The writing style of Being and Time (2)

Usually, simple writing is considered good writing. If readers can understand what is meant with little effort, the text is a successful one. This valuation makes sense in a lot of cases.

However, in philosophy, it may well be the case that the more difficult the text is to read, the better it is – provided that the difficulty is essential, not accidental. Essential difficulty would stem from the nature of what the writer is trying to describe. Accidental difficulty would stem from errors such as spelling mistakes. Provided that all the difficulty of a text is essential, a more difficult text would have more to say, more to enlighten us about, since philosophy is suppose to probe unexplored territory.

In Being and Time, Heidegger seeks to analyse and give us a fresh perspective on everyday phenomena, such as guilt, anxiety, time, space, equipment, language and being, perhaps the most “everyday” but least understood concept of all. Maybe precisely because he is trying to describe everyday things while avoiding the everyday conception of them, the language has to be this hard. It is exceedingly demanding, especially at first when the reader is not used to it. And even after the reader has gotten used to it, it demands total dedication to be read. It cannot be read in a laid back or half-hearted way. (For this reason, the book also serves as a useful reset device for the mind, since it forces the reader to pull themselves out of anything that is distracting them at the moment.)

Thus, I can see two valid reasons for Being and Time to be written in its peculiarly difficult style. The subject matter that Heidegger wants to explore is sufficiently novel that no simple path to it exists, and there is also a vast burden of everyday conceptions in the readers’ minds that must be avoided entirely. The difficulty of reading the text coincides in a neat way with the difficulty of acquiring Heidegger’s perspective and concepts. To struggle with difficult sentences and paragraphs in Being and Time is to struggle with Heidegger’s concepts themselves. Or so it appears. The difficulty of reading somebody like Nietzsche is much more indirect: the latter’s aphorisms are smooth and even entertaining, but grasping the whole requires that we actively seek the secret and difficult totality that generates it. This difficulty will not come to us as it does in Heidegger; we must seek it ourselves.

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