The world of academic research had not turned out to be the paradise of ideas or the whip-smart writerly milieu that I had imagined when I set out. I felt too keenly the strictures of a scholarly style that seemed in fact somewhat at odds with the academic writing I loved most…. I was twenty-six, and already grieving the apparent loss of something which that night I could only vaguely formulate. Something to do with a wider sense of cultural criticism and curiosity, something I thought to do with the essay as a form, something to do with writing as such. It did not help my mood that I had recently come across a statistic to the effect that the average academic article was read by a mere five people.
— Brian Dillon, Objects in This Mirror (2014), p. 12
John Boyne is interviewed in The Irish Times, and has this to say about the literary life.
“I just want to write my books. I tend not to go to parties and I stay out of the Dublin literary crowd which can be very negative and almost bullying at times, especially for new or emerging writers.” How so? “There are those who are in the clique and those who aren’t. You can see it by going into a bookshop and looking at the covers of books by Irish writers and seeing the same names come up in the blurbs. They’ve never read a book they didn’t like.”
The first is from Joe Ide’s detective novel IQ.
You go where God calls you. Teacher, doctor, scientist, book writer. I don’t really care as long as you do some good out there. You could make a difference, Isaiah. A big difference. I’m talking about raising people up, easing their suffering, bringing some justice to the world. Money don’t enter into it, you understand what I’m telling you? God didn’t give you a gift so you could be a hedge fund manager.
The second is from today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
Most people don’t have much trouble imagining the worst of bankers – even bankers themselves. Anna Smith is a loans officer in Victoria with more than a decade’s experience among the big four banks. In her sector, retail banking, she says, “they’ll employ anybody. People off the street. People come from their parents’ restaurant, from selling second-hand cars. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t have a uni degree, I grew up pretty rough, I had to take care of my siblings financially. The bank gave me a chance.”
Nonetheless, in her opinion, some of her colleagues seem pointedly lacking in any kind of ethical education or moral compass. “Basically, they’re just a bunch of dude bros with their dicks in their hands, going ‘Duhhhh.’ I mean, when I started, people were quoting ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ like it was the Bible.”
If you have seen Hannah Gadsby’s latest special on Netflix, you will be familiar with her powerful critique of those who want to separate famous people’s works from their lives. The example that riles her is Picasso.
She wants her audience to face up to the usual false separation invoked when things become uncomfortable with a famous person’s history. The art people make, the books they publish, the songs they sing, all are part of a whole. The works and the lives happen together, and should be considered together. Gadsby’s point is that Picasso’s abuse of women cannot be bracketed from his reputation as an artist.
From a similar perspective, it might be time for Heideggerians to end their bracketing of their hero from what he did in his life. See, for example, the April/May 2018 issue of Philosophy, Now and the section called “The Trouble with Martin,” in which people like John Caputo say things like this: “Ultimately what matters is to understand not the authorial subjectivity but the author’s subject matter.” If only John Caputo and Hannah Gadsby could meet.
It’s doubtful Hannah Gadsby will be invited to a philosophical conference Caputo might attend, so that they could discuss their disagreement. However, all Heideggerians can take a look at Ronald Beiner’s new book, Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Right. Beiner quotes Karl Jaspers responding to Hannah Arendt’s wish that “people leave him [Heidegger] in peace.” Jaspers, like Gadsby, will have none of it: “I don’t think it’s desirable ‘to leave Heidegger in peace.’ He is a presence, and one that everyone who wants an excuse for his own Nazi past likes to fall back on. The significance of his behavior seems to me of no small consequence for current politics.” My guess is Gadsby would appreciate Jasper’s brio. Gadsby would be interested in saying something about Heidegger’s relationship with Hannah Arendt when she was Heidegger’s student, and while Heidegger was married. That’s another part of Heidegger’s subjectivity that Caputo would have us ignore.
Beiner presents plenty of evidence to demonstrate that Heidegger did not abandon his National Socialist subjectivity, even after the war ended. For instance, Beiner points to a 20 January 1948 letter from Heidegger to Herbert Marcuse, in which Heidegger says that “it was his yearning for ‘spiritual renewal’ that motivated his political commitment [to National Socialism] in 1933” [Ich erwartete vom Nationalsozialismus eine geistige Erneuerung des ganzen Lebens].
What do Nietzsche and Heidegger have to do with the contemporary political situation? — that’s the question to which Beiner’s book is the answer.