(History, Politics, Ideology. Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks” in Context)
From 14th to 16th of January 2016 an international conference on Heidegger’s recently published Black Notebooks was held at the University of Freiburg. It was sponsored by Fritz Thyssen-Stiftung and organized by Günter Figal, David Espinet, Tobias Keiling, and Nikola Mirković. A volume collecting all the contributions will be published by Mohr Siebeck Press in Tübingen. Currently, the organizers of the conference are working on a related project, Heidegger Lexikon, which will be published by Verlag De Gruyter in 2016. Ever since the publication of the first volume of the so-called Black Notebooks, Heidegger’s philosophy has become the focal point of controversy, debate and target of criticisms. The disturbing remarks on the world Jewry in the Black Notebooks pose serious challenges to Heidegger scholarship: how to make the distinction between Heidegger’s groundbreaking and inspirational philosophy and the man who gets involved in the National Socialism and succumbs to its anti-Semitic ideology, and how to deal with this gloomy legacy in general. Participants of the conference, including renowned specialists from all over Europe and America who spoke English, French, and German, approached this contentious topic carefully and conscientiously by situating various concrete questions of the Black Notebooks in the broader philosophical, historical, and theological contexts.
The conference opened with a lecture by the former president of the Martin Heidegger Society, Günter Figal. According to Figal, there is not much philosophical worth in the Black Notebooks. Instead, Heidegger himself stands as the protagonist at the centre stage, yet without the Nietzschean irony of self-portrait. The notebooks lay open Heidegger’s personal opinions and prejudices culminating in the idea that the world Jewry and the Jews are the main agency of the oblivion of Being and privileged conveyors of machination (Machenschaft) in modernity. Heidegger’s polemical attacks on others in order to legitimate the status of his own thinking follow the logic of resentment, as it is analysed by Nietzsche in Zur Genealogie der Moral. However, what is even more troublesome is the amalgam of Heidegger’s antisemitic resentment and his philosophy, because in this kind of amalgam something that makes philosophy impossible creeps in the philosophy and distorts it to ideology. Therefore, it is misleading in this context to try to relativize Heidegger’s antisemitism by attributing it to his criticism of modernity and naming it as being-historical (seinsgeschichtlicher) or metaphysical antisemitism. The critical question here is how to distinguish between two types of ideas and concepts, namely those that rule out the possibilities of ideological appropriation and those susceptible to ideology. Pursuing this reading strategy, Figal carries out an examination of some key concepts in the Black Notebooks in the second part of his talk and offers an insightful explanation about the intricate relation between Heidegger’s thinking and his personal resentments. For example, the flip side of Heidegger’s attack on metaphysics as such is his own conception of the truth of Beyng (Seyn), which finds its expression in the saying (Sagen) and naming of the word of thinking. And such thinking could preserve the origin and is rooted in the enowning event (Ereignis) of Beyng. Heidegger calls it “radicalism” (GA 96, 51), which prepares for the leap into the other beginning. At the same time, the revolutionary thinking of beginning excludes and opposes everything that is not originary or radical in the Heideggerian sense of the word. From the structure of such radical and polemical thinking, according to Figal’s analysis, one cannot derive the antisemitic resentment as its integral part. And yet, the basic structure of this thinking allows for possibilities of concrete resentments like antisemitism, which in turn do not object to the fundaments of that structure. This is the reason why Heidegger could incorporate the ideological resentments into his philosophy and thereby undermine its value blindly. The last part of Figal’s talk points towards some other aspects of Heidegger’s later thinking, which, as alternatives to his revolutionary radicalism, have shown inconspicuous gestures of humility and releasement (Gelassenheit). Heidegger criticizes in the fictive dialogue “Ἀγχιβασίη” the polemical and revolutionary way of thinking for being ensnared in antagonism and “enmity” (Gegnerschaft, GA 77, 50-51). However, judging from the already published Black Notebooks, one cannot know for sure that there is definitely such a change of attitude in Heidegger’s thinking after World War II. Therefore, towards the end of his talk Figal called for an open access to Heidegger’s unpublished works, which received positive responses from most of the participants.
As the original title of his lecture, “L’introduction de la philosophie dans le nazisme”, suggests, Gérard Bensussan reverses the position of Emmanuel Faye, who maintains that Heidegger introduces Nazism into philosophy, and raises instead the question: to what extent does Heidegger introduce philosophy into Nazism? Bensussan argues against Faye’s attempt of eliminating Heidegger’s thinking from philosophy and tries to show that Heidegger’s antisemitism does not arise from the “sleep of reason”. Rather, it is a monstrosity not foreign to reason even when it is awake and vigilant. To develop this thesis, Bensussan generalizes the use of the term “anti-Semitism” to all implicit antisemitic idioms, which are not restricted to the fourteen explicit disparaging references to the Jews in the Black Notebooks. Just as Nietzsche in Der Antichrist and the young Hegel in Der Geist des Christentums und sein Schicksal have done before him in the diagnosis of their epoch, Heidegger assigns Judaism a place in his thinking. The epoch is, as Heidegger diagnoses it, a time of urgency, disenchantment, and necessity (Notwendigkeit). Machination is most expressive of such a modern time which reduces truth of Beyng to technical manipulation of beings. In Bensussan’s view, Heidegger’s epochal diagnosis overlaps with the metaphysical role of the Jews as the culminating top of metaphysics in its completion in the being-historical sense. This metaphysical approach to the issue of Jewry, albeit not a racial question anymore, outdoes the biological and vulgar racism just in a frightening way, for the Jews have become the carrier of various symptoms of the oblivion of Being. Even the “principle of destruction” could be attributed to the Jews themselves, and this attribution can find its expression in both historical and contemporary discourses on the Jewish tradition. For Heidegger, the reversal of the Hegelian metaphysics by Marx exemplifies this destructive principle. The world Jewry is thus a universal figure of enmity in the Black Notebooks, and Heidegger’s antipathy to the Jews is also essentially linked to his criticism of “culture” (Kulturbetrieb). Bensussan’s generalized understanding of Heidegger’s anti-Judaism draws on several relevant thinkers in the history of Western philosophy in order to show that his antisemitic resentment follows the paradigms of antisemitism in the metaphysical tradition. Bensussan’s meticulous analysis is mostly convincing and sheds light on the larger background and context of the issue.
In line with Bensussan’s verdict on the relation between Nazism and philosophy, David Espinet contends in his paper that Heidegger indeed introduces a specific pattern of totalitarian philosophy, i.e. the monistic, identifying, and totalitarian way of thinking of the all-encompassing Being, into a particular kind of National Socialism. Espinet sets forth to read Heidegger’s characterization of philosophy as “attack” in an earlier lecture on Kant (GA 31, 35) and a passage from the Black Notebooks, “people without space” (GA 94, 18) in parallel, and points out the conflation of Heidegger’s metaphysics of Dasein in this period with his narrative about the founding of a national space (einen völkerischen Raum) and his attack on Husserl and the Kantian transcendental philosophy. Espinet moves on to show that the critical reading of Kant’s concept of freedom in the Black Notebooks is based on the primacy of historicity in Heidegger’s thinking. In his destruction of the moral core of the Kantian freedom, Heidegger transposes the cosmological freedom to the practical freedom and thereby overlooks the normative dimension of this concept. While one cannot but follow Espinet’s compelling and rigorous argumentation, one might still raise the question if it is appropriate to reduce the whole spectrum of Heidegger’s phenomenological reading of Kant’s moral philosophy to such politicised interpretation based on the hindsight derived from the Black Notebooks. In the last part of his account, Espinet argues against Heidegger’s ontological identification of nature and freedom and the total reign of Being in general. According to Espinet’s illuminating diagnosis of the typology and pathology of radical thinking, philosophers like Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, and Badiou tend to find philosophical, unitary reason for their radical convictions in the hope for a super-event that changes everything.
Maurizio Ferraris draws an interesting parallel in his talk between Heidegger’s piety of thinking and Pharisaism: As the Pharisees claim that moral value is determined by the beliefs one professes, not by one’s actions, the Heidegger of history of Being develops a theory of thinking according to which thoughts are the true, most intense and radical actions and thus exempt him from common moral actions in practice. Ferraris identifies the Pharisaism with the anti-realistic epistemological and ontological fallacy that things exist only for subjects, who are therefore responsible for the things. In light of his new-realistic standpoint, which is somewhat far-fetched in this context, Ferraris continues to discuss critically Derrida’s and Vattimo’s interpretation of Heidegger’s philosophy in the last part of his lecture.
The subject of Nikola Mirković’s talk centers on the style and form of the Black Notebooks. Mirković’s analysis of the three passages on the concept of style indicates that there is no consistent usage and definition of style in Heidegger’s notebooks from 1931 to 1948. In the following part of his talk, Mirković describes in detail the transformation of style of the Black Notebooks in terms of three phases of attunement (Stimmung), namely revolutionary pathos, gloominess, and fall of tension. This description is helpful to capture the immanent transition and shift of tones in Heidegger’s notebooks. Moreover, Mirković’s talk shows us that Heidegger has deployed consciously various stylistic and linguistic devices to evoke certain attunements in the notebooks.
In his talk on Heidegger’s antisemitism, Dieter Thomä discerns first of all two patterns of logical operation in the Black Notebooks. On the one hand, the logic of identity prevails and different phenomena are equated with one another under the name of the Same, such as capitalism, communism, and Catholicism, which are all symptoms of oblivion of Being. On the other hand, Heidegger avails himself of superlative expressions, like “highest clarity” and “purest simplicity” (GA 94, 47), to display his superiority. Thomä makes a very telling observation that Heidegger did not make explicit antisemitic remarks until the end of 1930s, i.e. after his public engagement with the Nazi movement. This is also the period when he began to distance himself from National Socialism, which, according to Heidegger’s changed opinion, has slipped into oblivion of Being. Different from Carl Schmitt’s aetiological antisemitism, which attributes the downfall of the German people to Jews as its cause, Heidegger’s antisemitism is described by Thomä as “emergent” antisemitism. It means that the Jews emerge at the right moment of the declining history of Being, not as necessary cause, but as profiteers. Towards the end of his talk, Thomä compares the reference of “worldless” and “groundless” (bodenlos) in Being and Time with relevant passages in the Black Notebooks, which are explicitly embedded in Heidegger’s antisemitic discourse, and calls for a more differentiating research approach to Being and Time. In view of the convincing argumentation of his talk, one can only concur with Thomä’s appeal for more critical differentiation concerning Heidegger research in general.
Hans Ruin’s talk, titled “Heidegger, Paul, and Theology: Rethinking the Greco-Judaic divide”, puts the topic of anti-Judaism in the constellation of Bultmann, Heidegger, and Jonas with regards to their common link, the Letters of Paul. Ruin begins with a delineation of the Pauline legacy in the existential analysis of the early Heidegger and the history of Being of the 1930s. Ruin points out that Paul, while providing the foundations of Christian ethics, is at the same time inventor of the historical and theological matrix that produces antisemitism in Christianity. According to Ruin’s illuminating analogy, this immanent tension in the Pauline Letters resurfaces in Heidegger’s contorted appropriation of them. Through comparing Bultmann’s and Heidegger’s behaviour in similar situation during the time of NS movement, Ruin shows us another possibility of comportment on their shared basis of existential analysis. Ruin moves on to ask what are the sources for Heidegger’s ideas of returning to the Greek beginning and of leaping into a new beginning. Ruin puts forward an insightful thesis concerning Heidegger’s sources: It is exactly in the Pauline Letters that the shape of history as destruction of tradition and possibility of new birth is configured. Furthermore, Heidegger’s denial and rejection of the Jewish in his narrative of history of Being can also be seen as extension of the anti-Jewishness of the Jewish tradition itself. The last section of Ruin’s paper discusses Jonas’ essay “The abyss of the will”, dedicated to Bultmann. Here, Ruin’s intricate and intriguing interpretation reaches its climax, which also marks one of the highlights of the entire conference. He argues that Heidegger’s existential analysis of temporality, his understanding of human will and the finitude of freedom, and the exclusion of the Jews from the history of Being can all be traced back to Paul to the extent that the Pauline Letters foreshadows the ambivalent fusion of genuine articulation of the human existential predicament and anti-Judaism.
The starting points of Denis McManus’ speech are authenticity and historicity in Being and Time, which might have sown the seeds of Heidegger’s later political commitment. Yet, McManus points out that Heidegger’s discussion of Dasein’s historicity and the related terms like Schicksal, Geschick, Held, and Volk in section 74, is strikingly faint and brief, and accordingly the arguments for a chauvinistic reading of these passages are remarkably thin. McManus’ interpretation links those concepts to Heidegger’s destructive approach to the history of philosophy in other lecture courses before Being and Time. In his whole talk, however, there is scarcely direct thematization of those key ideas from the Black Notebooks, which the audience had naturally expected.
Tobias Keiling’s talk broaches the traumatic Heideggerian question of Being in relation to Heidegger’s understanding of power. In his reading of the Black Notebooks, Keiling discerns sharply a connection between Heidegger’s thinking and the experience of power, violence, and brutality. Keiling’s argumentation operates with the concept of “ontological circle” pointing to the inner difficulty of the question of Being. Instead of conflating the ontological speculation with Heidegger’s idioms of power, Keiling suggests that one can understand the circular logic of the question as a “progress”, which provides an alternative possibility to overcome the traumatic failure of Being and Time and the later concept of history of Being. Accordingly, the role of Dasein is freed from the ontological orientation towards power, time, and truth; it is transformed into a place for open questions and new beginnings in thinking.
The three-day conference was wrapped up with Markus Gabriel’s talk, “What is ‘thinking’. Heidegger and the problem of philosophy”. Gabriel is mainly concerned with the fundamental question of the link of Heidegger’s philosophy to his political engagement with the Nazi movement. According to his reading, what is at stake in this context is the intractable problem of the status of philosophy that remains unclear since Kant. First of all, Gabriel points out some editorial malpractices and errors, which lead to the mystification of a text type and genre, namely the Black Notebooks. Subsequently, Gabriel analyzes several passages from the notebooks to illustrate Heidegger’s ambivalent attitude to philosophy and thinking in relation to the political situation of the time and the concept of worldview (Weltanschauung). Against the practice of marginalizing Heidegger’s political mistake, as well as demonizing his philosophy at large, Gabriel calls for a more balanced and differentiated approach in line with the spirit of Enlightenment. In sum, Gabriel’s talk provides some novel insights into Heidegger’s ambivalent understanding of the role of philosophy and thinking in the Black Notebooks.
The papers presented at the conference approached the theme of the relation between philosophy and ideology in the Black Notebooks from various perspectives. The speakers tried to explore different interpretative possibilities of dealing with Heidegger’s political engagement critically and yet philosophically. The forthcoming compilation of the papers will certainly contribute to, and offer new vistas for the research on the Black Notebooks and Heidegger’s philosophy in the future.
Reviewed by: Guang Yang (University of Freiburg and Nankai University)