Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Specter of History: Rethinking Thinking in the Post-Cold War Age

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Specter of History: Rethinking Thinking in the Post-Cold War Age

Article excerpt

On the basis of the Greeks' initial contributions towards an Interpretation of Being; a dogma has been developed which not only declares the question about the meaning of Being to be superfluous, but sanctions its complete neglect. It is said that "Being" is the most universal and the emptiest of concepts. As such it resists every attempt at definition. Nor does this most universal and hence indefinable concept require any definition, for everyone uses it constantly and already understands what he means by it. In this way, that which the ancient philosophers found continually disturbing as something obscure and hidden has taken on a clarity and self-evidence such that if anyone continues to ask about it he is charged with an error of method.

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

In 1927, in the midst of the disintegration of Europe precipitated by the fulfillment of its fundamentally "imperial" logic, Martin Heidegger called for the retrieval of die Seinsfrage, the question of being that Occidental philosophy had forgotten since it was first asked by the pre-Socratic Greeks. In so doing, he instigated an alienation effect that amounted to a Copernican revolution in the advanced thinking of the twentieth century. To put it essentially, in retrieving the question of being from the oblivion to which it was relegated by the increasing technologization and institutionalization of thinking, Heidegger enabled or, perhaps more accurately, catalyzed four integrally related epochal disclosures that radically called the "objective" problematic of the Occidental philosophical tradition into question: 1) the disclosure that this tradition was "ontotheological," which is to say, a three-phased history (Greco-Roman, Medieval/Reformation, and Enlightenment) that, despite its historical variations, h as continuously privileged metaphysics--a mode of inquiry informed by a logos or principle of presence, outside of or prior to time and history, as the essential ground of thinking; 2) the disclosure that this tradition had reduced the (temporal) being of being understood as an indissoluble, if uneven, historical continuum extending from the subject and the ecos through gender and race to culture and sociopolitics, to a reified entity, a summum ens; 3) the disclosure that the perception of being in this tradition was enacted not in the midst (interesse), but from after or above or beyond (meta) the e-mergent things themselves (physis); and, most tellingly, 4) the disclosure that this metaphysical representation of being as Being was informed by the will to power over the relay of differences that being as temporality always already disseminates.

The years following Heidegger's announcement have borne witness to the emergence of a number of postmodern or post-ontotheological discourses--deconstruction, genealogy, neo-Marxism, feminism, new historicism, cultural criticism, postcolonialism, and so on--that, despite crucial resistances, have assimilated Heidegger's fundamental transformative disclosures in some degree or other into their particular problematics. These "new" discourses, in turn, have been (unevenly) assimilated into most of the traditional disciplines of knowledge production. But have the implications for both critique and emancipation of this potentially polyvalent revolution in thinking been fully realized? My answer is an emphatic negative. And the reason for this failure is that the project of thinking or rethinking the thinking of the Seinsfrage in Heidegger's texts has come to a premature closure. This is not simply because of the recent widespread and ideologically driven identification of Heidegger's thought with Nazism in the wak e of Victor Farias's Heidegger et le nazisme. It is also because of the growing sense on the part of the current Left, especially in the context of the reemergence of praxis to privileged status over "theory," that ontology or rather ontological representation is so rarefied a category of thought that it is virtually empty of, if not hostile to, content. …

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