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Love and reconciliation: the case of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger.(Essay)


It is by now well known that Hannah Arendt had a love affair with Martin Heidegger. She was eighteen years old and his student at Marburg. He was thirty-five, married, had two children, and although Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) had not yet been published, he already enjoyed a reputation as a leading figure in German intellectual history.

Heidegger was a charismatic teacher, a brilliant man with jet black hair and a dark complexion, famous for the intricacy of his thought and the beauty of his language. He was energetic and youthful, an avid skier, hiker, and swimmer. He attracted the brightest students, who struggled to understand the subtlety of his thought and regarded him as a sort of magician. Hannah Arendt, who in maturity was one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most original political theorists, was equally extraordinary as a young, emancipated, secular Jewish woman of exceptional intelligence. Her contemporaries describe her as beautiful and shy, with an intensity, inner direction, and determination that also created an aura of magic about her.

Arendt was already competent in Latin and Greek, well read in history and the classics, and familiar with the world of ideas when she came to study at Marburg University, which she chose because of a rumor that Martin Heidegger was a teacher from whom thinking could be learned. Heidegger quickly became aware of Arendt’s presence in his lectures on Plato’s Sophist. Twenty-five years later he recalled the moment in a poem entitled “November 1924”: “If only from withdrawn grace, she, the one, would fall toward me!”

Interest in their romantic liaison turns on the fact that Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933, was elected rector at the University of Freiburg, implemented the dismissal of Jews from the faculty, and enthusiastically put his considerable intellectual prestige at the service of the Fuhrer, while Arendt was driven into exile to escape the virulent anti-Semitism that was about to culminate in the destruction of European Jewry, and that, despite this, after Germany’s total collapse in 1945, at a time when she had emerged as a major intellectual figure in her own right, Arendt took the lead in establishing a reconciliation with Heidegger.

The most interesting question presented by the relationship between these two giants of twentieth century intellectual history is: How could she have forgiven him?

After a lecture one day early in February 1925, Heidegger asked Arendt to come to his office. He later described her as “wearing a raincoat, a hat pulled low over her face, now and then uttering a barely audible ‘yes’ or ‘no.'” On February 10 he wrote a note which begins: “Dear Miss Arendt! I must come see you this evening and speak to your heart … You are my pupil and I your teacher, but that is only the occasion for what has happened to us. I will never be able to call you mine, but from now on you will belong in my life, and it shall grow with you.” Four days later he wrote to her again this time as “Dear Hannah.” A letter written two weeks later suggests growing intimacy and reveals Heidegger’s mood: “In the rainstorm on the way home, you were even more beautiful and great. I would have liked to wander with you for nights on end.”

Theirs was a hidden, adulterous love, conducted in strict secrecy. Elfride, Heidegger’s wife, was not to know, and in a small university town this meant that no one must know. Often the lovers met in Arendt’s attic apartment; sometimes Heidegger sent cryptic notes in code specifying the place and the time of their next rendezvous with a system of signals of lights to be switched on and off to show if he was in his study. His letters during the first months of their relationship express his longing: “Being allowed to wait for the beloved–that is what is most wonderful–for it is in the waiting that the beloved is ‘present,'” or “Dear Hannah!… After the concert, I was so moved by being near you that I could not bear it any longer–and left, when I would much rather have wandered through the May night with you–walking silently beside you and sensing your dear hand and your great gaze–not asking what for and why but just ‘being.'” A later letter ends: “Thank you–even if I can not and may not do so–for your love.”

Fonte:  Harvard Review | June 01, 2007 | Maier-Katkin, Daniel; Maier-Katkin, Birgit 

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