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Wo und Ob: Heidegger’s Animal Differently

By Richard Iveson

While somewhat esoteric at first glance, the seemingly tiny correction made to Sein und Zeit by Heidegger more than twenty-five years after its original 1927 publication nonetheless has important consequences for a rethinking of animals with Heidegger from within both animal studies and Continental philosophy.

According to Heidegger, the authentic encounter is marked by a “calling” [Anrufen] proper only to the human-Dasein as the sole possessor of the “as”-structure. However, once one comes to recognise the shared existence (or ek-sistence) of all beings as similarly constituted outside of themselves and irreducible to egological consciousness, this exclusive privilege can no longer be maintained. As a result, Heidegger’s assertion in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics that the call is precisely a demand that “impels us toward the singular extremity [Spitze] of whatever originarily makes possible” (144) thus has far broader implications in terms of that which potentially remains to come.

It is toward this potentiality which Heidegger perhaps gestures when he later suggests that

[t]he difficulty of the problem lies in the fact that in our questioning we always and inevitably interpret the poverty in world and the peculiar encirclement proper to the animal in such a way that we end up talking as if that which the animal relates to and the manner in which it does so were some being, and as if the relation involved were an ontological relation that is manifest to the animal. The fact that this is not the case compels us to the thesis that the essence of life is accessible only through a destructive observation [Wesen des Lebens nur im Sinne einer abbauenden Betrachtung zugänglich ist], which does not mean that life is something inferior or that it is at a lower level in comparison with human Dasein. On the contrary, life is a domain which possesses a wealth of being-open [Offenseins], of which the human world may know nothing at all (The Fundamental Concepts, 255; trans. modified).

It remains the case then, beyond what is yet one more anthropocentric mirror – beyond, that is, this “fact” which compels Heidegger to speculate – that this necessarily destructive observing with and to which the animal is sacrificed nonetheless reserves for nonhuman animals, on the far side of the abyssal rupture, the possibility of an unknown and unknowing being-open which remains to be differently thought.

Important in regard to this “different thought”, one centred upon the opening of possibility for nonhuman animals, is the very minor – but nonetheless hugely significant – emendation which Heidegger makes prior to the publication ofthe seventh edition of Being and Time in 1953. While a small number of other changes were made at the same time, these were all merely corrections of typographical errors. By contrast, this one particular change – thus far to my knowledge overlooked by scholars of the Heideggerian animal – opens up a new direction and a possible rethinking of Heidegger by Heidegger.

The change in question can be found on page 346 of the original German edition of Sein und Zeit, and page 396 of the Macquarrie & Robinson translation, with a footnote marking the revision. Here, Heidegger is highlighting a certain difficulty, a difficulty he appears to subsequently refuse two years later in The Fundamental Concepts; viz, in the early edition she argues that

[i]t remains a problem in itself [bleibt ein Problem für sich] to define ontologically the way in which the senses can be stimulated or touched in something that merely has life [in einem Nur-Lebenden], and how and whether [wie und ob] the Being of animals, for instance, is constituted by some kind of “time” (Being and Time, 396 [Macquarrie & Robinson translation]).

For the seventh edition, however, Heidegger replaces this problem of knowing “how and whether [wie undob]” the Being of animals is constituted by some kind of “time” with a different problem, that of knowing “how and where [wie undwo]” the Being of animals is constituted by some kind of “time.” This change would seem to mark an explicit shift in Heidegger’s thinking with other animals: the question is not – or no longer – whether animals have time, but only where and in what way such time(s) might spatialise itself. Here is Joan Stambaugh’s translation of the revised sentence:

How the stimulation and touching of the senses in beings that are simply alive are to be ontologically defined, how and where [wie und wo] in general the being of animals is constituted, for example, by a “time,” remains a problem for itself (Being and Time, 317).

Glossing this sentence, Derrida speculates whether, as a “pure concept”, that which we deem mere, bare, or simple life – “this fiction, this simulacrum, this myth, this legend, this phantasm” – is not rather a symptom of that history which “man tells himself, of the philosophical animal, of the animal for the man-philosopher”, a history intimately linked to the Christian narrative of the Fall (The Animal That Therefore I Am, 22-3). Supplementing this reading, however, Heidegger’s sentence can also be read as both a deferral of nonhuman animals beyond the “anthropo-magical mirror”[i] and a foreecho of Heidegger’s later hesitation concerning the being-open [Offenseins] of nonhuman animals cited above. Unfortunate then, that in translating “bleibt ein Problem für sich” as “remains a problem initself,” Macquarrie and Robinson efface the more accurate rendering of “a problem for itself” (as chosen by Stambaugh) and, as a consequence, efface too the suggestion that Heidegger might rather be arguing that the “kind” of time by which the Being of animals is constituted must, by definition, foreclose the possibility of definition. (At this later stage, it should also be noted, Heidegger sees no reason as a result to qualify his original restriction of all other animals to only a single time, or even a single kind of time, in favour of the more reasonable possibility of infinte times, or infinte kinds of time. In this, I would suggest, Heidegger is simply reiterating what for him is still the unproblematic reduction of all other beings to that fairytale beast that still today we call ‘the Animal’).

Hence, in the alternative reading of the amended sentence, the “problem” of ontological definition, rather than a merely logical problem needing only to be put off until later, which is how Derrida reads this paragraph [The Animal That Therefore I Am, 22], but instead must for Heidegger rather remain always and only a question for nonhuman animals, insofar as its question – a question of touch in its broadest sense – cannot be accessed given the particular restrictions constituted by our particular ways of human-being-in-the-world. In this reading then, what appears as its subsequent refusal in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics could not therefore be considered a refusal after all. Having become available to thought – and this is what Heidegger acknowledges with this correction – the question becomes weighted very differently: no longer merely a gesture towards something still undone, it seeks instead to force us to consider just how that which is humanly unthinkable might be given its own space and time nonetheless. A question that calls us – that stimulates and touches –“toward the singular extremity of whatever originarily makes possible.”

[i] For a detailed explication of the anthropomagical mirror in relation to Heidegger’s avowed commitment to a “humanism beyond humanism,” see the first half of “Animals in Looking-Glass World: Überhumanism and Posthumanism in Heidegger and Nietzsche” in Humanimalia 1:2 (2010), pp.46-85.


Derrida, Jacques The Animal That Therefore I Am trans. David Wills (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008).

Heidegger, Martin Being and Time trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (Malden, MA & Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1962).

Heidegger, Martin Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1996).

Heidegger, Martin The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude trans. W. McNeil & N. Walker (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995).

Heidegger, Martin Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Gesamtausgabe Ln, BD. 29/30 (Vittorio Klostermann, 1992).

Richard Iveson
is Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland, Australia.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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