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Criticai Discussion Martin Heidegger and the Question of Literature : Toward a Postmodern Literary Hermeneutics , edited by William V. Spanos; xix & 327 pp. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1980, $15.00. Martin Heidegger, by George Steiner; 173 pp. New York: Viking Press, 1978, $10.95. Discussed by Stephen A. Erickson There are a number of deep and nearly unavoidable pitfalls which confront those who would follow along or even comment on Heidegger 's path. Does one speak and write as Heidegger speaks and writes? Heidegger's language is replete with etymological sensitivity, poetic resonance, and an often awkward dissonance through which appear flashes of insight, elusive as well as allusive. To attempt what Heidegger does can be both clumsy and, altogether unintentionally, comical , nearly absurd. Yet Heidegger would have us probe things, not dwell upon words about things except insofar as these words are in the service of the things they reveal—or, if not reveal, at least bring to our attention. And Heidegger's concern is not with what he says, but with what he touches upon. To say that these two elements are inseparable is all fine and good, but more often than not this remark is the first grand stride into the sterility of an endless exegesis. Commentary on Heidegger's work is extraordinarily problematic. His is not a program of research with guidelines upon which commentary and metacommentary can be made. A Heidegger "industry" is a contradiction in terms, as an Aristotle or Kant industry is just the opposite. If we add to this the rather disarming fact that Heidegger writes explicitly as someone "in between," for whom old standards are no longer appropriate and no new "general principles" yet exist or may ever exist, the full force of the quandary of dealing with Heidegger cannot escape us. Two recent books step boldly, if yet somewhat circumspectly, into 108 Stephen A. Erickson109 this morass of difficulties, not so much to deal with the difficulties as to reach beyond them, either to comment on Heidegger directly or to walk along with him. One, Martin Heidegger and the Question ofLiterature, subtitled Toward a Postmodern Literary Hermeneutics, is a collection of essays with a definite purpose which is best quoted in full: It is, therefore, the purpose of this "gathering" of essays not only to introduce Heidegger's destructive hermeneutic thinking as it pertains to the question of literary interpretation and criticism to the serious writers, readers, interpreters, and critics of literature in the English-speaking world, but also to suggest, by way of example, some of the significant aspects of the problematic distinction—not yet made explicit, as far as I know—between the phenomenological Heidegger and the post-Structuralist Heidegger, that is, between the "destructive" and "deconstructive" possibilities for literary hermeneutics that his thought has opened up. (p.x) More is claimed for the volume than this, but I take this to be the central concern from which the various essays were drawn. Kindness wars with honesty in the discussion of many a volume. For my part I must confess that a considerable amount of patience, sometimes marginal and specialized knowledge, and above all generosity is required if one is to work one's way through the book's introduction. Surely no one lacking a considerable acquaintance with the work of Heidegger and a more than passing knowledge of the particular modes of expression and special instincts of the volume's editor will be anything but bewildered at most of the passages which "introduce" the reader to what is to follow. Fortunately, however, the essays which do follow have much to offer, attempt less, and somehow, with a few exceptions, accomplish something important while avoiding pretension. Before commenting on some of these essays, however, let me speak of the second book under consideration: George Steiner's Martin Heidegger. Steiner's book is more modest in intent, trying simply to shed some light on the "massive presence" of Heidegger in various fields of twentieth-century endeavor , not so much by examining Heidegger's influence in these specific fields as by giving a basic account of what Heidegger is "about." Steiner's work largely succeeds in being what it attempts...


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