3:AM: Is Heidegger best understood as the philosopher wanting to understand history as the unfolding of a tragic destiny?
DS: This depends on the period one is considering in Heidegger. There seems little question that Heidegger does in fact think of history as the unfolding of a tragic destiny in the 1930s and 1940s. He tweaks that story and will not always tell it as a simple story, but, by and large, I do believe that he sees the history of metaphysics as the unfolding of a crisis the seeds of which were sown long ago and have taken on great force (in our language, institutions, laws). The arc of this story is essentially the arc of a tragic destiny. It also seems to be the case that he thinks of the present age as the fulfillment of this crisis and as a time of catastrophe en route. He does go back and forth about the prospects for a future, but mostly regards the present historical juncture as a time of ending and that ending as a destined one.
Some time in the 1950s he begins to change how he sees this story. The sense of an ending, the sense of crisis, and the sense of catastrophe remain, but the logic of this moment’s arrival is no longer necessarily to be understood in the same way. Modernity becomes as much a problem as metaphysics, technology and technicity are the danger of the present and seem to be operating according to a new sort of logic that does not abide by the laws of destiny. There still remains a sense of crisis and of a genuinely historical moment emerging in our present, but its structure and logic seem to be new. During those years and up to his death in 1976, Heidegger would speak more directly about the closure of the spaces of life. In short, ours is a time of constriction and compression. One of the ways in which he characterizes this situation is to speak of the “Kunstlösigkeit” of our times – the lack of art. This, especially if one takes seriously the claim that art has a real relation to truth, is the real danger of the present. It is a strange and provocative remark, but one I believe is worth taking seriously.