For the philosophy and linguistics buffs: Comments on “The Complacent”

My German-speaking friend, Birger, has been being brilliant in discussing the quotation from Heidegger. He told me afterwards he got a new access to reading Heidegger from writing this. Here he is …

Birger: 3 March 2014

As Narelle says you can dwell on it for a lifetime but please don’t make the same mistake that I made and dwell on it “from the stands” switching back and forth between the German original and the English translation for a number of years.

There’s no violence from an observer’s perspective. The violence can only be experienced “on the court”.

I love how Erhard and Jensen describe it rather graphically:

“At first you will likely experience something like what a cat experiences when thrown into the air—that is, find yourself mentally thrashing around for something to cling to.

[…] this may leave you going through one or more emotions or mental states. For example, puzzled, bewildered, confused, anxious, embarrassed, frightened, panicked, paralyzed, irritated, angry, hostile, needing to belittle or reject, or aggressive. You may even experience some bodily sensations.

The experience of deconstructing your wall of bricks (your worldview), or even a section of your wall of bricks (one of your frames of reference) will leave you feeling like you’ve fallen off your wall of bricks—the Humpty-Dumpty experience.”

Source:
Erhard, Werner and Jensen, Michael C. and Group, Barbados, A New Paradigm of Individual, Group, and Organizational Performance (November 17, 2010). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 11-006; Barbados Group Working Paper No. 09-02. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1437027 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1437027

Me: 3 March 2014

Hi Birger. So nice to get your comment. The metaphor of the cat and Humpty Dumpty are great.

Heidegger often spoke about doing violence to thought in one form or another (this is how it’s translated in English; what is it literally in German?). While he does write with huge grandiosity and hyperbole in general (Nietzsche is his only competitor for grandiosity – “Why I am so great”, “Why I am so wise”, etc – but Nietzsche has the twinkle in the eye that Heidegger resolutely lacks), the necessity of doing violence to our everyday view of the world is not overstated for once. It’s only with a determined smashing we can even get a glimmer of reality.

Birger: 5 March 2014

“Gewaltsamkeit” isn’t a very comm word in German. But if cats had language, it would be perfectly reasonable for a cat thrown into the air to describe its experience as having the character of a “Gewaltsamkeit”.

The suffix “-samkeit” is somewhat similar to “-someness” in English as in “lonesomeness”.

“Gewalt” can mean “violence” as in “violence on the streets, in the media etc” but it can also mean “force” as in “forces of nature” or “doing something with force”. It could even be translated as “power” as in “separation of powers” (but not really as in “dealing with a situation powerfully”). “Gewalt” can have a connotation of subjugation, of taking/losing control as in “the hijackers took control of the plane”.

Interestingly “Gewaltsamkeit” is translated (by Stambaugh – I don’t have the M&R translation “zuhanden”) as “doing violence” in this particular sentence but its plural “Gewaltsamkeiten” is translated as “forcing things” in another sentence: “In this field of inquiry, forcing things is not an arbitrary matter, but a necessity rooted in facts.”

So maybe “force” or “forcefulness” could be an alternative useful translation.

And I completely agree that force or a “determined smashing” as you say is required to violate one’s prevailing world view, to have it crushed. We need to push hard to overcome “everydayness”, to break through the constraints of the hitherto undistinguished (and comfortable) box inside of which we’ve been living.

I find many of Heidegger’s sentences harder to comprehend in German than in the English translation. Especially for the more complicated sentences I find it really useful to read German and English side by side.

A sentence as simple as “The present, as the Moment, discloses the day authentically.” only makes sense to me in the German original when read multiple times and in the context of its preceding sentence.

The meaning of terms like “disburdening” seems a lot more obvious in English than the “German” equivalent which Heidegger somehow felt he had to invent himself.

On the other hand there are terms like “accommodation” which I find doesn’t communicate the notion of coming towards each other as clearly as it does in German.

Sometimes subtle but important meaning gets lost in translation. For example in the German original, Everydayness means the How in accordance with which Dasein lives “into the day”. In German, Dasein doesn’t just live “its day” (as translated by Stambaugh). It lives into something. After all, “the tomorrow that everyday taking care of waits for is the eternal yesterday”.

I remember double checking the original of the quote to confirm that “complacency” and “tranquilised obviousness” each referred to the “everyday interpretation” and not to each other or to “its claims”.

Of course there are still plenty of specialised terms such as “distantiality” which probably weren’t meant to mean what many of us would intuitively think they mean in either language.

I’m sure the uncanniness (un-home-liness, not-being-at-home-ness in German) experienced when encountering those terms is there on purpose.

And I love it. I requires me (forces me with violence?) to be alive for a brief moment before retreating to the comfort of “innerworldly beings […] among which taking care of things, lost in the they, can linger in tranquilized familiarity.”

Me: 5 March 2014

Wow! Birger, this is sensational. I’m knocked out that you’ve gone back to the original source of Being and Time and are reading the German and English side-by-side. Your commitment is extraordinary. Love the idea of the cat describing its experience. I once wrote a piece I’ve never published called “Box of Cat” (I must dig it out).

Thank you for the notes on gewaltsamkeit. I’ve got the M&R translation zuhanden :) You probably know there are scholars who spend their entire careers fighting battles over the merits and deficiencies of the M&R translation over the Stambaugh one. I agree Dasein living “its day” is crude and misrepresenting. The future Dasein lives into of the “eternal yesterday” (if Stambaugh’s translation) is a truly marvellous line. What chapter/section is it?

You’re almost making me feel fond of B&T.

As you say, there is an ambiguity in the original quote about the object of the “complacency” and “tranquillised obviousness”. That’s one of things I love about it. It forces (elicits with violence) a slight hesitation on the reader, requires the reader regather herself and read again. It causes that of which it speaks.

Thank you for a very enjoyable enquiry. xx

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4 thoughts on “For the philosophy and linguistics buffs: Comments on “The Complacent”

  1. Thanks for featuring me so prominently on your blog Narelle!

    To answer your question for everybody: I was referring to the middle of section 71. Here is the M&R translation (page 422):

    “Everydayness” means the “how” in accordance with which Dasein ‘lives unto the day’ [“in den Tag hineinlebt”], whether in all its ways of behaving or only in certain ones which have been prescribed by Being-with-one-another. To this “how” there belongs further the comfortableness of the accustomed, even if it forces one to do something burdensome and ‘repugnant’. That which will come tomorrow (and this is what everyday concern keeps awaiting) is ‘eternally yesterday’s’. In everydayness everything is all one and the same, but whatever the day may bring is taken as diversification. Everydayness is determinative for Dasein even when it has not chosen the “they” for its ‘hero’.

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  2. Fascinating discussion. As will happen, I have been catching up with Mad Men, Season 6, and the last episode I watched included a scene with Peggy and her boyfriend in which he says to her, “You are frightened, and you mask your fright with complacency”.

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    • It’s interesting how a word comes to our attention and then we hear it all around us. I had a similar experience last week with the word “emerging”.

      What it is is you listening to your listening.

      Listening to one’s listening is required in smashing the complacency/tranquillised obviousness of the everyday interpretation and its claims.

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