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c a r l d j e r a s s i was born in Vienna and immigrated to

the United States in 1938. He is the author of many literary

works—including Four Jews on Parnassus, Cantor’s Dilemma, The
Bourbaki Gambit, This Man’s Pill, and the plays An Immaculate
Misconception, Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction: ICSI
and Taboos, Ego, Calculus, Phallacy, and Oxygen (coauthored
with Roald Hoffmann)—that have been translated into sixteen
languages. He is emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford
University and recipient of many awards and honors, including
the Serono Prize in Literature, the National Medal of Science
(for the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive), the National
Medal of Technology, the Great Merit Cross of Germany, an Austrian
postage stamp issued in 2005, and the American Chemical Society’s
highest award, the Priestley Medal. Djerassi lives in San Francisco,
London, and Vienna.
by the same author
The Futurist and Other Stories
Cantor’s Dilemma
The Bourbaki Gambit
Marx, Deceased
Menachem’s Seed

The Clock Runs Backward

An Immaculate Misconception
Oxygen (with Roald Hoffmann)
Ego (Three on a Couch)
Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction: ICSI and Taboos

The Politics of Contraception
Steroids Made It Possible
The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse
From the Lab into the World: A Pill for People, Pets, and Bugs
This Man’s Pill: Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill
Four Jews on Parnassus—A Conversation: Benjamin, Adorno, Scholem, Schönberg

Scientific Monographs
Optical Rotatory Dispersion: Applications to Organic Chemistry
Steroid Reactions: An Outline for Organic Chemists (editor)
Interpretation of Mass Spectra of Organic Compounds
(with H. Budzikiewicz and D. H. Williams)
Structure Elucidation of Natural Products by Mass Spectrometry
(with H. Budzikiewicz and D. H. Williams)
Mass Spectrometry of Organic Compounds
(with H. Budzikiewicz and D. H. Williams)
Hannah Arendt,
the Two Adornos, and
Walter Benjamin

Carl Djerassi

The University of Wisconsin Press

The University of Wisconsin Press
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Copyright © 2011
The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
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written permission of the University of Wisconsin Press, except in the case of brief
quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Djerassi, Carl.
Foreplay : Hannah Arendt, the two Adornos, and Walter Benjamin:
a play / by Carl Djerassi.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-299-28334-6 (pbk.: alk. paper)
ISBN 978-0-299-28333-9 (e-book)
1. Arendt, Hannah, 1906–1975—Drama.
2. Adorno, Theodor W., 1903–1969—Drama.
3. Adorno, Gretel—Drama.
4. Benjamin, Walter, 1892–1940—Drama.
5. Interpersonal relations—Drama.
I. Title.
PS3554.J47F67 2011
812´.54—dc22 2010046467

These plays are fully protected by the author’s copyright and any filming, reading,
or performance of any kind whatsoever must be cleared beforehand with the author
Cover photographs: Hannah Arendt, courtesy Peter Rüdel, Heinrich Böll Stiftung,
Bremen; Walter Benjamin, Foto Studio Joël Heinzelmann, courtesy Walter Benjamin
Archive, Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Gretel Adorno, courtesy Theodor W. Adorno
Archive, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft
und Kultur; Theodor W. Adorno, courtesy Theodor W. Adorno Archive, Frankfurt am
Main and Suhrkamp Verlag.

Hannah Arendt (1906–75), Theodor W. Adorno (1903–69),

and Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) justifiably are considered
towering giants of the twentieth-century German intellectual
scene. Arendt, a famous political theorist, and Adorno, one
of the founders of the Frankfurt School of Social Theory and
internationally recognized sociologist, philosopher, and musi-
cologist, disliked each other intensely, but both admired, even
worshipped, Benjamin. Adorno’s life-long womanizing (openly
admitted to his wife Gretel, who even typed some of his love
letters) and his intense preoccupation with his dreams are well
documented, as is the range of the deeply personal and exten-
sive correspondence between Benjamin and Gretel Adorno. It
has also been claimed that Benjamin carried a briefcase with
him on his flight from France to Spain where he committed
suicide in September 1940. The briefcase and its contents
(though frequently speculated upon) were never found. Those
are facts, as is the relationship between Hannah Arendt and the
philosopher Martin Heidegger.
And why do I start with these facts in an introduction to
my eighth play? Because in preparation for my last book, Four
Jews on Parnassus—A Conversation: Benjamin, Adorno, Scholem,
Schönberg, I spent over three years on biographical research in
the archives and published literature of the protagonists. Prior
to that time, most of my literary writing dealt with the behavior

of scientists and their cultural tribal practices based on my own
knowledge as a working scientist for over half a century, which
I illustrated for a general readership in the guise of fiction. This
is why I coined the descriptive term “science-in-fiction” in order
to differentiate it from science fiction.
Four Jews on Parnassus neither dealt with scientists nor with
fiction, but rather constituted carefully researched biography,
which I chose to write in the rarely used dialogic literary format.
Why dialog? Because my life as a scientist has imprinted me with
certain tribal characteristics from which I wished to depart, one
of which is that dialog is not allowed nor used in scientific
written discourse. Yet from the time of the classic Greeks until
the seventeenth century, dialogic writing was a respected Euro-
pean literary format used by scientists (e.g., Galileo) as well
as humanists (e.g., Erasmus). Nowadays, it is virtually limited
to plays, which was the original reason why I turned to play-
writing some thirteen years ago.
The book, Four Jews on Parnassus, represented an interreg-
num in my literary writing in that I embarked on a historically
accurate biography in dialogic format in order to represent a
humanizing view of my protagonists. Once finished with that
book, I started to speculate about aspects of their personal lives
and actions, which I could only do if I discarded the shackles of
a biographer and assumed the freedom of a fiction author.
Accordingly, I chose the role of a playwright, focusing on the
theme of jealousy—professional and personal—that I had
encountered in my biographical research.
Hence, the nature and the depth of jealousy displayed by
some of the persons, the putative contents of Benjamin’s lost
grip, and the blackmail of my fictitious Fräulein X are pure
invention on the part of a playwright, who also happens to be
the author of a nonfictional, biographic account of my heroes.

vi Preface
theodor (“teddie”) w. adorno
(in his sixties)
gretel adorno
his wife (in her sixties)
hannah arendt
(in her sixties)
walter benjamin
(in his early forties)
fräulein x
a scholar (in her late twenties or early thirties)

Late 1960s

Scene 1
(1967. t e d d i e a d o r n o reclining on a “Freudian” sofa
and basically free-associating, looking up to the ceiling
rather than at g r e t e l a d o r n o , who sits across from
him with a notebook and pencil in her hand. A small table
is by her side. She does not write.)

teddie: Amazing how many of my dreams deal with sex these
gretel: I, for one, am not amazed.
t e d d i e : Why should you be? I’ve never kept anything from
gretel: That’s too absolute, too all-encompassing.
t e d d i e : Well . . . how about “virtually nothing”? (g r e t e l
shrugs, but says nothing.) All right . . . take this down. I
dreamed that I had gone to a bordello . . . a fancy one: red
damask, plush sofas, chandeliers, deep carpets. Rather
Parisian . . . which is strange, considering how seldom I was
in Paris.
gretel: You mean Paris . . . or Parisian bordellos?
t e d d i e (leans forward, surprised by interruption): Now what
made you ask that?
g r e t e l : You said you wanted to publish it. (Lifts notebook.)
teddie: Eventually.
gretel: I just wanted to be sure of the facts. So did you mean
Paris . . . or Parisian whorehouses?
t e d d i e : I said “bordello.” This was no ordinary whorehouse.
g r e t e l : I stand corrected, because my Teddie, the connois-
seur, certainly knows the difference. But which was it? Paris
or bordello?
teddie: Neither. It was just a dream. Now let’s continue. The
Madam sits behind a desk—Louis Quatorze—inspecting
me through her lorgnette.
g r e t e l : You’re sure it was a lorgnette rather than ordinary
t e d d i e : Gretel, stop kibitzing! We’ll deal with such details
when you’ve typed it all up. (Beat.) But of course it was a
lorgnette . . . she used it to point at me. And then, imagine
what she did: shoved a piece of paper in my direction and
asked me to fill it out. It was a questionnaire with the

4 Foreplay
most amazing questions. Personal ones: the last book I had
read . . . my favorite film . . . whether I played any musical
instruments . . . did I prefer tennis over skiing . . . whether
I snored . . . ? I stopped reading and asked whether she was
joking. “No,” she said, “every new client has to fill these out.”
g r e t e l : I could have told her about your snoring. But also
how you’d have answered the tennis versus skiing question.
t e d d i e (irritated ): Instead of being amazed that a Madam
would ask me to complete a questionnaire in a bordello,
you are telling me how to answer it?
gretel: Because you wouldn’t have resisted entering the con-
ventional wisecrack about sports: “Whenever I encounter
even the slightest urge for sports, I immediately lie down
until the feeling passes.”
teddie: Quite correct. Too bad, I didn’t dream it. But now to
continue. I told her that I considered such questions pre-
posterous, considering why I had come. “Irrelevant,” she
replied. “Before you can select a partner, we need to know
whether you meet our standards.” “What standards?” I
asked. “Every kind,” she replied. “Aesthetic . . . dialectic . . .”
(g r e t e l , who had not written down a word and had
continued to look down at her notebook, suddenly looks
up, her hand reaching to her mouth to hide an impending
“hermeneutic . . . psychoanalytic . . . linguistic . . . and of
course hygienic.” I was so taken aback that I started with
the last. “What hygienic standards? Whether I brush my
teeth or take a daily bath?” That’s when she really floored
me. “We take those for granted . . . including regular use of
a bidet.”
gretel: But you never use a bidet.
t e d d i e : Few people in America do . . . not even German

Scene 1 5
gretel: You told her that?
t e d d i e : Of course not. But I made the mistake . . . in my
dream that is . . . of simply saying “no bidet!” Period! Basta!
“Surely you know what a bidet is?” she asked after making a
disapproving scratch with her pen on the questionnaire.
Before I could even tell her not to raise such idiotic ques-
tions, she proceeded to lecture me. (Sarcastically mimics her
voice.) “A bidet is used to wash one’s genitalia and anus . . .
including inner buttocks, although occasionally people also
wash their feet and even babies in it. But never confuse it
with a urinal. Never!” (Reverts to his usual voice.) Stupid
g r e t e l : Now, now Teddie. (Lifts the notebook.) You wouldn’t
want such language in your book.
teddie: All right. How about “presumptuous bitch”?
gretel: I’d tone it down to “insolent witch.”
t e d d i e : If you keep interrupting, I’ll forget the rest of the
dream. (Beat.) It turned out she wasn’t finished yet with
bidets. (Sits up to face g r e t e l .) Do you know where the
word bidet comes from?
gretel: Are you asking me or did she ask you that?
teddie: Both. (Beat.) So do you?
gretel: From the French.
t e d d i e (irritated ): Of course. But etymologically speaking?
gretel: No idea. And now you will tell me?
teddie: Nag!
gretel: There is no need to become offensive.
t e d d i e : Offensive? Bidet comes from the French word for
nag . . . meaning a horse . . . not you, Gretel. You mount a
bidet the way you would be riding a pony.
gretel: Where on earth did you learn that?
teddie: From her.
gretel: I think I’ve had it with this dream.

6 Foreplay
teddie: Not yet. You simply won’t believe what she said next.
(Switches to mimicking voice.) “Do you own a penis washing
machine?* If not, then I can recommend the model our
girls prefer. Otherwise, our rates for fellatio are tripled.”
(Long pause, while gretel, still silent, attempts unsuccess-
fully to repress incipient hysteria.)
Now, will you read this back to me.
gretel (looks at her notebook): I can’t.
teddie: What do you mean you can’t? You disapprove? Because
I called her an asshole? I’ll follow my dream editor’s advice
and switch from “bitch” to “witch.” It’s not the first dream I
had about bordellos or prostitutes. You never complained
before. So what’s different today?
(gretel just shakes her head.)
Gretel! Out with it!
gretel: Don’t you remember what you told me the other day?
teddie: I tell you lots of things every day. Give me a hint.
g r e t e l (opens her notebook, turning some pages and then starts
reading): “The more dreams are related or repeated, the
greater the danger that they can’t be distinguished from
reality.” That, my dear husband, is a quote. Unless I am
mistaken, you will use it as justification for actually pub-
lishing those dreams of yours. Incidentally, an argument
your publisher won’t resist.
teddie: And why should he?
g r e t e l : You’re right: why should he? He accepts everything
you send him irrespective of content. So why not your
dreams . . . recorded by your loyal wife, who won’t even be
identified as coeditor?

* Schwanz-Wasch-Maschine in Adorno’s Dream of December 17, 1967.

Scene 1 7
t e d d i e : Now that was nasty . . . and unnecessary. Gretel,
what’s come over you? You really are starting to nag.
(gretel shakes her head, but remains silent.)
Gretel! Answer me!
(She puts the notebook and pencil on the small table
and walks over to the sofa where a d o r n o is reclining.
She moves his legs so as to provide space for her to sit
gretel: Remember your dream about the difference between
equibrium and equilibrium?
teddie: Vaguely. And what about the difference?
g r e t e l : You said “equibrium” is the innermost equilibrium.
t e d d i e : That was just a dream. There is no such thing as
g r e t e l : My dear husband, I beg to differ. Basically all we
talked about during the last few minutes was the retention
of one’s equibrium.
teddie: Whose equibrium are you referring to?
gretel: Mine, of course. Since I was never able to affect your
teddie: Meaning that I’m too cocksure?
gretel: Bravo! I couldn’t have put it more accurately. To cope
with your cocksure equilibrium, I had to maintain my own
tenuous equibrium.
teddie: And for that you have now stopped taking dictation?
g r e t e l (rises and gives t e d d i e a kiss on his forehead ): I
thought you’d understand. Now let’s reverse roles.
(She motions him to get up and when he does so, reluc-
tantly, she points to the chair by the table.)
Let me lie down and dictate to you.
teddie (reluctantly moves to the chair): Your dreams?
gretel: Who knows? (Pause.) Ready?
teddie: But I have terrible handwriting.
gretel: I can read it . . . and so can you.

8 Foreplay
teddie (shrugs his shoulders as he picks up notebook and pencil ):
Go ahead.
g r e t e l : First a question. (Beat.) A question I’ve never asked
you directly.
teddie: Yes?
gretel: How jealous are you?
teddie: In general . . . or of you?
gretel: Well . . . both.
teddie: Professionally, I’m very jealous.
gretel: We both know that. I mean, otherwise.
teddie: Of you?
gretel: Well, yes . . . for instance of me.
teddie: Never!
gretel: Good. And of other women?
teddie: It depends.
gretel: Could you elaborate?
t e d d i e : I could, but I won’t. You were going to tell me about
the tenuous nature of your equibrium.
(t e d d i e fades into darkness as lights shine on g r e t e l
and soon thereafter on wa l t e r b e n j a m i n sitting on
the opposite side. He is reading some letters.)
g r e t e l (in warm, intimate tone): My dear Walter Benjamin,
A thousand thanks for your* lovely letter. Please do not
hold my delayed answer against me and keep writing . . .
(Long pause indicating passage of time.)
wa lter (somewhat shyly): Ms. Karplus, my dear, I trust that you†
will not hold it against me if I ask you for a very private and
very burdensome favor . . .
(Long pause indicating passage of time.)

* In German, Ihre.

In German, Sie.

Scene 1 9
g r e t e l : My very dear Walter Benjamin, You* asked whether
I would prepare an inventory of your† personal books since
you won’t be able to return to Berlin. I am so sorry to learn
that your brother has already been arrested by the Gestapo.
(Long pause indicating passage of time.)
wa lt e r : Gretel, my dearest. I am overwhelmed by your‡
willingness to oblige me. I know what a burden this may
turn out to be . . .
(Long pause indicating passage of time.)
g r e t e l : Walter, dear Walter, This was an invitation I could
not possibly resist. I have already started and you have no
idea what excuses I had to make to Teddie . . .
(Momentary light on teddie, who looks shocked.)
and to others . . . even my parents . . . to explain my sudden
absences, since no one knows what I am doing. But just
collecting the books you asked for . . . just holding them in
my hands . . . made me feel as if I were actually touching
wa lt e r : My very precious Gretel, your words cause me to
melt like a warmed candle. Surely, you understand now
why you are the only person I could even ask. Certainly no
relatives. Use your judgment . . . and your discretion.
(Sudden bright light on t e d d i e , who throws down the
notebook and walks over to the couch.)
t e d d i e : Enough! What’s going on? First . . . what about this
sudden Sie-Du ping pong?
gretel (smiling): I thought that would register.
t e d d i e (explosively): Register? Did I hear right: register? You
mean this was deliberate?

* In German, Du.

In German, Deine.

In German, Deine.

10 Foreplay
g r e t e l (coolly): I don’t know what “this” refers to. But if you
are fixated about my addressing Walter as du—
teddie (interrupts): And he doing the same!
g r e t e l : That you should discuss with him. Surely, you don’t
think that I would shift without serious deliberation from
the formal Sie to the informal Du—
teddie: Calling someone Du within weeks—
gretel (interrupts): It wasn’t weeks—
teddie: All right . . . months—
gretel (interrupts): It wasn’t months—
teddie: Years?
gretel: No plural.
teddie: One year?
gretel: One week.
teddie (outraged ): One week? Seven days from Sie to Du?
g r e t e l (mock innocence): Why not? Just because you always
persisted calling our dear Walter Sie?
teddie: Because we are adults . . . and not children.
g r e t e l : In that case, ascribe the Du to a sudden childish
informal gesture of mine.
t e d d i e : One adult woman addressing an adult man within
one week as Du instead of Sie is neither childish nor informal!
gretel: So what would you call the motivation?
teddie: Postcoital!
gretel: Teddie! So you are jealous!
t e d d i e : We are discussing your behavior . . . not my jealousy.
g r e t e l : In that case, explain to me the operational feasibility
of postcoital consummation between Walter and me while
he was in Paris and I in Berlin?
teddie: You are limiting yourself to geographical coitus.
gretel: Are we suddenly moving into coital dialectics?
t e d d i e : No dialectics . . . just simple interrogation. Psychic
coitus by definition must be more intimate than physical.
gretel: I agree.
teddie: Is that all you have to say?

Scene 1 11
gretel: What else do you wish me to add?
t e d d i e : Well, if we are going to discuss the shift to Du at the
coital level, how about telling me about the foreplay that
Walter indulged in?
gretel: This is becoming too personal.
teddie: Walter’s foreplay is too personal for a personal discus-
sion between husband and wife? A seven-day foreplay too
personal for a marriage of years?
gretel: Yes.
teddie: Yes?
gretel: Yes.
teddie: I am astounded. No! Not astounded . . . shocked . . .
wounded . . . and—to put it bluntly—royally pissed off.
g r e t e l : A sequence of adjectives I’ve never heard you use
when you were dictating to me . . . be it in accounts of
dreams or real events.
teddie: And you tell me this now?
g r e t e l : Even with your Gretel, on occasion the cup runneth
t e d d i e : And my relating one of my dreams to you was such
an occasion?
gretel: It just was the last drop.
t e d d i e : I see. (Long silence.) So there is nothing more to say?
gretel: Perhaps one detail . . . to calm you down. I was testing
your potential for jealousy, but now that I see its depth . . .
teddie: Well? A pause is unlikely to calm me down.
gretel: Walter asked me to go through his library.
teddie (impatiently): You already dictated that to me.
g r e t e l (quietly): I know. But you wanted to hear about what
you call “the foreplay.” Well? That’s where it started.
teddie: In his library?
gretel: Yes.
t e d d i e (calming down): I will grant you that a library can be
sexually titillating.

12 Foreplay
gretel: Indeed. I would even go beyond “titillating” to calling
it “utterly seductive.”
teddie: Go on.
g r e t e l : Walter had asked me to make an inventory of his
books, since it was unlikely that he could return to Berlin . . .
now that the Gestapo had grabbed his brother. Walter
wanted to know which ones he could leave behind and
which should be shipped to him.
t e d d i e : Given that he was such a compulsive book collector,
this was likely to be quite a chore.
g r e t e l : Of course. That’s why initially he was reluctant to
ask me.
teddie: Yet you agreed. Why?
gretel: Curiosity.
teddie (nodding): That I’ll buy. (Beat.) Go on.
gretel: Already during my second visit, I realized that Walter
had a double library.
teddie: Meaning?
g r e t e l : On many shelves, behind the row of books was a
second row.
teddie (dismissive): So what? We do this all the time. Few true
readers or bibliophiles have enough space on their shelves.
gretel: I was referring to content . . . not space. For instance,
have you ever read anything about doraphilia?
t e d d i e : You mean Walter wrote about his love for Dora?
Given the manner their marriage ended, this would be
interesting. Can you tell me more?
gretel: There’s nothing to tell on that front, since doraphilia
refers to love—I might say obsession—for leather . . . pref-
erably black.
teddie (taken aback): Is that why you’ve started to wear—
gretel ( gestures with her hand, waving away his interruption):
What about presbyophilia?
t e d d i e : Love for Presbyterians? Are the two of you turning

Scene 1 13
gretel: Wrong! Love for old men . . . in other words geronto-
philia. What about agalmatophilia?
teddie: Never heard of it.
gretel (laughing): Something I never heard you admit before.
teddie: Spell it.
gretel: Spelling won’t help.
teddie: Instead, you will now tell me what that means?
g r e t e l : Why not? You wanted to know about foreplay.
Agalmatophilia refers to sexual attraction to statues—
teddie: What did you say?
gretel: Statues! Especially those with detachable penises that
could be used as dildos.
teddie: And that’s what you found behind the row of books?
gretel: Precisely.
(Long pause.)
teddie: Well?
gretel (disingenuously): Well what?
teddie: That was it? The entire foreplay?
g r e t e l : On the contrary. It was only the beginning . . . the
row of books behind the first row on just one shelf. The
foreplay to the foreplay. (Beat.) Of course, I didn’t know
that then.
(t e d d i e suddenly rises from the sofa, walks away for a
few steps and then turns around. Lights fade as he displays
mixed emotions of shock and outrage on his face.)
(End of scene 1.)

Scene 2
(t h e o d o r a d o r n o entering h a n n a h a r e n d t’s
apartment. She greets him with cigarette in hand.)
arendt: Come in. Frankly, I wasn’t sure until I actually heard
the bell whether you’d come.

14 Foreplay
adorno: Gretel certainly advised against it.
arendt: I’m not surprised. But how is your wife?
adorno: Aging slowly and exceptionally gracefully.
arendt: That’s something to be envied. And what about you?
a d o r n o : Aging less slowly and not at all gracefully. (Beat.)
Why do you look at me like this?
arendt: Like what?
a d o r n o : One eye almost closed. Like a hunter, taking aim.
arendt: Has no one ever squinted at you?
adorno: That was no ordinary squint.
a r e n d t : Just blame it on my cigarette smoke. But perhaps
you’re right. Nothing between us was ever ordinary. So why
not also a squint.
adorno: Would you have pulled the trigger?
a r e n d t : With a gun aimed at you? Yes . . . I could’ve killed
you more than once. But not today.
adorno: Would you care to elaborate?
arendt: Gladly. Because right now, I need you.
a d o r n o : I’m referring to the past. Why would you’ve pulled
the trigger then?
arendt: Because you killed Günther’s chances.
adorno: That was over thirty years ago.
arendt: Some events are remembered more clearly the nearer
one gets to the end.
a d o r n o : Besides, I did not kill your husband’s chances . . . I
wanted to improve them.
arendt: Ha! By sabotaging his habilitation?
adorno: By postponing it.
a r e n d t : All because his musicological thesis wasn’t Marxist
enough? And because he admired Brecht?
a d o r n o : Because he wasn’t Marxist enough up here! (Points
to his head.) Brecht’s Marxism started and ended there (Points
to his stomach.) . . . or perhaps even lower down. And, of
course, your husband’s enchantment with Heidegger’s

Scene 2 15
philosophy. Rather astonishing, given your extracurricular
intimacy with your professor . . . or didn’t he know about
your romantic entanglement? But Hannah . . . all that was
decades ago.
arendt: Don’t patronize me! We weren’t on a first name basis
then . . . and it’s certainly too late now.
adorno: In that case, Frau Dr. Arendt, allow me to enlighten
you that thirty years later—specifically in 1963—your
husband in Vienna and I had a very frank exchange about
what had happened earlier. And when I reiterated my earlier
criticism of his musicological musings—
arendt: You call his philosophical research “musings”?
a d o r n o : I was trying to be kind. And do you know what
your husband replied? “I’m 100 percent d’accord with your
paragraph about my habilitation thesis.” In my vocabulary,
100 percent d’accord means just that! He now accepts that I
was 100 percent correct while you are still gnashing your
arendt: Ha!
a d o r n o : What do you mean Ha? Do you know what else he
wrote? “I hardly need to emphasize that I totally grant your
absolute superiority with regard to your philosophy of
music.” In other words, we made up and then continued a
civilized relationship, whereas you keep harping—
a r e n d t (jumps up): Just one moment. (Rushes out and re-
appears, waving some pages in her hand.) Günther may be
my former husband, but we remain on good terms until this
very day. I know all about that correspondence between
the two of you . . . something he called “dig up the hot
potatoes” . . . including his priceless picture of your profes-
sorial style. Here (Lifts one page and starts reading.) are just a
few choice morsels written on August 27, 1963, and not thirty
years earlier: “What really made any meaningful relation
with you impossible was the impression of terrorism. In any

16 Foreplay
conversation—despite your pronounced politeness and
your pronounced bourgeois demeanor—the other party
feels physically cornered; in fact the person usually retreats
slowly until to his astonishment he finds himself in a corner
of the room, just like in a mousetrap.”
a d o r n o (dismissive): That was a long time ago. (Beat.) He
may have had indigestion.
arendt: To me it doesn’t seem that your behavior has changed
one iota and let me assure you that my digestion is not
giving me any problems. (Pause as she shuffles some pages.)
Or listen to this: “To me, it is incomprehensible to act on
the one hand as a philosophical author, who in the most
succinct sense operates as an Avantgardist, yet on the other
hand behaves formally as a professor who expects to be
honored by precisely those to whom one withholds respect
by what one writes about them. It seems to me that you
can’t be both a Nietzschean professor and a kind of surrealist
Geheimrat. And yet there is something of that mixture in
adorno: I answered his critique of what the title and position
of professor meant to me and I thought that he had accepted
a r e n d t : In that case, let me disabuse you of that illusion.
Here (Waves paper.) from some notes he sent me about a
meeting with you in Vienna just two years ago concerning
your response to his priceless description of you as a com-
bined Professor Nietzsche and surrealistic Geheimrat. Just
listen to this: “With the answer he volunteered—that by ac-
cepting an official academic position he was simultaneously
guaranteed unlimited freedom—he turned my question
upside down: As the holder of a university chair as well as
institute director, which he is, one does not have unlimited
freedom to express precisely the things that nowadays
ought to be said. All of a sudden, Adorno had given up on

Scene 2 17
his sociology—he, who throughout his life, had dug up
every sociological ingredient of every theory, even of every
work of art.”
adorno: Enough of this! If you wanted to pull the trigger on
behalf of your former husband just say so without resorting
to what are surely out-of-context citations from some of his
a r e n d t : Wait, I’m not quite finished. Here is his summary:
pithy and to the point: “This is Adorno’s behavior: a barely
acceptable combination of exterior politeness and totally
impudent dismissal of his conversational partner, because
when he speaks, he never looks at you, but continually
turns his head from right to left and from left to right—
partly in fear and partly out of greed—to see whether he
has been noticed and whether a beautiful young woman
happens to be about. His vanity is authentic, but hardly his
adorno: Any other reasons why you wanted to kill me?
a r e n d t : I didn’t just want to kill you . . . I wanted to murder
a d o r n o : A subtle difference, given that in either event the
victim is dead.
a r e n d t : Ah . . . but what about the motivation? Killing can
be inadvertent . . . even merciful. Murder is always deliberate.
a d o r n o : Since I am always interested in motivation, tell me
about those other murderous impulses.
arendt: How about 1941? My husband Heinrich—
a d o r n o : I never understood why you traded Günther Stern
for Heinrich. You should have stuck to your first husband.
Heinrich Blücher was too Marxist even for me.
a r e n d t : This is not the time to debate the dialectics of love.
Besides, we were discussing murder, not love. When Hein-
rich and I escaped from France to make it to Portugal and
then to America . . . incidentally, through the indispensable

18 Foreplay
help of Günther, who did not mind helping his former wife
and his successor . . . I came to your office in New York.
adorno: Even though you once said, we’ll never again cross his
threshold or he ours.
arendt: I came because of Walter Benjamin . . . a person that
we both professed to love—
adorno: Why say “professed”? I loved Walter.
a r e n d t : Another reason why I wanted to murder you. We
both loved him for his mind . . . for what he stood for . . .
for what he wrote . . . and mostly could not publish. When
Heinrich and I met him in Marseilles . . . just before his
flight across the Pyrenees and suicide . . . he said something
terribly sad that is seared in my brain. There was Walter . . .
still in his forties . . . talking about aging in installments.
With him, he said, it had started with the heart. Both
medically and emotionally. But now it had penetrated his
spirit. No more longing for joy had remained, only memories
and vestiges of pride. And then he entrusted me with his
most valuable papers. My memories and remaining pride,
he called them. Works that we all thought had to be preserved
and published.
adorno: Of course.
a r e n d t : How dare you say “of course”? Published means
published . . . and in Walter’s case published in its entirety.
adorno: Nobody’s work merits publication in its entirety.
arendt: Another reason why I wanted to murder you.
a d o r n o : Both you and Günther once called him a Caféhaus-
literat. You think coffeehouse literati should find everything
they ever wrote in print?
a r e n d t : You are quoting us out of context. Caféhausliterat
was meant as a mark of his economic poverty . . . not his
intellect or literary style. But Walter made the unforgivable
error to appoint you his literary executor . . . and I made the
unforgivable error of following his instructions to hand

Scene 2 19
over to you some of his most precious writings, because I
did not think that you would dare censor a dead man’s
a d o r n o : “Censor” his work . . . “sabotage” your husband’s
habilitation! Dr. Hannah Arendt’s famously uncompro-
mising vocabulary! What unsubtle, primitive reasons for
a r e n d t : You mean Herr Professor Dr. Theodor Adorno
wishes to be the victim of subtly motivated murder? In that
case, how about this? Many have called you Walter Benja-
min’s only true disciple. In fact, you yourself in one of your
letters to Günther wrote that surely I’m entitled to consider
myself Benjamin’s disciple. Of course, there couldn’t have
been many since he never taught . . . never was permitted to
teach. You may have loved him . . . in your own solipsistic
fashion . . . but you also had power over him, because dur-
ing his last years his survival depended upon your financial
adorno: My having supported him . . . however meagerly . . .
so that he could continue writing was surely no reason for
a r e n d t : I’m not yet finished. Power invariably implies some
domination and both of them are always tainted by at least
a touch of contempt for those one dominates. What I re-
sented deeply was that contempt of yours. Few people
noticed it . . . perhaps I was the only one . . . but only some
fundamental contempt of Walter could have caused your
temerity to edit his work posthumously according to the
gospel of Adorno. I should have murdered you right then
and there . . . when I handed over those papers rather than
published them myself.
a d o r n o : Eventually you did. What about Illuminations? It
established his reputation in America where people never
learned to read German.

20 Foreplay
a r e n d t : Much too late. You had already caused the damage
in the language that above all others counted for Walter.
adorno: I doubt whether many share your opinion.
a r e n d t : Who knows? I don’t even know how many others
wanted to murder you. But I did, because I considered such
contempt unforgivable.
adorno: And that is why you asked me to come?
arendt: No. But why did you come?
adorno: Curiosity. When a professed enemy—
arendt: You can forget about the word “professed.”
a d o r n o : If you wish. So when an enemy from way back
suddenly invites you to ostensibly discuss . . . what did you
call it? . . . “a devastatingly important matter” . . . any curious
person is likely to come. Or was that just a pretext to finally
lift the gun and pull the trigger?
a r e n d t : Enough of that. Just assume it was an innocent
squint caused by my insufferable vice. (Stubs out her cigarette,
points to a chair, while lighting another cigarette.) Sit down
and let me pour you a drink.
adorno: Just some water. With you I prefer to remain coldly
(arendt fetches a glass of water.)
a r e n d t : Here you are . . . with ice. To keep you as coldly
sober as possible. I think you’ll need it. I just got back from
adorno: After Switzerland, my favorite country for holidays.
arendt: This was no holiday, it was a summons.
a d o r n o : I didn’t know you ever responded to summonses.
a r e n d t : Generally not, but this was blackmail packaged in a
a d o r n o : Blackmail? This is becoming interesting. Based on
a r e n d t : When is blackmail based on pure thin air? Whether
this is based on real facts is something that I want to ask you.

Scene 2 21
adorno: Me! Am I involved in this blackmail?
arendt: We both are.
adorno: You and I? Impossible! Whatever transpired between
us happened so long ago that the statute of limitations would
preclude any blackmail.
arendt: Some blackmail transcends any time limits.
adorno: For instance?
arendt: Admission to Parnassus. In other words, canonization.
adorno: Do you mean mine or yours?
a r e n d t (ironic smile): What a discreet compliment: con-
ceding that canonization might also apply to me. But no . . .
it’s Walter’s canonization we need to consider. Walter Ben-
jamin’s posthumous elevation to Parnassus and his ever-
increasing status up there.
adorno: You can’t blackmail a dead person.
a r e n d t : True enough. But since the subject is canonization
of a dead person, what about the canonizers who got him
up there? For instance you and me?
a d o r n o : Would you care getting to the point? How can
Walter’s posthumous canonization become the subject of
a r e n d t : A stain that may make such canonization reversible
or at least tainted. And since we were participants, why not
blackmail us?
a d o r n o : Participants in Walter’s elevation . . . or in his
mysterious stain?
arendt: This is precisely why I needed to talk to you. I didn’t
go to Italy on holiday . . . I went prompted by a visit that
you made there just a few months ago.
adorno: How on earth did you come to find that out?
a r e n d t : That is quite immaterial. The point is, you went
there to search for a suitcase. Or was it two suitcases?
Walter’s baggage. Is that true?

22 Foreplay
adorno: Yes.
arendt: Well?
adorno: Well what?
a r e n d t : What made you go there? A quarter of a century
after Walter had last been there! The real truth.
adorno: Why ask me? You seem to be well informed.
a r e n d t : The truth is precisely what I don’t know. It’s all
second- or even third-hand.
adorno: But you know the facts.
arendt: Facts are not the truth. At best, facts are only part of
it. So please! The truth! A lot is at stake for both of us.
adorno: In this instance, I believe that the truth . . . in so far
as I know it . . . is made up entirely of facts. Fact number 1:
in the 1930s Walter spent several longish periods in San
Remo in Dora Sophie’s pension.
a r e n d t (interrupts impatiently): Teddie! Don’t patronize me.
adorno: I thought there would be no first names.
arendt: Since we are now facing blackmail addressed to both
of us, we can forget about formality.
a d o r n o : All right . . . Hannah. But how am I patronizing
you . . . a word that you are starting to bandy about in some
strange contexts?
arendt: Patronizing me by starting with facts that everybody
knows . . . not just Walter’s friends, but also all those
Benjaminologists that are now sprouting everywhere. That
when Walter was a nearly penniless refugee in Paris in the
1930s, Dora put him up for weeks or months at a time at
the pension she had started to run in San Remo. I want to
hear new facts . . . not recycled ones.
a d o r n o : Hannah . . . you are touchy. But then this meeting
really started on a wrong note.
arendt: Not a wrong note . . . but perhaps an inadvisable one.
adorno: Given the circumstances.

Scene 2 23
arendt (nods): Yes, given the circumstances.
a d o r n o : Let me return to the facts, which I had simply
wanted to present in chronological order. But seeing your
impatience . . . I shall skip chronology and start with the
end. With facts that at least to me were unknown until
recently . . . and most likely, therefore, also to others . . .
including you.
arendt: Go on.
adorno: Stefan Benjamin wrote to me—
arendt: I didn’t know you had kept in touch.
a d o r n o : Hannah! Do you think you could let me finish one
sentence without interrupting?
arendt: I’m trying.
a d o r n o : Well try harder. Stefan informed me that when he
lived as a teenager with his mother in San Remo, his father
visited them one summer for a few months.
a r e n d t : A well-known biographical fact, that only shows
how decent a woman she was. Not carrying a grudge after
such a bitter divorce—
adorno: Well, it did deal with adultery.
a r e n d t : A subject not unfamiliar to you . . . though it didn’t
seem to affect your marriage.
adorno: With the Benjamins it was mutual adultery.
a r e n d t (laughs with finger pointed at a d o r n o ): While uni-
lateral adultery is acceptable? (Beat.) But in their case, the
real dispute was money . . . money the husband wanted from
his wife. Considering that he also used custody of Stefan as
a threat, I’ve always been impressed that Dora Sophie took
him in a few years later when he was so impoverished.
a d o r n o : Hannah . . . who is now rehashing old biographical
arendt: My apologies. So what did Stefan write?
a d o r n o : That during those winter months in 1935 in San
Remo, his father worked intensively on some manuscript

24 Foreplay
that he refused to discuss with anyone. Rather untypical of
arendt: And?
a d o r n o : Well . . . as you, of course, can appreciate, in the
present phase of active Benjaminomania, where every scrap
of paper of Walter’s is being studied, people have become
intrigued with what he was then working on. Stefan was
recently asked and he suddenly recalled that his father had
left one suitcase . . . a locked one . . . behind which he could
not take back to Paris. He asked his ex-wife to hold it for
arendt (impatiently): And?
a d o r n o : Other than a few days . . . I should know, because I
met him there myself on New Year’s day of 1939 . . . Walter
never returned to San Remo and shortly thereafter, Dora
Sophie moved to London, never to return herself.
arendt (excited ): And the suitcase?
adorno: Stefan thought it was left behind in San Remo. So I
went to snoop around.
a r e n d t : Much too late, it seems. (Beat.) And you asked
whether there were any facts behind the blackmail. Well?
You just provided one: the missing suitcase.
adorno: Go on.
arendt: Apparently it isn’t missing.
adorno: You mean you found it?
arendt: If I had, there wouldn’t be any blackmail. (Beat.) But
the suitcase is only the foreplay.
(End of scene 2.)

Scene 3
(Same setting as scene 1. t e d d i e a d o r n o is sleeping
restlessly on the “Freudian” sofa. He is tossing and turning.)

Scene 3 25
t e d d i e (suddenly crying out ): No . . . no . . . no! How dare
you? Stop!
g r e t e l (rushing toward him): What happened? (t e d d i e sits
up.) Anything wrong?
teddie: What a dream!
gretel: You want me to write it down?
t e d d i e : Not this nightmare. (Beat.) Struggling with the first
paragraph of a work about the dialectics of agalmatophilia . . .
a word I searched and searched but couldn’t find in my
g r e t e l : Ah . . . the hazards of taking down dictation . . . a
feeling I’m only too familiar with. But what’s nightmarish
about it? Dildos are not exactly a prohibited word in your
t e d d i e : There are dildos . . . and then there are dildos. Your
detachable ones give me the creeps.
g r e t e l (sitting next to him and stroking his hair): I’m begin-
ning to think your dreams do count. I am learning truly
surprising things about my husband. (Holds him gently by
the chin.) What’s the real objection to agalmatophilia?
teddie: You were referring to public sculptures . . . right?
gretel: I suppose that at least some are.
teddie: With detachable penises?
gretel: So they claim.
t e d d i e : Just think how many people might have handled
g r e t e l : But an object only turns into a dildo when it is used
as such—
teddie: Exactly! Just consider the hygienic aspects—
gretel (suddenly starts laughing): I’m sure the Madam of your
dream bordello would have solved this problem with her
penis washing machine. (Beat.) But Teddie, dear . . . this is
comical . . . not nightmarish.
teddie: Not the way this one started. With Walter reading to
you from the Kamasutra.

26 Foreplay
gretel: Ridiculous.
(g r e t e l rises, walks across the room, and sits down on a
teddie: You think so?
(Lights dim on t e d d i e , who remains for the rest of the
scene on the couch in the shadow, and shine on wa l t e r
and gretel. He is excited as he reads.)
wa lt e r (reading from the Kamasutra): “When the girl is
possessed using an accessory properly in place and wedged
into her vagina, her eyes start vacillating under the unrush
of pleasure, and the pupils of her eyes start moving.” (Looks
up from book.) Are yours moving?
gretel: Yes.
wa lter (resumes reading): “The partner must then agitate the
accessory in a violent manner and, by making her suffer,
rapidly increases her excitement.” (Looks up from book.) Do
you wish me to continue?
teddie: No!
gretel: You can’t stop now!
wa lt e r (resumes reading): “Some use objects with the shape
of the virile member to satisfy their fantasies: carrots,
turnips, and fruit such as bananas or aubergines; roots like
that of the sweet potato . . . or cucumbers. Having cleaned
the fruit, they grasp it and insert it in the organ, so as to
cause a pleasurable feeling.” (Looks up from book.) Any
gretel: Asparagus—
teddie (outraged ): Gretel! Green . . . thin . . . asparagus?
gretel: Thick . . . preferably white.
wa lter (resumes reading): “The state of mind of girls who can
be possessed is of three kinds: accessible, cooperating, or
hostile.” (Looks up from book.) What is yours?
teddie: Gretel! You are not going to answer this!
gretel: Accessibly cooperating.
teddie: What?

Scene 3 27
g r e t e l : My husband may well be surprised by my answer.
But my very precious Walter, I have always known that
correspondence with you is infinitely configurable—as is
so much of your formal writing—yet I had not realized
until now that this also applies to erotica. Call it epistolary
sex . . . more exciting than any direct physical contact ever
teddie (taken aback): Epistolary sex?
g r e t e l : Of course, with words you never know who said
them first. Others may argue that we have now crossed the
border into pornography, but if that is actually the case, it is
such soft porn that . . . (Does not finish the sentence.)
wa lter: That what?
gretel: I blush to finish the sentence and hence will leave the
remaining words to your imagination.
wa lt e r : Somewhere, the Kamasutra states that when the
wheel of sexual ecstasy is in full motion, there are no words
at all, and no order.
g r e t e l (interrupts): I prefer the wheel of sexual fantasy over
ecstasy. In fantasy, there are no limitations . . . anatomical,
chronological, geographical . . .
wa lter (interrupts): . . . nor financial.
t e d d i e (sotto voce): The poor schnorrer . . . always worrying
about money.
g r e t e l : Tell me: where do you draw the line between porn
and erotica?
wa lter: That’s what I would like to explore with you if you’d
permit it.
g r e t e l : My dearest, dearest Walter. With you, I don’t “per-
mit” . . . I only “welcome.”
wa lter: In that case, may I move to coital positions?
teddie: No!
gretel: I can be tempted (Beat.) but with an important caveat.
teddie: Aha!

28 Foreplay
wa lter: Yes?
gretel: I am no sexual athlete.
t e d d i e : Honesty may have its virtues, but why tell Walter?
wa lter: You mean in the bedroom?
g r e t e l : Ask Teddie. (Beat.) In the front seat of a car . . . on a
teddie: Even against a grave stone—
g r e t e l (an aside addressed to t e d d i e ): That had nothing
to do with athletic prowess . . . it just wasn’t my taste. And
remember what you said? “Taste is a thing other people
don’t have.” I was about to tell you that you had just proved
that this is not necessarily so, but that’s when the cemetery
attendant appeared and threatened to call the police. (To
walter.) Nobody has truly tempted me.
t e d d i e : What about the dentist’s chair? The swing? Or what
g r e t e l (interrupts): These were demands . . . not tempta-
tions. (Beat.) But yes . . . I could be tempted . . . especially
where athletic limitations don’t apply.
walter: In other words . . . the mind. Remember what Goethe
said: “Thoughts are more interesting than knowledge.”*
teddie: If you people are going to spout Goethe, here is some-
thing more relevant from his Wilhelm Meister’s Wanderjahre:
Knowledge is not enough,
we have to apply it;
wanting is not enough,
there has to be action.†
walter (to gretel): Who is your favorite literary personality?

* “Denken ist interessanter als Wissen.”

“Es ist nicht genug zu wissen, / man muss auch anwenden. / Es ist nicht
genug zu wollen, / man muss auch tun.”

Scene 3 29
gretel: Present company excepted?
wa lter: No flattery.
teddie: Why not? Flattery can get you far.
gretel: In that case, I’d say Goethe.
t e d d i e : A very diplomatic answer. Nobody will be insulted
by that choice.
wa lter: No . . . not Goethe.
gretel and teddie: What? (gretel continues alone.) How
can you say no? Your first book dealt with him! Besides, you
asked for my choice.
wa lt e r : Gretel, my dear . . . calm down. Goethe is an over-
powering polymath. Limit yourself to someone who is just
a literary personality . . . nothing else.
g r e t e l : I see. (Beat.) That limitation would also exclude my
wa lter: I would exclude him on several grounds . . .
teddie: Now wait a moment!
wa lter: . . . obviously a compliment—
teddie: It didn’t sound like one . . . not in that tone.
g r e t e l : That still leaves an awful lot of candidates. For in-
stance, what is your definition of “literary”? And do you
mean only Germans?
wa lt e r : Good point. Yes, let’s restrict it to Germans . . .
(Short pause.) and Jewish.
g r e t e l : My very dear as well as dauntingly devious Walter. I
believe you want to force me to come up with a choice you
already made for me.
wa lt e r (smiling): I would not force you to do anything.
Remember, it’s all about temptation. To me . . . and I’m
sure also to you . . . temptation and force are incompatible.
Call it tempting guidance.
gretel: In that case guide me.
teddie: Careful!

30 Foreplay
gretel: Heinrich—
wa lter (cuts her off ): Just in case you’re settling on Heine, let
me restrict it further. No pure poets . . . not even Heinrich
Heine, with whom, incidentally, I am distantly related on
my mother’s side. Let’s focus on a Jewish German literary
personality with a heavy emphasis on fiction writing.
t e d d i e : In that case, there is only one answer. Gretel, give it
to him so that he can finally make his point.
g r e t e l (directly to t e d d i e ): There can’t be only one. Not in
any field.
teddie: There is only one!
teddie and walter (in unison): Kafka!
g r e t e l : Kafka? Hmm . . . why not? (Beat.) You’ve convinced
me. Franz Kafka! What now?
wa lt e r : You have heard me say on more than one occasion
that other than Proust, I worshipped Kafka more than any
other writer. And when it came to German prose, his was
the purest. Consider what Hannah Arendt wrote about
teddie: Why on earth bring her in?
g r e t e l : Walter! Dear, dear Walter. I thought you wanted to
tempt me, but now you are starting to lecture. You know
how I adored listening to your lectures, but now?
wa lt e r : My apologies. I was carried away. But why? Because
I did not want to ask you about your familiarity with his
writing . . . I take this for granted . . . but another question.
If you had to describe your impression of Kafka . . . not as a
writer, but as a person, how would you depict him?
gretel: I have never met him.
wa lt e r : Nor have I . . . which is why I am asking you. How
do you imagine him . . . based on his writing . . . on what
people have written about him . . . what I have written
about him? But quick . . . without much cogitation.

Scene 3 31
teddie: Finally this is becoming interesting.
g r e t e l : Depressed . . . insecure . . . perpetually unhappy . . .
just think of the few pictures that everybody has seen . . .
probably a fascinating conversationalist . . . a quasi-saintly
genius like you—
wa lt e r : What about his sexuality . . . his relation with
gretel: I don’t know . . . probably repressed.
wa lt e r : I see. Now what would you say if I told you that he
was an obsessive habitué of brothels—
teddie: Bordellos!
wa lter: . . . and prostitutes.
g r e t e l : I’d say it’s quite consistent with sexual repression . . .
teddie: Come now!
gretel: . . . though not limited to such men.
teddie: I should think not!
wa lt e r : I won’t argue the point. But what conclusion would
you reach if you learned that he was also an obsessive collec-
tor of pornography.
t e d d i e (surprised ): Kafka? A secret pornographer? How
come I didn’t know that? And why tell Gretel?
g r e t e l : I’d first have to know what sort of pornography . . .
what forbidden borders are being crossed?
wa lter: Your choice.
g r e t e l : I thought we were discussing Kafka. What was he
collecting? Impermissibly lewd language . . . descriptions of
perverse acts—
wa lter: Mostly images.
gretel: Brazenly obscene ones? Or just sadomasochistic?
teddie (surprised ): “Just”?
g r e t e l : Or something truly revolting in an unexpectedly
titillating way?
t e d d i e (surprised ): “Truly revolting”? “Unexpectedly titil-
lating”? Why did you never tell me—

32 Foreplay
gretel: As some creepy crawlies in crooked crevices.
wa lt e r : Did you just make this up? Kafka would have loved
such alliteration—especially one based on creepy crawlies.
gretel: On the spur of the moment.
t e d d i e : How dare you? Just because Walter is musically il-
literate? You are quoting from Berg’s Lulu . . . in fact the
prologue. And who was Alban Berg’s student? You or I?
g r e t e l : But why this sudden focus on Kafka? You promised
temptation, but this seems more of an examination.
wa lt e r : Not an examination . . . an exploration. Consider it
a foreplay.
(End of scene 3.)

Scene 4
(t h e o d o r a d o r n o in h a n n a h a r e n d t’s
adorno: I think it’s time to show our respective cards.
a r e n d t : I’d choose another cliché. What sort of card game
would keep us sitting at the same table? Poker? That’s all
about bluff . . . which neither one of us can afford.
adorno: I was thinking of rummy. Isn’t the aim of rummy to
discard your cards face up?
a r e n d t : I’d have said, “Let’s discard our stilettos” . . . the
verbal kind. You are a master when it comes to maiming
your opponent.
a d o r n o : You aren’t exactly a slouch in the maiming
arendt: True . . . which is why I usually prefer knives or even
guns. Yet didn’t some Chinese sage once say, a wise eagle
never shows its claws. But right now, we’re in the same boat
and before it capsizes, we better find out how we both
ended up in it. So . . . no claws and no stilettos.

Scene 4 33
adorno: Agreed. (Lifts his hands.) See? Bare hands.
a r e n d t : First, let me hear your part of the story. You got to
Italy first. You said Stefan prompted you to go.
adorno: Actually, I need to start with Gershom Scholem.
arendt (explodes): That Cabalist? There isn’t room enough in
this boat for us three.
adorno: But he was Walter’s oldest and best friend!
a r e n d t : And my greatest enemy. Accusing me in public—
a d o r n o : Stop it! Everyone knows about your dispute with
him about the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. How could you
possibly have chosen The Banality of Evil for a title? What a
terminological infelicity!
a r e n d t : You call that a dispute? Calumny . . . deliberate
adorno: Enough!
a r e n d t (still furious): Not enough. He was also dead wrong.
a d o r n o : Not all the time. Don’t forget, even a stopped clock
is right twice a day. But this will get us nowhere. Besides,
what I need to tell you about Scholem dates back to 1932 . . .
thirty years before the Eichmann affair. You asked me to tell
you how it all started and in your inimitable way, you im-
mediately interrupt me before I even finish my first sentence.
So will you listen or not?
arendt: Go on.
adorno: Early this year, Scholem reminded me—
a r e n d t : You said thirty years ago. We are now in the year
a d o r n o (jumps up): I’ve had it! Either you keep quiet . . .
totally quiet . . . until I am finished or I’m leaving. You’re
truly insufferable. I suggest you light two cigarettes and puff
them both simultaneously. Kill yourself, but do it quietly.
arendt (lights cigarette): One will do. So calm down and talk.
adorno: When I wrote Scholem early this year about Stefan’s
letter concerning the existence of some suitcases in Italy,

34 Foreplay
Scholem informed me that in 1932, Walter had written a
letter to him about a young man who had sublet his Berlin
apartment and seemed to have broken into a locked cabinet
of Walter’s manuscripts. Though nothing disappeared, he
was enormously disturbed that someone had read the ma-
terial he’d kept there. (Looks at arendt puffing furiously on
her cigarette.) I know what you want to ask: why did I write
to Scholem in the first place? Since he knew more about
Walter than anyone else, I wondered whether he knew any-
thing about these putative suitcases and their contents. In
point of fact, he had heard about them. He wrote, “Your
message about the two legendary San Remo suitcases,
which really seem to exist, is exciting. I trust that something
can be done about them.”* And then he asked why Stefan
or his mother had not gone there to check. It turns out that
Stefan had indeed gone there but the new owners of the
Villa Verde became very suspicious . . . perhaps they worried
that he wanted to lay claim to his mother’s lost property . . .
and he didn’t want to even raise the question of the suitcases.
So I went and asked. . . . Diplomatically, of course, explaining
that I was one of the literary executors of Walter Benjamin.
They told me that I was not the first to have asked that
arendt: May I? Just a simple question?
adorno: Since you are asking politely, the answer is yes.
arendt: Were they referring to Stefan?
adorno: They were not. It was a woman.
arendt: I knew it!

* “Ihre Mitteilung über die beiden legendären Koffer in San Remo, die
also offenbar doch existieren, sind sehr phantasieanregend und ich hoffe,
man kann da etwas unternehmen.”

Scene 4 35
adorno (completely taken aback): How could you know that?
arendt: Intuition.
adorno: I think the time has come for you to talk.
a r e n d t : All right. And in contrast to you, I give you permis-
sion to interrupt.
adorno (sarcastic): I’m overwhelmed.
arendt: But don’t overdo it.
(Light on a d o r n o fades—as in first scene in t e d d i e /
g r e t e l / wa lt e r trialog—while light now focuses on
f r äu l e i n x holding a telephone. a r e n d t’s telephone
arendt ( picks up phone): Yes?
x: Professor Arendt?
arendt: Who is this?
x: Are you Professor Arendt?
arendt: I asked who is calling.
x : But I asked first whether I’m speaking with Professor
arendt: Unless you answer my question, I shall hang up.
x : I’d advise against such a rash action. Both you . . . and
Professor Adorno would regret that.
a r e n d t : Adorno? What do I and Adorno have in common?
x : So you are Professor Arendt! Good. (Beat.) Now listen
arendt: I don’t like your threatening tone.
x : “Threatening” is your word—not mine. But whatever word
you prefer, it applies to you as well as Professor Adorno.
arendt: Where does Adorno come in?
x : To paraphrase a famous philosopher, threats . . . or gifts . . .
aren’t just given or received, they can also be shared. In this
instance, shared by the two of you.
arendt: And who is the author of that palpable truism?
x : Your former Nazi lover.
arendt: How dare you?

36 Foreplay
x : Dare what? Calling him a Nazi? Who would deny that Mar-
tin Heidegger . . . admittedly an important philosopher . . .
was the Nazi-appointed rector of the University of Freiburg
during the Hitler days? And behaved as one! And that you,
as his student, were also his lover in an adulterous relation
is widely known. And to top it all, you—his Jewish ex-
paramour but by then world-famous—were prepared to
offer an apologia for your former lover during the denazifi-
cation process in Germany.
arendt: I am about to hang up, but I still want to know what
Adorno has to do with your phone call.
x : Fair enough. I am asking you both for a small favor . . . a
joint one. In fact, an inseparable one.
arendt: And if that favor is not granted?
x : Two innocent bystanders will reap the consequences.
arendt: And now you will tell me who they are?
x : Of course. Walter Benjamin and Gretel Adorno.
(Light on x fades while light now focuses on adorno and
arendt who are resuming their earlier conversation.)
a d o r n o : Wait a moment! Wait . . . a . . . moment! You are
saying that you and I . . . who have never agreed in print on
any topic . . . are now together going to write something that
would assure publication of this woman’s revelatory text on
Walter Benjamin. (Pause.) You did say revelatory, Hannah,
didn’t you?
arendt: Well, yes . . . I was quoting her.
a d o r n o : And we should agree to that preposterous, imperti-
nent, insolent, absurd, unthinkable—
a r e n d t (trying to calm him down): Stop . . . you don’t need
to go through the entire thesaurus—“impertinent” or
“insolent” will do.
a d o r n o : For a start, I’m not a publisher and neither are you.
a r e n d t : But we are assumed to have connections. You cer-
tainly have . . . and we both can also claim some reputation

Scene 4 37
in the field. I don’t believe any manuscript of yours has ever
been turned down.
adorno: True . . . and for very good reasons.
a r e n d t : She demands that her book should include a long
foreword by Arendt and Adorno, which effectively would
guarantee its acceptance.
adorno: Why not alphabetical: Adorno and Arendt?
arendt: Why not be a gentleman and give precedence to the
adorno: Is this a joke?
a r e n d t : No—just insurance . . . in case we agree to be
adorno: Have you read her manuscript?
a r e n d t : No . . . she hasn’t sent it yet. But I have a vague idea
what it’s all about.
adorno: Have you met her?
arendt: Not face to face . . . she’s much too cautious. But you
apparently have.
adorno: I? When? Where? How? What’s her name?
arendt: No idea. But you certainly made an indelible impres-
sion on her.
a d o r n o (slightly grinning): That I’ve heard from a few other
women. Did she tell you where we met?
a r e n d t : Briefly. Very briefly. But if what she told me is true,
then we are in trouble . . . deep trouble.
adorno: We?
arendt: I asked that same question.
(Light off on a d o r n o while light now refocuses on
f r äu l e i n x holding the telephone in continued tele-
phone conversation with a r e n d t . f r äu l e i n x , whose
phone has a very long extension cord, is now truly agitated
and as she walks around, gesturing with phone in hand,
she occasionally gets tangled by the cord. a r e n d t , by
contrast, reclines and starts smoking while the conversation
progresses. She is clearly interested.)

38 Foreplay
arendt: I presume you came voluntarily.
x : As voluntarily as most of his other women.
arendt: And you minded that?
x : Not at first . . . but a few weeks later was another matter. I
don’t remember ever feeling so humiliated.
arendt: Why humiliated?
x : Because he didn’t remember me.
arendt: Well . . . how often did you meet?
x : Once . . . late at night.
arendt (tries to joke): Perhaps it was too dark for him to have
recognized your face.
x : What I considered memorable was what transpired that
night . . . not the partner’s physiognomy.
arendt: I see.
x : I doubt that you do. (Beat.) For that, I would’ve had to show
you the marks on my body.
arendt: Yet you went back for more?
x : Not for collecting more bruises. I went back because I
thought that he was prepared to see me for what I had come
for in the first place. Verbal rather than physical intercourse
about my take on Benjamin’s last work before his suicide . . .
not solely some unilaterally sadomasochistic exercise. He
hurt me deeply and I shall reciprocate.
a r e n d t : Let me offer you some advice: It is so much simpler
to be hurt than to hurt.
x : How do you know that?
a r e n d t : Experience by someone twice your age . . . and at
times on both sides of the equation. (Beat.) But what has all
that hurt and revenge got to do with me? Why attempt to
blackmail Adorno and me together?
x : I must insist that you never use that word again.
arendt: What would you call it?
x : Persuasion . . . not extortion.
a r e n d t : But then, why start with me? Especially in view of
what you just disclosed.

Scene 4 39
x : Your mutual dislike is well known in academic circles.
arendt: I won’t deny that.
x : I thought you’d be interested in what I’ve come upon in
my research on Benjamin. A literary treasure trove so
staggering that it will surprise even the most sophisticated
arendt: But there are many other admirers of Benjamin.
x : True, but you and Professor Adorno head that list . . . and
not just as admirers. You were crucial to his posthumous
canonization. Not unlike the relation between Franz
Kafka and Max Brod. Did you know that just before his
death, the great Kafka—another product of posthumous
canonization—wrote to his friend that everything he might
leave behind in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters,
sketches, and so on was to be burned unread?
a r e n d t : Rumors to that effect have been floating around for
a long time. But what has that got to do with your black-
mail . . . excuse me . . . your persuasion?
x : Suppose I told you that Kafka’s letters were not burned.
That they were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933.
a r e n d t : Are you now fantasizing or is that supposed to be
x : For the sake of my argument, assume that this is factual . . .
including that there was a great deal of pornographic ma-
terial among Kafka’s unburned papers.
arendt: I think that by now you have wasted half my time . . .
although I am not yet certain which half.
x : Very funny! But what if I tell you that what I just told you
about Kafka also applies to Benjamin and that I have seen
some of that secret correspondence.
arendt: What correspondence are you talking about?
x : Rather juicy letters with Professor Adorno’s spouse. Some
would call them salacious or worse.
arendt: I don’t believe any of it.

40 Foreplay
x: In due course, I shall provide you with unambiguous evidence.
a r e n d t : I am now asking for the last time: Why are you tell-
ing all this to me? Why not to Adorno or to his wife? If
there was such a ménage à trois, I most assuredly was not
the third party. I have only once met his wife . . . and then
only fleetingly.
x : But you are interested.
a r e n d t : Who wouldn’t be? Even if only partly true, the
subject matter is titillating, to put it mildly.
x : You see?
arendt: I see nothing relevant to the discussion at hand.
x : I thought it might be useful if you knew something that
Professor Adorno did not know you knew.
arendt: Let me get this straight. Are you embarking on some
divide-and-conquer strategy?
x : It’s been known to work.
(Light on x fades while light now focuses back on
a d o r n o and a r e n d t , who are resuming their earlier
conversation, with adorno pacing up and down.)
a r e n d t : We need to find out what she has found and
where. Until then, I’d advise we pretend to be open to
adorno: What is there to negotiate about? I think we should
call the police.
a r e n d t : Teddie—don’t panic. (She puts out her cigarette and
motions to him to sit down.) Remember, there is nothing in
adorno: The police could tape the next call and trace it.
a r e n d t : But why? Because we tell them that somebody
wants to “persuade” us to write a foreword on a subject they
won’t understand? Do you think the police even know who
Walter Benjamin was . . . or for that matter who your wife
is? Remember, there are no monetary demands.
adorno: So what do you mean by negotiating?

Scene 4 41
a r e n d t : Negotiation ultimately must lead to some written
material. Otherwise, how can she ask us to write a foreword
or persuade a publisher? Anyway, a foreword is only a fore-
play. It’s what follows that usually counts. But in the mean-
while, search your memory for who that woman might be.
A humiliated woman is a dangerous foe.
(End of scene 4.)

Scene 5
(t h e o d o r a d o r n o , wearing hat and coat, hands in
his pockets, paces up and down in an apparently cold out-
door location. Suddenly f r äu l e i n x approaches and
heads straight for him.)
x : I am glad to see that Professor Arendt persuaded you to
a d o r n o : How do you know that some undercover police
officer is not observing us?
x : I don’t, but it wouldn’t bother me. What would he see? A
possible assignation between an elderly man and a younger
woman in front of a nondescript building? I doubt that you
would behave in public the way you did with me in private.
Or should I remind you of some details?
a d o r n o : What exactly are you after? If it is replaying some
old tape along the lines reported to me by Professor Arendt, it
seems that you came willingly and left more than satisfied—
x (interrupts): Since you mention “tape,” are you carrying a
recording device on you?
a d o r n o ( first surprised, then amused ): Who knows? Or are
you now going to frisk me?
x : Hardly, because it does not really matter. Nothing I have to
say will be incriminating. But for insurance, I am recording
our conversation.

42 Foreplay
(Quickly unbuttons her overcoat to show a lapel micro-
phone attached to her blouse and a small tape recorder. She
quickly rebuttons her coat. a d o r n o is clearly taken
aback but says nothing.)
I presume Professor Arendt informed you of my request?
a d o r n o : A foreword to some mysterious book on Walter
Benjamin’s last days written by a nameless author—
x : You’ve now met the author and you’ll learn her name soon
enough. But the foreword is to carry Professor Arendt’s and
your names—
adorno (interrupts, trying to make light of the question): Is the
order of the foreword’s authors specified?
x: Indeed: Hannah Arendt and Theodor W. Adorno.
adorno: Not the reverse?
x: Definitely not.
adorno: Any reason?
x: I have reasons for everything I am demanding of you.
adorno: Demanding? I thought you were requesting.
x: A slip of the tongue.
adorno: In other words, you are requesting.
x : No. The slip of the tongue applied to the word “request.”
a dorno: What makes you think that you are in a position to
make any demand?
x : That’s why we’re meeting right now. To convince you of
my ability to make demands that you will hopefully then
consider reasonable ones—indeed, eminently reasonable
ones—considering what might otherwise be at stake.
adorno: And how do you plan to convince me?
x : For the moment, with two sheets of paper. (Reaches into her
coat and produces the first page.)
adorno (reaching for it): Let’s see how convincing that is.
x (takes a step back): Oh, no . . . you can’t. Not yet! Remember,
I’m recording our conversation. I shall read it to you.
(Switches to an affected, “precious” tone.) “Through

Scene 5 43
circumstances, which I shall not disclose to you, my dearest
friend, because they would disturb you, my husband has
learned about the contents of some of your letters, without,
however having actually read any of them. During the en-
suing marital contretemps, I made the injudicious mistake
of referring to our correspondence as some form of foreplay.
His curiosity piqued, he challenged me to describe to him
the orgasmic consummation . . . if any . . . of that seemingly
drawn out foreplay. This question . . . mark you . . . was
posed by a husband who in the past has judged me on more
than one occasion . . . admittedly clinically and not nastily . . .
as basically anorgasmic. Many a woman would consider
such judgment demeaning, but I simply attributed his mis-
diagnosis to the fact that he never discerned a tonal confir-
mation on my part to his amorous exertions.”
(She momentarily stops reading to look at adorno.)
“You may wonder at my somewhat dry, descriptive prose—
so unlike most of my other correspondence with you. Let
me ascribe it to the fact that I hold a PhD in chemistry and
as a woman scientist I have found it easiest to describe
embarrassing physical details of mine through dry scientific
phraseology. I promise not to overdo it in the future.”
(Again momentarily stops reading to look at a d o r n o .)
Rather elegantly put, don’t you think?
a d o r n o : Your concept of elegance and mine are poles apart.
x : Perhaps. But let me continue: “I must admit that I paid him
back for this noncompliment about my apparent anorgas-
mia by pointing out that for a musically talented person with
perfect pitch, his erotic ear seemed to cover a fairly limited
tone range. As expected, that irritated him sufficiently that
he asked the wrong question, namely whether in that event
anyone had ever penetrated my seemingly inaccessible
orgasmic tone range. That, my very dear friend, is where I
made my second mistake of confessing to my husband that

44 Foreplay
one person indeed had. But I did not volunteer his—meaning
(After noting the expressions on a d o r n o’s face she
I suspect that at least some of what I just read may not
come to you as complete news. But let me finish with one
more excerpt . . . from another letter . . . which ought to be
a surprise. Shall I proceed?
(She looks at adorno, who looks back without any word
or gesture.)
No comment? In that case let me read it to you: “We’ve
never been to the theater together, let alone the opera. But
after having read your last letter, we must find an occasion
when we can do that. If not in Berlin, then perhaps Paris.
And by ‘we,’ I mean the three of us, including Teddie, with
me in the middle, Teddie to my right and you to my left.
During the performance, you will reach into my pocket—
but discreetly. Understood? You will find that my left
pocket is not a pocket, but an entry, and that I shall be
naked underneath.”
a d o r n o : I don’t believe it. (Reaches for letter.) Show me the
x (steps back): Not yet! (Continues reading.) “You will then do
what needs to be done . . . discreetly and following the
tempo of the music. For the sake of discretion, this sup-
posedly anorgasmic woman will have draped a long shawl
across her lap. (Beat.) There are still some details to be
decided, including the appropriate opera, but this will have
to wait until we all find ourselves in the same city. In the
meanwhile, promise that you will destroy this note. Burn it,
or if you can’t, then eat it.”
(x puts the page into her pocket.)
For our present purposes . . . especially since this is being
taped . . . I do not believe that it is necessary for me to

Scene 5 45
disclose the identity of the letter writer nor its recipient.
Suffice it to say that in my research on Walter Benjamin . . .
the subject of the book for which I expect a glowing joint
foreword by Hannah Arendt and Theodor W. Adorno . . . I
came across the entire one-sided correspondence of which
I just read to you a minute excerpt.
adorno: How do I know that this is not pure fiction?
x : You don’t, but perhaps identification of the place where I
came across these documents might help. Or am I wrong?
adorno: Try me.
x : I know that you are aware that some of Walter Benjamin’s
most private papers, which he had left behind in Paris
before his flight, were confiscated by the Gestapo . . . not
unlike what happened earlier on with some of Kafka’s letters.
In both instances, the material eventually ended up in round-
about fashion via Moscow in a partially, but not totally
restricted government archive in East Germany.
adorno: To which you gained access?
x : Correct.
adorno: How?
x : That, Professor Adorno, is too personal a question.
a d o r n o : Because you extended some personal favors to gain
x (angrily): You, Professor Adorno, of all persons have no right
to ask that question.
adorno: What do you plan to do with this information?
x : That will depend entirely on Professor Arendt and you.
Once I receive confirmation that you . . . and I emphasize
that I am referring to the plural you . . . are in principle
agreeable to satisfying my modest demand, I shall provide
Professor Arendt with my manuscript.
a d o r n o : Underneath this fake formal language, which I as-
cribe to your taping your own conversation, I discern some

46 Foreplay
vicious anger. Would you care to elaborate on its source . . .
perhaps by turning off your recorder? (Long pause.) Well?
x (unbuttons her coat, stops tape recorder, and then rebuttons
her coat): Why not? It may sway you to see how serious my
request really is.
a d o r n o : So we are returning to a request, rather than a
x : In the absence of the recording, I am willing to make that
small concession. And now listen carefully, if you wish to
know where my anger really started . . . what circuitous
paths it traversed to reach its present crescendo. For the past
four years, I have been working as part of my doctoral dis-
sertation on an aspect of Walter Benjamin’s intellectual and
personal history which is still largely unexplored . . . or shall
we say unanswered.
adorno: And what might that be?
x : His intellectual preoccupation during the last two years of
his life in Paris . . . with a focus on material . . . letters,
notes, drafts, and the like . . . that he may have carried with
him as he fled across the Pyrenees to Spain in 1940.
adorno: You worked on Benjamin here at the university and
I did not know about it?
x : My thesis is primarily on Bataille. Benjamin is secondary.
adorno: On Georges Bataille—the pornographer?
x : A surprisingly oversimplified characterization coming from
a d o r n o : What do you want me to call him? A French phi-
losopher? Even he rejected that classification.
x : In that case, why not call him a French surreal eroticist of
the highest literary order? Who would call a Bataille quote
such as Pleasure only starts once the worm has got into the fruit
pornography? You will simply have to accept my response
as a defense of my doctoral thesis hero. But never mind . . . it

Scene 5 47
was Walter Benjamin that led me here. I am matriculated at
the University of Mainz . . . in other words, close enough so
that I could attend your lectures here in Frankfurt.
adorno: Really? I don’t recall—
x (interrupts): I will refresh your failing memory. But at this
stage of my tale, your not knowing about me would not be
surprising. You had hundreds of students at your lectures,
so why should you note a woman who usually deliberately
sat in one of the last rows. There was only one thing that
distinguished me from all your other students. You will
never guess.
adorno (trying to joke): You always brought your pet cat with
you, which is why you sat in back, knowing that I am allergic
to all felines . . . even of the human variety?
x (ignoring the attempted wisecrack): I always carried opera
glasses with me and studied you throughout your lecture.
a d o r n o (impressed ): You did that, rather than taking notes?
x : For well over a year, I studied you through opera glasses
while you spoke. Studied you in a manner that probably
few students . . . female or male . . . ever did. One of my
friends, who had noticed that I always brought opera
glasses and who usually sat close by, once said . . . rather
jealously . . . “All Adorno wants is to convince you how un-
believably vital, how profound, how enthusiastic, how sig-
nificant his lectures are . . . every one of them, without a
single exception. And all that is then left for you and those
other enthralled groupies to say is ‘Sock it to me again,
a d o r n o ( grinning): I am beginning to enjoy this. (Beat.)
Frankly I never thought that I would be saying this to you.
x : My friend was a man! Just imagine how I . . . a woman
looking at you for nearly an hour at a time through high
powered opera glasses . . . responded to Theodor Adorno,
the verbal eroticist.

48 Foreplay
adorno ( grinning): I can hardly wait.
x : It was your huge eyes. Deep, enormous black eyes, which
simply dominated the face . . . and eye lashes that I could
count through my binoculars. And your body, which though
chubbily bourgeois, was capable of immense agility when
you dealt with the young women who clustered around the
podium after you finished your lectures.
adorno: I take it you were among them?
x : I am getting to that. After some months, I went up to you
after a lecture to ask whether I could get some advice on my
thesis research. You just told me to make an appointment.
adorno: Sounds plausible. It’s my usual response.
x : But when I went to your office, I faced the impenetrable
barrier of your wife, who was in charge of deciding who
would be allowed to see you. I, evidently, was marked by
some sexual curiosity that older women are good at dis-
cerning. So I used a more direct approach, having heard that
you were not immune to such appeals by female students.
adorno (suddenly severe): Enough! I know what’s coming.
x : Even if you can guess, I must say it.
adorno: For the record?
x : Precisely. In a subsequent lecture, in your inimitable cate-
gorical way you stated that “Curiosity is a powerful human
impulse—some distance below sex and greed—but far
ahead of altruism.”
a d o r n o : Did I say that? It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t
recall having ever said it.
x : You certainly said it, but perhaps you were quoting someone
else without citing the source.
adorno: That would have been quite inappropriate, which is
not typical of me.
x : Is that so? Then let me continue on the slippery slope of
inappropriateness. I went up to you after the lecture and
waited for the last groupie to disappear before volunteering

Scene 5 49
to you that, in my opinion, curiosity is not some distance
below sex, but rather an indispensable component of it.
You virtually undressed me with your powerful eyes and
then asked me for the evidence. When I volunteered that
it was my personal experience, you suggested that this
topic was worth further examination. I came that night . . .
figuratively and literally . . . assuming that you would now
surely extend to me the courtesy of also discussing my
thesis topic with you. But when I made it to the podium
some weeks later to arrange an appointment, you didn’t
even recognize me. (Beat.) Do you remember now?
a d o r n o : I shall have to plead temporary amnesia . . . even if
nothing is being taped.
x : In that case you leave me no other choice but to continue
my demands through Professor Arendt.
a d o r n o : You are going to tell her about the correspondence
you just claimed to have unearthed?
x: Who knows? I may just send her the tape . . . as some sort of
foreplay. Or perhaps I shall titillate her with some further
(She turns and starts to leave. But then she stops and turns
She will get whatever is needed to convince both of you
that you better sit down to start working on your foreword.
Before you know it, you will be facing a deadline.
(End of scene 5.)

Scene 6
(g r e t e l a d o r n o , dressed in black mourning clothes,
and h a n n a h a r e n d t , an unlit cigarette in her hand,
face each other.)

50 Foreplay
h a n n a h : Please accept my deepest condolences. (g r e t e l
looks at her skeptically, but says nothing. She points to a chair.)
Such a shock . . . and no warning. (g r e t e l says nothing,
but again gestures for her to sit down.) I imagine that your
many friends rallying around you must have given you at
least some comfort.
g r e t e l : You and Teddie were no friends. Your paths hardly
ever crossed.
hannah: True. But recently, we met on several occasions.
gretel: So it seems.
hannah: Teddie told you the reason?
gretel: Teddie? I’ve never heard him refer to you as Hannah.
(Light on h a n n a h fades—as in first scene in t e d d i e /
g r e t e l / wa lt e r trialog—while light now focuses on
theodor adorno and his wife.)
teddie: Gretel, we must talk.
gretel: That is more or less the way we start every day.
teddie: This is different.
gretel: You mean about Walter.
teddie: Yes . . . about Walter (Beat.) and about you.
gretel (sighs): We would never have gotten to that if you had
not insisted on continuing with your interminable dictation.
t e d d i e : What I wanted to talk about is your dictation. Spe-
cifically, your use of the word “foreplay.”
gretel: It’s a common enough word.
t e d d i e : True enough. But not a common word in your
spoken vocabulary.
gretel (dismissive): If you say so. I’ve never noticed.
t e d d i e : I’ve always considered you monogamous . . . nearly
g r e t e l : You make it sound as if “monogamous” and “nearly
celibate” are synonyms. If I am nearly celibate, it’s not by

Scene 6 51
teddie: Gretel! For heaven’s sake! How can you say that?
gretel: You’re focusing on the arithmetic of copulation—the
number of mates or matings. What about mental promis-
cuity or even adultery on the part of a virtual virgin?
teddie: There is no such thing as a virtual virgin.
g r e t e l : You mean anatomically. I meant mentally. (Beat.)
You look dubious.
teddie: Not dubious . . . just pensive.
gretel: Will you share the grounds for your pensiveness with
your spouse?
t e d d i e : Why not? I was thinking of our friend Walter. He
has often been called a “flâneur.”
gretel: I know. I may have done so myself . . . though perhaps
not to his face.
teddie: Out of embarrassment?
g r e t e l : There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s a
charming French word . . . a wanderer, a curious one, perhaps
even an intellectual one . . . all of them descriptions that
suit him.
t e d d i e : I know. But he is also another kind of flâneur . . .
with an ogler’s wandering eye.
gretel: A flâneur can ogle.
teddie: Walter is a sexual ogler.
(Light fades on t h e o d o r a d o r n o while light now
focuses on gretel adorno and hannah arendt,
who are resuming their earlier conversation.)
hannah: Earlier this year we switched to first names.
g r e t e l (somewhat taken aback): At Teddie’s initiative? I can’t
believe it. My husband was very formal when it came to
first names.
hannah (sarcastic): With women? I rather doubt that. But in
any event, it was my suggestion. I presume you know why
we met.
g r e t e l : I know now . . . and that’s why I asked you to come.

52 Foreplay
h a n n a h : Your husband never told you himself ? (g r e t e l
silently shakes her head.) So how did you find out?
gretel: She wrote me.
hannah: She? (Beat.) You mean . . . ?
gretel: Yes . . . Felicitas. A rat in the guise of a mouse . . . but
made out of steel.
h a n n a h (astonished ): Felizitas? Is that her name? But that is
what Walter Benjamin called you in all his letters!
g r e t e l : He always spelled it with a z. She made it plain that
hers is spelled with a c.
hannah: Amazing. She never volunteered her name.
g r e t e l : She probably made it up so that I would notice her
letter. You can imagine how many condolences I received
from women claiming to have been his students . . . mostly
besotted ones.
hannah: I can imagine.
g r e t e l : I doubt it. (Looks at the unlit cigarette in h a n n a h’s
hand.) Go ahead . . . light it . . . you are fidgeting too much.
(Waits for h a n n a h to light it.) But now I have a question.
In your own letter, you referred to Walter’s correspondence
with me. Have you seen it?
h a n n a h (hesitates): You mean read it? No . . . not verbatim.
gretel (taken aback): Teddie told you about it?
hannah: No.
gretel: So she did.
h a n n a h : Yes. In one of our telephone conversations. In fact,
that’s how she started. (Mimics voice.) “You know, of course,
about the hot stuff between your adorable Walter and Mrs.
gretel: The bitch!
hannah: What does she look like?
g r e t e l : I don’t know, but from her voice over the phone I
imagine she’s stocky with a butch haircut.
h a n n a h : So you haven’t met her either? As I listened to her

Scene 6 53
over the phone, I assumed she has thin lips and an icy
g r e t e l : Icy stare? Maybe. But no thin lips. Teddie is one of
those men who first looks at a woman’s lips—even before
her eyes. But we shall see soon enough.
(Long pause with h a n n a h slowly exhaling the smoke
from her cigarette.)
h a n n a h : I do want you to know that I sincerely regret your
loss. We all know how much you assisted him throughout
his life—
gretel: True enough. And I didn’t just type his manuscripts—
hannah: You should have received more public recognition—
gretel: The people who needed to know knew.
hannah: Still . . .
g r e t e l : Working day in and day out with such a polymath,
who kept nothing from me, was deeply satisfying. You could
almost call it sex in the mind. And I loved him deeply.
h a n n a h (reflective): Ah yes . . . sex in the mind. It certainly
lasts longer than in the flesh.
g r e t e l : Since we are suddenly moving into such personal
territory, let me ask you a question which many wondered
about, including Teddie and me. Your love affair as a
nineteen-year-old student—
hannah: Actually barely eighteen.
gretel: Whatever . . . but with your professor in his thirties . . .
married and with two children . . . was well known.
h a n n a h : How could you . . . of all people . . . be surprised?
Didn’t this happen all too often in front of your eyes with
your husband . . . and over decades? In a way, isn’t that what
brought us here courtesy of our thin-lipped, icy-stared,
butch-haircut Felicitas?
g r e t e l : That was not the question. Admittedly, Martin
Heidegger was one of the most important German phi-
losophers of his generation—

54 Foreplay
hannah: The most important!
g r e t e l : I beg to differ and my Teddie would have done so
even more vociferously. But that is not the point . . .
whether he was number 1 or number 3. You, a Jewish stu-
dent and he a Catholic ex-Theologian and proto-Nazi—
hannah: Not proto-Nazi. At best, a pseudo Nazi manqué . . .
and only that for a limited time.
gretel: Good God! Are we now going to debate the nuances
of Nazidom . . . or Nazihood . . . if there are such words?
The question is simply why you defended such a person
some decades later during his denazification trial at the
University of Freiburg?
h a n n a h : You’re ignoring the effect upon the students of a
professor’s willingness to commit adultery.
g r e t e l : Ignoring? As you already said, you are speaking with
a life-long expert of professorial amorous power. But I
thought you were different.
h a n n a h : So did I . . . then. But years later, I found that it’s
more complicated than you think.
gretel (suddenly in low tone): It always is. Weren’t we all after
felicity? Walter never experienced it . . . I did in so many
ways with Teddie and then with Walter. And you?
hannah: On occasion.
gretel: With Heidegger?
hannah: No, that was something else . . . even beyond felicity.
But I did with Heinrich . . . my second husband.
gretel: Lucky you.
h a n n a h : And what about your correspondence with Walter?
gretel: Some of it could and probably will be published—as
I am sure will all his letters with Teddie and with his oldest
friend, Gershom Scholem. And why not—he carried letter
writing to unequaled heights. But there are letters between
us that must never be published . . . otherwise the explana-
tory footnotes would be longer than the letters.

Scene 6 55
hannah: And who would write those footnotes?
g r e t e l : That is why I am here. You must help me deal with
hannah: I wonder what she’s really after.
gretel: We shall find out (Looks at her watch.) any time now.
But let’s try to be Hippocratic: first do no harm.
h a n n a h : I’ve never been accused . . . or complimented . . .
about displaying Hippocratic tendencies. But sure, let’s give
it a try, Frau Doktor Hippocrates.
(The doorbell rings)
g r e t e l (startled ): There she is. Would you let her in? It will
give me a chance to look at her before I have to say a word.
(h a n n a h opens the door and then steps back as she faces
Felicitas, nearly six feet tall, slender, dressed in well-cut,
mannish black suit, white shirt and black tie, large horn-
rimmed glasses framing large eyes, full mouth, short blond
hair, parted on the side and combed back—a startlingly
arresting androgynous beauty.)
hannah (taken aback): My goodness! (Pause.) Come in.
x: You seem surprised. (Looks at her watch.) I am not early, am I?
hannah (almost laughing): Not at all. It’s just that I imagined
you (Beat.) . . . differently.
x : For the purpose of our meeting, I suspect that looks won’t
make much difference.
g r e t e l (rising from her chair): True enough. Why don’t you
sit down over there (Points to chair or sofa.) and let’s start.
I want to hear what you have to say face to face . . . not in
letters or phone calls. By the way, what is your name?
x : Felicitas. You know that from my letter.
g r e t e l : I meant your family name. We are not on a first-
name basis and are unlikely to ever reach it.
x : If it’s formality you’re after, just call me “X” . . . Felicitas X.
g r e t e l (shrugs her shoulders): Not a very promising begin-
ning, but for now it will do.

56 Foreplay
(g r e t e l and h a n n a h sit down, but x moves toward
the window and remains standing by leaning against the
window sill.)
gretel (again points to the sofa or chair): Please.
x : For the time being I prefer to stand.
hannah (sarcastic): So we need to look up at you?
x (equally sarcastic): Given my height, most people look up at
me all the time. Right now, I prefer to stand . . . if you don’t
h a n n a h : Let’s consider for a moment who we are: a queer,
almost bizarre trio of women, all basically antagonistic, yet
almost antagonists by proxy. (To g r e t e l .) We two have
barely met, even though each of us had heard a great deal
about the other over the course of some decades. As a loyal
widow, you are almost certain to invariably take the side of
your husband—
gretel: Invariably? I guess you don’t know me very well.
hannah (surprised ): Oh? (Beat.) In that case I shall withdraw
the adverb. But you’re the widow of a man with whom I
have had a contentious and even bitter relationship most of
my life. Even Fräulein X over there knew about it. If there
was any sort of rapprochement between me and Teddie—
gretel: Please! No first names!
h a n n a h : It seems loyalty is already raising its complicated
head. But never mind. What brought Adorno and me to
the same side of the table is you. (Turning to x .) You seem
to have fierce feelings about Adorno which have nothing to
do with me.
x : You forget your connection to Walter Benjamin.
h a n n a h : I was about to come to him when you interrupted.
He is the only common denominator for all three of us.
What we are about to discuss is devious, dishonest, possibly
incorrect, and most likely also illegal.
x : What law am I violating?

Scene 6 57
h a n n a h : That remains to be seen. But for our discussion to
have any subsequent validity, how are we going to prove
when we leave what really was said here? I presume none of
you has a recorder of any sort. (Looks around.) Well?
x (mockingly raises her arms and shakes them): Or do you want
me to strip?
hannah: Not yet. But I shall keep this implied offer in reserve
just in case.
x : I think it is time to get down to brass tacks.
h a n n a h : Just one more comment: If any two of us agree
on some point, our inherent antagonistic relationship is
bound to make such second witness very reliable. Now, go
x : My doctoral thesis was on Bataille. (Beat.) Georges Bataille.
(Beat.) You’ve heard of him?
hannah: Don’t be insulting . . . and get to the point.
x : A spectacular pornographer of a very special kind.
gretel: You’ve heard Dr. Arendt! Get to the point.
x : I’m nearly there. Dr. Benjamin spent much time with him
during his last couple of years in Paris. That’s why he left his
papers with Bataille in the Bibliothèque Nationale before
fleeing Paris.
hannah: Stop playing insulting games. We know all that.
x : Of course you do . . . and especially Mrs. Adorno.
gretel: I’d prefer you address me as Dr. Adorno. I also have a
x : But in chemistry.
gretel: But ? Does chemistry not count in your circles?
x : I was thinking of your husband’s—
gretel: You might be surprised.
(Lights dim followed by spotlight on g r e t e l a d o r n o ,
who has turned to look into the background where the
figure of wa l t e r b e n j a m i n becomes more and more
visible as she speaks.)

58 Foreplay
Walter, my dearest. How lucky I am to have met you . . .
you whose achievements will be eternal. When inspecting
the mirror of creativity, all I see is you.
wa lt e r : My dear Felizitas. You exaggerate. There are many
others . . .
(Sudden spotlight on t h e o d o r a d o r n o , who is
also standing in the background but on opposite side to
teddie: I should think so.
wa lt e r : Take Teddie (t e d d i e makes a facial gesture as if
saying, “you see?” ) or—
gretel (interrupts impatiently): I know, I know. But right
now I’m talking to you . . . I, a laboratory chemist . . . not
even a theoretician . . . overwhelmed by your literary
wa lt e r : Literary imagination is not the only one. What you
call eternal . . . an implied immunity to time . . . is shared
by both artistic and scientific achievement. . . . Newton’s
gravity is beyond time . . . Paul Klee’s art is timeless . . . your
fellow chemist Avogadro’s number is immovable.
g r e t e l : Thank you for including a chemist. I sometimes
wonder how Teddie feels, having married a chemist and
then converting her . . . quite willingly, I admit . . . into his
nonchemical amanuensis.
(Spotlight on t e d d i e as wa l t e r fades into darkness.)
t e d d i e : Don’t you remember when you once called me and
Walter living proofs for the existence of human phero-
mones and I asked my wife, the chemist, showing off in the
one discipline she surpasses her husband, to expand on this
cryptic chemical message?
g r e t e l : Of course. What people like you secrete . . . and
both of you in inexhaustible abundance . . . is a form of
intellectual aura, not unlike the sex attractant pheromones of
insects, that attracts intelligent, well-educated women, like

Scene 6 59
Dora Benjamin and me. We became human moths flying
toward the burning candle.
(Light suddenly includes walter.)
wa lter: But you did not leave it at that. You told us about the
female azuki bean weevil, Callosobruchus chinensis . . . an
insect we had never heard of and couldn’t even spell . . .
secreting a pheromone, called erectin, that induces the male
insect to extrude his genital organ for copulation.
g r e t e l (laughing): Whereupon my husband, challenged by
this nugget of chemical esoterica, decided to trump his wife
by asking her what the longest epic in world literature was.
I, of course, fell into his trap by responding with the Iliad.
t e d d i e ( grinning): Whereupon I informed you that it was
the Manas.
gretel: And before I could even ask what Manas, you already
volunteered that it was the national epic of the Kirghiz—an
answer that seemed so outlandish that I did not even have
the courage to question it.
wa lter: But I did, by reminding Teddie that the Tibetan Epic
of King Gesar was not only some twenty times the length of
the Iliad, but also had more lines than the Manas.
teddie: Whereupon my wife conceded that when it comes to
esoterica, we literati could beat the chemists every time.
(Lights momentarily down. When they reappear, the earlier
scene with the three women continues.)
x : But now to the point. Given the enormous extent of
Benjamin’s correspondence . . . some especially juicy as you
well know . . . is it not surprising that there are no letters in
his archives between him and Bataille?
h a n n a h : Not particularly. They worked practically next to
each other in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Why exchange
x : Proximity would not inhibit a compulsory letter writer like
Benjamin. So you never wondered, Dr. Arendt or (Turning

60 Foreplay
to g r e t e l .) especially you, Dr. Adorno, considering the
nature of your own correspondence.
gretel: You mean with Walter?
x : Yes.
gretel: You found them?
x : If you mean your letters to him, then the answer is yes.
gretel: Where?
x : That, for the moment, is quite beside the point. But their
existence is relevant.
hannah: To your blackmail?
x : Dr. Arendt . . . I shall have to insist that you refrain from
using that word.
h a n n a h : And what would you prefer to call what you’re
x : Indulging in hopefully irresistible persuasion.
h a n n a h : I’ve never been persuaded . . . irresistibly . . . by a
woman. By a few men? Yes. But they were the exceptions.
x : There is always a first time. (Hands over a couple of pages.)
hannah: What is this?
x : Some sample pages from my book. Just read them. (Seeing
h a n n a h about to put them into her bag, she stops her.)
Now! Not later, because you can’t keep them.
(Long pause. While h a n n a h skims the three pages, x
paces up and down.)
gretel: For God’s sake, sit down. Your pacing drives me crazy.
hannah: Good God!
x : Yes . . . good God. And now (Taking pages from h a n n a h
and handing them over to g r e t e l .) it’s your turn, Dr.
Adorno. You hardly will need to read them, since you wrote
them yourself. And to oblige you, I shall sit while you skim
(Brief pause.)
g r e t e l : I have no comments . . . at least not now. But it
seems you do.

Scene 6 61
x : Oh, yes, I do. I would have preferred delivering them face to
face to your husband—
gretel: Why?
x : To see whether he is capable of shock . . . or at least
hannah: You’d probably be disappointed on both fronts.
x : Perhaps. (Beat.) But his widow?
gretel: Well, here’s your opportunity to find out.
x : Following one of his utterly mesmerizing lectures . . . when
all I could say in my mind was “Holy shit, Herr Professor!
How do you do it every time?” . . . I tried to make an ap-
pointment. I asked his Cerberus—
gretel: What did you say?
x : Cerberus . . . his gate keeper.
gretel: I don’t remember you, which seems surprising, given
your towering stature.
x : Why should you? You must have turned down such smitten
female students by the dozens. And they probably came in
all sizes.
gretel: True enough. So what did I do?
x : You asked me to put it in writing, because Herr Professor
Doktor Adorno was too busy.
gretel: I presume that was not the end.
x: It was barely the beginning. I wrote a letter so full of double
meanings that even the Professor would have taken the bait.
g r e t e l : But how did he get the letter? I usually handled all
incoming correspondence.
x : Handled? I would have used a different word, but your role
was known to all students. So instead of offering it to him,
I paraphrased its contents . . . orally that is.
hannah: Are you sure you want me to listen to what is coming?
x : Of course. Given your own experience about sex with a great
hannah: Keep Martin Heidegger out of this.

62 Foreplay
x : His name will not cross my lips, but I’m certain the rest
won’t surprise you. I started out with my oral talents before
volunteering that I also wanted his advice about my seem-
ingly original and unknown take on an important aspect of
h a n n a h : There is a nasty undertone around your use of that
x : Only with respect to the gatekeepers of Benjamin’s
reputation—people like you and the Herr Professor. I meant
no disrespect to Walter Benjamin himself.
hannah: I shall try to remember that.
g r e t e l : Would you both stop it! Either get on with it or get
x : I don’t plan to leave, because I am enjoying myself too
much . . . and because you cannot afford not to hear me
out. But it will have to be at my own pace.
h a n n a h : How about some galloping rather than this slow
x : The Herr Professor granted my request, but he seemed to be
solely interested in the operational aspects of my oral skills
and not their content. He suggested we discuss my ques-
tions after he returned from his Swiss holiday with you, Dr.
Adorno, but when I then showed up with my request for
advice . . . academic, that is . . . he didn’t recognize me.
hannah: I already told you on the phone that this is appalling,
but you will get over it.
x : Never!
h a n n a h : I shall now tell both of you something that I’ve
never told anyone before and which I shall probably regret
I am disclosing now. The reason may be my newly acquired
Hippocratic tendencies.
x: What does that mean?
h a n n a h : Ask Frau Adorno. (Beat.) Recently and quite sepa-
rately, each of you referred to my relationship with Martin

Scene 6 63
Heidegger when I was a doctoral student at Freiburg. Few
people will understand the depth of that relationship . . .
even though sexually, it only lasted for a year. Yet only a
few years after we broke off our passionate relationship, our
paths crossed again inadvertently at the railway station in
Freiburg. I was then all of twenty-four years old . . . younger
than you, Fräulein X. But he didn’t recognize me! He just
looked right through me. (Beat.) You might as well learn
something more about Heidegger . . . both of you. Like
Teddie Adorno, he had affairs with women . . . mostly
much younger ones . . . like me . . . throughout his life and
(Addresses g r e t e l .) his wife knew about most of them.
(Pause.) So you see, all of us here are in one way or another
drawn to compulsive adulterers. I imagine that Heidegger’s
justification when he was already in his sixties was that his
life and work was based on Eros . . . a philosopher’s sani-
tized word for sex . . . and that love was for him as necessary
for life’s sustenance as bread. (Beat.) So you see, Fräulein X,
not recognizing you a few weeks after a one-night stand is
not more humiliating than your lover not recognizing you
after an entire year’s relationship. You will survive it . . . as
did I.
x : There is a big difference. You both had deeply satisfying
ménages à trois—
h a n n a h (interrupts): I was single when I fell in love with
Heidegger—single and young.
x : True in the beginning. But you married soon thereafter. In
fact, twice. Surely that helped.
gretel: Do I sense a touch of envy?
x : Of course you do. And since I didn’t even have a ménage à
hannah: You decided to revenge yourself.
x : For someone of your sophistication, this is a surprisingly
simple judgment.

64 Foreplay
hannah: Then complexify it for me.
x : Hah! Complexify. A good word. Isn’t that what some of you
have said about Benjamin’s own writing?
g r e t e l (to x ): What happened after that failed recognition
x: Nothing. I was too mortified to see him again.
gretel: And that was it?
x : Of course not. That was only the foreplay to the foreplay.
(Beat.) I am now quoting. (To g r e t e l .) Shall I cite the
source? (gretel looks away without responding. After a long
pause.) I found another thesis advisor, who did not try to
dissuade me from my intended doctoral thesis research,
although he thought it to be a long shot.
hannah: And?
x : It was a very long shot, but I did manage to hit the target.
h a n n a h : And now you will finally tell us what that target
x : No. I will leave a copy of my manuscript with you so that
you can read it. But to hopefully pique your interest, let
me say that pornography is one of the subjects and Walter
Benjamin and Georges Bataille the central figures.
g r e t e l : So far, you’ve been unwilling to disclose your family
name. What about Felicitas?
x: What about it?
g r e t e l : I gather you know that Benjamin always addressed
me in his letters as Felizitas.
x: I do. But my name is spelled with a c, not a z.
gretel (sarcastically): Just by happenstance?
x : No, deliberately so.
hannah: Usually, it’s the parents who choose the name.
x (ironically): Really? You were born as Johanna Arendt, yet
you pass as Hannah.
gretel (surprised ): Is that true?
hannah: Yes. (Turns to x.) How on earth did you find that out?

Scene 6 65
x : Because in your American Naturalization Certificate, you
signed your photo as Johanna Bluecher but the actual cer-
tificate as Hannah Arendt Bluecher. (Turning to g r e t e l .)
Not any different from your husband, who signed his photo
as Theodore Wiesengrund, but the certificate as Theodore
hannah (taken aback): Were you stalking me?
x : Just some biographical stalking, to learn your weaknesses
and foibles.
hannah: I’m not sure whether I should be flattered or scared.
x : Probably flattered if you realize how much information
about you is in the public domain. Of course, your own
publications . . . especially the pugnacious ones . . . did help.
g r e t e l (to x ): I would like to ask you to leave now. I have
something urgent to discuss with Dr. Arendt.
x ( pointing to the manuscript as she leaves): I trust you will find
this stimulating reading.
g r e t e l : Good riddance! In my present state, I don’t think I
could have taken much more. As a new widow, I barely
have enough energy to guard my husband’s reputation. I’m
not interested in the dirt. I hope that what I shall tell you
now will not come as a complete surprise. I hardly know
you. I am not sure I like you . . . at least not yet, given what
transpired in the past between you and Teddie. But my in-
tuition tells me to trust you and that is probably the most
solid form of trust, uncontaminated by affection or friend-
ship. And I know that in your own way you also loved
Walter and will not let any harm come to him.
hannah: Go on.
g r e t e l : Please take over the entire negotiation, blackmail or
whatever sordid name one can use and keep Teddie and
Walter out of it. I will give you the one armament that will
give you bargaining power. All of Walter’s letters to me. I
don’t think you will misuse them.

66 Foreplay
(hannah lights a cigarette, but says nothing.)
Well, what’s the verdict?
hannah: You were right to trust your intuition.
g r e t e l (walks over and briefly embraces h a n n a h ): Thank
you. (Long pause, during which she looks away, then suddenly
focuses again on hannah.) And one more thing you should
know. Walter did write me to return a few letters, which he
felt he would incorporate into his final work. He promised
to dedicate it to me.
h a n n a h (startled ): You mean our nemesis has actually seen
some of Walter’s letters in the East German archives?
g r e t e l : I doubt it. I think they were in the bag he carried
with him over the Pyrenees. The one that disappeared.
(End of scene 6.)

Scene 7
(h a n n a h and x sit around a table in h a n n a h’s apart-
ment. The table is bare except for a large, virtually over-
flowing ashtray and a bound manuscript. hannah slowly
inhales from a half-finished cigarette.)
x ( pointing to the manuscript): Have you read it?
hannah: Yes. (Points to the ashtray.) You can see the evidence.
x : All of it?
hannah: No.
x : How much then?
hannah (again points to the ashtray): About two packs worth.
x : Is that all?
h a n n a h : I am a fast reader, but a slow smoker when I read.
x : Any conclusion?
h a n n a h : I read enough to see that you are a first-class writer
and a provocative thinker.
x (slightly mollified ): I sense a caveat lurking in the background.

Scene 7 67
h a n n a h : Of course. Isn’t everything we’ve all been talking
about sprinkled with them? But let me try to do it the Hip-
pocratic way. Actually, it was Gretel Adorno’s request when
she asked me to continue the conversation without her.
x (sarcastic): Primum non nocere?
h a n n a h : “First do no harm.” I’m glad you checked on the
Hippocratic Oath. Let’s both try it. What have we got to
x : First, why did Mrs. Adorno . . . (Dismissive.) . . . I beg your
pardon, Dr. Adorno . . . decide not to participate?
h a n n a h : Can’t you guess? A recent widow from a long
marriage that has been described as that of virtual Siamese
twins. So interconnected in everything they did.
x: Siamese twins can’t have sex with each other.
h a n n a h : You would think of that. But then it depends on
how you define sex. (Beat.) For a change, let’s leave sex
alone. She is devastated, but what keeps her going is her
focus on assembling all remaining works of her husband for
publication. To maintain or even elevate his reputation. I’ve
had plenty of disagreements and fights with him and about
him, but I respect her wishes in that regard. I wouldn’t
behave differently if I were Heidegger’s executor. (Points
toward the manuscript.) Why be surprised that she does not
wish to have anything to do with this sordid affair?—
x : You call this sordid?
hannah: Not the manuscript, but everything associated with
it. Not only your demands . . . and please note that I refrain
from using the word blackmail . . . but what it might do to
the reputation of Walter Benjamin.
x : Now wait a minute, before you totally fall off your Hippo-
cratic cliff.
h a n n a h : You are right. I am deviating from what I hope
could be a rational discourse leading to a possible resolu-
tion. So back to Gretel Adorno. She does not want to get

68 Foreplay
involved as a proxy for her deceased husband and you must
agree that she has a point.
x : But she is involved . . . whether her husband is alive or dead.
I presume that in your two packs of cigarette reading you
have noticed that I need to read the missing half of the
Gretel-Walter correspondence . . . namely his letters to her.
Or has she destroyed them?
hannah: She has not . . . so far.
x : Well, there you have it. I want to read them so as to be able
to cite or at least paraphrase them. But following your Hip-
pocratic path, I am prepared to make a giant concession: I
shall let her censure or veto any citation. But at least their
content will allow me to build the logical argument I’m
after. Otherwise, it’s all supposition.
h a n n a h : Much of what we write in our work is based on
x : But this is different. What Adorno or Benjamin or Heideg-
ger wrote is in the final analysis based on suppositions, but
I am dealing with interpretation of a single person’s motiva-
tion and personal thoughts. Call it psychobiographical
h a n n a h : The most dangerous of genres. Still, considering
that all of us . . . Gretel, Teddie, and I . . . were and in part
still are deeply involved with Walter’s life, work, and repu-
tation, I cannot fault you for wishing to read the missing
half of the correspondence. Once I learned of its existence . . .
really through you . . . I also was hooked.
x : And?
hannah: Now that I have read it, I regret being privy to their
x : You read it? How? Where? When?
h a n n a h : How? Gretel Adorno gave them to me. Where?
Here in my home. When? Yesterday.
x : I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Why would she do that?

Scene 7 69
hannah: Because she trusts me.
x: You, of all people? You, one of her husband’s greatest enemies?
h a n n a h : But one of Benjamin’s greatest promoters. Besides,
it was you who got Adorno and me to a first-name basis.
Frankly, I would never have dreamed that in my worst
x : And you have those letters here . . . in your apartment?
hannah: Yes.
x : Will you show them to me?
hannah: Yes.
x ( jumps up, utterly dumbfounded ): Yes? (Beat.) When?
hannah: Quite soon. But first calm down and listen to me . . .
carefully! Do you have any relatives and friends you can
x (confused ): I suppose so.
h a n n a h : Someone to whom you have confided about this
x : Not exactly.
hannah: What does that mean.
x : Well . . . not everything.
h a n n a h : Does the person know anything about my
x : Very little.
hannah: I suppose that’s better than nothing. I’m saying that
because I want you to go into the next room (Points to the
door.) where you will find a telephone. Call that person, tell
him or her where you are right now and that if you do not
call back within (Looks at her watch.) say, four hours, they
should come here to look for you or call the police.
x : The police?
hannah (waves her hand dismissively, still pointing to the door):
Or an ambulance . . . or whatever.
x: But why?
hannah: For insurance sake. I don’t think you trust me.

70 Foreplay
x : That you might do me some harm?
h a n n a h : Who knows? (Beat.) Now go ahead and phone, be-
cause we are wasting time.
(x reluctantly exits, whereupon hannah rapidly goes to a
drawer, takes out a large box of loose pages and a smaller
one, and places them on the table. She removes the cover of
the large box, lights a cigarette, and waits for x’s return.)
Good. So you called?
x: I decided not to.
hannah: You decided to trust me? (Seeing her nod.) Why?
x : Intuition.
hannah: In that case, let’s proceed. You see here (Points to the
larger open box with sheets of paper.) what may be one of the
truly great treasures in German literary history.
(x is about to reach over, but h a n n a h stops her and
moves the box to her side.)
But first, open this one.
x (a puzzled expression on her face, opens the small box and imme-
diately recoils, jumping up): Is this some sick joke?
hannah: No joke.
x (takes the handcuffs out of the box and holds them up): In that
case, in some perverted Hippocratic spirit, are you trying to
remind me of my one-night Adorno stand?
h a n n a h : Good God! I forgot. Adorno has nothing to do
with these handcuffs . . . at least not Teddie Adorno. Just
listen carefully before responding. These letters are irre-
placeable. Other than the two correspondents, only I have
so far seen them. Under ordinary circumstances, I suspect
that Gretel would have left testamentary instructions to
either have them destroyed or deposited in a closed archive.
If I show them to you, they must not be touched, no notes
can be taken, no copies made. Knowing now the contents,
I can well imagine that it might require superhuman efforts
on your side not to be tempted. The handcuffs are an

Scene 7 71
insurance for both of us. You now have three choices: Tele-
phone your friend and then put on the handcuffs yourself.
Put them on without phoning. Or don’t put them on, but
don’t expect to see a single letter.
x : Why are you even prepared to show me the letters?
h a n n a h : Remember about the caveats I still need to raise?
These will only be relevant after you know what is written
in Walter’s letters.
x : I see. (Beat.) I’ll take the second option.
(Slowly puts on the handcuffs and clicks them shut.)
h a n n a h : In that case, let’s start. One letter at a time. And
don’t forget that I have the only keys to the handcuffs.
(h a n n a h puts the first letter in front of x , lights a ciga-
rette, and continues to observe x’s face and expressions as
she reads. Gradually, as she hands over the second letter and
starts a new pile with the first one, the lights start to fade so
that by the fourth letter, it is dark indicating the passage of
Lights on. hannah’s ashtray is nearly full. The pile of
read letters is high and h a n n a h has seemingly dozed off.
x carefully observes her, then coughs once, then again with-
out seemingly waking h a n n a h . x leans over the table
and with her handcuffed hands lifts one of the still-to-be-
read letters and starts moving it toward the edge of the table
near her, clearly intending to let it fall over the edge into
her lap. h a n n a h , who had only pretended to have fallen
asleep, opens her eyes and silently observes the scene for a
few seconds. Suddenly she speaks.)
hannah: What are you trying to do?
x ( flustered ): I thought you’d fallen asleep and I didn’t want to
disturb you. So I picked up the next one.
hannah (even-voiced ): I don’t believe you.
x (now pleading): Please—

72 Foreplay
hannah (sharply): Stop it! (Quickly takes the pile of read letters
and places it into the box containing the remaining unread
x : What are you doing?
hannah: You have read enough to understand what is in this
box. With a few exceptions, these are spectacularly private
letters which were never meant to be read by others. But
there is one more that I will read to you . . . at least the rele-
vant portion. (She reaches into the box and lifts all letters out
to reach the last one.) It was written in late September of
1940 and was added to the manuscripts that he gave me and
my husband in Marseilles in the hope that we would reach
New York and could hand them over to Adorno. After
all, he was Walter’s literary executor. As most Benjamin
scholars know, we succeeded and handed them over, whereas
Benjamin committed suicide a few days later. Of course, I
never knew until yesterday that I was the postman of this
particular missive. Now listen carefully to what it says: “My
dearest, I made a monumental mistake before I fled from
Paris. I left your letters to me with Georges Bataille together
with the other manuscripts and papers in the hope that
they will survive even if I don’t. I should have burned your
letters, but couldn’t. They were too precious. Nevertheless,
I now plead with you to destroy mine.”
(Carefully, she puts the letter back into the box and then
places all others on top with the exception of the top one,
which she sets aside. She lights a cigarette, takes some rapid
puffs and then quickly pushes the glowing end of the ciga-
rette against the paper. In a moment it catches fire while
she holds it by one edge. As the flames start to consume
the paper, x jumps up and with her handcuffed hands
attempts to knock the burning paper out of h a n n a h’s
hands. But it is too late. The letter is destroyed.)

Scene 7 73
x ( yelling): Look what you have done! Have you gone mad?
hannah (quietly): I have started to follow Walter’s instructions.
x (still yelling): But why? Mrs. Adorno did not destroy them . . .
in spite of Benjamin’s wishes. So why do you?
h a n n a h : She couldn’t and perhaps I wouldn’t have either if
they had been addressed to me. But you forced us to con-
sider this literary auto-da-fé. Now sit down and listen to
me . . . very carefully before you respond. Let’s review the
facts: Through means that would interest me, but which
are not really germane to the issue at hand, you managed to
gain access to the Benjamin files in East Berlin . . . quite an
accomplishment for a West German scholar in the mid-
sixties. Correct?
x : Correct.
h a n n a h : Unbeknownst to everyone, these files included the
entire Gretel Adorno portion of her correspondence with
Walter Benjamin. I gather that you not only read them, but
that you were also allowed to make copies of them.
x : Not of all of them.
hannah: But you read them all?
x : Yes.
h a n n a h : Now let’s turn to Walter’s suitcase that he appar-
ently left in San Remo. I gathered that you confirmed that
it existed. How did you find out what was in it?
x : I didn’t find out. I surmised. Based on some of the other
papers in the East German archives and, of course, on the
notorious story about the contents of the briefcase that
Benjamin supposedly schlepped over the Pyrenees on his
flight to Spain and which disappeared after his suicide.
hannah: We shall get to the briefcase in a moment. But “sur-
mised” can be an ambiguous word, covering everything
from conclusions based on collected factoids to complete

74 Foreplay
x : That may be your definition. It isn’t mine. But my surmises
are in my manuscript. Perhaps you should have consumed
another pack of cigarettes and continued reading.
hannah: All right. Let’s get to the manuscript. After all, that’s
what brought us all together . . . that and your desire for
revenge. But the object of your revenge is dead.
x : So is Walter Benjamin. Dead for over a quarter of a century.
h a n n a h : Correct. But let us deal with them separately. Your
revenge against Adorno really consists of your using the
Gretel-Walter correspondence. You are using it as a form of
intellectual, sex-in-the-mind cuckolding of a notorious
x (sardonically): “Sex-in-the-mind cuckolding”! What a fitting
h a n n a h : As a woman and severe critic of Adorno, I might
even find it amusing. But using the actual correspondence
goes beyond the pale.
x : Forget revenge. What, in my not-so-humble opinion, is
unique about my manuscript? I claim that during the last
couple of years of his life . . . much of them spent with my
literary pornographer Georges Bataille . . . Benjamin started
to work on pornography in an age of technological repro-
ducibility . . . a project that might have become as famous—
h a n n a h : I think notorious would be more accurate in the
context of pornography.
x : Yes, or as notorious, as his famous article “The Work of Art
in the Age of Technological Reproducibility.” I claim that
this unfinished material was in his briefcase and I need the
Gretel-Walter correspondence as support for my argument
that Benjamin was more than just theoretically intrigued
by pornography. But before we continue, could you finally
unlock the handcuffs? I haven’t even been able to go to the

Scene 7 75
h a n n a h : If you need to go to the toilet, say so and we shall
arrange it. But the handcuffs won’t come off until these
letters here are outside your reach. Besides, we are nearly
finished. I told you that I found your manuscript excep-
tionally well written and of substantial originality. I see
no objection to your publishing in your book—especially
because of the superb coverage of Bataille and his possible
influence on Walter Benjamin—that the missing briefcase
may have contained a manuscript of the type (Draws quo-
tation marks in the air.) surmised by you. I would say that
even your arguments—perhaps toned down a bit—about
Benjamin’s general interest in pornography merit publica-
tion. After all, have not most of us considered in our own
lives where the border between erotica and pornography
lies? I would have no objection to comment favorably on
such a revised manuscript.
x (astonished ): Am I hearing right? You, Dr. Hannah Arendt,
would write a favorable recommendation?
h a n n a h : I would, but only after resolving the following
“but.” (Beat.) But I would fight you to the bitter end until
all insinuations that Benjamin was a pornographer in the
true pornographic sense of the word—obsession, collec-
tion, and consummation—is removed.
x : That is all?
hannah: No, that’s not all. Even if these deletions defang any
possible revenge on your part against the late Adorno,
Gretel’s letters must not be mentioned. Ultimately, you
will be grateful that you dropped that idea and at the same
time avoided harming an innocent person, namely Gretel.
Remember, primum non nocere—first do no harm. I offer
myself as a prime example. Here I was, not yet twenty, but
being dumped by the greatest love of my life, my thirty-
five-year-old professor . . . exactly at the time when I
thought that emotionally we had become equals. I, the

76 Foreplay
Jewish student, had to leave the university, where he be-
came the rector during Hitler’s rise to power. Yet twenty
years later, I helped him. Of course, there were several
reasons, some deeply personal and unmentionable, but here
is one. The reversal of power relationships. He was still
twenty-three years older than me, but now I was here (She
raises one hand above her head.) and he down there. (Other
hand directed to hip.) You are nearly forty years younger
than Adorno and posthumously, you are now able to re-
verse that power relation. The survivors . . . at least the ones
who count . . . will recognize your action and admire you
for it. I guess that about sums it up: no mention of the
Gretel-Walter correspondence and no transformation of
Walter Benjamin into a Georges Bataille. Leave Benjamin
as one of the greatest literary critics of this century and
Bataille as one of the most literary pornographers in France.
Agree, and you will gain my support with this. (Points to the
book manuscript still lying on the table.) Refuse, and I shall
fight you tooth and nail, because I also loved Walter,
though in a different way from Gretel.
x : What exactly could your tooth and nail fight entail?
h a n n a h : I can be an unforgiving opponent when it comes
to not allowing Walter’s reputation as one of the greatest
German intellectuals of this century to be besmirched. I
could certainly make a case that your central argument about
Benjamin, the hidden pornophile, is hot air.
x : Hot air? Is that what you call my thesis?
h a n n a h : I am rather good at converting other people’s cool
thoughts into hot air. That’s what debate is really all about.
And in this instance, I would not hesitate in displaying my
skills. But we could also publish evidence that completely
contradicts your central thesis . . . even if we have to make
it up. After all, it’s one surmise against another.
x : We? Adorno is dead.

Scene 7 77
h a n n a h : You are forgetting the wife. A hurt widow is a dan-
gerous opponent. And we haven’t even touched yet the legal
aspects of your using private correspondence that you aren’t
entitled to. Remember your Latin! Privatus means “set
apart, belonging to oneself ” . . . and not just in the diction-
ary. A body of law has been constructed around that term.
(Lights cigarette and waits.)
x : You are demanding that my entire thesis simply becomes a
foreplay? That the real consummation never happened?
h a n n a h : An interesting way of putting it. (Beat.) I hadn’t
thought of it that way, but why not? Depending on the
quality, the imaginativeness, and, naturally, the length of
any foreplay, it may produce more satisfaction than the
subsequent communion.
x : Even when the subsequent “communion” . . . as you so am-
biguously name it . . . is never consummated?
h a n n a h : Why not? Has that not happened to you? It may
not lead to complete satisfaction, but it certainly arouses
excitement and curiosity. Most PhD theses do not reach
that stage. Yours might.
x : I have to think about it.
(h a n n a h shrugs her shoulders, rises, picks up x’s book
manuscript and offers it to x , who takes it into her hand-
cuffed hands. They both head for the door. As they pass the
table containing the box of wa lt e r’s letters, x stops for a
moment to look at them.)
h a n n a h : These you will never see again. And now, let me
unlock the handcuffs. (She does so at the door as x exits.)
(hannah returns to the table, sits down, and starts read-
ing again wa lt e r’s letters as the light fades denoting the
passage of time.
Lights on showing hannah smoking at the table with
wa lt e r’s letters strewn all about. The doorbell rings. She
goes to the door and gestures to g r e t e l a d o r n o to

78 Foreplay
enter. g r e t e l carries some sort of metal bucket with a
g r e t e l (looking around ): So she’s gone. (Heads for the table,
lifting some of the letters without reading them as if she were
caressing them and gently puts them down.) What’s the verdict?
hannah: Difficult to say. I would give even odds that she will
accept my offer. (Suddenly notes the bucket in g r e t e l’s
hands.) What on earth are you carrying?
gretel: My crematorium (Beat, while reaching into the bucket.)
and a small fire extinguisher.
hannah: This takes courage. Just burning one letter was very
gretel: If you had been able to provide me with an iron-clad
assurance that the correspondence would never be released,
I might have considered depositing his letters in a restricted
archive. Walter is such a major literary figure that in a way
none of the owners of his writings—even the most private
ones—should decide to eliminate them all together. But
this is different: they could always be misinterpreted, which
may be the reason why Walter asked me just before his
suicide to destroy them all.
hannah: May I call you Gretel?
g r e t e l : I suppose so. I have shared my deepest secret (Points
to the letters.) with you.
hannah: Thanks, Gretel. (Short pause.) In some very compli-
cated way, I envy you.
gretel: Why?
h a n n a h : After reading Walter’s letters, I realize that your
relation with him was deeply sexual, yet without apparent
consummation. I would call it the ultimate foreplay. Mine
with Heidegger . . . great as it was . . . was consummated,
but it lacked all foreplay. We dove right in. (Beat.) Tell me,
why didn’t you destroy the letters earlier . . . without
Walter’s prompting?

Scene 7 79
g r e t e l : Simple. I kept rereading them . . . a perpetual fore-
play in the sense you just described . . . whenever I needed
to cope with Teddie’s perpetual unfaithfulness. In a way,
I also wanted Teddie to come across them. For once, I
wanted him to be jealous of me. Now let’s burn them.
h a n n a h : Strange that you want me to be the witness to this
literary immolation.
g r e t e l : Weren’t you the one claiming that inherent antago-
nists make reliable witnesses?
hannah: You still consider me an antagonist?
g r e t e l : No, Hannah, not anymore. Fellow traveler might be
a better term. They also make good witnesses.
h a n n a h : You are right, especially since I also loved Walter,
though in a very different way from you.
g r e t e l : Now let’s start before I change my mind. (Places the
bucket on the table with the fire extinguisher on the floor.)
Let’s alternate . . . each burning a letter at a time.
hannah: You want me to participate? Why?
g r e t e l : If later on I should have second thoughts, at least
someone shared my guilt . . . someone, who also loved him.
(Picks up the first letter, but realizes that she has brought no
matches.) Just look at me. I brought a fire extinguisher but
no matches. But you are a smoker, so you start.
(Hands over the letter in her hand, whereupon h a n n a h
lights a cigarette and sets the page on fire in the same manner
as she had done earlier.)
Could you give me a cigarette? I haven’t smoked for ages,
but now I have the best reason in the world.
(h a n n a h offers her a cigarette and lights it with the
burning end of her own, rather than the cigarette lighter
lying by her side.
Alternating, they start lighting one page after another,
always dropping the burning page into the bucket before it
is totally burned and immediately taking the next. They

80 Foreplay
turn frantic, even possessed. Finding the cigarette burning
method too slow, g r e t e l grabs the cigarette lighter and
then quickly hands it over to h a n n a h . The lights dim
slowly as they continue burning the last letter.
gretel sits back, grabs another cigarette, lights it and
inhales slowly, while observing the exhaled smoke.)
gretel: What a way of getting hooked again on smoking!
h a n n a h (takes her half-empty pack and throws it into the
bucket): I’ve had it. Never again!
(End of scene 7. End of play.)

Scene 7 81