Publié une trentaine d’années après le très important livre Le tournant dans la pensée de Martin Heidegger (Épiméthée, 1987), Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être (Hermann Éditions, 2019) est la deuxième monographie de Jean Grondin portant exclusivement sur la pensée de Martin Heidegger. La publication de cet ouvrage aura précédé de peu La beauté de la métaphysique (Éditions du Cerf, 2019) publié le même été. La réception francophone de Heidegger aura été ainsi très comblée lors de la dernière année par ces deux ouvrages de J. Grondin qui, à plusieurs égards, pourront être lus de manière complémentaire.
Dès les premières lignes de l’ouvrage, l’A. affirme qu’il faut comprendre Heidegger d’abord et avant tout à partir de sa question essentielle, celle de l’être. Cette exigence de compréhension apparaît prioritaire aux yeux de l’A. compte tenu de sa réception récente, qui s’est surtout concentrée sur l’engagement politique de Heidegger, prompte à discréditer d’emblée sa pensée. Comprendre Heidegger, nous dit J. Grondin, c’est à la fois comprendre son effort indéfectible de penser l’être, mais c’est aussi « comprendre sa personne et son engagement politique ». L’approche de l’A. est au départ originale en ce qu’elle ne sépare pas l’homme de l’œuvre en vue de sauvegarder l’œuvre, mais tente plutôt de comprendre l’engagement politique de l’individu Heidegger à partir de la question qui anime l’œuvre, celle de penser à nouveau l’être.
C’est à cet effet que J. Grondin déploiera un double effort de compréhension – celui de la fusion des horizons, héritée de Gadamer et de transposition reprise de Schleiermacher – qui aura chacun l’œuvre et l’homme comme objet. Nous pouvons dire que les chapitres 1 à 7 consistent en un effort de compréhension, se rapprochant de la fusion des horizons gadamérienne dans la mesure où les différentes interprétations proposées comportent toujours un moment de confrontation critique envers Heidegger. De leur côté, les chapitre 8 à 10 sont plutôt un effort de transposition dans l’horizon d’attentes de Heidegger où il s’agit de comprendre l’homme Heidegger selon ses projets, ses attentes, ses espoirs, etc. La visée de cette transposition étant surtout de comprendre les raisons personnelles qui ont poussé Heidegger à se reconnaître dans le national-socialisme. Ce double effort de compréhension possède néanmoins une visée commune : montrer que l’auteur et l’individu sont orientés par la même « étoile » qui guide toujours leur engagement spirituel et personnel, la question de l’être.
L’effort de compréhension de l’ouvrage est orienté par quatre présupposés de lecture que l’A. expose dès l’introduction. D’abord (1), il faut, comme nous l’avons dit, comprendre Heidegger (l’œuvre et l’homme) à partir de la question l’être : « Heidegger soutient à bon droit qu’elle est sa question essentielle, voire la seule question (au sens où tout dépend d’elle), mais aussi la question fondamentale de la pensée occidentale, voire de la pensée tout court, et qu’elle est tombée dans l’oubli dont il est opportun de la tirer ». Si ce présupposer va de soi pour l’œuvre de Heidegger, cela semble être le pari de l’interprétation proposée par J. Grondin de la compréhension de l’homme Heidegger. Une bonne partie de l’ouvrage (en particulier les chapitres 8 à 10) cherche à montrer qu’il faut comprendre les raisons de l’engagement politique de Heidegger à partir des exigences théoriques et « pratiques » de sa propre philosophie. La motivation commune entre la pensée de l’auteur et son engagement politique réside dans le fait que (2) « notre conception de l’être reste dominée par une certaine intelligence de l’être qui est préparée de longue date, en vérité depuis les Grecs, mais qui est problématique et qui n’est peut-être pas la seule ». Dans la perspective de Heidegger, nous explique l’A., il est nécessaire de penser et de préparer un autre rapport possible à l’être – le nôtre étant sous l’emprise de la compréhension de l’être envisagé comme « étant subsistant qui est immédiatement présent, observable, mesurable et utilisable ». Ce que l’A. rend visible sans équivoque c’est que cette compréhension techniciste et calculante de l’être est « largement responsable du nihilisme et de l’athéisme contemporain ». C’est dans ce combat « héroïque et parfois pathétique » qu’il faut comprendre à la fois l’œuvre philosophique de Heidegger et l’engagement politique de l’homme (3). C’est dans cette recherche d’un nouveau commencement de la pensée, qui consiste en une préparation lente et difficile d’une autre entente de l’être, que Heidegger a pensé avoir trouvé dans le nazisme, de manière pour le moins illusoire et fatale, l’une des possibilités historiques de cet autre compréhension de l’être, dont il voulait être le prophète. Ces trois hypothèses de lecture permettent la quatrième (4) : « le débat de fond avec Heidegger se situe donc moins au plan politique, qui continuera assurément d’obséder les médias et l’opinion, qu’an plan métaphysique ». En ramenant le débat en terres métaphysiques, l’A. espère ainsi préserver la pertinence philosophique de la pensée heideggérienne de l’être. Cela ne veut toutefois pas dire que l’ouvrage est une simple apologie de Heidegger, au contraire : si J. Grondin ramène Heidegger sur le plan de la métaphysique, c’est dans la perspective de rendre possible une interprétation critique de sa pensée. Nous y reviendrons.
En plus de l’introduction, l’ouvrage est divisé en trois parties qui forment ensemble dix chapitres. Neuf des dix chapitres sont des reprises de certains textes que l’A. a publié dans le passé, de 1999 à 2017. À ceux-ci s’ajoute un texte inédit (chapitre 10) sur l’engagement politique de Heidegger. Bien que la majorité des textes ont été écrits dans un temps, une thématique et un contexte différent, ces derniers ont été retravaillés selon l’orientation principale du livre, c’est-à-dire celle de comprendre Heidegger selon sa question essentielle. L’ouvrage peut donc être lu de façon linéaire pour avoir de multiples perspectives sur le projet de Heidegger. Les différents chapitres gardent néanmoins une certaine autonomie et pourront aussi être lus individuellement.
La première partie de l’ouvrage intitulée « l’urgence de dépasser la conception dominante de l’être » (chapitres 1, 2, 3 et 4) propose une certaine introduction générale à la pensée de Heidegger, ainsi qu’aux thèses principales de Sein und Zeit. Un lecteur familier de l’A. y trouvera les principes et les thèses habituellement exposés dans ses autres ouvrages portant soit sur l’herméneutique ou la métaphysique. Ces chapitres constituent une bonne introduction à la pensée de Heidegger, écrits dans un style qui évite tout jargon, en ayant le soin de traduire Heidegger en une langue lipide et claire, ce qui est en soi un défi immense.
Le premier chapitre « Pourquoi réveiller la question de l’être ? » propose une lecture des premiers paragraphes d’Être et temps. En replaçant l’ouvrage de 1927 dans le contexte historique et philosophique de son époque, l’A. relit le premier chapitre du texte en soulignant les raisons qui poussent Heidegger à reposer (répéter pourrions-nous dire) la question de l’être. Cette relecture de l’intention d’abord et avant tout ontologique du texte sert sans doute à justifier les hypothèses de lecture proposées par l’A. en venant rappeler aux lecteurs les formulations fondamentales du projet heideggérien en 1927, celui d’un « réveil » de la question de l’être. Ce chapitre est certainement utile à quiconque cherchera à s’introduire à la pensée heideggérienne ou à Être et temps, en démontrant que l’être est sans contredit l’objet principal de la pensée de Heidegger – ce qui ne va pas toujours de soi, comme c’est le cas dans la lecture « pragmatique » d’Être et temps que l’on retrouve souvent dans la réception anglo-saxonne de Heidegger.
Le second chapitre « Comprendre le défi du nominalisme » est pour sa part beaucoup plus proche d’une interprétation critique de Heidegger. L’A. esquisse les raisons de la remise en question heideggérienne de la conception de « l’étant subsistant » qui représente la condition de possibilité ontologique de « l’essor de la technique ». De manière très claire et convaincante, l’A. expose la continuité entre les questions métaphysiques et techniques de Heidegger. La particularité de la lecture de J. Grondin tient à l’exposition de certaines de ses réserves par rapport à la conception heideggérienne de la métaphysique. C’est que, nous explique l’A, le concept heideggérien de métaphysique ne serait-il pas lui-même « un peu technique, passe-partout, […], qu’il [Heidegger], applique péremptoirement à l’ensemble de son histoire, mais qui finit par rendre inaudibles les voix et les voies de la métaphysique elle-même ? ». Plutôt que de s’attaquer à la métaphysique, l’A. préfère plutôt parler de conception « nominaliste » de l’être qui serait responsable des conséquences que Heidegger déplore. Dans la continuité de son livre Introduction à la métaphysique – dont J. Grondin avoue lui-même être « un modeste contrepoids à l’ouvrage du même nom de Heidegger » – il affirme plutôt qu’il est possible de trouver au sein même de la richesse de la tradition métaphysique le remède contre l’expérience moderne du nihilisme.
Le troisième chapitre « Comprendre pourquoi Heidegger met en question l’ontologie du sujet afin de lui substituer une ontologie du Dasein » cette fois-ci retourne à Être et temps en vue de rappeler à quelles fins Heidegger tente de penser l’homme non pas comme sujet, mais comme « espace » où se pose la question de l’être, Da-sein. La particularité de la lecture que propose l’A. réside certainement dans sa mise en rapport des concepts de Heidegger avec la richesse de la conceptualité grecque, son histoire et ses transformations. Dans cette perspective, il devient clair que le projet de l’analytique transcendantal de 1927 est une réponse à la conception de la métaphysique moderne de l’homme, ce que l’auteur souligne justement.
Le quatrième chapitre « Comprendre la théorie de la compréhension et du cercle herméneutique chez Heidegger » expose de manière détaillée l’apport de l’herméneutique (en 1927 et au-delà) au projet ontologique de Heidegger. Il expose certains des concepts les plus canoniques de Heidegger comme la compréhension, le pouvoir-être, l’explicitation (ou l’interprétation, Auslegung) ainsi que le cercle de la compréhension. En montrant que l’herméneutique heideggérienne est toujours orientée vers la question de l’être. L’A. en profite pour souligner certaines des apories de sa pensée.
La seconde partie de l’ouvrage s’intitule « Dépasser la métaphysique pour mieux poser sa question » et comporte les chapitres 5, 6 et 7. Dans ces chapitres, l’A. interprète certaines thèses de Heidegger de manière très soutenue. En interprétant ligne par ligne certains des textes de Heidegger, l’A. y propose une lecture critique, souvent en réactualisant la tradition métaphysique (principalement platonicienne et sa descendance) contre l’interprétation heideggérienne de la métaphysique jugée réductrice. C’est précisément à cet endroit que l’ouvrage La beauté de la métaphysique publié la même année pourra être éclairé tout en éclairant la lecture proposée par l’A. de la pensée heideggérienne. La défense de la métaphysique de l’A. dans cet autre ouvrage nous permet de mieux comprendre à partir de quel horizon l’interprétation heideggérienne de la métaphysique est critiqué : « La métaphysique, dans son ontologie, sa théologie et son anthropologie, nous permet ainsi d’espérer que l’existence est elle-même sensée. C’est ‘en ce sens’ que la métaphysique, avec toute sa riche histoire, représente le bienfait le plus précieux de l’histoire de l’humanité ». Les chapitres dont il est question sont donc à la fois importants en ce qu’ils restituent de manière convaincante et rigoureuse la visée du projet de Heidegger, ses espoirs, tout en proposant une lecture critique qui saura nous renseigner sur les possibilités de la métaphysique et de l’herméneutique contemporaine.
Le cinquième chapitre « Heidegger et le problème de la métaphysique », qui est de loin le plus long du livre (environ 70 pages), s’intéresse à la question de la « destruction » heideggérienne de la métaphysique, d’Être et temps jusqu’à sa toute dernière philosophie. Il s’agit là d’un chapitre très chargé et ambitieux à plusieurs égards, car l’auteur aborde une multiplicité de textes de Heidegger en y soulignant la transformation (ou le « tournant ») dans sa conception de la métaphysique. Bien que le thème de ce chapitre est en soi ardu, l’auteur explique la progression des réflexions de Heidegger au sujet de la métaphysique toujours de manière claire et argumentée en référent de façon tout autant pédagogique que minutieuse aux différents livres, essais, conférences et cours de Heidegger. En esquissant la conception heideggérienne de la métaphysique, l’A. termine sur les possibilités de la métaphysique rendues ouvertes par le projet « destructeur » de Heidegger. L’apport de Heidegger, aux yeux de J. Grondin réside « moins dans l’élaboration d’une nouvelle pensée de l’être, que dans la destruction des évidences de la raison calculante et nominaliste. La métaphysique peut nous apprendre qu’il ne s’agit pas de la seule conception de la raison et de l’être qui soit possible ». Dans la continuité du deuxième chapitre, l’A. voit moins en la métaphysique le responsable du nihilisme contemporain que dans la conception nominaliste de l’être. L’apport de Heidegger réside dans cet espoir de rendre une autre conception de l’être possible, autre conception que l’A. retrouve dans les richesses de la pensée métaphysique.
Le sixième chapitre « Le drame de la Phusis, loi secrète de notre destin » est assurément le chapitre le plus critique de l’ouvrage et en ce sens, l’un des plus fécond. L’A. interprète ligne par ligne la compréhension heideggérienne de la Phusis exposée dans son cours Introduction à la métaphysique (GA 40), par-delà sa traduction latine et sa reprise moderne dans le terme de nature. À l’aide de la richesse des paroles de la pensée métaphysique (exprimée dans une pluralité de langues), l’A. s’attaque directement aux présupposés qui guident la dévalorisation des concepts métaphysiques dérivés (latin et modernes) ainsi qu’à la valorisation de l’expérience présocratique (et donc pré-métaphysique) de l’être, la seule qui serait véritablement « pure » ou « originaire ». La qualité de la critique de l’A. tient au fait qu’elle se réalise au sein même de la pensée heideggérienne et non à partir d’un horizon étranger – témoignant ainsi d’un véritable dialogue entreprit avec l’auteur allemand. Il s’agit d’une véritable confrontation avec la pensée heideggérienne où l’A. souligne certains présupposés néfastes propres à la compréhension heideggérienne de la métaphysique.
Le septième chapitre « Gerhard Krüger et Heidegger. Pour une autre histoire de la métaphysique » bien que dans la continuité des précédents chapitres, possède une certaine autonomie. Il s’agit d’une introduction générale à la pensée de Gerhard Krüger, « l’un des élèves les plus doués de Heidegger ». À partir de la pensée de Krüger et sa correspondance avec son maître Heidegger, l’A. aborde le projet de Krüger comme reprise critique de la pensée de Heidegger à propos de la thématique religieuse, qui est omniprésente dans l’ouvrage de J. Grondin. La pensée de Krüger peut certainement être comprise comme étant dans la continuité de la brèche ouverte par le questionnement religieux de son maître. Ce chapitre est dans la continuité des autres chapitres de la partie deux, en ce qu’il offre une lecture critique de Heidegger dans la mesure où l’A. voit en Krüger un allié de son projet, puisqu’il « rappelle ainsi la métaphysique à certaines de ses possibilités immortelles ».
Les chapitres 8, 9 et 10 sont probablement ceux qui intéresseront le plus l’« opinion publique », pouvons-nous dire, puisqu’ils abordent de front la question de l’engagement politique de Heidegger. Ils forment ensemble la troisième partie de l’ouvrage intitulée « La tragédie politique ». En abordant la question de l’engagement politique de Heidegger à partir du contexte historique de son époque, l’auteur esquisse les causes philosophiques, historiques et biographiques qui expliquent l’affiliation de Heidegger au partie nazi dans les années 30 et au-delà.
Le huitième chapitre « L’ontologie est-elle politique ? La question de la vérité dans la lecture de Heidegger par Bourdieu » expose les critiques sociologiques de Bourdieu envers toute ontologie ignorant ses présupposés politiques. Dans L’ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, Bourdieu vise à dégager « le caractère secrètement ‘politique’ de la pensée de Heidegger, mais aussi de la philosophie en général ». Contre la lecture proposée par Bourdieu de l’ontologie, l’A. défend plutôt l’idée d’un « arrachement ontologique » face aux « considérations partisanes » politiques. Le chapitre peut être compris selon deux autres visées : celle de remettre en contexte le questionnement ontologique de Heidegger (dans la continuité du reste de l’ouvrage), ainsi que de produire une critique de la lecture de Bourdieu de l’ontologie heideggérienne. Si l’ontologie a souvent besoin de se justifier face aux questionnements sociologiques, l’un des mérites de ce chapitre est de questionner la sociologie à partir de ses présupposés ontologiques. En ce sens, reprocher à Heidegger que sa limitation aux questions ontologiques l’empêche de questionner « l’essentiel, c’est-à-dire l’impensé social » c’est affirmer que « l’impensé social » est une pensée plus essentielle que la question de l’être. Cela revient à dire qu’il y a « une dimension essentielle de la réalité » qui est négligée et qui doit ainsi être pensée. Or, nous dit l’A., cette prétention de Bourdieu « n’est plus sociologique, mais purement ontologique ». S’il est nécessaire de débattre avec Heidegger, ce doit être à propos de la vérité ou non de ses thèses ontologiques, ce que l’A. entend entreprendre dans le reste de l’ouvrage.
Le neuvième chapitre : « Peut-on défendre Heidegger de l’accusation d’antisémitisme ? » s’engage dans un débat pour le moins controversé et dont toute défense de Heidegger apparaît d’emblée suspecte. L’A. se contente de mettre en contexte la pensée de Heidegger, et plus particulièrement celle que l’on retrouve dans ses cahiers noirs, dont la publication récente a ouvert encore une fois la question de son engagement politique. L’A. vient nuancer l’accusation d’antisémitisme de Heidegger en rappelant que ce sujet ne constitue que tout au plus trois pages sur les 1800 des cahiers noirs. Sans amoindrir la gravité des affirmations malheureuses (c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire) de Heidegger, J. Grondin s’efforce de comprendre pour quelles raisons Heidegger a pu se reconnaître dans la propagande nazie de l’époque.
Le dixième et dernier chapitre « Comprendre l’engagement politique de Heidegger à partir de son horizon d’attente » est dans la continuité du précédent chapitre. Ce chapitre se démarque du neuvième en ce qu’il replace davantage l’engagement politique de Heidegger dans le contexte tumultueux de l’Allemagne du 20e siècle. L’A. esquisse les différents états d’âme de l’individu Martin Heidegger : ses rapprochements avec le nazisme et son soutien, sa distanciation, son antisémitisme, ses désillusions, ainsi que sa proximité indéfectible avec le « mouvement » national-socialiste par-delà ses réalisations effectives. C’est ici que les hypothèses de lecture que l’A. avait énoncés dans l’introduction trouvent leur aboutissement. Il faut comprendre l’engagement politique de l’homme Heidegger à partir de sa question essentielle et son espoir, pour le moins illusoire sinon aveugle, d’une autre pensée de l’être rendue possible à travers ce « réveil » du peuple allemand : « De ce point de vue, je pense qu’il est permis de dire que son soutien au mouvement national-socialiste fut toujours philosophique et il serait difficile de s’attendre à moins de la part d’un philosophe ». Ce qui est certain pour l’A., c’est que Heidegger a identifié à tort son espoir d’une autre conception de l’être avec le national-socialisme, malgré les indices flagrants de leur incompatibilité effective. Cette transposition dans l’horizon d’attente du penseur n’est produite ni pour condamner ni pour démentir les accusations faites à son égard, mais est plutôt faite dans l’optique d’un « exercice de compréhension » qui doit comporter un élément de « charité et de pardon ». Voilà peut-être la véritable finalité de l’ouvrage, qui a le mérite d’offrir un effort de compréhension sans jamais tomber dans l’apologie complaisante.
Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être s’adresse ainsi à un public diversifié. En raison de son style clair, de son exposé pédagogique et de son explication patiente, l’ouvrage, surtout dans ses premiers chapitres, est assurément une bonne introduction à la pensée de Martin Heidegger. Pour sa part, la seconde partie offre une lecture très soutenue et critique de Heidegger qui nous renseignera assurément sur la pensée heideggérienne de l’être, mais aussi et peut-être surtout, sur les limites de cette pensée. Cette partie est aussi un grand apport aux possibilités contemporaines de l’herméneutique, de la métaphysique et de leur co-articulation possible. Finalement, la troisième partie, étant plutôt une transposition (Schleiermacher) dans l’horizon d’attente de Heidegger éclaire certainement le contexte difficile de la rédaction des cahiers noirs et des déclarations condamnables que l’on retrouve en eux. Il s’agit d’un apport important pour le débat contemporain avec la pensée heideggérienne. Dans son entier, l’ouvrage n’a d’autre visée que celle de montrer que la pensée de Heidegger et l’engagement politique de l’homme ne répond toujours qu’à sa propre interrogation métaphysique. En ramenant le débat en terrain métaphysique, l’auteur propose une véritable confrontation avec Heidegger, s’ouvrant ainsi sur plusieurs possibilités à la fois passées et futures.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, Paris, Hermann Éditions « Le Bel Aujourd’hui, 2019, p. 5.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 5.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 246.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 8.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 9.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 9.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 5.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 13.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 15.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 45.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 58-59.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 48.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 59.
 Grondin, J., La beauté de la métaphysique, Paris, Éditions du Cerfs, 2019, p. 44.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 164.
 Notamment : (I) le préjugé de Heidegger négatif contre toute traduction du grec, (2) le jugement de Heidegger basé sur des sources textuels limitées, (3) la tension entre l’original et la création, (4) la négligence de Heidegger envers sa propre appartenance à certains principes du platonisme, du néoplatonisme et de l’augustinisme.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 207.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 210.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 216.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 217.
 L’A. développe trois critiques de la lecture de Bourdieu. Premièrement, Bourdieu, selon l’A., se rapporte souvent à Heidegger à partir de textes « de seconde main » et non aux œuvres de Heidegger. À cela s’ajoute des « erreurs flagrantes d’interprétation » que l’A. retrouve la lecture du sociologue. Deuxièmement, Bourdieu se réfère beaucoup plus à des témoignages et des anecdotes plus ou moins pertinentes qu’aux textes eux-mêmes, ne se référent jamais à la Gesamtausgabe disponible à l’époque d’écriture de son ouvrage. Finalement, Bourdieu interprète la pensée entière de Heidegger à l’aune de Kant et des néokantiens, ignorant ainsi la diversité des interlocuteurs de Heidegger.
 Bourdieu, P., L’ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, Paris, Minuit, 1988, p. 199, cité par l’A.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 228.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 240.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 261.
 Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 267.
Currently one of the most important problems from phenomenology of giveness consists of the question of Revelation. However, this concept is not something new in Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology. One can find several formulations throughout his work. On the one hand, his first systematic step in Étant donné (1997). In this book, Marion shows that Revelation should be interpreted as the last expression of phenomenality. This can only happen if phenomenology dares to free itself from the predominance of the principle of sufficient reason, giving way to “excessive phenomena” that are linked to religious phenomena. In other words, religious phenomena can appear as a valid field of phenomenological analysis. On the other hand, the Gifford Lectures, whose results can be found in Giveness and Revelation (2016). In these conferences, Marion goes one step further, and this because he does not distinguish sharply between philosophy and theology when speaking of Revelation. Thus, phenomenology must be the source that allows us to clarify the concept of Revelation, both in philosophy and in theology.
This volume, co-edited by Jean-Luc Marion and Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer, aims to investigate and explore various phenomenological aspects of the concept of Revelation, in order to offer new contributions to the phenomenology of giveness. In this respect, this book tries to show, honoring Marion’s intuition, how the concept of Revelation permeates the most current debates in phenomenology and theology.
In Chapter 1, “Introduction: intersections of Revelation and Hermeneutics”, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer introduces the problem of this volume: the interaction and mutual contribution between revelation and hermeneutics (3). Can hermeneutics say something about the possibility or impossibility for divine self-disclosure? In this case, Jacobs-Vandegeer reminds us of Marion´s conception of hermeneutics as a “delay of interpretation”. And this is so because Revelation as such is an essentially excessive phenomenon. As Jacobs-Vandegeer indicates with great acuity, a possible way of understanding this excess can be found in “the idea that the language of revelation does something more excessive and complex than simply impart information about God and the world” (5). In this case, hermeneutics must deal, though without giving up, with an original excess. However, a possible positive consequence of this is that hermeneutics can expand its own limits of interpretation.
In Chapter 2, “The Hermeneutics of Givenness”, Jean-Luc Marion deepens the relationship “hermeneutics” and his phenomenology of givenness. Various scholars have noted some kind of incompatibility between hermeneutics and saturated phenomenon. The question could be asked: how could an interpretation of an excessive phenomenon be “given”? Is that possible? In this text, Marion tries to offer a positive answer. For this, Marion takes up the problem of reduction. As Marion says, the radicalization of the reduction “makes evident, be it only by contraposition, the possibility, even the necessity, of an exception, of an irreducible” (17-18). Paradoxically, the possibility of a hermeneutics of the given lies in the fact that the given cannot be translated into any objectifiable phenomenon. And this is so because “givenness does not produce like an efficient cause, nor is it confined to sensible intuition, because it is not conflated even with intuition in general” (21). Through a critical reading of Husserl and Heidegger, Marion aims to show the radical nature of givenness against sensible intuition. In this sense, the givenness offers a self-referentiality based on its impossibility of being reduced to an object or entity. From this preliminary conclusion, Marion asks the following: “Could it not be that hermeneutics, far from disappearing with givenness (or making it disappear in order to begin speaking), only in answering the word that fulfills it?” (24). Through a discussion with John Sellars about the famous „myth of the given“, Marion reaffirms that the given can only be thought in opposition to the paradigm of objectivity. As the object appears, the given disappears. Marion finds the origin of this myth in John Locke´s philosophy. Both Sellars and Locke present the same problem: the impossibility of thinking about what is given. And this for the simple reason that they claim that what is given immediately must be the product of an epistemological constitution. However, as Marion points out, the given cannot be thought of as something constituted because it is not an object. The “myth of the given” falls when we establish this distinction (28). In other words, the phenomenology of givenness could be presented as a remedy against this myth. Thus, the given cannot be manifested immediately. For this reason, Marion defines the givenness as an aenigma because the “indetermination of the given perhaps offers its only correct determination” (31).
In this phenomenological horizon, hermeneutics is defined as a discipline that does not operate on objects (33). Phenomenology of givenness and hermeneutics coincide in this rejection of objectivity. Thus, hermeneutics can interpret excessive phenomena because, strictly speaking, it has always done so. Hermeneutics in its original sense cannot start from an ego that interprets the world, because “the ego must remain passive in order to receive the sense that suits exactly that which requests interpretation” (33). Two final conclusions follow from this. First, hermeneutics depends on the phenomenological structure of “call and response” (36). Second, “hermeneutics manages the gap between what shows itself and what gives itself” (40). In other words, hermeneutics must manage the passage from objectivity to saturated phenomena and the reverse. Following this, we suggest that hermeneutics, as a passage from objectivity to saturation, can interpret the second degree of saturated phenomena: Christ as Revelation. How that can happen, stays as an open question or aenigma.
In Chapter 3, “Whose Word Is It Anyway? Interpreting Revelation”, Shane Mackinlay focuses on a series of criticisms concerning the concept of counter-experience in Marion’s phenomenology of givenness, as it appears in “The Possible and Revelation” (2008). In the same way as Marion, John focuses on a Christological paradox: how can Jesus reveals the Father’s will? This problem involves one of the most important consequences of Christianity: the divine and human nature of Christ. Revelation could be interpreted as the place where this paradox occurs. Following Kearney’s objection, Mackinley points out that the concept of counter-experience is not a sufficient criterion to distinguish between divine revelation against the possibilities of deceit and harm (57). In other words, the counter-experience of the icon in Marion’s phenomenology does not offer a clear difference between God’s voice and some kind of monstrosity. In the same way as Marion, Mackenly finds in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophy a source for rethinking the scopes of hermeneutics in relation to the possibility or impossibility of interpreting revelation (60). From Gadamer’s proposal he extracts two ideas. On the one hand, the infinity of any interpretive process. This means that no interpretation of the revelation can exhaust it. On the other hand, if all interpretation is infinite, then the community must always be open to dialogue, since the interpretation of the phenomenon imposes itself as something always reviewable. Each judgement concerning revelation is provisional.
In Chapter 4, “Revelation as a Problem for Our Age”, Robin Horner offers some elements for thinking the language of revelation in the context of Western secularity. Expressed differently: Is it possible to find a language of revelation in a world where all language is merely a language of objects? This current impossibility of thinking the language of revelation has, according to Horner, multiple reasons. First, the problem of anachronism. The language of revelation becomes an irrelevant and even bizarre question. The modern secularisation offers the exaltation of individual autonomy, rationalist thinking. As Horney argues, this movement implies a detraditionalization of memory and any collective activity (75). In this process, religion and believing become something that has no place. Second, the reflections of various philosophical schools that, according to Horner, present disqualifying criticisms of religious belief. Consequently, “the philosopher, too, brings particular commitments to the search for wisdom, which might include a presumption of atheism” (77). Third, theology itself. And this because the theological language of revelation focuses too narrowly on the propositional, letting away the lived experience. Based on these objections, Horner indicates that the concept of experience must be reformulated so that religious belief is not set aside from contemporary problems. Horner uses the term experience “to refer to what happens at that point of opening in the world which is a given instance of life” (69). Given this, we ask ourselves, following Horner, whether the language of revelation may have any reference to the Husserlian Lebenswelt. Finally, Horner suggests, following Lacoste and Marion, that “that philosophy and theology are interested in common problems” (94). Lacoste’s “paradoxical phenomenon” tries to show the mutual cooperation between affection and intellect, theology and philosophy, faith and reason, when it comes to understanding revelation (96). Marion’s epistemological approach to revelation aims to point out that the logic of objects can be clarified out of faith and a radical commitment to an epistemology of revelation. In this sense, Horner concludes that Marion and Lacoste offer tools to find a language of revelation in the lived world of experience. In Horner’s words, “if it is the case that revelation no longer makes sense in contemporary life, perhaps it is because it has been locked for too long in the language of beliefs and made unavailable to experience” (100).
In Chapter 5, “Revelation and Kingdom”, Kevin Hart suggests that the language and experience of revelation depend on the possibility of a place for its manifestation. For this reason, he will concentrate his analysis on the concept of kingdom. Hart argues that “theological epistemology has become phenomenology” (107). Thus, the idea of kingdom must be elucidated from the phenomenological field. The kingdom can appear if we focus on Christ’s modes of phenomenality. Juan clearly states that Jesus “appears, if he does, only within a horizon” (113). Jesus’ parables offer a conversion of intentionality and give “eidetic insight into how to live in obedience to God” (118). For this, Hart appeals to Marion’s concept of saturated phenomenon and the need to broaden the manifestation horizon of phenomena. In the same horizon as Marion, as well as in that of Christian philosophy in general, Christ plays a mediating role. Jesus can only appear in the horizon of the “Kingdom of God”. We think Hart’s proposal is interesting because, following Marion, he focuses on the place of manifestation of Christ as a saturated phenomenon. His question is spatial, and he finds a possible answer in the Christian concept of the kingdom.
In Chapter 6, “ʻA Whole Habit of Mindʼ: Revelation and Understanding in the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria”, William Hackett focuses on the problem of the experiential and participatory dynamics concerning the speech about God. In a very suggestive way, Hackett finds in Cyril of Alexandria’s “sacrifice Christology” a testimony to the dynamic nature of the Verbum. Through a language of patristics, Hackett shows that kenosis and henosis could provide the dynamics of revelation and the centrality of Eucharistic truth of Incarnation. “Mystic communion” provides a model of community (Cyril’s refutation of Nestorius). As Hackett remember, Cyril shows the distance between “reason” and “image” (128). In other words, “reason may explicate the image, but it can never surpass its power to carry the mind to the truth of revelation” (126). Cyril’s distinction between abstract and concrete intellective visions offers a way of understanding the nature of revelation, always previous and source of all theoretical language. The power of images consists in directing our gaze towards that instance prior to reason. We suggest that Hackett’s contribution, clear and erudite, can have an interesting deepening if it is connected with Falque’s interpretation of Nicholas de Cusa’s De visione dei, as it appears in his paper “L´omnivoyant. Fraternité et vision de Dieu chez Nicolas de Cues” (2014). And this because, according to Falque, in the same way as Hackett´s lecture of Cyril´s theology, Nichola´s conception of visio dei offers a reformulation of vision and the possibility of a community vision and a common experience.
In Chapter 7, “Revelation and the Hermeneutics of Love”, Werner G. Jeanrond offers a critical analysis of the different theological hermeneutics of revelation. On the one hand, Yale and its “hermeneutics of revelation”. This school studies revelation “with regard to inner-Christian dynamics and inner-Christian pluralism” (143). On the other hand, Chicago and its “hermeneutics of signification”. This school formulates “an open-ended hermeneutics of signification capable of encouraging a public, global and critical discourse on God” (143). In this horizon, Jeanrod analyzes Paul Ricoeur’s conception of language and hermeneutics, since the French philosopher points out a polysemy originating from the concept of revelation. This, in turn, implies the impossibility of establishing a corpus of truths available to an institution (141). Ricoeur’s concept of revelation “provides a way out of the reduction of an uncritical Enlightenment belief in the final victory of reason over revelation” (141). In accordance with the proposal of the Chicago school and going one step further, Jeanrond argues for a hermeneutics of love. This implies a “praxis of love” that can embrace divine Otherness. Given this, we suggest that Jeanrond’s proposal presents an intimate connection with the concept of love in Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology, since “love” saves revelation from the predominance of objectivity, and therefore, opens a dimension of excess that cannot be monopolized by any theological school. Thus, and as Jeanrond sharply points out, love reveals the constitutive plurality of revelation, and in turn, the need for a hermeneutics of love.
In Chapter 8, “Embodied Transactions”, Mara Brecht provides an analysis of revelation in the framework of a feminist hermeneutics (Michelle Voss Roberts). In the horizon of comparative theology, Brecht suggests that hermeneutics must open the access to the embodiment and his relation with revelation. Body plays a fundamental role because “revelation is received not by disembodied minds, but by actual people—who are fully embodied, situated in time and place, and shaped by economic, social, and racialized identities” (152). In this sense, all hermeneutics must account for embodiment in various dimensions: economic, social, political, gender. This allows us to reflect upon a situated subjectivity, leaving aside any abstract and a-historical approach. The embodiment is, following a notion of Jean-Luc Marion and Claude Romano, an “event”, not an abstract concept. According to Brecht, Shannon Sullivan’s feminist-pragmatist framework could help comparative theologians to understand the transformations of subjective identity and his relation between the embodiment. This path makes visible the logic of power that acts in the configuration of subjectivity. Brecht argues that we must analyze how this logic of power acts in the embodied habits of Christians, thus configuring his interpretations of the notions of race and gender. This proposal implies breaking with the monological hermeneutics of the scriptures, always “focused on only one religion” (159). On the contrary, Brecht proposes, following feminist theologians as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Michelle Voss Roberts and Albertina Nugteren, “a dialogical hermeneutical space” to indicate a discipline focused on multiple religious traditions. In accordance with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Brecht claims that “that subjectivity needs to be constructed as a profoundly communal phenomenon” (162). For all this, Brecht concludes that religious identity must be understood “as a habit of bodying, and one which exists at the confluence of other habits of bodying, including race and gender” (165).
In Chapter 9, “Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor for Revelation”, Michele Saracino offers an extremely interesting phenomenological reading of swimming. This interpretation is based on an “analogy between water/creator and swimmer/creature” (177). In connection with Mara Brecht, Saracino analyzes bodily habits in relation to the embodiment. However, Saracino assumes that swimming can be seen as a “metaphor for revelation” or as an experience of the divine that includes our relationship with other. In this sense, she claims that “like the swimmer who works on getting a feel for the water in order to swim more efficiently, the believer must learn how to get a feel for God in order to flourish” (179). Swimming can open us to different experiences analyzed in literature and theology: vulnerability (Vaniers), resignation (Hans-Urs von Balthasar). These emotions, far from being negative, open us to otherness and a receptive capacity, in the same way that when swimming we stay “in the middle of things”. This is, in Saracino’s opinion, due to the unique character of water as a means of transformation and rebirth, as we can see in the sacrament of baptism.
In Chapter 10, “Revelation as Sharing in God’s Self-Understanding as Absolute Love”, Frederick Lawrence aims to show the philosophical and theological tension between God’s self-disclosure and God’s unknowability. In this argumentative movement we can find the tension between affirmative and negative theology and the discussion concerning the mystical theology. In this context, Lawrence proposes to analyze the analogy of light to think about the relationship between “Love” and “Revelation” based on the figure of Christ. For this, Lawrence examines the different approaches on this subject in Vatican I´s Dei filius and Vatican II´s Dei verbum. While the first emphasizes the concept of „natural reason“ (199), the second focuses on the problem of “God’s revelation of himself as true love in the communication of the Crucified One as Risen’s saving truth and his call to discipleship and witness” (199). In this sense, Lawrence returns to St. Thomas’s concept of caritas and its corresponding “analogy of light”, recognizing his debt to the mystical theology of Dionysius Areopagite (201). Lawrence recalls – and here we can trace a certain relationship with the experience of swimming in Saracino – that for St. Thomas the intelligible lumen is not a thing, but a means that allows the realization of all judgment or knowledge (209). In a most interesting way, Lawrence points out that St. Thomas’s conception of light is heir to the proposal of St. Augustine and the theory of human being as imago Dei. Going fairly into the subject, Lawrence analyzes Lonergan’s conception of intentionality. And this because “Lonergan’s mature phenomenology of feelings as apprehending a hierarchy of values (…) transcended the three questions about what we are doing when we think we are knowing (cognitional theory), why doing that is knowing (epistemology), and what do we know when we do it (critically grounded metaphysics)” (218). According to Lawrence, this proposal opens the possibility of thinking the “gift of love” as the central element of all revelation. Before any cognitive and individual instance, Lawrence shows the primacy of the interpersonal reality of love in the dynamics of faith and belief. Following this question, Lawrence argues that phenomenology focuses on the “pre-propositional, preverbal, pre-judgmental, pre-conceptual” (223). Love as faith must be defined in this pre-conceptual horizon. Given this, we believe that Lawrence’s proposal can find many points in common with Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological conception of love, as it appears in Le phénomène érotique. In turn, Lawrence’s proposal may find an interesting confrontation with Jorge Roggero’s book Hermeneutics of Love (2019).
In Chapter 11 “Ta’wīl in the Qur’an and the Islamic Exegetical Tradition: the Past and the Future of the Qur’an”, Maria Massi Dakak analyzes the problem of revelation through a reading of the exegetical tradition of the Qurʼan, emphasizing the proposal of Ta’wīl. Against all authoritarian interpretation, Dakak examines “what the Qur’an itself has to say about its own interpretation” (241). The Qurʼan speaks according to its own metaphors and symbols. In this sense, Dakake proposes to think about the Qur’an from Ta’wīl, in order to highlight its multivalent character. Literal and historical meanings can reach a deeper relationship from the perspective proposed by Dakake. This hermeneutical proposal aims to delve into the meaning that emanates from the same Text. In this sense, Dakake offers a phenomenological approach, as “the search for meaning through ta’wil is, from a human perspective, indefinite, in that it does not have a terminal point that can be reached through human contemplative or intellectual effort” (252). However, according to Dakake the term Ta’wīl should not be read only from an esoteric or mystical perspective, but it should also see the possibility of a new and spiritually generative reading that contains the historical context and its excess, as well as an attentive reading of what the text is intended to express itself (259).
In Chapter 12 “The logic of Revelation”, Peter Ochs analyzes reception of Tanakh in the rabbinic Judaism, in order to offer a new logic of Scriptural reasoning. In this respect, Ochs introduces a “semiotic method (the “Logic of Revelation”, LR) for diagramming patterns of non-disjunctive reasoning in practices of tradition-based, scriptural theology” (261). The term “logic” refers to Charles Peirce’s lógica utens, namely “the not-immediately-evident patterns of reasoning that authorize and discipline any practice of inquiry (262). From this, Ochs distinguishes between two modes of revelation that correspond to a distinction made by Charles Peirce. On the one hand, “indexical revelation”. This means that God speaks independently of anything humans can elaborate or control through his reasoning. On the other hand, “iconic revelation”. This implies that the iconic can be formulated in terms of the logic structure “to make a likeness” (267). In relation to the latter, we find a very interesting similarity between this conception of Ochs and Marion’s interpretation of “praise” in Dionysius the Areopagite as en tant que, as it can be found in his work L’idole et la distance (1977). Continuing with this comparison, Ochs addresses a criticism of idolatry, in the same way that Marion formulates a series of invective to the idolatrous conception of the divine in the aforementioned work and in Dieu sans l´être (1982). Both authors caution against reducing the meaning of revelation and God to a humanly construction. In the case of Marion, the iconic conception of the divine offers a counter-intentionality, showing that humans can only “receive” the “give” which preceeds them. As for Ochs, deepening the communal question of revelation, he indicates that for the “Rabbinic Logic of Revelation” (RLR) “the spoken-word is offered for and to the language community to whom God speaks” (268). If we accept that the predications of revelations are “offered to someone somewhere”, then revelation must appear in a community. Revelations appears as a relation between “God who speaks and the community that hears”. However, the predications of RLR are neither “subjectively” nor “objectively given”. Like Marion, Ochs would seem to conceive the given as a liberated instance of the paradigm of objectivity, adding to the need for a community for revelation. The “danger of idolatry” is overcome by a community committed to exegesis, debate, conservation and dialogue. In turn, this community discussion preserves the apophatic dimension of revelation. According to Ochs, one of the fundamental stimuli for discussion about revelation in Rabbinic Judaism must be found in the catastrophe of the “Burnt Temple” and Jerusalem razed and salted. Those dramatic moments stimulate the community discussion and the ability to meditate on revelation. Thus, the community receive “these spoken words then there is a narrative about how we may have seen God’s face even if the narrative is retained now as a memory” (281).
In Chapter 13, “Revelatory Hermeneutics: How to Read a Gospel, in Light of Mīmāṃsā, India’s Greatest Interpretive Tradition”, Francis Clooney offers a truly comparative theological approach through a study of ancient Indian hermeneutics known as “Mimamsa”. In Clooney´s words, “Mimamsa” appears as “a system one can imagine more refreshingly different, demanding but quite accessible to reason” and contribute to “not limit our understanding of hermeneutics and revelation to the hermeneutical traditions of the Christian West” (287). In this proposal, revelation is understood as something perceptible, heard and seen “in the text”. Vedic hermeneutics and Vedic revelation “does not require a special language that speaks of things beyond ordinary experience” (291). This conception leads Clooney to analyze Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Logical Investigations (as an aggregate, the recurrence to Wittgenstein’s philosophy also appears in Marion’s L’idole et la distance to think of Dionysius’s notion of praise as a non-predicative mode of language). Clooney rescues the practicality of Wittgenstein’s logic, as it can be seen in the notion of “language games”. Among Clooney’s most interesting conclusions, we can speak, on the one hand, that “revelation occurs in the interaction of reader and text” (297). Historical context is secondary because, on the other hand, “one does not need to give undue importance to authorial intentions” (297). Extra-textual realities are a derived instance. In other words, revelation occurs in the text. Revelation is “accesible only in submission to the grammar of the text before us” (300).
To conclude, we can ask the following question: what do phenomenology and theology gain by deepening the concept of Revelation? In this regard, Jean-Luc Marion’s proposal is very clear: the concept of Revelation cannot be reduced to a theological concept. The problem of revelation offers a common place to philosophy and theology that can be explored from phenomenological approach. Furthermore, as we have seen, revelation is a problem that concerns not only Christian theology, but also Muslim, Jewish theology as well as Eastern religions. Appealing to a concept of Alain de Libera, perhaps we should begin to think about the problem of revelation from a translatio studiorum. It should be said that this volume offers not just contributions concerning the question of Revelation, but also a new way of understanding the relation between Phenomenology and Theology.
 De Libera, Alain. 2004. La philosophie médiévale. Paris: PUF, p. 57.
What is the nature of revelation? Can it be interpreted? By interpreting, do we strip it of its divine nature? How do other religious traditions deal with these questions? These are the ever-present tensions which press the authors of The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology. By attempting to answer, reformulate, and live in these tensions, they offer a compelling vision into the relevance of phenomenology and comparative theology to these issues.
The Enigma of Divine Revelation—part 7 of the ‘Contributions to Hermeneutics’ series published by Springer—is edited by two prominent scholars: phenomenologist Jean-Luc Marion and comparative theologian Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer. Although written from a Catholic Christian perspective, the volume touches on a myriad of other intellectual and religious traditions. After dedicating Chapter 1 to an introduction, the editors divide the essays into 4 parts—Givenness and Interpretation (Chapters 2-3), The Phenomenality of Revelation (Chapters 4-6), Transforming Ways of Being in the World (Chapters 7-10), The Future of Revelation, Propositions (Revisited), and Close Reading (Chapters 11-13). In order to lay a foundation for the theme of the volume, Chapter 1 gives a brief history of the evolution orthodox Catholic conceptions of divine revelation and the role of interpretation therein.
The collection launches Part I with an essay by one of its editors: Jean-Luc Marion. “The Hermeneutics of Givenness,” translated by Sarah Horton, builds on his concept of ‘saturated phenomena’ by drawing out a provocative vision of the hermeneutic demand created therein. Marion writes to address fears of ‘pure’ givenness, which is sullied by any form of signification, which have driven many hermeneutics scholars to denounce the usefulness of phenomenology. What use is the given if introducing a hermeneutic makes it disappear? Marion responds by first reversing the common understanding of givenness—“we must not conceive of givenness as a de facto authority but as a de jure authority, or rather conceive that the fact of the given suffices to assure to this given the full status of a phenomenon: everything that shows itself shows itself because it gives itself” (Marion 21). Furthermore, he distinguishes between the given, which “imposes itself as a fact, and givenness, which “establishes the norm of this fact” (22). He argues that what he calls the ‘myth of the given’ goes back to Locke’s empiricism, which suggests the given is unmediated sense datum. In this formulation, the given has the inexorable character of immediacy, a character which is inevitably destroyed in moving from the immediate sense datum of the given to the subsequent realization of an object.
Marion enjoins his readers to throw off this empiricist formulation of phenomenology which demands so much of the given’s immediacy. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that “it belongs precisely to the given not to give itself immediately, and above all not in the immediacy of sense data—even though it gives itself in perfect facticity, or rather because it gives itself as an unconditioned and originary factum” (28-29, emphasis original). Thus, signification, he claims, is anterior to givenness. It is only through the process of reduction that we can arrive at the offshoots of the given: sense data, objects, knowledge. We always experience the world as signified first.
Finally, Marion distinguishes between what gives itself and what shows itself. In his words, “the given does not yet show itself through the simple fact that it gives itself” (39). We can reason, as he did, that something things give itself without showing itself. This distinction allows Marion to further argue for his concept of saturated phenomena: that in many cases what gives itself “exceeds what the concept presumed regarding signification, such that the phenomenon escapes any foresight, to the point of becoming impossible to aim at [invisable], if not invisible [invisible]” (41). Allowing for saturated phenomena gives Marion theoretical space for revelation. He addresses the persistent question of how something divine could maintain its status while becoming immanent by suggesting what we encounter in revelation totally exceeds our comprehension, such that what gives itself as divine shows itself only partially in immanence, and even then only appears to us as signified.
The volume’s 3rd chapter offers an opposing view in Shane Mackinlay, who argues Marion’s saturated phenomenon maintains the absolute character of the transcendent, but in doing so severely limits the scope of interpretation. By positing the transcendent in givenness, Mackinlay argues, Marion implies discernment is not necessary. But how do we know if our experience was a veridical experience of the transcendent or a glimmering fraud? In other words, how do we distinguish between the transcendent and the mundane? In an effort to address these questions, Mackinlay proposes adapting three principles of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics to discernment of revelation.
Mackinlay’s essay launches with a critique of ‘The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology,’ arguing figures like Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Marion fail to fully realize the importance of hermeneutics in transcendence. He recalls admonitions for discernment from figures like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Martin Luther in support of his argument. Moving further, he endorses Richard Kearney’s analogy between discernment and meeting a stranger: should we treat strangers with awe or suspicion? Likewise, should we treat an ecstatic encounter with awe or suspicion?
As tools for encountering ‘a stranger,’ Mackinlay proposes adopting “a critical and modest hermeneutics of the phenomenon in its actual appearing, undertaken in dialogue with others who propose interpretations of it” (59-60). As the author notes, Kearney likewise calls for a hermeneutic which operates in the appearing of the phenomenon, but fails to give any indication of how this might be done. This is where Gadamer is useful. Mackinlay echoes Gadamer’s belief that perfectly ‘true’ interpretation cannot exist, only provisional truths can be exposed. As such, all judgments require ongoing critical examination. If truths are provisional, then ongoing examination must continuously question the validity of the original judgment. Finally, this examination should not be done in isolation; a communal examination will further solidify the ongoing examination.
By inducting Gadamer’s hermeneutics into the practice of discerning the transcendent, Mackinlay offers a concrete lead into sifting out the divine from the immanent. One may object that the judgments and examinations Mackinlay introduces will sully the character of the transcendent, but he maintains that “While the introduction of these immanent judgements qualifies any absolute claim to immediate and unambiguous encounter with the transcendent, they remain modest and provisional judgements, and they therefore refrain from simply reducing that transcendence to the immanence of experience” (61-62). Ultimately, he reminds us, we must forward the provisional nature of language, always vigilant in our awareness of the precarious divide between the natural and the supernatural.
Part II of the collection focuses on “The Phenomenality of Revelation.” In Chapter 4, “Revelation as a Problem for Our Age,” Robyn Horner addresses revelation in a post-secular age. Philosopher Charles Taylor famously identified a ‘secular age’ in which traditional religion was waning and expected, by many, to disappear completely through the process of modernization. Yet Horner, following Jürgen Habermas and Daniele Hervieu-Leger, argues society has entered a post-secular age, in which “religion maintains a public influence and relevance, while the secularistic certainty religion will disappear worldwide in the course of modernization is losing ground” (72-73, quoting Habermas). Horner goes further, though. to endorse Hervieu-Leger’s view that secularization primarily reconstructs belief, resulting in new secular religions and reimagined traditional religions.
Secular and post-secular ages have also shifted emphasis from the communal to the individual, placing revelation, among other things, in the experience of the individual. In academic circles, however, revelation has largely been rejected as irrational or even superstitious. As a result, secular philosophers like Nick Trakakis have tried to completely evict theology from philosophy, arguing theology, in assuming metaphysical truths before inquiry has even begun, is less critical towards its own beliefs than philosophy. Richard Colledge recants: “so much of what we passionately maintain on the basis of the weighty tools of rational argumentation are things that we already cared about previously. As such, while the tools of argumentative reason are used to defend them, these come too late to explain why we hold such views in the first place” (77). Colledge’s response, Horner notes, reflects Derrida’s argument that much of rational thought is actually theological in nature, no matter how vehemently secular academics deny it.
Having established revelation’s significance for the post-secular age, Horner moves on to trace its history with theology from what is perhaps its first appearance in Thomas Aquinas to the change made by Vatican II. In sum, she argues, “revelation is understood within Catholic thought chiefly in two ways, as content and as relationship” (91). Within the latter way, Horner finds an additional shift from questions of belief and unbelief to questions of experience, which is where phenomenology enters the scene. She lays out several ways in which French phenomenologists Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Luc Marion, and Emmanuel Falque have offered experiential frameworks for revelation. Lacoste, for example, introduces a liturgical reduction meant not to bring God into view, but to expand our horizon beyond the world. Additionally, his concept of ‘paradoxical phenomena’ accounts for phenomena which we know primarily through affective rather than intellectual means. Horner posits views like this, which includes Marion’s saturated phenomena, expand our horizon of possible transcendence. In fact, she concludes with a notable endorsement of this tradition: “In short, if it is the case that revelation no longer makes sense in contemporary life, perhaps it is because it has been locked for too long in the language of beliefs and made unavailable to experience; perhaps it is because of a diminished sensitivity to its impression in the affect, and perhaps it is because its effects are no longer visible in the persons who proclaim it as knowledge” (100).
In Chapter 5, ‘Revelation and Kingdom,’ Kevin Hart makes the case that the phenomenological revelation introduced by Vatican II uncovers the Kingdom of Heaven as multi-stable phenomena. Like Horner, Hart traces the use of revelation back to Thomas Aquinas, but he adds that the Thomistic concept revelatione divina was a significant turn away from illuminatio as used by Augustine. It was in Aquinas’s legacy that Vatican II first introduced the term ‘divine revelation’ to Catholic constitution in Vatican I, where it formulated divine revelation as “de facto propositional” (111). Vatican II, however, reworks this understanding to one of self-revelation. Although its authors do not explicitly acknowledge it, this self-revelation, as Hart points out, “quietly [slips] from theological epistemology to phenomenology” (111).
This shift enjoins believers to encounter Jesus not simply as a fixed “object among others but as an intentional object: desired, loved, worshipped, and so on, in the context of prayer, reception of sacraments, or anticipation of the life of the world to come” (113-114). Even so, it is imperative that we recognize no matter what we do, the Jesus that appears to us always appears within the limits of our gaze. Our past experiences, current circumstances and values, prejudices, personality delimit the ways in which Jesus appears to us. The difficulty, then, is in recognizing the provisionality of that encounter and expanding our gaze in hope of more multi-stable encounters in the future.
Attempting to address this difficulty, Paul Tillich argues that instead of bring Jesus, God the Son, into our gaze, and in the process irrecoverably altering God’s character, we must “find ourselves in his gaze, which comes in hearing his parables and in meditating on his acts” (114). Hart’s rejoinder says this goes too far; hoping to preserve the character of Jesus by arguing he does not come into our gaze takes him too far out of the world. Instead, Hart argues, the difficulty of recognizing the depth of the Kingdom through revelation comes from its appearance as a multi-stable phenomenon: “It is here yet to come, within yet without, coming in strength while also the smallest of things, visible yet invisible, ordinary yet extraordinary” (117). Revelation, understood as self-revelation, goes beyond the possibilities of proposition in uncovering the multi-stable character of the Kingdom.
Chapter 6, William C. Hackett’s “‘A Whole Habit of Mind’: Revelation and Understanding in the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria”, moves beyond the specific nature of revelation to address the conundrum of taking a personal first-person experience of God and interpreting it through the distant third-person plane of hermeneutics. Our experience of revelation is already limited to the scope of our gaze, so how can hermeneutics be laid over divine encounter without completely covering the transcendent therein? By applying St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “sacrifice Christology” to this issue, Hackett offers a sturdy foundation for the inherently unstable interpretation of revelation.
To lay this foundation, Hackett begins by explaining three essential steps of Cyrilline Christology he relies on: 1) for St. Cyril, theology’s first appearance and task is in liturgy, or in the possibility of deifying flesh by henosis; 2) the Eucharistic “reduction” enacts seeing through enfleshment and self-emptying, resulting in the advancement into theosis; and 3) Christ’s appearance, the first Eucharist, represents the kenotic incarnation of reason. These three steps provide the background for Hackett’s own fourth, which states that “The intellectual practice that corresponds to the sensible manifestation of divine glory in Christ is less one of classical philosophical allegoresis than of using Scriptural images to give flesh to thought” (120). This final step is redolent of St. Cyril’s understanding of the metaphysical expressive possibilities in images, which surpasses the ability of human reason to expose the mind to revelation. For example, St. Cyril’s image of a burning coal, inspired by Isaiah’s hekhalot theophany, imagines the coal to be an image anticipating the character of Christ. Like the burning coal, “[Christ] is conceived as being from two things which are unlike each other and yet by a real combination are all but bound together in unity” (Hackett quoting St. Cyril 127). Both realities, a burning coal and an incarnate God, express the realities of two entirely disparate realities coming wholly into one while retaining the essential characteristics of the disparate realities. In the Eucharist, Hackett concludes, we enjoy this reality; eating the bread and drinking the wine, we participate in a ritual at once real on a material level and on a spiritual level—what we partake is both bread and Christ’s body, both wine and his blood.
Part III of the book, on “Transforming Ways of Being in the World,” begins with Chapter 7 by Werner G. Jeanrond. Reflecting the call of this section of the book, Jeanrond’s chapter dives deeper into developing phenomenological hermeneutics shaped by praxis rather than abstracted theological logic puzzles. Titled “Revelation and the Hermeneutics of Love,” it proposes a theology radically shaped by relational love. This love, as he sees it, is not the flippant whim of attraction, but rather is steeped in the often painfully difficult task of loving the other in their otherness.
Contrasting the erstwhile Yale and Chicago traditions of hermeneutics, traditions he coins the ‘hermeneutics of revelation’ and the ‘hermeneutics of signification’ respectively, Jeanrond puts stock in the latter school, proposing that thinkers like David Tracy and Paul Ricoeur’s universal horizon in addressing fundamental questions of otherness ignored by the professors at Yale. Their universal horizon keeps with Jeanrond’s project, putting otherness at the center of its inquiry, a move which, we are told, is essential for a rich understanding of love in practice. The task of loving the other as other (e.i. without attempt to twist the other into the self) is inextricably linked to hermeneutics because, following Gadamer’s claim that all human communication is ensconced within the limits of the language, Jeanrond argues “the center of love is the recognition of relational subjectivity and its potential for enabling experiences of transcendence and revelation” (145).
Chapter 8 features Mara Brecht questioning what bodies comparative religion centers on and how those habits of bodying can be decentered. She begins “Embodied Transactions” with an admonition for comparative theology to self-critical regarding its hermeneutics—specifically its understanding of subjectivity. Following Gadamer and Ricoeur’s discussions of the embodied dimension of human experience, Brecht traces out the implications of their findings for comparative theology. Going even further, she draws on the work of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Michelle Voss Roberts to propose that “it is only in the particularity of embodied experience that revelation is rendered meaningful” (152). Rather than retracing Barth’s attempt to circle around the problem of subjectivity by placing revelation specifically within a single discrete tradition, Brecht joins other scholars practicing the so-called “new” comparative theology, a school dedicated to embracing the tensions of interreligious dialogue rather than attempting to diffuse them.
Still, Brecht argues, comparative theology should go further to uncover the status of its own subjectivity. Like Andreas Nehring, she rejoins her fellow theologians to deconstruct the contexts in which interpretation takes place. This context is composed, she claims, by what Shannon Sullivan calls “embodied habits,” which not only reflect our identities but determine them. Hence, “We cannot understand the lived realities of religion in the abstract, and thus apart from embodied environments, which—importantly—are always and inevitably shot through with power” (168). As a result, the work of uncovering and improving the embodied habits in comparative theology, a practice known as somaesthetics, requires critical self-examination of the way theologians are bodying, living as racialized, gendered, religiously committed bodies. This is not, however, a rejection of comparative theology; Brecht instead proposes the possibilities of comparative theology as an environment which “[disrupts] the automaticity of our habits” and can, therefore, “be the work of becoming an “outsider within”—a subjective position from which the fullness of revelation be taken in and known” (173).
Chapter 9—Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor for Revelation—explores living as a liminal experience, one “in the middle of things” already started and not yet over. The author, Michele Saracino, cites George Steiner’s discussion of living as a “Saturday” experience, caught between the unutterable pains of “Friday” and the Utopia of “Sunday.” To live a flourishing life, Saracino argues, one must “swim” in the transient “waters” of life not by trying to control the water, but by resigning your control, accepting its otherness, and adapting to its hydrodynamic drag. The admonition to resign oneself, she notes, comes in the wake of Jean Vanier’s call to vulnerability and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s idea of revelation as an act of giving oneself over to God. The water metaphor, however, further actualizes the intimacy of our relationship with alterity by bringing alive the uncertainty and mystery inherent therein.
Yet Saracino’s in extended metaphor, we are not treading water—we are swimming. As many swimmers already know, this necessarily involves working against, and with, hydrodynamic drag. Liking this drag to the challenges we all face in relating to and loving others, Saracino advocates working in harmony with life’s protean waves through improvisation. This improvisation allows us to experience the other without trying to control it, ultimately revealing new ways of being in the world. As she concludes, “empathy emerges when we relinquish power over another, mourn that power, and let the other have an impact on us” (193). By harnessing the insights offered by the swimming metaphor, Saracino further elucidates the transformative power of communion with the other.
The final chapter of Part III, chapter 10, features Frederick G. Lawrence unpacking “Revelation as Sharing in God’s Self-Understanding as Absolute Love.” Like several others in this collection, Lawrence begins with a short history of patristic understanding of revelation; unlike the ones we saw before, this recapitulation highlights the shift in how Catholic theologians have understood St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings on the subject. Earmarking the differences between Vatican I’s Dei Filius and Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, he alerts his readers to the impact theologian Yves Congar had on the latter document. In this new paradigm, revelation is conceptualized as God’s self-communication gifted to us. While many scholars have taken issue with the nature/supernature distinction assumed in Dei Verbum, Lawrence still finds it necessary and even productive to identify as different nature and grace.
Given this distinction, Lawrence activates Bernard Lonergan’s conception of revelation as God’s self-understanding given through grace, that is through Jesus Christ. While grace abounds in the world, the Paschal mystery is the consummate act of revelation. This leads Lawrence to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation, a role he defines by paraphrasing St Paul: “the Spirit sent into human hearts by the Father through the Son transforms us by the graces of conversion, justification, and sanctification” (215-216 emphasis original). The experience of this transformation, which leads us faith, he argues, is not a process of rational recalculation or the adopting of a set of orthodox axioms; Rather, the existential step into faith is better defined as “the knowledge born of religious love” (quoting Lonergan 223). Hence, the religious knowledge too often paraded as the end of a logical syllogism illuminated by the light of reason is instead, to use Herbert McCabe’s words, arrived at through “the darkness of faith” (233).
Chapter 11, the first in Part IV “The Future of Revelation, Propositions (Revisited), and Close Reading”, invites the reader for the first time beyond the horizons of the Christian tradition to that of another Abrahamic religion—Islam. Professor of Qur’anic Studies Maria Massi Dakake interrogates the use of ta’wīl in the Qur’an as well as in Islamic intellectual history, ultimately arguing that integral to the Qur’an’s teachings for Muslims is the understanding that its meaning is multivalent and continues to unravel over time. Rather than a text with clear and discrete religious meaning which has already been uncovered by early witnesses and scholars, Massi Dakake invites us to see meaning in the Qur’an as inexhaustible.
Qur’anic scholars and teachers, as well as the Qur’an and Hadīth, have warned against tafsīr, or explanation of texts by opinion. Many have taken this as a rejection of interpretation full-stop, suggesting the early interpreters arrived at the “correct” understanding of the texts. But Massi Dakake believes this is a grave misunderstanding: “If read in this way, the error [Qur’an 3:7] points to is not the effort to contemplate and find new or hidden meaning in the verses, but on the contrary, the desire to claim that no such new or hidden meanings exist of can be found, and thus to question the legitimacy of continuing to ponder and reflect upon Qur’anic verses—an endeavor the Qur’an itself repeatedly encourages” (259). By alerting us to Qur’anic uses of ta’wīl, which tenth-century theologian and commentator al-Māturīdī, among others, propose avoid the condemnation of Qur’an 3:7, Massi Dakake opens us up to a present, living encounter with the text.
In Chapter 12, Jewish Studies scholar Peter Ochs dismisses the “two-valued propositional logics” so prevalent in the modern West to propose a “Logic of Revelation” (LR) which incorporates a “multivalued” logic. For LR, first premises are “words revealed to some language community” (i.e. revelation) (262). Thus, Ochs admits, one can only access the LR in the Tanakh by way of the “Rabbinic Logic of Revelation,” whose second premises uncover the original conditions for the reception of the first premises.
Using Charles Peirce’s distinction between iconic and indexical signs, Ochs argues the “force of revelation is displayed through its indexicality” (266). While revelation is directly caused by its object, “its meaning is disclosed only by way of predications”—meaning is predicated on revelation in a particular time and place (266). Additionally, this implies that revelation is received in human language communities. In sum, revelation—the relation of God to God’s word—comes to us through language in our worldly setting and bears the weight of indexicality. Interpretive reading (derash), therefore, “is predicative, relational, historically conditioned, and it is authoritative only when and where it is articulated” (272).
In the 13th and final chapter, comparative theologian Francis X. Clooney demonstrates the power of the discipline through the application of the Vedic hermeneutic tradition Mīmāmsā to a reading of the Gospel According to John. Defining Mīmāmsā as “intense investigation,” the chapter begins with a gloss of how Hindu practitioners use the method and its connection to Vedic revelation. Of the extant literature on the subject, perhaps the key text is Mīmāmsā Sūtras, a collection of twelve books attributed to Jaimini (c. 300-200 BCE). Using these works alongside the thought of Śabara Swāmin and Kumārila Bhātta, Clooney argues that, for Mīmāmsā, “Revelation lies in the detail, and revelation is accessible not as received content, but in the work of skilled interpretation” (286-287). Yet this interpretation does not primarily seek to uncover the original context and intentions of a text’s author; a close reading of the actual text will open the way for revelation without imposing on it.
Of course, the religious context and aims of Mīmāmsā are significantly distinct from Clooney’s Catholicism, a key difference being that Mīmāmsā finds revelation in the text itself rather than seeing the text as a sign of something beyond it. Still, Clooney claims, their similarities are weighty enough to make comparison productive. In the final section of the essay, he does just that—applying the principles of Mīmāmsā to sections of the Gospel According to John, particularly the scenes leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. One such scene, the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and the surrounding community’s reaction, brings Clooney’s method to light: “From a Mīmāmsā perspective, good reading always implicates the reader: does the miracle draw us into the circle of believers, or rather locate us among those intent upon killing Jesus?” (299-300). By encouraging us to lean in to the text, Mīmāmsā helps us prioritize the ethical demands made on us by the text, leading us on a path toward a greater understanding of our place in the world.
Engaging diverse hermeneutical traditions at the crossroads of phenomenology and comparative theology, The Enigma of Divine Revelation alerts readers to the contingent and situated nature of each person’s understanding of revelation. The resulting bricolage invites reflection on what is given in revelation, the significance of revelation for our age, the ways revelation may invite praxis, and the importance of close reading for opening revelation. This concoction perhaps appears eclectic, yet it is a capacious model of the benefits of interdisciplinary thought—and the existential potence of rich theological soil.
Introductions are historical pieces of work conditioned by the tendencies and urgencies of the moment, and that means they need to be rewritten again and again. Still, one might be excused for thinking that the world doesn’t need another introduction to Heidegger. After reading O’Brien’s excellent book, though, one will be convinced otherwise. Accessible and intellectually honest, this critical introduction to Heidegger’s life and works is a timely contribution to the field, which I recommend highly to beginners as well as specialists.
Today, undergraduates and other first-time readers of Heidegger do not come to his works empty-handed. We can assume that most of them have been exposed to “the Heidegger controversy.” Preserving Heidegger’s legacy requires addressing that controversy. O’Brien is therefore wise not to bypass it, but instead tell the story of Heidegger’s thought partly against that political backdrop. Nor does the book pretend to offer a guide to Heideggerian philosophical concepts from a “neutral standpoint.” It is a polemical introduction, taking a stand on the political issues as well as important interpretive questions that haunt Heidegger scholarship.
In his preface, O’Brien clarifies what he takes to be uncontroversial about Heidegger’s works, and what remains contentious to this day. Instead of painting a sacrosanct picture, he thematizes the controversies and presents a nuanced picture—one that cancels out neither the controversies and weaknesses in Heidegger’s thought, nor the immense value of Heidegger’s philosophical insights.
O’Brien identifies two extreme positions in Heidegger interpretation and rejects the squabble between them as a false dilemma. One position holds that Heidegger is “the greatest scourge to have afflicted academic philosophy,” while to the other, he is “the most important philosopher to have emerged from the Western tradition since Hegel” (ix). O’Brien offers an interpretation that accepts a version of both positions. He argues that while it is undeniable that Heidegger’s association with National Socialism was neither brief not incidental to his thought, and that his commitment to it was based on some of the core elements of his magnum opus, Being and Time (BT), this does not justify “the extirpation of Heidegger’s thought from the canon” (ibid.). Heidegger’s impact remains profound, and striking him from the canon obliterates his intellectual achievements and makes it impossible to explain the origin of subsequent thinkers, who were influenced by him. But O’Brien also warns against the extreme devotion displayed by some commentators, who are “guilty of all kinds of intellectual acrobatics and apologetics in an attempt to rehabilitate Heidegger’s image” (xi). He vows to avoid such misplaced loyalty, which risks alienating prospective readers of Heidegger “who will eventually learn for themselves that Heidegger was a Nazi and a selfish, arrogant egomaniac to boot” (ibid.).
In Chapter One, entitled “Ways Not Works,” O’Brien addresses Heidegger’s methodology and influences, and takes a clear stand on the Kehre debate, which concerns the relationship between the early and later works. Although this issue is decisive in determining what narrative is offered not only regarding the late works but most crucially regarding BT, it is often set aside in introductory texts. O’Brien warns against the two extremes that see either radically disjointed efforts over the course of his oeuvre or an overt systematicity. Instead, he supports the so-called “continuity thesis,” which finds unity across the Heidegger corpus. Thus he sees Heidegger’s work as “a continuous, evolving, if not entirely seamless, enterprise” (xi). Invoking Heidegger’s maxim “ways not works”, O’Brien presents his oeuvre as a series of attempts at thematizing the question of the meaning of being (2-3), which question he addressed most rigorously in BT. This approach helps us appreciate the reasons why Heidegger moved beyond that central work without ever actually rejecting it. O’Brien’s narrative thus rejects a distinction between “Heidegger I” and “Heidegger II,” and counters the assumption that the later works are incompatible with the earlier (5).
O’Brien also does a fine job in this chapter of acknowledging the most important influences on Heidegger’s work without giving a reductive account that denies his philosophical originality. As he argues, Heidegger’s work cannot be categorized under any of the movements that influenced him. Nonetheless, O’Brien identifies Husserl’s phenomenology as having exerted the most influence on his early thought.
Chapter 2, “Early Life,” covers the most significant biographical information with bearing on Heidegger’s philosophical ideas (and is actually not confined only to his early years), including his attempts at a political philosophy. What is crucial to take away from this chapter is the connection between Heidegger’s philosophical confrontation with modernism and his sense of belonging to his native region and its heritage. O’Brien argues that Heidegger himself made it “very clear that the biographical details of his own life […] were crucial to an understanding of the manner in which his thinking developed” (8). Accordingly, he relates the basic facts about Heidegger’s upbringing and family: his father’s vocational connection to the Catholic Church, and his many ties to the countryside and peasant communities, including his mother’s farming background. Thus he contextualizes Heidegger’s distrust of city life and cosmopolitanism (9), which he associated with inauthenticity.
O’Brien draws attention to the interpretive difficulty that hampers any serious attempt to distinguish between those of Heidegger’s philosophical discoveries that resulted from honest thinking, and ideas he espoused disingenuously, ad hoc, in order to justify his private proclivities. It is challenging to identify and appreciate some of Heidegger’s important philosophical ideas on their own merit when he himself attaches them to ridiculous personal views. As a result, some interpreters end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater (12), allowing these associations to discredit profound insights.
In the chapter, O’Brien does not shy away from commenting on Heidegger’s bad personality traits, such as his feigned humility, his extraordinary arrogance and pretentiousness, his serious messiah complex, as well as his philandering (12). The chapter closes with references to his wife Elfride’s antisemitism and nationalism, and shows that also Heidegger himself was fiercely nationalistic (14).
Chapter 3, “Rumours of the Hidden King,” tracks Heidegger’s intellectual development from the early Freiburg period, when he served as Husserl’s teaching assistant, to his years lecturing at Marburg, in the early 1920s. Once he took up employment at Marburg, Heidegger begun formulating his own ideas and themes, moving away from neo-Kantianism and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, and recognizing “the importance of time as history for the philosophical project he wished to inaugurate” (21).
One topic stands out in this chapter: Heidegger’s break from Husserlian phenomenology. Here the book’s characterizations of Heidegger’s person are again harsh: O’Brien claims that while Heidegger was indeed at one point deeply inspired by Husserl, nevertheless he “carefully choreographed” the impression that Husserl was his mentor, dedicating BT to him as part of a “calculated piece of manipulation designed to win the favour of one of the most important and influential philosophical voices in Germany at the time” (19).
Chapter 4, “The Hidden King Returns to Freiburg,” is the longest and most important chapter of the book. Here, O’Brien discusses BT and tries to properly contextualize its main arguments in relation to the entire corpus. Discussing the structure of BT, O’Brien analyzes its incompleteness in terms of both philosophical motivations and purely professional-strategic ones. He finds a deep consistency between the projected (missing) second part of BT with the work of his later period. Proponents of the discontinuity thesis, he argues, misinterpret the idea of a “turn” (Kehre), supposing that the new approach and language characteristic of Heidegger’s later texts represent a “reversal,” a “turning away from” and thus a repudiation of BT. But on the contrary, O’Brien points out, the later works constantly invoke BT in order to explain key developments. Heidegger himself recommended that the 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics (IM), be read “as a companion piece to Being and Time” (30). While the later works are not reducible to the earlier, still “Heidegger never fully relinquishes some of the key ideas that he was developing in Being and Time” (28).
Having made his case for continuity, O’Brien is free to turn to important texts that postdate BT in order to clarify some of the latter’s central arguments. Interpreting BT as a book that tries to address the ontologically suppressed interplay of presence and absence, O’Brien refers to the 1949 introduction to “What Is Metaphysics?” (WM) (1929) in order to clarify the purpose that animates BT, which is none other than “to prepare an overcoming of metaphysics” (33). According to Heidegger, the meaning of being as traditionally understood in philosophy privileges presence, something which O’Brien says “distorts the nature of reality for us and indeed our own self-understanding” (30). Part of what Heidegger tries to do is challenge the prejudice that the word “being” and its cognates mean that something exists or is present (ibid.). In fact, when we say that things “are,” “it is not clear that that means that they exist as fully present or actualised before us” (32).
In WM, Heidegger would blame this “metaphysics of presence” for misrepresenting the way we actually experience the world (33). WM’s discussion of nothingness targets the principle of non-contradiction, O’Brien says—a principle “routinely invoked to dismiss all talk of the nothing as simply wrong-headed, illogical, unscientific, in short, as contradictory” (34). The tradition has decided in advance that being reduces to presence and that it itself is not nothing. According to O’Brien, this treatment of nothingness is anticipated early on in BT, specifically in the account of moods as the site which throws open the interplay of presence and absence (34). “Heidegger returns to and defends this idea in 1929, in 1935 and again in his 1940’s introduction and postscript to the 1929 lecture [WM]” (ibid.). Heidegger, O’Brien writes, is trying to show that “traditional approaches miss out on all of the possibilities inherent in what we ‘mean’ when we say that a [an entity] is here, or there, or is something or other” (39). Being means possibility—a multiplicity of possibilities—and although beings stand in Being, they never overcome the possibility of not-Being, something that the philosophical tradition has missed by conceiving being in terms of continuous presence. As O’Brien explains, “[w]hat is suppressed is the role that absence or nothingness plays in our experience and how most of our experience involves a constant interplay of presence and absence” (40).
O’Brien concedes that the existential analytic of Dasein does tend toward anthropocentrism or an excessive prioritization of human subjectivity, but he draws attention to the methodological reasons that led Heidegger to begin with Dasein. Heidegger was convinced that “a new brand of phenomenology, unencumbered with the transcendental baggage of the later Husserl, was the appropriate method, while recognizing that time (or temporality) should be central to any attempt to begin to investigate the meaning of being” (42). Rather than “beginning with some abstract theory or idea, Heidegger insisted that we should begin with ordinary, everyday existence, before any abstractions” (ibid.).
In the same chapter, O’Brien also critically responds to realist readings of Heidegger’s late work, which—as he convincingly argues—rely on a misreading of BT. Without attributing to Heidegger the view that Dasein actively creates meaning, O’Brien disagrees that the meaning of being subsists in the absence of Dasein. He clarifies that Heidegger does not deny that entities exist “out there,” only that their meaning (i.e. the phenomenological “world”) exists independently of Dasein. Here the analysis would benefit from a reference to Taylor Carman’s work, whose use of the term “ontic realism” could help O’Brien consolidate his position further.
In the rest of the chapter, O’Brien offers an eloquent explication of the basic structures of Dasein as presented in BT, without ever becoming tiresome or overly technical. Thus he explains how “understanding” works in terms of projects and possibilities, how “affectivity” (Befindlichkeit) works in terms of moods in which we already find ourselves, and how “falling” works in terms of understanding being as presence.
As regards the focus on death in BT, O’Brien argues that Heidegger is not interested in the actual event of death per se, but rather in the fact that our manner of understanding everything in the world around us is conditioned by our own finitude (47). Heidegger wants to move from the metaphysics of presence to an ontology which reckons with the role that absence or nothingness plays in the meaning of a thing’s being (48).
Chapter 5 is entitled “The 1930s – Politics, Art and Poetry.” The chapter begins with Heidegger’s so-called “linguistic turn,” in which the poetic use of language in particular emerged as a key concern. While some commentators see Heidegger’s focus on language, and particularly his preoccupation with Hölderlin’s poetry during the 1930s and 40s, as a shift away from the project of BT, O’Brien argues that if we remain faithful to the fact that BT is about the meaning of Being, then there’s no surprise in the linguistic turn. In my opinion, O’Brien’s thesis here would benefit from a reference to Heidegger’s early notion of “formal indication,” which is also a precursor to poetic language.
Next O’Brien turns to Heidegger’s linguistic chauvinism, which he argues contributed to shaping his political views. Heidegger believed that German and Ancient Greek were philosophically superior languages that could grasp the world in the origin of its being, and that other languages, such as French and English, were philosophically destitute (57). O’Brien brings up the worrisome recurrence of Heidegger’s prejudice about a supposed inner affinity between Germany and Ancient Greece. He also discusses Heidegger’s intense criticism of “everything in the Western tradition that has led to modernity and eventually the age of technology” (60). It is in this context, argues O’Brien, that Judaism is thrown “into the melting pot along with everything else that he sees as a consequence of the history of the metaphysics of presence, a metaphysics which he believes the German people alone can overcome” (ibid.).
One of the most interesting moments in the book comes when O’Brien questions whether Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity is really as unique as we have been taught to think. Thus he calls for an excavation and identification of the sinister and at times disappointingly derivative motivations behind ideas that many have taken to be unique features of Heidegger’s critique (60-61). Some aspects of Heidegger’s critique of modernity, O’Brien says, are but “a variant on what were ultimately a series of stock antisemitic prejudices that proliferated in Germany from the late 1700s onwards” (59). In some of the most nationalistic and antisemitic remarks to be found in the 1933-1934 seminar Nature, History, State, Heidegger argues that for Slavic people, German space would be revealed differently from the way it is revealed to Germans, and that to “Semitic nomads” it would “perhaps never be revealed at all” (62). O’Brien argues that these attempts to relate philosophical views to a renewal of German spiritual and cultural life under National Socialism can be registered under a certain tradition to which also Fichte belonged (ibid.). Yet Heidegger’s conviction that this “revolution” must be based on key elements of his own philosophical vision, i.e. the attempt to overcome the metaphysics of presence and the inauguration of a new beginning which was specifically tied to the destiny of the German people, makes him stand out in this tradition. Heidegger was “as naïve as he was megalomaniacal” (63), O’Brien says, while reminding us not to dismiss the philosophy just because of the political ends the philosopher thought it could serve.
The final part of the chapter turns to the topic of art and follows Heidegger’s engagement with Hölderlin’s poetry in his 1934 lectures, as well as his 1935-1936 essay “The Origin of the Work of Art.” According to O’Brien, Heidegger was keen to distance his discussion of the origin of art from any conventional aesthetics, and previous analyses of this work have overlooked how Heidegger situates his treatment of art within his larger political vision. Invoking the unique destiny of the German people, Heidegger identifies Hölderlin as the poet the Germans must heed in order to foster an authentic happening, a new political and cultural beginning (65).
In chapter 6, “The Nazi Rector,” O’Brien addresses the apogee of the “Heidegger controversy”: his involvement with Nazi politics and his rectorship at the University of Freiburg. His appointment as rector came as a complete surprise to his students, the Jewish ones included, because as far as they were concerned, “there had been nothing in his demeanor or attitude to that point to suggest that he might be sympathetic to Nazism” (71). On the other hand, argues O’Brien, it’s unlikely that Heidegger happened upon his political allegiances overnight in 1933 (71). He draws attention to the fact that Heidegger reportedly read and was impressed by Mein Kampf, and that he held antisemitic and reactionary views from early on (ibid.). Thus on O’Brien’s view, the Black Notebooks only confirm previously available evidence that Heidegger was an antisemite who thought he could articulate antisemitic views from within his own philosophical framework.
The whole controversy, argues O’Brien, “should have and could have been dealt with comprehensively and exhaustively a long time ago” (74). He identifies two key factors that contributed to the unnecessary protraction of the whole issue: firstly, the drip-feeding of problematic texts, which created the impression that further revelations, which might complicate the picture, were continuously underway; secondly, the fact that the most critical voices were philosophically weak or obviously biased, resulting in a superficiality that “managed to conceal the deep underlying philosophical questions which must be put to Heidegger’s thought” (ibid.). The chapter offers a critical review of the most influential books on Heidegger’s Nazism, analyzing their scope and breadth and ideological bents, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Here, O’Brien shows his prowess, and demonstrates an excellent grasp of the topic.
As regards the political philosophy, O’Brien argues that Heidegger was not a bloodthirsty biological racist, but an archconservative and traditionalist “prone to some rather bizarre provincialist notions which he sought to justify philosophically” (74). Heidegger unsuccessfully tried to marry his own provincialism with a philosophical antimodernism and ethnic chauvinism, thinking this political philosophy was the way to resist the growing dominion of technology (74-75). O’Brien’s verdict is that Heidegger failed to articulate a coherent political philosophy, “owing in part to the fact that his philosophy doesn’t really admit to being employed in the manner in which he wants to use it” (75). O’Brien also finds that Heidegger’s flawed character must have played a role in his stint with National Socialism (76).
Chapter 7, “Return from Syracuse,” covers the period following his banishment from teaching after the denazification proceedings, especially his philosophical output of the 40s, 50s and 60s. It discusses Heidegger’s musings on language, poetry and technology, specifically his analysis of technology, of releasement (Gelassenheit) and the notion of “appropriation/enownment” (Ereignis) (79). While in chapter 5, O’Brien argued that some aspects of Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity might not be as original as initially thought, here he argues against a reductionist misapprehension that his work on technology is simply a symptom of his antimodernism (80). Instead, he says, Heidegger’s essay on technology stands today as the single most important philosophical work on some of the issues concerning the philosophical age we live in (81).
Turning to the Bremen lectures, O’Brien offers a nuanced analysis of the infamous “Agriculture Remark.” The point of the remark, he argues, is not to liken the Holocaust with the harvesting of grain, as some commentators have suggested, nor is Heidegger arguing that agricultural methods are morally equivalent to genocide. What interests him is the role that the essence of technology (Enframing) has figured into everything that has taken place in the twentieth century, including genocide, war and agriculture (82).
Next O’Brien discusses “The Question Concerning Technology”—a good text for a first-time reader of Heidegger to begin with, he says, because in this essay Heidegger touches upon most of his fundamental concepts and views, such as “equipmentality,” “publicness”, das Man, etc. (83). Here, O’Brien’s continuity thesis is on full display, as he argues that Heidegger’s worries about technology are already hinted at in BT: “it is clear that Heidegger’s thinking about technology was there in embryonic form in Being and Time” (85).
O’Brien interprets Heidegger’s critique of (the essence of) technology as a critique of eliminativism, i.e. a critique of positivist approaches that posit that classes of entities which do not fall within the horizon of their investigation do not exist (89). The problem of Enframing is its eliminative character, namely that it is a mode of revealing that governs the way beings come to presence. Other forms of revealing, like poetry, are necessary in order to “allow people to see things coming to presence in ways other than what is rather aggressively demanded by Enframing” (93). O’Brien then discusses “releasement” (Gelassenheit) as the appropriate comportment of human beings that will enable such a non-eliminative, pluralist disclosure of beings, and closes the chapter by contextualizing Enframing in the history of Being (94). Acquainted as I am with O’Brien’s earlier books, I think he could have spent a few more paragraphs elaborating in greater detail how Gelassenheit relates to Entschlossenheit and the project of dismantling of the ontology of presence.
Chapter 8 is entitled “Heidegger ‘Abroad’.” This is a rather short chapter that breaks up into three sections. The first covers Heidegger’s remarkable success on the French intellectual scene, especially among the existentialists, and gives some historical context to that success. The second concerns Heidegger’s relation to Eastern thought and covers his interactions with a number of Eastern intellectuals, briefly also referring to the body of secondary literature devoted to the intersection between Heidegger’s philosophy and Eastern traditions. The third section covers the impact his thought has had in the United States.
Chapter 9, “The Final Years,” is only three pages long, and provides biographical details of the peaceful and happy years at the end of Heidegger’s life. It notes that he faced his own death with a certain “grace and serenity” (109), and that in the end he arranged a Christian burial for himself after all.
In the tenth and final chapter, “Heidegger’s Legacy,” O’Brien sums up his verdict as regards the “Heidegger controversy.” The recent publication of the Black Notebooks refuelled the controversy, O’Brien says, because it discredited Heidegger’s own “official story” about his association with National Socialism. Heidegger was a committed Nazi and an antisemite who “tried zealously to use some of his core elements of his thought to articulate a philosophy of National Socialism, for a period of time at least” (111). However, Heidegger’s own “political vision was ultimately at quite a remove from historical National Socialism, and he clearly became more and more disillusioned with the regime from the mid-1930s onwards” (ibid.). O’Brien reiterates his own position against other interpretations, insisting that despite claims made even by Heidegger himself, he did try to offer a political philosophy, and deep inside believed “he could be the spiritual and philosophical Führer of an awakening in Germany that would change the course of history in Europe and the Western world in general” (112).
In addition to the political controversy, Heidegger’s legacy is entangled in another controversy, argues O’Brien, namely the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. In analytic circles, “Heidegger is often portrayed as the arch-villain for having led philosophy astray through his promotion of ambiguity, imprecision, a lack of rigour and the proliferation of jargon, mysticism and bad poetry masquerading as philosophical profundity” (114). O’Brien defends Heidegger’s writing style, arguing that the subject itself demanded such a style, but lambasts those “disciples” who try to imitate Heidegger’s style simply because they themselves are unable to write more clearly.
O’Brien ends the book by reflecting on the future of Heidegger studies, saying that it is difficult to foretell what course it will take. He believes that the Heidegger controversy “is only truly beginning, as scholars face squarely the question of how to read the texts of a thinker whose work, while not reducible to National Socialism, was nevertheless twisted and manipulated in various ways owing to his own belief that a happy union could be forged between his own thought and the new awakening in Germany which he initially saw as an underlying possibility of National Socialism” (115).
Carman, Taylor. 2003. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press.
O’Brien, Mahon. 2011. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum.
O’Brien, Mahon. 2015. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury.
O’Brien, Mahon. 2020. Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
 See Carman, Taylor. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
 See O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum, 2011; O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.