Heidegger at Harvard


It was interesting to observe that Heidegger was very much present in both Sloterdijk and Latour’s talk during their recent joint appearance at Harvard. For Sloterdijk, it was a matter of building on Heidegger positively, by “explicitating” Heidegger’s notion of being-in. As Latour quipped, for Sloterdijk “Dasein is design,” and explicitation means rendering the material aspects of being human visible. Thus Sloterdijk shows that being-in for humans means living in bubbles, in a world that looks like foam — marvellously refreshing metaphors for facilitating a new way of imagining sociality. A host of biological and evolutionary themes were also evoked, often resulting in startling observations, such as describing women’s bodies as “architectural units” and “apartments” for “interiorising the egg.” Sloterdijk drew parallels between evolutionary biological processes and architecture, claiming that “humans are pets,” i.e. “the effects of the space they create.” He did have a few very funny lines, aided by his deadpan delivery.

Interestingly it was Latour who mentioned Heidegger more often: he appeared to have structured his entire argument around Heidegger, even if it was meant to be a critique. Although it might have also been an attempt on Latour’s part to tease out the Heidegger connection in Sloterdijk’s work. Latour drew a direct parallel between Sloterdijk’s spheres and foam and his own actor-networks, as concepts that essentially responded to the same need to redescribe Dasein and ontology in concrete, material terms.

Ultimately both efforts were linked to political concerns. Both speakers hinted at the performativity of metaphysics, at the way in which the conceptualisation of some fundamental human experiences, such as the relationship between the inside and the outside, have determined the course of history and the shape of our everyday reality. Globalisation and the ecological crisis were the key concerns, which exposed the lack of space, the fact that there isn’t an outside. Sloterdijk even mentioned the notion of karma, saying that “the refuse comes back,” the by-products, the exhaust of the modern way of life comes back to haunt the modern man, exposing a perfectly spherical world that does not have an outside.

This reflection though only scratches  the surface. While Sloterdijk only managed to read a third of his paper, it was packed with highly original and thought-provoking observations. Latour’s talk was similarly rich and multi-layered, so watching the recording is highly recommended.

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One Response to “Heidegger at Harvard”

  1. Erdélyi’s take on the Latour/Sloterdijk video « Object-Oriented Philosophy Says:

    […] http://www.anthem-group.net/2009/02/26/heidegger-at-harvard/ […]

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