Chad Engelland (Ed.): Language and Phenomenology

Language and Phenomenology Book Cover Language and Phenomenology
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Chad Engelland (Ed.)
Routledge
2020
Hardback £120.00
318

Reviewed by: Sarah Pawlett Jackson (St Mellitus College)

Language and Phenomenology is a collection of 15 essays edited by Chad Engelland. Doing what it says on the tin, these essays cluster around questions about the relationship between language and phenomenology, in a range of different ways and with different axes of analysis in view. The text is bookended by Engelland himself. In both his Introduction and the essay that culminates the text he draws our attention to the fact that phenomenological discourse is itself a language with its own vocabulary and grammar. As Richard Kearney tells us in his contribution on linguistic and narrative hospitality, ‘a mother tongue has many children’ (267). The text exemplifies these two points in its form and content. If all the contributing authors are fluent in the language of phenomenology, there are nevertheless different dialects, or – to use Engelland’s own terminology – ‘inflections’ (273) represented.

Reading the text as a whole presents as a question the extent to which there is agreement or disagreement between the authors that it gives voice to. The collection seems to offer different conclusions about the nature of the relationship between phenomenology and language, but there is a question in this reader’s mind as to how much of this difference is ultimately terminological, rather than substantively philosophical. These questions of interpretation themselves find a mirror in the questions that are put to us in the text. As reviewing a work involves mediation and a kind of ‘translation’ of the authors, I am minded of Kearney’s observation that ‘…each dialect has its secrets, whence the legitimate double-injunction of every guest language cries to its host: ‘Translate me! Don’t translate me!’ (265). I will explore some of the threads, themes and tensions that the text presents, then, whilst recognising the limits of this ‘translation’.

Between them these essays variously look at the possible relationships and connections between speech and language, language and thought, language and meaning, dialogue and language, dialogue and mood, dialogue and perceptual experience, experience and judgement, language and normativity, language and self-consciousness, experience and interpretation, language and embodiment and language and truth. The most prominent scholarly figures in this text are Husserl and Heidegger, with multiple essays dedicated to exegeting both the early and late work of this prominent pair. Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer and others are also brought into these overlapping and intersecting conversations. All of the essays are rooted in the phenomenological tradition, but many find a natural conversation partner with analytic philosophy, drawing the likes of Wittgenstein and Frege. Aristotle is another figure who makes several appearances, offering another bridging point between traditions, as Heidegger’s analysis of language interacts and modifies Aristotle’s account of language.

This bridging of traditions is perhaps in part a natural feature of the subject matter itself, where the philosophy of language has more typically been seen to be the domain of the of the Anglo-American tradition. As Engelland highlights at the off, the domain of ‘phenomenology of language’ ‘initially appears empty’…While philosophy as conceptual analysis obviously involves a close interaction with language and problems of language, it is not at all clear that the same holds for philosophy as description of the structure of experience. What is the specifically phenomenological contribution to language?’ (1). This text seeks to be part of clarifying and constituting this contribution. It succeeds in offering a rich contribution to ‘phenomenology of language’ as its own domain, tracing some central threads about the fundamental presuppositions such a domain has to grapple with, whilst also making space for detailed reflection on the lived experience of our linguistic lives. In this task the form of a multiplicity of voices is a strength, offering a snapshot of this field in both its depth and breadth. This text would not suit beginners to phenomenology, as it assumes a ready familiarity with the tradition. For those already engaged in phenomenological ideas, the writing is largely very accessible and illuminating.

The text is split into two parts, the first titled ‘Language and Experience’, the second ‘Language and Joint Experience’. The second part therefore takes a specific slant on the over-arching theme of the text, namely the relationship between language and experience in the light of the fact that both are inescapably tied to our intersubjective interactions with others. These two parts, Engelland tells us, seek to track both the first-person and the second-person character of language in our lived experience.

The first section offers eight contributions: Daniel O. Dahlstrom argues that language is the ‘light’ by which objects are illuminated. Taylor Carmen evaluates Merleau-Ponty’s account of the connection between language and the expressive body. Dominique Pradelle explores a way of understanding the ‘pre-predicative’ dimension of experience. Jacob Rump argues that perception has normativity ‘baked in’ and outlines why this is relevant to an understanding of the relationship between language and experience. Scott Campbell offers that Heidegger’s understanding of ‘taking notice’ offers a way of speaking that discloses rather than conceals our experience. Leslie MacAvoy outlines how Heidegger modifies Aristotle’s account by shifting logos to perceptual experience itself. Katherine Whitby offers us eight possible ways that language can disclose the world to us, landing with the centrality of dialogue as world-disclosing. Anna Gosetti-Ferencei focuses on poetry as a particular form of language, exploring the phenomenology of poetry and poetry as phenomenology.

The second section is comprised of seven essays. As the focus here is on the intersubjective dimensions of language and experience, many of these authors interface their analyses with analyses in developmental psychology. The joint attention contexts of language learning shared by infants and their caregivers shed light on connections between intersubjectivity, language and experience which are others hiding in plain sight in our adult experience. Andrew Inkpin argues that neither individualism not social holism are adequate ways of accounting for language, but that both the individual and social aspects of language are compound, complex and co-constitutive. Pol Vandevelde draws on the work of Vygotsky to argue both that language scaffolds thought and thought scaffolds language. Michele Averchi uses Husserl’s distinction between expressions and indications to make the case that while there are non-linguistic forms of information transfer, only linguistic forms can function as truly communicative acts. Lawrence Hatab argues for the priority and necessity of language in all forms of world-disclosure. With a different emphasis, Cathy Culbertson argues that forms of play mirror and prefigure spoken conversation. Richard Kearney offers both an analysis and a manifesto for what he calls ‘narrative hospitality’, characterised by flexibility, plurality, transfiguration and pardon. Engelland culminates with a meditation on the ways that we learn a phenomenological language, arguing that this is grounded in, and a completion of, our ordinary language learning. He sketches a distinction between linguistic and non-linguistic forms of communication in terms of the capacity of the former to reach beyond presence to that which is absent.

Whilst the polycentric nature of an essay collection means that there is not a straightforward over-arching argument to analyse here, the key thread that runs through the text as a whole – as the section headings suggest – is that of the nature of the relationship between language and experience. There are at least three different possible positions one might take to the question of the fundamental relationship between experience and language. Broadly speaking these are: (i) Language is imposed on or secondary to the ‘raw data’ of phenomenal experience, where these are two distinct kinds of thing. (ii) Phenomenal experience is in fact linguistic ‘all the way through’, and there is no such thing as pre-linguistic experience – this is a myth. (iii) There is some category of (something like) pre-linguistic experience but this aspect of our experience is nevertheless still structured in a way that is congruent with or isomorphic to linguistic structure.

If we were to caricature phenomenology, we might be inclined to say that it preaches the first of these positions. One might suppose that in the Husserlian exhortation to get ‘back to the things themselves’ the phenomenologist is seeking to analyse that which is prior to language itself. It soon becomes clear, however, that this is not necessarily the case, and indeed, not the tack that most phenomenologists take, despite the emphasis on lived experience as a methodological starting point. This is both because language survives the bracketing process as part of the content of our experience of the world, but also because it becomes clear that (in some way) language is a condition of the possibility of our experiencing the world in the way that we experience it.

Most phenomenologists want a more nuanced account of the relationship between language and phenomenology, but what is the nature of this relationship – or set of relationships? As Engelland makes foreground in his Introduction, we see in the work of classic and contemporary phenomenologists both that: ‘Experience takes the lead but it is an experience widened by speech. One can thereby identify a basic tension within the phenomenological treatment of language: on the one hand, phenomenology subordinates speech to experience. On the other hand, phenomenology identifies the reciprocity of speech and experience’ (3). Further, phenomenologists want to be ‘mindful of the linguisticality of experience’ (13). Engelland here roughly lays out the three emphases above, highlighting that the phenomenological tradition has included elements that imply (i), (ii) and (iii). These positions, when laid out beside each other, seem mutually incompatible. What then are we to make of these competing emphases? What are the arguments in favour of each? This collection seeks to help us think through this question, by together taking a long hard look at these tensions. Each of the essays in their own way make an attempt to ascertain a coherent understanding of where and how language sits in both the form and the content of our lived experience.

On the face of it, it seems as though different authors in the collection come to different conclusions with respect to the question of whether experience is linguistic ‘all the way through’ or not. Contributors such as Hatab make claims in favour of ‘the priority of language in world-disclosure’ (229), emphasising the way that human beings always already dwell in language – which looks like option (ii). Others such as Pradelle argue that the pre-predicative dimension of experience is more primitive than the linguistic dimension, yet there is a form of logos that structures this ‘lower order’ (58) of experience which bridges it to the linguistic – which looks like option (iii).

Another way of framing the key question here might be: Is logos simply the domain of language? And if not, how are we to understand pre- or extra-linguistic logos, or ‘logos in its nascent state’ (72)? Or again to re-frame, in the inverse: If there is some logical structure to our pre-verbal experience, is this because this pre-verbal content is in fact still in some way ‘linguistic’, so tracks the logos of language (as MacAvoy seems to argue with the claim that ‘perception already speaks’ (120))? Or is there a logic that is genuinely and distinctly pre-linguistic here (As Pradelle and Rump both seem to argue)?

These different suggested relationships cash out in a particular way in the second section of book, which focuses on the intersubjective contexts of both language and experience. These papers focus on communication between people, including both pre-verbal forms of communication and verbal dialogue. Mirroring the questions above, we might ask – when we talk about ‘pre-verbal’, ‘extra-verbal’ or ‘non-verbal’ communication (including, for example tone, gestures and body language) are we saying that there is a kind of ‘grammar’ built into these forms of communication that is quasi-linguistic? Or do these forms of interaction have their own logic which is distinct from language, only secondarily entering into some kind of relationship with the linguistic elements of an interaction? Again, we seem to get different answers to this question. Averchi argues that there is a distinct logical and structural difference between verbal and non-verbal forms of communication, which shows up in the difference between language’s capacity to communicate the absent and the abstract – this looks like option (i). Hatab argues that all communication is linguistic and denies the possibility of experience not already shaped by language, which looks like option (ii). A seemingly different position comes through in Culbertson’s article. She looks at the structural similarities between forms of play and spoken conversation, making a case for a structural similarity, congruence and interconnection of pre-verbal and verbal forms of dialogue in this way. A slightly different take but a similar conclusion comes from Pol Vandevelde, using Husserl, who highlights the difference between ‘semantic consciousness’ and ‘phonetic consciousness’ (199). Semantic consciousness is the ‘perceiving-as’ that we are most familiar with: when I hear someone speaking in English, I cannot hear this as ‘mere noise’ but I non-inferentially hear the meaning of the words and sentences. Phonetic consciousness however highlights a slightly different layer of meaning in my reception of speech. Even when I hear someone speaking in a foreign language that I don’t understand, I still grasp it as speech. This maps onto the development of speech in infants, where an infant can recognise speech patterns as speech, and join in proto-dialogue, before understanding the meaning of the words themselves. In Vygotsky’s words, there is ‘a prelinguistic phase in the development of thought and a preintellectual phase in the development of speech’ (195). Vandevelde’s endorsement of this here looks like option (iii).

This central question re-framed yet another way asks: Is language a broader category than we might ordinarily think it is (incorporating the seemingly non-verbal) or is logos a broader category than we might ordinarily think it is (incorporating the non-linguistic)? And – what is at stake in this difference, if anything? This is where the question of the philosophically substantive vs merely terminological comes into play. Does it make a difference if we think about this dimension of our experience as structured by pre-linguistic logos or by pre-verbal language? Are these two ways of saying the same thing? If not, what further might be needed to distinguish these two ways of thinking? This is a genuine question, but I don’t think that the collection as a whole can land us either way.

A slightly different take on this central question asks whether language is necessarily objectifying of our experience, with this question is addressed head on by Campbell. Again, the caricature of the phenomenologist in our minds might say that all language is theory-laden, and it brings a distorting or at least limited and limiting lens to the ‘given’ of experience. This perspective, which has a clear alignment with option (i) above, might argue that language is always re-presenting what is presented in experience. However, there is another suggestion, that language can also straightforwardly present our experience, and successfully communicate this experience to another. Here we have the thought that different types of speech do different kinds of things, in different ‘phenomenological registers’ (109) and perhaps disclose or conceal the world in different ways. Campbell looks at Heidegger’s analysis of the writings of St Paul as a case of ‘taking notice’. Gosetti-Ferencei’s account of the ‘phenomenological moments’ (150) in poetry also offers a picture of language which ‘presents’ rather than represents. ‘Taking notice’ is ‘a kind of pre-predicative and non-propositional language, that is, a language that is evocative, perhaps even stream of consciousness, narrative and exploratory instead of theoretical and objectifiying’ (96). This kind of language is to be distinguished from Heideggerian ‘idle talk’, which conceals the lived reality of our experience. We might read Campbell’s interpretation of Heidegger as akin to option (ii), particularly where he contrasts this with his interpretation of Husserl, which looks more like option (iii). He says: ‘Husserl…thought that predicative language could bring to light the inherent meaningfulness in pre-predicative experience. Heidegger on the other hand, explored a way of thinking about language that was itself pre-predicative’ (110). Whether Campbell’s interpretation of both Husserl and Heidegger is right here is its own question, but even if Campbell is right here, this is not necessarily a point that forces a further dialectic, as both positions could be true. These two articulations of how language might disclose the meaning of experience are not mutually exclusive. There is nothing in this analysis which can arbitrate between option (ii) or (iii) for us. Again, we might wonder how much is ultimately at stake between them, if anything.

Part of the difficulty in assessing where philosophical differences lie and where differences are merely terminological is connected to the fact that both ‘language’ and ‘experience’ ae themselves such wide and contested terms. Each have a cloud of (overlapping) concepts associated with them, and how one understands these associations makes all the difference for the conclusions one draws about the nature of other associations. How one understands the relationship between, for example, dialogue and language will shape how one understands the relationship between dialogue and experience and therefore between experience and language. What gets defined into the relata in question defines what is claimed about the nature and possibility of the relationship. For example, whilst Hatab makes the strong claim that ‘the disclosure of the world is gathered in language, not objects, perception, thought or consciousness’ (299), we find that he defines ‘language’ in such as way that includes ‘facial expressions, touch, physical interactions, gestures, sounds, rhythms, intonations, emotional cues, and a host of behavioral contexts’ (236). This to say, Hatab defines a host of non-verbal embodied interactions into what he means by language. With all manner of embodied meaning brought under the umbrella of language, the claim that language is the sole discloser of the world no longer looks like the narrow claim it initially did. And as above, once language is given a wide definition, it is less clear what is at stake, if anything, between a position like Hatab’s and a position like Pradelle’s. Perhaps Hatab’s non-verbal ‘language’ and Pradelle’s ‘pre-linguistic logos’ are the same thing, and there are ways of seeing option (ii) and option (iii) as the same thing viewed two different ways.

This point about definitional difference noted, a more fertile way of exploring further the possibility of extra-linguistic dimension of our experience might ask: how are we to understand the nature and structure of a pre-linguistic logos (or a pre-verbal language)? The suggestion from a number of authors is that this is given by the normativity that is built into perceptual experience itself. The structure of consciousness as intentionality, which means that seeing is seeing-as, hearing is hearing-as, and so on, gives us the logos embedded in perception. What are the conditions of possibility for consciousness so structured? As MacAvoy gestures towards in her essay, the structure of the world itself is relevant here, and further analysis of the networks of meaning embedded in the ‘interobjectivity’ of things might be part of this further exploration. There is also a possible theological direction in view here, as Kearney indicates – ‘there is no pure pristine logos, unless it is God’s’ (265). Indeed, further exploration of the pre-linguistic logos might take the famous opening lines of St John’s gospel as its starting cue: ‘In the beginning was the logos.Language and Phenomenology offers a springboard to further exploration of this logos baked into to fabric of reality and the logic of phenomenal consciousness, though the conversation is still unfolding.

Andreas Beinsteiner: Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität

Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität Book Cover Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität
Heidegger Forum 17
Andreas Beinsteiner
Klostermann
2021
Paperback 29,00 €
318

Reviewed by: Daniel Neumann (Universität Klagenfurt)

In Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität, Andreas Beinsteiner sets out to reconceive Heidegger’s central term “Being” as mediality. The overarching goal of the book is twofold: giving a coherent interpretation of the meaning of Being throughout Heidegger’s oeuvre, as well as contributing to the foundational thought of media studies. In doing so, Beinsteiner takes a cue from Dieter Mersch, whose concept of “negative mediality” is based on the assumption that what constitutes the mediality of media has yet to be philosophically elucidated. The “manifest justification deficit of the media concept” (Mersch 2015, 19) could be remedied, Beinsteiner argues, with Heidegger’s thinking of Being. Thirty-seven years before Marshall McLuhan famously pronounced that “the medium is the message”, shifting the focus on the elusive role the medium itself plays in the process of mediation, Heidegger had similarly discovered the constitutive withdrawal of Being itself in the unconcealment of beings (205). The role of mediality is thereby expanded beyond that of media in the strict sense. By looking at Heidegger’s philosophy, Beinsteiner suggests that the way we experience digital media, but also art and technology in the broader sense, has to be grasped from how we experience anything at all, in other words, how we come to experience the Being of beings. As he makes clear in later chapters of his book, Beinsteiner is convinced that Heidegger does not just speak to the fundamental mediality of our being in the world, but also to specific modern forms of mediality of technology, such as autonomously operating machines. The aim of the book is of philosophical and media theoretical interest not just because it aims at laying the groundwork for a concept of mediality, based on a close reading of Heidegger’s philosophy up to his later years, but also because this reading promises an integrated account of mediality, comprising its fundamental and specific aspects equally.

In the first two thirds of the book, Beinsteiner develops this idea vis-à-vis central concepts found in Heidegger’s works, such as presence, event and equipment. In Sein und Zeit, the interested involvement which unveils Being as equipment (Zeug), putting me in a pragmatic mode in which I use this equipment without thinking about its significance, is conceived as a paradigmatic case of mediality. It is not just my existence, being oriented around the care of the being that I am, which mediates the concernful handling of equipment. It is also the equipment as concrete artifact that helps to shape my access to the world. Thus, “contrary to the dominant anti-hermeneutical reading of Heidegger in media studies” (33), artifacts play a central role in the constitution of mediality and the mediation of sense. Mediality here is shown to depend on an interplay of our pre-understanding (Vorverständnis) for equipment to even be recognized as such (a requirement that Beinsteiner shows to be based on Heidegger’s understanding of Platonic ideas) as well as the material artifact, in which understanding, purpose and craftsmanship have coagulated into a being which mediates our access to the world in different ways. Here, basic Heideggerian terminology such as availableness (Zuhandenheit) and occurrentness (Vorhandenheit) are coherently interpreted as modes of mediality. While the scope of the meaning of being in Sein und Zeit seems to follow the paradigm of the availability of being-as-equipment, in later writings Heidegger thinks of the meaning of Being as taking on historical proportions: the meaning of Being concerns historicity, instead of the temporality of an individual existence (51). Yet across the Kehre, mediality retains its central significance for how Heidegger thinks Being. Thus, Beinsteiner argues for a continuity and an expansion between Heidegger’s earlier and later writings, instead of a break, based on the interpretation of Being as mediality.

Throughout the book, a consistent vocabulary is developed to capture this continuity. The early Heidegger’s concern with the meaning of finite existence is conceived by Beinsteiner as the “existential-hermeneutical as” (existentialhermeneutisches als). The “as”, that Being appears as is hermeneutically motivated, following the existential structure of existence. In other words, how we grasp Being, e.g. via equipment, language and mood, is a matter of the constitution of Dasein’s being in the world. In later Heidegger, the way Being discloses the world is still a question of the “as” of Being. But to account for the historical dimension of Heidegger’s questioning, Beinsteiner now speaks of Being appearing as “regimes of accessibility” (Zugänglichkeitsregime), which imply an unavoidable reduction of the ambiguity of Being, i.e. mediality. The regime (or paradigm) of accessibility is what pre-selects the way in which Being is perceived (vernommen). Just as the manners of being (Seinsarten) in Sein und Zeit are shown to be forms of mediality, the historical regimes of Being (roughly, physis in Antiquity, creation in Medieval Times and subjective representation beginning in Modernity) turn out to be forms in which Being is collectively understood. Through this synthetical reading of early and later Heidegger, Beinsteiner is able to demonstrate a basic selectivity of mediality, which spans the understanding of individual being, Being as a whole as well as the selectivity of accessibility to Being itself (65).

The latter aspect is especially important as Heidegger’s interest is not just in discussing the multivalence of Being in existential or historical terms, but more fundamentally in showing that the way Being can be grasped, perceived and understood, is irreducible to any one meaning. According to Beinsteiner, Heidegger comes closest to the idea of Being as mediality when discussing Being in terms of immediacy and mediatedness:

“What is first present in all gathers everything isolated together into a single presence and mediates to each thing its appearing. Immediate allpresence is the mediator for everything mediated, that is, for the mediate. The immediate is itself never something mediate; on the other hand, the immediate, strictly speaking, is the mediation, that is, the mediatedness of the mediated, because it renders the mediated possible in its essence.” (Heidegger 2000, 84).

“Das in allem zuvor Gegenwärtige [d.h. die physis, AB] versammelt alles Vereinzelte in die eine Anwesenheit und vermittelt Jeglichem das Erscheinen. Die unmittelbare Allgegenwart ist die Mittlerin für alles Vermittelte und d.h. für das Mittelbare. Das Unmittelbare [die physis] ist selbst nie ein Mittelbares, wohl dagegen ist das Unmittelbare, streng genommen, die Vermittelung, d.h. die Mittelbarkeit des Mittelbaren, weil sie dieses in seinem Wesen ermöglicht.” (cited in Beinsteiner, 76f)

In opening and selecting our access to the world, Being (or mediality) takes on the double role of immediate allpresence and mediation. Being is immediate, insofar as everything we perceive is necessarily a manner of it. Yet Being is mediation, since it is never grasped in itself, but only in a certain way. Being is immediate mediation or mediated immediacy. From this, Beinsteiner concludes that “nothing is immediate, except for mediality” (77), while also conceding that grasping this “accessibility of accessibility” confronts us with a fundamental difficulty in thinking about the unconcealment of Being.

Yet neither for Heidegger nor Beinsteiner does this constitute a purely epistemological issue. One of the challenges in interpreting Heidegger lies exactly in characterizing the meaning of Being itself, and the role of the philosopher in taking up this meaning. Beinsteiner’s approach is to grasp this as a fundamentally ethical question: to be sensitive to the irreducible meaning of Being and to become aware of the historical and philosophical contingency of a specific regime of accessibility is to increase one’s own freedom, whereas to insist on an established form of mediality without even realizing its ontological antecedents is to become less free. While this may be characterized as the individual’s share in the exercise of freedom, equally important for Beinsteiner’s interpretation is the fact the specific regime of mediality precedes individual thinking and understanding. Taking up the idea of thrownness (Geworfenheit), Beinsteiner deems this the “ek-sistential disempowerment” (ek-sistentiale Depotenzierung) of human beings. In other words, the fact that we are always already participating in the modes of Being of a certain regime cannot be overcome by philosophical reflection. The “thinking of Being” will not lead to a supreme position from where all its meanings unfold in a cohesive picture. No matter how many ways of Being’s mediality are grasped, neither any one of them, nor their totality, amounts to a grasping of Being itself.

Instead, Beinsteiner takes Heidegger’s thinking of the event as the paradigmatic case in which the sensitivity for Being’s irreducible and abyssal meaning is articulated. Since his discussion is mostly restricted to the works published in his lifetime, Heidegger’s thinking of the event is considered only cursorily. Yet what matters to Beinsteiner’s approach is that the event is what brings us closest to the contingency of the being we perceive. To understand the event (the happening of Being) as event means refocusing thinking from one’s immediate engagement with ontic things towards that which makes this engagement possible. Grasping the fact that Being happens enables us to realize the openness in which we stand as reasonable (vernünftig or vernehmend) beings. The exercise of freedom, according to this interpretation, is this movement or “stepping back”, as Heidegger calls it in his Beiträge zur Philosophie, which decenters our place in the world and which simultaneously makes thinkable our taking place in the world, which is inseparable from Being, taking on a specific meaning. Beinsteiner connects this exercise of freedom with Heidegger’s terminology of comportment (Verhaltenheit) and releasement (Gelassenheit), the latter taking the place of the former in the writings after the Second World War (145). The two terms express a somewhat different attitude towards abyssal Being, Verhaltenheit insinuates a timidity and hesitation, while Gelassenheit seems to emphasize a receptive and patient attitude. The semantics get plausibly streamlined so that in Beinsteiner’s interpretation, both terms are shown to attempt to think the necessary selectiveness of our access to the world.

In Heidegger’s own writings, the thinking of the event is often, though not always in a clear way, connected to the mediality of language. Language is what lets things be, it enables the meaningful grasping of things. In this sense, Beinsteiner speaks of the “as-like structure” (alshafte Struktur) of language. In speaking and hearing language, something can be thought, perceived or grasped as something. Language is medium of sense as well as mediality, because in using language we are not merely participating in a specific regime of accessibility, but we are shaping and changing its mechanism of selectivity. Thus, a poem might make us see a statue in a completely new way and Descartes, in writing a meditation about the nature of his mind, helps to create and stabilize subjectivity, making possible a new understanding of our being in the world which becomes our representation. These examples are to suggest that the thinking of Being in Heidegger doubtlessly relies on language as a key paradigm of mediality, though it certainly is not exclusively a philosophy of language. In arguing that Heidegger strives to critically examine and question the meaning of a regime of accessibility by broadening the scope (Spielraum) of how we understand the meaning of being (169), Beinsteiner seems to concur with the emphasis on language without clearly separating the mediality of language from Being as mediality. The “politics of reinterpretation” (172) that Heidegger is said to put into motion presumably operates on different levels of mediality.

This equivocality might be due to the interpretative decision underlying the whole book, which is to understand Being as mediality. The expression of the “mediality of Being” used above is thus not wholly accurate, as it is not Being itself which mediates our access to the world but mediality in its stead. Beinsteiner speaks of a “forgetting of mediality” (Medialitätsvergessenheit) instead of a Seinsvergessenheit, and a “history of mediality” (Medialitätsgeschichte) instead of a Seinsgeschichte to indicate the shift his interpretation operates. Yet it seems to me that the reconfiguration of the ontological difference between Being/beings (Sein/Seiendes) as Medialität/Seiendes is not fully reflected upon. The notion that all beings refer to mediality has different implications than their referral to Being: beings are of Being, in the sense that Being ontologically comprises what beings are, whether this be in a more general, immediate or truer fashion. One of the momentous assumptions of Sein und Zeit was the idea that what is most proper to beings, their being (or Being) itself, has yet to be fully grasped. There is an intimate connection between Being and beings, which might be compared to the relationship between presence (Anwesenheit) und present things (Anwesendes), bearing in mind that presence for Heidegger is merely one way to understand Being temporally. But there is no such relationship, ontological or otherwise, between mediality and beings. Rather, when we understand the specific form of beings as due to an underlying mediality, this necessarily turns these beings themselves into media of this mediality and thus narrows their ontological meaning. While a being might be considered a unity in many ways (following Aristotles’ famous dictum of being as pollachos legomenon), a being that is the medium of mediality is already designated to present something as something else.

Possibly to avert such difficulties, Beinsteiner does not build his interpretation on the ontological difference of Being and beings, but instead suggests speaking of “a difference between mediality and the phenomenal” (42). While this solves the issue of the missing affinity between mediality and what it discloses, it raises another problem because it seemingly restricts phenomenality to what is made available by mediality, whereas in Heidegger there is a sense in which Being itself, even though it does not manifest itself in an ontic way, has a phenomenal quality as well. An essential aspect of the experience of the event consists in Being, in order to disclose beings, withdrawing itself. This withdrawal of Being, as Beinsteiner shows as well, is not something purely negative, but a concealment which can be experienced as such (198). Instead of a simple absence, concealment draws our attention to the fact that there is concealing. But when Beinsteiner quotes Heidegger in insisting that this concealment is one of the characteristics of artworks (200), an aesthetic or phenomenal quality is evidently involved. If it is thus correct to speak of a phenomenality of concealment, then what conceals itself (i.e. mediality in Beinsteiner’s interpretation) cannot be clearly distinguished from the phenomenal. It seems to me that this aesthetic aspect of withdrawal hinges on the intrinsic affinity between Being and beings, which is abandoned when replacing Being with mediality.

Would the situation have been different if mediality was not understood as replacing Being but instead as the way that Being discloses itself to us, in other words, if it was a matter of the mediality of Being? This would have added another conceptual layer between Being and beings, one in which Being would be grasped as itself in a concrete form. But this would turn Being into an absolute entity, existing beside beings. The strength of Heidegger’s philosophy, and one which is amply expounded in the book, is to resist hypostasizing either Being or beings as absolute, and instead implicating them in what Beinsteiner calls a constant “hermeneutical oscillation” (155ff). With Dieter Mersch, one could say that the question is not how Being is mediated, or how something can appear as something else, but instead how the “as” itself comes to be (Mersch 2015, 20). This in turn means that mediality, the “as itself”, is foundational, in the sense that it enables the appearance of something as something, but that it remains concealed, or rather, that it can only be noticed in the seamless way in which it operates ontic unconcealment.

The last third of the book deals with the specific forms mediality takes on, and the role of media in the usual sense of the word. These issues are tackled by Beinsteiner’s interpretation of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology, in which a dominant form of mediality threatens to permanently bar alternative accesses to phenomenality. In this approach, two things seem especially remarkable. Firstly, Beinsteiner forcefully argues for the idea that Heidegger’s thinking of technology is one of artefacts, not an abstract philosopher’s critique of the contemporary world, making an empirical turn against Heidegger unnecessary (237). Secondly, the different forms of “phenomenological artifacts”, comprising not just technological objects but also artworks, are seamlessly integrated into the idea of Being as mediality. Beinsteiner suggests that equipment and the artwork are two paradigmatic artifacts which refer to the maximum concealment (as technological Gestell) and unconcealment (as event) of mediality. In other words, these artifacts exist on a continuum of concealment, as it were, which either question and broaden the regime of accessibility, or by contrast, insist in it, naturalizing the criteria of accessibility to the point where they almost seem without alternative.

This latter stage is reached with technology when the handling of technological objects becomes more and more a manner of maintenance. With fully automated, interoperative machines, the scope of possible meanings diminishes in the face of efficient, planned and unceasing repetition. Beinsteiner emphasizes that this is not meant as a scathing critique, nor as a call to simpler times in which the relationship between techne and physis was less determined, but that it merely follows the logic of increased insistence within a specific regime of accessibility. While the whole argument of the book mostly focuses on Heidegger’s own writing, at this point a sideways glance to other contemporary theories of technology would have been interesting. Gilbert Simondon, in his On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (originally published in 1958) offers for instance a much more positive account of the relationship between man and automated machine, which is not merely one of maintenance but of engineering. More to the point of Heidegger, Simondon also constructs a genealogy of technical objects stretching back as far as animist theories. But in Simondon, increased levels of technological ingenuity are described as enabling more creativity and openness, based on the knowledge of the modes of existence of these technological objects. Thus, the complex inner workings of an automated machine present not merely a closed system to the outside observer, but an intricate set of ideas which have taken on a fixed form that can be amended and emended through playful experimentation. This creativity that is manifest in the complexity of the machine is not found in Heidegger. On the other hand, Heidegger’s philosophy of technology could be construed as a lifelong struggle with the “technological condition” of his own thinking, for instance as an underlying technological bias dating back as far as Sein und Zeit, where the world is disclosed in the form of technical or pragmatic affordances (Hörl 2008, 651f).

Some of the ambivalences in Heidegger’s view of the role of technology are conveyed by Beinsteiner’s concepts of the hermeneutics of the user and designer, respectively. Technological objects always entertain a complex relationship to their surrounding sense. They are not abstract functions, but first of all projected ideas. In their objective form, they are subject to the sense the user, as a hermeneutical creature makes, of them, just as their design is not merely the application of a form on matter, but an Entwurf and Zuwurf in which the possibility of unexpected discovery appears (246). In this sense, there is a Simondonian quality to Heidegger’s technological thinking. Outside the realm of subservience, technological artifacts may thus gain relevance in the play with accessibility.

In the last chapter, Beinsteiner draws some consequences from the fact that humans are constitutively related to media strictly speaking and to mediality broadly speaking. This exteriority, which is tied back to the basic condition of ek-sistence, is distinguished from concepts in which technology is understood as the extension of an interiority, like Ernst Kapps’s thesis of technology as organ projection. The argument Beinsteiner makes is that Heidegger does not think technology as an anthropological feature: technology will never determine what humans are, or vice versa, as it is just one part of a broader regime of accessibility which is always open to variability through language (283). This variability of language is also at play when Heidegger’s writing process is deemed a “media-philosophical strategy” (289) which mediates the volatile movement of thinking and the crystallization of thought in letters.

It is not just in this work-biographical self-attribution (Wege, nicht Werke is the epigram of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe) that Beinsteiner follows Heidegger. Throughout the book, it becomes clear that the defense of the coherence of the thesis of Being as mediality coincides with the defense of Heidegger’s philosophy itself. But in arguing for Heidegger’s continuous effort to hold open and question existing regimes of accessibility, the mediality elucidated by the interpretation appears much more uniform than Heidegger’s own term of Being, which, as Dasein or event, signifies quite different forms of mediality. It would have been thinkable, for instance, to distinguish mediality as disclosedness and as unconcealment, relative to the ontological framework in which mediality operates. I also disagree with Beinsteiner’s negative assessment of “critical Heidegger studies”, which historicize Heideggerian terminology, thus going against Heidegger’s own semantic intentions (173). On the next page, Beinsteiner warns that, for it not to seem dogmatic and authoritative, one has to follow closely Heidegger’s own “expanding reinterpretation” of metaphysical concepts to liberate and transform thinking (174). Thus, while Heidegger is granted maximum semantic freedom, reading him seems to require abstaining from calling his semantics into question. From this hermeneutical attitude also follows that the historicity of Being, i.e. mediality, remains elusive. In other words, the regime of accessibility is always already in place and we may increase our freedom by thinking its very mediality, but this remains an exercise of reason, not a media archaeology. Yet it would have been possible to grasp Heidegger’s thinking of mediality, especially as it relates to media in the strict sense, in a more empirical way, that is by consulting the invention and distribution of machines. Likewise, paradigm changes in artworks, for instance from figural to more abstract paintings, emphasizing the creative act rather than reproducing ontic features, might have played a role in describing the artwork as an event showing us the limits of our selectivity of accessibility. But the fact that Beinsteiner chose to follow Heidegger closely instead results in a very consistent interpretation, one which is able to convincingly incorporate ideas and terminology from early to late Heidegger.

Thus, the book succeeds in what it set out to do: providing a coherent interpretation of “Being” as mediality, which is shown to be of central importance for concrete media such as artworks, equipment and interoperative machines. Through this careful and thorough reading, Beinsteiner also exposes the limits of a mediality according to Heidegger, thereby laying out premises for media ontologies to come.

References:

Heidegger, Martin. 2000. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. Translated by Keith Hoeller. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Hörl, Erich. 2008. “Die offene Maschine. Heidegger, Günther und Simondon über die technologische Bedingung.” MLN 123(3): 632-655.

Mersch, Dieter. 2015. “Wozu Medienphilosophie? Eine programmatische Einleitung.” Internationales Jahrbuch für Medienphilosophie 1(1): 13-48.

Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, Max Pensky (Eds.): A Companion to Adorno

A Companion to Adorno Book Cover A Companion to Adorno
Blackwell Companions to Philosophy
Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, Max Pensky (Eds.)
Wiley-Blackwell
2020
Hardback $190.00
680

Reviewed by: Conrad Mattli (University of Basel)

The WileyBlackwell Companions to Philosophy series is an encyclopedic project committed to delivering “a comprehensive and authoritative survey of philosophy as a whole” (ii). The 71st addition to the series is, however, an attempt at the impossible. It is determined to summarize a philosophy which rose up precisely against all ‘summary approaches’ to philosophy. “Essentially”, Adorno wrote in Negative Dialectics, “philosophy is not expoundable [referierbar]. If it were, it would be superfluous; the fact that most of it can be expounded speaks against it” (Adorno 2006, 33–34).[1] Luckily for us all, however, the editors of this volume—perfectly aware that “the very idea of a comprehensive summary would have aroused Adorno’s ire” (xv)—chose to disobey the master’s interdiction. And they are right in doing so. The desire to ‘expound’ Adorno’s philosophy is, after all, justifiable on Adornian grounds. For one, because the ability to ‘formalize’ complex matters without unduly reducing their complexity should count among a dialectician’s cardinal virtues. But even more so, because 55 years and counting after Negative Dialectics was published, philosophical academia still seems blissfully unaffected by the profound irritation of negative dialectics. The mere existence of volumes like A Companion to Adorno could help address such unaffectedness, together with the general eschewal of dialectical thought that seems to have become a matter of course, as a self-incurred immaturity.

It is thus all the more welcome that Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, and Max Pensky did not shy away from the difficult task of expounding Adorno’s dialectical body of knowledge by compiling A Companion to Adorno. The volume is a grand endeavor at overcoming common inhibiting factors for ‘scholasticizing’ Adorno. The volume puts Adorno’s original insights in touch with state-of-the-art research. It aspires to cover nearly every aspect of Adorno’s multifaceted legacy and consists of an impressive 39 contributions by contributors from all over the world; thus, it mirrors the international recognition Adorno’s thought continues to receive, by both admirers and critics, since his death in 1969. Since the 2003 centennial, a gradual resurgence of Adornian thought—out from under the communicative paradigm established in the wake of the Habermasian line of critique—can be witnessed. Wiley-Blackwell now plays its part in this slow but steady rise of Adorno scholarship. Flanked by OUP’s forthcoming Oxford Handbook to Adorno, as well as precedent publications from the past[2], not to mention a general, unbroken interest in Adorno across the globe, A Companion to Adorno gives further rise to the hopes of Adorno scholarship that the ‘dialectical path’ will, at long last, engender broader discourse.

The book begins with the “Editors’ Introduction”, and is then divided into seven major subsections, each section covering a significant dimension of Adorno’s intellectual legacy. In addition to short notes on the contributing authors, it is furnished with a handy index at the end. In the following, I will provide brief sketches of each section, while taking up cues from selected contributions. Due to reasons of limited space, I am skipping over some chapters. This skipping-over does by no means imply a claim to their inferiority. I will conclude my discussion by addressing apparent difficulties for Adorno scholarship in general, and by considering the possible impact of the Companion on the field, today and tomorrow.

Intellectual Foundations

Part I of the volume is dedicated to Adorno’s “Intellectual Foundations”. Building on Peter E. Gordon’s lucid biographical sketch, the first part of the Companion already introduces a wide array of themes that are central to Adornian thought. However, Part I is not really a viable introduction for the beginner (aside from Gordon’s bio-essay, maybe), since the individual contributions already involve some previous knowledge of the core issues of Adorno’s philosophy. This, however, does not diminish their worth for the Companion. Tracing the foundations for all later developments of Adorno’s thinking, these chapters provide the contextual framework for the rest of the book. Gordon’s first of two chapters (not including his co-authorship in the editors’ introduction) “Adorno: A biographical sketch” traces the intellectual development of Adorno in his earliest influences (Kracauer, Cornelius, Benjamin, Horkheimer), to the years as an emigré, from rather fruitless interactions with English philosophers in Oxford to the re-establishing of the Institute in America during the War, up to the definite return to Germany which covers the prime years of his activities as a renowned philosopher in post–War Germany. Gordon’s sketch is of remarkable historical far-sightedness, but gets by without losing sight of informative details. Gordon eventually touches on the delicate subject of the APO student protest movement during the Kiesinger era, and sets the events of 1967–69 in correlation to Adorno’s personal downfall, leading to his untimely death in 1969. After reading Gordon’s sketch, one is left with the wish that some of these intellectual foundations received more attention in the book. I am primarily thinking of Adorno’s relationship to his teacher Hans Cornelius—that is, the intellectual upbringing in neo-Kantianism which is still a widely neglected aspect of Adorno’s allegedly purely Hegelian philosophy—as well as the young Adorno’s intense preoccupation with Husserlian phenomenology. Speaking of the constitutive role of neo-Kantianism for Adorno’s development, Roger Foster approaches Adorno’s vision of “philosophy as a form of interpretation” (22), developed early in his Frankfurt inaugural lecture in 1931, by way of placing it within both the broader neo-Kantian context and its subversions, respectively. Adorno’s early vision of philosophy is set in determinate contrast both to the alleged narrowing of the bourgeois concept of rationality in the Weimar Republic, as well as to the vitalist irrationalism that was on the rise at the time (eventually coinciding with the fascist uprising). Foster provides an interesting outlook on the development of Adorno between these extremes, displaying his thought as an attempt at rescuing the ‘actuality’ of philosophy on its way to a “critical social theory of instrumental reason” (33). That Walter Benjamin did of course play a decisive role in the intellectual formation of Adorno is vividly displayed in Alexander Stern’s contribution. Stern’s representation of the intellectual relationship between Adorno and Benjamin is a swift attempt at summing up their complicated intellectual history. This is a most welcome contribution, since it is still widely disputed where the differences and parallels between the two exactly lie, who inspired who—or stole from whom. Stern chooses to focus on their differing, but in certain respects coextensive, takes on language, and comes to the clear-cut but perhaps surprising conclusion that “Adorno’s project is ultimately irreconcilable with the one sketched in Benjamin’s Arcades Project” (62). This is a welcome clarification, for it delivers the young Adorno from the prejudice of having merely acted out Benjamin’s plans. Marcia Morgan’s contribution revolves around Adorno’s interpretation of Kierkegaard’s existentialism. Morgan thereby takes up problems recently discussed by Peter E. Gordon in his monograph on Adorno and Existence, with a firm foot in Kierkegaard scholarship (Morgan has authored the monograph Kierkegaard and Critical Theory, 2012). She successfully shows how Adorno’s early preoccupation with Kierkegaard in his (understudied) Habilitationsschrift plays a decisive role for Adorno’s intellectual formation. Finally, Part I is completed by Sherry D. Lee’s outlook on Adorno’s musical education. Theory and compositional practice generally go hand in hand for the young Adorno, who quickly found himself under the influence of the Second Viennese School and its towering figures Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. Lee’s contribution covers an indispensable aspect of Adornian thought by providing a genealogical reconstruction of Adorno’s “path toward a complex philosophy of the New Music and its socio-historical position” (67). Adorno’s partial break with the Second Viennese School in “developing a sociological approach to the elucidation of modern music” (81) is to be seen in relation to his life-long fascination with the dialectic between musical form and musical material, leading him to embrace compositional practices that reflect his outlook on philosophy, and vice versa. Lee’s outlook is interesting, leaving the impression that Adorno’s philosophy of New Music is not really the apology of high-brow Avant-Garde culture it came to represent for many. Instead, Adorno’s life-long efforts for securing the possibility of New Music are scrutinized with great scholarly rigor and, more importantly, rendered more plausible than their reputation suggests.

Cultural Analysis

Part II immediately builds on these foundations and examines Adorno’s contributions to cultural analysis. There seems to be a ‘methodological’ problem pervading these contributions that I would like to address first. It consists in the fact that common objections raised against Adorno and Horkheimer’s conception of a ‘dialectic of enlightenment’ still treat it as a descriptive theory of ‘the way things were’. When read as a grand narrative, the thesis of a dialectic of enlightenment indeed presents substantial shortcomings. What Adorno and Horkheimer are actually doing, however, is not describing how things were, but precisely reflecting on the very drive to say ‘how things actually were’ in light of an analytic of a catastrophic present. Why else would they use a myth (The Odyssey) to display mankind’s emancipatory transition from the mythical totality to the confines of instrumental reason? Correspondingly, defending the theory of a dialectic of enlightenment must mean, in each case, specifying the modality of ‘critical theory’ as such. This implies showing how critical theorizing never merely consists of recognizing that which is, but in recognizing the rational possibilities obstructed by that which is. In short: the dialectic of enlightenment is not a scientific account of history and society, but the result of the critical self-reflection of ‘science’ regarding its role in history and society. Hence, a critical theory of history and society—in the sense of first-generation critical theory—can never be ‘plain’ historiography, nor exclusively ‘empirical’ sociology, but always entails a philosophy of history, reflecting on the very role of enlightenment in contexts of domination.

Walking through Part II, we can discern several instances where this methodological dilemma becomes pressing with regards to adequately interpreting Adornian cultural analysis: Fred Rush takes up the critical concept of a Kulturindustrie (culture industry) from the section of the same title in Dialectic of Enlightenment, and sets the stage for measuring its systematic role for Adorno’s philosophy in general. Rush’s fairly dense yet rewarding overview hits the nail on the head with the observation that Horkheimer and Adorno—despite their seeming advocacy for ‘high’ culture—are not supporting a decadence theory of allegedly ‘low’ mass culture (95). The values of ‘high’ and ‘low’ themselves become somewhat inadequate measurements, once they are recognized as interrelated moments in reflecting on the disrupted ‘unity’ of culture. Correspondingly, the culture of commodification requires of the dialectician to recognize the “truly horrible” dimension of “mass deception”, namely “that it is a product of structures that seem benign and ordinary” (95). Therefore, Adorno is not out to equip the elitist mind with a schematism of high and low culture. He is rather interested in learning about the very nature of such schematizations themselves—and, with it, the causes for the diremption of culture both sides partake in. Adorno thus uses the antagonistic pair of ‘high’ and ‘low’ primarily as a critical (i.e. not ‘merely’ descriptive) function, in order to dialectically overcome their complementary shortcomings. The merits of this critical function are now also exactly what appears to most as questionable with regards to Adorno’s disdain for jazz music. Andrew Bowie, who is not only a renowned philosopher, but a proficient jazz saxophonist himself, discusses the controversial subject in his lucid essay “Adorno and Jazz”. Adorno’s interpretation of jazz—overtly lacking complexity, often being “very wide of the mark” (135), mostly seeing jazz “through the prism of white European music” (126)—has unsurprisingly not benefited Adorno’s status as a philosopher of music. Bowie considers Adorno’s criticism of jazz, with its obvious shortcomings, within the broader scheme of Adorno’s philosophy. Considered as ‘its own time comprehended in thought’, Adorno’s failure to see jazz for what it is corresponds to “his era’s failure in relation to the understanding of the history of black oppression” (135), according to Bowie. The true Hegelian, it seems, is not exempt from also partaking in the blunders of his time. Charles Clavey’s chapter seeks explanations for similar contradictions in Adorno’s methods of empirical social research. Here, things are somewhat looking up again for Adornian cultural analysis; namely that it can namely be said to provide a standard for scientific reflection on empirical methods. The empirical methods Adorno developed and applied as an émigré in the US are, after all, not only the ones suited to an ‘inhumane world’, but, as Clavey convincingly shows, also the ones working towards the aim of Adorno’s philosophy “to use the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of constitutive subjectivity” (Adorno 2006, xx; referred to on 166). Clavey ends with an interesting note on the proximity of Adorno’s theory of anti-Semitism to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew. It is such proximity which only serves, however, to show the difference between Adorno and the existentialists; namely that Adorno strictly refrained from integrating ‘empirical findings’ into his philosophical framework—apart from treating them as another ground for critique, of course. Fabian Freyenhagen wants to re-examine and re-evaluate (cf. 103) another major impulse from the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno’s (and Löwenthal’s) ‘theory’ of anti-Semitism. Freyenhagen tries to show how common objections raised against Horkheimer and Adorno (basically that their theory is lacking complexity) can be met. Of course, the rhetoric of Dialectic of Enlightenment can be considered ‘hyperbolic’, oftentimes deliberately lacking complexity, all in all promoting a totalizing critique, perhaps at the cost of providing fine-grained descriptions of the “multifaceted nature of anti-Semitism” (120). The crucial point is, however, to understand the specific level of complexity necessary to display the thesis that “civilization and its hatred are dialectically intertwined” (108) in anti-Semitism, thereby ‘crystallizing’ the dialectic of enlightenment. Freyenhagen’s detailed account of Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory of the multi-faceted nature of Anti-Semitism being united in hatred of civilization opens up ways to mitigate their polemic distortions, by virtue of a more complex account (primarily to be traced in the Institute’s typological research on anti-Semitism), without sacrificing overall coherence. Shannon Mariotti addresses the needs of contemporary political theory by bringing Adorno into the picture. Mariotti’s refreshing take on Adorno’s political thought gets by without the usual indignation surrounding Adorno’s alleged apoliticality. Mariotti convincingly shows that a broader picture of Adorno’s cultural analysis could even allow us to re-read Adorno “not just as a political theorist, but as a democratic theorist” (139, cf. also 150). Part II all in all opens up surprisingly new perspectives on Adorno’s critical analyses of culture, both with regards to their logical place in the Adornian framework and to their broader applicability today. Rush’s contribution stands out, inducing a wish for the concept of ‘Kulturindustrie’ to become adjusted to the needs of culture criticism today. Adorno could, after all, still provide the adequate means to face the methodological dilemmas that any ‘cultural analysis’ is confronted with in an incessantly ‘dialectical’ modernity.

History and Domination

Dedicating an entire section to the topic of “History and Domination” seems like a peculiar choice at first. Upon reading its chapters, however, it becomes clear why this actually makes a lot of sense. Part III turns out to harbor some of the volume’s most interesting contributions. Two chapters really stand out. Martin Jay for one, whose description in the list of contributors has unfortunately gone missing (luckily, he a known figure in the field, long before the recently published, brilliant collection of essays Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations), examines the fascinating parallel between Adorno and Blumenberg with regards to “Nonconceptuality and the Bilderverbot”. Jay discusses Adorno’s and Blumenberg’s differing, and yet in many ways overlapping subversion efforts against the tyranny of analyticity and ahistorical definitions. They both “appreciated the performative contradiction entailed by conceptualizing the nonconceptual” (178). But while Adorno’s use of the concept of nonconceptuality amounts to the employment of a radically defamiliarizing strategy by way of “an apophatic term in negative theology, which can only indirectly gesture toward what it cannot positively express” (177), Blumenberg, as Jay shows, differs from Adorno by affirming the familiarizing function of myth and metaphor. Jay’s contribution is a perfect example for a fruitful approach to Adorno by means of confronting his key thoughts with those of others. The real gemstone in Jay’s essay is the discussion of the Bilderverbot. It is not only that which makes the difference between Adorno and Blumenberg; the Bilderverbot is moreover immensely important for understanding Adorno’s dialectic in general. Martin Jay is one of very few scholars who acknowledge Adorno’s Kantian critique of the Hegelian concept of the concept. (We’ll get to that later). This critique places trust in the concept’s ability to critically (not affirmatively) transcend itself, thereby—negatively—making room for nonconceptuality beyond absolute identity. It is thus that negative theology coincides with Adorno’s ‘imageless’ materialism. The other rather remarkable chapter is Iain Macdonald’s on Adorno’s “Philosophy of History”. It is important to see that Adorno’s philosophy as whole, if there is indeed a discrete theoretical body to be demarcated as such, relies heavily on the philosophy of history. Macdonald guides the reader in a few well-chosen steps (Kant-Hegel-Marx) to the Adornian core insight. Macdonald thereby manages to let aspects of systematicity and historicity converge into one comprehensive complex, that could well serve as an introductory framework to Adorno’s philosophy. The only point to criticize in Macdonald’s account is that he makes it look as if Kant’s philosophy of history, that is, the ‘constitutive’ role antagonism plays for progress, is a kind of naturalistic anthropological Heracliteanism. This neither does justice to Kant, nor to Adorno’s interpretation of Kant, considering that Kant’s concept of a ‘cosmopolitan purpose’ (‘weltbürgerliche Absicht’)[3] is precisely not a ‘dogmatic’ presupposition; it is moreover unfounded, considering that Adorno’s philosophy of history delivers a ‘Kantian’ criticism of the Hegelian concept of Weltgeist. Adorno seeks to retain the cosmopolitan purpose—perpetual peace—by way of seeking to overcome natural antagonism. This entails precisely rendering antagonism merely ‘natural’, instead of rendering it absolutely necessary. Adorno’s critical method is to remind Hegelian spirit of what is lost in the unity of the absolute idea—the violent contingency of its origins. Such potential shortcomings regarding the relation between Kant and Hegel, which are controversial in themselves, however do not diminish the importance of the problems addressed by Iain Macdonald; the upshot of the discussion being, that Adorno’s philosophy of history stands between Kant’s teleological idealism of freedom on the one hand, and the Marxist subversion of Hegelian spirit on the other. All in all, Part III rewards the reader by elucidating a most fascinating aspect of Adorno’s legacy, his philosophy of history and utopia—that is, the well-founded, ‘metaphysical’ disappointment regarding the repeatedly failed windows of opportunity to leave our seemingly never-ending ‘prehistory’ behind.

Social Theory and Empirical Enquiry

The chapters in section IV are covering Adorno’s sociological project, the legacy of The Authoritarian Personality, his relation to Marx, and his “deep encounter with Freud’s work” (333), respectively—aspects which, especially the latter, permeated Adorno’s social theory from the very beginning of his ‘career’, until and including his intellectual activities in postwar Germany. The latter is examined in Jakob Norberg’s chapter. Although all chapters are worth considering, I would like to make a few remarks regarding Eli Zaretsky’s discussion of Adorno’s relation to Freud here. In fact, one could say that the early introduction of a sociologically disenchanted Freudianism into Adorno’s discussion of the transcendental doctrine of the soul marks the first time that the ‘social realm’ (as a transcendental substrate of our individual thought) openly interferes with the privacy of bourgeois subjectivity in Adorno (cf. Adorno 2020a, 320–322). The New School historian Zaretsky examines Adorno’s never fully ceasing, but eventually compromised Freudianism. The overall tone of Zaretsky’s essay is refreshing in the context of Adorno scholarship. It refrains from blindly accepting established lines of argument. The upshot of Zaretsky’s chapter, linking mass psychology and critical theory together, being that Adorno’s “three contributions” to social theory matter beyond their original scope, meaning today. The three contributions revolve around a sharpening of the speculative tools for mass and group psychology, especially in light of reiterating uprisings of fascism, eventually pushing towards the socio-historicization of ‘individualistic’ psychoanalysis. According to Zaretsky’s pointed analysis, “[a]s the fervor of the 1960s gave way to the constrains of the 1970s, the Dionysian crowds turned into Thermidorean scolds.” And he goes on to notice:

That trajectory holds lessons for the present. Building a progressive movement today entails turning the repressive egalitarianism of the crowd into a self‐reflective movement for structural change. The movements of the 1960s absorbed and generalized many Frankfurt School ideas including the critique of the Enlightenment as a source of domination; the idea that the forces of domination precede, even if they also include, capitalism; and the rejection of spurious totalities or universals in favor of alterity, otherness, and difference. Yet they rejected the Freudian heritage, including mass psychology, which is one reason we have not yet been able to truly move beyond the 1960s. (333)

This observation is striking. It alone should lead critical theorists to reconsider the (dialectical) insights of mass psychology—including the ones that not even critical theorists are safe from.

Aesthetics

It is an often-overlooked aspect of Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ (cf. Adorno 2006, xx) that the form in which he sought to publicize it more or less blends into the tripartite structure of Kant’s critical project. This becomes fully evident only towards the end of Adorno’s life, however. While his magnum opus Negative Dialectics could be said to be dedicated to ‘pure’ theoretical philosophy (in so far as ‘mediating’ metaphysics with the ‘impurity’ of historical experience by way of a ‘logic of decay’ still stands within that context), he appears to have made plans for a full book on the problems of moral philosophy (not to be mistaken with the homonymous lecture series); but most importantly, the book he was working on before he died was Aesthetic Theory. While the Adornian ‘critical project’ has thus sadly never been consummated, the ‘fragment’ called Aesthetic Theory nonetheless embarked on a steep career as a modern classic in the field. The idea of an ‘aesthetic theory’ is particularly worthwhile to study closely, because it connects and renders his accounts on aesthetic matters both relevant to the overall framework of his philosophy, and to his compositional practice. Both sides coalesce in Adorno’s reflections on the artwork. The concept of the artwork is the centerpiece of Adorno’s aesthetic, equally because of its function as an enigma, and as a product of ‘social labor’. But what is aesthetic theory exactly? The answer is far less simple than it seems—a difficulty mirrored by Eva Geulen’s contribution “Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory”. As Geulen notices, the proclivity to ‘fashion one’s own Adorno’ has often stood greatly in the way of seeing Aesthetic Theory for what it is. As a result, “much scholarship on Adornos Aesthetic Theory tends to be even more unreadable than the book itself, especially and precisely when critics try to live up to the high demands of their subject matter” (399)—a harrowing observation. Her attempt to do better justice to this situation is convincing at first: she places Adorno’s aesthetic theory ‘between Kant and Hegel’ (400). Thereby, Geulen is able to bring up problems that were all too often neglected in the discussion of Adorno’s aesthetic theory, first and foremost, the Kantian import of natural beauty. A possible shortcoming of Geulen’s reading is that she stops at a dualistic interpretation of Kant and Hegel as formalist-subjectivist vs. content-oriented-objectivist aesthetics. It is a seemingly imperishable prejudice that Kant founded aesthetics on the pole of the subject and, consequently, did not bother too much about objects and artworks. The third Critique tells a thoroughly different story. There simply is no subjective realm of judgment (be it aesthetic or teleological), apart from our reflecting on the subject’s relation to concrete objects; just as—yes, already in Kant—there is nothing under the sun that isn’t ‘mediated’ through judgment. Similarly, in Adorno’s reflections on art (and in his philosophy in general) subject and object are highly equivocal concepts (cf. Adorno 2020, 741). Adorno’s ‘dialecticizing’ of Kant and Hegel thus suggests an alternative to Geulen’s dualistic interpretation: Adorno reads Kant’s formalism precisely as object-oriented, while exposing Hegel’s idealist objectivism as absolute subjectivism, thereby limiting it. Adorno needs Kant to criticize Hegel, Hegel to criticize Kant—there is no synthesis between the two. Only in light of such a critical inversion of the usual dualist reading between “formalistic Kant and object-oriented Hegel” (400) can Aesthetic Theory come into its own, as a dialectical theory of artistic form and content—as Geulen then adequately shows—a theory determined to secure the possibility of the artwork in modernity. Another chapter that stands out is Henry Pickford’s “Adorno and Literary Criticism”. After a concise characterization of Adorno’s aesthetic theory, and lucid discussions of Adorno’s interpretations of Heine and Hölderlin, Pickford comes to the interesting conclusion, that “for Adorno ‘literary criticism’ means not only the criticism of literature in the objective sense, but also in the subjective sense of the genitive: literature, the experience of literature, can be a privileged activity of critique and resistance to the way of the world under late capitalism” (378). Pickford’s account is a great example of arranging a fruitful interplay between interpreting Adorno’s references to art and literature with regards to their content, while keeping in mind the determinant ethos of Adorno’s critical social theory. Eventually, Adorno’s literary criticism is displayed both as a ‘realist’ alternative to Lukács, and an ‘ethical’ alternative to the neo-Aristotelian ‘ethical criticism’ of Martha Nussbaum and others. Pickford thereby successfully sets Adorno’s literary criticism ‘into stark relief’ to these strands.

Negative Dialectics

Part VI is arguably the centerpiece of the book. Revolving around Adorno’s contribution to philosophy as such, the chapters minutely weigh key aspects of it against one another. Terry Pinkard sets the stage by looking at Adorno’s philosophy in light of its obvious relation to Hegel. Pinkard takes up the difficult task of determining the specific difference between Adornian negative dialectics with and against Hegel’s ‘affirmative’ dialectic. As Pinkard rightly notes, this double-headed outlook on Hegel is conferrable to the form of Adorno’s philosophy itself: “So it seems, for Adorno, we must be systematic and anti‐systematic, holist and anti‐holist, at the same time” (459). Accordingly, determining the nature of the dialectic in Adorno amounts to coming to grips with “a massive struggle or even potential contradiction at its heart” (459). It is interesting that Pinkard brings up the ‘anti-system’ in this context. The telos of Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ never was to dismiss systematicity altogether, but rather, quite like Hegel promises, to fully actualize the potential of systematic thinking. Like Hegelian logic, Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ relies on the self-transcending powers of the system itself: “It attempts by means of logical consistency to substitute for the unity principle, and for the paramountcy of the supraordinated concept, the idea of what would be outside the sway of such unity” (Adorno 2006, xx). For most Hegelian readers of Adorno, statements like these are evidence enough to consider negative dialectics a mere variation on Hegel’s absolute idealism. First, because for Hegelians, most of what Adorno says may be “what Hegel meant by the dialectic all along” (467)—the logicity of the absolute system is a synthetic unity of spirit and its externalizations to begin with. Secondly, because right in the moment Adorno subscribes to a dialectical notion of ‘logical consistency’, the anti-system retains the power of Hegelian thinking. Robert Pippin, for example, seems to promote such a reading, when saying: “If Adorno is leaning towards metaphysics, then we must think of his claim about the right ‘logical’ relation between identity and nonidentity as true – that is, as identical with, as saying, what is in fact the case. And we are then in Hegel’s space” (Pippin 2017). Such readings seem to provide the background to Pinkard’s gripping discussion. Pinkard namely seems to have noticed that they are misleading when it comes to grasping the true nature of negative dialectics. The central question of Pinkard’s chapter is what sets Adorno’s negative dialectic apart from ‘Hegel’s space’. Because without accounting for “[t]he negative in negative dialectics” (466) as the difference to Hegel, Adorno’s philosophical outlook collapses into absolute idealism. Pinkard, therefore, looks for ways to do justice to Adorno’s emancipation from Hegel. As Pinkard shows, Adorno, in a sense, follows Hegel in aspiring to the systematic unity of thought and being, but breaks with him by reviewing the role of negativity in the ‘unity’ of thought and being. Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ is the self-undermining consequence of the Hegelianism of the Phenomenology of Spirit. But in Adorno’s ‘anti-system’, diachronic history disturbs logic’s synchronicity. History does not merely enrich the system with the ‘outside’ that the logic had to neglect first for its abstract purity. That history is the medium in which spirit actualizes itself is more than a giant euphemism for Hegel; it is the very locus of dialectical truth. But for Adorno, even if returning to that locus for the truth of his dialectic, spirit will remain a giant euphemism, nevertheless—therefore, the absoluteness of spirit is wrong, until it undergoes a dialectical critique of reason. It is surprising, but perhaps very telling that Pinkard mobilizes an allegedly Heideggerian argument for radical finitude in order to deduce the negative in negative dialectics. (466) Even if we set aside that Pinkard is building his argument on what seems like a Wittgensteinian strawman-Heidegger, this is a wrong turn and missing the point. If Adorno was in any sense “crucially indebted to Heidegger” (466), it is rather because of the fact that his dialectic partly took shape as a critique of ontology. And I am not sure how far Pinkard’s paralleling Adorno to Schelling carries in this respect, either. (cf. 463f.) Pinkard is therefore right in looking to Kant for Adorno’s specific difference to Hegel. Adorno’s “siding with Kant” (464) remains a much-neglected aspect of Adorno’s philosophy. Adorno’s deep connection to Kant becomes somewhat obvious when considering a central systematic feature of Adorno’s Hegelianism: Adorno’s anti-system ‘thinks’ the negative but harbors no category of ‘negativity’.[4] If indeed the anti-system is thereby invoking an ‘experience’ of radical otherness against Hegel, it does so not by affirmatively picking ‘one side’ in the absolute conceptual unity of concept and otherness—namely otherness, like Pippin and others seem to think it does. Instead, the anti-system could be said to ‘be’ the difference of this absolute conceptual unity and radical otherness. This difference is precisely what makes theory critical, that is, of itself. Who else could reason criticize but itself? More than a brainy contradiction, the “massive struggle” (459) of Adornian thinking serves to rescue the nonidentical from the affirmative embrace of identity thinking. “Hegelians are not completely unconvinced” (467), Pinkard loosely concludes. But as long as their partial affirmation of Adorno entails denying negative dialectics its specific difference, they surely will never be convinced either. Espen Hammer’s contribution picks up another thread that permeates Adorno’s work – “Adorno’s Critique of Heidegger”. Adorno’s relation to Heidegger stands under the bad sign of a ‘refusal of communication’ (Kommunikationsverweigerung) first called out by the Heidegger scholar Hermann Mörchen. A synopsis of their communicative catastrophe goes something like this: Adorno developed key aspects of his dialectic in the form of a harrowing critique of Heideggerian existential ontology and its jargon, while Heidegger famously reacted by not reacting at all. Apparently perpetuating Heidegger’s silent treatment, it is a disturbing fact that the nature and scope of Adorno’s critique of Heidegger is still not being fathomed accordingly with regards to its content. After the controversy surrounding the publication of the Black Notebooks, working through Heidegger’s anti-Semitism must be of general interest. Its ramifications might extend well into Heidegger’s philosophy and the history of being (‘Seinsgeschichte’). Despite acknowledging that “Adorno pioneered the now widespread approach to Heidegger’s writings as politically motivated and ideologically compromised” (473), Hammer eventually fails to see Adorno’s polemic for what it is. Instead, he expresses doubts regarding the soundness of Adorno’s arguments, primarily concerning the ontological difference between being and beings. Hammer dismisses Adorno’s reading of Heidegger as “simply not correct”, claiming it does “not withstand scrutiny” (476). In Hammer’s eyes,

the fact that Adorno displays no real awareness of Heidegger’s actual ambition is striking. Adorno does not hold Heidegger to his own standards. He simply misunderstands the nature of his project. Given Adorno’s unquestionable abilities as a philosopher, this is both surprising and puzzling. It could be that Adorno does not reveal the true nature of his interpretation. (477)

This interpretation is in itself rather puzzling. Is it even conceivable that Adorno was simply not ‘aware’ of Heidegger’s true ambitions? And what does it even mean that Adorno could not have revealed ‘the true nature of his interpretation’? What if the opposite is the case? In line even with Hermann Mörchen (!) (1981, 292), it should be stressed that it is very hard to imagine that Adorno would have exposed himself to the public with blunt misreadings, even harder to think he would not get corrected by his colleagues—some of whom knew Heidegger’s philosophy considerably well—and moreover to sustain an overtly false argument throughout his whole intellectual career, and, on top of it, in his major outputs. Furthermore, attributing alleged misreadings to Adorno’s “competitive instinct”, or “hostility and aversion” (477) is an ad hominem argument that, even if it were true, made no difference to the success or failure of Adorno’s vindication of dialectics against the pretenses of existential ontology. The really pressing question is being avoided by Hammer, namely why Adorno consciously chose to raise these provocative accusations against Heidegger—that Heidegger is reverting back into subjectivism and idealism—despite the obvious fact that Heidegger understood his thought precisely as overcoming idealism. This would entail further scrutinizing of the nature of Adorno’s dialectical critique, perhaps even touching on a Socratic element in Adornian dialectics. In any case, showing that Adorno was ‘wrong’, in the sense attributed to him by Hammer, just doesn’t do justice to the rhetorical dimension of dialectical content. We should not forget, however, that, in line with a remark in Negative Dialectics, “contrary to popular opinion, the rhetorical element is on the side of content” (56), and not the other way around. Be that as it may, these shortcomings in Hammer’s otherwise highly informed account of the Adorno-Heidegger debate can only contribute to re-vitalizing the discussion. Jay Bernstein, too, addresses “deeply puzzling” (488) traits of Adorno’s dialectic and traces them in Adorno’s fruitful reception of Kant. Bernstein, who is known for having made seminal contributions to the field in the past, successfully lays new ground for discussions on the topic, showing that key aspects of Adornian thought (the concept of the concept; the critique of transcendental subjectivity; the alleged non-conceptuality of the nonidentical etc., in short: the relation between “Concept and Object”, as the chapter’s title indicates) can be traced in Adorno’s continuing preoccupation with Kant. Bernstein thereby makes a far-reaching observation:

Although Negative Dialectics is premised on a conversation with Hegel over dialectics, both its critical object, constitutive subjectivity, and its metaphysical promise, aesthetic semblance, derive fundamentally from a dialog with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Getting this in plain view is the first task for a reading of Adorno’s philosophy (499).

Perhaps an equally far-reaching claim to this might be added: specifically, that the conversation with Hegel over dialectics should itself be seen within a Kantian framework, and not merely the other way around—the conversation with Kant within a Hegelian framework. Adorno took it “as a general guide for the understanding of the problem of dialectic that dialectic must, in an eminent sense, be regarded as Kantian philosophy which has come to self-consciousness and self-understanding” (Adorno 2017, 14). Following Adorno down that road entails reading Hegel himself as a Kantian (cf. Hindrichs 2020, 47), which of course exceeds the Companion’s purview. Nevertheless, seeing Adorno’s Hegelianism in a Kantian horizon could possibly affect the discussion of Adorno’s neglected ‘Kantianism’ in relation to modern idealists such as Robert Pippin, Robert Brandom, John McDowell, and those in their wake.[5] Adorno’s primacy of the object—disenchanting the myth of the myth of the given and promoting again the idea of otherness—can only be defended on Kantian and not on Hegelian grounds. Here, I cannot help but express puzzlement over one of Bernstein’s concluding remarks. Can Adorno really be said to have “always defended the now widely dismissed two-worlds version of Kant’s idealism” (499)? Isn’t Adorno’s own (widely ignored) contribution to the field that he reads Kant ‘dialectically’, whereby worlds and aspects necessarily coalesce in one sense, in order to then be set apart ‘negatively’ and thereby retain the idea of otherness? Apart from the discussion-worthy conclusion, Bernstein’s essay is easily one of the highlights of this volume, and everyone in the field is advised to read it. Kantian self-criticism of reason is, however, only one side of the coin. In keeping with Pinkard’s observation, the other side of Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ is that it must equally promote the seeming opposite of Kantian self-limitation. In accordance with Hegel’s program of a phenomenology of spirit, it both “demands that phenomena be allowed to speak as such—in a ‘pure looking-on’—and yet that their relation to consciousness as the subject, reflection, be at every moment maintained” (Adorno 2005, 74). Brian O’Connor and Peter E. Gordon accordingly examine the active contribution of Adorno to philosophy, that is, his account of the nature of philosophical truth. According to O’Connor, “Adorno offers us two notions of philosophical truth: the singular one and the critical one” (528). And of course, the two are interconnected, the singular truth being the ‘non-reportable’ correlate of a singular rhetorical engagement of a philosopher. These different notions of truth articulate a dialectic between the universal and the particular that is essential for the overall outlook of a ‘changed philosophy’. O’Connor thus provides a convincing ‘solution’ both to the problem mentioned in the beginning, that philosophy is ‘inexpoundable’ in essence, as well as to the double-headed nature of the anti-system that Pinkard hints at. ‘Metaphysical experience’ consequently is, according to Peter Gordon, “caught in an apparent self-contradiction” (549). It’s that same contradiction again, whose elucidation amounted to understanding Adornian thought for what it really is—genuinely philosophical dialectic. Gordon’s second independent contribution to the volume provides reflections on the place of Adorno’s philosophy in tradition. Departing from the relation to Classical Metaphysics (Ch. 2), Gordon delivers an intricate discussion of Adorno’s concept of metaphysical experience. Adorno’s philosophy can be said to draw from the insight that philosophy in general “rests on the texts it criticizes”—an insight, which, according to Adorno, “justifies the move from philosophy to exegesis, which exalts neither the interpretation nor the symbol into an absolute but seeks the truth where thinking secularizes the irretrievable archetype of sacred texts” (Adorno 2006, 55). How this coalition between philosophy and theology, between the most radical materialism and the ontological argument, comes about, can be read in Asaf Angermann’s chapter. Albeit mostly focusing on Anglophone discussions of the topic, the chapter nonetheless manages to show how a “Heretical Redemption of Metaphysics” is to be conceived—the upshot being that the union of theology and philosophy in Adorno is not a unio mystica but a unio in haeresia (between Adorno and Gershom Scholem), by virtue of which the dialectic of enlightenment stays in touch with its utmost extremes.

Ethics

The framework by which Adorno’s Ethics is introduced and discussed is its specific historical situation. The historical outlook of Adornian ethics is essentially articulated through “the new categorical imperative” imposed on humanity by Hitler: “to arrange their thinking and conduct, so that Auschwitz never repeats itself, so that nothing similar ever happens again” (Adorno 2006, 365). According to Christian Skirke,

Adorno’s reflections on life after Auschwitz strike a chord with these urgent concerns of our times. The least his reflections can do for us is to train us to see the dehumanizing logic of those practices. His reflections can forewarn those who are on the safe side of these practices that not to resist this logic amounts to passing over in silence the worst transgressions against others. (580)

Skirke then draws the memorable conclusion that “It is not unlikely that Adorno’s diagnosis would be exactly the same today”. The concluding chapters of the volume all revolve around Adorno’s negatively normative imperative. A shared problem of these chapters seems to be if we should, and if yes, how to extract positive normative purports from Adorno’s negativism. The section on ethics is thus an interesting end note that provides a rich discussion of Adorno’s negativism—a discussion likely to develop further in the near future.

Interpretive Uncertainty: The Fate of Adorno Scholarship?

Upon reviewing these sections covering Adorno’s lifework in its entirety, one thing especially stands out: Contrary to the apparent wording in the passage quoted at the outset, Adorno is a ‘systematic’ thinker in his own right. As a consequence, the apparent contradiction between affirming and criticizing systematic thinking engenders what I would call an interpretive uncertainty that every Adorno scholar has to come to grips with, at some point. The uncertainty arises from the double-headed nature of the dialectic between critique and theory. Needless to say, this interpretive uncertainty has not exactly matched ‘scholasticizing’ tendencies in academia. Beyond a growing circle of Adorno scholars, Adorno’s dialectic is still mostly met with shoulder shrugs, superficial criticism, or allergic reactions. Its negativistic character, the result of these aporetic ‘placements’, seems to present an unspeakable irritation to academia. And it still appears to be the prime inhibiting factor for a successful scholastic cultivation of negative dialectics.

In spite of such inhibiting factors, A Companion to Adorno manages to brave the challenge of ordering a heterogeneous field of scholarly activities into one integral approach, albeit mostly (and thankfully) by means of fleshing out problems, rather than by throwing clear-cut solutions at the reader. As a bottom-line from this integral approach of the Companion, the following methodological problems for Adorno scholarship can be identified:

1) There is, without a doubt, such a thing as ‘Adorno’s thought’—it can be called ‘critical theory’ or ‘negative dialectics’ (for Adorno, these two titles essentially mean the same thing).

2) Critical theory qua negative dialectics cannot be expounded or summarized. The best of it is lost when taking the form of a positive system of fixed concepts and ideas.

3) Key tenets of Adorno’s philosophy can, therefore, only be ‘traced’ and expounded indirectly, that is, when taking into consideration Adorno’s critical interactions with society, capitalism, art, artists, writers, and importantly with other philosophers. Examples of the latter include refined criticisms of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, most importantly Kant and Hegel, but also Schelling and Fichte, Marx, Kierkegaard, Husserl, Freud, Nietzsche, Lukács, and Walter Benjamin, of course. (The most notable ‘interlocution’ with a contemporary being the one with Heidegger, who in turn remained as silent as the dead.)

4) Since Adorno’s dialectical path is—in contrast with Hegel’s—terminally negative, the universal functionality of dialectical thought must saturate itself with ‘material’ themata (hence its proclivity towards Cultural Analysis, History, Sociology, Aesthetics, etc.) in order to fulfill the promise of philosophical truth. This need for ‘materiality’ is, however, not merely an epistemic virtue of Adornian dialectics and surely not an end in itself, like Hegelian readings of Adorno tend to suggest. To the contrary, being a mere “ontology of the wrong state of things” (Adorno 2006, 11) dialectics both expresses and stands in the way of philosophical truth, in other words, in the way of actualizing the “cognitive utopia” (Adorno 2006, 10). Until utopia becomes actual (never?) the isomorphy between the dialectic of the philosophical system and the all-too ‘real’ antagonisms must be interpreted as the ultimate ground for a critique of absolute reason, i.e. precisely not as an index that the rational always already is, or is about to become, real. The dialectic of form and matter is a vice, a profound irritation to logical thought, and an index to the finitude of universal forms—ultimately an articulation of the all-too real experiences of catastrophes during the age of extremes. In short, dialectics is the absolute limit of philosophy, drawn from within, with no possibility for transgression but through relentless self-criticism. To deem dialectics a virtue of the philosopher is to be blind to the fact of mediation continually jeopardizing the absolute status of philosophical truth.

5) Therefore, the fundamental question for ‘Adorno scholarship’ is how to examine Adorno’s philosophy as a self-standing theoretical body of knowledge while, at the same time (!) taking into account that, qua critique, Adorno’s philosophy can only ever be thematized indirectly, by taking into account its critical, and oftentimes polemic, interactions with tradition.

It is this interplay between theoretical autonomy and dialogical ‘indirectness’ which is constitutive of Adorno’s dialectics, and which, coming full circle, promotes interpretive uncertainty. All in all, the uncertainty revolves around the one fundamental difficulty of how to account for the systematicity of Adorno’s anti-system. Much like Plato’s, Adorno’s dialectical body of work inevitably gives rise to the wearisome question of an ‘unwritten doctrine’, while equally making it impossible to pinpoint it as a static system. ‘Adorno scholarship’ is an aporia. Its only ‘way out’ is to show that it articulates the very aporia of philosophy itself.

Conclusion

Aspiring to a comprehensive survey of a philosophy, there is always a fine line between unduly reducing its complexity and doing it justice in recognizing its overall coherence. Correspondingly, Blackwell’s comprehensive summary of Adorno seeks to avoid undue simplifications and reductive schematizations and maintain a high level of differentiation at all times. This greatly inspires further scholarly investigation and the concentrated reader is rewarded with a challenging yet fascinating read. On the downside, however, its high level of differentiation makes the Companion not any easier to ‘expound’ than the philosophy it is supposed to help comprehend in the first place. One is sometimes tempted to ask, if a more ‘systematic’ approach to Adorno really amounted to a cardinal sin.

A Companion to Adorno will hopefully be received as a call to reactivate the critical dialogue between Adorno and academic philosophy—past, present, and future. But will it convince the majority of philosophers who still find negative dialectics either too brainy and complex, a mere variation on the grand Hegelian theme, or—even worse—no dialectic proper? It probably won’t. Stuart Walton, in a recent review of this very Companion, commented on the book’s material richness by mobilizing Brecht “who scarcely took the first generation of Frankfurt thinkers seriously” and his remark “that nobody who lacked a sense of humour would stand a chance of understanding dialectics” (Walton 2020, 175).[6] Meanwhile, the challenge of ‘taking in the entirety of Adorno’s thought’ may have become a rather serious one, however. For it resonates a little too perfectly with ‘academic’ philosophy today, by which I mean with the challenge to remain relevant and in touch with its time, on the one hand, and not to defect to the powers that are trying to instrumentalize it, on the other. In light of such challenges, philosophy may be well advised to take dialectics more ‘seriously’, if only to account for the dilemma it finds itself in. This, however, entailed taking Adorno’s philosophical wit seriously, at long last.

To conclude, although the volume cannot (and does not) aspire to become a surrogate for the richness of Adorno’s anti-system itself, it succeeds in showing us where and how to look for its treasures. Luckily, however, these contributions mostly refrain from cherry-picking, sorting out what’s still ‘useful’ and what’s not, and from patronizingly assigning Adorno his place on the basis of the dubious privilege of being born later. The Companion’s integral approach thus helps Adorno’s dialectic come into its own, as a mode of thinking aimed at securing the sheer possibility of philosophical truth. “There is solidarity between such thinking and metaphysics at the time of its fall” (Adorno 2006, 408) reads the last sentence of Negative Dialectics. Congruously, A Companion to Adorno is an impressive testimonial for Adorno’s unrelenting solidarity with philosophy, aesthetics, and critical social theory in a catastrophic time. Thereby, the lines of what Brian O’Connor calls “a changed philosophy” (cf. 520–522) have become more visible than ever before. This philosophy should be both determinately critical and ‘modern’ (in the emphatic sense of lat. modo = just now), all the while keeping in mind its aporetic starting point from after “the moment to realize it was missed” (Adorno 2006, 3). The Companion can moreover help students first become familiar with Adorno’s philosophy, by promoting awareness of the unique fashion Adorno had addressed philosophical problems with. And quite possibly, it will thus even help engender broader discourse in the long run. If the book is not received as a compilation of last words on these matters, of course.

References

Adorno, Theodor W., and Edmund F. N. Jephcott. 2005. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. London: Verso.

Adorno, Theodor W. (1966) 2006. Negative Dialectics. Transferred to digital printing. London: Routledge.

Adorno, Theodor W. 32020a. Philosophische Frühschriften. Gesammelte Schriften Band 1. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Adorno, Theodor W. 82020b. Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II: Eingriffe–Stichworte. Gesammelte Schriften Band 10.2. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Gordon, Peter Eli, Espen Hammer, and Max Pensky (eds.). 2020. A Companion to Adorno. First edition. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.

Jay, Martin. 2020. Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations. London: Verso Books.

Hindrichs, Gunnar. 2020. Der Weltbegriff der Philosophie. In: Merkur. Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken. Nr. 854. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.

Kant, Immanuel, Paul Guyer, and Allen W. Wood. (1781=A/1787=B) 182016. Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meillassoux, Quentin. 2008. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Translated by Ray Brassier. New York: Continuum.

Mörchen, Hermann. 1981. Adorno und Heidegger. Untersuchung einer philosophischen Kommunikationsverweigerung. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.

Morgan, Marcia. 2012. Kierkegaard and Critical Theory. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Pippin, Robert. 2017. Review of Peter E. Gordon. Adorno and Existence. In: Critical Inquiry. [https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/robert_pippin_reviews_adorno_and_existence/] Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1948. Anti-Semite and Jew. Translated by George J. Becker. New York: Schocken Books.

Walton, Stuart. 2020. Review of ‘A Companion to Adorno.’. In: Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, vol. 43, no. 3, 2020, p. 175–178. (Online: Gale Literature Resource Center. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.)


[1] Brian O’Connor translates ‘referierbar’ as ‘reportable’ (526), which seems a more elegant solution.

[2] To be mentioned are (in no specific order): Huhn, Tom (ed.). 2004. The Cambridge Companion to Adorno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Cook, Deborah (ed.). Theodor Adorno: Key Concepts. Stocksfield: Acumen, 2008; Klein, Richard (ed.). 2011. Adorno-Handbuch: Leben–Werk–Wirkung. Stuttgart: Metzler; Honneth, Axel, and Christoph Menke (eds.). 2010. Theodor W. Adorno: Negative Dialektik. Berlin: Akademie Verlag; Hindrichs, Gunnar (ed.). 2013. Max Horkheimer/Theodor W. Adorno: Dialektik der Aufklärung. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

[3] Tellingly, and in accordance with the dialectic of teleological judgment in the third Critique, ‘Absicht’ is sometimes translated as ‘purpose’ or ‘aim’, sometimes as ‘point of view’ or ‘perspective’.

[4] “[…] for the category is a mere function of thinking, through which no object is given to me, but rather only that through which what may be given in intuition is thought” Kant 2016, 349 [A 253/B 308].

[5] Whoever subscribes to Adorno’s neglected ‘Kantianism’ might, on another note, also have a word to say regarding the widespread allergy of modern ‘realists’ to so called ‘correlationism’ (see Meillassoux 2008, 5). The upshot of an Adornian rejoinder would be that the negativistic nature of the dialectic manages to break with ‘strong correlationists’ such as Heidegger without claiming to have gained epistemic access to the thing-in-itself (and thereby falling behind Kant and Hegel) but by vindicating the only absolute correlation: the one between dialectics and the critique of reason. It may not be impossible, after all, that there are things we—being ‘finite’ beings—cannot know.

[6] The upshot of Walton’s (2020, 175) analogy being: “By much the same token, nobody who lacks a gigantic range of cultural and philosophical reference, and one that is ever vigilant for the first trace of oxidation into ideology in any of its component parts, will find themselves equipped to take on the entirety of Adorno’s thought.”

Jacques Derrida: Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation

Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity Book Cover Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity
Jacques Derrida. Edited by Geoffrey Bennington, Katie Chenoweth, and Rodrigo Therezo. Translated by Katie Chenoweth and Rodrigo Therezo
University of Chicago Press
2020
Cloth $27.50
168

Reviewed by: Harrison Lechley (University of Brighton)

Introduction[i]

For someone so enthralled by ghosts, it seems fitting that a ‘long-lost’ manuscript should appear within Jacques Derrida’s oeuvre posthumously. Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity (University of Chicago Press), a text produced from the ghosts of Derrida’s archive, constitutes the third instalment of Derrida’s four essays on Geschlecht – a word which has no equal translation in English nor French but refers to sex, nation, race, generation, humanity, lineage in ambivalent measure. This posthumous reconstruction is based on: Derrida’s 1984-1985 seminar on philosophical nationalism (Ghost of the Other) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS); and an ‘incomplete’ version of its seminars 7-8 distributed to participants at Loyola University, Chicago in March 1985 where Derrida had intended to present this manuscript (titled Geschlecht III) but instead presented Heidegger’s Hand (Geschlecht II). As such this volume comprises two parts: the first being the ‘unfinished and incomplete’ Geschlecht III manuscript; the second, Sessions 9-13 of Ghost of the Other.

Despite the impossible task at hand, the volume is perhaps as ‘faithful’ a reconstruction as Derrida scholars could hope for. The editors have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure as much of Derrida’s original material has been kept intact: where necessary Derrida’s own French translation is kept alongside Heidegger’s German, the original French translation and now their English translation; and ambiguous or illegible words (much has been transcribed from Derrida’s hand-written notes) remain and are marked out. As far as possible attempts have been made to ensure this reconstruction preserves the polysemy of the text and ensure no interpretation is foreclosed through editorial procedure.

That the lost should re-appear is a fitting place to start. It would be tempting to classify the publication of this text as a missing puzzle piece that completes the Geschlecht-series jigsaw and answers long-standing questions. David Krell (2007; 2012) has become a leading authority on this lost piece and poses the following: (a) ‘what sense are we to make…[of this] tranquil childhood’ (p. 178, 2007) or peaceful division of Geschlecht that Heidegger demands?; (b) the importance of animality (and its refusal) in the fundamental ontology of Dasein and Geschlecht; and (c) that ‘gathering is always a privileged signifier for Heidegger’ which ‘protects the unborne’ (p. 180; p. 189, 2007). It would be a mistake to argue that Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity reveals hidden answers that remained entirely elusive until now. The idea of a singular location which resolves disparate issues is precisely the problem Derrida targets here. This volume does provide crucial answers – but these answers are not entirely absent from Derrida’s other works. Nevertheless this is crucial reading for those interested in Derrida’s thought on the dangers of gathering as a privileged signifier; the ways in which polysemy remains distinct from dissemination for Derrida; and, finally, the problems of demarcating any characteristics as proper to the human. In sum, Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity threads these together in order to demonstrate a nascent political thought propelling Derrida’s earlier works which remain more radical than his later ‘political’ writings such as Rogues (2005).

Geschlecht III

Derrida opens Geschlecht III by drawing the audience’s attention to Heidegger’s interpretation of the German poet George Trakl in order to determine to whether a ‘Heideggerian reading’ succeeds in destroying or ‘extend[ing] beyond’ the ‘metaphyisco-aesthetic representation’ (p. 4), or whether it walls up to and becomes entangled and caught within its snare. In short, the entire volume centres around this singular question – how can Heidegger’s position be understood through his Trakl interpretation? – and Derrida’s dismay at this position. This should come as no surprise to those who have read Krell (2007; 2012): he suggested as much of Geschlecht III.

To begin Derrida analyses two pairs of literary criticism terms that Heidegger employs when interpreting Trakl’s poetry: Gedicht (poetic style or essence, oeuvre) and dichtendes Sagen (poetic speech, poetic expressions, poems); Erläuterung (elucidation, clarification) and Erörterung (situation but also contextualisation, discussion, debate) – rooted in the German Ort (place; location). Heidegger names Zwiesprache (dialogue) as the relation between Gedicht and dichtendes Sagen: ‘a two-way speech, exchanged here between Denken [thought] and Dichten [writing]’ (p. 23). It is thus a case of translation. Writing is exchanged for thought. For Derrida, this institutes a propriety to speech. To delimit Zwiesprache as the ‘most appropriate’ form of speech – that which defines the ‘Greatness’ of the Great Poet – is to situate (situation; Erörterung) thought as the Ort (place) where Greatness resides: Gedicht.

For Heidegger, the wandering path of Fremd (the root of stranger (Fremder) and the strange (das Fremde)) is a symbol in Trakl’s poems for accessing Gedicht. Following the Stranger leads to difference but not conflict. This is the Greatness of humanity that Heidegger envisions: peaceful difference. This path distinguishes the ‘thinking animal’ from bestiality for him. It marks the ‘tranquil childhood’ Krell (2007) implored us to make sense of. For Heidegger, humanity (Geschlecht) must follow this path, but designation or inauguration of a new Geschlecht (humanity, generation) is a two-step process: ‘there are…two blows, two strikes [Schlag], two stamps’ (p. 46) of Geschlecht. The first mark (Schlag) is discord or difference and the second is the inscription of that discord in grapheme as conflict or decomposition. The former attempts to mark the neutrality of Dasein without effacing the differences that comes with being-in-the-world.  The Stranger is a return to this first step and enables peaceful difference as humanity’s salvation.

This wandering path and its facilitation of difference evokes an erratic drifting which refuses the propriety of any direct path. Derrida argues this is an illusion: ‘the wandering of [this] Stranger we won’t call “nomadic”: he is not “countryless” or “destinationless”’ (p. 29). This gathering of heterogeneous elements can always be traced back to a singular Ort (place): the first step of Geschlecht. The desire to return to the origin, to find ‘the true’ (wahre) and safeguard (verwahren) it, is troubling for Derrida: it is an attempt to gather ‘our primitive language and we are not far from Fichte here’ (p. 17). Obliquely, Derrida infers the political implications of such a philosophical position: the expansionist logic of the nation and the exceptionalism that propels it. These themes of Ort, nationhood (Geschlecht) and gathering are, as the rest of the volume illustrates, caught within a politics of propriety.

Session 9

Geschlecht III thus seems to provide an overview of Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity with Sessions 9 to 13 each further elucidating an aspect of this overture. Session 9 focuses on: the role of Platonic-Christian metaphysics in Heidegger; the role of the untranslatable idiom and the importance of place (Ort); and finally, the difference between polysemy and dissemination. It is this last part which most demonstrates the difference Derrida wishes to institute between his own work and Heidegger’s. I would argue that it is this distinction which marks the difference between a politics of propriety and a politics which attempts to displace propriety and the violence it authorises.

First, Derrida proposes that Heidegger’s emphasis on the unicity of place (Ort) fails to be reducible to Platonic-Christian metaphysics, and yet also remains unable to think beyond it. Krell (2007) argues that Heidegger thinks of himself as offering a ‘reversal and overcoming of, or coming to terms with, Platonism’ (p. 184). Here we see Derrida dismiss the idea of any ‘reversal’ and argue instead that Heidegger’s emphasis on the unicity of Ort reveals a foregrounding to Plantonic-Christianity: a ‘more-originary’ place which is non-temporally ‘before’ or ‘prior to’ the Platonic-Christian ontological oppositions. Gedicht is not a spiritual place but a place of the material world, a place in-the-world. It is only the poems written (dichtendes Sagen) which enables the possibility of accessing the unspeakable Gedicht. Despite this, Gedicht gathers these ‘material’ polysemic poems into a singular and univocal, that is a proper, understanding. In sum, Derrida argues that Heidegger destrukts (not deconstructs) the metaphysical opposition of spiritual-material and reanimates it to think it differently. Yet, he merely tethers them to another singular site of origin (Geschlecht, Being or Dasein).

Second, Derrida focuses on the role of the untranslatable idiom in the ‘second step’ or second blow/mark (Schlag) which institutes division and, as Krell (2012) argues, ‘magnetises’ Derrida. Here, Elis, a young boy in Trakl’s An den Knaben Elis (‘To The Boy Elis’), is introduced alongside the Stranger which, for Heidegger, also promises salvation and the new Geschlecht. Both enable the possibility of resisting the conflict of the ‘second blow’ by returning to this ‘pre-originary’ first step: peaceful difference. Derrida argues this ‘pre-originary’ foundation is not neutral. The figures of Elis and Stranger can only be understood through the ‘Old and High, secret, idiomatico-poetic’ German (p. xxix) – not everyday German. Elis and Stranger are not universal nor ahistorical conceptions but deeply historical ones: they are impossible to translate, and only a deep, rich understanding of this history and its linguistic connotations allows for the possibility of their comprehension. Consequently, Derrida is concerned that Geschlecht, this new humanity, is delimited by the propriety of Old and High German as the proper thought of any ‘thinking animal’. Contingent characteristics are here made proper, neutral and universal. The Geschlecht that can salvage humanity must properly apprehend and understand this idiomatic and untranslatable history and be part of it.

This brings us to the third part of Session 9 and to the heart of Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity as a project (perhaps even the entire Geschlecht series itself): the gathering and untranslatability of Ort as ‘a difference between polysemy and dissemination’ (p. 52). Polysemy is not a word Heidegger himself uses. It is Derrida’s own translation of mehrdeutig (ambiguous) which aims to: a) capture the multiplication of difference that Being inaugurates; and b) to differentiate from his own conception of dissemination which, unlike Heidegger’s mehrdeutig (ambiguous) or polysemy, does not gather these differences into a singular unicity. For Heidegger, difference is coterminous with singularity but the former must converge or gather in a singular place: for instance, poems and Gedicht do not efface or annul one another, but the former are possible because of the singular Gedicht. For Derrida, this is highly problematic. It privileges this singular, idiomatic place above all others as the necessary starting point for humanity’s salvation from decomposition. Dissemination then is difference tout court; perpetual deferral and displacement. Any attempt to gather or locate is always a violent imposition. As Noah Martin (2015) wryly comments: ‘the kind of dissemination [polysemy] that is not in opposition to gathering is a watered-down dissemination’ (p. 3). A polysemic conception of difference continues to institute a proper place amongst perpetual difference. It is a violent and always unjust imposition which installs boundaries of propriety: moving from the metaphysical origin to the ‘pre-originary’ Being. What is proper to humanity’s salvation then is a thinking animal contingent on the boundaries of Old and High German: others can exist but the future begins here.

Session 10

If Session 9 is critical of Heidegger’s polysemic gathering, which privileges a contingent historical Ort (place) as proper to humanity, then Session 10 explores the violent implications of this boundary demarcation. Derrida argues that this privileging of historical place (Ort) enables a quasi-nationalism, one tied to myths of a discreet language, land and history, to overwhelm Heidegger’s account of the new Geschlecht.

Session 10 opens with a clarification: Gedicht is not something other than the Dichtung (poetry). Gedicht is rather the fundamental tone (Grundton) of the Dichtung; it is a silence that marks what is really being said when we speak. Grundton is not elsewhere with regard to the poems of Dichtung; it is the unspokenness of these poems. Gedicht is the unspoken, ‘true’ meaning of these poems. Heidegger finds this unspoken meaning by metonymically linking of words and phrases from everyday German to Old and High German. Gedicht, like Being, is always an essence of becoming: made through poems but not existing outside them. This negotiation means that the supposed neutrality of Gedicht and Being is then always marked by a discreet linguistic history: Old and High German. Derrida here summarises the fear that has stalked his reading of Heidegger thus far: it is not merely a form of nationalism, but a propriety of Being dependent upon these contingent, historical conditions and something far more delimiting in its scope. Session 10 argues then that just when Heidegger is at his most radical, he stutters, redoubles back on himself and imposes a quasi ‘philosophical nationalism’. This ‘proper thought’ of Erörterung, the thinking animal and Geschlecht act as necessary pre-conditions for humanity – reaffirming the propriety of those who can have access to it and can enter subjectivity. Anything less is bestiality or non-human. In this singular move, some humans then become sub-human and this marks the ultimate danger of any politics or philosophy of propriety.

Session 11

If Session 10 outlines the violent implications of delineating Geschlecht as a proprietary foundation for humanity’s salvation, then Session 11 hammers these home. First, Derrida situates the Stranger and Elis between and against two concepts of modernity and German Idealism: cosmopolitanism and humanism. Second, Derrida argues that Heidegger’s conception of the Occident (Europe, the West) is integral to this positioning. Moreover, Derrida argues that a Geschlecht which retains the Occident as its home is a dangerous form of proprietary violence which radically excludes.

The Stranger and Elis, unlike humanism or cosmopolitanism, refuse the human being as the foundation for the human experience: ‘what throws [the throwing, das Werfende] in such projection is not the human being but being itself, which sends [schickt, which destines] the human being into the ek-sistence of Da-sein that is his essence’ (p. 97; my italics). Heidegger turns to Holderlin’s Heimkunft (‘Homecoming’) to designate Heimat (homeland) as this thrownness [das Werfende] of Da-sein. Yet this homeland, Derrida argues, must be thought, not nationalistically nor patriotically, but rather ‘in term of the history of being’ (p. 98). Moreover, for Heidegger this history, this Heimat, must be understood as Abendland – a phrase Trakl uses in his oeuvre to denote the Occident and which literally translates as Land of the Evening. Heidegger eulogises that the evening prepares and clears the way for the morning and the new to come, just as Being is a site (Ort) which prepares and clears the way for the unborne Geschlecht to come. For Derrida then, Heidegger’s assimilation of Holderin’s Heimat and Trakl’s Abendland announce the limits of the new configurations that can emerge from Being (that pre-originary place) and which can resist the decomposition of the second step, the bad Geschlecht. The Heimat’s “countrymen” are not the citizens of the German nation; countrymen refers to those who inherit the history of being. In other words, it is those who retain ‘a belongingness to the destiny of the West’ (p. 98) – those who understand this history and inherit through Old and High German. Consequently, Derrida argues this move to steer clear of nationalism only violently reaffirms the propriety of ‘the West’ as the origin of Being thus destined (Geschickt) as the future of humanity’s salvation.

Session 12

Session 12 sees Derrida, in knowingly provocative fashion, name this discourse a ‘revolutionary promise’. The new Geschlecht, inheritors of Old and High German and descendents of Abendland, and thus destined (Geschickt) by virtue of this unique place (Ort) they hold in history, is this singular subjectivity – it may spawn others but this is where it all begins. Derrida further argues that Heidegger’s emphasis on the “Ein” (one) in Ein Geschlecht promises the possibility of a ‘completely other experience’ (p. 128): peaceful difference. Yet he concludes that it is this very demand for the Ein, for the singular and the securing of it, which ‘guarantees the ultimate foundation of every nationalism’ (p. 132) and thus reanimates the possibility of exclusion, dispossession and violence that Ein Geschlecht promises to release us from.

The new Geschlecht appear through Schlag – a mark or strike which clears the decomposition and inaugurates the unborne Geschlecht of Abendland. Two things remain important for Derrida. First, this mark (Schlag) is not only a singular mark. It announces the singularity of Being and the differences of all beings which might emerge from this singular Geschlecht. There is both Einfalt (oneness) and Zwiefalt (two-fold). Singularity does not efface difference; differences are maintained alongside the singular place (Ort) even as they are gathered into it. Second, Schlag, as strike or mark, does not merely mean destruction but operates as ‘an opening and a path-breaking’ (p. 130). This makes sense given singularity does not efface difference for Heidegger and it is the Schlag which clears decomposition for a new Geschlecht to break forth. It is for this reason that Derrida argues Schlag is untranslatable from German because any translation fails to carry over Schlag’s inextricable relationship to Weg (path). The mark of the singular (ein Geschlecht) is thus a pathway to multiplicity wherein all the new, unborne Geschlechter of the future gestate.

Schrijvers (2017) proposes that Derrida hopes for a unisexuality, a singular Geschlecht which ‘resists (even his) deconstruction’ (p. 2). However, Session 12 demonstrates that even this polysemic, path-breaking (Weg) Schlag, which promises difference alongside singularity (Ein) and a future of possibility over closure, ‘remains a path of return’ (p. 131).  Derrida argues, the pathway (Weg) of the Schlag (the mark) and the Ein (the one) ‘gives way to the more ancient, the more matutinal of the night before’ (p. 131). That which is closest to the most Ancient civilisation (this ‘first’ civilisation) – Ancient Greece, the West, Abendland –  structures Geschlecht (humanity, species, races, sexualities) and can be considered proper to the future to come of humanity and its true descendants. Proximity to Heimat determines Ein Geschlecht. Thus, this account of Being, for Derrida, remains an act of enclosure within the field of difference. Schrijvers misses what Derrida always targets: enclosure, the demarcation of boundaries and propriety. His hope, if one can exist, is to resist unjustified enclosure.

For Derrida, Heimkunft (homecoming) organises Heidegger’s thought on the proper and commands and enables all possible forms of nationalism and nationalist claims. The polysemic differences of Geschlecht are organised through the singularity of Heimkunft. Derrida understands Heimkunft as a ‘return to the source [which] can be a withdrawal or preparation for a new morning or new leap…this nationalist circle’ (p. 132). The homecoming is then a ‘path-breaking step’ which clears the way forward for national and colonial exploitation to operate. It is a harkening back to the ‘most original’ in order to justify venturing forth and appropriating all that is ahead. It is not simply then that those improper differences outside the singular propriety of Heimkunft (i.e. those other, non-Western Geschlecht or ‘races’, nations, ‘species’) are eviscerated – they are eviscerated through their interpolation into this ‘most original’ logic of Being. The Other is only understood through the terms of the self – ‘neutralising’ any sense of Other-ness. This propriety of self therefore eviscerates the Other by appropriating it into the self and this ‘most original’ logic.

Session 13

Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity’s final session, Session 13, provides the clearest indication yet of what decomposition means for Heidegger: modernity. It is against this backdrop Derrida argues, that the new Geschlecht of the Stranger and Elis must be understood as an arche-origin. Derrida claims that Heidegger’s differentiation between Historie (history as representation), Geschichte (history as that which happens but also tale or narrative) and Geschick (destiny) demonstrates how he constructs a certain history of Old and High German, descended from Abendland, as the arche-origin of humanity (Geschlecht). In naming the new Geschlecht as an arche-origin Derrida forcefully shows what has been latently pointed to throughout the book: this new Geschlecht as Stranger and Elis are proprietary claims, which replay in dissimulated fashion the metaphysical trap it seeks to escape.

In Die Sprache im Gedicht (1953) Heidegger rallies against those who argue that Trakl’s work is ahistorical because it does not contain ‘historiographical objects’ (p. 149). For Heidegger, there is no need for these when dealing with history of the ‘highest sense’ (p. 150). Failure to understand this is a ‘modern and metaphysical objection [which] stems from this objectivism and this philosophy of representation that is the mark of post-Cartesian philosophy’ (p. 149).  The distinction between Historie, Geschichte and Geschick is then Heidegger’s attempts to return to the past and articulate a different account of history altogether – one that Trakl apparently pronounces perfectly: ‘his poem is Geschichtlich [historical] in the highest sense’ (p. 149-150). Geschichte literally translates to history, story, tale, narrative, saga. Trakl’s poetry may not name historical objects, but it does mark Stranger and Elis; symbols of the new Geschlecht, the bearer of history and the future, and the destiny (schickt/Geschick) of the history of ‘the West’. Like the path-breaking Schlag (mark), these symbols carry history forth – continue its story – by returning to the ‘most original’ mark of humanity (Geschlecht) and making way for the future.

For Derrida, reanimating history cannot mean a return to an origin. This ‘movement toward the future is a return toward the arche-origin’ (p. 153). There is no undecidability nor uncertainty regarding this future. It is rather determined by the false construction of an originary moment which then legitimises ensuing violence. Here the ‘arche-origin’ legitimates Ein Geschlecht as both (a) the historical and proper subject of Abendland and ‘the West’, which has always existed; and (b) the one which is also its future and can act as its salvation. Derrida argues that Heidegger’s circular account of history only serves to ‘save what is proper to man’ (p. 152). It designates and delimits a Geschick (destiny), Ein Geschlecht, to ‘give humanity its proper stamp and make it come into itself, into its essence, saving it from what it is not or must not be’ (p. 152). This may be an essence of becoming: the future Geschlecht enables the fulfilment of this promise of history. Nevertheless, this future and this promise are always premised upon a return that is not ‘accidental or supplementary predicate of dwelling or the homeland [Heimat], it is the essential movement that originarily constitutes the homeland or country as a promise of dwelling. The country begins with the promise of return’ (p. 153). As such even an ‘arche-origin’ of becoming such as the Heimat of Ein Geschlecht (like all arche-origins) is an act of ownership over the future, which denotes what can appear within it by demarcating a past and a future (Abendland, ‘the West’ and the Occident) which do not exist. This demarcation and delimitation of the future thus marks its proper bounds. It institutes what does and does not count.

Conclusion

After reading Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity some might be tempted to argue that if gathering, even in the polysemic fashion Heidegger suggests, is so problematic, it must be avoided at all costs such that nothing is ever united. As responses to Spectres of Marx (1994) demonstrated, some will affirm then that deconstructive politics is no politics at all. Others would lament the lack of overt references to sex and sexuality, which Krell (2007; 2012) promised were the ‘proper subjects’ of Geschlecht III. Both responses would be short-sighted. In refusing the propriety of gathering and affirming dissemination as a form of anti-proprietary politics, Derrida argues we cannot rely upon the histories and systems we inherit. Gathering is possible; it happens all the time. But, in ‘protecting the unborne’, it will necessarily exclude, and failure to acknowledge any ‘arche-origin’ as contingent is fundamentally dangerous. Reading sex and sexuality through this lens disavows the imposition of boundaries that binary logics of sex designate. Male and female must be understood as limits which govern the propriety of bodies, determine our political horizons and authorises violence (be it the absence of appropriate and socialised healthcare or vigilante attacks) against those who defy these limits. These borders always overlap and coalesce with those of the human, race, nation, lineage to institute forms of propriety. This is the reason, it seems, that Derrida is so intrigued by Geschlecht – a phrase which points to these intersecting forms of properness and cannot be reduced to any single one.

Derrida’s concern throughout Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity is that Heidegger replays a metaphysical trick. A ‘Heideggerian reading’, Ein Geschlecht, Elis, Abendland cannot be reduced to the metaphysical, but neither do they entirely escape that metaphysical inclination for propriety: a proper way to write, a proper way to read the poem, a proper path to follow and more significantly a proper locale of Being – a properness to humanity. It is this propriety which threads each of the sessions in Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity as Derrida elucidates the violence which is authorised by any stalwart defence of propriety to humanity:  be it thought (over animality), a race, a sex, a sexuality, a nation, a lineage and so forth. Dissemination is positioned as the perpetual displacement of any attempt at gathering or enclosure and, as such, the perpetual disavowal of any propriety. It is therefore the possibility of resisting rather than replaying the violences of racism, colonialism and sexism (but also heteropatriarchy) (and so forth), which attempt to designate the kinds of bodies that are proper and improper. What is most interesting then is not necessarily what this volume  says about Heidegger (nor Derrida’s reading of him) but the dormant political force which  Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity and other earlier works (1978; 1982; 1992) reveal – that most radical energy which becomes more cautious in texts such as Rogues (2005). It is that energy that Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity provides today and it is this Derrida we cannot forget and must inherit.

References

Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Great Britain: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Brighton: Harvester Press Limited.

Derrida, Jacques. 1992. “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority.’” In Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, edited by Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld and David Gray Carlson, 3-67. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Spectres of Marx. New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 2005. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. California: Stanford University Press.

Heidegger, Martin. 1953. “Die Sprache im Gedicht.” In Unterwegs zur Sprache (On the way to Language). 1982. Harper Collins.

Krell, David Farrell. 2007. “Marginalia to Geschlecht III: Derrida on Heidegger on Trakl.” The New Centennial Review 7, no 2 (Fall): 175-199.

Krell, David Farrell. 2012. Phantoms of the Other. Albany: Suny Press.

Martin, Noah Gabriel. 2015. “Review of ‘Phantoms of the Other: Four Generation of Derrida’s Geschlecht.’” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Schrijvers, Joeri. 2017. “Review of ‘Phantoms of the Other.’” Phenomenological Reviews.


[i] My thanks to Viktoria Huegel for help with editing and proofreading, and for being kind to my butchering of the German language.

Martin Heidegger: Thought Poems, Rowman & Littlefield, 2021

Thought Poems: A Translation of Heidegger's Verse Book Cover Thought Poems: A Translation of Heidegger's Verse
New Heidegger Research
Martin Heidegger. Translated by Eoghan Walls
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
2021
Hardback $165.00
660

Paul Slama: Phénoménologie transcendantale: Figures du transcendantal de Kant à Heidegger, Springer, 2021

Phénoménologie transcendantale: Figures du transcendantal de Kant à Heidegger Book Cover Phénoménologie transcendantale: Figures du transcendantal de Kant à Heidegger
Phaenomenologica, Vol. 232
Paul Slama
Springer
2021
Hardback 108,43 €
X, 540

François Jaran: La huella del pasado: Hacia una ontología de la realidad histórica

La huella del pasado: Hacia una ontología de la realidad histórica Book Cover La huella del pasado: Hacia una ontología de la realidad histórica
François Jaran
Herder Editorial
2019
Paperback 16.90 €
208

Reviewed by: César Gómez Algarra (Université Laval)

L’histoire jette ses bouteilles vides par la fenêtre.

Chris Marker, Sans soleil

 

Après un travail consacré au problème de la phénoménologie de l’histoire chez Husserl et Heidegger[1], où, malgré tout ce qui séparent ces deux phénoménologues, un rapprochement essentiel était mené à bien, François Jaran se tourne maintenant vers une recherche de nature explicitement ontologique. Cette enquête vient compléter et développer, pour ainsi dire, son travail précédent pour se pencher en profondeur sur le problème de la réalité historique. En quel sens pouvons-nous ou devons-nous parler de « réalité historique » ? Face aux thèses réductionnistes que l’auteur nomme « matérialistes » ou « subjectivistes », celles qui ne considèrent le monde que comme un agrégat de choses physiques auxquelles on ajouterait le caractère culturel, politique ou historique, il s’agit de défendre une conception plus riche de la réalité. Pour cela, il faut montrer que la « réalité » se donne déjà chargée de plusieurs sens, de plusieurs caractères, qu’on ne peut lui soustraire sans la réduire fatalement. La « réalité » n’est donc jamais neutre, elle se donne « déjà teintée » par ces caractères, selon la belle expression que nous trouvons dans l’introduction, et c’est celui d’être historique qui sera analysé en détail dans cette œuvre (21).

Plus concrètement, l’auteur tente d’appréhender le mode d’être d’un étant en tant qu’étant historique. Pour ce faire, la grande majorité du travail conceptuel se fonde sur le projet philosophique de Heidegger, depuis les cours de jeunesse jusqu’à Être et temps. Mais à ce noyau argumentatif du livre précèdent deux chapitres consacrés au néokantisme et à Dilthey, dont le but est de clarifier les bases philosophiques du débat dont surgit l’herméneutique de la facticité et les interrogations du jeune Heidegger. Finalement, et c’est un ajout remarquable, les derniers chapitres sont consacrés à la effectuation (re-enactment) chez Collingwood et à la trace chez Ricœur. Le recours à ces deux auteurs permet de compléter l’analyse en montrant une proximité et familiarité avec le travail de l’historien qui nuance et dépasse largement les positions heideggériennes, trop radicales ou limitées (23). S’il fallait regretter l’absence d’un nom fondamental dans ces investigations, ce serait celui de Gadamer. Cependant, bien qu’aucun chapitre ne lui soit entièrement consacré, ses apports apparaissent à plusieurs moments de l’argumentation, là où, justement, son travail herméneutique s’avère d’une grande clarté et utilité.

*

Les deux premiers chapitres sont donc consacrés au problème de la fondation (fundamentación) des sciences humaines ou de l’esprit, notamment au débat entamé par Dilthey, Rickert et Windelband à la fin du XIXème siècle et au début du XXème, débat dont l’influence sur le jeune Heidegger est maintenant bien connue. La question, relevant en principe d’une problématique épistémologique et gnoséologique dans le contexte complexe du positivisme et de l’avancée des sciences de la nature, permet à l’auteur, de façon par moments surprenante, d’en tirer des conséquences d’ordre métaphysique. Dès ce premier chapitre, nous trouvons important de souligner une qualité remarquable de l’ouvrage : la capacité à dégager le contenu essentiel de façon très condensée, résumant en quelques pages les problèmes plus prégnants de ces grandes œuvres et des polémiques qui lui sont attachées, tout en redirigeant la question vers l’enjeu principal.

Il s’agit donc de montrer qu’à partir des distinctions développées par Dilthey entre esprit et nature et entre expliquer et comprendre pour préserver la spécificité du savoir propre aux sciences humaines, les réponses des néokantiens ont nourri une problématique sur les différentes façons dont nous appréhendons la réalité. Du refus de Windelband à l’acceptation de ce dualisme ontologique considéré dominant dans la tradition occidentale jusqu’à Hegel, l’auteur en vient à décrire la division logico-formelle par laquelle universel et particulier sont différenciés. Là où les sciences de la nature peuvent émettre des lois générales, les autres sciences devront rendre compte du singulier et irrépétible. C’est donc le cas, entre autres, de la science historique. Puis, avec plus de détails, F. Jaran consacre plusieurs pages à rendre explicite la contribution de Rickert, qui approfondit les concepts antérieurs en insistant sur la différence entre la tendance généralisatrice et la tendance individualisatrice (30). Ainsi, nous avons une seule réalité effective, conçue de double façon : d’une part, à travers la généralisation qui fait de la réalité nature, et d’autre part, de la particularisation qui fait histoire. Ce qui nous intéresse spécialement ici, c’est de voir comment, dans le cadre de ce débat sur la fondation des sciences, l’auteur dégage des thèses sur le mode d’être de la réalité. Malgré ce monisme ontologique constatable chez Rickert, l’essentiel est surtout que l’être humain appréhende cette réalité à travers ses propres moyens : dans cette ordination de la réalité, le néokantien considère les généralités des abstractions, qui seraient dépassées dans le rang hiérarchique par l’objet individuel auquel nous faisons face. Bien que, en termes kantiens, l’individualité « en soi » de l’objet ne soit pas atteignable, les analyses montrent que, malgré tout, l’appréhension de la réalité par le sujet fonctionne grâce à un type particulier d’individualisation. D’où la conséquence suivante, importante pour la suite du livre : la réalité que l’être humain appréhende est plutôt individuelle avant d’être générale et légiférée comme nature (37). Cependant, comme le relève la dernière section du chapitre, à partir des apports de Kroner, le monisme ontologique des néokantiens ne va pas sans difficultés. En effet, considérer la réalité à partir d’une seule dimension implique aussi de dérober la signification individuelle propre aux objets ou événements historiques : un tableau ne serait qu’un amas de matériaux sans aucun sens au-delà d’ajouts postérieurs. Ceci ne correspond certainement pas à sa réalité la plus propre et significative. Malgré tout, et c’est le thème du deuxième chapitre, il ne va pas de soi que l’essai diltheyéen de sauver la spécificité de l’histoire soit réductible, comme il l’était pour les néokantiens, à un dualisme esprit-nature des plus orthodoxes.

En effet, Dilthey a développé plutôt un monisme ontologique de l’expérience vécue (Erlebnis, vivencia). Contre un appauvrissement de l’expérience, il s’agit de redonner une force et une légitimité à celle-ci dans les sciences humaines, passant de la caractérisation du sujet comme rationnel et froid à sa compréhension en tant qu’être historique dans son être propre. Notons aussi que par le biais de cette caractérisation s’éclaire une autre conception de l’être humain, comme étant capable de radicaliser ses tendances naturelles de compréhension vers tout ce qui est historique, afin d’élargir et d’appréhender son champ de connaissance.

L’analyse de la notion d’expérience vécue menée à bien par l’auteur permet de dégager l’originalité de Dilthey dans le contexte philosophique de son époque. Avant toute abstraction, toute différenciation comme celle d’objet physique et de représentation psychique, nous avons la donation de quelque chose de plus originaire : l’Erlebnis dans toute sa puissance. L’expérience vécue se donne immédiatement, avec des valeurs, des sentiments, etc. Et dans le domaine des sciences humaines, dont font partie l’histoire et ce qui est historique, ce sera à partir des expériences vécues que nous, êtres historiques, pourrons avoir accès aux intériorités passées, à leurs mondes vécus et à leur caractère spirituel, à partir des expressions humaines, de ses œuvres et de leur culture. Leur sens et leur signification ne sont surtout pas réductibles à leur limitation dans d’autres sciences naturelles. L’intérêt de ce chapitre est alors de mettre en avant une dimension originaire de l’expérience vécue qui permette de contrer la compréhension matérialiste plus vulgaire, et ce, à travers d’une lecture des thèses de Dilthey qui se veut expressément métaphysique.

Dans les dernières sections, ce point de vue est développé davantage avec la notion d’Innewerden (saisie, se rendre compte de ; percatación). Avant toute différenciation ou abstraction, nous avons donc l’expérience vécue, à laquelle nous avons un accès immédiat : elle se donne avant toute réflexion, de façon préthéorique, sans qu’on puisse parler de distinction entre le « capter » et le « capté ». Autrement dit, il n’y a pas encore de relation entre sujet-objet, pas de rapport de l’ordre de la connaissance pivotant autour de la perception. La prétention de l’auteur, en mobilisant la notion de l’Innewerden, complétée par des références à Heidegger et à Gadamer, qui ont relié le concept au νοεῖν grec en tant que « perception préréflexive », est d’abandonner le cadre épistémologique et la réduction matérialiste de toute réalité au simplement physique. La compréhension de l’Innewerden fait signe vers un des points clés de l’ouvrage et annonce les chapitres suivants sur le jeune Heidegger. En interprétant de façon ontologiquement forte la conceptualisation diltheyéenne, F. Jaran souligne qu’avec l’expérience vécue nous retrouvons une revalorisation de ce qui est significatif, ce qui a un sens, et donc surtout un sens historique, face aux démarches abstractives propres aux sciences de la nature. Dans la mesure où l’expérience vécue est première, plus originaire et précède les démarches épistémologiques postérieures, et contre le privilège moderne de la perception sensible, nous pouvons nous accorder avec Dilthey pour suivre ce fil comme accès à une réalité plus pleine, où l’être humain se tient avant toute distinction ( 62-63).

Ces deux premiers chapitres offrent une pertinente et très claire vue d’ensemble sur la façon dont le problème et ses enjeux étaient posés et seront reçus par Heidegger, et cela, dès ses premiers cours. C’est à partir de cette question que nous passons maintenant à la deuxième partie du livre, donc aux trois chapitres consacrés au projet heideggérien dans ses diverses ramifications.

L’auteur ouvre cette partie en expliquant l’importance de l’histoire et l’historicité chez Heidegger. Particulièrement intéressante dans ce contexte est la citation d’une lettre à Bultmann, où il est question de l’élargissement de la région du domaine d’objets nommé « histoire ». Cet élargissement, dans le cadre du projet ontologique du livre, ne doit pas être compris seulement comme relevant du caractère éminemment historique du Dasein, mais aussi et surtout comme une élaboration versant sur le mode d’être des étants historiques. Les tentatives de dépassement de l’appréhension de la réalité comme Vorhandenheit fonctionnent alors comme fil conducteur, et c’est ce point qui représente la nouveauté heideggérienne ici reprise. Cependant, en suivant ce fil conducteur, l’auteur va préciser aussi l’évolution du questionnement de Heidegger, remarquant le processus génétique qui va de la thématisation de la vie facticielle à l’ontologie fondamentale de 1927.

Pour ce faire, le troisième chapitre (« Penser l’histoire à partir de l’expérience facticielle de la vie ») est consacré plus concrètement à l’analyse des cours de jeunesse, notamment Phénoménologie de la vie religieuse et Phénoménologie de l’intuition et de l’expression. Il s’agit donc de mettre en avant les acquis plus féconds de Dilthey sur l’expérience vécue et sur la vie pour capter le mouvement de celle-ci dans son inquiétude, et donc dans ce qu’elle m’est propre, se séparant davantage des fixations épistémologiques du néokantisme. À partir de cette orientation, l’histoire n’est plus à considérer comme un « objet » du savoir, auquel on applique des concepts généraux, mais doit être saisie dans la facticité elle-même. Mais pour autant, ce qu’est à proprement parler l’historique, sans se borner tout simplement à le voir comme ce qui « a lieu dans le temps », doit être mieux délimité. Ceci permet à Heidegger de critiquer Rickert dans sa quête d’une historicité plus « vivante » et plus originaire, qui nous détermine et affecte de fond en comble. Avant toute étude scientifique et théorique, notre expérience vitale de l’histoire est déjà là (77).

Cependant, si l’histoire surgit au sein de la vie facticielle elle-même, nous devons comprendre la structure de cette détermination, comprendre aussi comment elle se donne dans le Dasein. L’auteur se prête à ce travail en dégageant la pluralité des modes dans lesquels, selon Heidegger, l’histoire se manifeste dans la vie facticielle, élaborant ainsi une hiérarchie fondamentale. Certes, l’histoire peut être comprise comme un savoir que nous étudions en lisant des textes, documents, etc. Elle peut aussi et surtout être conçue comme la totalité de ce qui est passé ou advenu, voir comme une partie significative de cette totalité. Mais ces manifestations ne sont pas aussi originaires, notamment la dernière, puisque, bien que surgissant d’une pensée humaine, elles fonctionnent plutôt comme une idée spéculative et régulatrice, qui ne concerne pas de façon essentielle notre présent. Pour Heidegger, les modes authentiques de l’histoire nous concernent plus directement, nous « dévorent » pour ainsi dire : c’est plutôt l’histoire comme tradition, comme magistrae vita ou, tout simplement, comme la mienne propre. C’est ainsi que nous nous rapportons à l’histoire, que nous apprenons d’elle. Et c’est là un point essentiel pour son projet ontologique que l’auteur souligne dans ce chapitre : ces rapports à l’histoire sont caractérisés de plus authentiques, dans la mesure où celle-ci se donne ainsi comme existant facticiellement, comme une réalité historique (85-86). Cependant, les réflexions heideggériennes sur le problème ne s’arrêtent pas ici, dans le terrain de la vie facticielle, et vont acquérir un caractère plus ontologique à partir de la reprise du débat Dilthey-Yorck. C’est le thème du quatrième chapitre : « Placer Dilthey sur le terrain de l’ontologie ».

Dans les années 1924-25, s’acheminant vers la question de l’être qui sera décisive par la suite, l’interrogation sur l’histoire et l’historicité se concrétise en partant de façon explicite du traitement d’un étant qui est caractérisé par l’histoire : le Dasein en tant qu’être que nous sommes. Heidegger reprend ainsi, notamment dans les conférences sir Le concept de temps, la philosophie de Dilthey et les critiques du comte Yorck pour modifier le traitement de la vie, passant ainsi à une considération sur les structures ontologiques de l’existence humaine, qui est d’emblée et essentiellement historique. Par ce biais, il va s’éloigner davantage des limites de l’approche propre à la théorie de la connaissance. L’enquête historique ne peut pas partir du privilège de la perception, omniprésent dans la philosophie moderne et dans les sciences de la nature, mais de ce qui est vécu. Réélaboré par Heidegger, le travail sur la vie que Dilthey avait mené doit être maintenant progressivement ontologisé. Il s’agit donc d’une opération de déplacement qui ramène la vie et la réalité historique à sa constitution ontologique, à ses modes de donation. Nous devons, comme le prône Heidegger dans ces textes, nous questionner sur l’être et non sur l’étant, sur l’historicité et non tout simplement sur ce qui est historique. S’offre ainsi une méthode d’interrogation qui n’est pas réductible au traitement de ce qui est vorhanden : c’est seulement ainsi que l’histoire pourra être traitée de façon effective.

Cependant, cette nouvelle approche implique surtout de comprendre l’historicité au sein du Dasein lui-même, donc de se demander en quoi celui-ci est un être essentiellement historique. Ce que veut souligner l’auteur dans ces pages est comment, en comprenant la façon dont tout rapport du Dasein à l’étant est déjà marqué par l’histoire, nous pouvons accéder, à travers cette marque du passé, à une nouvelle prégnance de la réalité historique. En effet, le philosophe fribourgeois s’efforce d’écarter l’idée traditionnelle selon laquelle le passé serait un présent sans actualité, sans être. Contre cette idée bien inscrite dans notre conceptualité depuis Augustin, Heidegger rétorque que le passé se donne sous une forme particulière : celle du Gewesen-sein, de l’être-été (ser-sido). C’est ce statut d’être qu’a le passé, et non celui de présent prétérit, qu’il faut garder à l’esprit pour une recherche sur l’ontologie historique. Ainsi, en 1924 un jalon fondamental était déjà placé, qui sera complété dans Être et temps afin de mieux comprendre quel rapport entretient le présent avec l’historicité.

Le chapitre se clôt par une analyse des conférences de Kassel et de sa reprise dans le cours du semestre d’été 1925, les Prolégomènes pour une histoire du concept de temps. Le recours au premier texte sert à montrer comment Heidegger établit la distinction, devenue désormais « canonique », entre l’histoire comme savoir ou science historique (Historie) et l’histoire comme événement (Geschichte), et un événement qui nous concerne au premier plan. Dans le second texte, il est plus facile d’apprécier le chemin vers une ontologie. En laissant derrière-lui les approches de la vie facticielle, qui ne voulaient pas trancher entre le domaine de la nature et celui de l’histoire, Heidegger souligne néanmoins la possibilité d’approcher la réalité historique vraie, en procédant par une démarche phénoménologique qui capte sa constitution originaire. Mais cela ne sera possible que si l’ontologie grecque, qui relie la présence constante, la oὐσία, à l’être, est rompue par une nouvelle ontologie capable de rendre compte de l’histoire au-delà de cette réduction. Le chemin vers Être et temps est maintenant dégagé, où F. Jaran voit la solution heideggérienne au problème de l’ontologie de l’historique.

Le cinquième chapitre, « L’histoire dans le cadre de l’ontologie fondamentale », se penche alors sur l’opus magnum de 1927. En se concentrant particulièrement sur les paragraphes 72 à 77 de la seconde partie, l’auteur cherche à mettre en lumière le sens et la portée de l’historicité originaire du Dasein dans ce qui l’intéresse davantage : son rapport à l’étant. Pour abandonner radicalement l’idée du présent comme réalité et les thèses subjectivistes de l’histoire il faut tirer toutes les conséquences de la structure temporelle du Dasein, son rapport à l’historicité. En effet, celui-ci n’est pas de prime abord anhistorique pour, par après, se voir octroyer ces qualités : il est de façon essentielle marqué par le temps, et donc le temps arrive (geschehen) en lui, de la naissance à la mort. Dans le questionnement ontologique du livre, il nous faut cependant comprendre aussi comment cette historicité se rapporte à ce qui n’est pas le Dasein.

L’auteur consacre alors une partie du chapitre à commenter l’analyse de l’antiquité, en tant qu’étant historique par excellence, telle qu’elle se déploie dans Être et temps. Cette première approche confirme d’abord l’idée qu’à travers un étant ancien nous avons accès à un monde passé, un monde qui n’existe plus mais qui appartenait à un Dasein, et qui maintenant s’ouvre à nous à partir de cet étant lui-même. Ce monde est caractérisé comme welt-geschichtlich, comme ce qui est mondain-historique (mondo-historial dans la traduction d’E. Martineau). Mais cette façon de considérer le problème n’est pas suffisante : le fil de l’antiquité ici suivi permet de découvrir la relation des étants intramondains comme étants historiques avec un monde aussi bien historique. Malgré tout, il nous reste à comprendre en quel sens plus précisément le monde a lieu comme historique et quelles conséquences nous pouvons tirer par rapport à l’étant historique tel quel.

Ici, la difficulté que l’auteur souligne conséquemment tient à ce que Heidegger lui-même a affirmé dans Être et temps, à savoir, qu’une recherche ontologique de ce qui est « mondain-historique » suppose d’aller au-delà de la recherche qui est la sienne. F. Jaran cherche alors à expliquer ce point et à faire comprendre qu’on ne peut malgré tout ni soutenir que l’histoire est une région ontologique parmi d’autres ni que le caractère historique est simplement un mode d’être à ajouter à la liste que forment la Vorhandenheit, la Zuhandenheit et les autres. Au contraire, l’historicité, pour ainsi dire, se décline historiquement et est à retrouver dans plusieurs modes d’étants, soit subsistants, utiles, existants, etc. (137). Et c’est dans le cours de 1927 sur Les problèmes fondamentaux de la phénoménologie que Heidegger lui-même jette une nouvelle lumière sur la question. Une des particularités de l’étant historique est son caractère nécessairement intramondain : contrairement à l’étant naturel, qui surgit de et à partir de lui-même, l’étant historique est produit (comme le seraient, dans l’exemple de l’ouvrage, les produits de la culture, etc.), et produit de façon nécessaire par un Dasein. L’étant historique comme intramondain relevant donc de l’intervention d’un Dasein comme causalité ontique, la question ne peut pas être complètement résolue dans une recherche sur les structures ontologiques de l’étant, et donc sur les conditions de possibilité de compréhension de l’être telles que constituent le projet de l’ontologie fondamentale.

Pour conclure ce chapitre et bien exposer les acquis et les voies malgré tout ouvertes de la pensée heideggérienne, l’auteur se tourne vers les remarques « métontologiques » des textes postérieurs à 1927. Compte tenu que la projection transcendantale de l’historicité originaire du Dasein sur l’étant est insuffisante pour expliquer l’étant dans son caractère historique et son appartenance au monde, ce pas est cohérent et semble fécond. De ce point de vue, le retournement vers l’étant comme point de départ permet de penser la manifestation de l’étant comme d’emblée historique. Malheureusement, Heidegger ne traite pas en détail ce thème, se bornant à quelques remarques. Ceux-ci s’avancent vers la possibilité d’une ontologie de l’histoire qui s’appuierait sur le problème du mondain-historique, et a fortiori si elle ne veut pas s’épuiser dans la projection transcendantale du Dasein et de sa compréhension de l’être. En effet, comme le relèvent les dernières pages du chapitre, le caractère mondain-historique ne correspond pas, tout simplement, à un mode d’être qui déterminerait que l’étant se manifeste sous telle ou telle forme. Bien  au contraire, l’étant historique se donne dans le monde lui-même, et dans sa particulière référence aussi bien au monde passé du Dasein qu’au problème du monde en tant que tel. Ayant dégagé ce point fondamental pour son projet, F. Jaran peut maintenant compléter sa recherche ontologique en s’appuyant, dans une troisième section, sur des auteurs doués d’une sensibilité différente à l’histoire.

Le sixième chapitre est donc consacré à R. Collingwood, et bien que sautant à l’analyse d’un philosophe et historien anglais, l’auteur souligne que la source des influences demeure la même : Dilthey. Par rapport aux avancées antérieures, Collingwood met en avant la conception de la ré-effectuation (re-enactment) comme mode de reconstitution historique, que F. Jaran va expliciter en comparaison avec la répétition heideggérienne d’Être et temps. Il s’agit alors de bien appréhender comment l’historien est capable de redonner une certaine effectivité aux événements passés, et quel sens épistémologique précis cela possède dans sa recherche.

À partir de ces interrogations, la question est de voir comment Collingwood envisage la possibilité de connaître l’histoire, en admettant que c’est un objet qui dépasse certainement ce qui est « réel », et qu’elle est douée d’un statut d’idéalité et d’inactualité qui doit se révèler malgré tout comme accessible par le travail de l’historien. Ce qui intéresse particulièrement l’auteur est de voir précisément comment cette réactualisation de l’effectivité de l’histoire se déploie, notamment dans une perspective ontologique : c’est par les étants ou artefacts historiques que nous pouvons comprendre les propos humains qui les sous-tendent, les nécessités auxquelles il répondait.

Plus concrètement, Collingwood propose une division entre aspect externe et interne de l’étant historique, donc entre sa dimension physique et psychique, et octroie la primauté absolue de l’interprétation à ce qui est interne en tant que lieu des intérêts humains. L’activité critique de la ré-effectuation consiste alors à repenser dans l’esprit de l’historien ce que les personnages historiques ont dû penser, redonnant une effectivité au passé qui serait justifiée par la capacité humaine de penser la même chose. C’est à ce niveau que tient une des difficultés majeures de la ré-effectuation : la justification de cette mêmeté du pensé doit dépasser l’irrépétable, comme les perceptions et les sentiments, mais elle doit atteindre un sens intemporel de l’événement qui aurait acquis réalité dans le monde.

Cette dimension de la ré-effectuation pose problème ; elle risque de constituer une sorte de phantasme de résurrection absolue du passé dans le présent, apparence qui se radicalise davantage par la position de Collingwood sur la justesse et l’adéquation totale de ce qui est ré-effectué. Contrairement à l’herméneutique, dans laquelle F. Jaran n’a cessé de puiser les ressources de son argumentation, les thèses du philosophe anglais mènent à une compréhension du passé qui pourrait être caractérisée par une certaine naïveté : nous, comme chercheurs, nous recréons dans notre esprit ce qui s’est effectivement passé, tel quel. Face à cela, les travaux de Heidegger, mais aussi et surtout de Ricœur et de Gadamer nous ont montré à quel point la distance historique est un abîme infranchissable qui permet justement une compréhension autre des événements, tout en écartant les soupçons de psychologisme, dont sa présence chez Collingwood est difficilement contestable.

Et c’est donc sur Ricœur que porte le dernier chapitre, où la réponse précise au problème global de l’ouvrage est atteinte. Il s’agit pour l’auteur de voir en quoi la thématisation de la trace, présente dans le troisième volume de Temps et récit, constitue justement ce qu’une ontologie de la réalité historique cherche depuis le début de l’ouvrage. Pourquoi ? Principalement car la visée de Ricœur correspond à ce qui était recherché, notamment parce que la trace relève d’une dimension ontique, elle est bel et bien un « reste visible » qui fait partie de ce qui est arrivé, donc de l’événement historique.

En outre, la trace dépasse les autres étants capables de nous révéler quelque chose du passé, puisque dans sa neutralité elle n’est pas suspecte, comme le monument ou le document, d’être entachée par une forme ou une autre d’idéologie. Bien plus, F. Jaran souligne que dans son rapport à l’événement, la trace a un statut ontologique spécifique : il y aurait un certain rapport de métaphoricité, d’évocation de ce qui est arrivé dans le document, en tant que signe qui fait signe vers quelque chose d’autre, tandis que la trace reste, dans toute sa simplicité, une chose parmi les choses.

À travers cette notion de trace, nous sommes aussi amenés à une critique des limites de l’antiquité et de la position heideggérienne dans Être et temps. En effet, Ricœur cherche à réenvisager cette primauté de l’originaire dont l’œuvre de Heidegger semble porter l’étendard : la trace, par le dérivé et l’ontique, enrichit la compréhension originare de l’histoire et nous montre que l’historicité du Dasein et le savoir historique (Historie) se déterminent mutuellement beaucoup plus qu’ils ne s’opposent. Mais la trace dépasse aussi l’unilatéralité de la conception de Collingwood, qui privilégie l’aspect interne des étants au détriment absolu de l’extériorité, de l’étantité historique de la trace. En elle-même, la trace est la preuve matérielle de la prégnance de l’histoire. Elle n’est pas, telle quelle, une représentation d’autre chose, mais elle « tient lieu de ». Elle garde sa dimension ontique manifeste tout en permettant d’atteindre l’histoire, nous révélant pleinement ce qu’était le but recherché tout au long du livre : ce qu’est un étant historique, une réalité historique en soi qui va au-delà de toute projection subjective et de toute réduction scientifique. La trace nous permet alors d’accomplir notre désir, « un peu puéril » comme le souligne l’auteur, mais néanmoins essentiel pour nous, êtres historiques : celui de « pouvoir toucher avec les mains ou voir avec les yeux un objet qui provient du passé » (175).


[1] François Jaran. 2013. Phénoménologies de l’histoire. Husserl, Heidegger et l’histoire de la philosophie. Louvain: Peeters.

Martin Heidegger: The Metaphysics of German Idealism, Polity, 2021

The Metaphysics of German Idealism: A New Interpretation of Schelling's Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and Matters Book Cover The Metaphysics of German Idealism: A New Interpretation of Schelling's Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and Matters
Martin Heidegger. Translated by Ian Alexander Moore, Rodrigo Therezo
Polity
2021
Hardback $35.00
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