Marlène Zarader's the Unthought Debt: The Obfuscation of Heidegger's Jewish Sources

By Bergo, Bettina | Philosophy Today, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Marlène Zarader's the Unthought Debt: The Obfuscation of Heidegger's Jewish Sources


Bergo, Bettina, Philosophy Today


We know Marlène Zarader from her first work, Heidegger et les Paroles de l'origine (Vrin, 1986), in which, as she puts it, her "only ambition was to read Heidegger . . . taking up his work in its entirety from an angle that appeared preeminent.... the question of the origin." Zarader has now turned to the second stage of her engagement with Heidegger, notably the question about his sources. She challenges Heidegger's understanding of the Greek origin in light of what she calls the "Hebraic tradition," meaning biblical, Talmudic, midrashic, and philosophical Judaism. Zarader is revisiting philosopher, Otto Pöggeler's question, "Is Heidegger's way of taking the itinerary of Western thought in charge required by his thinking, or not?"1 To that question Pöggeler himself answered "yes"-Heidegger's interpretation of the history of Western thought is required for his thinking of Being. Zarader will answer "no" to the same question. Working out the justification of her "no" is the stake of her book, The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage.2 Her task: to show that we do not have to construct the metaphysical, and ontological, traditions in Heidegger's way in order to follow his path of thinking. Better, it is encumbent on us to set in a clear light the influences on his thought that he could not acknowledge.

Heidegger's Gifts to Philosophy or: Why He is "Unavoidable" Today

Heidegger's philosophy, Zarader argues, is unavoidable-for philosophers-today, for essential reasons. She writes, at stake is knowing "what it is that allows Heidegger's work to occupy this position, recognized today as unavoidable."

Zarader argues that Heidegger has given philosophy four signal gifts:

"First, Heidegger's work allows the philosopher to reread the great texts of the Western tradition in light of one overarching question; we can read these texts this way even if the question is not fully developed in them." She means the fundamental question of Being, which Heidegger (re)identified.

Of Heidegger's second gift, she writes: "beyond the diversity of Heidegger's texts, to focus on the question that shapes them [texts of the Western tradition] beneath the surface [souterrainement] is to grasp them in their unity, which went unnoticed up until Heidegger." This unity is what permits Heidegger to speak of metaphysics in the singular, of "the" metaphysics, and to grasp it as a coherent Western affair.

"Third," she says, "to circumscribe metaphysics in its unity is to be in the position to grasp it finally in its truth; that is, to set forth in ... the same movement metaphysics' foundation and to reach its essence, which went unthought until now."

"Fourth, reaching the essence of metaphysics... (if it is this unthought character that constitutes metaphysics, at the same time as creating its unity), amounts to casting a gaze on metaphysics that could not" belong to it, could not "be proper to it." If Heidegger's perspective belonged to metaphysics, it would have fallen into the same forgetfulness that always overtakes the question of the meaning of Being.

In a word, Heidegger gives the West a metaphysical heritage it could call its own, unified around the single question of Being. The question of Being dislodged any particular theological conceptuality, while it declared Western metaphysics complete. Whatever we make of this gift, it involved a radical questioning never before ventured without some notion of divinity, substance, or first cause. However, Heidegger's pursuit of the original question: Why is there Being instead of simply nothing?-whose origin Heidegger attributed to the pre-Socratics, entailed an act of unfolding that Heidegger did not acknowledge. It was, Zarader writes, "the problem of Andenken [memory] that I attempted to restore . . . accompanying it to its conclusion. At the end of the enterprise, it appeared to me that, with the assumption of the Greek heritage, the question of our origin was far from being closed; rather, the question was perhaps just opening, and . …

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