AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Saturday, 16 January 2016


Martin Heidegger at his Black Forest house
I love the way Bernhard describes the German philosopher Heidegger in his book Old Masters*, via the mouth of his character Reger. The latter has just concluded a diatribe berating the Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868)** and his utterly boring depiction of natural landscapes, then continues...
...Stifter in fact always reminds me of Heidegger, of that ridiculous Nazi philistine in plus-fours. Just as Stifter has totally and in the most shameless manner kitschified great literature, so Heidegger, the Black Forest philosopher Heidegger, has kitschified philosophy, Hidegger and Stifter, each one for himself and in his own way, have hopelessly kitschified philosophy and literature. Heidegger, after whom the wartime and postwar generations have been chasing, showering him with revolting and stupid doctoral theses even in his lifetime -- I always visualize him sitting on his wooden bench outside his Black Forest house, alongside his wife who, with her perverse knitting enthusiasm, ceaselessly knits winter socks for him from the wool she has shorn from their own Heidegger sheep. I cannot visualize Heidegger other than sitting on the bench outside his Black Forest house, alongside his wife, who all her life totally dominated him and who knitted all his socks and crocheted all his caps and baked all his bread and wove all his bedlinen and who even cobbled up his sandals for him. Heidegger was a kitschy brain, Reger said, just as Stifter, but actually more ridiculous than Stifter who in fact a tragic figure unlike Heidegger,  who was always merely comical, just as petit-burgeois as Stifter, just as disastrously megalomaniac, a feeble thinker from the Alpine foothills, as I believe, and just about right for the German philosophical hot-pot. For decades they ravenously spooned up that man Heidegger, more than anybody else, and overloaded their stomachs with his stuff. Heidegger had a common face, not a spiritual one, Reger said, he was through and through an unspiritual person, devoid of all fantasy, devoid of all sensibility, a genuine German philosophical ruminant, a ceaselessly gravid German philosophical cow, Reger said, which grazed upon German philosophy and thereupon for decades let its smart little cow-pats drop on it.  Heidegger, in a manner of speaking, was a philosophical con-man, Reger said, who succeeded in getting a whole generation of German philosophers to stand on their heads. Heidegger is a revolting episode in the history of German philosophy, Reger said yesterday, an episode in which all philosophical Germans participated and still participate. To this day Heidegger has still not been entirely exposed for what he is; true, the Heidegger cow has become thinner but the Heidegger cow is still being milked. Heidegger in his worn plus-fours in front of that
 Heidegger with cap, sunning outside his "lie of a log cabin"
lie of a log cabin at Todtnauberg is all I have left as an unmasking photograph, the philosophical philistine with his crocheted black Black Forest cap on his head, under which, when all is said and done, nothing but German feeble-mindedness is warmed up over and over again, Reger said. By the time we are old we have undergone a great many murderous fashions, all those murderous fashions in art and in philosophy and in consumer goods. Heidegger is a good example of how nothing is left but a number of ridiculous photographs and a number of even more ridiculous writings. Heidegger was a philosophical market crier who only brought stolen goods to the market, everything of Heidegger's is second-hand, he was and is the prototype of the re-thinker, who lacked everything, but truly everything, for independent thinking. Heidegger's method consisted in the most unscrupulous turning of other people's great ideas into small ideas of his own, that is a fact. Heidegger has so reduced everything great that it has become German-compatible, you understand: German-compatible, Reger said. Heidegger is the petit bourgeois of German philosophy, the man who has placed on German philosophy his kitschy night-cap, that kitschy black night-cap which Heidegger always wore, on all occasions. Heidegger is the carpet-slipper and night-cap philosopher of the Germans, nothing else. I don't know why, Reger said yesterday, whenever I think of Stifter I also think of Heidegger and the other way about. Surely it is no accident, Reger said, that Heidegger just as Stifter has always been popular, and is still popular, mainly with those tense women, and just as those fussy do-gooding nuns and those fussy do-gooding nurses devour Stifter as their fovourite dish, in a manner of speaking, so they also devour Heidegger. Heidegger to this day is the favourite philosopher of German womanhood. Heidegger is the women's philosopher [it certainly made a... er... penetrating impression on Hannah Arendt],  the specially suitable luncheon philosopher straight from the scholars' frying pan. When you come to a petit-bourgeois or even an aristocratic-petit-bourgeois party, you are very often served Heidegger even before the hors-d'oeuvre, you have not even taken off your overcoat and already you are being offered a piece of Heidegger, you have not even sat down and already the lady of the house has brought Heidegger in with the sherry on a silver salver. Heidegger is invariably a well-cooked German philosophy which may be served anywhere and at any time, Reger said, in any household. I do not know of any philosopher today who has been more degraded, Reger said. Anyway, Heidegger is finished as far as philosophy is concerned, whereas ten years ago he was still the great thinker, he now, as it were, only haunts pseudo-intellectual households and pseudo-intellectual parties, adding an artificial mendaciousness to their entirely natural one. Like Stifter, Heidegger is a tasteless and readily digestible reader's pudding for the mediocre German mind. Heidegger has no more to do with intellect than Stifter has with poetry, believe me, and as far as philosophy and poetry are concerned, the two of them are worth nothing, although I still value Stifter more highly than Heidegger, who has always repelled me, because everything about Heidegger has always been repulsive to me, not only the night-cap on his head and his homespun winter long-johns above the stove which he himself had lit at Todtnauberg, not only his Black Forest walking stick which he himself had whittled, in fact his entire hand-whittled Black Forest philosophy, everything about that tragicomical man has always been repulsive to me, has always profoundly repulsed me whenever I even thought of it; I only had to know a single line of Heidegger to feel repulsed, let alone when reading Heidegger, Reger said; I have always thought of Heidegger as a charlatan who merely utilised everything around him and who, during that utilisation, sunned himslef on his bench at Todtnauberg. When I think that even super-intelligent people have been taken in by Heidegger and that even one of my best women friends wrote a dissertation about Heidegger, and moreover wrote that dissertation quite seriously, I feel sick to this day, Reger said. His nothing is without reason is the most ludicrous thing ever, Reger said. But the Germans are impressed by posturing, Reger said, the Germans have an interest in posturing, that is one of their most striking characteristics.
  Continuing the tirade, Reger attacks and mimics Heidegger and his everyday movements:
And as for the Austrians, they are a lot worse still in all these respects. I have seen a series of photographs which a supremely talented woman photographer made of Heidegger, who in all of them looked like a retired bloated staff officer; in these photographs Heidegger is just climbing out of bed, or Heidegger is climbing into bed, or Heidegger is sleeping, or waking up, putting on his underpants, pulling on his socks, taking a nip of grape juice, stepping out of his log cabin and looking towards the horizon, whittling away at his stick, putting on his cap, taking off his cap, holding his cap in his hands, opening out his legs, raising his head, lowering his head, putting his right hand in his wife’s left hand while his wife is putting her left hand in his right hand, walking in front of his house, walking at the back of his house, walking towards his house, walking away from his house, reading, eating, spooning his soup, cutting a slice of bread (baked by himself), opening a book (written by himself), closing a book (written by himself), bending down, straightening up, and so on. Enough to make you throw up. If even the wagnerians are more than flesh and blood can bear, what about the Heideggerians, Reger said. But of course Heidegger cannot be compared to Wagner, who really was a genius, a man to whom the concept of genius really applies more than to anyone else, whereas Heidegger has always only been a small philosophical rear-rank man. Heidegger, that much is clear, was the most pampered German philosopher of the century, and simultaneously the most insignificant. The people who made pilgrimages to Heidegger were mainly those who confused philosophy as something fried and roasted and cooked, which is entirely in line with German taste. Heidegger used to hold court at Todtnauberg and at all times would allow himself to be admired on his philosophical Black Forest plinth like a sacred cow. Even a famous and much feared North German publisher of periodicals kneeled before him devotionally and open-mouthed, as though, in a manner of speaking, he was expecting the host of the spirit from Heidegger sitting there under the setting sun on his bench before his house. All these people made their pilgrimages to Todtnauberg to see Heidegger and made themselves look ridiculous, Reger said. They made their pilgrimages, as it were, into the philosophical Black Forest, to the sacred Mount Heidegger and knelt down before their idol. That their idol was a total spiritual wash-out - that they could not know with their dull-wittedness. They did not even suspect it, Reger said. Nevertheless the Heidegger episode is revealing as an example of the German cult of philosophers. They invariably cling to the false ones, Reger said, to those who suit them best, to the stupid and the suspect ones.
* The book develops its text in a single flowing paragraph, sort of stream of consciousness style, 156-pages-long in the English translation by Ewald Osers, University of Chicago Press, 1989.
** Concerning Stifter, one of Austria’s most prized authors, Reger proclaims the following: “Stifter is merely an example of an artist being venerated as great for decades, and indeed loved, by a person, in fact by a person addicted to veneration and love, without ever having been great. In the disillusionment we experience upon discovering that the greatness of the one we have venerated and loved is no greatness at all and never was such greatness, but only an imagined greatness and is in fact pettiness, and indeed baseness, we experience the merciless pangs of the deceived” . Reger attacks both Stifter and the Austrian composer Bruckner (1824-1896) together, when he says, “But whereas Stifter today is only the dead paper of German literary scholars, Bruckner is moving everyone to tears. Bruckner’s surge of sound has conquered the world, one might say, sentimentality and false pompousness are celebrating triumphs with Bruckner. Bruckner is just as slovenly a composer as Stifter is a slovenly writer, both of them share that Upper Austrian slovenliness.
~ On this, check also the Master's thesis by Christina Latimer (University of Georgia, USA) at this pdf linkTHEATRICALITY AND SPECTACLE: A STUDY OF THOMAS BERNHARD’S OLD MASTERS AND JACOPO TINTORETTO’S WHITE-BEARDED MAN (2001).

For more information about Thomas Bernhard and his work, see my bernhardiana.

On Old Masters, see Michael Hofmann's review at: LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS.