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Monday, August 14, 2006

Which Derrida, Which Heidegger?

Posted by John Holbo on 08/14/06 at 05:13 AM

If you had to teach an undergraduate survey course entitled ‘recent continental philosophy’, what comparatively small bits of Heidegger and Derrida would you assign? Defend your answer, or else leave it sitting there defenseless. For that matter, what Husserl would you assign? I’m rather partial to Husserl’s Seventh Cartesian Meditation.


I don’t teach anything that purports itself to be “recent continental philosophy,” but in the context of “postmodernism” and “media theory,” Derrida-wise, I’ve had luck with “Structure, Sign and Play.” It’s pretty short and to the point, and gives us good opportunities to talk about how Derrida’s sense of “play” isn’t all fun and games, you know.

Heidegger-wise, I’m pretty fond of “The Question Concerning Technology,” but that’s all about my own stuff, and probably not right for your purposes.

By KF on 08/14/06 at 08:35 AM | Permanent link to this comment

For Heidegger, a standard short text is “Discourse on Thinking”—the first part touches on the classic instrumental reason vs. real thinking theme, and the second part is a good intro to the style of the late Heidegger.  If you want the early “existentialist” Heidegger, you might try “What is Metaphysics?”—available in the Basic Writings anthology.  Very readable, not even just “for Heidegger,” and gives you a lot of the themes from Being and Time.

My favorite little essay from the early Derrida is “Signature Event Context,” from Margins of Philosophy, but I know you think that’s a misreading of Austin.  “Structure, Sign and Play” is also a good one, and has the additional value of being an example of “deconstructive reading” that’s relatively easy to follow without having to track down the original text.  Aporias is also a good one to use if you have time for a full book, and would serve the double purpose of indicating the continuing influence of Being and Time—and it’s apparently one of his best-sellers.  Monolingualism touches on a lot of the language issues, as well as the religious stuff he works on in his later period, plus the autobiographical aspect makes it more accessible and enjoyable.  Finally, you might take a look at the essay “The University without Condition,” available in (I believe) Without Alibi—that might actually fit pretty well with the Enlightenment theme.

By Adam Kotsko on 08/14/06 at 11:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

For students who have never been exposed to Heidegger before, QCT is probably the most valuable text because of the Aristotle they will pick-up. Unfortunately, due to their unfamiliarity with Heidegger’s way of thinking and the problems with translations, I’ve found the best introduction to Heidegger to be Polt’s book.

By on 08/14/06 at 11:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Points...: Interviews, 1974-1994. Stanford University Press, 1995.

By Matt on 08/14/06 at 12:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

the Aristotle they will pick-up

Yes, and hopefully readdng through the bizarre muck of QCT they will glean something from Aristotle’s somewhat poetic fallacies (i.e. teleology) instead of from Heidegger’s far more egregious Hegelian ones (the hydro-power plant on Der Rhine, brought to you by Der Teufel! Wunderbar).

By on 08/14/06 at 01:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I second “What is metaphysics?”. “Plato’s pharmacy” is fun and introduce deconstructionist themes in an accessible way. “Freud and the Scene of Writing” is also quite useful.

By on 08/14/06 at 05:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” is a nice little piece to introduce Heidegger’s concerns and his methods.  Then you can contrast it with something by Derrida that critiques the way that Heidegger et al. use etymology in their arguments…

By on 08/14/06 at 06:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"The Concept of Time” is around 30 pages in English, and gives you quite a lot of the points established at greater length in B&T. It’s not exactly an easy read, but it’s not any worse than the sort of extracts from B&T you’ll find in most “Introduction to Existentialism” readers—and Concept has the advantage of being generaly self-contained, unlike snippets from B&T.

I’m not sure how important facticity/care/throwness are for Recent Continental Thought though, compared to some of the more esoteric stuff you get in the later writings. If you want to skip right to the Later Weirdness, I don’t think “The Thing” is all that hard, and it gives you a full blast of “gods & men dancing on a bridge while someone blows on a jug” and all that.

By Daniel on 08/14/06 at 07:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

How about Husserl’s First Cartesian Meditation, then ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, then ‘Structure, Sign and Play’. That allows you to develop a nice discussion of grounding across the three, and keeps the texts short and relatively comprehensible.

By on 08/14/06 at 08:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Funny nobody’s mentioned the “Letter on Humanism.”

By on 08/14/06 at 09:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My vote is for Derrida’s “Disseminations.”

By Michael Becker on 08/16/06 at 11:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I prefer to teach the pre-turn Heidegger, mostly because students are less likely to read the early writings as mysticism.  In both the lecture course on Kant’s first Critique and _The Basic Problems of Phenomenology_ Heidegger begins with a nice, teachable summary of his (early) project.  The two essays in _Identity and Difference_ are good late Heidegger and set up Derrida nicely.

I think that “Ousia and Gramme” is the best intro to Derrida but only if you’ve already worked through the tradition a bit.  I’ll vote for “Signature, Event, Context” for clarity.  The whole Searle debate is pretty fun to teach.

By on 08/17/06 at 10:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A fantastic intro to Heidegger is ‘Heidegger and Literature’ (Routledge) by Timothy Clark.

Orginial Heidegger, I’d go for the essay “The Origin of The Work of Art”.

Also, I reckon the discussion of Plato and the allegory of the cave (can recall what book it’s in - a collection of lectures) would serve as a terrific introduction to the essence of deconstruction.

Both are characteristic, accessible - and relates to an interesting topic on which students are likely to already have an opinion.

By on 08/18/06 at 10:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As for Derrida, I suggest that he should be taught as if he were a certain Class ‘C’ drug.

Mention that you’ve tried it - that it was pretty cool but ultimately not as rewarding as it seemed like it might be at the beginning, and that you’ve had to give it up as it was seriously damaging your productivity and motivation.

Than say: “Don’t touch, kids - it’s dangerous” and see what happens next......

(apologies for two in a row violation)

By on 08/18/06 at 11:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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