In The New Inquiry, Kurt Newman reviews Steven Shaviro’s The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism.
The Universe of Things also attends concertedly to the work of Graham Harman. In particular, Shaviro shines a light on the usefulness of Harman’s Heideggerian insight that the image of the “broken tool” grants us access to the inner world of objects. “When a tool, or a thing, fails to function as expected,” Shaviro writes, “the excess of its being is suddenly revealed to us.”
What is this “excess of being?” It might be easiest to think of it as a mathematical remainder. The “excess of being” is what is left after we subtract things from themselves. In the aftermath of the many revolutions of modern physics, we know that if you take, say, a chair, and subtract from the universe that chair, you are not left with nothing. The “something” that is left over—however resistant it is to analysis—is the “excess of being.” A scientist would likely tell us that the “something” merely alerts us to a problem with the way we have framed the question. A psychoanalyst might situate this remainder at the level of fantasy or invoke the language of object relations. A deconstructionist might point to the “hauntological” traces of the chair and its ghostly afterlives.
Unlike the materialist or naturalist, the idealist makes death
the end of being. Death no longer has anything to do with living
things, but everything to do with the Idea. Death becomes the
condition by which existent things, and not merely living things,
can situate themselves outside their identity as human animals.
Here, death belongs only to those who think about death, who
are conscious of it, or who have an Idea of it. Other entities, like
beasts, plants, and amoebas, merely ‘perish’ (according to Martin
But whoever contrasts death with life or with subjective being
forgets that death is neither the end of a life nor the end of an
individuated subject, but the end of an individuated life’s presence.
Dying is irreducible to an operation of organised living things,
which come undone, decompose, and recompose. Dying cannot
be elevated to the idea of the end, nothingness, or the absolute.
Neither a function of the living nor an ontological end, death is the
event of an absence of life’s presence.
Yesterday in the Comical of Higher Education, Richard Wolin, an American (ethnic cleansing of natives, racial slavery, mass incarceration of poor and uneducated) intellectual, judges the mauvaise foi of others.
The most recent act of bad faith on the part of Heidegger’s
defenders has been to claim that anti-Jewish elements are present
in the work of earlier German thinkers as well, such as Kant and
Hegel, suggesting that it is unfair to single out Heidegger for
harboring anti-Semitic convictions that were widespread.
However, such claims are misleading in two important respects:
(1) The Black Notebooks make clear that anti-Semitism occupies a
systematic position in Heidegger’s thought, which was not the case
with Kant and Hegel; and (2) Kant’s and Hegel’s thoughts were
predicated on the notion of the "autonomy of reason," and,
therefore, unlike Heidegger’s, remained unserviceable for the ends
of National Socialism.
Wolin's notion that the core of Heidegger's contribution is contained in the Black Notebooks's anti-semitic remarks merely indicates that after decades of criticizing Heidegger, he still doesn't get what's original about Heidegger's way of thinking.
Wolin is right that Heidegger was a part of the "convenient rationalization for German nonresponsibility". As such, Heidegger is a banal and idiotic figure, just like the characters Fassbinder staged in his BRD trilogy, Lili Marleen, and Berlin Alexanderplatz, who shirk responsibility and so are complicit in the horror.
Heidegger's writings on German-ness aren't of much interest to anyone who is not a German. No one else but specific Germans would think Germans are a master race with some special historical destiny. Nor do most readers of Heidegger think that Bavarian peasants are ontologically privileged, despite the meister's prejudices for his location. Commenting on German-ness is a feature of most German philosophers' works. Once you get past what's noteworthy and original about them, and read the source materials, they are all concerned with defining German-ness. And similarly, they all have trouble fitting Jews into their national narratives. Heidegger's anti-semitisms is not a particularly acute case in that company.
The notion that Kant and Hegel "remained unserviceable for the ends of National Socialism" is easily disproven. Alfred Rosenberg, the actual Nazi philosopher (hanged at Nuremberg), praised Kant ("The euthanasia of Judaism is the pure moral religion.", Streit der Fakultaten, 1798). Alfred Baeumler, the Reich's director of the Institute for Political Pedagogy wrote his dissertation on Kant. Reichsminister Hans Frank spoke of Hegel ("The Jewish multitude was bound to wreck His [Christ] attempt to give them the consciousness of something divine, for faith in something divine, something great, cannot make its home in a dunghill", The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, 1799) as Germany's greatest political philosopher. Shouldn't a historian know that?
¶ 1:58 AM0 comments
Despite any allegiance he gave to the regime in 1933, despite any enduring belief in the principles of National Socialism as he saw them or wanted to see them, and despite his refusal to take responsibility in the manner of apology, the Holocaust was for Heidegger the furthest thing from a celebration of Being that one can imagine, representing a categorical lack of understanding of human freedom; and thus it is not “compatible,” if we must use the word, with his “philosophy.” Being totally withdrawn, absent in the sense of the greatest of that which is possible for the human in their being to be, denied. The natural and human forces of life squeezed through the technological machinery of war. The Jew was deprived of a natural, human death, and thus of life, by being forced into death by technological conversion. It is, indeed, an assault upon humanity and a violence done to the beings that were already present there with their own purposes for their lives.
There is a logical link between the Black Notebooks' anti-Semitism and the analysis of technology in Being and Time and The Question Concerning Technology. The first publication provides the missing link and grounding for the second and the third.
Heidegger’s works have had significant influence on studies of the media, communication, and the Internet. Given the anti-Semitism in the Black Notebooks, it is time that Heideggerians abandon Heidegger, and instead focus on alternative traditions of thought. It is now also the moment where scholars should consider stopping to eulogise and reference Heidegger when theorising and analysing the media, communication, culture, technology, digital media, and the Internet.
Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2, 2015
The University of Dallas, Irving, Texas
¶ 10:41 PM0 comments
The LARB interviews Žižek, who has written a new version of Antigone, to be staged next year.
At the climactic moment of the ferocious debate between Antigone and Creon, the chorus steps forward, castigating both of them for their stupid conflict, which threatens the survival of the entire city. Acting like a kind of comité de salut public, the chorus takes over as a collective organ and imposes a new rule of law, installing people’s democracy in Thebes. Creon is deposed, both Creon and Antigone are arrested, put to trial, swiftly condemned to death and liquidated.