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.