Leather-panted philosopher and sometime Int’l Necronaut Simon Critchley is three parts into an eight-part blog series that attempts to explicate Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. So far, it’s as clear an description of Heidegger’s book as one could hope for, given the constraints Critchley’s set for himself. At least I think it’s clear – I’ve read the later essays collected in Poetry, Language, Thought, but never the magnum opus itself. One of the great difficulties of reading Heidegger is his notorious lexicon, the set of terms he coins and redefines in order to construct a first philosophy that does away with what he sees as the fundamental flaws of the Cartesian tradition.
Because this lexicon plays such an important role in Heidegger’s project, anyone attempting to explain Heidegger to anyone else ends up writing something that looks like an attempt to rewrite the dictionary rather than a clarifying gloss. This passage from Critchley’s latest post is representative:
The world is full of handy things that hang together as a whole and which are meaningful to me. In even more basic terms, the world is a whole load of stuff that is related together: my laptop sits on my desk, my spectacles sit on my nose, the desk sits on the floor, and I can look over to the window at the garden and hear the quiet hum of traffic and police sirens that make up life in this city. This is what Heidegger calls “environment” (Umwelt), where he is trying to describe the world that surrounds the human being and in which it is completely immersed for the most part.
So notice the paragraph begins with a seemingly obvious statement (the world is full of things) that reads a bit like a sentence from a Robbe-Grillet novel, after which we find out that said statement is actually the redefinition of a word we already know (“environment” in Critchley’s translation), but that now has a kind of philisophico-poetic glow to it. For people who try to explain Heidegger to the uninitiated (and, still being relatively uninitiated, I’ve read quite a few of them), the illumination of the lexicon is apparently a necessary first step because everyone does it (besides the hundreds of philosophers and critics who take on Heidegger, see also the “Hedeggerian Glossary” at the end of William Vollmann’s “Violet Hair” in The Rainbow Stories). The next step is to start stringing together this terminology, to explain the ways in which these newly redefined terms relate to each other.
Again, because I’ve never read Being and Time, I can’t tell you how accurate Critchley is in his descriptions of Heidegger’s redefinitions. His reconstruction of the ligature of Heidegger’s philosophy performs its work well, though, insofar as these posts have, so far, at least made me feel like I could open the book and begin reading it on solid ground. Which is not to say that I will any time soon.