- The End of Comparative Philosophy and the Task of Comparative Thinking
Most readers are well aware of the uncomfortable contortions one's language and common philosophical assumptions undergo when encountering any one of the four philosophers (Heidegger, Derrida, Laozi, Zhuangzi) Steven Burik reckons with in his [End Page 433] new book, The End of Comparative Philosophy and the Task of Comparative Thinking. The reader knowing this, placing all four in coherent dialogue in under two hundred pages might seem impossible, yet taking this impossibility as his point of departure, with lucid prose and persistent thematization of the dangers of such a comparative enterprise, Burik's book is an important contribution to contemporary East-West philosophic dialogue.
The work begins with three chapters, treating Heidegger, Derrida, and the Daoists independently, and culminates in a final chapter where they are brought into comparison. Although brief, Burik's introduction is an important articulation of what he takes to be the grounding principles of "intercultural" thinking. That intercultural language should be non-metaphysical is a refrain throughout the text derived mainly from Hall and Ames' interpretation of Daoism and their "paronomasiac" conception of Classical Chinese. Burik unambiguously and uncritically adopts this position, measuring various commentators against it, pointing to metaphysical misreadings and comparisons of Heidegger, Derrida, and Daoism. Praise is well deserved for his having identified and provided an insightful critique of a number of relevant commentators in recent literature; however, due to the size of the endeavor none of these considerations can enter into significant depth. Taken together, however, they do provide a useful resource and guide to the secondary literature for anyone wishing to explore the issues in greater detail.
The opening chapter seeks to bring Heidegger's thinking into the intercultural domain by framing his project of overcoming Western metaphysics as an extended meditation on the theory and practice of encountering the "foreign": be it literary forms foreign to philosophy (poetry, tragedy) or thinkers foreign to Germany (Greece, Asia). Focusing on the Heideggerian brand of translation, Burik takes us through his Auseinandersetzung with the "early Greek thinkers" (Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides) and the "thinking poets" (Hölderlin, Trakl, Rilke), carefully unpacking the unorthodox translations of key terms (phusis, logos, aletheia) while elucidating the logic of the translations themselves and their applicability to intercultural dialogue. Although Burik focuses specifically on the notions of wandering, the foreign, and return with regard to Hölderlin, curiously missing is mention of Heidegger's work on Stefan Georg's poetry in Der Weg Zur Sprache (1959), also rich in these themes. The chapter includes discussion of key notions of Heidegger's "other thinking," showing their import for non-metaphysical intercultural dialogue: that is, the fourfold (Geviert), saying (Sage), releasement (Gelassenheit), commencement (Anfang), formal indication (formale Anzeigen), and way (Weg).
Although Derrida did not in any sense carry out an encounter with a specific "foreign," in the second chapter Burik gleans from his attempts at deconstructing the Western phono-logocentric tradition a striving toward a non-metaphysical theory and practice amenable to intercultural philosophy. Focusing on the "provisionality" of Derrida's perpetually recreated non-concepts (différance, deconstruction, trace, writing, dissemination, erasure), Burik explores how these textual strategies suggest a non-metaphysical linguistic path that intercultural philosophy can follow in its attempt to avoid becoming fixed on a univocal, stable comparative methodology. [End Page 434] Burik does a commendable job of laying out common misreadings of Derrida's concepts, highlighting their relation to Heidegger's thought where appropriate. He also offers a nuanced rereading of Derrida's criticisms of Heidegger's notions of authenticity, otherness, and logos. Of particular interest are the claims that Derrida misses the polysemy of Heidegger's notion of logos, as well as the provisionality of his onto-concepts (Being, Byeng, "clearing," Region, Ereignis).
The penultimate chapter begins by showing how several early and contemporary translators made the mistake of interpreting Daoist texts through Western philosophic, theological, and logocentric lenses, reading transcendence and unity into the various writings...