Saturday, April 30, 2016

a preface on Peter Gordon’s shadow play

Heidegger’s notebooks of 1931-1938—Considerations II-VI—do not “cast a dark shadow over Heidegger’s legacy” (blurb on the back cover of the English translation, now named “Ponderings II-VI”). The blurb comes from an October 2014 gossip column by Peter Gordon via The NY Review of Books. But Gordon there doesn’t show that he understands Heidegger (which is ironic, because he’s made a career of comparing other writers to his own reading of Heidegger’s career).

So what? An air of scandal sells books.

When I read Gordon’s silly NYRB column on Heidegger’s notebooks, Oct. 2014, I didn’t take it seriously. After all, the “review” isn’t about the notebooks much at all, and I had already carefully read all of the allegedly controversial passages from Heidegger’s Considerations. His article was a broad-brush dismissal of Heidegger. Meh.

But now, Indiana University Press is using Gordon’s opinion for selling the English translation of the 1931-38 notebooks, a publisher blurb bylined merely as “New York Review of Books,” as if the quip is an editorial endorsement by the esteemed periodical. Maybe it is. So, I went back to Gordon’s discussion.

I have no desire to bother discussing Gordon’s invalid article. I want to emphasize that Heidegger’s notes are fascinating supplements for scholarship, providing enlightenment about the development of his thought. (I’m sure that Gordon would agree, but with animate caveating.) But they are supplementary to Heidegger’s development of monographic work, and should be read accordingly. The notebooks vastly deserve being read for their developmental merit. And there is no evidence to warrant a finding of dark shadows in Heidegger’s occasional attention given to German ideology outside of relentlessly critiquing academic ideology that is co-öpted by Nazi propagandists (I guess).

I’ve said before that “framing Heidegger is just doing business.” In the present instance, the notebooks are “much-anticipated” (book jacket description) because the Editor of the German version, Peter Trawny, made his name claiming that the notebooks are scandalous (and Gordon relies on Trawny—apart from views that Gordon imports from his general reading of Heidegger prior to 1930). In other words, the German Editor created the anticipation that the English publisher now cites, using a blurb on the back of the book by a writer relying on Trawny.

But Heidegger’s Private Secretary, who caused Trawny to become the editor of the notebooks, argues that the Editor exploited the opportunity for his own gain, with arguments against Heidegger that have no philosophical merit (see middle of the page, paragraph beginning “Von Herrmann asserts a scathing dismissal of Peter Trawny...”).

Gordon’s reliance on gossip (which Indiana University Press evidently endorses) suggests a vapidity of thinking that corroborates Heidegger’s critique of historiography in his notebooks.

So, it’s no wonder that historians want to find dark shadows: Heidegger’s animus toward academic thinking targets the vacuousness of historiography in particular, during his times—so, presently too? I suspect so: The conceptual pretenses of academic critique of Heidegger seem to be in contest with their own shadows (i.e., conceptual projections unrelated to what Heidegger is doing).

Anyway, “national socialist movement,” in particular, is a generic notion during Heidegger’s times which preceded the assimilation of that rubric by the German Workers’ Party in the 1920s. There were many notions of socialism circulating after The Great Crash. Heidegger had one notion of communitarian regional recovery that he wanted the rubric of “national socialist movement” to be understood to mean—never associated by him with The Party, whose race ideology he had criticized in detail in 1929). In the mid-1930s, "greatness" was a pejorative term for him, mostly associated with “the gigantic”; and “inner truth” was a notion of suppressed concealment, not essentialist affirmation. Besides, the phrase "inner truth and greatness of the national socialist movement" came to Heidegger from Rudolf Bultmann, in a letter to Heidegger, 1932.

Heidegger had no sympathy for “Nazi” ideology and no interest in aligning university reform with Berlin. Exactly the opposite: He briefly wanted coordinated university-based reform efforts (that he wanted to lead) to determine Berlin policy on university reform. That seemed feasible in early 1933 (given his stature in the university system). It became clearly unfeasible to Heidegger by August of 1933 (letter to Carl Schmitt; letter to Elisabeth Blochmann, Sept. 1933), i.e., four months into his efforts.

Yet, Heidegger’s desire for university reform is evident in the 1920s (e.g., Heidegger’s 1927 letter to Karl Löwith—citation available—as well as evident in the political character of Heidegger’s 1920s engagement with Aristotle’s rhetoric. (I have Kisiel’s permission to post that manuscript.)

Re: Heidegger’s specific notes, Gordon shows the same error as Peter Trawny: mistaking Heidegger’s characterization of German ideology for a confession of belief in that ideology, as if the notebooks are diaries, rather than workbooks. Gordon (like Trawny) doesn’t suspect that Heidegger is in contention with German ideology that is coöpting phony German academic historiology. So, Gordon is not really in contention with Heidegger. Gordon, like Trawny, is battling a windmill, in contention with a discursive fiction, where Heidegger was rendering academic aspects of ideology, presumably with “fellow” academics as virtual adversaries.

Gordon’s sophomoric misreading of Being and Time is amply evidenced in his column. Yet, his antipathy (his condescending intellectual style of reading) is undermined by his own caveats in the column, the upshot of which is that Gordon has no good reason for his dimissiveness.

Just-so stories aren’t examples of scholarly reading. Trivialization of Heidegger through a distorting hermeneutic of gossip shows Gordon’s sense of intellectual historiography as tending to be vacuous, if not self-undermining.

Anyway buy the notebooks! But regard them as marginal, rightly placed by Heidegger at the end of his sequencing of archive of works, not a “culmination” (Richard Wolin, June 2014; citation available).