Hiedegger, Husserl, and the Crisis of the German / European Sciences: the Politics of Disciplinary Re/Per/Form, 1929-1935

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Richard Burt
Only a Rabbi Can Save Us:

Heidegger, Husserl, and the Crisis of the

German-Jewish / European University, 1929-1935

The European nations are sick; Europe itself, it is said, is in crisis. We are by no means lacking in something like nature doctors. Indeed, we are practically inundated by a flood of naïve and excessive suggestions for reform. But why do the so richly developed humanistic disciplines fail to perform the service here that is so admirably performed by the natural sciences in their sphere?

Edmund Husserl, The “Vienna Lecture,” 1938, 270
Everything suggests that, from as early as 1933, the date at which, lifting at last the quotation marks, he begins to talk of spirit and in the name of spirit, Heidegger never stopped interrogating the Being of Geist.

--Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (1987), 83

Der Speigel: Professor Heidegger, we have stated time and again that your philosophical work has been somewhat overshadowed by some events in your life, which, while they did not last long, have never been cleared up.

Heidegger: You mean 1933.

--“Only a God Can Save Us,” Der Spiegel’s Interview with Martin Heidegger on September 23, 1966.

And what if someone were to have fun showing you that these two books on soul and spirit are also the books of a political activist? That the essays on Heidegger and Nazism, on Mandela and apartheid, on the nuclear problem, on the psychoanalytic treatment and torture, on architecture and urbanism, etc., are “political writings”?

--Jacques Derrida, “Heidegger, the Philosopher’s Hell” in Points: Interviews, 1974-1994 (1995), 190

What is to Be Redone? A Geist Story

In this essay, I want to read Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” of 1933 together with Edmund Husserl’s Vienna Lecture “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity” of 1938 as a way of examining the currency of the “current” when it comes to an understanding of the fate of the modern university in the U.S. and Britain. In doing so, I want to put into question what it means to historicize philosophy. I ask the reader’s patience as I rehearse some basic philological information about Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” of 1933, much of it regarding dates, before discussing it with Husserl’s lecture, in order to recast more clearly historicizing as a practice of “re/reading.” Only by doing so will the meaning of the crisis of the modern university become clear.

Since the end of the Second World War, Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” has been at the center of a debate, a debate that Richard Wolin called the “Heidegger Controversy,” the title of a book he edited and published in 1991. The debate concerns the extent both to which Heidegger was a Nazi who used his position as a university administrator in 1933-34 in anti-Semitic ways and the extent to which his philosophical writings themselves constitute Nazi philosophy (as opposed to philosophy written by a Nazi) or a rejection of Naziism. In 1945, Heidegger published “The Rectorate 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts.” In 1985, Heidegger’s Rectoral Address “The Self-Assertion of the German University: Address, Delivered on the Solemn Assumption of the Rectorate of the University Freiburg” was translated and published in English in along with “The Rectorate 1933/34,” both prefaced by a short apologia for Heidegger written by his son, Hermann. In a 1966 audiotaped and transcribed interview with Der Spiegel entitled “Only a God Can Save Us,” Heidegger engages more broadly both the importance of the year 1933 to the interpretation of his life and works, noting that his teacher Edmund Husserl, dismissed form his post in 1933 because he was a Jew, broke off relations in 1938. In 1991, Richard Wolin published the Rectoral Address and the Spiegel interview in his anthology The Heidegger Controversy, a book that proved itself to be highly controversial and occasioned by book Victor Farias, Heidegger and Naziism.1

Yet despite the controversy over “Rectoral Address,” I think it is fair to say that that it continues to go unread, perhaps because the form of a debate forecloses the kind of questioning that re/reading requires. Heidegger himself complained that it went unheard by his audience when he gave it in 1933: “The Rectoral Address had been spoken into the wind and was forgotten the day after the inaugural celebration. While I was rector not one of my colleagues approached me to discuss the address in any way” (493). Furthermore, he says that its contents were misreported in a student (Nazi) newspaper. Jacques Derrida devotes relatively little time to the Rectoral Address in Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (see 33-37; 44-45), a preemptive response to Farias, discussing what he calls the key paragraph” (36).2 When Wolin included an English translation of a Derrida interview entitled “Interview: Philosopher’s Hell” that had been published in le Nouvel observateur in The Heidegger Controversy (1991), Derrida, threatening legal action, demanded that the volume be withdrawn immediately, and, if ever republished, all new editions would omit his interview. Columbia University Press, the publisher of Wolin’s book, withdrew it, and a second edition of the book without Derrida’s essay was duly printed by MIT Press in 1993 with a new preface by Wolin devoted to an attack on Derrida entitled “Preface to the MIT Edition: Note on a Missing Text.” In Points: Interviews, 1974-1994 (1995) Derrida published a complete and newly commissioned translation of the Nouvel observateur interview as “Heidegger, the Philosopher’s Hell” along with a second interview entitled “Comment donner raison? How to Concede, with Reasons.” In a lengthy interview in the same book, Derrida lashed out at Wolin, fiercely attacking his translation of Derrida’s interview as being grossly incompetent.3 Like the contributors to Wolin’s book, including Wolin’s own, however, Derrida did not offer a reading of the “Rectoral Address.”4 Similarly, in The Telephone Book (1989), Avital Ronell brilliantly discusses the telephone call Heidegger took from SA Group Leader Dr. Baumann in 1933 just after he was in office for a few weeks, a call that Heidegger mentions in “The Rectorate 1933/34” (492) and the interview “Only a God Can Save Us.” Yet Ronell does not discuss the Rectoral Address.5

Why has the Address gone unread, then, used largely as a symbol to represent Heidegger’s works and person? Why does it haunt readings of Heidegger, disappearing in background noise? And what would it mean to re/read the Address now, particularly in relation of the present crisis of the university in the U.S., itself a leftover of the nineteenth century German university, itself in a state crisis by 1933 for both Heidegger and Husserl? These are some of the broad the questions I wish to pursue in a questioning mode in this essay; that is, I purse these questions from within a never to be overcome Western metaphysics. Before I proceed to read the “Rectoral Address” together with Edmund Husserl’s 1938 Vienna Lecture “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity,” let me make it pause again to make clear that I think the “Rectoral Address” can no longer be read in isolation, largely due to the history of its publication and English translation. Heidegger himself recontextualized the “Rectoral Address” in the 1945 commentary “The Rectorate 1933/34” and again in the Der Spiegel interview: in both cases, Heidegger states that two of his other works are central to any proper understanding of his “Rectoral Address”: his 1929 lecture “What is Metaphysics?” and his lecture on Nietzsche, circulated in 1944 but unpublished until after the War due, according to Heidegger, to Nazi denigration of his works, which were sold under the counter wrapped in brown paper bags, and surveillance of his teaching. Moreover, Heidegger is careful to record time lags between lectures and their publication. His lecture on the essence of truth was given in 1930, copies of it circulated in 1932, but “published only in 1942” (1985, 482). Heidegger says he gave a different lecture course on the Greek concept of truth in 1930, gave it again in the “Winter Semester 1933/34” (1985, 482), but published part of it only in 1942. Heidegger introduced other kinds of gaps or gags into the he temporality of his publications: the editors of “Only a God Can Save Us” begin their preface to the Der Spiegel interview by noting that they could only publish it posthumously; “this was the strict wish of the philosopher” (1976, 267). This wish seems rather odd given that the interview contains next to nothing not already published in his much fuller and earlier account in “The Rectorate 1933/34.”

My concern in this essay is with how the years “1933/1934” joined by a slash bear on the difficulty of reading of Heidegger’s works as philosophical rather than political works and vice versa, not with the presumably transparent political import of Heidegger’s actions as Rector or the “Rectoral Address.” (I happen to think that his comments were made in good faith, which is not necessarily the same thing as being entirely truthful. But how could one establish that any such account was entirely truthful?). More specifically, my concern is with the way Heidegger displaces his “Rectoral Address” from a position of singularity to a position as part of a cluster of some of his writings circa 1933, including changes he made to re-editions of his publications, like his omission of the dedication to Husserl in the fifth edition of Being and Time published in 1941 (first edition, 1927; fourth edition 1935).

Heidegger in effect concedes to his critics a certain way of reading his works in relation to the “Rectoral Address,” granting it a relative exteriority by which it might be said to explain both his works and Heidegger himself. Heidegger defends against this move only by retotalizing his Address as part of a larger totality of works written between 1929 and 1944. Heidegger and son demand that Martin’s critics actually read his Address (rather than rely on inaccurate reports of its putative contents) and read it in relation to specific works by Heidegger.6 A contradiction emerges, however, from Heidegger’s yoking of the 1933 “Address” to the 1945 commentary “The Rectorate 1933/34” (or Hermann Heidegger’s yoking them together for publication): on the one hand, Heidegger wants to translate the “Address” into a philosophical rather than political work; on the other hand, Heidegger does not actually perform this translation and instead offers an explanation of the political circumstances which led him to become Rector of the University of Freiburg in 1933, give the Address, and then resign the Rectorship in 1934. Heidegger defers a philosophical translation of the Address by referring his readings to his 1929 lecture “What Is Metaphysics?” By displacing and re-placing the Address so as to alter its relative exteriority to his other works, Heidegger paradoxically asks both that it be read and resists its being read, a paradox deepened by Heidegger’s granting an interview he refused to have published during his lifetime.

The impossibility of reading the “Rectoral Address” in isolation, or of doing so without interpretive violence, is due to another factor related to its publication history. Heidegger’s paradoxical resistance to being read in order (not) to be (mis)read is heightened by the framing paratexts written by Hermann Heidegger, the editors of the Der Spiegel interview, a brief introduction by Karsten Harries to his translator of the “Address” and the Rectorate 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts” (1985, 467) and a footnote by the translators of the Spiegel interview in English. These paratexts more or less directly reinforce Heidegger’s manner of resituating his “Rectoral Address” in the situation of 1933/34. Similarly, Wolin puts the “Rectoral Address” in the first section of his book under the heading, “Texts by Martin Heidegger,” a collection of texts that, incidentally, looks like a poorly disguised dossier of documents gathered to produce an indictment. Wolin does not include either of the documents Heidegger singles out for consideration, namely the 1929 lecture on metaphysics and the 1944 essay on Nietzsche. Instead, Wolin frames Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” so as to make its re/reading unnecessary, following it with a subsection entitled “Political Texts, 1933-1934.” It is in effect a legal document, testimony to a political crime rather than a philosophical. Similarly, in Of Spirit, Heidegger sees the Rectoral Address as a repetition of being and Time (1927), albeit in a different rhetorical form, and restated in the Introduction to Metaphysics (Einführung in die Metaphysik, 1935 lectures published in 1953). Derrida retains in both the French edition of Of Spirit and the English translation the German title Einführung in die Metaphysik to analysis Heidegger’s linking of the leap (Ursprung) that follows from “Führing” and the “Führer” (42-44) of spirit, which “goes or comes on the way, in front, up in front, before all politics, all psychagogy, all pedagogy” (43).

I hope that the questioning I have pursued thus far in response to my question “Why has the ‘Address’ gone unread?” bears directly on any response to my second question “what would it mean to re/read it now?” My answer to my second question is to read the “Rectoral Address” with what I consider to be an authorized violence, comparatively with Husserl’s “Vienna Lecture.” By “authorized violence,” I mean the same manner of reading Hölderlin’s poetry that philological critics attacked Heidegger for doing. As Paul de Man comments in “Heidegger’s Exegeses of Hölderlin, “Heidegger’s interpretation is based on a notion of the poetic that seeks to assert the fundamental impossibility of applying objective discourse to the work of art. Heidegger reduces philology to a subordinate position, although he does not hesitate to upon call upon it when his cause requires it; and he declares himself free of the restrictions it has imposed upon itself. Such violence has been found shocking, and rightly so, but it must be seen that it derives directly from Heidegger’s conception of the poetic, which he claims to have deduced from Hoelderlin’s thought” (249). Although Derrida defends Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” comparing it to Husserl’s unfinished Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendetal Phenomenology, I concede that Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” and Husserl’s Vienna Lecture are not in dialogue. Furthermore, I expect that some readers might regard it as mildly scandalous to juxtapose the Address to a lecture by Heidegger’s former teacher after the two had broken off relations.

Yet it is precisely the German / Jewish connection here that constitutes the scandal in that one cannot properly be thought without the other. More specifically, both are concerned with the University, the main difference being that Heidegger is concerned with the German University and the relation of Germany to Greece, while Husserl is concerned with a national and supranational crisis that is European in scope. At a moment when what’s left of the legacy of the German University in the United States and Britain is under prolonged and fierce attack, it is worth examining, I think, how these writers responded to the scientism. Bill Readings story of the decline of the modern university from a State centered university of ideas to a corporate centered “university of excellence” traced by in the University in Ruins neglects a central chapter in the history of the German University itself which engaged less the political right’s attempt to takeover the University system than it did a perceived reduction of the University to the production of information and exact data (what Heidegger calls “political science”) to the exclusion of the rigor of “science” (or metaphysics and language), the essence of which of which is questioning. The “renewal” of the University, its “essence” and “inner unity” were at stake for Heidegger. Perhaps in the putatively post-metaphysical positivism that now dominates academia, the not so shiny patina of the “new” is all that remains for us.

The two wills must confront one another, ready for battle. All faculties of will and thought, all strengths of the heart and all skills of the body, must be unfolded through battle, heightened in battle, and preserved as battle. We choose the knowing battle of those who question and profess with Carl von Clausewitz: “I take leave of the frivolous hope of salvation by the hand of accident.”

Heidegger, “Rectoral Address,” 479 (emphases in the original)

I had no illusions about the possible consequence of my resignation from office in the spring of 1934; after June 30 of the same year, these consequences became completely clear.

Heidegger, “The Rectorate 1933/34,” 49

The Heidegger Clause-Witz

To pose the question of what it would mean to re/read the Rectoral Address may now be shown to put into question a pragmatic and supposedly therefore more powerful question concerning how to construct a defense of the already obsolete “university of ideas” as it is being destroyed. In any case, it may be that Husserl’s open break helps show how Husserl made possible Heidegger’s thinking through the question of metaphysics and the renewal of the German university from a German Greek trajectory which dis-allowed a Jewish German / German Jewish Greek trajectory. Heidegger as loser, doing a kind of Larry David stand up schtick: “No one listened to my lecture; the Nazis hated me; no one gets me; some of my best friends weren’t Nazis. Like I said, only a rabbi can save us.” No (Jewish) joke, no “Witz.” Heidegger comments on the Greek meaning of the word “battle” (1945, 488), bringing in Heraclitus, but Heidegger does not discussion his mention of Clauswitz in the address.

Strauss persecution and the Art of Writing. Heidegger said that the book Logic was coded (1934) that it was really a book on language.

In Rectoral address the tree kids of service are not differentiated in importance. They are given equal importance, Heidegger says in 1966 interview.

Husserl After 1901, Husserl subtitled all of his works, “An Introduction to phenomenology.” (Crisis of European Sciences xv)

Versus Heidegger on introduction to

It is like a sea, in which men and peoples are the fleetingly formed, changing, and then disappearing waves, some with richer, more complicated ripples, other with more primitive.

Husserl, Vienna Lecture, 1938, 274

But these events, too, are only a fleeting appearance on waves of a movement of our history, of whose dimensions the Germans have as yet no inkling, even now that the catastrophe has engulfed them.

--Heidgger, “The Rectorate 1933/34,” 1945, 502

Husserl's Vienna Lecture is all about spirit. see p. 275, 297-99. It is paradpxocial in that reason directs a detour through external , physical , methemthemical reason into positivism and the disappearance of the human (spirit) but a reorientation through theory (philosophy—greek philosophy) returns the body into the world in a sort of total interpenetration and inwardness (298) to infinity

yet the spiritual is also a fragment. “Spritualbeing is only fragmentary” (294)

“this merely subjective realm, is forgotten in scientific investigation The working subject is himself forgotten, the scientist does not become a subject of investigation

Thematic (281) Defines Europe to include the US. and Britain,273

Technical control over nature (271)
Prmoridial 281

Thematic 283

Epoche 282-83

Religious mythical versus philosophical 283-84

Mutual help, mutual critique (286)

Bildlung (286)

Prejudices and prejudices (289)

Man and even the Papuan (290)

Einstein (295)

New reformers in psychology 297

Accordingly, it is a mistake for the humanistic disciplines to struggle with the natural sciences for equal rights. (297)

The need for a reform of the whole of modern psychology is felt mrore and more on al l sides, but it is not yet understood that it has failed because of oits objectivism. (296)

of the spirit is the scene

I would like to think that I, the supposed reactionary am, am far more radical and far more revolutionary than those who in their words proclaim themselves so radical today.(290)

The road (291) (autobahn of philosophy)

Specialization as a problem (291)

1 See also the less noted Günther Neske & Emil Kettering (eds.), Martin Heidegger and National Socialism: Questions and Answers (New York: Paragon House, 1990) and Critical Inquiry 15:2 (Winter 1989); the issue includes a symposium on “Heidegger and Nazism."

2 The relevant pages were exerpted from the book Of Spirit and reprinted under the same tilte “Of Spirit” in symposium on “Heidegger and Nazism” in Critical Inquiry 15:2 (Winter 1989), as if the excerpt qua article were an abstact of the book (in which Heidegger’s use of quotation marks around “spirit” is a major concern).

3 See Derrida’s essay “The Work of Intellectuals and the Press (The Bad Example: How the New York Review of Books and Company Do Business)” in the same volume, Derrida 1995, 422-56.

4 Oddly enough, the only time Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” is engaged in Wolin’s book occurs when, in the new preface to the MIT edition, Wolin attacks Derrida’s comparison of the “Address” to Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences in Derrida’s Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (1987).

5 The same inattention to the Address holds true for Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and the Jews and for Phillipe Lacoue-labarthe’s Heidegger, Art, and Politics: The Fiction of the Political and Heidegger and the Politics of Poet. It may be to their credit, however, that they do read their criticism of Heidegger on a reading of the Address.

6 Heidegger’s critics, as Wolin’s collection makes clear, are not concerned with Heidegger’s philosophy but with Heidegger’s “political influence.” See especially Juergen Habermas, “On the Publication of the Lectures of 1935” (Wolin, 1993, 180).

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