Monday, June 11, 2012
Cornelius Castoriadis on the choral ode to man in Antigone.
[F]irst of all, we are going to discuss Heidegger's "translation" and "interpretation" of the stasimon {choral song} from Antigone—the one that opens with the famous words polla ta deina. His "translation" horrendously violates Sophocles' text. It supports and depends upon an "interpretation" that, as almost always in Heidegger, is but a projection of Heidegger's own schemata. It may be true that, by themselves, these schemata can push the often lazy reader to reflect on ancient texts and can "stimulate" her in a fruitful way. In this precise case, however, they lead to an artificial and frail construction that, all the while presenting Sophoclean man as an incarnation of Heideggerian Dasein, is characterized to an incredible and monstrous degree (like everything Heidegger writes about the Greeks) by a systematic ignorance of the city, of politics, of democracy, and of their central position in Greek creation. The inevitable result of this ignorance is obviously a twisted "understanding" of Greek philosophy, which is indissociably connected with the city and with democracy, even when it is hostile to them. Even Plato, and especially Plato, is not only unthinkable and impossible without the democratic city but quite simply incomprehensible as a philosopher without his persistent struggle against democracy. That is something the National-Socialist Heidegger (1933-1945) is neither willing nor able to see.

In his arbitrariness, Heidegger goes so far as to combine an alteration in the text's obvious punctuation with a setting aside of the very words that would show the absurdity of this alteration. Thus, for example, from lines 360-361 of the stasimon from Antigone, pantoporos; aporos ep' ouden erchetai to mellon, "capable of going everywhere, of going through everything, of finding the answers to everything, he advances toward nothing of what is to come without having some resource," he reads—in a shameless violation of the text—pantoporos aporos, ep' ouden erchetai, so as to translate "Everywhere on the road having experience, inexpert with no way out, he gets nowhere." And in order to grant a superficial plausibility to his translation, Heidegger is obliged to omit surreptitiously the words to mellon {the future, what is to come}.
While I had seen elsewhere some of the material quoted here, I have never studied or even read Castoriadis' work before now. I only scanned the source given here to read his other comments about MH. Perhaps I shall read the source more carefully someday, as he clearly has a substantial interest in our Hellenic roots.

But I could do without the psychoanalytical commentary that claims to be able to explain how it is that MH is not to be trusted. Instead at this point, without having done serious study of Castoriadis and judging only from what he has written in this single work about MH, my expectation is that MH simply serves as a foil for C's display of archaic Greek scholarship. His blanket condemnation of MH's work on the ancient Greeks is not justified by C's Greek origins. I have read elsewhere MH's interaction with a renowned Greek scholar, where MH held his own very well against attacks on his views.

Interpretation based on incomplete texts and transcribed fragments alone provides us with a sense of the Greek terms. That requires a sense of the evolution of their usage over the ages. I expect C employs such a discussion in his work. Nowhere did I see that he also employs MH's philosophy of language, however. It is no surprise then that the two seem to talk past each other.
Trust isn't an issue in philosophy for me, just as it is not in mathematics - it's all there in the proof. Trusting accountants or philosophers only becomes an issue when you can't do it yourself, and need their services.

My find that there is a distinctively Heideggerian way to read Greek. I don't think it's everywhere more correct than the classical canon, but it has its virtues and makes its own sense of the Greeks. And in places makes more sense, than say, Russell's History of W Phil on the Greeks.
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