Thursday, 20 May 2010

Heidegger ... er ....

Heidegger's 1935 lecture 'Introduction to Metaphysics' starts with the uncharacteristically colloquial question: 'what's up with being?'; or 'how's things with being?' He answers his own question: things are not good.
The spiritual decline of the earth has progressed so far that people are in danger of losing their last spiritual strength, the strength that makes it possible even to see the decline and appraise it as such. This simple observation has nothing to do wih cultural pessimism -- nor with any optimism either, of course; for the darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the reduction of human beings into a mass, the hatred and mistrust of everything creative and free has already reached such proportions throughout the whole earth that such childish categories as pessimism and optimism have become laughable. ['Introduction to Metaphysics', 40-41]
Now, of course, it's a fool's game demanding of H. 'what's your evidence for your assertion?' -- although when he says 'the spiritual decline of the earth has progressed so far' and that 'hatred and mistrust of everything creative and free has already reached such proportions throughout the whole earth' we're entitled at least to note that this is a pretty sweeping generalisation from a man who has travelled over only the minutest fraction of 'the whole earth', and who therefore can claim to know, if at all, only second hand. The hidden elements in this assessment are twofold, and both quite violently at odds with H.'s stated position. One is that, although he doesn't say so here, H. can actually only 'know' this 'truth' intuitively; he feels it to be so in a way that not only needs no 'evidence' but actually overrides evidence that might appear to contradict what he is saying (the very large body of evidence of, for instance, increasing levels of human physical and spiritual wellbeing). A modern way of saying this would be: H.'s knowledge is truthy, rather than true. And connected with this is H.'s tendency of extrapolating from his individual experience to the world as a whole. The problem he diagnoses here (to quote James and Kevin Aho) is that 'today humankind is consumed by an instrumental relationship with beings; we have closed off other world-views, forcing all beings, including human beings, to show up or reveal themselves in only one way, as objects to be efficiently manipulated and controlled.' H. implicit claims immunity from this situation because he dwells on as well as with 'Being' rather than beings; but the thing about 'intuition' is that is powerfully instrumental. Whatever else we might say about Dasein, it is hardly truthy. And the projection of the self onto the cosmos in terms of 'enduring presence' is far more exploitative, in these philosophical terms, than anything else.

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