Headroom for Heidegger: Three New Books

“…which may have also very well been the reason for Martin Heidegger’s mistake, now that one stops to think about it.
Which is to say that very possibly Martin Heidegger was busily writing one of his books through all of that time.
Very possibly the book he was so busily writing was one of the very books in the carton in the basement of this house, in fact, which only goes to show how astonishingly small the world can be.”
— from Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson

Martin Heidegger has one of those bodies of work that leaves its dent evident on anyone familiar. He did much of his thinking and writing in a three-room hut he built on the edge of the Black Forest. Heidegger’s HutHeidegger’s Hut by Adam Sharr (The MIT Press) explores this hideaway where much of the most important thinking of the twentieth century took place. Heidegger contended that technology makes us at home everywhere and nowhere, so his Thoreau-style retreat to the hut is in line with his thinking (although he eventually succumbed to electricity and the telephone). Sharr isn’t as concerned with the architecture of the hut (though that is thoroughly covered through numerous diagrams and photos, as well as Sharr’s analysis) as he is with the embodiment of thinking and writing. Much like Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A history of Walking (Penguin, 2001), which is less about walking and more about thinking, Heidegger’s Hut is less about the place, and more about the thinking that took place.

Heidegger and MarcuseHut or no hut, no one has studied Heidegger’s thought more closely than Andrew Feenberg. I’ve attempted to study Heidegger on my own and in classes — even in one of Feenberg’s classes — and though I can’t claim to understand much of it, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you where I acquired the understanding that I do have. Feenberg’s latest book, Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History (Routledge), shows how Heidegger’s most famous student was less of a renegade than he claimed. Heidegger’s early work focused on being and being-in-the-world, but later, as he developed his critique of technology, he introduced technology as a destructive force, able to “de-world.” This left holes in his ideas about authentic living, but where he strayed philosophically to fill these holes, Marcuse patched them with Marxism. In this book, Feenberg, who himself studied under Marcuse, illustrates how Marcuse’s thought remained close to the early Heidegger, even as he claimed to have broken from his teacher, how he struggled to interject Marxism into Heideggerian thought thereby unifying existentialism and Marxism, and creating a new critical theory.

Democratizing TechnologySpeaking of critical theory, Feenberg has been developing one himself for the past two decades. He’s the most important philosopher of technology working today and the only one attempting to synthesize the traditional critical theory of the Frankfurt School with contemporary studies of technology. Democratizing Technology: Andrew Feenberg’s Critical Theory of Technology edited by Tyler J. Veak (SUNY Press) brings together other prominent scholars in the field (e.g., Andrew Light, Albert Borgman, Larry Hickman, et al.) and allows them to analyze and critique Feenberg’s critical theory of technology — and allows Feenberg to respond at length.

Martin Heidegger’s thought casts long shafts of light on topics that are still being passionately pondered and discussed. These three books carry the torch of his thought further afield and further forward.