I have read this book on the train, while toing and froing between home and office. At a rate of something like 3 to 4 pages a day it took me several weeks to read it. And I was lucky to have bought this book in English, because the German original would have been too difficult. Not because of Safranski’s idiom, as he writes very well, but because of Heidegger’s impossible jargon. So, in passing, I’d like to give my compliments to the translator, Ewald Osers.
As I have not been trained academically in philosophy, for me it really was an introduction into the thinking of one of the most outstanding philosophers of the 20th century. And at the same time I was amazed to discover how many of his ideas I had already assimilated. Perhaps via Sartre, through Hannah Arendt and many others.
In the first place it is an intellectual biography. Safranski focuses on the evolution of Heidegger’s ideas and philosophical concepts. Only now and then does he pay attention to the facts of his life. But Safransky does not shy away of Heidegger’s Nazi period, nor of his possessive relationship with Hannah Arendt. Or the relationship with Husserl and Jaspers. Only, he steers free of any voyeuristic tendency.
Safranski pays a lot of attention to this Nazi period, because there seems to be a link with Heidegger’s thinking. Heidegger appears as an unworldly, unpolitical, conceptual thinker. He must have been seduced by the ‘revolutionary’ feeling of the first Nazi years. That’s as may be, but I can’t understand why it didn’t open his eyes when Hannah Arendt — his young maitresse — had to flee the country in 1933. He must have been very obtuse, thinking in absolute terms about Dasein (Being), but failing to pay attention to the events in the lives of people near to him.
Heidegger appears as a powerful thinker, but not as a ‘nice’ character. But even so, he managed to make a profound impression on many people, among many others: Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, René Char, Jean-Paul Sartre. Perhaps I should reread the interview Heidegger granted Der Spiegel in 1966. After so many years of staying silent, he finally agreed to talk about his past before and during the war.
I think I’ll try to read one of his later works, like On Humanism. After all, his thoughts about the essence of life, about time, etc, are very compelling.