Collected Writings


A Critical Note on David Farrell Krell's 
'Daimon Life'

Michael Eldred

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Version 1.2 April 2002
Version 1.0 September 1996
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"For more on the importance of the 'as', see Derrida (1989), Krell (1992), and especially Eldred (2002)." Tom Tyler, Oxford Brookes University 'Like Water in Water' Journal for Cultural Research 9.3 July 2005, pp. 265-279.


    Table of contents

    0. Abstract

    1. The issue of life  

    2. Krell's "as"  

        3. The 1929/30 lizard  

        4. The "as" as scaffolding for world-building 


    0. Abstract

    Having it out with Krell's treatise on life and life-philosophy. 

    1. The issue of life 

    David Farrell Krell has written a long, 350-page book on Heidegger's thinking-through of life.(1) It is a treatise that aims at showing Heidegger's failure to make a convincing phenomenological distinction between Dasein's existence and the life of animals, as if Heidegger had shrunk back in horror from acknowledging kinship between human being and animal being. Heidegger's aversion to life-philosophy is ostensibly another reason for evading the daimon of life. Krell ranges through Heidegger's texts from beginning to middle, and perhaps to end, starting with the early Freiburg lecture course Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Introduction to Phenomenological Research (Gesamtausgabe Band 61) through Being and Time and the 1929/30 lectures on The Basic Concepts of Metaphysics: World - Finitude - Solitude (GA 29/30) up to the wartime lectures on Parmenides (GA 54) and Heraclitus (GA 55). His roaming does not stop there, but proceeds to consider not only some post-war texts by Heidegger but also two present-day authors, Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray, as thinkers beyond Heidegger and for whom in some respects, Heidegger is perhaps beyond them. The frequently ironical and sarcastic tone in dealings with Heidegger contrasts with the tender affection Krell displays towards Jacques Derrida, to whom the book is apparently dedicated. So from the start, mood tells us where we stand in this altercation with Heidegger. The substantial centrepiece of Krell's study is undoubtably the 1929/30 lectures, which contain for him "Heidegger's 'theoretical biology'" (p. 8). They are, according to Krell, the scene of a "splendid failure" (p. 8) on the part of Heidegger to make the distinction between animal being and human being. This failure leads Krell to ask: 
    The issue is whether or not the "life-essence" of animality must rise, insofar as it is living, as the clearing, the clearing as such. What if the unified realm of essence in za-, the unified field of essence as such, the field of fu/sij, were daimon life rather than what Heidegger prefers to call Ek-sistenz or Da-sein? What if the clearing and granting of being had to do with neither "man" nor "Dasein" but with all the life that lives and dies on Earth, from dogs through gods, from tadpoles through peoples?(2)
    This must indeed be regarded as the central issue of Krell's monograph. Heidegger's disparagement of life-philosophy from Schelling through Nietzsche to Spengler would thus redound on his own head, for he has ostensibly failed to demarcate 'mere life' from Dasein. But in the formulation of the issue, Krell very precisely uses the little word on which everything will hang, a word that is more often than not italicized in Heidegger, and thus also in Krell's book. This word is as. This little, easily overlooked word is related to what Heidegger calls "the difference of all differences", namely, "the difference between being and beings"(3). Heidegger attempts in his 1929/30 to locate the world in this difference, a difference depending on two letters of an insignificant, thoughtlessly used, but indispensable adverb or conjunction, whose grammatical classification is a bit messy.

    Since so much hangs on as, it is surprising that Krell does not devote much attention to it, for to do so would involve delving into Heidegger's phenomenological interpretation of Aristotle. Although Krell goes into the early Freiburg lectures entitled Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Introduction to Phenomenological Research in some depth, he concentrates on Heidegger's development of a phenomenology of factical life, not on Aristotle. Nor does Heidegger's 1933 lecture course, devoted to Aristotle's Metaphysics Theta 1-3 (in GA 33), receive any attention at all. This is all the more curious, not only because Heidegger's thinking was first drawn to the question of being by Brentano's book on the multiple meanings of being in Aristotle, but above all because the as which is to demarcate Dasein from animality is a translation of a key phrase in Aristotle's Metaphysics, namely: to\ o)\n v(= o)/n, whereby the v= which is translated as "as" itself has a curious grammatical form: the feminine 'instrumental' dative form of the relative pronoun. Traditionally, this v(= is also rendered with the Latin 'qua' which has the same grammatical form.

    2. Krell's "as" 

    Already in his introduction, Krell puts his finger on the as as the critical point in Heidegger's thinking:
      His [Heidegger's] own final effort to define the "as-structure" as the world-shaping peculiarity of human beings, those living beings who have the lo/goj - for when Dasein is sunning itself on a rock it knows the sun as sun, the rock as rock, and this is what makes it different from the benumbed lizard as lizard - neatly circumvent the abyss. Postpone the crisis [of fundamental ontology ME]. (4)
    For Krell it is clear from the start that the as is taboo, a relapse into metaphysics which needs no further elucidation. Heidegger's attempt to distinguish between Dasein's relation to death (mortality) and animal dying provokes Krell's wrath:
      Not only does he find himself resorting to a blatantly metaphysical and even ontotheological appeal to the "as-structure", which here means the apophantic rather than the hermeneutic "as" and the discourse of Vorhandenheit more than anything else, but he also... (5)
    The reader might be provoked to ask why the "as-structure" is "blatantly metaphysical", especially since it is one of the main findings in Heidegger's on-going and thorough-going phenomenological interpretations of Aristotelean metaphysics, i.e. his radical appropriation and transformation of the metaphysical tradition. Is it a case of guilt by association, i.e. of the type: Aristotle is unquestionably metaphysical, therefore, any thinking resembling Aristotelean figures is also necessarily metaphysical? And yet it is in Aristotle that Heidegger searches for many years for a sense of being that is to carry him beyond metaphysics into that realm which metaphysics never thought: being as standing presence (ständiges Anwesen). Just as there is no interpretation of or altercation with the "as-structure" in Krell's book, he also does not pay any attention to the sense of being as standing presence. This is all the more strange, since for Heidegger the unifying sense of being in Aristotle's pollaxw=j le/getai to\ o)/n was a question that pursued him and left him no rest for many years.

    There is not much else to be found in Krell's monograph by way of having it out with the "as-structure", even when he turns to the central text, the lectures of 1929/30, that attempts to make the distinction between Dasein's existence and animal life. Is the "as-structure" so far beyond the non-metaphysical pale that it requires no serious thought to dismiss it? So it would seem:

      Heidegger tries to enter into the animal's world. He tries to spell out the difference between the ways lizards and human beings sun themselves. If horses have the edge over Heidegger in questions of ethics, lizards certainly carry the day when it comes to sunbathing. The animal cannot ask about the sun as sun, Heidegger repeats over and over again, as though this is what the human sun-worshipper ever does. The animal is incapable of Nachfragen (291). Thus the priority of questioning is retained and tied to the issue of world-access. (6)
    Is it an issue of asking questions? Before the lizard could ask a question, would not the sun have to be given to it as sun, so that it could take it in as sun? Krell would seem to go along with this:
      To be sure, some sort of "givenness is there when the lizard suns itself on the rock. Yet nothing is given the lizard as such. ... The lizard is not the Lizard King; it cannot do anything. It cannot even enjoy lizardthings. At least, it cannot enjoy metaphysics. At least, that is what those who can do metaphysics will always have said of the lizard, which, for its part, is ominously silent. (7)
    Can Krell do metaphysics? Doesn't a thinker have to be able to do metaphysics in order to take the step beyond metaphysics? Or does it suffice to simply steer clear and circumnavigate the core texts in the heartland of metaphysics in order to elude its siren-calls? Is it enough to make some flippant, coquettish remarks in passing what seem to be metaphysical operations in Heidegger's texts?

    If Krell had his way, Heidegger's attempt at drawing the line between the world-building of Dasein and the world-poverty of animal being would be not just a splendid failure but a dismal one, for Heidegger simply "repeats over and over again" some mantra about the as, without offering any phenomenological elucidation, as if he simply intended to mesmerize his readers/listeners, to hypnotize them into believing that the as is the key to understanding the essencing of Dasein, that is, the difference between being and beings into which Dasein is thrown and received or by which it is claimed. Is Heidegger so unpersuasive in his elaborations of the worldliness of the world starting from the as-structure? Let us go in search of Heidegger's and Krell's lizard.

    3. The 1929/30 lizard 

    The lizard is sunning itself on a rock on page 291 of GA29/30. Krell introduces a human sun-worshipper who, perhaps on vacation in the mountains, comes along, disturbs the lizard, which quickly scurries away into the undergrowth, and herself lies down and stretches out on the expansive rock to take in the sun. The sun-worshipper has just had breakfast and, being in a lazy mood, decides to tan herself for an hour or so before heading off by car down the mountain to the seaside for a swim in the afternoon. This vacationer is not a metaphysician, but she does have an access to the rock on which the lizard had previously been 'sunbathing' which differs from the lizard's access. Krell's mockery of metaphysics would seem to distract the reader's view from what Heidegger is trying to tease out here phenomenologically: the lizard has no access to the "rock as rock", the as being the hallmark of access to beings as such. This is indeed the metaphysical touchstone that is to account for the difference between the human sun-worshipper's and the lizard's behaviour. This as will keep the lecture course occupied from here on, leading inexorably to an interpretation of Aristotle in the entire final Chapter 6, which alone is more than 200 pages long.

    But even here, the contrast between the lizard and the vacationer presents the phenomena that Heidegger is trying to get at. The lizard's habitat is circumscribed around the rock, to which it will habitually return, unless of course the site is bulldozed or it is caught and removed by the vacationer's eight-year-old son. For the vacationer, the rock is understood as a place where she can stretch out for a while. Soon, rock and mountain will be forgotten as she packs her suitcase and returns to the city in the distant country from whence she came. Heidegger points out that the relationship of the lizard to the rock or of the beetle to the blade of grass on which it crawls is "infinitely difficult for us to grasp" (8). And in fact, in spite of the fact that this encounter with the lizard is only the beginning of Heidegger's attempt to grapple with animal being - an attempt that will lead to elucidating the animal's "Benommenheit" ("dazedness", "stupefaction"; a highly misleading choice of terminology) - the entire investigation will remain comparative, that is, it will attempt to make the difference between human being and animal being under the guidance of two theses: the human is world-forming (or, more aptly: world-building, weltbildend) and the animal is poor-in-world, weltarm. No claim is ever made to enter the animal's 'world' itself, but only to throw some light on animals' different openness to their habitats. The question that will guide Heidegger's lectures from here on is: "If we grasp world as accessibility to beings, how can we then maintain, where animals obviously have access, that animals are poor in world - and that in the sense that being-poor means: entbehren (lack, do without)?"(9).

    At the end of Heidegger's lectures it will become apparent that the guiding theses for making the difference between human and animal being are not there so much for the purpose of making philosophical discoveries regarding animal being, but rather in order to put the peculiar character of Dasein and its accessibility to beings as such into relief. For, this as is the deepest of metaphysical mysteries, which however does not mean that, now that we are 'beyond' metaphysics, we can today brush aside with disdain the puzzles that originally founded metaphysics - in the first beginning. Instead, it is a matter of appropriating metaphysics in the step back from it. Krell, by contrast, tends to argue by insinuation and innuendo: everything reminiscent of metaphysics is immediately not only suspect, but not even worthy of being dealt with carefully. Metaphysics in his hands become the boogie man from whom Krell runs for (his) life. It would seem that Derrida's Nietzschean program of an "active forgetting of being", which Derrida announces at the conclusion of his 1968 paper The Ends of Man, finds in Krell a stalwart supporter who no longer regards it as necessary to engage seriously with the heartland texts of metaphysics, keeping the question of being in view. Heidegger, of course, with his insistence on the as, does not simply aim at resuscitating Aristotelean concepts, for his horizon has already widened by virtue of the step back from the question as to the being of beings to the question of being itself.

    Krell does not consider the "as" nor the 200-page treatment of it in the last part of Heidegger's lectures. Instead he claims that the comparative investigation guided by the theses of the animal's poorness-in-world and the human's world-building is "blatantly anthropocentric"(10). I would have thought just the opposite, because Heidegger realizes the insuperable difficulties of gaining access to animal being and refrains from anthropomorphically transferring the scheme of human understanding to animals, as Krell is wont to do (cf. Krell's weeping deathless horses who know about ethics - or is this merely sophisticated flippancy?). Heidegger does indeed insist on the gulf of difference that separates Dasein from animal being, but this not in order to claim any superiority for human being. Quite the contrary. He writes: "The difficulty of the problem lies in the circumstance that we always have to interpret this poverty in world and this peculiar animal sur-rounding in our questioning in such a way that we ask as if that to which the animal relates were a being and how it relates to it were a relation of being open to the animal. The fact that this is not the case necessitates the thesis that the essence of life is only accessible in the sense of a deconstructuve view, which does not mean that life is inferior or on a lower level compared to human Dasein. Rather, life is a realm which has a wealth of openness of a kind about which the human world perhaps knows nothing at all."(11) This could well be interpreted as a respecting of difference, instead of trying to assimilate all openness to the openness of human being to being.

    Instead of directing attention to the "as" as the touchstone separating Dasein from animal life, Krell, citing Heidegger ineptly(12), reaches for death and mortality to fulfil this function, or rather not to fulfil this function, for Krell, as he announces in the introduction, wants to show that all life is one, that all beings live in the clearing of being, that all life is claimed by being. But, if it is Krell's ambition to show this, he would have to show - short of introducing an entirely different meaning of being - that beings as such are given to animals. This is precisely what Heidegger is at pains to dispute and the reason why the interpretation of the apophantic "as" takes up so much space in the 1929/30 lectures, for the main point about the animal's Benommenheit, its dazedness, is its Genommenheit (takenness) of the "as", i.e. that the "as" is taken from it, or rather never given to it in the first place. By paying scant attention to this "as", Krell's conclusion can only be that Heidegger's course is not only a "splendid failure"(13), but, on second thoughts, a "colossal failure"(14). Since Krell does not finish a thorough study of Heidegger's lectures, how can he be so sure?

    4. The "as" as scaffolding for world-building

    The lectures published in GA29/30 bear the title The Basic Concepts of Metaphysics: World - Finitude - Solitude. Heidegger is concerned here with phenomenological interpretations of basic metaphysical concepts, the world being the first of these. This implies that the thesis "The human is world-building" is the principal thesis in the latter half of the lectures. This world-building activity of humankind, in turn, is intimately related to the as that gives beings as such. Really? Or is the insistence on the "as" not rather simply a sign of misguided loyalty to the metaphysical tradition and to Aristotle in particular? Why all the hullabaloo about a word whose philosophical signification is so blatantly metaphysical? Is it still necessary to follow the twists and turns of Aristotle's subtle and dry Greek, or does taking the foundation texts of metaphysics seriously amount to a relapse into scholasticism? Instead of involving oneself with the contents of Aristotle's thinking, would it not be more pertinent today to treat merely his style?

    The fact is that the question of being - that is, if the question of being is still deemed relevant seventy years after being publicly announced in this fast-moving world - cannot do without Aristotle and his metaphysics, for it is here that the concerns of the entire Western metaphysical epoch find their sharpest and deepest textual expression. Without the "as" it is impossible to think what beings are. And today, more than ever, human beings are confronted with beings. How so? I am thinking of the new information technologies, which are techniques for in-forming, that is, inscribing matter (the medium) with a form (Gk: morfh/). As I have recently discussed with Rafael Capurro(15), this in-forming of matter reminiscent of Aristotle, this inscription in media is the production of beings. But perhaps I am running on ahead a bit here.

    The "as" we are talking about here is the "as" of beings as such, which is a translation of the v(= in Aristotle's phrase to\ o)\n v(= o)/n, as I have already noted. This "as" is what allows something (a being) to be something. Human beings are susceptible to this "as", which means that they can take in, i.e. recognize, a "something", for, before one can say what something is, it must already be a something. Being something is only possible because beings always already stand in the first of the categories. If they did not already stand in this principal category and if human being were not susceptible to it, they (the beings) could not be addressed (katagorei=n) as something. The category of something which allows beings to be addressed or accused "as" something is the very first gathering of beings into their stand as beings. This standing of beings in the first category as something is the origin of the sense of being as standing presence (ständiges Anwesen), which represents Heidegger's breakthrough to the thinking of being as such (in contradistinction to the metaphysical thinking of the being of beings as such). Today in the Anglophone world, Heideggerian scholars still insist in translating ständiges Anwesen as "constant" or "persistent" or "perduring presence", all of which miss the point of coming to stand in favour of a temporal meaning. For the Greeks (which means, for all intents and purposes and ultimately: for Plato and Aristotle) beings were thought of as that which offers a view, an outline. Plato's  i)de/ai are the visible outlines of themselves which beings offer to view. Things are only because they are gathered and come to stand in their visible outline limits. The gathering into limits is a coming-to-stand and conversely, coming-to-stand in presence is a gathering into visible limits, i.e. a delineation. That this point has not been grasped up to the present day is signalled by the utterly inadequate translation of ständigem Anwesen into English as "constant presence". (And I very much doubt whether the situation is better in other languages.) Thus, being in the sense of ständigem Anwesen does not mean that something persists as present in some clearing or other lying to hand. In fact ständiges Anwesen (standing presence) includes "ständiges Abwesen" (standing absence), i.e. absence is only a modification of presencing, not its negation. The crucial point is the standing-ness of the presencing(16).

    Being a being means therefore coming to stand in visible limits as something. The visibility of these limits has nothing to do with visual sense organs but with the visibility which has the power to see being as such, that is, the visibility of beings as such is a tautological affair: either you see the limits of something and recognize something as something, or you don't. The apophantic "as" is the brand-mark burnt into human being when being branded and claimed humans as to\ z%=on lo/gon e)/xon (and today as Dasein). This faculty of meta-physical seeing which sees beyond the physical is what marks off human being from animal being, for, as far as we know, animals do not have the capacity to take in something as something, that is, they do not under-stand this universality of beings as being something or other. How can we know this? Only by observing animals and seeing whether their behaviour can in any way be construed as a response to being's claim on them, i.e. as a response to a ubiquitous "as" that makes everything stand in universality. Heidegger's attempt to enter the animal world in its "poverty" may have been crowned with a greater or lesser degree of success, but the understanding of beings he gleaned from his phenomenological interpretations of Aristotle's metaphysics (as well as Plato's) remain unaffected by the success or failure of the former undertaking.

    It goes almost without saying that Krell, in brushing the "as" aside, pays no attention to the issue of standing presence, which vitiates his enterprise and refutes the main thesis as announced in his introduction and cited above.

    But in what sense can the "as" be regarded as the scaffolding of world-building? After the elucidations above, we are now in a position to say something about this. The "as" allows beings to stand as such, i.e. as something. And being something is only the beginning, for a being is something as something of a certain quality, in relation to something else, at a certain place, at a certain time, etc. Human being is world-building only because it has been claimed by the "as" which brings beings to stand within its scaffolding. Human beings see the outline of beings; they can recall them and they can also project them into the future. This is the temporality of human being as Da-sein, there-being. In particular, the faculty of humans to fore-see beings in their being-limits, their 'ontological delineation', is the basis of te/xnh, technics, technology. So, it is not just the case that human beings are susceptible receivers for the outline of beings as such, but they are also transmitters and broad-casters of outlines of beings into the future in technologically fore-casting pro-jects.

    Human beings are differentiated, that is, they are open and susceptible to the difference of the limiting outline which brings beings as such to stand in presencing. This can be seen most plainly today with the advent of the information technologies, which do nothing other than in-form media, i.e. inscribe a form, a de-limiting outline, in matter. Humans can discern the differences thus in-formed and so become and are in-formed beings. In-formation is the ultimate mode of pro-duction of beings, because beings are reduced thereby to the naked skeleton of in-scribed matter reminiscent of Aristotle's conception of the work (e)/rgon), especially the artwork, as matter (u(/lh) given a form (morfh/). Today, with the information technologies and the information set-up (Informationsgestell: cf. Capurro), human beings are being inundated on a planetary scale by beings in the shape of in-formation. We are continually being impressed and thus brought to stand by information. Western humankind has thus come to fulfil its metaphysical destiny in a superlative manner of being the beings that produce beings and has dragged into this destiny the rest of humankind to boot. We are totally absorbed in and saturated by beings in the way of in-formation. The information set-up is the im-pressive gathering of all possibilities of in-forming. The role of humans in this set-up is that they are called upon, i.e. challenged, to stand in the clearing of impression by in-formation. Beings in the age of information take on the shape of the barest outline, i.e. the 'digital difference'. Humans are used by being in being susceptible to difference, i.e. the de-limiting outline of beings. Today this de-limiting outline, the  i)de/a, is nothing other and nothing more than a string of 0s and 1s. Being informed means nothing other than noticing the difference between 0000110001000000 and 0001100001000000. To say that being is computation (computari est esse) means that everything that is is translatable into a digital form. Being in-formed and im-pressed by binary code is the ultimate metaphysical destiny of Western humankind.

    And yet: sometimes it would be nice to see an un-in-formed blank screen. But wouldn't that bring us close to the subject of death? Is human dying the same thing as getting tired of information, of matter (our bodies) no longer wanting to be in-formed, of us withdrawing from the need to be im-pressed?

      1. D.F. Krell Daimon Life: Heidegger and Life-Philosophy Indiana U.P., Bloomington and Indianapolis 1992. Back 

      3. Krell op. cit. p. 17. Back 

      5. GA 54:225 cited in Krell p. 22. Back

      7. D.F. Krell Daimon Life: Heidegger and Life-Philosophy Indiana U.P., Bloomington and Indianapolis 1992 p. 12. Back 

      9. ibid. p. 13. Back 

      11. ibid. p. 116. Back 

      13. ibid. p. 117. Back 

      15. Heidegger GA29/30:292.  Back 

      17. GA29/30:292. Back 

      19. Krell op. cit. p. 130. Back 

      21. GA29/30:371f. Back

      23. Krell's citation of Heidegger is inept because it is not death in itself which Heidegger announces as the touchstone for whether thinking has clarified the question as to the essence of life (GA29/30:387), but death as one "moment" of the "movedness of life" (ibid.). Which would again bring us back to Aristotle and his Physics and Heidegger's interpretation of fu/sij as a mode of being. Back

      25. Krell op. cit. p. 8. Back

      27. ibid. p. 128. Back

      29. Cf. e.g. R. Capurro Leben im Informationszeitalter Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1995 and his Digitaler Weltentwurf. Back 

      31. For more on "standing-ness" cf. my book Phänomenologie der Männlichkeit: kaum ständig noch 1996/1999. Back


      Copyright (c) 1996-2002 by Michael Eldred, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

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