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Posted February 8, 2001
A book that fills in the blanks...
The Contributions to Philosophy is an esoteric text in many ways. Heidegger composed this long manuscript in private between 1936 and 1938, and during his lifetime showed it only a few confidants. He specified that it should appear in print only after the publication of all his lecture courses ¿ thus implying that dozens of volumes of introduction are the prerequisite to understanding this book. The Contributions have attracted instant attention, but also created bewilderment, for the most important sections of the text seem to be written in pure Heideggerese. Even more than in his other, already difficult writings, Heidegger exploits the sounds and senses of German in order to create an idiosyncratic symphony of meanings. The translators of this text faced an immense challenge. In addition, the organization of the text is loose. It consists of 281 sections; some are polished short essays, but others are not even written in complete sentences. This is reminiscent of a novelist's notes when building his novel. The sections are grouped thematically, but the book does not follow a systematic plan, as did Being and Time. The style is deliberately fragmentary: this text ¿is no edifice of thoughts anymore, but blocks apparently fallen at random in a quarry where bedrock is broken and the rock-breaking tools remain invisible¿ (§259, p. 436). This is not to say that Heidegger¿s statements here are really chaotic and groundless, but he expects readers to work hard to discover unwritten connections. Heidegger is not just being secretive. He is trying as hard as he can to respond to Being with appropriate language, but he holds that it is simply impossible to say ¿the truth of Being¿ directly. Nothing we can say will make Being unconceal itself with perfect clarity. Being is intrinsically mysterious. We have to learn to give up our ambition to represent things perfectly and directly when we are trying to deal with Being. We cannot turn Being into an object and describe it with scientific precision, because we do not control it; we are already plunged into a way of experiencing the difference between something and nothing. So instead of trying to dominate Being conceptually, we should respond to it with cautious and tentative respect. Heidegger believed that only ¿the few and the rare¿ are capable of thinking this way (§5). Given the esoteric nature of the Contributions, Heidegger would certainly object to any attempt to sum them up in an introductory book, and especially to any suggestion that his thoughts here can be made easy. He even warns us theatrically ¿when philosophy makes itself intelligible, it commits suicide¿ (§259, p. 435).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.