Tag Archives: Martin Heidegger

Epiphany

“[I]f Heidegger’s thought is necessarily Nazi to the core, then that implies that careers, indeed whole departments in some cases, along with the futures of students entering this tradition, have been grossly misguided, at best, and have no proper prospects in philosophy.”
— Gregory Fried, Confronting Heidegger: A Critical Dialogue on Politics and Philosophy (2020)

Worshipping War: A Review of Ernst Jünger’s Notebooks

Ernst Jünger. A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945. Trans. Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019.

Junger book coverThe promotional material for “the war journals” describes Ernst Jünger as “one of twentieth-century Germany’s most important—and most controversial—writers.” Some aren’t attracted to Jünger for his literary talents. Jünger has found a receptive audience among young people, including some dubious readers whose names on web sites are in Fraktur typeface for reasons you could guess. Several young fans of Jünger view the author as a “badass” (a comment on Reddit), partly for the number of his war wounds, which exceed most of the warriors in “Game of Thrones,” partly for his youthful participation in the Foreign Legion, and partly because Jünger was friends with the father of LSD, Albert Hoffmann. One can also find delusional fans of Jünger on web sites such as ernst-juenger.org, who proclaim that the post-WWII Jünger was, to them, admirably “apolitical.” Jünger is apolitical in the same sense that Van Gogh’s most famous paintings are achromatic.

It’s possible to make your way through this collection and have a grand ole time, enjoying the moments when Jünger encounters celebrities like Picasso, or when Monet’s daughter-in-law gives him the key to the gardens at Giverny for his own private tour, or when he describes another gourmet meal with the well-heeled of Parisian society: “The salad was served on silver, the ice cream on a heavy gold service that had belonged to Sarah Bernhardt.” Jünger relishes his name-dropping and his contacts with the upper crust. He sees himself as one of the Übermenschen: “In this country the superior man lives like Odysseus, taunted by worthless usurpers in his own palace.”

While looking down on others, Jünger is aware that lesser people can occasionally be of use. For instance, on 3 June 1942, he writes: “You talk to these simple people the way you talk to children, without creating any subtle disparity between words and their meanings. In times like these, it is desirable to keep a small coterie of such people. There are situations in which they can be more helpful than the rich and powerful.” The “apolitical” Jünger is not above Realpolitik.

The notebooks in this translation extend from 1941 until the Allied invasion reaches Jünger’s doorstep in the Hannover region of Germany in the first half of 1945. Many scholars regard Jünger’s notebooks as the foundation for his reputation as a writer, though readers need to be cautioned that these notebooks are not like diary entries or journals in the usual sense. As Elliot Neaman, a leading Anglophone scholar on Jünger’s works and the author of the introduction to this translation, writes, “Jünger’s journals represented a departure from the conventional form of the diary genre. Instead of offering the reader unadulterated glimpses into the everyday activities and reflections of the author, Jünger used his private experiences [and dreams] as raw material for creating polished literary accounts in the guise of everyday observations.” Other scholars use stronger language, such as that Jünger “sanitized” his notebooks to put himself in a better light politically. However, Neaman’s use of “guise” is telling, for Jünger, along with his heroes Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, practiced esotericism. Given that his main role during the writing of these notebooks was as a censor, Jünger would be familiar with the tools for hiding one’s thoughts in writing, and for constructing a deliberate exoteric persona. Imagine that every sentence in the notebooks has been assessed for its contribution to a legacy, something not difficult to imagine with an author steeped in death, both by war and by intellectual inclination. Below are a few samples of Jünger’s dance with death:

  • 5 Nov 1941 – Jünger quotes one of his prime sources for living, Nietzsche: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Jünger supplements immediately with his own line: “And what kills me makes me incredibly strong.”
  • 28 Jan 1942 – “The mail included a letter from Schlichter containing nine drawings for One Thousand and One Nights. An image of the City of Bronze is wonderfully successful—full of mourning for death and glory.”
  • 19 July 1942 – “Life lies in death like a small green island in the dark ocean. To fathom this – even at the edges and tidal zones – means real knowledge, compared to which physics and technology are mere trifles.”
  • 14 Oct 1942 – “We have to revert to the absolute, and this possibility is offered to us by death.”
  • 3 June 1943 – “There is only one maxim, namely that we must befriend death.”

The preoccupation with death is not meant to be the author’s alone. Jünger’s beliefs about death are meant to have consequences for others, including you and me. Some may have to die to allow others to have “new growth”: “We send out different, more spiritual organs, aerial roots, into the void – naturally at the expense of individual lives. All of us benefit from this new growth.” Readers should not underestimate Jünger’s wish to fashion a specific future based on his death-centric Weltanschauung. Following Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Jünger accepts that sacrifices are necessary to breed the higher man. As confirmation of the point, consider this portion from his entry on 18 May 1942: “It is certain that only such characters who understand the fundamentals of power on which the world is based, and are dictated to ‘from above,’ are capable of confronting the horrible popular revolution that is destroying the world.”

As one of the “characters who understand,” Jünger grounds his view in racist thinking, such as this entry from 16 Aug 1942: “Add to this the frequently noted superiority of the Norman genetic material, which is more favorable for the creation of a leader class than the common Germanic stock.” The member of the leader class who is the author of these notebooks and “one destined to rule” lives a privileged life given the circumstances surrounding him. For one moment in 1942, he writes down recognition of that fact: “Never for a moment may I forget that I am surrounded by unfortunate people who endure the greatest suffering.”

The suffering follows Jünger. The translated notebooks include not just items from Jünger’s time in Paris. As a captain in the German Army, he has duties elsewhere. He travels to the eastern front, at first to complain that what is supposed to be a first-rate hotel in Russia does not have running water. While visiting that front, he hears the tales of desperation on both sides, including cannibalism. Jünger’s notebooks contain reports of what happens with his family back in Germany. He takes leave there, traveling to Berlin to consider how to help his son Ernstel, who had been imprisoned after a spy charged that Ernstel had said that if the Germans wanted peace, they would have to hang Hitler. Ernstel denied the charge. He spent a few months in prison, and then was released on condition of “voluntary” service in northern Italy, where he was eventually killed in battle. Jünger travels back to Paris to be on hand when the Allies invade France, and the conditions in the city worsen as food shortages increase and Allied bombings begin.

The appearance of this translation of Jünger’s notebooks coincides with an English-language flurry of Jünger publications, including the recent republication of Jünger’s most famous book, The Worker, accompanied by glowing blurbs from scholars who are part of the contemporary Heidegger crowd. Jünger admired Heidegger and corresponded with Heidegger frequently. Volume 90 (2004) of Heidegger’s official Collected Works is devoted to Jünger, mainly to Heidegger’s notes and writings during the 1930s and 40s about The Worker. Even though Heidegger did not consider Jünger a “thinker,” Heidegger found plenty of fascoid affinities in Jünger’s writings.

To head off a wholesale celebration of Jünger, it seems important to remember the lessons laid out by Walter Benjamin in 1930 in his review of a collection essays about the World War of 1914-18 edited by Jünger entitled War and Warrior. Benjamin possesses a keen ear for the questionable principles asserted by Jünger and his friends. Benjamin writes: “For him and his friends it is not so much some doctrinaire schema that lies behind this [adopting a principle of pacifism] as it is a deep-rooted and – by all standards of male thought – a really depraved mysticism.” That depraved mysticism continues in these notebooks through Jünger’s fondness for horoscopes, symbolism, mythology, prophecies, and magic. The author himself gets lost in the fog of mysticism and confesses that in an entry labeled 26 Aug 1942: “At times I have difficulty distinguishing between my conscious and unconscious existence. I mean between that part of my life that has been knit together by dreams and the other.” One of Benjamin’s key criticisms in “Theories of German Fascism,” his analysis of War and Warrior, has to do with how out of touch with reality the contributors are. The contributors lapse into “thoughtless obtuseness.” Unfortunately, Benjamin’s assessment was not the nail in the coffin for Jünger, his friends and admirees (e.g., Nietzsche and Heidegger), the White Walkers who happen to be real, and whose agenda is anything but “apolitical.”

Lacrimosa Indeed

A few years ago, I started an essay to unpack the Heideggerian baggage in the film The Tree of Life. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in luck, because the new, longer version is, according to Director Terrence Malick, a different film. The bonus will be that the Criterion Blu-Ray and DVD, which includes restored versions of both the original 139-minute and new 188-minute versions, will be released September 11. After the first version appeared, I gave a talk about it to a small crowd at a university in Colorado. They were, in large part, not amused. At that time, it wasn’t clear how many people, other than unrepentant Malick fans, would ever see The Tree of Life.

When I went back today to look for a clip to post here, I learned that my intended clip lists over 2.5 million views. Likely the musical accompaniment to the clip has more to do with the number of views than the cinematography. It makes me cry to think that I will need to see almost an extra hour of this film to complete my scholarly homework. Should you be in a weeping mode and not have time for 188 minutes of Lacrimosa, you might try dipping into Jan Kochanowski’s Laments.

Hans Blumenberg on Narcissus

Blumenberg explores the story of narcissism in several places in his works, including a short piece in Quellen, Ströme, Eisberge (Suhrkamp, 2012). Here’s a translated selection.

Narcissus does not recognize himself when he sees himself in the spring. He knows nothing about himself, and he does not know how to discover that he has himself in front of him. Therefore he is the point at which self-knowledge and mortality coincide successfully. Philosophically, this is a myth about the consequences of lacking self-knowledge.

photo of man looking in mirrorYou might have seen the videos on the internet that poke fun at dogs that don’t seem to recognize themselves in mirrors. Those of you familiar with Lacan will have “the mirror stage” to fall back on at this point as further confirmation of Blumenberg’s commentary.

After the section translated above, Blumenberg invokes Martin Luther’s Disputatio de homine to give the story a theological spin. Blumenberg concludes:

This reads as if the first book of the Bible had not stated that God created man according to his image – that is, the mirroring relationship is just the other way around, and consequently also the state of cognition. But between this act of divine manifestation in man and his self-knowing will lies just what happened in paradise: man had put himself before God.

It seems safe to say that we have a degree of narcissism in God’s creating human beings in his own image, though the situation is Janus-faced, according to Blumenberg. What is perhaps more troubling is that a similar scene of narcissism has a central role in the myth about Cura (care), cited by Blumenberg (and Heidegger) from a fabulist who is a contemporary of Christ. Cura’s story is not all that different from the one above about the first book in the Bible and the making of something in the self-same image. In the text entitled Care Cross the River (Stanford UP, 2010), Blumenberg writes, “Cura crosses the river so that she can see herself mirrored in the river.” That is a detail left out of the fabulist’s report. In such a scenario, empathy, for example, is self-pleasure in caring. People care, because they see themselves in another’s circumstances. When narcissism is at the core of caring, it becomes easier to understand why the fabulist left out why Cura crossed the river. What if caring isn’t selfless? Does it remain virtuous? The fable about caring could be drawn only by Escher.

Getting the Right Right

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.

photo of Hannah Gadsby

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.

photo of cover of Dangerous MindsIt’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.

Stanley and His Power Tools Encounter Buzzsaw Lawyer

The moderator seethes sometime before the 45:00 mark, and would have untucked her shirt threateningly at that moment had it not already been so — that’s how upset she becomes, to the point that she does not want to turn over the microphone to the lawyer/columnist/philosopher who shocks part of the assembly. Notice her body language in relation to Romano after the 48:00 minute mark. Before the 4:00 mark, we have an excellent shot of the footwear of many of the participants and audience members, likely a subtle homage to the mentioning of the barefoot stroll that Socrates and Phaedrus take in a certain Platonic dialogue.

Perhaps one or two outsiders to the event recorded in the video would have some questions. An outsider might wonder how this session that demonstrates almost everything but “progress in philosophy” came into being. Did the organizers not know about Carlin Romano? Had they failed to read his articles? Maybe the organizers imagined that Romano’s hostility toward Heidegger made him igitur a friend of analytic philosophy. The other question: Why would Jason Stanley have posted the video of the event allegedly designed to deal with the juxtaposition of progress and philosophy? Now, it is possible that someone using Professor Stanley’s name posted the video, but given the way the event is recorded (repeated camera movements designed to capture Stanley’s reactions to Romano’s planned provocations), it looks as if the person recording the session is pro-Stanley, wants to give Stanley more air time, including a wide shot near the end that captures Stanley apparently urging the crowd to confront Romano.  Had the video started with Romano’s taunts, Stanley and his supporters might have come across on the video as abused academics expressing some not-so-veiled, but arguably justifiable, anger at Romano. Unfortunately, Stanley’s pacing performance at the beginning of the video, littered with self-interruptions and more “you know’s” than Caroline Kennedy, reinforces Romano’s claim later in the video about a general lack of communicative skill among Anglophone analytic philosophers.

For some reason, the video ends when it appears that passionate engagement is headed toward an apex. At least part of the crowd is just beginning to work itself up into a frenzy, with any thought of Hamlet’s comment to Horatio far from any participant’s mind.

The episode

Philosophical Progress and Intellectual Culture from Jason Stanley on Vimeo.

Tina Brown Conducts Premortem Investigation of Publishers at BookExpo

Martin Heidegger wrote that “language speaks” (Die Sprache spricht), and that phrase ought to have meant that this blog should have been producing entries while I was attending to other things.  While my appropriation of Heidegger for a lesson about blogs was wrong, Vicki Hearne is right in one of her poems that “time spreads from / The momentary hesitations.” The hesitation in question turned into a few months.

personal photography New York City

Book Expo 2009 - New York City - personal photo

During those months I did attend BookExpo America 2009, and it proved to be prospectively funereal, as if the gathering was a performance of the reverse of Maurice Blanchot’s The Book to Come (Le livre à venir – 1959).

Tina Brown attempted to persuade some major publishers that they will be undone by technology.  Brown used the example of her move to The Daily Beast, a web venture that she indicated altered the way she thinks about journalism and about time, because electronic publishing runs at a different pace from print journalism, one of several pertinent phenomenological differences.  The publishers would not engage directly with Brown’s analogy that book publishing faces a similar set of dire circumstances that have impacted newspapers.  Several times she attempted to solicit commentary on the analogy, and each time panel members either ignored her or talked in nonchalant tones about tangential issues, such as how they had already positioned their companies to “monetize” new technological opportunities via agreements with Amazon over content for the Kindle.  Brown wanted the panelists to engage in commentary about a vision of a world without

Tina Brown (right) - Creative Commons photo from Flickr

Tina Brown (right) - Creative Commons photo from Flickr

books on paper, a vision of a world that might not include an event like BookExpo. Eventually, Brown could not speak at a level to be heard (she arrived with what seemed to be the beginning of laryngitis), and some in the audience must have interpreted her diminishing voice as metaphorical.  About half way through the session, Brown’s husband, Sir Harold Evans, took over the moderating duties for her.

BookExpo America itself, by numerous accounts, revealed the vulnerabilities of publishers. Some did not show up for the event; others, like Macmillan, retreated to cheaper, smaller spaces off the main exhibition floor, and almost all of the publishers had reduced their offerings of advanced copies of new and forthcoming books.  Attendance was down significantly.  The future of books will likely not include some of the companies that served as the engine for this year’s BookExpo, the conference that might be one of the last places for the public to witness CEOs in denial about their current capacities to avoid the same fate as newspapers, and in different ways, libraries.

What will happen when the CEOs of major publishing houses consider books as an accident of the proliferation of paper, when the energy of their thinking turns away from “monetization” and bottom lines, and turns toward books in a richer (non-lucre-centric) context, à laFriedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks 1800/1900?