“Unyielding antagonism and stinging rebuke have a more abysmal source than the measured negation of thought. Galling failure and merciless prohibition require some deeper answer.”
It is not clear whether Heidegger provided the deeper answer to the question of criticism (“unyielding antagonism and stinging rebuke”) such as he describes it in this striking moment of “What is Metaphysics?” What he does provide is a name and a structure for these and related “possibilities of nihilative comportment.” For in all of them, Heidegger says, in all criticism, that is, there is a “surpassing of beings as a whole.” This surpassing Heidegger calls “die Transzendenz.”
To be sure, Heidegger insists that the kind of transcendence he is thinking about itself surpasses Christianity (as well as science, in fact, which “becomes laughable when it does not take the nothing seriously”). Transcendence – unyielding antagonism and stinging rebuke directed at beings as a whole – may seem like a hyperbolic word for “critique” but it reveals, I think, a deep truth about critique as a structure, a transcendental structure. It also reveals (with no more than the appearance of paradox), the way in which “critique” (beautifully traced by Talal Asad in his post) has come to share a certain secularism with Heidegger’s transcendence.
Consider Edward Said’s reference to Hugo of St. Victor, by way of Auerbach, in his well-known appeal for “secular criticism.” Said proposes both authors as a joint model for criticism, for “philological work,” that “deals with humanity at large and transcends national boundaries.” The secular critic must be separated from his heritage “and then transcend it” in order to become effective. Like Auerbach, Hugo – a twelfth century mystic; not the most immediate illustration of worldly labor – seems to have embraced the fact that “our philological home is the earth.” As Said quotes him: “he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land [perfectus vero cui mundus totus exilium est].” This deportment toward a negated totality cannot fail to recall Heidegger’s comportment toward “beings as a whole.” Which would be why Said himself deploys the very lexicon of height and transcendence he will proceed to criticize in “theological criticism,” ultimately to invert it for the benefit of the secular critic. Is this “nihilative comportment” however? It is not, at least not enough, not for Said, who outbids Auerbach in quoting a few more of Hugo’s words, thus clarifying what love’s got to do with it: “The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.”
In Displacing Christian Origins, Ward Blanton has attended to Heidegger’s surpassing gesture of separation, his own partaking in processes of extinction, his “nihilative comportment,” as it were, in relation to (Christian) theology and faith. “Faith is so absolutely the mortal enemy that philosophy does not even begin to want to do battle with it.” The secular critic knows that indifference is often the outbidding of antagonism. Blanton argues persuasively that there is in this “secular critique” something like an outbidding (Derrida’s word), a “movement by which philosophy has continually attempted to abstract itself from ‘positive’ religion in order to transcend its limitations toward a pure thinking of religion as such.” With Derrida, Blanton recognizes here at once a larger and a narrower phenomenon. This movement – Hannah Arendt called it “Sputnik” – would be far from universal. It would only be common to the “secularizing critiques of Christianity” (double genitive). Ultimately, it would be a kind of “Christian-secularizing ‘machine.’”
This is (not) a critique. This entry was posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008 at 7:00 am and is filed under Is critique secular?.