*Pirocacos, Elly. The Pedagogic Mission. Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Series, pp. 39-49.
Parmenides’s poem divides in three. Firstly, the proem[i] is a lengthy allegorized drama of cryptic literary references with philosophically substantive directives. Subsequent divisions consist of two related yet seemingly antithetical parts. The first, Alitheia[ii], is presented as the Way of “Truth”[iii]. Fragments 2-7 provide a preliminary conclusion, which is expanded in a series of deductive arguments throughout fragment 8 that ends with Being[iv]. The second, Doxa[v], depicts the Road of Opinion traversed by mortals, notably Parmenides and his reader. The antithetical structure of the poem is echoed in the words spoken by the unnamed goddess in the proem, which inaugurates the journey. She says:
It is no ill chance, but justice and right that has sent thee forth to travel on this way. Far indeed does it lie from the beaten track of men! Meet it thou shouldst learn all things, as well as the unshaken heart of persuasive truth, as the opinions of mortals in which there is no true reliance at all. Yet none the less shalt thou learn of these things also, since thou must judge approvedly of the things that seem to men as thou goest through all things in thy journey.[vi]
The didactic import of this journey pivots on the dialectal context here evoked and the promise that the neophyte shall learn many things. In the care of an unnamed goddess—anyone amongst the numerous temptresses of Olympus—the neophyte’s travel does not preclude the opinions of his fellowman. Ascending to the heights of the gods the neophyte shall learn two things: both alitheia as well as the opinions of mortals for which ‘he must judge approvedly’. The view advocating a rigid division between the two worlds and the implicit rejection of all empirical beliefs is not reflected in this passage. It is not that the conclusion is counter-intuitive but, in as much as the journey of enlightenment is a possibility at all, it involves being addressing itself constitutively and concretely. The parody of Being as some insular, intellectualized entity, distinct from the act of understanding, falls outside of the ontological landscape. The journey is a human voyage of existential import that relays a passage from a state of being in and amongst the comforts of one’s ordinary life to a state of being more fully cognizant of one’s predicament. The break commonly attributed to the epistemological status of the objects of inquiry (i.e. truth attends upon being all by itself in virtue of itself versus sensory perceptions attending upon being and not-being) confuses what is, in fact, a manifest ontological rupture where the neophyte is ripped from a set of structures informed by the activities in which his daily interactions are embedded. This set of structures for the most part remains unaccompanied by a subjective state actively involved in the specificity of the activities. The absence of purposive self-awareness synchronizes with the words of admonition Heraclitus embroiders into sayings such as “every beast is driven to pasture by blows”[vii] and “fools when they do hear are like the deaf, of them, does the saying bear witness that they are absent when present”.[viii] An altered state of being involves the unfolding of being as a process of self-appropriation. This works well with Parmenides when interpretation is careful to recognize that the traveller is not simply relaying the story of truth aimed at establishing the underlying essence of reality or the principles of human understanding. It is not a question of either looking outward or inward, for this fundamental break between what can be disclosed to or is internally related to the subject and what is not in the subject or exists and is understood independently of any disclosure to the subject is anachronistic at best.[ix] Any kind of separation that readers discern is not one where the thinking subject transcends his concrete experience of himself, though certainly the ascent motions to self-conscious awareness of his concrete experience of himself. If this is a journey of enlightenment, then the expression “self-transparency” aptly relays what common forms of self-transcendence misconstrue. This is not an emancipatory project where one becomes free from the bondage of a world or state of being in the world that one can comfortably step in and out of. The place of ascent is the familiar land of anthropomorphic gods and the journey is a turbulent struggle that finds the neophyte adrift from familiar comforts. Embedded in activities defined by one’s surroundings one is lost to self, invisible, except through the social roles and practices dictated by one’s surroundings. The ascent therefore motions to a reflective awareness of one’s being not distinct from the so-called foreign world of sensory perception but from that which is beyond, which requires the reassembly of the self through an act of disruption.
Agreeing with Heidegger, alitheia is badly translated as “truth” for, in effect, it conceals the Greek experience replacing it with a contending history. Heidegger traces the etymology of the term, and though I will not reiterate or completely endorse his view, two points are particularly deserving of attention: truth is unconcealedness and the character of unconcealedness is conflictual.[x] The word Alitheia is comprised of the prefix α, equivelant to the English un, and according to the Lidell-Scott dictionary[xi] the word λήθη is derived from λήθω or λανθάνω meaning “to escape notice, to be unknown, or forgotten”, ultimately a kind of concealedness. From this Heidegger composes the somewhat awkward but insightful unconcealedness. Unconcealedness implies a prior state of concealedness insinuating semantic hues foreign to the discordant “truth” inclusive of ‘veiling, masking, covering as well as conserving, preserving, holding back, entrusting and appropriating’. The prefix “un” also implies a privatio, or deprivation as Heidegger calls it, suggesting a further nuance that finds concealedness as that which is taken away, cancelled, evicted or banned. The truth as a-litheia is ultimately something negative: the absence of concealment. Unconcealedness is therefore in some sort of oppositional relation to concealment, which is unlike the word “truth” that bears no relationship to its counter word “falsehood”. Truths correspond to how things really are and falsehoods do not; something is either true or false (The Law of Non-contradiction and the Law of the Excluded Middle). Heidegger puts it best when he says, “un-concealedness belongs to the realm where concealment and concealing occur” and yet, “on the other hand, un-concealedness makes manifest a conflictual essence; i.e. it is unconcealing when in it something comes to pass that is in conflict with concealment”.[xii] The negation, as it were, of Alitheia, is of course, λαθόν, and λανθάνομαι but also ψεῦδος. Heidegger’s analysis offers an interesting analytic twist. Though ψεῦδος has an etymologically distinct root, the counter essence of alitheia, unconcealnedness, is juxtaposed with “the concealed” and hence must be seen alongside that word in Greek which indicates falsity, or the untrue: ψεῦδος. However, the usage of the term ψεῦδος as the counter essence of alitheia must also contend with its obvious semantic opposite: ἀψευδές, the true. In turn λανθάνω or concealedness must be determined on the basis of ψεῦδος or falsity, in which case if concealedness permeates the essence of unconcealedness, then the enigma—what I have called the analytic twist—arises such that the Greek essence of truth receives it character from the essence of falsity.[xiii] From this, the second instructional point is revealed as a form of struggle for “the truth is never “in itself”, “available by itself”, but instead must be gained by struggle. Unconcealedness must be wrested from concealment”.[xiv] Returning for a moment to the meaning of λανθάνω, “to escape notice”, Heidegger draws attention to the usage of the term in Homer where the meaning suggests that “‘being concealed’ is an essential feature of the appearances of being”[xv] which he suggests is expressed with greater clarity in the well known Epicurean proverb “λάθε βιώσσας” meaning “be concealed in the way you conduct your life”.[xvi] This is a particularly important move since it implicates humankind such that the concealed and unconcealed show up as characters of the very being itself rather than as characteristics of the noticing or apprehending. Clearly, the distinction pivots on understanding something escaping someone’s notice versus being concealed to others as something-or-other.[xvii] Finally, Heidegger returns to the common Greek saying λανθάνομαι which now translates as “I am concealed from myself in relation to something which would otherwise be unconcealed to me.” The idea bears a similarity to the notion of “forgetting” when one considers that “the being sinks away into concealment in such a manner that with this concealment of the being I remain concealed from myself. Moreover, this concealment is itself concealed”.[xviii] Forgetting involves something slipping us. But because this something also falls into concealment, we also fall into concealedness in relation to the forgotten. And hence we are rendered invisible unto self. This invisibility brought on as a kind of forgetting Heidegger calls “the oblivion of Being” which he says may remain forever unbreached or perhaps
It could be with a view to this forgottenness of Being a remembering might awaken, one thinking of Being itself and nothing else, considering Being in its truth, and thinking the truth of Being and not only, as in all metaphysics, beings with respect to their Being. For this there would be required, before all else, an experience of the essence of forgetting, of that which is concealed on the essence of ἀλήθεια. The Greeks experienced forgetting as a coming to pass of concealment.[xix]
This reference to the “oblivion of being” is expounded in Heidegger’s Being and Time. The phraseology adopted rests on a negative moment in the history of philosophy or metaphysics—beginning with Plato and Aristotle—whereupon the fundamental difference between Being and beings is eroded into forgottenness or more precisely the “forgottenness of being”. At least since the time of Plato epistemology and metaphysics has moved comfortably within the understanding that the thinking subject and the objects of the world belong to two distinct realms. Being, for instance Plato’s Forms, shows up as the basic ontological constituents of the world in and of themselves, or in virtue of themselves entirely abstracted, distinct from the thinking subject. Indeed, according to certain interpretations, Plato believed these Ideas to reside in the World of Intelligibility beyond the World of Appearance. This left him the task of explaining how the thinking subject could become acquainted with these Forms and hence be said to have knowledge. This divide has been past down through the history of philosophy having acquired numerous variations, but the separation in whatever form, prompts the need for a bridge—between the subject and object—to accommodate the possibility of human knowledge of the external world. It is to this divide that Heidegger speaks as the beginning of the end of metaphysics or the “oblivion of being”. The divide has been at the cost of Being, specifically as what Heidegger calls Dasein—the term he uses for the kind of being humans are—so that all efforts have been transposed to the act of forgetting, literally removing, abstracting, the presence of Being. Reverting back to the PreSocratics, and most particularly Parmenides, a process of remembering when this divide was not entertained is recollected.
Though it is certainly possible to objectify the entities that make up the tapestry of “reality” this attitude that finds the thinking subject looking in at the world as something distinct from Being is not primordial. We are, as it were, primordially beings-in-the-world-with-others; we are, in effect, coping beings. Prior to any categories of reflection making their way into our thinking, Heidegger’s carefully articulated and exceedingly complex exegesis can be simplified. As with all cases of simplification, important nuances will be lost in my treatment of Heidegger, which I hope readers will forgive on account of my desire to make a specific point. That point is that we are already in the world, oriented towards it unreflectively, living our roles in the world in a manner of investedness or “care”. The danger of this unreflective life, of course, is also described as a kind of forgetfulness, which conforms to what I take Parmenides’s men of doxa to suffer from. This state is described as the “unownedness of being”. It is essentially what sociologists describe as conformism, but which here shows up more starkly than a mere social phenomenon; it is constitutively and concretely, or inescapably part of the human experience. Still this kind of default absorption, when understood in counter distinction to “ownedness”, marks an important distinction in the disclosedness of ‘Dasein as the being that comports itself towards entities as entities’. The vocabulary, though dense, can be helpful to the novice in the context of our discussion: the disclosure of unownedness is publicness whereas ownedness is resoluteness. In this default mode Heidegger speaks of disclosure to an already structured world to which we unreflectively respond as “anyone”. By this I take him to mean that Dasein is acclimatized to the world, even if unthinkingly. So one employs the complex hyper-hyphenated neologisms because that is what one who writes within the Heideggerian tradition does, I wear black at a funeral because that is what one does, I talk in front of the classroom to address my students because that is what one does. Yet in this mode of being it is easy to discern a sense of invisibility of self, comported towards the world as if everything fits into some functional, pre-defined order into which one “falls”, as it were, or follows, as if an automaton. Like a wheel finding its place on the axle of a carriage, Dasein falls in line, follows suit, and assumes one’s place on an axis of social living. Publicly disclosed thus, the mode of Dasein is unownedness. Even though Dasein is inescapably mine—simply because each person’s life belongs to oneself. We say: this is my life, my responsibility, my decision—it is only in the mode of ownedness that one breaks with this routine of public ownership. If I’m permitted a wordplay, Dasein comes to be resolutely or authentically defined. Anxiety or angst is the word Heidegger employs to talk about this mood of dis-ease felt in the realization that there is no preordained manner of living, no way of comporting oneself in the world that is more valuable than any other. Put simply, there is no right way of living. The investedness of all one’s activities comes to a grinding halt as one struggles with the realization that in the absence of any “right” way, nothing makes sense or means anything anymore. Yet with this despair and profound rupture in the way one lives, one experiences the overwhelming meaningfulness of the meaninglessness of being. As Heidegger puts it, “Anticipation utterly individualizes Dasein, and allows it, in this individualization of itself, to become certain of the totality of its potentiality-for-Being”[xx]. Herman Philipse puts it succinctly:
Heidegger claims that in confronting one’s Self in Angst, we do not reveal ourselves in our reliance on our cultural world, but, on the contrary, in a radical individuality (Vereinzelung). Because of the very fact that in Angst the meaningful world collapses, we cannot flee from ourselves into this world and into the They anymore, and our Dasein stands naked, as it were. We realize that we are “thrown” into existence and that we have freely to construct our existence by ourselves and to choose our course in life. …Authenticity then consists in a radical affirmation of our existential solitude. …authenticity at first sight seems to consist in a complete autonomy of Self, in which the individual does not rely on his cultural background except in the sense that he freely chooses the possibilities he wants to realize.[xxi]
Taking responsibility for all that one is, owning up to who one is without recourse to contingencies that befall everyone and anyone, one must now struggle to reaffirm oneself as one’s ownmost possibility. Emphasis is not on the “factical” circumstances external and internal to one’s being, but to the manner of negotiating these circumstances. “One” circumvents the structural order that in default mode meaningfully transcribes how “one” is to respond to a particular circumstance.
This Hero’s journey is something of an experience of forgetting, at least insofar as the movement gestures to the youthful hero’s passage from his socially acquired niche into a demonic world of unknown darkness that presses in on her inner most human concern over her fate in the world. Everyday life could be described as “uneventful”, or what Heidegger calls ‘a steady flow of skillful activity’ where one is unreflectingly oriented in response to one’s sense of the situation. When coping is uninterrupted one is completely absorbed by the situation—experience flows as it were—so that one has no experience of a self causing the activity. This passage, what I call an ontological rupture, interrupts this flow and sets the hero well on his way to an authentic—Heidegger’s “ownedness”—and “resolute” re-instantiation of self in the world.
The inaugural words of the proem are echoed in the preliminaries found in fragments 2 and 6. Of the three ways only the third, the way of not-being, is rejected as utterly unspeakable, unknowable and hence unviable. The way of mortals, misleadingly delineated the Way of Appearance, we are forewarned not to travel because—and Parmenides’s point is conditional:
with wandering thought in their breasts, men are bourn along stupefied like men deaf and blind. Undiscerning crowds, in whose eyes the same and not the same is and is not, and all things travel in opposite directions!
We can speculate that the world here described is altering and, according to what I have referred to as the Orthodox interpretation, involves thinking in contradiction, which is simply rejected as false. Instead, the descriptor seems to make a point about mortals and not the so-called objects of thought or even the formulation of thought. “With wandering in their breasts”; “stupefied like men deaf and blind”; “undiscerning crowds”; “in whose eyes the same and not the same is and is not”—these all consistently make the point that their Being and the being of beings is lost on them. They are in a state of oblivion; unreflectively wandering amid the crowds without conscious directedness. And even though this may be a default state of being, it is nonetheless neither a permanent nor the desirable state of being. Of them Heidegger states,
mortals accept whatever is immediately, abruptly, and first of all offered to them. They never concern themselves about preparing a path for thought. They never really hear the call of the disclosure of the duality. They keep to what is unfolded in the twofold, and only to that aspect which immediately makes a claim upon mortals; that is, they keep to what is present without considering presencing”. They take this to be what is unconcealed, ἀληθή (VIII, 39), or it really does appear to them and is thus something revealed.[xxii]
This, thinking ahead to Campbell’s Monomyth, I understand as presence-to-self in and amongst the ordinary and commonplace. As if severed from a pseudo sense of ontological permanence, as a child to his mother, one pushes forward, which implies a sense of futurity, to face what was previously unrevealed, masked, unattainable, or simply beyond one’s reach. This sense of transition resembles a rite of passage, which Campbell documents as involving a Call to Adventure where the comfort of the neophyte’s banal existence is left behind as she prods into the clutches of the unknown where she must confront great challenges. This is not merely a reflection of social patterns of human behavior. These movements, this rite of passage, reflect something fundamental to human experience.
[i] Barnes recognizes only the obvious aspect of the proem, namely that it proposes a journey of enlightenment, and argues that the only further aspect of philosophical importance in the proem occupies lines 30-32 where the goddess promises to teach Parmenides both the well-rounded way of truth, and the unreliable opinions of mortals. For Barnes’ viewpoint see Barnes, Presocratic Philosophers, 155-175. However, for readings which favor the view that the proem is rich in philosophical content, see Burnet, Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Plato; Mackenzie “Parmenides’s Dilemma”; Kahn, “The Thesis of Parmenides.”
[ii] For an explicit exposition of the view that Parmenides’s poem is concerned with the problem of knowledge, and specifically the problem of the search for knowledge, rather than cosmogony; and that this is made lucidly clear from the start, namely in the proem, see Kahn, op. cit., 704-6.
[iii] Since Heidegger’s deconstruction of the term Alitheia, its translation as “truth” is said to already imply an entire tradition of philosophical discourse which Heidegger rejects. Accepting this, commentators often either leave Alitheia untranslated or transliterated, as with dis-closure or unconcealedness, which is supposed to announce its etymology.
[iv] Radical monism is the acknowledged position inferred at the end of fragment 8. It is, however, controversial whether Parmenides actually argued for numerical—this is the view which is traditionally provided in introductory texts—predicative, or material monism, or indeed a combination of any of these. For a discussion outlining these three kinds of monistic possibilities see Curd, “Parmenidean Monism”. See also Gomperz, Greek thinkers: A History of Ancient Philosophy, where he argues that the implied material monism of preceding cosmologists is extended by Parmenides by logical argument to include predicative monism as well.
[v] It has been argued from antiquity (see Plutarch and Simplicius in his Physics 38.24–8) until the present day that the Way of Opinion or Doxa corresponds to the second of the two promised things that the goddess will teach, namely the “deceitful opinions of mortal men”. As a result the second part of Parmenides’s poem, The Way of Opinion, is often thought to represent the Way of Falsity. Those who understand the fruitfulness of taking such a journey argue instead that it is the Way of Plausibility.
[vi] Parmenides, On Nature, trans. John Burnet, original Greek text Diels. Source http://philoctetes.free.fr/parmenides.htm.
Compare Heidegger’s translation: For it is no ill fate that has sent you ahead to travel on this way—and truly this way is apart from men, outside their (trodden) path-but, rather, rule and order. There is, however, a need that you experience everything, both the stable heart of well-enclosing unconcealment, as well as the appearing, in its appearance to mortals, where there is no relying on the unconcealed. Also this, however, you will learn to experience: how the appearing (in the need) remains called upon to be apparent, while it shines through everything and (hence) in that way brings everything to perfection.
[vii] Fragment 11.
[viii] Fragment 34.
[ix] Ibid., 4.
[x] Heidegger, Parmenides, especially 1-28.
[xi] Lidell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon.
[xii] Heidegger, 1992, op cit., 18.
[xiii] Heidegger, 1991, 20.
[xiv] Ibid., 17.
[xv] Ibid., 23.
[xvi] Ibid., 24.
[xvii] Heidegger cites a passage alongside its most regular translation and the more accurate intent of its meaning. ἐνθ᾽ ἄλλους μἐν πἀντας ἐλἀνθανε δἀκρυα λεἰβων, Ἀλκίνοος δέ μιν οῖος ἐπεφράσατ ἠδ᾽ένόησενἤμενος ἄγχ᾽αὐτοῦ,Commonly translated “To all the guests he concealed his flowing tears”, replaced by Heidegger’s “but then in relation to all others he was concealed as the one shedding tears”. More in line with naturally linguistic forms of expression he says, it would be more correct to say: “Odysseus, unnoticed by the others, she tears”. But in Greek this is reversed where the sentence pivots on being concealed rather than others not noticing. Op cit., 1992, 23.
[xviii] Op. cit., 24.
[xix] Op cit., p. 28. The following footnote is offered: “Being and Time is the first attempt to think Being itself out of the basic experience of the oblivion of Being. I.e., it is an attempt to prepare this thinking, to pave the way for it, even at risk of remaining on a “path leading nowhere” [“Holzweg”].”
[xx] Heidegger, Being and Time, 310.
[xxi] Philipse, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation, 28.
[xxii] Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking, 99.