Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.): Phenomenological Approaches to Physics

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics Couverture du livre Phenomenological Approaches to Physics
Synthese Library, Vol. 429
Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 103,99 €
VI, 263

Reviewed by: Mahmoud Jalloh (University of Southern California)

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics is a welcome attempt to bridge the gap between two areas of philosophy not often mentioned in the same career, let alone the same breath. The collection provides fertile ground for further work on phenomenological approaches to physics—and science more generally—however, as much as the collection is promising, it is also disappointing in the preparatory nature of much of the material. While this is a general vice of the phenomenological tradition—consider how many of Husserl’s published works are introductions to phenomenologyin order to appeal to one of the primary audiences of the collection, phenomenology-curious philosophers of physics, further developments with clear consequences are needed. Many of the papers stop just as they’ve really started. This collection is of value for many purposes: as a general introduction to phenomenology, as a guide to the consequences of phenomenology for science and physics, as a pointer to areas of application for the budding phenomenologist, but it also provides some indications of particular lines of further development.

The editor’s introduction is relatively long, but deservedly so, as it does a lot, providing expositions of ten themes from Husserl’s oeuvre: anti-psychologism, intentionality, descriptions and eidetics, the epistemic significance of experience, phenomenology as first philosophy, anti-naturalism, the life-world, historicity and genetic phenomenology, embodiment and intersubjectivity, the epochē, transcendental reduction, and transcendental idealism. The sketch of Husserl produced is that of an epistemological internalist who develops a theory of the objective from fundamental subjectivity, who denies empiricism about logic and mathematics, and who holds that phenomenology is a first philosophy which comprises analyses of the essential structures of subjectivity, the ground of all knowledge, therefore legitimizing all other forms of knowledge, sciences. Any reader interested in a first pass at the role of these themes in Husserl’s work could probably do so no more efficiently than looking through the first half of this introduction. A highlight of the introduction is a sketch of the relevance of other phenomenologists, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, to the philosophy of physics. The themes brought up in the introduction and elsewhere are suggestive: Heidegger’s pluralism regarding scientific standards and the difference in the concepts of time in physics and history; his preemption of the theory-ladenness of observation; his praise of Weyl; his primacy of practical understanding over theoretical knowledge; Merleau-Ponty’s participatory realism; his analysis of measurement and rejection of instrumentalism, realism, and idealism, in favor of structuralism.

Part 1: On the Origins and Systematic Value of Phenomenological Approaches to Physics

Robert Crease’s “Explaining Phenomenology to Physicists” is a response to philosophy-phobic physicists, like Hawking, and aims to show how the projects of phenomenological philosophy and physics differ. This amounts to a sort of introduction to the Husserlian distinction between the natural, or naturalistic, attitude of the physicist in her workshop and the more skeptical attitude of the epochē adopted by the phenomenologist. Note that Crease makes the same point that Maudlin and other metaphysically oriented philosophers of physics often emphasize, that mathematical formulae do not comprise a theory but require an interpretation, an ontology (57). How this interpretation is established and justified is the common project of the phenomenologist and the analytic metaphysician. But herein lies a problem with the Crease essay, which is that it while it distinguishes analytic (narrowly focused on the logical analysts of science of the early 20th century), pragmatic, and phenomenological approaches to the sciences, Crease does not say enough to distinguish a defense of phenomenological approaches to physics from a defense of a philosophical approach to physics whatsoever. Now Crease may make the point that phenomenology preempted concerns with the metaphysics of physics or concerns regarding the applicability of mathematical idealization to nature that have more recently become central to the philosophy of physics. Further, it is not clear that this is a fair reading of the aims of the logical empiricists. What is the logical empiricist project of establishing how scientific, “theoretical” terms get their meaning if not a concern with the “framing” of scientific theories and “the reciprocal impact of that frame and what appears in it on their way of being” (55)? This is not to say there is no distinction to be drawn, but the discussion here is not fully convincing as an argument for the value of phenomenology in studies of physics in particular.

Mirja Hartimo’s contribution, “Husserl’s Phenomenology of Scientific Practice,” fills out Crease’s sketch of the phenomenological approach and specifies how Husserl preempts the naturalistic, practice-oriented turn in contemporary philosophy of science. This “naturalism” is to be opposed with ontological or methodological naturalism, both of which Husserl rejected. Hartimo recapitulates the difference between the natural and phenomenological attitudes and its production by the epochē, in which existence is “bracketed.” The case is made that the phenomenological attitude is not inconsistent with the natural attitude (indeed Husserl had, for the most part, the same natural understanding of the sciences as did his contemporaries in Göttingen). The Göttingen view comprises a pre-established harmony between mathematics and physics, “the axiomatic ideal of mathematics served for Husserl, as well as for his colleagues, as an ideal of scientific rationality, as a device that was taken to guide empirical physical investigations ‘regulatively’.” (67) This influences the focus on Galileo in Crisis: physics is fundamentally mathematical in nature (68). Harmony amounts to an isomorphism of the axioms and the laws, with the axioms of physics being a formal ontology, a formal definite manifold (69). Husserl’s two differences with the Göttingen consensus are: (1) scientists should also develop material ontologies, which provide specific normative ideals for the mathematization of nature and its connection to intuition; (2) the normativity of the exact sciences does not extend to all scientific domains, a normative pluralism. (2) is particularly important because phenomenology itself falls short of the axiomatic ideal, due to the inexactness of the relevant essences.

Pablo Palmieri’s contribution, “Physics as a Form of Life,” is an odd fish. It presents itself not as a presentation of Husserl’s account of the lifeworld and its relevance to physics but rather as focusing on a foundational question raised by Husserl: “why is it that the axioms of mathematical physics are not self-evident despite the evidence and clarity that is gained through the deductive processes that flow from them?” (80) To answer this question Palmieri embarks on an analysis of physics as a form of “Life” in the sense of some historical development. The three epochs of physics which characterize its form of life are (1) the youth of Galileo’s axiomatic physics, (2) the senescence of Helmholtz’s work on the anharmonic oscillator and the combination of tones, and (3) the “posthumous maturity” of physics following quantum physics. These historical studies are interesting and valuable in themselves, especially the Galileo study, particularly regarding the influence of Galileo’s aesthethics on his mathematization of nature (84). Unfortunately, how these studies relate to the overall aim of the essay is unclear and is shrouded by the sort of allegorical and flowery prose that turns away many from “continental” approaches more generally. Palmieri’s description of the third stage of physics’ life as “posthumous maturity” describes a “disarticulation” in physics that comes to a head for Palmieri in Heisenberg’s use of (an)harmonic oscillator framework for quantum mechanics. The result of such a “translation” is not a direct analog to the classical treatment of spectra, due to the lack of rules for “composition of the multiplicity into the unity of an individual, by the interpretation of which we might generate the individual utterance that once performed will elicit in our consciousness a corresponding perception in any of the sensory modalities whatever” (100). The obscurity of such bridge principles to observation is, again, exactly the crisis of which Husserl was concerned. The upshot seems not to be, as it was for Husserl, a call to action for phenomenological analysis, but rather the essential mystery of nature as “[i]t is nature herself that precludes herself from knowing reflexively her own totality of laws” (83). While this is supposed to have the status of an explanation it is only buttressed with metaphor:

This being hidden of nature as a totality, or her desire or necessity to hide herself from further scrutiny, which I would be tempted to qualify as nature’s vow of virginity, explains why the axioms of mathematical physics must appear to our intuitions as obscure (84).

This pessimistic conclusion conflicts with phenomenology’s self-conception as a progressive research programme, leaving Palmieri’s own position mysterious, and one suspects that is how he wants it.

Norman Sieroka’s “Unities of Knowledge and Being—Weyl’s Late ’Existentialism’ and Heideggerian Phenomenology” is a fascinating exposition of Weyl’s latter existentialist turn and his engagement with Heidegger’s work. Weyl claims that physics is dominated by “symbolic construction”, of which axiomatic mathematics stands as paradigm, which are empirically evaluated holistically. Weyl’s account of symbolic construction is dependent on the understanding that these symbolic systems are constructed out of particular concrete tokens. Similarly it is essential to the symbolic construction that it is intersubjective and the practitioners of a symbolic system are peers embedded in a wider public. The core of mathematics and the sciences is not logic, but rule-bound “practical management” of symbols (109). This practical level must be fundamental or else we fall into a circle of physical reduction and symbolic representation.

Weyl’s 1949 paper “Science as Symbolic Construction of Man,” explicitly invokes Heidegger’s concept of the existential basicness of being-in-the-world as a point of agreement. Weyl does not, however, accept Heidegger’s anti-scientific attitude that concludes from this, that science is “inauthentic”. Weyl held that scientific practice and philosophical reflection were mutually enriching — particularly moral reflection in the shadow of the bomb. Heidegger’s rejection of science is due to symbols being merely present-at-hand, as they do not figure in the “care-taking encounter of daily life” (114). The weight of evidence and experience clearly sides with Weyl here. Sieroka raises examples of bridge-building and experimental physics. More simply, even the manipulation of symbols in themselves is care-taking in that they are to be interpreted and not only by oneself, in a dubious “private language”, but by some community. Here is a missed opportunity to engage with Heidegger’s later work, though it cannot be said to have influenced Weyl. Something like “The Question Concerning Technology” shows that Heidegger did not think that modern science and technology were independent of daily life, but rather have a radical and destabilizing effect that inhibits Dasein from encountering its own essence. Though, it is not clear how much this is a rejection of the verdicts of Being and Time, or should correct Sieroka and Weyl’s intepretations. The extension of the critique by way of Fritz Medicus, Weyl’s colleague, to a critique of “thrownness” and the general receptivity or passivity of Dasein to Being seems beside the point and reliant on a misunderstanding of Heidegger. Medicus’ “piglets” complaint about the thrownness of Dasein can only rest on a misunderstanding of the role of historicity in Dasein’s being (see Division 2, Chapter 5). Intersubjectivity is fundamental to Dasein. Being-with is “equiprimordial” with Dasein’s Being-in-the-World and is an existential characteristic of Dasein, even when it is alone (149-169).  Being-with defines Dasein’s inherent historicity. Dasein is thrown into a culture, into a way of life.

Sieroka’s comparison of Weyl and Cassirer, that Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms provides a unity of knowledge, while Weyl’s provides a unity of being, owing to his existentialist inflection, is interesting but perfunctory. It makes one wonder what such a distinction could tell us about the difference of method between phenomenology and neo-Kantianism, how this might relate to the interpretational dispute at the center of the Davos debate, and how Weyl’s conception of physics and mathematics could have played a role in such rifts.

Part 2: Phenomenological Contributions to (Philosophy of) Physics

“A Revealing Parallel Between Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and Today’s Scientific Metaphysics” by Matthias Egg aims to show how the crises that Husserl saw as central to the contemporary sciences and his solution are echoed in the scientific metaphysics of Ladyman and Ross (2007). The crisis is rooted in the substitution of the lifeworld for mathematical idealities, which amounts to a forgetting of the “meaning-fundament” of the sciences, undermining their own epistemological standing. Egg frames his comparison of Husserl and the scientific metaphysicians with Habermas’ critique of Husserl’s project of making science presuppositionless, providing a basis for absolute practical responsibility. The supposed failure is that it is left unexplained how a more perfect theoretical knowledge is to have practical upshot. The lacuna is Platonic mimesis, wherein the philosopher “having grasped the cosmic order through theorizing, the philosopher brings himself into accord with it, whereby theory enters the conduct of life,” (129), which is in direct ontological opposition with Husserl’s transcendental idealism, as Habermas sees it. (Does Habermas commit the naturalistic fallacy?) Husserl’s model claims only that the procedure or methodology of theoretical knowledge provides normative force on our practical affairs, in Egg’s example, our doing of physics. Egg presents Ladyman and Ross as agreeing with Husserl’s science-cum-Enlightment project, particularly, that science must be central to our worldview as it allows for a unified, intersubjectively valid approach to world even beyond theoretical practice. This too, falls short of Habermas’ mimetic ideal —their project could only be preserved in the “ruins of ontology” (130). Ladyman and Ross share some skepticism about strong metaphysics but accept weak metaphysics. Unfortunately, Egg stops just before saying anything more substantive than an observation of convergent philosophical evolution. There is more to be said particularly regarding the link between this sort of communicative conception of the scientific project and structural realism which puts Ladyman and Ross and Husserl in the same camp. The metaphysical essays to follow cover some of what I would like to say, but let me gesture at a possible development. In Ideas II and the fifth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl develops an account of scientific objectivity such that it is constituted by intersubjective agreement via “appresentation.” What is intersubjectively available are the appearances of objects, but what is agreed upon are the invariant structures supposed to explain the experiences of the community. Heelan’s (1978) hermeneutic interpretation of Husserl provides a picture in which the infinite tasks of mathematization and measurement link together the lifeworld and the scientific image which is constituted by it. There is a structural realist position to be examined here which could provide a unified account of everyday and scientific perception.

Lee Hardy’s “Physical Things, Ideal Objects, and Theoretical Entities: The Prospects of a Husserlian Phenomenology of Physics” attempts to square Husserl’s phenomenology with scientific realism. Husserl’s seeming positivism is especially problematic given that Husserl argues “that the objective correlates of the mathematical laws of the physical sciences simply do not exist in the physical sense. They are ideal mathematical objects, not real physical things” (137). Hardy restricts Husserl’s instrumentalism to scientific laws rather than scientific theories tout court. Husserl’s view is that knowledge of physical objects is gained by mathematical approximation, leaving room open for the positing of actual physical entities. Hardy’s argument, a rational reconstruction of a path not (explicitly) taken by Husserl, depends on a distinction that seems both interesting and suspicious. Hardy wishes to distinguish instrumentalism about the laws from instrumentalism regarding theories, the difference between the two lies in the fact that laws specify functional interdependencies of physical quantities which state how empirical objects behave, but theories explain why physical quantities behave as they do. So then, the instrumentalist holds that the semantic value of theories is limited to that of the laws, which predict observable behavior. The realist holds that scientific theories have as semantic values the behavior of unobservables. Husserl’s radical empiricism is in apparent tension with the realist’s explanation, Hardy reconstructs the received view:

(1) A obtains if and only if p is true.

(2) p is true is and only if p is evident.

(3) p is true if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.

Ergo, (4) A obtains if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.

Theoretical entities cannot be so given, so statements about them can never be true, so we ought not be committed to them. This interpretation Hardy rejects in favor of one which changes the role of experience from semantic-metaphysical to epistemic:

S is justified in believing p if and only if the correlative states of affairs A is given to S in an intuitive act of consciousness (143).

Hardy specifies that the perceivability condition on existence was meant to be dependent on an ideal possibility, not an actual possibility (dependent on sensory apparatuses). This point goes some way towards specifying the meaning of transcendental idealism, though this seems to go astray in attempting to recover realism. Transcendental idealism requires that possible perception by a transcendental subjectivity constitutes (the preconditions for) existence. Hardy picks up the thread in the Crisis regarding the essential approximative nature of the sciences as their conclusions are mediated by ideal, mathematical constructions:

Exact, objective knowledge is possible only by way of a passage through the ideal; and for that very reason will never be more than approximative knowledge of the real (146).

In  Crisis, Hardy claims, Husserl distinguishes the ideal, physical object and the perceived object ontologically: the objects of ordinary life are not  “physical” objects.  It is these limit-idealized objects that Husserl is anti-realist with respect to. The trouble with Hardy’s distinction between theories and laws and between real objects and idealized objects is that the approximation relation is left unexplained. There remains an explanatory gap as to why physical objects should be subject to laws that properly only have idealities as their subjects.

Arezoo Islami and H. A. Wiltsche’s “A Match Made on Earth: On the Applicability of Mathematics in Physics” shows how phenomenology can provide a response to Wigner’s puzzle, “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” by moving on from why-questions to how-questions. The puzzle arises from a rejection of Pythagorean mathematical monism towards which the phenomenologist is officially neutral, due to the epochē, setting aside why-questions altogether. To answer the how-questions, the phenomenologist must also provide both synchronic and diachronic accounts of how we apply mathematics. The authors explicate constitution and replacement. They show what is meant by the horizon of experience, all the non-actual aspects of some experience which frame one’s interpretation of it, one’s anticipations. From this constitution is explicated:

It is this process of intending objects through specific noemata and then constantly projecting new sensory data against horizons of possible further experiences that phenomenologists call constitution. Of particular importance in this context are those aspects of experience that remain invariant… (169)

From these invariances of the noemata, lawlike relations are found and suitably objective properties can be described of the noema. This structure generalizes to scientific constitution from the example of perceptual constitution. Aiming to intend all of reality through mathematical noemata is Galileo’s great leap forward. Doing so is to replace the lifeworld with the scientific image. Nature is mathematical because we have made it so. While I am largely sympathetic with this approach, and hold that it contributes to a structuralist view that is worth developing, to satisfy mysterions like Wigner specific accounts of such constitution is needed.

Thomas Ryckman’s essay, “The Gauge Principle, Hermann Weyl, and Symbolic Constructions from the ‘Purely Infinitesimal’,” provides a mini-history of Weyl’s development of the gauge principle (a fuller history in Ryckman 2005), in which Weyl is motivated to investigate Lie groups and algebras by phenomenology on the one hand and Naturwirkungphysik on the other.  Naturwirkungphysik is a standard explanation, “that all finite changes are to be comprehended as arising through infinitesimal increments” (182). In practice this is to take locally defined tangent spaces to be explanatorily fundamental. For Weyl, this standard of locality is justified by appeal to not just phenomenological epistemology, that direct givenness to the ego is the ground of all essential insight into the structure of things, and this givenness is attenuated at spatial distance, but to full blown transcendental idealism:

insofar as symbolic construction of the “objective reality” of the purportedly mind-independent objects of physics is, per Husserl, a constitution of the sense of such objects as having “the sense of existing in themselves” (184-5).

Just as the previous essay establishes, the objects of mathematical physics are constructions which intend transcendent objects. However these objects are only fixed up to an isomorphism, any further “essence” is beyond cognitive grasp and therefore unreal (188). Ryckmann provides an able and clear derivation of the gauge principle in QED and a quick rundown of how this generalizes in the Standard Model. While this is a valuable contribution to the collection, those familiar with Ryckman’s past work will wish that the closing remarks regarding the standard model and the Weyl-Nozickean (2001) slogan, “objectivity is invariance,” were expanded upon. I look forward to further development of the alternative view implied by Ryckman’s interpretational challenge this slogan, which centers locality as the source of gauge transformations (199).

Part 3: Phenomenological Approaches to the Measurement Problem

Steven French’s “From a Lost History to a New Future: Is a Phenomenological Approach to Quantum Physics Viable?” does well to show that the phenomenological background of Fritz London was deeply influential on his approach to the measurement problem (with Bauer) and that this influence has been covered over by misinterpretation. The measurement problem is essentially the apparent inconsistency of deterministic dynamics of quantum mechanics and the collapse of the wave function. London and Bauer have been taken to merely restate von Neumann’s notorious solution, that the uniqueness of the interaction of the system with a conscious observer explains how and when the “collapse” occurs. French shows this picture presented by Wigner, which fell to the criticism of Shimony and Putnam, to be a straw man. French argues that London and Bauer’s phenomenological account of quantum measurement can stand up to such criticisms and for London.  Quantum mechanics presupposes a theory of knowledge, a relation between observer and object “quite different from that implicit in naive realism” (211). Measurement, considered subjectively, is distinguishable from the unitary evolution of the quantum state by introspection giving the observer the “right to create his own objectivity” (212). This is not some (pseudo-)causal mind-world interaction that creates a collapse but rather a precondition for the quantum system to be treated objectively and by a different mathematical function, the precondition being a reflective act of consciousness in which the ego-pole and object-pole of experience are distinguished, not a substantial dualism, “thereby cutting the ‘chain of statistical correlations’” (212-3). The discussion that follows, while suggestive, shows that it is not clear how this general phenomenological view about the nature of objectivity is supposed to remove the particular quantum measurement problem. Whether this is the fault of French or of London and Bauer is unclear; the most direct quotation from London and Bauer suggests that this distinction of the ego and the object somehow licenses the transition from representing the measurement situation by the wave function, ψ, to representing the system as in a particular eigenstate. This is much too oblique, given that the nature of such fundamental acts of consciousness is, even to the phenomenological initiate, obscure, and requires some substantive claims about the determinate nature of consciousness. French too must find the explanation as given by London and Bauer incomplete as he invokes decoherence, decision theory, and the “relational” interpretation as elements of a fuller story, presenting something, protestations aside, very close to Everettianism indeed. If such a distinctive and useful interpretation can be fleshed out on phenomenological grounds, it would be the most direct and substantive proof of the progressive nature of a phenomenological programme.

Michel Bitbol’s “A Phenomenological Ontology for Physics: Merleau-Ponty and QBism” is another breath of fresh air in the collection, exploring a phenomenological approach other than Husserl’s. Taking the primacy of lifeworld and Bohr’s challenge to traditional scientific epistemology as starting points, the essay sets up correspondence between Fuch’s participatory realism and Merleau-Ponty’s endo-ontology. More generally Bitbol takes recent developments in the philosophy of quantum mechanics, like Peres’ no-interpretation and Zeillinger’s information-theoretic approach, to “all seem to be pointing in the same direction,” in line with the phenomenological approach to the sciences as tools for navigation in the world. These are the pragmatists, as distinguished from the interpreters. Bitbol goes on to describe how the anti-interpretational approach is phenomenological by establishing an epochē for quantum physics. Rather than understand the states of quantum systems in a Hilbert space as properly predicative, we bracket any ontological posit and treat these states functionally as informational bridges between the preparation and outcome of experiments. Bitbol then considers a question a level up:

[W]hat should the world be like in order to display such resistance to being represented as an object of thought? Answering this question would be tantamount to formulating a new kind of ontology, a non-object-based ontology, an ontology of what cannot be represented as an object external to the representation itself (233).

For Merleau-Ponty (and Michel Henry), the non-objectual ontology is provided by the priority of the body and raw, original experience.

This is an ontology of radical situatedness: an ontology in which we are not onlookers of a nature given out there, but rather intimately intermingled with nature, somewhere in the midst of it… we cannot be construed as point-like spectators of what is manifest; instead, we are a field of experiences that merges with what appears in a certain region of it. This endo-ontology is therefore an ontology of the participant in Being, rather than an ontology of the observer of beings (236).

Here the central self-consciousness of transcendental idealism becomes self-perception of the body. In physics, this is translated into a participatory realism, wherein the observer is involved in the creation of Being.  Merleau-Ponty’s own statement of the relationship between his phenomenology of embodiment and physics starts from the observation that physics always attempts to take in the subjective as a part of or a special case of the objective. This is something of a category error, and in quantum mechanics it seems that there is a concrete proof of the impossibility of eliminating the subjective, or better yet shows that the objective-subjective distinction is not well formed. These are interesting points and one wishes that Bitbol (and Merleau-Ponty himself) would have spelled out this metaphysical picture in more detail. While the correspondence with QBism seems somewhat plausible, it is not shown that either view commits one to the other or that this endo-ontology provides an advance on the anti-metaphysical orientation of the QBist. The remarks regarding probability are paltry and given the significance of probabilities in quantum mechanics, a full account of it is necessary if there is to be much uptake—the primary limitation here seems to be that Merleau-Ponty did not get to consider this matter much prior to his death.

In contrast, “QBism from a Phenomenomenological Point of View: Husserl and QBism” by Laura de La Tremblaye is one of the fullest contributions in the collection. This essay serves as an able introduction to non-denomenational QBism, presented as a generalization of probability theory and cataloged as a participatory realist, -epistemic “interpretation” of quantum mechanics. QBism “stands out as an exception” (246) in this category because it focuses on belief, adding the Born Rule as an extra, normative rule in Bayesianism (the axiomatization is not explicitly shown). QBism removes the ontological significance of the collapse of the wave function, the state description and reality are decoupled, the collapse is a statement of some (ideal) agent’s belief state. Accordingly, “knowledge” yielded by measurements is redefined as information about the system that is accepted via measurement (250). While the probabilities assigned are subjective, the updating rules are objective.

It is no trivial task to draw a clear line between the subjective and the objective aspects of the Born rule… Fuchs and Schack invoke a completely new form of intersubjectivity. It is through the use of Bayesian probabilities that the multiplicity of subjectivities elaborates a reasoning that can be shared by everyone, and that, consequently, can be called “objective” in precisely this limited sense… this leads to the new conception of knowledge: knowledge is no longer understood in terms of an objectively true description of the intrinsic properties of the world; it is rather understood as the kind of knowledge that is needed to guide the future research of any agent, thus implying a weaker form of objectivity (251).

For Fuchs, the measuring device is analogous to a sensory organ, measurement  is an experience. This leads de La Tremblaye to consider two notions of experience, one from Husserl, the other from William James, who influenced Chris Fuchs. de La Tremblaye argues that it is Husserl’s model of experience as involving a normative, intentional horizonal structure, that better coheres with the Qbist view. This shows a positive contribution phenomenology may offer to QBism: an explanation of the source of the Born Rule’s normativity. Another would be an adequate explanation of how it is that the rules of Bayesian probability can be objective via the intersubjective constitution of objectivity essential to Husserl’s model of the sciences.

In sum: this collection is promising though deficient in some respects. It will provide a number of starting points for a further development of a phenomenology of physics and provides the curious or sympathetic philosopher of physics something to chew on, but it is not a full meal. Many of the contributions would do well as additions to a graduate seminar or undergraduate course on phenomenology or the philosophy of science, with the materials on quantum mechanics showing the most potential for further development.[1]

References

Heelan, P. A. 1987. “Husserl’s Later Philosophy of Natural Science.” Philosophy of Science 54 (3): 368-390.

Heidegger, Martin. 1977/1993. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Basic Writings, David F. Krell (ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

———. 1962. Being and Time. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (trans.). New York: Harper and  Row.

Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. et al. 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nozick, R. 2001. Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ryckman, T. 2005. The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


[1]    Thanks to Porter Williams for reading the collection with me and sharing his thoughts with me, which allowed me to sharpen my own.

Hagi Kenaan: Photography and Its Shadow

Photography and Its Shadow Couverture du livre Photography and Its Shadow
Hagi Kenaan
Stanford University Press
2020
Paperback $24.00
248

Reviewed by: Arthur Cools (University of Antwerp)

In Photography and its Shadow, Hagi Kenaan addresses the medium specificity of the photographic image, particularly the transformation of the image experience due to the invention of this medium. It is not his first publication to reveal his interest in and critical confrontation with the dominance of the visual in contemporary culture. In his book on the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, The Ethics of Visuality. Levinas and the Contemporary Gaze (Tauris, 2013), Kenaan stated that “[s]omething has happened to our gaze. The experience of seeing has changed. The visual field has undergone a radical transformation” (xiv). In this study, he scrutinized the limits of contemporary visuality, which attracts the gaze “into the constant flickering of images, large and small screens, at every angle, at every moment, in every possible size, always in plural” (xii). Contrasting the visuality of the image with Levinas’s phenomenological description of the appearance of the face of the other person, he explored the possibility of the emergence of what he called the “reflexive gaze,” a visual field that appears to be oriented (in the strong sense of the word “orientation,” as being essential to what appears) and that as such opens up an ethical domain.

In his new book, Photography and its Shadow, it may appear that Kenaan is leaving behind the Levinasian optics of ethics as first philosophy, were it not the case that the title of this publication reminds us of an early article on art by Levinas entitled “Reality and Its Shadow” (1948). While in this article Levinas does not consider the emergence of the photographic medium, and Kenaan in his new book does not pay particular attention to Levinas’s treatment of the artwork and artistic visuality, the notion of the shadow reveals the legacy of the latter in Kenaan’s approach to photography. This legacy is manifest at different levels: the understanding of the image as a shadow; the reflection on the kind of connections between reality and shadows; the examination of the appearance of shadows in the general economy of being; the definition of the shadow as a double of reality, which fixes the momentary or, as Levinas formulates it, which “transform[s] time into images” (Levinas 1948, 139);[1] and as a “fixed shadow” (Kenaan 2020, 6), a “shadow [that] is immobilized” (Levinas 1948, 141). Significantly, it is Levinas who, at the end of his article, brings the creation of the artistic image since the Renaissance into the horizon of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, or what he calls “the alleged death of God” (Levinas 1948, 143). It is this same Nietzschean horizon that gives a decisive twist to Kenaan’s approach to photography, as becomes manifest in the third part of the book, entitled “Photography and the Death of God,” where he writes: “The proclamation of God’s death by Nietzsche’s madman was the point of departure for our study of photography. Photography emerges with the death of God, a condition that calls for a new way of orienting humans within an indifferent (homogeneous, meaningless, nihilistic) space” (Kenaan 2020, 159).

Let us consider this central claim of the book, through which Kenaan intends not only to describe the transformation of the visuality of the image by the photographic medium, but also to understand this transformation in light of a more encompassing historical transformation of Western culture as a whole in the 19th century and its aftermath, which Nietzsche labeled the death of God. This connection with a broader cultural field of investigation provokes a certain analytic complexity. The approach is first of all phenomenological in that the author describes the specificity of the visual experience of the photographic image on the basis of many concrete examples. This phenomenological approach is complemented by a strong historical interest, with the author returning to the beginnings of photography and providing a detailed description of the different techniques from which photography – as a practice (as a guideline for ‘taking’ pictures) and as a new theory of the image (as an image of nature, made by nature, not created by the artist’s hand) – emerges in the 19th century. However, the methodology is intended to be “ultimately ontological rather than historical” (9), in the Heideggerian sense of the word, namely in the sense that, as the author formulates it in the opening lines of his book, “[p]hotography has become an intrinsic condition of the human” (2) and this condition is both “existential” (i.e., photography has become part of ordinary experience) and transformative (i.e., this condition indicates an ontological shift in our understanding of the world and ourselves).

The central claim of the book is thus ontological, with the Nietzschean theme of the death of God not mentioned merely to establish a contextual and/or epochal connection with the appearance of the photographic image in modern culture, but in order to define the ontological transformation that manifests itself in and through the visuality of the photographic medium. This transformation, understood in its ontological dimension, is not limited to the photographic medium or to the question of what an image is, but more radically concerns the experience of seeing, the visibility of world, the meaning of existence. Kenaan is certainly not the first to draw particular attention to the transformation of the image experience and of visual perception through the invention of the photograph, but his departure point of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God within the framework of a Heideggerian understanding of ontology creates a new, intriguing perspective. How is this theme at work in Kenaan’s approach to photography?

In fact, the theme of the death of God brings together different lines of argumentation and it is the combination and consequent elaboration of these lines that constitutes the book’s originality, as well as its complexity. The first – and most familiar – of these argumentative threads consists in pointing to a reversal of Platonism with regard to the image experience. Here, Kenaan joins “an anti-Platonic approach” characteristic of theories of the image in the late 20th century. This approach no longer takes the image to be a copy or a representation but “is aware of the need to articulate a modality of presence that belongs to images qua images (and not as objects or functions)” (102). Maurice Merleau-Ponty already announced this new direction of thought in Eye and Mind when he wrote: “The word ‘image’ is in bad repute because we have thoughtlessly believed that a drawing was a tracing, a copy, a second thing.”[2] However, considering the reversal of Platonism as an intrinsic condition of the invention of the photographic image, Kenaan not only dates the event of this reversal more than a hundred years earlier (even prior to Nietzsche’s birth), disconnecting it from the debate about the developments of modernism in painting, but also points to a naturalistic basis and proposes a new, more precise interpretation of the reversal of Platonism with regard to the image experience. The invention of photography presupposes that the appearance of the image is no longer related to the divine or to the ideal forms, as is the case in Platonism, but to the mere physical laws of (breaking) light rays and (fixing) shadows. It is the possibility of seeing in mechanically fixed shadows the appearance of an image which defines the reversal of Platonism. In photography, the relation between image and shadow is reversed and this reversal implies a completely different ontological understanding of what a shadow and an image are.

Kenaan retraces this new relation between image and shadow in the writings of William Henry Fox Talbot, the author of The Pencil of Nature (1844), who described the invention of photography as the art of “photogenic drawing.” Talbot’s descriptions of his photographic experiments, which he initially called skiagraphy, “shadow drawing” or “shadow writing” (117), reveal that the invention of photography coincided with the discovery of the shadow as a transcendental condition for the photographic image and as an intrinsic part of the visibility of nature. In this regard, Talbot liberates the shadow from the binary opposition between being and appearance that determines Plato’s ontology. In a Platonic framework, shadow and image belong to the realm of appearance; they are both dependent on the presence of the real (being), and they are in this sense secondary. Moreover, the relation between the two is one of identity: the shadow, as projection of a material object, is defined as an image (eidolon) of that object, and the image, considered as the visual appearance of the idea (the original presence of the real), is defined as a shadow projected by that idea. Talbot discovers in his experiments with light rays that shadows have their own unique mode of appearance and that this mode of appearance is given in nature. The shadow belongs to the way in which nature unfolds its visibility. The shadow therefore cannot be reduced to the binary logic of object and copy, being and appearance. It is not in itself already an image, but the photographic image depends on it; depends on the possibility of “capturing,” “controlling” and “fixing” the shadow event projected by light rays. On the basis of his readings of Talbot, Kenaan describes the appearance of the shadow as an “in-between.” It both belongs to nature and transcends nature, it is part of nature’s visibility and it reproduces this visibility, it is not itself an image but it provides the ground for a potential image: “the shadow manifests a doubling of nature that belongs to the very order of nature itself” (135). In this sense, he makes plausible the continuum thesis that defends a causal continuity between shadow and image; between nature’s visibility and the image’s visuality. In this sense, the appearance of the photographic image has its origin in nature.

A second line of argumentation is construed around another aspect of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, namely the belatedness of the effects of this event. In Nietzsche’s narrative, the event of the death of God is not yet recognized, its meaning remains concealed and its consequences are simply denied. In this sense, the death of God casts a shadow, the extent of which is still undefined. In a similar way, Kenaan argues that the invention of photography, which is based on the discovery of the shadow in nature’s visibility, conceals its origin and confounds its meaning. He speaks of a “betrayal” (136). The second part of the book, “The Butades complex,” reveals the mechanism of this betrayal: photography, in its attempt to distinguish itself from the traditional concept of image creation as an act of drawing, defines itself within the limits of the idea of drawing. Butades, the myth of the Corinthian maid who traces the shade of her departing lover, plays an important historical role in this context. According to Pliny, who was the first to mention this story in his Natural History, “the drawing of pictures began with ‘tracing an outline round a man’s shadow’” (58). Between 1770 and 1820, in the wake of romantic classicism, this story was very popular in the visual arts as a pictorial theme about the origin of painting and of art in general. At the beginning of the 19th century, it delivered the main narrative frame for understanding the invention of photography and presenting the photographic image to the public: “‘The legend’s popularity in the eighteenth-century British visual culture, […], did not coincidently anticipate the dawn of a new relationship between image, object, and beholder that was photographic. Rather, it virtually establishes this relationship by setting the terms in advance by which photography would be discovered, understood, and assimilated’” (61). Kenaan quotes here the study by Ann Bermingham, “The Origins of Painting and the Ends of Arts: Wright of Derby’s Corinthian Myth (1782-1785).”

Relying on this narrative, however, it is clear that photography betrays its own newness. To make a photograph is not an act of drawing – the latter is created by the drafter’s hand, the former implies a mechanical process. Moreover, the shadow in the myth of Butades is defined as the picture of the beloved one. The myth relates the act of drawing to the amorous desire of keeping present an original presence even when this presence has gone, disappeared or died. The betrayal of photography’s newness implies thus a denial of what the invention of photography discovered: the continuously moving, transforming and evanescent appearance of shadows in nature’s visibility. Shadows, experienced as intrinsic to nature’s visibility, are not fixed and do not depict an original presence. Therefore, the idea of taking a picture, formulated to promote the camera as a technical means and photography as each individual’s way of keeping present whatever they want, is misleading: it conceals the mechanical process that is the birthmark of the photographic image, it misunderstands the outcome of this process as the visual depiction of an original experience, and it turns nature and world into a vast repository of photographic images.

A third line of argumentation deals with Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Nietzsche formulated this idea in his early writings in an epistemic context, namely as a criticism of the defenders of an all-encompassing theoretical access to the objectivity of reality. Perspectivism holds that a view from nowhere is not possible: knowledge of the real is not given independently of a point of view. The connection with the later theme of the death of God is obvious: “Perspectivism is primarily a way of acknowledging the disintegration of an all-encompassing structure of legibility, the loss of coordinates to orient man’s place in the universe. The collapse of an overarching, super-sensible principle that upholds human meaning and value is what Nietzsche understands as the ‘death of God’” (159). It is Kenaan’s contention that the invention of photography has opened the possibility of an infinity of perspectives: “The idea of an infinite plurality of perspectives is part of its inner logic. […] photography’s space consists of an indefinite multitude, a plurality of viewpoints that refuse to coalesce” (157). The introduction of the photographic apparatus detaches vision from the human eye and transforms the relationship between the visible and the visual: “photography’s visualization of the visible becomes, in principle, limitless” (154). This not only means beyond the limits of the human eye with regard to distance (too far or too close), time (too fast or too slow) or light sensitive (too bright or too dark), but also beyond the limits of the evanescent unfolding of nature’s visibility: “Every visibility is a potential photograph that can be taken from an infinite variety of perspectives.” In this regard, the photographic visualization has the potential of achieving “full domination of the visible.”

Anti-Platonism, denial of its own origin, and perspectivism: it is through these three conceptual frames that the major Nietzschean theme of the death of God functions as a heuristic and organizational device in Kenaan’s approach to photography. As a consequence, the appearance of the photographic image is presented as a kind of epochal transformation within the human condition. Ontologically speaking, this transformation can be articulated in at least three different ways: 1. a subversion of the Platonic opposition between being and appearing, including the ontological upgrading of the presence sui generis of the shadow; 2. the concealment of the mechanical nature of the photographic image and therefore the concealment of its emptiness and arbitrariness; 3. and finally, the submission of the embodied visual appearance to the limitless visibility of the photographic image, and hence the collapse and fragmentation of all meaning and values given within the visual field of human experience.

The outcome of this examination of the photographic image is challenging and at the same time disturbing because of its general, encompassing and nihilistic claim that the rise of the photographic image is based on the breakdown of all human meaning and value as given with the embodied condition of visibility. Moreover, according to Kenaan, this “ultimate breakdown of human meaning” (178) defines photography’s visual dominance today, despite its efforts to conceal it: “The visible thereby becomes a homogeneous expanded space of inhuman eyes, identical units, each of which can record an infinite number of views that are all equally set to provide sequences of representation. In such a space (the term ‘world’ no longer applies here) each and every point is a place mark for potential views” (170). Here, it becomes clear that the Nietzschean theme of the death of God not only functions as a heuristic device to analyze photography’s specific transformational power regarding embodied visible perception but also that the visual specificity of the photographic image is intended to concretize and to visualize the abyssal implications of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God: the appearance of a limitless shattered space of the visible without coherence and orientation, disconnected from the human body and indifferent with regard to the human world.

It thus seems that, in bringing Talbot’s invention of photography and the Nietzschean theme of the death of God into the same field of reflection, Kenaan first of all intends to say something about our contemporary culture, which has predominantly become a visual culture, and in which he has detected in his other book, The Ethics of Visuality, “a pathology” (xviii) of the gaze. The outcome of the examination in Photography and its Shadow seems therefore to confirm and to legitimize the starting point of this other book in the examination of another approach to vision, inspired by the philosophy of Levinas, that breaks with the limitless fragmentation of the visual without meaning: “the eye is flooded with images, swamped yet driven by a chronic hunger – rather than a desire – that does not seek meaning in the visual, only stimulation” (xv). However, returning to the mechanical roots of the photographic image, one may wonder what the theme of the death of God precisely adds to the analysis of the visual experience of the photographic image and whether the generalization it implies does not distort the specificity of this experience.

Considering the birthmark of the photographic image, Kenaan does not distinguish between the many different kinds, such as the digital and the analogical, the virtual and the real, the moving image and the snapshot, the simulation and the video game, the publicity poster and the family photobook, the visual artwork and scientific image production, or the passport photograph and the selfie on Instagram. The photographic image is considered a pars pro toto, and the original condition of a general transformation of visibility in contemporary culture. However, the problem with this generalization is not only that images have different meanings according to their various functions in contemporary society, but also that we are aware of these meanings and their differences and, accordingly, have different image experiences. The generalization implied by the Nietzschean theme of the death of God does not allow for an examination of these differences and, in a certain way, hinders access to such an analysis. Even if familiarity with the photographic image “[i]n our age of satellites, drones, Google Glass, and GoPro” makes it possible to bring randomized visible objects into one sentence, such as “the red spot on a seagull’s bulk, a particle of food processed in the digestive system, a cookie crumb on the desk of an administration, the tip of an iceberg melting in the Arctic, a dead fish in an oil spill in the ocean, the bronze hand of an ancient god at the bottom of the sea” (170-1), among many others, the meaninglessness of this collection of fragmented objects does not replace or obliterate the possibility of meaning recognition in each of these photographs. The latter is in fact dependent on the here and now of the single image experience, whereas the former requires abstraction from it.

Here, we touch on and are confronted with the basic ontological assumption of Kenaan’s approach, which we mentioned at the beginning and that Kenaan reformulates in his debate with Roland Barthes as: “[O]ntology teaches us to see the photographic as an Existential” (104). This means, according to Kenaan, that the task of ontology is “to open photography to the way in which its presence can be seen as a branch of being” and not, as is the case in Barthes’s view, to seek to define the essential features of the photographic image. The notion of “existential” is introduced to describe photography as a way of being (a way of understanding world and oneself) and not as a distinctive category of image experience. “Existential” is the term that Heidegger explicitly used to describe the existentiality of existence ontologically (cf. Being and Time §9). However, “existence” is the term he coins (against the metaphysical tradition, which defines existence in relation to a given essence) to address the question of the ecstatic openness to being, which distinguishes the manner of being of the human being. Moreover, this openness is only possible from a “being there” (Dasein), a situated being-in-the-world, or human being’s facticity. To understand the photographic as an “existential” thus implies a description of the photographic as one way of being of this facticity (among other ways of being, such as being mine, being-with, being born, being understanding, being caring, being anguished, being towards death, etc.). In other words, even if it is factually true that the mechanical condition of the birth of the photographic image (the invention of the camera) provokes a visibility disconnected from the human eye, it is still necessary to relate this visibility to human being’s facticity in order to be able to understand the photographic ontologically as an “existential.”

This ontological orientation indisputably constitutes the originality of Kenaan’s approach. It enables him to interpret the appearance of photographic visibility as an epochal transformation of being-in-the-world. Yet, it might be that the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, although explicitly intended to examine this transformation as epochal, is not sufficiently specific with regard to photographic visibility understood as an “existential.” In particular, it lacks the tools to describe the openness to being as related to this visibility. Nor are the naturalistic descriptions of Talbot’s experiments of (fixing) shadows able to address this. The natural effects of breaking light rays do not say anything about the existentiality of the human being, which seeks to capture and to understand these effects. What turns these natural effects into a new kind of visibility, the visibility of the photographic image, presupposes human being’s openness to being. Photographic visibility is a visibility with regard to the human condition. If this visibility thus constitutes an epochal transformation, as is the central claim of Kenaan’s approach, it should be possible to describe this transformation in terms of how the relation to being is concerned with the specific visibility of the photographic image. Kenaan leads the reflection in that direction but changes course by stating that the camera’s visibility is disconnected from the human body and interpreting this disconnectedness in line with Nietzsche’s perspectivism as a limitless plurality of views.

That the camera provokes a visibility disconnected from the human body is, however, itself visible in the photographic image. This kind of being visible is called “framing”: the photographic image reveals the visual appearance of a framing of the visible. Kenaan indeed mentions and explores the nature of this framing, especially in the experiments by and the examples related to Talbot, but he omits to analyze and describe the appearance of this framing as an “existential,” that is, as an appearance that delineates human being’s openness to being. It is not argued how and to what extent the Nietzschean theme of the death of God could be interpreted as the expression of the visual appearance of a framing. However, it is not difficult to point to some ontological implications that result from the framing of the visible.

The visual appearance of a framing implies first of all a re-organization of the relation between the visible and the invisible. In the field of an embodied perception, the invisible is intrinsic to that perception as what cannot be seen: either because it does not belong to the visible (but to another sense, e.g., it can be smelled), or because it is part of the other side of the perceived objects that we cannot see from our embodied perspective but only in moving our body around that object (what Husserl calls “adumbrations”). In neither case does the invisible limit or contradict the fullness of the embodied visual perception. However, this is different in the visual appearance of a framing. Here, the invisible is essential in at least two ways. The photographic image is itself cut out, extracted from or selected in a field of visibility that encompasses the framing. The invisible is also present within the framing as something that appears as not yet fully visible, still arising, happening. If it is the case that the photographic image catches and attracts the human gaze and is able, as Kenaan contends, to dominate the visible, then it is only because and on the basis of these two ways that invisibility limits its visuality. This means that the visual experience of the photographic image is not without a relation to what exceeds the visibility of the frame and is not without a certain organization of the frame.

Moreover, the visual appearance of a framing – whether or not fixed by the mechanism of the camera – presupposes the recognition of a frame. In fact, Talbot’s experiments showed this very well: he delineates and sets up a frame each time to be able to study the effects of light rays and precisely this experimental method makes it possible to recognize the effects of framing in natural processes of light rays. Interesting cases such as trompe l’oeil (and, by extension, immersive) experiments demonstrate that there is no visual experience of a framing without the recognition of the frame. In this regard, the visual appearance of a framing still refers to and depends on the condition of the human body in two ways: in order to be recognizable, it is necessary that the frame is adapted either to the visual apparatus of the human body (i.e., it remains within the limits of the human eye’s capabilities and expectations) or to its cognitive apparatus (i.e., it corresponds to a conceptual modelling). The fact that mechanical or digital production of visual fragments is limitless – like a camera out of control that cannot stop taking pictures of the same object whatever the picture resolution may be – is completely irrelevant without a reference to the human body in one of these two ways. This means that the mere fact of being framed does not fix or define the meaning of the visual appearance of the framed fragment. Or, to put it in an “existential” way: the visual appearance delineated by the photographic image cannot undo, replace or supplement human being’s openness to being.

Finally, as Kenaan amply demonstrates in his examination of the historical development and interpretations of the photographic image, each particular framing appears to be historical: it exposes and is the expression of human being’s situated being. The historical leaves a trace in the visual appearance of the framed that the frame cannot erase.  Without this trace of the historical, Barthes’s discourse on  the punctum of the individual photograph, to which Kenaan refers, and also his own discourse on “[p]hotography’s goodbyes,” which he calls “the book’s subject” (51), would not make sense. Yet, to say goodbye is not necessarily the appropriate response to photographs. In some photographs, the trace of the historical relates to the singularity of the here and now of the framing event as being intrinsic to the meaning of the photograph. This is especially the case for documentary photographs that record events from the perspective of the witness, that is, from the perspective of a here and now, the meaning of which the photographer is witnessing. In these cases, the frame of the photograph is explicitly used to reveal and express something about the meaning of the historical and hence about the meaning of human being’s facticity. This means that, however fragmented its visual appearance may be, the photographic image can contribute to making sense of being-in-the-world and to witnessing the values we live by.

As these remarks make clear, Kenaan’s approach is original and inspiring because it analyzes the photographic image as an “existential” and not just as a distinctive category of the image. It consequently shows the relevance of situating the visuality of the photographic image in a broader cultural, epochal transformation of visual experience. Establishing different and intriguing connections with the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, it sheds a new light on the origins of the photographic image and its effects on the visible. In this way, it contributes to a re-examination of the visual experience of framing in its relation to the human condition.


[1] All references to this article are quoted from Emmanuel Levinas, The Levinas Reader, edited by Seán Hand, Basil Blackwell, 1989.

[2] Quoted from Mauro Carbone, The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema. New York, Suny Press, 2015, 2. Mauro Carbone pointed to this “form of reversal of ‘Platonism’” that “develop[s] the premises affirmed by Nietzsche’s philosophy and explored by modern art” (Ibid.) in the work of Merleau-Ponty.

Fredrik Westerlund: Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena

Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena Couverture du livre Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena
Fredrik Westerlund
Bloomsbury Academic
2020
Hardback $62.10
288

Reviewed by: Michael Mosely (University of Sydney)

In Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena, Fredrik Westerlund characterises Heidegger’s thinking from the time of his early Freiburg lecture courses, up until his late writings of the 1960s, as a struggle to understand the question of phenomena and the inherently related question of phenomenology. For Westerlund, the question of phenomena is an enquiry into what it means for anything to come to, or give itself, in meaningful appearance, and the question of phenomenology is an enquiry into what it means to explain and articulate how our experience of phenomena is structured.

Westerlund calls attention to the fact that there are two schools of thought on the question of phenomena/phenomenology in Heidegger scholarship. A transcendental, phenomenological reading and a historical, hermeneutic reading. In the former, Heidegger, although critical of Husserl, is nevertheless understood to be essentially offering an elaboration of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. This reading claims that Heidegger remains committed to the notion that it is possible to uncover the structures of our experience that allow phenomena to be meaningful through direct intuitive reflection. In the latter reading this notion is rejected because the historical contexts of meaning in which we find ourselves predetermine our experience of phenomena. For this reason, this reading holds that phenomenology must proceed through hermeneutic reflection on our current, historical context of meaning, or by “tracing and answering to the groundless differential logic at the basis of every historical formation of meaning” (5).

For Westerlund, these two opposed interpretations reflect a tension at the heart of Heidegger’s thinking. While Heidegger repudiates the possibility of phenomenologically direct reflections on the structures of experience on the basis of the radically historical foundation of our meaningful experience, in practice, much of Heidegger’s writings consist of phenomenologically direct reflections. Thus, rather than side with either interpretation, Westerlund sets out to attend to and explore the effects of this tension throughout Heidegger’s writings. This task is undertaken in Parts 1–3 of the book. Yet Westerlund does not only offer an exegesis of Heidegger but also a critical and systematic reading. The contradictions and blindspots of Heidegger’s claims are laid bare throughout the book and in the fourth and final part, the Epilogue, Westerlund offers a more extended critique. Here Westerlund argues that, contra Heidegger, it is our first-person experience that provides direct access to phenomena beyond their historical determination and that as such we are essentially open to the call of the other as someone to love and care for, which is a source of moral meaning not confined to a historical context .

The first part of Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena contains three chapters and aims to show that in Heidegger’s earliest Freiburg lecture courses his philosophy is essentially a critical appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology in that Heidegger’s thinking proceeds through “intuitive reflection on the essential structures of our first-person experiences” (15). Westerlund begins this task in Chapter One by giving a brief introduction to Husserl’s understanding of the problem of phenomena. In Westerlund’s account of Husserl’s phenomenology, the meaning of things and the structure of experience cannot be explained by reference to any ground of knowledge other than phenomenal self-presentation. The task of phenomenology is to turn our gaze away from the objects that we focus on in the natural attitude and examine experience as it is given in consciousness. Specifically, Husserl is held to seek to determine the essential structures of experience, such as how when we see one side of an object we nevertheless move within the horizon of possible perceptions of its other sides.

Following his discussion of Husserl’s phenomenology, Westerlund provides an exposition of the conception of philosophy put forth by Heidegger in his early Freiburg lecture courses as a primordial science of life. He shows that, for Heidegger, our primary experience of the world is our encounter with the pretheoretical significances of things. Highlighting Heidegger’s questioning of the given in his 1919 war emergency semester course, Westerlund explains that the domain of pretheoretical givenness is, for Heidegger, “nothing less than the basic domain of given meaningful being” (23). Subsequently Westerlund outlines Heidegger’s criticism of theoretical philosophy for its failure to recognise the primacy of pretheoretical experience, as well as Heidegger’s criticism of Husserl specifically for his remaining within the theoretical attitude of philosophy his and attempt to ground pretheoretical significance theoretically. Westerlund concludes the chapter by assessing Heidegger’s critique of Husserl and he argues that while Husserl’s focus on the comprehension of objects through perception leaves the connection between existentially and practically concerned experience unclarified, this does not diminish the capability for intuitive reflection on the structures of experience to uncover truths about our experience of phenomena.

In Chapter Two Westerlund outlines how Heidegger understands phenomenology and the structure of phenomena explicitly, with the aim of showing that Heidegger’s philosophy is, in 1919 and 1920, a critical appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology. He shows that Heidegger’s phenomenology can be characterised as proceeding through intuitive seeing during this period by drawing attention to Heidegger’s account of the kind of experience of a Senegalese tribesman would have if transported to the lecture hall in Freiburg. Heidegger states here explicitly that the Senegalese’s experience of equipmental strangeness when looking at the lectern is identical with Heidegger’s own experience of the significance of the lectern as a place from which to lecture. Thus, Westerlund concludes, the aim of Heidegger’s phenomenological descriptions during this period is not to uncover the sense of a particular historical context but rather to use intuition to uncover the basic structure of pretheoretical life. Westerlund also shows that Heidegger’s phenomenology is reflective during this period. The description of the method of phenomenology Heidegger offers in his 1919–20 lecture course Basic Problems of Phenomenology begins with a going along with life without reflection, but ends with a leaping ahead into the horizons of experience and its motives, and an articulating of the structures of experience—that is, with reflection. Thus although Heidegger recognises during this period that historical concepts can distort phenomenologically intuitive seeing and reflection, and that we must therefore subject these concepts to critical destruction, this does not indicate that he has developed a historicist conception of phenomenology. Rather Heidegger’s phenomenology is Husserlian as he “both articulates and practices phenomenology as direct intuitive reflection on the constitutive structures of our experience” (48).

In Chapter Three Westerlund shows how the philosophy Heidegger develops in his early Freiburg lecture courses undermines itself with respect to its purpose. If, as Heidegger claims, our factical pretheoretical experience of phenomena is primary then what is left for philosophy to do? Westerlund highlights how Heidegger seems confused on this question, as he argues that philosophy is needed for a transparent enactment of life but also seems to suggest that the task of philosophy is only to remove theoretical abstraction so that we can live in unadulterated pretheroretical significance. For Westerlund, this problem can ultimately be traced to Heidegger’s desires to “critically regenerate…the age-old ambition of philosophy to explicate the basic sense of life and Being” as well as make philosophy relevant for “the challenge of facing and understanding the acute ethical-existential problems of our personal life” (54). At this early stage of Heidegger’s thinking, Heidegger cannot unite these two desires.

In Part Two Westerlund provides an account of Heidegger’s understanding of the question of phenomena/phenomenology in Being and Time (1927) and explains how Heidegger’s philosophy changed during the years intervening between his engagement with Aristotle’s De Anima in his 1921 summer semester seminar and the publication of his major work. In Chapter Four, Westerlund outlines how Heidegger’s historicist conception of phenomenology emerges. Heidegger’s engagement with Aristotle during the early 1920s is shown to be the occasion for the initial development of the historical as-structure, the notion that our pretheoretical experience of the world is determined by our prior understanding of the historical contexts of meaning in which we live. For Westerlund, Heidegger develops this notion through his interpretation of Aristotle’s concepts of phronēsis and nous. Phronēsis is understood as practical coping with the world that highlights the way that the significance of beings is founded on the basis of preceding concerns. Nous is the prior understanding that conditions our experience of beings; it is an understanding of eidē, of form, and additionally, an understanding of archai, the ultimate ‘from -out-of-which’ that determines the regions of Being from which different beings get their sense. Taken together, these concepts suggest to Heidegger that the significance of beings is determined by a historical as-structure or context of meaning.

Westerlund also in this chapter highlights Heidegger’s discovery of Aristotle’s privileging of sofia over phronsis, that is, the privileging of the pure perception of the eidē determining different beings. This privileging leads Aristotle to define Being as ousia, as constant presence, which determines the subsequent theoretical focus of philosophy. This discovery further suggests to Heidegger that phenomenology is fundamentally historical; if Being is determined historically then direct intuitive seeing is not possible. Rather it is necessary to undertake a hermeneutic destruction of the historical concepts latent in our tradition. Westerlund concludes the chapter with a lengthy exposition of Heidegger’s engagement with Husserl in Heidegger’s 1925 course and shows that Husserl’s categorial intuition, in its general form, becomes, for Heidegger, indicative of the way that our understanding of the world is guided by a pre-given historical context of meaning.

In the remaining chapters of Part Two Westerlund turns his attention to Being and Time. In Chapter 5 he considers the way that Heidegger’s elaboration of the ontological difference—the notion that our prior understanding of Being determines how beings appear—necessitates the enactment of fundamental ontology so that we might gain “clarity about ourselves and the world” (82). And he also outlines his problems with this view, namely, that our historically influenced understandings of the ontological structure of the world do not determine how we experience beings in a necessary manner. Westerlund additionally highlights the fact that the Heidegger’s project of fundamental ontology is not historical but seeks to determine the transhistorical structure of Dasein that constitutes the sense of Being itself. Chapter 6 contains Westerlund’s exposition of Heidegger’s account of Being-in-the-world. Here he highlights the way that our understanding of the historical world cannot be, for Heidegger, true or false. For Westerlund, this undermines the notion that it is necessary to distinguish between the historical prejudices of the They and a genuine understanding of phenomena, which he perceives as a significant problem. Chapter 7 treats this problem with reference to Heidegger’s concept of authenticity, which, for Westerlund, has a central role to play in Heidegger’s understanding of phenomena.

On Westerlund’s reading, Dasein is inherently challenged to acknowledge the utterly historically determined and therefore groundless nature of the possibilities it has available to choose for its identity. While inauthentic Dasein shirks this challenge and rather is guided by the They, to be authentic Dasein must meet this challenge. There is a problem with this notion, however. It does not seem possible for authentic historical possibilities to address Dasein as binding, as worth pursuing, without the binding character of these possibilities finding its source in the They. Westerlund identifies an oscillation between collectivism and subjectivism in Heidegger’s account of authenticity. It is collectivist in that it is the They that is the source of all ethical-existential normativity and it is subjectivist in that even if Dasein’s choosing itself apart from the They is possible, there is nothing to guide its choice other than “its own blind whims and impulses” (112). From this impasse Westerlund sees it as important to investigate into how life possibilities can appear as obligating at all and he argues that in Heidegger’s conception of both authentic and inauthentic Dasein, Dasein’s actions in life are motivated by a desire for social affirmation. Dasein seeks to live up to the collective values and norms of the They or those of the authentically chosen hero. This is problematic, for Westerlund, because it rules out the possibility of the ethical claim of the other. It is not possible, with this motivation, to care about the other as such, because all care is directed towards preventing the self from feeling the shame of failing to follow the norms that guide it. This problem is addressed at greater length in the Epilogue.

Chapter Eight, the final chapter of the second part, concerns Heidegger’s method in Being and Time. Westerlund opens this chapter by comparing and contrasting the interpretations of Heidegger’s method offered by Overgaard and Guignon. For Overgaard, the destruction is not a necessary part of fundamental ontology because the destruction itself presupposes an experience of Being that is phenomenologically basic—without this experience the historical senses of Being could not be identified as distortions. Guignon, on the other hand, hews closer to Heidegger’s actual comments in Being and Time that concern the necessity of the destruction for the retrieval and appropriation of Being. For Westerlund, like Overgaard, Heidegger does not follow through on his claim to be undertaking a hermeneutic-destructive mode of thinking and rather does presuppose that he is able to distinguish between our current prejudiced conception of Being and something more primordial. He highlights the fact that Heidegger’s existential analytic of Dasein is not an account of contemporary Dasein’s implicit, historical prior conceptions, but rather offers phenomenological descriptions of the basic structures of Dasein and its factical experience. Furthermore, it is the capacity of Heidegger’s descriptions to reveal truths about our day-today experience of the world, rather than their relation to the philosophical tradition, that gives them their validity. Thus direct, intuitive, phenomenological seeing remains a central feature of Heidegger’s method in Being and Time.

In the third part of Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena, Westerlund discusses Heidegger’s later philosophy, with chapters on the turn [Kehre], Ereignis as the opening of the world, and the method Heidegger’s late thinking. Westerlund seeks to show in this part that Heidegger’s phenomenological method becomes more historical after the publication of Being and Time. There is also a chapter on Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism in this part. Chapter Nine contains Westerlund’s interpretation of Heidegger’s turn, which he understands as Heidegger’s turn from phenomenology to historical reflection. To support this claim Westerlund examines Heidegger’s discussion, in his 1937–38 lecture course Basic Questions of Philosophy, of the inherent turning of the question of the essence of truth into the question of the truth of essence. For Westerlund, this ‘turning’ is the turning from Heidegger’s explication of the basic structures of Dasein, which are that through which beings become unconcealed (and are the essence of truth), so that true or false judgements might be expressed about them, to “a historical interrogation of the openness and givenness of historical being itself” (the truth of essence). Heidegger’s philosophy is no longer concerned in the mid 1930s with structure of phenomena or intuitive reflection on the structures of experience but rather seeks to determine the “phenomenality of Being” and proceeds through historical reflection (143).

It is therefore the turn that motivates Heidegger’s engagement with the history of philosophy in the mid 1930s and Westerlund demonstrates the historical character of Heidegger’s thinking by providing an account of Heidegger’s conception of the task of philosophy at this time. During this period of his thinking the history of philosophy is understood by Heidegger to have been determined by the Greek, metaphysical designation of Being as constant presence and to free ourselves from this understanding of Being it is necessary to return to the Greek beginning of philosophy in order to determine whether it contains a more primordial understanding of Being. Heidegger finds just such a primordial understanding in the pre-Socratic conception of Being as φύσις and in the Greek word for truth, ἀλήθεια. Together these terms reflect a view of Being as an event that is opened up.

In Chapter 10 Westerlund addresses Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism and offers a number of criticisms of Heidegger’s thinking. In the 1930s Heidegger no longer advocates becoming authentic but holds that it is necessary to open a binding historical world. Westerlund points out that as for Heidegger ontology has ultimate priority over ethics there is no check on the establishing of a new world that ignores the ethical claim of the other, such as the world that National Socialism wished to erect. Furthermore, Westerlund criticises Heidegger’s framing of his anti-semitism in ‘metaphysical’ terms. He shows that in Heidegger’s making use of many common anti-Semitic stereotypes, his position essentially becomes only a “philosophically inflated version of the kind of cultural racism that vilifies a certain culture or religion on the basis of crude and falsifying stereotypes” (149). Westerlund also sees in Heidegger’s Black Notebooks an additional problem for Heidegger scholarship, namely that they seriously displace our view of the ‘spirit’ of Heidegger’s thinking. In Heidegger’s utter failure to offer any remarks that reflect sympathy towards those who were subject to violence, persecution, and murder at the hands of the NSDAP, and in his explaining away of the events of the 1930s and 40s in being-historical terms, his philosophy appears abhorrent. If thinking the history of Being fully inures one to the ethical claim of the other in the manner it appears to have done to Heidegger, then there is little to recommend such a thinking.

In Chapter Eleven Westerlund returns to explicating the historical character of Heidegger’s philosophy with his account of Heidegger’s conception of art as that which opens a binding historical world. On Westerlund’s interpretation, the thinking of Being prepares the way for the poetry that opens the ‘holy’. Art in general, but poetry especially, is understood to reveal as important a set of highest values and ideals that are to guide our experience of phenomena and this is the opening of a binding historical world. Westerlund explains that art establishes a binding historical world through the openness of the poet or artist to the address of history “as our as yet undetermined manifold of being-possibilities” and the poet or artist’s subsequent gathering  of “this manifold into a unified and limited historical world” (171). This gathering and presenting additionally requires founding the world on what Heidegger calls the earth. The world set up by the work of art must also be, for Westerlund, grounded in the natural surroundings in which we live and shaped by the materiality and sensuousness of the medium of the work of art. It is in this way that the meanings of history can become anchored in the earth and the purposes and meanings, the guiding ideals and values, can “shine forth in a concrete paradigmatic form” (174). Westerlund also addresses in this chapter how in Heidegger’s thinking of the 1950s and later, the earth and world binary is expanded into the fourfold of earth, sky, mortals, and gods, and that in this period things, such as a bridge, can also open a world.

Chapter Twelve contains a discussion of Heidegger’s own account of the method of his late thinking. Heidegger unsurprisingly is critical of Husserl’s phenomenology at this time and champions historical reflection. For Westerlund, however, Heidegger’s criticisms of Husserl’s thinking fail to distinguish between the content of Husserl’s phenomenology and its method. While Husserl is influenced by scientific abstraction and seeks certain truth, this does not establish a necessary connection between intuition-based reflection and the metaphysical desire for ultimate grounds. Westerlund further indicates the historical character of Heidegger’s philosophy by showing how Heidegger pursues his investigation of the event of the opening of a world. Westerlund highlights that Heidegger examines texts from the history of metaphysics to show that the understanding of Being as presence that the texts utilise is not accounted for within them, and that he also examines poems by Hölderlin, George Trakl, and Stefan George, and the work of the pre-Socratics, to show that these texts hint at clearing. He also points out that Heidegger’s analysis of word etymologies is used for this end. In the final section of the chapter, to combat the assertion that there are phenomenological analyses in the later Heidegger, Westerlund shows that the late Heidegger’s phenomenological analyses of objects, such as a jug (in relation to the fourfold), do not take place within accounts of concrete use-cases. These accounts therefore “threaten to remain unphenomenological constructions of the same kind as all other conceptual and theoretical projections that dogmatically postulate meanings that they cannot account for” (192).

In the final part of the book, the Epilogue, Westerlund subjects Heidegger’s thinking to a more thorough  critique, one that is a development of criticisms of Heidegger made by Levinas, Tugendhat, and Cristina Lafont and that is an elaboration on criticisms of Heidegger’s thinking he has offered throughout his study. In Chapter 13, Westerlund engages with Levinas’ critique of Heidegger in which Heidegger is charged with covering over our direct ethical relation to the other with the question of Being. For Westerlund, Heidegger’s philosophy relies on the human desire for social affirmation motivating all action (works of art only persuade us to follow historical norms) which defines Dasein as essentially egoistic and rules out the possibility of responding to the other with love and care. Furthermore, Heidegger’s concern for the task of “reflecting on the openness of being in order to make possible the establishment of a binding world” has absolute primacy, and supersedes all ethical concern for individuals. This is not only a drawback in itself, but Westerlund also sees that the world Heidegger desires, one that is structured by a set of highest values and ideals that all must follow, can very easily become a world of control, repression, and persecution. That Heidegger does not consider such dangers further indicates the ethically problematic status of his philosophy.

In Chapter 14, Westerlund, drawing on Cristina Lafont’s criticism of Heidegger, is concerned with Heidegger’s claim that our historical understanding of Being cannot be true or false because it determines the meaningfulness of beings, which necessitates taking over our historical context as groundless. Westerlund argues against this notion. He holds that Heidegger provides no phenomenological evidence to show that our understanding of Being cannot be considered true or false. For Westerlund, we are claimed by the other regardless of our historical context and it is for its alignment with the claim of the other that the ethical status of an understanding of Being and its values can be judged. Westerlund ultimately holds that we possess an openness of conceptual understanding that allows us understand and appropriate aspects of our own cultural worlds, and recognise that there is an irreducible dimension of experience that grounds other cultural worlds.

In Chapter 15 Westerlund argues against Heidegger’s view that historical reflection is the necessary method of phenomenology. For Westerlund, Heidegger also offers no evidence that our understanding of Being is determined by our historical situation. Rather our understanding of Being consists of openly seeing and grasping the structures of experience over our historical preconceptions. Even though our historical contexts guide our thinking primarily and may offer up distortions, we are always free to discard these distortions and examine the structure of experience, which determines the truth of our concepts. Furthermore, Westerlund argues, Heidegger’s historical method cannot actually demonstrate that the event or the clearing is the source of historical Being. Even if Heidegger could demonstrate that the event or the clearing is the foundational concept of the Western tradition, this would not show that it is the source of Being. Rather it would show only that the event or the clearing is the “philosophical horizon of the Western tradition”, and the truth of the concept would remain undetermined (220). As Westerlund puts it, “Heidegger’s metaunderstanding of the radically historicist character of his method does not allow him to account for what it is that gives to his thinking whatever truth or clarificatory force it possesses” (221). Ultimately, for Westerlund, while it is very difficult to accurately reflect on our own experiences and to free ourselves from prior prejudices this is precisely the task of phenomenology. The difficulty of phenomenology does not undermine its validity.

Westerlund’s Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena is a valuable addition to contemporary Heidegger scholarship. It contains a number of sections that clarify central issues in the study of Heidegger. Westerlund’s accounts of Heidegger’s relation to Husserl’s phenomenology in his early Freiburg lecture courses, and of Heidegger’s development of a more thoroughgoing historicism through his engagement with Aristotle in the early 1920s, are excellent. Similarly, Westerlund’s treatment of Heidegger’s 1925 engagement with Husserl is the clearest I have encountered. Furthermore, Westerlund’s undertaking of a “philosophical“ rather than “exegetical” reading of Heidegger in which he is not constrained by the horizon of the texts he treats but rather provides independent articulations of what these texts show and fail to show is also very welcome. Heidegger scholarship can certainly benefit from more studies that take this kind of approach. The study is not, however, without its flaws. Westerlund covers a lot of ground in this work and as a result his treatment of individual topics often proceeds quite quickly. This sometimes prevents him from addressing relevant issues in a topic. He does not, for example, discuss how a work of art like van Gogh’s painting of a pair of shoes, discussed by Heidegger in “The Origin of the Work of Art”, could reveal the highest ideals and values of a culture. The speed at which Westerlund proceeds through Heidegger’s material also causes his overarching arguments to fade into the background at times and make the relation of some sections to these arguments unclear. Westerlund’s arguments would likely have been served better through structuring his book around his criticisms of Heidegger, rather than the chronological progression of Heidegger’s thought.

Elad Lapidot: Jews Out of the Question: A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism, SUNY Press, 2020

Jews Out of the Question: A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism Couverture du livre Jews Out of the Question: A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism
SUNY series, Philosophy and Race
Elad Lapidot
SUNY Press
2020
Hardback $95.00
340

Elizabeth Cykowski: Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss, Oxford University Press, 2021

Heidegger's Metaphysical Abyss: Between the Human and the Animal Couverture du livre Heidegger's Metaphysical Abyss: Between the Human and the Animal
Oxford Philosophical Monographs
Elizabeth Cykowski
Oxford University Press
2021
Hardback £55.00
224

Elliot R. Wolfson: Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiēsis

Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiēsis Couverture du livre Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiēsis
Elliot R. Wolfson
Indiana University Press
2019
Paperback $60.00
468

Reviewed by: Alexandre Couture-Mingheras (Université de Bonn – Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Dans son nouvel ouvrage, de très haute facture, Elliot R. Wolfson met sa connaissance précise des textes de la tradition kabbalistique et plus largement son érudition dans le domaine des études juives, dont il figure aujourd’hui l’un des plus grands spécialistes, au service de l’étude, aussi précise qu’ambitieuse, de la phénoménologie de Heidegger, ressaisie essentiellement à partir de Sein und Zeit en 1927 jusqu’aux textes de maturité, dont Beiträge zur Philosophie (vom Ereignis) paru à titre posthume en 1989 en Allemagne. Cette comparaison, étonnante au regard du contexte houleux qui entoure la publication des Schwarze Hefte – je parle bien sûr de l’attitude de Heidegger à l’égard du National-Socialisme et de la question de l’antisémitisme, que certains thuriféraires s’efforcent, en vain, de gommer -, n’a évidemment rien d’arbitraire.

Le rapport de Heidegger au judaïsme fait l’objet, depuis quelques années, de plusieurs études, dont celle, remarquable, de Marlène Zarader, La dette impensée : Heidegger et l’héritage hébraïque : si Heidegger affirme l’opposition principielle entre la pensée, d’origine hellénique, et la foi, d’héritage biblique, en réalité les choses sont loin d’être simples, comme l’atteste la similarité entre ses propres écrits et certains tropes de la tradition hébraïque. Le judaïsme, exclu thématiquement de la pensée heideggérienne, pourrait bien en constituer « l’impensé » opératoire, non au sens de ce qui n’a pas été pris pour objet de pensée, mais ce qui sous-tendant et irriguant la pensée, terre d’accueil, en constitue l’arrière-plan, nécessairement voilé. S’amorce ainsi, après les propos dirimants de Derrida et de G. Steiner par exemple, une excursion hors du commentarisme crypto-phénoménologique qui fonctionne souvent en vase-clos. Ce tournant dans la recherche, qui suppose que l’on rompe avec une propension exégétique à rapporter sa phénoménologie au nazisme (au fond, question d’apparence provocatrice : quid du judaïsme de la philosophie de Heidegger ?) se trouve ici approfondi par un travail comparatiste prenant pour base la mystique juive, à savoir la Kabbale. De même que le Vedanta constitue la dimension « ésotérique » de l’hindouisme, sous l’angle de la theoria à titre de Métaphysique (l’Absolu même, le Sans-Nom), sous l’angle de la praxis à titre de mystique d’ordre sotériologique de l’Unio mystica avec ce qu’il y a de plus Haut en soi, de même la Kabbale est-elle la partie « occulte » du judaïsme.

Pourquoi cette étude comparatiste, qu’est-ce qui le justifie, et, surtout, que gagne-t-on à lire Heidegger au prisme de la Kabbale ? La Kabbale n’est évidemment pas un « thème » pour Heidegger, raison pour laquelle, dès l’introduction, l’auteur, au terme d’un état des lieux de la recherche mais aussi d’une justification philologique, déclare ouvertement son projet : non l’analyse « positive » (au sens du positivisme, de ce qui se fonde sur les faits) du rapport d’un auteur à la mystique juive du point de vue des textes car s’il est bien un jeu d’influence, avec notamment la mystique rhénane et l’idéalisme allemand, surtout schellingien, son importance tient à « l’arrière-plan » théorique, à une forme de Stimmung épocale ; une telle analyse est menée, bien sûr, mais là n’est pas l’essentiel : le rapprochement tire sa justification de ce que l’auteur appelle la corrélation de la mêmeté (Sameness) par la différence, à distance aussi bien de la recherche à tout prix de ce qui est commun (au prix d’une perte de la singularité – identité – de chacun des deux termes), que de l’exhibition stérile de la différence : en ce cross-over monographique, inédit et le premier à sérieusement établir une telle comparaison sur la base de critères philologico-textuels, c’est en effet tout aussi bien Heidegger qui se trouve éclairé par la Kabbale que la Kabbale qui se trouve introduite pour la première fois par le biais de l’outillage conceptuel heideggérien. Cet éclairage conjoint de la Kabbale et de Heidegger, en une méthode de variation thématique et perspectivale, ainsi que l’absence de présentation liminaire de la Kabbale, expliqueront sans doute qu’un tel ouvrage, dense et massif, ne soit pas d’un abord aisé pour qui est totalement étranger à la mystique juive. Cette absence se justifie néanmoins tout d’abord par le statut particulier de la Kabbale et la façon dont elle se rapporte à elle-même, se concevant en termes de différenciation diachronique d’une même vérité pour ainsi dire synchronique, à l’image de sa conception du monde comme manifestation en de multiples formes d’un seul et même être – le Seul qui soit; ensuite par la façon même dont Heidegger conçoit la tradition, non comme l’objet passé de la conscience historique, mais comme son avenir et, pour tout dire, son destin, parallèle à la rupture avec la conception linéaire et causaliste du temps. Mais, on le sait, tout ce qui est beau est aussi difficile que rare, et c’est là, par l’originalité de ses thèses et la manière dont Heidegger s’en trouve éclairé, un très beau livre.

Venons-en directement à la Chose même, aussi bien pour la Kabbale que pour Heidegger : l’Être. L’ouvrage se compose de huit chapitres, que je n’ai nullement l’ambition de restituer de façon thétique, comme si chacun d’entre eux constituait une Thesis que l’on eût pu dès lors résumer en quelques lignes, pour des raisons qui tiennent à la méthode dialéthéique (littéralement la « double vérité ») mise en œuvre. Cette méthode s’impose, c’est certain, du fait de l’inobjectivabilité de son sujet de recherche : le Seyn ou l’absolu kabbalistique nécessite un mode d’exposition qui chaque fois permette de l’éclairer ponctuellement sans le trahir, c’est-à-dire sans le travestissement qu’entraîne un mode d’exposition étranger à son objet ; la logique classique qui procède par identification (quand l’être est Ereignis) et par opposition (l’absolu sera transcendant ou immanent) ne saurait fonctionner ici. Si bien que l’ouvrage, fait rare et beau, fait ce qu’il dit et à mesure qu’il le dit, opérant une réduction, ou neutralisation, de la logique dualiste (l’être ne sera ni immanent ni transcendant), à la mesure donc de l’Être, Neutre, qui est par-delà toute opposition, et sans qu’il puisse faire l’objet d’une relève en un troisième terme synthétique : dire que l’être ou le divin n’est ni immanent au monde comme chez Spinoza ni transcendant (comme, en dépit de ressemblances, chez Plotin, avec le système d’émanation à partir de l’Un, Principe dont tout découle mais qui est lui-même absolument transcendant), c’est non pas indiquer un troisième terme, mais montrer la non-vérité même de l’opposition, autrement dit l’inexistence même de l’immanence et de la transcendance depuis la perspective de l’infini. Autrement dit, si le but est le chemin, en l’occurrence ici la méthode est la thèse elle-même, qu’on ne saurait dissocier de son récit, avec tout ce qui, en lui, donne l’impression de constituer un excursus.

Les divers thèmes abordés au gré des huit chapitres de l’ouvrage (la question de la circularité herméneutique qui ouvre l’ouvrage, la pensée du commencement, le rapport à l’altérité et au néant, l’auto-érotisme de l’être, du divin qui, par désir de Soi, caprice originel, se « manifeste » par le monde) s’articulent ainsi autour de l’Ain Soph (le « correspondant » kabbalistique du Seyn heideggérien) ainsi que de son exposition, de la façon dont on s’y rapporte par la parole, tant il est vrai que la réflexion « sur » le réel emporte avec elle, ou idéalement doit intégrer, le sujet réfléchissant : il y va pour le Sein d’être Da, comme pour le Dasein d’être ce qu’il est du fait de son ouverture à la question du Sein. Cette corrélation entre les deux pôles, qui en constitue la trame théorique, donne son titre à l’ouvrage : entre la « Gnose cachée » et la « Voie de la Poiesis », entre d’une part ce qui, comme lumière, illumine en restant soi-même voilé, ce qui manifeste sans être manifeste, l’Aimé Sans-Visage derrière tous les visages, bref, l’être en tant qu’être, et, d’autre part, la promotion d’un discours qui déjoue le partage même entre apophantique et apophatique, déjouant celui-là même entre néant et être, entre présence et absence, dont l’ouvrage constitue la patience méditation : tout se jouera donc dans cette atmosphère crépusculaire d’entre-deux, il est vrai au prix parfois de la clarté du propos (l’auteur est parfois prisonnier du style heideggérien), mais on comprend que se joue là l’Essentiel et que l’Être ne saurait être abordé si ce n’est par les voies indirectes du langage : méta-ontologique la « présence n’est pas l’absence de l’absence » pas plus que l’absence « l’absence de la présence » mais « la mise en présence (presencing) est plutôt l’absentement (absencing) de l’absentement de la mise en présence » (7).

Mais pourquoi rapprocher l’Être, le Seyn, ce qui, comme le dit Heidegger, l’emportant sur tous les êtres (tout être participe de l’Être, mais l’Être ne saurait être trouvé en aucune forme), est ce qui est le plus digne de penser, et l’Ain Soph kabbalistique, littéralement « l’infini » ? Cette question n’a rien d’anodin car elle engage bien la philosophie de Heidegger et, sans nul doute, de toute philosophie véritable. Or on le sait, la philosophie, chez Heidegger, présente des limites qui sont celles-là même de son histoire et du régime objectivant du langage. C’est pourquoi, afin d’éclairer la question de l’Être, il s’agit de procéder à la déconstruction des catégories sédimentées et dualistes du langage : l’oubli de l’être, rabattu sur un étant éminent, est corrélé à l’impropriété du langage à nommer ce qui échappe à toute dé-finition et ce qui partant ne saurait être pensé en termes de « transcendance » ou « d’immanence », à savoir ce qui n’obéit pas aux lois de la pensée, de non-contradiction et de tiers-exclu. Autrement dit, Heidegger quitte le palais de cristal du logos pour une parole qui, voulant dire l’origine, installée dans le silence du muthos, dit moins que, pareil au dieu dont parle Héraclite, elle ne « montre », se situant résolument dans la nuit compacte du mystère de l’être (de l’être comme mystère). Camper au niveau de l’aporie ontologique, sans la vouloir lever, telle qu’elle a été formulée par Aristote (l’être n’est ni un genre ni ne s’identifie à l’une de ses catégories, i.e. modes d’être : il n’est ni immanent à ses modes ni transcendant, « à part », en un autre lieu, ce qui reviendrait à en faire une « chose », à confondre, dans le lexique de Heidegger, l’être avec l’étant), c’est ainsi même se mettre à l’écoute de ce qui, à être dévoilé, échappe : l’être se médite, au crépuscule de la raison, à l’ombre des objets, parce qu’il y va de sa propre « essence » que de ne pouvoir souffrir la lumière objectivante du concept.

Sous cet angle, l’apport de la mystique juive pour l’exégèse heideggérienne tient à la manière dont elle pense l’Être, loin de toutes les figures qui instancient, selon Heidegger, la métaphysique comme onto-théo-logie, à savoir comme oubli de l’être par pensée de l’étant (le summum ens, ou Dieu comme super-héros de l’ontologie, porte le poids de l’ens commune). Le philosophique se trouve éclairé par ce qui en est devenu l’ombre : le « philosophal ». C’est là du moins un apport passionnant à la lecture de Heidegger, décentré par ce qui s’avère lui être le plus « propre », un ailleurs qui en détient la vérité. Je donnerai deux exemples, qui sont les deux axes qui structurent l’ouvrage (la Gnose cachée et la Poiesis). Le premier concerne le Seyn, ressaisi à partir du Ain Soph, à savoir l’essence infinie qui ne saurait elle-même avoir d’essence : la différence ontico-ontologique se trouve ressaisie à partir de la différence entre le Ain Soph et ses émanations séphirotiques. De même que Dieu est le lieu du monde sans que le monde soit le lieu où trouver Dieu, de même, dans le lexique du phénoménologue, l’être est-il au principe de l’étant sans pour autant que l’étant puisse le figurer ; et pourtant, l’étant n’est pas l’Autre de l’être. L’être chez Heidegger, est l’absolument Autre (être et étant) dans la Mêmeté (l’être est : seul l’être est, telle est la voie lumineuse qu’ouvre la déesse chez Parménide) ; la mystique juive nous fait mieux saisir, par contraste aussi avec le néo-platonisme, la nature de l’absolu ou de l’être : n’étant essentiellement présent que dans le retrait, se dissimulant soi-même dans les étants qui le manifestent, il est la Présence (le « il y a »)  absente, qui se dévoile sur le mode du voilement. L’aletheia, qui dit la vérité comme mise en présence, se trouve ainsi éclairée à l’aune de la gnose. Si la gnose est secrète, c’est bien parce qu’il y va de la vérité de l’être que d’être secret, non-manifesté, soustrait à toute parole qui le voudrait circonscrire. Mais cette différence se fait sur fond d’un monisme singulier, qui a neutralisé l’opposition entre l’un et le multiple, celui pour lequel le Monos, l’Être, Seul est (court-circuitant le partage entre être et non-être) : de même que la vague et la mer sont de la même substance, que l’ornement n’est que la mise en forme de l’or informe, de même l’Ain Soph éclaire-il le jeu interne à l’Être de l’être et des étants, jeu avec Soi-même qui, pour la finitude, est celui d’une perte et d’une errance (l’oubli comme destin occidental), mais qui, en dernière instance, est le Jeu différentiel de Cela qui a toujours été. De même que l’absolu, ou le divin, se révèle comme secret, car n’étant rien il n’a rien à révéler ni qui devrait être démasqué, de même l’être chez Heidegger apparaît-il ressaisi en son obscurité native par rapport à un Dasein dont la vérité est, à titre de sujet séparé, de n’être pas. A Bikkhu Maha Mani, moine bouddhiste de Thaïlande qui lui explique que la méditation consiste à se concentrer et, se rassemblant en soi, à déloger la racine du « Je », renvoyé à son caractère ontologiquement illusoire, par la réalisation de sa nature véritable, de Soi, qui est un Rien qui est tout (fullness), Heidegger répond : c’est ce que j’ai essayé de dire toute ma vie. Il y a dans, dans cette riche comparaison, une thèse implicite : que la mystique juive ne fait pas qu’éclairer la philosophie de Heidegger ; point culminant d’une pensée qui œuvre pour l’Impensé qu’elle ne peut approcher qu’en se dessaisissant d’elle-même, la mystique dit et fait ce que la philosophie, renvoyée à son propre mode discursif, ne peut que sourdement faire deviner, sauf à elle aussi mourir à elle-même, jetant l’échelle au terme de son ascension, en un dernier grand saut, de la pensée à l’impensé. C’est dans ce silence, cet « espace » de présence pure en lequel seul peut naître une parole authentique (non celle du « on »), qu’on atteint la « Gnose cachée » de l’être : il n’y a jamais eu de voile à lever, car le voile est celui de l’ignorance ontologique première : l’épreuve du fleuve du Léthé n’est pas celle de l’oubli de son être (de soi) mais de l’Être (de Soi). Caché, l’être l’est à qui le cherche ; mais à qui, dans le silence de la Présence, s’oubliant ne s’excepte pas de ce qui est, il Est, de l’ordre du That inqualifiable et non du What, selon la formule qu’utilise William James pour désigner l’expérience pure (à laquelle l’auteur fait référence du reste en de beaux passages sur Nishida Kitaro).

L’élucidation du statut de cette Gnose cachée appelle, comme je l’indiquais, une réflexion sur le langage lui-même qui l’articule, qui, à l’image de l’être, se trouve sous-tendu par la dialectique de la présence et de l’absence. Qu’est-ce que la connaissance véritable en effet (celle de l’être), comment opère-t-elle ? Il ne s’agit pas d’agrandir le stock de connaissance en y introduisant de nouvelles représentations, car ces dernières concernent uniquement les étants, mais bien d’une assignation du sujet à la vérité de son être, d’une connaissance de l’être qui est à la fois connaissance de soi (l’ontologie fondamentale ou analytique existentiale du Dasein) : la spiritualité n’est pas l’autre de la philosophie, mais son essence, comme le silence l’est du son (le son se détache sur le fond silencieux, toujours présent, tout comme l’être qui se manifeste quand les étants disparaissent dans la nuit du monde dans l’expérience de l’angoisse), ce qui explique l’aspect méditatif des Wege de Heidegger, chemins sinueux qui tournent autour d’un même centre qui illustrent le type de parole, poétique, tendu vers l’être comme non-manifeste, au bord du silence : car de même que la plus belle du bouquet est la fleur absente, celle qu’évoque la parole du Poète, de même l’être, inobjectivable, trouve en la Poiesis son abri. La parole véritable, en parlant, conduit au silence dont elle n’est que l’ornement. Le langage a pour sujet véritable, chez Heidegger, l’être même : le poète véritable ne dit pas l’être : son être est comme une conque dans laquelle faire résonner l’Ereignis, l’évènement de l’être, de l’ordre du es gibt. On ne saurait donc reprocher à Heidegger d’abandonner la logique au profit d’un irrationalisme non-scientifique, dans la mesure où il remonte à sa racine et que, par fidélité à son principe, il pense la vérité de l’être de façon plus fidèle et précise : car, loin d’être une technique formelle, la logique est le biais par lequel on s’exerce à dévoiler la vérité. A condition que le logos, loin de la parole codifiée et structurée par l’opposition, regarde en arrière de soi et, inventif, se situe au bord de ce qui, en en étant la vérité, en signe la disparition. Le langage, poétique, montre dans une parole qui déjà se laisse envahir par le silence, hors du régime objectivant du langage à valeur communicationnelle (qui dit le « what », l’objet). Cette thèse « gnostique » sur le langage et la vérité comme dévoilement du voilement du voilement (le passage, chez Platon, de la double ignorance – je ne sais pas que je ne sais pas – à la simple ignorance), gagne ainsi en clarté à la lumière de la compréhension mé-ontologique dans la Kabbale du Ain Soph et du statut du texte, à la fois spéculatif et dévotionnel, qui est autant commentaire de commentaire que Voie de Dévoilement (au sens d’aletheia) de l’Absolu. Le langage, sous cet angle, se laisse ainsi ressaisir à partir de la conception kabbalistique de la nature, comme abri de la signature secrète que Dieu a placée sur les choses.

 C’est, globalement, à l’aune de la mystique juive que la philosophie de Heidegger apparaît pour ce qu’elle est : comme une Poiesis, vaste méditation, essai d’une pensée sans lieu, utopique, ni suffisamment « logique », trop conceptuelle pour être poétique, trop philosophique pour être mystique. Certes, dans ce dépassement de la métaphysique, qui n’est autre qu’un saut hors de soi de la pensée, on y verra désormais bien des éléments de Kabbale, et il sera difficile au lecteur d’aborder de nouveau le Seyn, sans toute la richesse de compréhension qu’elle apporte. Mais, à tout le moins, c’est me semble-t-il la Kabbale elle-même qui fait l’objet des plus belles pages de l’ouvrage, et dans l’enthousiasme de l’auteur, mais aussi la profondeur de vue, fruit d’années de recherche, c’est le Feu sacré du Savoir véritable qui se révèle, contaminant jusqu’au lecteur lui-même. Quant à savoir si le destin historial de la philosophie ne serait pas du côté de la mystique, c’est là une question que nous maintenons ouverte. Comme si l’aridité et l’exigence conceptuelle de la philosophie servaient de tremplin à la simplicité du Verbe, que le philosophe n’était pas celui qui dit la vérité sur l’être (le totalisant, comme s’il le surplombait), mais celui qui, ouvrant à la vérité de l’être, doit désormais dans le silence se faire Myste. La Poiesis chez Heidegger est sans commune mesure avec la Poiesis véritable dans la mystique, avec le passage de l’Homme à l’Homme-Dieu, de l’existence éparpillée dans les étants à la réalisation de son essence. Mais cela, la phénoménologie de la finitude de Heidegger ne le pouvait penser.

Gregory Fried (Ed.): Confronting Heidegger: A Critical Dialogue on Politics and Philosophy

Confronting Heidegger: A Critical Dialogue on Politics and Philosophy Couverture du livre Confronting Heidegger: A Critical Dialogue on Politics and Philosophy
New Heidegger Research
Gregory Fried (Ed.)
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
2019
Paperback $44.95 • £35.00
304

Reviewed by: Andrei-Valentin Bacrău (former graduate researcher at the University of Zurich)

The book Confronting Heidegger: A Critical Dialogue in Politics and Philosophy does present the readers with the expected level of critical analysis needed to revise Heidegger’s literature in contemporary philosophical research. Given the discoveries that Heidegger himself was associated with German nationalism through the rise of the Third Reich and during the Second World War, the academic space has brought into question the extent to which Heidegger should be taken seriously. Additionally, Heidegger’s work has grown in popularity with the French scene in the mid-20th century, as well as with contemporary Americans. The notion of whether or not his works should be taught continues to be present in lecture halls and contemporary literature on German philosophy.  Despite the concern towards the researchers that have built their academic careers on unpacking and clarifying Heidegger’s views, we must also address the theme of how we, as an academic community, should proceed with integrating the works of Heidegger in the philosophical literature, particularly within the branch of phenomenology.

This book initially began as an exchange of correspondence between Gregory Fried and Emmanual Faye, which later on accepted commentaries from other scholars within the radar of Heidegger and phenomenological studies. The text contains a wide plethora of arguments both in favor and against allowing Heidegger to be read and discussed within academic circles, between researchers on one hand, as well as with students on the other. During my review and synthesis of the contributions to this text, I shall outline four primary areas of contextualizing Heidegger within the aforementioned theme: philosophical, historical, political, and academic. The philosophical portion shall outline the charges and defenses of Heidegger within the text itself, isolated by the commentaries of the contributors. The historical portion is going to elaborate on the historical scenarios in which Heidegger himself operated, and the extent to which such historical phenomena have shaped his thoughts and writing style. Thirdly, the political discussion is going to clarify how Heidegger’s affiliations with German nationalism influenced not only the nationalistic culture of Germany in the 20th century, but also how this has inevitably lead to the accusations of antisemitism. Lastly, the academic section is going to explore the extent to which the earlier three sections justify either allowing or rejecting Heidegger’s works in contemporary research. Surely, all four aspects of the review are interwoven with each other, in some cases with such convergence that it is perhaps difficult to delineate between them. Since understanding Heidegger’s place within the philosophical space is already a difficult task, this process of correctly delineating between the social contexts which are affected by him is also an obstacle towards maintaining ethical standards within contemporary research. As we shall see with the contributors of the texts, the priority of Heidegger scholars must be disambiguating his intentions and the contexts which were outside of his control, with events which Heidegger himself not only endorsed but supported one way or another.

I. Philosophical

Some of the early traces for understanding Heidegger’s intellectual developments can be found at the beginning of the book. In the section on abbreviations, Fried himself notes that Heidegger holds different denotations on the notion of “being”. Such distinctions are held between the concepts of Sein and Seiendes (xi). Whereas the former emphasizes a state or a particular entity, the latter denotes the state of affairs or a collective. This subtle distinction between sein and seiendes is going to become particularly helpful for understanding Heidegger’s reasons in favor of German nationalism, as well as his exclusion of Jews from the civic discourse. Thomä’s essay includes another significant distinction, although this one is more particularly concerned with the intellectual development and maturation of Heidegger’s thinking. The question is at what point did Heidegger abandon his view of collective subjectivity? Thomä holds that Heidegger clung to such philosophical notions in the late 1930s. The argument states that we can only overcome metaphysical analysis only in so far as we can abandon clinging to the notion of a self or subject (167). Although the book itself does present some chronological debates as to whether or not this shift in Heidegger’s paradigm should be ascribed to the pre-war or post-war period of his thinking, Thomä maintains that it should be ascribed to the pre-war era.

The second aspect of unpacking how Heidegger conceived of the social world, is less abstract and more grounded in our civic activities. Fried’s defense of Heidegger’s Nazism in contrast to the propaganda projected by the Reich, is that Heidegger supposedly was opposed to both biological racism as well as global imperialism (1). Fried continues by claiming that Heidegger’s view supported the platform of Nazism as a bridging mechanism between cultures. Fried’s defensive reading of Heidegger comes to rigorous criticism from Kellerer. Heidegger’s antisemitism became more obvious in his writings since the completion of his Black Book. As Kellerer phrases it, post-1938 Heidegger indeed takes his mask off and uses more direct language that discriminates against the Jewish people (192). Kellerer also recognizes that although Heidegger’s antisemitism is not grounded in biological justifications, it is nonetheless concealed in an obscure writing style. Once Heidegger’s writings are disambiguated, as Strauss also emphasizes, the objective of the writing also becomes clearer. Heidegger’s intentions weren’t simply to push for a discourse of alienating the Jews from civic life but to annihilate any sort of influence or voice they might have had (204).

The main difficulty with disambiguating Heidegger is that he wrote in a seductive style, which brings students in (224). This seductive appeal, explained by Thomä and extended via Fried’s piece, is that it does not appeal to reason or intuitions. Rather, the seduction occurs via insights and revelations which are inaccessible to most people and readers. Despite such hermeneutic obscurations, Fried does maintain that Heidegger should be taken seriously (232). The discussions encouraging the abandonment of Heidegger as a legitimate 20th-century thinker are primarily ideological, rather than philosophical. The ideological-philosophical distinction illustrated by Fried, as well as the implications of Heidegger’s potential anti-semitism and cryptic style of writing are going to be further analyzed in the following sections.

II. Historical

Thus far, I have emphasized two main overarching questions regarding the interaction between Heidegger and the far-right politics of Germany. Firstly, whether or not Heidegger himself was an active participant in such political discussions and secondly, whether or not such participation discharges him from the academic space of philosophical discussions? Fried’s contribution insists that we should delineate between conservative attitudes in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, as well as Heidegger’s import from such discussion in the maturation of his work. Fried’s analysis claims that we cannot trace such anti-semitic attitudes to his earlier works, such as Being and Time (34). Fried’s defense also continues by stating that it was inevitable for Heidegger to at least indirectly present conservative views, since the attitudes of most European states during the 1930s were anti-cosmopolitan, nationalistic as well as anti-modern. Although these attitudes were the building blocks of Nazism, later on, they are not an expression of Nazi ideology. Therefore, a charitable reading of at least early Heidegger should be a German nationalist. Even if we were to ascribe Heidegger Nazi affiliations, Fried claims that we must be wary of contrasting it with the political activities of Nazi Germany. Whereas the political movement during Heidegger’s time supported imperialism and biological superiority via a metaphysical framework, Heidegger himself criticized this reading of Nazism, in favor of some sort of aggressive yet universalist form of the view (16).

Polt’s article emphasizes less of these subtle distinctions of German nationalism and focuses more on how Heidegger used the dialectic method to combat metaphysics, subjectivity as well as machination. Heidegger advocated that the aforementioned notions are dangerous and that they can drive humanity towards the collapse of civilization. This “ontohistorical machination”, as Polt phrases it, leaves “no hint of sympathy here for the victims; instead, he seems to be coldly, distantly, and ironically observing the events of the time” (134).

Polt maintains the defense that we should not read Heidegger as a supporter of Nazism. One of the justifications rests with Heidegger’s condemnation of Hitler’s reckless military policies through the war (119). Such defense results in a reading of the Black Book as a critique of Nazi ideology, while maintaining some sort of position in favor of German nationalism. Polt himself would perhaps agree with this reading since he also mentions that Heidegger’s bitter attitude towards the post-war European state of affairs also contains mixed feelings towards notions of German guilt and their relationship with a perverse understanding of Christianity. Polt’s conclusive remarks leave the readers with an interesting alternative from Fried’s interpretation that Heidegger’s views were in favor of some sort of cosmopolitanism. Namely, Polt’s alternative claims that since Heidegger rejected all moral and political principles in favor of some metaphysical structure, Heidegger must default to some sort of view of totalitarianism to reason through actions and political movements that are not promoted by a mere socialist state (140). Heidegger’s political affiliations have been defended and disambiguated in multiple ways by the contributors to this book. The next section of my review attempts to clarify which reading is more plausible, given Heidegger’s attitudes towards nationalism and the Jewish people.

III. Political

A third significant theme debated through the book is concerned with whether or not Heidegger intends his students and readers to develop sympathy towards Nazism. Fried opens the discussion with two observations. Firstly, that Heidegger’s work has been taken seriously in France and now in the US, and secondly, reading Heidegger does not entail the reader to grow sympathy for German nationalism (7); Fried continues:

For Heidegger, this means resolutely belonging to a particular place, a particular time, and particular people with its particular destiny. It means embracing the radical finitude of being human and radical boundedness to the human community (12).

Although Fried seems to be convinced that we can assess and maintain Heidegger’s work within the academic corpus, there does seem to be the pressing question of what exactly does this maintenance of Heideggerian work mean? Heidegger was undoubtedly a passionate nationalist, even in instances where historians can indeed say that he criticized his contemporary political structures in Germany. Therefore, we must ask ourselves to what extent Heidegger’s metaphysical agenda necessitated a nationalistic paradigm in contradistinction with cosmopolitanism? The contributors also clashed on the questions of ideological limits, rather than only attempting to describe Heidegger’s views of metaphysics and politics.

Kellerer argues that Heidegger’s antisemitism is obvious since the publication of the Black Notebooks (191). There are also other arguments present. Some scholars would say that given Heidegger’s obscure usage of the German language, it is difficult to pin exactly which passages are meant to be taken as anti-semitic. Additionally, Kellerer also extends the discussion surrounding the distinction between German views of superiority based on some sort of biological claim, with Heidegger’s national socialism which does not argue for such physiological superiority. However, this subtle distinction does not entail that Heidegger himself is free from the charge of racial superiority in some form. Since the exposé of GA:96, Heidegger was pushing for “ontologizing” principles of “blood and soil”. In this way, the dialectic struggle embodied in machination has been amplified. While also pushing forth ambiguous notions of “struggle for the liberation of the essence”, Heidegger attempts to distance himself from the notion of biological purity, while also claiming that such reductionist criteria have consistently been found in Jewish literature (193). Kellerer’s piece continues to make it quite obvious to her audience that Heidegger’s antisemitism is not only intentional but also not as subtle as some defenders of Heidegger would like to make it seem. Claims such as the Jew as the parasite, and that all Jews are devoid of any self (Selbst), make Heidegger’s intentions and objectives clear (198).

What is at issue here is intentional philosophical deception for domination and taking power in the spiritual and political fight for Nazism (203).

Dasein is the constant urgency of defeat and the renewed resurgence of the act of violence against Being, in such a way that the almighty reign of Being violates Dasein (in the literal sense), makes Dasein into the site of its appearing, envelops and pervades Dasein in its reign, and thereby holds it within Being (30).

Although this review is not the place to offer a comprehensive overview of Heidegger’s notion of Dasein, I would like to point out particular denotations of this concept, concerning Kellerer’s discussion. Regardless of how ambiguous or seductive the readers of Heidegger might think his philosophy is, it is quite difficult to defend the thesis that Heidegger had no intention of constructing a metaphysical system that initially alienates and then annihilates the Jewish people. The more difficult question remaining, is how the academic space should react to a writer that has such a legacy behind him. The fourth section, addressing the academic reactions to Heidegger, is going to further explore the arguments in favor and against keeping Heidegger as a legitimate thinker in the pedagogical system.

IV. Academics

Regardless of whether the contributors of the book favored the view that Heidegger was promoting Nazi ideology or a less harmful version of nationalism, both sides remain with the burden of addressing the last theme I shall cover in this review. Namely, should Heidegger be taught at all? Should we, as researchers, offer the space for such ideas, and more importantly, what is the pedagogical value of literary works that are borderline disruptive to a minority group?

The beginning of the debates are traced in Fried’s introduction to the book. He argues that we should not merely see Heidegger as a historical byproduct of German propaganda and that we should take him seriously. In this way, we do not jeopardize the careers of researchers working on Heidegger, nor do we discourage students with a growing interest in Heidegger’s thought (xviii). Fried’s concern is that we are “ventriloquizing Heidegger”. To defend Heidegger against over-contextualizing the material conditions and historical scene in which he lived, Fried pushes the agenda that Heidegger’s Nazism was different because it supported a cosmopolitan platform for nations to communicate amongst each other (1). A reoccurring theme during these discussions is how to address the evolution of Heidegger’s ideas beyond his scope and intentions. There seems to be a collective consensus that as long as the Heidegger scholars recognize the delineation between Heidegger’s contributions and the inevitable evolution, then Heidegger enthusiasts can engage with the literature without necessarily being stained by Heidegger’s political ideology.

The attempt to de-legitimize Heidegger has been opposed by Fried in other ways as well. Not only does Fried defer to the interest of thinkers such as Sartre and Habermas in Heidegger’s work,  but also the case that Voltaire, Kant, and Locke also expressed racist views and some of them went as far as favoring slavery (35). Such deferment to other well-known thinkers through European thought surely does bring into question the overall philosophical project of European thinkers. The extent to which this concern is well-grounded is not only left to the readers but I too would like to encourage a growing discourse into investigating the discriminatory biases of European thinkers.

Altman’s piece attempts to find a reconciliation between the charges against Heidegger and the pedagogical value of keeping his work as live options during debates and discussions in phenomenology and metaphysics. The argument “education first” adds to the discourse of delineating between Heidegger as a byproduct of his time and the intellectual import researchers can obtain from him today. Altman continues with an analogy between Heidegger and Elvis. Similarly to the underdog rise to fame of Elvis so too Heidegger enjoyed the spotlight of American academia (117).

Kellerer attempts to pair her arguments with Faye’s methodology. They should not be perceived as attempting to discharge Heidegger from the academic circles. Rather, they attempt to survey the extent to which the Nazi culture of his contemporaries influenced his writings so that the readers of Heidegger have a better grasp of the ideologies at work in his philosophy. Faye also supports Kellerer’s pluralistic reading of Heidegger (190, 238). The rhetoric emanated from all positions in this debate is that we must be careful with the way the debate is being shaped. One of the horns of the dilemma is to completely discourage any discussion about Heidegger due to the tension in his literature and the ethics of human rights. The other horn would be over-celebrating Heidegger and denying the implications, however minimal, that he had with German nationalism. Such projects are particularly difficult because Heidegger himself was using the German language in unusual ways.

The terminology of the Black Notebooks is more explicit than his other works of the same period, probably because many of those works have been manipulated by Heidegger’s own self-censorship or the censorship of the publishers, as we know to be the case in The History of Being. That terminology clarifies and confirms the meaning and conclusion of the 1940 course on Nietzsche. (253)

Faye’s conclusive remarks of the debate correctly illustrate the political outcome of the mid-20th century Germany. Aside from the terrors and atrocities which millions of people have unjustly experienced, we, as a global community, have engaged in an active discourse of human rights. As academic researchers, we must contribute to a civic and academic ecosystem where these rights are not only protected but also encouraged to flourish.

Overall, the impressions of the book are positive. The writing is clear and accessible both to students with minimal exposure to Heidegger’s work, as well as to Heidegger scholars. I would gladly recommend this piece to anyone interested in Heidegger or phenomenology at large. The book offers a wide plethora of debates concerning how we see and read Heidegger in today’s academic space. The only way for researchers to further look into the details of Heidegger’s affinities and philosophy is by enabling a discourse where such discussions are possible and reasoned through.

Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Eds.): Philosophers and Their Poets

Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant Couverture du livre Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Eds.)
SUNY Press
2019
Hardback $95.00
282

Reviewed by: Sarah Fayad (Emory University)

It is somewhat easy to forget that philosophy has not always, or in every case, been conducted through the medium of writing. For the most part, we expect philosophy to be written.  But the written-ness of philosophy is contingent, and so too is its suspension in the written: in literature, media, interview, and of course poetry. Socrates and Plato, or instance, did not make much use of citation and Plato especially elevated philosophy at the expense of poetry and drama. And, indeed, this contingency is all the more difficult for philosophers to fathom, because the written word is usually the trade-mechanism by which we philosophize, and through which we think. The experienced phenomena of reading and writing are the basic instruments of philosophy, as we practice it. Writing is not merely the way we convey and transmit ideas, born and nurtured in the mind. Rather, when we look at the phenomena of reading and writing, we see the ebb and flow of epiphany, of doubt, of enlightenment and invention. Writing is quite often how we philosophize at all.

The primordial disciplinary decision to move the vague shapes and shadows of our ideas from their mental and social obscurity (and incompletion) to the written word—a decision which none of us living had any hand in making— itself has philosophical ramifications. That is to say that the presupposition of philosophy’s written-ness, is shot through with questions: questions about the truth, as well as metaphilosophical questions about the place of philosophy within the universal/Borgesian « Library of Babel » it has chosen for itself, about the necessity of writing philosophy and the necessity of philosophy regarding other kinds of written works, about the relationship between philosophical, literary, journalistic, and poetical styles to reality, truth, clarity, and that part of the human spirit to which philosophy wants to appeal.

Charles Bambach’s and Theodore George’s anthology, Philosophers and Their Poets lights upon these fundamental questions of philosophy-as-word, as speech, and as our connection to one another and to the real through a series of serious, considered, and illuminating papers examining the relationship of philosophers to art, style, and of course poetry. I see these papers as being divided into four more-or-less distinguishable subject-categories: 1) papers dealing with German idealist discourse around the role and status of art, poetry, and beauty in what they regard as a burgeoning philosophical and rational world, 2) analyses of Nietzsche’s philosophy of art as it serves as a kind of hinge—indeed serves as itself a revealing poem—between idealism and more phenomenological and existential traditions, 3) those dealing with Heidegger’s encounters with poetry as a revolutionary force in meaning-making, and 4) those which proceed from the poems themselves to philosophical analyses.

The first three chapters of this collection take us through the foundations of these questions of style and artistry in the German idealist tradition. The first essay by Maria de Rosario Acosta Lopez analyses a historical controversy between Schiller and Fichte over philosophical style and the part of the human being to which philosophy must speak. This is followed by Chapter 2, which presents us with a very clear and compelling translation of the very letters exchanged between Schiller and Fichte, regarding philosophical style. These first chapters elucidate a possible ambiguity between reason and feeling, which gives way to a possible ambiguity between philosophy and poetry. This ambiguity leads Hegel’s intuitions, both conceptually and historically. Theodore George argues in Chapter 3 that philosophy and art have a similar purpose in the creation of world-historical meaning, for Hegel. We see a transition from any concern about the purity of philosophy in Fichte to an embrace of its meaning-founding affinities with religion and art in the later work of Hegel.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with Nietzsche, whose philosophy marks a kind of transition between German idealism and the phenomenological and existential (represented by thinkers like Heidegger and Gadamer), which will occupy the four of the volume’s remaining chapters. In Chapter 4, Babette Babich analyses Nietzsche’s relationship to ancient Greek tragic poetry, to its lost poets, and to their time-silenced songs in the interest of revealing what are indisputable contributions to philosophy itself, contra an extant tradition in the literature which more or less excludes him from the field. The fifth Chapter by Kalliopi Nikolopoulou investigates Nietzsche’s attachment to the heroic in Greek tragedy. Nietzsche saw ancient heroes and the poets who sung their tales as perhaps doubly heroic, she argues, since they might remedy Modern nihilism.

Chapters 5, 7, and 8 all deal with Heidegger’s encounters with poetry—as both the truth and the promise of philosophy. Like Schiller, Hegel, and Nietzsche Heidegger sees poetry as revealing a fuller truth than that accessible by reason alone. But it is only with Hegel that Heidegger shares this concept of the promise of poetry; both Heidegger and Hegel think art has (or once had) the power to inaugurate worlds and imbue them with meaning. Charles Bambach’s sixth Chapter for this volume begins at the interstices of aesthetics and ethics, mired in this Heideggerian meaning-making power/promise of the poem. He finds that the poem—in granting us access to our humanity in full—promises an originary ethics of our place, and (I’ll say) perfection, which is utterly opaque to us without the poetic disclosure. In the seventh Chapter, « Remains, » William McNeill addresses the futurity any concept of a promise must take for granted. He argues that Heidegger’s confrontations with Hölderlin’s poetry open up novel relations and meanings for us by altering the medium of time. Hölderlin’s works according to McNeill demonstrate a substratum of ambiguity in time wherein the greeting and remembrance are indistinct. Thus, the poem’s novel horizonality inaugurates a new world by possibilizing new projects, new relations to one another, and even new relations to the dead. Chapter 8 is likewise about the time of the poem, but it looks to its momentum, to the cadence of thought. Such poietic momentum, Krystof Ziarek argues, is experienced as rhythm and even texture. When philosophy takes on this cadence, it transcends the mere transmission of information and exceeds the possibilities of the argument: demonstrating in this excess new possibilities for thought itself.

Chapters 9, 10, and 11 emerge from analyses of poets and poetic works, rather than from within the philosophical theories which have taken them up. This provides what I think is a novel opportunity for philosophers who might not themselves read much poetry. It is a strange admission to make here, I suppose, that I have likely read more philosophical works which abstract from and selectively cite poems than I have poems themselves. To the question, « Is poetry true? » Chapter nine of Philosophers and Their Poets poses a kind of phenomenological/experimental response; « In order to answer this question maybe no extensive conceptual discussion of truth is needed…just attention to a particular poem led by the question how such a poem can be read and understood. »[1] To this end, Gunther Figal looks to Burnt Norton » by T.S. Eliot. Chapter 10, by Gert-Jan van der Heiden, which I discuss in some greater detail below, looks to the somewhat revolutionary poetry of Célan, which render in poetic verse that promise of a different world, or of new meanings, of new homes—out of the silence, the nothingness, that must follow the decay of status-quo intelligibility, in the rests, and breaths that keep familiar meaning from crossing living lips. In Chapter 11, Max Kommerell (who has been translated here by Christopher D. Merwin and Margot Wielgus) provides an analysis of Hölderlin’s Empedocles poem, which demonstrates his distinctiveness. In particular, this analysis lays bare Hölderlin’s perhaps utterly unique poetic « ear, » which attunes him to cosmic harmonies and truths, and places what is revealed in his writing always-already outside the grasp of our concepts; « …in accord with his talent, Hölderlin could experience what, for us, lies at an ungraspable distance and is a hardly thinkable event as the real history of his soul. »[2]

Because of its historical breadth, this anthology might serve as a kind of introduction to the specific questions that arise from continental philosophy’s various encounters with poetry. But the book would only be an appropriate introduction for somewhat advanced students of philosophy, familiar with continental thought, and its historical movements. It is therefore I think primarily suited to philosophers already researching some of the questions outlined in my introduction. These would also be invaluable secondary sources for interdisciplinary researchers. I would readily recommend the volume, for example, to anyone writing at the interstices of philosophy or art and aesthetics with ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, and metaphysics. This recommendation is in no small part because the authors in this volume have done an excellent job bringing the stakes of philosophy of art to the surface.

Art, especially as poetry, has had an inescapable influence on philosophical thinking throughout its 2000+ years of development. If the bare written-ness of philosophy opens up as many questions as it does, then what does its ready and intimate relationship to poetry mean for us? What does it say about philosophy itself: its veracity, its trustworthiness? And, perhaps more promisingly: What does it say about poetry, about its kind of truth? Bambach and George introduce the works in this anthology by way of a kind of conclusion:

What we find in poetry is the unfolding of the very momentum of language as an originary opening up and emergence that does not fit into the metaphysical encasements of presence and representation… Against the propositional language of statements, poetic language invites us to heed the pauses, the interruptions, and the caesurae that call us to attend to what is not said or can never be said in language.[3]

They find that poetry invites that part of the human spirit which can attend to the immutable mysteries of our existence and of Being, in general, to attend to these mysteries, in spite of their inherent obscurity. Poetry, in short, invites us to philosophize. We come up against this indistinction between the philosophical and the poetic, as we read the essays collected in Philosophers and Their Poets, again and again. The philosophical—which has, in many of its iterations attempted to void itself of the poetic, to let beauty die of neglect—is shot through with the poetic. The poetic is unavoidably philosophical: so much so that we might call any promise of truth philosophy might make, at all, the « poetic. »

We cannot help but ask here, where ordinary categories fail; Who are the philosophers and who the poets of Philosophers and Their Poets? Some thinkers examined within the volume trouble themselves with the differences, while others embrace, and even invest fully in the similarities. (Although, the indistinction between the poetic and the philosophical may, in the end, be why we feel compelled to draw such a distinction in the first place, rendering both derivative).

Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez’s analysis of a confrontation between Schiller and Fichte begins the essays in the collection and does so as an inauguration of the very questions with which we have been tarrying. Most importantly, the argument between these Modern titans lays bare a very basic metaphilosophical point I had not ever before considered: that all writing, all discourse, and all philosophy must speak either to the whole of the human being or to some part of her. Philosophy might, therefore, have a different audience than does poetry, news, or fiction even within the same enfleshed and living reader. Fichte presupposes that philosophy must solicit only some part of the subject. He argues that philosophical writing must be as logical as possible, using examples in such a way that they shore up arguments rather than evoke the sensible and imaginative capacities. This is because, on his view, philosophy takes aim at the Understanding alone. Other capacities of the subject are not relevant, on this view, to the philosophical pursuit of truth. Such a pursuit can, therefore, only be successful if it is confined to this valence of subjectivity.

But, is such a well-fortified compartmentalization of subjective parts, regions, and capacities even possible for more contemporary thinkers? Doesn’t Continental Philosophy’s « phenomenological turn » render anathema the very idea that philosophy might reach something like the tower-bound understanding—especially without dirtying itself in the more immanent ground of evoking and implicating imagination, sensation, and body? Indeed I think many of us would agree that philosophy might not be able to find and transmit truth if it does not consider and speak to the whole human being. Rosario Acosta Lopez shows that Schiller’s evocations of imagination insert « …in the heart of human action the elements of contingency, finitude and a permanent and necessary dialog with a world that is never entirely in our power to control. » Contra Fichte, Schiller’s more poetical and evocative style is veridical: showing us the world in its more awe-inspiring and challenging true-light.[4]

My continual tendency, aside from the inquiry itself, is to employ the ensemble of emotional forces and to the extent that it is possible to affect all of them. I thus do not wish merely to make my thoughts clear to others, but at the same time to transmit my entire soul to them, and to influence bother their sensuous and intellectual powers.[5]

Schiller makes an epistemological, existential, and ontological point with his imaginative and sensuous writing style. He also makes a metaphilosophical one, which proceeds naturally from undermining the understanding’s epistemic monopoly; « [T]he discussion reflects on philosophy itself, inviting us to understand the boundaries of thought, and the very rich possibilities that come along [sic] the recognition of these boundaries. »[6] The understanding has boundaries precisely with regard to the philosophical and cannot philosophize without pooling resources with something like the integrated-and-whole embodied subject.

This more phenomenologically salient, existential understanding of the poetic nature of philosophical writing (and of the philosophical nature of poetic writing, as well) seems to prevail in the context of the anthology as it deals with authors like Heidegger and Gadamer. Poetic writing, as it reaches the whole human being and casts its creeping, seeking, tendrils even into the most obscure and mysterious depths of the soil of our Being, and our Becoming.

Hegel might seem an odd-man-out in terms of this generalization since he does not affirm the indistinct boundaries between philosophy and art. His infamous and oft-misunderstood argument for the « end of art » and the primacy of philosophy is a testament to this. Yet, Theodore George shows Hegel nonetheless sees art as serving a similar function to philosophy in the founding and transmission of meaning, even in the Modern world. This function unsurprisingly has to do with truth. Art, religion, and philosophy allow « a society…to take a good look at itself, to make explicit its deepest context of meaning, the context that otherwise remains merely tacit even as it shapes, orients and grants legitimacy to all further meanings within that society. »

On George’s account in this volume, Hegel should be read as saying that between art and philosophy as well as between Classical and Romantic art, there are no differences in kind. Rather there are differences in context, which yield differences in the magnitude of their respective world-founding forces. Hegel thinks that Classical artworks originarily founded, grounded, and justified Greek culture. Everything in this period—including the first works of philosophy— derives from and makes sense in reference to this founding. Within the modern period, however, art bears no such promise and philosophy must provide our social foundations. The ancient context gave art a greater share of the inauguration, transmission, and preservation of its truth. The modern era by necessity gives it less.

On this view, the nascent philosophy of the ancient world could not but be derivative of its more originary sculptural founding, and thus will be supplanted by modern philosophy: the first philosophy to successfully found and ground a world-historical epoch. Hegel argues that modernity is, in essence, a revaluation, whereby philosophy accrues a greater degree of veridical force. This changing of worlds, the promise of new meanings and truths—the world-historical dawn in which Hegel feels himself bathed—this is the promise of philosophy as poetic and of poetry as philosophical, which comes to dominate Philosophers and Their Poets. Inchoate in language are new worlds.

Babette Babich’s search for Nietzsche’s all-but-lost poet, Archilochus, lays bare the tension with which humanity is suspended upon the Earth. The truth of tragedy is a musical truth, she concludes. But what is music within the Nietzschean paradigm other than « the becoming human of dissonance? »[7] In music, we take up into the body our irresolute difference from the world and its entities: a tension that cannot be resolved so long as we are of this world. Such a tension as that between the world and its dominant species is perfectly thought as musical dissonance; dissonance heard arises from the proximity of one note with the other, the greatest dissonance from the greatest similarity, proximity, intimacy.

This is what distinguishes us as the exception among beings, that we both inhabit and are inhabited by an inescapable uncanniness that pervades our ethos.[8]

This tension between the « possible nearness and necessary remoteness of all things » to us is the foundation of Heidegger’s philosophy, especially his philosophy of poetry and art. That strangeness and disquiet that emerges most strongly, most sustained, from the smallest margins of difference, from the tightest chasms of intimacy. We seek the resolution, like any listener, any composer. But the resolution cannot happen here, within our fraught intimacy with a world that cannot harmonize with us; a world that—through Modernity, mechanization, and technologization—we have mistakenly set to sing a different song from us, altogether. Philosophers and Their Poets allows us to tarry with the major philosophical insight that there are however possible—that is, horizonal, not-yet-actual/arrived—worlds, with which we could harmonize.

Such worlds, on Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s accounts, seem to exist just beyond the concepts that make up our reality:  possibilities invisible to us because we have a faith in the world, which could perhaps shatter upon rocks of the right philosophical or poetic work. William McNeill argues that Heidegger’s encounters with poetry reveal the limits of phenomenology, and therefore of the truth-telling capacity of our very experience. Poetry reveals those limits of our world which serve as its conditions of possibility (time), and thus what is real beyond our comprehension, or our apprehension, through the structures of meaning in which we are presently enmeshed.[9] Bambach argues that the poet sings the philosopher his longing for his « own home amid the experience of expulsion, » in an uncanny home, in an intelligibility which fails to make sense of the philosopher and indeed each of us, an intelligibility that thus desacralizes us, flattens and debases us. But the poet’s hymn is a heralding hymn, which points « ahead to the futural coming of the gods. » Gods, of course, found worlds. And perhaps the poet can sing the eventual creation of a home that protects our dignity, sanctifies us, and sets us forever free of the old intelligibility.[10]

The anthology presents oscillations and refinements of this insight throughout the history of Western thought—from Nietzsche’s conception of world-revolutionary « revaluation, » to Heidegger’s alethic revelation of (extant and real) values, the existential progressivism of so-called ontological and ethical « ambiguity, » and Gadamer’s « subdued hope… » The notes that harmonize with our being, hum imperceptibly all around us; we just need philosophy and art to amplify them, and finally to change the song of the world.

With new worlds, of course, come new ethics, new values, new ways of being with one another, and even new entities. The works collected in Philosophers and Their Poets confront the abyss of the as-of-yet inchoate possibilities of this new world—hidden in the bare written-ness of philosophy—and they do so with an eye to what’s at stake in such questions for denizens of the present world. We should, I think, desire new answers to the question, « Who are we?”[11] While I am reticent to add much of anything extra-textual to such a rich volume, I will say I feel we cannot but look at our current world in mourning, in longing. The coming of another means the terrifying demise of the world. But it might finally mean the embrace of the Other, of one another, no matter how strange we’ve been to each other:

Language gives us shelter… by deconstructing word and language the poem sets free another horizon, namely the horizon of the unfamiliar… the horizon of heaven.[12]

The stranger, in her approach through the medium of the poem; The strange in its approach through the medium of the poem; Both approach with their arms outstretched, and paradise in their hands, according to Célan.

I do not believe a poem alone can save us (unless our definition of « poetry » becomes so diffuse as to lose all meaning). After all, the horrors of this world have easily survived any beauty in it. I therefore even have to regard the destructive power Célan grants poetry with some skepticism. Nonetheless, I do think that (poetic) beauty has its place, as we attempt to turn the world over and reveal its other side. Alongside Schiller, I feel poetic language might help to engage the entire human being in the work of making a way for new meanings. As social and political creatures we are, of course, embodied and intercorporeal, only partially rational. If poetry is world-transitional in the ways Heidegger and Célan argue, it is in part because we cannot migrate to a new world by virtue of our rationality alone. Beauty as justice, as long-awaited relief, as burgeoning post-revolutionary responsibilities to one another, even as forgiveness, as absolution: this is the medium of revolutionary beauty, which might both carry us to a new world as well as compose this world in its meter, its tone, and its colors (as the paint carries us to the world of the painting, by the very act of creating that world). Such a medium perhaps makes possible—even beckons—the revolutionary poem. And thus we might be called to the selfless, futural, heartache of revolutionary beauty by the poets of our current, decaying, world as well. A poem alone may not be able to save us, but I am inclined to take what help there is.


[1] Günter Figal, “Learning from Poetry: On Philosophy, Poetry, and T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 204.

[2] Max Kommerell, “An ‘Almost Imperceptible Breathturn’: Gadamer on Célan, » Translated by C. Merwin and M. Wielgus, in Philosophers and Their Poets, 260.

[3] Charles Bambach and Theodore George. 2019. Philosophers and Their Poets. Albany: State University of New York Press, 5-6.

[4]  Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez, “On the Poetical Nature of Philosophical Writing: A Controversy over Style Between Schiller and Fichte,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 37.

[5] “Fichte and Schiller Correspondence, from Fichte’s Werke, Vol. 8 (De Gruyter).”  Translated by Christopher Turner, in Philosophers and Their Poets, 56.

[6]  Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez, “On the Poetical Nature of Philosophical Writing: A Controversy over Style Between Schiller and Fichte,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 37.

[7] Babette Babich, “Who is Nietzsche’s Archilochus? Rhythm and the Problem of the Subject,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 103.

[8] Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’ Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 146.

[9] William McNeill, “Remains: Heidegger and Hölderlin amid the Ruins of Time,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 179.

[10] Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’s Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 152.

[11] Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’s Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 145.

[12] Gert-Jan van der Heiden, “An ‘Almost Imperceptible Breathturn’: Gadamer on Célan,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 226.