Monday, July 27, 2009

Community without Integrity: A Review

(***NOTE: this is the first paper I had to write for classes at the European Graduate School; so for those of you that are already reading these papers on the bulletin board, sorry, this is a repeat***)

A Community without Integrity: Reviewing Tony See's Community without Identity.
Paul Boshears

Tony See is to be commended for his accomplishment in publishing his dissertation that boldly suggests “none other than a rethinking of the political itself.” See sets about demonstrating that community is the common thread linking Heidegger's multiphasic body of work. This dissertation contains a useful summary of Heidegger's works arranged around discussions of politics, technology, and metaphysics. This is a useful organizing of Heidegger's work because this helps us to understand a lineage of thought transmitted through Levinas, Derrida, and Nancy. That said, one wonders at the author's suggestion that those, “well acquainted with Heidegger's thinking in general,” should feel free to skip the vast majority of his dissertation and judge only his final chapter where he presents the form of Heidegger's political theory. According to See, Heidegger rejected American capitalism and Russian communism because both were technologies which reduced the individual to resources for the State. This dehumanization is possible because of the Modern presupposition (and logically imposing as a result) of a metaphysical order that views the immanent reality before us as a standing reserve to be managed rather than encountered. Thus Heidegger's deep engagement with metaphysics is always toward demonstrating that this metaphysical project has succeeded in delimiting the world in which we live and has hamstrung our ability to authentically experience the world.

See states that the central problem of the book is alleviating the violence that is inherent in visions of community based upon identity. How will we avoid this violence? By the, “erasure of identity from the very heart of community itself, so that the unique singularity of the members of the community are not subject to violence;”[1] and in so doing we will be freed from the violence of homogeneity. The violence of homogeneity is based upon a willing suspension of disbelief: while building a representation of the world (in this moment a picture), we become fascinated (whose relationship to fascism would be welcome in this discussion) by the created image and, “mistake the menu for the meal.” That this process is in place is all that necessarily needs to exist for the violence of the modern era to begin, “The reduction of the world into a picture, thus, provides the necessary precondition of our being violent to the world.”[2] While sympathetic to the project of this book, the strengths of the presentation of Heidegger's philosophy are lost in an ineffective manner of expression vis-a-vis See's inconsistent thinking on how one might form a sense of identity that is not dependent upon transcendental claims in the first place.

See uses, correctly, Heidegger's interpretation of Holderlin's Ister in order to demonstrate the heart of Heidegger's political philosophy. From this discussion we learn that Heidegger sees the human condition as fundamentally one of being homeless. In this pursuit of finding one's place in the world clearly we can see Heidegger as a political thinker. But the argument loses its intelligibility when See seems to suggest that once we set out to find our home we will encounter something foreign (a concept that is metaphysically backed-up by being not-me), “that is [sic](3) what is proper or natural for a people can only be appropriated when it is founded on an encounter with what is foreign and other to that people”[4] and then states, “it becomes clear that what is called for is none other than an encounter with the Greeks here....[t]his suggests that what is proper to a people can be appropriated only by way of a journey outward to encounter the foreign.”[5] Again, being sympathetic to See's project, I believe that he has made an appropriate gesture: Heidegger reconfigures Holderlin's notion of homecoming as a “nearness to Being” and so Germans must eschew familiar patterns of reducing the world to classifications and objects to be understood within frameworks. See does say this; but it does not follow from this statement that Heidegger's was a politics that, “does not reduce the difference of the other into an identity, but which suggests of an ethical recognition of the difference and singularity of the other.”[6] Thus we understand the importance of Levinas in the 20th century (as Derrida points out at his eulogy for Levinas[7]) as not only the man that brought Heidegger to France[8] but also the man that first suggested, after the tour de force of Enlightenment reasoning that was the first two world wars: these wars are inevitable and unavoidable if the first question we ask upon meeting something with which we are unfamiliar is an ontological question, “what is it?” rather than first asking an ethical question, “how will I promote harmonious relations with what I encounter?”

This book would benefit tremendously by taking Heidegger to the next logical step and suggesting that it is possible to arrange a worldview that is not dependent upon transcendental claims, that an immanent worldview is possible. Although listed in the secondary literature of the bibliography there seems to be no encounter in See's book with Graham Parkes' Heidegger and Asian Thought, wherein one might be introduced to the very rich Japanese reception of Heidegger (the Japanese having made no less than five translations of Sein und Zeit before there was an English translation of his magnum opus). If, as See suggests, we can only begin to form community by understanding the limits of our cultural inheritance, then this East Asian encounter must surely be a richly rewarding endeavor. Again, sympathetic to See's project, I believe I get a sense of what he refers to at the conclusion of the book: that a community without identity might be palpated by considering the singularity of children. But children are marked by, fundamentally, an inability to understand themselves over time. Perhaps theirs is a world not of immanence but of immaturity. Identity (which is of course a problematic word and See does well to not limit what is meant by the term), if it does anything, must provide a sense of meaning over a duration of time. As Nietzsche put it (and we can suspect Heidegger took this to heart), man would rather will nothing than not will at all. Those that employ suicide bombers know this to be true as well: a person can readily affirm death and act upon that affirmation, but that same person cannot tolerate a life where their suffering is for nothing[9]. I suspect that Deleuze and Guattari also recognize this when they state that what the dispossessed desire are not hand-me-downs but the ability to produce in the real[10]. The lesson of the suicide bomber is that identity production is the sine qua non of humanity.

Rather than a community without identity, the argument here presented would be strengthened by sustaining an argument for community without integrity. Integrity understood as the quality of being solid and stolid; one that has integrity cannot be compromised by outside influence. If we think through the logic of this statement, integrity means to be wholly insulated and impermeable, precisely the opposite of what Heidegger throughout his ontic explorations demonstrated: that the worlding of the world is a process of attunement, of becoming more and more authentic in our living by becoming more and more enveloped in this time and this place in which we find ourselves thrown[11]. Allowing-Being-to-be as a safeguard against totalitarianism is possible if we redefine the relationship between the knower and reality, using what Kasulis calls, the assimilation theory of truth[12]. While we foreground a correspondence model of truth, where language reflects a structure of truth (but is not necessarily truth itself) such that I propose something in language that correlates to what is true; in the assimilation theory of truth reality and the knower are not discrete but are interrelated and so knowledge is the overlap between the two. The depth of my knowledge and truth is only limited by my allowing access between myself and that which I seek to understand. While this talk about knowledge and the knower interrelating seems foreign, we do have an everyday expression that intimates this way of accessing truth: something that we find difficult to comprehend we say is hard to digest. As See points out in his presentation of Heidegger's works, theory cannot be separated from practice and this also suggests that a call for an assimilative theory of truth.

In this reconfiguration of knowledge production there is the understanding that the knower is fundamentally implicated in the object of knowledge because the base understanding of the world is one of interdependence rather than independence. That is, all relationships are foundationally intimate relationships (and expressions of degrees of internalization), rather than the what has been the push in Western philosophy over the past 600 years to establish the hegemony of externalized relationships whose best symbol is the technology of the contract. The result has been communities by lashing together (and this becomes more interesting if we include that the term fascism comes from the Latin symbol of many rods lashed to the axe) ontology and theology through the primacy of metaphysical questioning.
See should be commended for his courage in pursuing this particular dissertation topic, not the politics of Heidegger (a question twenty years too late), but to discuss Heidegger at all at this point in the development of the Heideggerian literature exposes one to many critics as there have been so many dissertations on Heidegger in so many languages. See has produced a very helpful book that quickly provides the reader with a very French orientation of Heidegger's philosophy – to play with Kojeve's comments on Hegel, here we have Heidegger-as-anthropologist, whether he wishes to be one or not. I thank See for presenting Heidegger as such. Almost as though an afterthought, See tacks-on a Conclusion giving an all-too-brief presentation of how community has come to be discussed by Derrida, Nancy, and Deleuze. Because See's book has such a strong French reading (in many ways a discussion of why Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, Blanchot, and Deleuze have formulated their political philosophies) to include something about Heidegger's friendships to Jaspers and Arendt could only benefit his interpretation of Heidegger as a philosopher who prefers engagement instead of evasion. See is correct to demonstrate why Heidegger's involvement with the National Socialist movement must be read in the context of his insights into metaphysics and technology; but, surely there is much that can be learned from the Heidegger-Jaspers-Arendt triad as it was performed. Would this not be an excellent moment of theoria in praxis?

[1] page 16.
[2] page 42.
[3] This typo is one of many glaring errors in word choice, subject-verb agreement, missing citations, and failures to correctly spell names. The effect of encountering so many errors (more than one would anticipate in a first edition) is a significant feeling of disappointment as it suggests no consideration for the reader's experience. Of course, there is a very real concern that the author, in presenting himself in this manner, has said much more than was intended.
[4] page 163.
[5] page 164-5.
[6] page 167.
[7] Derrida, Jacques. (1999). Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Pascale-Anne Brault, Michael Naas, trans. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.10.
[8] Tom Rockmore's “Aspects of Heidegger in France.” also discusses the lineage of Heidegger-Kojeve/Levinas-Derrida and points-out that the French philosophical tradition has long been concerned with understanding the human being. Available at:
[9] Wood, David. (2005). The Step Back: Ethics and Politics after Deconstruction. Albany: State University of New York Press. 16.
[10] Deleuze, Gilles & Felix Guattari. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, vol. 1. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, Helen R. Lane, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 27.
[11] I would suggest that as one becomes more authentically oneself in worlding one's world one is becoming more authoritative in one's practice of being in the world.
[12] Kasulis, Thomas P. (2002). Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press.

Community without Identity: The Ontology and Politics of Heidegger
Tony See
2009 Atropos Press, New York & Dresden.

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