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Ovi Symposium; Seventeenth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-01-16 12:58:38
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Drs. Nannery, Paolozzi and Paparella
Seventeenth Meeting: 16 January 2014



Direct participants (in alphabetical order):

nannery01Dr. Lawrence Nannery has studied at Boston College, Columbia University and at The New School for Social Research where he obtained his Ph.D. He founded The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and authored The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus. Devising Nihilistic Literature, 2 vols. Lewiston: the Edward Mellen Press, 2006.


enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


venaDr. Michael Vena is a former professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University. He has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism (with a dissertation on Leon Battista Alberti) from Yale University. He has published a book on Italian theater titled Italian Grotesque Theater (2001). Recently he has published an English collection of modern Italian plays by well known playwrights such as Pirandello, Fabbri and De Filippo.


Table of Content for the 17th Session of the Ovi Symposium

Main Sub-theme of the 17th Session:
Truth/Freedom vis a vis Theory/Practice within Modernity: Is Philosophy
an Existential rather than a Purely Theoretical Practice?

Indirect Participants at this meeting within the “Great Conversation” across the Ages (in the order of their appearance in the conversation): Croce, Zola, Dostoevsky, Jaspers, Marcel, Sartre, Parmenides, Holderlin, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Vattimo, Habermas, Heidegger, Arendt, Strauss, Farias, Fage, Ellul, Remy, Fabbri, Levinas, Husserl, Marx, Adorno, Gadamer, Cassirer, Plato, Schelling, Horkheimer, Hegel, Judt, Aquinas, Augustine, D’Annunzio, Marinetti, Gramsci, Gentile, Dante, Pascal, Vico.

Preamble as an abstractby the coordinator plus a brief narration of the Symposium’s Origins.

Section 1: A Chronological 2003 Summary of the Ovi Symposium’s bi-weekly Presentations (June 6 – December 20)  

Section 2: “Art in the World of Technology: Martin Heidegger.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book Vicende dell’Estetica (Events in Aesthetics, chapter V), Naples, 1989.

Section 3: “Jurgen Habermas’ The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: ExploringMartin Heidegger’s Nazi Past within the duality Theory/Practice in Philosophy.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 4: Observations and Comments by Paparella on Paolozzi’s Presentation by way of a Dialogue and an Exchange of  Ideas.  

Section 5: Announcement and Welcome of Professor Vena as a fourth permanent contributor to the Ovi Symposyum.

Section 6: “Kafka’s Kehre.” A presentation by Lawrence Nannery.


Preamble as an Abstract by the Coordinator with a Brief Narration
of the Symposium’s Origins

The sub-theme of this session of the Ovi Symposium is “Truth/Freedom vis a vis Theory/Practice: is Philosophy an Existential rather than a Purely Theoretical Practice?” This a theme already broached briefly in the previous session which we now examine more thoroughly. The significant philosophical figure around which the conversation revolves is Heidegger, his conception of art vis a vis truth and his stand on theory and practice, politics and ethics in philosophy as exemplified in his life; a follow-up to the previous analysis by Nannery and Paparella in previous meetings of the symposium.

Some twenty five years ago Ernesto Paolozzi published a whole chapter on Heidegger in his book Vicende della Tecnica (Chapter 5). We have translated it and are presenting it in English in the Symposium in the context of the sub-theme we are currently exploring. That explains why Paolozzi’s presentation has been placed at the beginning (section two) of this particular session, to function as both a follow-up and an introduction.

Paparella follows-up on the sub-theme in section three focusing on Heidegger’s Nazi past as seen through the eyes of Heidegger’s fellow-German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. Paparella’s exploration revolves around Habermas’ book The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, which gathers a series of twelve lectures, one of them (the fifth in the book) is exclusively on Heidegger and explores philosophically the intriguing phenomenon of Heidegger’s never publicly regretted and never repented Nazi past within the issue of theory/practice, truth/art. In section four we have a response by Paparella on Paolozzi’s treatment of Heidegger vis a vis Croce and Vico.

In section 6 of this Symposium’s session the reader is treated to a presentation  by Lawrence Nannery by way of a contribution, never published before, to Kafka studies. Lawrence Nannery is the author of a book on Kafka entitled The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus: Devising a Nihilistic Literature (Two volumes, the Mellen Press, 2006).

Moreover, in section one of this issue, we have paused to take stock, as the new year begins, of the Symposium’s accomplishments in the first 7 months of its existence and its first 15 meetings (of the year 2013). We have retraced its fledgling origins to April 17, 2013, when a brief philosophical conversation and exchange of ideas took place between Dr. Nannery, Paolozzi and Paparella. Subsequently, an idea was conceived and began to emerge, and we asked ourselves: why not start a bi-weekly meeting where we’d entertain a philosophical theme or sub-theme to be convivially discussed following the argument wherever it might lead?

In effect this was the equivalent of the ancient Greek idea of a symposium. We did not wish to reinvent the wheel but simply contribute some novel relevant ideas, some perspective and interpretations to the ongoing Great Conversation that is philosophy in the context of modern life and aesthetics. Any sub-theme could be suggested, placed on the table at any time and discussed. The all encompassing field of aesthetics was found most suitable as a general theme which we placed on its heading almost as a logos: “A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity and the Envisioning of a New Humanism.”

The proposal of a symposium was enthusiastically accepted and approved by Ovi’s editor in chief Thanos Kalamidas, a champion of anything Greek and/or philosophical, and  so with his approval and encouragement the projected symposium was officially born and launched on the 6th of June 2013 with a brief introduction by its coordinator. Since then it has been posted at  regular intervals every two weeks for a total, so far (as of January 16, 2014), of seven months, 17 meetings and some 65 presentations (see section one). We have explored and passionately discussed various existential sub-themes often accompanied by acute comments, observations and follow-ups, always within the framework of the announced main theme.

Within this session, in section one  we provide the readers with a list of the presentations so they can better  appraise the early fruits of this seminal idea. To streamline the list a bit we have refrained from listing comments, observations and notes even if they admittedly remain essential to a symposium and can at times be even more interesting than the presentations themselves, especially for the appraisal of the symposium’s spirit and raison d’être, and measuring its intellectual energy and dynamism. The summary may also prove quite helpful to those readers who having missed some sessions may wish to catch-up on them or simply wish to have a total view of the symposium’s development. For their convenience we have also provided a link to each of the 16 sessions so that they can rapidly get to any of the presentations.

In perusing the list it is quite apparent that this intellectual venture has been true to its promise and continues to perfect itself. By its own intrinsic nature it will never have a Twitter following of 16 million, a la Kim Kardashian, but it will have integrity in its quest for the true, the good and the beautiful and whatever it puts its hand to will be done well and with integrity.

Readers are therefore encouraged to offer some help in that regard via the comment section, thus joining that announced “great conversation” to which any symposium is grounded. Thus we, the direct participants, will be further reassured that the story we are telling and discussing inter nos on modernity, art and philosophy is being heard and followed by those of a like-mind, for as Plato pointed out a long time ago, no story can be told if no one is listening. A considerable span of philosophical ground has already been traveled but we will not sleep on our laurels for the journey has barely begun. Even more exciting intellectual horizons are envisioned for the year ahead. So, enjoy but stay tuned!  


A Chronological Summary of  the 2013 Ovi Symposium’s Presentations
(June 6- December 20)

First Meeting (6 June 2013):

1. Introduction by the Coordinator: An Ovi Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity and the Envisioning of a New Humanism ( http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/10057 )

2. Envisioning a New Humanism for the Bridging of Cultures by Emanuel L. Paparella (http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/10058)

 3. Art as a Form of Knowledge by Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi (http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/10059)

Second Meeting (20 June 2013)

4. The Rise and Decline of Music by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10094)

5. Art as a Form of Knowledge by Ernesto Paolozzi ( same site as above)

6. Historicism-Humanism in Vico and Croce by Emanuel Paparella (same site as above)

Third Meeting (7 July 2013)

7. The Death of Music by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10145)

8. The Autonomy of Art by Ernesto Paolozzi (same site as above)

9. Vico as Precursor of Modern Historicism and Hermeneutics by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

Fourth Meeting (18 July 2013)

10.  Thoughts on Modern Painting and Sculpture by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10188)

11.   On the Universality of Art by Dr. Paolozzi (same site as above)

12.   On Modern Nihilism: Entrepreneurship, Technology, Utopia, Extinction—Part 1 by Emanuel  Paparella (same site as above)

Fifth Meeting (1 August 2013)

13. Thoughts on Architecture by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10234)

14.  Art and Morality by Ernesto. Paolozzi (same site as above)

15.  A letter by Max Horkheimer to Croce’s widow upon the passing of the great philosopher, with      comments by Paolozzi and Paparella (same site as above)

16. On Modern Nihilism: Entrepreneurship, Technology, Utopia, Extinction--Part 2 and conclusion by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

Sixth Meeting (16 August 2013)

17. Cinema: The Complete Art Form by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10270)

18. An addendum to the topic of Cinema as a form of art by way of a chapter from Emanuel L.  Paparella’s Ovi  e-Book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers: “Walter Benjamin’s Concept of Art as Auratic: the Nexus between Modern Art and Technology, chapter 10 (same site as above)

19.  The Indivisibility and Infinity of Art: Abnormal Activity of Aesthetics by Ernesto Paolozzi, translated from his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce (same site as above)

20.  Vico and the Modern Idea of History, part 1,” by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

21.  A note on Vico’s Frontispiece to The New Science by the symposium’s coordinator (same site as above)

22.  Art and Technology by way of a response from Paolozzi to Nannery and Paparella’s Treatment of Art and Technology, from a chapter in his book L’estetica di Croce (same site as above)

Seventh Meeting (29 August 2013)

23.  Literary Genres by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’Estetica  di Benedetto Croce (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10310)

24.  Vico and the Modern Idea of History—part 2 by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

25. A Brief Addendum and invitation by  Paparella to a discussion on Theodor Adorno’s concept of art (same site as above)

Eight Meeting (12 September 2013)

26.  Art and technology by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10350)

27. Vico’s aesthetics vis a vis Modern Education: toward a New Humanism? by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

28. An addendum by Emanuel L.  Paparella from his e-book Aesthetic Theories of the Great Western  Philosophers: “Robin George Collingwood’s Aesthetic Theory of Art as Vichian Fantasia.” (same site as above)

29.  A brief Comparison between R.G. Collingwood and Hans Georg Gadamer’s Hermeneutics by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

30.  In Memoriam: on the passing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (same site as above)

Ninth Meeting (26 September 2013)

31.  Picasso’s Guernica as a Model by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10396)

32. The Tension between Art and Politics: an Art Historian’s Perspective on Picasso’s Guernica. An
addendum by way of dialogue from an interview with art historian Patricia Failing (same site as above)

33.  On Translations by Ernesto Paolozzi, as translated from his book L’Estetica di Croce (same site as above)

34.  The Definition and Nature of Art as a Problematic of Aesthetics by Emanuel L. Paparella, from the concluding chapter of the Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers (same site as above)

35.  Table of Content of Emanuel Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers(same site as above)

36.  A Call to a New Humanism for the Renewal of Western Culture by Emanuel L.  Paparella (same site as above)

Tenth Meeting (10 October 2013)

37. How to Read a Poem by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10441)

38.  Martin Heidegger’s Perspective on Art as Truth by Emanuel L. Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic   Theories of Great Western Philosophers, by way of a commentary on  Dr. Lawrence Nannery’s Presentation (same site as above)

39. Taste and Interpretation by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce (same site as above)

40. David Hume’s Perspective on Taste and Aesthetics from Emanuel L. Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers by way of a commentary on Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi’s Presentation (same site as above)

41.  Nelson Goodman’s Perspective on Art as Symbolical by Emanuel L. Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers, by way of summation (same site as above)

42.  A New Humanism for the Renewal of Western Culture: a Revisiting of Emmanuel Levinas’ Challenge to  Western Ethics by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

43.  A selected annotated presentation of Levinas’ major books translated into English (same site as above)

Eleventh Meeting (24 October 2013)

44.  What Brueghel has to Show Us. On the Aesthetic Appreciation of Brueghel by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10477)

45. The History of the Arts by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce (same site as above)

46.  A response to Ernesto Paolozzi’s Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella by way of sundry Musings on Nietzsche’s View of “Art as Redemption,” from Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers (same site as above)

47.  Review of Professor Ernesto Paolozzi’s Ovi e-book Croce: the Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom, by Antonella Rossini in the Italian Philosophy Journal Libro Aperto (XXXIV, n. 74, September 2013 (same site as above)

48.  A Bridge between two Cultures for the Renewal of Western Civilization by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

Twelfth Meeting (7 November)

49.  Croce as an Historian of Aestheticism by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10530)

50. The Museum Girolamo Devanna in Bitonto. A New Jewel in Italy’s Artistic Patrimony by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

51.  A Vichian Journey into the Hermeneutics of Self-knowledge by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

Thirteenth Meeting (21 November 2013)

52.  Francesco De Sanctis. Between Romanticism and Positivism.  A Portrait by Ernesto Paolozzi as freely translated from chapter 2 of his 1989 book Vicende dell’Estetica: tra Vecchio e Nuovo Positivismo [Events of Aesthetics: between the Old and the New Positivism] (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10576)

53. Is Beauty a Classical Concept, and if so, should it be Revived in the 21st Century? By Emanuel L. Paparella by way of a challenge to Modern Aesthetics (same site as above)

54.  Visual samples of three Sublime Expressions of Beauty: one Ancient Greek in sculpture (the Venus of Melos), one French Medieval in architecture (the Cathedral of Reims), and one Italian Renaissance in painting (Botticelli’s Birth of Venus) (same site as above)

Fourteenth Meeting (5 December 2013)

55. Reflections on Gorky on the Power of Art by Lawrence Nannery (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10618)

56. Classicism and Romanticism by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce (same site as above)

57. On Modern and Post-Modern Art. Art for Art’s Sake?  Jagede and Appiah’s Afrocentric Art vis a vis ‘Universal’ Western Art by Emanuel L. Paparella (same site as above)

Fifteenth Meeting (20 December 2013)

58. The Nexus between Language and Historicism in Vico’s Philosophy vis a vis Modern Hermeneutics by Emanuel L. Paparella (http://ovimagazine.com/art/10658)

59. Aesthetics as Linguistics and Art as language by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce (same site as above)



Art in the World of Technology: Martin Heidegger

A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

    as translated from his book Vicende dell’Estetica (1989)


Particularly interesting for our discourse is without any doubt the work of Martin Heidegger, a work which spans the first and the second crisis of Positivism.

The major work of Heidegger (even if for our research it is less relevant than others) goes back to 1927. It is contemporary to the rebirth of neo-positivism which whose foundation was the Vienna Circle. His last essays, particularly The Origin of the Work of Art, The Era of the World’s Image, Journeying toward Language, Why the Poets?, which are the ones we will keep in mind span the years 1930 to 1960. Those are the years when neo-positivism reappears, slowly, to become a widespread mind-set, a life-style. The years when political passions for global confrontations and the existentialist reaction to the bad excuses of philosophers of science produce what has been branded as the probably the last ideological philosophical clash of our century. Later on philosophical positivism will be its own victim to be overcome by the total indifference of an homologated society, and the utilitarianism of a cynical society, within which man runs the risk of losing the very idea of value, even before those values as historically understood.

Heidegger is the kind of philosopher, who probably better than any other and with a pregnant language and analysis, predicted, even when he exasperated the tones, the outcomes of our era. Therefore his aesthetic considerations are of great interest to us (considerations that as we shall see are relatively original), but above all we are interested in his interpretation of our history, of our destiny, as Heidegger himself would say, and the role within this search he assigns to art and aesthetics.

The debate that Heidegger carried on with positivistic philosophy and then with classical philosophy in general, according to a sort of gradual and conscious anti-historical classification of values, was at any rate always a debate conducted vis a vis with his times and of future times as it formed in his imagination. Heidegger’s critique, often emptied of its highest meanings, at times cut off from its metaphysical foundations, at other times diluted into social and political criticism, has given fruits conspiring to the creation of a widespread view of the world.

Existentialism as a whole had placed on the table for a radical discussion the very nature of philosophy and the nature of its research, placing in the foreground the finitude of man and the inconsistency of being face to face with nothingness, taking in consideration everything that such a dramatic consciousness of the human condition implies as regards a wider and more inclusive conception of the world. Existentialism  has been in part and continues to be anti-positivism at its best, the opposite attitude not only in its deep theoretical convictions which identify it, but also, and above all for its political and moral attitude which it assumed. The positivist and the existentialist place themselves before the world in a radically different manner. If the poet of the former is Zola, the poet of the latter is Fjodor Dostoyevsky. Yet, in other aspects they belong to the same world: the world of reaction to classical philosophy. In existentialism hope does not self-destroy. Within the “philosophical faith” of a Jaspers and his courageous political positions, within Marcel’s religiousness or in the political commitment of Sartre, man’s finitude, the nothingness of being are redeemed according to an incoherent, as well as noble, opening of new credit for the moral conscience of man.


Emile Zola (1840-1902) Father of Naturalism in Literature

Martin Heidegger, as a more rigorous philosopher, escapes this radical temptation but in his own way leaves the door open for the road to hope. For this reason it is appropriate to emphasize Heidegger’s work, even if Jaspers’ thought presents us with aspects which are absolutely interesting.

But can we agree with a philosopher even when we do not share his premises and his conclusions? Is there such a thing as truth on one side and the reasons for truth on the other? The conclusions of an issue may be different from its premises, or are they the same thing? Is there such a thing as a synthesis that is not the synthesis of an analysis, and an analysis which is not the analysis of a synthesis?


Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
The greatest of the Literary Existentialists

It is in fact possible to separate truth from the reasons for truth, if in the contradictions we are able to discover the speculative space to fill with one’s own cultural and human experience. Are Heidegger’s conclusions coherent with his premises? How much has willfulness forced the facts. The same Heidegger, within a phase of his philosophical journey, gives permission to travel different paths if it is true, as in fact it is, that he wished to travel on “interrupted journeys”, if he wished to conclude determining a series of indeterminations, declaring that the question is more important than the answer.

Given that to ask something in a serious way means to possess very clear ideas regarding what one is searching for, and that what is questioned is already partly known (the accused who is interrogated is, logically, known to he who interrogates), in Heidegger’s pages there are indeed answers and they are straightforward. Only the rhetoric of supposed followers or the forcing by “pluralistic” interpreters who do not wish to rock the boat, are able to present Heidegger as an “inconclusive” philosopher, thus being grossly unfair to him. If in fact one travels on Heidegger’s paths, one always gets to the same destination, whether it is desired or not.


Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)


Man in the Modern Age by Karl Jaspers (1933)


The Heidegger-Jaspers Correspondence (1990)

The pages where Heidegger explains, even if not systematically, a particular conception of art, a genuine aesthetics, are particularly interesting. There are others where he analyzes in a lucid mode some aspects of our modern era, he confers to art a positive role, almost a way to save ourselves from the crisis brought about by positivism and scientism, in as much as those phenomena are the last expression of the crisis of Western thought.


Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973)
who converted to Catholicism in 1929

The whole Heideggerian philosophy, beyond the intrinsic importance of some meditations (such as those we find in the existential analysis of Being and Time, his best known work) is certainly the controversy, implicit or explicit, with the banalities of contemporary philosophy. Just think of his conception of truth as “aleteia” understood as an “unveiling” of being, as not hiding of that which precedes being, or the existence of being or being in its proper sense. Having posited an ontological distinction between original being and empirical contingent being, Heidegger proposes an ontology of phenomenological origin beyond Kant’s or Husserl’s lesson which declares a fundamental difference between aleteia and exactitude within which is enclosed the great difference which exists between a type of thought which really thinks about the world, and a thought which thinks only in abstract forms, typical of sciences of nature or the so called human sciences.


Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
The most influential of Modern Existentialist Philosophers

There has been talk of, the same Heidegger has spoken about, of the change of direction of his thought, and undoubtedly there was a change and has been interpreted in various ways, either in the sense of bringing back Heideggerian philosophy in the corner of the spiritualisms or neo-romanticisms, or in the sense, probably closer to the truth, of bringing it back to modern historicism. But beyond a continuity which is merely theoretic in Heidegger’s thought, there is no doubt that the refusal of modernity dominated by the “enlightenment” scientific mind-set, technology and the metaphysical assumption of such conception of the world, remains always present and in fact is accentuate in the last writings of Heidegger.


Gianni Vattimo (1936--)
who introduced the concept of a post-modern “weak thought”

In his essay “The era of the image of the world,” which exemplary when compared to other writings for the unity of its inspiration and the coherence of its discourse, Heidegger elaborates a lucid and in some aspects ruthless portrayal of the era in which we live which could be conceived as a meeting place for all the critiques of the world of technology found in various authors which are so dissimilar from each other as is the case with the so called School of Frankfurt. As Heidegger writes in Interrupted paths: “One of the essential manifestations of the modern world is modern science. Another manifestation, equally important, is mechanical technology. But let’s not fall in the fallacy of understanding this phenomenon as the application to praxis of the modern mathematical science of nature. Mechanical technology is itself an autonomous transformation of praxis, which implies in the first place the employment of the mathematical science of nature. Mechanical technology is the first fruit of the essence of modern technology, which is in unison with the essence of modern metaphysics.”

But, Heidegger ask, which is the conception of being (which is to say of metaphysics and “philosophy”) which is at the basis of the essence of science and, with it, of the general conception of the world? The investigation and the research must be conducted according to a simple opening, questioning a “region of Being,” to attempt to understand being itself as long as it can be understood.

Heidegger conducts a very interesting analysis (the pages where mathematics is characterized as anticipation of reality, according to one of its possible etymologies) focusing on “specialization” and specialists and the damage that they cause as a necessity and not a simple axiom of modern science (already compared to Greek science), on its mere pragmatic aspects, on the crisis of the universities as mere institutions for specialization, to then get to the fundamental moment, where one glimpses at the essence of the modern world and our era.

And in fact, according to Heidegger, the entire trajectory of Western philosophy is responsible (responsible only in the sense that it was destined to happen) for the modern conception of science. Metaphysics (and this is one of the leitmotifs of his philosophy) gets further and further away from the search for being, as it was still being proposed by Parmanides, to become interested in entity, thus transforming itself into ontic ontology. It manifests itself completely with Descartes and reveals its essence. As Heidegger puts it: “To know for research means that entity must give an account of the how and the when of its availability for representation. Research renders a judgment on entity, either calculating ahead of time its future course or completing its past. The former is posited within nature (gestelt), the latter within history. Nature and history become objects of an explicative representation which counts on nature and answers to history. Only that which becomes object (Gegenstand) is (ist), an entity.Science becomes research when the being of entity is changed within objectivity.

This objectification of entity is accomplished by representation, in putting in front (vor-stellen) which aims at representing every entity in such a way so that calculating man can be comfortable (sicher), that is to say, certain (gewiss) about entity. Science as research is constituted only if truth has been transformed in certainty of representation. Within Descartes’ metaphysics, entity, for the first time is defined as objectivity of representation and truth as certainty of the same representation.”

Maniputaling one of his dubious etymological plays (this one mentioned here is among the least gratuitous) Heidegger emphasizes the difference between the Greek use of the term subject (upoxemerov) and the Latin use (subjectum). Then with a brief but forceful analysis of Cartesian philosophy, he clarifies the sense of his idea of the image of the world: “When the world becomes image, art in its totality is assumed to be that by which man orients himself, and therefore that which he wants to develop before him (vor-stellen) by which to represent himself. An image of the world, in its essential sense, means therefore not a configuration of the world, but the world conceived as an image. Entity in its totality is therefore is seen in such a way that it becomes merely entity in as much as it is posited by man who represents and produces (her-stellen). The arising of something as the image of the world is equivalent to an essential decision regarding entity overall. The being of entity is searched for and found in the being represented by entity.”

But what are the effects of this entification of being, of the becoming of subject-man imposing his “categories” to a world rendered abstract and dumb in its false objectivity in which humanism places it, understood as hyper-subjectivity, so to speak, of man? Heidegger writes that: “The characteristic narrative of the Modern World, by which the world becomes image and man subjectum, throws significant light on the fundamental trajectory of modern history, which at first sight looks absurd. The more definitely the world is conquered and therefore rendered disposable to man, so much the more the object reveals itself objective and the subjectum imposes itself subjectively and forcefully, and so much more resolutely the conception of the world and the theory of the world are transformed in an anthropological doctrine of man.”

Anthropological humanism takes its distances the man of being, and what triumphs is “Americanism,” the quantifiable, what is the vast infinitude or the infinitesimally small of atomic physics, while what is most important escapes man. Heidegger concludes his reflection with a quote from Holderlin: “To know what is not calculable, which is to say, to preserve it in its truth, is only possible for man only after a creative questioning and the forms sustained by the strength of a pure reflection. Such a reflection transfers the man of the future from the being to which he belongs to the entity where he remains alienated. Holderlin knew something about this. His poetry which is titled Au die Deutschen ends thus: “A brief course does our life have;/we may see and count the number of our years/But can a human eye see/ the years of a people?/And even if the soul were to elevate itself nostalgically/beyond its time,/you’d be roaming sadly on a deserted beach/with your dear ones without knowing them.


It is not easy to understand fully the purposely ambiguous thought of Heidegger. His is a very original and in some way fantastic reconstruction of the history of philosophy, a sort of philosophy of history up-side-down wherein progress consists in returning to Parmenides by bypassing the rest of the history of philosophy; nevertheless it remains significant for the understanding of the philosophic sensibility of Heidegger. He quotes Holderlin paying particular attention to this poet. Why is that? Because in the era of the world’s image, of the emptying of the divine, of the flight of the gods from the world, in the era of poverty, poetry which is thinking poetry, may allow man to rejoin being, to overcome the darkness of midnight in which he has fallen as if in an abyss.


Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843)

Not without some rhetoric and artifice Heidegger writes this in his essay Why the poets?: “The sacred can only appear within the wider circle of salvation. Those kind of poets who are willing to risk, are those who having become aware of the lack of salvation, of perdition, still journey on toward the search for the Sacred. It is their song beyond the earth that saves them. Their song is a celebration of the integrity of the sphere of being.

The negation of salvation as non-salvation yields the signs of salvation. Salvation evokes the Sacred. The Sacred unites with the Divine, the Divine gets on closer to God.

Those who risk the most are those who, lacking salvation, become aware of our being without protection. They bring to mortals the sign of the gods who have fled in the darkness of the night of the world. The ones who risk the most in as much as they are singers of salvation, are “poets in the era of poverty.”

In other essays in which thinking poetry, to which the same Heidegger makes himself available, has a tendency to be more an expression of thought than poetry and reveals the philosopher’s aesthetics. In the essay The Origins of the Work of Art, where he analyzes a famous painting by Van Gogh, he focuses on the shoes of the farmer there represented distinguishing the practical use of things (entities) as mere instruments, asking what exactly come to light in a work of art: “What does it mean? What is at work in a work of art? Van Gogh reveals what is instrumental, the shoes is (ist) the truth. This entity presents itself in the hiding (Unverbongenheit) of its being. The not being hidden of the entity is what the Greeks called aleteia. We say “truth,” and do not reflect sufficiently on such a word. If what is realized is the revelation of the entity in what it is and how it is, in the work of art the event of truth (Geschehen) is at work.

In the work of art the truth of the entity has put itself to work. To posit here means: to bring to stay. Thanks to the work of art, an entity, a pair of shoes, is under the light of its being. The being of the entity arrives at the stability of its appearance. Therefore the essence of art consists then in that putting to work of the truth of the entity.”

But one cannot confuse this Heideggerian position with a new proposal of forms of aesthetic realism (nothing could be farther from his mind-set) or a return, for that matter, to forms of Romanticism. Surely, as Heidegger himself writes, Pascalian suggestions, intellectual intuition, from Holderlin and Schelling, and of course Nietzsche. But his narration is different. The crux of the question can be found in that word event (pregnant with meaning), on which the reflection of the last Heidegger will focus.


Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Being comes through the event and only in the event (in which it reveals itself) it becomes possible to meet being. An event in which being only happens, cannot but manifest itself in language. Language is the house of being, given that everything happens within language. Only when a thing is called forth or named can it come into existence. Outside of being named there is no being. Here again, we cannot confuse the evaluation of language as an ordinary object of our experience, in as much as our own experience takes place within language, with similar theories originating in neo-positivism.

As Heidegger himself puts it: “To experience language is quite different from gathering notions on language. The disciplines which will furnish us with those notions are science of language, linguistics, philology of various languages, psychology and philosophy of language; they are continually expanding and propagating themselves to the point that it becomes impossible to control the field. Scientific and philosophic linguistics, has been aiming, for some time now, always in a more decisive way, to construct what goes by the name of “metalanguage.” Logically, scientific philosophy which aims at constructing a meta-language identifies itself as a meta-linguistics which is in fact the metaphysic of the total technical transformation of every language in a mere interplanetary instrument of information. Meta-language, Sputnik, meta-linguistics and missile’s technique are one and the same.”


Vincent Van Gogh’s Shoes of a Farmer (1886)

In fact, to experience language, is to put oneself in the presence of the original Enunciation. “Original Enunciation” (sagen) writes Heidegger, “means: to point to, to make appear, to display to the one’s sight a whole world risking-hiding-freeing.”


Hans-George Gadamer (1900-2002)


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

In the essay The Journey toward Language written in 1959, Heidegger says with a prose that become more and more complex: “The Ereignis, seen as the constitutive showing of the original Enunciation, cannot be objectified, neither as a fact nor as an event: it can only be experienced from inside that original  Enunciation as a giver. There is nothing outside the Ereignis to which the Ereignis can be brought back and by which it can be explained. The Ereignis is not the result (Ergebnis) of something else: to the contrary, it is the Giving (die Er-gebnis). Only its generous giving can allow something like that “es gibt” which is still necessary for being, to arrive at, as being which is present, to what it properly belongs to it.”


Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)

Language (which could be death which constitutes a supreme human experience), poetry, the truth of being, are therefore the issues which assail the thought of the last Heidegger and which will trace the philosophical experience of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Gianni Vattimo, resulting in a philosophical current which, even if via a sort of secularization of Heidegger’s thought, is representative of the last blow to the positivistic mind-set.

The so called hermeneutical circle, which is fundamental to Heidegger’s reflections on language, the concept of the linguistic event, seem to re-propose, albeit from a different vantage point, the discourse on modern historicism, especially of the Crocean kind. For Croce too language, which is always art in itself, is the house of being, and for Croce too the truth of art is eternal in as much as eternal it presents itself historically as the grasping of an event of life (history). For Croce, the interpretation (hermeneutic) on everything that has been said is true, it is the manifestation of the possibility of understanding the world.

Undoubtedly, Heidegger’s thought is not without contradictions. It appears focused on one theme and often enough more envisioning than conclusive, what has become among some of his disciples a mere rhetorical exercise. But what matters for our discourse is the rigorous confrontation with his times and the road it suggests. Poetry can lead man out of the abyss. Of course. But there is more. The entrenched metaphysical search of Heidegger logically prevents him from thinking about plurality and to understand his adversaries’ reasons, to think of politics and ethics as diversity. So he falls into a sort of ethical indifference which locates him outside the tradition of the great Western philosophers. Indeed, a return to art, to the value of poetry, to the impossibility of reducing man to a mere instrument, is to be hoped for and it probably can be realized. Ma it will be realized only within a new humanism (which Heidegger refuses) which puts man back to the center of the world as an ethical entity, whose political behavior proceeds as an ideal, even as an utopia, under the banner of freedom, realizable within the limitations of the human condition.


Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The reflection on Art or aesthetics remains under many aspects the crucible (and a condition) for the will of redemption of modern man, given that the reflection on art (by the very nature of art) places at the very center of its concerns a value which is disinterested and humanly committed.


Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom
by Ernesto Paolozzi (in Ovi bookstore, June 2013)



Jurgen Habermas’ Philosophical Discourse of Modernity:
Exploring Martin Heidegger’s Nazi Past within the duality Theory/Practice
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella


Jurgen Habermas (1929--   )


 “In his 1985 book The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity Jurgen Habermas wrote that Heidegger's lack of explicit criticism against Nazism is due to his unempowering turn (Kehre) towards Being as time and history: ‘he detaches his actions and statements altogether from himself as an empirical person and attributes them to a fate for which one cannot be held responsible’”

                                                                          From the Wikipedia Encyclopedia

In the previous Symposium’s conversation, I narrated a personal anecdote. Please bear with me if I narrate it once again within this more appropriate context.

Way back in 1966, almost half a century ago, during my college days, I attended a seminar on Martin Heidegger. At the time, the revelations about Heidegger’s Nazi past and the plethora of books on the subject had not surfaced yet; I am referring to books such Emmanuel Faye’s The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy, or Victor Farias’ Heidegger and Nazism (1989); or Stephen Remy’s The Heidelberg Myth: the Nazification and Denazification of a German University (2003),  or Georg E. Aylesworth’s The Heidegger-Jaspers Correspondence (1990). So in the absence of such rigorous unmistakable documentation, my submission of a paper on Heidegger’s Nazi past within the issue of Theory/Practice, Existentialism/Rationalism, carried the risk of being interpreted as an arrogant challenge to the professor’s expertise on Heidegger’s thought, and in fact it was immediately interpreted as such.

In that paper I dared suggest that theory and practice cannot be so neatly and hermetically sealed off from each other when teaching the philosophy of an influential thinker such as Heidegger, that ethics and epistemology have been conjoined since Socrates’ time and that in fact to compartmentalize those two aspects of any philosopher’s life is to insure that truth (aleteia) will never reveal itself. In response the  professor promptly affixed a C- to the paper, suggesting in the accompanying comments that I had understood precious little of Heidegger’s anti-metaphysical deconstruction, that as Heidegger himself repeatedly had reminded us “there is no philosophy of Heidegger,” there is only the question of Being in the Western philosophical tradition and that in fact the praxis of a philosopher has to be bracketed from his theory; one could not measure one by the other. Some fifty years later I am still pondering those comments, wondering if existentially truth can indeed be conceived theoretically divorced from the praxis of the one uttering it, and alas, I remain puzzled. I am hoping that the observations and elucidations of my colleagues and friends in this symposium will be helpful in reaching less tentative conclusions on this thorny and controversial issue.


Heidegger and Nazism by Victor Farias (1987)

Why do I retell this anecdote? It is not to make a sardonic point about the less than edifying foibles of an academia that pullulates with big egos and prima donnas; rather the point is that serendipitously, some forty years later, I came across the above mentioned books as well as Jurgen Habermas’ series of lectures on modernity published as a book by the title The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (see book-cover illustration above) wherein a whole lecture (chapter VI) is dedicated to Heidegger’s philosophy (“The Undermining of Western Rationalism through the Critique of Metaphysics in Martin Heidegger,” p. 131-160). What I found uncanny in this particular intellectual encounter with Habermas is how his initial reaction to Heidegger’s thought paralleled mine: an initial enthusiastic albeit uncritical acceptance of his ideas (which led me to take a whole seminar on his philosophy), followed by a great disillusionment and break on finding out the un-repented never regretted commitment of Heidegger to the Nazi party.

Such a  commitment, mind you, did not last only for the year or so when he was rector of the University of Freiburg dismissing Jewish professors; he actually paid dues to the party for twelve years, from 1933 when he joined the party till the end of the war in 1945 and after the war he never expressed any regrets or acknowledged any mistakes. Rather, he used the academic influence of his former student Hanna Arendt (who had to run to Paris to escape the Nazi as a Jew and then came to the US) in an attempt to rehabilitate his post-world war reputation on the cheap, without having to apologize for anything.

Habermas sees in Heidegger’s attitude of refusal to express any regrets for his former Nazi affiliation as  an ethical problematic within modern Western philosophy; Husserl had entertained the same critical stance toward the Western philosophical rationalistic tradition, better expressed later in Emmanuel Levinas’ thought. I have already contributed a lenghty presentation on Levinas (open link: http://ovimagazine.com/art/10441); here I’d like to explore the critical stance of Habermas’ skeptical judgment on Heidegger’s philosophy, a skepticism which comes to a head in his life in the mid-fifties and culminates thirty years later with the publication in 1985 of his above mentioned book on modernity, the technological consumerist society, and what he sees as the connection to the Holocaust.


Victor Farias (1940-     )

The crux of the issue is basically this: is philosophy an existential concern demanding that ethics be never severed from its theoretical concerns in ontology, logic and epistemology?  Vico could have been chosen to answer this question,  but of course Vico could not have known the full implications of Cartesian rationalism culminating with an Holocaust the way a Habermas (a fellow German to Heidegger) or a Levinas could do by hindsight. So out of the many books on Heidegger’s Nazi past and the relationship of politics to philosophy I have chosen to explore Habermas’ existential insights into the issue as expressed in his chapter on Heidegger in the above mentioned book.


Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy
by Emmanuel Faye

By 1956 Habermas had joined the famous School of Criticism in Frankfurter as an assistant to Adorno. This school, composed mostly of Jewish intellectuals, had a political component that had as its aim the cleansing of Germany of all pre-World-War II nationalist ideals and values. To a man they became European (EU) citizens advocating a Republic that would have nothing to do with the former national traditions that led directly to the Holocaust. They inserted themselves in a universal Weltanschauung which was inexorably moving beyond rabid nationalism with a universal international global direction rooted in solidarity. Spinoza and Levinas were two of their exemplary intellectual heroes. Habermas, under the direction of Adorno, eventually became the most influential social philosopher in contemporary Germany.


Tony Judt (1948-2010)


The Burden of Responsibility (2007) by Tony Judt
where a heroic commitment by 3 intellectuals to personal integrity is explored

Habermas was at the time (1956) in his mid-twenties and he had already assumed an attitude of dismay and outrage toward the fact that many of his German co-nationals had not taken seriously enough the crimes that had been committed in the Nazi era between 1932 and 1945 and in fact had never repented of them. What seemed to appall him most was the postwar behavior of Heidegger. This indignation eventually triggered a rupture with him after the initial youthful enthusiasm in his teens during the late forties. By the mid-fifties however, Habermas had come to the conclusion that the foundations of the New Federal Republic were a mere restoration of former social arrangements divorced from Nazism but continuing as before, rather than a genuine new beginning that he had hoped for. It should be noted that this disillusionment took place in Italy too where the new, so called, Christian Democratic party was on its way to restore the old corrupt order to the utter disappointment of many intellectuals on the left of the political spectrum. As a result Antonio Gramsci came to the fore in philosophy while Croce was all but forgotten and even discredited. But that’s another story already competently dealt by Paolozzi.

Habermas becomes skeptical of modernity understood only as economic progressivism and ideological anti-Communism. We should take notice that his Ph.D. dissertation of 400 pages submitted in 1954 had been on none other than the historical philosophy of Friedrich Schelling. At that time Habermas still considers himself a disciple of Heidegger and approves of his philosophy affirming that: “the question of Being is the basis of Western thought since Plato, the essence depravity that has culminated in modern technology.”

For Habermas Heidegger was the intellectual giant who had unmasked the pretensions of science. Habermas writes that “Only Heidegger topples the metaphysical belief in the permanence of a given essence, and he shows that the foundation of the self-empowering and securing subject in scientific certainty is a flight to the apparent certainty of ultimately unbinding truths.” Even more significantly Habermas agrees with Heidegger that art is the realm where true experience occurs, not to speak of his approval of Heidegger’s challenge to the whole philosophical and academic establishment.


The Heidelberg Myth: The Nazification and Denazification
of a German University, 1933-1957 (2003)
 by Steven P. Remy

Habermas thought that by renouncing transcendental values and seeking orientation in the static forms of art, Heidegger had arrived at existentialist answers in his work. This was a misguided notion, for the answer was not the art object itself, but the work of the artist as an answer to a destiny or “the voice behind the curtain” (the voice of Being) to which each individual is called.  Habermas was not clear yet on what exactly this call and its significance were. For the moment Heidegger, the radical thinker of new beginnings, remained his hero.  

By 1953 however, Habermas has discovered Heidegger’s never repented Nazi past. He becomes progressively disillusioned with him and begins to realize that his philosophy appears to be unconcerned with the existential concerns of the present time. For example, he is indignant and takes issue with Heidegger for re-publishing his pre war 1935 lecture on metaphysics with no new preface and without withdrawing the assertion about “the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism.”

So, by the mid-fifties Habermas had embarked on a radical new direction and announces a radical rupture with what he considers a corrupt past including Heidegger and his stand on National Socialism. He in effect returns to Schelling’s insight that the intellect is the cause of evil. Why is this so? Because the intellect is situated between the soul, linked to God, and the senses rooted in nature. The intellect has to exist in harmony with the other human elements to obtain an ordered relationship to God and Nature. Feelings, the poetical, imagination are integral part of being human.

Here there are unmistakable echoes of Vico who had expressed this view of extreme rationalism one hundred years before Schelling in his New Science where he talks of “the barbarism of the intellect.” Be that as it may, Schelling avers that in works of art the impersonal soul is expressed because the intellect has submitted itself to the impersonal force that “effaces all human subjectivity.” To the contrary, when the intellect does not submit to the soul, the world becomes an instrumental resource for its capricious desires. So, Schelling argues, evil is pure, autonomous intellect. For Habermas this insight is the key to the understanding of the past and present cultural catastrophes in the West. This is ultimately to say that the modernity and the Holocaust are linked in a causal nexus. As Habermas himself powerfully puts it: “Today we have, in an age of philosophically garbed ideologies and hygienic mass murders, experienced the truth of this idea many times and painfully; we have been taught violently that the most shameless insults against humanity do not emanate from immediate impulses, but come far more from the final workings, and are the products of, thoroughly neutral and perfectly calculated organizations.” Powerful words which, as I understand them, mean to say that we would have been better off if some people who abused and misused the knowledge they acquired in school, had they never gone to school. Knowledge may not be ipso facto virtue, despite Socrates.

As far as Habermas is concerned the Schelling of the 19th century has a message for the modern 20th century German Federal Republic wherein we moderns are alerted to the dangers of natural sciences and humanities that ignore the integrity of the subject they study. Which ultimately means that existentially speaking, theory and practice in a philosopher are not separable. And so we are back full circle to my own puny but perhaps relevant personal anecdote mentioned at the outset of this essay and the question resurfaces: was the eminent professor, by keeping hermetically separate theory and practice in Heidegger, teaching a Heidegger, that far from being an existentialist, as some scholars claim, is a Cartesian rationalist separating the intellect from everything that keeps us human? If that is the case, Vico had already identified this problem in 1725 in his New Science as Croce, Gadamer and Cassirer have fully acknowledged.

It is perhaps noteworthy to mention here that this return to Schelling was seen by Habermas as a sort of religious conversion, a radical doubt leading to a new moral consciousness wherein the subject submits itself to the higher. In describing such an experience Habermas uses terms such as “turnaround” and “rebirth.” In an essay titled “Karl Jaspers uber Schelling,” of January 14, 1956 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Habermas declares that “Schelling teaches, as the first step in ‘the free kingdom of the intellect,’ is the philosophy not of knowing, but explicitly of not knowing, and the renunciation of the self-wilfulness of the instrumental and forming intellect. At the same time he teaches that the free decision is not a self-determination or an insurance, but a self-sacrifice, a self-unlocking and an opening to a claim that is never concrete.”


Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854)

Habermas is here saying that Schelling’s message is the salvation not only of Germany but of modernity in general. Here too there are unmistakable Vico echoes. Vico too had proclaimed in his New Science (1725) that an intellect devoid of imagination is the equivalent to the barbarism of the intellect, a formula for extreme rationalism and logic and logistics and ultimate de-humanization in the objectification of human beings; that one needs to move beyond the fixed categories of reason so as to become receptive to the call of conscience and ethical behavior and conflict and be prepared for existential choices.

For Habermas Fascism was the “empirically provided proof that reform plans that revolve around status, inheritance, power, and community, whether sanctioned by a god, Being, or nature, necessarily result in totalitarian practice in the social conditions of the 20th century.” He said that in 1956 and has not deviated from it since as it can be verified by a glimpse at the above mentioned book of important lectures he has given since. He is convinced that the problem after the war was that the likes of influential thinkers such as Heidegger had failed to reflect on their beloved “German tradition.” The real causes of fascism were not technology per se or the efficient ordering of all structures of society as analyzed by Jacques Ellul in his The Technological Society , but the irrational myth of social integration devoid of genuine reason aiming at the control of technology like nature; which is to say, the myth of reason as absolute domination.

By the mid-fifties Habermas had read and reflected on Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, in fact he joined the School of Frankfurt. This made it possible for him to execute a radical break with nationalism and fascism without an equally radical break with the German cultural tradition. Consequently he was able to save his own personal cultural identity; in other words he was able to salvage the universalistic dimensions of German enlightenment while attempting to purge such a culture of its reactionary and fascist leanings. All this came to a head in Habermas’ famous radio lecture of 1961 titled “The German Idealism of the Jewish Philosophers.”

Lately, besides the myth of German legacies, Habermas has explored the myth of mass consumer culture and the danger it poses to a resurgence of fascism as a response to its worship. Habermas claims that it foments the cultural impoverishment of human beings, hence the urgency of democratizing the production and consumption of art and culture. Existentially, this means that we humans have to decide whether or not to accept consumerism or reject it. Here memory becomes important, especially the remembering of the Holocaust not just as a commemoration (what Tony Judt has branded “misremembering”) but as a lesson on modernity which remains to be learned


Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)


The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul (1967)

Steven B. Smith in a review of Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy by Emmanuel Faye has this to say of the reception Heidegger received in America at the very time I was taking a seminar on Heidegger at St. Francis College, New York: “Heidegger's reception in America would not have been possible without the assistance of his student and former lover Hannah Arendt. Over a decade ago, Arendt's youthful tryst with Heidegger was detailed in a book by Elzbieta Ettinger. It was during a visit to Germany in 1950 that Arendt and Heidegger reunited for the first time since their love affair a quarter-century before, and the project of rehabilitation began. Her book on the Eichmann trial, infamously subtitled "The Banality of Evil," showed the enduring influence of Heidegger's concepts of "everydayness" and "banality" on her thinking. The full-fledged rehabilitation of Heidegger in America can be precisely dated to her shameful article "Heidegger at Eighty," originally published in the New York Review of Books in 1971. Here she confronted the question of Heidegger's politics but explained his affiliation with National Socialism as the product of "thoughtlessness"—as if he had stumbled into Nazism almost in a moment of absent-mindedness.

To be fair, Arendt was not alone in bringing Heidegger's importance to the attention of an American audience. Leo Strauss had also been a student of Heidegger in the 1920s and spoke of his lectures with a sort of reverence. In comparison to Heidegger, he told the philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, Strauss's early hero Max Weber appeared an "orphan child." Strauss did not entertain any of the illusions about Heidegger maintained by Arendt. Heidegger, he wrote, was to philosophy what Hitler was to politics. His "radical historicism" and neglect of the "permanent problems" made his submission to the events of 1933 all but inevitable. Nevertheless, this did not stop Strauss from boldly asserting that Heidegger was "truly important" and "the only great thinker of our time" (emphasis added). Strauss's use of terms like "the crisis of modernity," the growth of nihilism, the return to the Greeks, and "spiritual warfare"; his methodological privileging of founding moments; and other features of his thought were deeply implicated in Heidegger's philosophy. If Faye is even partially correct that Heidegger's concepts cannot be understood apart from their Nazi usages, this should prove a troubling conclusion for those like myself who have looked to Strauss precisely as an antidote to Heideggerianism.”

A Post-script exploring Thomas Aquinas’s conception of truth and being:

I’d like to conclude with a postscript of sort: an extended excerpt from the introduction to Habermas’ book on modernity by Thomas McCarthy followed by an addendum on Thomas Aquinas’ concept of Being vis a vis Truth. “At the heart of Habermas’ disagreement with Heidegger and his followers is the putative ‘ontological difference’ between Being and beings, between world-view structures and what appears within these worlds…Meaning cannot be separated from validity; and it is precisely the orientation of actors to validity claims that makes learning processes possible…Because Heidegger ignores the reciprocal connection between propositional truth and truth as disclosure and reduces the former to the latter, his ‘overcoming of metaphysics’amounts in the end to a ‘temporalized super-foundationalism…Once the impossibility of a Platonic conception of logos is acknowledged and the omnipresence of the rhetorical dimensions of language is recognized, so the argument goes, philosophical discourse can no longer be (mis)conceived as logical rather than literary, literal rather than figurative—in short it can no longer be conceived as philosophical in any emphatic sense of the term…In sum, then, Habermas agrees with the radical critics of enlightenment that the paradigms of consciousness is exhausted. Like them, he views reason as inescapably situated, as concretized in history, society, body, and language. Unlike them however, he holds that the defects of the Enlightenment can only be made good by further enlightenement.”

What is on trial is ultimately the whole of Western culture the way a Diego Fabbri put the civilization on trial in his famous play “Jesus on Trial” (see: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/2422). Which is to say pretty much the same thing I have been reiterating for some seven years now in the pages of Ovi magazine: the Enlightenment has still to enlighten itself. Many scholars have said the same thing about the Enlightenment within Modernity, even German scholars such as Karl Jaspers who saw Heidegger’s life as a Faustian story and wrote a whole book on modernity titled Man in the Modern Age.

In any case, we are back full circle to Vico’s critique of reason devoid of fantasia and the synthesis he envisioned between theory and practice. As Vico put it: man may only know fully what he himself has made; man makes history which is undeniably true; equally true is that history makes man. This is also postulated by Croce who was the chief Vico champion in Italy  at the beginning of the 20th century. Two Neapolitans these separated by two centuries which I could have chosen as powerful critics of the duality theory/practice in modern Western rationalism but I decided to let a German perform that task, given the unfortunate tendency to consider anything coming from Southern Italy as the backwaters of Europe, a sort of low culture not to be taken too seriously. It is to be hoped that such a fallacious attitude will eventually change as Vico and Croce are better recognized and given their due credits for the first rate philosophical geniuses they were.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at what another Neapolitan philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, had to say on the issue of Being vis a vis truth, theory and practice in philosophy. I have already broached the subject in our last conversation but I’d like to briefly pick up the thread here hoping for a future fruitful dialogue on the issue. I for one think that Strauss had it wrong on both Aquinas and Vico.


Diego Fabbri (1936-1980)

The powerful aphorisms presented by Ernesto Paolozzi in the last symposium meeting have provoked some reflections of my own which I’d like to share once again. These reflections directly impinge on the concept of truth and the duality theory/practice that we have been exploring above. They brought me back to my Ph.D. dissertation at Yale University in 1981, to what can be considered a slight divergence between Vico and Croce despite the general affinity of their thought. It has to do with the concept of Providence in Vico that has both an immanent and a transcendent pole, not mutually exclusive and not violating man’s freedom either. Croce seems to consider the pole of transcendence superfluous, or at least bracketable, to the phenomenon of history. He likes to emphasize the immanent pole of the concept of Providence. Thus, within an immanent concept of Providence man’s freedom, which as Kant has also demonstrated, cannot be proven empirically, assumes the place of the highest value of man, which indeed it is, as long as transcendence remains bracketed.


Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969)
together in a photo of 1964 at Heidelberg


Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno’s
Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), the most influential of
the books of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory


Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
A Neapolitan Scholastic Philosopher of the Middle Ages

Logically, to eliminate the pole of immanence would also equally falsify Vico’s concept of Providence so that one ends up with a Deus ex machina which intervenes in history at crucial time thus violating man’s freedom and free will. But this is not so for Augustine, Aquinas, or Vico for that matter. For them freedom is only the penultimate value of man on this earth; the ultimate value, or the final destination of man’s journey if you will, transcends even freedom by asking the question “freedom for what?,” which of course is a much deeper conception of freedom than freedom “from” (or the idea that to be free is to be liberated from enslaving habits and other limitations). This is not dissimilar from the questions: what is the point of it all; what is the purpose or the logos of the universe; why is there something rather than nothing at all? Heidegger begins his Being and Time with those questions but the questions on Being had already been put by Aquinas and, as a Catholic, he ought to have known that much.


Summa Theologica (1265-74) of Thomas Aquinas
A 13th century Neapolitan philosopher and Doctor of the Church

That ultimate goal of man’s journey on earth is not here on any of earth’s utopias within time and space but is to be found in Dante’s Paradiso, in that transcendent world dubbed by Augustine “The City of God,” which in effect means that for Augustine, Aquinas and Dante freedom is not the ultimate value in and by itself with no beginning, no purpose and no end in sight but rather it is constituted by obedience to truth with a final telos or final destination.


Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)
An 18th century Neapolitan Philosopher


Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)
A 20th century Neapolitan Philosopher

So we have an alternative method for arriving at truth of being which differs substantially by the one proposed by Heidegger. What these three Christian thinkers seem to be saying is that to be free is to affirm the truth of being. Men do not create truth, they discover it. Aletheia or the unveiling of truth is to be found in Aquinas’ Summa but Aquinas never claims to be its originator speaking within the language event . Truth does not arise after the exercise of freedom, but rather it is discovered within the very act of freedom itself; and it is the truth that makes men free not vice-versa, as Marxists and others still contend nowadays;  it is freedom that allows truth to appear. Freedom of inquiry can only be exercised within a context in which the question of truth arises within the question of freedom and not after it. Vico was substantially in agreement with Aquinas on this point.


Dante by Botticelli (1265-1321)
Sublime Poet and author of The Divine Comedy


St Augustine (364-430)
A doctor of the Church of the 5th century

So, staying with the polarity, or the complementarity if you will, immanence/transcendence in Vico’s concept of Providence, it seems to me that this much can be affirmed: together with the polarity between existence and essence in the structure of Being, a similar polarity is seen in the three transcendentals of being: the polarity between form and splendor in the beautiful, the polarity between obedience and freedom in the good; and the polarity between subject and object in the true. Plato as well as Augustine, Pico della Mirandola and Vico were surely on to something when they saw the Good, the Beautiful and the True as transcendent and beyond time and space.


Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
by Emanuel L. Paparella (Ovi Bookstore, June 2013)



Observations and Comments by Paparella on Paolozzi’s Presentation
by way of a Dialogue and Exchange of ideas  

Thank you Ernesto for a lucid treatment of Heidegger’s thought vis a vis modern concerns which is indeed one of the sub-theme of this meeting of the Symposium following Lawrence’s presentation of Heidegger’s thought in the last meeting where it was announced that the following meeting (the 17th) would be dedicated to a well focused and rigorous philosophical analysis of “the nexus between theory and practice vis a vis truth.” We may not arrive at any definite conclusions but a spirited dialogue on this sub-theme has  begun and no doubt it will be an ongoing and more interesting one in the new year.

Within this dialogic spirit, I’d like to pause on two excerpts from your presentation which I found particularly relevant and intriguing and perhaps worthy of a  follow-up, also offer some sundry comments. The particular excerpts of your chapter on Heidegger as translated from Italian I refer to are these: “…Heidegger’s aesthetic considerations are of great interest to us (considerations that as we shall see are relatively original)…The so called hermeneutical circle, which is fundamental to Heidegger’s reflections on language, the concept of the linguistic event, seem to re-propose, albeit from a different vantage point, the discourse on modern historicism, especially of the Crocean kind. For Croce too language, which is always art in itself, is the house of being, and for Croce too the truth of art is eternal in as much as eternal it presents itself historically as the grasping of an event of life (history). For Croce, the interpretation (hermeneutic) on everything that has been said is true, it is the manifestation of the possibility of understanding the world.”

In the first place let me say that I am in full agreement with what you say above about Croce vis a vis Heidegger’s historicism, especially with that “considerations that as we shall see are relatively original” which I interpret to mean that they are not totally original as Heidegger and his cohorts would have us believe. Or am I wrong in that interpretation? That having been said, I’d like to propose one further insight, if I may. When in Heidegger’s discourse I hear philosophical concepts such as “originative thinking,” “return to origins via etymology,” “the language event,” “interpretation as hermeneutics,” “critique of Cartesian rationalism,” “being and entity,”” the certum and the verum,” “language as the house of Being” “the poetical as wisdom,” “the eternity of art,” “historicism,” “the historical imagination,” “the science of imagination,” “new humanism,” “aletheia or unveiling of truth,” “being and nothingness,” I do not hear gibberish as some of Heidegger’s critics have misguidedly and unfairly suggested without fully grasping the full import of his thought, rather I hear echoes of Croce’s philosophy of aesthetics, as you quite correctly point out, but I also hear Gadamer’s hermeneutics and Cassirer’s symbolic philosophy,  and even more relevantly, I hear another more distant  voice also clearly heard by Croce Gadamer and Cassirer, the powerful voice of Vico.

As I have been attempting to demonstrate in my previous presentations, Vico too made language and its origins, language understood as one of the artistic and symbolical creation of man, the very core and centerpiece of his speculation in The New Science. He too, without calling it such proposed a new humanism based on hermeneutics and a proper understanding of Being and poetic wisdom as found first and foremost in Thomas Aquinas, Plato, Italian humanism, i.e., the understanding of being vis a vis truth. He too was way ahead of Schelling when he talked about “the barbarism of the intellect” as ultimate cause of ethical evil, inveighing against Cartesian rationalism; he too spoke about the “certum” and the “verum” and as such he may be considered the precursor of anti-positivism. Am I mistaken in also thinking that both Croce and yourself would be in agreement here, as would Gadamer and Cassirer also, who both frankly and openly acknowledged in writing their gratitude and debt to Vico?

This is not so with Heidegger. One discovers precious little even in the form of acknowledgment, of Vico or Croce’s thought in Heidegger’s philosophical writings. The question therefore naturally arises: did  Heidegger even know of the existence of a Vico and a Croce as a Cassirer or a Gadamer or an Harkheimer and even a Marx certainly did, and if he did why did he  ignore them? If it was a purposeful neglect, then all the more the charge of “relative” originality stands. If it was not purposeful and Heidegger was truly ignorant of those two Southern Italian philosophers (three actually if we include Thomas Aquinas which would be strange indeed for someone raised in the Catholic tradition), perhaps considered outside the mainstream in the backwater of Europe, (something that many scholars of philosophy who continue to inanely ask “can anything good come out of Naples?”  need to be disabused still today…) then Heidegger in some way has reinvented the wheel, taken the wrong path and fallen into the trap of the divorce of ethics from philosophy and therefore forgotten the Socratic origins of Western philosophy; in that sense his would be less a rattling of the foundations of Western philosophy and more of a regression to a time when scientific cosmology and philosophy were one and the same (ancient positivism?) and ethics was far from prominent within the considerations of ancient metaphysics, that is to say, the times of Parmenides? Alas, I have never received a satisfactory answer to this question.

In any case, I’d like to suggest here that things would have been quite different had Vico been accorded an attentive hear in the 18th century. We would not find ourselves in between the extremes of Derridarian deconsctructionism and Straussian anti-Thomism, ultimately atheistic rationalism. I think Croce would agree on that insight too notwithstanding his liberal anti-clericalism.  I suppose, given the rather boorish way Heidegger dealt with the work of his mentor Husserl, his friend and colleague Karl Jaspers and his former student Hannah Arendt (see my recent article on Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism in Ovi at http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/10527), we ought not be too surprised at how he dealt with (or perhaps ignored) Vico and Croce. But perhaps there was also a personal reason for those neglects. Croce had dared call Heidegger’s commitment to National Socialism, as well as Mussolini’s Fascism, what they truly were.

Here we are back to the inflated egos of academia parading as objective truth which can make a Heidegger exclaim “there is no such thing as Heidegger’s philosophy,” that is to say, there is only the truth and the truth as it unveils and reveals itself takes no sides and I am its ambassador, and therefore as pointed out by Habermas it was fate which induced Heidegger to join and support the Nazi party for twelve whole years, the length of its existence; the subject is neutralized and taken out of the ethical equation revealed by an event such as the  Holocaust. No need for any apologies or regrets. As you know Croce for one never bought this pernicious line of reasoning and was openly critical of Heidegger’s lectures at the time  (one of them given in Rome under the tutelage of Mussolini’s fascism).

In a correspondence between Croce and Karl Vossler of 1933 (September 9) Croce has this to say about Heidegger’s enthusiastic activism in the Nazi party leading to the dismissal of Jewish professors at the University of Freiburg under his direct rectorship: “Today all of a sudden, one falls into the abyss of the falsest historicism, which negates history, which is crudely and materialistically conceived as the assertion of ethnocentrism and racism, celebrating the glory of wolves and foxes, lions and jackals, lacking in genuine humanity…Thus one offers oneself to political service. This is without a doubt a prostitution of philosophy… Finally I have read Heidegger’s speech through. It is at once stupid and obsequious. I am not surprised about the success that his philosophy will have for a while: the empty and general pronouncement is always successful. But it produces nothing… he deprives philosophy of its honor…” [emphasis mine].

Of course Croce could not possibly have been surprised since he had seen the likes of Gentile, D’Annunzio, Marinetti prostituting philosophy and their personal integrity and existential lives to the ideological demands of Mussolini’s fascism but here Croce is unmistakably referring to none other than Martin Heidegger’s prostitution to Nazism and it is definitely not academic envy that motivates his critique for Croce, in fact, was never part of any academic inner circle.  

Admittedly, the above critique of Heidegger may appear to some as mere ramblings or gibberish arising out of envious comparisons and the ancient love-hate relationship between the Germans and the Italians, grossly unfair to Heidegger’s theoretical thought, never mind his praxis, cavalierly implying that he may be a bit overrated as a philosophical genius, but let me suggest that such would be a rather superficial interpretation. In fact they are the reflections of a mind in search of less ambiguous answers since the writing of a paper on Heidegger in 1966 at St. Francis College in which a very simple question was sincerely asked: “is philosophy a theoretical or an existential enterprise?” and was never thoroughly answered..

Indeed Ernesto, as Heidegger himself would surely concur, sometimes in philosophy the questions turn out to be more important than the answers; and the unveiling of truth  may occur only centuries later within time and space, if ever. Be that as it may, while I remain grateful to you Ernesto (and Larry too) for supplying some temporary but acute answers  in the light of Vico and Croce’s historicism Heidegger’s philosophy remains for me a rather disconcerting and ultimately not so original philosophy. I think we agree on this, but let the dialogue go on. The journey within time and space may not be man’s ultimate destination but within the limitations of time and space it may well turn out to be just as important as the destination, while Plato’s Republic may be destined to remain a utopia, a mere ideal to be found nowhere in this world, as Plato himself would probably acknowledge.


A Warm Welcome to Dr. Michael Vena

vena_01The reader may have noticed a new contributor’s photo and biography posted above. We’d like to welcome Professor Michael Vena to the Ovi Symposium. Professor Vena has taught Italian language and literature at Southern Connecticut State University for some forty years. He is now a former professor emeritus of such an institution. He has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism from Yale University, has published widely in the field of Humanism and especially in Italian theater. For some thirty years of his career he was the general director of the Urbino Italian studies abroad at SCSU. After his retirement he has dedicated his considerable talents as a humanist to the translation and publication of scores of texts of Italian plays by well known playwrights such as Pirandello, Cavacchioli, Fabbri, De Filippo. We are lucky to have him at Ovi, we look forward to his enthusiastic participation and warmly welcome him aboard the Ovi Symposium.

At the next meeting of the symposium he will present to us the general goals of his translation and dissemination program in Italian theater and then move on to the a more thorough presentations of famous individual Italian playwrights as found in his books, all within the framework of aesthetics.   


The Ovi Team also welcomes Dr. Michael Vena to our family looking forward for a creative cooperation.


Kafka’s Kehre

by Lawrence Nannery


Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

We all know our Kafka.  He has been popular through several generations, and that is perhaps surprising considering the negativity of his works.  On the other hand, very few know or understand the late stories.  They have seldom been taken seriously, and — I assert — never decoded.  Since 1970 they have been virtually ignored.  In this paper I will attempt to remedy this state of affairs.

It is not difficult to mention or even to describe the characteristics of Kafka’s stories and novels in his early and middle periods.  I will mention a few of them.  There is an anarchy in that motives are never clear; there is an anarchy in that space and time relations roam and disappear; there is fear because many things — especially common things — suddenly rise up and evince threatening attitudes.  No reason is given for why this happens, and there is uncertainty as to what to do about this.  And all the while, the powers that control things do not control them, or deny that anything is amiss.  In The Metamorphosis, for example, the hero is turned into a cockroach or some similar vermin.  No one knows why.  No one can imagine why.  He is isolated and gradually dwindles down to almost nothing, glad to die because he is useless to himself and unloved by his family or anyone else, as is only to be expected.  It’s a mystery, but life is like that.  In the end, everyone, including the protagonist, denies it is a tragedy.

Altogether, I believe it fair to say that the ultimate powers behind things in the stories and novels are anarchic and malevolent, as is the case in many primitive religions, and perhaps in Taoism, but unlike those belief systems, in Kafka’s fictions there is no way of controlling these forces, no one to go to for protection from them, no way to assuage them.  Dread and terror result.

But the late Kafka is different.  We find in a late chapter of The Castle a turning point.  This chapter was not published until the late 1970s, and has not received the attention it deserves.[i] 

K. has been called to meet with one of the Herrn, “gentlemen,” one Erlacher, and waits upon him at the Herrn Hotel, but the man does not appear for a long time.  When he does appear he informs K. about something he, K. had already known, and goes on his way.  K. spends some of his time at the hotel trying to get Frieda, who will be restored to her job as barmaid on the morrow, and who has run off with one of K.’s assistants, to return to him because he loves her.  But she refuses.  Thus far Chapter 20.  K., left to his own devices, and full of curiosity, wanders about in the basement, where the Herrn keep their village offices.   He is dead tired, and he enters a room in order to lie down and sleep, but he happens upon one Bürgel, a doll-faced figure of a man, who explains the workings of the Castle to him, though K. falls asleep in the course of this long recitation. 

Coming up out of the basement he is accosted by the proprietor and his wife, who roundly chastise him for breaking the rule that no person may encroach upon the space reserved for the Herrn, and sent upstairs.  K. then returns to the restaurant, where, after he wakes from a long sleep he is treated to a monologue by Pepi, the bargirl who had replaced Frieda as the barmaid, and who is very jealous of her.

This monologue is a true tour de force, for it is a compendium of rambling observations by a young woman who naively thinks herself quite intelligent and up on the latest styles of clothes, but who is quite the opposite of these.  Her social failures make her seethe with envy and paranoia, coupled with a free-ranging imagination that shows her deeply pent-up longings for a lover, and, in relation to other girls in her situation, for a triumph. 

Finding K. sleeping in the barroom, Pepi sits down next to him and unburdens herself.  She confesses that when he first came to the village she had fantasized about him as a knight in shining armor, and that they might run away and be together forever.  Otherwise she would never get out of her situation, her hated situation as a chambermaid and would like to burn the Inn down!  What follows are disconnected, self-contradictory maunderings filled with resentment against her rival.  Pepi’s mind reveals itself to be untethered.  With a little more luck, or a little more understanding from K., she believes that she could have won it all, but now she will have to go back to being a chambermaid because Frieda is taking her old position of barmaid back. Pepi invites K. to stay with her and her roommates for the winter, in what amounts to a cubbyhole in the basement.

K.’s response is to tell Pepi that she has a wild imagination.  Her perspective has remained that of chambermaids, who come to know what they know by spying through keyholes.  Though she may have in this case caught a glimmer of truth, but “from tiny details … often draw grand but false conclusions about the whole thing.”[ii]  As someone older he endeavors to bring her down from the clouds and urges her to jettison her anger and delusions since they are based upon her vested feelings but do not reflect the factual situation. 

Though Pepi protests that he was as deceived as she, he answers affirmatively:

… it is as if both of us as had struggled too hard, too noisily, too childishly, too naively to obtain something that can easily be and imperceptibly gained through, say, Frieda’s tranquility and … reserve, and [we] had done so through weeping, scratching, and tugging, just as a child tugs at a tablecloth but doesn’t gain anything and only tears down the whole shebang [die ganze Pracht] and puts it out of his reach forever …[iii]

Thus, K. has reaches the same point that Kafka expressed in The Blue Octavo Notebooks, in Aphorism Three: there are but two vices: impatience and indolence.  But perhaps the expulsion from paradise was due to impatience alone.[iv]

This is a note not seen in Kafka’s fiction before.  Wisdom seems now to Kafka to consist in acceptance of the world, for the individual cannot beat it, being only an insignificant part of the whole himself.  What salvation there is seems to mean something like weathering a storm, and coming through with something he denominates “the Indestructible,” a subject that will resumed later in this paper. 


Deception is the primary result of man’s finitude.  It is very prominent in all the works of Kafka, and it has many levels of meanings.  It is ever-present, and there is no use in casuistically trying to enumerate its various modalities.  Aphorism One had already announced that deception is a constituent of the world itself; it is not amenable to epistemology.  Following Nietzsche, Kafka believe that truth is a woman, i.e., coy, not wanting to give herself away.  Hence deception is always a problem, never completely absent, and perhaps can be a tool for playing practical jokes.

Here are a few quotations from the Blue Octavo Notebooks to ponder.

Truth is indivisible, hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it must be a lie.

Can you know anything but deception [Betrug]?  If ever deception were eliminated you would have to look away or you will be turned into a pillar of salt.

Our art is a way of being dazzled by truth: the light on the grotesquely grimacing retreating face is true, and nothing else.

In a world of lies the lie is not removed from the world by means of its opposite, but only by a world of truth.[v]

The world of truth seems to be what Kafka found in his clairvoyant states, some of them related to his work, his writing.  Here is a diary entry that says as much, dated September 25, 1917:  “I can still have passing satisfaction from works like ‘A Country Doctor,’ provided I can still write such things at all (improbable).  But happiness only if I can raise the world into the pure, the true, and the immutable.”[vi]  This was apparently Kafka’s own experience of “the Indestructible,” the subject of the next section.

In the works of Kafka, this tendency of the world that foists its betrayal [Betrug] upon us is the source of most of the horror and the humor we experience in reading his stories and novels. 

But there is another level, one in which Kafka himself admits that he is a mendacious fellow; that he has the desire to deceive the reader, to cover up the evil of the world and make them swallow it.  In a letter to Felice Bauer of late September, 1917, he admits his desire to deceive the whole world, “which I wish to deceive, moreover, though without practicing any actual deception.”[vii]  What does this mean exactly?  We may never know, because many references of a personal nature probably suffuse all his works, and only the author and one or two others could catch the reference.  But Kafka wants to deceive even that one other!  Even more, he probably derived pleasure from the anticipation of the deception.  We can decode a few cases of these practical jokes.  A good case in point is supplied by Max Brod, his literary executor and lifelong friend.  In the long autobiographical piece entitled “Investigations of a Dog” there appears a neighbor dog, about whom much is said, most of it decidedly unkind.   It is obviously Max Brod, but Brod, the editor of this piece who first published it, did not notice! 

Last, and most important, but more importantly, most astounding, is the case of a quote in “Investigations of a Dog,” that has gone unnoticed. 

… goal of my aims, my questions, my inquiries, appears to be something monstrous.  For I want to compel all dogs to assemble together, I want the bones to crack under the pressure of their collective preparedness, and then I want to dismiss them to the ordinary life that they love, while all by myself alone, I lap up the marrow… not merely of a bone, but of the whole canine race itself.  But it is only a picture.  The marrow that I speak of is no food, on the contrary it is poison [Gift].[viii]

This passage was crossed out in Kafka’s holograph, presumably because it was too close to the bone, and Kafka thought others might decode it.  When Brod came to edit the piece after Kafka’s death, he saw nothing objectionable or shocking in it, and published the passage as though it had not been deleted.  One cannot find it in the Critical Edition, because Kafka had eliminated it.  But earlier it had already been printed, and translated.[ix]

This is a convoluted practical joke.  What is the point of it all?  The upshot is one most consequential for the history of Kafka criticism.  Kafka intended to deceive without lying.  His most successful deception is on the subject of guilt, about which more articles and books have been written than any other subject in Kafka’s oeuvre. 

The of all this is, almost every book or essay written upon the subject of Joseph K.’s guilt in The Trial is completely and utterly wrong, and wrongheaded.  So slick was Kafka at deception that he caused several generations of well-educated and attentive readers to completely misread the most important novel of the century!  For it is impossible to think that Joseph K. is guilty.  Impossible because no charge was ever made.  Impossible because no process was ever undergone of discovery, accusation, plea, testimonies, witnesses, and argument, or even of a decision.  Lacking every single aspect of a legal proceeding, how could he possibly be guilty of anything in the eyes of the law?  He could not. 

The innocence is hinted at even in the aphorism cited above: we are sinful, irrespective of guilt.  Kafka was able to convey to the reader of The Trial in subtle ways the sinfulness of Joseph K., a rather paltry specimen of sinfulness, and the critics, because they were not suspicious enough, fell for the trick.  In the mass of works on this subject the vast majority of critics, great and small, opine with false absurd reasoning that of course Joseph K. deserves to die.  An amazing performance, and most mendacious, from a moral point of view.  It seems to me a prediction of totalitarianism.  One can only wonder how many other booby traps are contained in the corpus, most of which surely will never come to light. 

The Indestructible

There is an open sort of coherence in the late stories of Kafka.  It is even possible that The Castle was abandoned because Kafka sensed he would die soon, and desired to leave a model of a new, proto-existentialist type of novel, one that is a ruin.  When he died, he left a considerable pile of stories, some quite long, in the care of his mistress Dora Dymant.  She was amazingly irresponsible, never allowing Max Brod, Kafka’s literary executor, to see a reported twenty notebooks that Kafka had written in.  The Nazi accession to power in 1933, almost nine years after Kafka’s death, found her the wife of a member of the Central Committee of the Communist party, and all the papers in their house were confiscated.  Though some friends tried to rescue the manuscripts Kafka had left with her, the thing was impossible. 

Only a few of the pieces he wrote, feverishly, one imagines, in his last two years, have come down to us.  There is a similarity among them, and much wisdom, due to the idea that guides and unites them, namely, something Kafka called “the Indestructible.”[x]  In Kafka’s view this is what can redeem our lives in a world of frustrations and lies. 

We come upon this concept directly only in the Blue Octavo Notebooks.  There are but a few statements about it.

Believing means liberating the indestructible elements within oneself, or, more accurately, liberating yourself, or, more accurately, being indestructible, or, more accurately, being.

Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him.  One of the ways in which this hiddenness can express itself is through faith in a personal god.

Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element within oneself and not striving towards it.

The indestructible is one: it is each individual human being and, at the same time, it is common to all, hence the incomparably indivisible union that exists between human beings.

Before setting foot in the Holy of Holies you must take off your shoes, yet not only your shoes, but everything; you must take off your traveling garment and lay down your luggage; and under that you must shed your nakedness and everything that hides beneath that, and then the core of the core, then the remainder [das Uebrige] and then the residue [den Rest] and then even the glimmer of the undying fire.  Only the fire itself is absorbed by the Holy of Holies and lets itself be absorbed by it; neither can resist the other.

“Know thyself” does not mean “Observe thyself.”  “Observe thyself” is what the serpent says. It means: “Make yourself master of your actions.”  But you are so already, you are the master of your actions.  So that saying means: “Misjudge yourself!  Destroy yourself!” which is something evil ― and only if one bends down very far indeed does one also hear the good in it, which is, “In order to make of yourself what you are.”[xi]

That is about all Kafka ever wrote directly about this enigmatic thing he called the Indestructible.  Brod, in his biography of his friend, makes much of this notion, but understands it as something Tolstoy or Ghandhi would say, not Kafka. 

Of the quotations above, the last seems to be directed to himself, forcing himself to identify completely with his own artistic creativity, in the context of work and all the other distractions of life.  If that is so it shows that he believed writing to be evil, “a service to the devil,” as he said in a letter to Brod.[xii]

The other quotations have remained enigmatic to the public, and of course to Brod.  But it is the Indestructible that is the key to the late stories.

Why didn’t Kafka complete The Castle?

The sequence of events of January, 1922 explains why.  According to the entries in his diary for January 16, 1922, he had suffered “something like a breakdown” in his health the week before.  He could see that he had not long to live.  He notes that his body is weak but his mind is as strong and as fecund as ever, perhaps more so.  He interprets his racing mind as an attack “from above,” but, equally, it seems just as likely to be “an assault on the last earthly frontier … launched from below [by] mankind.”  He continues:

All such writing is an assault on the frontiers; if Zionism had not intervened, it might easily have developed into a new secret doctrine, a Kabbalah.  There are intimations of this.  Though of course it would require genius of an unimaginable kind to strike root again in the old centuries anew and not spend itself withal, but only then begin to flower forth.[xiii]

What this means, clearly, is that the pieces he will now write, if he has the strength, will be an attempt to revise Rabbinic Judaism, if not all Judaism, by writing stories that will teach men how to live in a new way, not in the way of the Talmud, for which he had much contempt.  So now he set to work, laboring sedulously, demonically.  But he was in failing health, and he did not in fact live long.

The few stories of this last period that have survived have a great deal to tell mankind about how to live, but the nature of the stories veils most of the references and meanings, just as the original secret unorthodox writings, the Kabbalah, veiled religious and moral teachings in stories.  And so, we conclude that these late stories are meant to deceive and defeat ignorant and inattentive readers, to beat them away because the message, already adumbrated in K.’s answer to Pepi, will be able to be absorbed only by worthy ones. 

These late works are populated by characters who are exactly what they are and nothing else, and go with their obsessions all the way to the end.  Their obsessions are their versions of the Indestructible, but all are wrong.  They are all quite different from one another, but in their obsessions they ruin themselves. 

In this they are easily distinguished from his earlier stories and from the novels, all of which are marked very clearly by a clear absence of cause and effect, alienation, sudden changes, grotesqueries, and deception and confusion. 

What follows is a very short discussion of these pieces, bringing out their main points. 

Investigations of a Dog

He saw the world as being full of invisible demons which assail and destroy defenseless man. … All his works describe the terror of mysterious misconceptions and guiltless guilt in human  beings.    Milena Jesenska [xiv]

This long story is a life history of Kafka himself, as he tried to understand what the forces that control our lives are like, failing in the process due to the incoherence of the powers themselves, and the finite capabilities of the investigator.  It is an intellectual and spiritual history, but a deceptive one, so that it can not be decoded, except generically.  More to the point, it also serves as a guide to the interpretations of the rest of the late stories.  Given the disorderly nature of the spirit world, this “confession” could not have the shape of pseudo-Dionysios’ “Heavenly Hierarchies.”

A complete exposition of the Investigations would take more space to explain than the piece itself.  What follows is schematic.

The dog, a very social but intellectual fellow, finds that the riddle of dog-life must rest upon finding out where Nahrung, “nurture” comes from.  This word is very important for the late Kafka, and always means “spiritual sustenance.”  He is trying to construct a science of food.  He tries out various simple inductions, on a variety of spiritual phenomena, but finds that they never are adequate to explain them.  For example, food, i.e., nurture falling from above as well as below, confuses him and he cannot figure out how that can be.  He also finds that the rituals engaged in for food do not seem to be efficacious, despite the fact that they are commonly believed to be so.  For example, chanting to the heavens, to the demons in the sky, combined with urinating on the ground to make it fertile, which all dogs believe in, is denominated “song” [Gesang], but still does not account for the phenomena of food.  The other dogs have never understood him, they are too pragmatic to understand, and so near the end of his life he ceases his investigations. 

At one point he had tried to prove that the food has a mind of its own, and is drawn to dogs.  He claims that “the way goes through fasting.”  If dogs refused to eat, the food would come down from above and knock at their very teeth.  But the experiment that he devises to prove this fails, owing to his own weakness as a dog, who cannot be ascetic in the face of food.  He has to admit his failure to solve “the riddle of the universe,” one might say, but he was never going to get to the bottom of things, and we the readers should be able to supply the reason: viz., the demons, who are “the powers that be,” are pure chaos, and scientific or even orderly thought about them will always fail.  There are no hierarchies in heaven or anywhere else.

But, along the way, he lets drop hints about his motivations.  These all have an ecstatic character.  

For example, as a young dog he came upon seven musical dogs, who danced upon a stage with musical accompaniment.  This was the transformative experience of his life, but he cannot explain it.  The music accompanying the dancing dogs did not come from within them.  Certainly the words Musik and Melodie resonate strongly, conferring meaning and purpose and life force to those dogs who are receptive.[xv]  We might conclude from the dog’s transformation that these artful things put him in touch with the Indestructible for the first time.  The Indestructible allowed him to dissolve in the general, to give up his will, and to lose his impatience, impatience that blocks all progress to comprehension and happiness.  There is more.  In blaming his ancestors for falling away from the originary primitive condition of dogs where they were not alienated from the life forces in the world, he maintains that “the Word” and “the voice from the forest” must be reclaimed. 

There is much criticism of Judaism in the work.  Many of the practices have lost touch with the originary impulse that created the original system of belief.  The dog spoofs Jewish dietary regulations and prohibitions at length.  It seems to be most unhappy with the lack of feeling in the race and with the exoskeleton of ritual. 

Most of the text must go unanalyzed here, but there is little doubt about the most important lesson, which Kafka seems to have believed; viz., that relaxing will open things up.  The dog has learned one lesson: to give up his Faustian quests, and abide in the spiritual maelstrom that is “the canine condition.”  The lesson to be learned from the Pepi episode was that one should not be impatient,[xvi] that one should wait for all the most important things to come to you, and take joy in them, and sit back and enjoy life.  One can only get in close touch with the Indestructible by foreswearing all striving.  One should have the courage to expect the unexpected.  One should simply wait:

  There is no need for you to leave the house.  Stay at your table and listen.  Don’t even listen, just wait.  Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone.  The world will come to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe [wenden sich: unwind] before you.[xvii]

The theme of the late stories is the wastefulness and fecklessness of trying too hard.  All of them exhibit obsessive characters, who live truncated lives and refuse to change because this striving after some sort of identity or perfection are mistaken for the Indestructible.  They all take themselves too seriously, and, thereby, they lose the world, proving once again that men live in delusion, and therefore in desperation. 

A Hunger Artist

This story is the most perfect baroque piece of literature in the 20th century.  Not only is the absurdly elongated subject of the story a mannerist grotesque, the style is that of a narrow, first-person point of view, suspended only after the hunger artist is dead.  It begins with a triumphant session of the hunger artist’s craft, in which a whole village shows up and enjoys what he and only he can do ― which is nothing.  (What seems counterfactual and absurd to readers is actually a fact, thus doubly confounding them.)[xviii]

But, as in all of Kafka’s novels, a degenerative process quickly sets in.  The problem is that of deception.  Though watchers are appointed to make sure that he does not cheat during the long night hours, they are derelict, and this makes skepticism mount.  The experts, who are all butchers, think him honest, but the general public does not believe that the hunger artist actually fasts as long as he seems to.  This arouses in him the greatest feelings of resentment.  How sincere the hunger artist is!  His trade is his life but he is himself his only perfect observer.

He knows that he could fast infinitely, but no one else knows, or believes in his virtue.  He is in the hands of an impresario who doesn’t know or care about the truth of the matter either, and who sets his limit at forty days, a Biblical period, one that the audiences can relate to.  Unlike the audiences, the hunger artist takes his nonactivity not as mere display, but as an end in itself. 

The descriptions of the performances are delicious grotesqueries, and most disagreeable to the star of the show. 

So he lived for many years … in apparent glory, honored by the world, yet in spite of that troubled in spirit, all the more troubled because no one would take his trouble seriously. With what should one comfort him?  What was left for him to wish for?[xix]

There is something that he is in need of, but the hunger artist is deluded in believing that the way to what he needs goes through fasting.  He thinks that if he tries harder, he will be appreciated for what he truly is.  Since no one can sense his need, no one can help him. 

Times change.  Tastes change.  By and by, the hunger artist’s craft gradually loses favor with the public.  In order to find work, he hires himself out to a large circus.  He wants to demonstrate to the world that he could fast without limit.  He sits in a cage near the wild animals on a causeway, where he is nearly completely forgotten.  He gradually comes to understand that no one pays him any attention, and, since no one will stop him, in resentment he redoubles his efforts to set world records.  He is angry that everyone believes him to be cheating, and that drives him on.  He sets world records; no one notices.  He craves fame; no one notices.  In the process of doing nothing perfectly, he disappears under the straw in his cage. 

After some days the circus supervisor notices that the hunger artist’s cage seems to be empty.  He engages workers to clean the cage out.  They poke into the pile with sticks, and there appears from underneath the hunger artist himself.  He asks the overseer to forgive him.  The overseer does so.  He tells that he wanted people to admire his fasting.  The overseer assents to this as well.  But he is startled by the thin man’s response:

“But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist.  “Well, then, we don’t admire it, said the overseer, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?”  “Because I have to fast, I can’t help it,” said the hunger artist. … “And why can’t you help it?” … “Because I couldn’t find the food [Nahrung] I liked.  If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.”  These were his last words.[xx]

I interpret this final statement to mean that the hunger artist could not find Nahrung for his soul, and substituted fasting for it.  But no one present can understand this, and so he dies.  The hunger artist is thrown into the same hole where they bury the straw.  A panther is substituted for him in the cage, and the crowds come and admire the self-possessed animal in the freedom with which he exhibits his great powers and beauty.

The panther does not strive.  He is identical with what he is, and therefore happy.  The Indestructible open to men demands that one not strive for it.  The hunger artist never learned that lesson.  He wanted to prove himself, and that is the real reason why he could never achieve union with the spiritual power he sought to be at one with.  “The Word” that would transform the entire world, is also called “Music,” “Melodie,” in the Investigations, and “the voice from the forest”: none of these yield to earnest desire and hard work. 

First Sorrow

This very odd story is about another early-Picasso harlequin, a trapeze artist who decides he cannot bear to touch the ground.  He has gradually removed himself from the ground and removed his abode to the position above the high wire acts in the circus tent.  Many people are enlisted to help provision him there.  He thinks it quite nice, quite healthy to abide there.  In warm weather he gets plenty of fresh air and sunlight, even though he has to admit that the arrangement does limit his social life.  Even so, he gets to chat with other acrobats who visit from time to time, and with workmen when they are working on the roof.  In this droll condition he is content to abide.

But as a circus performer he must travel a lot, and he hates that.  He prefers to be put in the luggage racks, which in those days were made of criss-crossing strands of rope, where he can dangle as though he were in a hammock when the troupe arrives at the next city on the tour.  He stays in it in preference to checking into a hotel.   He cannot stand to have the ground under his feet.  Besides, it saves on hotel bills.

As time passes, this becomes the routine: the trapeze artist in the baggage rack, swinging to and fro with the motions of the train, his manager seated below.  One day, he tells his manager from up on his perch that from now on he must have two trapezes, not one.  The manager agrees, and opines that it actually makes good business sense as well.  But this enrages the artist, who wants it done because it comes from his arbitrary will, and not for any other reason.  His caprice must taken, not as something reasonable, but as an absolute command.  He falls into crying copious tears, and, upon being questioned, says, “Only one bar in my hands ― how can I go on like that!”[xxi]  Again the manager agrees with him, and eventually the trapeze artist is reassured, but there appears a wrinkle on his forehead, and that is the first sorrow. 

The Burrow

In another striver, in perfect contrast to the trapeze artist, we find the very embodiment of the modern “work ethic.”  The story is a very long and mysterious tale entitled “Der Bau,” i.e., “The Construct,” translated into English as “The Burrow,” since it is constructed by hollowing out.

This burrow is so perfectly ordered that it is perfect anarchy.  The story amounts to a critique of modern life, its Faustian spirit and its inadequate ideas of freedom and evil, its nervous need for work even if work is no more than being busy for its own sake.  It is also, in my opinion, a critique of the life of the businessman, among whom must be counted Kafka’s own father.

The story is too long for summary, but much can be said of value about it.  It begins with a paraphrase from the Old Testament, in which the animal-narrator claims that he has completed his burrow and finds that it is well-done [wohlgelungen].  But immediately he falls into a pit of vulnerability, and declares, “Anything might happen!” [xxii]  He ruminates about all his enemies, both above and below, any one of which might bring about his instant death.  He loves his burrow, and he describes it in detail.  It is for him (or her?) a second self, a perfect example of “objectification,” Gegenständlichkeit.

We gather that he or she is a large, lone, carnivorous creature for whom work and worry are the only things that exist.  He lives underground, and has constructed the burrow at great cost in pain and trouble, literally Blut und Boden [ blood and soil], and has a central room [Burgplatz] stored with the bodies of the creatures he has killed.  He loves this room as though it were himself, and he goes so far as to apostrophize it.  

This is his life.  He is always busy, rearranging everything in many ways, always with an eye on safety.  Food is easy to find, since his home is very large and little creatures often find themselves in there by accident and he just eats them up.  He is large and capable as a hunter, something like a gigantic shrew.  He has an escape hatch which is camouflaged from the outside, and he lovingly describes that for us too. 

But his paranoia never rests, and his gnawing insecurity from unseen enemies, who may or may not really exist, is the source of his abstract fear.  This fear causes him to make a foray to the surface to see if certain noises stem from large animals on the surface who may have divined his entrance.  But he does not see anything that confirm or disprove his fears.  He even wishes he could somehow watch over himself as he sleeps, for that is when one is most vulnerable.  After a few days above ground he can see that no large animals are aware of the existence of his burrow, and so he descends, with his catch of many dead bodies, in the process of which he is perfectly at risk, since he has no friends or confederates, and in the descent he destroys the camouflages he had built. 

Our terrier is intelligent as well as courageous.  He is aware that he works away to spend his nervous energy as much as for any other reason, and he realizes that his activities to ensure security sometimes endanger it even more.  A stupid and senseless life; an unhappy life; a life whose every fulfillment is no real, lasting fulfillment.  All his life is spent in constructing security, but he grows more and more afraid of the hostility of the world and “the specters of the night” who are out to get him.  Although he revels in the wealth of food that his work provides, there comes an event that brings him ruin.

Upon his sloppy reentry to the burrow from above ground, our doughty hero falls asleep.  He awakens later to the noise of a sibilant sound [Zischen], which is low and constant, and has no clear source.  It drives him wild with fear. 

The animal grows progressively more anxious, assuming that the hissing must issue from some enemy who will devour him.  He goes in search of the source of it, and in the process destroys a large part of his Bau.  He goes from anxious to crazed by anxiety, but the issue of the search remains indefinite.  The single final page of the story was lost by his lover Dora Dymant, who reported to Brod that in fact it contained the death of the animal in the mouth of some other creature. 

Such an ending would be is just like Kafka, who thus would spoof the Bible again by having the author report his own death, as the Jews believed that Moses was able to do at the close of the Torah.  A neat trick, but impossible. 

But, in the end, from a substantive point-of-view, “Der Bau” is a depiction of a miserable life, a miserable way of life, and a counsel of despair.  And also, in the end, the reader never discovers the source of the hissing.

Like the trapeze artist, the animal of the Bau does not like it on the surface of the earth.  He feels too vulnerable there, and constructs his fortress at the greatest expense of spirit and labor, only to find that there is no security anywhere.  How afraid he is, how hard-working, and how easily he fails!  We get a better grip on the nature of modernity when we come to see that the beast is the very type of modern man.

A Little Woman

This is a story of four pages that has hardly ever been commented upon.  All that commentators say is that Kafka claimed that it was based upon a petite co-resident of a rooming house in Berlin where he lived with Dora Dymant without benefit of clergy.  This is typical of much of inept Kafka criticism, which confuses interpretation with advertence to biographical references, ignoring the fact that no fiction derives its meaning from factual details alone. 

However, in the light of our basic thesis this particular story does make sense.  The narrator of this short tale is a man who lives in the same building as some small woman who hates him to the nth degree.  There seems to be no reason whatever for her stance, and she will not talk about it.  The narrator, who is not insightful in any sense, thought of trying to change, and perhaps in that way reduce her hatred.  He claims to be a respectable man with a good reputation, but admits that since he was not able to change her attitude by ignoring her hatred, he has grown weary and has given up trying to change her by changing himself. 

Over the years nothing has changed.  The two are locked in a struggle to the death.  Third parties know all about this, but apparently do not take sides.  The little woman has a demonic hatred that is so strong that it makes her physically sick.  There seems to be no cause except a vicious willfulness.  The narrator’s mulishness is only one small step more reasonable.  Nothing has ever improved or changed over many years.  Hell is the other person, just as Sartre would aver. 

Kafka is teaching us that half the human race locks itself into such small-bore hostilities, with no rationale or one lost to memory, the costs of which are absurdly high, and always demeaning. 

Josephine the Songstress, or, the Mouse Folk

This interesting story is Kafka’s l’envoi.

The piece is often thought to defy interpretation, but insofar as it addresses questions we have raised, it is partially understandable. 

On his deathbed Kafka told visitors that the reason he gave it a uniquely double title was that the piece should be understood as a “balance.”  Perhaps “teeter-totter” would convey the point better.  For artists and others who play similar roles in society exist only in relation to their publics, and it is this ever-shifting relationship that is the true subject of the story.  The point-of-view of the narration shifts from a narrator who is more than half-uncomprehending to another that reports on Josephine’s point-of view, but also deficiently.[xxiii]

The narrator is an anonymous member of the mouse Volk.  Josephine is the singer of the Volk.  Gesang, song as revelation, can cure the folk, a folk with many cares and under constant threat of imminent death.  The narrator insists that the mice are a practical people, uninterested in things such as Musik.  Josephine’s singing is nothing out of the ordinary.  It is no more than a whistling or piping, Pfeifen.  But all mice can pipe.  Why then does Josephine command such attention?  To the narrator it is a question of nearness; that is, the manner in which the demonic works in men.  Only when you hear her pipe in her presence does she have a profound effect on you. 

Many of the comments of the narrator are wrong or wrongheaded, and many are immediately withdrawn after they are expressed.  This is a kind of balance within the balance.  But, what is established for us is that neither side fully appreciates the other: a pragmatic people always underestimate what is not pragmatic, and artists always exaggerate their own importance.  Whereas the Volk love her as a father loves a beautiful daughter and protect her, she thinks the reverse, i.e., that it is she who protects the Volk. 

Josephine is given over to her own importance in the life of the folk, and resents being loved as a daughter or because she is beautiful.  She wants to be loved for her talent and her service to the community, which is very great.  She even goes on strike, refusing to hit her high notes, and later claims that she should be awarded a pension for injuring one of her legs in her professional capacity. 

Josephine always gives herself to her Gesang.  When she gets going her little breast throbs like the breast of the savior hunter dog in Investigations.  Her songs reduce the folk to silence.  They are under her spell.  She is their mirror; she enunciates their own lives to them.  They even breathe with bashfulness, so serious is her art to them. 

This is Kafka’s final word on the question of ultimate meaning.  Her song has a sort of daimonic power over the folk, a saving power.  It lifts them into a solidarity that is also a personal revelation to each individual member.  Their own pragmatic busyness [Munterkeit] that takes up most of their lives is left behind, and they get to dwell for a moment in another, purer place, the pure place Kafka felt transported to as he plied his art.  This makes them happy, and they honor Josephine for her public service.

From her perspective the success of her performances depends upon the “protection of the good spirits” [nur dem Schutze guter Geister überantwartet] during a performance. 

In the end, in the very end, there is no notion of immortality in Kafka’s set of beliefs, and the story ends with an acceptance that the ecstatic moment is all, and fame, even for the rescuers of mankind, the artists, are fleeting and of little account.  Though man is a striver, and has spiritual needs lower forms of life do not have, he is finite, and even fame dies just as mice and men do.  A spiritual creature in a material world, he is born homeless and is, like the Hunter Gracchus, never able to find rest in this world or in the hereafter.  This is not Faustian, since no one is about to conquer the world, but  Existentialist, in that alienation is never able to be completely overcome.

How fruitful, then, to close with another “parable” that was found in Kafka’s notebooks after his death.

Legend tries to explain the unexplainable; as it comes out of a substratum of truth it must end in the unexplainable.

About Prometheus there are four legends.  According to the first he was held fast in the Caucasus because he had betrayed the gods to mankind, and they sent eagles, who fed on his ever-renewed liver.

According to the second, Prometheus, driven by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.

According to the third his treachery was in the course of millennia forgotten, forgotten by the gods, by the eagles, by himself.

According to the fourth everyone grew tired of the meaningless affair.  The gods grew weary, the eagles.  The wound closed wearily.

The unexplainable mass of rock remained.[xxiv]


[i] This is a confusing question. Brod had gathered several more chapters and parts of chapters into what he published as chapter 18; but the Critical Edition, which follows the holograph, restores the original design, and the place I refer to here begins with Chapter 21 in all later editions.

[ii] Castle, p. 307; Romane, S. 971.  Although in a philosophic vein this may sound like Leibniz’s reasoning in his Theodicy, that would be reaching.  All adults speak in this way to the young from time to time.

[iii] Castle, p. 309; Romane, S. 974.  Translation mine.

[iv] BON, p. 87; KKA – NSFII, Sn. 32-33.

5 BON, pp. 35, 94 (Aphorism #80); p.97 (Aphorism # 106); p.31; and p. 42.  KKA – NSFII, Sn. 130; 139; 2; and 82.

[vi] Diaries, pp. 386 – 387; KKA – T, S. 838.

[vii] Ibid., p. 387; 838.

[viii] CS, p. 291.

[ix] Cf. Paul Raabe, hrsg,, Franz Kakfa. Sämtliche Erzählungen (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1990, S. 334 with Erz., S. 426.  CS has been cited in note 8. 

[x] Brod, in several works on Kafka that he wrote over the years, including a biography, has an interpretation of the Indestructible that reflects his own humanistic and Enlightenment views, which he lards with many references to his own interpretation of Judaism.  This is not what Kafka was about.

[xi] BON, pp. 27, 29, 33, 93, 39, and 20; KKA – NSFII, Sn. 55, 58, 65, 128, 76-77, and 42.

[xii] Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, translated by Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Schocken Books, 1978 [1958]), pp. 332 – 335.  Letter to Brod of July 5, 1922.  Hereafter, Letters; Franz Kafka, Briefe, 1902 – 1924, hrsg. Max Brod (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1980 [1958]), Sn. 382 – 387.

[xiii] Diaries, p. 399, entry of January 16, 1922; KKA – T, Sn. 877 – 878.

[xiv] Milena Jesenská, from a radio address in honor of her lover, Kafka, shortly after his death.  The only text that contains the entire speech in English is found in Margarete Buber-Neumann,  Milena, translated by Ralph Mannheim (New York: Schocken Books, 1988), pp. 72 – 73.

[xv] See, e.g., Gerhard Neumann, “Kafka und die Musik,” in W. Kittler und G. Neumann, hrsgr., Franz Kafka: Schriftverkehr (Freiburg in Breisgau: Rombach, 1990), Sn. 391 – 398.

[xvi] Aphorism Two, BON, pp. 15, 87; KKA – NSFII, S. 32, begins: “All human errors are impatience …” 

[xvii] Aphorism 109*.  BON, pp.54, 98; KKA – NSFII, Sn. 103,140.

[xviii] There actually were hunger artists in the real world. See Breon Mitchell, “Kafka and the Hunger Artist,” in Alan Udoff, ed., Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance. Centenary Readings (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 236 – 255.

[xix] CS, p. 272; Erz., S. 397.

[xx] CS, p. 277; Erz., S. 403.

[xxi] CS, p. 446; Erz., S. 387.

[xxii] CS, pp. 325 – 26; Erz., S. 465 – 66.

[xxiii]  Unfortunately, the great Wilhelm Emrich in his work Franz Kafka. A Critical Study of his Writings, originally published in 1954, the most influential work on all of Kafka for decades, claimed that the point of view of the narrator was objective, and the work an attack upon the world-historical pretensions of artists.  His point about the narrator is incorrect, not only because he contradicts himself again and again, but it also because it contradicts Kafka’s remark about the “balance,” which is obviously true.

[xxiv]  CS, p. 432; BON, p. 36; KKA- NSFII, S. 70.



Works by Kafka in German

Kritische Ausgabe in der Fassung der Handschrift. Various editors. Frankfort am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1982 – 1993.  Cited as KKA.

Nachgelassene Schriften und Fragmente.  Heft II.  Hrsg.  Jost Schillemeit.  1992.  Cited as KKA – NSFII.

Tagebücher.  Hrsger. Hans-Gerd Kach, Michael Müller, und Malcolm Pasley.  1990.  Cited as KKA – T.

Franz Kafka. Briefe 1902 - 1924.  Hrsg. Max Brod.  Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1980. 

Franz Kafka. Die Erzählungen.  Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1996.  [Text as in KKA].

Franz Kafka. Die Romane. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997.  [Text as in KKA].

Franz Kafka.  Sämtliche Erzählungen.  Hrsg. Paul Raabe.  Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1990.


Works by Kafka in English

Franz Kafka. The Blue Octavo Notebooks. Edited by Max Brod.  Translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins.  Cambridge MA: Exact Change, 1991. Cited as BON.

Franz Kafka. The Castle.  Translated with a Preface by Mark Harman. New York: Schocken Books,

Franz Kafka. The Complete Stories.  Edited by Nahum N. Glatzer.  New York: Schocken Books, 1971 [1946]. Cited as CS.

Franz Kafka. Diaries.  Edited by Max Brod.  New York: Schocken Books, 1976 [1948]

Franz Kafka. Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors.  Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.  New York: Schocken Books, 1977.  [This book translates the German edition edited by Brod cited above.] Cites as Briefe.

Other Works Cited

Buber-Neumann, Margarete. Milena.  Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Schocken Books, 1988.

Emrich, Wilhelm.  Franz Kafka. A Critical Study of his Writings.  Translated by Sheema Zeben Buehne.  New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1984 [1968].

Mitchell, Breon. “Kafka and the Hunger Artist,” in Alan Udoff, ed., Franz Kafka and the Contemporary Performance. Centenary Readings.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Neumann, Gerhard.  “Kafka und die Musik,” in W. Kittner and G. Neumann, hrsgr., Franz Kafka: Schriftverkehr.  Freiburg in Breisgau: Rombach, 1990), Sn. 391 – 398.




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