Only a Rabbi Can Save Us:
The Late Philosophy of Heidegger and 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,” 1935, 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
Everything begins from the question mark [Fragezeichen] when one interrogates the essence of language.
--Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (1987), n5, 129.
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 and broadly historicizing as a practice of “re/reading” philosophy’s “abjexutality”; that is, “re/reading” is a more or less attentive receptiveness to a text’s abjection, due to various kinds of interference following from the vagaries of publication and from posthumous publication. Only by proceeding in a careful and preliminary philological manner (in which a publication is historicized according to chronological, linear time) will the paradoxical and spectral temporality, the late-ness and lags of publication and translation, the varied relations between a lecture and its publication, will the nature of the modern university’s crisis begin to become visible. Nothing less than the relation between philology, especially editing, translation, and the philosophical figuring of empirical, writing marks is at stake. Any historicist re/reading of Heidegger (and of Husserl) comes down to publication dates, 1927, 1933, 1935, and 1953 being the most oft-cited years in Heidegger’s case, and typographical marks such as quotation marks surrounding a single word, italicized words, and question marks.[i]
Heidegger here inscribes invisible quotation marks in the use of the same word.
--Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (1987), 95
I begin by rehearsing the reception and publication history of Heidegger’s Rectoral Address. After raising some broad questions about its re/reading, I will proceed to give the history of Husserl’s Vienna Lecture’s publication and translation history and then put the two texts in dialogue. Since the end of the Second World War, Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” has been at the center of a fairly heated debate, a debate that Richard Wolin dubbed in a somewhat tabloid manner 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, already retired from his teaching post in 1933, broke off relations in 1934 (in 1933 Heidegger had sent him a letter telling he could not lecture or tech in Germany because he was Jew.) 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.[ii]
Yet despite the controversy over the “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 is the exception to the rule, offering a close reading of the word “spirit” in a “key paragraph” (36) of the Rectoral Address in Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (see 33-37; 44-45), a preemptive response to Farias. [iii] 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 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 relatively lengthy interview in the same book, Derrida lashed out at Wolin, fiercely attacking his translation of Derrida’s interview as being grossly incompetent.[iv] Like the contributors to Wolin’s book, including Wolin’s own, however, Derrida did not offer a reading of the “Rectoral Address.”[v] 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.[vi]
Given the partisan default of debate, it is not surprising that the Address has largely gone unread, then, used largely as a symbol to represent the totality Heidegger’s works and person. Why does it haunt readings of Heidegger, disappearing in background noise in some cases, but taken up by Derrida and read closely in Of Spirit? How is the text to be framed in relation to Heidegger’s other writings before and after? Is it the text which frames, through a relative exteriority, all of Heidegger’s texts? Or is it a repetition and reconfirmation of Being and Time and later repeated in The Introduction of Metaphysics, as Derrida maintains? Is to be read exclusively in relation to Heidegger’s writings? 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, which as Derrida notes already returns as a ghost. 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 not be read in isolation for two reasons of a philological kind, the first being 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 carefully records 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.[vii] 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 second, philological reason it is impossible of reading the “Rectoral Address” in isolation, or of doing so without interpretive violence, is due to the paratexts that are part of 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).
The text translated here is that of a lecture given 14 March 1987 at the of a conference organized by the Collège international de philosophe in Paris, entitled “Heidegger: Open Questions.” The notes were naturally added later.
--Translator’s Note to Of Spirit, vii
We are going to speak of the “year” (Jahr) and precisely in order to approach what “later” sometimes means. What comes very late, the latest, can also lead back closer to an origin, or return [revenir], rather, to the origin before the orgin, even earlier than the beginning. [One of Trakl’s poem is entitled Jahr.”]
--Derrida, Of Spirit (1987), 83
This publication contains the text of the fully elaborated lecture course that was held under the same title in the summer semester of 1935 at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau. What was spoken no longer speaks in what is printed.
--Martin Heidegger, “Prefatory Note (1953)” Introduction to Metaphysics, xxix
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, along with Husserl’s “Vienna Lecture,” sometimes regarded as Husserl’s response to Heidegger. By “authorized violence,” I mean the same manner of reading Hölderlin’s poetry that philological critics attacked Heidegger for doing or that Derrida refers to ding himself in Of Spirit. 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 want to bracket the dialogical relation Heidegger’s “Rectoral Address” and Husserl’s Vienna Lecture. 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. My concern is not with what ever really happened, what Hiedegger did or did not do to husserl or with regard to him or what Heidegger’s motives were, but with how he and others have framed the reading of Rectoral Address. I only want to frame it a new way that reopens a philosophical reading as opposed to merely political reading of the Address and that thereby may shed light on the role of scientism in our own prolonged crisis in higher education.
Yet it is precisely the German / Jewish connection here that constitutes the scandal in that one cannot properly be thought without the other, the geopolitical, language, earth, and world. 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 poem was written by Georg Trakl. Who the author is remains unimportant here as with every other masterful poem. The mastery consists precisely in this, that the poem can deny the poet’s person and name.
--Heidegger,” On Language” in Poetry, Language, and Thought, 193
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-WitzTo 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.
[i] See Derrida, Of Spirit, “twenty years later” (33-34); “six years later, 1933” (31); “We are still in 1926-27.” (29); the Einfuhrung (1935) repeats the invocation of spirit launched in the Address” (41); “between 19919 and 1939” (61); “twenty years earlier” (66);“in the Rectorship Address the quotation marks still remained, an already exceptional residue. They disappear in the quotation given in the Introduction to Metaphysics two years later” (66); “twenty years later” (70); “only in 1953. . . But in 1935 . . . the one that in 1953” (71);“Heidegger still does in 1935” (72); “of those 1942 lectures collected under the title “The Essence of the Poet as Demigod” . . . . published by Beisner in 1933” (75); “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. What is spirit? Final reply, in 1953 . . Twenty years later, then, and what years!” (83); “continually from 1933” (95); “Heidegger was condemning in 1935” (96); “Heidegger devoted to it in 1933” (102); “Heidegger also tried, in 1936” (102); “(for example from 1933 to our time).” Derrida also remarks self-consciously at various points on the lateness of his own lecture (it is hard to believe that he read the entire book as one uninterrupted lecture): “It is too late and I won’t keep you here until morning.” See also pp. vii, 68, 85, 87, 99, 113, and: “There are so many reasons for not re-commencing when it is already too late, always too late” (n3, 132). Derrida’s historicist reading is particularly interesting because he often substitutes dates for the titles of texts, particularly in the case of Heidegger’s essay “Language” which discusses Georg Trakl’s poem “A Winter’s Evening.” Derrida’s “typographical” reading of Heidegger’s use and mention of the word “spirit,” from saying it had to be avoided (1927) and putting it in quotation marks; to lifting the quotation marks and italicizing it (1933), depends on, but does not entirely turn on philological exactitude. Derrida reads Heidegger’s works chronologically, but he figures Heidegger’s quotation marks in a series of ways (as a door, a frontier, a curtain, and their the lifting of a theater curtain (he also conflates, theater, film—“opening credits”—and opera [“overture”], though he only mentions theater by name) to arrive at his philosophical conclusion “Spirit is double” (41) and thereby better read Heidegger’s use and mention of three words “Geist” (the noun “spirit”), “geistig” and “geistlich” (both adjectives meaning “ghostly”). Similarly, Derrida irregularly retains the German original of Heidegger’s texts so that in some cases one has to translate the German word or phrase in order to know the Heidegger text to which he refers. While Derrida quietly departs from philological norms in his own "abjext," he skips over the spectrality of Heidegger’s corpus, its “abjextuality,” attention to which is even more necessary when it comes to reading Husserl’s posthumously published fragment The Crisis of the European Sciences, selections of which were published in an English trnslation by David Carr in 1970. A second German edition was published in 1977. the doubleness of Geist links up with Heidegger’s “uncanny.”
[ii] 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."
[iii] 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).
[iv] 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.
[v] 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).
[vi] 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.
[vii] 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).