David Farrell Krell: Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida

Joeri Schrijvers

Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida Book Cover Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida
David Farrell Krell
Indiana University Press

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University Potchefstroom)

Probably one of the best writers in contemporary continental philosophy, David Farrell Krell’s Three Encounters is a real treat to read, especially if you have, like me, an appetite for autobiographies. The book is, in a sense, an eyewitness account: Krell knew all three authors and here recounts his experiences and conversations with them—apparently, through some kind of archive fever, kept meticulously in his journal. One does not have to read this book in all too critical manner and can just enjoy the stories and insights that Krell shares along the way. Originally, I had planned to compare and converse with Krell’s other works which I kept track of, especially Derrida and Our Animal Others (2013), Ecstasy, Catastrophe (2015a) or his Phantoms of the Other (2015) which I have reviewed here a few years ago. The review will now however just retrace the main threads one might distill from the book but not before mentioning once again what a joy to read this book is—I haven’t read a book much faster than this the past year. It pays, probably, to have some traction in the field: readers who know, for instance, that J. Glen Gray produced one of the finest translations of Heidegger to date.

Krell, of course, has read enough of Derrida to be somewhat wary of autobiographies. No genre seems more susceptible to lies and errors than the autobiographies in which the ‘I’ claims to speak the truth once and for all. “Things will go better for the truth”, Krell later says, “if one could project autobiography into fiction, if one could translate every ‘I’ into a ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘It’” (330). Underlying Krell’s attempt at autobiography, this “memoir” (308) as he hesitantly, that is, not without quotation marks, calls it, is the firm belief that thinking and living should not make two, for philosophy “has everything to do with existence” (xii). It would have suited Heidegger very well if one needed to know of Aristotle, or of any other philosopher, only that he lived and worked, yet it is in Heidegger’s case the living itself that at time falls short of thinking—something which Krell won’t hesitate to repeatedly advance against the thinker.

Krell’s first chapter, “Before the Beginning”, recounts how he got to philosophy in the first place, having started a history major first. Two sources, for Krell, stand out. First, his reading of William Barrett’s Irrational Man and, second, having moved to Duquesne to study with John Sallis, Nietzsche who would be the subject of Krell’s doctoral dissertation Nietzsche and the Task of Thinking. The title may show that Heidegger, too, was already present in Krell’s life and work. Three themes enamored Krell when reading Barrett: the theme of nothingness, which will would play a large role in existentialism, the concomitant freedom from all dogmatic religions it would entail, and the theme of finitude, where philosophy, supposedly, at last would see this finite world of ours as is, as a finite world that is. Krell then came to Heidegger through reading the latter’s Introduction to Metaphysics—which will probably have led him never to forget about the question of being (as readers of sole Sein und Zeit, rushing through its Introduction seems to befall somewhat). Heidegger, for Krell, was the first philosopher he encountered that at least took Nietzsche seriously, when stating that he, Heidegger, wanted to bring Nietzsche’s accomplishment to a full unfolding (12-3).

Chapter two deals with Krell’s early efforts to translate Heidegger—he, in fact was the American Jean Beaufret. Where the latter brought Heidegger to the French, it is to Krell’s credit that the Americans, early on, could read a bit of Heidegger. The Americans in fact owe to Krell two important volumes that, as far as I know, are still regularly used and quoted: Early Greek Thinking and Basic Writings. A few people, however, were involved with these first, early translations: Joan Stambaugh, who would later translate Being and Time, Glen Gray, who translated What is called thinking? and one Hannah Arendt. “For decades,” Krell tells us from the start, and notwithstanding “the events”, “she was every bit as active in overseeing the translation of Heidegger’s works” (17). Nothing would be published without her agreement. And there is a story or two about how strict she was about the quality of translations. Krell was admitted to the circle of translators because of his attempts at Der Spruch des Anaximander, an essay that needs, not to say, braucht, a good translator indeed. Reiner Schürmann, too, was still around, and led Krell (not) ever so gently to the insight that there is not such a thing as (the one) good translation (18-22). At best, one should realize that one is no master of a language at all: not of the target language and not even of one’s native language. In this sense too, one might need to think about the adage later Heidegger will communicate: we do not “have” language, rather language is “what holds us”.

Krell’s translation made its way to Hannah Arendt’s desk and led to their first meeting. A long discussion about how to translate “ein Gefälle” issued from it—incline, cascades, cases (23)? Translators among us will recognize how joyful these conversations can be, the weighing of words, the different senses and meanings one comes across when meeting other lovers of language! Krell reports, in his journal, to be struck about the theatricality that oozed around here (24). She could be gripped, he says, by an idea that allowed here to zone out for a while only to come back (to senses, to speech) ever so clever. Arendt’s position in the circle of translators was not a dominant one, however. There was something called “Grey’s law” (28): the more important a word for Heidegger was, the less certain they were how to translate it into English. Every so often, Heidegger himself was consulted, but being no master of the English himself, a final word, we would guess, could not be found.

In 1975, Early Greek Thinking was published. Soon after contracts for Heidegger’s Nietzsche volumes and the Basic Writings would be send and signed. The latter volume is intriguing because Heidegger himself had “direct input into the book’s contents” and was even willing to  have a translation of the introduction of Being and Time in the volume—an Introduction that, at the time of writing Sein und Zeit he updated almost on a daily basis I once read. Krell’s first encounter with Heidegger concerned this volume precisely. Krell and Grey wanted to include some of the central sections of Sein und Zeit, say the ones about anxiety and death, too. The master however asked: what is the principle of selection precisely (29)? It took Krell some time, and some courage, to admit that there was no such principle and, on that basis, they agreed to leave the Introduction to Being and Time in the book but refrained from using particular sections of Sein und Zeit. If there was no principle, there was, however, a goal: to let students see as many aspects of Heidegger’s thought as possible. That is why the essay on the Work of Art and the later Letter on Humanism (1946) were inserted.

Before we proceed with these encounters, a first thread should be mentioned. Krell will not hesitate to mention it himself quite often. “The generosity of spirit” (33) present in all these thinkers is what is most striking for him: no question was too much, no detail just a detail, no letters left unanswered. One can just imagine the impression these minds, and their willingness to assist him, made on the young Krell! These Basic Writings surely found his way to the English-speaking world (and even to a home in Belgium!): of the expanded edition of 1993 “about forty thousand copies” (38) were send out to buyers and libraries, and Krell adds that he is no idea what the first edition (running from 1977 to 1992) had done.

The translations of Heidegger’s Nietzsche volume started soon after that, and Krell admits that he has difficulties with the “caricature” Heidegger sometimes made of Nietzsche (41), stating that Nietzsche would merely be an upside-down version of Platonism, whereas Heidegger knew well enough that there never would be a simple end to metaphysics. Yet the chapter concludes on a remarkable note that I’ve missed in my own humble readings of Derrida. “Both Heidegger and Nietzsche [are] going into eclipse […] nowadays” and, along with this Derrida’s remark, that “thinkers are measured […] by the number of eclipses they survive” (42). Safe to say, almost, Krell’s conclusion: “no eclipse […] will obscure either Heidegger or Nietzsche for long, at least for those readers who […] think about ‘the intimate and the ultimate’” (ibid.).

During the time of editing the Basic Writings volume, and thereafter, Krell had at least four works sessions and several other brief meetings with Martin Heidegger, the topic of the third chapter. The then thirty year old Krell met with Heidegger between June 1974 and January 1976—these would be the last two years of Heidegger’s life—to discuss, mainly, the ongoing translation of Heidegger’s two Nietzsche volumes. Joan Stambaugh would accompany Krell this first time and Heidegger would inscribe Krell’s volume of the Nietzsche book with the intriguing sentence that “the battle between David and Goliath, in philosophy, is not yet decided” (53)—a riddle, if not a simple pun, on the fact that Krell’s doctoral supervisor introduced the dissertation at the defence with the remark that David had taken up Goliath—the Nietzsche volumes are after all no less than 1100 pages. Much later Krell would show Heidegger’s subscription to Derrida (220).

Krell recalls, especially, how small Heidegger was and ventures that perhaps his size was one of the reasons behind the polemic that accompanied Heidegger everywhere especially in his early days, complaining for instance about those academics that “travel from one meeting to the next” (54, Cf. GA 20, 376) and don’t have (or take) the time to properly work—a remark that Krell will repeat, although somewhat less politically, in his Derrida and Our Animal Others (Krell 2013, 6). Perhaps a “taller man, a Cassirer or a Jaspers, could afford to be more tolerant and easygoing” (54). Heidegger’s judgement of his philosophical contemporaries has always been severe and Krell notes that even in the fifties (in What is called thinking?) Heidegger noted that no matter how much philosophy one has read, this still is no guarantee that one finds oneself thinking. The two remarks make Krell ponder for a first time, in this book at least, about “Heidegger’s leap to the right” which of course, “no curbstone psychology can […] make clear” (55). Krell will make clear, however, that he follows the model of Glen Gray and Hannah Arendt who would, despite everything, remain dedicated to read Heidegger’s work but who would also remain “critical and perspicuous of about the man and his work. The only thing they were unable to do […] was to light a match to burn either the man or his work” (ibid.).

Next to his size, Heidegger’s voice gripped Krell. Krell takes note of Heidegger’s “high-pitched, raspy voice” (ibid.) that nonetheless, as Jaspers would write, is as eindringlich—we all know how the audiences were gripped, from the start, by Heidegger’s lectures—as succinct.

The banality and everydayness of these meetings is charming nonetheless. Heidegger gave some new editions of his work—the Reclam edition of The Origin of the Work of Art, for instance, which happens to sit in my own library too—to Krell during their second meeting. In this meeting Heidegger intervened on the question which essays to take up in the Basic Writings. On the Way to Language would be, according to him “Schwierig, zu schwierig” (60), to difficult, to deserve a place in the volume that would introduce his thought to the new continent. Gray and Krell had decided by then to exclude those essays that concerned the place of this or that thinker in the history of metaphysics, as for instance Hegel and the Greeks. Interesting, too, is that Heidegger himself requested that Time and Being be excluded from the volume too afraid perhaps that people would see in this essay the carrying out of the reversal that everyone then was talking about. In its stead, “[Heidegger] convinced me that the proper culmination of this thinking—fittingly a thoroughly questioning culmination, every bit as tentative as its companion piece despite its assertive title—was the essay The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” (61). It is true: one of the most thought-provoking and readable essays it still is. Krell obediently notes: “Even when I inserted the language essay [The Way to Language, JS] into the second edition of Basic Writings, I made certain to let the ‘End’ essay appear at, and as, the end” (61).

Krell goes on to discuss Nietzsche lecture of 1938-39 (now taken up in GA 46), planned as a seminar or workshop even but turned into a lecture by Heidegger because simply too many people attended, because it is one of the few later instances in which Heidegger discusses life, animal life even. Apart from the volumes on Nietzsche (then still published with Neske) there is still other material on Nietzsche. Another essay, this one from a proper workshop in 1937 (see now GA 87, 161ff) is one of the few places Heidegger would discuss the question of love through an account of Nietzsche’s amor fati, here promoted even to “Nietzsche’s Basic Metaphysical Position” (66). In these pages, Krell worries about Heidegger’s, say differential, positioning of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence of the same” within the history of being, as the last metaphysical trick the last metaphysician has up his sleeve (a worry that would lead Reiner Schürmann, by the way, to the crucial remarks in Broken Hegemonies: “So, somewhere between 1844 and 1900 we just stopped thinking metaphysically?) and the other, somewhat contradictory, claim that no one since Nietzsche has “risen to the challenge of taking thought seriously enough” (67), a challenge at which Heidegger himself perhaps, in his best days, would accept to have failed and faltered—it is Nietzsche, after all, who broke Heidegger. Er hat mich kaputt gemacht.

Krell once asked Heidegger when he realized he wouldn’t be able to complete Sein und Zeit. To which Heidegger supposedly had answered: 1924-1925. It is possible, Krell says, that he misheard—the Kehre, and any intimation of it, is usually placed somewhere in the thirties—yet, Krell lets us note, attentive readers of the Prolegomena to the History of the Concept of Time, a lecture course from 1925 no less, will have noticed, first, that the interpretation of ecstatic temporality of Dasein is absent from these lectures and, secondly, that that the theme of the temporality of being is all the more present (70-71). It is possible that the (somewhat anthropological) turn to Dasein distracted even Heidegger from the question of being. Note to self (or to the readers): finally read this volume bearing this in mind. Don’t waste your time on meetings.

One more “whimsical matter” (74) deserves a mention, at least because James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake wanders through Krell’s book (and other reviewers than me possible will make more about this—although Krell made me laugh when discussing Derrida, and telephones, or was it gramophones?). Krell asked Heidegger to sign his copy of Sein und Zeit, forgetting for a while that, half in jester, Krell inserted a bit of Joyce at the first pages of his copy about all the things, and then some, that cause or otherwise entail “the ensuance of existentiality” (75). Krell’s heart must have skipped a beat. Heidegger did not notice, or pretended not to notice, Joyce’s odd words. The chapter closes with a moving report of Heidegger’s death Krell had received from Friedrich W. von Hermann mentioning that Elfride at first did not notice the passing of her husband properly, mistaking his death for sleep, so apparently not recognizing death as death. It is, furthermore, clear that Krell holds Heidegger’s acquaintance in high regard: “I felt respect an even affection for the man I met” (83) and respect and affection in effect shine through these pages.

There is debt to Heidegger, for Krell, for many things: for the business dealt with—there were a lot of copyright issues, it seems, with these English translations, a lot of misunderstandings too—for the photos, letters and signatures received and of course for the philosophical teachings that the man of Todtnauberg brought to us all. There is a distance, too. This debt and this distance is the topic of Krell’s fourth chapter. At the same time, the debt and the distance is a short-hand of Arendt’s (and Gray’s) model how to deal with Heidegger, especially his positioning during those dark, black thirties and forties. Earlier on Krell had indicated that he would fill in the gaps in the time of his encounters with the biographies available of these thinkers (xiii). In this chapter, Krell therefore turns to Rüdiger Safranski’s Ein Meister aus Deutschland and Antonia Grunenberg’s Hannah Arendt und Martin Heidegger. One need read very little of Heidegger to know that there is, as Safranski also notes, a tendency to self-mythologize in his life and work (89). Krell heard from Arendt and Stambaugh that apparently only his brother Fritz “could mock Martin’s grand self-stylizations” (91) and that Elfride hated him for it. Heidegger had many talents, of course, but modesty and self-critique don’t seem to be part of them. The thinker that calls for Besinnung, pretty much everywhere, lacks all Besonnenheit in his later “polemics and plaidoyers in his own defense” (107).

Krell then relates Safranski’s story about Heidegger’s upbringing and youth: the dependency of conservative Catholicism for his education, the tension between the liberal education in the towns and the earlier conservative strand of these institutions that housed him, a tension, shadow perhaps, that Heidegger seems only difficult to shed. Antimodernism would indeed accompany Heidegger during his entire life, yet at the same time there was something of a revolutionary zeal about his early (and later) thinking which one would expect rather from a liberal-progressive mind. “Heidegger’s internal struggles with Catholicism” is well known (yet not sufficiently studied) and Krell takes pleasure in mentioning Max Müller’s report to church leaders in 1947 about Heidegger’s relation to the Church (“he is relentlessly circling about the question of the Absolute” (94, citing Grunenberg)) and in Safranski’s note that nothing of the antisemitism, then pervading in Catholic antimodernism, is present in Heidegger’s own “early ‘Catholic’ writings” (94). Krell has a few qualms about Safranki’s “throwing in the towel” (95) when it comes to the later Heidegger, mainly because “earth and sky are raging now, and mortals might do well to think about building for the sake of dwelling” (97). And if the likes of René Char value “The Thing” so highly and Hannah Arendt considered What is Called Thinking? as the best of Heidegger’s thinking (ibid.), then a thinker, any thinker, might do well to at least reconsiders one’s judgement. Krell’s judgement, on the other hand, is worth considering: “at his worst, Heidegger succumbed to the seductions of power, destructive power; at his best, he searched for the origins of that destructive power, and tried, without authority, to promulgate a different sort of thinking. I am unable to mock the effort” (97-98).

When meeting Heidegger, Krell knew very little about Heidegger’s own destructive path during the thirties and forties—and had he known, one might also wonder whether one would have dared asking him about that period. Heidegger’s fatal turn to politics, Safranski has argued, already starts with the criticism Sein und Zeit would receive from George Misch and Helmuth Plessner, arguing that there is no politics in the book. Slowly but surely, Heidegger would make his way, first in university politics, then in national politics (99) and by 1933 he is indeed “caught in a revolutionary fervor and furor” (ibid.). From the beginning, however, Heidegger seemed blind for all the politics around him: amidst of the mobs, the violence, and repression, Heidegger would still think, and say, that these are but a passing phase. One must, however, recall, that no one has the hindsight we now all have, and that Heidegger was not the only one not to see what was happening. (The only question here seems to be whether we, you and I, would be able to recognize what is happening if it would happen all around us).

The latter question in effect is forgotten in the “works” of those today that “devote oneself solely to ‘unmasking’ Heidegger’s texts” (100): these seem to “partake of that self-same militancy and decisionism” (100) to which Heidegger himself fall prey, when purging being of those elements foreign to it, from the Medieval “mania for security in sanctity”, to “modernity [as] the willful machination of Roman vulgarity” (100), up to the grandiose role Heidegger reserved for himself when finally detecting that it was being itself that erred. Except that in these latter-day devotees the purging works the other way: this or that sentence is clear evidence for this or that and therefore we bid good riddance to the entire work, not to mention that these devotees themselves are, apparently, pure and immune enough to undertake the task of such purging.

This obviously does not mean that Heidegger’s politics do not make us think. Krell mentions two things he thinks about quite often: those aspects in his life that pushed him in this fatal direction and his “callousness” (101) regarding his Jewish students. It is clear, too, that the Black Notebooks reveal something of an intellectual, cultural-spiritual antisemitism, not to say a “being-historical” (Trawny) variant (103). Krell’s assessment here is rather brief, a bit obscure even: the flowery language used might be a sign, too, that he is at a loss for words about just what happened to the thinker in this period. Krell indeed admits: there are “no signs of Heidegger’s suffering on account of the dangers to which his best students were exposed from 1933 onward” (ibid.) leaving Krell particularly “speechless and defeated” (ibid.). Heidegger’s “hardness of heart” was central already to Krell’s reading of the Black Notebooks (see 2015a, 157). Krell is clear, however, that recounting all these events as just a political error is not enough, and he will turn to Arendt more and more for the beginning of an answer. Here the question posed to Heidegger, “in a way that [he] would have understood” (104) is: should not such a disregard for your students and colleagues have made you, if only later, think? (ibid.). Does not your silence about the camps, liberated only six years earlier, “make a mockery” of the very question What calls for thinking? (108). To repeat, Heidegger’s life in effect might have fallen short of his thinking. An inkling about these thoughts, for Krell, lay in the question of love. Krell notes the distance he takes from Heidegger in and through his readings of Hölderlin. Whereas Heidegger focuses on Hölderlin’s reading of the homeland, Krell published a book on Hölderlin’s travels precisely (see Struck by Apollo). Is it the case that only through our travels the love for the other and the love for otherness truly awakens?

What can we learn from Hannah Arendt? She began to visit Heidegger again every summer after 1967. Here too, Krell says, he knew nothing about their earlier affair. Krell knew of her work, heard her speak in New York, and met up with her in Germany several times after the summer of 1974, where they had, after a period of exchanging letters, that “long conversation on [the] translation of ‘Der Spruch des Animander’” (119) mentioned earlier and in which Arendt showed herself particular patient “even though patience did not seem to be her strong suit” (ibid.). “I knew her as a person who loved above all else the vita contemplativa. Yet it is true to say that for her, thinking was never untroubled, tranquil contemplation. Rather, thinking had to wrestle with the problems of the world and with the ways in which we either rise to the occasion or falter and fumble when responding to those problems” (120-121).

In time, their exchanges become less formal and “Hannah” (120) was writing letters of recommendation for Krell who then was looking for a job. In any case, Krell featured enough in Arendt’s life to become a, say ‘character’ in it: it must be pretty odd to find yourself mentioned in a letter from Arendt to Heidegger (126)!

Krell now returns to Arendt’s admiration for Heidegger’s ‘Anaximander Fragment’, which perhaps is the place where the latter speaks most compassionate about our dealings with beings, about their coming and going, and our own finite coming and going, for if Heidegger cared a lot for ‘things that grow’ he did not seem to care much for ‘things that live’. Heidegger’s translation of the fragment would indeed impress many—not to mention Derrida’s wonderful essays on it. Heidegger speaks, with Anaximander, about justice and injustice, about things and time ‘being out of joint’. Usually, one translates Anaximander as saying that things “pay penalty” [tisis] to one another for their injustices, yet Heidegger has it—and I turn to Krell—that tisis is “not penalty but ‘mutual esteem,’ such that beings honor one another by not insisting on their own presence, not persisting in their own drive to prevail always and everywhere” (133). The passage is too beautiful not to think about. Krell adds that this thought of beings that are and need to be “considerate of one another” must have “touched on what Arendt was looking for” in her thinking of love as amor mundi and the Augustinian, ‘I will that you be’ (ibid.).

They discussed Heidegger’s Nazi involvement during what would be their last meeting in Summer 1976. Arendt called Heidegger a “lousy administrator” (135) and insisted that his resignation from the rectorate had nothing to do with politics, and certainly was not an act of resistance (136). She gestured strangely when Krell mentioned the reports about Heidegger’s antisemitism. At first Krell thought that this was because she thought the accusation senseless but, on second thought, and bearing Heidegger’s silence with regard to the suffering of his students in mind, Krell states, recalling Arendt’s own difficult years in Marburg, that these gestures “may have been a sign of something far more painful and confounding” (137). Krell is wise enough not to comment on the relationship Heidegger and Arendt entertained for quite a while, but we should at least mention that we owe him for helping Hannah out, carrying her suitcases around through the Freiburg railway. In that suitcase? Heidegger’s love letters to Arendt, which make for an inspiring yet baffling reading once one knows that all of these were written at the time of finishing Sein und Zeit which, as is well-known, only mentions love in a few odd cases.

To learn about the relationship between Arendt and Heidegger, Krell turns to Grunenberg’s account in the sixth chapter, “Arendt with and without Heidegger”. Even though it is clear from these letters that Heidegger was “overwhelmed with love” (146), “benumbed” (150) even, a term later reserved for the things that merely live,  here too some “skepticism”, worrying “about the possible self-deception in […] passion”—Am I in love with your love for me?—leading up to the refusal of “a friendship between souls” (ibid., the latter quote citing Grunenberg), arises, causing Krell, in turn, to worry about “Heidegger’s irremediable remoteness” and “insurmountable emotional distance [with] all his fellows” (146).

Heidegger destroyed Arendt’s letters to him, and all we have from their period together is a text from Arendt called “Shadow”, speaking of a certain tenderness to the world which, again, might have drawn her to Heidegger’s Anaximander. Inversely, if it is so difficult for Heidegger to describe a meeting of singular Dasein with singular Dasein in Being and Time—solicitude seems to be bare ontological minimum—one of the best definitions of love can be found in his letter to Arendt, and it is easy to imagine how this must have confused the writer of Sein und Zeit: “Love is being able to take only the singular ‘you’ as actual. When is I say that my joy in you is great and growing, that means that I also believe in everything that belongs to your history. I am not fabricating some ideal: the way you are and the way you will remain with your history—that is how I love you” (147, citing the letters between the two in German, 36). Soon, however, Heidegger would start to downplay and denigrate “the squalls of romantic love”—Krell indicates how in the course Einleitung in die Philosophie from Winter 1928 Dasein is “broken” by sexual difference—and Krell, significantly concludes: “As a Dasein that in addition to questioning also lives, however, he is often not smart enough to come in out of the rain” (148-149).

Well-known is Safranski’s statement that Arendt’s philosophy would complement Heidegger’s, as for instance her vision of the public realm would alleviate his stress on the struggle of singular Dasein. Krell, interestingly enough, has doubts. Far from insisting on the originality of her theme of natality, he says, she would point us to the few pages in Being and Time that mention that the phenomenon of birth truly poses a problem for Heidegger himself (153), even if it is the case that she gave each birth “a more positive resonance”, since “each new birth promis[es] enhanced possibilities for humankind” (154). The latter idea would enthrall Derrida but I would only subscribe with serious reservations: it may be true abstractly, it seems not to be true in practice.

There is worry enough about the public space in Arendt—“she lived long enough […] to see the public space all but entirely mediatized” (156). She, herself, worried about whether her passage about the public space in Origins of Totalitarianism, stating that in this place even ‘the mobs and the elite’ would gather (ibid.) had possibly (if not hopefully) hurt Heidegger. The mediatization, as such I would say, worries Krell. It is not the first time that one Donald Trump is mentioned in this book. “Arendt had no illusions,” he says, adding that “evil could be clownish as well as banal” (ibid).

Once again, understandably, Heidegger’s positioning against his students, his Jewish students in particular, come to mind. Krell states that one of the worst statements of Heidegger in the Black Notebooks is that he is all for the “unrestricted application” of the “principle of race” (161, cf. GA 96, 56), an “allusion to the Shoah,” perhaps, “if only prospectively” (ibid.).  Heidegger was no prophet, of course, and all these phrases, the ones about the “total annihilation” (e.g. GA 36/37, 90-91), Vernichtung, included, should be put in a serious historical context—all of these should be compared to what was known to the Germans, to certain of their leaders, in a given historical period. Not everyone knew everything, even though not everyone ‘had no knowledge of it’.  Yet Heidegger was not at Wannsee in 1942.

These pages are interesting, too, for those looking for a first contact with the ‘the trouble with Heidegger’. Krell closes by stating that whereas Grunenberg’s judgement is generous—Heidegger was less an antisemite than an opportunist and his involvement with the nazis possible rather than necessary—Arendt could be very harsh, although “not consistently” (166). She deems Heidegger charakterlos, excluding “both a good and a bad character” (ibid.). One might say, following Krell somewhat: he was too little ‘Mensch’ and too much ‘Dasein’.

After being in exile for eight years Arendt left Europe for the States in 1941 where she became an activist for fellow refugees, and pleaded for a “two-state solution,” (167) as later Derrida will also do. After the war, Arendt’s stirred controversy for not insisting on the ‘the guilt-question’ but rather on everyone taking responsibility for their deeds (168). On her first trip back (in 1950) she contacted Heidegger who would read some of his Was heisst Denken? to her. Heidegger was not allowed to teach just yet and suffered from it—he had had a severe depression in 1946. The confrontation between Arendt and Elfride, Heidegger’s wife, is not easy, to say the least, and Krell will write later that he surmises that it is because of this that the contact between the two thinkers will now, for a long time, be broken off. There are a few attempts on Heidegger’s part two alleviate the conflict, but writing a letter to your wife on Valentine’s day to explain your relationship with a mistress perhaps wasn’t his best idea. Krell once more notes Heidegger’s tendency to see himself as the victim (172), this time of his “states of excitement” (171) needed for his thinking, just to find the way from what at first is sensed to the sayable, as if the thinker of being needed to be inspirited, maddened by excitement and could enthusiastically—in a Greek sense—go about his ways. Krell concludes with Grunenberg that “Heidegger often enough betrays Sein […] for Geist, slipping back into that quasi-Hegelian position that he ought to have eschewed” (168, also 165)—as if being could only speak through him and it was with him alone that its history would reach, if not its consummation, then at least a ‘new beginning’. Here too Heidegger slipped into a lack of thinking that could go either way: either someone was to be applauded for hearing the voice of being or someone was to be castigated for not hearing this voice at all. That Heidegger even allowed such particular Seiendes to say all there is to Seyn is in Krell’s Ecstasy, Catastrophe once more underlined as a “failure of thinking” on Heidegger’s part (Krell 2015a, 170).

Of course Elfride alone did not cause Arendt not to visit Heidegger until 1967. Arendt suffered from the later Heidegger’s “mannerisms” as much as the next one. Above all, it is his silence about the extermination of the camps that unsettles her (174). Arendt refers to Heidegger being trapped, stumbled into a trap that he first set for others, in a parable about the fox in her Denktagebuch. One might paraphrase: if it is the case that Die Sprache spricht it is noteworthy that all actual and empirical words are improper and cannot heed Being, or could otherwise give words to being. Only a poet, here or there, can do so. Yet since fewer and fewer poets speak in this atom-age all this fox can do is listen to the silence of Being until Being itself, and all beings with it, grow mute.

Krell had been reading Derrida since 1979 and met him a few years later, the topic of the seventh chapter. A friendship developed between the two men, especially over Derrida’s Geschlecht-series, and they would meet three to four times a year. Krell will mostly use the letters between them in this chapter, although there are plenty of anecdotes, too, of the time they spend together—apparently Derrida kept all of Krell’s letters, which are now at the IMEC archive in Caen (208). Derrida’s first letter to Krell, in 1983, reveals “certain constants” (195). Krell mentions the lack of time, the enormous workload, the depletion of energy but especially Derrida’s gratitude for and generosity towards the engagement of others with his work. From my own reading of these letters, I would add all apologies Derrida uses in these letters (and which reflect a certain aspect of his work as well): apologies for not being on time, for responding too late, and so on, which would later lead to a genuine “mailophobia” (245).

Krell then recalls listening to Derrida’s lecture on Heidegger’s Hand in 1985, a lecture which would become Geschlecht II, and was the “most powerful presentation [he] had ever heard” (196) even though, as usual with Derrida, it lasted for hours. It is here, too, that the two men met for the first time: at the airport, Krell offered to carry Derrida’s suitcase to the taxi and, after the conference in Chicago, they traveled to Yale together (where Derrida presented what, decades later, would become Geschlecht III). Derrida, it seems, was almost always en route. Krell then narrates the conferences he was organizing where Derrida would be the main speaker, one of which in Essex where Krell worked at the time. For this conference, it was agreed that Derrida could focus on “his ‘hesitations’ concerning Heidegger’s thought” (208), later published as De l’esprit (1987). It is through this lecture that Krell, too, began to doubt about “Heidegger’s assurance that mortals could be readily distinguished from all other life-forms” (ibid.).

Krell especially remembers Françoise Dastur’s remark at the Essex conference, stating that Heidegger had not only argued for the major role of questioning when it comes to thinking but that it also, and more so, was the claim, the “address” of the question on us that was at issue (218-219). Derrida listened carefully and when revising his paper for publication, his answer to Dastur ended up being “may be the longest footnote in the history of philosophy” (219). Another exchange in Essex deserves our attention too, for it is important for anyone reading the Geschlecht-series and Derrida’s ‘critique’ of Heidegger’s account of ‘sammeln’ and gathering. Apparently, someone asked Derrida whether “a thought of unity that would not suppress differences” is at all possible. Derrida replied smilingly and answered immediately: “That is my dream. It is what I try to think. I can’t avoid dreaming [but] I try not to dream all the time” 220). The entire gist of the Geschlecht-series in one single sentence!

Another story from the Collegium Phaenomenologicum in 1987, where Derrida spoke and Jean-Luc Nancy presented as well, needs to be mentioned. Both men, apparently, were pretty good soccer players. Yet the scene ends when Derrida kicked the ball so hard that the ball went off terrain and onto the porch where it landed with a loud noise shattering a vase they then thought was an ancient one. All men hid—Derrida, Nancy and even Rodolphe Gasché, the organizer of the conference, were nowhere to be found (224). Il faut very much répondre, but clearly not all the time and everywhere!

A revised version of the Essex paper—now with the long footnote—was presented in Paris too. Levinas also attended. When Levinas gave his speech, Derrida and Krell wanted to join, but when Levinas saw Derrida, he got up from his chair asking him what he was doing there, chastising him quite severely: “you should be at home working!” (230). This is but an anecdote, of course, but nonetheless one that gives food for thought. One can easily imagine Derrida attending Levinas’ lecture out of courtesy, perhaps, or even to pay homage, who knows—Levinas was getting old and in the last years of his life—but how different is Heidegger’s approach to his work and his ‘whereabouts’, realizing that he was bored with and in the company of others, wishing he would have been able to work instead (Cf. GA 29/30, 165).

Before I dash off to a next meeting, let me conclude by narrating Krell’s eight chapter, mainly about 1987, a year filled with controversies for Derrida with the De Man-affair especially, a close friend of Derrida’s. De Man was the man who, in a sense, brought deconstruction to America but in this year it became evident that he was behind not a few antisemitic writings in his early journalistic writings, causing an even worse reputation to the ‘bad name’ deconstruction already had among quite a few ‘thinkers’. There was a quarrel, too, between Krell and Derrida over Levinas’ work, which Krell took as one more of the “usual sort of moralizing and policing typical of ethical sources” undergirded, once more, by the commands “from on High” (238). Krell presented this thesis at a conference at Vanderbilt in 1987, where Derrida also spoke. Derrida’s response to Krell’s paper is worth pondering: “is the priestly Levinas the only Levinas? Is it fair to remain with the rejection of the priestly Levinas?” (240), questions, we know, that triggered Derrida in both his classics on Levinas Violence and Metaphysics (1967) and A Dieu à Emmanuel Levinas (1996). And Derrida to proceed: “Is it not the case that infinite violence as such is not flat and boring, but, on the contrary, devilish and interesting? [As] the piety turns into the opposite of piety—that is interesting. Levinas’s violence cannot be reduced, but it can be turned” (ibid) and, a little bit later, “I read Levinas with the hypothesis in mind that he sacrificed God” (241). A certain God was certainly sacrificed by Levinas—Levinas was not the thinker of dogmas and creeds—and what remains is the raising of the stakes of the face to face encounter, which is now ‘guided’ by a call that comes literally from God knows where, anarchic if not diabolic, but a call nonetheless, an ‘intersubjective curvature’ if you will, that no one can easily put aside.

The nineties, for Derrida, were the years of “animality”, a question that had occupied Derrida from the beginning but that now comes to the fore. Along with this comes a rather strange confession of Derrida that he had rather that they would leave his work “to sleep peacefully” (247), that he himself even prefers to forget about insights that came to him during the writing of this or that work. This “need to protect his work” (249) occupies Krell quite a bit in this eight chapter. At the beginning of the nineties, Krell too taught in Paris and he would regularly meet up with Derrida and Françoise Dastur. Derrida was then teaching seminars about cannibalism, a continuation of his work on “Eating the Other”. Krell to comment: “What I remember most vividly about these lectures were Derrida’s imaginative yet quite concrete references to what are usually called ‘bodily functions’. I had always felt that […] Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh has somehow been left in abeyance by deconstruction, but the flesh came back with a vengeance [and] it would continue to come back throughout this decade dedicated to ‘animality’” (250). Krell also notes the intensity of these seminars of Derrida and, quite significantly, dares to echo the words that Hans Jonas once used to describe Heidegger’s lectures for these seminars.

These are also the years of Derrida’s Aporias, where his ‘hesitations about Heidegger’ become evident once again and where Derrida’s doubts about getting one’s death ‘into view’, properly, even as ‘the possibility of impossibility’ Heidegger spoke about, leads him to interrogate the ‘end of the living’, of what is alive, again. The aporia is an impasse or a limit, as a superficial reading would have it: what we get in view is our finite being-in-the-world, our being-in-the-world-together, but not, not properly, the ‘end’ of being-in-the-world, let alone what comes after. Krell adds: “toward the end of his address [Derrida] said something that would continue to obsess him for the rest of his days: if ‘my’ death does not come to appear as such, if there is no crossing that frontier, this means ‘nothing less than the end of the world, with each death, each time’” (261, referring to Aporias). “The theme of mourning,” Krell says, “[became] for me perhaps the central theme of Derrida’s thought” (262).

It is worth noting that this makes for Derrida’s concern about the general state of phenomenology—but a concern, too, that was present early on in Derrida. Just read his introduction to Husserl’s Geometry. “The confidence that underlay[s] the phenomenological project of the recuperation of evidence and the restitution of all things past to presence, in other words, the project devoted to keeping everything [a phrase from Sartre’s Les mots, JS] [is] a confidence that both Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and [my] own Feu la cendre [are] dedicated to undermining” (264). Nothing, ever, is remembered, or present even, as such. One might say: Il y a la différance or, as Nietzsche once quite amusingly called ‘the thing-in-itself’ “das Derdiedas” (246). But remember, too, what we mentioned earlier: Derrida kept everything, even essays that Krell’s eight-year daughter had her father send to Derrida (209).

Chapter nine takes Benoît Peeters’ biography of Derrida as its point of departure, speaking of Derrida’s family and his attachment to the Jewish community. Community, in general, sparked an “allergic reaction” (282) in Derrida. Yet Derrida, for Krell, thought more about “our fractured polis and our fractious politics” (ibid.) than is usually assumed: his thought about a divided sovereignty in effect brings him close to Arendt’s view that the American innovation might lie in “the abolition of sovereignty within the body politic of the Republic” (ibid., quoting Jerome Kohn).

This chapter, “Each Time Unique” is, perhaps fittingly, “all about mourning” (287). Derrida’s work of mourning is well-known, and the title of this chapter bears the same name as Derrida’s French volume. For Derrida, mourning suffers from the same aporia as the other grand themes he broached. If there is such a thing as mourning, it is not, really, it is not successful that is: if mourning would be successful, over and done with, one would no longer be mourning the deceased any more. The deceased will then have been forgotten and mourning will not have taken place, say, properly. This sums up Derrida’s “[line] of resistance” (289) against Freud: there is no such a thing as successful mourning. One does not ‘move on’, one does not lose a particular someone or something, but one loses the world in its entirety, with every singular death one unfortunately comes across.

The chapter proceeds by recounting Derrida’s early reception in France. Although Derrida’s “genius” (297) was recognized by many, and not the least (Ricoeur, Althusser, Hyppolite, Canguilhem), academic averageness gave Derrida a hard time. Lacan, too, thought of Derrida as an imposter. Heidegger, on the other hand, “expressed a desire to meet Derrida” (298) and it is unfortunate for us that this did not happen, for Derrida would have kept everything. Heidegger, apparently, was intrigued by the notion of différance, where the French “forced [him] to admit that [this] language could do something that the German could not do” (298), namely signify at once difference and deferral.

Krell then takes on Derrida’s Circumfession, a text, I’m sure, that no one of us really understands. And Krell too seems to struggle. Krell speaks of a “pericardial thinking” (310). If Derrida’s seminar were truly a ‘thinking in action’, “without safety nets” (252), then one sees here a thinking tapping all of its veins until it bleeds, a thinking according to the heart.

In the “Concluding Reflections”, Krell rehearses the main themes of his ‘memoir’, the things he would like to remember having written the book, the things to keep at heart as it were. Krell’s life is indeed a remarkable bumping into geniuses and “is much the better and much the happier for these encounters” (324). Life is often better on paper, of course, yet this memoir should make us wonder whether we should not try to keep more, we, who encounter the thinkers of our admittedly somewhat thoughtless times, and smile at their e-mails just once before deleting them.

There is much to think about in Krell’s book, and having written this review which is surely too long, and looking into my notes, I see my scribbling mentioning that this is a book one best reads for oneself. That is true, perhaps. It will give teachers an anecdote or two to lighten up their classes. It will give thinkers an idea or two to think about, for there is something about the lives of philosophers that cannot be easily dismissed if one thinks about their philosophies. To be sure, one might have some misgivings about Krell’s book. It is rather conservative at times, even though even at those places it raises good questions: can there be such a thing as a contemplative e-mail? (302, also 293). I think there is, though—the matters of the heart have a way of finding its way through whatever medium available. We should just think more (and better) before just deleting these. It is, attempts to be rather, political at times: there are regular references to Trump, for instance. I did not find these, always, convincing, even though here too the question is whether we are able to recognize what is happening all around us and, especially, whether such recognition as such can take place. Philosophy’s procession into politics will always remain a delicate manner.

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