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Dwelling after Heidegger
Louise Sundararajan, Ph.D., Ed.D.
Rochester Psychiatric Center, NY
louiselu@pop3.frontiernet.net
[Excerpts from Dwelling, building, and thinking: From Heidegger to habitat
theory, paper presented at the International Society for Theoretical Psychology,
Berlin Conference, April, 1997]
Heidegger claims that humans do not "inhabit" like animals do-- they "dwell,"
and that "dwelling" takes place not so much in a site or "environment" as in a
"world" --animals supposedly have no "world." Contrary to Heidegger, this paper
attempts to explore the wide margins of overlap and affinity between dwelling
and habitat selection, and to illustrate this point with a counter example--a
Taoist project of dwelling as portrayed in a fifth century Chinese landscape
poem by Hsieh Ling-yün. A detailed analysis of Hsieh's poem suggests the
tentative conclusion that the Taoist project of dwelling is capitalizing on a
possibility that has been prematurely foreclosed by Heidegger--the possibility
that there is a continuum between "dwelling, building, and thinking" of the
humans and habitat selection of the animal kingdom.
. . . .
As Haar has pointed out rightly that in the Heideggerian framework, Natural
beings--sun, night, trees, herbs, snakes, cicadas--which Heidegger names, among
others --do not have any subsistence of their own. They occur only in a world
and in relation to a human work, in contrast with it (1993, p. 59). This
marginalization of Nature seems to have important consequences for dwelling--for
one thing, it renders dwelling disembodied. Symptomatic of this disembodied
dwelling is Heidegger's lack of empathy for our creaturely needs, as evidenced
by his claim that the contemporary shortage of housing, deplorable as it is,
does not constitute the real plight of dwelling (1971, p. 161). Disembodiment
also renders dwelling on earth more precarious ("what is the state of dwelling
in our precarious age?" asks Heidegger, 1971, p. 161, emphasis added) than it
already is--in the Heideggerian framework, poetry has superseded the body as our
vital connection to the earth: Poetry is what first brings man onto the earth,
making him belong to it, and thus brings him into dwelling, (Heidegger,1971, p.
218). Having lost its instinctual and physical connection with the earth, the
disembodied Dasein is condemned to do its pirouette in a tight circle of
building and thinking, a precarious dance, which, if all goes well, may
hopefully culminate in dwelling on earth. In sharp contrast is the Taoist
project of dwelling, which seems to have started the whole thing in reverse
order, beginning with the poet affirming his ties with the earth, as he sets out

in search of a good habitat, a quest which in turn facilitates, if we recall the


foregoing analysis of Hsieh's poem, building (poetry making), thinking (kind
comportment toward all things), and dwelling in the fourfold of the world. In
light of this active role Nature plays in the Taoist project of dwelling, we
wonder whether the relationship between Being and Nature is more complex than
the one way street that Heidegger has envisioned, as Haar puts it, Heidegger
does not recognize nature as having power over being. Nature is in being, and
not being in nature (1993, p. 6). And to question the subordination of Nature to
Being is for us to question, at the same time, the adequacy of any project of
dwelling, which fails to take into consideration the body and its creaturely
needs.
In conclusion, our analysis of Hsieh's poem confirms Heidegger's claim that
poetry is what lets us dwell, and at the same time questions the adequacy of
such a project of dwelling that depends exclusively upon poetry/language for its
realization. While this analysis has shown how our instinctual ties with nature
can contribute to, although not necessarily constituting, our dwelling
poetically (Heidegger, 1971, p. 227), it does not intend to eliminate the
tension between Being and Nature. By reopening the question concerning Being and
Nature, it resists any tendency to reduce the tension between the two by either
making dwelling a derivative of habitat selection, or conversely, as Heidegger
has done, by making nature contingent upon being. Keeping intact this creative
tension between Being and Nature, we hope thereby to underscore the importance
of a sustained dialogue between Heidegger and habitat theory, a dialogue which,
we believe, holds the potential toward fulfilling the aspiration of Heidegger to
bring dwelling to the fullness of its nature (1971, p. 161)--habitat theory may
expand the lower limit of the Heideggerian dwelling by showing its continuity
with habitat selection in the animal kingdom, to the same extent that
Heidegger's formulations of the fourfold can extend the higher limit of habitat
theory, by showing the plastic and multidimensional nature of the human habitat,
which requires the satisfaction of the spiritual and the cultural over and
beyond the biological needs of the species.
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