Thursday, January 12, 2012

Heidegger: Dasein & Zen

"The world of 'Dasein' is a with-world" ~ Martin Heidegger
Many who have written about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger have failed to bridge a rapprochement between his thoughts and his actions. He was a notorious booster of the Nazis in his position as Rector at Freiburg University from 1933-34, helping promulgate the “blood and soil” rhetoric of the party, shutting down democratic institutions on campus and betraying colleagues. While he resigned a year later, he remained a member of the Nazi Party until the bitter end in 1945. Whether or not he was anti-Semitic appears to be moot given his support for Hitler, but he did deny that he was and for a time was romantically involved with a young Jewish woman by the name of Hannah Arendt.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
Heidegger's politics have posed a huge problem for anyone sympathetic to his philosophical views before Hitler's ascent. After World War II, he also appeared mildly anxious and attempted to recast his support for the Nazis as uncommitted, lukewarm or even coerced. But he never categorically rejected them, nor directly expressed any regret about the holocaust before his death in 1976.

(Heidegger marked with an 'X,' 1933)
Arendt was primarily responsible for saving what could be saved of Heidegger's thought and separating it from his actions. But as the record has slowly emerged, it has become harder to sustain this distinction, if it ever could have been in the first place.

(Heidegger in the Black Forest)
This is a familiar problem for admirers of those who, like Heidegger (or Ozzy), espouse vile personal views while creating moving works of art or philosophy. But an exception has been made for Heidegger's major works like Being and Time (1927), which appeared before the rise of the Nazis and went on to make a profound impact on such 20th century developments as existentialism and deconstruction.

Heidegger's concept of "Dasein" (literally "there-being") is intoxicating and the similarities to Zen Buddhism's notions of "mindfulness" are inescapable. Both suggest a totalizing interdependency of all things, both animate and inanimate objects, coalescing into a "Being-in-the-World" that is intimately rooted in the physical and spiritual realms.

(William Blake)
Finding connections between East/West is something I've been interested in for a long time. There's some scholarship that suggests a more direct relationship between Heidegger and Japan, but how deep this actually went is hard to tell.

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