Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Part I on Heidegger

"The Fate of the Faithful: A dreadful love affair"
"To a friend to whom I remain faithful and unfaithful, both in love". This was a dedication of Hannah Arendt found hand-written in one her books and nowadays available at the Hannah Arendt Papers section of the Library of Congress in the United States. Anybody significantly familiar with Hannah -as the young generation often calls her, would know immediately this was a dedication meant for the philosopher Martin Heidegger on one of her books from later years. On the ocassion of my 22nd birthday I've set my mind on the onerous task of writing a "self-concealment" or "journal of travails" in regard to the tragedy of German Judaism and the ontological difficulties of a young Jewish scholar reading Heidegger. With the same words used by Hannah more than 40 years back I begin my task, whether it will be to any degree accomplished is an entirely different question. As a general rule -part of my contempt for the world of aesthetics, I would rule out anybody who would come up to me with such a base as "life as literature", but currently my sinceremost despite for any philosophy-of-the-sorts and particularly continental philosophical language have led me to reconsider my egoistic position. I would run my thread along with Schlegel by saying that "life is writing". Reason for which perhaps I've never appeared as too respectable a figure in the world of the erudites and scholars, because for me the philosophical is unarguably tied to the imagination as much as to the auto-biographical. Any attempt at philosophy in modern times is a form of despair, a way inside-out from the roads of alienation and a desperate outrage in chivalrous disguise. All philosophy is a form of autobiography, that's why I could for example include heretical and ecclecticmost Ernst Bloch in my canoninc list, whereas little could be said about Webber for example, quite from the same generation and a salonniere par excellence.
The philosopher is just any "everyman" engaged in the thinking activity, obviously far from the disciplined and hierarchical "critical thinking" that the youth are spoon-fed with since the earliest childhood in the most Aristotelian form of cruelty. The task of thinking has been one of the most fabuluous journeys of my life since a tender age; I discovered despair to easily, and blessed-be-the-divine-providence it hasn't left me for a second since those days. Being a young Jewish man from an assimilated family and more at home in the Holy Mass than at any kind of "anachronistic" Jewish service, the task of thinking soon acquired vital dimensionality. God had been dead for already a long time and my adolescent familiarity with the Holocaust just made his death a fait-accompli beyond the possibility of grasping Nietzschean ethics that were breast-fed to me by two of my psychologists - One a divorced unhappy man and the second a suicidal Arab woman. In the awareness of God's sorry lack of avant-garde and Republicanism before the ethical Idealism of the New Testament I succumbed to the only timeless seduction that the Western world has produced, -the Western Classics.
One couldn't be no longer at home anywhere, and for a man that didn't own a TV set or for whom no place was home, Greece remained the only homeland... and there at the tender age of 16 I was initiated in the painful study of Classical philology, a tedious and unwound road. Those weren't easy times for those idealistic young men engaged in the enterprise of pursuing a classical education, for most teachers were either too old to teach how to think or too proletarian to think properly by themselves. The locus of our education was a little "Graeca", a group in which students would read Greek texts in the company of the philosophers of the day, our daily stoppover at the Museum before the section with all the most precious Pisarro's and those endless Euripidean nights of wine and cocaine. For all those living in Tel Aviv it's hardly possible to understand our leit-motif. Our only desire was to find a teacher finally, to believe that it was possible to learn how to think again.
That's about the time when I first met Giorgia Kaltsidou, a strong Greek woman of little formality, much smoking and strength. We used to gather around our teacher for the whole of Thursday afternoon beneath the trees in the collonial villa, often passing on cigarettes and small cups of vodka and cheap anice. For sometime I continued my readings of Greek poetry and most fervently loved Sappho and perhaps a little Sophocles; philosophy was something too angst-filled and phenomenal, I was still a young kid. All I wanted was to acquire some "Bildung", or in other words self-improvement through education. Becoming a philologist or maximum a humanist; at the time the idea of being become, of been become rarely crossed my mind. At least until that summer afternoon when our lecture with the greatest of teachers devoted four hours amidst coffee and tobacco to that all-destroying creature by the name of Martin Heidegger. It was murmured that he had re-invented the German language anew since Goethe and Schopenhauer, that he had proclaimed the end of philosophy and de-structured (dialectically opposed to destructed) the whole of the Western tradition. Our entanglement was rather limited, the "Parmenides fragment" and little more, perhaps also some sections from "What is meant by thinking?". Those lectures on Martin Heidegger brought to an end my career as a classical philologist and the happiness of a rarely touched-off childhood. That day without even knowing I had bethroted myself to Heidegger, for a love affair that have lasted until this very day. A fateful affair. Not unlike Avraham in the biblical account, I would wander from place to place in an attempt to reach the verticality of Adam before the original sin, but being too much in love with the horizontality of being the snake.
Soon after twilight the night wrapped us both in. Being "casually" Jewish or rather a very gentile type of Jew some of the fellow students introduced me to "The Origins of Totalitarianism", of H. Arendt. They just thought it comical, she herself had been a Jewess, a philosophy student under Heidegger, and incidentally his mistress. My acquaintance with her didn't become immediately fruitful, too much Heidegger around there I thought, and I could read the master directly anyway. It wasn't that comical after all, Heidegger became equated with words such as "Nazi", "traitor", "villain". "Nazi" didn't have for me at the time the meaning it had today, I had been too busy learning Latin in grammar school to be concerned with European history, after all one only needs to know the Classics and a little bit of Goethe to become a true European, all the rest is just time-management. Nevertheless as I discovered Hannah Arendt I became so truly unenlightened that suddenly words lost their very semantics and turned into personal odes, into offenses, into puzzles and riddles.
My friend Till and me were the only non-Americans in our school, and since we both spoke German a teacher thought it right to make the match; the chemistry was immediate and we would spend more than enough time to know each other well enough, without knowing much about ourselves at all nonetheless. He was a blonde German from a working family in Low Saxony, coming from a town inhabited by 400 people and his father a shoemaker, whereas I had grown up in the cosmopolitan City of God of Harvey Cox, my father an architect and my life polluted by smoke and violence since day one. We looked too different, I was short, with brown hair and sad eyes and foreseeable at a distance as the product of a racial mixture, always laughing and talking loudly, running in between people and all too opinionated.
He had such beautiful white skin and a vivid smile not separated from the happiest bluest eyes on earth. There wasn't a corner in our adolescence we didn't share, our first night out in a restaurant, first bottle of wine, a trip to Venice and even a brothel. Often during the week we would sleep in the company of the other and spend the day in our usual spots. I helped him to improve his command of the local language and he would present me often with books in the most yearned for of all languages; the German language. English had always been a borrowed skin, and one I feared would be collected from me one day. German was different, was the vehicle that would express that one read in the Greek. Till himself was an avowed "Nazi", reason for which Heidegger being one couldn't trouble me too much and he often invited me to camp out with him and his friends from the White Supremacy Youth. I was far from being Aryan-looking, but after all I spoke German and no one could beat me with the Classics; who if not a true Westerner could have such command of the Classics?
Not rarely we slept together under the same blanket, shared our dreams and often sat outside and looked at the stars. While he would explain me the constellation such, I would elucidate the mythology associated with it. At times I would lean my head on his chest and we would plan the future out the whole night long. Often we embraced and sang songs from the boyscouts or kissed thinking two boys could practice well for when girls would come our way. Honestly I never had any other friend like him, who would be a company in silence and in loud voices, a companion, a brother and almost a lover. For a couple of years we were estranged from each other and after years of on-line searches I found his address and immediately sent out a letter. The response returned immediately. I felt as though life had been injected into me anew. We could listen to the same songs together over and over, the green tiles of the spring, bathing in the river, a brotherhood bordering on romance, a romance bordering on brotherhood.
The first and deepest blow came about; Till wanted to find out what I was doing in Israel for what could I be doing in such a place? The violence and the bombs? The oriental lack of civilization and culture? The weather and awful service? And since it had never been an issue to me, I just bluntly replied I went to Israel because I'm Jewish. His happiest blue eyes acquired a pale expression and sank into silence. This time there were no presents and no pleasantries, they all sank like a ship taking away the loveliest pleasures of life.
Never again a word would come from him. At that time I understood that even my German language wasn't mine, but a loan with accrued interest. I understood what Nazi meant, that Till was a Nazi and that I was a Jew. I understood Heidegger was a Nazi. It doesn't mean by any means at all I kept myself willingly from loving both to this very day. Heidegger converted me to the enterprise of philosophy and turned some dead academic discipline to the center of my very universe. One could really think this world, philosophy would be no longer necessary, only the thinking activity in its purest form. A sort of Existential phenomenology that would allow one to penetrate through the very mystery of being, which isn't the mystery but the being itself alone. From Goethe we learnt: "Look for nothing beyond phenomena, they are themselves what is to be learnt". And only my deepest and secret hatred can turn so easily into love, any kind of philosophical discussion is as though he were looking over, and I always return to the very same philosopher whenever I am upon the sciences.
To the extent that in the philosophical circles of Jerusalem I became better-known for my Heideggerianism rather than for my Arendtianism, and both sins entail capital punishments to one's very right of individual morality. Whereas for some people being a Kantian is a personal expression, for me being an Existentialist Phenomenologist turned into a public invasion. At the center of my thought he always remains somewhere reminding me of Logos whenever I lose myself in the hierarchy of the Talmud. Existence can be revealed in manifold ways.


yoav said...

can I translate it to my blog? (with reference to your blog?)

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