[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:38:03 +0900

So be it.


On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 10:29 AM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>

> Well, you obviously misunderstood.
> On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:27 AM, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
> wrote:
>> 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
>>>>>> --
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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/

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

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