Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ruskin-Silliman-Adorno

Ruskin, writing of the ornamentation of concave & convex pillar capitals in Stones of Venice (volume I, chapter XXVII), anticipates Ron Silliman’s manicheanism:
And now the reader shall judge whether I had not reason to cast aside the so-called Five orders of the Renaissance architects, with their volutes and fillets, and to tell him that there were only two real orders, and that there could never be more. For now we find that these two great and real orders are representative of the two great influences which must for ever divide the heart of man: the one of Lawful Discipline, with its perfection and order, but its danger of degeneracy into Formalism; the other of Lawful Freedom, with its vigor and variety, but its danger of degeneracy into Licentiousness.

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In re/ my last post, Norman finds Heidegger speaking to him more than I find Heidegger speaking to me – but that just might be the malaised mood I’ve been in for a while now: the “dictations” just aren’t coming thru like they should be.

On the other hand, Bob quite rightly reminds me of a passage where Adorno claims that the German language has what he calls "a special elective affinity to philosophy and indeed to its speculative moment." Indeed – but it’s worth considering the passage as a whole, just to note how TA scrupulously takes the opportunity to distinguish what he’s saying from Heidegger’s stance towards German as the language of Being, and to argue (yet again) against paraphrase. Here from “On the Question ‘What is German?” with my comments interspersed – Adorno writes, in this 1965 radio talk, specifically about his decision to return to Germany after the war:
The decision to return to Germany was hardly motivated simply by a subjective need, or homesickness, as little as I deny having had such sentiments. An objective factor also made itself felt. It is the language. Not only because one can never express one’s intention so exactly, with all the nuances and the rhythm of the train of thought in the newly acquired as in one’s own. Rather, the German language also apparently [note qualification] has a special elective affinity with philosophy and particularly with its speculative element that in the West is so easily suspected of being dangerously unclear, and by no means completey without justification [so, even as he asserts the “elective affinity” between German & the idealist tradition, TA allows that a good deal of that tradition might indeed be “nonsense on stilts”]. Historically, in a process that finally needs to be seriously analyzed, the German language has become capable of expressing something in the phenomena that is not exhausted in their mere thus-ness, their positivity, and givenness. This specific quality of the German language can be most graphically demonstrated in the nearly prohibitive difficulty of translating into another language philosophical texts of supreme difficulty such as Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit or his Science of Logic. German is not merely the signification of fixed meanings; rather, it has retained more of the power of expression – more in any case than would be perceived in the Western languages by someone who had not grown up in them and for whom they are not second nature. However, whoever remains convinced that, in contrast to the individual disciplines, the mode of presentation is essential to philosophy – as Ulrich Sonnemann recently put it very succinctly, there has never been a great philosopher who was not also a great writer – will be disposed to the German language. At least the native German will feel that he cannot fully acquire the essential aspect of presentation or expression in the foreign language [a fallback – even if what TA’s said about metaphysics & German is wrong, it’s at least true for the “native German”]. If one writes in a foreign language, then whether it is acknowledged or not, one falls under the captivating spell to communicate, to say it in a way such that others can understand. In one’s own language, however, if one says the matter as exactly and uncompromisingly as possible, one may hope through such unyielding efforts to become understandable as well [Adorno’s first allegiance, then, is to the contours of thought, which he can only accurately trace in German; if he were to write in, say, English (as he did a significant amount of), he’d be tempted to actually “communicate,” and thereby possibly traduce the thought itself]. In the domain of one’s own language, it is this very language itself that stands as a guarantee for one’s fellow human beings. I will not venture to decide whether this circumstance is specific to German or whether it affects far more generally the relationship between each person’s native language and a foreign language. yet the impossibility of conveying without violence not only high-reaching speculative thoughts but even particular, quite precise concepts such as those of Geist, Moment, and Erfahrung, including everything with which they resonate in German, speaks for a specific, objective quality of the German language. Unquestionably the German language also has a price to pay for this quality in the omnipresent temptation that the writer will imagine that the immanent tendencies of German words to say more than they actually say makes things easily and releases him from the obligation of thinking and, where possible, of critically qualifying this ‘more’, instead of playfully indulging it. The returning émigré, who has lost the naïve relationship to what is his own, must unite the most intimate relationship to his native language with unflagging vigilance against any fraud it promotes; against the belief that what I should like to call the metaphysical excess of the German language in itself guarantees the truth of the metaphysics it suggests, or of metaphysics in general. I should perhaps admit in this context that I also for this reason wrote the Jargon of Authenticity [TA’s 1964 attack on Heidegger & Heideggerianism].
***
Huzzah! USAirways found my bag, & delivered it to the door about 8.00 pm on New Year's Eve. So I won't have to replace all those toiletries, and find a new hairbrush (not that that's such an essential item anymore...).

6 comments:

Paul Naylor said...

Hey Mark. I just thought I'd crawl out of my anonymous hole and start the New Year right by chirping in on your take on Heidegger. I'm not sure where you're quoting from when you say Heidegger claims Greek and German possess a "fundamental connection to the roots of Being." I don't doubt he wrote something to that effect, but if he did spell Being Seyn rather than Sein in the context you're referring to, then I disagree with your assessment that this saddles Heidegger, riding crop and all, with a “foundationalist argument about language and philosophy.” Seyn is how Heidegger spells Being after his celebrated “turn” in the 1930s, and one crucial dimension of that turn involves how he conceives of the relationship between Being and history. In Being and Time, before his “turn,” when he spells Being Sein, it’s fairly clear that Being is an ontological structure that lurks “beneath” or “behind” history as a ground, which is one of the reasons why Heidegger, after his “turn,” argues that Being and Time still operates within the frame of Western metaphysics. Being/Sein, then, does exceed or transcend history, and so it does serve as a “foundation” or sorts for language, philosophy, and history. After Heidegger’s “turn,” however, he spells Being Seyn to distinguish his new understanding of Being from his quasi-metaphysical understanding of Being (Sein) in Being and Time. And one of the biggest differences between those two understandings is that he sees Seyn as a historical occurrence taking place within what he calls “being-historical thinking.” It may be a stretch to claim that Seyn is immanent within history while Sein transcends history, but it’s a stretch in the right direction. In any case, Being (Seyn) as an occurrence within being-historical thinking is no longer in a postion to be a foundation for history, language, or philosophy. To claim from this second perspective, Heidegger II as some like to call it, that there is a “fundamental connection” between Being/Seyn and the Greek and German languages is to claim no more than that a great deal of the most important philosophy in the Western tradition was written by Greeks in Greek and by Germans in German, which means that those languages largely set the terms of engagement. And this is pretty much what you claim Adorno owns up to as well. In short, if Heidegger writes Sein in the passage you’re referring to, then you’re right; if he writes Seyn, then you’re being-toward-wrongness.

All of which is not to say there ain’t plenty of creepy things in the work of the brooding quasi-ex-Nazi from the schwartzwald.

Cheers,

Paul

Mark Scroggins said...

Good to hear from you, Paul! I bow -- deeply -- to your superior knowledge of the Sage of Totnauberg. I think Adorno's own attack on MH -- in the short version I've quoted above (I'll happily admit I haven't read Jargon of Authenticity) -- is grounded on a conviction that Heidegger's discourse is trying to underwrite history-dodging ("history" defined, that is, in political/sociological/economic terms) metaphysics by a reliance on the particular metaphysical enchantment of the German tongue.

However badly I've mauled Heidegger in my own clumsy paraphrase -- the Portsmouth Sinfonia does Mahler -- I think it's a mistake to put too much emphasis on the elements of difficulty & Deutsche-worship he shares with Adorno.

Norman Finkelstein said...

An interesting sidebar to this conversation: last semester I took a faculty seminar on Beyond Good and Evil with my friend Bob Rethy, a Nietzsche scholar who chairs the Philosophy Dept. at Xavier. Bob, who is a formidible philologist with extensive knowledge of at least half a dozen languages (and how I envy him!), not only kept refering us back to the original German, but frequently would say that to really appreciate what Nietzsche was after, you had to "translate" his German back into Greek!. The operative assumption throughout (and of course, we were studying a thinker who predates Heidegger and Adorno) was not only that German had an elective affinity to philosophical thought, but that its connections to Greek as the "original" language of philosophy were also crucial to this kind of discourse.

Paul Naylor said...

I certainly agree with you about the “Deutsche-worship” both Heidegger and Adorno engage in, Mark. I can’t say it bothers me all that much in Adorno’s case; no doubt he’s a grumpy mandarin, but, as they say in the NBA, no harm, no foul. Heidegger’s “Deutsche-worship” is much more troubling to me. The word “sinister” keeps offering itself to me here, but I don’t think that’s really fair. I’ll just call it “overdetermined” and let the shrinks take it from there.

In light of what I wrote yesterday, which may give the impression I’m pro-Heidegger, I should note that there is no other writer – poet, philosopher, whatever – about whom I’m more ambivalent than Heidegger. I never seem quite able to settle accounts with him. Despite spending a good deal of time reading critiques of him and concocting my own, he keeps worming his way back on my reading table, which is probably why I’ve decided he’s too important to dismiss or ignore.

Given that, I have to say I’ve never found Adorno’s critique of Heidegger very persuasive, and I think that has to do with something Norman said in passing, that “you couldn’t have the latter w/out the former,” meaning Adorno’s essay “Lyric Poetry and Society” isn’t possible without Heidegger’s essays on poetry. That’s absolutely right, but it’s something Adorno would be loathe to admit. Adorno was either blind to the fact that he and Heidegger had an immense amount in common philosophically, or he refused to admit it. They both take their lead from Weber’s contention that modernity is characterized by the disenchantment of nature at the hands of instrumental rationality. They both offer a critique of instrumental rationality by drawing attention to that which resists instrumental rationality in particular and conceptuality in general; for Heidegger it’s the “earth” that can’t be totalized in conceptual knowledge, while for Adorno it’s the “non-identical” that resists conceptuality. And both turn to art as the primary instance of that which is non-identical to instrumental rationality. The fact that Adorno either can’t or won’t recognize that common ground and/or influence prevents him from waging a fully “immanent” critique of Heidegger; as a result, what I find in The Jargon of Authenticity and Negative Dialectics are mostly glancing blows that don’t really get at the core of what’s problematic in Heidegger.

The thinker who does get at that problematic core, in my opinion, is Emmanuel Levinas, and I’d argue that his critique of Heidegger is more powerful and persuasive partly because he acknowledged his debt to Heidegger and was, as a result, able to take Heidegger on from the inside out, so to speak, in ways that Adorno couldn’t. Levinas’ Otherwise Than Being Or Beyond Essence is the most convincing attempt to both critique Heidegger and move beyond him I’ve encountered. Like Heidegger and Adorno, Levinas revels in difficulty, but there’s no “Deutsche-worship” to contend with.

Norman Finkelstein said...

Well said, Paul. Bravo.

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