Monday, October 10, 2011

Mulhall, Stephen. Review of Michael Watts, THE PHILOSOPHY OF HEIDEGGER. NDPR (October, 2011).

Watts, Michael.  The Philosophy of Heidegger.  Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2011.

This book enters what is by now a rather crowded field: that of providing an introduction to Heidegger's thought (as opposed to a detailed critical engagement with any specific element of it). It aims to survey at least the main themes of Heidegger's writings early and late, rather than focusing exclusively on a particular text or phase of thinking within that immense body of work; and because it also aspires to a certain immediacy and accessibility of style, it tends to avoid detailed engagement with either the established secondary literature or the broader philosophical debates that literature invokes. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the book follow more or less directly from these choices of focus and method.

The structure of the discussion is clear at a general level. After a very brief summary of the main events of Heidegger's life, the second chapter presents Heidegger's interest in the question of (the meaning of) Being as the thread that holds together his life's work; then chapters 2 to 7 present some of the central concepts and themes of Being and Time; chapters 7 to 11 examine a handful of dominant issues in the later writings (covering the period from the 1930s to the 1970s); and the book ends with the now obligatory chapter on Heidegger's politics.

Since there isn't a conclusion, and only a very brief introduction, the reader is given no explicit account of the specific aspects of Heidegger's thought that particularly interest the author, or of what distinguishes the perspective Watts brings to bear on the material from those of any other commentator on Heidegger (not even from those who have similarly attempted to provide an introduction to Heidegger's thought). One might wonder whether the individuality of the treatment rather comes through implicitly, in the choice of concepts or topics to focus upon: but it is hard to believe that anyone faced with the (admittedly unenviable) task of covering the basic elements of Heidegger's thinking would not feel obliged to attend to readiness-to-hand and authenticity, guilt and conscience, truth and meaning in Being and Time, and to art and poetry, technology and Asian thought with respect to the later essays and lectures. Judging by the preliminaries and (as it were) the contents page, then, it's not at all obvious what is meant to distinguish this introduction from its many competitors. . . .

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