Yesterday I mentioned Levinas’s impression of the Davos dispute from an interview with Francois Poire (it can be found in Is it Righteous to Be? Interviews with Levinas, 33ff). In that same interview, here’s Levinas describing the play put on by the students in which he played Cassirer:
At that time I had an abdundance of black hair; we put a lot of white power on my hair in order to evoke the noble gray head of the master. As for Bolnow [who played Heidegger]…I furnished him with the reply which to me seemed to caricture the eymological findings of Heidegger: “Because interpreting means to put a thing upside down.”
Levinas is asked if people felt a “great trembling” at Davos:
Certainly! Cassirer presented an order which was going to be undone. Now one has a slanted perspective which perhaps falsifies memories. I think that Heidegger announced a world that was going to be turned over. You know who he would join three years later; one would have to have had the gift of prophesy to sense this already at Davos. I have thought for a long time–in the course of those terrible years–that I had felt it then, in spite of my enthusiasms. The value judgments of them have necessarily changed over time. And during the Hitler years I reproached myself for having preferred Heidegger at Davos.
And here’s Levinas discussing what Davos represents philosophically:
At that time, it probably represented the end of a certain humanism, but perhaps today a fundamental antinomy and profound antiquity, of civilization and of philosophy. And the eternal reply of Cassierer, a humanist of refined and patrician manner, neo-Kantian, glorious disciploe of Hermann Cohen, modern interpreter of Kant, takng the intelligibility of the sciences as his point of departure, very similar to our master Leon Brunschvicg; and like him, in the continuity of rationalism, the aesthetic and the political ideas of the nineteenth century. Very removed from positivism and banal scientism, of course, but was persuaded…that mathematical invention was the inner life itself and that the thinking about an inevitable death is not a philosopher’s first thought. But maybe today in minds like Blanchot’s–in a mind like Blanchot’s–two souls coexist and converse which anywhere else do not understand each other or hardly listen to each other.
Levinas goes on to discuss Heidegger, but the reference to Blanchot above is interesting.