Lawrence J. Hatab: Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy. Dwelling in Speech II

Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy. Dwelling in Speech II Book Cover Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy. Dwelling in Speech II
New Heidegger Research
Lawrence J. Hatab
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Hardback $130.00, eBook $43.99

Reviewed by: Lawrence Berger (New School for Social Research)

This second volume of Lawrence J. Hatab’s Dwelling in Speech demonstrates the power of phenomenology to challenge both mainstream philosophy and the cognitive sciences which emeploy its metaphysical assumptions. Considerable progress has been made in this regard by Dan Zahavi, who demonstrates the contemporary relevance of Husserl, and the enactivist literature which features scholars such as Shaun Gallagher and Evan Thompson. While the latter draws largely on Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, Hatab’s contribution lies in bringing Heideggerian insights to bear together with a focus on the question of language. Heidegger’s influence is just beginning to be felt in this literature, and Hatab makes significant progress as a well-known Heidegger scholar. The same goes for language, although in this case there is the distributed cognition literature (e.g., S. Cowley (ed), Distributed Language, Benjamins Current Topics, 2011; and S. Cowley and F. Vallée-Tourangeau (eds), Cognition Beyond the Brain: Computation, Interactivity, and Human Artifice, Springer-Verlag, 2013) which takes a related ecological approach. Hatab largely avoids Heideggerian terminology to make the work more accessible, developing his own lexicon which calls for some effort but rewards the reader with a wealth of insights into questions of philosophical and scientific import.

The book consists of six chapters, where Chapter 1 reviews the first volume (Proto-Phenomenology and the Nature of Language, 2017) on proto-phenomenology and the lived world, Chapters 2 and 3 apply it to child development, and the final three chapters focus on the distinction between orality and literacy. Hatab puts forward a proto-phenomenology that examines the “first,” or pre-reflective world of normal everyday existence. The focus is on immersed engagement in practical and social environments (in the Heideggerian spirit) rather than cognition and intentionality as in other versions of phenomenology. The title Dwelling in Speech thus points to the fact that we are meaningfully immersed in the myriad worlds that language discloses. For Hatab, language presents the world before it can be represented (36). In this regard he says that language should be understood as a constellation of engaged practices, not an idealism, which is part of an overall orientation to the concrete, factical world in which we dwell.

Much effort goes into focusing on experience as we live it holistically rather than reflection and analysis (or “exposition”) of articulated components. Of course, Hatab admits that as a philosopher he is himself engaged in the latter sort of analysis, and he navigates that tension over the course of the work, arguing that proto-phenomenology provides the resources to gain access to realms such as the child’s world and ancient worlds of orality without unduly importing reflective conceptual assumptions. The approach is ecological in nature, focusing on fields such as the personal-social-environmental world over which existence extends, rather than being ensconced in private realms. Hatab argues that dichotomies such as subject-object and mind-body are derivative of such ecologies.

At the heart of the approach lies the notion of world disclosure, which is the basis for originary presentation which enables any derivative representation. Disclosure has to do with the ways in which we engage and comprehend how the world manifests itself (73), and language is paramount in this regard. It is the “the opening up of the world and the precondition for thought,” the “window to the world” and its meaning (36). Thus rather than viewing language as referring to a world of nonlinguistic entities, Hatab argues that such a view is produced by way of exposition (which tends to reification) out of the speech worlds in which we dwell. Exposition arises in turn by way of disruptions (“contraventions”) in the course of immersed dwelling, along the lines of Being and Time’s relation between the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand.

Hatab puts forward the related notion of indicative concepts which, rather than seeking abstract definitions, point to and gather an implicit sense of lived experience which is already present. That is, rather than assuming that experience is fundamentally inchoate, indicative concepts mean to gather senses of dwelling which are always underway (13). As already intelligible it has no need for explication; indicative concepts simply show what is already in play in the factical worlds in which we dwell, rather than disengaging reflectively and reifying abstractions that are so produced. In the terms of the later Heidegger (Hatab prefers the early Heidegger), they seek to “speak from” the phenomena by staying within the realms in which we dwell rather than speaking about them from a distance. With such concepts in hand, Hatab poses a significant challenge to representationalism and physicalism by delving into the philosophical and applied literatures in which they are operative.

Turning to the discussion of the child’s world in Chapters 2 and 3, philosophers generally pay little attention to the question of human development, assuming that these early stages merely exhibit primitive versions of adult capacities. Hatab however provides a convincing argument that many features (which are accessible by way of proto-phenomenology) are still operative in the adult world and must be considered to provide a more robust vision of what it is to be human. He first notes the importance of imitation in infants, which he refers to as an example of original immersion where the self is constituted by way of external prompts, which supports the use of the field concepts that he puts forward (4). A focus on childhood learning provides support for the primacy of the lived world, and indicates the shortcomings of philosophical notions such as representational thinking, subject-object divisions, and the primacy of theoretical reason (56). In fact, we can see how the lived world is operative in adulthood given that it is the basis for the development of the factical bearings that enable rational knowledge (60). In particular, the role of the environment can be seen in providing scaffolding for the development of adult capacities (62), along with the senses of undivided co-being and we-feeling that remain in potentia as the basis for more robust bonds that may hold between us (66).

Hatab argues for the priority of immersion within childhood, and illustrates various features of the lived world that are made manifest there, such as the ecstatic (or extended) nature of existence in that ecology. He shows how childhood learning begins with an intrinsic interest in communicating and interacting with caregivers, which suggests that neonates are not tabula rasa as often assumed. For Hatab, children learn by way of mistakes (contraventions) made in the course of trial and error experiments in environments that are saturated with norms and values (81), thereby forming habits which become second nature (enabling further immersed activity). From this perspective he engages in a critique of theories of child-development which assume adult capacities, examining experimental procedures which mismeasure competence as a result (60) and calling instead for observation in natural settings. He critiques the notion that infants can be understood by way of the presumed operation of concepts and theories, and interrogates the mentalistic biases that proto-phenomenology can uncover (83).

Hatab discusses how the phenomenon of joint attention, where individuals focus on the same object and are aware that each is doing so, precedes the acquisition of language (as recognized in the large literature on the subject, e.g., A. Seemann (ed), Joint Attention: New Developments, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011). Infants have a natural capacity for joint attention, which he characterizes as one of the earliest stages of the personal-social-environing world because of the confluence of individual attention, social interaction, and a joint relation to the environment. Hatab refers to this as an “engaged co-disclosure,” which is more original than later developments of individual mentality, which puts a significant challenge to the predominant theory of mind approaches. Indeed, some joint attention theorists emphasize an immediacy and embeddedness in joint attention which also challenges representational approaches, for a focus on attention can unearth a more original “co-minded” dimension where we approach the world jointly in common endeavors.

We also see the connection between joint attention and indicative concepts, as Hatab notes that pointing to something for someone else’s attention makes communication possible (126). He goes on to critique theories which miss this background and rely on representational and referential notions, which conceal the fact that speech is a matter of shared attention, understood as such, and functioning by way of reciprocal effects (127). Moreover, Hatab says that the disclosive power of language is grounded in a shared impulse to communicate which shows itself in the joint attention that supports it (126). The intimate relation between joint attention and language that is indicated here would suggest that attention and language are equiprimordially disclosive, the import of which will be considered below.

Hatab argues that indicative concepts can provide new insight into how language emerges in a child’s world, and how the social environment of language speakers prepares that emergence long before words are first spoken by children (93). He demonstrates the power of phenomenology in this context, providing insight into the factical existence of children which continues to make itself manifest as we mature. For instance, children are exposed early on to the somatic, sonic, and affective forces of speech, which are still operative later in life (94). In this context speech shows itself as a world forming power (103), and dwelling manifests as a more original mode which is immersed in the world disclosive power of language. We see the primacy of language over thought, and as the basis for the meaningful shaping of experience as a whole (112).

Hatab argues against notions of cognitive nativism, individualism, autonomy, and self-sufficiency that are imputed to children (105), and delves into problems in the philosophy of language such as the notion that language is limited to expressing thought, arguing rather that thought is itself an internalization of speech. The world disclosive power of speech is made quite vivid with the example of Helen Keller’s opening to a new world by way of the sense of touch (118). He argues further that extant theories of concepts and mental states conceal the dwelling dimension that still has a hold on us (111).

The final three chapters argue for the primacy of speech over writing, in keeping with the emphasis on the role of the lived world. Writing for Hatab is not a natural phenomenon, but becomes second nature after the expository learning process. It provides a richer mode of disclosure but is susceptible to reification that ends up obscuring the ongoing functioning of the lived world. For instance, the ancient world had oral poetry as a source of its cultural bearings, and aurality of course remains important after the introduction of writing (162). Indeed, the face to face interaction that is so important in childhood and beyond provides the generative background for literacy itself (157). Orality is closer to the lived world in the sense of being subject only to the power of memory and thus associated with flux and becoming, whereas writing is static and permanent which enables abstractions and reification in the foundation of philosophical thought (165). We also see a process of disembodiment in writing (166) which leads to the emergence of inner mental domains that are cut off from the lived world, producing the disengaged reader who can focus on abstract linguistic forms and lend credence to the notion of truth as representation.

We now turn to a fascinating discussion of the emergence of philosophy and written literature in the Greek world. Oral poetry and its story worlds were a source of meaning that enabled a sense of collective identity for the ancients (189). With the introduction of literacy we have the potential conflict between critical thinking and the captivating language of poetry (197) as one aspect of the affective dimension that is so important in ancient (and contemporary) life. We see an excess of such captivation, for instance, in myths such as the Sirens who prevent the accomplishment of vital tasks (198), while on the other hand we see in Plato how myth and poetry and philosophy can complement one another (212). Plato puts forward ideals of autonomous selfhood which stand in contrast to the ecstatic immersion in forces and mimesis that occurs in oral myth and poetry, all of which must be harmonized in the actualized human being.

Hatab argues that although reading and writing skills become second nature, the oral as first nature still has priority (216), and we see this in the fact that philosophy cannot do without insights from speech in the lived world, which is its ground (225). He sees merit in some features of Derrida’s notion of arché writing, but his thought misses the importance of the lived world and orality (213). Hatab argues that the possibilities inherent in literacy lead to the suppression of factical experience by philosophical thought (192), with its decontextualized written systems, logical structures, and propositions (220). He is particularly critical of what he refers to as the predominant hyper-literacy which suppresses facticity (227).

The final chapter traces the development of literacy from Rome to the present day. Learned Latin as more technical results in an impoverishment relative to the wealth of meanings that are present in Greek thought (238). In this context Hatab continues the critique of features of contemporary thought such as the subject-object divide and representation as stemming from the development of literate technologies, such as the printing press and dictionaries (253). We see the development of thinking as representation, and writing as representations of a writer’s mind. The subject-object divide in particular serves to conceal the more primordial sense of extended selfhood that is associated with dwelling in the ecological personal-social-environing world, and Hatab launches into a critique of posited timeless philosophical concepts which rest on the bedrock of literate technologies (260).

A stimulating and wide-ranging work such as this will produce a variety of directions for further thought. Hatab’s focus is on applying insights from the early Heidegger to the question of language in the context of an extensive review of the empirical literature, and readers will undoubtedly have questions regarding the concept of proto-phenomenology, such as how one goes about it as a practical matter and where phenomenological reflection fits in. Moreover, he relies heavily on the immersion-contravention-exposition process that is put forward with considerable nuance, but some readers may believe that more support is required for such a setup.

One approach could focus on the role of attention, which is quite prominent in the text even though its thematization is well beyond the scope of the project. It appears early in the work when Hatab says that first-person attention to normal experience is the gateway to a proto-phenomenological account, as it enables an opening to (or disclosure of) the personal-social-environing world (2). It also plays a large role in the form of joint attention, which as discussed above is a key precondition for language acquisition. Thus, not only is attention essential for the practice of phenomenology, as also evident from Husserl’s treatment of the subject, but it is ontogenetically prior to language acquisition. This could argue for a sort of primacy relative to language, or at least an equiprimordiality with respect to disclosure. Indeed, I would argue that attention in its various forms must appear in first person accounts, and in fact it is often ubiquitous in such literature and taken for granted as such. For, as Hatab indicates, it is the gateway, the essence of the first person perspective, which has historically been of philosophical interest but has only become so recently in contemporary philosophy of mind. As he puts it, “The first-person standpoint in phenomenology cannot merely be a matter of introspective mental states, of intentional consciousness, of beliefs and desires related to actions in the world, but rather indicative attention to ecstatic immersion in fields of action” (15).

Attention appears many other ways in the text, which suggests a deep and intricate relation between attention and language. We have seen that indicative concepts function by pointing, or directing attention to features of the lived world, which Hatab refers to as indicative attention (15). One implication is that language directs attention, rather than being directed by, say, a Husserlian transcendental ego. Attention also appears in the form of expositional attention (e.g., 29, 49, 65) and reflective attention (e.g., 36, 103), and these concepts are all related in the helpful glossary definition of “indicative concepts and analysis”: “Reflective attention that simply points to immersed, factical experience on its own terms, without reducing it to expositional analysis or abstract categories” (283). Immersion is also defined in terms of “actual doing without reflective attention,” and is considered to be tacit or habitual. There is need, however, to consider the relation between attention and the tacit, for it is the essence of the explicit itself.

Hatab distinguishes between a variety of types of attention in particular circumstances, such as exposition as a more focused type of attention, which can range from ordinary attention to refined examination (29). He notes that objectification and reification take place by way of “a concentrated focus of demarcation” (236), considers patterns of infant attention (63), and talks about how learning to write involves “piecemeal attention” to the different words (202). Notions of focal concepts and meanings are also quite prevalent, such as the focal meanings of proto-concepts in which words make sense in usage rather than formal classification (112), and how children learn by way of focal indications that guide and shape ecstatic performance in meaningful circumstances. In distinguishing between speech and writing he notes how alphabetic script focuses attention on words as sonic units, which enables an expositional focus (164), and how vision enables sustained attention and a pinpoint focus, whereas sound is less focal when engaged (165), all of which has implications for the sort of worlds that emerge from such media. These deployments of attention suggest an essential role in engaging the factical worlds in which we dwell, and indeed it would appear to be intimately related to the notion of dwelling itself.

One way to conceive the general relation between attention and language would be in terms of the foreground-background distinction, where attention is how we are centered at the foreground of worldly engagement. Proto-phenomenology is conceived as attending to the factical background of reflective thinking (30), and such philosophical activity itself operates at the foreground in many forms, as has just been indicated. A broader phenomenological approach would therefore include the interaction between foreground and background, or between attention and the tacit/habitual. As noted above, Hatab recognizes that as a philosopher he is engaged in an expositive practice, and thinking in terms of the foreground-background distinction would be helpful in sorting out some of the dichotomies that are present in the text, such as immersion-exposition and habit-reflection, which are subject to the foreground-background distinction that operates in the lifeworld.

For instance, Hatab frequently points to the primacy of the lived world in terms of the habitual practices that always function in human engagement, but are often overlooked in philosophical analysis. He discusses background understanding (“intimation”) versus focused cognition (31), and says that immersion is non-reflexive performance without directed attention (17). He notes the dichotomy between reflective attention and skilled activity (16), and indeed when attention is diverted from its tasks performance will suffer, as in the case of Chuck Knoblauch’s famous throwing problems. Hatab also says that habits function without explicit attention (82), and that there is no reflective attention to components of speech when talking (36), but this does not mean that attention is inessential in the course of such engagement. For instance, chess players are often considered as examples of experts who rely on habitual skills in the course of activity, but a cursory look will show that they are extraordinarily attentive to patterns that appear on the board, and go through intensive thought processes in the course of their games. Speed chess is often cited as a case where there would appear to be little room for reflective engagement, but this ignores the powers of pattern recognition that apply under those conditions, which call for intensely focused attention.

Thinking of the movement of attention in terms of the foreground-background distinction enables dynamic shifts of context to come to the fore. Hatab provides an example in an extraordinary elaboration of the dimensions of factical existence that come into play in bringing about an orchestra performance, which includes a “mix of factical, practical, individual, social, environmental, temporal, historical, objective, factual, evaluative, and experiential elements” that proto-phenomenology incorporates in philosophical inquiry, and “hermeneutical shifts of perspective directly intimated by participants as contextually relevant in the foreground and background of a musical performance” (268). Hatab indicates elsewhere that disturbance turns attention (16), and that contravention draws attention to specific aspects of engaged activity that were in the background (37), both of which suggest that it was operative somewhere else. The implication is that attention is essential in the functioning of the lived world and must be recognized as such.

Thus we see that language plays a large role in the direction of attention and in the form that it takes in articulating the shape of engagement, but it must be recognized that it does not have to be passive in this regard. Indeed, Husserl notes the freedom of attention to move across intentional fields, which is essential for phenomenological exploration of the lived world. The joints of the world are not given in advance, but await upon the interplay of attention and language in order to make their appearance. Hatab notes a bidirectional relation between immersion and exposition in the course of establishing second nature capacities (37), but I would argue that the relation between attention and language is more general than this. For attention is the site of disclosure that comes about in conjunction with the action of language. Indeed, disclosure must be for someone, and attention is how the self is made manifest, or so I would argue (e.g., L. Berger, “Attention as the Way to Being,” Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual (2020) 10:111-156).[1] Instead of immersion-contravention-exposition we have the deliverances/disclosures of attention which disturb the prevailing understanding and its associated terms. These are revised accordingly and attention is redirected as a result. Attention and language are thus world disclosive in intricate relation to one another, which determines how disclosure occurs in general as well as exposition, reflection, and all other types engaged activity.

Hatab distinguishes between engaged immersion and disengaged exposition, but the question arises as to when reflection in general is disengaged. Indeed, Hatab discusses some forms of reflection which are not, such as the sort that can occur in writing. He also discusses the notion of “dwelling on,” which would suggest such a mode of reflection in volume I (107): “In the midst of human dwelling, philosophy can help us dwell on things more carefully, attentively, and perspicuously.” Dwelling on is thus a form of attentiveness, which can be characterized as phenomenological reflection without the assumption of transcendental structures. Thus attentiveness in the course of immersed activity can enable an immanent sort of reflexivity, the benefits of which are sidelined in the digital age (270). Disengagement will now be a matter of the lack of a certain kind of attentiveness, not simply exposition or reflection, for these can proceed with an accompanying cognizance of one’s embodied presence in the world. Instead, instances of thoughtless absorption and philosophical alienation (Vol I, 78) will be associated with disengagement from immersion in the lived world, in what is a more nuanced conception.

Any work that examines a vast empirical literature from a phenomenological and ecological point of view is bound to rely on notions of attention, which in the present case has unearthed a most intriguing relation between attention and language. This is just one direction that can be pursued out of such an important work. Thus in the two volumes of Dwelling in Speech, Lawrence Hatab has applied Heideggerian conceptions such as world disclosure and dwelling to a wide array of philosophical and empirical questions, thereby demonstrating the power of phenomenology to examine underlying metaphysical assumptions and recommend concrete research directions as a result. In particular, the notion of language as world disclosive is most powerful. We also see the richness of the lived world, which is what originally excited Heidegger about Husserl’s work. Hatab helps to bring that vision to fruition with this effort.

[1] Available at

Florian Arnold: Die Architektur der Lebenswelt, Klostermann, 2020

Die Architektur der Lebenswelt: Entwürfe nach der philosophischen Anthropologie Hans Blumenbergs Book Cover Die Architektur der Lebenswelt: Entwürfe nach der philosophischen Anthropologie Hans Blumenbergs
Klostermann RoteReihe
Florian Arnold
Paperback 18,80 €

Hans Rainer Sepp: In. Grundrisse der Oikologie, Alber Verlag, 2020

In. Grundrisse der Oikologie Book Cover In. Grundrisse der Oikologie
Hans Rainer Sepp
Karl Alber Verlag
Paperback 36,00 €

Michael Marder: Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics

Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics Book Cover Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics
Michael Marder
University of Minnesota Press
Paperback $25.00

Reviewed by: Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides (Associate Professor in Ancient History, Macquarie University, Sydney)

As a classicist and ancient historian, I have always been intrigued by Heidegger’s frequent references to the Greeks and what he described as their “original,” in a Nietzschean sense, appreciation of the essence of Being. Then, again, I am deeply aware of the truth pertaining Glen Most’s statement about classicists and Heidegger (“Heidegger’s Greeks,” Arion 10.1 (2002) 83-98 at 96):

“For the professional classicist, there is almost nothing at all of interest in Heidegger’s work on Greek philosophy and poetry—which no doubt says as much about professional classicists as it does about Heidegger. Heidegger’s work remains entirely marginal to the classics profession, except for a very few classicists who are themselves largely marginal.”

While this partly explains my protracted grappling with this review, it also relates most clearly why Marder’s book has been so tantalizingly appealing to me.

First, although classicists are not habitually interested in Heidegger, they are interested in theoretical advances that may defend their interpretations of ancient Greek texts from the usual charge of being irrelevant and almost a pastime for recluses. Phenomenology has been one of the latest theoretical approaches to be adopted by scholars of ancient religion (such as the great Walter Burkert) and Heidegger is regarded as “the father of phenomenology,” given that for him Aristotle was certainly influenced by a rhetorical culture in defining man as a political animal and that the constituent parts of Da-sein (the speaking, listening, and caring which characterize Heidegger’s concept of Being-There) provide a common ground between rhetorical politics and phenomenology (S. Elden, “Reading Logos as Speech: Heidegger, Aristotle and Rhetorical Politics,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 38.4 (2005) 281-301 at 286-288).

Second, Marder’s book struck a chord with me because the author sets out to make a significant point, that is, to advocate our duty to engage with Heidegger rather than continue to ignore him because of his antisemitic sentiments. The controversy surrounding Heidegger has intensified since 2014 when the first books of his Black Notebooks were published with Marder noting in his Introduction (xi):

“What reawakens each time with the controversy, or what reawakens it, is the desire to expel Heidegger and to expunge his contributions from the canon of Western philosophy or from what may be legitimately taught, interpreted, and discussed in self-respecting philosophy departments.”

In attempting a bold, but not out-of-place, in my view, comparison, I have often felt a similar attitude towards the Classics in post-colonial Australia; I vividly remember a professor of English, who exasperated with Norman Lindsay’s misogynistic adaptation of classical models, asked a doctoral student in a full amphitheater: “why do you want to study this stuff?” The conflation of Norman Lindsay’s views with the right (and even need) to study them produces a gross methodological error, one fraught with greater dangers than people gradually feeling at ease with expressing socially dangerous sentiments. Not trusting students to make the differentiation is indicative of how little confidence we have in our educational system(s), let alone the staff responsible for teaching it. In this regard, Marder’s Introduction is indeed powerful and invests the rest of the book with a renewed sense of purpose, a purpose which many scholars in the humanities are likely to empathize with. This is important given that eight out of the nine chapters comprising this book have been published before in some form and that this reader felt at times that Marder should refine the chapters further to accomplish his purpose of defending the study of Heidegger in a more concerted way.

The main body of the book consists of three Parts, focusing respectively on Phenomenology (3-65), Ecology (69-129) and Politics (133-173). Each Part contains three chapters.

Part I consists of the following chapters: “‘Higher Than Actuality:’ The Possibility of Phenomenology” (3-26), “Failure and Nonactualizable Possibility” (27-46), and “The Phenomenology of Ontico-Ontological Difference” (47-65). In the first chapter, Marder takes start from Heidegger’s view, expressed in paragraph 7 of Being and Time, that phenomenology does not lie in its actuality, but we should rather understand it as possibility (3). Drawing on the History of the Concept of Time, Marder analyzes Heidegger’s understanding of possibilities as existentially necessary for Dasein, especially since for him the impossible is the index of death (5-6). Furthermore, according to Heidegger, “the grounding possibility of phenomenology is “received” … from its “meaning in the human Dasein” (20). Hence, fundamental ontology (the acceptance of Dasein and its existence prior to inquiring about its meaning) is Heidegger’s response to Husserl’s phenomenology; according to Heidegger, by defining the phenomenon as the representation of the world in our consciousness, Husserl privileges consciousness in relation to the object. Of course, possibility needs actuality, otherwise the phenomenological approach to experience risks being separated from reality; Heidegger’s reflects on actuality in his Letter on Humanism where he argues that the accomplishment which constitutes the essence of action depends on how we perceive “productivity” since active fulfillment may well come in the form of letting be (22). This Destruktion of traditionality, enabled by Heidegger’s appreciation of fulfilling a possibility as productive but not productivist, allows for a new appreciation of efficacy in phenomenology as well as the link between intention and intuition (23).

From a classicist’s point of view, Heidegger’s observations are extremely useful in how we perceive and interpret ancient socio-religious experiences; to bring a concrete example to the discussion, ancient religion students have dedicated considerable effort to “categorizing” ancient religious experiences as “rites of passage” or “mysteries,” admittedly in an attempt to grapple with theories from anthropology or socio-linguistics. While there is little denying of the overlap between the categories construed, or the superficial enthusiasm with which classicists have at times adopted theoretical models, we are still hung on the need for classification which is a priori intrusive and inevitably anachronistic (see, for example, the refreshing article by H. Hays, “The End of Rites of Passage and a Start with Ritual Syntax in Ancient Egypt,” Rivista Studi Orientali Supplemento 2 (2013) 165-186). The same can be claimed for classifications of ancient magic, with a mind-blowing yet established in scholarship differentiation between plant-based magic, mainly entrusted to women, and aggressive, erotic magic typically encountered in the hands of men … The concept of possibility introduced by Heidegger can at least function as a halting point to allow for reflection on how certain ancient authors toyed with possibility and their audience’s assumptions or to use Heideggerian language, their “horizons of understanding.”

Marder’s second chapter is equally instructive to this direction, in my view, as it discusses the link between possibility and the sense of failure that overwhelms us when we consider our finitude, the possibilities that we will inevitably fail to actualize because of death. Importantly, our temporality, our ex-istence is essential to Dasein and to our perception of the ec-static character of time. Reading closely Heidegger’s Being and Time, Marder argues that “[T]here can be, and there is, a nothing that has broken free from lack, and that is both the abyssal foundation of fundamental ontology and the springboard for an alternative theory of failure” (32). It is in this nothingness that our existential failure can give birth to numerous other possibilities, what he calls the “fecundity of failure” (31). Importantly, Heidegger understands this “falling” (Verfallen, BT 219) in relation to the Dasein’s ability to understand itself. This falling into the ordinary and mundane expresses the worldliness (the everydayness) of Dasein and is a movement away from the Self, a movement toward inauthenticity; to restore our authentic Self we need to be able to listen to the silent call of conscience or be ready to be anxious about it (39; also, see J.B. Steeves, “Authenticity and Falling in Martin Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time,’” The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 46 (1997) 327-338). To me, the notion of “falling” (especially in light of possibility being higher than actuality) has obvious Christian overtones (and though one could argue the same about the Greek Underworld, Heidegger, as Most (2010, 86) notes, often addresses his Church congregation). Marder does touch upon this on pages 90-91 when he describes the economization of our existence and the devastation of the polis but does not really engage with the idea. Further, although Marder analyzes Heidegger’s differentiation between malfunction and failure in relation to techne in Time and Being (44-46), he does not involve the Aristotelian concept of phronesis which Heidegger did discuss.

The final chapter of Part I focuses on Heidegger’s attempt to situate himself between the phenomenologies of Husserl and Hegel. The notion of types or perhaps possibilities of phenomenologies is enticing and Marder does engage masterfully with Heidegger’s reading of both philosophers. Here, Marder follows two hypotheses: first, Heidegger employs the Hegelian phenomenology of spirit to refute Husserl’s positions and second, Husserl and Hegel come to stand for “the encryptions of ‘ontic’ and ‘ontological’ phenomenologies, of consciousness and of spirit” (49). Heidegger attempts to bridge the “ontico-ontological difference” by gathering together, “without mixing them, dialectical fire and phenomenological water.” Although Marder makes clear that Heidegger does not reject Husserl outright, he concludes that his intentional consciousness caters for a relative being and relative knowledge (53, 56). By trying to substantiate his historically conditioned appreciation of Dasein (i.e. non-metaphysical), Heidegger employs the concept of Mitdasein (being-with) which allows for our existence with objects, with ourselves and importantly with the Hegelian absolute, that is, we can participate in the self-knowledge of the absolute as analyzed by Hegel in the final paragraphs of his Enclyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit (59-60). At this point, I was feeling rather smug with my progress in following Marder’s often longwinded arguments, and at the same time guilty for having missed the affinity of Mitdasein with post-structuralism (Woerman, M. Bridging Complexity and Post-Structuralism: Insights and Implications, Switzerland: Springer, (2016) 243ff. on Nancy and Heidegger), when it occurred to me that Marder does not explain how the consciousness of Mitdasein (as well as authentic Dasein) can be non-metaphysical. I say this because to my mind, although Mitdasein is enabling us to approach the absolute through Hegelian self-reflection, it necessarily implies a sense of isolation and/or separation from the objects which we “are with;” this thought has a very Platonic as well as Nietzschean ring to it which is, of course, totally metaphysical. Here, Marder does not offer the non-expert much guidance.

Part II consists of the following chapters: “To Open a Site: A Political Phenomenology of Dwelling“ (69-92), “Devastation” (93-111), “An Ecology of Property” (113-129). In chapter four, Marder explains Heidegger’s application of the concept of failure in the context of the Greek polis, which is linguistically tied to the word polos (=swirl) (70); the latter is characterized by a perennial openness both in the sense that its members are renewed continuously but, also, in the sense that the questioning that takes place in the polis can never be concluded. Heidegger objects to the common translation of polis as state or city-state because it suppresses its ecological stance (72). Notably, he toys with the Nietzschean notions of hypsipolis and apolis, often through his grappling with Sophocles’ Antigone (73-74) which indicates that Heidegger recognizes oikologia, which in Heideggerian terms would be translated as house-being or house-gathering, as a concept often realized by those who substitute the site of the polis with the site of history – another deeply Platonic idea (cf. Republic, 592b on the Heavenly city), but, also interestingly agreeing with several stories of ancient founders who were never afforded civic identity. I am here thinking of Heracles, but, in defense of Marder’s point that to appreciate Heidegger’s preoccupation with the polis is inherently antisemitic, I would like to add the example of Moses, who led his people to the promised land, but was not allowed to cross the river and enjoy Canaan. Heidegger employs a geometrical appreciation of the dwelling; as Marder explains (75) dwelling, or being a Dasein, is conceived as the meeting point of a vertical dimension that refers to geographical situation and the political and a horizontal dimension that refers to the ethos of the polis. In fact, it is in the context of the polis that Dasein is revealed to be a Mitsein, being-with (76). Having the Platonic example at the back of my mind, I was not clear at this point how Heidegger deals with those exceptional (philosophizing?) individuals who manage to exchange the actual dwelling for the site of history; how does the notion of Mitsein apply in these cases? And, importantly, if the openness of the dwelling relies on it becoming hostile to the individual (as in the case of Antigone), should we consciously seek to rise above the Mitsein? Possibly questions of a novice in Heidegger’s thought, but in advocating the study of Heidegger, Marder could have spent a bit more time trying to guide the less advanced reader. Marder then argues that ecology has been replaced in modern societies by a political and ethical economy, which privileges quantitative valuation (78). Discussing Heidegger’s contribution to the concept of nomos, Marder notes: “The work of ‘mere fabrication’ of the law by human reason corresponds to the degradation of ēthos to the ethical with the help of morality …” (79). The intense economization of existence has allowed for the reign of nihilism, defined as the “danger of self-destruction” (82). In HHI 48, cited by Marder on 91, Heidegger explains: “What I mean by ‘economization’ is the encumbrance of the things and the world they co-create with the time, spatiality, and language (nomos) that are alien to them.” Heidegger charges the Romans with mistranslating the politikón, as the product which arose “out of the existence of the Greek polis,” with the Latin Imperium (83) (as well as with attaching to the Greek word = earth the notion of territory by translating gaia/gē as terra, 84). Admittedly, I am grateful to Marder for including the etymological arguments of Heidegger’s thought to his analysis, I found them delightful. Heidegger urges us not to confuse the need for housing with the desire for dwelling (87). By now, however, I really thought that Marder would press the question of people without terra and flung into history (regardless of whether this was a choice) … maybe the reader should be more patient for a treat later in the book?

In chapter five, Marder examines the question “what do we do when we devastate the world?,” noting that Heidegger anticipated “an abandonment of being” (93). He then introduces the distinction between destruction and devastation (94): “Staying with the logic and the vernacular of the preceding chapter, I am tempted to say: destruction destroys housing, while devastation devastates dwelling, striking not at the actual but at the possible, at the possibility of actuality.” For the next few pages, Marder details Heidegger’s desperate attempt to find hope in the face of ecological destruction, eventually glimpsing it in what Heidegger mentioned in HCT 18 (19): when the system fails possibility or the possibility of possibility, then possibility enters concealment. Thus, when devastation has completed its terrible effect both within and outside us, the concealment of the beginning harbored within Dasein offers the possibility of a new beginning (97). At this point, Heidegger appears almost poetic, perhaps even fatalistic. The worse effect of devastation in us is the “incapacitation of logos, of articulation” (99). Devastation, according to Heidegger, “transmits a scorching desert silence” which “cuts into Dasein and severs it from its world.” Again, to me, Heidegger’s thought at this point is pregnant with theological concepts, especially the eastern hesychast tradition (as an adaptation of pagan philosophical silence) and was a bit disappointed that Marder is not interested in the topic, though this observation is an aside rather than a criticism for the work which here becomes much more legible in terms of style. Going back to the problem of articulating devastation, Heidegger suggests discussing it as “evil,” though he suspiciously claims that “the devastation of the earth and the annihilation of the human essence … are somehow evil” (101). Heidegger appreciates evil as the opposite of logos, rather than in moral terms, but again here Marder avoids saying more about Heidegger’s antisemitism and how this plays against the fascist devastation of logos. Heidegger finds the positive aspects of devastation in the trace of its energy (103); devastation “procures its energy from a contentless and abstract possibility and, in effect, reconfigures energy as this possibility” (104). Although such an appreciation of devastation seems to almost brash off the Nazi regime and their followers as the mere means of devastation, Marder reminds us that Heidegger’s thought is here preoccupied with more mundane forms of devastation, primarily in the forms of economic rules (105). Finally, we come to the question, “what is to be done” about the onslaught of unconditional calculation? The answer being a. “fight the obvious temptation to get over it” (CPC 140/216 cited in Marder, 108) and b. endure it (GA: 94: 292, also on 108). Marder reminds us that here that being proactive is not necessarily a philosophical category, especially given Heidegger’s belief that in doing something we contribute to the expansion of devastation (109). Although Heidegger argues that devastation destroys the in-between space in which the polis exists, there is an in-between possibility in devastation too, the space between abandonment (of being) and releasement which may still save us (111).

In chapter six, Marder discusses the notion of property in the context of Marx’s political economy (113). Since Plato and Heidegger believe that the philosopher’s task is above all to “un-forget being in the midst of a profound ontological amnesia” (114), very much in line with the ancient conception of oikonomia, the modern institution of economy perplexes the mission of the philosopher: “the un-forgetting of being must engage in a painstaking analysis of economism and its corollary modes of appropriation that endanger planetary existence.” Marder here proposes to examine “how the ecologico-phenomenological attitude subtends an economic-political approach to ‘property’” by putting Heidegger in dialogue with Vladimir Bibikhin, a Russian philosopher who translated much of Heidegger’s work into his native language (114-115). Taking start from the post-Soviet privatization, construed by Bibikhin as the “capture of the world” (117), Marder explains how Heidegger allows Bibikhin to articulate the challenges of his society as a symptom of our overall tendency to “world-devastation and the obviation of logos inherent in the economic or economistic attitude.” Finally, Marder considers fascism and technocratic liberalism as alternatives to the ecology of property (119-122). Toying with the double meaning of the Latin capio as grab and grasp(=understand), Marder explains liberalism as preoccupied with grasping without being-grasped to which fascism responds with the reverse option of being-grasped without grasping (119) – notions which both Heidegger and Bibikhin employ in their struggle to restore the ecology of property (120). Here, we have a pseudo(?)-choice between the indifferent grasp of beings or the ecstatic surrender to them. For Heidegger, Marder concludes, “ontological history proceeds by way of ending, its ‘process’ twisting into the ends, a pair of them-fascism and technocratic liberalism-now looming large before us as the only destiny” (121). In his effort to free up some space between calculative rationality and thoughtlessness, Heidegger comes up with the notion of “inceptual thinking,” which diverts “the task of thought from the capture of the world,” to “dwelling with and in the world, all the while articulating and being articulated by this difference between ‘with’ and ‘in’” (123). Pages 127-129 focus on Bibikhin’s intricate method of translating Heidegger whereby he “makes his own what is of the other” while “making other what is his own” (127). Marder obviously enlists Bibikhin as an important ally to his argument about the usefulness of Heidegger’s thought (and crucially in trying to argue that what has been often construed as his antisemitism may in fact, be Heidegger’s indulgence into a separate trail of thought to the point of naivety or even lack of sensitivity), but his point remains latent and is never fully articulated.

Part III consists of the following chapters: “The Question of Political Existence” (133-144), “The Other ‘Jewish Question’” (145-161), “Philosophy without Right” (163-173).

In chapter seven, Marder focuses on Heidegger’s 1934-35 seminar on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right for which he has been accused of putting “Hegel in the service of Nazism” by “supplying a philosophical justification for the theories of state, power and leadership redolent of this deplorable ideology” (133). Accordingly, his aim is to “tease out … Heidegger’s unique being-historical take on the political philosophy” (133) of his predecessor. Marder argues that we should “examine the 1934-35 seminar in light of Heidegger’s own philosophy, which slots Hegel into the vast project of destruction (Destruktion) of Western metaphysics in a privileged way” (134). Like in chapter 3 where, despite of being critical of Hegel, Heidegger opted for a middle position between Husserl’s relative phenomenology and Hegel’s absolute phenomenology of being, Heidegger develops a similar strategy regarding political philosophy. But this time instead of comparing Hegel to Husserl, Heidegger compares what he perceives as Hegel’s idealistic approach to political existence to Karl Schmitt’s realism.

Marder lays out Heidegger’s critique of Hegel and Schmitt on pages 135-139, concluding that he rather “oversimplifies their positions in order to cement his alternative version of political existence” (139). In addition, Marder observes that “Schmitt’s nonmetaphysical political ontology, which has all the trappings of a ‘self- developing self- assertion,’ is as attuned to existential realities and possibilities as that of Heidegger himself” (140). Heidegger tries to avoid Hegel’s “absolutization of spirit” which privileges the metaphysical being and Schmitt’s “relativization of the political (as a relation to the enemy other),” which privileges the individual beings over the political (141). Instead, he claims that “political existence transpires in the difference between being and beings that Hegel and Schmitt all but effaced” (141). Heidegger introduces a valid contradiction between domestic and international politics (since the state is Dasein and hence, the center of its world, but not of the world) and insists that the essence of the political is its existence as a historical being-in-the-world personified by its leader (141-142). Earlier Marder suggested that Heidegger appreciates the state as “historical being” (GA 86: 85) through which “spirit gives itself actuality, political facticity, and freedom” (135). Further, he argues that “‘the essence of the state’ is ‘unification’ (GA 86: 79– 80), and that the Dasein of the leader effects ‘the unification of powers’” (142). Although Marder rightly observes that “translating the vocabulary of Being and Time into political categories proves impossible,” and is critical of Heidegger’s emphasis on the role of the leader, it must be said that to this day such views are widely held by many people and regimes across the globe who loudly reject Nazism while strongly defending their right to preserve a certain, unified identity. Thus, castigating Heidegger for putting forward a Nazi-echoing political system applies to the extent that he expresses these views in 1930s Germany and perhaps that he was misled by his historical context in grappling with the Dasein-based struggle he describes. Without underplaying in the least the gravity of the Holocaust, and hence by a similar token, we could argue that there is little point in studying Plato, a male, totalitarian aristocrat whose political views have been long branded as utopian. Marder is treading carefully here, stating that “We are yet to gauge the depth of ontico-ontological difference and other aspects of Dasein- analysis in the question of political existence” (144).

In chapter eight, we finally get to the core of the discussion about Heidegger’s antisemitism. To this direction, Marder compares Heidegger’s Black Notebooks as well as a 1933-34 seminar with the title “On the Essence and Concepts of Nature, History, and State” with Marx’s 1843 essay “On the Jewish Question.” Marder “suspects” that Heidegger’s antisemitism is mostly related to his reluctance to a. turn the figure of the Jew into a question and b. interrogate the logic of coming up with a specific figuration model for the nihilistic completion of metaphysics (145). Marder’s analysis of Heidegger’s attack on Husserl on account of his Jewishness which, in his view, accounts for the limits of his philosophy, is very successful as is his point that Heidegger clearly thought in similar terms about other groups such as “the Cartesians, but also the Bolsheviks, the English, the Americans …” whom he showcases “as though they were different specimens of an indifferent metaphysical nihilism” (145). On the same page, Marder suggests that we should resolve the Jewish issue as a question through which we are not looking for an answer but for an emancipatory commingling of the questioned and the questioning in a “single –and singular– being.” Marder finds this emancipatory path in Marx and his rejection of religion through which the conflict between Christians and Jews which makes the foreignness of the latter irreconcilable is resolved. The second stage of Marx’s emancipation is a critique of state per se (i.e. not the Christian state) and the third what Marx calls communism. The essence of Heidegger’s problem with the Jews or rather, the problem embodied by the Jews in his society, is this:  “The question of the role of world Jewry is not a racial question, but the metaphysical question about the kind of humanity that, without any restraints, can take over the uprooting of all beings from being as its world-historical task” (GA 96: 243 cited on 151). Hence, Marder explains “[T]he ontic displacement of traditional Jews, sublimated in the secular version of Jewish cosmopolitanism, has mutated, on Heidegger’s reading, into the ontological deracination of the world and of being itself” (152). Marder offers a very insightful analysis of how Heidegger’s fear of the worldlessness practiced by the Jews was already articulated by Hegel but also of how, despite claiming that race did not play a role in determining the kind of humanity we aspire to, he did fall prey to racial stereotypes (154). More problematic is his understanding of the Jews’ calculated overbreeding as a way of overpowering life and leading to nihilism (153). Marder claims that, overwhelmed by the prejudice of his time, Heidegger did not pay enough attention to the unique Jewish attachment to tradition as a valid alternative to space – a situation drastically altered by the Zionist project. Here, I would like to offer two points: first, although the Zionist project offered substance to Israel as a nation state, subscribing to a political ideal that originates in the nineteenth century, the spatial aspects of Jewish belonging were extremely pronounced in ancient accounts of the Jewish history; regardless of the debates about the exact dating of the Tanakh books, the idea of the Promised Land is ubiquitous in them (e.g. Genesis 15: 18-21; Exodus 23: 31; Numbers 34: 1-2; Deuteronomy 19: 8-9). Further, I wonder to what extent Heidegger would regard the Zionist project as enough response to the stubborn clinging of the Jews to the idea of foreignness (149), from a Mitdasein perspective. Second, for me, the “homelessness of modern man” (GA 9: 340) that Marder identifies as Heidegger’s main problem with modernity has given rise increasingly in the second half of the 20th and the 21st century to a number of cultural identities (which may or may not include racial, religious, and other dimensions), often in response to experiences of marginalization (e.g. Greek-Australian, Italian-American etc.), often competing with each other (e.g. Christian Black American vs homosexual Christians), certainly breaking down with tradition in some ways yet confirming it in others (e.g. both groups may subscribe to the idea of national army service), which would disrupt Heidegger’s appreciation of history as written by races or peoples (GA 96: 56 cited on 155) as much as the case of the Jews. I was urged to make this association by Marder’s observation on page 158 that Heidegger “converts the figure of the Jew into a complexio oppositorum (i.e., the complex of opposites, where otherwise antithetical traits coexist without the work of dialectical mediation) abounds.” Still, from this perspective, Heidegger’s failings make him totally relevant and worth-studying nowadays in the same way that Plato’s authoritarian regime, in response to the problems of Athenian democracy make him a core reading (for everyone really). Interestingly, Plato remains locked into the walls of the ancient city-state in the same way that Heidegger remains trapped in the nation-state. To put it differently, Heidegger adheres to a single version of history (cf. 159 where Marder notes Marx’s differentiation of the Jewish question according to the national context in which it is raised).

The last chapter of the book, co-authored with Marcia Sá Cavalcante-Schuback, tries to address “the relation between philosophy and politics, when both politics and philosophy lose their footing and their right” (165). According to Marder, “[T]hat is why the case of Heidegger mobilizes a question that is also ours, demanding an ‘active reading’ à la Lacoue- Labarthe, rather than the reading of a historian or a philologist.” I found this comment uninformed: historians and philologists have long insisted on post-structuralist rigor. As a trained philologist, Heidegger did not fail because of his penchant for etymology, his one-dimensional application of a discipline onto his understanding of Dasein. He failed, as the authors acknowledged on 164, because despite thinking the possible he kept consulting the actual, a kind of bias to which all scholars, all thinkers are susceptible. Here, the focus shifts on Heidegger’s reading of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which tries to reunite “philosophy and politics (the latter, in the guise of right) precisely in the common destiny of their end as completion and exhaustion” (166). Heidegger sees in National Socialism the answer to the danger of Hegelian dialectics which produce an endless exchange; Heidegger refers to the scope of dialectic as “Back and forth— going— Dissolution— confusion,” (HPR 136 cited on 167) leading to “the loss of right.” Feeling that by the 1930s democratic liberalism and socialism had run their course, unable to produce anything new, other than “the back-and-forth of an exhausted dialectics” (168), Heidegger recognizes in National Socialism a “letting-emerge” of new possibilities. Another side of the problem is Heidegger’s insistence on actively fomenting the emergence of new forms to achieve “self-assertion.” His proposal can work only if “implemented together with the people grounding the state” (168). Marder admits that in embracing National Socialism as a way of transforming the essence of being by “rethinking and reorganizing power and work” was Heidegger’s biggest historico-political blunder (169). Still, Heidegger was not incorrect in his criticism of Hegelian dialectics; in his view, unlike Socratic dialectics, Hegel “does not invent a method for seeking the truth of being but identifies the truth of being itself as a method” (172). Heidegger continued to associate dialectics with actuality well into the post-war period and be frustrated by its inability to recognize phenomenological possibilities. The chapter concludes:

“… the darkest excesses of metaphysics tend to be repeated and magnified in every attempt to master and idealize finitude, putting it at power’s disposal. Do living and thinking ‘without right’ provide a sufficient insurance against this possible repetition […]? Our wager in this chapter has been on the incomplete dialectics of the without and an enduring search it instigates for the right to philosophy and to politics with others. Whether or not it could work, only being as time would tell” (173).

Appropriately philosophical, this conclusion lacks the force of the Introduction. Overall, the book achieves its goal of re-introducing Heidegger in philosophical debate though less so in political theory (for example, it would be interesting to see how Heidegger’s theories would be challenged by the increasing contemporary phenomenon of stateless people). I found Marder’s use of texts to support his arguments extremely valuable (and philological). The book would have benefited from a list of the sources used. Finally, although I applause Marder’s intention in putting this book together, he could have done more work to address his purpose in a more systematic way. That said, the book is still a must for every student of philosophy.

Andrew J. Mitchell: Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens

Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens Book Cover Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens
Heidegger Forum 15
Andrew J. Mitchell. Aus dem Englischen von Peter Trawny
Paperback 24,80 €

Reviewed by: Giovanna Caruso (University of Koblenz-Landau)

Die Rolle des Raumes, der bislang in Heideggers Denken neben jener der Zeit bzw. der Zeitlichkeit kaum wahrgenommen wurde, ist in den letzten Jahren immer häufiger in den Fokus der Forschung gerückt worden. Es wird dabei betont, dass vor allem die kleinen Schriften über die Kunst, die im Laufe der 1960er Jahre anlässlich von Heideggers Begegnung mit einigen zeitgenössischen Künstlern entstanden sind, von einem starken Interesse Heideggers am Phänomen des Raumes zeugen. Denn diesen Texten lässt sich eine Raumauffassung entnehmen, die im Vergleich zur Räumlichkeit des Daseins in Sein und Zeit oder auch zur Konzeption des Raumes als Wohnen in den 1940er und 1950er Jahren neue Verhältnisse zwischen Raum und Zeit, Raum und Dasein, Raum und Körper und nicht zuletzt zwischen Raum und Welt entstehen lässt. In diesem Forschungskontext, der der Spur des späten Heidegger auf der Suche nach seiner revidierten Raumauffassung folgt, verortet sich auch Andrew J. Mitchells Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens. Wie der Titel bereits verrät, stellt Mitchell Heideggers Konzeption des Raumes in seinem Verhältnis zum Körper und zur Kunst – insbesondere zur plastischen Kunst – dar. Zu diesem Zweck untersucht und interpretiert er in Anlehnung an Heideggers Denken die Werke der Bildhauer Ernst Barlach, Bernhard Heiliger und Eduardo Chillida, denen er jeweils ein Kapitel widmet.

Der erste Satz des Buches fasst implizit seinen Ausgangspunkt und sein Ziel zusammen: „Die Bildhauerei lehrt uns, was es heißt, in der Welt zu sein.“ (9) Eine fragwürdige, sehr allgemeine und sogar tendenziöse Annahme – könnte man denken. Auch die Erklärung, die der Autor kurz darauf vorschlägt – „In dieser Welt zu sein heißt stets, einen materiellen Raum von Strahlung zu betreten.“ (9) –, bleibt erklärungsbedürftig. Wenn man aber die Ungenauigkeit dieser Annahme vorläufig akzeptiert und sich von ihr durch den Text leiten lässt, wird im Laufe der Lektüre verständlich, dass dieser vermeintlich unverständliche Ansatz das Programm des gesamten Werkes Mitchells zum Ausdruck bringt. Denn dem Schlüsselbegriff ‚Grenze‘ folgend, will der Autor in seinem Buch zeigen, dass Heidegger durch eine Auseinandersetzung mit der Bildhauerei eine Raumkonzeption entwickelt, auf Basis derer der Unterschied zwischen Raum und Kunst aufgehoben wird. Mitchell zeigt darüber hinaus, dass, indem Raum zur Kunst und Kunst zum Raum wird, Heidegger ein neues Verständnis des Verhältnisses des Daseins zu seinem Wohnend-Sein bzw. zu seinem In-der-Welt-Sein entwirft.

Um die Entwicklung und zugleich die Ergebnisse der Heideggerschen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Raum-Begriff von den 1920er bis zu den 1960er Jahren darstellen zu können, gliedert Mitchell sein Werk in fünf chronologisch aufeinanderfolgende Teile. Auf eine lange Einleitung, die von Sein und Zeit (1927) über die Kunstwerksabhandlung (1935) bis zu den späten 1960er Jahren durch die bedeutendsten Etappen das Verhältnis von Dasein, Kunst und Raum im Denken Heideggers rekonstruiert, folgen drei aufeinander aufbauende Kapiteln, die die Zusammenhänge zwischen dem Denken Heideggers und der Kunst Ernst Barlachs (1.Kapitel), Bernhard Heiligers (2. Kapitel) und Eduardo Chillidas (4. Kapitel) untersuchen. Das dritte Kapitel hingegen ist einen Exkurs über Heideggers Vortrag Die Herkunft der Kunst und die Bestimmung des Denkens. Eine Darstellung dieser Abschnitte wird im Folgenden jene Aspekte fokussieren, die Mitchel zufolge für die Entwicklung des Denkens Heideggers in Bezug auf das Verhältnis von Raum, Kunst und Mensch eine besonders wichtige Rolle spielen.

Statt den Leser in das Thema des Buches einzuführen oder einen systematischen bzw. historischen Hintergrund zur Orientierung zu umreißen, versetzt die Einleitung ihn sofort ins Zentrum der Betrachtung. Durch eine Sprache, die deutlich eine starke Beeinflussung durch Heideggers Stil erkennen lässt, gewinnt der Leser einen unmittelbaren Zugang zur Thematik des Werkes: das neue Verhältnis von Körper und Raum, das sich deutlich in den Vorträgen und kleineren Schriften Heideggers der 1960er Jahre zeigt. Schon die ersten Seiten des Werkes entwerfen eine innovative Interpretation der Entwicklung der Raumauffassung im Denken Heideggers. Denn Mitchell stellt keinen Bruch zwischen der Raumauffassung von Sein und Zeit und jener der späten 1960er Jahre fest. Er vertritt vielmehr eine Kontinuitätsthese: Die in den 1960er Jahren von Heidegger entwickelte Auffassung des Raumes und seines Verhältnisses zum Körper „schreitet“ laut Mitchell „auf einem Denkweg durch Sein und Zeit zur Abhandlung über ‚den Ursprung des Kunstwerks‘“. (10) Damit bestreitet Mitchell jedoch nicht, dass sich die Raumkonzeption Heideggers im Laufe seines Denkens deutlich verändert hat. Er plädiert aber für die These, dass Heideggers Werke der 1920er und 1930er Jahre den Kern seiner späteren Raumauffassung bereits in sich tragen. Eben diese kontinuierliche Entwicklung des Heideggerschen Raumverständnisses wird von Mitchell in der Einleitung auf kurze und prägnante Weise dargestellt. Er zeigt zuerst, dass die Auffassung des Raumes in Sein und Zeit Grenzen aufweist, die seiner Analyse zufolge dadurch entstehen, dass Heidegger die Räumlichkeit des Daseins „vom daseinsmäßigen Nutzen des Zeugs (des ‚Zuhandenen‘) her“ (13) denkt. (Vgl. 11–17) Aufgrund dessen bleibe der Raum in Sein und Zeit ausschließlich ein funktionaler Raum, dessen Existenz vom handelnden Menschen abhängig ist. (Vgl. 17) In einem zweiten Schritt zeigt Mitchell, wie Heidegger die Auffassung eines funktionalen Raumes überwindet und im Kunstwerksaufsatz eine Konzeption entwickelt, die auf einem vom Dasein unabhängigen Raum basiert. (Vgl. 17-24) Diese neue Idee eines autonomen, „anti-utilitaristischen“ (21) Raumes wird Mitchell zufolge im Kunstwerksaufsatz im Schlüsselbegriff ‚Erde‘ expliziert: „Erde nennt eine exzessive und abgründige Phänomenalität, eine Erscheinung, die auf keiner unterliegenden Substanz beruht.“ (19) Auf dieser veränderten Auffassung des Raumes, die nun von Heidegger als Erscheinung bzw. als Lichtung der Wahrheit (vgl. 21) verstanden wird, basieren Mitchell zufolge die Veränderungen in Bezug auf das Verhältnis von Körper und Raum, die sich in Heideggers Denken in den 1960er Jahren anlässlich seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den Plastiken verschiedener Künstler äußern.

Vor dem Hintergrund der dargestellten Entwicklung untersucht Mitchell im ersten Kapitel seines Buches (vgl. 31-48) den Zusammenhang zwischen dem Spätdenken Heideggers und der Kunst Ernst Barlachs. Der Begriff der Seinsverlassenheit bildet dem Autor zufolge das Bindeglied zwischen Heideggers Denken und Barlachs Kunstwerken. In diesem Zusammenhang deutet Mitchell Verlassenheit als „Weg, Sein als weder völlig präsent (es hat Seiendes verlassen) noch als völlig absent zu verstehen“ (33) und somit das Seiende als „etwas Offenes, das in die Welt ausgeschüttet ist“, (34) zu erfahren. Die stark metaphorischen, fast poetischen Züge der Sprache Mitchells beeinträchtigen bisweilen ein systematisches, eindeutiges Verständnis des Textes. Dennoch lässt sich Mitchells Interpretation der Werke Barlachs in Bezug auf Heideggers Denken erkennen: Indem die formlosen Körper-Skulpturen Barlachs ein Seiendes ohne bestimmte Grenze bzw. ein offenes, nicht abgeschlossenes Objekt verkörpern, stellen sie laut Mitchell die Spannung zwischen Präsenz und Absenz dar, die der Seinsverlassenheit eigen ist, und werden somit als Ausdruck der „Unbestimmtheit des irdischen Lebens“ (43) gedeutet. Außerdem betont Mitchell, dass eine implizite Kritik an der Welt der Technik und am Formideal des Nationalsozialismus als deren Konsequenz vorgenommen wird: „Barlachs Skulpturen sind mehr geformt als jeder Nazi-Körper es sein könnte, gerade durch ihre Weigerung, Form zu verdinglichen oder zu kristallisieren und sie von ihren sie ermöglichenden Bedingungen abzuziehen.“ (47)

Dieses Verhältnis von Raum und Körper, das die formlosen, offenen Skulpturen Barlachs bereits implizit thematisieren, wird zum Hauptthema in Heideggers Rede Bemerkungen zu Kunst-Plastik-Raum, die er 1964 anlässlich seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den Kunstwerken Bernhard Heiligers gehalten hat. Auf Basis dieses Textes zeigt Mitchell im zweiten Kapitel seines Buches (vgl. 49–72), dass Heidegger das Verhältnis von Kunst und Raum eindringlich untersucht, dass er grundlegende Fragen über die Möglichkeit einer Auseinandersetzung mit dem Raum für den Künstler aufwirft und dass dabei auch das Verhältnis von Körper und Raum zunehmend an Bedeutung gewinnt. Bei dem Versuch, dieses Geflecht von Verhältnissen, Bezügen, Verweisen und Zusammenhängen zwischen Kunst, Raum und Körper zu entwirren, entwirft Heidegger laut Mitchell eine neue Auffassung des Raumes, die dazu zwingt, auch seinen Bezug zur Kunst und zum Dasein neu zu denken. Gegen die klassische Raumauffassung, die die Definition des Raumes mit den Körpern verbindet, zeigt Mitchell, dass Heidegger den Raum vom Raum und nicht vom Körper her denkt. Auf dieser Weise definiert Heidegger den Raum als Räumen. Dies ermöglicht, „Raum nicht länger abstrakt und homogen, sondern selbst schon sich versammelnd und furchend und ausstreckend und zurückschnappend in Gebiete, Fernen, Richtungen und Schranken“ (58) zu denken. Diese neue Raumauffassung fordert, dass auch das Verhältnis von Dasein und räumendem Raum vom Raum her gedacht wird – und nicht mehr wie in Sein und Zeit vom Dasein her. Aus dieser Perspektive neu gedacht, lässt sich Mitchell zufolge das Verhältnis von Dasein und Raum als ein sich gegenseitiges Durchdringen und Prägen verdeutlichen. (Vgl. 60) Entsprechend heißt In-der-Welt-Sein, dass das Dasein durch die Welt geprägt ist und dass sich die Welt konsequenterweise, wenn auch verdeckt, in jedem Dasein zeigt. Eben dieses unsichtbare Verhältnis des Menschen zur Welt und zugleich die unsichtbare Präsenz der Welt in jedem Menschen werden laut Mitchell von Heidegger in Heiligers Kopf-Werken zum Ausdruck gebracht: „Wenn der Künstler einen Kopf modelliert, so scheint er nur die sichtbaren Oberflächen nachzubilden; in Wahrheit bildet er das eigentlich Unsichtbare, nämlich die Weise, wie dieser Kopf in die Welt blickt, wie er im Offenen des Raumes sich aufhält, darin von Menschen und Dingen angegangen wird.“ (61) In diesem Verhältnis von Welt und Mensch kommt den Begriffen des Zwischen, der Bewegung und der Relationalität in der Argumentation Mitchells besondere Relevanz zu. (Vgl. 63–67) In Anlehnung an den kurzen Dankesbrief, den Heidegger nach einem Besuch des Heiligers Ateliers schrieb, (vgl. 63) und auf Basis einiger Bemerkungen Heiligers, der selbst seine Skulpturen als Kunstwerke in Bewegung bzw. als etwas Offenes, in dem Offenheit waltet und Welt erscheint (vgl. 63), beschreibt, deutet Mitchell die Welt als Zusammengehörigkeit von Menschen und Dingen bzw. als ein geheimnisvolles Dazwischen. (Vgl. 65–66) Dadurch will Mitchell an den Werken Heiligers zeigen, welche Deutung von Welt und Mensch sich aus der Heideggerschen Auffassung des Raumes als Räumen ergibt. Der Versuch Mitchells, diese Idee der Welt als Zwischen und ihre Bedeutung für den Menschen zu verdeutlichen, wird jedoch durch seine literarische Sprache, die das Verständnis erschwert, ausgedrückt: Mitchell schreitet an dieser Stelle seiner Betrachtung durch intuitive Verbindungen zwischen den Sätzen, er bedient sich metaphorischer Bilder, die schnell aufeinanderfolgen und die intuitiv aufeinander verweisen. Der Diskurs scheint existenziell poetische Gedanke hervorrufen und das Terrain des philosophischen Argumentierens bzw. der Kunstkritik verlassen zu wollen. Diese existenzielle Richtung verstärkt sich im nachfolgenden Paragraph ‚Artikulation 2: Verfall und Erosion‘. (Vgl. 67–72) Mitchell betont, dass die Kunstwerke Heiligers, die die Relationalität zwischen Mensch und Welt ausdrücken, „die Tatsache [attestieren], dass Bewegung ein Abnutzen ist“. (67) In diesem Sinne expliziert der Autor weiter, dass „ein Werden hin zu etwas […] ein Werden weg von etwas“ (67) ist. Eben dieses Thema der ‚Distanzierung von etwas‘ wird von Mitchell in seiner Deutung der Werke Heiligers betont, weil er darin den Ausdruck einer grundlegenden Weise des In-der-Welt-Seins sieht. Ausgehend von dieser Deutung der Werke Heiligers bringt Mitchell einen anderen Wesenszug des Verhältnisses von Mensch und Welt zum Ausdruck. Denn die Welt wird nun nicht als etwas verstanden, das den Menschen prägt, sondern als etwas, das uns verbraucht bzw. „erodiert“: (68) Insofern Mensch und Welt sich gegenseitig durchdringen und prägen und sich daher in einer ständigen Bewegung bzw. einem ständigem Werden befinden, das nicht nur ein Werden zu etwas, sondern auch ein ‚Weg von etwas‘ ist, verbraucht die Welt den Menschen. Mit den folgenden Worten drückt Mitchell diesen Gedanken in all seiner Radikalität aus: „Wir sind durch Welt verwittert, erodiert im Zwischen. Unsere Absprache besteht darin, gemeinsam zu erodieren.“ (68) Indem die Skulptur den Menschen in diesem Zwischen hält – so Mitchell weiter – und Verbindung zwischen Mensch und Welt stiftet und daher Mensch und Welt verändert, erweist sich die Skulptur für diesen Erosionsprozess des Menschen als mitverantwortlich. (Vgl. 71)

Bevor Mitchell auf das Verhältnis des Heideggerschen Denken und der Kunst Eduardo Chillidas eingeht – ein Verhältnis, das dem Autor zufolge eine weitere Entwicklung des Verhältnisses von Raum, Körper und Kunst im Denken Heideggers darstellt –, setzt sich Mitchell in einem kurzen Exkurs mit Heideggers Die Herkunft der Kunst und die Bestimmung des Denkens auseinander. (Vgl. 73–81) Mit der Interpretation Mitchells, die ausgehend vom Blick Athenas auf die Steingrenzen (vgl. 77) darauf zielt, die Zusammengehörigkeit von τέχνη und ϕύσις im Denken Heideggers zu begründen, ist die Heidegger-Forschung längst vertraut. „Der Ruf der ϕύσις ist“, schreibt Mitchell, „für die menschlichen Werke also eine Einladung die Welt zu prägen, doch zugleich auch sich selbst von der Welt prägen zu lassen.“ (80) Besonders interessant und originell ist dagegen der Gedanke, dass das Bas-Relief in einer ausgezeichneten Weise diese Zusammengehörigkeit von ϕύσις und τέχνη bzw. von Natürlichem und Künstlichem zum Ausdruck bringt. (Vgl. 80) Diesbezüglich weist Mitchell darauf hin, dass es vielleicht kein Zufall ist, dass die drei Bildhauer, mit denen Heidegger sich auseinandergesetzt hat, im Relief arbeiten. (Vgl. 80)

Im vierten Kapitel seines Werkes stellt Mitchell den letzten Schritt und daher das endgültige Ergebnis der Auseinandersetzung Heideggers mit dem Raum und dem Körper dar, das Heidegger laut Mitchell 1968 anlässlich der Begegnung mit den Kunstwerken Chillidas entwickelt hat. (Vgl. 83–109) Der grundlegende Gedanke dieses Schritts und der Wandel im Verhältnis zur vorherigen Raumkonzeption Heideggers besteht Mitchell zufolge darin, dass, indem Heidegger eine physikalische bzw. metaphysische Auffassung von Raum explizit ablehnt, jeder Unterschied zwischen Kunst und Raum aufgehoben wird. Wenn daher die Werke Barlachs und Heiligers noch von einer Trennung von Raum und Kunst zeugen, die auf unterschiedliche Art und Weise überbrückt wird, konstatiert Heidegger anlässlich der Begegnung mit den Werken Chillidas, dass eine solche Trennung und konsequenterweise eine Überbrückung der Lücke zwischen Kunst und Raum überhaupt nicht denkbar ist. (Vgl. 84–86) Denn Kunst ist keine „Besitzergreifung des Raumes“ (84), sondern sie ist schon immer ein räumender Raum, ein Ort gewordenen Räumens. Diese radikal neue Konzeption des Raumes und seines Verhältnisses zur Kunst bewirkt – so Mitchell – Veränderungen in der Auffassung des Verhältnisses von Raum, Werkzeug und Kunstwerk, von Raum und Menschen, von Raum und Sprache und von Raum und Körper. In Bezug auf das Werkzeug behauptet Mitchell, dass die Funktion des Werkzeugs als Medium zwischen Künstler und Materie in Frage gestellt wird. (Vgl. 91) Denn es gibt keine Leere mehr zwischen den beiden, die durch Werkzeuge gefüllt bzw. überbrückt werden muss. Mitchell verdeutlicht des Weiteren, inwiefern sich auch der Bezug des Daseins zum Raum ändert: Das Dasein verliert sein Privileg als Handelnder, der Räume bildet, stiftet, eröffnet oder ermöglicht. Vielmehr wird das Dasein vom Räumen des Raumes gedacht und ist daher schon dem All des Seienden zugehörig. (Vgl. 100-104) Inwiefern sich auch das Wesen der Sprache in Bezug auf diese neue Raumkonzeption verändert, wird von Mitchell nicht ausführlich erklärt. Er stellt in Heideggers Versuch, den Raum etymologisch zu erhellen, lediglich eine „Betonung der Sprache“ (105) fest. Diesbezüglich sagt er sogar: „‚Kunst und Raum‘ bringt uns dazu, eine Zwiefalt zu denken: dass Raum sprachlich und Sprache räumlich sei.“ (105) Leider erklärt Mitchell nicht, wie genau diese von ihm behauptete Zusammengehörigkeit oder sogar Identität von Raum und Sprache zu verstehen ist. Erklärungsbedürftig bleibt bedauerlicherweise auch die Verbindung, die Mitchell in den letzten Sätzen dieses Abschnittes zwischen Körper, Raum und Wahrheit herstellt. (Vgl. 108–109) Außerdem ist auf eine Irritation zu verweisen, mit der sich der Leser bei der Lektüre dieses Kapitels konfrontiert sieht. Im dritten Teil dieses Kapitels mit der Überschrift ‚Setzen Bringen Zusammenarbeiten‘ (94–99) setzt sich Mitchell mit dem Unterschied zwischen dem ‚sich-ins-Werk-Setzen‘ und dem ‚ins-Werk-Bringen‘ der Wahrheit in der Kunst auseinander. Der Autor macht darauf aufmerksam, dass – wie Heidegger selbst im ‚Zusatz‘ zu Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks bemerkt – in der Entwicklung des Heideggerschen Denkens ein Wandel vom Setzen zum Bringen stattfindet. (Vgl. 94) Dieser Wandel wird jedoch von Mitchell darin identifiziert, dass ‚Setzen‘ ein Moment von Gewalt mit sich bringe, während ‚Bringen‘ etwas Weicheres darstellt, indem es eine Begleitung und nicht eine Gewalt betone. (Vgl. 97) Aus diesem Grund erklärt der Autor: „Die Wahrheit des Werkes erscheint daher in ‚Kunst und Raum‘ weniger insistent als in ‚Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes‘.“ (97) Dabei übersieht Mitchell aber den bedeutendsten Unterschied zwischen den beiden Ausdrücken, der darin besteht, dass der erste (sich-ins-Werk-Setzen) reflexiv ist und der zweite (ins-Werk-Bringen) eben nicht. Und dies bewirkt eine grundlegende Veränderung des Verhältnisses von Wahrheit und Kunst und konsequenterweise auch eine Veränderung der Rolle des Künstlers. Denn während die Wahrheit im Kunstwerksaufsatz als die ‚sich-Setzende‘ aktiv im Kunstwerk erscheint bzw. geschieht, gewinnt der Künstler in den späteren Auffassung Heideggers eine viel stärkere Rolle, indem er die Wahrheit ins Werk bringt.

Das abschließende Kapitel fasst die Ergebnisse der vorhergehenden Kapitel zusammen und zeichnet dadurch den Weg, auf welchem Heidegger ausgehend von der Begegnung mit den formlosen Körpern Barlachs über jene mit den Köpfen Heiligers bis zu der Auseinandersetzung mit den Vögeln Chillidas seine Raumauffassung in den 1960er Jahren entworfen hat. Vor dem Hintergrund dieser neuen Raumkonzeption versucht Mitchell auf den letzten zwei Seiten, den Menschen in den Mittelpunkt der Betrachtung zu stellen und sein Verhältnis zu sich selbst, zu den anderen, zu seinem In-der-Welt-Sein und zur Wahrheit neu zu konturieren. Leider zeichnet sich auch dieser Abschnitt durch eine sehr kryptische Sprachverwendung aus. Aufgrund dessen bleibt es schwer nachvollziehbar, inwiefern Mitchell das aus der neuen Raumsauffassung entstandene Verhältnis von Mensch, Plastik und Raum als eine Aufforderung für den Menschen, sein Leben zu ändern, versteht. (Vgl. 114)

Abgesehen von diesen Unklarheiten der Darstellung trägt das Buch zweifellos zur Klärung der in der Heidegger-Forschung tendenziell vernachlässigten Thematik des Raumes bei und ergänzt diese um interessante Überlegungen und Denkanstößen. Denn Mitchell unternimmt in seinem Buch den gewagten Versuch, auf Basis sehr kurzer und zuweilen unsystematischer Texte des späten Heidegger eine systematische Raumkonzeption darzustellen. Es gelingt Mitchell jedoch nicht immer, die Schwierigkeiten zu umgehen, die ein solches Vorhaben unvermeidlich mit sich bringt. An einigen Stellen erweckt der Text den Eindruck, als ob der Autor, indem er in Anlehnung an die Texte Heideggers und mithilfe seiner Begrifflichkeit die Werke der drei Bildhauer deutet, ihnen Inhalte, Bedeutungen oder Verweise zuspricht, die diesen Kunstwerken andernfalls nicht zukommen. Eine andere Schwierigkeit, auf die bereits hingewiesen wurde, ist die Sprachverwendung. Oft wird eine sehr poetische Sprache verwendet: Einige Zusammenhänge und Verweise werden intuitiv aufgebaut und daher bleiben einige Gedanke erklärungsbedürftig. Auf Grund dessen entsteht der Eindruck, als habe sich der Autor nicht immer bemüht, seine Überlegungen zu erklären, und es stattdessen vorgezogen, á la Heidegger mit der Etymologie der Worte zu spielen und seinen Diskurs durch intuitive Verbindungen aufzubauen. Dies macht einige Textpassagen auch für den Heidegger-Kenner sehr schwer verständlich. Ob und inwiefern die Übersetzung Trawnys zu diesen Schwierigkeiten beiträgt, bleibt unklar. Außerdem lassen sich einige Ungenauigkeiten in der Auslegung der Texte Heideggers feststellen.

Trotz dieser kritischen Anmerkungen ist der Versuch Mitchells lesenswert. Denn der Leser erhält durch das Werk nicht nur einen Überblick über die kontinuierliche Entwicklung des Denken Heideggers über den Raum von Sein und Zeit bis zu den späten 1960er Jahren, sondern dem Leser werden darüber hinaus zahlreiche interessante Deutungsperspektiven des Heideggerschen Denkens angeboten, die sich als originell erweisen und über die Betrachtung Mitchells hinaus für eine Auseinandersetzung mit den Themen Raum, Dasein, Welt und selbstverständlich auch Kunst im Rahmen des Spätdenkens Heideggers fruchtbar gemacht werden können.

Francesco Vitale: The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture

The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture Book Cover The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture
Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Francesco Vitale. Mauro Senatore - Translator
SUNY Press
Hardback $80.00

Reviewed by: Georgios Tsagdis (University of Westminster)

“For Architecture no longer defines a domain.”



To begin with the title. ‘The last fortress of metaphysics’ is for Francesco Vitale architectural; it is indeed, architecture itself—at once protected and encumbered by a manifold of “theoretical, political, institutional, symbolical, and material resistances” (xvi). In its encrusted ‘lastness’ architecture presents thus the litmus test of deconstruction, making the latter’s intervention into the former the measure of deconstruction’s efficacity.

This is because at and from the outset philosophy and architecture have found themselves “in the most essential of cohabitations” (xv). The apparent oblivion to the fraught resonances of the “cohabitation with women” that haunt Rousseau’s supplementarity across the pages of the Grammatology will be partly compensated by the book’s opening two chapters, which will undertake to think habitation in the figure of the oikos. At the outset however the cohabitation of philosophy and architecture is established in the strange, troubled even, generality of the latter.  In a passage of Derrida, which the short book will quote thrice (repetition ringing across the text worse than a stylistic shortcoming) and which must thus appear here in toto, architecture’s generality is contested by logical and material consistency, if not constancy:

“On the one hand, this general architectonic erases or exceeds the sharp specificity of architecture; it is valid for other arts and regions of experience as well. On the other hand, architecture forms its most powerful metonymy; it gives it its most solid consistency, objective substance. By consistency, I do not mean only logical coherence, which implicates all dimensions of human experience in the same network: there is no work of architecture without interpretation, or even economic, religious, political, aesthetic, or philosophical decision. But by consistency I also mean duration, hardness, the monumental, mineral or ligneous subsistence, the hyletics of tradition.” (xiv, 3, 90)

It is at the juncture of this hyletics, upon the rock of its consistency, that Derrida’s confrontation with Peter Eisenman will play out, a confrontation of particular significance for the encounter of deconstruction and architecture. But since the onto-political fate of the latter with philosophy will be from the outset intertwined, so must be the fate of their critique. Accordingly, Derrida destabilises and solicits the significance of the architectural foundation: “Architecture must have a meaning, it must present this meaning, and hence signify. The signifying or symbolic value of this meaning must command the structure and syntax, the form and function of architecture. It must command it from the outside, according to a principle (archē), a grounding or foundation, a transcendence or finality (telos) whose locations are not themselves architectural.” (xviii) With the same stroke, Derrida solicits the significance of the sign itself, a significance always already philosophical. It does so, by exploring the work of spacing that antecedes all given and constituted internal and external spaces.

Law of the Oikos

Vitale’s exploration begins with a return to the ‘law of the oikos’.  The book’s first two chapters deal with the Hellenic legacy that informs the shared fate of philosophy and architecture. For, as Derrida reminds us: “there is an architecture of architecture. Down to its archaic foundation, the most fundamental concept of architecture has been constructed. […] This architecture of architecture has a history.” (1) Vitale locates the significant point of entry to this history in the Greek polis in its intricate relation to the oikos.

The politics of habitation in Athens rests on the myth of king Erichthonius, “who was born directly from earth, not from a woman, but from the soil fecundated by the seed of Hephaestus, dispersed after his clumsy attempt to possess Athena.” (7) In this reading, the soil from which Erichthonius emerges, becomes the mythical foundation of all eco-political foundations. Since no reality will be able to adequate the myth, the latter will continue to haunt the imaginary of the West, producing building and dwelling as much as theoretical and political effects. For Derrida, this ontopology, this “axiomatic linking indissociably the ontological value of present-being (on) to its situation, to the stable and presentable determination of a locality, the topos of territory, native soil, city, body in general,” is today more obsolete than ever. (7) This certainly does not mean overcome.

The Erichthonian soil determines the law of the oikos, a law that “imposes the task of thinking identity (ontological and political identity) in terms that are irreducibly spatial: origin as a place, permanence, stability, being distinguished and protected from difference, alterity, the stranger, and the foreign.” (11) It does so by presenting itself as an immutable, yet indeterminate foundation. This terrestrial foundation bears the name of khōra.

Since khōra “is neither sensible nor ideal, not even a being, it cannot be determined in any way as a being could be. For this reason, to describe it, Timaeus must use a set of analogies (the receptacle, the cast, the sieve, the nursemaid, etc.), assuming that none of them are adequate since they all come from the sensible determined in the khōra. This third remains indeterminate: the indeterminate that prevents itself from any possible determination and makes every determination possible. But, at the same time, in its indeterminateness khōra imposes on us the thought that all that is, is as such because it takes place, has an origin that remains fixed, permanent, and stable, has a proper place, oikēsis idias.” (12)

Derrida explicates the status of the khōra further: “Perhaps, because it can receive everything, one could give it all the names one wants, since it can take any form, ultimately one could give a name different from khōra. As it does not exist under the form of a being identical with itself, of an ideal referent or a thing, one does not see why it would have only one name. But it is precisely because of this that it is always necessary to name it in the same way, since it is paradoxically necessary to keep the sense that it has no sense.” (12) Being the signifier of a signified which is not, the khōra is at the same time a quasi-index, a this, each time unique, yet nonetheless a name, and as such more than a mere this, a cipher eliding indication and signification.

Khōra accordingly designates political space, in the primary sense of invested, occupied space. (13) This space is occupied by the ‘dead sons of the polis’, the Erichthonian progeny which returns to rest forever in the originative soil of the city, now the burial ground of the Kerameikos. (8) The soil of the city the dead will share with the heroes, the cult of which is reactivated in the 8th century BC. The Mycenaean constructions, used by the cult are thus reactivated, offering not only the reassurance of a religious a continuity, but also assuming “a civic as well as territorial value,” by gathering the community and rooting it in the soil. In tandem, the acropolis will be “heir of the royal fortress of the Mycenaean age,” circumscribing the unity of the polis. (22) Whereas the fort would guarantee permanence to the city because of the security it afforded, the architectural permanence of acropolis offers a symbolic security. Positioned at the akron, the visible limit of the polis, it determines its whole territory, stabilising the khōra. The ethico-political significance of this stability will lend support to the Socratic indictment of the itinerant sophists, who lack a proper place, an oikos and thus the nomos, the law that pertains to it. (10) The city must exclude the dangerous other: it is a philosophical as much as an architectural function, a function summed up in the designation of an outside against a stable, striated inside. The law of the oikos, coupled with the law of the polis protect this inside, arresting and fixing the fluidity of the khōra.

Politics of Architecture

For Vitale, the significant contribution of deconstruction is precisely the re-articulation of all stability into effects of stabilization and sedentarization (let it be recalled that de-construction determines itself from the outset as de-sedimentation). Thus places lose their mythical-metaphysical origin and identity, appearing as effects of dislocation and localization, whereas the human appears as the effect of a situated self-inscription, placed by default in relation to otherness and the other. (29) Opening up a space in which to think and live this relation, is the contribution of deconstruction. (30) The law of the oikos, which protected the inside from the outside, the familiar from the stranger, and which informed the history of architecture, as well as that of the ‘architecture of architecture’ is here suspended (31). It becomes thus possible to conceive an other end of architecture, decoupled from dwelling. It certainly becomes possible to conceive of a different dwelling. For this “the deconstruction of architecture must in turn become work, it must become architecture.” (33)

The promise of this ‘architecture to come’ is affirmative of its own possibility, yet never positive. It never posits itself in a fortified security, but remains ‘risky, uncertain, improbable’. (34) It thus remains open and assumes the responsibility not only towards its own future, but towards the other to come, the nameless other, whom we do not know, cannot prefigure and imagine, the other that we do not know when, and altogether whether, will arrive. (38) This is a task not only of architecture, but of the polis as a whole. In order to achieve this, a city must strive to remain “indefinitely and structurally non-saturable, open to its own transformation, to additions that come to alter or dislocate as much as possible the memory of the heritage.” (41-2) As prime counterpoint to the acropolis and the funerary sēma, “Derrida conjures up the example of the temple of Ise in Japan, the most remarkable place of worship of Shintoism. The temple has been dismantled and rebuilt with new materials every twenty years for one thousand five hundred years.” (42) If such a thing was ever needed, one has here the most literal and least literary moment of deconstruction. It is all the same a sign.


The following, fourth, chapter undertakes to trace the passage ‘from architecture to writing’ and then ‘from writing to arche-writing’. Derrida, wishes to abandon ‘the envelope of a book’ to seek a different organisation of space—a space, where one does not only read, but also write between the lines. As readers, we are not handed over the model or blueprint of such ‘architectural artifacts’ as Glas or La Carte Postale, but are rather invited to inhabit their text. (47) Neither, because there is no model, nor because the model must be kept secret; we are not presented with the architectonics of architecture, because although the act of writing that has escaped the book, is a spacing akin “to the production of architectural drawing,” (49) this drawing resists its summary, its reduction to a few master-lines. The architecture of deconstructive writing resists the enclosure and subsumption under its own archē.

The book represents for Derrida precisely such a closure or totality, be it finite or infinite, of the signifier, which can only be established, once a totality of the signified has been previously asserted. (50) Although the historic veracity of this assertion is hardly questionable, Vitale could have here explored the necessity of the equivalence: even though no ground or telos might ultimately support totalisation, it appears theoretically possible to de-couple a totality of signifiers from a totality of signifieds. A ‘trans-total’ correspondence, one between a totality and a non-totality, is imaginable.

Architecture offers a paradigmatic possibility of a rupture with totalising writing. Pluri-dimensionality becomes the operative word. In Vitale’s words: “architectural writing is able to articulate geometric and mathematical notation, perspectival drawing and multiple reference systems, computer graphics, diagrams, photography, spectrography (which detects the physical nature of sites and materials as well as the anthropic presence), tridimensional models, and so on.” (51) It contributes thus to the deconstructive programmatic of conceiving “in a manner at once historical and systematic, the organized cohabitation, within the same graphic code, of figurative, symbolic, abstract, and phonetic elements.” (58) The war of linearisation against the originary pluri-dimensionality of writing, a war that reduced the cohabitation of these dimensions to successivity has long appeared won. Derrida, after Leroi-Gourhan, discovers the potentiality of resistance against the dominion of linearity, which marks the promise of a different scriptural future, in the sign of the ‘mythogram’. In the mythogram, “meaning is not subjected to successivity, to the order of a logical time, or to the irreversible temporality of sound. This pluri-dimensionality does not paralyze history within simultaneity.” (59) Mythography grants us access to arche-writing. Leaving this passage to arche-writing underexplored, Vitale follows Derrida, in an open gesture towards writing and reading architecture as mythography.

Writing Space

The fifth chapter explores the theme of spacing as it comes into play in Tschumi’s research and work. Spacing must be understood not only as an empirical necessity of every system of notation, of every scriptural or inscriptive system, but also as an irreducible condition of experience and of the production of meaning. Spacing is already there in every presence, at the heart of its own self-immediacy. (63) Accordingly, spacing is the imprint of the play of the trace, of a movement that produces space in its unfolding. The trace, as “the opening of the first exteriority in general,” (56, 64) spaces by showing the exteriority at the heart of every interiority.

For Vitale, Tschumi’s work follows faithfully the play of the trace. It is thus able to offer a new architectural possibility, a possibility that is “neither architecture nor anarchitecture, [but rather] transarchitecture.” (68) What is particularly significant and particularly topical for Derrida in transarchitecture is that “it comes to terms with the event; it no longer offers its work to users, believers, or dwellers, to contemplators, aesthetes, or consumers. Instead, it calls on the other to invent, in turn, the event, to sign, consign, or countersign: advanced by an advance made to the other—and maintaining architecture, now architecture.” (69) At a given juncture, Tschumi offers for Derrida the inventive now.

In the Manhattan Transcripts Tschumi’s struggle to escape the confines of received architectural writing becomes apparent: “The original purpose of the tripartite mode of notation (events, movement, spaces) was to introduce the order of experience, the order of time—moments, intervals, sequences—for all inevitably intervene in the reading of the city. It also proceeded from a need to question the modes of representation generally used by architects: plans, sections, axonometries, perspectives. However precise and generative they have been, each implies a logical reduction of architectural thought to what can be shown, to the exclusion of the other concerns. They are caught in a sort of prison-house of architectural language, where “the limits of my language are the limits of my world.” [Wittgenstein] Any attempt to go beyond such limits, to offer another reading of architecture, demanded the questioning of these conventions.” (71)

It is precisely the function of movement in Tschumi’s work that destabilises calculability and universality, to bring forth the unique now in which a play of differences becomes possible for architectural writing. Again The Manhattan Transcripts: ‘The movements—of crowds, dancers, fighters—recall the inevitable intrusion of bodies into architectural spaces, the intrusion of one order into another. The need to record accurately such confrontations, without falling into functionalist formulas, suggests precise forms of movement notation. An extension of drawing conventions or choreography, this notation attempts to eliminate the preconceived meaning given to particular actions in order to concentrate on their spatial effects: the movement of bodies in space.’” (72)

It is because of this attentiveness to the plasticity that the play of the trace necessitates, that Tschumi appears not to betray the promise of deconstruction for a different architecture. Thus, the “unique existence and logic” that  “books of architecture, as opposed to books about architecture” develop, (70-1) will not be met by Vitale with the suspicion reserved for Eisenman’s attempt to extricate architecture from the exigencies of deconstruction, by establishing a sui generis space for it. Perhaps then the space devoted to the latter’s critique would have been better employed in following much more closely the former’s appraisal, exploring the architectural pathways opened by Tschumi’s practice.

Eisenman the Apostate

The penultimate chapter is then devoted to Eisenman—a cul-de-sac of deconstruction. A certain early rapport of the two men in view of a collaboration on the La Villette park project quickly came to a head. The rupture manifested in dramatic fashion at the 1989 congress in Inrvine, which Derrida decided not to attend. It was precisely this performative absence that dramatised their divergent positioning vis-à-vis the place and function of absence in thought and architecture. Derrida used his physical absence to address on tape a series of questions to Eisenman—a spectral confrontation. (79)

Derrida had proposed his essay Khōra as common ground for their joint exploration, a text and a notion that we saw pose a challenge to territorial foundations of identity. (17) Eisenman retracted in view of this challenge. The concrete materiality of the physical presence of buildings meant for Eisenman that “the term [deconstruction] is too metaphorical and too literal for architecture.” (82) The full scope, however, of the double hyperbole is only made apparent in Eisenman’s attempt to break with the way in which deconstruction engages with oppositionality: “In my view, your deconstruction of the presence/absence dialectic is inadequate for architecture precisely because architecture is not a two-term but a three-term system. In architecture, there is another condition, which I call presentness—that is neither absence nor presence, [neither] form nor function, but rather an excessive condition between sign and being. As long as there is a strong bond between form and function, sign and being, the excess that contains the possibility of presentness will be repressed.” (87)

Presentness as the third term is the wager of the whole dispute and the point on which Vitale will concentrate his vindication of deconstruction. He will do so by means of a theoretico-historical and a logical argument. The former suspects the structure of a transcending-encompassing third of regressing into dialectics and producing dialectical effects. Accordingly, Eisenman will remain haunted by the spectre of an architectural Hegelianism; a spectre he will not even attempt to shake off. (88) The latter argument presents Eisenman’s logic as circular. We are given to read: “Presentness is the possibility of another aura in architecture, one not in the sign or in being, but a third condition of betweenness. […] This excess is not based on the tradition of the plenitude, but rather is the condition of possibility of presentness.” The circle is clear: “Presentness is the condition of possibility of the excess that is the condition of possibility of presentness.” Neither Eisenman, nor Vitale seem to be interested here in a notion such as ‘equi-primordiality’, as an escape from the conundrum.

What emerges in the brevity of this exposition is the introduction of aura as the halo of presentness, which amounts for Eisenman to the “presence of absence.” (90) This is why Derrida will take advantage of his absence to say to Eisenman on tape: “I’m not going to take advantage of my absence, not even to tell you that you perhaps believe in it, absence, too much.” (80) Eisenman believes in absence too much because he believes in the redemptive possibility of its presentification. The implications for Derrida—or what Vitale diagnosed as dialectical effects—are significant: “Whether it has to do with houses, museums, or university research laboratories, what distinguishes your architectural space from that of the temple, indeed of the synagogue (by this word I mean a Greek word expressing a Jewish concept)? Where will the break, the rupture have been in this respect, if there is one, if there was one, for you and other architects of this period with whom you feel yourself associated? I remain very perplexed about this subject; if I had been there, I would have been a difficult interlocutor.” (81)

The difficulty for Derrida amounts to the attempt, both impossible and regressive, to presentify absence. Thus his spectral advise to Eisenman: ‘Well, you can strategically insist on absence as a disruption of the system of presence, but at a certain point you have to leave the theme of absence’.” (93). Derrida who confesses to feeling like an architect when writing, the paradox of architecture cannot be sublimated:

“The paradox, of course, is that on the face of it, architecture seems to have nothing to do with absence, in one of Heidegger’s texts, he says that a temple is a place where God is present, but that implies that the temple is an empty place ready to receive God. It is the ultimate paradox of logocentrism. […] So, because of its unique relationship to representation, architecture is more ‘present’ than any other art, but at the same time, being the most ‘present’, it is also the strongest reference to the opposite of presence, namely absence.” (92)

In the artifacts of the architectural tradition and despite the latter’s claims, the cohabitation of presence and absence remains productively irresolvable. Within this picture Eisenman appears merely to reinscribe a traditional gesture in the architectural matrix.

In order to decide the fate of this gesture Derrida invites Eisenman to position himself with regard to Benjamin’s essay Experience and Poverty, in which a ‘constructive destruction’ of aura is undertaken by the ‘new Barbarians’. (90-1) Benjamin observes the destruction of aura in the glass and steel work of architects such as Loos and Le Corbusier build with steel and glass. The hardness of the former and the (assumed) transparency of the latter preclude auratic effects, such as uniqueness, exclusiveness and mystification. Eisenman, whose attempt to rehabilitate aura is by now clear, will sidestep Benjamin’s essay.

Returning to the challenge of khōra to foundational origins, Derrida shows the need to think the auratic play of presence and absence through the notion of the trace: “The living present springs forth out of its nonidentity with itself and from the possibility of the retentional trace. It is always already a trace. This trace cannot be thought out on the basis of a simple present whose life would be within itself; the self of the living present is primordially [originairement] a trace. The trace is not an attribute; we cannot say that the self of the living present “primordially is” it [l’‘est originairement’]. Being-primordial [l’être-originaire] must be thought on the basis of the trace, and not the reverse. This arche-writing is at work at the origin of the sense.” (85) The difference becomes thus clear: whereas Eisenman’s phenemonological trace enables a reconstitution of presence as retention of absence, Derrida’s deconstruction of this traces shows presence as a transitory effect of the trace’s movement. (87, 93, 95)

Here ends therefore Derrida’s engagement with Eisenman, as well as Vitale’s chapter. It is perhaps unfortunate that the latter did not attempt to identify and extract those intuitions in the latter’s work that originally attracted Derrida, and might still hold the potential of productive effects—intuitions working precisely against Eisenman’s overall gesture. The chapter’s polemic shares thus little of deconstruction’s sense of a fidelity working from within, remaining rather a siege extra muros.

Spacing Architecture

The last chapter of the book functions as a coda to the series of forays of the previous chapters. Vitale returns with Derrida to Saussure, to find a sign both arbitrary and differential (102-3), which will support the renewed call for the displacement of the linearity of architectural and non-architectural writing. The notion of the trace, the fruit of the internal tensions of the two-fold character of the sign, provides the “finite and material element of a composition that takes on the shape of an architectural product,” in order to effect the displacement of linearity. (105) The play of the trace spaces, gives space, opens up the matrix of the khōra.

Vitale chooses to close with a framing of Glas, perhaps the most ‘architectural’ of Derrida’s works, and moreover, in Derrida’s words, one replete with traces, “traces of traces without tracing, or, if you wish, tracings that only track and retrace other texts.” (110) For Vitale the two columns in which the text of Glas is arrange, constitute architectural artifacts: “two columns that are erected and stand out on account of a supposed autonomy: the autonomy of the work, of the Book, granted by the signature of the author (subject, consciousness, etc.). In this case, Hegel’s work, on one side, and Genet’s work, on the other side. […] Glas consists in this frame that exposes what makes it possible: between the two columns, the clapper [battant] of another text, of another logic: spacing.” (107)

The implications of the making, the arrangement of scriptural space are catalytic for the ciphering and de-ciphering of the text. Moreover, the text itself will reinforce its architectural space, the way a stalactite becomes the support of the cavernous, mineral space that produced it. Vitale is observant: “Genet’s work, once inscribed within the frame of Glas, can no longer be entirely solved, absolved, detached from the act of absolute self-naming to which it aims. To realize/idealize itself as such, it cannot but go through the erection of a column of writing, and thus it must leave the traces of its finite and contingent passage.” (109) In this, reading Genet is constituted by Derrida as the anarchitecture that opposes Hegelian architectonics; the space between the two becomes the desired space of transarchitecture, a space between two architectures, two idioms, two tongues. If a kulindros designates the round body of a pyramid, an obelisk or a column, as much as a rolled manuscript or a scroll, Glas, working between its two columns, presents itself as a transversal writing, the most literal trans-script.

The integrated collection of essays that comprise The Last Fortress of Metaphysics would be strengthened if, rather than being their object, trans-scripturality was their constitutive mode of articulation. A second language would have to infect that of Derrida’s, the language of “the master of masters,” in Vitale’s acclaim. (viii) Adoration repays badly the master; if the master is to be followed, his performance must be performed anew. To perform anew in this instance would also require heeding the words of Derrida that Vitale is familiar with: “I am not happy with the concept of collage. I never use it as such. It is a traditional concept. Collage implies fragment, and that implies that there is a proper body the fragment belongs to.” (97) The collage that The Last Fortress is, troubles the reader less by the precariousness of its unity or its repetitiveness, as by the tempting promise of a proper textual body, a naked body in which the intricate and far-reaching interweaving of deconstruction and architecture is exposed in its plenitude. All the same, Vitale’s effort is a first step and as such a significant contribution to the labour required in appraising the lure of this promise.

Michael Marder: Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics, University of Minnesota Press, 2018

Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics Book Cover Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics
Michael Marder
University of Minnesota Press
Paperback $25.00

Francesco Vitale: The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture, SUNY Press, 2018

The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture Book Cover The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture
Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Francesco Vitale
SUNY Press
Hardback $80.00

Raoul Moati: Levinas and the Night of Being

Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity Book Cover Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity
Raoul Moati, Translated by Daniel Wyche, Foreword by Jocelyn Benoist
Fordham University Press
Paperback $28.00

Reviewed by: Innocenzo Sergio Genovesi (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)

From Deleuze to Derrida, from Badiou to Nancy and Marion, the concept of event (évènement) witnessed an important development in the last fifty years of French philosophy and it is present in the most influential authors‘ thought. Today, this notion still plays a central role in several attempts to rethink ontology and phenomenology, such as Claude Romano’s evential hermeneutics (hermenéutique événementiale). Even if the ideas of these philosophers substantially differ from each other and cannot be simply grouped together, we can trace at least one common issue in the notion of possibility. Events – with capital E – are happenings inaugurating a new horizon of possibility. They can actualize unforeseeable potentialities or make the impossible possible. For this reason, Events are said to be extraordinary moments and it has been argued that they should be unpredictable (imprévisible) or even impossible (impossible) since they lie beyond the ordinary structure of possibilities in which normal ontological movements take place. It goes without saying that the foundation of the modal structure of Being in such Events attests several theoretical problems If such Events overstep the general structure of Being, how are they supposed to happen? And where should an Event take place and have a place if Being cannot harbor its excess?

Some years before the flourishing of French “event” philosophy, Emmanuel Levinas formulated the notion of nocturnal events (événements nocturnes) in the preface of his masterwork Totalité et Infini. Levinas’ purpose is not to develop a philosophy of events. Indeed, in the whole book the expression “nocturnal event” is no more used and the adjective “nocturnal” appears just a few more times. However, even this parsimonious use of the term is enough to give us an important suggestion. The ultimate events that allow the deployment of new possibilities and which our comprehension of the world is based on are maybe not to be thought as impossible (im-possible), neither as unpredictable (im-pré-visible). They could rather be just invisible (in-visible).

After his impressive book on Derrida and Searle, Raoul Moati keeps deepening his researches about contemporary French philosophy dedicating an entire essay to Levinas and his idea of nocturnal events. What these two works have in common is the great attention given to the concept of intentionality and its Husserlian origins in the phenomenological tradition. Levinas and the Night of Being offers a fine reconstruction of the path undertaken by Levinas in Totalité et Infini to trace the way from the sensible ego to the infinite Other. Moreover, Moati shows us to what extent Levinas takes distance from other phenomenologists such as Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre as well as what does he own to their ideas. This review will first address which are the ontological and phenomenological involvements of nocturnal events that Moati highlights in his book. We will then retrace the way to the infinite in the context of a nocturnal conception of Being. Finally, we will have an overview of this book and its English translation by Daniel Wyche.

The Night of Being.

What Levinas reproaches to ontology and phenomenology is not, as other philosophers would have it, to be a sort of metaphysics of presence. Moati shows that the main critique that Levinas addresses to ontology and phenomenology is to be in a certain sense a metaphysics of light: they are based on “structures of illumination” (65), such as intuition, intentionality or comprehension. Sight and touch tended to have absolute primacy in the philosophical tradition, where “to be” means thus to be visible and graspable (67). The immediate consequence of this “diurnal sense of being” (XVI), from which Totalité et Infini attempts to liberate ontology, is that there is no more room left for otherness and exteriority: being becomes a totalizing structure and the Other is reduced to the self. A drastic rethinking of ontology, as a nocturnal broadening, is therefore needed in order to establish a place for those events that cannot be understood as being part of Being as a totality. That is to say, the nocturnal events:

There must be an ontology that establishes a place for ultimate events of being. […] Such events will no longer draw their significance from a Hegelian totalization or even from phenomenological constitution (Husserl) or the comprehension of the sense of being (Heidegger). The horizon of their deployment consists in a relation to being that overflows the light of objective evidence and of which all of these cases constitute various avatars (11).

The representation of Being that Moati presents us with is thus not that of a light irradiating the sensible world anymore, nor would it be that of a unique and totalizing illuminated surface. There are actually more than one illuminated surfaces, and we are only able to perceive them because of the dark background that encloses and undergirds them. Being does not correspond to these bright spots, but rather to the infinite night surrounding them. This night can be lightened by our “structures of illumination” and this is what originates diurnal events. However, there will always be a dark part not being seen in which nocturnal events are taking place.

Nocturnal events are “the nocturnal dramas by which being exhaustively produces itself” and amount to “a more originary experience for consciousness than transcendental constitution” (15). Is it possible to find a concrete case of nocturnal events? Moati provides us several examples taken from Levinas‘ philosophy to describe these “nocturnal dramas”, among them we find the erotic encounter, fecundity, sociality and messianic peace. All these are for Levinas elements that, on the one hand, ground our primordial openness toward the Other and his or her face and which, on the other hand, constitute the base of an ontology that renounces to contain Being within the unity and recognises rather its plurality, taking up the discontinuity of the same and the other (81).

Even though Levinas affirms the primacy of events that are more primordial than subjective comprehension and transcendental constitution, Moati decisively stresses that this gesture does not correspond to a denial of the fundamental role that subjectivity, sensibility and ego play on the path to infinity. Indeed, without the ego’s sensible rooting in Being, no experience of infinite otherness would be possible: “the metaphysical alterity of the Other requires the precondition of the position of the self, a here-below positioned in relation to an over-there” (30). We will now see how nocturnal events and the sensible ego lead us on the way to infinity.

The Terrestrial Condition.

While in the first and last chapters of Levinas and the Night of Being Moati outlines the idea of a nocturnal ontology and unfolds the ontological involvements of nocturnal events, in the central chapters he deploys Levinas theory of the sensible ego and follows the path to infinity he had already sketched in Totalité et Infini. The book structure self is in this way a good representation of the nocturnal conception of being, where nocturnal events are the dark frame of our illuminated terrestrial experience.

First of all, Moati recalls the Levinasian notions of jouissance and element (élément). As it is known, according to Levinas the pre-objective degree of sensation corresponds to what he calls il y a (there is), that is the undefined existence without the existent, the undifferentiated element in which the self is originally immersed, the starting point of any further experience: “the element is the content from which forms are carved out, but it is not, as such, itself delimited by anything” (52). The first break in the uniformity of the element coincides with the subject’s jouissance, representing “the concrete mark of separation” (41). Enjoyment is “the contact between sensibility and the formless quality of the element” (94). It corresponds to sensation and more precisely to the very moment when the instrumental schema of the sensible is rejected and the subject just perceives his or her distinction and independence from the elemental world. Before having the possibility to be part of an ethical encounter with the Other, the subject should first have an ontic consistency: “enjoyment thus reveals the fundamental priority of the ontic for ontology” (47). This idea of a detachment and a constitution of the subject from and through the element questions the phenomenological distinction between constituent and constituted. Indeed, if on the one hand the ego shapes objectivity starting from the undifferentiated element, it is itself in turn delimited by the element:

Enjoyment reveals the impossibility of reducing the constituted to the position of the intentional correlate of the constitutive acts of transcendental consciousness. Every constituted object reveals itself through enjoyment just as much as it occupies the position of the constituent, which is to say the sensible nourishment of the self (55).

Once subjectivity consolidated, the self is ready for the encounter with the Other. This encounter begins in two other well known topoi of the Levinasian production: the dwelling (demeure), that is “the starting-place of any finalized human activity” (91), and the labor (travail), that consists “in the transformation of elemental nature into a world of identifiable things” (94). In order to encounter the Other, that is to manifest himself or herself to the Other, the subject should first have some possession to share with the Other, something to communicate to him or her. Here lies the fundamental importance of labor. It allows us to substantialize the element and fix it between the dwelling’s walls. Through labor we make the world and its objects identifiable and we start having possessions. At this point, Moati highlights and develops another great Levinasian intuition that, as the idea of a nocturnal ontology does, anticipates and responds to several difficult theoretical issues emerging in later event philosophy, especially the ones related to the possibility of the given and to its ontological status. Labor and possession – says Moati – turn the category of being into the category of having and they do that through a neutralization of being:

The thing is also, therefore, nothing more than the element, because it coincides with an element whose ontological independence has been neutralized and, in other words, whose being has been anesthetized. Put differently, through labor and the possession that results from it, the being (l’être) of the element becomes the having (l’avoir) of the self. […] The element becomes something only through the suspension of its being. Here, the ontological frontiers of the element no longer exceed those of the self, which is to say that we are now dealing with being insofar as it is possessed by someone (the self) (95).

Furthermore, in the event of the encounter our possessions become gift for the Other (136), and this gift is the content of the fundamental relation of teaching, that is the constitutive relation that marks the Other as such. As someone being my master not because of his or her deeper knowledges, but because of his or her radical otherness (126). Our shared world, that is the object of our ontology, does not follow the logic of being anymore, but that of having and giving. We are here facing a movement from être to il y a, from sein to es gibt.

Nocturnal Events.

Our possessions, shared in the social contest, exceed thus the ontology of light and become constitutive of the nocturnal event of sociality, a feature that marks us as humans. As the last step of the reconstruction, Moati finally points out how such nocturnal events, way far from being transcendent moments indirectly concerning the terrestrial condition, are not to be thought separately from our sensible way of being and how it grounds all other diurnal activities. We will now cite two cases Moati presents us with: sociality and fecundity.

Sociality is the base of our relationship with the Other. Because ofit we always already possess the idea of the infinite (107), which otherwise would be paradoxical and unreachable, for it would be reducible to totality of the self. Through sociality, ultimate event of Being, it is possible to articulate a relationship between the two terms (me and the Other) and at the same time maintain their separation (112). It is remarkable that sociality is an event of Being itself, constitutively belonging to its nocturnal structure. Because of sociality, Being is not a totalized monolithic Eleatic Being but is rather open and plurivocal. Moreover, in reason of this fundamental sociality, subjects can live their ethical relationship with the others expressing themselves through their discourse and interlocutory presence. Discours and teaching are the way in which the Other reveals to us his or her transcendence and allows us to have a relation with the infinite without reducing it to ourselves. Moati stresses one more time that this kind of expression is not to be understood in the context of a structure of illumination: “The one who expresses himself or herself does not draw his or her intelligibility from the light ‘borrowed’ from intentionality and unveiling, from which the same emerges” (115).

If sociality allows a relation without totalising elements of a plurivocal being, fecundity makes possible the production and realization of the infinite becoming of being. Moreover, it also represents a valuable alternative to the Heideggerian Geworfenheit to describe our terrestrial condition and our rooting in the concrete temporal situation. Moati recalls the famous example of the father/son relationship and gives us an account of its ontological meaning:

For the self, to be is also, through fecundity, to be other. The father is his son, in the precise sense in which the father transcends the horizon of his own selfhood in the son. The selfhood of the son, in the form from which the self of the father emerges, no longer coincides with the selfhood of the departure, that of the father. In fecundity, the self is discontinuous, fragmented. This discontinuity is an ultimate event of being itself, insofar as it is social, which is to say, transcendent and plural (172).

Levinas and Phenomenology.

As we mentioned before, together with a detailed development of the concept of nocturnal events and a reconstruction of the sensible ego’s relation with the infinite, Moati provides us with illuminating comparisons between Levinas and other prominent phenomenologists throughout this book . These comparisons aim at explaining to what extent he kept following the Husserlian and Heideggerian ideas and what kind of disagreements he had with his contemporaries.

It goes without saying that the greatest dissent with Husserl concerns the ideas of transcendental ego and intentionality. We already saw how Levinas gives up the primacy of intentionality as a mean of objective representation since it is reduced to a structure of illumination, and how the distinction between constituent and constituted is questioned. Besides it, Moati also stresses the fact that Levinas cannot accept Husserl’s notion of transcendental ego for at least two reasons. First of all, the ego is always already sensible and we cannot think of an ego beyond its sensible situation. Second, Levinas reproaches the subjective non determination of the concept of transcendental ego. Indeed, its generality “hinders the possibility of establishing a relation that departs from the concrete immanence, from which only the other may speak — which is to say, deploy its ethical infiniteness” (182). All these remarks could be summed up in the general critic that Husserlian phenomenology brings about a totalization of the other and reduces it to the self.

Concerning Heidegger, Moati highlights that in the eyes of Levinas his historical and temporal conception of Dasein and thrownness (Geworfenheit) surely represent a step forward compared to the Husserlian suprahistorical model of consciousness. However, it would be a mistake to describe the sensible installation of our sensible ego within the element in terms of thrownness. More specifically, the concept of thrownness is linked to a conception of our existence based on the notion of power, that Levinas instead wants to quit: thrownness reveals our limits only in regard to the power that we have over our being. On the contrary, for Levinas our primordial situation is a position that locates consciousness beyond any positive or negative reference to power (78) and corresponds to the nocturnal event of fecundity. While thrownness puts us in the tragic condition of being powerless faced with our historical sensible determination and subject to the given horizon of possibility that is opened up to us with our birth, fecundity frees our terrestrial condition from this tragic connotation. Indeed, fecundity is here situated in the context of an ontology that renounces every claim of totalization and, therefore, renounces the primary role of power in representing our relationship with the Other: “the primacy of sensible happiness over any condition of misfortune becomes intelligible only once the nocturnal event of fecundity is elucidated, which in turn opens up the sensible depth of our being-in-the-world. It is thus fecundity that exhausts the reference to power and allows us to grasp the depth of our foundation in being” (83).

Another important disagreement drawn by Moati concerns Sartre. It is true that for both Levinas and Sartre the Other cannot be the object of a phenomenological reduction because of his or her transcendence and the encounter with the other takes the form of a dispossession of the world. But in this disagreement, Sartre understands this dispossession as a kind of alienation from the world, while for Levinas it actually corresponds to the “real becoming an objective world” (135). Indeed, Levinas sees a world that is only possessed and not shared, a silent world without discourse, as a contradictory world that remains subjective and relative. Since sociality grounds our being in the world, sharing our possessions with the other becomes the realization of our humanity and does not imply for us any kind of loss. The world is always a common world.

The last comparison that Moati presents us with is the one with Derrida and focuses especially on Derrida’s essay Violence et métaphysique. First of all, Moati points out a misunderstanding concerning the concept of “transcendental violence” in Derrida’s reading of Totalité et Infini. This misunderstanding is caused by the different grasping of the concept of intentionality and egoity that the two authors have: while Derrida thinks about the ego in the ethical relation as a transcendental ego (even if, as we all know, he strongly criticizes the Husserlian idea of transcendental), Levinas is instead talking about a sensible ego. The critique Derrida addresses to Levinas on “transcendental violence” thus misses its addressee, since Levinas refuses to problematize the subject’s relation with the other in transcendental terms (181). Moreover, the most stimulating remark that is formulated by Moati in this comparison is for sure the one concerning their two different conceptions of eschatology, for this thematic directly relates to event philosophy. Roughly, the greatest difference between the two authors lies in the fact that Derrida thinks the infinite in eschatology as a negativity, an endless process of spacing produced by the infinite waiting for an Other that never comes. In other words, as an infinite différance. For Derrida history designates “the ever-unachieved work of transcendental constitution” and is to be understood as “opening up to a nonpresence at the heart of phenomenality” (186). On the other hand, eschatology “lies in history as the movement of overflowing the closure of finite sameness” (187). Quite the opposite, Levinas sees eschatology as a relation to positive infinity. The Other manifests his or her infinite transcendence to us in a positive way, without a negative withdrawing. For Levinas eschatology is not contained within history but rather suspends it, “not only in that the transcendent passage from finite totality to the positivity of the infinite happens through it, but also in that eschatology suspends any recourse to our constituent powers to deduce the event of the revelation of the infinite” (187).

I would like to underline this final remark. In his late works, starting with Psyché. Inventions de l’autre, Derrida explicitly mentions the event of the coming of the Other as a fundamental – even quasi-transcendental – element of our experience and the human condition. Nevertheless, for Derrida the Other never comes and should never come in order to keep open the empty space needed to welcome him or her. This is why the event is impossible for Derrida; its conditions of possibility are its condition of impossibility. Levinas‘ nocturnal events, and above all the event of sociality allowing our relationship with the infinite transcendence of the Other, free us from the paradox of an impossible foundation of our experience and knowledge. Indeed, both in Derrida and Levinas, our theoretical openness is based on the previous ethical striving for the Other. But while the Levinasian ethics finds its foundation in the nocturnal event of sociality, Derrida always misses the fundamental encounter with the Other.

In the night of Being, the Derridean spectre of the impossible could be chased by invisible ghostbusters: the nocturnal events.


Levinas and the Night of Being is an outstanding work of research in which Raoul Moati fully develops the ontological and phenomenological consequences of the notion of “nocturnal event” – on which very few was previously written – and properly contextualizes Levinas production in the phenomenological frame. Moati’s reading of Levinas thus provides us with new conceptual instruments to understand the key concept of ethics and otherness, theoretical core of Totalité et Infini. Inlight of his knowledge of phenomenology and French philosophy, Moati manages to explain with a remarkable clarity what is Levinas‘ relation toward Husserlian phenomenology and how it is developed in contemporary philosophy, while also presenting critical readings of his work, such as the Derridean argument. Even though the chapters dedicated to the reconstruction of the sensible ego’s relation to infinity give us a general glimpse of Levinasian main concepts, I would not suggest reading this book to first approach Levinas‘ philosophy because of its complex critique of ontology and phenomenology. I would rather warmly suggest this reading to anyone who is already familiar with Levinasian ideas in general and with Totalité et Infini in particular. Indeed, Moati’s book not only helps us understanding his work by giving us a rigorous phenomenological context but it also prevents us from misreading Levinas as an anti-metaphysical or anti-ontological author. On the contrary, Moati shows us that an ontology is definitively possible insofar as we accept to also consider its nocturnal component.

Last but not least, I would like to spend a few words about Daniel Wyche’s translation as conclusion. Translating such a book is for sure not an easy task. Beyond the difficulties caused by philosophical jargon and complex argumentative structures there are several expressions in French, untranslatable in English, that should be rendered with neologism or directly rewritten in French. The most complex paragraphs may therefore prove more difficult to understand in the English version. It is maybe for this reason that the author chose to completely rewrite several passages exclusively for the English version. Overall, Wyche’s realized an elegant translation and managed to render in English concepts that are so idiosyncratically French. However, I would suggest to francophone readers to check also the original version, at least the least clear passages.