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Andrew Mitchell, The Fourfold: Reading..

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Andrew Mitchell, The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2015, 392 pp.
Hans Krauch (University of Sofia)





This text takes a closer look at Heidegger’s work after the Second
World War. The book has its origins in the Andrew Mitchell’s disserta-
tion, so I see this work as an admirable reflection of the purpose of that
exercise: that it marks one’s first steps into the world of the academy and
sets the later direction pursued one’s chosen field. Space is limited so I
will try to cover only the main points covered. This text is not just useful
for scholars of Heidegger. Anyone who is interested in the field of ontol-
ogy or phenomenology will find some enlightening points of view. I cer-
tainly plan on keeping it nearby as reference in my future work.

Introduction

We begin by acknowledging that we are finite beings and must
therefore think like a finite being. Our limits are how far outside ourselves
we can reach. Such a thing can be (and likely is) interpreted in all kinds
of interesting and bizarre ways. I would prefer to take a safer route and
assume it is to mean a greater awareness of what is beyond ourselves – be
it a flower, a distant mountain or another galaxy. The “limit” is our ability
to be aware of otherness, also known as a “medium.”
Mitchell is interested in how things interact and relate to each
other. Through understanding these relations we can begin to discover
(I would argue – to create) meaning in them. It is interesting to note of
technology that it seems that its application changes things into tech-
nology itself. Contemporary concepts regarding the replaceable, obso-
lescence, fixed statistics and limits can be understood in this sense.
Death is something we experience ourselves but can never draw
out an exact meaning from such an experience. Therefore, experience
plus reflection/meaning is outside ourselves and through others we
achieve meaning and growth. Death (as I understand it) is merely a
permanent loss of consciousness, so without consciousness we cannot
interact with the outside world nor are we aware of its influences on us.
Things are not simply lumps of matter, but the active relationship
of everything in the world. The extent of a thing is not in itself, but as
far as its range of relationships. How far is that exactly? It all depends
on the lump of matter that forms the physical thing. Think of it like a
stone being thrown into water – the “thing” is the stone, but it is not just
the rock itself. The stone is the splash, the ripples in the water, the un-
settled mud at the bottom of the lake. The stone is all of the relation-
ships and effects on the outside world.
We finish the introduction noting that, with some external encour-
agement, the late Heidegger’s philosophy was found to lose some of its
pro-fascist sentiments. The focus of his philosophy changes when he
reaches the beginning of his “old age,” defined as age 60 – so any time
after 1949.

Chapter One – The Technological Challenge to Things

As stated earlier, technology is seen as transformative – making
people into technology and thus turning them into disposable bits. Peo-
ple are now a commodity to be bought, used, sold or thrown away. The
term “standing reserve” is used here and it is explained as “how things
show themselves in an era of circulative replacement.” 31 This stands in
contrast to “the thing.” Both are united; however, this alliance is shaky
at best. The atom bomb really made Heidegger re-evaluate technology
because such a thing can annihilate entire cities or even the world itself.
It would seem that the quicker something can kill us the more we fear it,
generally speaking.
The term “abandonment” is understood as “the relations between be-
ing and beings. Being abandons them.” 32 Heidegger loves using terms
and definitions in his work. As I cannot give you all of them, I will stick
to the main ones. The standing reserve is seen as the commodity. It is a
different way of looking at objects, as they are now consumable and dis-
posable. What gives them value is what can be extracted from them.
There is no mediation and they are immediately available, orderable (de-

(31) Andrew Mitchell, The Fourfold:Reading the Late Heidegger (Evanston, IL:
Northwestern University Press, 2015), 25.
(32) Ibid., 26. )

liverable as requested). Things are recycled, reused, reordered and repur-
posed by virtue of their circulating/rotating positionality.
You are what you consume: “There is no end to replacement, never
a final exchange of item for item, only this unending slippage and dis-
persal.” (33) By consuming commodities you become one yourself. Culmi-
nating this consumption is the theory of special relativity, where every-
thing in the universe is understood as energy. Anyway, the fourfold is
simply a contemporary take on the concept of the four elements – earth
and sky in addition to gods and mortals.

Chapter Two – Earth, Bearing and Fructifying

Heidegger describes the earth as “the necessary attendant of worldly
appearance.” (34) He spends much time on the earthly notions of grounding,
the grounded and groundlessness. The earth is tied to the sensible. The
physical world is the earth (as we experience it) and is conceptualized as
relational as well. Inanimate objects are seen as world-less. Language
permeates us – for example, stones teach pain and hardness. He
[Mitchell? Heidegger?] discusses what each of these natural elements
mean to each of us, like rivers represent the home, human dwelling – our
openness to accept the gifts of nature. Plants represent growth and life,
animals represent death. Animals are seen as something that have no real
connections with the world, but simply manifest innate behaviors.
We cannot talk about Heidegger without mentioning Dasein, de-
scribed by Mitchell as“analogous to a fruit, but most distinct from it at
the point of the fruit’s culmination. Dasein is not subject to any neces-
sity to ripen and end.” (35) Mitchelltouches briefly on concepts of death by
saying that mortality is not inherited but earned by rejecting our animal-
ity. He mentions that planning the future ensures that such a future never
comes to fruition.
We finish with the earth with a note that this grounds us in objective
reality: “Thanks to the bearing of the earth, the thing is able to enter the
between and remain connected with the earthly nature all around it.” (36)

(33) Ibid., 60.
(34) Ibid., 72.
(35) Ibid., 104.
(36) Ibid., 115. )

Chapter Three – The Sky, the Weathering Medium of Appearance

The sky is something constantly in a state of change, it is some-
thing we cannot really touch but can observe. It incorporates our notions
of motion, change and time. The between is a boundary starting and
ending somewhere – it is a type of thinking. In a roundabout way, the
between is Dasein or its character/relations.
According to Mitchell, the sky is a living, active medium: “The sky
gives us something to talk about: the weather.” (37) I am sure it does more
than that, but we see Heidegger’s point. Mitchell also takes time to refer-
ence the term “aether” – which is basically the make-up of the sky. Still,
what follows is a rather meteorological overview of human experience
having equal meaning and explanation with its associative environment.
The clouds, weather, the color of the sky – all have meaning for us.
These analogies are how Heidegger explains his philosophy, or
perhaps (more likely) he uses them as inspiration for his philosophy.
How we experience nature is part and parcel of how we experience all
things, as Heidegger interprets Hölderin’s poetry.
We are “thrown” into this world, into this existence, and the nature
of where we find ourselves is necessary in and of itself. We are put here
in this world and, coincidentally, the rules and structure of this world
provide the necessities of existence in this world.
The world is not perfectly adjusted to our liking, but the bare ne-
cessities are here – which are basically nothing other than temporality
and physicality. From this basis, we acquire meaning in our lives.
Why, I am not sure, I suppose no one is. Suffice it to say that meaning
is a need we all share.

Chapter Four – The Divinities, Suggestive Messengers of Godhood

The general concept of God is understood within the medium (in
the realm perhaps?) of “the holy.” The Christian God is in a constant
state of arriving somewhere (the second coming, in the Eucharist, etc.).
Mitchell goes on to discuss the fundamentals of language like words,

(37) Ibid., 128. )

gestures and that sort of thing in depth here.
Basically, this chapter gives us a very good overview of the late
Heidegger’s philosophical method of decrypting and translating the
various overlapping terms and concepts used by him and his contempo-
raries. This goes to show just how familiar and good a grip Mitchell has
on in this material.
Mitchell goes on to describe attributes of the divine, like “holy”
and Godhood – that sort of thing. Divinity (the gods) help us participate
in that which we thought was not possible. Indeed, much progress oc-
curs because of a journey into the unknown and it is this concept of di-
vinity that gives us the courage to make that plunge from security.

Chapter Five – Being-in-Death

This is the last part of the fourfold. Here Mitchell discusses
Nietzsche’s Übermensch and the works of Rilke and Jünger. He dis-
cusses the general concepts of the next evolution of mankind, and at the
same time what it means for us to die – to be truly mortal. Indeed: “To
be mortal is to ‘belong’ to the world without ‘being’ in the world …” (38)
Death ties us to the world. For experience to have any meaning in
it, it requires reflections and cross-reference to other experience. Death
doesn’t allow that. It is the end of time for Being. So, if we accept
death as already with us always, we can accept that we are already dead.
Once we lose this strangeness with death can we embrace that which
most of us are already most estranged from already – life. This is why
most of us feel like zombies – shambling around mindlessly doing our
daily routine. To embrace life one must first accept death. Although
this is the final fold in Heidegger’s philosophy, it ought to be the first.
Then again, we ought to save the best for last.
As a nihilist, this makes perfect sense. Since there is no hidden or
supernatural purpose, in order to accept death or life, it takes no further
action than simply accept it is there. Indeed: “The world is death. This
world is our death.” (39) This chapter finishes with the real meaning of
language.

(38) Ibid., 223.
(39) Ibid., 230. )

Chapter Six – The Slight and Abiding Thing

This chapter mostly covers things, thingness, and thinging – all en-
tertaining and practical generalities regarding the stuff that makes some-
thing that particular thing. All finite existence falls into this category
and Mitchell explains the Hegelian philosophy of being and how Hei-
degger picked that up and completed it. We can say that the fourfold is
a moving, squared and dialectical system of relationships which helps us
understand the construction of existence all due to necessity.

Conclusion – There have never been Things

Why is this so? Because “the thing is not something that could
ever simply be. It is more relation than entity.” (40) Things are not things
because we have mistaken the definition of things. I must wrap this text
up here – suffice it to say that I cannot give the book the review it de-
serves in a small place. The writing was well done and easy to under-
stand for those uninitiated into the peculiar vocabulary of Heidegger. It
is a must-read for any scholar of Heidegger, and I recommend it for
anyone who wishes to know more about phenomenology or ontology.

(40) Ibid., 310. )