Heidegger and the narrativity debate

Continental Philosophy Review 43 (2):241-265 (2010)
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Abstract

One unresolved dispute within Heidegger scholarship concerns the question of whether Dasein should be conceived in terms of narrative self-constitution. A survey of the current literature suggests two standard responses. The first correlates Heidegger’s talk of authentic historicality with that of self-authorship. To the alternative perspective, however, Heidegger’s talk of Dasein’s existentiality, with its emphasis on nullity and unattainability, is taken as evidence that Dasein is structurally and ontologically incapable of being completed via any life-project. Narrativity imports into Being and Time commitments concerning temporality, selfhood, and ethics, which Heidegger rejects. Although both positions find good exegetic support for their conclusions, they can’t both be right. In this article, I navigate a path between these two irreconcilable positions by applying insights derived from recent debates within Anglo-American literature on personal identity. I develop an alternative thesis to Narrativism, without rejecting it outright, by arguing that Dasein can be analysed in terms of what I call narratability conditions. These allow us to make sense of the prima facie paradoxical notion of historicality without narrativity. Indeed, rather than reconciling the two standard positions, I hold that the tension between them says something important about Dasein’s kind of existence. Thus I conclude that while the narrativist question Who ought I to be? is perfectly legitimate within limits, what the existential analysis of the limits on narratability reveals is that no answer to this question can ever be definitive

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