A short meditation on Home.

Heidegger said that we are Dasein, being-there. As such, we live in a place, (in distinction to a mere environment) and thus, a home. This is determined already by us as zoon echon logon—the language-speaking animal. For it is a miraculous fact of symbols that it can point to itself and thus establish a here. This manifests itself most clearly in a gravestone, where the gravestone constitutes the burial site that the gravestone itself signifies. And this is just a natural extension of our ability to promise, where the very act of promise constitutes the promising that the promise points towards. In fact, it is none less than this ability to inaugurate a here that forms a world that Dasein is always-already ontologically in—this here-gesturing moment is the Thingliness of Das Ding (something that, in its composition, reveals an entire understanding of being). It is this ability to create a here that makes humans special as Dasein, the being-there, and as Dasein, we, in our sojourn on this Earth, is a homely being.

As homely beings, however, we are also capable of being homeless: of being lost, not-at-home, alienated, alone. This tension (or, if you will, dialectic) of homeli- and homelessness lies at the root of much of Western culture. There is Odysseus’s trip away from Ithica to Troy and his odyssey back home, Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden, and, even, that famous speech by Aristophanes in The Symposium (most widely remembered than Socrates’ formal speech), where he proclaims that love an effect of the splitting of the primal hermaphrodite into men and women.

Hence, we have the aphorism, from Novalis, quoted by Adorno in Negative Dialectics, that “Philosophy is a certain homesickness, a striving to be at home anywhere.” This expresses a profoundly beautiful universalism, where one has to love the world and everyone within it, not as an abstract entity (a volk) but as an individual qua his/her individuality. However, I wish to respectfully disagree. One cannot be at home everywhere. It is only a monumental event that can find a new home, one that we can only call a moment of grace or revolution (in the political, Lutheran, and Kantian sense). A moment that is rarely observed in history, and perhaps best seen in the Declaration of Independence and the Aeneid.

Although, a title of a famous Hong Kong TV show just came to my mind, and perhaps there is an exception to the rule of this constitutive homesickness of the human being. The title is, translated to English, “Love, Come Home” (愛,回家). My claim is that there is a certain moment of love in which the beloved becomes a second home (thus, we can perhaps modify the title and write “Love, is Home”). The fuel of this intuition comes—and perhaps I will blog about this another time—from a topological figure called the Klein Bottle, a 4-D shape with a single surface and no edges, and thus no outside and inside (because edges constitute out and in, just as we need to mark out territories with lines) and no volume. And the fact that love itself has the logic of a Klein Bottle: what I love about the beloved is nothing within him/her, but the beloved as such, a moment beyond the beloved’s content (what I like to call an infinity of the infinite, an overflowing over even the concept of that which overflows). And notice, now, that the Klein Bottle, as that which has no outside or inside, is a shape that is at home everywhere, and notice again that, since love has the logic of a Klein Bottle, there is nothing stopping love from placing one at home everywhere. Only, and perhaps this is the unfortunate fact, this is also the explanation for the alienating effect of love, for just as it can put one at home everywhere, it can, also, put one nowhere at home. (This dialectic between fear and awe, home and homesickness, is just what we call the sublimity of love.)

To come back to the topic of “Love, is Home” and explore another route to go about this, perhaps we can borrow from Kierkegaard’s distinction between the Knight of Infinite Resignation and the Knight of Infinite Faith. The Knight of Infinite Resignation, in some sense, is he who is at home everywhere because he has crystalized the beloved in himself to the point that the beloved is present in his mind just as intensely no matter whether she is physically present or absent. This, nevertheless for Kierkegaard, leaves a fundamental dimension of alienation: For the knight, here, is still in resignation, and attempts to reconcile himself with resignation. He has no hope and has created a paradise of the present to compensate for his loss of the future, for his self-severing from his Will. But as Dasein (to borrow from Heidegger again) who constitutively projects, this creates a fundamental loss. Thus, there is the leap from Resignation to Infinite Faith, from the Ethical to the Religious (the highest praise in K’s world). In Infinite Faith, the Beloved is constantly regained after her loss, and the beloved feels completely at home.

Again, though, I think that we can, from here, perhaps rethink Kierkegaard using the conceptual apparatus of the Klein bottle: what if the knight of infinite resignation is not really at home, but is constantly in this torturous oscillation between homeliness and homesickness? Isn’t that pathetic and perhaps, even, sublime?

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