Heidegger in France: Nazism and philosophy

Prospect Magazine

Heidegger in France: Nazism and philosophy

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One of the distinctive features of French intellectual life in the post-war period has been the influence of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Heidegger’s standing among French philosophers, especially those working in the phenomenological tradition (who are more numerous in France than anywhere else in Europe, let alone the Anglophone world), contrasts dramatically with his reputation in the country of his birth, where his legacy is tainted irredeemably by his political compromises with National Socialism in the 1930s.

The precise nature and extent of those compromises remain a matter of controversy—not least in France, where the murky subject of Heidegger’s political affiliations convulses the intellectual class roughly once a decade. Last week, Nicolas Weill, a journalist at Le Monde, wrote on his blog that the latest volume of Heidegger’s complete works (the Gesamtausgabe), which will be published in Germany in March next year, promises a definitive answer to the question whether “Heidegger was an intellectual led astray by a temporary will to power or whether his political itinerary reflects a more profound tendency”.

Eric Aeschimann, writing in Le Nouvel Observateur, reports that Heidegger’s Schwarzen Hefte (“Black Notebooks”) will trouble even the most faithful of his acolytes in France. It appears that the German editor of the notebooks, Peter Trawny, has written an essay entitled “Heidegger: ‘The Black Notebooks’ and Historial Antisemitism” (“historial” being one of those neologisms of which Heidegger, and Heideggerians, were and are fond) in which he argues that these manuscripts, written between 1931 and 1946, contain ideas that are “clearly antisemitic, even if it is not a question of antisemitism of the kind promoted by Nazi ideology.” One of Heidegger’s French translators, Hadrien France-Lanord, has read Trawny’s essay and has pronounced himself dismayed by many of the extracts from the notebooks that it contains. We are, Aeschimann writes, on the verge of another “Heidegger affair”.

The last time the question of Heidegger’s politics became a matter of public debate in France was in June 2005, when a number of eminent philosophers and historians wrote an open letter to Le Monde expressing their support for Emmanuel Faye, whose book about Heidegger, Heidegger – L’introduction du nazisme dans la philosophie, had attracted a considerable amount of favourable press coverage. The signatories (including Jacques Bouveresse, Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Serge Klarsfeld) denounced the attempt by those they described as “radical Heideggerians” to discredit Faye’s book “by all means”, including attacks on its author broadcast on a dedicated website set up by the writer Stéphane Zagdanski. “We do not accept these dishonourable procedures,” they wrote, “and believe that critical research into the relationship between Heidegger’s work and Nazism must carry on.”

François Fédier, Heidegger’s principal French translator and an ally of Zagdanski, referred derisively to Faye carrying on the “family business”. In 1966, Fédier wrote an article defending Heidegger against charges made in several German books which generated a number of responses, including one by Faye’s father Jean-Pierre. Twenty years later, an even more intense querelle was set off by the publication of Heidegger et le nazisme, written by a former student of Heidegger’s, the Chilean Victor Farias. The facts that Farias assembled were already well-known, thanks largely to the immense archival labours of the German scholars Hugo Ott and Guido Schneeberger, while his treatment of Heidegger’s philosophy was highly tendentious. Yet the impact his book had in France was enormous, with major figures such as Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard being drawn into the fray.

To see why disputes of this kind have been a more or less permanent feature of the French intellectual landscape since the war, one needs first to understand how a distinctively gallicised version of Heidegger’s thought came to enjoy a position of pre-eminence in France, especially, and perhaps paradoxically, on the left.

***

In November 1945, as he awaited the verdict of Freiburg University’s denazification commission, Heidegger wrote to a former colleague describing the unusual situation in which he found himself. Stripped of his chair and shunned by his compatriots, Heidegger was buoyed by news from Paris of his burgeoning reputation there. Elements in the French military, which was overseeing the épuration in Freiburg, had assured him that in France his work “guides and inspires people’s thinking, and in particular the attitudes of the young”. And the philosopher Edgar Morin, then a lieutenant in the French army, had conveyed to Heidegger a letter from the editor of a leading Parisian journal inviting him to write on a subject of his choosing. But Heidegger was reluctant to “promote” his thought in France as long as his position in Germany remained uncertain. Soon, however, he would have no choice.

The commission had already produced a report on Heidegger’s activities during the early 1930s, paying close attention to his behaviour while rector of the university in 1933-4 and noting that he “consciously placed the full weight of his academic reputation and the distinctive art of his oratory in the service of the National Socialist revolution”. Heidegger joined the NSDAP in May 1933 not long after assuming the rectorship and quickly set about establishing the Führerprinzip at the university, ensuring that the institution would no longer be autonomous but instead directly answerable, through the person of the Führer-rector, to the Nazi minister of education. This chimed with his assertion, in his inaugural address as rector, that traditional notions of academic freedom were empty and merely “negative” and that real freedom lay in a German student body that was now “on the march”.

But Heidegger’s rectorship was shortlived, and he resigned after falling out with the minister in Berlin. The report concluded that the “label ‘Nazi’ ceased to be applicable to him after 1934″ and that consequently there was “no danger that he would ever again promote the ideas of Nazism”. It recommended that Heidegger be given emeritus status and be allowed to do a limited amount of teaching.

One member of the commission, however, continued to insist that more serious action be taken and so the process dragged on. It only reached a denouement when one of Heidegger’s oldest acquaintances, the philosopher Karl Jaspers, was asked to provide the commission with a reference. In December 1945, Jaspers delivered the following devastating verdict on his former friend: “Heidegger’s mode of thinking, which seems to me to be fundamentally unfree, dictatorial and uncommunicative, would have a very damaging effect on students at the present time. And the mode of thinking itself seems to me more important than the actual content of political judgements, whose aggressiveness can easily be channelled in other directions. Until such time as a genuine rebirth takes place within him, and is seen to be at work within him, I think it would be quite wrong to turn such a teacher loose on the young people of today, who are psychologically extremely vulnerable.”

Thanks in part to the teaching ban that followed, the “mode of thinking” Jaspers refers to would not take root after the war in Germany, where the reception of Heidegger’s work was always as much political as it was narrowly philosophical and where that work’s affinities with the “conservative revolutionary” thought of writers such as Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger were, for better or worse, taken for granted. According to this “historicised” interpretation, the famous “turn” in Heidegger’s thought, in which he abandoned the quasi-Kantian categories of his masterpiece Being and Time (1927) for what he termed a “history of Being”, can only be understood in the light of his abandonment of the rectorship and his disillusionment with the course taken by the National Socialist revolution after 1934.

Heidegger came to believe that the present is characterised by a forgetfulness of “Being” and that this forgetfulness shows itself in the global domination of modern science and technology. Where, in 1933, Nazism, and the Führer in particular, had promised an “awakening” of the German people and salvation from the “nihilism” of the modern age, now Heidegger regarded it as the latest embodiment of that dispensation. But, as his former student Karl Löwith pointed out in 1946, this did not mean that Heidegger had stopped believing in the necesity of national revolution after 1934—far from it. And Löwith maintained that what a “naïve apology” for Heidegger published the same year in French in Les Temps Modernes really showed was that he was a “distinguished representative of the German Revolution”.

In France, by contrast, Heidegger’s “History of Being” was taken up in a decidedly ahistorical fashion, and the author of the Temps Modernes piece, Jean Beaufret, played an important role in its dissemination. He was the addressee of the “Letter on Humanism”, the founding text of French Heideggerianism.

Beaufret had written to Heidgger after Jean-Paul Sartre delivered a lecture entitled “Existentialism Is a Humanism”, which was subsequently published to considerable acclaim. In the lecture, Sartre had claimed to derive from Heidegger’s Being and Time an existentialism according to which man’s existence precedes his essence; in other words, man is free to decide his own essence. Responding to Beaufret, Heidegger denied all connection between his thought and Sartre’s. Sartre takes for granted, he argued, precisely what ought to be questioned, namely: the meaning of “the human”. In assuming that man’s essence lies in action or decision, Sartre misses the more fundamental question about the meaning of Being. Sartrean existentialism, it turns out, is but another mode of forgetfulness. The history of the West, for Heidegger, is the history of the growing power of human subjectivity, in which man enjoys technological dominion over nature rather than the more humble role of “shepherd of Being”.

Heidegger appeared on the post-war French scene, therefore, as a critic of technology and of modernity more generally. And in his book, Emmanuel Faye notes the influence that Heidegger’s anti-humanism had on major currents of post-war French thought, from Althusser and Foucault to the work of Jacques Derrida. It’s that influence, moreover, that explains why successive “Heidegger affairs” in Paris have been so charged.

In the 1970s, a leftist anti-humanism derived from Heidegger’s history of Being filled the gap left by the decline of Marxism, on the one hand, and the more or less complete absence in France of any tradition of normative political theory on the other. It was not the least of Faye’s achievements, in a work whose philosophical sophistication outstrips that of Farias by several orders of magnitude, to show to a French audience what German philosophers such as Jürgen Habermas have been arguing for many years: that, in fact, Heidegger’s undifferentiated and undialectical hostility to modernity was intimately bound up with his commitment to “national revolution” in Germany (a commitment that outlasted his brief formal adhesion to the Nazi Party).

For example, Faye shows that the critique of “biologism” that Heidegger developed in lecture courses given after he resigned the rectorship was not, as Heidegger himself and certain of his French epigones claimed, evidence of his growing opposition to the “National-Socialist worldview”. Heidegger certainly rejected the biologistic racial theories propounded by Nazi ideologues such as Alfred Bäumler and Ernst Krieck. But this critique is compatible, Faye argues, with Heidegger’s retention of a “metaphysical” conception of race. What Heidegger objects to is the grounding of biologistic theories in the “Darwinian conception of life”, which he regarded as of a piece with a “liberal conception of man and human society” towards which he remained unequivocally and unremittingly hostile.

Back in 2005, I spoke to Richard Wolin, an American intellectual historian who signed the open letter in support of Faye. He told me: “Faye does a very effective job of showing how fully committed Heidegger was to Nazism [and] demonstrates that Heidegger’s commitment was also intellectual and philosophical.” However, Wolin insisted that we ought not to conclude from this that Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole should be placed on the index (something Faye comes close to saying). Perhaps a more appropriate conclusion to draw from Faye’s remarkable book is the one argued for by his colleague, the philosopher Jean-Michel Salanskis. In Salanskis’s view, what Faye taught us is that the French left should now recognise that there is nothing in Heidegger that has anything whatsoever to do with the “promise of freedom and equality”.

  1. December 14, 2013

    Trent

    Heidegger is a philosopher with flashes of incomparable brilliance. However, he is an unremitting coward. While Heidegger was selling his soul for comfort, a much more thorough, accessible, and brilliant Philosopher was working the resistance. Jaques Ellul, a model of the philosopher putting his money where his mouth is.

    • February 27, 2014

      Irving Hexham

      Trent wrote: “Heidegger is a philosopher with flashes of incomparable brilliance.” This is highly questionable. As May showed years ago he appropriated his key insights from the works of others. Normally, this is called plagiarism, but say that in Germany and you will be sued. I’ve been told, but never checked it out, that May’s examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Interestingly. May’s book is not found in many university libraries:

      May, Reinhard, and Graham Parkes. Heidegger’s Hidden Sources : East Asian Influences on His Work. London ; New York: Routledge, 1996.

      • March 12, 2014

        Trent

        Irving Hexham wrote: “As May showed years ago he appropriated his key insights from the works of others. Normally, this is called plagiarism…”

        In regards to what we’re talking about, I believe that’s a nonissue. How Heidegger articulates what he stole, and blends them is his work. No one is original. A platitude not worth mentioning.

  2. December 14, 2013

    ortega

    The question is not about Heidegger being a nazi. Sure he was. The question is: what does it tell us that the XXth century greatest philosopher was a nazi? Dismissing him as a philosopher because of his political views is a way to elude the question.

    • December 16, 2013

      Steve C

      Heidegger was the greatest philosopher of the 20th century! That’s a hell of a claim to just toss out there when he has the likes Russell, Wittgenstein, Whitehead, Lewis, Quine, & G.E. Moore for company!

      • December 16, 2013

        Theryn Lyes

        Wittgenstein was a beery swine, who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

        • December 16, 2013

          bzfgt

          And theryn lyes the difference, And Theryn.

           
      • December 16, 2013

        Lucien Aychenwald

        Only Wittgenstein has had anything close to the same influence, and that influence has mainly been in analytic philosophy, while Heidegger’s has extended into many other fields, even art and poetry.

        None of the others on the list comes close to interrogating the whole of the tradition so thoroughly, none of the others attempts to overcome all of metaphysics as a result of that interrogation (and thus does not realize how much he is a prisoner of metaphysics — Wittgenstein barely read Aristotle, if at all), none of the others offers anything remotely like Heidegger in terms of a vision of the immensity of human existence. It bears repeating: Heidegger rejected humanism because he thought it wasn’t human (or humane) enough, just as he questioned the role of “values” because they are by nature finite, and he thought that what was at stake was beyond all price or “value.” Analytic philosophy is of no interest to anyone except analytic philosophers, because there is nothing in it to elevate us to a status that reflects that immensity. As the French would say, none of the other philosophers offers anything like a parole. I do find Davidson interesting in places, and I highly respect Wittgenstein II, but the only thing keeping analytic philosophy going today is its houseboy status in the mansion of science. Tweaking the formulations of scientists in the interest of conceptual consistency is a far cry from a man who could fill lecture halls in his heyday because he had gone upstream, seen that the West is heading toward disaster, and brought back a way of thinking that, properly understood, changes everything.

        It can’t be stressed enough: Heidegger saw something in the jump from Heraclitus and Parmenides to Plato that everyone else missed and keeps missing. A second jump happened from Plato to Aristotle, and the tone of the West was set. Today analytic philosophy, like science, sees nothing of interest in the ancient Greeks, because science is concerned with viable models of cause and effect and today’s models are undoubtedly more efficacious than the Greeks’. If analytic philosophy can polish up those models, then it’s happy. But what’s at stake with the Greeks, and for us, is something entirely different, and when one reads Heidegger, one sees what it is. If we are deaf to it, we will not be able to reappropriate our 2500-year-old legacy and liberated ourselves from it.

        • December 16, 2013

          bzfgt

          ” the only thing keeping analytic philosophy going today is its houseboy status in the mansion of science. Tweaking the formulations of scientists in the interest of conceptual consistency is a far cry from a man who could fill lecture halls in his heyday because he had gone upstream, seen that the West is heading toward disaster, and brought back a way of thinking that, properly understood, changes everything.”

          This seems a bit out of date; although Anglo-American philosophy is not my re-mit, this seems like a critique of the state of the discipline 40 years ago or something. I don’t think “analytic philosophy” is even all that much of a going concern anymore, is it?

           
        • February 17, 2014

          Ursula Goldenbaum

          What is it what you see when reading it?

           
      • January 17, 2014

        Jackson Davis

        And what about José Ortega y Gasset, who not only an extraordinary and original philosopher, but also was as active, if not more so, in as many areas as Heidegger? And he was a liberal democrat who had to go into exile because of the Civil War in Spain.

      • March 12, 2014

        Jackson Davis

        And also José Ortega y Gasset !

    • December 18, 2013

      Tom Blancato

      It tells us that the unthoiught in Western philosophy is nonviolence, plain and simple. More unthought than Being, more original than ethics, as “old as the hills” (Gandhi) yet strangely new and uninteresting to the greatest majority of philosophers throughout the last century, and this one as well, if one looks at the recent treatments of the theme of violence in some progressive philosophical circles.

      At this time, when the only real positive development in the “Arab Spring” was the first wave in Egypt, which was rooted largely, if not purely, in nonviolence, the simple fact that this instance of the real power and viability of nonviolence is not seen as the most important datum of our day is more evidence that the thoughtful simply can not be bothered by it. It’s like a research laboratory in which there are 5 projects testing chemotherapy, 5 testing radiological treatment, and 1 underfunded little thing involving a mold that happens to stop all forms of cancer. It simply does not register.

      The deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence should pave a way to nonviolence, but it does not (as of yet). The decisive confrontation concerning nonviolence as a theme and independent, substantive concern for philosophers requires new thoughts: among these are a concept of thoughtaction (like Gandhi’s “satyagraha”, which he found to be essential), a shift of the revolutionary into a concept of envolution, a post-anarchy phase (in the form of enarchy) and a new type of reading beyond deconstruction, which I term “enconstruction”.

      The Being that Heidegger most aggressively throws us into likewise must be reconsidered, deconstructed, enconstructed, rendered differently, as the contours and basic forms of presence permeate that Being through and through. Dasein is not as Heidegger says, although the danger is that it can be as Heidegger says nonetheless. This is no different from saying that the human can fall from its essence, a thought that Heidegger taught.

      One may be challenged to these basic possibilities from many directions. The case of Egypt is just one, but certainly it is powerful. A thought experiment: what would a philosopher say in that oncology laboratory with that unassuming mold experiment that happens to cure cancer, when all researchers and funding agencies pass this over in favor of the usual approaches? What does a philosopher say to the claim that nonviolence is in fact the only thing that has shown hope and change for the Middle East? What does a philosopher say when someone claims that Dasein maintains itself in a specific, thematic and substantive nonviolence and has an understanding of both violence and nonviolence, that nonviolence as such is one of Dasein’s ownmost possibilities?

      • December 19, 2013

        Greg Desilet

        Nonviolence remains unthought in Western philosophy (and everywhere else) perhaps because it CANNOT be thought. Everything thought and done would appear to constitute violence to one degree or another, by default if not by intent. It may be that we cannot not do violence to the other; we can only choose to minimize its effects.

        • December 19, 2013

          Tom Blancato

          This is a kind of preemptive foreclosure of the theme, on par with saying that “Being is the emptiest of concepts”. The idea of minimization is already a nonviolence, although it would have to be fleshed out how calling something “a nonviolence” works. The idea of everything being violent to some degree is interesting enough, but would have to be worked through. The most preliminary examination of various phenomena will show that prima facie we are given to characterize some things as violent, others as not, while the rejoinder that “well, everything is violent” is not really acceptable, especially as a way of waving off thought on the matter.

          This kind of gesture (your reply), and it is very common, is part of the foreclosure in general of the theme as a basic matter of interrogation and thoughtaction. We will regularly differentiate between a school.shooting and a quiet conversation, calling the former violent and the latter (relatively) nonviolent. Violence prevention as a task can obtain its nomination through the designation “violence”, as pertains to the act of shooting. Minimization as such finds limits if we imagine a school shooter simply speaking harshly, and this still may be differentiated from their not attacking someone, even verbally, etc. The matter cannot, however, be reduced to minimization. But these are all matters to be unfolded with the opening of the foreclosed question.

          What we have, at best, in philosophy is either efforts to preserve violence and stave off totalized nonviolence (Derrida), whereas the term “nonviolence” does not automatically imply totality, or simply poor treatments that never really take up a thinking in and of nonviolence (Arendt).

          To move to the idea that it cannot be thought (you say “perhaps”) is precipitous. This would seem likewise to parallel that resistance to the thinking of Being which Heidegger countered in an exemplary way. Generally, such a move would seem to be, prima facie, a bit of an embarrassing tack, philosophically speaking. Its ubiquity would seem to parallel the ubiquity of “power”, which Foucault, for example, readily admitted. He allowed that the discourse on power is itself still ensconced in conditions of power. Likewise, the Interpretation of Being is indeed a hermeneutic project for Heidegger. I view the unfolding of nonviolence as being a hermeneutic condition; this is no different than saying that a discourse on ethics has its own ethics, etc., although I would add that this entails a disruption of the idea of a purity of thought as such and emerges in a concept of thoughtaction more readily, which is one reason for both the failure to launch of the question of nonviolence and some of the major stumbling blocks and dead ends of philosophy.

           
  3. December 14, 2013

    Gene Schulman

    The debate on Heidegger’s influence in France certainly predates the one in June 2005. I remember the scandal over the publication of Victor Farias’ book “Heidegger and Nazisme”. This caused a spate of articles and even a televised debate on the French program “Oceanique” on 14 December, 1987. (The program actually ran for several days, with other luminaries piping in with their opinions.) The panel included such luminaries as Michel Cazenave, Andre Glucksman, George Steiner, et al. Steiner had published his own book on Heidegger in 1979, in English, in which he did not defend Heidegger’s Nazism, but rather explained his philosophy. On the above mentioned TV program, he did the same versus all those who were more concerned about Heidegger’s Nazism.

  4. December 14, 2013

    g. hayes

    That mountain of 6 million bodies in his back yard (where Hannibal Arendt would beckon him to come lie with her in the Edelweiss), is Heidegger’s signature work. If he was ever a philosopher, it is for him to prove.

  5. December 14, 2013

    Lucien Aychenwald

    As someone who has met (and extensively read) both François Fédier and Hadrien France-Lanord, I would attest to their impeccable integrity as men and very exacting interpretative powers in translating Heidegger into French. The recently published Dictionnaire Martin Heidegger in France, which they co-edited (and to which Peter Trawny contributed) is a magisterially comprehensive treatment of Heidegger’s thought. There is much new material in it that reveals the heretofore untranslated criticism by Heidegger of the Nazi régime.

    This article is a mere sketch of the ongoing debate, and does not mention the rebuttal of Faye’s book (Heidegger à plus fort raison) by Fédier among others, which exposes Faye’s poor comprehension of German and takes apart his mistranslations in great detail. It should be pointed out that Fédier has never denied the gravity of Heidegger’s error in 1933, which I have heard him to refer to as a “délire” (an act of madness). It should also be pointed out that Fédier must in no way be associated with Derrida, Foucault, and other French “post-structuralist” or “deconstructionist” thinkers. Fédier’s work consists almost wholly in meticulously examining and commenting on philosophical texts (Plato, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and others), always using the original and then translating it step-by-step with extensive explanations of his choices. Also, Heidegger was not an “anti-humanist” — he specifically states that humanism, as conceived by Sartre, is not human enough. As for Jaspers, he revised his opinion in 1949. And no account of Heidegger would be complete without the point of view of his Jewish lover and great friend, Hannah Arendt.

    My sense is that Heidegger’s work — particularly his reading of the Western metaphysical tradition, and its forgetting of Being — probably constitutes the most important intellectual event of the 20th century. His understanding of the Greeks was without parallel, and his commentaries on art, language, and Being are exhilarating and make much of contemporary analytic philosophy look dry, useless, and fundamentally naive. But this is not to say that there isn’t something problematic in some of his work, particularly his treatment of the “historial” and the destinies of peoples. His view of “Americanism” as fundamentally (“in its essence”) equivalent to Bolshevism is, to put it mildly, debatable. His persistance in interpreting history through a very particular lens may well have blinded him, in my opinion, to a more down-to-earth regard for basic human needs and — to put it simplistically — how people really are. It would have been far less difficult for those of us who consider his work indispensable had he forcefully, openly, and repeatedly denounced the horrors of Nazism, instead of going back to his usual mode of essence-interpretation and likening the Shoah to industrial agriculture — or saying very little at all. The Hesperic Age of Holderlin, the new beginning, dwelling, the fourfold (gods-humans-sky-earth)… all of these are rich sources of inquiry, but there are also times when what’s most important is whether the man next door has the courage and sensibility to shelter a refugee from danger. I’m somehow reminded of Thales falling into the well as he gazes at the stars. Martin Heidegger, one feels, needed to get out of his hut more.

    • December 14, 2013

      Gene Schulman

      “His view of “Americanism” as fundamentally (“in its essence”) equivalent to Bolshevism is, to put it mildly, debatable.”

      Mildly debatable? Given the evolution of America over the years since Heidegger was writing, I’d say it’s closer to fascism.

      • December 15, 2013

        Bzfgt

        I see what you did there–you changed “to put it mildly, debatable” to “mildly debatable.” That’s fair; I’d say it doesn’t change the meaning of what he said at all. Nope.

        • December 15, 2013

          Gene Schulman

          Oh, what a difference a comma makes. Sorry, I wasn’t disputing the statement, merely supplementing it.

           
      • December 15, 2013

        Quixote

        Indeed, the line between fascism and democracy is very thin. Not only the American government, but even American academics, have, of late, shown a stunning willingness to resort to the violence of the law to defend the interests of individuals in positions of power, with hardly anyone, Heideggerian or otherwise, saying a word in opposition to this latest trend.

        For one example, take the recent “case” in which prosecutors, working together with academics at NYU, criminalized an act of deadpan satire in the form of “Gmail confessions” in the “name” of a well-connected department chairman at that institution. The willingness to abuse laws that were clearly never written for this purpose, with the direct aim of sending an intellectual provocateur to prison, certainly does remind one of the worst tendencies of “post-modernism.” What next? Should we have Alan Sokal arrested and prosecuted for his famous hoax, on the ground that it was a deceitful act of fraud, designed to harm the reputation of the editors of Social Text? See the astonishing documentation of the NYU criminal satire “case” at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        • December 17, 2013

          Quixote

          P.s. among the more interesting documents gathered at the above-linked criminal satire “case” site (under the rubric “from the trial testimony of NYU officials”), is the testimony of a New York University department chairman to the effect that neither he nor anyone else reads the NYU faculty code of conduct with its definition of plagiarism. In his own words “nobody reads” the faculty code, and he himself has merely “breezed through it.”

          Further, the same chairman testifies that the accusation put to him in an interview by a well-known journalist: “you adopted portions of the theory” of another author and “presented them as your own, without appropriate credit and without acknowledging as much,” did not constitute an accusation of plagiarism or even of “impropriety”; rather, it was merely an accusation of “too few footnotes to a guy.”

          These extraordinary admissions and statements issued, in a criminal court of law, by a distinguished university department chairman, might certainly lead one to wonder whether the attitudes displayed are entirely unconnected with a transformation in academic values associated, some would argue, with the advent of postmodernism. After all, if everything is merely a matter of arbitrary definition, if even ethical principles are radically subject to the relativity of knowledge, then why read a faculty code at all, unless for purposes of “deconstructing” its infinite meanings? Why adhere to “accepted” definitions of plagiarism, when words can simply be toyed with and reinterpreted or reinvented at will?

           
    • December 16, 2013

      Theryn Lyes

      There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach you ’bout the raising of the wrist.

  6. December 14, 2013

    Vance McLaughlin

    The discussion on Heidegger and his ban from teaching seems to support the idea that those who advanced views that in some way supported a totalitarian regime that killed millions in camps should be punished. Therefore, the academics in the United States who supported communism in Russia, should have been purged after World War II. Interesting outlook.

  7. December 14, 2013

    Lucien Aychenwald

    Actually, to revise a point that I did not express very well (Heidegger’s misunderstanding of people): what is uncanny about Heidegger’s work in general, and particularly his reading of Western metaphysics, is how he works his way upstream to dismantle the concepts we have inherited and to show that they do not rest on anything substantial. It is this, among other things, that makes his critique of science (“Science doesn’t think”) so trenchant, because truth, knowledge, and Being are not what we think they are. Curiously, there is a great liberation in his illumination of this, not to mention the seeds of a real humanism, because we are of an entirely different order than the “rational animals” or indeed the gene-manipulated information processors that so many cognitive scientists take us for. In this sense, as Fédier has pointed out, Heidegger’s thinking is profoundly anti-totalitarian.

    But it seems to me that Heidegger’s interpretation of history is made from this same upstream position, and that he is so concerned with the sweep of the destiny of Being that there is a strange absence of real events and real people in his writing. Heidegger is not concerned with solutions to the nihilistic evening-time he considers us to have entered, but with preparing the way for another kind of thinking, one that is not based on Will. Our task is consider what kind of thinking this may be, without losing sight of the undeniable political and social gains humans have made in recent centuries.

  8. December 14, 2013

    Santiago

    Great essay. Great example of “high” journalism.

  9. December 14, 2013

    Kyle

    Evil is banal.. I don’t see what more can be said than that. Our life’s decisions are heuristc and our moral axioms are ultimately no firmer grounded than those holding up mathematics. But hey, at least it’s easier to navel gaze about the decisions of the dead than take our own lives seriously.

  10. December 14, 2013

    Tom Blancato

    What can not be fleshed out through even the most painstaking, meticulous researches is what remains off the table in the *Sturm Und Drang* of Heidegger’s world, century and ultimately the whole history of philosophy/metaphysics Heidegger helps us to begin to think: nonviolence. It is unquestionably the violence of Nazism that makes Heidegger’s association with it problematic. But what remains unthought in Heidegger is something that plagues us to this day: the free opening of a category of substantive thought, research, discovery, exploration and implementation in thoughtaction, precisely what the “on the ground” students of Nazi Germany did not bring with them, and what thinkers to this day fail to recognize as being both of preeminent importance and fundamental ontological and/or philosophical purchase: nonviolence. As Egypt limps for failing to recognize her greatest power, nonviolence, the need is as great as ever for the thoughtful to begin to approach what was, for Gandhi, a co-fundament with truth. It is striking that the Foucauldians, who find the hybridity of power-knowledge so important, have not taken up the category of *satyagraha*, itself a hybrid in thoughtaction of a most remarkable elegance, one which preceded Foucault by many years. Just as the question of Being undertaken by the free mind with the deconstructive ability to “go upstream”, as one commenter here so effectively put it, releasing it to its more original development, the question of nonviolence (as opposed to the question of violence) likewise promises to unfold in its own ways. That question requires a turning. It has barely begun.

    Lucien Aychenwald is right about the neighbor, the question of refuge, etc. But he still oddly offers this in that ubiquitous parenthetical form, as a kind of humble aside, in the form of a vague “perhaps”, a musing, a dream, that characterizes the subservient, secondary role accorded nonviolence in the world dominated by prevailing metaphysics and we may add post-metaphysics. To realize the consequences of his observation more fully is to send a shock wave through thought. It is to begin an envolution.

  11. December 14, 2013

    Andrew

    good article thanx, the best explanation of “being” I have come across :o ), short and understandable :o )

  12. December 14, 2013

    Sean Matthews

    it has seems to me that there are two points here: first, there is the way Heidegger’s enthusiasm for Nazism in the early thirties was a mistake based on a misunderstanding, just like the Vienna positivist embrace of Wittgenstein was a mistake based on a misunderstanding. Simply to state it like this seems to be enough. Second, Heidegger was a fundamentally a moralist, and he thought that Nazism offered, or at least suggested, authentic moral insight into being. That is the moral equivalent of a reducto ad absurdum.

    Guys, lets face it, the man was reactionary cesspit scum with prose that was beyond parody and the moral depth of a puddle of stagnant water.

    The postwar enthusiasm of jewish intellectuals for his ‘thinking’ is bizarre.

  13. December 15, 2013

    Gregory Peterson

    Heidegger on his association with the Nazis: from 1950

    “What I report here can excuse nothing. Rather, it can explain how, when over the course of years what is virulently evil became manifest, my shame grew-the shame of directly or indirectly having been involved in it.”

    • December 16, 2013

      bzfgt

      Gregory, can you please give a source for that quote? The only thing I can find on the internet is other places you’ve quoted it.

      • December 16, 2013

        Gregory

        Yes, it comes from a letter written to Jaspers (where he does a fair bit of whining). From the Heidegger/Jaspers correspondence.

        • December 16, 2013

          bzfgt

          Thank you.

           
  14. December 15, 2013

    Mark Titus

    It amazes me that Heidegger and those who follow him should still be puzzling over Aristotle’s “being qua being.”

    The metaphysics of Democritus (after an eclipse of 2,000 years) has clearly triumphed over the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle. Philosophers should study it–i.e. learn a little physics, chemistry, and biology–and then help us understand its implications. Many traditional philosophers, especially Spinoza I think, could help in this regard.

    • December 16, 2013

      Theryn Lyes

      Plato, they say, could stick it away (half a crate of whiskey every day).

  15. December 15, 2013

    Crispin Sartwell

    i think framing it in terms of ‘compromises’ with nazism is rather odd and sort of question-begging if we start out with the question of what his relation to nazism actually was. it articulates the relation by its distance, when whether there is any distance is a question.

  16. December 15, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    The major innovation of Heidegger’s philosophy turns on the necessary association of being and time. One cannot be adequately theorized without the other. But the effects of time were not thereby equally valued by Heidegger. Time undermines being whereas everything good about human culture and civilization depends, for Heidegger, on the upholding of tradition and resistance to the ravages of time. Modernity advances the forgetfulness of being and especially accelerates it with technological innovations. In response to these developments, philosopher kings are needed to lead societies in the proper preservation of tradition through their authoritative knowledge and understanding of tradition. This is the role Heidegger imagined for himself in 1934. Heidegger’s philosophical system, therefore, is not inconsistent with versions of elitism and authoritarianism potentially consistent with totalitarianism. Heidegger’s falling out with Nazism may not have been so much his falling out with its practical agenda as the falling out of Nazi leadership with Heidegger’s positioning of himself as its philosopher king. He was not allowed to play the role he desired for himself. He was always more disappointed in this rejection of his leadership than with his decision to join the Nazi party. And it would only be fitting, from his point of view, that the historical development of Nazism would not go well without his guiding hand. This explains his ultimate rejection of Nazi leadership during the war as well as his continued advocacy of a version of National Socialism, in opposition to democracy and socialism, after the war.

    • December 15, 2013

      Lucien Aychenwald

      Heidegger called his association with the Nazi Party his greatest “stupidity” (dummheit) and as early as 1934 was referring to Nazism as “barbaric.”

      Heidegger’s insights are too numerous to be listed here, but among the most penetrating are his realization that Being is not a “thing,” although it has been treated as such from Plato through the present day; that, ergo, far from having displaced metaphysics, modern science is the culmination of it, and thoroughly impregnated with Plato and Aristotle and Descartes (though most scientists would surely disagree); that science is an extremely useful method for producing and testing relative models of cause and effect, but that there is a whole other dimension of thinking possible that is first seen in Heraclitus and Parmenides, but that Plato, leaning on Parmenides, takes in an entirely different direction; that language is of a whole other order than a simple “tool” for “communication”; that rationalism and empricism are two sides of the same counterfeit coin; and that the subject/object dichotomy, not to mention categorial thinking, have no ultimate foundations to support themselves. The quest of the metaphysical/scientific tradition in the West is the attempt to prove how a privileged Subject can Know Everything about Reality “out there” in a way that is necessarily 100% True. Heidegger thoroughly dismantles all of this, and it is not for nothing that some see his thought as close in many ways to Buddhism and Taoism, in which truth is divided into relative (conventional relationships of cause and effect that are useful for our daily lives) and absolute, which can be pointed to but never formulated.

      It is for these reasons that so many students, including Jews, flocked to his seminars in the 1920s. (It is also for these reasons that the extraordinary poet Paul Celan felt it essential to meet Heidegger, who had been a huge influence on him.) Just as almost no one ever mentions Heidegger’s actual thought whenever the Affair resurfaces, almost no one ever mentions the fact that Heidegger was a gifted and dedicated teacher who was enormously respected by the vast majority of his students — especially Jews. Jews and non-Jews alike do not seem to have felt they were being indoctrinated with racist and/or totalitarian thinking. The most compelling reason for this is that in all probability they weren’t — otherwise Heidegger would go down as one of the greatest bamboozlers in history, and his writings themselves would make no sense at all.

      No one should minimize the gravity of Heidegger’s errors in the early 1930s, but there comes a point when anyone seriously interested in the thinking itself needs to begin the patient and painstaking work of encountering Heidegger’s work and listening to what it has to say.

      • December 17, 2013

        Tom Blancato

        Perhaps one solution is to reply in the thinking of Being Heidegger taught. If Dasein is guilty for being the null basis of a nullity, that is, for something lost in another due to a lack of care, the who is this other to whom Dasein is obligated? Given the level of generality of Being and Time, it seems that Jews, homosexuals and all others would be properly others to the the individualized, thrown Dasein. Wouldn’t Being and Time then amount to a massive indictment of the Nazis? What was Heidegger fashioning under the Nazi’s noses?

        At the same time, Heidegger’s own limitations show themselves in his “thing” orientation, which oddly dominates Being and Time through examples of the workshop and hammer as a way of giving insight to worldhood. While interconnected worldhood defies attempts to capture it in the res extensa, this thingly orientation nevertheless dominated Heidegger’s thought to the extent that he diagnosed Nazism as a kind of categorical error run amok, culminating in the “manufacture of corpses”, meaning that his obsession with reification as a problem led him to ignore other, immense phenomena. Notably, he left aside seething hatred in the form of polemical caricature (“as structures”). Heidegger, it would seem, tended to view and even valorize polemos as a kind of primordial strife. In the heart of such polemos there lies a problem of violence and its many illusions, the answer to which one will find not in the aborted paths of the pre-Socratics but in the strangely uninteresting (to most philosophers) form of Gandhi and the general theme and thoughtaction of nonviolence (ahimsa), something that even Arendt did not really take up directly or even competently. At most, we have philosophers who think “on violence”, yet who has begun to think on and in nonviolence? Or to find it as a theme as Heidegger found Being as a theme? To do so means to enter more originally the heart of the problem presented by Heidegger’s Nazi affiliation, which lies more in the horrific face-off between the Aryan and the Eternal Jew as imposed by the Nazis and less in the dominance of rationality and technological enframing; it is here that even Heidegger’s referring us to the Humanitas and the Work of Art is in a poverty. It is not only Heidegger’s poverty. It is the poverty of humanity. Heidegger’s greatest culpability is his tendency to valorize, from a distance, polemos — war — while shepherding Being back to a noble strife whose basic conditions he fails to explicate, let alone ameliorate. There is no greater proof of this than the concept of guilt, which is Dasein’s war on itself.

        Nonviolence is the Destruktion of war, in part through the explication of the concepts and activities of retribution and force, revealing them to be impossible and illusory, which many know, but do little about. There is much in Heidegger that can aid in this work, if one knows how to look for it. This task remained as hidden to Heidegger as Being was to metaphysics. One must imagine that the God that Heidegger felt could alone save us would be all too human, an eternal return to endless war, to guilt without end, to the torments of Hell’s caricatures, to the taunting voices of madness, to the streets of Homs, the prisons of California, to the gay bashings of Russia.

        Nonviolence is the enconstruction of guilt, the enarchy of a post-anarchic world, the revolution of revolution itself in the form of nonviolence envolution, a post-postmodernism that has something to say and do. It calls not for the showing of guilt, but for defection and transformation, truth and reconciliation. These possibilities lie outside of the range of Heidegger’s thought insofar as he brought his thinking to bear on the world. Another turning, the turning of turning itself, so hard to see in Heidegger’s great, dark shadow. Let not the thought of fine thinkers be wasted on the endless squabbling over Heidegger’s guilt. Let thinkers find Heidegger, and themselves, guilty and take that as grist for the mill, or fiber for the charka, of the enconstruction of guilt in nonviolence thoughtaction. Homs, Egypt, Syaria, Corcoran, Russia…the list is endless…are all waiting for you to awaken from the postmodern slumber’s dream of wakefulness.

    • December 16, 2013

      bzfgt

      Almost everything you say above is false; Heidegger did not think ahistorically in the sense you suggest, did not attempt to fossilize tradition–quite the contrary, in fact–or leave a place for anything like a “philosopher king” after the 1930s, and did not advocate a form of National Socialism after the war. However, and despite the last-mentioned item, I think there is truth in what you write when you say “Heidegger’s falling out with Nazism may not have been so much his falling out with its practical agenda as the falling out of Nazi leadership with Heidegger’s positioning of himself as its philosopher king.” I do not think he was all that into the “practical agenda,” but he was unscrupulous enough to go along with it (we’ll never know how far, as he was out of favor by 1934).

      • December 16, 2013

        bzfgt

        Sorry, my last post was in response to Greg Desilet, for some reason it wound up lower down.

  17. December 15, 2013

    Al_de_Baran

    Hooray! Now Humanism has another arrow in its quiver: Anyone who critiques Humanism can now safely be tarred with the epithet “Nazi”.

  18. December 16, 2013

    Mike Cope

    Essentialism much? Are we also to chuck out all of Esra Pound because he thought bad thoughts?

    • December 16, 2013

      Al_de_Baran

      The first and best reason to “chuck out” Ezra Pound is because he was a miserably rotten “poet” and a deleterious influence on 20th-Century poetry.

      Anyway, as for Ezra, let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth. In san interview, “[Pound] told Allen Ginsberg in Rapallo that his poetry was, ‘A mess … my writing, stupidity and ignorance all the way through,’ and told him later in Venice, ‘… I found after seventy years that I was not a lunatic but a moron … .”

  19. December 16, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    In response to bzfgt: I think you misunderstand me. When I say of being and time that in Heidegger’s view “one cannot be theorized without the other,” I had hoped to suggest that Heidegger would be among the last to think being “ahistorically,” that is, apart from time. Nevertheless, I believe Heidegger places the emphasis on being in his valuation of tradition—reflected in a particular way by the effort necessary to overcome the worst consequences of the forgetfulness of being, a forgetfulness made possible only through the passage of time. You are right to say Heidegger “did not attempt to fossilize tradition—quite the contrary.” He, perhaps better than anyone, understood the impossibility of doing that. However, this did not prevent him from desiring to use the necessity of “difference” in the service of the same, in such ways as to maximally re-think the same in relation to the truth of being. But as Derrida has persuasively argued, this task is hopeless and consequently the desire thoroughly misplaced. As for Heidegger not advocating a form of National Socialism after the war, consult the Der Spiegel interview not to mention Habermas and Rockmore. There is certainly a difference of opinion with you on that point.

    • December 16, 2013

      Quixote

      The “persuasiveness” of Derrida’s argument is of course itself subject to debate. Incidentally, his defense of Heidegger again became a topic of dispute this past year with the publication of Jean-Pierre Faye’s new book, Lettre sur Derrida (Paris, Germina, 2013). This book was discussed in an open letter signed by Barbara Cassin, Michel Deguy, Jean-Luc Nancy, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, Avital Ronell, Geoffrey Bennington and Alex Garcia-Duttman:

      http://www.liberation.fr/culture/2013/05/07/un-brulot-pour-les-30-ans-du-college-international-de-philosophie_901542

      to which Gaëtan Pégny responded:

      http://www.liberation.fr/culture/2013/05/23/qui-est-aveugle_905175

      And let’s not forget another well-known episode in the New York Review of Books,

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1993/apr/22/laffaire-derrida-yet-another-exchange/

      where Thomas Sheehan, in the course of discussing Derrida’s efforts to prevent Richard Wolin from publishing an English translation of statements he made in a French interview, concluding:

      “How ironic that Derrida, who provides a language for criticizing power and for deconstructing the imperialisms of authorship, now parades himself, to the cheers of his acolytes, as the very psychopomp of power, who threatens to resort to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police.”

      • December 16, 2013

        Quixote

        P.s. forgive my typo (it should read “concluded,” not concluding).

    • December 16, 2013

      bzfgt

      It’s hard to get at what someone is saying in these short comments, but I’m sorry if your comments came out the other end of my paraphrases distorted. I am not exactly what you mean by “‘difference’ in service of the same,” nor do I think Derrida is necessarily the best interpreter of Heidegger in all things. But as for the main point, I don’t think Heidegger was promoting any sort of political system after the War and, perhaps more relevantly, don’t think his ideas of that period imply something like fascism, for reasons that I have thought out pretty thoroughly but can’t summarize here for the reason of space and the format, and for the other readers who probably wouldn’t want to read the expanded version of our discussion that would be necessary if we were to argue about it more. So I am happy to agree with you that we leave it as an unresolved difference, and thanks for the clarifications.

      Don’t forget to unclick “Sign me up to the Prospect newsletter” every single damn time you post something, folks…jeez.

      • December 16, 2013

        bzfgt

        Again, Greg Desilet…..I don’t know how they decide where to put things, but I keep winding up down the page.

  20. December 16, 2013

    B. Switzer

    I would simply add to the above comments that Stanley Rosen’s incomparable analysis of Heidegger’s thought, found in many of Rosen’s works, should be considered in any discussion of the significance and profundity of Heidegger.

  21. December 16, 2013

    Gene Schulman

    Why even bother with Heidegger anymore? The world has moved on – in Being and in Time.

  22. December 16, 2013

    Theryn Lyes

    Heidegger? Heidegger was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table

  23. December 16, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Bzfgt: Yes, I agree it is hard to get the full sense of what someone is saying in these comment sections due to the need to be brief. (On that point, I’m not sure I read you when you say “I am not exactly what you mean by ‘difference’ in the service of the same”).

    Moving on, I do grant that Derrida may not necessarily be the best interpreter of Heidegger in all things. Heidegger is difficult to read and so is Derrida. There is much room for interpretation and a lot of work to do in any interpretation of them at all. I will also grant that Derrida in defense of Heidegger and de Man is not Derrida at his best, though I also do not think Derrida’s comments on these men undermine his integrity and that of deconstruction nearly as much as some critics have claimed and would like to believe.

    However, Derrida is at his best in relation to Heidegger in his critique of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and Heidegger’s claims to have gone beyond traditional metaphysics. Derrida shows such claims to be questionable at best. Having said all this, I would respond to Gene Schulman (“Why even bother with Heidegger anymore? The world has moved on—in Being and Time.”) by adding that Heidegger is sufficiently important as a philosopher of fundamental ontology to insure that it would be impossible to move on philosophically without going deeply through him. The same must be said for Derrida. These two, Heidegger and Derrida (with Nietzsche as third), represent the mobile cutting edge of philosophy far more so than anyone from the analytic tradition, including Wittgenstein. This does not mean there are not many things to be wary of when reading Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. There are many things to be wary of when reading Plato as well. This does not mean there is no need to read Plato. Nor does it mean one can possibly fully appreciate the Western tradition of philosophy without reading Plato.

    The entire trajectory from Plato to Derrida is necessary as context in order to understand the Western tradition and where it may head next. Heidegger is no less a part of this than Plato and for that reason he should be read and appreciated regardless of how one feels about the nature and extent of his Nazi affiliations. The primary reason for exploring Heidegger’s Nazi affiliations is not to tear the man apart or discredit his entire philosophy but rather to understand the implications, as Heidegger himself may have seen them, of his philosophy in relation to the breadth and depth of culture and politics. This much must be understood in order to adequately grasp where any particular philosophical position leaves us, as a culture, in relation to politics. Because, ultimately, and I think both Heidegger and Derrida would agree, fundamental ontologies (as versions of metaphysics) have profound implications for political systems.

    Toward the end of his life Heidegger, I admit, no longer took a strong stand on advocating a particular political system. But he did still take a strong stand in criticizing and rejecting American democracy and Soviet socialism. Nor did Heidegger continue to think of the philosopher as capable of assuming anything like the role of a philosopher king (as he may have thought in 1934). His remark in Der Spiegel “Only a God can save us” is famous for having made clear his thinking on that matter.

    • December 16, 2013

      bzfgt

      There may not be much left that we disagree on at this point. I accidentally chopped out a few words, which should have read something like “I’m not sure what you mean by….etc.”

      A couple quick points: the later Heidegger did not claim to have gone beyond metaphysics: “On The Question of Being” (I think it is called, in Pathmarks) is instructive on this point. It was in response to a piece by Ernst Jünger called “Über die Linie” meaning “Across the Line.” Heidegger also called his response “Über Die Linie” but made clear that he meant “About (Concerning) The Line.” Furthermore, Heidegger relinquished the project of fundamental ontology from about the 1930s on. I think a lot of Derrida’s comments on Heidegger are attributable to the anxiety of influence, to be honest. On the other hand, it is illuminating to read Heidegger after Derrida in sort of the same way that it is illuminating to read Nietzsche after Heidegger. All this would make great fodder for a discussion some time, but here we must be content with brief gestures.

      • December 17, 2013

        Greg Desilet

        Thanks for the exchange. I’ll ponder your “quick points” which I do think have merit.

    • December 16, 2013

      Mark Titus

      Concerning your third paragraph, I would point out that Wilhelm Windelband in his great History of Philosophy (1893) placed Democritus on a par with Plato and Aristotle–as one of the great systematizers of Greek philosophical thought. Democritus’ metaphysics (ontology if you like) was that the fundamental reality from which all things arise and are made is atoms, not Forms (Plato) or Substance (Aristotle).

      Since physics, chemistry, and biology are an astonishing development out of Democritus’ speculation, there seems to me no reason not to regard them as a metaphysics.

      Of course the obstacles to this from philosophers are many. Heidegger’s tradition as well as current mainstream analytic philosophy are both hostile to thinking of the natural sciences as philosophy.

      Well, as you say, the cutting edge of philosophy is “mobile,” so we don’t know who lives and who dies.

  24. December 17, 2013

    John Primitivo Orosco

    Heidegger was a clever Nazi philosopher, what a terrorizing thing to unleash on the world
    ” Evolution is an ascent towards consciousness.” Heidegger was in regression moving away
    from the world of reason ,he was trapped in his own world. Arendt captured Heidegger when she wrote” he build a trap as his burrow.He set himself inside it, passed it off as normal burrow.”

  25. December 17, 2013

    Cedric

    This is a funny chat. Philosophy stills a very marginal academic discipline. So, would you please relax. How many people in the world read Plato or Heidegger? It doesn’t matter at all. There’s no stake, it’s just poetry.

  26. December 17, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Re: Mark Titus—I don’t quite understand why you say Heidegger is “hostile to thinking of the natural sciences as philosophy.” Few philosophers have done as thorough a job as Heidegger in weaving together the natural sciences and philosophy as he. See, for example, Heidegger’s “Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics” in Basic Writings. Indeed, Heidegger reveals the sense in which modern science is metaphysics writ large.

    As for analytic philosophy being hostile to thinking the natural sciences as philosophy, there are those who would claim that analytic philosophy, growing out of positivism, is a giant monument to the methodology of science—empiricism applied across the board such that nothing is left out. Wittgenstein’s entire corpus, early and late, may be seen as a continually refined attempt to theorize language within the confines of empirical methodology. Had either Heidegger or Derrida addressed Wittgenstein’s work it is likely they would have questioned whether language can be adequately theorized in the manner Wittgenstein attempts.

    • December 17, 2013

      Mark Titus

      Re Greg Desilet–I was unaware that Heidegger wrote anything at all on science, and I thank you for the reference. I have now read his essay (everything is on the Internet!) and see that there is a lot to say about it; but as other commenters have noted, the blog format is not a suitable place for it.

      Analytic philosophy’s hostility to science is encapsulated in Wittgenstein’s statement that science offers only “superficial knowledge.” However, here too the issue becomes complicated, involving the early positivist distinction between empirical and analytic statements, the first belonging to the natural sciences, the second to logic, mathematics, and philosophy.

      Perhaps I can make my point through Windelband’s definition of traditional philosophy (slightly paraphrased) as “the attempt to understand the general nature of the universe and human existence, and to find in that understanding guidance to a worthy and satisfying life.” The problem with Heidegger and analytic philosophy is that neither see the natural sciences (all based on “the principles of Democritus” as Windelband called his atomic theory) on an equal footing with Plato and Aristotle in terms of this definition.

      As I have said, in my view the natural sciences provide a philosophy–specifically a metaphysics–in precisely the same sense as Plato and Aristotle provided one. However, science’s efforts (through psychology and the other “human sciences”) are woefully inadequate in addressing the second part of Windelband’s definition (concerning a worthy and satisfying life), and one turns in relief to Plato and Aristotle for help in this regard.

      I have stated my views more fully in an essay titled “Science As Philosophy,” which can be found here: icewater.cms.udel.edu/titus

      • December 17, 2013

        Greg Desilet

        Thank you for your interesting comments. I will check out your essay.

  27. December 17, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Re: Quixote—your remarks regarding the criminal satire case seem a bit off topic and designed rather to introduce and then disparage what you call “the advent of postmodernism.” You then associate postmodernism with the notion that “everything is merely a matter of arbitrary definition” and suggest further that postmodernism finds “ethical principles are radically subject to the relativity of knowledge” such that “words can simply be toyed with and reinterpreted or reinvented at will.” This view of postmodernism and especially deconstruction as somehow advancing a platform of radical relativity is a tiresome and misinformed canard. Would you complain of Einstein that he introduced radical relativity into physics? Einstein merely showed that the effects of motion and gravity are highly context dependent, not that there are no laws that govern them. Postmodern thinking merely brings postmodern physics to the door of language to update our thinking about language and how it works. And Heidegger opened the path for beginning to think language in this way.

    • December 17, 2013

      Quixote

      The criminal satire “case” off topic? I think not, especially when one considers Heidegger’s well-known violence towards language, shared with the Nazis. Let’s not forget how Professor Sokal’s exercise in “postmodern physics,” to use your own term, was enthusiastically published by the editors of Social Text, who were so enthralled with the way he “updated our thinking about language and how it works” that they didn’t realize he had merely strung together a mocking parody of the postmodernist style of thought in which their journal specializes. And what was their reaction? To accuse him of fraud. Again, “how ironic that Derrida, who provides a language for criticizing power and for deconstructing the imperialisms of authorship, now parades himself, to the cheers of his acolytes, as the very psychopomp of power, who threatens to resort to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police.”

      And, a “tiresome and misinformed canard”? Again I think not. Naturally the postmodernists have long been arguing that the basic weakness of their posture is a “canard,” ever since Searle’s humiliating essay on the “world turned upside down” appeared in the New York Review of Books. Others continue to believe that the “canard” actually goes to the core of the problem: namely, that Derrida and his acolytes leap from a healthy skepticism into a form of radical nihilism that not only turns off students and their tuition-paying parents (a great deal of good postmodernism has done to the humanities), but is also intellectually unsound to the point of self-contradiction.

      • December 17, 2013

        Quixote

        P.s. for the benefit of readers who may not have read all the comments here, the “criminal satire case” the Greg Desilet judges off-topic is documented at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        Once again, one can only wonder how it came about that the postmodernists of New York University and other institutions, so concerned with questions of identity, authorial imperialism and the abuse of power, should have chosen to remain utterly silent about this “case” and the scandal it presents to all well-meaning intellectuals, particularly ones teaching in the United States.

        • December 17, 2013

          Quixote

          P.p.s. again an apology for my typo: I did not mean to reify or objectize Greg Desilet.

           
  28. December 17, 2013

    Martin

    Rejecting someone’s work because of Nazi taint, or accepting it because of political purity, is a way of avoiding, not engendering, thought. It does no service to philosophy or to the cause of anti-fascism. Heidegger is worth reading for his own thought and for his influence. We should all look within ourselves for the compromises and prejudices in our actions and thought.

  29. December 17, 2013

    DSteiner

    Interesting discussion. Quixote’s remarks in a way are off topic, in a way not–in the sense he’s addressing a certain cynicism that arguably has accompanied the triumphal march of the Franco-German “prophets of extremity” through the Western academy since WW II. But anyway it seems to me the really interesting question isn’t being addressed here, which is, isn’t it possible to have been both a vicious Nazi and antisemite AND a great philosopher? After all, L.F. Celine was a strong Nazi sympathizer, an odious Jew-hater, and a great novelist who ironized his own sick manias in his best novels. Degas was likewise an antisemite (just loved seeing Dreyfus condemned to Devil’s Island) and a great painter. Heidegger was clearly a Nazi and antisemite, maintaining consistent sentiments in that respect before, during, and after the war. Efforts to gloss over the reality are ridiculous at this point. Both in the interwar period and during the war, and then through use of rhetorical chiasm after the war as well, he applied a not uncommon “nudge nudge” (or “wink wink”) technique, with comrades in the know appreciating precisely what his rich range of vague, Germano-Greco neologisms meant, in the particular context of ongoing events. The beauty of that technique was that if the times changed, he could then say “but that’s not what I MEANT,” and then be embraced by generations of students hungry for meaning after the Nazis made a REAL mockery of “liberal positivist” values. So then the American Heideggerians, in their beautiful, ahistorical neo-Heideggerian way, could pick up on all that “wink wink” conceptual arsenal, remove it from its particular historical context, and use it in sometimes very exciting ways, to talk about art and life and so forth. And why not? Is that inherently invalid on historical grounds? We here have it seems a classic conflict between historical and ahistorical interpretive/conceptual templates (or something like that).

    So then, we come back to the question, is it possible to be both a Nazi and a great philosopher, like Celine and Ernst Juenger were (arguably) great imaginative writers. Are we simply stuck with the standard critique of Heidegger (and I guess of phenomenology in general) voced by Bourdieu and others, that the philosophy lacks any real ethical content and terms such as “being onto death” can mean whatever you want them to? Is that necessarily a weakness? In a closely related context, that of another Nazi thinker, Carl Schmitt (one of Heidegger’s real spiritual brothers), Raphael Gross has pointed out (in the framewwork of his excellent book on Schmitt and the Jews) that it’s one thing for, say, a famous cook to also be a Nazi, it’s something else for an extremely influential jurist to “also” be one. That point seems a pretty strong one in relation to Schmitt, and the question of what we salvage from HIS corpus of ideas, and his own code-terms for comrades in the know. But does the same thing hold true of Heidegger?

    • December 18, 2013

      Quixote

      I must again protest at the suggestion that my comments are in any way off-topic. I would submit that if one is going to sit around twaddling one’s fingers and playing with ideas and words while the great American democracy visibly turns into a quasi-fascist system rotting away with corruption, then one is not a real Heideggerian. Perhaps one is even a hypocrite who claims to be a real Heideggerian but who in fact secretly cheers on one’s fellow academics who aggressively “resort to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police,” to silence those who embarrass them with accusations of plagiarism–something that the real Martin Heidegger would never have done. We should take a good, close look at what’s in front of us; we should look at it, smell it, and let it in. And what’s in front of us is a mess, to put it quite mildly.

  30. December 17, 2013

    DSteiner

    My apologies for the processing errors in the second paragraph above.

  31. December 18, 2013

    Mark Titus

    I am no fan of Martin Heidegger, but I wonder why the editors of Prospect chose a photograph of him that makes him look like an unscrupulous salesman, child seducer, and buffoon in combination. I don’t see that photograph of him anywhere on Google images.

    Maybe they thought this is the sort of fellow who could be drawn into support of Naziism.

  32. December 18, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Quixote: Sokal’s hoax was more an embarrassment for Sokal than for postmodern theorists, including Derrida. Sokal, who claims to be a physicist, could not see the close parallels between 20th century theory in physics and postmodern language theory—best represented by Derrida’s work on language. To the extent Sokal disparages postmodern language theory he also disparages the best and most current theory in his own field—all without even realizing what he is doing. What could be more foolhardy? Since space does not permit a demonstration here, please see the essay downloadable on my web site here: http://www.gregorydesilet.com/pdfs/PhysicsandLanguage.pdf. To be disabused of other wrong-headed notions about Derrida, read this: http://www.gregorydesilet.com/code/Gregory_Desilet_on_Demonizing_Deconstruction_Skeptic_Letter.html. As for Searle, Derrida trounces him quite handily at the time (1977) but also in Limited Inc. (the book). As for Derrida’s leaping form “a healthy skepticism into a form of radical nihilism”—this is so wrong as to be breathtaking in its error. I’ll let others who see the error in this respond to it.

    • December 18, 2013

      DSteiner

      Come, come, these are classic tendentious claims. Whether Searle “trounced” D or vice versa is as much a matter of debate as were the issues addressed in the debate itself. I for one was convinced by Searle; common sense seemed to be to be on his side. Derrideans–every last one of them–were and are naturally fully convinced by…..Derrida. But in line with my comment above, the basic question in my view remains: in order to remain Heideggerians, must Heideggerians have to be convinced, against all the “positivist” evidence offered by what the Todtnauberg philosopher pooh-poohed as “Historie,” that Heidegger was NOT a consistent, fervent believer in the “higher” Nazi world-historical (in the sense of “Geschichte”) vision?

      • December 18, 2013

        Quixote

        DSteiner: perhaps you should apologize for your “processing error” which resulted in an abominable repetition of the infinitive form of the verb “to be.” How many times must we hear this word repeated?

        • December 18, 2013

          DSteiner

          I apologize for my processing error and agree that one instance of “to be” suffices.

           
    • December 18, 2013

      Quixote

      Greg Desilet: It seems to me that your fascinating texts are fortunate enough to have no “center,” no “singular and abiding structure to give them meaning,” and do an excellent job at “imitating” Heidegger and Derrida, “emerging” now “within a specific contextualization” of HOW they are read that gives “only a perspectival glimpse of itself.” It obviously does not matter if Heidegger is a Nazi–we are not talking about so-called “moral philosophy” here. I am sure that if only the “physicist” Alan Sokal would take a few moments of the time he wastes on foolish hoaxes and study Greg’s important works, he would rapidly rid himself of sundry misconceptions and become an “imitator” of Heidegger and Derrida in his own right–and even, perhaps, realize that in fact he has always been precisely that: an imitator of Heidegger, Derrida, and Desilet. And of course the same is true of Einstein, who would have been great friends with Derrida and Heidegger (and with the authors of other works on “science and rhetoric”) if only they could have sat down together and imitated one another. Just as long as they don’t imitate any American academic department chairmen with criminally deadpan satirical “deceit,” because that could land them all in hot water with “the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police,” if other imitators of texts with no center choose to “resort” to violence and censorship in their effort to strategically locate their perspectival ephemeriativeness within its eternally evasive “political” subtext, one capably set forth by Foucault and Putnam in their amicable and imitative exchanges.

  33. December 19, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    DSteiner: Yes, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose Heidegger was a Nazi. If so, I think we would be right to say he was not a Nazi like many others. There were those who were first and foremost Nazi ideologues and who happened also to be philosophers (or write some philosophical-like tracts). But Heidegger was first and foremost a philosopher, highly trained in the classics of Western culture, and who happened also to have joined the Nazi Party. Perhaps he was in some sense—even in his own mind—a National Socialist before, during, and after the war (as Habermas and others have suggested). If this were true, would it discredit his philosophy?
    I do not think it discredits his work but I do think it requires a close reading into the possible points of contact aspects of his philosophy might have with the salient themes of National Socialism (which would also need to be sorted out). All this work—not in the spirit of “purification police” but rather in the spirit of doing what philosophy does best—attempting to understand what we are doing as cultures and communities, where we may be headed and why, and which ideas may head us in that direction and which may not. In other words, Heidegger’s philosophy and his political engagements force us to confront, in a focused way, very significant questions about particular views as well as forcing us to revisit the cultural role of philosophy and philosophers.

    • December 19, 2013

      DSteiner

      Greg Desilet: Indeed, “let’s suppose” Heidegger, a trained philosopher, wasn’t “a Nazi like many others”–but rather a very special Nazi, being a dynamic figure, as rector of Freiburg University, in establishing the “Führerprinzip” within the GERMAN UNIVERSITY SYSTEM. In that sense he had, for a while, more power (which he cherished until his falling out with elements in the chaotic Nazi bureaucracy) than “many other” less powerful Nazi academics who neverthless would play an indispensible role in the development of the Nazi “racial state.” But yes you do seem to be basically embracing my view that a key question is whether, once (“come on, boys and girls”) we finally stop being evasive and apologetic and “let’s supposing” and accept the full meaning of this “Historie,” in all its crass, shabby, interwar, wartime, and postwar reality, we may still consider it legitimate to remove at least parts of that massive, overwhelmingly endless corpus of jargony philosophical texts from their immediate “nudge nudge” historical context and use them to our own playful, liberating ends: to as it were groove on the “Gelassenheit.” I personally think there’s no easy answer to this question–it poses the paradox of the seamlessly two-sided “historical-ahistorical” coin. But I think we still need to wrestle with it, showing respect for those with strong views one way or the other–as long as those wishing to continue to embrace the Heideggerian tradition in nouveaux form ([neo-]deconstructionist, American Heideggerian, whatever) face up to the crass and unsavory facts (in the world of “Historie,” there are of course facts) and dispense with apolegetics (and weasel words).

      • December 19, 2013

        DSteiner

        apologetics–I again apologize for the typo

        • December 19, 2013

          Quixote

          DSteiner: I thought I would pass on that my friend Sancho, whose Internet skills are not yet very advanced, points out to me that it’s important to apologize, as apolegetically as possible, every time one makes a typo in this forum.

           
  34. December 19, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Quixote: I see why you are so interested in the “criminal satire case” you have been mentioning so persistently. You are a gifted satirist yourself! As I take it all in, I can only express how exasperating it is to confront someone who is so sure of being right about Derrida while providing so little evidence of grasping even the basic substance of his views. I would include Heidegger too, but it isn’t really fair to Derrida to lump him with Heidegger. Derrida takes certain cues from Heidegger but he is an ocean apart. Nevertheless, I can also add that you have shown little evidence of understanding Heidegger. If you are going to make these two and other postmoderns your scapegoats for whatever you don’t like about contemporary culture, you should at least bother to know what they say. But no need to take my word on your misunderstandings. Try writing up something about your views on these thinkers and send it somewhere to be published. If you can get it published anywhere, which I doubt, then I will respond to what you have written in whatever public forum you have found, and we can let the audience of that forum decide the merits of your case. What do you say, Quixote?

    • December 19, 2013

      Quixote

      Greg Desilet: Well aware that you would never seek to argue from authority, I’m flattered by your suggestion–I’ll tell you what, if the editors of Social Text will agree to publish my thoughts on the same terms they published Dr. Sokal’s tightly woven article–i.e., with the same degree of conscientious discretion and quality control that they devoted to his notable contribution–and in return for a small sum to compensate me for my labor, I would be happy to send them a short text for inclusion in their next issue. I’m happy to negotiate the title, but one possibility would be: “A Note on Imitation and Predictability in the Works of Heidegger, Derrida and Greg Desilet.” As for lumping Derrida and Heidegger together, I agree with you entirely that they are an ocean apart–in fact, it seems quite clear that Derrida is an ocean beneath Heidegger, and my hint concerning a rather weak form of nihilism was far more applicable to the wheezy Frenchman than to his mustached Germanic hero. I make neither of them my scapegoats, but they did both display a measure of cowardice and disingenuousness, did they not? and one is certainly entitled to point that out–especially when the same malady appears so common in today’s postmodern academic world, where “resorting to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police,” has once again become so elegant and fashionable in American institutions of higher education. Anything to secure the reputation of Paul de Man, right? As for my showing little evidence of understanding Heidegger, this seems to be rather a modest point on your part, because I didn’t comment in the aim of demonstrating that I understand the ramblings of this peculiar figure, “the distinctive art of his oratory” (how delicate), or his purported significance in European thought when compared with far more truly heroic figures such as my biographer Unamuno, Bruno Schultz or Walter Benjamin. What I do object to is the way, the manner, the HOW of how entire groups of “acolytes” to the third degree rush to the defense of the mustached Rector’s weaker (and yes, predictable) imitators. There is a certain repetitive dogmatism in it, of the kind that usually begins to display itself when power is at stake. As indeed it is, not so? Heil Derrida! “The present and future of academic reality, and its law.”

      • December 19, 2013

        Quixote

        P.s. it may be useful to point readers who may find certain aspects of my previous exchange with Greg Desilet somewhat obscure, to pp. 341-42 of his essay on “physics and language,” where he explains that he intends to “imitate” the approach taken by Heidegger and Kurt Lewin in two of their articles.

  35. December 19, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Tom Blancato: You give a very articulate and thoughtful defense of the notion or thoughtaction of nonviolence. Placing it within metaphysical terrain, however, results in seeing it as yet another expression of traditional metaphysics. By metaphysics here I mean a fundamental orientation toward how oppositional relations are structured. In the oppositional relation of violence/nonviolence you argue from the same orientation John Searle did in his debate with Derrida. Searle essentially argued that in any given oppositional relation (say A/B) there are pure or clear cases of A and pure or clear cases of B and, in between, there are cases that are a mixture of A and B (Searle used the categories of “sentence meaning” or literal meaning and metaphorical meaning or ironical meaning). For example, above you say there are some cases that are violent and some that are not. Then you suggest that seeing every case as violent is a way of waving off thought on the matter. But this is not the case.

    Derrida describes a different structuring of oppositional relation whereby in, say, the opposition of literal/metaphoric there is no pure instance of either (either in particular cases or in concept). The literal always contains within it some measure of the metaphoric and vice versa. Violence always contains within it some measure of nonviolence and vice versa. There are no instances of pure violence or pure nonviolence. The idea concerns the inseparability of opposites, the irreducible entanglement much like the situation in physics with particle/wave.

    In language we can never tell definitively if someone speaks ironically or literally. To decide, we construct a context (which may be constructed in a variety of ways) and then one or the other type of meaning emerges (as in physics with the particle/wave). Derrida believes this way of structuring oppositional relation serves us better in relation to our experience of the “real world.” In this respect he is being very scientific and empirical and offers a law of oppositional relation. One visualization of this way of thinking oppositional structure resides in the yin/yang symbol—one black dot in the center of the white swirl and one white dot in the center of the black swirl. As physicists have learned, this metaphysics provides a better conceptual approach to understanding the complexity of oppositions/conflicts in the “real world.” This is the sense in which I think it may be useful to abandon the notion of pure categories, a vestige of the traditional metaphysics that has helped Western culture be among the most violent cultures. Most eastern cultures do not escape this metaphysics either.

    • December 19, 2013

      Quixote

      Brilliant! A profound philosophical discovery:

      “We can never tell definitively if someone speaks ironically or literally.”

      And since we can never tell this definitively, we cannot tell–definitively–whether Mein Kampf was spoken literally or ironically, or whether Heidegger, when he explained in his rectoral address that “the Führer alone is the present and future of academic reality, and its law,” was speaking literally or ironically. To impose a definitive, literal meaning on Mein Kampf, or on Heidegger’s rectoral address, is an act of violence and a vestige of traditional metaphysics.

      And incidentally, we cannot tell, definitively, whether Greg Desilet’s comments here, or indeed whether his published “imitations,” are intended literally or ironically. You see, it’s just like physics! We construct a context–but let’s not forget that there’s a measure of violence involved in that act of construction too.

      Similarly, when Derrida himself “resorted to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police,” perhaps he did not mean it literally; and again, when a group of academics at New York University recently worked together with legal authorities in New York to criminalize satire (oops, isn’t that a form of irony?),

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/from-the-trial-testimony-of-nyu-officials-and-related-texts/

      this was perhaps merely an ironical set of declarations on their own part. Indeed, when a distinguished university department chairman testified under oath in a criminal court of law that “nobody read” NYU’s academic code of conduct with its definition of plagiarism, perhaps he was just being ironical. After all, the court of law, the oath, are just “contexts” that Western culture imposes on these little things.

      Yes, it depends on the context–and what’s more, by virtue of its deadpan tone, one cannot definitively tell whether the act of “criminally deadpan satirical deceit” that NYU academics collaborated in criminalizing was in fact intended ironically. Clearly, since there is reasonable doubt whether the tone is ironical, the author should be incarcerated. No irony intended! No wonder all the postmodernists–especially the ones teaching at NYU–are so quiet about that pesky “criminal satire case”! Just as long as they’re not involved, right?

      • December 19, 2013

        Quixote

        P.s. Sancho tells me that I should apologize for my inaccurate quotation from a criminal trial transcript, “nobody read,” which should read: “nobody reads.” How ironical!! Indeed, does anybody read anymore? Or rather, why read anything? All Western texts are basically just the same little game of attempted meaning–definitely not worth the time.

    • December 20, 2013

      Tom Blancato

      Greg Desilet: I’m not sure I’m placing the matter of nonviolence on metaphysical terrain; I think it is prephysical. I’m not suggesting that there are pure cases of A or B. On the one hand, we are indeed forced to speak of violence, in Syria for example, and to thereby differentiate it from what is happening in Albany right now, as per contextS. I’m not disputing that everything has its violence; rather, the thinking in nonviolence already discloses that along the way. Violence is a gravitas possibility that is is everywhere, in a way, and our standing in nonviolence is an attainment, like truth. Yet there is no question there are instances of nonviolence and instances of violence. If two people argue and start throwing punches, it clearly has gone violent, while if they withdraw from that, that violence is quelled, quelled well (enconstructed) or has reached cessation. That doesn’t mean that their other interactions don’t have a rich, mixed and various violence aspect. It’s a continual issue. Nor that some peace may be quite violent, even more violent than what came before it. That is why nonviolence, like truth, is an ongoing matter of attainment, and especially in need of thought, of thinkers, who remain lost in nth degree battles in philosophy, critical theory, etc. But this leaves aside what the thematic/substantive treatment of the question of nonviolence, including the famous philosophical question (“what is…”) discloses/unfolds along the way. After Heidegger, and Plato, we certainly know that what happens in the procedure of such a question/questing is not likely to be a simple answer.
      Derrida sets up the straw man of “any philosophy of nonviolence” in Violence and Metaphysics, the better to have at them by saying that they spell the “end of the world”, just as you impose a notion of purity that I did not introduce. Sure, anything that totalizes ultimately is in some way the end of the world, I guess. But I’m not doing that. Even Gandhiji’s thought can be shown to include possibility of the endorsement of violence (but in far richer ways than one might usually imagine as well), but this still leaves open whether the nonviolence he was on about is even opened up in the first place, something I am suggesting has a special character to it, on par with the opening of the question of Being in Heidegger. It simply is possible to open the question of nonviolence as such, albeit in certain ways, certainly in a hermeneutic condition, within thoughtaction. (The binary here is opened/unopened nonviolence.) In the former, it is on the table, free and developed variously, in the latter (which is the dominant mode), it is enslaved in a certain way, undeveloped, not on the table, is not brought through the most pedestrian prima facie questions and thought. Thinking — and again, I suggest that it must be rendered as thoughtaction — certainly would do well to take heed of Derrida’s tutelage as regards opposites, but it may be more naive than one realizes to move too quickly to impose the full armature of that Derridean treatment. While it may have something to say about oppositionality, it may necessitate a rethinking — or enconstruction — of Derrida and his battles, gestures, solutions, etc. If one stops at this point and takes a broader, deeper view, one can see that the implications of just what it might mean to say “nonviolence” thoughtfully may have radical implications for what goes on in Derrida. I suppose you think you’re alerting me to just that, but you might not get how I am going about the introduction of the question of nonviolence.

      My general view regarding meta-physics (which I render thusly) is that it beings with physics and proceeds in a constant, if implicit, reference to physics; that the root of oppositionality lies in this original orientation towards physical bodies and manipulation. Preliminary thinking in nonviolence is a disruption of this prioritization (a violence to it at times, perhaps…), and hence certainly has a great deal of kindred associations with Derridean progressions of the sort you mention. There “is” both oppositionality (Derrida wouldn’t disagree) and there is indecideability as well. But decideability between A and B simply doesn’t include C or the mis en scene of A and B. Minimization of violence (throw him in a cell, sure, but let’s leave off the electrodes) is a far cry from restorative justice or victim-offender mediation. The difference between the former and the latter can not be erased by noting that both involve force/violence as they are of two different paradigms. Whether these things simply “are” is another matter; it certainly necessitates a “concept” like differance to manage even speaking of, well, such di-fering adequately, at least within an ontological register. All grist for the Derridean mill, I suppose. But what starts to come into view is a Derridean dominance of battle and arena. A Derridean violence, albeit not quite the sort that he would be reflective about himself (maybe). But it is of the terrain of thinking and action in nonviolence to consider the arena as such, and the mis en scene, and these are very Derridean tropes/operations. This amounts to a gentle decentering of Derrida. That decentering is best accomplished in the enconstruction of Derridan thoughtaction, insofar as he is “about” something: insofar as he is is on about contestation, is in metaparadigmatic difference or otherness (“A versus B isn’t right; it isn’t even wrong, and what about C, such as iterability, Mr. Searle?”) and not just opposed within a given arena. Here I would strongly suggest that “binarism” is but one instance of what is at stake for Derrida. Well, he has more concerns than that, but binarism as such is made to do double duty, I would suggest, which is a dominant characteristic of our age and not just Derrida, for nonviolence as concerns the forcing into an arena through the flexing of given moments (purity, totality, opposition, etc.) I would suggest that Derrida was simply more interested in capitalizing on and fighting his battles, more involved in the established academic thoughtaction, more a capitalist, really, as is par for the course for nearly everyone in the academy.

      But this is drawing in quite a lot, isn’t it? And terribly reductive, I’m sure, nor can I hope to read enough Derrida to render this properly. This is dirty thought, these are rough threads, spun on a certain charka, and must remain so, in part due to the restrictions of the political. All part of turning things on a different “axis” (although this concept-metaphor, too, has meta-physical pedigree) altogether, a kind of revolutionary gesture (haha –>), which I suggest must be accomplished through enconstrutive envolution, which means turning on revolution as well — which still means respecting Derrida, up to a point. To the limits of the sheer overwhelming nature of the texts and traditions in question. (That’s revoloutionary talk!) Turning on these means turning on Derrida and maybe not reading Glas at all, say. Yet doing so with a kind of “utmost” that is very much respectful of the very same “utmost” one finds all over in Derrida, but also in Gandhi. This utmost, a certain piety, perhaps, may find itself on a different kind of ground, and may have found itself there for some time.

      In any case, you tell the truth of binarisms, using examples. One can go a lot of directions just here, of course, but I think I get the idea. Do you? You are telling the truth, or arriving at it deconstructively and thoughtfully, en route to the ideal (never to be reached fully, I’m sure) of breaking free of the arenaic imposition of naive totalities and binarisms. Why bother? Because of the violence of such oppositions, for one thing. Because of a certain love of truth, for another thing. The concern for that problem of violence issues from a certain nonviolence, one that is certainly dirtied by admission of the interpenetration of violence and nonviolence, but it is there nonetheless. With nonviolence unthematized, its enlistment to the cause can remain enslaved to capitalist interests. I suggest that this is a postmodern condition from which to awaken into a post-postmodernism of a renewing auspice of thoughtaction that is released from its enormous dependency on the granite carved, glacial humanitas directives of the academy as such, which is why the critique of Derrida’s (and Foucault’s and most others’) capitalism is no mere aside. Interestingly enough, Heidegger was not quite as much a capitalist. But he was, at one point, a Nazi, among other things. His thoughtaction undertook steps, like Mao’s. That’s what happens when they history of meta-physics puts boots on the ground outside of tradition, and it keeps on threatening just this and never recognizing the promise of the nonviolence that remains unthought, even as the first wave in Egypt stares the world in the uncomprehending, uninterested face. The biggest problem in Heidegger in this regard is precisely the failure to *open* the question specifically of nonviolence as such, as might be evidenced as much as anything by his lack of interest in Gandhi (not to mention the phenomenal facts of the case!) as certainly can be said of many others, including Badiou, say. But it is not enough to remember that to which one has barely given thought; the thing must be opened in the first place. For Gandhi this opening was in place due to the ancient tenet-along-with-others of Jainism; it was also, and therefore, fateful. We face the issuing of this fateful condition and have a certain relation to such fate. But this, too, is of a piece with nonviolence, insofar as we may see violence as the seizure and creation of fate (however impossible that may be). We may merely make a distinction between the compulsion of fate versus the creation of conditions of possibility of that which must arise on its own. But this is no rare occurrence; it happens all the time. The condition of such conditions of possiiblity are not used up, exhausted or hopelessly confused by the discourse on opposites and binarisms. You yourself often know when you are forcing and when you are not. You may be “dirtied” or simply more mature about how you go about “making fate happen of its own”, helping things to grow (or not), and Derrida certainly can help with this, but part of that is, when you do that, when you withdraw from attacking someone or beating a student and instead do X, Y and Z to get a good performance out of him or her, is going to be a certain nonviolence. The term stands, as far as I can see. The question is whether you will knock it down with the discourse on binarism, the battle with totalists, the discombobulation of the Star Trek robot in an embattled struggle against the tyrant, which certainly would be a violence and a nonviolence both, as you note. Or whether you might help design educational programs, help foster nonviolence-based revolution in Egypt, alternative justice in the US or elsewhere, etc. as a result of fundamental work in the unfolding of nonviolence thoughtaction, even if you have to enconstruct your way out of Derridaville and postmodernism to do it.

      You point to a more nuanced metaphysics, which is fine as far as it goes. It’s still meta-physics. Nonviolence, which is strictly your slave at this point, is before meta-physics; it is more original. Meta-physics remains neutral; postmodernism and references to quantum models are still and only meta-physics (and physics). Nonviolence arises (in part hermeneutically as already “there” or in the gravity of the there in us, him, her, them) in its own way as fundamentality. The turn of nonviolence has to do with whether this issue of fundamentality has accomplished itself in substantive/thematic form. It is always already there. What is necessary is the turning-unfolding of envolutionary, enconstructive nonviolence thoughtaction (which are made possible in part by Derrida and Heidegger) but these eventualities are essentially (and for essentially reasons) post-postmodern, post-Derridean, post-Heideggerian. Not just anything can make this claim of double postality. The radical challenge, which is part of the grounds of nonviolence, is that I am given, as I suggest you are given, to assert that there can be no such turning without nonviolence. Heidegger’s turning in the rectorship was but one example of this problem. But I’m repeating myself, that is, spinning…

      • December 20, 2013

        DSteiner

        “But he was, at one point, a Nazi, among other things. ”

        Regretably, embedded in a rich and provocative comment, more squirming. As I’ve suggested above, it’s really time for those working in the Heideggerian/deconstructive tradition to face up to “Historie,” and to Heidegger’s sense of national and world-historical revolution in its specific historical context. Then take it from there. Make the strong claim that the Nazi world view doesn’t matter or is uninteresting in our present context, or that it only partly matters, whatever you wish. The stakes then become clarified. Else you are implicitly conceding to the “historicists” through squirming and subtle or not so subtle apologetics.

        • December 20, 2013

          DSteiner

          p.s. Werner Best, initially Reinhard Heydrich’s second in command, was, among other things, a key figure in drawing up the Nazi bureaucracy’s “radical plans for a total reorganization of Western Europe based on racial principles” (quickly grabbed from Wiki). He was, among other things, also a highly trained academic jurist. After the war, despite some legal difficulties (including jail in Denmark), he resumed a thriving career as a West German lawyer.

           
        • December 20, 2013

          Tom Blancato

          DSteiner: Squirming? I’m saying that, in part, Heidegger’s Nazi affiliation (in part) necessitates a radical, epoch-level departure (and indeed, and in a new form of departure) from the entire tradition, including even those departures one may allows already do take place in Heidegger, departures which I don’t think adequately respond to the problem at all. We would be fools, however, to burn his books.I’m not sure you’re calling for that, but the I’m not sure you’re not, either.

           
  36. December 19, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Quixote: By Jove, I think he’s almost got it! You most certainly CANNOT tell definitively right now whether I’m being serious or ironical. By what evidence could you? The words on the screen won’t decide for you because the words alone are not sufficient to enable you to do so. But this also most certainly does not mean you have no alternative but to throw up your hands and say, “Why read anything?” That would be nonsensical. What you do, what we all do every day, is make a judgment. We make that judgment based on a variety of contextual cues, past experience, and a host of generally useful assumptions, including extending a measure of trust toward whomever we are speaking to.

    But all these practices are only relatively useful protocols. They guarantee nothing. We can be fooled at any time because language (and for that matter behavior as well) does not protect us from being fooled or from misunderstanding. To impose a definitive literal meaning on anything is indeed a classic act of violence. We have no calculus for imposing certified, final meaning on anything. Why? Because the passage of time changes context and new events, new contexts always contain the possibility for changing what we think we know.

    This orientation toward “facts” in the world is precisely the hallmark of science. There is no fact or law in science that is not susceptible to revision, even radical revision. The same holds true for any sentence, any story, any book. To fail to understand this about language, to insist that language may at rock bottom level provide us with certainties, is to set ourselves up for subscribing to the authority of sacred texts. This point of view belongs, for example, to Constitutional and Biblical literalists—and, historically, we know a great deal about where that orientation to texts leads us with respect to the potential for deadly violence not to mention oppression.

    Similarly, we do not have to acquiesce when someone does violence to us and says, “Oh, I was just being ironical.” We are often constrained by circumstances to form judgments. All I am suggesting is that there is no need to form FINAL judgments. We can all act and speak in life and make decisions, yet still leave the door open for new information that might change our decision. This is also one of the lessons learned in death row cases where, years later, the introduction of DNA evidence has resulted in the reversal of cases that were thought to be rock solid. Why not bring that attitude to the interpretation of any text? The benefits far outweigh any harm that could be done.

    • December 19, 2013

      Quixote

      Ah but of course, I almost forgot–it’s all so reasonable! In fact, deconstruction just performs a task, for example, that literary criticism has been performing for centuries! Because, as critics of deconstruction have pointed out, traditional critics do NOT form “final” judgments, but rather seek responses that get us a little closer, as close as possible, to something we heuristically call “the truth.” So it’s all the same! How reasonable!

      Yet, it’s also perhaps worth pointing out that traditional philological scholarship relies precisely on concepts, criteria and standards involving ideas like objectivity and truth to challenge and refute claims of authority for “sacred” texts. It is, of course, precisely these criteria that have been forsaken by “postmodernist” academics, to the point where only a tiny number of students are even aware that they exist.

      So let’s carefully note the excellent, convincing sophistry involved here: Greg Desilet maintains that if language “may at rock bottom level provide us with certainties,” we are at risk of “subscribing to the authority of sacred texts.” But of course this is a straw man, as demonstrated by the work of scholars who have been engaging for centuries in careful philological research, without believing in “rock bottom certainties.” Rather, the real risk arises (and witness, again, the impact this has all had on the humanities) from regarding the basic criteria used by philologists as violent impositions of Western culture–as propositions, that is, ultimately having no more “authority” than the “sacred” texts they challenge. It’s a cute game, but one with serious consequences.

      And while we’re discussing these consequences, why not take a look at what the stuffy old traditionalist Montesquieu had to say about language. Right before he explains why satire is “not criminalized in democracies,” he states:

      “Speech is so subject to interpretation… Words do not constitute an overt act; they remain only in idea. When considered by themselves, they have generally no determinate signification; for this depends on the tone in which they are uttered. It often happens that in repeating the same words they have not the same meaning; this depends on their connection with other things, and sometimes more is signified by silence than by any expression whatever. Since there can be nothing so equivocal and ambiguous as all this, how is it possible to convert it into a crime….?”

      Observe how traditional Western philosophy tries to impose a literal meaning on words!! So who’s doing violence to whom?

      Incidentally, Montesquieu then goes on to assert: “In democracies [satirical writings] are not hindered, for the very same reason which causes them to be prohibited in monarchies; being generally leveled against men of power and authority, they flatter the malignancy of the people, who are the governing party.”

      Compare what appears to be Greg Desilet’s two-part “contextual” insinuation. Namely, first, that there are forms of verbal “violence” in which “we do not have to acquiesce.” So far so good, but what does “not acquiescing” mean? And here we get the second part of the insinuation, that “resorting” (like Derrida) “to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police,” or (like academics at NYU) to physical punishment for satirical verbal “violence,” is not a “final judgment,” and is therefore reasonable in view of the fact that “we are often constrained by circumstances to form judgments”–judgments, that is, which are not “final.”

      I do regret if I’m imposing a meaning that wasn’t there on Greg Desilet’s text, but this seems to be what he’s suggesting. And why would I not be surprised to see this kind of insinuation emerging in the writings of an “imitator” of Heidegger? After all, violence is violence, whether it be engaged in through words or ideas or guns–these little distinctions are just impositions of Western culture! And who really cares if these “judgments” we’re “constrained to form” are–violent? These little contradictions are just in the minds of all those “philosophers” and “physicists” who simply fail to comprehend Derrida! How reasonable!

  37. December 20, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Quixote: Sometimes we do not realize who our friends are. I think Derrida may be your friend—and not only in the sense shrewdly suggested by Blake when he said: “Opposition is true friendship.” It may surprise you to know that I value those elements of the “Western tradition” you have named. So, too, does Derrida. The program he proposes, deconstruction, does not undermine them but instead attempts to uphold them. As, for example, when he says,”What is called ‘objectivity,’ scientific for instance (in which I firmly believe, in a given situation), imposes itself only within a context which is extremely vast, old, powerfully established, stabilized or rooted in a network of conventions. . . . We can call ‘context’ the entire ‘real-history-of-the-world,’ if you like, in which this value of objectivity and, even more broadly, that of truth (etc.) have taken on meaning and imposed themselves. That does not in the slightest discredit them. In the name of what, of which other ‘truth,’ moreover, would it?” (From Limited Inc.). How, then, does deconstruction help? This way: “One of the definitions of what is called deconstruction would be the effort to take this limitless context into account, to pay the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context, and thus to an incessant movement of recontextualization.”

    But what if paying the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context complicates the search for truth and requires more difficult and rigorous standards of truth as well as justice? Well, then, says Derrida, bring it on. Did Einstein complain because motion was not objective in the way it was originally thought to be? Derrida was never opposed to the most rigorous standards in the interpretation of texts. Indeed, he made textual interpretation more difficult by exposing the limits of language, by showing that language cannot be made to make decisions for us. Does this open language to misuse, deliberate spinning, and manipulative interpretation? Yes. But there is no remedy for this other than what Derrida calls “vigilance” and the incessant work of upholding and defending standards. Which is why Derrida is also a fan of the best elements of the Enlightenment and the work of “reason.” Derrida again: “Everything that prepared the way for a philosophy of Enlightenment, or that has become its heir (not rationalism as such, which is not necessarily associated with it, but a progressive, teleological, humanistic and critical rationalism) does indeed struggle against the ‘return of the worst’, which education and an awareness of the past are supposed to be able to prevent” (from “The Deconstruction of Actuality”).

    So, Derrida is a fan of objectivity, truth, justice, science, tradition, Enlightenment critical rationality, and high standards of textual interpretation. What’s not to like? Perhaps you have other so-called postmodernists in mind when you complain about the effects on standards in education. I may agree with you on some of these cases. But Derrida and his work should not be held accountable for the sins in academia you have listed. Where Heidegger fits in concerning these issues is very complicated. But Derrida is certainly no Heideggerian.

    • December 20, 2013

      Quixote

      Cool! Derrida, clearly the victim of an abusive distortion throughout the American academic universe, is “a fan of objectivity, truth, justice, science, tradition, Enlightenment critical rationality, and high standards of textual interpretation.” It’s interesting indeed, in view of the topic raised in the main article, to see an avowed “imitator” of Heidegger defending Derrida by trying to remove him as much as possible from Heidegger and the Heideggerian tradition and by defining him, basically, as an Enlightenment skeptic and rationalist. One wonders whether Derrida would have agreed with this approach (see the Liberation letters I linked above) and whether it would hold up to a close analysis of the key texts under Enlightenment standards, but it certainly sounds fascinating!

  38. December 20, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Tom Blancato: Well, okay, this is quite a bit to slog through. If it is not confused thinking it is confusing rhetoric. For example: . . . “insofar as we may see violence as the seizure and creation of fate (however impossible that may be). We may merely make a distinction between the compulsion of fate versus the creation of conditions of possibility of that which must arise on its own.” In other areas it would seem the problems are less metaphysical and more the selection of appropriate terminology (to the extent philosophical communication is a priority). For example, you say: “Yet there is no question there are instances of nonviolence and instances of violence. If two people argue and start throwing punches, it clearly has gone violent, while if they withdraw from that, that violence is quelled, quelled well (enconstructed) or has reached cessation. That doesn’t mean that their other interactions don’t have a rich, mixed and various violence aspect.” Here you shift from any sort of metaphysical considerations concerning the fundamental ontology of human being and human relations to practical considerations relating to conflict management. I don’t think the word “nonviolence” serves well in this context. It seems to me you would be on clearer ground if you spoke from the frame of reference of practical management of conflict and ways to avoid escalation. These kinds of considerations fall into the broader categories of sociology and political science rather than the level of metaphysics in which Derrida and Heidegger are working. These strands cannot be crossed without creating a lot of confusion in terminology and communication.

    • December 20, 2013

      Tom Blancato

      Gregory Desilet: You seem to have missed the parts about the problems of meta-physics in the first place. I was well aware of the seemingly mundane or merely ontic examples I gave, which you would refer to sociological and CR registers. But here you don’t seem to grasp the importance and effects of the matter of essence, as in what is taken, “on the ground”, to be the essence of nonviolence, of conflict resolution, etc., as well as the necessary role of the thinker. Likewise you aren’t quite getting what “thoughtaction” might mean, or whether the “thought” on that side might be a kind of “post-Heideggerian” thought. While it seems that this all goes at least beyond the appropriate context here, I might characterize the unfolding I’m doing as a kind of decided nonviolence-based disruption: going too far afield, doing things that are outside the proper of the present issue, yet in a way that simply doesn’t much step on anyone’s toes, requiring maybe an extra page-down click and, of course, your voluntary slogging (thanks for that, by the way). On the other hand, this could still be brought closer to this discussion (although I won’t here presume your interest). It’s a strange thing to do: to start unfolding a rather — what to call it — expansive kind of excursis at a particular site (although one could take note of Derrida’s lengthy intro to the Origins of Geometry), which I usually refer to as spinning in the vicinity of (X). I obviously think it’s worthwhile. You have a standing invitation.

      • December 21, 2013

        Greg Desilet

        You are probably right to say that I am not getting it. Can you point me to any published work you have done on this topic where I might be able to examine it more closely and in a more thoroughly laid out context?

  39. December 20, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    DSteiner: Okay, I think we may be in agreement here. I apologize for the use of the “weasel” word “suppose.” I use such words in the context of these kinds of comment forums in order not to arouse over-reactions to sensitive topics. Just for the record, I am in print expressing not only the full meaning of this “Historie” and my complaints about Heidegger’s Nazism but also my complaints about Heidegger’s entire philosophy from the metaphysical ground up (titled: “Burke, Heidegger, Derrida and the Specter of Nazism at the Origin of Rhetoric” in Cult of the Kill). I’m not a Heidegger fan and I do not regard him as a great philosopher; but he is an important philosopher. He is like a boulder on the historical road of philosophy and you can’t go around him, or at least it would be unwise to do so. You have to deal with him, as you suggest, in order to continue effectively into the future of philosophy and perhaps avoid going over another cliff.

    • December 20, 2013

      DSteiner

      Greg Desilet: interesting–I appreciate the kind words!

      • December 20, 2013

        DSteiner

        Plus, my apologies if I sounded excessively harsh in a personal way–was simply trying to make a general point about unnecessary apologetics.

        • December 20, 2013

          Greg Desilet

          I didn’t take offense, so no harm done. But thanks for your comment.

           
    • December 20, 2013

      Mark Titus

      Greg Desilet; cc Quixote, DSteiner, TomBlancato:

      Greg, you say one has to go around “the boulder of Heidegger…to continue effectively into the future of philosophy.”

      The future of philosophy! As you know from my earlier comments I think the future of philosophy will be based on the metaphysics of Democritus–indeed, I think it is already upon us. Yet the four of you seem to dismiss it, or at least don’t consider it as a serious alternative to the Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault tradition.

      I remember as an undergraduate in the 1950s being given mimeographed copies of a translation of Heidegger’s Being and Time by a young professor named Hubert Dreyfus. O f course I studied it and was powerfully influenced. Since then, however, I have come to believe that Democritus provides a richer metaphysics–and one which presents the problems you discuss (e.g. the nature of violence) in even more intractable forms than your tradition recognizes.

      So we will see (well, others will) what the future of philosophy brings. One thing is for sure: those who become philosophers will start from the same beliefs that we have–that they are human beings, born, live, and die, and that they would like to understand how and why that happens, and how they are to make happy and worthy lives out of that basic understanding.

      • December 21, 2013

        Greg Desilet

        I have “dismissed” Democritus in this discussion because, frankly, I know next to nothing about his work and I don’t want to comment on something about which I am clueless. So I will leave that to you.

        • December 21, 2013

          Mark Titus

          Greg Desilet: One final comment, and then I’ll leave it alone.

          Richard Feynman in his first lecture on physics at Cal Tech in the early 1960s said:

          “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis…that all things are made of atoms–little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.”

          That one sentence could have been written by the philosopher Democritus. In my view that doesn’t make Democritus a proto-physicist; it makes Feynman a metaphysician.

           
  40. December 20, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Quixote: Yes, I spoke with Derrida one time in the early ‘90s in his office at Irvine where he complained about the “abusive distortion” of his work on the majority of campuses in the United States—as I was showing him where someone had written an entire book based on an extraordinary misunderstanding of Derrida’s view of hierarchy. I think we might be in agreement on the merits, or lack thereof, of certain postmodern influences relating to the work of folks like Baudrillard, Foucault (take a look at his politics!), Lacan, and numerous less well known figures lumped into the postmodern arena. Derrida never appreciated being labeled a postmodern philosopher—and for good reason (although I think if the term is carefully defined it can be useful). In my opinion, Derrida is not a Heideggerian. He passes through Heidegger and takes what he finds to be useful and leaves behind one of the best critiques of Heidegger. He does not defend Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism but he has been wrongly accused of doing so. Instead, he merely wants to defend Heidegger in the sense that he feels Heidegger must be read and adequately understood in the historical unfolding of philosophy. To dismiss him because of his association with Nazism is a mistake in his case, whereas in the case of other prominent Nazi philosophers who have not as powerfully engaged the philosophical tradition as Heidegger, it would be acceptable to pass them by.

    • December 20, 2013

      Quixote

      Greg Desilet: It’s good to know that Derrida complained to you about the abusive distortion of his work, and your effort on his behalf strikes me as fundamentally decent.

      Surely, then, Derrida also complained to those who were abusively distorting his work. Perhaps you could point us to some of his writings directly addressing this colossal error and correcting it? I’d really be very interested in reading a clear and distinct statement of his about this matter.

      Perhaps part of the problem here is the man’s personality and the aura surrounding him on American campuses. I really do appreciate, for example (more than you might think from my little ironies), the time you’ve spent trying to communicate with me about what could very well be my misapprehensions. But apparently Derrida was too busy, on certain occasions, to communicate with others about the same thing. I know of at least one instance where he angrily walked out of an American professor’s office rather than engage him in conversation about his impact on the humanities. Why didn’t he simply say something like “look, I understand what you’re saying, but it’s based on a misapprehension of my views”? Getting up and walking out of someone’s office sounds more like “you and I will never be able to communicate about this.”

      Let me again reiterate that you strike me as a fundamentally decent person. In your article on “Physics and Language,” you mentioned that you were “imitating” Heidegger. You now say that you are not a follower of Heidegger. This seems to indicate that you are distressed by what’s been coming out. Others such as François Fédier are also clearly distressed, but in a different way–to the point of actively engaging in efforts to block the publication of various works by Heidegger in France (indeed, they succeeded in blocking the Rector’s address for two years).

      But somewhere between your basic decency and the vicious academic politics of censorship (no need to recall the other instances of it I mentioned earlier, involving recourse to “the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police”), there is still the incontrovertible fact of the lack of clarity in this entire matter, its susceptibility to different interpretations and debate. On p. 110 of “Heidegger and Derrida: Reflections on Time and Language,” Herman Rapaport writes, no doubt erroneously, that “after the late 1960s Derrida began reading Heidegger in a manner emphasizing not his conceptual distance from Heideggerian thinking but his stylistic and intuitive affinities with it,” and he then goes on to insert Derrida into the broader cultural context of the Heideggerian “turn” represented by figures including Levinas, Blanchot, Beaufret, Lacan, Foucault, and Char. This context is difficult to escape from, particularly in view of the phenomenology of “différance” which is perhaps, at least intuitively, not so easily seen as an “Enlightenment” way of thinking as one might hope it could be (although there are surely continuities there as well).

      So your project sounds good to me, but I still get the sense it’s an uphill struggle, especially in view of the angry reactions of the so-called “Derrideans” to Faye and others. I don’t think the people who signed that letter in Libération really share your view. And that makes things somewhat complicated.

      • December 21, 2013

        Quixote

        P.s. there is a detailed discussion of many of the issues debated on this page (including Derrida’s own efforts to defend Heidegger by “trivializing his commitment to Nazism as following from a residually metaphysical turn of mind”) in Tom Rockmore’s 1992 book On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy. It is available online at:

        http://tinyurl.com/HeideggerNazism

        • December 21, 2013

          Greg Desilet

          Yes, I’ve read Rockmore’s work. Much of what he says is very on point and interesting but I do believe he has also misunderstood Derrida by labeling Derrida’s Of Spirit a “defense” of Heidegger. I address this in an appendix to my book Cult of the Kill.

           
  41. December 21, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Quixote: Yes, the most clear and distinct statement by Derrida concerning misunderstandings relating to his work occurs in the book Limited Inc, especially in the Afterword where Derrida deals not only with Searle’s misunderstandings but also discusses similar misunderstandings from many other quarters. Also, Habermas represents another order of misreadings of Derrida and the exchanges between the two over the years—whereby Habermas comes to see the nature of his misunderstandings and the two eventually become friends—is detailed in The Derrida-Habermas Reader compiled by Lasse Thomassen. Another place where Derrida directly addresses the extraordinary misunderstandings of his work from the realms of academe can be found in book of collected interviews called Points . . . and titled “Honoris Causa: ‘This is also extremely funny.” This book also contains an interview with Derrida about the business with Wolin and Derrida’s reflections on that. This book also contains the interview called “Choreographies” where Derrida discusses some of the ways in which feminists have misunderstood and misapplied deconstruction. And in the same book another interview titled “A ‘Madness’ Must Watch over Our Thinking” discusses other orders of misunderstanding. A worthwhile commentary on Faye’s conflicts with and deliberate distortions of Derrida can be found here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/19/jean-pierre-faye-s-one-last-attack-on-jacques-derrida.html.

    This is only a partial list but it is good for starters. As for the comment you cite about Rapaport’s view of affinities in thinking and style between Derrida and Heidegger, I would only add that there are great affinities in thinking and style among most of the so-called Continental thinkers. I will be the first to grant that Derrida is extremely difficult to read. But so also are Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Sartre, and many others. Few among these thinkers make any great effort to present their thinking in a style of writing that makes it accessible. I don’t believe there is any great need, relating to the nature of the philosophical points he is making, for Derrida to be as obscure and as convoluted as he often is. A demonstration of the way in which it is possible to speak in terms of Derrida’s basic ideas yet in a style of great clarity can be found in the work of Martin Hagglund (Radical Atheism). So in some ways I can agree that Derrida has facilitated his own misunderstanding. Having said that, though, I also believe that some of those who have misunderstood him badly, such as Searle and Quine, have more than enough skill and intelligence to read him more faithfully. What happened in their cases, I believe, is that they read reports of what Derrida was supposed to be saying and pre-judged him on that basis without making much effort to read him in his own texts.

    • December 21, 2013

      Quixote

      That could be–and thanks for the references. The closest would, of course, be the discussion of feminism, because the other texts are responses to critics–although to the extent the critics make the same mistakes as the American “Derrideans” (with whom people like Searle probably have conversations about Derrida at faculty lunches) it comes down to the same thing. I hope I’ve made clear that the real nature of my objection is not so much to Derrida himself as to the massive, dogmatic, academic use or abuse of his views on American campuses–something that never happened in France at all, where people read him with interest and then moved on to other authors and ideas.

      • December 21, 2013

        Quixote

        P.s. the comments on the Daily Beast page are amusing.

      • December 21, 2013

        Quixote

        P.p.s. my friend Sancho suggests that I clarify a bit: in the United States, as opposed to France, “deconstruction” became an entrenched, dogmatic movement that in its mistaken understanding of Derrida, transformed what was understood as his “deconstruction” along with Heideggerian phenomenology into a kind of automatic system for approaching everything (including literary texts, historical texts, etc.). This, combined with a concomitant contempt for empirical research, has done horrible, lasting damage to the humanities both institutionally and in terms of individual research opportunities.

      • December 21, 2013

        Greg Desilet

        I can agree with you here. I think a large amount of what has been done under Derrida’s name and under the notion of “deconstruction” in American literature and humanities has been very misguided and unproductive to say the least. And, perhaps with some slight reservations on certain campuses here and there, I believe Derrida himself would agree.

        • December 21, 2013

          Greg Desilet

          The best I can say in response to the question as to why Derrida seldom addressed the problems of interpretation of his work, other than in interviews, would be to note that he was extraordinarily preoccupied with his positive work and projects and did not at all care to spend time attempting to straighten out the interpretive problems among his so-called friends. He was also very much dis-inclined to go out of his way to write in a more accessible way. I think this was a mistake on his part. The closest he comes to doing something like attempting to be lucid is in some of the interviews and in the Afterword to Limited Inc. This is why the very good commentators and interpreters of Derrida can be very useful. Here I prefer Hagglund’s work, although it is often an extension of the implications of Derrida’s views rather than only commentary.

           
  42. December 21, 2013

    DSteiner

    While this discussion of Derrida, a possible massive institutional misunderstanding of his oeuvre, etc. is certainly intermittently very interesting, it also appears somewhat “off topic” from the topic of the main article. To return to that for a moment if I may, from what I gather, however entrenched and rigorously dogmatic the two sides in the latest French Heidegger spate may be, the basic problem amounts to a refusal on the part of the Heidegger estate, supported by key admirers of H in France and elsewhere (some certainly very close to “the big D,” others less so) to allow publication of a critical-historical edition of H’s works (for one thing, H’s efforts to cover up his Nazi writings after the war would quickly become clear); and this is combined with placing every possible obstacle in the way of independent scholars being able to work philologically with the texts in the archives.
    Again, the effort at work here is to iconocize the massive Heidegger corpus, as published in the Gesamtausgabe, as a contribution to world-historical “Geschichte” and bury the crass, from their viewpoint irrelevant “Historie” to which the corpus is historically tied. It seems to me the conflict at work here is grounded in the question of, well, conceptual-ideological genealogy and the role it should properly play in our understanding and use of philosophical texts; and in this respect (to go back “off topic”), however very well taken the point about a systematic (and, yes, institutionally damaging) strong misreading of Derrida may be, his name is bound to become powerfully caught up in the conflict .

    • December 21, 2013

      Greg Desilet

      I agree with what you say here. And, for the record, Derrida was in favor of opening up the archives in the fullest extent possible to include all the context that could possibly be considered to be relevant. He was not happy, for example, with the insistence on the part of the Heidegger descendents who control his correspondence, that these archives would not be made public. To not do so is shameful in light of the questions being raised about Heidegger and speaks loudly to the possibility these archives only contribute to darkening the shadow over Heidegger’s work and his Nazi associations.

  43. December 22, 2013

    Terrence O'Keeffe

    It’s time for someone who has absolutely no interest in the internal debates among professional philosophers (and their acolytes) about Heidegger (or Derrida, or Foucault, etc.) to step in and point out the obvious, which is, to paraphrase A. Lincoln, “The world will little care nor long remember” the alleged substance of these debates, which, speaking personally, seem to be entirely insubstantial (is that an irony? – I certainly hope so, because it’s difficult to speak or write of such debates without a very heavy dose of irony). Everyone involved needs a radical “reality therapy” course of treatment (the kind of reality that happens when one is slapped in the face).
    First, one should think about Heidegger’s Nazism, or temporary Nazism, or rejected Nazism (rejected perhaps because it was insufficiently Nazi). As Nazis came and went, he was hardly a blip on the radar screen, merely one of those many academicians, jurists, scientists, and other professional men and women whom the regime recruited for reasons of both prestige and practical efficacy (we’ll control the schools, the courts, the technical institutions, etc., everyone will do our bidding to ensure the “final victory” and so on; pretty grubby and pathetic stuff, but intellectuals really don’t have a nose for such things, they’re actually quite awkward everywhere except in their own domain, so they’re easily gulled). And, in fact, there was really only one Nazi (and a part-time and skeptical “Nazi” at that) who counted, and that was Hitler. Germany was in some senses a “Nazified” society for twelve years, but in all senses, up until its defeat it was a “Fuehrer-State”. This much is obvious. Nazi “intellectual eminences” were always a joke from the point of view of policy and the decisions of Hitler, the decisions that counted the most (Stalin held a parallel position with respect to Marxism, or, as the phrase went, “really existing socialism”). Crass power politics dominated both of these societies that used the endeavors of intellectuals (“ideologies”) as props, and feeble props they proved to be. Though the cardinal social ideas of the West and the USSR enjoyed their moment of victory, the war was won and lost not as a “battle of ideas” but by sheer brute force.
    Of all the comments cited in Derbyshire’s article, perhaps the most telling is: “In December 1945, Jaspers delivered the following devastating verdict on his former friend: ‘Heidegger’s mode of thinking, which seems to me to be fundamentally unfree, dictatorial and uncommunicative, . . .’ ” While it’s difficult to know what “unfree” means here, “dictatorial” certainly means that Heidegger asserted “truths” as self-evident, he never demonstrated them nor showed his means of arriving at them; they were understood as “intuitive”. And “uncommunicative” is just a fancy way of saying that whatever vague ideas Heidegger held at the core of his thinking about man, life, the universe (you name it), he expressed these ideas in opaque and muddy prose. L. Aychenwald’s comments exemplify this – we don’t get the Heidgerrian definition of Being (I assume this is the infamous “Dasein”), or even a paltry example or two, but we are assured he (as an heir of the pre-Socratics) was onto something Big – you just have to “get it” (in other words you have to be the kind of person whose intellectual curiosity, the real driver of science, is satisfied by misty verbal formulas that are believed to be “elevating” or “necessary for man” or that satisfy some emotional need born out of unhappiness with the world). As I said, a bit of a joke and a bad one at that. Ah, but this must be a mere misunderstanding, a phrase that in the above discussions is the armor of idiocy and the proud banner of vanity.
    Any sensible person with enough basic education, a lifetime of experience, and the free time to think about such matters can give a sound critique of the failings of modern societies – neither philosophy nor ideology is necessary for that task, though the fundamental categories of moral philosophy (e.g., good, evil, right, wrong, values, goals, means, etc.) will be resorted to in a variety of ways. As to many modern philosophers’ problems with science and technology (often envy disguised as criticism), they should be required to demonstrate knowledge of some particular science (rather than purporting to understand its assumed epistemology) before tackling the subject. Being, Time, Essence, and Nothingness, inter alia, have to be clearly described or defined before you can take erudite meditations or polemics about them seriously. So, get serious for a change.

    • December 22, 2013

      DSteiner

      Terrence O’Keeffe: “And, in fact, there was really only one Nazi (and a part-time and skeptical “Nazi” at that) who counted, and that was Hitler. Germany was in some senses a “Nazified” society for twelve years, but in all senses, up until its defeat it was a “Fuehrer-State”. This much is obvious. Nazi “intellectual eminences” were always a joke from the point of view of policy and the decisions of Hitler, the decisions that counted the most.”

      I realize that you’re engaging in a “strong reduction” here for the sake of making a point (which I appreciate), but still, “this much” is not all that “obvious”; there was an entire complex bureaucratic apparatus at work behind the whole thing functioning, from the various ministries to the universities, to the death camps and “the war in the east,” and while Nazi Germany was indeed a “Führer state,” the ideal of Führer and followers was not identical with how the state necessarily had to function. Intellectuals like Bäumler and Rosenberg, the jurist Carl Schmitt and the philosopher Martin Heidegger, mattered, both concretely in terms of bureaucratic function and less concretely through their public statements and writings. Some of them (Schmitt, Heidegger, Werner Best) had fallings out with often conflicting elements within the chaotic bureaucracy, but the ensuing demotions, expulsions, disappointed Nazi ideals, eventual recoveries, whatever, that ensued were not a result of direct commands or puppetmaster string-pulling on Hitler’s part.

      • December 22, 2013

        Terrence O'Keeffe

        I am well aware of the “polycentric” interpretation of how the Third Reich functioned, although this view often just means a sort of “organized chaos” when it comes down to it. The system of rival satraps was created and utilized by Hitler for his own purposes, including that of allowing no one else to gain sufficient power and resources to challenge his leadership; and, as an “intellectual justification” for this approach, he did believe in Social Darwinism, after all. The men who counted in this respect were Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Speer, Ley, Sauckel, Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner, etc., the old Party gang of “doers” (not thinkers) whose loyalty he trusted. Schmitt interests intellectual historians, but his role was truly minor. After the Spring of 1942 Hitler became Supreme Law Lord, the implication of which was that no legal or administrative structure or process could set up a justified impediment in cases where “the will of the Fuhrer prevails”. Even with a compromised traditional judiciary in the state courts and professional organizations (which included Schmitt) Hitler felt it necessary to create the People’s Court system, and his favorite judge there was the grubby and vociferous Roland Friesler, who acquitted his role as a “hanging judge” with vigor. Most of the refined arguments about men in various professions making “internal emigrations” away from the Hitler state and society tend to be retrospective justifications of specific behaviors or lack thereof; they just don’t wash. My point is that Heidegger’s role in Nazism was truly minor, whether he stuck it out or not; however, the role of Nazism (as a specimen of the sort of mystical national revolution he yearned for) in Heidegger’s life and thought is the bone of contention, and he had very dirty hands when it came down to that. Perhaps the proper way to put this is that intellectual history, especially that of philosophy, is often a very minor part of political, social, and even cultural history. Therefore, while it is appropriate to evaluate Hitler and his vicious henchmen as “truly villainous, truly evil” in terms of conventional morality (which is the only one we’ve got), we assign a false importance to the likes of Heidegger if we make the same evaluation — the consequences of his choices and actions were, once again, very minor in contrast to those of the men who mattered in the Third Reich (or, to put it another way, debatable in their long-term effects, with no firm way of deciding just how deleterious they were to later teachers and students).

        • December 22, 2013

          DSteiner

          While this is certainly a very cogent and coherent argument, the problem with it for me is that you end up saying (or am I wrong?) that the universities themselves didn’t matter to anyone not teaching or studying in the universities. But here we’re talking about a central institution in Nazi German bourgeois society, producing its lawyers, scientists and engineers, civil servants, and so forth (obviously). Intuitively it seems to me that the Nazifying of the university system and intellectual-professional culture in Germany starting in 33 (beforehand, really, of course) indeed mattered, so that those active in the process (including Heideg. and CS; they were certainly not minor players in that respect) and training others to be active both in society and within the universities represents a phenomenon not just directed inward at a thinker’s particular parochial, hate-filled philosophical or legal system etc. Perhaps this is a matter of perspective, a focus on the broader social/institutional fabric within which the whole thing could operate (after all, it simply could not have operated otherwise) or on the other hand on the fanatic and depraved ideologues who directly ran the gears. It certainly seems like a fascinating question to me.

           
        • December 22, 2013

          DSteiner

          To be more clear, I think I should say:

          not just directed inward at a thinker’s particular parochial, hate-filled philosophical or legal system etc., and at the particular discipline it was a part of.

          I do think most historians would not consider the purging of Jews and liberals from the German university system to have had merely minor implications for Nazi German society as a whole.

           
  44. December 22, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Terrence O’Keeffe: I don’t understand how you found this web site. Did you stumble onto it while doing a search for Duck Dynasty?

    • December 22, 2013

      Terrence O'Keeffe

      Greg — I didn’t stumble, I just get the magazine. While I have never heard of Duck Dynasty before the present fracas (which is as boring and meaningless as many a pseudo-debate among philosophers) I note that it would have beenbest a fit subject for the deceased Roland Barthes. As a semiotician who performed deconstructive discourses on many a popular-cultural subject, he apparently was careless in reading traffic signs. I also note that your ad homninem approach to discussion is, as they say, infra dignitate. While postwar French philosophy (born in guilt and shame) has its allotted place in the history and sociology of ideas, it has an even higher place in the roster of those “systems of thought” that supply the very materials for parody and satire; as do Heidegger and your little note.

      • December 22, 2013

        Gene Schulman

        Thank you, Mr. O’Keeffe. What a refreshing put down after having to slog through all these comments as they appear in my in-box every day. Yours is the first to make any sense. As I commented above; why bother any more with Heidegger and the rest, when the world has moved on?

      • December 22, 2013

        Quixote

        Satire and parody? THAT certainly sounds like something we should have investigated by the police. Some of it does look vaguely “satirical” to me, but I dare say it’s not funny enough at all–and if it’s not funny, then a line has been crossed into a most pernicious and inappropriate form of Internet hooliganism. They should have these people arrested and charged with making false accusations. Remember, neither good faith nor truth is a defense, because when you cross that line, you’re a threat to public order. There is solid legal precedent for this, at least in the United States; see:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        • December 22, 2013

          Terrence O'Keeffe

          Ah, Quixote, relax and lower your lance. “Internet hooliganism” seems already redundant, while the suggestion that certain forms of discourse are ripe for parody does not constitute parody itself (this is part of my planned legal defense, should it come to that). And thank you for the link, which discusses a case that may become a precedent for a prosecution of good old Alan Sokal of the hilarious “Social Text hoax” (the real hoax being, interestingly enough, the entire corpus of Social Text’s writing, therefore we might have duelling judges and dialectical DAs adjudicating the matter). The Golb case proliferates piquant new legal approaches to many matters intellectual, to wit, the note on: “Whether the use, in Internet blogs and emails, of pseudonyms and satirical mimicry or mockery can, consistent with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, be criminalized as a “fraudulent scheme to promote a theory”;” This could backfire, and looney old Althusser, were he still alive, might be put in the dock for admitting that he had actually read very little Marx because it was, well, too difficult for him. Where is LaRochefoucauld when the French intellectual club really needs him? O tempora, o morons.

           
        • December 23, 2013

          Quixote

          Were ye ever anointed knights, I’d have at ye all with my lance!

           
        • December 23, 2013

          Quixote

          (this was meant to appear at the bottom of the entire conversation…)

           
  45. December 23, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Terrence: You come onto a comment forum after a lengthy set of exchanges and proceed to insult everyone participating by suggesting its “alleged substance” is “entirely insubstantial” and then add that everyone involved “needs a ‘radical reality’ course of treatment”—the “kind of reality that happens when one is slapped in the face”—and then you complain of my ad hominem? If you expect to be treated civilly why don’t you begin with civility? But enough about manners, let’s get to the “substance.” You say of Heidegger that “as Nazis came and went, he was hardly a blip on the radar screen.” For the sake of argument, I’ll grant this is so, but it is beside the point of these comments. The point is that, as far as philosophers go, Heidegger is much more than a blip on the radar screen. He has had a considerable influence on a number of key developments in 20th century social, political, and philosophical movements (existentialism, phenomenology, post-structuralism, hermeneutics, language theory, and critical theory, to name a few) and the published commentary on him is enormous.

    Whether you like him or not or whether you understand him or not, his influence has been such that he requires considerable attention for anyone wanting to understand and take the measure of 20th century developments. This is the reply to Gene Schulman when he asks, “Why bother any more with Heidegger and the rest, when the world has moved on?” How does Gene Schulman know the “world has moved on”? Does he presume to understand Heidegger well enough to know the world has moved on? And does he presume to understand “the world” well enough to know it has indeed moved on? If Gene Schulman has resolved this satisfactorily he apparently has not persuaded a large number of those who have studied Heidegger and who still have questions about all this. It is more likely the case Gene Schulman has moved on—and left a number of very large and important questions unanswered.

    Among these questions would be: Is Heidegger’s philosophy of Being—the metaphysical ground of his thinking about Dasein—fundamentally consistent with metaphysical assumptions of Nazism (among which would be the possibility of pure and impure expressions of being)?

    This chain of comments has largely been about the power of ideas and not about the power of political action. For folks like O’Keeffe and Schulman to suppose that the power of ideas takes a back seat to the power of boots on the ground is to forget that boots on the ground get set in motion by the power of ideas. No human being lives in this world without being a natural born philosopher. Everyone has a philosophy of life, whether they can consciously see it or not, which influences every step they take. It’s just a question of the extent to which one is able and willing to take some responsibility for it.

    Life is only fully lived and engaged by taking on that responsibility and exercising that freedom. In this sense one cannot NOT philosophize and that makes philosophy important. And because of his past influence and his potential for future influence the quality of Heidegger’s philosophy becomes crucial to understand. Which is one reason these forums on Heidegger generate the level of response they do. So if you want to get serious, Terrence, try taking philosophy and influential philosophers seriously. Not everyone may read Heidegger but the point is that people can be Heideggerians without ever knowing it. Perhaps many Nazis who never read Heidegger were Heideggerians in their metaphysical outlook. If such is the case, it might be important for communities to know whether that is a good thing.

    • December 23, 2013

      Gene Schulman

      Mr. Desilet,
      Having lived for more than eighty odd years in this ongoing world, Gene Schulman can presume he knows the world has moved on from the days when Heidegger was relevant. Who reads Heidegger today except those who want to relate him to Nazism? Was his Nazism any worse than the neocon mentality of today? He would probably be appalled by the number of Jews who practice the same in the name of Zionism. And indeed, Gene Schulman has also moved on if he is able to see this. All you people can waste your time parsing Heidegger, I’m more interested in parsing a world he no longer affects. Sorry I don’t have the energy to write long essays evidencing my point in order to refute your idolatry. I think I can safely leave that to Mr. O’Keeffe.

      • December 23, 2013

        DSteiner

        this turn to what I have found to be a very interesting and (my own comments put aside) sometimes eloquent discussion–a discussion of unusually high quality for an online forum–is unfortunate. Anyway, my appreciation to most of the contributors for engaging in a thought-provoking and in the end (however occasionally abrasive the diction) mutually respectful conversation and debate. (I also enjoyed the satire!)

      • December 23, 2013

        Terrence O'Keeffe

        I’m on board with Mr. Schulman here, and, though I’m only a relative youngster at the age of seventy, I have a broad experience of the world, both lived and through reading, and reading is a form of vicarious experience. This particular discussion is beginning to exhaust me too because it’s just not that important. As a polemical position I’ll state that there never was a time when Heidegger was all the relevant to the world, but merely a “star” within that small and self-enclosed firmament of professional (academic) philosophy, where heat exceeds light and in-fighting and jousting over professional reputations is the order of the day. As I said, ripe for parody. On the “importance” issue I’ll refer any reader with the patience to get this far to my last comment to Mr. Desilet. And it will be my last, in order to avoid the dreadful prospect of what the kids call “a flame war”. Now, for that beer and cigarette.

        • December 23, 2013

          Gene Schulman

          I happily second Mr. O’Keeffe, not because he goes along with me, rather because I agree with his polemical statement that Heidegger is just not that important, nor worth spending all this time on. Though I have given up smoking, I’ll happily enjoy a beer with him. Now, let’s take a break and enjoy the holidays. Happy New Year to all.

           
    • December 23, 2013

      Terrence O'Keeffe

      Well, I’ll try to be brief here. On the civility issue my “slap in the face” remark was an (perhaps too obscure and not all that witty) allusion to the type of remark made by Samuel Johnson about Bishop Berekely’s weird beliefs – Johnson allegedly kicked a rock and said “I refute him thus”, which has two implications: things exist whether or not we say they do; and pain is a measure of existence that proves to thinking/feeling beings that in fact they do exist. (You could say that the elaborate moral philosophy of today’s Peter Singer is built on this foundation.) As to the insubstantiality of many of the ideas being discussed, that is not an insult but an observation (I’m certainly not alone on this one); there are those of us for whom Heidegger’s puffed-up yet fairly vacuous ideas are an insult to human reason and intelligence, but we’re not pouting over it.

      I quote you here because I find the implications of your comments humorous.

      “It is more likely the case Gene Schulman has moved on—and left a number of very large and important questions unanswered.
      Among these questions would be: Is Heidegger’s philosophy of Being—the metaphysical ground of his thinking about Dasein—fundamentally consistent with metaphysical assumptions of Nazism (among which would be the possibility of pure and impure expressions of being)?”

      One implication is that Heidegger actually “answered” this allegedly large and important question. Of course he didn’t, or if he did, he did it in hermetically sealed prose that requires metaphysical code-breaking; the flight from or avoidance of clarity of expression is the flight from understanding. Every one of us will go to the grave with these “large and important” questions unanswered, and if the opposite were to prove true, their importance would remain questionable. Obscure prose has a lineage. Ever since Nietzsche all-purpose philosophizers have been saying “don’t pretend to understand me” in order to set up a defensive perimeter that will allow them to claim lack of responsibility for people who “mishandle” their ideas; the ruse is transparent and intellectually embarrassing.

      And then we have such souped-up conflations as pure vs. impure expressions of Being, which, as I think, is a statement as meaningless as the fascinating question of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. This is the time to bring in a Wittgensteinian parsing of language so that we may learn just how many slippery linguistic slopes we’re sliding down when we pose questions about postulated entities and pretend to answer them in grandiose yet empty language.

      Engagement with Heidegger’s ideas is not a test of seriousness, but rather one of patience and personal preference about how to spend one’s idle hours, in other words, a taste and an avocation.

      More generally Mr. Desilet’s belief that we can live fully only by taking responsibility for our own philosophy of life raises more smiles (I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean — it seems like one of those facile verbal formulas that is a descendant of “the unexamined life is not worth living” remark attributed to Socrates). I’ll leave the judgment on that silly piece of “pop wisdom” up to those who have actually lived fully

      It’s true that the power of boots on the ground may be set in action by ideas. Most ideas that have such an activating role in politics and culture are rather simple-minded ones, but the relationship still holds that systems of rule which formulate an ideology usually do so to appear respectable and to disguise their true motives; philosophers and other intellectuals have ornamental value for rulers, but they’re really not interested in what they have to say. (E.g., Hitler thought the Party’s ideologist, A. Rosenberg was a flighty gas-bag. Stalin, on the other hand, wanted to be seen as a Marxist intellectual, but only in terms that could be used to justify the path he had chosen for very different reasons than intellectual ones. Mao suffered from a similar “envy of the intellectuals” which he attempted to overcome not only by persecuting them but also by competing with them by writing his little book of childish bromides. And yet in spite of their obvious human unsavoriness, they all made many an intellectual, including philosophers, dance to their temporary tunes.)

      On a final note, as a human being and academic colleague Heidegger seems to have been quite a quite a grubby and vain little fellow – perhaps the peculiar “ontological purity” of his thinking was being conveyed through a very impure vessel. Now there’s a thought to make any Jesuit smile.

      I’m signing off here for good on this one and going out to clear my head by having a beer and a cigarette.

  46. December 23, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    Gene Schulman: With your years you have certainly earned the right to your views, and I can respect that. But I have to respectfully disagree. I think you miss my point about Heidegger. Although I don’t think it is true no one reads Heidegger anymore (he is still taught at universities all over the world), it wouldn’t matter if that were true. There are perhaps three or four significantly different metaphysical stances to adopt and Heidegger’s is one of them. His expression of that particular stance is the most cogent and powerful to date. A person can operate from that metaphysical stance without having ever read Heidegger. If Heidegger himself saw certain affinities between his philosophy and planks of National Socialism, that should be of interest to philosophers today—in a world where Heidegger’s metaphysics is definitely alive and deployed by many people, whether they realize it or not.

  47. December 23, 2013

    Greg Desilet

    I don’t know if anyone is still reading, but if not I’ll speak into the bottomless well. Speaking of reading, I can sympathize with Derrida when he complained that he was not read, as in not really read, as in misread. How does one go, as Terrence does, from what I say here:

    “Among these questions would be: Is Heidegger’s philosophy of Being—the metaphysical ground of his thinking about Dasein—fundamentally consistent with metaphysical assumptions of Nazism (among which would be the possibility of pure and impure expressions of being)?”

    To this:

    “One implication is that Heidegger actually “answered” this allegedly large and important question. Of course he didn’t, or if he did, he did it in hermetically sealed prose that requires metaphysical code-breaking; the flight from or avoidance of clarity of expression is the flight from understanding. Every one of us will go to the grave with these “large and important” questions unanswered.”

    Why bother reading at all if you are going to read this sloppily? This is not a question Heidegger could possibly answer because it is only a question addressed to those who are now living and consequently in a position to judge his thinking. Furthermore, it is obviously not a deep question about the nature of being or of existence (whereby it might make some sense to suppose one would go to the grave leaving it unanswered) but a smaller question about possible alignments between two metaphysical positions. It is a question that can and ought to be explored and answers offered (with the understanding that no “answer” is final). I’ve answered the question in my own writing and I would like to see others’ answers.

    As for notions of purity and purification, these have obvious significance in Nazi ideology that need not be spelled out here. They also play a significant role in the motives for violence in the world. The possibility they also play a significant role in Heidegger’s philosophy of being and Dasein’s comportment toward the “truth of being” is a possibility definitely worth exploring—and not because Heidegger is widely read by everyone but because the metaphysical stance to which he has arguably contributed—and in a broadly influential way—is still alive and operating in the world today.

    Concerning the probing of these philosophical questions, Terrence then adds:

    “More generally Mr. Desilet’s belief that we can live fully only by taking responsibility for our own philosophy of life raises more smiles (I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean — it seems like one of those facile verbal formulas that is a descendant of “the unexamined life is not worth living” remark attributed to Socrates). I’ll leave the judgment on that silly piece of “pop wisdom” up to those who have actually lived fully.”

    I’ve put forward the proposition that everyone is a philosopher by default—meaning one cannot not philosophize or live without subscribing to deep metaphysical “decisions,” which can be unconscious. Granting as much, it is not hard to understand that people who choose to philosophize on a more conscious level are also choosing to engage life more fully, choosing to take more responsibility for whatever philosophical “decisions” or views influence their actions. This is not “pop wisdom” but the basis for any progressive human community whatever.

    As for leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao not really “reading” the philosophers and intellectuals of their time, why would Terrence make such a point and then, in the same set of comments, turn around and do the same thing himself? I’m not claiming with certainty to have knowledge worth listening to, but I do deserve, as everyone does, to actually be read rather than skimmed over with a set of pre-conceived assumptions and then assumed to be saying something irrelevant to what I’ve said.

    Regardless of my complaints, the exchanges have been interesting and I will sign off as well and wish you all the best. I think I’ll now have an e-cigarette and a power shake vitamin cocktail (just kidding).

  48. December 23, 2013

    Quixote

    As I attempted to indicate a moment ago, with my comment appearing in the wrong spot:

    Were ye ever anointed knights, I’d have at ye all with my lance!

  49. December 23, 2013

    Quixote

    This entire discussion, which hopefully will now come to a conclusion, would certainly make for a good satire of American academics. Let’s at least try to stay out of jail so we can keep arguing with one another. Above all, let’s avoid raising the hackles of American academics who “resort to the oldest and crudest of weapons, the police,” to silence their impertinent online critics. The final irony would be if thugs with badges were to impose a Heideggerian order on the university at the request of the editors of Social Text. Any late stragglers who are unaware of the sordid events I’m alluding to may wish to examine the material appearing at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    • December 23, 2013

      DSteiner

      I agree about using thugs with badges to save well-connected professors from being embarrassed. But this was a good discussion (including the polemic stuff and even the off-topic satire) so why dismiss it with a swipe?

      • December 23, 2013

        Quixote

        I’m not aware that I’ve dismissed anything, let alone with a “swipe.” (I will have at ye yet with my lance!) All things must pass; the discussion was good (and nothing was off-topic–quite to the contrary); but there comes a point when the pleasure of debate must give way to other adventures and other battles.

        • December 24, 2013

          Quixote

          P.s. nor was anything satirical–at least not on my part. If anyone else crossed the line, it’s their responsibility and they can face the consequences. My own conscience is clear.

           
  50. January 1, 2014

    Sue

    Since the topic of metaphysics was introduced into this discussion please find an essay which describes some profound metaphysics. It is also gives profound critique of all of our forms of knowledge. See section 3 on hunter-gatherer behavior:
    http://www.dabase.org/Reality_Itself_Is_Not_In_The_Middle.htm

    • January 1, 2014

      Quixote

      We certainly wouldn’t want to miss anything profound.

  51. January 1, 2014

    StephenKMackSD

    I read Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger book in 2009 and found it impressive, and the attacks on his integrity as scholar, and his person, utterly consistent with the Heidegger apologists inability to be honest about the political/philosophical connection, in Heidegger’s body of work and his political sentiments/attachments. Then, this last year I read Heidegger’s Roots: Nietzsche, National Socialism, and the Greeks by Charles Bambach, published by Cornell University Press. Another very impressive intellectual/political/philosophical examination of the Heidegger question, worth the time and attention of any one interested in the questions raised in this essay.
    StephenKMackSD

  52. January 4, 2014

    DSteiner

    For anyone still peeping in on this discussion, the latest issue of the important German weekly Die Zeit devotes considerable space to the appearance of the “Black Notebooks,” with articles by Thomas Assheuer (journalist for that paper) and Peter Trawny (director of the Martin Heidegger Institute at the University of Wuppertal), together with an interview with Emmanuel Faye. On one level Trawny offers an argument similar to the one I’ve proposed as a possibiity in this forum: that apologia should be dispensed with and Heidegger should be approached both as a man with strong Nazi sympathies and a great philosopher. But in fact, Trawny himself engages in consistent, if somewhat subtle, apologia. For instance, he emphasizes that the Black Notebooks give no indication H was aware of what T refers to as “the violence against the Jews,” by which he presumably means the mass murder. But what T does not indicate is that violence against Germany’s Jews was transparently part of the Nazi program from the start, and those who supported Hitler were well aware of what he stood for. The violence of course had its most dramatic practical expression in the pre-mass murder period in the nationwide pogrom known as the “night of broken glass” that all Germans were aware of. There is apparently no indication n the Black Notebooks that H disapproved of the pogrom–the idea he didn’t know about it is naturally an absurdity, and if he was, say, shocked by the barbarity of it all–i.e. not HIS vision of National Socialism–he apparently kept THAT a secret. Perhaps he simply shrugged his shoulders, as did very many other Germans. It seems, again, that even Heideggerians with publicly stated good will have great difficulty facing up to the crass reality of the man.

  53. January 10, 2014

    foolswritingonphilosophy

    Those who cast aspersions on Wittgenstein by calling him names display the idiocy and the full breath of ignorance. Most of the comments here are sub-optimal and lack both philosophical and logical merit.

    • January 12, 2014

      Quixote

      Not only are they sub-optimal, but some of them are downright pornographic. Indeed, one wonders whether they deserve to be called “comments” at all, or if it would be more accurate to refer to them as sordid language-games designed for readers whose main interests lie in bullfighting and religion…

    • January 17, 2014

      Greg Desilet

      Regarding your first sentence, I can’t even recall anyone mentioning Wittgenstein in this comment thread. Regarding your second sentence, how exactly would you know whether any of the comments herein lack philosophical and/or logical merit?

  54. January 16, 2014

    Samuel Ogbonna

    Why devote this time and energy to Heidegger? As the logical positivists noted, his work is all nonsense anyway.

  55. January 17, 2014

    Greg Desilet

    And by what evidence do you feel entitled to suppose the logical positivists are speaking anything other than nonsense? Richard Rorty systematically demonstrates in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature why it would be a mistake to do any such supposing. Between the analytic and the Continental traditions, I prefer Heidegger’s nonsense. At least he directs his attention to questions of lived experience.

  56. January 20, 2014

    Gene Schulman

    As a coda to this very long and inconclusive discussion of Heidegger and Nazism, you might find this relevant. Especially the comments about George Steiner, who was my introduction to Heidegger many years ago:

    http://www.denisdutton.com/heidegger.htm

    • January 20, 2014

      Greg Desilet

      I second StephenKMack’s thank you for posting the link to Denis Dutton’s review of Kaufman’s text on Heidegger. I read this review several years ago and had forgotten about it. I admired Denis Dutton (founder of Arts and Letters Daily) and had known him since my undergraduate years at UCSB where I had him as a TA in philosophy. His death was a great loss. I think Kaufmann’s view of Heidegger is on target.

      I also thank StephenKMack for the mention of Charles Bamback’s book on Heidegger, which I just finished reading. Bambach arrives at conclusions similar to Kaufmann’s by way of a very impressive detailed examination of Heidegger’s texts and lectures through the rapidly changing historical contexts of the 1920s throught the 1960s. Bambach highlights how Heidegger fastens on the theme of autochthony and its associated metaphysics of exclusion and never lets go of it throughout his career. This metaphysics of exclusion featuring the supremacy of the German Volk was not as extreme as the more vulgar notes of Nazi biologism and theme of racial purity but nevertheless fueled its own brand of ugly and groundless German exceptionalism and scapegoating of the world’s “nonautochthonous” people.

      Not so much despite all this but because of all this, Heidegger must continue to be studied. He counts as perhaps the world’s foremost case history of the intersection of the best and the worst of the Western cultural tradition. How does a man of his learning, saturated with the Western philosophical classics, take such a wrong turn? The answer is: quite easily. Heidegger’s view of truth as aletheia is a very productive and worthwhile view of truth. But he uses its ambiguities to underwrite the authority of his own chosen certainties. HIs view of technology as leading to an uprootedness and fragmentation of society is a very productive view of technology. But he spins this view in such a way as to elide the benefits of this uprooting influence while emphasizing only the negative aspects. The list could go on. So much of what Heidegger said is in so many ways accurate and yet at every juncture he takes the thinking in the narrow direction of enforcing false elitism and groundless exclusions. In this respect Heidegger becomes the poster-boy for what not to do, for what turns not to take, in philosophical inquiry and in understanding the full potential of the Western tradition. And so far as that may be the case, he may be an indispensable example.

      • January 21, 2014

        Gene Schulman

        @ StevenKMack: Thanks for you your tweet. I’m glad you found the essay of value.

        @ Greg Desilet: Thank you, too, for your comment on the essay. I have long been a fan of Kaufmann, as well as Sutton (except for his silly book on “The Art Instinct”). I knew Steiner well when he taught here in Geneva, and his book on Heidegger was very important to me. I was happy to find him mentioned in Sutton’s essay. Interesting that you studied at UCSB. I’m originally from L.A. and studied architecture at USC.

        • January 21, 2014

          Greg Desilet

          I agree with you about Dutton’s book on art. It was very disappointing for a man of his breadth to take such a narrow view of the “instinct” for art. Nevertheless, he did many years of great work as the editor of Philosophy and Literature. As for Steiner, I must read his book on Heidegger. I admire the man greatly and his book The Death of Tragedy influenced my thinking on dramatic categories (along with Kenneth Burke). I heard Steiner speak one time at UCSB around 1971, I believe, when he had published Bluebeard’s Castle. An impressive speaker.

          As for yourself, I see (via the internet) that you are/were at the Overseas American Academy in Geneva. I’m curious about you having studied architecture and yet appear to know so much about philosophy. What do you teach at the American Academy?

           
    • January 23, 2014

      StephenKMackSD

      My introduction to Heidegger was also from Mr. Steiner’s book. Here is a thought provoking, even arresting quote from a June 1994 TLS essay, reprinted in No Passion Spent, page 180 titled Trusting in Reason- Husserl:
      ‘Much in the Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften is yet to be understood and developed. Those who heard the relevant lectures in Vienna and Prague in 1935-6 regarded them thereafter as probably the single most consequential philosophical proposal of the century, even beyond the Tractatus or Sein und Zeit.’
      StephenKMackSD

  57. January 21, 2014

    Gene Schulman

    It wasn’t so much that Dutton’s book was narrow, as it was his evolutionary psychology approach to a subject that is culturally driven.

    Yes, Steiner was (is) impressive. Unfortunately, he wears it on his forehead for all to see.

    Don’t let the impressive sounding name of the Academy fool you. It’s really just a think tank made up of retired academics and businessmen/consultants in Geneva. We now spend our time writing papers and articles on world affairs, that sometimes get into the press or alternative media sites. I am not an academic, but a former financial consultant. I never practiced architecture which was interrupted after graduation by four years served in the air force in Germany, then into the construction business when I returned to LA. A lot of other stuff between then and now. But I read all the time, and even once owned a book store here in Geneva.

    • January 22, 2014

      Greg Desilet

      You seem to have quite a wide range of interests and career pursuits, not to mention a rather sharp understanding of philosophy. This sort of thing seems more and more a lost art in an era where the specialist dominates. I salute you and repeat Bob Dylan: Keep on keeping on.

      • January 22, 2014

        Gene Schulman

        Thanks Greg (if I make take the liberty). That comes from having a well rounded education in the humanities, along side my architectural studies, which is hard to come by these days. When I was in school (1948-52) good teachers thought and stimulated, compared to what is happening in education today. Plus I was fortunate to have interesting life experiences and meetings with interesting people. I keep on tryin’ at least.
        I wish you the same.

  58. January 23, 2014

    Sam Ogbonna

    Really, what does a philosopher sitting in his study with a pen and some paper really know about “being” and “time”. Maybe we shouldn’t be taking these guys too seriously. We will have to rely on the plodding means of science to figure out these questions.

  59. January 24, 2014

    Gene Schulman

    It is the philosopher sitting in his study with pen and some paper who asks the questions that your scientists can answer with their technological knowledge. Except for questions of ethics and morality. Your scientism has value, but leave the important questions like human values to the philosophers. Science is no less speculative than philosophy. All theories are subject to revision.

  60. January 28, 2014

    Dr. Margit Appleton

    Why is the Heideggerr discussion in the UK so desperately plodding? Will it ever transgress beyond “Yeah, Nazi wozzn’t e?” And how strange to say Peter Trawny used “one of those neologisms Heideggerians are so fond of : Historial”. When in actual fact he used the expression “Seinsgeschichtlicher Antisemitismus”. Should not a minimum of linguistic knowledge be the basis of a discussion that is more than in danger of being tangentially misdirected? And what relevance can those disgruntled comments have – other than: “Just what I’ve been saying for years”.
    This is new territory, the Heidegger case is far from shut…But in this country, through prejudicial conviction, linguistic lazyness, and a superciliously closed mindset, it hasn’t even been opened.

  61. March 11, 2014

    Jacob Arnon

    Heidegger was hardly “the greatest philosopher of the 20th C.”

    Heideggerz legacy consists in his helping to destroy philosophy as such.

    The man was a racist, a bully, and a self promoter.

    Any man who compares the systematic murder of human beings to the slaughter of cows isn’t a philosopher, he isn’t even a thinker.

    • March 11, 2014

      Tom Blancato

      While there may be enormous problems with Heidegger, you missed his point. He was saying what you are saying about him about the Nazis. That is, they became so violent because THEY were equating people with something to be “manufactured”, a kind of manufacture of corpses. That was his point, exactly. Is that clear?

      To me the real fault is that he left out the whole business of poetic depiction: the “enternal Jew”, the over-the-top portrayals, the caricature, the biased and false accounts of what Jews did and were, etc., in a horrific, polemical approach.Here he had too great a general affirmation off “strife”, it seems to me, and utterly failed to develop a category of nonviolence in certain, critical ways.

    • March 11, 2014

      Sam Ogbonna

      My problem with Heidegger goes further than the question of whether or not he was the greatest philosopher of the 20th century or not. As I see it the questions is about whether philosophy as an intellectual pursuit is worth anything at all, whether the entire discipline and the entire concept are valid. Can a man sitting with a pen and a pad and thinking arrive at profound knowledge about anything? That question was easy to answer in the 18th-19th centuries. That was the great age of the system builders (Kant, Hegel, Marx, and others) and they were so sure of themselves. Developments in the sciences and the course of the 20th century debunked the alleged profundities of Kant and Marx, and even his contemporaries decided Hegel’s work consisted of meaninglessness cloaked in an obscurity that gave it the appearance of sounding profound and significant.
      In the 20th century serious doubt was cast on the entire notion of philosophy being a worthwhile pursuit. The parts of philosophy that are worthwhile fall under science anyway. As for the parts that don’t fall under science, what exactly do they add to human knowledge? Are they even knowledge? Or are they cognitively meaningless, as the logical positivists argued? If philosophy is invalid then whether Hegel was the greatest or not simply doesn’t matter. Even if you do accept that philosophy means something Heidegger must contest the title of the 20th’s century’s greatest with Bertrand Russel and a couple of others.
      As for Heidegger’s connections with Nazism, I guess Nazism seduced and continues to seduce many people. On the website of the white nationalist and “race realist” magazine American Renaissance (amren.com) some of the habitual posters have monikers named after the SS and the Einsatzgruppen. Looked at from that perspective, Heidegger did what many a German of his time did. It took the combined efforts of the world’s biggest powers to end at least the overt expression of that delusion.

      • March 11, 2014

        bzfgt

        Sam, did you do an experiment to determine that meaningful knowledge is scientific in nature? Or did you figure it out with a pen an pad and thinking? The question is not itself a scientific one, but a philosophical one. This seems to me to indicate that philosophical thinking of some kind is still important….

        • March 11, 2014

          Sam Ogbonna

          An example of the profundities that obsessed Heidegger is his asking why anything exists at all, and why what exists looks the way it does. How does one go about answering that kind of question?

           
  62. March 12, 2014

    Jackson Davis

    Re: Sam Ogbonna

    “An example of the profundities that obsessed Heidegger is his asking why anything exists at all, and why what exists looks the way it does. How does one go about answering that kind of question?”

    Metaphysically !

  63. March 21, 2014

    Sergiu

    Heidegger notebooks reveal antisemitism at core of Being

  64. March 23, 2014

    Sam Ogbonna

    There’s no limit to the nonsense these philosophers could write once they got started. I can’t recall the one, I think it was Hegel, who wrote a proof for why there could be no more than seven planets.

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