Hegel, Husserl and the Phenomenology of Historical Worlds by Tanja Staehler is an effort of integration between the phenomenological thinking of two of the most influential philosophers in the contemporary tradition: G.W.F. Hegel and Edmund Husserl. The author’s intention is to reframe a phenomenology of historical and cultural worlds by pursuing the potential of a mutual compenetration of the two German philosophers more than focusing on a static and sterile debate regarding what might make them two different thinkers. The main thesis here shows how Husserl’s phenomenology radicalizes Hegel’s by adding the character of infinite openness to the teleological development of historical Spirit, which afterwards will manifest itself as horizonally constituted. At the same time an Hegelian narrative applies to the entire “parabola” of Husserl’s thought, which the author describes as a progressive development from an abstract to a concrete phenomenology that finally emerges in his later studies and that, by an effort of recollection in the most Hegelian meaning, illustrates the phenomenological development with the motivations and explanations for his abstract beginning. Important to mention is how, within the tradition of Husserlian debate, Staehler takes the side of Derrida and Steinbock by defending the presence of a third phase in Husserl’s philosophy, alongside the static and the genetic, which she names historical. The three stages also serve as the methodological sections of the work.
Hegel and Husserl, in their different phenomenological traditions, both make clear that if philosophy wants to be recognized as a rigorous science it must be presuppositionless and thus, that a leap is required by consciousness in order to clarify what remains overshadowed by the immediacy (in Hegel) and naïveté (in Husserl) of our natural attitude toward the world. In this sense phenomenology takes the sceptical critique as its own starting standpoint by moving the focus of analyses from its directedness toward being, backward to the level of its appearance to consciousness. Scepticism then becomes a moment in the philosophical approach more than a simple school of thought (a point we credit to Hegel) and the very beginning of self-reflection. What for Hegel, however, is a thoroughgoing scepticism, simply “directed against the being of sense-certainty which takes its being as true as such,” and which points beyond the level of phenomena (although in a new mediate form), for Husserl the philosophical approach takes the shape of a refraining from positing the being in the world. We might say that while the teleological presupposition leads Hegel toward a pre-established pathway engaging in what the author calls a pedagogical dialectic between the natural attitude and philosophical consciousness, Husserl chooses the path to suspend the natural attitude itself and to assume a philosophy of a perpetual beginning. A difference in the perspective but not really in the ultimate goal, as the final idea is to have a rigorous discipline better able to disclose in a clearer way the interplay of the perception between the individual consciousness and the phenomenal world. Alongside the similarities and differences between Hegel and Husserl, Staehler lets us notice how a first problematic arises when we approach the beginning of philosophy in the form of a necessary sceptical attitude as it represents everything except a presuppositionless standpoint and which thus requires a given motivation and a contextual explanation. This is a question that remains open until the last part of the work where the encompassing Spirit (in Hegel) and the Lifeworld (in Husserl) will appear and will be able to give a context to the motivation by an effort of recollection.
Hegel describes the process that leads consciousness from the immediacy of sense-certainty to the understanding of itself as the one very constitutive agent of the perceptual activity in the first three chapters of the Phenomenology of Spirit. The possibility of self-certainty is triggered by a tension between the unity of the object and the multiplicity of its properties which leaves us the feeling of a phenomenal world characterized by an ungraspable double nature. However, as the author underlines, that uncanniness is only given as a consequence of a static point of view and that when a dynamic perspective is taken the contradiction is solved. The concept of force is probably the best image to show how the coexistence of unity and its unfolding multiplicity is easily graspable when framed within a process-oriented approach. Staehler sees here a common pattern with the Husserlian image of the apple tree and the changing of its determinations in the persistence of an identical bearer. Important to notice is how the possibility of the synthesis of the manifold of the modes of givenness into a phanto-matic unity is possible only by the mediation of time which in Husserl is constituted at the level of inner consciousness. From a static and descriptive methodology the analysis here starts to move slightly to a genetic and constitutive approach. However, while a dynamic-oriented philosophy might represent the possibility of a parallelism between the two philosophers, a basic difference between them remains in the attitude toward the nature of the unity beyond the phenomena. If Hegel, carried by his teleological impetus, does not show any refraining from positing the identity of the object, for Husserl its possibility can be given only when all its modes of appearance are taken into account, a possibility that lies in the infinite. As the author says, “the goal of the perceptual process thus cannot be the adequate givenness of the object, but the closer determination of the thing in the process itself.”
The fact that the absolute identity of the object might be attainable only by an ideal and infinite perspective does not mean that Husserl denies the possibility of knowledge. The author is clear on that point when she frames both philosophers in what she calls an idealistic realism. The tension between unity and manifold is a tension between the focus of the natural attitude on the identity of the phenomena and the relativity of kinaesthetic, individual and cultural horizons while the role of phenomenology is the achievement of a more balanced perspective. Objectivity in Husserl is always partial but anyway possible and progressively enriched not only at the level of internal consciousness but even through communication with others. The analysis on identity and differences (in Hegel) and unity and manifold (in Husserl) begins to show the emergence of the main thesis of this work, namely how the character of openness of Husserl’s phenomenology might radicalize Hegel’s historical development. In order to proceed to this new stage of analysis, however, it is necessary to enter into the debate regarding the interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenology which, following Staehler, has been often too quickly enclosed in an idealistic framework as a consequence of misunderstanding the Husserlian concept of solipsism. The genetic approach, especially the one developed in Ideas and Cartesian Meditations, actually poses the possibility of the otherness of the other and it establishes the basis for what the author calls the historical Husserl. Solipsism, from her point of view, is not to be interpreted in the classical way but as a phenomenological reduction, exactly as the concept of the epoché, in order to clarify the how of the possibility of otherness. At the end of the genetic phase it eventually “becomes accessible in its inaccessibility” allowing the possibility of the foundation of the realm of intersubjectivity to be posed.
Hegel describes the development of the social and cultural world in the fourth chapter of his Phenomenology of Spirit where the master and slave dialectic and the struggle for recognition are introduced. The contradiction is eventually resolved in a typical Hegelian movement by a process of sublation by which the two forces find a balance within a new encompassing level, allowing Spirit to emerge. One of the last chapters of the work is dedicated to the Hegelian interpretation of the Antigone where the dialectical process is again described at the level of an ethical development. Far from psychologizing the characters, Hegel is more interested in the invariant pattern that Antigone and Creon carry on. In the struggle between the divine law and the political law an impasse is reached where neither of the two loses or wins. A reconciliation is only possible at an encompassing level, where the two compenetrate each other. This is expressed by the Chorus. Nothing similar appears in Husserl’s phenomenology of intersubjectivity, which never thematizes the Lifeworld as encompassing realm. Staehler states however that Husserl in his later studies, specifically the ones figuring into the Crisis, shows a plexus of phenomenological approaches which stand apart from the transcendental-psychological way opened by the epoché and by which an ontology of a Lifeworld is posited. The concept of the crisis is openly disclosed and serves as a catalyst in a recollection of the entirety of Husserl’s philosophy.
European man in Husserl’s terms lives in a contextual crisis that is rooted in the forgetfulness of the subject and of the Lifeworld, which are overshadowed by objective and scientific thinking. The role of philosophy is to find again a balance by the re-establishment of the subject as a real active agent of history. The role of phenomenology and its motivation, which were left suspended at the beginning of the work, are now finally explained. If the psychological-transcendental way, following the author’s analyses, leads us to the threshold of the ontology, the ontological way by historical reflection shows us the necessity for a better understanding of our inner consciousness. The recovery of the active role of subjectivity and intersubjectivity allows Husserl to move from history as a pure objective science of facts to what he calls ideal-history and toward a more horizonal and culturally-constituted historical development.
Cultural worlds are described by the author as a plexus of products, norms and values and also as “a world of custom, laws and regulations which the individual needs to consider.” They manifest themselves with the double nature of being established (stiftung), re-established and changed by man but at the same time at work as contextual constraints. There is a kind of Hegelian process in this circularity of an endless creation of new institutions and their establishment as new habitualized norms. The modern crisis can be seen as a consequence of the scientific attitude which eventually led to the forgetting of the primordial philosophy of the Greeks. The possibility of “re-inventing” history makes clear how there is an inner teleology at work in the Husserlian ideal-history. Goals conceived as norms and values are continuously posited anew thus offering the possibility of an open historical development in contrast with the Hegelian absolute teleology.
Staehler’s work gives so many causes for reflection that it is really difficult to give a complete account of it. It is worth mentioning that her insight on the phenomenology of historical and cultural worlds is not reduced to the simple encounter between Hegel and Husserl’s phenomenology. Other authors are discussed. The concept of event by Derrida for example and Levinas’s idea of an ungraspable future as something Other in regard to the Sameness of the intentional consciousness introduce a more radicalized character of nonlinearity to the historical development. More, a postscript is entirely dedicated to Heidegger’s primacy of moods and Merleau-Ponty’s concept of reversibility and ambiguity in the dialectical process. Not to mention Eugen Fink’s different approach on the motivation for the beginning of philosophy.
The main title of this book suggests that it is a defense of phenomenology. An interesting and alluring idea. In fact the book is not a general defense of phenomenology, but is, as the subtitle suggests, an account of the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, and thus of his particular brand of phenomenology – in the course of this it is also a defense of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, since the author holds that it has been misunderstood, or at least in certain crucial aspects fundamentally misrepresented. The particular villain of misunderstanding is Vincent Descombes in his venerable, but still quite widely read, introductory book Modern French Philosophy first published in French in 1979 and in English in 1980. It is unclear how influential Descombes book still is however, leaving one to wonder whether his view of Merleau-Ponty is still the prevailing one that might justify the effort involved here of showing up its flaws. Still, if the view presented by Descombes is mistaken, that gives some grounds for thinking such a misunderstanding as his needs countering, as it might turn up anywhere. It is also worth noting that one would be unlikely now to recommend Descombes book as a first introduction to phenomenology when there are more recent books, quite possibly better ones that do not take Descombes’ view of Merleau-Ponty, such as David E. Cooper, Existentialism, (second edition, Blackwell, 1999) and Michael Hammond, Jane Howarth, Russell Keat, Understanding Phenomenology (Blackwell, 1991). Descombes’ book is conspicuously absent from Cooper’s bibliography.
Still, the first main section of Douglas Low’s book is a systematic and detailed refutation of the view of Merleau-Ponty as presented by Descombes. It is this that I shall concentrate on in this review. There are three other chapters in the book: ‘One Merleau-Ponty, Not Two’, ‘Merleau-Ponty’s Criticism and Embrace of Hegel and Marx’, and ‘Marx, Baudrillard, and Merleau-Ponty on Alienation’. As can be seen from this, the book is a set of essays, rather than an integrated work, but one linked all the time by the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty.
So let us look at the issue of Merleau-Ponty’s basic philosophy, and how it might be misunderstood. Low’s principal objection to Descombes is that he portrays Merleau-Ponty as a subjectivist, albeit of an absolute idealist sort, derived from misunderstanding Merleau-Ponty’s view that the self is involved in every understanding of the world. Whereas the truth of the matter is that Merleau-Ponty wishes to find new categories to overcome the dichotomies of subject and object, and mind and body. What eliminates the putative gap is the human body which looks both ways: it constitutes, and is essential to being, a subjective self, while at the same time it is the way we encounter the world and is an object in the world.
Before looking at what Merleau-Ponty might or might not have said about the problem of our understanding the world and our place in it, let us consider the problem itself. The traditional problem is essentially of Cartesian manufacture. The way it is set up by Descartes opens, as it turns out, an unbridgeable gap between our ideas of the world and how the world really is, or at least our being able to know how the world really is. The approach of phenomenology as it developed from Husserl’s initial version of it, the new version, a version common in certain basic respects to that of Heidegger and Sartre (just to pick out the major players) is to undercut the ideas-representation/world dichotomy. The attempts to go from idea-representation to the world by various means has tormented philosophy ever since Descartes. The approach of the new phenomenology is a variation of the old joke that if I wanted to get to there I would not start from here, as well as showing that the proposed starting place is in fact, as described, not a place from where one could start.
Descartes not only thought he had to set aside all that he could not be certain he knew to be true in order to build up a picture of how things are uninfected with falsehoods, he thought that such a picture should strip away all that makes the view dependent on contingent features of a perspective, all the things that make it my view, for with these in place we would not have a view of how things are in themselves, but rather a subjectively corrupted view of how they appear to creatures such as ourselves. What he was aiming for was an objective-conception, God’s-eye, view of reality that could then with justification be taken as showing how reality is, one not polluted with the trappings of a perspective. But once he retreats to the idea-representations of the world in his mind he finds it impossible to get out again so that he might be sure that any of them may be known to correspond to how the world actually is. The desperate nature of his plight is shown by the desperate measures he takes in drawing on a dubious medieval argument for the existence of God so that God may act as the guarantor of the truth of things he clear and distinctly perceives, for it is inconceivable that God would allow him to be deceived when he has made his best and most honest effort to grasp the truth.
From then on much of the history of philosophy becomes an attempt to solve the conundrum set up by Descartes, but, and this is crucial, still in Descartes’ terms and with his assumptions. One of the most obvious lines taken is various forms and degrees of idealism. If we cannot epistemically bridge the gap between our ideas of the world and the world in itself, one approach is to bring the world back into the realm of ideas. Obviously some distinction needs to be maintained between how things are in a merely subjective sense, thus how they are objectively; but this is done by epistemic devices and identifying features within the realm of ideas. Thus we have Kant’s transcendental idealism where objectivity is derived from those conditions that are necessary for the very possibility of experience, ‘the world’ being the sum total of such possible experiences. But because Kant was unable to give up completely on the idea of things as they might be, independently of any of the modes of acquaintance by which we may access them, he posits thing-in-themselves or noumena. To stop having something like noumena left hanging we move onto absolute idealism where ultimately the fully developed mode of knowing the world and the world itself are one. If you cannot get from ideas to the world, bring the world into the fold of ideas, thus making it in principle completely knowable. But this leads to one huge problem for many: plausibility. And it is not just nineteenth-century European philosophy that wrestles with bridging the Cartesian gap, one can see it running through the writings on epistemology and perception in twentieth-century analytical philosophy, at least until the later Wittgenstein and with him the first signs that a new radical approach was needed.
That approach on the continent is the new phenomenology. What is crucial to understanding it, and in particular the way that Merleau-Ponty presents it, is to show how Descartes is simply not entitled to use all the concepts, or ideas, that he has about the world, given where he starts from as a disinterested, disembodied, pure consciousness. Descartes simply helps himself to these concepts – through which he might articulate a view of reality, and then wonders whether such articulations are true – and does so unquestioningly and without entitlement. He is not entitled to the meanings that these concepts provide, without which no truth (or falsehood) may be articulated about the world, because from the point of view of a God’s-eye objective disembodied pure consciousness, no sense of the meaning of being would arise at all that might be captured in any concepts whatsoever. Now when we look as to why he is not entitled to the articulating concepts that present to us a world that has determinate being, we see that such concepts, and such a world, only arise at all because we are not a disinterested, disembodied, pure consciousness, but are rather creatures that are a interested, embodied, impure consciousness. By this is meant that what gives any sense and meaning to the world, such that it may be thought of at all, is our being contingently-configured, engaged, embodied, creatures, and the particular senses and meanings that emerge reflect the particular form of our contingently-configured embodiment and engagement. It’s hard for us to notice this, as it was difficult for Descartes, because such modes of thinking are so pervasive, habitual and taken for granted. It’s only when we step back that we see that our very modes of thinking about the world depend on something that means that the ideas-representation/world gap is not merely bridged, but also eliminated because it could not have existed. For Merleau-Ponty, as Low clearly explains, that eliminator of the ideas-representation/world is the body. Crucially – and this needs emphasising – the body does not bridge the gap – it is not another solution to the traditional Cartesian problem – rather, if it is understood properly, it is the entity that is both a realm of ideas and the realm of the world. Dual featured, it is both, taking the first two together, the mode by which any understanding of our understanding of the world is possible, and the mode by which any understanding of the world is possible, while also being an entity in the world understood. Our bodies are, as Low puts it, that little bit of the world by which the world understands itself. And the crucial feature of the body is that it allows us to be engaged with the world. It is of us and of the world. It is only by being engaged with the world that the being of the world may be something to us (and to any understanding creature, although they may have different contingent-configurations). To put it crudely, only by bumping into things in the world do things come into being for us, have significance, as articulated in concepts that go on to have normative interconnections – thus, say, solid and liquid become opposed terms. The bumping into may be more or less literal of course – let us perhaps call it a matter of resistance and limits – so that things become such that they cannot be passed through, or are out of reach, or are unliftable, or have a beginning and have an ending. And such resistance and limits may only arise from being embodied, and embodied in a manner that must necessarily be determinate in some way or other. Thus all the meanings that Descartes used to speculate as to whether things could be known to be true or how things really are are meanings that could only arise by there being a world to which the meanings apply for us. Without being embodied and engaged in the world, it would be an undifferentiated homogeneous ineffability – this of course Kant understood when he posited noumena, even if he did not see the full significance of why such a world would be, or should be, strictly speaking inarticulable – and that only by a contingent mode of engagement with the world provided by a body does the world become something ‘bumpy’ so to speak, with peaks and troughs of significance and degrees of interest which concepts can mean. For a disinterested, disembodied, pure consciousness, (it is questionable indeed if such a thing is possible for it may be argued that it could have no thoughts) there would be no guiding motivation to develop any concepts which might express an understanding of the world at all, nor one might add an understanding of ourselves, a self. Why would there be? Without an other there can be no self and without a self there can be no understanding of the other. A view from nowhere is no possible view at all.
Merleau-Ponty’s is quite possibly the clearest account of this position – far more so than the later Husserl, or Heidegger or Sartre. Indeed Merleau-Ponty thinks that Sartre in his distinction of the for-itself (conscious self-awareness) the in-itself (non-human things) perpetuates too much the traditional mind/world distinction, and again leaves himself with a gap to be bridged. For Merleau-Ponty the body is both mind and world, and the understanding of the mind without the world and the world without the mind is impossible –each entails otherness. This also denies materialism as well as idealism. He shares however the primary thought that because of the, as it were, assumptions of the body, how we think about the world because of the contingently-configured body means that we are thrown into the world-ready-made. And we are thrown in as human beings qua human beings. It presents itself to us already there as being – it is not something we construct from the impressions on a mental tabula rasa. This may be modified by personal and cultural variations, but as Low explains quoting Merleau-Ponty, because of the durable commonality of the flesh, my world is essentially the same world as that of Plato and Aristotle. (cf p.12). Nothing is reached as it is in itself for it is necessarily encountered through the human body, but what is reached is always perceived gestalt as something that goes beyond the perception and with an awareness of its being something other.
Low’s is an excellent book, and he makes his case convincingly. It does something not only towards giving a better understanding of Merleau-Ponty, but also to clear up a possibly misunderstanding of him that may detract from our realising his importance. If anyone should lead the new phenomenological approach and show up the mistaken assumptions of much of previous philosophy, then Merleau-Ponty is an excellent candidate, and it is clear that he deserves more attention than he gets in philosophical academia. As hinted earlier, his approach has much in common with the later Wittgenstein when it is closely examined. The common approach, with noted differences, between Heidegger and Wittgenstein has recently been well explored in Lee Braver, Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger (The MIT Press, 2012). It would be fascinating and fruitful for someone to do the same with Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein. Your next project, Professor Douglas Low!?
In the academic year of 1964-65, Derrida taught two courses at the École Normale Supérieure: an agrégation course on ‘The Theory of Signification in the Logical Investigations and Ideen I’ and ‘Heidegger: The Question of Being and History’. Having fulfilled his curricular obligations with the former, it was Derrida’s own interests that governed the choosing and development of the latter. This volume, painstakingly transcribed and translated from Derrida’s own handwritten notes, therefore provides a glimpse into some of the earliest workings of Derrida’s thought.
Given through nine sessions, this lecture course is concerned with rendering apparent the essential link between being and history (referred to as ‘historicity,’ to avoid confusion with the academic discipline and actual world history) throughout Heidegger’s thought. As to it’s broad construction, sessions one-through-six of the lecture series constitutes an introduction to the titular concepts, Heidegger’s approach, and an account of the ways in which Heidegger breaks from two other prominent philosophical reflections on historicity – those of Hegel and Husserl. Sessions six-through-nine feature Derrida’s examination of the role of historicity in Being and Time (henceforth BT) as well as Heidegger’s corresponding critique of Western thought.
In his introductory session, Derrida focuses on the use of the word ‘being’ in his course title over that of ‘ontology’. He forwards the view that Heidegger’s destruction (Destruktion) of the history of ontology (initiated in BT) develops into the rejection of the very notion of ontology itself as Heidegger’s thought matures. This session also features the first of many comparisons with Hegel. Here Derrida clarifies Heidegger’s method of Destruktion by contrasting it with Hegelian dialectical refutation (Widerlegung). He demonstrates that whilst Hegelian Widerlegung gathers up and sublimates its previous elements in the process of producing a higher philosophy (3), Destruktion is a ‘deconstruction’ or ‘solicitation’ that reveals what is hidden within the structures of philosophical thought (9).
In his second lecture, Derrida turns to the place of the term ‘history’ in his course title. He explains that Heidegger is perhaps the first philosopher to identify an essential relation between being and history and highlights two basic ‘assurances’ (41) that betray the essential historicity of being. First, the fact that we are ‘always already’ linguistically familiar with the meaning of being in some preliminary fashion (42-3). Second, the fact that Dasein is the being that is interrogated (Befragtes) within the question of the meaning of being (46).
In session three, Derrida pauses to explore an implication of the first assurance just outlined: the connection between being and language. As he examines the role of metaphor in Heidegger’s thought, Derrida masterfully decodes the famous Heideggerian statement that ‘language is the house of being’ (57-9). Derrida suggests that, on Heidegger’s view, metaphor obscures the meaning of being and that a proper, poetic language capable of directly speaking being should eventually arise (62-3).
Session four opens with a lengthy analysis of Heidegger’s seemingly innocuous reference to the Befragtes as a text on which the meaning of being is to be read (77-84). Derrida then shifts back to focus on the second assurance of being’s historicity: the identification of Dasein as Befragtes. Derrida explicates the two principal reasons for this identification: first, the fact that Dasein is itself the being that poses the question of being (85); second, that through this questioning Dasein comes closer to its own essence (85-6). He then highlights the problem of the hermeneutic circle: the objection that we cannot identify Dasein as the being through which we will gain access to the meaning of being without first enjoying this access (86). Derrida argues that not only is this objection unproblematic, but that it emphasises the very historicity of being that Heidegger is working to reveal insofar as it demonstrates ‘the impossibility of a pure point of departure’ (90) for philosophical thought. This session closes with the beginning of a lengthy account of the differences between Hegel’s, Husserl’s, and Heidegger’s respective reflections on historicity. Here, Derrida contrasts Heidegger’s view that being is essentially historical with Hegel’s view that historicity depends on state, culture, memory, and consciousness (99-104).
Continuing this juxtaposition through session five, Derrida now brings in Husserl, who he suggests has a comparable account to Hegel’s insofar as they both assume a primary distinction between the historicity of culture and the non-historicity of nature (105). Derrida embarks on a perhaps unnecessary and tangential comparison of Hegel and Husserl (105-113) before beginning to account for the ways in which Heidegger breaks from the Husserlian account (114-126).
It is clear that Derrida struggled with timing toward the end of session five, leaving him to finish his survey of Heidegger’s breaks with Husserl in the sixth session (127-133). The most significant of these breaks is the fact that, for Heidegger, the Husserlian account constitutes a ‘worldview’ (129) – that is, a representation of the totality of beings. Derrida points out that, for Heidegger, the idea that philosophy offers such a worldview (Weltbild) has its origins in Plato. Heidegger therefore sees Husserl as part of the metaphysical tradition he is trying to deconstruct (130-1). Derrida now shifts to his analysis of BT, wherein he demonstrates that reflection on Dasein’s relation to its birth and death reveals the prejudice which has hitherto blocked any proper recognition of historicity: the privileging of presence and the present (137). Rejecting this prejudice, Heidegger suggests that birth and death are not events no longer or not yet present. Rather, they coexist in Dasein insofar as Dasein is the continuity (Erstreckung) between them (148).
In session seven, Derrida acknowledges the ‘running out of breath’ (153) of BT with respect to its analysis of historicity. He suggests that the thematic of temporality, as the origin of historicity, is what obscures any further results. Looking for clues as to the specific difficulties, Derrida exposits the later material of BT and identifies the terminology of (in)authenticity as something dropped in later works (168). Moreover, Derrida highlights Heidegger’s identification of the assumption that underlies various inadequate conceptions of historicity: the centrality of the human subject (170). Derrida makes clear that Heidegger is moving us away from the idea that there is a historical subject to whom events happen to the idea that subjectivity is supervenient upon already historical ek-sistence (175).
Not wanting to dismiss BT, in his eighth session Derrida explores its final chapters for any original concepts that might pertain to and differentiate historicity from its originating temporality. He examines the concepts of ‘auto-transmission’ (Sichüberlieferung) (180), which describes temporality, ‘resoluteness’ (Entschlossenheit) (185), through which temporality and historicity become authentic, and ‘being-toward-death’ (188). This latter concept leads Derrida to an evaluation of Alexandre Kojève’s suggestion that there exists a relation of analogy between Heidegger and Hegel with respect to their reflections on freedom and death. Derrida is unsympathetic to this view, arguing that Hegel’s and Heidegger’s accounts are ultimately inconsonant because Hegel’s conception of temporality is, for Heidegger, inauthentic ‘intra-temporality’ (194-201). Finally, Derrida strikes upon what he believes to be a concept uniquely characteristic of historicity in BT: repetition (202).
In his final session, Derrida explicates Heidegger’s derivation of world history (Welt-Geschichte) and historical science from the historicity of Dasein (206-214). This involves a digress through Nietzsche and his relation to Hegel (215-221). Derrida then makes some conclusory remarks. He indicates the direction of Heidegger’s later thought and further emphasises the role of metaphor, suggesting again that, for Heidegger, the gradual deconstruction of metaphoricity will instigate a new language through which we could come into direct contact with being and in which the designation ‘being’ would itself be obsolete (223). Finally, in a comment that presages his own subsequent work, Derrida claims that the ultimate problematic for Heidegger will be that of difference (225).
It is evident that this course yields some of Derrida’s earliest reflections on ideas that would later come to define his mature thought: such as deconstruction, writing, trace, metaphysics of presence, binary opposites, and difference. Moreover, this is one of the most readable and accessible of Derrida’s works. He is clearly a gifted exegete, rendering much of Heidegger’s complex text transparent. His thoroughness as a scholar is also clear to see, given his numerous insightful comparisons with Hegel; not to mention the fact that only the first division of BT was available in French at the time of this course (and then only for a few months). As such, most of Derrida’s references to Heidegger were his own translations and this course likely provided an initial exposure amongst its attendees to much of Heidegger’s thought.
There are, however, some weaknesses that could be addressed. Although Derrida readily admits it (222), the tone of this course remains preparative throughout and the reader never feels as though they are getting to the heart of this essential relation between being and historicity. The transition between sessions five and six is awkward; it would also have been beneficial to see more on the distinction drawn between metaphor and poetry in session three – especially given the import Derrida assigns to it. Also, there are moments when the relevance of Derrida’s reflections on the relations of Husserl and Nietzsche to Hegel come into question. Finally, whilst there is the occasionally inconvenient ‘[illegible word]’ notation, this frustration more rightly serves as a testament to the immediacy of our access to Derrida’s thought and as a credit to the translators.