[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 01:00:06 +0100

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


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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