[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:27:44 +0900

Perhaps a simple misreading. But I have never liked calling anyone stupid.


On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 10:21 AM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>

> 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>
> 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>
>> 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
>> jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx
>> http://www.wordworks.jp/

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

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