Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #4: Peine forte et dure

These pages are meant as an accompaniment to the experience of reading The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, a number of lectures delivered by Martin Heidegger in 1927 at the time of his ascension to academic and philosophical success in the final days of the Weimar Republic. You’re highly encouraged to read along with the lectures themselves; section markers are provided. If you are unable to find a copy of the lectures, either in German or English, write to me and I might have something up my sleeve. As for myself, I’m not a philosopher, nor do I aspire to be one. What I am is an avid interrogator of the relation between thought and violence. This space is thus to become a garden in which various commentaries on thought, history, violence, and our lives will grow. Put aside the fast-paced horror of today’s live-streamed unraveling of reality and come consider another, quieter time when – jokes. Things were pretty fucked then and they’re fucked now. Come, whether tired or angry, and join the attempt at understanding philosophy’s place in this madness.

Introduction §4.

“It’s a mess, ain’t it Sheriff.”
“If it ain’t, it’ll do till one gets here.”

No Country for Old Men

I know. There’s a lot going on. I don’t think that you or I have it in us now to so quickly turn to something as mundane, as innocent as another preparatory lecture at the University of Marburg in 1927, and which Heidegger only green-lit for publication shortly before his death. So let us be brief as we do our obligated diligence and maybe at the end of this head towards something softer for the later part of the day. As for the actual bit of the text for this round, the actual content is mostly a roadmap and some more of that sweet pedal repetition with few new harmonic phrases thrown in. I think it’s fine to keep it short, as most of what’s addressed here is just ear-marking topics for later, and right now with the US as it is, I’d rather not waste too much time on bookkeeping. Remember gang, we’re only getting on the entrance ramp. So among the usual Sein vs Seinde, we’re introduced to the crucial component of time. This is apparently going to be part of the wrench that’s going to help us tear Being from the beings. And once we tear away from the realm of the extant, Doc promises us we’ll be in the clouds of a transzendentale Wissenschaft, a transcendental science dealing with earthly things no more.

For that to work, we’re going to have to do a bit of rummaging in the ol’ ontological drawer and dust off some earlier contenders. Specifically, we’ll be taking four points in the history of philosophy – but remember you, there’s no history being done so keep all hands and other parts inside the ride at all times – which Doc aggressively insists seem unrelated but are actually related. I wasn’t really going to argue, but alright. Anyway, the dogs in this fight are going to be… drumroll please, but maybe somehow less martial after all:

1. Kant’s thesis: Being is not a real predicate.
2. The thesis of medieval ontology (Scholasticism) which goes back to Aristotle: To the constitution of the being of a being there belong (a) whatness, essence (Was-sein, essentia), and (b) existence or extantness ( existentia, Vorhandensein).
3. The thesis of modern ontology: The basic ways of being are the being of nature (res extensa) and the being of mind (res cogitans).
4. The thesis of logic in the broadest sense: Every being, regardless of its particular way of being, can be addressed and talked about by means of the “is.” The being of the copula.1Heidegger, p. 15; “1. Die These Kants: Sein ist kein reales Prädikat. 2. Die These der auf Aristoteles zurückgehenden mittelalterlichen Ontologie (Scholastik): Zur Seinsverfassung eines Seienden gehören das Was-sein (essentia) und das Vorhandensein (existentia). 3. Die These der neuzeitlichen Ontologie: Die Grundweisen des Seins sind das Sein der Natur (res extensa) und das Sein des Geistes (res cogitans). 4. Die These der Logik im weitesten Sinne: Alles Seiende läßt sich unbeschadet seiner jeweiligen Seinsweise ansprechen durch das >ist<; das Sein der Kopula.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 20.

Difference, Articulation, Modification, and Truth. I don’t remember those being the names of the horsemen, but I didn’t pay attention in Sunday school. Well, not much we can say there other than I hope you’re ready to deal with Kant in a way that’ll get you laughed at if your friends happen to be neo-Kantians. Which, these days, is frankly on you.

I hope you’re ready for the fight. Feeling the intensity. The lust. To arouse is to stir, to begin to find movement where it wasn’t before. While the rest of the world lies in ruins, shocked by the never before seen levels of human destruction of the War, Doc’s head is elsewhere. Remember, then was also a time Before, as we now still cling to this ledge which, as we speak, crumbling into something darker, unknowable, and it was then that:

the reservist soldier Heidegger has discovered a new intensity. It is not war itself, but that which remains when the catastrophe all round burns up everything else. It is not the bath of steel of victory but the great slag removal through defeat. This is his way of believing “in the spirit and its power – he who lives in it and for it never fights a losing battle” (November 6, 1918).

R. Safranski, 1999. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, p. 87

Prelude, perhaps overdue

We’re all waiting and watching. Shit’s a mess but it’s been a mess for a while now. Question is what kind of mess it’s gonna be down the road. It’s been making a lot of people ask themselves why the hell they started mainlining CNN for days to no avail. Gotta hope the next hit brings you that sweet relief. But in reality, things aren’t going smoothly and people don’t know what to say. A lot of hot air, and undoubtedly some good bits in there too, but they’re pretty hard to find among the chaos. As for this series, we’re barely nearing the end of the introduction and I’ve been allowing myself to speak quite loosely, jumping around too much into little pools of narrative indulgences. It’d do good for us to place ourselves here. The end of the beginning. Seems somehow appropriate. These lectures were given, to speak with a sloppy historical gesture, on the cusp. This was before the camps,1 the gulags, the Bomb, the supposed end of biological-Darwinism, before the flower-emoji international order of the liberal nation-state and so much more. Yet make no mistake, despite the spectacle of Corona and the US election, we are also now only in the time Before; whatever is coming is only now being built, perhaps is already slowly lifting it’s tired wicked wings from the earth again. In fact, looking out over the city, I don’t think it’ll be that long before the first ripples of the impact start to shatter the frame beyond repair.

It might at this point be worth my throwing a glance in the rear-view mirror of this hermeneutic clown car and ask the passengers if they – you, that is – are sure they want to go on this trip. Roadtrips always sound nice, but then you’re 16 hours in, broken down in some flatlands Iowa rest stop wishing to God or some greater might of fury that everyone would just shut the fuck up. That and stop taking so long in the bathroom.2That is, in Europe. I exclude the concentration camps of the British and other colonial forces not out of oversight, but because mainland philosophy hadn’t yet been yet forced to confront them. For a good explanation of how the supposedly objective horror of fascism relates to the choice of its victims, see

A reminder then that our goal, the final point on this map that’s starting to look a bit queasy itself, is a phenomenological foundation of the knowledge of being itself. Let me ask you, again with a straight face if this is something you really care about? Even from the driver’s seat I can’t help but wonder when facing this task in its sobriety and enormity something which perhaps Heidegger never had the pleasure of being asked to his face: who really gives a shit? I guess it’s actually right to say there are two flavors to this question: first, who gives a shit in the philosophical sense – what does it mean to us to answer this metaphysical question. Then there’s the second, and more obviously relevant social-historical flavor of the question.

Regarding the former, here we’ve already brushed up on some of sense of impasse regarding today’s ability to really grapple with an ontological question as pure as Doc’s over here. Unsurprisingly, this is the implied refrain of this series – a constant opportunity for a present perspective to grapple with a question and its resolution posed at the time of Heidegger’s ascendance to Husserl’s throne as phenomenologist-in-chief. Come to think of it, even a look at Doc’s place on the historical bookshelf would suggest some difficulties with this question. Poor Edmund Husserl’s monomaniacal pursuit of an insurmountable ground for phenomenology showed very much the need for The Outside World. Somehow just bracketing it and putting it away for the lesser mortals to chew on feels a bit disingenuous, considering that “consciousness is at no moment severed from Being. There is no empty consciousness confronting objects with which it would fill its emptiness.”3Safranski 1999, p. 77 It’s worth looking at Sartre’s description in encountering this idea in Husserl, if anything because it’s damn good writing:

If, impossible though it may be, you could enter “into” a consciousness, you would be seized by a whirlwind and thrown back outside, in the thick of the dust, near the tree, for consciousness has no “inside.” Precisely this being-beyond-itself, this absolute flight, this refusal to be a substance is what makes it be a consciousness. Imagine for a moment a connected series of bursts that tear us out of ourselves, that do not even allow to an “ourselves” the leisure of composing ourselves behind them, but that instead throw us beyond them into the dry dust of the world, on to the plain earth, amidst things. Imagine us thus rejected and abandoned by our own nature in an indifferent, hostile, and restive world – you will then grasp the profound meaning of the discovery that Husserl expresses in his famous phrase, “All consciousness is consciousness of something.” No more is necessary to dispose of the effete philosophy of immanence, where everything happens by compromise, by protoplasmic transformations, by a tepid cellular chemistry. The philosophy of transcendence thrown us on to the highway, in the midst of dangers, under a dazzling light.

A translation (by Joseph P. Fell) of “Une idée fondamentale de la phénoménologie de Husserl: l’intentionnalité,” in Situations I (Paris: Gallimard, 1947)

And then Heidegger even takes issue with Husserl’s reliance on the so-called transcendental ego as something too artificial. I’ve got to be honest here; I don’t understand how we’re supposed to be taking a philosophy that’s so mired in the world of Things, of the existing realities, and somehow isolating ourselves from it and finding something… apart from but a part of it. I guess that’s the point of these lectures though – setting this shit up. Considering that this part of my question is the most unresolved on my end, it’s something that’d likely be improved with input from you. Maybe this way we can crowd-fund a greater pleasure, a sort of co-working lust space to have this exercise of reflection become harmonic, polyphonic, if also unavoidably at times harsh, with the inclusion of your own opinions on the material of each section. My own goal is to provide a lineage of parallels tending towards early 20th century social thought, psychoanalytic developments, and, most particularly, a variety spread of contemporary intellectual history of the brutal and absurd. A charcuterie of violence. But violence alone can leave a bad taste on the tongue. The Ortus community has more to offer than this, however, and it’d be interesting to see if the colorful background of its contributors and readership can itself grow into a proper philosophical chorus.

And as for the second flavor, better expressed by the old philosophical adage: why should I really give a shit. This is the meat of why we’re here, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure if I have an answer. Look outside, look at The News; you probably don’t even have to know what’s going on out there. Why read philosophy in these times? I know I know I sound like a TA on the first day of an intro to philosophy course, but seriously? Have you looked into what your favorite philosophers did when the weather forecast indicated severe storms of lead and hail of mortar fire? Well before being drafted into the role of wartime weatherman at the very end, Marty got by during most of the Great War due to a heart defect and so got to really do that thing you imagine you’ll one day achieve where you park yourself in that coffee shop and really crank some things out. His superiors even had to pass over appointing him to a post because it wouldn’t be great optics to have someone the same age and general bodysize as the boys used as exploding meat balloons on the front get a cushy gig, no not at all. And what about Sartre, Kant, Hegel, whoever? Some philosophers went to war, Wittgenstein jerked in the trenches to the thic numbers, Sartre somehow also got the weatherman gig – there’s apparently something holy and contemplative about the making of meteorological maps for division commanders – and others notably avoided blood at all costs, but the thing is it’s hard to reconcile the lived reality of real destruction and the metaphysical projects we say we’re interested in. Sure, a number of people quoted Lenin or maybe even Locke when put against the wall as the unfortunate party to a one way gunfight, but more screamed, pleaded, and pissed, and I can’t think of a single one that yelled out a line about Descartes’ method in that final moment before lead slapped brutally into flesh.

Among the strongest and most brutal interrogations of the justification of philosophy in the face of brute reality is Jean Amery’s statement on intellectuals in Auschwitz. There the brutality of daily violence of existence assaulted the human to such a degree that, Amery writes, “it is clear that the entire question of the effectiveness of the intellect can no longer be raised where the subject, faced directly with death through hunger or exhaustion, is not only de-intellectualized, but in the actual sense of the word dehumanized.” It’s no coincidence that this essay is given the title “At the Mind’s Limits;” we are shown that all heroics and inspiration aside, there exists a hard limit to thought. Most of us, however, at the time of this writing don’t face such a degree of dehumanization; in no uncertain terms should the historical idiocy of equating today’s political situation with the life of concentration camps be condemned – with the exception of the actual instances, such as on the southern US border or Mediterranean islands, of privately owned, government sanctioned camps in which people designated politically unviable are detained, held in inhuman conditions, medically endangered and experimented on, and brutalized in a legal sadistic purgatory beyond the reach of mainland civic guarantees. Unfortunately with the rise of Covid restrictions and other forms of liberal welfare state measures, many western countries are seeing a rise in this brand of illiterate analogy. Yet the presence of this limit should not be disregarded.

Until it was abolished in 1772, common law statutes designated a procedure of peine forte et dure for persons accused yet who refused to enter a plea. Said sorry persons, who for whatever reasons of fortitude or madness took it upon themselves to refuse the reality of the Crown and its meat-space enforcers, would be crushed under increasing weight until they either agreed to cooperate or attained the final victory eternal silence. In this case, the limit being approached is directly that of life and the human body that struggles to sustain it as it is crushed into itself. It is not only the final silencing that matters but the increasing perversity and difficulty of maintaining the status of human thought in the face of mute crushing force. Amery himself saw this ugliness that rises out of the bloodied frozen mud as one approaches it: the intellect which, in attempting to face the power which crushes it must, to avoid its complete annihilation, chooses to cooperate and thereby rationalizes its own destruction. Because the SS implemented “a logic of destruction that in itself operated just as consistently as the logic of life preservation in the outside world,” it often came that the philosopher then attempted to adjust to the new reality implement by the SS. After all, when the brutal feedback of your senses allows no successful connection to earlier ideal concepts, the only chance to sustain a concept at all is to account for the deathly data available to it. Accordingly,

The intellectual in the camp was lamed by his historically and sociologically explicable deeper respect for power; in- fact, the intellectual always and everywhere has been totally under the sway of power. He was, and is, accustomed to doubt it intellectually, to subject it to his critical analysis, and yet in the same intellectual process to capitulate to it. The capitulation became entirely unavoidable when there was no visible opposition to the hostile force. Although outside gigantic armies might battle the destroyer, in the camp one heard of it only from afar and was really unable to believe it. The power structure of the SS state towered up before the prisoner monstrously and indomitably, a reality that could not be escaped and that therefore finally seemed reasonable. No matter what his thinking may have been on the outside, in this sense here he became a Hegelian: in the metallic brilliance of its totality the SS state appeared as a state in which the idea was becoming reality.

Perhaps such thinking feels unreasonable to you or me today. There’s something morally repugnant in admitting that anyone, not to mention one of us Smart Thinking Philosopher Types or however you justify your opinions to yourself, could rationalize and believe something as ludicrous thinking that the SS are justified. You’re not that stupid; you’re not that bad.

Am I so marked as well?
I doubt it not; I believe it less. “No, surely not I,” in my
sucrose sleep I’m prone, I’m told, to cry.

Some repugnant thinkers, maybe. Nick Land, the entire generation of youthful post ’68 leftists who turned into Neo-cons of the worst stripe and similar transformations come to mind. Are they just capital-d Dumber than you and me? Or is there a darker reason for the complaint from John Gray that most so-called great philosophers did little more than patch up the ruling beliefs of the time.4Straw Dogs. In his praise of Schopenhauer, Gray contrasts him with Kant who “like most philosophers… worked to shore up the conventional beliefs of his time.” I’m starting to feel that an attempt at philosophy during times composed of violence is going to have to be questioned a little more intensely as to its motivation as much as its contents. We are, after all, trying to avoid being crushed.

There is a difference though, between supposedly pure thought and belief. Amery noticed that it was much easier for Christians and Marxists to continue believing in their Thoughts than the so-called non-believer. Telos granted Eros, even if in the most minute of dose. “For the unbelieving person reality, under adverse circumstances, is a force to which he submits; under favorable ones it is material for analysis. For the believer reality is the clay that he molds, a problem that he solves.” Reading that, my friends, I guess I have to ask you – what do you believe in?

It’s starting to look like philosophy is going to remain strangely, even perversely coupled with something Freud might call drive and which Kierkegaard would call faith. And if we try to determine either the structure or the substance of this driving faith – our working philosophical portmanteau – we’re going to have to take a look at our places in history. In fact it’s something that Marty himself seemed to steel himself against in his youthful days. At the end of the Great War, seeing his nation shattered and the broken bits of humanity remaining at the front until the end, he contrasted his frankly inappropriate sense of vitality and arousal with the other schmucks who just played around with philosophy with no substance to it:

Certain and unshakable is the challenge to all truly spiritual persons not to weaken at this particular moment but to grasp resolute leadership and to educate the nation toward truthfulness and a genuine valuation of the genuine assets of existence. To me it is indeed a pleasure to be aIive-even though some outward deprivation and some renunciation lie ahead–only inwardly impoverished aesthetes and people who until now, as “spiritual” people, have merely played with the spirit the way others play with money and pleasure, will now collapse and despair helplessly-hardly any help or useful directives can be expected from them.

Safranski, Rudiger. 1999. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, trans. by Ewald Osers (London, England: Harvard University Press), P 86. “Sicher ist und unerschütterlich die Forderung an die wahrhaft geistigen Menschen, gerade jetzt nicht schwach zu werden, sondern eine entschlossene Führung in die Hand zu nehmen und das Volk zur Wahrhaftigkeit und echten Wertschätzung der echten Güter des Daseins zu erziehen. Mir ist es in der Tat eine Lust zu leben wenn auch manche äußere Entbehrung und mancher Verzicht kommen wird – nur innerlich arme Ästheten und Menschen, die bisher als >geistige< mit dem Geist nur gespielt haben, wie andere mit Geld und Vergnügen, werden jetzt zusammenbrechen und ratlos verzweifeln – von ihnen wird auch kaum Hilfe und wertvolle Direktiven zu erwarten sein.

This coming from his personal exchanges, it’s a reminder of the question touched on in the last dispatch about him really wanting you to feel what’s going on. Remember the Yo-Yo Ma face. He’s jazzed at whatever’s going on, but I’m still not convinced that makes him different from the other metaphysicians at the time who he so quickly condemns as empty. This really is starting to take a distinctly Freudian turn – the drive, the power-source of something inhuman, prehumen below the skin which is then inevitably translated into the human sphere. Is metaphysics only worth doing if you’ve got the Lust for it? Christ, I think I’m going to need a different kind of pill for this then.

The only answer I can offer to this question of why, beside mere compulsion, is the hope of creating a resonance reading this lecture series in a sense doubly – once in 1927, once in 2020, almost a full century later. An oscillation between points not unlinked and perhaps tuned to the same perverse key. A lot has happened between 1927 and 2020, but for all stuff about Godwin’s law, today is not the same as 1933, 1945, or any other time than today. Seems obvious, but apparently bears repeating. It’s easy to get lost in the many-paged histories and let the enthusiasm of analogy blind us to the withering loneliness of present reality. But there are, can we say, similarities. Something about the early 20th century, the Weimar Republic, the rise of absurdism and industrio-paranoid bravado, it just vibes with what whatever mess is going on today. Something in the streams of history have pressed us up against an obstacle in the current and leaning against this submerged bulkwark, forces us to gaze up into the face of the fact that the very organs of this vague body of the social are being recruited in the dismantling and vicious discrediting of the same body which gave rise to them in the first place.

If we look more closely at the exact time of these lectures, simultaneous to Being and Time comin’ down from the mountains and onto this century’s best seller lists, we can see a series of factors, events, confluences, characters, coming to a particular head. I’m not the only one who seems to think so; in a refreshing new look at the questions of Heidegger’s philosophical *ahem* relations with fascism published last year, Adam Knowles5Knowles (2019). Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence, Stanford University Press actually takes a lecture on Aristotle in 1930 under the knife, wherein he makes connections with particular greek-phil arguments that seem to really like Us and not Them. Now, I didn’t know about Adam’s project at the time I naively started this exercise in historical speculation, but from my point of view it vibes with what I’m saying. If his work locates the more developed end of this Emergent period of Doc’s in which he starts to show his cards, our Basic Problems of Phenomenology can be seen as the earlier questioning end where he sets himself up in the context of earlier German phenomenological tradition – mind you he’s about to piss off a number of fans of Husserl, along with of Kant, the scholastics, and well pretty much everyone. That, in combination with the lecture’s introductory sort of tone, makes it prime fodder for, say, a prime-time internet series for anyone interested in philosophy, fascism, and apocalyptic thinking.

And why all this talk about annihilation? To save time: no, nowhere in this series will you find me or any loosely cogent straw-man arguing that Marty was somehow directly responsible for the Holocaust or any subsequent violent shocks to human life. In fact, this sort of clears the spares us the necessity of any sort of suspenseful build-up of a “is Doc’s philosophy going to end up being revealed as fascist?” If you want the answer to the is he/isn’t he , I’d highly recommend you turn to the work The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who we’ve already encountered earlier in this series. He places Doc’s work in the context of the broader intellectual currents, particularly the Völkisch ones which will come up in our work as well. Now, if you’re the voyeuristic kind of reader I think you are and still want some real juice, I’d point at our menu section with more feisty takes, particularly Adorno’s Jargon of Authenticity and Victor Faria’s Heidegger and Nazism. You might not be surprised that these aren’t exactly well-received in today’s circle of Heidegger fan-boys and, well, I can’t blame them. Still, each work does highlight some pretty crucial concerns if we’re gonna let Marty into the car.

Alright, I know you’re not here to get a reading list on Marty and the Fashies; there’s literally a whole-ass wiki just for Heidegger’s relation to Nazism. Which has got to be a sort of achievement in the world of red flags in its own right. But if we take a look at two of the most recent contenders in this hallowed debate, we’ll see what to do and not to when breaking the seal on Godwin’s law. Adam Knowles & Ronald Beiner6Beiner (2018). Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right have both published works in the last year or two on – you know. Of the two, the former being much more philosophically substantial than the latter, the latter nevertheless points us towards a more practical way of questioning philosophy. Beiner’s analysis, due to his pedigree as a political scientist, renders the question of Heidegger and his influence as one of strategy. It is prescriptive. We shouldn’t stan his philosophy because it’s right wing. #CancelMarty. Both of these works will be given a bit more of their due as we actually get into the meat of this work.

To be frank, this idea of arriving at a yes or no conclusion is mostly the fodder for agonizing righteousness among academic types that surely serves nobody, least of all the speakers themselves. In a recent online interview, Prof. Beiner gets into an argument with the grad-student-turned-online-philosopher that demonstrates how mind anesthetizingly unhelpful this question really is. Beiner does his thing, arguing that Nietzsche’s work is infused with a fascist political project, while the host – who makes clear that he’s not even a fan of Nietzsche’s – insists that no, he’s mostly an aesthetic creative type to whom no such project can be attributed. Back. And. Forth. There’s serious emotional investment going on here, while to anyone with a foot in this disappointing sinkhole we have to call reality should be screaming “sure, you’re both right. You’re both wrong. Whatever, who’s paying for the drinks because I definitely didn’t have as many wine coolers as you all.” We’re past the Newtonian age of linearity and find ourselves in the confused realm of possibilities, pluralities, simultaneities, superposition, super-soakers, and lord knows what else. Multiplicty. This should be the starting premise of any serious look at someone like Heidegger.

Let’s look at someone who gets it. The following is an excerpt from McKenzie Wark’s discussion of a recent Marx scholar, except I’ve switched the names for our narrative continuity – never say I don’t do anything for you crazy kids:

The mark of a major body of work is that it will support more than one interpretation, all of which are coherent and persuasive, and each of which is open-ended enough for still further elaboration. So it is with [Heidegger]. Rather than squabble over what is the true and total interpretation, it seems to me more useful to think of the [Heidegger]-field that he enables. The [Heidegger]-field would then be a matrix of variations on themes, each more or less useful in particular situations. On that view, there may be as yet unexplored quadrants of the [Heidegger]-field that might be of more help in constructing a critical thought for the times.

What we’re looking at here is the sphere of possibilities inscribed in the ontology in question. A good example of this being done was in the 70’s when sociologist Richard L. Rubenstein took a closer look at the work of German sociologist and foundational theorist of modernity in the 20th century Max Weber. Rubenstein, in the commendable spirit of those who have pushed back against the unassailable optimistic belief in an morally unambiguous sense of the post-enlightenment human progress,7see metaspinozas recent review of Straw Dogs pointed at a darker pragmatic reality, suggesting

that in Weber’s exposition of modern bureaucracy, rational spirit, principle of efficiency, scientific mentality, relegation of values to the realm of subjectivity etc. no mechanism was recorded that was capable of excluding the possibility of Nazi excesses; that, moreover, there was nothing in Weber’s ideal types that would necessitate the description of the activities of the Nazi state as excesses. For example, ‘no horror perpetrated by the German medical profession or German technocrats was inconsistent with the view that values are inherently subjective and that science is intrinsically instrumental and value-free’.

Z. Bauman 1989 Modernity and the Holocaust, 27.

The point here isn’t to call Weber a closet Nazi. Nobody’s getting cancelled. It’s the fact that in the social ontology Weber brought into being, there just might be something wicked lounging in the dark we all haven’t yet noticed. It’s worth first of all trying to shine a light on what we have before us in the first place before any discussions of dumping metaphysical babies out with fascist bathwaters. We might need a whole new metaphor here.

Here on the road we have to a pretty screeching 180, yanking that handbrake like your life depends on it because, however much we deny the diagnostic approach outlined above, if we’re going to be asking about issues of the social, I think it’s going to be much more important to step back here and consider, hell even acknowledge first, that there might be something to the fact that one of the incontestably biggest philosophical influences of the 20th century leant heavy into the stuff of fascism even down to the philosophical bone. If we step outside the limited perspectives of the philosopher’s catfight, accepting this turns the arguments of the apologists on their heads; the fact that Heidegger unhitched his horse from the cart of the NSDAP simply meant that he, along with the likes of his pen pal Junger and co. were allowed to continue on relatively unhindered long after Adolf faced the music. This has been recognized by historians of politics as relatively obvious: accounts of the New Right and it’s variously translated siblings almost unanimously identify the likes of Evola, Junger, Spengler, and other Nazi adjacent thinkers, among which Heidegger figures prominently, as having, you know, sown the seed.8E.g. Matthew Feldman, 2005: “Mohler’s thesis, therefore, was clearly not intended as a detached investigation of analogous inter-war figures, but a ‘manifesto’ of intellectual forerunners who understood the cultural primacy of their mission. And in a spiritless post-war age dominated by the ‘ideas of 1789’ – where belief in a post-liberal order had been all but extinguished in favour of egalitarianism, humanism and materialism – the renewal looming so imminently during the revolutionary 1930s had been deferred; at least, until supplanted at some point by a new unifying force: The old structure of the West as a synthesis of classical culture, Christianity, and the impulses of peoples entering history for the first time has broken down. A new unity, however, has not yet emerged. We stand in this transitional period, the ‘interregnum’ which leaves its mark on every spiritual activity. The Conservative Revolution is conditioned by it, and at the same time sees itself as an attempt to overcome it. Besides locating Heidegger firmly within this tradition, the other pertinent feature to emerge from Die Konservative Revolution is the recognition that German fascism’s positive ideals had been corrupted by Nazism, which in turn ensured an indefinite preponderance of liberal values and their monopoly over the post-war political spectrum. Mohler’s answer to this dilemma rested with his CR case studies: by polishing the tarnished image of metapolitical fascism, while presenting its discourse as a unified and reasonable alternative to modernity, the struggle for a future renewal of the West by discerning Europeans could proceed from a purely cultural standpoint. In moving beyond decadent politics and condemning the excesses of National Socialism, Mohler bequeathed an essential legacy to the European Nouvelle Droite.” Notably from a study of Politics, Religion, and Ideology; this exercise in philosophical investigation wouldn’t be possible under the strict yet impractical limits purebred philosophers seem to put on themselves. One curious exception which definitely merits more attention is the case of Schmitt, whose refusal of either intellectual or personal denazification was so unrepentant as to verge on the comic, yet who today is widely acknowledged as a Guy With Some Good Ideas by writers of all stripes. It might be that what I’m saying about Heidegger also applies directly to him, but that’s for another time. Putting him aside for now, let’s return to a fact so simple its obviousness makes it easy to forget: the military defeat of Nazi Germany bears no inherent connection to the status of the ideas behind it. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous; “only someone miraculously innocent of history could believe that competition among ideas could result in the triumph of truth. Certainly ideas compete with one another, but the winners are normally those with power and human folly on their side.”9Straw Dogs, 35.

Anyway, what I’m saying here is that I think a lot of folks have been looking at this backwards. Tempered by the understandable nudge of that little voice some folks still call a conscience, questions of Heidegger’s Nazism tend to be of a purifying nature. How do we exculpate, how do we really dig in there and separate the Bad Boy from the Smart Stuff. Really purify him, you know? Get rid of the contaminants. You know the saying about cleanliness. One contemporary author unwittingly describes the hoops philosophy tries to go through when it takes this approach:

It means that one accepts at least the bulk of Heidegger’s conception of Being and wants to push this conception further. To some extent it means that one wants to rethink Heidegger’s “ontological difference,” to radicalize his antisubjectivism, and to escape from the limitations of his worldview. And, politically, it can also mean that one wants to evade or go beyond Heidegger’s Nazism, beyond the philosophical anthropology that his political theology entailed, beyond the stigma associated with it.

Again, we’re talking strategy here. This is what should be done if we want to excise the tumors and then do Good Philosophy. There we go, the usual good and bad breast, the pervy psychoanalytic way of dividing the whole world. It all comes down to tits.10Forgive my absolute bastardization of the Kleinians for the sake of the joke. Still, I’m worried she meant a bit too much her stuff as biological reality and that does deserve a bit of a laugh. No wonder no one believes this shit.

The other hand of this is that when people these days do acknowledge the issues with Heidegger in his philosophy today, it’s often in context of his less than scrupulous acolytes: de Benoit, Dugin, Spencer, who really don’t do themselves any favors when it comes to PR. So somehow this has brought us to the point where the commonly accepted question about Doc is, as another contemporary regurgitation puts it, “whether the essence of his ideas leads inexorably to fascistic thinking or whether, in that aged refrain, the life can be separated from the work, so that we are free to forage as we please.” Here I want to yank the break and yell. What about all the widely acknowledged influence on the good guys? Whenever we talk about Heidegger’s negative sides, it’s assumed we’re talking about the Bad Guys. But this isn’t kindergarten anymore, nor a John Wayne movie. If we think that the world we’re living in is good just with the exception of the Bad Guys, well… you probably think the Democrats are the Good Guys. I want to introduce a passage at length from the work of Zygmunt Bauman which suggests that conceptions of our society shouldn’t be allowed to on as easily as they seem to have after the Holocaust:

Although other sociological images of the civilizing process are available, the most common (and widely shared) is one that entails, as its two centre points, the suppression of irrational and essentially antisocial drives, and the gradual yet relentless elimination of violence from social life (more precisely: concentration of violence under control of the state, where it is used to guard the perimeters of national community and conditions of social order). What blends the two centre points into one is the vision of the civilized society – at least in our own, Western and modern, form – as, first and foremost, a moral force; as a system of institutions that co-operate and complement each other in the imposition of a normative order and the rule of law, which in turn safeguard conditions of social peace and individual security poorly defended in pre-civilized settings. This vision is not necessarily misleading. In the light of the Holocaust, however, it certainly looks one-sided. While it opens for scrutiny important trends of recent history, it forecloses the discussion of no less crucial tendencies. Focusing on one facet of the historical process, it draws an arbitrary dividing line between norm and abnormality. By de-legitimizing some of the resilient aspects of civilization, it falsely suggests their fortuitous and transitory nature, simultaneously concealing the striking resonance between most prominent of their attributes and the normative assumptions of modernity. In other words, it diverts attention from the permanence of the alternative, destructive potential of the civilizing process, and effectively silences and marginalizes the critics who insist on the double-sidedness of modern social arrangement.

Z. Bauman 1989 Modernity and the Holocaust

If we take this premise of a sociological reality seriously – and these days who the fuck doesn’t? – we might have to consider the same when it comes to the philosophical reality. Who says there’s no permanent alternative built into our systems of thought with annihilatory power which silences anyone who tries to speak its name? What about all the non-goose stepping readers who shaped the second half of the 20th century who were constitutively influenced by Heidegger? All our favorites in the French department, all the Lacanians, the Deleuze people, all the Conties, all the artists, the poets, the whole damn band. And here comes the bit that I’m really getting at: What makes us so sure that they took him in despite of the substance of this thought that links him to what emerged as fascism, and not because of it?

Facing the real question of our investigation, a choice lies before us – the philosophical peine forte et dure: either we succumb to silence entirely, or we cave *crack* and agree to give breathe to a philosophy that may ultimately contain a greater, deeper horror than we can perhaps bear. So, to end, let’s steel ourselves and face unblinking Amery’s direct encounter with the ideas of Heidegger:

All those problems that one designates according to a linguistic convention as “metaphysical” became meaningless. But it was not apathy that made contemplating them impossible; on the contrary, it was the cruel sharpness of an intellect honed and hardened by camp reality. In addition, the emotional powers were lacking with which, if need be, one could have invested vague philosophic concepts and thereby made themsubjectively and psychologically meaningful. Occasionally, perhaps that disquieting magus from Alemannic regions came to mind who said that beings appear to us only in the light of Being, but that man forgot Being by fixing on beings. Well now, Being. But in the camp it was more convincingly apparent than on the outside that beings and the light of Being get you nowhere. You could be hungry, be tired, be sick. To say that one purely and simply is, made no sense. And existence as such, to top it off, became definitively a totally abstract and thus empty concept. To reach out beyond concrete reality with words became before our very eyes a game that was not only worthless and an impermissible luxury but also mocking and evil. Hourly, the physical world delivered proof that its insufferableness could be coped with only through means inherent in that world. In other words: nowhere else in the world did reality have as much effective power as in the camp, nowhere else was reality so real. In no other place did the attempt to transcend it prove so hopeless and so shoddy. Like the lyric stanza about the silently standing walls and the flags clanking in the wind, the philosophic declarations also lost their transcendency and then and there became in part objective observations, in part dull chatter. Where they still meant something they appeared trivial, and where they were not trivial they no longer meant anything. We didn’t require any semantic analysis or logical syntax to recognize this. A glance at the watch towers, a sniff of burnt fat from the crematories sufficed.

Previous dispatch

Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #3: Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Soundtrack for the St Vitus Dance

Introduction, § III: Philosophy as the Science of Being

October, 2020

Despite all appearances – and let me clear, those are unabashedly terrible – now is not the time for misanthropes. Oh you hate people? Kids screaming on the subway, dumb opinion havers, non-self-awareness practicing chakra wreckers, we all see them. But in the face of such a time that reaches out and grabs everyone by the groin and wrenches this hard, surely no type could seem less helpful than the holier-than-thou ugly saints in the lineage of the malicious shade Houellebecq or its diluted americana cousin a la unhelpful science gnome deGrasse Tyson. 

What to do then, when the weight of an existence careening the wrong way up a one-way street with the throttle locked in starts to creak at the rivets in your head? For me these days it’s Bach. What a guy. In an apparent act of foresight some 300 years in advance, he wrote his music intricately enough that the voice of a single instrument requires nothing else nearby to support it. Independence is, albeit tragically, a good trait in a vicious age that threatens all collectivity. Man was into his self care.

Why all this waffle about the baroque?

Take a breath. I’m just here to talk about repetition. Any fan of the cello suites knows they repeat themselves. A lot. A musician worth their salt, say Rostropovich1Highly recommend everyone watch Rostropovich talk about his music.
, will immediately confront you with the question: why? If we just heard that bit, even that note – think that pounded pedal note in the first prelude – what good does it do to constantly go back to it? Is it because we’re stupid? It’s because we’re stupid, isn’t it.

Don’t get too angry if I tell you there actually isn’t an answer. One answer, that is. The thing is, it’s up to you as a musician to do something with the repetition to make it speak. Play louder than before, emphasize different parts, use different bows. Make the same different. Go back to that breath you were holding and watch it swell again and again. There’s a certain creative sweet spot dozing in the terrain of difference and repetition. Someone should write a book about it.

This is a thought that creeps into my rummage bag of a mind as I’m reading these lectures and it feels like an insight worth tagging along. We’re still in the introduction and it already feels like I’m slowly turning back in on the same words save that they just feel a little bit different each time through. Unfortunately, it’s only text so I don’t have some soviet sex-cellist like Mischa Maisky to really make me tingle. All I have is a muddle of phrases telling me that philosophy is about being (Sein) and not beings (das Seiende). That’s the pedal note. On top of that – layered structure. “Philosophy is not a science of beings but of being or, as the Greek expression goes, ontology.”2Heidegger, p. 11; “Philosophie ist nicht Wissenschaft vom Seienden, sondern vom Sein.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 15. Pedal. Now add that this is what the Greeks were talking about with when they coined the term which would go on to become the bane of suburban parents sending their kids to dubious humanities programs across the world – Ontology. Harmonic layer. Ad infinitum. Someone call Yo-Yo Ma.

Armed with a nice new word, we return to another iteration of the root note: the defining of philosophy as the study of being. “Philosophy is the theoretical conceptual interpretation of being, of being’s structure and its possibilities. Philosophy is ontological”3“Heidegger, p. 11; “Philosophie ist die theoretisch-begriffliche Interpretation des Seins, seiner Struktur und seiner Möglichkeiten. Sie ist ontologisch.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 15. A few more new words: theoretical, conceptual, interpretation, structure, possibility. Seems alright. Grad school scrabble. But what do we do with this? Alas barely is another corner turned that we are back with our faces in the same mess from the last section about Weltanschauungen. (How do I write German plurals in English? What an unwieldy language. It feels like I’m going to crunch somebody’s nose swinging these long coarse words around. Nietzsche’s hammer indeed). Remember how I got jerked around in Dispatch 1 where I thought we’d get into perspectives and some stuff about historicity? I’ve barely regained my dignity after taking the bait too soon and now I’m supposed to take it again, except now we’re mixing around the words of philosophy and science again so that this time we are calling philosophy a science; all the earlier stuff about science taking the Seiende as its object is corralled into the conceptual time-out that we’re calling “positive science.” So so so, look who’s calling everyone a positivist normie. Harkens back to my undergrad days where I baffled my perfectly reasonable sociology faculty by calling them all positivists and refusing to do anything actually resembling what the kids call sociology. Next he’s gonna start smoking weed and talking about the military industrial complex.

It feels we’re coming out swinging with a particular vigor considering this has already been covered in the last chapter. Our guy is taking no prisoners – get it? Because they’d have to exist. Look, it’s not easy trying to fit jokes into this teutonic sermon. I’m doing my best. In this corner we have all sciences with an extant “positum” as object, the Weltanschauungen, the “ontic,” the “vulgar,” among others. It seems Heidegger’s still got some destructive juices left over and he’s squaring up with pretty much everybody today. Think of a philosopher that’s hip and still kicking. Isn’t this nightmarish moniker “cultural theorist” almost always stuck on? The entire neoliberal clown car that is the European Graduate School where, for just a decent fraction of a small nation’s GDP, students can lick a chair Agamben once farted in or if they’re lucky, watch Judith Butler or Slavoj Zizek struggle with a coffee machine while the Italian autonomists scoff in the designated smoking space. Not contemporary enough for you? Maybe you want me to look at some neo-Deleuzian flow theorists – we get it, you do ketamine – or if you studied politics as an undergrad, maybe some ethics or communication theory stuff. God, at this point we might as well call Joe Rogan or the Beeperson a “cultural theorist.” It’d serve the rest of us right. The moral is these days it really does seem impossible to find philosophy untarnished with glossy bits about aesthetics, psychology, history, or that horrible plebian pursuit closeted Schmittians insist on calling politics.

If I read one more book where in place of good writing I’m told to consider a scene from Hitchcock… On the other hand, there’s the growing sense that legitimate philosophy not taking into account the reality of ecology and other non-human spheres seems a bit cramped, a bit selfish. Why you always gotta talk about yourself? In the words of McKenzie Wark, “it seems rather old fashioned to speak only of the human and not what Haraway calls the multispecies muddle we actually exist in and as.” After all, if it’s true that “the Anthropocene makes even nature historical and temporary,”4McKenzie Wark, General Intellects: Twenty-Five Thinkers for the Twenty-First Century ([n.p.]: , 2017). it might end up being impossible to leave the kids alone at home long enough to go on this ontological cruise. No offense to the now highly venerated climate scientists, immunologists, and Green party activists, but it doesn’t seem like y’all are able to get the house under control yet. Babysitting is hell of a gig, especially when the toddlers have been getting into the candy. Especially when the candy was from those guys from the Heritage Foundation during 80s; that shit has now morphed into some hell-spawn of paranoid & weaponized reactionary sugar-fueled mania during its time in the online disinformation era of the 2010s.5Jonathan Mahler, ‘How One Conservative Think Tank Is Stocking Trump’s Government’, New York Times, 20 June 2018 At least I heard they have a low-carb version in the works.

Chaotic as the State of Things today might be, for now the year is still 1927, Richard Nixon is barely getting the hang of shaving, and Doc Martin over here is still allowed to pontificate unawares of the effect of greenhouse gasses and of the mass murder of his political affiliates. Thus, in seated in his lecture hall, we see this growing pile of naïve ontic trash contrasted with the glorious proper philosophy, which is ontological – concerned with Sein. He can even prove it; apparently he’s already given semesters’ worth of lectures on this history from Aquinas to Kant. It seems I’m behind. Prof, will this be on the exam? No? Ok, thanks. Again ensuring that we’re free of anything remotely resembling relevance, Martin insists on denying any inclination towards a historical reading of philosophy. “We shall not now refer to this historical demonstration of the nature of philosophy, a demonstration having its own peculiar character.”6Heidegger; p. 12; “Wir nehmen jetzt auf diesen historischen Beweis des Wesens der Philosophie, der seinen eigenen Charakter hat, nicht Bezug.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 16. This ensures that we have nothing to get a grip with except this phenomenological cool-aid he’s selling us. Reminds of the company stores in the late 19th century where workers could only use their company wages to buy company goods from stores owned by said company. This association is unfair though, Marty assures us, because if we just sit here and listen to him for a while, he’ll ultimately deliver unto us a work of true human freedom. No one ever accused him of rhetorical modesty. “Let us rather in the whole of the present course try to establish philosophy on its own basis, so far as it is a work of human freedom. Philosophy must legitimate by its own resources its claim to be universal ontology.”7Heiddeger, p. 12; “Vielmehr versuchen wir, im Ganzen der Vorlesung die Philosophie aus sich selbst zu begründen, sofern sie ein Werk der Freiheit des Menschen ist. Die Philosophie muß sich aus sich selbst als universale Ontologie rechtfertigen.Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 16.

If I can jump in here speaking as an editor, Doc – can I call you Doc? – have you considered cutting some material? I don’t mean to play Gordon Lish to your Raymond Carver8Gaby Wood, ‘Raymond Carver: the kindest cut’, The Guardian, 26 September 2009, but if you already did this whole spiel about how all philosophy has always been ontological, why are we starting another whole course on it? Or maybe I should be asking why, if we shan’t be historical, are we about to take a deep dive into Kant and other certifiably Old Shit? Did you run out of material? Look, it’s best to be honest and not try to squeeze out a sequel just for the cash. Look what it did to J.K. Rowling. All she had to do was shut the fuck up. Then again, she’s loaded and my bank account is desolate, so who am I to cast a stone.

Back to the text. “Philosophy is the science of being.”9Heidegger, p. 13;“Philosophie ist die Wissenschaft vom Sein.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 17. Pedal. You know what – I want you to see the image of Yo-Yo Ma’s face every time we hit that pedal note. Guarantee you’ve never seen human bliss incorporated until you see this guy railing that pedaled G. Can we do this? Do we have a graphics team?10Sourced from

There we go. This guy is feeeeeling it, Mr. Krabs. Every time Doc tells us to go back to the sole purpose of philosophy, Sein, think of this face. Better yet, make this face yourself. Really let yourself get into it. This might turn out to be fun after all. Anyway, I’m curious why we backpedaled a tiny bit and now want to call ourselves scientists after all. Maybe it’s something in that German word Wissenschaft. Wissen zu schaffen. To create knowledge. To conceive it. Got a ring to it. To be on par with the god of genesis. Let’s see where this science thing takes us.

For now, this whole show is getting a bit old. How long is this class anyway? To his credit, here comes another moment where Martin sounds almost like he’s got enough wit to realize he’s on the verge of hilarity. This stuff’s ridiculous right? To separate being from that which is? You’re dizzy – did you get knocked on the head too hard? “Can something like being be imagined? If we try to do this, doesn’t our head start to swim? Indeed, at first we are baffled and find ourselves clutching at thin air.”11Heidegger, p. 13; “Kann man sich so etwas vorstellen wie Sein? Faßt einen beim Versuch dazu nicht der Schwindel? In der Tat, wir sind zunächst rat-los und greifen ins Leere.Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. I knew the babysitter was a bad idea. We should have listened to McKenzie. For a second Doc himself looks like he might be coming around to calling this whole thing off. “At the outset of our considerations, without raising any false hopes and without mincing matters, we must confess that under the heading of being we can at first think to ourselves nothing.”12Heidegger, p. 13; “Wir müssen uns beim Ausgang unserer Betrachtung ohne jede Vorspiegelung und Beschöni-gung eingestehen: Unter Sein kann ich mir zunächst nichts denken.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. There’s the bell. Class dismissed. Let me grab my bags and let’s grab a coffee at –

Goddammit. ‘The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I do’. Remember that teacher? On the other hand, it is just as certain that we are constantly thinking being. We think being just as often as, daily, on innumerable occasions, whether aloud or silently, we say “This is such and such,” “That other is not so,” “That was,” “It will be.”13 Heidegger, p. 13; “Andererseits steht ebensosehr fest: Wir denken das Sein ständig. Sooft wir ungezählte Male jeden Tag sagen, ob in wirklicher Verlautbarung oder stillschweigend: das und das ist so und so, jenes ist nicht so, das war, wird sein.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. Alright. So to sum up what we have so far, we can’t think being but we constantly think it. Makes sense. I’m starting to see why folks say that “Heidegger is the only world-famous philosopher of the 20th century about whom it can seriously be argued that he was a charlatan.”14Samuel Earle, ‘Heidegger, the homesick philosopher’, New Statesman, 11 September 2019 I guess said folks missed Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze – oh shit. They’re all Heideggerians. Well not Heideggerians but, you know, Heideggerians.

Far from soothing our suspicions, Doc throws fuel on the fire as he makes clear that philosophy has accepted the simplicity of the “is”-word in no small thanks to that stupid stupid thing we call sound wisdom. By taking the word “is” for granted, common usage has made even the best and brightest forget to question it. The rabble is good for nothing, especially those lazy, dirty ones that have no respect for our customs, amiright? Again, the English “common sense” doesn’t have the same insistence on not being crazy that the German does: “gesunder Menschenverstand.” Healthy human ability to reason. If we had more time here I’d crack open my copy of the DSM V and go through this diagnostic checklist top to bottom. Alas, with no time for medical quackery, I ask you, respectable members of the jury, does this sound healthy?:

“But wherever common sense is taken to be philosophy’s highest court of appeal, philosophy must become suspicious. In “Uber das Wesen der philosophischen Kritik iiberhaupt” [“On the Essence of Philosophical Criticism”], Hegel says: “Philosophy by its very nature is esoteric; for itself it is neither made for the masses nor is it susceptible of being cooked up for them. It is philosophy only because it goes exactly contrary to the understanding and thus even more so to ‘sound common sense,’ the so-called healthy human understanding, which actually means the local and temporary vision of some limited generation of human beings. To that generation the world of philosophy is in and for itself a topsy-turvy, an inverted, world.” The demands and standards of common sense have no right to claim any validity or to represent any authority in regard to what philosophy is and what it is not.”15Heidegger, p. 14; “Man beruft sich auf den gesunden Menschenverstand. Aber allemal, wenn der gesunde Menschenverstand zur letzten Instanz der Philosophie gemacht wird, muß diese mißtrauisch werden. Hegel sagt in »Über das Wesen der philosophischen Kritik überhaupt«: »Die Philosophie ist ihrer Natur nach etwas Esoterisches, für sich weder für den Pöbel gemacht noch einer Zubereitung für den Pöbel fähig; sie ist nur dadurch Philosophie, daß sie dem Verstände und damit noch mehr dem gesunden Menschenverstände, worunter man die lokale und temporäre Beschränktheit eines Geschlechts der Menschen versteht, gerade entgegengesetzt ist; im Verhältnis zu diesem ist an und für sich die Welt der Philosophie eine verkehrte Welt.« Die Ansprüche und Maßstäbe des gesunden Menschenverstandes dürfen keine Geltung beanspruchen und keine Instanz darstellen bezüglich dessen, was Philosophie ist und was sie nicht ist.Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19

Read that a few times. Best read it aloud to your friends and unsuspecting neighbors. Let it soak in. Maybe make the face again, Doc. Christ, stop being so weird, can you? Philosophy, as those hapless humanities parents from before well know, has little respect for that thing called Common Sense. No one ever accused this stuff of being too easy. Imagine Plato’s apologia if he just stopped being obtuse and got a job at IBM as a creative tech consultant. I heard Apple’s got a new take on the classic forms. If philosophy were common, what’d be the point of a PhD, you know? Next you’re gonna tell me those Capuchin monks aren’t any closer to god than those kids at the bar. I think I can hear Bourdieu scratching through the clay above his grave somewhere.

Now, good friends, we come to the end for today. Right before you go, Doc’s got something to say. We’re all shuffling our papers and getting ready to head out, listening to him lay out the plan for next week. The usual teasers. “What if being were the most complex and most obscure concept?”16Heidegger, p. 14; “Wenn Sein der verwickeltste und dunkelste Begriff wäre?Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19 Pedal. Wait, did you catch that turn towards the darker. A note of urgency for the cliff-hanger; que the trailer music and dramatic narration: “What if arriving at the concept of being were the most urgent task of philosophy, a task which has to be taken up ever anew?”17Heidegger, p. 14; “Wenn das Sein auf den Begriff zu bringen die dringlichste und immer wieder neu zu ergreifende Aufgabe der Philosophie wäre?“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19 Alright buddy. But here’s something that tickles my ear in a way I’m not sure I like. In claiming we’ve all forgotten something Aristotle apparently said, he describes the contemporary times and his tone reaches for something insidious:

“Today, when philosophizing is so barbarous, so much like a St. Vitus’ dance, as perhaps in no other period of the cultural history of the West, and when nevertheless the resurrection of metaphysics is hawked up and down all the streets[.]”18Heidegger, p. 14; “Heute, wo man so barbarisch und veitstänzerisch philosophiert, wie vielleicht in keiner Periode der abendländischen Geistesgeschichte, und heute, wo man gleichwohl auf allen Gassen eine Auferstehung der Metaphysik hinausschreit“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19

Today is a time of barbarity. It is the time of the St. Vitus dance. The West is burning. The Occident is at stake. Cheap resurrection hacks abound and the dead are come, it is said, back for thrills and filthy gossip. Is this the language of an academic philosopher? Or is it something heavier, a voice more kin to the Apocalypse of John, the final revelations. Don’t tell me that all which is has ever been can be so easily done away with. Don’t promise there won’t be any victims. I can hear the voice somewhere nearby of Spengler.19You’ll be hearing more about Spengler in future reports. He’s unfortunately relevant to the nonsense today in Germany. Of Barth. Of Hitler. Further back, the Anabaptists & the holy violence of the 16th century peasant furies.20“Between 1918 and 1927, within nine short years, there appear in German half a dozen books that are more than books in their dimensions and manner of extremity. The first edition of Ernst Bloch’s Geist der Utopie is dated 1918. So is volume one of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. The initial version of Karl Barth’s Commentary on Romans, of Barth’s reading of St. Paul, is dated 1919. Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung follows in 1921. Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit is published in 1927. The question of whether the sixth title forms part of this configuration, and, if so, in what ways, is among the most difficult. Mein Kampf appears in its two volumes between 1925 and 1927. […] These works are, in a sense which is also technical, apocalyptic. They address themselves to “the last things.” […] We know of the dread foresight, of the contract with apocalypse in Mein Kampf. Like their leviathan counterpart in Austria, Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Humanity, these writings out of the German ruin are, indeed, meant to be read either by men and women doomed to decay, as in Spengler, or by men and women destined to undergo some fundamental renovation, some agonizing rebirth out of the ash of a dead past. This is Bloch’s message, Rosenzweig’s, and, in a perspective of eternal untimeliness, that of Barth. It is Hitler’s promise to the Volk. Massive scale, a prophetic tenor, and the invocation of the apocalyptic make for a specific violence. These are violent books. There is no more violent dictum in theological literature than Karl Barth’s: “God speaks His eternal No to the world.” In Rosenzweig, the violence is one of exaltation. The light of God’s immediacy breaks almost unbearably upon human consciousness. Ernst Bloch sings and preaches revolution, the overthrow of the existing order within man’s psyche and society. The Spirit of Utopia will lead directly to Bloch’s fiery celebration of Thomas Münzer and the sixteenth-century insurrections of peasant-saints and millennarians. The baroque violence, the rhetorical satisfaction in disaster — literally “the falling of the stars” — in Spengler’s magnum have often been noted. And there is no need to detail the raucous inhumanity in the eloquence of Herr Hitler.

And below that, perhaps something more primordial, the screaming engine of huge affliction and dismay, mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate21John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667), Book 1., the pit itself, that knot of Gordian horror that you’ve always been carrying with you.

Don’t be too fast to call me paranoid. This voice doesn’t get to tell me to simply lay my life, the human details of connection and living aside when I can hear such a tremor in his voice. For someone who claims to be doing nothing but pure ontology, there is a human malice in these closing words. Is this what philosophy is going to be? A clearing of the barbarous, an encounter with the inhuman horror of the dancing body beyond redemption – remember the mad dancers in front of the statue of St. Vitus who himself was boiled to death? I don’t think I’m quite ready to give Doc here permission to be absolved from all guilt when it comes to worldly horror.

You might think I’m jumping the gun here, but step aside with me for a moment. We’re still in the introduction, so there’ll be philosophical minutia aplenty to come. Right now we’re still talking big picture. An attempt at elevating this mythical Sein doesn’t look like it’s going to leave space for the relations between particulars, all that stuff of the positum; the primacy of the ‘existential’ question is starting to feel like a massive act of arrogant personal self-affirmation. Yet there’s still somehow this note of disdain towards all which is currently around us.

I wouldn’t be the first to note that this works suspiciously well as a metaphysical panacea for the prickly questions about anti-Semitism and affiliations with National Socialism.22Pierre Bordieu, The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger ([n.p.]: , 1988), p. 54. A get-out-of-jail-free card for the black notebooks. After all, don’t you see he’s telling us that he’s not talking about history or party politics? He’s not a dirty sociologist or pundit. Ignore all the growing sounds of Nazis being unearthed in German police networks.23‘350 cases of suspected far-right sympathy found in German security forces’, DW No, the issue at hand is not (only) his particular national or cultural associations. That’s not what we’re here for. If he wants to talk pure philosophy, I’m game. Following his lead, I’m starting to feel the tremor in reality as I try to take on his premise of cleaving being from that which is. I can’t tell what I’m looking at though, and it’s making me queasy. Quoth the raven who hates jazz, “the penetrating look and the one that goes past you, the hypnotic and the disregarding gaze, are of the same kind; in both, the subject is extinguished.”24Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment ([n.p.]: , 1944), p. 158. “The meaning of this “is” remains closed to us.”25Heidegger, p. 14; “Der Sinn dieses >ist< bleibt uns verschlossen.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. I’ll certainly drink to that.

Post-Script. 1976. Todtnauberg, on the rim of the Black Forest.

Countless were the days that he would in a dread start and with his inaugural breaths could not but curse already the coming of a dawn over him which signaled anew the rising of yet another day he’d live shambling across the charcoal ruins in his memory of that house that only he could see. How often had he, over nothing but the mundanities of breakfasts and weekday traffics felt the unbidden ripples of a scream, now decades aged in his otherwise healthy breast scrape, trudge across his rib, across his tongue, low like beaten oxen. There exists a species of nightmare, one borne perhaps equally of a tortured memory’s truth as much as vivid, infernal invention, which carries behind it a tail that sweeps a final draft of bitter embers and ashen despair, burning and obscuring indiscriminate, into the waking light of those poor men and women who fate chooses for its riders.

It is one such man now that we now see. He has retained his mind in his extended struggle over what must once have been unquestionably sanity, but his heart, so often lurched across the threshold of a present and a psychic world of involuntary recollection, has been dashed to a bloodied fiber, and here, we see this what was bled emerge in his eyes as they open, as he steps out into the street. Little of the man, the civil agent of his responsibilities as husband, as son, as professor and as citizen, little of this is there in what asks him, demands, screams for each step into further oblivion. The city is in flames again. It was so once before.

What can I say unto you, old man, but that I will pray at higher station for some being of still greater order to one day pity you and simply extinguish all that is light in you finally and quickly. For now you are faced with a burning edifice at every angle your heaving, sweat rimmed look will beg to turn. This city is in flames and the screaming you hear matches the screaming you heard when you watched them burn the first time. This is your doing, it always has been, and the meagre prayer, pittance of repentance you now want to deliver is to absolution as one lone maple leaf to an armada.

You have woken again to the horror, and that, in its uncountable voices singing is what begs you speak. Are you looking into a new world of sleep for as again and before – are you dreaming of their disappearance anew, or is this blaze now final, are you ready to walk?

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Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #2: Extremely Stupid and Very Well Armed

[§ 2, p. 8-15] September, 2020.

Do you hear me, Lord of Revelations? Call off your men. I was just touched by some deluded smiling freaks who tried, in all honesty, to baptize me on the road in front of a boarded up old-folks home up here in the wooded north of the city. Do I really look so bad, Lord? Have I truly strayed so far? Or was it just more post-hippies? Adults so strung out on COVID-price-gouged molly they can’t tell what was once a soviet sunset from the Berghain techno light show? Either way, evangelicals or hippies turned alt-yuppies, my options don’t look good–both flavors of apocalypse are in terrible taste.

The US election is looming and the first Big March in Berlin since August happened this weekend–anti-corona, fascists, the poorer start-up washouts who want their rent capped. Despite my hopes, it was nothing but an underwhelming trickle of the angry and the dumb and, as always. it was often hard to tell the difference. You’ll hear more about that from me soon.

Between you and me, I’m terrified. Maybe it’s no wonder that I’m turning to questions of faith in these off-brand end times. I did ask the Jesus-freaks if they were Baptists. They laughed and said they didn’t know. Then they mentioned they weren’t sure if Baptists even believed in the healing power of Christ. They laughed some more. In these times, laughter really might be the answer. Or art? Isn’t that what Instagram and exasperated middle school guidance counselors teach us? Maybe I could sink myself into some sort of creative daze, write that script for the scathing political drama about the White House that everybody definitely wants to see . . .

Ah. Shit.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

If there was ever a mug that you instinctively knew would be the harbinger of buzzkill, it was our man Heidegger’s. Seriously, google the guy. You can unmistakably hear the soft frying of Schnitzel in his aura. Apparently it was Marty’s brother who got the entire genetic dosage of the familial sense of humor; this according to anyone who spent more than a minute with both of them.

Okay, where did we leave off last time? I got all carried away about how this Weltanschauung thing was gonna show we’re all sadists at heart or something. The proverbial hearty potatoes of every good modern critical theory hard-on: something about subjectivity, the subject, imagination, queering multiplicities, etc. Apparently today we’re going to learn what philosophy is by asking how it relates to weltanschauungen.

“Philosophy can and perhaps must show, among many other things, that something like a world-view belongs to the essential nature of the Dasein. Philosophy can and must define what in general constitutes the structure of a world-view. But it can never develop and posit some specific world-view qua just this or that particular one. Philosophy is not essentially the formation of a world-view; but perhaps just on this account it has an elementary and fundamental relation to all world-view formation, even to that which is not theoretical but factically historical.”1Martin Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. by Albert Hofstadter, Revised Ed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 10; ” Philosophie kann und muß vielleicht unter vielem anderen zeigen, daß zum Wesen des Daseins so etwas wie Weltanschauung gehört. Philosophie kann und muß umgrenzen, was die Struktur einer Weltanschauung überhaupt ausmacht. Sie kann aber nie eine bestimmte Weltanschauungals diese und jene ausbilden und setzen. Philosophie ist ihrem Wesen nach nicht eltanschauungsbildung, hat aber vielleicht gerade deshalb einen elementaren und prinzipiellen Bezug zu aller, auch der nicht theoretischen, sondern faktisch geschichtlichen Weltanschauungsbildung.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 13.

We look at the text and, well, first things first, an admission; I was barking up the wrong tree last week. I got a bit too excited about this Weltanschauung question, I missed that it was mostly a ruse to bring us to philosophy’s favorite narcissistic exercise: defining itself. Defining itself real hard. In one of his lectures on metaphysics, Adorno once joked to the effect that one could most easily be sure one was doing metaphysics simply by discussing whether or not one was doing metaphysics. Funny guy.

And what is philosophy? Here we quickly distinguish ourselves from priests and artists:

“A philosophical world-view is one that expressly and explicitly or at any rate preponderantly has to be worked out and brought about by philosophy, that is to say, by theoretical speculation, to the exclusion of artistic and religious interpretations of the world and the Dasein.”2Heidegger, p. 6; “Eine philosophische Weltanschauung ist eine solche, die eigens und ausdrücklich oder jedenfalls vorwiegend durch die Philosophie ausgebildet und vermittelt werden soll, d. h. durch theoretische Spekulation mit Ausschaltung der künstlerischen und religiösen Deutung der Welt und des Daseins.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 8.

Uh oh. None of that artsy shit here. Forgive me, I can’t help but hear a nasal Shapiro: facts don’t care about your feelings, you sentimental lib. “Madam, I swear I use no art at all.” Strap in, though, because we’re only getting started. You see, unlike science, philosophy might ask us to forgo everything we thought was important, useful, visible, hell, actually everything entirely. In its stead, in his steely Teutonic tone—maybe think Clint Eastwood vith a German akcent—he gives us a sort of metaphysical 18th amendment and warns us that the philosophical weltanschauung bars not only booze but any real-existing object, any “this or that” (Seiendes als dieses und jenes) so to speak. Spooky. After going out of his way to rub our faces in the worldly, in everything you’ve ever known and cared about—psych!—Marty yanks it, chucks it, and washes his hands of it.

I’ll admit, at this point, I’m feeling whatever it is he’s been putting in the water; I’m confused. What are we talking about then? What are we even doing? Where am I? Who are you?

Apparently anticipating the naïve clamor of the rabble, the city kids and their quick thrills and sexual promiscuity, Heidegger teases us and makes us guess. Tell us, what are we talking about?

“What then is philosophy supposed to concern itself with if not with beings, with that which is, as well as with the whole of what is? What is not, is surely the nothing. Should philosophy, then, as absolute science, have the nothing as its theme? What can there be apart from nature, history, God, space, number?”3Heidegger, p. 10; ” Womit soll die Philosophie sich denn beschäftigen, wenn nicht mit Seiendem, mit dem, was ist, sowie mit dem Seienden im Ganzen? Was nicht ist, ist doch das Nichts. Soll etwa die Philosophie als absolute Wissenschaft das Nichts zum Thema haben? Was kann es geben außer Natur, Geschichte, Gott, Raum, Zahl?” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 13.

Give us something to work with! Daddy, please! I’m starting to get why Lacan called Kant erotic . . .

Finally, we get to the big reveal. I’ll drop the entire thing in its entirety for you. In the words of a friend who was very much fed up with me: how about you stick this in your theoretical pipe and smoke it:

We say of each of these, even though in a different sense, that it is. We call it a being. In relating to it, whether theoretically or practically, we are comporting ourselves toward a being. Beyond all these beings there is nothing. Perhaps there is no other being beyond what has been enumerated, but perhaps, as in the German idiom for ‘there is,’ es gibt [literally, it gives}, still something else is given. Even more. In the end something is given which must be given if we are to be able to make beings accessible to us as beings and comport ourselves toward them, something which, to be sure, is not but which must be given if we are to experience and understand any beings at all. We are able to grasp beings as such, as beings, only if we understand something like being.4Heidegger, p. 10; ” Von all dem Genannten sagen wir, wenn auch in einem verschiedenen Sinne, es ist. Wir nennen es Seiendes. Darauf bezogen, sei es theoretisch oder praktisch, verhalten wir uns zu Seiendem. Außer diesem Seienden ist nichts. Vielleicht ist kein anderes Seiendes außer dem aufgezählten, aber vielleicht gibt es doch noch etwas, was zwar nicht ist, was es aber gleichwohl in einem noch zu bestimmenden Sinne gibt. Mehr noch. Am Ende gibt es etwas, was es geben muß, damit wir uns Seiendes als Seiendes zugänglich machen und uns zu ihm verhalten können, etwas, das zwar nicht ist, das es aber geben muß, damit wir überhaupt so etwas wie Seiendes erfahren und verstehen. Seiendes vermögen wir als solches, als Seiendes, nur zu fassen, wenn wir dergleichen wie Sein verstehen.” Heidegger and Herrmann, pp. 13–14.

Here we have it then. This is the plan. The goal of philosophy. The reason we are gathered here today. And so we reach the end of part 2 of our introduction and hit the first sentence of the next: “Das Sein ist das echte und einzige Thema der Philosophie.” [“[B]eing is the proper and sole theme of philosophy.”] That’s got some meat on it.

Let’s perhaps pause here and look in the mirror. Rather, let’s look around. With every vestige of institutional stability being blasted into precarity with the neoliberal dynamite quietly packaged and shipped out by the Chicago boys, I think we’re approaching a certain metaphysical certainty that no animal alive today with “human” on the name tag can in good faith claim that they’re an apolitical operator. With the internet-facilitated hyperfocus on the political aspects of every minute aspect of life, it really seems that the cliché lines of philosophising don’t seem as quite as serious; universal questions of mortality, meaninglessness, and temporality, unconcerned with historical effects of race, gender, class, etc. smacks of privileged indulgence at best. If asked to think of a philosopher, the popular imagination maybe spits out French men in dark coats with cigarettes contemplating the pain of life, perhaps drinking heavily, driving recklessly and looking at those younger girls over there. Come to think of it, it’s no wonder Marty was turned off by Sartre. He had a stick up his ass even by small town Prussian standards and would have never stood for this shit.

Hell, even the small survivalist and mountaineering forums I like to spend my discrete evenings on are being rocked by the pesky little realities of power politics and historical structures behind them. And if the recluse isn’t safe . . .

Who the hell has the actual space, time, dare I ask, the money to do this? To step away from every thing. You raised your hand? “Perhaps that’s exactly why he’s—” Yeah, good lord. I can feel the condescending professorial smirk from here.

Sorry. Maybe this is too much snark. I gotta breathe. It was only the first debate. Maybe things aren’t so bad. Chris Wallace did his best. Maybe I could even go find my newfound evangelical friends and talk things over. None of that changes the fact that, as cultural critic turned messiah of the young Left Mark Fisher noted, nowadays remarking on the futility of our situation is already de facto passé. There is no space today for talk like this. Maybe what this philosophy needs is some space to stretch it—I think in German they call it Lebensraum.

Jokes aside, reality today doesn’t go for the price anymore. These days it doesn’t seem to have the capacity for serious philosophical, conceptual structures at all. While early 20th-century conflicts were riddled with conceptual treatises, dogmatic schools, and ideologically fleshed-out weltanschauungen, today’s conflict doesn’t seem to need much of that at all. Instead, the rapid-fire think-piece hot take format has exceeded both in volume and velocity the need for, and possibly even the ability for, carefully constructed foundational arguments to support particular social positions and their perspectives. The GOP gets it: they didn’t even bother writing down a platform for 2020. Perhaps if we look outside of the world of letters, we may very well find certain schools of thought constituted not by philosophical structures but by embodied realities. It is the age of the body and the imagination after all. 

Either way you cut it, these next few months are going to be rough. I have a certain perverse hope that these lectures will give me something to clutch as we start to really hit the rapids. This, despite the fact that any proper philosopher worth the weight of their paper degrees should know well enough to take serious issue with my approach. That is, if they don’t throw it immediately in the trash. A classroom introduction to the lectures states that the “the advantage of using the lecture course instead of Heidegger’s magnum opus is that it prevents pragmatist and existentialist readings of Heidegger” and that it instead “focuses on what Heidegger is really after.” Well, there’s a saying among fencing aficionados. The biggest threat to the world’s best fencer isn’t the second best. It’s an amateur, wildly swinging their épée in all directions. Well, for all intents and purposes, consider me extremely stupid and very well armed.

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Editors note: Further instalments of Heidegger at the End of the World should be up every Friday.

You can find Andrejs’ Instagram here and his website, callitnotdoubt, here.

Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #1: Make Philosophy Great Again

[§ 1-2, p. 1-8], September, 2020.

It’s Monday night in Prenzlauer Berg, north Berlin, and I’m pretty sure I can hear the Adhan. Either that or the blood in my ears is so foamed after another day of news dispatches that it’s starting to sing, like a teapot in anxious mourning. I can’t tell if reality is fraying or if I am. Occam’s razor, if it bothered to open a history book (and check my medical history on top of that) would probably announce that the likeliest answer is clearly both. Is this language dramatic? Sure, but I can’t help it. When I read the headlines, hell, even when I talk to a friend, I have to restrain myself with increasing vigor from streaming out into the street and screaming, furiously and incoherently, at the nearest viable stream of traffic.

Let’s make one thing clear: the threat is no longer—was it ever?—just The Right. The right has usually been relegated here to the dim-witted corner of inbred-looking Hitler Youth Poster Discard Piles who make a big show of playing with symbols of the past. They were really more into cosplay than anything resembling real politics. Now, we’re entering a world whose stage has already been set by the strange virtual fuckery of the internet and populist sentiment left untreated where concepts much less noble than Truth, maybe something more akin to Common Sense, are being rapidly torn down. Vaccine conspiracy is mixing with hippy-gunk leftovers of mindfulness and healing which in turn is mixing with populist righteous hatred of the Big Guys which is mixing with strange specters of Cold War ideological straw-men which are merging together with . . . and so on, ad infinitum.1Currently trending piece of social sleuthing taking the time to unpack this delusional goulash: This isn’t your Daddy’s Neighborhood Fascism; this is the groundswell of a filthy tide of floodwater that’s shooting up around our ankles and, if I’m reading the tide right, might just absolutely annihilate what dusty old profs once called Reality and Everyday Life. You ever seen a tsunami?

Enough of that fear-mongering. I’m going to read. Bury the nervous nose in a tome somewhere, slap the shutters shut on the world. What to read what to read what to—but of course! It’s so obvious, in what feels like a vaguely familiar pre-inaugural calamity, to try to hunt down that elusive specter sneaking around the back rooms of all these Theories, World-views, Ideologies, all these voices telling you to Look Behind The Curtain. Behold! A people grown disillusioned with their government. As mistrust spreads and unemployment and economic downturn threatens, all these foreigners are being shoveled in by mysterious forces at the top. Surely that’s the cause of all the problems, all the disrespect, all the Angst. After all, will no one stand up to protect our people, our daughters, our future . . . If only, if only the people had a hero, someone who had the strength to go his own path, to rebel against the universities who have become soft and coddled—and maybe find success in his own right? That’s right Volks, now introducing in the right corner, standing almost 2 meters tall, grizzled and worn, the fighter for truth from the log cabin: Jordan, B. Peters—oops. I mixed up my notes, hold on—Martin Heidegger.

That’s right, ol’ evil Martin himself. Diggy. Stuck at home in mild misery, I’ve begun the Basic Problems of Phenomenology lectures—something of an introduction into Heidegger’s thought mid-stride—and as much as I truly loathe the word “relevant,” reading such a text at such a time will inevitably arouse sentiments of the philosophical bent as much as of the contemporary, the political. This project is therefore an experiment in recording my own experiences of both simultaneously. We are talking about a textual voice of whose infamous 1933 address it was said that “at the end of the speech, the listener was in doubt as to whether he should start reading the pre-Socratics or enlist in the SA.2The Sturmabteilung (“Storm Detachment”), original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party. This is why the speech should not be judged according to one point of view alone, be it purely political or purely philosophical.”3Karl Lowith, Richard Wolin, and Melissa J. Cox, ‘The Political Implications of Heidegger’s Existentialism’, New German Critique, 45, 1988, 117 (p. 125) <>.

To be clear, I’m not talking here about Marty being, you know, an actual Nazi. Nor am I solely drawn to the man—who might only be explained as a trapped and vengeful Teutoberg bloodlusting bloviating Goth warrior—because of the central role his work plays in modern fascists’ philosophy, a phenomenon somehow only recently being properly talked about,4“[I]t was only in 2008 that the first comprehensive study of Heidegger’s thought in the contemporary far right was published in Italy – with no translation in English. In the past years new publications have contributed to the understanding of the role of Heideggerian thought for contemporary politics and especially in the US alt right and Russian white nationalism.” Julian Göpffarth, ‘Why Did Heidegger Emerge as the Central Philosopher of the Far Right?’, OpenDemocracy, 2020 <> [accessed 24 September 2020]. perhaps suggesting that nobody actually read Adorno and just sort of nodded whenever his name was mentioned. These would be both purely sociological accounts, a sort of philosophical book-keeping meant to find the definitive link with Auschwitz or Steve Bannon in this particular work. No, I do actually think that Heidegger’s onto something (or on something) that is currently gripping our modern world with horrendously disorienting force. Something about reality itself, or at least our being in it. So, I’m turning to him partially, yes, as opposition research, but also as a real person asking for help.

At this point I’ll really ask anybody.

If you want to insist on context—which would probably be in our collective best interest—and ask, ‘Why focus on a single lecture course presented at the University of Marburg during the summer of 1927?’, the shortest answer I can give is that this is where Heidegger takes on the task of systematically facing the history of “Western Metaphysics” and, in doing so, justifies the primacy of his understanding of temporality—the titular Zeit of the iconic jam-band duo Sein und Zeit.5Heidegger’s 1927 magnum opus, Being and Time. As one introduction to an English edition of the Basic Problems of Phenomenology puts it: “Ancient, medieval, and modern ontology would have to be subjected to phenomenological scrutiny from the viewpoint of Temporality as ultimate horizon of the understanding of being. Basic Problems contains a significant portion of this destructive examination of traditional ontology.”6Martin Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. by Albert Hofstadter, Revised Ed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. xv–xvi. Man, I already feel myself putting my stiff wannabe tenure track suck-up voice on. It’s going to be a fun struggle to take the philosophy seriously and to stay seriously grounded. At its simplest, we can head out knowing that Martin’s about to take us on a walk with this notion of phenomenology, a logic which takes the immediacy of experience as its starting point, and in doing so clash with some of the heaviest pillars of philosophy standing during this age.

Before we start, let me dart back to that quip about the venerable Doctor Peterson. One of the most perplexing facts of being psychologically literate in the late 2010s has been the simultaneous encounter with the denial of psychoanalysis at every turn while also having Dr. Beeperson—an unabashed Jungian, of all the rotten things—on the best seller shelves even here in Berlin. Without insisting for too long on the parallel, it is of interest to me that this modern pariah figure carries with him similar ideological tones which match up with the voices of, say, Oswald Spengler or Ernst Junger, for whom our Martin had high praise. These men lamented the loss of modern culture to mass indoctrination and the disappearance of a true masculinity which took action for its own sake. On the connection between Junger and Heidegger, Bourdieu wrote: “Thus the remedy to which Jünger turns is a return, and we understand why this vision of the social world is resumed in a philosophy of temporality which opposes linear, forward-moving, and ‘progressive’ time . . . in the name of a cyclical time (which ‘turns back’ the clock) that is the perfect symbol of the conservative revolution, of the Restoration, as a denial of revolution.”7Pierre Bourdieu, The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 20. Not to mix metaphors or biographies, but I think the reader might be seeing the question of modern populism arise also in the bent of more esoteric cultural forms: astrology, new-age conspiracy hippies, and inexplicable Jungian NYT best-sellers. Now to the text.

What does Marty start with? Well,  for the sake of levity, the first note I had to make in the margins was when, right out of the gate, Heidegger promises to Make Philosophy Great Again:

“Does not phenomenology contain within itself the possibility of reversing the alienation of philosophy into these disciplines and of revitalizing and reappropriating in its basic tendencies the great tradition of philosophy with its essential answers?”8Heidegger, p. 3; “[O]b nicht in der Phänomenologie die Möglichkeit liegt, die Veräußerlichung der Philosophie in diese Disziplinen rückgängig zu machen und ihre eigene große Tradition aus ihren wesentlichen Antworten in ihren Grundtendenzen neu anzueignen und zum Leben zu bringen.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 5.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m trying to be serious. Isn’t this call to short circuit the system the quintessential populist rhetorical turn? ‘They don’t want you all to know that they’re not even doing Real Philosophy! It’s up to regular folks like you and me to get to the real truth. Follow me, and . . .’ Ok, maybe it’s a bit much.

The next bit is where I immediately saw the smoke in the air from the Breitbart Doctrine,9“[I]f you want to change politics you first have to change culture because politics flows from culture.” Samuel Kronen, ‘Cambridge Analytica & “The Breitbart Doctrine.” Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.’, Elephant Journal, 2018 <> [accessed 24 September 2020]. or, if you’re a lefty, the whole Gramscian cultural politics. At the first half of the paragraph, I thought we were safe just talking about how the personal is political, every experience is subjective, and so on:

“A world-view is not a matter of theoretical knowledge, either in respect of its origin or in relation to its use. It is not simply retained in memory like a parcel of cognitive property. Rather, it is a matter of a coherent conviction which determines the current affairs of life more or less expressly and directly. A world-view is related in its meaning to the particular contemporary Dasein at any given time. In this relationship to the Dasein the world-view is a guide to it and a source of strength under pressure.”10Heidegger, p. 6; “Die Weltanschauung ist nicht Sache eines theoretischen Wissens, weder hinsichtlich ihres Ursprungs noch bezüglich ihres Gebrauchs. Sie wird nicht einfach wie ein Wissensgut im Ge- dächtnis behalten, sondern sie ist Sache einer zusammenhalten- den Überzeugung, die mehr oder minder ausdrücklich und direkt Handel und Wandel bestimmt. Die Weltanschauung ist ihrem Sinne nach auf das jeweilige heutige Dasein bezogen. Sie ist in dieser Bezogenheit auf das Dasein Wegweisimg für dieses und Kraft für es in seiner unmittelbaren Bedrängnis.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7.

It was the final sentence that kicked me in the teeth:

“Whether the world-view is determined by superstitions and prejudices or is based purely on scientific knowledge and experience or even, as is usually the case, is a mixture of superstition and knowledge, prejudice and sober reason, it all comes to the same thing; nothing essential is changed.”11Heidegger, p. 6; “Ob die Weltanschauung durch Aberglauben und Vorurteile bestimmt ist oder ob sie sich rein auf wissenschaftliche Erkennt- nis und Erfahrung stützt oder gar, was die Regel ist, ob sie aus Aberglauben und Wissen, aus Vorurteil und Besinnung sich mischt, das gilt gleichviel, ändert an ihrem Wesen nichts.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7.

This, at its core, is the problem that our world of politics, of news and various media, of fact-checkers and opinion havers, of fake news and all that jazz doesn’t grasp yet. Everyone calls the other side stupid, crazy, duped, evil, somehow defective. They’re not grappling with the terrifying reality that their subjectivities are, at some brutal, deep foundational level, no different than their own. Appeals to science, while internally more coherent and rational and empirical and in this way True, do not deliver unto Caesar a more truly existing Weltanschauung than your average anti-establishment hippy or anti-semitic bellicose subway-car screamer.

Today with lunch I watched a report on some relatively recently unearthed photos from ‘44 Auschwitz which showed the camp staff in their free time, smiling, dancing, eating, and singing. The interviewed museum archivists kept stressing, in strained voices, that it was incredible—a term used to its fullest sense here—that these people could commit such atrocities and then play drinking games among themselves. These historians kept repeating that they could not understand how human beings could do this. If they meant these appeals, what shameful historians. If there’s one branch of research which most thoroughly demonstrates the human ability to combine violence with life, it is theirs. I feel it would be vulgar to cherry pick examples from my amateur knowledge of that horrendously putrid fruit basket of Human History but come on: Genghis Khan—“A civilian massacre was the almost inevitable accompaniment to a Mongol triumph.”12Stephen Richard Turnbull, Genghis Khan & the Mongol Conquests 1190-1400 (Oxford: Osprey, 2004), p. 76. Pretty much every mass military has, at some point, engaged in significant violence, even sadism, beyond battlefields. Do you think all those guards at Abu Ghraib would have not participated in something like Birkenau if they were part of its operations? How about Guantanamo? The Greek and Yugo guerillas? The Chechens? I could go on and on and on and on. Is this merely morbid obsession? Is it boys fantasising about playing soldier? If you think that’s it, you’re missing the bigger point: don’t assume what you think Human Decency or Common Sense means is more than a bit of a historical hiccup. After all, Marty reminds us:

“From the forms and possibilities of world­ view thus enumerated it becomes clear that what is meant by this term is not only a conception of the contexture of natural things but at the same time an interpretation of the sense and purpose of the human Dasein and hence of history.”13Heidegger, p. 5; “Aus den aufgezählten Formen und Möglich- keiten der Weltanschauung wird deutlich, daß darunter nicht nur die Auffassung des Zusammenhangs der Dinge der Natur, sondern zugleich die Deutung des Sinnes und Zweckes des menschlichen Daseins und damit der Geschichte verstanden wird.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7.

You see a sentence like that and you think you’re good until just a few lines down you run by: “Our world-view is determined by environment—people, race, class, develop­ mental stage of culture.”14This one really doesn’t sound as innocent in the original German. The English makes it sound quite a bit more neutered. Heidegger, p. 6; “Die Weltanschauung ist bestimmt durch die Umgebung: Volk, Rasse, Stand, Entwicklungsstufe der Kultur.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7. What a doozy.

Thus we arrive at the end of the first report on Heidegger at the End of the World. Now, I know that any good soul well-versed in philosophy (and somehow also reading this) may have cried out in defence of Martin, speaking for him that ‘this is not what he meant to say at all,’ that Heidegger wasn’t talking about political realities here or any ethical equivalents and I’m mixing up stuff that has no place in Good Philosophy. All in good time.

Instead of trying to cram in all the philosophical, historical, and political commentary into some sort of lecture hall introduction, I’m going to keep reading & reporting each week and thereby introduce an increasing web of context, content, and malcontents to the lecture. Some weeks will drift more astutely into the philosophical, others perhaps drift into the current events. You try writing about the later bits of Kant’s introduction to transcendental reason on eve of, say, a US presidential election. I am, after all, just another of the unwashed masses trying to get the best seats for this apocalyptic spectacle. I’ll try to keep some sort of uneasy equilibrium here. Next week we continue deeper into Heidegger’s question of what a Weltanschauung actually is and what philosophy’s relation to said thing is. Stay tuned.

Next dispatch

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