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4 The History of Philosophy: Nietzsche and the History of Ontology
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Heidegger's Nietzsche Lectures and the Turning (Kehre)

Heidegger's stress on the historical importance of a mythical withdrawal of Being provides insight into two further themes: the relation of the Nietzsche lectures to the Beiträge , and the important but obscure concept of the turning in his thought. The central concept of the Beitr äge is the concept of the event (Ereignis ). Now the German language has a number of words which mean "event," including "Erlebnis," "Geschehnis, " and "Ereignis. " It has been suggested that in writings prior to the first series of Nietzsche lectures, Heidegger routinely employs the word "Geschehnis " to refer the so-called crucial event of Western history.[227] In the crucial passage in the discussion of metaphysics, cited above, in both the published version and in the original lecture course Heidegger uses the word "Geschehnis " to designate the event which Nietzsche was allegedly the first to perceive,[228] whereas in parallel passages referring to the "death of God" in the rewritten and original lecture versions of the Nietzsche course he employs the term "Ere-


ignis ."[229] In writings after this period, he consistently reserves "Ereignis " to designate the particular historical event and he utilizes "Geschehnis " to refer indiscriminately to other events.

Heidegger's change in terminological emphasis is accompanied by a conceptual alteration of his position, which undergoes a transformation or deepening, but not a rupture, in the so-called turning in his thought. After a passing reference in the "Letter on Humanism," the difficult concept of the turning (Kehre ) came to dominate discussion of the relation between the earlier and later phases of Heidegger's thought.[230] The concept of a turning is well-known in German thought, for instance in Marx's obscure suggestion that his own theory can be regarded as the inversion (Umkehrung ) of Hegel's idealism.[231] Marx's suggestion, which has been seen as fundamental to an interpretation of his position by generations of students, implies that his position grows out of a fundamental transformation of, but not a break with, Hegel's position. Hei-degger employs the concept of the turning in order to suggest an analogous transformation in his view, whose later form develops in a fundamentally new way, but does not fully leave behind, his earlier thought. In a comment on Being and Time , Heidegger remarks that his standpoint is not changed, but deepened;[232] and in another comment on Sartre he remarks that the latter reverses or inverts (umkehrt ) the traditional order in the relation of essence and existence.[233]

The German language is particularly rich in etymologically related terms to express the idea of turning and related concepts. There is a clear etymological link between "Kehre " and "Umkehrung " through "Umkehr." "Umkehrung " can be rendered as "overturning," "reversal," "conversion," or "inversion," whereas "Kehre " means a "turn" or "bend." Both are further related to "Umdrehrung ," that is, "turning" or "revolution." In the first series of Nietzsche lectures, Heidegger mentions the idea of an Umkehrung in a number of places, in particular the early chapter on The Will to Power and in a later chapter concerning truth in Platonism and positivism.[234] In the former, Heidegger describes Nietzsche's nihilism as a countermovement to nihilism within nihilism. Nietzsche's procedure, he maintains, is a constant reversal (ständiges Umkehren ).[235] In the discussion of Nietzsche's philosophy as an Umkehrung of Platonism, he remarks on the need to change the order so that the Umdrehung , or turning around, will become a Herausdrehung from Platonism, or twisting free.[236] But a turning (Drehung ) is not necessarily a reversal (Umkehung ), as he later reminds us; it can rather be a kind of penetration (Eindrehen ).[237]

Heidegger thinks of Nietzsche as attempting a turning within nihilism in order to overturn and go beyond Platonism. It is, then, reasonable to see in this concept an earlier version of Heidegger's own later effort,


through a turning, to progress beyond his own earlier thought, Nietzsche, Platonism, and metaphysics.[238] Both the idea and the date of the turning are controversial. It is possible that there is not a single turning, an isolated event, but rather several turnings, or types of turning, in Heidegger's thought. This way of reading the turning is plausible since even the most labile positions do not change suddenly or in discontinuous fashion, but rather undergo shifts in emphasis over time. If this is the case, then the term "turning" does not designate a single event, such as a sudden shift or a break, but rather refers to the process of the evolution of Heidegger's position from the original phenomenological ontology, with its stress on a transcendental analysis of the problem of Being in terms of Dasein, to a later, nontranscendental analysis of this problem which no longer depends on Dasein.

It is unclear why the turning, or turnings, took place. The process may have been set in motion by a renewed encounter with Nietzsche, more precisely through the growing awareness, which can be traced through the texts, of the importance of the idea manifested in the slogan "God is dead," which finally gives rise to the extensive meditation on nihilism. If we accept this hypothesis, then we can plausibly understand the turning as a number of related elements in Heidegger's position arising out of his meditation on the supposed withdrawal of Being, through Nietzsche's insight, over a period of years beginning no later than the early 1930s.[239]

One precipitating factor seems to have been Heidegger's later realization that later philosophy did not simply fall away from Being, leading to the emergence of an inauthentic metaphysics. There is, hence, a reversal in Heidegger's understanding of the concept of falling, which in Being and Time was ascribed to Dasein's inauthenticity, or failure to choose itself authentically, but which is later ascribed to the mythical event in which Being withdraws. If this is the case, then the turning in Heidegger's thought represents his effort to think what is no longer, or at least no longer primarily, a suppposed infidelity to Being, but what he later comes to see merely as the hand that Being has dealt us.

In general, we can discern at least the following features as constiturive of the turning in his thought. First, there is a turn away from Dasein to Being, since Being, not Dasein, is the source of its own occultation. This explains the eclipse of Dasein, or the analysis of Dasein, and the later disinterest in authenticity, elements that are no longer relevant to the thought of Being. Second, there is the new focus on the loss of the thought of Being as an event due to Being itself. Although Being and Time pointed toward the thought of Being as time, it turns out that the problem of the meaning of Being needed to be rethought in terms of an initial event which, in a sense, creates the problem. Third, there is a turn


to Nietzsche since he alone, on Heidegger's view, has recognized the primordial event which since the beginning determines Western history and Western metaphysics. This explains the realignment of Heidegger's fundamental ontology after 1935, perhaps even before, as an attempt to unroll the consequences of Nietzsche's thought of Being. Fourth, there is a decision to deepen the earlier approach, which is no longer tenable, or at least not tenable as originally understood. When Heidegger says that we need to recapture or to repeat the beginning of our historical epoch in order to transform it into another beginning, it is significant that he characterizes such repetition as "anything but an improved continuation with the old methods of what has been up to now.[240] In this sense, the celebrated turning, or the turn to another beginning, represents an effort to push the questioning back to a deeper level, to begin again on a prior remove, finally once and for all to make a true beginning. It is the desire to make a deeper, truer, in fact finally true beginning which is manifest in the detailed effort in the Beiträge to think another beginning from the perspective of the so-called event.

Fifth, there is a political turn that does not precede but follows from the turning in Heidegger's thought. In the lecture course on metaphysics, after he resigned as rector and severed his official connection to National Socialism, Heidegger repeats his call to follow the political lead of metaphysics in order to undo, if not for the world, at least with respect to Germany, the ravages supposedly wrought by the withdrawal of Being in the mythical event. His effort to lead the leaders is, and is seen by him as, an attempt to seize the propitious moment in which this supposedly most metaphysical nation can arrest its decline and assume its historical destiny. Heidegger reemphasizes this point in his statement of the necessity for Germany to act on behalf of itself and the history of the West in order to avoid catastrophe through decisive action.

All this implies that this nation, as a historical nation, must move itself and thereby the history of the West beyond the center of their future happening [Geschehens] and into the primordial realm of the power of Being. If the great decision [Entscheidung] regarding Europe is not to bring annihilation, that decision must be made in terms of new spiritual energies unfolding historically from out of the center.[241]

Yet this statement after the rectoral period does not record a new or even a substantially different conviction; rather it restates in almost equivalent language a familiar view, a muted echo of the essential message of the rectoral addresss, a conviction Heidegger continues to hold, and which he expressed in his speech noting the importance of Nietzsche's slogan "God is dead" and calling for the realization of German


destiny. There is an obvious continuity between Heidegger's claim in the rectoral address to lead the leaders, to realize the ends which he shares with Nazism, and the statement in the lectures on metaphysics of the need for decisive action to realize German destiny. In both cases, the call for action, for the translation of metaphysics into politics, follows from a turning in Heidegger's thought based on his reading of Nietzsche's slogan.

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