- Heidegger and Rhetoric
I have to confess to double ignorance. I have never paid much attention to/Heidegger and Rhetoric/ (let me use forward slashes to indicate a commonplace) because, in spite of all efforts of reconciliation between France and Germany, my knowledge of German is not so adequate that I would ever contemplate reading Heidegger in his native tongue. As a rule I mistrust translations and rely on derivative knowledge only in cases of extreme urgency. This being said, I must add that such ignorance is somewhat informed by some knowing—where would French philosophy and French philosophy of rhetoric be without the long-standing and continuous dialogue between Heidegger and France, from Levinas’s seminal essay to today’s iterative debate on Heidegger’s so-called introduction of Nazism in philosophy? Be that as it may, I read the edited volume by Gross and Kemmann as a naive reader would, undisturbed by and unaware of intra-ecclesial wrangling. As it happened, as I was reading this book, I had advanced knowledge of a stunning little book byValerie Allen and Ares Axiotis (2007), on Heidegger’s plea for exoneration in July 1945. It was a numinous conjunction.
Recalling Arendt’s distinction, in politics of course, among aim, end, and meaning, it is clear that Heidegger and Rhetoric has all three—the gesture [End Page 305] is indeed political, at least within our scholarly community. This book has a meaning—its elucidation imposes on readers to move from chapter to chapter, seriatim. It has an aim, the reality of which only comes to the fore as we close the book. It has an end, which, somehow, allows us to pass judgment with regard to the superior life of the discipline, if there is any.
Back to the commonplace, which grounds all three. The difficulty with titles like this is that, more often than not, they promise more than they deliver. One asks oneself: Why not Rhetoric and Heidegger? Which leads to: What “rhetoric”? Aristotle’s? Rhetoric as attributed, by a growing population of ignoramuses, to “rhetoriticians”?
The function of a commonplace is to evoke common ground, and in this instance, the common ground has a deep fault line. Indeed, as we read Gross’s erudite introductory essay (chapter 1), it is unclear whether the volume is dedicated to Heidegger’s Summer Seminar of 1924 devoted to Aristotle’s Rhetoric or to rhetoric in/around/about Heidegger. To compound it, we learn, in footnote 1 (41) that in one particular but revealing occurrence, Heideggerian scholars differ about the transcription: although the seminar was on the Rhetoric, does Heidegger refer to Rhetorik or to Logik when he defines “concrete function,” a highly operative definition indeed? Much of the volume hinges on how Heidegger defines the political function of rhetoric. Notwithstanding this casualty of scholarship, and Gross’s thoughtful transcription and explanation of key passages from the seminar, readers will wonder: “Where is the Urtext?” Unless one reads German and has at hand both volume 18 of the Collected Works and the rival transcript (pending, of course, the discovery of yet another transcript), one is reduced to rely on the authors’ word and view (an English translation is in preparation at Indiana University Press). This is the surface of the fault line.
Below the surface of the text runs a deeper rift. Nonspecialists are left with the impression that Heidegger’s Summer Seminar of 1924 is a text by Heidegger, when, in fact, if I am not mistaken, Heidegger destroyed his notes and what we are left with are students’ notes cobbled together; they probably turned Heidegger’s lectures into their own commonplaces, which is what students usually do, as we all know. (We may as well have one of the famous imitations of the master with which Heidegger’s brother entertained his drinking friends, perched on a beer barrel like a bibulous orator.)
Incidentally, I wish specialists would stop using the acronym SS 1924 to refer to the text. It has a sinister...