To philosophize about being shattered is separated by a chasm
from a thinking that is shattered
Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks

Where to locate the beginning of my intervention on a book where beginnings and ends are in question? Where everything plays out in the difference between the said and the unsaid? In the im-probable displacement that differs and differences one breath from the next one? “Heidegger runs out of breath” We all know that at this point of the reading and we all perceive or suspect the implications of this “running out,” of the exhaustion that decides the end of Being & Time, an end that nevertheless “is not the sign of abandonment, not the sign of an impasse, not a sign of a renunciation” (Heidegger 159) but rather, a “remarkable architectonic fact”. Heidegger runs out of breath, “pierde el aliento” and this loss is the opening of difference.

This paper sets up to explore the potential connection between architectonics and breath given their encounter in Derrida’s reading of the end of Being and Time for his seminar Heidegger: The Question of Being and History.[1] Here, I’m looking at the relation between, a “remarkable architectonic fact”: the end of Being and Time at the verge of Heidegger’s thematization of historicity, and the expression Derrida choses to describe this process: “running out of breath”. A metaphor repeated throughout the last sessions, a figure of speech that accompanies our reading, inspiring a spectral Heidegger and making us think about the exhaustion and vulnerability that accompanied his singular endeavor, the destruction of metaphysics.

In Session Six (8 February 1965), Derrida elaborates in depth on the “phenomenon” of “running out of breath” and for the next three sessions he will hint a moving forward: “Now we must forge ahead”, “I’m not going back over that again” (205). However, at the beginning of each of these final sessions we find ourselves coming back, recapitulating, on “the phenomenon” of “running out of breath” and from then, slowly, tracing the meandering path of the question on historicity, “can we forge ahead?”, asks Derrida at some point, can we progress after Heidegger’s renunciation? Consequently, the rhythm of the last four sessions (up to the last pages of the last session, 29 March 1965) is marked by a series of displacements, turns and re-turns; not so much the unified movement of a “forging ahead”, as the movedness of undoing of a tight knit —that of History-Movement-Unity. A movedness that follows as its connecting thread the repetitive mention of the expression, “running out of breath”.

Nevertheless, as a figure of speech deliberately inserted by Derrida in his reading of the end of Being and Time, “running out of breath” remains unexplained in the seminar. We cannot conquer the “proper sense” of this expression, nor can we be sure of its meaning; as such, the expression remains uncertain, its meaning im-probable, just as breath itself. Being the closing figure of Being and Time, “running out of breath” destabilizes any attempt of a totalizing hermeneutics of its architectonics. Conversely, it would be productive to follow the connective tissue between this effect [the improbability of breath’s meaning] and Derrida’s observation on Heidegger’s ideal reader for Being and Time? This reader would understand (entendre, i.e. hear): “the beyond of metaphysics, the beyond of the conceptuality of Seind und Zeit [as well as] the necessity... of continuing to dwell in or pass through metaphysical inauthenticity.” (Heidegger 160) Hence, this odd reader would not, “understand the words in their habitual signification —the words of Being and Time;” but rather, inspired by the motions of “towards” [2], would read beyond language’s comforting abode, would squat its unhemliche margin. This anticipated reader, we could say, would hear the breath running.

In a seminar —and in a book— that thematizes on the use of metaphors in philosophy and, more importantly, on the philosophical vigilance necessary to, “destroy those few metaphors that determine history” —that of philosophy (Heidegger 190); the unexamined repetition of the metaphor “running out of breath” results significant —though its meaning, improbable. “Destruction” re-interpreted by Derrida as “solicitation”[3] and “thinking” would imply discerning the movement of metaphorization, the essence of metaphor —i.e its forging ahead. Nevertheless, as Derrida makes clear in the seminar, “this [destruction] does not mean that one leaves the metaphorical element of language behind, but that in a new metaphor the previous metaphor appears as such, and is denounced in its origin and in its metaphorical functioning and in its necessity” (Heidegger 190). Metaphors destroying other metaphors. He suggests: “One perhaps can call the thinking of being...what calls for such a gesture of de-metaphorization” (190). Yet, the thinking of being, a gesture that denounces “the entirety of past metaphor” (onto-theology or philosophy), and, a gesture that announces the horizon of non-metaphor,[4] reveals itself in a metaphor, as dissimulation. The unconcealed always appears concealed. Thus, in the linking of architectonics and breath we see a Derridean gesture denouncing the inherent metaphysical necessities of Being and Time, as well as announcing its moving beyond, its “running out” of philosophical architectonics.

Why does Derrida choose to thematize Heidegger’s architectonic decision to interrupt Being and Time with the repetition of this singular metaphor? Is Derrida’s re-petition, a solicitation? Hence, we would need to ask: first, what previous metaphors appear “as such” in the reiterative mention of “running out of breath”? i.e. what is “denounced” by Derrida’s gesture? Second, if Heidegger’s interruption “is not the sign of abandonment, not the sign of an impasse, not a sign of a renunciation” (Heidegger159); that is, if Heidegger’s interruption is not a pause in a process of completion, nor a sign of incompletion,[5] then, what is announced in the “remarkable architectonic fact” that signals the end of Being and Time? Finally, why connecting these two moments with difference? What would be the connection we see between what gets exhausted at the end of Being & Time and difference?

Attending to introductory question (that of where to begin) I think it would be productive to place these questions at the moment when Derrida explains the end of Being and Time (this is the middle of Session 6).

We have been following Derrida in his explanation of the Heideggerian critique of Husserlian subjectivity and historicity as living present. Rooted in temporality, the question of historicity is in a way the simplest question, that of the continuity of life. Yet for Heidegger, this question has been concealed by the History of Philosophy in the privilege of the present as presence. The opening of this question has been over-determined by transcendental subjectivity’s approach to meaning of being as appearing to, appearing for a subject/ consciousness. That is, to the irreducible complicity of objectivity and subjectivity (Heidegger115). Subjective substantiality as ground responds to a project of security and certainty of the being-present, as being permanent and at my disposal: the self-evidence of the Present as Presence. “We will never leave the present” (Heidegger 136).

Is this philosophical "invulnerability of the present" what Heidegger wants to destroy. He sees an immense problem here: trapped in, overdetermined by the Present, philosophy cannot seriously think the continuity of life, because the Present would be the condition of historicity and its very form (Heidegger 140). Subjectivity determines the understanding of history as the succession of presents (experience), a ground to think history that in itself is not historical. The previous means that the Present as the form of historicity is the condition of a certain ahistoricity of history, a certain “intemporality of time.” “The Present,” says Derrida: “is what cannot end” (142). The self-evidence of the self-evident is what has to be solicited as determination, because to define the meaning of being as Presence is to reduce historicity. This reduction is not the work of some evil philosopher but the very form of historialization as metaphysical dissimulation in the Presence of the appearing “in the Present, history is erased” (138). The Present reduces history and this cannot be negated nor “overcome”, it has to be solicited. Concealed by the invulnerability of the present and the self-evident, the thought of authentic historicity has never entered the history of philosophy, historicity has not even begun to be thought, or thematized by philosophy and its history. —The simplest question is not as simple anymore.

Heidegger is looking for a unity of totalization, no cogito, no "I think," a unity of concrete self that refuses humanist empiricism without falling into transcendentalism (i.e. the subject). Dasein, is a stance of being that does not take the form of presence or phenomena or consciousness and unlike Huserlian temporality of the experience (the living present, the succession of “now”), Dasein’s temporality (being-towards-death) is ek-static: the present as the past of the future. Dasein is its birth and its death, is in-between: the already of the not yet, and the not yet of the already —already born and being towards death. The gift of Heideggerian reflection: there is no historicity if temporality is not finite: “Authentic being towards death, that is the finitude of temporality is the concealed ground of historicity of Dasein” (Heidegger, Being and Time 367). The self-imposed task for Heidegger then is to pose the ontological question of authentic temporality as (continuity of birth-death) as ground for authentic historicity. In Being and Time, Heidegger roots authentic historicity in authentic temporality: being towards death, the temporality that solicits the privilege of the present in its concealment of historicity.

Therefore, historicity is at the root of the Heideggerian solicitation of the privilege of the present since, there is no thinking of historicity without the destruction of the privilege of the present without the solicitation of rationality in general, of meaning in general. Historicity cannot be thought so long as Presence is the absolute form of meaning (Heidegger 178). How to de-throne Presence from its absolute privilege?

Heidegger “runs out of breath”, at the verge of his thematization of authentic historicity in Being and Time, Derrida identifies the signs and reasons of his apnea.

One sign. The encounter of a limitation to meaning and the realization of the impossibility to overcome that limitation at the moment when it is denounced as a limitation. Heidegger recognizes the impossibility destroying metaphysics when “destruction” appears as a metaphor. And one reason. Determining time as the transcendental horizon of the question of being remains a metaphysical gesture (the point of departure to destroy metaphysics was metaphysical): “the more the problem of historicity is brought back to its root (temporality) the more the categorical means and the security of the horizon become elusive” (Heidegger 152). Heidegger roots authentic historicity in authentic temporality up to the point of making them indistinguishable and providing no ground for new categories. For this reason: “...the difficulty in going further into the problematic of historicity is itself a sign, a phenomenon of the difficulty in going further into the problematic of temporality” (Heidegger 157). Historicity revealed Dasein’s temporality as still a metaphysical ground” historicity reveals Dasein as a unitary metaphysical condition of Heidegger’s destruction. The encounter of this fact “shatters” the completion of his formulation “into pieces”. Heidegger could not continue any further, he writes in the Letter on Humanism: “at the end of an uncommon itinerary one realizes one has still using metaphysical conceptuality and that one cannot go on in this way” (Heidegger 204).

Derrida reads the traces left by this difficulty in the operations undertaken with respect to the chapter on historicity. A chapter that results suppressed of its originality, enclosed as a “filler” within the chapters of temporality, “the theme of historicity is, enveloped, enclosed, carried, held back in an embryonic and fetal stage” (156). A safeguarding operation? A “protective” maneuver? Or a suppressive measure of its disruptive potentiality? What kind of architect is Heidegger?

For this reason, Derrida affirms in Being and Time it is never a question of historicity in the proper sense: “Heidegger never goes beyond the critical phase of analysis. He operates a sort of ground clearing; he clears the space to bring out the proper place for an analysis of the historicity of Dasein” (Heidegger 153). And this place will be indicated by an exclusion: historicity remains un-though under the horizon of temporality. Excluded/secluded and yet determining the end of Being and Time, historicity appears as what is not, leaving interruption as its trace.

What is necessary to think historicity? What kind of thinking would this be? Derrida hints, “going beyond [no “further”] without a certain discontinuity was in fact impossible” (154). It is impossible to overcome metaphysics (i.e. to go positively beyond) without an interruption.

By quoting the Letter on Humanism Derrida explains how the interruption in the drafting of Being and Time is not at all a sign of a renunciation and especially not a sign of abandonment. Here interruption is of the order of language, speech, breath. In Being and Time silence marks the place of this discontinuity.

It’s everywhere supposed that the attempt made in Being and Time ended in a blind alley. Let us not comment any further on that opinion. The thinking that hazards a few steps in Being and Time has even today not advanced beyond that publication. But perhaps in the meantime it has in one respect come further into its own matter. However, as long as philosophy merely busies itself with continually obstruction the possibility of admittance into the matter for thinking, i.e. the truth of being, it stands safely beyond any danger of shattering against the hardness of that matter...To philosophize about being shattered is separated by a chasm from a thinking that is shattered... the matter of thinking is not achieved in idle talk...everything depends upon this alone, that the truth of being come to language and that thinking attain to this language. Perhaps then language requires much less precipitate expression than proper silence. (Heidegger 159)

Not advancing, not an ending, but “a chasm”, silence and “a coming further into its own matter” ... thinking. “The only gift that can come to thinking from being” would be the of truth of being coming to language, not a language that “goes on” and grasps meaning but a non-subjectivist admittance to language. Thinking of being is otherwise than metaphysical conceptuality. Quieter than silence, the voice of being is silent, its meaning, unheard, inaudito. Indeed “one should not expect by speaking to overcome metaphysics” (Heidegger 160), because the history of metaphysical conceptuality (the history of philosophy) is co-constitutive to the privilege of spoken word.[6]

“Running of out of breath” gains a new sense in translation “perder el aliento”. What is at stake in this losing (or letting go) is a change in language. Heidegger “runs out of breath” and turns silent allowing a turn, an immaterial displacement, from phonocentric and logocentric determinations of the sign, towards the meaning of being as what is not proper meaning. A breath turn, where what is at risk is the determination of the matter of thinking, the recognition of the limitation as the opening for a certain hospitality of being. Not advancing destruction but the possibility of admittance, a solicitation for a coming in. In the end, it was not the philosopher’s “destructive” might but the recognition of his vulnerability what solicited metaphysics invulnerability.

We see how the “running out of breath” is in direct relation to metaphysical conceptuality (“be”). A such, “breath” cannot ever completely “run out”, nor can we run away from it; “running out” but still, still, still remaining within it —Derrida repeats. Therefore “running out of breath” is not only the lack, or better, is not the progressive loss of breath, as much as, still the presence of the same (air) to breath and still the necessity of it. Destroying metaphysics would imply (the impossibility of) destroying necessity:

We are dealing with a privileging that is not contingent, avoidable privilege, corresponding to an error of thought. We are dealing with an inauthenticity the necessity of which is inscribed in the very structure of Dasein, in particular in the historicity of Dasein and the history of being...The destruction is metaphysics, here the destruction of the privilege of the Present could never erase them. There is an unsurpassable necessity in the dissimulation of the meaning of being on presence and this in the phenomenality of consciousness. (Heidegger 150)

Giving this insuperable fact, this “unsurpassable” necessity, it results even more important to think Derrida’s figurations “running out of breath” and interruption, as the decisive step beyond metaphysics in Being and Time. Two metaphors of the im-probable that keep the traces of, on the one hand: the recognition our insuperable necessity of metaphysics (that which we cannot exceed) and, on the other hand, the pressing need for finding an overturning (excess, the remain, the beyond). Perhaps for this reason is that the end of Being and Time is crucial for Derrida’s analysis of the Heideggerian “destruction” of metaphysics. The fact that is figures appear around the theme of historicity is not gratuitous, since it is historicity the in-between that flips between the aforementioned hands: excluded/secluded and yet determining the end of Being and Time. What is needed to think historicity is the interruption of necessity. For this same reason, it is insufficient to read the end of Being and Time as a dead end, because “running out of breath” could be read as the vigilant breathlessness of Being.

Moreover, the metaphor “running out of breath” gives an account of Heidegger’s awareness of the inadequacy of the metaphysical categorical horizon to think historicity. How this awareness came to Heidegger? This attentiveness that we could not call consciousness (or subjectivist decisionism), signals a shadowy distance with respect to language, a distance that preceded the decisive step of Being and Time beyond the closure of metaphysics.

This understanding is not unrelated to Heidegger’s question on the essence of metaphysics and modern times deployed in “The Age of the World Picture”. In this text, in the separation of world and epoch, the perception of the shadow (becoming incalculable) allows thinking the motif of calculability —the essence of metaphysics in modernity. Hence, in the question on the essence of metaphysics already inhabits the becoming shadow. Heidegger writes, “this question is possible only if the one posing it no longer simply belongs to an epoch (i.e. the totality of beings) but to the difference between being and the totality of beings” (133). Heidegger as the one who posited the question, runs out of breath, becoming silent by the growing shadow.

From the same text, an often-repeated quote: “Man will know the incalculable...only in creative questioning and forming from out of the power of genuine reflection. Reflection transports the man of the future into that “in-between” in which he belongs to being and yet, amidst beings, remains a stranger (136). The in-between, is not one epoch enclosed in History, but the linking between epochs, that is historicity. Heideggger’s interruption does not signal a calculated stoppage, it is not the experience of consciousness as representation, but the exhaustion of one epoch of being that of “history spoken of by philosophy” and historicity as thought by philosophy (privileging the present). The silence, the chasm, the shadow are all Heidegger’s metaphors to reveal/denounce the historical metaphorization of philosophical language, that is, the erasure of history by the Present. Historicity would open in the difference that allows for one metaphor to cross-out other previous metaphors.

“Running out of breath” signals that what is most important in Sein und Zeit is not what is “said” —similarly, to Heidegger repeating the unspoken thoughts of Nietzsche about history.[7] Historicity the unspoked word in the history of philosophy demands hearing (understanding) the silent matter of thinking. Historicity opens in the improbable breach of the unsaid.

Heidegger’s architectonic silence moves: it enters the history of philosophy surrounding Hegelian consciousness of the end of philosophy —and by not adding any other proposition, solicits of the Hegelian edifice: “will [make it] tremble and let be seen that it can still be questioned from a place that is neither outside it nor in it” [ i.e. the in-between] (Heidegger 9). This monumental trembling, this solicitation is the result of an insignificant difference. The difference between Hegelian refutation and Heideggerian solicitation, a difference “as close to nothing”. If in Hegel’s refutation: “nothing gets lost and all the previous steps remain in unity”, for Heidegger is letting go that clears the coming, the meaning of being. The difference between retaining, preserving, concentrating (elevating?) the unity the eschatological appearing of being; and letting go as the opening for the truth of being to come to language. “The difference is almost nothing” —a phrase repeated —with modifications by Derrida throughout the sessions. An insignificant difference, like the one between retaining and releasing a breath.

The interruption that signals the closure of metaphysics operated by Being and Time makes of this book a singularly unfinished project, not an example of architectonic incompletion, as much as the exhaustion of incompletion/completion as architectonic horizon. By taking place in the ending of a mayor philosophical work, the interrupted architectonics of Being and Time metonymically solicit the philosophical tradition of architectonic metaphors of construction and emplacement as persistent unities projected towards a horizon completion and permanence. The analogies between architectonics and subjectivity inform the history of the metaphysical privilege of Presence, as a Permanent Present —a history whose notions are at the core of the Heideggerian destruction.

“Running out of breath” means no longer saying “experience”, it signifies the refusal of making consciousness the sole form of progression, “... towards absolute presence, towards the Parousia of absolute consciousness” (149-150) That is, the refusal of an economy without loss of meaning, an economy of death gathered up in Presence, in other words, the monument. The unfinished character of Being and Time denounces the complicity of eschatological architectonics of completion/ incompletion (totality and unity) with a notion of history as a feasible interpretation. Being and Time’s architectonics of interruption, announce a sensibilization of limits, ends and discontinuities in tight relation to the question of continuity, that is, of historicity. “Running out of breath” as “being towards death” announces the amonumental, the im-probable architectonics of finitude.

The Heideggerian silence moves towards Derridean intervention and the question of the opening of historicity.

At the beginning of the text we described (quite metaphorically) the rhythm of the last sessions as a series of turns, re-turs and displacements; this dynamic continues until the last pages of the book, where Derrida suddenly interrupts his digression and quickly advances to a conclusion. The last three pages of the book rapidly summarize in a crescendo the main problematics of the seminar and culminate with the word “difference”. In its climatic appearance “difference” —a word overly invested with significance at this point of the reading, disseminates the meaning of the whole seminar, leaving us in suspension.

In a succinct final sentence, Derrida retrieves the few traces left by the outburst, three counterfeit treasures: “Heidegger”, “Being”, “History” and one golden nugget, the enigma: “question”: “one can speak of an end of history and a death of being that are, no less, what by another metaphor we call the future itself. What is hidden under this other metaphor is the opening of the question itself: that is, of difference.” (225) Here, Derrida is repeating himself, he is bringing the future that determines Heidegger as past, that is, as tradition and as chosen inheritance. But also, here, Derrida is wielding a dexterous gesture of thinking towards de-metaphorization. A thinking that does not move further full of certainty but a thinking that takes the movement of breath as its ultimate condition, because as he later elaborated in his texts dedicated to Paul Celan’s breath turn “... Both the poem, if there is one, and thinking, if there is any, are there because of this im-probability of breath.” (Sovereignties 109) [8]

Thus, instead of interpreting the architectonics of Being and Time as the scarification resulting from its author exhaustion— a causal reading of the habitual sense of these words and a cadaveric consideration of the book— one could think the interruption of Being and Time as a continuing suspense, a breathlessness, “...that keeps it alive, alert, vigilant, ready to embark on a wholly other path, to open itself up to whatever may come, listening faithfully, giving ear, to that other speech.” (Sovereignties 146) Heidegger’s interruption, his architectonic decision, is in-decisive and it undecides, “giving breath to a question that, far from paralyzing, sets in motion” Thus, forty years later in a book about poetry, art —not philosophy— Derrida will show how interruption releases an infinite movement. Difference, the architectonics of a breathless opening.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974). Photograph from inside the split house. Architectonics of interruption and infinite movement.Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974). Photograph from inside the split house. Architectonics of interruption and infinite movement.

Works Cited

  • Derrida, Jacques. De la Gramatología. Traslated by Oscar del Barco, and Conrado Ceretti, Mexico, Siglo XXI, 2000.
  • —-. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. Edited by Thomas Dutoit, Translated by Geoffrey Bennington, Chicago UP, 2016.
  • —-. Sovereignties in Question, The Poetics of Paul Celan. Edited by Thomas Dutoit and Outi Pasanen, New York, Fordam UP, 2005.
  • Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John MacQuarrie and Edward Robinson. New York, Harper Perennial, 2008.
  • —-. “The Age of the World Picture.” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Translated by William Lovitt, New York: Garland Publishing, 1977.


    1. Taught at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in a total of nine sessions, from November 16 of 1964 until Mach 29 of 1965.return to text

    2. Meaning by moving “toward”, the opening to that indeterminate possibility that, in return, determines, on the basis of the pure future, my present as the past of that future.return to text

    3. Derrida prefers the use of "solicitation" to that of "destruction". Solicitation would mean "shaking" but also “bringing out” in the sense of giving to think.return to text

    4. A horizon that could not be a transcendental but the impossible from where to think the possible.return to text

    5. Unlike “completion”, “interruption” does not connote an eschatological conception of being, which results accelerated, thus improper, to talk about what concerns the end of Being and Time.return to text

    6. A relationship already examined in the first chapter of Of Grammatology, where breath as a metaphorical expression for metaphysical conceptuality is associated with speech (as aliento, as spirit), and with a certain essential interiority that shelters and exhales the spoken word as truthful presence.return to text

    7. In Session Nine, Derrida goes over Heidegger’s opinion that Nietzsche thought more than what he said about history and how what Heidegger proposes is the repetition of Nietzsche’s unspoken thought (221).return to text

    8. The previous quote belongs to the essay ‘Rams: Uninterrupted Dialogue—Between Two Infinities, the Poem’’ first appeared as Béliers: Le dialogue ininterrompu: Entre deux infinis, le poéme, in 2003 and later was included in the volume, Sovereignties in Question, the poetics of Paul Celan, 2005.return to text