A Running Leap into the There
Heidegger’s “Running Notes on Being and Time

Richard Polt

1. Introduction

In 1936, Martin Heidegger picked up a copy of Being and Time and reread his own work, written largely in 1926, with a critical eye.1 In the intervening years, the Weimar Republic had collapsed, Heidegger had enthusiastically joined the National Socialist Party, and he had served for a year as rector of the University of Freiburg. He had lectured on the pre-Socratics and on Friedrich Hölderlin’s hymns, and was beginning an intensive study of Friedrich Nietzsche.2 A manuscript opaquely titled Contributions to Philosophy was gestating—a text that would attempt to envision “the other inception” of western history.3 After such a dramatic decade, Being and Time now felt “alien” to its own author.4

Heidegger’s reactions to his own book in 1936, titled “Running Notes on Being and Time” (“Laufende Anmerkungen zu Sein und Zeit”), have now been published as part of the eighty-second volume of his writings (see GA82 7–136). The notes are hardly a meticulous explication of the intricate conceptual network of Being and Time; they are impatient, even irritable reactions that characterize both major and minor moments in that book as “superficial” (GA82 60), “inadequate” (GA82 36), “ridiculous” (GA82 123), or “wholly off track and erroneous” (GA82 52). The “Running Notes” largely consist of exclamations, telegraphic comments, and sometimes indecipherable allusions. But this is not to say that they are not serious; crucial issues are at stake, and Heidegger evidently considered these notes to be a significant effort, since he eventually returned to them and reread them with care.5

Among the many thoughts in the “Running Notes,” one theme emerges as paramount: what was presented in Being and Time as a phenomenology of Dasein—understood as the human way of being—should instead be conceived as projecting a new possibility for humanity, a possibility into which we are invited to “leap” to initiate a new epoch.6 This recurring thought in the “Running Notes” pertains to every aspect of Being and Time—its method, its characterizations of the being of Dasein, and its thoughts on Dasein’s relation to being as such. The “Running Notes” will provoke readers to reexamine how they approach Being and Time, to rethink the trajectory of Heidegger’s thought, and to reconsider the legitimacy of his manner of thinking.

2. Dasein as a Leap

The “Running Notes” repeatedly distinguish present humanity from future Dasein. Heidegger rejects “the fatal equivalence between Dasein and being-human [Menschsein]” (GA82 52). He writes that “Being-human is not necessarily and always, and so far has never yet been, Da-sein” (GA82 56). Dasein is a leap, not a given. Heidegger writes:

In Being and Time, “Dasein” is the word for the entity that we in each case are—the human “subject”—but with the intention of eliminating this very “subject” in its subjectivity; this intention presents itself as an improvement and modification of previous conceptions on the way to a “more adequate” investigation. But in truth, it is a leap—a completely different approach and initiation— of what can be grounded only as something that is sprung open [Ersprungenes] by leaping in. ... In Being and Time, Dasein and being-human [are] equated—this too is erroneous ... instead, Dasein is what ... must originally be gained—what “is” only in this happening of the leap and its building-up. ... [In Being and Time,] Dasein is taken as the being of humanity and being-human is not itself grasped as the springing open [Ersprung] of Dasein. (GA82 22)

Thus, the “look” at Dasein is not directed “toward something given and givable”; it is a “look forward ... a directive for the springing open,” which can “happen only in being carried out—not in the program” (GA82 32).

Heidegger makes the same point with reference to the “there”—the Da of Dasein: “The question of the being of Dasein is not the search for an adequate description of Dasein (as if it ‘were’ already ‘present-at-hand’), but the working out of the beyng [Seyn] of the there!” (GA82 51; see also GA82 53). He writes that this working out of the being of the there “must be ‘carried out’ [through a] gathering to insistence [Inständigkeit] in the there, through which insistence the there is sustained in its always historical essence” (GA82 39). By “insistence,” Heidegger seems to mean standing properly within the significant space that Dasein inhabits, or even is, by virtue of its “ek-sistence” or ecstatic transcendence.7 Dasein is not simply one entity included in the world (GA82 54), one kind of thing, but is the world itself, an open region or clearing (see SZ 133). This world cannot be taken for granted but must be kept alive and fostered through engaging in it historically—that is, by drawing on its heritage for the sake of a destiny (SZ 384–5).

Dasein and the “there,” then, are to be brought about by leaping. Such an event is much like what Heidegger called, a year earlier in his Introduction to Metaphysics, an “originary leap” (Ur-sprung)—a leap “that attains itself as ground by leaping.”8 In the Contributions to Philosophy, the fourth and fifth parts of the text are titled “The Leap” and “The Grounding,” respectively (GA65 227–89; 293–392; CP 179–227; 231–310). The point is that Dasein cannot be built on an existing human basis but requires a rupture in history—a qualitative displacement that inaugurates a new way to be.

Is this “leap” an act of will? Heidegger speaks of “the will to get out into the there, the will to worlding” (GA82 59). But he also proposes that “will” is a superficial phenomenon, and that “care” must replace willing and wishing as our distinctive way of engaging with being and beings (GA82 99, 101). He writes,

How can “essence” be willed? “Willing”—insistently to withstand the there [inständlich das Da bestehen]—to set oneself out into it— Da-sein. Da-sein is in itself already and more originary than “will to.” This is only a superficial interpretation. (GA82 119)

It seems, then, that we should not take the “leap” as an act of voluntary self-creation in which Dasein pulls itself up by its own bootstraps; instead, the emergence of Dasein is a happening that subjects humanity to a global transformation, or exposes it to a new dimension. We shall return to the question of will later in this essay.

It might seem natural to rephrase what Heidegger is saying by describing Dasein as a possibility. However, in the “Running Notes,” he rejects the very term “possibility” as a remnant of traditional ontology, and appeals instead to the “fissure” (Zerklüftung) of being (GA82 80–1)—an enigmatic theme that is explored in the Contributions (see GA65 244, 278–82). The point of this language, I take it, is that Dasein is not simply a conceivable state of affairs that we might imagine but a transformative event that would sweep us up into the turmoil of the emergence of a new way of being.

But, if all this has never yet properly taken place, then Dasein means “overcoming being-human” (GA82 23); with Dasein, humanity may change into something it has never yet been. Heidegger writes,

Through the leap into Da-sein, being-human is first essentially transformed beyond what has been so far—(the transition is Da-sein according to Being and Time). Hence the chasm and the urgency of deciding between Da-sein and being-human must be indicated as care—the bridge must first be erected. Care is not the sense of the being of Da-sein, but the other way around: it is the sense of the being of being-human insofar as it carries out the leap-in [Einsprung] (second inception). Thus, no description—no findings of being-in-the-world! Projection! Being-in-the-world is no “structure” in itself that was already “there” up to now (much less a theme of the “analytic” as phenomenological-transcendental-existential), but historizes [geschichtet] and is only a coming transformation. (GA82 56–7)

The task is “certainly not” to derive Dasein from an idea of humanity, “but to cast humanity forth [vor-werfen]” (GA82 97; see also SZ 182). Being and Time’s talk of the “foundations” of Dasein (SZ 197) makes it seem as if these foundations

were present-at-hand and had merely been hidden up to now! | instead of projective grounding of Da-sein—not as substratum and ontological background [Dahinter], but as the free space [Spielraum] of a second inception, a free space that is thrown ahead (GA82 100).

If humanity is not yet Dasein, then what are we? What is our way of being? Heidegger makes the startling assertion that we are currently just what modern philosophy takes us to be: “Thus, in fact the human being is ‘worldless’ despite the talk of ‘world’! Thus, in fact [the human being is] ‘I,’ spirit—dialectic of I and thing! Thus, in fact ‘consciousness’—subject—object” (GA82 57). Such concepts were presented in Being and Time as misunderstandings of human existence, but Heidegger now claims that we are “in fact” subjects confronting objects, rather than Dasein being-in-the-world.

If “Dasein” means a potential way of being, the sense of the word is now closer to what Being and Time designated as authentic Dasein— that is, a possible way to exist properly (SZ 221). But then the distinction between authentic and inauthentic Dasein has to be dropped; “authentic Dasein” is a pleonasm and “inauthentic Dasein” is an oxymoron. For example, according to Being and Time, inauthentic Dasein finds its identity in the ready-to-hand entities that it uses and with which it deals every day (SZ 119). But according to the “Running Notes,” “Here, the everydayness of being-human finds itself—but never Dasein, for Dasein never finds itself this way at all, but only grounds itself as an origin” (GA82 55). What seems like a description of authentic Dasein in Being and Time, then, is in fact an attempt to “construct” Dasein, or rather to leap into it (GA82 126).

Along with the distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity, Being and Time distinguishes between “existential” structures of Dasein and their “existentiell,” individual instantiations (SZ 12). But if Dasein itself now has to be grounded through a leap—a decision at a particular juncture in history—, this distinction, too, must break down. Heidegger rejects the term “structure” (GA82 96) and introduces a new, historical distinction: “Set aside the existentiell and existential—instead of them, implement [zur Geltung bringen] the meta-physical, i.e., the second inception, and fundamentally experience only this for the question of being” (GA82 41).

As this last passage shows, Heidegger now adopts the term “metaphysics” or “meta-physics” for his own thought (see, for example, GA82 85, 91, 110, 131). What is “originally historical in Da-sein” is the “happening of being—but this cannot be attained if not metaphysically from the ground up” (GA82 41). The term “meta-physical” stems from Heidegger’s concept of a second inception: if the first, Greek inception was based on the experience of being as φύσις, then the “leap into Dasein ... requires the opening of the essence of beyng as opposed to the previous ‘physics’!” (GA82 102; see also GA82 135). Φύσις is the original experience of being as presence in the first inception—“the unfolding that opens itself up, the coming-into-appearance in such unfolding, and holding itself and persisting in appearance—in short, the emerging-abiding sway.”9 This is a rich experience that we must rediscover, but the second, meta-physical inception will transcend φύσις and offer a new way of grappling with being. Presencing (Anwesung) is only one aspect of the essencing (Wesung) of being; “Essencing, without being grasped as such, is presencing” (GA65 189).10

In the Contributions, Heidegger will replace the term “second inception” with “other inception,” avoiding the suggestion that it is second-best or derivative, and elevating it more clearly to the rank of a fundamental alternative to the history that descends from the Greeks (GA65 42). This new inception would retrieve the first, but not reproduce it, for “only the singular can be retrieved” (GA65 55; see CP 45 for an alternative translation). The point, then, of deconstructing the western tradition and getting back to the “original experiences” of being that founded this tradition, cannot be to duplicate those experiences but to prepare for new ones (SZ 22).

If Dasein is not a given but a leap into another inception, the same must be said of all the crucial themes associated with Dasein—the features that Being and Time labels existentialia (SZ 44–5). In the “Running Notes,” Heidegger claims that these features presuppose a leap into Dasein:

What is a free projection, both in its existentiell and in its transcendental aspect (being toward death, conscience, temporality), is presented here [SZ 45] as if it were discovered through an appropriate existential analysis; but the appropriateness consists only in the fact that the presupposed standard is kept quiet as sought in this way, that the illusion is awakened that the investigation is moving step by step toward what is primordial, whereas it is only a presentation of what is opened up with the projection, and goes back to the projection. (GA82 125)

Heidegger makes much the same point about “ecstatic-horizonal temporality” (GA82 26–7) and about truth as unconcealment, which is “not a given result [or] ‘phenomenon’ [but] a projection” (GA82 112–3). Truth is not just wrested from concealment but is opened up through a leap (GA82 109), through a creative positing or naming of essence (GA82 82).

There is also a methodological dimension to Heidegger’s self-critique. He identifies “three fundamental flaws [and] errors” in the procedure of Being and Time (GA82 41):

1. the phenomenological illusion, as if that were the exhibiting [Aufweisung; see, for example, SZ 35] of what is given.

2. the fundamental-ontological intent [Abzweckung]—question of the possibility of the understanding of being, as if in this way a ground could be reached!

3. the existentiell goal, as if in this way the original essence as Dasein could be attained. (Ibid.)

We have already discussed the third “error”: instead of describing authenticity as an existentiell possibility, a way of personally taking over an a priori existential structure, Heidegger now wants to project a new form of existing.

The first “error” concerns phenomenology, which Heidegger here dismisses as the mere description of what is already given. Being and Time defines “phenomenology” very broadly and flexibly: allowing what shows itself to be seen in the very way in which it shows itself (SZ 34). But now Heidegger has become suspicious of this very concept of phenomenological display. Phenomenology “deals with the objects of philosophy up to now in a new way; but it does not ask from the ground up—in a way befitting Dasein [daseinsmäßig]—historically” (GA82 37). Instead, phenomenology exhibits its objects without embracing its own historicity. It calls for “‘intuition of essences’; description; but essence can only be created—not found and researched!” (GA82 43). The challenge, then, is “to overcome exhibiting along with ‘phenomenology’—without falling prey to arbitrariness—to the contrary” (GA82 38).

Heidegger, it seems, now holds that Dasein is “exhibited” in Being and Time as a present-at-hand entity. To be sure, the book often affirms that Dasein and its characteristics are nothing present-at-hand (see, for example, SZ 42, 175). But the whole concept of presence-at-hand is deployed as an all-too-convenient, simplistic foil for Dasein—as a “who” that “exists” (GA82 14–5, 55); whereas, on a deeper level, presence-at-hand persists in the very conception of the project of fundamental ontology—in the very ambition to describe the phenomenon of Dasein (GA82 14–5, 45).11

As for the second “error,” Heidegger also calls it the “ontological-transcendental” or simply “transcendental” illusion (GA82 44, 56). The issue here is a central idea in Being and Time: Dasein is the entity that essentially has an understanding of being, so, by investigating what makes this understanding possible (care, temporality, etc.), we should be able to clarify the meaning of being itself (SZ 13–5). But, if what is at stake is not an understanding but a leap, this whole approach will fail to establish the proper ground for Dasein and the proper relation to being. Heidegger claims that the very notion of “understanding” must be “overcome,” and that his procedure is “no longer ‘hermeneutic’ but ... the leap into Da-sein” (GA82 43; see also GA82 11, 79–80). The entire framing of the project in terms of “the understanding of being,” and the search for a “meaning” of being that would illuminate such understanding, is superficial because it omits the element of venturesome projection (GA82 14, 20, 46, 82–3). It is true that understanding, in §31 of Being and Time, is taken as the projection of possibilities (SZ 143–8), but the transcendental framework spoils this conception (GA82 34).

The underlying, obscured purpose of these methodological conceptions in Being and Time was to “carry out a liberation—and a new construction” by attaining a primordial ground and provoking a decision (GA82 44). This decision, evidently, requires a leap, and that is what Heidegger now misses in his former reflections. The point, he writes, is “not to describe conditions of possibility, but to leap in a projecting and constructive [ausbauender] way into the ground of the being of humanity as the preserver of the truth of beyng” (GA82 21). While I have translated ausbauender as “constructive,” it can also mean “deconstructive.”12 In fact, we can now see that Heidegger’s project involves both aspects—existing humanity stands in need of dismantling if Dasein is to be prepared.

3. The Place of the “Running Notes” in Heidegger’s Thought

The “Running Notes” raise a series of questions, both interpretive and critical. We can begin with some reflections on the place of this text in the larger trajectory of Heidegger’s work.

Are there hints in Being and Time itself that Dasein, as interpreted there, is something reserved for the future rather than an already given phenomenon? If so, Heidegger’s retrospective judgments may be a perceptive account of a significant, suppressed tendency in that book. Being and Time’s cautious and sparing use of the word Mensch can be viewed as anticipating the distinction between Dasein and humanity. Heidegger primarily employs the word in his critical discussions of others’ views. He does state quite bluntly that Dasein is “the being of the human” (SZ 25; see also SZ 11, 45), and a handful of passages freely use the term “human” (Mensch) interchangeably with “Dasein” (SZ 57, 117, 212, 314, 396). In general, however, he avoids using Mensch to name “the entity that we ourselves are”; the word Mensch runs the risk of taking our being for granted (SZ 46) and presupposing traditional anthropology (SZ 48–9, 182). In seeking “the appropriate ontological foundations ... [for] the entity that we in each case are and that we call ‘human’” (SZ 196–7), Heidegger implicitly leaves open the possibility that other species might share those foundations: one cannot rule out a priori the possibility that bonobos, octopuses, or extraterrestrials might exist as Dasein. In turn, Being and Time offers no guarantee that every member of the species Homo sapiens exists as Dasein, as one of “us.”

A clearer anticipation of the perspective of the “Running Notes” is §63 of Being and Time, where, in response to a swelling chorus of objections that he anticipates, Heidegger admits that a “factical ideal of Dasein” motivates his analyses (SZ 310). His portrayal of authentic existence, with its resoluteness in the face of mortality and existential guilt, is a particular, ontical possibility that he has projected onto its ontological possibility. He defends this procedure by insisting that every existential analysis (a theoretical, phenomenological account of Dasein’s being in general) must have existentiell roots in the individual experience and the understanding of a phenomenologist (SZ 312; see also SZ 13). This does not amount to imposing an idiosyncratic concept; instead, Heidegger is “allowing Dasein to put itself into words for the first time, so that it may freely decide on its own” whether it has the type of being that his interpretation has projected (SZ 315).

In his “Running Notes,” Heidegger comes down hard on §63 of Being and Time because it grudgingly concedes that Dasein is a projection instead of wholeheartedly embracing this fact (GA 82 128–9). The point of philosophy is not to see past the personal experience of the philosopher to grasp what is universally the case but, rather, to project a possible way of being that we are invited to enter. Heidegger writes that §63 is “an impossible mishmash of existentiality and phenomenology!” because it continues to aim at describing a present essence (GA82 43).

Some other points in Being and Time can also be seen as anticipations of Heidegger’s perspective in 1936. Dasein’s possibility stands higher than its actuality because it always interprets itself in the light of some possible way to exist (SZ 143–4). Heidegger even says that the characteristics of Dasein are “possible ways to be, and nothing but that” (SZ 42). These passages seem to imply, if we take them radically enough, that every “description” of Dasein is in fact a projection, a sketch of a possible form of existence. The very distinction between “existential” structures of Dasein and particular, “existentiell” ways of existing may break down if any so-called structure is itself a projected possibility.

Whatever indications there may be of such thinking in Being and Time, the path to the 1936 “Running Notes” is obviously a tortuous one. A further interpretive question, then, is how and why Heidegger went down that path. Here, I can only suggest that part of the answer lies in his growing interest in the questions of the origin of Dasein’s temporality and of worldhood itself—questions that were ignored or kept quiet in Being and Time. He seeks such an origin in moments when great, creative individuals manage to wrestle with the sense of being in a way that transforms a community’s collective selfhood, and he himself aspires to provoke such a transformation.13 His account of Dasein, then, becomes a new path leading beyond humanity as it has been.

Evidently, such a projection has political implications. According to Heidegger’s journals of the late 1930s, he viewed National Socialism between 1930 and 1934 as promising a new inception of western history.14 By 1936, his view of this movement has dimmed but his dream of a new epoch for Germany and the western world persists. The “Running Notes” thus include a few political remarks. Heidegger criticizes Nazi ideologues for unthinkingly insisting that the Volk should be omnipresent in philosophy; an ethnic collective may be no more authentic than a liberal individual (GA82 31–2, 95–6). Race is merely a given that needs to be taken up in a creative leap (GA82 115; see also GA82 84). To be sure, these remarks do not reject racial thinking altogether; Heidegger proposes that ethnicity will play a part in a people’s world if Dasein comes to pass. He writes,

It is not because a people “is” racial that it has a certain relation to the essence of truth, but the other way around—it is because truth essences as Dasein that race can and must and will stake its claim [sich geltend machen]! It is not that truth is racial, but race can truly unfold its essence only if it moves into the essence of truth, and Da-sein is its presupposition. (GA82 115)

Race, then, like Dasein, is a potential way of existing rather than a present fact about present humanity.

Of course, 1936 is not the final phase of Heidegger’s thinking. Yet another interpretive question, then, is how long his idea of a leap into Dasein persists after the composition of the “Running Notes.” An adequate answer would have to consider the entire trajectory of his thought into the 1970s; here, I will only indicate a few directions.

The language of leaping, in Heidegger’s work, is certainly more characteristic of the 1930s than of the postwar period. There is a shift in tone and mood, and also in content, as Heidegger grows more alienated from politics and develops the theme of Gelassenheit in the 1940s.15 To characterize the shift concisely, one could say that he moves from celebrating the creative, transformative work of poets and thinkers to calling for patience and openness as we await a new dispensation.16 The concept of resoluteness in Being and Time has often been called “decisionist,” and the texts of the thirties are soaked in the pathos of decision.17 Later texts, however, identify the “will to will” as the endpoint of the tradition that we must get over, and even suggest that the will itself is evil.18 If it comes to pass that a new relation to being is decided, this event will not be a matter of choice but a gift of destiny.19 In this regard, the “Running Notes” can be seen as a transitional text, given the passages on will that we have discussed above.

As to the question of whether humanity is equivalent to Dasein, only the “Running Notes” answer with an unambiguously stark “no.” However, some other texts about Being and Time collected in the same volume as the “Running Notes” continue to reflect on the relation between Dasein and humanity.

Heidegger also composed another set of observations on Being and Time in 1936: “Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Sein und Zeit” (“A Confrontation with Being and Time”) (GA82 139–203). Here, most of his comments are more general than in the “Running Notes” and are largely focused on fending off misreadings and criticisms of his book, although self-criticism is also an element of this text. One of the misinterpretations Heidegger rejects is the reading of Being and Time as an anthropology. In response, he again denies that Dasein is equivalent to humanity. Dasein cannot be known through a “zoological description” of human beings (GA82 140); Dasein runs “contrary to [the typical reader’s] being-human” (GA82 141), and even aims at a “dehumanization [Entmenschung] of the human being” (GA82 150). To put it rather paradoxically, Dasein “includes being-human and abandons [aussetzt] it precisely in the inclusion, and thus grounds itself as the in-between” (GA82 168).20 The Contributions to Philosophy, written between 1936 and 1938 (CP xv), experiment with similarly ambiguous formulations:

Somehow it is the human yet not the human after all, and always in an extension and a derangement, who is in play in the grounding of the truth of beyng. And it is just this, which is questionable and worth questioning, that I call Dasein. (GA65 313; see CP 248 for an alternative translation).

In the 1941 text “Zur Erläuterung von Sein und Zeit” (“An Elucidation of Being and Time”), it might seem that Dasein is once again equivalent to humanity (GA82 270–338): Heidegger writes that Dasein is “that on which the human essence is grounded” (GA82 302; see also GA82 317–8); and that “man is himself by standing in Da-sein” (GA82 304). But, as it turns out,

not every historical humanity is assigned to the insistence of Dasein; in history so far, none at all; for all western history and modern world history in general are grounded in metaphysics. But a future humanity is delivered over to Da-sein. ... Da-sein is the event [Ereignis] stemming from being itself of the pure calling-forth of the human essence into the insistence of the preservation of the truth of beyng. (GA82 320–1)

(Evidently, by 1941, Heidegger has dropped the positive use of the term “metaphysics” that is found in the “Running Notes.” As he puts it in his 1946 “Letter on ‘Humanism,’” “metaphysics” now means an interpretation of beings in general that fails to ask how being itself is disclosed [LH 245].) In “Zur Erläuterung,” Heidegger emphasizes the paradoxical nature of the expression “human Dasein” in Being and Time (see SZ 51, 382, 401). He writes that the expression

attempts the impossible: to think the term “Dasein” only in relation to the human, and at the same time to grasp the essence of the human only as grounded in alethetically experienced Dasein. [Dasein] names something that never coincides with the human but is of a more inceptive essence than the human. All the same, only the human, indeed historical humanity, indeed future humanity, and only future humanity, on the basis of essential decisions, has a necessary essential relation to Da-sein. (GA82 321–2)

Another text in GA82, composed in 1943, is titled “Der Weg: Der Gang durch Sein und Zeit” (“The Way: The Passage through Being and Time”). In this text, Dasein and humanity appear to be reconciled: we should, Heidegger asserts, “recognize the human essence as what is required and called by being itself” (GA82 353–4), and he claims that “ecstatic Da-sein determines the human essence” (GA82 358).

These themes are explored further in “Letter on ‘Humanism’” (composed in 1946), where Heidegger rejects the modern ideal of humankind as the arbiter of value and meaning; he proposes instead that it is the “shepherd of being” (LH 252). Here, he freely speaks of Dasein as the “essence” of the human being (see, for example, LH 257). Has he reverted, then, to the description of Dasein as a given phenomenon, to be identified with der Mensch (see, for example, SZ 56, 57)—a word that, in his postwar writings, Heidegger in fact seems to prefer to Dasein and uses much more freely than he did in Being and Time? Possibly, he has; but, in a note to his own copy of “Letter on ‘Humanism,’” Heidegger writes that the entire text “continues to speak in the language of metaphysics” (LH 239). In a private letter to Dieter Sinn from 1964, he even makes such a claim about all his postwar publications with the exception of some lectures on the “fourfold.”21 Heidegger’s poetic evocations of the fourfold—earth, sky, gods, and mortals22—can easily be read as a vision of what might be, a possible way of dwelling. Could it be, then, that what appear to be descriptions of human beings in Heidegger’s later work are just exoteric trappings for a running leap into Dasein? When he speaks of der Mensch, does he mean that we (perhaps at our best) already are mortals dwelling amidst the fourfold, or is this a call for an essential transformation?

4. Critical Questions

This brings us to a few critical questions about the point of view that Heidegger adopts in the “Running Notes.” We can see the idea of a leap into Dasein as a peculiarity of his mid-1930s work or as a tendency that is anticipated in Being and Time and persists in his later thought. In either case, Heidegger’s self-critique in the “Running Notes” should disconcert anyone who has found that Being and Time exposes some characteristics of human life as we know it, or anyone who has so much as asked whether the book’s descriptions are true. What is left of the truth of a philosophical project if its point is not to say how things are? It would seem that the “Running Notes” shockingly concede what some of Heidegger’s harshest critics have charged: that his portrayal of Dasein is a distorted fantasy rather than an even-handed account of human existence.23

If Being and Time’s account of Dasein is only a construct, does it have a claim to legitimacy or validity? How can it make such a claim if it is not based on phenomenal evidence but is instead a venture into the unknown? As Heidegger himself says, there is a risk here of “falling prey to arbitrariness” (GA82 38). Why would this leap in particular be the right one for human beings? When we consider that Heidegger wants to initiate nothing less than a new “inception” of history, the air of arbitrariness makes his idea particularly grandiose and exaggerated. “I am a destiny,” he seems to be saying, echoing Nietzsche.24 Indeed, given Heidegger’s long and close engagement with Nietzsche’s thought, and in light of pervasive similarities between the conception of Dasein in the “Running Notes” and Nietzsche’s Übermensch, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the latter may well have provided a model for the former. Both Nietzsche and Heidegger appear to be practicing a “philosophy of the future,”25 or a form of prophetic thinking, although Heidegger’s venture may be more extreme: Nietzsche ties his figure of the Übermensch to a certain experience of being as power, whereas Heidegger casts the very meaning of being into question.

As for Heidegger’s thoughts on method, defenders of phenomenology could retort that the careful description of how things present themselves offers a proper basis for decisions—these descriptions are the evidence that makes such decisions less than arbitrary. Against Heidegger’s charge in the “Running Notes” that phenomenology merely exhibits the given or the present, they might rightly point out that from its inception, phenomenology has attended to the many forms of absence, to what is not directly or fully given—that which Husserl calls “adumbrations,” such as the implicit presence of the hidden sides of a cube.26

But is there a problem in phenomenology’s way of attending to adumbrations? Do we confine them to a certain traditional understanding of being when we focus on the presence of their absence, the availability of their elusiveness? The presentifying gaze for which everything “shows” itself may reduce the possible to the actual. Then there would be a crucial difference between observing projected possibilities as given phenomena and actually entering them. The difference would lie both in the “objects” studied and in the stance of the phenomenologist, who holds back from the “leap.” A different attitude may be required— not the description and analysis of quasi-present “structures” but a venture into the new. The possible is not merely to be noted, observed, and contemplated, but must be seized in an inception. It can be argued, as Michael Marder does, that properly Heideggerian phenomenology is precisely about “the realm of the possible unbridled from the actual.”27 But, according to the “Running Notes,” truly embracing the possible means leaving phenomenology behind.

In his later years, Heidegger himself may have decided to return to the phenomenological fold. His occasional, late discussions of phenomenology are more cautious and ambiguous than those in the “Running Notes.” A case can be made that his thought has once again become phenomenological—but everything depends on what one means by this term and how one interprets some of Heidegger’s enigmatic comments. For example, his talk in 1973 of a “phenomenology of the inapparent” can be read either as a perfectly mainstream conception of phenomenology, which always brings out phenomena that are not immediately and explicitly obvious, or as a paradox that abandons phenomenology altogether.28

Heidegger claims that “a philosophy can never be refuted” (GA82 37) and that “all refutation in the field of essential thinking is foolish” (LH 256). For example, despite his many critical readings of Descartes, Heidegger writes in the Black Notebooks that the greatness of Descartes is permanent and untouchable.29 We must not, he says, behave toward the history of philosophy in Nicolai Hartmann’s manner—like a schoolmaster striding down the aisle of the classroom, rapping his students on the head for their sundry mistakes (GA82 19). The result is merely a collection of supposedly correct doctrines that will make no difference to anyone (GA82 19). Instead, a philosophy opens a space for experience, discourse, and action—a space that is inevitably pervaded by the “un-truth” that Heidegger now sees as the very “essence” of truth (GA82 112). A philosophy is a finite venture at a historical juncture, generating possibilities that can be explored, appropriated, and transformed in unpredictable ways. Its motive is not mere disagreement about factual claims or some theoretical “worry” but a deeper dissatisfaction with current reality, a restless mood that “drills through the wall of the present-at-hand” and pushes into the new (GA82 59).

Is this conception of philosophy an exciting innovation? Or does it just acknowledge a revolutionary spirit that has always formed a part of philosophy, a spirit that has incensed its enemies but which its lovers should embrace? Or is Heidegger’s conception a reckless, irresponsible abandonment of all critical standards? His readers will have to decide for themselves. His “Running Notes on Being and Time” offer a thought-provoking impetus for such a decision.


1. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962); Sein und Zeit (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1967); henceforth SZ, followed by page number; all translations of German texts cited are my own, unless otherwise indicated.

2. See Martin Heidegger, The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012); Der Anfang der abendländischen Philosophie (Anaximander und Parmenides), ed. Peter Trawny, vol. 35 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2012); Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymns “Germania” and “The Rhine,” trans. William McNeill and Julia Ireland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014); Hölderlins Hymnen “Germanien” und “Der Rhein,” ed. Susanne Ziegler, vol. 39 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1980); Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche: Der Wille zur Macht als Kunst, ed. Bernd Heimbüchel, vol. 43 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1985).

3. Martin Heidegger, Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis), ed. Friedrich- Wilhelm von Herrmann, vol. 65 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1989), p. 57; henceforth GA65, followed by page number. For an alternative translation, see Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event), trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), p. 46; henceforth CP, followed by page number.

4. Martin Heidegger, Zu eigenen Veröffentlichungen, ed. Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrmann, vol. 82 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2018), p. 159; henceforth GA82, followed by page number.

5. Von Herrmann, in his editor’s afterword to Zu eigenen Veröffentlichungen, writes that Heidegger heavily annotated a typescript of the “Running Notes” (GA82 591), which, like most such documents, was presumably typed by his trusted brother, Fritz (see Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, trans. Ewald Osers [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998], p. 8).

6. I follow the convention of leaving Dasein untranslated; its root meaning could be rendered as “there-being” or “here-being” (see, for example, the translators’ annotation in Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 27n. 1). Even though the sense of the word is a way of being, its reference is to the entity that is distinguished by this way of being (SZ 12). Sometimes Heidegger hyphenates the word or emphasizes one part of it; however, the specifically Heideggerian meanings of Dasein are not to be gleaned from these devices but from the contexts in which he uses and interprets it. I translate Mensch as “human being” or “humanity.”

7. See Martin Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth,” trans. John Sallis, in Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 145; “Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (1930),” in Wegmarken, ed. Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrmann, vol. 9 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1976), p. 189.

8. Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), p. 7; Einführung in die Metaphysik, ed. Petra Jaeger, vol. 40 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1983), p. 5.

9. Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 15.

10. On the notions of essencing and presencing, see also GA65 31–2, 75; for an alternative translation of Wesung, see CP 148, where it is rendered as “essential occurrence” (see also CP 26, 28, 60).

11. For a more thorough account of the critique of phenomenology in Zu eigenen Veröffentlichungen (GA82), see William McNeill, “Beyond Phenomenology: From Being and Time to Ereignis,” chap. 5 of The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Legacy (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), pp. 83–102.

12. See Heinz Messinger, Langenscheidt’s New College German Dictionary (Berlin: Langenscheidt, 1990), s.v. “ausbauen”: “complete; extend, enlarge; develop, improve; cultivate; consolidate; arch. finish; tech. remove, dismount, disassemble” (p. 67).

13. See, for example, Heidegger on the “peaks of time” in his Hölderlin’s Hymns, pp. 50–3, 99–100; Hölderlins Hymnen, pp. 52–6, 99. For my detailed account of the transformation in Heidegger’s thought after Being and Time, see Richard Polt, Time and Trauma: Thinking through Heidegger in the Thirties (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), esp. chaps. 1 (pp. 9–47) and 2 (pp. 49–159).

14. Martin Heidegger, Überlegungen VII–XI (Schwarze Hefte 1938–1939), ed. Peter Trawny, vol. 95 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2014), p. 168; Ponderings VII–XI: Black Notebooks 1938–1939, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), p. 318.

15. See, for example, “’Aγχιβασίη: A Triadic Conversation on a Country Path between a Scientist, a Scholar, and a Guide,” in Country Path Conversations, trans. Bret W. Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), pp. 1–104; “’Aγχιβασίη: Ein Gespräch selbstdritt auf einem Feldweg zwischen einem Forscher, einem Gelehrten und einem Weisen,” in Feldweg-Gespräche (1944/45), ed. Ingrid Schüssler, vol. 77 of Gesamtausgabe, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1995), pp. 1–159. The word Gelassenheit (Releasement) appears in only one passage of “Running Notes” (see GA82 26).

16. On Heidegger’s philosophical shifts during the 1930s and 1940s, see Polt, Time and Trauma.

17. For decisionist readings of Being and Time, see, for example, Jürgen Habermas, “The Undermining of Western Rationalism through the Critique of Metaphysics: Martin Heidegger,” in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 131–48; Karl Löwith, My Life in Germany Before and After 1933: A Report, trans. Elizabeth King (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), pp. 27–33; Emmanuel Levinas, “Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism,” trans. Seán Hand, Critical Inquiry 17:1 (1990), pp. 62–71; and Ernst Tugendhat, Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination, trans. Paul Stern (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1986), pp. 200–18. For critiques of decisionist readings of Being and Time, see, for example, Mark Basil Tanzer, Heidegger: Decisionism and Quietism (New York: Humanity Books, 2002); and Julian Young, Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 81–5.

18. See Heidegger, Country Path Conversations, p. 135.

19. See Martin Heidegger, “Letter on ‘Humanism’ (1946),” trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, in Pathmarks, pp. 239–76; henceforth LH, followed by page number.

20. Aussetzt could also mean “interrupts” or “exposes” (see, for example, Messinger, Langenscheidt’s New College Dictionary, s.v. “aussetzen,” p. 75).

21. Dieter Sinn, Ereignis und Nirwana: Heidegger, Buddhismus, Mythos, Mystik—Zur Archäotypik des Denkens (Bonn: Bouvier, 1991), p. 172.

22. Martin Heidegger, “Insight into That Which Is: Bremen Lectures 1949,” in Bremen and Freiburg Lectures: “Insight into That Which Is” and “Basic Principles of Thinking,” trans. Andrew J. Mitchell (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), pp. 11–2, 16–7.

23. In particular, Heidegger’s Dasein has been seen as a right-wing construct: “Sein und Zeit was a highly political and ethical work ... it belonged to the revolutionary Right, and ... contained an argument for the most radical group on the revolutionary Right, namely, the National Socialists” (Johannes Fritsche, preface to Historical Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger’s Being and Time [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999], p. xv).

24. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo: How to Become What You Are, trans. Duncan Large (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 88.

25. See Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

26. On the notion of adumbration, see Edmund Husserl, General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, bk. 1 of Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. Fred Kersten, vol. 2 of Collected Works, ed. Ulrich Melle (Dordrecht, NL: Kluwer, 1983), pp. 87–9, 94–8.

27. Michael Marder, “Heidegger’s Eternal Triangle,” introduction to Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), p. xiii.

28. Martin Heidegger, Four Seminars, trans. Andrew Mitchell and François Raffoul (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), p. 80; for discussions of the phrase, see Jason W. Alvis, “Making Sense of Heidegger’s ‘Phenomenology of the Inconspicuous’ or Inapparent (Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren),” Continental Philosophy Review 51:2 (2018), pp. 211–38; and McNeill, The Fate of Phenomenology, pp. 122–34.

29. Heidegger, Ponderings VII–XI, pp. 129–30; Überlegungen VII–XI, p. 168.

A Running Leap into the There
Heidegger’s “Running Notes on Being and TimePDF