Saturday, January 24, 2009

On First Looking into Stambaugh's Heidegger

On First Looking into Stambaugh's0 Heidegger

Sometimes a purely intellectual work calls forth an aesthetic response. One has only to think of Escher's lithograph Relativity, a deep visual representation of the celebrated artist's superficial understanding of Einstein's equally celebrated theory. Recently, I have been reading Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, a weighty philosophical work, hugely influential on the German and French intelligentsia since it was first published in 1926, and gallicized by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1943. However, I have found it difficult to finish Being and Time, let alone formulate an adequate intellectual response to it.

Thus I have fallen back on poetry, and was inspired to compose the two poems that appear below. I realize that most of my readers are educated enough not to require an explanation of the philosophical and historical references, but for the benefit of the minority, I've included endnotes to explain some of the more obscure allusions. Besides, in the opinion of many experts the endnotes in such works as Eliot's The Waste Land, Nabokov's Pale Fire, and Roget's Thesaurus are vital to their artistic integrity.

Without further ado, my poems:

Ode to Being
Though he'd agreed to a Sein und Zeit1 edit,
Herr Heidegger'd known he'd regret it,
For someone in Mainz,
Consumed with Da-seinz2
Is rumored to've actually read it.
Ode to Time3
"The Führer stopped returning my calls,"4
Mused Heidegger, "How it appalls!
If he'd dropped Being and Time
Behind enemy lines,
The Will would have triumphed5 über alles!"6


Note 0 Joan Stambaugh's 1996 translation of Being and Time (State University of New York Press) is a big improvement on the classic Macquarrie and Robinson translation (1962).

Note 1 The German title of Being and Time, which may be loosely translated as "Being and Time."

Note 2 Literally, "there-being," one of 205 kinds of Being introduced on page 1 of Being and Time. Da-sein is special, in that it is the mode of Being that people exhibit in the course of … you know, being. I added the "z" so it would rhyme better.

Note 3 The intended sense of "time" is not so much Heidegger's time-as-horizon-of-Da-sein, but world-historical, or welthistorisch, time.

Note 4 Martin Heidegerr became Rector of Freiburg University in 1933, about the same time as Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and joined the Nazi party a few months later. He participated in the dismissal of many Jews from the faculty. He resigned from his position in 1934 when it began to dawn on him that Hitler had not read anything he had written.

Note 5 Reference to The Triumph of the Will, the film about the Nazi Party Party Congress of 1934 made by beautiful German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Really, she was very good-looking, in an Aryan sort of way.

Note 6 The German national anthem is titled "Deutschland über alles." Actually, it isn't, but that's what many people call it. Contrary to popular opinion, in the song, "über alles" does not mean "over everyone," as in "crushing everyone under the weight of our might," but "above all," i.e., "Germany above all," or "Germany first in our hearts." In my Ode, I mean more the thing about crushing. And, you've got to admit the rhyme is clever, or would be if "alles" had one syllable.

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