Bloch Centre Seminar Series (2018-19)

Heidegger's Late Philosophy of Language (Autumn Term 2018)Martin Heidegger

In Unterwegs zur Sprache (On the Way to Language, 1959) Heidegger develops his understanding of language as a complement to the thinking of being by which he sought to overcome metaphysics and metaphysical notions of the subject. In the course of the book he comes to reflect on the nature of sagen (saying), on poetry, technology and the reign of methodology. He writes: ‘A speaking about language turns language almost inevitably into an object. (...) A speaking of language could only be a dialogue’ (‘Ein Sprechen von der Sprache könnte nur ein Gespräch sein’). What, if anything, have Heidegger's reflections on language to say to us today? Can we enter into the kind of dialogue he is speaking of? What is required to do so, and what happens if we do? Who would be the ones im Gespräch in such a dialogue? Is the extensive work of critique, which is overly familiar as far as Heidegger is concerned, final, or can we read, and respond to, this text afresh? In the seminar we will close-read Unterwegs zur Sprache to gain some insight into these questions and ask ourselves what it means to be on the way to language, what it means to be a speaking being, and what it means to speak with, and listen to, one another. Is Heidegger's late philosophy of language a psychotic formation, brought about by the absence of the Gods? Or is the late Heidegger to be compared to Joyce, a Sinthome, having overcome Aquinas’ doctrine of the inner word, verbum interior? Or are we here, in Jameson's phrase borrowed by Žižek 'in the ‘torture-house of language’? Or are neither of these perspectives adequate to the text? What, finally, drives our speech and how can we speak in the vicinity of this question?

Readings will be taken from:

  • Martin Heidegger, Unterwegs zur Sprache, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 12 (Frankfurt: Klostermann 1985)
  • Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, transl. by Peter Hertz and Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper 1971)
  • Martin Heidegger, 'Language', in Poetry, Language, Thought, transl. by Joan Stambaugh (New York, Harper 1971)
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt, Über den Dualis (Berlin: Druckerei der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1828;
  • Jacques Lacan, The Sinthome: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, XXIII, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. by A.A. Price (Cambridge: Polity Press 2016)
  • Bernard Lonergan: Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1997)
  • Slavoj Žižek, 'The Foursome of Struggle, Historicity, Will ... and Gelassenheit', in Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (London: Verso 2012), 859-903

Convenor: Dr Johan Siebers

When & Where

Seminars take place on Mondays, from 4 to 6 pm. Unless otherwise stated, all seminars will take place in Room 234, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. Advance online registration

1 October 2018 | 15 October 201829 October 201812 November 201826 November 201810 December 2018


Biological Thought and the German Left (Spring Term 2019)Shutterstock 376647661

When the new science of biology emerged around 1800 it transformed the way people saw the world. Biology challenged religious ideas by providing a scientific understanding of life for the first time. But almost as soon as it was founded the science became a worldview. Thinkers across the politics spectrum invoked biological ideas – cell theory, evolution, genetics, organicism, metabolism – to explain social and political phenomena. Thinkers across the political spectrum invoked biological ideas – cell theory, evolution, genetics, organicism, metabolism – to explain social and political phenomena. From the mid-19th century, right-wing thinkers like Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain used biological arguments to naturalise social, sexual, and racial inequality. The convenient simplicity of such ideas leant them a widespread appeal, particularly in times of crisis. As Europe struggled to recover after the First World War, fascists used biological concepts of race to explain real and perceived social ills. These ideas were institutionalised with the foundation of the Nazi biological state in 1933.

As a result of this legacy, the political reception of biological thought has traditionally been viewed almost exclusively through the lens of its influence on the right, but biological ideas have also had a profound and widespread influence on left-wing intellectual traditions and movements. This term the German Philosophy Seminar examines the impact of biological ideas on the German left in the period from biology’s foundation as a science around 1800 until the rise of the Nazi biological state in 1933. Reading texts by liberal, socialist, communist, anarchist, and feminist writers influenced by biological theories and concepts, the seminar aims to reconstruct the history of biology’s reception among left-wing thinkers in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries in order to transform our understanding of both the history of the scientific discipline of biology, and of German social and political thought.

Reading list:

  • Extracts from Karl Vogt, Physiologische Briefe für Gebildete aller Stände (1847) and Köhlerglaube und Wissenschaft (1855)
  • Extracts from Ludwig Büchner, Kraft und Stoff. Empirisch-naturphilosophische Studien (1855) and Darwinismus und Sozialismus oder Der Kampf um das Dasein und die moderne Gesellschaft. Darwinistische Schriften (1894)
  • Extracts from Friedrich Engels, Dialektik der Natur (1883)
  • Extracts from Helene Stöcker, Sexualpädagogik, Krieg und Mutterschutz (1916) and from contributions to Mutterschutz and Die neue Generation
  • Extracts from Silvio Gesell, Die allgemeine Enteignung im Lichte physiokratischer Ziele (1926)
  • Julius Schaxel, Das biologische Individuum. In: Erkenntnis. An international journal of analytic philosophy, Bd. 1 (1930/31)

Guest Convener: Cat Moir (Sydney/IMLR)

When & Where

Seminars take place on Mondays, from 4 to 6 pm. Unless otherwise stated, all seminars will take place in Room 246, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. Advance online registration.

4 February 2019 | 11 February 201918 February 2019 (cancelled) | 4 March 2019 | 11 March 2019 (at SOAS) | 18 March 2019 (extra session; at SOAS))25 March 2019 (at SOAS)