[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: cblists@xxxxxxxx
  • To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 09:48:31 +0100

> On 17 Feb 2015, at 01:00, Omar Kusturica <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.

Omar - what on earth (or elsewhere for that matter) does this comment have to 
do with my posting? (I append that posting below for the benefit of thiose who 
don't wish to search the archives for something from me that may in any way 
possible resonate with Omar's remark.)

Perhaps you make it (hyperbolically) in response to something you read in an 
article I recommended (while at the same time *explicitly* stating: "Please 
note that 'recommend reading' is not semantically equivalent to 'agree 
uncritically with the entire contents of').

In an earlier post [[lit-ideas] Reading Heidegger after publication of the 
'Black Notebooks'] I quote some of Bernard-Henry Levy's "Why read Heidegger?".  
In a passage which I do NOT quote he goes on:

"I tried to argue that despite the queasiness and shame one sometimes feels 
when browsing a meditation on Heraclitus or Hölderlin and encountering some 
tawdry episode of the German struggle decked out with all the dignity of the 
majestic Event, we must continue to read Heidegger -- especially because he is 
the origin of a share of the greatest, most essential thinking of the last 50 


"Sartre's philosophy of the necessarily dependent freedom of the Dasein, that 
light, leaping entity without substance or interiority made possible by Being 
and Time.

"The rebellions of the 1960s, the currents of anti-authoritarian and 
libertarian thought whose first adversary was metaphysical ingenuousness, 
currents deeming 'natural' what Heidegger had taught us to think of as 

"The 'theoretical anti-humanism' of those years, the considerable capital gain 
in meaning and knowledge, the inestimable increase in intelligence and truth 
that he brought (yes, indeed!) to our awareness of real beings -- this fecund 
shifting of lens and frame that produced a great moment in thought, for which 
Heidegger provided the formula.

"Levinas, of course, and then the second shift, subordinated to the first, 
which moved not from Being to being but from being to the other. 

"Lacan, physician and philosopher, the successor to Freud, the glamorous 
thinker, the diviner of that unconscious that is structured like a language, 
the exploration of which reputedly follows channels opened in the very flesh of 
the signifier. That, too, would have been impossible without the oracular 
Cratylism of the last philosopher to have believed that words resemble things, 
that the art of etymology is the royal road of knowledge and that dialectics 
must give way to exegetics. 

"I could cite many other examples nearly as strong. 

"It is the entire 'linguistic turn' in contemporary philosophy suggested by 
Gottlob Frege that must be considered here.

"You have no other choice: Either read Heidegger, despite everything, or tell 
yourself that philosophy ends at Kant's 'limit,' Hegel's 'totality,' or 
Bergson's 'recovery.'"

Full article at 


Please note the quotation marks there - I am quoting another philosopher and 
inviting list members to critically engage with him. (And I will be once more 
explicit here: 'recommend reading' is not semantically equivalent to 'agree 
uncritically with the entire contents of'.)

Chris Bruce
in Kiel, Germany

> On Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 7:13 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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