Who is Martin Heidegger and why did I fall in love with him? How many of we us have not fallen in love with someone we don’t really know, later when knowing them, wonder at our blindness? As a woman, feminist and scholar becoming a professor in the male dominated 1970s academy, I wondered why my young male student colleagues loved to spar not only with each other, but with the reknown thinkers we read and discussed. They found flaws with them all, while I, the only woman in most of the classes, felt awe and appreciation for the work of Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Mead and others we studied together.
During my first year of doctoral studies, I fell in love with George Herbert Mead, the father of “symbolic interaction” theory. Mead opened my eyes to understand much of what previously was a black box to me—such as how it is that humans come to have a sense of self and how this connects us to those significant others in our lives. My career as a professor developed in his wake and that of his disciples, the symbolic interactionists of the Midwest. My marriage to Mead was happy and fruitful, bringing forth the offspring of my academic writings and research over the years, although peppered with the insights of critical theorists such as Marx, Marcuse and Habermas.
In the 1980s this changed. While teaching graduate social theory, emphasizing Mead, I met Martin Heidegger. Though my logician husband warned me away from him as obscure and indecipherable, I forged ahead, urged on my Richard Owsley, a philosopher colleague who headed annual Heidegger conferences. Owsley asked me to write and present a paper at this conference comparing Mead and Heidegger.
Being obliged to look at their social psychologies side by side, I found that Mead’s concept of “self” fell flat in comparison with Heidegger’s “Dasein”.
From then on Mead became a cherished “EX” and I married Martin.
The recognition of “Being” appeared as a shining light in and through the mundane world that the social scientists describe in ways devoid of vibrancy.
Almost from the start of my work with Heidegger came vehement objections from those who objected to Heidegger’s association with the National Socialist Party in 1933 when he was the Rector of Freiburg University.
In defense of Heidegger were his Jewish student, mistress and friend, Hannah Arendt, and Helmut Wagner, my colleague and friend who was a member of the anti-Nazi underground. Wagner appears in my novel and works with Alfred Schutz to help some Jewish scholars and their families escape Nazi Germany. Wagner read Heidegger’s inaugural address as Rector at Freiburg as a veiled critique of Nazism. Later Heidegger was not allowed to teach by the Nazis and made to help build ditches. Then after the war the allies did not allow him to teach because he had been a Nazi party member for about one year I think before the war.
Heidegger’s essays on technology, his homage to nature and to being, his critique of modernity all speak to the current crises of humanity. I found myself swept away by reading even his table of contents.
Recently, upon reading Heidegger’s letters to his wife, I learned that Arendt was not his only mistress, but that he also had a long time relationship with a countess. Recently his journals have been published and in them are some anti-semitic remarks woven in with some of his developing concepts.
In my novel, my protagonist, Victoria, and her companions in the anti-Nazi underground were able to gain Heidegger’s help in the escape of some Jewish scholars and their families from Nazi Germany. This is indeed what I would have liked him to have done. Yet even then, my fictionalized Heidegger could not cut the muster for Victoria. He was too involved in himself and his career to truly be with her.
Dear readers, I beg your understanding for this romance, as well as for Victoria’s moments of human connection with drew out in Adolph Hitler.
How many of us could stand scrutiny for our political participation of lack of it? How have we all participated in some ways in support of wars, genocide, torture, the destruction of the earth and each other, often in the name defending our nation?