>Thoughts on Heidegger and His Influences on Continental Thought

August 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

>Heidegger’s influnce on European thought throughout the twentieth-century can’t be understated. As a way of articulating my thoughts in preparation for exams, I will trace a few themes here.

Two themes seem essential to me: first, a positive attempt to articulate the structure of being in western thought; second, the role Heidegger’s thinking plays in the larger European theme of the disappearing subject.

Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Being and Time clearly comes from his earlier work on Aristotle developed in Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, developed from his lectures at Marbourg in 1924. However, there is a larger background at work. Heidegger’s work owes much to the Idealist focus on History in Hegel and the materialistic historical narrative in Marx as class struggle and alienation (which relates to the disappearing subject theme). Structuralism in general grows out of a modernist tendency to historicize the world, and especially the ways that religious studies in the 19th century reacted to and incorporated Darwinian thought.

Religious studies (though the departments did not use that term for themselves) in the face of positivistism moved more toward historical and archaeological work. “Primitive” people were were studied with the intention of discovering the genealogy of humankind. Anthropologists sought the human record by stargazing at otherness, believing that they, like astronomers looking into space, could see a present record of human history in indigenous people from far away lands. It is essential to me that with colonialism and its tendency “to other” is not merely the attempt to control through political force. It is also a deeply earnest romantic longing for true and “immediate” existence – the kind mystical writers of the early Enlightenment like Thomas Traherne wrote of. The longing for mergence with the divine, for disintegration.

Even in Heidegger, there is a nostalgia for the older, the simpler, the everyday. But there is also a Catholic nostalgia, a pre-Reformation nostalgia, which comes through in his thorough study of Scholasticism.

Of course, Heidegger begins his analysis of Aristotle by way of Kant and his concept of definition:

Kant quite clearly says, in the introduction to Logic that in every cognition, matter is to be distinguished from form, “the manner in which we cognize the object.” A savage sees a house and, unlike us, does not know its for-what; he has a different “concept” of the house than we who know our way around in it. Indeed, he sees the same being, but the knowledge of the use escapes him; he does not understand what he should do with it. He forms no concept of the house. We know what it is for, and thus we represent something general to ourselves. We who know the use that one could make of it have the concept of house. The concept goes beyond answering the question of what the object is. (10)

Gaston Bachelard, in his Poetics of Space – a work heavily influenced by Heidegger’s notions of Being-there and Dwelling in Being and Time – will have a different take on “savages” and homes. But in the passage above the awkward example displays Heidegger’s culture speaking him, something he would likely admit. And the main point is taken. Defining is always more than defining.

To be continued…

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