on 29 September 2010
As far as this new translation goes, I found it adequate and was able to grasp the gist of Heidegger's discourse without too much effort. The book is certainly more aesthetically pleasing than the original translation and I found the notes helpful, particularly in translating Greek and Latin passages - and I say this even as an advanced Greek and Latin student. A big change with the original translation is that what was rendered as ready-to-hand has now become objective presence. Because words cannot be taken in isolation from their place in the narrative, this semantic change does not adversely affect the overall text which, with the participation of the reader, has a clear internal coherence and meaning.
As far as my personal taste is concerned, I have collected many if not all of Heidegger volumes over the course of my life; I also own most of his output in the German and have philosophized along similar lines as he (see blog address below). In addition I have paid some, but not much, attention to the Heidegger controversy. The reason for this latter choice is that I am more interested in evaluating Heidegger's discourse on its own terms and its fruitfulness for my own thinking but I certainly do not denigrate those who believe that the man behind the discourse and the context of the discourse should also be scrutinized.
The book. I give it a four star rating, not based on any objective scale of the book's worth relative to other books, but on the very personal scale of "I like it" but do not "love it". The good points, for me, are Heidegger's understanding of human existence as rooted in "care" and authentic existence as liberated from the "they-self", i.e. my death belongs to me as an individual which forces upon me an ethical choice, which in Heidegger's language is rendered as "wanting-to-have-a-conscience", between grasping myself as an entity caught in time destined to die or to endorse and take on board public discourse and forget myself entirely in whatever the "they" are saying in the news or on the radio. It is not a case of repudiating public discourse altogether but it is a case of finding oneself first so that one may evaluate it appropriately and without conceit or manipulation.
Ironically indeed, given Heidegger's reputation, the book's greatest strength in my view is thus to provide a compelling case for living ethically in the sense of responsibly confronting one's guilt and making a change if necessary, based on an ontological foundation rather than on a moral world view. Coming to grips with temporality is also a strong point of the book and wonderfully liberating since once one understands that one's being does not "have" time but actually is time, such frustrations that arise from always feeling like one is "running out of time" soon evaporate, provided of course one overcomes guilt, regret and angst and is willing to make the sacrifices and efforts necessary that follow from such an insight. Those who are not interested in having a conscience need not bother but such people are unlikely to be an audience for being and time.
Heidegger is also very good at understanding what we call "world" as a totality of significations. Thus his analysis of "things" is very astute since they always have a contextual significance, which insight will guide his later thinking on technology. And as human beings we are beings-in- the-world, that is, we are born, live and die in the world; in other words, we bring the world with us as human being, without human beings there can be no world, i.e. human world. In Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, Heidegger will indeed interpret man as world-forming - see review. (In light of Heidegger's contribution to the meaning of "world", Marx's call to change "the world" rather than merely interpreting it as philosophers now comes across as pedestrian at best, woefully blind and dishonest at worst.)
Why, then, only four stars? Part of it is what Heidegger does not and could not include in this book such as the meaning of living with others given the plurality of types and personalities within the human population; the nature of money and what it means for the possibility of thought (Heidegger was a paid philosopher, which is fine, but neither he nor Nietzsche ever explicitly dealt with the significance of money unlike Marx who saw it as key); and, linked to this, the meaning of politics and how power can determine discourse of any kind in an exclusive fashion - Arendt and Foucault went a long way in covering this last question mark, however.
In addition this book can comfort one's own philosophical intuition and at most spur it into action, which is indeed a lot, but ultimately it is not revolutionary in any way - like most philosophy, the discourse leaves the world untouched and only has a role to play in personal perception, and does not pretend to do otherwise, but for those seeking solutions and answers for their problems or social ills generally, my thought is that this book is unlikely to be of great help. That said, Being and Time is powerful enough to provide a strong theoretical basis for one's life situation which I think can be just as effective if not more so than subscribing to a religion, provided one thinks through the many gaps left by Being and Time and philosophize for oneself.
Lastly, and I've experienced this before with Heidegger's larger books, is that reading him can become a tad tedious after a while - he repeats himself constantly, very little concrete ideas are put across as opposed to an overarching structure or theme and the text is, as ever with Martin, very heavy-footed, unlike a writer like Nietzsche whose light-footed and pithy style is by contrast a pleasure to read.
In conclusion, to answer the title of this review, I think that, deep down, you already know within you whether or not Being and Time is for you and the question is really: are you willing to take the plunge and confront Heidegger's questioning and explore questions that go deeper and further than most information and chatter that are immediately accessible? Based on my personal experience, I certainly think that, controversy or no controversy, engaging with Heidegger is a necessary stop in the long, hard but ultimately rewarding and salutary journey to philosophical and spiritual wisdom.
Four stars (to four stars and a half)
c o m m e m o r a t u m . b l o g s p o t. c o. u k