[lit-ideas] Re: Permission to read Heidegger

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 02:41:29 +0100

The original comment was:

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

Obviously it was meant somewhat sarcastically, but I don't think that it
can be fairly construed as 'calling people stupid.'


On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:38 AM, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>

> So be it.
> John
> On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 10:29 AM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
> wrote:
>> 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
>>>>>>> --
>>>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>>> To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
>>>>>>> digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html
>>>>> --
>>>>> 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
> jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx
> http://www.wordworks.jp/

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