Martin Heidegger, Karl Löwith: Correspondence: 1919–1973

Correspondence: 1919–1973 Book Cover Correspondence: 1919–1973
New Heidegger Research
Martin Heidegger, Karl Löwith. Translated by J. Goesser Assaiante, S. Montgomery Ewegen
Rowman & Littlefield
2021
Hardback $125.00 • £96.00
334

Reviewed by: Taylor J. Green (Carleton University)

A fifty-four-year correspondence between teacher and student is what Correspondence: 1919-1973: Martin Heidegger and Karl Löwith brings to English readers. Part of a larger series of The Collected Letters of Martin Heidegger, Correspondence 1919-1973 is a compiled set of one hundred and twenty-four letters, postcards, and telegrams, seventy-six from Martin Heidegger and forty-eight by Karl Löwith, published with helpful annotations, supplementary material, and biographical information. The relationship of Heidegger and Löwith is, certainly, marked by Heidegger’s actions in 1933, but also by an enduring and distinguished bond between two philosophical giants of the twentieth century. The final two letters in 1973 of these compiled correspondences are not sent to Karl Löwith but to his wife after his passing. Heidegger, outliving his former student by three years to the exact day, remarks to Frau Löwith, “may the mercifulness of your husband’s death diminish the pain of his departure, and with time transform it into thoughtful remembrance…The circle of those awakened for thinking during the 1920s grows ever smaller. Soon, at the very most, they will only live on in the memory of a few individuals” (156).

The warmth, trust, erudition, and philosophical conversion that Heidegger and Löwith share in these correspondence exposes a past philosophical era of the previous century, one of which thinking was the central tenet. Translators Assaiante and Ewegen capture the keen philosophical wit of a young Karl Löwith navigating early adulthood through philosophical discourse with one of the greatest German philosophers. In the translation, they also capture the essence of Heidegger’s mentorship and strict academically centric mind. As the translators state upfront, references to lost letters not compiled in this edition “are not in the possession of the estate” (ix). Any shortcomings in compilation does not mean, however, that these letters, as they stand, are nothing short of enlightening for scholars to gain insight into two excellent minds of our contemporary age. The explanatory annotations, the careful translation, unabridged correspondence, and the thoughtful editor’s forward and afterward provides a book easily recommendable to those interested in either or both philosophical minds, in their own written words, as they matured through the early twentieth century.

The language of the letters is “causal and friendly” and lacks the “specialized language” of Heidegger’s lecture courses. Yet there are times when Heidegger prioritizes supervising and guiding the young Löwith by engaging in dense philosophical discourse. Löwith more than obliges and, eventually, extends Heidegger’s existential thinking to-be-with-others in his 1928 habilitation. Captured correctly in the translation is Heidegger’s radicality, his growing disregard for Husserl, his dissonance with the arid bureaucratic structure of the university, and his prescient formulation of the arguments of Being and Time (1927). The translators, attempting the difficult task of uncovering Heidegger’s own self-references, convey the meaning of Eigendestruction in English as destructuring, self-destructuring, or destructing one’s own. This concept is important as Heidegger refers to the term often in the years leading up to the publication of his first major work.

In the “Editor’s Afterward”, it is stated that the letters represent four distinct periods in the relationship between Heidegger and Löwith (288). Classifying the letters in this way is helpful: (1) 1919-1925, Löwith is a student of Heidegger’s until the time he leaves for Italy. This period by far contains the most letters between them. (2) 1925-1929, Heidegger has become a proper professor, as Löwith prepares for his habilitation (successfully habilitated in 1928). (3) In the 1930s, notably, Heidegger becomes rector of University of Freiburg. On page 165, the translators provide an “Excerpt from Karl Löwith’s Italian Diary (1934-1936)”, detailing the last encounter Löwith had with his mentor prior to the war, where Heidegger does not take off the party insignia on his lapel, translated unabridged and with a different tone from what is printed in Richard Wolin’s The Heidegger Controversy. The last phase (4) is a “reconciliation” between Heidegger and Löwith. The impact of Heidegger embracing the rectorship of Freiburg in 1933 does not heal for Löwith, as evidence in Löwith’s documentation of their last encounter and in the salient lack of correspondence. This period contains the least exchanges. One is a birthday wish to Heidegger for his sixtieth birthday in 1949. Another is Heidegger consoling Löwith on his deathbed. Heidegger attaches a poem, or rather, “a series of Thoughts”, entitled Pathways, that reads “Pathways, footsteps loosening up, echoing a humble fate. And once again the distress of dusk, hesitant, in the waiting light” (156).

I review and reconstruct much of the conflating narratives and major themes throughout the work. I analyze the letters in each phase in the chronological structure the editors have provided. In this way, we gain the most detailed insight into the correspondence, as each period builds on the previous. A distinct relation between the two thinkers further defines each period of exchange. Thematically, we read the correspondence initially as two intellectuals yearning for philosophical discourse and influencing each other in the early days of the 1920s. This relationship is strengthened through the habilitation period but is abolished and forever ruptured by 1933. As Heidegger’s later work, post-denazification trials, became as important as his early work, essays such as “The Question Concerning Technology” and “A Letter on Humanism” for example, Löwith would take up the theme of Heidegger’s political decision deriving from his philosophy in such works as “The Political Implications of Heidegger’s Existentialism” and “Heidegger: Thinker in a Destitute Time”. Although the centrepiece of this volume is the teacher-student relationship, 1933 perhaps persistently looms as a shadow cast over the dialogue, as we read into the historicity of the exchange knowledge of the present.

Period 1: 1919-1925

From 1919-1922, Löwith studies with Heidegger and Husserl in Freiburg. Although Löwith received his Ph.D. in 1923 under Moritz Geiger, already in 1920, Löwith is writing to Heidegger that “I am not merely being polite when I admit to you quite readily that it is solely your lectures that I miss” (13). Löwith, in 1922, writes to Heidegger that “Geiger is familiar with every last bit of hastily published modern shit, but with nothing decent. He is interested in my dissertation. A few days ago, I gave him a fully corrected and typed copy. He is somewhat amazed by the fact that one can learn quite a bit more in Freiburg than here” (53). The four letters we have from 1919 suggest that Heidegger has an intellectual interest in the gifted student but, initially, maintains formal relations. In early 1920, Heidegger shows gratitude to Löwith for “that excellent presentation of yours, in which I detected actual intellectual spirit without adherence to a specific scholarly dogmatism (which is the death of all philosophy)” (4). From 1920 onwards, the letters grow long with philosophical discourse, criticisms of academia, criticisms of Husserl, academic gossip, and book suggestions. Heidegger often uses Löwith as a springboard for lecture course topics to pursue. According to a 1920 letter, Heidegger asserts, “I have nixed the entire summer lecture course and am now reworking it anew…Perhaps I will dare to try this experiment in the coming semesters after all. Even we in philosophy are so weighed down by tradition, so unhistorical {unhistorisch}, that we no longer know ourselves. I have again thought about the Hegel seminar, and must say that there is no way he [Jonas Cohn] could have chosen a more inappropriate text than the Encyclopedia of Logic; it is evidence of the absolute innocuousness of everything when compared to Hegel, and also of the sort of dallying with philosophy that is so often practiced here” (5).

During this period Heidegger is a Privatdozent, a lecturer, and not the “secret king of thought” he would become after 1927’s publication of Being and Time. From 1919-1923, Heidegger is an assistant to Edmund Husserl at the University of Freiburg. In the letters of 1920, Heidegger often advises his student on many matters of the state of philosophy in Weimar Germany, and what Löwith can do to combat this pervasive philosophical shallowness. In Document 7, Heidegger elucidates to the young Löwith that “Spenglerizing seems to be subsiding, and it is now finally time for one to engage these ideas philosophically…You are still in those pleasant years during which one has time to read; only rarely do I have occasion to do so, and when I do read, it is always ‘with a particular purpose’…for we do not practice philosophy in order to stockpile bits of knowledge and propositions, but rather to shape life” (6). We also find quips in Documents 9 and 10 where Heidegger warns “against making relativism into a standpoint”; or muses “to become a Hegelian is only half as bad as becoming a Kierkegaardian”; or advises that “chattering on about the religious based on what one has read in an encyclopedia”; or imparts that “one should not desire to create proselytizers” (7-10). Around this time of exchange, the letters become intellectually dense and engaging. Heidegger writes to Husserl about taking on Löwith as a student, where Husserl is in “heartfelt agreement” (9). Heidegger, however, hesitates soon after by saying he is overworked and that he “is too poor at the moment to buy books” (9) and that “I myself am not even seen as a ‘philosopher’ anymore, for I am in fact only still a theologian” (12).

Löwith responds a month later in a moving letter demonstrating the student’s intellectual gifts. “For as much as I agree with you,” Löwith suggests, “about the separation of philosophy and scholarship, the problem nevertheless remains unsolved, given that today one cannot allow oneself to posit philosophical claims in the manner of Schelling or even Hegel” (14). He further claims that Max Weber comes close to “lifting such a heavy burden” for philosophy as at one time Hegel did (15). But after some skepticism, matched, in the previous letter, by Heidegger’s doubts on German philosophy, Löwith affirms, “given such doubts and such hesitancies regarding scholarly activity, it is difficult to justify making philosophy into a career” (15). To comment on Heidegger’s growing disinterest but incredible academic powers, Löwith ends the letter by requesting of Heidegger if he can speak truthfully. In describing his soon-to-be mentor, Löwith boldly expounds that he understands Heidegger on a spiritual level: “One senses a certain unease and humane insecurity within you, whose consequence is a slightly overcomposed acerbity and mistrust, and one seeks in you that indefinable inner freedom and ability to be in control of oneself. I am sure you yourself are suffering the most from this, and I would never mention it if I myself were not able to empathize all too well” (15).

Due to such statements and lengthy philosophical discourse, throughout the 1920s, Heidegger’s trusts his pupil immensely. Heidegger, for example, says to Löwith that the new volume of Kant Studien is worthless in its entirety (16). Löwith frequently criticizes Husserl attempting, I believe, to impress Heidegger, and Löwith appears to approach philosophy more in line with Heidegger than any other major German philosopher. In a 1923 letter, Heidegger asserts, “never in his life, not even for a second, was Husserl a philosopher. He is becoming increasingly ridiculous” (63). One can only imagine the substantial content of their in-person philosophical diatribes, as many of the letters confirm dates to meet in various German cities, while roaming the state for invited talks and conferences. Heidegger, on occasion, invites Löwith to his hut in the Black Forest. In Supplement 5, the editors include Karl Löwith’s written entry at the Heidegger family hut in Todtnauberg (1924). Although on that day, “philosophy of language came to expression in such a way that philosophy was not discussed” (169). “And now you have a letter full of gossip,” Heidegger writes in 1922, “but this is the only way that one can write about one’s situation; to speak of other matters in between would be a shame, it’s better to do that in person” (57). During these exchanges, Heidegger must have shown his increasing irritation with Plato philosophically and Husserl personally, although still dedicating Being and Time to the latter. Löwith convinces Heidegger that he is able to “strip off all of that rationalistic Platonism” (17). Later on, Löwith cites an encounter where during his second semester he voiced to Heidegger that he had a “vehement resistance to [Husserl’s] philosophical cast of mind. Today it is absolutely clear to me that Husserl, on the deepest level, is not a great philosopher, and that it is a massive delusion to put him on the same pedestal as Kant; his whole disposition is infinitely far removed from reality—it is without life and is doctrinally logical” (21).

Aside from a shared criticism of Husserl, which persists through the decade, Heidegger’s predisposition towards a pedagogy guided by philosophy shines forth from the text. Whatever can be said about Heidegger, these letters expose Heidegger’s devotion to teaching philosophy. In Document 25, there are ambivalent statements for Löwith to unpack, such as Heidegger’s ideal of “one’s mastery of things [which] arises out of the clearest and most stringent expertise—but in the philosophy itself, one should not notice this. These days, it is particularly difficult to advance toward a vibrant and enlivened philosophizing and to accomplish what it demands. And that is why you must not work at half strength, but must rather fuse reflection into, and with, philosophizing. Philosophy is not fun—one can be destroyed by it; and he who does not risk this will never come to it” (20). Although Heidegger desires an ambitious philosophical career, he does not wish to “make the world better—even less so university philosophers; everyone should say what they want to say, and then apply themselves accordingly” (20). Moreover, in a particularly chasten letter addressed to him, Löwith, on his teacher’s request, must take philosophy more seriously. Almost challenging Löwith forward into the path of higher learning, Heidegger evaluates, “you must become more disciplined in your work—not in regard to quantity, but in regard to quality. The meaning and sense of philosophizing is itself historical {historisch}, and what matters is to find one’s own—and to leave aside all the yardsticks of earlier philosophers…One should not unduly hasten the formation of one’s thoughts” (20).

The translators have correctly captured Heidegger’s incisive play on the word existence by leaving the term existentiell untranslated. Heidegger changes the word for existence in his later works to distinguish from conventional notions of the term. Engaging with Löwith on interpretations of his work, Heidegger seeks to charm the young scholar into following “the existentell interpretation of facticity” (37). We find the use of the term Dasein (again, correctly untranslated) as early as 1921, in perhaps a set of letters that provides the deepest philosophical dialectic between the interlocutors. In Document 25, Heidegger denies a definition of philosophy proposed by Löwith in a previous letter by stating philosophy is pointless in isolation. Philosophy only matters as belonging to existentell facticity. By claiming he does not follow Kierkegaard, Heidegger notes that tailoring one’s philosophical work to suit the “cultural tasks” of the “common man” is absurd (37). Instead, university philosophers must be tied essentially to factical-existentell life; however, Heidegger is “not hereby asserting that philosophy only exists within the university, but rather that philosophizing, precisely because of its foundational purpose at the university (understood in an existentiell way), therein has the facticity of its own enactment, and with that, its own limits and restrictions” (37). Löwith’s rebuke of this claim concerning inherent limitations in facticity would become the foundation of his thought for the rest of his philosophical career.

These early letters are filled with advice for Löwith to become a scholar in his own right. Admitting that he does not wish his time as a student upon anyone, Heidegger acknowledges he is today a great thinker because of his resolve as a student (39). What Löwith shows in Document 24, his most extensive and erudite letter, is extraordinary. He receives the lessons of his mentor’s pedagogy, proving so by claiming that one cannot “exist in the proper sense within just any and all sorts of scholarly philosophical questioning…One can only exist in a true and complete way when asking questions about existence, and existence does not coincide with scholarly fanaticism” (32). The self-discovery process through philosophical rigor is the quality, it appears, Heidegger holds in the highest regard, not only for himself, but also for his most promising pupil. From these letters preceding Being and Time, we can conclude that Heidegger’s early pedagogy is one of existentiell authenticity for himself and his student.

Period 2: 1925-1929

Löwith stays in Italy in 1924-1925. In summer 1923, Heidegger informs Löwith that he has “obtained an appointment in Marburg with the rights and status of an Ordinarius Professor beginning on October 1st” (73). In the following letter, Document 74, Löwith’s warm adoration of the good news presupposes that he and Heidegger, by this point, are close friends and philosophical confidants. As early as 1922, a year before the Beer Hall Putsch, Löwith writes to Heidegger, “frighteningly, hidebound nationalism and anti-Semitism (fueled by Bavarian beer) are spreading. Campaign posters are being hung in the lecture halls…They demand, for example, that the university should only be allowed to have 1 percent Jewish professors, because this correlates to the percentage of the population at large” (57). Löwith’s letters, from 1923 forward, reflect an anxiety about a career in philosophy, an existential concern voiced in previous letters. This time, however, the reason of concern is material subsistence. Löwith writes, “the little bit of money that [I] earn here doesn’t go very far given this ever-rising inflation. There won’t be many other opportunities for money in a small city like Marburg…Please excuse these tiresome financial matters, but unfortunately, nothing is possible without them” (75). Weimar inflation, Heidegger’s new position, lack of employment opportunity, anxiety about material goods, and growing anti-Semitism in Germany are the reasons we gain by reading the correspondence for why Löwith accepts a job to work at a bookstore in Rome (87).

Indeed, despite his student residing in Italy, Heidegger accepts Löwith to habilitate under him. In Document 56, Heidegger lays out his demands, should Löwith have plans to habilitate, “then the only thing that matters is to submit a solid work; apart from that do not let the intention become explicit in any way. On this occasion, I must tell you once again that the prospects of a position as a professor in the next decades are poorer than ever, owing to the fact that chairs in philosophy will most likely be reduced…The career track is a matter of luck. If you put effort into it, you will have my help. However, beyond that, I don’t want the aggravation of having to lead you by the hand” (85).

Despite his location, Löwith wishes for the prospect of habilitation. Habilitating only depends on “(1) if I produce a work that meets your expectations and that leads you to advocate for me, and (2) on the faculty…If you share my view, I would be very happy if you could send me this in your reply…” (86). “Naturally,” Löwith continues, “I am not in good spirits right now, but I am also not without hope…for I believe myself not to be in error when I take the two weeks…to be a sign that nothing was in vain, that I have not been given a burden too heavy to shoulder, and that my philosophical—scholarly abilities have continued to grow silently along with me, despite, and because of everything” (87). Heidegger confers his student to keep his head high as things are not so bad (126), despite Löwith’s sick father and the turmoil surrounding lack of career prospects. Heidegger responds, “I come from a very poor family—all that my parents scrimped and saved, without ever understanding what I was studying or what I planned to do—all of that was still so meager that I had to endure my time as a student with far greater privation than is the case today among ‘poor’ students. And it worked out because I never gave up…You will not starve to death, but life is not pleasant; not even when one is an Ordinarius Professor” (89). In a 1928 letter, Heidegger writes that every semester he started with nothing in his pockets. He had to go into debt and go hungry; he implores Löwith to persist through the adversity (126).

After his time in Italy, Löwith interprets Heidegger’s Being and Time for his habilitation thesis. In 1927, Löwith asks Heidegger to think back to his time under Husserl in Freiburg to “recognize the thankfulness within my unevenly matched assault” (111). Löwith is now thirty years old, and ready to defend his habilitation. In his own work, he has tried to present what he understands to be a problem of Heidegger’s thought (111). Whereas Heidegger’s Being and Time is about the authenticity of the ontological against the ontic of the das Mann or the they, the inauthentic crowd, Löwith’s central focus of his thesis is that Dasein is a being-with-others [Miteinanderseins] that “lies on the same plane of conflict as one’s authentic existence, and through ‘nature’ (sensibility) it does not become unproblematic but rather concretely and specifically problematic” (117).

Heidegger accepts Löwith’s habilitation thesis. Document 77 is a technical response from Heidegger to many of Löwith’s charges that Dasein must be-with-others. Defending his own work against Löwith’s interpretation, Heidegger is unwavering in his conviction that ontology is only founded ontically, and that he is the first person to have fully articulated this claim (121). The interlocutors write back and forth for the rest of 1927 and part of 1928 about the faculty process of passing Löwith.

In Supplement 2, the editors have printed in full “Martin Heidegger’s Assessment of Karl Löwith’s Habilitation Thesis (1928).” The thesis is entitled Der Individuum in der Rolle des Mitmenchen. The assessment outlines a shared world from being-with-others, another concept that has remained untranslated in English, Miteinanderseins, where subjects create relations of “personae” playing roles for others in a shared world (162). Out of this shared world, individuals determine their existential subjectivity by the world of things belonging before that of people (162). The adoption of a shared world is limited by the individual, as each shares a responsibility to individuality as such so that others maintain this existential process. In his assessment, Heidegger calls this the “I-You” relationship (162). Heidegger admits in prior letters that psychoanalysis and anthropology are irrelevant to crucial issues and not of much interest to him. But in the evaluation of the thesis, Heidegger praises the work as it shows “a scholarly independence that exceeds what is typical of habilitation theses in philosophy” (163).

Period 3: 1930s

In a letter dated April 29, 1928, Heidegger writes to Löwith that the committee “stands in agreement; thus your work can be disseminated to the faculty as quickly as possible” (127). After the habilitation period, Löwith searches for academic positions. Löwith becomes a Privatedozent in Marburg—from 1928 until Hitler’s ascension in 1933—where Heidegger advises him to “hold at least a three-hour a week lecture concerning the history of modern philosophy since Descartes. You have to immerse yourself and take from it what you can get…In the future, do not be too surprised if you come to experience more, and more powerfully, the demoralization of the university” (130-131).

In 1929, Löwith marries Elisabeth Ada Kremmer. Heidegger sends his best. Then, the relationship of the decade-long pen mates turns tense. Document 96 displays Heidegger’s disregard for superficiality, especially among the university elites, as he is thankful to Fate that he is “truly made of stuff that cannot be harmed by all this whispering and whining. Despite the inner necessity of the creative process, I would rather choose to remain in utter silence than have my work be dependent on this profession” (136). He criticizes the fact that Löwith cannot get away “from Dilthey, Nietzsche, and psychoanalysis”, which was proven “during your first semester when you did not follow my advice to study a wide range of historical lectures, which would have forced you into other matters. But how could I blame you for such things! Then, I could have quite easily and effortlessly prevented your habilitation” (136). As a lecturing academic, and no longer a student, Löwith defends the claims of his habilitation thesis against the charges. According to Löwith, “for then it would indeed be tautological to say that the human only ‘is’ the human on the basis of the Dasein within him…in reality it is neither tautological nor self-evident; and a justification for why this is so was lacking from Being and Time, a jettisoning of the ‘neutrality’ of essential ontological claims, and I see the first signs of such an attempt on pages 17 and 18 of your lecture [What is Metaphysics], where this purity of Dasein is proven on the basis of the one…who experiences anxiety, and where you say that anxiety ‘transforms’ the human into pure Dasein” (138). Nevertheless, Löwith confesses to Heidegger that “an astonishing number of students have learned an unconditional respect for philosophy through you, and you have probably experienced more joy with some of them than you did with me” (141).

1931 and 1932 hold many of the same previous themes of going over lecture topics and explication of philosophical concepts, besides the fact that now Löwith is asking for Heidegger’s advice on lecture topics. Just before the new year in 1932, Heidegger sends his sincere condolences for the loss of Löwith’s father. In the tumultuous year for the relationship when Heidegger embraces the Nazi party, we have three letters and one telegram from 1933, all from Heidegger. We are missing at least two because Heidegger thanks Löwith for letters mid-1933, which is after the April date of Heidegger’s rectorship of Freiburg University. Also, Heidegger congratulates Löwith on a stipend in July. One of the omissions is Löwith asking if he could dedicate his book to Heidegger (the editors suggest the book in question is Löwith’s Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, or the Philosophical and Theological Overcoming of Nihilism). Heidegger responds, “in reality I know well how you feel about me, even when your work goes in other directions. Also, with an eye toward possible situations in which I might be asked to render a judgement about you, I suggest that you omit the dedication” (149). Two letters appear from Heidegger in 1936-1937. Löwith emigrates to Japan in 1936, as living in Europe grows calamitous.

Period 4: Reconciliation

Löwith would ride out the war in America, teaching at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut (1941-1949) and at the New School for Social Research (1949-1952). In 1952, he moves back to Germany to become an Ordinarius Professor at Heidelberg. From New York, Löwith sends a telegram in 1949 giving Heidegger best wishes on his sixtieth birthday. In Document 113 Löwith writes Heidegger from his new position at Heidelberg. After almost two decades of silence, interrupted only by the birthday telegram, Löwith discusses academic conferences and interpretations of Nietzsche. While 1966 is the year Heidegger claims that “only a god can save us now” in the famous Der Spiegel interview, a year later Heidegger and Löwith reconnect when Löwith is in Freiburg for a two-day colloquium on “Modern Atheism and Morality” (277). The return letter from Heidegger indicates that they did plan to visit each other. Unclear is how close the relationship is immediately afterwards. In the 1970s, nothing of substance is exchanged in letters. Heidegger writes Löwith in 1973 when he learns from Gadamer about his illness. During time of sickness, Heidegger writes, “the world contracts and withdraws into the simple. In our old age, we think of the end—but also of the beginning—of our paths” (155). This remark undoubtedly draws attention to the good moments they had discussing philosophy and gossiping about Husserl in the early 1920s. After Löwith’s death, we draw the correspondence to a close when Heidegger receives a photo of the departed from Frau Löwith to which Heidegger says shows him “in a state of calm and collected contemplation” (156).

What Correspondence 1919-1973 brings to English readers is indispensable. It uncovers a foregone age of thinking between two monumental figures. The major linchpin thematically is the year Heidegger becomes a figurehead for National Socialism. Before then, in the correspondence, Löwith is an astute student, and after, the relationship fragments. While Löwith would finally embrace a professional career in philosophy, after all his written anxiety about the pursuit, his insight into 1933 becomes a topic of an autobiography originally published as an essay for a competition at Harvard in 1939 “My Life in Germany Before and After 1933”. Indeed, many of Löwith’s later writings find Heidegger’s existentell analytic a reason for his political involvement with National Socialism. Undoubtedly due to Heidegger’s unique philosophical pedagogy in early 1920s, Löwith would make a laudable philosophical career searching for limits in a time when society removes traditional constraints. What these exchange of letters makes known with clarity is that Löwith, while habilitating under Heidegger, already finds the concepts of authenticity and facticity problematic for their lack of ground for being-with-others. The translators of this volume capture all the necessary components to make sense of Heidegger’s early thinking, while the editors carefully provide more than enough supplementary material to contextualize and situate the often-perplexing references. By providing English readers with Heidegger and Löwith’s erudite relationship, in their own written words, Correspondence 1919-1973 is essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth-century continental thought.

Karl Kraatz: Das Sein zur Sprache bringen, Königshausen & Neumann, 2022

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2022
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Martin Heidegger: Duns Scotus’s Doctrine of Categories and Meaning, Indiana University Press, 2022

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Martin Heidegger: Gesamtausgabe 91: Ergänzungen und Denksplitter, Klostermann, 2022

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Jeffrey Andrew Barash: Shadows of Being, ibidem Press, 2022

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Wanda Torres Gregory: Speaking of Silence in Heidegger

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
2021
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Reviewed by: Christopher Braddock (Auckland University of Technology)

Wanda Torres Gregory’s latest book, entitled Speaking of Silence in Heidegger, explores the conceptual links and deep undercurrents at work in Martin Heidegger’s often unforthcoming thinking on silence. In typical chronological fashion (as with her previous book Heidegger’s Path to Language) she charts the course of Heidegger’s thoughts on silence, from Being and Time in the period of 1927–29, to the collection of essays in the 1950s On the Way to Language, and ending in Chapter 9 with critical conclusions about Heidegger’s thinking on silence from the 1950s onward. On this basis, Torres Gregory critically assesses Heidegger’s later ideas on silence in terms of “autonomous forces that define our essence as the beings who speak in word-sounds” (as described on her homepage for Simmons University where she is Professor of Philosophy).

This book plays an important role in prioritising non-visual phenomena. Both Don Idhe and Lisbeth Lipari have pointed to a visualist habit in phenomenology as well as western epistemologies in general. Idhe writes in Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound that there is a sense of vision that “pervades the recovery of the Greek sense of physis by Heidegger [where] ‘lighting,’ ‘clearing,’ ‘shining,’ ‘showing,’ are all revels in light imagery” (2007: 21). In this context, Idhe explores how auditory phenomena might be studied in a phenomenology of sound and listening that also gives way to “the enigma… of the horizon of silence” (2007: 23). Torres Gregory’s Speaking of Silence in Heidegger contributes richly to this genealogy of phenomenological scholarship that gives precedence to non-visual phenomena and their enigmatic relationship to hearing, listening and silence.

As I read Speaking of Silence in Heidegger, I was stimulated to question, ponder, and reason carefully about the great problem of silence. The contents page enticed me to read with chapter headings such as: Toward the Essence of Silence (Chapter 2); Quiet Musings in the Project toward the Stillness (Chapter 7); and The Soundless Peal of the Stillness (Chapter 8). I was immediately drawn into a sense of mystery and a longing to know more about essence, poetics, stillness of silence and its relationships to language. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in silence and the philosophy of language.

Reading the Introduction, titled “On the Way to Silence,” a wordplay on Heidegger’s “On the Way to Language,” we know that Torres Gregory is a good teacher (she is a recipient of the Simmons University Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching). She can say complex things relatively simply and map out her terrain with ease. The Introduction charts the thesis of the book well, pinpointing the author’s main claims, giving us a background to Heidegger’s ideas of silence in its links with truth and language as well as a comprehensive summary of chapters to follow.

A main focus of the book is the importance Heidegger places on the following terms: being silent (Geschweigen), keeping silent (Schweigen), hearkening (Horchen), and reticence (Verschwiegenheit) (Torres Gregory, 2021: xiii). Implicated in this theme, Torres Gregory’s interpretation focuses on what Heidegger says and doesn’t say (or hints at) concerning silence. “I make the effort to let him speak and intimate in his own words,” she writes (xiii). In this respect, Torres Gregory’s methodology follows similar enigmatic patterns to the concept of silence itself. Here, her folding of methodology and content is a powerful and original aspect of her writing. While some readers might find this overly speculative, this reader found it a productive mode of thinking in its own right, enabling an expansion of Heidegger’s ideas. However, given Heidegger’s emphasis on human silence as relating to a refraining from speaking about certain things or withholding certain words, his public silence concerning the Holocaust will come to mind for many readers. Torres Gregory does not shy away from this challenge, but the issue is by no means centre-stage in the discussion.

The Introduction identifies three distinct schematic forms of silence in the works of Heidegger: human silence which applies to speaking in word-sounds that can occur when we refrain from speaking, withhold words or when we are at a loss for words (xv); primordial silence, which is “deeper than human silence in that it pertains to being/beyng and to language in its being” and applies to the “essence of language as the soundless saying that shows or to the word as the silent voice or clearing of being/beyng”; and finally, primeval silence which is the “deepest silence that determines all silences, including the primordial silence of the word and, ultimately, the human silence” and “[p]ertains to the stillness and to the originary concealedness of being/beyng” (xv). Torres Gregory further explores three different levels at which silence occurs in language as speech: linguistic, pre-linguistic and proto-linguistic which move from language in word-sounds, the word as belonging to being/beyng, and the essence of language “as the soundless saying that shows or the word as the clearing” (xvi). Torres Gregory argues that this proto-linguistic level includes the stillness and relates to forms of primeval silence. This continues the work of scholars such as Alexander Garcia Düttmann in The Gift of Language who in asking “What does it mean to experience silence as the essence of language and as the completely condensed word (das ganz gesammelte Wort)?” answers via Rosenzweig, that the silence experienced is “unlike the muteness of the protocosmos (Vorwelt), which had no words yet” (2000: 23). Silence, Düttmann continues with reference to Heidegger, “marks the path which leads from proto-cosmic or pre-worldly mutism to trans-worldly silence” in which silence “no longer has any need of the word… is more essential than the word, which is the word as such” (2000: 24).

With reference to Being and Time, Chapter 1 articulates being-in-the-world through words (language) as significations, verbalising Da-sein’s mood and understanding. However, talking and listening are not necessarily characteristic of all discourse. Discourse has the possibility of silence when it is not fully vocalised; by not speaking about something, for example. Thus, hidden interpretations can remain silent and this silence is already part of vocalised discourse (Torres Gregory, 2021: 3). Moreover, silence can occur across authentic and inauthentic modalities. For example, idle talk and listening to idle talk (gossiping), Torres Gregory claims, imposes silence about beings talked about “by treating them as something that we already understand and have no need to inquire into any further” (4).

Levels of silence in language become even more complex as Torres Gregory follows Heidegger’s argument that silence can also occur in regard to the self in everyday being-in-the world. While the “authentic self has taken hold of and is its own self,” Da-sein’s everyday way of being-in-the-world involves covering itself up which is the inauthentic they–self (4). So, idle talk of the ‘they’ has potential to sever Da-sein from authentically relating to itself; it “drowns out the call of conscience through loud and incessant chatter and hearing all round” (8). The ‘they’ can talk loudly and endlessly provoked by its curiosities, and idle talk can silence authentic experiences. It can even cover up its own failure to hear the call of conscience (4). Furthermore, this chapter explains well the possibility that keeping silence is based on Heidegger’s notion of “having ‘something to say,’ which involves an ‘authentic and rich’ self-disclosedness and thereby can contribute to an authentic uncovering with others” (5). In this sense, authentically keeping silent in dialogue with others can mean silencing idle talk, counter-discourse and all linguistic/verbal language, which equates to a keeping silent and hearkening (8). But the “deepest silence lies within Da-sein, in what Heidegger refers to as ‘the stillness of itself’ and identifies as that to which it is ‘called back’ and ‘called back as something that is to become still’” (7).

Following Heidegger’s 1933–34 winter course “On the Essence of Truth,” Chapter 2 emphasises that language is the necessary medium of human existence and that the “ability to keep silent is the origin and ground of language” (19). Torres Gregory traces moments of Heidegger’s own keeping silence and reticence, thus mapping out a philosophical and pedagogical method in Heidegger that reflects the topic itself. This includes his ability to stay on the surface and provide minimal necessary clarification as if part of keeping silent and reticence. In this context, problems are described such that: “If we talk about ‘keeping silent,’ then it seems that we know nothing about it. If we do not talk about it, then we may end up mystifying it” (20). In turning to another problem, that animals cannot speak, questions are asked about whether “the ability to talk [is] the precondition for the ability to be silent” (20). Here, Heidegger argues that authentically keeping silent relates to the possibility of speaking and alludes to “what one has to say, one has and keeps to oneself” (21). It is at these junctions that Torres Gregory articulately claims an essential relationship between silence, truth and language in Da-sein’s being (21). Through a further reading of Heidegger’s 1934 summer course, Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language, Torres Gregory sets up subsequent directions for future chapters as Heidegger poses preliminary questions concerning language: “Is language only then, when it is spoken? Is it not, when one is silent?” and “Does it cease to be, if one is silent?” (26).

In Chapter 3, Torres Gregory shows how Heidegger develops a distinction between idle talk and keeping silent through Hölderlin’s poetry, helping him to define primordial silence as the origin of language, as well as language as the originary site of the unconcealedness of beyng, which pertains to what Torres Gregory identifies as primeval silence (31). The disclosive powers of poetry ‘thrusts’ us out of everydayness (32). Torres Gregory argues that Heidegger’s interpretation of Hölderlin’s poetic verse “Since we are a dialogue,” allows him to revisit the notion of  “talking-with-one-another” as a way of “being-in-the-world” as an event or happening determined by language (33). Importantly, this image of “humans as a dialogue” or “the dialogue that we are” includes an ability to keep silent as the authentic form of silence (34). Thus, an ability to speak is unified with an ability to keep silent (34). In this context, Torres Gregory notes that, for Heidegger, a poetic telling (which Hölderlin’s poetry exemplifies) or a philosophical lecture (where the most significant is kept silent or unsaid) are the authentic models of keeping silent, and also therefore of the possibility of saying and talking (34). In contrast, idle talk is incapable of keeping silent. Quoting from Heidegger’s Hölderlin’s Hymns “Germania” and “The Rhein,” Torres Gregory notes: “It is thereby a way of talking everything to death to which we become enslaved. Thus, he admonishes that ‘one cannot simply ramble on,’ if one is ‘to simultaneously preserve in silence what is essential to one’s saying’” (35). This important chapter finishes with a comparison between keeping silent and forms of hearing. Inauthentic mortals in their idle talk flee from hearing and have a “horror of silence” (38). So, a poetic or genuinely philosophical hearing involves “a keeping silent as well as an anticipatory readiness” (37). Here, Torres Gregory furthers the scholarship of Lisbeth Lipari who introduced the concept of ‘interlistening’ to describe how “listening is itself a form of speaking that resonates with echoes of everything heard, thought, said, and read,” while referencing Heidegger’s claim in Poetry, Language, Thought that “every word of mortal speech speaks out of such a listening, and as such a listening. Mortals speak insofar as they listen” (2014: 512).

Chapter 4 discusses Heidegger’s private manuscript from 1936 to 1938, Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) where he initiates a transition from a metaphysics of objective presence to the thinking of the truth of beyng in the ‘appropriating event’ or Ereignis (Torres Gregory, 2021: xix, 41). Torres Gregory discusses the different forms of silence that unfold in the appropriating event. For Heidegger, thinking takes the form of a “thoughtful speaking” (41) and Torres Gregory pursues the thoughtful speaking of sigetics (to keep or to be silent) who “bears silence and is reticent in its co-respondence with the primordial silence of the word and the primeval silence of beyng” (xix-xx). As with other chapters in this book, one of Torres Gregory’s original contributions is to acknowledge Heidegger’s own tendency towards sigetics, forcing her to interpret what he intimates about the “deeper silences of beyng and the word when he identifies silence as the ground and origin of language in its essence” (xx). While exploring attitudes of restraint, shock, and diffidence, Torres Gregory argues that stillness, as the ability to hear beyng, involves the ability to be silent (43).

Chapter 5 analyses Heidegger’s 1939 graduate seminar, On the Essence of Language. The Metaphysics of Language and the Essencing of the Word Concerning Herder’s Treatise On the Origin of Language. Torres Gregory first establishes Heidegger’s resistance to Herder’s metaphysics of language where the word is reduced, for example, to signification as representation and objectification associated with ‘mark-sign’ and ‘sign-production’ (56). Herder’s failure to differentiate between human and animal (in a sounding of sensations) urges Heidegger to emphasise how the word has or takes us, rather than it being a communication device that the human has (58). In this context, Heidegger builds on Herder’s thinking on the ear as “the first teacher of language” to include “what is unsaid” (58). Torres Gregory has extremely valuable insights into Heidegger’s thinking as she notes that Herder misunderstands silence as an absence of noise rather than a more essential silence (59). For Heidegger hearing is the “hearkening that pertains to Da-sein’s silencing” (59). Again, Torres Gregory extracts extended (often reticent) meanings from Heidegger’s thinking, arriving at claims that the word is silent in a primordial sense, as it harbors or silently discloses beyng it is unconcealedness, (59) resulting in a claim that the silence of the word is the origin of language (60-1).

Chapter 6 explores the 1944 summer seminar “Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos”. Torres Gregory aligns silence with the unsaid, and the unsayable in Heraclitus, where Heidegger identifies ‘the true’ with ‘the unsaid’ (68). And in future chapters this will develop, for Torres Gregory, as “the essence of language as the peal of the stillness” (68). Here, hearkening to the word, or Logos, involves listening to the silent address of being, rather than listening to the chatter of human speech (69). Such attentive listening to the Logos is only possible, Torres Gregory argues, through Heidegger’s “thoughtful and poetic saying,” which is marked by silences. In this context, silence draws limits on what can be said. Silence or quiescence (the state of being temporarily quiet) is interpreted by Torres Gregory in its close association with concealedness (74). Word-sounds originate in quiescence and permeate speech as a hearkening and reticence of thoughtful and poetic sayings (71). In this regard, Torres Gregory draws attention to Heidegger’s term ‘fore-word’ and its relationship to quiescence as a stillness that is a deep and primeval silence (72). Thus, verbal word-sounds that occur in speech are grounded in soundlessness which is grounded in the stillness. Importantly, Torres Gregory highlights Heidegger’s differentiation between hearkening and listening as acoustic perception, noting that hearkening is “originary listening” that enables the hearing of sounds. As Torres Gregory writes: “the tones of the harp (to use one of [Heidegger’s] own examples), is thus based ultimately on our openness to the soundless and inaudible voice of being” (75).

Chapter 7 discusses two sections of Heidegger’s On the Essence of Language and On the Question Concerning Art produced just after 1939. Torres Gregory writes: “Heidegger sketches out his thoughts on silence, particularly in its primeval relation to beyng itself in the appropriating-event and as the origin of the essence of language” (79). With typical care, Torres Gregory discusses the translation of three key words: Verschweigen, Schweigen and Erschweigen which correspond to keeping secret in relation to the sayable, keeping silent in relation to the unsayable, and silencing in relation to the unsaid as such (79, 83). She reiterates the positive dimension that Heidegger lends silence as a positive force. She writes: “Keeping secret can be a way of sheltering what is sayable. Being silent can arise from our ability to leave the unsayable in its unsayability. As for our silencing, it inherently involves the positive acts of preserving and conserving saying with its ground in unsaidness” (83). Torres Gregory is at pains to show how these notions of ‘soundlessness’ or ‘non-sonorousness’ in Heidegger’s vocabulary are not negative concepts; not a lack, but a fullness from which sounds emerge, predicated on a stillness, as primeval silence (82). Because chapters 1 to 8 form a complex analysis of Heidegger’s thinking, with any criticism reserved for the final chapter, we are left at points in this book wondering how these philosophical concepts of language and silence might relate to different genders and cultures. For many women and/or indigenous peoples, silencing inherently involves negative acts of being silenced or being made to keep secrets as forms of disempowerment. As Torres Gregory briefly mentions in her concluding Chapter 9, this raises questions about how Heidegger’s thinking excludes bodies that differ.

Chapter 8 discusses the ways in which the collection of essays On the Way to Language and the idea of the ‘peal of the stillness’ unfolds as Heidegger ponders the relations between language and silence (95). Torres Gregory reiterates her three main foci on silence from the previous chapters (human hearkening and reticence, the primordial silencing of the word, and the stillness of primeval silence) (96) in relation to Ereignis, a term that has been translated diversely as ‘event,’ ‘appropriation’ or ‘appropriating event’. While Heidegger constantly refers to the disclosive power and necessity of language in its essence “as the appropriative speaking, saying, showing, letting-appear, clearing, and calling” (98), Torres Gregory notes his insistence that it is only through ‘authentic’ listening (in the manner of thinking and poetry) that humans have the ability to speak (100). In other words, all authentic saying must be attuned to restraint. Quoting Heidegger, she writes: “The reticence and reserve of poets and thinkers in their responding is thus appropriated by the peal of the stillness: ‘Every authentic hearing holds back with its own saying. For hearing keeps to itself in the listening by which it remains appropriated to the peal of the stillness. All responding is attuned to this restraint that reserves itself’” (102). And this chapter ends with a warning that language can only speak in relation to how the appropriating event reveals itself or withdraws. If this corresponds to our ability to quietly listen, Torres Gregory emphasises the significance of stillness within the “dangers that challenge-forth in the noisy and frenzied age of the ‘language-machine’” (103).

One problem with Speaking of Silence in Heidegger is a lack of contextualisation of the literature on silence. Torres Gregory’s book is definitely a specialist book on Heidegger rather than an analysis of the recent history of scholarship on silence in relationship to Heidegger’s thinking. For example, key texts on silence are relegated to the footnotes (albeit with brief analysis) and never appear in the discussion of the main text. These include Max Picard’s The World of Silence (1948), Bernard Dauenhauer’s Silence: The Phenomenon and its Ontological Significance (1980), Luce Irigaray’s “To Conceive Silence” (2001), Don Idhe’s Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Silence (2007), and Niall Keane’s “The Silence of the Origin” (2013). As a reader, I would have benefited from further incorporation of these texts into the discussion. This would have enabled Torres Gregory’s book to be a more significant contribution to the overall scholarship on silence. But, make no mistake, her book is a very significant contribution to Heideggerian scholarship and the notion of silence. It should also be pointed out that, apart from one footnote to Dauenhauer in Chapter 2, all these key texts on silence just mentioned appear in the footnotes for Chapter 9.

This attests to the importance of Chapter 9 in the overall argument of the book. In this concluding chapter, Torres Gregory expands the significance of her research in three different ways. Firstly, she questions whether the only way to silence and silencing experiences is through sonorous speech and asks how various non-linguistic achievements and co-responses to and with silence such as music might operate. In this vein, she questions Heidegger’s narrow focus on poetry and philosophical thinking as the only authentic models of keeping silent and also therefore of the possibility of saying and talking. Here, Torres Gregory explores Heidegger’s failure to incorporate the lived body in his philosophical concepts of language and silence, including the “gender neutrality of Da-sein, the homogeneity of the Volk as a ‘We,’ and the one world of the Mitdasein (being-there-with)” as ideas that exclude bodies that differ (113). Torres Gregory does not shy away from Heidegger’s antisemitism and the silencing of bodies that suffer oppression and extermination (114). Secondly, she argues that Heidegger “leaves open the possibility of a mysticism that is not ensnared in metaphysics” (115) in both content and his repetitive incantatory methods of writing. Thirdly, Torres Gregory critiques Heidegger’s emphasis on language with respect to animals who are rendered languageless and therefore silenceless. In this section, her critique that sheds light on contemporary dilemmas, such as our lack of relationship to the earth, is all too brief and could be the focus of another book: “Perhaps we would be better at letting the earth be the earth, if we tried to transpose ourselves into the animal’s intrinsically meaningful experiences, including that of its own extreme possibility” she writes (120).

Chapter 9, and this whole book, highlights the challenges faced in accommodating Heidegger’s thinking for our current times. For example, quantum physicist and philosopher Karen Barad questions the animate/inanimate dualism that places inorganic entities such as rocks, molecules and particles “on the other side of death, of the side of those who are denied even the ability to die” in her 2012 interview for Women, Gender & Research (Juelskjær et al, 21). And from a related but different perspective, Donna Haraway’s ideas of ‘companion species’ in her 2003 book The companion species manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness, argues for emergent ‘naturecultures’ in dog-human worlds, embracing linguistic ‘metaplasm’ as a way of avoiding human/nonhuman dualisms in language. These approaches lie in stark contrast to Heidegger’s insistence in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics that “The stone in its absorption ‘does not even have the possibility of dying,’ because ‘it is never alive’” (Torres Gregory, 2021: 120). And in contrast to Heidegger’s determination (again, as quoted by Torres Gregory) that animals, who do not possess human sonorous speech, “cannot die in the sense in which dying is ascribed to humans, but can only come to an end” (120). Barad and Haraway are the kinds of scholars that many of our postgraduate students are referencing as they embrace more-than-human modalities in the crisis of the Anthropocene. If Heideggerian scholarship wants to remain relevant, it needs to urgently critique and explore different approaches to Heidegger’s anthropocentrism.

Finally, in less than one page, this book addresses how Heidegger’s prophecies concerning gigantism and machination have a bearing on our current situation. Quoting Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event), Torres Gregory writes: “At issue is whether the human being will be ‘masterful enough’ for the ‘transition to the renewal of the world out of the saving of the earth’” (121). And in the last paragraph, we glimpse the promise of what ‘releasement’ (Gelassenheit) toward things might hold for our times; a concept that Hans Ruin explores as a ‘mystical’ comportment of Heidegger’s writing as a heightened openness and awareness in relationship to the work of Meister Eckhart. Given the proximity of thinking about silence and mysticism, I was hopeful that this book might have dedicated more words to the striking relations thrown up through Torres Gregory’s exploration of being silent, keeping silent, hearkening, and reticence. For example, the discussion in Chapter 1 concerning the authentic and inauthentic self relates in a powerful way to spiritual/mystical traditions that address the heedless and worldly desires of the ego as it muzzles an authentic relationship with the divine essence. This is not far removed from Torres Gregory’s discussion relating to Da-sein’s everyday way of being-in-the-world that covers itself up (the inauthentic they–self) and where internal idle talk of the they distracts Da-sein from authentically relating to itself (4). Torres Gregory’s claim that publicness and idle talk characterise an inauthentic silence—as well as the hearkening to the silent call of conscience involving the possibility of authentically keeping silent and reticent—resonates deeply with mystical traditions in their quest to quieten the ego in favour of compassion and spiritual forms of love towards the self and the world/earth. How would ‘releasement’ operate as an openness to the truth of Being? This is an example of how Speaking of Silence in Heidegger might have made more productive links within its own structure and towards broader fields of literature, especially pertaining to silence and mysticism.

Torres Gregory’s Speaking of Silence in Heidegger makes a profound and timely contribution to thinking about silence and its essential relationship to language. It guides us through complex registers of silence including forms of hearkening and reticence as a listening that is deeply attentive to the unsaid and the unsayable. It gives timely warning vis-à-vis the idle talk of the world and our own internal idle talk, reiterating that saying must be attuned to restraint or our ability to quietly listen. Furthermore, a deeper silence is a ‘calling back’ and lies within Da-sein as ‘the stillness of itself’. Moreover, our capacity for ‘the dialogue that we are’ to emerge in community depends on our capacity for attentive stillness within the dangerous noise of the ‘language-machine’.

Bibliography:

Düttmann Alexander García. 2000. The Gift of Language: Memory and Promise in Adorno, Benjamin, Heidegger, and Rosenzweig. Translated by Arline Lyons. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Haraway, Donna. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Ihde, Don. 2007. Listening and Voice Phenomenologies of Sound. 2nd ed. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Juelskjær, Malou, Nete Schwennesen, and Karen Barad. 2012. “Intra-active Entanglements – An Interview with Karen Barad.” Kvinder, Køn & Forskning NR (Women, Gender & Research) 1-2: 10-23.

Lipari, Lisbeth. 2014. “On Interlistening and the Idea of Dialogue.” Theory & Psychology 24, no. 4: 504–23. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354314540765.

Ruin, Hans. 2019. “The Inversion of Mysticism—Gelassenheit and the Secret of the Open in Heidegger.” Religions 10, no. 15: https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010015.

Torres Gregory, Wanda. 2021. Speaking of Silence in Heidegger. London, UK: Lexington Books.

Samantha Matherne: Cassirer

Cassirer Book Cover Cassirer
The Routledge Philosophers
Samantha Matherne
Routledge
`2021
Paperback GBP £19.99
306

Reviewed by: Nikolaus Schneider

The Ernst Cassirer renaissance is in full order. Since Massimo Ferrari’s anticipation and prediction that the German philosopher would be lifted from the realms of semi-forgottenness in 1994 different lines of reception have swept through the German-, Italian- and English-speaking world. (cf. Ferrari, 1994) It was only a matter of time until this resurgence would carry over to Anglo-American departments, where, along with a renewed interest in Neo-Kantianism, more and more research on Cassirer is being conducted.[1] The newly translated and edited edition of his three volume magnus opum The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms by Routledge is a case in point here. Accordingly, the present work by Samantha Matherne, assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard University, is perhaps only the logical conclusion to a new wave of Cassirer reception in the English-speaking world, appearing in the renowned The Routledge Philosophers series edited by Brian Leitner. Primarily aimed at undergraduate students, the book will surely complement many syllabi on the German philosopher in the English-speaking academy for years to come, especially as the hitherto existing English introduction to Cassirer, John Michael Krois’ Symbolic Forms and History, is by now 34 years old.

In the contemporary reception Cassirer’s philosophy is explicitly advertised as being able to bridge “gaps not only between the so-called ‘analytic-continental divide’ in philosophy, but also between philosophy and other disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences” (p.2)[2] Indeed, apart from purely historical considerations the primary aim of contemporary research on Cassirer seems to be the development of a transcendental philosophy of culture as the investigation of the conditions of possibility that enable cultural artifacts and their world by means of an analysis of the different modalities of symbolization. (cf. Endres et al., 12f.; Luft 2021, 215) Following the influential studies of Peter Gordon (Gordon, 2010) and Michael Friedmann (Friedmann, 2000) the peculiar position of Cassirer in 20th century (German) philosophy is  recognized and contextualized and with it a philosophy that seemingly does not outright reject modernity’s proliferation of cultural and life-forms in either a rural conservative individual flight to authenticity (Heidegger) or a detached logic-semantical analysis of scientific propositions (Carnap). Hans Sluga, a reviewer of Gordon’s book, however, expressed his doubts about deriving a reconciliation of culture via Cassirer:

Cassirer was no doubt an accomplished philosopher, an influential teacher, and above all a thoroughly decent and admirable human being, but he does not get close in stature to the much more problematic Heidegger, and he certainly also lacks the philosophical radicalism of a Wittgenstein, Foucault, or Derrida and the incisive scientific acumen of a Russell, Quine, or Rawls. Attempts to revive his fortunes are, I am afraid, doomed to failure. (Sluga, 2011)

However, the contemporary reception of Cassirer wagers that the German philosopher has still a lot to offer for present-day problematics. (cf. Gordon 2021, xiv; cf. Luft/ Ferrari 2021, passim)

How the background of this reception and its repercussions along with the different ‘geophilosophical’ context vis-à-vis existing German introductions (Sandkühler/ Pätzold, 2003; Graeser, 1994; Recki, 2004, 2013; Paetzold, 2014) have shaped the task of presenting a summary and overview of Cassirer’s philosophy will form the frame of this review. The author’s aim to “offer an overview of Cassirer’s philosophical system as a whole that can help the reader navigate his corpus” will determine its immanent threshold of success. (p.2) I will provide a summary of its contents before engaging in a more critical reading.

After setting out from a brief biography of Cassirer, the book unfolds via a historical contextualization of Cassirer within the broader movement of Marburg Neo-Kantianism as the general frame of reference and conceptualization Cassirer worked and philosophized within. “For all the shifts and developments in Cassirer’s body of work, his philosophical system remains, throughout, that of a Neo-Kantian.” (p.18) It is transcendental spontaneity that for Matherne is the central motif of Cassirer’s effort for a philosophy of culture and in connection with the methodological impetus of accounting for the conditions of possibilities of cultural facts the decisive trait of his intellectual lineage. Hence this, after setting the general picture of Marburg Neo-Kantianism as being primarily scientifically oriented right, amounts to a transcendental investigation of the conditions of possibility of meaning-creating/ – making in a shared world. In this sense, (Marburg) Neo-Kantianism tout court had always already been on the way to a philosophy of culture, though it is Cassirer’s merit to conduct this investigation in a way that would do justice to the concept of culture. (cf. p. 31f.)

In practice, this configures the subject’s capability to confer meaning- and form – making processes freely and spontaneously upon the world. Matherne decisively accounts for this by contextualizing Cassirer’s indebtedness to Cohen’s and Natorp’s intellectualist interpretation of Kant’s theory of cognition – the actual conceptuality of what had been forms of intuition, space and time, in Kant. (cf. p. 39ff.) In other words, all forms of cognition and perception remain relative to the transcendental subject’s employment of a range of categories. On this view, Cassirer’s central philosophical innovation consists in invoking the ‘softer’ notions of form and symbol/ function against ‘law’ – the former two permitting a greater range of phenomena attributable to the ‘world of meaning’. (cf. p. 37.)

Accounting for this in more detail, Matherne sets out to retrace the younger Cassirer’s work on epistemology and a theory of concept-formation, largely neglecting the first published monograph Leibniz’ System in its Scientific Foundations and the first volume of Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit. Rather, Cassirer’s first central philosophical innovation is said to have first and foremost occurred within the theory of concepts and the adjacent philosophy of mathematics to form conceptual and scientific basic distinctions, which, insisting on the continuity of Cassirer’s thought, remain invariant up to The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms and beyond. In this way, Cassirer’s elaboration of the distinction between substance-concept and function-concept in the eponymous book are employed to account for the respective processes of objectification (Ver-gegenständlichung) yielding the symbolic forms and their ranges of perception and cognition. This amounts essentially to the primacy of the category of relation over substance from Kant’s transcendental logic to prevent a notion of concepts as being mere copies of pre-existing objects attained by way of abstraction. (cf. Truwant 2015, 291) A spontaneously conceived function – later to be extended as symbolic form – posits a law of succession and orders a series of representations according to it. (cf. 53ff.)

The remaining chapter presents Cassirer’s consequent views in the philosophy of arithmetic and geometry. Matherne summarizes the attained position under the heading of  ‘logical structuralism’, “according to which mathematics has its basis in functions of relations that belong to logic and mathematical objects are ideal structures generated on the basis of those functions or relations.” (p. 75) Although introducing Cassirer’s first philosophical innovation in this way diminishes the methodological role of the Neo-Kantian’s historiography of philosophy as a history of problems (Problemgeschichte) in relation to the historization of the a priori and its relevance for the establishment of the function-concept, the presented difference between the two respective views is presented clearly and convincingly.

The historical character of functions comes back in Cassirer’s ‘philosophy of natural science’, which is the topic of the ensuing chapter. In dialogue with the natural scientist, it is the transcendental philosopher’s task to account for the conditions of possibility of the facts of science by means of a reconstruction of the corresponding transcendental functions, which remain relative to the overall scientific context of experience (cf. p. 81 In the context of natural science this task amounts to the elaboration of the fundamental concepts employed by the natural scientist and the positions the yielded concepts occupy within their empirical theories. Hence the elaboration of a taxonomy of the scientific statements of measurement, laws and principles as instantiations of a different order of generality. In turn, the philosopher should, according to Cassirer, make out the invariant relations on a purely conceptual level. (cf. p. 98.) In the last instance, these figure as the transcendental categories, that is, the functions continuously employed in all scientific endeavors such as time, space, or number. Although these may be configured differently over history they serve as the functional a priori building blocks of any scientific theory.

Subsequently, the discussion moves on to the philosophy of symbolic forms proper, that is, not just the elaboration of the eponymous trilogy, but also the dispersed articles and texts written between 1920 and 1945. Matherne chooses to frame the philosophy of symbolic form as a philosophy of culture throughout, and, although not outright neglecting its later transformation into a philosophical anthropology, takes her “cue from his early formulations of it in The Philosophy Symbolic Forms and other texts from the 1920s”. (p. 116) While it is conceded that Cassirer’s thought evolved in newer directions at a later stage of his career, the conception of a ‘philosophy of culture’ is by definition a narrower one than that of a philosophical anthropology. And although the reason for this concession is provided for in the continuity of the central status of symbolization as seen in the dictum of the human as animal symbolicum, questions why this should not compel one to conceive of his philosophy of culture as a philosophical anthropology[3] are unanswered. (cf. 116f.) It is perhaps by way of the general relevance of Cassirer for a contemporary philosophy of culture that this conception is motivated. Rather than going the whole way of conceiving of the philosophy of symbolic forms as a philosophical anthropology the more modest task of investigating meaning-making processes fairs equally well with the ascribed position of the German philosopher with regard to the analytic-continental split. Thus, the task of the philosophy of symbolic forms “is ultimately organized around an effort to elucidate the conditions of culture.” (p. 119)

Matherne follows the common distinction between the different forms of culture along the subjective and objective lines. The former is comprised of the different modalities of representation as the triad of expressive, presentative and significative functions, the latter as the continuous progression of objective spirit, that is, culture’s overall context of signification as an “a priori intersubjectively shared structure and activity, which unites human beings […] together.” (p. 120) The different symbolic forms encompass respective “perceptive, intuitive and cognitive” structures and in this way the philosophy of symbolic forms aims to tie an analysis of the transcendental functions of the subject with its objective cultural expressions together (p.125) In contrast to the discussion of the cognitions of mathematics and natural science, the investigation shifts to the broader notion of the various kinds of ‘understanding’ in the human cultural sciences. (p.121) Cassirer posits their specific modality of concept-formation as being aligned with the general model detected in the natural sciences, foreclosing an anticipated discussion of their status as form- or style-concepts. (Form- oder Stilbegriffe)

Matherne then goes on to discuss the methodological requirements to conduct an analysis of the conditions of possibility of culture. The transcendental method is once again evoked, this time in Natorp’s “bi-directional conception”. (p. 124) The correlation of objective and subjective spirit is bifurcated along a reconstructive axis for the subjective side of the equation and constructive axis for its objective side. The latter posits a specific analysis of culture (‘constructive’) and the former accounts for the conditions of possibility of it by reconstructing a corresponding synthesis of transcendental subjectivity. (cf. Freyberg/ Niklas 2019, passim) It would perhaps have been worthwhile to extend and contrast the presented account with the manuscript for a Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms and its thoughts on ‘Basis Phenomena’ for a more rounded account. Matherne’s presentation gives the impression that Cassirer’s seems to privilege the reconstructive side over their correlativity or ‘work-relatedness’ (Werkbezogenheit), though the account remains thus firmly faithful to her overall interpretation of Cassirer. Subsequently the details of symbolization by means of categorial function-concepts, such as cause, time, thing or property, to yield the respective symbolic forms are discussed. (cf. p. 129) These figure as  “the concepts that remain constant across all our spiritual activities because they are the a priori conditions that make all spiritual ‘forming’ possible in the first place.” ( p. 129) Matherne takes up Cassirer’s distinction between a category’s quality – its basic logical impetus of ordering series – and its modality, the particular ‘content’ “indexed to ‘regions of culture’ a[s] context” that orders representations. (p.130) With regard to spirit, Cassirer draws  attention to ongoing discussions concerning the autonomy of the respective symbolic forms vis-à-vis the others (‘irreducibility thesis’) and whether their consecutiveness is to be conceived of teleologically as progress (‘teleology thesis’), although the latter question is answered affirmatively.

After the determination of the general functional context, Cassirer moves on towards the elaboration of the individual symbolic forms. The triad of expressive, presentative and significative symbolization as different functional modalities of representation provide the guidelines for this elaboration, relating the individual to respective realizations of her own freedom as spontaneity. Accordingly, religion and myth are relegated toward the expressive, language, history, and technology toward the presentative and mathematics, the natural sciences, morality and right toward the significative function of consciousness. (cf. p. 152) Philosophy entertains neither a position of a totalized god-like view of their overall cohesion nor does it count as one symbolic form among the others but figures as a toll to reflect on the symbolic forms. The specific functions and ‘worldviews’ of both myth and religion are presented in clear and minute detail before going over to art as the ‘objective’ demonstration of ‘subjective’ presentation – thereby “revealing to us that we are not passive with respect to our affects and emotions.” (p. 166) Objectification is reflected from the objective side of the dichotomy by the symbolic form of language, which, while still remaining bound to intuition and a substance-based view of categories, fosters the recognition of self-consciousness by the liberated understanding of reality it enables. It is interesting that Matherne specifically mentions that language and technology foster both practical and theoretical recognition of freedom and one wonders to what extent that can be said of the other symbolic forms. While this realization would be imaginable for myth, religion and the latter distinction between specific recognitions of this contention in morality and natural science, respectively, is left unaccounted for.

Both history and technology remain tied to the presentative functions of consciousness and spirit, the former by revealing reality’s distinctively human texture by means of the objective presentation of the past, the latter as the realization of the will’s striving for power toward the free configuration of the world. (cf. p.175f; p.178f.) Lastly, it is, on the side of theoretical reason, mathematics and natural science, that exemplify the significative functions of spirit. Following Cassirer’s views on the philosophy of mathematics, it is the fact that these symbolic forms are devoid of any relation to intuition or perception as to the yielded concepts and ‘things’ that elevates them towards the highest ranks of culture as most grasped realizations of transcendental freedom. It is precisely because these forms remain purely self-referential as expressions of freedom that “spirit truly discovers itself”. (Cassirer in Matherne, p. 184.)

The elaboration of the theoretical accomplishments of subjectivity is followed by their practical counterpart and the question over their position within the overall cohesion of the philosophy of symbolic forms. Recounting Cassirer’s refutation of emotive cognitivism in Axel Högerstrom Matherne insists on the employment of the transcendental method in the realms of morality and right. “ Cassirer endorses a critical approach [to practical philosophy] in which he analyzes morality and right in terms of ‘functions’ that serve as conditions of the possibility of the ‘facts’ of the ‘world of willing and action’. (p. 193, my amendments, N.S.) This deployment of the transcendental method is thereby connected to the demand of a regulative principle, the categorical imperative its claim to a universal, objectifiable moral principle. “Thus, a universal principle is one that enables us to most closely approximate the idea of ‘unity of willing’” thereby conferring objectivity on the ethical progress of consciousness via Sittlichkeit.(p. 194) Right, on the other hand, functions as a symbolic form in the overall context of Cassirer’s philosophy as self-binding to juridical lawfulness. Cassirer’s ‘philosophy of right’ posits a version of natural right that fosters the practical recognition of freedom by means of the postulation of and adherence to collective autonomy via laws. (cf. p. 214) Lastly, the teleological underpinnings of Cassirer’s progressivist understanding of theoretical and practical consciousness are posited as contingent. This is demonstrated in Cassirer’s analysis of National-Socialism in his The Myth of the State. Fascism re-introduced myth in modern consciousness via the symbolic form of technology and the ideas of hero worship, race and the dominance of the state. It is these late analyses that prompted Cassirer to also revise his conception of philosophy late in his career. Against the merely scholastic concept of philosophy, he brought forward its ‘cosmopolitan’ counterpart. Culture’s contingent accomplishments are not to be taken for granted but are to be achieved and upheld by means of struggle. To assign the task of this struggle had been the last innovation of Cassirerean philosophy.

The last chapter aims to reconstruct Cassirer’s influence on the development of not only philosophy but also (art) history, social science, ethnology, and Critical Theory. The presentation is focused on direct engagements with and influences of Cassirer on figures and movements. Accordingly, one learns about, for instance, the German philosopher’s influence on such diverse figures as Langer, Goodmann, Merleau-Ponty, Panofsky, Blumenberg, Habermas et.al. Cassirer’s possible inspiration to contemporary positions in the philosophy of science, such as logical structuralism and ontic scientific realism are addressed. (cf. p. 249f.)

It is puzzling, though, that, given the general narrative of Cassirer, an explicit contextualization of Cassirer within and relation to ‘philosophy of culture’ and its major movements and figures is lacking. This is even more relevant as, despite presenting the philosophy of symbolic forms as a philosophy of culture, Cassirer’s specific concept of culture remains unaccounted for. It appears that, following his Neo-Kantian heritage, the latter can only ever be the constructed empirical totality of culture at a given moment in history. Accordingly, one wonders whether the philosophy of symbolic forms is not prone to becoming ‘sociologized’: an investigation of the constituents and subsequent diversity of culture that would, by means of the quid iuris, be retied to an investigation of the correlative conception of subjective spirit. In the German context, this could be understood along the lines of Luhmann’s project of a ‘system theoretical’ approach to culture and society and its ‘autopoietic’, subjective sources.

Whether one concurs with Matherne’s way of framing Cassirer and his philosophy as being ‘organically’ culturally oriented or not, it is unquestionable that she is an informed and avid reader of the German philosopher. Via the transcendental method, Matherne is able to provide a coherent narrative of Cassirer’s philosophy. The book neatly ties the multi-faceted aspects of the oeuvre together in a rigorous and convincing manner and presents them in a remarkably cohesive way. Indeed, another title for it could have been: Cassirer: A Study on the Unity of his System. It is beyond doubt that the new reception of Cassirer has found a corresponding introduction to its subject.

Bibliography: 

Endres, Tobias/ Favuzzi, Pellegrino/ Klattenhoff, Timo. 2016. “Cassirer, globalized.” In Philosophie der Kultur- und Wissensformen. Ernst Cassirer neu lesen, edited by Endres, Tobias/ Favuzzi, Pellegrino/ Klattenhoff, Timo, Philosophie im Kontext von Gesellschaft und Wissenschaften, vol. 78, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition, 9 – 22.

Ferrari, Massimo. 1994. “La ≫Cassirer-Renaissance≪ in Europa“,  Studi Kantiani 7: 111–139.

Friedmann, Michael. 2000. A Parting of the Ways. Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger. Chicago/ La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Freyberg, Sascha, Niklas, Stefan. 2019. “Rekonstruktive Synthesis. Zur Methodik der Kulturphilosophie bei Ernst Cassirer und John Dewey.” In Ernst Cassirer in seinen systematischen Beziehungen. Zur kritisch-kommunikativen Bedeutung seiner Kulturphilosophie. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie Sonderbände Vol. 40, edited by Breyer, Thiemo and Niklas, Stefan, 47-68, Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter.

Graser, Andreas. 1994. Ernst Cassirer. München: Beck.

Gordon, Peter. 2010. Continental Divide. Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos. Cambridge, MA/ London: Harvard University Press.

Gordon, Peter. 2021. “Foreword.” In Cassirer, Ernst. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume 3: Phenomenology of Cognition. Trans. by Steve G. Lofts. viii-xv. Oxon/ New York: Routledge.

Luft, Sebastian. 2021. “Cassirer’s Place in Today’s Philosophical Landscape. ‘Synthetic Philosophy,’ Transcendental Idealism, Cultural Pluralism.” In Interpreting Cassirer. Critical Essays, edited by Simon Truwant. Cambridge/ New York: Cambridge University Press, 214-236.

Luft, Sebastian/ Ferrari Massimo. 2021. “Cassirer’s Children”, Special Topics Issue, Journal of Transcendental Philosophy 2(1):1-5.

Paetzold, Heinz. 2002. Ernst Cassirer zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius.

Recki, Birgit. 2004. Kultur als Praxis: eine Einführung in Ernst Cassirer’s Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Recki, Birgit. 2013. Cassirer. Stuttgart: Reclam.

Sandkühler, Hans Jörg and Detlev Pätzold (Ed.). 2003. Kultur und Symbol. Ein Handbuch zur Philosophie Ernst Cassirer. Stuttgart/ Weimar: Verlag J.B. Metzler.

Schwemmer, Oswald. 1997. Ernst Cassirer. Ein Philosoph der europäischen Moderne. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Sluga, Hans. 2011. “Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos.” Review of Continental Divide, by Peter Gordon. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/continental-divide-heidegger-cassirer-davos/.

Truwant, Simon. 2015. “The Concept of ‘Function’ in Cassirer’s Historical, Systematic, and Ethical Writings.“ In The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer: A Novel Assessment, edited by  Friedman, J. Tyler and Luft, Sebastian, 289-312, Berlin: De Gruyter.


[1] See cf. Endres et al, “Cassirer, globalized”, in: Philosophie der Kultur – und Wissensformen. Ernst Cassirer neu lesen. Endres/ Favuzzi/ Klattenhoff (Eds.), pp. 9 -22. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition, 2016, for an overview of recent research conducted on Cassirer.

[2] Where in text citations refer to page numbers only the addressed book is Matherne, Cassirer. Routledge, 2021.

[3] For cf. Schwemmer 1997, it is precisely the case that Cassirer’s philosophy of culture is always already a philosophical anthropology  – “because that which defines the human being – spirit – consists in the configuration and usage of cultural symbolisms. (Ibid., p. 3145, my translation, N.S.)

Frank Schalow: Heidegger’s Ecological Turn

Heidegger’s Ecological Turn: Community and Practice for Future Generations Book Cover Heidegger’s Ecological Turn: Community and Practice for Future Generations
Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy
Frank Schalow
Routledge
2021
Hardback GBP £120.00
218

Reviewed by: Davide Pilotto (Sorbonne Université – Università del Salento)

The aim of Frank Schalow’s book is to offer a valid alternative to all those political readings of Martin Heidegger that, from Farías (1989) to Faye (2009), from Trawny-Mitchell (2017) to Di Cesare (2018), focus their analysis on the relationship of the author of Sein und Zeit to Nazism or, more recently, on the disruptive impact of the Black Notebooks on Heidegger’s Denkweg. “Yes, Heidegger was a Nazi, not a very important Nazi, just an ordinary one, a provincial petit-bourgeois Nazi”, wrote Alain Badiou, adding however that, “Yes, Heidegger is unquestionably one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century” (Badiou-Cassin, 2014: 14). Schalow’s work thus seems to adhere to such a thesis, explicitly aiming to open up a new path of thought that attempts to draw on Heideggerian conceptual tools without necessarily running into the outcomes mentioned above. The author’s aim, made clear since the preface, is in fact to “elicit new pathways of thinking that begin to reappear from the shadows of the most poignant criticisms,” using Heideggerian writings “as harboring untapped possibilities for future interpretation” (Schalow, 2022: IX).

Schalow is aware of how his work – and perhaps this is one of its merits – goes against the current with respect to his contemporaries. In a framework in which “most of the scholarly terrain is overgrown with numerous books, which proceed from the same premise of condemnation and foreclose other attempts to re-open what remains ‘unthought’” (Schalow, 2022: 10), he tries in full awareness to open the way to a different operation. Going against the tide of the “vitriolic climate” (Schalow, 2022: 1) in which current Heideggerian studies move, the question, a direct consequence of Badiou’s remark just mentioned, is therefore the following: “How do we stand towards Heidegger’s thinking?” (Schalow, 2022: 1). Can Heideggerian thought still have something to give us? The answer, for the author, is positive: “We cannot preclude the possibility of appropriating Heidegger’s texts in a positive way, in order to elicit insights that withdraw within the subterranean recesses of what is ‘unsaid’ and ‘unthought’” (Schalow, 2022: 6-7).

A necessary consequence of this perspective is the awareness that Schalow’s work proposes itself as an original interpretation of Heideggerian work, explicitly taking on what is “an unconventional way to ‘read’ Heidegger” (Schalow 2022: 7). Drawing on multiple places in his Denkweg, in a theoretical operation that denotes an excellent command of the author, his complexity and his traditional periodizations, Schalow establishes, over the course of five chapters, a reinterpretation of how Heideggerian work can provide the conceptual tools for the development of a new, non-anthropocentric ethics that, by leveraging the notions of dwelling and stewardship, gives rise to a new conception of the political that can cope with the current environmental crisis. Defining the question of the political as “the open-ended question of the origin of law, to its enactment as a measure rooted in the ethos (of dwelling) and the re-inscribing of a language to address the elements of the polis according to formally indicative concepts which underscore our capacity to be free (e.g., by ‘letting-be’), albeit as finite human beings” (Schalow, 2022: X), the author, analyzing Heidegger’s work, wonders whether this does not offer the theoretical tools necessary to answer the following question: “Is it possible to create a space for the polis, which through our capacity to dwell (on the earth) engenders openness outside the dominant paradigm of technocratic rule?” (Schalow, 2022: 2). Beginning with some insights we find in Heidegger’s Letter on “Humanism”, we read that “thinking builds upon the house of Being, the house in which the jointure of Being, in its destinal unfolding, enjoins the essence of the human being to dwell in the truth of Being”, and that, for this reason, “this dwelling is the essence of ‘being-in-the-world’” (Heidegger, 1998: 272). Schalow intends to follow up on Heideggerian statements such as the thesis that “nómos is not only law but more originally the assignment contained in the dispensation of Being”, and consequently “only the assignment is capable of dispatching man into Being”, in the conviction that “more essential than instituting rules is that human beings find the way to their abode in the truth of Being” (Heidegger, 1998: 274). If Heidegger writes that “one day we will, by thinking the essence of Being in a way appropriate to its matter, more readily be able to think what ‘house’ and ‘dwelling’ are” (Heidegger, 1998; 272), Schalow intends to pursue this suggestion. On this bases, he illustrates how “the development of a community must be forged at the juncture between the human and the non-human” (Schalow, 2022: XI), giving rise to a socio-biotic community such as to respond positively to the challenge to which we are called by today’s environmental crisis. The intent, very concrete, is to outline the tracks of “a new nexus of political engagement”, to allow that “the fissure of Heidegger’s thinking (of being) opens the ‘other’ side of praxis” (Schalow, 2022: XIII). The purpose of Schalow’s work thus goes in a pragmatic direction, towards the delineation of a praxis that results in the necessary redefinition of our relationship with the world – in other words, “are we to continue using and exploiting the earth only as a resource, or are we to safeguard the earth as a place of dwelling?” (Schalow, 2022: 5).

It is clearly a matter, as already remarked, of taking Heidegger beyond his limits. It is evident, first of all, as Schalow himself acknowledges, that “his [Heidegger’s] understanding of the political remains limited” (Schalow, 2022: XII), just as it is trivially obvious that “Heidegger did not address specifically ‘climate change’, the ‘greenhouse effect’, ‘global warming’, and the ruptures in the ecosystem from which the virus (or other pathogens) of pandemics may arise” (Schalow, 2022: XII). The intent, however, is precisely to focus on das Ungedachte, on the unthought of Heideggerian thought, thus amplifying some elements that, starting from the aforementioned passages of the Letter on “Humanism”, allow Schalow to argue that, “put simply, in the overturning and subversion of anthropocentricism, we see the beginnings of what we today would call an ‘ecological turn’” (Schalow, 2022: XII).

The first chapter (Seeking New Guidelines for Interpretation, pp. 12-39) serves as a necessary methodological premise to justify the reappropriation of Martin Heidegger’s thought for the purposes previously indicated. Deepening the dialogue with Kant around which the 1928 course entitled Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics is centered, Schalow, moving from the metontology that here arises, outlines a “new topography” from which to question the political without slipping into that “‘monological reductionism’ that falsely equates his philosophy with Nazi ideology” (Schalow, 2022: 13-14). Heidegger, through “his ‘destruction’ of Kant” (Schalow, 2022: 21), arrives at “unraveling the presuppositions on which the metaphysical tradition rests”, presuppositions that, “beginning with the static conception of being as permanent presence, lay the sediments of tradition, which erects rigid metaphysical dichotomies”, thus laying the foundations for “the attempt to undo each of these metaphysical dualisms” (Schalow, 2022: 18). The Kantian dichotomy between freedom and nature, in particular, is subverted by Heidegger through our connection to the earth, with the author of Sein und Zeit explicitly writing that “the problem of freedom arises from and as the problem of world” (Heidegger, 2002: 145), allowing Schalow to express the crux of the matter by arguing that “Heidegger relocates the origin of freedom in Dasein’s way of belonging to and reciprocal responsiveness to being” (Schalow, 2022: 24). What emerges is our role, an affinity with the ecological framework in the guise of “earthbound creatures”, as Schalow points out, referring to Hannah Arendt (Arendt, 1992: 27). Cartesian dualism is overturned through the reference to our belonging to the earth, in turn made possible by the changed conceptual framework within which, instead of the dichotomy between subject and object, Heidegger replaces the notion of Dasein with its in-der-Welt-sein. Human freedom comes then to make its own deeper roots, anchoring itself directly in Being and in its relationship with Being and giving rise to the centrality of the notion of ‘responsiveness’, which Schalow defines as “the fostering of a reciprocal relationship with what is radically other, as conferred by being, rather than as a power discharged by an exclusively human capability such as the will” (Schalow, 2022: 29), from which it follows that “this act of reciprocating, then, defines the first and foremost overture or primarily gesture of freedom” (Schalow, 2022: 30). It is evident where Heidegger, in Schalow’s reading, is going to aim when it comes to the ethical and practical side: “Human freedom now no longer means freedom as a property of man, but man as a possibility of freedom” (Heidegger, 2002: 94).

The second chapter (A New Leaping-Off Place for Ethical Inquiry, pp. 40-66) develops the peculiar proprietorial relation to Being that emerges from the belonging of Dasein to Being mentioned above. In the light of that overcoming of anthropocentrism inherent in the Kehre, which, as mentioned, Schalow interprets as “the vestiges of an ecological turn (if only in retrospect he may be considered a proto-ecologist)” (Schalow, 2022: 41), the author of the text wonders what role is now concretely due to the ‘subject’ of his discourse, answering with reference to the notions of stewardship or guardianship as diriment models to outline the practical guidelines of living. As we have seen, for Heidegger, in spite of Kantian ethics and its opposition between freedom and nature, it happens that “the presencing of nature reserves to animals their own potential for flourishing”, and that “it is the source of that flourishing, or what is ownmost or endemic to it, which turns the pendulum of his ethical inquiry in an ecological direction, namely, the allocation of a habitat (requisite for the livelihood of any animal)”. Switching to a Heideggerian lexicon, this means that, “ontologically speaking, the earth provides the grounding for any such habitats, and, indeed, in connection with our capacity for dwelling” (Schalow, 2022: 44). It is as a consequence of such dwelling that a more original ethics, which Schalow calls the “ethos of situated dwelling” (Schalow, 2022: 43) can finally develop and which the author addresses in relation to the possibility of a socio-biotic community and with reference to future generations. The mirroring of ethics and politics is the consequence of all this. In this sense, “the political must be addressed anew through the development of that site – in connection with the unconcealment of being – through which Dasein’s capacity to dwell first becomes apparent, namely, the ethos” (Schalow, 2022: 51). In this sense, “to do so is to allow the possibility of the ethos of dwelling to inform the political, rather than vice versa” (Schalow, 2022: 51). Through his analysis of the notion of measure and of the difference of readings of history between Heidegger and Marx, Schalow answers the question related to “how to rediscover the origin of praxis outside the self-contained sphere of human identity, […] that is, a form of pure (self-)presence” (Schalow, 2022: 59) through the proprietorial relation between being and man, with stewardship assuming the role of “the highest level of formality that is emblematic of specific instances for exercising care over beings, i.e., in our comportments in being-in-the-world” (Schalow, 2022: 60). The thesis proposed is therefore that of dwelling as a fundamental notion to justify our role on earth and consequently the political implication that derives from it. For Schalow, in short, “dwelling has the key perquisite for the enactment of any governance of the polis” (Schalow, 2022: 64), consistent with the Heideggerian statement that “mortals dwell in that they save the earth” (Heidegger, 1971a: 148). The determination of the new role of the politician can only pass through this constitutive bond of ours with the earth.

The third chapter (The Global Stage of Politics and the Return to the Earth, pp. 67-84) considers “the assimilation of the political to the ends of techno-capitalism”, which “unleashes the forces of machination on a global state, assimilating all human activities to the cycle of production and consumption” (Schalow, 2022: 67), showing how an appeal to Heidegger allows one to disengage from such a reading of the political. Through a comparison with the Heideggerian overcoming of the Marxist vision of history, Schalow comes to argue that “the phenomenological maxim ‘back to the things itself’ reverberates anew as a call to a ‘return to the earth’”, thus outlining “an eco-phenomenology, or alternatively, a phenomenology that speaks of a ‘return to the earth’”, which stands as “a form of attunement, an environmental ‘listening’ to nature and its diverse habitats” (Schalow, 2022: 68).

The fourth chapter (Temporality, Freedom, and Place, pp. 85-132) focuses on two crucial themes. On the one hand, the “deconstruction of modern politics as legitimizing the anthropocentric ends of domination, exploitation”, and, on the other, “the emergence of a trans-human perspective of freedom as a countermeasure to the assimilation of the political to the gestalt of machination” (Schalow, 2022: 86), both of which are necessary in view of the ecological turn mentioned above. As a consequence of Dasein’s peculiar relationship with freedom, already outlined in the first chapter, there is a shift of the axis of the political in a non-anthropocentric direction, in which governance must be built on the observation of our constitutive being-with-others. Schalow therefore identifies “three corollaries that comprise the ‘pillars of the polis,’ namely, the elements for its construction on a trans-human axis of dwelling” (Schalow, 2022: 87): the reciprocity of freedom (pp. 100-109), the people of future generations (pp. 109-118) and the epochal character of a measure (pp. 118-129). It is clear, however, that if “the polis brings to fruition, as a distinctive historical act, the challenge posed to man to fulfill the mandate of belonging to being and thereby build a political realm that is anchored in humanity’s capacity to dwell” (Schalow, 2022: 92), the reconfiguration of the political can only start from an analysis of this notion, central to delineating the dwelling and consequently a trans-human community. The thesis advanced is that leaving the technocratic rules prevailing today, the authentic notion of polis finds a new reconfiguration: “Being is not to be determined via the authoritarian rule of the polis”, but, on the contrary, it now means that “to re-establish the polis is to seek its origin in compliance with a new ‘measure’, which can counterbalance human and animal interests, the claim of future generations and the task of safeguarding the earth” (Schalow, 2022: 129). In this way, therefore, the polis manages to be anchored to human dwelling.

The fifth chapter (The Turn Toward Stewardship. Is a Socio-Biotic Community Possible?, pp. 133-184) extends what emerged in the previous chapter to a collective dimension, namely the possibility of belonging to a socio-biotic community, since “the stewardship by which we inhabit the earth calls into question the priorities of any (world-) citizenship, such that the development of a community (das Gemeinwesen) through the grounding of a site must be forged at the juncture between the human and the non-human” (Schalow, 2022: 134). With reference also to topical elements, such as the Covid-19 pandemic (p. 137) or the racial divisions in the U.S. (p. 147-150), Schalow focuses on that “further social-political dimension as the flipside to the responsiveness, the responsibility, by which mortals become answerable to or heed the voice of being” (Schalow, 2022: 137), a necessary consequence of that “counter resonance of the earth, nature, and animal life” (Schalow, 2022: 138) that has emerged since the first chapter. Schalow argues that “environmental practice is intrinsic to dwelling […] not as a value, but rather as an extension of freedom as ‘letting-be’” (Schalow, 2022: 150). What emerges is the thesis that “the task assigned to us through our dwelling” is to be “tenants of the earth” (Schalow, 2022: 161). Rewriting Protagoras’ famous statement for which “man is the measure of all things” (Plato, 1973: 17), the author argues that, “when divested of his anthropocentric focus, and thereby embracing his/her transience, ‘man’ become the ‘measure’ again”. It is enough not to lose sight of the fact that “Dasein is simultaneously ‘measured-by’ the proprietorship of ‘belonging to’ and thereby can ‘set the measure’ for any compliance and possible governance” (Schalow, 2022: 162) in that “poetic dwelling” that echoes Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin (Heidegger, 1971b: 209-227). The notion of measure, recurring in several places in Schalow’s text and fundamental “to offset or counter the one-sidedness of human interests” (Schalow, 2022: 169), is essential to the conclusion reached by the author: “The socio-biotic community provides a setting in which human beings can ‘think globally, act locally’ (through their enactment of building, dwelling, thinking)”, with the proprietorship of dwelling that “restores limits, by granting space non-human dimensions of the earth to thrive and flourish” (Schalow, 2022: 166).

The call for a trans-human egalitarianism that flows from Heidegger’s overcoming of anthropocentrism is also the crux of the work’s conclusion, with Schalow arguing how, in light of the creation of that socio-biotic community that flows from our dwelling on earth, “a new kind of equality becomes possible as mortals protect the habitats of the diverse creatures that ‘co-habit’ the earth with us” (Schalow, 2022: 178). Once again, it is the notions of stewardship and dwelling that redefine our peculiar role on this planet: “The ‘to be’ of mortals as ‘tenants of the earth’ deepens the meaning of the ‘who’ of human beings as ‘world-citizens’” (Schalow, 2022: 178). The way of belonging to the earth that is proper to Dasein leads the author to think of a “new ‘egalitarianism’” with the role of “formal indicator of how we can characterize practices that prioritize environmental concerns over against the anthropocentric focus of modernity” (Schalow, 2022: 178). Thus, only in this way “a concern for the welfare of the earth and nature, humans and animals, can spark a conversation about the future of our historical sojourn and the fate of those generations still to come” (Schalow, 2022: 179). Through the five chapters of which the text is composed, we understand how the theses stated in the preface and introduction – above all, “the political must be housed in the eco-logical, that is, in the ‘eco’ or residence of dwelling” (Schalow, 2022: 3) – are confirmed through a careful reading of Heidegger’s work.

The overall result of Frank Schalow’s work can only be valued in a positive way. In an age in which Martin Heidegger’s thought seems to be more and more the exclusive prerogative of a type of literature aimed at illustrating his complicity with Nazism, this book certainly stands out for the original and proactive use that can still be made today of the complex Denkweg of the author of Sein und Zeit. Obviously, some questions remain open. In the first place, one could raise doubts about the legitimacy of basing, from a theoretical and methodological point of view, the guidelines of such a project on ontological justifications advanced by someone who, like Heidegger, is moved by theoretical interests apparently unrelated to similar intentions – in short, one might ask, “why refer to Heidegger?”. Similarly, as far as the moral side is concerned, we could question the opportunity, repeatedly highlighted by today’s detractors of his work, to make a figure such as Martin Heidegger, whose compromise with the Nazi regime went far beyond the convenience of the facade and career of many of his contemporaries, the ‘tutelary deity’ of an ethical project. On the other hand, however, Schalow makes no secret of his aim to propose an interpretation that from the beginning is subordinate to practical purposes; a rereading that intends to “reap tangible results” and “not to become merely an “academic’ exercise” (Schalow, 2022: 8). From this point of view, Heidegger’s Ecological Turn can be seen as a perfectly successful attempt.

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