Monday, January 24, 2011
David Nirenberg reviews Peter E. Gordon's Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, in the February 3 The New Republic.
[S]aid Heidegger at Davos, Kant had glimpsed the truth, and had looked into the abyss beneath the throne of reason. Had he not claimed, in the Critique of Pure Reason, that "time is the formal condition a priori of all appearance whatsoever"? This implied that our ontological knowledge is bound to our finitude. In the first edition of the Critique, in 1781, Kant had even called the imagination a "third faculty," placed between the sensibility and the understanding, and charged with the crucial role of providing concepts of the understanding with a temporal synthesis.

It is true that Kant confessed that he found the process obscure--"a hidden art in the depths of the human soul, whose true operations we can divine...only with difficulty--and the structure unsatisfactory, since in the second edition of his book, in 1787, he demoted the imagination to "a function of the understanding." But for Heidegger, the first edition had the advantage of making the transcendental imagination independent from reason, and of rooting that independence in time and its attendant finitude, and thereby suggesting that reason was not the ultimate judge of knowledge. The second edition represented a failure of nerve, a suppression of the initial revolutionary insight, a decision "in favor of the pure understanding as opposed to the pure power of the imagination in order to preserve the mastery of reason."

Heidegger presented his reading of Kant as the recovery of "what Kant wanted to say." Cassirer pointed out that this alleged recovery clashed with a good deal of what Kant actually did say. But for Heidegger this was merely a confirmation of his view of how to read a philosophical tradition that deliberately veils its own truth. "In order to wring from what the words say, what it is they want to say, every interpretation must necessarily use violence." Heidegger's lectures at Davos concluded with the promise that this violence would beget even greater violence: the "destruction of the former foundation of Western metaphysics (spirit, logos, reason)."
Destructing only so as to divine more satisfactory structures.
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