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Reivew of Heidegger Beyond Deconstruction: On Nature by Michael Lewis

Reivew of Heidegger Beyond Deconstruction: On Nature by Michael Lewis

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Published by AnthonyPaulSmith
Review, draft only. Appears in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Volume 40 Number 1 (January 2009)
Review, draft only. Appears in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Volume 40 Number 1 (January 2009)

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Published by: AnthonyPaulSmith on Nov 27, 2009
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Lewis, London and New York: Continuum, 2007, viii+ pp. 184, Hbk., £65.00. ISBN13 - 978-0826497796. Michael Lewis’ Heidegger Beyond Deconstruction: On Nature is an original investigation into the question of nature in Heidegger’s philosophy. The main thesis of the book may be stated in this way: nature’s imminent apocalyptic demise, due to its subjugation under humanity’s technology, uniquely discloses nature for the first time and Heidegger’s philosophy exceptionally allows an awareness of that revealing in his thinking of the ‘near’ (important, readers of Being and Time will remember, for Heidegger’s understanding of the relationship between Dasein and tools). In order to argue that Heidegger’s philosophy is an invaluable resource to thinking through the environmental crisis Lewis must show how Heidegger moves beyond the anthropocentrism of his early work Being and Time. Overcoming this anthropocentrism will also show that Heidegger allows nature to reveal itself as condition of, and not creation of, humanity. Lewis’ antagonist for this investigation is the deconstructive criticisms of Heidegger’s conception of the near and the figure which allows Lewis to parry such deconstructive thrusts is found in Slavoj Žižek. While Derrida’s reading of Heidegger, and thus the Heidegger presented in deconstruction, is rejected and argued against in the book, Lewis does not write extensively on Derrida’s critique. Rather, and refreshingly, Lewis presents his alternative reading of Heidegger casually without appearing desperate to protect Heidegger from Derrida. Derrida is merely taken as a foil with which Lewis must engage in order to present a Heidegger on nature and beyond deconstruction, rather than an opponent that must be destroyed. Lewis first evades the criticism of the ‘near’ by agreeing that there is a problem in the early Heidegger but that Heidegger himself realized this and responded to it. The problem may be located in the Urfaktum of temporarity that has been taken by many to be a philosophical anthropology which is necessarily anthropocentric. Lewis argues that Heidegger’s concept of temporarity is not anthropocentric, since finitude does not belong solely to humanity, but rather the mistake of the early Heidegger is taking temporarity as a grounding fact that admits of no further explanation. For there was still something that continues to intrude and is not intelligible via temporarity and thus grounds it. This thing is nature. It is the thing, which is another name for nature as it is being revealed in its destruction, that Heidegger comes to in his realization that world involves earth and that divinity involves man (and vice versa) – all of which is named the fourfold that determines the individuation of being. In order to explain how this thing always exceeds the world, by which is meant the totality of signification, Lewis turns to a heuristic dual reading of Heidegger alongside Lacan. For Lacan the Thing (which he capitalizes) is the perfect thing and does not exist; it is instead the very void and condition upon which desire builds itself. The Thing cannot be circumscribed within the symbolic, since it precedes the symbolic as condition, as evidenced by attempts in “sublime art” which show that the signifier elides something. Thus both Heidegger and Lacan think the thing in order to think an inhuman entity outside of the opposition of subject and object, and thus outside any appropriative use of the thing, i.e. nature. Lewis is thus presenting the reader with a kind of realist Heidegger that is looking for the thing in itself, as the thing properly is,

rather than as it appears for us, which is always veiled in a forgetting of the excess beyond the signifier. This allows Lewis to turn deconstruction’s charge of anthropomorphism back at it, though indirectly through another dual reading of Heidegger with Levinas this time. The idea being that, insofar as Derrida recognizes in Levinas a forbearer of his own deconstructive philosophy, the critique of Levinas may also come to bear on that of Derrida as well. Lewis argues that Levinas’ philosophy anthropomorphizes being in general as oneness by modelling it on the ethical situation of the human One and the human Other after individuation from the il y a. While this does not bestow upon human beings wholeness, split as they are in between One and the Other, it does bestow this on the pre-individual ground, the il y a, where there is no Other because there is no death. As the pre-individual ground may be understood as nature upon which humanity, the One and the Other, is dependent Levinas can be seen to say that nature has a oneness or wholeness. However, in so far as in Heidegger actual death is that which individuates beings, his understanding of nature can be traced onto Žižek’s intertwining of Hegel and Lacan and ‘the incompleteness of beings as a whole.’ Said otherwise, there is death in nature and from this fact it becomes manifest that nature is itself incomplete. This is a clear statement against those conceptions of nature that propose nature to be a whole that then gives secure grounding to natural things. At the same time, it does not claim that nature lacks the power of creation or is somehow passive. Rather it is because of this character of incompleteness that signification and individuation are possible within nature, for without such the character of incompleteness nature would be fixed, eliminating both possibility and the actuality dependent upon it. This tracing of Heidegger onto Žižek’s system is expanded on in the penultimate chapter. Here Lewis makes clear the differences between Žižek’s reading of Heidegger, specifically in his The Ticklish Subject, and the way in which Žižek has allowed Lewis to read Heidegger. Simply stated, Lewis faults Žižek with hinging his entire reading on the early Heidegger and failing to expose his own theoretical edifice to the challenges posed by the later Heidegger. What Žižek’s analysis of Heidegger’s Nazism allows Lewis to locate is the political stakes of Heidegger’s hitherto unrecognized or disregarded philosophy of nature. Leading to an interesting investigation, in the last chapter, of Heidegger with Marxism. Heidegger saw in German National Socialism an ontological resistance to the subjugation of all of nature, which includes humanity, under technology. The later Heidegger recognizes this also in the philosophy of Marxism, but not in the politics of communism that he held came from the same ontological failure as capitalism in so far as both did not emancipate all of nature it then kept all of nature, including humanity, in chains. While this is laudable and one may find much to agree with here, it seems to make his ‘tolerance’ for certain ontic failures of National Socialism even more disturbing. Ultimately Lewis must stop here as Heidegger’s philosophy may allow the revealing of nature in itself it does not provide a political blueprint, instead it can only argue that a truly ontological politics would emancipate the whole of nature. To close we offer some criticisms of an otherwise excellent intervention into the reading of Heidegger as well as the question of nature for philosophy. First, Lewis follows Heidegger in a certain antipathy towards the natural sciences. However, science is not one thing and ecology itself offers many resources for thinking the very

thinghood that Lewis finds and argues for in Heidegger’s philosophy and interaction with poetry. Any philosophical engagement with the environmental crisis should engage with ecological science as well, recognizing that true scientism appears to be a problem within philosophy and, of course, political culture and not necessarily in the work of science itself. Second, and related to the first, is Lewis’ avoidance of Heidegger’s interaction with Schelling’s philosophy. Considering that Žižek’s own philosophy of nature is highly dependent on his reading of Schelling and that this reading differs significantly from Heidegger’s reading of Schelling, an investigation into the two may have added to an already interesting investigation into the relationship of the philosophies of Heidegger and Žižek. As Lewis’ work was completed in 2007 Lewis was unfortunately unable to interact with Žižek’s very recent (perhaps disappointing) work on ecology and criticism of the concept of nature, which largely follows the argument of Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature. However, even with these issues, Lewis has given us a great resource that opens paths for further investigations into both Heidegger beyond deconstruction and the question of nature beyond Heidegger. Anthony Paul Smith University of Nottingham

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