Sunday, December 26, 2010
Graham Harman on the Bremen lectures.
One of the more legitimate games played by Heidegger scholars is to guess which of the philosopher’s works deserves to he called his second magnum opus (no one doubts that Being and Time is his first. Many conservative Heideggerians nominate Contributions to Philosophy as their candidate for the second masterpiece, a judgment with which I cannot agree. Rudiger Safranski, the most detailed biographer of Heidegger so far, nominates the 1929—30 lecture course on boredom and animal life. But however fascinating that course may he, it is more a lovely unfinished symphony than a true masterpiece.

For my own part, I have no doubt that the second great work of Heidegger is the seventy-page lecture Einblick in das, was ist (Insight Into What Is), first delivered in Bremen on December 1, 1949. The reader is advised that this is a minority view; indeed, I have never heard even one other person suggest it. Nonetheless, I am willing to place heavy bets that mainstream opinion will gradually come around to the same view. For this reason, Being and Time and Insight Into What Is are the only two works that I have given entire chapters of their own in this hook, and I have even made sure to write the two chapters simultaneously. Although these works are separated by more than two decades, they belong together, just as the distant Everest and K2 arc coupled in the fantasy life of mountaineers.

There is compelling circumstantial evidence for the importance of the Bremen lecture. Insight Into What Is was the first public lecture that Heidegger gave after World War II, and his first appearance on the stage following the Denazification process and the philosopher’s resulting psychological problems. For Heidegger as for most Germans of his era, 1945 was a natural breaking point, splitting his life into before and after. Insight Into What Is counts as Heidegger’s first piece of serious philosophy from the “alter” period. To his credit, he had weathered the Storms of the postwar period well enough to give us something truly new in his thinking. Many of Heidegger’s best later essays (“The Thing,” “Building Dwelling Thinking,” and “The Question Concerning Technology”) stem directly from this eerie 1949 lecture, which remained unpublished until 1994, and is still not available in full in English.

Pp. 127-8
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