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Interality in Heidegger.


For the student of philosophy, approaching Heidegger's work through Chan Buddhism can be a great advantage. It gives one the insight and patience to stay the course when others are ready to give up. There are understudied parallels and resonances between Chan Buddhism and Heidegger's thought. Appreciation of interality ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is a salient commonality between the two. In the introduction to Being and Time, Heidegger (1977) remarks, "The question of Being attains true concreteness only when we carry out the de-struction of the ontological tradition" (p. 72). Contra traditional ontology, he proposes a "fundamental ontology" (Heidegger, 1977, p. 235). Whether his fundamental ontology is interology in disguise or not is a question that deserves further investigation. But we do think the impulse is there.

The term "interology" is meant as an interventional alternative to traditional Western ontology. The idea is to help shift people's attention and preoccupation from subjects, objects, and entities to the interzones, intervals, voids, constitutive grounds, relational fields, interpellative assemblages, rhizomes, and nothingness that lie between, outside, or beyond the so-called subjects, objects, and entities; from being to nothing, interbeing, and becoming; from self-identicalness to relationality, chance encounters, and new possibilities of life; from "to be" to "and ... and ... and ..." (to borrow Deleuze's language); from the actual to the virtual; and so on. As such, the term wills nothing short of a paradigm shift. Unlike other "logoi," which have their "objects of study," interology studies interality, which is a non-object, a no-thing that in-forms and constitutes the objects and things studied by other logoi.

Interality in Heidegger

Heidegger is one of the few prominent Western thinkers who have diverged their attention from objects and entities to interality, which is a polysemous term. In Heidegger's work, interality assumes multiple guises, including clearing, opening, void, nearness, nothing, and space. His notion of "clearing" imagistically captures the literal meaning of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," which is the Chinese origin of the term "interality"--light comes through by virtue of an opening in the forest. The opening is literally an illuminating aperture. Our notion of interality has everything to do with openness ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), throughness ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), play, and freedom. Heidegger's interpretation of clearing supports these associations. The following passage from "The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking" is worth a close read:

The forest clearing [or opening] is experienced in contrast to dense forest, called Dickung in our older language. The substantive Lichtung goes back to the verb lichten. The adjective licht is the same word as "open." To open something means to make it light, free and open, e.g., to make the forest free of trees at one place. The free space thus originating is the clearing. What is light in the sense of being free and open has nothing in common with the adjective "light" which means "bright," neither linguistically nor factually. This is to be observed for the difference between openness and light. Still, it is possible that a factual relation between the two exists. Light can stream into the clearing, into its openness, and let brightness play with darkness in it. But light never first creates openness. Rather, light presupposes openness. However, the clearing, the open region, is not only free for brightness and darkness but also for resonance and echo, for sound and the diminishing of sound. The clearing is the open region for everything that becomes present and absent. (Heidegger, 1977, p. 384)

There is something Taoist and Chan Buddhist about this passage. "Light can stream into the clearing" immediately calls to mind Zhuangzi's notion of "the empty chamber where brightness is born" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Watson, 1968, p. 58). Philosophically, the clearing can be understood as the equivalent of the Taoist notions of nothingness ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and void ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Buddhist notion of sunyata ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and our notion of interality. As an open space, it is precisely what is valued by Chan aesthetics and ethics alike. "[T]he clearing, the open region, is not only free for brightness and darkness but also for resonance and echo" indicates that the clearing is not only visual but also acoustic--in the latter sense, it is synonymous with what Marshall McLuhan calls "the resonant interval" (Sanderson & Macdonald, 1989, p. 196). (1) The last line of the quote indicates that the clearing is indispensable for both presencing and absencing. Presencing presupposes a clearing, which is at one with that which presences, hence the notion of "field being" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). To be absent is to be absent from a clearing. A bit later in the article, Heidegger (1977) remarks:
   [W]e may suggest that the day will come when we will not shun the
   question whether the opening, the free open, may not be that within
   which alone pure space and ecstatic time and everything present and
   absent in them have the place which gathers and protects
   everything. (p. 385)

"Pure space" is conducive to and created by authentic Being, which may well be a Chan mode of being. "Ecstatic time" is the most intense kind of "appropriated time," to use the vocabulary of Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Regulier (Lefebvre & Regulier, 2004, pp. 7677). (2) Both pure space and ecstatic time are nonEuclidean in nature. The wording suggests that the opening may afford an authentic, intense, and joyous mode of being.

Heidegger (1977) further points out: "[O]riginary intuition and its evidence remain dependent upon openness which already dominates, upon the opening. What is evident is what can be immediately intuited...." (p. 385). Through an etymological stunt, Heidegger traces the Latin "Evidentia" to the Greek enargeia, which "means that which in itself and of itself radiates and brings itself to light" (p. 385). He immediately emphasizes that "it can radiate only if openness has already been granted. It is only such openness that grants to giving and receiving and to any evidence at all what is free, in which they can remain and must move" (p. 385). These sentences afford a productive misread a Chan-minded one. When a "thing" radiates ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the opening, it unconceals itself or shows its truth to him or her who contemplates ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) it. (3) The one radiates, whereas the other intuits. The alignment or coincidence of the two makes for a kairotic Chan moment (f$tt). The opening is indispensable for both radiance and intuition. It can be a physical space (like a dojo or "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" when that which radiates is a Chan master) or a psychic clearing (i.e., wuxin or mushin), or both. (4) For Chan Buddhists, the latter is more essential, hence the saying, "Mushin is the dojo" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the Japanese spellings are adopted for the sake of convenience). The dojo is the space where the Chan master radiates--not all the time but only when the opportune moment comes, which is to say, when the right kind of interality obtains between master and disciple, when the disciple is ready to intuit the radiance, to absorb the energy. Wuxin transforms all spaces into a dojo, and makes the Chan master superfluous since in that state of mind, almost anything can serve as a mediator. As such, "evidence" means precisely what Chan Buddhists call "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" It implies a moment of truth in a Heideggerian sense, which is to say, truth as aletheia or unconcealment.

The way Heidegger describes how the potter makes the jug immediately calls to mind Laozi's notion of the utility of the void or "what is not," which is synonymous with interality (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967, p. 145). As he puts it:

From start to finish the potter takes hold of the impalpable void and brings it forth as the container in the shape of a containing vessel. The jug's void determines all the handling in the process of making the vessel. The vessel's thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but in the void that holds. (Heidegger, 1971, p. 169)

Although the "void" here remains a physical space, it nevertheless diverts our attention from entities, which are the habitual focus of our vision, to interality.

This void affords the functions of holding and outpouring. The outpouring of libation unifies earth and sky, divinities and mortals into a simple oneness--"they are enfolded into a single fourfold" (Heidegger, 1971, p. 173). The ritual act of outpouring gathers the four elements together to create a mutual belongingness or interality that is no different than what we mean by the world. As Heidegger (1971) further points out:
   Our language denotes what a gathering is by an
   ancient word. That word is: thing. The jug's
   presencing is the pure, giving gathering of the
   onefold fourfold into a single time-space, a single
   stay. The jug presences as a thing. The jug is the
   jug as a thing. But how does the thing presence?
   The thing things. Thinging gathers. Appropriating
   the fourfold, it gathers the fourfold's stay, its while,
   into something that stays for a while: into this
   thing, that thing. (pp. 173-174)

The jug's thinging coincides with and actualizes the world's worlding, both of which can be traced back to the originary void that has in-formed the jug. The jug's interality or voidness culminates in the interality among earth and sky, divinities and mortals, which is to say, it culminates in the world as a gathering together of earth and sky, divinities and mortals. As the jug comes into its own, it creates a world around itself. The libation has come into being thanks to the working together of earth and sky, and to mortals' will to communion with divinities. (5)

Heidegger's notion of the "thing" is interalityoriented. The thingness of the jug, for example, lies outside itself. The jug can only come into its own when it creates a world around itself, when it gathers earth and sky, divinities and mortals together, when it becomes the site of gathering of the four. As such, the thingness of the jug implies and includes the world it creates, and lies beyond the mere physical object. As with the jug, so with the bridge. Being in the world is a matter of being with earth, sky, divinities, and things. As Heidegger (1971) puts it:
   ... when I say "a man," and in saying this word
   think of a being who exists in a human manner that
   is, who dwells--then by the name "man" I
   already name the stay within the fourfold among
   things. Even when we relate ourselves to those
   things that are not in our immediate reach, we are
   staying with the things themselves. (p. 156)

Interality between "man" and things is not predicated upon physical proximity.

The dawn of the electric age witnessed the destruction of both nearness and farness. In the following passage, Heidegger (1971) reiterates that nearness is not a matter of physical proximity, but the sense of togetherness that is created when the thing things:
   Today everything present is equally near and
   equally far. The distanceless prevails. But no
   abridging or abolishing of distances brings
   nearness. What is nearness? To discover the nature
   of nearness, we gave thought to the jug nearby. We
   have sought the nature of nearness and found the
   nature of the jug as a thing. But in this discovery
   we also catch sight of the nature of nearness. The
   thing things. In thinging, it stays earth and sky,
   divinities and mortals. Staying, the thing brings the
   four, in their remoteness, near to one another. This
   bringing near is nearing. Nearing is the presencing
   of nearness. Nearness brings near--draws nigh to
   one another--the far and, indeed, as the far.
   Nearness preserves farness. Preserving farness,
   nearness presences nearness in nearing that farness.
   Bringing near in this way, nearness conceals its
   own self and remains, in its own way, nearest of all.
   The thing is not "in" nearness, "in" proximity, as if
   nearness were a container. Nearness is at work in
   bringing near, as the thinging of the thing. (pp. 177-178)

For our purposes, nearness is synonymous with interality. To use Heidegger's vocabulary, interality presences when the thing things. There is more to a thing than a mere object. The difference between the two is precisely the presence or absence of a sense of interality.

In "What Is Metaphysics?" Heidegger calls our attention to nothing. The article is infused with a Taoist sensibility. (6) The following passage is of particular interest:

Only on the ground of the original revelation of the nothing can human existence approach and penetrate beings. But since existence in its essence relates itself to beings--those which it is not and that which it is--it emerges as such existence in each case from the nothing already revealed. (Heidegger, 1977, p. 105)

Nothing is the indispensable ground from which human existence emerges and against which human existence relates itself to beings. It is the beyond that allows human existence to transcend itself, and that allows beings to open up themselves to human existence. The human significance of nothing is not to be underestimated. As Heidegger (1977) further points out: "Without the original revelation of the nothing, no selfhood and no freedom. For human existence the nothing makes possible the openedness of beings as such." (p. 106). For our purposes, nothing "embodies" one of the senses of "interality."

A bit later in the article, Heidegger (1977) strikes a recognizable Chan Buddhist note:
   [W]e usually lose ourselves altogether among
   beings in a certain way. The more we turn toward
   beings in our preoccupations the less we let beings
   as a whole slip away as such and the more we turn
   away from the nothing. Just as surely do we hasten
   into the public superficies of existence. (p. 106)

Here Heidegger can be heard as promoting the Chan Buddhist notion of nonattachment ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). "The public superficies of existence" sounds very similar to the Chan Buddhist notion of form ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), whereas nothing sounds synonymous with sunyata ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which falls within the semantic field of interality. Heidegger's notion of "original anxiety," which reveals nothing, resembles the Chan Buddhist notion of doubt ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Heidegger, 1977, p. 108). (7)

Regarding the relationship between Being and nothing, Heidegger (1977) says: "The nothing does not remain the indeterminate opposite of beings but reveals itself as belonging to the Being of beings" (p. 110). That is to say, Being encompasses nothing or interality. This is a key point as we grapple with Heidegger's notion of Being. Toward the end of the article, Heidegger (1977) points out: "Philosophy gets under way only by a peculiar insertion of our own existence into the fundamental possibilities of Dasein as a whole. For this insertion it is of decisive importance, first, that we allow space for beings as a whole ..." (p. 112). Here "space" is another synonym of interality.

Concluding Remarks

"Interality" constitutes a notable, understudied, and unnamed dimension of Heidegger's work--a dimension that feels like a secret tunnel between Heidegger's work and Chan Buddhism. Among the senses of interality discussed in this article, "clearing" and "opening" are interchangeable. They capture the literal sense of "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" which is the Chinese origin of "interality." "Void" can be traced back to Laozi's notion of the utility of what is not ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This notion has profoundly informed the Chan sensibility, the emphasis of which is more psychological and spiritual than physical. Core notions of Chan Buddhism such as sunyata, samadhi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), prajna ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and meditation are all indissociable from this sense of voidness. In Heidegger's work, the physical voidness of the jug affords the ritual act of outpouring (usually of wine), which creates an extraphysical or spiritual sense of "nearness" or togetherness, thus giving interality a spiritual overtone. In the Chan Buddhist context in East Asia, physical voidness catalyzes psychological voidness in the tearoom, where tea-savoring companions enjoy the double interality of mental ma and each other's companionship. For the Chan Buddhist, voidness does not mean a spiritual vacuum. Rather, it is the very essence of spirituality Chan style. Alan Watts has an interesting observation that is in order here: "So tea is the Buddhist drink, just as wine is the Christian drink." (p. 76). With a different drink, comes a different sense of interality (psychic clearing or mental ma in East Asia vs. togetherness of earth and sky, divinities and mortals in the not-yet-disenchanted but not necessarily Christian West).

The existential seriousness of "nothing" in Heidegger's work is that it constitutes the beyond that allows being to transcend itself. Chan Buddhists see being and nothingness (or form and emptiness) as one and this equation as the very essence of life. Thus to affirm nothingness (i.e., interality) is precisely to affirm life, and vice versa. Heidegger reached a similar understanding through Hegel, who said, "Pure Being and pure Nothing are therefore the same" (Heidegger, 1977, p. 110). The capitalization is a rhetorical gesture of differentiation between primordial appropriation and average intelligibility, which is a necessary gesture in the West, where people have long been distracted and disoriented by an object- or entity-orientation. "Space" is one of the key terms in late Heidegger. It is closely related to "nothing" and falls within the semantic field of interality.

All indicates that there was a perceptible mental journey to the Far East on the part of Heidegger, or an interological turn in his thinking. However, he tried to shed light on a more or less numinous concept (i.e., interality) using a precise language, which makes the effort somewhat laborious and less than elegant. Whether he intuited the concept by trying to go beyond traditional Western philosophy, or hit upon the idea by trying to recuperate something long repressed in the Western philosophical tradition, or got exposed to it through studying East Asian thought--or all of the above--is beyond the scope of this article, which is no more than a brief report of our findings so far. More work needs to be done in this direction, especially as regards the place of interality in Heidegger's notion of Being. Such an inquiry will culminate in a study of Heidegger's fundamental ontology in relation to and in comparison with interology, which may end up subsuming his fundamental ontology.


The authors thank Prof. Geling Shang for sharing his thoughts on Heidegger, and Prof. Guo-Ming Chen for offering suggestions while the article was being finalized. The terms "interality" and "interology" were both coined by Prof. Shang.


Heidegger, M. (1971). Poetry, language, thought. New York: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, M. (1977). Basic writings. New York: Harper & Row.

Lefebvre, H., & Regulier, C. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: Space, time and everyday life. New York: Continuum.

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Sanderson, G., & Macdonold, F. (Eds.). (1989). Marshall McLuhan: The man and his message. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Watson, B. (Trans.). (1968). The complete works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press.

Watts, A. (2001). Zen and the beat way. Singapore: Berkeley Books.


YOU, Xi-lin, Shanxi Normal University, China

Peter Zhang, Grand Valley State University, USA


(1.) For McLuhan, the resonant interval is at once acoustic and tactile. As he puts it: "The resonant interval, as Heisenberg explains, is the world of touch, so that acoustic space is simultaneously tactile" (Sanderson & Macdonald, 1989, p. 196).

(2.) The following passage from "The Rhythmanalytical Project" is particularly revealing (notice that meditation and contemplation are mentioned as having the potential to create appropriated time): "The time that we shall provisionally name 'appropriated' has its own characteristics. Whether normal or exceptional, it is a time that forgets time, during which time no longer counts (and is no longer counted). It arrives or emerges when an activity brings plenitude, whether this activity be banal (an occupation, a piece of work), subtle (meditation, contemplation), spontaneous (a child's game, or even one for adults) or sophisticated. This activity is in harmony with itself and with the world. It has several traits of self-creation or of a gift rather than of an obligation or an imposition come from without. It is in time: it is a time, but does not reflect on it" (Lefebvre & Regulier, 2004, pp. 76-77).

(3.) This understanding is confirmed by a sentence that appears later in the Heidegger piece: "The meditative man is to experience the untrembling heart of unconcealment" (Heidegger, 1977, p. 387).

(4.) Taken as a physical space, the opening risks being misappropriated as Lebensraum, which is a fascist notion. Taken as a psychic clearing, it can be accomplished through Chan meditation or what Zhuangzi calls the "fasting of the mind" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

(5.) The working together of earth and sky calls to mind the 11th hexagram (Peace, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the I Ching.

(6.) Chan Buddhism emerged in the liminal space between Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism.

(7.) There is a line in Chan Buddhist literature that says: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," meaning a small doubt leads to a small breakthrough, a big doubt leads to a big breakthrough, whereas no doubt leads to no breakthrough. The revelation of nothing is a breakthrough, small or big.

Correspondence to:


Chinese Language & Literature Department

Shaanxi Normal University

Xi'an, China



School of Communications

Grand Valley State University

Allendale, MI 49401

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Author:You, Xi-lin; Zhang, Peter
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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