Thursday, December 17, 2015

Heidegger's Black Notebooks

Freiburg's university still bears a feeling of guilt for the behavior of one of its prominent professors in the Nazi era: Martin Heidegger. The discussion about Heidegger's past had calmed somewhat until the philosopher's Black Notebooks, die Schwarzen Hefte, written between 1931 and 1975 were published in 2014. Red Baron reported about the university's attempt to master the past by suppressing the Heidegger Chair and about the wave of protests that followed this short-sighted decision.

Last week a coming to term with the past was seriously undertaken. The university and FRIAS (Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies) had called in top-class national and foreign experts to a seminar about Heidegger and Nazi ideology. Two events were organized for the general public, a panel discussion and a final presentation at the end of the seminar. Red Baron went to both.

The president of Freiburg's university, His Magnificence Hans-Jochen Schiewer, introduced the panel discussion stating that although Heidegger is regarded as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century he was a Nazi. Schiewer said that it is interesting to study the susceptibility of academics to ideologies in depth and emphasized that coming to term with the past means keeping the remembrance alive.

The Audimax fully packed ...
Professor emeritus Rainer Marten, a panel member and Heidegger scholar gave an introductory lecture accusing his teacher of Menschenverachtung (contempt for humans). Heidegger's philosophy addresses the Being and not human beings. It defies humaneness: Dem Leben des Menschen wird man nicht gerecht, wenn man das Leben als höchstes Gut ansieht (One does no justice to human life if one regards life as being the highest asset). Phrases like this are disturbing. Already in 1946 Hannah Arendt had accused Heidegger of destroying the presence of humanity in every human being (die Anwesenheit der Menschheit in jedem Menschen zu vernichten).

According to Heidegger Christianity, ethic, charity, humanism, socialism, Judaism*, capitalism, consumerism, all "isms", even National Socialism lead into nihilism. In criticizing rationality Heidegger looks for alternatives.
*Heidegger's anti-Semitism is motivated ideologically and not racially.

Against National Socialism too? Historically already in late 1934 Heidegger was through with the primitive excesses of this ideology. However the idea of a Führer remained relevant, of a leader who leads from Alleinheit zur All-Einheit (a pun in German meaning from singleness to the unity of all).

... as was Hörsaal (Lecture hall) 1010 the following evening
In his closing talk Heideggers Philosophie im Schatten der Schwarzen Hefte (Heidegger's philosophy in the shadow of his Black Notebooks) Professor Dieter Thoma, a scholar of Rainer Martin, said that when Heidegger writes Sein (Being) he actually means Sei! (Be!).

Heidegger is the philosopher of the exclamation mark: Das Selbst ruft das Selbst: Mensch werde wesentlich! (The Self summons the Self: Human being become essential!) however the Self does not know how. In fact, the Self does not follow its own order but the higher order of history forwarded by a Führer.

Too late Heidegger had realized that the Nazis were not up to this higher order: In abusing the Being's trust they failed. Therefore in his later Black Notebooks Heidegger transported the history of the Being into the far future, perhaps in the year 2363. In the meantime we live through the age of profiteers, profiteers of the Being's bankruptcy as there are Jewish thinking, capitalism, socialism etc. (see above).

Following Friedrich Nietzsche Heidegger is against progress in science and technology too. Is it only a play of words when he writes? Welche Beziehung hat die Naturwissenschaft zur Natur, wenn sie sich als deren Zerstörer herausstellt? (What is the relationship between natural science and nature when the former turns out to be the destroyer of the latter?) In opposing the dominance of modern technology should we regard Heidegger as an intellectual precursor of today's ecology movement?

It comes quite natural that Heidegger's ideas about time are not at all scientific. Human beings measure and count whereas das Wesen west im Augenblick (the essence exists in the moment). A sentence in Goethe's Faust comes to my mind about the Augenblick: Verweile doch, du bist so schön (Stay with me, you are so beautiful). According to Heidegger time is temporality bound to our existence. We experience every moment temporarily not as the passing of time.

Professor Thoma waving his argument
At the end of Dieter Thoma's exposé there was time for discussion but the public was stunned or just tired? Nobody raised his/her hand. Are we, as the Badische Zeitung wrote, Mit Heidegger auf dem Holzweg (got hold of the wrong end of the stick). Are we even finished with Heidegger?

Professor Marten addressing the members of the panel
The members of the panel the evening before were not prolific either proposing only sidelines: Heidegger lives on. He is a challenge. We must talk with him and not ditch him. We should not absolve him but be happy that we have him for we are not yet finished with him.

The discussion will continue with many theses still to be written.

All photos are copyrighted FRIAS. Try to locate Red Baron on each of them.

Even in New York ... (©Andreas Höfert†)

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