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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: February 2011

Introduction: Being Here

Summary

Whether or not Jerzy Kosinski intended it as such, his comic novel Being There (1970) can be read as a classic send-up of all things Heideggerian. The title, of course, is a giveaway, reminiscent as it is of the one term all translations of Heidegger have left in the original German: Dasein, which means, literally, “being there.” And the title is no mere coincidence. In an interview with George Plimpton and Rocco Landesman for The Paris Review, Kosinski admitted that while writing the book, his “code name” for it “was Blank Page, and sometimes Dasein.” Kosinski's biographer, James Park Sloan, tells us that “as much as Kosinski liked the idea of being identified with Heidegger,” he thought “the term ‘Dasein’ sounded pretentious and incomprehensibly foreign,” so he settled on “its English equivalent.” Beyond titular qualms, though, Kosinski was probably even more ambivalent about being associated with Heidegger than Sloan lets on, for in The Paris Review interview, Kosinski went on to completely deny that Being There was a Heideggerian novel. Still, the Heideggerian residues in the text are hard to ignore, and they suggest that Kosinski may have been having a little fun with philosophy.

Chance, the simpleton protagonist of Being There, is an enigma. True to his name, he rises improbably from obscurity to ultimately influence both Wall Street and international political elites with his opaque mix of folk wisdom and utter naiveté.

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