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Tuesday, May 12, 2015


classstruggle offers the following comment and question to the first part of my essay on the ideology of space consciousness:

"Was there some sort of conflict between Marcuse/Horkheimer and Mannheim? I reviewed some of my notes on the Frankfurt School after reading your post and came across this quote from Marcuse's Negations with a note next to it suggesting it was directed at Mannheim:

“sociology that is only interested in the dependent and limited nature of consciousness has nothing to do with truth. While useful in many ways it has falsified the interest and goal of any critical theory” (Marcuse p. 152).

Marcuse criticised the relativist nature of Mannheim's sociology of knowledge and from what I remember, so did Adorno, Jay, and Lukacs because they felt Mannheim's sociology of knowledge undermined the critical force of a Marxist analysis of ideology.   Later in his life, I believe Mannheim also rejected to a small extent his former writings, and started adopting a new, orientation (Anglo-saxon science).   Perhaps the interest in Mannheim in the 21st century has something to do with his idealist, revisionist and relativist deviations (read heretical) which some from his 'camp' saw as dangerous?"

I would like to respond to this at some length, because it gives me an opportunity to explain how my mind works, and in particular how I differ from so many of the people who write in this general area.  First of all, a direct response to the question:  I haven't a clue what Marcuse thought of Mannheim.  I never talked with him about it, and I doubt that I would much have cared had he expressed to me the criticism voiced in the passage classstruggle quotes.

I simply do not think about these questions in that programmatic, factional fashion.  I am drawn to deep, brilliant, penetrating, insightful ideas, regardless of who voices them or what cause they serve as weapons.  I am blown away by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.  I delight in the grace with which Hume articulates the most devastating sceptical critiques.  ume articulates the most opoHI read Kierkegaard with the greatest of pleasure.  I find Marx profound and revelatory.  I consider some of the essays of Michael Oakeshott brilliant and very deep.  And I read Durkheim, Weber, and Mannheim with the greatest of pleasure.  I think Mannheim's anatomization of the structural differences in the time-consciousness of liberals, conservatives, chiliasts, and revolutionaries is a tour de force.  These are not aesthetic judgments, mind you, although I experience ideas aesthetically as beautiful or ugly.  They are judgments of truth and of the force and rigor of arguments. 

In the essay I am now writing, which I have interrupted for this response, I am trying to find the words to craft an analysis of the ideological significance of differing conceptions of space.  I think of this as a deliberate homage to Mannheim's treatment of time.  I believe that what I have to say will enable the reader to see connections, implications, and structures that may not be immediately apparent, and will thus help the reader to a deeper understanding of the unacknowledged ideological significance of superficially non-ideological modes of thought.  I do not conceive this essay as a weapon in a political struggle, although it can certainly be used in that way.  It would never occur to me to hedge an argument or delete a paragraph or hesitate in expressing an insight for fear that it might give comfort to my enemies.  I suppose that I really do believe in the liberatory power of truth, even though I understand that notion in as complex, nuanced, and multi-layered a fashion as is possible.

In this, I am, I believe, quite unlike most of the intellectuals on the left who write about the subjects I devote so much time to.  So be it.  That is how my mind works.  I try to give voice to my ideas with as much grace, subtlety, power, and beauty as I can muster.  I offer them to anyone who finds them worth reading.  As Martin Luther said in another, rather more serious, context, Ich kann nicht anders.


Doug said...

Hi Dr Wolff
Until now I've remained merely an admiring "lurker" on this blog of yours, but I do have something useful to share, I think, so I thought I'd speak up for once. I am a PhD student in Philosophy of Education at Ohio State, and you might like to know that I use your book, The Ideal of the University in the Philosophy of Education class I teach (in particular, the chapter on grading, which by the way converts all of my students into anti-grading revolutionaries). But to my point: Heidegger carries out a phenomenological critique of our quasi-Newtonion conception of space in his short lecture "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" that you might want to consult this before you undertake the rest of your analysis. Roughly, Heidegger argues that space, far from subsisting "underneath" objects, as a Cartesian would have it, is brought into being in an act of building. This special kind of building is possible only if it grows out of a certain way of being with one's surroundings and with others, which he calls "dwelling" (the German is wohnen). Heidegger thus reverses the common sense notion that we dwell once we build, claiming that we can only truly build once we dwell. I enjoyed reading the piece initially because it was my first time encountering the distinction between "staying" and "living" that you came across in South Africa (the distinction is possible in German -- wohnen vs. leben -- but no one uses the words that way, nor does Heidegger). Now I see that the essay is a statement of the Vaterland conception of space. Unsurprising coming from Heidegger...
Doug Yacek

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am delighted that you find my discussion of grading useful. I went off and read the Heidegger essay. I will confess freely that it is not my cup of tea. A propos the essay I am now writing and posting, it seems to me utterly devoid of the slightest awareness of the possibility that what he is sayhing might have an ideological interpretation. Oh well.

classtruggle said...

Thanks for your simple yet profound response.

I wish I could say the same but it is important to me who voices what, their background, biography, etc..

For example, I must confess that I, have never been a Heidegger fan -- perhaps because (as with, to cite another example, de Man) I have never been able to get past that man's (as it were) appalling politics. So my reading of Heidegger's work has been cursory at best (indeed, I doubt that I will ever be persuaded to give him much of my time). But of course there is no doubting the enduring impact of the man, nor the 'timeless' (sic) quality of Sein und Zeit, in particular -- nor, for that matter, the devoted following that he still commands in some "circles":

Although Heidegger seems to have been very concerned with what it is that makes science, knowledge, and one's understanding of things possible, I think I would agree with the general criticism leveled against -- that his insights into ontology were divorced from everyday life.

The Nazi collaborator Heidegger, like Husserl before him, had a hard time coming to terms with the intricacies involved in understanding the concrete. Heidegger's ontological approach, Adorno argued, is one which excludes social content from the very beginning. Adorno sought to highlight Heidegger's failure to deal with the social context of philosophy. Marcuse too held that Heidegger's abstractions were false for the very same reason. In an interview he said:

'Heidegger’s concreteness was to a great extent a phony, a false concreteness.' Although abstractions are always essential to both theory and philosophy, they are only so when they capture and contain that which gives them life. 'Viewed apart from real history,' Marx wrote, 'these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever.'

It is not surprising why the Germans tend to think of philosophy as something peculiarly their own. As they see it, there are only two kinds of philosophy: Greek and German. Heidegger is, for all his faults, an interesting German philosopher who built up great expectations, which he was unable to fulfill in the end. Hegel had implied in the Preface to the Phenomenology that this was one of the characteristics of romantic philosophy. In Hegel's words: "But even as there is an empty breadth, there is also an empty depth... an intensity void of content." Heidegger built on the expectation that he would unravel Being and accomplish what Western ontology since Aristotle had never accomplished. But after writing more than 400 pages about human existence, he never unraveled Being. Hence why he insisted on the need for the 'second half' of Being and Time, which never appeared. When we ask in the end what he really contributed or said, we come up with either nothing or trivialities.

classtruggle said...

In all his writings, Heidegger insisted on the importance of asking questions rather than merely giving answers. He finds no answers to his questions though because he never asks answerable questions. He is always giving the impression that he probes deeply when in fact he does not dig anywhere. His efforts to penetrate into the mysteries of life are more often than not, expressions of confusion rather than profundity.

Heidegger's hatred for reason also came out when he called reason "the most stubborn adversary of thinking" in his essay on Nietzsche who Heidegger never considered or discovered as a psychologist. Although reason may have its limitations, those who are ready to abandon it might as well rip out their eyes because they are unable to see everything or because they do not see things as they "really" are. Reason is our best safeguard against inhumanity and fanaticism.

Knowing that the greatest poets have not been romantic enemies of reason, Hegel quoted Goethe's Mephistopheles when he made this point:

"Have but contempt for reason and for science,
Although they truly are man's best reliance,
And let the Prince of Lies confound confusion
By luring you toward magic and illusion-
And you are on the road to hell. (Goethe's Faust).

"Language is the house of Being" says Heidegger, but in truth, his language is the house in which he hides and finds a sense of security. Adorno, in his critique of Heidegger's insensitivity toward the social content of language wrote: “all deceptive ontology is to be exposed by critique of language.” It is true that Heidegger never used the term authenticity so freely again after reactions to the publication of his first book.

Heidegger writes at length about the superficial answers given by others but argues that if you follow him (into the desert?) you may enter the promised land. His inability to answer the basic question (Grundfrage) of metaphysics "why is there something rather than nothing?" is not due to the age we live in but to certain peculiarities of the question.

classtruggle said...

Adorno made the point that Heidegger writes as if Kant's Critique of Pure Reason was never written and as if the "why" of the question is unambiguous. The possibility that the question might be open to criticism is itself not even considered. The question is treated more or less like an authoritative text, like a preacher might treat a verse from the scripture. Nietzsche's Zarathustra said in the chapter On the Afterwordly: "The belly of Being does not speak to humans at all, except as a human. Verily, all being is hard to prove and hard to induce to speak." Nietzsche suggests that the concern with Being and metaphysics and the concern with God and theology are variations of a single attitude i.e. compare Heidegger's approach with that of theologians which Heidegger spurned. Lowith made the point that Heidegger's statements about Being that are puzzling become clearer once you realise that he substitutes Being for where theologians say God. While theologians speak of our alienation from God, Heidegger suggests that our tragic state is due to the oblivion of Being. Like many theologians, Heidegger too shares a hatred for machines, science, and clarity. Lowith, who knew Heidegger well in the period of Being and Time, argued in his little book on Heidegger that Heidegger's late interpretations of his earlier work are at variance with what Heidegger himself meant in those days and cites an extreme case (p.39f). In his postscript to the fourth edition of "Was ist Metaphysik?" Heidegger said that Being continues "indeed" without all that has being "but" that what has being never exists without Being. In the postscript to the fifth edition, six years later (1949), Heidegger says without the least indication of change "that Being never exists without what has being" (p.41) Both positions look equally arbitrary and one has to ask what he could have possibly meant and how in the world those who are familiar with his concepts and texts could possibly know what he meant when even his closest students and peers hadn't a clue.

The question which Heidegger calls the first question "in rank" is expounded, extolled, circumscribed and circumvented without ever being analysed. To demonstrate for example that this is a profound question, he says the question asks about the ground (Grund) of what was Being. He writes of fathom (ergunden) and foundation (grundung) and distinguishes between primal ground (ur-grund), abyss (ab grund), and bottomlessness (un-grund).

"This question with its Why does not move on one level or surface but penetrates the underlying [zu-grunde liegenden] realms to their ultimate reaches, to the limits; it is opposed to all surfaces and all shallowness and strives for the depth; as the widest question it is also of all deep questions the deepest" (p.2 f.)

This is rhapsody, not analysis and the piling up of words with the same root which is a characteristic device of Heidegger's style -meant to induce a sense of illumination or the sense that something profound has been explained i.e. when we realise how many German words share the root syllable grund, we feel that something has been revealed and we feel we must congratulate ourselves on learning something valuable and believing that the writer is taking us on a voyage of discovery. But in fact, nothing has been discovered except that several German words share the root syllable grund. This goes on for almost 200 pages.

classtruggle said...

Heidegger never entertains the idea that Holderlin or Sophocles, Heraclitus or Parmenides might be mistaken and any criticism of the Pre-Socratics is out of the question. He assumed that because they lived in the beginning of Western thought, they knew what we don't and would like to know. Like a theologian who cites the scripture, he chooses texts that happen to contain the truth, texts in which the unconcealedness of Being is achieved. His own conviction that his interpretations are really not mere interpretations does not help either: "True interpretation must show what is not said in words but said nevertheless. At this point an interpretation must necessarily use force" (p.124). In the last analysis, it is him the interpreter who claims authority and the follower is encouraged to consider her or himself superior because s/he has accepted this authority. Certainly, he doesn't spread a critical spirit or carefulness or the virtues of the intellectual conscience.

And finishing off with the following quote:

"Finally, there is Heidegger's stunning silence about the Holocaust. For the hundreds of pages that he published on the dehumanizing powers of modern civilization, for all the ink he spilled decrying the triumph of a spiritless technology, Heidegger never saw fit, as far as I know, to publish a single word on the death camps. Instead, he pleaded ignorance of the fate of the Jews during the war—even though the Jewish population of Baden, where Heidegger lived, dropped dramatically from 20,600 in 1933 to 6400 in 1940, and even though virtually all of the 6400 who remained were deported to France on October 22, 1940, and thence to Izbica, the death camp near Lublin. As Heidegger was lecturing on Nietzsche in the Forties, there were only 820 Jews left in all of Baden. We have his statements about the six million unemployed at the beginning of the Nazi regime, but not a word about the six million who were dead at the end of it."

Thomas Sheehan (1988) “Heidegger and the Nazis.” The New York Review of Books, Vol. 35, No. 10 (June 16, 1988), pp. 38–47.

Unknown said...

classtruggle, thank you for this! One of the first things I've read on Heidegger that clearly explains what he's trying to do and at what level he moves. I myself have only read some of his commentary on Nietzsche, which is hopelessly obscure. I'm not going to waste my time on a Nazi. I say this without any qualms: a Nazi person is a stupid and evil person, and not worth reading.

classtruggle said...

Yes, I know. He claimed to know a lot about human existence while at the same time ignoring/failing to say anything about the millions of humans that ceased to exist under a regime he supported.

classtruggle said...

I think that it is also ad hominem to take his support of the Nazi regime as the basis for dismissal. It is the work that one does that has to be the basis of the judgement.

Heidegger's defenders say he made a personal 'error' (in private Heidegger was said to have called his affiliation with Nazism "the biggest stupidity of his life") but I think I agree with the arguments of Adorno and Lowith: that Heidegger's support for National Socialism reflected inherent flaws/contradictions/ambiguities in his philosophy. In other words, it is possible to base a criticism on his works AND his support for Nazism.

Unknown said...

Yes, that is true. At the same time, I think supporting nazism AND then refusing to denounce it (maybe calling it a 'stupidity' in private, I mean come on!) is the mark of a man who is not simply evil (which would still leave space to do interesting work) but also profoundly stupid.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I completely agree with T Verga.

classtruggle said...

Back/return to Marx? ;-)