Dear Heidegger (h2so4 16)

Dear Heidegger,

Why do people, driving in their cars, so often forget that their blinkers are on, and drive down the highway all blinking and shit, for miles and hours at a time? Why? Is it true that one must get out of one's brain before getting into one's car? —Felix

Dear Felix,

We come across "equipment" in "signs." The word "sign" designates many kinds of things: not only may it stand for different kinds of signs, but Being-a-sign-for can itself be formalized as a universal kind of relation, so that the sign- structure itself provides an ontological clue for "characterizing" any entity whatsoever.

But signs are themselves items of equipment whose specific character as equipment consists in showing or indicating. We find such signs in signposts, boundary-stones, signals, banners and the like. Indicating can be defined as a kind of referring. Referring is, if we take it as formally as possible, a relating.

Every reference is a relation, but not every relation is a reference. Every "indication" is a reference, but not every referring is an indicating. This implies at the same time that every "indication" is a relation, but not every relation is an indicating. The formally general character of relation is thus brought to light.

As you have noted, motor cars are sometimes fitted up with an adjustable red arrow, or blinking light, whose position indicates the direction the vehicle will take—at an intersection, for instance. The position of the arrow is controlled by the driver. This sign is an item of equipment which is ready-to-hand for the driver in his concern with driving, and not for him alone: those who are not travelling with him—and they in particular—also make use of it, either by giving way on the proper side or by stopping. This sign is ready-to-hand within-the-world in the whole equipment-context of vehicles and traffic regulations. It is equipment for indicating, and as equipment it is constituted by reference. It has the character of the "in-order-to," its own definite serviceability. This indicating which the sign performs can be taken as a kind of "referring." But here we must notice that this "referring" as indicating is not the ontological structure of the sign as equipment.

Instead, "referring" as indicating is grounded in the Being-structure of equipment, in serviceability for.... But an entity may have serviceability without thereby becoming a sign. As equipment, a "hammer" too is constituted by serviceability, but this does not make it a sign. Indicating, as a "reference," is a way in which the &ldqutowards-which;" of a service-ability becomes ontically concrete. On the other hand, the kind of reference we get in "serviceability-for" is an ontologico-categorial attribute of equipment as equipment. That the "towards-which" of serviceability should aquire its concreteness in indicating is an accident of its equipment- constitution as such.

In this example of a sign, the difference between the reference of serviceability and the reference of indicating becomes visible in rough and ready fashion. These are so far from coinciding that only when they are united does the concretenes of a definite kind of equipment become possible.

What do we mean when we say that a sign "indicates"? We can determine this only by determining what kind of dealing is appropriate with equipment for indicating. And we must do this in such a way that the readiness-to-hand of the equipment can be genuinely grasped.

In our example of the arrow/turn signal, we must say that the kind of behaving (Being) which corresponds to the sign we encounter is either to "give way" or to "stand still" vis à vis the car with the arrow. Giving way, as taking a direction, belongs essentially to Dasein's Being-in-the-world. Dasein is always somehow directed and on its way; standing and waiting are only limiting cases of this directional "on-its-way." The sign addresses itself to a Being-in-the-world which is specifically "spatial." The sign is not authentically "grasped" if we just stare at it and identify it as an indicator-Thing which occurs. Even if we turn our glance in the direction which the arrow or flashing light indicates, and look at something present-at-hand in the region indicated, even then the sign is not authentically encountered. Such a sign addresses itself to the circumpsection of our concernful dealings, and it does so in such a way that the circumspection which goes along with it, following where it points, brings into an explicit "survey" whatever aroundness the environment may have at the time. This circum-spective survey does not grasp the ready-to-hand; what it achieves is rather an orientation within our environment.

There is another way in which we can experience equipment: we may encounter the arrow simply as equipment which belongs to the car. We can do this without discovering what character it specifically has as equipment: what the arrow is to indicate and how it is to do so may remain completely undetermined; yet what we are encountering is not a mere Thing. The experiencing of a Thing requires a definiteness of its own and must be contrasted with coming across a manifold of equipment, which may often be quite indefinite, even when one comes across it especially close.

Thus, a sign may be interpreted in three ways:

1) Indicating, as a way whereby the "towards-which" of a serviceability can be come concrete, is founded upon the equipment-structure as such, upon the "in order to."

2) The indicating which the sign does is an equipmental character of something ready-to-hand, and as such it belongs to a totality of equipment, to a context of references.

3) The sign is not only ready-to-hand with other equipment, but in its readiness-to-hand the environment becomes in each case explicitly accessible for circumspection.

A sign is something ready-to-hand which functions both as this definite equipment and as something indicative of totalities, and of worldhood.

When Dasein doesn't pay heed to the reference made by a turn signal—that is, when Dasein does not take note of the relation of which such a signal is a sign, Dasein fails to note the ways in which a sign is something ready-to-hand which functions both as equipment and as an indication of totalities, and of worldhood.

In turn, when drivers of auto-mobiles do not use their signals to indicate, but rather leave them blinking as if they signalled something other than an intention to turn, the sign itself is no longer an indication. As I said earlier, every indication is a relation, but not every relation is an indicating.

This does not answer your question, but rather clears the way for a more authentic questioning.


Martin Heidegger

Dear Heidegger,

How much time does it take Jill to put h2so4 together? Where does she find the time? Why does she keep doing it? —Parsnip Bisque

Dear Mr. Bisque,

Of course I have no idea. However, having consulted with Miss Stauffer, I believe we can think of this in terms of de-severing [Ent-fernung], a verb which I mean to be both active and transitive. It stands for a constitutive state of Dasein's Being—a state with regard to which removing something in the sense of putting it away is only a determinate factical mode. "De-severing" amounts to making the farness vanish—that is, making the remoteness of something disappear, bringing it close. Dasein is essentially de-severant: it lets any entity be encountered close by as the entity which it is. De-severence discovers remoteness; and remoteness, like distance, is a determinate categorial characteristic of entities whose nature is not that of Dasein.

De-severance, however, is an existentiale; this must be kept in mind. Only to the extent that entities are revealed for Dasein in their deseveredness [Entfernheit], do 'remotenesses' [Entfernungen] and distances with regard to other things become accessible in entities within-the-world themselves. Two points are just as little desevered from one another as two Things, for neither of these types of entity has the kind of Being which would make it capable of desevering. They merely have a measurable distance between them, which we can come across in our de- severing.

Proximally and for the most part, de-severing is a circumspective bringing-close—bringing something close by, in the sense of procuring it, putting it in readiness, having it to hand. But certain ways in which entities are discovered in a purely cognitive manner also have the character of bringing them close. In Dasein there lies an essential tendency towards closeness. All the ways in which we speed things up, as we are more or less compelled to do today, push us on towards the conquest of remoteness. With the "television," for instance, Dasein has so expanded its everyday environment that it has accomplished a de-severance of the "world"—a de-severance which, in its meaning for Dasein, cannot yet be visualized.

De-severing does not neces- sarily imply any explicit estimation of the farness of something ready-to-hand in relation to Dasein. Above all, remoteness never gets taken as distance. If farness is to be estimated, this is done relatively to deseverances in which everyday Dasein maintains itself. Though these estimates may be imprecise and variable if we try to compute them, in the everydayness of Dasein they have their own definiteness which is thoroughly intelligible. We say that to go over yonder is "a good walk," "a stone's throw," or "as long as it takes to smoke a pipe." These measures express not only that they are not intended to "measure" anything but also that the remoteness here estimated belongs to some entity to which one goes with concernful circumspection.

But even when we avail ourselves of a fixed measure and say "it is half an hour to the house," this measure must be taken as an estimate. "Half an hour" is not thirty minutes, but a duration which has no "length" at all in the sense of a quantitative stretch. Such a duration is always interpreted in terms of well-accustomed everyday ways in which we "make provision." Remotenesses are estimated proximally by circumspection, even when one is quite familiar with &ldquofficially;" calculated measures.


Martin Heidegger

Dear Heidegger,

Am I going to die alone? —30's, SWF.

Dear 30SWF,

Miss Stauffer tells me that this question is not actually about death, but rather about life, so my answer changes from what I originally intended. Dasein understands itself proximally and for the most part in terms of its world; and the Dasein-with of Others is often encountered in terms of what is ready-to-hand within-the-world. But even if others become themes for study, as it were, in their own Dasein, they are not encountered as person-Things present-at-hand: we meet them "at work," that is, primarily in their Being-in-the-world. Even if we see the Other "just standing aound," he is never apprehended as a human-Thing present-at-hand, but his "standing-around" is an existential mode of Being—an unconcerned uncircumspective tarrying alongside everything and nothing. The Other is encountered in his Dasein-with in the world.

The expression "Dasein," however, shows plainly that "in the first instance" this entity is unrelated to Others, and that of course it can still be "with" Others afterwards. Yet one must not fail to notice that we use the term "Dasein-with" to designate that Being for which the Others who are are freed within-the-world. This Dasein-with of Others is disclosed within-the-world for a Dasein, and so too for those who are Daseins with us, only because Dasein in itself is essentially Being-with.

Being-with is an existential characteristic of Dasein even when factically no Other is present-at-hand or perceived. Even Dasein's Being-alone is Being-with in the world.


Martin Heidegger