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A good book on Heidegger

November 17, 2010 5 comments

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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