As one particular understanding or interpretation of ‘lifeworld’ or ‘being-in-the-world’ or, indeed, the everyday, the notion of Dasein may be of particular interest in the design and understanding of narrative environments. It may also be of use in seeking to grasp the character of human action, whether understood in the form of will, agency, performativity or actantiality, in the context of an articulated narrative world (diegesis, storyworld) and lifeworld (e.g. actant-network ontology or actant-rhizome ontology).
Dasein is a German word that translates literally as ‘there [da] being [Sein]’ or ‘being there’. While Dasein’s root meaning is usually rendered in English as ‘Being there’, it is equally valid to translate it as ‘Being-here’. Dasein means inhabiting and existing as a Here, a site within which Being and beings can meaningfully appear (Fried and Polt, 2014: xi).
In everyday German, the word Dasein is used just as the word ‘existence’ is used in English. However, Heidegger viewed the Latin term existentia as misleading and superficial. In Being and Time (1927) Heidegger, gives the term a specific philosophical significance. Prior to Heidegger, Dasein commonly referred to the being of persons. Heidegger follows and intensifies the common usage.
Dasein is defined in Being and Time as that being for whom Being itself is at issue, for whom Being, especially its own Being, is in question. For the most part, for Heidegger, this being is the human being although, as Fried and Polt (2014: xi) note, Dasein not simply equivalent to humans. It may help to think of Dasein, Fried and Polt suggest, as a condition into which human beings enter, either individually or collectively, at a historical juncture when the Being of beings becomes an issue for them, or Being as the event of meaningful disclosure takes place for them.
As distinct from the mode of being of a present-at-hand entity (object or artefact) or a ready-to-hand entity (tool or instrument), Dasein is by existing as a self-related being, for whom its own Being, as an individuality through a collectivity, is at issue as it goes about inhabiting the world. Each of us interacts with artefacts, instruments and other human beings in terms of some possible ways for us to be, such as being a doctor, being a teacher, being a parent or being a craftsperson.
Usually, we do not choose our identity, but behave in the way ‘one’ does in the community to which one belongs, in short one conforms to (or struggles with) the norm. However, experiences such as anxiety and the call of conscience can shock or provoke one into choosing who one is, in the face of one’s own mortality. One then exists ‘authentically’, at least for a time.
An authentic individual, in this account, lives in a way that is appropriate to a temporal being, a being who has always already been thrown into some situation, who project possibilities, and who dwells among other beings in a present world. Our temporality is historical, as each of us is a member of a community with a shared inheritance. Through communicating and struggling (agonism), a people or community may find a way to forge a future from its past (Fried and Polt, 2014: xii).
As Mitcham (2001: 28) explains,
“Heidegger undertakes an extended phenomenological analysis of human experience, concluding that Dasein is being-in-the-world characterized existentially as care, concern, solicitude – both about its own being and about the being of the world. That is, underlying all of Dasein’s modes of being and fundamental to it is the experience of care or worry, uncertainty.”
While this general orientation to Dasein may be accepted, in which matters of fact are understood simultaneously as matters of concern, to adopt a Latourian (2004) expression, difficulties arise in the interpretation of what Heidegger means by saying that Dasein is a question of ‘being-thrown’.
Thus, Mitcham (2001: 29), for example, argues that when Heidegger hyphenates the German word Da-sein, he does so in order to emphasise the specificity, as this-ness or there-ness, of the human as that which finds itself thrown into a particular body, dwelling in this country, now at this specific historical period, as well as the care or concern that arises in the specific human being about so finding itself.
Basing himself on the assumption that this is what Heidegger suggests that the term Da-sein implies, Mitcham contends that only from such ineluctable particularity may one be truly human, may one think authentically. It is this sense of grounded being or being-in-the-world, in an individual body, in a unique place, and with an exclusive history, that Mitcham emphasises by adopting the term.
Peter Sloterdijk attempts a similar specification of the notion of Dasein when he argues that ‘being thrown into the world’, is to be thrown into an envelope of some kind, To define humans is to define the envelopes, the life support systems, that make it possible for them to breathe, to live.
Such interpretations, however, assume that the condition of ‘being thrown’ implies a sense of ‘being thrown into the world’, rather than a more prolonged contingency, i.e. simply that of being in a condition of thrownness, without cessation, without origin, without arrival, without destination, without telos, or without ground, so to speak.
This may lead to a further interpretation of the sense of anxiety of which Heidegger speaks, in that the human subject may recognise both its groundedness, in a specific body, in a specific place with a specific history, and its groundlessness, as an unending passage of being-as-thrownness. Expressing the matter in this way opens it to a potential relationship with some postmodernist writings, i.e. post-high-modernist or post-1945 writings, for example, Samuel Beckett and other authors of the literature of the absurd, who undertook to subvert the foundations of accepted modes of thought and experience so as to reveal the meaninglessness of existence and the underlying “abyss,” or “void,” or “nothingness” on which any supposed security is conceived to be precariously suspended (Abrams, 1999: 168-169).
Although Heidegger would not use this terminology, the groundedness of Dasein lies in its inter-subjectivity and inter-corporeality. Thus, as Dalmayr (1989: 393) writes, the “worldliness” of Dasein entails inter-human linkage, an aspect discussed in Being and Time under the heading of “co-being”, of “being-with”, or Mitsein. Heidegger repeatedly insists in Being and Time that the ontological construal of being-in-the-world implies that the world is “always a world already shared with others: the world of Dasein is a co-world; being-in signifies a co-being with others.” (Dallmayr, 1989: 394)
Abrams, M.H. (1999). A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
Dallmayr, F. (1989). The discourse of modernity: Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger (and Habermas). Praxis International, 8 (4), 377–406.
Fried, G. and Polt, R. (2014). Translators’ introduction to the second edition. In: Introduction to metaphysics, 2nd ed., by Martin Heidegger. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Latour, B. (2004). Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry, 30 (2), 225–248.
Mitcham, C. (2001). Dasein versus design: the problematics of turning making into thinking. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 11 (1), 27–36. Available from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1011282121513 [Accessed 20 August 2014].edited 30 August, 2016 by Allan Parsons