Hans Jonas: Memoirs, Brandeis University Press, 2021

Memoirs Book Cover Memoirs
Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry
Hans Jonas. Translator: Krishna Winston
Brandeis University Press
2021
Paperback $40.00
314

Johan de Jong: The Movement of Showing: Indirect Method, Critique, and Responsibility in Derrida, Hegel, and Heidegger

The Movement of Showing: Indirect Method, Critique, and Responsibility in Derrida, Hegel, and Heidegger Book Cover The Movement of Showing: Indirect Method, Critique, and Responsibility in Derrida, Hegel, and Heidegger
SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought
Johan de Jong
SUNY Press
2020
Paperback $33.95
386

Reviewed by: Sarah Horton (Boston College)

Johan de Jong’s The Movement of Showing opens with the observation that “Hegel, Heidegger, and Derrida consistently characterize their thought in terms of a development, movement, or pathway, rather than in terms of positions, propositions, or conclusions” (xix). In other words, they do not stake out a definite position that they defend against all comers; rather, they call attention to the movement that carries us beyond each apparently fixed position that a work might seem to present. Indeed, not only do they not aim to delineate a fixed, complete, and fully consistent position, they regard such a delineation as impossible, so noting that they fail to accomplish it does not suffice as a criticism of them. Readers, or would-be readers, of Derrida in particular often stop here, dismissing his work as so much nonsensical relativism. De Jong instead asks how we are to understand this movement that resists any fixed position and how we might critique it without taking it for a failed attempt to establish a fixed position. These questions, which de Jong addresses in an admirably nuanced fashion that makes this book well worth reading, ultimately point us to questions about justice and responsibility.

Thus we as readers find ourselves confronted with the question of what it means to read de Jong’s text responsibly. How do we engage with the impossibility of reducing it to a single determinate position about the three philosophers – G.W.F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida – with which it primarily deals? For what is here called a “movement” must exceed de Jong’s stated positions as it exceeds theirs. Asking “how such a discourse of movement can be understood and criticized,” he maintains that “answering this question does not, as some may think, itself require indirectness, textual extravagance, or a poeticization of philosophical method (even though these cannot in principle be excluded from the realm of philosophical efficacy)” (xxii). What, though, does it mean to say that answering a question does or does not require indirectness? “Indirectness” is the word de Jong has chosen to name the “undercutting gesture” by which “Derrida’s claims and conclusions are invariably repeated, reversed, retracted, contradicted, visibly erased, or otherwise implicitly or explicitly complicated” according to the movement that cannot be contained within any fully determined position (xxii). Yet if indeed thought itself cannot be thus contained – if any position that one might suppose to be fully determined in fact always already undercuts itself – then it is less a matter of indirectness being required than of indirectness being impossible to avoid, at least in implicit form, no matter how hard one tries. De Jong’s style does differ considerably from Derrida’s; readers who regard Derrida’s style, or styles, as obfuscatory should not be able to make the same complaint about de Jong’s, and if they read The Movement of Showing they ought, moreover, to come away with a better understanding of why Derrida wrote as he did. That said, de Jong implicitly recognizes that indirectness is also at work in his own book when he writes that “the very term ‘indirect’ is itself also not the adequate, definite, final or right word for what is investigated here” (xxii). I will return, at the conclusion of this review, to the question of indirectness in de Jong’s text. For the moment, let us note that the impossibility of finding any “adequate, definite, final or right word” will be a recurring theme throughout, and it is one that we must bear in mind when reading any text, whether a book by Derrida, The Movement of Showing, or, for that matter, this review. At the same time, we cannot escape words, however inadequate and indefinite they may be, nor should we desire to – and the joint impossibility and undesirability of such an escape will prove central to ethical responsibility.

Part I, “Sources of Derrida’s Indirectness,” examines, with remarkable nuance and precision, Derrida’s manner of writing. In chapter 1, De Jong begins by arguing that, contrary to what some commentators have supposed on the basis of certain of Derrida’s more direct assertions, Derrida does not and cannot offer a theory of language. Readers of Of Grammatology at times make the mistake of deriving a theory of language from it, which they then attribute to Derrida, according to which speech, traditionally considered superior to writing because of its immediacy, is in fact just as mediated as writing and should therefore be understood as arche-writing, or writing in a more general sense of the term. Derrida’s point, however, is that this theory is already in Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics, Saussure’s intentions to the contrary notwithstanding. Taking it as Derrida’s theory fails to understand that there can be no definitive theory of language. Arche-writing is not writing understood more broadly, as if we could fully understand language once we worked out the proper definition of “writing”; rather, it marks the impossibility of attaining some ideal meaning that would be unmediated and fully present. Derrida does not offer a theory, explains de Jong, but seeks rather to show the movement that reveals the limits of all theories, even as they try to present themselves as complete.

Readers of Derrida who recognize that neither he nor anyone else can offer a complete and consistent theory of language often interpret him as an opponent of metaphysics, but de Jong shows in chapter 2 that this interpretation also fails. There is no way out of metaphysics, and Derrida does not propose to offer one. Seeking to overcome metaphysics is itself metaphysical, for any attempt to get outside metaphysics already depends on metaphysics to define itself. What is more, the history of metaphysics is the history of this attempted overcoming. Questioning metaphysics is not, therefore, a matter of opposition, and this questioning even calls itself into question precisely because any attempt to think metaphysics necessarily occurs within the language of metaphysics. That theories are limited in no way entails that we can step outside or overcome their limits.

Having demonstrated the problems with certain popular interpretations of Derrida’s texts – that he offers a theory of language and that he calls for the overcoming of metaphysics – de Jong asks, in chapter 3, whether Derrida can be justified. If Derrida argues that all positions are incomplete and undo themselves, then pointing to omissions or inconsistencies in his work hardly serves to refute him, but it is equally unclear what grounds one might find to justify a work that disclaims the very attempt to produce a complete and consistent position – and de Jong insists that Derrida’s would-be defenders must recognize the latter point just as much as the former. It is not that Derrida makes a virtue of mere contradiction, as if one ought to embrace inconsistency itself as final and definitive. But de Jong emphasizes that “Derrida cannot be completely safeguarded against the accusations from which his works must nevertheless be tirelessly distinguished” (76). Derrida is not the mere relativist that he has often been accused of being, and yet “the risk of assimilation and supposed misreading is not an extrinsic one, but intrinsic to the operation of deconstruction” (78). There is a real sense, therefore, in which Derrida cannot be justified – which is not to say that his work can be dissociated from justice (a point to which de Jong will return). De Jong warns us against the “reassurance mechanism” that consists in saying, “Never mind [Derrida’s] critics; they clearly haven’t read the texts” (78). The point is apt, but I suggest that one might ask the critics whether they have read their own texts. For a more careful reading might show them that misreading and reading can never be neatly separated; nor, for that matter, can writing and what one might call miswriting. As deconstruction operates within any text, it is not only Derrida’s texts that cannot be safeguarded from any possibility of misreading – and this point is one that merits greater emphasis than de Jong gives it in this chapter. He rightly points out what he calls the vulnerability of Derrida’s texts, at the risk of suggesting that Derrida’s texts are unusually vulnerable. Still, Part I is an excellent reading of Derrida, and since reading and misreading cannot be disentangled, there is no way to exclude every possible misinterpretation. De Jong’s argument that Derrida does not call us to overcome metaphysics, as if going beyond metaphysics were possible, is a particularly valuable contribution to the literature.

De Jong now turns to Hegel in Part II and then to Heidegger in Parts III and IV. Since Derrida cannot be outside the metaphysical tradition, his relation to Hegel and Heidegger cannot consist, as it has often been thought to do, in rejecting them as still too metaphysical. This reexamination of Hegel and Heidegger thus follows from the analysis in Part I, and it shows that they are rather less different from Derrida than they are generally imagined to be – without, however, assimilating them into a single position. All three thinkers reveal the limits of any thought that seeks to establish a fixed position, while they also recognize that we cannot step outside or beyond the limits of thought itself.

Part II, “Movement and Opposition,” begins with the argument, in chapter 4, that for Hegel as for Derrida, philosophical questioning cannot itself be detached from its object. Indeed, de Jong writes that “Hegel is the first philosopher to explicitly locate the aforementioned entanglement right at the heart of the philosophical enterprise” (85). It is for this reason that philosophy cannot arrive at a conclusive end to its investigations: philosophy is always investigating itself. Hegelian dialectic is often interpreted to mean that philosophy will progressively free itself from its own limits and reach Absolute Knowing, a final position in which alterity is no more, and Derrida’s own readings of Hegel have fueled this misconception. Through a consideration of the development of Hegel’s thought, de Jong shows that Hegel does not propose that philosophy’s movement can or should be brought to a halt. Precisely because the absolute is not the cessation of movement, “Hegel’s ‘absolute’ idealism must be interpreted as an affirmation of the limits of reflection” (121): reflection does not transcend its limits but is carried along within them, and it is within its limits that it finds itself haunted by the alterity that can never be made fully present.

What, though, of Derrida’s own readings of Hegel, in which Derrida seems to regard Hegel as an opponent of alterity and himself as an opponent of Hegel? De Jong turns to this question in chapter 5 and argues, without denying the differences between the two philosophers, that Derrida’s relation to Hegel is not, and cannot be, one of simple opposition. In any case, opposition is never simple, since the sides of a dichotomy are necessarily dependent on each other to the very extent that they are defined by their opposition. What is more, Derrida offers multiple readings of Hegel – or, to put it another way, the name “Hegel” does not stand for the same figure every time it appears in his texts. At times, as for instance in “Tympan,” it does stand for a figure who seeks to eliminate the risk posed by negativity or alterity – but “Tympan” is less a supposedly definitive reading of Hegel and more an attempt “to stage a confrontation of philosophy with that in which the philosopher would not recognize himself, not so foreign to philosophy as to leave it undisturbed, and not so close to philosophy as to do no more than repeat it” (134). It is, in short, an attempt to call attention to philosophy’s limits so that it will not mistake itself for the final, complete answer. Derrida’s target is not Hegel but a complacent Hegelianism that believes that all that is worthwhile is, or at least can be, subjected to its comprehension. Reading “Hors livres, préfaces” in Derrida’s Dissemination, de Jong finds that Derrida first describes the Hegel of Hegelianism before coming to the Hegel who is a thinker of movement and of difference – a Hegel who is not Derrida but in whom Derrida finds a “point of departure” (149) that is not simply the basis for opposition. Or, as de Jong puts it, “Derrida needs Hegel’s ‘speculative dialectics’ as a point of contrast, but he is aware that Hegel cannot be reduced to those terms. […] The more radical [sic] Derrida presents himself as moving beyond Hegel, the more emphatically his allegiance to Hegel is reaffirmed” (151). Derrida needs Hegel because of how Hegel can be read and misread: the thinker of movement who has been misinterpreted as a thinker of overly definitive absolutism is a fitting interlocutor for another writer who, precisely because he is also a thinker of movement, is profoundly concerned with questions of interpretation, questions of reading, misreading, and the complex interplay thereof. Indeed, one should not suppose that reading and misreading are independent and readily distinguishable – a point implicit in de Jong’s insistence on the impossibility of safeguarding Derrida from misreadings.

Part III, “Heidegger: The Preservation of Concealment,” reads Heidegger’s Being and Time and Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) in order to explore the theme of indirectness in Heidegger. In chapter 6, considering Heidegger’s criticisms of the language of Being and Time, de Jong argues that the problem was not that the language of Being and Time failed by remaining too much within metaphysics, nor can the Kehre be understood as a turn to looking for a language that would adequately say being. Rather, the language of Being and Time was, in Heidegger’s later view, insufficiently attentive to the inevitability of a certain failure, and Heidegger came to seek “a language that would take into account, recognize, and preserve a certain necessary failure-to-say with respect to (the question of) being” (156). This language would still be metaphysical since the overcoming of metaphysics is itself metaphysical, but it would strive to reveal the very impossibility of finding a location outside metaphysics from which to philosophize. Already in Being and Time questioning is no straightforward matter, however: that Dasein questions being from within being is crucial to the book – an obvious point in itself, but what has been neglected is that the middle and late Heidegger’s works, including those written post-Kehre, therefore represent not a break with his early thought but a deepening of themes and problems that were in play from the start.

Chapter 7 pursues this analysis via a reading of the Contributions. De Jong emphasizes that the forgetfulness of being is neither a problem that can be solved nor an error that can be fixed. Heidegger’s goal is not and cannot be to overcome this forgetfulness but is “to recognize and preserve that forgetfulness as such, or interpret it originally” (200). Indeed, overcoming the forgetfulness, as though it could be left behind, would amount to forgetting it again. What is essential is that we strive not to forget the forgetfulness, that we strive to recognize the limits of thought – which is precisely not stepping beyond them as if they could become negligeable. This recognition, moreover, is a movement that never becomes a completed process.

Part IV, “Of Derrida’s Heideggers,” shows that Derrida’s relation to Heidegger, like his relation to Hegel, is not simply a matter of opposition. In Derrida’s texts, the name “Heidegger” is no more univocal than the name “Hegel.” Chapter 8 explores this complex relation through a reading of Derrida’s Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. The key point is that Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche risks closing off the meaning of Nietzsche’s texts by arriving at some result that is then taken as definitive and final, yet Heidegger’s texts cannot themselves be closed off by interpreting them once and for all as the refusal of indirectness and undecidability. And as de Jong observes, “[Derrida] does not make a simple choice between these two Heideggers. The virtue of that undecidability lies in its potential to open the texts of these thinkers and resist reducing them to the content of an unequivocal thesis” (240). This remark also has worthwhile implications for the question of what it might mean to critique Derrida, though de Jong does not make them wholly explicit: that Derrida cannot be reduced to a purveyor of definite theses means that there are multiple Derridas, and a fruitful critique – fruitful in that it would recognize the limits of thought without seeking to go past them – would then be one that draws out this multiplicity rather than presenting a univocal Derrida who is assigned the role of opponent.

Chapter 9, turns, finally, to the question of responsibility. Here the question of critique or justification gives way to the question of justice. De Jong notes that “in the debate about the ‘ethics of deconstruction,’ interpretations have tended to work within a Levinasian framework, which understands ethics primarily with reference to the ‘other.’ That is quite right, but there is a risk if the other is confused with the external” (242). It is worth explicitly noting what is implicit here: that the other in Levinas is not a matter of externality, as alterity would then be one pole of the externality-internality dichotomy and so would fall within totality. In any case, de Jong’s analysis, which emphasizes complicity and proceeds through a reading of Derrida’s Of Spirit, is excellent. De Jong recognizes the indirectness of Derrida’s texts as a gesture of responsibility. What might appear as an irresponsible refusal to be associated with any position, and hence as a withdrawal from potential criticisms, is an attempt to grapple responsibly with the failure of any position – yet it is a responsibility that can never escape its own complicity with those failures. Heidegger’s own complicity has struck many as uniquely grave, and de Jong notes that Derrida does regard Heidegger’s use of the term Geist, in his 1933 rectorial address, as complicit with Nazism. It does not follow, however, that we can purify our own thought by rejecting Heidegger; Derrida himself cautions us against such an attempt to achieve purity. For Heidegger’s complicity with Nazism took place, writes de Jong, “by way of a mechanism or a ‘program’ of complicity and reaffirmation that Derrida himself does not claim to be able to escape. The program itself consists in the very attempt to escape, the thought that one can exceed racism or biologism by elevating oneself above it to a position of reassuring legitimacy” (251). More broadly, the quest for absolute purity cannot be untangled from a drive to declare oneself innocent – that is, not complicit in anything or, to put it another way, not responsible. But “the ‘fact’ that not all forms of complicity are equivalent” (252) does not mean we can avoid complicity, that we can overcome or go beyond it. We are responsible in advance, inescapably responsible, unable to establish a position that would justify us, free us from complicity, and let us relax in the security of non-responsibility. De Jong’s emphasis on complicity ties back to his earlier argument that Derrida’s texts cannot be made safe from misreading. By resisting the opposition between Derrida’s critics and his defenders, de Jong resists the temptation to safeguard thought, thereby reminding us of our limits. It is because we will never be able to present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as the saying goes, that we are complicit – which is a call not to despair but to the responsibility that, as de Jong’s The Movement of Showing skillfully reminds us, we cannot evade.

An afterword begins by addressing the question of indirectness in de Jong’s own text, and here he proves a less skillful reader than he did when interpreting Hegel, Heidegger, and Derrida – though his failings are instructive and perhaps unsurprising, given that we cannot escape complicity with the attempt to arrest the movement of showing to arrive at some fixed position. De Jong asks “why, if [he] ha[s] been successful, [his] own exposition will not have displayed the implicit or explicit self-complication that has been [his] theme” (264). One response, which he admits is “facile,” is that “[he] ha[s] set out to do nothing more than to provide a commentary, and to provide a way of reading that goes against certain ideas about how to interpret the work of Hegel, Heidegger, and Derrida. […] There is no reason why that reading could not be explicated unequivocally” (264). Granted, he himself calls this response “facile,” yet that it should be offered at all indicates the durability of the opposition between a commentary and the work commented upon, with the commentary appearing as merely secondary and derivative. Derrida, let us recall, commented on works by Hegel and Heidegger, and as I noted above, de Jong’s own analysis suggests (though without explicitly saying so) that there are multiple Derridas, as there are multiple Hegels and Heideggers. I do not mean to suggest that all Derridas, Hegels, or Heideggers on whom one might comment are equally valid or fruitful. The Derridas, Hegels, and Heideggers whom one encounters in de Jong’s text are remarkably well interpreted, whereas, to take an extreme example, anyone who attempts to read Of Grammatology as a guide to birdwatching is likely to be disappointed. Consider, however, Derrida’s remark in “Des tours de Babel,” concerning translation, that “the original is the first debtor, the first petitioner; it begins by lacking [manquer] – and by pleading for [pleurer après] translation” (Derrida 2007, 207). The so-called original text never stands on its own but is already a translation, is already separated from itself by its inevitable equivocity. Commentary is not exempt from this condition: it is never “nothing more than […] commentary.” De Jong’s writing is clear in that it is easy to follow – easier than Derrida’s, Hegel’s, or Heidegger’s often is – but that does not mean it is univocal. Commentary too is separated from itself – and, moreover, it is a way of translating the so-called original. The texts signed by Hegel, Heidegger, or Derrida call out for commentary because they are not summed up in what they say – nor in what any commentary or translation could say. The commentary and the translation plead as well, and they are not safe from misreading. Whether de Jong’s text displays self-complication and whether it does complicate itself are two different questions, and besides, one might well argue that it does display self-complication precisely by calling our attention to our inevitable complicity.

De Jong offers, as a “more principled answer,” the reply that “an awareness of the performative complexity of philosophical texts does not in itself necessitate a specific style” (265). This answer still tends to assume that self-complication must be blatantly visible as such, but de Jong rightly observes that “it is not a matter of doing away with representation or opposition, nor with the traditional form of an academic treatise. At issue is precisely an ‘inner excess,’ or how in what presents itself as proposition, representation or claim, something more, less, or other than what is ‘posited’ in them is taking place” (265). Indeed. Derrida’s styles are not the only ones in which worthwhile thinking may occur. And as there are multiple Derridas, there are multiple de Jongs, whom this review certainly does not exhaust, and I recommend that anyone interested in Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, or questions of indirectness more broadly read The Movement of Showing and encounter them for him- or herself. If I have dwelt at some length on the brief and admittedly “facile” response, and if I still reproach the “more principled” response with suggesting, in defense of the book’s clarity, that it is possible to avoid self-complication through the choice of a particular style, it is to highlight a certain complicity with the overly definite and determinate that inevitably accompanies writing. Indirectness cannot, however, simply be opposed to directness, as if one were pure and the other not – a point de Jong does not make explicit but that he could well have. Complicity with the overly definite and determinate is the only way to speak or write at all, and refusing to speak or write out of a desire for purity is an attempt to abdicate responsibility.

Indeed, de Jong in his afterword goes on to observe that “even given the limitations of the propositional form, of representation, and of oppositional determination, it is in and through them that we can and in fact do say more, less, or something else than what is merely ‘contained’ in those determinations” (272). Hence the limits of language are not to be regretted, which is a crucial point. Thus de Jong refuses to take “a negative or skeptical view on language as inadequate or as failing,” calling instead for “a productive view on propositions and claims such that they might carry or co-implicate more than the content that is ‘contained’ in them” (272, emphasis in original). That a text is “lacking,” to recall the above quotation from “Des tours de Babel,” does not mean that it has failed, as though it would have been better for it to lack nothing so that there was no call for translation’s creativity. Complicity does not put an end to creativity – far from it. Because there is no manual telling us precisely how to live out the responsibility by which we are committed in advance, our responses must be creative ones. One of the virtues of The Movement of Showing, though by no means the only one, is that it warns us against considering language—and hence what is expressed through language—a failure because of its limits, and that it points out that language even owes its richness to those very limits. In short, The Movement of Showing is a text that rewards attentive reading, and it makes a valuable contribution to the field.

Reference

Derrida, Jacques. 2007. “Des tours de Babel.” Translated by Joseph F. Graham. In Psyche: Inventions of the Other, vol. 1, edited by Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Jean Grondin: Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être

Comprendre Heidegger. L'espoir d'une autre conception de l'être Book Cover Comprendre Heidegger. L'espoir d'une autre conception de l'être
Bel Aujourd'hui
Jean Grondin
Hermann
2019
Paperback 28,00 €
292

Reviewed by: Karl Racette (Université de Montréal)

Publié une trentaine d’années après le très important livre Le tournant dans la pensée de Martin Heidegger (Épiméthée, 1987), Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être (Hermann Éditions, 2019) est la deuxième monographie de Jean Grondin portant exclusivement sur la pensée de Martin Heidegger. La publication de cet ouvrage aura précédé de peu La beauté de la métaphysique (Éditions du Cerf, 2019) publié le même été. La réception francophone de Heidegger aura été ainsi très comblée lors de la dernière année par ces deux ouvrages de J. Grondin qui, à plusieurs égards, pourront être lus de manière complémentaire.

Dès les premières lignes de l’ouvrage, l’A. affirme qu’il faut comprendre Heidegger d’abord et avant tout à partir de sa question essentielle, celle de l’être[1]. Cette exigence de compréhension apparaît prioritaire aux yeux de l’A. compte tenu de sa réception récente, qui s’est surtout concentrée sur l’engagement politique de Heidegger, prompte à discréditer d’emblée sa pensée. Comprendre Heidegger, nous dit J. Grondin, c’est à la fois comprendre son effort indéfectible de penser l’être, mais c’est aussi « comprendre sa personne et son engagement politique »[2]. L’approche de l’A. est au départ originale en ce qu’elle ne sépare pas l’homme de l’œuvre en vue de sauvegarder l’œuvre, mais tente plutôt de comprendre l’engagement politique de l’individu Heidegger à partir de la question qui anime l’œuvre, celle de penser à nouveau l’être.

C’est à cet effet que J. Grondin déploiera un double effort de compréhension – celui de la fusion des horizons, héritée de Gadamer et de transposition reprise de Schleiermacher – qui aura chacun l’œuvre et l’homme comme objet[3]. Nous pouvons dire que les chapitres 1 à 7 consistent en un effort de compréhension, se rapprochant de la fusion des horizons gadamérienne dans la mesure où les différentes interprétations proposées comportent toujours un moment de confrontation critique envers Heidegger. De leur côté, les chapitre 8 à 10 sont plutôt un effort de transposition dans l’horizon d’attentes de Heidegger où il s’agit de comprendre l’homme Heidegger selon ses projets, ses attentes, ses espoirs, etc. La visée de cette transposition étant surtout de comprendre les raisons personnelles qui ont poussé Heidegger à se reconnaître dans le national-socialisme. Ce double effort de compréhension possède néanmoins une visée commune : montrer que l’auteur et l’individu sont orientés par la même « étoile » qui guide toujours leur engagement spirituel et personnel, la question de l’être.

L’effort de compréhension de l’ouvrage est orienté par quatre présupposés de lecture que l’A. expose dès l’introduction. D’abord (1), il faut, comme nous l’avons dit, comprendre Heidegger (l’œuvre et l’homme) à partir de la question l’être : « Heidegger soutient à bon droit qu’elle est sa question essentielle, voire la seule question (au sens où tout dépend d’elle), mais aussi la question fondamentale de la pensée occidentale, voire de la pensée tout court, et qu’elle est tombée dans l’oubli dont il est opportun de la tirer »[4]. Si ce présupposer va de soi pour l’œuvre de Heidegger, cela semble être le pari de l’interprétation proposée par J. Grondin de la compréhension de l’homme Heidegger. Une bonne partie de l’ouvrage (en particulier les chapitres 8 à 10) cherche à montrer qu’il faut comprendre les raisons de l’engagement politique de Heidegger à partir des exigences théoriques et « pratiques » de sa propre philosophie. La motivation commune entre la pensée de l’auteur et son engagement politique réside dans le fait que (2) « notre conception de l’être reste dominée par une certaine intelligence de l’être qui est préparée de longue date, en vérité depuis les Grecs, mais qui est problématique et qui n’est peut-être pas la seule »[5]. Dans la perspective de Heidegger, nous explique l’A., il est nécessaire de penser et de préparer un autre rapport possible à l’être – le nôtre étant sous l’emprise de la compréhension de l’être envisagé comme « étant subsistant qui est immédiatement présent, observable, mesurable et utilisable »[6]. Ce que l’A. rend visible sans équivoque c’est que cette compréhension techniciste et calculante de l’être est « largement responsable du nihilisme et de l’athéisme contemporain »[7]. C’est dans ce combat « héroïque et parfois pathétique »[8] qu’il faut comprendre à la fois l’œuvre philosophique de Heidegger et l’engagement politique de l’homme (3). C’est dans cette recherche d’un nouveau commencement de la pensée, qui consiste en une préparation lente et difficile d’une autre entente de l’être, que Heidegger a pensé avoir trouvé dans le nazisme, de manière pour le moins illusoire et fatale, l’une des possibilités historiques de cet autre compréhension de l’être, dont il voulait être le prophète. Ces trois hypothèses de lecture permettent la quatrième (4) : « le débat de fond avec Heidegger se situe donc moins au plan politique, qui continuera assurément d’obséder les médias et l’opinion, qu’an plan métaphysique »[9]. En ramenant le débat en terres métaphysiques, l’A. espère ainsi préserver la pertinence philosophique de la pensée heideggérienne de l’être. Cela ne veut toutefois pas dire que l’ouvrage est une simple apologie de Heidegger, au contraire : si J. Grondin ramène Heidegger sur le plan de la métaphysique, c’est dans la perspective de rendre possible une interprétation critique de sa pensée. Nous y reviendrons.

En plus de l’introduction, l’ouvrage est divisé en trois parties qui forment ensemble dix chapitres. Neuf des dix chapitres sont des reprises de certains textes que l’A. a publié dans le passé, de 1999 à 2017. À ceux-ci s’ajoute un texte inédit (chapitre 10) sur l’engagement politique de Heidegger. Bien que la majorité des textes ont été écrits dans un temps, une thématique et un contexte différent, ces derniers ont été retravaillés selon l’orientation principale du livre, c’est-à-dire celle de comprendre Heidegger selon sa question essentielle. L’ouvrage peut donc être lu de façon linéaire pour avoir de multiples perspectives sur le projet de Heidegger. Les différents chapitres gardent néanmoins une certaine autonomie et pourront aussi être lus individuellement.

La première partie de l’ouvrage intitulée « l’urgence de dépasser la conception dominante de l’être » (chapitres 1, 2, 3 et 4) propose une certaine introduction générale à la pensée de Heidegger, ainsi qu’aux thèses principales de Sein und Zeit. Un lecteur familier de l’A. y trouvera les principes et les thèses habituellement exposés dans ses autres ouvrages portant soit sur l’herméneutique ou la métaphysique. Ces chapitres constituent une bonne introduction à la pensée de Heidegger, écrits dans un style qui évite tout jargon, en ayant le soin de traduire Heidegger en une langue lipide et claire, ce qui est en soi un défi immense.

Le premier chapitre « Pourquoi réveiller la question de l’être ? » propose une lecture des premiers paragraphes d’Être et temps. En replaçant l’ouvrage de 1927 dans le contexte historique et philosophique de son époque, l’A. relit le premier chapitre du texte en soulignant les raisons qui poussent Heidegger à reposer (répéter pourrions-nous dire) la question de l’être. Cette relecture de l’intention d’abord et avant tout ontologique du texte sert sans doute à justifier les hypothèses de lecture proposées par l’A. en venant rappeler aux lecteurs les formulations fondamentales du projet heideggérien en 1927, celui d’un « réveil » de la question de l’être. Ce chapitre est certainement utile à quiconque cherchera à s’introduire à la pensée heideggérienne ou à Être et temps, en démontrant que l’être est sans contredit l’objet principal de la pensée de Heidegger – ce qui ne va pas toujours de soi, comme c’est le cas dans la lecture « pragmatique » d’Être et temps que l’on retrouve souvent dans la réception anglo-saxonne de Heidegger.

Le second chapitre « Comprendre le défi du nominalisme » est pour sa part beaucoup plus proche d’une interprétation critique de Heidegger. L’A. esquisse les raisons de la remise en question heideggérienne de la conception de « l’étant subsistant » qui représente la condition de possibilité ontologique de « l’essor de la technique »[10]. De manière très claire et convaincante, l’A. expose la continuité entre les questions métaphysiques et techniques de Heidegger. La particularité de la lecture de J. Grondin tient à l’exposition de certaines de ses réserves par rapport à la conception heideggérienne de la métaphysique. C’est que, nous explique l’A, le concept heideggérien de métaphysique ne serait-il pas lui-même « un peu technique, passe-partout, […], qu’il [Heidegger], applique péremptoirement à l’ensemble de son histoire, mais qui finit par rendre inaudibles les voix et les voies de la métaphysique elle-même ? »[11]. Plutôt que de s’attaquer à la métaphysique, l’A. préfère plutôt parler de conception « nominaliste »[12] de l’être qui serait responsable des conséquences que Heidegger déplore. Dans la continuité de son livre Introduction à la métaphysique – dont J. Grondin avoue lui-même être « un modeste contrepoids à l’ouvrage du même nom de Heidegger »[13]  – il affirme plutôt qu’il est possible de trouver au sein même de la richesse de la tradition métaphysique le remède contre l’expérience moderne du nihilisme.

Le troisième chapitre « Comprendre pourquoi Heidegger met en question l’ontologie du sujet afin de lui substituer une ontologie du Dasein » cette fois-ci retourne à Être et temps en vue de rappeler à quelles fins Heidegger tente de penser l’homme non pas comme sujet, mais comme « espace » où se pose la question de l’être, Da-sein. La particularité de la lecture que propose l’A. réside certainement dans sa mise en rapport des concepts de Heidegger avec la richesse de la conceptualité grecque, son histoire et ses transformations. Dans cette perspective, il devient clair que le projet de l’analytique transcendantal de 1927 est une réponse à la conception de la métaphysique moderne de l’homme, ce que l’auteur souligne justement.

Le quatrième chapitre « Comprendre la théorie de la compréhension et du cercle herméneutique chez Heidegger » expose de manière détaillée l’apport de l’herméneutique (en 1927 et au-delà) au projet ontologique de Heidegger. Il expose certains des concepts les plus canoniques de Heidegger comme la compréhension, le pouvoir-être, l’explicitation (ou l’interprétation, Auslegung) ainsi que le cercle de la compréhension. En montrant que l’herméneutique heideggérienne est toujours orientée vers la question de l’être. L’A. en profite pour souligner certaines des apories de sa pensée.

La seconde partie de l’ouvrage s’intitule « Dépasser la métaphysique pour mieux poser sa question » et comporte les chapitres 5, 6 et 7. Dans ces chapitres, l’A. interprète certaines thèses de Heidegger de manière très soutenue. En interprétant ligne par ligne certains des textes de Heidegger, l’A. y propose une lecture critique, souvent en réactualisant la tradition métaphysique (principalement platonicienne et sa descendance) contre l’interprétation heideggérienne de la métaphysique jugée réductrice. C’est précisément à cet endroit que l’ouvrage La beauté de la métaphysique publié la même année pourra être éclairé tout en éclairant la lecture proposée par l’A. de la pensée heideggérienne. La défense de la métaphysique de  l’A. dans cet autre ouvrage nous permet de mieux comprendre à partir de quel horizon l’interprétation heideggérienne de la métaphysique est critiqué : « La métaphysique, dans son ontologie, sa théologie et son anthropologie, nous permet ainsi d’espérer que l’existence est elle-même sensée. C’est ‘en ce sens’ que la métaphysique, avec toute sa riche histoire, représente le bienfait le plus précieux de l’histoire de l’humanité »[14]. Les chapitres dont il est question sont donc à la fois importants en ce qu’ils restituent de manière convaincante et rigoureuse la visée du projet de Heidegger, ses espoirs, tout en proposant une lecture critique qui saura nous renseigner sur les possibilités de la métaphysique et de l’herméneutique contemporaine.

Le cinquième chapitre « Heidegger et le problème de la métaphysique », qui est de loin le plus long du livre (environ 70 pages), s’intéresse à la question de la « destruction » heideggérienne de la métaphysique, d’Être et temps jusqu’à sa toute dernière philosophie. Il s’agit là d’un chapitre très chargé et ambitieux à plusieurs égards, car l’auteur aborde une multiplicité de textes de Heidegger en y soulignant la transformation (ou le « tournant ») dans sa conception de la métaphysique. Bien que le thème de ce chapitre est en soi ardu, l’auteur explique la progression des réflexions de Heidegger au sujet de la métaphysique toujours de manière claire et argumentée en référent de façon tout autant pédagogique que minutieuse aux différents livres, essais, conférences et cours de Heidegger. En esquissant la conception heideggérienne de la métaphysique, l’A. termine sur les possibilités de la métaphysique rendues ouvertes par le projet « destructeur » de Heidegger. L’apport de Heidegger, aux yeux de J. Grondin réside « moins dans l’élaboration d’une nouvelle pensée de l’être, que dans la destruction des évidences de la raison calculante et nominaliste. La métaphysique peut nous apprendre qu’il ne s’agit pas de la seule conception de la raison et de l’être qui soit possible »[15]. Dans la continuité du deuxième chapitre, l’A. voit moins en la métaphysique le responsable du nihilisme contemporain que dans la conception nominaliste de l’être. L’apport de Heidegger réside dans cet espoir de rendre une autre conception de l’être possible, autre conception que l’A. retrouve dans les richesses de la pensée métaphysique.

Le sixième chapitre « Le drame de la Phusis, loi secrète de notre destin » est assurément le chapitre le plus critique de l’ouvrage et en ce sens, l’un des plus fécond. L’A. interprète ligne par ligne la compréhension heideggérienne de la Phusis exposée dans son cours Introduction à la métaphysique (GA 40), par-delà sa traduction latine et sa reprise moderne dans le terme de nature. À l’aide de la richesse des paroles de la pensée métaphysique (exprimée dans une pluralité de langues), l’A. s’attaque directement aux présupposés qui guident la dévalorisation des concepts métaphysiques dérivés (latin et modernes) ainsi qu’à la valorisation de l’expérience présocratique (et donc pré-métaphysique) de l’être, la seule qui serait véritablement « pure » ou « originaire ». La qualité de la critique de l’A. tient au fait qu’elle se réalise au sein même de la pensée heideggérienne et non à partir d’un horizon étranger – témoignant ainsi d’un véritable dialogue entreprit avec l’auteur allemand. Il s’agit d’une véritable confrontation avec la pensée heideggérienne où l’A. souligne certains présupposés néfastes propres à la compréhension heideggérienne de la métaphysique[16].

Le septième chapitre « Gerhard Krüger et Heidegger. Pour une autre histoire de la métaphysique » bien que dans la continuité des précédents chapitres, possède une certaine autonomie. Il s’agit d’une introduction générale à la pensée de Gerhard Krüger, « l’un des élèves les plus doués de Heidegger »[17]. À partir de la pensée de Krüger et sa correspondance avec son maître Heidegger, l’A. aborde le projet de Krüger comme reprise critique de la pensée de Heidegger à propos de la thématique religieuse, qui est omniprésente dans l’ouvrage de J. Grondin. La pensée de Krüger peut certainement être comprise comme étant dans la continuité de la brèche ouverte par le questionnement religieux de son maître. Ce chapitre est dans la continuité des autres chapitres de la partie deux, en ce qu’il offre une lecture critique de Heidegger dans la mesure où l’A. voit en Krüger un allié de son projet, puisqu’il « rappelle ainsi la métaphysique à certaines de ses possibilités immortelles »[18].

Les chapitres 8, 9 et 10 sont probablement ceux qui intéresseront le plus l’« opinion publique », pouvons-nous dire, puisqu’ils abordent de front la question de l’engagement politique de Heidegger. Ils forment ensemble la troisième partie de l’ouvrage intitulée « La tragédie politique ». En abordant la question de l’engagement politique de Heidegger à partir du contexte historique de son époque, l’auteur esquisse les causes philosophiques, historiques et biographiques qui expliquent l’affiliation de Heidegger au partie nazi dans les années 30 et au-delà.

Le huitième chapitre « L’ontologie est-elle politique ? La question de la vérité dans la lecture de Heidegger par Bourdieu » expose les critiques sociologiques de Bourdieu envers toute ontologie ignorant ses présupposés politiques. Dans L’ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, Bourdieu vise à dégager « le caractère secrètement ‘politique’ de la pensée de Heidegger, mais aussi de la philosophie en général »[19]. Contre la lecture proposée par Bourdieu de l’ontologie, l’A. défend plutôt l’idée d’un « arrachement ontologique » face aux « considérations partisanes » politiques[20]. Le chapitre peut être compris selon deux autres visées : celle de remettre en contexte le questionnement ontologique de Heidegger (dans la continuité du reste de l’ouvrage), ainsi que de produire une critique de la lecture de Bourdieu de l’ontologie heideggérienne[21]. Si l’ontologie a souvent besoin de se justifier face aux questionnements sociologiques, l’un des mérites de ce chapitre est de questionner la sociologie à partir de ses présupposés ontologiques. En ce sens, reprocher à Heidegger que sa limitation aux questions ontologiques l’empêche de questionner « l’essentiel, c’est-à-dire l’impensé social »[22] c’est affirmer que « l’impensé social » est une pensée plus essentielle que la question de l’être. Cela revient à dire qu’il y a « une dimension essentielle de la réalité » qui est négligée et qui doit ainsi être pensée. Or, nous dit l’A., cette prétention de Bourdieu « n’est plus sociologique, mais purement ontologique »[23]. S’il est nécessaire de débattre avec Heidegger, ce doit être à propos de la vérité ou non de ses thèses ontologiques, ce que l’A. entend entreprendre dans le reste de l’ouvrage.

Le neuvième chapitre : « Peut-on défendre Heidegger de l’accusation d’antisémitisme ? » s’engage dans un débat pour le moins controversé et dont toute défense de Heidegger apparaît d’emblée suspecte. L’A. se contente de mettre en contexte la pensée de Heidegger, et plus particulièrement celle que l’on retrouve dans ses cahiers noirs, dont la publication récente a ouvert encore une fois la question de son engagement politique. L’A. vient nuancer l’accusation d’antisémitisme de Heidegger en rappelant que ce sujet ne constitue que tout au plus trois pages sur les 1800 des cahiers noirs[24]. Sans amoindrir la gravité des affirmations malheureuses (c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire) de Heidegger, J. Grondin s’efforce de comprendre pour quelles raisons Heidegger a pu se reconnaître dans la propagande nazie de l’époque.

Le dixième et dernier chapitre « Comprendre l’engagement politique de Heidegger à partir de son horizon d’attente » est dans la continuité du précédent chapitre. Ce chapitre se démarque du neuvième en ce qu’il replace davantage l’engagement politique de Heidegger dans le contexte tumultueux de l’Allemagne du 20e siècle. L’A. esquisse les différents états d’âme de l’individu Martin Heidegger : ses rapprochements avec le nazisme et son soutien, sa distanciation, son antisémitisme, ses désillusions, ainsi que sa proximité indéfectible avec le « mouvement » national-socialiste par-delà ses réalisations effectives. C’est ici que les hypothèses de lecture que l’A. avait énoncés dans l’introduction trouvent leur aboutissement. Il faut comprendre l’engagement politique de l’homme Heidegger à partir de sa question essentielle et son espoir, pour le moins illusoire sinon aveugle, d’une autre pensée de l’être rendue possible à travers ce « réveil » du peuple allemand : « De ce point de vue, je pense qu’il est permis de dire que son soutien au mouvement national-socialiste fut toujours philosophique et il serait difficile de s’attendre à moins de la part d’un philosophe »[25]. Ce qui est certain pour l’A., c’est que Heidegger a identifié à tort son espoir d’une autre conception de l’être avec le national-socialisme, malgré les indices flagrants de leur incompatibilité effective. Cette transposition dans l’horizon d’attente du penseur n’est produite ni pour condamner ni pour démentir les accusations faites à son égard, mais est plutôt faite dans l’optique d’un « exercice de compréhension » qui doit comporter un élément de « charité et de pardon »[26]. Voilà peut-être la véritable finalité de l’ouvrage, qui a le mérite d’offrir un effort de compréhension sans jamais tomber dans l’apologie complaisante.

Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être s’adresse ainsi à un public diversifié. En raison de son style clair, de son exposé pédagogique et de son explication patiente, l’ouvrage, surtout dans ses premiers chapitres, est assurément une bonne introduction à la pensée de Martin Heidegger. Pour sa part, la seconde partie offre une lecture très soutenue et critique de Heidegger qui nous renseignera assurément sur la pensée heideggérienne de l’être, mais aussi et peut-être surtout, sur les limites de cette pensée. Cette partie est aussi un grand apport aux possibilités contemporaines de l’herméneutique, de la métaphysique et de leur co-articulation possible. Finalement, la troisième partie, étant plutôt une transposition (Schleiermacher) dans l’horizon d’attente de Heidegger éclaire certainement le contexte difficile de la rédaction des cahiers noirs et des déclarations condamnables que l’on retrouve en eux. Il s’agit d’un apport important pour le débat contemporain avec la pensée heideggérienne. Dans son entier, l’ouvrage n’a d’autre visée que celle de montrer que la pensée de Heidegger et l’engagement politique de l’homme ne répond toujours qu’à sa propre interrogation métaphysique. En ramenant le débat en terrain métaphysique, l’auteur propose une véritable confrontation avec Heidegger, s’ouvrant ainsi sur plusieurs possibilités à la fois passées et futures.


[1] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, Paris, Hermann Éditions « Le Bel Aujourd’hui, 2019, p. 5.

[2] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 5.

[3] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 246.

[4] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 8.

[5] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 9.

[6] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 9.

[7] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 5.

[8] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 13.

[9] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 15.

[10] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 45.

[11] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 58-59.

[12] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 48.

[13] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 59.

[14] Grondin, J., La beauté de la métaphysique, Paris, Éditions du Cerfs, 2019, p. 44.

[15] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 164.

[16] Notamment : (I) le préjugé de Heidegger négatif contre toute traduction du grec, (2) le jugement de Heidegger basé sur des sources textuels limitées, (3) la tension entre l’original et la création, (4) la négligence de Heidegger envers sa propre appartenance à certains principes du platonisme, du néoplatonisme et de l’augustinisme.

[17] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 207.

[18] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 210.

[19] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 216.

[20] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 217.

[21] L’A. développe trois critiques de la lecture de Bourdieu. Premièrement, Bourdieu, selon l’A., se rapporte souvent à Heidegger à partir de textes « de seconde main » et non aux œuvres de Heidegger. À cela s’ajoute des « erreurs flagrantes d’interprétation » que l’A. retrouve la lecture du sociologue. Deuxièmement, Bourdieu se réfère beaucoup plus à des témoignages et des anecdotes plus ou moins pertinentes qu’aux textes eux-mêmes, ne se référent jamais à la Gesamtausgabe disponible à l’époque d’écriture de son ouvrage. Finalement, Bourdieu interprète la pensée entière de Heidegger à l’aune de Kant et des néokantiens, ignorant ainsi la diversité des interlocuteurs de Heidegger.

[22] Bourdieu, P., L’ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, Paris, Minuit, 1988, p. 199, cité par l’A.

[23] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 228.

[24] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 240.

[25] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 261.

[26] Grondin, J., Comprendre Heidegger. L’espoir d’une autre conception de l’être, p. 267.

Klaus Held: Die Geburt der Philosophie bei den Griechen, Verlag Karl Alber, 2021

Die Geburt der Philosophie bei den Griechen: Eine phänomenologische Vergegenwärtigung Book Cover Die Geburt der Philosophie bei den Griechen: Eine phänomenologische Vergegenwärtigung
Klaus Held
Alber Verlag
2021
Hardback 29,00 €
272

Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Alexander Schnell (éd.): Levinas lecteur de Heidegger, Vrin, 2021

Levinas lecteur de Heidegger Book Cover Levinas lecteur de Heidegger
Problèmes & Controverses
Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Alexander Schnell (éd.)
Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin
2021
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250

Eugenio Mazzarella: Il mondo nell’abisso. Heidegger e i Quaderni Neri

Il mondo nell’abisso. Heidegger e i Quaderni Neri Book Cover Il mondo nell’abisso. Heidegger e i Quaderni Neri
Eugenio Mazzarella
Neri Pozza
2018
Paperback €12.50
110

Reviewed by: Francesca Brencio (University of Seville, Spain / The Phenomenology and Mental Health Network, St. Catherine College, University of Oxford, UK)

La querelle Heidegger e il nazionalsocialismo, più recentemente coniugata alla questione dell’antisemitismo, si ripropone ciclicamente nella storia della critica e più in generale degli studi heideggeriani. Ossessive – e anche noiose – ondate di antiheideggerismo si affacciano sul panorama letterario con la complicità sia di qualche pubblicazione inedita del filosofo di Meßkirch sia dei media, spesso inclini ad una forma di linciaggio intellettuale condita con i toni più accattivanti del sensazionalismo. Questo modo bizzarro di concepire la filosofia, e con essa la Bildung filosofica, finisce nei quotidiani e negli organi di diffusione pubblicitaria avallando un certo modo di pensare che fa della semplificazione la linea guida del nostro tempo. Che il prezzo da pagare per questa operazione sia la banalizzazione della filosofia in generale non lo si contabilizza nella società dello spettacolo: ciò che conta è “rinverdire il cartellone per un teatro filosofico, dove da qualche anno non entrava più nessuno” (Mazzarella 2018, p. 13).

La pubblicazione dei Quaderni Neri di Heidegger, cominciata nel 2014 ed ancora in corso per la casa editrice Klostermann di Francoforte sul Meno, si inserisce in questo cartellone in disuso. Il recente volume di Eugenio Mazzarella (del 2018 è la versione in lingua italiana, mentre del 2020 quella in lingua tedesca, pubblicata per la Ergon Verlag) ha il merito di fare ordine tra il noto, l’insostenibile e il nuovo. Il mondo nell’abisso è una sorta di fotografia nitida di tre ordini di problemi: in primo luogo, è l’istantanea disincantata della vicenda dell’uomo Heidegger di fronte agli eventi politici che abbracciano gli anni dal 1931 al 1946; in secondo luogo è un ritratto di un certo modo di concepire il dibattito filosofico su ‘Heidegger e il nazionalsocialismo’ superando ogni residuo ideologico del pro et contra; infine è un’istantanea attuale di quello che rimane il compito della filosofia oggi, cioè farsi engagement con la realtà e con il proprio tempo. Questo triplice ordine di problemi si interseca con l’intento di comprendere il nuovo, disvelare l’insostenibile ed archiviare il noto, in vista di quella che rimane, a mio avviso, la domanda più spinosa della filosofia heideggeriana: che ne è dell’essere?

Il libro consta di quattro capitoli, o se vogliamo di quattro sentieri, attraverso i quali incamminarsi verso la Seinsfrage per comprenderne la (mancata) ricaduta nella realtà e nella storia negli anni dei Quaderni Neri. Nel primo capitolo, Teatro filosofico. Un cartellone in disuso, Mazzarella ricostruisce le vicende dell’uomo Heidegger legate alla redazione degli appunti contenuti nelle Überlegungen e nelle Anmerkungen per sottolinearne “un disimpegno ontologico dalla realtà” (p. 15), quale conseguenza della delusione del rettorato e accettazione della “profezia dell’avanzare del deserto della modernità nella sua (auto)rovina” (p. 15). Delusione che si aggrava con la disillusione che il nazismo non ha nulla a che vedere con quella rivoluzione spirituale a cui egli aveva guardato come una nuova possibilità per lo “spirito tedesco”. Il disimpegno si fa apocalittico, ci dice Mazzarella, quando Heidegger è testimone degli eventi che muovono dal finire degli anni trenta sino allo scoppio del secondo conflitto mondiale: il nazionalsocialismo è un movimento barbarico fondato sulla politica del terrore che nulla ha a che vedere con “il coraggio inaudito della domanda dell’Essere” (p. 16), bensì manifesta la sua essenza attraverso quella macchinazione propria del calcolo tecnico che deriva dalla metafisica occidentale. Le baldanzose speranze del rettorato si scontrano con il terrore dei fatti; la frustrazione umana ed intellettuale dell’uomo Heidegger si manifesta nella frustrazione di pensiero che lo accompagnerà sino agli anni Cinquanta (pp. 17-18): solo allora egli potrà fare esperienza di una riconciliazione con il mondo per mezzo di Hölderlin, di Hebel, dell’arte e dei Greci. Nel teatro filosofico che offre interpretazioni pro et contra Heidegger, Mazzarella distingue con lucido distacco e sapiente perizia, tipica di chi ha trascorso una buona parte della propria vita intellettuale in dialogo con le domande di Heidegger, fra il noto, cioè quelle interpretazioni che alimentano la scolastica heideggeriana sia sul versante dell’encomio sia su quello dell’oltraggio; l’insostenibile, cioè quelle esegesi che imputano ad Heidegger una qualche colpa del regime nazista e che vogliono scorgere nella sua meditazione una forma di “antisemitismo istoriale” insostenibile, le cui basi filologiche e filosofiche sono ai limiti dell’evanescenza (p. 47); e il nuovo, cioè la possibilità di intravedere nelle note private dei Quaderni una forma di gnosticismo per la quale la dissoluzione nichilista che ha coinvolto tutta la modernità e’ il risultato di un eone del presente (p. 14).

Il secondo capitolo, Arbeit macht frei, è dedicato all’approfondimento dei diciannove passaggi contenuti nei primi quattro volumi dei Quaderni (Gesamtausgabe 94-97) in cui Heidegger si riferisce al giudaismo e agli ebrei. Senza alcuna esitazione, Mazzarella sottolinea come Heidegger accolga con estrema superficialità molti dei cliché legati agli ebrei e tale “stupidità analogica” ha poco o niente a che fare “con un accodarsi all’antisemitismo nazionalsocialista” (p. 28). Piuttosto, Mazzarella insiste sul tratto nichilista che inghiotte sia il carattere ebraico che il cristianesimo: “L’opposizione di principio dell’onto-storia heideggeriana al ‘messianesimo’ (ebraico)-cristiano e’ fondamentalmente una scelta di campo per un’altra Germania (ed Europa) spirituale: non ‘per’ Cristianità ovvero Europa, come in Novalis, ma ‘tra’ cristianità, carattere ‘cristiano’ oppure Europa” (p. 30). Appropriandosi di quel tópos filologico già presente in Nietzsche, Heidegger concepisce una Europa sulla linea Grecia-Germania. Solo in questo modo è possibile oltrepassare la metafisica, cioè rompere con l’eredità giudaico-cristiana: è il tempo del salto dell’Essere, che va da Jena alla Jonia, saltando a piè pari Roma e Gerusalemme. Mazzarella smantella la semplificazione propagandistica di una certa ricezione dei Quaderni Neri non a suon di colpi di martello (per usare ancora un lessico nietzscheano), piuttosto con un fine scalpello filosofico: riscostruendo in pochi sapienti passaggi i nodi tematici della filosofia della storia, in dialogo con il retaggio hegeliano e diltheyano l’autore mostra come dietro alla dicotomia elemento ebraico-cristiano vs grecità’-germanicita’ ci sia un fine intreccio metafisico per il quale il cogito cartesiano diviene principio-io della posizione della coscienza cristiana come gia’ moderna. È l’epoca dell’immagine del mondo in cui il soggettivismo filosofico la fa da padrone. L’autoannientamento – parola chiave nell’ontologia heideggeriana – riguarda la ragione strumentale e tecnica dell’Occidente, che genera quella macchinazione mostruosa per la quale tutto il mondo si piega al dominio dell’impianto della tecnica. L’autoannientamento, la conseguenza più visibile della dimenticanza dell’essere da parte della metafisica occidentale, coinvolge la Germania e l’Europa tutta, e non consiste in quella guerra in cui perdono la vita milioni di persone, bensì “nel pólemos dell’Essere”. Il capitolo si chiude con delle parole che vale la pena riportare per intero: le considerazioni appuntate nelle Überlegungen e nelle Anmerkungen non aggiungono “niente alla comprensione che potevamo avere del suo (scilicet: di Heidegger) pensiero, e del corto circuito con la comprensione del suo tempo”; piuttosto, esse danno “il tocco finale alla pochezza dell’uomo comune, del piccolo borghese nazionalista (frustrato anche dal nazismo) che era” (p. 39).

Il terzo capitolo è dedicato alla presa di posizione di von Herrmann rispetto alla diffusione ad hoc dei passaggi in cui il giudaismo e gli ebrei sono nominati e mostra un Mazzarella incline ad accogliere la riflessione dell’ultimo assistente di Heidegger rispetto ad altri interpreti che hanno imbastito un processo mediatico e ideologico al filosofo di Meßkirch. Estremamente ricco è invece l’ultimo capitolo del libro, La crisi della domanda dell’Essere nei Quaderni Neri. Ancora una volta, l’autore si confronta con la Seinsfrage non più sul terreno dell’esistente, piuttosto su quello dell’“anatema gnostico del presente” (p. 56) e di una nuova ripresa, il nuovo inizio del pensiero che si fa Besinnung. Mazzarella entra nella crisi della domanda dell’essere individuando quattro direzioni attraverso le quali essa si tra-duce: la prima è quella della crisi dell’autenticità dell’esistente, del singolo contro il mondo, della chiacchiera contro il se stesso; dell’individuo contro la massa. La seconda è quella dei poeti, i necessari e gli ultimi. La figura del poeta – custode, vate e traghettatore della storia – è l’elemento chiave per comprendere un’architettonica della domanda fondamentale che si traduce nella necessità dei poeti in tempo di povertà, tema questo a cui Mazzarella ha più di recente dedicato un lavoro a sé, una piccola gemma del dialogo fra Heidegger e Hölderlin, ma anche di quello fra il filosofo napoletano e Giacomo Leopardi[1]. La terza direzione è quella dei pensatori greci, dei presocratici, i primi, coloro che sono “oltre l’uomo filosofico” (p. 67) e prima dello slittamento ontologico dell’essere sul terreno dell’onticita’. Attraverso i pensatori iniziali Heidegger puo’ mostrare quella “fraternità del mondo nella sua radice” (p. 71) che permette all’abitare di essere non mera misura ma postura aperta e donante dell’esserci nel suo trovarsi “sotto la volta dell’edificio del mondo” (Hebel). Infine, la quarta direzione è quella della meditazione sulla tecnica e sulla macchinazione, sul dominio planetario del Gestell. Nelle ultimissime pagine della sua riflessione sui Quaderni Neri Mazzarella ritorna sul tema che in filigrana compare nel primo capitolo: la dimensione gnostica del pensiero heideggeriano, una gnosi “della malaessenza dello stare al mondo”, che si traduce “nella catastrofe purificatrice dei tempi, mentre si attende una nuova specie umana ontologica, capace dell’Essere” (p. 78). Una sorta di “parodia paolina” che genera un “abbuiamento della domanda sull’Essere” (p. 79), una gnosi che negli anni dei Quaderni “passa dal mito del mondo nuovo […] a un radicale anticosmismo” (p. 79-80), in cui il mondo non è piu’ il kósmos venerabile della gnosi antica. Sarà solo alla fine di questo abbuiamento, dice l’autore, che si potrà cogliere nel pensiero di Heidegger un tentativo di riannodare il piano dell’ontologia con quello dell’esistenza e veder ripristinato il dialogo fra uomo ed essere.

Sul fine degli anni ottanta Jean Baudrillard aveva affidato alle pagine de “L’espresso” delle riflessioni significative dello stato di salute della filosofia: “L’inutile zuffa intorno ad Heidegger non ha alcun senso filosofico: è solo sintomatica del pensiero di quest’epoca che, non riuscendo a trovare in sé energie nuove, torna ossessivamente sulle sue origini, e rivive dolorosamente, in questo ultimo scorcio del Novecento, le scene primarie dell’inizio del secolo”[2]. Le riflessioni di Eugenio Mazzarella sembrano riprendere ed espandere quelle di Baudrillard. Anch’egli prende atto di come l’ennesima zuffa intorno ad Heidegger non abbia alcun senso filosofico (o, ammesso che ce l’abbia, vada rubricato al lemma di ciò che è noto) ma si spinge un passo più innanzi rispetto alla diagnosi del filosofo francese, indicando al pensiero un compito ed una direzione: prendere seriamente la realtà e la storia, evitando ogni tentazione di scendere a patti con la banalizzazione o la semplificazione della filosofia. La filosofia è una pratica di resistenza, cioè una pratica in cui occorre imparare a stare nel pensiero, come esseri umani e nel nostro tempo. Questo Mazzarella ce lo aveva gia’ detto[3] e con il più recente lavoro sui Quaderni Neri ce lo ricorda, a partire dalla vicenda dell’uomo Heidegger. Nel cortocircuito fra la vita e il pensiero negli anni delle Überlegungen e delle Anmerkungen, Mazzarella ci offre il ritratto di un uomo incapace di esercitare questa pratica, mostrando come anche un gigante del Novecento possa aver abdicato a tale compito.

La lettura del Il mondo nell’abisso fa tornare alla mente le parole della Arendt:  niente è più problematico nella nostra epoca del nostro atteggiamento verso il mondo[4]. Il mondo sta tra le persone e proprio questo zwischen rende necessaria la filosofia. Quando il pensiero si smarrisce nel buio, quando sul mondo scende una qualche forma di oscurità, quando le relazioni interpersonali diventano incerte quel tra è pratica incarnata “di vita che si prende addosso la vita”  (Mazzarella 2017, p. 7). Solo in questo modo possiamo attingere a quella fraternità del mondo nella sua radice che permette di riscattare il mondo dal dolore e forse anche dal suo abisso.


[1] E. Mazzarella. 2020. Perché i poeti. La parola necessaria. Neri Pozza: Vicenza.

[2] J. Baudrillard. 1988. Forza, aboliamo il novecento. La truffa dei processi postumi. In “L’Espresso”, 24 aprile 1988.

[3] E. Mazzarella. 2017. L’uomo che deve rimanere. La smoralizzazione del mondo. Quodlibet: Macerata.

[4] H. Arendt. 2006. L’umanità in tempi bui. Riflessioni su Lessing. In Antologia, Feltrinelli, Milano, p. 211.

Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.): Phenomenological Approaches to Physics

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics Book Cover Phenomenological Approaches to Physics
Synthese Library, Vol. 429
Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 103,99 €
VI, 263

Reviewed by: Mahmoud Jalloh (University of Southern California)

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics is a welcome attempt to bridge the gap between two areas of philosophy not often mentioned in the same career, let alone the same breath. The collection provides fertile ground for further work on phenomenological approaches to physics—and science more generally—however, as much as the collection is promising, it is also disappointing in the preparatory nature of much of the material. While this is a general vice of the phenomenological tradition—consider how many of Husserl’s published works are introductions to phenomenologyin order to appeal to one of the primary audiences of the collection, phenomenology-curious philosophers of physics, further developments with clear consequences are needed. Many of the papers stop just as they’ve really started. This collection is of value for many purposes: as a general introduction to phenomenology, as a guide to the consequences of phenomenology for science and physics, as a pointer to areas of application for the budding phenomenologist, but it also provides some indications of particular lines of further development.

The editor’s introduction is relatively long, but deservedly so, as it does a lot, providing expositions of ten themes from Husserl’s oeuvre: anti-psychologism, intentionality, descriptions and eidetics, the epistemic significance of experience, phenomenology as first philosophy, anti-naturalism, the life-world, historicity and genetic phenomenology, embodiment and intersubjectivity, the epochē, transcendental reduction, and transcendental idealism. The sketch of Husserl produced is that of an epistemological internalist who develops a theory of the objective from fundamental subjectivity, who denies empiricism about logic and mathematics, and who holds that phenomenology is a first philosophy which comprises analyses of the essential structures of subjectivity, the ground of all knowledge, therefore legitimizing all other forms of knowledge, sciences. Any reader interested in a first pass at the role of these themes in Husserl’s work could probably do so no more efficiently than looking through the first half of this introduction. A highlight of the introduction is a sketch of the relevance of other phenomenologists, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, to the philosophy of physics. The themes brought up in the introduction and elsewhere are suggestive: Heidegger’s pluralism regarding scientific standards and the difference in the concepts of time in physics and history; his preemption of the theory-ladenness of observation; his praise of Weyl; his primacy of practical understanding over theoretical knowledge; Merleau-Ponty’s participatory realism; his analysis of measurement and rejection of instrumentalism, realism, and idealism, in favor of structuralism.

Part 1: On the Origins and Systematic Value of Phenomenological Approaches to Physics

Robert Crease’s “Explaining Phenomenology to Physicists” is a response to philosophy-phobic physicists, like Hawking, and aims to show how the projects of phenomenological philosophy and physics differ. This amounts to a sort of introduction to the Husserlian distinction between the natural, or naturalistic, attitude of the physicist in her workshop and the more skeptical attitude of the epochē adopted by the phenomenologist. Note that Crease makes the same point that Maudlin and other metaphysically oriented philosophers of physics often emphasize, that mathematical formulae do not comprise a theory but require an interpretation, an ontology (57). How this interpretation is established and justified is the common project of the phenomenologist and the analytic metaphysician. But herein lies a problem with the Crease essay, which is that it while it distinguishes analytic (narrowly focused on the logical analysts of science of the early 20th century), pragmatic, and phenomenological approaches to the sciences, Crease does not say enough to distinguish a defense of phenomenological approaches to physics from a defense of a philosophical approach to physics whatsoever. Now Crease may make the point that phenomenology preempted concerns with the metaphysics of physics or concerns regarding the applicability of mathematical idealization to nature that have more recently become central to the philosophy of physics. Further, it is not clear that this is a fair reading of the aims of the logical empiricists. What is the logical empiricist project of establishing how scientific, “theoretical” terms get their meaning if not a concern with the “framing” of scientific theories and “the reciprocal impact of that frame and what appears in it on their way of being” (55)? This is not to say there is no distinction to be drawn, but the discussion here is not fully convincing as an argument for the value of phenomenology in studies of physics in particular.

Mirja Hartimo’s contribution, “Husserl’s Phenomenology of Scientific Practice,” fills out Crease’s sketch of the phenomenological approach and specifies how Husserl preempts the naturalistic, practice-oriented turn in contemporary philosophy of science. This “naturalism” is to be opposed with ontological or methodological naturalism, both of which Husserl rejected. Hartimo recapitulates the difference between the natural and phenomenological attitudes and its production by the epochē, in which existence is “bracketed.” The case is made that the phenomenological attitude is not inconsistent with the natural attitude (indeed Husserl had, for the most part, the same natural understanding of the sciences as did his contemporaries in Göttingen). The Göttingen view comprises a pre-established harmony between mathematics and physics, “the axiomatic ideal of mathematics served for Husserl, as well as for his colleagues, as an ideal of scientific rationality, as a device that was taken to guide empirical physical investigations ‘regulatively’.” (67) This influences the focus on Galileo in Crisis: physics is fundamentally mathematical in nature (68). Harmony amounts to an isomorphism of the axioms and the laws, with the axioms of physics being a formal ontology, a formal definite manifold (69). Husserl’s two differences with the Göttingen consensus are: (1) scientists should also develop material ontologies, which provide specific normative ideals for the mathematization of nature and its connection to intuition; (2) the normativity of the exact sciences does not extend to all scientific domains, a normative pluralism. (2) is particularly important because phenomenology itself falls short of the axiomatic ideal, due to the inexactness of the relevant essences.

Pablo Palmieri’s contribution, “Physics as a Form of Life,” is an odd fish. It presents itself not as a presentation of Husserl’s account of the lifeworld and its relevance to physics but rather as focusing on a foundational question raised by Husserl: “why is it that the axioms of mathematical physics are not self-evident despite the evidence and clarity that is gained through the deductive processes that flow from them?” (80) To answer this question Palmieri embarks on an analysis of physics as a form of “Life” in the sense of some historical development. The three epochs of physics which characterize its form of life are (1) the youth of Galileo’s axiomatic physics, (2) the senescence of Helmholtz’s work on the anharmonic oscillator and the combination of tones, and (3) the “posthumous maturity” of physics following quantum physics. These historical studies are interesting and valuable in themselves, especially the Galileo study, particularly regarding the influence of Galileo’s aesthethics on his mathematization of nature (84). Unfortunately, how these studies relate to the overall aim of the essay is unclear and is shrouded by the sort of allegorical and flowery prose that turns away many from “continental” approaches more generally. Palmieri’s description of the third stage of physics’ life as “posthumous maturity” describes a “disarticulation” in physics that comes to a head for Palmieri in Heisenberg’s use of (an)harmonic oscillator framework for quantum mechanics. The result of such a “translation” is not a direct analog to the classical treatment of spectra, due to the lack of rules for “composition of the multiplicity into the unity of an individual, by the interpretation of which we might generate the individual utterance that once performed will elicit in our consciousness a corresponding perception in any of the sensory modalities whatever” (100). The obscurity of such bridge principles to observation is, again, exactly the crisis of which Husserl was concerned. The upshot seems not to be, as it was for Husserl, a call to action for phenomenological analysis, but rather the essential mystery of nature as “[i]t is nature herself that precludes herself from knowing reflexively her own totality of laws” (83). While this is supposed to have the status of an explanation it is only buttressed with metaphor:

This being hidden of nature as a totality, or her desire or necessity to hide herself from further scrutiny, which I would be tempted to qualify as nature’s vow of virginity, explains why the axioms of mathematical physics must appear to our intuitions as obscure (84).

This pessimistic conclusion conflicts with phenomenology’s self-conception as a progressive research programme, leaving Palmieri’s own position mysterious, and one suspects that is how he wants it.

Norman Sieroka’s “Unities of Knowledge and Being—Weyl’s Late ’Existentialism’ and Heideggerian Phenomenology” is a fascinating exposition of Weyl’s latter existentialist turn and his engagement with Heidegger’s work. Weyl claims that physics is dominated by “symbolic construction”, of which axiomatic mathematics stands as paradigm, which are empirically evaluated holistically. Weyl’s account of symbolic construction is dependent on the understanding that these symbolic systems are constructed out of particular concrete tokens. Similarly it is essential to the symbolic construction that it is intersubjective and the practitioners of a symbolic system are peers embedded in a wider public. The core of mathematics and the sciences is not logic, but rule-bound “practical management” of symbols (109). This practical level must be fundamental or else we fall into a circle of physical reduction and symbolic representation.

Weyl’s 1949 paper “Science as Symbolic Construction of Man,” explicitly invokes Heidegger’s concept of the existential basicness of being-in-the-world as a point of agreement. Weyl does not, however, accept Heidegger’s anti-scientific attitude that concludes from this, that science is “inauthentic”. Weyl held that scientific practice and philosophical reflection were mutually enriching — particularly moral reflection in the shadow of the bomb. Heidegger’s rejection of science is due to symbols being merely present-at-hand, as they do not figure in the “care-taking encounter of daily life” (114). The weight of evidence and experience clearly sides with Weyl here. Sieroka raises examples of bridge-building and experimental physics. More simply, even the manipulation of symbols in themselves is care-taking in that they are to be interpreted and not only by oneself, in a dubious “private language”, but by some community. Here is a missed opportunity to engage with Heidegger’s later work, though it cannot be said to have influenced Weyl. Something like “The Question Concerning Technology” shows that Heidegger did not think that modern science and technology were independent of daily life, but rather have a radical and destabilizing effect that inhibits Dasein from encountering its own essence. Though, it is not clear how much this is a rejection of the verdicts of Being and Time, or should correct Sieroka and Weyl’s intepretations. The extension of the critique by way of Fritz Medicus, Weyl’s colleague, to a critique of “thrownness” and the general receptivity or passivity of Dasein to Being seems beside the point and reliant on a misunderstanding of Heidegger. Medicus’ “piglets” complaint about the thrownness of Dasein can only rest on a misunderstanding of the role of historicity in Dasein’s being (see Division 2, Chapter 5). Intersubjectivity is fundamental to Dasein. Being-with is “equiprimordial” with Dasein’s Being-in-the-World and is an existential characteristic of Dasein, even when it is alone (149-169).  Being-with defines Dasein’s inherent historicity. Dasein is thrown into a culture, into a way of life.

Sieroka’s comparison of Weyl and Cassirer, that Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms provides a unity of knowledge, while Weyl’s provides a unity of being, owing to his existentialist inflection, is interesting but perfunctory. It makes one wonder what such a distinction could tell us about the difference of method between phenomenology and neo-Kantianism, how this might relate to the interpretational dispute at the center of the Davos debate, and how Weyl’s conception of physics and mathematics could have played a role in such rifts.

Part 2: Phenomenological Contributions to (Philosophy of) Physics

“A Revealing Parallel Between Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and Today’s Scientific Metaphysics” by Matthias Egg aims to show how the crises that Husserl saw as central to the contemporary sciences and his solution are echoed in the scientific metaphysics of Ladyman and Ross (2007). The crisis is rooted in the substitution of the lifeworld for mathematical idealities, which amounts to a forgetting of the “meaning-fundament” of the sciences, undermining their own epistemological standing. Egg frames his comparison of Husserl and the scientific metaphysicians with Habermas’ critique of Husserl’s project of making science presuppositionless, providing a basis for absolute practical responsibility. The supposed failure is that it is left unexplained how a more perfect theoretical knowledge is to have practical upshot. The lacuna is Platonic mimesis, wherein the philosopher “having grasped the cosmic order through theorizing, the philosopher brings himself into accord with it, whereby theory enters the conduct of life,” (129), which is in direct ontological opposition with Husserl’s transcendental idealism, as Habermas sees it. (Does Habermas commit the naturalistic fallacy?) Husserl’s model claims only that the procedure or methodology of theoretical knowledge provides normative force on our practical affairs, in Egg’s example, our doing of physics. Egg presents Ladyman and Ross as agreeing with Husserl’s science-cum-Enlightment project, particularly, that science must be central to our worldview as it allows for a unified, intersubjectively valid approach to world even beyond theoretical practice. This too, falls short of Habermas’ mimetic ideal —their project could only be preserved in the “ruins of ontology” (130). Ladyman and Ross share some skepticism about strong metaphysics but accept weak metaphysics. Unfortunately, Egg stops just before saying anything more substantive than an observation of convergent philosophical evolution. There is more to be said particularly regarding the link between this sort of communicative conception of the scientific project and structural realism which puts Ladyman and Ross and Husserl in the same camp. The metaphysical essays to follow cover some of what I would like to say, but let me gesture at a possible development. In Ideas II and the fifth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl develops an account of scientific objectivity such that it is constituted by intersubjective agreement via “appresentation.” What is intersubjectively available are the appearances of objects, but what is agreed upon are the invariant structures supposed to explain the experiences of the community. Heelan’s (1978) hermeneutic interpretation of Husserl provides a picture in which the infinite tasks of mathematization and measurement link together the lifeworld and the scientific image which is constituted by it. There is a structural realist position to be examined here which could provide a unified account of everyday and scientific perception.

Lee Hardy’s “Physical Things, Ideal Objects, and Theoretical Entities: The Prospects of a Husserlian Phenomenology of Physics” attempts to square Husserl’s phenomenology with scientific realism. Husserl’s seeming positivism is especially problematic given that Husserl argues “that the objective correlates of the mathematical laws of the physical sciences simply do not exist in the physical sense. They are ideal mathematical objects, not real physical things” (137). Hardy restricts Husserl’s instrumentalism to scientific laws rather than scientific theories tout court. Husserl’s view is that knowledge of physical objects is gained by mathematical approximation, leaving room open for the positing of actual physical entities. Hardy’s argument, a rational reconstruction of a path not (explicitly) taken by Husserl, depends on a distinction that seems both interesting and suspicious. Hardy wishes to distinguish instrumentalism about the laws from instrumentalism regarding theories, the difference between the two lies in the fact that laws specify functional interdependencies of physical quantities which state how empirical objects behave, but theories explain why physical quantities behave as they do. So then, the instrumentalist holds that the semantic value of theories is limited to that of the laws, which predict observable behavior. The realist holds that scientific theories have as semantic values the behavior of unobservables. Husserl’s radical empiricism is in apparent tension with the realist’s explanation, Hardy reconstructs the received view:

(1) A obtains if and only if p is true.

(2) p is true is and only if p is evident.

(3) p is true if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.

Ergo, (4) A obtains if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.

Theoretical entities cannot be so given, so statements about them can never be true, so we ought not be committed to them. This interpretation Hardy rejects in favor of one which changes the role of experience from semantic-metaphysical to epistemic:

S is justified in believing p if and only if the correlative states of affairs A is given to S in an intuitive act of consciousness (143).

Hardy specifies that the perceivability condition on existence was meant to be dependent on an ideal possibility, not an actual possibility (dependent on sensory apparatuses). This point goes some way towards specifying the meaning of transcendental idealism, though this seems to go astray in attempting to recover realism. Transcendental idealism requires that possible perception by a transcendental subjectivity constitutes (the preconditions for) existence. Hardy picks up the thread in the Crisis regarding the essential approximative nature of the sciences as their conclusions are mediated by ideal, mathematical constructions:

Exact, objective knowledge is possible only by way of a passage through the ideal; and for that very reason will never be more than approximative knowledge of the real (146).

In  Crisis, Hardy claims, Husserl distinguishes the ideal, physical object and the perceived object ontologically: the objects of ordinary life are not  “physical” objects.  It is these limit-idealized objects that Husserl is anti-realist with respect to. The trouble with Hardy’s distinction between theories and laws and between real objects and idealized objects is that the approximation relation is left unexplained. There remains an explanatory gap as to why physical objects should be subject to laws that properly only have idealities as their subjects.

Arezoo Islami and H. A. Wiltsche’s “A Match Made on Earth: On the Applicability of Mathematics in Physics” shows how phenomenology can provide a response to Wigner’s puzzle, “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” by moving on from why-questions to how-questions. The puzzle arises from a rejection of Pythagorean mathematical monism towards which the phenomenologist is officially neutral, due to the epochē, setting aside why-questions altogether. To answer the how-questions, the phenomenologist must also provide both synchronic and diachronic accounts of how we apply mathematics. The authors explicate constitution and replacement. They show what is meant by the horizon of experience, all the non-actual aspects of some experience which frame one’s interpretation of it, one’s anticipations. From this constitution is explicated:

It is this process of intending objects through specific noemata and then constantly projecting new sensory data against horizons of possible further experiences that phenomenologists call constitution. Of particular importance in this context are those aspects of experience that remain invariant… (169)

From these invariances of the noemata, lawlike relations are found and suitably objective properties can be described of the noema. This structure generalizes to scientific constitution from the example of perceptual constitution. Aiming to intend all of reality through mathematical noemata is Galileo’s great leap forward. Doing so is to replace the lifeworld with the scientific image. Nature is mathematical because we have made it so. While I am largely sympathetic with this approach, and hold that it contributes to a structuralist view that is worth developing, to satisfy mysterions like Wigner specific accounts of such constitution is needed.

Thomas Ryckman’s essay, “The Gauge Principle, Hermann Weyl, and Symbolic Constructions from the ‘Purely Infinitesimal’,” provides a mini-history of Weyl’s development of the gauge principle (a fuller history in Ryckman 2005), in which Weyl is motivated to investigate Lie groups and algebras by phenomenology on the one hand and Naturwirkungphysik on the other.  Naturwirkungphysik is a standard explanation, “that all finite changes are to be comprehended as arising through infinitesimal increments” (182). In practice this is to take locally defined tangent spaces to be explanatorily fundamental. For Weyl, this standard of locality is justified by appeal to not just phenomenological epistemology, that direct givenness to the ego is the ground of all essential insight into the structure of things, and this givenness is attenuated at spatial distance, but to full blown transcendental idealism:

insofar as symbolic construction of the “objective reality” of the purportedly mind-independent objects of physics is, per Husserl, a constitution of the sense of such objects as having “the sense of existing in themselves” (184-5).

Just as the previous essay establishes, the objects of mathematical physics are constructions which intend transcendent objects. However these objects are only fixed up to an isomorphism, any further “essence” is beyond cognitive grasp and therefore unreal (188). Ryckmann provides an able and clear derivation of the gauge principle in QED and a quick rundown of how this generalizes in the Standard Model. While this is a valuable contribution to the collection, those familiar with Ryckman’s past work will wish that the closing remarks regarding the standard model and the Weyl-Nozickean (2001) slogan, “objectivity is invariance,” were expanded upon. I look forward to further development of the alternative view implied by Ryckman’s interpretational challenge this slogan, which centers locality as the source of gauge transformations (199).

Part 3: Phenomenological Approaches to the Measurement Problem

Steven French’s “From a Lost History to a New Future: Is a Phenomenological Approach to Quantum Physics Viable?” does well to show that the phenomenological background of Fritz London was deeply influential on his approach to the measurement problem (with Bauer) and that this influence has been covered over by misinterpretation. The measurement problem is essentially the apparent inconsistency of deterministic dynamics of quantum mechanics and the collapse of the wave function. London and Bauer have been taken to merely restate von Neumann’s notorious solution, that the uniqueness of the interaction of the system with a conscious observer explains how and when the “collapse” occurs. French shows this picture presented by Wigner, which fell to the criticism of Shimony and Putnam, to be a straw man. French argues that London and Bauer’s phenomenological account of quantum measurement can stand up to such criticisms and for London.  Quantum mechanics presupposes a theory of knowledge, a relation between observer and object “quite different from that implicit in naive realism” (211). Measurement, considered subjectively, is distinguishable from the unitary evolution of the quantum state by introspection giving the observer the “right to create his own objectivity” (212). This is not some (pseudo-)causal mind-world interaction that creates a collapse but rather a precondition for the quantum system to be treated objectively and by a different mathematical function, the precondition being a reflective act of consciousness in which the ego-pole and object-pole of experience are distinguished, not a substantial dualism, “thereby cutting the ‘chain of statistical correlations’” (212-3). The discussion that follows, while suggestive, shows that it is not clear how this general phenomenological view about the nature of objectivity is supposed to remove the particular quantum measurement problem. Whether this is the fault of French or of London and Bauer is unclear; the most direct quotation from London and Bauer suggests that this distinction of the ego and the object somehow licenses the transition from representing the measurement situation by the wave function, ψ, to representing the system as in a particular eigenstate. This is much too oblique, given that the nature of such fundamental acts of consciousness is, even to the phenomenological initiate, obscure, and requires some substantive claims about the determinate nature of consciousness. French too must find the explanation as given by London and Bauer incomplete as he invokes decoherence, decision theory, and the “relational” interpretation as elements of a fuller story, presenting something, protestations aside, very close to Everettianism indeed. If such a distinctive and useful interpretation can be fleshed out on phenomenological grounds, it would be the most direct and substantive proof of the progressive nature of a phenomenological programme.

Michel Bitbol’s “A Phenomenological Ontology for Physics: Merleau-Ponty and QBism” is another breath of fresh air in the collection, exploring a phenomenological approach other than Husserl’s. Taking the primacy of lifeworld and Bohr’s challenge to traditional scientific epistemology as starting points, the essay sets up correspondence between Fuch’s participatory realism and Merleau-Ponty’s endo-ontology. More generally Bitbol takes recent developments in the philosophy of quantum mechanics, like Peres’ no-interpretation and Zeillinger’s information-theoretic approach, to “all seem to be pointing in the same direction,” in line with the phenomenological approach to the sciences as tools for navigation in the world. These are the pragmatists, as distinguished from the interpreters. Bitbol goes on to describe how the anti-interpretational approach is phenomenological by establishing an epochē for quantum physics. Rather than understand the states of quantum systems in a Hilbert space as properly predicative, we bracket any ontological posit and treat these states functionally as informational bridges between the preparation and outcome of experiments. Bitbol then considers a question a level up:

[W]hat should the world be like in order to display such resistance to being represented as an object of thought? Answering this question would be tantamount to formulating a new kind of ontology, a non-object-based ontology, an ontology of what cannot be represented as an object external to the representation itself (233).

For Merleau-Ponty (and Michel Henry), the non-objectual ontology is provided by the priority of the body and raw, original experience.

This is an ontology of radical situatedness: an ontology in which we are not onlookers of a nature given out there, but rather intimately intermingled with nature, somewhere in the midst of it… we cannot be construed as point-like spectators of what is manifest; instead, we are a field of experiences that merges with what appears in a certain region of it. This endo-ontology is therefore an ontology of the participant in Being, rather than an ontology of the observer of beings (236).

Here the central self-consciousness of transcendental idealism becomes self-perception of the body. In physics, this is translated into a participatory realism, wherein the observer is involved in the creation of Being.  Merleau-Ponty’s own statement of the relationship between his phenomenology of embodiment and physics starts from the observation that physics always attempts to take in the subjective as a part of or a special case of the objective. This is something of a category error, and in quantum mechanics it seems that there is a concrete proof of the impossibility of eliminating the subjective, or better yet shows that the objective-subjective distinction is not well formed. These are interesting points and one wishes that Bitbol (and Merleau-Ponty himself) would have spelled out this metaphysical picture in more detail. While the correspondence with QBism seems somewhat plausible, it is not shown that either view commits one to the other or that this endo-ontology provides an advance on the anti-metaphysical orientation of the QBist. The remarks regarding probability are paltry and given the significance of probabilities in quantum mechanics, a full account of it is necessary if there is to be much uptake—the primary limitation here seems to be that Merleau-Ponty did not get to consider this matter much prior to his death.

In contrast, “QBism from a Phenomenomenological Point of View: Husserl and QBism” by Laura de La Tremblaye is one of the fullest contributions in the collection. This essay serves as an able introduction to non-denomenational QBism, presented as a generalization of probability theory and cataloged as a participatory realist, -epistemic “interpretation” of quantum mechanics. QBism “stands out as an exception” (246) in this category because it focuses on belief, adding the Born Rule as an extra, normative rule in Bayesianism (the axiomatization is not explicitly shown). QBism removes the ontological significance of the collapse of the wave function, the state description and reality are decoupled, the collapse is a statement of some (ideal) agent’s belief state. Accordingly, “knowledge” yielded by measurements is redefined as information about the system that is accepted via measurement (250). While the probabilities assigned are subjective, the updating rules are objective.

It is no trivial task to draw a clear line between the subjective and the objective aspects of the Born rule… Fuchs and Schack invoke a completely new form of intersubjectivity. It is through the use of Bayesian probabilities that the multiplicity of subjectivities elaborates a reasoning that can be shared by everyone, and that, consequently, can be called “objective” in precisely this limited sense… this leads to the new conception of knowledge: knowledge is no longer understood in terms of an objectively true description of the intrinsic properties of the world; it is rather understood as the kind of knowledge that is needed to guide the future research of any agent, thus implying a weaker form of objectivity (251).

For Fuchs, the measuring device is analogous to a sensory organ, measurement  is an experience. This leads de La Tremblaye to consider two notions of experience, one from Husserl, the other from William James, who influenced Chris Fuchs. de La Tremblaye argues that it is Husserl’s model of experience as involving a normative, intentional horizonal structure, that better coheres with the Qbist view. This shows a positive contribution phenomenology may offer to QBism: an explanation of the source of the Born Rule’s normativity. Another would be an adequate explanation of how it is that the rules of Bayesian probability can be objective via the intersubjective constitution of objectivity essential to Husserl’s model of the sciences.

In sum: this collection is promising though deficient in some respects. It will provide a number of starting points for a further development of a phenomenology of physics and provides the curious or sympathetic philosopher of physics something to chew on, but it is not a full meal. Many of the contributions would do well as additions to a graduate seminar or undergraduate course on phenomenology or the philosophy of science, with the materials on quantum mechanics showing the most potential for further development.[1]

References

Heelan, P. A. 1987. “Husserl’s Later Philosophy of Natural Science.” Philosophy of Science 54 (3): 368-390.

Heidegger, Martin. 1977/1993. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Basic Writings, David F. Krell (ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

———. 1962. Being and Time. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (trans.). New York: Harper and  Row.

Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. et al. 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nozick, R. 2001. Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ryckman, T. 2005. The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


[1]    Thanks to Porter Williams for reading the collection with me and sharing his thoughts with me, which allowed me to sharpen my own.

Hagi Kenaan: Photography and Its Shadow

Photography and Its Shadow Book Cover Photography and Its Shadow
Hagi Kenaan
Stanford University Press
2020
Paperback $24.00
248

Reviewed by: Arthur Cools (University of Antwerp)

In Photography and its Shadow, Hagi Kenaan addresses the medium specificity of the photographic image, particularly the transformation of the image experience due to the invention of this medium. It is not his first publication to reveal his interest in and critical confrontation with the dominance of the visual in contemporary culture. In his book on the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, The Ethics of Visuality. Levinas and the Contemporary Gaze (Tauris, 2013), Kenaan stated that “[s]omething has happened to our gaze. The experience of seeing has changed. The visual field has undergone a radical transformation” (xiv). In this study, he scrutinized the limits of contemporary visuality, which attracts the gaze “into the constant flickering of images, large and small screens, at every angle, at every moment, in every possible size, always in plural” (xii). Contrasting the visuality of the image with Levinas’s phenomenological description of the appearance of the face of the other person, he explored the possibility of the emergence of what he called the “reflexive gaze,” a visual field that appears to be oriented (in the strong sense of the word “orientation,” as being essential to what appears) and that as such opens up an ethical domain.

In his new book, Photography and its Shadow, it may appear that Kenaan is leaving behind the Levinasian optics of ethics as first philosophy, were it not the case that the title of this publication reminds us of an early article on art by Levinas entitled “Reality and Its Shadow” (1948). While in this article Levinas does not consider the emergence of the photographic medium, and Kenaan in his new book does not pay particular attention to Levinas’s treatment of the artwork and artistic visuality, the notion of the shadow reveals the legacy of the latter in Kenaan’s approach to photography. This legacy is manifest at different levels: the understanding of the image as a shadow; the reflection on the kind of connections between reality and shadows; the examination of the appearance of shadows in the general economy of being; the definition of the shadow as a double of reality, which fixes the momentary or, as Levinas formulates it, which “transform[s] time into images” (Levinas 1948, 139);[1] and as a “fixed shadow” (Kenaan 2020, 6), a “shadow [that] is immobilized” (Levinas 1948, 141). Significantly, it is Levinas who, at the end of his article, brings the creation of the artistic image since the Renaissance into the horizon of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, or what he calls “the alleged death of God” (Levinas 1948, 143). It is this same Nietzschean horizon that gives a decisive twist to Kenaan’s approach to photography, as becomes manifest in the third part of the book, entitled “Photography and the Death of God,” where he writes: “The proclamation of God’s death by Nietzsche’s madman was the point of departure for our study of photography. Photography emerges with the death of God, a condition that calls for a new way of orienting humans within an indifferent (homogeneous, meaningless, nihilistic) space” (Kenaan 2020, 159).

Let us consider this central claim of the book, through which Kenaan intends not only to describe the transformation of the visuality of the image by the photographic medium, but also to understand this transformation in light of a more encompassing historical transformation of Western culture as a whole in the 19th century and its aftermath, which Nietzsche labeled the death of God. This connection with a broader cultural field of investigation provokes a certain analytic complexity. The approach is first of all phenomenological in that the author describes the specificity of the visual experience of the photographic image on the basis of many concrete examples. This phenomenological approach is complemented by a strong historical interest, with the author returning to the beginnings of photography and providing a detailed description of the different techniques from which photography – as a practice (as a guideline for ‘taking’ pictures) and as a new theory of the image (as an image of nature, made by nature, not created by the artist’s hand) – emerges in the 19th century. However, the methodology is intended to be “ultimately ontological rather than historical” (9), in the Heideggerian sense of the word, namely in the sense that, as the author formulates it in the opening lines of his book, “[p]hotography has become an intrinsic condition of the human” (2) and this condition is both “existential” (i.e., photography has become part of ordinary experience) and transformative (i.e., this condition indicates an ontological shift in our understanding of the world and ourselves).

The central claim of the book is thus ontological, with the Nietzschean theme of the death of God not mentioned merely to establish a contextual and/or epochal connection with the appearance of the photographic image in modern culture, but in order to define the ontological transformation that manifests itself in and through the visuality of the photographic medium. This transformation, understood in its ontological dimension, is not limited to the photographic medium or to the question of what an image is, but more radically concerns the experience of seeing, the visibility of world, the meaning of existence. Kenaan is certainly not the first to draw particular attention to the transformation of the image experience and of visual perception through the invention of the photograph, but his departure point of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God within the framework of a Heideggerian understanding of ontology creates a new, intriguing perspective. How is this theme at work in Kenaan’s approach to photography?

In fact, the theme of the death of God brings together different lines of argumentation and it is the combination and consequent elaboration of these lines that constitutes the book’s originality, as well as its complexity. The first – and most familiar – of these argumentative threads consists in pointing to a reversal of Platonism with regard to the image experience. Here, Kenaan joins “an anti-Platonic approach” characteristic of theories of the image in the late 20th century. This approach no longer takes the image to be a copy or a representation but “is aware of the need to articulate a modality of presence that belongs to images qua images (and not as objects or functions)” (102). Maurice Merleau-Ponty already announced this new direction of thought in Eye and Mind when he wrote: “The word ‘image’ is in bad repute because we have thoughtlessly believed that a drawing was a tracing, a copy, a second thing.”[2] However, considering the reversal of Platonism as an intrinsic condition of the invention of the photographic image, Kenaan not only dates the event of this reversal more than a hundred years earlier (even prior to Nietzsche’s birth), disconnecting it from the debate about the developments of modernism in painting, but also points to a naturalistic basis and proposes a new, more precise interpretation of the reversal of Platonism with regard to the image experience. The invention of photography presupposes that the appearance of the image is no longer related to the divine or to the ideal forms, as is the case in Platonism, but to the mere physical laws of (breaking) light rays and (fixing) shadows. It is the possibility of seeing in mechanically fixed shadows the appearance of an image which defines the reversal of Platonism. In photography, the relation between image and shadow is reversed and this reversal implies a completely different ontological understanding of what a shadow and an image are.

Kenaan retraces this new relation between image and shadow in the writings of William Henry Fox Talbot, the author of The Pencil of Nature (1844), who described the invention of photography as the art of “photogenic drawing.” Talbot’s descriptions of his photographic experiments, which he initially called skiagraphy, “shadow drawing” or “shadow writing” (117), reveal that the invention of photography coincided with the discovery of the shadow as a transcendental condition for the photographic image and as an intrinsic part of the visibility of nature. In this regard, Talbot liberates the shadow from the binary opposition between being and appearance that determines Plato’s ontology. In a Platonic framework, shadow and image belong to the realm of appearance; they are both dependent on the presence of the real (being), and they are in this sense secondary. Moreover, the relation between the two is one of identity: the shadow, as projection of a material object, is defined as an image (eidolon) of that object, and the image, considered as the visual appearance of the idea (the original presence of the real), is defined as a shadow projected by that idea. Talbot discovers in his experiments with light rays that shadows have their own unique mode of appearance and that this mode of appearance is given in nature. The shadow belongs to the way in which nature unfolds its visibility. The shadow therefore cannot be reduced to the binary logic of object and copy, being and appearance. It is not in itself already an image, but the photographic image depends on it; depends on the possibility of “capturing,” “controlling” and “fixing” the shadow event projected by light rays. On the basis of his readings of Talbot, Kenaan describes the appearance of the shadow as an “in-between.” It both belongs to nature and transcends nature, it is part of nature’s visibility and it reproduces this visibility, it is not itself an image but it provides the ground for a potential image: “the shadow manifests a doubling of nature that belongs to the very order of nature itself” (135). In this sense, he makes plausible the continuum thesis that defends a causal continuity between shadow and image; between nature’s visibility and the image’s visuality. In this sense, the appearance of the photographic image has its origin in nature.

A second line of argumentation is construed around another aspect of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, namely the belatedness of the effects of this event. In Nietzsche’s narrative, the event of the death of God is not yet recognized, its meaning remains concealed and its consequences are simply denied. In this sense, the death of God casts a shadow, the extent of which is still undefined. In a similar way, Kenaan argues that the invention of photography, which is based on the discovery of the shadow in nature’s visibility, conceals its origin and confounds its meaning. He speaks of a “betrayal” (136). The second part of the book, “The Butades complex,” reveals the mechanism of this betrayal: photography, in its attempt to distinguish itself from the traditional concept of image creation as an act of drawing, defines itself within the limits of the idea of drawing. Butades, the myth of the Corinthian maid who traces the shade of her departing lover, plays an important historical role in this context. According to Pliny, who was the first to mention this story in his Natural History, “the drawing of pictures began with ‘tracing an outline round a man’s shadow’” (58). Between 1770 and 1820, in the wake of romantic classicism, this story was very popular in the visual arts as a pictorial theme about the origin of painting and of art in general. At the beginning of the 19th century, it delivered the main narrative frame for understanding the invention of photography and presenting the photographic image to the public: “‘The legend’s popularity in the eighteenth-century British visual culture, […], did not coincidently anticipate the dawn of a new relationship between image, object, and beholder that was photographic. Rather, it virtually establishes this relationship by setting the terms in advance by which photography would be discovered, understood, and assimilated’” (61). Kenaan quotes here the study by Ann Bermingham, “The Origins of Painting and the Ends of Arts: Wright of Derby’s Corinthian Myth (1782-1785).”

Relying on this narrative, however, it is clear that photography betrays its own newness. To make a photograph is not an act of drawing – the latter is created by the drafter’s hand, the former implies a mechanical process. Moreover, the shadow in the myth of Butades is defined as the picture of the beloved one. The myth relates the act of drawing to the amorous desire of keeping present an original presence even when this presence has gone, disappeared or died. The betrayal of photography’s newness implies thus a denial of what the invention of photography discovered: the continuously moving, transforming and evanescent appearance of shadows in nature’s visibility. Shadows, experienced as intrinsic to nature’s visibility, are not fixed and do not depict an original presence. Therefore, the idea of taking a picture, formulated to promote the camera as a technical means and photography as each individual’s way of keeping present whatever they want, is misleading: it conceals the mechanical process that is the birthmark of the photographic image, it misunderstands the outcome of this process as the visual depiction of an original experience, and it turns nature and world into a vast repository of photographic images.

A third line of argumentation deals with Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Nietzsche formulated this idea in his early writings in an epistemic context, namely as a criticism of the defenders of an all-encompassing theoretical access to the objectivity of reality. Perspectivism holds that a view from nowhere is not possible: knowledge of the real is not given independently of a point of view. The connection with the later theme of the death of God is obvious: “Perspectivism is primarily a way of acknowledging the disintegration of an all-encompassing structure of legibility, the loss of coordinates to orient man’s place in the universe. The collapse of an overarching, super-sensible principle that upholds human meaning and value is what Nietzsche understands as the ‘death of God’” (159). It is Kenaan’s contention that the invention of photography has opened the possibility of an infinity of perspectives: “The idea of an infinite plurality of perspectives is part of its inner logic. […] photography’s space consists of an indefinite multitude, a plurality of viewpoints that refuse to coalesce” (157). The introduction of the photographic apparatus detaches vision from the human eye and transforms the relationship between the visible and the visual: “photography’s visualization of the visible becomes, in principle, limitless” (154). This not only means beyond the limits of the human eye with regard to distance (too far or too close), time (too fast or too slow) or light sensitive (too bright or too dark), but also beyond the limits of the evanescent unfolding of nature’s visibility: “Every visibility is a potential photograph that can be taken from an infinite variety of perspectives.” In this regard, the photographic visualization has the potential of achieving “full domination of the visible.”

Anti-Platonism, denial of its own origin, and perspectivism: it is through these three conceptual frames that the major Nietzschean theme of the death of God functions as a heuristic and organizational device in Kenaan’s approach to photography. As a consequence, the appearance of the photographic image is presented as a kind of epochal transformation within the human condition. Ontologically speaking, this transformation can be articulated in at least three different ways: 1. a subversion of the Platonic opposition between being and appearing, including the ontological upgrading of the presence sui generis of the shadow; 2. the concealment of the mechanical nature of the photographic image and therefore the concealment of its emptiness and arbitrariness; 3. and finally, the submission of the embodied visual appearance to the limitless visibility of the photographic image, and hence the collapse and fragmentation of all meaning and values given within the visual field of human experience.

The outcome of this examination of the photographic image is challenging and at the same time disturbing because of its general, encompassing and nihilistic claim that the rise of the photographic image is based on the breakdown of all human meaning and value as given with the embodied condition of visibility. Moreover, according to Kenaan, this “ultimate breakdown of human meaning” (178) defines photography’s visual dominance today, despite its efforts to conceal it: “The visible thereby becomes a homogeneous expanded space of inhuman eyes, identical units, each of which can record an infinite number of views that are all equally set to provide sequences of representation. In such a space (the term ‘world’ no longer applies here) each and every point is a place mark for potential views” (170). Here, it becomes clear that the Nietzschean theme of the death of God not only functions as a heuristic device to analyze photography’s specific transformational power regarding embodied visible perception but also that the visual specificity of the photographic image is intended to concretize and to visualize the abyssal implications of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God: the appearance of a limitless shattered space of the visible without coherence and orientation, disconnected from the human body and indifferent with regard to the human world.

It thus seems that, in bringing Talbot’s invention of photography and the Nietzschean theme of the death of God into the same field of reflection, Kenaan first of all intends to say something about our contemporary culture, which has predominantly become a visual culture, and in which he has detected in his other book, The Ethics of Visuality, “a pathology” (xviii) of the gaze. The outcome of the examination in Photography and its Shadow seems therefore to confirm and to legitimize the starting point of this other book in the examination of another approach to vision, inspired by the philosophy of Levinas, that breaks with the limitless fragmentation of the visual without meaning: “the eye is flooded with images, swamped yet driven by a chronic hunger – rather than a desire – that does not seek meaning in the visual, only stimulation” (xv). However, returning to the mechanical roots of the photographic image, one may wonder what the theme of the death of God precisely adds to the analysis of the visual experience of the photographic image and whether the generalization it implies does not distort the specificity of this experience.

Considering the birthmark of the photographic image, Kenaan does not distinguish between the many different kinds, such as the digital and the analogical, the virtual and the real, the moving image and the snapshot, the simulation and the video game, the publicity poster and the family photobook, the visual artwork and scientific image production, or the passport photograph and the selfie on Instagram. The photographic image is considered a pars pro toto, and the original condition of a general transformation of visibility in contemporary culture. However, the problem with this generalization is not only that images have different meanings according to their various functions in contemporary society, but also that we are aware of these meanings and their differences and, accordingly, have different image experiences. The generalization implied by the Nietzschean theme of the death of God does not allow for an examination of these differences and, in a certain way, hinders access to such an analysis. Even if familiarity with the photographic image “[i]n our age of satellites, drones, Google Glass, and GoPro” makes it possible to bring randomized visible objects into one sentence, such as “the red spot on a seagull’s bulk, a particle of food processed in the digestive system, a cookie crumb on the desk of an administration, the tip of an iceberg melting in the Arctic, a dead fish in an oil spill in the ocean, the bronze hand of an ancient god at the bottom of the sea” (170-1), among many others, the meaninglessness of this collection of fragmented objects does not replace or obliterate the possibility of meaning recognition in each of these photographs. The latter is in fact dependent on the here and now of the single image experience, whereas the former requires abstraction from it.

Here, we touch on and are confronted with the basic ontological assumption of Kenaan’s approach, which we mentioned at the beginning and that Kenaan reformulates in his debate with Roland Barthes as: “[O]ntology teaches us to see the photographic as an Existential” (104). This means, according to Kenaan, that the task of ontology is “to open photography to the way in which its presence can be seen as a branch of being” and not, as is the case in Barthes’s view, to seek to define the essential features of the photographic image. The notion of “existential” is introduced to describe photography as a way of being (a way of understanding world and oneself) and not as a distinctive category of image experience. “Existential” is the term that Heidegger explicitly used to describe the existentiality of existence ontologically (cf. Being and Time §9). However, “existence” is the term he coins (against the metaphysical tradition, which defines existence in relation to a given essence) to address the question of the ecstatic openness to being, which distinguishes the manner of being of the human being. Moreover, this openness is only possible from a “being there” (Dasein), a situated being-in-the-world, or human being’s facticity. To understand the photographic as an “existential” thus implies a description of the photographic as one way of being of this facticity (among other ways of being, such as being mine, being-with, being born, being understanding, being caring, being anguished, being towards death, etc.). In other words, even if it is factually true that the mechanical condition of the birth of the photographic image (the invention of the camera) provokes a visibility disconnected from the human eye, it is still necessary to relate this visibility to human being’s facticity in order to be able to understand the photographic ontologically as an “existential.”

This ontological orientation indisputably constitutes the originality of Kenaan’s approach. It enables him to interpret the appearance of photographic visibility as an epochal transformation of being-in-the-world. Yet, it might be that the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, although explicitly intended to examine this transformation as epochal, is not sufficiently specific with regard to photographic visibility understood as an “existential.” In particular, it lacks the tools to describe the openness to being as related to this visibility. Nor are the naturalistic descriptions of Talbot’s experiments of (fixing) shadows able to address this. The natural effects of breaking light rays do not say anything about the existentiality of the human being, which seeks to capture and to understand these effects. What turns these natural effects into a new kind of visibility, the visibility of the photographic image, presupposes human being’s openness to being. Photographic visibility is a visibility with regard to the human condition. If this visibility thus constitutes an epochal transformation, as is the central claim of Kenaan’s approach, it should be possible to describe this transformation in terms of how the relation to being is concerned with the specific visibility of the photographic image. Kenaan leads the reflection in that direction but changes course by stating that the camera’s visibility is disconnected from the human body and interpreting this disconnectedness in line with Nietzsche’s perspectivism as a limitless plurality of views.

That the camera provokes a visibility disconnected from the human body is, however, itself visible in the photographic image. This kind of being visible is called “framing”: the photographic image reveals the visual appearance of a framing of the visible. Kenaan indeed mentions and explores the nature of this framing, especially in the experiments by and the examples related to Talbot, but he omits to analyze and describe the appearance of this framing as an “existential,” that is, as an appearance that delineates human being’s openness to being. It is not argued how and to what extent the Nietzschean theme of the death of God could be interpreted as the expression of the visual appearance of a framing. However, it is not difficult to point to some ontological implications that result from the framing of the visible.

The visual appearance of a framing implies first of all a re-organization of the relation between the visible and the invisible. In the field of an embodied perception, the invisible is intrinsic to that perception as what cannot be seen: either because it does not belong to the visible (but to another sense, e.g., it can be smelled), or because it is part of the other side of the perceived objects that we cannot see from our embodied perspective but only in moving our body around that object (what Husserl calls “adumbrations”). In neither case does the invisible limit or contradict the fullness of the embodied visual perception. However, this is different in the visual appearance of a framing. Here, the invisible is essential in at least two ways. The photographic image is itself cut out, extracted from or selected in a field of visibility that encompasses the framing. The invisible is also present within the framing as something that appears as not yet fully visible, still arising, happening. If it is the case that the photographic image catches and attracts the human gaze and is able, as Kenaan contends, to dominate the visible, then it is only because and on the basis of these two ways that invisibility limits its visuality. This means that the visual experience of the photographic image is not without a relation to what exceeds the visibility of the frame and is not without a certain organization of the frame.

Moreover, the visual appearance of a framing – whether or not fixed by the mechanism of the camera – presupposes the recognition of a frame. In fact, Talbot’s experiments showed this very well: he delineates and sets up a frame each time to be able to study the effects of light rays and precisely this experimental method makes it possible to recognize the effects of framing in natural processes of light rays. Interesting cases such as trompe l’oeil (and, by extension, immersive) experiments demonstrate that there is no visual experience of a framing without the recognition of the frame. In this regard, the visual appearance of a framing still refers to and depends on the condition of the human body in two ways: in order to be recognizable, it is necessary that the frame is adapted either to the visual apparatus of the human body (i.e., it remains within the limits of the human eye’s capabilities and expectations) or to its cognitive apparatus (i.e., it corresponds to a conceptual modelling). The fact that mechanical or digital production of visual fragments is limitless – like a camera out of control that cannot stop taking pictures of the same object whatever the picture resolution may be – is completely irrelevant without a reference to the human body in one of these two ways. This means that the mere fact of being framed does not fix or define the meaning of the visual appearance of the framed fragment. Or, to put it in an “existential” way: the visual appearance delineated by the photographic image cannot undo, replace or supplement human being’s openness to being.

Finally, as Kenaan amply demonstrates in his examination of the historical development and interpretations of the photographic image, each particular framing appears to be historical: it exposes and is the expression of human being’s situated being. The historical leaves a trace in the visual appearance of the framed that the frame cannot erase.  Without this trace of the historical, Barthes’s discourse on  the punctum of the individual photograph, to which Kenaan refers, and also his own discourse on “[p]hotography’s goodbyes,” which he calls “the book’s subject” (51), would not make sense. Yet, to say goodbye is not necessarily the appropriate response to photographs. In some photographs, the trace of the historical relates to the singularity of the here and now of the framing event as being intrinsic to the meaning of the photograph. This is especially the case for documentary photographs that record events from the perspective of the witness, that is, from the perspective of a here and now, the meaning of which the photographer is witnessing. In these cases, the frame of the photograph is explicitly used to reveal and express something about the meaning of the historical and hence about the meaning of human being’s facticity. This means that, however fragmented its visual appearance may be, the photographic image can contribute to making sense of being-in-the-world and to witnessing the values we live by.

As these remarks make clear, Kenaan’s approach is original and inspiring because it analyzes the photographic image as an “existential” and not just as a distinctive category of the image. It consequently shows the relevance of situating the visuality of the photographic image in a broader cultural, epochal transformation of visual experience. Establishing different and intriguing connections with the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, it sheds a new light on the origins of the photographic image and its effects on the visible. In this way, it contributes to a re-examination of the visual experience of framing in its relation to the human condition.


[1] All references to this article are quoted from Emmanuel Levinas, The Levinas Reader, edited by Seán Hand, Basil Blackwell, 1989.

[2] Quoted from Mauro Carbone, The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema. New York, Suny Press, 2015, 2. Mauro Carbone pointed to this “form of reversal of ‘Platonism’” that “develop[s] the premises affirmed by Nietzsche’s philosophy and explored by modern art” (Ibid.) in the work of Merleau-Ponty.

Fredrik Westerlund: Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena

Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena Book Cover Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena
Fredrik Westerlund
Bloomsbury Academic
2020
Hardback $62.10
288

Reviewed by: Michael Mosely (University of Sydney)

In Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena, Fredrik Westerlund characterises Heidegger’s thinking from the time of his early Freiburg lecture courses, up until his late writings of the 1960s, as a struggle to understand the question of phenomena and the inherently related question of phenomenology. For Westerlund, the question of phenomena is an enquiry into what it means for anything to come to, or give itself, in meaningful appearance, and the question of phenomenology is an enquiry into what it means to explain and articulate how our experience of phenomena is structured.

Westerlund calls attention to the fact that there are two schools of thought on the question of phenomena/phenomenology in Heidegger scholarship. A transcendental, phenomenological reading and a historical, hermeneutic reading. In the former, Heidegger, although critical of Husserl, is nevertheless understood to be essentially offering an elaboration of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. This reading claims that Heidegger remains committed to the notion that it is possible to uncover the structures of our experience that allow phenomena to be meaningful through direct intuitive reflection. In the latter reading this notion is rejected because the historical contexts of meaning in which we find ourselves predetermine our experience of phenomena. For this reason, this reading holds that phenomenology must proceed through hermeneutic reflection on our current, historical context of meaning, or by “tracing and answering to the groundless differential logic at the basis of every historical formation of meaning” (5).

For Westerlund, these two opposed interpretations reflect a tension at the heart of Heidegger’s thinking. While Heidegger repudiates the possibility of phenomenologically direct reflections on the structures of experience on the basis of the radically historical foundation of our meaningful experience, in practice, much of Heidegger’s writings consist of phenomenologically direct reflections. Thus, rather than side with either interpretation, Westerlund sets out to attend to and explore the effects of this tension throughout Heidegger’s writings. This task is undertaken in Parts 1–3 of the book. Yet Westerlund does not only offer an exegesis of Heidegger but also a critical and systematic reading. The contradictions and blindspots of Heidegger’s claims are laid bare throughout the book and in the fourth and final part, the Epilogue, Westerlund offers a more extended critique. Here Westerlund argues that, contra Heidegger, it is our first-person experience that provides direct access to phenomena beyond their historical determination and that as such we are essentially open to the call of the other as someone to love and care for, which is a source of moral meaning not confined to a historical context .

The first part of Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena contains three chapters and aims to show that in Heidegger’s earliest Freiburg lecture courses his philosophy is essentially a critical appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology in that Heidegger’s thinking proceeds through “intuitive reflection on the essential structures of our first-person experiences” (15). Westerlund begins this task in Chapter One by giving a brief introduction to Husserl’s understanding of the problem of phenomena. In Westerlund’s account of Husserl’s phenomenology, the meaning of things and the structure of experience cannot be explained by reference to any ground of knowledge other than phenomenal self-presentation. The task of phenomenology is to turn our gaze away from the objects that we focus on in the natural attitude and examine experience as it is given in consciousness. Specifically, Husserl is held to seek to determine the essential structures of experience, such as how when we see one side of an object we nevertheless move within the horizon of possible perceptions of its other sides.

Following his discussion of Husserl’s phenomenology, Westerlund provides an exposition of the conception of philosophy put forth by Heidegger in his early Freiburg lecture courses as a primordial science of life. He shows that, for Heidegger, our primary experience of the world is our encounter with the pretheoretical significances of things. Highlighting Heidegger’s questioning of the given in his 1919 war emergency semester course, Westerlund explains that the domain of pretheoretical givenness is, for Heidegger, “nothing less than the basic domain of given meaningful being” (23). Subsequently Westerlund outlines Heidegger’s criticism of theoretical philosophy for its failure to recognise the primacy of pretheoretical experience, as well as Heidegger’s criticism of Husserl specifically for his remaining within the theoretical attitude of philosophy his and attempt to ground pretheoretical significance theoretically. Westerlund concludes the chapter by assessing Heidegger’s critique of Husserl and he argues that while Husserl’s focus on the comprehension of objects through perception leaves the connection between existentially and practically concerned experience unclarified, this does not diminish the capability for intuitive reflection on the structures of experience to uncover truths about our experience of phenomena.

In Chapter Two Westerlund outlines how Heidegger understands phenomenology and the structure of phenomena explicitly, with the aim of showing that Heidegger’s philosophy is, in 1919 and 1920, a critical appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology. He shows that Heidegger’s phenomenology can be characterised as proceeding through intuitive seeing during this period by drawing attention to Heidegger’s account of the kind of experience of a Senegalese tribesman would have if transported to the lecture hall in Freiburg. Heidegger states here explicitly that the Senegalese’s experience of equipmental strangeness when looking at the lectern is identical with Heidegger’s own experience of the significance of the lectern as a place from which to lecture. Thus, Westerlund concludes, the aim of Heidegger’s phenomenological descriptions during this period is not to uncover the sense of a particular historical context but rather to use intuition to uncover the basic structure of pretheoretical life. Westerlund also shows that Heidegger’s phenomenology is reflective during this period. The description of the method of phenomenology Heidegger offers in his 1919–20 lecture course Basic Problems of Phenomenology begins with a going along with life without reflection, but ends with a leaping ahead into the horizons of experience and its motives, and an articulating of the structures of experience—that is, with reflection. Thus although Heidegger recognises during this period that historical concepts can distort phenomenologically intuitive seeing and reflection, and that we must therefore subject these concepts to critical destruction, this does not indicate that he has developed a historicist conception of phenomenology. Rather Heidegger’s phenomenology is Husserlian as he “both articulates and practices phenomenology as direct intuitive reflection on the constitutive structures of our experience” (48).

In Chapter Three Westerlund shows how the philosophy Heidegger develops in his early Freiburg lecture courses undermines itself with respect to its purpose. If, as Heidegger claims, our factical pretheoretical experience of phenomena is primary then what is left for philosophy to do? Westerlund highlights how Heidegger seems confused on this question, as he argues that philosophy is needed for a transparent enactment of life but also seems to suggest that the task of philosophy is only to remove theoretical abstraction so that we can live in unadulterated pretheroretical significance. For Westerlund, this problem can ultimately be traced to Heidegger’s desires to “critically regenerate…the age-old ambition of philosophy to explicate the basic sense of life and Being” as well as make philosophy relevant for “the challenge of facing and understanding the acute ethical-existential problems of our personal life” (54). At this early stage of Heidegger’s thinking, Heidegger cannot unite these two desires.

In Part Two Westerlund provides an account of Heidegger’s understanding of the question of phenomena/phenomenology in Being and Time (1927) and explains how Heidegger’s philosophy changed during the years intervening between his engagement with Aristotle’s De Anima in his 1921 summer semester seminar and the publication of his major work. In Chapter Four, Westerlund outlines how Heidegger’s historicist conception of phenomenology emerges. Heidegger’s engagement with Aristotle during the early 1920s is shown to be the occasion for the initial development of the historical as-structure, the notion that our pretheoretical experience of the world is determined by our prior understanding of the historical contexts of meaning in which we live. For Westerlund, Heidegger develops this notion through his interpretation of Aristotle’s concepts of phronēsis and nous. Phronēsis is understood as practical coping with the world that highlights the way that the significance of beings is founded on the basis of preceding concerns. Nous is the prior understanding that conditions our experience of beings; it is an understanding of eidē, of form, and additionally, an understanding of archai, the ultimate ‘from -out-of-which’ that determines the regions of Being from which different beings get their sense. Taken together, these concepts suggest to Heidegger that the significance of beings is determined by a historical as-structure or context of meaning.

Westerlund also in this chapter highlights Heidegger’s discovery of Aristotle’s privileging of sofia over phronsis, that is, the privileging of the pure perception of the eidē determining different beings. This privileging leads Aristotle to define Being as ousia, as constant presence, which determines the subsequent theoretical focus of philosophy. This discovery further suggests to Heidegger that phenomenology is fundamentally historical; if Being is determined historically then direct intuitive seeing is not possible. Rather it is necessary to undertake a hermeneutic destruction of the historical concepts latent in our tradition. Westerlund concludes the chapter with a lengthy exposition of Heidegger’s engagement with Husserl in Heidegger’s 1925 course and shows that Husserl’s categorial intuition, in its general form, becomes, for Heidegger, indicative of the way that our understanding of the world is guided by a pre-given historical context of meaning.

In the remaining chapters of Part Two Westerlund turns his attention to Being and Time. In Chapter 5 he considers the way that Heidegger’s elaboration of the ontological difference—the notion that our prior understanding of Being determines how beings appear—necessitates the enactment of fundamental ontology so that we might gain “clarity about ourselves and the world” (82). And he also outlines his problems with this view, namely, that our historically influenced understandings of the ontological structure of the world do not determine how we experience beings in a necessary manner. Westerlund additionally highlights the fact that the Heidegger’s project of fundamental ontology is not historical but seeks to determine the transhistorical structure of Dasein that constitutes the sense of Being itself. Chapter 6 contains Westerlund’s exposition of Heidegger’s account of Being-in-the-world. Here he highlights the way that our understanding of the historical world cannot be, for Heidegger, true or false. For Westerlund, this undermines the notion that it is necessary to distinguish between the historical prejudices of the They and a genuine understanding of phenomena, which he perceives as a significant problem. Chapter 7 treats this problem with reference to Heidegger’s concept of authenticity, which, for Westerlund, has a central role to play in Heidegger’s understanding of phenomena.

On Westerlund’s reading, Dasein is inherently challenged to acknowledge the utterly historically determined and therefore groundless nature of the possibilities it has available to choose for its identity. While inauthentic Dasein shirks this challenge and rather is guided by the They, to be authentic Dasein must meet this challenge. There is a problem with this notion, however. It does not seem possible for authentic historical possibilities to address Dasein as binding, as worth pursuing, without the binding character of these possibilities finding its source in the They. Westerlund identifies an oscillation between collectivism and subjectivism in Heidegger’s account of authenticity. It is collectivist in that it is the They that is the source of all ethical-existential normativity and it is subjectivist in that even if Dasein’s choosing itself apart from the They is possible, there is nothing to guide its choice other than “its own blind whims and impulses” (112). From this impasse Westerlund sees it as important to investigate into how life possibilities can appear as obligating at all and he argues that in Heidegger’s conception of both authentic and inauthentic Dasein, Dasein’s actions in life are motivated by a desire for social affirmation. Dasein seeks to live up to the collective values and norms of the They or those of the authentically chosen hero. This is problematic, for Westerlund, because it rules out the possibility of the ethical claim of the other. It is not possible, with this motivation, to care about the other as such, because all care is directed towards preventing the self from feeling the shame of failing to follow the norms that guide it. This problem is addressed at greater length in the Epilogue.

Chapter Eight, the final chapter of the second part, concerns Heidegger’s method in Being and Time. Westerlund opens this chapter by comparing and contrasting the interpretations of Heidegger’s method offered by Overgaard and Guignon. For Overgaard, the destruction is not a necessary part of fundamental ontology because the destruction itself presupposes an experience of Being that is phenomenologically basic—without this experience the historical senses of Being could not be identified as distortions. Guignon, on the other hand, hews closer to Heidegger’s actual comments in Being and Time that concern the necessity of the destruction for the retrieval and appropriation of Being. For Westerlund, like Overgaard, Heidegger does not follow through on his claim to be undertaking a hermeneutic-destructive mode of thinking and rather does presuppose that he is able to distinguish between our current prejudiced conception of Being and something more primordial. He highlights the fact that Heidegger’s existential analytic of Dasein is not an account of contemporary Dasein’s implicit, historical prior conceptions, but rather offers phenomenological descriptions of the basic structures of Dasein and its factical experience. Furthermore, it is the capacity of Heidegger’s descriptions to reveal truths about our day-today experience of the world, rather than their relation to the philosophical tradition, that gives them their validity. Thus direct, intuitive, phenomenological seeing remains a central feature of Heidegger’s method in Being and Time.

In the third part of Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena, Westerlund discusses Heidegger’s later philosophy, with chapters on the turn [Kehre], Ereignis as the opening of the world, and the method Heidegger’s late thinking. Westerlund seeks to show in this part that Heidegger’s phenomenological method becomes more historical after the publication of Being and Time. There is also a chapter on Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism in this part. Chapter Nine contains Westerlund’s interpretation of Heidegger’s turn, which he understands as Heidegger’s turn from phenomenology to historical reflection. To support this claim Westerlund examines Heidegger’s discussion, in his 1937–38 lecture course Basic Questions of Philosophy, of the inherent turning of the question of the essence of truth into the question of the truth of essence. For Westerlund, this ‘turning’ is the turning from Heidegger’s explication of the basic structures of Dasein, which are that through which beings become unconcealed (and are the essence of truth), so that true or false judgements might be expressed about them, to “a historical interrogation of the openness and givenness of historical being itself” (the truth of essence). Heidegger’s philosophy is no longer concerned in the mid 1930s with structure of phenomena or intuitive reflection on the structures of experience but rather seeks to determine the “phenomenality of Being” and proceeds through historical reflection (143).

It is therefore the turn that motivates Heidegger’s engagement with the history of philosophy in the mid 1930s and Westerlund demonstrates the historical character of Heidegger’s thinking by providing an account of Heidegger’s conception of the task of philosophy at this time. During this period of his thinking the history of philosophy is understood by Heidegger to have been determined by the Greek, metaphysical designation of Being as constant presence and to free ourselves from this understanding of Being it is necessary to return to the Greek beginning of philosophy in order to determine whether it contains a more primordial understanding of Being. Heidegger finds just such a primordial understanding in the pre-Socratic conception of Being as φύσις and in the Greek word for truth, ἀλήθεια. Together these terms reflect a view of Being as an event that is opened up.

In Chapter 10 Westerlund addresses Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism and offers a number of criticisms of Heidegger’s thinking. In the 1930s Heidegger no longer advocates becoming authentic but holds that it is necessary to open a binding historical world. Westerlund points out that as for Heidegger ontology has ultimate priority over ethics there is no check on the establishing of a new world that ignores the ethical claim of the other, such as the world that National Socialism wished to erect. Furthermore, Westerlund criticises Heidegger’s framing of his anti-semitism in ‘metaphysical’ terms. He shows that in Heidegger’s making use of many common anti-Semitic stereotypes, his position essentially becomes only a “philosophically inflated version of the kind of cultural racism that vilifies a certain culture or religion on the basis of crude and falsifying stereotypes” (149). Westerlund also sees in Heidegger’s Black Notebooks an additional problem for Heidegger scholarship, namely that they seriously displace our view of the ‘spirit’ of Heidegger’s thinking. In Heidegger’s utter failure to offer any remarks that reflect sympathy towards those who were subject to violence, persecution, and murder at the hands of the NSDAP, and in his explaining away of the events of the 1930s and 40s in being-historical terms, his philosophy appears abhorrent. If thinking the history of Being fully inures one to the ethical claim of the other in the manner it appears to have done to Heidegger, then there is little to recommend such a thinking.

In Chapter Eleven Westerlund returns to explicating the historical character of Heidegger’s philosophy with his account of Heidegger’s conception of art as that which opens a binding historical world. On Westerlund’s interpretation, the thinking of Being prepares the way for the poetry that opens the ‘holy’. Art in general, but poetry especially, is understood to reveal as important a set of highest values and ideals that are to guide our experience of phenomena and this is the opening of a binding historical world. Westerlund explains that art establishes a binding historical world through the openness of the poet or artist to the address of history “as our as yet undetermined manifold of being-possibilities” and the poet or artist’s subsequent gathering  of “this manifold into a unified and limited historical world” (171). This gathering and presenting additionally requires founding the world on what Heidegger calls the earth. The world set up by the work of art must also be, for Westerlund, grounded in the natural surroundings in which we live and shaped by the materiality and sensuousness of the medium of the work of art. It is in this way that the meanings of history can become anchored in the earth and the purposes and meanings, the guiding ideals and values, can “shine forth in a concrete paradigmatic form” (174). Westerlund also addresses in this chapter how in Heidegger’s thinking of the 1950s and later, the earth and world binary is expanded into the fourfold of earth, sky, mortals, and gods, and that in this period things, such as a bridge, can also open a world.

Chapter Twelve contains a discussion of Heidegger’s own account of the method of his late thinking. Heidegger unsurprisingly is critical of Husserl’s phenomenology at this time and champions historical reflection. For Westerlund, however, Heidegger’s criticisms of Husserl’s thinking fail to distinguish between the content of Husserl’s phenomenology and its method. While Husserl is influenced by scientific abstraction and seeks certain truth, this does not establish a necessary connection between intuition-based reflection and the metaphysical desire for ultimate grounds. Westerlund further indicates the historical character of Heidegger’s philosophy by showing how Heidegger pursues his investigation of the event of the opening of a world. Westerlund highlights that Heidegger examines texts from the history of metaphysics to show that the understanding of Being as presence that the texts utilise is not accounted for within them, and that he also examines poems by Hölderlin, George Trakl, and Stefan George, and the work of the pre-Socratics, to show that these texts hint at clearing. He also points out that Heidegger’s analysis of word etymologies is used for this end. In the final section of the chapter, to combat the assertion that there are phenomenological analyses in the later Heidegger, Westerlund shows that the late Heidegger’s phenomenological analyses of objects, such as a jug (in relation to the fourfold), do not take place within accounts of concrete use-cases. These accounts therefore “threaten to remain unphenomenological constructions of the same kind as all other conceptual and theoretical projections that dogmatically postulate meanings that they cannot account for” (192).

In the final part of the book, the Epilogue, Westerlund subjects Heidegger’s thinking to a more thorough  critique, one that is a development of criticisms of Heidegger made by Levinas, Tugendhat, and Cristina Lafont and that is an elaboration on criticisms of Heidegger’s thinking he has offered throughout his study. In Chapter 13, Westerlund engages with Levinas’ critique of Heidegger in which Heidegger is charged with covering over our direct ethical relation to the other with the question of Being. For Westerlund, Heidegger’s philosophy relies on the human desire for social affirmation motivating all action (works of art only persuade us to follow historical norms) which defines Dasein as essentially egoistic and rules out the possibility of responding to the other with love and care. Furthermore, Heidegger’s concern for the task of “reflecting on the openness of being in order to make possible the establishment of a binding world” has absolute primacy, and supersedes all ethical concern for individuals. This is not only a drawback in itself, but Westerlund also sees that the world Heidegger desires, one that is structured by a set of highest values and ideals that all must follow, can very easily become a world of control, repression, and persecution. That Heidegger does not consider such dangers further indicates the ethically problematic status of his philosophy.

In Chapter 14, Westerlund, drawing on Cristina Lafont’s criticism of Heidegger, is concerned with Heidegger’s claim that our historical understanding of Being cannot be true or false because it determines the meaningfulness of beings, which necessitates taking over our historical context as groundless. Westerlund argues against this notion. He holds that Heidegger provides no phenomenological evidence to show that our understanding of Being cannot be considered true or false. For Westerlund, we are claimed by the other regardless of our historical context and it is for its alignment with the claim of the other that the ethical status of an understanding of Being and its values can be judged. Westerlund ultimately holds that we possess an openness of conceptual understanding that allows us understand and appropriate aspects of our own cultural worlds, and recognise that there is an irreducible dimension of experience that grounds other cultural worlds.

In Chapter 15 Westerlund argues against Heidegger’s view that historical reflection is the necessary method of phenomenology. For Westerlund, Heidegger also offers no evidence that our understanding of Being is determined by our historical situation. Rather our understanding of Being consists of openly seeing and grasping the structures of experience over our historical preconceptions. Even though our historical contexts guide our thinking primarily and may offer up distortions, we are always free to discard these distortions and examine the structure of experience, which determines the truth of our concepts. Furthermore, Westerlund argues, Heidegger’s historical method cannot actually demonstrate that the event or the clearing is the source of historical Being. Even if Heidegger could demonstrate that the event or the clearing is the foundational concept of the Western tradition, this would not show that it is the source of Being. Rather it would show only that the event or the clearing is the “philosophical horizon of the Western tradition”, and the truth of the concept would remain undetermined (220). As Westerlund puts it, “Heidegger’s metaunderstanding of the radically historicist character of his method does not allow him to account for what it is that gives to his thinking whatever truth or clarificatory force it possesses” (221). Ultimately, for Westerlund, while it is very difficult to accurately reflect on our own experiences and to free ourselves from prior prejudices this is precisely the task of phenomenology. The difficulty of phenomenology does not undermine its validity.

Westerlund’s Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena is a valuable addition to contemporary Heidegger scholarship. It contains a number of sections that clarify central issues in the study of Heidegger. Westerlund’s accounts of Heidegger’s relation to Husserl’s phenomenology in his early Freiburg lecture courses, and of Heidegger’s development of a more thoroughgoing historicism through his engagement with Aristotle in the early 1920s, are excellent. Similarly, Westerlund’s treatment of Heidegger’s 1925 engagement with Husserl is the clearest I have encountered. Furthermore, Westerlund’s undertaking of a “philosophical“ rather than “exegetical” reading of Heidegger in which he is not constrained by the horizon of the texts he treats but rather provides independent articulations of what these texts show and fail to show is also very welcome. Heidegger scholarship can certainly benefit from more studies that take this kind of approach. The study is not, however, without its flaws. Westerlund covers a lot of ground in this work and as a result his treatment of individual topics often proceeds quite quickly. This sometimes prevents him from addressing relevant issues in a topic. He does not, for example, discuss how a work of art like van Gogh’s painting of a pair of shoes, discussed by Heidegger in “The Origin of the Work of Art”, could reveal the highest ideals and values of a culture. The speed at which Westerlund proceeds through Heidegger’s material also causes his overarching arguments to fade into the background at times and make the relation of some sections to these arguments unclear. Westerlund’s arguments would likely have been served better through structuring his book around his criticisms of Heidegger, rather than the chronological progression of Heidegger’s thought.