Monday, May 7, 2012

Dasein: Beings Beingness

I got an email from my son a few days ago. He had been filming for a movie he's makes now for several days in a forest along with several other people involved in the film production. The atmosphere was intense and everything was focused on the film. He has now many hours of footage to be cut and edited. The making of a film is special in many ways. Not least in terms of the relationship you can get to each other and to life itself. It's moments like this that my son starts to ponder on an important question in relation to what it means to exist. He asks me what does Dasein mean? This is a concept we discussed a few years ago when the movie "The Matrix" was new and my son was captivated by the film's philosophical content. Now comes the term comes again, in a clearing in the woods so to speak.

Foto: Eirik Pettersen

Dasein is not an easy word to translate directly into English. Subject to the limitations of language, I translate Dasein, as Paul Leer-Salvesen does it in "Man and Punishment" (1991, s.377), the interpretations of the "human" way of being. Dasein is composed of "Da" and "Sein". "Da" can have several meanings like, here, there, as well as then and since. "Sein" means simply to be. Altogether, it should be okay to say that Dasein means "being there". Originally Dasein meant being presence, but from the 1800's the word got a meaning more in the direction of existence. The term was used when the theologians wrote about God's existence or when poets wrote about life. When Charles Darwin's book "The struggle for existence" was published for the first time in German, the title which was chosen was das Kampf ums Dasein. Dasein is used in relation to human existence, while Dassein is more geared towards the existence of things (the ram)

In his book Being and Time, Martin Heidegger uses Dasein, for example, in the sense that the beings beingness and the person who is this being. In his lectures he speaks about the human Dasein. Which can either mean being a human or the human being. Dasein has no plural endings if we speak about the being og humans as several people. The term points to any and all beings. He describes to be with others as Mitdasein. When Heidegger writes of being there, he uses the word Da-sein. He writes that Dasein is in the world and illuminates both itself and the world. The site (Das Da) is the place that opens up because of this light, like a clearing in the forest). Being here, (Das Da), is not really a place, as opposed to there (Dort), Dasein does not mean to be here instead of being there, but has to do with the opportunity to be here and there. Later Heidegger uses Da-sein in the sense of being there. Da-sein is not human beings as such, but a relationship that human beings can acquire and lose again.

Heidegger puts a lot more in this wounderful concept, and even use the term in different ways in his writings and lectures. As I understand Heidegger, I mean that Dasein emphasizes the fact that one is thrown into existence, so we must choose how to be where one is (Inwood, 1999, s.42ff). Dasein is not so much about "being here orthere ", but more about "how one is when one is here or there."

Inwood, Michael, 1999. A Heidegger Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell

Heidegger, Martin, [1927], 1977. Sein und Zeit. In Martin Heidegger,Gesamtausgabe.Volume 2.
Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.

Leer-Salvesen, Paul, 1991. Menneske og Straff. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

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