Eugen Fink: Oase des Glücks: Gedanken zu einer Ontologie des Spiels, Karl Alber, 2023

Oase des Glücks: Gedanken zu einer Ontologie des Spiels Book Cover Oase des Glücks: Gedanken zu einer Ontologie des Spiels
Interpretationen und Quellen (Band 7)
Eugen Fink, Herausgegeben von Prof. Dr. Annette Hilt, Prof. Dr. Dr. Holger Zaborowski
Karl Alber
2023
Paperback
190

Joel Hubick: The Phenomenology of Questioning: Husserl, Heidegger and Patocka, Bloomsbury, 2023

The Phenomenology of Questioning: Husserl, Heidegger and Patocka Book Cover The Phenomenology of Questioning: Husserl, Heidegger and Patocka
Joel Hubick
Bloomsbury Publishing
2023
Hardback
272

David Farrell Krell: Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida

Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida Book Cover Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida
David Farrell Krell
Indiana University Press
2023
Paperback
360

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University Potchefstroom)

Probably one of the best writers in contemporary continental philosophy, David Farrell Krell’s Three Encounters is a real treat to read, especially if you have, like me, an appetite for autobiographies. The book is, in a sense, an eyewitness account: Krell knew all three authors and here recounts his experiences and conversations with them—apparently, through some kind of archive fever, kept meticulously in his journal. One does not have to read this book in all too critical manner and can just enjoy the stories and insights that Krell shares along the way. Originally, I had planned to compare and converse with Krell’s other works which I kept track of, especially Derrida and Our Animal Others (2013), Ecstasy, Catastrophe (2015a) or his Phantoms of the Other (2015) which I have reviewed here a few years ago. The review will now however just retrace the main threads one might distill from the book but not before mentioning once again what a joy to read this book is—I haven’t read a book much faster than this the past year. It pays, probably, to have some traction in the field: readers who know, for instance, that J. Glen Gray produced one of the finest translations of Heidegger to date.

Krell, of course, has read enough of Derrida to be somewhat wary of autobiographies. No genre seems more susceptible to lies and errors than the autobiographies in which the ‘I’ claims to speak the truth once and for all. “Things will go better for the truth”, Krell later says, “if one could project autobiography into fiction, if one could translate every ‘I’ into a ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘It’” (330). Underlying Krell’s attempt at autobiography, this “memoir” (308) as he hesitantly, that is, not without quotation marks, calls it, is the firm belief that thinking and living should not make two, for philosophy “has everything to do with existence” (xii). It would have suited Heidegger very well if one needed to know of Aristotle, or of any other philosopher, only that he lived and worked, yet it is in Heidegger’s case the living itself that at time falls short of thinking—something which Krell won’t hesitate to repeatedly advance against the thinker.

Krell’s first chapter, “Before the Beginning”, recounts how he got to philosophy in the first place, having started a history major first. Two sources, for Krell, stand out. First, his reading of William Barrett’s Irrational Man and, second, having moved to Duquesne to study with John Sallis, Nietzsche who would be the subject of Krell’s doctoral dissertation Nietzsche and the Task of Thinking. The title may show that Heidegger, too, was already present in Krell’s life and work. Three themes enamored Krell when reading Barrett: the theme of nothingness, which will would play a large role in existentialism, the concomitant freedom from all dogmatic religions it would entail, and the theme of finitude, where philosophy, supposedly, at last would see this finite world of ours as is, as a finite world that is. Krell then came to Heidegger through reading the latter’s Introduction to Metaphysics—which will probably have led him never to forget about the question of being (as readers of sole Sein und Zeit, rushing through its Introduction seems to befall somewhat). Heidegger, for Krell, was the first philosopher he encountered that at least took Nietzsche seriously, when stating that he, Heidegger, wanted to bring Nietzsche’s accomplishment to a full unfolding (12-3).

Chapter two deals with Krell’s early efforts to translate Heidegger—he, in fact was the American Jean Beaufret. Where the latter brought Heidegger to the French, it is to Krell’s credit that the Americans, early on, could read a bit of Heidegger. The Americans in fact owe to Krell two important volumes that, as far as I know, are still regularly used and quoted: Early Greek Thinking and Basic Writings. A few people, however, were involved with these first, early translations: Joan Stambaugh, who would later translate Being and Time, Glen Gray, who translated What is called thinking? and one Hannah Arendt. “For decades,” Krell tells us from the start, and notwithstanding “the events”, “she was every bit as active in overseeing the translation of Heidegger’s works” (17). Nothing would be published without her agreement. And there is a story or two about how strict she was about the quality of translations. Krell was admitted to the circle of translators because of his attempts at Der Spruch des Anaximander, an essay that needs, not to say, braucht, a good translator indeed. Reiner Schürmann, too, was still around, and led Krell (not) ever so gently to the insight that there is not such a thing as (the one) good translation (18-22). At best, one should realize that one is no master of a language at all: not of the target language and not even of one’s native language. In this sense too, one might need to think about the adage later Heidegger will communicate: we do not “have” language, rather language is “what holds us”.

Krell’s translation made its way to Hannah Arendt’s desk and led to their first meeting. A long discussion about how to translate “ein Gefälle” issued from it—incline, cascades, cases (23)? Translators among us will recognize how joyful these conversations can be, the weighing of words, the different senses and meanings one comes across when meeting other lovers of language! Krell reports, in his journal, to be struck about the theatricality that oozed around here (24). She could be gripped, he says, by an idea that allowed here to zone out for a while only to come back (to senses, to speech) ever so clever. Arendt’s position in the circle of translators was not a dominant one, however. There was something called “Grey’s law” (28): the more important a word for Heidegger was, the less certain they were how to translate it into English. Every so often, Heidegger himself was consulted, but being no master of the English himself, a final word, we would guess, could not be found.

In 1975, Early Greek Thinking was published. Soon after contracts for Heidegger’s Nietzsche volumes and the Basic Writings would be send and signed. The latter volume is intriguing because Heidegger himself had “direct input into the book’s contents” and was even willing to  have a translation of the introduction of Being and Time in the volume—an Introduction that, at the time of writing Sein und Zeit he updated almost on a daily basis I once read. Krell’s first encounter with Heidegger concerned this volume precisely. Krell and Grey wanted to include some of the central sections of Sein und Zeit, say the ones about anxiety and death, too. The master however asked: what is the principle of selection precisely (29)? It took Krell some time, and some courage, to admit that there was no such principle and, on that basis, they agreed to leave the Introduction to Being and Time in the book but refrained from using particular sections of Sein und Zeit. If there was no principle, there was, however, a goal: to let students see as many aspects of Heidegger’s thought as possible. That is why the essay on the Work of Art and the later Letter on Humanism (1946) were inserted.

Before we proceed with these encounters, a first thread should be mentioned. Krell will not hesitate to mention it himself quite often. “The generosity of spirit” (33) present in all these thinkers is what is most striking for him: no question was too much, no detail just a detail, no letters left unanswered. One can just imagine the impression these minds, and their willingness to assist him, made on the young Krell! These Basic Writings surely found his way to the English-speaking world (and even to a home in Belgium!): of the expanded edition of 1993 “about forty thousand copies” (38) were send out to buyers and libraries, and Krell adds that he is no idea what the first edition (running from 1977 to 1992) had done.

The translations of Heidegger’s Nietzsche volume started soon after that, and Krell admits that he has difficulties with the “caricature” Heidegger sometimes made of Nietzsche (41), stating that Nietzsche would merely be an upside-down version of Platonism, whereas Heidegger knew well enough that there never would be a simple end to metaphysics. Yet the chapter concludes on a remarkable note that I’ve missed in my own humble readings of Derrida. “Both Heidegger and Nietzsche [are] going into eclipse […] nowadays” and, along with this Derrida’s remark, that “thinkers are measured […] by the number of eclipses they survive” (42). Safe to say, almost, Krell’s conclusion: “no eclipse […] will obscure either Heidegger or Nietzsche for long, at least for those readers who […] think about ‘the intimate and the ultimate’” (ibid.).

During the time of editing the Basic Writings volume, and thereafter, Krell had at least four works sessions and several other brief meetings with Martin Heidegger, the topic of the third chapter. The then thirty year old Krell met with Heidegger between June 1974 and January 1976—these would be the last two years of Heidegger’s life—to discuss, mainly, the ongoing translation of Heidegger’s two Nietzsche volumes. Joan Stambaugh would accompany Krell this first time and Heidegger would inscribe Krell’s volume of the Nietzsche book with the intriguing sentence that “the battle between David and Goliath, in philosophy, is not yet decided” (53)—a riddle, if not a simple pun, on the fact that Krell’s doctoral supervisor introduced the dissertation at the defence with the remark that David had taken up Goliath—the Nietzsche volumes are after all no less than 1100 pages. Much later Krell would show Heidegger’s subscription to Derrida (220).

Krell recalls, especially, how small Heidegger was and ventures that perhaps his size was one of the reasons behind the polemic that accompanied Heidegger everywhere especially in his early days, complaining for instance about those academics that “travel from one meeting to the next” (54, Cf. GA 20, 376) and don’t have (or take) the time to properly work—a remark that Krell will repeat, although somewhat less politically, in his Derrida and Our Animal Others (Krell 2013, 6). Perhaps a “taller man, a Cassirer or a Jaspers, could afford to be more tolerant and easygoing” (54). Heidegger’s judgement of his philosophical contemporaries has always been severe and Krell notes that even in the fifties (in What is called thinking?) Heidegger noted that no matter how much philosophy one has read, this still is no guarantee that one finds oneself thinking. The two remarks make Krell ponder for a first time, in this book at least, about “Heidegger’s leap to the right” which of course, “no curbstone psychology can […] make clear” (55). Krell will make clear, however, that he follows the model of Glen Gray and Hannah Arendt who would, despite everything, remain dedicated to read Heidegger’s work but who would also remain “critical and perspicuous of about the man and his work. The only thing they were unable to do […] was to light a match to burn either the man or his work” (ibid.).

Next to his size, Heidegger’s voice gripped Krell. Krell takes note of Heidegger’s “high-pitched, raspy voice” (ibid.) that nonetheless, as Jaspers would write, is as eindringlich—we all know how the audiences were gripped, from the start, by Heidegger’s lectures—as succinct.

The banality and everydayness of these meetings is charming nonetheless. Heidegger gave some new editions of his work—the Reclam edition of The Origin of the Work of Art, for instance, which happens to sit in my own library too—to Krell during their second meeting. In this meeting Heidegger intervened on the question which essays to take up in the Basic Writings. On the Way to Language would be, according to him “Schwierig, zu schwierig” (60), to difficult, to deserve a place in the volume that would introduce his thought to the new continent. Gray and Krell had decided by then to exclude those essays that concerned the place of this or that thinker in the history of metaphysics, as for instance Hegel and the Greeks. Interesting, too, is that Heidegger himself requested that Time and Being be excluded from the volume too afraid perhaps that people would see in this essay the carrying out of the reversal that everyone then was talking about. In its stead, “[Heidegger] convinced me that the proper culmination of this thinking—fittingly a thoroughly questioning culmination, every bit as tentative as its companion piece despite its assertive title—was the essay The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” (61). It is true: one of the most thought-provoking and readable essays it still is. Krell obediently notes: “Even when I inserted the language essay [The Way to Language, JS] into the second edition of Basic Writings, I made certain to let the ‘End’ essay appear at, and as, the end” (61).

Krell goes on to discuss Nietzsche lecture of 1938-39 (now taken up in GA 46), planned as a seminar or workshop even but turned into a lecture by Heidegger because simply too many people attended, because it is one of the few later instances in which Heidegger discusses life, animal life even. Apart from the volumes on Nietzsche (then still published with Neske) there is still other material on Nietzsche. Another essay, this one from a proper workshop in 1937 (see now GA 87, 161ff) is one of the few places Heidegger would discuss the question of love through an account of Nietzsche’s amor fati, here promoted even to “Nietzsche’s Basic Metaphysical Position” (66). In these pages, Krell worries about Heidegger’s, say differential, positioning of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence of the same” within the history of being, as the last metaphysical trick the last metaphysician has up his sleeve (a worry that would lead Reiner Schürmann, by the way, to the crucial remarks in Broken Hegemonies: “So, somewhere between 1844 and 1900 we just stopped thinking metaphysically?) and the other, somewhat contradictory, claim that no one since Nietzsche has “risen to the challenge of taking thought seriously enough” (67), a challenge at which Heidegger himself perhaps, in his best days, would accept to have failed and faltered—it is Nietzsche, after all, who broke Heidegger. Er hat mich kaputt gemacht.

Krell once asked Heidegger when he realized he wouldn’t be able to complete Sein und Zeit. To which Heidegger supposedly had answered: 1924-1925. It is possible, Krell says, that he misheard—the Kehre, and any intimation of it, is usually placed somewhere in the thirties—yet, Krell lets us note, attentive readers of the Prolegomena to the History of the Concept of Time, a lecture course from 1925 no less, will have noticed, first, that the interpretation of ecstatic temporality of Dasein is absent from these lectures and, secondly, that that the theme of the temporality of being is all the more present (70-71). It is possible that the (somewhat anthropological) turn to Dasein distracted even Heidegger from the question of being. Note to self (or to the readers): finally read this volume bearing this in mind. Don’t waste your time on meetings.

One more “whimsical matter” (74) deserves a mention, at least because James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake wanders through Krell’s book (and other reviewers than me possible will make more about this—although Krell made me laugh when discussing Derrida, and telephones, or was it gramophones?). Krell asked Heidegger to sign his copy of Sein und Zeit, forgetting for a while that, half in jester, Krell inserted a bit of Joyce at the first pages of his copy about all the things, and then some, that cause or otherwise entail “the ensuance of existentiality” (75). Krell’s heart must have skipped a beat. Heidegger did not notice, or pretended not to notice, Joyce’s odd words. The chapter closes with a moving report of Heidegger’s death Krell had received from Friedrich W. von Hermann mentioning that Elfride at first did not notice the passing of her husband properly, mistaking his death for sleep, so apparently not recognizing death as death. It is, furthermore, clear that Krell holds Heidegger’s acquaintance in high regard: “I felt respect an even affection for the man I met” (83) and respect and affection in effect shine through these pages.

There is debt to Heidegger, for Krell, for many things: for the business dealt with—there were a lot of copyright issues, it seems, with these English translations, a lot of misunderstandings too—for the photos, letters and signatures received and of course for the philosophical teachings that the man of Todtnauberg brought to us all. There is a distance, too. This debt and this distance is the topic of Krell’s fourth chapter. At the same time, the debt and the distance is a short-hand of Arendt’s (and Gray’s) model how to deal with Heidegger, especially his positioning during those dark, black thirties and forties. Earlier on Krell had indicated that he would fill in the gaps in the time of his encounters with the biographies available of these thinkers (xiii). In this chapter, Krell therefore turns to Rüdiger Safranski’s Ein Meister aus Deutschland and Antonia Grunenberg’s Hannah Arendt und Martin Heidegger. One need read very little of Heidegger to know that there is, as Safranski also notes, a tendency to self-mythologize in his life and work (89). Krell heard from Arendt and Stambaugh that apparently only his brother Fritz “could mock Martin’s grand self-stylizations” (91) and that Elfride hated him for it. Heidegger had many talents, of course, but modesty and self-critique don’t seem to be part of them. The thinker that calls for Besinnung, pretty much everywhere, lacks all Besonnenheit in his later “polemics and plaidoyers in his own defense” (107).

Krell then relates Safranski’s story about Heidegger’s upbringing and youth: the dependency of conservative Catholicism for his education, the tension between the liberal education in the towns and the earlier conservative strand of these institutions that housed him, a tension, shadow perhaps, that Heidegger seems only difficult to shed. Antimodernism would indeed accompany Heidegger during his entire life, yet at the same time there was something of a revolutionary zeal about his early (and later) thinking which one would expect rather from a liberal-progressive mind. “Heidegger’s internal struggles with Catholicism” is well known (yet not sufficiently studied) and Krell takes pleasure in mentioning Max Müller’s report to church leaders in 1947 about Heidegger’s relation to the Church (“he is relentlessly circling about the question of the Absolute” (94, citing Grunenberg)) and in Safranski’s note that nothing of the antisemitism, then pervading in Catholic antimodernism, is present in Heidegger’s own “early ‘Catholic’ writings” (94). Krell has a few qualms about Safranki’s “throwing in the towel” (95) when it comes to the later Heidegger, mainly because “earth and sky are raging now, and mortals might do well to think about building for the sake of dwelling” (97). And if the likes of René Char value “The Thing” so highly and Hannah Arendt considered What is Called Thinking? as the best of Heidegger’s thinking (ibid.), then a thinker, any thinker, might do well to at least reconsiders one’s judgement. Krell’s judgement, on the other hand, is worth considering: “at his worst, Heidegger succumbed to the seductions of power, destructive power; at his best, he searched for the origins of that destructive power, and tried, without authority, to promulgate a different sort of thinking. I am unable to mock the effort” (97-98).

When meeting Heidegger, Krell knew very little about Heidegger’s own destructive path during the thirties and forties—and had he known, one might also wonder whether one would have dared asking him about that period. Heidegger’s fatal turn to politics, Safranski has argued, already starts with the criticism Sein und Zeit would receive from George Misch and Helmuth Plessner, arguing that there is no politics in the book. Slowly but surely, Heidegger would make his way, first in university politics, then in national politics (99) and by 1933 he is indeed “caught in a revolutionary fervor and furor” (ibid.). From the beginning, however, Heidegger seemed blind for all the politics around him: amidst of the mobs, the violence, and repression, Heidegger would still think, and say, that these are but a passing phase. One must, however, recall, that no one has the hindsight we now all have, and that Heidegger was not the only one not to see what was happening. (The only question here seems to be whether we, you and I, would be able to recognize what is happening if it would happen all around us).

The latter question in effect is forgotten in the “works” of those today that “devote oneself solely to ‘unmasking’ Heidegger’s texts” (100): these seem to “partake of that self-same militancy and decisionism” (100) to which Heidegger himself fall prey, when purging being of those elements foreign to it, from the Medieval “mania for security in sanctity”, to “modernity [as] the willful machination of Roman vulgarity” (100), up to the grandiose role Heidegger reserved for himself when finally detecting that it was being itself that erred. Except that in these latter-day devotees the purging works the other way: this or that sentence is clear evidence for this or that and therefore we bid good riddance to the entire work, not to mention that these devotees themselves are, apparently, pure and immune enough to undertake the task of such purging.

This obviously does not mean that Heidegger’s politics do not make us think. Krell mentions two things he thinks about quite often: those aspects in his life that pushed him in this fatal direction and his “callousness” (101) regarding his Jewish students. It is clear, too, that the Black Notebooks reveal something of an intellectual, cultural-spiritual antisemitism, not to say a “being-historical” (Trawny) variant (103). Krell’s assessment here is rather brief, a bit obscure even: the flowery language used might be a sign, too, that he is at a loss for words about just what happened to the thinker in this period. Krell indeed admits: there are “no signs of Heidegger’s suffering on account of the dangers to which his best students were exposed from 1933 onward” (ibid.) leaving Krell particularly “speechless and defeated” (ibid.). Heidegger’s “hardness of heart” was central already to Krell’s reading of the Black Notebooks (see 2015a, 157). Krell is clear, however, that recounting all these events as just a political error is not enough, and he will turn to Arendt more and more for the beginning of an answer. Here the question posed to Heidegger, “in a way that [he] would have understood” (104) is: should not such a disregard for your students and colleagues have made you, if only later, think? (ibid.). Does not your silence about the camps, liberated only six years earlier, “make a mockery” of the very question What calls for thinking? (108). To repeat, Heidegger’s life in effect might have fallen short of his thinking. An inkling about these thoughts, for Krell, lay in the question of love. Krell notes the distance he takes from Heidegger in and through his readings of Hölderlin. Whereas Heidegger focuses on Hölderlin’s reading of the homeland, Krell published a book on Hölderlin’s travels precisely (see Struck by Apollo). Is it the case that only through our travels the love for the other and the love for otherness truly awakens?

What can we learn from Hannah Arendt? She began to visit Heidegger again every summer after 1967. Here too, Krell says, he knew nothing about their earlier affair. Krell knew of her work, heard her speak in New York, and met up with her in Germany several times after the summer of 1974, where they had, after a period of exchanging letters, that “long conversation on [the] translation of ‘Der Spruch des Animander’” (119) mentioned earlier and in which Arendt showed herself particular patient “even though patience did not seem to be her strong suit” (ibid.). “I knew her as a person who loved above all else the vita contemplativa. Yet it is true to say that for her, thinking was never untroubled, tranquil contemplation. Rather, thinking had to wrestle with the problems of the world and with the ways in which we either rise to the occasion or falter and fumble when responding to those problems” (120-121).

In time, their exchanges become less formal and “Hannah” (120) was writing letters of recommendation for Krell who then was looking for a job. In any case, Krell featured enough in Arendt’s life to become a, say ‘character’ in it: it must be pretty odd to find yourself mentioned in a letter from Arendt to Heidegger (126)!

Krell now returns to Arendt’s admiration for Heidegger’s ‘Anaximander Fragment’, which perhaps is the place where the latter speaks most compassionate about our dealings with beings, about their coming and going, and our own finite coming and going, for if Heidegger cared a lot for ‘things that grow’ he did not seem to care much for ‘things that live’. Heidegger’s translation of the fragment would indeed impress many—not to mention Derrida’s wonderful essays on it. Heidegger speaks, with Anaximander, about justice and injustice, about things and time ‘being out of joint’. Usually, one translates Anaximander as saying that things “pay penalty” [tisis] to one another for their injustices, yet Heidegger has it—and I turn to Krell—that tisis is “not penalty but ‘mutual esteem,’ such that beings honor one another by not insisting on their own presence, not persisting in their own drive to prevail always and everywhere” (133). The passage is too beautiful not to think about. Krell adds that this thought of beings that are and need to be “considerate of one another” must have “touched on what Arendt was looking for” in her thinking of love as amor mundi and the Augustinian, ‘I will that you be’ (ibid.).

They discussed Heidegger’s Nazi involvement during what would be their last meeting in Summer 1976. Arendt called Heidegger a “lousy administrator” (135) and insisted that his resignation from the rectorate had nothing to do with politics, and certainly was not an act of resistance (136). She gestured strangely when Krell mentioned the reports about Heidegger’s antisemitism. At first Krell thought that this was because she thought the accusation senseless but, on second thought, and bearing Heidegger’s silence with regard to the suffering of his students in mind, Krell states, recalling Arendt’s own difficult years in Marburg, that these gestures “may have been a sign of something far more painful and confounding” (137). Krell is wise enough not to comment on the relationship Heidegger and Arendt entertained for quite a while, but we should at least mention that we owe him for helping Hannah out, carrying her suitcases around through the Freiburg railway. In that suitcase? Heidegger’s love letters to Arendt, which make for an inspiring yet baffling reading once one knows that all of these were written at the time of finishing Sein und Zeit which, as is well-known, only mentions love in a few odd cases.

To learn about the relationship between Arendt and Heidegger, Krell turns to Grunenberg’s account in the sixth chapter, “Arendt with and without Heidegger”. Even though it is clear from these letters that Heidegger was “overwhelmed with love” (146), “benumbed” (150) even, a term later reserved for the things that merely live,  here too some “skepticism”, worrying “about the possible self-deception in […] passion”—Am I in love with your love for me?—leading up to the refusal of “a friendship between souls” (ibid., the latter quote citing Grunenberg), arises, causing Krell, in turn, to worry about “Heidegger’s irremediable remoteness” and “insurmountable emotional distance [with] all his fellows” (146).

Heidegger destroyed Arendt’s letters to him, and all we have from their period together is a text from Arendt called “Shadow”, speaking of a certain tenderness to the world which, again, might have drawn her to Heidegger’s Anaximander. Inversely, if it is so difficult for Heidegger to describe a meeting of singular Dasein with singular Dasein in Being and Time—solicitude seems to be bare ontological minimum—one of the best definitions of love can be found in his letter to Arendt, and it is easy to imagine how this must have confused the writer of Sein und Zeit: “Love is being able to take only the singular ‘you’ as actual. When is I say that my joy in you is great and growing, that means that I also believe in everything that belongs to your history. I am not fabricating some ideal: the way you are and the way you will remain with your history—that is how I love you” (147, citing the letters between the two in German, 36). Soon, however, Heidegger would start to downplay and denigrate “the squalls of romantic love”—Krell indicates how in the course Einleitung in die Philosophie from Winter 1928 Dasein is “broken” by sexual difference—and Krell, significantly concludes: “As a Dasein that in addition to questioning also lives, however, he is often not smart enough to come in out of the rain” (148-149).

Well-known is Safranski’s statement that Arendt’s philosophy would complement Heidegger’s, as for instance her vision of the public realm would alleviate his stress on the struggle of singular Dasein. Krell, interestingly enough, has doubts. Far from insisting on the originality of her theme of natality, he says, she would point us to the few pages in Being and Time that mention that the phenomenon of birth truly poses a problem for Heidegger himself (153), even if it is the case that she gave each birth “a more positive resonance”, since “each new birth promis[es] enhanced possibilities for humankind” (154). The latter idea would enthrall Derrida but I would only subscribe with serious reservations: it may be true abstractly, it seems not to be true in practice.

There is worry enough about the public space in Arendt—“she lived long enough […] to see the public space all but entirely mediatized” (156). She, herself, worried about whether her passage about the public space in Origins of Totalitarianism, stating that in this place even ‘the mobs and the elite’ would gather (ibid.) had possibly (if not hopefully) hurt Heidegger. The mediatization, as such I would say, worries Krell. It is not the first time that one Donald Trump is mentioned in this book. “Arendt had no illusions,” he says, adding that “evil could be clownish as well as banal” (ibid).

Once again, understandably, Heidegger’s positioning against his students, his Jewish students in particular, come to mind. Krell states that one of the worst statements of Heidegger in the Black Notebooks is that he is all for the “unrestricted application” of the “principle of race” (161, cf. GA 96, 56), an “allusion to the Shoah,” perhaps, “if only prospectively” (ibid.).  Heidegger was no prophet, of course, and all these phrases, the ones about the “total annihilation” (e.g. GA 36/37, 90-91), Vernichtung, included, should be put in a serious historical context—all of these should be compared to what was known to the Germans, to certain of their leaders, in a given historical period. Not everyone knew everything, even though not everyone ‘had no knowledge of it’.  Yet Heidegger was not at Wannsee in 1942.

These pages are interesting, too, for those looking for a first contact with the ‘the trouble with Heidegger’. Krell closes by stating that whereas Grunenberg’s judgement is generous—Heidegger was less an antisemite than an opportunist and his involvement with the nazis possible rather than necessary—Arendt could be very harsh, although “not consistently” (166). She deems Heidegger charakterlos, excluding “both a good and a bad character” (ibid.). One might say, following Krell somewhat: he was too little ‘Mensch’ and too much ‘Dasein’.

After being in exile for eight years Arendt left Europe for the States in 1941 where she became an activist for fellow refugees, and pleaded for a “two-state solution,” (167) as later Derrida will also do. After the war, Arendt’s stirred controversy for not insisting on the ‘the guilt-question’ but rather on everyone taking responsibility for their deeds (168). On her first trip back (in 1950) she contacted Heidegger who would read some of his Was heisst Denken? to her. Heidegger was not allowed to teach just yet and suffered from it—he had had a severe depression in 1946. The confrontation between Arendt and Elfride, Heidegger’s wife, is not easy, to say the least, and Krell will write later that he surmises that it is because of this that the contact between the two thinkers will now, for a long time, be broken off. There are a few attempts on Heidegger’s part two alleviate the conflict, but writing a letter to your wife on Valentine’s day to explain your relationship with a mistress perhaps wasn’t his best idea. Krell once more notes Heidegger’s tendency to see himself as the victim (172), this time of his “states of excitement” (171) needed for his thinking, just to find the way from what at first is sensed to the sayable, as if the thinker of being needed to be inspirited, maddened by excitement and could enthusiastically—in a Greek sense—go about his ways. Krell concludes with Grunenberg that “Heidegger often enough betrays Sein […] for Geist, slipping back into that quasi-Hegelian position that he ought to have eschewed” (168, also 165)—as if being could only speak through him and it was with him alone that its history would reach, if not its consummation, then at least a ‘new beginning’. Here too Heidegger slipped into a lack of thinking that could go either way: either someone was to be applauded for hearing the voice of being or someone was to be castigated for not hearing this voice at all. That Heidegger even allowed such particular Seiendes to say all there is to Seyn is in Krell’s Ecstasy, Catastrophe once more underlined as a “failure of thinking” on Heidegger’s part (Krell 2015a, 170).

Of course Elfride alone did not cause Arendt not to visit Heidegger until 1967. Arendt suffered from the later Heidegger’s “mannerisms” as much as the next one. Above all, it is his silence about the extermination of the camps that unsettles her (174). Arendt refers to Heidegger being trapped, stumbled into a trap that he first set for others, in a parable about the fox in her Denktagebuch. One might paraphrase: if it is the case that Die Sprache spricht it is noteworthy that all actual and empirical words are improper and cannot heed Being, or could otherwise give words to being. Only a poet, here or there, can do so. Yet since fewer and fewer poets speak in this atom-age all this fox can do is listen to the silence of Being until Being itself, and all beings with it, grow mute.

Krell had been reading Derrida since 1979 and met him a few years later, the topic of the seventh chapter. A friendship developed between the two men, especially over Derrida’s Geschlecht-series, and they would meet three to four times a year. Krell will mostly use the letters between them in this chapter, although there are plenty of anecdotes, too, of the time they spend together—apparently Derrida kept all of Krell’s letters, which are now at the IMEC archive in Caen (208). Derrida’s first letter to Krell, in 1983, reveals “certain constants” (195). Krell mentions the lack of time, the enormous workload, the depletion of energy but especially Derrida’s gratitude for and generosity towards the engagement of others with his work. From my own reading of these letters, I would add all apologies Derrida uses in these letters (and which reflect a certain aspect of his work as well): apologies for not being on time, for responding too late, and so on, which would later lead to a genuine “mailophobia” (245).

Krell then recalls listening to Derrida’s lecture on Heidegger’s Hand in 1985, a lecture which would become Geschlecht II, and was the “most powerful presentation [he] had ever heard” (196) even though, as usual with Derrida, it lasted for hours. It is here, too, that the two men met for the first time: at the airport, Krell offered to carry Derrida’s suitcase to the taxi and, after the conference in Chicago, they traveled to Yale together (where Derrida presented what, decades later, would become Geschlecht III). Derrida, it seems, was almost always en route. Krell then narrates the conferences he was organizing where Derrida would be the main speaker, one of which in Essex where Krell worked at the time. For this conference, it was agreed that Derrida could focus on “his ‘hesitations’ concerning Heidegger’s thought” (208), later published as De l’esprit (1987). It is through this lecture that Krell, too, began to doubt about “Heidegger’s assurance that mortals could be readily distinguished from all other life-forms” (ibid.).

Krell especially remembers Françoise Dastur’s remark at the Essex conference, stating that Heidegger had not only argued for the major role of questioning when it comes to thinking but that it also, and more so, was the claim, the “address” of the question on us that was at issue (218-219). Derrida listened carefully and when revising his paper for publication, his answer to Dastur ended up being “may be the longest footnote in the history of philosophy” (219). Another exchange in Essex deserves our attention too, for it is important for anyone reading the Geschlecht-series and Derrida’s ‘critique’ of Heidegger’s account of ‘sammeln’ and gathering. Apparently, someone asked Derrida whether “a thought of unity that would not suppress differences” is at all possible. Derrida replied smilingly and answered immediately: “That is my dream. It is what I try to think. I can’t avoid dreaming [but] I try not to dream all the time” 220). The entire gist of the Geschlecht-series in one single sentence!

Another story from the Collegium Phaenomenologicum in 1987, where Derrida spoke and Jean-Luc Nancy presented as well, needs to be mentioned. Both men, apparently, were pretty good soccer players. Yet the scene ends when Derrida kicked the ball so hard that the ball went off terrain and onto the porch where it landed with a loud noise shattering a vase they then thought was an ancient one. All men hid—Derrida, Nancy and even Rodolphe Gasché, the organizer of the conference, were nowhere to be found (224). Il faut very much répondre, but clearly not all the time and everywhere!

A revised version of the Essex paper—now with the long footnote—was presented in Paris too. Levinas also attended. When Levinas gave his speech, Derrida and Krell wanted to join, but when Levinas saw Derrida, he got up from his chair asking him what he was doing there, chastising him quite severely: “you should be at home working!” (230). This is but an anecdote, of course, but nonetheless one that gives food for thought. One can easily imagine Derrida attending Levinas’ lecture out of courtesy, perhaps, or even to pay homage, who knows—Levinas was getting old and in the last years of his life—but how different is Heidegger’s approach to his work and his ‘whereabouts’, realizing that he was bored with and in the company of others, wishing he would have been able to work instead (Cf. GA 29/30, 165).

Before I dash off to a next meeting, let me conclude by narrating Krell’s eight chapter, mainly about 1987, a year filled with controversies for Derrida with the De Man-affair especially, a close friend of Derrida’s. De Man was the man who, in a sense, brought deconstruction to America but in this year it became evident that he was behind not a few antisemitic writings in his early journalistic writings, causing an even worse reputation to the ‘bad name’ deconstruction already had among quite a few ‘thinkers’. There was a quarrel, too, between Krell and Derrida over Levinas’ work, which Krell took as one more of the “usual sort of moralizing and policing typical of ethical sources” undergirded, once more, by the commands “from on High” (238). Krell presented this thesis at a conference at Vanderbilt in 1987, where Derrida also spoke. Derrida’s response to Krell’s paper is worth pondering: “is the priestly Levinas the only Levinas? Is it fair to remain with the rejection of the priestly Levinas?” (240), questions, we know, that triggered Derrida in both his classics on Levinas Violence and Metaphysics (1967) and A Dieu à Emmanuel Levinas (1996). And Derrida to proceed: “Is it not the case that infinite violence as such is not flat and boring, but, on the contrary, devilish and interesting? [As] the piety turns into the opposite of piety—that is interesting. Levinas’s violence cannot be reduced, but it can be turned” (ibid) and, a little bit later, “I read Levinas with the hypothesis in mind that he sacrificed God” (241). A certain God was certainly sacrificed by Levinas—Levinas was not the thinker of dogmas and creeds—and what remains is the raising of the stakes of the face to face encounter, which is now ‘guided’ by a call that comes literally from God knows where, anarchic if not diabolic, but a call nonetheless, an ‘intersubjective curvature’ if you will, that no one can easily put aside.

The nineties, for Derrida, were the years of “animality”, a question that had occupied Derrida from the beginning but that now comes to the fore. Along with this comes a rather strange confession of Derrida that he had rather that they would leave his work “to sleep peacefully” (247), that he himself even prefers to forget about insights that came to him during the writing of this or that work. This “need to protect his work” (249) occupies Krell quite a bit in this eight chapter. At the beginning of the nineties, Krell too taught in Paris and he would regularly meet up with Derrida and Françoise Dastur. Derrida was then teaching seminars about cannibalism, a continuation of his work on “Eating the Other”. Krell to comment: “What I remember most vividly about these lectures were Derrida’s imaginative yet quite concrete references to what are usually called ‘bodily functions’. I had always felt that […] Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh has somehow been left in abeyance by deconstruction, but the flesh came back with a vengeance [and] it would continue to come back throughout this decade dedicated to ‘animality’” (250). Krell also notes the intensity of these seminars of Derrida and, quite significantly, dares to echo the words that Hans Jonas once used to describe Heidegger’s lectures for these seminars.

These are also the years of Derrida’s Aporias, where his ‘hesitations about Heidegger’ become evident once again and where Derrida’s doubts about getting one’s death ‘into view’, properly, even as ‘the possibility of impossibility’ Heidegger spoke about, leads him to interrogate the ‘end of the living’, of what is alive, again. The aporia is an impasse or a limit, as a superficial reading would have it: what we get in view is our finite being-in-the-world, our being-in-the-world-together, but not, not properly, the ‘end’ of being-in-the-world, let alone what comes after. Krell adds: “toward the end of his address [Derrida] said something that would continue to obsess him for the rest of his days: if ‘my’ death does not come to appear as such, if there is no crossing that frontier, this means ‘nothing less than the end of the world, with each death, each time’” (261, referring to Aporias). “The theme of mourning,” Krell says, “[became] for me perhaps the central theme of Derrida’s thought” (262).

It is worth noting that this makes for Derrida’s concern about the general state of phenomenology—but a concern, too, that was present early on in Derrida. Just read his introduction to Husserl’s Geometry. “The confidence that underlay[s] the phenomenological project of the recuperation of evidence and the restitution of all things past to presence, in other words, the project devoted to keeping everything [a phrase from Sartre’s Les mots, JS] [is] a confidence that both Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and [my] own Feu la cendre [are] dedicated to undermining” (264). Nothing, ever, is remembered, or present even, as such. One might say: Il y a la différance or, as Nietzsche once quite amusingly called ‘the thing-in-itself’ “das Derdiedas” (246). But remember, too, what we mentioned earlier: Derrida kept everything, even essays that Krell’s eight-year daughter had her father send to Derrida (209).

Chapter nine takes Benoît Peeters’ biography of Derrida as its point of departure, speaking of Derrida’s family and his attachment to the Jewish community. Community, in general, sparked an “allergic reaction” (282) in Derrida. Yet Derrida, for Krell, thought more about “our fractured polis and our fractious politics” (ibid.) than is usually assumed: his thought about a divided sovereignty in effect brings him close to Arendt’s view that the American innovation might lie in “the abolition of sovereignty within the body politic of the Republic” (ibid., quoting Jerome Kohn).

This chapter, “Each Time Unique” is, perhaps fittingly, “all about mourning” (287). Derrida’s work of mourning is well-known, and the title of this chapter bears the same name as Derrida’s French volume. For Derrida, mourning suffers from the same aporia as the other grand themes he broached. If there is such a thing as mourning, it is not, really, it is not successful that is: if mourning would be successful, over and done with, one would no longer be mourning the deceased any more. The deceased will then have been forgotten and mourning will not have taken place, say, properly. This sums up Derrida’s “[line] of resistance” (289) against Freud: there is no such a thing as successful mourning. One does not ‘move on’, one does not lose a particular someone or something, but one loses the world in its entirety, with every singular death one unfortunately comes across.

The chapter proceeds by recounting Derrida’s early reception in France. Although Derrida’s “genius” (297) was recognized by many, and not the least (Ricoeur, Althusser, Hyppolite, Canguilhem), academic averageness gave Derrida a hard time. Lacan, too, thought of Derrida as an imposter. Heidegger, on the other hand, “expressed a desire to meet Derrida” (298) and it is unfortunate for us that this did not happen, for Derrida would have kept everything. Heidegger, apparently, was intrigued by the notion of différance, where the French “forced [him] to admit that [this] language could do something that the German could not do” (298), namely signify at once difference and deferral.

Krell then takes on Derrida’s Circumfession, a text, I’m sure, that no one of us really understands. And Krell too seems to struggle. Krell speaks of a “pericardial thinking” (310). If Derrida’s seminar were truly a ‘thinking in action’, “without safety nets” (252), then one sees here a thinking tapping all of its veins until it bleeds, a thinking according to the heart.

In the “Concluding Reflections”, Krell rehearses the main themes of his ‘memoir’, the things he would like to remember having written the book, the things to keep at heart as it were. Krell’s life is indeed a remarkable bumping into geniuses and “is much the better and much the happier for these encounters” (324). Life is often better on paper, of course, yet this memoir should make us wonder whether we should not try to keep more, we, who encounter the thinkers of our admittedly somewhat thoughtless times, and smile at their e-mails just once before deleting them.

There is much to think about in Krell’s book, and having written this review which is surely too long, and looking into my notes, I see my scribbling mentioning that this is a book one best reads for oneself. That is true, perhaps. It will give teachers an anecdote or two to lighten up their classes. It will give thinkers an idea or two to think about, for there is something about the lives of philosophers that cannot be easily dismissed if one thinks about their philosophies. To be sure, one might have some misgivings about Krell’s book. It is rather conservative at times, even though even at those places it raises good questions: can there be such a thing as a contemplative e-mail? (302, also 293). I think there is, though—the matters of the heart have a way of finding its way through whatever medium available. We should just think more (and better) before just deleting these. It is, attempts to be rather, political at times: there are regular references to Trump, for instance. I did not find these, always, convincing, even though here too the question is whether we are able to recognize what is happening all around us and, especially, whether such recognition as such can take place. Philosophy’s procession into politics will always remain a delicate manner.

Sean D. Kirkland: Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle

Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle. On How to Read the Tradition Book Cover Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle. On How to Read the Tradition
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Sean D. Kirkland
Northwestern University Press
2023
Paperback
184

Reviewed by: François Raffoul (Louisiana State University)

Sean Kirkland’s Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle. On How to Read the Tradition (hereafter: HDA) is an in-depth study of Heidegger’s relation to Aristotle, engaging the German thinker’s early works and lecture courses (1919-1927). Kirkland follows and discusses Heidegger’s contention that Aristotle should be studied as a “proto-phenomenologist.” As such, this work is also a study on Heidegger’s unique and original method in his readings of the philosophical tradition (as Kirkland clarifies: “intending specifically the tradition that was inaugurated by ancient Greek thinking”). This book is thus just as much as a work on Heidegger’s method as on his relation to Aristotle. The reader will easily recognize this method of the early Heidegger as that of Destruktion or destruction (taken in a positive sense, as Heidegger insists) and hermeneutics, as Kirland establishes from the outset: “In the lecture courses, papers, and other texts of this period, from 1919 to 1927, the year of Being and Time’s publication, Heidegger sometimes discusses this method, which he provocatively calls Destruktion or ‘destruction,’ in considerable depth and detail before applying it to whatever text he has before him. It is this interpretive approach, taken strictly on its own terms as a hermeneutic, that I strive to bring to light in the present volume” (HDA, viii). More specifically, Kirland attempts to approach “destruction” as an interpretive method (Heidegger developing what we might call a “destructive hermeneutics”), a destructive or deconstructive interpretation of our tradition going back to Aristotle.

In the introduction, Kirkland reminds us that, “Before becoming one of the most original and influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger began his philosophical career, it could be argued, as an interpreter of Aristotle” (HDA, 3). In a 1937–38 short text, entitled “My Path So Far (“Mein bisheriger Weg”), Heidegger had described his path of thinking as being two-fold: a research on phenomenology and an interpretive work on the history of philosophy, in particular, “a resolute return to Greek philosophy in the figure of its first essential culmination—Aristotle” (cited in HDA, 3). This leads Kirkland to ask the question guiding his book: “Why? Why would the project that begins with Being and Time’s phenomenological analysis of lived human experience necessitate an elaborate historical detour through the work of this ancient Greek philosopher?” (HDA, 3). One could answer, following Heidegger’s indications at the beginning of paragraph 6 of Being and Time, that the question of being and of Dasein is a historical one, and that any access to the being of Dasein has to unfold in a historical fashion. One cannot grasp one’s being in an immediate way, as Descartes believed, but rather but going through the “detour” of our historical existence. Dasein is its past, states Heidegger. To that extent, philosophical questioning can only unfold as a radically historical enterprise. Further, Kirkland identifies another motive for this historical analysis, namely, that “there is also a certain Not or ‘distress’ and Notwendigkeit or ‘necessitation’… which Heidegger sees as belonging to our present historical moment” (HDA, 6). There is a peculiar distress to our age that requires the destruction/deconstruction of our historical provenance. As Kirkland summarizes: “if Distress and Historicality, then Destruction” (HDA, 8). Later in the text, Kirland states that it is from “a certain mood of dissatisfaction with our present” that Heidegger “sees us as being called upon to turn our attention to our past, to the distant Greek origin of philosophizing in the West and to Aristotle” (HDA, 50). Finally, we could add, a third aspect is that Heidegger characterizes our tradition as “obscuring” and thereby necessitating a “clarifying” destruction. Hence, as Kirkland writes, Heidegger believed that “our ignorance concerning what ‘to be’ even means and our general lack of concern about that ignorance are both rooted in ‘ancient ontology,’” and that the “ancient Greek answer, for Heidegger, was the reduction of the meaning of Being to the presence of present beings.” This metaphysical interpretation “found its definitive initial formulation in the thought of Aristotle,” the “Aristotelian substance ontology,” thereby giving the theme of this volume (the “destruction” of Aristotle) its meaning and necessity. The project of this book is thus reformulated more fully by Kirkland in this way”: “If Aristotle’s conception of substance ontology persists in and fundamentally still organizes our own pre-reflective experience, as Heidegger insists, then a destruction of the Aristotelian text will be more than a historical detour. It will be a journey of self-discovery or even, given the peculiar power of this method, a project of self-recovery” (HDA, 17).

The work is composed of three main parts or chapters: Chapter 1 endeavors to clarify what reading a text destructively, in the Heideggerian sense, means. Chapter 2 asks what the critical de-constructing of traditional concepts produces. Chapter 3 analyses Heidegger’s treatments of three fundamental Aristotelian concepts: ousia or “substance,” the definition of the human being as zôon logon echon (the living being endowed with logos), and finally dunamis or “potency.”

In Chapter 1, Kirkland focuses on the 1922 text, ““Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle: Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation,” as well as the 1924 course, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, where one can detect “clear anticipations” of Being and Time. Those early works elaborate what is known as Heidegger’s “hermeneutics of factical life,” prefiguring the later “analytic of Dasein,” both centered around the notion of concern for one’s own being. Kirkland shows how Aristotle figures in such a project, and how Heidegger approaches Aristotelian concepts, that is, how he retrieves their verbal and dynamic character, i.e., the process of their emergence. “Aristotelian concepts do not present themselves as abstract forms with already established exhaustive definitions, linked together logically, and exchangeable one for the other in various combinations. Rather, precisely in being destroyed they show themselves first and foremost as indicating movements of emergence by way of which what exceeds our grasp becomes nevertheless to some extent clear, illuminated, understood” (HDA, 34). The chapter develops through illuminating discussions Heidegger’s phenomenological reappropriation of the concept, i.e., of conceptuality itself, the language of conceptuality, via readings of Aristotle concept of definition (but also of Kant’s understanding of concepts). Each time the issue is reseize concepts in their Bodenständigkeit, their soil, in the process of their emergence. Conceptuality itself is approached in its “dynamic confrontation with and emergence out of what is not yet grasped and mastered by thought” (HDA, 48). A concept always reaches beyond itself.

As we mentioned above, Chapter 2 is concerned with what the destructive reading of the tradition produces, or seeks to produce, Kirkland evoking a certain “jolt” (HDA, 52) given to the present, precisely as to open up “an as-yet undetermined future,” in a relation to the tradition that would be neither repetition nor rejection (“neither solicitation and repetition nor quarantine and rejection”). As Kirkland states, “I wish to insist here that Heidegger’s destructive method of reading the texts of Aristotle amounts to neither a simple repetition nor a simple rejection of Aristotelian thought” (HDA, 53-54). Noting what Gadamer referred to as the deep ambivalence of the project of Destruktion, Kirkland advances that such destruction harbors a positive intent, in the following sense: its aim is to reveal an unsaid in the text that harbors a future and even a revolutionary potential (Hannah Arendt even calling Destruktion a “revolutionary thinking,” or even thinking itself having come to life), as it were preparing for a new beginning: “Heidegger was reading in such a way as to provoke these traditionary texts into saying something unheard of, unnoticed there, and, precisely thereby, something revolutionary” (HDA, 55). With respect to such unsaid, Kirkland cites an “extraordinary passage” in the 1924 text, “Being-There and Being-True According to Aristotle,” where Heidegger states the following: “For an interpretation is genuine [eigentliche] only when, in going through the whole text, it comes upon that which is not there [nicht dasteht] for a crude understanding, but which, although unspoken [unausgesprochen], nonetheless makes up the ground [Boden] and the genuine foundations of the kind of vision [Art des Sehens] from out of which the text itself was able to grow” (cited in HDA, 70, translation modified).

In contrast with Werner Marx’s interpretation of Heidegger’s relation to the philosophical tradition (in his well-known Heidegger and the Tradition), which consisted in emphasizing the negative scope of Heidegger’s method, and grasping the tradition as a monolithic whole from which Heidegger would eventually part, Kirkland makes the following intriguing claim: Destruktion reveals an excess in the tradition that one can only detect within such tradition, and not simply by going beyond it. “Contra Marx, and paradoxically, destruction will prove to make a positive contribution to thinking in excess of the tradition only through a complete descent into that very tradition, only through a radical immersion in the thinking of, for instance, Aristotle” (HDA, 58).

With respect to Aristotle, Kirkland focuses on a key passage in Heidegger’s 1924 course, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy. A decisive claim is made by Heidegger, namely that the subject-matter of philosophy (as initiated by the Greeks), i.e., Being, is not simply laying there before us ready to be described. Being is not “already there,” open to view, “present and available for scrutiny, offering itself for exhaustive knowing and mastering.” In fact, the very subject-matter of philosophy is as it were hidden or withdrawn, even though as we will see it is also “accessible” in some way. Being is given yet withdrawn, “hidden” behind what comes to the fore, i.e., beings. “Crucial for us is Heidegger’s insistence here that, for the Greeks and for Aristotle in particular, Being, as the subject matter of this philosophical or critical scientific thinking, is confronted as ‘what does not lie there [was nicht vorliegt] for natural experience, but is rather hidden [verborgen], what never lies before and is nevertheless already and indeed always understood [nie vorliegt und doch schon und zwar immer verstanden]” (cited in HDA, 62)). In other words, the “Greek philosophers first confront Being in their texts as “initially unknown, closed off, inaccessible [zunächst unbekannt, verschlossen, unzugänglich]” (cited in HDA, 62), and yet, as we indicated above, and as Kirkland rightly notes, “as withdrawn behind or within beings but somehow nevertheless already experienced in its non-presence” (HDA, 62).

A clarification is necessary here. For Heidegger being withdraws, is the withdrawal. “By revealing itself in the being, being withdraws” [Das Sein entzieht sich, indem es sich in das Seiende entbirgt].”[1] The thinking of being is hence always grappling with an irreducible opaqueness and mystery. This accounts for Heidegger’s late pronouncement that phenomenology, in its very essence, is a phenomenology of what does not appear, a phenomenology of the inapparent [Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren].” As letting be seen, phenomenology (the method of ontology) is a wrestling with the inapparent, with an irreducible concealment and expropriation at the heart of the event of being. This claim might seem at first paradoxical and even go against the very definition that Heidegger gives of the phenomenon in paragraph 7 of Being and Time: “Thus we must keep in mind that the expression ‘phenomenon’ signifies that which shows itself in itself, the manifest.”[2] Now, we should clarify from the outset that for Heidegger a phenomenon — that is, the phenomenon with which phenomenology is concerned — is not an empirical intuition or an ontical given, a present being. The phenomenon is approached by Heidegger in its verbal sense, as “the-showing-itself-in-itself” (das Sich-an-ihm-selbst-zeigen)” (SZ, 31). The term “phenomenon” thus immediately refers to the event of a self-showing, and the “given” is consequently assigned to the event of its givenness. The phenomena are to be referred, not to a constituting consciousness, but to the event of being as such. This is why for Heidegger phenomenology is the very method of ontology. Unlike his former mentor Husserl, who approached phenomenology in relation to a constituting consciousness, Heidegger defines phenomenology in relation to ontology, as giving us access to the being of beings. “With regard to its subject-matter, phenomenology is the science of the being of entities – ontology” (SZ, 37). Phenomenology consists in revealing, not simply the appearance, but the appearing in the appearance. Here one glimpses for the first time the emergence of the problematic of the inapparent in phenomenology: the phenomenon is not what appears, the appearance, but the appearing of the appearance, an appearing that, precisely to the extent that it itself is not an appearance, does not appear.

There is an invisibility sheltered in the visible, an invisibility of phenomenality itself. This appears in Heidegger’s thinking of presence. By understanding being in distinction from beings, Heidegger approaches being itself as an event, the event of presence. Now, the very event of presence seems to harbor a certain withdrawal. In fact, the very term Anwesenheit reveals a withdrawal at the heart of manifestation. The an— in An-wesen or An-wesenheit suggests a coming into presence, a movement, a motion, from concealment to unconcealment, from withdrawal and invisibility to visibility. Thus, to characterize a being as an-wesend also shows that the preposition an suggests the dynamic tension between a movement of coming into presence and a movement of withdrawal, a play between unconcealment and concealment already captured by the Greeks in the contrast between the prepositions para and apo in parousia and apousia. This implies, in turn, a break with the model of constant presence, that is, with a kind of “stability” that represses the temporal happening in the phenomenon of presence, including the phenomenon of withdrawal that seems to affect, each time, the event of presence. In fact, the very concept of phenomenology, insofar as it is defined as a ‘letting be seen” (sehen lassen), necessarily implies the withdrawal of the phenomenon. Indeed, if phenomenology is a letting be seen, then the phenomenon of phenomenology cannot be simply that which is apparent or manifest; if the phenomenon was simply the given, there would be no need for phenomenology. “And just because the phenomena are proximally and for the most part not given, there is need for phenomenology” (SZ, 36). This is why Heidegger could write that the phenomenon, precisely as that which is to be made phenomenologically visible, does not show itself, although this inapparent nonetheless belongs to what shows itself, for Heidegger also stresses that “‘behind’ the phenomena of phenomenology there is essentially nothing” (SZ, 36). The inapparent is not some noumenal reality hidden behind the phenomenon, but a dimension that belongs to it. What, then, is called a phenomenon in a distinctive sense? What is the full, phenomenological concept of the phenomenon? Here is Heidegger’s answer: “What is it that must be called a `phenomenon’ in a distinctive sense? What is it that by its very essence is necessarily the theme whenever we exhibit something explicitly? Manifestly, it is something that proximally and for the most part does not show itself at all: it is something that lies hidden, in contrast to that which proximally and for the most part does show itself; but at the same time it is something that belongs to what thus shows itself, and it belongs to it so essentially as to constitute its meaning and its ground” (SZ, 35). Now, for Heidegger at the time of Being and Time, what does not appear in what appears is being: “Yet that which remains hidden in an egregious sense, or which relapses and gets covered up again, or which shows itself only ‘in disguise,’ is just not this entity or that, but rather the being of entities” (SZ, 38).

This is why Kirkland stresses that the first decisive claim that Heidegger makes is that Greek, Aristotelian philosophy “engineers” (that is, lets emerge) a differentiation between being and beings, so that precisely being begins to come into view from its concealment as such. This requires a genuine phenomenological forcing, the goal of which is to elucidate, to bring to light and to uncover that which remains hidden, covered over or dissimulated. There is thus an unavoidable violence of thought or interpretation, implicit in Destruktion. This necessity of a philosophical violence turned against the self-concealment of being is described in the early courses Heidegger gave when he was engaged in the so-called “hermeneutics of factical life.” It was then a matter for him of deriving “the phenomenological interpretation out of the facticity of life itself.”[3] Now Life is characterized by a constant moving-away from itself (Abfallen), a constant fleeing from itself, a movement that is a falling away. Heidegger speaks indeed of this falling away as “the ownmost character of movement belonging to life,” and the expropriation of what he calls “ruinance” is thus the most “proper” movement of life. In this movement of falling away into ruins, life is opened to its own possibility and becomes an issue for itself in an originary self-estrangement. Thinking begins in life’s self-estrangement or expropriation from itself, and is itself a part of this movement of life, a sort of counter movement, a response to the event of life, a counter-event to such event.

That is the origin of what Heidegger calls the “counter-motion” of thought, going against life’s “own” tendency to fall into expropriation. Thinking originates from the need to go counter to life’s tendency to move away from itself. “Philosophy is a mode of life itself, in such a way that it authentically ‘brings back,’ i.e., brings life back from its downward fall into decadence, and this ‘bringing back’ [or re-petition, ‘re-seeking’], as radical re-search, is life itself.” (PIA, 62). Heidegger writes of “the constant struggle of factical, philosophical interpretation against its own factical ruinance, a struggle that accompanies the process of the actualization of philosophizing” (PIA, 114). Thought: a movement going against life’s ruinance. Thought is counter-ruinance. “Phenomenological interpretation… manifests by its very essence a ‘counter-movedness’” (PIA, 99). Thought is a counter-violence to the originary violence of the ruinance and self-estrangement of life. The violence of interpretation responds to the violence of the self-estrangement of life and goes against it. In Being and Time, the necessity of this violence was explained by reference to Dasein’s hermeneutic situation: the ontological interpretation of this being must go “against” its own tendency to conceal, and can only be “won,” Heidegger explains, by “following an opposite course (im Gegenzug)” from the tendency that distances Dasein from its being by throwing it towards beings. “The laying-bare of Dasein’s primordial being must rather be wrested from Dasein by following the opposite course from that taken by the falling ontico-ontological tendency of interpretation” (SZ, 311). The existential analytic thus recognizes its phenomenological violence. “Existential analysis… constantly has the character of doing violence (Gewaltsamkeit), whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquilized obviousness” (SZ, 311). The entire ontologico-phenomenological problematic is thus rooted in the concealment of being, its non-appearing.

Now Greek philosophy, and metaphysics, think being as constant presence, and as presence of beings. “Aristotle, arrives at the interpretation of Being as presence—’being’ is nothing other than the presence and availability of present beings” (HDA, 64). This substantialist interpretation of being as constantly the same, always oriented towards beings, forecloses both the difference between being and beings and the dimension of withdrawal proper to being itself. “With this, Being is reduced to its positive role in allowing beings to present themselves to us, and their problematic relation to Being is thereby overcome as they settle into an exhaustive and comforting intelligibility. Being is seen as a feature universally distributed over all present beings. Nothing else.” Heidegger seeks to show that being exceeds the horizon of the universal. Being is “not exhausted by even the sum total of all beings. It is not a universal like other universals, but one that transcends its instantiations” (HDA, 64-65). It is at this point that Kirkland shows the destructive reading at work in Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle. First (first krisis), by differentiating Being from beings. Second (second krisis), by revealing another sense of being than presence, namely the event of its withdrawal. As Kirkland defined it later in the text, the second krisis is an indication of Being, “not as the presence of present beings, but as what withholds itself behind such beings as the essentially question-worthy dynamic event of emergence into presence” (HDA, 89). Destructive hermeneutics thus attempts to twist free another meaning of being: no longer simply the presence of beings, but the very event of being as withdrawal. “Destruction then takes up the Aristotelian text in this sense and attempts to activate the distinction or differentiation between that positive aspect of Being, as the presencing of present beings, and the negative aspect of Being, its withdrawal behind beings” (HDA, 65). In other words, in these early works on Aristotle, “Heidegger approaches the task of thinking Being, first along with the Greeks and then against them, as essentially and irremediably withdrawn, hidden, concealed” (HDA, 65). Destruction reveals that it is when Being is differentiated from beings that the concealed ground of Aristotle’s analyses (as that determination of being in terms of the presence and availability of beings) comes to the fore.

Chapter 3 focuses on what Kirkland calls a few “case studies” in the destruction of Aristotelian concepts, namely ousia, zôon logon echon, and dunamis. Kirkland begins by noting that Aristotle is known “as the thinker of ousia (usually translated as ‘substance’),” while also insisting that Aristotle is not a doctrinal thinker (HDA, 80). The destruction of this fundamental concept of Aristotelian philosophy takes several stages in Heidegger’s reading. First, Heidegger recalls the “pre-philosophical” meaning of the term, its everyday usage, namely: “property, possession, possessions and goods, estate.” The term evokes “’means’ (as in “a person of means”), “possessions” or “goods” belonging to an individual, or also one’s “property, household stock,” and “estate” (HDA, 88). All these characteristics refer to beings insofar as they are fully usable and available to us, as being present to us. Kirkland states that “the term ‘ousia’ most of all evokes beings with the mode of present, finished, identifiable, estimable, exchangeable, masterable things” (HDA, 88-89). Heidegger thus retrieves the ontological meaning of ousia as presence, as constant presence. Such a destructive reading will lead Heidegger to rethinking the meaning of Being, from the presence of present beings to “what withholds itself behind such beings as the essentially question-worthy dynamic event of emergence into presence” (HDA, 89). For prior to the (constant) presence of things there is the mysterious emergence into presence. “Heidegger finds Aristotle’s refinement of ordinary experience into a concept, as well as the trace of an aspect of Being that Aristotle never experiences, much less thinks, but which can be intimated here through a destructive reading” (HDA, 85). In this shift lies the phenomenological destruction of Aristotle’s ousia.

Kirkland then takes up Heidegger’s destruction of Aristotle’s definition of the human being as the zôon logon echon, the living being endowed with reason, or “rational animal.” Beginning with Heidegger’s treatment of logos, Kirkland shows how Heidegger rejects the abstract definition of logos as “the statement or proposition as the fundamental linguistic unit and the basic element of truth or falsity.” Rather, logos is retrieved as a fundamental feature of being-in-the-world, as an original phenomenon. “Behind or beneath this Aristotelian definition of truth as a feature of statements, Heidegger finds an original complex experience of logos” (HDA, 95). The expression zôon logon echon, understood as a genus (living thing) with a species-defining difference (language or reason), is “destroyed” in order to reveal its ontological significance. “The human does not exist as a living thing, to which we then add the faculty of language or reason. Rather, its very mode of being is its receiving of the world’s appearing in and through language.” The issue is to show that the human is “a being whose being is accomplished in logos… The human does not exist as a living thing, to which we then add the faculty of language or reason” (HDA, 96). Interestingly, Kirkland notes that this radicalization of the very meaning of logos represents “a sort of modification or intensification of the way of being of the zôon or ‘living thing’.” In other words, in contrast with later texts, where Heidegger distinguishes between life, animality, and being, in these early texts on Aristotle, in these early texts Kirkland suggests that there is a continuity between the animal and the human being. As Heidegger put it, “Ζῳή is a concept of being: ‘life’ refers to a mode of being [Seinsweise], indeed a mode of being-in-the-world [Sein-in-der-Welt]. A living thing is not simply at hand [vorhanden], but is in the world in that it has its world [daß es seine Welt hat]. An animal is not simply moving down the road, pushed along by some mechanism. It is in the world in the manner of “having it [the world]” [in der Welt in der Weise des Sie-Habens] (cited in HDA, 96). Here again, the destruction of Aristotle signifies the retrieval of a hidden ontological ground of an abstract characterization of the human being as a living being endowed with logos. This is why in Being and Time, Heidegger would clarify that the way “of interpreting this definition of man in the sense of the animal rationale, ‘something living which has reason’, is not indeed ‘false’ (falsch), but it covers up the phenomenal basis for this definition of ‘Dasein’” (SZ, 165).

Despite the seemingly frontal opposition between Heidegger’s pronouncement that “Higher than actuality stands possibility” (SZ, 38) and Aristotle’s statement that “It is clear that actuality is prior to potency [phaneron hoti proteron energeia dunameôs estin]” (Meta. IX.1049b5), Kirkland argues that Heidegger’s claim in fact constitutes “a sort of retrieval and appropriation of Aristotle’s recognition of dunamis as a legitimate mode of being at all.” Even if Aristotle “will ultimately subordinate dunamis to energeia, at least he grants it ontological legitimacy,” Kirkland insists (HDA, 100). Kirkland pursues this interpretation by focusing on the 1924 Aristotle course, where Heidegger develops an ontological interpretation of change and potency, and proposes a dynamic or kinetic way of being, another example of his destructive/appropriative reading.

In a concluding chapter, Kirkland argues that the early method of destruction (and of phenomenology as well) are not so much abandoned as radicalized in Heidegger’s later work, the latter displaying a “faithful adherence to the principle of the earlier destructive project” (HDA, 109). The perdurance of “Destruktion” can be glimpsed for example in Heidegger’s problematization of an “other beginning” in relation to a “first beginning,” and in the attention always given to a “history of being,” a history which as we saw was the ground for the problematics of destruction. As a whole, this work constitutes a major contribution to an understanding of Heidegger’s relation to Aristotle, and more broadly, an understanding of his method. The book sheds light, not only on the early Heidegger, but also on the ground from which the later work sprang. Even when Kirkland goes over well-known texts, he does so with an originality and thoughtfulness such that one is as it were led to engages those passages as if for the first time.

[1] Martin Heidegger. Holzwege, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hermann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1977), GA 5, p. 337.  Off The Beaten Track, ed. and trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 253.  

[2] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1953), p. 28. English translations: Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper, 1962), and Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, rev. Dennis J. Schmidt (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010). Hereafter cited as SZ, followed by the German pagination.

[3]Martin Heidegger. Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung, eds. Walter Bröcker and Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1994), GA 61, p. 87. Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), p. 66. Hereafter cited as PIA.

Robert B. Pippin: The Culmination: Heidegger, German Idealism, and the Fate of Philosophy, The University of Chicago Press, 2024

The Culmination: Heidegger, German Idealism, and the Fate of Philosophy, Book Cover The Culmination: Heidegger, German Idealism, and the Fate of Philosophy,
Robert B. Pippin
The University of Chicago Press
2024
Paperback
256

Federico Dal Bo: Judaism, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in Heidegger’s Ontology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2023

Judaism, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in Heidegger’s Ontology Book Cover Judaism, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in Heidegger’s Ontology
Federico Dal Bo
Palgrave Macmillan Cham
2023
Hardback

Nicolai K. Knudsen: Heidegger’s Social Ontology

Heidegger’s Social Ontology. The Phenomenology of Self, World, and Others Book Cover Heidegger’s Social Ontology. The Phenomenology of Self, World, and Others
Part of Modern European Philosophy
Nicolai K. Knudsen
Cambridge UP
2023
Paperback
288

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University, Potchefstroom)

The aim of this work is to examine Heidegger’s social ontology, roughly the human being’s relation to others. In eight chapters Knudsen elaborates Heidegger’s thinking of being-with, different forms of being-with (such as shared action) and, say, the politics of being-with. Knudsen, understandably, focuses on the early Heidegger and attempts to relate Heidegger’s thinking concerning social relations to fields that, quite often, have not studied Heidegger at length to develop their positions: one will find, for instance, accounts of Hilary Putnam alongside Heidegger.

This dialogue between the two big strands of contemporary philosophy is perhaps not always successful even though it at times surely is illuminating. Knudsen’s book, however, takes a slow start and at times gets lost somewhat in the definition-craze that haunts much of analytical philosophy (a craze that is a bit ironic when compared to Heidegger’s questioning of what a being actually “is”, for Heidegger obviously never allowed a definition to exhaust the being of an entity). Knudsen throughout offers a very lucid account of Heidegger’s positions—certainly when it comes to Being and Time—and of contemporary thinkers in the field of social ontology. It is clear, too, that Knudsen is somewhat enamored with phenomenology—who can blame him! Yet, although Knudsen for instance assumes the normativity of phenomenology—one must “get the phenomenology right” (130-1)—it is hard to imagine whether this alone will convince his dialogue partners. It is this that makes this reader wonder whether the dialogue between the two strands of philosophy here has always succeeded.

In the Introduction already, Knudsen describes Heidegger as an externalist: the reality of the outside world, better, the “solicitations of the environment” (2), make for the fact that the human being is always caught in, and claimed by, a network of relations on which he or she, in turn “constitutively depends” which puts Heidegger “at odds with […] contemporary analytical social ontology as well as recent social phenomenology” (5) which both see individuals or the dyadic relation between the other and me as the ultimate level of explanation. Using a term from Donald Davidson, Knudsen describes Dasein’s relation to the world and to others as triangulation: Dasein understands itself through the world which it always shares with others.

Chapter one sets out to elaborate Heidegger’s social ontology by pointing to a transcendental social structure according to which entities, properties, social and natural alike, appear as they do because “subjectivity itself implies a set of necessary and a priori social relations” (19) that is, the transcendental structure of intentionality as such already “implies a form of intersubjectivity” (22). I am who I am only by virtue of others. Sociality, then, is not something that is construed, constructed or constituted afterwards, after, that is, the ego is fully erected. This is why social ontology is an ontology precisely: it does not pertain to just a domain of existence, but rather is a dimension of existence itself (23).

Knudsen then proceeds by showing how Heidegger early on attempted to integrate “social ontology into fundamental ontology” (23), an attempt that, for Knudsen, is complete only in 1924 in Heidegger’s The Concept of Time, when he finally abandons all ambiguous distinctions between the surrounding world, the self-world and the with-world by pointing to a fundamental Miteinandersein of all beings with all beings. (24-28). Other Dasein are strictly speaking not a part of the world, a “form of world” (29), they share world with us because being-in-the-world, as an ontological dimension, is itself shared and spread out through all Dasein. Of course, the world of the other is different than my world. Yet the social ontological dimension of ‘being-in-the-world’ points to an underlying structure which is shared in all different and particular worlds. Being-in-the-world therefore consists in a “non-thematic awareness” (32) that is only “tacitly operative in our thematic awareness of an object” (32): we are hammering with this particular hammer long before this hammer shows up as a hammer precisely. Being-in-the-world, then, ultimately “is the relational whole of significance that makes our involvement with entities possible” (33). Our being-in-the-world is, however, not strictly formal or void. The world of the other and my world both share certain characteristics. Heidegger points here to in-order-to relations (Umzu) and the for-sake-of-which of these relations (Worumwillen). I hammer with the hammer in order to build the shed for the sake of the dog. Knudsen likens these in-order-to’s to the contemporary concept of affordances and the for-the-sake-of-which to a form of commitment (33).

Knudsen then quite poignantly warns us not to see this being-in-the-world solely as a “basic layer” or rather as “the non-social building blocks needed to understand all features of social life” (35). It is not because Dasein always and already has this transcendental make-up that it can turn to others. On the contrary: it is because Dasein is already turned to others that this transcendental-make up can be detected in the various particular worlds. Knudsen concludes by stating, intriguingly, that “there is a very minimal sense of the word to share at stake here” (38)

Chapter two compares the transcendental social ontologies of Husserl and Heidegger. In Husserl, there are for Knudsen two approaches, the one beginning from empathy—which Heidegger for the most part rejects—and the other starting from “open subjectivity” which is closer to Heidegger (38-45). Meaning is neither constructed by or given to a subject (which it then compares to the meaning of and for others), meaning has meaning only because it ‘shows up’ between us and because there are others in the first place. There is no meaning for one alone. Herein too lies Heidegger’s critique of Husserl’s layered ontology (48): there is no real and objective meaning that then needs to be traced back to the transcendental structure of an ego that then builds a spiritual community with other egos. On the contrary, for Heidegger, all of these are there quite immediately. Knudsen concludes that Husserl, for Heidegger, “proceeds in an unphenomenological way” (51).

The question is in what way Heidegger’s approach then is still to be considered transcendental. Knudsen correctly points to Heidegger’s use of “transcendence” in Being and Time. “Transcendence is the primordial surpassing of entities towards the structure that makes them intelligible [which is] the world. Transcendence names the phenomenological correlation between mind and world, and the investigation of this correlation is rightly called transcendental” (56). In a beautiful definition, Knudsen defines Heidegger’s phenomenological approach as follows: “Phenomenologically, to be a subject is to exist in an experiential field as the one to whom experiences are given” (57). One will then see that the “mind is intrinsically world-directed and -engaged, while the world is phenomenologically senseless apart from the mind” (ibid.). Heidegger so adds a worldly, experiential, almost empirical, but in any case utterly historical dimension to transcendental thinking. Indeed, “our surpassing entities towards the world always take place in a particular or finite way” (58). Dasein’s transcending is always particular—it transcends to this rather than that, at this particular place rather than there—but it is a transcending nevertheless. It is open to the field of possibilities opened up to it by this particular place in time.

Chapter three’s worry about this historical dimension is that it might be an instance of relativism. If “different people have different understandings of being” (69), how then can they “refer to the same objects” (71)? The chapter focuses on Lafont’s account of linguistic idealism and Dreyfus’ pragmatic conventionalism but sometimes seems to get lost somewhat in the peculiarities of these positions. It takes Knudsen a long time to get their points straight and to bring his own point home. Let us therefore turn to its conclusion and Heidegger’s take on the problem mentioned. Knudsen finds in Heidegger’s Introduction to Philosophy (from 1928/29) an example of joint attention, in which “there is a mutual non-thematic awareness between the co-intenders, who are thematically oriented towards an object that is, accordingly, experienced as a shared object of attention” (78). Here Heidegger had in fact asked “what enables several people to intend the same piece of chalk?” (ibid.) when attending his lecture. All of them are looking at the piece of chalk, for a while unawares of the precise educational point of the shared attention for this object and non-thematically aware that the others, too, are watching this piece of chalk held up by Heidegger. Yet all, because their field of possibilities in this case too is determined by their particular situation and backgrounds will look at the object differently. The teacher looks at the chalk differently than the students do: for the teacher it is a tool in order to teach, whereas for the student the tool is unnoticed—surpassed say—in order to focus on what will be taught. “This leads Heidegger to argue that a strict similarity in our practical comportment is simply too demanding a criterion for determining what constitutes their jointness” (79)—“even if we see things differently, we do not see different things” (78).

It is this play of sharing and dividing that now attracts Knudsen’s attention: for Heidegger, “we share and divide ourselves in [the] unconcealment [of entities]” (81, cf. GA27, 105)—we share the very looking at this object yet are divided in the meaning our comportment towards them attributes to these objects. “Two Dasein can intend the same object in roughly similar ways if they share an understanding of being by being raised in the same social practices” (82). Yet this doesn’t make Heidegger a relativist or a strong social externalist like Lafont or Dreyfus, where (social) meaning solely determines reference. Instead, “Heidegger endorse a weak or open-ended social externalism according to which meaning depends on ongoing social interaction” (83). These Dasein, however foreign to one another, will figure it out simply because Dasein is such a figuring out (of potential uses for objects).

This “figuring-out” is used here figuratively, although it is described by Heidegger quite literally as a “non-thematic other-awareness” (84) even when no others are around. Objects take on meaning because their use is useful if and only if it can be, sooner or later, related to others. Usefulness only ever arises because each Dasein is as the sharing of world with others. Knudsen emphasizes rightly that this transcendental-ontological condition of being-with, this non-thematic awareness is a form of communication. For Knudsen, “Heidegger’s point is that whenever another Dasein shows up in my realm of manifestation, his behavior will affect how I comport myself towards the surrounding entities” (85) because, in effect, we are constitutively open towards others” (86). It is because we are constitutively open to others—share ourselves in and as world, are broken open toward world—that not one object is without a reference to others even when no others are around to communicate with.

Knudsen likens this openness to Donald Davidson’s idea of triangulation where, on the one hand, we adjust our understanding of objects in light of other’s behavior, of social relations, and, on the other hand, we adjust our understanding of these others through sharing the environment, through objective relations (87). Such, if I may, transcendental triangulation is first. Prior to “shared conventions, rules, or routines” (88) there is, Heidegger says, an “originary, essential agreement” of human beings with one another (ibid., Cf. GA 29/30, 447f) and through which Dasein, throughout, comport themselves to entities in roughly the same ontological way. The remainder of the chapter explores the differences between Heidegger’s take on language and that of Davidson, Lafont, or Dreyfus who all, in one way or another, want to trace this linguistic condition of possibility back to propositional attitudes or at least shared linguistic conventions whereas for Heidegger the sharing of world goes “beyond the exchange of linguistic utterances” (92).

Heidegger’s “pre-reflective triangulation” (93) is such that even if we would meet someone who is totally other, we would still see and use the same entity, simply because our diverse interactions with it, and the possible uses the other of this entity that the other might manifest to us. Even if we do not share the same understanding of being, we will nonetheless both have an understanding of being. In the case of the lectern or the piece of chalk, this open interaction would show “the lectern not simply in light of the usage characteristic of the social practices that he is socialized into” (94) but as an entity toward which other comportments are possible too. Knudsen, quite rightly, concludes that “the idea that different people live in different worlds should be rejected” (95).

The second part of the book focuses on different forms of being-with, and opens with a chapter on interpersonal understanding. What indeed do we know about others? What do others know and how do we know others? Knudsen explores the phenomenological tradition of empathy, ranging from Theodor Lipps up to Edith Stein and Husserl as well as more contemporary (but analogous) debates on social cognition. Heidegger however was no clear partisan of these theories of empathy: the fact that an ego would need to ‘think about’ how the other would possibly feel only then to imagine if and whether the ego ‘would feel’ roughly the same thing, simply contradicts Heidegger’s non-reflective, immediate dealing with the other and others where we recognize the other as other before we would even try to project upon or reproduce artificially the other’s supposedly mental states. Heidegger, in this sense, “effectively dissolves the traditional problem of other minds” (109), since this problem is from the outset regulated by “non-thematic awareness”. It is because the other shares a world with me, constituted by a similar Umzu and Worumwillen, that we can “read [intentional statements] off the practical comportment of others” (109).

When we see a human being, we do not first wonder whether this is in fact a human being who thinks, feels and senses like me, we simply see a human being with whom we are interacting. This turns Heidegger, for Knudsen, into a “proto-enactivist” (ibid.), one of those recent theories nowadays advocated by Hanne De Jaegher’s research into participatory sense-making. Over and against the theoretical and cognitive bias of many of contemporary theories, Heidegger also criticizes the older phenomenological tradition for wrongfully prioritizing the face-to-face relation. Our understanding with others is “cut from the same holistic cloth as our understanding of ourselves” (112). For Knudsen’s Heidegger, this means that “interpersonal understanding cannot be a relation between two distinct entities. It can only take place by virtue of the transcendence of the shared world in which I and you coexist as different polarisations of a field of possibilities” (114). I understand the other, and the other understands me, because both of us live similarly in a roughly similar world with roughly similar entities at hand. It is by “going along with”—Mitgehen—the other seeing how he or she is and comports his-or herself that we discover what it is like to be this entity. It is therefore through an immediate non-reflective Versetzen or “transposition” that we understand the place of the other (Cf. 114-5; GA 29/30, 296) and discover that the other’s behavior is appropriate for a being that is being-in-the-world. There is little interaction with the stone, for instance. The stone, for Heidegger, does not have a world: it lack all Worumwillen and Umzu. In this regard, the other turns out to be just another “polarization of the same matrix of salience” living in a world which is “meaningful” and “makes sense” from the very start.

Here Knudsen disagrees with some commentators of Heidegger who argued that his account of solicitude—roughly: the care for the other—contains an “inauthentic” mode in which the other would be, à la Kant, reduced to a mere means to an end. Knudsen, interestingly, argues that all forms of solicitude, even those where we leap in for others and take their tasks away from them, “involve a minimal level” (119) of the acknowledgement of the other’s Dasein-like character. The distinction between leaping-in and leaping ahead is then not an ethical one (where the former would be bad and the latter good) but rather an ontological one: it depicts two ontological extremes of intersubjective care for the other (120). Knudsen convincingly concludes this discussion with some examples of his own that in effect carefully deconstruct why leaping-in would always be a bad thing and leaping-ahead would everywhere be a good thing.

Is there a transpositioning, a “going-along-with”, a walking the ways, with dogs, animals and stones? Heidegger’s example of the dog “under the table” became famous (notably through Jacques Derrida’s unrelenting analysis). Heidegger, one might say, directs his attention phenomenologically to the dog: he goes up the stairs with us, eats with us, and walks the same pathways as Heidegger once did. “There is a going-along-with […] a transposedness, and yet not” (121, GA 29: 308). Something is different. Heidegger says: the animal is poor in world. The animal, Knudsen states, “can only experience entities as correlates of its drives and capabilities” (125). The dog’s world only pertains to his next meal, say, whereas the world of humans is open-ended and characterized by a multiplication, Vermehrbarkeit (GA 29, 285) through which ever more entities can obtain ever more uses. This makes for the fact that, in the end, for Heidegger “the world sharing is asymmetrical” (127): we can transpose ourselves in the dog, know immediately to run away from a snake, and know not to run away from the gorilla if he’s in a cage in a zoo. We transpose ourselves into animals but animals cannot be expected to transpose themselves into us (127).

Chapter five focuses on shared action and opens with the constatation that many of the contemporary accounts—Knudsen mentions Gilbert, Searle, and Bratman—are overly intellectualistic and should be complemented with a phenomenology of action, which will speak, again, of a “pre-reflective agency” (131) responding as it does to solicitations of the surrounding world. Knudsen pays attention to “small-scale, egalitarian, and temporary group formations” (ibid.), say, people involved in dancing, in order to argue for a “plural pre-reflective self-awareness” (ibid.) whereas existential phenomenology, in its early days at least, tended to focus on rather individualistic actions.

Shared action meets three conditions: we are with more than one, we are forming a group, and we are aware of us forming a group (132). We are doing things together when we know that we are doing things together. It is on the latter, quite intellectualistic, aspect that Gilbert and Bratman focus. Once more Knudsen shows himself to be enamored with phenomenology: “we often engage in intentional activity without being aware of the desire and beliefs that supposedly distinguish our actions from mere bodily movement” (136). Yet such “pre-reflective action” does carry some awareness with it: I know that I am dancing and know that we are dancing without consciously representing a desired goal for this action. It is clear that most of our actions are in this sense pre-reflective. The rest of the chapter asks whether such a prereflective awareness is also present in groups. In this regard, Knudsen discusses Hans Bernhard Schmid’s work on plural action and argues that it misses precisely an account of “holistic singular self-awareness” (141) through which actions are always and already a response (rather than a reaction) to what is happening in the surrounding world: we go dancing, for instance, because suddenly there is a good tune or a good ‘vibe’. At best, Schmid arrives at a “formal social mind” (144)—we are aware that we are dancing—but not at an, say, empirical one, one that is “unified by the solicitations that prompt us to respond” (144): it is this particular song that got us on the dancefloor. To elaborate such an awareness, Knudsen then develops and expands an example of Heidegger describing the joint goals and joint actions of two campers (GA 27, 91).

Interestingly, Knudsen returns to Heidegger’s account of language—Gerede—to show how individual action is transformed into shared action. The simple exclamation, ‘Dance with me’, for instance, changes one kind of solicitation into another kind, shared this time, of solicitation of the environment (152). More than in the earlier chapters on intersubjectivity, Knudsen focuses on the ontological aspects of Heidegger’s social ontology, for just as we are with others even when we are alone, just so are we speaking even when we are silent or just listen or read (154, Cf GA 12, 9). There is an overlap between world and speech: world is what is spoken about, what “makes sense” prior to being put into one or the other proposition. In this regard, the song that get us on the dancefloor is just the empirical case that expresses, makes salient, an environment that already is “inherently shared [,] inherently expressive [and to which we are] inherently responsive” (156).

Chapter six discusses social normativity. Here too Heidegger’s account, for Knudsen, is “phenomenologically crucial” (166) amidst the ongoing contemporary debates. Heidegger was no fan of social conventions and his discussion of Das Man—the anyone—makes this quite clear. Knudsen engages in very detailed and intriguing reading of the ambiguities in Heidegger’s thinking of the anyone’s mediocrity where everyone does, reads, and says what everyone does, reads and says. Knudsen argues that “the anyone [is] reproduced by the weight of precedent alone” (168): we read what everyone reads, in a sense, because people have been reading this all along. Heidegger’s ultimate aim here is to “uncover the ontological foundation of our responsiveness to social norms” (170) rather than describe Dasein’s “desire for social affirmation”, as Fredrik Westerlund has it (ibid.). With Haugeland, Knudsen explores the ‘weight of precedent’: we do as always has been done because we are “temporal creatures with habits and memories” (171) and so tend to “reproduce” certain behavioral norms rather than others. This process of “stabilization” (ibid.), as Haugeland names it, will for Heidegger always amount to a sort of primacy of averageness and levelling down. “We unconsciously accept a standard way of doing things” (172).

Knudsen quite convincingly shows that there is no one-way ticket from the inauthenticity of the Anyone to the authenticity of a “proper” Dasein. Instead, the Anyone for Knudsen is a “necessary feature of Dasein” (173) that, at times however, can be reconciled with the quest for an authentic self. Dasein does “have options” (174): it is not condemned to the unfreedom dominating the Anyone. Knudsen ultimately argues that the Anyone or the “public” covers up aspects of the accepted and prevailing social norms in a very peculiar way: it tends to turn the current and standard set of social norms into an ahistorical, absolute set of social norms (175). Our way of doing things then becomes the way of doing things. With this thesis, we have reached the heart of Knudsen’s book—at least for this reader coming from the phenomenological tradition. For Knudsen, it is, on the one hand, necessary “that there are social norms”—this is the transcendental, existential aspect—yet what these norms concretely and empirically are differs throughout history—they are ontic, historical indeed, and therefore provisional. It is these latter chapters, in which Knudsen develops this insight, that one finds the most read-worthy passages of the book.

Especially interesting is Knudsen’s take on Heidegger’s odd, if not awkward, stress on the “destiny of the people” which, as we all know, starts in Being and Time and only keeps worsening after 1927. Knudsen turns to Heidegger’s account of historicity, late in Being and Time, and considers that there is a distinction between the Anyone and the concrete “happening of community” (176, SZ, 384) what Knudsen calls “historical social normativity” and through which “the same content, the same social norms are […] disclosed as historical rather than as universal defaults” (176).

Yet what to make of Heidegger’s thinking of the “people”, the Volk? Knudsen makes a great deal of Heidegger’s statement in Being and Time that it is possible for us to disclose “history emphatically” (SZ, 376). This would make it possible for an authentic self to both recognize the normative content of social norms and their historical, provisional character (179). It is in this sense that, to echo Heidegger’s wording, authenticity is a “new modality” (ibid.) of the existence of the Anyone. “In resoluteness […] social norms are handed down as handed down. We thereby come to see our socially inflected factical possibilities as heritage rather than as defaults” (180). We have inherited this possibility of organizing a society rather than that one, yet it is entirely possible and legitimate for a society to organize itself in an entirely other way. If we want to belong to a certain group and certain people then there is always, apart from awareness of all historicity of these social norms, the possibility of explicitly repeating them. In effect, “repetition”, is the more or less explicit choice to hand down the earlier norms again. “Dasein now chooses to follow a precent as a precedent or as heritage” (181), yet that still is “an ultimately contingent product of our historical situation” (ibid.). Dasein so becomes aware of its own historical community as a particular community which happens here, now and for the time being: the “destiny of this people”, of this particular community, is nothing more than the co-happening of all its constituents for this particular amount of time. I can decide to take part in, say, the Belgian community, to claim this as “my own”, to use the possibilities and habits and memories the Belgian community offers me, and so commit myself to the prolongation of this community by realizing that these possibilities are offered up here, now as possibilities next to a dozen of other, historical possibilities (of others, of other communities).

It is clear that Knudsen sees in Being and Time no “precursor to Heidegger’s fatal politics” (182) as early on Karl Löwith did. This is quite right. Being and Time was one of the first metaphysical works ever to be immersed in historicity that it would be downright strange if it in its concluding pages would settle for one or the other predestined destiny. Such a thing comes to Heidegger’s mind only later. But one needs to acknowledge, too, that Being and Time was not finished (and breaks off quite suddenly, with a question that was already present at the beginning): it is possible that Heidegger realized that with the “destiny” of the people, why not of being, other, less commendable, options were opened and that the book “failed” for the simple reason that its author could not decide where he wanted to stand, what choices had to be made. Knudsen concludes: “there is no necessary connection between Heidegger’s conception of history and his political engagement” (184). Let it be noted indeed.

It is true that in the thirties and early fourties Heidegger thinks he must, and can, think politically. “The general idea is that Hölderlin’s poetry can bring about an awareness of and a commitment to the particularity of the community” (185). At the very least, there is the willingness and desire to make people commit to a certain community. One might suspect that existentialism’s insistence on the freedom of the individual was, at best, a productive misunderstanding. In this period, though, Knudsen states Heidegger is occupied by three themes: the fragility of communal life, the pressure toward social coherence and the significance of communal commitments (186). At one of the rare moments Knudsen turns to late Heidegger, he reads this important distinction into the difference between polis and dike: the first is equivalent “to the existential-ontological sense of the shared world”, the latter “names the particular regime of historical normativity” (187) to which Dasein, always already, falls prey (and commits to, or not). This is why the latter is labelled as strife or conflict: decisions need to be made, there needs to be education, and institutions to enable these decisions. The question remains: if one realizes the utter contingency of one’s own community, how and why prolong this community? (Existentialism’s questions are philosophically legitimate). Yet, “on a personal level’, Knudsen states, “Heidegger took this idea to imply authoritarianism and nationalism” (192): someone will tell us that and how we need to commit and that we should commit to this particular community. However, and Knudsen is right here, one might just as well find oneself within a particular community without perhaps too much commitment, and just ask questions as Heidegger used to do: why and what does it mean to be in this community for seventy odd years or so, and why should I commit to these norms rather than others? There is indeed no need for “reactionary politics” like Heidegger’s very particular stance (192).

“Heidegger’s answer to why we should hold exactly these communal commitments is [more] interesting” (199). Indeed it is. Chapter seven opens with precisely this question. At least from 1935 onward, Heidegger believed that the historical task fell to Germany to prevent, as Derrida stated in Of Spirit, the phenomenon of the world from becoming obscured. It was the German state, with the aid of a thorough educational system, in which the people, Das Volk, would give itself a lasting body in which the people becomes an issue for itself (203). It is known, especially from the account of the seminars gathered in Nature, History, State, that Heidegger endorsed, perhaps somewhat unthoughtfully, the Führerprinzip. Yet, Knudsen argues, “Heidegger never offers any argument for this authoritarianism, but it is an intrinsic part of his politics” (ibid.). Authoritarianism is needed to enforce the goal of the state and of the people. Yet Heidegger, here too, wants that these people actually adhere to these goals, and consciously will them by committing to them. In this regard, “Heidegger sees education as a way of tying studentS to the state” (204), as a way of making them aware of the “historical task” weighing on them when taking part in the state and the community.

With Löwith, Knudsen therefore contends that Heidegger’s politics is built upon his conception of historicity from Being and Time onward. Yet, Knudsen, contra Löwith, wants us to distinguish between the need and possibility of communal commitments—an adherence to a particular, historical community—and authoritarianism or fascism (206). There is something to be said about the fact that Heidegger’s fascism is tied up with his notion of the “history of being”. But Knudsen is lucid enough to pinpoint the “highly ambiguous” (206) character of this concept in Heidegger’s writings and offers no less than five different definitions of the term of which only a moderate version is “fine-grained enough to yield convincing phenomenological analysis” (208). This moderate version instruct us “that each historical age is characterized by a particular understanding of being” (206). This, say, historicity of being is incompatible with the larger (and somewhat grandiose) claim that this history of being is nothing but a history of decline and that only a particular state is able to remedy or otherwise turnaround this nihilistic unfolding of being. In this sense, the “geopolitical knot” that Heidegger superimposed on the historicity of being, through which certain people are more (or less) nihilistic than others simply does not hold (209). Heidegger’s “politics”, in that sense, was never a “political philosophy”: these politics, Knudsen argues, were only indirectly important and were to aid the “metaphysical revolution” (208) Heidegger deemed necessary through which his students, through studying “relentlessly the craft of interpreting the great thinkers” (ibid.; GA 94, 389), would awaken to a new understanding of being that stepped outside of nihilism.

Heidegger’s efforts “to [map] different peoples onto the history of being” (212) are obviously “appalling” (209). Yet it should not make us blind for the fact that, in the Notebooks recording his disappointment with the movement, Heidegger realized that the ease with which he spoke of the “Russians”, the “Americans” and the “Jews” did not hold even for the “Germans”: “somewhat despite himself, [he] realized that the Germans are not a unified people with a single fate” (212). Heidegger realized, in effect, and to put it bluntly, that these students couldn’t care less about his metaphysical revolution—“they are disappointing all along the line” (GA 94, 116). Will he have realized that there was no way to educate the nazis, that they were “without world”, so to say, or at least without German Bildung? Perhaps.

In any case, Heidegger abandons all hope in the movement for a metaphysical revolution. The point is, Knudsen says, that “from this tension emerges another conception of the history of being” (213) no longer bound to “geopolitics and communal commitments” (ibid.): Only a God, supposedly the last one, can save us now. The importance of this chapter lies, however, elsewhere, in the mistakes against his own social ontology Knudsen mentions. First, Heidegger’s insistence that the Führer can act as an “ontological sovereign” (215) that can inaugurate a new epoch of being disregards the fact that no one can “step outside” being-with, where “meaning is an indeterminate product of social interaction. [Now] Heidegger takes meaning to be the product of creative acts of creative individuals” (ibid). Over and against the “high-brow” accounts of poets, leaders, and, why not, philosophers, there still stands the phenomenological messiness of being-with certain people in a certain place at a certain time. Next comes, with this, the confusion between ontic and ontological conceptions of community: “the world is no longer shared by equals” (216). Rather, someone steps out to once and for all distribute the terms and goals of this world-sharing. Meaning is then no longer open-ended, surging forth to speak like late Heidegger, from our different interactions, meaning is stabilized—a word Heidegger did not like—in its distribution from the leader to the all members of a community. What is more, once the “phenomenological sense of the historical” (217), through which we become aware of our historical norms as just that, contingent and historical norms, loses its formal character but “concerns content” (ibid.) through which certain people are lesser (or more) able to disclose historicity, “an element of historiological historicity [is] incorporated (ibid.). In other words, something very ontic enters into the mix which Heidegger, in Being and Time at least (but later too, when distinguishing between Historie and Geschichte) always wanted to avoid. Yet, the phenomenological sense mentioned above would “have avoided these problems […] different people or different communities instantiate this condition [of being-with] in different ways depending on their facticity but they never inhabit different worlds” (218). Heidegger’s historicism is, Knudsen concludes, no longer radical enough, no longer able to combine transcendentalism and historicity through which the transcendental take on being-in-the-world becomes aware of its own historical stance as well—we all have world but the world we have differs from people to people and from era to era.

Knudsen’s last chapter discusses Heidegger’s early take on authenticity. How are we take up our own historical fate, especially given no poets or philosophers can tell us once and for all what to do? Knudsen’ aim is “to dispel”, here too, “th[e] individualistic worry” (227). Knudsen understands authenticity first and foremost as a formal framework: I am not authentic when I understand my self from out of one or the other innerworldly entity or activity. Very much like one needs to become aware of social historical normativity as a historical normativity, so too Dasein must become aware of itself as a particular being that ‘is’ only as this particular, individual historical being. It is here, obviously, that the analysis of death plays a prominent role: nothing makes me more aware of my own contingency than a sense of my mortality. Dasein now understands that “it lives its life with reference to the possibilities afforded to it by its being along things and with others” (247) as a “being-possible” (246) amidst all finite possibilities. This formal being-possible is the only constancy that determinate Dasein is granted amidst all “ontological insecurity” (247). It is this ontological transparency—we become a question to ourselves precisely because we understand ourselves as a question, that is, as being thrown into a contingent, open-ended, finite world—that makes for a “non-political way in which the philosopher might become the leader […] of others” (256) by awakening these others too to this ontological question mark that we all are, yet, that we all are together.

Knudsen’s book contains some very thoughtful analysis and shows a deep understanding of Being and Time especially. Certainly, one needs patience to read Knudsen’s book, but such a slow read will pay off and one will be thoroughly instructed about Heidegger’s rightful place within the field of social ontology, mainly through Knudsen’s useful overviews of the extant secondary literature. The links between the sometimes quite diverse chapters, however, might have been somewhat better elaborated.

Yet one can wonder what the target-audience, as publishers call it these days, of the book precisely is: it risks to leave both Heideggerians and the analytical audience somewhat unsatisfied. Readers of Heidegger will at times be bothered by the overly anthropological reading of his work and, certainly the readers of later Heidegger, will search in vain for the ontological viewpoint that is present even in Heidegger’s history of being and thinking of Ereignis. As mentioned, the author is clearly enamored with the discipline of phenomenology and I have listed those instances when it is commended that we must get the phenomenology right. Yet, his appeal to phenomenology is at times somewhat naïve, if not superficial. There’s more to phenomenology than just an appeal to the immediacy of experience. Heidegger’s entire endeavor, furthermore, is an account of what is, not of what we experience—there’s a subtle difference to be noted. As it now stands, this account of phenomenology is far from convincing for those who still think that truth is indeed a property of a set of propositions. That there is a social ontology in Heidegger, however, and one that is thoroughly to be reckoned with in the current debates, that is shown more than convincingly.

Robert Rosenberger (Ed.): The Critical Ihde, SUNY Press, 2023

The Critical Ihde Book Cover The Critical Ihde
Edited by Robert Rosenberger
SUNY Press
2023
Paperback $36.95
342

Martin Heidegger: On Inception, Indiana University Press, 2023

On Inception Book Cover On Inception
Martin Heidegger. Translated by Peter Hanly
Indiana University Press
2023
Paperback $31.95
194

David Farrell Krell: Three Encounters, Indiana University Press, 2023

Three Encounters: Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida Book Cover Three Encounters: Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida
David Farrell Krell
Indiana University Press
2023
Paperback
360 Pages, 23 b&w illus.