Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Reminder about Heidegger

I'm seeing a lot of buzz today about the announcement that the 'black notebooks' which "will trouble even the most faithful of his acolytes" are going to be published.

I'm primed to be troubled, but nonetheless I should note as a Heidegger scholar that the issue is not that he was a Nazi or an anti-semite - as loathesome as those things might be - the issue is that in the 1930s, in Germany, the popular discourse of the country ostensibly asked him 'does Being have anything to say about the Nazi project' and he, unfortunately, in broad strokes, said yes.

This is important not to the extent that what 'Being says yes to' was the Nazi project, even to the point of and including the holocaust, it's important to the extent that 'Being says yes' to something at all. This, in very simple terms, is what we experience today with religious extremism, where a transcendent 'God' justifies and legitimizes violence - 'why did you attempt to detonate a suicide bomb?' 'God told me to.'

If 'Being says yes' to things in a like manner then you can just say that Heidegger was wrong about what 'Being says yes' to - and this is precisely what Zizek and Badiou do, which is precisely why I don't agree with their metaphysics.

'Being' doesn't 'say yes' to things, to political projects, human endeavors - not even our beautiful collective imaginary of 'full communism' - nor does it lament fascism, the holocaust, whatever. God is dead. This is a disenchanted, material, scientifically mappable universe.

We say yes to things, humans do, we're learning all sorts of things about animal intelligence, animals might, post-human AI certainly will, but Being itself, the material, doesn't.

What 'de Kehre,' The Turning, really means, and why it is important, and why I consider myself a Heideggerian, is not only the predictable movement away from the philosophical configuration of the Volk but more importantly the movement away from phenomenology and the analytic of Dasein whatsoever. This doesn't mean that you don't do politics - which is what a crude reading of 'Gellasenheit' would imply - it means you do politics without some sort of metaphysical sanction - and Marx is, of course, the best example of someone who does politics with the presumption of a scientific, disenchanted, material world.

I'm quite sure these new notebooks will make me wince, I promise you they will, but there is already sufficient things that make me wince in Heidegger, there is already sufficient evidence that he was complicit in the Nazi regime, was awful to Jewish colleagues, etc. this is beside the point - Heidegger was complicit with what the Nazis were doing in 33/34 but moreover he signed on to what they said, he believed the bullshit and pulled his philosophy in with him, 'destinal ontological pivots' and all that. When he saw what the Nazis did thereafter Heidegger rapidly lost faith not only in Nazism but in the possibility that political movements could be sanctioned by Being whatsoever - they aren't - and this was, at an admittedly unimaginable, illegitimate, unforgivable human cost, nonetheless a profoundly healthy thing for Heidegger to discover, it is what everyone should take from Heidegger.

Zizek calls him a 'scorned lover' for this - i.e. the failure of the Nazi project is the failure of an alliance of ontology and politics as such - 'boo hoo,' to paraphrase Zizek. But much to the protestations of Zizek and Badiou we ought not believe that ontology sanctions politics - politics is what we do for lack of an ontological sanction. Politics can veil ontology, as the Harper administration is doing by attacking and muzzling the Canadian scientific edifice for its stance on climate change ('guaranteeing public ignorance' as the NY Times put it), but ontology doesn't affirm politics.

This is what is important in Heidegger - know this and you can feel free to tar and feather and pillory the man all you'd like - we will shake our heads at the 'lamentable' passages together.

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