Being, Continued

The conversation on being is getting interesting. This poem of mine from a couple of years ago might show how I like to use the word–playfully, and bringing out its linguistic oddity. Maybe a companion piece to Mary Freeman’s good poem in the comments to the last post.

Let Be

Weeding, I disturb a bee
That is bumbling in the sages,
But she has forgiven me,
Goes off to the saxifrages.

There I will just let her be,
And, since bee-ing is her being,
She will go on being free,
She-ing while I go on me-ing.

“Let it be” was how the king
In that strange old myth or story
Gave the bee its sweet and sting,
Set the heavens in their glory:

Was it permit or command?
Do we own, or was he letting,
Are we in or out of hand?
Was he making or just betting?

So he gave himself away,
Changed from he-ing into she-ing,
Where his “shall” became her “may”,
Time born out of unforeseeing.

If I weed around the sage,
Letting it achieve its flower,
Do I make a kind of cage?
Do I claim a godlike power?

But the weeds are weeding me,
Cells that are, in acting, dying;
Sage-flowers fertilize the bee,
Every selling is a buying.

So creation is a cross,
“Let” and “be” in intersection,
Where the gain is in the loss,
And the death’s the resurrection.


Being and Heidegger

I am reading another dissertation on Heidegger–a rather good one, I might add. But I am struck by a disturbing thought about this very influential philosopher.

The first concerns the central importance for his philosophy of the word “being” (“Sein” in German). I wonder whether there is such a thing (quality, action, process, event) as “being” at all. Heidegger may be right that the Greeks after Socrates had a bad habit of reifying bits of language, a habit shared by the German language and its over-easy facility for making abstract nouns. But suppose we take his critique a bit further. What if the words “be”, “is,” “einai,” “esse,” “etre,” etc are just a piece of Indo-European grammar, a copulative or a sort of preposition or article, like “and,” “of,” “with,” or even “the”? What if it got turned into a verb for convenience as a poetic metaphor or trope, then turned into a noun–“being”–and thence into a divine seal of authenticity?–and then became a huge and empty non-issue? Might not “with-ing,” “with-ness,” “of-ing,” “of-ness,” “the-ing,” and “the-ness” easily have turned into similar linguistic junk bonds or credit default swaps?

There is no verb in Chinese for “to be,” “is,” and no noun for “being,” and this great civilization has got on pretty well for the last 4,000 years or so without it. Moreover it is a civilization historically based on poetry–you had to pass a poetry exam to be one of the ruling mandarins–which casts some doubt on Heidegger’s claim that poetry has a special relationship with “being.” Science doesn’t really need the verb “to be”–the equals sign works perfectly well.

So maybe the real value of all this fuss about “being” is as a huge and splendid game, but with darker overtones lent by the European habit of denying authentic “being” to one group of people or another, and then exterminating them.