How to Begin “Being and Time”

Heidegger has always been this towering figure, one whose name I’ve heard mentioned again and again, but one who I have never dared to tackle. I tried to read Being and Time six months ago, and I gave up after the first introduction. I couldn’t understand anything and it just felt like a complete waste of time. 

For the past two or so weeks I have been immersing myself in Heidegger. (For some 4 hours a day.) It is the most exciting experience. He is so easy and hard at the same time. He is easy in the sense that he is fun, he is relevant, and he make bold claims. He is hard in his sheer density, just how long it to go through each of his pages—especially if you’re new to him, with his entire incomprehensible (soon-not-to-be) jargon. If you decide to tackle Heidegger, make sure that you want, like, really want to tackle him. Personally, it takes me around an hour to get through 6 pages (at best 10) of Being and Time. And another half an hour following through the commentary. But it is enjoyable; time just flies by when you are reading him (perhaps this has to do with how much you are required to engage with the text).

Hopefully I haven’t scared all of you away. Below is how I tackled Heidegger this second time around, and some of the things that I think would help. 

1.Sean D. Kelley’s lecture on Being and Time on YouTube. (He is brilliant. Very clear and enthusiastic.) I listened to the first 3 lectures before I started reading Being and Time, and he really helped prepare me for Heidegger. 

2.Hubert Dreyfus’ commentary on Being and Time, called Being-in-the-world. This is clear, very detailed, and makes me a lot more secure as I go through the main text. I normally read through the main text first and then follow on in the commentary the next day. Unless the material is getting really incomprehensible because Heidegger is building on previous stuff that I haven’t understood, which I would consult this commentary. 

3.Devote large blocks of uninterrupted time, get a pencil to annotate (I find trying to summarize meaty paragraphs in the margin very helpful), and if needed read out the main text. —Read very slowly, make sure you understand each word and each sentence until you move on to the next (and don’t be afraid to go back to previous paragraphs). Reading helps you to concentrate on each word, because I find that I have a tendency to skim through the entire line if I just read it silently (which is fine for normal books, and even preferable, but a disaster when one reads Heidegger). 

With these, and ample time and dedication (probably around 80 hours to go through the 1st Division), you will be able to tackle Being and Time. If you yourself have read it, please share your experience and tell me what have helped. 

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