Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Nothingness and the Clearing: Heidegger, Daoism and the Quest for Primal Clarity

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Nothingness and the Clearing: Heidegger, Daoism and the Quest for Primal Clarity

Article excerpt

When ONE SPEAKS OF MARTIN HEIDEGGER one seldom mentions East Asian philosophy in the same breath. Although the former's indebtedness to the latter might be historically well documented, (1) in terms of comparative philosophy there remains much to be said. One concept of particular note, and whose meaning evolved over the course of Heidegger's career, is Lichtung, "the clearing." As the site wherein the truth of being is revealed, Heidegger's theory that the clearing's own abyssal nature facilitates said revelation was without question influenced by Eastern philosophy, specifically that of Daoism. Drawing upon Laozi's (around sixth century B.C.E.) Daodejing and Zhuangzi's (375-300 B.C.E.) work of the same name, the argument will be made that Heidegger failed to fully grasp the cosmological significance of the nothingness of the clearing. By holding the former to the latter, their relationship is no longer one of mutual dependency but is subjugated to the existential truth of being. Had he taken the clearing as the self-embracement of nothingness, as Daoism does, Heidegger could have bridged the divide separating nothingness and being giving him the new beginning from which to approach the question of being he so much desired.

Focusing on the recent translation of Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) by Rojcewicz and Vallega-Neu, (2) this paper seeks to explicate Heidegger's version of the clearing and how it differs from the Daoist rendition, illuminate the relationship between nothingness and Being (hereafter beyng), and probe the significance of his call for a leap into the abyss of the clearing if we wish to learn the truth of beyng. This last point offers especially rich comparisons with Daoism, which holds that nothingness is the source of beyng while serving as the ground for its freedom.

To begin, let us look at the German word for clearing. As a verb, lichten can be translated as the clearing of land; as a noun, Lichtung means lightness or unencumbered openness. Heidegger thus uses Lichtung in the sense of an opening in the forest that is free of obstructions allowing it to act as a space that exists independently of the interplay between its own hidden and manifest existence. (3) Although he associated beyng with light as early as Being and Time, (4) Heidegger would appear to reject this analogy in some of his postwar works such as the Heraclitus Seminar:

   Do clearing and light have anything at all to do with each other?
   Clearly not. "Clear" implies: to clear, to weigh anchor, to clear
   out. That does not mean that where the clearing clears, there is
   brightness. What is cleared is the free, the open. At the same
   time, what is cleared is what conceals itself. (5)

According to Lin Ma, who examined Heidegger's connection with East Asian thought in great detail, five of the Daodejing's eighty-one chapters were utilized by Heidegger over the course of his career. (6) Of these five chapters, number fifteen is the most relevant to our discussion. Speaking of the sages of antiquity who were intimately acquainted with Dao, (7) Laozi asked: "Who can still the muddied, slowly rendering it clear; who can stir the calm, slowly bringing it to life?" (8) Heidegger subsequently revised this passage such that it became: "Clarifying finally brings something to light, and subtle motion in the tranquil and still can bring something into being." (9) Comparing the two passages, it would appear Heidegger deliberately deemphasized the cosmological qualities of nothingness, the dark and calm, so as to stress those of beyng, the clear and agitated. If the clearing brings to light the inner-concealedness of things, wherein does such hidden manifestness originate?

The Zhuangzi, the second classic of Daoism after the Daodejing, provides a clue, saying: "Look into that closed room, the empty chamber where brightness is born; fortune and blessing gather where there is stillness. …

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