A Daredevil Grandly Flawed

images-2How many in Los Angeles will care about the legacy of Martin Heidegger? Fans of the American film writer and director Terrence Malick might care, but they’re unlikely to live in LA. Malick translated Heidegger as a Harvard philosophy graduate student, and traces can be found in his films.

LA fans of The Los Angles Review of Books (yes, it exists) will also care.  It recently ran an intriguing piece on a new Heidegger book. So not all good criticism flows out from NYC. Some comes from the lower reaches of the Left Coast.

The object of attention, in this case, is a Heidegger book by Peter Trawny. It canvasses Heidegger’s newly published “Black Books” – notebooks that are distressingly anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi and that Heidegger, quite strangely, wanted made public after his death. Did he think the Nazi connection would be OK from some distant point down the road? Did he think anything he, the great Heidegger, wrote was work of the angels? Or perhaps he fancied the image of himself as a tragic hero?  No one knows. And why bother.

imagesYet if you judge a philosopher by those he tutored, Heidegger was a grand success. Without him we would not have the Herbert Marcuse, Hans Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Sartre, Foucault, Leo Strauss, or Levinas that we know. He was brilliant, self-inflated, and morally reckless if not corrupt.

In his upbeat review of the book, Martin Woesser wonders how sympathetic Peter Trawny will be with the deeply ambiguous figure portrayed. He concludes that Trawny will be partially sympathetic, for

…Trawny would rather have his philosophers be daredevils than hall monitors — Nietzsche rather than Kant, Kierkegaard instead of Descartes.

images-1That’s nice. Sometimes boring Anglophone philosophers do sound like hall monitors, keeping logic and language in an orderly march from room to room. No noise or running, please.

And when was the last time you heard a philosopher called a daredevil? Nietzsche had a wisdom-seeker walking a tightrope, and Kierkegaard found himself tottering over an abyss. But well-heeled Oxbridge or Princeton thinkers are for the most part domesticated (apart from the beards) and risk-averse.

Woesser links daredevil philosophers with those who embrace the rough and tumble of drama, poetry, and tragedy.

In trading “drama” and “poetry” and “tragedy” for mere “argument,” contemporary [“hall monitor”] philosophy has totally lost its way.

None of the daredevils trade in the clean lines of straight-forward argument. They present a flamboyant logical and linguistic chaos and dramatic incompletion that philosophers of the hall-monitor sort try to discipline or expel from school.

HeideggerWhy care, you might be thinking, whether Heidegger is a daredevil or whether he embraces flamboyant linguistic chaos and consorts with poetic thinking?

You’d care if you thought philosophy needs the passion and occasional recklessness of poetry and tragedy, and that poetry and tragedy need the impulse of philosophy toward order as well as dancing on tightropes — only if you thought they needed each other would you care.

Further, if they squabble with each other they forfeit the real battle: the fate of philosophy and literature in a culture dedicated to money and power and that takes all else as merely entertaining distraction.

I leave unanswered two bigger questions. How morally reckless does Heidegger turn out to be? And does his soul-blindness fatally poison the roots of his disturbingly grandiose and world-changing thinking.

—Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor

Citations: Heidegger is discussed by Martin Woessner in The LA Review of Books, Aug 28thPictures of Heidegger and Arendt from Google Images.

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