Month: September 2017

Teaching the opening of Heidegger’s 29/30 course

I taught it last night and I must say it should be in the canon of works taught in existentialism courses (which I’m teaching), or any that take up the problems of representation for that matter. I originally was going to give my written lecture, but tossed it since it seemed better to let the time be more alive. Heidegger plays on the German Begriff while asking what philosophy means. Tied to greifen, to grip or seize, and begreifen, to comprehend or grasp something, Heidegger uses it performatively within the lecture: it’s a real drama he is attempting, to wrest his students from thinking of their arrival there between 5 and 6 pm (around the time I teach, coincidentally) as simply coming to learn a discipline, a set of concepts (die Begriffe) or representations, but to be seized, to be taken up by the Grundbegriffe or fundamental concepts of metaphysics: world, finitude, solitude. That is, he is trying to shake his students from thinking of philosophy as a set of concepts to be learned, as one would in any other course, but to be seized by what led them to that classroom in the first place—some intimation something beyond a discipline is at stake, indeed something fundamental to them. Why are we here?, he asks at one point, and time and again in the course he references the here and now of the very activity underway there in 29/30—and with difference and repetition in my own course of 2017. Heidegger has his many faults (I lose street cred among my radical friends each time I mention his name) but philosophy, as he writes, is philosophizing, an activity, and the drama of every course we teach in philosophy is very much how to have ourselves and our students be siezed by the matters (die Sache) at hand—not simply to take some notes or set of facts. And to be seized by the most fundamental matters: what is a world? what about our finitude? Am I in the end alone, lost in solitude in the sway of being as these questions sieze something I all too easily call a “me” while in the crowd of a classroom?

(Incidentally I think I might have hit that mark: the prof who had the room after me said she and her students waiting were certainly gripped by what we were talking about.)

Sloterdijk reviewed (critically) in NYRB: Some thoughts

Alas, behind a paywall, but John Gray goes through a tremendous number of his works—if he’s read all listed, he might be one of the few to get through all of those pages. He hits scathing points others have made before: Sloterdijk makes claims that seem thunderous but are on second thought vacuous; his erudition means you get a blizzard of examples that hide relatively simple arguments (e.g., cultures have an interior cohesion–a bubble if you will), if any are to be found; he is a political reactionary whose ideas are both horrible (his views on European refugees) and often silly (we should replace taxes with philanthropy), which then within a few pages turn quite dangerous (liberal democracies are under-raged—an idea that has not aged well). Sloterdijk often just offers warmed over thinking from others: Nietzsche’s ressentiment plays a prominent role in his thinking and his considerations of rage reads like it was copped from Civilization and its Discontents (too much technocratic rationality and sublimation), though without the Eros of that work.

Gray’s reviews of Continental figures are often guilt by association: Zizek is a Heideggerian in a 2012 NYRB review and ipso facto his politics are dangerous. A similar move is made in this essay: he mentions what may be Sloterdijk’s most important philosophical idea, which is that we should reinitialize Heidegger’s Dasein analysis from the point of view of spatiality (not temporalization, as most often done), and that a proper thinking of space can give us whole new ways of thinking music, politics, and so on. But he does so by saying that Sloterdijk thinks that “Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism was unconnected with central features of his thinking” in Being and Time and, using what I’ll call the Richard Wolin fallacy, this misrecognition and wish to use the Heidegger of Being and Time without, say, The Black Notebooks, infects Sloterdijk’s works and his project of writing a Being and Space, as he put it in Spheres. Why this should be the case is not shown—an odd slight of hand, but why not give it a go? Why not a sentence showing how one can read much of the Black Notebooks into Being and Time? And then say why that would then make Sloterdijk’s “ontological” claims politically dangerous? The review is long enough and this is a central critique.

I think this is something one can do. His work on bubbles and the definition of spaces as self-enclosed (and even cultures as spaced this way) can only lead one to think in terms of these spaces as homogeneous, as needing immunity. How far is that from his rightist politics? In any event, it may be a very critical view but it does touch on many of the critiques surrounding this often vexing figure far better known and read in Europe than in the US, though translations are abounding, and references to him by Zizek, philosophers of space, Latour, and others will surely lead, as has happened in recent years, to a wider reception.