There occurred, then, something I did not expect. A youth handed me an enormous book. He smiled warmly and said: “For you, Professor Müller”. It was L'Être et le Néant. That night, late, almost at dawn, I gathered the courage to open it. Yes, the French Master had written something, for me. “To the honest disciple of Heidegger, whose passion for his philosophy we share. Not to the ideologue of a nation that submits and tortures ours”. And below that sentence, his signature: “Jean-Paul Sartre”.
Was the French Master ignoring that, exactly, the honest disciple of Heidegger had joined National Socialism? How could he qualify me as “ideologue of a nation” if I had only laid out the great themes of Being and Time, on which he had based his ambitious book? Was Being and Time the ideology of a nation, the ideology of Nazism? His dedication, in summary, said: “Yes to the disciple of Heidegger. No to the Nazi”. How complex this was. Was Sartre ignoring that it was because of Heidegger that the disciple, abhorred by him, had become a Nazi? What bothered him so much? My exposition had been good. And I had added the ingredients (quite deliberately) that only a real, direct disciple of Heidegger, and, moreover, German, could deliver. Was he ticked off I wore swastika armband? Everyone knew Heidegger also used one. Karl Löwith, a Jew, his disciple, went, in 1936, to greet him in Rome and found his Master, unbothered, using the party armband. We had to do it. Löwith was disgusted and viciously spread the news. But, did he say with the same passion that Heidegger had travelled to the land of the Duce to give a conference on Hölderlin? Did he say the conference was magnificent? Did he say that few times had poetry been so deeply expressed by thinking? Only the swastika! Only the armband!
If the presenter had been Heidegger himself, would Sartre have written him that dedication? Would he have put “Yes to the philosopher, no to the Nazi”?
It was hours before I managed to sleep.
I read, through the night, L'Être et le Néant. It wasn’t a great book. It was a Heidegger for Frenchmen, a Heidegger written with the lightness and charm of Voltaire. I didn’t read it entirely. It overflowed with terminology, erudition, feverish and intelligent readings. It exceled, often, in the search for its his tradition, which was not, for him, that of the great German masters, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger (whom, it would be crazy not to admit it, he knew well) but Descartes, the cogito, subjectivity, the individual. His exaltation of the freedom of the subject, condemned to be free, that, to sum it up, postulation of a humanism, of a being (a bastard being, a nothing: néant) that freely gave itself to being, on acting choosing for itself, he dreamed defiantly and even heroically in a country suffocated by the enemy. His prose, I insist, was brilliant. At dawn I fell asleep.
Labels: The Shadow of Heidegger