The English translation of Martin Heidegger’s 1943-44 Freiburg lectures on Heraclitus makes this important text available to a much broader audience than before. Appearing as the 55th volume of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, the lectures exemplify his finest analytical vigor and philosophical insight. The work is particularly important for Heidegger research, as his understanding of the ancient Greek world and interpretation of pre-Platonic thinkers constitute the backbone of his oeuvre. Specifically, the book represents the concluding piece of Heidegger’s Freiburg lectures (1928-44), and thus presents a unique stylistic maturity. In addition, the range of covered issues and concepts is so vast that the lectures may shed light on both his earlier and later work. In terms of his prior work, the Heraclitus lectures might be seen as a fruit of endeavors that began with Beiträge zur Philosophie (GA 65) and the intensive Nietzsche readings of 1936-40, thereby in contrast to his thought preceding Beiträge. In relation to his later work, especially the second part of the book may be read as the foundation of his output for the late 1940s through the 1950s, and also as a springboard for his even later engagement with pre-Platonic thinking (cf. GA 15). What is even more noteworthy than the richness provided by the possibility of establishing such connections is the lectures’ ability to teach the way of thinking and reading by which Heidegger brings the word of Heraclitus into immediate relevance with the historical situation of modern humanity. The task remains, however, that we interpret that way ever anew.
The book consists of two parts, corresponding to two lecture courses. The first part, entitled «The Inception of Occidental Thinking» (1943 summer semester), is mostly concerned with getting a grasp of the ancient Greek experience of the terms φύσις (nature), ζωή (life), δύνειν (submerging), and πῦρ (fire) through an attentive reading of ten of Heraclitus’s fragments, thereby demonstrating the proper mode of approach to his sayings. The second part of the book, titled «Logic: Heraclitus’ Doctrine of the Logos» (1944 summer semester), proceeds from that background and is centered around an elaborate elucidation of what it means for the human to be essentially characterized as ζῷον λόγον ἔχον (the living being having a logos) and an attendant justification of such characterization. No command of the Greek language is necessary to follow the courses, and the laudable translation of Julia Assaiante and Montgomery Ewegen captures the essence of the textual flow. I would also like to maintain that no prior knowledge of Heidegger’s thought is required either. However, Heidegger assumes that his audience has sufficient understanding of Hegel and Nietzsche, which makes it possible to put the confrontations with those thinkers into context.
At the very beginning, Heidegger makes it clear that when he says ‘philosophy’, he means something which is essentially Occidental. The word translated as «Occidental» is abendländischen (3), which beckons a land of evening, that is, a region characterized by the sun’s having submerged. These expressions acquire sense as the book proceeds, but one does not find a definition for ‘Occident’ in its relation to a supposed opposite, ‘Orient’. Instead, Heidegger wishes to direct the reader’s attention to what he considers to be more originary and essential. Unexpectedly, though, he begins with recounting two seemingly irrelevant stories about Heraclitus. In one of them, a group of people visit someone whom they think to be an «exceptional» and «tantalizing» philosopher, and surprised by seeing Heraclitus warm himself at an oven, upon which he says: «Here, too, the gods are present» (6). In the other story, the thinker plays a dice game with children inside the temple of Artemis, and shouts at the crowd perplexed before the «inappropriate» behavior of the thinker: «What are you gaping at, you scoundrels? Or is it not better to do this than to work with you on behalf of the πόλις [city-state]?» (10). Far from being insignificant ornaments, the two stories define and constitute the inconspicuous central axis of the narrative, around which the rest of the lectures unfold. It would for now be enough to note that in both stories, Heraclitus baffles the crowd by challenging their presumptions about the relationship between the ordinary and the godly, for he seems to think that Artemis is closer to his everyday abode than she is to the temple bearing her own name. Moreover, just as he rejects conspicuous piety, he rejects conspicuous politics («working with you on behalf of the πόλις»). Heidegger remarks, at this point, that Heraclitus’s avoidance of ‘politics’ cannot be interpreted as a kind of disinterested neutrality, and thus does not make him ‘apolitical’. To the contrary, Heraclitus is political in the true sense of the word (11-12). This is the only place in the book where a direct mention of ‘politics’ is made, and Heidegger points to fragment 121 as well as to his lecture course of the previous year, Parmenides (GA 54). It would here suffice to say that without a proper understanding of these references in regard to how πόλις is conceived and how its care is envisaged, any political inference would at best be incomplete. Returning to the stories, they also ground the book-long response to a widespread misunderstanding by which one is tempted to think that the issues taken up by Heidegger lie beyond the place where the urgencies of immediate reality reside. Despite the significance of the two stories, on the other hand, their nature is preparatory.
There is a particular difficulty in translating Heraclitus and getting a grasp of his word. That difficulty, which is experienced to its fullest extent through the course of Heidegger’s elucidations, stems from the millenia-old tradition of thinking which Heidegger simply calls ‘metaphysics’. To explain by way of a rough outline of Heidegger’s account of the history of Occidental thinking, it should first be noted that it begins with the self-opening of the essence of truth, which precedes ancient Greek thought but which nevertheless finds its first decisive expression in the words of the «inceptual thinkers,» namely, Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus. Metaphysics, although grounded in «inceptual thinking,» is characterized as the «self-rigidifying essence» which drives Occidental thinking away from its inception (31). Beginning with Plato until its consummation in Nietzsche’s thought, metaphysics not only transformed the word of Heraclitus through a series of interpretative translations but also determined, established, and secured the proper manner of approach to the fragments.
As a result, if one simply wishes to be «true to the word» (cf. 37) of Heraclitus without the disturbances of the long-standing tradition of metaphysics, their path must harbor or at least be open to and ready for a transformation of the path itself. Such transformation is called «learning» (cf. 190), which does not occur on a straight course of development. Rather, while approaching the sayings of Heraclitus through different angles, as if from afar to their essential core, Heidegger’s discourse also employs a stream of thought which turns toward the opposite direction, i.e., from core to afar. The spiraling of the two streams unfolds as a lasting encounter with the metaphysical tradition as every attempt at getting closer to the simplicity of the fragments is met with the voice of metaphysics, bending the discourse into its spiral course. What is learned as a result of this learning cannot be confined into any doctrinal content that replaces ‘false’ translations of φύσις, ζωή, etc. with ‘correct’ ones. Still, the manner and attitude of what Heidegger calls «essential thinking» remains distinguishable from conventional attempts at the thinker’s word.
First of all, Heidegger distances his way of thinking from historiography, which is defined as «the calculating and fundamentally technical relation to history,» whereby history is rendered as a sequence of bygone occurrences (69). As an example, the disciplines of anthropology and philology, on which an array of conventional interpretations of the world and the word of Heraclitus is based, are grounded in the historiographical manner of approach. Contrarily, Heidegger does not aim at lexicographical accuracy or etymological precision; he tries to reach a region of thought where the ‘decision’ for such accuracy and precision has not yet been made. Accordingly, for instance, the two stories recounted in the first lecture, even if they never actually happened, are considered to be worth more than a stockpile of correct biographical findings.
The emphasis on the aspect of ‘decision’ in translation might evoke the idea that words can take any meaning according to the ‘decisions’ of the interpreter, which constitutes the second manner of approach that Heidegger rejects. This idea may result in what might today be called ‘post-truth translation’, by which authority over meaning is surrendered to the arbitrariness of willing ‘decisions’ and individual perspectives. To be sure, ‘decision’ as understood by Heidegger in no way implies such a relativistic indifference to what the thinker’s word says. In fact, such a ‘post-truth translation’ is possible only on the basis of a prior, determinative decision regarding the essence of words in general. In this case, the decision pertains to the contemporary reality in which «[t]he machinegun, the camera, the ‘word’, and the billboard all have this same fundamental function of seizing and arresting the object» (71). In Heidegger’s reading, this state of affairs corresponds to the consummation of Occidental metaphysics, and is marked by the thought of Nietzsche.
The third manner of approach that Heidegger distances himself from involves interpreting the thinker’s word metaphorically. Heidegger explains in various places that Heraclitus’s sayings do not point to anything except what they simply say. To illustrate, the word ζωή is customarily translated as ‘life’, so ζῷον is taken to designate living beings in distinction to non-living beings. Therefore, if ζωή is somehow attributed to φύσις, it must be in a metaphorical way extrapolating the characteristics of living beings to the whole of beings. On this reading, Heraclitus may too easily be classified as a ‘primitive thinker’ in whose thought the lack of formal clarity and conceptual rigor is patched with metaphors (292). Nevertheless, Heidegger demonstrates through the text that if we «think-after the inceptual word,» there is a way to experience those words in their ‘inceptual sense’, although from a distance (85). Thinking-after the inceptual senses of ζωή and φύσις makes it possible even for the modern human to experience both of the words, in their respective ways, as the emerging-forth by which every being—e.g., gods, wars, algorithms—comes to presence, and not as a group of beings in distinction to others. Henceforth, the relationship between the two terms acquires a new character on the face of which hasty classifications of conventional thinking, together with the mindless application of the concept of metaphor, fall short. Of course, with this commentary, only a little insight into what is achieved by Heidegger’s phenomenological odyssey through the word of the inceptual thinker can be hinted at. It is essential to think-after Heidegger’s thinking-after, so that what it means to experience a word above all becomes clear.
If the proper manner of approach to the fragments can depend neither on historiography nor on the unrestricted will of the beholder, and furthermore if we cannot either accept that the thinker says one thing and means another by way of metaphors, then conventional thinking resorts to the suspicion that «an empty sorcery with words is being practiced here» (59). On that matter, Heidegger seems to be very well aware of the danger of falling into empty chatter, so he differentiates between «an empty play on words» and «the concealed play of the word» (138). How is this concealedness to be understood? Does the thinker’s word enclose a meaning in the same way a seed contains genetic information? These questions bring us to the fourth difference, which is also one of the central issues of the book, and which can be read as an encounter with «dialectical thinking.» Dialectics is defined as «the thinking of opposites together in a higher unity,» and is said to begin with Plato (34). Since being itself is determined as ἰδέα (appearance/look) by Plato, ‘truth’ gained its metaphysical characterization as the actuation of appearing (φαίνεσθαι) in assertion (κατηγορία) in accordance with the thing. In other words, the true in the metaphysical sense consists in re-presenting that which presents itself manifestly (cf. 40, 255, 385). Taken in its dialectical history from Plato to Hegel, the re-presentation of what there is in its totality, i.e., of beings as a whole, moves from a murky self-externalization of Spirit into its deciphered union with itself from out of its will to appearance. Accordingly, understanding Heraclitus would consist in resolving the lack of clarity by comprehending his word with respect to this manifest history. This point of view, however complete its mastery over concepts is, comes to a «stand-still» when it is confronted with what Heidegger calls the «irreconcilable» (117), which consists in the idea that Heraclitus’s thought is «not incomprehensible because it is too complicated, but rather because it is too simple» (149). ‘Simple obscurity’, which not only describes Heraclitus’s fragments but also is itself a cardinal part of the original experience of many ancient Greek words, is irreconcilable with dialectics, because absolute cognition can cognize ‘obscurity’ in its unity with ‘clarity’ only after the two are essentially separated. In other words, dialectics is not capable of attributing obscurity to the «essence of things» rather than to the «eyes of the human» (140). Therefore, «the concealed play of the word» is not in the sense that the word envelops a meaning to be unlocked, but instead it refers to the simple obscurity of the word concealed by the tradition of dialectics in general.
The fifth and last differentiation may be thought of as a continuation of the previous point. As the thinker’s word resists being viewed in terms of the metaphysical ideal of manifest explicitness, it becomes relevant to ask whether Heidegger’s way is akin to a kind of mysticism. However, that is not true either. It is clearly maintained that the truth in inceptual saying is “decisively divorced . . . from the hollow dizziness of a mystical profundity” (176). For Heidegger, it seems, the ‘mystical’ is associated with the experiential reckoning of a futile darkness that can never be brought into word. Summing up,
[t]he true in the inceptual sense of the unconcealed does not have the nature of mere clarity of explication and explicability. To the same degree, the true is not the unclear in the sense of an inexplicable and ciphered profundity. The true is neither the one-dimensionality of mere arithmetic nor the ‘profound’ dimensions hidden behind a theatre’s curtain. (180)
Right after these renunciations, Heidegger gives his own account with a very compendious expression whose succinctness I will not adulterate by attempting to unravel: «The true is the unsaid that remains the unsaid only in what is strictly and properly said» (Ibid.).
The above five points outline Heidegger’s manner of approach in a negative way, that is, by pointing at the inapparent, whereas indeed the progression of the lectures is principally driven by a positive exploration into the thinker’s sayings. In particular, it is the «foundational words» (Grundwortes) which are thought-after, the words that define the domain of inceptual thinking. What is named by each of those words (‘emerging,’ ‘submerging,’ ‘life,’ ‘fire,’ etc.) is also that which is named by «the foundational word of all thinking—namely, the word ‘being’» (90-1). It must be noted, though, that in none of the elucidated fragments does Heraclitus explicitly ask «τί τὸ ὄν» – “what is being?” This shows, before everything, that Heidegger’s persistent prioritization of the question of being is not about making the name ‘being’ explicit in inquiry, even less about research into linguistic copula. More importantly, this also shows that those words name the be-ing of beings in the ways that the words themselves open. As such, they cannot be thought of in terms of anything that comes before them, and it is in this way that they are inceptual.
What is more, this inception itself is brought into word by Heraclitus as πῦρ, which is delineated as the enflaming fire whose light makes possible all appearing, and also as the origin-creating, sudden strike of lightning which separates the light and the dark in the first place by flashing into the unlit (cf. 161-2). Such a lightning must have separated the Occident from its other and placed forth the two toward one another at the moment of inception in the original saying. It is here crucial to note that whatever comes thereafter, i.e., history, is not seen as a dialogue between two poles, but rather as an enduring conversation with the inception, ensuring that the decision regarding the inception remains both in having-been and in future. The proper characterization of the human’s standing within all these relations depends on how the human itself stands out among beings, which in turn depends on the inceptual sense of another foundational word, λόγος. The central achievement of the second part of the book comprises the elucidation of this term and its history from logos to ratio, reason, and finally, to will to power.
Like other foundational words, logos has undergone severe transformations throughout the history of Occidental thinking. In pre-Platonic thought, logos had not yet acquired its status as an object of inquiry. To be sure, this is not a lack whatsoever on logos’s part, for it was rather seen as the proper ground and region of every inquiry. Even then, logos meant ‘speaking’ and ‘saying’ along with ‘gathering’ and ‘harvesting.’ The most decisive determination of the term occurred with the beginning of metaphysics, where λόγος, φύσις, and ἦθος were taken as the three directions of inquiry into beings as a whole. Accordingly, logic, physics, and ethics, which correspond to those directions respectively, became the disciplines comprising philosophy. At that moment, philosophy was given its distinctive position in relation to other forms of knowledge—that of astronomy, mathematics, etc. To be more specific, by establishing itself as the highest science, philosophy has rendered itself a science among others, a science whose program of research is designated by the tripartite departmentalization of knowledge. In fact, an image of this three-fold division is visible even in today’s commonly accepted classification of scientific branches as formal, natural, and social sciences. Returning to logic, it defines logos as ‘assertion’ or ‘judgment’, and is by the same token defined as the doctrine of valid inference, which results in what Heidegger calls the «dominance of discipline over the matter» (233) in the sense that the original richness of the inceptual word is first trimmed for the sake of researchability, and then the resulting research is given the authority over the meaning of the word in its entirety. In this way, «what is more originary than every kind of science,» i.e., logos, is gauged by «what has first arisen from out of this origin» (227), i.e., logic.
The history of logos after this decisive turning point gets more intricate with the development of Koine Greek, the emergence of Hellenistic Judaism, and the ecclesiastical determination of the term as ‘the Word’ (Verbum), the second personage of the Christian deity. The resulting worldview, which was further modified by the Arabic influence, culminates in its conclusive form with the advent of modern metaphysics from Descartes to Nietzsche. Heidegger claims that in none of these transformations was Occidental thought able to return to its essential ground within the original unity of ἐπιστήμη. On the contrary, it continuously rigidified the metaphysical conception by generalizing its methodological apparatus according to an ideal of universality in order to gain technical mastery over its subject matter (cf. 74, 192, 209, 228, 331). In consideration of all these, it is ultimately critical to avoid accounting this history solely in terms of its intellectual component, as if the determination of logos was merely an issue that we happen to see in the books of logicians. What is at stake here is by no means confined to how ‘logos’ as a technical term is defined. Rather, the conversation over logos is the one between the historical human and its history, however inconspicuously it takes place. In this conversation, ‘subjectivity’ is the final response of Christian theology to the question of the essence of the human, which paves the way for the modern restatement of this response as ratio and reason. When Heidegger implies—in 1944 in Freiburg—that it is the inability of Christian church to justify these responses which caused the two world wars (209), his discursive play reminds one of the dice game at the temple. It seems that both thinkers have a tendency to do «inappropriate things» (11) when it comes to temples and churches.
In the end, what can be said about the pre-Platonic logos, and how do these lectures respond to its call? To begin with, according to fragment 50, one cannot attain «rigorous knowledge» (σοφόν) by merely attending to the word of Heraclitus; rather, it is necessary that we turn toward that which already addresses us (259-60). ‘That which already addresses us’ is called the Logos, and the human essence is characterized by having a logos responding to the Logos. Logos, as a foundational word, can be approached in as many ways as being itself. But the most straightforward way to think of it would be through its sense of ‘gathering’. Accordingly, it is the gathering of beings, which shelters every doing and every saying along with every seeing and every listening. On the one hand, metaphysics interprets this gathering as the most universal of all beings, thereby at the same time retaining the godly as the «universal world-ground» (cf. 13). The persistence of this interpretation harbors the danger of interpreting these lectures themselves from the Christian or anti-Christian perspective. The common denominator of all such perspectives is to ab-cise the godly from the earthly abode of this very thinking, and by the same stroke, to separate the discipline from the matter. On the other hand, in this very thinking, we are thinking after Heidegger, who says after Heraclitus’s sayings: Do not merely listen to these words, but rather attend to the originary Logos (325). In the thinkers’ pointing out our relation to the Logos, there appears to be a resistance against the «dominance of discipline over the matter,» which compels us to ponder our decision between turning toward the script (i.e., merely toward the words) and turning toward the Logos itself.
In the former case, the script is considered strictly with regard to what is said in it. So, for instance, Heidegger’s warning against conceiving the Logos—“the One that unifies all beings” (292)—in terms of «any notions of Spirit, personhood, godhood, or providence» (396) might get particularly important, because in this way the Logos is posited as yet another such concept in distinction to the others, making possible an entire area of research on the conceptual-structural relationships between the ‘One’ of Heraclitus and those warned-against concepts. It may even be possible as a result to upgrade those concepts and have an even superior providence. Consequently, we might have multiple truths instead of the sole truth of the all-uniting One. However undeniable the significance of these possible attainments is, the danger persists as long as the human’s standing among those truths is left unexamined. Be that as it may, in the latter case, that is, when one turns toward the Logos itself, the issue is precisely the human’s standing among those truths. Because, as the gathering, the Logos is that which «for-gathers» (cf. 364) all scripts and scriptures so that they greet the human with their claim, and it is also that which must have already addressed the human—the ‘you’—before any of those multiple truths and before any commandment. «The Λόγος is not the word: it is, as the foreword to any language, more originary than the word» (383). In view of this, if one really has to employ the idea of commandment, one should not expect anything further than the command ‘be’, as there is no doubt on Heidegger’s part that it is the address of being which precedes all (323).
Being, however, is not ‘something’ that lies hidden in some supersensory place and in the heights of some vast soaring speculation. As the little word ‘is’ makes clear to us each time it appears, being ‘is’ the nearest of the near. Yet, because the human being troubles himself first and foremost only with what comes next, he constantly avoids the nearest, particularly since he appears to know very little about the near and its essence. (103-4)
All in all, one will find in this book a rigorous restatement of the question of being on the basis of Heraclitus’s doctrine of the Logos, and Heidegger’s response to many possible ‘post-Heideggerian’ approaches at ontotheology. To me, what is most valuable in the book lies in the fact that it somehow teaches, or at least attempts to teach, what one could expect from a lecture course on logic to teach—how to think. The discipline of logic, while setting out rules and methods of making correct use of reason, can hardly say a word on how to think. Here, on the other hand, how to approach a thinker’s word is demonstrated with authentic care toward what is cared by the thinker. Only by way of such care can we learn from the thinker, and only through authentic turning-towards can we remain in thinking.
 The parenthetical translations are provided only as labels and should not be assumed to convey the meaning of the Greek words.
 All page references are to GA 55. Pagination of the German text is used.
 Lin Ma’s Heidegger on East-West Dialogue: Anticipating the Event (Routledge, 2009) remains to be a scholarly gem in the field.
Following his book on the phenomenology of borders, in Up Against the Wall: Re-imagining the U.S.-Mexico Border (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), Edward Casey discusses relevant topics in, The World on Edge. Readers, in particular those readers sympathetic to peri-phenomenological methods to doing philosophy, are provided with refreshing insight into the world constituted by edges of metaphysical, ontological and phenomenological significance. In his book, Casey takes preoccupation with a description of the role of edges in the world. Indeed, what are edges? What is the significance of them? Casey’s pursues “the thesis that edges are constitutive not only of what we perceive, but also of what we think and of the places and events in which we are situated” (xiii). In this context, edges are not merely things worthy of storing, reflecting upon, or collecting; rather, they are “distinct presences” that are “essential to being a thing or thought” (xiii). According to Casey, edges play a dramatic role. As the drama of the world unfolds, edges “act” as a presence of being to “cut a dramatic figure” into not only our perception, but our thoughts as well (xiv). In the prelude to his book, Casey provides an image of an edge-of-presence, and by means of it we come to realize what Casey is after in his description of edges as “distinct presence.” In the given image, we see a mountain-edge cutting through light and darkness, along with a description of the edge, as if the edge itself had some poetic presence “to be light! And to thirst for the nightly!” (Nietzsche, 1999, 70-1). But Casey’s description of edges is more fundamental than poetics. He provides us with a description of edges as enantiodromia, Heraclitus’s word for the “sudden reversal into the opposite” (xvii). Accordingly, Casey gives us a description of enantiodromia as the “line of flight”, or in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense of the term, as a “quasi-linear structure that is inherently mobile rather than fixed” (xviii). Casey refers to this sort of edge as the “ultimate edge of our life”, which “bears up and bears out” what it edges (xv). At any rate, edges of this sort are related to dramatic experiences; that is to say, they compare and contrast world events, such as those of politics, or as Casey mentions specifically, the 2016 American presidential race, Tahrir square, and numerous other dramatic events—even our own death (xvii). As we see, reflect, perceive, and consider, we contemplate the “role of edges” as something of experienced dramatically “at every level” (xiii). What more is there to edges?
Casey is preoccupied with the question of “whether edges are something … or nothing—or perhaps next to nothing” (xvii). Assuming edges are something or next to nothing, what is the presence of an edge? How do we describe the presence of a world “on edge”? In relation to his primary thesis, Casey pursues “exact description of edges in four ways” (xviii). In part one, he examines “borders and boundaries”; he also examines “edges and limits, edges and surfaces, as well as distinctive sorts of edges that pertain to places and limits” (xix). In part two, he compares “naturally given and humanly constructed edges”, which are edges experienced in “wilderness” and “constructed environments” (ibid). In part three, Casey considers the edges of bodies “psychical rather than physical” (ibid). Taking the three descriptive ways into a phenomenological whole, Casey aims to describe edges pervading “our inner as well as our outer lives” and also “how they arise in the interaction between human beings and what surrounds them: in bodies and minds, things on the earth and sights in the sky” (ibid). Casey’s description of edges is a totalizing one; it takes into account the very nature of edges as that which is constitutive of our own phenomenological experience(s). In relation to Chalmers and others, Casey’s edges are constitutive presences, which are realized through description of them as a “pure phenomenal concept” and as essential to thoughts and things. According to Casey, this “pure phenomenal concept” is peri-phenomenological. His peri-phenomenology is a method of “exact description” of edges as a ‘being-around’ “ostensibly peripheral phenomena” (xix). Fair to say, Casey’s phenomenological approach to edges is one of “risk-taking.” Wondrously enough though, this risk-taking approach, or this peri-phenomenological approach, is precisely what one would experience if they were to “walk” the edge.
In chapter one, Casey introduces us to “borders and boundaries” concerning an exact description of edges. Casey’s description of edge as border and boundary amplifies the notion of Edith Stein’s “metaleptic communion” as the sense of unity and distinction between two concepts of being (even radically different concepts of being), such as that of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ (Calcagno, 2009, 51). Invoking Husserl’s passage in Ideas I of “Descriptive and Exact Science”, Casey forms a synthetic idea about borders and borders through distinction of irregular and non-irregular (or eidetic) shapes (9). Here, the thought is that borders or boundaries (in relation to edges) constitute irregular shapes, and according to Husserl (and apparently Casey), these edges require a phenomenological description. In other words, because edges are not necessarily Euclidean, Casey calls for a peri-phenomenology of edges, as borders and boundaries, to describe the way in which we make sense of edges constituting some irregular shape or object. Walking us through a series of examples about the distinction between irregular (descriptive) and non-irregular (exact science) constitution, Casey states, “[B]oundaries, although nonlinear in their alliance with natural features, can be represented by linear means—where ‘represented’ means literally given representation, as if delegated to do so” (14). In this context, the explicit non-linearness of edges as borders and boundaries can be represented in terms of linearality. Thus, even irregular borders and boundaries can be represented in linear means—thus a sense of mathematical functionality to them—thus a sense of rationality to them. At any rate, “Borders and boundaries possess a special force or power” and the edges essential to their force or power have a variety of distinct purposes (16-7). One such power or force is the way edges as borders and boundaries “intertangle” themselves in our own thinking because of the variety of expressions involved with them (23-4). For example, an edge bordering two univocal expressions of light might “intertangle” us into a contemplative state. Casey clues us in to how we can rid ourselves of such intertanglement, by stating, “[I]n descriptive fact, the matter is more complex and more interesting. To admit this [intertanglement] is not to descend into descriptive taxonomic chaos; [to admit this intertanglement] is to discern an abiding order in the midst of complexity. Even as embodying several sorts of edge, a given edge will as a rule exemplify one primary or most salient form of edge” (24, emphasis mine). Casey’s clue here is a road into the dramatic role of “borders and boundaries” because it gives us a key for understanding how two distinct, yet univocally related beings, are related to each other. He provides the key thus: two distinct, yet univocally related, beings are related to each by the “most salient form of edge” that provides an “abiding order in the midst of complexity.” One’s concern about how two distinct beings related to each other is more importantly set in the essential thought of their distinct relation: i.e., the salient edge, or form, between them.
In continuing the first part of his exact description of edges, Casey identifies “distinctive sorts of edges that pertain to places and limits” (xix). He provides us with a depiction of ‘edge’ in relation to surface, thing and place (40). After a thorough analysis of ‘surface’, Casey offers a proposition as follows, “The edge is all but the shadow of the surface” (43). Moreover, neither edge nor surface are substances in themselves, but rather expressions of the substance. The edge is essential to the substance, and the surface, as Merleau-Ponty wrote, is “the surface of a depth, [of] a cross section upon a massive being” (44). As we understand Casey, a distinctive edge, when ensconced in the meaning of ‘limit’, is that which is in relation to a depth-of-being, some thing, or some substance. Casey further writes that this distinctive edge is not “wholly immaterial or insubstantial”, and that it becomes a surface by relation to the surface (44). Similar to Husserl’s notion of ‘phantom’, distinctive edges becoming surfaces are often “left out of consideration” in their “capacity to exercise” causality (Sokolowski, 1974, 95-6). Furthermore, in section nine of chapter one, Casey offers a distinction of edge and limit. He states, “Edges are primus inter pares, first among what is otherwise equal in the playing field constituted by limits and edges … they are neither fully present nor strictly absent” (55-6). On the other hand, limits “exist elsewhere than in the immediately surrounding world of places to which we belong as sentient creatures” (55). Edges, as distinct from limits, “join the company of certain other phenomena that exhibit a like ambiguity of presence: [e.g.,] the human body (as Merleau-Ponty insists in his discussion of the phantom limb phenomenon), and the human face (emphasized in Levinas’s ethics)” but in contrast “limits are forever beyond ‘the bounds of sense,’ whereas edges emerge from within these bounds and help to concretize and complicate what appears there, even as they also mark its very evanescence” (56). To summarize here: edges constitute beings, such as things or thoughts, by their presence, but they are not beings-in-themselves; and distinctive edges emerge from limits, and can be spoken of thus: as distinctive edges that help concretize and complicate beings (or substances). So although edges are themselves not concrete, by relation to concrete beings they can help concretize beings (or substances).
Continuing Casey’s “exact description”, we come to part two, in which he provides an analysis of “naturally given and humanly constructed edges”, which are edges experienced in “wilderness” and “constructed environments” (xix). Casey begins here with what he considers to be “intermediate edges” (184). Casey identifies intermediate edges as edges that are mixed in with the wild and “the cultivated and artifactual,” and are furthermore expressed through what Foucault called heterotopias; i.e., “other places” (185-6). Intermediate edges have a certain compresence within both inclusive environments (e.g., those of Carthusian monks) and exclusive environments (e.g., those of dog-parks) (187). Casey discusses the naturally-free and flowing structure or environmental identity of intermediate edges as settings which grant humans and animals a certain capacity to walk and move unrestricted, wherein is experienced a “balance of spirit and humility” (187-88). One of the grand settings Casey uses to exemplify a setting constituted by intermediate edges is Central Park. He describes Central Park as “a vast heterogeneous multiplicity whose constituent elements exist at many scales: human, more-than-human, other-than-human” as well as an environment that “would count as ‘a plane of consistency’,” which is what Deleuze and Guattari’s termed “a region whose considerable diversity is coherent despite all the differences in kind, level, and number” (190). Edges constituting spaces or settings like Central Park invite us to have “bold imagination,” or what the Greeks called “greatness of soul” (megalopsychia) (190). They also invite us to new life, vita nuova (191). In what could be a mighty recompense for the inactive days of post-industrial British poetic imagination, Casey actively describes the intelligence of environments constructed by both Mother Nature and human ingenuity. The intelligence is the edginess of the construct: Is this not itself an ‘edgy-idea’ essential to Dasein?
Neighborhoods are also examples of what Casey has in mind about a description of “naturally given and humanly constructed edges” (xix). Neighborhoods give us a sense of community, especially if we understand how neighborhoods are places and/or communities constituted by edges. In reference to what Casey writes, neighborhoods are constituted by edged-places, which, according to Husserl, are each a “near-sphere”; or according to Heidegger, each is a “nearness” (195). On page 196, Casey gives us an image of a neighborhood as some kind of neural highway having various functions—various edged-places that are constitutive of an edged-boundary, which is, “the neighborhood” itself. Casey lists “meeting places”, “gateways”, and areas of “restricted access” as examples of these edged-places (196). According to Casey, the neighborhood is where the magic happens; it is essential to beings; beings get their thoughts and feeling about other beings from it (198-99). As such, we return to Casey’s notion of edges: they are essential to a thing or thought—in particular, the thing or thought of “neighborhood.” Casey concludes his discussion of intermediate edges, or edges naturally given as well as humanly constructed, by stating, “Each edge is transitional, none is ultimate. But taken together, all such edges constitute a city as anything but static—as an ever-evolving interplay of edges. In cities, the edge is where the action is … Every city is first and last—and at many points in between—an edge city” (204). We could do well to be denizens of such a city: a city “on edge.”
Casey’s penultimate part of his book, part three, “Edges of Body and Psyche, Earth and Sky” explores a whole phenomenology of “the world on edge.” It might well be described as a phenomenology of being as a bodily-boundary that lives within the bodily or non-bodily boundaries of the kosmos. He states, “My body is an earth body, and the earth is inhabited by living bodies, not only mine and not only human bodies but those of all other living beings as well” (298). One question that arouses much curiosity, which is really at the center of the philosophical task of his book, is, as Casey states, “whether there are specifically psychical edges—edges of states of mind, of moods, of feelings, of thoughts. Do they really exist?” (236). Casey provides an altogether practical case for the existence of psychical edges. He states as follows, “However tempting it is to regard exemplary cases of having an edge as physical, this does not preclude the possibility of genuinely psychical edges—that is, edges that belong to soul … in their own right. And more than just the possibility! Psychical edges are altogether actual insofar as they are felt—felt by us directly” (237). Suffice it to say that Casey is not alone in his general argument for psychical edges. We needn’t look further than Cartesian dualism or the Meinongian idea of mental content having qualia to realize that “psychical edges” have traction in the traditional philosophical canon. It is at the very least an entertaining notion that edges are not merely physical and purely literal, but also psychical and non-literal. And Casey goes further. He gives a two-fold distinction about psychical edges: (1) outer psychical edges and (2) inner psychical edges (240-41). Casey provides an explanation of the language we can use to discuss these aspects of psychical edges (e.g., language within the concept of “falling apart” during mental breakdowns, pp. 242-46). Notwithstanding, Casey tells us, that, “The self clearly has to have some minimal unity to be considered as split from itself” (257). From this idea we return to Edith Stein’s “metaleptic communion”: although edges are inside and outside, there is at the very least a minimal sense of unity between two aspects of ‘edge’. This brings us to one possible purpose of Casey’s description of edges in his penultimate part of the book: to reveal to us the grandeur of edges as that which constitute our life inside and outside; our life within and without. There is something worth critiquing about Casey’s analysis. Casey’s suggests that there is a need to distinguish the unitary from formal unity (260). He provides a few reasons as to why he thinks there is a need to distinguish the two: one reason is that formal unity is “fixed and static in character” and another reason is that, “Unlike formal unities, the psychically unitary cannot be quantified” (261). There are a few questions we can ask about this seemingly strange need to distinguish the unitary from formal unity. As to the first question, is formal unity “fixed and static in character” necessarily? It would seem formal unity is not “fixed and static in character” necessarily. As to the second question, why can’t the “psychically unitary” be quantified? It would seem the “psychically unitary” can be quantified somehow. We can imagine Casey has a response to these questions in his inner-psychical edge.
In the latter end of his penultimate section of The World on Edge, Casey provides us with a description of edges in relation to the earth and the kosmos. These sorts of edges are multitudinous: edges near and far from us; edges that lead into the underworld; found edges and edges of horizon and landscape; edges under our feet and edges above our heads (i.e., “comparative luminescence”); edges of the earth and the edge of the earth (278-284). In distinguishing between “edges of” and “the edge of” the earth, or what we can term particular-universals and the universal, Casey states as follows,
[S]everal of [the “edges of the earth”] we see directly, as determinate features of our environment. They are already there, awaiting our discovery and perception and measurement. Unlike the horizon or the ground, they are always multiple, belonging to this protuberance here or that rill over there. Whether they are sought out or not, they come forward into our experience as configuring the surface of the earth. By contrast, the edge of the earth is fugitive and recessive. It is neither a thing nor an event; it is fundamental yet intermittently experienced, sometimes confronting us but just as often eluding us…” (281).
And interestingly, “the edge of the earth” can be experienced as something quite elusive. It is, as Casey tells us, “a situation of elemental obscurum per obscurius, being made ‘obscure by the more obscure’;” yet, ironically, “edges of the earth” can be, according to Casey, “edges of unclearly presented entities [that] tend … to be unclear” (287). Do we wonder about the outermost edge? Are we like Heraclitus looking up into the Heavens at the cost of practical awareness? As we wonder, do we come up with an answer about this outermost edge? Casey gives us an interesting conundrum to try and solve our wondering of the outermost edge. Turning to the medieval conundrum of the javelin thrower, he asks, “Into what does he throw his spear, if he is himself situated on the outer-most edge of the known universe?” (288). Referencing Kant, Casey provides us with this sort of answer to the conundrum: “[T]hought without content is empty, and speculative thinking on its own ends in impasse” (289). In other words, the outer-most edge is not an empty thought, but speculative thinking only will only burden us more. So try, if you wish, to answer the conundrum, but know when to stop!
At any rate, Casey reaches his conclusive edge: the human being’s paradigmatic edge, their ultimate edge: Death, “beyond which there is no other” (343). Casey’s understanding of death constitutes paradoxical meanings about the psychical and psychical, such as his term “living death” (i.e., civic and social death), and “biological death” (344-45). In addition, Casey’s “ultimate edge of death” is one way of blending the psychical and psychical into one coherent meaning: “the final edge of life!” This edge is a border and boundary of the human condition, and it “cannot be reversed or crossed back over” (344). In this context, edges surely “cut a dramatic figure” into human existence, for edges “cut-around” the meaning of the body as it approaches its end, its “ultimate edge”, its autopsy (so to speak). Casey reveals to us that even though there are edges of thoughtful consideration, or those of pure speculation conducive to our curiosity, how much more curious and contemplative should we be about the ultimate “razor-edge” of our life: our very death! An old proverbial wisdom speaks keenly here: Indeed, the wise one thinks much of the Heavens, but they also they think much of death!
In summary, Casey calls his way of proceeding in his book “peri-phenomenology” (300). As Casey tells us, edges are precarious. Given that edges are associated with “risk”, peri-phenomenology is an apt way to go about edges carefully because peri-phenomenology does just that: it moves about contextual surroundings, which is, in certain cases, context-sensitive edges. What’s more: Casey appears to do exactly what he intended to do with his thesis through his peri-phenomenological approach: an “exact description” of edges. Peri-phenomenology is indeed the force from which Casey’s work appears outstanding. His thorough and rigorous exact description releases some precious nuggets of philosophical wisdom—wisdom beckoning to us take heed of the progressive revelations of our day. Surely, Casey’s book is a worthy testament to the burdensome undertaking of “edge-walking” amidst present-day global issues—in particular, the edge-walking amidst the pitfalls of political, societal, and even academic, issues. Casey’s understanding of “edge-walking” in this context is a precise sort of wisdom. He states as follows,
“What I have called the edge-world is not only a world composed of intricate patterns and permutations of edges; it is also a world that is itself on edge. As a consequence, each of us is pitched on a thousand edges—edges on which we shake and tremble even as we pretend to go about our lives undisturbed. Our equanimity is only skin-deep; underneath it the abysses gape open, not just at the far edge of the known world or at the base of a precipice. We are denizens of a world on edge, and we are ourselves creatures of exposed edges. This is not just a matter of being accident-prone or vulnerable as individuals. We carry risk to others, endangering their lives as well as our own. Whole populations of human beings have been decimated by their fellow humans. Many animal and bird species have been rendered extinct because of human actions in the Anthropocene. Now we are on the verge of making ourselves extinct if humanly induced climate change takes its full vengeance. There is no way to exist on earth, no alternative path, other than to follow the edges that guide us even as they expose us to risk at every turn. We must take such exposure into account, learning how to identify those edges that are likely to lead us astray: each of us exists on a perpetual visual cliff. Some edges bring us to an unwelcome fate for which we are not adequately prepared: on these I have focused in this epilogue. Instead of trying to forget them or merely regret them, we must think on them, reflecting on what they portend. Becoming wary of certain edges, we can come to trust other edges that will configure our life-worlds in ways that are both more constructive and more creative. These more auspicious edges point the way for us, incisively even if not infallibly. Thoughtfully traversed, they are able to liberate us, indicating directions with the potential to save us from our own destructive and self-destructive ventures” (351).
Able to liberate us, and able to give great meaning to life as well! Certainly, edges are essential to human beings, and they play a dramatic role. Of course, we can offer a critique of Casey’s work in the form of stating that there ought to be an answer as to why there is a “need to distinguish” formal unity from the unitary. Casey’s line of reasoning doesn’t seem to evince in us a sufficient reason as to why there is a need for such a distinction (as noted earlier in this review), but this critique doesn’t bear on the high performance and outstanding nature of Casey’s work. The critique is rather some pleasing outcome of Casey’s peri-phenomenological approach; and, in addition, it points out an interesting topic of discussion (e.g., formal unity vs. the unitary). In closing, I conclude by stating that Casey provides us with a refreshing and reinvigorating analysis of the world, The World on Edge. His book is a masterful ode to phenomenology, for it encourages phenomenologists to benefit from a seemingly neglected approach to phenomenology: peri-phenomenology. The methodology of it is a beneficial one, as it is capable of navigating numerous closely-related topics in “exact description.” With no serious doubt, Edward Casey has achieved something remarkable with his book, The World on Edge. Philosophers are hereby encouraged to read it, lest they lose their confidence to “walk the edge”!
Nietzsche, Friederich. 1999. Thus Spake Zarathustra. New York: Dover Publications: 70-1. Print. (Original published, 1883).
Sokolowski, Robert. 1974. Husserlian Meditations. US: Northwestern University Press: 95-6. Print.
Calcagno, Antonio (2009). The Philosophy of Edith Stein. Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press: 51. Print.
In his 2018 book, Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being (henceforth HPPB) Marius Johan Geertsema demonstrates that in Heidegger’s oeuvre, Being is essentially dialogical with the poetic. The poetic is not to be understood as strictly tethered to poems, but as a type of thinking which contrasts the worrisome technocratic with thinking combatted by Adorno, Foucault, Ortega y Gasset, and Heidegger himself. The poetic refers to the intimation of the future that shapes human thought and behavior in light of our finitude. Geertsema’s reading of Heidegger describes Being as a relation to a sort of hermeneutical receptivity that is found in poetic thinking—that is, an attunement towards nature, ourselves, and each other.
HPPB divides into three sections: an overview and explication of Heidegger’s philosophy, followed by Geertsema’s argument for Heidegger’s onto-poetology, and last a conclusion and implication section.
The first section of HPPB is dedicated to a discussion of Heidegger’s corpus which includes all the juicy aspects for any serious Heidegger scholar. This includes an elucidation of both the early Heidegger (including work prior to the publication of Being and Time) and the late Heidegger, along with a discussion of the Kehre—Heidegger’s turn from Dasein toward Being. Geertsema recontextualizes each phase of Heidegger’s work in light of the others, and even though he subtly offers his interpretation of the rupture between the early and late Heidegger, the first section of HPPB is primarily focused on outlining the different philosophies of early, middle, and late Heidegger.
The next 150 pages or so of HPPB are Geertsema’s own analysis of how Heidegger treats poetry, and its important role in Heidegger’s philosophy. In this section, Geertsema discusses the relationship between Being (that is, the world of experience) and poetry, and how Heidegger illuminates the role of language in our understanding of the world. Geertsema does an excellent job of citing textual evidence for Heidegger’s analysis of the intricate relationship of language and thought. It’s not surprising then, that Geertsema thinks that Being and poetics are intimately linked and that the way we interpret the world will be enmeshed in the way we discourse.
Geertsema takes great care in combing through Heidegger’s work: even in the areas that seemingly contradict the relationship between language and thought, Geertsema finds textual evidence that the discrepancy between thought and language isn’t so wide. For example, in the postscript to What is Metaphysics? Heidegger mentions that the poet and the thinker live on separate peaks of two mountaintops, which seems as though he views philosophical and scientific thinking as inconsistent with poetry and art. But Geertsema points out that in Anaximander’s Saying, Heidegger asserts that thinking grounds poetry and poetry grounds thinking, suggesting that Heidegger doesn’t think them as strictly incommensurable. And even though it seems as though Heidegger is inconsistent on the topic, Geertsema finds a way to bridge these ideas into a consistent overarching narrative in Heidegger’s thought.
Another impressive aspect to note in this section is that Geertsema tackles the dreaded Fourfold that flummoxes even the most well-read Heideggerian scholars, arguing that the Fourfold is a projection of a realm of thought that only poets can think. The Fourfold, which has two poles—the earth-sky pole and the mortal-divinity pole—can only be comprehended by poets, or “demigods”: those who exist “between” humans and gods and are receptive to the world around them as they project a type of thinking that anticipates and prepares for the future. Because poets are receptive to the world while understanding the boundaries that shape their understanding, poetry, or poetical thinking is able to get out of calculative, instrumental thinking. Metaphysicians, on the other hand, are concerned solely with how to explain reality, which opens up the question of technocratic domination. Poetry is dwelling, says Geertsema’s Heidegger: a sort of becoming comfortable with one’s own situation and context, where humans must realize their place according to their own boundaries. Thus, as poetry constitutes dwelling, it is the poet rather than the metaphysicians who understands the Fourfold as mode of thinking which grants us a way of navigating and understanding the world.
The final section, which concludes and examines the implications of the thesis laid out by Geertsema, unfortunately lasts only 4 pages. Here Geertsema introduces his own thoughts on the matter, which is the most interesting part of the book. Geertsema points out several worries for Heidegger, if Being is tied to the poetic (for example, Geertsema questions why should poetry be privileged—can’t architecture or a ballet also unite a people the same way poetry does?). Moreover, here Geertsema also considers certain secondary figures who have problematized Heidegger’s affinity for poetry, whereas in the bulk of the text such secondary exegesis is absent. Perhaps in a future book Geertsema will unearth these implications more in detail, as his worries seem to be problematic for Heidegger, if not outright lethal.
The greatest virtue of HPPB is that Geertsema has clearly done his homework. Every exegetical claim made in the book is backed up by a quote or citation from Heidegger. Moreover, Geertsema doesn’t examine only the early or the late Heidegger, but the whole of Heidegger’s work, including lectures and biographical anecdotes. Scholars who focus on one period of Heidegger’s thought might come away from Geertsema having a better grip of Heidegger’s entire project because of how well Geertsema integrates every Heidegger—early, middle, and late—into one cohesive text.
However, there are limits to HPPB. Anyone who has little to no experience with Heidegger will effectively drown in the Heideggerese that Geertsema presents. Take for example: “To put it simply, Being can, according to Heidegger, only be what it is, in as far as it is appropriate at all to assert that Being ‘is’, when Being grants the human being the experience of Being, not only as the presencing of Being, but also as concealment; that is, the oblivion of Being as oblivion yielding from Being” (p. 52). Anyone without a sufficient background in phenomenology or Heidegger would find this passage to be mere nonsense, or some kind of unfunny joke. On the opposite end, those who are well-researched Heideggerian specialists might find swaths of HPPB uninteresting, uninformative, or uninspired. Experts studying a particular epoch of Heidegger might pass over sections of HPPB in order to reach their own area of interest. Since Geertsema offers expositions of Heidegger’s philosophy rather than a radical or novel reinterpretation of it, there is a risk of such inquisitive experts coming away only to be empty-handed. The primary audience that might get the most out of HPPB would be those who have read Heidegger but don’t understand him well enough yet. In other words, to use Geertsema’s nomenclature, HPPB is a book for demi-Heideggarians.
Another odd aspect of HPPB is that some of Geertsema’s claims are either wrong or open to easy misinterpretation. For instance, Geertsema claims that “Heidegger never took an interest in poetry and literature incidentally” (p. 9), which is either wrong (Heidegger wrote several poems, most of which are clumsily bad), or oddly-worded (Geertsema actually quotes some of Heidegger’s poetry, calling it “ugly,” p. 110). Or, for another oddity: “We will therefore examine = now [sic] the truth of the Being in relation to the phenomenon” (p. 103). Is the equal symbol supposed to represent that the concept of the ‘now’ to be examined? Or is it a weird typo that was maybe overlooked in the proofreading process (there are a few throughout the book, such as ‘Being a Time’ instead of ‘Being and Time’, p. 50). Or, in one of the rare instances in which Geertsema invokes secondary literature on Heidegger, he cites Thomas Sheehan’s work, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift (2015), asserting that Sheehan gripes about the translation of “Ereignis” as “event”, but we should “pay attention to the use of the term by an author [Heidegger], instead of assuming a rigid frame of reference of the reader [Sheehan]…” (p. 38). However, Sheehan points out in several places in which Heidegger himself refused the interpretation of Ereignis as an event (as early as page xvii in the foreword of Making Sense of Heidegger, and which Sheehan explicitly tackles in chapter 8). These issues are mostly just distracting, but if this book is being recommended to scholars who are interested in learning more about Heidegger but are not yet experts, more could be at stake than simply getting one or two tenets of Heidegger’s philosophy wrong.
Lastly, and most pedantically, Geertsema tries his hand at Heideggerian etymology which turns out merely decorative rather than argumentative or explanatory. Those of us who don’t find the etymology interesting or informative have to sit through Geertsema’s own attempt at it. For example, Geertsema proffers that every seeing is a saying, and points out that both the English word ‘saying’ and German word ‘sagen’ come from the Indo-European ‘seku’, which means to ‘scent’ or ‘smell’, meaning to follow the trace of something (in Latin, to ‘tell’ or to ‘sequence’ is a following, ‘inseque’), which is also where the English word ‘seeing’ and the German word ‘sehen’ come from (p. 113-4). Heidegger would often analyze etymology to make a point about the relatedness of two ideas, but Geertsema’s own analysis is hardly elucidating or argumentative.
Despite some issues, Geertsema’s HPPB is a fantastic resource for Heidegger scholars who are interested in getting a stronger handle on Heidegger’s own thought. And while Geertsema doesn’t offer much of his own thinking here, the ideas that he offers will be suggestive to anyone who has an interest in Heideggerian phenomenology or continental philosophy of language.
Geertsema, M. J. 2018. Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sheehan, T. 2015. Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd.
Heureux qui comme Ulysse…
L’œuvre de Claude Romano qui vient de paraître chez Gallimard, consacré au thème de l’« être soi-même », est également « une autre histoire de la philosophie », comme il le dit dans le sous-titre ; à l’intention d’un large public, l’Auteur n’oublie pas la nécessité de définir les concepts philosophiques avec rigueur ; il ne s’adresse pas aux spécialistes, mais à quiconque s’est posé la question, dans quelques moments de sa vie, sur la signification d’être soi-même. Non pas, cependant, la question du sens de la vie en général, mais de sa propre existence particulière, de la direction qu’on lui a donnée, ou qu’elle-même a prise, comme souvent il arrive, sans qu’un choix vraiment conscient soit intervenu. Lorsque le bonheur que la société pousse à chercher dans un certain nombre de biens s’avère transitoire et illusoire, on se demande à qui l’on pourrait s’adresser afin qu’il soit plus durable et stable ; quelle attitude adopter : la première, qui émerge de cette œuvre, comme il est recommandé d’ailleurs dans la majeure partie des philosophies face aux illusionnes, c’est certainement celle de se détacher, de prendre de la distance par rapport au monde extérieur, et surtout à ses propres émotiones et illusions ; cette distance prise, il est nécessaire de chercher ce qui nous convient le mieux, mais sur la base de la connaissance de notre être personnel plus authentique, que l’Auteur indique comme notre « ipséité ». Dans cette recherche l’Auteur parcourt toute la philosophie occidentale, des classiques grecs à l’existentialisme, non sans quelques références aux philosophies de l’extrême orient, comme la doctrine zen, en passant par le concept de « nonchalance » en vogue à la Renaissance. Le mythe qui illustre bien le sujet est incarné par la figure emblématique d’Ulysse qui, ayant conclu la partie héroïque de sa vie, après avoir tout perdu, se présente comme « personne » devant Polyphème et regagne une identité propre seulement avec son retour à Ithaque. L’Auteur ne néglige pas de traiter le problème de la vérification de cette acquise authenticité qui, si elle reste privée d’ancrage, ne devient qu’autoréférentielle et assujettie ainsi à de nouvelles erreurs et illusions. Après avoir introduit le thème d’Ulysse dans l’avant-propos, Claude Romano va cependant bien au-delà du schéma classique plotinien de l’exitus et du reditus qui a inspiré Augustin aussi bien que la théologie chrétienne, et dont l’ancrage est de nature divine.
Cette aspiration de l’homme à une « authenticité personnelle », à l’origine réservée à un nombre limité d’aristocrates, est devenue un phénomène de masse seulement en mai ’68 . Elle a finalement échappé au cercle restreint des penseurs, artistes, dirigeants politiques et ecclésiastiques, et s’est, pour ainsi dire, démocratisée. Cette étude est la première à en avoir cherché les racines les plus profondes – philosophiques, religieuses et esthétiques – et les origines les plus lointaines. Le rejet du mouvement de ’68 de vivre selon l’hypocrisie des coutumes, exigence déjà individuée par Rousseau, n’a pas trouvé qu’une réponse fragile et décevante chez les philosophes de l’existentialisme, dont l’Auteur expose et analyse tous les principaux courants de pensée, sans préjugés d’école philosophique ou d’orientation religieuse.
Rousseau, ou La révolution de l’authenticité qui donne le titre au premier des dix-sept chapitres du livre, est le philosophe qui le premier pose comme but primordial de l’homme d’être inconditionnellement soi-même et de lutter contre toute puissance d’oppression et d’aliénation ; car les regards des autres pèsent sur nous et nous réduisent en esclavage, préfigurant ainsi les célèbres analyses de Sartre. Critère de vérité n’est pas l’évidence, mais la sincérité du cœur, l’authenticité, la conviction subjective : l’idée d’une vérité purement subjective prend ainsi la place de celle objective et universelle ; cette distinction sera reprise, parmi d’autres, par Kierkegaard et Heidegger.
Après l’introduction, l’avant-propos et le chapitre sur la révolution de l’authenticité, la première partie de l’ouvrage porte le titre La vérité personnelle : sources antiques et tardo-antiques. Dans cette partie, composée des chapitres II-VI, l’Auteur trace une histoire du concept d’authenticité à partir du portrait qu’Aristote fourni du magnanime, première figure d’une vérité en personne et non en paroles, d’une vérité en actes et dans la vie elle-même. L’une des vertus principales du magnanime aristotélique est en effet l’être authekastos, c’est-à-dire sincère, franc, littéralement l’homme qui est lui-même et à qui la sincérité confère de l’estime et du respect de soi-même, condition de tout comportement vertueux. Le magnanime exerce cette qualité fondamentale d’une manière si naturelle et simple qu’elle lui donne une grâce et une distinction toute particulière : il n’aspire qu’à triompher dans l’ordre de la vertu négligeant ainsi soi-même.
L’Auteur ensuite décrit la magnanimité stoïque par rapport à l’aristotélique. L’idéal stoïque y est opposé à l’autonomie précaire du magnanime aristotélique, il consiste dans une maîtrise parfaite de soi, qui détache le sage des événements extérieurs. La stabilité du stoïque est liée à la nouvelle équivalence entre la vertu et le bonheur, sous l’influence d’un principe d’inspiration cynique. La magnanimité devient alors méprise du monde ; à la nonchalance et à la détente aristotéliques succède une présence constante à soi-même et une tension d’esprit continuelle sur soi-même et sur sa vie ; le bonheur est donc le fruit de ce travail sur soi et d’une ascèse : c’est-à-dire d’une stricte discipline non plus accessible seulement à un cercle restreint de sages, comme chez Aristote. Par rapport à l’être soi-même le magnanime cultive une complète sincérité car il ne dissimule rien : il est dans la vérité et dans la lumière ; un exemple d’un tel sage nous est offert par Marc Aurèle qui, dès son enfance était surnommé Verissimus. En philosophie, annote l’Auteur, il faudra attendre Rousseau, Kant et les pensées de l’authenticité pour retrouver des accents comparables. Après avoir complété le cadre de l’antiquité classique avec la pensée sur l’être soi-même de Cicéron, Quintilien et Fronton, l’Auteur examine la pensée chrétienne d’Ambroise et Augustin.
Ambroise soumet la rhétorique et la philosophie païennes à l’autorité des Écritures, en s’appuyant sur la conviction que les philosophes païens ont puisé, pour tracer le portait de leurs vertus, directement dans l’Ancien Testament, et il propose des exemples tirés des figures de Job, David, ou encore Abraham ; il ne s’agit donc pas tant de détourner des concepts païens vers une direction chrétienne, que de leur restituer leur sens d’origine. Ambroise définit l’idéal de sagesse en termes stoïciens : le but de toute vie éthique est d’arriver à vaincre les troubles de l’âme ; le modèle de cette tranquillité d’âme devient Abraham, obéissant sans se rebeller aux ordres de Dieu, avec une fermeté non différente de celle du stoïcisme. L’évêque de Milan donne aussi la première place à l’humilité et à la charité ; à la sincérité du stoïcien succède ainsi la simplicité chrétienne, vertu par excellence de Job et don de la grâce.
Avec Augustin la question de la vérité, qui avait été posée en termes généraux par Ambroise, est transposée sur le terrain des existences individuelles, et revêt ainsi le sens d’une vraie question existentielle. « Faire la vérité », comme le dit Augustin, consiste en premier lieu à cesser de nous flatter, à rompre avec l’amour propre et idolâtre de nous-même et à accepter de nous considérer dans notre nudité et notre misère ; et donc à confesser qu’on est pécheur et, par-là, à renoncer à l’orgueil, avec l’acte d’humilité de confesser nos péchés, acte par lequel l’homme se reconnaît faillible et reconnaît Dieu comme l’unique Bien. Pour devenir nous-même nous devons nous tourner vers Dieu. Nous sommes dans la vérité grâce à la confession à Dieu de nos péchés qui opère une transformation, où chacun peut expérimenter, pour ainsi dire, une sorte de seconde naissance. Cette conception trouve sa source dans le néo-platonisme, doctrine philosophique dont Augustin était imbibé avant sa conversion et son baptême et, notamment, dans la notion plotinienne de conversion, selon laquelle chaque être doit faire retour à la source d’où il procède ; cette conversion vers un Dieu qui n’est plus un être impersonnel, permet à l’homme de révéler en lui l’image de son créateur et de devenir par-là, authentiquement, celui qu’il est ; en se tournant vers Dieu l’homme reçoit de lui une illumination, de sorte que toutes ses œuvres en sont transformées ; il acquiert une stabilité existentielle car il réalise une pleine unité avec lui-même, sur le modèle de la simplicité divine, grâce au fait d’avoir retrouvé son centre de gravité, et donc son repos, en Dieu. C’est par la confiance en Dieu que chacun devient « lui-même » par excellence, ipse, comme Augustin le désigne.
Dans la deuxième partie intitulée L’être soi-même en tant que grâce, style et naturel à la Renaissance, composée des chapitres VII-X, l’Auteur introduit l’idée de « ipséité » en tant que grâce dans le sens mondain du terme, soutenue par Castiglione dans son Livre du Courtisan, grand succès dans les cours de la Renaissance italienne. Le courtisan de Castiglione incarne bien l’idéal renaissant de l’ « homme universel » par excellence, susceptible d’exceller dans tous les domaines avec une liberté nonchalante, car elle est le fruit de son détachement ; la qualité principale du courtisan doit être la grâce, qui harmonise son être intérieur et extérieur et lui permet de s’accorder avec soi-même, et par conséquence aux autres. La grâce reconduit l’homme à être soi véritablement, à une forme d’équilibre spirituel et existentiel ; elle est définie par l’auteur italien comme sprezzatura, expression de l’italien antique que Montaigne traduira avec nonchalance, et qui est opposé au studio, c’est à dire à l’application, au zèle ; la grâce est ainsi le contraire de l’affectation. Claudio Romano passe ensuite à appliquer le concept de grâce à l’art, où il correspond à l’aisance, à la facilité, à la simplicité et spontanéité du geste, enfin au style, qui ne peut pas être le produit direct d’une volonté. Voici la conception de l’ipséité : être soi, c’est ne rien faire pour l’être. L’Auteur procède alors à un intéressant excursus dans l’art de la Renaissance, en identifiant chez Raphaël et Titien de véritables exemples de style authentique.
Montaigne, continue l’Auteur, a sécularisé la notion de repos en Dieu d’Augustin ; il reprend ce concept dont l’exemple est l’assiette souple et aisée du chevalier, qui devient l’assiette de l’existence : c’est une assiette naturelle, qui se situe à l’opposé du rigide contrôle de soi des stoïciens, mais également différent du repos trop statique d’Augustin ; elle ne représente plus chez lui une qualité du courtisan, comme la grâce pour Castiglione, mais de l’homme en général. Montaigne appelle cette grâce, libérée de toute cérémonie et qu’il identifie à la simplicité et la vérité : le naturel ; et il propose Socrate comme modèle de simplicité de style dans les discours rapportés par Platon, dans lesquels s’exprime la simplicité de son être. Même si la simplicité de Montaigne présente souvent des nuances évangéliques, la source de son inspiration n’est pas la religion. C’est la question de l’unité avec soi qui prime chez Montaigne, et qui seule nous procure une assiette dans l’existence ; l’ipséité devient alors une forme de fidélité à soi et aux autres. La franchise s’exprime dans la liberté ; Claude Romano remarque combien cette union de nonchalance et de liberté chez Montaigne présente d’analogies avec la culture zen. Dans son fameux exemple de l’archer la tentative de contrôler consciemment le geste s’avère un obstacle au bon déroulement de l’action, tandis que le fait de laisser faire le corps se montre plus efficace.
Dans la troisième partie, Le déclin du naturel et l’essor de l’authenticité, chapitres XI-XVI, Claude Romano explique comment, à l’époque baroque, le naturel décline et la dissimulation devient alors un utile instrument d’auto-défense pour pouvoir survivre à la cour ; faudrait-il donc considérer licite toute sorte de dissimulation ? Le théâtre devient l’occupation préférée, appréciée aussi par Gracian, pour qui le paraître constitue l’être véritable et l’ostentation prend la place de la grâce chez Castiglione ; Gracian, jésuite casuiste, finit par plaider souvent pour le relativisme moral ; il sera apprécié par Nietzsche, pour qui les qualités d’acteur sont les caractéristiques des hommes de pouvoir. Dès le XVIIe siècle Gracian suscitera la violente réaction des jansénistes et, plus tard, celle de Rousseau.
Le jansénisme, avec son exigence de retour à l’orthodoxie, occupe une place importante dans l’œuvre de Claude Romano, car il fait action de démystification ; sa rigueur intransigeante va s’opposer au pragmatisme jésuite, finissant par gagner une large partie de France ; il va diffuser toute une sensibilité qui n’est plus favorable à la grande scène baroque et au théâtre. La vie intérieure prend la place du lustre et de l’ostentation. Fausseté et déguisement ne sont que tromperie pour Pascal ; la société humaine et ses institutions temporelles représentent la fausseté des vertus humaines et le jansénisme, selon la doctrine augustinienne des deux amours, demande de « haïr » soi-même pour aimer Dieu ; plusieurs traits la rapprochent du calvinisme. L’Auteur décrit ainsi, avec un soin tout particulier, les liens avec le jansénisme et les spécificités de la pensée de La Rochefoucault et de Mme de Lafayette.
Claude Romano ne quitte pas l’Âge classique sans avoir réfléchi à la contribution de Descartes qui propose sa propre conception de la magnanimité, appelée « générosité », dans des nuances néo-stoïciennes, surtout, avec son cogito ergo sum, qui traite du « moi ». Toutefois, ce sera seulement Locke qui fera de ce self l’objet d’une expérience interne qui n’est pas différente de celle des sens et qui ouvre la porte à toutes les égologies.
Rousseau considère que le guide et la source de toute bonté pour l’homme sont liés au problème de l’authenticité, qui se manifeste comme sentiment et témoignage intérieurs de sa propre conscience : idées chères au calvinisme ; la franchise et la totale transparence sont également une idée stoïque. Rousseau reprend ainsi les argumentations de Castellion et de Bayle sur le primat et l’obéissance à la conscience, et la peine pour ceux qui ne l’écoutent pas est le péché. C’est intéressant de remarquer comment pour Claude Romano cette attitude du philosophe genevois, qui n’hésite pas à dénoncer la fausseté de la société, peut être rapprochée en quelque sorte de celle du jansénisme ; toutefois, ajoutons-nous, la conviction que la malice de l’homme soit le fruit d’un système politique inique et d’une oppression économique, plutôt que la conséquence du péché originel n’est ni janséniste ni calviniste. Rousseau, remarque notre Auteur, est ici très proche du néo-protestantisme libéral qui se développe à Genève avec Turrettini, Vernet ou Vernes. Rousseau accuse la société d’hypocrisie et de mensonge, de conformisme et d’aliénation, où l’homme finit pour abdiquer à son être propre et, comme ce le sera pour Sartre, les regards que les uns portent sur les autres sont déjà servitude ; il conclut que l’essence de l’authenticité, et donc de la liberté, consiste dans l’autodétermination en vertu de laquelle chacun n’obéit plus qu’à la loi de sa conscience. La condition externe de cette liberté individuelle dépend d’un contrat social qui rétablit l’égalité des droits entre les citoyens. L’Auteur met en évidence les aspects utopiques et les contradictions de la pensée de Rousseau, mais il souligne aussi que l’authenticité de son paradigme a triomphé dans la philosophie moderne, au point de supplanter définitivement d’autres conceptions de la vérité personnelle.
L’Auteur s’emploie alors à exposer les pensées de Marivaux, Schiller et Kleist ; ces auteurs s’accordent dans la tentative de définir la naturalité du comportement humain faisant recours parfois à la grâce du geste involontaire et harmonieux, parfois « au se laisser aller » de la marionnette ou de l’animal. Il consacre enfin les derniers amples chapitres à l’exister en vérité de Kierkegaard et à l’authenticité radicale de Heidegger.
Pour le philosophe danois la vérité devient l’appropriation, l’intériorité et la subjectivité : la seule vérité sur laquelle une existence puisse se bâtir est celle que l’existant peut faire sienne ; ce n’est pas la vérité en soi et anonyme. La perspective de Kierkegaard est celle chrétienne d’une imitatio Christi ; il veut se rapprocher existentiellement de son idéal, en devenant un témoin de la vérité : car Christ est la vérité non comme une somme de propositions ou de concepts, mais comme une vie. On peut relever ici l’influence de Luther qui a souligné le caractère « subjectif » de la vérité du christianisme, en faisant de la sola fides le principe autour duquel se développe toute l’existence chrétienne ; mais Luther a été aussi, pour Kierkegaard celui qui a fait de la Réforme une institution, en trahissant le christianisme. Claude Romano explique ensuite la distinction des trois possibilités d’existence chez Kierkegaard : l’existence esthétique, sous le signe de l’infinie possibilité et d’une vie sous un masque ; ensuite la vie éthique, symbolisée par l’engagement du mariage ; et enfin l’existence religieuse, selon le modèle du Christ. Dans le premier stade l’individu est enfermé dans une solitude désespérée qui présente des aspects « démoniaques » : il multiplie les conquêtes car il est incapable d’amour. Le stade éthique est représenté par la transformation de la fugacité de l’attrait pour une femme ou un homme dans un engagement éternel ; la valeur éthique de ce stade dépend d’un choix ferme et personnel, car la volonté est éveillée à soi-même et donne lieu à la personne morale. Dans le stade religieux l’homme est seul face à Dieu ; c’est la foi que lui permet, dans la crainte, dans le tremblement et dans l’angoisse de faire le saut vers la lumière : l’exemple est Abraham ; la subjectivité s’ouvre vers un Autre, elle trouve hors de soi un nouveau point d’appui : la vérité n’est plus à disposition du sujet. L’Auteur observe enfin que, pour Kierkegaard, le rapport avec Dieu est une relation personnelle, de seul à Seul : la foule déresponsabilise ; chacun doit donc éviter de se mêler aux autres, si non avec prudence.
Pour Heidegger enfin, l’angoisse de la solitude du Dasein devient l’équivalent d’un « solipsisme ». À Heidegger l’Auteur consacre autant de place qu’à Kierkegaard ; il observe immédiatement l’analogie de la pensée de Heidegger sur l’ « On », qui indique l’être impersonnel, avec la société des masques de Rousseau ; mais cet « On » ne renvoie pas à la collectivité ou à la société humaine, mais à une manière d’être du Dasein, l’existant, lui-même ; l’aliénation, qui ne survient pas de l’extérieur mais du Dasein lui-même ne dérive pas d’une intention de tromper de manière volontaire, car la tentation de dissimulation et de déformation sont structurelles. Le Dasein s’aliène dans la foule pour échapper à l’angoisse existentielle et pour ne pas prendre de décision ; il s’appuie et se perd ainsi dans le « On » conformiste. L’être soi-même n’est qu’une modalité d’être du Dasein, comme l’est le Dasein perdu dans le « On » ; ainsi une structure triadique est créée : la différence entre les deux modalités du Dasein consiste dans le fait que dans le cas où il prend une décision, la modification dans son existence est produite de manière personnelle, par l’ipse et par conséquent elle est authentique ; dans le cas du « On » elle est produite de manière impersonnelle et inauthentique. Seulement face à l’angoisse de la mort le Dasein est finalement authentique, car il est seul. Le concept de vérité de Heidegger devient alors, pour la première fois, radicalement subjectif, mais privé de tout contenu, car il est reconduit à une manière d’être, à la différence de Rousseau où le contenu consiste dans la sincérité envers soi-même, et de Kierkegaard, où le contenu est la foi. Chez Heidegger finalement c’est la volonté du Dasein de vouloir sa propre authenticité qui lui confère constance et fermeté ; ce sera ce rôle de la volonté qui permettra de mettre sa pensée au service de l’idéologie nazie.
Dans son court épilogue l’Auteur résume la question de l’adéquation à soi-même ou de l’être véritablement soi-même, qui n’est traitée que marginalement par la philosophie contemporaine, en deux tendances : dans la première, dont le stoïcisme est l’emblème, l’accord avec soi-même est réalisé par le moyen de la raison et de la maîtrise des passions de manière rigide ; dans la seconde, l’accord est obtenu par un mixte de contrôle et de laisser-aller négligent.
Dans l’apostille finale Claude Romano propose une sorte de monographie dans laquelle il suggère une série de pistes de réflexion et recherche au sujet du naturel ; par exemple : « Est-il possible de chercher à être naturel ? N’y aurait-il pas dans cet effort une contradiction avec la spontanéité liée à l’idée de naturel ? ».
En conclusion, le travail de Claude Romano est imposant et touche à une question peu traitée jusqu’à présent ; son style facilement accessible et ses descriptions claires le rendent un instrument indispensable pour tous ceux qui désirent lire ou relire l’histoire de la pensée occidentale concernant la recherche de l’authenticité.
Heureux qui comme Ulysse…