Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Edited by Mireille Calle-Gruber: Heidegger, Philosophy and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference

Heidegger, Philosophy and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference Book Cover Heidegger, Philosophy and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference
Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Edited by Mireille Calle-Gruber, Translated by Jeff Fort, Foreword by Jean-Luc Nancy
Fordham University Press
Hardback $85.00

Reviewed by: Raymond Aaron Younis (Australian Catholic University)

In this valuable, timely and in many respects, enlightening volume, Mireille Calle-Gruber gathers together a number of important documents: the transcripts of a discussion between Gadamer, Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe at a seminar in Heidelberg on Heidegger: Philosophical and Political Dimensions of his Thought; a series of questions to Gadamer, Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe, and their answers concerning Heidegger’s thinking, political affiliations and commitments; and a thought-provoking and altogether memorable appendix by Gadamer.

Gadamer’s response is, in some ways, not surprising, and striking. First of all, he chooses to speak in French (since the other two speakers, Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida, are French, and visitors to Germany); he asserts that there is “no authentic conversation without dialogism, that is, without the basis of a common language” (6) – one might add: also without authentic hospitality. He brings no text; he sees the invitation to speak as “license permitted to an improvisation” (6). He insists on a familiar note: “there is no point in speaking about Heidegger if one is not familiar with the origins of Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics” (6-7). Indeed, he reminds us that this was the main reason why he had begun to read the works of Derrida. He explains that his interest lies not just in a “set of problems touching on Heidegger” but also in the question of “how, to some extent, it also determined us” (7).

He then turns to Derrida’s “concept” of deconstruction: “the term ‘deconstruction’ then, taught me immediately to recognize this connotation [destruktion as a ‘return to living speech’] that had never come to mind for us when we were listening to the young Heidegger speak of Destruktion. ‘Deconstruction’ wants, it seems to me, to underscore that it is a question not simply of destroying, but also of constructing something” (7). He hastens to add, however, quite unsurprisingly, that he is not “inhabited” (as Derrida “is”) “by the conviction that there is a total rupture of communication among men today” (8). He reminds the audience also that the hermeneutics at the basis of his reflection on communication is not as interested in “the hidden meanings of words and discourse” (8).

He argues that Derrida sees in Heidegger‘s interpretation of Nietzsche a “form of continuation, unintended and involuntary, of the tradition of metaphysics and even of logocentrism” – a “true provocation”, he calls it (8). In Gadamer’s view, Heidegger’s greatness lay in this: that he had taught Gadamer “that logocentrism was in a way the destiny of the West. That it was at the foundation of metaphysics…. That this logocentrism had constituted, for Heidegger himself, the true invitation to philosophy” (8). In a sense. Heidegger had begun to “comprehend” something “not comprehensible by means of the conceptuality or the metaphysics of the Greeks and of medieval or even modern thinkers” (8-9).

Gadamer then turns to the question of Heidegger’s “engagement in the National-Socialist movement” (9). He introduces a deeply personal, and troubling, note:

we were troubled by it from the moment when we began working with him, when we were his students. I was at Marburg and was a young colleague of Heidegger’s when he began to get involved in the Nazi movement in Freiburg. It is true and must be confessed, that for many of us this came as a surprise. Perhaps one will say: you were blind! Young people are blind, in a way, when they are guided by a master with great energy and force; so they give their attention only to what corresponds to their own interests and their own questions (9-10).

This insight brings him to the “crucial and absolutely inevitable problem,… the problem of German Nazism” (10). And he is insistent on this point: “it is clear that one cannot dissociate Heidegger’s philosophy from the fact of the extermination that took place” (10) – presumably because they had been troubled by Heidegger’s direct “involvement” in “the Nazi movement in Freiburg”. He does not note that the involvement was uncritical, of course, but his alarm could perhaps be explained by the very nature of that “involvement”. He insists also on the context: a period of liberalism, a bourgeois culture in decline, an age of artistic visions of the destruction of German culture, and so on. The young Heidegger had been “determined” by this kind of background, which extended to the critique of transcendental idealism, neo-Kantianism, “the critique on the part of Jewish thinkers and Catholic thinkers” during World War 1, and so on (11).

Nonetheless, he emphasises two problems

that have remained very troubling… throughout my life. The first has to do with the responsibility assumed by a man as excellent and paradigmatic as the thinker that Heidegger was in 1933… but also… there is the other fact, contradictory and disturbing: to wit, the same thinker, at the same moment—at a time when he supported, certainly not everything, not the anti-Semitism, not the racism, not the biologism of Nazism, but all the same some of its fundamental decisions—this thinker was writing texts that we still today can read as an anticipation of the coming reality. I am thinking in particular of “Die Zeit des Weltbildes,” of the description of the “forgetting of being,” as he called it, of the predominance of technics and of the consequences of the industrial revolution; in short, of everything that, as we know, began long ago but became evident only more recently, and is evident for young people to such a degree that this is perhaps today, in the eyes of the old man I am now, the most troubling fact there is: I mean, the pessimism of young people with regard to the possible future of humanity (11).

The question of responsibility is a profound one, given the context that Gadamer highlights; the question of Heidegger’s support for some of the “fundamental decisions” of Nazism is also a profound and troubling one, as are its connections with his writings concerning the “predominance of technics and of the consequences of the industrial revolution” (11), and the emerging pessimism “of young people with regard to the possible future of humanity” (11).

So the first “great ambiguity” in the case of Heidegger is the question of responsibility; the second one concerns the “ambiguity of his silence” (11). (“Heidegger never spoke of his error”, though Gadamer adds that “he did say once that it was ‘the greatest error of my life’”, in relation to his “engagement” with the Nazi Party). He intensifies the analysis considerably, in searing terms:

But that is superficial with regard to the serious affinities that exist between Heidegger’s philosophical position and certain tendencies of that movement. It is this question that has always preoccupied the Jewish friends I have met in America during my travels. They all say: the error of Heidegger, his participation in the movement, these are things that could be forgiven. But why did he never evoke that? Why did he refuse to speak of it? (11-12).

He explains how his attempt to explain “why Heidegger did not recognize any responsibility” in an article in Le Nouvel Observateur had been “very mutilated” (“but what can one expect, when a German writer engages in a Parisian debate”, 12). He critiques Farias’ book except “on one point”:

I am referring to the date of June 30, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives. It was there that my difference with Heidegger, I believe, revealed itself as fundamental. For both of us, this was a date with fatal consequences, but we did not understand this fatality in the same way. For Heidegger, it was the end of the revolution as he understood it: that is to say, a spiritual and philosophical revolution that ought to have brought with it a renewal of humanity in all of Europe. Whereas for me this stabilization of the Nazi revolution through the support of the army brought the irrevocable certainty that it would never be possible to be liberated from this regime without a catastrophe. This was, in my eyes, the prospect we were facing. And for me it is clear that it is mere hypocrisy to ask, why did you not rebel against it? When faced with weapons one does not counter them with preaching (12).

The bifurcation of their two paths is striking: for Heidegger, according to Gadamer, the Night of the Long Knives signalled the end of a revolution, in a “spiritual and philosophical sense”, that promised to bring in its wake, a renewal of all Europe; for Gadamer, it signalled a national “stabilization” which brought him the certainty that it would not be possible to be liberated from the “revolution”, except in catastrophic terms. It may be, as he argues, “that it is mere hypocrisy to ask, why did you not rebel against it?” But the question cannot be disengaged quite so readily: when one is faced with weapons, admittedly preaching may be futile, but it could be argued that critical thinking and questioning need not be abandoned entirely (notwithstanding the “determining” elements that Gadamer identifies incisively).

So, Gadamer concludes with some observations on that article in French, on a hermeneutical note that is long familiar from his writings, in which optimism and the possibility of authentic and meaningful communicative relations are affirmed, in the knowledge that the next speaker will be Derrida: he reaffirms his conviction that “communication can always take place, and that in my work there is not at all this insistence on the rupture that formed the destiny of human culture today” (13).

Derrida’s response is significantly longer than Gadamer’s, perhaps not surprisingly, though interestingly, he does not respond directly to Gadamer’s forceful claims about Heidegger. He begins with a startling claim: he professes to be happy, afraid, “very impressed” and “very intimidated” by “what is developing here”! (13) Derrida imagines Heidegger’s specter, or “something of his specter, predicting that this evening there will be no thinking [ça ne pensera pas]! And that is indeed what may happen” (13).

Perhaps. But it is evident that some thinking has already taken place, deep thinking or pondering, as Heidegger would have it, on the part of Gadamer. Derrida seems to mean that thinking may not take place in this challenging and less than ideal context: a short meeting, speaking briefly rather than reading (or writing) in detail, and so on. He clarifies his meaning:

an agreement in favour of improvisation: we are improvising, and we will continue to improvise. Why improvise in this case? Whereas everything, on the contrary—the gravity of the matter, the complexity of the problems, of the texts, of the political and historical situations, of the traps awaiting us at every moment—all this, precisely, would push us to weigh our words, to leave nothing to chance, to never improvise…. And I must say that personally, each time that I have attempted to speak of these questions—as I have done again recently—, I avoided improvisation as much as I possibly could. Not in order simply to defend or protect myself, but because the consequences of every phrase and sentence are so grave that all this deserves, precisely, to be removed from the element of improvisation (14).

He reasons that they are “improvising”, yet the complexity of the issues, the gravity of the situation, and so on, demand that they do not improvise. But it is not obvious that Gadamer had merely improvised; on the contrary, his talk seemed to come out of some deliberation, and over a sustained period of time, on the complexities and gravity of the situation –  hardly without preparation. Yet Derrida insists on the point about improvisation. So, Derrida turns to Gadamer’s talk and to “a philosophical question… in what terms responsibility will be defined. Which category of responsibility ought to guide us, not only in the definition but in the taking of responsibilities?” (14)

On the one hand, Derrida insists on the improvisatory aspect, and on the other hand, speaks of Gadamer’s abundant attention to some of these things. Yet he raises an important question about the meaning of responsibility and the responsibilities that one has, for example, in relation to reading Heidegger carefully: since the publication of Farias’ text among others, “many of those who were not professional philosophers, or experts on Heidegger, if you will…  have accused those who have been interested in Heidegger either of being uninformed regarding Heidegger’s Nazi engagement or, if they were informed… of not having transformed into a common problem, what they were aware of as professional philosophers” (14-15). The point about non-professional philosophers is fair enough. The “accusations” ought to be examined carefully and not merely in a purely improvisatory way which is after all, in a sense, an unphilosophical way of inquiry, as Derrida would have it.

Farias’ book has provoked emotions, Derrida claims; a provocation that compels “professional philosophers” to explain their own work on Heidegger, and in less than ideal circumstances, namely in terms of improvisation. Now, if Derrida is correct on this question, then the point is a strong one. Such issues, such “provocations”, largely on the part of non-professional philosophers, in a philosophical sense, demand not improvisation but pondering, deliberation, systematic and careful reflection, in short, all the things that improvisation makes impossible. He therefore introduces a complication, an aporia concerning improvisation, or in other words, the very mode of discourse and format of the exchange, as he sees it, that day, which makes him fearful: “improvising runs the risk of preventing us… from maintaining a certain refinement, a certain rhythm in the discussion that we are used to. In short, a certain style of discussion that is ours” (15). He seems to believe that such a mode, or format, runs a grave risk: it prevents the philosophers, who are also teachers, from maintaining a “certain style of discussion” which is inherently philosophical (though he does not name it here), which belongs to philosophy (and by implication, it seems, not to the style or mode which belongs presumably to those who are not professional philosophers).

 A grave risk and a formidable but necessary one, then, according to Derrida, since philosopher-teachers in their philosophical mode (whatever that may be, but certainly involving complications and qualifications) are disarmed by the demands of the operative mode of discourse: disarmed in at least two senses, that is, deprived of a kind of power and disabled or weakened considerably. But he insists, “that no one here is in any way favorable, or wishes to be favorable, to what we always very cursorily call Nazism, totalitarianism, fascism” (16), or is to be suspected of wishing to defend them; no one wishes, he claims, to disculpate him [Heidegger] or render him innocent of every kind of fault in that respect (16).

So, though he feels disarmed, and though he fears the risks, he nonetheless feels that it is necessary to speak, and requests a “protocol of discussion”: that no one is to be suspected of defending the theses of Nazism, totalitarianism, fascism; that no one “claims to absolve Heidegger, to disculpate him or render him innocent” of fault in these respects. The point he makes here is an important one: he is characteristically going, not just to improvise, but to introduce a number of complications, and he wishes to maintain a distinction between complication as a philosophical (aporetic) mode and justification or evasion. He wishes to affirm the possibility of being vigilant “with regard to the discussions that develop on this subject… with regard to our discourse and our improvisations, in such a way that they would not contain or reproduce the gestures, the aggressions, the implications, the elements of scenography that recall the very thing against which we are allied” (16). He warns against modes that improvisation may valorise and promote: “every gesture that proceeds by conflation, precipitous totalization, short-circuited argumentation, simplification of statements, etc., is politically a very grave gesture that recalls…the very thing against which we are supposed to be working” (17).

He also warns, characteristically, against gestures which seem to attack totalitarianism yet unwittingly reproduce the very thing they attack; against attacks upon him for not denouncing “Heidegger’s Nazism”, even as he denounces this in his writings (“I speak of nothing else”, 18). He returns to the question of the significance “of the encounter this evening” (18). He asks why the “intense phase” of the debate took place in France, and reflects again on the sufficiency of the analyses in relation to the complexity of the “phenomenon” (18-19), on the over-determination, and points to a number of threads, even as he admits that they are insufficient. And he attacks the unreflective linking of France and Heideggerianism with good reason: he points out that such a linkage is both reductive and simplistic, for there is “not one single French Heideggerianism”, just as he insists on this point in order to detotalize the matter and insist on the differences and the ruptures that have marked the legacy of Heidegger (19).

He rightly insists on the amount of work that “remains to be done” (20), in relation to such complications, and complexities. He insists also on bringing the discussion back to

the political situation in France and in Europe. At a moment when the destiny of Europe, as one says, is taking a certain path, when a certain political discourse dominates the discourse on politics in Europe, in France, in Germany, and in many other Western democracies, we see a confrontation between, on the one hand, a resurgence of ideologies and comportments that are not unrelated to what one identifies very quickly as Nazism, fascism, totalitarianism; and, on the other hand, a social-democratic discourse whose values of reference are those of the rights of man, of democracy, of the liberty of the subject (21).

This is a “confrontation” between two discourses, one “not unrelated” to what may be identified, “very quickly” (again), with “Nazism, fascism, totalitarianism”, on the one hand, and a discourse that revolves around rights, democracy, liberty and the subject, on the other hand. One of the symptoms of this clash is anxiety or fear or distrust, not always informed, he argues, by a careful and reflective approach to reading the complex texts, but also “the compulsion to accuse very quickly, to judge, to simplify” – an “extremely grave” symptom (22) of an age in which nothing less, as he would have it, than the destiny of Europe and its path, are at stake. He also finds the accusations in Germany “unjust”: “so compulsive, so precipitous and globalizing” (22). Accordingly, he presents two “hypotheses”: first, “that for well-known historical reasons, the relation to Heidegger became so intolerable that, aside from a few exceptions, naturally, Heidegger has been little read in Germany since the war” (22). In France, he believes Heidegger was read with less of a bad conscience, for one bypassed a certain reading of Heidegger. He argues that “the reading of Heidegger in Germany was rather repressed since the war” (22).

The second hypothesis is that this “repression was bound to produce, in the form of a projection-expulsion, a desire to accuse, from the other side of the border, those who for their part had anything to do with Heidegger” (23). So, what the encounter “this evening” symbolizes “is the possibility, today, thanks to these provocations, of lifting the inhibitions on every side, and of not only reading Heidegger with the political vigilance required, but of reading him” (22-23).

Now, the first hypothesis is not supported by strong evidence, it has to be said, by Derrida. Of course, one can grant it as a hypothesis, but hypotheses without supporting evidence remain tenuous; they remain suppositions. The second hypothesis is that the “repression” of the reading of Heidegger’s works “since the war” in Germany, which has lead, amongst other things, to the “encounter” between the three thinkers at the conference nonetheless symbolically offers a possibility, namely that of lifting prohibitions (just how is not explained by Derrida) and that of actually reading Heidegger “with the political vigilance required”. It has to be said though, notwithstanding Derrida’s justifiable insistence of reading Heidegger carefully, vigilantly, responsibly and within a political context of human rights, liberties and the subject very much to the fore, the second hypothesis concerning a “projection-expulsion” is no less tenuous than the first. Of course, it may be true, but it is impossible to tell for sure from this contribution.

He closes on three important points at least: first, he reminds the audience of what interests him, in particular, about Heidegger’s thinking, namely “what, in Heidegger, on the one hand, made it possible to question the traditional categories of responsibility, of the subject, for example, of right [du droit], and what let itself nonetheless, up to a certain point, be limited by this questioning—and even, perhaps, by the form of the question” (23). Second, he argues that “deconstruction” is not an “abdication of responsibility”, even when it “places in question this axiomatic of subjectivity or of responsibility, or when it places in question certain axioms of Heidegger’s discourse” – he insists that it is, at least in his view, the “most difficult responsibility that I can take. And to trust in traditional categories of responsibility seems to me today to be, precisely, irresponsible” (24). Finally, he points, characteristically, to an aporia, and therefore to the importance of vigilance: “complicities between a discourse that is, let’s say, humanist and democratic but that has not reelaborated in a critical fashion its own categories, and that which it is meant to oppose” (24-25).

Lacoue-Labarthe speaks briefly (perhaps because Derrida spoke for too long!), but he makes a number of critical points, clearly, forcefully and concisely: he notes, firstly, that he belongs, unlike Derrida, to “the generation of 1940”, and so, sees the question differently:

This is still a family affair because, in the discourse, the language, the statements that suffused my childhood and my adolescence, in high school and in my surroundings, I heard pass a countless number of anti-Semitic phrases pronounced by schoolmates and friends, by adults, who were not particularly extreme right wing, but for whom this language was more or less natural (26).

In an important sense, he tackles the question of French antisemitism directly, and without protestation or equivocation: the “language” and “discourse” of antisemitism and the extent to which it had become “natural” for a whole generation. Or more. He reminds the audience of the importance of such questions: “when one touches on these problems, this is a question that one should never forget to ask oneself. What would I have done, given that it was only afterward that I gradually discovered all this?” (27). It is notable that he wishes to note the importance of this question without aporiai, without hesitation, just as it is notable that he emphasised the practical response, not the merely theoretical one: there is something that needed to be done, or that should have been done.  He warns, with remarkable and clear insight, against an attack that is “emerging”, that Farias’ book, or its conclusions, “will help to authorize, to legitimize” (28): he refers to a “kind of liberal philosophy, social-democratic, if you like, founded on what one of the two journalists I mentioned a moment ago calls a ‘juridical humanism’” (28), and notes the role played by Stalinists and ultra-Stalinists: “it is the same people who, in order to construct that humanism, are in the process of finding authorization in Farias’s denunciation” (28). He insists on this point: there is in this an undeniably political scene being played out. And I believe that this must not be passed over in silence (28).

It is a remarkable and striking contribution, and all the more so because it follows, and marks a stark contrast to, Derrida’s speech: it is spare, measured, stark and direct, and it does not shy away from the central question, the ethical, responsible, vigilant and unflinching critical analysis of Nazism and Heidegger’s complicity with aspects of the ideology, not just in his complex philosophical works, which demand extended attention, to be sure, but in his writing and thinking more generally in that context (his letters, notebooks, lectures, and his opinions expressed to friends and colleagues, and so on and so forth): it is, he notes, “perhaps only today that we are capable of beginning an attempt at an analysis of Nazism, of the fascisms; because it is in effect the first time that, on the one hand, we are at bottom rid of the communist . . . obstacle, let’s call it”  (29).

He insists like Derrida on the importance of reading Heidegger thoughtfully and responsibly, but does not shy away from the context for such a reading, as many have noted, in particular Jaspers, Gadamer and Habermas, among many others, namely, the reality of Nazism in Heidegger’s thinking, even if one grants that Heidegger’s Nazism was not pure and unquestioning:

it is the reading of Heidegger that, I believe—provided that one carry it out in a certain way, of course—can give access to a certain reality of Nazism. An access that the univocal moral and political accusation—which of course I share; but in fact when one tries to carry out philosophical work one cannot after all limit oneself to that—has continued to mask (29).

He anchors his analysis not in aporetic complications, or extended problematizations, but in an attitude, which needless to say, attaches quite readily to the practical, namely, distrust of certain ideologies:

From the moment when one began to distrust the use of the word “fascist,” from the moment when there was a questioning of what is called leftist totalitarianism, from that moment, perhaps, it is possible for real work to begin. And that is the reason why—this is one of my grievances against Farias’s book—the simplification that consists in presenting Heidegger as entirely Nazi seems to me extremely unfortunate in this story: because perhaps it will be necessary, for a certain time still, to fight about this presentation, in order to try to make it understood that, in Heidegger, one of the secrets of Nazism has remained unperceived up to now (29).

It is not self-evident, or demonstrative, it has to be said, that this moment, and only this moment, signals the possibility of the commencement of “real [philosophico-critical] work”. The moment, so to speak, when Heidegger’s commitment to the spirit, if not the letter, of Nazism becomes apparent, is an important moment in relation to the commencement of this critical project; those moments, so to speak, when there was an understanding, a dawning awareness, on which “questioning of what is called leftist totalitarianism” could be based, also make it possible for real work to begin.

What follows however in the volume is a (valuable) series of questions to the speakers, with their answers, and questions from the audience, also with answers, along with an appendix by Gadamer. He notes the crucial differences between the reception of Farias’ book in France and in Germany. He expresses surprise over the “uproar” that Farias’ book has generated in France, since “almost all” of what Farias reveals “has long been known” in “German speaking countries” – and wonders, “could it be that so little is known there about the Third Reich? Heidegger’s followers, believing they were defending him, no doubt contributed to the affair by continually repeating the refrain of his ‘rupture’ with Nazism at the end of a year of disappointing experiences as the rector of Freiburg” (79).

He notes that in Germany, “no one is able to feign surprise in discovering that Heidegger did not leave the Nazi Party” (79); and he highlights the reaction of the younger generation in Germany, and their questioning: they find it “difficult to imagine the reality of that time: the conformism, the pressure, the ideological indoctrination, the sanctions. . . . Many of them ask, ‘Why did none of you cry out?’” (79). He answers, by affirming the underestimation of “the natural human inclination toward conformism, which is always ready to be taken in by any type of deception”, typified in particular, by the question, “Does the Führer know about this?” (79).

The historical context is critical, and Gadamer underscores it, in a way that, in a sense, seems intended to carry the reader well beyond aporetic questions and beyond astonishment or perplexity. He insists that the strategy of explaining (away) Heidegger’s political errors by claiming that they “have nothing to do with his philosophy” is insulting; for after fifty years of reflection on “the reasons that disturbed us and separated us from Heidegger for many years” “we” cannot be astonished to hear that Heidegger had “‘believed’ in Hitler” (80).

It is important to note the register here, to note that Gadamer chose to write like this, in the appendix, which is in an important sense the last word in the volume. It is quite breathtaking- there is no obfuscation, confusion, equivocation, hesitation or evasion:

Heidegger was not a mere opportunist. His political engagement clearly did not have much to do with political reality. The dream of a “people’s religion” encompassed, in fact, his profound disillusionment at the course of events. But he secretly safeguarded this dream. This is the dream he believed he was pursuing during the years 1933–34, convinced that he was rigorously fulfilling his philosophical mission by attempting to revolutionize the university. It was to this end that he did everything that outraged us. For him it was a question of breaking the political influence of the church and the inertia of the academic mandarins. He even gave Ernst Jünger’s vision of “The Worker” a place alongside his own ideas on overcoming the tradition of metaphysics on the basis of being. Later, as is well known, he went so far as to speak of the end of philosophy. That was his revolution (80-81).

He then tackles, without obfuscation, confusion, equivocation, hesitation or evasion, the question of Heidegger’s responsibility:

Did he then feel no responsibility for the terrible consequences of Hitler’s seizure of power, the new barbarism, the Nuremberg laws, the terror, the blood spilled—and, finally, the indelible shame of the extermination camps? [The answer is a rigorous “no.” For that was the perverted revolution and not the great renewal arising from the spiritual and moral [sittlich] strength of the people, which he dreamed of and longed for as the preparation of a new religion of humanity.] (81)

Such writing demands thinking and reflection, and deliberation, of course, but to put it bluntly, after some fairly long-winded exchanges in the volume, it is bold and striking, like his pronouncements on Farias’ book (“very superficial”, “grotesque” in some senses, “overflows with ignorance”, and so on):

What was considered the world over as a radical step forward in thought, his confrontation [Auseinandersetzung] with the Greeks, with Hegel, and finally with Nietzsche, had all this suddenly become false? Or have we long since finished with all that? Or perhaps what we are being asked to do is definitively to renounce thinking. Watching anxiously from afar as Heidegger thus strayed into the cultural politics of the Reich, we sometimes thought of what happened to Plato at Syracuse. One of his Freiburg friends, seeing him in the tram after his departure from the rectorship, asked him, “Back from Syracuse?” (81)

He ends with a reminder, like Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe, perhaps intentionally, about the “requirements of thinking”, but in a different key:

The requirements of thinking are not so easily eluded. Even those who were disturbed at the time by Heidegger’s political adventure and distanced themselves from him for many years would never have dared to deny the philosophical impetus with which he had not ceased to inspire them from the beginning. [Just as Heidegger in the 1920s did not create blind followers for himself, likewise one must find one’s own paths of thought, now more than ever.]

[Whoever believes that today one need no longer be concerned with Martin Heidegger has not taken the measure of how difficult it will always be for us to debate with him, instead of making oneself ridiculous by looking down on him with an air of superiority.] (82)

So, he reminds us, pointedly, in the closing paragraphs in the volume, of the (above all, philosophical) importance of finding not so much an aporia, but a euporia (a way for thinking, which is not mere questioning – that is, a “path” of one’s own), “now more than ever”; he reminds us of the, above all, philosophical importance of engaging critically without evading responsibility (for example, for naming the thing by its true name, “the reality of Nazism” in Heidegger’s thinking, without obfuscation, confusion, equivocation, hesitation and/or evasion).

If Derrida presents hypotheses which remain unjustified, tenuous or questionable, if he (somewhat ironically, it has to be said!) spends a considerable amount of time given to him improvising on improvisation, as well as on the short amount of time given to them (though his speech is the longest, by far!) and on aporetic considerations and performative problematizations, which are not always convincing, and if Lacoue-Labarthe is not entirely convincing on the question of just which “moment”, if any, is entirely suitable for the genesis of “real work” on this problem, Gadamer closes with a sobering, largely lucid and startlingly concise meditation on conformism, ideological indoctrination and resistance, complicity and “rupture”, and the authentic and difficult, but always necessary task of thinking.

Richard King (Ed.): Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies, Columbia University Press, 2017

Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies Book Cover Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies
Richard King (Ed.)
Columbia University Press
Paperback $60.00 £49.95

Joeri Schrijvers: Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life

Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life Book Cover Between Faith and Belief: Toward a Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life
SUNY Series in Theology and Continental Thought
Joeri Schrijvers
SUNY Press
Paperback $30.95

Reviewed by: Nicole Des Bouvrie (Research Fellow at Brighton University)

Searching for a way to answer Reiner Schürmann’s question “What is to be done at the end of metaphysics?” once “being” is unhinged from God, Joeri Schrijvers discusses perspectives of several thinkers that each considered this question in their own right. His overall goal is to establish how contemporary (and secular) phenomenology of religious life points us towards something that transcends mere finitude. He builds upon his previous work, ‘Ontotheological Turnings’ (2011), in which he showed how metaphysics and its “ontotheological constitution” (Heidegger) are inevitable. In three parts he questions how contemporary thought tries to come to a metaphysics without Christianity (part 1), and whether it can position itself, as John D. Caputo tries to accomplish, as between faith and belief – as a “religion without religion” (part 2). In the third and last part he takes up Heidegger’s legacy and explores how there is something beyond a nihilistic ‘anything goes’. Here he presents what seems the main point of the whole book, namely Ludwig Binswanger’s phenomenology of love as a criticism of Heidegger’s Being and Time and as an approach in which the theological element of a phenomenological approach to life comes to light.

In this book, Schrijvers takes up an important issue that is present in a lot of contemporary thought: How are we to understand atheism – as it cannot be understood as merely a secularisation of originally theological positions. How are we to understand the theological heritage of our present ideologies? To explore this issue he spends a large part of the book reiterating debates between Jean-Luc Nancy and Peter Sloterdijk, between Caputo and Martin Hägglund, and Jean-Luc Marion.

Binswanger on Love

Yet especially interesting is Schrijvers exploration of the infrequently studied work of Binswanger (1891–1966), and Schrijvers’ analysis next of Binswanger in comparison and reaction to the work of Heidegger, Levinas and Nancy. Binswanger was a Swiss psychiatrist who took on Heidegger’s claim of the coming about of being through the relationship with the finiteness of life, but was of the position that “this truth lacks love, the original being-together.” Phenomenology is taken up as not an elitist method of play, but the most faithful approach to being and experience of everyone:

“What Binswanger initiated then is not only a fundamentally egalitarian phenomenology but also and no less importantly an originary coram: an always already being turned toward otherness.” (227)

Schrijvers’ work is both rich by providing a context of contemporary thinkers such as Sloterdijk and Nancy, and their interpretations and positions on the work of Derrida, Levinas. But it seems his real contribution to that field is his inclusion of the philosophy of love as developed by Binswanger. Love is what conditions the possibility of every ontic encounter, which leads Binswanger to consider this phenomenon an example of an “ontology incarnate”. In this ontological encounter, there is a transcendentality that is presented through the passageway that starts with love. Schrijvers posits Binswanger’s theory as a way that is neither “too much nor too little” inclined towards religion – it is not dependent on religion, but does not exclude it.

Despite Schrijvers’ excellent review of contemporary thought and their dependency on canonical thinkers such as Heidegger and Derrida, in the end it is the theological aspect that remains the focus, and the relation of the phenomenology of love is looked at from the question of the task of theology.

Incarnational Thinking

Schrijvers looks for a philosophical approach to an ontological and metaphysical account of concepts that have been theologically understood – community, love, being. He traces the contemporary attempts to accomplish this – for instance in the work of Levinas and Nancy. His analysis of movements in the understanding of the Other are closest to the Binswanger, in that according to Schrijvers this understanding gives rise to an ‘incarnational thinking’, where the ontic experience has the capability to be understood as an incarnation of something transcendental.

What is remarkable in Schrijvers’ otherwise thorough work, is the manner in which his analysis is limited to specific authors and therefore working within assumptions that are not questioned. One of those is the reliance on the concept of the position of the Other. A central theme in his work, as in the search for an ontology of being, philosophers have focused on specific ontic encounters with the Other (the kiss, hospitality, giving) through which they attempt to formulate a post-secular understanding of transcendence in modern society. Schrijvers takes on the different positions of Levinas, Derrida and Caputo, and the way Binswanger and Heidegger are attempting to find a measure of the self and in which the phenomenological and anthropological encounter with the Other. But he never moves beyond these interpretations. For instance, he holds on to the underlying assumption of difference between self and the other. Contemporary attempts to answer his fundamental question that refuse to follow in the footsteps of Levinas and Derrida, such as in the work of Bracha Ettinger and Luce Irigaray, are not considered. Thus he falls prey to a rootedness in thinking through difference that is never questioned.

When we take his claim of a search for an answer to the question of the role of the transcendental in a post-secular world serious, we end up disappointed. Many leading contemporary thinkers who have contributed to this field, such Alain Badiou, Hans Jonas, Charles Taylor or Maurice Blanchot, remain untouched. Through this selective choice, Schrijvers takes a very specific and theology-oriented approach, and his work should therefore be seen as a perpetuation of the directions of thought laid out by a particular strand of thinkers.

When we consider his work an overview and reflection on the work of specific thinkers and on how the work of Binswanger expands their view, we can conclude Schrijvers’ work is well-written and thought provoking. He has written an important work tracing the influences and developments of a group of contemporary thinkers and their position on whether ontology can be understood without a theological origin. Is there a solution to the “uncanny poverty” that results from secularisation, and is can this solution be provided by a phenomenology as professed by Derrida, Levinas, Heidegger, and even Binswanger? Yet by putting the focus of his work on contemporary theologians and their relation to theory, his conclusions should be read as a work on these thinkers, and not as a work on the general question Schrijvers poses.

But this doesn’t mean that Schrijvers falls prey to his own remark, that much academic writing is concerned only with “a sterile piling up of publications that nobody really seems to read and that at any rate do not function as vectors for a contemporary debate or catalysts for thinking.” (3) His work is a insightful contribution to the existing literature on this contemporary topic, both as an expansion on the work of several influential thinkers, but also on their limits and their individually unique approaches to the same phenomenon – the quest for a transcendence and its relation to the ontological notion of being.

The Legacy of Phenomenology in Contemporary Thought

The strength of Schrijvers’ work lies in the careful consideration of the legacy of the phenomenological method through the approaches of Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida and the way these reverberate in what he determines to be the contemporary view, as laid out by the work of Nancy, Caputo and Binswanger. Taking phenomenology to be “a witness to the place and space where meaning originates”, he questions the way the empirical and the ontological are intertwined, and the quasi-transcendental dizziness this leads to. He contemplates the emptiness left by the ‘death of God’ and the prevailing anarchy, in which nothing is sovereign. And he concludes that it is possible to formulate a philosophy of incarnation, in which meaning arises out of matter, but that there remains a lack of meaning. “This is perhaps what needs to be done at the end of metaphysics: recognising that we know that we do not know and that we most often fail to love properly. The human being is a being in default: its ambition surpasses its ability. Coming to terms with such a being in default may be the adequate response to the end of metaphysics: it is to recognise that we all share in this default and this lack and that this “knowing of not knowing” is what turns philosophy, as the love of wisdom, into a wisdom of love: not to overcome the lack, but to love even the lack (of rationality, of ultimate meaning.” (304-305)

Thus Schrijvers follows in the footsteps of a long tradition, looking at the end of metaphysics as a call to start philosophy – as a saying born through and beginning with love, positing language as the domain in which the encounter takes place. His work can be seen as a good introduction and careful reflection on the different perspectives on this position, but his work does not leave the contours of the theory he investigates.

Sarah Hammerschlag: Broken Tablets: Levinas, Derrida, and the Literary Afterlife of Religion

Broken Tablets: Levinas, Derrida, and the Literary Afterlife of Religion Book Cover Broken Tablets: Levinas, Derrida, and the Literary Afterlife of Religion
Sarah Hammerschlag
Columbia University Press
Paperback $30.00

Reviewed by: Esteban J. Beltrán Ulate (Universidad of Costa Rica)

Sarah Hammerschlag en su obra Broken Tablets: Levinas Derrida and Literary Afterlife of Religion, editada por Columbia University Press, incursiona en el terreno de los estudios religiosos a partir de dos importantes referentes: Emmanuel Levinas y Jacques Derrida. El orden de la presente exposición será mediado por la estructura misma de la obra, esbozando una serie de consideraciones capitulares y finiquitando con breves consideraciones generales. El texto se compone de las siguientes secciones: Preface (0), What must a Jewish thinker be (1), Levinas, Literature and the run of the world (2), Between the Jew and writing (3), To lose one’s head: Literature and the democracy to come (4), Literature and the political-theological remains (5), Epilogue: There is not a pin to choose between us (6).

La sección Preface (0) nos enfrenta al objetivo del estudio: comprender la lectura de Derrida de la obra de Levinas y a la vez atender al significado de una lectura conjunta de Levinas y Derrida en el marco de los estudios de la religión. En Derrida son múltiples los ecos y reverberancias de la obra levinasiana, no solo como comentador e intérprete sino incluso como deformador. La obra de Sarah apunta a un recorrido de esos momentos cruciales en los que la traza de sus diálogos permite una lectura de categorías como religión y literatura. En este apartado se señalan tanto las diferencias como las consonancias de los autores y se explicita al lector el marco de referencia de la obra, aportando nuevos insumos para los estudios en filosofía de la religión.

El primer capítulo, What must a Jewish thinker be (1), procura una diferenciación entre la religión y la literatura, a partir de las proximidades de ambos autores, considerando sus implicaciones políticas. El corazón del capítulo y en general del libro se enfrenta a la pregunta: ¿cómo debe ser un pensador judío?

El apartado desarrolla los puntos de inicio del pensamiento de los autores -Levinas con el judaísmo y Derrida con la Literatura- así como el sentido en el cual ambos pensadores formulan su identidad judía. Hammerschlag despliega una descripción de diferentes aspectos abordados por Derrida en múltiples textos, en los que realiza tanto un interpretación de las tesis levinasianas (noción de paternidad, idea del tercero) como una re-lectura de los relatos de la tradición judía (sacrificio de Isaac). Para Derrida la literatura está ineludiblemente atada a los textos religiosos de la comunidad abrahámica. Posteriormente se desarrolla una dimensión particular de la ironía, como herramienta que mantiene y da sentido a la comunidad.

Las conexiones históricas entre Derrida y Levinas se presentan a lo largo del apartado, desde sus primeros encuentros hasta el proceso de madurez de “Violencia y metafísica”, prestando atención a “momentos/palabra” de resonancia, como Dieu. Aunado a esto la autora describe algunos pasajes donde se perfila el carácter de ironía, haciendo referencia a ciertos textos. En un apartado posterior se presenta un abordaje de la noción de Decir (Dire) en Levinas, y sus resonancias en Derrida, especialmente en la relación del acto de habla como manifestación de la relación del cara-a-cara (face-to-face).

Las proximidades entre los autores se descubren en el análisis de la significación de Husserl en Investigaciones Lógicas, así como en las relaciones entre Religión y Literatura, tema que es asumido de manera distinta por ambos filósofos. La autora hace mención puntal de los aspectos que llevan a Derrida a desarrollar un trabajo a partir de las fisuras de la obra levinasiana, construyendo así una filosofía desde la ruptura con la filosofía de Levinas, pero, a la vez, reconociéndolo como su fuente de inspiración. Como expresa Hammerschlag: “For Derrida this is indeed the promise of literature and the obligation that Derrida took up as a mens of expressing his fidelity to Levinas” (p. 34). El capítulo finaliza con el reconocimiento del legado de ambos autores que, más allá incluso del nivel filosófico y político, resuena a partir de las categorías de religión y literatura.

El capítulo, Levinas, Literature and the run of the world (2), se inclina por la contextualización, atendiendo a la postura de Levinas respecto a la Literatura. Inicia con una detallada descripción de la situación judía intelectual en Francia a comienzos del siglo XX, y marca el modo en que tanto Levinas como Derrida son herederos de ese contexto. Respecto a los inicios de Levinas en el contexto académico francés se refiere la relación con Kojève, con Wahl, así como su papel en la introducción de la fenomenología de Heidegger y Husserl en la esfera francesa. La autora encamina al lector por las principales fuentes de influencia y de contrastación literaria con las que interactuó Levinas, y a su vez como estas colaboraron en el diseño de la noción de ser judío.

Para Hammerschlag la sensibilidad en cuanto a la relación entre Filosofía, Religión y Literatura en Levinas se evidencia a partir del ensayo De l’évasion (1930). Afirma que: “The essay thus presents literature and religion as accomplices in this narrative of failed escape” (45). De igual manera encuentra momentos de encuentro entre literatura y religión en los textos del período de guerra -cerca de 1946- que posteriormente serán profundizados (en lo que respecta a la noción de metáfora) en los años 60`s durante su participación en Jean Wahl`s Collége Philosophique.

La autora hace una delicada mención al contexto literario que circula en las principales revistas con aportaciones de pensadores emergentes y en auge en el contexto de entreguerras, bajo el análisis de la esencia de la literatura y su relación con la filosofía, la ética y la política; los nombres de Sartre, Proust, Blanchot, Bataille, Heidegger serán constantes en estas relaciones y discrepancias con la mirada de Levinas. Se finaliza el capítulo haciendo una referencia a las cercanías del filósofo lituano con el movimiento personalista de Emmanuel Mounier, así como con los interlocutores de tradición católica, tales como Marcel, Jamkélévitch, Maritain, Minkowski.

El tercer capítulo, Between the Jew and writing (3), presenta la posición de Derrida sobre la literatura. Se inicia indicando el carácter inductivo que logra Ricoeur en Derrida para su introducción en la obra levinasiana, específicamente a partir de Totalité e Infini. El concepto de diferencia será la primera reflexión que Derrida asumirá en medio del estudio de la obra de Levinas.

La autora desarrolla el itinerario intelectual de Derrida, desde sus cercanías con Ricoeur, hasta el desarrollo de sus textos de la mano de las lecturas de la obra levinasiana, así como su acercamiento a la obra husserliana. La noción de misterio desarrollada por Marcel será un eje temático que asumirá Derrida en su crítica. En la obra se presenta la auto-caracterización que Derrida emite sobre su relación con lo griego y lo judío.

En la ruta de Derrida tendrá en común con Levinas, por un lado, los encuentros con la obra de Heidegger y Blanchot; y por otro, serán reconocidas las invocaciones a la literatura de Nietzsche (algo a lo que Levinas no era fiel). Las críticas y reinterpretaciones de Zarathustra por parte de Derrida serán expuestas por la autora, teniendo en mente las trazas de la mirada levinasiana. Categorías como metáfora y escatología estarán difuminadas en algunos momentos del proyecto de Derrida. En este sentido, señala que: “Eschatology is thus rethought through an alternative metaphor, not through la croix but throuhg le creux” (p. 90). Se expone la influencia de la obra de Mallarmé en Derrida cerca de 1960, por medio de Edmond Jabès.

Hammerschlag reconoce que en el texto Ellipses es donde se perfila de manera temprana la relación entre religión y literatura por parte de Derrida, de igual manera expone como por medio de la relación de Levinas con la tradición judía articula la dicotomía entre literatura y religión. Es notorio, dada la descripción de la autora del texto, como Derrida bebiendo de la fuente de Levinas procura nuevas ramificaciones en su pensamiento, a partir de la noción de libertad.

La lectura de Difícil Libertad por parte de Derrida, será fundamental en la re-investigación de su identidad judía. En este momento se presenta un interesante retrato a propósito de las diferencias entre los contextos judíos de ambos autores y de su situación entre-guerra y post-guerra. El capítulo finaliza retornando al momento del encuentro entre Levinas y Derrida en el marco del Coloquio de Intelectuales Judíos de lengua francesa, y exponiendo las tesis ético-políticas expuestas por Levinas y sus subsecuentes resonancias en Derrida.

En el capítulo To lose one’s head: Literature and the democracy to come (4), se analizan las repercusiones de la imbrincación entre el pensamiento de Levinas y el de Derrida. Inicia exponiendo ideas a propósito de las tesis de Derrida en un seminario titulado “Literature and Truth” en 1968, así como las líneas de su obra asumidas por los intérpretes de la obra derrideana. Para Hammerschlag la tarea llevada a cabo en el capítulo es mostrar cómo Derrida establece la literatura como un componente necesario y, a su vez, cómo por medio de la literatura se ejercen operaciones políticas relacionadas a la religión.

Es a partir de las lecturas de la obra de Levinas que Derrida formula sus propias categorías de trabajo. El apartado hace una transición de la lectura poética de Levinas a la lectura política a partir de una visión ética. Se afirma que: “Levinas describes the voice of the prophet, the escatological voice as the voice that interrupts history, that refuses to wait, that insists on a justice independent from teleology” (p. 123). Por su parte, se presenta la noción de “autoinmunidad” de Derrida, en contraste con las tesis de Levinas expuestas en Other wise than being. La autora también refiere la distinción entre la dicotomía del discurso científico (ciencia y medicina) y el disruptivo (profético y poético) por parte de Levinas en Other wise than being y por parte de Derrida en Faith and Knowledge.

A lo largo del apartado se sigue evidenciando el contraste entre las diversas categorías que se hallan en los autores, recargando tintas en la noción de religión, y explicando con gran detalle el carácter derrideano que se extiende más allá de la mirada levinasiana de lo “sacro” y “santo” a partir de la teorización que deviene de su reflexión desde la categoría de “marrano”. Con gran elocuencia Hammerschlag dice: “Levinas provides a kind of curriculum vitae in order to situate his work. Derrida, in contrast, introduces the reference to the Marrano to complicate the relation between his autobiography and his writings” (p.130).

El capítulo vuelve a dar un giro hacia lo político y se examina la mirada de Levinas a propósito del sioniosmo y la situación con Palestina, así como las reflexiones en orden a “el tercero” y “el otro” en el marco de la justicia. Por su parte se retoma la categoría de Derrida denominada como “Principio de Diseminación”. El apartado finaliza con la posición de Derrida a propósito de la mirada reflexiva de la noción de secreto -literatura del secreto- y la concepción de perdón -literatura del perdón-, ilustrando con fuentes como Kafka o relatos del Bereshit (Abraham, Noe). Frente a las concepciones de autores que apelan a retornar al sitio del misterio teológico o al modelo de religión como irrupción mesiánica de lo político, Derrida propone volver a la literatura. Como manifiesta la autora: “Derrida proposes literature as inheriting from all these traditions, but in a form that divest itself of authority, originality, exclusivity, or primacy” (p.150). Con gran astucia concluye elaborando una discusión respecto a la literatura y su carácter no-revolucionario, en contraposición a la soberanía de lo autónomo: una reflexión política abierta.

El capítulo quinto, Literature and the political-theological remains (5), se ubica en las implicaciones del modelo derrideano de teología política. La autora pone en discusión el proyecto de pensar la literatura como un legado religioso que debe ser necesariamente parte del imaginario dentro de un contexto democrático. En este sentido: “Literature can show us the opacity of the subject but without the necessity of invoking transcendence” (p. 157). El apartado presenta las críticas de Judith Butler respecto a las tesis tanto de Levinas como de Derrida, desde una lectura religiosa-política, lo que permite al lector contrastar a ambos autores y reconocer sus límites desde una lectura de un tercero (en este caso de Butler).

El apartado desarrolla una reflexión a propósito de la religión y la posibilidad de la literatura a partir de un diálogo entre Derrida y diversos autores, como Patocka, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire y Nietzsche, teniendo como categorías de discusión el cristianismo y el relato de Abraham e Isaac (sacrificio). Se expone también la relación entre literatura y terror, con la injerencia de Blanchot y Paulhan para acompasar las tesis de Derrida.

El capítulo finaliza retomando las nociones de literatura y secreto, una lectura a cuatro manos (Derrida y Levinas), reconociendo las distancias y cercanías de los autores, repensando el carácter pedagógico de la literatura que es capaz de exponer y ocultar el secreto por medio del lenguaje; así: “Literature would thus teach us to see language itself as simultaneously exposure and masking, yet it would also teach us how to recognize its features at play and how to reread religious text in light of them” (p. 177).

En la última sección intitulada Epilogue: There is not a pin to choose between us (6) la autora juega con diversos elementos de la literatura derrideana para colocar al lector frente a una pregunta que le inquieta retrospectivamente a la elaboración del libro y que, a su vez, enfrenta al lector con el mismo problema: “the last word” (p. 189).

Sarah Hammerschlag en su obra nos pone frente a un tejido de textos, cuyas fuentes rebosan de sentido. El delicado tratamiento de las fuentes y la elocuente mediación en las relaciones posibilitan el goce en los estudiosos que buscan ahondar en las cercanías y distancias entre Levinas y Derrida. Más allá de las discusiones y diálogos a propósito de los autores, se expone la literatura religiosa y su praxis por medio del actuar en el mundo. Las aberturas del tejido elaborado por la Profesora Hammerschlag llevan al lector constantemente a detener la lectura y re-pensar las categorías enfrentándose permanentemente al texto. En el libro son muchas las voces, el tratamiento discursivo resulta ser como un oleaje constante reventando en la costa de la conciencia del lector, avivando la llama del secreto y el misterio.

Leonard Lawlor: From Violence to Speaking Out

From Violence to Speaking Out: Apocalypse and Expression in Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze Book Cover From Violence to Speaking Out: Apocalypse and Expression in Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze
Leonard Lawlor
Edinburgh University Press
Paperback £19.99