Germany’s Heidegger Society Chair Resigns (updated)


Günter Figal (Freiburg) resigned his position this past Thursday as chair of the Martin Heidegger Society in the wake of the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte), which many believe show that Heidegger’s antisemitism was more central to his thinking than previously thought. Figal, who had held the position since 2003, is reported to have said in a radio broadcast:

As chairman of a society, which is named after a person, one is in certain way a representative of that person. After reading the Schwarze Hefte, especially the antisemitic passages, I do not wish to be such a representative any longer. These statements have not only shocked me, but have turned me around to such an extent that it has become difficult to be a co-representative of this.

Figal also called for the heirs of Heidegger to finally open up the Heidegger archives, so that an inquiry can shed more light on these matters. Apparently, the heirs are blocking access to thousands of pages in the archives. The story is reported (in German) here. I thank Godehard Brüntrup for the pointer to this article, translation, and additional information about the story.

UPDATE (1/21/15): The radio interview with Professor Figal (in German) is here.

Via Philos-L, Andrew Inkpin writes:
In the interview, as one might expect, Figal is a little more differentiated in what he says. He cites… a couple of antisemitic passages (15:30) from the Schwarze Hefte as a key factor in his resignation as chair of the Heidegger Gesellschaft. He particularly criticizes: (i) a comment from the late 30s/early 40s in which Heidegger comments on the “released immigrants who are now working against Germany”; (ii)a comment about Husserl, where Heidegger wrote that “Husserl, as a Jew, got no further in his thinking”. Figal comments that this is unworthy (unwürdig) of a philosopher, “that’s not how philosophers think” (so denkt man nicht, wenn man Philosophie treibt). – Figal also emphasizes the difference between Heidegger’s earlier work (i.e. up to an including Being and Time) and the mid-1930s, when the comments in question from the Black Books were written. Figal also states that prior to their publication he had no idea of the content of the Black Books and that it came as a “complete surprise” to him (17:15).

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Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

It is curious that the notebooks would be determinative regarding a Heidegger scholar’s willingness to remain associated with the great man’s legacy. After all, this is an individual who not only took up the intellectual cause of Jew hatred, but acted on it by purging his university on behalf of the Nazi regime – and furthermore never saw fit even to express regret. I suppose, though, that the attempts by Derrida and others to build a firewall between the philosophy and the bigotry now look all the more farcical.Report

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward
6 years ago

There is no firewall, but it would be wise to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. A concrete demonstration that this is possible: Foucault’s genealogy of biopower is, in large part, an acknowledged appropriation of Heidegger’s post-Kehre critique of technology. But Foucault, to my knowledge, has not been accused of antisemitism, nor is his work antisemitic.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Well, I for one do not believe that the work of a philosopher — or any other intellectual — should be “thrown out” (i.e., censored or purged) simply because she or he was a Nazi or otherwise held or acted upon deeply repugnant views.

Indeed, in the case of avowedly Nazi philosophers, the purging of some of them from the canon has led to an unfortunate elision of their influence (whether or indirect) on contemporary thought. Nitzan Liebovic has, for example, recently taken on the important task of exploring the work of Ludwig Klages, a quite influential Nazi “bio philosopher” (Benjamin was an avowed fan) and its largely hidden influence upon certain strands of contemporary philosophical and environmental thought.

The problem with the Heidegger case is the refusal by many (not including, I acknowledge, the above commentator) to recognize even the possibility that Heidegger’s racism implicated his philosophy. The commentator alludes to the concern of many that even admitting this possibility would lead down a slippery slope in which thinkers whose works operate under the heavy influence of Heidegger (e.g., Foucault’s) might then impliedly be tagged with the black mark of fascism.

That, frankly censorious, fear, however, is no reason to deny the very real influence of Nazism on the works of Heidegger — a faithful servant of the Reich — any more than it is a reason to refuse to read them.Report

Noelle McAfee
Noelle McAfee
6 years ago

A recent conference at Emory organized by Andrew Mitchell was took up the Black Notebooks and the problem of Heidegger’s anti-semitism in a very dispassionate and honest way. http://progressivegeographies.com/2014/08/03/heideggers-black-notebooks-philosophy-politics-anti-semitism/
And recordings of the talks are available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgEhVQ4kQGSpaE84Ha2Zec5t7b8c_8CKPReport

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward
6 years ago

My guess is that the refusal to acknowledge some of the possible connections between Heidegger’s philosophy and fascism/anti-semitism is due to the (still ongoing?) culture war between “analytic” and “Continental” philosophy (I think those are overlapping and incoherent categories, hence the scare quotes). Due to the institutional marginalization of the latter in Anglophone academia and the frankly irresponsible ways in which Heidegger’s antisemitism has been polemically exploited by enemies of “Continental” phiilosophy as such, some Heidegger scholars are not eager to give their enemies more rhetorical ammunition.

The talks at Emory on Schwarze Hefte seem very interesting; will make sure to take a look at it!Report

Jim
Jim
6 years ago

I think it’s legitimate to not want to be associated with antisemitism, laudable even. But I still don’t see how his early work and Being and Time are antisemitic texts.

Also, we might as well throw out Dostevsky, Nietzsche, and most of European history if mere antisemitism is grounds to censor historical analysis, be it intellectual history or political history.Report

Jim
Jim
6 years ago

My thinking on this is that his attempt to tie the essence of German history with Greek history during WWII is much closer to dubious thought than his early Husserl-responsive phenomenological work.

Heidegger made many significant discoveries about the history of philosophy, and I just don’t believe that we should stop reading him. Not wanting one’s name on an intellectual brand currently associated with antisemitism is another story entirely.Report

lAaron Garrett
lAaron Garrett
6 years ago

From what I can ascertain the resignation has to do with the Heidegger family’s refusal to make many of Heidegger’s papers available. Given that he doesn’t know what remains in these papers I see his point. Also due to the fact that the Heidegger family has a vested interest in preserving his and its image, Figal probably felt like he was being used as a PR man for Heidegger (pure speculation on my part).Report