it can have something of the sort
because the Being of this entity is constituted by historicity. . . .the
ontological problem of history is an existential one. The Being of Dasein has
been defined as care. Care is grounded in temporality. Within the range of
temporality, therefore, the kind of historizing [stretching along] which gives
existence its definitely historical character, must be sought. Thus the
Interpretation of Dasein's historicity will prove to be, at bottom, just a
more concrete working out of temporality.7
This is about as central to what Heidegger claims as his project as anything
could be. A more concrete working out of temporality can be had in the
Interpretation of Dasein's historicity, and the Being of Dasein is constituted
by historicity. Recalling that it is through only the Being of Dasein (we are
ourselves the entities to be analysed),8 that entities of our sort could/can ask
the Seinsfrage, then it begins to appear that the interpretation of the
concept/function of historicity is in fact the Seinsfrage asked in its most
primordial form. However, this interpretation appears one way early in Being and
Time, and like quite another at the end. In the section on the destruction of
the history of ontology (in the second part of the introduction), a section
which has become of singular importance for recent French thought,9 Heidegger
uses historicity as follows:
Daseins Being finds its meaning in temporality. But temporality is also the
condition which makes historicity possible as a temporal kind of Being which
Dasein itself possesses, regardless of whether or how Dasein is an entity in
time. Historicity, as a determinate character, is prior to what is called
This seems consistent with Heideggers claim that historicity is constitutive of
Dasein, and consistent on the relation of historicity to temporality.
Historicity is the kind of temporality which entities of Dasein's character
possess. Thus, the interpretation of Dasein's historicity may be inroad (or even
the Way itself) to a more primordial understanding of something like temporality
as such. At this point that it could be pausibly said that Heidegger may have
painted himself into a corner, in that temporality may be something greater than
can be ascertained by means of the Seinsfrage. Heidegger pointed to the
interpretation of Dasein's historicity as a more concrete working out of
temporality, but this is not to say that historicity grounds temporality (and it
is made clear in the last quote that historicity is contained in the range of
temporality).11 However, the question of the nature of temporality as such (that
is, temporality as it would be if it were not understood and conditioned in its
concretion by historicity) turns out to be a question we cannot pose.
This limit is imposed on us by language (among other things), because all
Daseins questioning with respect to its kind of Being, and hence all its
questioning of Being as such, must be questioning in language. Thus, by way of
illustration, language becomes for Heidegger analogous to the Kantian regulative
idea in relation to historicity which can be understood as an analogue to the
constitutive idea.
However, we must not take the analogy too far. The thing which is of value, and
can now for the first time be seen, is the relation which emerges between
historicity and language.12 Dasein is constituted and regulated in the play of
these two. A dance of the Apollinian and Dionysian? Not quite. The reason, as we
will see is that historicity and language each have an Apollinian and Dionysian
moment, to borrow an idea from Hegel which seems appropriate to discussing the
concrete manifestations of temporality in Daseins historicity.
Before we emerge from Being and Time, a few more things need to be pointed out
in regard to it. Heidegger says:
Historicity stands for the state of Being that is constitutive for Dasein's
historizing as such; only on the basis of such historizing is anything like
world-historyor can anything belong historically to world-history. . .
.Whatever the way of being it may have at the time, and thus with whatever
understanding of Being it may possess, Dasein has grown up both into and in a
traditional way of interpreting itself: in terms of this it understands itself
proximally, and within a certain range, constantly. By this understanding, the
possibilities of its Being are disclosed and regulated. Its own past --and
this always means the past of its generation-- is not something which follows
along after Dasein, but something which already goes ahead of it.13
A great deal is prefigured in this paragraph. If read closely, I believe that it
may be taken to suggest that historicity has both a constitutive and a
regulative function, and hence Dasein and that which constitutes it are only
ambiguously characterized in these archetypical terms We will later see that
language itself harbors the self-same ambiguity. Keeping in mind that this
elemental historicity of Dasein may remain hidden from Dasein itself,14 we are
prepared to take on the last of the puzzles which Being and Time offers
regarding historicity (at least the one discussed in this essay). It seems that
historicity has both an authentic and an inauthentic moment, but that
historicity as such hovers above both of these moments:
That which we have hitherto been characterizing as historicity to conform with
the kind of historizing which lies in anticipatory resoluteness,15 we
designate as Dasein's authentic historicity. From the phenomena of handing
down and repeating, which are rooted in the future, it has become plain why
the historizing of authentic history lies preponderantly in having been. But
it remains all the more enigmatic in what way this historizing, as fate, is to
constitute the whole connectedness of Dasein from its birth to its death.16
Thus the question of connectedness re-emerges (as it was bound to --cf. the
quote from p. 31 above). Once historizing is grasped as a transmitted, genetic
phenomenon, then the question of its structure is inevitably destined to follow
on the heels of this.17 In the moment of vision, Heidegger says that historicity
discloses itself as fate,18 and fate incorporates into its existence birth and
death and their between.19 We are, as Derrida will point out, dancing in the
between. Heidegger reminds us that we need not be cognizant of this:
In inauthentic historicity,. . . .the way in which fate has been primordially
stretched along has been hidden. With the inconstancy of the they-self Dasein
makes present its today. In awaiting the next new thing, it has already
forgotten the old one.20
Historicity as such remains constant, but when we lose sight of our extremities
(birth, death) we lose our between as well -- sinking into the they-self.
What has preceded then, is the raw material with which Derrida and the later
Heidegger are to work. It will become necessary to recall and reappropriate bits
of this exposition as we proceed. What needs to be shown next is the way in
which Heidegger has opened up the archetypal possibility of talking about
language in a particular fruitful way in Being and Time.

The Space to Play

While it is true that in Being and Time Heidegger grounds language in Rede,21 I
think that this sense of language is best understood as a language, or a natural
language. Rede is one among the three existential structures belonging to
Dasein, which, Heidegger claims, can be disclosed or laid bare. These structures
or existentialia (ways in which Dasein is related to its kind of Being) are
given in section 34 of Being and Time as Rede, Befindlichkeit, and Verstehen.22
One might well expect each of these in turn to be taken up when the existential
analytic is rerun under the aspect of temporality in Division II, and in a sense
they are.23 There is, however, an asymmetry among the existentialia. They are
matched up with the three aspects of temporality (see footnote 21), and Rede is
the one left out, while a more primordial ontological structure of Dasein,
Falling, is put in its place. It was perhaps clear to him that situatedness and
understanding each have an authentic and an inauthentic moment. He was even
willing to endow falling with an authentic moment, although this strikes one as
odd.24 With Rede, the fourth of the existentialia since falling now seems to be
among both the Trinioty of Care and the existentialia, and so I suppose there
are now four of the latter rather than three), a strange difficulty arose. First
of all, there was the absence of the authentic and the inauthentic moment, and
this was the result of the absence of a particular aspect of temporality to
which one might hook language. Certainly does discuss Gerede or idle talk, but
Rede and Gerede are not treated as different moments of the same existential
structure (in the way that, for example, anticipation and awaiting are different

moments of understanding as an existential structure). Further, there are only

three aspects to temporality (past, present and future), and Heidegger had
disclosed four existentialia (perhaps this is attirbutable to yet another clash
between pagan and Christian metaphysics). Add to this that one need not look too
long at Rede before one sees that it manifests itself over all three aspects of
temporality (by way of tenses), and one may have the makings of a fairly major
fault-line in the structure of Being and Time. It was the first and last truly
systematic work Heidegger wrote, and one might speculate that his abandonment of
the systematic approach may have been fueled in part by just such difficulties.
Regarding this particular asymetry with Rede, this is another way of saying that
a sort of space is opened up here. Rede begins here to look as if it might be
more than just an existential structure --and Heidegger's later work will bear
this hypothesis out I believe. We find that each of the existentialia is taken
up into a different level of discourse in the later Heidegger, and that this
level of discourse appears to correspond to the difference between the Being of
beings, and the beings. When one considers the former of these, what is revealed
is the way in which beings have Being, and these can be discerned as structures
of the existence of the Being of Dasein --existentialia.
So beings have Being. However, what is concealed in this revealing is the way in
which Being has beings --in a manner of speaking somewhat alien to the
Heideggerian idiom (Being is said to eyeball beings, address them, claim them,
etc. in various later works). Indeed, It is exactly this that the later
Heidegger set out to describe in my estimation, and language was the clue to the
flip side of the ontological difference (and one cannot listen to both beings
and Being at once, any more than one can listen to both sides of a tape
recording at once).
I can offer no more than a very brief and general argument for this
interpretation at present, although I consider it to be something worth
investigating in the future. If this is the right way to understand the relation
of Being and Time to the later work (and to my knowledge no one has looked at
this way, excepting perhaps Derrida --who has been quite cryptic about it), then
a number of things can be explained. First of all, one can view the later
Heidegger notion of thinking as the correspondent of understanding considered
from the other side of the ontological difference. The same relation holds true
of presencing and falling. And it is the relation which holds between
situatedness and historicity as well, but this is actually beginning to work
itself out in the body of Being and Time itself. Recalling that Being and Time
is an unfinished work, it leads me to wonder whether the rest of this might have
gotten worked out in the remainder of the book, had Heidegger finished it.
Still, there is something too tidy about such a claim, and thus I do not stand
by it wholeheartedly.
In any case, language seems to offer itself as the key to making the move from
the preliminary study of the Being of beings to the later study of being. If
this is the case then the discussion of Being-in as dwelling on p. 80 of Being
and Time turns out to be prophetic. From that passage on, the designation of
Language as the house of Being was destined to arrive, and it was always only a
question of time, so to speak.
I have no doubt gotten ahead of myself (as if that could have been avoided), and
I must retrace my steps and show that the suggestions I've just made do in fact
emerge from the text. The basic assymetry between aspects of temporality and
existentialia is taken up by Heidegger as follows:
Tenses, like other temporal phenomena of language -- aspects and temporal
stages -- do not spring from the fact that discourse expresses itself also
about temporal processes, processes encountered in time. Nor does their basis
lie in the fact that speaking runs its course in a physical time. Discourse
[Rede] in itself is temporal since all talking [Reden] about . . . ., of. . .
., or to. . . .,25 is grounded in the ecstatical unity of temporality.26
The ecstatical unity of temporality? This is cryptic. It is, I think,
exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) for Heidegger to show how temporality
is itself a unity-- as opposed to a medium, or simply the aggregate of
possibilities taken from some static end-point (some point of crystallization).
What is the ecstatical unity of temporality? Ultimately Heidegger is reduced to
saying that temporality temporalizes itself as a future which makes present in
the process of having been,27 and this expresses its ecstatic unity insofar as
it can be expressed in language. The sentence quoted makes liberal use of all
the possibilities for speaking about the aspects of temporality in language, but
those aspects, as expressed, remain separate from one another.
Saying that they possess an ecstatic unity, or that they are possessed by an
ecstatic unity, gets one no closer to that unity itself than would simply
refraining from saying the same thing. That we claim to utter a profound truth
and yet have no thought to accompany it may alienate some sorts of philosophers.

However, emptiness is not entirely to be despised.

What is significant here is that the tug Heidegger must have felt to account for
this tendency of language to choose a standpoint or a single tense (as if that
were possible), and then proceed to range over all aspects of temporality,
freely making itself (language that is) manifest in all sorts of sub-tenses
(e.g., employing the present and the past to express the future as pointed out
in the footnote above). At this point in Being and Time, It begins to look like
language might be more than the concomitant natural languages, and hence, more
than Rede. Thus, it is no accident that the question what is language began to
pose itself even at this early date.
This question began to be asked, then, with reference to the unity of
temporality, and how it might be possible to formulate such a question in
language. A clue as to how that question would ultimately be put is in evidence
in Being and Time:
The ecstatical temporality of the spatiality that is characteristic of Dasein,
makes it intelligible that space is independent of time; but on the other
hand, this same temporality also makes intelligible Daseins dependence which
manifests itself in the well-known phenomenon that both Dasein's
interpretation of itself and the whole stock of significations which belong to
language in general, are dominated through and through by spatial
representations. This priority of the spatial in the Articulation of concepts
and significations has its basis not in some specific power which space
possesses, but in Dasein's kind of Being.28 Dasein does interpret itself to
itself, and Heidegger is here interpreting that interpretation. The
realization of this drives him eventually to a metaphorical idiom to later
offer an account of the status of the language of this interpretation of
Daseins self-interpretation. It is as if the only way in which temporality
(normally conceived as a plurality in the way of possibilities) can be made to
appear unified, in the final analysis, by means of a spatial metaphor:
interpretations of self-interpretations do not simply use language, but
rather, language uses them insofar as they dwell and have the Being in
language. Hence, language is the House of Being. In Being and Time, this space

is not thematized, but merely opened up into a Spielraum, a place in which,

through interpretive and meta-interpretive exchange, the play of language
itself might occur.
At this point I have given an account of the move from preliminary and
provisional analyses of Dasein's kind of Being which are offered in Being and
Time (and serve to get us into the circle in the right way), the move from this
to the highly metaphorical wiederholung which Heidegger insists is prefigured in
Being and Time, and in which he partakes in his later work. Coming to see
Language as the House of Being then will be the pivotal spot where he turns the
corner. falling can only then be presence, and understanding becomes thinking,
while situatedness explicitly comes to bear the full relation to historicity it
always already had.
However, this does not cohere exactly. Historicity figures prominently in
Heideggers thought prior to the designation of Language as the House of Being.
This anachronism will set the task for the rest of my paper. We are prepared to
emerge from Being and Time, except insofar as we shall retrieve the account of
historicity which constituted the beginning of this essay. It is almost as if I
shall be forced to start over. It will not be surprising if we discover that the
interpretation of historicity given early in this essay has a definite
implication for the reading of Derrida which will be given late in the essay.
The anachronism itself between historicity and the House of Being should be the
thing to watch.

Historicity, Language and the False Center

We might well ask what else lives under the roof or within the house of Being,
which Heidegger called language or metaphysics as such.29
In Being and Time, Heidegger aimed to disclose the most fundamental structures
of the kind Being which Dasein has. We have now seen that these structures have
a fault line, as all structures must. These structures have a genetic moment, a
historicity of their own which is revealed in the absolute resistance to
conceptualization which we discovered in the phrase the ecstatic unity of
The fault line turned Heidegger around in the hermeneutic spiral so that a
re-interpretation of what had gone before became both possible and necessary.
This re- interpretation is to be found both for us and Heidegger in the Letter
on Humanism. We will not need to dwell upon this here, for the re-interpretation
of Being and Time therein is well-known. However, the inaugural use of the
phrase "the House of Being" does occur herein. This is not insignificant and
warrants a repetition:
Much bemoaned of late, and much too lately, the downfall of language is,
however, not the grounds for, but already a consequence of, the state of
affairs in which language under the dominance of the modern meta- physics of
subjectivity almost irremediably falls out of its element. Language still
denies us its essence: that it is the house of the truth of Being. Instead,
language surrenders itself to our mere willing and trafficking as an
instrument of domination over beings.31
I think the turn I suggested in the spiral is in evidence here. Considering the
kind of Being which Dasein has is one study which clears the way for seeing the
way in which Being is related to beings. Heidegger says in the paragraph
following that if man is to find his way once again into the nearness of Being,
he must first learn to exist in the nameless.32 I have a suggestion to make in a
bit as to what might be "nameless," but it is the spatial metaphor which still
intrigues me. Heidegger says:
Metaphysics does indeed represent beings in their Being, and so it thinks the
Being of beings. But it does not think the difference of both. Metaphysics
does not ask about the truth of Being itself. Nor does it ask in what way the
essence of man belongs to the truth of Being. . . .the question is
inaccessible to metaphysics as such.33
I suggested earlier that the turn in the spiral got its push from the difficulty
in formulating the question what is language? using only the Rede concept. It
may be that this difficulty is traceable to the fact that Rede is still a
concept, and hence is still metaphysical. Thus, as Heidegger notes above (in
effect), metaphysics fails to even knock on the door of the House of Being. This
lends itself nicely to the claim that after Being and Time, Dasein can no longer
set the transcendental conditions for Being. This would simply be so much more
metaphysics. But what about this spatial metaphor, :the House of Being?
Heidegger says:
Thinking builds upon the house of Being, the house in which the jointure of
Being fatefully enjoins the essence of man to dwell in the truth of Being.34
The mention of fate, or unconcealed historicity is no accident here. The
structure in question has a certain structurality about it. It is a
structurality which suggests the possibility of enjoins us to an interpretation
of our self-interpretation. This happens when we dwell in a certain way, for as
Heidegger asks: do the houses themselves hold any guarantee that dwelling occurs
in them?35 But recalling that thinking builds upon the house, we may add that:
. . .building is not merely a means and a way toward dwelling --to build in
itself is already to dwell. Who tells us this? Who gives a standard at all by
which we can take the measure of dwelling and building? It is language that
tells us the nature of a thing, provided that we respect languages own
This is an interesting bit of archae-tecture. It is time to allow Derrida, who
has been at the margins and in the footnotes of this discussion, to take his
place in the center of it for a time.
More than being an interpretation of Heidegger, that which has preceded is the
groundwork for the interpretation of Derrida's Structure, Siqn and Play in the
Discourse of the Human Sciences from Writing and Difference.37 Naturally, I hope
that the reading I have offered has much wider implications , but with Derridas
recent reversals, it is difficult to tell whether there is any lesson to be
learned in treading where he has already been -- perhaps a negative lesson is
better than no lesson at all, however.
The early Derridian project is parasitic upon the thinking of Heidegger.
Structure, Sign and Play itself has a curious structure, so that how it is
related (parasitically or otherwise) is obscured. Clear connections and themes
do not persist throughout the essay, even from the point of view of the most
generic features of deconstruction. Perhaps some connections can be provided.
Derrida begins this essay with the words:
Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that
could be called an event, if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which
it is precisely the function of structural --or structuralist-- thought to
reduce or to suspect.38
We have, up to this point in my essay, been given the structure of the concept
of historicity, and the history of the concept of historicity, and the
structurality of structure has been discussed as well (and will be discussed
more), but have we done the history of the concept of structure? We have,
implicitly, I believe. Once it is seen what sort of structure is being put into
question in Derrida's essay, it will be seen that it has in fact been given.
Derrida continues:
What would this event be then? Its exterior form would be that of a rupture
and a redoubling.39
"Event" of course becomes the new watchword for Heidegger, and the "rupture" is
the destruction of metaphysics followed by a redoubling which I understand as
reappropriating the tradition after its destruction is complete. In the most
general terms then, event for Derrida is the word which captures this process,
and the choice and emphatic disavowal of this term alerts us to its Heideggerian
origin. This cryptic paragraph means that we can look at the something [that]
has occurred in the history of the concept of structure as follows: the rupture
is in fact the fault line, and the refuge sought at the level of metaphor;40 and
the redoubling would be the asking of the Seinsfrage from the position of having
made the turn in the spiral, which from that standpoint becomes an
interpretation of our earlier interpretive activity. From this second position,
it may be said that:
. . .for as long as the metaphorical sense of the notion of structure is not
acknowledged as such, that is to say interrogated and even destroyed as
concerns its non-figurative quality so that the non-spatiality or original
spatiality designated by it may be revived, one runs the risk. . . .of. . .
.being interested in the figure itself to the detriment of the play going on
within it metaphorically.41
Something then gets suppressed in the spatial metaphor, or rather in the denial
that the metaphor is metaphorical. Derrida opens the essay in question with an
epigraph from Montaigne which enjoins us to interpret interpretations rather
than things. Perhaps Heidegger forgot for a few moments which one of these he
was doing. Perhaps the house of Being was more than an interpretation of an
interpretation. Derrida continues:
Nevertheless, up to the event which I wish to mark out and define, structure
--or rather the structurality of structure-- although it has always been at
work, has always been neutralized or reduced, and this by a process of giving
it a center or referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin.42
Some suggestions for deciphering this passage have already been made, but a
passage late in the same essay brings it nicely to light:
The thematic of historicity, although it seems to be a somewhat late arrival
in philosophy [i.e., with Heidegger or perhaps as early as Dilthey], has
always been required by the determination of Being as presence. With or
without etymology, and despite the classical antagonism which opposes these
significations. . . ., it could be shown that the concept of episteme has
always called forth that of historia. . . .43
Add to this:
History and knowledge, historia and episteme, have always been determined. . .
.as detours for the purpose of the reappropriation of presence.44
The Heideggerian resolution, the thematic of historicity provides a
structurality to structure which enables us to ultimately reappropriate presence
which centers everything by neutralizing and reducing and this reappropriation
is the event Derrida wishes to mark out and define. Note that mark out can mean
to obliterate as well as to delineate. Decentering will be Derrida's strategy
for marking out this event which strangely does depend upon Heidegger's work (or
at least a certain reading of Heidegger's work, perhaps one similar to the one
offered in the first section of this paper). Derrida needs the reappropriation
of the tradition as an event to mark out.
We might ask how this de-centering is to be carried out. It is my view that the
de-centering is carried out in the notion of play (the space for which Heidegger
has himself opened). Derrida says:
The concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a play based on a
fundamental ground, a play constituted on the basis of a fundamental
immobility and a reassuring certitude, which is itself beyond the reach of
play. And on the basis of this certitude anxiety can be mastered. . .45
The occurence of anxiety here is not to be overlooked, since it is through that
phenomena that Heidegger first discloses the threefold structure of care. This
odd complement of play to structure can be juxtaposed to the tension of play and
Besides the tension between play and history, there is also the tension
between play and presence. Play is the disruption of presence. . . .Play is
always play of absence and presence, but if it is to be thought radically,
play must be conceived before the alternative of presence and absence. Being
must be conceived as presence or absence on the basis of the possibility of
play and not the other way around.46
These two passages together can be taken to endorse Heidegger in a funny way.
The later Heidegger tried to bring his project to full presence (doing
ontotheology), instead of bringing it into full play. This sets Heidegger over
against the tradition which led up to him:
There are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign,
of play. The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin

which escapes play and the order of the sign, and which lives the necessity of
interpretation as an exile. The other which is no longer turned toward the
origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of
man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or
of ontotheology --in other words, throughout his entire history-- has dreamed
of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and end of play.47
Derrida is saying precisely the same thing about Heidegger that I suggested
earlier: that we can find both of these moments in his thinking; he is a closet
foundationalist who, haveing ripped open the closet door, finds himself staring
squarely in a mirror -- and no saint is looking back at him. Heidegger is always
either trying to escape play in seeking the most primordial origin (the Being of
beings), or allowing metaphorical play only to close it off in the end (the
quest for Being). What Derrida prefers is the play itself, or: Being. . . .
conceived as presence or absence on the basis of the possibility of play.48 This
is what Heidegger missed, although there can be little doubt that he opened the
very space in which this play could transpire.49 However, Levi-Strauss is given
by Derrida as an example of someone who did not miss this (allowing his form of
discourse ultimately to collapse in a play of its own).50 This is what I think
is shown in the middle part of the essay. But it seems true that Heidegger had
to have cleared the space for Levi-Strauss. We have reached a key juncture in
this essay, and in order to proceed further, it will be necessary to quote
Derrida at more length than good manners ordinarily permits. Derrida says:
And again on the basis of what we call the center (and which, because it can
be either inside or outside, can also indifferently be called the origin or
end, arche or telos), repetitions, substitutions, transformations and
permutations are always taken from a history of meaning [sens] -- that is, in
a word, history -- whose origin may always be rereawakened or whose end may
always be anticipated in the form of presence. This is why one perhaps could
say that the movement of any archaeology, like that of eschatology, is an
accomplice of this reduction of the structurality of structure and always
attempts to conceive of structure on the basis of a full presence which is
beyond play. If this is so, the entire history of the concept of structure,
before the rupture of which we are speaking, must be thought of a series of
substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the
center. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives
different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the
West, is the history of these metaphors and metonomies. Its matrix -- if you
will pardon me for demonstrating so little and for being so elliptical in
order to come more quickly to my principal theme -- is the determination of
Being as presence in all senses of this word.51
All of this is a characterization of the western tradition in which Heidegger
simply occupied the next in a succession of positions. Heidegger just renames
God (since God is a metonym for presence), like everybody else does. But it
isn't quite so simple.
Something else happened with Heidegger; an event, a rupture, and a redoubling.
Heidegger's centering devices (his metonyms) open up a new space or a very old
one. As Irene Harvey sees it:
In a certain respect therefore the term thought, for Derrida performs the same
function in his work as it does in Heideggers, though they define the term
differently. For both it is that which exceeds metaphysics. . . .Metaphysics
and language are thus profoundly synonymous for both thinkers. . . .Thinking,
for both Derrida and Heidegger, provides an essential opening which draws one
towards the abyss of the unknown, of the enigmatic, and hence of the as yet
Earlier I emphasized Heidegger's suggestion about dwelling for a while in the
unnameable in order to regain the nearness of Being. So both open up the space,
but Heidegger goes ahead and centers it by naming it (and ultimately Derrida
names it, after declaring it unnameable - he calls it differance - but this is
not supposed to center that space). There is, nevertheless, a difference between
the two. Derrida is moved to the point of ecstasy simply in writing in the
fracture, the space opened up. Heidegger, on the other side, builds something
out of nothing -- a house (recalling the earlier discussion here of Building,
Dwelling, Thinking ), using the oldest trick in the book: he uses a logos to
bring forth a cosmos from a chaos, which makes him an archetypical theological
The link between Derrida's critique and Heidegger's house is not yet fully
soldered. Derrida says:
The event I called a rupture. . . .presumably would have come about when the
structurality of structure had to begin to be thought, that is to say,
repeated, and this is why I said the disruption was repetition in every sense
of the word. Henceforth, it became necessary to both the law which somehow
governed the desire for a center in the constitution of structure, and the
procsss of signification which orders the displacements and substitutions for
this law of central presence --but a central presence which has never been
itself, has always already been exiled from itself into its own substitute.53
This is why sections 68 and 69 of Being and Time had to fail. Here, Derrida
shows that the process of signification (i.e., language, or the house [oikos] of
Being), and law (i.e., law or nomos) are brought together. They create what
Derrida later describes as a problem of economy,54 as language becomes its own
problem, and realizes it must interpret itself and not things. The word economy
thus comes, at length, to the center of this discussion. The term comes from the
greek oikos for house, and nomos for law. It is the law of the house, and in
this case, the house in question is the house of Being. The house is a
structure, and the law in question governs (that is, orders, brings forth a
cosmos from a chaos) within the structure, giving it limits and a center. But
what of this center? [T]he notion of a structure lacking any center represents
the unthinkable itself,55 Derrida says. Also, the center, which is by definition

unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which, while governing
the structure, escapes structurality.56
We must move very slowly over this. Can one sensibly say that something is by
definition unique? More pointedly, can we think of anything else in the history
of human thought which has been given the status of unique? To the first
question, I would answer that it is not so much contradictory as it is
paradoxical. This paradox is the one inevitable in trying to state in a
definitive way the sign/signified relation.57 In answer to the second question,
Derrida provides a list of concepts/things which have, at one time or another,
first been given the status of unique, and then used as an undefined term in a
system of ordering (for as Aristotle told us, one should not seek a
demonstration of everything). Derrida's list reads: eidos, arche, telos,
energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject), aletheia,
transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.58
The search for the omni-sign, the independent and organizing logos of all logoi,
the law and master of the House of Being, which brings forth a cosmos from a
chaos, is well characterized as a quest for the center -- for whoever and/or
whatever lives in the house of Being. Naturally, Derrida's list must indeed
represent in significant fashion the names of some family members in the Western
House of Being, but what is sought by philosophies of structure is the head of
the House of Being -- sought as though we could be certain there must be onesuch
(in a thinly disguised fit of Platonism, we claim this unity must be ecstatic).
This paradox of the center is described as belonging traditionally both within
the structure and outside it by Derrida.59
This is consistent with the image of language/discourse/logos as a house (that
is, consistent with Heidegger). Heidegger built a house, and Derrida needed one
to take apart:
There are more than enough indications today to suggest we might perceive that
these two interpretations of interpretation [both present in Heidegger] --
which are absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and
reconcile them in an obscure economy [the laws of the house of Being, the
language of meta- physics]-- together share the field which we call, in such
problematic fashion, the social sciences.60
Groundless Speculation
Perhaps some of these odd turns of phrase which Derrida employs, and which make
him such a challenge to read, are bit clearer now, at least in this context.
Furthermore, I believe this essay on genesis and structure is, among other
things, a half-hearted attack on Heidegger. The language chosen to defend
Husserl seems to indicate this:
Thus, one might say, and in an entirely prejudicial fashion, that Husserl, by
his rejection of system and speculative closure, and by virtue of his style of
thought, is attuned to the historicity of meaning, and to the possibility of
its becoming, and is also already respectful of that which remains open within
This cluster of words points to Heidegger, and the carefully chosen phrase about
remaining open seems to be the key to decentering. It also calls to mind
Bergson's notion of openness in his final work.62 Bergson and Husserl had not
anticipated what was on the horizon of their own phenomenological analyses,
however. Certainly genesis and structure are in tension, but in a creative, or
even procreative tension. Not possessing the turn of mind peculiar to so many
Christians, they did not conceive the claim of Being's ultimate and final
arrival upon the scene of history. Nor would they have chosen a metaphor with
which to close the field of play in which history is acted out -- it was far
from their careful temperaments, although the one was a genius of metaphor, and
the other a genius of system. Derrida wagers that Husserl would have been
astonished at the presumption of a conflict between the genetic approach and the
structural approach. There may be a tension, perhaps, but there could be no
conflict unless it is assumed that genesis and structure are competitors on
equal footing. As Derrida points out in a footnote, Husserl says this is not the
The phenomenology developed at first is merely static; its descriptions are
analogous to those of natural history, which concerns particular types and, at
best, arranges them in their systematic order. Questions of universal genesis
and the genesis structure of the ego, and his universality, so far as that
structure is more than temporal formation, are still far away; and, indeed,
they belong to a higher level. But even when they are raised, it is with a
restriction. At first, even eidetic observation will consider an ego as such
with the restriction that a constituted world already exists for him.63
Inquiring into the genesis structure of the ego presupposes at least the
structure of questioning; a constituted world always already exists for the ego
after whose genesis structure we wish to inquire, and hence, we find ourselves
within the House of Being from the start. This must always remain as a
qualification of our description of that creative process, that temporal
formation. The genesis structure of the ego also goes under another name, which
may be more familiar to the present reader; it is also called the existential
analytic of Dasein. What Husserl points out to Heidegger is that taking the
Being of Dasein to have Being-in-the-world as its basic state,64 already affirms
the genesis/structure tension. Why? Derrida's answer is that
the occlusion of this structure is non-sense itself. . . .One might think that
once nonreality of the noema was acknowledged [by Husserl], a conversion of
the entire phenomenological method would have followed, as well as an
abandonment of transcendental idealism along with the Reduction. But would
this not have been, then, to condemn oneself to silence. . . . .?65
In other words, one might well have expected Husserl to either take on
Heidegger's project or fall silent (i.e., refuse to use language), given the
nonreality of that which constitutes and fulfills phenomenological method.
Husserl did not, however, follow this course:
. .the transcendentality of the opening is simultaneously the origin and the
undoing, the condition of possibility and a certain impossibility of every
structure and of every systematic structuralism. . . . .The necessity of this
transition from the structural to the genetic is nothing less than the
necessity of a break or conversion.66
The opening is the space opened up by the actual ontological difference,or
differance --that is, phenomena given as constituted by structure (static), and
phenomena taken as produced --generated in time. Both are either taken as or
given as:
For within the most universal eidos of mental his- toricity, the conversion of
philosophy into phenomenology would be the final degree of differentiation
(stage, that is, Stufe, structural level, or genetic stage). The two previous
degrees would be, first, that of pretheoretical culture, and next, that of the
theoretical or philosophical project. . . .67
Hence we have what can be characterized as a threefold development --
culminating thus far in phenomenology-- but hardly finished history. Two key
insights then distinguish Husserls approach to phenomenology from Heideggers.
First, Husserl is not willing to say, except in provisional fashion, whether he
is in a House that Being built. Otherwise put, he is not hypnotized by his own
language, nor so pleased with his stack of blocks that he is unwilling to knock
them over and start again. Nor is he likely to claim later (in a fit of bad
faith) that what he said earlier about his stack meant something he had never
previously thought of. Second, there is the difference between conflict and
creative tension; a difference which is not allowed in Heideggers economics, for
creative tensions are always grounds for excommunication from the House that
Being built. In the end, Heideggers history of the house must become
hypostatized into the historicity of humanity; an Hegelian pull which is alien
to Husserlian phenomenology. Husserl allows provisional natural histories,
recognizing always the distance and creative tension between actual developmemts
through time and human interpretations of those developments. Heidegger insists
upon an identity here which Husserl finds most baffling and insensitive to the
phenomena -- groundless speculation.
Whether my case is yet made is for others to decide, but Irene Harvey's question
about what lives in the House of Being remains open, for us if not for
Heidegger. In fact, Being has or is a House only in a manner of speeaking, for
what has come to be quoted as one of Heidegger's most famous claims has
lostsomething through time. What Heidegger said was that Language is the House
of the truth of Being. Somewhere along the highway of despair, the center
dropped out of his phrase. We forgot, as is inevitable, what lived in the House
of Being. We philosophers forgot what we went looking for. But whatever it was
we were looking for, it always already had to be there for us. Aristotle said:
As regards the human part of the household, the first care is concerning the
wife; for a common life is above all things natural to the female and to the
male. . . . First, then he must not do her any wrong. . . . .this is
inculcated by the general law. . . .that one should least of all injure a
Hence, it would seem that the center of the house of being leads us directly to
Nietzsche's oft-quoted phrase about the gender of truth. It should be just as
Nietzsche said, for the philosophers curse is that he was always looking for a
space to play in, in the hope that something might come of it -- that something
might be generated, but not from nothing..