Teaching Heidegger

My course over Being and Time is nearly complete. On our last remaining day, we will be reviewing the introduction as a way of reviewing the whole — this week, we finished the final chapter and did one last “review day” over the last two chapters. Overall, I think it went well. Though Being and Time hardly ends with a bang, there’s no substitute for working your way through a major work of philosophy in its entirety. I’m now hoping that I’ll be able to offer a “big book in philosophy”-style elective every couple years or so, both because I think students should have the opportunity to do that kind of intensive study and because it really benefits me as well — at this point, I’ve read Being and Time more thoroughly than I’ve ever read almost any single book before (including reading it all the way through in the original).

I could have probably tweaked the pacing somewhat. Most notably, I included “review days” after every second chapter, which worked well in Division One but was a little more artificial in Division Two — perhaps going by threes would have been better in that case. I may have also considered going a little more quickly in Division One, which is more intuitive and accessible, so that I could have slowed down a bit in Division Two. But in general, the concept of a “slow and steady” crawl through the whole thing was sound, and I think it could be duplicated even with more difficult works like the Phenomenology of Spirit.

Over the last few days, I’ve started to think of it almost as a language class, where there normally aren’t huge epiphanies — just a slow build. The students did get good enough at Heideggerese to make successful jokes, which is a crucial step. More than that, though, I think there’s a sense in which Heidegger is gradually teaching his reader how to read the book, and by the time you get to Division Two, that provides a crucial grounding for his more esoteric investigations of authenticity.

In many ways, my students replicated the history of Heidegger’s reception, finding Division One the most convincing and the discussion of authenticity the most fascinating. We were still working through questions surrounding authenticity during our discussions of the later chapters on temporality, which seem dry and dull by comparison. Thankfully, though, on our review day over the final two chapters, we were able to “buckle down” on the temporality issues in a way that advanced my understanding at the very least. It was far from the first time I walked out of class feeling I’d grasped something more firmly — while I always learn from my students, the kind of sustained and detailed attention we were giving to the text allowed for many more opportunities for that.

It’s the diagrams that stand out to me the most, though. I’m an inveterate underliner, but I normally don’t draw up diagrams or tables when I read a work of philosophy myself. In the classroom, though, it proved invaluable to chart the ways Heidegger’s concepts fit together, because that really showed how tightly argued the book is. I made several attempts to map out the whole project (up to the point we had reached), including one “review day” where I created a truly imposing diagram with arrows crossing over each other from multiple directions. Looking back, I regret not asking the students to take responsibility for drawing on the board sometimes, though they did often argue against my presentation and tell me what should go where. And of course, the fact that our most carefully constructed diagrams could be erased at any moment by the next group to use our classroom was a great metaphor for Being-toward-death.

7 thoughts on “Teaching Heidegger

  1. Teaching is even more difficult than learning. We know that; but we rarely think about it. And why is teaching more difficult than learning? Not because the teacher must have a larger store of information, and have it always ready. Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than—learning… The teacher is far ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they—he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. The teacher is far less assured of his ground than those who are learning are of theirs. If the relation between the teacher and the taught is genuine, therefore, there is never a place in it for the authority of the know-it-all or the authoritative sway of the official. It is still an exalted matter, then, to become a teacher. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices.
    Martin Heidegger, Was heisst denken?

  2. Adam, I am glad it has gone so well. I was lucky to have an undergrad philo department that focused (usually) on reading whole books. A philosophy course that had three or four texts in it was not uncommon. I did, however, take one class that was just on one book, and it was Being and Time (under Jason Wirth). I may have no love for the H-man, but I learned an awful lot, in terms of skills, that helped me in grad school and beyond in the class. I’m glad your students get to benefit from a similar experience.

  3. That’s great. It sounds good, I mean, but I wonder if Heidegger was a bit more authoritarian than he lets on…like when he has a dialogue with a japanese guy about how we must take the utmost care to attune ourselves to the foreign, and be receptive to the otherness of the east, and all that, but he’s really just talking to himself and making up the other guy’s lines. It makes it hard to hear claims about teaching like the above the same way. However, I’m not taking issue with the claims themselves, more speculating on Heidegger’s own relationship to such claims, and I’m sure you were a wonderful teacher. Sorry if that sounds a little insincere or patronizing, I do not mean it even a tiny but like that but it’s hard to control your tone via the internet when all you have are the bare words.

  4. Just an aside, Caputo would speak on occasion about what he called the Magister Ludi Complex whereby the student goes beyond the master or the professor. Perhaps, Heidegger is asking us to do that. It is also important, I think, that Heidegger would speak on “teaching”; that teaching would be something that calls us to think.

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