Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cleanth Brooks and interpretation

Reading Cleanth Brooks' The Well Wrought Urn, I can begin to see how Brooks conceives of interpretation, and also see this as against a superficial view of what Brooks does.
Take his analysis of Wordsworth's "Intimations" ode. There is a way of reading what Brooks is doing as focusing merely on traditional categories of poetic expression like the symbol, the image, the meter, etc. and unifying them. In other words, the whole analysis of Wordsworth's poem simply proceeds to catalogue these instances of symbolism, imagery, metrical play etc. and then unify them in that process of cataloguing by means of another typical rhetorical category of poetic expression, the most inclusive, theme. The theme of the poem, whatever it may be, will undoubtedly unify all the various structures of meaning that the poem gives us and that we can note one by one.
Now, this superficial view stresses of course the ahistoricality of the New Critical programme that underlies this mode of interpretation. In other words, it is as if the focus on the text as "an independent poetic structure" (124) dooms it (according to this superficial view) to place too much emphasis on the individual elements of a poetic structure, and then unite these elements with an artificial all-encompassing expression or sentiment of some sort that all these elements work to express--this expression being artificial because it is the critics', i.e. Cleanth Brooks'. The historical approach grounds this unity in an objective phenomenon, and it is the refusal of the New Critical programme to submit to objectivity that makes it stress rhetorical categories to an extreme extent while at the same time having no way to unify them other than subjectively, in relating how they speak to the critic.
Countering this allegedly "superficial" view, then, would also involve a challenge to this charge of ahistoricality. But it would mean doing this in the terms of how this superficial view sees the ahistoricality producing a solipsistic unity of the poetic categories that are rigidly applied by the critic to the text. In other words, countering this view does not have to prove that the New Critical approach is open to history and grounds itself in it. A disproval merely contends the inevitability of the solipsitic unity that an analysis of a text in terms of its "independent structure" supposedly produces. In other words, it shows the unity of the poem's structure to be indeed objective. This is what Brooks means when he says that the task of his critical analysis is to "see how ... the poem says" (124-5, my emphasis). The "saying" of the poem is the "objective" contitution of its meaning, or, more precisely, its meaning prior to any "objective" or "subjective" distinction.
If this is true, and Brooks thinks the unity of the poem is in its ability to construct a pre-subjective and pre-objective meaning, it would mean that the focus on the individual elements of the poem such as its symbolism, etc. is not merely what gets unified in this meaning. Rather, these elements are different valences of this meaning, and are already reflections of its unity: they do not need to be unified. It is very obvious that the development of any particular reflection on symbolism in Wordsworth's poem, then, is only another way of expressing this unity of meaning that lies, as it were, beneath and not above the level of the rhetorical figures like symbolism that are delineated.
Let's be a little more concrete and establish this once and for all. In Brooks' analysis of the "Ode," he focuses on a distinction between dark and light images. Now, where a superficial view would say that the instances in which there is focusing on phenomena like this are indeed meaningful articulations of rhetorical structures present in the poem, only unified by the overarching emphasis on paradox that works at the end of the analysis to unify all these structures, according to me the less superficial view says that this focus on the light and the dark only stems from an attempt to get at the "saying" that the poem accomplishes in its even being able to possess a rhetorical structure like this. Read this way, the unifying gesture of specifying a theme does not really unify anything, but rather just brings forth explicitly what is presupposed in any particular analysis of a rhetorical structure along the way. Furthermore, we might note in favor of this view that there is not just one overarching reading that is explicitly put forth only once: indeed, Brooks goes about emphasizing themes all along the way in his analysis of the poem. After a rhetorical structure is brought forth, there is always an elaboration of some way this bringing-forth contributes to a change in emphais in theme, or indeed contributes to a bringing-about of the overarching meaning being presupposed by the analysis itself.
Thinking of what Brooks is doing in these terms might make him more productive: at the very least I think that it is a bit more true to the method he engages in.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ereignis

What is Ereignis (“the event of appropriation” or “enowning,” as it has been translated in English)? I’m not prepared yet to really answer this question (I haven’t read much of Heidegger that is necessary for answering this, namely the Contributions to Philosophy), so I’ll just sketch out how I think an answer could be constructed. At the very least, it will direct people to some key passages (I will later cite these passages explicitly).
First, however, we have to ask what is being asked by this question. What is the function of Ereignis in Heidegger’s philosophy such that it provokes us to define it? A short summary will suffice.
Being and Time thought Being (Sein) from the perspective of a being (Seiende), Dasein. However, it did not seek to think of Being as the ground of this being or any being, and thus was not metaphysical in its basic intention. By “ground” we mean essentially “as the highest being,” and so by metaphysics we mean the thinking that thinks Being as the highest being. As Heidegger puts it in “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking,” metaphysical thinking “seeks out the ground for beings,” and thus elevates a being to the place of Being. Anti- or post-metaphysical thinking, like that of Being and Time, thinks Being as Being, as Being that may indeed ground beings but is not in its essence only the ground of beings. Being for anti- or post-metaphysical thinking is more than merely the ground of beings, and does not allow itself to be represented as a being. But Being and Time essentially thought this non-grounded conception of Being—as we said—precisely by turning towards a being, Dasein, and displaying its relationship to Being. How did this not ground this being in Being? How was Being defined in Being and Time other than as the grounding possibility of Dasein?
Because, as Heidegger constantly repeats throughout Being and Time, Dasein is this possibility. Dasein, in other words, has a special relationship to Being such that it does not have to have Being as its ground. It can remain open to Being, such that its Being is itself, always. Heidegger calls this openness of Dasein disclosive understanding. Thus, by analyzing concretely the disclosive structure of Dasein in its Being, Heidegger thinks against metaphysics.
Nevertheless, the analysis of Being and Time does not think Being itself. And thus the analysis of Dasein does not truly become post-metaphysical, even if it does set itself up against metaphysics. Turning this against into a post-metaphysical position was to be accomplished through the completion of the analysis of Dasein precisely in its openness, which meant in its temporality, its finiteness. But Being and Time was never completed, presumably because the way time made Dasein open could not articulate itself explicitly in terms of temporality. Heidegger then takes a different tack towards the problem of thinking Being without seeking the ground for beings.
Beginning with “On the Essence of Truth,” and most exhaustively in his Contributions to Philosophy, Heidegger explicitly analyzes the openness itself insofar as Being makes it possible (and for the most part not in terms of temporality). He thus dispenses with any extensive analysis of beings whatsoever. In other words, he thinks the disclosure in the disclosive understanding of Being that Dasein possesses under a new name, unconcealment, and also (because Dasein has disappeared from view for him) as a constitutive feature of Being itself.
It is in this analysis of unconcealment that Ereignis begins to be thought as well. How? Heidegger brings himself back to the fact that Being is still not a ground. This means that it is not, i.e. it does not have Being. For it is Being: it already has it, such that saying that Being is remains a distortion of the nature of Being—it makes Being into something which has properties, a being. Thus unconcealment, though it is a constitutive feature of Being, does not reside in Being. Unconcealment, as an openness to being considered without reference to beings, comes about to reveal Being because of Being, but without residing in Being. Thus something must give Being through unconcealment.
This “something,” which, because it gives Being, cannot be either Being or a being, is Ereignis. The thinking of Ereignis is the thinking of how Being can be unconcealed by unconcealment when unconcealment cannot be in or even by Being and Being itself cannot be. This is the genesis of the concept and its need: turning away from Dasein and turning towards unconcealment itself, Ereignis becomes necessary for Heidegger’s thought.
This established, we can now ask what Ereignis actually can be defined as: we know that defining it is clarifying Heidegger’s response to a post-metaphysical question about the openness (that, we remember, is temporal somehow) that allows Being to be brought forth in general, and, on the more restricted anti-metaphysical level of Dasein, the (temporal) openness that allows Being to be brought forth as Dasein’s disclosive understanding whereby it is. The following sketches out how an account of this definition might proceed. And, again, this is only a sketch, as I am only preparing to encounter this issue.
The first mention of something that distinctly possesses the character of Ereignis is in Being and Time. There Heidegger talks of historicality, and within historicality, of the possibility of Dasein to hand itself down to itself. This handing of itself down is nothing other than what is essentially addressed by the lecture “The Principle of Identity,” given in 1957. Dasein’s handing of itself down, which is essentially its repetition, constitutes its accomplishment of extending itself through time while holding itself together in sameness. This sameness is the essence of any concept of identity: it is what identity is founded upon and derives from. Repetition, as the essence of historicality, is repetition then not of the identical, but of the same. And this repetition gives Dasein itself for the future, or, in other words gives itself time.
Reading these two essays together, we can then turn back to the essay “On the Essence of Truth,” which elaborates a basic thesis of Being and Time that truth is to be conceived as unconcealment. As unconcealment, it is expressly not a correspondence theory of truth. And as a non-correspondence theory of truth, it attempts to think the same as the basis for identity rather than just identity. Thinking the latter alone, i.e. without sameness, is merely correspondence. Understood this way, unconcealment is the unconcealment of the same. This same is the sameness of historicality instituting itself as repetition. Repetition as the same is what constitutes unconcealment, the unconcealment of Being. Insofar as unconcealment is also contending with its opposite, concealment—i.e. insofar as unconcealment presupposes concealment or withdrawal—what is concealed is what constitutes the same as the same. This, as Heidegger says in “The Principle of Identity,” is the belonging-together of man and Being. In other words, what constitutes the same as the same is the difference instituted (by Ereignis, as we shall see) between Being and beings (including, but not restricted to, Dasein). This belonging-together is caused by Ereignis.
But what is crucial about all this is that concealment constitutes the same as the same, constitutes repetition as repetition of the same, constitutes unconcealment as unconcealment. As such, concealment becomes the matter to be thought, rather than unconcealment. That is, unconcealment becomes thought by thinking concealment. Heidegger in “On the Essence of Truth” and later (1962) in “On Time and Being” emphasizes that this concealment, because it makes possible the repetition of the same, and therefore unconcealment itself, conceals itself precisely through its coming forth as concealment in unconcealment. In other words, the concealment of concealment pervades in the unconcealment of Being through repetition of the same. This self-concealing, or, as Heidegger calls it (when it is conceived in this way, i.e. as self-concealment) withdrawing, is what gives Being through unconcealment.
This language of “giving” Heidegger develops in the late lecture “On Time and Being, ” his most explicit reflection on the issue of Ereignis besides his Contributions to Philosophy. The giving of unconcealed Being proceeds through withdrawal. Withdrawal gives while remaining giving: the giving of unconcealment, the concealment of concealment that makes unconcealment possible, does not pass forth into the unconcealed, into the Being that is given. Rather, this withholding of the withdrawn within itself constitutes authentic giving, a giving that does not engage in any type of exchange—a pure gift. Jacques Derrida in Given Time: Counterfeit Money explicitly brings this issue in “On Time and Being” and its relation to the constitutive movement of Ereignis to the fore, and should be read along with that essay in order to bring all of this out. That done, one may say that this type of giving is a “sending,” as Heidegger puts it, or a “destining,” a “destiny” or “fate.” This reconnects the withholding that gives concealment back with those passages in Being and Time: this is the real movement that underlies Heidegger’s thoughts on “historizing” or the handing-down. In other words, it is this “sending” as destining-withholding that constitutes the essence of repetition, if repetition is the essence of both the historical and the unconcealment of Being, as we have already established.
But the issue in “On Time and Being” is what withdraws, and this leads us directly to Ereignis, the name for this “what.” The “event of appropriation” or “enowning” that is Ereignis in the end allows for this withdrawal, this sending, and, as such, allows for Being. All the above, then, gets clearly seen in the light of Ereignis as what withdraws. Identity, difference, the same, concealment, unconcealment, Being: all these are constituted as various modes of Ereignis, the happening that brings about withdrawal, i.e. what withdraws. Ereignis, then, gives Being. But Ereignis is less existent than Being is, since it gives what can’t even be—Being. In other words, Ereignis, like Being, but even more than being, is not. What is Ereignis, then? How does it give?
In asking this, of course, we are asking as to its Being, which it does not possess. Ereignis gives Being. This is another issue tackled in “On Time and Being.” The way the problem is resolved, however, is to realize that we are really talking about something that lies on the horizon of Being. In Being and Time, Heidegger determined the horizon of Being as temporality. Ereignis and the temporal horizon of Being seem to have something in common then. Heidegger pursues this in “On Time and Being” perhaps most of all. Ereignis is not temporality, however. When we say that Ereignis is something that, as giving Being, resides on the horizon of Being, i.e. determines it as something transcending Being, i.e. as something determining yet lying outside of Being—when we say that Ereignis is this, we are saying that Being’s horizon as time as determined in Being and Time is held there as a horizon for Being by Ereignis. Ereignis, in “On Time and Being,” is not the “what” of withdrawal that determines Being in the sense of subordinating Being to this withdrawing “what:” Being is not given by something that is more than it. Rather, Being is given by the withdrawal of the togetherness of Being and temporality, of Being and time: Ereignis is this togetherness itself. If we were asking just a moment ago as to how Ereignis gives Being, then, we were not talking about Ereignis as something “more in Being than Being” which might give Being. Rather, we were talking of the horizon of Being as temporality constituting Being as such as the essence of Ereignis: Ereignis is the withdrawing of that in unconcealment which opens itself up to a temporal horizon, i.e. is the temporalizing of unconcealment in the repetition of the same—and this movement of Ereignis as withdrawal makes time the horizon of Being, makes Being be given temporally, or, finally, gives time and gives Being (es gibt Zeit, und es gibt Sein, as Heidegger says throughout “On Time and Being”).
It might seem as if this detour through temporality has confused everything. But what is to be held in our minds in order to penetrate into the matter of thinking is this: time is the horizon of Being only insofar as “there is” Ereignis. At the same time, there Being is given as unconcealment only insofar as there is Ereignis, i.e. what withdraws in unconcealment. Ereignis is the holding-together of Being and temporality such that they co-determine each other, and at the same time is the fundamental withdrawing that would make such a holding-together forgotten, that would give only Being and time and nothing more (i.e. that would not give the concealing along with the unconcealed temporal Being).
We talked about horizon just a few moments ago, and seemed to have said that both time and Ereignis were the horizon of Being. Derrida goes into this complication with amazing rigor (showing that Ereignis essentially must be in time and outside of time at the same time if it is to be preserved in the sense Heidegger thought it), and clears up what was going on in Heidegger’s head with respect to this. But insofar as we’re just sketching this “what was going on” with respect to the texts available to us, I think we can say that Ereignis is supposed to give time as well as Being precisely in relating time to Being as its horizon. In terms of Being—i.e. disregarding the word “time” for a moment and the matrix of thought that goes with it—we might say that Ereignis gives Being in its finitude, in its unconcealment on the basis of concealment. That is, in terms of Being, Ereignis is what makes Being something that resists boundless unconcealment (and does so by linking Being with time)—i.e. that resists being present. Being is presence by virtue of Ereignis; at the same time, it is never what is present by virtue of the same Ereignis. Boundless unconcealment that results in the giving of Being as a full present, as a being, is prevented by Ereignis. Returning to the issue of time, it accomplishes this determining of unconcealment by concealment through the linking up of Being with temporality.
This is all I can say for now without this all becoming mush, but I hope the movement of the reading is at least clear. Most of all, I hope I brought forth the necessity of seeing how various texts need to be thought together here in order for a coherent conception of Ereignis to come forth. These texts, brought together, are: “On the Principle of Identity” and “On Time and Being,” the chapter on “Temporality and Historicality” in Being and Time and “On the Principle of Identity,” “On Time and Being” and “On the Essence of Truth” with Being and Time, and, in the end, a connection we have left for another time, “On Time and Being” and Hegel’s section on “Determinate Being” in his Science of Logic, which brings together how all this is an attempt to reconceive of the issue of negativity and historicality without reference to the present, to boundless unconcealment or identity without sameness that withdraws itself in repetition.

Lacan and Repetition

…Where do we meet this real? For what we have in the discovery of psycho-analysis is an encounter, an essential encounter—an appointment to which we are always called with a real that eludes us. That is why I have put on the blackboard a few words that are for us, today, a reference point of what we wish to propose.
First, the tuché, which we have borrowed, as I told you last time, from Aristotle, who uses it in his search for cause. We have translated it as the encounter with the real. The real is beyond the automaton, the return, the coming-back, the insistence of the signs, by which we see ourselves governed by the pleasure principle. The real always lies behind the automaton, and it is quite obvious, throughout Freud’s research, that it is this [process] that is his concern…

-"Tuche and Automaton," in Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis

The encounter with the real (tuché) is beyond the process of returning (the automaton), or, put a little more clearly (for the names tuché, automaton, etc. are not important), the real is something that is encountered in a space that opens up once returning is no longer the way in which something comes back to the subject.
Let us bring in the passage from the previous session on “The Unconscious and Repetition” (which would have been fresh in the minds of his listeners) to explain what returning is, so that we can see what Lacan is getting at here. Reproduction is returning—Lacan uses both terms synonymously. So both reproduction and returning are, if we heed this last seminar, different from repetition: “Repetition is not reproduction,” Lacan asserts. Both repetition and reproduction, however, are ways that the subject can comport himself towards the past: in each case what is repeated or reproduced is something that for the subject was and now is again. But, as is evident by Lacan’s linking up of returning and reproducing, the past, when it returns, is also reproduced, in the sense that it is re-presented—it is present somehow again. Thus, we do not yet know that this is the case with repetition: indeed, “repetition appears in a form that is not clear, that is not self-evident, like a reproduction.” So we’ll let it go for now, noting this key distinction.
What in the past we are comporting ourselves towards that comes back again in such a way that it returns—this “what” is reproduced, is re-presented. Freud calls what gets re-presented a memory—indeed, something that comes back from the past in such a way that it gets re-presented to us (in images, words, feelings, etc.) is what we normally think of as a memory. The key, though, is to link up re-presentation with “presentation” itself—this will show us what memory and what returning really are.
The word “presentation” only designates something that occurs to us, something that our minds and bodies perceive or grasp or comport ourselves towards—and it is what “presents” itself in both the spatial and the temporal sense: what comes before us—the presented—and the time in which it comes before us—the present. Thus, if what is present is somehow re-presented, it will have to be what was in the past: if it is no longer present in the temporal sense, such that it has to be brought before us again, it will be present again in a different form—the form of present-become-past, or in the form of now-is-that-which-once-was. Thus, a representation (i.e. this form) is never a past that is unable to be present itself once more: all of that-which-once-was can be again now. Moreover, all that is now is something that can be that-which-once-was. This means that what returns will always be something that could be present again—the past. Memory is not merely a representation of the past, then: memory is only that form which can adequately represent the past as something that once-was-present. Any other form will not reveal the past to us in such a way that we can recognize it as something that was once present.
So, if the real is the something that is encountered in the space that opens up once returning is no longer a factor, we can conclude that this space is no longer the space of the past. Repetition steps in here: it is the form of returning beyond returning, the form of bringing something before us in such a way that it is not revealed as something that once was present. The space that opens up once returning is no longer the form in which something comes before us, the space of the real, is the space of repetition. How, then, does repetition bring something before us? Obviously not in the manner of representation/reproduction. And this means, not in the manner in which it renders something that comes back as past. Repetition, unlike reproduction, does not bring back the past. Rather, it brings back the real.
But what is the real? What is that which is brought back in repetition? If there is no past in repetition, is there any time at all? Indeed, Freud said that the unconscious does not participate in the temporality of everyday life we are used to: if the unconscious is the seat of the real somehow, does it not experience a past or time more generally? These are questions for another time.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Big Marx, Hegel, Feuerbach post, part 2

We just said that for Hegel, Spirit comes into being through practices, through action. Feuerbach’s contribution to this genealogy of Marx’s idea of reality that we are tracing comes in here, when in The Essence of Christianity he begins to ask about what types of practices or actions indeed constitute meaningful or Spiritual action for Hegel in very frank and basic ways: Are these “practices” ideas? That is, does having a conception suddenly change the development of Spirit? Or are conceptions only “potential” actions that have no actuality present in them? But wouldn’t this mean that ideas are not really existent? What if they alone seem to effect a historical change—like the idea of “equality” in the French Revolution? Similarly, are actions in the world of beings material actions? And, if so, since the whole world of beings is material, do all actions then mean? In short, if I kill a man, is this a “practice”—is it meaningful—in that it was done with a knife and my two hands, or is it meaningful in that it was intended, conceived in my mind, and done with the purely affective, cognized emotion of hate?
Similar questions were and are directed towards Foucault and his idea of discourse (e.g. “is a discursive practice material or not?”). But, like Foucault, Hegel was not eager to specify any clearer answers using the terms the questions were put to him in—rather, he wished to preserve the problematizing power that his formulations withheld in the articulations in which he constructed them (one sees Hegel even resistant in the lecture hall: indeed, from various notes of pupils we find him in fact most resistant to elaborate using more colloquial philosophic language in this traditionally looser discursive atmosphere). This left his followers frustrated. But, as far as Hegel was concerned, these questions were already settled by the consistency of his own developed system. Thus Hegel answered them as follows: both an idea and a material event in the world could constitute an action, so long as they made up and altered the essence of Spirit—that is, what is meaningful and what, as what is meaningful, determines what is able to be meaningful. So long as the history of meaning was taken up and reasserted as meaningful (or unmeaning) in some way, it was a Spiritual action or practice (or not). Spirit was therefore not identical with any particular being—no single person could be elevated to the position of Spirit because she or he could not possibly, in their determinate human being or consciousness, exist as the totality of history. Spirit could only be a part, a consequence, an unintended effect of a personal (conscious) action; indeed, this is why Hegel in his famous Introduction to his lectures on The Philosophy of History says that Spirit effectuates itself via “the cunning of reason:” reason, which is Spiritual and not personal, makes an act informed by what we normally call “reason” (thinking) that issues forth from a person suddenly have the unintended effect of actually being rational (the form it would supposedly take if it were consciously thought), insofar as it brings about a meaningful Spiritual consequence or instantiates Spirit in some unforeseen piece of the act. It is clear, then, that Spirit could thereby be interpersonal, residing somewhere between two or more beings, like in a significant fight between a worker (in Hegel’s terms in the Phenomenology, a “slave”) and a master that leads to a revolution of the workers: the Spiritual act is not the worker nor the master, but the fight—the startling disrespect for hierarchy the worker unconsciously, in merely fighting, (along with the weakness the master, in merely unconsciously engaging the worker, in merely fighting) imbued it with. But if this was the case—i.e. that Spirit can be, as well as an effect of a being, an effect of more than one being that stands residing between them, as it were—if this was the case neither was Spirit completely identical with any particular feature of interpersonal or intersubjective society: Spirit was not the custom of language, or the idea of free will, or practice of revolution, or any particular cause or instrument that allowed a group of beings to form themselves and their society around meaning, i.e. Spirit itself. We begin to sense the frustration of the Hegelians when confronted with such an elusive reality.
But the perfect concrete example of what Spirit is and how remarkably present in the world it can be, as well as what it is not manifests itself in the oft quoted saying of Hegel about Napoleon: “Napoleon was Spirit on horseback.” The way to understand this phrase is not to construe it as “Napoleon was Spirit itself, there, just happening to be seated on horseback.” This would make the totality of Spirit itself a thing. The totality of Spirit itself is only Spirit—this is why Hegel has to take over the word Geist from its popular use and make it signify something particular and idiosyncratic that is only found within his system. Rather, this phrase should be understood by construing it as “Napoleon was Spirit-on-horseback, Spirit embodying itself in the act that was Napoleon-sitting-on-horseback.” This does not detract from the sublime conjunction of the high and the low that occurs with Spirit—namely the fact that Spirit is there and actual in the body of Napoleon on horseback (i.e. though it is not itself that thing, Spirit is in a thing). But it shows that, as we said before, the totality of Spirit itself is only Spirit, is not able to be reduced to or confined as itself within one particular piece of the world of beings, though it is within it. Spirit is only is the basis and the result of this piece, this individual act. Again like Foucault, this view led to charges of idealism, especially as the later works of Hegel took only the Spiritual view of society, psychology, nature and other subjects: many were outraged that Hegel viewed things as real only in the aspects that supposedly possessed this interpersonal, unconscious (yet conscious, rational), elusive, frustrating stuff he called Spirit. But above all these criticisms, the question for those like Feuerbach remains the following: what type of action is Napoleon here? What, more specifically than meaning, can allow us to distinguish another type of Spiritual act in the future if we see one? Hegel refuses to give one on these terms, and remains within his own discourse.
Unlike Foucault, however, despite this ambivalence to specification, we already see that this conception of Spirit irreducible to a conventionally defined type of action indeed allowed Hegel remarkable specificity in what was considered meaningful Spiritual action: as we saw, an action was not Spiritual when it did not take up meaning and the accumulation of meaning in its unfolding. Elaborating on the consequences of this, we can see two main spheres of occurrences (that, we should note, also subsume the various occurrences we have just described) excluded from the realm of Spirituality. First, a mere happening, like the chemical processes within a leaf on a tree, is not Spiritual. It does not take up meaning but leaves meaning alone, and confines itself to a mere operation that would ensure its own growth. This is why we have to continually use the phrase “world of beings” when referring to the world that participates in Hegel’s Spirit: using just “world” would invite the assumption that the natural world, which for the most part leaves meaning alone, was meaningful. The Spiritual world is a world of beings, of things that exist in meaning. Indeed, Hegel called this sphere of what in itself leaves the issue of meaning alone and keeps to itself “nature.” Along with these “natural” types of happenings, there is also a second sphere of happenings that leaves meaning as it is, does not change meaning: it would be something like the death of the poor in the streets of Berlin. This is a mere fact: it occurs, but it does not alter anything within the Spiritual world of beings; it is a result of the changes in meaning that constitutes the meaningful—such as the general opinion within Berlin of the poor, which was that they (the poor) do not work hard enough (or at least as hard as the bourgeoisie) and thus deserve their poverty. If this were to change, and change because of a poor person dying in the streets, then the death would be meaningful, would be Spiritual. But as it is it just issues from the general formation of Spirit at that time. For Hegel, the question was not whether these types of actions should matter or not, but whether they genuinely contributed to the development of the world of beings in history. What was absolutely clear was that if they did not, then they were excluded from this history—the history of meaning.
Now, the best Hegelians, like Feuerbach and Marx, did not quibble with the question of whether Hegel was being idealist or not merely by invoking something intersubjective, unconscious, elusive, etc. as reality, which was and still is the most prevalent and most banal criticism of Hegel. Rather they saw precisely these exclusions and what caused them as the foremost problem: in the end, it was not Hegel’s ambivalence towards specifying a particular type of action that would constitute Spirit and reality, but the specificity this ambivalence produced that tyrannized any attempt to analyze phenomena within the world of beings, any attempt to get at reality. How could one tell whether something was genuinely part of the world of meaningful beings or not? And were Hegel’s judgments as to what was meaningful anywhere near correct? Here the stakes are higher than any inane question about idealism, for if something was not deemed Spiritual, it simply did not need to count as meaningful. More: it did not really exist from the perspective of reality. With one move, Hegel excluded the two spheres we delineated from existence. Essentially, he made all the findings of natural science into things that were interesting, but did not count—because they related to a world of “nature” and not of Spirit (and he did this without specifying whether the ideas of science or its material, empirical findings were meaningless). Was this correct? Did the findings of science fail to constitute any truth, anything eternally meaningful in itself for beings, other than the truth that resulted from their altering the ability of beings to mean? Were there not natural truths, like gravity? Similarly, were there not truths about society and the operation of society? Is the poor worker dying in the street to be regarded forever only as a mere effect of the development of meaning? Hegel apparently could tell that these things did not matter, for he could divine what was meaningful. But for others who followed him, how could they legitimately see something that fell within these two spheres and tell whether it was meaningful or not? In the late 1830’s and early 1840’s, clear historical figures like Napoleon were gone, and the task at hand was precisely to divine, within the poor cities and with the aid of the flourishing sciences, what was meaningful!
This is where Hegel’s followers—most were former students of Hegel at the University of Berlin, still in their youth—split. The Right Hegelians decided to remain in a perspective that could see only “Napoleonic” forces, and simply looked around them and affirmed that these two spheres were as unimportant as Hegel said they were. This amounted to saying that the current state of their society was meaningful and did not need to change unless some larger, recognizably meaningful force came on the scene. These were mostly students of Hegel who had risen to positions within the German universities and taught the coherence of Hegel’s perspective to the next generation of philosophy students. As Hegel was celebrated within certain spheres of the academics, most notably in Berlin among Hegel’s old colleagues, and as these academics now controlled the ability to appoint younger faculty, these young Hegelians seeking steady positions within the educational system could espouse this view of Hegel in their papers and in their classes (that is, the view Hegel’s old contemporaries held—this is why Marx calls this young group the “Old Hegelians” in The German Ideology) and ensure themselves a post as well as success. It was not merely a matter of allegiances to a “doctrinal” view of Hegel that got these Right Hegelians the posts, either, for a few years after Hegel’s death Hegelianism in general went under attack throughout the academy, and yet those who were more conservative Hegelians still got posts. Evidently, affirming the current state of society had no problem of poverty except as an effect of the infinitely more profound creation of meaning in the world was a political move—thus most of these Right Hegelians tended to be “Right” or conservative in their political views. The Left Hegelians, which included Feuerbach and, for a time, Marx, took the opposite approach, attempting to revise Hegel to be able to see into the two spheres excluded by Hegel’s conception of Spirit. In doing so, each had to somehow address the first, which as we saw dealt with the position of “nature” in Hegel, in order to address the second, more interesting (to them) sphere concerning the state of society and its inadequacies—again we see this as a political move, a “Leftist” or liberal move. The essence of their movement was to use and apply Hegel to analyze society through what they called “criticism:” it was very similar to how the Frankfurt School later used and applied Marx...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Foucault and Hegel

In my big Marx, Hegel, Feuerbach post I try and describe Hegel's conception of Geist by saying it is a lot like Foucault's notion of discourse. Looking through Foucault's candidacy presentation to the Collège de France, I found he himself also obliquely makes this comparison:

To the extent that, in a given period, [knowledge] has clearly specified forms and domains, it can be broken down into several systems of thought. Obviously, it is by no means a matter of determining the system of thought of a particular epoch, or something like its "world-view." Rather, it is a matter of identifying the different ensembles that are each bearers of a quite particular type of knowledge...
-in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, 9

Foucault is suggesting that Hegel is so abstract that he approximates the "sprit of the time"-type analysis, but at the same time he is suggesting a kinship between them, in that they are looking for a level of knowledge that is not localized within specific fields (biology, math, etc.) nor in the mere objective institutions that constitute these subjective domains (prisons, universities, police... etc). That is, Foucault to an extent engages Hegel in engaging a fundamental theoretical problem:

...the theoretical problem of the constitution of a science when one aims to analyse it not in transcendental terms but in terms of history.
-in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, 8

This is a good way to take Hegel most of the time, even though he is engaged in a transcendental project. In the end, the following definition of discourse in Foucault's seminar on the "will to truth" comes, therefore, surprisingly close to a concrete sense of Hegelian Geist as it is active in history:

Discursive practices are characterized by the demarcation of a field of objects, by the definition of a legitimate perspective for a subject of knowledge, by the setting of norms for elaborating concepts and theories. Hence, each of them presupposes a play of prescriptions that govern exclusions and selections.
-in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, 11

This language of exclusion and prescription is the underlying concrete sense of what Hegel often says. In final analysis, the conclusion we are suggesting here is that Spirit is like discourse minus the (incredibly significant, for Foucault) imbrication of discourse with the Nietzschian concept of power. It should be noted that the inclusion of this language brings discourse closer to Heidegger's "understanding"--to the point where it can even be said (and Hubert Dreyfus indeed does say this) that they are almost identical concepts.
But in the end it remains a matter of thought whether we've levelled off both what Foucault and Hegel have said to the point it no longer carries any meaning. I would suggest in the end that thinking of Geist as discourse is useful as a conceptual reference, to give some concreteness to what Hegel is talking about, but never to reduce it completely to discourse or even think that they are near identical. But we should note that this comparison isn't all unfounded as regards the inner essence of the projects of the two thinkers. What we're saying here indeed takes advantage of Spirit and discourse's profound commonality in being elaborations of the Greek concept of logos (in the sense of legein, gathering together, as well in the sense that logos gives noein, intuition), and in that sense this does not remain a mere exercise for thinking Hegel concretely.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Unrewarding/stupid ways to read Hegel

1. As a dialectician that merely shows the determinations of spirit in the forms of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That is, as a thinker that just partitioned up phenomena into three parts, the third of which resolved the discordance between the first and the second (which is the mere opposite of the first). In other words, a thinker of the formula: given A, (A + -A) = B. Still a prevelant view of Hegel, even among Hegelians. It is this view that leads such a prominent thinkher as Robert Charles Solomon to declare the dialectic arbitrary in the Phenomenology of Spirit in his book In the Spirit of Hegel: Solomon would rather junk a whole mode of thought (speculative thinking via the dialectic) than actually combat the misunderstanding prevalent in America that takes Hegel as this thesis, antithesis, synthesis thinker.
Why this is stupid: It completely erases negativity from the dialectic. The antithesis of the thesis is not merely the opposite of the antithesis. It is its negation. That is, given the basic phenomenon of of being, if we posit being as a thesis, nothing is not the antithesis because nothing is the opposite of being. rather, it is what happens when being grounds itself in itself as itself to the point that it can no longer be called "being." This is nothing. Furthermore, the synthesis of being and nothing is becoming not because becoming is something that interposes itself between being and nothing as a sort of "compromise" that will resolve both terms into one. Rather, it is again the grounding of nothing in itself (which was the grounding of being in itself) such that it can no longer be called "nothing," or, more accurately, "nothing-that-once-was-being." The truth of this is seen perhaps most clearly in Hegel's reflections on space and time, which I'll elaborate later (with the help of Heidegger and Derrida). In the meantime, this quote of Hegel's is enough to refute this view.

The progress [of the philosophical development of spirit or of the thinking of its various determinations] does not consist merely in the derivation of an other, or in the effected transition into a genuine other... the beginning of philosophy is the foundation which is present and preserved throughout the entire subsequent development, remaining completely immanent in its further determinations.
-Science of Logic, 71.

In short, if negativity were a mere "making-opposite" there would be only the genuine transition into a complete other with respect to the thesis: the antithesis would strictly speaking only be the thesis that was othered. Hegel shows that it is in the retaining of the beginning element that othered itself through its own self grounding of itself as itself that constitutes progress. Only through the grounding of something as itself is there progress, is their othering.

2. As--and this is how Zizek puts it in his Looking Awry (that is how prevalent this view is)--as the thinker or even "stager" of various existential modes of being and their possible development into each other through the negation of their presuppositions. It should be noted that this is the view of perhaps the most influential interpreter of Hegel of modern times, Alexandre Kojeve, but only when Kojeve is reading Hegel at his worst, when he is trying to make Hegel fashionable or at least relevant by considering him through a Heideggerian lens. Kojeve has a great understanding of Hegel, but he makes Hegel mean most when he sticks most to the issue of time in Hegel--and it is significant that time is the reflection of negativity for Hegel, thus making sticking close to a proper conception of negativity in general a good rule for reading Hegel. Jean Hippolyte probably puts it best when he says that the transition in a book like the Phenomenology from sense-consciousness to absolute knowledge is not a tracing of the history of the development of a person: the Phenomenology, nor Hegel's other works, have nothing to do with history in the sense of a history of man or of an individual consciousness or an individual element of spirit. What is at issue for Hegel always is how knowledge determines itself and forms itself. What are the possible forms of knowledge and, on the other side, the known that is necessary for that knowledge to maintain that form? this is always the question for Hegel. Thus when Hegel is talking about "sense-consciousness," or the "beautiful soul," he is not talking about a particular point of view and then exposing the presuppositions of this view that will be necessary for any progress of this point of view to appear, as Zizek says. Hegel is looking at constellations of the way a subject and an object relate to each other in a spiritual form of knowing, that is, in a mode of knowledge. On a larger scale, he is also investigating the developments of that knowledge itself, even beyond the distinction between subject and object or knower and known.

3. As the most "Romantic" of philosophers. Contra to this, I'd say it is better to think of him as only part-Romantic. As Heidegger shows, Hegel is first and foremost a return to Greek and especially early Greek thinking. Continually pointing to his contemporary, Napoleon, says very little when one starts to see the influence of the ideas of Aristotle on Hegel. Take the typical example of a "Romantic" notion of Hegel's: his remark that Napoleon was history on horseback. This idea originates in a conception of history as an expression of spirit, and the conflicts that states engage in as an expression of that spirit in right. Underlying this view is, more than any "Romantic" conception of the state, an Aristotelian and Platonic conception of the polis as the actor in history and the primary actor in bringing about happiness for a people. I don't mean to deny the Romantic in Hegel entirely of course: this remark on Napoleon and especially the book on the Philosophy of Right is an exceptional Romantic document, and really can only be understood in the context of Romantic German historicism and the fascination with the classical. What I am suggesting, however, it is is profitable (as Heidegger found out) to think of Hegel first and foremost as a reader of the Greeks rather than a philosopher reacting to his turbulent time. It makes the discipline of his thought come out more.

Hegel and Heidegger and memory

The esteemed French scholar Jean Beaufret remarked in a seminar of Heidegger's that Heidegger fundamentally appears to be a recapitulation of Hegel, and yet essentially different from him somehow (On Time and Being, 48). In its superficiality this view is flawed, as Beaufret acknowledges. But there are essential similarities in how each philosopher conceives the task of thinking. While Beaufret specifies these tasks in terms of a thinking of time and ereignis, I'll specify them in a more basic sense in how they see the work of proper thinking as a work of memory.
Consider this quote from Heidegger:

[When reflection on the nature of truth proceeds resolutely towards the mystery of truth's self-concealing,] then resolute openness towards the mystery is under way into errancy as such... The glimpse into the mystery out of errancy is a question... The thinking of Being, from which such questioning primordially originates, has since Plato been understood as "philosophy." ...Philosophical thinking is especialy that stern and resolute openness that does not disrupt the concealing [of truth] but entreats its unbroken essence into the open region of understanding and thus into its own truth.
-"On the Essence of Truth," 134-6.

Heidegger is saying that thinking is the thinking of what is essential is basically a penetration into what remains mysterious in the manner of self-concealing: thinking is penetrating into the most essential self-forgetfulness of truth. As such, it remains on a path of errancy, i.e. of not being in the truth or in the process or procedure of constituting truth, by letting the truth of the forgetfulness of truth come to the fore as itself, in its "unbroken essence." This errancy thus is remembering.

Now, compare this to Hegel:

Progress in philosophy is rather a retrogression and a grounding or establishing by means of which we first obtain the result that what we began with is not something merely arbitrairly assumed but is infact the truth, and also the primary truth... the advance is a retreat into the ground.
-Science of Logic, 70-1.

This movement of retrogression is the same as errancy: it is a remembering of a beginning, a restoration of meaning to what at first is traumatic or arbitrary. In its return to this origin, in its "retreat," philosophy is a recollection.
This stated, the difference between the two philosophers can be stated as follows: Heidegger entreats thinking to remain "open" to the forgetfulness which is sought by the process of remembering, while Hegel seeks to grasp and ground, fix, set up (cf. Gegen-stand, object, which is literally setting-up-against) this forgetfulness. Thus, especially with reference to how Nietzsche uses the word "forgetting," we might say that while Hegel pursues remembrance all the way to the end, in which it will bring everything into the present as an object for thinking, Heidegger strives to forge a type of thinking that might, as remembrance, remain a forgetting, or let things remain in the non-present (i.e. in the past or in the future) while they are still thought. The essential element that determines what these modes of thought look like are, for Hegel, negation, and, for Heidegger, ereignis.
These are just quick reflections, but hopefully they are helpful in bringing together two interesting quotes.

Freud and totem

What is the point of Totem and Taboo other than to stress this, that taboo can't do what it is meant to do if it is to remain as taboo. Taboo excommunicates, but more than that it also renders what is excommunicated prohibited. This second function, this excessive prohibition of what is already exiled, dooms the object to be a sign of the failure of the community or regime that exiled: prohibition is the sign of a failure of a regime to dominate and render commensurable or subordinate everything within its sphere of power. Taboo is nothing other than the mark of the need of a regime for a determination of that which falls within it. Taboo, as excommunication and prohibition, must be failure, must subvert itself and the regime that employs it, to be effective as itself. Nothing is more remote from from a sucessful rendering taboo than a fully achieved excommunication. That is, nothing is further from taboo than successful taboo.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kant and torture

My excellent (and hilarious) undergraduate ethics professor, David Sussman, recently published an article in an international law review that everyone should read (it's called "Defining Torture"). Philosophically, however, it is also interesting, because it uses Kant in a creative way that somehow (that is, because of Sussman's genius) does not need to distort the original sense of Kant. In short, it uses Kant's moral reflections on the categorical imperative (but also his lesser-known texts on religion) to define torture.
Basically, it revolves around looking at the feeling of the categorical imperative--constraint, anxiety, provocation into action and self-legislation--in its opposite manifestation. When the categorical imperative presses upon someone (this is the "imperative" part of the phrase) in order to legislate from their constituted human essence (this is the "categorical"), Kant says it constitutes the essence of human freedom, the height of possible human activity. However, torture, Sussman claims, can be said to be the mere opposite of this--that is, this pressing upon someone in order to respond to their environment done passively rather than actively or with freedom is torture. Torture is the unfree experience of the categorical imperative: as Jean Amery (whom Sussman cites) says, this constant prodding in order to make one respond while at the same time denying the ability to experience the human essence (the categorical) freely, makes all that is around one (even the body) unable to bear, as one is pushed further and further into passivity. One can see from an example of Kant's how quickly freedom can indeed turn from something experienced actively to something taken advantage of passively:

The freedom [that engenders enlightenment] is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters. But on all sides I hear: "Do not argue!" The officer says, "Do not argue, drill!" The tax man says, "Do not argue, pay!" The pastor says, "Do not argue, believe!" (Only one ruler in the World says, "Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!") In this we have examples of pervasive restrictions on freedom.
-from "What is Enlightenment?"

When the ability to respond freely--i.e. without passivity, without response as a possibility of existence being forced upon you--is present, there is no torture. But when this response--this ability to argue or dispute, to discourse or to act--is forced upon someone, all that results is "obeyance." Where this "restriction on freedom" is absolute, where there is no ability to respond in a way that is not prompted by the environment or by the people one is engaged with, there is torture.
As Sussman says, this is an infinitely better definition (which indeed could be codified legally) than the current administration's (or the U.N.'s, for that matter) one which revolves around the level of pain administered. Pain is only an effect of the use of this type of power (that forces response upon someone absolutely), only a byproduct of this "restriction on freedom."

Heidegger as philosopher of truth, with Wittgenstein

Here is an incisive and concise article by the wonderful Thomas Sheehan that outlines how Heidegger isn't the philosopher of Being that we have made him up to be (see my post on Zizek and Heidegger, below), with reference to the wonderful if confusing work (and its wonderful if confusing translation) of Heidegger's Beträge zur Philosophie (Contributions to Philosophy). Sheehan says, however, that instead of talking about Heidegger as a philosopher of Being, we should talk about him as the philosopher of die Sache Selbst, the thing itself or the things themselves--which he later defines as finitude. While this has the wonderful effect of basically unifying all of Heidegger's thought and connecting him to Husserl, I think it remains just as vague as it is only something that would make sense to a Heideggerian. In short, it has no meaning. While considering him as a thinker of finitude is absolutely correct, there is another way we can think of Heidegger that makes him just as unified.
For me, the best way to characterize Heidegger is as a philosopher of truth, taking his essay Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, "On the Essence of Truth," as probably the summation of his philosophical effort. I'll just briefly point out a couple more reasons why I think this is better than what Sheehan suggests.
First and foremost, mostly everything in Being and Time can be found in super-condensed form in "On the Essence of Truth." From "attunment" or mood (Stimmung) to spatiality to "historizing" and "destiny" (or, as Sheehan suggest it should be translated, "destining"), teaching this essay would allow one to extract them all and pass over most of the confusing bits. It is indicative that the reflection on truth should bring out this type of precision on Heidegger's part: that is, the first reason I think truth is Heidegger's chief philosophical occupation is in how his reflection on truth chiefly in this essay allows him to clarify much of Being and Time. Why would this be the case? Because reflecting on truth makes him adopt a standpoint that is rigidly metaphysical, almost mathematic. Being and Time begins to be seen in the light of this reflection on truth as a work that is not just a rambling and fragmentary (only 1/3 completed) meditation on the preliminary conditions necessary to reawaken the question as to the meaning of Being, but as a work unified in its inability to be completed. In other words, merely in its mode of inquiry (prompted as it is by the question as to the essence of truth) it teaches one how to read Being and Time perhaps the most important philosophical work of the twentieth-century, which is no small feat. It teaches this through situating and delimiting the term Being in its scope, so that we do not make it into a term so expansive and general that it loses its import.
Second, thinking of Heidegger as a philosopher of truth directly sets up a reading of On Time and Being, because in considering the issue of truth and determining it as unconcealment, we have to ask how that unconcealment persists or doesn't persist. Ereignis suddenly makes sense when we view Being in the light of the essence of truth.
Third, and most important, considering Heidegger as a philosopher of truth makes him seem so very close to the reflections by the the pragmatists, the Vienna Circle, and especially Wittgenstein: that is, it immediately bridges the gap between "Continental" and "Anglo-American" or "analytic" philosophy. Sheehan's definition only obscures this amazing linkage, makes Heidegger more and more into a foreign figure to the questions that have characterized this Anglo-American tradition, even as he clarifies Heidegger. That is, nothing has characterized Anglo-American philosophy more than a strict focus on truth as either graspable or non-graspable by propositional/logical statements. Even in analytic philosophy of mind the debates essentially have circled around representationalist versus anti-representationalist interpretations (think of the turn to behaviorism and then to the computational approach and now to anti-representational "phenomenological" approaches--indeed, just think over the debates over the years on qualia alone!), which reduce to the position that presentative propositional-type mental activities grasping truth or not. Heidegger as a philosopher of truth, even as early as Being and Time essentially creates this focus. I think calling Heidegger a philosopher of truth makes even this concise summary by Bertrand Russell of Wittegenstein's Tractatus even apply to him, such are the similarities:

In order that a certain sentence should assert a certain fact there must, however the language may be constructed, be something in common between the structure of the sentence and the structure of the fact. This is perhaps the most fundamental thesis of Mr. Wittgenstein's theory. That which has to be in common between the sentence and the fact cannot, so he contends, be itself in turn said in language. It can, in his phraseology, only be shown, not said, for whatever we may say will still need to have the same structure.
-Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Introduction, 8.

Heidegger himself says almost the same thing:

"Truth" is not a feature of correct propositions that are asserted of an "object" by a human "subject" and then "are valid" somewhere, in what sphere we know not; rather, truth is disclosure of beings through which an openness essentially unfolds/appears/is. All human comportment and bearing are exposed in its open region. Therefore man is in the manner of ek-sistence.
-"On the Essence of Truth," 127.

Even what Wittgenstein means by "show" and what Heidegger means by "disclosure" are strikingly similar, despite their different trajectories. And indeed, both defined philosophy in the light of these meditations on truth as the clarification of language with respect to truth. But what both absolutely believe is precisely the most fundamental "analytical" statement: truth, or as Russell puts it, the ability to assert with certainty, can be shown to be ungraspable by propositional statements. Calling Heidegger most fundamentallly the "philosopher of die Sache Selbst" as Sheehan suggests nowhere would emphasize the hidden philosophical companionship that analytic and continental philosophers share through this problem. And it is not as if this companionship should be stressed just because it is good in itself--I'm not arguing that. Rather, I'm arguing for this because it was the definitive and characteristic philosophical problem of the twentieth century, and remains the most pressing philosophical problem today.
Finally, to return to my first objection to Sheehan and what I said there, calling Heidegger a philosoper of truth as opposed to the philosopher of die Sache Selbst makes Heidegger intelligible in a way that everyone can understand. This is precisely because Heidegger does not have a specific sense at first for the word truth, as he does for Being and especially for die Sache Selbst. One might object and say that Heidegger has a very specific sense of truth in the end--he defines it as unconcealment, alethia. But why I put it this way (i.e. that Heidegger does not have a specific sense for truth) is that Heidegger, unlike his meditation on Being which mostly in its effort to reawaken the question of Being resignifies what we mean by "Being," engages the common understanding of truth with his specific definition. That is, what anyone means by truth, both the Heideggerian and the layman, will be addressed in Heidegger's meditations on truth because Heidegger addresses what we normally mean by truth in his specifying it as unconcealment. Thus, refering to Heidegger as the philosopher of truth, unlike refering to him as the philosopher of Being, and especially not like refering to him as the philosopher of die Sache Selbst brings one into the conversation that Heidegger is truly engaged in. In other words, it doesn't reject the rest of the metaphysical tradition and the rest of current philosophy in situating Heidegger in some special place; it does not close off Heidegger to Heideggerians only but calls forth all philosophers to this basic philosophical concept--truth--that Heidegger is engaged in revaluing and, first and foremost, just interpreting. In short, it respects the fact that Heidegger was a philosopher, and not some specialist, engaged in interpreting the rest of philosophy just like all real philosophers. Sheehan, even in his wonderful effort to clarify Heidegger, merely works to keep Heidegger more of a secret with his appellation. Reversing this tendency would be good for not only Heideggerians, but philosophy and philosophy classes in general.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The space of the body

Here is yet more powerful empirical evidence that Maurice Merleau-Ponty is extremely right in his theory of the body as an intentional structure, and anti-representationalist accounts of consciousness or existence in general on the right track in exhaustively explaining even the most extreme phenomena. The evidence is an article, to be published in Science, about several experiments that detail how one can experimentally produce "out-of-body" experiences.
The main experiment detailed was conducted at Princeton and essentially proves (primarily spatial) intentionality as someone like Sartre explains it: in standing towards a tree, for example, looking and directing oneself to it, one is not observing the tree from the physical point in Cartesian space that one occupies, but is rather at the tree. Sartre shows that this "at" is not vague in any way, but is in fact highly determinate: one is with the tree, there, where the tree is--not in the sense of its being in space but of its being in a field of intentions, in a field of possible things I may walk towards, act towards, or, in general, be-towards. Instead of using Sartre's "at," we may put it in a Heideggerian way and say that one is"nearest" the tree, that is, nearest in the sense of intention: what being "at" the tree means when we understand it this Heideggerian way is that I am at the tree such that something that interposes itself between me and the tree in Cartesian or empirical space will be "further" away from me than the tree.
Now, the experiment at Princeton set up some virtual goggles such that one's viewpoint when the goggles were on appeared several feet ahead of one's actual viewpoint in physical space. Prodding them with a stick (in what looks like the direction of the virtual viewpoint, though I don't see in the end why it being otherwise would contradict the point I'm about to make) would give them the "out-of-body" experience. Now, isn't it clear that the "out-of-body" experience detailed here would be almost identical with the experience of being "at" or "near" the tree in the distance? One is pushed a little with a stick, and one feels (the experimenters document) the feeling of being "out-there" at the point in physical space where the virtual viewpoint is supposed to be. In other words, what is this but a feeling of what is, insofar as intentionality is supposed by Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, and others to be the way things actually are--what is this but a feeling of what is actually the case? In a sense the experiment just makes you perceive where you are already at.

Note: This example of Sartre's is in his extrordinarily brilliant two-page article entitled "Intentionality: a fundamental idea in Husserl's phenomenonlogy," which everyone who has five minutes of free time should read: witty, concise, and extremely illustrative, it is I think one of Sartre's best pieces of writing--and given his ouvre, that is saying something. Unfortunately it is located in the hard-to-find Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology (in its 1970 issue), so I can't give you a link to it (which I would love to be able to do). Recently, however, it has been included in The Phenomenology Reader, edited by Dermot Moran and Timothy Mooney, and published by Routledge, which is in most bookstores, so next time you're in Barnes and Noble (or at the library) take five minutes and read it, then put the book back. If you're worried you just stole knowledge, remember that Alain Badiou develops into a pretty coherent philosophical position the notion that knowledge is and should be free, and you'll feel better about it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The big Marx, Hegel, Feuerbach post, part 1

Looking at Marx’s early writings from the period of 1844-1846 (the Economic and Political Manuscripts of 1844, the Theses on Feuerbach, and The German Ideology), we can see that, apart from whatever else may be pursued in them, Marx’s thought unifies around the basic task of trying to conceive of a perspective from which societies can be viewed that is not fundamentally Hegelian. That is, the general thrust of his thought centers around the task of viewing social phenomena without reference to the basic conception of reality (or what exists, existence) that was espoused by Hegel. To do this, he uses ideas from Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, published in 1841, through will radicalize these ideas to the point of breaking them, and, with them, the Hegelian conception of reality—this is why so much of the work from this period deals with Feuerbach as well as with the “German Ideologists” or Left-Hegelians who were developing positions similar to Feuerbach’s. This reality in Hegel was vaguely defined as Spirit or Geist, which had, in the later works of Hegel, seemed to be something increasingly idealist in nature. This reality in Feuerbach, then, was asserted to be material, or natural, in order to salvage what Feuerbach saw as the potential of the Hegelian dialectic. Thus, in the writings of Marx in this period, we see a fine distinction being made about the nature of reality in contradistinction to these two thinkers. The result will be “historical materialism,” a type of reality that is more rigorously materialist than Feuerbach’s precisely by opening itself up to the Spiritual structure of reality (which manifests itself as history) found in Hegel. This is the reality that we find asserted in The German Ideology and allows the development of the theory of societies that we find in Communist Manifesto. Much later, it will provide the foundation for the reflections on the nature of the commodity in the early parts of Capital. Here, we will provide a brief genealogy of what exists for Marx with reference to these early writings. We should keep in mind that an answer to perhaps the most basic question about Marx will result from all this: why does Marx hold the sphere of political economy as so exceedingly determinative for the construction of society and the lives of individuals in this society? In short, we will end up showing that it is because Marx has a specific view of reality, and has developed this view out of the powerful system of Hegel, that this sphere comes to take on such vital importance for him.

The nature of reality for Hegel, as we said, was Geist—a word that we translate as “Spirit” (the translation of Geist as “Mind” is unanimously in disfavor among scholars), but which has an incredibly important and incredibly specific sense for Hegel. What is this sense; what is Geist? Well, to get a flavor for it, we can say it is a lot like what Foucault named “discourse:” a set of practices that coagulate and structure themselves to operate in a particular manner, the manner of power (i.e. they exert power upon something, form it, shape it, etc.), and in such a way that this structuring and this operating is their power itself (it includes this forming, shaping force in its being-structured in this particular way). Leaving the comparison to Foucault behind—for the language of power is a precise Nietzschian language implying many concepts that Hegel does not conceive or mean by “Geist”—we may more precisely characterize Geist—the essence of Hegelian reality—as the totality constituted by all world practices, or, expressed differently, all the actions (Tun, in German) within the world of beings that generate meaning for that world of beings.
What do we mean by meaning? Well, any action that justifies the existence of the world of beings to itself, to that world; anything that answers the question “why is there a world of beings instead of nothing?” Geist is the totality of the answers to this question manifesting themselves in actions; it is the substantive genealogy of significance, worth, value—meaningfulness itself. Now, these meaningful actions have to be actions that have occurred for Hegel: he is not talking about any mere potential to give itself meaning that the world possesses when he talks about Geist. This is a crucial distinction we will return to soon when considering Feuerbach. It is also the distinction that makes Hegel break from Kant, as well as from much of the Christian tradition: for Kant and many Christian scholars, the meaning of the world is guaranteed to exist irrespective of any actions of beings within that world of beings—namely, the world is guaranteed to exist in and by God. Because God created the world of beings, what happens there will always in a sense carry the meaning that God gave and gives it in His creation of it—the question as to why the world of beings exists instead of nothing is always already decided in advance or a priori (as Kant declares) by God, who knows or keeps in reserve (in some space outside the world of beings) the powerful and sublime activity that is the answer. For Hegel, however, there is no meaning outside the meaningful actions of beings themselves, and the accumulated mass of these meanings.
Thus, we can say that what is Geistlich or Spiritual is what we normally designate as history, actual acts that have justified the existence of the world of beings to itself over the course of time. Geist, then, is a sort of historical sediment or residue containing the various meanings (or meaningful acts) that have existed for beings, which has separated itself from the general passing-by of unmeaning events and proceeded to harden and form into layers one upon another so that it produces a structure like that in an exposed wall of rock or dirt—the crust of the earth having somehow been disturbed so that this wall juts out from it. Just as the layering of the sediment of various epochs moves upward as it piles itself upon itself and culminates in the present time, the history of meaning moves towards the meanings that the world of beings now possesses. In fact, we specify this present state and get at the nature of Geist participating in our present when we use the phrase “the spirit of our times” (from the German Zeitgeist, “time-spirit” ). This “spirit” is what we can determine at any particular moment in history as the general thrust underlying or being effectuated by all meaningful action; what underneath everything is the general essence of a period of time. Geist itself then is this general underlying thrust of the entirety of beings throughout time—it is the “spirit of the times,” the spirit of time. But Geist or Spirit is not merely a compendium or index of various moments in history built up by various “spirits of the age” come onto the scene: it is also the development of these various meanings, the meaningful actions that change how meaning is possible and bring new layers or meanings onto the scene in different ways—in fact, these are the most important events of history and the most Spiritual for Hegel. If we understand Spirit in this more precise way, then the geological illustration we just used breaks down: it is not as if meanings of particular instances in time are self-contained layers piling up upon one another, for these layers influence each other, mix—such that even the first and deepest layer can combine with the top one. The layers need to be fluid to be conceived correctly, in such a way that each top layer that gets added takes up all of the lower layers and reasserts them as themselves in its own existence there (on the top of all of them): in order to be on top, this top layer must reassert all the others as below. The meaning of any particular layer, then, is never fixed ; it can be taken up into the reality of the present day because it is that reality (it constituted it), and therefore can be changed in its ability to mean or be real based on the present reality—in fact it could just as well become meaningless or lose its reality based on the present.
In sum, then, reality for Hegel is the meaning of the world of beings that this world has for itself. This meaning is also the history of meanings that have paved the way for the present meaning or “spirit of the time.” Finally, this meaning is brought forth or comes to exist only in any meaningful action in the world of beings—the meaning of the world of beings is not guaranteed for it in some separate sphere but only comes about among beings in the world and their meaningful actions...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Zizek and Heidegger, concluded

I found an article after writing the last post by Thomas Sheehan, the excellent scholar of Heidegger at Stanford, that sums up what I was saying Zizek forgets in his engagement with Heidegger in The Ticklish Subject:

Heidegger’s focal topic was not “Being” (the givenness or availability of entities for human engagement) but rather what brings the opening of clearing within which entities can appear as this or that.
-From "Kehre and Ereignis," in A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics ed. Richard Polt and Gregory Fried New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, 3.

This "what" that brings beings forth for us is the structure of alethia or unconcealment, in other words, truth as something other than adequation (this structure is designated by Heidegger's reflections on ereignis, but we won't really get too much into this). Put differently, this all simply means that Heidegger is a philosopher of truth and not of Being: a philosopher that definitively dispenses with the ways Being has been determined through the ages as the present.
I said that Zizek forgets this, and thus focuses his criticism of Heidegger too much on the issue of ontological difference--the difference between the ontological and the ontic--when this difference is only a product or effect of the real issue, truth as unconcealment. Now, how is this the case? Why is truth a more primary phenomenon or issue? And what was the real locus of the perversity in Heidegger's thinking that we said Zizek should really focus his attention on?
As I said, truth is a more primary phenomenon because, as truth without adequation or without presence as its primary trait, it lends determinacy to the ontological. That is, Zizek harps upon the distinction between the ontological and the ontic essentially because, against his own better judgement, he renders the ontic as determinate, as definite, as certain, and the ontological as indefinite, hard to grasp. How is one to get from the ontic to the ontological, and not supposed to substitute an ontic phenomenon for an ontological one? Zizek complains. Is this not what happened to Heidegger in his espousing Nazism as the supreme moment in the history or destining of Being through its (active, not passive, as in democratic capitalism) confrontation with technology? If the ontological were more definite, this could be avoided. But, as Zizek reasons, this would mean sacraficing the break with the metaphysical tradition of determining Being as the foundation of beings or entities that Heidegger effectuates.
Now, we know this break to be due to Heidegger's reconception of truth: Being is not the foundation of beings or the "most-in-being" of beings because Being as what engages with the phenomenon of unconcealment, with truth, is not something that is present. Zizek, however, attributes this type of truth to be a property of the conception of Being that Heidegger possesses--Heidegger, for him is a philosopher of Being in precisely this way. But neither is it true that the ontological is indefinite, nor is it true that dispensing with the category of the ontological as opposed to the ontic would mean a repudiation and rejection of the conception of Being that Heidegger outlines. This is because, as might now be obvious, if Heidegger is a philosopher of truth, the ontological will itself be a category of truth and not of Being. The same with the ontic: the ontic is a mode of unconcealment just as much as the ontolgical. In short: Zizek thinks that by proving the ontological-ontic distinction untenable, one has to turn one's back on Heidegger's greatest achievement, a conception of Being as that which is non-present. But since we know that Heidegger's greatest achievement was a conception of truth as non-present, we see no problem in dispensing with the distinction. But at the same time, we see no need to dispense with the distinction at all. Neither did Heidegger. While he doesn't use the terms ontological and ontic in his later writings, he does not remove the essential dependency on the truth of the ontological for his mode of inquiry.
What we have proven, then, thus far, is that the ontological is a realm of truth alongside the ontic, and thus is just as (if not moreso) determinate as the ontological. The problem remains, however, of how we are to access the ontological and bring it to the fore and not the ontic--that is, how we are able not to substitute something ontic for something ontological.
But conceiving it as a mode of truth, and truth as unconcealing rather than as adequation, already has allowed us to discern the difference. If the distinction between the ontic and the ontological is a distinction in the way that truth unconceals itself rather than primarily a distinction between the ways Being comes about, what this means is that the problem is not one of "embodying" the Being that we might ascertain as the supreme element of a particular time with the beings or entities we deal with in our everyday way of existing. In other words, the if we conceive of the problem of the distinction between the ontological and the ontic as one that is based not in the essence of Being but in the essence of truth and only thereby in Being, the ontological does not have to be grasped instead of the ontic, as Zizek makes it seem. What we are getting at can be illustrated in the example of the political that Zizek thinks this problem of ontological difference bears upon most: in his words, the ontological difference makes...

Heideggerians ...eternally in search for a positive ontic political system that would come closest to the epochal ontological truth, a strategy that inevitably ends in error.
-The Ticklish Subject, 13.

The political system is the ontic "embodiment" of the ontological truth--by which Zizek means something like the way of interpreting Being (Being as present, Being as the ens creatum, Being as will to power)--and this is so by virtue of there being a difference between the ontic and the ontological. Now, I'm not debating whether Zizek's remark is exact when it comes to past Heideggerians, but his rhetoric of necessity and inevitability is only the sign that Zizek interprets Heidegger as a philosopher of Being, as a philosopher that proffers two choices in the way that Being can manifest itself to us. If we instead stick to a view of Heidegger as a philosopher of truth, and the truth he philosophizes as unconcealment rather than correspondence, there are not two choices as far as Being goes. There are two ways that the unconcealment of Being--i.e. truth--comes about. The operative term is not Being, but unconcealment or truth. In other words, it is not that Being is "what" gets unconcealed that matters, though this is the case. The operative term is unconcealment itself and whether it conceals or unconceals: no matter what, whether Being is accessed ontically or ontologically, unconcealment occurs in some way.
Why this is the case is a different matter, discussed in Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy and Time and Being, and with respect to the Being of Dasein is explained in the portion on the historizing of Dasein in Being and Time. I'll explicate it more some other time. To put it succinctly, the reason why truth is more basic than Being has to do with the way Being withdraws from becoming present. Being, if it is not present in its unconcealment, withdraws into presence that is never present--that is, neither a type of presence we could properly call presence nor non-presence. The withdrawing of Being allows Being to be a presence in this way, and yet keeps it from being present, and thus withdrawing is just as essential as Being itself for the existence of anything: the withdrawing of Being is coextensive with the presence of Being itself, and just as much as Being allows beings or entities to be. Heidegger puts it this way: something gives Being in its allowing Being to withdraw or conceal itself; something conceals and unconceals Being at the same time. This " something" Heidegger calls Ereignis, which literally means "event," but, because of the sense Heidegger gives to it, is variously translated as "event of appropriation," "appropriation," or, more recently, "openness." Ereignis thus designates the structure of unconcealment, that is, truth, as the movement between the presence and withdrawing of Being, and thus essentially determines how Being is accessed more than how Being is "destined"--that is, more than how Being is taken up as the present, ens creatum, will to power, etc.
As we said then, the problem is not one of "embodying" the Being that we might ascertain as the supreme element of a particular time with the beings or entities we deal with in our everyday way of existing. The problem that Zizek is harping on is a subordinate problem. That is, it is not as if the problem is trying to get from the ontic to the ontological. The real problem is in trying to grasp the unconcealment/concealment of Being that makes possible both an ontic and ontological grasp. Thus, in the political example Zizek refers to, the real problem is in discerning what in the particular political situation allows both epic ontological truth as well as the ontic political system to come forth. In short, it is this "what" that is designated by Heidegger by "epochal:" Zizek reifies what Heidegger says and then accuses him of reifying it, it is clear. But we are getting beside the point. The question posed by this real problem is, how do we go about this grasping of this this primordial "what?" We must also answer another question: why does Heidegger still confer more importance on the ontological?
The person that most explicitly brought this way of grasping this "real" problem is Hans-Georg Gadamer, in his Truth and Method. Gadamer explicates it in much of his remarks regarding fore-having, but then also in his reflections on prejudice. He introduces a foreign vocabulary to Heidegger's though, and so it might not be as clear for us now if we were to look at his work extensively. For Heidegger himself also outlines in a general way how to grasp this more primordial problem of unconcealment already in Being and Time. We'll take an example of how he approaches it and shows how this approach is to be made, however, from his essay "On the Essence of Truth." As Heidegger remarks in On Time and Being, the important thing we shall be explicating is not exactly what is said, the "series of propositions," but rather, "the movement of showing" that underlies and constitutes this series (2). What is shown in the following passage is not a discourse on "common sense," but the fundamental movement whereby we are able to grasp the truth of a situation, the unconcealment/concealment that gives Being:

Our topic is the essence of truth... Yet with this question concerning essence do we not soar too high into the void of generality that deprives all thinking of breath? ...No one can evade the evident certainty of these considerations [regarding whether we soar too high]... But what is it that speaks in these considerations? "Sound" common sense. It harps on the demand for palpable utility and inveighs against knowledge of the essence of beings, which essential knowledge has long been called "philosophy"... [Moreover, we ourselves remain trapped within common sense so long as we do not question it as to its essence... and so even in our questioning, at first] ...we then demand an answer to the question as to where we stand today. We want to know what our situation is today. We call for the goal that should be posited for man in and for his history. We want the actual "truth." Well then--truth!
But in calling for the actual "truth" we must already know what truth as such means.

-"On the Essence of Truth" in Basic Writings, 115-6.

I've emphasized the last sentence because it contains the crucial turn that penetrates into the truth of a situation, its unconcealment/concealment that gives Being. In calling for truth in the mode of its having "palpable utility" to us, in calling it forth with "common sense," we think ontically about Being. But at the same time we think ontologically when we inquire into its essence, in a manner that "soars too high." It is only in coupling this ontological thinking with the phenomenon of unconcealment/unconcealment that announces itself in our potential to already possess some meaning for truth. That is, ontological inquiry does this: it does not specify a truth that shall serve as truth in the sense of something able to be used palpably, but rather inquires into how this specification might be possible at all. It considers the possibility of an ontic specification or grasping of something as indicative of a structure that belongs to the kind of Being of something. In other words, it grasps nothing other than the possibility of the ontic. But this is still too little. There is something even more primordial in this grasping that must be emphasized if the ontological inquiry is to become fruitful and not soar too high. This is this possibility's residing already within the ontic and the ontological. To put it differently, no matter if we specify how this possibility constitutes itself, so long as we overlook its facticity, the factuality of it in its possibility, we miss something and merely specify something ontological that can easily fall back into the ontic. The facticity of this possibility lies in the already of the thing (here, an understanding of truth), taken as a fact and not as a structure. As a fact, this "already residing" means that there is a tension of unconcealment and witholding of this unconcealment--i.e. a concealment. What this fact pertains to is what is specified by the ontological inquiry proper: the possibility in its existentiality or existence--in the way it is--is what is developed. But this mode of inquiry is allowed by this possibility's facticity as much as the ontological itself allows for the ontic. As such, the mode goes nowhere when it loses sight of this fact, this fact of its already residing in some unconcealment/concealment. Heidegger in the above passage, looking at how to specify the ontological essence of truth, thus directs us to this. We might say we have answered our above question regarding why the ontological is important: where the ontic will never lead us to this primordial unconcealment/concealment, the ontological will because it specifies the kind of Being of something. Indeed, it will always lack the ability to bring this kind of Being into truth, but it allows a truth to be grasped as a way Being is unconcealed and concealed.
Furthermore, our first question is answered: we know how to discern the concealment/unconcealment of a situation by paying attention to the ontological's determinancy. In the above example, it is by directing ourself and our inquiry into the ontological constitution of truth that brings us to the fact of this constitution, the specific determination of it. Through this, we access a particular type of tension between concealment and unconcealment that makes the giving of Being as ontologically or ontically grasped, possible. To make this a bit clearer, we can turn to Zizek's example. In the political situation, as we said above, the real problem is in discerning what in the particular political situation allows both epic ontological truth as well as the ontic political system to come forth. The ontological analysis of the political situation would find something like an essence of the political situation. But it is not this essence that is ultimately important: it merely specifies what makes the ontic possible and what the kind of Being of the current political situation exists as. The real important thing is that this kind of Being has been unconcealed/concealed already, and that it as such determines the kind of Being of this situation. In other words, what is essential to get at is how there is unconcealment and concealment in a situation already and that it is this that gives Being in its ontological essence, an essence that makes the ontical understanding of this essence as merely "an" essence possible. So it is not a matter of discerning political systems that hit at the essence of the time at all: we can see now that this is quite a stupid way to approach the political, and why Zizek would want to lambast it. But he misses something more important in doing so.
The real question that should make all of this unify itself and become extremely clear, as well as prescribe a type of Heideggerian politics in lieu of the mistaken model of Zizek, is how this unconcealment and concealment that exists already in a situation looks.
As Heidegger specifies as early as Being and Time, the tension between unconcealment and concealment works itself out as a prescription of the proper, of the appropriate. The proper is what unconcealment gets concealed by: it is characteristic of there existing, factically, a withdrawing of Being. As Heidegger puts it in On Time and Being, "what is appropriate shows itself in the detstiny, what is appropriate shows itself in the belonging together of the epochs" (9), where "destiny" and the "epochs" are the holding-back or withdrawing or concealing of the manifestation of Being. In other words, by focusing on the unconcealing of Being, we can see that the proper constitutes itself as that which forms an injunction to interpret or take over the unconcealed in a particular way: and this injunction itself constitutes a concealing. The injunction for Being to to exist, or to be Being, the injunction that Being exist in a particular way ontologically already veils the unconcealing that gives Being in the first place. Thus Being is never given as something present, as Being. It is always given as something that is proper. Now, how does this apply to the political question of Zizek? In a political situation, the question that allows us to access the unconcealment/concealment that determines how Being is given is what definition of the proper is presupposed or expounded or endorced or debated within the current political situation. When there is an instability in our interpretation of the ontological (and not the ontic--thus our ability to discern the ontological still is extremely necessary), there is a witholding and concealing of the unconcealment that gives Being. This witholding constitutes, then, a "destiny" of Being, or rather a "destining" in the sense of distribution or sending: Being can only be grasped in its unconcealment with a particular type of witholding or concealment that is constituted in the injunction to take it over or grasp it as this kind of Being, as ontologically this and not that.
In this way, then, Heidegger was right in championing the confrontation between man and technology as the definitive political potential of Nazism, because he was not talking about the ontological nature of Being, but specifying a way that the unconcealment which gives Being gets concealed: in other words, Heidegger was specifying an aspect of Nazism that embodied the "epochal" or "destined" concealment of the unconcealing of Being: in the 1930's it was this confrontation that decisively concealed the unconcealment of Being. Where Heidegger went wrong is in championing this insight into the unconcealment of his age as an ontological pheonomenon. That is, in merely making it into the kind of Being of his time or epoch. It should be clear now why this is impossible and stupid: the truth of the time is more determinative of the kind of Being of a time than any kind of Being one can ontologically champion or even discern. This is the real perversity at work in Heidegger: that he did not bring this aspect of unconcealment into contrast enough with the ontological such that one could see that one determines the other. It is a perversity that allows Zizek, then, to make the same mistake as Heidegger: in specifying perversity as inherent or ontologically constitutive for the ontological/ontic distinction, just like Heidegger he overlooks that perversity really announces itself in the unconcealment that makes the ontological what it is, a covering up to some degree.
To put it all a different way, where Heidegger was wrong is in seeing Nazism as the only manifestation of this concealment that appears as man vs. technology. As a witholding of unconcealment, what matters is that this witholding indicates the way Being will give itself. If it gives itself in a conflict between man and technology, that is, in warring distinctions of the essence of man as either something human or as something that has some affinity with technology or as something that can be enhanced with technology, it it obviously a mistake to think that one political system can privelige this witholding against all others, which is what Heidegger did. What is important is the confrontation itself: reducing it to the confrontation of a specific system is obviously making it into the ontological essence of something--and thus to substitute the phenomenon that merely is given by this confrontation for the confrontation itself. In other words, the confrontation between man and technology precisely took place elsewhere than in Nazi Germany: reducing the ways that this unconcealment conceals to an ontological phenomenon that is local to one place confuses the relationship between things.
This should make clear somewhat, I hope, the mistake Zizek makes. Like many Lacanians, there is a distaste for looking at the proper--that field that Derrida brought out as so determinative, precisely as Heidegger specified it--and an eagerness to reduce this phenomenon of appropriateness to something that is perverse in order to undo it or integrate it into a social-psychical economy. What is accomplished in this is a rendering of the proper as something that pertains to the ontological essence of a way of existing, rather than seeing it as a phenomenon of witholding that gives this ontological essence. That is, it too quickly makes the real potential for perversity dissappear and the perversity itself into something that is essential to something. What Heidegger shows us, and what he perversely did not stress enough (and it is inherent to the way he articulated the issue of unconcealment and concealment--that is, truth--that this perverseness is a consequence), is that it is in the destiny of unconcealment, in the way truth must be taken, instituted, debated, etc. as Being, that any perverseness lies. Perverseness is the potential for perversity--not in the sense of potentiality as the opposite to actuality, but in the sense of being the way unconcealment gets withheld.