Friday, March 26, 2010
Braver, Lee. Review of Bret W. Davis, ed. MARTIN HEIDEGGER: THE KEY CONCEPTS. NDPR (March 2010).
Davis, Bret W., ed. Martin Heidegger: Key Concepts. Chesham: Acumen, 2010. How does one make Heidegger accessible? Explaining philosophers to non-experts is often a tricky business, courting the perils of either dissipating the ideas in trite slogans or merely circulating jargon-like secret passwords known only to the initiated. But with Heidegger, the passage between these dangers is particularly treacherous, as Bret W. Davis acknowledges on the first page of Martin Heidegger: Key Concepts. His solution is to select a number of important ideas that range across great swaths of Heidegger's work, and have prominent scholars "clearly and concisely articulate . . . their understanding of the key concepts of their particular areas of expertise" (xi). Each discussion guides readers through a specific topic; combined in a roughly chronological order, they offer an overview of his oeuvre. The essays are fairly short (usually 10-12 pages) and are broken into bite-size portions, allowing readers to find quick clarifications of particular subjects. Moreover, the editor has inserted references to the relevant chapter when its topic appears in a different essay, enabling the reader to follow up on ideas that catch their attention. Many of the chapters interweave nicely, combining for a total greater than the sum of the parts. Davis' goal is to present essays valuable both to those first approaching Heidegger and to those who know his work well. Obviously, "this daunting balancing act" (xi) is difficult to achieve since these aims tend to pull in opposite directions. The more an article succeeds in giving a general introduction to a topic, the less it usually offers to those conversant with the subject. Conversely, the more an article aims at expanding the knowledge of experts, the more likely it is to leave the uninitiated behind. Davis admits that many of the essays emphasize the one aim at the expense of the other (xii), and it would be difficult to reach any other conclusion. However, most do accomplish one of the goals -- no small achievement in itself -- and some succeed in pleasing both audiences by following a single thread throughout Heidegger's various texts and periods, orienting new readers while simultaneously providing the experienced with a helpful overview of the development of a topic. In general, I think that it would have been more beneficial for new readers had the authors covered less ground but with more detailed elucidation. The individual entries, as with most collections, vary in quality and in how they negotiate the trade-off between accessible elucidation and esoteric disquisition. It is to these that I now turn. . . . Read the whole review here: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=19267.