Sunday, April 29, 2012
[Start][Previously on]

The Shadow of Heidegger

Suddenly I saw the same youth as at the previous conference. Once again he smiled warmly. Again he says: “For you, professor Müller”. Again he hands me a book. Again he leaves. Again it is about a book of Sartre’s; a novel, Nausea. The French hack had published it before the war, in 1938. It wasn’t inscribed. He hadn’t even signed it. Perhaps, I deduced, this time it was an impertinence of the young disciple. That impertinence flattered me: I was assuming, on the part of the disciple, rebelliousness, provoked by me, against his master.

I read it that very night.

I read it entirely, completely, word for word, all of them.

It was a great book.

It was something I didn’t know of.

It was a philosophical novel. It was impossible to know where one discipline ended and where another began. What was philosophy, what was literature? He was a philosopher and – at the same time – a great narrator. If Heidegger, in order to philosophize, searched for images in Hölderlin, Sartre knew how to create his own. The novel was the diary – or the notebooks, or the papers – of a historian. His name: Antoine Roquentin. Sartre wrote: “At that time, Antoine Roquentin, after travelling through Central Europe, North Africa and the Far East, settled in Bouville for three years to conclude his historical research on the Marquis de Rollebon”. Following that I read the novel with amazement and astonishment. There was so much philosophy there. There was so much literature there. It was his final phrase (his precise, final phrase) that led me to stretch out on the bed, face up, breathing agitated, gasping.

It was like so: “Tomorrow it will rain in Bouville”.

Roquentin had placed himself in Bouville. He had made of Bouville the space for his roots. Like Kant had in Königsberg. Roquentin’s roots would appear minor to that of Kant, given that it would only last while his investigation went on. But he was there. He resided in Bouville. He knew Bouville. He deciphered transcendence in its smells; in the smells of things. Why was he so foolish as to affirm tomorrow it will rain in Bouville? Because: “The building-yard of the New Station smells strongly of damp wood”. Man, in things, deciphers his future, but only when he is rooted in them. Tomorrow opens up the horizon of transcendence. And it will rain in Bouville expressed the wisdom of the rooted. How many times did Kant say tomorrow it will rain in Königsberg!

You will have discovered that these are the frayed thoughts of a fugitive, of a man in the act of un-rooting himself. There must be peace; harmony must exist between men and things. And that harmony is only handed out by rootedness. I don’t know if Sartre hinted exactly at what awoke in me. But I read him through Heidegger’s categories, making it unlikely that I misinterpreted him too much. Be that as it might, son, it is me I am talking of. I travel to Madrid and from there to Argentina. I un-root myself like always. Perhaps (if the gods or the devils of history are on my side) I will return someday to Freiburg. Perhaps I will write (if the gods or the devils of philosophy and literature help me) a novel like Nausea. Perhaps its final phrase will be: “Tomorrow it will rain in Bouville”.


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