[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 02:29:17 +0100

Well, you obviously misunderstood.

On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:27 AM, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>

> Perhaps a simple misreading. But I have never liked calling anyone stupid.
> John
> On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 10:21 AM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
> wrote:
>> 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
>>>>> --
>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>> To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
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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
> jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx
> http://www.wordworks.jp/

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