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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Heideggerian Are You?

Posted by John Holbo on 11/10/09 at 09:46 AM

You know what? It wouldn’t kill me to post at the Valve every year or so. I could, just for example, take time out of my busy schedule ... (it really is busy, my schedule.)

But I do find that Crooked Timber keeps me busy, and I’m bizarrely averse to cross-posting. (I don’t know why.) So let me link to a post at Crooked Timber, on typography, philosophy and the Nazi question. And let me just ask the humanists among you (that’s most of you, I expect): just how Heideggerian are you? How much of the stuff that matters to you can be traced back, significantly, to Heidegger? If you don’t know a damn thing about Heidegger, how seriously confused are you, sitting in a graduate seminar?

I realize it’s a trick question, because it’s vague. But answer as best you can. How much Heidegger have you actually read - for a class, say. Or assigned, for a class? I’m curious what the kids are being made to read these days.

But it’s not a trick question in this way: I’m not going to call you a Nazi. Life’s too short.


I haven’t made it through the Beiträge, so my cred as a Heideggerian is probably somewhat diminished by this point, but I think I’d read everything published in English prior to Indiana bringing out works from the Gesamtausgabe and then I think four or five of those as well.  I’m sure I’m an outlier.

By on 11/10/09 at 11:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I hope this thread results in a lot of “I’m so Heideggerian, that …"-style jokes.

I’m so Heideggerian, death is towards me!

By ben wolfson on 11/10/09 at 12:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I studied Heidegger as an undergraduate and fell in love with him for his dark turgid philosophical prose, convinced as many undergraduates are, that Heidegger is fingering something grand and luminous and ethereal and transformative. As a graduate student, I fell in love with Heidegger all over again, but this time because I discovered his arguments to be so appallingly bad and his ontology so wrong-headed in the extreme (confusing as it does the phenomenological order of experience for the fundamental stucture of reality) that it allowed me to overcome some lazy intellectual habits.


By Kevin on 11/10/09 at 05:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oooh, let me try ...

“I’m so Heideggerian that I don’t get Heidegger jokes and think reading a 200 page analytic of boredom as the Grundstimmung of modernity seems like a pleasant way to spend an evening.”

Needs work.  :\

By on 11/10/09 at 06:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’d say I was five or six Heideggerian.  Probably closer to five.

By Adam Roberts on 11/10/09 at 06:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve read no Heidegger, but I read a lot of Merleau-Ponty, who certainly read Heidigger, and I was deep into structuralism (before it became post) as an undergraduate. I was certainly surrounded by people who’d read him.

By Bill Benzon on 11/10/09 at 06:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ben Wolfson beat me to it.

By John Holbo on 11/10/09 at 08:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m so Heideggerian that German is all Greek to me!

By on 11/10/09 at 09:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I am obliging to point out that Mahendra Singh is in the midst of a Heideggerian Fit.

By nnyhav on 11/10/09 at 10:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I did not have to read any Heidegger in the English Ph.D. program at Penn.  I read the collection with Language and Thought in the title—I forget the full title—and found it to be a good deal of nonsense.  He hints at some interesting insights, but hinting is not, uh, insighting.

And he was a fucking Nazi.

By on 11/10/09 at 11:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A more interesting question is how much Heidegger, you, John, were required to read in your philosophy PhD program.

I was required to read the selections in the Weimar Sourcebook at one point, and I also may have been assigned “The Question Concerning Technology” and something on translation I can’t immediately recall. It was made pretty clear that to engage seriously with deconstruction you would be expected to read Heidegger. I dipped into Being and Time several times on my own--readable as Wodehouse, really.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 11/10/09 at 11:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"how much Heidegger, you, John, were required to read in your philosophy PhD program.”

None. Not strictly required. It’s quite easy to get a Ph.D. in an American philosophy department without reading a stitch of Heidegger. I think that’s ok, but hardly ideal. (Nothing to be proud of, not having read a stitch of Heidegger.)

That said, I did, of my own free will, read a great deal of Heidegger, and take classes in which H. was assigned. I TA’ed a class in which H. was read. (I taught Sluga’s book on the subject, under him.)

As someone with a specialty in (some elements of) the history of German philosophy, I have to read my share of Heidegger. Oh, but it’s a trial sometimes.

By John Holbo on 11/11/09 at 12:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

@Jonathan: You weren’t misled about Derrida’s debt to Heidegger.  Looking at it from the other side, with like-the-back-of-my-hand knowledge of Heidegger, it’s hard to find a phrase in Derrida that isn’t secretly (and ingeniously) fencing with Heidegger, whether he’s mentioned or not. 

Not coincidentally, my first introduction to Heidegger was _On the Way to Language_, assigned in an intro to literary criticism taught by one of Derrida’s translators.  It is by no means an introductory text, but I think if paired with the very readable little 15 page lecture _The Concept of Time_ (in some sense, the first draft of _Being and Time_), that still might be my choice for introducing literature students to Heidegger to show where he starts and where he ends up.  At least the one has texts recognizable as poetry criticism and the other makes sense to a beginner.

@Luther: Okie doke.  I do wonder if not having had a teacher and finding it to be nonsense are related facts.  And here’s a tip: the Nazi business isn’t really a problem if you’re only interested in his philosophical work--the connections are just that weak.  What drives me up a wall are his love letters to Hannah Arendt that bend and pervert every major thought he’d had for the clear purpose of getting into her pants.  I think you may have to know _Being and Time_ and other stuff from that period pretty well to get how he twists it to flatter and seduce a young student, and that shit is seriously embarrassing.

By on 11/11/09 at 02:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Nothing to be proud of, not having read a stitch of Heidegger.

I think it’s precisely the stitchiness of Heidegger that I find hard to get.  That and the fact that, as Luther points out, he was, you know, a fucking Nazi.

By Adam Roberts on 11/11/09 at 04:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, Rob, for the mention of my Heideggerian conniption fit. I read him in college and found that he suffered from the classic philosophers’ mania: he felt compelled to express, as turgidly as possible, ideas which are best conveyed through the arts.

Even worse, his use of German was an abomination to the tongue (it’s not as bad a language as some might think when used simply & clearly) and to top it off, he was one of those profs who not only slept with his students but also conspired to “vanish” his academic peers …

good ideas smothered by pompous words

By mahendra singh on 11/12/09 at 09:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not sure that I deserve your thanks, mahendra, as I wasn’t having a go at H’s lexicon or his style, but merely playing on his obsession with the pre-Socratics and his intimation of a kind of “spiritual” connection between Greek and German philosophy.

By on 11/13/09 at 10:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

You’re entirely too modest, Rob. I fervently hope that in some future scholarly work (post apocalyptic, probably) your name and mine will be briefly mentioned as precursors of the Heideggerian School of Nonsense Philosophy … or something like that

By mahendra singh on 11/13/09 at 01:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m an undergraduate student currently working on my thesis that relates Being and Time and some of Heidegger’s later works, most notably “Questions Concerning Tech” and “the Essence of Truth”, to contemporary issues of aesthetics and communication in the age of the internet.

This is a funny thread - every complaint you raise about Heidegger (bad use of German, bad ontology, being a Nazi, whatever) is mostly a product of your state-of-mind. If you have a problem with Marty then don’t read it. If you’re like me and find that every moment of the day somehow relates to Heidegger, then it won’t matter if you don’t read it.

I was a Heideggerian fan long before picking up B&T. Sure his claims are extreme and his arguments faulty, but those who raise these complaints are stuck in the analytic mind-frame. Heidegger doesn’t try to teach you anything and he doesn’t dictate some state of affairs. Instead he simply takes you for a stroll through a forest in the hopes that you’ll realize - there is a forest worth knowing, strange how I am already there.

By on 06/23/10 at 03:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Extreme claims with faulty arguments are defects in philosophers, no matter how lovely the forest stroll… Kevin

By Kevin on 06/23/10 at 06:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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