Friday, May 7, 2010

notes on Heidegger’s appropriative thinking

Professor Halteman-Zwart,

Thanks for your stimulating review of F.J. Gonzalez, Plato and Heidegger: A Question of Dialogue. You write very well. I’m being self-indulgent below, but this was fun. So, I might as well share with you what you occasioned, recalling and refocusing my sense of Heidegger, thanks to the event of your review of Plato and Heidegger.

“Affinities” indeed: It seems to me that Heidegger’s quotation from “The Sophist” at the beginning of Being and Time signals that the entirety of B&T is an appropriative response to Plato above all. Heidegger’s ’20s lectures on “the Sophist” could be regarded as a prelude to B&T, such that B&T deserves to be the hermeneutical, retrospective frame on Heidegger’s earlier, emerging sense of Plato.

But I’m looking at the matter from a perspective on the entirety of Heidegger’s career (which he recommended that one do, re: earlier work).

“Do[ing] justice to Plato’s thought,” relative to Heidegger, is at least about doing justice to thinking, which is always an appropriation of one’s time for one’s time. Plato was a great exemplarity of thinking, which is well honored by Heidegger later (1950s) in showing how a Platonic sense of Being is contained by the history of Being, a history not grounded by Platonic sense (an idea already in play through B&T). A sense of the history of Being was inconceivable to Plato (while the idiom of B&T turned out to be inadequate for a later deconstruction of metaphysicalism).

So, fidelity to thinking relative to Plato cannot be representational of Plato, even though Plato showed great fidelity to “the task of thinking,” but necessarily relative to his time, as all thinking is destined to be. “Heidegger’s Plato” is implicit in the question of Being that B&T pursues—Heidegger’s conversation with his time that B&T is—to which the 1940 essay on Platonism is an implicit (and polemical) appendix.

(I take to heart Heidegger’s claim to Wm. J. Richardson, c1962, that so-called “later” Heidegger is merely a different idiom for what he was already seeking to do in B&T, such that we should read earlier work through the lens of his later work. B&T and thereabouts doesn’t express an earlier Heidegger split off by a “turning.” He found better ways to do appropriative thinking later in his life, but he was already doing appropriative thinking in the middle 1920s. However, it was inappropriate, later in life, to seek to re-write what B&T set out to initiate—that not-ready-for-primetime play for a teaching position in Marburg that captured its time. So, we have later-life commentaries on the difficulties of working with language and thinking after metaphysicalism. We have readings, “poetic thinking,” and lectures. But what he chose to publish in his life is supposed by him, I believe, to be given prevalent importance for understanding what he chose to not yet publish, pending what he had time to publish.)

Heidegger’s later-abandoned desire for a fundamental ontology in B&T was never a “desire for scientific philosophy,” unlike Husserl. Relative to Plato, Heidegger’s rich appreciation grows to be starkly faced, in ’30s Germany, with appallingly “reductive and simplifying” politics, expressing a legacy of theology (which always was a politics!) that traces back to a destining in “Platonic” intellectual culture. Plato has indeed been made into a very ugly “Platonism” (that has little to do with the real Plato). The German university was partly culpable for what became of Germany.

Perhaps, Gonzalez (which I only meet through your reading; I don’t know his book) misses the dialogic character of everything Heidegger did, such that the audience and occasion for an essay-rant against Platonism is just very different from the occasion for later lectures. Appropriative thinking is integrally relative to its audience, its time, whereas Gonzalez apparently wants a Logos of Heideggerian reading across projects addressing very different audiences/occasions. Heidegger insisted there was no such thing as “Heideggerian” thinking. (Rather, there’s Heidegger’s exemplarity of thinking, which turned out to be much more than exemplary.)

Gonzalez’s sense of contradiction in Heidegger’s readings could be analogous to someone having perceptual problems with a 2-dimensional photograph while not having yet realized that space has 3 dimensions (which would include not seeing the photo as “merely” 2-dimensional). Heidegger’s readings express occasions for thinking—doing something appropriate at the time, not a further unfolding of—or disclosing—a Logos. Everything for Heidegger is a temporalized conversation on a country path, so to speak, with more-or-less specific others (though I agree that MH’s “Country Path” essay is contrived). In a sense, thinking is essentially dramaturgical, just as Plato exhibited in the character of Socrates. Arendt’s comment about “rumors of a hidden king” was about an oral teaching, an occasioning, that entranced its audience with dialectical efficacy, in the Socratic sense of ’dialectic’.

Ereignis is indeed less about propositional communication than something else—at least (to my mind) an intimacy with “things” (others, times, texts) that is like tutorial (and Platonic immanence of the maieutic), bringing (granting) things or one into one’s own, its authentic bearing—a mirrorplay that may transform the be-ing of each in both, but at least facilitates things bearing their ownmost character, so beyond Socratic maieutic.

So, a text “speaks,” and (to Heidegger’s best student, Derrida) even speaking is writing. The condition of writing (and all the hermeneutical site-fulness of reading) belongs to speaking as well. Heidegger’s actual speaking (a lecture) is a trace of its time—an appropriative endeavor—and the text from the event is a literal trace of an event of appropriation (a presentational event—appropriate for its intended audience—relative to his reading of their time, i.e., an appropriation of the times).

The end of metaphysicalism is hallmarked by the occasionality of thinking. One should ask: What is Heidegger endeavoring to do with thinking through what he’s saying? Gonzalez seems to regard Heidegger’s reading of Plato as if discursive occasion (or site, re: “dwelling”) is irrelevant—as if doing is irrelevant in saying. Gonzalez seems to miss the integral “dialectical manner” of Plato, integral to Heideggerian thinking, that Jaspers “suggested” to Heidegger (who might have found the suggestion amusing).

I wouldn’t call Heidegger a pragmatist, as Hubert Dreyfus made a career of doing; but there’s clearly a sense of site in Heidegger’s thinking that appears missing in Gonzalez’s reading, as if Gonzalez is blinded by the stark determinateness of his finding of blindness in Heidegger. His book, according to your review, possibly exposes Gonzalez’s implicit ontotheocentrism in the guise of a “Heidegger” who fails to remain consistent across discursive shows. Evidently, Gonzalez’s “Heidegger” calls for a therapy of consistency that is Gonzalez’s pretense of going beyond Heidegger. But that “Heidegger” seems to be a confused fiction.

In Heidegger’s campaign against dialectic, it’s not irrelevant to keep in mind the Cold War. The legacy of ontotheology is mirrored in political “dialectics” calling, to Heidegger’s mind, for “planetary thinking” (years before that became progressive doctrine). (Besides, the Fichtean dialectics of mid-20thC politics—both as Sovietism and the dynamic of the Cold War that Sovietism spawned—is not yet Hegelian; and Hegelian dialectic is no longer Platonic.) Gonzalez is misreading Heidegger’s point quoted about Ereignis vis-à-vis propositional thinking by seeing a “negative” point (worse yet, as if Platonic “dialectic” or maieutic expresses a negative motif in dialogal nonconcealment).

All in all, it seems that Gonzalez’s unprecendented attention to Plato-Heidegger interreading may occlude more than it enlightens by fundamentally misunderstanding Heidegger’s occasioned thinking. Your very laudable review doesn’t cause me to think that Gonzalez’s project is as laudable as you conclude. But you make clear to me that Gonzalez’s book might be very useful for deconstructive work.

Thanks again for your excellent writing and the stimulation you’ve provided.