The writing style of Being and Time

Fri Intellektuell believes that Deleuze & Guattari, in their Anti-Oedipus, used perverted and sensationally irreverent language in order to intentionally make themselves a bit ridiculous. Having made themselves ridiculous thusly, they do not have to appear ridiculous in their pretention when the scope of their ambition in the book becomes clear. One doesn’t become ridiculous twice.

Heidegger’s Being and Time takes a different approach. The language is amazingly difficult most of the time. The reader is forced to desperately scrape and claw at the text in order to extract meaning. As a rule, Heidegger doesn’t reveal in advance where he is going with the text, other than quite subtly. The result is that as soon as we understand what he is doing, we also understand that he is capable of doing it. He explains the meaning of being to us, but we don’t understand quite how much that means until we have understood his explanation of being. Thus he escapes the trap of appearing pretentious: there is no initial announcement “we’re going to achieve X and Y” followed by an arduous attempt to achieve it. The achievement and the announcement are the same. He usually cannot be accused of promising more than he can deliver. The downside is that a lot of readers will simply not be able to put up with the book, giving up in frustration.

Nietzsche takes a different approach again in his works, promising heaven and earth at the outset, and then taking the reader on an aphoristic odyssey. If the reader has a sensitive stomach, Nietzsche will of course appear extremely pretentious. He doesn’t mind; he doesn’t write for those who can’t tolerate pretention.

Category: Philosophy | Tags: , , , 3 comments »

3 Responses to “The writing style of Being and Time”

  1. Monomorphic - The writing style of Being and Time (2)

    […] I can see two valid reasons for Being and Time to be written in its peculiarly difficult style. The subject matter that Heidegger wants to explore is sufficiently novel that no simple path to it […]

  2. fri intellektuell

    Thankyou for explaining my point in a far better way than I did myself : )

    Some people would describe writing in a deliberately dense and difficult style as utterly pretentious in itself (also if there is a reason behind the difficulty, as you explain in your next post). Isn’t pretension and humor kind of opposites? Slavoj Zizek has named Heidegger “the philosopher who is completely devoid of any sense of humor” (The Parallax View, page 110). Although Heidegger doesn’t promise more than he delivers, he also doesn’t relativize what he delivers.

  3. johan

    Fri intellektuell: Thanks, but I just summarised what you wrote.

    Zizek might be right, or almost. I believe that I have found irony or sarcasm in at least two places in Being & Time. After hundreds of pages of seriousness and tension, even a tiny hint of sarcasm is hilarious.


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