[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 02:21:54 +0100

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


On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:07 AM, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>

> 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>
> 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> 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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> --
> John McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
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