Doom Prophets III: A West in Crisis, A History Boy, 22/02/2016

Continued from last post . . . In his brief list of the prophets of modernity’s self-destruction, Antonio Negri includes Martin Heidegger. The reason is quite obvious, and there are several. 

One of those is that Heidegger was probably the most profound theorist of nationalism. Or rather, he was the most profound nationalist philosopher in the Western tradition. 

Now, I haven't read his Black Notebooks yet. I don’t know when I will, or even if I’ll ever bother. I never wanted to become a Heidegger scholar – I feel almost sick when I surround myself with his ideas for long enough. 

His thinking carries a constant weight of angst, loneliness, and surrender to fate. He makes you carry the same. 

The Black Forest in Germany, home of the German soul.

So, no, I never wanted to become a Heidegger scholar – I had other priorities as a thinker and writer than burying myself in his shrines. But the Black Notebooks would seem to be the most blatant statements of Heidegger’s nationalism and anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, the other works like his Introduction to Metaphysics from the same period – when Hitler ruled Germany – express similar ideas with a terrible profundity.

They're part of how he engages with the end of modernity, the end of the West’s cultural certainty in itself and its military conquest of Europe and the world. Heidegger saw the catastrophe of the First World War as the highest intensity yet of a trend that began in ancient Greece and dominated the entire Western mind-set since Plato.

Technology, the technological approach to the world. Philosophically, ethically, speaking – the technological approach looks at the world primarily as a resource. It’s something to be used for our own ends. 

Instead of letting the world be and living within it, we chew up the world in the violence of consumption and turn it into fuel, into resources for projects that express our own hubris. 

Martin Heidegger where he felt most authentic.
Part of what Heidegger wanted to do with his philosophy was to push humanity back toward this approach to life of letting-be. This is why he’s had such a following among environmentalists, because of his hostility to the idea that the world is our resource.

But Heidegger also had some very terrifying ideas about how people thought in an everyday sense. An individual couldn’t achieve this enlightened letting-be attitude on his own. Only a culture, a people, could achieve it. 

People had to be conditioned into encountering the world this way from infancy onward. By the time we were adults, age had calcified us too much to genuinely change the mode of our whole existence. Only a whole people could produce an ethic.

This is where the racist terror of Heidegger’s philosophy unfolds. Only a scant few cultures were capable of pushing against the world-as-resource technological mind-set. Those cultures not only had to have a language whose concepts depicted being most authentically. 

They also had to be connected to a land that pushed back against their efforts, but in such a way that they still felt at home, that their land was a happy place where they could thrive. German people had the right language, and the right environment in the Black Forest. 

A culture’s connection to its land had to be suitably profound, deep and continuous enough that it could only be the product of centuries of environmental acculturation. The culture literally grew around the land, and in constant feedback with it. 

Cultures who didn’t have these deep connections couldn’t fully actualize themselves as humans. Cultures who had been forced into nomadism for centuries became so disconnected from the divine presence of its land that they weren’t even complete humans. They weren’t even complete humans.

Edmund Husserl, philosophical inventor.
You know. Like the Jews in Europe. 

And now it becomes absolutely terrifying. 

Phenomenology, the philosophical discipline of thought whose goal was to experience and describe the world and its objects in the purest terms, was Heidegger’s method to connect with being as it was in the immediate sphere of his life. Its methods let him focus on the ideas and actions he wanted to explore. 

And that’s where the philosopher I added to the list comes from Edmund Husserl was the founder of phenomenology, and Heidegger’s mentor. Husserl was also Jewish, blacklisted by the German state generally and Heidegger specifically in the last years of his life.

All Husserl’s books in his phenomenology period were subtitled introductions to phenomenology. He kept trying to perfect the method, always taking different routes and contexts to explain it. The last attempt was cultural in The Crisis of the European Sciences, written in 1936.

In that book, Husserl took the phenomenological method from the tool of an individual thinker to the tool of a culture to understand its own place in the world and history. With that method, he developed the concept of the life-world.

Life-world is what we really experience in cultural existence – the constantly fluctuating web of interacting individuals, all building each other’s personalities. He opposed this vision to the theoretical attitude toward the world, where the environment only mattered as far as you could quantify, measure, and control it. 

That theoretical attitude had long been the dominant way Western thinkers engaged with the world. It was a mistake because it made our world feel dead, or never alive to begin with. Still, having to leave this theoretical attitude behind, knowing that it was growing bankrupt, left the West in crisis. What would replace it?

Husserl didn’t know. Heidegger hoped for a return to an older way of existence, that you could resurrect it with enough effort and luck. Even if at the end of the day, only a god could save us. 

The real answer is tougher. You’d have to create it. . . . To be Continued

No comments:

Post a Comment