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Heidegger's First HöIderlin Lecture Series

The initial series of Hölderlin lectures are important in themselves and for a consideration of Heidegger's Nazism. They occurred in 1934/ 35, in close proximity to his resignation from the rectorate and immediately before the lecture series published under the title An Introduction to Metaphysics .[8] The first Hölderlin lecture series was later followed by two others, which have also been published, given in the winter semester of 1941/42 and in the summer semester of 1942.[9]

Heidegger's first series of Hölderlin lectures is titled Hölderlin's Hymns Germania and the Rhine .[10] Although there is a good deal of Hölderlin interpretation in this text, the lectures are mainly devoted to an appropriation of the poet for the purposes of Heidegger's own theory. Here in the wake of the rectoral address, and the failure of the rectorate, Heidegger turns to poetry several years before he embarks on a great cycle of Nietzsche lectures. Heidegger's discussion of Hölderlin has evoked sustained critical discussion.[11] Our concern here is less with the extent to which Heidegger contributes to Hölderlin scholarship than with the importance of his Hölderlin discussion for his own position. The immediate problem is to understand how poetry relates to Heidegger's evolving conception of the question of Being, which remains his central interest, and the effect of that turn to poetry on the relation between his thought and Nazism. We need to ask: does Heidegger free himself from, or loosen the ties to, National Socialism in the first cycle of Hölderlin lectures?

In order to understand Heidegger's use of Hölderlin, we need to characterize the point of development reached by Heidegger's thought in the immediately preceding period. Heidegger himself calls attention to the relation between the rectoral address and the inaugural lecture, "What Is Metaphysics?" As late as the inaugural lecture, Heidegger still maintained a version of the traditional view of philosophy as transcendental science. His increasingly overt turning toward Nietzsche was visible in the rectoral talk in his insistence on Nietzsche's proposition of the death of God and the idea of a confrontation with Western thought through a return to its beginnings. The consequence, which was played out in the Nietzsche lectures, the "Letter on Humanism," the Beiträge zur Philosophie , and other later writings, is the effort to move beyond philosophy.

This entire effort represents a strengthening of the antirationalist, even gnostic side of Heidegger's thought. Heidegger's original position combines rationalistic and antirationalist aspects. The rationalist thrust


is evident in Heidegger's insistence in his writings through the period of the inaugural lecture on a version of the traditional view of philosophy as transcendental science. The incipient antirationalist side of his position is already evident in Being and Time in various ways, for instance in his insistence on the analysis of Dasein as prior to and apart from the various sciences (§ 10), in the antiscientific perspective of the work in general which Jaspers, for example, found objectionable,[12] in the abandonment of the Husserlian conception of transcendental truth, on which Heidegger insisted early in the book (§ 7) in favor of the view of truth as disclosure (§§ 44, 68), and in the idea of resoluteness (§ 74). The conceptions of truth as disclosure and resoluteness are basically antirational since there are no criteria to discern the correctness of either one.

The evolution of Heidegger's thought after Being and Time basically weakens its initial rationalistic side in favor of a growing antirationalism leading finally to the turn beyond the philosophical tradition. An antirationalist, quasi-gnostic side of Heidegger's thought is already evident in the rectoral address. It may even be directly related to Heidegger's mistaken identification of National Socialism as offering an occasion to seize the future realization of the Germans. Heidegger's perception of the advent of Nazism as a historical turning point depends on the ability to see into history. This is an application of the conception of truth as disclosure, a mainstay of Heidegger's position as early as Being and Time[13] and at least until the late essay, "The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking,"[14] to the interpretation of historical phenomena. As early as the rectoral talk, Heidegger claimed to use Nietzsche's thought, mediated by his own study of Jünger, literally to see into history, to grasp the essence of what is with respect to the present and future. In the wake of his coming turn away from philosophy to thought, Heidegger could no longer maintain this point in the same way. In his turn to poetry, specifically to Hölderlin, he maintained his antirationalist claim for insight into history and the future through a reference beyond the philosophical tradition.

Heidegger turns to Hölderlin's poetry as a source of extraphilosphical truth. His concern to appropriate Hölderlin's poetry for his effort to find truth in a realm beyond philosophy is apparent as early as the short "Preliminary Remark" (Vorbemerkung ) preceding the first series of Hölderlin lectures. In this and other writings, Heidegger adopts the pose, based on his conception of authenticity, that readings of prior theories which differ from his own are inauthentic. He applies this claim to the interpretation of Hölderlin. For Heidegger, to misinterpret "Hölderlin and his Gods" is to reduce this "poet finally to ineffectualness [Wirkungslosigkeit]."[15] In approaching Hölderlin in this "historical"


manner, one misses the "essential," namely, that "he founded the beginning of another history, the history that begins with the struggle about the decision on the coming or flight of God."[16]

Several words in this statement are suggestive, including "history," "God," "struggle," "beginning," and "decision." If we recall Heidegger's earlier attention, in the rectoral address, to Nietzsche's aphorism about the death of God, as well as his remark in the Spiegel interview that only a God can save us,[17] we can note Heidegger's stress on the need to struggle concerning a decision about the future arrival or departure of God. Here, Heidegger is preparing to use Hölderlin to forward his own view of himself as a seer of Being, he who sees into the future, including the possibility of the future of the Germans as German.

As the title of the lecture course suggests, it is divided into two parts, each of which is ostensibly devoted to the analysis of a poem by the great German poet. Taken as a whole, the discussion is very repetitive; Heidegger frequently returns to the same ideas, often in the same or closely similar formulations. An example, among many, is the pathetic statement—which in the wake of the rectorate has an autobiographical ring—repeated several times, that we do not know who we are.[18] The virtue of Heidegger's repeated treatment of the same, or similar, themes is to accord them an almost pedagogical emphasis, appropriate for a course, in order to permit the final view of a particular theme to emerge gradually—by accretion, so to speak.

Heidegger insists that his aim is not to interpret Hölderlin but to create a space for poetry in our historical being.[19] He understands his task as surpassing metaphysics, hence implicitly going beyond philosophy itself, "in developing the question concerning the origin and basis of Hölderlin's poetry as the poets of poets."[20] The reason for the concern with Hölderlin's poetry, great as it is, is not a mere hermeneutics of poetical texts. Hölderlin's poetry is important for reasons beyond its mere poetic qualities, as providing a way to respond to the historical situation, the situation in which, for Heidegger, the hour of our history has struck.[21]

As is his fashion, Heidegger never directly argues his view, although his writing is full of concealed arguments. We can reconstruct his view by following along in the text. We do not know who we are, a point Heidegger repeatedly urges, in most striking fashion in the statement that "the gods have flown, [and] who man is, we do not know."[22] Heidegger insists that poetry can help us in our time of need. For Heidegger, poetry is a way of literally making present a kind of saying of revelation,[23] both the most harmless and the most fearful.[24] More to the point, Heidegger tells us that the historical existence of peoples springs from poetry, from which authentic philosophical knowledge derives as well, and that from


both follows the realization of the existence of a people as a people in the state, or politics. "We have already heard... that the historical existence of people, the rise, peak, and fall, spring from poetry and from this authentic knowledge in the philosophical sense, and from both the realization of the existence of a people as a people through the state— politics."[25]

For Heidegger, then, poetry is deeper than philosophy, which derives from it. A role earlier attributed to philosophy, namely the authentic gathering of the German Volk , is now displaced to poetry since philosophy depends on it. Consistent with his view that truth lies beyond philosophy, Heidegger now locates truth in poetry, which makes possible the historical repetition of the German heritage. Whereas before philosophy was shown to be political, now both poetry and philosophy are regarded as intrinsically political, since they lead to historical destiny in a political context. In the rectoral address, Heidegger presented a version of the Platonic idea that philosophy founds politics, but poetry was not a factor. Heidegger now attributes a fundamental political role to poetry. For Heidegger, poetry founds philosophy as its ultimate source, both are intrinsically political, and both are necessary for the Germans to finally be German in the full sense. What Heidegger in the rectoral address saw as the possibility for the realization of the German people through philosophy is now depicted as a realization finally dependent on poetry.

Heidegger develops his claim for poetry through a complex analysis of the relation between poetry on the one hand and Being, history, and a people on the other. For Heidegger, poetry gives (stiftet ) Being. Or, as he also says, poetry is the most originary language of a people.[26] Heidegger expands this view slightly when he says that poetry is the basic framework of historical being and that language is the basic event of historical existence.[27] His point is that we literally are language or constituted by a discussion, but that poetry provides the most basic form of language in which our being as human beings is made available to us. The effect is to privilege poetry as a means to deliver us to ourselves—as beings defined through our use of language—from within the poetic dimension.

If this were the goal of Heidegger's view of poetry, it would not be very interesting. It would, in spite of his disclaimer, turn out to be a kind of romanticism preaching poetry as the source of who we are. Yet Heidegger is no mere romantic, although he is also that. In the rectoral address, he argued for philosophy as the condition of the gathering of the Germans in an authentic sense. Here, where poetry has taken on the role of philosophy, he makes a similar point with respect to poetry. The significance of poetry is that it captures the historical being of a people,


its basic mood.[28] In fact, since "the fatherland" is Being, and the poet is the voice of Being, Heidegger concludes, in a passage that sounds suspiciously like Nazi propaganda, at a time when he has supposedly broken with Nazism, that through the poet the Being of the fatherland is experienced as the authentic and sole being.

This [i.e., the fatherland] does not play the external role of a closely related case, in terms of which the passing away and coming to being in the passing away can be illuminated in an exemplary fashion; on the contrary, the Being of the fatherland [Seyn des Vaterlandes], that is, the historical existence of its people [des Volkes], is experienced as the authentic and sole Being, from which the basic orientation to beings in general arises and wins its structure [Gefüge].[29]

The upshot of the claim is that the authentic way of Being of the fatherland, hardly an innocent term in the midst of the Third Reich, is lodged nowhere else than in poetry. The simultaneous result is again to deny the legitimacy of official Nazism, this time in reference to poetry, and to point toward the achievement of the Nazi goal.

Heidegger further emphasizes Hölderlin's role, the link between Being and poetry, and the future-oriented nature of poetry itself. For Heidegger, Hölderlin is the giver of German being,[30] or again "As the poet of poets Hölderlin is the poet of the future German and the only one."[31] His claim to deliver the German destiny to the Germans, to enable them to become fully German by reclaiming their heritage, rests on the fact that he has presumably seen farther than other poets. But that he has been able to see into the future at all is not due to him alone. In a mystical remark, Heidegger maintains that the poet as seer is possible only because Being lets it happen, because Being opens itself to the poet. "Being permits poetry to emerge, in order in an originary way to find itself within it and hence in it in a closed manner [verschliessend] to open itself up as a secret."[32] Heidegger's point is that Being is the cause of its own manifestation in a guarded way within the framework of poetic language. Left unclear is how Heidegger could possibly be privy to the secret of Being. What is clear, however, is that Heidegger now holds that Being, which was earlier depicted as the theme of the discussion in Being and Time , as that which is common to entities, has now taken on the causal character of something that stands behind beings and lets them be, so to speak.

Heidegger's discussion culminates in a series of related claims about Hölderlin's poetry and the future of the Germans, not as Greeks, but as German. Despite Heidegger's attachment to Greek thought, for Heidegger Hölderlin represents the future of the Germans. "Hölderlin is not


Greece, but the future of the Germans."[33] Heidegger emphasizes, now reaffirming the fundamental character of his own philosophical concern before all else, that a historical people must necessarily base itself on Being. "Only a historical people [Volk] is really a people. It is only historical, however, if it occurs on the basis of the center of Being."[34] Referring now to the task of the historical destiny of the German Volk , Heidegger insists that the central and ownmost task for a people is to realize their national being (das Nationelle ) as a nation. "In this struggle and only in it a historical people reaches its highest [level]."[35]

Heidegger's remarks on Hölderlin in the first cycle of Hölderlin lectures invite discussion on three levels: the contribution to Hölderlin scholarship; the displacment of his earlier view of philosophy in favor of poetry; and with respect to the link between his thought and Nazism. This is not the place to review Heidegger's contribution to the discussion of Hölderlin. We have already noted the significance of Heidegger's decision here to privilege poetry over philosophy as a source of truth. In this way, he rehabilitates poetry, in eclipse as a mere imitation of an imitation since Plato. For he rehabilitates the earlier Greek idea, criticized by Plato, for instance in both the Ion and the Republic , of the poet as inspired by and the interpreter of the gods, in Heidegger's case as offering the necessary hint to knowledge of Being.[36] Yet, as a result of the adoption of this conception of the power of inspiration, he abandons the traditional philosophical view, widely present in the philosophical tradition since Plato, as well as in Heidegger's own earlier position, that philosophy is the final, most adequate, in fact solely adequate source of truth.

For present purposes, the most important question is whether and how Heidegger's relation to National Socialism changes in this text. Heidegger's depiction of the first series of his Hölderlin lectures as a confrontation with Nazism is unwarranted. If we compare this text with the rectoral address, then the differences between their respective views of National Socialism are too slight to justify that conclusion. One obvious difference is a shift in emphasis consistent with the change from a public lecture on a ceremonial occasion in which Heidegger assumed the rector-ate to a lecture course for students on the writings of a major German poet. Heidegger's repeated emphases in the talk on struggle, the leaders, and "political science" have no equivalent in the lecture course, although their omission here hardly seems decisive. Neither text directly mentions either Hitler or the Nazi party. In fact, Heidegger's claim in the rectoral address to lead the leaders, which is not repeated here, is clearly more antagonistic to National Socialism than the lack of reference in lecture course.

One of the difficulties in determining whether and how Heidegger


later shifted his view of Nazism is the unclarity surrounding its original hold on his thought. It is possible that the attachment he earlier felt for Hitler began to fade or even vanished. But his link with National Socialism certainly surpassed whatever he may have felt for the person of Hitler. In the rectoral address as well as in later writings, including Heidegger's discussion of his rectorate and the Spiegel interview, he insists on the opportunity he then saw for the German people as German. This interest, even obsession, which he publicly expressed in the rectoral talk, is maintained in the initial series of Hölderlin lectures, which in this specific sense fully overlap with the rectoral address, for instance in Heidegger's insistence here on the realization of a people in a historical manner, on the idea that the hour of history has struck, on the need for a decision, on the assumption of destiny, on the extreme difficulty of the realization of national destiny, and so on.

If we take Heidegger at his word that his preoccupation with German destiny led him to Nazism, then there is no basis for his claim that his initial cycle of Hölderlin lectures represents a confrontation with National Socialism. With respect to the rectoral address, the most significant change lies in the means to the end, not the end itself. In the speech, Heidegger uncritically took a Platonic approach in grounding politics in philosophy in order to bring about the gathering of the Germans as German. Now, after the failure of his rectorate—which has not escaped Heidegger's notice—he still desires to attain the same end but now through a different means. Above all, he is clear that it no longer suffices to ground politics in philosophy. Philosophy still has a role to play, although its role is now indirect. The task of the philosopher is not to bring about the destiny of the German people directly, but to point to poetry, above all Hölderlin's poetry, as the means to realize that task.

For strategic reasons, as part of his effort to construct his own legend, to influence the reception of his life and thought, we can understand that Heidegger may have desired to portray his initial Hölderlin lectures as in fact coming to grips with Nazism. But the text, which does not support that interpretation, in fact reveals that he has not changed his mind about National Socialism or even about the shared concern to bring about German authenticity. He has merely changed his mind about the role of philosophy in bringing it about. It is false to claim that in the first series of Hölderlin lectures Heidegger either came to grips with, or weakened, his allegiance to this aim. At most, in the turn to poetry he came to grips with the failure of the rectorate, for his later writing, including the first Hölderlin lecture series, reveals a renewed determination to attain the same goal.


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