20 Sep 2007

Visiting the Hut at Todtnauberg

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Patrick Lakey 2005
Patrick Lakey, Heidegger: Hut, Todtnauberg, Black Forest, Germany, I, 2005.

My old Philosophy professor, the late John N. Findlay, would bristle with patrician scorn at the very mention of Heidegger’s name, and would proceed to explain to students in a tone of wearied contempt that Heidegger was unworthy of serious attention, having promulgated a false philosophy which systematically confused human emotional states with metaphysical entities. Others would probably be more indignant over Heidegger’s purging of the University of Freiburg, his expressed ambition of providing the philosophic basis for the National Socialist Movement, and the continuing ability of Heideggerian thought post-WWII to inspire murderous totalitarians.

Harvard English professor, Leland de la Durantaye visits the famous hut on the mountain in the Black Forest in the spirit of a pilgrimage to a sort of shrine, and meditates on its former owner and his sinister and influential oeuvre.

In philosophy, as with the martial arts, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. My little bit of knowledge about Heidegger’s philosophy told me that Heidegger’s final collection of essays bore the modest title Wegmarken. Wegmarken means “Path-Markers,” and was a simple enough title for a collection of essays. But when it came out, it reminded his readers of his most influential collection of essays and lectures published eighteen years earlier: Holzwege. Holzwege proved a disarmingly difficult title to translate, or even understand: Holz means “wood,” and wege means “paths.” Thus: “Paths in the Forest”—but Holzwege are not just any paths. They are paths made not for the forest but the trees; paths for finding and carrying wood (back to your hut), not for getting from point A to B. And when you are on one, you are, proverbially, on the wrong path. They are thus a special kind of Rundweg. And they can be dangerous if you do not recognize them for what they are, as sooner or later it gets dark and the animals come out. The French translated Heidegger’s book as “Paths That Lead Nowhere”; in a sign of Anglo-Saxon sobriety and pragmatism, the English translation is Basic Writings.

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Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

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