If bad men must be bad thinkers, then any work that’s sufficiently good must have a good creator. This is the fallacy that has long driven us to exonerate men who don’t deserve our (or Arendt’s) exculpatory contortions. When the perversions of authors and thinkers permeate their work, the product is, mercifully, its own indictment. But when the product bears no traces of its untoward origins — when none of Arendt’s gods come to our rescue, cursing ugly men with ugly minds — there may be no recourse.
Heidegger is often reproached for his Nazi sympathies, but he’s rarely faulted for seducing Arendt when he was 35 and she was just 18, an eager student in the crowd at one of his popular lectures. His sexism, and our blindness to it, remained dangerous long after his Nazism ceased to pose a threat. Once the Nazi government collapsed, there was little that Heidegger could do to resuscitate it. But his fame still positioned him to take advantage of the female students dazzled or intimidated by his outsize reputation.
[Heidegger] thought we’re thinking, valuing beings thrown into a world whether we like it or not, and that our basic choice in that world is to choose whether to live life authentically or inauthentically. To own our practices and habits as conscious choices, or to fall in with Das Man, the herd, and without much thought do what everyone else is doing. Just to be popular, or cool, or to avoid standing out. Like a furry coat in winter, the embrace of the crowd keeps us warm and comfortable.
My teacher, Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), was fond of relating the cli-ché: “philosophy bakes no bread.” Given Heidegger’s reflections on bread (and wine), inspired by the poets Hölderlin, Trakl, and George, the challenge would not be to bake but to
bread, from the sheltering of the seed (Monsanto is part of this) to the labor of the farmers, where Heidegger turns to the poet’s reflection on the gift of bread to offer a guest, a wanderer, wel-come: the work of hands, the work of the harvest, the gift of nature itself.
The three existentials that express Dasein's way of being-in the world are also crucially operative in the disclosures afforded by this film. With the existential of understanding, we can highlight a number of interrelated aspects. First, because understanding (and its activation in what Heidegger calls "interpretation") is always predicated on a fore-having, or a pre-understanding, it is worth recalling that viewing of this film--indeed any film--is likewise always consequent upon prior film-viewing and the sorts of conventions other films have already conveyed to one. This will include items such as genre, editing, focus, narration, cross-cutting, and similar techniques of the medium. A second layer is the ability of understanding for projecting forward and backward. The existential is not simply about processing information, or applying intuition to concepts, say, in static fashion. Understanding involves an ecstatic dimension of being beyond oneself, stretching past what is simply in front of one, as a projection from one's current state of being. Hence the very narrative, temporal aspect experience in Days of Heaven or any other film is underwritten by this projective ek-stasis of Dasein. That all being said, let us examine a third layer of understanding here, which surely is the richest to take up. The existential features of understanding laid out here foster a disclosure--an interpretation--that comprises film images juxtaposed with one another, in temporal sequence. Dasein projects meaning--which is to say, it discloses intelligibility--from this juxtaposition of images. Hence, existentially speaking. Dasein's interpretive understanding, the meaning it finds in this film, is derivative from Dasein's underlying aspect of being-there in the film world.