Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Neighbors in Death

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Neighbors in Death

Article excerpt

Werner Marx's teaching career spanned two continents and two cultures; his German-Jewish experience spanned the divide between two irreconcilable historical worlds; and his academic mission combined the roles of thinker and witness.1 It is not surprising, then, that his philosophizing is characterized throughout by a certain set of doublings. There is, first, a deep appreciation for the inescapability of Heidegger's challenge to thought, combined with an equally deep suspicion of Heidegger's apparent blind spots. Marx's early book, Heidegger and the Tradition, set the agenda by refusing to think truth as infected by "untruth"; thereafter his calling-and his call to us-would be to think with Heidegger beyond (or even against) Heidegger in order that post-metaphysical thinking might find purchase in domains, such as ethics, where Heidegger was either unwilling (or perhaps unable) to extend it.2 A second doubling, or doubling back, facilitated this extension. Werner Marx never forgot that the Lehrstuhl of the Philosophisches Seminar I was not the Heidegger Chair alone, but equally the Husserl-Rickert-Riehl Chair; Marx's postwar thought could thus retrieve the impulses of German Idealism preserved in the neo-Kantian tradition, together with the moral imperative informing the craft of phenomenological reflection. Eschewing Heidegger's andenkendes Denken to return to a phenomenology that "brings the respective matter into view in order to clarify the structural features and relations of meaning that lie within it,"3 Marx's later essays attain a supple concreteness in pursuit of what he identified as the most pressing demand facing philosophy today, viz., the phenomenological clarification of the measure of our being. Measure is experienced as a claim-not as a claim that we make (in asserting something, for example, or in insisting on a legal title), but rather as something that claims us, something whose authority we acknowledge, thus serving as the basis for a "transformation in our being." Though such a phenomenon tends to be rendered invisible by modern thought and its hypostatic, "metaphysical," conception of rationally autonomous subjectivity,4 the nexus of claim and measure silently informs all genuine aesthetic, religious, and reflective experience and constitutes-as Werner Marx began to show-an indispensable touchstone for rendering the Lifeworld a humane world.

Thinking beyond Heidegger by doubling back through a phenomenology of claim, then, Marx sought to uncover the ground for a nonmetaphysical ethics, "an experience that could clear the way for a transformation in which one would be willing to allow measures of a nonmetaphysical ethics . . . to become effective within oneself."5 The aspect of this project I propose to explore-briefly and phenomenologically-is the revisioning of death. Here Marx locates the path to a postmodern ethical intersubjectivity, an experience of our humanity in which impulses toward traditional virtues such as kindness, honesty, and justice can be discerned even where the traditional measures of metaphysical teleology, faith, or enlightened reason no longer claim us absolutely. For Marx, we become neighbors in death. And what most needs to be clarified phenomenologically-thinking with Marx and perhaps to some extent beyond him-is why "neighbor" (and not, say, friend, lover, comrade, or brother/sister) should come to designate the genuinely human form of the social bond, the ethical face of intersubjectivity itself.6

To set the stage let us recall Tolstoy's story, "The Death of Ivan Ilych." Because the early Heidegger sought a formal-existential insight in this story-viz., that death radically individualizes and opens out onto the moment of resolve-he overlooked the content of Ivan's own "moment of vision" (Augenblick).7 Marx does not overlook it. Late in the story Ivan, "in a state of stupefied misery," senses himself being stuffed into a "deep black sack." Shocked from his reverie, he weeps-"like a child"-"on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God, the absence of God. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.