Heidegger, Martin (1889–1976) By Caruana, John
Born in Meßkirch, Germany, Martin Heidegger is renowned as a leading 20th-century philosopher of existentialism and phenomenology with far-reaching influence in the Western world. Heidegger helped advance – at the same time as he radicalized – the phenomenological project initiated by his mentor, Edmund Husserl. The publication of his magnum opus, Sein und Zeit, a work ranked by his student Emmanuel Levinas as one of the five greatest texts in the history of Western philosophy, established Heidegger as a major voice in European philosophy. Demolishing the claims and pretensions of the Cartesian subject, this work also gave expression to the groundless nature of Dasein (“being-there”), its inexorable projection towards the nothingness of its being and its struggle for authenticity, ideas that would shape the work of Alberto Giacometti, Paul Celan, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Heidegger’s relationship to modernism is simultaneously complementary and conflicted. Following in the wake of Friedrich Nietzsche’s sweeping philosophical attack, Heidegger’s work looms large as one of the most important philosophical critiques of the Western tradition, inspiring a wide-range of modernist and postmodern artists and theorists. Yet his mature work also exhibits a notable conservative streak that runs counter to some of the experimental and innovative thrust of modernist culture.