Thursday, January 26, 2006

Heidegger & Adorno

I’m always fascinated by the conjunction of figures who separately interest me but whom I could never imagine in the same room together. Rüdiger Safranski’s biography of Heidegger, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil (Harvard UP, 1998; on the original title, see below), has an interesting chapter on Adorno’s attacks on Heidegger, particularly in The Jargon of Authenticity. Safranski doesn’t have much patience with the Frankfurt School in general, but he seems poised to give Adorno’s critique a pretty fair hearing. Then one comes upon this, Heidegger's former student-lover Hannah Arendt writing in a white-hot rage to Karl Jaspers, concerning a nasty Der Spiegel article about MH:
Although I can’t prove it, I am pretty much convinced that the real string-pullers here are the Wiesengrund-Adorno people in Frankfurt. And that is the more grotesque, as it has now been established (the students have discovered it) that Wiesengrund (half Jewish and one of the most repulsive people I know) tried to fall in line with the Nazis. For years he and Horkheimer have accused everyone who opposed them of anti-Semitism or threatened that they would do so. Truly an abominable crowd. (18 April 1966)
Gotta love that “the students have discovered it” – rather like the right-wing groups these days who solicit students for lecture notes and tapes of college courses taught by “leftist” professors.

And Heidegger himself? Richard Wisser, recounting a 1969 conversation with MH:
We talk about Adorno.... Heidegger: "When Adorno came back to Germany, he said, I was told: 'In five years, I'll have cut Heidegger down to size.' You see what kind of man he is." I: "A small statement but a great feeling of power. He was certainly mistaken in the matter, but there are many signs that the impact he has does not help further the reception of your thinking."..... Heidegger sticks with Adorno...: "I have never read anything of his. Hermann Mörchen once tried to convince me to read Adorno. I didn't."

In a conversation I deliberately use the expression "negative dialectic" as a key phrase for Adorno's way of thinking. "What does he mean by that – really?" Heidegger mischievously stretches the controversial adverb. I suggest that he understands his dialectic, in contrast to the positive Hegelian dialectic, to be a "denunciation" and a critique of what is for the sake of that about it which it is not and which is not allowed to be that way. I speak at length, perhaps too long, because I have recently published a review of Adorno's Negative Dialectic. "One reacts critically." Heidegger's commentary: "So he is a sociologist and not a philosopher." "But one who has more success with our 'revolutionary' studens than almost anyone else today. He practially causes critical protest, opposition. By reading him, it is possible to gain a philosophically supported position that is essentially a position of negation and that allows one to stand out, be different, act in reaction, agitate. Philosophical questioning in your sense is lost." Heidegger's response irritates me: "With whom did Adorno study?" I cannot answer this question and point instead to his origin as I interpret it; that is, to his publications. Heidegger does not go into it or into my comments on Adorno's Minima Moralia. He listens and then returns, to his question that had only been postponed, not answered, by my discussion: "No, has he really studied with someone?" "I don't know!"
The Safranski biography – in the US, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil – was published in Germany in 1994 as Ein Meister aus Deutschland: Heidegger and seine Zeit (A Master from Germany: Heidegger and his Time). One gets the pun on Sein und Zeit, of course, but the real bombshell is not the subtitle but the main title – "Ein Meister aus Deuschland." Safranski explains that oh yes, MH was a "master" philospher, & something of a mystic like Meister Eckhart; and he was "very 'German,' as German as Thomas Mann's Adrian Leverkühn," Safranski notes, making explicit the Faustian aspects of MH's career. "And finally, through his political activity he also had about him something of that 'master from Germany' that Paul Celan's poem refers to."

Celan's "Todesfuge" ("Death-fugue") has been a required text in German schools for decades, a constant, canonized reminder of the Holocaust:
Er ruft spielt süsser den Tod der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
er ruft streicht dunkler die Geigen dann steigt ihr als Rauch in die Luft
dann habt ihr ein Grab in den Wolken da liegt man nicht eng

[He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Germany
he shouts scrape your fiddles more darkly you'll rise up to the sky as smoke
then you'll have a grave in the clouds when you won't lie too cramped
(my adaptation of Felstiner's version)]
Safranski's bio has attacted some flak for not coming down hard enough on Heidegger's Nazism; I don't know – I haven't gotten that far into it yet. But in its original German version, with a title that attaches Heidegger to the single most famous poetic response to Auschwitz, it's hard to see how Safranski could make the connection any more explicit.


Gothamimage said...

Heidigger makes a brief appearance in my upcoming posted script about Rumsfeld. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog! My blog secretly wishes to have similar content to yours, but only once in a while I manage to write about something more interesting than the movie I saw last week. I would undoubtedly wish for you to comment on some of it, bur unfortunately it is in norwegian.

Sindre Eidissen, Norway.

Thom Romer said...

Heidegger's diagnosis, namely that Adorno was a sociologist rather than a philosopher, is hardly contentious. But as Heidegger himself acknowledged, knowledge of what philosophy is is rare, which can only explain why Adorno would ever be categorized as a philosopher, or any post-Foucauldian French intellectual: Lyotard, Baudrillard, Derrida and to an extent Deleuze to name but the most ugly. Good article.

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If we follow Plato's perspective that the best student is the one who ends up neglecting of his mentor's belief system, then we would have to say that Martin Heidegger's was, absolutely, Husserl's greatest pupil... From the essentialist view of the world that he was taught, and as a complete atheist he was, he never believed the empiricist way of understanding the world that his mentor had.

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I didn't know he was a student of Edmund Husserl.... is that so? did they ever meet each other?