Anna Kouppanou: Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger

Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times Book Cover Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times
Routledge International Studies in the Philosophy of Education
Anna Kouppanou
Hardback £105.00

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This study by junior scholar Anna Kouppanou proposes to recast Martin Heidegger’s conceptions of nearness, technology, and imagination in terms that show their interrelated phenomenological character as this speaks to the philosophy of education.  Drawing substantially on the work of Bernard Stiegler, as well as Jacques Derrida, her method of analysis is less oriented in a Heidegger-studies approach per se, and more geared toward re-directing Heideggerian themes in service of specific questions.  Kouppanou reads Heidegger from a persuasion such that the latter’s critique of technology is one-sided and negligent of considering how technology may overlap with other, more originary modes of being’s disclosure.  She entertains a number of provocative theses.  Among these theses are the following: nearness characterizes the event of truth and an essential aspect of education; technology affords nearness; imagination and temporality are co-constitutive; language, perception, and imagination are metaphorical; and the philosophy of education demands rethinking the interrelation of technology, imagination, language, and truth.  All in all this project is an ambitious one, but Kouppanou gracefully weaves together a number of Heideggerian concepts and gives us new insights for understanding the scope of Heidegger’s notion of technology.  I will say at the outset that I believe the study is actually much more effective on this score than it is on a philosophy of education front.  To my mind this book’s most significant and groundbreaking contribution is its inventive interpolation of the connection between imagination, nearness, language, and technology in Heidegger’s philosophy.  The concept of imagination in particular has historically been neglected in Heidegger studies, given Heidegger’s dismissal of imagination as a vestige of aesthetics and Cartesianism.  Kouppanou’s book should broaden current understanding of imagination in Heidegger, especially in its positive sense.

Kouppanou prefaces the study in the Introduction by raising the question of how the concept of technology might be reconciled with Heidegger’s notion of authentic nearness.  Kouppanou suggests that nearness ultimately concerns imagination, given that for something to be near entails that one sees it “as” this or that.  Or vice versa, to see something in a particular aspect is to have it phenomenologically near.  In other words, following Kant, the schematizing condition of perception is imaginative.  This notion restates the hermeneutic turn in Heidegger, that any state of human understanding, any state of meaning, is always already interpretive.  Kouppanou regards imagination (Einbildungskraft) as a core concept here because it unifies the schematization bound up in technology as Gestell with education conceived as Bildung (4).  In this light there is a connection between technology’s enabling of nearness and education’s model of culturation; a guiding idea Kouppanou borrows from Véronique Fóti is that Heideggerian Gestell possesses a formative character similar to education.  In other words, maybe there is not as sharp a distinction between Gestell and other, more originary manifestations of being as one may think.

The first chapter begins by addressing these issues further, taking up the concept of education from the critical standpoint of Heidegger’s concept of Gestell.  Kouppanou highlights the current trend in education to demand measurement in terms of assessment, outcomes, research outputs, and so forth.  The implicit notion is that, as “enframed” in a Heideggerian sense, education is removed of all freedom.  The human subject in this situation is understood according to a pre-defined set of conditions, and her education is directed toward predetermined measures for future productivity.  A text of focus for Kouppanou is Heidegger’s essay “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” particularly in its pertinence to Heidegger’s notion of education qua aletheia.  As a reader of this essay would know, Heidegger interprets Plato’s Cave allegory in terms of the precedence of aletheia, truth as discovery, in paideia, education.  According to this text, education means being brought into light from out of darkness.  Kouppanou emphasizes the equally decisive presence here of “nearness.”  The cave prisoners experience aletheia and enact paideia by being brought nearer to the real things they formerly saw in shadow form.  As the story relates, education has its apex when one’s intellection attains nearness to the original sources of sight and being.  Importantly in Kouppanou’s reading, this allegory introduces the distinction of truth as aletheia from truth as orthotes, or correct judgment, which is predicated on one being in the presence of the actual thing.  As Heidegger holds, this moment is the advent of metaphysics, and likewise of knowledge conceived as adequate representation modelled after the actual thing (13).  For Kouppanou, this distinction is emblematic of Heidegger’s accounts elsewhere of the epistemological commitments of “productionist metaphysics,” where the human being achieves knowledge by receiving and grasping the model.  Pre-given standards are contained in the model, rather than discovered in the nearness afforded by aletheia.  Another way to understand the phenomenon of nearness occurs in the later Heidegger, particularly in Heidegger’s accounts of the poetic image.  These accounts concern production that is not derived metaphysically (16).  This distinction is perhaps best borne out, as Kouppanou observes, in Heidegger’s notion of the work of art, where the work affords an originary instance of aletheia, not a mere copy of an externally existing thing (17).  As Chapter One concludes, a principal question for Kouppanou becomes that of a middle ground between originary presencing and subjective imagination; that is, are there modes in which human beings can conjure or fashion images which nonetheless emerge from out of the originary presence of things?  For Kouppanou, this is a question as to whether technologically-mediated images can afford nearness in a fashion akin to the nearness afforded by works of art (19).  Kouppanou writes:

The distinction between poetic and non-poetic image opens up a whole new discussion concerning types of images (Bild), types of forming (Bilden), their relation to imagination (Ein-Bildungskraft) – as the one being affected in receiving and producing forms of imagining, and ultimately their connection with Bildung as the very process concerned with human formation (19).

Employing a more expansive notion of this concept than Heidegger, the author understands “nearness” as a mode of knowing and connectedness to the world that allows the human being to participate in the unfolding of life through formative procedures (19-20).  Thus, she regards nearness as intimately bound up with education.

The second chapter explores these issues in relation to the dimensions of nearness afforded by Heidegger’s conception of phenomenology, especially the spirit of phenomenology’s dictum to allow the things to show themselves.  For Kourannou, this overlaps with the phenomenon of authentic temporality, by which one allows the voice of conscience to be heard.  This overlap is made evident in the temporal aspect in which everyday engagement with things derives from a temporal, historical origin.  As Heidegger observes in Being and Time, perception is grounded in “seeing-as.”  Nearness to things is predicated upon their presence “as” this or that.  Our everyday world-involvement is already interpretive, and this interpretation is typically framed by the historical reception of the given (25).  In other words, as Kouppanou describes, Heidegger’s brand of phenomenology “affirms an openness that lets beings be received” (25).  This as-structure works forwards as well as backwards in time.  Authentic temporality entails a seeing-as that frames what is to come, from out of the nearness of what is present.  Language is likewise a mode for Heidegger through which the nearness of things is gathered.  As Kouppanou highlights, a key distinction that emerges in Heidegger’s conception of language lay in language’s tie to phenomenology – language is the logos of the phaino.  Kouppanou cites a passage from Being and Time according to which discourse or logos in the guise of spoken language allows for things to be “sighted,” in the Greek, phone meta phantasias.  The term phantasia here is decisive for Kouppanou precisely because it at once entails the originary character of bona fide phenomena (through its root pha-, which refers to “appearing” and “showing”) while it also refers to the later Aristotelian notion of imagination, the more familiar brand of seeing-as (27-28).  This later notion of phantasia as imagination characterizes the way something appears to one, as when a blip on the horizon of a desert landscape is “imagined,” seen as an oasis.  The point Kouppanou leverages here is that the Greek conception of phantasia, understood as a microcosm for nearness and imaging, is at once passive and active.  On one hand, it characterizes the human capacity for receiving appearances from outside oneself – of having appearances show up – in the form of images.  On the other hand, phantasia is the capacity of image-formation, for imaginatively bringing an absent something near to one through one’s own constructive powers.  The challenge is to understand how Heidegger can regard the active dimension of phantasia in terms other than the representational, when he holds at the same time that phantasia comprises the “sighting” of what appears.  As Kouppanou describes this tension, the task for Heidegger is to “reimagine imagination in terms of a knowing that is transformative and yet responsive to things” (28).  To resolve this dilemma, Kouppanou cites Heidegger’s own engagement with Kant on the question of imagination’s relation with subjectivity.  The key to resolving the dilemma of phantasia conceived as representation versus phenomenological disclosure is the temporal nature of imagination, in the mould of Kant’s account in the first Critique.  Imagination not only figures into Kant’s account of the conditions for the possibility of experience in the First Critique’s A-Deduction; imagination also drives Kant’s account of schematism, the subjective component of perception by which one forms images while also deriving such formation from things.  Kouppanou cites John Sallis to emphasize that transcendental imagination is identical with originary time, writing “[i]magination thus lies at the heart of the unity of time, since temporality necessitates, above everything, connection and association” (32).  Another way to describe this structure, Kouppanou continues, is to understand nearness as coextensive with temporal experience as Heidegger understands the latter.  As Kouppanou puts it,

Taking this reorientation into account, image, formation, and imagination become indistinguishable from Heidegger’s temporality.  For Heidegger, time is the result of synthesis, an originary association that allows past, present, and future to come together and give time.  This original nearness of moments allows time consciousness and consciousness in general.  Without this bringing-near of past and present, and presence and absence, time cannot be formed (32).

So in this light, imagination (Einbildungskraft), education (or “formation,” Bildung), and image (Bild) consciousness are co-constituted through temporality.  Or what is the same, Heideggerian temporality is conditioned by the underlying synthesis or formation manifested in imagination, with nearness operating as a crucial component.  A question that remains to be taken up in the third chapter concerns the nature of future-directed imagination, or what Kouppanou calls “in advance formation.”  If imagination transcends mere subjective representation, then the question becomes one of how imagination’s future-oriented, schematizing mode avoids this limitation.  The question she poses is whether there are other structures involved that make this possible – and in particular – what is language’s role, insofar as it plays into the formation of originary poetic images?

The third chapter explores these issues in greater depth.  One aspect Kouppanou highlights in further analyzing the futural character of imagination is the moment of vision, the augenblick, as a poetic image.  Here she invokes the three ecstatic modes underlying temporality in Heidegger’s account from Division II of Being and Time.  The mode of futurity lay in Dasein’s character of being-ahead-of-itself, of projecting forward interpretively from one’s own factical state.  Yet, Dasein’s futural orientation also possesses an imaginative aspect insofar as it can be influenced by Dasein’s authentic acknowledgement of the voice of conscience.  Dasein’s potential for authentic temporality has its seat in allowing conscience to be heard and in wanting to respond to this voice.  Imagination would seem to be a crucial component here in that Dasein’s responding to the voice of conscience is necessarily a seeing-as, a hermeneutic moment of vision that is poetically gathered for one and disclosed in image form by virtue of Dasein’s self-understanding through heeding its own death.  Similarly, as was observed in the look at imagination in Kant, the notion is that the image-formation of authentic temporality does indeed stem from both a subjective foundation and one that responds to things.  As Kouppanou summarizes this point, authentic temporality instantiated in one’s owning of death is a process of bringing-near, to make present what is absent (38-39).  However, she also adds the rejoinder that nearness is not a concept that can be expressed propositionally.  “[N]earing, just like the originary image, is less of a designation and more of a metaphor, an irony, and a paradox” (39).  For “nearness” itself is a metaphorical idea.  It does not refer to an objective orientation in space or a property neatly predicable in a sentence.  Rather, it is an interpretive mode in which things appear to one.  In this light, Kouppanou suggests that the linguistic origin of the notion of nearness qua metaphor merits further discussion.  On one hand, metaphors are antithethical to Heidegger’s attempt to transcend metaphysics insofar as they postulate a divide between sensuous and nonsensuous reality.  On the other hand, as Kouppanou suggests, Heidegger’s accounts of perception in various texts suggest that he understands sensation (aisthesis) as subject to metaphorical transformation in perception.  This is to say, everyday human perception occurs through metaphorizing of sensation, given that all seeing is in fact seeing-as.  Kouppanou writes: “The world as phenomenon, as Heidegger seems to argue, is perceived with the assistance of both aisthesis (the senses) and phantasia (imagination), or better yet: aisthesis perceives imaginatively and through the modification of sense data” (42).  To say that perception metaphorizes the stuff of things is to regard perception as imaginative, as a kind of image formation.  (An aside Kouppanou hints at here is that language’s metaphorical character is likewise imaginative, based in image-formation, similar to Nietzsche’s account of metaphor.)  Kouppanou finishes out the chapter by again invoking the role of productive imagination by way of Kant.  If one concedes that perception is imaginative, this assumes that perception requires “exterior images” (44).  This is to say that, as concomitant with productive imagination, perception also engages the retentive aspect of time-consciousness by which images are frozen as schemas that inform future experience.  In brief, perception is imaginative reproduction.  In the chapter’s conclusion, the primary question asks whether nearness is confined to the relation of imaginative schematization and language, or whether there are other media in which nearness can occur.

Chapters Four, Five, and Six explore the concept of nearness according to its various treatments in the early, middle, and late periods of Heidegger’s thought, respectively.  Chapter Four takes up nearness as it is implicated in the early Heidegger’s concept of things “ready-to-hand.”  Chapter Five examines the role of nearness in Heidegger’s political thought, particularly as it pertains to Heidegger’s thought on homeland and native soil.  Chapter Six focuses on Heidegger’s perhaps best-known discussions of nearness, from the later writings on poetic experience and the life of the “thing” (Das Ding), where nearness is conceived as an alternative mode of dwelling to modern technology.  In what follows I will summarize these studies briefly before taking up the final two chapters of the book.

Chapter Four analyzes the early Heidegger’s account of nearness as revealed in things ready-to-hand (such as Being and Time’s tools) in order to better understand Heidegger’s attempt to “eliminate the technological aspects of being from his theorization of authentic time” (51).  Kouppanou suggests that Heidegger’s avoidance of emphasizing aspects of existence such as “materiality, embodiment, spatiality, and prostheticity” (51) in his accounts of perception and world are reflective of his disinclination to include technology in the sphere of authentic temporality.  Whereas, Kouppanou wants to suggest here that such a divide between the poetic or originary, and the technological, is artificial, given that technology is embedded in historicality.  Technological being informs the imaginative character of perception no less than the rooted and homely in Heidegger’s early account of Dasein’s being-in-the-world.

Chapter Five examines Heidegger’s notion of nearness in its guise as a “political scheme.”  The primary goal of Kouppanou’s focus here is to highlight Heidegger’s recasting of nearness into the political dimension of rootedness (76).  Technology is to blame, according to Heidegger, for creating a false sense of nearness that results in rootlessness.  Citing Stiegler, Kouppanou argues in contrast that technology does in fact have a constitutive role in the formation of the polis and the emergence of nearness; she emphasizes that “time cannot be a single destiny,” nor can time circumvent the mediation of technology (81).  Simply put, authentic temporality cannot occur outside the sway of technology.  Part of Heidegger’s error here, Kouppanou suggests, is to absolutize space as a metaphysical principle, whereas in Being and Time, he makes a stronger case that the nearness of space is a metaphor disclosed by Dasein.  Kouppanou comments: “Heidegger’s return to space [in the critique of technology] coincides with the distortion of the very process that his thinking attempts to become: the poetic image.  Instead of letting poetic imagery to be freely received, Heidegger imposes interpretations that temporalize space and emphasize the historicality of the homeland” (77).

Kouppanou transitions to Chapter Six by highlighting the later Heidegger’s move away from thinking nearness in terms of the futural, spiritual, and cultural.  In particular, she emphasizes Heidegger’s remark in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that the poetic can no longer be understood from the standpoint of the imagination, but instead relies on a freely-received letting-be of the historical manifested in the interplay of world and earth (84-85).  In other words, the later Heidegger seems to allow for historical being to occur as a disclosure of truth from without.  However, Kouppanou suggests that the concept of imagination remains in play for Heidegger by virtue of informing his position on the relation of truth, language, and art.  In particular, the function of metaphor as a proto-linguistic imaginative stuff underlying poetic experience suggests that imagination still figures into the primordial disclosures of being occasioned by art.  Thus, poetic experience can still be regarded as imaginative in its foundations.  In this vein Kouppanou writes:

While language is presented as the basic process that lets things be and affords nearness, Heidegger’s own metaphorical language says much more about the way nearness and the poetic realm unfold than his explicit argumentative language.  What’s more, his discussion concerning the work of art, as a site for truth, emphasizes the spatiotemporal dimensions of revealing and accounts for the material and embodied aspects of its unfolding.  This in turn provides us with an opportunity to reconsider poetic image as a mode of presencing that does not belong to language exclusively (90).

In the ending sections of Chapter Six, the final chapters of the book are previewed in some explorations of how Heidegger understands true nearness in the lived world of “things” (as in the essay “The Thing”) versus his view of the alienated state of being afforded by technology.  Kouppanou highlights the primacy of the human hand for Heidegger in the creation of works fostering true nearness, as the hand is integral to both traditional handicraft and originary language conceived as gesture.  Heidegger highlights this phenomenon when he contrasts the hand’s use in speaking and writing with the hand’s diminished capacity in these activities upon the advent of the typewriter.  A pervasive ambiguity Kouppanou identifies here in Heidegger is the equal role of the hand in making use of differentiated, external being.  It would be a mistake to claim, as Heidegger seems to suggest, that works of the hand constitute self-contained, holistic processes of creation.  As Kouppanou suggests, there appears not to be a sharp underlying divide between Heidegger’s notion of the lived experience associated with tools and “things” of handicraft, which are derivative upon metaphorizing imagination, and robust manifestations of modern technology.  Both make use of beings external to themselves in fostering their brands of nearness.  It is not sufficient to claim that modern technology is problematic simply because it maximizes nearness and totally removes distance.  The thrust of Kouppanou’s argumentation is that there seems not to be a fundamental difference between the imaginative disclosure afforded through, say, the hammer and the disclosure given through 21st-century computing.

The final two chapters of the book engage the findings of Chapters One through Six as they pertain to education and technology in current times.  Of particular emphasis for Kouppanou is the type of nearness fostered by the imaginative schematization prevalent in the World Wide Web and social media.  Kouppanou’s central argument in these final portions of the book rests on the claim that the nearness availed by modern technology is coextensive with Heidegger’s core assumptions about the relation of nearness, language, metaphor, and imagination.  She writes that “technology is always already constitutive for our ways of seeing-as,” and “[a]ll technology participate in our hermeneutical processes” (119).  In sum, “hermeneia is itself a material exterior and embodied metaphorical process unfolding through a twofold process of discretisation and synthesis instantiated through both language and technology” (Ibid.).  For Kouppanou, this last view is decisive because it drives home the imaginative, metaphorical basis equally latent within “gestures, tools, words, and stories.”  Metaphoricity is simply a constitutive element of things and their lived meaning (Ibid.).  Kouppanou then grafts this reasoning onto the digital being of the contemporary computerized world.  The digital world is not simply the alienated world of technology; for human Dasein the digital world is still being-in-the-world.  (This view has been developed by other Heideggerian philosophers including Michael Eldred.)  Online experience is coextensive with the worldhood of everyday, “real” experience.  The metaphorized images of online being are equally meaningful as the “real” world of meaning (123).  A core assumption of these passages is that the online experience fostered in media such as Facebook is always derivative from the meaning-structures embedded in intentionality.

In the final chapter, Kouppanou addresses these issues as they pertain to the philosophy of education.  The primary question concerns whether modern technology’s current manifestation fundamentally alters the outlook for education conceived in its original guise as Bildung, formation through images.  On one hand, she notes, the temporal form of “nowness” or constant immediacy created in online being would seem to encourage a pervasive lack of freedom.  Online experience in this light is one of the individual perpetually being formed or educated from without (145).  The danger Kouppanou sees here is the metaphorization or formation of the human latent in the pervasive reach of computing technology.  For, technology, like handicraft is not merely metaphorized being in its own right; technology also leads its user to become metaphorized.  This phenomenon has been documented in empirical science, as research has shown different types of media cause the human brain to rewire itself.  Therefore, Kouppanou’s position here argues that technology’s power to completely metaphorize and rewire the educational process risks undermining the processes of discovery, scaffolded learning, and above all, hermeneutical freedom that are integral to education (150).

This book is a very impressive piece of scholarship for an early-career researcher.  Its reassessment of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in terms of the concepts of nearness and imagination is especially fruitful.  Stylistically I believe the chapters proceed somewhat quickly at times, jumping from one dense source to another in often rapid fashion, when the author might in fact benefit from covering less material and proceeding more slowly.  The connections between the chapter topics also sometimes suffer from a similar feeling of disjointedness, where the inclusion of certain topics and subtopics comes off as unmotivated and ad hoc.  The fifth chapter on Heidegger’s political agenda struck me particularly strongly in this regard.  The first four chapters of the book, along with Chapter Six, come across much more cohesively in contrast.  However, these are all small caveats given the strong total contribution of the book.  As I noted at the beginning, the book’s principal shortcoming may be that its conclusions vis-à-vis the philosophy of education are relatively lukewarm and prefatory.  The final chapter in which education takes center stage reads somewhat more like an appendix, whereas the chapters dedicated to Heidegger are more focused on making sense of a complex line of inquiry in his thought.

Thomas Hünefeldt, Annika Schlitte (Eds.): Situatedness and Place: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Spatio-temporal Contingency of Human Life, Springer, 2018

Situatedness and Place: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Spatio-temporal Contingency of Human Life Book Cover Situatedness and Place: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Spatio-temporal Contingency of Human Life
Contributions To Phenomenology, Volume 95
Thomas Hünefeldt, Annika Schlitte (Eds.)
Hardback 106,99 €
VII, 216

Saulius Geniusas, Paul Fairfield (Eds.): Hermeneutics and Phenomenology: Figures and Themes, Bloomsbury, 2018

Hermeneutics and Phenomenology: Figures and Themes Book Cover Hermeneutics and Phenomenology: Figures and Themes
Saulius Geniusas, Paul Fairfield (Eds.)
Paperback £91.80

Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I

Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I Book Cover Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I
Hans-Georg Gadamer. Editors: Pol Vandevelde, Arun Iyer
Hardback $207.00

Reviewed by: Meghant Sudan (Colby College, Waterville, ME, USA)

This is the first in a series of three volumes of Gadamer’s essays. While many of Gadamer’s shorter writings have been translated and anthologized so far, this series aims to bring to the English reader the many that remained untranslated.[i] The translations in this volume are very readable and have a light touch about them, which also enhances access to Gadamer’s thought. By including several essays published well after Truth and Method (1960), the volume promises to make visible the nuances in his later reflections and deepen our insight into the earlier work.  On the whole, it paints a portrait of Gadamer as an erudite historian of philosophy, a committed humanist (and staunch Europeanist), and a genial raconteur of his long, rich academic career.

These are mostly good things. While my review unavoidably considers Gadamer’s own views in these essays, I am more concerned even there with this edition as a self-standing volume and I will examine certain editorial and translation decisions to this end. The present volume contains 18 essays[ii] arranged in four parts, covering Gadamer’s reflections on (1) history in general, (2) Dilthey’s significance, (3) other critical encounters, and (4) Heidegger’s significance. A Preface by the translators outlines the goals and contents of the volume, stresses the nuance to be gained by reading Gadamer’s later writings, and situates Gadamer’s thought broadly with respect to its reception in both continental and analytic philosophy. An Introduction by the translators spells out some details of Gadamer’s thoughts on history, phenomenology, language, and practical philosophy, and encourages the beginner predisposed towards these thoughts.

Part 1 contains 6 essays, the oldest of which is from 1964 and the newest from 1991. This part considers the problem of history as a lived experience and as an existential question in the face of a prevailing naturalism. Part 2 contains 3 essays from the period 1984-1991, which attest to the enduring presence in Gadamer’s work of Dilthey’s conception of hermeneutics and historical consciousness.  Part 3 contains 5 essays dating between 1974 and 1994, which situate Gadamer’s thought in relation to other figures in his firmament, Husserl, Sartre, Bourdieu, Habermas, and Derrida. While Heidegger looms large in in every piece, Part 4 contains 4 essays from 1985-6 focused on different aspects of Heidegger’s work as a researcher and as a teacher.

The essays on the first topic, “history,” vary greatly in style.  Some are analytical and were intended as articles, while others are relatively lyrical, when not simply rambling, and come from “improvised”[iii] opening or closing remarks at conferences.  The first essay “Is there a causality in history?” lays out the key idea.  The concept of causality in the natural scientific attitude concerns a regular connection enabling prediction and planning ahead, whereas causality in history is rooted in the fundamental experience of an event as something that has already happened, something singular and surprising that entangles us in questions of freedom and necessity.  To understand this experience, Gadamer unpacks the history of the concept through various philosophers and shows that the concept of causality is interwoven with fundamental ontological questions about human existence.  Drawing up a term’s intellectual history[iv] and relating it to the structure of Dasein with Heidegger’s help is a common thread through several essays. The problem of history, then, invites us to think the question of being.

The other essays in this part develop this key idea different ways.  I found it hard, however, to see how developing the idea differently also amounts to adding “nuance” to it, as the translators claim (viii-ix).  The second essay is said (x) to newly re-engage Leo Strauss, but one finds in it just a passing mention of Strauss that clarifies very little.[v]  Moreover, the essay’s thrust that the problem of historicism in recent philosophy has always been around since the ancient Greeks seems to de-historicize the issue itself.  The third essay (from 1991) is really all over the place.  In it, Gadamer returns to the contrast between the scientific and historical viewpoints, but we can scarcely take seriously the leaps he makes between the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe on the one hand, and Foucault, Homer, Galileo, and much else on the other.[vi] The essay eventually snowballs into dire warnings about the rise of technology and pious reminders about the value of the humanities.  This might catch everything and still miss nuance.

To look for nuance in the fourth essay, which comes from “improvised” opening remarks, is futile. The last two essays in this part develop the concern for historical consciousness in a softer, reflective register, and ask about the experience of the old and the new and of dying.  The nuance I find in the latter, however, is only an indirect one: while the conception of philosophy as a reflection on dying is somewhat familiar and remains interesting, Gadamer’s way of setting up this reflection via easy talk of the practices of dying in Christian, Islamic, and “the great East Asian cultures” (61) simultaneously underlines the need for a richer historical-sociological understanding of these topics and, in palpably betraying this need, Gadamer gives an honest account of the limits of his reflections on the question of death. In sum, while I celebrate the effort to make more of Gadamer’s corpus available to the English reader, I am left puzzled about how this also makes available a greater nuance.

Related worries appear in regard to the translation.  As mentioned, it reads easily and captures the effortless flow of Gadamer’s travels through complex ideas and vast periods. The edition includes a general glossary of German, Latin, and Greek expressions at the end and helpful editorial endnotes to each essay guide the reader diligently.  Yet, I am confused by some translation decisions.  For example, it feels important to note Gadamer’s use of variants of both Geschichte and Historie in a volume taking its departure from the topic, but this is not done.  It might very well be the case that Gadamer does not differentiate their senses, but, given his clear interest in linguistic and idiomatic trajectories as well as the Heideggerian background, it would have been useful to mark the verbal difference.

Had verbal differences been noted, essay 3 about the history of the universe and human historicity could have helped.  Here, Gadamer seems to use Historie-variants for the professional discipline and Geschichte-variants for sites of deeper historical consciousness. Translating both with “history” and not marking the German term causes one to lose sight of this possible nuance.[vii] In the opposite direction, different words are given in place of one word. Gadamer consistently refers to a central concern in the essay on causality in history with the word Zusammenhang, but this is translated variously as “fabric,” “connection,” and “complex” on the first few pages (3-4).[viii]  The same couple of pages also translate Freiheit once as “freedom” and then as “liberty,” but in this case it is possible to guess why two different words are used, for the editors may have wished to distinguish Gadamer’s own handling of “freedom” from Ranke’s technical term “scenes of liberty” (4).[ix]

A striking instance of the choice to translate the same word differently concerns another central concept featuring in comparisons of Dilthey and Husserl, which is itself a recurrent theme in the collection.  In essay 7, “The Problem of Dilthey: Between Romanticism and Positivism,” Gadamer complicates a standard story about Dilthey’s work proceeding directly from psychology to hermeneutics, from conceiving the understanding as an inner process to its establishment as a general principle of the historical sciences.  Rather, for Gadamer, Dilthey’s thought is initially inspired by Husserl’s anti-psychologism, which leads him to reformulate the account of an “inner process” through concepts of life and lived experience. Yet, unsatisfied with Husserl’s explorations of transcendental subjectivity, Dilthey combines both German Idealist and British empiricist influences to expand the theory of meaning and its grounding in life and, ultimately, to envision hermeneutics anew.  The concept Bedeutung underlies this revised story, but this word is translated sometimes as “significance” and sometimes as “meaning,” apparently to distinguish Dilthey’s life-based conception from Husserl’s logical-ontological conception.  While Gadamer himself consistently used one term for both conceptions, the terminological distinction added without notation by the translators may lead the anglophone reader astray.

The aforementioned essay is the first of three devoted to Dilthey’s contributions, making up part 2 of the volume.  This part is stronger and more focused than the first.  While the first essay (1984) sets out the central claims and turning points of Dilthey’s evolving work, the next essay (1985) pulls into its orbit Ortega y Gasset and Nietzsche, which, through their inclusion, broadens the debates on psychology in the period in which Dilthey worked out his position.[x] The translators probably had the third essay (1991) foremost in their minds when they noted that Gadamer, in comparison with his earlier critical rejection of Dilthey,[xi] “softens” his stance in the later essays (xxix).  Here, Gadamer underlines that his earlier contrast between traditional hermeneutics (the line from Schleiermacher to Dilthey according to Gadamer) and philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer’s self-representation) was not meant to separate, but to join the two in the demand for a reformed hermeneutics (107, 117).  He admits that his earlier Schleiermacher critique was somewhat deficient, but he notes that that does not affect his Dilthey reading (105-6), and he appears to shift from his earlier, internal critique of Dilthey’s lamentable restriction to the concept of objectivity used in the natural sciences to taking it as a product of historical circumstance.[xii]  The third essay was written in the context of new works on Dilthey’s thought and recent publication of posthumous materials, but it is still able to convey to us today the importance of re-examining the Dilthey-Gadamer encounter.[xiii]

Part 3 covers Gadamer’s other encounters (Husserl, Sartre, Bourdieu, Habermas, and Derrida) and is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of strength, but possibly justifies its inclusion in the volume due to the unfailing ability of Franco-German encounters to deliver satisfying entertainment, whether this takes place in a seminar room or on the football pitch.  Essays 10 (1975) and 11 (1974) embody Gadamer’s reflections on Husserl.  The former essay had been translated previously and I take it that it is recalled here as an introductory piece to situate the latter essay, which wades a little deeper into the issues. The former essay claims that appeals to intersubjectivity do not absolve Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology from its subjectivist trappings, nor is the concept of intersubjectivity lacking in Heidegger’s project in Being and Time, since the concept of being thrown into the world and the equiprimordiality of being-with and being-in-the-world include it.  The latter essay analyzes the concept of the lifeworld and emphasizes that this is not a new development in Husserl’s thought.  Rather, it marks a return to older questions about the thoroughness in bracketing the world, and, in fact, returns to yet older questions in German Idealism about thoroughness in setting up the foundations of transcendental philosophy (143).  Gadamer locates his own turn to the movements of interpretation as an alternative to such issues of foundation, which have not been able to exit the sphere of the subject.

Essays 12 and 13 engage Sartre, Bourdieu, and Habermas, but they are not as strong as the Husserl treatments.  Gadamer reminds us how novel Sartre’s joining together of Hegel with Husserl and Heidegger had appeared at the time and how this had to be squared with the characterization of Sartre as a French moralist.  This concern with views from outside is also present in the review of Bourdieu’s The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger, which is coupled with the short review mentioned earlier of Habermas’ Philosophical Discourse of Modernity.  Gadamer cannot stomach Bourdieu’s sociological approach, which appears to him to reduce the highest questions of truth and thinking itself to mere posturing, and he suspects that Bourdieu’s analysis of academic sublimations of socio-economic structures and anxieties is driven by a misplaced animus against the German university system and by easy comparisons with the more public intellectual sphere in France (169).

The Habermas review is slightly more respectful, but in Gadamer’s eyes he too misunderstands Heidegger’s thought.  This is due to his use of a French reception of Nietzsche to view Heidegger, whereas, while marred by reductionism, Bourdieu at least had the sociological orientation right.  Part 2 closes as it began with another re-translation, this time of Gadamer’s 1994 reckoning with Derrida.  Coming on the heels of the non-dialogue with Habermas and Bourdieu, this essay shows Gadamer practicing what he teaches as a theorist of dialogue, as he pursues one with deconstruction well after the Gadamer-Derrida exchange in the early 1980s had exhausted itself and which most had admitted to be of a “somewhat disjointed and non-dialogical character.”[xiv] Gadamer recounts here his problems with Derrida’s understanding of logos in the critique of logocentrism, the focus on writing but not reading, the asubjectivity in the concept of trace that ignores a fundamental dialogical unity, and he does not forget to remind us that Derrida is writing from a French tradition over a German one.[xv]

Part 4 brings us four essays on Heidegger from 1985-86, each replete with fond recollections of the master’s quips and quirks, but each playing a slightly different role in this part.  The first (essay 15) combines an account of Heidegger’s formative influences with Gadamer’s own under his direction.  Hagiography notwithstanding, Gadamer occasionally registers nuances that one looks for in his later work, which occur in the form of realizations that dawned upon him much later, although these are not worked out in detail.  He mentions his “recent insight” (211) that a possible influence of American pragmatism through Emil Lask may have come Heidegger’s way, or how, only much later, Gadamer saw in Heidegger’s course (co-taught with Ebbinhaus [sic], 213) on Kant’s philosophy of religion the inner theological grounds of Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics, which informs several late essays, e.g. essay 2 in part 1.

Essay 16 touches on Heidegger’s turn from his early, theologically saturated phase to a later “flight into poetic concepts” (223), but the essay is too short to be informative.  Essay 17 takes up Heidegger’s turn to the pre-Socratics and Gadamer again notes his late realization that this turn too was prefigured in the intensely religious and theological forces in Heidegger’s early thought (242).  This essay is only as helpful as the large strokes it paints with, but it is for the same reason remarkable for its brazen declarations about “the Greeks,” the fulfillment of the destiny of the west, and the like, which surpass Heidegger-style declamations along these lines.[xvi]

Or, in another instance, which the translators single out to illustrate Gadamer’s historical approach to concepts,[xvii] Gadamer explains how illuminating Heideggerian etymology can be by telling us about the word ousia.  Before its philosophical codification and sedimentation, ousia meant a sustaining relation to the land, or a piece of property in this relation, and this sense underlies Heidegger’s effort to re-think being through Anwesenheit. Strangely, however, Gadamer states that this old meaning persists timelessly and seeks to demonstrate this with the help of a problematic example of 20th century Greek displacements from war and genocide.  “The Greeks” (237), who were pushed out to the countryside by external genocide and internal displacement in the 1920s are said to gain presence (Anwesenheit) because these refugees are “all of them housed in their own small houses.” What does this have to do with the ancient Greek term? Gadamer continues confidently:

“The Greek can say the same and can say it right up to the present.  Whoever knows Athens can see this… Here, the word ousia manages to make the philosophical conceptual sense clearer in its relation to the original meaning of the word.” (ibid.)

The final essay 18 also revolves around Heidegger and “the Greeks,” but here Gadamer balances his endearingly self-deprecating reminiscences of the master as well as his protective gestures in the face of the latter’s “political ‘aberration’,” as he puts it (173), with a sharp account (257-268) of his differences with Heidegger over the question of approaching Plato mainly through Aristotle and thereby missing Plato’s own openness to an historical, dialogical questioning of being.  Gadamer gathers evidence in support of his critique from close readings of Heidegger’s comments on Plato as well as various Platonic dialogues, which the reader will wholeheartedly welcome after the number of unsubstantiated, sweeping claims in earlier parts of the book.  And although this is not Gadamer’s explicit intent, the style of his confrontation with Heidegger’s Plato hints at his proximity to the Tübingen school of Plato interpretation and to the shared background shaping the profound works on Plato by another student of Heidegger, Jacob Klein.

The end matter contains an index of names, an index of subjects, and a list of works cited by Gadamer.[xviii]  In view of the express intent of the series to complete the task of translating Gadamer into the English through its selections, it would have been useful to include a list of existing English translations of Gadamer’s other works of the kind at the end of the Bernasconi edition of Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays.

In sum, this collection of essays provides a convenient point of access into the main planks of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, despite some inscrutable editorial and translation decisions described above, which prevent it from fully serving further research needs.  It presents a rounded picture of Gadamer’s thought situated against key themes and figures, despite the great variation in the quality of the texts, and, as we saw, the picture is revealing in unintended ways as well.  Finally, it showcases Gadamer’s flair for the essay form. Reading his essays, then, renews faith in this dwindling rarity, but, also – and this might be one of the ways that the ability to revisit earlier ideas from later parts of a long life generates “nuance” – a collection of essays allows both the author and the reader to live through the experience of an object under varying conditions. Putting into words that well apply to a reading of his own writings, Gadamer denies an ideal of complete transparency and affirms the infinitely varied and fused shades of darkness and light “even during the course of one’s life, so that things in a changing light are illuminated in a changing manner and often fall completely into obscurity.  There is no light of an enduring day that makes the true significance of everything appear.” (81)

[i] Thus, together with those that were translated earlier elsewhere (130 articles), the series (50 articles) helps assemble an English version of all the major essays in Gadamer’s Gesammelte Werke (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1986-95, 10 volumes).

[ii] Two essays in this selection had been previously translated into English by Gadamer scholars and translators Richard Palmer and David Vessey.  These are both in the third part.

[iii] Essay 4 in this part, “A World Without History?” (1972), was an “improvised opening talk” at a conference (288n.1), and it reads as such.  Essay 3, “The History of the Universe and the Historicity of Human Beings” (1988), was a concluding speech at another conference (286n.1) and also rushes through a bewildering number of topics.  Essay 5, “The Old and the New” (1981), was an opening speech (288n.1).

[iv] Gadamer even formulates this at one point thus: “For a long time, I have followed the methodological principle of not undertaking any investigation without giving an account of the history of the concept.” (126) The translators’ introduction remarks on the richness of this method not without some enthusiasm, using Gadamer’s discussion of ousia as an example (xviii), to which I will return later.

[v] The sought nuance would pertain to the differences we might perceive between Gadamer and Strauss on the problem of historical consciousness, but all this comes to rest on one cryptic sentence: “Strauss could not see that a reflection on the temporality of our understanding and the historicity of our existence is not always already at play in this question.” (17).  Which question?  A few lines above Gadamer states that we are concerned with “the urgency of the Socratic question,” but there was no mention of Socrates up to this point.  In another essay, Gadamer says that “[t]he Socratic question is a constant exhortation to remember, which sustains itself in all human reflection and in all human acts of giving an account of oneself, whether one may own such an account to oneself or to another.” (83) Presumably, Gadamer has this in mind, but neither he nor the editors help bring it before the reader.

[vi] Consider this passage, which continues the puzzling talk of the universe as evolving – Gadamer calls it a “theory of evolution,” no less (27) – from the Big Bang: “If there is indeed such an evolution, then it follows in fact that this evolution in always pressing onward somehow pulls the future of the totality into our speculation.  Here Foucault comes to mind.  This may exceed our cognitive capacities, but it is thought ‘scientifically’ and fundamentally promises a savoir pour prevoir.  Now this situation is completely different in the case of history, as indicated by Jacob Burckhardt’s famous words about history…” (ibid.)  No relief from the barrage of such associations comes until the essay ends.

[vii] The difference, at first pass, seems to be between, on the one hand, the textually received tradition of storytelling and its historical-phenomenological significance, and, on the other, the professional forms of studying the past beyond written records, involving archaeology and the pre-Greek past (28-29).  The difference is missed in translating all instances with “history,” and made yet harder to see with other related decisions, like rendering Vorzeit as “pre-history” (240), Historie as “historiography” (49), etc.  This contrasts with the attention given to Gadamer’s play with root forms of words, e.g. forms of stehen (51, 54), scheiden (52), schreiben (195), etc.

[viii] Or “context” in other places.  Essay 7 mostly uses “connection” to translate Zusammenhang, except on p. 80, where, like p.100 in essay 8, the metaphysically loaded term “nexus” is used.

[ix] The editorial note 2 on pp.282-3 reminds the reader of Ranke’s conception, which suggests (without explicitly stating) that “liberty” was chosen to mark it off from Gadamer’s conception of “freedom.”

[x] The question of locating Nietzsche returns in essay 13’s talk of German and French receptions of Nietzsche in the context of a very short review of a Habermas text (174-8).  Related to this ‘locating’ is Gadamer’s stress on claiming Ortega for German thought and as a consummate European: “[Ortega] is one of the essential figures of European thought… Today, Europe inquires into its tasks under the changed constellation of the declining century… At this time, it is very precious for us to have a Dilthey as a universal advocate for the historical tradition to which we belong, as well as the European Ortega, who drew his inspiration from the whole of the European history of thought.” (102)

[xi] See Gadamer, Truth and Method, revised trans. by Weinsheimer & Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1998), 173-242.

[xii] That Dilthey succumbed to the pressure of the times is expressed in essay 9 (109), but essay 7 (80) remarkably goes as far as to treat this as inevitable because Heidegger has shown that something of the order of the forgetting of being clouds modern metaphysics.

[xiii] The anglophone reader today has many texts of Dilthey on history and hermeneutics available in the English to enable their analysis as well as of Gadamer’s references to them. I’m especially thinking of Dilthey’s youthful, detailed treatise on hermeneutics, and other writings on history, hermeneutics, and human sciences published by Princeton University Press in the late 1980s. Truth and Method mentions but does not take up the earlier treatise by Dilthey, and the present volume encourages its re-examination.  The volume rarely engages in close reading of texts, but does contain intriguing clues emphasizing the presence of German idealism in the constellation of influences and tendencies at work in both thinkers.  This topic has recently received impetus from the work of Kristin Gjesdal (Gadamer and the Legacy of German Idealism [2009] and her not unrelated Herder’s Hermeneutics [2017]), for instance.  In view of these areas of research, it would have been useful to include Gadamer’s essays on Hegel and other German Idealists as a more pressing matter than those covered in weaker pieces of the present selection.

[xiv] Fred Dallmayr, “Hermeneutics and Deconstruction: Gadamer and Derrida in Dialogue,” in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, eds. Diane Michelfelder & Richard Palmer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 75-92 (here, p.77).

[xv] “Even more strongly than [Stärker als] our idealistic and phenomenological tradition, to which Derrida belongs [an der Derrida teilhat], what appears essential in the works of Derrida is the French style of literary criticism.” (190). German in brackets added by reviewer.

[xvi] A sample: “When Heidegger speaks of the end of philosophy, we immediately understand that we can only talk like this from the Western perspective.  Elsewhere, there was no philosophy that set itself apart so much from poetry or religion or science, neither in East Asia nor in India nor in the unknown parts of the earth. ‘Philosophy’ is an expression of the trajectory of Western destiny.” (229-230)

[xvii] See my footnote 4 above.  The passage also elicits a long endnote by the translators (307 n.6), which focuses on the senses of Anwesen and steers clear of any comment on the disturbing example.

[xviii] Perhaps a sign of the times, but I note with some regret that I did not receive a hard copy of the book for review, which at least prevented me from seeing the back matter completely.

Sylvain Camilleri, Guillaume Fagniez, Charlotte Gauvry (Eds.): Heidegger’s Hermeneutics of Facticity, Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2018

Heidegger's Hermeneutics of Facticity Book Cover Heidegger's Hermeneutics of Facticity
AD FONTES Studien zur frühen phänomenologischen Band 10
Sylvain Camilleri, Guillaume Fagniez, Charlotte Gauvry (Eds.)
Bautz Verlag
Paperback 25,00 €

Viorel Cernica (Ed.): Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume

Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume Book Cover Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume
Viorel Cernica (Ed.)
Bucharest University Press

Reviewed by: Andrei Simionescu-Panait (Romanian Society for Phenomenology)

This volume engages with Pre-judicative Hermeneutics, a phenomenologically- and hermeneutically-oriented framework that rose to prominence in Romanian-speaking academic circles in 2013 with Viorel Cernica’s Judgment and Time: The Phenomenology of Judgment (Judecată şi timp. Fenomenologia judicativului). Like Cernica’s monograph, this volume is in Romanian. A second volume in the series has just been published. These publications are driven by scholars at the University of Bucharest.

Cernica’s idea of a Pre-judicative Hermeneutics is intended as a counterpart to Husserlian phenomenology. His point of departure is constitutive phenomenology; the brand of phenomenology that focuses on the ways in which judgments are constituted from an otherwise pre-reflective level of experience. For Cernica, there are certain aspects of judgment that are not constituted and cannot support constitution. He has attempted to account for these aspects of ‘non-judicative’ experience.

The starting point for such an account is a process of ‘de-constitution’. According to this process, the hermeneuts’ job is to engage with quasi-objectual pre-judgment and prevent it from reaching a constituted judgment. This may remind some readers of the illustrative charioteer metaphor that Plato invokes in his Theaetetus. Focussing on an impulsive pre-judgment reveals its inherent behavior and promotes a better understanding of both judgment and its correlates.

The volume brings together five texts plus an extensive introduction by Cernica. A reader familiar with more traditional approaches to phenomenology may find it useful to commence with Oana Șerban’s contribution. Cernica’s chapter is more of a straight-to-business type of philosophical text and less of a pedagogical introduction. Of the remaining chapters, two use Cernica’s phenomenologically inspired method of inquiry regarding pre-judgments. A third can be contrasted with the first two in both terminology and scope. The last contribution attempts to explain why meontology is a natural match for Cernica’s brand of hermeneutics. On the one hand, these contributions are the results of an intersubjective phenomenological effort (what Herbert Spiegelberg’s calls‘symphilosophizing’). Indeed, Mihai-Dragoș Vadana and Remus Breazu’s respective chapters have emerged from lengthy seminar discussions. On the other hand, the reader should not expect a single, consistent and coordinated approach on behalf of the contributors.

When it comes to Cernica’s introduction, he focuses on the concepts of pre-judgment and non-judgment. Cernica believes that the constitutive nature of traditional phenomenology forfeits the possibility of making sense ofthe pre-judicative level of experience. According to the de-constitutive process, not only do I have to suspend judgment, it is more interesting to try to understand how I can roll back my instinct to judge in a certain way. A more traditional phenomenologist may argue that rolling back my instinct to judge is a constitutive process in itself, so any sense of de-constitution is actually a way of constituting a portion of the world in a different way altogether. According to Cernica, one cannot deny that every experience (in the broadest sense of the word) is constituted. What one can deny is the idea that every experience encompasses all previous experiences such that they bloom into full judgments. Not all experiences result in object fulfillment indicative of judgment because they are cases of de-constitution. At a phenomenological level, such cases refer to moments of experience where the order of the lifeworld is bothered by something I cannot really place my finger on (no matter what I do). This persistent yet elusive bothering is the non-judicative gateway towards the permanently tense pre-judicative sphere of experiencing that is the focal point for pre-judicative hermeneutics.

Vadana attempts to marry ideas from Cernica’s method with those of Romanian philosopher Mircea Florian. He underlines the contrast between constitutive judging and regulative judging, which revolves around being configured by judgment’s formal structure (subject-predicate) – in the case of constitutive judging – or not – in the case of regulative judging. Vadana proceeds from this distinction in order to explore the non-formal origin of regulative judging. He finds a similar conceptual behavior in both regulative judging and the notion of recessivity. The basic formulation of recessivity involves the distinction between emerging and the source of the emergence. For instance, culture recedes from nature, objects of consciousness recede from acts of consciousness, and so on. By analogy, Vadana sees that regulative judging recedes from regular constitutive judging. In a certain sense, thisreflects the de-constitutive move made by Cernica. In order to express the similarities, Vadana focusses on Aristotle’s account of post-predicaments – those stable characteristics that inevitably occur with judgment. Vadana thinks that the study of post-predicaments is, in fact, the study of the phenomenon of pre-judging;one studies consequences to know what one can always expect.

Breazu’s contribution concerns the distinction between absurdity and non-sense. Absurd judgments are problematic but still respect the basic formal requirements of judgments. Even though some arguments are dominated by absurdity, they still make sense and can sometimes develop into convincing philosophical arguments. For instance, for a phenomenologist, the idea of a thing-in-itself is absurd. Rather, phenomenologists acknowledge that things are things one intends in a certain manner. On that basis, phenomenologists can acknowledge that one is able to constitute absurd judgments. Breazu distinguishes between logical absurdity and objectual absurdity. Whereas logical absurdity is something that can be constituted, objectual absurdity is defined by the inability to have full constitution in the field of consciousness. Breazu describes this inability as non-sensical. Appropriating Cernica’s framework, he suggests that something does not make sense if the non-judicative clashes with the formal territory of judgment; if a syntactic slip results from otherwise sound judgments. This can be compared to a case where a quasi-object of consciousness, which has never been constitutively fulfilled (e.g. seeing a mirage under the full summer sunlight), is violently adapted to the formal rigor of the sharpest HD camera. Indeed, it makes no sense to experience a crystal-clear mirage. Breazu shows that Cernica’s focus on de-constitution (as opposed to constitution) can, in fact, enrich phenomenological discourse. It is still unclear whether Cernica interprets his hermeneutics as a species of phenomenology.

Oana Șerban’s chapter provides an assessment of the compatibility of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and pre-judicative hermeneutics. With regards to Merleau-Ponty’s account of perceptual belief, Șerban focusses on the concept of pre-reflection, which is conceived as a guarantee for belief that does not enter the field of judgment. She argues that perceptual belief must rely on the concept of pre-reflection. She traces the roots of Cernica’s concept of pre-judgment in Merleau-Ponty’s concept of pre-reflection. Thus, Șerban’s exegesis adds a supplementary layer of meaning to some of Cernica’s ideas.

Cornel Moraru discusses the idea of meontology in the context of Cernica’s framework. He explores the concept of questioning by applying the idea of de-constitution. He holds that serious questions (as opposed to ironic and rhetorical ones) constitutively rely on a certain nothingness, or absence, without which there could be no questioning. Furthermore, he argues that affectivity is configured by such an absence. Moraru refers to the study of de-constituted questioning as meontology.

This volume’s particular strength relies in its novel ideas and its use of classical philosophical terminology. These innovative ideas will provoke phenomenologists that are interested in the experiential aspects of judgment constitution and de-constitution. However, the volume’s unifying thread does not surface easily; the last two texts are only minimally connected to the theme of pre-judicative hermeneutics. Furthermore, the volume only partially delivers on what it promises, that is, to clarify the meaning and nature of pre-judicative hermeneutics.

Martin Eldracher: Heteronome Subjektivität, Transcript Verlag, 2018

Heteronome Subjektivität: Dekonstruktive und hermeneutische Anschlüsse an die Subjektkritik Heideggers Book Cover Heteronome Subjektivität: Dekonstruktive und hermeneutische Anschlüsse an die Subjektkritik Heideggers
Martin Eldracher
Transcript Verlag
Paperback 39,99 €

Bruce B. Janz (Ed.): Place, Space and Hermeneutics

Place, Space and Hermeneutics Book Cover Place, Space and Hermeneutics
Series: Contributions to Hermeneutics, Vol. 5
Bruce B. Janz (Ed.)
Hardback 139,09 €
XXIV, 531

Reviewed by: Sanna Lehtinen (University of Helsinki)

Place, Space and Hermeneutics is an extensive compilation of articles that cover a wide spectrum of hermeneutical approaches to understanding place and space. It is the 5th volume in Contributions to Hermeneutics series and comprises 37 individual chapters. Hermeneutics is understood quite loosely through philosophical and non-philosophical definitions of it. This is explicitly done in order to avoid diminishing its possibilities: the emphasis is on making visible the richness of current hermeneutical thinking and show new directions and application possibilities for it. Hermeneutics is presented as an umbrella term for a set of methods and perspectives to interpretation that will, and already have proved, to be useful for understanding place and space. How exactly do the fundamental hermeneutic tasks of understanding and interpreting help in making sense of the human relation to space and place? Hermeneutics of place is approached through various very different cases: from imaginary places to embodied experience and from textuality to particular places on the Earth, the specific position of hermeneutics for understanding the human relation to place is shown to be undisputed. One obvious meta-question central to the collection of articles is, what kind of interpretations hermeneutics itself elicits from its authors.

One of the more fundamental themes for an anthology with this type of a theme is the spatial nature of the very situatedness of human beings (v). The interweaving of the ontological and epistemological approaches within hermeneutics is done to a convenient extent: as Jeff Malpas writes in his foreword, the emphasis of the book has been on depicting the hermeneutical engagement with the topics at hand, instead of making a dedication specifically to hermeneutical philosophy (vii). This proves that the approach stays open and close to the topics it is attempting to cover. Another more fundamental question deals with the mechanisms of how place and space contribute to the constitution of the human subjectivity and embodied experience of space. This is a topic that Shaun Gallagher, Sergio F. Martínez, and Melina Gastelum examine more closely in their joint article. The baseline, in a sense, for any hermeneutical relation to the world, comes from understanding how the lived body relates to the world it is by necessity bound to. Understanding the body as it is lived as opposed the ‘corporeal body’ (Körper) brings forth the bodily ramifications for any engagement with place. Kevin Aho takes up this distinction in his contribution and develops the theme of a hermeneutic understanding of the ‘lived-body’ (Leib).

While the application of hermeneutics to place is not new as such, attention has been paid in the book to developing hermeneutic philosophy also towards future needs and purposes. A lot of emphasis is put, quite understandably, on the notion of place. Space is not necessarily discussed to the same extent as place due to the rich, already existing phenomenological tradition concentrating on interpreting place. Space is most often treated in relation to either place or time: direct approaches and experiential perspectives to spatiality become exposed in glimpses. These reflections open up new paths and clarify old conceptions of hermeneutics. It seems clear, that future research will be able to build on the preconception that time and temporality are complemented with place and space within the hermeneutic tradition. The collection makes visible the myriad ways in which hermeneutic philosophy and phenomenology are intertwined and also where their ways part. In this, Ricoeur’s distinction between epistemological (Dilthey) and ontological approaches (Heidegger) to hermeneutics has traditionally worked as a useful compass (116). However, the multiplicity of voices is present throughout the book: in a compilation this vast, no one thinker manages to override others in balancing “the opposing pulls of space and place” (275).

The volume introduces the reader to the internal variation within contemporary hermeneutic thinking. The book is divided into three larger parts: “Elements of Place, Space and Hermeneutics”, “Figures and Thinkers” and “Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Spaces of the Hermeneutics of Place and Space”. The importance of a comprehensive account of hermeneutical methodologies applied to place is also highlighted directly by many of the contributors, since, for example according to Christina M. Gschwandtner: “place is always interpreted. There is no objective, neutral, or “pure” place.” (170). Place as such calls for an interpretation as it demarcates an already existing, culturally and historically tinged engagement with space.

The first part, “Elements of Place, Space and Hermeneutics”., consists of nine individual articles examining basic questions of hermeneutics as an approach to place and space. Some do it on a more general level, but others have already a specifically chosen point of view to present. Textuality is presented as a central perspective in Bruce B. Janz’ account, the first of many dealing with this specifically central theme. Annike Schlitte takes up narrative, whereas dialogue is presented as the main topic in Kyoo Lee’s contribution. The choice of focus on textuality in the beginning is well justified by the history of hermeneutical tradition and ideas to which it is still associated with most strongly. The textual model for interpretation is a valid starting point for many of the subsequent ventures as well. The textuality-based themes discussed in the first part serve well also the interpretation of the rest of the book. While text interpretation continues to be central point of orientation for any hermeneutic approach, other interesting themes in the first part of the collection are covered by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein’s article on the notion of play (Gadamerian Spiel) and style and Dylan Trigg’s phenomenological take on the differences between place and non-place, that builds on the legacy of both Marc Augé and Edward Relph.

Text as a metaphor for place together with other metaphors is examined since both textuality and place are core concepts in hermeneutics (26). The relation of places to memory is also evoked (171). Different narratives turn spaces into shared places, even fictitious or dreamed spaces (Cristina Chimisso on Gaston Bachelard). The theory and practice of art is also present to some extent (Babette Babich on Merleau-Ponty and Keith Harder on place-specific artistic practices). It goes without saying, that architecture is also present in this context. Interestingly enough, stairwells and stairs prove to be important architectural elements discussed as examples in both articles that are directly focusing on architecture: Jean-Claude Gens writing about Gadamer and David Seamon focusing on the architectural language of Thomas Thiis-Evensen.

The second part is titled concisely “Figures and Thinkers” and it delves deeper into the general theme by presenting central figures for contemporary hermeneutic approach to place and space in its 12 chapters. Diverse and indispensable philosophers from Heidegger to Ricoeur or Gadamer to Malpas receive direct attention, the whole list of figures being too extensive to go through here in detail. Space is also dedicated to thinkers less directly associated with hermeneutical tradition: these include Arendt and Foucault. Some names come altogether outside the philosophical canon, such are for example Yi-Fu Tuan and J. J. Gibson, to name a few. All of these thinkers have a slightly different type of relation to hermeneutics and specifically to examining place and space. Some are closer to what could be characterized as the core of the approach and others have had a less direct influence on the unfolding the interpretational themes related to place and space. The thinkers in this part represent many traditions from ontological hermeneutics to human geography. Despite the seemingly wide variety between figures and approaches, there is unforeseeable value in bringing them together under the same title in this context.

The legacy of some prominent thinkers who have been previously considered to be at the margins of hermeneutical tradition, is rewritten from the perspective of inclusive, multidisciplinary hermeneutics. An example of this, Yi-Fu Tuan, is noted in Paul C. Adams’ chapter to explicitly avoid any methodology. However, in his approach closely following some of the central parameters of hermeneutic thinking: empathy and interest towards a vast variety of human experiences and advancing thought through contrasts in circular motion. Other thinkers would seem to resist the stamp of hermeneutics more but are still depicted in this account as bearing some connection to the current forms of hermeneutics of place and space. Henri Lefebvre, for example, is traditionally seen to be very far from any version of hermeneutics but according to Peter Gratton’s reading of his work, Lefebvre’s projects on spatiality are affect also any subsequent hermeneutical account of the themes of place or space. This selection of articles show also, how hermeneutic approach to place can get significant depth and reinforcement from Arendtian multi-perspectivism, Foucauldian discourse analysis or Gibsonian ecological psychology. Also, the more sceptical attitudes towards methodologies in general are given a place, as the articles on Bachelard, Arendt and Tuan pay attention to show.

Hermeneutics is often used to refer to the conscious development of a specific methodology, but the term also denotes a general, even a more intuitive attempt to understand the constituents of particular human actions. The volume at hand makes explicit the inevitable distinction between hermeneutics as a philosophical program (Malpas & Gander 2014) and hermeneutics as a set of interpretation tools applicable to varying topics. An overview of hermeneutics to place and space is created thus by showing the strengths of these approaches in relation to the main topics of interest here: what types of interpretations do human actions and their spatial dispersions elicit and enable? Understanding human actions and practices, their meanings and intentionality behind them, is at the centre throughout the collection, even though interpretative efforts are directed towards more particular aims in each individual contribution. The human relation to place and space and the forms it gets, opens up the discussion to many directions. This serves as a reminder of the vast terrain of possible subthemes in any variety of hermeneutics of place and space. Besides direct engagement, hermeneutics is used also to interpret the many traces left by human activity. It is easy to see great value in this type of an approach, and hermeneutics in this form could profit even more the ongoing discussions about such complex and large-scale issues as climate change and urbanization. This has already been shown by a growing interest towards environmental hermeneutics that precedes this publication (see e.g. Treanor & al. 2013). This is also precisely where the anthology proceeds towards its end.

The third, last and understandably the largest part of the book is dedicated to “Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Spaces of the Hermeneutics of Place and Space”. As one strand of the final part, the topical planetary level problems that are increasingly seeping into our everyday consciousness are taken into closer consideration. The broad concepts discussed in the chapter include the Anthropocene (Janz) and climate crisis (Edward Casey). Environmental and ecological thinking is present more broadly also already in Gschwandtner’s application of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics to place. Janet Donohoe gives environmental hermeneutics a more detailed account as she focuses on the concept of the environment and what this environment in peril is in relation to the human culture and the significant places in our lives. This type of an approach is a welcome reminder, of how environmental philosophy can profit from taking hermeneutics into account in comprehending the current complex environmental threats and the relation to the human lifeworlds.

From environmental perspective, it is also relevant to think about how to draw interpretation about the events that take place on a planetary scale. How does the need for space of the human population affect the living conditions of other species on Earth? What type of knowledge and engagement do these types of questions entail? These questions raised by the currently prevailing ecological concerns show, that the need to reflect, understand and interpret these tendencies and the human responsibilities is more crucial than ever. The human capacity for collectively organizing its living conditions according to the afforded space is not unique, by any means. What we are capable though, is the conceptual thinking and long-term planning in relation to how human spaces are created, developed and used. This type of long-term, temporally evolving engagement is what hermeneutics is also well-equipped to illustrate.

The final part of the book consisting of 15 chapters in total, gives an overview of the interdisciplinary relations in which hermeneutics has proven to be particularly fruitful. The clear intention of this part is also to widen the possibilities of use and show new directions for developing hermeutics of place and space. Among various newer or less-studied interdisciplinary constellations presented here are for example topopoetics, which according to Tim Cresswell is “a project that sees poems as places and spaces” (319). This part of the book, intended to be “exploratory and creative”, stretches further ground for new hermeneutical approaches (4). Paths point towards the possible multidisciplinary futures of hermeneutics of place and space: hermeneutics as inherently directed towards exploration of inner meanings encourages these interdisciplinary approaches. This becomes apparent by some chapters of the final part: they rely strongly on the tradition of their specific field but show how hermeneutics has successfully been implemented into their approach to place or space. Thomas Dörfler and Eberhard Rothfuß, for example, have human geography as their starting point. In the same vein, Pauline McKenzie Aucoin has anthropological and Eva-Maria Simms psychological focuses in their contributions. Making visible these intersections with fields of study that grew in importance during 20th century, point towards the scale of possible uses for hermeneutical concepts and methods.

One pivotal strand in the book focuses on how hermeneutics could help in understanding urban life in its current forms and settings. Urbanization is a complex phenomenon that a collection with a focus such as this cannot omit. Yet it can be approached from many different directions even in this context and it follows that there are various more or less direct references to urban hermeneutics: Alan Blum and Andy Zieleniec, for example, take each in their own article into focus the urban social sphere in order to show how hermeneutics has already been applied and could be developed further within the sphere of social sciences. Zieleniec, for example, brings together Simmel, Benjamin and Lefebvre in order to draw a specifically sociological approach to space and spatiality within the urban sphere. The meanings and values that space and spatiality get through everyday urban activities is in the focus when going through the influence these thinkers have had on sociological study of urban environments. Hermeneutic approach definitely has a lot to offer to the philosophical understanding of different facets of urban life. In this context, the subtheme of mobility could have easily been added in a separate article: moving in any given space necessarily alters the starting point for interpretive engagement. Mobility is present in some parts though, as in Cresswell’s account of poetry (327) or when Zieleniec writes about Simmel and Benjamin (384–385; 387).

The social aspects of hermeneutic philosophy include the shared nature of place, intersubjectivity of spatial experiences and spatial or platial interpretations of social situations. Also presented are the themes of globalisation (Gratton) and inequality (Abraham Olivier on townships in the opening article of the collection), to which philosophically solid accounts are urgently needed. Towards its end, the book presents in separate articles some currently important but also exceedingly wide themes. The questions pertaining to the digital realm, for example, are opened up by Golfo Maggini’s article on digital virtual places. He presents the digital places stemming from ubiquitous computing as heterotopic places of radical alterity. This reading … It would certainly be interesting to read more about this type of an approach to digital and virtual environments, where hermeneutics can significantly widen the interpretational context.

Crucial contributions in the last part of the book are the openings towards feminist and racial approaches to hermeneutics of place and space. Janet C. Wesselius charts feminist philosophy through its already existing approaches to situatedness. She takes into examination the notion of “a woman’s place”, in particular. The perspective of philosophy of race comes through Robert Bernasconi’s article where he dissects institutional racism as a historico-spatial construct. In the final article of the volume, the reader is also given a glimpse of the non-western perspectives to hermeneutics of space and place. This is done by On-cho Ng’s critical treatment of the limits and tensions following from applying local knowledge to interpreting phenomena elsewhere: in this case from how Western hermeneutics collides with Chinese traditions of interpretation. This part of the book scratches the surface of a fascinating discussion that will hopefully continue to flourish. Due to the fact that racial, feminist, queer, non-western or multicultural approaches are by no means marginal anymore, they definitely could intersect already earlier with the main themes of the book in order to be better taken into consideration as parts of the multitude of interpretational horizons.

Throughout the entire collection, the list of actual places used as examples opens up a vast spectrum of different place typologies. They include traditionally valued culturally and historically significant places, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Meteora in Greece (in Bahar Aktuna & Charlie Hailey’s article) or more generic forms of human spatial traits such as urban hiking trails (in Simms’ example). Walmart chain store (in Trigg’s account) comes to represent a quintessential non-place of the contemporary Western society. Importantly, also places of human despair that should be an exception in the story of any civilisation, such as German refugee camps (in Dörfler and Rothfuß’s article), are included in order to critically examine their non-place qualities. These and other concrete and sometimes even surprising examples fix reader’s attention effectively and punctuate the varied theoretical accounts on place.

The book opens up to two directions that are by no means antithetical but support each other: what are the implications of hermeneutics of place and space on studying different types of phenomena and, on the other hand, what are the direct consequences on the philosophical discourse of more explicitly emphasizing this connection and approach. All in all, there is surprisingly little redundant repetition (or wasted space, one is tempted to say in this context), even when different authors discuss the same thinkers or concepts. It is also a notable feat that the collection is accessible to readers who do not have an extensive knowledge of the hermeneutical tradition. The strengths of this volume are in its wide-ranging scope, the way it presents on-going discussions and includes less heard voices to the canon of hermeneutical approaches. By emphasizing hermeneutics as an inherently open and engaged approach, it encourages any subsequent exploration on human spatiality through this lens. This strong engagement at the core is thus also the legacy of hermeneutics outside the immediate sphere of philosophy.

Care has been put on selecting the themes and writers, at the same time giving them the freedom to approach the topic from an individually selected point of view: “This book is more curated than edited.” (2) This has resulted in a coherent and intellectually rewarding piece of philosophical literature. Janz as the editor clarifies in the introduction, that the idea has not been to cover every aspect of the wide topic but to offer enough for the discussion to continue with renewed energy (2–3). As a result, the collection will inevitably have influence in shaping and directing the contemporary understanding of what hermeneutics is and what it could be. It is also stated explicitly in the introduction that the collection is not intended to be a handbook on hermeneutics and place and space (4). However, this does not mean that it will not, or should not, be used as such. On the contrary, it is easy to see that this selection of texts can open the tradition of hermeneutics to students, scholars and other curious minds, even if they do not have philosophy as their main interest. The collection is an indispensable reference to researchers working on a variety of different topics and approaches within philosophy of space and place as well as more applied approaches circling these themes. It is a valuable contribution to hermeneutic literature as well as to place/space research and the many imaginable intersections between these.


Malpas, Jeff & Ganders, Hans-Helmut (Eds.) 2014. The Routledge Companion to Hermeneutics. London & New York: Routledge.

Treanor, Brian, Drenthen, Martin, Utsler, David & Clingerman, Forrest (Eds.) 2013. Interpreting Nature: The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics. New York: Fordham University Press.

Miles Groth: Translating Heidegger

Translating Heidegger Book Cover Translating Heidegger
New Studies in Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Miles Groth
University of Toronto Press
2017. Reprint edition
Paperback $29.71

Reviewed by: Eric v.d. Luft (Gegensatz Press)

This book is a non-updated reissue of a book published by Humanity Press in 2004. Nevertheless, the University of Toronto Press did well to pick it up, because it is an important contribution to anglophone Heidegger studies. Markus Weidler’s review of the 2004 publication in The Review of Metaphysics, 60, 2 (December 2006): 399-401, is both a straightforward summary and a clear appraisal of the main thrusts of its contents.

The book’s title suggests that it might be a sort of manual for rendering Heidegger’s difficult technical vocabulary into English. Some of this is indeed included, but it occupies only the first third of the book (15-112), which is mainly historical. The second third (113-198), which is mainly systematic, concerns Heidegger’s own theory of translation, and the final third (199-304) is bibliography.

The Preface and Part One expose infelicities and errors in translating some of the key terms of Heidegger’s technical vocabulary into English. In so doing, Groth suggests a few modifications, some of which seem more controversial than the questionable renderings which he is trying to improve or correct. For example, he translates das Seiende, which he considers “the pivotal term in Heidegger’s way of thinking” (8), as “be-ing,” then gives an unconvincing explanation of how adding the hyphen emphasizes both the substantive and the participial or gerundive nature of this word and reveals how Heidegger used sein as a transitive verb. Since das Seiende “denotes the active ongoing manifesting of an effective actuality” (8), it leads him to rather farfetched renderings such as “seienden Menschen (actual human beings)” (8). The reader is left wondering not only how he would translate wirklichen Menschen, but also whether a clumsy circumlocution such as “human beings who actively are” would be more in keeping with his analysis of das Seiende.

One of the thorniest problems in translating Heidegger is to distinguish adequately between Dasein and Existenz. A common solution is to translate the latter as “existence” and the former as either “being-there” or “there-being” or just leave it in German. Groth suggests translating Dasein as “existence” and Existenz as “life” (9-10). Some of his reasons are cogent, but his flouting of the cognate is bound to cause confusion and his bending over backwards to avoid allusions to Dilthey is unnecessary.

Groth identifies six “fundamental words” (Grundworte) from Heidegger’s technical vocabulary as indispensable in his thought, namely, Sein, Seiende, Dasein, Existenz, Nichts, and Ereignis (23). We might add a few more, such as Sorge, Gestell, Anwesen, Sprache, Alltäglichkeit, ontisch, das Man, eigentlich, Bestand, Zuhandenheit, Gelassenheit, and even the infinitive lassen. Translating these terms as accurately as possible is crucial toward developing any plausible understanding of Heidegger among anglophone thinkers. Accordingly – and wisely – Groth’s focus in Chapter One (29-94) is on the earliest receptions of Heidegger in English, starting with Ryle’s review of Sein und Zeit in 1929, in order to identify the roots of persistent misinterpretations of Heidegger among anglophone scholars. Groth apparently believes that Ryle got Heidegger completely wrong, and it would be difficult to disagree with Groth about this, especially since Groth cites to his advantage several of Ryle’s most blatant mistranslations of Heidegger’s terms, e.g., Sein as “timeless substance” (30) and besorgen as “being-about” (31). Nevertheless, despite his strong criticism of Ryle, Groth graciously gives Ryle the last word, citing to Ryle’s advantage Ryle’s 1969 partial recantation of his 1929 review (32-33).

Groth is less kind to Marjorie Grene. He is not the first to name her 1948 Dreadful Freedom (later retitled Introduction to Existentialism) as among the least helpful introductions to existentialism in general or to Heidegger in particular. Her book, which considers Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Marcel, is worthwhile only with regard to Kierkegaard, and is indeed quite pernicious with regard to Heidegger. In the preface to the 1959 edition, she not only admitted her own laziness in trying to interpret Heidegger for the first edition, but also, after claiming to have finally understood him, rejected him outright and withdrew from any serious consideration of Heidegger to wallow in her pessimistic existentialist morass. After duly citing this preface, Groth shows how Grene actually had little or no understanding of Heidegger (35-36), but obstinately tried to squeeze him into her Procrustean existentialist framework and called his thought and language “weird” or “nonsense” whenever she could not satisfactorily perform this squeeze.

Groth gives about two dozen more good examples in Chapter One of erroneous pre-1949 receptions of Heidegger. Many of these early interpreters, e.g., the theologian Julius Bixler (37), misunderstood Heidegger’s idiosyncratic use of Existenz and thus threw him in among the existentialists. Others, e.g., Paul Tillich (47-49), Ralph Harper (49, 75-76), and Vincent Edward Smith (68-69) each erred in similar ways, trying to impose Thomistic or Scholastic categories of essence and existence upon Heidegger, who uses Wesen, Dasein, and Existenz in quite different senses from how medieval philosophiers used quid est, quod est, essentia, esse, or existentia. All that these theologically or existentially inclined interpreters really show is that, despite their interpretations, Heidegger’s philosophy cannot easily be turned in a theological direction. Furthermore, Eric Unger, writing for the intelligent laity rather than just philosophers, presents Heidegger not as a serious thinker, but as a curiosity, almost a sideshow freak (57-60). Not surprisingly, he also lumps Heidegger in with the existentialists. Unger fails to recognize the ontological difference, believes that Heidegger contrasts reality and existence, and translates Seiende as “reality.” A frustrated Groth writes that “any possibility of understanding Heidegger’s notion of existence is foreclosed by Unger’s translation of Dasein as ‘human life'” (59). Many such interpretations leave us “with an overwhelming sense of obscurity and incomprehensibility about Heidegger’s so-called existential philosophy” (65). Others simply dismiss his vocabulary as impossible to fathom in English (41). For Groth, none of these writers misinterprets Heidegger more grotesquely than William Tudor Jones (70-71) and none of them comes closer to satisfying Groth’s own understanding of Heidegger than William Barrett (72-74).

Regarding Heidegger’s too often alleged connection to existentialism, Groth notes in several places (e.g., 37, 45-49, 66-67, 72, 74) that some interpreters, especially theologians, are too quick to consider Heidegger in conjunction with the radical Christian existentialist Kierkegaard, who, after all, has very little in common with Heidegger. Groth suggests that this tendency to lump the two together may arise from inadequate understanding of such terms as Sein, Dasein, Existenz, Leben, and Wesen. He complains that some translators render Dasein as “human existence” (42, 47), which he says is redundant, since Dasein only refers to specifically human existence. Even though his point is well taken, the redundancy might be necessary to convey the full Heideggerian sense of Dasein to anglophone readers.

Given her life story and especially her close association with Heidegger from 1924 to 1926, we would expect Hannah Arendt not to misunderstand him, even when she disagrees with him. Nevertheless, Groth identifies an “essential error” (51) in her reception of Heidegger, namely, that she confuses Dasein, Existenz, and Mensch. However, as a native speaker, she surely realized that what was perfectly clear to her about Heidegger’s technical vocabulary in German could not be adequately expressed in English. Also, it is not unlikely that her view of Heidegger in the 1940s was influenced by her subsequent mentor, the avowed existentialist Jaspers, and was thus pushed toward existentialism. If we look at the German text of her “What is Existenz Philosophy?” (1946) or “What is Existential Philosophy?” (1994), i.e., “Was ist Existenz-Philosophie?” (1948), we see that among her purposes is to explain, in plain German, Heidegger’s complicated German to a German audience. For example, she uses Essenz instead of Wesen. Such a purpose would naturally not translate well. But Groth considers only the first of these two English translations, does not mention her German version, and indeed seems to be misinterpreting her, alleging, for example, that she equates Existenz and Dasein when she certainly knows better than to do that. Hence we should give her the benefit of the doubt. Much of Groth’s criticism of Arendt could more properly be applied to her translators, Barrett, Robert Kimber, and Rita Kimber (87 n. 48).

Chapter Two (95-112) gives an account of the earliest translation of Heidegger to be published in English: Existence and Being (London: Vision; Chicago: Regnery, 1949). It is important to realize that this book is not a translation of a book by Heidegger, but rather an English journalist’s loosely interrelated compilation of four of Heidegger’s essays (albeit with Heidegger’s approval). In other words, there is no systematic unity to that book. Of the five who worked on it, Stefan Schimanski, Werner Brock, Douglas Scott, Alan Crick, and R.F.C. Hull, only Brock had solid philosophical credentials and none of them were qualified to interpret or translate Heidegger (109). The result was not only a misrepresentation of Heidegger, but also an internally inconsistent hodgepodge. Groth shows how these inconsistencies swirled around the usual key terms: Dasein, Seiende, Existenz, and Sein (104), as well as Befindlichkeit, Entfremdung, existenziell, etc.

The art of translation is to break a textual or literary artifact apart then reassemble it in the context of another culture. Good translating has many axioms, e.g., use a dictionary as contemporary as possible with the text to be translated; translate into, not out of, your native language; try to preserve etymological connections, puns, permutations, transpositions, rhymes, etc. Heidegger would not disagree with any of these; however, his project was different. Going back to original terms and texts was a key aspect of his deconstructive agenda, and thus of his entire philosophy. He did not trust translations, but always preferred to consult and analyze the originals, which in his case generally meant classical and scholastic Latin and especially ancient Greek. Groth notes that Heidegger believed that misunderstandings and corresponding mistranslations of five Greek terms, alêtheia, hen, logos, idea, and energeia, have largely “determined the course of Western philosophy” (19), for better or for worse.

Accordingly, Chapter Three (115-163) discusses Heidegger’s theory of translation as it evolved from 1915 to 1969. Groth has painstakingly gleaned this theory from scattered remarks in Heidegger’s vast corpus. These gleanings provide insight into not only Heidegger’s theory of translation, but also his method and agenda of philosophizing in general. This feature alone would, for both Heidegger scholars and Heidegger disciples alike, make this the most interesting chapter in the book; but Groth makes it even more interesting with the extraordinary claim (116-117) that, contrary to common sense and to traditional hermeneutical principles, thinking is not dependent upon words. Rather, Groth holds that, for Heidegger, thinking is a kind of saying (Sagen), as if there were a real difference between the spoken word and any other kind of word. After all, common sense dictates that we cannot “say” anything unless we have words in which to say it. Without words, spoken or otherwise, actual thinking is not possible, but just a flow of inchoate emotions, disconnected perceptions, and vague notions of how to proceed and survive in the world on a purely animal level.

Groth notes that other commentators have missed this counterintuitive interpretation of Heidegger, as well they might, since it is spun out of thin air and couched in equivocation. Groth even presents evidence against it as evidence for it. He cites “language speaks” (die Sprache spricht) to support his argument that “thinking is not up to the thinker” and that we do not use language, but language uses us in the service of being (117). While it is certainly true that, for Heidegger, language reveals being to us if we listen carefully; it would still be a misinterpretation to take the individual or subjective human actor out of the process of creating or presenting language in the first place. Heidegger’s optimal kind of thinking, meditative thinking (rechnendes Denken), although we may get lost in it and end up we know not where, is above all a deliberate, self-motivated, and self-motivating act, as we clearly infer from Heidegger’s 1955 “Memorial Address.” His famous assertions that “language speaks” and “language is the house of being” mean, among other things, that thought hides in words, i.e., that thought remains concealed (verborgen) in words – whether written, spoken, read, heard, or even merely dreamed – until it is disclosed (entborgen) as being. If we conceive of language in the broadest possible way, then the existence and development of language is a necessary and sufficient condition for thinking.

Despite this major misstep by Groth, other aspects of Heidegger’s theory of translation and Groth’s interpretation of it are less problematic, and generally lead to the conclusion that translating is a kind of thinking (160 n. 69).

Chapter Four (165-193) provides a detailed example of Heidegger’s “paratactic” method of translating. Parataxis means “arranging,” “arrangement,” or “array.” Groth shows how Heidegger breaks up, rearranges, and reassembles an eight-word fragment from Parmenides, using Parmenides to elucidate more precisely his own meaning of seiend-, seen in the Greek as various forms of einai. This is a reciprocal process (183); i.e., in order to bring (herüberbringen) into German the concepts that are hidden in Greek words, the German translator must first immerse himself in Greek thought and go over (hinübergehen) into the Greek so as to become capable of understanding these concepts in both Greek and German and thereby of eventually rendering them in German. Thus Heidegger reads himself into Parmenides and Parmenides into himself. Heidegger is not interested as much in the grammar or syntax of the Greek text (150) as in its particular words, syllables, and even letters, so as to disclose to himself and his readers the far-reaching allusions, etymological inferences, and deep truths that would otherwise remain hidden forever, and were perhaps even hidden from Parmenides. This method coheres well with the whole deconstructive enterprise. “For Heidegger, translating was not at all a matter of words, but of ways of thinking” (108), which suggests that Heidegger’s translation of Parmenides may tell us more about Heidegger than about Parmenides.

Carmen López Sáenz: La hermenéutica filosófica de H-G. Gadamer en busca de la verdad, Dykinson, 2018

La hermenéutica filosófica de H-G. Gadamer en busca de la verdad Book Cover La hermenéutica filosófica de H-G. Gadamer en busca de la verdad
Carmen López Sáenz
Paperback 17,10 €