One More: Maurice de Gandillac at Davos

Ok, one more post about Davos.  Here is Maurice de Gandillac’s rather deflationary assessment of the Davos dispute (in Salomon Malka’s biography of Levinas):

It remained a civilized dialogue between the elegant professor who symbolized the humanistic and liberal tradition, and Heidegger, who brought with him an entirely new outlook.  Mme. Cassirer was speaking of a real scene between the two of them.  But if there was something there, no one registered so much as an echo of it.  The students were far from the holy of holies.  Certainly Cavailles, who was our cayman, and who directed the general rapport in the session, gave an extremely positive summary of the exchange between the two men.  Many among us, myself included I must say, felt closer to Cassirer, but Heidegger interested in something new.  In other words, the tone of the polemic was, again, extremely courteous.  I was not struck by any particular tension.  Besides, had there been a great tension, Levinas would have stepped in as the interpreter.   Continue reading

Levinas at Davos

Yesterday I mentioned Levinas’s impression of the Davos dispute from an interview with Francois Poire (it can be found in Is it Righteous to Be? Interviews with Levinas, 33ff).  In that same interview, here’s Levinas describing the play put on by the students in which he played Cassirer:

At that time I had an abdundance of black hair; we put a lot of white power on my hair in order to evoke the noble gray head of the master.  As for Bolnow [who played Heidegger]…I furnished him with the reply which to me seemed to caricture the eymological findings of Heidegger: “Because interpreting means to put a thing upside down.”

Levinas is asked if people felt a “great trembling” at Davos:

Certainly! Cassirer presented an order which was going to be undone.  Now one has a slanted perspective which perhaps falsifies memories.  I think that Heidegger announced a world that was going to be turned over.  You know who he would join three years later; one would have to have had the gift of prophesy to sense this already at Davos.  I have thought for a long time–in the course of those terrible years–that I had felt it then, in spite of my enthusiasms.  The value judgments of them have necessarily changed over time.  And during the Hitler years I reproached myself for having preferred Heidegger at Davos. Continue reading

Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos

Peter Gordon’s book, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, is due out this month.  It looks promising–plus Harvard UP tells us all that it’s “riveting” in the blurb below!  Seriously, if it’s half as good as Gordon’s previous book about Heidegger and Rosenzweig it will certainly be worth reading.  The Davos enounter, I think, is often seen as a sort of turning point, break, or touchstone for 20th century philosophy.  Numerous commentators have upped the stakes, claiming that this debate marks a substantial “rupture” between enlightenment and counter-enlightenment, humanism and anti-humanism, analytic vs continental philosophy etc. etc. I think the most unlikely interpretation I’ve read about Davos just may  be Bourdieu’s attempt to grind Heidegger’s thought down to its political ontology (though it’s not really fresh in my head). 

Levinas, who was in the audience, had this to say about Davos in an interview with Francois Poire: “a young student could have had the impression that he was witness to the creation and the end of the world.”  Later that evening Levinas and some of his friends restaged the debate for a sizable audience (if I’m not mistaken both Heidegger and Cassirer were in there).  Levinas played Cassirer, but I can’t recall who played Heidegger.  I think in that same interview with Poire Levinas confesses to feeling bad about mocking Cassirer’s rather lackluster performance and siding with Heidegger.  Anway, here’s the blurb from Harvard UP:

Continue reading

Hans Jonas on Heidegger’s Paganism

While my students were feverishly writing their responses to their final exam I decided to have another look at Hans Jonas’ essay I mentioned yesterday.  It’s far more polemical than I remembered.  It’s quite enjoyable to read, actually.  Early on in his essay, “Heidegger and Theology,” (in the wonderful collection of essays entitled Phenomenon of Life republished by Northwestern fairly recently) Hans Jonas suggests that what it so tempting to Christian theologians, especially given the late Heidegger, is the “seeming, false humility of Heidegger’s shifting initiative to Being.” What lies behind or beyond this false humility?  Here’s Jonas: “the most enormous hubris in the whole history of thought.”  Whoa (and this is almost 25 odd years prior to the “Farias revelations” in which many Heideggerians ran for Levinasian cover).  Jonas sees Heidegger’s humility as fundamentally immoral, akin to what Levinas might call “participation” in that which is, and therefore, must be, rather than what should be. Jonas comments on Heidegger’s hubris:

For it is nothing less than the thinker’s claiming that through him speaks the essence of things itself, and thus the claim to an authority which no other thinker should ever claim.  And moreover it is the claim that in principle the basic human condition, that of being at a distance to things can be remitted, avoided, overcome.  The claim, that is, to a possible immediacy that perhaps has a place in the person-to-person relation, but no in the relation to impersonal being and things and the world. Continue reading

Heidegger and Nazism, again.

Not to be dismissive about Heidegger’s Nazism or anything, but the dialogue has begun (yet) again.  I bookmarked an article entitled “Heil Heidegger,”  for myself (and others, of course) on Twitter last week.  The article discusses a recently translated book revolving around  Heidegger’s Nazism and I just had a chance to look closely at it.  It’s um…rather polemical.    Consider the first paragraph:

How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany’s greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there’s a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.

Whoa.  Nothing like a little ad hominem attack to get things going.  Sure, Heidegger’s rhetoric is a bit bloated much of the time, but in fact, this paragraph kind of de-legitimizes anything else the author, Carlin Romano, writes afterward.  The connection (identity, really) between Heidegger and Nazism has been picked over and I’m not so sure that Romano is correct to say that there’s been some sort of deliberate systematic disavowal of it on the part of academics.  Anyhow, Romano’s polemic is centered around the forthcoming translation of Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935. Faye’s claim, as far as I can tell, is that Heidegger wasn’t “caught up” or “flirting” with Nazism, but instead, was a theorist or philosopher of Nazism.  Hmm.  Baby.  Bathwater.  I don’t think it’s particular helfpul (or accurate) to  reduce the whole corpus of Heidegger’s work to mere “hate speech.” Both Faye and Romano almost sound like those screaming health care protesters by insisting that publishers (er..Indiana UP and Continuum) stop publishing Heidegger and all of those librarian sympathizers need to cut it out with all this stocking up of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe in order to prevent Nazism from encroaching into the public realm and poisoning the minds of the unexpected.  I hardly think Heidegger’s Nazism or minimally, Heidgger’s connection with Nazism should escape serious and legitimate scrutiny, nor should it be defended, but if Faye’s book is half the hatchet job I’ve heard it to be, then it’s not very helpful.  That said, I will read the book with a good deal of interest.

Anyway, after picking on a couple of recent books by Heidegger scholars, Romano writes: Continue reading

Anxiety of Influence? Heidegger on Husserl…

The, er…rocky, but fruitful relationship between Husserl and Heidegger is well known.  I was skimming through Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger this afternoon and I came across this passage in a fiery letter Heidegger wrote to Karl Lowith in 1923:

In the final hours of the seminar, I publicaly burned and destroyed the Ideas to such an extent that I dare say that the essential foundations for the whole of my work are now clearly laid out.  Looking back from this vantage point to the Logical Investigations, I am now convinced that Husserl was never a philosopher; not even for one second in his life.  He becomes ever more ludicrous.

And that’s actually pretty tame.  I can’t remember where it is or where I read it, but I think in a letter to Jaspers or another letter to Lowith Heidegger pretty much says something like “Husserl has totally gone off the deep end,” and goes onto accuse Husserl of being impressed with himself for founding phenomenology.  Nothing like a little hostility…

Though one need only to look at Husserl’s marginal notes in his copy of SZ to get wind of his rather unethusiastic reaction.  I think it was there that Husserl characterized Heidegger’s work as either irrational or at best, a superficial continuation of his own work.  Throughout the PTP (cited above) one can find a number of Husserl’s comments regarding Heidegger’s attacks on him as well as Heidegger’s work.

Braver Reading Group: Chapter 5 – Early Heidegger: Fundamental Ontology

[If you’re just joining us, please click on the cover icon on the right side of the page to see the post that gathers all the discussions of Braver Reading Group, or click here.]

1. Plea for Attention to Philosophical Context

In a footnote to “Predicate Meets Property” Mark Wilson notes that he had thought of presenting his view as an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, but he was dissuaded by the fact that the book sometimes seems to operate as a Rorschach Test for philosophers. He wanted people to respond to the philosophical content of what he was saying instead of entering debates about what Wittgenstein “really meant” (of course if one has a competing Wittgenstein who can do the relevant philosophical work better than Wilson’s, then that’s fine, but most of the debate should still be philosophy, not hermeneutics).

Part of what makes a great work of philosophy great is that it does function as Rorschach Test for other good philosophers, and certainly Being and Time is no exception. For these books the main question about philosophically interesting interpreters has got to be what they are doing with the text, and where that goes philosophically. What does early-Heidegger-as-pragmatist (Okrent) allow us to do? Similarly with early-Heidegger-as-virtue-theorist (Bernasconi), early-Heidegger-as-anti-representationalist (Dreyfus, Gibson, Okrent), early-Heidegger-as-radical-externalist-about-scheme-content (Harman), and early-Heidegger-as-transcendental idealist (Blattner, Crowell/Malpas et. al.). The “real Heidegger” yields such diverse interpretations that all impact on on-going philosophical dialectic in non-trivial ways. Like any great philosopher, this is a part of of his brilliance.

So when we look at Braver’s presentation let’s please be sensitive to what “the early Heidegger” is doing in Braver’s book. [And before saying anything about this I should be clear about one point, by “early Heidegger” we mean the Heidegger of Being and Time and surrounding writings, not the brilliant earliest pre-Husserlian Heidegger who was doing interesting things in reaction to his teachers (the first 1919 formulation of Vorhandenheit/Zuhandenheit is in reaction to Rickert, who is discussed in this regard in History of the Concept of Time, but then the citation of the very same discussion is dropped in Being and Time), the Southwest School neo-Kantians, nor  Heidegger right after that whose lectures of that period that spends 9/10ths of the time going through the ritualized dance of setting up the phenomenological verbiage. Being and Time is (among other things) a brilliant (though possibly inconsistent) working out of his earliest anti-neo-Kantian insights in the context of a very neo-Kantian Husserliana, the different interpretations above are all to some extent in reaction to the tensions between these two aspects.]

The key point about reading Braver on the early Heidegger charitably is to note that his discussion is the first sustained, careful, and charitable (c.f. Ferry and Renaut’s influential-in-Europe French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Anti-Humanism) attempt to see what happens when you construe the dialectic such that it takes seriously Foucault and Derrida’s own claimed debts to the later Heidegger. Braver sets up the early Heidegger to be able to explain this version of the later Heidegger in maximal clarity. This is his primary purpose, and the context in which we need to understand the application of the realism matrix. His secondary purpose is of course the rapprochement between the analytic and continental traditions, not by meta-philosophical exhortation, but rather by showing the interesting things that happen when you instantiate such rapprochement. His fascinating discussion of Davidson and Heidegger at the end of the chapter is an example of this. Continue reading

Heidegger Help Solicited.

Jon Cogburn, an old friend of the blog, posted a couple of questions he has about Heidegger. I know Shahar probably knows more about Heidegger than anyone I know (well, except for a certain Bryan H. who is not really a friend), but if you are interested in helping a fellow philosopher out, please feel free to drop by Jon’s blog.

Here’s Jon’s post: A serious plea for help about Heidegger

Heidegger’s letters

Here’s a strange new book in the ever increasing Heidegger library: Letters to his Wife. I’m doing my best to not be sarcastic and cynical, as in, “Dear Elfride, I have heard about this new leader called Adolf Hitler, he is truly the truth and destiny of Germany.”  Or some such, but for some reason I am quite curious to read these letters.  Here’s a picture of Heidegger and Gadamer chopping some wood.


‘There is something absolute about the letters between you & me; … The letter is a form of communion of the soul-spirit – … one that is faded & yet unimpeded, complete’, wrote Martin Heidegger to his fiancée Elfride Petri shortly before their wedding. In the course of a marriage that lasted almost sixty years Martin and Elfride were often apart, and the letter thus remained a vital means of communication right through to the final years. The letters he sent her are snapshots of the ups and downs, the crises and everyday minutiae from Heidegger’s life: their engagement, the building of the Cabin at Todtnauberg, the part he played in the two world wars, the difficulties of his early professional career, their financial problems, his dealings with women, and his constant concern with expounding his ideas. Continue reading