Home > Uncategorized > A good book on Heidegger

A good book on Heidegger

The scholarly reception of Heidegger’s work is enormous.  A quick look at shelves dedicated to him in a research library will reveal dozens upon dozens of monographs concerning: Heidegger and phenomenology, Heidegger and Nazism, Heidegger and aesthetics, Heidegger and Nietzsche, Heidegger and Asian philosophy, Heidegger and God, etc.  The formula “Heidegger and X,” where X is anything under the sun, does not always correspond to the title of a work, but more often than not it does shape its content.  “Heidegger studies” is not only a niche market, it is a market of niches. 

Amid the overwhelming sway of publications, the amount of one’s own being and time which might be devoted to figuring out what is really going on with Heidegger can begin to feel daunting.  And yet, for those interested in thinking through the implications of contemporary philosophy in a non-analytical vein–and this includes theologians who feel a need to situate their reflections on faith within the challenges and opportunities opened up by the critiques of modern metaphysics or modern subjectivity–Heidegger cannot be bypassed.  His influence is just too great.   

As some of my other posts may suggest, I’ve been trying–and trying for awhile–to decide what to think about Heidegger.  Let’s just say my reactions remain ambivalent.   But if I could recommend one piece of secondary literature to read, for those interested in getting a sweeping but nuanced sense of the twists and turns of Heidegger’s thought, I have found none better than Bret W. Davis’ recent Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2007). 

One could easily see this book on the shelf and pass it by with an air of exasperation: “Another niche book on Heidegger!”  But, in this case, the particular thematic of the will actually provides a backbone for a deeply researched, thoughtful, and amazingly readable narration of Heidegger’s corpus as a whole.  As it turns out, the question of the will figures centrally in all of Heidegger’s major works.  His various formulations, appropriations, and critiques of the will reveal a great deal about what is at stake in different moments of his thought.  This idea had not occurred to me before, but Davis’ text has convinced me that the question of the will–from its radical promotion in the ominous Rectoral Address to its renunciation in the letting-be of Ereignis–provides an important perspective from which to consider the relevance of Heidegger for today.        

In short, for whatever it’s worth, I think this is a really helpful book.  It may help to keep you afloat on the sea of Heidegger-related scholarship.

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  1. Mark William Westmoreland
    November 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’m always happy to see people taking an interest in Heidegger. I do want to suggest looking elsewhere besides the Davis book. Honestly, it has not been well-received by those still working in phenomenology, and I doubt that Heidegger himself would endorse the book. Check out the following review: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=12885

  2. Andrew
    November 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t want to encourage an uncritical reading of Davis’ book, but in reading the particular criticisms put forward by this review, I don’t find myself particularly persuaded. For instance, the idea that Davis is imposing an “essentialism” on Heidegger is, I think, a misreading of Davis. “Essence,” with the right qualifications, which Davis provides, is an acceptable translation of Heidegger’s “Wesen.” Moreover, the idea that Davis’ use of the expression “twisting free” implies a kind of back-door voluntarism also seems a needlessly unsympathetic interpretation. This is perhaps too loose of an expression–perhaps–but much more attention would need to be given to Davis’ use of it, and what precisely he is trying to say. In any case, I haven’t really changed my mind about the Davis book. This reviewer rejects some of Davis’ conclusions about developments in Heidegger’s thought and its connections with Nazism, but these are not merely assertions on Davis’ part; he provides evidence to support his claims. I think I would need to see an argument regarding why Davis’ arguments do not succeed, in order to be convinced that they don’t. It’s not enough to disagree with his conclusions. I’m open to critiques, but these didn’t seem to hit the mark.

  3. Mark William Westmoreland
    November 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Fair enough. I just thought that the NDPR review represented the common opinion of Davis’ book. You’re right, Davis does support his claims. Although, supporting one’s claims does not mean that one is giving Heidegger a fair reading. Perhaps it is wise to claim that you “would need to see an argument regarding why Davis’ arguments do not succeed.” Unfortunately, this is not the sort of thing we can flesh out in the comments section. Anyway, on a more constructive note: what other secondary sources have you read? Perhaps I can point you in some other directions.

  4. Andrew
    November 20, 2010 at 1:14 am

    I don’t mean to be overly defensive about the book, but I suppose I’m just not sure why it wouldn’t be well received. But, in any case, I agree with you that we probably can’t settle any of the arguments which might be made on particular points here in the comments section. However, because you now have me thinking about this, is there any one thing which you find especially problematic about the text or which makes you suspect that it is not faithful to Heidegger’s thought? And, just because I’m curious, do you have one or two favorite secondary sources on Heidegger, which you think do an excellent job of introducing his thought as a whole, while still in a nuanced way?

  5. Erin Kidd
    November 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Andrew, thanks for this! I will have to put this on my break reading list.

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