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Martin Heidegger (September 26, 1889 – May 26, 1976) was a German philosopher. An influence on many other major philosophers, his own students at various times included Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hans Jonas, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Xavier Zubiri and Karl Löwith. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe also studied his work more or less closely. Beyond his relation to phenomenology, Heidegger is regarded as a major or indispensable influence on existentialism, deconstruction, hermeneutics and postmodernism. He attempted to reorient Western philosophy away from metaphysical and epistemological and toward ontological questions, that is, questions concerning the meaning of being, or what it means "to be". Much controversy has surrounded his status as a prominent academic member of the Nazi Party.


Heidegger was born in a rural Roman Catholic family in Messkirch, Germany. His father was the sexton of the village church. His family could not afford to send him to university and he entered a Jesuit seminary instead. After studying Theology at the University of Freiburg from 1909 to 1911, he switched to Philosophy, receiving his PhD in 1914 with a thesis on Psychologism, and the venia legendi in Philosophy with a Habilitation thesis on Duns Scotus in 1916. 1916-17, he was an unsalaried Privatdozent, then served as a soldier during the last year of World War I, working behind a desk and never leaving Germany. After the war, he served as a salaried senior assistant to Edmund Husserl at the University of Freiburg until 1923. During this time, he built his mountain cabin, the Hütte, in Todtnauberg in the nearby Schwarzwald. In 1923, he was elected to an extraordinary Professorship (full professor but without a Chair) in Philosophy at the equally reputable but very Protestant University of Marburg. At Marburg his colleagues included Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Friedländer, Nicolai Hartmann, and Paul Natorp, and his notable students, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Karl Löwith, Gerhard Krüger, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt. When Husserl retired in 1928 (that is, when Husserl, a Jew, was removed from his position by the Nazi Party), Heidegger, having published Sein und Zeit the previous year, accepted Freiburg's election to be his successor, in spite of a counter-offer by Marburg. Heidegger remained at Freiburg for the rest of his life, declining a number of later offers including one from Berlin, the most prestigious German university of the day. Among his students at Freiburg was the young Herbert Marcuse. In 1933, he became a member of the NSDAP (Nazi party), to which he had been close since 1931, and was appointed Rector of the University. His inaugural address, his "Rektoratsrede," became notorious. He resigned the Rectorship in 1934, but never resigned from the Nazi party. In 1945/47, the French Occupation Authority forbade him to teach because of his Nazi past, a decision rescinded in 1951 when he became Professor emeritus with all privileges. He then taught on regularly from 1951 and 1958, and until 1967 by invitation. He died in 1976, was given a Roman Catholic funeral, and is buried in the Meßkirch cemetery.

Personal and family life

In 1917, Heidegger married Elfriede Petri, in a Protestant wedding. She has been blamed for being a negative influence on him, by virtue of her strong anti-Semitic and Nazi sympathies. Heidegger had several extramarital affairs, including two very important ones with Jewish women who were his students, Hannah Arendt and Elisabeth Blochmann, with whom he remained in contact for the rest of his life (except during World War II). Only with the recent publication of the letters between Martin and Elfriede Heidegger in 2005 did it become known that the Heidegger marriage was an "open" one, in that Elfriede likewise had affairs, including one with the family doctor who fathered her first son, Hermann Heidegger.


Heidegger is one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, and his ideas have penetrated into many areas. His discussion of ontology has led to his being often cited as one of the founders of existentialism and his ideas inspired major philosophical work, e.g., Sartre, who adopts many of Heidegger's ideas (although Heidegger insisted that Sartre misunderstood him). His philosophical work was taken up throughout Germany, France, and Japan and has gained, since the 1970s at least, a fair following in North America as well. Heidegger's work was scorned and dismissed, however, by many of his contemporaries, such as the Vienna Circle, Theodor Adorno, and Anglo-American philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Alfred Ayer.

Heidegger's philosophy refused to recognize concepts such as consciousness, subjectivity, ego, the mind or other fact-value distinctions, because he saw them as fundamentally unmeasurable, undefinable and easily subject to multiple interpretations. For example: consciousness vs. "what?" Ego as opposed to "what?" He criticises our reliance on modern science, and our subjugation to technology, and he didn't see the point to include an "ethical" dimension to his theory, and suggested that "ethical" dimension are purely "subjective" and only results in a fundamental misunderstanding of his holistic unified experience of "being in the world" which he called dasein.

His philosophy also has been read as opening up the possibility for dialogue with traditions of thought outside the western philosophy, particularly East Asian thinking. This is an ambiguous aspect of Heidegger's philosophy, because his notions such "language as the house of being" precisely seem to rule out such a possibility. Eastern and western thought literally and metaphorically don't speak the same language. However, certain elements in Heidegger's latter work -- particularly the dialogue between a Japanese and an Inquirer -- do show an interest in such a dialogue occurring. Heidegger himself had contact with a number of leading Japanese intellectuals of his time in the Kyoto School. It has been claimed that a number of elements within Heidegger's thought bear a close parallel to eastern philosophical ideas, particularly with Zen Buddhism and Daoism.


Heidegger was influenced as a teenager by Aristotle mediated through Christian theology. The concept of being, which in the traditional sense can be dated back to Plato, made up his first exposure to an idea that he would later plant at the core of his most famous work Being and Time (1927).

According to most Encyclopedia accounts, originally, Heidegger was a phenomenologist, and the phenomenological approach to philosophy can be briefly sketched as an attempt to describe experience unmediated by reflective and theoretical knowledge, and so as a way of trying to reach "the things themselves," as Husserl put it, bypassing all abstract assumptions concerning them. Edmund Husserl was the founder and major exponent of this philosophical movement, and he was Heidegger's mentor.

In spite of fundamental disagreements between Husserl and Heidegger over its methodology, Heidegger claimed that phenomenology held a special place for him and is reflected throughout his thinking. Heidegger's work centered essentially on the question of being (or what it means to be), or ontology, which Husserl never directly addressed. Heidegger characterized his famous work Being and Time as phenomenological ontology.

However, Husserl himself disputed that characterization. According to Husserl, Heidegger, instead of pursuing the idea of ontology as pure being, instead changed the topic to "Dasein" (the ontology of the human being), that being to whom the concept of being would be important. The bulk of Being and Time is an abstract description of Dasein. Husserl claimed that Heidegger's work was not about ontology, but about abstract anthropology. The two philosophers never spoke to each other after the displacement of Husserl during the Nazi period.

The idea of the primacy of being as a tool of philosophical understanding can at the very least be traced back to Parmenides and has traditionally served as one of the key thoughts of Western philosophy. The question of being was allegedly revived by Heidegger after being eclipsed by the metaphysical tradition from Plato to Descartes, and even more recently in the Age of Enlightenment, modern sceince, and high technology. Heidegger sought to ground being in time, and thus to discover its real essence or meaning, that is, its intelligibility for us.

In this manner Heidegger began where being began; in ancient Greek thought. He depicts himself as the reviver of a lost and under-appreciated issue in contemporary philosophy. Heidegger's great opening was to take Plato seriously again, and at the same time to undermine the entire Platonic worldview by reversing the core of Platonism: treating being not as timeless and transcendent, but as embedded in time and history. This is why some Platonists tend to regard Heidegger as a great thinker, even if they disagree with his analysis of being and his conception of Platonic thought.

Although Heidegger was a supremely creative and original thinker, he at the same time borrowed heavily from Søren Kierkegaard. Like Derrida after him, Heidegger treated philosophy as literature calling for commentary and dialogue. The clearest example of this approach is his multi-volume work based on his lectures on Nietzsche. The lectures were originally given in the 1930s and early '40s and focus significantly on fragments, posthumously published under the title The Will to Power, as opposed to Nietzsche's published works. Yet Heidegger read The Will to Power as the culminating expression of Western metaphysics. Heidegger's Nietzsche is as much about Heidegger's own thinking as it is about Nietzsche's. It thus constitutes a kind of dialogue between the two thinkers, as opposed to either scholarship or systematic argument.

Heidegger's concepts of anxiety (Angst) and Dasein draw on Kierkegaard and are indebted to the way in which Kierkegaard lays out the importance of our subjective relation to truth, our existence in the face of death, the temporality of existence, and the importance of passionate affirmation of one's individual being-in-the-world. Nonetheless, it is important to notice the difference between the Danish philosopher, whose thought was both individualistic and Christian, and Heidegger, who conceived of human existence as thoroughly social and sharply distinguished philosophy itself from all personal, scientific, and religious commitments.

Being and Time

Main article: Being and Time

Being and Time (German title: Sein und Zeit), published in 1927, is Heidegger's most influential work. This epochal book was his first significant academic work, and earned him a professorship at Freiburg University. He subsequently changed his views on several points made in the book. It is a touchstone of Continental philosophy, a groundbreaking investigation of the concepts of Being & Da-sein (literally "existence" and, often translated by its components, "being-there"), as these relate to ontology and phenomenology. Although Heidegger distanced himself from existentialism, Being and Time strongly influenced existentialist thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre.

Later works

Although Heidegger claimed that all of his writings concerned a single question, the question of being, in the years after the publication of Being and Time the focus of his work gradually changed. This change is often referred to as Heidegger's Kehre (turn). In his later works, Heidegger turns from "doing" to "dwelling." He focuses less on the way in which the structures of being are revealed in everyday behavior and in the experience of Angst, and more on the way in which behavior itself depends on a prior "openness to being." The essence of being human is the maintenance of this openness. (The difference between Heidegger's early and late works is more a difference of emphasis than a radical break like that between the early and late works of Wittgenstein, but it is important enough to justify a division of the Heideggerian corpus into "early" (roughly, pre-1930) and "late" writings.)

Heidegger opposes this openness to the "will to power" of the modern human subject, who subordinates beings to his own ends rather than letting them "be what they are." Heidegger interprets the history of western philosophy as a brief period of authentic openness to being in the time of the pre-Socratics, especially Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Anaximander, followed by a long period increasingly dominated by nihilistic subjectivity, initiated by Plato.

In the later writings, two recurring themes are poetry and technology. Heidegger sees poetry as a preeminent way in which beings are revealed "in their being." The play of poetic language (which is, for Heidegger, the essence of language itself) reveals the play of presence and absence that is being itself. Heidegger focuses especially on the poetry of Hölderlin.

Against the revealing power of poetry, Heidegger sets the force of technology. The essence of technology is the conversion of the whole universe of beings into an undifferentiated "standing reserve" (Bestand) of energy available for any use to which humans choose to put it. The standing reserve represents the most extreme nihilism, since the being of beings is totally subordinated to the will of the human subject. Indeed, Heidegger described the essence of technology as Gestell, or "enframing." Heidegger does not unequivocally condemn technology; he believes that its increasing dominance might make it possible for humanity to return to its authentic task of the stewardship of being. Nevertheless, an unmistakable agrarian nostalgia permeates much of his later work.

Heidegger's important later works include Vom Wesen der Wahrheit ("On the Essence of Truth," 1930), Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes ("The Origin of the Work of Art," 1935), Bauen Wohnen Denken ("Building Dwelling Thinking," 1951), and Die Frage nach der Technik ("The Question Concerning Technology," 1954) and Was heisst Denken? ("What Is Called Thinking?" 1954).

Heidegger and Eastern thought

Heidegger's philosophy has been read as opening up the possibility for dialogue with traditions of thought outside of Western philosophy, particularly East Asian thinking. This is an ambiguous aspect of Heidegger's philosophy, insofar as his notions such as "language as the house of being" seem precisely to rule out such a possibility. Eastern and Western thought literally and metaphorically don't speak the same language. However certain elements in Heidegger's later work, particularly the dialogue between A Japanese and an Inquirer, do show an interest in such a dialogue occurring. Heidegger himself had contact with an number of leading Japanese intellectuals in his time, including members of the Kyoto School, notably Hajime Tanabe. Kuki Shuzo and Kyoshi Miki. Further more it has also claimed that a number of elements within Heidegger's thought bear a close parallel to Eastern philosophical ideas, paticularly with Zen, Buddhism and Daoism. While there is no evidence that Heidegger visited Japan or any other East Asian country, his philosophy does appear to hold out the possibility of a dialogue between eastern and western thought. An account given by Paul Hsao, (Heidegger and Asian thought), records a remark by Chang Chung-Yuan claiming that, 'Heidegger is the only Western Philosopher who not only interlectually understands but has intuitively grasped Taoist thought.' This may be an exaggerated reading, but it is still an aspect of Heidegger's thought that should be taken seriously.

Influences and difficulties of French reception

Heidegger, like Husserl, is an explicitly acknowledged influence on existentialism, despite his explicit disavowal and objection, in texts such as the "Letter on Humanism," of the importation of key elements of his work into existentialist contexts. While Heidegger was banned from university teaching for a period shortly after the war on account of his activities as Rector of Freiburg, he developed a number of contacts in France who continued to teach his work and brought their students to visit him in Todtnauberg (see, for example, Jean-François Lyotard's brief account in "Heidegger and 'the Jews': A Conference in Vienna and Freiburg," which discusses a Franco-German conference held in Freiburg in 1947, a first step in bringing together French and German students after the War). Heidegger subsequently made efforts to keep abreast of developments in French philosophy by way of recommendations from Jean Beaufret, who was an early French translator, and Lucien Braun.

Deconstruction as it is generally understood (i.e., as French and Anglo-American phenomena profoundly rooted in Heidegger's work, with limited general exposure in a German context until the 1980s) came to Heidegger's attention in 1967 by way of Lucien Braun's recommendation of Jacques Derrida's work (Hans-Georg Gadamer was present at an initial discussion and indicated to Heidegger that Derrida's work came to his attention by way of an assistant). Heidegger expressed interest in meeting Derrida personally after the latter sent him some of his work. (There was discussion of a meeting in 1972, but this did not happen.) Heidegger's interest in Derrida is said by Braun to have been considerable (as is evident in two letters, of 29 September 1967 and 16 May 1972, from Heidegger to Braun). Braun also brought to Heidegger's attention the work of Michel Foucault. Foucault's relation to Heidegger is a matter of considerable difficulty; Foucault acknowledged Heidegger as a philosopher whom he read but never wrote about. (For more on this see Penser à Strasbourg, Jacques Derrida, et al, which includes reproductions of both letters and an account by Braun, "À mi-chemin entre Heidegger et Derrida").

One feature that garnered initial interest in a French context (which propagated rather quickly to scholars of French literature and philosophy working in American universities) was Derrida's efforts to displace the understanding of Heidegger's work that had been prevalent in France from the period of the ban against Heidegger teaching in German universities, which amounts in part to an almost wholesale rejection of the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialist terms. In Derrida's view, deconstruction is a tradition inherited via Heidegger (the French term "déconstruction" is a term coined to translate Heidegger's use of the words "Destruktion" - literally "destruction" - and "Abbau" - more literally "de-building"), whereas Sartre's interpretation of Dasein and other key Heideggerian terms is overly psychologistic and (ironically) anthropocentric, consisting of a radical misconception of the limited number of Heidegger's texts commonly studied in France up to that point (namely Being and Time, What is Metaphysics?, and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics). Derrida, on the other hand, is at times presented as an ultra-orthodox "French Heidegger," to the extent that he, his colleagues, and his former students are made to go proxy for Heidegger's worst (political) mistakes, despite ample evidence that the reception of Heidegger's work by later practitioners of deconstruction is anything but doctrinaire. The work of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe may be taken as exemplary in this regard and was often commended as such by Derrida, who further contrasted Lacoue-Labarthe's extended work on Heidegger with Foucault's silence.

Having earlier mentioned the contributions of Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe, and Lyotard to scholarship on Heidegger and National Socialism, it is worth noting that Heidegger's relation to the Holocaust and Nazism was the subject of great and occasionally fractious debate across various "deconstructions". These included the extent to which specific practitioners of deconstruction could entirely do without Heideggerian deconstruction (as Lyotard in particular may have wished) or were - rather - obliged to further (and in the cases of many mis- and uninformed criticisms, recall) already extensive criticisms of Heidegger which considerably predated (in the case of Derrida, by decades) the broad recognition of Heidegger's activities as a National Socialist. The latter were precipitated by press attention to the Víctor Farías book "Heidegger et le nazisme" (Farias was an ex-student of Heidegger) and extensive treatments of the Holocaust and its implications. These included for example, the proceedings of the first conference dedicated to Derrida's work, published as "Les Fins de l'Homme" (the essay from which that title was taken), Derrida's "Feu la cendre/cio' che resta del fuoco", or the studies on Celan by Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida which shortly preceded the detailed studies of Heidegger's politics published in and after 1987.


Heidegger's importance to the world of continental philosophy (a subject he is even said by some to have created, although there was some distinction between continental and analytic philosophy before him, the origins of continental philosophy being traceable to romanticism and analytic philosophy to utilitarianism), is probably unsurpassed. His reception among analytic philosophers, however, is quite another story. Saving a moderately favorable review in Mind by a young Gilbert Ryle of Being and Time shortly after its publication, Heidegger's analytic contemporaries (a field still young, but already quite sharply delineated from other branches of philosophy) generally regarded both the content and the style in which he delivered it, as examples of the worst possible way of doing philosophy.

The analytic tradition values clarity of expression, whereas Heidegger thought that "making itself intelligible was suicide for philosophy." Apart from the charge of obscurantism, some of the more conservative analytic philosophers generally considered the actual content of Heidegger's work to be either faulty and frivolous, unpalatably subjective or uninteresting. Others have accused Heidegger of having an 'illusory' ontology and have decried his influence on subsequent philosophyTemplate:Fact. In the end, however, very few critical responses to Heidegger's work by staunch philosophers of the analytic tradition address his content in any way separate from stylistic criticisms of his clarity.

His reputation within English language philsophy has improved slightly through the efforts of Richard Rorty; Rorty even claims that Heidegger's approach to philosophy in the second half of his career has much in common with that of the latter-day Wittgenstein - one of the giants of analytical philosophy.

Heidegger and Nazi Germany

Heidegger joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1933, nearly three weeks after being appointed Rector of the University of Freiburg. He resigned the Rectorship in April 1934, having held it for 366 days. He remained a member of the Nazi party until the end of the war. His first act as Rector was to eliminate all democratic structures, including those that had elected him Rector. There were three book burnings on his campus, also some student violence.

During his time as Rector, Freiburg denied Heidegger's former teacher Husserl, born a Jew and an adult Lutheran convert, access to the university library, invoking the Nazi racial cleansing laws. Heidegger also removed the dedication to Husserl from Being and Time when it was reissued in 1941, later claiming he did so because of pressure from his publisher, Max Niemeyer. Additionally, when Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics (based on lectures given in 1935) was published in 1953, he declined to remove a reference to the "inner truth and greatness of this movement [die innere Wahrheit und Größe dieser Bewegung]," i.e. National Socialism. Instead of deleting or altering the text, he added the parenthetical gloss, "(namely, the confrontation of planetary technology and modern humanity) (nämlich [die] Begegnung der planetarisch bestimmten Technik und des neuzeitlichen Menschen)."

Critics further cite Heidegger's affair with Hannah Arendt, who was Jewish, while she was his doctoral student at the University of Marburg. This affair took place in the 1920s, some time before Heidegger's involvement in Nazism, but it did not end when she moved to Heidelberg to continue her studies under Karl Jaspers. She later spoke on his behalf at his denazification hearings. Jaspers spoke against him at these same hearings, suggesting he would have a detrimental influence on German students because of his powerful teaching presence. Arendt very cautiously resumed their friendship after the war, despite or even because of the widespread contempt for Heidegger and his political sympathies, and despite his being forbidden to teach for many years after the war.

Der Spiegel interview

Some years later, hoping to quiet controversy, Heidegger gave an interview to Der Spiegel magazine, in which he agreed to discuss his political past provided that the interview be published posthumously. It should be noted that Heidegger extensively edited, at his insistence, the published version of the interview. In that interview, Heidegger's defense of his Nazi involvement runs in two tracks: first, he argued that there was no alternative, saying that he was trying to save the university (and science in general) from being politicized and thus had to compromise with the Nazi administration. Second, he saw an "awakening" ("Aufbruch") which might help to find a "new national and social approach". After 1934, he said, he would (should?) have been more critical of the Nazi government. Heidegger's answers to some questions are evasive. For example, when he talks about a "national and social approach" of national socialism, he links this to Friedrich Naumann. But Naumann's "national-sozialer Verein" was not at all national socialist, but liberal. Heidegger seems to have deliberately created this confusion. Also, he alternates quickly between his two lines of arguments, overlooking any contradictions. Furthermore, his defense often tends to take the form of pointing to the greater extremism of other educators and thinkers, as to minimize his own nazi sympathies by comparison.

The Der Spiegel interviewers did not bring up Heidegger's 1949 quotation where he calls engineered food production and the Holocaust "essentially the same." While Heidegger's defenders have attempted to account for this "similarity of essence" by reference to his essay "On the Essence of Truth," this account of the technological frame that now infects human nourishment and human mortality is not a conventional reaction to genocide. Moreover, many of those who align themselves with Heidegger philosophically have pointed out that in his own work on being-towards-death, we can recognize a much more salient criticism of what was wrong with the mass-produced murder of a people. Thinkers as diverse as Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler have made this point sympathetically. Commentators differ on whether this philosophical shorthand is evidence of a profound disregard for the Jews or simply the astygmatism of an old man concerned more with his own legacy than with that of the Holocaust.

In fact, the Der Spiegel interviewers were not in possession of most of the evidence now known for Heidegger's Nazi sympathies. For more on this notorious interview and its aftermath, see "Only a God Can Save Us," Der Spiegel interview with Heidegger (1966) and Jürgen Habermas, "Work and Weltanschauung: The Heidegger Controversy from a German Perspective." translated by John McCumber, Critical Inquiry 15 (Winter 1989): 431-56.

Obligations and unsplendid silence: Celan at "Todtnauberg"

Shortly after giving the Spiegel interview and following Celan's lecture at Freiburg, Heidegger hosted Paul Celan at his chalet at Todtnauberg. The two walked in the woods. Celan impressed Heidegger with his knowledge of botany (also evident in his poetry), and Heidegger is thought to have spoken about elements of his press interview. Celan signed Heidegger's guest book.

In his Poetry as Experience, Lacoue-Labarthe advanced the argument that, although Celan's poetry was deeply informed by Heidegger's philosophy, Celan was long aware of Heidegger's association with the Nazi party and therefore fundamentally circumspect toward the man and transformative in his reception of his work. Celan was nonetheless willing to meet Heidegger (although he may not have been willing to be photographed with him or to contribute to Festschriften honoring Heidegger's work). Heidegger was a professed admirer of Celan's writing, although he did not attend to it as Hölderlin or Trakl (neither did he attend to Celan as a Jewish poet working within that German tradition). "Todtnauberg", however, seems to hold out the unrealized possibility of a profound rapprochement between their work, albeit on the condition that Heidegger break a silence that virtually blanketed his work to the end (Lacoue-Labarthe has commented on the insufficiency of Heidegger's one known remark about the gas chambers, made in 1949). In this respect Heidegger's work was perhaps redeemable for Celan, even if that redemption or what need was had for it was never transacted between the two men. Lest one implicitly take this as Celan simply demanding an apology of Heidegger (such a scenario seems simplistic, the more so given that neither was given to simplism), there are reasonable grounds to argue that it was (and still is) at least as important to specify how the Nazi period is das Unheil (disaster, calamity) (which is to say: specificity as to a great deal more than counting the dead). What compelled Heidegger to write about poetry, technology, and truth ought to have compelled him to write about the German disaster, all the more so because, on the basis of his thought, Heidegger attributed an "inner greatness" to the movement that brought about that disaster.

Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida have both commented extensively on Heidegger's corpus, and both have identified an idiomatically Heideggerian National Socialism that persisted until the end. It is perhaps of greater importance that Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida, following Celan to a degree, also believed Heidegger capable of a profound criticism of Nazism and the horrors it brought forth. They consider Heidegger's greatest failure not to be his involvement in the National Socialist movement but his "silence on the extermination" (Lacoue-Labarthe) and his refusal to engage in a thorough deconstruction of Nazism beyond laying out certain of his considerable objections to party orthodoxies and (particularly in the case of Lacoue-Labarthe) their passage through Nietzsche, Hölderlin, and Richard Wagner, all taken to be susceptible to Nazi appropriation. It would be reasonable to say that both Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida regarded Heidegger as capable of confronting Nazism in this more radical fashion and have themselves undertaken such work on the basis of this. (One ought to note in due course the questions Derrida raised in "Desistance," calling attention to Lacoue-Labarthe's parenthetical comment: "(in any case, Heidegger never avoids anything)").


Lacan makes considerable reference to Heidegger's thought, and specifically 'to the 'existentialist' Heidegger of Being and Time. It was with the publication of this book, his first major work, in 1927, that Heidegger reworked Husserl's original method and gave phenomenology an existentialist orientation. Instead of asking what does it mean to know, he asks what does it mean to be? Later, in the 1930s, Heidegger's thinking underwent its famous 'turn' from a phenomenology of human existence, based on a concrete description of man's moods and projects as a being-inthe-world, to a phenomenology of language which stressed the priority of the word of Being over the human subject. In this later work Heidegger argues that language functions poetically as 'a house of Being' where genuine thinking is fostered. In his view we do not represent language to ourselves; language presents itself to us and speaks through us. According to Heidegger I am not some free-floating disembodied cogito, but inherit a world that is not of my making, a world into which I have been thrown. I remain free to choose how I will reappropriate the meanings of this world for myself in order to project them into an open horizon of futural possibilities. Heidegger argues that Man is not a fixed object among objects, a selfidentical entity; he is a being who is perpetually reaching beyond himself towards the world, towards horizons of meaning beyond his present given condition. The essence of human being is temporality, for we can only understand ourselves in the present by referring to the temporal horizons of our existence, that is by recollecting our past and projecting our future. In Heidegger's view, human thought can never elevate itself from its immersion in the past into a position of panoramic survey. He believes that our attempt to grasp our own rootedness in the past is driven by the urgency of a need to establish an authentic relation to our still-to-be-realised possibilities of being. Heidegger's stress on the temporal dimension of the future is shared by Lacan. In this view the actions of the subject cannot be seen as causally determined by his or her past; what is important is the interpretation. For Lacan, 38 Jacques Lacan it is the way in which we understand our past which determines how it determines US.II But this understanding is itself intimately related to our orientation towards the future. Heidegger in Being and Time considers temporality as 'being towards', an anticipatory mode of being.Iz In Lacan's theorisation of the mirror phase there is also a temporal as well as a visual dimension. In the mirror phase the illusory or alienating natUre of the ego's identifications involve an anticipatory, futural dimension. The centre of Heidegger's concern is the meaning of Being. This quest leads him to language where Being manifests itself. Language speaks Being as thinking. Thinking in Heidegger, especially in the later works, reveals that language speaks Being. And Bein~ssucIr,dwells in language. Heidegger and Lacan have the following similarities: they both reject the traditional view that language is an instrument for the extension of man's will. They would agree with the statement, 'Man acts as though he were the~haper and master of language, while in fact language remains the ma~er of man.'13 Both suggest, in their different ways, that we are locke in a prison house of language. Neither Heidegger nor Lacan is int ~:~~_ i~_rnere explanation; both are far more interested in eluciuil~ il- lumination. They want not to inform but to evoke. - _ I think Lacan's reading of Heidegger had a considerable impact on his thinking about language. Let me give an example. Lacan's notion of empty and full speech owes something to Heidegger's Gerede (idle talk) and Rede (discourse). While Gerede is associated with gossiping and chatter, Rede is to do with the disclosure of truth and Being.14 Lacan believes that empty speech is alienated, inauthentic speech; full speech means ceasing to speak of oneself as an object. These concepts will be discussed fully in the next chapter on language.


25, 26-7, 2-9, 48, 58, 60, 135-6 Conversations

Americanism and Communism




Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics


Letter on Humanism



  1. Žižek, S. (2000) The Fragile Absolute, or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For, London and New York: Verso. p.16
  2. Žižek, S. (2000) The Fragile Absolute, or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For, London and New York: Verso. p.78, 80, 81-2
  3. Žižek, S. (2000) The Fragile Absolute, or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For, London and New York: Verso. p.86
  4. Žižek, S. (2000) The Fragile Absolute, or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For, London and New York: Verso. p. 82

See Also

See also

  • Erich Heller (s.vv. Disinherited Mind; or the Creed of Ontological Invalidity, and The Heidegger Question).

Further reading

There is a large secondary literature on Heidegger's philosophy, much of it not in English. Accessible commentaries on Being and Time include

By far the best and most even-handed biography of Heidegger, and also perhaps the best introduction to his thought, is

the English translation of his Ein Meister aus Deutschland (the title alludes to Paul Celan's "Todesfuge").

More about Heidegger's political history can be found in

Farias' arguments are controversial in many philosophical circles, which also contest most of his conclusions. Less controversial examinations of the relation between Heidegger's politics and philosophy are:

Related questions have been taken up from a philosophical perspective by (among others)

The role of Heidegger's influence in France has been repeatedly documented. See

Also cited above:



Heidegger's collected works are published by Vittorio Klostermann, Heidegger's house press, in Frankfurt am Main. It was started already by Heidegger himself and is not completed yet. There are four series, (I) Publications, (II) Lectures, and (III) Unpublished material, lectures, and notes, and (IV), Hinweise und Aufzeichnungen.

Selected works

  • Sein und Zeit (1927). Translated as Being and Time.
  • Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (1929). Translated as Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.
  • Einführung in die Metaphysik (1935, published 1953). Translated as Introduction to Metaphysics.
  • Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) (1936-1938, published 1989). Translated as Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning).
  • Holzwege (1950). Translated as Off the Beaten Track.
  • Der Satz vom Grund (1955-56). Translated as The Principle of Reason.
  • Identität und Differenz (1955-57). Translated as Identity and Difference.
  • Gelassenheit (1959). Translated as Discourse On Thinking.
  • Unterwegs zur Sprache (1959). Translated as On the Way To Language with the omission of the essay Die Sprache (Language) by arrangement with Herr Heidegger.
  • Question Concerning Technology [1]


External links

Heidegger, Martin, 103, 175