Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1989

Volume 15 Issue 2
    • 205Edward W. Said
    • At this point I should say something about one of the frequent criticisms addressed to me, and to which I have always wanted to respond, that in the process of characterizing the production of Europe’s inferior Others, my work is only negative polemic which does not advance a new epistemological approach or method, and expresses only desperation at the possibility of ever dealing seriously with other cultures. These criticisms are related to the matters I’ve been discussing so far, and while I have no desire to unleash a point-by-point refutation of my critics, I do want to respond in a way that is intellectually pertinent to the topic at hand.

      What I took myself to be undertaking in Orientalism was an adversarial critique not only of the field’s perspective and political economy, but also of the sociocultural situation that makes its discourse both so possible and so sustainable. Epistemologies, discourses, and methods like Orientalism are scarcely worth the name if they are reductively characterized as objects like shoes, patched when worn out, discarded and replaced with new objects when old and unfixable. The archival dignity, institutional authority, and patriarchal longevity of Orientalism should be taken seriously because in the aggregate these traits function as a worldview with considerable political force not easily brushed away as so much epistemology. Thus Orientalism in my view is a structure erected in the thick of an imperial contest whose dominant wing it represented and elaborated not only as scholarship but as a partisan ideology. Yet Orientalism hid the contest beneath its scholarly and aesthetic idioms. These things are what I was trying to show, in addition to arguing that there is no discipline, no structure of knowledge, no institution or epistemology that can or has ever stood free of the various sociocultural, historical, and political formations that give epochs their peculiar individuality.


      Edward W. Said is Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “An Ideology of Difference” (Autumn 1985).

    • 226W. J. T. Mitchell
    • The following articles are best described as essays “in,” not “on,” the New Art History. They exemplify what we regard as some of the most interesting new directions in the practical understanding of art: the discourse of art historical description (David Summers); the materiality of the pictorial surface (Charles Harrison); the role of genre (Norman Bryson); the relation of visual representation and language (Robert Morris, Jan Baetens, and W. J. T. Mitchell); and the mediation of social and economic history through painting (Elizabeth Helsinger). These essays constitute a kind of first installment of work resulting from out call for papers on “The Disciplines of the Eye.” This call continues to go out, and we shall welcome contributions that attempt to take stock of current thinking in the visual arts in a more general way—essays “on” as well as “in” the patterns of thought emerging in the study of visual representation.

    • 227Norman Bryson
    • It can sometimes be that when a great artist works in a particular genre, what is done within that genre can make one see as if for the first time what that genre really is, why for centuries the genre has been important, what its logic is, and what, in the end, that genre is for. I want to suggest that this is so in the case of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, and in the case of still life. Chardin’s still life painting can reveal, as almost no other classical painting of still life can, what is at stake in still life, and what is that made still life one of the enduring categories of classical European painting. Understanding Chardin can force us right back to the fundamentals of the genre, to still life’s origins in antiquity, and to the extraordinary development of the genre in the seventeenth century. Here I will be trying to investigate the genre of still life in the light of what Chardin’s work reveals about it. In a sense I will be treating hardin as a critic, and not only as a painter, though everything he has to say about the genre is said in paint, and not as argument. If we can see Chardin’s work with eyes fresh enough, we can let Chardin reveal to us still life’s inner logic, its specific problems and solutions, and not only his solutions, but the solutions other still life painters look towards. In fact we probably have to turn to a painter to understand what still life is concerned with. It has always been the least discussed and the least theorised of the classical genres, and even today it is hard to find discussions of still life at a level of sophistication comparable to that of history painting, landscape, or portraiture. It is the genre farthest from language, and so the hardest for discourse to reach. There is no obvious tradition of theoretical work on still life, and in these circumstances it is appropriate to turn to a painter’s practice for guidance. But first I need to make some preliminary observations about a striking and defining feature of the genre: its exclusion of the human form, and its seeming assault on the value and prestige of the human subject.


      Norman Bryson is professor of comparative literature at the University of Rochester and editor of the series Cambridge New Art History and Criticism. He is the author of Tradition and Desire: From David to Delacroix (1984) and the editor of Calligram: Essays in New Art History from France (1988). He is currently completing a study of still life painting, Looking at the Overlooked (1989).

    • 253Elizabeth Helsinger
    • John Constable is one of England’s best-known landscape painters and greatest artists. While few will object to this statement, what it means will depend on when it was made. In the 150 years since his death in 1837, the terms of Constable’s greatness have shifted several times. In the nineteenth century his scenes of the Stour Valley in Suffolk were valued as images of a particularly English countryside: the placid river with its locks and barges, great overhanging trees, and distant green water-meadows beneath massive cloudy skies. In this century, though the popular conviction of his Englishness persists, Constable is better known as “The Natural Painter.”1 As modernism rewrote the history of art, Constable was rediscovered as the man who excited Eugène Delacroix and other French artists in the 1820s: the natural painter whose freedom of technique, color, and chiaroscuro suggested a new way of representing the truth of landscape. The happy accident of his reception in France in the 1820s anchors English claims to participate in the development of an international style that moves through impressionism toward the more purely painterly and formal values of modernism. This Constable probably still dominates contemporary critical discussions of his work: the truthful student of nature who is also a painter’s painter.2 There is more than a little chauvinism in this view of Constable, but it is the national feeling of a less confident age, always looking over its shoulder to other countries like France.


      1. This is the title of Graham Reynolds’ seminal book, Constable, the Natural Painter (London, 1965).

      2. See, for example, Malcolm Cormack’s recent book, Constable (New York and Oxford, 1986); hereafter abbreviated C.


      Elizabeth Helsinger is professor of English at the University of Chicago and coeditor of Critical Inquiry. Her Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder was published in 1982. This essay is part of a book in progress on representations of the rural scene in Victorian England.

    • 280Jan Baetens
    • In recent years, the problem of value has been drastically pushed away towards the periphery of the discipline of literary studies. More and more, this fact has come to be experienced as a source of frustration and misunderstandings.1 In this article, I would like to show the great extent to which a value-oriented approach is in fact inevitable. By the same token, however, I will also indicate the disturbing ambiguities that the consideration of the value-dimension may reveal. The example I will use for my demonstration, the case of the French photographic novel (figs. 1-3), is fairly straightforward (as all examples ought to be), but at the same time it betrays my slightly polemical intentions, since this genre is undoubtedly held in low esteem both within and without the domain of literary scholarship.

      It seems reasonable to assume that our twentieth century, with its turbulent successions of competing fashions and trends, has radically affected the concept of value, that is, the dialectical game of valorization and devalorization. The notion of value has of course become subject to “devaluations” on the content-level, as the mixtures and the instabilities of the criteria called on clearly lattest.2 In addition—and more important—value has been disobjectified, that is, snatched from the object of the judgment and located on the side of the judging subject.


      Jan Baetens teaches French at the Vlaamse Economische Hogeschool (Flemish High School for Economic Studies). He is the author of three books: Aux frontiers du récit: “Fable” de Robert Pinget comme “nouveau nouveau roman” (1987); Hergé écrivain: microlectures de Tintin (forthcoming); and Les Mesures de l’excès: notes pour un traverse de “Eglogues” de Renaud Camus et al. (forthcoming). He is currently at work on the various aspects of grammatextuality in literature and the comics.

    • 292Charles Harrison
    • Lucas van Valckenborch’s Winter Landscape (fig. 1) hangs in the Kinsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It was painted four hundred years ago as one of a set of the four seasons. Measured by sales of reproductions, it is one of the most popular paintings in the museum, though it is by no means the most distinguished example of the genre to which it belongs. The picture is a snow scene. In the long series of represented planed that recede from foreground to horizon, fallen snow covers fields and roves. Across the surface of the canvas and scarcely diminishing in scale from bottom to top, touches of white paint represent falling snow. It is not a small painting, and these are not mere feathery indications, but palpable dabs from a loaded brush. To a taste fed on Modernist painting—or, for the pedantic, to a prejudice fuelled by Modernist accounts of painting—it is by virtue of this surprising frankness that the painting achieves more than mere anecdotal charm. It is not the illusion of depth in the picture that holds our sophisticated attention, nor the atmospheric re-creation of a leaden sky, nor do we admit to being engaged by the over-rehearsed animation of the peasants. What gives us pleasurable pause is the strange and distinctive form of skepticism about appearances that is set in play when the allure of imaginative depth meets resistance from the vividness of decorated surface.5


      5. Wollheim (Painting as an Art, p. 21) uses the term ‘twofoldness’ for ‘this strange duality—of seeing the marked surface, and of seeing something in the surface.’ In his account this experience leads to a thematizing of the image, which ‘ushers in representation.’ Translated into his terminology, my suggestion would be that the Winter Landscape can be seen as catering to a Modernistic taste for the thematizing of ‘twofoldness’ itself.


      Charles Harrison is staff tutor and reader in the history of art at the Open University. He is the author of English Art and Modernism 1900-1939 (1981), and he is now completing a second volume, English Art and Modernism 1940-1985. He is co-author (with Fred Orton) of A Provisional History of Art & Language (1982), and his most recent book—Essays on Art and Language—is due out in 1989. He has been associated with the Art & Language group since 1971 and is editor of the journal Art-Language.

    • 337Robert Morris
    • To speak of the nature of an image is to initiate a problematic second only to that raised by considerations of the nature of language. To inquire into the relations between image and language is to step into a very old philosophical problem. Nevertheless, I would hope at least to approach the edge of such an encounter in the attempt to see what relevance it might have for recent past art. Certainly the term “image” has had a long and embattled history. A taxonomy and a genealogy of the term might be in order. Do we wish to speak of mental images or of optical ones? What about perceptual images or the verbal images of descriptions and metaphors? To consider the sense data and appearances of the perceptual, or the dreams, fantasies, memories, and ideas of the mental image is to review an entire Western philosophical discourse. We might consider the issue of what may or may not be in the mind as an image; or the relation of visual images to linguistic terms; or the relation between objects and visual images that stand for them. Certainly the ways of formulating such relations have decided the divisions of Western metaphysics. Representational theories of the mind revolve around such issues and imply the persistent division of mind from body, subject from object.

      Let me say right away that my interests here are not to review an entire philosophical discourse with the hope of establishing a clarity of distinctions between the imagistic (whatever it is) and the linguistic. Rather the assumption here is that the two are inextricably entangled, and the interest is to see how certain art in this century has resisted or embraced this entanglement.


      Robert Morris is an artist and a professor at Hunter College. A collection of his writings is forthcoming.

    • 348W. J. T. Mitchell
    • This may be an especially favorable moment in intellectual history to come to some understanding of notions like “abstraction” and “the abstract,” if only because these terms seem so clearly obsolete, even antiquated, at the present time. The obsolescence of abstraction is exemplified most vividly by its centrality in a period of cultural history that is widely perceived as being just behind us, the period of modernism, ranging roughly from the beginning of the twentieth century to the aftermath of the Second World War.1 Abstract art is now a familiar feature of our cultural landscape; it has become a monument to an era that is passing from living memory into history. The experiments of cubism and abstract expressionism are no longer “experimental” or shocking: abstraction has not been associated with the artistic avant-garde for at least a quarter of a century, and its central masterpieces are now firmly entrenched in the tradition of Western painting and safely canonized in our greatest museums. That does not mean that there will be no more abstract paintings, or that the tradition is dead; on the contrary, the obsolescence we are contemplating is in a very precise sense the precondition for abstraction’s survival as a tradition that resists any possible assault from an avant-garde. Indeed, the abstract probably has more institutional and cultural power as a rearguard tradition than it ever did as an avant-garde overturning of tradition. For that very reason its self-representations need to be questioned more closely than ever, especially its account of its own nature and history. This seems important, not just to set the record straight about what abstract art was, but to enable critical and artistic experimentation in the present, and a more nuanced account of both pre-and postmodern at, both of which are in danger of being swallowed up by the formulas (and reactions against the formulas) of abstract formalism. If art and criticism are to continue to play an oppositional and interventionist role in our time, passive acceptance and reproduction of a powerful cultural tradition like abstract art will simply not do.


      1. I define modernism and “the age of abstraction” here in familiar art historical terms, as a period extending from Kandinsky and Malevich to (say) Jasper Johns and Morris Louis. There are other views of this matter which would trace modernism back to the emergence of an avant-garde in the 1840s (T. J. Clark), or to romanticism (Stanley Cavell), or to the eighteenth century (Robert Rosenblum, Michael Fried). My claim would be that “the abstract” as such only becomes a definitive slogan for modernism with the emergence of abstract painting around 1900.


      W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is professor of English and a member of the Committee on Art and Design at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology.

    • 372David Summers
    • It will be useful to consider briefly how the ideas surrounding “form” work in practice. Such ideas rapidly developed to a high stage of sophistication, subtlety, and complexity, but they did not, I believe, stray from the foundations I have tried to indicate for them. Let us consider the example of Wilhelm Worringer, who, like Alois Riegl, found it preferable to discuss ornament rather than images because ornament is a purer expression of form and therefore provides a less encumbered view into form’s spiritual meaning. Concerning interlace ornament of the first millennium in Northern Europe, Worringer wrote that it is “impossible to mistake the restless life contained in this tangle of lines”; it is “the decisive formula for the whole medieval North.” The “need for empathy of this inharmonious people” requires the “uncanny pathos which attaches to the animation of the inorganic”; the “inner disharmony and unclarity of these peoples … could have borne no clearer fruit.”4 Here forms—mostly lines and edges and their relations—are compared to a natural outgrowth, a fruit, and are interpreted in such a way as to permit the characterization of all peoples among whom artifacts with such forms were made and used. The range of formal style becomes coextensive with the range of the deep principles of the worldview of races, nations, and epochs.

      It is not necessary to follow the ideas of form and expression to quite the hypertrophied consequences Worringer did, although many authors have done so and many more have done so less systematically. The important thing for my purposes is the pattern of inference from form to historical statements and conclusion.


      4. Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, trans. Michael Bullock (Cleveland and New York, 1967), p. 77.


      David Summers is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Art at the University of Virginia. The author of Michelangelo and the Language of Art (1981) and The Judgment of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics (1987), he is currently writing a book to be titled The Defect of Distance: Toward a University History of Art.

    • 407Arnold I. Davidson
    • Through the thickets of recent debates, I take two facts as clear enough starting points. The first is that Heidegger’s participation in National Socialism, and especially his remarks and pronouncements after the war, were, and remain, horrifying. The second is that Heidegger remains of the essential philosophers of our century; Maurice Blanchot testifies for several generations when he refers to the “veritable intellectual shock” that the reading of Being and Time produced in him.5 And Emmanuel Levinas, not hesitating to express his reservations about Heidegger, can nevertheless bring himself to say that a person “who undertakes to philosophize in the twentieth century cannot not have gone through Hiedegger’s philosophy, even to escape it.”6 In this century, perhaps only Ludwig Wittgenstein has had a comparable impact and influence on philosophy. I do not mean to deny that one can reject the over seventy volumes of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe as worthless, that one can, as with Wittgenstein, find that his work is obscure, indulgent, impossible to read, that nothing in it contributes to philosophy. But both Heidegger and Wittgenstein write in anticipation of this reaction, recognizing that their desires, differently articulated, to overcome philosophy will help to determine how their writing is received. Stanley Cavell’s characterization of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations describes (not by chance) Heidegger as well:

      Philosophical Investigations, like the major modernist works of the past century at least, is, logically speaking, esoteric. That is, such works seek to split their audience into insiders and outsiders (and split each member of it); hence they create the particular unpleasantness of cults (at best as a specific against the particular unpleasantness of indifference or intellectual promiscuousness, combating partialness by partiality); hence demand for their sincere reception the shock of conversion.7

      When combined with Heidegger’s political engagement, the particular unpleasantness of cults and indifference are more than joined. Thus it can seem as though one must either exculpate Heidegger, explain away his relation to Nazism as an aberration from the outside, or reject his thought entirely, declare that his books should no longer be read. In an attempt to begin to confront these issues, Critical Inquiry is publishing this symposium.


      5. Maurice Blanchot, “Thinking the Apocalypse: A Letter from Maurice Blanchot to Catherine David,” trans. Paula Wissing, p. 479 of this issue.

      6. Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh, 1985), p. 42. See also the last line of Gadamer, “ ‘Back from Syracuse?’ “ p. 430.

      7. Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy (New York and Oxford, 1979), p. xvi; hereafter abbreviated CR.


      Arnold I. Davidson, a coeditor of Critical Inquiry, is associate professor of philosophy and member of the Committees on General Studies in the Humanities and on the Conceptual Foundations of Science at the University of Chicago. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “Sex and the Emergence of Sexuality” (Autumn 1987).

    • 427Hans-Georg Gadamer
    • It has been claimed, out of admiration for the great thinker, that his political errors have nothing to do with his philosophy. If only we could be content with that! Wholly unnoticed was how damaging such a “defense” of so important a thinker really is. And how could it be made consistent with the fact that the same man, in the fifties, saw and said things about the industrial revolution and technology that today are still truly astonishing for their foresight?

      In any case: no surprise should be expected from those of us who, for fifty years, have reflected on what dismayed us in those days and separated us from Heidegger for many years: no surprise when we hear that in 1933—and for years previous, and for how long after?—he “believed” in Hitler. But Heidegger was also no mere opportunist. If we wish to dignify his political engagement by calling it a “standpoint,” it would be far better to call it a political “illusion,” which had notably little to do with political reality. If Heidegger later, in the face of all realities, would again dream his dream from those days, the dream of a “people’s religion” [Volksreligion], the later version would embrace his deep disappointment over the actual course of affairs. But he continued guarding that dream—and kept silent about it. Earlier, in 1933 and 1934, he thought he was following his dream, and fulfilling his deepest philosophical mission, when he tried to revolutionize the university from the ground up. It was for that that he did everything that horrified us at that time. For him the sole issue was to break the political influence of the church and the tenacity of academic bossdom. Even Ernst Jünger’s vision of “the worker” [der Arbeiter] was given a place beside his own ideas about overcoming the metaphysical tradition via the reawakening of Being. Later, as is known, Heidegger wandered all the way to his radical talk of the end of philosophy. That was his “revolution.”


      Hans-Georg Gadamer is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. His books include Truth and Method, Philosophical Hermeneutics, The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy, and The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays. John McCumber, associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, is the author of Poetic Interaction: Language, Freedom, Reason (forthcoming).

    • 431J├╝rgen Habermas
    • From the perspective of a contemporary German reader, one consideration is particularly important from the start. Illumination of the political conduct of Martin Heidegger cannot and should not serve the purpose of a global depreciation of his thought. As a personality of recent history, Heidegger comes, like every other such personality, under the judgment of the historian. In Farias’ book as well, actions and courses of conduct are presented that suggest a detached evaluation of Heidegger’s character. But in general, as members of a later generation who cannot know how we would have acted under conditions of a political dictatorship, we do well to refrain from moral judgments on actions and omissions from the Nazi era. Karl Jaspers, a friend and contemporary of Heidegger, was in a different position. In a report that the denazification committee of the University of Freiburg at the end of 1945, he passed judgment on Heidegger’s “mode of thinking”: it seemed to him “in its essence unfree, dictatorial, uncommunicative.”7 This judgment is itself no less informative about Jaspers than about Heidegger. In making evaluations of this sort Jaspers, as can be seen from his book on Friedrich Schelling, was guided by the strict maxim that whatever truth a philosophical doctrine contains must be mirrored in the mentality and lifestyle of the philosopher. This rigorous conception of the unity of work and person seems to me inadequate to the autonomy of thought and, indeed, to the general history of the reception and influence of philosophical thought. I do not mean by this to deny all internal connection between philosophical works and the biographical contexts from which they come—or to limit the responsibility attached to an author, who during his lifetime can always react to unintended consequences of his utterances.


      7. Ott, “Martin Heidegger und der Nationalsozialismus,” p. 65.


      Jürgen Habermas is professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. His most recent books include the two-volume work Theory of Communicative Action (1984) and The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (1987). John McCumber is an associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern University. He is the author of Poetic Interaction: Language, Freedom, Reason (forthcoming).

    • 457Jacques Derrida
    • I shall speak of ghost [revenant], of flame and of ashes.

      And of what, for Heidegger, avoiding means.

      What is avoiding? Heidegger on several occasions uses the common word Vermeiden: to avoid, to flee, to dodge. What might he have meant when it comes to “spirit” or the “spiritual”? I specify immediately: not spirit or the spiritual but Geist, geistig, geistlich, for this question will be, through and through, that of language. Do these German words allow themselves to be translated? In another sense: are they avoidable?

      Sein und Zeit (1927): what does Heidegger say at that time? He announces and he prescribes. He warns [avertit]: a certain number of terms will have to be avoided (vermeiden). Among them, spirit (Geist). In 1953, more than twenty-five years later—and this was not just any quarter-century—in the great text devoted to Georg Trakl, Heidegger notes that Trakl always took care to avoid (vermeiden again) the word geistig. And, visibly, Heidegger approves him in this; he thinks the same. But this time, it is not Geist nor even geistlich that is to be avoided, but geistig.

      How are we to delimit the difference, and what has happened? What of this meantime? How are we to explain that in twenty-five years, between these two warning signals (“avoid,” “avoid using”), Heidegger made a frequent, regular, marked (if not remarked) use of all this vocabulary, including the adjective geistig? And that he often spoke not only of the word “spirit” but, sometimes yielding to the emphatic mode, in the name of spirit?


      Jacques Derrida is Directeur d’Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris) and also teaches at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “Like the Sound of the Sea Deep within a Shell: Paul de Man’s War” (Spring 1988). An English translation of De l’espirit: Heidegger et la question is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. Geoff Bennington, author of Lyotard: Writing the Event, is a lecturer in French at the University of Sussex. Rachel Bowlby, author of Virginia Woolf: Feminist Destinations, is a lecturer in English at the University of Sussex.

    • 475Maurice Blanchot
    • I prefer to put this in a letter to you instead of writing an article that would lead one to believe that I have any authority to speak on the subject of what has, in a roundabout way, become the H. and H. affair (just as there was Luchaire affair, a Chaumet affair, and so on). In other words, a cause of extreme seriousness, already discussed many times although certainly endless in nature, has been taken up by a storm of media attention, which has brought us to the lowest of passions, intense emotions, and even violence. I understand why people are talking about Victor Farias, who has contributed some unpublished information—with a polemical intent, it is true, that does not help one to appreciate its true value. But how has it happened that Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s book, published in 1987, was greeted by a silence that I am perhaps the first to break?1 It is because he avoids anecdotal accounts, all the while citing and situating most of the facts mentioned by Farias. He is severe and rigorous. He lays essential questions before us.


      1. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, La Fiction du politique: Heidegger, l’art et la politique (Paris, 1987). I also cite Lacoue-Labarthe’s book, La Poésie comme experience (Paris, 1986), devoted to Paul Celan.


      Maurice Blanchot, one of France’s preeminent writers, has written, among many other books, The Last Man, Death Sentence, The Madness of the Day, and The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays. Paula Wissing, a free-lance translator and editor, has recently translated Paul Veyne’s Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?

    • 481Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
    • Something … happened … in the first half of this century, and the second half, hovering between nightmare and parody, is only its shadow. Even so we must take its measure. Not on a small scale, based on the last three or four centuries…. But since philosophy, even in its possibility, is at stake, the true assessment, incalculable as it is, of the entire history of the West is needed. And that is another matter altogether.

      We know that this other matter was, at the time, the Heidegger affair…. Since Nietzsche no thinker has delved so deeply and so far into the question of the essence of philosophy (and consequently, the essence of thought), nor has there been anyone who has opened a dialogue of such breadth and rigor with the tradition of the West. Nonetheless, a detail concerning this subject requires our attention: to subscribe, as I do, to Heidegger’s theses (and particularly to his theses about philosophy), or even to grant a primary place to his thought, does not amount to any kind of declaration or profession of “Heideggerianism,” as it is called…. Strictly speaking, the idea of a “Heideggerianism” is meaningless. It is not out of coyness or inconsistency that Heidegger constantly reminded us that “there is no philosophy of Heidegger.” This clearly was an expression of his own question in condensed form: the question of Being could not in any way produce a new thesis on Being or, even less, give rise to any sort of “concept of the world.” …


      Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe teaches philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. His books include The Literary Absolute (with Jean-Luc Nancy), Le Sujet de la philosophie, L’imitation des moderns, and, most recently, La Fiction du politique, forthcoming in an English translation from Basil Blackwell Press. Paula Wissing is a free-lance translator and editor. She has recently translated Paul Veyne’s Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?

    • 485Emmanuel Levinas
    • I learned very early, perhaps even before 1933 and certainly after Hitler’s huge success at the time of his election to the Reichstag, of Heidegger’s sympathy toward National Socialism. It was the late Alexandre Koyré who mentioned it to me for the first time on his return from a trip to Germany. I could not doubt the news, but took it with stupor and disappointment, and also with the faint hope that it expressed only the temporary lapse of a great speculative mind into practical banality. It cast a shadow over my firm confidence that an unbridgeable distance forever separated the delirious and criminal hatred voiced by Evil on the pages of Mein Kampf from the intellectual vigor and extreme analytical virtuosity displayed in Sein und Zeit, which had opened the field to a new type of philosophical inquiry.

      Could one question the incomparable impression produced by this book, in which it immediately became apparent that Heidegger was the interlocutor and equal of the greatest—those very few—founders of European philosophy? that here was someone, this seemed obvious, all modern thought would soon have to answer?


      Emmanuel Levinas has been professor of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure Israélite de Paris and at the University of Paris I (Sorbonne). Among his books that have been translated into English are Totality and Infinity, Ethics and Infinity, and Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence. Paula Wissing, a free-lance translator and editor, has recently translated Paul Veyne’s Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?