Heidegger’s Phenomenology of Existential Death and its Critical Afterlives in Sartre, Levinas, Agamben, and Derrida


Speaker: Iain Thomson, University of New Mexico

When: May 06, 2022 - 03:00pm - 05:30pm

Where: Mitchell Hall 102



Heidegger’s methodological approach to understanding death in Being and Time is phenomenological.  That might sound obvious, but phenomenologists take “the risk of discussing the obvious” (BT 81/SZ 55) because important truths can often be found hiding in plain sight, owing to that “first law of phenomenology,” the distance of the near (BT 69/SZ 43), or the fact that what shapes us most pervasively and profoundly is often the most difficult for us to notice and understand.  For us, “the meaning of being” is like water for a fish, as is the meaning of our own distinctive kind of being, “existence” (BT 359/SZ 311), which is part of what makes it difficult to understand the correspondingly distinctive kind of “end” that our existence can undergo in the phenomenon of existential “death.”  Indeed, what it means that Heidegger approaches death phenomenologically turns out to be crucial for understanding both his own thinking about death and the way it helped inspire other important thinkers to take up the matter in his wake, including Levinas, Sartre, Derrida, and Agamben.  These post-Heideggerian thinkers each contest, modify, and develop Heidegger’s phenomenology of death in original and thought-provoking ways, as we will see after reminding ourselves of some fundamental contours of Heidegger’s own account.