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’.
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.
The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow
The spectre of Nazism hangs over the work of Martin Heidegger. That spectre has ebbed and flowed. The publication of the Schwarze Hefte brought back that ghost once more. The Schwarze Hefte laid bare aspects of Heidegger’s antisemitism that had not previously been seen. In The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow, Elliot Wolfson, a scholar of Jewish mysticism and philosophy who—by his own admission—was influenced profoundly by Heidegger, sets out to see the absences in Heidegger’s writing. Wolfson uses Heidegger’s approach to analyse the relationship of truth and untruth, silence, the limits of speech, and what can or cannot be said. From the outset, it is essential to acknowledge that The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow is not in response to the Schwarze Hefte, but a much broader and nuanced conversation Wolfson engages in with himself, Heideggerian scholars, and Heidegger.
The intention here is to sketch out how Wolfson conceptualises and breaks down Heidegger’s personal, political and philosophical miscalculations, and the parallels between Heideggerian thought and that of Jewish Mysticism. It is not to necessarily delve into the depths of the commonality of Heidegger’s thought and that of Jewish mysticism; this is something that Wolfson accomplishes too thoroughly to be summarised in a brief review without resorting to an approach that loses a lot of that nuance. Instead, this review focuses on the analysis of the unthought, Heidegger’s reforming and rejecting the Philosophy of National Socialism, and Heidegger’s silence and refusal to denounce the horrors of National Socialism.
Wolfson approaches his analysis of Heidegger as an outsider, one influenced by Heidegger, but an outsider nonetheless. Wolfson’s approach is shaped by Jacques Derrida’s reflection that “no thinker is above criticism, certainly not one as controversial as Heidegger, but even he, nay especially he, deserves to be read before he is castigated as an outcast and his lifework deemed irredeemable” (xii). By embracing this, Wolfson seeks to neither excuse nor dismiss Heidegger. Instead, to wrestle with that middle ground. Wolfson acknowledges that it is a middle ground that “I am afraid to say, one that can be borne only by those willing to invest an inordinate amount of time and energy in reading through this vastly arduous corpus.” An analysis of Heidegger’s miscalculation is,
The space we must inhabit, as uncomfortable as it might be, is one in which we acknowledge that Heidegger was both a Nazi given to anti- Semitic jargon and an incisive philosopher whose thinking not only was responding to the urgencies of his epoch but also contains the potential to unravel the thorny knot of politics and philosophy relevant for the present as much as for the past. (xv).
The task Wolfson gives himself, is to read Heidegger in a way unlike how Heidegger sought to interpret himself. This task involves and necessitates walking up to his politics, and not immediately reaching to condemn Heidegger’s silence on Auschwitz but thinking about what that silence says and means. In The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow, Wolfson accomplishes that task without ever losing sight of the reality of the tragedy that occurred. This approach provides a testament to how to engage holistically with Heidegger without losing the historical fact of the tragedy of what happened in Auschwitz.
Politics as Thought and Unthought
Wolfson begins by highlighting that moral condemnation does not run counter to analysing National Socialism philosophically in the background of Heidegger’s work. For Wolfson, in actuality, suspending condemnation would be wrong as it would remove the historicity of the relationship between Heidegger’s thought and that of National Socialism. Herein, Wolfson needs to be applauded for stepping into a potentially uncomfortable position, but a necessary one. It is not possible to not condemn what occurred, but it is possible to remain objective in studying the relationship between Heidegger and National Socialism and seeing where that leads.
As Wolfson puts it,
the Heideggerian presumption that questioning is the means to reveal the matter of thought is not forfeited by adopting a critical stance regarding the monstrosity of Nazism nor is there justification to argue that objectivity can be achieved only by abandoning oneself to a thinking that would preclude the ability to discriminate between right and wrong (1).
Wolfson does not believe Heidegger relinquishes ‘the sanction of good and evil.” Rather, Heidegger sees good and evil as interpreted through historical destiny, and their interaction of going towards and away from a transcendent metaphysical grounding. Wolfson acknowledges herein that this view is not one that would be adopted by certain Heideggerian scholars. Of course, it’s challenging itself to say, beyond a basic framework, what would be and would not be acceptable to a majority in this particular context. Wolfson’s discussion of a transcendent metaphysical grounding does point to a broader criticism that maybe slightly unfairly levelled against the book as a whole: the book places the reader in the midst of an extraordinarily complex and necessary analysis that requires a nuanced knowledge of Heidegger’s corpus. So, the book is not the best starting point for those unfamiliar with the subject matter.
For Heidegger, philosophical enlightenment ‘consists of unmasking the shadow as shadow, that is, discerning the shadow as a form of luminescence and not as a privation of light, (5). Wolfson examines Heidegger’s attempt to purify the philosophy of National Socialism. From 1933 onwards, in his writings, and lectures, Heidegger sought to both critique and support the present manifestation of National Socialism. The purification that Heidegger sought was to remove the racism and anti-Semitism from the core of National Socialism. Heidegger saw Germany, and Germans as philosophical a people, and nation. By having National Socialism embrace this, Germany would accomplish its national destiny. This, as highlighted by Wolfson, is an alternative form of nationalist chauvinism.
Counter-posed here is a sense that Heidegger did express remorse in what he had engaged with, and that remorse impacted his ability to visit former friends, for instance, Carl Jaspers, not—in his words—“because a Jewish woman lived there, but because I simply felt ashamed,” (31). That sense of shame is a real and powerful factor that cannot be dismissed.
In this discussion, there is one aspect that perhaps speaks loudest: that of silence. More specifically, Heidegger’s silence. That of how,
Heidegger fell short of outwardly and forthrightly rejecting the movement or admitting that his own decision was a symptom of a philosophical catastrophe and not merely a political blunder, but this moral failing provides the opening through which the concealed of the unconcealed of his thinking may be revealed as the entanglement of truth and untruth, an entanglement that sheds light on the shadow so that the substance of the shadow is unveiled as the shadow of the substance (32).
Wolfson returns to this regularly from the outset. Analysing the unthought is most illuminating because something being unthought or absent is as such silent.
Heidegger’s silence on what happened to the Jews, and the ills of National Socialism, remains one of the most challenging parts of his legacy. Heidegger died in 1976, far removed from the era of National Socialism, but he never publicly denounced the horrors that occurred. This failure poses a challenge that Wolfson, taking inspiration from Derrida, seeks to answer.
Derrida embarks on what he labels a “risky hypothesis” that it was by not speaking that Heidegger offered the possibility for others to think the unthought connection between his thought and National Socialism. Had Heidegger explicitly offered an apology for his blunders, he would have likely been absolved, and there would have been closure and less of an impetus for subsequent philosophers and intellectual historians to contemplate the affinities, synchronisms of thinking, and common roots that he might have shared with Nazism. However, the legacy of Heidegger’s “terrifying, perhaps unforgivable, silence” bequeaths to us the duty of doing the work and the “injunction to think what he did not think,” (111).
This deserves to be unpacked because it is the line of thought that Wolfson develops and connects with traditions in Jewish Mysticism. By not apologising, Heidegger placed himself in a space he need not have occupied, and had he apologised he would have lessened the impact of his miscalculation. Choosing to fail to do that forces those within the Heideggerian tradition to engage with that silence and see what that speaks about his legacy. Before proceeding, it is worth noting that there is a truth in Derrida’s hypothesis, but it is challenging to imagine that the Schwarze Hefte would not have led to an alternative if not potentially worse crisis even if Heidegger had publicly apologised.
The framing of the “risky hypothesis,” and how it borders on a notion of silence used in the Kabbalistic tradition, highlights Wolfson’s ability to think the unthought. Silence is appealing because it is the only way left to react to what came before and the absence that creates. Heidegger’s silence can be seen as a form of language used as a reaction to something so unspeakable that the only language left for it is the absence of language. This silence is a product of a belief that it is only possible sometimes to understand what a thinker thought if we can first be aware of what they did not think, or at least did not verbalise in language—leaving it unsaid. This way the failure to speak is in a sense the action of speaking. It provokes the others to respond in a manner typically befitting language, not its absence. Heidegger interpreted silence as an “essential possibility of discourse” (115). For Dasein to be authentic, it has to be able to be reticent and confront the intelligibility of certain actualities and how they can and cannot be expressed. An inability to show something can be indicative of something in the same way that an ability to communicate something can be.
This silence takes on a further meaning that of representing the internal solitude of the philosopher, and the withdrawing into oneself, especially in response to an event as powerful as the Holocaust. Part of the challenge is the philosopher’s awareness of how they will be misinterpreted, and how that leaves certain things as unsaid. There is a truth here but a failure to condemn what occurred at Auschwitz exists in a different category than an inability to articulate an ontology. There is the matter that the misinterpretation of a philosopher is inevitable. There is a need to be aware of the historicity and content surrounding the philosophy that is misinterpreted. As Wolfson proceeds in analysing what has been said, there is a mandate, or need to address that which has not been said. Mainly, why that was not said, and what that absence means. Wolfson builds on Heidegger’s emphasis on the linguistic ability of human beings, and how that capacity to not just speak but not speak as a choice. By not speaking, Heidegger may be engaged in an act representative as well of his historicity in that particular time, and how certain truths may not yet be or were not yet able to be spoken.
Wolfson asks if Heidegger’s silence were not twofold. Firstly, could he only speak by not speaking? Secondly, was it just by heeding and understanding the importance of the said and unsaid that Heidegger could respond to what happened? This point is furthered by Heidegger’s notion that the bloodshed of the war was an example of the excess of evil and wilfulness that was a product of a “non-essence of beying,” (35). This break that is a product of the war and the annihilation that took place is that to which Heidegger speaks by not speaking to it. This speaking by not speaking and indirectness is compared to the Kabbalistic idea of the Other Side. The Other Side is the tool used to explain the existence of evil, the counter to grace. Wolfson explains this in Heideggerian terms as
the evil of the Other Side is the wilful manifestation of the nonessence that belongs to the essence of being, the event of appropriation, which comprises the inexpressible that is expressive of the essentially tragic nature of being (123).
The Other Side is the opposite of essence. It can be grasped as the potentiality of Dasein to undo itself or come apart. This awareness is one that is limited, and not available to all of those that seek to unravel that piece of knowledge.
The knowledge of being, consequently, is limited to the individuals who remain faithful to the truth of the cataclysmic beginning and can make peace with it. Such individuals are neither recognized by the calculative nature of historiographical knowledge nor by the meditative nature of historical contemplation. Their mission is not to be sought in the ability to confront the other, but to accept the essential misrecognition that ensues from living and thinking within the ring of solitude (126).
In rounding off the discussion of silence, Wolfson notes how this conception can be used to explain but not justify. That distinction is critical because it illustrates Heidegger’s thought and what may have remained unthought but influential to Heidegger. An understanding of that does not mean that those actions were justified but merely explainable.
This account of Heidegger’s silence breaks apart what silence meant to Heidegger and the similarities with other traditions. This analysis does develop and ground Derrida’s “risky hypothesis” as something that makes sense and can be understood as the actions that Heidegger took due to his own philosophical framework. Silence is in a sense a performative act or the awareness that it is the only way Heidegger thought he could respond. Whether, as Wolfson notes, that is justified is a separate matter, but it does develop an interpretation based on engaging with Heidegger’s work and methodology.
Duplicity/Thinking the Unthinkable
Let me conclude this investigation by stating once more that I offer no apology for Heidegger. Indubitably, there will be readers who will accuse me of doing what I emphatically announce I am not doing. No matter how insistent and clear-cut my denial, the passion surrounding Heidegger will prevent some individuals from being able to read my work without a predisposition that, oddly enough, smacks of the very absolutism, despotism and homogenization they find so offensive about the fascist ideology Heidegger unwisely embraced at a crucial moment in his own development as a thinker (169).
Wolfson begins his Afterword with this paragraph. In concluding, it is important to bear that in mind as is the following.
The truth, as is often the case, lies some- where in the middle too often excluded by our logic of the excluded middle, a middle where something can be both true and not true, where the propositions that Heidegger was a defender of Nazism and that Heidegger was an opponent of Nazism are not mutually exclusive (170).
The reason for including these is because these paragraphs speak to what Wolfson sets out to do and accomplishes, of wadding into an unpleasant murky water that others are reluctant to do so. He notes that Heidegger was a sublime thinker, but nonetheless he made serious lapses and brought into his philosophy ideas and associations that were and are repugnant. The challenge is to understand both, where they cross over, and learn from that. As Wolfson highlights, the inability to do that is its own dogmatism. As with his silence there are things about Heidegger that we can understand but not justify. Being able to sit in that tension is perhaps the most powerful thing we can embrace from the Heideggerian tradition, whilst acknowledging the horrors. That is a monumental task, but one that Wolfson accomplishes, which by itself makes this book essential in offering a fresh perspective that injects a nuance made possible by an outsider influenced by the material.
The Question of Painting. Re-thinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty offers a unique and refreshing perspective on fields including visual studies, phenomenology, ecophenomenology, inter-artistic relations, and studies of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. By developing an inter-artistic approach, Jorella Andrews demonstrates how phenomenology is relevant for painting. The title indicates the central thesis: perception and experience are aesthetic, so that there is an art of painting and an art of perception. Perceptual experience is open to interpretation in a way that is analogous to works of art.
The book is organized around a chronological account of Merleau-Ponty’s works and thought and its connections with art, highlighting how painting, as a way of exploration and artistic expression, articulates its contents and discourses on many aspects of daily life. Indeed, in the Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty points us in this direction: “Essence and existence, the imaginary and the real, the visible and the invisible, painting blurs all our categories in unfolding its oneiric universe of carnal essences, of efficient resemblances, and of silent significations”. (1) The instauration of appearing as such in painting is interpreted extensively through Andrews’ book. Painting represents but at the same time paints the invisible visibility of the visible. The focus here is on Merleau-Ponty’s later works, especially The Visible and the Invisible, Eye and Mind, and the Notes de cours 1959-1961. Andrews’ aim is to illuminate and trace a new ontological perspective as it emerges in these works.
Andrews reads works of art, particularly paintings, as disclosing a certain mutation of man and being. Moreover, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology examines the embodied and interactive perception as well as the matter of experience. Phenomenological and artistic reflection are closely connected and this book clarifies how artistic standpoints ought to be examined in parallel with phenomenological investigation. In Merleau- Ponty’s thought aesthesis and aesthetics are intertwined. Embodiment has its own vitality and the feedback between artist and artwork represent the relation between body and world. Thus, Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of art centers on bodily presence, representation and feelings in the context of experience. The book also describes Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic world as an opening contraction of the human world. Sensory experience is implicated in aesthetics and both are grounded in the body. The painter both experiences the world through the body and draws the world’s Totality. It is insofar as he or she is in contact with the realm of the visible that she or he is able to experience this Totality. This cosmic model of representation can be described as a Gestalt.
Andrews analyzes nature, rationalism, empiricism, dualism and behaviorism through the cognitive field that remarks the significance of Gestalt. In place of empiricism and intellectualism, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology offers a vision on the matter of subjectivity and world as an accommodation of thought. Merleau-Ponty’s critique of Cartesian representationalism and its consequences has been taken up within cognitive philosophy and the philosophy of mind. Cartesian rationalism was unable to overcome the central artistic dimensions of depth. Andrews describes all these fields deeply and thoroughly, and she frames and places Merleau-Ponty’s thought within an artistic context.
Drawing on the concept of aesthetics, the book focuses on the presentation of the cooperative relationship between being and environment, as well as the structure of being and its presence in phenomenological and artistic context. Indeed, in the act of reading this book, all of our senses are participating to realize Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic experience. We can perceive its uniqueness, which can be described by Merleau-Ponty’s terms and experience. This books draws the visible invisibility to the visual field of phenomenology and aesthetics. Our nature is collaborating with the Gestalt to touch Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts on art, a goal to which Andrews contributes with her magisterial writing.
The first part of the book reinserts phenomenology and its eco-spirit into the critical and theoretical framework of phenomenology and painting. Every being has its own consciousness and exhibits the structure of itself. The matter of embodiment and embodied perception are central axis of Merleau-Ponty’s thought throughout his works. Paul Cézanne was the painter who remains the basic example in in Merleau-Ponty’s works, thought he also draws on other painters, including Paul Klee and Henri Matisse. The formal philosophical thought of Merleau-Ponty intersects with the works of Cézanne and other painters as if they express what in transcendental phenomenology remains a mystery. The analysis of flesh follows from Merleau-Ponty’s recuperation of Cézanne, Klee and Matisse in their effort to capture the primodial and perpetual a priori opening to the open and the power of sense making. Flesh is the primordial instituting linguistic power that opens the world sensibly and instituting the human being as independent into the experience of the world.
Andrews refers to the theoretical framework of the art 20th and 21st centuries and engages a wider and better vision of the artistic discipline in order to introduce Merleau-Ponty’s thought on painting. Her reading of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of flesh is relative to painting. There is a carnal ground binding into a style of particular differentiation between brushwork, coloration, and technical processes, for instance that of impressionism or expressionism. Many philosophical and artistic concepts cover and at the same time unfold the question of painting and its impact on Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. Three basic phenomenological ideas are embodied perception, lived body, and visible matters. Perception relies on lived experience and requires the contribution of our body, making the embodied nature of cognition form our perception.
The second part of the book considers extended thought and draws an illuminating connection among the body, embodiment, and the matter of art. Andrews shows that embodiment plays a major role within art, enabling the artist to integrate the spatiotemporal features of the body’s environment. Perception amounts to the body’s engagement with the world and picture our reality, a co-constitution of the lifeworld and the brain. The subjective body (Leib) and the objective body (Körper) forms a dialectical unity. Andrews recalls that the subjective body is the background of all the forms of experiences and especially the artistic. Inter-corporeity is the basis of our experience and artistic dimension whereas objectification is secondary aspect.
In the third part of the book Andrews focuses on linguistic concepts and on the theme of representation both in Merleau-Ponty’s work and in art. The phenomenon of resonance between linguistic tool and art is investigated extensively. Discourse plays the major role in the expression’s tools and mechanisms of artistic references. For example, Merleau-Ponty’s metaphors, as Andrews makes clear, are used as expressions of the lived experience of the subject and show how his thought is formed around the aesthetic experience of the phenomenological process. His metaphors hide an experimental and experiential spirit. The author exposes Merleau-Ponty’s immanent expressivity and creation of meanings. Underlying Merleau-Ponty’s conviction that personal expression (speech) is more meaningful than the impersonal (sedimented language) is a fundamental naturalism.
The fourth part of the book focuses on Merleau-Ponty’s terms such as flesh, visible, invisible, and chiasm as the main points of reinserting painting and artistic discourse into phenomenology through an ontological perspective. The field of vision and its depth through being’s embodiment is given in a vivid spirit, through memorable examples. Merleau-Ponty holds that the perceiver is embedded in the aesthetic space and interacts with it through experiences and senses. Flesh is the bridge between Leib and nature. Andrews notices the linguistic frameworks that aim to take our lived experience and inter-corporeity into an account of art. Linguistic resonance is strongly at play in inter-affectivity and artistic responses and leads that involved the entire subject’s body.
The book demonstrates how deeply the phenomenological and artistic traditions are connected and draws a perspective through a prismatic discipline in the phenomenological context. Andrews presents and re-presents the matter of intra-corporeality in the sense that subjectivity and objectivity are in dialogue. The microscopic world of living is in dialogue with the macroscopic world of painting through the linguistic resonance of inter-artistic relations. Moroever, the picture of embodiment and embodied cognition that is developed here impacts debates concerning the dignity of the person and life. The accounts of perception and of art are organic, interdependent, and dynamic.
The whole book provides an overview of Merleau-Ponty’s thought. But it also offers new points of view on the fields described above and never loses sight of the phenomenological field of Merleau-Ponty’s eco-artistic perspective. Andrews reinserts the reader to Merleau-Ponty’s thought and way of thinking as living communication with the world. The book contributes significantly to the intense debate concerning oculocentrism in the 1980s and guided by phenomenology at every critical juncture. In conclusion, it addresses major topics and motivates readers to explore an interesting field of research, which is still open to new interventions. The book is a welcome affirmation of the fluidity and versatility of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, and promises to open the door to new intellectual and phenomenological creativity.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. Le visible et l’invisible, C. Lefort (ed.), Paris: Gallimard.