Human, All too Human: Heidegger:
Ok, one more post about Davos. Here is Maurice de Gandillac’s rather deflationary assessment of the Davos dispute (in Salomon Malka’s biography of Levinas):
It remained a civilized dialogue between the elegant professor who symbolized the humanistic and liberal tradition, and Heidegger, who brought with him an entirely new outlook. Mme. Cassirer was speaking of a real scene between the two of them. But if there was something there, no one registered so much as an echo of it. The students were far from the holy of holies. Certainly Cavailles, who was our cayman, and who directed the general rapport in the session, gave an extremely positive summary of the exchange between the two men. Many among us, myself included I must say, felt closer to Cassirer, but Heidegger interested in something new. In other words, the tone of the polemic was, again, extremely courteous. I was not struck by any particular tension. Besides, had there been a great tension, Levinas would have stepped in as the interpreter. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Peter Gordon’s book, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, is due out this month. It looks promising–plus Harvard UP tells us all that it’s “riveting” in the blurb below! Seriously, if it’s half as good as Gordon’s previous book about Heidegger and Rosenzweig it will certainly be worth reading. The Davos enounter, I think, is often seen as a sort of turning point, break, or touchstone for 20th century philosophy. Numerous commentators have upped the stakes, claiming that this debate marks a substantial “rupture” between enlightenment and counter-enlightenment, humanism and anti-humanism, analytic vs continental philosophy etc. etc. I think the most unlikely interpretation I’ve read about Davos just may be Bourdieu’s attempt to grind Heidegger’s thought down to its political ontology (though it’s not really fresh in my head).
Levinas, who was in the audience, had this to say about Davos in an interview with Francois Poire: “a young student could have had the impression that he was witness to the creation and the end of the world.” Later that evening Levinas and some of his friends restaged the debate for a sizable audience (if I’m not mistaken both Heidegger and Cassirer were in there). Levinas played Cassirer, but I can’t recall who played Heidegger. I think in that same interview with Poire Levinas confesses to feeling bad about mocking Cassirer’s rather lackluster performance and siding with Heidegger. Anway, here’s the blurb from Harvard UP:
While my students were feverishly writing their responses to their final exam I decided to have another look at Hans Jonas’ essay I mentioned yesterday. It’s far more polemical than I remembered. It’s quite enjoyable to read, actually. Early on in his essay, “Heidegger and Theology,” (in the wonderful collection of essays entitled Phenomenon of Life republished by Northwestern fairly recently) Hans Jonas suggests that what it so tempting to Christian theologians, especially given the late Heidegger, is the “seeming, false humility of Heidegger’s shifting initiative to Being.” What lies behind or beyond this false humility? Here’s Jonas: “the most enormous hubris in the whole history of thought.” Whoa (and this is almost 25 odd years prior to the “Farias revelations” in which many Heideggerians ran for Levinasian cover). Jonas sees Heidegger’s humility as fundamentally immoral, akin to what Levinas might call “participation” in that which is, and therefore, must be, rather than what should be. Jonas comments on Heidegger’s hubris:
For it is nothing less than the thinker’s claiming that through him speaks the essence of things itself, and thus the claim to an authority which no other thinker should ever claim. And moreover it is the claim that in principle the basic human condition, that of being at a distance to things can be remitted, avoided, overcome. The claim, that is, to a possible immediacy that perhaps has a place in the person-to-person relation, but no in the relation to impersonal being and things and the world. Continue reading
Not to be dismissive about Heidegger’s Nazism or anything, but the dialogue has begun (yet) again. I bookmarked an article entitled “Heil Heidegger,” for myself (and others, of course) on Twitter last week. The article discusses a recently translated book revolving around Heidegger’s Nazism and I just had a chance to look closely at it. It’s um…rather polemical. Consider the first paragraph:
How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany’s greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there’s a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.
Whoa. Nothing like a little ad hominem attack to get things going. Sure, Heidegger’s rhetoric is a bit bloated much of the time, but in fact, this paragraph kind of de-legitimizes anything else the author, Carlin Romano, writes afterward. The connection (identity, really) between Heidegger and Nazism has been picked over and I’m not so sure that Romano is correct to say that there’s been some sort of deliberate systematic disavowal of it on the part of academics. Anyhow, Romano’s polemic is centered around the forthcoming translation of Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935. Faye’s claim, as far as I can tell, is that Heidegger wasn’t “caught up” or “flirting” with Nazism, but instead, was a theorist or philosopher of Nazism. Hmm. Baby. Bathwater. I don’t think it’s particular helfpul (or accurate) to reduce the whole corpus of Heidegger’s work to mere “hate speech.” Both Faye and Romano almost sound like those screaming health care protesters by insisting that publishers (er..Indiana UP and Continuum) stop publishing Heidegger and all of those librarian sympathizers need to cut it out with all this stocking up of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe in order to prevent Nazism from encroaching into the public realm and poisoning the minds of the unexpected. I hardly think Heidegger’s Nazism or minimally, Heidgger’s connection with Nazism should escape serious and legitimate scrutiny, nor should it be defended, but if Faye’s book is half the hatchet job I’ve heard it to be, then it’s not very helpful. That said, I will read the book with a good deal of interest.
Anyway, after picking on a couple of recent books by Heidegger scholars, Romano writes: Continue reading
The, er…rocky, but fruitful relationship between Husserl and Heidegger is well known. I was skimming through Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger this afternoon and I came across this passage in a fiery letter Heidegger wrote to Karl Lowith in 1923:
In the final hours of the seminar, I publicaly burned and destroyed the Ideas to such an extent that I dare say that the essential foundations for the whole of my work are now clearly laid out. Looking back from this vantage point to the Logical Investigations, I am now convinced that Husserl was never a philosopher; not even for one second in his life. He becomes ever more ludicrous.
And that’s actually pretty tame. I can’t remember where it is or where I read it, but I think in a letter to Jaspers or another letter to Lowith Heidegger pretty much says something like “Husserl has totally gone off the deep end,” and goes onto accuse Husserl of being impressed with himself for founding phenomenology. Nothing like a little hostility…
Though one need only to look at Husserl’s marginal notes in his copy of SZ to get wind of his rather unethusiastic reaction. I think it was there that Husserl characterized Heidegger’s work as either irrational or at best, a superficial continuation of his own work. Throughout the PTP (cited above) one can find a number of Husserl’s comments regarding Heidegger’s attacks on him as well as Heidegger’s work.