Towads a Backward and Forward Reading of Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger is a great thinker. He raised the question of the meaning of Being. He boldly declared that Western Philosophy had forgotten the meaning of Being. Being was thought as a noun and therefore it came to be thought as a thing. Being is also a verb. West forgot that Being is a verb. He. Therefore, proposed a backward reading of Being and said that by digging into the history of Western Philosophy one will be able to come to the already original and dynamic meaning ( verbal dimension) of being . The forgetting of Being involved the identification of Being with thing, thereby leading to the thinking of God as the highest of all things. This thingification of God is an insult to God. Hence, ,Heidegger wished to overcome what he named as ontotheological thinking. This reductive thinking of being he said led to the thinking of being as a noun and forgetting of the verbal dimension of being. It essentialized Being into Beingness. Hence, he proposed two ways of retrieving the forgotten meaning of Being: first is destruktion (thumbling of the history of forgetting of forgetting of Being which he identified with the work of Socratic thinkers. This task , however remained unfinished by Heidegger). Second, is the existential analysis of Dasein ( This task was taken up in his magnus opus, Being and Time ). He taught that it is Dasien (Human being) who has the pre-understanding of Being. This is so because it is Dasien who raises the question of being. The hermeneutics of a question thereby suggests that a question is only raised by one who has an answer. This answer is vague and unclear but operates as preunderstanding of answer which is raised by the question. It is this vague answer that enables one to raise the question in the first place. This is why Heidegger thinks that the analysis of Dasien can reveal the meaning of Being.

This kind of backward reading can be seen in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, particularly in the book, After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory, where he analyzes our present condition of loss of virtue and tries to do a backward reading of its roots in the past and offers a way toward virtue ethics . This method of backward reading employed by Heidegger himself is used on Heidegger’s work by Reiner Schumann. He invites us to do a backward reading of Heidegger. In order to do a backward reading of Heidegger, he sees how Heidegger’s backward reading is located in overcoming substantialization of the subject which began with Rene Descartes. This desubstantianlization of the subject has its roots in Emanuel Kant , Shelling and G.W. Hegel. But he says that it is Martin Heidegger who desubstantializes the subject with his notion of Dasien , ‘as being there’ and overcomes solipsism. Schuchmann views that Being is thought by human differently at different times. He identifies three epoch’s of ontotheology ( eras of misthinking Being). Heidegger had simply dumped the entire history as ontotheological without looking into its finer aspects. These epochs embrace long periods of time. The first epoch, he identifies with the Aristotlean archeo-teleological foundation of the One. The second epoch is the medieval stipulation of nature and the third epoch is the ascent of the subject. Thus, Suchmann’s backward reading identifies not just the misidentification of Being as a thing but manifests how this misidentification changes from epoch to epoch. He thus, organizes thinking around specific constellation of Being which occurs due to our confrontation with the world. To him , Being does not close to some teleology but opens to an anarchy that refuses to close to this or that destination. Thus, his backward reading of Heidegger opens him to do a forward reading that does not close and closes us but one that stays open to the infinite coming of Being. This would result in freeing thinking from a closed subject. The becoming of Being therefore, stays ever open without any closure to our thinking .

The backward reading that we have done is also a forward reading. Backward reading is not a backward reading. Perhaps, we need to engage in a backward reading today more than ever before. It being a forward reading will open our closed futures. We are haunted by our perception of a closed or lost futures. To open this closed futures, we may have to engage in backward reading. To do this Heideggerian backward reading, we have to first identify the reigning ontotheologies of our times. Our societies have several ontotheologies that close us as well as close our future as well as our present. Let us take the example of the notions of India or Indian-ness, or Hinduness , Musliness etc. Certainly, these notions are closed, essentialist and are, therefore, onto-theological. We have to open them. To open these closed terms, we have to do what can be called a de-ontotheological thinking. Let us take the term India to do an de-ontotheological thinking. India as a term has definitely a layered semantic history. It did not mean the same thing over time as well as space. What we today call India is one that is assembled by the British colonizers who over period of their colonization had brought under their rule the hundreds of princely states which may have being hanging together without belonging to a single one monolith nation state that we now call India. This fragmented history of our understanding of the term when placed alongside the history of people and region that we call India today opens the term India and can open us as well as open up the closed future imposed by some right wing ideologies. Thus, we can see how Heidegger’s backward reading discovered by Schumman is indeed a great tool to dismantle closed futures that are being imposed by closed ideologies that are reining in our times. We thus, have a way of breaking away from hegemonic orders of thinking and being and have possibilities of opening other ways of thinking and being-in-the-world. We can dismantle or deconstruct hegemonic phantasms that control and constrain our thinking and close our possibilities of being-in-the-world.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao