It's Heidegger déjà vu all over again

Not sure if it is just a very succesful publisher’s stunt, but a few weeks before the publication of the English translation of Emmanuel Faye’s book on Heidegger as the ur-Nazi, “Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy,” the intellectually sophisticated media (from the The Chronicle of Higher Education to slate.com) have been wallowing in re-treaded Heidegger discussions. It truly is déjà-vu all over again, as the whole thing reminds me of nothing more than the publication, first in France (1987) and a relatively short time later (1989) in this country of Victor Farias’ Heidegger and Nazism. In the wake of which publication a slew of books and articles, pro and con, appeared — of which I wrote a review back then, under the title “Heidegger, France, Politics, the University,” when the subject was more or less new. You can read the complete essay here. In the concluding paragraph I suggest that…

… essential Heideggerrian concepts as first developed in Being and Time lend themselves without ambiguity, and in Heidegger’s own practical thinking, to implementation in the context of a fascist university structure. This is not to dismiss Heidegger’s thought : there is no doubt that in certain essential aspects it addresses some of the most fundamental questions we are faced with at this end of the century. But it also means that we have to re-examine Heidegger’s thinking and to do so not only by claiming that his thinking was not yet post-metaphysical enough, as many heideggerian deconstructionists are wont to do. Lacoue-Labarthe’s line, that “thinking can never be separated from metaphysics” implies that no matter how consciously, how fully, one tries to think beyond the forms of onto-theology, there always lurks the possibility – the danger – of erring, especially, it would seem, in the complex act of articulating abstract thought and political action. Sheehan says at the end of his article: “We know now how greatly he ‘erred.’ The question remains about how greatly he thought. The way to answer that question is not to stop reading Heidegger but to start demythologizing him.” That means first of all to read and reread Heidegger, but it also means that the time has come to rethink and recontextualize essential aspects of the pre-war european intellectual endeavors, especially those who fell prey to what Bataille termed “la tentation fasciste.”

I still go with that conclusion, and Emmanuel Faye’s book doesn’t change the fact that, yes, we have known this all along, Heidegger was profoundly implicated in Nazism, and no, that doesn’t mean that his books should be burned or de-classified as “philosophy” to be redirected to the library’s “nazi propaganda literature” category as some followers of Faye are suggesting. It is the sensationalism of the claims, and the shrill condemnation of Heidegger that follow — in fact, precede the actual — publication of the book that is so irritating. In relation to this matter I have always taken my lead from the Jewish poet Paul Celan, who knew Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism very well, and yet not only was a serious reader of his work, but even went to visit him in an attempt to get some word of contrition from the philosopher. He did not get it — and wrote a strong poem about the meeting. (check here and here for  Nomadics post on the matter of Heidegger and Celan).

For a better understanding of  Bataille’s concept of “la tentation fasciste,” it would have been more useful for Yale University Press to invest their money in translating and publishing a superb book by Emmanuel’s father, the poet & writer Jean-Pierre Faye, that came out way back in 1972. I am referring to Langages Totalitaires, maybe the most detailed and insightful analysis of how a totalitarian discourse can evolve at a given moment in a language, German in this case. The book has an important subtitle: Critique de la raison narrative et critique de l’économie narrative, with the words “critique” & “economy” placed one above the other. Sometime in the seventies, the English writer and translator Paul Buck had started in on a translation of LT, but for lack of an editor and serious financing, had to give up on the project (I’m not certain, but he may even have published some extracts in his magazine Curtains). A shame, because it may well be possible that Emmanuel would not have felt the need to write as stridently over the top a book, if Langages totalitaires had been around to do it’s work.

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5 opinions on “It's Heidegger déjà vu all over again”

  1. Mr. Joris, in my research about the Heidegger controversy, I came across Bataille expression “la tentation fasciste” a couple of time. It appears at the very end of your essay (quoted here) “Heidegger, France, Politics, the University”. I was wondering if you happen to have a reference for the expression. I doesn’t occur in Bataille’s essay on The Psychological Structure Of Fascism. Many thanks.

    1. Unhappily I can’t remember exactly where in Bataille the phrase occurs — it has been with me for more than 30 years now, but placing it in the work would demand vast hours of research. Sorry.

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