[lit-ideas] Reading Heidegger after publication of the 'Black Notebooks'

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  • Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:46:18 +0100

For those who want a more nuanced discussion of the publication of Heidegger's 
'Black Notebooks' and their relevance in assessing Heidegger's importance as a 
philosopher I recommend reading the following three articles (from which I 
quote short excerpts):

Bernard-Henry Levy's "Why read Heidegger?"

"The real question [is] not to recall for the umpteenth time that this great 
philosopher was also a real Nazi.

"Rather it was to ask what can and should be done today about the living 
paradox, the terrifying oxymoron, of an individual about whom we cannot even 
say, as we could about Céline, that he had two separate faces. We cannot do 
that with Heidegger because in the same works, the same sentences, often the 
same word, the man appears as a lofty philosopher and as a purveyor of infamy.

"Should we just forget him? ... Jump at finally having a good reason not to 
have to struggle with one of the most arduous and complex of contemporary 

"I don't think so. ..."


Jonathan Ree's "In defence of Heidegger: You do not have to admire a 
philosopher personally to admire his work"

"I think that those who say that because [Heidegger] was anti-Semitic we should 
not read his philosophy show a deep ignorance about the whole tradition of 
writing and reading philosophy. The point about philosophy is not that it 
offers an anthology of opinions congenial to us, which we can dip into to find 
illustrations of what you might call greeting card sentiments. 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."


Richard Polt and Gregory Fried in conversation with Thomas Sheehan: "no one can 
jump over his own shadow"

"RP & GF: The three volumes of 'Black Notebooks' ... leave no reasonable doubt 
that Heidegger had anti-Semitic attitudes. And his public statements, even into 
the 1940s, indicated that he supported ... the Nazi regime and its war efforts. 
How do you see this affecting his philosophy?

"TS: Heidegger’s attempt to launder his cultural pessimism and revanchist 
nationalism through his “metaphysical history” of the downfall of the West is a 
complete failure and should be recognized as such. This includes, most 
saliently and infamously, his undeniable anti-Semitism and Nazism.

"In my opinion, the attempts of Heideggerians to 'explain' his anti-Semitism 
via exculpatory qualifications (e.g., 'he wasn’t a biological anti-Semite like 
the Nazis') are abject strategies of avoidance, a desperate refusal to accept 
the obvious. The question, rather, is whether his deep cultural anti-Semitism, 
along with his craven allegiance to Hitler, hemorrhage into the core of his 

"Some, like the indefatigable but philosophically challenged Emmanuel Faye, 
insist that Heidegger was a Nazi even before he was born and that from 
beginning to end his philosophy was nothing but an effort—in Faye’s words—'to 
introduce Nazism into philosophy.'

"I argue ... that the essential core of Heidegger’s philosophy was in place by 
the end of 1930 and that it is in no way tainted by his later Nazism or his 
abiding anti-Semitism."


Chris Bruce,
in Kiel, Germany

P.S. Please note that 'recommend reading' is not semantically equivalent to 
'agree uncritically with the entire contents of'.

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