On teaching Heidegger after the Black Notebooks

So yesterday in the Urban Context, we went through Heidegger, Thucydides, and bell hooks, all for the theme of place attachment, love, and nurturing, and how those relate to political unity–or not. In particular, we read a selection from Building, Dwelling, Thinking from Heidegger, a selection from bell hooks’ Homeplace, and, of course, the Pericles’ funeral oration, the epitome of city boosterism as a call to political unity.

It’s very hard to know what to do, really, with Heidegger. I’ve always been one of those people who could separate people from their ideas or their art. It’ befuddles me that Israeli orchestras will play Strauss, whom I believe lived and composed in relative comfort during the National Socialist regime, but not Wagner, who died in 1883, about a half century before the most evil manifestation of German nationalism manifested. The romantic and pastoral aspects of Wagner’s compositions and the emotional and intellectual connections to nationalism are clear enough, so I do understand and empathize with that decision. What I don’t understand is exempting Strauss.

That said, you give up some very nice music, some incredible art, and loads of other splendid ideas if you start eliminating artists who aren’t also good men and women.

Heidegger presents us with a very similar problem: he’s not easily ignored in philosophy, and he’s really not easy to ignore when one wants to think about architecture and urban theory. Nonetheless, Andrew Whittemore did a fine job of developing a phenomenological basis for planning theory in this very nice contribution here:

Whittemore, A. 2014. “Phenomenology and City Planning.”
Journal of Planning Education and Research, September 2014; vol. 34, 3: pp. 301-308.
(Behind a paywall, unfortunately, but if you’d like, Andrew would likely send you a copy.)

without using Heidegger at all. He instead relies on the modern phenomenologists, Merleau-Ponty and Husserl. Imminently workable.

And yet I have trouble doing so myself; the exploratory work Heidegger does in Building, Dwelling, Thinking strikes me as so important in its influence on those later phenomenologists and, particularly, on architecture theorists like Christopher Alexander.

So I teach Heidegger, with due diligence in pointing what a ghastly man he was, hoping that students see the point in poking around with the concept and etymological roots of words. Yesterday class went fine, except for the full-blown hateful glares I inevitably get from the real estate students.