Monday, April 16, 2012

Hayden White and his Tarkegger trope

Back on May 20, 2010 in a fit of frustration over Heidegger’s Nazi involvement I wrote a little poetic fable called “Tarkegger’s Culpability”:

Two days later I wrote “Tarkegger, Heidegger, Foucault, Hayden White, etc.”: At the end of which I wrote “. . . I began wondering what sort of "trope" White would call "Tarkegger." I rarely consider such things as tropes, but White would have. Would White call it "irony"? Perhaps, but I wasn't feeling ironic when I wrote it. But had history developed as portrayed in "Tarkegger's Culpability," its reflection upon Heidegger's "infantile hopes for the future" and "faith in a benign [German] human nature" might have seemed ironic to the survivors -- although by that time some other trope might seem more appropriate, something more malign and involving a ravenous pack of wolves.”

Hayden White read those two articles and commented,

“Tarkegger? It is an anacolouthon.”

I wondered what trope White would apply to Tarkegger the person, but on a first reading I took White to be applying “anacoluthon” to the fable and not the person. Given that reading, any fable would be an anacoluthon in that it isn’t going to follow logically from the concept that gave rise to it. It will jump into another sphere which will have a connection, hopefully not too tenuous, to the jumping off place.

On the second reading I took White to be applying “anacoluthon” to both Tarkegger and Heidegger in the sense that there is no logical connection between them and the conclusions critics have drawn about them. To draw the conclusion more clearly he would be saying that there is a disconnect, an anacoluthon, between the evidence that exists about Heidegger’s Nazi involvement and the conclusions his critics have drawn. If that is what White intends then he would be interpreting my fable as I intended.

On a third reading and with the Deconstructionists in mind White might be saying that there is a disconnect between what Heidegger actually thought and did and my interpretation of what he thought and did. My fable in this sense would be an anacoluthon because it didn’t follow from the historical evidence. I can’t be sure that White didn’t intend this third interpretation – I hope he didn’t, but if he did I would in my own defense refer him to my earlier articles on Heidegger in which I accuse his critics (with better evidence I will assert) of this very thing.

On a fourth reading I wondered whether White was referring more generally to the difficulty of interpreting history based upon not-fully-understood culture. Those who comment upon Heidegger’s Nazi associations make assumptions about the cultural influences that inspired Heidegger. Some of those who assert the worst imagine those cultural influences to be not dissimilar from those that inspired the Nazis themselves. Those willing to view Heidegger’s politics as being similar to Thomas Carlyle’s, engage in a more benign interpretation. All these interpretations whether favorable or unfavorable are anacoluthons in the sense that there is a disconnect between the existing evidence and what is concluded about Heidegger’s character and politics. The gap is bridged by the prejudices of his critics.

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