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  • The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage
  • Ammon Allred (bio)
The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage. By Marlène Zarader. Trans. Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. 255pp. $24.95.

In The Unthought Debt, Zarader argues that although Heidegger’s thought occludes the Hebraic tradition, that tradition’s resources also form an “unthought” reserve within his thought. Although she makes a good case that Heideggerians should engage the Hebraic tradition more seriously, her main thesis that Heidegger bears an unacknowledged debt to the Hebraic tradition depends upon too many inadequately addressed assumptions to be persuasive.

The Unthought Debt is divided into two parts. In “Readings,” Zarader offers broad readings of four important Heideggerian themes: history, language, [End Page 530] thought, and interpretation, and indicates how these themes resonate with the Hebraic tradition. In “Problems,” she argues that Heidegger’s thought has actually incorporated these Hebraic elements without recognizing them, and that he has therefore been unable to break with the Greco-Christian Western tradition whose closure he had announced.

As Zarader acknowledges, “Readings” is neither a close reading of particular Heideggerian texts nor of texts from the Hebraic tradition. Rather, it traces four themes that are indisputably central to Heidegger’s thought. The initial discussion of history sets the tone for the book as a whole. There, she follows the development of Heidegger’s notions of the origin and the other beginning, the “pre- and post-metaphysical margins” of history, showing that the supposedly Greek provenance of what counts as metaphysics overflows itself. Each subsequent reading builds on this: as Heidegger’s thought shifts, it comes to bear certain idiosyncrasies more and more strikingly. Those idiosyncrasies cannot be found in either the Greek or Christian traditions, but they are essential to the Hebraic tradition.

Zarader’s analysis of the internal semantic shift within Heidegger’s use of the the terms “origin” and “the other beginning” is valuable. It should serve as a challenge to orthodox Heideggerians too willing to take his reading of the history of metaphysics at face value. One possible conclusion to draw from this challenge is that there is no such thing as an origin in any strict sense and that it is impossible for any sort of other beginning to provide metaphysics with any “closure.” This is the conclusion that Derrida and others (perhaps even Heidegger) reach. Zarader instead concludes that there must be more than one origin and that this other origin must have been occluded by Heidegger.

This conclusion colors the rest of the book, causing Zarader to read Heidegger’s writings on language, thought, and interpretation as though there must be a consistent metaphysical doctrine behind them (despite the shifts she has demarcated). If we do not grant this key assumption, however, the coherence of the reading falls apart. We are left with glimpses into the complexity of Heidegger’s corpus without ever seeing the substance behind that corpus, the corpse in which the “unthought” Zarader wants to unearth is supposedly interred.

In “Problems,” Zarader argues that the similarities she pointed to in “Readings” are the result of an unthought debt to the Hebraic tradition. For Zarader, the most distinctive features of Heidegger’s thought could only have come from the Hebraic tradition. In the Heideggerian idiom, to say that this debt is unthought means something much more specific than that [End Page 531] it is unconscious. It is to name that debt as the reverse of what Heidegger’s thought reveals, the necessarily concealed reserve that enables the world-historical shift his thought announces. Most importantly for Zarader (because she accepts the Heideggerian idea of a history of metaphysics), it is how the Hebraic tradition gets incorporated into the West and enables the other beginning. The central chapter of “Problems,” “The Problem of Transmission,” thus concerns how the Hebraic heritage was transmitted into Heidegger’s thought and how Heidegger’s thought transmitted it into the West. She uses this dual sense of transmission to differentiate her argument from similar arguments in Levinas and Derrida. But this leads to the ultimate failure of the book’s main conclusion. If the reader has not bought into Zarader’s...


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