Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Way of Oblivion

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Way of Oblivion

Article excerpt

Schur, David. The Way of Oblivion. Cambridge. Harvard UP 1998. 273 pp. $15.00 paperback.

David Schur's elegant, incisive study of the figure of "the way"-a figure of philosophical method-leads from Heraclitus and Parmenides over Plato and Heidegger's readings of Heraclitus on past Maurice Blanchot's "Heraclitean" reading of Kafka to Kafka's parable "On Parables" and "The Judgment." The goal is to show a striking regularity in the rhetorical elaboration of this figure (hodos) in a "way of writing" some seven centuries old. The figure involves odd and paradoxical ups and downs in the imagination of the way.

What is most surprising in Schur's tracking of the way is its connection to a certain notion of oblivion: the way is threatened by forgetfulness even as it leads to a type of higher lifeperhaps it is better to say a "longer" life-an of terlife itself determined by a factor of oblivion. The afterlife must be impervious to the pre-life, it must not be haunted by what is foregone; the community in which it is sustained as an idea must itself be oblivious to its fascination, or else ordinary life would stop transfixed by the goal and in mad indulgence of its death-wish strive to enter it immediately.

Each section is rewarding, informed by philological Akribie and interpretive care. The circle Schur draws around his texts (they are frequently single sentences) is tight; one is paid out for this stringency of scope with the pure metal of his conclusions. He advances by taking meticulous, firm strides, up, down, and around, until we stand before exhilarating prospects.

Here are some of the views found along the stages of Schur's way. He profiles Heraclitus's intriguing parable of writing: "The way of writers, straight and crooked, is one and the same" (Fragment 59). Exegetes have read "the way" as the left-to-right of the sentence and "the straight and crooked" as individual letters, but Schur finds grounds to propose a widerreaching reading; the way is the way of philosophical method, and the crooked and the straight of it are its retardations, divagations, and progress. "In Heraclitus's fragment, the hodos could be the route traveled by writers, their manner of writing, or their journey itself" (17). Writers writing participate in the way of method-meta + hodos.

Heraclitus's wisdom "describes ways that are paradoxically both straight and crooked, going upward and downward, ending and beginning." These metaphors also inform Plato's account, in The Republic, of the right path. Other "aspects of Heraclitean paradox-attention (concern; memory), direction (up and down; away and toward; crooked and straight), and closure (end as beginning; immortality)" are found in The Republic (54). What is at issue are the ruling metaphors through which to conceive the education, a "way out," of the philosopher-king and the dialectical path leading from the world of mutable impressions to a sphere of changeless forms. Plato/Socrates adds to the Heraclitean account by elaborating the way of method as a pathway to an afterlife.

Heidegger belongs to this discussion as an eminent reader of Heraclitus and as the author of Sein and Zeit, the opening framework of which, says Schur, is "implicitly Heraclitean," being "based on the problem of oblivion in method" (93). This alludes, of course, to the all-dominating issue of the near fall into oblivion of the question of Being. What is especially striking is Schur's ability-in focusing on a limited number of tropes, drawn from some several dozen sentences from Greek antiquity-to produce a wide range of insights into Heidegger's topic, method, and conclusions. He clarifies the famous "phenomenological method"-Heidegger's magnum opus being a work of phenomenological ontology-as one that "moves from manifest familiarity to hidden aporia. …

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