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Pramod Kumar Das, Narayan Jena

Pramod K Das & Narayan Jena : ‘The Poetics of History'

Book Review

Dilip Naik
The Poetics of History: A Comparative Study of Heidegger’s Discourse on Historicity in Relation to Judaic and Indian Thought
New Delhi: Shakti Book House, 2010
Pages 178 / Rs450 

The Poetics of History: A Comparative Study of Heidegger’s Discourse on Historicity in Relation to Judaic and Indian Thought is a work which is certainly the most well-researched and engaging book to have come out in recent times. The book not only gives new and different directions to English Studies so far as its philosophical nature is concerned but also offers a concern to relate one culture with another, one discipline with another, one literature with another, so on and so forth.

To put things in context, Dilip Naik has taken to study Historicity in relation to Judaic and Indian Thought. It is worth here to mention that Naik makes an effort to explore the hermeneutics of Heidegger’s philosophy in terms of issues of history. The author explores the power of language to understand history and time. The central concern of the book is to explore the possibilities of comparison between eastern and western thought through a process of mutual deconstruction. Being interdisciplinary in nature the book offers a ground for debates and discussions on philosophical issues of history.

Chapter one of the book tries to explore the relation between “essence” and “transcendence” so far as Heidegger and the question of history are concerned as the author rightly says: “...the very concept of history cannot be conceived without essentializing that which it conceptualizes.” (p 8). The author goes further and argues: “History is the promise of the possible. History is not the “actual” empirical past, it is the persistence of the past as a significant possibility, the past as the possibility of the future, it is the futurality of the past.” (12).

The discussion on the question of Being vis-a-vis the question of history gains intensity in this chapter as Naik rightly says: “... history is not an object, not a what. History is event, the eventhood of groundless time, opening up and projecting out, incalculably.” (15). According to the author history is not made by man nor is history made without man. He affirms that “History, indeed, is not made at all, it is not a concentration, a construct. History is the event of the destiny of Being, not just any happening.” Naik terms history as ‘the silent power of the possible.’ ‘It is being which empowers that power.’ (19). More importantly the horizon of Being is time. Being is neither an object nor does it possess the qualities to become its product. “It has that which makes time temporal and temporality historical.” (23-24). 

The horizon and scope of the book become more evident in its middle chapters. Chapter two - Heidegger, Judaism and the Event of History - focuses on how Heidegger’s thinking of history has deep structural affinities with Judaic historicism. Here also, an emphasis is laid to find out whether Heidegger was influenced by Judaic thought. While discussing the event of history Naik points out:

Being is the sender of history. History is not a plan, a process or a system. History is not the dialectical development of objective thought. It is not a progressive unfolding. History is not evolution. History is irruptive and elliptical. The question of history is the questioning of the question itself: the why of why. (42).

In this chapter, the dialogic nature of history is also traced. According to the Judaic conception, ‘History alone is the way to God because it is the way of God’. In addition to this, Naik says, “The history of history, meta-history, is the privilege of the nation of nations, the nation of God.” (47).

Chapter three - Poetry as the Historical Essence of Language - investigates Heidegger’s approach to language and how according to him, language as poetry is the primordial foundation of history. In order to prove this, examples are taken from Ferdinand De Saussure, Edmund Husserl and others. As Naik points out, “Meaning is what makes intelligibility intelligible. Meaning is not the object of understanding... Meaning therefore is not an object, but a possibility.” (59). In the concluding part of the chapter, the author makes it clear: “History is what remains, that is what decisively endures. Poetry is the projective opening of that into which the human being as a historical being arrives. Poetry lets truth originate and abide as history, as historical finality.” (106).

The fourth chapter - Heidegger and Vedanta: History as Appearance - tries to explore the possibilities of a dialogue between Heidegger and Vedanta. In order to examine this Heidegger’s An Introduction to Metaphysics is taken to support the study where Heidegger addresses at length the question of history as appearance. In continuing the discussion Naik points out: “Being does not precede appearing. There is no being apart from, behind, or beyond, appearance. Appearance is not merely an apparent mode of being but its essential reality... Appearing brings to light, makes manifest. To emerge, to manifest, to unconceal is the essence of being.” (113).

Naik argues that Truth is inherent in the essence of being. Accordingly truth is inherent in appearance. In defining history Naik says:

History is thus the inauguration of the appearing of appearance which is the essence of being as a whole in which beings as such come into play. History is the history of truth and untruth as decided in freedom. History surges from the originary decision in the light of the essence of truth as freedom. Appearance reveals itself as the history of being as a whole. (120).

Naik makes a comparative study of Heidegger and Vedanta so far as history as appearance is concerned. As he rightly points out, “In Heidegger, being is becoming. Being appears as becoming. Appearing is the very essence of being. But Brahman its own essence, Brahman is Brahman. It has nothing similar to it; it has nothing different from it.” (130). In the concluding part of the chapter the author makes it clear that historically speaking, ‘appearance is the appearing of reality.’ (138).

The book’s final chapter - The Soteriology of Metahistory - studies the spiritual ancestry of Martin Heidegger’s discourse on historicity as the invocation of the other name of destiny. In addition to the Judaic and the Vedantic vision of time and salvation, this is central to this chapter’s analysis. Naik concludes the discussion in this way: “To be devoted is not a matter of will but of attention: it is to attend to the unobjectifiable, in a sense, to the impossible, just as to be ethical, in the ultimate sense, is to be good for nothing.” (163).

Overall, the book, The Poetics of History: A Comparative Study of Heidegger’s Discourse on Historicity in Relation to Judaic and Indian Thought is an elegantly written and astutely argued book. At the same time Naik makes a deep comparative study of Heidegger’s Discourse on Historicity in relation to Judaic and Indian thought which makes a powerful case to make a link between various disciplines in a way making it an interdisciplinary study. The literary and philosophical analysis that provide the raw materials for historical insights are enjoyable and moving, making the book lively and worthy to read. Many of Naik’s conclusions will be of primary interest to scholars of comparative literature, religion, history, philosophy and may be traffic between any of these two or more disciplines. The chapters of the book are no doubt substantial and enlightening.




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