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.)