RH (Robert Harrison)
AM (Andrew Mitchell)
1 RH/ This is KZSU Stanford. Welcome to Entitled Opinions. My name is Robert Harrison. We’re coming to you live from the Stanford campus.
The growing and unacknowledged anxiety in the face of thinking no longer allows insight into the oblivion of being which determines the age.
Three years before he died. Oh Martin, Oh Martan, Oh Martine, if you only knew how complete and total the oblivion of being has become since you shuffled off your mortal coil. Oh holy memory, mother of muse, where are you now and at the hour. Your horrors drove you out of your house and now you ride the wind remembering nothing. It’s all just bricks in the wall now.
Yes my friends if only Heidegger could be with us today. What would he say I wonder? Would he be speechless? Or would he simply declare:
I saw it all coming. I told you what the oblivion of being leads to. The unearthing of the earth. The unworlding of the world. The devastation of the bonds between people. The setting place of an absolutely technical state or better, a bio technical state. Which orders and enframes all things, all available energies and resources putting them on standing reserve for general distribution and human consumption. I told you that when beings are abandoned by being they loose their density their power of resistance, their very thingness, and fall prey to objectification, exploitation, and manipulation. When being withdraws from the world the world becomes an unworld, no longer hospitable to human habitation.
Yes, Heidegger may say something like that if he ever returns from the grave. But I have a feeling that even he would be shocked and incredulous at just how monstrous the phenomena of planetary technicity has become. The machine is everywhere. With no way left to rage against it. What’s with the doom and gloom Harrison you ask? Things are better now than they’ve ever been looked at objectively. What’s all the fuss about you ask? The fuss my friends is about our relationship to the earth, about our being at home on the earth.
In an interview he gave in 1969 to the German magazine Der Speigel, Heidegger declared that we presume to control, direct, and regulate our technologies. In fact human beings do not control the inner drive that compels us to amass more and more technical capability and to enframe all beings in an ever expanding network of circulation and consumption. Technicity in it’s essence, he told his interviewers, is something that man does not master by his own power. His interviewers, playing dumb, asked Heidegger, but what must be mastered in this case? Everything is functioning. More and more electric power plants are being built. Production is up. In highly technologized places of the earth people are well cared for. We are living in a state of prosperity. What really is lacking to us?
To which Heidegger answered and I quote, “Everything is functioning that is precisely what is terrifying. That everything functions. That the functioning propels everything more and more toward further functioning. And that technicity increasingly dislodges man and uproots him from the earth.”
Well this uprooting is more or less complete in some places, still underway in others. But there is not a place on earth that escapes it. It my humble, but nevertheless entitled opinion, Martin Heidegger is the most important philosopher of the modern era. It is my distinct pleasure, if that’s the right word, to devote the next hour to discussing various aspects of his thought with a young and brilliant scholar who wrote his Doctoral dissertation on Heidegger and who has translated one of Heideggers books from German into English. Before I introduce him to you let me say, and I am fully aware that my opinion about Heidegger’s importance is controversial, and that Heidegger himself is controversial. I have nothing against putting him on trial. I have both prosecuted and defended him in the past. One day I’ll invite someone who is hostile to Heidegger on to this program and see where the debate might lead.
But our objective today is to introduce us to Heidegger, to review the path that his thinking took and to give us a sense of the kinds of problems his philosophy addressed. I like to squabble as much as the next man but despite the prevailing dogma among educators today squabbling is not the best method for coming to terms with a thinkers thought. In fact it’s one of the worst. So we’ll save the squabbling for another time.
Alright, as I mentioned I have with me in the studio a young scholar of Heidegger his name is Andrew Mitchell. He teaches here at Stanford in the IHUM program. Andrew thanks for joining us today.
2 AM @7:02/ Thanks for having me.
3 RH/ We’re going to talk about Heideggers career. Maybe starting from Being and Time his first kind of Magnum Opus and then move on to the later stuff but um … Andrew can you tell our listeners how you got interested in Heidegger in the first place? What drew you to him when you were a student? What drove you also to write a dissertation on him?
4 AM @7:28/ Well sure, it started in High School I would say it rose out of my interest in philosophy and my interest in philosophy itself rose through my preoccupation with literature. I was constantly reading Dosteyevsky, Kafka, Becket, Absurdist Theater especially. Everything that Grove Press published I would read. This led me to Nietzsche, Rilke as well these were two my first loves in philosophy and poetry, Nietzsche and Rilke. through further reading I encountered the name Heidegger, Heidegger. So it seemed to me that I should read, Heidegger. I started reading him …
5 RH/ In English?
6 AM/ … yes, certainly. And I was quite enamored, taken with it. I still remember when I first read the essay What is Metaphysics in the library and Heidegger asks this question about science, he says that science proceeds in a certain manner and nothing more, thinks in a certain way and nothing else. And then he asks but what is this nothing? And when he asked that the scales fell from my eyes and I knew I was going to read Heidegger for a long time to come.
In reading him however I found he was quite hostile to Nietzsche, quite hostile to Rilke. So, coming to terms with that in a sense was coming to terms with my own past. So, reading Heidegger, if it’s not too cliche to say, a voyage of self discovery in some regards.
7 RH @8:57/ Yeah, …I’m not sure I would use the word hostile when it comes to his reading of Rilke and Nietzsche. Clearly he wants to, he presumes to stand outside of their thinking or their poeticizing and to retrieve things that might be unspoken or unthought in them. I presume we’ll discuss this in the second half of the hour …
8 AM/ Sure, sure.
9 RH/ … of the way so much of Heideggers career is really a re-reading of the history of philosophy from his own sort if Heideggerean way.
So he impressed you enough that you went on to learn German. Did you learn German in order to read Heidegger? Is that the main reason that you …
10 AM/ Well I wouldn’t say that. Nietzsche probably, I was quite taken with Nietzsche as a stylist. German philosophy as a whole Hegel, Schopenhour. It seemed that if you wanted to study philosophy you needed to know German. That’s what led me to study German.
11 RH @9:56/ Okay. Andrew, let’s try to give out listeners a sense of … you don’t have to agree with me that he is the most important thinker of the modern era, but I think it’s relatively uncontroversial …
12 AM/ I do.
13 RH/ …that he is an important thinker. Okay?
14 AM/ Time Magazine said Wittgenstein.
15 RH/ Well it could be. It could be Wittgenstein. It could be anyone else.
16 AM/ It’s certainly Heidegger.
17 RH/ Yeah, for us. Let’s try to give our listeners a sense of what is momentus about his thinking. Starting with Being and Time. Which is a book that erupted on the scene in philosophy in Germany in 1926-27. Was really like a bombshell. What was it about that book that had such an impact at the time?
18 AM @10:42/ Well I think in Being and Time Heidegger moves from what could be considered a more arid phenomenology of Husserl to a conception of life and existence. So Being and Time has been taken as a corner stone of Existentialism, though Heidegger himself tries to distance himself from the term. What Being and Time added to the philosophical landscape I think is a certain persistence in questioning, a devotion to thinking that hadn’t been seen beforehand except perhaps, well Kant, Hegel … he returned philosophy to it’s roots I would say in this thinking of the question of being that he approached in an entirely new way.
19 RH @11:34/ Okay, let’s lay it out. So he in his introduction to Being and Time he says that we wants to raise a question that has not been asked since the time of Aristotle and Plato which is what is the meaning of being? That this word which we use all the time in all of our copulas and sentences with the word ‘is’ that although philosophers have always asked what is the being of beings, what is the essence of everything that is, Heidegger claims that the meaning of being, what we mean when we use the word being or even think of it as the essence of things, is a question that has laid dormant and not raised in the entire tradition of western philosophy. He wants to raise it again. Therefore Bring and Time is supposed to be the first step towards reawakening this question towards the meaning of being.
But then it takes the form, at least in the first parts, of this massive analysis of one specific being among others which is what he calls Dasien. German word, hard word to translate into English, but basically means us. It’s human existence, Dasien is literally being there. But it’s the human being. Why does Heidegger approach the question of the general meaning of being through this intensive analysis of who we are as human beings?
20 AM @12:59/ Yes. One thing I want to say prepratory to answering that question is that Being and Time is an incomplete work. The text as we have it is only a third of what Heidegger projected for the entirety. So to discuss, …the book is a fragment in some sense. It’s an artifact of a particular point in his career and he abandons it for philosophical reasons. The issue of being as articulated in Being and Time is formulated around Dasien as you said. And this is because being for him is nothing abstract, nothing general, but always something concrete, we could say. It takes place here. It’s for Dasein. It has, if there’s a meaning to being that meaning is in relation to Dasien. In relation to our existence.
21 RH @13:58/ And the reason presumably being that Dasien, if I remember correctly, he says is the one being whose own being is an issue for it …
22 AM/ Exactly.
23 RH/ … in a way that’s not the case presumably with other sorts of beings …
24 AM/ For a stone for example. It’s being is completely indifferent to it.
25 RH @14:17/ So when he, as he under takes this sort of analysis of what he calls the existential structures, namely the kind of universal basic foundation fundamental structures of Dasien, what does he find? Who are we in this existential, at this existential level of universality?
26 AM/ Well one thing he finds is that we are not ourselves, or not even most often ourselves. This is what he refers to as Das Man, the they. In the sense that, they say this is a good movie, they say you should see that. This impersonal existence he finds to be determinative of our existence. We flee from ourselves he says. Which isn’t a complete loss of ourselves. But most of the time we are not ourselves.
27 RH @15:10/ Yeah, but in order to understand why he says that we’re going to have to know what ourselves means to know what we’re running away from. What is it that we’re running away from? What is Dasien when it’s in what Heidegger calls it’s inauthentic modes of being? As you say the das man, the they self. What does inauthentic Dasien flee from?
28 AM/ Right and before answering that I just want to add that it’s not, it shouldn’t be taken as a moral evaluation …
29 RH @15:39/ No. I understand.
30 AM/ Yeah, inauthentic doesn’t mean inferior in any way …
31 RH/ I know. Heidegerreans are very fond, the first thing, everytime you talk about authenticity or inauthenticity Heideggereans just have to always come down on your heads saying these are not moral categories these are ontological categories. But frankly, Being and Time is pervaded with a bunch of terms that come out of a kind of moral lexicon. And there’s no way that you’ll ever convince me that inauthenticity doesn’t have some kind of moral overtone, but nevertheless, let’s just say it’s an ontological category …
32 AM @16:11/ (Laughs) Sure. It’s inescapable you’ll agree though?
33 RH/ Yes, but in any case, what …
34 AM/ Inauthenticity would be, simply put, understanding yourself on the basis of objects. Thinking of yourself as a thing. In a sense you could say, if you believe your life to be completely determined, you are treating yourself as a thing. If you loose yourself in the world, this is almost an Augustinian theme in Heidegger, you’re treating yourself as an object. And so this objectification of existence is inauthentic. It’s a misunderstanding, a misrecognition of who we are and how we exist.
35 RH @16:53/ Again, but the question is, who are we? What is this self misunderstanding a misunderstanding of? In other words I’m trying to get us to talk about what would Dasien in it’s authenticity consist in? That causes us to flee from it in what Heidegger calls anxiety, angst?
36 AM/ We exist in a completely destabilized, desubstantialized manner. We don’t have an essence. This is one of the key thesis of Being and Time that the essence of Dasien lies in it’s existence. Which is to say that our being is always nothing that we have, that we posses. It’s not a predicate, but rather we always have it to be. It’s futural in this regard. We always have our being to be. That absence of an essence, that lack of a pre-established or pre-programmed direction or path can be troubling to people and cause them to flee.
37 RH/ Here I think your approaching, timidly, the whole question of Dasien’s temporality. Let me phrase it the way I would put it, that Dasien is not a thing. It doesn’t have a being which can be possessed or even conceptualized as such and to say that Dasien’s essence is in it’s existence I see as, I understand existence to mean that Dasien is temporally dynamic, that it’s thrown into a world which is not of it’s own choosing, and once it’s thrown into the world it finds itself projected beyond itself into possibilities. Almost all of Dasien’s everyday activities are projects of some sort or another, as banal as driving to work, and you know that you are driving to work in order to get there. Doing that work in order to make a salary, your making a salary so that your kids can get an education and in the final analysis Dasien is always finding itself projected beyond itself temporally in it’s existence. There is this whole realm of possibilities that we’re projected into.
38 AM @19:13/ And this is a key point. That Heidegger’s notion of self in Being and Time shatters the traditional metaphysical notion of a encapsulated subject. This self is already temporally ecstatic, temporally outside of itself. And this outside of itself is it’s entry into the world that Dasien exists essentially, if we can use that term, in the world.
39 RH/ Right. This is, …let’s talk about that because Heidegger says one of the basic existential structures of Dasein is being in the world. Dasein is always a being in the world. What does he mean by that exactly?
40 AM @19:56/ Well, if you compare this with Descartes and The Meditations on First Philosophy, there Descartes says that if we want to really understand ourselves, if we want to understand what the subject is, the ‘I‘ is, then we need to extract it from it’s environment. We need to remove it from it’s surroundings so that we can better see it for what it purely is. The subject that he envisions is an extractable, encapsulated subject. He goes so far as to even eliminate the imagination as being part of the self because this is too closely allied to the sense organs and the impressions they receive. So Heideggers notion of the subject, contra this, is that it’s always within this world of projects, of concerns, that it’s being is always at issue for it, that it’s always confronted with other beings. It’s always exposed to others, to things. It always runs the risk of mistaking itself for one of these things. …
41 RH @21:08/ It’s embedded in other words. It’s embedded in it’s body in it’s projects in it’s environment and ultimately on the earth.
42 AM/ Right. And this is why mood is so important in Being and Time. Because mood is something that philosophy as a whole has overlooked. In Being and Time Heidegger gives great pride of place to mood. If we think about this, mood is not something that we have at our disposal. You can’t make yourself happy on a moments notice. You can’t make yourself sad. It’s something that comes over you from outside of you. For Heidegger this seeming passivity, though this would be perhaps the wrong term, this passivity of the self is just as important as every other aspect.
43 RH/ What’s the German word for mood?
44 AM/ Stimmung.
45 RH/ Stimmung. What does that mean? Isn’t it a musical metaphor?
46 AM/ Yeah, tuning, atunement.
47 RH/ Atunement, yeah. That’s why I, …I think atunement would probably be a better translation of stimmung than mood although what he really does mean is mood. But to understand our moods as a form of atunement, … I agree with you that’s one of the great insights of Being and Time that Dasein is never without it’s mood and it’s never without an atunement to it’s world and to others. I agree with you as well this is one of the most under thematized if not non-thematized existentiale in philosophy. So it’s true that it mood comes in and that mood is linked to the body as well in many ways, no? There’s also, it has a biorythmical foundation …
48 AM @22:55/ Yeah, I think so. And Heidegger as an understanding of the body which obviously can’t view it as simply an object at our disposal or a tool that we use.
49 RH @23:03/ Okay, so we have Dasein that’s always a being in the world. The world is it’s ‘da‘ or it’s ‘there’. Dasein meaning literally: being there. Therefore we start from this presupposition that Dasein is always situated. It’s never, it doesn’t have this Cartesian capacity to be an abstract entity
50 AM/ It’s not extractable …
51 RH/ not extractable, not, it’s never disembodied in other words. So it’s in the world. We also said that it’s temporally ecstatic, I mean we’re projected into the future, into possibilities of the future, but we’re also thrown into a world and we’re thrown into a world that was there before we got into it. That comes with a whole baggage and past. We find ourselves already in the world in the sense of having inherited
52 AM @24:00/ We’re finite in other words.
53 RH/ So, yeah, we have a being that is as you were saying earlier is always outside of itself. In one form or another.
So, this temporal structure that Dasien has is finite. That’s the a very important word that you just used there. To speak Heidegger’s language Dasien is transcendent it’s always self transcending but it’s finitely self transcendent, no?
54 AM/ …… yes.
55 RH/ What is the importance of finitude in the temporal equation?
56 AM @24:43/ Well, this touches on a theme I know to be dear to your heart: death. Dasein doesn’t have it’s death once again. No one has their death. Our death is always ahead of us. And so in Being and Time Heidegger speaks about our being toward death.
57 RH/ Yeah, what’s that mean, being toward death? Being unto death I think was the old, older translation
58 AM/ Siens im Toda, We don’t have death as a possesion. When death is there we’re not there. This is a thesis you could find in Epicurus for example. But what Heidegger does with this is say that as long as we are alive something is outstanding. And what is outstanding is death, but death is precisely what is most our own. No one can die in my place. People can teach my classes for me, people can drink my alcohol for me, but no one can die for me. So this is inextricably my own and yet paradoxically perhaps, I never have it. I don’t posses it. What’s most my own is this outstanding
59 RH/ …possibility.
60 AM/ …death. And that itself is a shattering or an opening of the subject, of the self into this world.
61 RH @26:05/ Yeah, Heidegger calls death my own most possibility of being, which is founded upon an impossibility of being because once you die you are no more. Dasien’s who comes to an end with it’s biological death which I don’t agree with by the way. I’m Heidegerrean enough in many respects, but I also don’t agree with what he says that you repeated that no one can die for me …
64 AM @26:33/ Someone can die for you?
65 RH/ …I, well, put it this way, anthropologically speaking if you were to ask a uh … I don’t mean just someone heroically dying so that I can live on, no. But that it’s, …if you ask a believing Christian whether Christ’s death on the cross was not an instance of someone dying for me, then, so that I could live
66 AM/ Right, or part of my rejoining Christ dying would entail my own death so that I could rise again …
67 RH/ Well exactly…
68 AM/ … to heaven.
69 RH/ Yes.
70 AM/ So even though Christ dies, in my name perhaps, I still have my own life to live, my own death to die.
71 RH @27:15/ Yes, well it depends on how you read someone like St. Paul where he says that Christ died so that we can live again. …anyway, we don’t want to get into that. It’s not the only, that’s not the basis of my…
72 AM/ St. Paul died didn’t he?
73 RH/ …Uh , …my skepticism about the fact that no one can die for me is that, or no one can die in my stead … someone can die in my stead I suppose, but that it makes my death a completely individual event that separates me from others, isolates me, in fact Heidegger says that death is that which individuates Dasein radically, no?
74 AM @27:58/ Right … and there are different ways one can interpret these passages in Being and Time however. One could say that through this relationship to death I loose relationships with others but I loose my inauthentic relations with others. I know longer see others as replaceable beings or myself as one just like them. In realizing my own uniqueness, let’s say, my own singularity, there’s a transformation of the world as well. So, in recognizing myself as an open self, an open subject, I’m actually able to entertain relationships with others. I’m already relationally disposed them. As opposed to an understanding of the self as being encapsulated and would have nothing, would have no way of escaping itself in order to communicate with another. So I think death is the possibility of being with others.
75 RH @28:57/ Well I like it when you say it that way. And I’ll go along with that. As long as we can account for the fact that traditionally in almost all cultures the event of death is one of the most communal collective social ritualized events that brings entire communities together around the mourning rituals and so forth
77 RH/ Yes, and this is where one would need to give Heideggers ontology a little bit of an anthropological supplement.
But let’s keep the focus on the point which is that this is astonishing that a philosopher of Heideggers caliber, because he was already well known by 1927. He comes out with this book Being and Time in which things like my being unto death, my authenticity, he also speaks about the call of conscience. That if Dasein is going to embrace it’s own authenticity it’s going to have to hear this call of conscience which he says is coming to me out of the very nullity or nothingness of my being. He speaks about anxiety and all these things that had such a resonance for these people which wasn’t that long after World War 1. Very very unusual for highbrow academic philosophy to be talking about these highly existentially charged concepts.
78 AM @30:22/ Exactly, and this what distinguished it from Husserl’s phenomenology in a certain regard. It’s concrete. It’s real. It’s about life and how we live it.
79 RH/ Before we move on from Being and Time, obviously we are just scratching the surface. The text is such a complex one. In the question of the meaning of being 4 the Dasein analysis serves I think to emphasize the fact that it’s really Dasein’s finite transcendence, it’s temporality, it’s being projected beyond itself into all these possibilities, that all this, let’s say these recessive, absential dimensions that surround the moment of presence past future and so forth, possibility instead of reality, that this creates a distance, it gives Dasein a distance from the immediate involvement with things and it’s able to disclose the world or the horizon of intelligibility give it access to what Heidegger will then call, you know, the being of beings. So, it’s really through an analysis of Dasein that he puts himself on the track to ask that fundamental question, no?
80 AM/ Right, and one thing I would add is that perhaps we speak a little too strongly if we say that Dasein is embedded in the world. One of the things that Heidegger wants to maintain is that there is also, the world itself is composed of differences and distances. His criticism of Neitzsche of Rilke and also of Ernst Junger is that their ideal figures their ideal subjects are completely a piece of the world they blend seamlessly into that world and in so doing annihilate the world.
81 RH @32:17/ Andrew, after Being and Time, Heideggers career takes a so called turn. Not everyone agrees that there is a Heidegger one and a Heidegger two but clearly something happens in the 30’s he has that moment where he’s um, he embraces the national socialist movement. Becomes the rector of Freiburg University. that ends up in a kind of disaster. Do you agree with the kind of orthodoxy that there is a turn in Heideggers thinking somewhere in the late 30’s early 40’s?
82 AM @32:53/ Well, yes and no. It depends what’s at stake in this notion of a turn. On the one hand I would say no. In so far as Heideggers thinking has always been from the outset to the very end a thinking of the co-belonging of Dasein or the mortal and being, a thinking of this difference or spacing.
On the other hand there is a definite shift in his thinking in the 30’s and we can even speak more specifically and say around the time of his Contributions To Philosophy, , here I think what becomes more prominent more emphatic than before is the role of history. In the text that I translated, Four Seminars, Heidegger says that Being and Time lacked a proper sense of History. In these works of the 30’s Heidegger develops what he calls a being historical thinking. Here, the history of philosophy of metaphysics is no longer thought so much as the history of an era or the history of a lie or a force of sedimentation that covers over a truth that has to be exposed again or brought to light. Instead he sees this covering if you will of metaphysics as essential to the question of being itself. In other words being is no longer thought of without concealment. This wasn’t, this isn’t the opposite of what he says in Being and Time in anyway, but the emphasis changes.
83 RH @34:42/ The emphasis changes also away from Dasien as the very center of the focus to being as such, no? He gets away from the existentialist, at least the lexicon of Being and Time, whereas not necessarily the issue as you were saying.
84 AM/ Right, there’s a certain subjectivism you could say of Being and Time that he wants to avoid. The whole apparatus of Being and Time, the structure of the book itself is thoroughly metaphysical we could say. Heidegger only wrote very few books. What he published were often essay collections, lectures, slightly revised lecture courses, but apart from Being and Time, maybe Kant and the Problem of Metaphyics there’s not much …
85 RH @35:27/ That’s very interesting about Heidegger. Even Being and Time he was forced really to come out with it in order to get tenure or to what we would call tenure …
86 AM/ a post.
87 RH/ to get a post in philosophy. And a lot of it was based on his lecture notes. He very rarely did he actually write a book as such. In that sense I think he’s a very pure philosopher in the Socratic tradition.
88 AM/ He’s not a thinker of the book, not a philosopher of the book.
89 RH/ There is some place where he says that …it’s a mystery why all thinkers after Socrates were fugitives into the art of writing. And that Socrates was like the only pure philosopher who philosophized strictly by word of mouth or in the lecture or in the room, the marketplace ..
90 AM/ the agora.
91 RH/ I think Heidegger, if he’d had his druthers I think he would never have published a book as such. But nevertheless, fortunately we have all those lectures.
93 AM/ One other thing I think needs to be mentioned in regards to this turn in his thinking is that he changes his conception of being, being for him comes to be a matter of withdrawal and …
94 RH @38:41/ Okay, let’s specify before we go on. The way I understand it from Being and Time, being comes to mean Dasein’s ecstatic projectionality that enables Dasein to come back from the kind of absence, these regions of absentialism and render present things as they are. Being is not something out there on it’s own it’s something that as you were saying in the opening it’s in radical relation to Dasien. It’s Dasein’s relationality to things that discloses the realm of being. So how does it differ later?
95 AM @37:20/ Well in a sense it becomes more radicalized. More finite even. Because Dasein’s opening on to the world has the risk of sounding like a willful endeavor. As though Dasien were completely in control and that Dasein determined being in some way. The transition or the change in Heidegger’s thinking is to see that there’s also a movement on the part of being that’s beyond Dasein’s control. So you have these two interrelated, embricated movements simultaneously. This idea of withdrawal just briefly put: if you think of being as a whole or as a single sphere, in an almost Parmenidean manner, then there would be no differences no space no room in that. Withdrawal, the first moment makes the world of differences and distances possible by evacuating that area. But, the shift that we have to understand is that withdrawal is actually a way that the things exist. They exist in this withdrawn manner. Which is to say they exist partially, they are not whole or discreet or encapsulated things but everything itself is opened into this space of the world. And that’s sort of what Heidegger thinks under the notion of withdrawal which is an incredibly technical moment or intense moment of this Contributions to Philosophy.
96 RH @39:10/ Yeah, and but I think Heideggereans often have a tendency to mystify the retreat of being, withdrawal of being. I like the way you put it that the withdrawal of being is something that is constitutive of things themselves in the world. In other words there’s something about a tree or another person where I can not fully appropriate. There is a distance there. There is a certain resistance. And an opacity, no?
97 AM @39:40/ Right, and that same distance is what allows us to relate to the tree, allows the tree to concern us.
98 RH/ It’s like Jean Paul Sarte said in Being and Nothingness he says that if the chess board were completely full you could never have a game. It’s only when you take a thing out you have a hole, now all these things become possible because there is a void there. Likewise in our relation to things if there’s not a distance we could never know them as what they are.
And being is nothing but knowing things as what they are.
99 AM @40:09/ And the point I’m making about withdrawal is that it’s not that we take away a few of the pieces and that whole pieces remain it’s that all of the pieces can’t be thought of as complete or encapsulated pieces. Withdrawal permeates them.
100 RH/ Right. Exactly. And this is where I think that his Origin of the Work of Art, which is a fundamental essay on aesthetics, I think he points out, I mean its very difficult for people to read and the language is very technical, but I don’t know if I would be over trivializing to say that for Heidegger art works remind us that things are not radically available totally at our disposal, but that the art work shows that no matter how much I try to grasp whatever’s being painted or the statue, that there something that draws away from me and it’s the power, the beauty of it is precisely the fact that I cannot hold it in my hands in a tangible way. It gives itself on the one hand but gives itself as you say, partially. Any art work that doesn’t throw into relief the extent to which things are available to me only in this shrouded, shrouded might be the wrong metaphor.
101 AM/ Most utilitarian manner possible that everything would be either a tool or a stone, that idea is …
102 RH @41:36/ And since these discussion go really quickly Andrew and we don’t have that much time left we, why don’t we just take this into the question of technology with which we began at the beginning at least with my opening remarks. That if the artwork is something that shows things have as you say this lethic dimension, this withdrawing distance, technology as Heidegger understands it in his famous essay The Question Concerning Technology wants to insist that everything is radically available and disposable to us.
103 AM @42:12/ And Heidegger views this as the culmination of metaphysics. Metaphysics as the history of philosophy has constantly mis-understood being, if you could say. It has overlooked this partial character of existence that we’ve just mentioned and seen complete presence. That becomes hypostasized in to …
104 RH/ Now you have to explain to our listeners what that word means. Go on. “Hypostazised” it’s an old theological term actually.
105 AM @42:45/ (Laughs) Let’s say that things become reified into …
106 RH/ That means objectified.
107 AM/ Yeah, objectified into, well objects that are held to be discreet entities. Technology is the culmination of this transformation in things into sheer presences. Where in technology everything becomes completely available at our disposal. Heidegger talks about it in terms of ordering and availability. The internet is the perfect example of this. Everything is available. Everything is at our disposal. Everything is replaceable. If you loose a watch you can buy the exact same one.
108 RH @43:29/ So, you know that I share your unease at that technology, modern technology, technicity, especially contemporary bio-technicity. But I don’t think a lot of people share our kind of anxiety and so if i were to play the devil’s advocate, because again say well what’s wrong with using our ingenuity as human beings to create a technology that gives us complete mastery and possession of the earth. That puts all of it’s resources, makes them all available for our own ends which we always want to believe are good ends. What’s wrong with substitutability. The endless availability of things for our own consumption.
109 AM @44:19/ Well, this is an age old response that has to do with the dis-enchantment of the world we could say. That what we find so agreeable about existence is the singularity of it. The uniqueness of it. The specificity of it. It’s precisely that specificity and singularity that paradoxically enough we’re able to share with others. Through this communication with others. Technology which Heidegger also thinks is a way of thinking or approaching the world that thinks in terms of values. When something has a value or price it becomes replaceable by something else of equal value or equal price, drains the world of the very distinctions that we would like to attribute to it.
So if we say that God, for example, is the greatest being then we’ve degrading God by making him or it comparable with other things. The same idea holds for technology. What technology does for the world. It makes our existence into a homogenized prepackaged existence and takes the surprise of the world away from us.
110 RH @45:50/ We should make it clear that Heidegger was not a Luddite and that he wasn’t a, you know, the Unabomber, his critique of technology was also part of his reading of the history of philosophy as you said, of the history of metaphysics. He believed that every major epoch in western history had a certain mode in which things reveal themselves to Dasein. That somehow with modern metaphysics, Descartes and so forth, that the technology was a, that the essence of technology, which he called technicity was an epochal way in which things revealed themselves revealed themselves to us as always at our disposal. Are there to be brought into a system of a network of endless circulation and availability. So this he said the way that things reveal themselves are not dependent upon us they are dependent upon what he called the history of being whatever that means. That there is no way to fight against the evils of technology or excesses of it. We’re going to have to wait for the era to change and somehow things will show a different side of themselves to us then they do at present.
111 AM @47:13/ One other thing I would point out in regards to the technology issue is that the technological approach short changes ourselves as well. We place ourselves in the position of mastery. We have to be that master. Everything is at our disposal. Everything is according to our will. The history of metaphysics is the history of the will for Heidegger. In so doing that we eliminate from our own reality all the wonderful passions, pathoi, and passivities, of life that are so pleasurable.
112 RH @47:52/ I think something much more sinister and diabolical has been going on in the last decade that Heidegger, he died in ’76 I beleive, probably couldn’t have suspected. But it’s the way that the, this framing of all things is not just the world of objects or ourselves as consumers, but now with uh, biotechnology, the way in which we’re going right into the very fabric of life, presuming again to be the total masters, to play God, in fact that’s just how Heidegger understands technology, rendering concrete the power of God. In terms of this, the means of production. To do this with life itself, the biotic, and to without anyone really and the moral issues surrounding the biotechnology are so primitive compared to the complexity of the phenomena… I was reading this morning that some scientists have found ways to extract stem cells without compromising embryos and so this is supposed to solve the moral problem that it’s all about aborting embryo’s or not aborting. This is NOT the issue my friends. The issue is who the hell are we to go into the very constituency of the biotic and start playing around and recreating the world as if we are the masters of that destiny. We KNOW that we’re not and yet there is a drive, what’s so profound for me about Heidegger’s thing about technology is that there’s a drive there of which we are not in control. For the most part we are not even aware. It might be, I think one would have to conjugate it with Freud’s notion of the death drive to maybe do full justice to the demonic element of contemporary technicity.
113 AM @49:55/ Yes, Heidegger thinks this out of Nietszche. This is one of his strongest criticisms of Nietzsche and I agree that his reading of Nietzsche he’s not necessarily hostile to Nietzsche because Nietzsche cannot be the complete decimation of philosophy or of being, his views can’t reflect that because that would be the end of being and being is never wholly present or wholly absent in this manner, but to return to this point regarding technology. It’s as if we were trying to secure ourselves so much from anything different from us that we end up erecting so many mirrors around us only to reflect back ourselves.
If we were going to add something from Freud I would also add a theorization of narcissism because it seems that we want to be all that there is and there will be nothing outside of us. No others. It will be a program of complete homogenization. This is in a sense what people fear in globalization as well. I think Heidegger is a precursor to the thinking of globalization.
114 RH @51:02/ I agree with you, I agree with you. What do you think, I began with this sentence that I came across in the preface to this second edition to Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics where he’s giving all the kind of bibliographical information, the year and then there’s just that one sentence which I read at the beginning it just pops out of nowhere:
The growing and unacknowledged anxiety in the face of thinking no longer allows insight into the oblivion of being which determines the age.
115 AM/ Yeah, that’s a heady sentence isn’t it. The preface to the third edition of Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics also says that the reading of philosophers has to be a violent reading if it’s to do any justice to them. So when I said that he had a hostile reading of Nietzsche that’s what I meant.
But to return to this question of what Heidegger means by thinking here. For him thinking is a matter of letting yourself be exposed to something beyond you in some way. It’s not a matter of conceptualizing or comprehending in a sense of a completely grasping something in hand, literally what the word comprehending would entail. Instead of letting yourself be exposed to the matter of thought letting yourself be atuned to that matter and not dominating it, letting it be, we could say to use another Heideggerean term. What I think he’s getting at in that sentence, that pithy sentence you read is that comprehension cannot comprehend … what was the word he used? …the abyss of being or …
116 RG @52:52/ The oblivion of being, but he also speaks about the anxiety in the face of thinking. Do you think that there is this anxiety in the face of thinking today?
117 AM @52:59/ Oh certainly, certainly. Especially anyone whose in philosophy faces this because philosophy is precisely not a matter of calculation or reckoning. It can’t provide certain answers, it can’t provide results. Anytime it does it’s not thinking any longer. Thinking is not, … we could look at Being and Time, it’s a book of thought and all it wants to do is figure out how to ask the question what is the meaning of being and it can’t even get a third of the way there. That’s thinking. Thinking is a failure. It can’t be useful.
118 RH @53:40/ And this anxiety in the face of thinking, I have to ask you because I read this brilliant essay you wrote, that’s just come out in the Research in Phenomenology on Heidegger and Terrorism…
119 AM/ Thank you.
120 RH/ …where you talk about terrorism not just abstractly but also the real phenomenon that we know as terrorism and relate the age of terror to this anxiety that we might have that being has abandoned beings and that is something ultimately terrifying and what convinced me in your essay is that we have, we don’t acknowledge the extent to which we are terrified by the era to which we belong. And I would say that is because we are terrified that terrorists can actually successfully spawn terror in our psyches.
121 AM @54:38/ Yeah, yeah. Definitely, and one thing I would add to that is that the effect of terrorism isn’t in the actual bombings or the destruction that takes place but in the threat. What terrorism can be understood as an ontological issue, a matter of being. In the sense that everything is a potential target. Everything and everyone could be the victim of the next terrorist attack. That’s very hard to wrap your head around. To do so requires no longer thinking of ourselves as separate beings that would then be destroyed by some outside force that would fall upon them or not fall upon them. Instead it changes the very nature of being itself in so far as things now exist as terrorized. Which is to say that the threat of their destruction is constitutive of how they are. They’re no longer stable objective presences.
122 RH @55:46/ “Things exist as terrorized”, that’s uh, that’s a really beautiful way to understand what Heidegger would call the abandonment of being, of the world , no?
123 AM/ I think terrorism gives us an opportunity to think. To think being as no longer discreet encapsulated entities but as threatened and as threatened somehow unstable, destabilized, opened.
124 RH/ So since we only have a just a couple of minutes left do you thinks it’s through awakening a sense of terror or a heightened awareness of the threat that hangs over the whole story the whole world that it’s only through exasperating the terror that there can be a the possibility of stepping outside of the frame of technicity and maybe finding a way to allow beings to reveal themselves in other modes than just as available for our own consumption.
125 AM @56:55/ Well, …yes. I do. That’s hard to say because … on the one hand it seems that things keep getting worse …
126 RH/ Obviously we don’t mean that we need terrorist bombs or anything, clearly were talking about atuning ourselves to this other sort of what Heidegger calls this anxiety in the face of thinking.
127 AM @57:24/ Right, things get worse and worse and things seem bleaker and bleaker and I think for Heidegger they can always get worse. They can continue to get worse. That’s what;s so disturbing. But because they can continue to get wo rse there’s always also this possibility that they’re not yet completely annihilated. They’re not yet completely destroyed. There’s still a call to responsibility. To find that, to be sensitive to our responsibilities in this age is an uplifitng thought. I think. And so within terrorism, within the destruction around us there’s still cause for …
128 RH/ Don’t say hope. That’s the wrong word.
129 AM/ …celebration
130 RH/ Celebration. The famous line of Holderlin that Heidegger is so fond of is of there where the uh …
131 AM/ Danger…
132 RH @58:20/ Where the danger is the saving power also grows. We have to hope that that’s true because we certainly have plenty of danger around us to deal with.
133 AM/ That’s the nature of danger.
134 RH/ Yes. Well Andrew it’s really been a pleasure to talk to you about Heidegger. We’re going to talk about Heidegger a lot on this program I imagine if it continues into the future so …
135 AM/ I’ll be listening.
136 RH/ Yeah, you’ll be listening and you’ll be coming back I hope.
137 AM/ Thank you.
138 RH/ So thanks again and to all you listeners this has been Entitled Opinions with Robert Harrison if you want to know more about this program we have a webpage. Just log on to the homepage of the Stanford French and Italian Department. That will refer you to our Homepage of Entitled Opinions where you can also listen to previous programs online. We also podcast believe it or not, Not through the Stanford system but just through the itunes so you can just log in to itunes and the music store and you’ll find Entitled Opinions.
Thanks again. We’ll see you next week.