Heidegger and 40 years of silence
The Focusing Institute Gendlin Online Library: Heidegger and forty years of silence. …I read him when I was almost 40 years old. Then I realized that …
Heidegger and Forty Years of Silence
Gandhi, Marx, Dilthey, Buber, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, McKeon, and many others taught me deeply. But so did three writers whose politics were highly objectionable to me: Jung, Dostoevsky, and Heidegger.
Jung offers deep and indispensable insights. I did not like knowing that Jung had said: “Hitler is the embodiment of the German spirit.” The Nazis knew his views. Records show that they considered sending for Jung to help Rudolph Hess with his mental trouble.
Similarly, I had not wanted to know that Dostoevsky hated Jews, Germans, and Poles. He gave influential speeches in favor of the Panslavic movement. That movement was a direct cause of the Russian-French alliance and the World Wars.
What I heard of Heidegger’s Nazi views made me decide not to read him at all. I read him when I was almost 40 years old. Then I realized that Heidegger’s thought was already in mine, from my reading of so many others who had learned from him.
With these three we are forced to wonder: Must we not mistrust their seemingly deep insights? How could we want these insights for ourselves, if they came out of experience so insensitive to moral ugliness? Perhaps it might not matter if the insights were less deep. But they open into what is most precious in human nature and life. The depth is beyond question. The insights are genuine.
So one attempts to break out of the dilemma on the other side: Is there a way Nazism or hatred of other peoples might be not so bad? Could it have seemed different at the time? No chance of that, either. I am a Jewish refugee from Vienna, a lucky one to whom nothing very bad happened. I remember what 1938 looked like, not only to a Jew, but to others. I remember the conflicts it made in people. They could not help knowing which instincts were which. Many writers and ordinary people had no difficulty seeing the events for what they were, at the time.
[Page 2]So we return to question the insights again. But by now they are among our own deepest insights. We go back and forth: Nothing gives way on either side.
Did these men simply make mistakes? We can forgive mistakes. A human individual can develop far beyond others, but surely only on one or two dimensions. No one can be great in more than a few ways. And Heidegger did write of his “mistakes” in his application to be allowed to teach again at Freiburg (1946). He also distanced himself from the Nazi party already in 1934, long before most Germans. I have no difficulty understanding any person’s mistake, and less difficulty if someone is highly developed in other ways. No human can have every kind of strength and judgement. On a personal level there is really no problem.
Why he was so silent about the mistake is also more than personal. It is the silence of a whole generation. I will return to this silence.
The problem is not about him, personally, at all. I pose a problem for us. The problem is, why his kind of philosophy—our kind of philosophy—fails to protect against this “mistake.” That is the philosophical question.
His philosophy allowed for this mistake. It is therefore not just the personal accident. There is an inherent, systematic connection. These deep insights permit inhuman, racist views. To find the systematic connection, we must look exactly where these views—our views—are deepest, most precious, and not false but true. What was lacking at that most true point?
Something very important was lacking at the deepest point. We don’t notice the lack, because when we read these writings today, we assume and add what is lacking.
I became an American when I was 13. As a child I had not belonged in, or identified with, Austria. I had been alienated in some confused and inarticulate way. I found I could really be an American, and I am one.
But, some European peculiarities remain from before. At the Heidegger Circle I laugh silently to myself, when other Americans discuss and share Heidegger’s view that to be human is to dwell historically as a people on a soil. How do my fellow Americans manage to dwell with Heidegger on German soil?
[Page 3]My colleagues read this in a universalized way. For us, in the Heidegger Circle, the human is the same everywhere in this respect, and equally valuable. Humans are culturally particularized, certainly, but this particularization is itself universal. Humans are one species. They are all culturally particular. This universal assertion holds across us all, and we see no problem.
Indeed, after 1945 Heidegger writes of the dangers of technological reason on a “planetary” level. But it is reason, which is thus planetary—the same universal reason he says he had always attacked. (Spiegel Interview.) Heidegger’s planetary view differs from our more recent understanding of human universality. The difference has not been much written about, so there are no familiar phrases for it.For Heidegger there is no common human nature which is then also particularized and altered in history. There is no human nature that lasts through change by history. There is only the historical particular, no human nature.
Humans eat and sleep differently in different cultures. They arrange different sexual rituals, build different “nests,” and raise their young differently. In an animal species the members do all this in the same way. Humans are not even a species. So, at least, it seemed to those thinkers who entered into what is most deeply human.
To them, the deepest and most prized aspect of humans was the cultural and historical particular.
In our generation we easily and conveniently universalize the particularization. Not Heidegger. For him, what is most valuable is the necessarily particular indwelling in one people’s history and language, on its land, and not another’s. We change it without noticing, to read: any indwelling in any people’s history is this most highly valued aspect.
The same words can seem to say either message: “What is deepest in humans is culturally particular.” This used to imply necessarily, that there cannot be anything deeper, more valuable, or more absolute, than Hungarian culture.
Can you hear this cultural particularity as those Hungarians before 1914 did, who felt it right to force their language and culture on the children of Croatia and many other nationalities? Or do you hear it only as if “Hungarian” simply stood for any cultural particularity?
[Page 4] Our deepest being and feeling comes in situations. But situations are patterned by a language and a culture. Take them away, and what is left?
What all humans have in common, across culture and history—the universally human—that was thought to be “reason,” logical, mathematical, or dialectical reason. Reason is what makes 2+2 universally 4. (Not the word “four” but the identity of / / / /, whether taken two by two, or as a group.)
Until our generation, Western thought was split between the scientific or rationalist tradition which emphasized the universal, and, on the other side, the romantic tradition which emphasized the unique particularity and non-rational depths of human history and culture.
PM10 Nov 28, 2015
In that fundamental division those who sensed human worth as universal were rationalists. Unexcelled thinkers such as Kant, Fichte, Schiller, and Hegel held the universal to be reason. Even art was reason’s legislation—the one realm where reason could realize concrete objects, they said.
Both sides agreed that the universal is the rational—they differed only on its value. Therefore, those who sensed what is deeper than the rational could not include everyone. They had to be political conservatives or reactionaries.
Today we easily reject both the rationalistic conception of universal humanity, and the particularistic, historical one. Actually we have inherited both, and unknowingly use both. To understand what we do so easily, we must re-traverse these two pieces of history with our eyes open. That may be most painful for Germans, Jews, and Heideggerians.
Behind the painful immediate past is another past. “German”—that used to mean Weltbuergertum, world-citizenship, as Goethe put it.
Up to 1848, many generations felt their being Germans in this way. As Fichte said: “We Germans have everything except political power. We have the music, the literature, the philosophy, the apex of universal culture. Our culture is not just german; it is universally human. Our nationality is not that of a nation; it is human freedom. All those, whatever their country, who believe in the human universal, reason and freedom, they are part of our community. That is what ‘german’ really means.” (Seventh Discourse to the German Nation. My paraphrase. Recently commented on by Derrida, Geschlecht II, lecture, Loyola University of Chicago, 1985.)
This sense of “german” was not just a self-perception. Writers in other countries also considered that as characteristically “german.” An incapacity for political power, an inability to act together, a rational incapacity to be regimented was inherent in the “german” character.
What “german” meant has not yet remembered itself in this way.
The notion that human universality is rational—that freedom is individual rationality—was brutally displaced by the failure of 1848 and the “success” of 1866. The rational professors of 1848 were made to seem ridiculous, their ideals of freedom mere talk. Bismarck unified Germany and drove the lesson home. It was thought to have been proven that history moves with the troops.
Those who could not internally agree with this “proof” kept silent. Or they said, briefly, “We are finished. We have nothing to say. Everything belongs to the children, to the new generation. It is all up to them, now.” The dominant segment of that generation kept silent, till they died out. Who spoke were those who shared the new way. Blood and iron became what it was to be “german.”
Since 1945, again, a large segment of Germans has kept this kind of silence, saying only: “We are finished. We have nothing to say. Everything belongs to the children, to the new generation. It is all up to them, now.” These people kept silent for a whole generation, and are keeping silent now, till they die out. That is understandable, since the values and ways before 1945 proved so horrendously wrong.
In both silent generations, after 1866 and after 1945, silence did not extend to a real change of mind, or an apology. It isn’t the sort of thing that changes. It is not a mere opinion. What can one do, but keep quiet, when it has supposedly been proven that what one is, is wrong?
Now you might object: only a moral idiot would dare to compare this silent generation with that earlier one. But we must think about both.
It seems to me that most Germans today still define “german” in the way of 1866-1945—although with a negative valuation. One hears a constant self-slurring on that theme. “We Germans do everything rigidly,” they often say, for example.
Since I am not a German, except in something like Fichte’s sense, I am not the one to say what “german” means. I can only wish that “german”
PM10 Nov 28, 2015 nice notes from Sara and Lynette helping Katarina find the document and the place on the page! [Page 6] would remember itself from before, rather than continuing the self-definition of power and regimentation.
I know that many Germans are tired of the self-slurring, but I am afraid most of them see no way to overcome it, other than by saying that the Nazi period wasn’t really that bad.
And good people who refuse that way out, might think our Heidegger Circle was saying something like that, when we wanted to meet in Germany. But there is another way to end the slur on what “german” means.
The other way is along Heidegger’s own lines to go backwards, through the immediate history, to arrive, by steps, at that truer and longer lasting earlier definition of what “german” means.
Without going through the past just behind us, the earlier memory of Schiller, Goethe, and all those others cannot achieve that change. We cannot immediately get back to them. We have to move through the piece in between—not just the Nazi period, but also the silence after 1848.
How could these great ones have seemed so wrong after 1848? How could power have seemed more right than universal humanity and morality?
We remember Nietzsche: “Life is superior to any morality.” Today we would say life is superior to any moral code. That’s different! Nietzsche did not differentiate here. He mixed them and meant both that life exceeds any code, and that it might be all right if it exceeds morality as well.
Today we sense deeply that life is beyond rationalistic forms and codes. So we cannot very well throw Nietzsche away, whether we have read him or not. We cannot be ungrateful to his deeper-than-rational sense of being human. And, of course, Nietzsche is in Jung and Heidegger.
Jung and Heidegger vastly exceed the thin conceptual commonalities. Jung entered into so much more than regular psychology said, or says still. He actually found history in the depths of individual psyches. When I first read Jung, it seemed to me that he did not understand Americans—our relative lack of history. He wrote that the American ladies who were his patients had American Indians in their unconscious. I thought, surely he is misapplying his European historical sense to us. Then as now, I lived in Chicago, Illinois, but I was unconscious of the Indian names and remains around me and in the ground. Since then countless people have told me dreams with Indians in them.
[Page 7] Jung found much that is universal, too. But he viewed that as stemming from early culture-creation, the roles of mothers and fathers, rulers, calendars and four directions. He viewed all this in terms of the particular history of those early times: matriarchy and then, later patriarchy. Only this world-wide history saved Jung somewhat, but only somewhat, from the view that what is deepest is the historical particular.
In this light we can understand how it was possible, that Dostoevsky’s deep grasp of the human soul seemed, to him, a deep grasp of theRussian soul. We read into his books our own non-rational universality. We universalize the depth of cultural particularization. Then we are surprised and embarrassed by his nasty comments about Jews, Germans, and Poles. But look more deeply. It’s not just a few nasty remarks. All his characters who are Jews, Germans, or Poles, are rendered flat. He built them as lacking the Russian soul!
We cannot just ignore this, and fill universality in. Dostoevsky was fighting against universal human nature. To him the universal, the merely common, was thin rationality which could be used to justify anything. Only in the depth of the Russian soul was there something greater. What was greater than rationality was inherently russian.
I am not arguing for this universality—in our time we experience and assume it. But it seems we cannot think about it.
How have we come so easily to this universality that is not rational? How do we assume it so unconsciously? Can we articulate it? Can the question even be put? Notice my trouble in stating the question: How is there a universal that is not a commonality? Doesn’t “universal” mean “common”? What is a universal that cannot be a conceptual content, and cannot be defined?
Can we say how we read Dostoevsky? His ideological concepts puzzle us. We grasp the unique characters easily.
Heidegger rejects the rational commonalities. But we must reject the unique historical particular as well, if “unique” means inherently un-understandable by those who don’t already share it.
The words change, if I say that the human “unique” is always also universal.
[Page 8]Dilthey said it: “Anything human is in principle understandable.” The understanding is not there in fact. “In principle” means that the understanding must first be created. It is not a commonality, not already in us. Anything human can create itself in us, if we can go its experiential path. If we do, the result is not identical, but more.
Dilthey assumed no correspondence theory. What he called an “expression” doesn’t represent what was in experience before. Experiencing is creating, expressing, and understanding. He grasped human universality in how we create uniquenesses in each other.
Heidegger never went this way. This part of Dilthey’s work was apparently not yet available in 1927, but Heidegger ignored it also later. It has been forgotten, and needs to be pursued.
Heidegger emphasized the inter-human creativity of language. But he left it culturally particular. In that respect he did limit the open happening after all. He thought that the deepest and greatest happening happens into cultural particularity.
This acceptance of political and historical ultimates ignores politics—a peril we don’t want to repeat.
There is a problem here—for us. Can we continue to assume, as is done today, that culture and history do, after all, provide ultimates, though otherwise we reject all ultimates? And can we continue to hold that assumption while we read in a puzzling, unexamined, non-categorial universality?
The question applies to all meanings and language—language is not primarily concepts, not commonalities, not distinctions or differences.
Universality has to be re-thought. Language is not the conceptual gathering classes, fixed or changing. Human experience is universal not because it occurs more than once, nor because many people have it the same way. Language is a creating the first time it happens. Only therefore can it create itself again in others.
The word “creation” has worked in a new way here. Its works newly but not from nothing, nor from thin abstractions. It works “from language’s thickness,” and that phrase “from thickness” creates from thickness.
Can such meaning-making speak of itself?
[Page 9]Is more-than-rational thinking possible? And, (the same question:) can it think how it is possible?
The universality we read in is no longer how that word used to work—a rational thinking thought by rational thinking. When that word says what we do, it works not by rational commonalities or distinctions.
But it was Heidegger who pioneered this thinking beyond logical universals, beyond the thin, abstracted commonality categories. He pioneered the thinking which consists of situatedness (Befindlichkeit). He said that situational living is already an understanding. He said that understanding is always befindlich. “Understanding always has greater reach than the cognitive can follow.” He called it “dwelling” (see Gendlin, Conference Proceedings, 1983). He also called it “indwelling” (einwohnen). He thought its more-than-logical creativity limited within historical soil and nation. To him non-rational meant non-universal.
But with his own books, and through Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and many others, it was he who opened the way to our kind of thinking—the kind that now dwells universally beyond the rational common—although it is only beginning to say how. To work on that is our problem. He contributed enough for one human.
Heidegger must be credited for a great share in that very development because of which we no longer feel the old either/or: either the deeply human historical particular with its political savagery and sadism, or the merely rational commmon.
It is partly the influence of his work in us, which now makes us unable to grasp how he could have failed to sense the nonrational universality of humans. Today, in Chicago, when we look at Louis Sullivan’s buildings, the ones that created modern architecture, we wonder why he used so much granite. Why didn’t he use just steel and windows?
To understand may be to forgive, but it is certainly not to excuse.
Without pretending to lighten the horror, we need to understand why that tradition of thought also brought horror. Only so can we think through what we draw from our immediate past. Only then can we recover the other past, right behind that one. We need both, to articulate our own, non-rational universalization of human depth.
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