“Heidegger is There”

Martin Heidegger is an extremely difficult philosopher to follow. If you have ever read any of his stuff, specifically his well-known work Sein und Zeit (better known in the English-speaking world as Being and Time), then you know what I mean. I have a degree in philosophy, and I’m finishing up a PhD on philosophical hermeneutics–but let me tell ya, Heidegger is still hard! Diving into his Being and Time, a work full of abstraction and weird words like Da-sein (“being there”), is not for the faint of heart. He is difficult. 

But he is necessary.

His work was game-changing on many levels, to be sure, and the modern thinker must deal with him. There’s no way around it. 

The focus of my own research has been centered around Hans-Georg Gadamer’s particular construal of hermeneutical theory. Since Gadamer’s hermeneutic was influenced by Heidegger, every good Gadamerian needs to know Heidegger. There is a great quote (below) from Gadamer in his book called Heidegger’s Ways. For those familiar with Heidegger, you’ll appreciate what he has to say.

Gadamer was an extraordinary writer and in typical fashion, his first sentence in the last paragraph below is nothing short of poetic (admittedly, though, I am prejudiced toward Gadamer). All the same, it made me smile:

Heidegger’s rescue attempts are violent. He is constantly rupturing the natural understanding of familiar words and forcing new meanings upon them–often basing this on etymological connections that no one else sees. The products of this approach are extremely manneristic expressions and provocations of our linguistic expectations.

Must it be so? Does not the natural language in its universal malleability always offer a new way to express what one has to say? And is it not the case that whatever does not allow itself to be said has been insufficiently thought? Perhaps. But we have no choice. Now that Heidegger has posed the question, we are obligated to continue our inquiry in the direction it delineates; we can only hope to be assisted by that found in his works which is accessible to our understanding. It is easy to poke fun at things unusual or violent. To improve on it is much more difficult. Certainly the game in which participants shove around the little ivory discs inscribed with Heidegger’s conceptual jargon–a for of following Heidegger that is very common–should not be played. This type of scholasticism blocks the way into the opening formed by the question asked no less than the most caustic polemics.

But either way, Heidegger is there [da]. One cannot get around him nor–unfortunately–can on progress beyond him in the direction of his question. He blocks the path in a most disturbing way. He is an erratic block awash in a stream of thinking rushing toward technical perfection. But he is a block that cannot be budged from its place. [1]

  1. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Heidegger’s Ways, trans. John W. Stanley (Albany: State University of New York, 1994), 27. 

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