We have all heard it said that Heidegger had no great followers, only great apostates. The listReview:
Radical Phenomenology and Philosophy
We have all heard it said that Heidegger had no great followers, only great apostates. The list of those influenced by him, and impressed by the quality of his thought, but nevertheless refusing to simply follow him includes Arendt, Derrida, Gadamer, Kojeve, Lowith, Marcuse, Merleau-Ponty, Rorty, Sartre and Leo Strauss. Schürmann is a rarity; a genuine follower of Heidegger who is also a thinker in his own right. Now, I do not maintain that Heidegger himself would agree with everything that Schürmann says of him and his 'radical phenomenology' but I do think that this is easily among the most serious and thoughtful accounts of what we might call the later Heidegger's final position. People only familiar with Heidegger's early work (such as 'Being and Time') tend to read him as a practical, existential or political philosopher actively interested in the 'human things'. Schürmann considers this a profound mistake.
Allow me to begin with a long quote:
"The 'intrinsically manifold state of affairs which is that of being and time' prohibits referring the epochs and their closure, let alone the 'event', to some figure of root, of the One, of man. It is because of this anti-humanism that Heidegger's concept of epoché has nothing to do with Husserl's. The phenomenology of the reversals in History follows the trail of the regimes to which unconcealment gave 'sudden birth,' but which have folded up their order to withdraw again into concealment. The genealogist seeks to understand this phenomenon of an encompassing, although precarious arrangement as it comes about and recedes. The birth of such an arrangement is 'epochal,' since in it presencing as such 'withholds' (epechein) itself. Thus what establishes us in our precarious dwellings is not some thing, it is nothing - a mere coming to pass. In the deconstruction of the texture or text of Western history, phenomenology remains transcendental in that it looks for the context which is the world; it is however dissociated from all a priori reference to the subject as text-maker. The principle of an epoch is a factual a priori, finite and of non-human facticity. It exhibits the paradox of an 'ontological fact.' What bequeaths the historical epochs and their principles, the 'event', is itself nothing, neither a human nor a divine subject, nor an available or analyzable object." (Schürmann, On Being and Acting, p.57.)
I follow Schürmann in this understanding of Heideggerean Being; the 'gift' of Being does not come from a subject nor is it a 'History of Reason'. It is fundamentally just whatever Happened to Happen. That is, it is pure contingency. Again: not only is there not a Subject but this pure contingency is absolutely not a history of Reason. It would seem that whatever 'reason' is in the world is itself only a temporary affair, waiting to be overthrown by the next epoché, or gift, of Being. But since what is unreasonably given is always (eventually) unreasonably taken away one ends up wondering precisely why Heidegger so often speaks of 'gift' here... In any case, by the curious phrase 'ontological fact' Schürmann is conceding that Heidegger's 'gifts of Being' are little more than Necessary Irrationalities. So you see that the 'Truth of Unconcealment' equals exactly the 'truth' of circumstances. While Concealment always remains precisely Nothing. Note that Man is in no sense, for either Heidegger or Schürmann, a 'maker' of the text of the World; no, Man is merely the reader of (or powerless Witness to) the succession of Epochs that make up the text of world history. Thus it is not, in my opinion, that Heidegger's philosophy in any way 'predestines' him to be a Nazi, rather, his philosophy provides no resources to oppose it. Or, more clearly, to oppose anything. The Epochs are given and withdrawn without any reference to human values or needs. But we must never forget that whatever happens to happen is always, I mean eventually, at least for historical Man, a catastrophe. Thus Heidegger's oft referring to these happenings as 'gifts' is but another example of will-to-power. One can say anything about these 'ontological facts' that one chooses, absolutely anything at all. Heidegger, at times, elects to say 'gifts'...
But it really has become impossible to discuss Heidegger without discussing the relation between the Nazi period and the later position. If you will allow me a few more words on this contentious topic there is a little vignette in Chamfort which I would like to share that might be apposite here:
"The Curé of Bray had moved three or four times from the Catholic to the Protestant faith, and his friends expressed surprise at his indifference. 'Indifferent?' said the Curé. 'Inconstant? Not at all. On the contrary, I don't change at all. I want to be the Curé of Bray.' (Chamfort, Products of the Perfected Civilization, p. 226)"
All the various ontological 'regimes' of History are 'gifts of Being'. In the end there is absolutely nothing we can do about this. One can only accept what is. When Heidegger thought that the Epoch he lived in was one of 'fascistic' authenticity he embraced it. Later, realizing his mistake, he supposed that the next 'unconcealment' to be revealed would be an ontological 'quietism' that many today read in an ecological 'new age' manner. But in reality Heidegger never changed his mind, he only wanted to see the World in its giveness, not as human needs and values would have it, but as it was. And he wanted to accept whatever his phenomenological method revealed to him. Thus there is from this perspective, for Heidegger, no truly fundamental difference between his early and late position; he always wanted to see the World phenomenologically - that is, exactly as it was.
There is an apatheia at work here that at first glance reminds one of the ancients but is truly modern. Ancient apathy was aimed primarily at the emotions; but what one could (be perhaps forgiven to) call Heideggerean apathy is aimed at theory or belief. But what of the practical or 'political', that is, nature and technology? "... political thinking consists in weighing the advantages and drawbacks of one theory or another. Nothing of the kind occurs in Heidegger. The pertinent question is therefore not of knowing whether technology may be counteracted, mastered, surpassed, sublimated; whether nature, given over to the rule of reason for two millennia and summoned to surrender its energies to the reign of comfort for two centuries, may be 'restored', whether man can be 'reconciled' with it. About matters such as these the deconstruction has nothing to say." What askesis (training) will be necessary for us today to achieve such distance from older conceptions of theory and practice! The 'radical phenomenology' (or 'deconstruction', in Heidegger's sense, not Derrida's) of the later Heidegger, and also Schürmann, is this very training...
Radical Phenomenology, as here conceived, is the science of circumstances. Fundamentally, it neither predicts nor learns; it sees whatever happens to be. More clearly, its learning and predictions are based on what it sees, and not the other way around. This also means that every one of its results (i.e., 'discoveries') will be 'falsified' in time. Knowing circumstances doesn't tell you what to do, not ever. All evaluation is beyond the ability of any phenomenology. (On this also see Heidegger on Nietzsche, especially the fourth volume: Nihilism, for his denunciation of values.) Thus even the decision whether or not to write a book on phenomenology is made for extra-phenomenological reasons... Now, if we are past the regimes of Principles, as Schürmann here argues, - well, what exactly are we to understand that to mean? Those regimes, where action was based on 'metaphysical' principles, are the regimes that were initiated by philosophical interventions. After the regimes of Principles pass we will live in an 'anarchic' (i.e., no metaphysical Principles) world. This can be understood to mean that there will be no philosophical artifacts (that is, no post-Platonic monotheism, Christianity or Islam, and no modernity -Liberalism, socalism, etc., at all) once the latest 'unconcealment' (i.e., the anarchic unconcealment our author here defends) is fully apparent. Properly speaking, this is where the 'conservatism' of the later Heidegger is most obvious. It is tempting to say that what the later Heidegger is, in effect, prophesying (or making) is a world in which pre-philosophical 'traditional' societies rise again. Note that a 'pre-philosophical' world will likely be one that is, among other things, bereft of modern technology. One wonders if John Zerzan, perhaps even unbeknownst to him, is another one of the later Heidegger's acolytes?
Note that by 'Anarchy' Schürmann does not mean the political movement known as anarchy, rather he says anarchy because there is no longer an arche (ultimate underlying principle or substance). When the regimes of Metaphysics (the Principles) fall what will be left is a world without said principles; it is only on this sense that the world will be 'anarchic'. Now, Schurmann does not mean that everyone will do their 'own thing'. Far from it! Doing ones own thing is also a product of the history of Metaphysics... As Schürmann says "...'in principal' all men do the same thing." This is so whether they are all worshipping the One True God or 'hanging out' doing their own thing. But, I would argue, when we look at how men lived in pre-philosophical civilizations there too we find that 'all men do the same thing.'
Now, what is the relation of philosophy to this radical phenomenology? But let's start with another question: Why did phenomenology, the ability to see circumstances, have to arise? It turns out that this question rests on another question: Why is seeing the world, as it actually is, so difficult? One suspects that it is because the various artifacts of philosophical interventions (e.g., Christians, Moslems, liberals, socialists) have imposed their various 'myths' and these myths have become the habitual way we see the world. So philosophy, according to Heidegger, must first deconstruct what it has ultimately made in order to see what the world (i.e., 'unconcealment') actually offers. Radical Phenomenology allows us once again to see the unmade. After this deconstruction philosophy becomes phenomenology, the mirror of circumstances. No? I ask your indulgence of another long quote where our author calls for:
"...the removal of the principial obstacles as just so many conditions for compliance with the event of appropriation. 'Any conception and enunciation of the thing, which tend to place themselves between the thing and us, must first be removed.' Which are the conceptions and enunciations that most massively tend to place themselves between us and things emerging into their world? They are the conceptions and enunciations about essentially hubristic ('unjust' in Anaximander's words) representations - the epochal principles." (pg. 281)
The 'epochal principles' that Schürmann refers to are the succession of metaphysical world-views that dominate our understanding even today. According to our author, in Heidegger philosophy has turned on itself; destroying its own history is the first step towards seeing the world it inhabits...
Radical Phenomenology is not an attempt to make the world conform to some arche; it is an attempt to see the world exactly as it is, that is, as it merely happens to be. But like the esotericism and dialectics that preceded it, Heideggerean phenomenology, from the viewpoint of philosophy, is only another philosophical method (i.e., tool). Unlike them, phenomenology only intends to see (or know), not make. Phenomenology cannot be converted into a metaphysics or an ethics. All attempts to do so are either mistakes, idiosyncrasies or lies. Thus the phenomenology here described is at war with the other philosophical tools of the philosophical tradition. In order for radical phenomenology to see the world it must wipe away the shadows (myths) that other philosophical methods have made. In order to survive philosophy must incorporate Heidegger's 'radical phenomenology' as another tool while denying that it is in any sense an 'uber-tool'. In other words, if philosophy, as we have known it, is to have a future it must see to it that no tool is privileged and that each is only used in the proper measure...
To put all this in another way, to Radical Phenomenology the rational constructs produced by philosophy have become idiosyncrasies; they are ciphers of a bygone time and place - that is, of an 'unconcealment' that has been withdrawn. Philosophy answers that the non-rational, non-foundational, nature of all unconcealments (Being is, after all, Time!) will one day make the radical phenomenology (and its 'anarchic' moment) that Schürmann here defends also passé. And that would be why Philosophy, and all its methods, must continue.
Even though Schürmann is also, broadly speaking, a 'postmodern', he sees clearly the abyss that post-Heideggerean philosophy represents. Compared to Derrida, Rorty, etc., there is a dreadful seriousness in these pages that is the outward mark of all deep thinking. Our author is to be congratulated on his clear eyed vision of what can and cannot be done; fundamentally, there isn't anything that Man can do - except radical acceptance of whatever happens to be insofar as it is and for as long as it happens to be. This is a profound book. I have barely considered the complex argument within it in order to concentrate on what might be called some 'extra-phenomenological' points. This is an extremely demanding book. Know your Heidegger, especially the later Heidegger, and be prepared to work....more