Re: Foucault and Heidegger

I checked back to the mail you cut this from, and found it followed my long
list of suggested reading on this issue. But my honest feeling is that the
best way into this is to read some Heidegger, and then read Foucault
(again). The secondary literature struck me as a pale shadow of the picture
I found. I had read Foucault before I read Heidegger, but when I read him
again, after having immersed myself in Heidegger, I found so much more.

On this specific point, schematising quickly, Sartre became interested in
phenomenology and read Husserl. He then read Heidegger. But (I think) he
misunderstood Heidegger's radicalness (specifically the critique of the
Cartesian subject) and when he appropriated Being and Time into his own
Being and Nothingness he made the structures of existence (Dasein)
structures of a subject, with bad faith, etc. So, in some ways he made
Heidegger back into Husserl, or made Heidegger French (read Cartesian).
Merleau-Ponty followed Sartre in the appropriation of Heidegger and was in
some ways much more faithful to Heidegger. I don't really know M-P very
well, but interestingly someone remarked to me the other day that
Phenomenology of Perception was very similar to Cassirer's Philosophy of
Symbolic Forms (Cassirer and Heidegger had a good-natured encounter over
Kant in the late 20s).

Heidegger was not at all convinced by Sartre's work (though he did initially
suggest they meet up, go skiing together and philosophise). The Letter on
Humanism is a stinging critique of Sartre's take on Heidegger (especially
Sartre's notion that existentialism _is_ a humanism). By this time,
Heidegger was not (if he ever really was) an existentialist. By critiquing
humanism, the subject, and specifically Sartre, Heidegger was able to give
up and coming French philosophers a possibility of circumventing Sartre's
enormous influence, and in some ways a means to do just that. Althusser did
it in Marxism, which of course Sartre turned toward (it's interesting to
note that Althusser, Sartre and Henri Lefebvre - three of the most important
French Marxists this century - were all influenced greatly by Heidegger).
Lacan did it is psychoanalysis, Derrida and Foucault in whatever Derrida and
Foucault did/do (not meant flippantly, merely that I think neither is easily
categorised). The Order of Things, for example, is a very anti-Sartrean
text, though apparently all the direct references were taken out before

Interestingly, Jean Beaufret, who was the recipient of the original Letter,
and one of Heidegger's foremost disciples in France, taught Foucault.
Foucault's quote that Heidegger was the essential philosopher, that his
entire development was determined by him, that Heidegger and Nietzsche
together was the philosophical shock, etc. needs, I think, to be taken very
very seriously.

The problem is the lack of secondary material out there, which might be put
down to the fact that many of the people that read Foucault are not those
who might be expected to read Heidegger. I'm a political theorist/historian
by training, and there were some raised eyebrows when I proposed spending
the next six months of the PhD reading Heidegger 'to see if it made some
sense of Foucault'. I never looked back.

Hope this is in some way useful. I'd appreciate any questions or criticisms
of the above, very rough, take.

Best wishes


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