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Heidegger’s Confusion Over “Truth”

The Blanketing of the Truth

The problem is that Heidegger as he examines the Greek concept of truth (aletheia), even as it is investigated by Plato in The Sophist, begins with Aristotle. We can see this plainly in his recounting of the “history” of truth in his lectures on the Platonic Dialogue, as he moves as quickly as possible to the logos-determined, speaking realm of human beings. Heidegger wants to get onto the firm and comfortable ground of Dasein, of human-oriented Being-There. And in the quotation below we can see how in just a few strokes he gets from “Aletheia” (which is commonly translated into our word “truth”) to the albeit to be problemized “uncoveredness” of the legomenon, “the spoken thing”.

the history of the concept of truth

Alethes means literally “uncovered.” It is primarily things, the pragmata, that are uncovered. To pragmata alethes. This uncoveredness does not apply to things insofar as they are, but insofar as they are encountered, insofar as they are objects of concern. Accordingly uncoveredness is a specific accomplishment of Dasein, which has its being in the soul: aletheuei he psyche. Now the most immediate kind of uncovering is speaking about things. That is, the determination of life, a determination that can be conceived of as logos, primarily takes over the function of aletheuein. Aletheuei ho logos, and precisely logos [speech, reason] as logein [to speak]. Insofar now as each logos is a self-expression and a communication, logos requires at once the meaning of the logomenon [the spoken thing]. And insofar as it is logos which aletheuei, logos qua logomenon is alethes. But strictly taken this is not the case. Nevertheless, isfaras speaking is a pronouncement and in the proposition aquires a proper existence, so that knowledge is preserved therein, even the logos as logomenon can be called alethes….Knowing or considering is always a speaking, whether vocalized or not. All disclosive comportment, not only everyday finding one’s way about, but also scientific knowledge, is carried out in speech. Legein primarily takes over the function of aletheuein. This legein is for the Greeks the basic determination of man: Zoon logon echon [an animal that holds speech]. And thus Aristotle achieves [in Nic. Eth. VI, 2], precisely in connection with this determination of man, i.e. the field of the logon echon and with respect to it, the first articulation of the five modes of altheuein. (Heidegger’s lectures on Plato’s Sophist, 18-19)

There are a few things to set straight right off. His simple, literal defintion of aletheia as  “uncoveredness” is an incredible simplification of the meanings and origins of the word, something he quickly has reduced, in largely Sophoclean fashion, to a trope of cloaking and residual depth. The power and sweep of this simplification should not be underestimated, for it directs the whole of the theoretical that follows. When something is “covered” our immediate questions inevitably turn to the nature of the thing that lies between it and us, how did it get there, what is it made of, can we remove it, what purpose does it serve. One can see how nicely such a condensed translation fits within the Idealist tradition which focuses on the Phenomenal and Ideational veil of Ideas.

Unfortunately, or we might say fortunately, the history of the concept of truth goes back much further than where Heidegger wants to take it. He wants us to see that A-letheia is a privative. It means A (not) letheia (covered). But does -letheia mean “covered”? Not really; at least it cannot be reduced to such without extensive distortion. We can recognize the name famous River of Lethe in the land of the Dead (so named by Ovid) in the word, a history of which we will return to in a moment. But the root comes from the Greek verb lanthánõ, which specifically means (LSJ):

A. in most of the act. tenses, to escape notice

B. causal, to make one forget a thing

As a signular note, a cloaked thing might or might not escape notice, and one might or might not forget a cloaked thing (in either case its very cloakedness could draw attention to it, as someone who kept their hand hidden behind their back has a certain obviousness to them). The Greek concept of Lethe is much more thorough than “cloakedness.” It is much closer to our notion of Oblivion. The forgetfulness of Lethe is more than the visual trope of “coveredness” gives us. It is the dissipation of difference. There is no difference there that matters, that makes a difference.

To bring out more of this concept of Aletheia, the a- (un) letheia (forgotten, obliteratered, lost) I want to turn to the Orphic mythologies that informed Plato’s own theories of truth, and likely formed a widespread and constitutive influence upon the very notion of aletheia in Greek culture. Below I quote from Guthries’s Classic text,  Orpheus and the Greek Religion, a selection which focuses on the occult knowledge of the Underworld given an Orphic Initiate regarding the topography of the land of the Dead, and their explicit instructions on how to avoid Lethe.

Keeping, then, to the right, the soul comes to a spring [on the right, having been warned not to drink from the spring of forgetfulness on the left], and addresses to the guardians that are before it a prayer that it may be allowed to drink of the water, of which it is in dire need: “I am parched with thirst and I perish”. We may presume that it has passed by the way that is described in the Republic as leading to the plain of Lethe, “through terrible and suffocating heat; for it is bare of trees and of all the fruits of the earth”. At the end of that journey too the souls are given water to drink. For the general belief that the dead are thirsty and in urgent need of water we have references which though not frequent are sufficient to indicate that it must have been widely held and not a particular tenet of the Orphics. The same prayer occurs in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and had been adopted from it into the Hellenic religion of the same part of the world, as is shown by several sepulchral inscriptions, found, like the gold plates themselves, in Italy, with the formula: “May Osiris give thee the cold water”. No doubt the name of Osiris was taken by the Greeks because they found in the Egyptian religions an idea similar to that which they already held themselves.

The word yuxpro/n means of course not simply “cold” but “refreshing”. (The two are the same in Mediterranean countries.) It is of the same root as psyche, soul and Dieterich (Nekyia, 95) compares the word a)nayu=xai in the Orphic line which literally means “refreshed from evil”. The water is not ordinary water. It is water from the lake of Memory, and it is only the soul whose purity is vouched for which is to be allowed to drink from it. This is the soul which has escaped from the circle of birth, or evil, or woe, and is about to enter on the state of perfect divinity. Consequently it is not, like the souls in the Republic which are being prepared for a new incarnation, made to drink a certain measure of the water of Forgetfulness (Rep. 620a). That, without doubt, is the fountain on the left which it is told above all things to avoid. For it is reserved the water of life, which will enable it to retain full consciousness (Guthrie, Orpheus and the Greek Religion, 177)

How far we are from simple “covered” and “uncoveredness”, and even linguistic reductions of the determination of the human soul to that which is spoken. Rather, the depiction of Lethe and not-Lethe is expressed in very physical terms, in terms of refreshingly cold water as drink. The soul in the land of the dead has passed through extreme heat, and is bewildered by its thirst. It has been instructed not to drink of the fountain on the left, but on the right. Here I quote the already cited Orphic passage from the Republic:

[621a] And after it had passed through that, when the others also had passed, they all journeyed to the Plain of Oblivion [tes Lethes pedion], through a terrible and stifling heat, for it was bare of trees and all plants, and there they camped at eventide by the River of Forgetfulness [Ameleta potamon], whose waters no vessel can contain. They were all required to drink a measure of the water, and those who were not saved by their good sense drank more than the measure, and each one as he drank forgot all things.

The word-choice here is telling. The soul has passed across the Plain of Oblivion (tes Lethes pedion), and the river that the reincarnating soul drinks from is not the River of Lethe, but the River of Ameleta, the River of Uncaring. Under Orphic telling, the aletheia is not the “uncovered” but “the not-uncaring”. Clearly, those that drink from the River of Mnemosyne instead of Ameleta, retain their cares and concerns. Quite to the contrary of Heidegger’s lexical reversion which will eventually make a “cloaking” out of human Dasein engagment with the pragmata (affairs, things of concern), the very nature of aletheia is that of retaining concerns and care. It is only through the retention of cares that the soul is refreshed of the heat of oblivion.

The Role of Care as Revelation

Importantly, Heidegger tells us in his history of the concept of the truth that “This uncoveredness [of aletheia] does not apply to things insofar as they are, but insofar as they are encountered, insofar as they are objects of concern.” Notice how this differs from the Orphic/Platonic tale of elementary care and concern. The concern is not with “objects” but with thirst itself, with the state of one’s own body. It is the purity of this sufferance, as a care, which in turn orients the soul both toward the gaurdian and the spring. And contrary to Heidegger’s assessment, it is indeed the care of the soul which orients it rightfully to the pragmata, “insofar as they are”. One must, in examining the history of the Greek notion of the truth acknowledge this fundamental equation.

It is for this reason that the optical metaphor of covered and uncovered that Heidegger adopts, while suited to the Idealist heritage he keeps, actually is insufficient to the Greek concept of truth (insofar as we can historically generalize). The the failure of cares in Oblivion is the detachment from one’s own state, to dissipate. It is not a condition of veiling, or coveredness, of something coming between the subject and the world, but rather is a constitutive internal relation, a failure of orientation towards one’s own health and dynamic expression, a failure to recall in one’s concerns the connections which “as they are” have constituted you.

In this correction we must keep track of Heidegger’s smooth move towards Aletheia of speaking being: “Now the most immediate kind of uncovering is speaking about things.” One wants to stretch back to some time more distant than the benchmark for truth, Aristotle, and turn to Homer, the Iliad. Achilles is furious and in attendance of the Assembly where he is told that Agamemnon will take from him his beloved Briseis. Achilles has his hand on the hilt of his sword which he is in the act of drawing. Agamemnon is finished, yet:

The white-armed goddess Hera had sent her forth, [195] for in her heart she loved and cared for both men alike. She stood behind him, and seized the son of Peleus by his fair hair, appearing to him alone. No one of the others saw her. Achilles was seized with wonder, and turned around, and immediately recognized Pallas Athene. Terribly her eyes shone. (Book One, lines 195-200)

What is the “truth” status of Athena’s terribly flashing eyes? None of the others in the hall saw her (literally, she was coming to light [phanomene] to him alone, not the others).  Not only did he perceive her [gignosko] as generally present, but seemed to do so as particularized by the very manifestion of her eyes [phaanthen]. These eyes are the very epithetic status of the goddess herself, “Flash-eyed” Athena. I suggest really that it is not on this occasion of words (debate in a hall) that the most immediate form of “uncovering” is words, but rather of bodily seizure and distinctive identification. The pragmata of Achilles’ concern, that of Agamemnon’s unworthy stewardship of the Greek contingent, his love for Briseis, suddenly is invaded by the pragmata of his own condition, exposed in the glinting revelation of things as they are, the concerns of his very thumatic soul. But it is not a condition of layering, of things standing between what is and the perceiver. Nothing is hidden, rather the richness of connection is accomplished in care. We find this in the poem when Achilles finally achieves the ῎Ελεος of compassion for Hector’s father and his sworn enemy King Priam, Eleos, the God of Mercy. This is what is missing from Heidegger’s notion of “truth” as kinds of covering and uncovering, in an optical metaphor of distance.

Productively I feel that the order of these points against Heidegger should be framed within a large problem in the Idealist tradition that Heidegger participates in, and this is the absolute tendency to consider philosophical questions solely in terms of a fundamental dyad. This form of analysis is one that principally comes out of the European Christian concern of how to connect the human soul with God. The presumption was that the world simply interferred in some sense (which the exception of the Church, which faciliated the connection) As God came to be displaced, the fundamental question became epistemic, how does the human perceiving subject connect to the world (and the world’s surrogate, the “object”). In taking the philosophical question to be primarily a subject/object question, the great and constitutive third, others, came to be pushed aside. In general, as philosophies become discordantly engaged with one-to-one relationships, and their profusion of binaries, it is inherently insuffient and misguided (that is, it has decomplexified the relationships of the world to an unhelpful degree). It seems to me that as Heidegger turned to Aristotlean notions of truth, categorizing them widely as Greek, and adopted a primarly optical metaphor for qualifications of Being, he did so in a way quite friendly to the pre-existing Idealist dyad of self/world. In this fashion, in his foreclosure to the immanent capacities of “care” in the Greek mind, he obscured the very third leg of the triangle, others, which would otherwise show how “care” in all things, including things “non-human” is actively involved in our mutual construction of the world, in degrees of ontological freedom.  Because “aletheia” was for Idealist Heidegger primarily an EYE/OBJECT relation (that metaphor), the constitutive movment from “lethe” (dissipative oblivion) to “a-leth-eia” (condensed internal relations of expressive care) was robbed of the very depth of the dimensionality of others. More Augustine, more Achilles was needed.

The White and the Colored In Heidegger (and Harman)

 

Thinking about the Politics of Objects

As an aftermath of my thinking about Spinoza and Heidegger it occurs to me that Heidegger ready-at-hand contains something of a notion of “Whiteness,” in the idea of invisibility (and his present-at-hand something of that of “colored”). I suspect that this probably has some strong correlate in Derrida’s critique and continuation of Heidegger, but it has been a while since I have engaged Derrida, so I want to think on it a bit myself.

The very invisibility  of the ready-at-hand, which someone like Graham Harman would like to emphasize as absolute, conceptually has of it the whiteness of society, the unseen but pure transference of power across the object such that nothing within them, about them, inhibits or retards the fullness of their expression. Such beings, what Graham calls “tool-beings,” are like what we learned white light is, a certain combination of all colors, but as to be completely transparent to our sublunar eyes.

If this generalization stands, then we might want to ask the political question, How much Whiteness is in Graham’s ever retreating objects which hide entirely from our view? Or worse, how Causacian are his tools?  (It seems odd when you put it that way, but perhaps “odd” is what is necessary to expose this proper aspect.)

We then must follow, Does not Heidegger’s veiledness of present-at-hand itself give us the very tried-and-true sense of interfering “color,” the drape of instantiated sense which forever keeps us from what something really is? (This is what you get when you love to play with binaries, you get history’s binaries.) So we ask a series of questions of a Heidegger follower. Of the sensuously rich vicars that are said to be buried in the intentional hearts of objects, the very mediating and jeweled indulgences of perception, are these really “colored people” idealizations, euphanies generated by the binarization of social terms (invisible/colored) in the first place? Is not the whiteness of society the condition of its very invisibility? And is Graham’s binarized ontology of the Real into mediating pairs then thus racially conditioned (or Colonialist)? I say this meaning no personal offense, since I believe that we all are in some sense, or even many senses Racist, by virtue of our histories. But these are questions that indeed must also be asked because Graham (as do most classical metaphysicians) asserts a certain independence of ontology from politics, and hence any ontology must defend itself when it seems to be unconsciously carrying out political forms. So are the exotic, frosted-over, accident-bedecked vicars from within, colored?

And if so, what does it politically mean to give such a representationally bestowed role to the colonial, to place the lavishly enjeweled other as our vicarious mediator? One must consider the accidental but significant fact that Graham does work out of a country he loves, Egypt, which is in a certain sense is the most resistant, and yet accommodating of colonial of countries, in my opinion. So long has Egypt been the repository for both economic wealth and the projection of esoteric wisdom for the West, it has inured itself to that cultural incursion, creating an autonomy within its representational, mediating force, strangely having insulated itself from the West, from the inside (I recall how viscerally Graham reacts against Flaubert’s idealizations and dehumanizations of “the Egyptian,” while at the same time feeling that there was an intimacy between Graham’s frosted-over and encrusted internal objects and Flaubert’s saturated depictions of Carthage in Salammbô). As I have suspected for a while, it is the qualities of object that Graham really is most concerned with. 

Hölderlin Sings of the mediating Fremde

One has to ask in this continuing vein, Are these projections of sensuous, mediating and colored vicars not the very mechanisms of whiteness, in the sense that the colony becomes the necessary and mediating extension of the homeland (a homeland that ironically enough, as Heidegger likes to dream of it in Hölderlin fashion, we are expelled from). We are all caught between our Whiteness which we can never reach or return to, adrift in a colored East which forever mediates our connection to what invisibily lies below.

Again, I recall that Graham has a repulsion for Hölderlin, Heidegger’s laureate, something he attributes to the ad nauseum  Heideggerian forays into the poetic. But Hölderlin himself seems to sum the juxtaposition perfectly, the weird world of Object-Oriented metaphysics connections, as our real states are forever mediated by what is alien to us, caught in a transferal between like and unlike:

 

Ein Zeichen sind wir, deutunglos
Schmerzlos sind wir und haben fast
Die Sprache in der Fremde verloren. 

A sign we are, meaningless
Painless we are and have nearly
The Tongue in the “East” [The Foreign] lost.

Mnemosyne (lines 1-3) [rough interlinear translation here]

And is not the “bedeutend” [indicated] of the snow that gleams and glances on the Alpine meadow just like lilies, the very principle of “allure,” the metaphorical transfer that Graham claims is the mechanism of all causal connection?

Denn Schnee, wie Majenblumen
Das Edelmüthige, wo
Es seie, bedeutend, glänzet auf der grünen Wiese
Der Alpen, hälftig
Da…

For snow, like Maylilies
High-nobility, where
It would be revealed, gleams on the greening meadow
Alpine, half
There…

With Harman-like efficacy accidental allure brings each distant, retreating object across to another distant and retreating object, the “distant signal” of whiteness communicating, poking through the rich, veiling mediator vicars of a too-sensual world, a connection which Hölderlin calls in the hymn, “Fernahnend mit/Dem andern” (sensing-distant with another). The poet to his lost Diotima? Is Graham’s theory of causation in some determinative sense, Hölderlinian, the way that real objects of the home pierce through the richness of the foreign veil? Could it be that Graham’s strong resistances to the idealizations  of the East in both Flaubert and Hölderlin are the very condition of his projections of the same into this metaphysics of mediating coloredness? And thus are this metaphysics intimately colonial of source, and accidentally so in project?

But there is a significant difference between Graham’s neo-Heideggerian position, and Heidegger’s own caught-in-the-middle universe. There is no wistfulness of detachment, or explicit longing to return home from the vicarious world; although the importation of the exotic pervades his object-universe, in a quest for the weird, (but we have yet to read his coming treatment of Orpheus, the veritable picture of lost retrieval). So though he has not been able to formulate a detailed explication of just how  vicar-mediations might operate at the inanimate level, there is no sense at all that objects as such do not in fact continually interact with distinguished flow. The existential gap of sojourn is not at all immediately present for objects, in fact, objects of each type (the real white, and the sensuous colored) are actually barred, not from interacting with the the opposite kind, as if whites cannot mix with blacks, but rather are barred from mixing with each other. The white and distant objects in retreat actually need the colored vicars to touch each other. So if we allow a political extension, the Caucasian West needs the colored East to communicate at all with the Caucasian West, and the foreign is already internal to real object state connections (in fine dialectical fashion).

This is an interesting line of analysis. Graham tells us that the color world of inner vicars is one that is externally connected to those things of its own kind (an intentional object is composed of its qualities and even accidents, each sharing the same “conceptual space”). The problem in the intentional realm is not one of isolation,  how each sensuous part might come in contact with the others of its kind, for they are ever ready to bleed into each, almost with lude enthusiasm. For this reason the colored world is somehow internally “buffered,” Graham says, keeping its characteristically natural gravitational collapse of sensuality at bey from one great con-fusion (one might read in separation of the sensous types, the ethnographic buffering of traditional or tribal customs, often to be contrasted with rational laws, a contrast then thought characteristic of “foreign” peoples). The white world of real objects have exactly the inverse of the difficulty. They are not ever-crossing the boundaries of each other, incestuous of their realm, ready to produce unexpected catalytic changes, but rather are forever in retreat, imploding, “vacuum packed,” in withdrawl from each other in isolating and unique distance. They are tellingly in tension with even their own qualities. Their qualitative manifestions they merely wear like clothing they are not quite comfortable in, like a restrained, northern people from colder climes. Little soul-cores of white essence shrink back from color (How White  are Leibniz’s monads? Do we have to ask?). In this perpetual retreat of real objects do we see the rationality of Anglo austerity and Laws, strict non-contact formulations against the body and the senses, the puritanical clean of objects/citizens themselves? Is it no wonder that for Graham these two complimentary projections indeed form a necessary pair? We must ask, insofar as these are projections of a political, sociological creation, how much does that naturalize, metaphysicalize our political products?

The Vicarious as Ideal

As mentioned, the positive for Graham’s metaphysics is that these two, the colored object of sensuality and the white object of cold removal, are interdependent upon each other. He concentrates more it seems on the way that the white object needs the mediation of the colored object, and there is some sense in which the colored object only persists because it is enveloped in a greater real/white object (in his theory of causation, The Intentional as a Whole, which holds as somehow private the asymmetical meeting ground  between white and colored objects). These are slight biases against the place of mediating sensual representation figures. But all in all he also seems to see them as completely interwoven kinds which from the wider view is really the interweave of two equal realms. They form complimentary “problems.” Each realm is seemingly autonymous but still needful of the properties of the other for communication with its own kind.

If any of this analysis of color is correct, then where does that leave the political imprint and force of Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy? It conceptualization seems to be derived from a colonialist inspired history of idealized foreignness, the dripping wealth of the native which is always placed in a mediating (vicarious) position towards whiteness itself. As with idealizations of the noble savage, one knows that such esteem always harbors the dangers of its suppressed reverse, the projection of the negative shadow of whiteness. In this Graham’s depiction of vicars does not explicitly, or even implicitly participate, which does not mean that it is not present. 

But then there is that extraordinary metaphor of the bomb found in his essay on vicarious causation, which must have strong political resonance given the time and country that he inhabits:

 

Something must happen on the
sensual plane to allow them to make contact,
just as
corrosive chemicals lie side by side in a bomb -
separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by
distant signals.

(“On Vicarious Cauation” 197)

I put it in a stanza because Graham is an evocative, poetic writer at times and the point he is making is indeed the point of contact that subsumes the sensuous as part of its means. The “bomb” of the unexpected comes from the very proximity of the sensous colored ones, which somehow corrode into catalytic action, bringing real white objects into explosive collision OR, the bomb comes from the distant signals of real white objects sent to each other. (Actually, in the greater passage it is not quite clear to me just what is lying next to what, or what doing something to something else.) In this extraordinary analogy the bomb of the middle east goes off out of the very sensuous communicabilty of colored interactions, the provoked collapse of their customed bufferings, by the clean signal sent by white objects to one another, through their foreign medium. And all of causation in the world is seen to be something of a terrorist bomb.

Cairo, the Weird of Causation and the Democracy of Objects

Equal authority is granted to the colored realms – remember that the first occasionalist Graham turns to is notably Islamic, Al-Ghazali, though Object-Oriented Philsophy strips him of his God.  That power is given to the colored facility of connection, in that it is at least rhetorically a form of political, fringe, violent protest against the West that becomes a model for causality itself, one sees through to Graham’s “democracy of objects” where each object has the same rights, the right to erupt from depths; and thus all things are imagined as engaged in a mutuality of two inter-locking realms even if in mysterious and unpredictable communication, beneath the surface. But the great problem is, at least for my theoretical ear, that much of this evocative and explanatory language has not only a deep entrenchment in the Idealist tradition (something I have argued at length from various directions), but also in the very ethnocentric projections of a determinatively White West. The very attributes of positive characterists that imbue the internal vicars that allow all these cold, distant objects who can’t touch, to touch, are charicatures of Eastern or more widely, colored rich. In this way they perpetuate the image of their own enslavement. And the very poetic gravitational centers which make such a description attractive (that give it its allure), are those aspects which retard us from being able to conceive of the dynamics between things as fundamentally and conceptually different than these projections of our historical past. Is it necessarily true that the white must depend upon a vicarious colored? And if so, is not this logical dependency born of its very imaginative split, upon the assertion of “white” in the first place?

But the attractiveness of such an exotic theory does not  merely condemn it to a simple repetition of past forms. One must admit that the very lure of it is also the means by which it may allow a transformation of the projections it uses; that is, the exotic language of vicar description as it puts colored obects into more centralized mediating roles, may in the service of a “democracy of objects” allow us or future others to metaphysically write themselves out beyond such idealizations, at the proper time. And there is the sense that come from a Western writer in an American University, within Cairo, it is just such a “weird” metaphysics that is incredibly timely, expressing a logic of ethnic tension in a materialistic, capitalized Age. Yet if this is the case (and that remains to be argued), such a metaphysics I believe must also be strongly critiqued for its inheritance, as colonial, so as to trace the transformations it brings to Heideggerian (and Hölerlinian) whites and coloreds, so to fully allow the directional “bombs” of Graham’s conceptions to go off most soterologically. If we are going to binarize, we must keep track of our binaries, where they come from, and where they lead. 

For my part, though I admit this possible  productivity of the rhetoric, I find these kinds of metaphysical plays with binaries highly problematic, especially when they put forth the form of a naturalized “kind” which embodies much that really should be examined in a more rigorous way. And I wonder if Latour’s resistance to Graham’s retreating objects behind his own ANT occasional actors of ever kind and color is an instinctive retreat from any explanatory oppositional whiteness. The reason why actors may be enough for Latour is that coloredness is enough, there is only colorness, so to speak, not just as a matter of our condition, but of the condition of the world. While I do not find Latour’s flatness of actors and networks satisfying, and agree with Graham that a deepening is needed, I am suspect of any good that a binary of absent, invisible things does. Rather it strikes me that it is more in the very structural dynamics of power, into the depths of causal explanation itself, the way that understanding how something works gives real ontological change in the capacity to act, that we better turn. In this way we side step both the positivity and negativity of theoretical allure, rather to make of our philosophy the most articulate grammar of an effective communication across the currents of these rooted identifications.

Checking Heidegger’s Hammer: The Pleasure and Direction of the Whirr

How to Philosophize With a Hammer (or better…Spinoza’s Hatchet)

Heidegger is credited with profound originality in his treatment of “the hammer”, something even it is said his critics have to doff their hat to. With this we cannot, and should not dispute. But, it may be enough to point out that approximately 265 years before there was Heidegger’s Hammer, there was a similar point made by Spinoza, in the carpenter’s hatchet. Spinoza indeed, as a actual craftsman who thought deeply about his tools, had a sort of Tool-Being analysis which might help us reflect upon the nature of distinction that Heidegger was making (and that those that follow him continue to make). The comparison of these tools I originally found here, but is in reference to the essay “Heidegger’s Hammer, Spinoza’s Hatchet” by Eccy de Jonge, apparently defunctly found here, but which I have not been able to read. Here are the two complimentary passages:

Spinoza:

Seventhly, this knowledge also brings us so far that we attribute all to God, love him alone because he is the most glorious and the most perfect, and thus offer ourselves up entirely to him; for these really constitute both the true service of God and our own eternal happiness and bliss. For the sole perfection and the final end of a slave and of a tool is this, that they duly fulfill the task imposed on them. For example, if a carpenter, while doing some work, finds his Hatchet of excellent service, then this Hatchet has thereby attained its end and perfection; but if he should think: this Hatchet has rendered me such good service now, therefore I shall let it rest, and exact no further service from it, then precisely this Hatchet would fail of its end, and be a Hatchet no more. Thus also is it with man, so long as he is a part of Nature he must follow the laws of Nature, and this is divine service; and so long as he does this, it is well with him. But if God should (so to say) will that man should serve him no more, that would be equivalent to depriving him of his well-being and annihilating him; because all that he is consists in this, that he serves God.

The Short Treatise On God, Man and His-Well-Being, part II, chapter XVIII “On the Uses of the Foregoing”

Heidegger:

[The] less we stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is-as equipment … If we look at Things just ‘theoretically’, we can get along without understanding readiness-to-hand. But when we deal with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one; it has its own kind of sight, by which our manipulation is guided and from which it acquires its specific Thing character …

The ready-to-hand is not grasped theoretically at all, nor is it itself the sort of thing that circumspection takes proximally as a circumspective theme. The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in order to be ready-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically. That with which our everyday dealings proximally dwell is not the tools themselves. On the contrary, that with which we concern ourselves primarily is the work – that which is to be produced at the time; and this is accordingly ready-to-hand too. The work bears with it that referential totality within which the equipment is encountered.

 Being and Time, section 15, “The Being of Entities Encountered in the Environment,” under the Analysis of Environmentality and Worldhood in General 

First, I want to really thank the initial two authors for bringing the two selections into contact for me. It never had occurred to me that there would be so close an analogical connection between Spinoza and Heidegger, in text, though long I had sensed that Spinoza works to resolve something of the strained and willfully produced tension in Heidegger’s human-torqued universe of fundamental alienation. (Briefly I could say that metaphysics of alienation are naturalizations of political products, and as such work to make invisible the results of choices we have collectively made.) Spinoza’s insistence that human beings are not “a kingdom within a kingdom” seems a well suited antidote to Heidegger’s “thrownness” [Geworfenheit], in concrete terms.

How the Hammer and the Hatchet Touch

But let us look at the two passages and see if we can rough-cut the correspondences and divergences in such a way to see were the Heideggerian and Spinozian realms touch. Happily, each uses the example of a tool, Heidegger famously so, to illustrate a fundamental metaphysical realty. For Heidegger it is to point out just what readiness-to-hand is, and kind of invisible power of the efficacy of the tool (as Graham Harman will tell us, of any object), whose power defies conception, theorization, or presentation. When we cease to engage a tool, pausing to look at it and frame it (the move from ready-to-hand to present-at-hand), breaking it out of its assemblage of powerful action, the tool becomes strange for us. It recedes from our occupation of it. Its presencing veils it from us, like an apparitional cloak. Yet if we look to strip away this veil by taking up the tool again, and using it, as the veil fades, along with the increasing efficacy of tool in use, so does the object itself. What we are looking to grasp, in literal grasping, vanishes.

A similar thing seems to happen to Spinoza’s carpentry hatchet. While it is being used by the carpenter it is filled with hatchetness, performing all the hatchet-effects of what it is, but once it is retired from work, it no longer is a hatchet at all. Its very essence seems to retreat from the carpenter into a distinct but unspecified objecthood. How much are Heidegger and Spinoza pointing out similar things?

Let us dig into Spinoza’s illustration though so to see how deeply it cuts into Heidegger’s hammer example. The first thing to note is that Spinoza is using an analogy meant to describe both human, teleological action, and the ultimate ground of those actions, the ateleological actions of Substance. In that he is describing human action in which things are characteristically marked by their place in function, he seems to be touching on something quite close to Heidegger’s point. The object of the hatchet, even when being fully used by the carpenter, or when laid down and retired, is in surpass (or retreat) of either condition. The ultimate ground of the object is deeper than each, teleological action, or contemplative repose. It oscillates between hatchet-in-action and not-hatchet-in-inaction.

But there is a further dimension to Spinoza’s point, for by analogy the “carpenter” is not a functionally minded man, but God, Substance, Nature. And the use that the “hatchet” is put to is not to build a wall, house or chair, but simply to exist and express Substance. In this way the object is fully deployed when existing. It cannot be named because its function runs in every direction along the full web of interactions which it supports, and is supported by. So in existence, the object stands bright. radiating out all its possibility (though the human carpenter locked in his teleological perspective does not fully see it). And when the carpenter “God” lays the hatchet down, to retire it, it simply passes out of existence, though still having Being under an aspect of eternity. It is no longer deployed, no longer what it was, but its objecthood, as an essence, remains, de-nominated.

The Carpenter’s Hand

Yet, there is a bit of a trick here. Is it so for Spinoza that Heidegger’s general claim of two kinds of invisibility of objects, those invisibly in use, and those present in rest, are present in Spinoza’s example of the human carpenter? We can see that as the human carpenter looks to his hatchet he only grasps some aspect of it in the as-structure of its use, something that is a veil of its ultimate and active object-capacities. But is the hatchet also invisible when being used, and the carpenter concentrates on his work? I think that the whole of Spinozist philosophy works against just that kind of imagined and absolute invisibility.

First take in Graham Harman’s summation of the Principle of Invisibility  implied by Heidegger’s tool-analysis. Graham’s interpretation is important because it pushes to the limit the fully abstract character of Heidegger’s claims, and as such makes clear just where Heideggerian abstractions depart from the relevant world, forcing open a gap between a science fiction philosophy of objects, and an abstract philosophy of what matters.

Heidegger has shown that its [tool-being's] first notable trait is its invisibility. As a rule, the more efficiently the tool the tool performs its function, the more it tends to recede from view: “The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in its readiness-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw [zurückziehen] in order to be ready-at-hand quite authentically.” But this familiar point is rarely grasped in a sufficiently rigorous way. It is not just that equipment is generally invisible as long as it is working properly. Such a notion could never surpass the level of empirical anecdote, and only invites free-wheeling attempts at contradiction (“but then we noticed that it worked a lot better if you stared right at the damn thing”). The truth is far more radical than this. In the first instance, there is an internal chasm between equipment and tool-being. The wrench as reality and the visible or tactile wrench are incommensurable kingdoms, solitary planes without hope of intersection. The function or action of a tool, its tool-being, is absolutely  invisible – even if the hammer never leaves my sight. Neither gazing at an object nor theorizing about an object is enough to lure its being from concealment (21) 

Tool-being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects, Graham Harman

I want to take up Graham Harman’s call for “sufficiently rigorous” grasping of the Heideggerian notion of withdrawl. I think it is important though, as fast as Graham wants to fly into things other than outright tools (bank accounts, mindless jingles, hairballs), to stay with tools. For its is from human experiences with tools that Heidegger derives much of the convincing power of his great abstraction. If we are to be rigorous about the claim, we must concentrate on the exact nature of the site of the illustration, and see if the general point being made  can  even find enough ground there. Once approved there, we then can track out all the translations into The Great Wide Open of any object whatsoever.

Carefully we note that for Heidegger the two occluded states of invisible action (equipment) and veiled repose are the famously the two states of working and broken tool:

Equipment in action operates in an inconspicuous usefulness, doing its work without our noticing it. When the tool fails, its unobtrusive quality is ruined. There occurs a jarring of reference, so that the tool becomes visible as what it is: “The contexture of reference and thus the referential totality undergoes a distinctive disturbance which forces us to pause.” There is thus a double life of equipment – tool in action, tool in disrepair. These two planes would seem never to intersect, since the visibility of the tool immediately marks it’s cessation as equipment. But in fact, their point of intersection provides what amounts to the central theme for Heidegger’s career: namely, the as-structure. Through the “as,” the two worlds actually turn out to exist only in communion, in constant intersection with one another… (Harman 45)

Now we all know exactly what Heidegger is talking about. We are working away, concentrating on the nails, the wood-finish, thinking about lunch, hammering away, and the hammer is very close to being “invisible” (if we are a good enough carpenter). But then if the handle fractures, it sends up a vibration to the hand that suddenly shocks it into visibility, but as a hammer, as we look at it that is somehow lost. Beautiful, excellent poetic description of some aspects of what it is like to use a hammer, it kind of passes between these two states. I wish to bring up an objection though which hopefully will not fall too much into the category of “free-wheeling” “empirical anecdote” for a reader such Graham, for I already find Heidegger’s analogical binary a bit too free-wheeling on its own right. The objection to invisibility is not as Graham states it, “but then we noticed that it worked a lot better if you stared right at the damn thing” but it is much more radical than that.

The Texture of Communication

And that is, for a great variety of tools (and I will come to suspect, perhaps all tools and therefore objects), Heidegger and his radix purifier, has left out an entire dimension of visibility, the way that visibility and workability actually coincide together. In their pursuit of irreconcilable binaries something important has been lost, and their entire reductive, categorical claim depends upon the exhaustabilty of its split. Heidegger wants withdrawal to be the very mark of the authenticity of readiness-to-hand, but if anyone has used a tool that excels in its capacities, one understands that there is a way that the tool leaps into visibility that has nothing to do with repose or reflection or theorization. A musician who picks up a Stradivarius and pulls the bow, whether for the first time, or 1,00oth, has something of the instrument’s depth that reverberates with its very surplus of the mere functionality of the thing, a surplus that feeds back into its very function and performance. A baseball player who lifts and swings the right maple-wood bat, testing out is character of distribution, a character which fills his hands, has a presencing of the object which is conditioned upon its very performance. Swinging the bat in its arc, the bat only “disappears” in the most restrictively defined notion of sense. Instead the bat continually reports and manifests because of its mutuality with the human body. A racecar driver that is prostheticallyextended to the road through an expert suspension system, does not actually feel the suspension system become invisible in its performance, but rather the suspension is cybernetically feedback into the horizon of the body as a constitutive factor in the performance itself, making itself known as a series of limits and expressions. This is known as the “feel” of an instrument, not as the last visible vestige of  a tool’s inefficiency, but the very live, material connectivity to the world. As much as Heidegger (and perhaps even more Graham Harman) may want to divide an object into “working” invisibility and “broken” (in)visibility, there is a profound aspect of “working” which is made up of the very substance of revealed and composite com-munication, which means literally “to divide up within one, to share”. As such there is a variability of consubstantial change (the violin becomes the musician, the musician the violin) which oscillates between the parts, such that we can say that the parts are “seen” by each other. We certainly admit that the violin can indeed disappear before the music, the car before the road, but in no way is there a categorical link between efficacy of performance and invisibility. In the very fact that objects regularly become visible through their performability, the charge of their expressivity. This visibility of expression might indeed get us to pause, and to do as Graham says, look at the object, and notice its performance in it own right, but this is distinct from the expressive inter-relationship itself, the way that the very effective performance of a tool, and instrument, a prosthetic, depends upon the inter-relatability of the combination of our parts with its parts. We do not only notice our body when it breaks down. In fact, and dancer knows, inhabits with great visibility its own body, increment by increment, capacity by capacity, in such a way that the dance itself becomes visible, as an excellence.

So why did Heidegger (and Graham) miss this (or subdivide it into non-importance), and what does this have to do with what Spinoza says? Well, the problem is that each of the former are looking for binaries that will be locked against each other and that is because they come from an intellectual heritage of Idealism which wants to profoundly assert subject/object, Being/Non-Being, object/object dichotomies (CCC). When each looks at a tool they want to see how it can break into two, and only two pieces. In fact though, once Graham has isolated out this neat binary of the hammer, its supposed broken and unbroken parts, he wants to get as far away as possible from actual tools, real world human actions altogether:

I will argue that Heidegger’s tool-analysis has nothing to do with any kind of “pragmaticism,” or indeed with any theory of human action at all. Instead the philosophy of Heidegger forces us to develop a ruthless inquiry into the structure of objects themselves, and to a greater extent than even he himself would have endorsed (15).

He says this I think because he feels that Heidegger gives us conceptual capacity to be ruthless and transgress the human realm and give full rights to objects as things themselves, to make them each a miniature neutron star bombarding us with unknown energies. But the problem is that he runs a bit too fast from the human realm, and has not inspected the full vibrancy of tool use itself, the way in which tools necessarily employ visibility through performance.

The De-Centered Human in the Use of Mechanism

Counter to this I place Spinoza who like Graham also had a philosophical bent to de-centralize humans (nothing that Heidegger shares). Additionally, instead of using hammers as abstract, and quite theoretical objects like Heidegger, Spinoza was a craftsman of great care and precision. Much of his days was spent thinking about, choosing and using tools. A process which relied upon the manual improvements that come from a craftsman’s hand. One might say that as adept as Heidegger was at metaphysical reasoning, Spinoza was at instrument making (leaving his own metaphysics aside). His practice as lens-grinder was necessarily laborious and technique rich, relying upon not only precise measurement and material choice, but also harmonious and embodied physical labor. And with his hand-ground lenses he made some of the more respected microscopes and telescopes of his day:

A Spring-pole lens grinding lathe, mid 17th century

I believe much of his metaphysics was causally derived from his experiences with tools and their projects [An example]. If anyone would have concluded through a real life engagementwithtools that tools become categorically invisible when they perform well, it would have been Spinoza. It was precisely the opposite. Spinoza’s interaction with the glass blank and his lathe produced in him a shattering of the very human/world divide that enrapture’s Heideggerian disjointed universe of veilings. Likely, it was the distinct way that tools become visible in the very fabric of their performance (and not as an after thought, though that too), that Spinoza realized that human beings must be tools like all other things, and that only by the lived combination of powers, in manifesting displays of created self-determinations, that human beings experience a (relative) freedom. For this reason, human beings (and all things) become more perfect, more active, and most importantly in Heideggerian terms, have more being, to the degree that they combine with the manifestation of others. And tool use, tool-combination, is an irreplaceable aspect of this freedom. Performance is visibility.

So when Graham attempts to minimize the actual states of human consciousness under ultimate questions of visibility and performance, setting up two worlds…:

Someone might object that the tool is always invisible “only in a certain respect” rather than absolutely. And sure enough, a table obviously does not vanish into the ether once it begins to function as a support for plates and apples. But this complaint once again presupposes the idea of the table as a natural object, proportions of its reality momentarily visible and others unseen. On the contrary, it is not the chance fluctuations of human attention that determine whether the ready-to-hand is invisible or not. To say that the tool is unseen “for the most part” is ultimately superfluous, even incorrect. Whatever is visible of the table is in any given instant can never be its tool-being, never  its ready-to-hand. However deeply we meditate on the table’s act of supporting solid weights, however tenaciously we monitor its presence, any insight that is yielded will always be something quite distinct from this act itself.

(The Weight of Fleeting Thoughts)

…I feel in his quest to over shoot the concrete example and ascend to universalizing abstractions, he he misses the determining aspect of human action. It is not its the “humanness” of human action, or even its subjective character that makes it what it is. Rather it is exactly the incremental “fluctuations of human attention” that indeed do make up the degrees of power of ontological change. Spinoza I think would indeed agree that when using a tool or object or condition we as teleologically oriented beings do not fully grasp it, that there is a degree of invisibility (and also that when we nominalize it in a system of use and reference, particularly those of functional definition, we also have inadequate ideas, and it surpasses us). But what he would refuse is that our combination with other objects necessarily and categorically forecloses their visibility. Instead, it is our very participation with them that their internal natures are communicated to us, revealedly, in our bodies, because our bodies have become mutual. The reason for this is twofold. One is that, because Heidegger’s Idealist derived object-consciousness of definition of mental action has to be abandoned if we are ever to let go of a human-centric philosophy of the world, ultimately whether an object is not before our “mind’s eye” or not, whether we are locked in on the Stradivarius or not, is not a true measure of visibility. Mental action is not a picture-making, or picture-defined process. Mental action is revelation through both internal experience (across bounds) and expressional freedom to self-determine. The second reason for this is found in Spinoza’s treatment of just those “chance fluctuations” that Graham is so quick to dismiss as anything important.  Heidegger is talking about big things, not whether one’s mind lights upon the length of a table or the timbre of a cord played.

But Spinoza has it right, as he expresses in the General Definition of the Affects:

But it should be noted that, when I say a greater or lesser force of existing than before, I do not understand that the Mind compares its Body’s present constitution with a past constitution, but that the idea which constitutes the form of the affect affirms of the body something which really involves more or less reality than before (E3, General Definition of the Affects)

It is precisely in the moment to moment fluctuations of the mental life that the moment to moment ontological fluctuations of the power of the human body and mind are found. Each and every moment, each trace of thought to another thought, is veridically linked to increases and diminishments of the person’s capacity to act in the world. The Principles of Invisibility and Veiledness which Spinoza has some affinity toward, are cross slashed with vectors of raw power ruled by the experience of Joy. It is for this reason that Spinoza speaks of the excellent service of his hatchet. We human beings are already, as tool-beings of Substance, fully expressing ourselves unto our contingent causal matrix. We are at full service to Being. But through the following of Joy and the reading of the expressive power of other tool-beings, in increasingly self-determined assemblage, we can acquire more being, more freedom, more Joy. It is the very visibility that is experienced with tool performance, the way that a violin sings, and must sing, in order to be a playable violin, in order for our fingers to combine with it, that points us between Heidegger’s twin realms, making ourselves more visible.

In a certain sense Spinoza realizes that we are both external to events as human beings, and internal to them. Which is to say that because human beings do not comprise a kingdom within the kingdom of Being, but rather ultimately are expressions of it, though our passings between Heideggerian veiled and invisible realms seems to lock ourselves in, the greatest portion of our capacity to ingest our abstactions seems to be that like a water-mammal: when we go under the surface in performance with objects and they seem to recede into optical invisibility, because we too are made of the same stuff (the same primary connections between body and mind) and thus are in communication with it, when things appear to vanish into equipment, this is livingly so as an expressive state such that our growingly extensive bodies become inhabited across their dimension with perception and internal revelation. Subcutaneously there is conscious revelation in the experience of powers and Joys such that never is that world in-cognizant. We become what we know in action because we are already conjoined to it, however confusedly.

For those who want a world that is fractured, alienating, eruptive, weird, schizophrenic, I believe that there is plenty of room for that on the lived Spinozist plane of affective, bodily cybernetic reveal. There are disruptive paths that leap between local minima, that makes of one object the surprising neutron star of rays and beams. What is important though is not to naturalize our alienations as metaphysical boundaries in their own right, and so to see that the bridgings between this ontological moment so constituted by your relations, and the ones they follow, can rightfully have a path as vectored and free as our capacity to grasp and combine as we can make it. There can be no real hiding when we are part of the hidden, by degrees.

Rorty’s Alternate History of Heidegger

I repost here Rorty’s brilliantly written and imagined alternate history of Heidegger. He contingently falls passionately in love with a young Jewess in 1930, moves to American eventually to teach at Rorty’s literal alma mater the University of Chicago (not mentioning that when he enrolled there while still a 14 year old in 1946, Rorty could have taken a course with the projectional Heidegger – can you imagine the little pubescent/precocious young boy staring at the lowering German, I think Rorty wants us to), eventually taking a formative place in the moderate Right of German politics, a thorn in Habermas’s side.

It shows off something more than just a political, or even philosophical point. I think it shows the glee Rorty felt for the nature of an Idea, even a narrative one, a glee that drove many of his Anti-Realist, a-philosophical musings. There is a tendency I think to minimize the weight of Rorty’s contribution to philosophy, to see him as a something of a popularizer – how can someone be saying something philosophically significant, and still be understood by the “masses”, must not philosophy be a question of access, of initiation, of terms…a profession in code? I sense that Rorty did something more than synthesize and simplify. In any case, this piece contains something of the elan of the man, his Joy, the professional anti-philosopher. 

Aside from this, Graham Harman, Heidegger’s metaphysical revisor/interpreter seemed to enjoy it, so at the very least it takes its place among some of the more entertaining, concisely written “ifs” in the history of philosophy.

The Alternative History of Martin Heidegger | Richard Rorty
From Philosophy and Social Hope (p.190-197 ), originally published in the London Review of Books as ‘Another Possible World’, 8 February 1990. This is an excerpt found at Good Reads:

I take a person’s moral character – his or her sensitivity to the sufferings of others – to be shaped by chance events in his or her life. Often, perhaps usually, this sensitivity varies independently of the projects of self-creation that the person undertakes in his or her work.

I can clarify what I mean by ‘chance events’ and ‘independent variation’ by sketching a slightly different possible world – a world in which Heidegger joins his fellow antiegalitarian, Thomas Mann, in preaching resistance to Hitler. To see how this possible world might have been actual, imagine that in the summer of 1930 Heidegger suddenly finds himself deeply in love with a beautiful, intense, adoring philosophy student named Sarah Mandelbaum. Sarah is Jewish, but Heidegger barely notices this, dizzy with passion as he is. After a painful divorce from Elfride – a process that costs him the friendship of, among other people, the Husserls – Heidegger marries Sarah in 1932. In January 1933 they have a son, Abraham.

Heidegger jokes that Sarah can think of Abraham as named after the patriarch, but that he will think of him as named after Abraham a Sancta Clara, the only other Messkirch boy to make good. Sarah looks up Abraham a Sancta Clara’s anti-Semitic writings in the library stacks, and Heidegger’s little joke becomes the occasion of the first serious quarrel between husband and wife. But by the end of 1933, Heidegger is no longer making such jokes. For Sarah makes him notice that the Jewish Beamt, including his father-in-law, have been cashiered. Heidegger reads things about himself in the student newspaper that make him realize that his day in the sun may be over. Gradually it dawns upon him that his love for Sarah has cost him much of his prestige, and will sooner or later cost him his job.

But he still loves her, and eventually he leaves his beloved Freiburg for her sake. In 1935 Heidegger is teaching in Berne, but only as a visitor. Switzerland has by now given away all its philosophy chairs. Suddenly a call comes from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. There Heidegger spends two years slowly and painfully learning English, aching for the chance once again to spellbind seminar rooms of worshipfully attentive students. He gets a chance to do so in 1937 when some of his fellow emigres arrange a permanent job for him at the University of Chicago.

There he meets Elizabeth Mann Borgese, who introduces him to her father. Heidegger manages to overcome his initial suspicion of the Hanseatic darling of fortune, and Mann his initial suspicion of the Black Forest Bauernkind. They find they agree with each other, and with Adorno and Horkheimer; that America is a reduction ad absurdum of Enlightenment hopes, a land without culture. But their contempt for America does not prevent them from seeing Hitler as having ruined Germany and being about to ruin Europe. Heidegger’s stirring anti-Nazi broadcasts enable him to gratify a need a strike a heroic attitude before large masses of people – a need that he might, under other circumstances, have gratified in a rectorial address.

By the end of the Second World War, Heidegger’s marriage is on the rocks. Sarah Heidegger is a social democrat to the core, loves America, and is a passionate zionist. She has come to think of Heidegger as a great man with a cold and impervious heart, a heart which had once opened to her but remains closed to her social hopes. She has come to despise the egotist as much as she admires the philosopher and the anti-Nazi polemicist. In 1947 she separates from Heidegger and takes the 14-year-old Abraham with her to Palestine. She is wounded in the civil war but eventually, after the proclamation of independence, becomes a philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University.

Heidegger himself returns to Freiburg in triumph in 1948. There he gets his old friend Gadamer a job, even though he is acidly contemptuous of Gadamer’s acquiescence in the Nazi takeover of the German universities. He eventually takes as his third wife a war widow, a woman who reminds all his old friends of Elfride. When he dies in 1976, his wife lays on his coffin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the medal of the order Pour le Merite, and the gold medal of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This last had been awarded him in the year after the publication of his brief but poignant elegy for Abraham, who had died on the Golan Heights in 1967.

What books did Heidegger write in this possible world? Almost exactly the same ones he wrote in the actual one. In this world, however, the Introduction to Metaphysics contains a contemptuous identification of the National Socialist movement with the mindless nihilism of modern technology, as well as the remark that Hitler is dragging Germany down to the metaphysical level of Russia and America. The seminars on Nietzsche are much that same as those he gave in our world, except for a digression on Nietzsche’s loathing for anti-Semites, a digression that contains uncanny parallels to Sartre’s contemporaneous but independent Portrait of the Anti-Semite. In this world, Heidegger writes most of the same exegetical essays he wrote in our world, but he adds appreciations of Thoreau and of Jefferson, composed for lectures at Harvard and at the University of Virginia respectively. The two essays evince Heidegger’s familiar sentimental agrarianism and suspicion of the urban proletariat. His books in this world are, in short, documents of the same struggle he carried on in the actual world – the struggle to move outside the philosophical tradition and there ‘sing a new song’. This struggle, this private pursuit of purity, was the core of his life. It was incapable of being greatly influenced either by his love for particular persons or by the political events of his time.

In our world, Heidegger said nothing political after the war. In the possible world I am sketching he puts his prestige as an anti-Nazi to work in making the German political right respectable. He is adored by Franz Josef Srauss, who pays regular and worshipful visits to Todtnauberg. Occasionally Heidegger appears with Strauss at political rallies. Social Democrats like Habermas regret Heidegger’s being consistently on the wrong side in postwar German politics. Sometimes, in private, they voice the suspicion that, in slightly different circumstances, Heidegger would have made a pretty good Nazi. But they never dream of saying such a thing in public about the greatest European thinker of our time.

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