I’ve long enjoyed Heidegger’s Hölderlinian notion of fourfold, which shows through several versions within Heidegger’s work, and I’ve created many varieties of it, over the decades. [The essence of this posting became “fourfolding,” August 3, a bit shorter than this one.]
So, I hope that Andrew Mitchell’s new book, The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger, is insightful (available any day now, but not yet) because I want good resources for referral to others—and I’d like a brother-in-scholarship.
But the publisher description of the book is disappointing. I might just let that go and wait to see the book—buy a prima facie unappealing book? I’m inclined to pass on it.
But Mitchell is working to make himself a go-to guy for late-life Heidegger scholarship. I should buy the book in order to have an opinion on it, as resource for others? Let another book on Heidegger go its way, and I go mine? I do have enough to do.
Anyway, comments below, relative to the book description, could be useful, for the sake of the topic itself (Heidegger fourfolding) and as a wager that the book description is exactly accurate. I’ll soon see how wrong I am about that—but not wrong about fourfolding, I bet. (The book’s table of contents corroborates the book description.)
I want to address parts of the book description without offering the entire book description until the end here (though you see the whole thing easily on the publisher site, if you choose). This way, you see extendedly what goes through my mind quickly when I “pick up” the book by first seeing its publisher description. Yet, the usefulness of this is not what goes through my mind. The usefulness is the occasion to dwell a bit on Heidegger’s use of fourfold figuration for poetic thinking that avoids ontologism.
The description begins: “Heidegger’s later thought is a thinking of things,” but this is contradicted by the next sentence: “Heidegger understands these things in terms of what he names ‘the fourfold’.” If Heidegger understands things in terms of the fourfold—which is accurate—then his later thought is a thinking of the fourfold through things, not a thinking of things.
You might think: I’m over-reading a mere book description. But an apparent error in the first sentence is directly corroborated by a later part of the description—though not all of the description is relevant to my point above. I'll get to that later here.
Mitchell usefully refers to the fourfold as “a convergence of relationships bringing together the earth, the sky, divinities, and mortals,” but this is not a “neglected aspect of Heidegger’s later thought.” Numerous books have addressed Heidegger’s poetic thinking of later life.
But it’s a matter of sales here. Fine. Yet, Heidegger’s sense of fourfold is well-known.
[The book description may be an example of ethical duplicity: misrepresenting something (or oneself) in business harmlessly for the sake of an instrumental end that serves the business. (You know that I'm associating to Heidegger's administrative activity: constructive engagement for the sake of getting bureaucratic needs met, not for the sake of sharing values. Here's something relevant that I came across today: "Instrumental Normativity: In Defense of the Transmission Principle," Ethics, Vol. 125, No. 4, July 2015; abstract available)]
Anyway, I want the advent of Mitchell’s book to be thought-educive for me (the notion of being “thought-provoking” is a wrong-headed translation for What Is Called Thinking?, Ger: c1954 / Eng: c1968).
The book is subtitled “Reading...”—Mitchell reading—it is his “... entrée to the full landscape of Heidegger’s postwar thinking, offering striking new interpretations of the atomic bomb, technology, plants, animals, weather, time, language, the holy, mortality, dwelling, and more.” Mitchell’s off the hook: The book is about Mitchell reading Heidegger, not committed thereby to fidelity to Heidegger’s work. Of course he claims fidelity to the text, in going his own way. I go mine, too. Mitchell’s a stylist; I’m a stylist. Let’s all provide entrées to full landscapes and be strikingly worthwhile reading.
But I suspect that we quickly part ways, seeing a different text, regardless of how any two readers would do something different on their own with the “same” text. I doubt that we read a similar “Heidegger.” Is the text just a pretext for creative reading? There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as one is honest about it: Mitchell reading…
We probably see quickly-dissimilar “Heidegger”s because “what results is a conception” that is nothing new. The book description does not suggest that “things as ecstatic, relational, singular” was clearly at work with Heidegger in Being and Time and other work of pre-War years, not new to later thought. I’ll presume that Mitchell agrees that he’s working in continuity with early Heidegger; and that the publisher suppresses that for the sake of giving the book “new” purpose worth buying.
Anyway, people commonly don’t realize that Dasein itself is relationality—not primarily that Dasein relates to things—yes, that, too—but more importantly, primarily: Dasein itself is relationality (capable of differentiating others/things as relating with oneself), done in Being and Time beyond Husserl's egoism or transcendental subjectivity which self-concealed the basis of intersubjectivity: Dasein. And presencing is possibly ecstatic; this is a keynote of Being and Time. Also, ownmost potential of ecstatic relationality is singular. Fourfolding is an exemplification of ecstatic ownmost relationality in Hölderlinian terms.
So, if Mitchell doesn’t show that he’s extending the thinking of Being and Time, then he will miss what Heidegger explicitly stated in 1962 to Wm. J. Richardson (in the letter that I provided earlier): The thinking of so-called “Heidegger II” (later Heidegger) was already going on with “Heidegger I.” This stance toward his career was a keynote of his letter. This "later" as implicit to the earlier results from the fact that experimenting with conceptual paradigms was going on with Being and Time, just not evident as such, as Being and Time anticipated its conceptuality as worthy of "fundamental ontology," which turned out to be untenable to him.
Heidegger later in life is trying new ways to introduce readers to his experimentality of thinking, not leaving earlier thinking behind. In particular, Being and Time experimented with new paradigms that were popular in the 1920s, and later experimenting with Hölderlin’s fourfold is about something available to Heidegger before Being and Time. The simpler paradigm later in life gives guidance for how to read Heidegger experimenting earlier in life with standard philosophical conceptualities of the times. Correlatively, the keynote figuration of “The Essence of Truth,” which is a dyadity of “setting forth” and “setting up,” is exhibited later in his career by setting forth his thinking through set-ups of fourfolding.
If you appreciate Heidegger's simple plays with fourfold (in several essays that he gave primary attention to, for translation into English before he died), then you’ll better appreciate his complex play in Being and Time that is a grand effort to shape a comprehensive phenomenological “psychology” (without psychologism of the times—beyond Jaspers's psychologism, in particular) which “went too far too soon,” Theodore Kisiel quotes Heidegger as confessing later (“The Demise of Being and Time,” Heidegger's Being and Time: Critical Essays, 2005). I’m sure that most every Heidegger scholar would balk at my association to some comprehensive phenomenological psychology, but I gladly beg the question of what psychology now rightly deserves to be conceived to be (in light of cognitive science), what being phenomenological is (in light of relational psychoanalysis and decades of literary hermeneutical work beyond Husserl), and what is comprehensiveness (in light of contemporary cross-disciplinary work). Heidegger sought what was too early to tenably seek. But he did his best to experiment with the conceptions available to him.
The fourfold is a manner of dramatizing holism about ultimacy, in terms of Hölderlin’s Grecian fiction, for the sake of opening confines of thinking beyond metaphysicalism. Fourfolding is a generativity of living “ultimacy,” beyond supernaturalism. (Scholars who are looking for Heidegger’s primordial axiomaticity of conceptuality—a “Heideggerian philosophy” or strictly “Heideggerian thought”—are still pining for metaphysicalism or ontologism.)
Anyway (I love “Anyway,…”), the publisher of Mitchell’s book evidently thinks that writing “most provocatively” is what we need. Partisans of German dialectics are especially fond of being provocative. We’ll see how Mitchell sets out to be provocative, how insightful that is, and how helpful to one’s thinking in fairness with Heidegger that provocativeness is.
Evidently Mitchell finds thinking of things to prevail over thinking of the fourfold, since Mitchell proffers “a conception of things...as intrinsically tied to their own technological commodification.” But Heidegger held no such view of things. Commodification is a distortion of things, not an intrinsic feature. Heidegger’s thinking of fourfold is not about reification (“technological commodification”).
Heidegger’s initial version of his essay “The Thing” (one of his most important late-life essays) was about how things are not intrinsically technological commodification, and it was after “The Thing” that Heidegger took up the reification of things (in the lecture series where the first version of "The Thing" lecture was presented—a series that Mitchell translated into English: Bremen and Freiburg Lectures). After "The Thing," Heidegger introduced his analysis of reified things, “The Enframing” (which Mitchell translated as “Positionality”—a mistake, in my view; but that’s another story). The apt point here is that the difference between lectures, “The Thing” and “Enframing,” is at least that Heidegger wants to convey an understanding of things prior to their being commodified. Things should not be understood as "intrinsically tied to...commodification."
The publisher says that Mitchell’s new book is “a major new work”—a publisher would say that (and I hope it’s true!)—“a major new work that resonates beyond the confines of Heidegger scholarship.” What confines? Heidegger scholarship has been all over the map for decades! Confines result when one fails to see the intrinsic open-endedness of Heidegger’s conceptual experimentations.
[Confines are the projected constraints that cause silly views of what was actually Heidegger as emancipatory administrator (an improvised authorship, so to speak), as if silliness was intrinsic to his thinking (his career of authoriality). But his philosophical work anticipates no administrative calling. Anyhow, Mitchell knows confines: He welcomed Peter Trawny to Atlanta last fall to talk with scholars about those “Black Notebooks” that are available to no one in English, but which now have a mythical life of their own as cultural meme. My god, the notebooks are black! Spooky!—textual objects alienated from their authoriality by scholastic enframing, made into being "standing reserve" for careerist regard of sketches as needing exorcism. Now, Mitchell is translating Trawny’s bizarre piece of careerism. I saw Trawny trying to defend his book at the Hannah Arendt Center, April 2014. He looked foolish trying to defend his serendipitous constellating. The enframing of the Considerations is being set up for later marketing translations of those.]
Back on Earth: “The Fourfold proposes nothing less than a new phenomenological thinking of relationality and mediation for understanding the things around us.” But do we need a new phenomenological thinking; or do we need a thinking that is True to Heidegger’s project in the first place? (Heidegger distanced himself from phenomenology after 1930 or so; see “My Way to Phenomenology,” On Time and Being, and the letter to Richardson.) A common ploy in scholarship is to misread the other in order to warrant a “new” approach—or a “revision”—which actually (concealed from the scholar) gets closer to the original other, but in the guise of a "scholarship" that wants tenure. (If Heidegger is easily framed as untenable, then new thinking is imperative!—and marketable.)
One thing’s clear to me: Heidegger was less interested in “understanding the things around us” (though surely interested also in that!) than devoted to enabling engagement with holisms of thinking that things around us exemplify. The point is not the thing (let alone positionality). The focus is thinking wholly, thinking Of originary Opening.
But I’m going to graciously presume that Mitchell appreciates this (or thinks in this spirit, so to speak), despite my polemics here. I look forward to his book because I want to read in good faith, and I’m an optimist—truly.
The usefulness of this discussion now is to emphasize that Heidegger originated a flexibility of thinking that could have rigor without ontologism. After him, use of conceptual tropes became integral to literary philosophy of the late 20th century (not just Deconstruction; Derrida, for one, avoided the label). Dwelling with his poetic thinking is useful, just as it has been since the mid-1970s, for careers in hermeneutical phenomenology, literary theory, Foucauldians, Derrideans, post-structuralists, and on and on.
My interest is that the notion of fourfold can be carried to heights and depths that I’ve never seen anyone else do. If Mitchell exemplifies grand possibilities well, I will be delighted.
By the way, the book’s black, technicist cover design is a disaster. Of course, it appears in a series which has normally issued books with black covers and dissonant graphics. The publisher must stay true to the graphical idioms of the series! But that’s not good for marketing. It is good for later associating a book with blackness and spookiness, though (after Mitchell translates Trawny’s book). So, Mitchell might have unwittingly chosen a series whose graphics serves his interest in Trawny, which would be retroactively good for sales. We’ll see. (I’m cynical because I know that academia is basically a corporate business, not a guild.)
You know, all beautiful colors are composable from four basic colors (the "CMYK" basis of the Pantone standard in graphical design). I don't expect every Heidegger book to have the prettiness of the cover of Bret W. Davis's translation of Heidegger's Country Path Conversations, but fourfolding is a holism of Life.
Anyway, here’s the entire book description:
Heidegger’s later thought is a thinking of things, so argues Andrew J. Mitchell in The Fourfold. Heidegger understands these things in terms of what he names “the fourfold”—a convergence of relationships bringing together the earth, the sky, divinities, and mortals—and Mitchell’s book is the first detailed exegesis of this neglected aspect of Heidegger’s later thought. As such it provides entrée to the full landscape of Heidegger’s postwar thinking, offering striking new interpretations of the atomic bomb, technology, plants, animals, weather, time, language, the holy, mortality, dwelling, and more. What results is a conception of things as ecstatic, relational, singular, and, most provocatively, as intrinsically tied to their own technological commodification. A major new work that resonates beyond the confines of Heidegger scholarship, The Fourfold proposes nothing less than a new phenomenological thinking of relationality and mediation for understanding the things around us.
I know that the extent of my commentary above is symptomatic of my disappointment with Heidegger scholarship of a certain generation (who were undergraduates or young professionals when Thomas Sheehan and Richard Wolin gave intensive attention to Victor Farias, and the west coast Bert Dreyfus school of Heidegger burlesquing got the upper hand on the east coast John Sallis school of Heideggerian work). I want to find scholars comparable to a young Theodore Kisiel, for the sake of others’ reading. For myself, though, I’m quite satisfied with my own venturing.
I'll follow up on this, after I've had a chance to dwell with Mitchell's book.
P.S. OMG, I must add: I just began to read the most phony example of playing Heideggerian scholar that I ever saw. The text would be hilarious, if it weren't at heart careerist fiction that has a malicious sense of Heidegger. The thing is so bad (pulling terms and phrases from Heidegger, all over the map, making no pretense of dwelling with a paragraph of anything—Heidegger terms and phrases as nomadic memes in a cubist pretense of Heideggerian wannabe, but with elaborate footnoting, like a Nabokovian parody of the scholar) that I literally could not force myself to continue reading. It's Peter Trawny's little monographic article, a piece of scholastic pornography, called Freedom to fail: Heidegger's anarchy, June 2015. The cover shows an image of Heidegger’s face behind a grid—or is it prison bars? Well, Trawny is surely free. This is the man that Mitchell scored for his Emory conference. I still can't bring myself to give time to the audio files of those hours of discussion of Trawny's “scholarship.” I'll have to unpack my Andy Warhol ear buds. I’m sure that Richard Polt believed he was involved in something important, like taking Emmanuel Faye seriously, so that another “you decide” excursion could be warranted for sale as a translation of a discarded student transcript from a Heidegger seminar given while Heidegger was aching to resign the rectorship. One comedy of that Polt/Fried team package is that all of the "Index" references to hot buttons (“Nazi,” “anti-Semitic,” etc., etc.) indicate page points in the accompanying essays packaged with the translation. None of the hot buttons are in the discarded student transcript. (Well, there’s an exception or two: ‘race’ is used once by the student writer in a clearly ethnic sense—part of Heidegger re-framing terms, I guess, away from stereotypical use, a common hermeneutical practice.) But you can bet that all of the hot button terms in that trade-press book's accompanying scholarly surmising are completely indexed.