[O]ur default way of interacting with the world isn’t by peering at screens. We respond to the environment, to what it offers us, in an automatic and intuitive way. In most everyday scenarios, we don’t see our things as things at all. We just use them: we see a hammer, and we grasp it. We see a rubber ball, and we squeeze it, or bounce it.
This was Heidegger’s insight, and it also motivates the enchanted objects thesis. The world presents itself, in the first instance, as ready to hand – as being available for use. We manoeuvre things with our bodies unthinkingly, performing immensely complicated calculations without even being aware of it.
The world is full of information that we access instinctively. But so far, this knowledge has been useless in the resolutely two-dimensional digital world. The challenge, and the opportunity, is to harness our knowledge of how real, graspable and bounceable things work, and use it to shape more meaningful, fulfilling, connected experiences. But how?
Reminiscing about Terrence F. Malick '65 in the Harvard Crimson.
Francis W. Metcalf ’65, Malick’s freshman year roommate, recalled an instance when Malick asked for Metcalf’s thoughts on a paper Malick had recently received back.
“The title was ‘Ontology and Heidegger’ or something like that, and there was a straight A. Maybe an A+,” Metcalf said. “The comment was from the grader: ‘Could I please have this paper back after you look over my comments because I’ve never seen such a good treatment of this difficult topic.’ Right then and there, the bells went off in my head.”
Malick’s academic interest in philosophy only grew stronger as the years went on, and under Philosophy professor Stanley L. Cavell, Malick graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a Rhodes Scholarship.
“He was unbelievably intelligent,” fellow Rhodes Scholar Curtis A. Hessler ’66 said. “He was renowned as probably the most brilliant student of philosophy at that time.”
Following graduation, Malick headed to Oxford University’s Magdalen College with the aim of writing a dissertation on German philosopher Martin Heidegger, which was a “no go from the start,” according to fellow Rhodes Scholar Jonathan D. Culler ’66.
“These were the days [when] Oxford was analytical philosophy,” Culler said. “The last thing anyone at the philosophy department there wanted was to supervise a dissertation on Heidegger.
Has anything changed? When was the last time you read an interesting paper by someone tutored in PPE? Oxbridge are the go-tos when a firm's PR department needs a "professional ethicist" or such.
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Derrida learns of the way to the saving power.
The previous summer, there had been a décade [ten day conference] at the
chateau of Cerisy-la-Salle devoted to Heidegger, who also attended.
This crucial encounter was still being talked about. At a reception
at the home of Mme Heurgon, the proprietor of Cerisy, a recording
of some of the high points of the décade was played. This was a
moment that Derrida would never forget:
I was a student at the École Normale and I heard Heidegger’s
voice for the fi rst time in a salon of the 16th arrondissement.
I can remember one sequence in particular: we were
all in the salon, we were all listening to that voice. [. . .] I
especially remember the bit just after Heidegger’s talk: the
questions raised by [Gabriel] Marcel and [Lucien] Goldmann.
One of them put the following objection, in so many words, to
Heidegger: ‘But don’t you think that this method of reading or
this way of reading or questioning is dangerous?’ A methodological,
epistemological question. And I can still hear – after
the ensuing silence – Heidegger’s reply: ‘Ja! It is dangerous.’
Two things remain viable about Heidegger’s thought. The first is his view that human existence is constituted as the clearing or openness in which the intelligibility of things becomes available or manifests itself. Heidegger’s interest was not so much in the being of entities, but instead in the clearing that allows things to show themselves (in their intelligibility) and in that sense “to be.” Heidegger was not interested in the various structures of entities, which he regarded as a matter for the sciences and other means of exploration. Nor was his main topic being (Sein) as the metaphysical tradition had understood it, that is, as the origin, ground, structure, or foundation of entities. Instead, Heidegger took a step back and asked: How is the being of entities made available to us? How can we encounter it in the first place? He answered this question by positing that human existence amounts to the open realm (existence, the clearing) in which things can show up and thus be in one way or another. If this reading of Heidegger is right, the current techno-scientific understanding of things is not an aberration but an inevitable development of humanity’s gift for understanding things in their intelligibility. Most humans inevitably pay no attention to the clearing that makes all this possible, but instead turn toward the entities that show up as affording one or another use or application.
Heidegger’s second lasting contribution was his analysis of great Western thinkers, from Aristotle to Nietzsche. Although his interpretations are at times controversial, they were often brilliant and groundbreaking, perhaps especially his extraordinary rethinking Aristotle as a phenomenologist. Unlike some of his writings, In many of his lecture courses, which are usually clearly presented, Heidegger critically investigated and entered into dialogue with the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Schelling, Nietzsche and Augustine, among others. Arguably, Heidegger was the greatest 20th century interpreter of major Western philosophers, even though the anti-modernist “spin” he applied to his meta-analysis of that history is deeply problematic.
In his work there is never a succession
of passing presents, but a simultaneity of a present of past, a
present of present and a present of future, which make time
frightening and inexplicable. The encounter in Last Year in Marienbad,
the accident in L'immortelle, the key in Trans-Europe
Express, the betrayal in The Man Who Lies: the three implicated
presents are constantly revived, contradicted, obliterated, substituted,
re-created, fork and return. This is a powerful time-image.
This does not mean to say, however, that it suppresses all narration.
But, much more importantly, it gives narration a new
value, because it abstracts it from all successive action, as far as it
replaces the movement-image with a genuine time-image. Thus
narration will consist of the distribution of different presents to
different characters, so that each forms a combination that is
plausible and possible in itself, but where all of them together are
'incompossible', and where the inexplicable is thereby maintained
and created. In Last Year . . ., it is X who knew A (so A does not
remember or is lying), and it is"A who does not know X (so X is
mistaken or playing a trick on her). Ultimately, the three characters
correspond to the three different presents, but in such a
way as to 'complicate' the inexplicable instead of throwing light on
it; in such a way as to bring about its existence instead of suppressing
it: what X lives in a present of past, A lives in a present of
future, so that the difference exudes or assumes a present of
present (the third, the husband), all implicated in each other. The
repetition distributes its variations on the three presents. In The
Man Who Lies, the two characters are not simply the same: their
difference arises only in making the betrayal inexplicable, because
this is attributed differently, but simultaneously, to each of
them as identical to the other. In Le jeu avec le feu the kidnapping
of the girl has to be the means of warding it off but equally the
means of warding it off must be the kidnapping itself, so that she
has never been kidnapped at the moment when she is and will be,
and kidnaps herself at the moment when she has not been.
However, this new mode of narration still remains human, even
though it constitutes a lofty form of non-sense. It does not yet tell
us the essential point. The essential point rather appears if we
think of an earthly event which is assumed to be transmitted to
different planets, one of which would receive it at the same time
(at the speed of light), but the second more quickly, and the third
less quickly, hence before it happened and after. The latter would
not yet have received it, the second would already have received
it, the first would be receiving it, in three simultaneous presents
bound into the same universe. This would be a sidereal time, a
system of relativity, where the characters would be not so much
human as planetary, and the accents not so much subjective as
astronomical, in a plurality of worlds constituting the universe. It
would be a pluralist cosmology, where there are not only
different worlds (as in Minnelli), but where one and the same
event is played out in these different worlds, in incompatible
Heidegger went further than his predecessors by grounding his theory of ‘ontological difference’ in language. According to this idea, human consciousness’s very access to entities was predicated on language. Simply put, there was no being, no prior distinct existence, from which any essence for anything could be understood, without a linguistic understanding of it. In the words of the German poet Stefan George, “there is no thing where the word is lacking” (from ‘The Word’, 1928). Heidegger expanded on this ‘ontological’ nature of language in his essay ‘On The Way To Language’: “The thing is a thing only where the word is found for the thing… The word alone supplies being to the thing, [for] something only is, where the appropriate word names something as existing and in this way institutes the particular entity as such… The being of that which is resides in the word. For this reason, the following phrase holds good: language is the house of being” (On the Way to Language, 1959). Within this framework, language is world-instituting, since it brings about a ‘happening of being’ in which man is thrown and through which a world appears.
Carolyn Culbertson on the recent Heidegger Circle meeting in Baltimore.
...contributions demonstrated that reading Heidegger for the sake of peace and justice does not mean overlooking his ethical and political shortcomings but rather pursuing a real understanding of how his errors arose...