Wednesday, June 09, 2004


When I first started reading Elzbieta Ettinger's account of the Martin Heidegger/Hannah Arendt affair, I couldn't have been more enthralled by it all. What's not intriguing about an illicit and enduring tryst between Germany's foremost modern philosopher/Nazi ideologue and his adoring, much younger Jewish student, herself an emerging and important mind of the times? There's something about forbidden love that is infinitely spellbinding, especially when it deals with intellectual intercourse as much as it deals with physical need. Ettinger does a good job of portraying both of these aspects of the legendary love affair, but she also makes melodrama out of it in a quick and tiring fashion. Too, she portrays each 'character' [an appropriate term here, as it becomes clear that she deems herself a knowing narrator with insights into the raison d'etre of both parties, in addition to that of a few other key players, including Elfride Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Heinrich Bleucher] in an unfavourable light: Heidegger as a lying, conniving, selfish type, and Arendt as an obsessed, self-doubting hanger-on who just can't get over him already. Whether this is an accurate portrayal, I am not sure, as I have no deeper knowledge of Arendt, Heidegger, or of the Arendt/Heidegger complex, but I suspect that the more telling version of the story may be elucidated by the recently published volume of translated correspondence between the two. At least in epistolary format a reader can take away things in context [depending upon the quality of the translation, of course], as opposed to misinterpreting selectively parsed quotes that meet the intentions and specifications of the author's raison d'écrire.

Still, it could be worse, like an attempt to fictionalize the whole affair and turn it into a romance novel. Oh, wait, that's been done...

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