[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: Adriano Palma <Palma@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 05:09:50 +0000

Heideggerian do not read anything, they listen to being

From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On 
Behalf Of Omar Kusturica
Sent: 17 February 2015 03:22
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

Hm... are you sure that you read what I wrote ? Or was it a deliberate 
misreading ?

O.K.

On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:07 AM, John McCreery 
<john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx<mailto:john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>> wrote:
For the same reasons that we do not say of those who make it the central 
business of their lives to read the Holy Quran or the Holy Bible stupid. One, 
it is not polite. Two, there have been some very smart people who have followed 
this path. Three, how they came to make whatever it is the central business of 
their lives is a fascinating question. Four, failure to find a shared 
vocabulary of motives may leave only fight or flight as options. Four is, quite 
likely, not terribly relevant to devotees of Heidegger, now a small group armed 
only with an odd vocabulary. On the other hand, if one of them writes the next 
Mein Kampf and a new generation of right-wing populists take up the cause.....

John

On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 9:00 AM, Omar Kusturica 
<omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx<mailto:omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>> wrote:
Why not just go ahead and say that everyone who does not make it his central 
business in life to read Heidegger and ponder his Nazism is stooopid.

O.K.

On Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 7:13 PM, <cblists@xxxxxxxx<mailto: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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