This book is a non-updated reissue of a book published by Humanity Press in 2004. Nevertheless, the University of Toronto Press did well to pick it up, because it is an important contribution to anglophone Heidegger studies. Markus Weidler’s review of the 2004 publication in The Review of Metaphysics, 60, 2 (December 2006): 399-401, is both a straightforward summary and a clear appraisal of the main thrusts of its contents.
The book’s title suggests that it might be a sort of manual for rendering Heidegger’s difficult technical vocabulary into English. Some of this is indeed included, but it occupies only the first third of the book (15-112), which is mainly historical. The second third (113-198), which is mainly systematic, concerns Heidegger’s own theory of translation, and the final third (199-304) is bibliography.
The Preface and Part One expose infelicities and errors in translating some of the key terms of Heidegger’s technical vocabulary into English. In so doing, Groth suggests a few modifications, some of which seem more controversial than the questionable renderings which he is trying to improve or correct. For example, he translates das Seiende, which he considers “the pivotal term in Heidegger’s way of thinking” (8), as “be-ing,” then gives an unconvincing explanation of how adding the hyphen emphasizes both the substantive and the participial or gerundive nature of this word and reveals how Heidegger used sein as a transitive verb. Since das Seiende “denotes the active ongoing manifesting of an effective actuality” (8), it leads him to rather farfetched renderings such as “seienden Menschen (actual human beings)” (8). The reader is left wondering not only how he would translate wirklichen Menschen, but also whether a clumsy circumlocution such as “human beings who actively are” would be more in keeping with his analysis of das Seiende.
One of the thorniest problems in translating Heidegger is to distinguish adequately between Dasein and Existenz. A common solution is to translate the latter as “existence” and the former as either “being-there” or “there-being” or just leave it in German. Groth suggests translating Dasein as “existence” and Existenz as “life” (9-10). Some of his reasons are cogent, but his flouting of the cognate is bound to cause confusion and his bending over backwards to avoid allusions to Dilthey is unnecessary.
Groth identifies six “fundamental words” (Grundworte) from Heidegger’s technical vocabulary as indispensable in his thought, namely, Sein, Seiende, Dasein, Existenz, Nichts, and Ereignis (23). We might add a few more, such as Sorge, Gestell, Anwesen, Sprache, Alltäglichkeit, ontisch, das Man, eigentlich, Bestand, Zuhandenheit, Gelassenheit, and even the infinitive lassen. Translating these terms as accurately as possible is crucial toward developing any plausible understanding of Heidegger among anglophone thinkers. Accordingly – and wisely – Groth’s focus in Chapter One (29-94) is on the earliest receptions of Heidegger in English, starting with Ryle’s review of Sein und Zeit in 1929, in order to identify the roots of persistent misinterpretations of Heidegger among anglophone scholars. Groth apparently believes that Ryle got Heidegger completely wrong, and it would be difficult to disagree with Groth about this, especially since Groth cites to his advantage several of Ryle’s most blatant mistranslations of Heidegger’s terms, e.g., Sein as “timeless substance” (30) and besorgen as “being-about” (31). Nevertheless, despite his strong criticism of Ryle, Groth graciously gives Ryle the last word, citing to Ryle’s advantage Ryle’s 1969 partial recantation of his 1929 review (32-33).
Groth is less kind to Marjorie Grene. He is not the first to name her 1948 Dreadful Freedom (later retitled Introduction to Existentialism) as among the least helpful introductions to existentialism in general or to Heidegger in particular. Her book, which considers Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Marcel, is worthwhile only with regard to Kierkegaard, and is indeed quite pernicious with regard to Heidegger. In the preface to the 1959 edition, she not only admitted her own laziness in trying to interpret Heidegger for the first edition, but also, after claiming to have finally understood him, rejected him outright and withdrew from any serious consideration of Heidegger to wallow in her pessimistic existentialist morass. After duly citing this preface, Groth shows how Grene actually had little or no understanding of Heidegger (35-36), but obstinately tried to squeeze him into her Procrustean existentialist framework and called his thought and language “weird” or “nonsense” whenever she could not satisfactorily perform this squeeze.
Groth gives about two dozen more good examples in Chapter One of erroneous pre-1949 receptions of Heidegger. Many of these early interpreters, e.g., the theologian Julius Bixler (37), misunderstood Heidegger’s idiosyncratic use of Existenz and thus threw him in among the existentialists. Others, e.g., Paul Tillich (47-49), Ralph Harper (49, 75-76), and Vincent Edward Smith (68-69) each erred in similar ways, trying to impose Thomistic or Scholastic categories of essence and existence upon Heidegger, who uses Wesen, Dasein, and Existenz in quite different senses from how medieval philosophiers used quid est, quod est, essentia, esse, or existentia. All that these theologically or existentially inclined interpreters really show is that, despite their interpretations, Heidegger’s philosophy cannot easily be turned in a theological direction. Furthermore, Eric Unger, writing for the intelligent laity rather than just philosophers, presents Heidegger not as a serious thinker, but as a curiosity, almost a sideshow freak (57-60). Not surprisingly, he also lumps Heidegger in with the existentialists. Unger fails to recognize the ontological difference, believes that Heidegger contrasts reality and existence, and translates Seiende as “reality.” A frustrated Groth writes that “any possibility of understanding Heidegger’s notion of existence is foreclosed by Unger’s translation of Dasein as ‘human life'” (59). Many such interpretations leave us “with an overwhelming sense of obscurity and incomprehensibility about Heidegger’s so-called existential philosophy” (65). Others simply dismiss his vocabulary as impossible to fathom in English (41). For Groth, none of these writers misinterprets Heidegger more grotesquely than William Tudor Jones (70-71) and none of them comes closer to satisfying Groth’s own understanding of Heidegger than William Barrett (72-74).
Regarding Heidegger’s too often alleged connection to existentialism, Groth notes in several places (e.g., 37, 45-49, 66-67, 72, 74) that some interpreters, especially theologians, are too quick to consider Heidegger in conjunction with the radical Christian existentialist Kierkegaard, who, after all, has very little in common with Heidegger. Groth suggests that this tendency to lump the two together may arise from inadequate understanding of such terms as Sein, Dasein, Existenz, Leben, and Wesen. He complains that some translators render Dasein as “human existence” (42, 47), which he says is redundant, since Dasein only refers to specifically human existence. Even though his point is well taken, the redundancy might be necessary to convey the full Heideggerian sense of Dasein to anglophone readers.
Given her life story and especially her close association with Heidegger from 1924 to 1926, we would expect Hannah Arendt not to misunderstand him, even when she disagrees with him. Nevertheless, Groth identifies an “essential error” (51) in her reception of Heidegger, namely, that she confuses Dasein, Existenz, and Mensch. However, as a native speaker, she surely realized that what was perfectly clear to her about Heidegger’s technical vocabulary in German could not be adequately expressed in English. Also, it is not unlikely that her view of Heidegger in the 1940s was influenced by her subsequent mentor, the avowed existentialist Jaspers, and was thus pushed toward existentialism. If we look at the German text of her “What is Existenz Philosophy?” (1946) or “What is Existential Philosophy?” (1994), i.e., “Was ist Existenz-Philosophie?” (1948), we see that among her purposes is to explain, in plain German, Heidegger’s complicated German to a German audience. For example, she uses Essenz instead of Wesen. Such a purpose would naturally not translate well. But Groth considers only the first of these two English translations, does not mention her German version, and indeed seems to be misinterpreting her, alleging, for example, that she equates Existenz and Dasein when she certainly knows better than to do that. Hence we should give her the benefit of the doubt. Much of Groth’s criticism of Arendt could more properly be applied to her translators, Barrett, Robert Kimber, and Rita Kimber (87 n. 48).
Chapter Two (95-112) gives an account of the earliest translation of Heidegger to be published in English: Existence and Being (London: Vision; Chicago: Regnery, 1949). It is important to realize that this book is not a translation of a book by Heidegger, but rather an English journalist’s loosely interrelated compilation of four of Heidegger’s essays (albeit with Heidegger’s approval). In other words, there is no systematic unity to that book. Of the five who worked on it, Stefan Schimanski, Werner Brock, Douglas Scott, Alan Crick, and R.F.C. Hull, only Brock had solid philosophical credentials and none of them were qualified to interpret or translate Heidegger (109). The result was not only a misrepresentation of Heidegger, but also an internally inconsistent hodgepodge. Groth shows how these inconsistencies swirled around the usual key terms: Dasein, Seiende, Existenz, and Sein (104), as well as Befindlichkeit, Entfremdung, existenziell, etc.
The art of translation is to break a textual or literary artifact apart then reassemble it in the context of another culture. Good translating has many axioms, e.g., use a dictionary as contemporary as possible with the text to be translated; translate into, not out of, your native language; try to preserve etymological connections, puns, permutations, transpositions, rhymes, etc. Heidegger would not disagree with any of these; however, his project was different. Going back to original terms and texts was a key aspect of his deconstructive agenda, and thus of his entire philosophy. He did not trust translations, but always preferred to consult and analyze the originals, which in his case generally meant classical and scholastic Latin and especially ancient Greek. Groth notes that Heidegger believed that misunderstandings and corresponding mistranslations of five Greek terms, alêtheia, hen, logos, idea, and energeia, have largely “determined the course of Western philosophy” (19), for better or for worse.
Accordingly, Chapter Three (115-163) discusses Heidegger’s theory of translation as it evolved from 1915 to 1969. Groth has painstakingly gleaned this theory from scattered remarks in Heidegger’s vast corpus. These gleanings provide insight into not only Heidegger’s theory of translation, but also his method and agenda of philosophizing in general. This feature alone would, for both Heidegger scholars and Heidegger disciples alike, make this the most interesting chapter in the book; but Groth makes it even more interesting with the extraordinary claim (116-117) that, contrary to common sense and to traditional hermeneutical principles, thinking is not dependent upon words. Rather, Groth holds that, for Heidegger, thinking is a kind of saying (Sagen), as if there were a real difference between the spoken word and any other kind of word. After all, common sense dictates that we cannot “say” anything unless we have words in which to say it. Without words, spoken or otherwise, actual thinking is not possible, but just a flow of inchoate emotions, disconnected perceptions, and vague notions of how to proceed and survive in the world on a purely animal level.
Groth notes that other commentators have missed this counterintuitive interpretation of Heidegger, as well they might, since it is spun out of thin air and couched in equivocation. Groth even presents evidence against it as evidence for it. He cites “language speaks” (die Sprache spricht) to support his argument that “thinking is not up to the thinker” and that we do not use language, but language uses us in the service of being (117). While it is certainly true that, for Heidegger, language reveals being to us if we listen carefully; it would still be a misinterpretation to take the individual or subjective human actor out of the process of creating or presenting language in the first place. Heidegger’s optimal kind of thinking, meditative thinking (rechnendes Denken), although we may get lost in it and end up we know not where, is above all a deliberate, self-motivated, and self-motivating act, as we clearly infer from Heidegger’s 1955 “Memorial Address.” His famous assertions that “language speaks” and “language is the house of being” mean, among other things, that thought hides in words, i.e., that thought remains concealed (verborgen) in words – whether written, spoken, read, heard, or even merely dreamed – until it is disclosed (entborgen) as being. If we conceive of language in the broadest possible way, then the existence and development of language is a necessary and sufficient condition for thinking.
Despite this major misstep by Groth, other aspects of Heidegger’s theory of translation and Groth’s interpretation of it are less problematic, and generally lead to the conclusion that translating is a kind of thinking (160 n. 69).
Chapter Four (165-193) provides a detailed example of Heidegger’s “paratactic” method of translating. Parataxis means “arranging,” “arrangement,” or “array.” Groth shows how Heidegger breaks up, rearranges, and reassembles an eight-word fragment from Parmenides, using Parmenides to elucidate more precisely his own meaning of seiend-, seen in the Greek as various forms of einai. This is a reciprocal process (183); i.e., in order to bring (herüberbringen) into German the concepts that are hidden in Greek words, the German translator must first immerse himself in Greek thought and go over (hinübergehen) into the Greek so as to become capable of understanding these concepts in both Greek and German and thereby of eventually rendering them in German. Thus Heidegger reads himself into Parmenides and Parmenides into himself. Heidegger is not interested as much in the grammar or syntax of the Greek text (150) as in its particular words, syllables, and even letters, so as to disclose to himself and his readers the far-reaching allusions, etymological inferences, and deep truths that would otherwise remain hidden forever, and were perhaps even hidden from Parmenides. This method coheres well with the whole deconstructive enterprise. “For Heidegger, translating was not at all a matter of words, but of ways of thinking” (108), which suggests that Heidegger’s translation of Parmenides may tell us more about Heidegger than about Parmenides.
Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. Responses to Anti-Semitism is a collection of essays in which an impressive gathering of scholars interprets Heidegger’s statements in the now notorious Black Notebooks. The book contains the conference proceedings of a symposium at Emory University. The essays vary in length and most of them respond to Peter Trawny’s interpretation of Heidegger’s antisemitism in his Freedom to Fail. Heidegger’s Anarchy and Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy.
There is little doubt that the Notebooks show Heidegger at his worst. Most of the commentaries agree on the rather poor intellectual quality of the notebooks, packed with repetitive arguments and personal lamentations as they are. In this volume, complaints are made against the “philosophical kitsch” (40), against the “sour mood” (76) of the “man with a worldview” (92) and so on. What matters most, however, are those “unfortunately unforgettable” (134) passages in which Heidegger inserts Judaism into the grand scheme of the ‘history of being’. The ‘Responses to Anti-Semitism’ in this book vary from pointing to the extreme stereotyping with which Heidegger proceeds to trying to understand Heidegger’s argumentation and detecting their value, if any. Several of the contributors, Sander Gilman and Robert Bernasconi especially, emphasize that Heidegger was part of the long-standing tradition of antisemitism in European culture—and students of philosophy, today, should not forget that in Heidegger’s time, in Germany, it was harder not to be a Nazi than to actually be one as the majority of Germans followed Hitler and his regime.
As for antisemitism in German philosophy, one can find in the volume rather embarrassing statements of Kant, Hegel and Fichte. Philosophers, though, are seldom saints. In this regard, it is good to recall that Derrida has famously pointed to similar occurrences of denigrating Eurocentrism not only in Fichte’s work but also in Husserl’s: responding to Heidegger’s antisemitism, we will have to ponder what exactly the difference is between Husserl’s exclusion of “Eskimos, Indians, travelling zoos or gypsies” from ‘spiritual Europe’ and Heidegger’s awkward remarks about “semitic nomads” in the seminar Nature, History, State or the exclusion of the “Negros” from time and history proper in Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language speaks.[i]
I will not do Heidegger the honor of repeating the passages of these Notebooks in full. Peter Gordon argues that “much of the antisemitic material found in the Schwarze Hefte”, are not “terribly surprising, since [they] largely confir[m], though [they] gave a certain added philosophical depth to, the evidence that was already available in disparate sources” (136). This philosophical depth, in a way, is what Peter Trawny calls ‘being-historical anti-Semitism’. Heidegger’s error, however, is not the insertion of a petite philosophical concept in the grander system of his history of being. Rather, it is that much of the language the Schwarze Hefte uses to describes Judaism can lend itself to the must vulgar of racisms. The Jews are said to be without world, without time, without history—everything, in short, that would make for a ‘proper’ human being. Judaism has contributed, Heidegger says, and perhaps even caused the ‘forgetting of being’ because they supposedly do nothing else than calculate and swindle. And so on. It is good to be clear, too, about how shocking Heidegger’s ontic comportment towards his fellow Jews was. These facts are known: his rectorship, addressing his audience under the aegis of the swastika, his involvement in the Gleichschaltung or nazification of Freiburg University… All these things should never stop shocking us, readers of Heidegger.
Prior to the Schwarze Hefte, it was all too common to separate the man from the thinker and his philosophy: the man Heidegger certainly has its flaws, it was said, but his philosophy by no means had a predilection toward Nazism. The reasoning was anything but flawless and the Schwarze Hefte make clear just how well Heidegger’s views of ‘world Jewry’ fit into his narrative of the history of being. Such a ‘being-historical anti-Semitism’ means that Judaism actively has contributed to the ‘forgetting of being’: its scheming supposedly makes for the fact that all we do now is reckon with beings; its conspiracy such that it is Jews only who benefit from this ‘destruction’ of the earth, the Verwüstung der Erde of which the later Heidegger speaks. Just as Christian antisemitism will blame the Jews for their Gottesverlassenheit, so Heidegger use the Jews as a scapegoat for our Seinsverlassenheit. This antisemitism would have offended almost no one in the 1920s and 1930s. What is noteworthy in Heidegger’s history of being, is that no one, apart from the Greeks and of course the Germans, could any longer ‘hear’ the ‘voice of being’ and that the Jews were forever excluded from this possibility to hear the signals, the Winke, ‘beyng’ was supposedly sending. The antisemitism lies in the fact that the ‘ontological make-up’ of the Jews is such that they are unable to come up with an ontology. For Heidegger, this was the worst indictment possible. It would mean that Jews were condemned to inauthenticity and that no voice of conscience would extricate them, even if only instantaneously, from the field of the ‘anyone’. Just as they would remain deaf to being, the ‘being-historical’ antisemitism denotes that being will remain forever deaf to them.
Trawny’s essay speaks in this regard of an “apocalyptic reduction” (5).[ii] This ‘apocalyptic reduction’ is a sort of superstructure to the ontic and ontological realm of which Being and Time spoke, although both realms are now assigned certain histories: certain ontic ‘people’ are attuned to ontology and to being more specifically. On the one hand, there’s the great Greeks who had an experience of being, phusis, that soon came to be forgotten and now, urgently, lest the earth be destructed, needs to be ‘repeated’. This repetition falls to the Germans: only the Germans can lead the other people into the sending and the spreading of being. Apart from these two people, no one and no other culture has anything proper to contribute to the question of being: not the Romans who degraded the experience of the Greeks, not the Christians who imitated and so weakened the experience of ‘Rome’, not the ontotheologically sedated Christians of the Middle Ages, not the narcissistic consciousness of the moderns, and certainly not the Americans, the English or the Russian who only contribute to the spreading (Austrag) of a very limited experience of being, namely the experience of Machenschaft and Gestell, one that can only reckon with beings and knows no longer of being.
Heidegger did sense that something was ending. Several papers in this volume seem to agree that this narrative, the narrative of a first beginning in Greece and a second, other beginning in Germany, now has to be abandoned. This, however, need not mean that Heidegger overstated the ‘end’ of metaphysics. What is needed, Peter Gordon argues, is a “critical appropriation” (149) of Heidegger’s insights concerning the “dismantling” of metaphysics (147) and the concomitant effort of “working out the ‘unthought’ in the thought of the canonical texts” (150). Bernasconi, likewise, states that the forms of oppression that slipped into the canon of philosophy should be addressed and that the impetus for this comes from Heidegger (184). Heidegger’s thought perhaps comes with its own “unthought”, or, as Michael Marder signals, with “the thoughtless […] in the midst of rigorous thought” (101).
We should be aware, as Peter Gordon argues, that “Heidegger himself chose to yoke together his complaints about the metaphysical tradition with crude and counterfactual generalizations about the Jews” (147). Just as we cannot separate the man from the thinker, so too Heidegger has ‘yoked together’ the ontic and the ontological. It is this that we must ponder (and I think this is one of the lessons of the Notebooks). We must be careful about this mix between the ontic and the ontological, for it easily leads to errors. Even if one wants to distance oneself from Heidegger or leave, like Levinas, the ‘climate of this philosophy’, this needs some “intellectual effort”.[iii] For instance, Eduardo Mendieta reads Heidegger’s antisemitic remarks about the supposed ‘worldlessness’ of the Jews into the ‘worldlessness’ of which Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik speaks (51). Yet what Heidegger denies to Judaism is not the same as what he denies to animals, for it would not be possible to attribute calculation and number to animals. There is no easy, immediate link between the antisemitic outbursts of the Notebooks and the other works. Bettina Bergo similarly seems to imply, in her suggestive but somewhat obscure essay, that Heidegger’s difference between ontological ‘dying’ and ontic ‘perishing’ might also be valid for those that came to ‘perish’ in the camps (73).
Yet we should not minimize Heidegger’s ontic failures. One must philosophize with care here, though, for the following line needs quite some elaboration: “To overcome this anti-Semitism, then, will require to overcome metaphysics” (xxv). The sentence rings well in a conference brochure, but, in print, needs some extra argument. One of the things to keep in mind, as the introduction also states, when it comes to Heidegger’s antisemitism is that we should not minimize these antisemitic passages as if these were mere ‘ontic’ slips. Even though there is but ten sentences or so amidst 1800 pages of Notebooks that are clearly antisemitic, one must state just as well that one cannot be a Nazi just a little bit. Others have argued that, even though the man Heidegger clearly had his flaws, his thinking in no way whatsoever has anything to do with Nazism (xx-xxi)—these responses maximize Heidegger’s ‘ontology’ as it were, which supposedly is devoid of anything ontic. I think the Notebooks clearly contradict the latter claim and agree with the claim that Heidegger went astray somewhere at the end of Being and Time when he started to speak of the ‘destiny’ of a people. There is in effect a bit of an army in Being and Time; Levinas was not wrong when he sensed that community in Heidegger isn’t more than marching together.[iv] If one should not exclusively focus on these ontic missteps nor, for that matter, on the ontological being-historical antisemitism, where to go then?
Trawny’s earlier book helps here: “what happens to philosophy when we attempt to exclude it in advance from the danger of anti-Semitism? […] Overcoming anti-Semitism can only succeed by drawing near to it […] The opinion that it is always others who are anti-Semites is a cop-out. It is ‘I’ who am the anti-Semite”.[v] What both of the above strategies share is in effect a sort of immunization: the ‘ontic’ approach states that these passages are so minimal that one can still read Heidegger as if nothing has happened; the other ‘ontological’ approach will state that this antisemitism was there from the start and is, in effect, everywhere, so that one does not have to read Heidegger (pretty much what they had ‘in advance’ decided). The first response to antisemitism, or to racism more generally, would therefore be not to exclude ourselves from these traditions and, second, to acknowledge that the lowest of vulgarities can mix with the highest of philosophy. This first point is present in some contributions in this volume. Bernasconi’s essay is clear that Heidegger’s “accusers feed their sense of self-righteousness” (169). There is a real (and thoroughly unphilosophical) danger of selective indignation here: why are we appalled by Heidegger’s endeavors, but not so much by Husserl’s? Why can we still read Kant even when his anti-Judaism is as offending as Heidegger’s?
Bernasconi admonishes that the ‘intellectual effort’ needed to understand Heidegger’s failings now includes “racism, sexism, and Islamophobia” so that “scrutinizing Heidegger is […] the start of a larger inquiry or whether it is being conducted merely to make us feel morally superior” (185). Richard Polt warns that the Notebooks should make us think about “Heidegger’s limitations and our own” (97). Instead of rejecting Heidegger, instead of an unjustified reverence for the grand thinker of being, I think the more sober response would be to state that no one is immune for the projection of prejudices of all kinds into one’s thinking.
The supposed history of being might have led Heidegger to tell a totalitarian tale himself. The ‘apocalyptic reduction’ was such that he felt surrounded by beings and abandoned by beyng. Polt elucidates the steps of this reduction: first, there is the description of the “catastrophe” happening to culture through forgetting being and the rule of beings, then the stress on the rescue through those few who are capable of addressing the voice of being, and finally the complete disillusionment when this narrative doesn’t sit well with what was really happening. Though the first stage might be harmless (although one must be wary of ‘apocalyptical tones’), it is in the second stage of this reduction that Heidegger went astray, even ontically: for a while there he must have believed in Hitlerism and the ‘inner truth’ of this movement to lead European culture back onto the right track (whatever that might be). Jaspers once wrote that Heidegger wanted to ‘educate’ the Führer and there is in effect a long section in Nature, History, State on who would be capable to attend to the Führer intellectually.[vi] Martin Gessmann’s essay points out that Heidegger wanted to execute the politics of Being and Time and lead an entire people, as it were, into authenticity (123). It seems the case that Heidegger himself quickly became disillusioned with National Socialism and by 1935-36 the critique of the movement grows. As Polt writes: “Heidegger loses […] faith that the […] inception can be provoked by a nationalist revolution; it becomes [an] elusive possibility to be explored by poets and thinkers” (80).
Not everyone is authentic, and certainly not the ‘anyone’ (das Man) of which Being and Time speaks: it takes a certain resoluteness and courage to take up this authenticity—even though, this ‘authentic stance’ is never permanent and, most often, bound to fail.[vii] It becomes more problematic when authenticity is reserved for this people rather than the other and certain ethnos is excluded from finding ‘its’ destiny and Heidegger forgets his admonishments in Being and Time with regard to such authenticity: ‘Germany’ now can take up, without failing, and without limit (at least thousand years!) its destiny.
Politics did make its way into his writings during his—brief but real—Nazi period. In his commentary on Nature, History, State, Bernasconi shows that “the project [known as] ‘the overcoming of metaphysics’ was initially developed in [the] context of a questioning of the Volk” because, soon after Being and Time’s Destruktion of the metaphysical tradition, this thematic will be replaced by an Überwindung of metaphysics.[viii] Heidegger entertained briefly the very ontic belief that national socialism would liberate us once and for all from metaphysics and its forgetting of being. The essence of this movement is to attune us once again to being. Whereas the Destruktion of 1927 means that one needs to work through and with the tradition in order to move forward and press into the future, the Überwindung of 1933 means that the time is ripe to overturn this tradition, to violently struggle against it, and leave it behind entirely—like many other Nazis, Heidegger became increasingly hostile to Christianity. The theme of ‘overcoming metaphysics’ stuck with Heidegger precisely because of this ontic belief in its overcoming, and the ontic role Hitler’s Nazism and Heidegger himself could play in its overturning. This has the consequence that, soon after his disillusionment with National Socialism, the movement in a sense is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of metaphysics at the same time: during his Nazi period, Heidegger believed that the ‘moment’ had come to liberate ourselves (or Germany at least) from metaphysics and that Nazism would do just this. Only a few months later, Heidegger noticed that National Socialism had, frankly, no interest in the philosophical ‘upliftment’ of humanity whatsoever, and could not but conclude that the movement itself was part and parcel of the metaphysical tradition the thinker then sought to ‘overcome’. After the ontic belief in the supposed ‘saving power’ of Nazism, Heidegger believed that metaphysics persisted.
It is, however, still Heidegger who is deciding who is in and who is out. In Of Spirit, Derrida mentions the presence of two “vibrations at the same time”[ix] in Heidegger, namely one that believed that this movement could embody the ‘spirit’ needed to tune in to being and another, more vague and more truthful use of spirit, stating that the ‘spirit’ of being remains ungraspable and absent. But this is not yet what is going on in Heidegger’s thinking here. Heidegger, when criticizing the movement, did perhaps no longer believe that this totalitarian rule awoke us to being, but he was very clear in naming instances that certainly could not incarnate the ‘spirit’ of being. This act of ‘naming’ who is in and who is out, itself, might be the mistake that led Heidegger to the gravest of opinions ontically: it is in any case ‘the cop-out’ that Trawny mentions.
Such ontic belief that philosophy could act upon the events of world history should concern us. Many of the contributors here agree that this mix between ontic beliefs and ontological viewpoints led Heidegger into error. We should ponder how such a link is to be conceived. Even in 1927 Heidegger acknowledged the ‘ontic ideal’ underlying his ontology, even when insisting on separating ontology from all things ontic. One might conceive a phenomenology that disturbs Heidegger’s neat distinction between ‘ontic’ fear and ontological anxiety for death, by thinking of ontic figures that incarnate this anxiety concretely: a terminal sickness has both ontic and ontological aspects—my death can announce itself quite concretely by this or that cancer, this or that hospital room, etc.
Yet when Heidegger links his ontology to ontic politics something goes wrong and Heidegger himself forgets that he is not immune to the things that he was warning against, namely metaphysics and instrumental rationality. Just as the ontic figures of National Socialism crept into Heidegger’s story of new beginnings, just so these figures had to take the blame for the absence of the need for another beginning. Marder argues that here “‘world Jewry’ is metaphysically deployed and loaded with the dirty work of world destruction” (99) and an utter absence of questioning becomes clear. Gessmann gestures similarly: it simply “gets scary once […] the history of Being is transformed into a ‘world-event [Weltereignis]’” (122). Yet when nothing happens, Gessmann argues, Heidegger turns to Nietzsche: a militaristic metaphysics of the will sets in around 1932. This disillusion is what we need to understand, for this history of being is such that, in becoming totalitarian, it becomes utterly detached from the actual events around Heidegger. Jean-Luc Nancy senses this when saying that all this talk about the ‘Es gibt’ of being ends up by caring very little about what is actually being given and happening.[x] Nothing that is happening will ever be able to falsify Heidegger’s history of being: it becomes totalitarian in the very precise sense that everything will fit into its grander narrative—if anything happens, say the heeding of the call of being in Germany, it will find its place in this history; likewise, if the feeling even the affliction of the Seinsverlassenheit is absent, it will similarly fit into the grander narrative of being. Heidegger always wins, but at the expense of an indifference and alienation that still needs to be understood.
For such an apocalyptic reduction puts the philosopher in the position of overseeing the world and its state of the affairs and he or she becomes the cosmotheoros. The problem with such an overseeing of world is not the least that the philosopher thinks himself able to pinpoint solution to the world’s problems. Bernasconi notes this tendency toward total understanding: “[distinctive is] the totalizing way in which his thought comes to operate. For Heidegger, almost everything belonging to Western metaphysics amounts to the same” (181). Heidegger obviously is not the first philosopher who claimed to comprehend ‘being and beings in their entirety’: it is this claim that he first condemned as ontotheology and to which he too succumbs in the 1930s. To explain this, one might consult the awkward passage (GA 94: 523)—mentioned here by Hans Gumbrecht—where Heidegger enlists the decisive moments in the “abyssal” history of Germany starting from ‘1806’ when Hölderlin went mad […] right up to “(9/26/1889)”—Heidegger’s birthday no less.
Here we once again have the (ontotheological) phantasm that one being (from within) would be able to grasp the entirety of beings (from without). We agree with Jeff Malpas’ recent reading of the Notebooks, when writing that, when disillusioned with politics, “Heidegger turns […] to the absolute primacy of the philosophical, withdrawing into a form of philosophical […] isolation […] even of philosophical alienation (a standing apart from the superficial and the mundane), in which the concern with being is given priority over everything else, including the political”.[xi]
This totalitarian way of thinking also shows itself in what Žižek calls “the obscenely pseudo-Hegelian way” (189) of Heidegger’s thought and which Polt elucidates as Heidegger’s “trope of finding sameness in oppositions” (86). The ‘intellectual effort’ required from us will be to discern when such ‘sameness’ actually was found and when it was not. This means that we need to take our distances from Heidegger’s dialectic and admit, for instance, that his wordplay is not always and everywhere convincing and that the attempt to write a ‘grand narrative’ of being perhaps is not the best his philosophy has to offer.
Several contributors point to such obscenities in the Notebooks. Žižek (on page 189) mentions Heidegger’s awkward thoughts on the “self-annihilation” (GA 97: 19) of the Jews, which in the history of being supposedly function as “a principle of destruction” (GA 97: 20). Heidegger seems to be dead serious in his victim blaming: the ones who have destroyed being will be destroyed themselves. Such ontic metaphors incite Krell to speak of an “unforgiving” tragic collapse and a “failure of thinking” in Heidegger, who often repeated that if being had abandoned us, this oblivion lay on the side of being and all beings would equally share in this abandonment.[xii] In a way, this act of name-dropping thus collapses the ontological difference between being and beings. Whether it concerns naming the ones able to attune us to being or naming those that are to blame for its forgetting, the mode of procedure remains identical. For Žižek, the ontological difference is understood as a “materialis[m] without regressing to an ontic view”, a difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ beings (200). It is to acknowledge that “reality is partial, incomplete […] and the Supreme being is the illusion imagined in order to fill in (obfuscate) this lack” (194). It is to forget that there is no final overlap between the signifier and the signified. Yet this lack is obfuscated when one turns to the divine as the ultimate signifier as well as when stating that certain people embody the call of being uniquely. The difference, one might say, is then inhabited (by a certain name) but no longer ausgehalten (in the nothing as Heidegger would say).
This ‘naming’ shows itself precisely when Heidegger ‘finds sameness in oppositions’. Marder speaks of a “complexio oppositorum” (110) that refuses to do its dialectical work. Then “international Jewry” in Heidegger becomes a ‘name’, a rigid designator that contains what cannot be contained: Judaism is worldless nomadism and yet they are cosmopolites, both pacifists that won’t fight for their country yet use a “imperialistic-warlike way of thinking” (GA 96:133) conquering the world—not unlike contemporary racism where certain people are depicted simultaneously as ‘poor’ and as ‘stealing our jobs’.
Polt mentions another example of Heidegger’s dialectic, for in these years Heidegger sees no difference between Nazi eugenics and Jewish attention to who counts as part of the chosen people. Both “reflect a calculative management of genetic resources” (86). Still later, Heidegger infamously sees no difference between gas chambers and industrial production.
I have no quibble admitting that these thoughts can be totalitarian. This does not mean, however, that this thinking cannot make us think and does in effect sometimes find sameness in opposition where one would not expect this. I similarly have no need of separating the man from the thinker and agree with Tom Rockmore’s statement that one needs to “surpass” (158) this distinction, for this philosophy is as affected by totalitarian antisemitism as the man himself was. Yet Rockmore’s argument is hardly convincing: it is not because the man and the thinker are related that this man cannot have thought great thoughts (even though, admittedly, not all these thoughts were great). Rockmore’s examples (which surfaced already in this review) to prove that Heidegger’s “being-historical anti-Semitism belongs less to the narrative about the history of being than to what one can call familiar German philosophical anti-Semitism” (163) prove exactly that—but also just that: that Heidegger was a child of his time, that he entertained a philosophical nationalism and that he too was prejudiced (as much as the next guy, I’d add). It seems Rockmore himself operates in quite the totalitarian manner: “once one admits that [anti-Semitism] is present anywhere in Heidegger’s theories, it almost immediately becomes visible […] everywhere or almost everywhere” (154). Here too some differences, between philosophy and opinion for instance, eclipse.
Heidegger’s thoughts on the enemy, which fascinates Trawny (12-13), are not particularly striking: I know of no nationalism that does not need one or the other enemy: the craving for identity of one people is always at the expense of the identity of the other. What needs to be thought is that Heidegger’s identity-politics from the mid-thirties onward also turns against National Socialism and why this critique remains unconvincing. Certainly, from the beginning of Heidegger’s relations to Nazism, people were, as Bernasconi notes, attacking him for “not being sufficiently Nazi” (177). Polt makes a strong case for Heidegger’s critique of Nazism (also in these Notebooks): Heidegger never entertains either their sheer biological racism or endorse their anti-intellectualism, their hostility to their enemies and their violent brutality (88).
Even then, Heidegger’s one and only question remains who is in and who is out when it comes to the ‘being-historical’ event of the end of metaphysics. National Socialism is now ranked alongside Christian scholasticism, Americanism and so on: stages on the way to the West’s end. Žižek states: “Heidegger’s critique of Nazism is […] a critique of the actually existing Nazism on behalf of its […] metaphysical ‘inner greatness’” (188). The mode of procedure has not changed: whereas first Nazism was deemed worthy of entertaining the question of being, now they are relegated to the many ‘still thinking metaphysically’ and cause the forgetting of being to spread. Nothing has changed: there is but one more instance that is named as part of metaphysics. For the possibility to think non-metaphysically only one being remains…
It didn’t occur to Heidegger, at this stage, that the other of metaphysics is not a property of this or that being, nor of a Volk. To turn to Derrida: if it was certain being was accessed only through language, then in the 1930s it was never questioned that this access had to happen through the German language. It is this ‘non-questioning’ that upsets Derrida, for it reveals something of an “unthought” in Heidegger: the priority of the question was never questioned itself and so misses that ‘there is language’ before one is able to question (being) at all, that language in this sense is a given. Language thus encloses being. This makes it rather uncertain why only German would pose this question. Marder relates this openness to language, this receiving of its gift, to a Levinasian form of hospitality (99). However, in Totality and Infinity this Other that we cannot ask any questions is called a Master—one is returned quicker to some kind of anti-democratic hierarchy than one expects.
What Derrida (and Heidegger, when he’s at his best) imagines is a granting and an allowance that comes with being, and which comes to us, beings, through language: “the question itself answers […] to this pledge”[xiii] and so responds to this granting. For Derrida, this concerns a “responsibility” that “is not chosen”[xiv] nor can it be answered by one people rather than another. For Derrida, it is spectral, spiritual and has a certain je ne sais quoi about it. Heidegger’s mistake was to think to be able to name this ‘I know not what’ and name it once and for all.
Such philosophical naming led to the gravest of things ontically, for Heidegger knew all too well that no one was really granted to lift the veil of this riddle of being, just as no one definitively awakens from his slumber through (ontological) anxiety and we all equally share in a certain ‘benumbedness’ by our world. In the Notebooks, he sometimes reached this conclusion: would it in effect not be the philosopher’s responsibility to “chase man through the otherness and strangeness of the essence of being” (GA 94:43)? It is too much to say that Heidegger wants us all to become ‘strangers on the earth’ but it is possible that the goal of this chase was not to rid us of all strangeness and otherness.
Only clumsy readers of Heidegger would heap together these forms of worldlessness: the worldlessness of technology is not the worldlessness of a stone. Technology is a rationality that conquers the world, but is still for Heidegger poor in world. Animals have an ‘Umwelt’ and are open to world, but are not world-forming as humans are. Benevolent readers of Heidegger will note that in Sein und Zeit (GA 2: 344), Heidegger speaks of a Benommenheit that is proper to Dasein—‘most often’ we are ‘absorbed’ by the world (first benumbedness) only to be stupefied and benumbed just as well by experiencing anxiety—whereas this Benommenheit is used only to speak of the animals’ world poverty in Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Can we conclude from this that Dasein is, a bit like an animal, ‘benumbed’ as well? No, perhaps. Can we conclude that these lines that Heidegger drew between the ontic and the ontological are not always as rigid as Heidegger himself wanted? Can we conclude that us mortals, in a sense, ‘have’ and ‘do not have’ world and that we are all rather bad at world-forming? I think so.
Krell explores what this ‘benumbedness’ exactly is and how it operates: it is an openness to world but not a total one. Heidegger describes it once as “essentially exposed to Other” which “introduces an essential shattering into the essence of the animal” (GA 29/30: 396). In order to survive, the animal depends on otherness, it can be by no means self-sustaining. If it ever would be able to have something like a ‘self’, it would be able do so only by virtue of such otherness. Heidegger says too little of this shattering in being, of such being exposed to otherness.[xv]
An ontic observation might add a little: at one point Gumbrecht wonders from whence the “conspicuous difference in quality between the […] Notebooks and other texts […] by Heidegger around 1930” (135), noting that the lectures were always nicely prepared and focused. Remark that Heidegger has written only one book, his other tomes are mostly seminars, speeches and notes taken for lectures. One can infer from this that the journal-like style of the Notebooks was not Heidegger’s preferred style and that for Heidegger to be at his best he needed an audience and thus others and otherness.
All this might be farfetched, but we need to admit that a thinking also exceeds the thinker and that he or she has no ownership, in a way, over the consequences of a thought. In his Freedom to Fail, Trawny claims that Heidegger speaks of a place of “originary errancy”[xvi], a non-moral space from which the thinker speaks freely of the freedom of being. This site of freedom is an-archic, as the event of being itself: it surges forward and arises out of nothing and for nothing, without a particular ‘whence or whither’. Though this is true of certain of Heidegger’s writings (e.g. Was heiβt Denken?) it is not without problems. Gregory Fried, for example, asks some poignant questions about Trawny’s approach: though it is the case that if we no longer question, we submit to authority and so end thinking. And though it is the case that we are today asking questions that were not allowed to be posed say fifty years ago—Fried mentions transgenders—and though this questioning itself seems to have “some sense of justice as their polestar”, these questions seem to presuppose some limits themselves (it is, for instance, not self-evident that someone would defend an authoritarian worldview on the basis of this free thinking). This is, for Fried, what Trawny overlooks when stating that posing limits on thinking would therefore only “play into a normative morality”. Fried argues that Trawny gives too much credit to ‘anarchic freedom’, leaving little space to criticize Heidegger’s antisemitism. Fried has an intriguing proposal:
“If thinking is errant, why can it not be a road trip that goes out [and] returns home […] to replenish what Trawny [calls] ‘the [t]enacious fabric of the everyday’? [We] must have a faith that in confronting the norms by which we have lived hitherto, we will do those norms […] justice by thoughtfully reconstructing and transforming them in the face of our lived situation […] and by leaving ourselves ever open to the question of when those norms need to be refurbished, or even discarded”.[xvii]
To conjoin free thinking and morality, we need what Being and Time calls a ‘destruction’ of tradition and not its overturning: one would be free to pose questions, question certain practices against the background of the prevailing norms and not, like in an overturning, reject them entirely. There would be some reverence for the tradition as well as the acknowledgement that the truth of these traditions might lie outside of these traditions. Not an ‘errant thinking’ that boldly goes where no one has gone before, but a thinking that seeks what is possible from within the coordinates of the tradition in which the ‘event of being’ transpires. Heidegger’s dismantling of metaphysics is less a “repeating of the past” as Rockmore argues (166)— in his thinking Heidegger was no mere conservative—but rather a “reappropriation” of this tradition that does not imply an “unblinking acceptance”, as Gordon rightly states. Needed for this is obviously a familiarity with the metaphysical tradition, lest philosophy dissolves in opinion.
Having come to this book as one who knows little of these Notebooks, but having read a fair amount of Heidegger, I’d conclude that by no means these Notebooks justify rejecting Heidegger’s philosophy entirely nor are they the first thing one should read of him—as the publishing craze around these Notebooks today seems to imply. It would be bad philosophy not to read Heidegger: this would forget the sheer force of this thinking and the way, too, it can enforce itself on its readers. It is the latter especially that one needs to think through if one wants to understand why a good philosopher can be a good Nazi.
These Notebooks could be read, not as a confession—Heidegger was not one to confess—but as a concession. One must ponder, as Žižek says, their “frank openness” (187). They are a concession, first, in the sense that he ‘lost it for a while’ in the thirties and succumbed to an ontic and ontotheological belief that, through him, the history of being became transparent. They are a concession, too, in that there was no immediate link between philosophy and politics and that any attempt to intervene in politics as for philosophy’s sake is destined to fail. They concede, not in the least, the fact that he too had submitted to this reprehensible regime’s stereotyping of racial issues and antidemocratic standards. And if it is true, as Trawny argues, that it is we who are the antisemites then the thoughts we need to take home from these concessions, knowing fully well that it was not all that easy to resist this regime and that back then it was easier to be a Nazi than not to be one, might be: would we have resisted the regime or submitted to its principle? After all: can one be a Nazi a little bit?
[i] For Derrida, see On Spirit. Heidegger and the Question (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1989), p. 120n.1. For Heidegger, respectively Nature, History, State 1933-1934 (London: Bloomsbury, 2015) and Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2009), p. 71ff. Reference to the book under review are in the text between parentheses, to Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe in the texts as well as GA.
[ii] Trawny’s essay echoes his Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy (Chicago: Chicago UP, 2016), p. 71. Trawny’s book is criticized quite heavily by Taylor Carman: “Trawny […]avoids direct assertion […] by falling back on locutions that merely suggest, hint, indicate a particular passage ‘does not preclude’ this (33), ‘we cannot rule out’ that (34), and so on”, see http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/heidegger-and-the-myth-of-a-jewish-world-conspiracy.
[iii] Reference is, first, to his Existence and Existents (Duquesne: Duquesne UP, 1978) p. 4 and then to “As if Consenting to Horror”, Critical Inquiry 15 (1989) 485-488, as mentioned by Bernasconi on 168 of the book under review.
[iv] Levinas, Time and the Other (Duquesne: Duquesne University Press, 2006), pp. 99-100.
[v] Trawny, Freedom to Fail (Cambridge: Polity, 2015), p. 16.
[vi] Heidegger, Nature, History, State, p. 45.
[vii] See my Between Faith and Belief. Toward A Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life (Albany: SUNY Press, 2016), p. 25ff.
[viii] See his “Who belongs? Heidegger’s Philosophy of the Volk,” in Nature, History, State, pp. 109-125, p. 118-119.
[ix] Derrida, Of Spirit, p. 68.
[x] Jean-Luc Nancy, Banalité de Heidegger (Paris: Galilée, 2015), p. 51.
[xi] Jeff Malpas, “Assessing the Significance of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks,” to appear in Geographica Helvetica (2018), forthcoming.
[xii] David F. Krell, Ecstasy, Catastrophe. Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2015), p. 170.
[xiii] Derrida, Of Spirit, p. 130n.5.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 130n.5.
[xv] For this, see David F. Krell, Derrida and Our Animal Others (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2013), pp. 114-116.
[xvi] Trawny, Freedom to Fail, p. 41.
[xvii] See for this Gregory Fried at http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/freedom-to-fail-heideggers-anarchy/.
Correspondence 1949-1975: Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger (2016) presents an intimate portrait of two influential German philosophers. The letters provide significant insight into Heidegger and Jünger’s philosophical minds, as well as the eras from post-WWII to the Cold War. The letters are an important collection, and while the correspondence can be found elsewhere, this version benefits from a fluid and intelligible translation. In addition, translator Timothy Sean Quinn, Philosophy Department Chair at Xavier University, has included Jünger’s essay “Über de Linie” or “Across the Line” at the end of the correspondence. This inclusion fits well, as mention of the essay appears in the early letters, written as a gift for Heidegger on his 60th birthday. “Across the Line” functions as bookends to the letters and provides the reader with a perspective of time, place, and philosophical theory that, perhaps, the letters alone could not perform.
As Quinn states in the “Translator’s Introduction,” Jünger never attained the level of popularity as Heidegger. However, he made a name for himself in Europe as a prolific novelist and also published numerous philosophical and critical texts. In 1930 and 1932, he published his well-known works “Total Mobilization” and The Worker, respectively. These texts attracted Heidegger’s attention, and would be the connection that brought the two together. Heidegger stated, “[It was] how they express an essential understanding of Nietzsche’s metaphysics, insofar as the history and the present of the Western world are seen and foreseen within the horizon of this metaphysics” (xii). Discussion of Nietzsche appears throughout the letters and the concluding essay, and his theory of nihilism inspired much debate between the two admirers. According to Quinn, “the core of their friendship . . . turns on their shared attitude toward modernity, and to the growing nihilism of the age” (xiii). The theme circulates in and out of the letters, and is most prominent in “Across the Line” where Jünger explores his own unease about the growth of nihilism in Europe and the loss of Christian values.
It is apparent in the letters that Jünger and Heidegger find companionship through the written word. They develop a strong friendship and admiration for each other’s views and writings. Though, at times, the correspondence feels like a one-sided intellectual love affair, as Jünger reveres Heidegger, often seeking guidance, understandably so, because of Heidegger’s popularity; however, the admiration went both ways. Heidegger was very much impressed with Jünger’s intellect and ideas. The two found camaraderie via their similar situation and philosophical interests.
Heidegger and Jünger both suffered through periods of discrimination as post-WWII Germans. In 1933, Heidegger was briefly a member of the Nazi Party, and, even though he often wrote against the party later in life, he was always criticised for this affiliation. In addition, in the years leading up to the Third Reich, the Nazi Party sought to recruit Jünger, but he rejected their advances. However, this did not clear him of suspicion of Nazi involvement. In a 1974 letter, Jünger expresses his feelings to Heidegger, “Today, there is nothing more shameful than honors. After being sent to the dogs, one ends up on a postage stamp” (58). Despite the prestige the two philosophers earned, undergoing such criticism created lasting anguish. In the letters, there is clearly a general tiresomeness of pervasive judgment, over which the two commiserated.
Most often, collections of correspondence run rampant with the quotidian and mundane, but these letters are ripe with philosophical discourse, as the pair critically contemplate the world around them. Heidegger and Jünger often discuss other philosophers and their work. Such as in December 1955 and January 1956, when Jünger mentions in a postscript, “I have now completed a work concerning [Antoine de] Rivarol. His maxims are in general crystal clear, although in places a bit orphic” (18). At the end of the postscript, he asks Heidegger for his opinion. Heidegger responds with a multi-page exegesis. He writes, “The consideration of the weaver, the back-and-forth between of the weaver’s shuttle, shows that Rivarol sees motion not as an emptying of the future into the past (“time passes”), but as the transition that moves back and forth between two things at rest” (20). The two traded opinions and ideas such as these many times over the years. These brief discussions are an enormous benefit to the reader or scholar interested in the inner workings of a philosopher’s mind.
Not every letter can be a philosophical tete-à-tete, and while there are letters that represent the daily or mundane, the majority of the them offer something of value. When the two aging but extremely busy men often wish or request a meeting with the other, they are regularly too busy with speaking events or previous engagements. Though not in person, they still find meaningful ways to share their lives with each other. Heidegger and Jünger find time to send books. Near the end of Heidegger’s life, he often only communicated through the gift of books. From December 1970 to March 1972, there are only two letters, both from Jünger, and in each, he thanks his older friend for Phenomenology and Theology and Schelling’s Treastise, respectively. At other times, they share the attributes and failures of other texts. Even in this seemingly quotidian act, Jünger and Heidegger offer the reader intelligent insight into their patterns of thought.
On May 26, 1976, Heidegger died, and after all the intimate letters the reader feels the pain of the loss, and the pain that Jünger surely experienced at the death of his influential and dear friend is palpable in the terseness of his words. He only writes one more letter: a brief response to Heidegger’s son Herman. Perhaps the most emotive moment comes in reading the letter from Heidegger’s wife to Jünger, which includes a Friedrich Hölderlin poem found in a bedside book that was addressed to family and close friends upon Heidegger’s death. To quote the poem here would debase the experience, but after finishing the letters, it is easy to imagine the tears that wet Jünger’s cheeks.
“Across the Line”
The inclusion of the essay at the end punctuates the impactful letters. “Across the Line” is written in short chapters, vignettes of thought that expound upon the state of nihilism in the world, and how Christian values are the key for emerging from the darkness. The loss of Christian values is a great blow to Jünger, and he believes strongly in the salvation of the church, but he admits that it cannot win against nihilism: “We must then establish that theology by no means finds itself in a condition capable of confronting nihilism” (92). Jünger spends many pages discussing Nietzsche’s description of nihilism, which he admits is difficult to define. He does mention that nihilism is corrosive to society and values, and that nihilism must be left behind in order to attain spiritual heights and purity. Jünger writes, “It is the theme of our age” (88). To him, nihilism has become omnipotent, used by the powerful so that they may invoke fear, which is remarkably more poignant considering that this essay was written in the years following the Third Reich.
In many ways Jünger appears to be caught in the very state of pessimism that he decries against; however, he offers a few ways that the individual can overcome this. He argues that love, art and poetry can liberate the mind and body from the pessimistic state. Jünger states, “The meaning of art cannot be to ignore the world in which we live—-and thus it has little serenity. Spiritual overcoming and command over the age will not reveal itself in the fact that perfect machines crown progress, but rather that the age gains a form in the work of art. In this way, the age is redeemed” (98). Art will set people free.
While the essay lacks a bit of coherence, the message is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s. Quinn’s publication comes at an interesting time in the world, a time that reflects the era in which Jünger and Heidegger were composing. Quinn’s translation reads smoothly, is intellectually stimulating, and poetically intriguing. Without a doubt this collection is a valuable addition to the canon of research for both Heidegger and Jünger.
Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Second Untimely Meditation (INM) is a translation by Ullrich Haase and Mark Sinclair of a seminar conducted by Martin Heidegger in Freiburg over the Winter Semester 1938-39. Originally published as GA 46, the text consists of a collection of lecture notes and diagrams that loosely correspond to the topical sections of Nietzsche’s essay. Throughout the course Heidegger deepens his critique of Nietzsche, revisits the question of animal life, offers a lengthy reflection on the connection between truth and justice, and extends his reflections on the unity of temporality, historicality, and Being.
The title describes the contents perfectly: these lectures record Heidegger’s thoughts on Nietzsche’s “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.” Readers should be familiar with the latter work to get the most out of Heidegger’s text. Needless to say, readers will also want to know a fair bit of Heidegger, starting with Being and Time (BT), but The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (FCM), and Contributions to Philosophy: From Enowning are also advised. While Nietzsche scholars may find some items of interest, and should take Heidegger’s overall critique seriously (more below), this text will be primarily of use for scholars and students of Heidegger.
These lectures appear at the tail end of Heidegger’s decade-long rumination on Nietzsche’s philosophy, a period also marked by Heidegger’s so-called Turn (Kehre). In Being and Time it’s clear that Dasein oscillates between authenticity and inauthenticity, but through the Turn Heidegger began to view these transitions historically through the destiny (Geschick) of Beyng (written so in order to accentuate the verbal, eventful meaning of the term). That history is punctuated by certain epochal figures, of which Nietzsche is the last, marking the transition from the ‘first’ to the ‘other’ beginning. The sort of considerations that guide Heidegger’s thinking through the turn are not the focus of this text but they are evident as background assumptions that shape certain lines of questioning. As Haase and Sinclair note in an insightful article that can be read as a companion piece to the book[i], Heidegger alters his approving evaluation of Nietzsche in Being and Time[ii] to a more confrontational mode in these lectures.
It’s refreshing, given the expansive nature of some of Heidegger’s other writing from the period, to find a text so focused on a single topic. While often repetitive and enigmatic, the text is content to take its cues from Nietzsche’s essay and simply to reflect on what is offered. Rather than itemize these all and run down a list, I’m going to review some of the most important themes so that readers get a sense for what the text at its best can offer.
Nietzsche begins his second Untimely Meditation (UM) famously envying the cattle in pasture for their incessant forgetfulness. These meager creatures with their uninspiring lives achieve an effortless happiness, while we, even in our most joyful moments, suffer the awareness that all moments necessarily pass. The cause of this melancholic existence is our inability to forget, which is why we are historical and animals unhistorical. This distinction marks Heidegger’s first major point of contention. It is incorrect to call animals unhistorical, he says. Just as only beings who exist essentially with others can be alone, and only beings who are essentially determined by speech can be silent, so Heidegger claims that only essentially historical beings can exist unhistorically: “only that which is historical can be unhistorical”.[iii] Rather than unhistorical, Nietzsche’s cattle lack history altogether, Heidegger says.[iv] This is not just a pedantic point, for important consequences follow.
Nietzsche’s analysis implies that humans and animals occupy distant points along a continuum, from total forgetting to total remembering (later in his essay Nietzsche worries about an oversaturation of historical knowledge). For Nietzsche, the key is not to settle at some sensible mid-point, but to acquire a horizon that let’s one retain just the proper amount of historical consciousness necessary for life.[v] Heidegger complains that this encourages us to think that the problem is one of how much or what sort of things to forget, whereas there is a kind of forgetfulness that characterizes Dasein’s inauthentic, unhistorical way of being that has nothing to do with the amount or kind of memories Dasein retains. In fact, Heidegger says, being unhistorical is itself a way of being historical, in parallel with (or as another way of framing) the relation between authentic and inauthentic existence. After the Turn, machination and reification take over the role played by inauthenticity, where rather than structural features of Dasein these are increasingly understood as being-historical tendencies in the destiny of Western metaphysics. These lectures explain that we ought to understand Dasein’s unhistorical being not as some nearer approximation to animal life but as contemporary Dasein’s inauthentic way of being historical.
This is important because contemporary Dasein is unhistorical despite a flood of historical information and historical awareness. The massive increase in historical knowledge—Heidegger and Nietzsche agree—is not the result of exogenous improvements in the technology for discovering and disseminating historical facts (quite the reverse actually) but due to contemporary Dasein’s dominant self-interpretation as historical. Contemporary Dasein has so much historical information because it seeks it out and interprets itself accordingly. The rise of historicism in the German academy only reflected the rise in historical consciousness through which Western Dasein increasingly came to understand itself over the course of the 19th century. Many of Heidegger’s and Nietzsche’s contemporaries believed that this increase in historical awareness and information resulted in a manner of conduct and self-evaluation showing unique historical sophistication, as if modern Dasein were more in touch with its history than its ancestors. Heidegger and Nietzsche both dispute this idea. For Heidegger, it is clear that our scientific mode of framing and retaining historical knowledge– not the amount or kind–paradoxically blinds us to our historical existence. We know ever more about the past but by this very mode of knowing turn away from it.
In Being and Time Heidegger believed that this mutual distrust of historical science indicated a deeper philosophical agreement with Nietzsche. He claims that Nietzsche’s distinction between three modes of history—monumental, antiquarian, and critical[vi]–shows that Nietzsche had achieved—though left unsaid—an insight into the original unity of authentic temporality. Nietzsche claimed that the historicism of his day overlooked the fact that history is in service to life, and Heidegger seemed to detect an affinity between this claim and his own warnings against scientism as the de-worlded representation of beings in the mode of the present-to-hand.
A decade later, these lectures show that Heidegger has substantially revised his understanding of Nietzsche’s project. Rather than revealing the ground of authentic historicality, Nietzsche now represents the final forgetting of Being. Specifically, Heidegger believes that, behind an ostensible critique of science and objective historiology, Nietzsche surreptiously announces the culmination of the scientific, technological enframing of Being.
The first sign of this re-evaluation is obvious in early sections of the text. Nietzsche argued that the proper approach to history should strive for the right balance of memory and forgetting. Specifically, historical memory ought to be measured by the life-affirming values it enhances in the present–via inspiration, reverence, and liberation, corresponding to the three modes of history. Heidegger reflects on different kinds of memory and forgetting–anticipating such distinctions as semantic, episodic, and observer memory–but the general conclusion is that Nietzsche only understands memory as ‘making present’ and thereby conceals its essence. Heidegger points as evidence to Nietzsche’s conflation of Historie with Geschichte. Historie for Heidegger is more than just the academic writing of history, and might better be described as telling history, something constitutive of any human community. In Being and Time he argues that it is important that such telling arise as an authentic expression of Dasein’s gechichtliches way of being grounded in ecstatic temporality. In these sections of INM Heidegger’s comments seem trade on a distinction familiar from Husserl. Husserl distinguished Gegenwärtigung from Vergegenwärtigung, the latter often translated by the somewhat clumsy ‘presentifying.’ Memory–or ‘recollection’–is a paradigmatic ‘presentifying’ act for Husserl, an act which presents its object as absent in its absence. Husserl was clear that presentifying acts presuppose and take as their content prior, original intuitive presentations, so recollective acts are founded on and take as their content direct, intuitive retentions. Heidegger, both here and in Being and Time, argues that a similar relation obtains between the telling of Historie and Dasein’s original, geschichtliches way of being. Heidegger does not mean of course that Historie is answerable to Geschichte in the way that propositions are answerable to facts. “Mere making present and remembering are fundamentally different,” he explains, later clarifying that to ‘make present’ is to ‘take up into the present,’ whereas ‘to remember’ is “placing oneself into that which has been and as belonging to it”.[vii] So unlike Husserl, who grounded recollective memory on intuitive perceptions, Heidegger’s Historie is grounded in Dasein’s ontological involvement with or (as he frequently puts it in this text) ‘belonging to’ the past. Nietzsche, by effectively writing Geschichte out of Historie, erases Dasein’s ontological foundation in the past. Whatever meaning the past has for Nietzsche is written back into it from the present, and whatever has no present use ought to be ‘forgotten.’[viii] There are parallels here (not coincidentally, given that these texts are composed in the same period) to the way that enframing in the mode of Gestell projects the being of beings as standing reserve for the will, so ‘making present’ in Nietzsche’s sense displays a similar enframing projection of the past.
There are more entries on life in this text than on any other topic. In Being and Time Heidegger implicitly associates Nietzsche’s thinking about history with Wilhelm Dilthey’s philosophy of life and defense of the originality of Geistwissenschaften, but especially following the rigorous analysis of life in FCM, Heidegger no longer thinks that life is an appropriate concept for understanding Dasein’s way of being and has concluded that Nietzsche’s thinking about life stands directly opposed to Dasein’s fundamental historicity. Many of the statements about life in this text repeat the analysis from a decade earlier. Animals are ‘captivated’ by their milieu (Umfeld) whereas Dasein understands its ‘environment’ (Umwelt). Animality, says Heidegger, is not grounded in any intrinsic property of organisms but by the ‘absorbtion’ and mutual determination of organism and environment. Although this should not be understood causally, animals are merely responsive to their environment whereas Dasein is in some sense free. Animals do not transcend their milieu and so are “bound to the moment”.[ix] By elevating life to the name of being as a whole, Nietzsche projects all of being through this totalizing presentism.
Heidegger’s claims about animality remain controversial and the focus of ongoing research.[x] Scholars will not find anything in this set of lectures to contradict or add nuance to claims about the ‘world-poor’ existence of animals. However, readers will acquire better insight into the kinds of considerations that motivated Heidegger to undertake those analyses in the first place and the context they occupy for him. Recent interest in Heidegger’s remarks about animality has been driven by growing contemporary attention to animal rights and a broader critique of anthropocentrism, but as this text makes clear, those are not part of the frame that Heidegger brings to these issues. Instead, this text shows that foremost in his mind is combatting–what Heidegger believed to be–the confusions and regressions of Lebensphilosophie, historicism, scientism, rationalism, and the technological projection of being. He is especially concerned to awaken an attunement to the existential potential of historically transcendent Dasein. Richard Polt, in a recent lecture at Emory University organized around the Black Notebooks, states that during this period Heidegger began to interpret the barbarism around him as a regression to a form of animality that formed the counterpart to the calculative rationality of enframing.[xi] This sentiment is consistent with what one finds in INM.
This text also covers ground familiar from Heidegger’s more famous writings on technology and earlier set of lectures on Nietzsche. Looking beneath the surface of Nietzsche’s frequent critique of consciousness, moral motivations, and objective truth, Heidegger claims to find an even purer expression of modern rationalism. As Heidegger would explain in the Question Concerning Technology (QCT), what defines technological rationalism is not consciousness per se but the projection of being as standing reserve for the encompassing presentism of the subjectum. Nietzsche’s ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ might undermine the epistemic self-certainty of consciousness but only to the effect of extinguishing any remaining resistance from beings themselves to ‘life’ and thus the erasure of being into nothing. Being itself is nothing but the projection of life. Thus “despite the enmity with Descartes,” Heidegger writes, Nietzsche “only replaces the cogito by a vivo and thereby raises the subjectum to the highest level of preeminence”.[xii] This story, as I’ve mentioned, will be familiar to readers of Heidegger’s other writings on Nietzsche and technology, but this text adds a specifically historical inflection to that critique.
That inflection sets the context for one of the more noteworthy sections of the text where we find Heidegger offering a sustained reflection on justice. The original connection–between life, truth, history, and justice–is not Heidegger’s but Nietzsche’s. In UM, Nietzsche describes, in his usual complex way, the drive for an austere objectivity in history as a kind of justice. Unlike other areas of science, we cannot remain indifferent to the results of history. (Feigned indifference, modeled on scientific dispassion or aesthetic indifference, always dissembles ulterior, self-aggrandizing motives, Nietzsche believes). I have no particular stake in the specific atomic weight of some element, but to discover that the revered founder of my country was a kleptocratic murderer, or that your friends have never really respected you, can be profoundly affecting. It requires a rare and special sort of fortitude, Nietzsche imagines, to look directly at historical truth nonetheless, calling that a kind of justice. Normally, Nietzsche assumes, we use the past for precedents and excuses, for scapegoats and reassurance, a tendency at both the individual and collective level. Those few who are not seduced by such drives possess what Nietzsche calls a “dreadful virtue” that confers the right to be a “regulating and punishing judge”.[xiii] But even this drive for justice must be wed to an artistic drive to create lest it undermine the very life it expresses. As Heidegger explains, Nietzsche’s notion of justice is not about what is or has been but about possibility, the ability to posit new goals and ideals.[xiv] Without such goals, this dreadful justice only destroys. Nietzsche points to the withering effects historical criticism had had on the spiritual power of religious figures like Jesus, and today we might point to contemporary histories that turn an unflinching eye toward the details of the oppressive and unjust legacies of our own past. When in service to a life-affirming ideal, the dreadful virtue of historical honesty can be creative, but most of us never achieve or even aspire to such historical virtue. Instead, we are motivated by “boredom, envy, vanity, the desire for amusement,” etc.[xv] Nietzsche mocks the careful historians of his day (and he could easily be talking about our own) for judging the deeds and opinions of the past by standards of the present and calling that ‘objectivity,’ work he derides as the attempt “to adapt the past to contemporary triviality”.[xvi]
In Being and Time Heidegger saw in this accusation of banal anachronism a connection to his own critique of publicness, but in these lectures he finds something else. The drive towards justice–even the austere, virtuous kind that Nietzsche admires (and would practice with his method of genealogy–belongs rather to life than truth. Nietzsche will persist using the word ‘truth’, but Heidegger argues that his failure to see past metaphysics nullifies his right to that term. Nietzsche’s claims to truth are a ruse: “The will to truth belongs to “life” and in this belonging it is precisely the will to untruth, to appearance.[xvii] Truth is really untruth, which is to say, no truth at all, only life.
For all of his criticisms of how philosophers talk about truth, the need for truth remains one of Heidegger’s deepest and most persistent commitments. It is a commitment Nietzsche cannot share because, Heidegger claims, Nietzsche continues to think of truth through the metaphysical opposition of being and becoming.
“What Nietzsche here grasps as “will to truth”—always from the perspective of the human being—is it not simply the will to the “true,” that is, to what is “fixed,” and therefore precisely not will to truth as an essential will to the question-worthiness of the essence of the true?”[xviii]
For all of his ability to see through the pretensions and self-deceptions of philosophy, Nietzsche still cannot see how that which changes—that which has a history—can be true, and so he rejects truth—and with it, being—for the sake of something he calls life. (Heidegger includes several interesting asides cataloguing the inconsistent ambiguities in Nietzsche’s use of that term in connect with similar ambiguities in his uses of ‘justice’ and ‘truth.’)
Heidegger scholars will find this text frequently fascinating if also enigmatic and frustrating. As this review illustrates, it stays for the most part on the level of critique. But a positive understanding of being-historical is intimated between the lines of this critique, and begins with the aforementioned notion of historical truth. Understood within the framework of traditional epistemology the very idea is barely intelligible. How could truth change? Historical relativism or some sort of temporally-indexed contextualism are insufficient. Either way, truth itself is not ‘historical’ but relativized into fixed frame or constantly shifting perspective. This suggests that we should look elsewhere than traditional epistemology to get a sense of what truth as historical might mean. The first step is to recognize that truth is a guiding, constitutive feature of Dasein’s existence—lived out more than known, enacted rather than objectively grasped. As Haase and Sinclair note, this is a sense of being-historical already laid out in 1919/20 in Phenomenology of Religious Life. As I write, my country—the United States—confronts a deep crisis about the kind of country it has been, is, and will be. And familiar arguments over our history have once again become public (Are we an immigrant nation or an ethnic one? A liberal and progressive nation or reactionary and conservative?) It is a mistake to assume that the past is fixed, or that history unfolds a fixed essence. But it is equally wrong to assume that there is no ‘truth’ to the matter or that historical truth is confined to the present. The past not is a set of facts, but one ground for the possibility of meaning, a possibility that also includes the present and the future. The meaning, for instance, of the Constitutional Convention is not found only in the facts of what occurred in Philadelphia in 1787, but in the meaning that those facts continue to have today for those of us responsible to them, and that meaning in turn is not just found in the present facts of today but in who we become in the future. We right now are aware of all this right now and thus our present is this responsibility towards our future by way of our past. The truth is not something we create, nor something we find, but something for which we are responsible. It is—and this is my final observation—this notion of responsibility that Heidegger implies is missing from Nietzsche’s philosophy. For Nietzsche the past and the future are consumed by a drive for power into a totalizing present: “‘life’ is posited in advance as life-intensification, as the consuming desire for victory, spoils, and power, which in and of itself means: always more power”.[xix] Is this a hint at Heidegger’s so-called subtle ‘resistance’ to National Socialism in his Nietzsche lectures? If so, it is an important datum for intellectual historians trying to gauge Heidegger’s precise sympathies, but all the same, must strike us now as pathetic and insufficient.
[i] Haase, Ullrich and Sinclair, Mark. “History and the Meaning of Life: On Heidegger’s Interpretations of Nietzsche’s 2nd Untimely Meditation.” Heidegger in the Twenty-First Century. Springer: 2015.
[ii] See especially BT, Division II, Ch. 5.
[iii] INM, 24.
[iv] “The animal is not unhistorical, but much rather without history [historielos] – and these are not the same.” (INM, 24). See also: “The human being is in its very essence characterized and distinguished by the historical. At the same time, the unhistorical has a primacy within human life.” (INM, 18)
[v] “A living thing can be healthy, strong, and fruitful only when bounded by a horizon.” (UM, 63). Heidegger questions why Nietzsche seems to equate the ‘horizon limitation’ with ‘being able to forget.’ (INM, 115)
[vi] See UM.
[vii] INM, 33. And elsewhere: “representing–bringing before oneself–derives from a mere making present (free and unrestrained) which is not carried and goverened by remembering (the being concerned by what has been, being affected by it)” (INM, 92).
[viii] “…for Nietzsche, ‘history’–when he does not simply equate it with historiology–is what first of all comes into being by means of objectification on the part of historiology” (INM, 78).
[ix] INM, 16.
[x] See Calarco, Matthew. Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida. New York: Columbia UP, 2008; Derrida, Jacques, Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Geoffrey Bennington. The Beast & the Sovereign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011; Padui, Raoni. “From the Facticity of Dasein to the Facticity of Nature: Naturalism, Animality, and Metontology.” Gatherings. The Heidegger Circle Annual, 3 (2013): 50–75; Tanzer, Mark. “Heidegger on Animality and Anthropocentrism.” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 47.1 (2015): 18-32;
[xi] “Inception, Downfall, and the Broken World: Heidegger Above the Sea of Fog.” In Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks”: Responding to Anti-Semitism, ed. Andrew J. Mitchell and Peter Trawny. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming 2017.
[xii] INM, 114.
[xiii] UM, 88.
[xiv] See INM, 144-5.
[xv] UM, 88.
[xvi] UM, 90.
[xvii] INM, 118.
[xviii] INM, 119.
[xix] INM, 178.