Read Martin Heidegger by George Steiner Online


With characteristic lucidity and style, Steiner makes Heidegger's immensely difficult body of work accessible to the general reader. In a new introduction, Steiner addresses language and philosophy and the rise of Nazism."It would be hard to imagine a better introduction to the work of philosopher Martin Heidegger."—George Kateb, The New Republic...

Title : Martin Heidegger
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ISBN : 9780226772325
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
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Martin Heidegger Reviews

  • Szplug
    2019-04-05 08:03

    I am not convinced that Martin Heidegger wanted to be "understood" in the customary sense of that word; that he wanted an understanding which would entail the possibility of restating his views by means of a more or less close paraphrase. An ancient epigram on Heraclitus, in so many respects Heidegger's model, admonishes the reader: "Do not be in too great a hurry to get to the end of Heraclitus the Ephesian's book; the path is hard to travel. Gloom is there, and darkness devoid of light. But if an initiate be your guide, the path shines brighter than sunlight". Initiation is not understanding in the ordinary sense. Heidegger conceives of his ontology, of his poetics of thought, to be such that they cannot, finally, be reconciled to the manner of ratiocination and linear argument that has governed Western official consciousness after Plato. To "understand" Heidegger is to accept entry into an alternative order or space of meaning and of being. If we grasped him readily or were able to communicate his intent in other words than his own, we would already have made the leap out of Western metaphysics. We would, in a very strong sense, no longer have any need of Heidegger. It is not "understanding" that Heidegger's discourse solicits primarily. It is an "experiencing", an acceptance of felt strangeness. We are asked to suspend in ourselves the conventions of common logic and unexamined grammar in order to "hear", to "stand in the light of"—all of these are radical Heideggerian notions—the nearing of elemental truths and possibilities, of apprehension long buried under the frozen crust of habitual, analytically credible saying.I find Martin Heidegger to be inescapably fascinating. Whatever level of understanding I possess of the man I've only managed through exposure to the interpretation of others—Graham Harman and William Barrett and George Steiner have pride of place here—and from whom, in especial the latter two, I've come to accept that my own impatience with Heidegger's maddeningly mirrorlike etymological root-uprooting, his stickily encircling and prickly precise structural manipulation of language—and the fact of the latter being provided through the medium of translation offering but a further impediment—is the major and perhaps insurmountable obstacle to my ever entering into experiencing his prose-bound thought to the degree required to extend that fascination into the realm of enlightenment. By the latter, I do not mean knowledge, in the objective sense. At this moment in my Heideggerian noviciate, I maintain, with perhaps insufficient reason, that Heidegger's ultimate value may be revealed in the poetic truths, the inner intuitions of a deeper, more attuned awareness that his thought—straining mightily but subtly to reach beyond existential tautology, banality, ineffability, into the very void it(un)self to draw forth the essence of Essence—may open to the reader's own avenues of mental percipience. But are we then merely in the realm of examining how a pattern-detecting and -configuring species works such as triggers for other deeply-layered fractals or forms or filaments deposited in otherwise inaccessible areas of our brain during the sensory bombardment we endlessly undergo whilst actively conscious of but a minute portion of the entirety? Are Heidegger's excavations of an interior architecture waiting a more formal exploration by a more focussed, more nano-technologically-enhanced science? There are more things in our memory and brain cells, Manling, than are dreamt of in your philosophy and in your science.I just don't know. There is a part of me—glib perhaps, self-righteous possibly, humane hopefully—that looks at how this man, austere and disciplined and all-consumed by his pursuit of the being of Being, came to capitalize, at the moment when he might have been positioned to make a substantive difference, upon the smaller, the meaner, the unflatteringly vainglorious side of his own personal being and the apocalyptic tenor of his political essence. It calls to my mind the immortal words of Anton Chigurh, via Cormac McCarthy: If the rule you followed led you to this of what use was the rule? Does that extend to the entirety of his thought? Is the man, if we contemplate, drill down into his own being, but a philologist building vast and abstractly-shaped sand castles with his back arrogantly turned to the philosophical tides rushing in? A theologist veiling his Absolute with esoteric linguistic constructs but for whose Being the word God could be substituted and, more or less, enhance the comprehensibility of his thought? The other part of me does not believe so—and I wish to delve further into his work to buttress that half of my own still relatively ignorant take. It strikes me that Heidegger's concept of time lies in the Kantian provision of it being a form of inner sense, of which the latter, together with its outer sibling of spatiality, really grabbed me and stuck with me in my reading of Scruton's VSI to Kant a few weeks ago. I continue to be highly intrigued by what Heidegger has to say—it remains for me to configure myself, steel myself, bring myself such that I can partake of his voluminous output with the mindset and patience requisite for channeling that intrigue into apprehension.Ah, right—what about the book under review? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Steiner is an elegant writer, well capable of rendering Heidegger's more occluded and tangled constructs into clear, but lovely, English. This edition includes an invaluable opening essay on Heidegger in 1992, which sets the table perfectly for the ruminative progression to follow. Steiner's work actually combines quite well with Graham Harman's Heidegger Explained, for while both cover the entirety of Heidegger's output, the latter dwells deeper upon Heidegger's concepts of Tools and Things, while Steiner prefers to decant more upon Caring and Thrownness and Fallenness and Dasein's relationship with Death and Finitude. Steiner is careful to include cautionary and critical interjections, both of his own and from the opinions of other thinkers, as well as endeavoring—quite impartially considering that, when he first penned the book in 1978, he did not have access to all of the details and incidents in Heidegger's personal life that were subsequently made available to the likes of Harman and Rüdiger Safranksi—to address the connexion between Heidegger's philosophy and his embrace of National Socialism. In particular, a brief but moving assessment of Heidegger's relationship with, and influence upon, Paul Celan reveals quite starkly what the stakes were, and how loudly the former's silence resounds in the light of them.What I especially appreciated about Steiner is that he allows Heidegger's thought to be described in a way that, whilst remaining true to the formulator's rigorous word dynamics, reveals itself more readily to our means of linguistic apperception as currently constructed—ie, enmeshed within the Western Metaphysics that Heidegger would wish us to overcome. What I particularly desire to get behind, through better understanding (and direct from the source), is Heidegger's intention to erase the dualities—mind/body, body/soul, God/Devil, inner/outer, right/left, subject/object, rational/irrational—that have riven our mental constructs from time immemorial and sundered us from Being, together with that inherent sense of decay, of existing in a fallen state from some primordial, Edenic purity. There is potent imagery in the way that Steiner brings this to the surface: just as Heidegger does not conceive of Being as something outside of us, beyond us, a hierarchical order over us, but rather as how, in the darkness, we might be revealed as aglow with light of perceptible hue, though the source be candent—so Dasein, in its current modern temporal permutation, does not possess itself of a being that is corrupted or in a state of Original Sin; it has but changed its ontological hue to reflect the existential progression of ourselves along a path made inevitable by ontic and epistemic alterations in our language. Our being is not a decayed being—it is a modified being of which we must seek to effect—in asking questions about, caring about, thinking about, opening ourselves to Being—a reconfiguration such that our lambent chromaticity returns to its original, pre-Dialectic and -Western Metaphysical colouration and its resultant tonal properties as set against the horizontal shading of Nothingness.

  • howl of minerva
    2019-03-24 07:12

    steiner is a pseud, imho.

  • AC
    2019-04-19 04:43

    Heidegger is a seducer. His central metaphysical intuition is very seductive. But, like most seducers, his 'ways' (his 'wiles') are utterly fraudulant. His use and abuse of etymology, his fetishizing of the ancient Greek language, his very interpretations of the Presocratics, his 'teasing out' (accomodare) of meaning from ancient texts -- is all bullshit. He should have just written a poem or a prose-poem and been done with it....As to his Nazism, it follows ultimately from his rejection of Plato and Aristotle, and the 'metaphysical-analytic' tradition by which he justifies his contempt for modernity.(Of course, I know very little of Heidegger at first-hand -- so the above is nothing more than a set of impressions from secondary readings --)

  • Jon Stout
    2019-04-10 06:08

    In this introduction to Heidegger, George Steiner starts out by acknowledging that many philosophers regard Heidegger’s philosophy as nonsense, as literally not making sense, let alone false. Indeed nothing is so emblematic of the cleavage between Anglo-American analytic philosophy and European phenomenological-existential philosophy as the reaction of Rudolph Carnap or A.J. Ayer to the statement that “The negation of nothingness is Being."Heidegger undertook to ask the question, “What is Being?”, not in a scientific or religious way, not even in the sense of “What do all beings have in common?” but rather in the primal sense of someone thrust into the world and wondering, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Heidegger uses a distinctive term to get at this sense of being, “Dasein,” literally “being there,” as in “You had to be there.” To my mind this evokes the idea of having been thrust into a particular existence on earth (as you might have been thrust into existence on another planet), and wondering, “What in the world is this?” To explain that this is how the earth formed, or that this is your genetic descent, is beside the point, because the amazing thing is that there is anything at all.Heidegger does some interesting things with this approach. He examines the etymological roots of the word (and its variants) to get at ways that Being was initially experienced. In one instance he comes up with, “to live, to emerge, to linger or endure,” which illustrate the variety of ways that things can be. He brings death into the equation, in the sense that the human knowledge that one is going to die casts one’s Being in an entirely different light. He also comes up with the Marxist-like conclusion that the modern, technological conception of Being consists of a manipulation or a coercion into giving us something like an answer or a product, whereas we have lost the ability simply to be with Being in a caring way.Steiner suggests that Heidegger’s philosophy might be regarded as akin to poetry or theology. As with poetry, Heidegger tries to get us to look at Being in a fresh way, or in a way of fundamental recognition. Heidegger denied that his work was religious, saying that it was neutral to any theological position. Contemporary theologians, however, such as Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, have found fertile ground in his philosophy, because, I think, in examining one’s global attitude toward Being, there is room to examine other global attitudes, such as faith and compassion. Of course, Heidegger wouldn’t think he was talking about an “attitude,” but, even so, it’s all part of Being. And the awe and the wonder with which Heidegger questions Being are what, in earlier ages, would have been addressed to the divine.

  • Will
    2019-04-14 00:55

    I'm amazed at what passes for insight with Heidegger and his admirers. This is just a bunch of dressed-up platitudes and truisms. Did you know you can only die once? What about this: no one can take your death away from you. Or this: freedom sometimes means not knowing what to do. Color me surprised!

  • Burak
    2019-04-19 02:43

    Great treatise on Heidegger, and the best introduction to his thought that I have yet encountered. It goes beyond a dry summary of Heidegger; it is not just Heidegger-made-worldly, so to speak. It is simple, lucid, easy to follow, and all this is achieved while keeping Heidegger "alive and pulsing" in the text. Many "summaries" or "introductions" on great thinkers fail to achieve this, as we often end up with a summary in which the thinker himself is no longer, whereby he is "reduced" to a series of easy to understand statements and observations: As a result, meaning is lost. Steiner avoids such a trap beautifully, by virtue of the fact that he truly cares for what Heidegger says and what his presence means for the human condition. Thus, he can go beyond a mere academic presentation.I cannot claim that I understand Heidegger by any means, but I know that Steiner made Heidegger possible for me, provided a point of entry into Sein und Zeit and later writings. This is an invaluable feat regardless of whether or not I end up rejecting Steiner's vision and understanding of Heidegger during the journey.In short, this is a highly advised read for anyone who is interested in the philosophy of Heidegger.

  • Spoust1
    2019-04-13 03:06

    This introduction to Heidegger's thought is well-written and short - a fast read. I like this work because Steiner tries to show, against blistering criticisms by the Frankfurt School's Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno, the latter of whom devoted an entire book ('The Jargon of Authenticity') to condemning Heidegger's thought as inherently fascist, that Heidegger is not only a great philosopher but a philosopher whose thought does have importance for social issues. Steiner wants to make Heidegger LIVE, then: he argues that Heidegger allows us to think a way out of the individualist side of (Nietzschean, Kierkegaardian, Sartrean, whatever) existential freedom; that Heidegger's explanation of the possibility of forgetting the nature of being pre-figures and is the possibility of reification. And, Steiner's explanation of Heidegger's thought on language - "language speaks before man," "language is the house of being," "man is in his essence inasmuch as he speaks the truth of being" - would be of use for anyone studying Derrida or Lacan - not because they were inspired by it (which they were) but because it opens up new ways of reading their text.

  • Thomas
    2019-03-22 07:55

    This was recommended as an introduction to Heidegger, but I don't think it works very well that way. It is as much a critique as it is an introduction, which presupposes a familiarity with the material. I don't have much confidence in my understanding of Heidegger, but it was enough to understand Steiner's approach.Steiner writes with great clarity and is able to provide a meaningful context for Heidegger's work, from Being and Time through the later works on art and technology. He also puts Heidegger himself in context, and doesn't spare him from questions about his involvement in the Nazi party. This is an enduring puzzle, and Steiner is rightfully disturbed by it. More than anything I was impressed by Steiner's writing -- it is extremely precise, and while I am not competent enough to judge his interpretation of Heidegger, I am fairly certain about what Steiner thinks about him. And his opinion makes me only more curious about Heidegger, which is I think what the book intends to do.

  • Coyle
    2019-04-08 01:48

    I've been reading this short book on-and-off for a while now, and just managed to finish it. Certainly not because it was boring, but because I had so much else on my place.Overall, the book gets 5 stars because it does something that I didn't used to think possible: makes Heidegger understandable and enjoyable. Steiner's enthusiam for the subject is clear, which is even more remarkable given that he's not a professional philosopher (I'm not entirely sure what he is, I think from what he says in the text he might be some sort of Classicist or literary scholar). This is an excellent survey of Heidegger's writings and works that doesn't get bogged down in German or difficult terms. I don't know how "orthodox" the interpretation of Heidegger here is, but it's certainly an interesting and enjoyable read.

  • Thomas Baughman
    2019-03-29 05:12

    This is one of the best short studies of Heidegger ever written.

  • Nilesh
    2019-03-22 08:11

    For a variety of reasons, this summary of Heidegger's work does not work. A part of the reasons lie in the inherent incoherence in Heidegger's own work and the other in the way it is presented. The author, or the essayist as he would possibly like being called, is unbiased. He provides a highly balanced view on one of Philosophical World's most controversial characters. The essayist has an excellent grasp of Heidegger's own work as well as many others who came before and after. Most importantly, the essayist does well in explaining Heidegger's basic concepts. But these positives are limited compared to the negatives, at least in the eyes of this reviewer. Let's start with the negatives of the book before turning to the problems of Heidegger's views. For an essayist who finds one of Heidegger's biggest shortcomings as the complexity of the language or phrases he uses, it is ironic that he suffers from a similar syndrome. If one is generous, it is possible to claim that at least for the philosopher, there was no easy way out because of the issues he was addressing, including the structure of the language itself. The essayist, on the other hand, seems to go out of his way to replace the simplest of English terms with their more complex variety in each statement through the short book including when he is describing Heidegger's personal life. If the essayist did not use Thesaurus all the way while writing the piece to make everything sound scholarly, he is qualified to write one from scratch given the words used all through.This use of complex words could certainly excite many readers for their "poetry". This is something Heidegger himself might have approved. May be the enthusiasts who follow Heidegger are prone to relish such language, just like the French or German statements that are scattered throughout. However, this is something that is not for the neophytes or those without long training in the field.It is quite likely that Heidegger was as unclear in his philosophical musings as in the real life; the essayist himself wonders whether Heidegger ever wanted to be fully comprehended (which also presupposes Heidegger himself clear in his own mind). He never reached any framework or conclusions except some like "questions that are worth pondering are questions that can never be answered"! This is being facetious but the main point is that Heidegger is far better at posing some deep questions including the queries around why there is something rather than nothing or what is our being. He is also good at showing what could be wrong with the ideas presented by other renowned philosophers. However, he abjectly fails, basing on what is summarized in this book, in providing any clear presentation of his views, most likely because he did not have one.Heidegger loves to start upside down: We don't speak. Language speaks. Or the Beings are defined not by the self but by the world around and within the Language they have or use. This bit, assuming I got it right and something he painstakingly arrives at using the most complex of arguments and phrases, are still fine. What happens afterwards flirts with the limits of absurdity.Husserl, Wittgenstein and many other phenomenologists tried to separate the problems caused by the vagueness of the languages we use, including different meanings they confer in different minds/at different times as one of the biggest things holding back good philosophical discourses or at the root of many confusions/disagreements. These philosophers worked on creating something better for the kind of world we live in now and for the future. Their inherent premise was that we cannot solve some of the problems with the Language tools we have (like trying to do web page design with French) and hence the need to build better, proper languages or structures suitable for problems at hand. Heidegger in particular, although there must be many, emphasized that the entire construct of existence for a Being is because of the Language it has (reality shaped by the Language). While not explicitly ruling out the need to expand or modify the Language as a result to expand our knowledge horizons, Heidegger turns prehistoric and justified by the most elementary of reasons.While it is easy to understand for any followers of any twentieth century philosophers the need for precise language terms before delving into any major philosophical issues, Heidegger's strange etymological quest - to decipher answers from the studies of roots of words (Greek roots primarily!) not as they have evolved but as they may have been before Socrates - is quirky at best and ridiculous if not. Heidegger gets needlessly embroiled in whatever language flaws he may have spotted and even more needlessly in seeking answers in some historic versions rather than propose fresh ones.The followers of Heidegger contend that the master's methods are like those of consummate artists: the real insights are available who study the writings again and again and cogitate. The revelations will accrue to those from between the lines, so to say, who patiently ponder over what is not said! This will be similar to Heidegger's own views on true works of literature- in getting to the meanings not conceived by their creators. This might be quite right in arts but not in sciences including good philosophical discussions. Definitely not right for those who are writing summary books.

  • Simon Lavoie
    2019-04-10 04:47

    Pour Hegel, la questionQu'est-ce que l'êtreest la plus vide qui soit de l'histoire de la philosophie, plus généralement, du long -- multi-séculaire -- devenir objet pour soi de l'esprit (l'esprit devient, pour lui-même, un objet). Toute sa vie durant, Heidegger, philosophe universitaire agrégé, anti-académicien de prétention, théologien de formation, a combattu ce constat pour remonter à l'émerveillement pré-socratique du questionnement et de l'accueil de l'être comme distinct d'une simple collection d'étants. Le constat de vacuité s'est rebattu sur son oeuvre rapidement. Depuis Être et temps, Heidegger nous livrerait moins une sortie de fond de la métaphysique de la subjectivité technicienne se défoulant dans l'agression et la négation du donné, qu'une reformulation de certaines de ses banalités, qu'un ésotérisme stérile, théologique malgré aveu contraire, recouvert d'un verbiage opaque. George Steiner vous convertira à cette conclusion par son choix d'un point d'orgue sur le confinenement final à l'échec du penseur purement circulaire et tautologique (L'être est l'être). Constat d'échec admis à mot couvert par le principal intéressé. La lecture est certainement moins lourde, ici comme souvent avec la littérature secondaire, que celle de l'original; son principal atout est de situer les lignes de continuité de Heidegger avec ses proches prédécesseurs et contemporains (Durkheim, Marx, Husserl, pour ne nommer qu'eux), ainsi qu'avec la postérité (de laquelle Sartre est soigneusement, à son corps défendant, dissocié). Une réponse sur tous les fronts à l"aliénation de l'homme contemporain dans une écologie dévastée" passant par une mise en lumière sans précédent de dispositions comportementales oubliées ou inestimées...Le quatrième de couverture fournit une trame beaucoup moins directrice au propos qu'on ne veut le croire, vu sa force. Le fil conducteur est plutôt ici l'exégèse conceptuelle sur un axe chronologique du parcours en spiral autour de la question de l'être, par la mise à distance de la géométrie et du calcul au profit du temps et de la poésie, recours sine qua non à certaines étymologies, mêlé d'une distance critique bienvenue (malgré le silence tombale de M.H. sur le national-socialisme réel, sur l'arbre jugé à ses fruits, Steiner n'hésite pas à prendre position sur ce qu'étaient son regard et son évaluation de l'un et l'autre).

  • Leonardo
    2019-04-03 05:50

    "En su bellísimo libro sobre Heidegger, George Steiner, tratando de elucidar la relación trágica entre el filósofo y el nacionalsocialismo, escribe: «Si bien Heidegger fue un gran hombre (...) fue también al mismo tiempo un hombre pequeño. Vivió rodeado de un grupito de adoradores y, sobre todo en los últimos años, detrás de murallas de adulación (...) Puede ser que no tuviera el valor ni la generosidad necesarios para enfrentar su pasado político, y el problema de la barbarie alemana». De haberlo hecho, Heidegger habría incurrido en algo que la derecha detesta: la autocrítica. La derecha, los cortesanos y los políticos pragmáticos. La «autocrítica» es un ejercicio lacerante en el que sólo los intelectuales se sienten cómodos, siempre tan dispuestos a sufrir, a plantearse problemas éticos, a trans-formar su moral individual en una deidad interna y feroz a la que rinden culto perenne. El político no tiene tanto tiempo. Tiene que salir cuanto antes del error. Y del «error» se sale antes por la acción que por la autocrítica. «¿Nos equivocamos? Pues hagamos otra cosa y sin duda nos saldrá mejor. Quedarnos momificados mirándonos el ombligo en medio del remordimiento y la tortura moral no nos ayudará a avanzar en nada.»". El Flaco Pág.240

  • Taka
    2019-04-18 02:55

    George Steiner is a formidable writer (though I don't much care for his penchant for forming complicated abstract nouns such as "paradoxicality") and you can trust his sprachgefühl, his masterful grasp of German and English to guide us through the linguistic labyrinth that is Martin Heidegger. But I can't say I've gained much of a clear understanding of Heidegger's philosophy. Yes Steiner is a great intellectual, a complex writer, and yes he illumines many of crucial Heideggerian concepts (Sein, Sorge, Verfall, Schuld, etc.) but he is no explicator. At times, his erudite prose gets in the way of clarity and makes it hard to see the big picture (though your mileage may vary, of course). Will read Dreyfus (for the first time in like 12 years) and see how he compares.

  • Kim
    2019-03-31 06:55

    This is a thoughtful book which assesses the significance and legacy of Martin Heidegger's philosophy and does not shy away from addressing difficult questions such as the links between Heidegger's philosophy and his politics. My only qualm is that the chapters are somewhat uneven in their criticism. Many of the chapters contain unflinching and hard-hitting analyses of Heidegger's philosophy and personal actions and these sit uncomfortably with the book's sudden abrupt and relatively sympathetic conclusion which praises Heidegger's overall project of remembering the question of "Being". Perhaps such cognitive dissonance is to be expected, however, for any genuinely honest analysis of a figure such as Martin Heidegger?

  • Lukáš
    2019-03-29 06:43

    Quite a thoughtful, well-written introduction, although a bit dated (more systematic and ordered thought in Heidegger's work is implied in his GA Oeuvre that the author admits is incomplete until now), Steiner gives some useful outline of the vocabularies, a reading of Sein und Zeit and some of Heidegger's later work (Question Concerning Technology, Letter on Humanism, Ereignis) and as well, gives some insights into the political controversy as less controversial, and much more governed by a bit of stubbornness and personal ambition. Oh, well... but it seems to me that the political aspects of Heidegger's thought are at large present, and despite occasional hit-and-miss interpretation, this is a useful piece.

  • Kiof
    2019-03-22 01:09

    An incomplete philosophical picture and an even more incomplete biographical one- you get the distinct feeling that Steiner is a little over his head. But Steiner is one of the very best critics we have, so it´s not suprising that he ends up writing a fascinating, enlightening book. Also it is the first thing I read on Heidegger, so I have a soft spot for it. I wouldn´t recommend this as a place to start with M.H., I would recommend just reading his works (for he is one of the most abused and misconstrued thinkers of the modern era, though Wittgenstien´s probably got him beat), especially On the Way to Language.

  • Dennis A.
    2019-04-07 06:44

    Best intro to Heidegger.

  • Jonathan
    2019-03-24 08:01


  • John
    2019-04-16 01:48

    Still working through it.

  • Marco Sán Sán
    2019-03-28 07:03

    A pesar de la inherente sentencia, como en todos los ensayos de Steiner; logra hacer una noble introducción al enorme e intrincado pensamiento de Heidegger.

  • Nick
    2019-04-17 03:58

    Confident, interesting introductory book. Might check out some of Steiner's other work.

  • Joshua
    2019-04-12 23:43

    Good explication of a (very) complicated thinker.

  • Christ-pher
    2019-04-04 02:55

    Cogent, poeticizing introduction. Hard not to enjoy anything written by Steiner, whatever scholarly quibbles get tossed at his work.

  • Chant
    2019-04-13 03:01

    Christ. Took forever to read through this and it was dense with Heidegger terminology. Interesting though.