It Tolls for Thee

It’s probably fair to say that, at this very moment, many of you are looking for an easy resolution, something that would enable you to move on, to accept the unacceptable. You are wondering how the devil we got here, how we could possibly “lose” so much so quickly. The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is that “we” have lost nothing, for one can only lose what one truly has in the first place.

Indeed, this principle lies at the very foundation of structured finance. The Value that has presumably been lost was never there to begin with, so what we have actually lost is not Value, but our own mistaken notions, our illusions. Put more bluntly, structured finance has lost its virginity, and that is unfortunately something that can never and will never come back.

You may ask: how did we get here? This question rather naively assumes that we are somewhere, but the fact is that we are nowhere. Utopia, i.e. “no place,” is where we currently find ourselves; it is also “what” we are, you and I and Joe the Plumber, too. We will have no past, and hence no future, until we find ourselves again — until we take life’s gift, the present, and see in it something greater than a balance sheet and a quick fix.

Structured finance is adrift on a sea of ignorance and an ocean of arrogance. Whose fault is it? It is yours and mine and Joe the Plumber’s, too. It could be much worse, mind you. Think about the lot of Moody’s and S&P, for example. In the endless days of their endless nightmare, they have finally come to the realization that they never were the masters of their own power, that a lie is more powerful than truth, more lasting than love and more precious than gold.

We piously recite our daily prayer to capitalism, yet the very fabric of American finance is predicated on the notion that price and value are numerically identical and can even be defined as one and the same. There is only one problem: this is how communism works. Perhaps the only meaningful thing about this nonsense is that one day it could actually work in theory. As everybody knows, economists will not rest until they have shown that what does not work in practice actually works in theory. Structured finance does not function thanks to economic “theorists” from Chicago, but in spite of them. Even Karl Marx knew better.

Most likely, you want to be told something mythical, perhaps some profound piece of wisdom that could immediately restore your faith in American finance and its limp losers, those now experiencing their belated Götzendämmerung. We are much too willing to believe in redemption from somewhere “out there,” but not from something “in here.” You feel betrayed by your elders, those in whom you saw your own blind ambition all too clearly. We would all like to believe that this mess was either unavoidable, or could have been prevented if “we” had been running the structured show. We sleep better at night thinking that this was nobody’s fault, an Act of God, so to speak, rather than acknowledging the truth, which is that most of us were happy fellow travelers and willing conspirators on the road to perdition. That fatal CDS freight train was visible years ago, and our loss is anything but “unexpected.” On the contrary, what is tragic about tragedy is precisely the fact that it is avoidable, and all too human.

When a man is sinking and doesn’t know how to swim, the only thing he can do is wait until he hits rock bottom and push off. As a people, we have a while to go before reaching that point, but what about you, dear reader? Can you find the Promised Land on your own, or are you waiting for a Messiah who could appear only too late, as messiahs are invariably wont to do?

You need to find yourself all right, but are you ready to lose yourself? You say you want to go to Heaven, but are you prepared to die? Will you submit to the submissive? Will you be defeated by defeatists? When, years from now, your daughter looks up at you so adoringly, as only a daughter can, and asks, “What did you do in the war, Daddy?”, it would be a sad shame if all you could reply was, “Your Daddy was supply officer!” The choice is yours and yours alone.

There is no easy way out of the struggle that lies ahead. The “answer” is really the question, the question of the deal. Regrettably, that is a question that has yet to be posed, let alone answered. If you want to hear the music of the deal, you must first listen to the tolling of the bell, the one that tolls relentlessly for thee.

Someone once asked Heidegger the very question that should be resonating loudly and clearly inside each of you. His message of hope, presented below, ought to be a wake-up call for all of us.

— Sylvain Raynes


Letter to a Young Student

By Martin Heidegger

Translated and Adapted by Sylvain Raynes

Note from SR to fledgling deal-doers and would-be Wall Street rainmakers: Every time you see the capitalized term “Being,” replace it in your head with the word “Dealing,” and everything will become clear. If it doesn’t, you still cannot snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper.

Freiburg in Breslau, June 18th 1950

Dear Hartmut [Buchner],

I thank you for your recent letter. Your questioning is essential and your logic correct. Yet, I’m still asking myself whether you are driving at what is decisive.

You ask (in a nutshell): where does any thinking of Being receive its guidance? In asking this question, you are surely not taking “Being” as an object and thinking as the mere activity of a subject. Thinking, as it lies at the ground of a doing, of a thing, is no crude representation of some freely floating thing-at-hand. “Being” is in no way identical with “reality” or with the easily apprehended real. Being can in no way be juxtaposed to the no-longer and the not-yet, because both of these intrinsically belong to the essence of Being. To be sure, Western metaphysics already felt this long ago, i.e., in its teaching on “modalities,” according to which, in addition to possibility, reality and necessity also belonged to Being.

In thinking Being, it is never the case that a real thing is represented, and that this representation is then taken over as the truth. To think Being simply means to correspond to the calling of its essence. This correspondence originates in the calling and gives itself over to it. Corresponding is recoiling from the calling and yet simultaneously being allowed entrance into its language. The originally discovered logos belongs to the calling of Being, as much as does the concealed arrival of that which announces itself in the possible return of the oblivion of Being in the revelation of its essence.

At the same time, the correspondence must pay careful attention to the lengthy gathering and to the constant validation that arises out of engagement, one that enables such calling to be properly heard. It is in this type of thinking that the possibility of error is greatest. This manner of understanding can never reveal itself like a mathematical statement. Yet it is not arbitrary but rather bound up with the essential destiny of Being. Instead of being binding like a theorem, it behaves like a contingent rationale for following the way of the correspondence and truly walking in full consciousness of the gathering along the pathways of an already linguistically emerged Being. The lack of God and godliness is absence. However, mere absence is not “nothing.” On the contrary, it is already the nearing presence of the undisclosed fullness of the evanescent and of its thus gathered eternity, as in the gods of ancient Greece, in the Jewish prophets and in the preaching of Jesus. This “no-longer” is in itself the “not-yet” of the concealed arrival of an inexhaustible essence.

Because Being is never simply what lies before us, guardianship of Being can never be equated with the passive work of a security guard preventing people from breaking into a treasure trove of piled-up knowledge. The guardianship of Being does not stare at what lies for everyone to see. In the commonplace of a mere for-itself you will never discover the calling of Being. Rather, this guardianship is a kind of receptivity to the future-bound priority of the destiny of Being out of a long and ever self-renewing thoughtfulness that heeds the interrogation of Being. In the destiny of Being, one never finds the crude sequence of positing, thing and world, but rather constant priority and the simultaneity of the early and the late. Albeit in an inverted form, you can also find the presence of this truth in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

As a correspondence, thinking of Being is a treacherous and therefore very precious thing. Perhaps thinking is an unavoidable journey, one that few can endure. Furthermore, it is one that does not pretend to deliver profound wisdom. Above all, it is a rocky road — a trail over a field that not only speaks of renunciation, but that has already renounced either a futile quest for a secure doctrine and a valid cultural stance or else a fleeting thing of the mind. It all depends on that halting, error-prone and regressive step into a reflective listening to the pre-figured return of the oblivion of Being within a fateful arrival. This backward step from the representative thinking of ordinary metaphysics does not reject essential thinking. Quite the opposite, it opens up the resonating distance of the truth of Being in which the correspondence stands and lives.

So many times I have seen even my closest collaborators listen to the story of the essence of the cup, only to close their ears when the conversation turned to source, to the origin of objectivity and to substance. Yet, all these also belong necessarily to the thinking of Being, which thinking reflects on the arrival of a world, and in such remembrance helps bring about, in admittedly unseen and minuscule steps, that the arrival may eventually reach the region where ordinary consciousness will grasp it.

To the solitary wanderings that I experienced as the price of my voyage, I would like to add the hope that some of you will indeed wonder whence their guidance should arise, whether or not the question becomes necessary owing to my own thinking. Isn’t strange that nobody bothers to ask: where did Plato receive his guidance to think of being as idea, or where did Kant get his to think of Being as the transcendence of object-hood, as position? Perhaps one day, the answer to these questions can be read off thoughts similar to mine, i.e., those that may now appear gratuitous and arbitrary.

With mere words I can offer you nothing that amounts to a roadmap to making peace with what everyone calls “reality” in hopes of become comfortably smug in your illusions. Clearly, this is not what you are asking me to do. The only secure path is to listen to the adventuresome validation of the correspondence. Beware, however, because an adventure always runs the risk of turning into a painful struggle. Traveling along this path therefore requires care and practice, but practice presupposes a committed engagement.

May you remain in a genuine hunger for the path and, in spite of any failure, may you pursue relentlessly the handiwork of thinking.

Sincerely yours,

Martin Heidegger