Iain Thomson - Thinking Love Heidegger and Arendt


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Iain Thomson

This paper can be understood as a philosophical investigation of the nature of the romantic love that developed between Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, whom Heidegger later called “the passion of his life.”1 As anyone who has studied the correspondence between Heidegger and Arendt knows, their complicated love affair—stretching across half a century, from 1925 to 1975 (and ending only when Arendt died, six months before Heidegger)—raises numerous questions, not only philosophical but also biographical, psychological, political, and moral. Those moral questions (which I must mostly bracket here) are rendered only slightly less pressing by the nature of the relationship between Heidegger and his wife, Elfride.2 Theirs is often described as an “open-marriage,” but that is misleading. There was nothing “open” about Heidegger’s passionate relationship with Arendt, and precious little in the long succession of affairs that followed. Instead, the fact that Heidegger was (rather nobly) raising as his own son a boy (Hermann) whom Elfride had conceived in an earlier love affair of her own seems to have given Heidegger something of a lifelong “Get out of jail free” card (or, more accurately, a “Get out of Jail without a divorce” card), and one he played with a frequency that tormented Elfride.3 Elfride was enraged with jealousy when Heidegger finally told her the truth about Arendt in 1952, and it was another twenty years before the two women finally brokered an uneasy accord as protectors of Heidegger’s legacy.4 But most of the details of that intriguing story will have to wait for another time. Of necessity, my guiding question here will be narrower: What might we learn about romantic love—its perils as well as its promise—from studying the lifelong love affair between two of the most famous thinkers of the twentieth century?

I believe we can discern at least three broad ways of conceiving of romantic love in Heidegger’s affair with Arendt, all of which can be found mixed together in their relationship


almost from the beginning, but only one of which survives all the way to the end of their lives. I think this is neither a coincidence nor simply the result of emotional attrition; instead, this third way of thinking love can be understood as an improved synthesis of the first two, one which preserves something of their central advantages while avoiding their distinctive problems. In order to make this case as clearly and concretely as possible, I shall explain the first two models of love and their problems, then document their more complicated presence in Heidegger and Arendt’s relationship, before turning finally to the third way of thinking love at work in their correspondence.

1. The Perfectionist and Unconditional Models of Love

Of the broad ways of conceiving romantic love in Heidegger’s own thinking, perhaps the easiest to discern is what we might call the perfectionist model of love. Here the lover focuses his love on the essential but often inchoate characteristics he finds most worthy of being loved in his beloved, thereby seeking to help nurture and cultivate the development of those distinctive traits.5 Second, and mixed in with the first from the beginning, is the unconditional love ideal. Here the lover pledges an unconditional commitment to his beloved, thereby effectively

promising to love his beloved independently of her particular characteristics. These two broad ways of conceiving love pervade Heidegger’s correspondence with Arendt, and they still remain common in our own culture, almost a century after that correspondence began.6

Unfortunately, each of these models of love seems to founder on its own reef. The perfectionist model, in which the lover loves specific attributes in the beloved, renders the loving relationship vulnerable should those characteristics be lost. (In the case of physical


throughout our adult lives—a fact perhaps not irrelevant to the case at hand.) The perfectionist model is thus vulnerable to the notorious “trading-up” problem, should the lover encounter a new person who seems to possess superior versions of the characteristics he loves (or once loved) in his beloved. For the same reason, there is also the danger of stultification: Insofar as love attaches to the beloved’s particular properties (whether these are psychological, physical, or what have you), the beloved may be discouraged from maturing in such a way that she might outgrow these properties. (Put simply, this is the distressing fact that saying “I love you; you’re perfect exactly as you are!” also suggests: “Now, just don’t change!”) The underlying problem with the perfectionist model, the problem which generates these difficulties, is that this way of thinking love makes it contingent on the continued possession of certain lovable characteristics, the loss of which threatens to signal the death knell of the love relationship.

In the model of unconditional love, by contrast, what is held sacrosanct are not particular qualities of the beloved but something else. What? Many of us might first answer: The loving relationship itself. If we take “relationship” literally, however, and then try to specify the properties of the relationship in virtue of which it merits our love (including the immense energies the lovers may “invest” in it, its rich repository of shared experiences, its utility in raising children, making money, succeeding socially, and so on), then we basically end up elaborating an intersubjective version of the perfectionist model of love, one which suffers from the same kind of problems. That is, it remains vulnerable to one or both of the lovers’ sense that their libidinal “investment” is not paying off, that their role in the relationship is stultifying rather than liberating, that the children are not being raised well, that better experiences could be had elsewhere, or that any of the particular dimensions that make the relationship valuable might be realized more fully with a different partner. (In letters to his wife, Heidegger consistently rejects


any understanding of the love relationship as a kind of mutual investment as the dead heart of the “bourgeois” “picture of a ‘happy marriage.’”)7

Instead of putting the onus on the relationship itself, then, it may be better to recognize that a truly unconditional model of love suggests that it is once again primarily the beloved we love (and not simply the relationship between us). With the model of unconditional love, however, what we ultimately love about our beloved is not some contingent property (or set of properties) which would thereby set conditions on our love, but rather something inherently mysterious, some je ne sais quoi that defies conceptualization. Insofar as such unconditional love is not contingent on the beloved’s possession of particular characteristics, it is not vulnerable to their loss. It thus avoids the main problems facing the perfectionist model: It avoids the simple “trading-up” problem and also allows room for the beloved to grow and mature without the same fear that such changes will lead the lover to fall out of love. Yet, that is true only so long as the mysterious je ne sais quoi we love is not merely an occult or

unarticulated property which could nevertheless be lost or trumped, since that would bring us right back to the perfectionist model and its problems. If I refer to this mystery as a je ne sais quoi, then, I do not mean some specific property of the beloved which the lover merely lacks the words to express (as is suggested by that clichéd phrase, “a certain je ne sais quoi”), but

something more genuinely mysterious.

The new problem, however, is that such unconditional love, precisely because it does not seem to love anything in particular about the beloved, renders the unconditional lover unable to explain—even to himself—why he loves this specific beloved rather than another. If I cannot justify my love for my beloved by appealing to any of her specific characteristics (or any of the particular properties of our relationship), then my loving her rather than another risks looking


arbitrary and ungrounded, not just to others but to me and my lover as well, insofar as we, as thinking beings, try to understand our love. Jean-Paul Sartre nicely articulates this problem when he pointedly asks:

Who would be content with a love given as pure loyalty to a sworn oath? Who would be satisfied with the words, “I love you because I have freely engaged myself to love you and because I do not wish to go back on my word?”8

Here Sartre seems to offer a reductio of love as nothing but an empty contract (as if lampooning the “bourgeois” reduction of love to marriage). Ironically, however, Sartre is actually describing his own unconditional commitment to Simone de Beauvoir, and thus secretly suggesting that the two of them are among those rare few capable of remaining satisfied with such a groundless and seemingly decisionistic commitment. Notice that for Sartre the contract is primarily with oneself, not one’s partner; this is a philosopher’s understanding of love as nothing but an autonomous commitment: formal, contentless, and continually vulnerable to being superseded by a new commitment. Indeed, Sartre’s complicated love life—which, much like Heidegger’s, took the shape of a defining commitment to a largely de-eroticized life partner accompanied by a long succession of troubled erotic affairs—suggests that the central threat to the preservation of such an unconditional love relationship is the repeated risk of its dissolution through the division of the lover’s own amorous attention and affections.9

For Sartre and Heidegger, this partner-plus-lover dynamic mostly took the stereotypical form of the notorious “Madonna/whore” dichotomy, in which a de-eroticized primary pairing gets supplemented by a series of dynamic erotic affairs. Yet, as Derrida liked to say, the logic of the supplement is to supplant (that is, to come eventually to take the place of what initially it supplements), which suggests that the primary partnership remains threatened by the possibility that the lover will become the new partner, thus generating a jealousy that further destabilizes the


primary partnership. As much as the lover might try to reassure his primary partner that he will never allow his new affair to usurp her role, she may have good reasons to doubt him, especially if their own relationship began as a similar sort of affair. (This was not quite the case for

Heidegger and Elfride, who first met in December 1915 when the 22 year-old Elfride enrolled in the 26 year-old Heidegger’s first class as a university Lecturer (or Privatdozent), just a few months after he broke off his engagement to his first love, Marguerite Weninger.10 Still, Elfride’s jealousy concerning Heidegger’s female students was clearly exacerbated by the fact that their own love affair began in his classroom.) Moreover, insofar as the lover does manage to keep the affair within the prescribed limits, it is often by instituting artificial bulwarks that seek to prevent the erotic affair from developing into a fully loving relationship (the kind of barriers Heidegger quickly installed in his relationship with Arendt, as we will see). The typical triadic relation thus seems to generate a combination of jealousy (from the partner) and envy (from the lover) that tends to disrupt the triangle, often leading to a succession (or multiplication) of new triangles.

Of course, this problem is not exclusive to the unconditional model, but it seems particularly pressing for it. For, if what one loves is not some definite quality of a particular person but an ineffable mystery, then why not love every mysteriously attractive individual? To put it in Alexander Nehamas’s terms: Why not pursue every shimmering “promise of happiness” one comes across?11 As this suggests, it is not clear that the unconditional model of love can be compatible with a normative commitment to monogamy (or any such exclusive commitment). Nor does such promiscuity become unproblematic if one simply jettisons that commitment to monogamy. For, it is still not clear how the unconditional model, insofar as it encourages an endless plurality of loves, can be made compatible with a finite life, in which we simply cannot pursue ever mystery we encounter (especially when to do so is to risk dissolving our defining


commitments). The unconditional model thus turns out to be quite unstable, caught as it is on the horns of a dilemma: Either the lover can specify what it is about his beloved that justifies his commitment to her (in which case that commitment is actually contingent on the possession of those specific properties, and we are back in the perfectionist model); or else he cannot specify what makes his beloved special, in which case his unconditional commitment risks looking as arbitrary and decisionistic as Sartre suggests (which encourages this unconditional lover to think that similar commitments to other beloveds might be just as satisfying).

The fundamental problems, in sum, are that the love of one’s beloved seems arbitrary on the unconditional model and contingent on the perfectionist one. Of course, such philosophical categorizations attain their clarity by abstracting away from the messy details of real human lives, but that is precisely what makes them potentially revealing as analytic tools. As we turn now from the abstract to the particular case, what I would like to demonstrate is that the love relationship between Heidegger and Arendt partook in both of these models, and suffered from both of their problems. Proceeding this way will then allow me to suggest that, by the end of their lives—through all the suffering and satisfaction they experienced on account of their love— these two thinkers also help suggest a way to combine the best features of these two models of love into something that transcends them and so escapes their distinctive problems. Indeed, I think the conceptual difficulties inherent in the unconditional love ideal—the fact that it seems to either reduce back to the perfectionist model or else devolve into the kind of arbitrary

commitment Sartre defends—only get resolved when the unconditional and perfectionist models get sublated into the third way of thinking love, which I shall call love as an ontological event. For, with this third way of thinking love, the mystery of what it is that we love unconditionally in the other gets recognized as the never completely knowable fount of the other’s existence as that


existence unfolds in time and yet remains capable of being unified—and nurtured in all its post-perfectionist particularity—when viewed through the eyes of love. Or so I shall suggest in what follows.

3. Thinking Love (Take 1): The Perfectionist Model and its Distortions in Action

In November 1924, Arendt began attending a Marburg University seminar on Plato’s Sophist taught by Dr. Heidegger (although no longer a lecturer, Heidegger was not yet in possession of the esteemed title of “Professor”).12 She was an 18 year-old freshman, he a 35 year-old father of two young boys.13 Arendt was already a brilliant young student. The willful and independent teenager had read Kant’s first Critique on her own at age 16, but was expelled from high school after leading her classmates in a boycott against a teacher who offended her.14 In what would have been her junior year in high school, Arendt took several semesters of classes at the University of Berlin and began secretly dating a boyfriend five years older than herself. (Pace Ettinger’s scandalous account, the precocious Arendt was no cloistered naïf by the time she arrived in Marburg to study with Heidegger.)15 It was in Berlin that Arendt first fell in love with the Christian existentialism of Kierkegaard and heard “the rumor of the secret king,” a rumor that (as she later recalled) “made its way through all of Germany,” proclaiming that with


Thinking is coming alive again; the cultural treasures of the past, which everyone had believed dead, are being made to speak again, whereby it turns out that they are saying things quite different from what one had suspected. There is a teacher; one can learn, perhaps, to think.

Enticed by the rumor that there was “a secret king in the realm of thinking” from whom one could learn “thought-ful reading” and (as she tellingly put it) “passionate thinking, in which


thinking and being alive become one,” Arendt studied independently and excelled on her university entrance exams, then enrolled the following year at Marburg University.16

Among those who knew her then, Arendt already had a reputation for having “read everything”; her memory for poetry (often in the original Greek) was prodigious; and by all accounts she was not only beautiful but highly fashionable as well. Having brought a bit of cosmopolitan Berlin with her to provincial Marburg, the stylish young Arendt was impossible to miss, a deliberate nonconformist wearing the only bright green dress in the sea of black and grey clothing. Every description of her early years mentions her striking beauty, which always comes back to her deep, dark eyes. Hans Jonas, a fellow student whom Arendt quickly enlisted to help protect her “against impertinent male advances,” recalls first seeing Arendt during that same semester she met Heidegger:

Of course I noticed her at once—who wouldn’t have? …[W]hat a fascinating, attractive, enchanting person she was, what an exceptional human being. You didn’t have to be exceptionally perceptive to recognize that—it was as plain as day in her eyes and on her expressions. Besides, she was so attractive…17

Jonas was one of Arendt’s only confidants in her affair with Heidegger (and he loyally kept her secret until after Arendt’s death, not even telling his own wife).18

Heidegger wrote to Arendt on 21 March 1925, a month after beginning the affair, reminiscing about his first meeting with “the young girl who, in a raincoat, her hat low over her quiet, large eyes, entered my office for the first time, and softly and shyly gave a brief answer to each question.”19 But it is from Jonas that we have the only description of the fateful event:

Hannah confided the following to me: At some point during this first semester [in the Winter of 1924-25] she had to see Heidegger during office hours, for something connected with her studies. It was late in the day, and in his office it was growing dim, for he hadn’t turned on the light.20 When they’d finished what they had to discuss and Hannah got up to leave, Heidegger saw her to


the door. At that moment something unexpected happened; in Hannah’s words: “Suddenly he went down on his knees before me. And I bent down, and from below he reached up his arms toward me, and I took his head in my hands, and he kissed me, and I kissed him.” So it began. It wasn’t the usual beginning for a professor’s seduction of a student, nor was it lust for adventure on the part of a student out to seduce a professor; the whole thing was very dramatic, taking place on an emotional plane that gave the relationship an absolutely exceptional quality from the very beginning. Heidegger had his eye on her. She was by no means the only one; as I learned later, he took an interest in a woman student from time to time, and I never heard of one who resisted. But these affairs were entirely different—they certainly didn’t begin with his falling to his knees, and surely none of them lasted a lifetime. This moment marked the beginning of something from which both parties fundamentally never freed themselves.21

Let me just emphasize that the striking detail which makes this scene unique in Jonas’s eyes— namely, Heidegger’s falling to his knees before Arendt—is for Heidegger an appropriate

response to divinity. From 1909 to 1957, Heidegger describes “God” as that being before whom “man can fall to his knees in awe.”22 Heidegger’s letters suggest that he associated Arendt with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, erotic attraction, and their ecstatic fulfillment.23 According to the most revealing of her origin myths, Aphrodite takes shape from the foam that emerges when Kronos throws the castrated penis of his father, Ouranus, into the ocean. Aphrodite thus symbolizes the life-giving power of orgasm, by which life perpetuates itself within the temporal order once it escapes the tyrannical reign of endless cosmic homogeneity. (This mythological background adds another dimension of meaning to what I shall call

Heidegger’s erotic Heracliteanism.)

That touching scene (if you will pardon the pun) took place in early February 1925, and on February 10, Heidegger writes the first of their many love letters. It begins:

Dear Miss Arendt!


Everything must be simple and clear and pure between us. Only then will we be worthy of having been allowed to meet. You are my pupil and I your teacher, but that is only the occasion for what has happened to us.

I shall never be able to call you mine, but from now on you will belong in my life, and it shall grow with you.24

From the very beginning, then, Heidegger makes clear to Arendt that he will never leave his wife for her (“I shall never be able to call you mine”), thereby pre-establishing the boundary that will initially drive Arendt away from him—ironically, in the same letter in which he pledges to keep her in his life forever by growing and so making room for her. But Heidegger does not merely seek to establish ground rules for their affair; as his first letter continues, we witness the dramatic appearance of the perfectionist model of love. Remember that the perfectionist lover focuses on the desirable aspects of his beloved’s nature or character, thereby seeking to help nurture and bring these inchoate aspects to fruition. Then notice how Heidegger focuses on what he takes to be the true but hidden “happiness” of Arendt’s “innermost, purest feminine essence,” currently concealed by her anxious “disquiet” (or “restlessness,” Unruhe):

The path your young life will take is hidden. We must be reconciled to that. And my faith in you shall only help you remain true to yourself.

Your have lost your “disquiet,” which means you have found the way to your innermost, purest feminine essence. Someday you will understand and be grateful—not to me—that this visit to my “office hour” was the decisive step back from the path toward the terrible solitude of academic research, which only man can endure—and then only when he has been given the burden, as well as the frenzy, of being productive.

“Be happy!”—that has become my wish for you.

Only when you are happy will you become a woman who can give happiness, and all around whom is happiness, security, repose, reverence, and gratitude to life.

And only in that way will you be properly prepared for what the University can and should give you. That is the way of genuineness and seriousness, but not in the forced academic activity of many of your sex—activity that one day comes apart, leaving them helpless and untrue to themselves.


For it is at the point where individual intellectual work begins that the initial preservation of one’s innermost womanly essence becomes decisive.25

Heidegger’s unabashed sexism is obviously offensive—not only to our contemporary sensibilities but to the young Arendt’s as well. Of course, when Heidegger suggests that only a man like him—one both blessed and cursed with a mind so productive that it nearly drives him mad—“can endure” that “terrible solitude of academic research,” he is trying to paint a heroic self-portrait of his rarefied intellectual virtues for the beautiful young student he hopes will soon become his lover. (And the fact that Heidegger’s self-portrait is naively sincere makes it all the more revealing.) Nonetheless, Heidegger’s assumption that no woman could bear a similar intellectual burden obviously rankled Arendt, who even in youth knew herself to possess an exceptional mind and a capacity for solitary thought which had set her apart since childhood.26 Arendt would prove Heidegger wrong, of course, by going on to become one of the most famous political theorists and public intellectuals of the twentieth century, but it will still take her forty years to open his eyes and begin to lead him beyond his traditional stereotypes about gender roles.27 That the young Arendt complained about these stereotypes is shown by Heidegger’s next letter, in which he tries to reassure her that: “The opportunities for womanly existence open to you are completely different from what the ‘student’ in you believes, and much more positive than she suspects.”28 But Heidegger will not be disabused of his gender stereotypes, and adds (in a patronizing gesture of reconciliation): “May masculine questioning learn reverence from simple [feminine] devotion; [and] may one-sided [masculine] activity learn breadth from the original unity of womanly being.”

Heidegger’s sexism will remain an issue between them, and his attempt to put and keep Arendt in a conceptual box she finds stultifying rather than liberating reminds us quite


dramatically of the problems with his perfectionist attempt to define the shape of her self-realization. We can see a similar issue at work in Heidegger’s aforementioned insistence that Arendt will always be his lover and never his wife, his Aphrodite rather than his Hera, although that alone need not have been fatal for their love affair.29 Ironically, what really doomed

Heidegger’s perfectionist vision of their love was his seemingly innocuous insistence that when Arendt developed her “innermost, purest feminine essence,” she would then throw off her anxious unease and: “Be happy!” We begin to see the problem when we notice how much Heidegger makes contingent on Arendt’s fulfillment of his “wish” for her to be happy:

Only when you are happy will you become a woman who can give happiness, and all around whom is happiness, security, repose, reverence, and gratitude to life. / And only in that way will you be properly prepared for what the University can and should give you.

In other words, the good things you deserve will come to you, but only if you first become happy. It is this happiness imperative—which recurs relentlessly in Heidegger’s letters to Arendt —that first devastated their loving relationship, as I shall now show.

The crucial turning point comes in mid-April 1925, when Arendt first risks truly opening herself to Heidegger psychologically by sharing with him a self-portrait of her own, a prose poem she titled “Shadows.” In this piece she wrote for and dedicated to Heidegger, Arendt reveals that deep down, her “innermost, purest feminine essence” is not in fact filled with the kind of unalloyed joy he imagines. On the contrary, the long, drawn-out death of her beloved father Paul from syphilis—which “took five agonizing years, from [Arendt’s] second to her seventh birthday,” and which was followed only a month later by the death of the grandfather who helped raise her—marked Arendt’s childhood deeply, and still continues to shape her profoundly.30 The only reason this is not already obvious to Heidegger is that Arendt’s way of coping with years spent “witnessing [her father’s] gradual mental and physical deterioration and


finally, after great suffering, his death,” was primarily to disavow the entire experience. As the psychoanalytic trauma theorist and philosopher Robert Stolorow observes:

The trauma involved in this distressing family situation was largely disavowed and dissociated, as Arendt’s developing identity crystallized around an outward style of joy and optimism, [in which she adopted the role of] a “sunshine girl” who never showed any grief or pain in relation to the family’s tragedy.31

In an attempt to “explain” all this to Heidegger, and so help him get to know her as an individual human being in her own right and not just as a lover (in her words: to be “humanly accessible…beyond the personal and the intimate”), Arendt presents Heidegger with “Shadows,” a work of autobiographical self-analysis. Here she writes with faux-detachment by adopting a third-personal perspective, yet the piece drips with pathos, rendering obvious the desperation beneath Arendt’s attempt to explain her secret “double nature” to Heidegger. It was “in her quiet, barely awakened youth,” she recounts, that “she got used to dichotomizing her life,”

compartmentalizing the “here and now” so as to seal it off from the tragic “then and there” of her father’s suffering and death. But her disavowed past refused to disappear; “everything that happened to her” in her “helpless, betrayed youth” “made its way deep into her soul and remained there, isolated and sealed off.” Her “extreme pain” was “not forgotten,” but rather repressed; the “joyful dreams” of the “morning of her young life” were “lost,” along with any sense of integral wholeness in her present experience. By denying and repressing her youthful suffering in order to present a façade of happiness, Arendt had become “entrapped in herself,” and still feels tortured by lingering fears of “madness, joylessness, distress, and annihilation.” Now, as a result, “she did not belong to anything, anywhere, ever.” Haunted by “vague pain” and so deadened to the pleasures of the present, Arendt poignantly confesses to her lover, she feels “trapped” within herself, isolated from joy “as if she were dead flesh.”


Arendt’s anxiety that Heidegger will leave her seems to be reactivating her profound fear of abandonment, but she nevertheless risks trying to tell him that she feels as if he does not really see her even when he looks at her.32 Like Eurydice to his Orpheus, Arendt feels as if she is “slipping away, vanishing, except when she tried to ingratiate herself with submissive

friendliness.” But her “pale and colorless” compliance to his expectation that she be happy only “conceals” her “uncanny” sense that she is really just “a shadow stealing across the path,” a shade destined to remain trapped in an underworld she cannot escape. She does not even wholeheartedly desire such an escape, she suggests, because this underworld is also the

“youthful kingdom” that “she ruined and rejected” when she denied the suffering that permeated her formative experiences, repressing those moments of genuine love and closeness she had experienced with her father in order to escape the suffering that subsequently engulfed them. Arendt’s almost suicidal-sounding final sentence thus claims to look forward to “the long and eagerly awaited end” that will finally put an end to all her worries and “useless activity.”33

Now, Arendt’s Kierkegaardian ideal of a robust and unified sense of self was something she could expect Heidegger to understand. Read carefully (as she could reasonably expect the master of hermeneutics to read it), Arendt’s letter suggests that what she is really hoping for from Heidegger is that he will encourage her incipient quest to reintegrate these two sides of herself, helping her to restore the integrity of her experience so that she will no longer feel split between a lost kingdom of naïve innocence and a numbed present filled with hollow pretense. Arendt even offers a coded suggestion of a difficult path forward, apparently hoping that Heidegger will help articulate and affirm her own prescription for the heroic path she must walk in order to reunify her “double nature,” a prescription which is (in her words):


to suffer and to know—every minute and every second vigilantly and defiantly to know—that one must be grateful for even the most extreme pain; indeed, it is such suffering that makes anything at all worthwhile.”34

For Eurydice to escape the underworld, Arendt suggests, she will need to become a hero herself, capable of affirming “the most unbearable” tragic insight that everything truly meaningful is born out of deep suffering.

So, how did Heidegger respond to Arendt’s desperate plea for understanding, her coded bid for them to develop more of a “humanly accessible” relation between equals? The intense emotional distress of her letter must have alarmed Heidegger greatly, for instead of the “thought-ful reading” for which he was famous, he moves immediately into crisis management mode. Doubling down on his insistence on her essential happiness and vehemently denying that any suffering is essential to her true being, Heidegger makes a very clever, well-intentioned, but nonetheless disastrous reply: “There are ‘shadows’ only where there is sun. And that [sunshine] is the foundation of your soul.”35 Heidegger’s miscognition is complete. He not only reiterates his happiness imperative but raises the stakes, making it unmistakably clear that his very love for Arendt is contingent on her fitting his one-sided vision of her as an unalloyed source of

happiness, full of “elementary joy,” “sparkling and free.”36 As he writes:

I would not love you [my emphasis] if I were not convinced that those shadows are not you but distortions and illusions produced by an endless self-erosion that penetrated from outside.37

Heidegger’s callous words reveal the fatal flaw in the perfectionist model of romantic love, namely, its inability to offer what the beloved perhaps needs most of all: Acceptance as she is, in all her imperfections.

Ironically, in Heidegger’s repeated attempts to cultivate those characteristics of Arendt he finds most worthy of love, he supplies us with a striking example of that paternalistic mode of


“caring-for” another he will diagnose as inauthentic “leaping-in” in Being and Time (published just two years later, in 1927). Such leaping-in, by taking “over for the other that with which she is to concern herself,” deprives the other of her ability to make her own defining existential decisions and so prevents her from taking “responsibility” for those decisions, thereby teaching “the other” to “become one who is dominated and dependent.”38 Authentic “leaping ahead,” by contrast, does not try to tell another what sort of person to be but, instead, helps her see that she is choosing what sort of person to be simply by choosing what life projects to pursue, and

thereby helps her assume responsibility for making those existential choices for herself. (This is, in Heidegger’s terms, to help free “the other in her freedom for herself.”)39 Whether or not this distinction between inauthentic and authentic modes of “caring for” one another reflects a lesson Heidegger learned from his relation with Arendt (whom he later acknowledged as having been the “muse” of Being and Time), he rather mysteriously states that this “authentic” type of care for another person “pertains to the existence of the other, not to a what of which it takes care.”40 So, what does it mean to care for another not in terms of what she is—that is, not for any of her specific characteristics or positive attributes—but, instead, simply for her existence?

4. Thinking Love (Take 2): The Unconditional Model and its Problems in Action

In 1929, in one of the few references to love Heidegger published during his life, he writes of “our joy in the presence not merely of the person but of the Dasein [that is, the “being-here,” the disclosed world] of a beloved human being.”41 When we delight in such love, Heidegger

suggests, we find ourselves “in the midst” of a whole revealed world that “is impossible in principle” entirely to comprehend (ibid.). Here, in other words, we feel love not for a person with their comprehensible characteristics but, instead, for a mysteriously different way of seeing


things, a whole other intelligible world which, intersecting with our own, is joyously disclosed to us as never completely knowable.42 Such an unconditional model of love need not be of the romantic variety, but it can be. As Heidegger thus writes in his second love letter to Arendt (on 21 February 1925):

Why is love rich beyond all measure of other human possibilities and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves. Then we want to thank the beloved but find that nothing suffices. / We can thank only with our selves. Love transforms gratitude into fidelity to our selves and into unconditional faith in the other. This is how love steadily intensifies its ownmost mystery. / Here, being close is a matter of being at the greatest distance from the other—a distance that lets nothing get blurred—but instead puts the [familiar] “you” [“Du”] into the transparent yet incomprehensible “only here” of a revelation. That one day the presence of an other breaks into our life is something no soul can control. Human fate gives itself to human fate, and the duty of pure love is to keep this self-giving as awake as it was on the first day.43

In Heidegger’s undeniably beautiful letter, we can see the model of unconditional love in action. Remember that the problem with this way of thinking love is that it cannot explain, even to itself, why this particular lover stands out in her mysterious uniqueness. (Love is something “no soul can control,” something “no heart has power over” [kein Gemüt bewältigt].) As we will see, the apparently arbitrary nature of such love seems later to have encouraged Heidegger to look for substitutes for Arendt, spawning a long succession of affairs that look, in retrospect at least, like fading echoes of his affair with Arendt—as if that relation had a diminishing half-life each time he repeated it.44

In the pattern he established in his love affair with Arendt, Heidegger practiced what he himself seems to have thought of as a kind of erotic Heracliteanism. In the private poems he wrote for Arendt when their love affair was rekindled physically in 1950s, the “Sonata Sonans” (or “Sonata Soundings”), he prefaces one of his most erotic poems, “Pyr aezôon” (“Ever-living


Fire”), by quoting from Heraclitus’s vision of the underlying unity of the cosmos as: “An ever-living fire being kindled in measures and extinguished in measures.” This Heraclitean vision allows Heidegger to suggest to Arendt that their love affair, similarly kindled and extinguished periodically over the course of their lives, is in tune with the cosmos. Indeed, there are epicycles within epicycles here: Not only was their relationship itself off and on, but even when it was on it was feast and famine—intense hours together physically followed by days, weeks, months, and, finally, years apart. This, in Heidegger’s view, was perfectly in keeping with the nature of things; for thought’s attunement to being is analogously episodic. For Heidegger, being as such —the dynamic and inexhaustible source of intelligibility—comes to thought in an unexpected deluge and then goes away again, just as mysteriously. As he writes in “Ever-living Fire”: “Fulfilled being flows in thought / through its essence, in and out.”45 Heidegger’s language is sexual, and suggests that, just as Arendt was his lover, so he thought of himself as being’s lover, both needing to wait patiently for that unexpected visitation they desired above all else.

If we pursue Heidegger’s Heraclitean metaphor, however, then we can see that being and human intimacy play mutually exclusive but complementary roles. When being is absent, that is the time to be with one’s beloved; but when being comes unexpectedly to thought, then

everything else must fall away. Thus, after Arendt told Heidegger she had decided to leave Marburg and go to Heidelberg to study with Jaspers (in what Kristeva recognizes as a failed bid to get him to ask her to stay), Heidegger writes Arendt (on 10 January 1926) not to apologize for his growing absences but to philosophically valorize them (in terms that remind us of his heroic self-portrait in his first love letter).46 Heidegger says he has not written Arendt because he has been up at his cabin working and, he tells her (with a kind of cold bravado):

I forgot you—not from indifference, not because external circumstances intruded between us, but because I had to forget and will forget you whenever I withdraw into the final stages of my most


concentrated work. This is not a matter of hours or days but a process that develops over weeks and months and then subsides. / And this “withdrawal” from everything human and breaking off of all connections is, with regard to creative work, the most magnificent human experience I know—[even though] with regard to concrete situations, it is the most repugnant thing one can encounter. In it one becomes fully aware that one’s heart has been ripped from one’s body. / And under the burden of this necessary isolation, I always wish …for a merely apparent return to other people—and for the strength to keep an ultimate and constant distance from them. For only then would they be spared all sacrifice and the necessity of repeated rejection. / But this tormented wish is not just unattainable, it is even forgotten—so much so that the most vital human relationships become a spring once again and provide the forces that drive one back into isolation. So everything turns back into inconsiderateness and violence toward those who are dearest and closest… Coming to terms with this [“tragic” oscillation between intimacy and solitude] in a positive way—not trying to escape into one of the two positions—is what it means to exist as a philosopher.47

As this suggests, Heidegger established this Heraclitean pattern with Arendt (who similarly spent much of her own time withdrawn into solitary thought, but nevertheless resented his refusal to be alone together with her). With Arendt, Heidegger discovered that intense erotic liaisons seemed both to help summon being’s overwhelming return to his thought and also to give him the energy and fortitude he needed to think clearly through such bountiful intellectual riches—to follow through on such inspiration and get it down on the page, in other words—and Heidegger would go on to practice this same pattern with numerous other partners (after Arendt herself was forced to flee Nazi Germany).

Heidegger’s repetition of this pattern comes through clearly in Franco Volpi’s summary of Angel Xolocotzi’s recent biographical efforts to chart Heidegger’s many erotic adventures. As Volpi puts it:

Philosophy continues to be [Heidegger’s] mission, but to carry it out he needs the fire of passion and inspiration, which only the eternal feminine can light. “When my existence is deprived of passion,” he writes to his wife, “I become silent and the fount does not flow.” During


the day, he works tirelessly; at night, his heart beats. He feels possessed “by a demonic force” and without shame or embarrassment declares to her: “It is necessary for me to live in Eros.” / The secret object of the desire was not, of course, Elfride. It was Hannah Arendt who showed the thinker of Being the true pleasures of the flesh... And, as is well known, the appetite comes from eating. …From the careful investigations of Xolocotzi a portrait of the lovers emerges that surpasses the most fervent fantasy. Aside from the youthful romance with Marguerite Weninger, whom Martin leaves for Elfride, an endless number of relations appear, adventures, affairs, and flirtations: The long flirting without apparent consummation with Elisabeth Blochmann; a true erotic storm with [Princess] Margot von Sachsen-Meiningen at the end of the war (between 1944 and 1946); the romance with the Countess Sophie Dorothée von Podewils; the romance with the former student Marielene von Putscher in the mid-50s (that inspires, among other things, the brief note on the famous Madonna Sistine of Rafael); the story with Andrea von Harbor; the delirium with the wife of a former student of his, Dory Vietta, in the sixties, that culminates in the road trip together to Provence. And that’s not all.48

In sum, one of the enduring life lessons Heidegger took from his affair with Arendt, the muse of his magnum opus, was that in order to dedicate himself fully to that “terrible solitude of

academic research” (as he had put it in that first letter to Arendt)—that is, to maintain his focus on a single matter (namely, “being”), following its episodic largesse through numerous detours and switch-backs in his own thought (as he famously wrote: “To head toward a single star—only this. / To think is to confine yourself to a single thought”)—Heidegger believed he needed to be driven by the high-octane fuel of sublimated erotic adventure.49

The fact that Heidegger is clearly offering a self-mythologizing philosophical apologia for his own erotic bad habits does not necessarily make his understanding false—just self-serving and hurtful (as he himself quite coldly admits), and, I think, one-sided and so incomplete. Obviously, there would be much more to be said about all this, but the main point I want to stress here is simply that Heidegger’s vision of unconditional love did indeed end up encouraging him to fall for an entire succession of minor mysteries who later came his way. None of them seems


to have lived up to Arendt, whom Heidegger later acknowledged as having been “the passion of his life” and the “muse” of his most influential work, which suggests that his recidivist repetition of this Heraclitean pattern of serial adultery was itself Heidegger’s way to avoid confronting the traumatic hole left in his life by Arendt’s departure (a exodus which, of course, he himself helped force).50 Still, perhaps the fact that this is not the end of their story prevents it from being just another erotic tragedy.

5. Thinking Love (Final Take): Love as Fidelity to an Ontological Event

Let me conclude by suggesting that the deepest lesson about love to be drawn from their lifelong relation is the one Arendt first learned from Heidegger—then sought to teach him in return, when they were reunited after the war. In a letter of 13 May 1925, Heidegger introduces a different vision of romantic love, one which will eventually prove to be of decisive importance for them both. He writes:

Thank you for your letters—for how you have accepted me into your love—beloved. Do you know that this is the most difficult thing a human being is given to endure? For anything else, there are methods, aids, limits, and understanding—here alone everything means: to be in one’s love = to be forced into one’s innermost existence. Amo [love] means volo, ut sis [I want you to be], Augustine once said; I love you—I will that you be what you are.51

What Heidegger introduces here is the idea of the kind of all-encompassing love that an omniscient God would need to feel for his creations in order that, standing in eternity and so seeing their temporal existence completely unfolded in time, He could lovingly will them to be. This is ontological love, love as an unconditional affirmation of the entire being of the beloved.

If, as I think it fair to say, the perfectionist model of love centrally concerns how one becomes what one is (as the formula going back to Pindar has it)—while the unconditional


model of love turns not on a what but on a mysterious that, another existence beloved in its ultimately mysterious difference from oneself—then this volo ut sis, this simple “I will that you be what you are,” introduces something else, namely: The idea of a faithful acceptance of the entire existence of one’s beloved, a loving pre-affirmation of all the changes she will pass through as her existence unfolds throughout her lifetime. It is not surprising that Arendt responded so keenly to this, since she suffered acutely (as we have seen) from Heidegger’s stultifying and miscognizing application of the perfectionist model of love. It is no coincidence that Arendt would go on to write her dissertation on Love and Saint Augustine, nor that this volo, ut sis became a frequent refrain throughout her life.52

In the last book Arendt ever completed (Willing, volume two of The Life of the Mind), she nicely summarizes what this crucial idea came to mean to her:

The willing ego, when it says its highest manifestation, “Amo, Volo ut sis,” “I love you; I want you to be”—and not “I want to have you” or “I want to rule you”—shows itself capable of the same kind of love with which supposedly God loves men.53

According to the secularizing interpretation of Saint Augustine Arendt advances, it is not only God who is capable of loving the entire temporal existence of another being. In the neo-Augustinian view that Arendt and Heidegger both adopt, love is capable of granting us mortals access to a perspective outside the ordinary passage of time, a perspective from which the usual disarray of life’s temporal unfolding falls away, allowing the intimate connections between moments distantly separated by time to stand revealed in their previously hidden unity.54

Tellingly, after Heidegger and Arendt are reunited in 1950 (on 7 February), seeing each other for first time in 20 years, Heidegger evokes this erotic neo-Augustinian vision of “bringing what had been into what endures. Time gathered into the fourth dimension of intimacy, as if we had stepped directly out of eternity—and returned to it.”55 This erotic neo-Augustinian vision of


love recognizes the continuities constituted by chronologically disparate moments of intimacy, and so helps the lovers recognize a deeper coherence underlying their more quotidian sense of self.

Heidegger suggests to Arendt, his Aphrodite, that the pagan Greeks similarly recognized this deeper continuity ordinarily hidden within a life as something divine. Reflecting on a Greek sculpture of Aphrodite they had viewed together, Heidegger writes: “There is something

mysterious in portraits of Greek Goddesses; the woman is hidden in the girl. The girl in the woman.”56 As Heidegger comes to understand the mysterious unfolding of Arendt’s existence as a temporal process that discloses her identity in ways he could neither have predicted nor

controlled but can now recognize, nonetheless, in love, he attains the new insight that transforms his previous perfectionist vision from within. He comes to see that “it takes one to know one” (as we say), or that one can come to understand what is uniquely essential in another only by cultivating what is most distinctively one’s own in oneself:

What is particularly unique about each person’s essence, what preserves his uniqueness, is also uniquely strong in the recognition of the unique other. / We are, I think, still unfamiliar with the quiet laws of uniqueness, and with the fortitude required to remain faithful to them. But perhaps just this is our task: To ponder these laws and to shape them in love. Love needs love: That is the most essential of all demands and supports.57

The philosophical lesson Heidegger learned from Arendt, then, is that truly staying faithful to someone means persevering in this lifelong struggle to remain faithful—because truly loving someone means wanting them to be themselves, and so wanting them to continue to grow and change in ways you cannot foresee—come what may. Indeed, one cannot help but be struck by the strong sense of providence pervading their later letters, which contain the recurring idea that,


despite all the turmoil through which their relationship has passed, they have been guided all along by something mysterious, in which they were right to place their trust.

We can see Heidegger beginning to articulate this mature view of love in one of the only other references to love in his published work. In 1946 he writes:

To embrace a “thing” or a “person” in their essence means to love them, to favor [mögen] them. Thought in a more original way, such favoring means the bestowal of their essence as a gift. Such favoring is the proper essence of enabling [Vermögen], which can not only accomplish this or that but can also let something essentially unfold in its provenance [or “coming forth,” Her-kunft], that is, can let it be. The enabling of favoring is the “power” by which something is able properly to be. This enabling is the properly “possible” [das Möglich], whose essence resides in favoring. From this favoring being enables thinking.58

Heidegger is explaining the relationship between being and thinking: being makes thinking “possible,” but not because being always gives thinking an intentional object. On the contrary, when we as subjects willfully impose our preconceived ideas onto a world we take to be

composed of inherently-meaningless “objects,” we thereby obscure the inchoate hints of possible meanings that things themselves offer us. Being makes thinking possible in the deepest sense, Heidegger suggests, when being gives itself to thinking (allowing thinking to respond to the way things disclose themselves), because only then can being enable thinking to be what it is most essentially, namely, a bringing of being into its own. Thinking is essentially creative disclosure and being manifests its “love” for thinking through the “‘peaceful power’ of the favoring-enabling” that allows being and thinking to come into their own together in this way.

What is so intriguing for us here is that Heidegger is implicitly bringing together his two previous ways of understanding the love relation between himself and Arendt, which he has long modeled on the relation between being and thinking (in the unconditional view) and also


view). Nonetheless, it is only in the 1950s, with Heidegger’s actual reunion with Arendt—as he begins “to grasp / the late ripening / of early seeds”—that he begins genuinely to understand “the fortitude required to remain faithful” to one’s sense for the essential in other people, that is, the loving forbearance needed to allow them to come into their own in their own way.59 Only in 1950 does Heidegger finally acknowledge and embrace Arendt’s deep pain as essential to her uniqueness, and so, rather than encouraging her to deny or outgrow it (as he had so disastrously 25 years earlier), he instead suggests that she should:

Hold in the deepest cleft / of your soul, all pain. / For it opens to the air / of an unused grove / where suffering dwells, the jewel / making us facets of the treasure of being, / where we convalesce as flame in the crystal, / where the law of the fire becomes: / from the essence.60 Our deepest pain helps shape our distinctiveness, and allowing that pain to fuel us as we work through it helps us “convalesce” and mature into “facets of the treasure of being,” that is, genuinely unique perspectives on the inexhaustible whole of intelligibility. This, finally, is the kind of response Arendt had hoped for twenty-five years earlier. Indeed, that truly loving another unconditionally means never turning away from him or her, no matter how they change or who they become, is a painful lesson Heidegger learned only late in life from Arendt—even though, in some sense, she learned it much earlier from him. For, Arendt held that “I love you; I want you to be [Amo, Volo ut sis]” close to her heart for “five half-decades” (in her words), allowing it to grow into something she could teach him in turn.

Arendt’s understanding of the importance of staying faithful to a love event in which something glimpsed but hardly understood unfolds throughout an entire existence became central to her sense of her own identity. This idea of fidelity to the disclosive event of love was so central to her sense of self, in fact, that when Arendt almost did not come to visit Heidegger in 1950—quite understandably, as she was back in Germany helping to identify property the Nazis


had stolen from the Jewish people, and while staying with Jaspers she was almost talked out of having anything more to do with Heidegger, but then changed her mind at the last minute and went to see him on an “impulse”—she wrote Heidegger afterward to say that “the power of that impulse had mercifully saved me from committing the only really inexcusable act of infidelity and forfeiting my life.” In Arendt’s view, her entire life had been the unfolding of the great promise Heidegger glimpsed in her, albeit in a way quite different from what he had tried to anticipate at the time.61 She thus begins that same letter by telling Heidegger: “This evening and this morning [with you] are the confirmation of an entire life.”62

In this third and final model of love that emerged between Arendt and Heidegger, then, love is thought as an enduring struggle to maintain fidelity to a mysterious event of ontological disclosure. This third way of thinking love can be understood as a synthesis or sublation of the other two, in that it preserves something of their central strengths while avoiding their distinctive problems. The love event’s disclosure of meaningfulness cannot be completely understood in the moment; instead, as an inexhaustible source of meaning (like a great work of art), the love event unfolds itself most fully only when we stay true to it across our entire lives. So the ontological understanding of love maintains something of both the mystery and the unconditionality of the unconditional model. And because it thus requires patient work to unfold and understand its meaning over time, this ontological understanding of love helps redeem some of the nurturing potential of the perfectionist model. According to this vision of love as fidelity to an ontological truth event—that is, as a lifelong struggle to disclose the possibilities both revealed and

concealed in the event of love—love helps bring both human beings and being itself into their own together.63 Thinking love as an ontological event means loving unconditionally, yet it avoids the problem of arbitrariness because what gets loved unconditionally is not a pure


mystery but, instead, the never completely knowable existence of the beloved as that existence unfolds over time in its unique particularity. Here the beloved’s existence maintains some of its mystery and yet can also attain a certain unity and coherence when viewed through the eyes of love. Like the perfectionist model, then, thinking love as an ontological event encourages the beloved to come into her own, but it avoids the problems of contingency and stultification, because it does not try to predetermine the shape of the beloved’s self-realization. In this it also encourages the lover to come into his own, as a patient shepherd of ontological possibilities not subject to his control. Thus their love helps being itself come into its own, by allowing being itself to be recognized as the inexhaustible source of intelligibility that always both informs and exceeds our cognitive capacities. In my view, it is this third way of thinking love that forms perhaps the most important positive lesson to be drawn from studying the lifelong love affair between two of the twentieth century’s most famous thinkers.64


Herbert Marcuse)—mistakenly believed that Heidegger “maintained an obstinate silence on the subject of love.” See Agamben, “La passion de la facticité,” in Agamben and Valeria Piazza, L’ombre de l’amour: Le concept d’amour chez Heidegger (Paris: Rivages Poche, 2003), pp. 9-15 (quotation from p. 11). See also Frederick Olafson, “Heidegger’s Politics: An Interview with Herbert Marcuse by Frederick Olafson,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 6:1 (1977), pp. 28-40.

2I examine these ethical questions in more detail in my forthcoming Heidegger: A Philosophical Biography.

3See Martin Heidegger, Letters to His Wife: 1915-1970, ed., Gertrud Heidegger, trans. R. D. V. Glasgow (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), p. 317.

4On 5 June 1952, Heidegger writes to tell Arendt: “It is best now if you do not write and also do not visit. Everything is painful and difficult. But we must bear it.” Elfride was so devastated, and made such a scene, that Heidegger and Arendt did not see each other again for fifteen years after this, although they kept up their

correspondence (albeit with two significant five year breaks). See Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, Letters 1925-1975, Ursula Ludz, ed., A. Shields, trans. (New York: Harcourt, 2004), letter 80, p. 112; Briefe 1925 bis 1975 (Frankfurt: V. Klostermann, 1999), p. 136.

5For the sake of clarity, I have often let the gendered pronouns reflect the nature of the case being studied, but I see no reason, in principle (and beyond the outdated stereotypes), why they could not be reversed or otherwise mixed (as surely they often have been). On “perfectionism” as an apt description for Heidegger’s philosophical perspective, see Iain Thomson, “Heidegger’s Perfectionist Philosophy of Education in Being and Time,” Continental Philosophy Review 37:4 (2004), pp. 439-467.

6See e.g. the insightful treatments in Rick Anthony Furtak, Wisdom in Love: Kierkegaard and the Ancient Quest for Emotional Integrity (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005); and Adrian Johnston,

“Nothing is not Always No-one: (A)voiding Love, Filozofski vestnik XXVI:2 (2005), pp. 67-81.

7This may be a model of love many people rely on, but it is absent from Heidegger’s relation with Arendt, and present in his relation with Elfride only as the “bourgeois” view of marriage Heidegger repeatedly rejects. As he most directly puts it: “It’s a wholly mistaken conception of love to believe that it’s nurtured and fostered by shared contents and objects—the way the bourgeois love—they have their shared domesticity—go on journeys together and through their simultaneous and common bonds with the fortuitous contents of a life they come to believe that they love one another and are utterly happy in the process—though their whole life may never experience a genuine eruption of love.” [See Heidegger, Letters to His Wife, p. 66 (9 September 1919).] With his wife Heidegger instead advocates a Kierkegaardian understanding of marriage as something to “vigorously and incessantly develop and pursue…as a task.” Ibid. (26 January 1922), p. 84. Yet, in the end, I shall suggest, this existential “task” require the kind of flexible fidelity that allows the meaning only partly glimpsed in the ontological event of a “genuine eruption of love” to unfold throughout a life. (Such a flexible fidelity might sound like a faith for the faithless; as Nietzsche famously wrote, “only he who changes remains related to me.”)

8See Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. H. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), p. 367. Here Sartre suggests that the converse is a problem as well; we feel unsatisfied not only by love given in complete freedom but also by a love that seems completely determined. For Sartre, the impossibility of love satisfying its need to determine the freedom of the other—love’s paradoxical “demand” for “freedom’s self-enslavement” (ibid., p. 403)—leads lovers to circulate endlessly between sadistic and masochistic strategies.


10When she became mentally ill? Schizophrenia or tuberculosis? Check it.

11See Alexander Nehamas’s Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in A World of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

12See Daniel Maier-Katkin, Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness (New York: Norton, 2010), p. 25; Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, trans. E. Osers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998), p. 143. The extraordinarius/ordinarius distinction resembles the difference between a salaried lecturer and a tenured professor (as well as that between an assistant and an associate professor, as Safranski’s translator suggests), in that the term comes from the fact that the ordinarius was paid out of ordinary or recurrent university funds, whereas the extraordinarius was paid from outside sources such as student tuition fees; see William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

13It strikes me that 35 is one of those ages that seem old to those who have not yet reached it and young to those who have left it behind.

14Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), pp. 33-5.

15As Arendt’s respected biographer, Young-Bruehl, writes of the misleading way in which Ettinger’s book first introduced their correspondence: “Ettinger’s version…is a fantasy…bearing little relation to reality. Ettinger projected a naïve and helpless Jewish schoolgirl and a charming but ruthless married Catholic professor playing out a drama of passionate recklessness and betrayal, followed by slavish loyalty on the part of the betrayed mistress. …Ettinger… [shows herself here as] a biographer trapped inside her own story and drawing her subject into the trap with her.” See Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Why Arendt Matters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 21-2. In his early letters, Heidegger frequently remarks on how much more worldly experience Arendt has than he had at the same age.

16See Arendt and Heidegger, Letters, pp. 149, 151-3; Briefe, pp. 180, 182-4.

17See Hans Jonas, Memoirs, ed., Christian Wiese, trans., K. Winston (Waltham, MA; Brandeis University Press, 2008), pp. 61-2. Perhaps Jonas so emphasizes Arendt’s attractiveness in mute acknowledgment of the fact that her difficult life took its toll on that legendary beauty (which also saved her life, when the police officer who arrested her became smitten and let her go again, never discovering that she was in fact “guilty”). Still, we also have the testimony of numerous “eye-witnesses” that she never lost her famous power to attract, and her younger friend Mary McCarthy even described Arendt in the mid-1940s as “a magnificent stage diva.” (See Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, p. 199.)

18The other, Anne Mendelssohn (a descendent of the philosopher, Moses, and his grandson, the composer, Felix), from whom Arendt inherited that older boyfriend, also gave Arendt the collected works of Rahel

Varnhagen that later provided her with the opportunity for a vicarious self-analysis. See Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, pp. 28-36; and Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess, ed. Liliane Weissberg, trans. R. and C. Wilson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).


20This was a practice Heidegger followed throughout his life; like Socrates, he seemed outwardly oblivious to the approach of dusk when caught up in a thoughtful conversation, and several interlocutors recall that when their dialogue with Heidegger finally ended it was pitch-black in the room. But the scene with Arendt is unique, and Heidegger’s apparent obliviousness is somewhat illusory, in that we can tell from the dialogues he wrote that he was keenly attuned to changes in the light and their influence on the conversation. This is particularly obvious, e.g., in his famous “Conversation on a Country Path,” see Country Path Conversations, trans. B. Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), pp. 1-104.

21See Hans Jonas, Memoirs, p. 63; Jonas, Erinnerungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2005), pp. 114-5.

22This quotation occurs near the end of Heidegger’s difficult but important 1957 lecture, “The Ontotheological Constitution of Metaphysics,” in Identity and Difference, ed. and trans. J. Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 72; Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1975-present), volume 11 [hereafter “GA + volume number”], p. 77. The immediate context is that Heidegger is criticizing philosophy’s narrowly rational and thus religiously deflated understanding of God as the “Causa sui,” the primal, self-caused cause of the universe: “This is the right name for the god of philosophy. Man can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god. Before the Causa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god. / The god-less thinking which must abandon the god of philosophy, god as Causa sui, is thus perhaps closer to the divine God.” (Identity and Difference, p. 72; GA11, p. 77) The

Dionysian image of dancing and playing music before God is Nietzschean, but the idea of falling to one’s knees before God most definitely is not. Rather, that idea echoes language found in Hölderlin and reflects Heidegger’s own most enduring ideal of the divine (whether Jesus or Aphrodite).

23See e.g. Arendt and Heidegger, Letters, p. 292; Briefe, p. 364.

24See Arendt and Heidegger, Letters, letter 1, p. 3; Briefe, p. 11.

25See Arendt and Heidegger, Letters, letter 1, pp. 3-4; Arendt and Heidegger, Briefe, pp. 11-2. Heidegger continues: “That we have been allowed to meet we must hold deep within as a gift and not deform it through self-deceptions about the purity of living; that means not thinking of ourselves as soul-mates, something never given to human beings.” For Heidegger, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because for the early

Heidegger there is nothing about the structure of the self that can determine who we should love. (On this point, see Thomson, “Heidegger’s Perfectionist Philosophy in Being and Time.”) In context, nonetheless, the last sentence still reads like a denegation, since (as Klaus Theweleit writes) “the two of them belonged together much more than Heidegger and his Elfride—the story almost shouts it out loud.” See Theweleit, Object-Choice (All You Need Is Love…), M. R. Green, trans. (London: Verso, 1994), p. 30.

26According to her esteemed biographer, even as a young girl “Hannah Arendt was impressive to her schoolmates as she went about finding her own way: while they visited and chatted during recess and over lunch, she marched around the schoolyard, hands clasped behind her back, braids bouncing, lost in solitary thought.” (See Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, p. 33.)

27In so doing, however, Arendt might have taken to heart Heidegger’s warning that women whose studies are not anchored in the genuine and serious issues of their own individual lives risk falling apart into an unbearable split between life and work. Moreover, her own later opposition to the rise of feminism suggests that she never entirely escaped these traditional stereotypes herself (and so, e.g., famously said later that she had no desire to abrogate the privileges of femininity she had long enjoyed). See e.g. Arendt and Heidegger, Letters, letter 120,





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