Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Heidegger letter to Richardson, 1962

Famously, Heidegger wrote a letter in 1962 to Father William J. Richardson, S.J., which I’ve made available.

The letter (originally in German) was in response to Richardson’s query for his book Heidegger: through phenomenology to thought (1963), which was the first authoritative attempt to understand the entirety of Heidegger’s career in thinking. The book is outdated now, but famous (reprinted, 2003) for its role in mid-century English-language understanding of Heidegger. Indeed, it was important to me circa 1974-76.

In Richardson’s book, the German text is printed on facing pages with the English. I rearranged the PDF to first show all of the English version, then all of the German version. But a recent translation is now available (though without the German). So, two English versions of the letter are here: the recent one linked above and Richardson’s translation.

In a way, it’s specious to want to understand Heidegger’s ways into thinking as a unified narrative, let alone a short one. But this exercise can be useful and is associated with his essay, written a few years later, “My Way to Phenomenology,” in On Time and Being. Such narratives are not essentialist positions; they’re entrances for a conceptual ecology, so to speak.

The letter would be a great subject for extended discussion, but one quaint feature of it I’ll mention now is his referral several times to “Heidegger,” as if being someone else writing about Heidegger.

He lived most of his adult life with an overt sense of himself as being-seen—as a hermeneutical character of existing for others—living his presence as teacher, living in mirrorplays of granting and bearing (“The Thing,” Poetry, Language, Thought), being “Heidegger” in his time.

Yet, at The Hut, he was surely—in a way we can only surmise—Martin
(if not Hannah’s).