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MLN 117.5 (2002) 1131-1134
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David Wittenberg, Philosophy, Revision, Critique: Rereading Practices in Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Emerson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001, 283 pages.
David Wittenberg's Philosophy, Revision, Critique is an intriguing venture into the rhetorical strategies of philosophical thought and interpretation. Without concealing its own indebtedness to these strategies, the book manages to convey the importance of a hypothesis that easily escapes our attention—that philosophy is revisionary in a way far more radical than anticipated even by the most adventurous branches of hermeneutics.
Wittenberg bases his argument on two premises: first, philosophy is historical, in the sense of being conducted according to historically determined canons; and second, philosophy is textual, in the sense of being concerned with a body of written artifacts (2). Both premises owe a great deal to Hegel's philosophy, especially as it is played out in the Phenomenology of Spirit and the so-called Differenzschrift. When combined, however, they initiate a 'productive view of philosophical interpretation as [...] "paralipsis," or sideways-speaking of intellectual power' (8-9). Wittenberg's "productive view of philosophical interpretation," akin to the post-Hegelian strategies of Luce Irigaray and Paul de Man, is arresting on several fronts. Most importantly, it questions the myth of the solitary philosopher, and draws our attention to the everyday moods of philosophy—the way philosophy gossips, talks idle talk, and manipulates its [End Page 1131] social environment through rhetorical tropes. Calling attention to these moods may, perhaps paradoxically, make us even more appreciative of the philosophical institution.
There is nothing idle or gossipy about Philosophy, Revision, Critique. Instead, what Wittenberg wants to describe in phenomenological terms is how philosophers use each other as conversation-partners in an ongoing attempt to disclose hitherto concealed thoughts. Revision, Wittenberg suggests, precedes philosophical argumentation "proper" (9). It does not follow the laws of logical reasoning, nor is it subject to the kind of review that validates metaphysical truth. Instead, revision is a structural category of displacement in which the interpreter (i.e. the philosopher) gives new direction to the thought of her predecessors by negotiating the limits of the text in focus through the use of rhetorical tropes. In Wittenberg's words, revision 'is a historical or historicizing movement, an ongoing process of positioning and repositioning texts and textual implications with respect to one another' (14).
Wittenberg places Heidegger's monumental two-volume interpretation of Nietzsche at the center of his investigation into the phenomenology of revision. This choice is indeed fitting. While there are plenty of cases of revision to choose from (Derrida on Levinas, Deleuze on Spinoza, and Rawls on Kant—just to mention a few), Heidegger's rereading of Nietzsche stands out because of its special importance for the development of contemporary Continental philosophy.
In Chapters 1-3 of Philosophy, Revision, Critique, Wittenberg shows with great detail how Heidegger establishes his surprising thesis that Nietzsche is the last metaphysician, successful only in inverting (not overthrowing) Platonism. Rather than taking an explicit stance on the controversies surrounding this thesis, Wittenberg uses Heidegger's encounter with Nietzsche to disclose the rhetorical gesture of a proleptic "as" central to interpretation. For Wittenberg, it is impossible to summarize this rhetorical gesture without being implicated in the very act of revision. The proleptic "as" is analogous to Cicero's notion of paralipsis, in which the use of irony allows the speaker to speak in the form of the unsaid (66). Heidegger, Wittenberg suggests, deploys this gesture to show how Nietzsche remains committed to Western metaphysics: while Nietzsche announces his attempt to breakaway from metaphysics by juxtaposing art and truth, this attempt, Heidegger points out, relies only what it challenges—the idea that truth and art are irreconcilable. Nietzsche's alleged escape, therefore, is nothing but an unsaid yet more original concordance with the fundamentals intrinsic to the Western tradition of metaphysics (52).
Could Heidegger have terminated his interpretative engagement with Nietzsche at this point? Perhaps. But because he managed to utter what was previously unsaid, Heidegger could also, through the revision-encounter, stage his own philosophy as the rightful...