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Sunday, November 29, 2009

SACREBLEU! Another Heidegger Book

Heidegger is splashing some ink on the pages of the New York Times once again. A "new" book by Emmanuel Faye has hit the English speaking shelves this month, translated by Michael B. Smith from the French, which came out in 2005. So far, I've looked at the forward by Tom Rockmore, and the preface and introduction by the author. The book evidently caused a bit of heat (une reaction au chaud) when it came out in France, and is expected to do the same in the English reading world. With a subtitle like "the introduction of nazism into philosophy", its not hard to understand why.


Faye worries that some intellectuals have been blithe apologists of Heidegger's nazi past. He claims that Heidegger's philosophical message was and continues to be the basis of national socialism. He would like to see his works removed from the philosophy section of the library and placed in the basement under "history, nazism, hate speech", marked with a government warning label He claims:


..."the diffusion of Heidegger's works after the war slowly descends like ashes after an explosion - a gray cloud slowly suffocating and extinguishing minds"


In other words, a Heideggerian "suicide bomber" has allegedly corrupted our youth, and continues to do so even from the grave. I am reminded of Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles", where a black sheriff is seen riding into town, as a crier shouts "the sheriff is a N****R !", only to be drowned out by the clapping of a bell. Mr. Faye feels that he is the crier in this case, shouting "Heidegger is a N**I !", having been drowned out too long by philosophical apologists grounded in their Heideggerian pixie dust.


After listening to the Berkeley podcasts for a couple of years, and reading and continuing to read things by or about Heidegger, I am not really convinced by the claims made in the first 32 pages by the Frenchman. So far, I have not found myself goose stepping around town, or sporting a toothbrush moustache, or knowingly(?) contemplating the inner truth and beauty of national socialism. Is there a danger that my not so young mind has been irrevocably corrupted by contemplating the existential analytic of the dasein? OK, OK, so I bought the damn book - I did have a coupon -and I may even get to page 33, before moving on with my idle curiosity.


Interestingly, the authors father was also a philosopher who had it in for Heidegger. And the son of Heidegger has done a pretty remarkable job getting a bunch of old lecture notes of his father on the shelves of bookstores across the world. The past, present and future all look very promising indeed for Heidegger enterprises, both pro and con.

5 comments:

Karl Tyson said...

Hi Blacksmith,

I have been doing some thinking about Heidegger and Nazis and this bizarre culture we are living in. I'm glad you posted this, and at great risk I want to both deconstruct and intensify the argument that this and other writers make about Heidegger and the Jews.

We are, clearly, out of bounds by studying Heidegger. I have been amazed at how silent the mainstream academic establishment is on Dreyfus' claim that Heidegger is the major, dominant force in 20th century philosophy. And of course there are many, many influential philosophers and attendant academics who, like Dreyfus, are themselves Jewish, and would be especially sensitive to the angle of attack developed here.

And why shouldn't they be? It is very possible that Heidegger was personally anti-semitic. It is also very possible that his private views leaked into his public lectures. In fact, it would be amazing if they didn't. In context, it appears he was in step with his generation of "true-blooded" Germans, the ones who started and then lost the First World War, basically on the issue of German cultural pride of place - represented in 1914 by their forceful culture, naval power, colonial rights, and decisive geopolitical influence in the unstable German settlement zone of the indigenous and politically fractured slavs and muslims east of them. All these issue were being supported and striven for by patriotic Germans. Their defeat and betrayal at Versailles was a huge common psychosis that festered and ultimately bred a Hitler. As the vast majority of Germans felt oppressed by the "international system" personified for them by Jews, Heidegger was probably no exception. So let's hang him for that anyway. How he could escape it without, like Wittgenstein, being half-Jewish, is anybody's guess. A frighteningly small number of German intellectuals did.

Well there I go being an apologists. Wonder how dangerous that might be. More later.

Karl Tyson said...

If you want a political philosophy that really undergirds Nazi ideology, you oughtn't look past Plato. I have no idea why this is not better known and more widely discussed. Plato's Republic reads in part like a National Socialist blueprint.

Admittedly, his fascist state is something of a meritocracy. He assumes the best philosopher-warriors will naturally rise into the highest class. But it is profoundly racial in conception. He even foresees running the sort of breeding program we now abhor from Hitler's rule - having the women of his republic made available without regard to sentimental marriage to the best warriors in order to produce the genetically superior children his system required.

The system espoused by Plato, and studied throughout the intervening ages by all serious philosophers, is more fundamentally fascist than anything Heidegger wrote. That moderns of all stripes continue, more or less, to idolize and elevate the rationalist Plato, is curious when they insist on relegating a Heidegger to the dustbin. Perhaps his crime was being there at the Gotterdammerung in person, while Plato's innocence was that he merely thought about it whilst the overextended Athenian democracy imploded.

The obvious extension, if the reasoning above survives punishment, is this: If you throw out Plato as being a fascist or racist, what of philosophy is left standing?

Karl Tyson said...

Finally, I want to make a case that in a postmodern context, the european cultural cross-currents in which a Heidegger fumbled through the crisis was essentially inexplicable.

I tend to base this analysis on Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, and iconic presentation of postmodern dismay about a europe that could produce two world wars in quick succession, and then relapse into a sort of prim righteousness, in a history written by victors.

Of course, Gravity's Rainbow is not history, despite its encyclopedic grasp of verifiable detail. It is a postmodern meditation on our collective state, post-war. Written in the mid-1970's, the book simply blows away all other fiction and establishes a genre of its own. It is very highly regarded among the intelligentsia that leans postmodern, even certainly among those who would disparage Heidegger for being a Nazi.

Gravity's Rainbow is not often read as a geopolitical commentary. Perhaps this is because if it were, it might be relegated to some non-politically correct dustbin too. The critical point here is that Pynchon treated all sides of the WWII conflict equally harsh. He developed highly national characters - Slothrop the American goof; Pointsman the British snob; Blicero the German sadist; Tchihcerine the Russian stud. In doing so, he plumbed all sorts of national psychoses. And his conclusions are clear: all parties to the lunacy were complete flakes and nutcases.

Now the really interesting thing about Pynchon's psycho-analysis of WWII is the absence of the Jewish question. Of all the enormous implications of the period, why leave that out? It's a mystery, and it almost brands him as an anti-semite merely by omission. But he brings out the German penchant for racism perhaps even more clearly by focusing on it in relation to black Africans, rather than Jews. This technique allows him to introduce a massive amount of subtlety into the question of German racism that the standard holocaust story, by its horrendous plot, obscures.

What did Germans have to do with Africa? They conquered Southwest Africa, now Namibia, in the early 1900's. There they perpetrated perhaps the first modern genocide in 1904 during the Herero revolt. Pynchon uses this aspect to develop his characterization of German racism, introducing a whole cast of transported Hereros who have become germanicized, led by perhaps the most sympathetic character in the novel, Enzian.

Pynchon is here transposing German racism, with its inescapable anti-semitic overtones, into a generalized and therefore more easily nuanced white-people sort of racism, one that is widely shared throughout western cultures, indeed that can be shared by white western Jews, and certainly has a virulent form in both the english and american psyche.

This is a very superficial review of what Pynchon may be getting at in one of the densest novels ever written. But it does indicate a certain postmodern perspective, that all major players not just in WWI but also in its sequel WWII were essentially flawed actors, and that the cultural holocaust that occurred was of a dimension that betrays not just anti-semitism, but a larger modern sickness - one that has not been laid to rest by the holocaust museums, movies, and ritualized discourse converning modern anti-semitism.

What would such a perspective have to do with Heidegger? Perhaps little, but perhaps we can place a few weights on the balance of his culpability based on it. Everyone was crazy, according to Pynchon. The Germans merely played the role of arson in a house doused with gasoline.

foundrysmith said...

==We are, clearly, out of bounds by studying Heidegger==
I would disagree. Look how much discussion he provokes, and how many other philosophers meet on the pitch. I've seen at least one diagram which maps the history of modern philosophy and places Heidegger at the center, "at the heart of the chasm between transcendence and immanence, like a spider" (Agamben 1999)

==It is very possible that Heidegger was personally anti-semitic==
His wife is reputed to have been (Safranski 378); however, he seems to have had no such concerns when it came to attractive young women who wanted to get ahead, as evidenced by his well known affair with Arendt.

There appear to be some lectures from 1933-1934 which are pretty damning (Faye Chapter 3). I suspect that one way Heidegger tried to get out of it without ever actually saying that he was sorry, was to claim that his entire corpus was "ways, not works". But it looks like a funny thing happened to him on the way to the Reichstag. Seemingly as he was trying to enter the hermeneutic circle in the right way, he failed to foresee that it would one day morph into an ellipse, with the Nazi question as one of the foci. When he broke orbit from that particular clearing, I suppose one can legitimately question just how much of that experience remained in the man?

Perhaps the early Heidegger can be compared to a youth copulating with his fist, and then finding himself in a three way with Hitler & Hannah before going straight. Post WWII, he may well have harbored a roving eye and a soft spot in his heart for the inner truth and beauty of national socialism. My own opinion would be that the later Heidegger describes a larger Umwelt, and that the concerns raised by Faye are at best a gossipy detour at the park ranger's office and souvenir shop at the bottom of the mountain. The post war Heidegger woodsman appears to have left the Bund Deutscher Mädel at home, and taken to the field with his trusty alethean hounds, abandoning the "blunderous" parts of his past below for the greater heights above. I would agree that like a sex offender, there are those who can place him on an "offenders list"; but would disagree that his entire project is somehow not a crucially important contribution to philosophy.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

I am not into Heidegger. I am a Thomist.

If you read French, do have a look at my post:

Le réel

It is directed to answer mainly:

- scepticism
- Einsteinism
- atheism

and of course any appeal to "the real" or "reality" one can be out of touch with merely by not agreeing with a social construct.

I just found it contained an answer to Hume, too.

So, maybe Heidegger too is "on my list" (cfr Sullivan's Mikado)