“Another Topology for New Tasks” (Derrida, Of Spirit 132-33): Derrida on Heidegger on Trakl. Zusage.

Alberto Moreiras
Texas a&m university

Volume 14, 2020

There will not be a unique name, not even the word being. And one will have to think of this word without nostalgia, which is to say, outside the myth of a purely maternal or purely paternal language, of the lost fatherland of thought.

Jacques Derrida, Marges 29

Je crois qu’il y a eu du logocentrisme chez Heidegger, mais il y a eu aussi autre chose, beaucoup plus complexe.

Derrida, Conférence de Heidelberg 80

Autrement dit, il faut apprendre à exister sans être et sans destination, à ne rien prétendre commencer ni re-commencer—ni conclure non plus.
Jean-Luc Nancy, Banalité 85

Repetition or Rupture

Towards the end of “The Ends of Man” (1968) Jacques Derrida suggests that the trouble of our age is a trouble in proximity, or rather a trouble with distance, or, more generally, a trouble concerning the general metaphorics of proximity and distance that it would have been Martin Heidegger’s interest to promote as a path towards the recognition of the ontico-ontological difference.[1] Hence, “the proper of man, his eigenheit, his authenticity, is to relate himself to the sense of Being, to understand it and to question (Fragen) it within ex-sistence, to stand in the proximity of its own light” (Derrida, “Ends” 54). But Derrida says—this is an important statement, rather hidden in the text, un-emphasized, but, it seems to me, the statement that sums up the particular politicity Derrida assigns to the occasion wherein he is speaking (“Every philosophical congress has by necessity a political significance” [31])—: “Is not that which is perhaps being displaced today this security of the near, this co-belonging and this co-propriety of the name of man and of the name of Being, as it inhabits and installs itself in the language of the Occident, as it is sunk therein, as it is inscribed and forgotten in the history of metaphysics, and as it is also being revived in the destruction of ontotheology?” (54-55). A security is being displaced or terminated that concerned the proximity of whatever is essential in man to Being, and it is a displacement that certainly threatens metaphysics but, more pointedly, it also threatens the so-called “destruction of ontotheology.” In other words, it threatens Heideggerian discourse itself, which now appears, inevitably, for deep reasons, Derrida says, and in spite of Heidegger’s own protestation in, for instance, “Letter on Humanism”, as a “relève (Aufhebung) of humanism” (55).

Derrida opts for something else (it is interesting, though, that the rhetoric he adopts for that choice has something to do with being French; apparently, as he makes clear in the essay, there will be a Heideggerian rhetoric, presumably German, and then a French one, somehow more lively, and more receptive to the fact that the German choice is out of tune with the times, “displaced.”) He has no interest in precipitating himself into the “closed autism” (56) of a repetition of the tradition “without changing grounds, by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and in original problematics,” and prefers instead “to decide to change ground, in a discontinuous and eruptive manner, by stepping abruptly outside and by affirming absolute rupture and difference” (56)—no longer, therefore, proximity, no longer a distance that needs mediation, but rupture and difference. While Derrida recognizes that the choice between the two paths is not simple and straightforward (“a new writing must weave and intertwine the two motifs” [56]), the preference is to move away from the Heideggerian course in the name of a certain retrieved (and very French: “more and more prevalent and more and more rigorous in France” [57]) Nietzscheanism. It is not the Nietzschean “superior man” but the “superman” that is the model here, to the extent that the latter “awakes and goes off, without turning back on what he leaves behind him. His laughter will then break out towards a return which will no longer have the form of the metaphysical repetition of humanism any more than it will undoubtedly take the form, ‘beyond’ metaphysics, of the memorial or of the guard of the sense of the being, or the form of the house and the truth of Being” (57). There is of course an unsaid here that has to do with what Jean-Luc Nancy, in Banalité de Heidegger, has called “the miserable precipitation into the most sordid sacrificial violence” (Nancy, Banalité 73, my translation) implied in Heidegger’s political engagement as we know it. Derrida suspects that the metaphorics of proximity is only too close to the metaphysics of the forgetting of being Heidegger himself wanted little to do with but could not always avoid. Such closeness, which is a closeness to what Nancy would call “the initial, the foundation and the origin, the authentic and the proper” (Banalité 63), is not only politically risky but it arguably led Heidegger into his antisemitic and national-socialist commitments. Or so Derrida suspects.

“The Ends of Man” remains a decisive explanation of the stakes Derrida assigns to the post-World War II Heideggerianism he never entirely rejected but about which he constantly expressed reticence. It can be said—I have no hesitations saying it myself—that the entire philosophical itinerary Derrida followed was contained in that early decision “to change ground” away from the Heideggerian repetition, away from the Heideggerian “ontic metaphors.”[2] But then, as we follow the difficult “weaving and intertwining” of a philosophical path premised on a separation that is also a form of proximity to Heideggerian hermeneutics, is it not perhaps obvious that there was bound to occur a certain overdetermination in the interpretation, perhaps nothing more than an excess of caution? It is as if Derrida assigned to Heidegger a single unwritten script that Heidegger was destined to fulfill by default in every piece of writing and through every attempt at reading—which assignation was of course instrumental for Derrida’s own alternative path, seeking an alternative “changing ground” against, say, any Heideggerian modality of closed autism.

My interest in this paper goes through eliciting a little uncertainty, perhaps only a modest question mark concerning some of the positions Derrida takes in the Geschlecht cycle, and more particularly in Geschlecht III, concerning the possibility of a tendency towards “closed autism” in Heidegger’s reading of Georg Trakl’s poems, problematic as the latter may be in several respects. Some aspects of the Derridean critique militate against the “changing ground” he ostensibly seeks, as we will see, and seem to abandon the very politicity (rupture towards a new ground) he claims in “The Ends of Man.” Like Derrida with his “change of ground,” Heidegger was a thinker of an “other beginning” of thought, but the Derridean critique insists, sometimes excessively, on cutting that pretension short by reducing Heidegger, perhaps only partially but nevertheless all too decisively, to the figure of an unwitting repeater of metaphysics. While I most frequently admire Derrida’s reading strategies, that one does not seem to me totally helpful. Yes, the distance from Heidegger was always already dictated by Heidegger’s political behavior, and Derrida was as careful (and responsible) a reader of the latter as anyone else. Still, Derrida’s relentless, and for the most part welcome, insistence on Heidegger’s unwitting complicity with the metaphysical structures he himself was the first to deconstruct sometimes betrays the path of thought and leads to conclusions that are not quite warranted. If I had more space I would attempt to include here a summary presentation of Derrida’s general critique—always nuanced and complex, so the presentation could not be too brief—of Heideggerian logocentrism both in Geschlecht III and in the other texts in the Geschlecht series. But other papers in this issue will do that. I will then choose to focus on Derrida’s seeming neutralization of his own critique regarding the later Heidegger. It is as if Derrida’s Geschlecht readings repeated strategies of interpretation that could have been considered decisive for earlier Heideggerian texts, but that are not so decisive in later years—those are the years of which it can be said, as Derrida says in 1988, that Heidegger indeed makes a lot of space for logocentrism, but he also makes space for something a lot more complex than logocentrism (see my second epigraphy above) , which inevitably forces a rereading and reconsideration of everything in retrospect, because that non-logocentric excess in Heidegger was presumably always already there.

The Blue Twilight

Some notorious lines from “The Ends of Man” need to be quoted. I will do it in the French original before providing the English version. It is not that they do not say the same thing, but the ambivalence of the sentences needs to be remarked: “la fin de l’homme est la pensée de l’être, l’homme est la fin de la pensée de l’être, la fin de l’homme est la fin de la pensée de l’être. L’homme est depuis toujours sa propre fin, c’est-à-dire la fin de son propre. L’être est depuis toujours sa propre fin, c’est-à-dire la fin de son propre” (“the end of man is the thought of Being, man is the end of the thought of Being, the end of man is the end of the thought of Being. Man has always been his proper end; that is, the end of what is proper to him. The being has always been its proper end; that is, the end of what is proper to it” (“Fins” 161; “Ends” 55). If I may cut to the chase, let me say that we should focus on what is mentioned twice in French as “la fin de son propre” (“the end of the proper”), which the English renders with two other idioms. Derrida is alluding forcefully to the “proper,” as “authentic,” as both being the end of the thought of Being and the goal of the thought of Being. This is of course dubious. It is rather the other way around. Granted that a displacement towards a radicalized notion of the proper was always possible, it would still be a displacement from the positions expressed in Being and Time, in the “Letter on Humanism”, and indeed in other texts. For Heidegger man is not the “end” in any of its senses (termination or goal) of the thought of Being, nor is Being its own “end” in any meaningful sense. If there is a general civilizational abandonment in the West of a certain measure of proximity between Being and man, as Derrida diagnoses, and if that produces a change in mood towards insecurity and anxiety, the new mood should be chalked up to failed and failing ontotheological conceptions of analogical being (to which Heidegger himself may have more than occasionally regressed in political terms) rather than to the Heideggerian critique of metaphysical thought. After all, Derrida himself notes several times in his essay that, for Heidegger, “das Stehen in der Lichtung des Seins,” “standing in the clearing of being,” as an existential structure common to all, for that is what it is, was the hardest and the most remote, even if also the most proximate, possibility for man in his or her everydayness: it is a form of “property” that ex-istence strives for but that never belongs to anyone and can never be taken for granted. There is no fin de son propre in such striving unless we were to make it identical with death. But it is not death that is sought, rather a resolute relation to it, for the sake of life (or: of Ex-istenz).

Derrida’s claim is, however, that we are literally dealing with a dead end: that Heidegger’s existential analytic, wrong for having chosen the wrong metaphoricity of the proper and the improper, of the proximate and the distant, can only repeat metaphysical humanism at the very moment it ostensibly brings it to an end; and it is a gesture with no future. Again, the French is a little better than the English here: “L’explicitation continue vers l’ouverture risque de s’enfoncer dans l’autisme de la cloture” (“A continuous explicitation which proceeds towards the opening risks falling into a closed autism”) (“Fins” 162, “Ends” 56). For Derrida in 1968 this was no less than the very name, or one of the names, of Heidegger’s political error. Heidegger’s “national-estheticism,” to use Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s expression as quasi-synonymous with Derrida’s reference to closed autism, was not only sustained for a few years in the 1930’s but lasted well into the 1940’s and perhaps even beyond. As both Derrida himself and Rodrigo Bueno Therezo make clear in their analyses of Heidegger’s essay on Trakl’s poetry, which is from 1957-58, it is still detectable not far from the surface even then.[3] Lacoue-Labarthe thinks that Heidegger’s essential political projection was “archi-fascist” well into the 1940s and that archi-fascism is present, if occasionally dissembled, in all the Hölderlin readings.[4] But the final enigma for me is not how Heidegger could have fallen into fascism, and into the extreme cruelty and stupidity of his “historial anti-semitism,” but, granting that he was already there, how Heidegger’s fascism could open itself to produce thoughts through which fascism—as well as other hopeless and sinister form-of-life possibilities—could then be left behind.[5]

There is in the Heideggerian text a radical opening to an outside, to a thought-other-than-ontotheology, other than metaphysics, that is hardly recognized, or only begrudgingly so, even though it constitutes, by itself, the only true, that is, the only genuine reason why we are still forced to deal with Heidegger nowadays; and why he should still interest us, indeed more so than so many perhaps biographically unblemished ostensible thinkers of the democratic left. Derrida was already right in 1968 regarding Heidegger’s “risk” as such. He knew, however, that not everything was said by exposing the risk or indeed Heidegger’s fall into it.[6] And he continued his meditation on Heidegger’s problematic during most of his life. At several points in his work Derrida discusses two paths or routes that open in the Heideggerian text for the reader, a crossroads of sorts that, as such, calls for a decision. I will come to such discussions in Geschlecht III and in Of Spirit presently, and I will finish this paper in reference to a precise articulation by Derrida of some crucial issues in his contribution to the discussion now known as “the Heidelberg Conference” (1988). Let me first briefly focus on the work of three other critics that have discussed Heidegger’s work on Trakl. They also identify a crossroads in the Heideggerian text. The first one, David Farrell Krell, has things to say that will help us enter into the heart of the problematics discussed by Derrida. I trust that my commentary on these critics will indirectly serve as a sufficient introduction of sorts to the extraordinary complexities of Heidegger’s “Language in the Poem. A Discussion on Georg Trakl’s Poetic Work.”

Heidegger brings up the Austrag, the diaphorá, the conciliation or resolution of the ontological difference in his first essay on Trakl, entitled simply “Language,” in such a way that the Austrag, Krell says, “holds sway over both the epoch of metaphysics, in which the difference comes to nothing, and the ‘other thinking’ that Heidegger himself attempts to institute” (Krell 112). And then Krell adds: “Heidegger’s attempt to leave philosophy on its own and to turn to a thinking of being as Ereignis will always and everywhere be a thinking of the gathering, Versammlung, and of the human capacity to think being as such. Yet it will be a gathering of something that has been lost, obfuscated, forgotten, abandoned. What human being can rise to such a challenge?” (112). Krell seems to indicate that even the “new beginning” for thought, in the Verwindung of Platonism and Christianity, in the letting-be of metaphysics, and through the thinking of Austrag, will necessitate retrieval into a “gathering,” an “assembly,” a “collection” and “re-collection,” that is, a Versammlung. A Versammlung then, always and in every case, would seem to be Heidegger’s solution to the problem of radical dissemination, which of course makes it therefore also Derrida’s black beast in Heideggerian thought, since Derrida thinks of himself as primarily a thinker of what he calls dissemination. It is obvious, however, that Derrida is not a partisan of dissension and discord; still, as we see in the Geschlecht cycle, his “dissemination” opposes the Heideggerian Versammlung quite radically and relentlessly, to such an extent that it could be said that most of the Geschlecht cycle is consumed or at least overdetermined by Versammlung hypercritique (Krell states: “The essential gathering performed by the hand occurs not as a gleaning and gathering in the sense of writing; rather, it occurs as the Brauch about which Heidegger writes in ‘The Anaximander Fragment.’ If Brauch may translate to khreón, ‘Necessity,’ the Greek word itself having been formed from he kheir, ‘the hand,’ that is because Brauch is the ‘need’ and ‘usage’ that Heidegger always and everywhere calls Versammlung, ‘gathering.’ Such necessitous ‘gathering’ of the hand, which occurs in and as thinking, thinking and questioning, and not as what Heidegger derides as Geschreibe, ‘scribbling,’ is at the critical center of the entire Geschlecht series” [Krell 55]). This seems to me well connected to the theme of the two strokes Derrida will play upon—one good, another discordant. Already in “Heidegger’s Hand” Derrida quotes the passage in Heidegger’s second Trakl essay on the curse of Geschlecht that he would not stop commenting upon in the third and fourth Geschlecht essays: “The curse of the decomposing Geschlecht consists in the fact that this old Geschlecht has been severed into the discord of the Geschlechter. As a result of this discord, each of the Geschlechter struggles with the unbridled tumult of the wildness of the animal, individualized and savage. Not the twofold as such, but discord is the curse. As a result of the tumult of blind savagery, discord transports the Geschlecht into bifurcation and so banishes it to unbridled individuation. . . . Yet the only Geschlecht that would attain its proper coinage would be the one whose twofold wanders ahead, on its way out of discord into the gentleness of a onefold twofold; that means it is something ‘strange,’ and it thereby follows the stranger” (Krell 61-62).

In “Language and Silence: Heidegger’s Dialogue with Georg Trakl” (1976), Karsten Harries focuses on Heidegger’s notion that “every great poet creates his poetry from one single poem” that remains unwritten. There is a place that gathers a poetic saying; there is only one place for a great poet. Harries finds this problematic, and more so given Heidegger’s insistence that such a place remains unmentioned, and the poet’s “one poem” stays unspoken and unretrieved. He comes to terms with it by referring to the notion of authenticity in Being and Time: if poetry is authentic discourse, and great poetry must be precisely that, then every poem written by the great poet cannot but refer to a singular determination pertaining to the poet’s authentic ex-istence. “Abgeschiedenheit” (“apartness”) would sum up, in Heidegger’s interpretation, the core character of Trakl’s single, unwritten poem. The wandering stranger has left the community and stands now beyond “man as he has been up to now.” The wandering stranger is more of an overman than a last man, to use again the Nietzschean categories taken up by Derrida. The wandering stranger knows that present man is decaying, and he takes his distance, following a call from the outside into a “blue twilight” or a “spiritual night.” But is Heidegger ciphering something other than the individual poet into the wandering stranger? Harries wonders whether this stranger is a stand-in for the essence of poetry itself. “Es ist die Seele ein Fremdes auf Erden” (“the soul is something strange upon the earth”): the struggle of earth and the soul make the poet “go under:” “the land of the going under is the crossing over into the beginning of the dawn which lies hidden in it” (Heidegger quoted by Harries 507). The poet awaits and announces a new beginning: “the poet lacks the strength to establish this world [beyond the Platonic Christian world]. He only prepares us for such establishment by calling us out of our decayed world back to the earth and to its silence” (Harries 507). For Harries this is perhaps the essay’s limit:

It becomes difficult to consider the place which gathers Trakl’s poems into one poem as the poet’s own. It belongs as much to Heidegger’s Hölderlin, and indeed to all who attempt to save the earth and man’s essence in this age of need and thus form “one generation” (“E i n Geschlecht”), joined by their willingness to follow the one who has parted and thus belonging to the land of the evening. Heidegger, too, belongs to this community. His own attempt to step beyond the history of metaphysics and to take leave from the “wasteland of the devastated earth” makes him, too, a follower of the wandering stranger. The place of Trakl’s poetry appears thus to be that of Heidegger’s own thinking.


The unspoken poem is thus generational acquiescence to the need for a new beginning, another beginning: something calls the poet into the “blue night,” the spiritual night that prepares the dawn. Or it is the blue night that calls. Harries makes it clear that the “situation” of the silent poem is a gathering, a form of Versammlung that summons, collects and shelters, in preparation, the tensions of an epochal, historical destiny. Heidegger’s way into the illumination of the poem, consistent with his own thought of the ontico-ontological difference and the call of being, implies in every case the clarification, or rather: the clearing, of the Gedicht, the unique silent affirmation that gathers in itself authentic poetry, the unsaid vortex of the saying. The issue, for Harries as it will be for Derrida, is then whether Heidegger’s reading of Trakl’s work is abusive, whether the Heideggerian Versammlung is fake and situates Trakl more or less whimsically and arbitrarily where Heidegger would like to have him, beyond or besides any hermeneutic letting-be.

Is Heidegger merely questioning Trakl’s poetry according to his own “gathering” interests or is his reading responding with a Zusage, an acceptance and commitment, an acquiescence and a pledge, to the invitation of the text? How do the two strokes of Geschlecht convert into one, if that is what they do, in the conciliation through which Heidegger decides his own critical Versammlung and his situating of Trakl’s poetic work in a historical or transitional structure of being? Is Heidegger here a thinker of the question, and of the question of the question, is he merely interrogating the silent vortex of Trakl’s poetry, or is he corresponding to a poetic invitation, and taking accurate responsibility for it?

In “Heidegger and Derrida on Trakl” Françoise Dastur says: “The stranger answers to an appeal, a call, and following it he clears up the path leading to what is proper to him. This way of proceeding towards the proper, the hearth (Heim), is nevertheless not a way of returning to a ‘homeland’ that could have been left in the past, but to what is most originary, which implies in a paradoxical manner that this return which does not lead to a familiar place formerly inhabited is still something like an adventure” (Dastur 53). This reading is consistent with Heidegger’s situating the site of Trakl’s poetic work, his “silent affirmation,” in Abgeschiedenheit, that is, in apartness, retreat, farewell, isolation. If the “struggle” in Trakl’s writerly path was a struggle for Abgeschiedenheit, it was meant as a farewell and a retreat and separation from the decline and decomposition, Verwesung, of a life that originated in that mysterious “second stroke” in Geschlecht of dissension and discord. Trakl means to move towards the morning of the unborn, which Dastur also interprets as a new beginning and the site of “the West yet to come” (Dastur 48). Dastur then explains: Heidegger “does not think of the stranger on the basis of his already accomplished state of separation, but on the basis of the movement by which he separates himself from the others, which is the very meaning of the word Abgeschiedenheit. What is ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’ is precisely the unity in the duality of the stranger and of the others, the very fact that the stranger continues to be attached to them by love even in the distance” (53). There is therefore also in Dastur a certain affirmative retrieval of Derrida’s hated notion of Heideggerian Versammlung as logocentric assembling or gathering. Dastur thinks that there is a unity in the duality of the stranger and the others, and that it is a unity of love. Whether this is truer for Trakl than it is for Heidegger, or falser for one than for the other, Dastur does not go into. But let us read her statement, if nothing else, as a provocation (ultimately concerning the enigmatic status of E i n Geschlecht).

She may compound her provocation by saying: “What is evil is however not the division in itself between the masculine and the feminine, because the division happens in order to allow the gathering of both, but evil is the discord and dissension, which is the origin of the decomposition of the species, the absence of harmony between soul and spirit” (55-56). Trakl, who wanted to escape Verwesung, would have been escaping the discord and dissension—the second stroke of Geschlecht—between soul and spirit, between the feminine and the masculine, which is said to produce historical evil. And Dastur concludes her analysis by discussing the two ways of thinking with which Heidegger ends his discussion of Trakl’s work. One of them would want to go “toward a more originary West than the Platonic and Christian West,” a West that would be “heterogeneous to metaphysics” (Dastur 56). In his own work on Heidegger’s Trakl essay Derrida remains skeptical about this possibility, which Dastur favors, and prefers an interpretation according to which Trakl, and Heidegger’s interpretation of him, “consists only in a repetition of [Christianity’s] theological content, a repetition that nevertheless leads to its truth” (56). This is perhaps the discussion site where Heidegger’s abuse or adequate response to Trakl’s poetry must be decided, so I must now go into the Derridean reading in more detail.

Two Paths

But let us first recall the two options or strategies regarding the “other beginning” (one, the Heideggerian; the other, the more “French” or “Nietzschean” one: “the style of the first deconstruction is more that of Heidegger’s questions and . . . the other is more that which currently dominates France” [Derrida, “Ends” 56]) from “The Ends of Man:”

  1. To attempt the sortie and the deconstruction without changing ground, by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and in original problematics, by using against the edifice the instruments or the stones available in the house, which means in language as well. The risk here is to constantly confirm, consolidate or relever, at a depth which is ever more sure, precisely that which we claim to be deconstructing. A continuous explicitation which proceeds towards the opening risks falling into a closed autism.
  2. To decide to change ground, in a discontinuous and eruptive manner, by stepping abruptly outside and by affirming absolute rupture and difference. Not to mention all of the other forms of perspectives in a trompe-l’oeil fashion to which such a displacement (which dwells more naively than ever within the inside it claims to desert) is susceptible, the simple use of language continually relocates the “new” ground on the older one. Numerous and precise examples could be given of the effects of such a relocation or of such a blindness.It goes without saying that the risks of such effects are not sufficient to obviate the necessity of such a “change of ground.” (Derrida, “Ends” 56)

I think it may be productive to compare those two strategies with the ones Derrida offers regarding Heidegger’s “Language in the Poem” in Of Spirit and Geschlecht III. At the very end of Of Spirit, and still focusing on the Trakl essay, Derrida engages in a discussion of the “two paths of thought” that, according to him, open up in the Heideggerian step. These are enigmatic pages. What seems at stake is what Derrida names “an origin-heterogeneous” trail (107). The first path would take us into the “most matutinal” promise, the very first promise, older than Christianity, older than Platonic metaphysics. At the origin of the origin, hence “origin-heterogeneous,” it would introduce us to what “would be quite other than the analogous circles or revolutions the thinking of which we have inherited, from what are called the Testaments up to and including Hegel or Marx, not to mention some other modern thinkers” (108). It would be immemorial, earlier than the earliest, thoroughly arcane. Derrida dismisses it. He thinks that this trail “appears to be scarcely passable, even as the impassable itself” (108). Consequently, he turns his gaze towards a second possibility, according to which Heidegger’s path (or retrait [112]), while still “an advance towards the most originary, the pre-archi-originary” (112), would have no “new content” (112, 113). Derrida makes Heidegger speak: “Without opposing myself to that of which I am trying to think the most matutinal possibility, without even using words other than those of the tradition, I follow the path of a repetition which crosses the path of the entirely other. The entirely other announces itself in the most rigorous repetition. And this repetition is also the most vertiginous and the most abyssal” (113). We are still within the Heideggerian repetition strategy we recognize from “The Ends of Man,” to which Derrida objected already in 1968 as we have seen. Near the end of Geschlecht III, and after having discussed in the Eleventh Session the Heideggerian “repetition,” a repetition “that crosses farther towards the most originary but only in order to find what would have given birth to what has arrived and that, without confusing itself with it, is nothing other than its possibility” (133), Derrida insists that there is a structure of salvation implied in this structure, hence a promise. And the promise is the promise of a homeland. “The movement towards the future is a return towards the archi-origin . . . That is, towards the homeland, Heimat or Landdas Land being what promises, precisely, promises inhabitation but inhabitation as that to which one always returns. The return is not an accidental or supplementary predicate of inhabitation or homeland, it is the essential movement that constitutes or institutes originarily the homeland or the land as a promise of inhabitation” (171).

It would seem Derrida is completely on target with his critique. Is there not a tension, however, between a “most rigorous repetition” that “crosses the path of the entirely other” and a “repetition” structured like a promise of salvation, a promise of the homeland? Are they really the same thing, and does Heidegger mean the same thing in both? There is a difference between a reading of Heidegger’s essay on Trakl as leading towards a promise of the homeland and reading it, as Françoise Dastur does, as the move to an elsewhere: “a return which does not lead to a familiar place formerly inhabited is still something like an adventure.” And there is also an at least potential difference between those two paths and the path that “crosses the path of the entirely other.” And the difference is strictly and fundamentally political, along the lines of the politicity Derrida himself announced in “The Ends of Man:” it leads to different political outcomes. This is an issue that seems to me complex and difficult, but for which I might want to take somewhat of an exception to the Derridean position. Yes, Derrida admits that “the entirely other,” that is, the spectral possibility of an “other beginning,” for that is what it is and those are the stakes, shows up in the Heideggerian repetition, even if only spectrally, with no “new content,” while he also claims that such a repetition is eventually to be read as a promise of not just the homeland but of a return to it. We are not far from Derrida’s usual claim regarding Heidegger, namely, that his strategy to abandon metaphysics always falls short and ends up reverting to that which it claimed to abandon. But is it always so, or are we here ourselves repeating the curious structure Harries notices in Heidegger on Trakl: that it becomes undecidable whether the notorious “silent poem” ends up being Trakl’s or Heidegger’s? Perhaps Derrida has a way of forcing a return to metaphysics in the Heideggerian text. Perhaps Derrida is seeing only what he wants to see.

At the heart of Of Spirit Derrida states something that he had already said elsewhere and repeatedly, which organizes the very construction of the argument that goes from Hegel to Husserl to Heidegger in “The Ends of Man,” and that tends to be dismissed by many, through dire incomprehension, in spite of its importance: what he says is that, from the point of view of the radical critique of subjectivity carried out in Being and Time, which is not just any critique of subjectivity but actually the work’s central claim against modernity, it is hardly possible to make liberatory or revolutionary political claims. Derrida says that all political claims of that kind would have to be made from within subjectivity, and modern subjectivity to boot. Dasein is precisely not a political animal in the modern sense, and no subject speaks from Being and Time. The conclusion Derrida draws is quite stunning and has probably not received enough critical attention. He thinks that, rather than following or believing Heidegger’s political rhetoric, such as it was, all too soon, “the only choice is the choice between the terrifying contaminations . . . Even if all forms of complicity are not equivalent, they are irreducible. The question of knowing which is the least grave of these forms of complicity is always there” (Derrida, Of Spirit 40). Derrida calls for a politics of the lesser evil and essentially argues—he has already argued it in his 1963 essay on Emmanuel Levinas and will again argue it elsewhere—that seeking the lesser evil, which means less violence, is the primary political obligation. The bite is of course that any wager for a greater evil is necessarily politically damnable. It is never a matter of doing away with violence, which would be an impossible and self-deceiving task. This implies that there is only a difference of nuance, of positioning, important as it may be, but not a qualitative difference, between the democrat and the anti-democrat or the less-than-democrat: a politics of lesser evil is still a politics of calculation and a politics of scale. And the justification for this position (which seems to leave totalitarianisms out of consideration, as if they could only be a failed fantasy) is that one can never overcome metaphysical thought, fallen thought, one can never overcome inauthenticity in the Heideggerian sense, and one can never overcome the state of factitious fallenness, the state of facticity.

The claim is that metaphysics always returns, that metaphysics is what returns, that metaphysics is the thing that can and will be repeated endlessly. But this means that Derrida critiques Heidegger for what he says he never manages to do, he never accomplishes, that is, for refusing the inevitability of the return, for refusing to be intimidated by the unavoidability of metaphysical return. Derrida critiques Heidegger because Heidegger opposed a purportedly “authentic” possibility to the state of inauthentic fallenness in factitious existence. A radicalization in Heidegger—subjectivity is metaphysics, subjectivity dooms us to inauthentic dealings with the world—permits Derrida’s critique of an other, second radicalization in Heidegger—metaphysics ought to be left behind for the sake of a possible “other beginning.” But for Derrida this call for an other beginning—the scarcely passable, perhaps the impassable path—would be already, and necessarily, a metaphysical return, a bad return, not to the Heimat of the promise, but to radical inauthenticity, a return to the position Heidegger first denounced and disavowed. And it is, as we know, a return that can carry the worst inside itself, including the attempt at a politics of absolute evil (or of absolute good, which would come to the same thing.) Derrida seems to cipher all of this in the repeated allusions to Heideggerian logocentrism, so many times unconcealed by the Heideggerian insistence on Versammlung as gathering, assembling, collecting. If Heidegger looks for a return, it is perhaps the return of a distant but gathering Heimat beyond the stroke of dissension and infinite dissemination. But Derrida says: only metaphysics returns, your very notion of return is already metaphysics, metaphysics gathers and repeats, and there is no Versammlung that does not betray a violent suppression, Versammlung, the very call for it, is already dissension, is already major violence and reduction. What happened, then, to the 1968 call for “a change of ground”? My epigraph, which quotes the last words of Jean-Luc Nancy’s important book Banalité de Heidegger, namely, “it is necessary to learn how to exist without being and without destination, not to pretend to beginnings or to re-beginnings—not to conclude either” (Banalité 85), sums up a certain exhaustion with the rhetoric of change, of return, of recommencements. Nancy does not want to hear of returns, does not want to hear of beginnings or origins or ends—but is that not precisely the change of ground, is that not precisely the possibility of a form of life other than a metaphysical life? And of a transfiguration in the figure of man?[7]

We are still at the crossroads defined by “The Ends of Man,” between a repetition that risks the worst and a change of ground that may also risk something but whose necessity should not be obviated. Derrida is generous enough to Heidegger to acknowledge that the will to lesser evil may also regulate for him yet another choice, this time internal to the choice between repetition and rupture (that is, the internal choice of the “weaving and intertwining” of the paths). In the Tenth Session of Geschlecht III he says:

If there were only gathering, sameness, oneness, place without path, that would be death without phrase. And this is not what Heidegger wants to say, since he insists as well on movement, the path of the stranger, the path toward others, and so on. It must be, then, that relations be otherwise between place and non-place, gathering and divisibility (différance), that a sort of negotiation and comprise be continuously underway that requires us to rework the implicit logic that seems to be guiding Heidegger. To say that there is divisibility does not come down either to saying that there is only divisibility or division (that, too, would be death). Death lies in wait on both sides, on the side of the phantasm of the integrity of the proper place and the innocence of a sexual difference without war, and, on the opposite side, that of a radical impropriety or expropriation, or even a war of Geschlecht as sexual dissension.

(Geschlecht III 106-07; but I am already using the to-be-published English translation from a draft version).

Derrida insists later in the paragraph that “in spite of powerful deconstructive movements” the “grande logique” of metaphysics, as testified to by logos as Versammlung, is still at work in Heidegger (107). A “reworking” of the logic is then called for. But, as we just saw, it is not a reworking in the direction of infinite dissemination. What then does Derrida want?

Dastur´s precise contestation of Derrida’s reading of Heidegger on Trakl (“not Heimat but some other adventure”) means to reopen the issue of the relative success of Heidegger’s post-metaphysical path in the 1950’s. It may hinge on whether Trakl’s work is being abused. Within his own poetic world, given his writerly obsessions, is Trakl a thinker of the new beginning, as Heidegger seems to say (although Harries’s precisions still obtain), or is that merely a Heideggerian invention? Is a new beginning at all possible? Is a West yet to come a West different from the Platonic and Christian West we have known? Are we not thoroughly destined to repetition? Can a change of ground ever happen? Was Trakl entirely or partially caught up in a Platonic-Christian tropology? Or is Heidegger fully responsive to his text when he claims that, contrary to what Derrida thinks, Trakl’s words place him outside the Platonic-Christian configuration, and in movement towards an other history?

Those are questions that cannot be responded to with any finality, and perhaps, given the context, a final response no longer matters, but I want to pursue, well within the space they open, Heidegger’s seeming determination of philosophy and the philosophical path, certainly according to Derrida, as a form of nostalgic desire for a radical Versammlung. Is Heidegger’s determination of the task of thinking, mutatis mutandis, comparable to Trakl’s poetic task in its ultimate intentions, which the Heideggerian essay, as a dialogue between thinker and poet, could only partially identify? Yes, Trakl claims, at least in one poem, to be looking for “E i n Geschlecht,” which we can perhaps understand as conciliation, resolution, and transfiguration.[8] Does Heidegger want it too? Is Versammlung, as some kind of sexual unification or as something else, ultimately what is at stake in the Heideggerian path? Whether in his interpretation of Trakl’s poetic work or, more generally, in his understanding of philosophy, or of thinking, or in his reflections on the neighborhood of poetry and thinking? Derrida definitely imputes such an understanding of philosophy to Heidegger, reproaching him for it, and discusses it at some length in the fourth of the Geschlecht essays, namely, “Heidegger’s Ear.”

In his reading of Geschlecht III David Farrell Krell insists on connecting Geschlecht to the ontico-ontological difference. He says: “If the difference between being and beings, which is initially granted in Western history, is soon cursed by oblivion of being, so too is sexual difference initially granted, only to be cursed at some point by discord and dissension” (167). But this means the second stroke of Geschlecht, the stroke of discord and dissension, which is a poetic word and is used as such in Trakl’s work, has at least something to do with what, in Heidegger’s view, must be named metaphysics. And metaphysics, which would then also be a cursed discourse, would have something to do with discord and dissension. In “Heidegger’s Ear,” that is, the fourth contribution to the Geschlecht series, Derrida refers to Heidegger’s 1955 lecture What is Philosophy? He wonders whether the Heideggerian definition of philosophy can be contained into, or defined by, the nostalgia Heidegger himself identifies in post-Sophistic Greek thought. But let us go to Heidegger’s text. Heidegger states that there is no way of doing philosophy without taking the path marked by the historical provenance of the word. But the word itself is a late invention. Something interferes between the originary experience of Greek thinking and the very invention, post-Socratic, of the noun philosophia. Heidegger blames the Sophists for being that interference or destructive presence, on the basis of which Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had to extract the “free consequence” (“free consequence,” Heidegger says, “because in no way can it be seen that individual philosophies and epochs of philosophy have emerged from one another in the sense of the necessity of a dialectic process” [What Is Philosophy? 63]) of designing an alternative practice of thinking: in effect, given that a harmony or strict correspondence between the sophon and what the sophon listens to and sees has been destroyed and is no longer available, philosophy is philosophy insofar as it moves towards a question about the sophon that, to the extent it was linked to the search for “ideas,” or for “causes and principles,” placed at its point of departure an acknowledgment of loss, of a certain loss, a monumental loss, that is, the loss of the harmonious correspondence between the sophon and Logos that, for instance, Heraclitus’ saying “Hen panta,” all is one, registers. There is no longer a hen panta available for Plato or Aristotle, let alone for Heidegger. An interruption and a rupture have taken place, after which any repetition will have to be always in the first place the repetition of a loss. The Sophists bring on a caesura in Greek thought after which thinking must return to what was lost or even taken away by the Sophists as lost and gone. I think up to this point Derrida would have agreed with Heidegger at the level of description of a state of affairs.

But is that return truly a matter of nostalgia? Does it doom philosophy to a perpetual longing for a lost unity? What is Philosophy? insists, however, on the correspondence between the question of the philosopher and the being of beings. Except that this originary sense of the philosopher’s question—that is, post-Sophist—Is now internally broken and the rupture acknowledged in the ambiguity of the philía, which is a form of orexis, desire, through which the correspondence is impossibly affirmed at the very moment in which it is being sought. Thinking and being no longer coincide, they can only interpellate themselves from an impassable distance. Does this mean that Heidegger himself, as a repeater of the tradition, must live his relationship to the ontico-ontological difference as impossible nostalgia for some originary unity, for some true correspondence, for the total unachievable attunement in harmony of thinker and being? This is the very text where Heidegger moves from a definition of his critical task as “destruction” (cf. the Destruktion in Being and Time) to “deconstruction” (Abbauen). The passage deserves to be quoted, because something is said in it that Derrida does not quite pick up: “Destruction does not mean destroying but deconstructing, liquidating, putting to one side the merely historical assertions about the history of philosophy. Destruction means—to open our ears, to make ourselves free for what speaks to us in tradition about the Being of beings. By listening to this interpellation we attain the correspondence” (73, translation slightly modified). The German for the last sentence is: “Indem wir auf diesen Zuspruch hören, gelangen wir in die Entsprechung.” This is what Derrida does not dwell upon in “Heidegger’s ear.”

I am not sure it is fitting to speak of nostalgia as yearning for a lost unity, for the first stroke of Geschlecht, in that connection. At least it is probably not appropriate to overemphasize it. It is probably safer to say that reflection takes into account a discord, something like a dissension, a stroke come from afar enigmatically, like the stroke that turns the first sexual difference, good, into the bad one, the discordant one, the evil one, and that reflection listens. The poet does his thing, and the philosopher has no choice but to resist the stroke of historical facticity, to exercise a non-pliant memory regarding it, and resisting in that manner, stubborn and defiant, is philosophizing in the Heideggerian sense. Heidegger states that we are always in correspondence to the being of beings—the being of beings is our abode, Aufenhalt (74), which we cannot avoid as Daseins. But that does not mean that we listen, that we pay fitting attention, “to the appeal of Being” (75). Philosophy will come to be defined in the Heideggerian path as the attempt to establish the correspondence, to work for it and in its service. Which means that philosophy is first of all not a questioning, but a listening: philosophy is a labor of attunement, “Das Entsprechen ist . . . ein gestimmtes . . . Es ist in einer Gestimmheit” (76). It is possible that at some lost origin of time the correspondence was always already granted, but never mind, such is no longer the case and it has not been the case for a while. At this point to philosophize is merely “achten auf den Zuspruch” (78), heeding the appeal. Is this not what Heidegger wants to do regarding Trakl’s poetic work?

This heeding the appeal may solve itself in a massive attempt at willfully reestablishing, through Versammlung, some lost or abandoned possibility. This is what Derrida objects to, and it seems to me this objection, or at least the hint that such an objection could be possible, sums up the totality of Derrida’s strategy for the Geschlecht cycle, intent on proving Heidegger’s “logocentrism” as a function of his interest in the (nostalgic, repetitious) gathering of logos, in Versammlung. Now, what if it could be showed that Heidegger’s Versammlung is only at best part of the story? What if it could be established that, for Heidegger, any attempts at the collecting grasping that a certain emphasis on the question as the main instrument of philosophical reflection could offer would be always already secondary to an effective listening prior to any questioning whatsoever? In 1987, in a well-known footnote (apparently written after the book was finished and as a consequence of an exchange with Françoise Dastur), to the Ninth Chapter of Of Spirit, which is a text fully a part of the Geschlecht cycle to the extent that Derrida speaks in it about “Language in the Poem,” Derrida also refers to Heidegger’s essay “The Nature of Language” (1957-58). And he says that the notion of Zusage, a pledge, a promise, a commitment, that Heidegger develops in that essay, implies “the thought of an affirmation anterior to any question and more proper to thought than any question” (Of Spirit 131).[9] This is perhaps the clearest passage on the issue in Heidegger’s first essay on language, from “The Nature of Language:”

If we put questions to language—namely, ask after its essence—then clearly language itself must already be addressed [or granted: zugesprochen] to us. If we want to ask after the essence—specifically, that of language—then what is called essence must also already be addressed [zugesprochen] to us. Putting questions and inquiring after, here and in general, first need the address [Zuspruch] of that which they approach inquiringly, that which they pursue with questions. Every onset [Ansatz] of every question already holds itself within the promissory address [der Zusage] of what is placed in question.

(Heidegger, “Nature” 71; translation modified)[10]

But any reader of Heidegger knows this is by no means the only place where Heidegger says such things.[11] In fact, already in “The Ends of Man” Derrida quotes a significant paragraph from “Letter on Humanism” that says:

But if man is one day to arrive at the proximity of Being (in die Nähe des Seins), he must first therefore learn to exist within that which has no name (im Namenlosen). He must know how to recognize the temptation of publicity as well as the impotence of private existence. Before speaking (befor er spricht) man must first let himself be appealed to (demanded anew: wieder Ansprechen) by Being and warned by it of the danger of having little or rarely anything to say in the face of this demand (Anspruch). It is only then that the inestimable wealth is restored to the essence of speech and that man is given shelter (Behausung) to live in the truth of Being.

(Heidegger quoted by Derrida, “Ends” 50)

We will continue with this issue in the last section of this paper, as it radically concerns the Derridean theme of necessary responsibility. But responsibility in thinking—thinking as a response to a demand from outside—is not the same as a logocentric questioning and gathering. Derrida ends the long and fascinating footnote in Of Spirit by saying:

Thought about Ereignis takes its bearings from this acquiescence which responds—eng-gages—to the address. And the proper of man arrives only in this response or this responsibility. At least it does this when, and only when, man acquiesces, consents, gives himself to the address addressed to him, that is to his address, the one which only properly becomes his own in this response.

(Of Spirit 135)

Trakl responded to the address as it was issued to him. And Heidegger? Are Zuspruch and Zusage both not forms of Versammlung, which means partially rejections of dis-harmony and dis-sension, hence compensatory paths for a “new order” of thought that responds rather than essentially questions and listens rather than essentially collects (Derrida, Of Spirit 131)? But, at the same time, they are not just forms of Versammlung: they are also responses to the appeal of language through which, Derrida claims, the only good possibility of the “proper” arrives, whatever that is. And is this not what Derrida himself salutes in Heidegger’s thought, in that same footnote, as “another topology for new tasks” (132-33)? This “other topology,” connected as it is with a “passage beyond the question,” about which more below, signals perhaps Derrida’s greatest point of acquiescence to Heidegger, at a particular point in his trajectory which is certainly no longer the antisemitic and national-aesthetic moment. I confess it matters a lot less to me whether such attempts for an other thinking could be situated in the site of “One” Geschlecht, whether they are or could be interpreted as nostalgia for some purity or lost unity or some unique propriety, “on the side of the phantasm of the integrity of the proper place and the innocence of a sexual difference without war”—these are in fact Derrida’s suspicions (and he is generous enough to present them as simply so). But I don’t think so, I think they could also be otherwise taken, otherwise read, and I think they will do well enough, interpreted otherwise, at the time of alleviating the darkening of spirit that dissemination as catastrophe, the catastrophic scattering of discord, ceaselessly promotes—even if discord as such were not our primary problem, as I do not think it is.

The Terrifying Test

My conclusion is not to be taken as expressive of any fundamental sympathy for Heidegger over the Derridean critique. For me it is just a matter of fairness to see that the so-called logocentrism—that is, the tendency to a unique gathering in the word, which has overtones of authoritarianism and obedience, of arrogance and conceit—in Heidegger’s work cannot be used for anything at all, and in particular not for a disqualification concerning Heidegger’s ability to talk about the future of thought and the responsibility of thought. I would like to finish this paper in reference to what in my opinion amounts to the best and most interesting clarification regarding Derrida’s relation to Heideggerian thought, namely, his contribution to the discussions gathered in the volume entitled La conference de Heidelberg (1988). Heidegger. Portée philosophique et politique de sa pensée, which was published only in 2014.[12] As we will see, it has something to do with the question, and the question of the question, hence also directly with logocentrism.

Derrida goes to Heidelberg invited by Mireille Calle-Gruber and Hans-Georg Gadamer for a meeting that will take place at Heidelberg University, at the very site of one notorious lecture given by Heidegger in 1933 as Freiburg rector, in order to discuss Heideggerian thought in the wake of the media scandal motivated by the publication of Victor Farias’s book Heidegger and Nazism. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe will also be there. The occasion may have been important as such at the time, but I am more interested in a few things that get said, improvised, since the agreement among the speakers had been that improvisation would be the modus operandi. These things were said, on the one hand, with a precise awareness of (and little interest in forgiving) Heidegger’s political commitments during a fairly long if uncertain period of his life. On the other hand, it is also assumed, and this is what seems more important to me, that there is something in the Heideggerian text, as I said above, that exceeds and leaves behind fascistic determinations and in fact gives us the means to push forward towards necessary, new non-fascist and anti-fascist thought, and away from responsible or irresponsible repetition.

In his “Note in 2014” that serves as preface to the book Nancy talks about what must be preserved from Heideggerian thought and what needs to be abandoned. He refers to a casual comment by Hang-Georg Gadamer in the dialogue that follows: “What Heidegger was able to think is condensed in . . . Gadamer’s sentence where he states that speaking of ‘the being’ with an article is already a falsification” (13).[13] In English it does not work—as nobody says “the being” to refer to Heidegger’s Seyn (or Sein). But Nancy’s comment is a fitting reminder that a substantivation of Seyn is perhaps the very target of Derrida’s suspicions concerning Heidegger’s logocentrism, phallogocentrism, an excessive tendency towards unification in the Logos, and ultimately the kind of national-aestheticism that led him down the rabbit hole of national-spiritualism and historial antisemitism. If all of that is left behind, then, Nancy says, a new interrogation over “responsibility” ensues (13).[14] I want to conclude this paper with a short commentary on the notion of responsibility that Nancy invokes from Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe’s contributions to this Heidelberg dialogue. It seems to me something decisive, even if also radically inconclusive, gets said there.

In the middle of his first contribution Derrida cuts to the chase: speaking about what seemed hegemonic in 1988 Europe, and focusing not on the easy-to-critique neoliberalism but rather in the social-democracy that was still central to the European state and to the rhetorical construction of the European Union, he said that there is “a social-democratic discourse whose referential values are those of the rights of man, democracy, the liberty of the subject. But this is a discourse that has an awareness that it remains philosophically very fragile, and that its force of consensus in official political discourse, or elsewhere, rests on traditional philosophical axioms that are . . . in any case incapable of dealing with that which is opposed to them” (Derrida in Conférence 64). Derrida’s words have taken on a dramatic urgency in the last few years, and it simply will not do to invoke the reassurances of a return to the foundations of liberal discourse such as the European and North American Enlightenment produced. It is not only that there is no such return, and that contemporary thinking, from Nietzsche onwards, cannot very well be swept under the carpet. It is also that, for better or for worse, the legacy of the Enlightenment has failed us for a good part of the last two hundred and fifty years. Yes, Heidegger’s positions seem threatening to the pious ones for whom the authority of liberal reason is still paramount—the Kantians and Gramscians and residual Hegelians may, however, rest assured that there is no future in their own kind of endless repetition. If they are the ones who want to take upon themselves the mantle of responsibility, well then, they will have to hear that they are mistaken, and that their responsibility could well be a form of self-delusion. Derrida claims that he considers that today’s political responsibility cannot avoid the questions Heidegger raises—that, in fact, political responsibility today directly forces an opening to the Heideggerian questions: “relying upon traditional categories of responsibility would seem to me, today, precisely, irresponsible” (68).

It is interesting that Lacoue-Labarthe would claim, in his first contribution to this dialogue, that the so-called “thinking of 68” was “supposedly totally dominated by Heidegger” (72), so that the “juridical humanists” that today pretend to be the voice of hegemonic reason can make their good conscience rest on the denunciation of any number of thinking deviations, perhaps even ultra-leftist. But it will not do. Lacoue-Labarthe claims that, even taking seriously the critical denunciation of Heidegger, not as an ultraleftist, but as simply a Nazi and no more than a Nazi, well then, only Heidegger could teach us the heretofore unperceived “secrets of Nazism” (74), whose knowledge is once again radically urgent for anti-Nazis in contemporary Europe. The discourse on responsibility, curiously, does not get properly deployed in the conversation until questions from the audience force it: “what reasonable concept of responsibility should we then think of today?” (101). Derrida replies that the Kantian concept, premised on a moral law whose adoption would grant the freedom of man, premised therefore on a substantial notion of the subject of the political, and even since integrated into the axiomatics of democracy, could not avoid Auschwitz (or indeed the horrors of 19th and 20th century colonialism) (103). And, we can add, it has not avoided the devastation of the earth under liberal-democratic regimes compatible with the rule of capital—so much for axiomatics. Abandoning a Kantian-type, intentionalist, voluntarist notion of responsibility can be done—this is what the philosophical legacy has produced, and there is nothing else—only through a displacement of the notion of responsibility as a response of man to himself, premised on the moral law in the heart of man, “towards something else, towards the question of being, and it is going through it, without stopping as Heidegger did, that one must redefine responsibility” (Derrida, in Conférence 112).

“We come back to the question of the question,” Derrida says (112). For many years, Derrida says, Heidegger thought that questioning, as the piety of thought, was thinking at its highest point of dignity. But Heidegger changed his mind, or elaborated his thinking, upon the recognition that questioning was always already a response, “questioning is already a listening—to the other. I do not have the initiative, not even of the question, not even in this piety of thought that is the question” (124). The sovereign subject of modernity is no longer the subject of responsibility. “The moment of Zusage,” Derrida says, goes beyond the moment of Being and Time and subsequent years, when already, of course, Dasein was imputable and needed to respond. But Zusage introduces something else: “to determine what and who I respond to.” It is there that things become politically determined (125). Not much more is said: a new model of responsibility that develops between the Zusage, which is an acquiescence in general, and the juridico-political demand that ensues, which remains ineluctable and undecidable, and cannot be decided in advance or once and for all (126). The acquiescent response to being or ex-istence must in every case also be a response to the other, and the response to the other must be consistent with the originary Zusage: correspondence.

But, Derrida says, traversing the undecidability—that is the place of the political decision without which there is no responsibility. Nothing is given in advance. There is only, in every case, a “terrifying test” (126). But is this not the very opening into the change of ground Derrida was requesting in 1968, to a certain extent against Heidegger? The weaving and intertwining of Derrida’s two “strategic options” confirms a path of thought against conventional modern philosophy—against the structures and the pieties of political subjectivity, that is, of modern subjectivism as we have understood them: it is the path of the non-subject of the political. Contemporary thought measures itself there.


01. On “proximity” see also Derrida, Heidegger: la question 93-94 passim. The pages in the 1964-65 seminar devoted to this issue are crucial for the seminar itself, which I believe establishes many of the conditions for Derrida’s reading of Heidegger in future years.

02. See “Ends” 53 and Heidegger: la question 57 passim. The emphasis on “ontic metaphors” introduces the powerful motif of de-metaphorization/re-metaphorizatin for the rest of the 1964-65 seminar, which Derrida would take up again in several later works. In “Ends” Derrida says: “The fact remains that Being which is nothing, which is not a being, cannot be said, cannot say itself, except in the ontic metaphor.” This—that Being cannot be said, that Being is not a noun but a verb—is a central leitmotif in Jean-Luc Nancy’s understanding of the thought of Being in Banalité.

03. See Derrida, obviously the texts in the Geschlecht series and particularly “Geschlecht II: Heidegger’s Hand,” Geschlecht III and “Heidegger’s Ear. Philopolemology. (Geschlecht IV),” all of them passim, as well as “Onto-Theology of National-Humanism. See also Bueno Therezo: “Like its antecedent Geschlecht IIGeschlecht III opens up a ‘less visible dimension’ of Heidegger’s political involvement by focusing not so much on that involvement per se but by calling attention to a subterranean nationalistic undercurrent in Heidegger’s thought even, and especially, where to all appearances Heidegger seems to be at his least nationalist” (“Heidegger” 3; but the rest of the essay is an exhaustive analysis of that issue.)

04. See Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, 16, 66, and passim for archi-fascism, and “national-aestheticism” in 85-86. But all of this needs to be read in light of the work previously done with Nancy in “The Nazi Myth,” and Lacoue-Labarthe’s further reflections on onto-mythology. See also Lacoue-Labarthe’s edition of Heidegger’s 1945 essay “Poverty,” La pauvreté. When at some point Lacoue-Labarthe wonders whether a proper “renunciation of the myth” had become possible—well, that would be the precise moment in which the ghost of national-socialism would have been conjured away (see on this La conférence de Heidelberg 136).

05. For “historial anti-semitism” see Trawny, Heidegger 26 passim. For Trawny Heidegger’s anti-semitism is “inscribed in the history of being” (26). This is an understanding taken up in a major way by Nancy in Banalité, especially after 39.

06. Regarding the political risk of an engagement with Heidegger, in 1968 Schneeberger’s compilation, with all the crucial documents, had already been long published and Derrida was aware of it. But 1988 is a special year, since the Paul de Man scandal had only happened the previous year (see Derrida, “Like the Sound”), Víctor Farías’s book on Heidegger and Nazism had just been published to enormous media attention, and both Lyotard’s book Heidegger and “the Jews” and Derrida’s own Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question came out that year. Also Lacoue-Labarthe had published in the same year his important book La fiction du politique. And finally Hugo Ott’s biography, Martin Heidegger, also from 1988, complements and contextualizes Schneeberger’s documents in fairly definitive ways. Marléne Zarader’s fascinating The Unthought. Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage would come out in French in 1990. Of course today we have more available materials concerning Heidegger’s Nazi commitment, and his anti-semitism, given the publication of many of the so-called Black Notebooks and of many seminars taught by Heidegger in the 1940s. Scholarship has continued to debate the topic, but perhaps the most important contributions are Trawny, Heidegger et l’antisémitisme and Nancy’s Banalité de Heidegger. And yet perhaps one of the most important discussions on the subject (although it does not touch on antisemitism) was the one held by Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe and Hans-Georg Gadamer in Heidelberg in 1988. See La conference de Heidelberg.

07. “Transfiguration” is essential to what is at stake in Heidegger’s essays from the 1950’s. See “Language” 184.

08. The poem is “Occidental Song,” and the last stanza is as follows, in the English translation: “O, the bitter hour of decline,/ When we behold a stony countenance in black waters,/ But in radiance the lovers lift the silver eyelids:/ O n e gender. Incense flows from rosy pillows/ And the sweet song of the resurrected| (Trakl, Last Gold 131).

09. I am grateful to James Osborn, who, in a conversation that we had when I was starting to work on this paper, suggested to me forcefully, on the basis of the famous footnote in Of Spirit, that the thematics of Zusage and Zuspruch, although they appear more insistently in the later Heidegger, are far from exhausting themselves in the 1950s essays on language. They are significant in the essays on Logos from the 1940s and also eminent in The Principle of Reason (1955). I will quote only partially from Osborn’s message: “let me offer up a new example of the language of Zuspruch, from Der Satz Vom Grund: ‘Das Geschick des Seins ist als Zuspruch und Anspruch der Spruch, aus dem alles menschliche Sprechen spricht. Spruch heißt lateinisch fatum. Aber das Fatum ist als der Spruch des Seins im Sinne des sich entziehenden Geschickes nichts Fatalisti- sches, aus dem einfachen Grunde, weil es dergleichen nie sein kann. Weshalb nicht? Weil Sein, indem es sich zuschickt, das Freie des Zeit-Spiel-Raumes erbringt und in einem damit den Menschen erst ins Freie seiner jeweils schicklichen Wesensmög- lichkeiten befreit.’ The Geschick of being is, as appeal (Zuspruch) and demand (Anspruch), the saying (Spruch) out of which all human speaking speaks. In some sense human speaking and language depend on the Zuspruch having already been given. And yet, it still seems intimately bound to language, and we see this when Heidegger speaks of the appeal belonging to ‘the word of being’ throughout his 1956 address on the topic, for example: So everything still seems to circle around the ‘word’ and thus logos, reminding us of Derrida’s claim of logocentrism. But then the next line says something very interesting that might lead us down a different path: ‘Der Zuspruch bleibt jedoch um vieles älter als der Anspruch’ (‘However, the appeal remains much older than the demand’). Whereas earlier in the lectures it looked like Zuspruch and Anspruch were naming the same thing, here the Wort/Spruch of being splits into two or gives itself in two ways that are not at all equal. And what distinguishes the Zuspruch and Anspruch in the Wort has the potential to give us a, at least partial, response to the Derridean claim of logocentrism.” Needless to say, I am not finished with this issue.

10. Actually I am quoting the passage in its modified translation from William Britt, “Sameness and Difference in the Piety of Thought,” which is a splendid essay on the notion of philosophical piety. There are references to Derrida on Heidegger in the section entitled “Philosophical Piety as Listening.”

11. Britt also recognizes a change of position in Heidegger connected to the essay from the late 1950s: “We must receive the gift before we can ask about it. Reception means that appropriate questioning requires a prior and explicit openness to giving as such. Heidegger thus retracts his earlier claim about the piety of thinking in favor of a receptivity he now recognizes as prior. Listening to the promissory address (Zusage) of what (subsequently) comes into question, he says, is philosophical piety” (Britt n.p.). This is the paragraph in Heidegger’s “The nature of language” where he himself acknowledges his change of position: “At the close of a lecture called ‘The Question of Technology,’ given some time ago, I said: ‘Questioning is the piety of thinking.’ ‘Piety’ is meant here in the ancient sense: obedient, or submissive, and in this case submitting to what thinking has to think about. One of the exciting experiences of thinking is that at times it does not fully comprehend the new insights it has just gained, and does not properly see them through. Such, too, is the case with the sentence just cited that questioning is the piety of thinking. The lecture ending with that sentence was already in the ambiance of the realization that the true stance of thinking cannot be to put question, but must be to listen to that which our questioning vouchsafes—and all questioning begins to be a questioning only in virtue of pursuing its quest for essential being” (Heidegger, “Nature” 72).

12. See Jaime Rodríguez Matos, “1988,” for a vibrant reading of the conference proceedings shortly after their belated publication.

13. “il n’y a pas de langage pour dire le problème de l’ëtre, lequel, mentioné avec l’article, est déjà une falsification” (Gadamer in La conférence de Heidelberg 89-90).

14. For Nancy, “l’Etre,” with an article is symptomatic of a historicist vision that “misrecognizes the thinking that is opened by the suppression of the article before ‘being’ and by what, from there, leads towards a thinking of Ereignis. This last thing has perhaps nothing to do with a destinality engaged only by the Greeks but everything to do with a different history, which would integrate Roman, Jewish-Christian, and ‘modern’ events in a sense that Heidegger was perhaps never truly capable of comprehending” (14).

Works Cited

  • Britt, William. “Sameness and Difference in the Piety of Thought.” Sophia, 1-25, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-018-0663-8
  • Bueno Therezo, Rodrigo. “Heidegger’s National-Humanism. Reading Derrida’s Geschlecht III.” Research in Phenomenology 48 (2018): 1-28.
  • —-. “Preface.” Jacques Derrida, Geschlecht III. Sexe, race, nation, humanité. Paris: Seuil, 2018. 7-27.
  • Dastur, Françoise. “Heidegger and Derrida on Trakl.” In Phenomenology and Literature: Historical Perspectives and Systematic Accounts. Pol Vandevelde ed. Würzburg: Koenigshausen and Neumann, 2010. 43-57.
  • Derrida, Jacques. “The Ends of Man.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 30.1 (1969): 31-57.
  • —-. “Geschlecht. Sexual Difference, Ontological Difference.” Ruben Berezdivin transl. Research in Phenomenology 13 (1983): 65-83.
  • —-. “Geschlecht II: Heidegger’s Hand.” John Leavey transl. In Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida. John Sallis ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987. 161-96.
  • —-. Geschlecht III. Sexe, race, nation, humanité. Geoffrey Bennington, Katie Chenoweth, and Rodrigo Therezo eds. Preface by Rodrigo Therezo. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2018.
  • —-. “Heidegger’s Ear. Philopolemology. (Geschlecht IV).” John Leavey transl. In Commemorations: Reading Heidegger. John Sallis ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993. 163-218.
  • —-. Heidegger : la question de l’Etre et l’Histoire. Cours de l’ENS-Ulm 1964-65. Paris : Galilée, 2013.
  • —-. “Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell. Paul de Man’s War.” Peggy Kamuf transl. Critical Inquiry 14 (Spring 1988): 590-652.
  • —-. Marges—de la philosophie. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1972.
  • —-. Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby transl. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.
  • —-. “Onto-Theology of National-Humanism.” Geoffrey Bennington transl. Oxford Literary Review 14.1 (1992): 3-23.
  • Farías, Víctor. Heidegger et le nazisme. Myriam Benarroch and Jean-Baptiste Grasset transl. Paris: Verdier, 1988.
  • Harries, Karsten. “Language and Silence. Heidegger’s Dialogue with Georg Trakl.” Boundary 2 4.2 (Winter 1976): 494-511.
  • Heidegger, Martin. “Language.” In Poetry, Language, Thought. Albert Hofstadter transl. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. 187-210.
  • —-. “Language in the Poem. A Discussion on Georg Trakl’s Poetic Work.” Peter D. Hertz transl In On the Way to Language. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. 159-98.
  • —-. “The Nature of Language.” Peter D. Hertz transl. In On the Way to Language, 57-108.
  • —-. What is Philosophy? Jean T. Wilde and William Kluback. Bilingual Edition. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
  • Krell, David Farrell. Phantoms of the Other. Four Generations of Derrida’s Geschlecht. Albany: SUNY UP, 2015.
  • Lacoue-Labarthe,Philippe. La fiction du politique. Heidegger, l’art et la politique. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1988.
  • —-. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry. Jeff Fort transl. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2007.
  • —-, and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth.” Brian Holmes trans. Critical Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990): 291-312.
  • —-. Introduction. Martin Heidegger, La pauvreté. (Die Armut). Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Anna Samardzija transl. Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2004. 7-65.
  • Lyotard, Jean-François. Heidegger and “the Jews.” Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts transl. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1990.
  • Nancy, Jean-Luc. Banalité de Heidegger. Paris: Galilée, 2015.
  • Ott, Hugo. Martin Heidegger. Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie. Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 1988.
  • Rodríguez Matos, Jaime. “1988: This is not a Review. It is a Call to All to Read The Heidelberg Conference.” https://infrapolitica.com/2016/12/20/1988-this-is-not-a-review-it-is-a-call-to-all-to-read-the-heidelberg-conference/
  • Schneeberger, Guido. Nachlese zu Heidegger. Dokumente zu seinem Leben und Denken. Bern: Buchdruckerei AG, 1962.
  • Trakl, Georg. The Last Gold of Expired Stars. Complete Poems 1908-1914. Jim Doss and Werner Schmitt transl. Sykesville, MD: Loch Raven P, 2010.
  • Trawny, Peter. Heidegger et l’antisémitisme. Sur les “Cahiers noirs”. Julia Christ and Jean-Claude Monod transl. Paris: Seuil, 2014.
  • Zarader, Marlène. The Unthought. Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage. Bettina Bergo transl. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2006.