Silence is the snare of the demon, and the more one keeps silent the more terrifying the demon becomes; but silence is also the mutual understanding between the Deity and the individual. Indent and single space epigram
Books and articles about Martin Heidegger would probably fill a small library, and his influence remains worldwide. After the First World War, his fame began to grow as a visionary German academic, and it spread to France and elsewhere during the 1930s. Seeking to become Hitler’s Aristotle, while briefly Rector at the University of Freiburg in 1936, Heidegger wrote prolifically even as he led a conventional academic existence under the Nazis. In the aftermath of the Second World War, publicly disgraced and secretly celebrated, German students embraced his work in a kind of detour on their way to Sartre. The irony is striking, and Jürgen Habermas was surely right when he noted, “A Heidegger Renaissance out of the spirit of the Resistance—what a source of misunderstanding!”1
Authenticity had become a popular theme, however, and many still identify it with Heidegger’s philosophy. And that calls for interrogation of his concept. Circumstances tainted its meaning and connotation from the start. Not only was it reflective of the trenches, but it also oscillates between the “I” and the “We,” a reified self and an equally reified community that supposedly exhibits its own “communal (völkisch
) will, ”communal mission” (guided by the Führer
), and “rootedness.”2
In spite of Heidegger’s protestations to the contrary, there is a need to connect history with his experience of it and the philosophical with the sociopolitical critique.
Immanent death and the meaninglessness of life became dominant themes during the war years as Kafka published Metamorphosis in 1915, Dadaism turned into a cultural fashion among pacifist exiles in Zurich during 1916 while, a few years later, Gertrude Stein and Hemingway began writing about a “lost generation.” Such preoccupations intensified the revolt of subjectivity spurred by Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and a modernist avant-garde; all opposed the growth of bureaucracy, mass politics, modern capitalism, and a culture industry that would mark modernity and the twentieth century. As for Heidegger, though he identified with pre-capitalist classes like the peasantry, and infamously made common cause with the Nazis, his aesthetic tastes ran toward modernist painters like Van Gogh and expressionist poets like Georg Trakl.
Heidegger was not just another conservative thinker intoxicated with tradition, which was the case with his friend/rival Karl Jaspers, or a critical rationalist like Jean-Paul Sartre. Heidegger’s intention was clear and radical: “we must philosophize ourselves out of ‘philosophy.’”3
He was a modernist revolutionary intent on overthrowing academic philosophy, recasting “meaning,” and providing a “critique of previous ontology at its roots in Greek philosophy” and the legacy emanating from Plato and, especially, Aristotle.4
That Heidegger should have defended the autonomy of philosophy only makes sense. It was surely the most convenient way to insulate himself and his thinking from any critique lodged in real life. His sarcasm does not amount to much of a defense when he writes, “To say that a philosophy is ‘National Socialist,’ or is not so, means the same as to say that a triangle is courageous or is not so—and therefore is cowardly.”5
Ernst Bloch liked to say that “mysticism is the ignorant caricature of depth” and a mystique still surrounds Heidegger’s philosophy. Even the political judgment, or the link between theory and practice, calls for something more immanent than yet another discussion of Heidegger’s antisemitism or the debates exhibited by the cottage industry that arose over it with the posthumous publication of his Black Notebooks
Some suggest that his biography simply invalidates his work,7
others insist that Nazism influenced his thought, while still others maintain that his thinking offers a kind of guerilla critique of German fascism with which he was clearly associated.8
Heidegger not only committed to Hitler but, like Ezra Pound and others, never publicly expressed remorse for that decision or the extermination of the Jews.9
Prejudices are buried within the ontological constructs, and immanent critique can illuminate the historical residue
within the philosophical language. Rather than remain merely analytic, critique must confront the normative implications first articulated in Being and Time
Usually, the question is whether Heidegger was a committed Nazi and whether his philosophy reflected his political beliefs. But this immediately skews the argument. The real question concerns its proto-fascist
character and how it may have contributed to the climate in which fascist values could thrive.
* * *
No doubt among the most difficult of philosophers, modern or classical, Heidegger developed an intuitive-abstract form of argumentation which, combined with the complexity and abstruse character of his language, allows any attempt at interpretation to appear as a misunderstanding.11
The writing casts a mystifying veil over the propositions on which his ontology rests. Verbs are turned into nouns and then, in conformity with this reifying procedure, the results are introduced as ontological categories. Heidegger tends to coin these words himself, which is not unnatural for a philosopher. Too often, however, there is nothing except his own assurance that a new ontological dimension has actually been revealed. To question the category, however, is illegitimate. Heidegger and his followers assume that the master’s phenomenology stands beyond judgment in traditional philosophical terms. He supposedly wished to protect his thinking from “trivialization” by insisting that specialists interpret it only within the narrow bounds of the text.12
Critical analysis surrenders to a self-referential textual exegesis. And this, in turn, creates the conditions for more popular investigations. Lacking a critical edge, these only increase belief in the (very German) depth of the “secret” underlying Heidegger’s original argument, namely, feeling the full weight of “dread” (Angst
) in the revelatory anticipation of death. If dread is not felt then, presumably, the individual just “doesn’t get it.” There is nothing to be done. That is that. Claims of this sort created the Heidegger myth. He was seen as a “deep” philosopher intent on elaborating a “higher” truth through words that “sound as if they said something higher than what they mean.”13
His use of obscure philosophical terminology is purposeful. German mysticism informs his inquiry into human “existence,” and its inherent questioning of its “Being.” Existing beyond objectification, and fixed notions of time and space, meaning glimmers within its unique experience of time or “temporality.” Materialism and idealism fall by the wayside; both ignore the experience of life, its existential meaning, which is the proper domain of philosophy. According to Heidegger, indeed, neither philosophical tradition is appropriately grounded and capable of dealing with such issues. His challenge was thus to articulate a new form of ontology.
Being and Time
is an inquiry into the nature of “Being as such,” its modifications and derivations, and the form that self-questioning takes. Seeking to confront the “functionalization” of thought, no less than its mechanistic assumptions, Heidegger viewed “Being” as irreducible to any set of categories or social claims. It is not God, the creator above creation, but it remains the phenomenon that cannot be expressed or fully grasped. Beyond all standards, it “thinks” itself, speaks itself, decides for itself, so that anyone taking issue is obviously “oblivious of Being.”14
Secured from the need for external justification, its reality must be gleaned from the architectonic that Heidegger provides. His phenomenological interpretation of Being rests on the “ontological difference”—itself ontologically grounded—between empirical or ontic and ontological forms of inquiry; indeed,
this provides the basis for his claim that “every positive science is not only relatively, but rather absolutely differentiated from Philosophy.”15
With its increasing commitment to what Nietzsche termed the “poetic” elaboration of philosophical claims, indeed, Heidegger’s later work radicalized this perspective. His philosophy was always intent on overcoming the distance between metaphysical concepts and everyday experience. That is why he turned back to the pre-Socratics in order to contest the supposed degeneration of Western philosophy since Plato. Aside from St. Augustine, who provided him with various categories, such as “care” and “Being” as a “gift” (like the soul), Heidegger built upon a mystical undercurrent, whose representatives include, Jakob Boehme and Meister Eckhart in order to create a unique variant of Christian atheism.16
Being is thereby radically reinterpreted. No longer will it appear as “the most general notion,” which “presents itself” in the generation of ever more precise metaphysical categories. It instead allows for an “overcoming of metaphysics,”17
a “concrete” rendering of the lived life, from the perspective of a new “fundamental ontology” (Fundamentalontologie
) that speaks to “Being as such,” or the “Being of beings.” Undefinable and yet self-evident, “Being is always the Being of an entity.”18
Insofar as it escapes objectification in any category or thing, however, it also juts beyond (iibersteigt
) all mere generalities and is irreducible to any particular entity. “Being” (Sein) is subsequently “there” (da) only in an “existence” (Dasein
) whose mortality or temporality (Zeitlichkeit
) elicits the need to ask after its own “Being.19
, ontic, or phenomenological manifestation of existence, no individual, can exist without an existenzial
or ontological underpinning in “Being.”20
Distinctions between subject and object, which informed W...