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  • Heidegger's Hidden Sources: East Asian Influences on His Work
  • Gereon Kopf
Heidegger's Hidden Sources: East Asian Influences on His Work. By Reinhard May. Translated with a complementary essay by Graham Parkes. London and New York:Routledge, 1996. Pp. xviii + 121.

Reinhard May's Ex Oriente Lux: Heidegger's Werk Unter Ostasiatischen Einfluss (1989), translated into English by Graham Parkes as Heidegger's Hidden Sources: East Asian Influences on His Work, makes a significant contribution to the growing body of work that explores the intellectual connections between early twentieth-century German philosophers and Chinese classical texts on the one side and contemporary Japanese philosophers on the other. In particular, May explores similarities [End Page 122] between the work of Martin Heidegger and contemporary translations of Taoist writings available to and known by Heidegger such as Martin Buber's Reden und Gleichnisse des Tschuang-Tse (1910), Richard Wilhelm's Laotse: Tao te King: Das Buch des Alten vom Sinn und Leben (1911), Jan Ulenbrook's Lao Tse: Tao te King: Das Buch vom Rechten Weg and von der rechten Gesinnung (1980), and Paul Shih-yi Hsiao's translation of the Tao te Ching. Hsiao himself describes the latter project in his "Heidegger and our Translation of the Tao te Ching," which was published in Graham Parkes' Heidegger and Asian Thought (1987). On the basis of this comparative reading, May argues that Heidegger's essay "Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache," published in Unterwegs zur Sprache (1953/1954), constitutes a fictionalization of the conversation he had with the Japanese Germanist Tezuka Tomio and, ultimately, a confession of his indebtedness to Chinese and Japanese philosophy.

May's argument evolves in four steps. In chapter 1, he establishes Heidegger's familiarity with the above-cited German translations of the Laozi and the Zhuangzi as well as with the fundamental Taoist concepts. May cites Heidegger's correspondence with Hsiao on their collaborative translation of the Laozi as well as commentaries by Heinrich Wiegand Petzet and Otto Pöggeler, who document Heidegger's familiarity with the translations by Buber and Ulenbrook, and thus establishes Hei-degger's knowledge of fundamental Taoist ideas and writings.

In his second chapter, May reads Heidegger's "Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache" in light of Tezuka's own account of their conversation and concludes that Heidegger poetically constructs his version in order to support his own philosophy and, ultimately, as May argues in chapter 5, to confess his intellectual debt to the Japanese philosophical tradition. May suggests that a note at the end of Unterwegs zur Sprache, which claims that the conversation that "has remained unpublished for some time, originates in 1953/4, and was occasioned by a visit from Professor Tezuka of the Imperial University in Tokyo" (p. 14), is "clearly incomplete and inaccurate" (p. 14). In addition, May cites discrepancies between the accounts of Heidegger and Tezuka with regard to crucial aspects of their conversation: while Tezuka observes "that the kind of indefiniteness conveyed by this film [Rashmon] concerning our knowledge of reality may have intrigued Heidegger as an East Asian phenomenon," Heidegger makes his Japanese interlocutor say that "[w]e Japanese are not disconcerted when a conversation leaves indefinite [im Unbestimmten] what is really meant" (p. 14). Similar discrepancies can be observed in their accounts of passages dealing with the Japanese rendition of the Heart Sūtra's shiki soku ze kū and the Japanese word kotoba. Tezuka's own report furthermore emphasizes Hei-degger's tendency to force similarities, as in the case of Heidegger's rendition of kotoba as Ding. Confronted with these "indications," May concludes that Heidegger did not report a conversation but rather presented a fictionalized conversation in such a way as to enable the readers to mistake it for the historical record.

In chapter 3, May meticulously identifies similarities between Heidegger's work and the German translations of the Laozi and Zhuangzi to which Heidegger had access. Thus Heidegger paraphrases von Strauss' observation "that one is only [End Page 123] through the other" as "the Other to it [Being] is simply Nothing"; "Being and Nothing are not given beside one another. Each uses itself on behalf of...