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What Heidegger’s Notebooks Don’t Tell Us

Richard Wolin’s mistaken ambitions.

Michael Weinman

Portrait of Martin Heidegger, 2012, by Arturo Espinosa.

Martin Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, which Richard Wolin describes as a “philosophical notebook or diary that Heidegger meticulously maintained over the course of four decades, from 1931 to 1969,” have been published in eight installments since 2014. Wolin, a professor of intellectual history at the CUNY Graduate Center, originally intended to write what he calls a “relatively circumscribed monograph” focused on this addition to Heidegger’s corpus. Instead, he explains, Heidegger in Ruins “metamorphosed into something considerably more ambitious: an effort to reconstruct the key stages of Heidegger’s Denkweg [perhaps best translated as “turn of mind”] on the basis of the new insights and directives that the Notebooks provided.” At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I wish Wolin had hewn more closely to his original plan.

I say that because a more restrained monograph would have provided a real service to those who work on twentieth-century philosophy and intellectual history, especially German and Continental philosophy. But the ambition motivating the book as it is written strikes me as fundamentally mistaken—and mistaken precisely because it makes much more of the Black Notebooks than they deserve.

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