The crisis of spirit suffered by Germany in 1918 was more profound than that of 1945. The material destruction, the revelations of inhumanity which accompanied the collapse of the Third Reich numbed the German imagination. Immediate necessities for bare survival absorbed what the war had left of intellectual and psychological resources. The condition of a leprous, divided Germany was too new, the Hitlerian atrocity was too singular, to allow of any coherent philosophic critique or revaluation. The situation in 1918 was catastrophic, but in a way which comprised not only the stability of the physical, historical setting (Germany was materially almost intact), but which pressed upon reflection and sensibility the agencies of self-destruction and of continuity in European culture. The survivance of the national framework, of the academic and literary conventions, made feasible a metaphysical-poetic dis-course on chaos. (None comparable followed on 1945.)
Of this discourse sprang a constellation of books unlike any others produced in the history of western thought and feeling. Between 1918 and 1927, within nine short years, there appear in German half a dozen books that are more than books in their dimensions and manner of extremity. The first edition of Ernst Bloch’s Geist der Utopie is dated 1918. So is volume one of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. The initial version of Karl Barth’s Commentary on Romans, of Barth’s reading of St. Paul, is dated 1919. Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung follows in 1921. Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit is published in 1927. The question of whether the sixth title forms part of this configuration, and, if so, in what ways, is among the most difficult. Mein Kampf appears in its two volumes between 1925 and 1927.
Roughly perceived, what have these works in common? They are voluminous. This is no accident. It tells of an imperative endeavour towards totality (after Hegel), of an attempt to provide, even where the point of departure is of a specialized historical or philosophic order, a summa of all available insight. It was as if the urgent prolixity of these writers sought to build a capacious house of words where that of German cultural and imperial hegemony had collapsed. These are prophetic texts, at once Utopian - the utopia of promise is as manifest in Bloch as is that of twilight, of a nunc dimittis from the burdens of history in Spengler - and, as is all authentic prophecy, retrospective, commemorative of a lost ideal. The climate of 1918 is such as to compel and permit a more or less enhanced remembrance of the civilities, of the cultural stabilities, of the pre-1914 world. (The abyss of 1933-45 cut off such remembrance.)
These works are, in a sense which is also technical, apocalyptic. They address themselves to “the last things.” Again, the apocalyptic prevision can be salutary, as in Rosenzweig’s movement towards redemption or Ernst Bloch ‘s blueprint for secular, though nevertheless messianic, emancipation; or they can be figurations of catastrophe. In this respect, Barth’s teaching of the utter incommensurability between God and man, between the infinity of the divine and the unalterable constraints of human perception, is darkly ambiguous. It tells of the necessity of hopes which are, in essence, illusory. We know of the dread foresight, of the contract with apocalypse in Mein Kampf. Like their leviathan counterpart in Austria, Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Humanity, these writings out of the German ruin are, indeed, meant to be read either by men and women doomed to decay, as in Spengler, or by men and women destined to undergo some fundamental renovation, some agonizing rebirth out of the ash of a dead past. This is Bloch’s message, Rosenzweig’s and, in a perspective of eternal untimeliness, that of Barth. It is Hitler’s promise to the Volk.
Massive scale, a prophetic tenor and the invocation of the apocalyptic make for a specific violence. These are violent books. There is no more violent dictum in theological literature than Karl Barth’s: “God speaks His eternal No to the world.” In Rosenzweig, the violence is one of exaltation. The light of God’s immediacy breaks almost unbearably upon human conscious- ness. Ernst Bloch sings and preaches revolution, the overthrow of the existing order within man’s psyche and society. The Spirit of Utopia will lead directly to Bloch’s fiery celebration of Thomas Münzer and the sixteenth century insurrections of peasant-saints and millennarians. The baroque violence, the rhetorical satisfaction in disaster - literally “the falling of the stars” - in Spengler’s magnum, have often been noted. And there is no need to detail the raucous inhumanity in the eloquence of Herr Hitler.
This violence is, inevitably, stylistic. Though intensely pertinent, the criteria of Expressionism are too broad. These are writings which interact decisively with the aesthetics, with the rhetoric of Expressionist literature, art and music. Certain premonitory voices, those of Jakob Böhme, of Kierkegaard and of Nietzsche, sound throughout Expressionism as they do in these six books. The ambience of apocalyptic extremity is pervasive. But that which I am trying to identify in Barth or Heidegger or Bloch is of a particular kind. It would be rewarding to probe closely the uses of negation in the thought and grammar of the Commentary on Romans, of Rosenzweig’s analysis of mundanity or of the strategies of annullment, of exorcism through annihilation in My Struggle. Here is no Hegelian negation, with its dialectical yield of positivity. The terms now so cardinal to our study of Heidegger - “nothing”, “nothingness”, nichten, untranslatable as the verb “to nothing” - have their analogue throughout the set. Barth’s God is “the Judge of the Nichtsein [the non-being, the being-nothing] of the world.” It is out of the “not-thereness” of the divine in classical and rational ontologies that Rosenzweig derives his programme for salvation. No less lyrically than James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, Ernst Bloch strives to enforce an overwhelming, life-saving Yes as against the Nichtigkeit, the “nothingness” and the denial (Verneinen) spoken upon history and human hopes by the madness of world war.
Both the sounding of nothingness, which has its history in metaphysical and in mystical speculations - Heidegger’s work has its source in Leibniz’s famous question: “why is there not nothing?” - and the summons to renascence, have crucial linguistic applications. The language itself must be made new. It must be purged of the obstinate remnants of a ruined past. We know the extent to which this kathartic imperative is inherent in all modernism after Mallarmé. We know that there is scarcely a modern aesthetic manifesto or school, be it Symbolism, Futurism, Surrealism, which does not declare the renovation of poetic discourse to be among its principal purposes. In a vein at once precious and incisive, Hofmannsthal asks how it is possible to use the old, worn, mendacious words after the facts of 1914-18 (Wittgenstein listens closely to that question). But in the works I have cited, the attempts to make language new have a singular radicality. Where Spengler is still, and perhaps parodistically, a mandarin, a private academic whose erudite solemnities of voice play deliberately against the wildness of his pronouncements - a play often modelled on Goethe’s Faust - writers such as Bloch and Rosenzweig are neologists, subverters of traditional grammar. In subsequent editions, Barth attenuates the lapidary strangeness of his idiom, an idiom meant very concretely to exemplify the abyss between human logic and the true God who is “the origin, abstaining from all objectivity [or 'facticity] of the crisis of all objectivity” (“der aller Gegenständlichkeit entbehrende Ursprung der Krisis aller Gegenständlichkeit”). Much in Hitler’s language, in that anti-matter to the *Logos, still needs to be analysed. In short: more consciously, more violently than any other language, and in ways that may indeed have been influenced by Dada and its desperate call for a totally new human tongue with which to voice the desperation and hopes of the age, the German language after the first world war seeks a break with its past. Endowed with a peculiarly mobile syntax and with the capacity to fragment or to fuse words and word-roots almost at will, German looks to elect solitaries in its past, to Master Eckhardt, to Böhme, to Hölderlin, and to such innovations as Surrealism and the cinema in its present, for instigations to renewal. The Stern der Erlösung, Bloch’s messianic tracts, Barth’s exegetics and, above all, Sein und Zeit are speech-acts of the most revolutionary kind.
It is only in this linguistic and emotive context that Heidegger’s method becomes intelligible. Sein und Zeit is an immensely original product. But it has distinct affinities to the exactly contemporaneous constellation of the apocalyptic. Like they, it would overcome the language of the immediate German past and forge a new speech both by virtue of radical invention and by a selective return to 'forgotten’ sources. Karl Lowith was probably the first to remark on the similitudes in rhetoric and ontological vision which relate the Stern der Erlösung to Being and Time. The often brutally oxymoronic turns of language and of thought in Karl Barth, notably the dialectic of divine hiddenness and revelation, has its close correspondence in Heidegger on truth. In both texts a violent existentialism in reference to man’s enigmatic “thrownness” into life accompanies an equally violent sense of illumination, of presence ‘behind’ the extant. Ernst Bloch’s use of parataxis, of anaphoric reiteration, has its parallels in Heidegger, as does the device of abstract personalization, the grammatical treatment of abstract and prepositional categories as if they were nominal presences. There is more than accidental echo as between Heidegger’s portrayal of psychic decay and planetary waste in modernity and Spengler’s Menschendämmerung or “twilight of man.” Heidegger’s language, which is wholly inseparable from his philosophy and from the problems which that philosophy poses, must be seen as a characteristic phenomenon arising out of the circumstances of Germany between the cataclysm of 1918 and the rise to power of National Socialism. Many of the difficulties we experience in seeking to hear and interpret that language today stem directly from its untimeliness, from the fact that we bring to bear, inevitably, our awareness of history and of discourse as these developed in the 1940s and 1950s on an earlier speech-world.
Justly, Gadamer tells of Martin Heidegger’s Wortgenie, of his ‘word-genius’. Heidegger can sense and follow the etymological “arteries into the primal rock of language.” The author of Sein und Zeit, of the lectures on the meaning of metaphysics, of the Letter on Humanism, of the commentaries on Nietzsche, on Hölderlin or on Schelling, is, with Plato and with Nietzsche, a stylist of exceeding power. His punning - where ‘punning’ is too feeble a designation for an uncanny receptivity to the fields of resonance, of consonance, of suppressed echo in phonetic and semantic units - has bred, to the point of parody, the post-structuralism and deconstructionism of today. Heidegger belongs to the history of language and of literature as much (some would say more) than he does to that of ontology, of phenomenological epistemology or of aesthetics. By any measure, the corpus is overwhelming. It will run to more than sixty volumes (of which we have, until now, only a part, and inadequately edited).
Yet this prodigality and textual strength are, themselves, paradoxical. They tend to obscure a central orality in Heidegger’s teaching and concept of the enterprise of serious thought.
Witnesses, such as Löwith, as Gadamer, as Hannah Arendt, are of one voice in saying that those who did not hear Martin Heidegger lecture or conduct his seminars, can have only an imperfect, even distorted notion of his purpose. It is the lectures, the seminars already prior to Sein und Zeit which, in Marburg in the very early 1920s, came as a shock of revelation to colleagues and students. The “secret king of thought,” as Arendt memorably called her master, acted through the spoken word. Gadamer characterizes the experience of hearing Heidegger as one of “Einbruch und Umbruch,” of “break-in and of [destructive-foundational] transformation.” The rare recordings we have of the ageing Heidegger’s voice and mode of speech retain their spell. Critics have referred to a kind of histrionic sorcery, masked as questioning simplicity. This charge has, we know, an ancient ring. And the Socratic motif is of utmost relevance. Socrates is, rules Heidegger, the “purest” of all western thinkers; that purity is immediate to the fact “that he does not write.” Plato’s Phaedrus and the Platonic Vllth Letter express the primal contradiction between the serious pursuit of the Logos, of philosophic insight on the one hand, and writing on the other. The letter kills the spirit. The written text is mute in the face of responding challenge. It does not admit of inward growth and correction. Texts subvert the absolutely vital role of memory (Heidegger’s key-term, Erin-nerung). It is the sophist, the rhetorician, the venial orator who commit their craft to writing. The true poet is an oral rhapsode. The true thinker, the authentic pedagogue above all, relies on face-to-face speech, on the uniquely focussed dynamics of direct address, as these knit question to answer, and living voice to living reception. This theme of the abstention from writing of all responsible philosophic teaching is perennial in the western tradition (as it is also in the Orient). We find it in a sharp guise in the practises of Wittgenstein, himself, like Heidegger, an anti-academic academic and scorner of the “profession of philosophy” in its conventional and publicist sense. (It is, I believe, the conjunctions in depth between Wittgenstein and Heidegger, the two foremost philosophic linguistic thinkers of the age, so seemingly antithetical, which offer the most fertile ground for coming investigation and comprehension.)
As we now know, the greater part of Heidegger’s work lay unpublished. Being and Time remains incomplete and was published in this massively fragmentary form against Heidegger’s initial intent. The questioning construct, the definitional repetitions, the tautologies which inform Heidegger’s texts are, frequently, those of the lecture-note, of the intervention in the seminar or of the dialogue. The fiction of such a dialogue, with a Japanese student, is enacted in one of Heidegger’s major essays on the nature of language. I have found that passages in Heidegger which are opaque to the reading eye and stony on the page come to more intelligible life, take on a logic of an almost musical kind when they are read aloud, when one hears them read or spoken as did the students, the public audiences to which they were first articulated. To read Heidegger may, therefore, be in some sense not only a problematic but an unnatural proceeding.
But the question of whether Martin Heidegger is saying anything substantive and arguable at all, of whether his voluminous pronouncements upon man and mundum are anything but tautological incantations, lies even deeper. From Carnap to the present, analytic philosophy has treated Sein und Zeit and subsequent Heidegger-texts as “pure mystification,” as “non-sense” of a peculiarly obscurantist and melodramatic sort. What is, to Gadamer, one of the principal “acts of disinterested thought” in the history of philosophy, has been, most evidently in the Anglo-American climate of discourse, a fearsome example of the irrationalism, of the the hypnotic deconstruction of logical argument, as these tide across German and, to some extent, French sensibility after Hegel and Nietzsche. Heidegger’s politics are, in this reading, of a piece with the nocturnal vacancy and magisterial primitivity of his prose. I have, throughout my small book on Heidegger, sought to clarify the implications and scope of this fundamental critique; and I have, tentatively, pointed to what I take to be the underlying, the genetic origin of a very real dilemma. Let me come back to this hypothesis. “I am a theologian,” declares Martin Heidegger to those who, at Marburg and in the early years in Freiburg, sought guidance to the revolutionary nature of his style and teachings. Heidegger’s training is theological. It is the inadequacy of the Thomist incorporation of Aristotle on ‘being’ which instigates Heidegger’s work on pseudo-Duns Scotus and those first seminars on Aristotle’s Rhetoric which revealed a new presence in European thought. The letter to Karl Lowith, in the decisive year 1921, is explicit: “Do not measure me by the standards of any creative philosopher..! am a Christian theologian.” From the outset, Heidegger’s manner of questioning and defining, Heidegger’s tactics of citation and of hermeneutic elucidation, intimately reflect the Scholastic and neo-Kantian theological techniques in which he had been trained. His early exemplars, those whom he studies and, initially, echoes are St. Paul, Kierkegaard, religious illuminati such as Eckhardt, and the German Pietists from whom Heidegger, like Hölderlin, derives some of his most audacious lexical and grammatical strokes. Above all, the Heideggerian determination to ask ultimate questions, his un-negotiated and non-negotiable postulate that serious human thought must dwell persistently on “first and last things” (it is here that the antinomies to the philosophy-world of Hume and of Frege are most drastic), have their inception and justification in a religious-theological sphere of values. If Martin Heidegger inquires, untiringly, of the being of Being, of on and ousia, it is because theology, and the theological uses of Aristotle have directed him so to do.
It is during the actual composition of Sein und Zeit that there would seem to have occurred what I take to be the initial and radical Kehre (“turn”) in Heidegger’s stance. It is that from the theological to the ontological. We know Heidegger’s fierce insistence on this dissociation. Being and Time and the works that followed disclaim any theological reference. They constitute an intransigent critique of transcendence in the theological and neo-Platonic sense. Most stringently, Martin Heidegger rejects what he calls “the onto-theological”; this is to say that he attempts to found a philosophy of being or epistemology of consciousness on some kind of rationally or intuitively postulated theological basis. The inference of any such basis, as we find it, capitally, in Kant or, more covertly, in the hypostasis of Geist (of “Spirit”) in Hegel’s teleological his- toricism, is, to Heidegger, wholly illicit. An authentic ontology, such as he develops it, is a ‘thinking of human existential immanence whose referral to being, to the primordial, naked fact and truth of essence, has no theological dimension. Time and again, Heidegger makes this discrimination imperative to his enterprise and to our understanding of the human condition. Even more drastically than an “overcoming of metaphysics” (whose theological foundations, certainly in the western tradition, are perennially transparent), Heidegger’s thought is an “overcoming of theology” or, more precisely and crucially, a supercession of the theological ghosts which, obstinately, inhabit western philosophy even in its most explicitly agnostic or atheist vein (that of Nietzsche). Heidegger’s allusions to theology, to the uses which theologians in Marburg and elsewhere were making of his ontology, became increasingly ironic. The distance between himself and the theologians had to be made wholly unmistakeable. In late years, he was wont to observe that the problem, on which he himself had no opinion, was not whether theology could be a Wissenschaft (a scientific, positive corpus of method and knowledge), but whether it had any right
There is no reason to query Heidegger’s convictions on this key issue. The perception that his anxiety for differentiation precisely expresses his own awareness of the close neighbourhood of the theological to his ontological radicalism, is legitimate. But it does not, a* priori*, refute Heideggers claims to existential immanence, to the “thereness of the world” and of the phenomenality of the extant in a set of categories which are neither theological nor anti-theological, but entirely extraneous to the theological dimension (as are, comparably, the models of being in modern scientific cosmologies). The question is: what is the role in Heidegger’s thought and language, these two being strictly inseparable, of the renunciation and refusal of the theological? Could there, in fact, be a communicable, an arguably intelligible, articulation of an ontology of pure immanence?
This, I believe, is the question to address to Heidegger’s teachings. I advert to it in my book on Heidegger. But it needs to be urged more strongly.
The violence of neologism, of grammatical compaction in Heidegger’s discourse materially reflects the endeavour, under persistent strain, to forge a language of ontological totality in which the theological presence would not intrude. The languages of mathematics and of formal logic are able to encode a systematic immanence. They need not refer to the transcendent, to the undefinable. They are, in a sense, dynamic tautologies. Paradoxically, there are analogies to this self- closure in Heidegger’s idiom. The copula, the is, which, epistemologically and ontologically, constitutes the constant object of Martin Heidegger’s meditation, also embodies the principal instrument of his style. Sein und Zeit, the lectures on metaphysics, on the act of thought, the expositions of Schelling and of Nietzsche, the later writings on art, abound in open and veiled tautologies. In the Heideggerian dialectic, A is defined as A in a tautological imperative which, consciously or not, generates a counter-statement to the tautological self-definition of the transcendent as it speaks out of the Burning Bush. The “I am what I am” or nI am that which is" of the Mosaic Deity, is exactly counter-echoed in Heidegger’s definitions of Being, qua Being, in his strenuous refusal to allow the definitional disperal of Being in beings.
The intractable difficulty here is this: mathematics and symbolic logic can, indeed, proceed within systematic tautology and enclosure. Natural language, as we have inherited it from Hebraic and Hellenic sources, as it has, in the west, been indelibly marked by Platonic immateriality and by Judaeo-Christian transcendentalism, cannot be purged convincingly of its meta-physical register, connotations and implicit inference. To speak after Scripture and the Phaedrus, after St. Augustine and Dante, after Kant and Dostoevsky, is to speak transcendentally. It is to use, even if involuntarily, fundamental categories of 'other-dimensionality’, be they theological, spiritual (also in a psychological sense) or mythological, where ‘mythology* stands for the Platonism and Neo-Platonism which has innervated the life of the mind and of the imagination in the west.
Martin Heidegger’s counter-action has been formidable. It engages not only his own recasting of German philosophic speech. It animates his vexed and metamorphic translations from the pre-Socratics, from Aristotle, from the Latin of the Scholastics. Heidegger’s readings and re-phrasings of Sophocles, of Hölderlin, of Trakl are attempts to reclaim for a language of ontological presentness, of Gegenwart, the high ground illicitly (according to Heidegger) occupied by the onto- theology and metaphysics which perpetuate our “forgetting of Being.” They are, to use a celebrated Heidegger-trope, the labours of a wood-cutter, seeking to hack out a path to the “clearing”, to the luminous “thereness of what is.”
I have argued that Heidegger’s prodigious purgation (katharsis) is among the major acts in the history of thought and of language. Its challenge, its provocation and influence are, will be immense. But a sense of ultimate failure is difficult to deny. Notoriously, Heidegger himself was unable to arrive at a definition of Sein, of Being and the being of Being, that is not either a pure tautology or a metaphoric and infinitely regressive chain. He himself admitted this fact, attributing to human speech itself some radical inadequacy in the face of Being. There is a cardinal instability, indeed, contradiction at the very heart of Heidegger’s undertaking. The 1943 afterword to Was ist Metaphysik? (“What is Metaphysics?) propounds that "Being wohl west [a strictly untranslatable Heideggerian coinage signifying something like 'is dynamically, breathes seminally’] without the extant, but that there can never be anything extant without Being” (“das Sein wohl west ohne das Seiende, dass niemals aber ein Seiendes ist ohne das Sein”). In the fifth edition of the lecture, this central doctrine is simply inverted. We are now told that “Dass das Sein nie ist ohne das Seiende” (“there is never a being of Being without the extant”). Within six years the whole ontological postulate has been reversed. Gadamer justly infers the “eschatological pathos” which was unleashed upon Heidegger and Germany during these years. But the muddle does lie deeper. As everywhere else in Heidegger, the thought and speech-experiment which is demanded in order to “think Being” independent of extants, of that which actually and existentially is, proves abortive. Or, what matters far more, the experiment itself constitutes an in- voluntary reversion to the theological. Replace Sein by ‘God’ in all the key passages and their meaning becomes pellucid. A Sein ohne Seiendes (“a Being without beings”) such as Heidegger must postulate it if he is to remain true to the anti- metaphysics and anti-theology of his teachings, is inconceivable and unsayable in precisely the ways in which the Deus absconditus, the unmoved Prime Mover of Aristotelian and Augustinian transcendentalism, is inconceivable and unsayable.
The equivalence is that which Heidegger labours, almost desperately, to avoid. Again and again, his language and the claims to intelligibility of his definitions and translations break under the strain. Heidegger mines etymologies to unprecedented and frequently arbitrary depths. At the heart of the dark he finds, again, the ancient gods. Hence the turn, itself inexhaustibly fascinating, to poetry, to the arts after what Heidegger himself seems to have recognized as a central defeat not only politically, but philosophically. In a motion which is almost that of Schelling and of philosophic aestheticism (in the wake of Nietzsche), Heidegger locates in the mysterium tremendum of the Hölderlin ode, of the Van Gogh painting, that Otherness’ of absolute presence, of ontological self-sig- nification, to which he cannot allow a theological-metaphysical status. Hence also, and most enigmatically, the turn towards “the gods”, towards the Geviert (“foursome”) of pagan, chthonic forces in Heidegger’s last writings. For the later Heidegger, Being is presentness in the poetry, in the art we believe in. But how can that which “shines through” the choral song in Antigone, how can that which “conceals and discloses itself as the true being of Being” in Van Gogh’s painting of peasant shoes, be thought, be said in terms other than those of transcendence? Words failed Heidegger and, at a pivotal stage in his life and work, he failed them. The symmetries of immanence are cruel.
My introduction to Martin Heidegger first appeared in 1978. By that date it was entirely possible to arrive at a general picture of Heidegger’s involvement in National Socialism. Guido Schneeberger’s Nachlese zu Heidegger, published in 1962, contained the essential texts. Here one could find the ultra-nationalist and pro-Nazi public pronouncements made by Heidegger during his Rektorat at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau. Nine years before, Karl Löwith’s poignant, incisive Heidegger: Denker in dürftiger Zeit had set out the central paradox of the co-existence in Heidegger of a philosopher of towering stature and of an active partisan in barbarism. Further elements of the case were contributed by Karl Jaspers’ Notizen zu Martin Heidegger (1978) and the expanded edition of Jaspers’ Philosophische Autobiographie which had appeared the year previous. A largely apologetic view of the matter was available in Otto Pöggeler’s study: Philosophie und Politik bei Heidegger of 1972. Above all, any interested reader could consult the crucial interview with Heidegger, an interview intolerably shrewd and evasive, published posthumously in the Spiegel in 1966. This text alone ought to have focussed attention on the theme of Heidegger’s near-total silence about the Holocaust during the years of his teaching and writing after 1945. It is this silence and the one notorious sentence which breaks it - a sentence in which Heidegger equates Auschwitz with the practise of battery-farming and with the nuclear threat - that, to my mind, constitutes the gravamen of the whole tragic affair. So far as I am aware, my own little book was among the very first, if not indeed the first, to state that it is Heidegger’s silence post- 1945 rather than the opaque and pathetic rhetoric of 1933-34 which challenges our understanding.
From 1984 onward, the articles of Hugo Ott have provided an invaluable, detailed examination of Heidegger’s activities as Rektor, of his attitude towards colleagues and students and of his relations to the regime in Berlin (these several articles are now gathered in Ott’s Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie, 1988). Löwith’s calm but devastating indictment of Heidegger’s comportment and views in the mid-1980s had become available in Mein Leben in Deutschland vor und nach 1933 (1986). Numerous aspects of Heidegger’s political, pragmatic role and significance are touched upon in Heidegger und die praktische Philosophie (edited by Pöggeler and by Annemarie Gethmann-Siefert, 1988). But it is, undeniably, the publication in October 1987 of the French version of Victor Farias’s Heidegger et le nazisme which unleashed thestorm. Since that date, the polemic literature has assumed almost grotesque volume. Books, articles, special numbers of philosophic-political journals, have poured in. There are now monographic surveys and bibliographies of this debate. Matters have been made murkier and more acrimonious by the posthumous publication of certain anti-semitic, pro-Germanic articles written by the young Paul De Man. There are contiguities, although of an exceedingly subtle kind, with the Heidegger fracas. It has, over the past two years, been almost impossible to keep up with the tumult of voices, accusing or apologetic, humanist or deconstructive. The Heidegger cause is now all too célèbre.
This is somewhat odd. Farias’s book is, where it touches on philosophy, of the utmost vulgarity and imprecision. It is, moreover, crammed with errata not only in regard to facts and dates but in its translations from Heidegger (some of these have been listed in Thomas Sheehan’s article on “Heidegger and the Nazis”, in the New York Review of Books for June 16, 1988, pp. 38-9). Very little in Farias was not previously available in the research of Otto or in such testimony as that of Wilhelm Schoeppe on Heidegger and Baumgarten published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (May 28, 1983). None the less, it is true that Farias’s work has a cumulative impact. The sheer assemblage of documents and eyewitness reports, notably for the period 1933-45, is impressive. Sombre nuggets have been dug out. Farias has shown Heidegger to be lying when he sought to conceal his retention until 1945 of his membership-card in the Nazi Party. He has clarified the full extent of Heidegger’s psychic collapse after the surrender of the Reich and shown how patently inadequate were the answers which Martin Heidegger gave to those who, during the time of the denazification tribunals, investigated his conduct. Owing to Farias’s excavations, unscholarly and virulently selective as these often are, specific moments in Heidegger’s abject treatment of endangered academic colleagues, in Heidegger’s admiration for the Führer, and in Heidegger’s cunning tactics of survival, can no longer be passed over. But, like so many before him and even now, Farias fails to say anything substantive as to the possible congruence between the ontology of Sein und Zeit and the rise of Nazism. Nor does he perceive the enormity of Heidegger’s post-war silence, of the refusal by the philosopher of Being, by the master-reader of Sophocles and of Hölderlin, to address his conscience, his reflection, his dis- course to the inhuman negation of life in which he had played a part (however rhetorical, however mandarin).
Being and Time is written during the early 1920s. It comes, as I have said, of the apocalypse of 1918 and of the Expressionist climate. It fully predates National Socialism. No Nazi hoodlum, to my knowledge, ever read or would have been capable of reading it. The crux, made more complex by the problem of Deconstruction and of such post-Heideggerians as De Man, is this: are there in Heidegger’s incomplete ontological summa categories, advocacies of inhumanism, eradications of the human person, which, in some sense, prepare for the subsequent programme of Nazism? Is Heidegger’s play with and on Nothingness (a play intimately analogous with negative Theology) a nihilism in extremis rather than, as it professes to be, an “overcoming of nihilism”? Assuredly, Sein und Zeit and Heidegger’s theory of a language that speaks man rather than being spoken by him, is utterly seminal in the modern anti-humanistic movement. There is little in Deconstruction or in Foucault’s “abolition of man”, with its background in Dada and Artaud, which is not voiced in Heidegger’s a-humanism - where the privativum of the prefix does seem to me more accurate and just than would be that of in-humanism. Secondly, there is the famous urgency of death, of the will to- and motion towards death in Heidegger’s analysis of felt being, of human individuation. Rooted in Pascal and in Kierkegaard, this death-insistence does, by virtue of the fact that it attempts to free itself from theological contexts, carry a heavy charge of negation. Can we say that this weight inflects Heidegger’s and his reader’s attitudes towards the macabre obsessions of National Socialism?
I see no ready answer to either of these questions. Post hoc is not propter hoc. Books of the difficulty and singularity of Sein und Zeitdo not, in any immediate or programmatic way, exercise their effect upon politics and society. It may indeed be the case that Heidegger’s tonality, that Heidegger’s charismatic regency of certain circles of intellect and of sensibility in the Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s did contribute to the ambience of fatality and of dramatization in which Nazism flourished. Intuitively, such a conjunction seems plausible. But it could only be demonstrated if specific texts in Heidegger’s magnum could be shown to have generated dependent motions of argument and of action in Hitler’s rise to power. No such demonstration has, despite attempts by such critics of Heidegger as Adorno and Habermas, carried conviction. It could well be that we stand too near the facts. Darkness can blind as sharply as light; and the two may take centuries to untangle (consider the debates which persist over the politics and the impact on politics of Machiavelli or of Rous-seau).
What strikes me as perfectly evident is the extent of Heidegger’s rhetorical and administrative participation in the Nazification of the German university- world in 1933-4. Like so many other intellectuals, Heidegger was manifestly caught up in the brutal, festive inebriation which swept across Germany after some fifteen years of national humiliation and despair. Naked power can mesmerize the academic-mandarin temper (Sigmund Freud was, for a spell, entranced by Mussolini, and those thinkers and writers who worshipped at Stalin’s shrine were legion). Unquestionably, Martin Heidegger saw himself as a chosen praeceptor Germaniae, as a leader-in-thought who would mould a national resurrection. The Platonic image, not only in reference to Plato’s doctrines of philosophic governance but also with regard to Plato’s role as adviser to Sicilian despotism, lay to hand. The chapter of the unwisdom of philosophers in regard to matters political is a long one. Voltaire’s Jew-hatred was rabid. The racism of Frege was of the blackest hue. Sartre not only sought to evade or find apologia for the world of the Gulag; he deliberately falsified what he knew of the insensate savagery of the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China. It is an ill-kept secret that cloistered intellectuals and men who spend their lives immured in words, in texts, can experience with especial intensity the seductions of violent political proposals, most particularly where such violence does not touch their own person. There can be in the sensibility and outlook of the charismatic teacher, of the philosophical absolutist, more than a touch of surrogate sadism (Ionesco’s Lesson is a macabre parable on this condition).
These precedents and psychological data are no apologia. Martin Heidegger’s Rektoratsrede, his notorious address in support of Hitler’s break with the League of Nations, his elegy on a nationalist thug who the French occupying authorities executed in the Rhineland and of whom the Nazis made a martyr, are nauseating documents. They breathe the infatuation with ferocity and mystique of a small man abruptly transported (or, rather, thinking himself transported) to the hub of great political-historical affairs. I find nothing more painful, more perplexing in the clamorous wake of the Farias book than the resolve by certain eminent spirits to salvage precisely these lamentable texts. In Derrida’s De l'esprit: Heidegger et la question, in Lacoue-Labarthe’s L'imitation des modernes and La fiction du politique, we find a voluminous, minutely-argued plea for their high centrality in Heidegger, indeed in all modern political-pedagogic reflection. Comparison of the Rektoratsrede with Plato’s Vllth Letter, with Hobbes or Rousseau, is pervasive. Affinities are teased out as between the opaque, bathetic rhetoric of Heidegger’s 1933-34 speeches and articles and the vocabulary of his pre-eminent writings on ontology, metaphysics and the arts. If we are to believe the masters of French Deconstruction - who, very rightly and properly, do see in Heidegger the begetter of the whole Deconstructionist hermeneutic - the Rektoratsrede constitutes nothing less than a fundamental revaluation of the role of thought and of education in the modern state, and its significance in reference to such concepts as ‘consciousness’ and ‘destiny’ is of the utmost. To believe this one must, I venture, be tone-deaf to the inflated brutality, to the macabre Kitsch in Heidegger’s language and syntax at this point (translation into French, etymologizing recession towards Kant and even Aristotle, as practised by Derrida, by Lacoue-Labarthe, by Lyotard, masks the true nature of the original). No less than, say, some of Bertrand Russell’s pontifications on the United States, Heidegger’s academic-bureaucratic pronouncements during and immediately after Hitler’s assumption of power, constitute a no doubt significant, a no doubt problematic, but also fundamentally aberrant phenomenon. This erratum has been ill served by its exegetes.
Once more: the disabling fact is Heidegger’s silence after 1945. This appalling abstention is contemporaneous with some of his most far-reaching work in reference to the nature of planetary-ecological crises, in reference to the nature of language and of the arts. Martin Heidegger is working and lecturing at the peak of his powers during the very years in which he refuses all response to the question of the true quality of Hitlerism and of the Auschwitz consequence. Notoriously, in 1953, he reprints unaltered the celebrated sentence in the foreword of “What is Metaphysics?” in which the ‘unrealised’ or hidden verity of National Socialism was first invoked. Then there is the one other sentence which I have already cited. Otherwise silentium. Heidegger does not, during the 1950s and 60s, fail to pronounce on the American-Russian hegemony over the planet; on the destruction of the environment (which he had already, and with superb clairvoyance, adverted to in the 1920s). As we know from the Spiegel interview, he was preparing a peculiarly mendacious posthumous apologia for his own role in the 1930s and 40s. But the thinker of Being found nothing to say of the Holocaust and the death -camps.
In my introductory study, I suggested that this vacuum might have risen from Heidegger’s specific vision of German destiny or ‘mittance’ (Schickung), from his conviction that Germany and the German language, which he held to be comparable only to ancient Greek, were destined, were ‘called upon’, to manifest, to experience both the very apex of human accomplishment - in German philosophy, in the music of the German-speaking world, in the poetry of Hölderlin - and the very abyss. To judge of the catastrophe of Auschwitz would be, in some ineluctable argument on symmetry, to put in question the ontological-historical singularity and pre-eminence of the fate of ‘Germanity’. I still believe that there may be truth or, at the least, a contribution to truth in this suggestion. But it no longer seems at all sufficient. And it is an undoubted merit of Farias’s attainder and of the debate which has ensued, that the problem of Heidegger’s muteness after the end of the Reich and his own adroitly-managed restoration to authority, has become blindingly central.
Numerous answers have been forthcoming. Anti-Heideggerians have proclaimed flatly that the tenebrous, finally indecipherable ontology of Sein und Zein has been exposed once and for all by the root incapacity of Heidegger to ‘think Auschwitz’, to see in what ways the bestiality of Nazism can be situated in a rational understanding of social and political history. Heidegger’s silence after 1945 would, in essence, deconstruct the claims of his philosophy to any serious insights into the human condition and into the relations between consciousness and action. A more qualified view is that which bears on Heidegger’s Kehre, the arguable ‘turn’ from the ontology of Being and Time to the evacuation of man from thought, from speech, from art and the interplay of “the earth and the gods” in his later works. In the pure, cold light of that reading of essence, political history, even of an apocalyptic tenor, would, strictly regarded, be immaterial, be extraneous to any rigorous “thinking of Being.” More subtly, proponents of Heidegger have advanced the idea that the technology of the Nazi extermination-process, of the Soviet Gulag, of the nuclear armaments, emphatically fulfills Heidegger’s prophetic analysis of the nihilistic- technocratic decay of man’s present-in-the-world. Heidegger had been too right. For him to say so in the post-war climate was sheerly impossible. Any validating self-citation would have been more scandalous than silence. Chillingly, Lyotard, in his Heidegger et les “juifs” (1988), suggests that Auschwitz enacted, to a supreme degree, that “forgetting of Being” which lies at the heart of Heidegger’s analysis of western history and consciousness. Within that dominant context, the ‘forgetting of the Jews’ (annihilation being a final tautology for non-remembrance) would have been the perfectly logical, foreseeable product. Heidegger did not need to articulate that terrible truth which, to the perceptive reader, was wholly latent in his phenomenology of the existential.
There are those who urge patience, who point, with some justification, to the incompleteness of the evidence. So much of Heidegger’s writings, teaching, correspondence is, as yet, inaccessible. Documents to come may throw decisive light on Heidegger’s options and decisions after the war. Some pivotal and humanely acceptable dictum may yet emerge from the voluminous Nachlass. Finally, there are apologists for Martin Heidegger, though few, to whom the great silence of the Master signifies a profound decency and dignitas. If I sense rightly the attitude towards Heidegger of the great poet and Resistance-fighter René Char or of an admirer such as Braque, it points in this direction. What could Heidegger have said? What except opportunistic banalities could the language of Hölderlin, of Kant, of Heidegger himself have to offer on the matter of ultimate bestiality and self-destruction? What philosopher, anywhere, has had anything but more or less vacuous platitudes to say of the night which came upon man in the 1940s?
The mere intricacy and possibility of overlap between these several attempts at explication suggests that there must be some pertinence among them. To which can be added the possibility (I do think it is more than that) that Heidegger was, in propria persona, a small character, an ageing man haunted by ruse, by ambition, by certain deeply-incised and ‘agrarian’ traditions of concealment and exploitation. His acre of ground might have seen the harvest of Hell, but it was his.
Paul Celan is important in a profile of Heidegger, and the theme of the relations between Celan and Heidegger has become crucial to our vision of Heidegger’s influence, and more particularly in regard to his stance after 1945. The very few scholars (Bernard Böschenstein pre-eminently among them) who have had access to Celan’s library and private notes, testify to the constant intensity of the poet’s preoccupation with Heidegger’s works. It would appear that Celan annotated Sein und Zein in minute detail and that he knew intimately Heidegger’s readings of Hölderlin, George and Trakl. What is absolutely clear is the degree to which Paul Celan’s radically innovative vocabulary and, at certain points, syntax are Heideggerian. No doubt, there is often a shared provenance: in baroque and Pietist German idiom, in Hölderlin, above all in Rilke whose linguistic influence on both Heidegger and Celan was extensive. Nevertheless, it is of Heidegger’s very name that Paul Celan welds a vivid marker. It is “heidegängerisch” that the poet moves (the adjectival pun, with its play on ‘heath’ and on ‘going’ or ‘walking’ is not only untranslatable, but plays back towards Heidegger’s own registration of both ‘heath’ and ‘acre’ in his name). It is the “heidegängerisch Nahe” (that which ‘is close in its heath-walk which is Heidegger’s’) that Celan turns to in “Largo”, one of his most densely allusive and self-allusive lyrics. Martin Heidegger, in turn, was observant of Celan’s poetry and, a rare public act, attended Celan’s readings. Even on the basis of incomplete documentation, the intensity and depth of the inward relationship is palpable.
Together with Primo Levi (and both men chose suicide at the height of their strengths), Paul Celan is the only survivor of the Holocaust whose writings are, in some true degree, commensurate with the unspeakable. Only in Levi and Celan does language, in the exact face of sub-human yet all too human enormity and finality, retain its reticent totality. The Auschwitz-fact, the massacre of European Jews at German hands, permeates the entirety of Celan’s work and life. Thus, even on a purely intellectual plane, the turn of Celan towards Heidegger would be problematic. But this turn was, as we know, far more than abstract. The two men were present to each other with a rare force. The crystallization ofthat reciprocal presentness was Celan’s visit to Heidegger’s famous hut at Todtnauberg a few years before Celan’s suicide. That visit and the sole known witness to it, the poem entitled “Todtnauber”, published in Lichtzwang in 1970, have become the object of fervid inquiry and speculation. An hermeneutic mythology has mushroomed around a central opacity. Both Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe have devoted monographic treatment, at once poignant and fine-spun, to the lyric and to the complexities of meaning from which it sprang. Of the encounter we know only what Celan’s enigmatic recall tells us or, rather, elects not to tell us. That there came to pass a numbing, soul- lacerating deception - in the etymological senses of that word which signifies both ‘disappointment’ and ‘falsehood’ - is unmistakable. As “through a glass darkly”, and darker than darkly, we sense in “Todtnauberg” a dread silence. Celan came to question, to ‘put in question’ Heidegger’s perception or non-perception of the Shoah, of the ‘death-winds’ that had made ash of millions of human beings and of the Jewish legacy which informed Celan’s destiny. If any individual had the right, the obligation to ask for some answer, be it that of impotent desolation, to the question of the inhuman, it was Paul Celan. When he wrote, as he did, his name in Heidegger’s visitor’s book, Celan was taking the risk of an ultimate trust in the possibility of encounter, of the renascence of the word out of a shared night. So far as we know, to the extent that “Todtnauberg” instructs us, that trust was violated either by trivial evasion (as in the Spiegel-interview) or by utter silence, by a complete abstention from discourse such as Heidegger resorted to also in pedagogic situations. Either way, the effect on Celan can be felt to have been calamitous. But the issue far transcends the personal. Throughout his writings and teachings, Martin Heidegger had proclaimed the deed of questioning to be of the essence; he had defined the question as the piety of the human spirit. Whatever happened at Todtnauberg, when the foremost poet in the language after Hölderlin and Rilke sought out the “secret king of thought”, blasphemed against Heidegger’s own cardinal sense of the holiness of asking. It may, for our epoch at least, have made irreparable the breach between human need and speculative thought, between the music of thought that is philosophy and that of being which is poetry. Much in western consciousness has its instauration in the banishment of the poets from the Platonic city. In sombre counterpoint, Heidegger’s denial of reply to Celan and the poem which resulted amount to a banishment, to a self-ostracism of the philosopher from the city of man.
One further analysis of Heidegger’s abstention in reference to 1933-45 may be worth testing. Heideggerian thought is prodigal of epistemological, phenomenological, aesthetic insights. It invites a revaluation of certain aspects of Aristotelian and Scholastic logic and rhetoric. It is, self- professedly, the most comprehensive argument we have on ontology, on the facticity of the existential. But it neither contains nor implies any ethics. Heidegger was, himself, peremptory on this point. He wholly repudiated attempts, notably by the Marburg theologians and by certain humanist-existentialists in France to derive any ethical principles or methodologies from his works. He defined ethics such, for example, as we find them in Kant and such as we can legitimately infer them from Hegelian historicism, as being altogether extrinsic to his own strictly ontological enterprise. The “thinking of Being” is of an order totally other than the prescriptive, normative or heuristic ‘thinking of conduct’. In the massive, reiterative body of Heidegger’s writings, the signal absence is very precisely that of the concept of evil (except in so far as we may construe the spoliation of the natural world to constitute a radical negativity). Far beyond Nietzsche, Heidegger thinks, feels in categories outside good and evil. Heidegger’s precept and image whereby death is a “shrine” in which Being is most nakedly, most epiphanically present, categorically sublates (the dialectical Aufhebung) the problem of good and evil as this problem attaches to metaphysics in traditional systems of thought. Had Heidegger sought the understanding of the evil of Nazism and of his role therein, had he striven to ‘think Auschwitz’ at anything near the requisite depth (and what philosopher has done so?), the domain of the ethical would have been indispensable. It is, I venture, this domain which he had, in his renunciation of theology, excluded, and that exclusion crippled his humanity.
Lacking an ethic, self-maimed in the face of the inhuman, Heidegger’s Ontology remains an overwhelming fragment (as, explicitly, does Sein und Zeit), For all its actual dimensions -few philosophers have written or lectured more voluminously- Heidegger’s work does resemble the fragmentary, often esoteric method of his beloved pre-Socratics. Even the most prolix, patient, discursive movements in Heidegger have something of the Heraclitean quality of the sudden illumination, of the “lightning which gathers” (Heidegger’s disputed reading of a simile in Heraclites). What blazes in Heidegger at his best is a slow lightning. Heidegger would have been the first to underline the fragmentary, preliminary nature of his labours. He conceived these to be no more than a didactic, purgative preparation for a revolution in thought and in sensibility yet to come. Our incapacity, Heidegger’s incapacity, to articulate Being in any systematically intelligible manner, tells of the transitional, tragically splintered tenor of modernity. Like Hölderlin, like Nietzsche, and in constant reference to them, Heidegger is literally haunted by intimations of a revolutionary return to the source, of a homeward circling (comparable to that in the poetry and apocalyptic theosophy of Yeats). There will be “new gods” and only their coming, at our midnight, can save us. This notion of “salvation” (Rettung) pulses throughout Heidegger’s teachings after the decisive advertence to Hölderlin and to Nietzsche during the 1940s. It becomes explicitly mythologized in the later texts on art. It was as if the Feldweg, the forest-path and fire-break which Heidegger used as a talismanic image of the thinker’s journey, led back to some of the crucial Lichtungen (“clearings”) in the soteriology, in the theological proposals of salvation, which the young Martin Heidegger had striven to reject. In the final analysis, the Logos proclaimed by Heidegger, the Word through which Being is, is like a valedictory twin of the Logos which speaks dawn in the Johannine Gospel. It was, as for so many master spirits and makers in our age of the ‘afterword’, not new gods who were waiting at the crossroads, but the old God in all his unacceptable durance. Heidegger wrestled against that meeting. The vehemence of that bout is the measure of his stature. And of his defeat, as a thinker, as a human person.
But that, surely, is the point. The only temporality, the only language adequate to Heidegger’s purpose would be exactly that defined by Celan: “im Norden der Zukunft” (“to the north of the future”). Only there can the walker in the Black Forest and the singer of the almond tree, of the Mandelbaum and Mandelstamm which had flowered into Celan’s only hope, meet again.