Iain Thomson
University of New Mexico
Iain I remember reading Thomas Jefferson in high school; he wrote so eloquently about our human need for freedom that I got choked up just reading him. When I found out he'd had slaves I was stunned, traumatized intellectually, but I lacked the resources to work through it very far at the time. Reading Heidegger a few years later I had a similar experience, only magnified and more complicated. As I read Heidegger's later work in Hubert Dreyfus's wonderful "later Heidegger" course at UC Berkeley, I had that strange experience Emerson describes as our own ideas returning to us with "alienated majesty"; here, I thought, was someone who had eloquently expressed ideas that I felt were at the core of my own thinking but that I had never managed to articulate adequately. I was deeply moved by Heidegger's critique of our increasingly nihilistic treatment of our world and each other as meaningless resources to be optimized and I was inspired by his vision of poetic thinking as a way out of this historical nihilism. Then I found out he'd been a Nazi. I was intellectually traumatized once again. But this time I didn't let the question go: How could the greatest thinker of the twentieth century have thrown the weight of his thinking behind its most horrible political regime? That's something I've been struggling with for almost twenty years now. I believe I made some real progress in understanding this difficult and controversial issue in Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education, and I hope to disseminate the view I presented there to a broader audience in a book I'm working on now, an intellectual biography of Heidegger
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