Being Awake, Being Asleep, and the Meaning of Being in Heidegger’s thought. The Phenomenological Access to the Ontological Question

Author: Penoyer, Glenn Sterling
What is the relationship between the phenomena of being asleep and being awake and Heidegger’s formulation of the question of the meaning of Being as presented in Sein und Zeit? Careful and meticulous thought and research must precede even an initial answer to such a question. Two major difficulties stand in the way of anyone who wishes to become involved in such a query. First, the paucity and neglect of both information and research on the phenomena of being asleep and being awake, in general, leaves one bereft of an initial direction(s) to follow, let alone to compare another method of investigation with Heidegger’s own. Second, internal to Heidegger’s own work, there is little reference to the phenomena of being asleep and being awake. Indeed, as will be found, there is direct evidence that shows that a phenomenology of being asleep (and thus indirect evidence of a phenomenology of being awake) has never been done. Consequently, although these two major difficulties present themselves, there must also be a recognition of the rich potential analysis of the phenomena of being asleep and being awake as well as the undoubted acknowledgement of the originality of such research. If our present thesis is seen in this light, we must understand such a thesis is but a prolegomenon to future work. A detailed study must be instigated that will enable us to lay a firm basis from which other Heideggerian texts will be analysed. Such an approach will hopefully also open investigations into other disciplines of thought. More specifically, the present thesis, in attempting to lay such a foundation, not only will endeavour to define the relationship between asleep and being awake with Heidegger’s thought, but also will begin to bring to light major questions with which to confront Heidegger by way of asking whether Heidegger has defined those basic phenomena which go into the making of Dasein’s structural wholeness and overall unity. This will allow us, in future work, to discern if Heidegger had indeed been able to ask the question of the meaning of Being to the degree that he deemed possible.


“Penoyer’s accomplishment is something more than to fulfill the fantasy of every would-be philosophy-editor with regard to timeless works of thought. His book aims not merely at the clarification but the completion, to the degree to which it is completable, of the entirety of the Heideggerian phenomenological project by appeal to the phenomena of being awake and being asleep. In what amounts to a solicitude with respect to the texts, Penoyer extends without displacing Heidegger’s entire project from its own concerns by taking over, thoughtfully directing it, executing the phenomenological tasks with respect to the single example of wakefulness. The result is anything but inauthentic. Penoyer in the end frees the project of Being and Time itself more toward its own concerns, and opens up possibilities still present for us within the text itself.

At first one smiles at the cleverness of locating yet another candidate for one of Heidegger’s undiscussed existentiales in something so modest as the dichotomy of sleepfulness and wakefulness. But as the text progresses, the boldness of Penoyer’s thesis emerges. This is no mere addendum to Heidegger’s project, no mere tangential phenomenological Journey. Rather, wakefulness and sleepfulness have a claim to fundamental structural importance for Dasein as a whole. The case is made first in Penoyer’s terrific chapter on Being and Time, where wakefulness is demonstrated to work well as a means of world disclosure, operating as a more primordial Bestimmung in Heidegger’s sense. The phenomenon of “being asleep” and “being awake” then is shown to clarify and extend Heidegger’s famous discussion of the forestructure of Dasein.

The evidence builds in meticulous fashion from there. Being asleep and being awake play out remarkably well with regard to Heidegger’s analyses of thrownness, the manifestation of the nothing, the call of conscience and anticipatory resoluteness. Penoyer leaves no Heideggerian stone unturned in demonstrating how the waking state may well portray a temporality left uninvestigated, which in turn impacts everything from the understanding of Angst to each of the temporal ecstasies under analysis.

Not only does Penoyer pull threads which weave throughout the entirety of Heidegger’s project, but his discussion also serves to temper the grim, almost thanatological reading of Being and Time which has triggered so much misunderstanding. “Grounding the question” of being is no small task. For Heidegger, human reality as “Dasein” exists for the sake of accomplishing its own ground. Dasein stands outside of itself in a thrusting into its ground. But in attempting to accomplish itself as its own ground, Dasein casts itself off away from its ground. Thus Dasein is a circular happening, never able to catch up with itself. The circle this orbit inscribes is the groundlessness of Dasein, yet it is also the last best hope. It is the ontico-ontological condition for the possibility of any and all ontologies. Ontology just is the giving of grounds. Thus the ontological cannot give itself the grounds for being the giving of grounds …

Throughout these high-level discussions, “awakening” as phenomenon and metaphor is the diamond stylus upon which Penoyer skillfully rotates a variety of Heideggerian texts. For those who have struggled, and continue to struggle, to understand or teach Being and time, this is a useful guide to the still hidden chambers of Heidegger’s murderously hard text. With the example of wakefulness and sleepfulness. Penoyer’s Heidegger: Being – Grounding the Question provides a skeleton key by which the non-specialist can unlock many of Heidegger’s cryptic points beyond Being and Time as well. In addition to being intriguing to the prevailing Heidegger scholarship, for those who just happen to love sustained phenomenological reflection, Glenn Penoyer’s work stands on its own as a full-bodied wine seasoned to perfection. It is itself a fundamental reawakening of thinking to a surprisingly under-investigated area within phenomenology, the nature of sleep and wakefulness.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) William Vaughan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Ashland University

“Penoyer attempts to ground Martin Heidegger’s monumental account of Being in the experience of wakefulness. This is a bold and original thesis. At the crux of Heidegger’s account, it is one’s own death that ultimately can provide grounds. Yet Penoyer argues, the account is marred by an incomplete phenomenology of sleep and awakening … This is a text that is certain to add to the important researches already published, those of Caputo, Krell, Sallis, Kisiel, and Sheehan. It is to the credit of The Edwin Mellen Press to have this on its list.” – David Appelbaum, Professor of Philosophy, The State University of New York at New Paltz

Table of Contents

Preface by William Vaughan
1.A Review of the Critical References to Being Asleep and/or Being Awake and the Necessity for Research: Bachelard, Johnstone, Kleitman, Jung, Boss and Heidegger through reference to St. Paul, Leibniz, Schnelling, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Parmenides, Heraclitus
2. Being & Time – Division One: Being Asleep and Being Awake in Relation to Heidegger’s Preparatory Analysis of Dasein
3. Being & Time – Division Two: Being Asleep and Being Awake in Relation to Dasein and Temporality
4. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology
5. What is Metaphysics?
6. The Essence of Reasons
7. The Introduction of Metaphysics
8. Hölderlins ‘The Rhein’
9. ‘As When on a Festive Day’
10. Remembrance