Saturday, October 15, 2011
The final part of Terrence Malick's translator's introduction to The Essence of Reasons.
There is a way in which one cannot agree with Heidegger “on certain points” any more than one can, even in a manner of speaking, be insane or revolutionary on certain points. None of his concepts, the concept of the world included, can be understood until one knows how to turn all of them to account. Until then, it is confusing how one goes about understanding him or, rather, how one decides when one has understood him and whether one has understood him as others must. Our confusion is not anarchic; it has its own discipline. We are not, for example, concerned to ask whether his remarks are true; each will be an untried example of its own truth, a truth which one does not know how to fix. Nor are we concerned to examine certain new facts of his and their implications. For, though he is telling us something that we can have failed to know, he is not claiming to give us either addition or different information; the right preface for his remarks would not be “furthermore” or “on the other hand” we have a different interest, at the outset. We want to know the kind of advantage that Heidegger has over us in deciding what to say about dasein or “world”, e.g., the kind of precautions we might be expected to take before challenging Heidegger’s own statement own statement on a challenge is possible in the first place. It might appear that the only terms on which we could raise a challenge, or even voice our confusion, are either outlawed or do not begin to threaten his own; we cannot speak against Heidegger’s terms, while, on them, we set no limit to his advantage; our challenge, then, would serve to discredit, not Heidegger, but our understanding of him. This may or may not be true. It is put forward as an example of what would settle the question of our relationship to Heidegger. And only if we know how to stand related to him will we also know what to make of our confusion.

But it is as if Heidegger did not realize all this, or did and were satisfied with himself nonetheless. He is constantly aware of how far he is from making a case; he takes pains to assess his distance and its consequences to him. Indeed, the analysis and treatment of his failure to make a case are as internal as his work, and often as thematic, as his more obscure exercises with the notion of Dasein. Perhaps the reasons which he gives for his failure are wrong, but there is nothing wrong, no necessary finality, in his failure as such; or if there is, then it is at least unclear who is in the wrong.

Our problems are the problems with Heidegger’s language. What gives them their force as problems is that they ask to be solved in and through his language, without further recourse Heidegger is not, certainly by his own account, using new and peculiar words as “equivalents” for our own, and even if he were, there is no reason to think that then we would then be in some better position to understand him. Which is to say that the difficulty is not one of decoding him, as, we have seen, Hurrsel believed for a while. If Heidegger resorts to his own peculiar language, it is because ordinary German does not meet his purposes; and it does not because he has new and different purposes. If we cannot educate ourselves to his purposes, then clearly his work will look like nonsense. And yet we should not conclude that it is nonsense merely because we are not sure what is to keep us from the conclusion.
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