Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kaufer, Stefan. Review of Mark A. Wrathall, HEIDEGGER AND UNCONCEALMENT. NDPR (July 2011).

Wrathall, Mark A.  Heidegger and Unconcealment: Truth, Language, and History.  Cambridge: CUP, 2010.

This volume collects eight previously published and two new essays Mark Wrathall has written on the topics of truth, language, and history in the work of the later Heidegger. This body of work is an astonishing achievement. Wrathall's writing is clear and comprehensive, ranging across virtually all of Heidegger's collected works. The essays are full of illuminating examples and draw with equal expertise on the history of philosophy and the literary and religious contexts that inform Heidegger's writing. Wrathall's overall interpretation of Heidegger's work is crystal clear, compelling, and relevant. Every philosopher interested in Heidegger should read this book.

Wrathall's work provides a much need roadmap to Heidegger's later work. "Later Heidegger" refers to views worked out after Being and Time. Beginning in the 1930s Heidegger no longer focuses on the phenomenology of individual existence. Instead, he turns to broader themes about the history of being, i.e., the different ways humans have experienced the being of entities, the nature of language, and the receding role of the divine in our technological age. Around the same time Heidegger also adopts novel styles of doing philosophy. He interprets paintings, poetry, and the pre-Socratics, and he often ventures poetical uses of language in his own writing. For almost half a century he produces essays, talks, letters, dialogues, and lecture notes, but no real book that sums up his views.

Clear philosophical interpretations of "early Heidegger," in particular of Being and Time, have been available for more than two decades now, and a generation of interpreters has produced excellent scholarship on Heidegger's existential analytic and its implications for the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, the philosophy of perception, and related fields. Later Heidegger, however, has largely resisted fruitful interpretations. In part this is because Heidegger's topics are so broad and abstract, and because he frequently uses language in unconventional ways. Further, the lack of a single, sustained authoritative text requires scholars to piece together a view from lecture notes and essays. Most significantly, there are some basic misunderstandings that impede progress towards successful interpretations. One reason why Wrathall's essays are so important is that he patiently and convincingly clears up some of these basic misunderstandings. . . .


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