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Re: [xmca] Intransitivity and Intransigence


There are two treatments of language in Being & Time. One is that speech is a tool, an aspect of the network of equipment each of us finds ourself in. The other is that language is constitutive, a ground against which entities can show up. Neither is fully adequate, and they don't fit together very well. But in neither case does it seem to me that Heidegger was suggesting that language is immediate.

Look, Heidegger was grappling with a problem that none of us has yet solved. Once we accept that humans are products of culture, on what basis do we judge what is ethical conduct? Is it simply what is acceptable within the norms of our particular society? Or is there some kind of external vantage point from which we can judge and critique these norms? The Frankfurt School, despite its admirable intentions, has not been able so far to solve this problem; Habermas' attempt to articulate a communicative ethics, in which language itself, or the communicative situation, contains resources that will enable us to decide together what is fair and just, has not in my view been successful.

For many Marxists the criterion was provided by the belief in an end point to history. The socialist state would treat everyone fairly, and almost any actions were justified in order to achieve it, including revolution, terror and oppression. Heidegger's writing on authenticity is shaped, in my view, by his Catholic education rather than by his totalitarian sympathies. The criterion for ethical action, for him, was provided by the past, by the traditional way of life of the ancient Greeks before the fall of humankind into technological thinking. Becoming authentic was a matter of adopting the right kind of attitude to this old tradition, handing it down to the next generation. One can immediately see how Hitler's rhetoric might have resonated with such a view, and this shows shows some of its difficulties. But the problem remains, and surely it is one we have to solve.


On Oct 21, 2009, at 8:58 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

I think a lot of what Adorno is attacking in Heidegger is his attempt to restore immediacy to language through a 'jargon of authenticity'; this is what he recognizes as a link between Heidegger the philosopher and Heidegger the Nazi, and I think he is right.

"The term 'commission' sets itself up with unquestioned authority in the vulgar jargon of authenticity. The fallibility of the term is hushed up by the absolute use of the word. By leaving out of consideration the organizations and people which give commissions, the term establishes itself as a linguistic eyrie of totalitarian orders. It does this without rational examination of the right of those who usurp for themselves the charisma of the leader. Shy theology allies itself with secular brazeness. There exist cross- connections between the jargon of authenticity and old school like phrases, like that which was once observed by Tucholsky: 'That's the way it's done here.' The same holds true for the trick of military command, which dresses an imperative in the guise of a predicative sentence. By eleminating all linguistic traces of the will of the superior, that whichi s intended is given greater emphasis. Thus the impression is created that it is necessary to obey, since what is demanded already occurs factually. 'The participants on this trip, in memory of our heroes, assemble in Luneberg.' Heidegger, too, cracks the whip when he italicizes the auxiliary verb in the sentence, 'Death _is_'."

Adorno, T.W. (1964/1973) The Jargon of Authenticity. London: Routledge Classics. p. 71.

Everything Adorno says about Heidegger's love of the intransitive could be said with equal justice about the Rumsfeldian nonaccusative "Stuff happens" (which was taken, in turn, from a slightly more scatological expression current in the military). But the ideas Adorno is attacking cannot really be attached to one grammatical mood or another; as he points out, the use of the declarative instead of the imperative actually enhances the absolute and categorical quality of the expression rather than undermining it by attaching arguments to the verb. This is because in the imperative there is a very clear subject and object directly recoverable from context. In contrast, real culture, including political culture, is always mediated:

"That which legitimately could be called culture attempted, as an expression of suffering and contradition, to maintain a grasp on the idea of the good life. Culture cannot represent either that which merely exists or the conventional and no longer binding categories of order which the culture industry drapes over the idea of the good life as if existing reality were the good life, as if those categories were its true measure."

Adorno, T.W. (1981/1991) The Culture Industry. London: Routledge Classics, p. 104.

As a Nazi, Heidegger was not a weak man at all--he was sufficiently strong to actively and enthusiastically finger a number of his colleagues to the Gestapo (including one who later won a Nobel prize for chemistry). He was also sufficiently petty minded to have his own mentor, Edmund Husserl, barred from using the library at the University of Freiburg in his retirement on the grounds that Husserl was of "Jewish ancestry". It seems to me that it was Arendt who was too weak to disentangle the man's thoughts, his politics, and his personal charm; in retrospect her celebrated phrase "the banality of evil" has a deceptively disarming ring.

Of course LSV too used a lot of work from intellectuals who later became fascists. So much so that Vygotsky got started on the necessary de-Nazification of his own work in "Fascism and Psychoneurology", which Andy has kindly made available for free download at:


But this essay is not simply a belated attempt to cover his ass, or even a heartfelt expression of his genuine rage and sense of betrayal (though there is a lot of that). It is a serious attempt to put some critical distance between himself and psychologists who had an undoubted influence on Vygotsky's early work: Ach and Jaensch to name only two.

"Wolves and Other Vygotskyan Constructs", and before it, Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech relies on an experiment which was largely taken from Ach and Rimat. Ach was one of the first psychologists to embrace Nazism, and really did believe in a "determining tendency" in activities. This entirely externally determined, object-orientation later became the notion of a "national will" which drew people to Hitler, and this is what Carl Jung picked up on in his infamous statement that it was entirely natural for the German people to follow their Fuhrer.

In contrast, LSV insists on the subjectivity of the subject from the get go, and he volition of the child right to the end. LSV's first stage of preconceptual thinking, that of syncretism (random heaps, spatial heaps, and two-step heaps that are rather like dealing a shuffled deck of cards to create similarly shuffled decks for each of the players), is almost undiluted subjectivity; no "determining tendency" is present other than the action of the subject. Paula's work work with three year old subjects shows this beautifully.

But even the later categories, such as the complexes, depend not simply on the "aim" or the "goal" of the task, but on the objective, concrete, factual links which are noticed by the child and systematized accordingly. The words which organize the child's activity are clearly mediate, contingent, and not some kind of omnipresent super-genetic influence. Conceptual thinking, of course, is even more mediated by the words of others and by the thoughts of the subject; it's the recognition of the "I" in the word "it".

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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