In a recent review, Kate Hayles praises Catherine Malabou for admitting in Morphing Intelligence that she was “dead wrong” about some scholarly matter. While not begrudging Malabou her applause, most academics would have to admit the low cost of such an admission for a full professor invited to speak across the globe, and treated as a “celebrity,” as Malabou is. More praiseworthy is for younger academics, and those with unsubsidized careers in higher education’s hierarchy, to write that some prominent author is wrong. Those assertions can mean banishment from conferences, withdrawal of speaking invitations, and the like, since professional societies devoted (in the questionable sense) to major authors are understandably controlled almost always by an author’s fans, disciples, and sometimes family members. Speaking truth to yourself (a confession) and speaking truth to power is a distance similar to being winged in a Twitterstorm for your views and being “canceled.” None of this should be compared to the kind of courage, say, Alexey Navalny exhibits. That’s a different realm, but needs to be part of the context, lest academics damaged by schoolhouse politics slip into masochism.
The contributors to Interrogating Modernity demonstrate an inspiring irreverence and willingness to declare that the volume’s star, Hans Blumenberg, has gotten things wrong. That virtue makes for an admirable collection worthy of its subtitle. At this early stage—Blumenberg’s ashes were scattered only a quarter century ago—the scholarly work on Blumenberg has been uncritical, making Interrogating Modernity a refreshing novelty on the Blumenbergiana shelf.
Blumenberg’s followers have fashioned a mythic Blumenberg, portraying him as a mysterious intellectual Colossus, adopting Blumenberg’s own tendency later in his life toward self-aggrandizement. Thus, we have the film The Invisible Philosopher, for example. The followers’ strategy has upped the stakes for anyone who might question or criticize the great philosopher.
Willing to be heretical, the contributors to this volume refuse to be intimidated by The Wizard of Oz scenario fabricated by Blumenberg’s fans to promote knee-bending as opposed to scholarly spinefulness. The volume’s editors charged the authors with “putting [Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book that arguably launched Blumenberg’s international reputation] into dialogue with later versions of modernity” (vii). The editors insisted on rethinking issues Blumenberg raises in Legitimacy, and the contributors frequently exceed expectations in responding to the call for rethinking.
The first essay out the gate encapsulates all that is good about this book. It’s not a head-on meeting with Blumenberg’s Legitimacy. It’s creative. It takes risks. It could have failed. Here’s a taste of Bielik-Robson’s experimentation: “Although it does not mention Job explicitly, Hans Blumenberg’s reading of Descartes suggests this affinity very strongly” (4). Bielik-Robson resurrects an old-fashioned scholarly recipe: rub any two things together and see what sparks fly.
Bielik-Robson recognizes Job as a figure of “self-assertion,” a topos in Blumenberg. Unable to tie Blumenberg directly to Job, Bielik-Robson uses a side door. Blumenberg’s research counterpart in the Hermeneutik und Poetik group, Hans Robert Jauss, views “Job as the first hero of self-assertion” in his essay “Job’s Questions and Their Distant Reply” (6). This clever move allows Bielik-Robson the opportunity to demonstrate an incompleteness in Blumenberg’s attention to Descartes. In Legitimacy, Blumenberg acknowledges the importance of Descartes: “Descartes appear[s] not so much as the founding figure of the epoch as rather the thinker who clarified the medieval concept of reality all the way to its absurd consequences and thus made it ripe for destruction.” Blumenberg wants to downplay “the founding figure,” the singular Descartes,” in order to promote “the thinker,” synonymous with anyone who employs the method Descartes used to bring about the old reality’s destruction.
The new reality Descartes advocates post-destruction appeals to Blumenberg, because it involves principles of construction to philosophize. That is, Descartes emphasizes the form and conditions of thinking rather than the contingent content. Like Descartes, Blumenberg wants “reoocupation” to function as a transcendental model untainted by historical events, a point fleshed out in the last chapter by Whistler. Historical changes are to be explained by Blumenberg’s ahistorical model.
Descartes studies his “own self” in a room of his own, where it occurs to him “that frequently there is less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in one produced by a single hand.” The primacy of the individual thinker is Job redux. Bielik-Robson describes Job’s situation in memorable prose. Job’s story becomes important when “the anthropological minimum [Job] asserted itself for the first time against … the theological maximum [God]” (15). In a schoolbook, this might be described as individuality versus omnipotence.
Job becomes a synonym for “enough is enough!” (16). For Bielik-Robson, Job’s story is the journey of a patient moving toward health. “According to [Jonathan] Lear, the patient reaches the point of relative health when she is able to exclaim: ‘Oh, this is crap!’—which very nicely corresponds with Blumenberg’s take on Descartes, who may be said to have reacted in a similar way, by simply deciding to cut himself off emotionally from the theological morass and call deus fallax a ‘metaphysical fable’—basically, a very crappy story” (16). Unfortunately, Blumenberg’s focus on the meta-analysis instead of the patient means the trauma of being fed up is not given its due as a revolutionary catalyst (18).
Elad Lapidot’s “Legitimacy of Nihilism” juxtaposes Hans Jonas and Blumenberg. Lapidot argues that Blumenberg rejects Jonas’s critique of modernity as “the return of Gnosticism” (45). For Blumenberg’s taste, that would leave modernity without as radical a break as he wants. Blumenberg needs a way past the logic that “legitimacy enters the world through negation, through illegitimacy” (48). Modernity establishes its own legitimacy apart from the previous historical epoch. According to Lapidot, the New itself “is a category of entitlement and legitimation.”
Opposing not only Jonas but also Martin Heidegger, Blumenberg seeks to jettison a notion of continuity attached to a substance. Lapidot writes, “This original constant substance is the basic assumption of all critiques against any historical age” (45). Blumenberg is uninterested in substantialism. He is after something more radical. “The new has no other foundation but itself, and so its specific form of legitimacy is self-legitimization” (47). This antifoundationalism is partly what attracted Richard Rorty to Blumenberg (Rorty was an early Anglophone reviewer of Blumenberg’s Legitimacy book).
Lapidot’s essay pairs well with Daniel Whistler’s “Modernizing Blumenberg.” Whistler begins boldly: “[Blumenberg] gets modernity wrong” (257). According to Whistler, Blumenberg supplements modernist figures’ arguments for modernity’s legitimation, fashioning a case that the modernist figures themselves did not make.
Like Lapidot, Whistler reports that the continuity between the middle ages and modernity Blumenberg emphasizes is functional, but not substantive. In a way, it’s the old form versus content argument. Rather than seeing the two as dependent on other, Blumenberg elevates form over content, since that’s the airplane ticket out of any historical ruptures at ground level. Forms fly above temporality’s constraints. From such a height, anyone might have anticipated Blumenberg to look down on things. Thus, Whistler writes, “[I]t is hard not to discern a slight tone of condescension in Blumenberg’s narrative of modernity” (259).
By siding with form and functionality, Blumenberg asserts that his account offers a novel stability. Whistler: “[W]henever the content of history changes, the forms stay the same. Forms may themselves be changing slowly, but their inertia is sufficient for them to remain a stable reference point by which to make sense of any novelty in history” (263). Blumenberg is not content with the messiness of mere history. “Like Kant, Blumenberg considers his transcendental apparatus to be immutable, to exist outside of the frame of historical change and epochal transformation” (264). Whistler concludes that this viewpoint makes Blumenberg a “right Aristotelian” (268). Given Blumenberg’s allegiances to far-right ideas linked to Latinate Catholicism, Whistler’s “right Aristotelian” designation rings true. Blumneberg is a “conservative” (267).
In the chapter contrasting Bruno Latour and Blumenberg, Willem Styfhals understands Blumenberg as an “apologist” (77) for the ecological mess we are in, and decides Latour offers better options for the predicted apocalypse. “The apocalypse is an unstable, unbearable position that might be conceptually appealing but not practically endurable. This is what Blumenberg made crystal clear in Lebenszeit und Weltzeit as well as in Legitimacy. The apocalypse is so attractive because it allows us to see the world in a radically different perspective, liberates us from the old world for a moment. But this moment does not give rise to a stable and durable position in the world” (77). Syfhals has missed Frederic Jameson’s insight, cited in Slavoj Žižek’s Living in the End Times, that calls for distinguishing among apocalypses: “[I]t is easier to imagine a total catastrophe which ends all life on earth than it is to imagine a real change to capitalist relations” (334).
Latour does not see capitalism as the problem; it’s religion: “If modernity were not so deeply religious, the call to adjust oneself to the Earth would be easily heard.” (71). Thus, Styfhals says, “[W]e should develop a political theology of the environmental apocalypse” (61).
While Blumenberg published at least one book specifically about technology, it’s difficult to categorize any other of his major writings as confronting environmental issues in the way Styfhals does with his focus on Latour and the Anthropocene. No one would think of Blumenberg as a stand-in for Rachel Carson.
The fourth chapter by Joseph Albernaz and Kirill Chepurin also addresses the theme of political theology. Styfhals’s use of apocalypse in the previous chapter has its place in the fourth chapter. For anyone acquainted with televangelism, the continual announcement of forthcoming apocalypses is a staple of populist Christianity. No matter that a specific date for the rapture is given and then passes. That failure is overlooked while a new date for the end is announced. The misreading of signs can be chalked up to human fallibility rather than an indication of a flaw in “God’s plan.” Albernaz and Chepurin recognize that what becomes important for Christianity is not that the world didn’t end as predicted, but that it continues: “But as Christianity found itself needing to explain the world’s continued existence, it was also establishing itself … as a [worldly] power. As a result, it needed to justify not the end of the world, but its prolongation” (86). The Christian Church sets itself up “as the institution of the not-yet that is the world – as the institution ‘stabilizing’ this not-yet” (86).
Within this context of an ever-delayed apocalypse, Christians fashioned a God with unlimited sovereignty and omnipotence. However, by the late medieval period God’s characteristics became incomprehensible, “alien to consciousness,” according to Albernaz and Chepurin (88). In response to this affront to consciousness, human beings develop their own rationality to give themselves security that is comprehensible (91-92).
The deleterious effects of Christianity’s global power as explored by Albernaz and Chepurin also concern Lissa McCullough. Her essay makes the case that if you thought Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt were harmful, then you need to take a second look at John Locke (124). “Locke founded a new religion focused around the sacrality of proprietas in The Second Treatise on Government, while retaining in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) as much as was reasonably salvageable of the trappings of Christian faith to give the new religion a respectable pedigree, hitching it to . . . the authority of an apparent continuity with Jewish-Christian tradition (122). If you wonder why some people feel it legitimate to kill others for stealing, you can thank Locke for valorizing property over human lives. McCullough writes that Locke and his advocates managed to persuade numerous capitalists that the individual’s only incentive to consent to “join” society is to protect the property he has” (122).
McCullough sifts through Blumenberg to demonstrate Blumenberg’s allegiance to Locke’s valorization of property, despite Blumenberg’s efforts to make Locke seem insignificant to the massive scholarly buttresses Blumenberg uses to build his cases. Vital matters pivot on a reference to Locke in a footnote, for example. “[A]n extended footnote in Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) … proves a vein of gold when mined for its immense implications. This footnote expands on the notion of truth as a product of labour. In it, Blumenberg remarks that this sort of produced [constructed?] truth is truth that is legitimately one’s own. The possession to be taken” (110). McCullough’s hermeneutical attention shows Blumenberg’s participation in Locke’s scheme. Blumenberg contributes to overturning the Horatian view that what is natural is not something one can own: “Nor he, nor I, nor any man, is made/by Nature private owner of the soil” (111).
In addition to articles that confront Blumenberg’s arguments and politics, the collection features authors who affirm Blumenberg’s positions. Zeynep Talay Turner’s “Political Legitimacy and Founding Myths” corroborates Blumenberg’s criticism of Hannah Arendt in Blumenberg’s “Moses the Egyptian,” written around 1978. Turner writes, “As Freud took Moses the man from his people [Blumenberg says Freud “damaged” his people’s “self-confidence”], so Hannah Arendt took Adolf Eichmann from the State of Israel.” Blumenberg does not hide his “indignation” towards this “stealing” (129).
Turner captures the salient features of “Moses the Egyptian” and presents an effective précis of Blumenberg’s use of the term “prefiguration.” Even though Turner seems ultimately to agree with Blumenberg about Eichmann in Jerusalem, Turner notes in his conclusion that Blumenberg may have been venturing outside his area of expertise in taking up the question of “what a Jewish state should do with someone who had sought to destroy the Jews” (146).
According to Turner and Blumenberg, Israel needed Eichmann to take on a mythic role at his trial in order to solidify Israeli nationhood. It’s not clear whether anyone ever laid that task at Arendt’s feet during the trial, since she was writing in the moment, as events unfolded. Unlike Blumenberg, Arendt did not have the luxury of hindsight, nor was she alive in 1978 to respond to such criticism. Furthermore, Turner and Blumenberg do not provide details of how Arendt’s book on Eichmann undermined Israel, then or since. Conceptual damage is of a different order from “stealing” a nation’s legitimacy.
In Chapter 7, Robert Buch concentrates on a “neglected” (153) part of Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the section about theoretical curiosity. Why has it been neglected? Buch: “The reasons for the relative neglect of the third part undoubtedly have to do with its length and more specifically its detail and apparent digressiveness, but above all its sheer material abundance.”
The editors sought to bring Blumenberg into conversation with other thinkers, and Buch chooses Husserl as Blumenberg’s conversation partner. Buch’s aim is “to juxtapose Blumenberg’s account of the genesis of early modern science with Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences” (153).
Perceptions of science’s legitimacy have relevance, Buch writes, given “the modern suspicion of science, aggravated dramatically in our times of climate crisis” (164). Husserl questioned the cause of a universal science, a science that adhered to rational structures and objectivity (166). Husserl reacted against the easy division between objectivity and subjectivity. Husserl posits that modern science fails to consider consciousness as a component of its investigations.
In Buch’s account, Blumenberg owes many debts to Husserl’s view of science and technology. The differences are fewer than the commonalities. One important difference appears in Blumenberg’s narrative about the electric doorbell in an essay Buch leans on heavily, “Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization,” now available in English in The Blumenberg Reader. Blumenberg says the electric doorbell, the workings of which are hidden in comparison to a mechanical doorbell, “is ‘packaged’ in a way that it conceals this history and deprives it from us in its abstract uniformity…. [I]t is legitimized by being … put into operation” (Blumenberg Reader, 386). The “artificial product,” the doorbell, is “shrouded” with “obviousness”; technization produces this unquestioned obviousness (Reader, 387), a point Blumenberg claims shows the limits of Husserl’s commentary on the connection between life-world and technization. Blumenberg aims to show that his account is “more complicated.” To appreciate Blumenberg’s point, think of the unknowability about the functioning of crosswalk buttons in urban centers, many of which remain deliberately unfixed. Even a non-working button gives the illusion of control.
Charles Turner’s chapter on “infinite progress” in science concludes with an exploration of time and the life of the politician (175). In the middle of the two topics is C. Turner’s choice for Blumenberg’s partner in dialogue, Max Weber. The question Weber poses that C. Turner investigates is: [W]hat are the chances that someone whose life is necessarily limited to one arena of activity can achieve something of lasting significance?” (181). Weber directs that question at scholars and politicians.
In making Weber’s question contemporary, C. Turner reminds readers about the fast pace of contemporary life coupled with an increase in life expectancy. In the infinity of time, how are finite individuals to gather meaning for their lives? For scholars, the fear is that one’s work becomes obsolete within the scholar’s lifetime. For the politician, long-lasting glory can come with great success, but few politicians are remembered beyond their lifetimes. As Weber puts it, the scholarly life is chained to progress (thus fear of obsolescence), while the political life is more like art in that multiple spectacular achievements by different artists are possible, though those achievements must be of a stature to escape temporal constraints (184).
Weber’s long view echoes Blumenberg’s considerations of Lebenszeit and Weltzeit, the tension between the individual’s tiny lifetime amidst the ocean of time that is world history. Blumenberg suggests we leave the tension in place, lest the world itself suffer as it did with Adolf Hitler. According to Blumenberg, Hitler’s sin was an effort at melding Lebenszeit and Weltzeit. The evidence lies in a quotation from Hitler: “I … stand under the command of fate to achieve everything within a short human life … That for which others have an eternity, I have merely a few meagre years” (191).
In Chapter 9, Oriane Petteni escorts her readers into the world of art history and optics. This gives Petteni reason to ponder Blumenberg’s preference not to be photographed (202), as if Blumenberg’s own study of optics caused his wish to avoid the medium. Petteni is well aware Blumenberg’s avoidance of selfies is something more than shyness. Petteni sees it as connected to much larger matters, like truth. The visible and the hidden link up with Western beliefs about truth. Petteni writes, “[I]n the modern age, truth no longer reveals itself; instead, it must be revealed by decisive action” (195). That is, we must work for our truth.
The comments on truth correspond to Blumenberg’s views about biology. Petteni sees that Blumenberg derives his anthropology from biology. Petteni turns to The Genesis of the Copenican World for evidence. “The Earth requires both exposure to the Sun for complex lifeforms to arise and protection from direct exposure to sun rays, which would otherwise threaten to consume every living thing. The exposure to light requires—for the Earth as well as for human beings—a kind of filter or screen” (203). Others back up Petteni’s sense that Blumenberg foregrounds the importance of indirection and camouflage, such as the recent biography by Uwe Wolff, who notes multiple times Blumenberg’s penchant for indirect communication.
Petteni finishes her reflections on Blumenberg via a journey through Franz Kafka’s Der Bau. The unfinished Kafka text parallels, for Petteni, Blumenberg’s open-endedness regarding the human impulse to fashion “endless significance” (211). The story about a burrow also fits in with a quotation Petteni cites by Heinz Wisman, “[Blumenberg’s] thought is strongly marked by the worry not to remain at the surface of things” (202).
Chapter 10 might serve readers best read in conjunction with the first and the last chapters where Descartes has a prominent role. One difference about Adi Efal-Lautenschläger’s chapter is the linkage between Descartes and Blumenberg’s book The Legibility of the World. Blumenberg himself points out the parallels between his theme in Legibility and Descartes’s Traité du monde et de la lumière. What does Blumenberg find in Descartes’ book? “The self is to be experienced according to the measure of the world, as compatible or not with its changing conditions” (Legibility, 92). This lesson runs counter to interpretations of Descartes that rely on the celebrated cogito ergo sum and tend to make Descartes a happy solipsist. The lesson also seems a challenge to Whistler’s essay in which Blumenberg leaves behind the messy world for timeless forms and models, though keep in mind that Whistler’s interpretation launches from a different Blumenberg work, Legitimacy rather than Legibility.
Efal-Lautenschläger contributes a useful dichotomy based on the arguments of Legibility: “Blumenberg chooses to put his concept of reality on the side of world-imaging, instead of world-modelling. [R]eality is understood as belonging to the arena of representations or of world-imaging. World imaging – and, with it, reality itself – has an interpretative orientation: the reality that results from the image of the world is designated as an act of reading” (224-25).
Credit the editors with choosing to follow Efal-Lautenschläger’s essay with one that expands Efal-Lautenschläger’s points. Returning to Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Sonja Feger dives into another pairing, “reoccupation” (Umbesetzung) and “reality-concepts” (Wirklichkeitsbegriffe). Feger tells readers that Blumenberg uses reoccupation “to explain how epochal change can be grasped. On the other hand, and in other texts, he provides a historical analysis of what he calls “reality-concepts.” “In this chapter, I attempt to bring these two concepts into line with each other” (237).
Reoccupation is up first. Feger: “It is important to note that “reoccupation”, that is, the English term Wallace uses to translate the German word Umbesetzung, does not allude to anything antagonistic; it is not about any kind of (intellectual) conquest or usurpation. Rather, the term brings into focus the process-character of epochal change” (244). Emphasizing the “process-character” of change points to Whistler again, because “reoccupation” is about a perennial question-and-answer model Blumenberg wants to say is at work. Not that a “firm canon” of “great questions” exists. Fegel warns readers not to become fixated on answers or questions in their concrete content. Relying on a quotation from Blumenberg’s essay on secularization, Fegel asks readers to remember that “the historical identity and methodical identifiability of supposedly secularized notions is an illusion created by the identity of the function that altogether heterogeneous contents can assume in certain positions within man’s system of understanding the world and himself” (245).
How do we find out about reality? In some places, like Blumenberg’s famous essay on the possibility of the novel, his response seems to be “sometimes we won’t.” Feger pinpoints his wording: “[I]t is quite natural that the most deeply hidden implication of an era – namely, its concept of reality – should become explicit only when the awareness of that reality has already been broken.” (246). It’s a version of not being able to see the forest for the trees. “The subject as historically situated can only account for earlier concepts of reality, not current ones” (246).
Exiting that reality dilemma depends on reality-concepts. “Making a reality-concept explicit draws on the distinction between an object (i.e. a certain behaviour towards reality) and reflection on that object” (247). While it looks as if Blumenberg’s position is that our reflecting on an object called reality is accurate only for earlier periods, Feger says our access to what’s real about the moment we are in depends on Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. “[T]ranscendental consciousness both carries out and simultaneously reflects upon the process of (reality-) constitution” (248). Problem solved (if Blumenberg is correct).
Bajohr, Hannes, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll (Eds.). 2020. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, NY. Cornell University Press.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 2019. “Review of Morphing Intelligence.” Posted May 17, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/n._katherine_hayles_reviews_morphing_intelligence.
Prisco, Jacopo. 2020. “Illusion of Control: Why the World is Full of Buttons that Don’t Work.” CNN.com. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/placebo-buttons-design/index.html.
Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch des Philosophen: Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius Verlag.
Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. Living in the End Times. London: Verso.
Paths in Heidegger’s Later Thought is a much-needed communication of ideas from German-educated scholars to their anglophone counterparts in other traditions. A compendium of excellence and creativity, it does indeed map paths that the 15 researchers have either pursued over lengthy careers or are just now discovering. While sometimes eclectic and rather expository, the book might be called mandatory reading for a precise overview of current global Heidegger scholarship.
This review will attempt to characterise the common traits shared between the authors’ approaches and give short descriptions of all articles for the benefit of the reader encountering these authors for the first time.
A few words on the book as a whole. The collection takes as its starting point the oft-cited motto of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, “Ways, not works.” Moving from these ways of thought understood in a “metaphorical” sense towards a thinking that is indeed way-making in its character, it attempts to gather and map the recent and more penetrating paths that have been lain through the thickets of Heidegger’s body of thought.
And as the German background of the editors (and most contributors) suggests, the collection follows what we might attempt to generalise as the European approach to Heidegger. This approach focuses more on the later Heidegger, is more focused on congeniality than force of interpretation and aims towards a Heideggerisation of ideas rather than an appropriation in the opposite direction. That said, the collection does a decent job of consciously avoiding the common stumblings: falling from hermeneuticism to hermeticism or from introduction to reduction.
The editors phrase the endeavour of the collection thus: “to present a range of ways in which Heidegger can be read and a diversity of styles in which his thought can be continued. […] it is a hermeneutic endeavour, beginning with an interpretation of his writing” (Foreword, 1-2). This is a wonderful maxim and evidently helps to produce texts that are generally capable of the critical approach, but don’t bog down in open, nor hidden hostility towards a competing interpretation. Still, this variety does beg the question whether the book should be considered a whole at all or merely as a collection of individual texts.
Even more so – and this is not a jab at the editors’ careful work –, does this seemingly unpretentious “range” and “diversity”, a presupposed equality of ideas, perhaps not undercut the texts’ individual philosophical ambitions? Be how it may, the experiment with a plurality of critical interpretations merits even philosophical appreciation, since Heidegger’s own work suggests that authentic thought follows a non-linear or multistable character itself.
Thus, the essays seem to be grouped with regard to their shared paths of thought, intersections and common landmarks. The section titles attempt to reflect these commonalities to a degree but serve rather to facilitate readability. A general overview could here be refined by having a look at the indexes. Keywords like earth (Erde), event (Ereignis), gathering (Ver-/Sammlung), presence (Anwesenheit) and unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) are not left unmentioned for more than one or two essays, broadly speaking. Here, gathering and presence strike as the two most surprising keywords, since they are not exclusive to the later Heidegger and no essay deals with them centrally. On the other hand, care (Sorge), ecstasis (Ekstase), sense (Sinn), but also the turn (Kehre), National Socialism and building (Bauen) – they receive only sparse mentions.
Now, spelling out substantial common traits and ideas between the authors would be to try and formulate a school of Heideggerian research. This would be folly, but the individual authors do share that they are mostly Heideggerian in the sense, that they seem to be operating on an impulse received from reading Heidegger. In the sense of aspiring to go beyond a “mere” scholarly account of Heidegger and walking forward on paths he exposed.
This could be said about the contributions in a historical sense as well. Regardless of his prescient predictions, from a perspective of intellectual history, in many ways Heidegger envisioned a path different to what we see today. Here, the collection displays the throes of reconciling a Heideggerian new beginning and the world today. Perhaps indeed a less unitary and more diverging approach might hold the means to finally “making sense” of Heidegger’s thought.
Next, a quick look will be given at the contributions one-by-one, following the structure of the book. This is to serve also as a quick reference to locate the topic of interest for the reader.
The first section “Language, Logos, and Rhythm” is devoted to essays focused on Heidegger’s notions concerning language, broadly speaking. However, it is perhaps the most uneven section, comprising of works by Jeff Malpas, Markus Wild, Diego D’Angelo and Tristan Moyle.
Interestingly enough, one common theme in this section is explicitly specifying the mode of interpretation: “exegetical externalism” (Wild: 45-46), “immanent interpretation” (D’Angelo: 65-66) and “naturalistic interpretation” (Moyle: 85-86). What’s stunning is that although the three essays and authors differ to a great degree, the mode or methodology of interpretation is actually quite similar.
Even though authors show this conscious effort and also considerable skill in specifying their respective mode of interpretation, these modes tend to differ in mere nuance of exposition and seem to be specific to the question of interest each author addresses. Differences between the authors’ deliberations seem to stem from other sources than the stated mode of interpretation. Perhaps a larger problem in Heidegger scholarship is reflected here: the question of how to interpret Heidegger while differing to a great extent, has been shaped in a sort of tacit consensus, as indicated by some actual similarities of approaches, regardless of differences in stated methodology. To say the least, the search for an approach to Heidegger is ongoing.
The book sets out from home: Jeff Malpas’ “‘The House of Being’: Poetry, Language, Place” builds on his longstanding “topological interpretation” of Heidegger and contends with the problem of bridging language and a topology implied in Heidegger’s oft-quoted “Language is the house of being”. Asserting that in Heidegger the classic dichotomous concepts of spatiality collapse – that “the dimensional and relational are not separate but rather are two sides of the same” (p. 23)–, Malpas gives a delicate account of how this along with a more mature account of the poetic makes sense of Heidegger’s “turn” after Being and Time and also brings the later Heideggerian project to a clearer shape. This is accomplished by identifying poetry as where place and language intersect, where most prominently “saying is placing and placing is saying” (p. 34).
Influential among and well-known to anglophone speakers, Malpas’ essay demonstrates the continuity between anglophone and European scholarship. Markus Wild, known foremost as a philosopher of biology and animals in specific, however, undertakes an investigation into Heidegger’s often disregarded confrontation with Trakl in his “Heidegger and Trakl: Language Speaks in the Poet’s Poem”.
Wild occupies himself with a search for the site (Ort) of Trakl’s singular poem – “the poet’s poem”, a sort of fictional “centre of gravity” from and to which his poetry flows. Wild argues here that the value of Trakl for Heidegger is not, like other poets, liable to be subsumed under or merely opposed to what Heidegger’s treatments of Hölderlin uncover. To this end, he specifies his aforementioned mode of interpretation aimed at locating claims “in relation to other discussions while responding to clues and hints contained in Heidegger’s text” (p. 45). A laudable attempt, which might indeed account for lucidly conveying certain notorious Heideggerisms and also manages to integrate elements from classical rhetorics, speech act theory and psychology.
That said, Wild may well be suspected of walking only halfway down Heidegger’s path towards Trakl’s poetry. This is because Wild seems to, at points, conceptualise poetry in terms of its “ultimate purpose” (p. 60), which is reached and conceived in terms involving notions of empathy and imagination foreign to Heidegger – perhaps a psychologising analysis. In any case, the paper deserves to be followed by an even more “externalist exegesis”, which would connect or relate Heidegger’s analysis of Trakl with the other poets’ – a task little noticed so far.
D’Angelo gives a detailed account of how Heidegger approaches the phenomenon of greeting (Grüßen) in his writings on Hölderlin’s “Der Ister”. By and large, repeating what may be read in the relevant sections of “The Bloomsbury Companion to Heidegger”, D’Angelo’s article does go into necessary and enlightening detail.
Perhaps of most interest is his treatment of the semiotic, in particular a Heideggerian account of the sign (66-69), and how he weaves it into the more well-known account of greeting: a remembrance (Andenken) directed at the future and fundamentally stemming from the Holy (das Heilige).
Now, Moyle’s “Later Heidegger’s Naturalism” should perhaps be called “A Naturalistic Look at Later Heidegger” to reflect its contents more exactly. One of the essays that is only now discovering previously concealed pathways, naturalism is here a specifically McDowellian sort of “aesthetic naturalism” (see 85-87) and the main topic in later Heidegger is rhythm.
Although this is an interesting superimposition, there are clear problems with Moyle’s attempt to “domesticate Heidegger’s rhetoric” (p. 96). In particular, he seems to go against the very idea of a path-like webwork of thinking in Heidegger, by connecting ideas in Heidegger from different time periods and lines of thought – paths, which for specific reasons don’t seem to converge at the points he expects them to. This brings with it some problematic inferences and questionable conclusions. Also, Heidegger’s own translation of the Greek word as Fügung and the implications it involves are not considered.
That said, even when arguing that being itself should perhaps be thought of as rhythm – quite audacious to these ears – there are strong links being made, that merit further study and elaboration.
The second section is concerned with the Greek word physis and centres, with obvious scholarly informedness, on the seemingly paradoxical interplay of emerging and enclosing – the dynamics that Heidegger’s “Greek” physis carries. Here, different readings tend to rely on different sources and thus approach them with ostensibly non-concomitant perspectives, intersecting at uncomfortable angles. Still, this section is perhaps the most focused in terms of substance, including essays from Thomas Buchheim, Guang Yang, Claudia Baracchi and Damir Barbarić.
An interesting choice to include in the collection Buchheim’s essay on Heidegger’s physis as it develops in his thought, which is translated from the similar collection published in 2007, Heidegger und die Griechen, displaying a certain continuity between the publications. D’Angelo’s very readable translation makes it easy to grasp why the editors decided to publish a work older than a decade.
Utilising the arsenal that knowledge of classic philology provides, Buchheim first identifies two quite separate periods Heidegger deals with physis. Second, he gives a sharp overview of the first period physis becomes a topic of deep interest for Heidegger (starting from the 1920s). Then, in an answer to his titular question “Why is Heidegger Interested in Physis?”, Buchheim gives an account of Heidegger’s oft-criticised but piercing account of Aristotle’s physis as an echo of the original presocratic notion. Intensely focused and well-informed, the text makes a case for the presence of a concept of physis as a primordial withdrawal much earlier than is largely supposed. This is certainly one of the essays that gives the collection merit and depth.
One should perhaps approach Yang’s essay as intimating a novel approach, a work-in-progress. He doesn’t precisely reach what the title promises, “Being as Physis,” but instead gives a reading of rest and movement as it pertains to the notion of physis in a phenomenological sense. The two main areas being connected are Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle and his conception of art. A challenging read, the paper’s strength and potential failure lie in how it attempts to include a large portion of Heidegger’s writings that do touch on physis from different sides. A longer form would perhaps enable Yang to express the picture he is setting up with more graspable severity.
“The End of Philosophy and Unending Physis” is an alien text in this collection, but definitely impressive. In it Baracchi retells “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” in a nimble and alluring style. While not a standard scholarly piece on Heidegger, it makes a number of inspiring, if flimsy, intimations like “the end of philosophy is the task of thinking” (p. 155), most of them, of course, more intricate. Inspired by Heidegger and, it seems, a certain rage against the undying of the light of metaphysics, she has chosen a form of writing that should perhaps reflect the non-metaphysical sort of discussion a thinking might follow after it has surmounted metaphysics.
Another fine article, Barbarić’s “Thinking at the First Beginning” attempts to pave a way towards what the title names. Starting from the plausible assumption that in Heidegger physis “determines Being itself rather than a domain or realm of entities” (p. 165), the crux here is physis and its ontological depth (as opposed to surficity), which Heidegger sets up against the later concept of truth based on the Greek notion of idea, but which is also the source of the latter.
But Barbarić does more than tell the rather familiar story of the completion of Western thought and a need for a return to the first beginning. The intricacies can’t be discussed here without a terrible watering-down, and the reader should instead be directed to Barbarić’s Zum anderen Anfang. Studien zum Spätdenken Heideggers (2016, Karl Alber Verlag) for the whole picture.
The third section, “Phenomenology, the Thing, and the Fourfold”, features essays from Günter Figal, Jussi Backman, Nikola Mirković and Andrew J. Mitchell.
In a tiny masterpiece, Figal lays out the line of thought Heidegger’s philosophy seems to follow in the latter’s reading of Parmenides. Building from the “Seminar in Zähringen” (about this text, see 179-180), Figal takes a look at the neologistic tautophasis and “tautological thinking”, which Heidegger espoused at that point. Now, tautophasis stems from the realisation that phenomena appear or show (phainesthai is the ancient Greek verb). Both Greek words coming from the same root, the presencing of phenomena is thus a sort of self-showing or more aptly “saying-two-together” (Selbander-sage), which is Heidegger’s translation for tautophasis (see p. 183). The corresponding thinking is thus characterised as tautological.
Figal opens up tautological thinking in a way that allows him to venture his own thought: Heidegger failed to address the theme of the sign (semata) in Parmenides – and if he had, the idea of tautophasis (indeed an anti-dialectical attitude) would have perhaps seemed less feasible. Here oversimplified, Figal’s “Tautophasis: Heidegger and Parmenides” manages to keep up with Heidegger and is definitely worth reading, if one is interested in Heidegger’s relationship to the Presocratics.
Backman’s “Radical contextuality in Heidegger’s Postmetaphysics: The Singularity of Being and the Fourfold” approaches Heidegger from without, we might say in contrast to Figal. Backman starts to trace in Heidegger a “radical contextualism” (the definition should be found on p. 190), in a sense attributed to postmodernist and postmetaphysical thinking. He adheres to a Sheehanesque reading – meaning and intelligibility as the ultimate frontier for being, this reading supported by texts that allow for this reading – and finds a radical contextuality in Heidegger, centering around Being as the singular event (Ereignis): “Ereignis, the title for the basic dynamic character of Seyn, is the event or the ‘taking place’ of historical singularity in which meaningful presence ‘finds its place’ – in other words, is contextualised and situated within the ‘instantaneous site’ (Augenblicksstätte) of spatiotemporal situatedness (Zeit-Raum) furnished by Dasein.” (p. 195).
From this he proceeds to unfold the fourfold or “onefold of four” as parallel to Aristotle’s four causes, the difference being that instead of Aristotle’s concept of being as a situatedness, Heidegger conceives of being as “this event of instantiation as such” (p. 201). This strand of thought, as the entire essay, is admittedly inspired and fascinating – perhaps it would benefit in scope and succinctness if also made a comparison with the question of being and becoming in Heidegger.
Looking for a sense of being that bestows meaning like Backman, Mirković turns instead to Dreyfus’s and Kelly’s All Thing Shining. His first aim is to explore the background Heidegger might provide for Dreyfus and Kelly, but reaches something of a deeper nature in what the title succinctly names “The Phenomenon of Shining”.
He starts with the concept of beauty expressed in “The Origin of the Work of Art”: “Beauty is one way in which truth as unconcealment comes to presence” (p. 216) and connects this with the concept of shining in a way that should be familiar to Heidegger of that period. Then, by looking at how Heidegger handles Plato’s concept of beauty in “Nietzsche”, he points to a striking similarity between Plato and Heidegger, but also a sharp distinction: for Heidegger, beauty is related to the earth, but shining and radiance comes about “through its interplay with art and its integration into actual works of art” (p. 218). This is momentous because earth seems to here bestow both what we would call sensible and intelligible – meaningful, yet not limited to conceptual knowledge.
The second strand of the essay concerns history. Where Dreyfus and Kelly characterise modernity in terms of a general loss of meaning and nihilism – art, broadly speaking, included – they seem to be making an overstatement about the (being-)historical change, that has come to pass with the arrival of modernity. Mirković provides an example for this, the Staiger-correspondence on Mörike’s “On a Lamp”. In Heidegger’s interpretation of the poem, Mirković sees a clear inclusion of both social and practical circumstances in the analysis of the work. Now, one may doubt Mirković’s own interpretation here, but still have to admit that Heidegger’s knowledge of history extended well beyond the philosophical, and there is good reason to believe that the practical side of history is indeed incorporated into his deliberations on the topic.
In “A Brief History of Things: Heidegger and the Tradition” Mitchell provides a riveting account of just that, things – in the Heideggerian sense, of course. He starts from the place of a thing as its inherent distinction in Aristotle, proceeds to the intricate medieval system of natural and unnatural places and then to the break from this relational account to an objective account in Newton (this distinction was discussed in Malpas’ essay as well). Finally, he arrives at an ideal body that really exists nowhere, made transcendental from the viewpoint of the subject by Kant’s philosophy.
Done with the Heideggerian story, he turns to Heidegger himself, suggesting that we have to enter this between (Zwischen) that separates subject and object. Interestingly, Mitchell seems to view the between as a sort of rediscovering of the “inherently relational nature of existence” (p. 234). Aware that this claim is suspect, perhaps because a fundamental relationality seems to go against the Heideggerian intuition, he furthers and clarifies it by turning to Being and Time.
Taking an interesting turn here, he quickly makes the case, that Being and Time does not adhere to what we can elucidate as the aspects of a thing in the later Heidegger (p. 239) – “we cannot speak of any ‘things’ in Being and Time” (p. 238). Containing a wealth of new ideas, Mitchell’s proposal of a certain relationality in Heidegger could perhaps be supplemented with the latter’s treatment of Leibniz, one of the definitive modern metaphysical (and especially spatial) relationists.
The last section is titled “Ground, Non-ground, and Abyss”. A sort of show of force, the book ends with three accomplished authors: Hans Ruin, Sylvaine Gourdain and Tobias Keiling – the latter two belonging almost exclusively to the European-language tradition. However, the first two, touching on Leibniz and Schelling respectively, both suggest that the philosophical predecessors may have had a larger impact on Heidegger than previously thought. Keiling then closes the book with an insightful unravelling of the notion of Erklüftung, making this perhaps the most illuminating section for the anglophone reader.
Ruin’s “Heidegger, Leibniz, and the Abyss of Reason” takes a look at what Heidegger himself centres on when discussing Leibniz – the principle of reason or ground (Grund). Heidegger’s interpretations are here examined with penetrating but succinct means. Quite convincingly, where Heidegger seems to prima facie interpret with a deal of “violence”, Ruin identifies a hermeneutics that sheds light on Heidegger’s own development (see especially 249-251).
Giving first an overview of the writings on Leibniz “The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic” (1928) and “The Principle of Reason” (lectured 1955-56), Ruin makes explicit, and at the same time calls into question, the interpretation that the earlier text paves way for the Kehre and the latter treats Leibniz as a symbol of the history of merely rational, calculating thinking – as opposed to “meditative” thinking (Besinnung). Especially concerning this opposition, Ruin urges us to “question and learn to move across the strict borders that Heidegger creates in his own somewhat Manichean conception of the tradition” (p. 256). But in a broader sense, Ruin points at the structural similarity between Leibniz’s ultimately theological metaphysics, Leibniz’s God and Heidegger’s Being. This should motivate us, he asserts, to “refrain from becoming trapped in the dichotomous contrast between rationality and mysticism” (p. 256) and offers further reading and ides on the topic.
Another interesting and very capable essay, “Ground, Abyss, and Primordial Ground: Heidegger in the Wake of Schelling” recounts the influence of Schelling on Heidegger’s notion of ground, which he fully articulates only after Being and Time. Schelling’s Grund, a non-rational basis, is most similar to the Heideggerian notion of earth in terms of a withdrawing-providing nature. Gourdain attempts to also connect it with the notions of Ungrund, Ek-sistenz, clearing and tangentially even with Seyn.
The main comparison here is drawn from the relationships between Schelling’s ground and existent on the one hand and Heidegger’s earth and world on the other. The main similarity here is that Grund and earth both defy total intelligibility, they “each signal the withdrawal and resistance of materiality, which never exhausts itself within a definitive meaning” (p. 267), but still both provide the impenetrability or darkness that is necessary for any disclosing that their respective counterparts seem to encompass.
Heidegger’s deeper confrontation with Schelling occurs roughly simultaneously with the reworking period of “The Origin of the Work of Art” and the beginning of writing “Contributions to Philosophy” in the 1936 lecture course on Schelling’s famous essay on human freedom. This concurrency prompts Gourdain to offer a rather daring sketch of a sort of Schellingian later Heidegger.
This essay is especially welcome as an introduction to both Gourdain’s profound work on Heidegger and to the perspective on the later Heidegger, that’s intimately aware of German Idealism. This is certainly one of the core essays of the collection, one that should motivate further attempts at translation.
Such is the case also with Tobias Keiling’s “Erklüftung”. He approaches this German word, often translated as “sundering”, with a striking supposition. Namely, he follows Blumenberg’s works on the metaphor (see notes, p. 294) and instead of discounting the ultimate legitimacy of metaphors in philosophy, he embraces them wholeheartedly on the grounds, that metaphors or “linguistic images are ‘foundational elements’ of philosophical language” (p. 280) and that the opposite supposition would be Cartesian fancy of an entirely transparent language.
Moving on to a sort of genealogy of Erklüftung, Keiling first lays out the meaning the word had for the brothers Grimm and Goethe. He then gives an account of and relates to Erklüftung the notions of ground and projection, a few marvellous pages that deserve the absence of an inferior summary. Let us quote the final concern that Keiling raises after carefully enumerating and discussing the multitude of characters attributed to Erklüftung in the “Contributions”: “Heidegger’s overdetermination of the term, similar to the overdetermination of Entwerfen [projection] in Being and Time, calls into question the value of this metaphor as intuitive confirmation of a philosophical theory” (p. 291).
Now, admittedly, Keiling does not seem to have concerns that perhaps the problem with Erklüftung lies in the fact that, in treating it as an intuitively graspable metaphor, one can’t service the broadness of its significance. So, instead of dropping the supposition of metaphors as necessary elements, he posits that the term is a “speculative metaphor” and thus conceptual in the sense of being non-phenomenological (see 291-292). Now, even though the notion remains vital for a phenomenology of projecting and Dasein, Keiling asserts, that Erklüftung was sidelined foremost by the notion of the clearing.
Paths in Heidegger’s Later Thought lays out an intriguing trajectory across the later Heidegger’s oeuvre and touches on most key notions therewithin. Generally, the more accomplished authors offer a more substantial account of Heideggerian thought, but a few exceptions do stand out, as mentioned above. An inspiring read and a good overview of the European Heideggerians, the book’s usefulness to a professional reader still probably lies in specific essays of interest.
There is a kind of light which is perceptible only on the “other side” of darkness, in a movement through the colour spectrum, through the shadowy non-colour, black, and beyond, where we discover a luminescence immanent to the universe itself. This is certainly the light which plays upon the impossibly black surfaces of Pierre Soulages’ Outrenoir paintings, constituting, in Alain Badiou’s words, “a light other than light” which opens up “the painterly landscape of a world without borders and of an infinite potential of perspectives…” (2017: 21-22). This is likewise the light seething beneath Bacon’s canvases, which will need to be “cleaned” of the figurative clichés already covering them, such that it might be captured in the aleatory diagrams of the artist (Deleuze 2003: 86-87). And it’s precisely this light which is the object of Hanjo Berressem’s impressive and accomplished study, Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy, a monograph which aims, in the author’s words, “to develop a coherent image of Deleuze’s philosophy from two of its conceptual leitmotifs: light and crystals” (1).
Berressem’s reasons for centralising these two motifs are multiple. The notion of light, he will argue, captures the affirmative and optimistic spirit of Deleuze’s thought, its playful and joyous elements. At the level of Deleuze’s metaphysics, light provides us with a persuasive means of drawing out his Spinozism in the vocabulary of 20th century physics, of which more shortly. Finally, this approach opens up a new and productive way of thinking about the Deleuzian individual— as the crystalline centre for a refractive “play” of this immanent light, of which it constitutes a temporary and contingent means of capture. Of course, these three axioms are fundamentally linked. But perhaps most importantly, a symbiosis of light and crystals serves as a means of overcoming the traces of a problematic dualism, or even of dialectics, which some commentators have read into Deleuze.
If, following the latter, individuals (understood in the broadest possible sense) constitute transient centres of organisation on an energetic plane which is both their source and ecology, then we appear, in fact, to inherit two complementary, yet formally distinct planes in need of reconciliation: on the one hand, a plane of already constituted individuals, on the other, a plane of pre-individual forces, which serves as their condition. The oscillation between these two registers, such that their distinction is neither absolute, nor collapsed into the monism with which Deleuze will be charged by the likes of Badiou (2009), constitutes a central problem for Deleuze, and, as such, for his many commentators. Indeed, as Berressem notes, this tension, between Deleuze as a thinker of absolute deterritorialization, multiplicity and schizophrenic becoming(s), and Deleuze as the heir to a monistic “doxa of the body,” to use Badiou’s phrase (2009: 35), poses an immediate problem: “how to think the paradox of this conceptual simultaneity?” (21). And it is this task, indeed, upon which Berressem embarks.
For Berressem, this schism can be meaningfully thought using the twin images of light and of the crystal, which become a means of affirming the inter-dependence of these planes, and as such the radical immanence upon which Deleuze is so insistent. As Berressem explains:
…the notion of the complementarity of the plane of light and of the plane of crystals is one figure of [Deleuzian] affirmation. As the complementarity of these two planes suffuses Deleuze’s thought from its beginning to its very end, it allows us to draw a line of light through his work: a line of white light refracted by crystals (1).
This latter pairing, of crystalline individuals through which light passes—which, indeed, constitute temporary and refractory “captures” of light—thus offers up a compelling means of approaching the daunting parallelism Deleuze inherits from both Spinoza (the two formal series of thought and extension) and Bergson (the metaphysical dyad of virtual and actual), overcoming the Cartesian, or even, following Zizek (2012), Hegelian residues we might be tempted to identify in Deleuze’s work.
Further, once the infamous “plane of immanence”—the all-encompassing, yet necessarily elusive condition of Deleuzian metaphysics-—is modelled as a plane of “light,” with crystals conceived as temporary spatial orientations or polarisations of this light, we have transposed its form into one which is eminently compatible—though importantly, irreducible—to the image of the Universe we inherit from contemporary science. Physicists, indeed, dedicate themselves to the actualised functions of this “light” — a term which, in the context of their work, refers no longer to that band of the electromagnetic spectrum which is “visible,” but rather to the radiant chaos of electromagnetic waves, perceptible through instruments and mathematical modelling (gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, radio waves). And in the same way that the human eye is situated within a particular band of perception, science too can only “see” those modalities of light which are actualised before its topoi, established on its particular plane(s) of reference.
Art, meanwhile, as we have seen, captures this light through its own perceptual techniques, forming it in concrescences of paint and celluloid, rendering visible its multiple and subterranean affects. While philosophy, finally, instigates its own luminous relation, tracing this light’s virtualities and “counter-effectuations” (Deleuze & Guattari 2009: 159), its potentialities and compossibilities, its becomings as opposed to its being—in other words, its invisibilities—such as constitute, in the vocabulary of a Deleuzian set theory, “a thread which traverses sets and gives each one the possibility, which is necessarily realised, of communicating with another, to infinity…” (2013a: 20). It is this luminous “thread” which serves philosophy’s entwined purposes, of resisting the doxa of “closed systems,” and of forging hitherto unthought connectives.
In part, the author’s success in advancing this “luminous” reading of Deleuze is due to his exploration of some of the dimmer corners of the Deleuzian oeuvre. Present are the usual suspects—Simondon and Bergson, Spinoza and Leibniz (Guattari, meanwhile, receives his own complementary volume)—however of equal importance to Berressem’s excavation of this “conceptual spine” are figures often considered peripheral to Deleuze’s project—Lucretius, D.H. Lawrence, Serres—whom he nevertheless plums for significant insights into the mechanics and becoming of Deleuze’s concepts.
Indeed the book’s argument for a hermeneutic centralising these “lines of light” (59) begins with a text which has seen relatively little attention in the well-tilled field of Deleuze scholarship (Ryan J. Johnson’s rich intervention aside), 1961’s “Lucretius and the Simulacrum,” best known as an appendix to The Logic of Sense. In the book’s first chapter, Berressem reconstructs Lucretian natural philosophy as we find it in De Rerum Natura, the extraordinary text in which Lucretius defends the Epicurean “rain of atoms” (corpora) by positing the clinamen -that unpredictable swerve of atoms which creates the world of things and vouchsafes the possibility of free will. From this early text, Berressem will derive not only a profound and persistent Deleuzian affection for life, nature and change, condensed here in the Lucretian figure of Venus, but will also begin to elaborate the conceptual simultaneity of pointillism and dynamism, such as persists throughout Deleuze’s oeuvre. As Berressem explains, “the moment of the clinamen is of fundamental importance for the genesis of the world, as well as, on a much smaller scale, for the genesis of Deleuzian philosophy…” (29).
This model, according to which a rain of atoms (or perhaps more properly, as we will shortly see, photons) is subject to an unpredictable barrage of collisions, explains the genesis of the dappled and complex multiplicity we call life. If the atoms simply fell straight down, then their parallel trajectories would never intersect, and no phenomena would ever adhere. In their swerving and subsequent collisions, however, the aleatory and chaotic becoming of “nature” is unleashed — a nature which, from its very beginning, must not be thought in terms of any mechanism or determinism. This is because the inter-energetic processes unleashed by the “event” of the clinamen can be reduced neither to a dynamic logic of causal series, nor to a fundamentally pointillist atomism. Rather, each atom, whilst perceptible only in its processual (or actualised) dynamisms and collisions, retains, in spite of this, a shadowy virtuality, which persists and is never fully actualised. In Deleuze’s words, this is therefore a Universe in which “each causal series is constituted by the movement of an atom and conserves in the encounter its full independence,” (1990: 270) which is to say a set of virtual characteristics which persist outside the plane of actualised causes and effects.
In this context, Berressem argues that against a Cartesian lumen naturale, Deleuze will consistently embrace a Lucretian lumen veneris. Over a rational light which might ultimately render visible all of God’s creation, Deleuze will favour a light, “made up of a multiplicity of diffractions and absorptions that are sustained by a constant solar emission… this multiplicity of light, its diversity and the singularity of its instantiation, allows one to conceptualize a luminous philosophy” (34). The clinamen, in other words, in providing a model of the noetic inextricability of both virtual and actual “sides” of any object, becomes the first “event,” in Deleuze’s philosophy, a term which we can read as fundamentally entwined with two others which recur throughout Berressem’s book: the individual and the crystal.
The vocabulary of crystallisation, of course, stems from Deleuze’s engagement with Gilbert Simondon, whose philosophy of individuation is only just beginning to make its proper influence felt in the Anglophone academy. For Simondon, “crystallisation” offers up a model of the genesis of the individual which is immanent, ecological and processual, eschewing what he will claim is the profound inadequacy of philosophy’s preferred model-Aristotelian hylomorphism. According to this latter model, the individual is comprised of an innate matter upon which a determinate form is imposed, as it were, “from above.” The crystal, however, is the product of an autogenesis, according to which environmental energies are transformed or “transduced” around an initial event or locale, itself haphazard and contingent. As Simondon explains:
A crystal that, from a very small seed, grows and expands in all directions in its supersaturated mother liquid provides the most simple image of the transductive operation: each already constituted molecular layer serves as an organizing basis for the layer currently being formed… the transductive operation is an individuation in progress; it can, in the physical domain, occur in the simplest manner in the form of a progressive iteration; but in more complex domains such as the domains of vital metastability or of a psychic problematic, it can advance in constantly variable steps and it can expand in a domain of heterogeneity (2009: 11).
Here, in a microscopic model of Simondon’s broader project, crystalline individuation is traced from the example of relatively simple mineraloid transduction, up to the levels of complex biological, psychological and collective individuation.
And developing upon this project, Berressem dedicates impressive and methodical work, drawing on findings in biology and chemistry, to establish not only the possibility of discussing living individuals as crystalline—albeit not solid crystals, rather liquid or quasi-crystals—but also of speaking meaningfully of virtual individuals—be they psychic, noetic or philosophical—in terms of crystallisation. As he explains:
Similar to the way matter crystallizes itself into specific forms from within a field of vectorial and energetic potentiality, mind crystallizes itself into specific thoughts from within a field of vectorial and intensive potentiality… This is why for Deleuze, philosophy, as the art of thought, needs to open itself up to the non-philosophical: to link its concepts to pre- and non-philosophical plateaus and parameters. Only under this condition does it make sense to talk of crystals as ‘seeds of thought’ (28).
In other words, not only do crystals, conceived as “events” at the level of actualised matter, provoke the crystallisation of “thoughts” and “Ideas” in philosophy, but these same noetic crystals must be understood not as innate or immaculate, but rather situated within their own energetic and affective milieux or ecologies.
In his second chapter, Berressem zooms in, turning to an account of the refractive functioning of such a “crystalline” thought itself. Via a detailed treatment of Deleuze’s early engagement with Hume, in particular his elaboration of the subject—and later of the individual tout court—as the contraction of a habit, Berressem moves to a discussion of Deleuze’s noetic philosophy as it emerges in Difference and Repetition. Here, Deleuze claims that much of what is considered thought is in fact nothing but a habitual “recognition,” which sees, in keeping with the Kantian model, the faculties engaged in a harmonious function of “representation.” Philosophical thought, however, in keeping with its project of breaking with doxa, should strive to escape the model of recognition, taking as its object not the unified beings of an already thinkable representation, rather the multiplicities of an unthinkable becoming. In this context, Deleuze will sketch a cognitive model according to which the faculties “fail” in recognising their object, and embark upon a mutual experience of provocation and constraint — each thrust back into contact with that which is its “own,” and entering into a differential inter-agitation which is productive of the new.
Berressem draws out the already refractory model such a thought presupposes, positing philosophy as that style of “crystalline” thinking which is able to transform the unity of received light into such problematic multiplicities. As he writes, “in a process that is comparable to the refraction of white light into the spectrum of colours, crystallization refracts monism into multiplicity” (24). And while this “luminous” conception of thought finds plenty of implicit support in Difference and Repetition itself, Berressem’s work in drawing out the subtle yet consistent vocabulary of light throughout the book—such that it might be linked to the broader figure of a Deleuzian “luminosity”—is genuinely accomplished, providing fertile yet underemphasised connectives with a constellation of other Deleuzian texts.
The crystal, then, provides us with a model of thought and of its object, both of which constitute refractory crystallisations emerging through transduction around a particular germinal “event.” But, to return to the question with which we began, how are we to reconcile these particulate individuals with the pre-individual flows or forces which are their condition? How, in other words, are we to move from an atomist monadology to a crystalline ecology?
Essential here is Berressem’s use of the motif of photonic wave-particle duality, the “elemental complementarity of particles and waves” (32), which recurs throughout Luminous Philosophy. Quantum mechanics, in many ways, begins with the problem that neither the concept of the particle nor of the wave, as inherited from classical physics, properly explain the unique behaviours of photons at the quantum level. Photons, indeed, occupy an indeterminate space between these theories, such that, as Albert Einstein concedes:
…we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do (1938: 278).
In other words, elementary particles are interchangeably either individuals, flows or aerosols, depending upon the particular mode of visualisation, theorisation or of thought which is brought to bear upon them.
And this same indeterminacy can be expressed in terms of light and crystals, such that, as Berressem explains, “crystals are the effect of polarization, of the spatial orientation that defines, for instance, electromagnetic, gravitational or light waves” (23). Considered in this photonic sense, then, both waves of light and refractory crystallisations of light constitute the same ontological substance, albeit “thought” in formally distinct modes. In this way, Berressem restages Spinoza’s “parallelism”—such as Deleuze more or less retains—between a plane of extension and of thought, using the motifs of a luminous physics to maintain their ontological simultaneity as substance, God or nature.
Berressem’s third chapter traces this particle-wave model of parallelism into Deleuze’s work on both space and time, prosecuting fertile and original discussions of The Logic of Sense, The Fold and A Thousand Plateaus. Here, the author himself enacts a folding of the philosophy of time advanced in The Logic of Sense onto that of Difference and Repetition, in order to differentiate two temporal registers conceived in terms of light -an infinity of Chronic “strobes” or “pulses” constituting the microscopic physical adherences necessary for the maintenance of a “present,” alongside an immaterial, Aionic time, “an empty, intensive, virtual duration that is open to both a past and to a future” (118). Transposed into the author’s preferred metaphysical category of light, these alternate temporal modalities become “a diffuse aionic glow that suffuses a scene against the stuttering of the chronic strobe…” (118). Alongside temporality conceived in these luminous terms, Berressem here pursues the model of a crystalline space through Deleuze’s Leibnizian monadology, which sees the latter’s radically singular atoms reconceived as folds, pleats or fractalizations of immanent substance. The discussion in this chapter is of an immense richness, however in order to treat what I take to be the book’s fundamental themes, I will leave detailed explication to one side and direct the interested reader to Berressem’s text.
For now, it suffices to say that the model of wave-particle complementarity—alongside a “refractory” and affirmative model of philosophy—is brought to bear in what is the crowning achievement of the book, its final, long chapter, entitled simply “Luminous Philosophy.” Here, Berressem interweaves a discussion of colour in Deleuze’s 1956 essay “Bergson’s Conception of Difference” with discussions of light in the 1978-81 lectures on Spinoza, his work on cinema and his study of Francis Bacon. Across each of these latter works -as Berressem rightly notes- earlier, more disparate and allusive discussions of light consolidate and centralise, such that by the time of Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Deleuze will explicitly give us a “plane of immanence […] entirely made up of Light” (2013a: 67).
Cinema, after all, is the art of the photon, and Berressem devotes meticulous exegetical work in support of the claim that Deleuze’s two volume study of film constitutes not simply a quaint, “aesthetic” corner of the Deleuzian oeuvre, rather the central articulation of concerns present in Deleuze’s thought since at least as far back as his encounter with the Lucretian clinamen. In these books, Deleuze, drawing on Bergson’s idiosyncratic metaphysics of the “image,” gives us “the universe as cinema in itself, a metacinema” (2013a: 67), composed through a multilateral framing, splicing and montage of energetic states- an individuation of light commensurate with that enacted by the camera on its own microscopic scale.
But cinema, like philosophy, relates not simply to the “actualised” modalities of light- profoundly capable, as it is, of rendering visible virtual operations like those of thought, dreams and temporality. In this context, Cinema II: The Time-Image provides Deleuze’s most elaborate discussion of the crystal, which he identifies in the “crystal-images” of certain auteurs, the likes of Zannussi, Welles, Ophüls and Resnais. Their films, in combining images of dream, reality, falsehood, illusion and documentary, thus produce indeterminate relations between light’s actual and virtual dimensions, relations which, in terms of the refractory structure of the crystal, must be conceived as inherently productive. As Deleuze explains:
These are ‘mutual images’ […] where an exchange is carried out. The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind. It is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by their nature double (2013b: 73).
Berressem’s originality, in linking this luminosity to that which he has carefully excavated across Deleuze’s oeuvre, is to suggest that the two cinema books, taken together, thus form such a crystal, abiding at the very heart of Deleuze’s thought, and staging a parallel encounter between light’s actual (movement-image) and virtual (time-image) modalities. As Berressem explains:
The point-at-infinity of Deleuze’s cinematographic projective plane lies in the crystal space between the two books; the point-at-infinity where its two sides meet in a conceptual tête-bêche… it is this unthinkable point that marks the ultimate crystal moment in Deleuze’s philosophy. The ideal identification of the virtual and the actual at philosophy’s point-at-infinity (213).
As such, we find ourselves in the very “heart of lightness,” the centre of the immensely productive crystal constituted by Deleuzian philosophy, in the refraction between virtual light, actual light, philosophy and (cinema as) non-philosophy. This characterisation, whilst serving admirably to locate the cinema books at the heart of Deleuze’s oeuvre, and plugged in to a much broader ecology encompassing even his earliest works, likewise serves to draw out the key conceptual dimensions along which Deleuze’s most microscopic and localised arguments take place.
Clearly then, as I hope to have demonstrated, there is much of both use and of value in this study, which deserves to be recognised as a philosophical treatise in its own right, beyond the realm of Deleuze scholarship. The failings of the work are few and far between, and reflect the difficulty of ever fully accommodating a philosophical project of such bewildering breadth and erudition as that of Deleuze. One omission, perhaps, is Deleuze’s admittedly obscure politics, which -particularly as it calcifies in his collaborative works with Guattari- is largely absent. It’s possible indeed that the cleaving of Deleuze and Guattari in two, whilst opening up a set of fertile potentialities, comes at the cost of the overarching tenor of their project, both together and after their collaboration, which is marked by the long, and here unmentioned, shadow of May ‘68.
A relative absence of meditation on the particular modes of individuation (or of crystallisation) engendered by capitalism -an essential theme for Deleuze as for Guattari- is mirrored in a more generalised eschewal of the agonism which, despite his explicitly “affirmative” position, often characterises Deleuze’s thought. There is a sense indeed, throughout the book, that the “luminosity” Berressem hopes to emphasise elides some of the critical edge animating Deleuze’s philosophy- an amicability evinced by the relative absence not only of Deleuze’s “enemies” (the Hegelian negative, Platonist idealism, Cartesian interiority, capital) but also the venomous source of the unique form of affirmation which Deleuze takes up- the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche, indeed, an infrequent reference here, advocates an affirmation which is not so much “luminous” as Dionysian, rooted in a valorisation of the shadowy violence of life. And Deleuze, like Nietzsche, will caution against any conciliatory or peaceable reading of his concepts, warning, in Difference and Repetition, against “the greatest danger […] of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul” (1994: xx). The beautiful soul, in this context, is that reader for whom all differences are recuperable under the arid rubric of “toleration,” for whom “there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles…” (1994: xx). Berressem is not, of course, this naïve figure, but his relative silence on questions like the catastrophe of capitalism, as on dogmatic thought, “control,” and the loss of our “belief in the world”—and many other themes of a “Dark Deleuze” besides—mean that he does occasionally run the risk of being read in this way.
Alongside this politically muted Deleuze—a figure I admit many “Deleuzians” might well approve of—we also encounter a profoundly systematic Deleuze, as evinced by Berressem’s early statement of intent:
…if one considers every perceptual and cognitive process as one of pattern production and pattern recognition, a pattern of Deleuzian thought begins to emerge: Hume, Lucretius, Simondon, Difference and Repetition. All of these develop, in a logic that recapitulates that of difference and repetition proposed in Difference and Repetition, philosophical theories of the incarnation of the virtual in the actual (71).
While there is nothing wrong with this characterisation per se, underemphasised, perhaps, is the disjunctive and “differential” articulation to which Deleuze submits his own concepts.
Deleuze, like Nietzsche, is wary of any “systematic” reading of his thought, such as might reinscribe the monistic and proscriptive tendencies he will identify in “Royal” philosophies. In favour of building an exclusive or closed system, Deleuze will offer a necessarily “shifting,” consistently dynamic philosophy, which changes its concerns and vocabulary across his works. As he himself explains:
We all move forward or backward; we are hesitant in the middle of these directions; we construct our topology, celestial map, underground den, measurements of surface planes, and other things as well. While moving in these different directions, one does not speak in the same way, just as the subject matter which one encounters is not the same… (2006: 63)
Indeed the impressive continuity Berressem endeavours to establish across Deleuze’s oeuvre, linking early discussions of the Lucretian clinamen to his very last works on the immanence of “a life,” perhaps comes at the cost of those moments of discontinuity and of rupture which Deleuze himself is at pains to inject.
In the context of the increasing ubiquity of communication technologies at the end of the last century, Deleuze laments, in a 1990 conversation with Antonio Negri, a contemporary conflation of “communication” and “creation,” suggesting that genuine creation instead has a fundamental affinity with rupture, incommensurability and silence. “Creating has always been something different from communicating,” he explains, “the key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control…” (1995; 175). Berressem’s book creates a rhizomatic topology of interconnection, such that every part of Deleuze’s oeuvre can be plugged into a metaphysics of crystals and of light. However, the contemporary political task—should we still hope to read Deleuze’s metaphysics as a politics—is perhaps of a different order.
As Andrew Culp has written, in his book Dark Deleuze, in many ways the shadowy opposite of Berressem’s work, “the necessity of ‘taking another step’ beyond Deleuze avant la lettre is especially true when both capitalists and their opponents simultaneously cite him as a major influence” (2016: 2). As Culp continues:
…the first step is to acknowledge that the unbridled optimism for connection has failed. Temporary autonomous zones have become special economic zones. The material consequences of connectivism are clear: the terror of exposure, the diffusion of power, and the oversaturation of information (2016; 4).
In other words, whilst identifying subterranean connections across Deleuze’s oeuvre, as between Deleuze’s metaphysics and contemporary science, is an enormously fertile endeavour, such work should always be conducted with the important caveat that non-communication and discontinuity -between individuals, as between disciplines and ideas- remain fundamental dimensions of Deleuze’s own philosophy.
These criticisms, however, are peripheral to the book’s many merits and great richness. There is much here of value not only for Deleuze scholars but for those interested in contemporary metaphysics, post-phenomenological thought, linkages between contemporary science and philosophy and more. Indeed, taken alongside Berressem’s accompanying volume on Guattari, which does indeed take a more concretely socio-political approach to its metaphysics, the work undertaken here is of a quite impressive breadth and quality. Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy is a book which deserves, on this basis, a wide and enthusiastic readership.
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 Hanjo Berressem, Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020. The relationship between these simultaneous sister volumes, the author explains, is such that “although each book can be read as an individual text, the two correspond to one another in such a way that when they are read together, an immaterial book emerges in the mind of the reader” (xvii). In the service of this virtual volume, square bracketed “hyperlinks” point the reader to corresponding passages in each book’s “actual” sister. This structure serves the obvious and immediate function of elevating Guattari’s thought to its proper place – distinct from, yet complementary to that of Deleuze. Despite the broad success of this innovation, Guattari’s absence was felt, at times, in the exegetical flow of the present work. The task of separating these two disruptive pupils remains a difficult one.
 Ryan J. Johnson, The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.
 For a convincing argument to the effect that Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborations, as well as their subsequent work, are instigated by the “events” of May ’68, see Claire Colebrook, Understanding Deleuze, Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2002.