The coming of history: Heidegger and Nietzsche against the present

Heidegger’s 1938–1939 seminar on Nietzsche’s On the Utility and Liability of History for Life continues Heidegger’s grand interpretation of Nietzsche as a metaphysical thinker of presence. Nietzsche’s conceptions forgetting, memory, and even life itself, according to Heidegger, are all complicit in the privileging of presence. Simultaneous with his seminar, Heidegger is also compiling the notebook, Die Geschichte des Seyns (The History of Beyng), 1938–1940, wherein he sketches his own conception of history. Examining Heidegger’s criticisms of Nietzsche in the light of his contemporaneous notebook allows us to articulate Heidegger’s concern for history and for “what has-been” (das Gewesene) as a thinking of the “coming” of being. For Heidegger, to exist historically is to exist as something sent, something arriving, as something that “comes” to us. This coming of history is an ontological determination of all that is, no longer construed as present-at-hand objects, but as always arriving, relational beings. After presenting Heidegger’s view of the coming of history, I return to Nietzsche’s Utility and Liability of History to draw attention to an aspect of his text that is neglected by Heidegger, that of the political. The concluding sections of Nietzsche’s text confront the politics of the present, in both senses of the genitive, in order to rally against the closure of society. In the conclusion to the paper, I turn to the political dimension of Nietzsche’s thinking of history with an eye to how it might elude Heidegger’s interpretation.