I had a lot of fun at my seminar yesterday, and got a lot of interesting comments from the students. The goal of the session was to contrast Heidegger’s account of what’s needed in the current age with David Foster Wallace’s. You can listen to the recording here.
The proposal I tried out is that the very phenomenon that Heidegger diagnoses as the central danger for the age is the one that Wallace wishes we could manage to achieve. In particular, whereas Heidegger thinks that the central danger of the age is that it constantly challenges us to treat everything, including ourselves, as controllable and orderable resources, Wallace feels that the main challenge of the culture is that it continually distracts us and keeps us from our task, and that if we could only manage to focus long enough we’d finally be able to control ourselves and the meanings we project on the world. What Heidegger thinks we must avoid, in other words, is precisely what Wallace wishes we could have.
This is a stark contrast, and it’s no doubt wrong in some of its details. We had a great discussion in the seminar about it, though, and I’d be happy for it to continue here with anyone who wants wants to catch up through the podcast. Comments welcome!