Re: "Letter on Humanism"--Reading 11

I've been following this reading for a while and have increasingly had the
feeling that your take on Heidegger is diverging from what I see as
Heidegger's essential thrust, message, value, or whatever. So I want to
bounce a few comments off of yours here. (BTW, I'm not really familiar with
Levinas, so I might be missing some things).

>it now seems clear that in this "Letter" Heidegger has transcended his
German Nationalism. But he has not done away with imperialism, he has merely
changed his allegiance from Germany to the Western legacy. The same gesture
that assimilates or destroys the stranger that characterized Nazi Germany
also characterizes the entire Western legacy. The West has always been the
ever-expanding cosmos that assimilates; Heidegger's apparent valorization of
becoming "world-historical" which is "nearness to Being" seems to me to be
another form of totalitarianism, no longer German, but now Greek.

Yes, I think that this is all true. In my mind however it doesn't really
add up to an fruitful critique in and of itself. In other words, I don't see
how it helps build a bridge to Heideggers work, to what I see as H's
deconstructive "inner thrust". Here you seem to want to reject a
totalitarian element in Heidegger. But I don't see why you really need
Levinas for this, H tends that way on his own. He tends to throw into doubt
the very terms that he most values such as "man" and "Being". But the element
that does this is a sort of an immanent deconstructive force, not one which
appeals to a metaphysical conceptual dichotomy like self/other. In other
words, we stop too soon and we appeal to to a pregiven conceptual scheme when
we go at Heidegger from the angle that you seem to be suggesting Levinas is
coming from. We haven't gone the distance here with Heidegger. We've
stopped short of the abyss, and we're left clinging to more stable ground,
from which we cast ever renewed suspicious glances at Heidegger.

What strikes me as odd in Heidegger is the way his discourse alternates
between non subjective (the being with being as a concern), and then seems to
identify Dasein with the individual, or later with something like 'Man'
(Isn't it a bizarre development in H's thought that he starts using this term
so much? This cries out for explanation). It's as if the utterly rdical
phenomenolgical project he started in B&T opened up an abyss which he shrank
from, then started concocting a reverie about "man".


>In either case, the person is dissolved into the universality of Being,
cosmos, logos, nomos, etc. (Indeed, this might precisely be the fundamental
characteristic of cosmos that caused early Christians to seek in the person
of Christ a redeemer for the cosmos. The concept of a personal God outside
the cosmos as Father and inside the cosmos as incarnate son breaks the
totalitarianism of the cosmos thereby "saving" the world. My current research
focuses on this movement and in so doing tries to steer a course between
Levinas and Heidegger, a course that is not the one that Derrida took in
"Violence and Metaphysics")

It sounds like you want to keep the 'person'. This would be so alien to
Heidegger that I can't see the possibility of even a smidgeon of
reconciliation. For Heidegger the person has been utterly destroyed. It's
not just moribund, its long since passed rigor mortis and the decay has set
in. Where do you intervene in order to save him? Heidegger is so far down
this road---((" always already!" as the great poststructuralist slogan says)
that there seems to be no turning back. It is in the veins of the text.
There is no question of dialog on this point, and there's no sense in
finding where he went wrong. He only bothers arguing aganst notions of "the
individual" and his experience when some silly French dude start
misappropriating him.

>Hanging in the balance, and central to my own research, is the destiny of
Being, that it should of necessity give way to beings, and that, in turn,
this entry into metaphysics should make it possible to disclose Being as the
"transcendens pure and simple". So far, I have seen nothing in Heidegger to
suggest why this transformation is necessary.

I don't think an uprooting of Heidegger at this level would be very
effective. His roots go too deep in the West. I mean, if you pull him up by
the roots simply because he fudged a little bit about the early history of
Being, you would unfortunately fail to extricate the way his thought
resonates with modernity in the West, and your solution would be not be
decisive. It doesn't matter so much how metaphysics arose, what matters is
to note Heidegger's persuasive account of its utter triumph and sway over
'man'. If we take seriously the notion that Heidegger's take on
phenomenology showed him a very real abyss in the West's direction, we can
forgive him a little mythification of it's origins. His attempt at
rehabilitation is extreme, and extremely speculative, for he was responding
to an extreme situation. Phenomenology disclosed for Heidegger that man is
ordered to be on call for a further ordering by technology. Since everything
ready to hand for Dasein has already been assigned to this project, there is
really nothing to be done but dwell upon the very last shred of hope: what
sort of thing man must be, if indeed there is such a thing, if man is the
sort of thing that will be able to answer to the call of Being considering
the outside chance that Being might take it upon itself to grant such a
thing. I know that Heidegger doesn't put it this way exactly, but my sense
is that he is engaged in this sort of project, and thus it is more
interesting to go with him into his exposition and see it as a vast
reservoir of new ways of thinking, rather than to try to pick out the
elements in this reservoir that were wrong. Where he is wrong is already
pretty clear to us. Again, indicting him for his jerry-rigged construction
of the history of Being does not get at the heart of our relationship to him.

I read Heidegger as if all necessities in his explication of man follow from
a working out of the conditions of possibility that "man" (look at this word
here through Foucault's contorted laughing face) will prove to have enough
life left him that he will be able to overcome the grip on him of
technological Being, of the compulsion to manipulative mastery, that indeed
he will not careen down the current road of the total annhilation of man
(here read of all Western value). Man, or at least the fragments of him that
this rampage has thus far left behind, must be somehow gathered up and gerry
rigged into some sort of 'counter-apparatus' that will extricate itself from
this ever tightening iron cage of technological domination. Now, we could
just forget about all that, and operate in some other groove entirely, but
that would be post-history, post philosophy, (post West). Such is more or
less the course Foucault took, I take it. I just can't see "the individual"
and "the other" providing any sort of bridge to this runaway machine. The
only thing we can do for Heidegger now is to relieve him of his delusion that
Being would return. Stop resuscitory effort, the patient is dead.

>What is at stake here will become clear later in the "Letter" when Heidegger
situates the problem of agriculture next to the problem of the gas chamber.
It seems to me that Heidegger is dehumanizing the cosmos, and I wonder
whether his deconstruction of "humanism" might fail to recover the human from
the destiny of Being.

Oh, he certainly failed, there's no question here. The problem is that he
furrowed the ground so deeply with his deconstruction, that those who have
followed his direction cannot but help but be thinking way beyond any notion
of 'the individual'. The question is not whether he 'failed' or
'succeeded'. I don't believe he thought he had succeeded, because I think
that he realized that the task was desperate and highly improbable. He was
only concerned with outlining a situation in which, in the improbable event
that Being granted 'man' something other than the destiny of technical
mastery, man, in the incarnation of the thinker who guards being, [i. e.
Heidegger], would be prepared for the new dispensation.




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