Cover: Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, from Harvard University PressCover: Continental Divide in PAPERBACK

Continental Divide

Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos

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Product Details


$26.00 • £20.95 • €23.50

ISBN 9780674064171

Publication Date: 03/05/2012


448 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

1 halftone


[An] extraordinary book… Each of its pages of sustained philosophical explication excites and astonishes, and in the process teaches us new ways of thinking about the history of ideas… After [Gordon’s] brilliant reading, we can no longer simply ascribe Heidegger’s and Cassirer’s differences to inimical philosophies… Gordon’s manifesto will resonate with historians of my generation.—David Nirenberg, The New Republic

Continental Divide provides the definitive narrative and analysis of the Davos incident, its background, its context and its aftermath. Gordon neither abstracts the philosophical debate from its contemporary setting, nor reduces it to its extraphilosophical ramifications. He has a masterly understanding of the philosophy, but insists that abstract ideas, too, very often wear layers of historical clothing… He sees that the hermeneutic disagreement was genuine and that real philosophical issues were at stake in the collision of Cassirer’s celebration of rational spontaneity with Heidegger’s concept of thrownness—the collision, that is, of idealism with existentialism. Gordon refuses to boil those ideas off in either uncritical historicism or easy political editorializing. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and his narrative never ascends to such a lofty historical perspective that the philosophical air becomes too thin to breathe.—Taylor Carman, The Times Literary Supplement

In Rosenzweig and Heidegger, Gordon concludes with a reading of the 1929 debate between Heidegger and Cassirer at a philosophical conference at Davos, Switzerland… Gordon here returns to this primal scene and reconstructs the event with extraordinarily thoughtful and scrupulous precision. This debate has achieved legendary status in the history of contemporary thought and is regarded as opening an abyss between those who base philosophy on scientific reason, and the human power of reflection, and those who are haunted by the unthinkable, the unsaid, and the unsayable… By judiciously reconstructing Cassirer’s and Heidegger’s arguments, Gordon definitively unveils the subtle refinement of Heidegger’s positions and shows with new clarity that this struggle over Kant’s legacy has relentlessly unfolded over the 20th century. A work of exceptional significance.—N. Lukacher, Choice

A paradigm of philosophically informed intellectual history, this fascinating, wide-ranging book provides a comprehensive account of an epic intellectual confrontation, and uses it as a lens through which to focus on the ideas, forces, characters, and personalities that shaped the debate at a crucial cusp of European thought.—Robert B. Brandom, University of Pittsburgh

When they met at Davos in 1929, Cassirer and Heidegger sent tremors through the world of continental philosophy that radically transformed the terrain of European thought. With the hermeneutic skill of a master seismologist, Peter E. Gordon identifies the forces that produced their explosive meeting and traces the aftershocks that continue to reverberate to this day.—Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

The Heidegger–Cassirer encounter at Davos in 1929 has, for generations, loomed largely over the European imagination. In this remarkable book, Peter Gordon dispels the myths, discusses what actually occurred at Davos, and reassesses its historical legacy. Through painstaking historical research and brilliant textual exposition, Gordon enhances and expands our understanding of Davos and actually reorients readers to the great intellectual stakes at play. Indeed, without recourse to mythology or hyperbole, Gordon demonstrates that the historical and philosophical ramifications of Davos ’29 are even more profound than previously understood. The publication of Continental Divide signals, quite simply, a major event in the fields of modern history and continental philosophy.—John P. McCormick, University of Chicago

Peter Gordon quickly made his name as the most gifted historian of modern European thought to emerge in a generation or more, and this extraordinary book confirms and extends that reputation. As a vivid survey of the multiple and clashing traditions of early twentieth century Germany, it is a state of the art synthesis of Weimar-era philosophy. With its careful demonstration of the long entanglements of his protagonists Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger both before and after they clashed as titans at Davos in 1929, it is an exceptional model of historical spadework. As a novelistic recreation of the summit itself, it is a dramatic masterpiece. (Did they really not shake hands at the end?) And the commentary it provides on the disputation in the mountain aerie is subtle and magisterial. By providing the philosophical depth the era and event demand, Gordon returns the history of thought to its highest purposes with a startling proposition: that then as now the ideas themselves—and not simply their personal ambiance, cultural situation, or political ramifications—are what matters most about intellectual life. By any standard and along every dimension, Gordon’s achievement in Continental Divide is as awesome as the epochmaking intellectual earthquake at Davos itself, whose aftereffects continue to be felt today.—Samuel Moyn, Columbia University

Continental Divide conjugates an even-handed reconstruction of the debate and its lasting significance with an astute analysis of how philosophy revisits its own past in order to define its present circumstances. Of interest to both specialists and generalists, this study sets the benchmark for all future discussions of the relation of Heidegger and Cassirer.—Thomas Sheehan, Stanford University

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