David Farrell Krell: Ecstasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks

Esctasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks Book Cover Esctasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks
SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
David Farrell Krell
State University of New York Press
August 2015
Hardcover $75.00

Reviewed by: Donovan Irven (Purdue University)

Writing this review was difficult, but perhaps not as difficult as reading the Black Notebooks appears to have been for David Krell. Based on Krell’s 2014 Brauer Lectures in German Studies, given at Brown University, Ecstasy, Catastrophe proceeds in two parts. It begins with excellent and nuanced analyses of sections 65-68 of Being and Time, which we have come to expect from Krell, before descending into dire lamentations over the content of the notorious notebooks from the 1930s and -40s.

Krell has been interested in Heidegger’s ecstatic interpretation of temporality for much of his career and returns to the topic here to show the seemingly inexhaustible fruits of reading Being and Time. I want to focus on this aspect of the book before turning to the latter half involving the Black Notebooks, because these two divisions could not be more different in tone and content. It seems Krell was disrupted in his work on Being and Time by the publication and reception of the Black Notebooks, and decided interrogate them at length despite their lack of emphasis on ecstatic time. I myself have not read these notebooks in their entirety, though I have read large excerpts, both the original German and in English translation. I will try, later in this review, to comment on both the strength and shortcomings of Krell’s treatment of the decidedly polarizing Black Notebooks, but will do so somewhat tentatively as I await the publication of the English translation in April 2016.

When it comes to interpreters of Heidegger, Krell is well established as a leader in the field, thanks to his masterful work on the Nietzsche lectures and the thoughtful commentaries contained therein. He continues this legacy here in prose that is conversational and largely accessible, even for Heidegger scholarship. This style is in part due to the fact that the book began as lectures, but it also stems from Krell’s familiarity with the material, which he is able to relate casually, authoritatively, and with insightful examples. While Krell is interested primarily in the appearance of Ekstase(n) in Heidegger’s text, he is also extremely sensitive to the peripheral – but no less significant – deployment of Entrückungen, which is related to the “sudden seizures,” “rapid removals,” or “raptures” of time. Readers familiar with Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche and Krell’s commentaries know well that the idea of rapture figures heavily in them, and we see this theme articulated with great care here in Ecstasy, Catastrophe. We are therefore asked to think at length on the suddenness of the ecstases of time, where it sheds light on another of Heidegger’s more difficult ideas, that of the Augenblicklichkeit, or the instantaneousness of those moments that, in the blink of an eye, transport us beyond ourselves. Transcendence is thus a key concept here, and Heidegger strives to show an immanent form of transcendence in the temporality of Dasein as it oversteps itself in its temporal being.

Krell focuses mostly on the work of Heidegger in Being and Time, but there are excellent scholarly passages which connect Heidegger to previous thinkers of ecstasis; notably Schelling, St. Augustine, Plato, and Aristotle. One of the most jarring and revelatory sections of argumentation concerns what Krell views as the source of Heidegger’s understanding of ecstasis in Aristotle. Krell makes a strange argument that a key passage from Aristotle’s Physics, starting at 222b 15, is the basis for Heidegger’s understanding of ecstatic time. This argument is fascinating due to what Krell perceives as a lack of attention to this specific passage and notes that Heidegger’s silence on it is “mysterious.” Yet when one reads the passage, which refers “to what has departed from its former state in an imperceptible time,” and that, “change itself is a departure, whereas it is only accidentally the cause of becoming and of being” (17), we cannot help but, with Krell, see the germ of Heidegger’s interest in the ecstases of time.

Krell’s text is valuable too for its attention to the plurality of ecstases in Heidegger’s work, although much of this material is rehashed from his earlier work Intimations of Mortality. Krell leans heavily on this text at the start of his analysis, and so I occasionally found myself demanding something new from my initial reading. Krell delivers on this demand in the second chapter, where he makes a significant departure from his earlier work on the temporal unfolding of anxiety as one moment of ecstasy that, Krell had earlier argued, resists depiction. Here, Krell treats us to an interpretation of anxiety-as-preparation, preparation for the required leap into thinking that Heidegger will increasingly emphasize as he continues to work on temporality throughout the 1930s. This is where Krell offers his most strident criticisms of Heidegger, arguing that anxiety and resoluteness relate in a vicious circle, and not the saving hermeneutical circle on which Heidegger hangs much of his hopes in Being and Time. I cannot rehearse this argument in full, but I think it warrants serious consideration and is illuminating in the way it prefigures Heidegger’s “turn.” The short of it is that anxiety must come out of nowhere, it must be sudden, and thus there is no way to ready ourselves for it in resoluteness the way Heidegger seems to require. Krell turns to the treatment of fundamental boredom in the 1929 lecture course translated as The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and reads this as an attempt by Heidegger to ameliorate the damning circle initiated in Being and Time. As far as I can tell, Krell does not think Heidegger is successful in this attempt, and it ushers in some of the more troublesome moves Heidegger makes in the 1930s, beginning, at least, in the Beitrage. I think perhaps Krell lays too much blame on this one moment in Heidegger’s thought for those problems, nevertheless, his discussion shows great attention to the texts and marshals an impressive interpretation that makes judicious use of insights from Kierkegaard and Derrida. This section is one of the most interesting and difficult of the text, and deserves some close attention for those who are interested in the shortcomings of Heidegger’s arguments.

Another fascinating element of this text involves Krell’s analysis of “the other end” of Dasein, that is, where Heidegger treats birth and nascence over death and dying. Heidegger is so well-known for his philosophizing on death, that I was sent back to Being and Time to make sure the passages Krell indicates were actually there. They are, of course, and Krell breathes new life into these passages. However, one of the weaker sections of the book commences with a flight of fancy in which we are to imagine Being and Time rewritten with birth in mind over death. I think this part suffers from the lecture format, as Krell deploys the tactics of a novelist here, and those stylistic choices are better suited to a less conversational tone. The result is that some of the analysis comes off a bit flat, and the philosophical rigor of the text becomes slightly less apparent. I did enjoy the break, and the dialogue with James Joyce and Merleau-Ponty that accompanies the sections, but, as a novelist myself, I think the section could have stood a bit more stylistic nuance that may not be conducive to philosophical lectures.

While I’m being critical, one more dissension. Krell heavily criticizes Heidegger’s use of ipse selfhood in Being and Time. While it is true that Heidegger himself will later caution that Being and Time can lead to a “subjectivistic” interpretation, I do not know that his analysis dooms him to the same mistakes as if he would have committed to terms such as “spirit, soul, body, person, personality, and subject,” as Krell seems to think. I may be more generous with Heidegger on this point due to the influence of Paul Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another on my own thought, however, and I tend to think the emphasis on ipse selves over an idem self successfully avoids the pitfalls Krell condemns.

With this said, I can highly recommend the first half of Ecstasy, Catastrophe as continuing a fruitful dialogue with Being and Time. Insofar as Krell set out to show the fruitfulness of that text, and to further develop themes that recur throughout his writing, I think he is largely successful. Novice students of Heidegger will find a powerful exposition of some of the more difficult aspects of Being and Time, which are always clearly discussed without over-reliance on the jargon we associate with Heideggerese. There are always clear signposts that connect Heidegger’s body of work, and advanced scholars interested in ecstasis and temporality will find valuable resources in Krell’s analysis. Then, unfortunately, we turn to the Black Notebooks.

Reading the Black Notebooks was an arduous task for Krell, and he finds almost no philosophical value in them. He catalogues with despair the bleak antagonisms of Heidegger toward anything and everything. Of course, there are the few passages of explicit anti-Semitism, amounting to about five pages in over a thousand of text, but there are additionally frequent polemics against Americans, Bolsheviks, Germans, and on and on. Heidegger is seemingly anti-everything, and makes sweeping generalizations about the dire state of the world that are difficult to square with the philosophical rigor exhibited in his other work. I was recently able to question John Sallis1 on this aspect of Krell’s book, and Sallis was largely in agreement: that reading the Black Notebooks is unpleasant at best, and at worst, a damning example of just how thoughtless Heidegger was capable of being – even when we must still admire his philosophical efforts elsewhere. It becomes clear that writing the first part of Ecstasy, Catastrophe became, for Krell, very much an effort to prove that there was still value to Heidegger’s work, especially Being and Time, in the face of the Black Notebook’s publication.

One very lucid idea occurs in the latter half of Ecstasy, Catastrophe, however, that I think demands emphasis and bears repeating. It is easy to condemn Heidegger, the Nazi and anti-Semite. He is dead, cannot defend himself, his thoughtlessness and inability to self-criticize are in themselves contemptible, and made all the more so by his continual demands that we all need to be more earnestly thoughtful. Hypocrisy does not begin to describe this behavior. But we must not use the condemnation of Heidegger as an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for being ever-so enlightened while at the same time refusing to look in the mirror and take stock of our own damning failures. I’ll let readers do this uncomfortable work for themselves, but a brief survey of the American political scene this election cycle, the immigration crisis in Europe and certain responses to it, to name a few instances, will show just the sort of things of which we ought to be self-critical. Certainly, we cannot let Heidegger’s failings become our own.

And yet, I cannot help but see something of a performance in the Black Notebooks, what Babette Babich has recently suggested is an attempt to realize the kind of work found in Nietzsche’s Nachlass, which Heidegger may have pursued in a play for posthumous notoriety. It may be that I am not yet ready to give up on Heidegger; though I realize that when you have worked with a thinker as long as Krell has, only to be bombarded at this late hour with the absolute worst of him, it must be so difficult to find, yet again, a space, not for excuses, but for patience if not forgiveness. Indeed, Krell remarks repeatedly that Heidegger is both unforgiving in his writing, and that the result is further unforgiving in the manner it reveals Heidegger trapped in the everyday discourse of the Nazi They-self that plagued German culture at the time.

I am tasking myself with patience. These are, after all, only the first three volumes of Black Notebooks. I remain, perhaps foolishly, hopeful that later editions, written in the 1950s and -60s, will shed some light on the extreme darkness that threatens to cast Heidegger into an unredeemable catastrophe. Krell’s book is aptly named, and his bleak assessment of the Black Notebooks is a sobering reminder of the human, all too human side of the philosophers that we, as scholars, seek after in thought. Krell himself exhibits a bit of Heidegger emulation, living as he does in Germany. That must make it all the more unbearable to read the thoughtlessness contained in the recent editions of the Black Notebooks. But I would like to try, perhaps in vain, to make reading them into something worthwhile, even if only to humanize a thinker that far too many of us tend to lionize. In that, I may be more in line with Babich, who, in a forth coming book chapter,2 attempts to think philosophically through some of the more difficult and potentially damning portions of the Black Notebooks. Krell is not up for this task, alas, it seems too painful for him. And perhaps it is madness to expect anyone to continue on, raging at the dying of the light that once so brilliantly lit up a clearing in which we were all enjoined to think anew. Perhaps it would be better (though now it is I who is unwilling) to abandon Heidegger scholarship for the more noble task of thinking. After all, isn’t that what Heidegger would do?3


1. At the Catholic University of America’s conference on Philosophy and Poetry in Washington, D.C. This conversation occurred on 19 February 2016.

2. She recently posted this on her Academia.edu page: Babich, “The New Heidegger,” https://www.academia.edu/21486726/The_New_Heidegger

3. Calvin O. Schrag has, on many occasions, told me of the letter he received from Heidegger upon the founding of the Heidegger Circle, that, to Heidegger, it would have been better to start a circle whose task was to attempt to think…

Martin Heidegger: Hegel

Hegel Book Cover Hegel
Studies in Continental Thought
Martin Heidegger - Translated by Joseph Arel and Niels Feuerhahn
Indiana University Press

Reviewed by: Donovan Irven (Purdue University)

Heidegger’s Hegel

This installment in the Studies in Continental Thought series from Indiana University Press continues the recent string of excellent translations of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, bringing volume 68 of the German Klostermann editions to English readers for the first time. Heidegger’s slim volume on Hegel belongs to the third division of the Gesamtausgabe, “Unpublished Treatises: Addresses-Ponderings,” of which Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) was the first to appear. The recent (2012) retranslation of the Beiträge as Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) seems to have marked a renewed commitment to Heidegger’s oeuvre by the IU Press, as well as the broad acceptance of an approach to translation that has greatly enhanced the general readability of Heidegger’s work in English. This review will do three things: 1) address the strengths and weaknesses of Hegel as a work of translation; 2) at times, briefly situate Hegel among Heidegger’s overall project; and, 3) confront the text itself as a treatment of Hegel in the context of Heidegger’s all-important Seinsfrage, or the question of Being.

As a work of translation, Joseph Arel and Niels Feuerhahn do an admirable job of rendering this often dense and sometimes fragmented work in more or less accessible English. The well-known and much-lamented difficulty in translating Heidegger is the way in which he plays on German grammar and the associations among roots, prefixes, and suffixes that dominate the technical, philosophical vocabulary of the German schools, and German Idealism after Wolff and Leibniz in particular throughout Hegel. Arel and Feuerhahn demonstrate a real sensitivity to this difficulty, especially where Heidegger makes crucial connections from Kant, to Hegel, to his own work – something of a recurrent theme in this text. Where Heidegger plays on the meaning of prefixes by deploying hyphenations, the translators preserve the hyphenation in English when they are afforded a basically direct correlation between German and English. Where this is not possible, as it often is not, the translator’s have opted to include the German in brackets to clue readers in on Heidegger’s game, while providing a sensible English alternative that allows readers to more intuitively grasp the moves Heidegger makes. I generally agree with this approach, as it benefits both readers who have a knowledge of German and those who do not. Those with serious interest in Heidegger should know some German, and the indication of the original text is illuminating. However, even the most scholastic of Heidegger scholars must appreciate the benefits of a readable English text that does not constantly disrupt the reader with bizarre and unintuitive locutions and neologisms, throwing the reader out of the flow of the text and making it even more difficult to follow the line of thought therein. The translators navigate this pitfall adroitly, and when the text suffers I think the fault is Heidegger’s and not his translators. Let Heidegger do the work and lay his own traps. Successful translators of Heidegger allow the slow and tedious transformation of concepts to unfold as Heidegger seems to have intended without attempting to shoehorn ready-made interpretations into unnecessary and distracting neologisms and ugly faux German hyphenation schemes. Arel and Feuerhahn are successful far more often than not.

With that said, Hegel is certainly a book for students of Heidegger or Hegel, and not at all a good general introduction to Heidegger’s philosophy, and even less so to philosophy generally. Without some basic knowledge of Heidegger’s project, readers would quickly become lost in this text. Some basic knowldege of Hegel is only marginally less important, and greatly aids in making the text accessible. Even still, some of this book is extremely challenging, for reasons that differ wildly depending on the part of the text under consideration.

Hegel is split in two, the first part composed between 1938-39 and revisited in 1941. The second part dates from 1942 and deals at length with the Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in a much fuller and more robust style than is exhibited in the first part. Arel and Feuerhahn do well to make clear the sources of Heidegger’s Hegel, as well as outline their general approach to translation, in their brief introduction. Again, the problems of producing a proper scholarly edition of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe are well-known and documented. The Heidegger estate, executed by his son Hermann, does not allow what they deem to be extraneous or otherwise excessive scholarly apparatuses to be attached to the work of the Father, who is considered the final word on all matters philosophical. Thus, even in English, Heidegger’s works lack helpful indexes (something set to change with the publication of the first volume of Black Notebooks this spring, 2016), or extensive interpretive introductions. I suppose I can do without the interpretations, though an index would be a great boon to all Gesamtasugabe editions. Nevertheless, Arel and Feuerhahn have worked within these parameters to provide some helpful context and clarify their decisions regarding translations in a brief introduction.

The first part of Hegel is fragmentary and comes from notes Heidegger was preparing for an oral presentation to a small gathering of colleagues. Whether or not Heidegger ever delivered these remarks on “Negativity” remains unclear. However, there are striking connections to other works on nihilism (the Nietzsche lectures, his 1955 essay in celebration of Ernst Junger translated as “On the Question of Being” in Pathmarks, and, in particular, his 1957 lectures published as Identity and Difference, which Heidegger himself viewed as among the most important of his works after Being and Time) and also to the 1942-43 essay published as “Hegel’s Concept of Experience” in Off the Beaten Track. The latter essay reiterates Heideggers meditations on the meaning of Hegel’s addition of the word “experience” to his subtitle “Science of the Experience of Consciousness” in the 1807 edition of the Phenomenology of Spirit. In his Hegel book, Heidegger works out the history of Hegel’s manipulations of the title and fixes his analysis on uncovering the importance of “experience” to the phenomenon of consciousness central to the Hegelian system. This later emphasis on experience stems from his engagement with Hegel at the end of Being and Time, where Hegel was deployed in an effort to work out the transcendence of Dasein; ultimately, the view that Dasein is itself the transcendent, since it is the Dasein that exists temporally as that which oversteps itself. However, for the remainder of the 1920s, Heidegger largely shifts his focus to Kant and, in 1929, publishes Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, a text that marks the end of the Being and Time era and in which we see the first signals of the turn toward the truth of Being and the history of Beyng. Heidegger does not seriously concern himself with Hegel again until 1930-31, when he gives a winter seminar on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

In Hegel, Heidegger again returns to the thinker of absolute Spirit in his private pondering, and attempts to trace the development of Hegel’s system, as well as the bearing of Hegelian philosophy on Heidegger’s own project. The text is remarkable for its clear elucidation of Hegel’s shifting system of logic and the role his Phenomenology plays in the overall system. The first part of Heidegger’s short book is fragmentary, and those not intimately familiar with Heidegger’s project will find that it offers them very little. It is certainly provocative, and therein is really the value – not that Heidegger gives us the answers to questions concerning the “correct” interpretation of Hegel, but rather that Heidegger makes brief pronouncements on Hegel that spur us on to think more deeply and critically about the issues at hand. Less frustrating, and much more fully developed, are the comments Heidegger makes concerning the fundamental negation at the heart of Hegel’s logic, wherein self-conscious being must enact a negation in order to stand out from its surroundings, but then covers over this negation in the disclosure of beings that appear to it. If Heidegger does violence to Hegel’s text, it is certainly where he tries to find traces of his own ideas about the ontological distinction and the covering over of Being, its withdrawal in the wake of the appearance of things. However, when read carefully, these sections give us powerful insight into Heidegger’s philosophical inspiration and the source of his ideas, which are certainly new and exciting for his time, but are also deeply immersed in and connected with the history of metaphysics.

The second half of the book is much fuller and more developed, and it deals with Hegel’s Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit in detail, going paragraph by paragraph through the text to give very clear exegesis while simultaneously developing his own insights through this “confrontation” with Hegel. There are strong resonances here with the lecture course from 1930-31, with what is published a year later as “Hegel’s Concept of Experience,” and, in addition, a robust commentary on the relationship between transcendence and dialectic in Hegel’s understanding of the experience of consciousness (self-consciousness). Heidegger rigorously exposes self-consciousness as a journey, which begins with a painful separation from the self and continues down the path opened by absolute spirit, lighted by the “ray” that connects an individual consciousness with, effectively, the World Spirit. Whatever self might exist exists only insofar as it is a projection forth, but also then a rebounding back wherein the self comes to see itself as such by recognizing itself in the revelation of the things it cognizes. Although, surprisingly, Heidegger does not venture into the well-worn metaphor of Hegel’s “Odyssey,” there is an obvious parallel here between Heidegger’s own interpretation of Hegelian philosophy and that interpretation which reads absolute Spirit coming to see itself as such in terms of an Odyssey – a painful separation and journeying away from itself only to return to itself in the end as a self-conscious being.

For Heidegger, then, we best understand Hegel’s philosophy as the place where we can first see Dasein itself as the transcendent because of the dialectic procedure of self-consciousness as such, experienced as this journeying forth and back, that journey marking the transcendence of the Dasein itself. Of course, Heidegger does not claim that Hegel himself quite saw it that way. As always when dealing with the history of philosophy, Heidegger goes from delivering very clear and precising explanations of Hegel’s text, to then push that text further, developing his own unique insights from a critical engagement with past thinkers. Careful readers will have no problem parsing out these two threads within Heidegger’s writing, however, one does need to be careful, especially when this particular book exhibits its fragmentary character. I find that in those moments, where the text becomes provocative, annunciatory, quasi-poetic (though poorly poetic in poetry’s own terms), Heidegger is often exposing himself most fully, that is, putting forth his own unguarded thoughts without much in the way of explanation. Some readers will find this philosophically suspect, though regular readers of Heidegger and those familiar with this particular division of the Gesamtausgabe will no doubt be unsurprised by Heidegger’s style.

Before closing I do want to say that I think the Hegel book is most illuminating when considered in conjunction with the final chapter of The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, which translates a lecture course delivered in 1927, and is considered to be, in part, the scene of Heidegger’s informal completion of Being and Time where he gets to the destruction of metaphysics promised in his unfinished magnum opus. There, Heidegger talks about the temporalization of Dasein as a “stretching” that is the ontological basis of dimensionality itself. The stretch marks a very clear and explicit analysis of Dasein itself as the transcendent, and the notion of stretch makes a crucial contribution to Heidegger’s understanding of Hegelian dialectical procedure in the Hegel book. According to Heidegger in Hegel, Hegel errs and falls into the history of metaphysics exactly where he treats the transcendent as some being toward which we would overstep in an act of transcendence. Again, typical of Heidegger, Hegel is accused of not being mindful of the ontological distinction, and thus erroneously treats the transcendent as a being among other beings. What Heidegger has in mind, and again, this is made very clear in the 1927 lecture course and reiterated at length in Hegel, is that when we carry out the proper analytic of Dasein, we find that the transcendent is not some being toward which we overstep, but that the transcendent is in fact the very overstepping itself, which is exactly the dialectical procedure of Dasein’s own historical standing forth from Being. It is not surprising, then, that Heidegger is beginning to develop his philosophy in the direction of the history of Beyng at the same time he is seriously reengaging with Hegel’s philosophy. Here too, although it outstrips the purview of this review, we see why Heidegger is so enthused by Aristotle’s treatment of time and movement, which Heidegger reads as an essential phase in the understanding of Being as the temporality of Dasein’s transcendent essence.

In the end, this is an excellent translation of a difficult and sometimes frustrating work by Heidegger. Certainly an insightful text for students of German philosophy, the book suffers from its sometimes fragmentary character, which makes it mostly unsuitable for anyone not already familiar with Heidegger or Hegel. Those just coming to Heidegger, phenomenology, or Continental philosophy for the first time will do well to avoid this text lest they be frustrated by the depth of Heidegger’s commitment to the vocabulary of Hegel and Kant, as well as his sometime cryptic pronouncements on Hegel and Being. However, philosophers with serious interest in Heidegger, and in particular with Heidegger’s relationship with German Idealism and his own philosophical development during the crucial “turn” of the 1930s, will find this volume illuminating and occasionally inspiring.