Template:Unreferenced Always already is an adverb. It is sometimes written “always-already”. This phrase is common in literary discourse. Despite being appropriated famously by Marx with regard to the presence of capital, it was notably popularized yet again, by Heidegger. Even Marx's use was preceded, however, by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, and perhaps even before that. Uses of always already are very diverse, yet it might be considered a cliché if it lacks specific justification.

"Always already" is important in Heidegger's idea that Dasein anticipates or is "ahead of itself," and also in the primacy of language. Heidegger’s terms, ideas, and constructions are central to deconstruction, more so than is Marxism. With the added decline of Marxist critical theory after the 1960's, the phrase is still engaged with frequently in the discourse of literary theory, hermeneutics, and deconstruction/post-structuralism into which continental philosophy begins to evolve after Heidegger, for example in Derrida.

In a typical instance, always already appeared in the narrative theory of Paul Ricoeur, in the argument that "human action can be narrated...because it is always already symbolically mediated" (by signs, rules, and norms)[1].

The term was also central to much of the work of Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003). He criticized Heidegger's analysis of anticipation in Hölderlin's poetry. Blanchot's work draws on the work of Stéphane Mallarmé and subsequently influences Jacques Derrida.

Another central idea behind the phrase “always already” is that once a certain place in time is achieved, the being of places in time earlier than that place is ‘transient’, problematic, or unthinkable. For example, after I finish reading Hamlet for the first time, we may say that I have “always already” read Hamlet, and that the time before I had read Hamlet, being now past, was or is ‘always’ past. Common extensions of this phrase might follow from this example: in our modern society, we might say that having always already read Hamlet is the nature of contemporary intellect. Another way in which this phrase might lend a powerful dimension to thinking would be the notion that the modern subject, properly conceived, “always already” has learned a language, it being, in a certain sense, inconceivable to consider the pre-linguistic subject.

The Magnetic Fields' song "Always Already Gone" uses the phrase to describe a relationship that is doomed from the start: "At the beginning our story is done, because you were always already gone."


  1. Time and Narrative p. 57

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