This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A group of llamas had stopped grazing nearby to watch me. After disorientation and fatigue, flying, driving, walking, and running, after springing over an electrified fence and sliding down a wooded slope, after losing my phone, my wife, and my bearings, I had at last found Martin Heidegger's hut.
Martin Heidegger was born in the small town of Messkirch on the edge of the Black Forest in 1889, a few months after Nietzsche rushed across the Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin, threw his arms around a cab-horse, and never came out of the embrace. This conjuncture was to be an important one for the young Heidegger; he saw a line of continuity in the idea that he came into the world as Nietzsche's reason left it. Heidegger would go on to compare philosophical communication as speaking from mountain top to mountain top, and Nietzsche, in his Alpine seclusion, was, for him, the nearest peak. As had been the case for Nietzsche growing up in a different corner of provincial Germany, it didn't take long for Heidegger and those around him to recognize his brilliance. He excelled in all areas, from math to Greek, theology to physics, and the choice was open to him. His staunchly Catholic family favored theology; he chose philosophy. When he completed his studies, he moved to the picturesque university town of Freiburg im Breisgau in a different part of the Black Forest to work with Edmund Husserl, the founder of a new school of philosophy: phenomenology. Husserl felt that it did not suffice to examine the abstractions and to trace the contours of the conceptual systems of such thinkers as Leibniz and Hegel. For him, a philosopher worthy of the name needed to examine more closely how one arrived at such abstractions through how one experienced individual phenomena. And how one arrived at ideas and conceptual systems was through the thousand affects and attitudes that condition them, which meant that the phenomenologist needed to go, in his words, “back to the things themselves.”
As Husserl's assistant, Heidegger grew famous the old-fashioned way: by talking. His lectures drew ever larger and more passionate crowds, and word of mouth soon carried his fame beyond the confines of the Black Forest. Intellectuals throughout Germany began to speak of “a hidden philosopher-king,” the successor of earlier princes of the mind such as Kant and Nietzsche. Word even reached Kant's former home in Königsberg on the farthest side of Germany (in the part of East Prussia that is today Russia), where the eighteen-year old wunderkind Hannah Arendt was finishing high school. A short while later, she traveled to the Black Forest and began to study with him. They fell in love.
Despite a truly remarkable depth and breadth of knowledge, neither then nor later did Heidegger have the speech or the mannerisms of high European cultivation. He walked, talked, and dressed like someone from the Black Forest, Germany's closest equivalent to the Ozarks. Too intelligent not to make a virtue of necessity, Heidegger cultivated a quaint and bucolic image, wearing to his lectures a traditional outfit that his more metropolitan students
twenty by twenty-three feet. This thing was as simple to sense as it was hard to express: “being. He saw that the terms and concepts employed by traditional metaphysical inquiry were little suited to the task at hand and would break under the strain of what he envisioned.” This wonder.” What seemed to them. She had a small hut. Heidegger located “the wonder of wonders” in the idea “that being is. faintly ridiculous grew less so as they listened to the brilliant young professor with the hypnotizing dark eyes speak about philosophy's furthest origins—and its bright future. Things did not get any better with the translations from . Heidegger began to plan a work that would secure his position. to write. For him.” His goal would be to remind his age—but he had not yet figured out how. And so he retreated to the Black Forest. Heidegger knew what he wanted to write about. however. commanding a beautiful view of the valley below and the Alps rising in the distance. everything in which we live and breathe and of which we are a part: being is the being that all beings in one mysterious manner or another share. he asked himself: What did we mean when we speak of “being”? The answer seemed.” Inclined towards fundamental questions. at first sight. He felt that he had stumbled upon something monumental. In 1922. at last. and so. publication was required for academic advancement. at the insistence of Husserl and others. been abandoned—or. had. and to avoid the galloping inflation of the period she invested it in a secluded retreat for her philosopher-husband and their growing family.dubbed “the ontological suit. Then as now. For most philosophers. Heidegger soon realized that he needed special tools. at first sight. skiing down its slopes. self-evident. and the question that lay at philosophy's origin and its heart. it had been “forgotten. and in long hours poring over books in his hut. It seemed to him that philosophy had lost something which it desperately needed back.” as he called it. the largest question that philosophy might ask was this: what do we mean when we speak of a being common to all modes and forms of individual beings? And he saw Western philosophy as having gone astray in that it had ceased to ask this question. She found a small plot of hillside land in the higher reaches of the Black Forest rendered inexpensive because a stream cut through it. For him. making it too marshy for farming. but he did not yet know how. One thing was immediately apparent: it wasn't pretty. he patiently crafted a special language for his unusual task. in his words. his wife Elfriede had inherited a modest sum. in glades and clearings. built into a hillside there. “the forgetting of being. the metaphysical equivalent of a corpse in the cellar. her husband began. Philosophy's first and most fundamental problem—the true task of metaphysics—had fallen into neglect. and on long walks along its wooded paths. this was both true and not a philosophical question—and here was where Heidegger saw his task lying. He recalled that Aristotle said that philosophy was born of wonder. For his special task. began early: with the translation of Greek texts into Latin. Being was all this—everything around us. German played a role in this. Soon thereafter.
” and no less a stylistic master than Adorno's friend Thomas Mann asked in shocked disbelief upon first reading Heidegger: “Should not such writing be subject to punishment?” A psychologist visiting one of Heidegger's seminars had a more common reaction: “It was as if a man from Mars had come across a group of earthlings and was trying to communicate with them. Maurice Blanchot.” and it soon became clear to the book's readers that these were not the severe or strange expressions of classical metaphysics. dirty and disoriented. clean and well-oriented. Like his manner and his dress. (Once asked about English's status as a philosophical language he curtly responded that it had ceased being one in 1066. Greek. Ernst Jünger. He began Being and Time by apologizing for “the severity and strangeness of my expressions. Pierre Klossowski. Contrary to my expectations. this was not enough. and Heidegger began employing a German like no other. More classical philosophers such as Ernst Cassirer and the young Walter Benjamin were at a loss as to what he was talking about—but they knew they didn't like it. and René Char found in it an intensity of expression without compare. But German. Hans-Georg Gadamer.” Heidegger saw himself as renewing Husserl's phenomenology. possessed what he saw as an elective affinity with Western philosophy's native language. and .” But while everyone remarked the strangeness of Heidegger's language. he told his students. it is hilly. and figures as diverse as Karl Jaspers. what is more. Werner Heisenberg. it responds to the constraint placed upon language by the phenomena themselves. the Black Forest is not black. this is no mere whim on my part and stems from no special fondness for having my own terminology. Heidegger was perfectly aware of the strangeness of what he was saying. not everyone rejected it. His preferred metaphorical register was that of the area around his hut: of forests and paths. For his own part. of peaks and valleys.) Though German offered special advantages in its similarity to Greek. Several days earlier I had been in Freiburg. Adorno dismissed it as “ontological jargon. leaving the more robust firs and pines to dominate—and darken—the landscape. though it is dark. calls of nature and authentic connectedness with one's environment. Eighteenth-century logging removed a great many of the deciduous trees and their lighter greens. not technical-sounding formulations like Kant's “thing-in-itself” or Hegel's “sublation” but a new—and strangely sylvan—language. In a lecture from 1925. What seemed to most shape his language was the space before which I now. Heidegger's new philosophical language bore unabashed signs of its origins. “If I am forced to employ here cumbersome and unattractive expressions. Also contrary to my expectations. in its rugged seclusion. of dwellings and clearings. stood. my wife and I cut across the Black Forest to France (to Strasbourg) and on the way back visited family living in the heart of the Black Forest. had been spared and.Latin into the burgeoning Romance languages. Instead. Jacques Lacan. Our business in Freiburg done. following the things of the world back to a distant—and thereby strange—origin.
” At last we saw an elderly woman in well-worn hiking boots walking a large dog. in the name of the town. On the first page I read: Dedicated to Edmund Husserl in friendship and admiration. We were soon on our way. Todtnauberg proved to be tucked away in a lovely and largely untouched valley. we began to make our way home.” As I stood with the waterfall sounding in the distance. but soon lost my way in the “strange and severe” words of the first chapters and gave up. having overheard a friend of my mother's who taught philosophy say that Being and Time was “the smartest and worst book” he had ever read. and was as transfixed by the little signpost as if it indicated that nineteen kilometers down the road was an entrance to the underworld. I knew next to no German.even. there was little to reach. I recalled the smart. Tod. Death-somethingsomething-mountain. stopping by the side of the road to look at a waterfall. Todtnauberg. Given the absurd comprehensiveness of the title. we followed the winding swath of destruction cut by a recent tornado (“Lothar”). It pointed towards “Todtnauberg. the strange names. in a section entitled “The Task of the Destruction of Ontology. I stood rooted by a small sign. and so we drove up and down steep and narrow roads. but enough to recognize the word for death. and when we asked our question. Todtnauberg in Baden. We visited the ruins of a family of robber barons who controlled from a mighty peak one of the main passageways through the forest. I said to myself. this was appealing. and we climbed to mountain peaks from which you can see the Vosges rising on the far side of the valley of the Rhine. asking if people knew where Martin Heidegger's hut was and reaping a variety of befuddled “No's. Black Forest April 8th 1926. bad book. Death Mountain in the Black Forest! I was intrigued.” I first heard of the Black Forest in high school. and virtually no stores. as well as the Swiss Alps rising majestically in the hazy distance. mountainous. After visiting a particularly breathtaking final peak. some paved and some not. it took us far longer than we had expected to reach it—and when we did. Because of the small and steep roads and the almost total absence of signs. she . As my wife and her cousin moved towards the waterfall. in High Black Forest. it seemed to me fitting that it had been written in what did not sound like a real place. and I soon got my hands on the book. Being the adolescent I was. appropriately enough. There was no center to speak of. we tried to accustom ourselves to the local dialect.
Our goal—the information point that the first panel told us would be called “Heidegger's Hut: Why the Hut is Not a Museum”—was nowhere to be found. and often invoked “the hermeneutic circle. how would you begin? You began with the artist. But the trail markers that had been accompanying us seemed to have disappeared. as he did. but this did nothing to limit its success. A few hours later. it reminded his readers .” and gestured to the valley's crest a few kilometers away.4 kilometers later. must err greatly. Heidegger had been fascinated by paths and circles. that the work of art is the origin of the artist? The answer to these questions are all. for the artist creates the work of art and is thereby its origin.” and was a simple enough title for a collection of essays.” My wife and I had entered the circle of the Martin Heidegger Rundweg at the beginning and were enjoying the tree-lined peaceful walk bathed in afternoon sun. looking frankly smug. yes and no—or. Everything instead depended “on how one entered the circle.” Circular forms of reasoning could not be everywhere and always shunned—and nothing was gained by trying to avoid them. He learned many lessons from this first and unfinished treatise. But is an artist who does not create. the word began to play upon our minds. Rundweg means a circular path. a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Heidegger never finished Being and Time. He published a first installment. But when it came out. I found it less so.responded brightly. involve “the hermeneutic circle. My little bit of knowledge about Heidegger's philosophy told me that Heidegger's final collection of essays bore the modest title Wegmarken. A few hundred yards away was a sign with a photo of the aging Heidegger. it is in entering it in the right way. and in the works to follow chose the smaller scales of lectures and essays. Wegmarken means “Path-Markers. rather.4 kilometers long and had five informational points like the first one. but when we failed to reach the next information point the expected 0. muss gross irren”: “He who will think greatly. and a short text with the incipit: “Wer gross denkt.” Heidegger wrote about situations where “what is at issue is not avoiding the hermeneutic circle.” I thought this was funny. as with the martial arts. works of art still an artist? Is it not. we at last saw a small wooden arrow with the words Martin Heidegger Rundweg carved into it. In philosophy. with its intermittent glimpses through the trees of the valley below and the mountain tops in the distance. or no longer creates. and finding it on the sign seemed perfectly normal. “Martin Heidegger Rundweg. After a few wrong turns and a steep final ascent. of course. seen from a different angle. Photo Frédéric Le Mercier. The first sign we had seen told us that the Martin Heidegger Rundweg was precisely 6. and this was enough to secure his growing fame and make his career.” If you wanted to talk about the origin of the work of art.
Heidegger's title had everything to do with what he called the “forgetting of being” and what he felt led to our dominant modes of reasoning. maybe a mile.of his most influential collection of essays and lectures published eighteen years earlier: Holzwege. I forked and reforked. Holzwege proved a disarmingly difficult title to translate. no new information point. He had no problem with such reasoning so long as it was kept within limits. The forest grew more dense. as sooner or later it gets dark and the animals come out. I couldn't see where it had been removed from. Because we had already been gone too long. A kilometer or so further down I at last found the long-awaited information point. We were expected back at the head of the trail by my wife's cousin waiting at the car with her infant child. with their focus on instrumental value and immediate results. proverbially. went off the trail and returned to it. but pointed out that the instrumental reasoning useful for building cities or waging wars was not the reasoning that philosophy set out to study and practice. It was time for a decision. maybe a few feet away. I would jog ahead. the English translation is Basic Writings. I wondered.” and run back. we decided to err separately. "take a little look at my hut. but because he wanted his readers to think of philosophy not merely as a means to an end. or even understand: Holz means “wood. not for getting from point A to B. at the moment. And they can be dangerous if you do not recognize them for what they are. One of the things that he most energetically opposed was what he saw as the hyper-rationalization of means and ends in modern times and went so far as to suggest that the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan and the organization of Nazi death camps were the indirect but nevertheless real results of an unreflective dependence on instrumental reasoning (one of the very few points on which he was to agree with Adorno). They are thus a special kind of Rundweg. in a sign of Anglo-Saxon sobriety and pragmatism. climbed to the valley's peak to get a better look. but I felt that we were. And when you are on one. Half an hour later. as a way of getting from point A to point B. They are paths made not for the forest but the trees. My wife. The only figures I saw were miniscule ones in the . we had found no further Wegmarken. not having had any adolescent experiences with Heidegger and having known from earliest youth that the Black Forest was a real place. and returned. and suspected we had inadvertently left the Rundweg and forked onto a Holzweg. but as an activity cultivating something of which our alienated age was perilously close to losing sight. This seemed to me a fine thing to think and write about.” and wege means “paths.” Thus: “Paths in the Forest”—but Holzwege are not just any paths. on the wrong path. paths for finding and carrying wood (back to your hut). Maybe Lothar had deposited it here. It seems that Heidegger collected his philosophical writings under the heading of Holzwege not because they were meant to lead people astray. and a canopy of fir trees darkened the trail. The sign was laying on its back in the underbrush a few feet back from the trail. would go back. in need of some very instrumental reasoning. you are. The French translated Heidegger's book as “Paths That Lead Nowhere”.
murder's tongue. Not far I found a new sign. this one firmly fixed in the ground. and German). he chose German. One name stood out. The evening light grew more and more beautiful. I had passed the point of no return. I combed the far peak for signs of my wife but found none. Celan. trees. He survived in a labor camp (his first job was destroying books) until the Soviets liberated Czernowitz. In July of 1966. and the two men went for a walk.” the first a flower to treat bruises.distance. He worked as a male nurse in a psychiatric clinic not unlike the ones he would himself later visit. Celan took a drink from the wooden well outside with the star above it. At a steady jog. since grown famous. “Todtnauberg. Heidegger's intentions were not easy to fathom. Romanian. gutted. a few years later. “Whose name did it record/ before mine — ?” he asks. But the flora of the poem changes as the poet thinks of the book he signed. He went unnoticed and unharmed. Russian. about twenty-five thousand rounded up and later sent to concentration camps. wrote a few lines in the guestbook. I kept on the trail as it curved around the valley's rim. the other for pained eyes. And then I saw it! But it wasn't it. English. “Death-Fugue. On the night of 9 November 1938.” “mother tongue. restricted contact with his Jewish . but in his native Czernowitz (then Romania and today part of the Ukraine) his parents were soon interned and. hundreds seriously injured. eighteenyear-old Paul Celan's train from Romania to France passed through one of Berlin's principal stations. “Arnica and eyebright. Heidegger marveled at Celan's knowledge of the natural world—flowers. As virtually all who came in contact with him stressed. He had long been an admirer of Heidegger's writings on poetry. animals—and it was the healing powers of this natural world with which Celan began a poem he wrote a week later about his visit. leading Adorno to retract his declaration that writing poetry after Auschwitz was not possible. just as Heidegger had long been an admirer of his poetry. plants.” Although Celan had a remarkable array of languages at his disposal (French. Celan accepted Heidegger's invitation and was driven from Freiburg into the heights of the Black Forest for a meeting at the hut. and more than 175 synagogues and seventy-five hundred Jewish business burned. Heidegger joined the Nazi party. killed. and composed his first great poem. Yiddish. Mördersprache. It was called “Martin Heidegger Rundweg: Thinker to Thinker: Guests. it was a different hut.” Celan continued his hauntingly beautiful explorations of the German language. gave a reading in Freiburg.” Its now-iconic refrain notes that “Death is a master from Germany. when ninety-one Jews were killed. In 1933.” begins. or otherwise demolished by government-incited mobs.” and listed some of the great minds who had visited Heidegger in his hut. Reichskristallnacht. offering the chillingly laconic justification: “Muttersprache.
He stepped down as rector nine months after taking up the title. The stress on the star was a stress on the stars Jews like himself had been made to wear. pounding snowstorm rages outside and veils everything./ in the heart”—or. still worse. and by 1934 had ceased to play a leading role amongst Nazi intellectuals. remarked that many present at the speech were unsure as to whether they should “go home and study the pre-Socratics or to join the SA. A radio address later that year entitled “Why I Remain in the Provinces” begins. most of those who had known Heidegger. in other words. In 1934. the philosopher a prisoner to the tyrant. I stood before the well with the star above it that Celan wove into his haunting poem and looked at the closed window of Heidegger's study. Husserl. The questions become simple and essential. Heidegger . in line with his philosophy and its stress on authenticity and connection to the land. glancing towards the well's star. And others saw his choice as a cunning one—and. That word Celan hoped would come—a word of acknowledgement and apology for his role in the Nazi party—never did and.” followed by his signature. Heidegger turned down the most prestigious teaching post in Germany. Karl Löwith. some suggested that his naiveté was still greater and that. “On the steep slope of a wide mountain valley in the southern Black Forest at an elevation of 1150 meters. “the Führer is himself and alone the present and future German reality and its law. Heidegger had held a Nazi indoctrination session in his hut.” It evokes how “on deep winter nights when a wild.” This was at once shocking and confusing for many present. Years later. like those who came to know him later. and it was doubtless with a shiver of awareness that Celan recalled this as he asked himself who had signed the book before him. as well as with his Jewish love. and which in so many cases meant their death. In characteristically subtle fashion. Elfriede Jelinek was to write a play called Totenauberg (changing the title of Heidegger's second home from death to the dead) mercilessly attacking Heidegger and his attachment to a murderous Heimat. evoking. But he also never left the party and wore a Swastika in his lapel even when abroad—including a visit to Löwith's apartment in Rome a few years later. he had been staring so intently up at the philosophical sky that he fell into a political well. as well. the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Berlin.” that “this is the perfect time for philosophy. Celan returned to this well and its star in the poem he wrote a week later. he evoked a nearby symbol in his own entry: “In the hut's book. Some compared him to Plato in Syracuse. like Thales. did not know how to understand his political engagement. Much disturbed by the experience. there stands a small ski hut. He was appointed rector of Freiburg University in 1933 and during his inauguration speech announced that. Arendt. One of Heidegger's Jewish students.” The answer as to why he remained in the provinces was that it was there that he could best follow his philosophical calling. in the hope of a word to come. ever more depressed by so much he recalled from his past and saw in his present. what so many awaited from Heidegger. “a thinker's/ word/ to come. Celan drowned himself in the Seine in 1970.mentor. In 1933.” After the war. and his many Jewish students.
Many visitors to the hut. I have become the best of all foxes.” And from her first book—on the idea of love in St.… This trap was only big enough for him. He offers magisterial analyses of a range of these affects. she chose a much different path. For a Festschrift on his eightieth birthday. and yet Heidegger chose to remain with his wife and family.… The fox living in the trap said proudly: so many fall into my trap. There is every reason to believe that the love was mutual and real. she wrote “the storm that blows through Heidegger's work—like the one which blows across centuries against it from Plato's works—does not stem from this century.… After this fox had spent his entire youth in other people's traps … he decided to completely withdraw from the fox world.” thus giving all the biographical information he thought relevant and moving on to the philosophy. “Heidegger says proudly: „People say Heidegger is a fox. written directly after their separation. but because he had always taken the traps of others for their dens). While her public remarks were full of praise.… If one wanted to visit him in the den where he was at home. He saw himself in similar terms—as a vehicle for ideas. except him. but she chose to contact him all the same. Hannah Arendt and Heidegger spoke of the life of the mind. “Aristotle was born. and began to build a den [Fuchsbau]. His lecture course on Aristotle began. and his phenomenological hut represented the point from which he could best experience the things of his world. exchanged volumes of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. proceeds by analyzing the affects that condition our experience of the world.often stressed that his life was of little interest—and all the less for philosophy. Augustine—to her last. they met secretly and passionately. But there is one figure about whom there is some uncertainty. Arendt. And there was even something true in that: nobody knows the trap business [das Fallenwesen] better than he who has been sitting in a trap all his life. her private ones were less so.… He built himself a trap as a den.” She continued: There was once a fox who was so utterly without cunning that he not only constantly fell into traps but could not even distinguish a trap from what was not a trap. such as fear and anxiety. are known and documented. because he was sitting in it himself. one had to go into his trap. Arendt was as shocked and disappointed as the rest of Heidegger's former friends. Of course everybody could walk right out of it. but one is conspicuously missing: love. . worked.' This is the true story of Heidegger the fox. After the war. returned to Germany and spent an uneasy afternoon with her former love and his resolutely anti-Semitic wife Elfriede. Years later.… Nobody could fall into his trap. pretended it was a normal den (not out of cunning. sat down in it. like Celan. since married. and died. and yet who nevertheless saw its advantages and its shortcomings better than anyone else. Being and Time. This was not a diary entry like others she wrote: it was an animal fable called “Heidegger the Fox.” It begins. What she wrote of her experience was in her diary and was not published until after her death.
so the story goes. as limitations to thought. one must risk erring greatly. sprang over the electrical fence. Machiavelli notes that “it is necessary to be a fox so as to recognize traps. but. mud-bespattered with the sun deepening into a rich orange glow. when he set about to build himself a home he built himself a trap. I saw a flash of color on the trail above me. His ability to discern logical inconsistencies and metaphysical mystifications.Arendt begins by pointing to Heidegger's pride: others saw him as clever and cunning (as “a fox”) and this flattered him. In the most famous book on political power.” Heidegger was a fox and recognized traps. about the possibility that the hut was not perfect for philosophy. The fable depicts his problem as that of weakness turned into a strength and that strength then turned against itself. but a perfect trap. like Nietzsche. having isolated and denounced so many homes as traps. . thought. I stood. and left the hut in peace. without a home under the stormy skies of unending change. I wondered about the healing plants Celan pointed out to the philosopher and the word he longed for but never received. his suspicions about freezing the constant flow of life. Just then. about the idea that if one wants to think greatly. he found himself in a difficult position when it came time to seek a refuge for himself. and being into the too-rigid forms of concepts and systems left him. I bid the llamas a silent farewell. bathed in sweat. and. and about love.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.