Thursday, June 7, 2007

Derrida is not interested in ontology

Xudong Zhang asks Fredric Jameson about Heidegger enowning Wednesday, June 06, 2007
X.Z.: A particular figure to mention here might be Heidegger. What is Heidegger's role in the constitution of philosophical-theoretical operations, both in Marxism historically and in your own case?
F.J.: It depends on the national situations. I studied in Germany in the early 1950s. Heidegger had not been allowed to teach again until 1951. The Germany I knew was intellectually Heideggerian. The Frankfurt School's influence came only much later. Meanwhile, in France, he had French disciples. The French soldiers who captured him in the woods around Heidelburg asked for his autograph. Nonetheless, the penetration of Heidegger in France after the war was much slower.
Then we have to mention Derrida, who clearly placed a certain Heidegger on agenda. But this was not the Heidegger that the Germans knew, not the ontological Heidegger. Rather, this was the destruction-of-metaphysics Heidegger, who played a different role. To think of Derrida as a Heideggerian is a very odd thing, because he certainly does not take ontological positions of the Heideggerian type. He is not interested in ontology.
For him, that is the more deplorable side of Heidegger. But Heidegger is essential to the operation of deconstruction because of the historical problems--essentially problems in the history of philosophy--which were also posed by him. So it is very complicated. I think Heidegger is now gone in Germany, a country now massively, almost completely, dominated by Habermas. Of course there are now American Heideggerians, and this is a thriving industry. New manuscripts are still coming out.
My own formation is Sartrean; therefore there was a lot of Heidegger I did not need any more, because Sartre's version was selective and to my mind more "advanced" (in the way it posed the problem of the other, for example, or in the originality of its relationship to psychoanalysis).
I would like to add, though, that I think there is a part of Heidegger which is very consistent with Marxism. This is the so-called pragmatic Heidegger: the Heidegger of the tool, of work, and production, and so forth. This is the phenomenology of daily life, which for all kinds of historical and philosophical reasons was never part of Marxism. It is an empty framework or square in the whole Marxist problematic that was not developed. But the Althusserians thought that the notion of everyday life was ideological. So the pragmatic side of Heidegger becomes very attractive as a basis for the Marxian notion of praxis.
Some of that was also in Sartre in a different form. Sometimes in Heidegger's Sein und Zeit that whole analysis of Dasein as active first and contemplative only later on seems to me to be sharp and more usable within a Marxist framework.
X.Z.: How do you describe the presence of Heidegger in your own language? Or, is there any?
F.J.: When I studied in Germany I read some of Heidegger fairly intensively, although I was much more interested in Sein und Zeit, the so-called existential Heidegger, than the later, "ontological Heidegger." I have always admitted that I found Heidegger's ontology very attractive, provided that it is understood to be a utopian one rather than a description. I think this is the problem of all phenomenology, by the way. It is a utopia rather than a description of our alienation, of what we actually live.
But then there is a big problem in Heidegger, which I think is the whole notion of modernity and technology. It seems to me that this problem does not achieve a philosophical solution in Heidegger. It marks a problem he never adequately solved. The famous "Ge-stell" was so enigmatic that I do not think that anybody has really cracked that nut and found a concept there, let alone a translation. I think that it is a place Heidegger wishes desperately to think. Obviously the postmodern framework with this new technology of cybernetics and so forth makes it more urgent to try to think this in different ways, which Heidegger never encountered. So I guess I could say that at various moments of my life I have been a fellow traveler of Heidegger. But I cannot say that this was the strongest influence on my own work, except for this notion of activity, production, praxis, and so forth.
X.Z.: So the perceived Heideggerian moment in your work, when you use terms such as "Being" and "deconcealment," should be understood in utopian terms.
F.J.: Yes, exactly. I think there they can serve as a very dramatic way to mark the space of utopia. But it is not the only language I would use. And it of course has its disadvantages. From a utopian perspective, a "being" is essentially the individual human being and the being of Nature, so the social is evacuated from those later things in ways that are less useful for us. 2:42 PM Comments: Post a Comment <<>

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