A little over a week ago I attended the annual North Texas Heidegger Symposium, which was great. I had planned to touch briefly on Heidegger in my dissertation, but I hadn’t yet began that particular section. After thinking and talking about his work for a couple of days straight (after not really having done so for a couple of years), I decided to go straight to work on him – which is what I’ve been up to for the past week or so.
The highlight of the symposium for me was the keynote delivered by Theodore Kisiel, detailing the evolution of the concept of formal indication. This was fortuitous for me, since this is exactly what I had already planned to write about – (1) because Heidegger explicates it (relatively) directly during specifically his course on the phenomenology of religion, and (2) because of the status of the Heideggerian formal indication as a sort of precursor to the Derridean quasi-transcendental. So I was already thinking about formal indication as a key element in approaching “religion” by way of quasi-transcendentals. What Kisiel’s paper did was (among other things) to demonstrate – or maybe just to recall – how formal indication never really disappears in post-Being and Time Heidegger, even though he uses the terminology much less often. So, one can understand later terms such as saying, way, or Ereignis (perhaps especially the latter, consider the resonance between eigen and zeigen that Heidegger wants to highlight) as formal indications as well as those concepts he explicitly labels as formal indications in his earlier lectures.
This brought into focus for me again the importance of this idea, as well as the importance of explaining its shortcomings (at least as Heidegger uses it). This explanation is now taking up a slightly more substantial place in my work, and it’s definitely still in progress. But, the basic argument is that the formal indication, despite Heidegger’s protestations to the contrary, still remains too anchored in pre-conceptions at the general or universal level not to avoid determining its content at least in part without reference to the concrete (factical) phenomena. With regard to religion specifically, I still (this was my original argument) think one can see a shift from the course on phenomenology of religion to the 1927 Tübingen lecture “Phenomenology and Theology” – in the former, the focus is squarely on the factical details of religious life (albeit with a clear tendency, in retrospect, toward thinking “religion” essentially or universally); in the latter, though, what is important philosophically is (almost) exclusively the “pre-religious” background. While for Heidegger this is simply a matter of philosophy’s primary concern with the ontological rather than the ontical, the fact that the formal indication (even qua formal) arises out of inquiry into regional, ontic content leaves its formality under-determined. This is not to be lamented, though, but rather acknowledged in a more sincere way than I think Heidegger does. And this is more or less what the quasi-transcendental approach is able to do.