The Ister is a 2004 film directed by Aussies David Barison and Daniel Ross. It is a documentary that takes the form of a three hour journey up the Danube River from Romania to the Black Forest in Southern Germany. The film itself takes as its starting point a 1942 lecture given by Martin Heidegger on a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin. The poem’s subject? The Danube. The filmmakers turn to the philosophers Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, as well as controversial German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (who directed Hitler: A Film From Germany in 1978) for commentary on Heidegger and his lecture, and how his philosophy interacted with his involvement with National Socialism in the 1930′s. The filmmakers weave the commentary in with their visual study of the Danube, making connections to Heidegger’s thought along the way.

There is a very insightful and in-depth review of the film at Senses of Cinema by Carloss James Chamberlin. Not only does he review the film, but he talks at great length about the philosophers involved with the film and about Heidegger, making insightful connections and interpretations throughout.

A sample:

Heidegger was openly hostile to the modern tyranny of the visual – with his peasant affectations, he liked to hear things and he loved to “grasp” them, and finally let them shine in “saying”. The idea that people of the future would try to think Being with a video camera surely would have made him heave. Except in a few unguarded moments, Heidegger tended to think about technology in uncharacteristically platonist and generic terms. The phenomenon of film did not interest him in the least. Two young and brave Australian filmmakers, undaunted by the danger, have made an historic film that does extraordinary justice to Heidegger’s thought during what is, perhaps, his most vulnerable existential moment on the planet.

The Ister is a river journey from the mouth of the Danube in Romania, through the war shattered “former Miss Yugoslavia”, into Hungary, Austria and finally into Germany, to the source of the Danube. The river becomes a perfect staging place for the rich and suggestive effluvial flow of history and landscape, a reading of an obscure poem by a madman named Hölderlin, an evocation of a dense and cryptic meander-commentary on the poem, by Heidegger, and the occasion of a commemorative dialogue by three French philosophers and a blacklisted Prussian artist with the ghost of Martin Heidegger.

(Senses of Cinema is also an indespensible resource for any film buff, so if you haven’t checked it out before, let this be an introduction)
Draggin’ The River: The Ister

The Ister @ imdb

The Ister @ Wikipedia

For most of the last month I, like most of the world outside of the United States, was hooked to the World Cup (WC). I like soccer (nee football) to begin with, and living in Argentina makes it so much easier to follow and get into. The WC is one of the rare events that are able to capture the entire world’s attention all at once. The Olympics come around every two years, but people don’t care about them or follow them in the uniform way that people follow soccer and the WC.

An international event of such magnitude brings up some serious questions regarding what it means to root for or have an allegiance to your country. The socio- and geo-political aspects of the WC have long been discussed (see the great new book The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup here), but more than that, the idea of taking a rooting interest in your own country for the sheer fact that it is your own country seems to be a bit bizarre. It has its roots in national identity, clearly, but that is an ever changing, ephemeral beast. What ties us to our national identities at all? Allegiance to government has nothing to do with sport; indeed, many countries support their national soccer teams in spite of their governments.

Read more after the jump

Woody Allen travels to Heidelberg and accidentally discovers a rare text: the previously unknown “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Diet Book.” He blows our minds and sets the world of philosophy on its head with his stirring account in The New Yorker.



An excerpt:

“[Kant] proposed that [if] we order lunch in such a manner that if everybody ordered the same thing the world would function in a moral way. The problem Kant didn’t foresee is that if everyone orders the same dish there will be squabbling in the kitchen over who gets the last branzino. “Order like you are ordering for every human being on earth,” Kant advises, but what if the man next to you doesn’t eat guacamole?  In the end, of course, there are no moral foods—unless we count soft-boiled eggs.”


Get meta with the whole thing at the link below.

Woody Allen: Thus Ate Zarathustra


[post script: Yes, I am back, for those of you who noticed I was absent. Weddings, graduations, intercontinental travel, more time than desired spent waiting in airports, and the World Cup have kept me busy for far too long, and now I return with the force of a Zizou headbutt to the collective chests of blog readers throughout the internets, and to you, dear faithful reader, as I continue to impart knowledge and wisdom from afar. Or something like that. Anyway, I'll be posting regularly again, but more along the lines of weekly instead of every few days. Speaking of the World Cup....see forthcoming post.]

Via David at Death By Papercuts, here is the Monty Python International soccer match. Priceless.

Death By Papercuts: International Philosophy

Buber writes that it is possible for nature to also become a Thou for us, even though they lack the consciousness, continuity, and independence that make us human. The consequence of this is that non-human entities are given a true “otherness.” The Thou is the only way in which these beings are capable of having such an otherness, and elevates them above the level of passive objects of our thought or tools for us to use.

For Buber, then, we are bound to the world but are not one with it. Our intellect keeps us separate from the world, while our intuition allows us to peer into its depths. All things within the world of the senses arise out of meetings and the other that is a part of that meeting with each of us. These are meetings of being and being between an individual and an “other” that we are unable to know as it is in itself, a notion reminiscent of Kant. It is from these instances of interaction that our senses create what we witness as another being in nature.

The ethical is only to be found in those instances in which humans are confronted with their own potentiality and makes a decision based solely on a determination of what is intrinsically right and wrong in their own specific situation. Buber calls these decisions an individual’s “personal direction,” something which hinges on what one is meant to be. The ethical decision is supposed to be made with this thought in mind, making it a completely personal decision. This is a freedom of response and responsibility, not an ethics couched in a concrete morality; norms should not become maxims.

Buber avoids charges of moral relativism by explaining that the command to follow these norms is always latent within us, but is called forth in some way by a concrete situation that we never could have anticipated. Therefore, the norms take on different meanings in the various contexts in which they are needed. The ethical action is an action that moves between the I and the Thou and that binds them together. The good of the ethical then is not a concrete thing but grows from the concrete nature of situations encountered everyday, from which decisions are made based on our “personal direction.”

Buber’s “eternal Thou” is God, but not in a traditional way. He rejected any and all proofs of God’s existence, and says he knows nothing of God nor of any metaphysics of faith. Buber is instead interesting in the path to God, as we can never actually know God or his attributes. The only way we can know God is through our relation to him. He says, “God…[can] only be addressed and not expressed.” God is then found in any place in which we also find the Thou, such as nature, other human beings, and art; when we see the Thou in them, we also see the eternal Thou.

Buber’s God is not metaphysical God, nor is it a person, and can never be an object of our thought. To be faithful is to be in a binding relationship with this Being that is the eternal Thou, which Buber describes as having found “the certainty that the meaning of existence is open and accessible in the actual lived concrete.” The eternal Thou is constantly and in every moment met in the present, and manifests itself through the concrete. It is this participation that is human truth.

Source: A Companion to Continental Philosophy. Ed. Simon Critchley and William R. Schroeder. Blackwell Publishing, 1999.

The I-Thou and I-It relations are central to Martin Buber’s philosophy and provide the dichotomy with which he describes reality and the world around us. The I-It relationship is straightforward, as it is the subject-object relationship we are accustomed to. The I-Thou is, in the words of Maurice Friedman, “the relationship of mutuality, directness, presence, and openness.” This relationship leads to Buber’s conception of how we relate to the world, nature and, ultimately, God.

Buber’s reality is one of relations with others, or with individuals. These relationships with other individuals can only be truly cultivated when there is a distance observed between the two parties. This distance preserves independence and the individual self of each participant, as the two confirm one another. In this way, each participant is “made present” by the other and retains a uniqueness not found otherwise. For Buber, however, this self-realization is merely the by-product of the goal of confirmation and dialogue allowed for in the distance relation.

As humans we have the unique ability to “impose an insurmountable limit to [our] objectification.” The only way in which we are able to be perceived as whole is through a relationship with a partner, but this wholeness is impossible if the partner remains just an observed object. A key distinction for Buber in this relationship is the distinction between being and seeing.

This distinction hinges on perception and spontaneity. If one individual in the relation is “dominated” by being then the relation is spontaneous and she throws herself into the interaction without analyzing the consequences. The seeming person, however, is preoccupied with the other’s thoughts about her and instead of acting spontaneously interacts with the other in a premeditated manner that belies authenticity. This is driven by the need for confirmation, and the preference for false confirmation over the prospect of no confirmation at all. The only way to truly be in possession of a self is to go through the process of mutual confirmation with an other that is the product of a relationship through distance and predicated on spontaneity.

The I-Thou is direct knowing that involves a fully reciprocal relation between existences. This relation is mediated by the senses and the “word,” which includes such things as art, literature, ritual, language, and music. These are the things which enable the entering into an I-Thou relation for individuals. The I-It knowledge is then the product of the I-Thou relationship. If this knowledge is forgotten or obscured then it is unable to point back to the direct knowing of the I-Thou and becomes a hindrance instead. In this conception, the true nature of knowledge is communication.

Since the I-It knowledge ends up as the product of the I-Thou relation, it always occurs after the present has become past. The I-Thou relation, conversely, is always entered into in the present. Since the I-Thou is distinctly present, our interaction with the other is solely based in the things as they are and not as they have already been filtered through our minds previously; all we know is our immediate relation to the other.

This I-Thou relation can also be extended to nature, and then to God. This will be continued in the next post.

Simone De Beauvoir was, much like Sartre, at the heart of the French existentialist movement. Theories of the self, the other, and intersubjectivity were central to her writings, especially her most famous work, The Second Sex. For De Beauvoir, the crux of human reality lay in the split between freedom and situation. As described in the previous post, these are transcendence and facticity, respectively.

The goal within this split is self-identity, yet it is our freedom, inextricably tied to our facticity, that gives us our sense of self. It forms how we view our past and does not ever provide closure. Our sense of self is always changing and evolving into the future, and there is never a point at which we can be in possession of a fully formed self-identity. Problems arise when we think that we are able to do just that, have freedom without facticity or vice versa.

Our facticity and the issue of the subject bring about the problem of the existence of the other. De Beauvoir solves this problem by asking what universal experience leads us to believe that other human beings are conscious as well. The answer that she posits is the phenomenological event of experiencing oneself as the object of another’s look. The experience of being looked at and judged by another has an altering effect on our consciousness, as we realize that we have an unlimited number of selves, as represented by the numerous objective selves that exist for all others about us. It is only consciousness that could cause such a reevaluation of self.

The shift from experiencing oneself as subject to oneself as the object of the other is at the center of De Beauvoir’s theory of intersubjectivity. No self, neither as subject nor as object, can ever be an object of consciousness, which means that they are all in a sense equal to one another. This is an idea far removed from the privileged idea of the subject posited by Descartes and other philosophers in the past, as De Beauvoir places her conception fully within the existential framework in which she wrote.

This subject/object relationship and the problems that can arise from it are at the center of bad relationships between people. If one is to assume the role of the object in a relation with the other, then the freedom of the other is denied. This is the base of De Beauvoir’s feminist theory, as laid out in her work The Second Sex. She is able to take the subject/object relationship and apply it to a group dynamic in which two people objectify a third. The more people that are added to the group dynamic, the more possibilities there are for intersubjective relations.

This is a template for the intersubjective analysis that De Beauvoir creates in The Second Sex. She treats gender as a societal and cultural construction and not as an essential category, while using the template of her subject/object dichotomy to show how women have been treated as the “eternal other” by men. Treating the problem from the point of view of the self—as outlined at the start of this post—De Beauvoir is able to show how this intersubjectivity can be subverted and our consciousnesses shifted. What is needed is for women to reassert their subjectivity in order to reverse the situation of repression.


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