Three Thoughts About Germany – Somewhat (Dis)connected

1. Martin Heidegger. A book by Emmanuel Fay, published in French in 2005, is about to be published in English translation and there have been a series of articles that I have seen talking about the book, and about its subject, an influential philosopher, who happened to be a Nazi (as well as a lover and friend of Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt). support of the Nazis has not held back his influence; this book questions whether it should, and whether in fact, in taking into account philosophical writings, one needs to understand the full background of the writer. Heidegger, opponent of western technological society and reason-based philosophy, was in fact, according this new book, extolling a philosophy that is consistent with Nazi thought. Of course, you don’t have to be a Nazi to be suspicious of western technological development (and you don’t even have to be an Islamic fundamentalist). And I wonder whether Heidegger’s Nazi background is important at all, or rather whether Heidegger is. Look at what the New York Times said today in its article on the subject:

“His prose is so dense that some scholars have said it could be interpreted to mean anything, while others have dismissed it altogether as gibberish. He is nonetheless widely considered to be one of the century’s greatest and most influential thinkers.”

Is there something wrong with this picture?

(As an aside, Kate Fodor’s excellent play on the relationship between Heidegger and Arendt was performed several years ago at Theater J; it has been performed elsewhere from time to time, and I expect this book will revive interest in it. It explores Arendt’s thinking as she reconnects with Heidegger after the war.)

2. The Woman of Berlin. At the last minute, we decided to see Eine Dame von Berlin at the Avalon last night. In 1954, in English, an anonymous diary was published by a woman who was living in Berlin when the Russians entered the city in April 1945. The diary, which extended over a period of several months, told of the brutal treatment of women by the entering and, eventually, occupying Russian forces, included continual sexual attacks. But it also told the story of how these women responded to these attacks, not necessarily by sabotaging their conquerors, but in some instances by accommodating to their new situation, picking and choosing between various Russian military men in return for protection from others, food, peace and quiet. Was this their only motivation? Were some of them themselves starved for sex? Were some of them simply thinking survival, or defeat, or coping with unbearable depression?

When the diary was published in 1959 in Germany, it created a furor, as a piece besmirching the German woman, and it was quickly hushed up. The author, anonymous but now believed to be a former German journalist named Marta Hillers who moved to Switzerland after the war and who decided that the diary would not be published again until after her death. Hillers died at 90 in 2001, the diary published in Germany in 2003, and this movie made several years later.

It is a brutal movie – both the war and the graphic sexual scenes (although nudity is kept to a minimum) – that keeps pounding you as you watch it. Is this the way it really was? Or was Hillers’ situation someone unique in that the movie focuses entirely on the fate of the women (and the few men) living in one particular formerly elegant apartment building in Berlin, and the Russian soldiers they came into contact with. Were other experiences of others different?

It is interesting to note that the first review of the diary itself on Amazon is by a man who was in the American military in Berlin at the time, and he finds the story line to be very credible and authentic. On the other hand, as we are dealing with an officially anonymous diary, other questions are raised: is it authentic at all? The book is apparently quite polished, and it has been suggested that it is the product of the writer’s imagination, rather than a true diary. Most scholars, though, seem to accept the diary for what it is.

You might find the movie, which is well acted (in German and Russian with English subtitles), worthwhile, but don’t expect it to be pleasant. And certainly recognize that it may raise new questions in your mind about the human condition, and not answer those that you already have.

The Berlin Wall. Today, of course is the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall. If you haven’t read any of the articles giving the chronology of what happened on November 9, 1989, try to do so. You will find it interesting, how some missed signals sent out word that the gates to the west were being opened, and once the word was out and people stormed the walls (something that perhaps they could have done at any time in at least the decade preceding that date), the East Germans had no choice but to follow through and open the passageways.

I keep talking about my visit to Berlin in 1962, one year after the wall was erected, and again in 2006, and how seemlessly these two formerly so different portions of this city were being reconstructed. Humpty Dumpty it was, turned on its head.

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