Friday, October 21, 2011
The New York Review of Books has an interview with Saul Bellow, from 1988.
In his recent short book Death of the Soul, the philosopher William Barrett offers a useful discussion of the consequences of the disappearance (the destruction, in fact) of the self. He examines critically Heidegger’s treatment of the human being. How, in Heidegger’s view, are we in the world? We ask of Heidegger, “Who is the being who is undergoing all these various modes of being? (Or, in more traditional language: Who is the subject, the I, that underlies or persists through all these various modes of our being?) And here Heidegger evades us.” “We are nothing,” he says, “but an aggregate of modes of being, and any organizing or unifying center we profess to find there is something we ourselves have forged or contrived.”
Thus there is a gaping hole at the center of our human being—at least as Heidegger describes this being. Consequently, we have in the end to acknowledge a certain desolate and empty quality about his thought, however we may admire the originality and novelty of its construction.
And Barrett asks, “How could a being without a center be really ethical?” He concludes:
[Heidegger] cannot be dismissed: that desolate and empty picture of being he gives us may be just the sense of being that is at work in our whole culture, and we are in his debt for having brought it to the surface. To get beyond him we shall have to live through that sense of being in order to reach the other side.
To this I should like to add that questions that can be closed by philosophic argument often remain open for art, and it is therefore a mistake for writers to accept the preeminence of the philosophers, and write poems, novels, and plays to illustrate, to confirm, to work out in their art and in human detail, the thoughts given to us abstractly by distinguished (and also by undistinguished) thinkers. (Cartesians, Kantians, Hegelians, Bergsonians, Marxians, Freudians, Existentialists, Heideggerians, etc.) Neither the philosopher nor the scientist can tell the artist conclusively, definitively, what it is to be human.
That glib fool Bellow eh. Much as I disliked reading one of his smarmy books he's sort of correct in some way..the "man's search for meaning" jazz dead-end'ed IMHO. Big daddy Heidegger in that class too IMHO--given that Heid.-speak became. like a part of..the EST/newage ...doesn't that say something about the existentialist-product itself,regardless of his true intentions (ie...rekindling interest in the greek klassics, poetry, etc). Much as I dislike Trotskyites I don't think they're completely wrong insofar that most exist./PoMo functioned as distraction from politics and critiques of capitalism (tho.. MH's later works are part of green-leftist praxis in a sense, or one likes to think so). Man's search for shekels--or complete global-corporate power for that matter-- continues--the existentialists didn't do much about that.
Yeah, existentialism is about the individual, and doesn't have much to say about economics.
Deep eh.

But one might say..the preoccupation with the individual was itself political..that is, a-political, dare we bourgeois . Le Grand Hotel Abyss . A reaction against the left--and "class struggle"-- tho in some sense--guess that's part of PoMo. Class struggle, DOA
Really one might say for all his supposed...german nationalist leanings Heid. ends up helping out...capitalism and one might jewish psychology (via new age..."transformative" whatever)..Existentialism was more or less appropriated by academic/jewish psychology was it not. The authentic! like life under Nixon-Kissinger and later neo-cons
I'd understood that the canonical narrative is that existentialism was appropriated by those Left Bank coffee and pernod sippers.

Pop culture note: My dad had a black dress shirt he referred to as his "existentialist" shirt. No turtleneck though.
Initially--in Paris at least. But in the USA, existential writings were used by psychologists mainly (analytical philosophy had no use for them, or later for PoMo.). Around the bay area it's still like that--who was it..Rollo May? Guru May often referred to Heidegger, other exist. Dreyfus also was a bit newage for some time, wasn'the. My point could be fleshed out perhaps. At any rate Frege's fears that the psychologism of Husserl would win out... might have been realized via exist. and pomo (not saying analytical phil. is superior to cont. perse)
There may be a case to be made that EST was responsible for the widest dessimination of Heidegger's ideas in the US, or not. I'll leave those judgement calls to social historians.

I don't know much of Rollo May except for one book I've read.

In terms of the ratio of widest popular reach and closest to what MH intended, I would propose Barrett's Irrational Man. When I arrived in the USA in 1980, it seemed every used bookstore had at least one copy.
I assume William Barrett is being represented accurately here. I do not doubt that he knows his Heidegger. But I do not understand how someone familiar with Being and Time might dismiss MH's conception of the human being as empty.

My recollection is that MH makes clear that, for the human, "being is at issue." I confess I have not given that a thorough consideration. I am satisfied to have realized that Hamlet's monologue "To be or not to be" is a universal human condition.
I find the significance of such understanding that we must choose to live. Each day, hour, minute we continue to live means that we have chosen not to die.

Even when our choice is mute, it takes courage to continue. Fortunately, we have the examples and support of all those around us and those who have gone before.

While MH uses the examples of death and anxiety to illustrate where "we find ourselves," those are positive and not negative attributions. We avoid anxiety at our peril, and we cannot avoid death. Death belongs to life. Even if treated as its cost, the price of life is worth it. Avoidance of life, whether by denial or delusion, is too high a price to pay.
Post a Comment

<< Home
For when Ereignis is not sufficient.

Appropriation appropriates! Send your appropriations to enowning at gmail.com.

View mobile version