[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: Mike Geary <jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2015 13:23:19 -0600

Thanks for posting this, Chris.  I am not a philosopher, obviously, but I
have read (in translation) S&Z and several of H's essays and I was amazed
to find myself in at least "poetic" agreement with H.  But the Nazi
business disturbed me deeply.  Had he been a wonderful poet or an artist
whose works spoke to me, I would have no trouble separating his art from
his person.  In one sense I insist on doing that.  Philosophy, though,
seems to me to have a kind of "moral element" attached to it -- as if, in a
way of speaking, it "preaches" about what it means to be a human being and
urges us to own up to that.  But even if my feelings about the nature of
philosophy are right -- and I doubt that they are -- it must be remembered
that even the Devil can preach scripture -- it's the scripture that
matters, not the preacher.  I have not begun to read Heidegger  or to
contemplate his sermons sufficiently enough to pass judgment on what he

On Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 12:13 PM, <cblists@xxxxxxxx> wrote:

> Initially, I, like many others, succumbed to the (fallacious) argument
> (similar to 'jump[ing] at finally having a good reason not to have to
> struggle with one of the most arduous and complex of contemporary
> philosophers'  which Bernard-Henry Levy points out):
> 'Heidegger was a nazi.  Therefore he had nothing of philosophical value to
> say.'
> It was only after coming to Germany in the mid-1990's and reading of the
> extraordinary impact that Heidegger has had on 'Continental' philosophy
> that I thought I had perhaps better at least have a look.  And I was both
> reluctant and careful; I spent two years reading the biographical and
> critical literature (in German, French and English) on Heidegger and nazism
> before actually reading anything written by Heidegger himself.
> It was, in a way, the poet Paul Celan who *permitted* me to read Heidegger
> at all.  Celan, and then the Christian theologian Rudolf Bultmann.
> Bultmann and Heidegger were colleagues at Marburg in the 1920's.  They
> attended each other's seminars; and Bultmann appears to have been caught up
> along with the others who quickly recognized Heidegger and his teaching as
> something extraordinary :
> ". . . thinking has come alive again, the intellectual treasures of the
> past, long believed to be dead, have been made to speak again, and it has
> been found that they bring forth very different things than one sceptically
> assumed.  There is a teacher; one can perhaps learn thinking . . . that
> thinking, that springs as a passion from the simple fact of
> being-born-into-the-world . . . ." <1 - see footnotes below>
> What Heidegger did for the intellectual treasures of classical philosophy
> - making them speak again in a living, passionate voice - is no doubt what
> Bultmann hoped to do with the spiritual treasures of Christian scripture
> and tradition.
> "Bultmann saw man as a questioning being in search of self-understanding
> and affirmed that only the New Testament provides authentic answers to the
> questions about the basis of human existence. . . . Bultmann developed a
> kerygmatic theology in which the historicality of the earthly Jesus is
> largely bypassed, while attention is focused on the existential
> significance of the preached Christ for the hearer, who must respond in the
> ever-present moment with faith (characterized as 'decision')." <3>
> During the Hitler years in Germany, Bultmann refused to modify his
> teaching in any way to suit nazi ideology, and he supported the Confessing
> Church - the German Protestant movement organized to resist nazi church
> policy.<2>  (Perhaps the member of the Confessing Church best-known today
> is Dietrich Bonhoeffer.)  Bultmann may well have hoped that an existential
> ('demythologized') interpretation of Christianity would serve as some
> answer to the woeful failing of much Christian theology in guiding
> Christians in their 'moment' of 'decision' when faced with nazism.
> Celan's relationship with Heidegger is well-documented <4>; the
> ambivalence of his feelings towards and about *this* 'Meister aus
> Deutschland' (see note <5>) is amply evidenced in his words and actions
> during their several meetings.  After one such meeting in Heidegger's cabin
> on Todtnauberg, Celan wrote in the guestbook:
> "In the cabin-book, with the view of the Brunnenstern [literally
> 'fountain-star' - see note <6>], with a hope in my heart of a 'coming word'
> [kommendes Wort]."
> Bultmann's account of his reconciliation with Heidegger after the war has
> become for me *central* in striving to come to some understanding of
> Heidegger's failure to speak that 'word'.  Many, not just Celan, awaited
> from Heidegger some account or explanation of how he had been led into
> error.  They awaited an *apologia*; not so much an admission of guilt and
> request for forgiveness, but an explanation of what had seduced him, as a
> key perhaps to understanding the seduction of so many others, and possibly
> even as some small light of use for the examination, and search for a way
> out, of . . . well, I can only *allude* to it as 'that horrific darkness'.
> 'Das kommende Wort' was, for many, to be 'ein losendes Wort' - a word of
> 'solution', of 'liberation'.  Some, no doubt, even hoped (but how could
> *any* man fulfill *this* expectation?) for a word of *absolution* and
> *redemption*.
> Bultmann was well aware that they were all waiting in vain.
> He recounts how Heidegger called him 'out of the blue' one day in 1945:
> 'Hello - it's Martin calling.'  Bultmann was so little prepared to hear
> from Heidegger that he responded: '*Which* Martin?'  Heidegger came quickly
> to the point: 'I want to ask for your forgiveness . . . .'  The two met,
> and the dark chasm that had yawned between them closed 'spontaneously'.
> The trust - and friendship - of their days in Marburg was joyfully
> renewed.  They ate and drank together . . . and then when it came time to
> part, Bultmann returned to the subject of Heidegger's telephone call:
> "'Now,' I said to him, 'you must, like Augustine,  write your
> _Confessions_ . . . not in the least for the sake of the truth in your
> thought.'  Heidegger's face turned to a petrified mask.  He left, without
> saying a word . . . ." <7>
> Heidegger's involvement with nazism is deeply troubling for anyone who
> comes into contact with his writing, is forced to acknowledge its genius,
> and worries about its moral integrity.  Some say that Heidegger's
> philosophy is a thing of evil;  not only is it 'de-humanizing', but it has
> corrupted much of 20th century philosophy<8>.  At the other end of the
> spectrum is the view that "Heidegger's philosophy is not compromised in any
> of its phases [by his involvement with nazism], and that the acceptance of
> it is fully consistent with a deep commitment to liberal democracy." <9>
> The range of opinion is as wide as the list of works expressing those
> opinions is long.
> Heidegger lived long enough to oversee the beginnings of the enterprise
> which is still issuing the authoritative editions of his work.  It is an
> impressive corpus which will run to over a hundred volumes.  But how much -
> if any - of one's time and intellectual energy should one spend reading the
> work of an ex-nazi, who made speeches counselling unquestioning obedience?
> Celan and Bultmann permit me to read Heidegger, but they also caution me
> to go very carefully.  The fact that Celan would have anything to do with
> Heidegger compels me to refrain from condemning him outright; the
> ambivalence of Celan's feelings warns me that there is much for which
> Heidegger must ever remain on trial.  I accept Bultmann's word that
> Heidegger's acknowledgment of guilt was sincere; I am both saddened and
> troubled (as I'm sure he was) by Heidegger's failure to fulfill the
> responsibilities that followed from that acknowledgment, and that guilt.<10>
> It is not possible for me to convey the effect that reading and listening
> (there are several hours of his talks available on recordings) to Heidegger
> has had on my life.  I still remember the week of ecstasy - yes, I
> literally 'stood outside myself' and watched as I went about my regular
> 'business', with a significant portion of my intellect locked in a posture
> of critical admiration of such logical integrity - that followed my first
> apprehension of Aristotle.  The same ecstatic reverie is occasioned by my
> ever-growing appreciation of Kant's architectonic.  And there are no words
> to describe those moments and places which are the (timeless spaceless)
> realm attained when thinking in the purely formal (no, *not* symbolic!)
> languages of logic.  And for a time, such was the impact that some of the
> writings of Martin Heidegger had on my . . . well, will you understand if I
> leave it at 'being in the world'?
> When I have tried to write about this before, I have (with more than a
> hint of dark irony) invoked the characters of both the 'harlequin' ("the
> man has enlarged my mind") and Marlow ("the farthest point of my navigation
> and the culmination of my experience") from Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_.
> (I have found since that I am not the first to use metaphors drawn from
> this work when talking of Heidegger.)  Yes, 'the man has enlarged my mind'
> is meant in a positive, adulatory way - but 'farthest point' and
> 'culmination' . . . well, here the 'darkness' draws in; I am stopped and
> cannot seem to get further; I don't see my way *forward* clearly, and am
> gravely concerned.  (Allow me a switch of metaphor here - from 'river' to
> 'bridge'.)  Celan and Bultmann permit me to explore the massive span of
> Heidegger's work; but at the same time they caution me as I venture out and
> away from familiar shores.  At its heart - running somewhere close to the
> center of all of his work - is Heidegger's notion of 'authenticity'.  For
> all that talk of a significant 'turning' ['die Kehre'] in his thought,
> _Sein and Zeit_ remains the keystone of an arch that reaches from the
> pre-socratic to the post-modern.  And it is not just I who has, for all of
> their appreciation of Heidegger's genius, remained convinced that there is
> a serious flaw somewhere in the heart of that stone.
> - Chris Bruce
> Kiel, Germany
> <1>  Hannah Arendt as quoted in Ruediger Safranski, _Ein Meister aus
> Deutschland: Heidegger und seine Zeit_, Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch
> Verlag, 1998 [1994].  I have, for convenience, followed Ewald Osers'
> translation [_Martin Heidegger: Beyond Good and Evil_, Cambridge, Mass.:
> Harvard University Press, 1998] here, but have been forced to modify some
> minor infelicities.  English  readers, Safranski, and Heidegger himself
> have been poorly served by Osers' error-laden work.
> <2> Information from the entry for Bultmann on the _Encyclopedia
> Britannica CD: 1999 Standard Edition_, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica,
> Inc., 1999.
> <3>  From Geoffrey Turner's entry, "Bultmann, Rudolf Karl", in Alan
> Bullock and R.B. Woodings, ed. _The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thinkers_,
> London: Fontana Paperbacks, 1990 [1983].
> <4> Safranski's account in his _Ein Meister aus Deutschland: Heidegger und
> seine Zeit_ is as good as any I have read.
> <5>  Safranski's title refers to Celan's 'Todesfugue'; in German
> *everyone* is expected to recognize the reference (so much so that it is
> nowhere in the book explicitly stated) which this title makes to the line
> from that poem: "der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland" [death is a
> master from Germany].  Harvard U. Press chose instead to make reference to
> Nietzsche with the subtitle of their English translation.
> <6> In front of Heidegger's cabin is a wooden pillar-like conduit for
> water from a well, topped with a (to my mind, at any rate, 'Escher-like')
> three-dimensional carving of a star.  A picture of it can be seen in Paul
> Heinz Koster, ed. _Deutschland deine Denker_, Hamburg: Verlag Gruner +
> Jahr, 1984 [5. Auflage].  (I am compelled to note here that the account in
> that book of Heidegger's involvement with nazism is not only somewhat
> facile, but misleading.)
> <7>  This account is found in many places. I have taken it from Hugo Ott,
> _Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie_, Frankfurt a.M. / New
> York: Campus Verlag, 1992 [1988].  The translations are my own - I have
> rendered the telephone conversation in idiomatic (but I hope felicitous)
> English.
> <8>  The most damning indictments of Heidegger's philosophy and its
> influence I have seen are two books by Hassan Givsan: _Heidegger - das
> Denken der Inhumanitaet: ein ontologische Auseinandersetzung mit Heideggers
> Denken_ [Heidegger - the thought of inhumanity: an ontological debate with
> Heidegger's thought] (Wuerzburg: Verlag Koenigshausen & Neumann, 1998) and
> _Eine bestuerzende Geschichte: warum Philosophie sich durch den "Fall
> Heidegger" korrumpieren lassen_ [an alarming story: why philosophy has
> allowed itself to be corrupted by the 'Heidegger case'] (Wuerzburg: Verlag
> Koenigshausen & Neumann, 1998).
> <9> Julian Young. _Heidegger, philosophy, Nazism_, Cambridge, U.K.:
> Cambridge University Press, 1997.
> <10> It is was once my conjecture  that Heidegger chose 'to pass over in
> silence' this subject in order to maintain a certain - well, for the moment
> I will call it 'philosophical integrity', in his 'corpus'.  The man
> Heidegger was fallible - this he admitted personally in his confessions of
> shame (to Jaspers) and guilt (to Bultmann).  But he could not bear to see
> his *work* so flawed - and to this end he was even guilty of tampering (in
> 'minor' but highly controversial, ways) with his manuscripts.  A written,
> or even publicly announced (for that, like his other public 'utterances',
> would be transcribed and find its way into the corpus), 'confession' could
> compromise the integrity of his work.
> Recent (and ongoing) publication of Heidegger's notebooks has revealed
> that the matter is perhaps at once both simpler and more complex than I or
> many others thought. But I continue to side with those who argue that
> Heidegger's personal failings are no excuse to dismiss his writings without
> critical engagement with them.
> Jonathan Rees expresses it as well as anyone: "Philosophy is about
> learning to be aware of problems in your own thinking where you might not
> have suspected them. It offers its readers an intellectual boot camp, where
> every sentence is a challenge, to be negotiated with care. The greatest
> philosophers may well be wrong: the point of recognising them as great is
> not to subordinate yourself to them, but to challenge yourself to work out
> exactly where they go wrong." [Jonathan Rees; "In Defence of Heidegger",
> _Prospect_, >March 12, 2014]
> - Chris Bruce
> Kiel, Germany
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