Thursday, December 2, 2010

Speaking of Nazis...

(see yesterday's book review)... I was grateful to Bill Harryman over at Integral Options Cafe for the referral in his November 24 entry to a three-part BBC series, Human, All Too Human, produced in 1999, about the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Martin Heidegger. I watched the segment on Heidegger last night. I had known something, of course, about his Nazi affiliations, but was appalled to discover just how long and deep that association went. I did not know, for example, that he remained a Party member right up to the end, when the Party was dissolved. I did not know just how enthusiastic and proactive a supporter of Hitler he was. I was not aware of the extent to which he ratted on his colleagues to the Gestapo, including aggressive efforts to betray his own teacher, Edmund Husserl.

It's a familiar question: to what extent, if at all, can we separate the man--or woman--from the work, whether in the field of philosophy, as in the case of Heidegger, or in the field of art and literature? We know that many rather dreadful people have produced works of great and lasting beauty. Do their despicable acts in any way disqualify the work? Or mitigate its beauty? For many years I have been the interested--and involved--observer of contemporary art and letters, and I have known many artists whose work I admire, but whom I do not much admire as people. In their exclusive dedication to their work, they are ready to run roughshod over friends and colleagues, even those who love them the most. (This is something I was writing about the other day in an entry on Persist: The Blog.)

In my own life, I was taught at the earliest age that others come first--a lesson that was so deeply ingrained in me that to this day I am unable to walk through a door while anyone, young or old, male or female waits behind me. Once I do manage to get through the door, I never fail to look behind me to see if there is anyone following I should hold it open for. This is a quality that simply does not allow me to put my work ahead of everything--and everyone--else in my life. I have, at times, chided myself for being too "nice," for sacrificing too much of my own ambition and potential, and have found myself resenting those who benefit from my niceness; not, certainly, a very attractive quality in itself! I do not hold myself up as the exemplar of self-sacrifice, nor indeed on the other hand as the writer of great repute.

From the Buddhist point of view, as I understand it, the practice of goodwill and respect for others is impossible without first the practice of goodwill and respect for oneself. But we are required to find it in our hearts to be good to others and to bring no harm upon them. Martin Heidegger was of course "Human, All Too Human," as the title to that BBC series suggests. As such, he brought much good into this world in the radical originality of the thoughts he shared; and tolerated, no, encouraged the dissemination of much evil. Impossible, in the end, to resolve that terrible paradox.

AND ON ANOTHER TOPIC, here's a beautiful and painful reminder from MandT, at Adgita Diaries, that the AIDS plague is still with us. They ask us to "do something." This is one small thing I can do: help spread the word, and prick the consciousness.


mandt said...

Thank you Peter

Doctor Noe said...

Quoth the bard (B. Dylan):

"... Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the Captain's tower"