David Bentley Hart on Heidegger: Modernity-as-Nihilism

(Some scraps while I read and write away at several other, more substantial, pieces.)

Earlier I posted an excerpt from the later Heidegger; I have also posted thoughts from David Bentley Hart (on Marilynne Robinson, of Gilead fame). Wishing to combine the two, we might discover that Hart published an article on Heidegger in February of 2011 (ignore the venue of that link, if it bothers you: the article is worth reading). This is the last time I’ll be posting about Hart for the foreseeable future, though there is much about Heidegger I shall eventually get to here (barring death). Continue reading

“All Things are Full of Gods”, and Homer (and Hans Jonas)


In the world of Homer, it is difficult to think of anything that cannot be described as alive, from the highest power to the lowest impulse. The Homeric world restricts the title of “god” to something that is “deathless”, and this boundary between divinity and mortality cannot be crossed so as to make a mortal become immortal (V.440-442). Yet if we insist on the rigidness of this divide too strictly, we ignore the tissue of connections and participations between the deathless gods and mortal men.

The most obvious connections are through the half-god children of the sexual unions of gods and mortals (who receive special divine care, and mourning — the sons of Zeus and Ares, respectively). There are other connections, however, such as dream-visions (II.1ff.), prophets (who are given to “hear” divine speech [VII.53, clarifying the odd VII.44-45]), and especially through reciprocal gifts. These gifts include libation and sacrifice on the part of humanity (which secure protection, the failure to perform them making the gods wroth [V.177-178] even when such failure is merely due to human forgetfulness [IX.535-540]; the gods, it should be noted, take pleasure in these sacrifices [“savoring” the smell of them in I.66; IV.49; and, in a lesser sense, IX.500], and can even be said to “dine” on them [IX.535]). On the part of the gods, this reciprocity of exchanges can be seen in the “gifts” that they “lay on” people ([XIII.726-734, etc.] — for people are sometimes spoken of as godlike, and some are likened to the gods they have some symmetry with [II.169; III.16ff.; III.156-160; III.309; VII.47; VII.207-213; XV.603-606, etc.], and by which they are loved [so Aphrodite to Helen III.413-417]).

Focusing too hard on the divine-mortal spectrum, and the threads that connect the poles of it, overshadows not only the presence of divinity amidst mortality, but also occludes a feature of the Homeric world that it does not share with ours: the pervasiveness of life. In the increasingly rational environment that followed in the centuries after Homer, it is a short distance from presenting all things as full of life to Thales’ reported position that all things are modifications of water (the gods themselves come from Ocean in Homer), and Thales’ famous alleged statement that “all things are full of gods.” Continue reading

Excerpt #1 — Heidegger, On Nihilism

From Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event) transl Richard Rojcewicz & Daniela Vallega-Neu (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012), 109-110.

I make no claim to perfectly understand the later Heidegger (1889–1976), who, I am told by many specialists, is notoriously difficult even in German. (Contributions was written between 1936-1938, and most consider this to be after the date of his famous “turn”.) The editorial insertions in brackets are my own. Please do correct me if my reading is wrong.

I have often tried to press home the idea that Secularism is not simply something that a society does, or an idea that an individual might hold to (or might not hold to), but is the result of several unique historical events that have changed our horizons through events that were not engineered and cannot be reversed, that is the entire framework of our age, and determines every option we might take within it, even seemingly opposite ones. This is not a recipe for hopelessness, but for honesty. (Secularism too shall pass, I suggest, and it is yet to be seen what comes after it, although it will not simply reverse secularity, or a return to some supposed earlier golden age, or even a better one, much less shall it realize our pet ideology.) Heidegger, for all I can tell, seems to be saying something similar about Nihilism.

Continue reading