The Ister

I am watching The Ister (David Barison and Daniel Ross, 2004) and thinking of Dickey’s and Boorman’s Deliverance (1970, 1972 respectively). Four modern men travel backwards down a vanishing river, a weekend adventure that turns cruelly ontological, into a heart of darkness that belongs specifically to them. What do they find there? Murder, despair and themselves.

I shall try to teach Philosophy to speak German. Once that is accomplished, it will be infinitely more difficult to give shallowness the appearance of profound thought.

– G.W. Hegel

Perhaps it was Martin Heidegger alone among many pretenders who succeeded in the first matter, but only, according to his adepts, by inverting the terms of Hegel’s famous statement. Profound thought with the appearance of shallowness – that was pious Heidegger’s game. To further the paradox, Heidegger finally intended to silence philosophy: it should no longer speak, neither in German, nor any language, but rather compel thought to listen – to hearken to the song of the world, like that famous dog, head bowed and amazed by “his master’s voice” on the Victrola.

Heidegger was openly hostile to the modern tyranny of the visual – with his peasant affectations, he liked to hear things and he loved to “grasp” them, and finally let them shine in “saying”. The idea that people of the future would try to think Being with a video camera surely would have made him heave. Except in a few unguarded moments, Heidegger tended to think about technology in uncharacteristically platonist and generic terms. The phenomenon of film did not interest him in the least. Two young and brave Australian filmmakers, undaunted by the danger, have made an historic film that does extraordinary justice to Heidegger’s thought during what is, perhaps, his most vulnerable existential moment on the planet.

The Ister is a river journey from the mouth of the Danube in Romania, through the war shattered “former Miss Yugoslavia”, into Hungary, Austria and finally into Germany, to the source of the Danube. The river becomes a perfect staging place for the rich and suggestive effluvial flow of history and landscape, a reading of an obscure poem by a madman named Hölderlin, an evocation of a dense and cryptic meander-commentary on the poem, by Heidegger, and the occasion of a commemorative dialogue by three French philosophers and a blacklisted Prussian artist with the ghost of Martin Heidegger.

You might ask, “what does all this have to do with me…?” That’s an easy one. You’re reading this inevitably, on a computer, and so this locks you into an ancient debt that we all owe.

Stiegler and the Titan of Forgetting

Prometheus, if you will remember, was that revolutionary class traitor, the patron saint of all Marxists, who, in sympathy with our human suffering, stole the means of production from the gods and delivered it to the proletariat. For this he was punished by Zeus’ state police, who used vultures to gnaw at his liver. The grateful humans quickly extrapolated the new art of fire into a magnificent dogma which they called tekhné (art). Soon afterwards, humans used tekhné to create extraordinary ways to murder each other, culminating of course, in that summa of the promethean spirit: The Atomic Bomb. The original idea, much improved, using the most modern methods, and returned with interest. By that time there was no one to receive humanity’s obscure, half-remembered tribute – the old gods were long dead, their capital obliterated by a crash in the stock market around the time of the birth of Christ. Or so the story goes.

Thus far, Prometheus has been the “hero” and protagonist of the western mind. But we only know half the story. How did Prometheus come to defy Zeus and pay such a price?

The first and dominant member of the Ister’s canoe party, Bernard Stiegler, focuses not on Prometheus, but on Epimetheus, his forgotten brother, whose role in our tragic situation has been overlooked. Stiegler, a French philosopher, is an engaging, funny and charming fellow who once “did time” for armed robbery. One could hardly ask for a better Virgil on this journey to the land of the dead. During his time in jail, he became a non-gloomy existential philosopher. He wrote a book called Technics and Time, which puts forth a new conception of the human being specifically in relation to our technological extensions, or to use that old Greek term, tekhné.

Simple Epimetheus was given the task of giving qualities to all the animals in the world. When he came to man, he realised he had distributed all the qualities – he had none left to give man. Suddenly afraid of Zeus’ wrath, he turned to his brother, who decided to give men the stolen arts of tekhné, so that they might use them as an artificial “nature” that would allow them to survive in the world.

How do we mitigate the well-meant but disastrous promethean gift, of which we can only remember attendant sorrows? How do we repay the debt? Even as we still guiltily enjoy the harvest of tekhné at the expense of the world, doubly despising ourselves.

Stiegler describes an accelerating process of technological revolution culminating in a new alienating phenomenon: a dynamism of endless quasi-militarised production, which I’m taking as a globalised and interknot-ready version of Ernst Jünger’s Total Mobilisation idea. This creates a new type of technological time, which Stiegler, following Shakespeare and Phillip K. Dick, calls “Time out of Joint”. This new technological Vertigo requires a new conception of the human: Stiegler tells us that man is the technological animal, whose use of “prostheses”, like the alphabet, the stone axe and the computer, not only defines him ontically, but ontologically. At times, Stiegler seems to be thinking of tekhné as something organic, something that evolves, and is now outstripping us. We are the laggard partner in this co-evolution.

The Ister

There is a lovely quiet shot in The Ister that illustrates this with a poignant bit of “poetised” action, which expresses the aesthetic of the film at its most successful: having just begun the journey, we are in the grip of a real-time sunset gazing off the stern of a boat and the ghosting of its wake. Suddenly, almost without our noticing, a hydrofoil ferry screams by, broadcasting its intense parabolic wake. After a moment, the powerful wake hits our boat, and we begin to rock with it. It is not symbolic – it lacks the discreteness of a symbol. We’re on the site of the famous battle between Balazs and Bazin. A symbol, like Kuleshov’s shot, can contain no time and thus is dependent on an arbitrary context for its meaning.

Heidegger believed that everything that participated in the “true” had some oracular revelation to offer. It is a strange omission that it never occurred to him to think about the “reality” of film. At the very least, he could have used the negative example of a camera to show how machines “platonise” the world. But he might have encountered another possibility – that filmed images exist in a twilight world between forgetting and presencing. When operated correctly, the camera does exactly what a Hölderlin poem, a Greek temple, or a good phenomenological analysis supposedly does – it ushers us into the place of wonder, unmediated by the human. They open the rift between “world” and “earth”.

In his “Ontology of the Photographic Image”, Bazin does not go far enough. He suggests that film best saves being by the scruff of its appearance. “Sauver l’être par l’apparance” (1). Bazin insists on film’s saving grace – that it is essentially “Brechtian”, it approaches being asymptotically, because a perfect rendition of reality would be uninteresting to us. But a film image is not “mere image”; it is also, as pure phenomenon, light itself. In this way, it is as real as “mirror” or “shadow”. The medium is very much the message. The camera itself is a second Nature, it is the thing (phusis) that “brings to light” (phainesthai) the world. This kind of loose talk would enrage Heidegger. So much the better.

In any case, Heidegger’s quaint regard for “poetic” art is more than a little naive. We must take it on Heidegger’s word only that magical logos is not the ultimate platonism. The anti-pythagorean Heidegger loves his words, so he makes them into an equivalent of Plato’s “mathemata”. His post-Auschwitz thinking depends on a willful ignoring of an essential platonist (today we would say verfremdungseffekt) component in all art, and can always be rebutted by a more radical critic; Pascal, who in his Pensées complains: “How vain is painting, which attracts admiration by the resemblance of things, the originals of which we do not admire!” (2) And still beyond Pascal, there is the Talibanist, who, insofar as he despises and bans all images as blasphemies of Creation, is the most rooted heideggerian yet.

Usefully extending Heidegger’s vision of art, The Ister wants to make the argument that “it itself”, despite and because of its technicity, can be a locus and an object of aletheia. But for that to be the case, it cannot merely abstract, represent or symbolise. It must function as the Temple does, making a dwelling for beings, and violently contrast itself from the earth.

This is what Heidegger means when he says that the river in Hölderlin is not a symbol. It is itself, but poetised, inflected in such a way that we can really see the truth it bears for once. The Melburnians were patient and they waited and so were rewarded with this bit of real presence. But this is tricky and very elusive. There is the famous story of John Ford during the She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) shoot, ordering his cinematographer, Winton Hoch, to keep shooting a thunderstorm in dismal light using the photon-hungry three-strip Technicolor process. Hoch balked. Ford insisted. Hoch agreed to take the shot, only after having a witness note that it was formally “under protest”. The shot in question is in the film, a long cavalry procession, headed into a quite real thunderstorm. Of course, Hoch won the best cinematography Academy award that year for that film. Ford wasted no time telling everybody he knew that Hoch had won the Oscar “under protest”. The moral: sometimes you have to “lose the light” to reveal the truth. When it succeeds, this is the essence of The Ister‘s cinematic dichtung. It poetises the real.

Meanwhile, back in the bad old world of total mobilisation, Stiegler sees the human being, in existential terms, as the Guy Pearce character in Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000). He needs the Polaroid and the tattoos to fix his identity, his self, in time. Tekhné is his memory. He has no stable nature outside of his tool-continuity. Now imagine further that every day his camera stops working and he must buy a new one which has a radically different mode of representing reality, learn to use it and record his world. And more baffling and strange, every day he forgets his language and has to use a new language technology to describe his world, and the tattoos on his body are not only clues having to do with his character – his “story” – but also a picture dictionary that allows him to decipher the perpetually meaningless scribbles on his body. That is what the hypertechnological world does to human culture, time and existence.

Stiegler’s argument on the surface seems reasonable and sound to our technological bent minds. He doesn’t push it, but Stiegler hints that this new conception means abandoning our favourite platonic residue: phusis, natura. He asks us “is phusis a phantasm?”

But Stiegler is going a little too fast for me when he jumps from the sandstone arch of Nature to the train of tekhné. Perhaps the poltergeist of Nature will not be exorcised so easily. A bird builds a nest, or the rabbit a burrow, the bee its comb, the beaver a dam, by nature, as Aristotle would say. They feel no vanity in their productions. Is this any less tekhné than the UN building? What anxiety drives us to feel we need to adorn what we do with the special title of “art”? Does this really entail an ontological distinction here? Is it, as Bazin says, only our mummy complex, our need to overcome our consciousness of death? If this is the case, we are living in a veritable catacomb. Nothing but mummies. The mummies and their entourage are crowding out the living.

I will further object in Heidegger’s name: where is logos, the word, in all this? Does language, taken by itself, belong properly to us, or is it a mere “support”? Animals make sounds, but the particular sound of humans is logos. And logos “sounds” Being. Should we not say that logos, rather than tekhné, is our nature? But let me raise the oldest objection to Stiegler’s identification, which is still the strongest, the one which casts the most incandescent light on the difference between nature and art. From the Phaedrus:

If men learn writing, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder (3).

This makes the case quite ambiguous. So who most deserves the title of the “titan of forgetting”? Should we, with Stiegler, malign poor Epimetheus, or is it the fault of Prometheus himself? Many might be surprised to find that Plato himself is such an ardent heideggerian. He predicts the forgetting of being and identifies the culprit, and he didn’t even have to join the Nazi party to figure it out. Like McLuhan says: for every extension there is an amputation. Stiegler’s fine use of the word “prosthesis” contains this idea.

The Ister

Stiegler holds up the example of a glass to show the “artifactual” memorial character of technology. Right now we might use the glass to drink water, but Archaeologists of the future will use it to discover who we were. They of course must proceed by analogy. Because they find the artifact radically decontextualised. So Heidegger might counter that it will be nearly impossible to interpret our modern technology. Remember the scene from Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973). Scientists have been able to interpret most of the artifacts from the past, but some items continue to baffle them. Woody, somewhat maliciously, confirms their most wrong-headed guesses. Imagine a future without electricity, what sense will the artifacts of the late 20th century make? Now if the archaeologists of the near future are going to get confused, what does it say about us, who are both nearer and further to our artifacts.

Stiegler does not shrink from this difficulty. Tekhné actualises a complex relation to the past. Stiegler is on common ground with McLuhan’s Tetrad here. As we choose our tekhné, we choose a past that we “appropriate” or “adopt”. We define as we go. Human life is an endless process of tool-adoption. For his part, Heidegger would refuse to buy this. The old crank was insistent that machine tekhné was essentially different from everything that had come before. For him, Technology adopts us, and not the other way around.

We should be disoriented. It is our birthright, but Barison and Ross are quite good at digging ironies and connections out of the landscape of the film. The Ister is dense with the kind of active synthetic looking of which Chris Marker is the absolute master: a panoptic assemblage that arises as a rondo of images that are introduced fleetingly, and then returned at the proper moment to present their meaning in context. Much of the visual pleasure of the film lies in this constant juxtaposition. So the vanishing of the Ancient world is set amid the ruined Greek colony of Istria almost at the Danube’s mouth in Romania, its story narrated by a Romanian Archaeo-historian who cannily connects its assimilation into the Roman Empire to Romania’s entry into NATO. And so we shall see the ambiguous celebration, a surrealist pageant with Romanians waving small American flags, a billboard with the NATO symbol, and clips on a massive video screen of Bush fils, hand on the Bible, taking the oath of office.

Our current problem is we can hardly invest in any tekhné we are adopting for long enough to acknowledge we are changed by it. It’s hard to see the revelatory “nature” of tekhné. Take the dynamo. It is no different in function from the waterwheel on the old mill. Heidegger likes the homely mill. But the dynamo “understands” one thing that the waterwheel does not. It makes real the electric power in nature. We did not invent electricity. We revealed it. Here is where Heidegger is too rigid in his assessment of tekhné as mere calculative dominance.

That is the lesson of the myth of Tesla and Edison. Edison is the paradigm of the blind pragmatist, making hundreds of bad prototypes to “bottle” light. It is but a short leap from that to “the grid”. Tesla is the Hölderlin of electricity. He is lost in wonder. He lets the current flow through him. Tesla wants light without source. He wants to plug “into” the earth. It is in these two mythic alternatives to our technological being that our “now” destiny resides. Building. Dwelling. Thinking. This is the concern of the later, wintry Heidegger.

Heidegger published Being and Time (Sein und Zeit), an “unfinished” but influential work, in 1927. He died in 1976. The sweatshops of the Heidegger industry are yet open all night, in an endless pageant of interpretation, apology and deconstruction. I cannot really hope to add anything new. According to one’s taste, Heidegger is either the most courageous and “radical” thinker in human history, or the most inept and backward charlatan-muddler. The jury is still out. Perhaps, too, Lafayette Ron Hubbard is the Buddha of the future. Only a fool would dare predict these things. The man is as hidden as the Being he sought to uncover; his life has taken on the cloak of myth: a “new age” Faust. What on earth did he do to deserve all this?

Before we go on – I am of two minds as to the case of Heidegger. If you can avoid him, by all means do so. He is a dangerous waste of time, and much of what he says is vehemently obscure (even to native German speakers) and not at all useful. Why should anyone truck with this fantastic mythmaker? George Steiner, whose entire critical project is deeply and honestly in debt to Heidegger, suggests that we must, even if it costs us more than a little:

One’s judgment as to whether Heidegger’s “thinking of being” is mesmeric bluff, an esoteric variant on long established metaphysical and epistemological motifs, a concealed theology, or a composite of all three, does have real intellectual and political consequences. This is the fascination of the case. But such a judgment can only be arrived at by the individual reader, immersing himself in the texts on a scale far beyond that of this short introduction (4).

This essential ambiguity, which is an inevitable consequence of Heidegger’s cagey style, (as Steiner is correct to point out) is precisely what makes him all things to all people. Unlike Nietzsche, you cannot read him to children. Heidegger means to harry and confuse. That is his method. This is because there are two “Heideggers” really. One tells you what you want to hear, the other its opposite. But if you are sick in your soul, stout in character, and you are irresistibly drawn to a pathology, then you should attempt to travel through Heidegger country, at least once, at least for the decal on your steamer trunk, that veteran of a thousand battles. My consulate issues this travel advisory: it is a country where the signs are wrong, where rivers flow backwards, where the poets, unbanished, are maddened lawgivers, and the natives are primitive, hostile and suspicious. You were warned.

This Mountain World…

Let’s start with a quotation from one of Hölderlin’s letters, which show how primal the mad poet’s thought is to Heidegger.

Purity can only be represented in impurity and if you try to render fineness without coarseness it will appear entirely unnatural and incongruous and this for the good reason that fineness itself, when it occurs, bears the color of the fate (die farbe des schiksaals) in which it arose; and beauty when it appears in reality, necessarily assumes a form from the circumstances under which it emerges which is not natural to it and which only becomes its natural form when it is taken together with precisely the conditions which of necessity gave it the form it has (5).

This high-romantic aesthetic undergirds much of Heidegger’s thought – that objects and qualities are in an almost alchemical manner determined by their context. When we suspect qualities in an object, we are guessing at the “color of the fate in which it arose” and not any fixed, immutable “essence”. Hölderlin is Field Marshal in Heidegger’s war against the ancient heresy of Platonism. Not only can you not step into the same river twice, you cannot really tell where the river ends and the channel begins.

The Romantic doctrine was that there is an infinite striving forward on the part of reality, of the universe around us, that there is something that is infinite, something that is inexhaustible, of which the finite attempts to be the symbol of, but of course cannot (6).

This is Isaiah Berlin’s reduction of the sauce of Romanticism, that charming family recipe we have been passing on for 200 years. Heidegger says that up to now philosophy has been content with “mere” (a favourite word for Heidegger) symbols to describe the inexhaustible; by reducing and classifying (using categories) we have malevolently ordered the world in human terms. To use Heidegger’s last judgment language – we have “forgotten” Being. And this will have consequences.

Furthermore, for Heidegger, it is in the nature of the world that its true structure is generally invisible. We are habitually blind to the subtlety of the world. The shock of recognition comes only when the world somehow “fails” us. When the tool breaks, the body fails, the river floods, or the Trade Centers collapse. Systemic failures cast the world in a new light, and snap us out of the peculiar existential senselessness – the sleepwalk – of reality. If the world is indeed striving towards us, says Heidegger, we must also struggle to meet it half way, but not on our usual “idealist” terms, which inevitably lose the world to us. This is the essence of thinking – to bring the world into presence.

If all this sounds kinda “new age-y”, don’t worry, because it is. But Heidegger says as thinkers, we should never worry about appearing foolish. Clearing the debris of 2000 years of platonist metaphysics is hard, violent, but noble work.

Heidegger is the master of one thing: rhetoric. Listen to the epic terms used to describe his lecture style: “His philosophy of death would surface by way of tranquil and penetrating explanations, rhetorically well constructed” (7). Others would listen spellbound, and describe Heidegger at length building elaborate conceptual castles in the air, only to tear them down a moment later. Destroyer, Sphinx, Riddler. This often left his students baffled and angry, but twice as eager to take another beating. Time and again he denies that he is a philosopher. He has no love for sophia, wisdom. He is after truth, aletheia. For truth one needs to uncover, not create.

Heidegger reverses the traditional conception of thought. Bad “metaphysical” thinking (where the perfect, dry and vampiric ego tries to milk the object of thought dry of meaning) is essentially a delusion where one believes that one is “thinking” things. Good “artisanal” thinking gets “wet” and reverses the conceptual flow – it is reverent, responsive and shamanic. Once Heidegger was able to confide to his son that he could not help his fugues: “It thinks in me.”

Heidegger is defensively contemptuous of “creative” thinkers. He doesn’t want to think “new” thoughts, but have the ancient ones (originary he calls them) arise in him. For this, Kaufmann calls Heidegger the archetype of the exegetical thinker: “The exegetical thinker endows his text with authority, reads his ideas into it, and then gets them back endowed with authority” (8). This is certainly true, but doesn’t quite capture Heidegger’s genius – what is unique about Heidegger is this absurd combination of modest piety and a vicious and humourless arrogance. Take a dour medieval scholastic and cross him with Nietzsche or Schopenhauer and you get pretty close to Heidegger’s strange allure. He is the ultimate roadrunner. His thinking is structured as a tediously elaborate game, laid with ACME-brand booby traps, which are posted, and of our own making. The object of the game is not to get fixed in meaning. The dumbly rationalist coyote always loses because he thinks that the laws of physics hold every time in the world of cartoons. Beep, Beep.

Being and Time

The Ister

Heidegger’s famous bridge to nowhere, Being and Time, was a phenomenological rehash of Nietzsche’s (by way of Spengler) and Kierkegaard’s greatest hits, and an oedipal battle with his mentor Edmund Husserl. But its message was less crucial than its medium. Rhetoric as Philosophy, a catalogue of being-withs, beings-toward, but with a particular quasi-musical form. Think Ornette Coleman style Free-jazz or Indian raga. With this potlatch, Heidegger was explicitly taking the side of the defeated sophists against Plato’s veneration of reason and vision. Since history was written by the victors, it was not to be trusted in essential matters. The original matter had been obscured – and Truth needs a shaman to bring it out.

Heidegger’s brand of existentialism as revealed in Being and Time has a peculiarly grammatological twist to it. Reality is a kind of language for him, and it’s as if he thinks of human beings as verbs (never nouns) embedded in a variety of sentences. That we are under a “sentence of death” is an idea he takes quite literally. These Grammar-Beings have tenses, moods, aspects depending on their relations and contexts. Sometimes they take Death as their object, at other times other parts of speech, objects, or sometimes they become the gerundial object of other human verbs. One’s life is a book compounded of such sentences.

Heidegger was due to publish the second part, when he supposedly found some lipstick trace-elements of “will to power” metaphysics (inherited from Nietzsche, of course) in his own work, and refuses to finish, but leaves the ruined bridge there for others (Sartre and most of modern French philosophy) to jump from. Slavoj Zizek, that arch-cynic, supposes that Heidegger saw he was headed for the hell of total Kantian subjective idealism so he detoured to avoid the problem. But not before jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The Swerve

Heidegger tried to live his Being and Time era philosophy in earnest for about a year, which by sheer coincidence happened to be 1933–1934, where an obscure politician named Adolf Hitler rode the burning imagination of the German people into a thousand year reich of autobahns, moral rearmament, ecology, high culture, and kitsch. In the midst of his crucial moment, Heidegger was on the team, and he was embarrassingly sincere.

This is his speech to the German students on the occasion of the plebiscite of November 12, 1933, on the question of Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations:

The National Socialist revolution is bringing about the total transformation of our German existence (Dasein). In these events it is up to you to remain the ones who always urge on and who are always ready, the ones who never yield and who always grow. Your will to know seeks to experience what is essential, simple, great.

You crave to be exposed to that which besets you most directly and that which imposes upon you the most wide-ranging obligations. Be hard and genuine in your demands. Remain clear and sure in your rejection. Do not pervert the knowledge you have struggled for into a vain, selfish possession. Preserve it as the necessary primal possession of the leader in the völkish professions of the state.

You can be no longer those who merely attend lectures. You are obligated to know and act together in the creation of the future university of the German spirit. Every one of you must first prove and justify each talent and privilege. That will occur through the force of your aggressive involvement in the struggle of the entire Völk for itself.

Let your loyalty and your will to follow be daily and hourly strengthened. Let your courage grow without ceasing so that you will be able to make the sacrifices necessary to save the essence of our Völk and to elevate its inmost strength in the state. Let not propositions and ideas be the rules of your being.

The Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law. Learn to know ever more deeply: from now on every single thing demands decision and every action responsibility (9).

Heil Hitler, etc. Witness the fateful loan of his philosophy, and particularly the concept of Dasein – which had been a rabidly existential “singular” idea – to the National Socialist Workers Party, where it suddenly became plural. Jurgen Habermas puts it this way in his seminal critique: “Heidegger had treated the whole framework of Being and Time without any obvious change up to 1933. Then suddenly he gave it a collectivist turn: Dasein was no longer this poor Kierkegardean-Sartrean individual hanging in the air, in Sorge. Now Dasein was the Dasein of the people, of the Völk” (10). Opportunism, you might say…?

I have quoted the speech in full because it is the only way to get the full zesty smack of Heidegger’s paedo-demagogic style. As rhetoric, this is both utterly crude and fascinating in its bald daring. Heidegger at once flatters the vanity of youth and inflames their desperate need for seriousness, their hunger for meaning. He calls forth the romantic spectre of his philosophy – his peculiar brand of existentialism – and cynically merges it into a call to follow the leader. Become yourself by acting, ACT by giving yourself up to destiny, throw yourself into destiny by understanding the identity of Führer and Reality.

And let’s not forget that Hitler’s endless appeal to his people was a kind of acute Stimmung (mood modality). Remember, the Führer had no “private” life. No concern (Sorge) for his own existence. He said over and over again, and in a different hundred ways: “I feel your pain”. He gave himself over as a virtuoso of schmerz, that song that played in him like the Aeolian harp. Hitler tuned himself to the frequency of Germany’s pain. It was not the Party, not the will of the people, but the ghosts of the suicides of the Depression which sustained him all those bleak rye-bread and water years. All that suffering was not in vain, for Hitler would transform that stored pain into the-thousand-year-Reich itself. He would give it meaning. Campaign Promise number one.

Some have suggested that Heidegger’s sincerity was not all that sincere. After he resigned as rector of the University, one of his fellow teachers ran into him on the street, and said: “Back from Syracuse?” The line memorialises the disastrous time that Plato started a government consulting firm with the tyrant of Syracuse, and barely escaped with his life. It is the phrase that philosophers traditionally use to josh each other when they believe that one of their number has crossed the line into political activity and toadying.

How little they understood you, mon pauvre Heidegger. How best to show that one’s philosophy is not this stony, static entity, that it too inflects itself, changes and responds according to the “color of the fate” around it? In his Rectorate Address, amid swathes of Nazi regalia, Heidegger raved on in a revolutionary vein. Tekhné, or Scientia as he was calling it in those days, had been supplanted by Geschick, Destiny. To fight one’s destiny was not only foolish but impossible. In his Nazi moment, Heidegger experienced an irony latent in Being and Time; that one man’s authentic Dasein is another’s alienated “they-ness”.

After the war, in his own defence, Heidegger claimed that, rather than being the darling of the party, the Nazi infrastructure regarded him with suspicion, and that he was under surveillance by the Gestapo. And it is true that the “official” National Socialist philosophers such as Krieck, Jaensch and Baumler were critical of Heidegger in scathing terms: “…schizophrenic babblings, banalities with the appearance of depth.” He was no better than an idiot. They accused him of metaphysical nihilism. His philosophy was elitist and incomprehensible. He was neither scientific or socialist enough. He was too beholden to Nietzsche. And Krieck would complain sarcastically about Nietzsche: “All in all, Nietzsche was an opponent of socialism, an opponent of nationalism and an opponent of the idea of race. If one overlooks these three intellectual trends he might perhaps have made an outstanding Nazi” (11). Because of his ideological schizophrenia on the matter of Nietzsche, Heidegger’s trip to the major leagues was not to be.

In the background of Heidegger’s candidacy for the Berlin and Munich posts, there circulated an expert opinion by the psychologist Jaensch, a colleague from Heidegger’s time in Marburg. This described Heidegger as a “dangerous schizophrenic” whose writings were just “psychopathological documents”. Heidegger’s writing was essentially Jewish in character, “talmudist-rabbinic” and therefore admired by his Jewish followers (12).

But Heidegger really believed in the movement, and wanted to be a court philosopher. He identified deeply with Hitler. They were brothers, born in the same year, within spitting distance of the Danube, lived the same bitter humiliations, one working in politics, the other in philosophy, but for the same end. In his own shamanic terms, he felt Hitler was also revealing the lost German soul to itself, and thus the destiny of the German people in the world. There was one problem. The Führer, it seemed, had no need of him.

And Heidegger was ultimately ambivalent about losing his way in the cosmopolis. He suspected that the call of being would not reach him there. He needed the power of his rivers and mountains to lead his thinking.

Aesthetic Creep

Beating the retreat, Heidegger goes back to Nietzsche. The return to Nietzsche is psychologically significant. Heidegger, used to a fundamental dogmatism since his days as a Catholic Scholastic, and now as a novice agnostic, was utterly dominated by Nietzsche. But he had absorbed the giant’s ideas originally in a too casual, almost thoughtlessly second-hand way. One can imagine that his Nazi immersion was a little rebellion against Nietzsche, who, even with his notoriously differently-abled sense of reality, would have seen through the Nazi fraud in 30 seconds flat. The Nietzsche seminars seem to have given Heidegger his bearings back. Now he finally assimilated, re-invented and “understood” Nietzsche better than he understood himself. Looking closer, Heidegger now saw the hidden metaphysics obscured in the “will to power”. If Hitler had broken Nietzsche’s spell over him, Hölderlin’s poetics of saying had the power to break them all.

The Turn

We know today that the Anglo-Saxon world of America is determined to annihilate Europe, and that means the homeland that is the beginning (origin) of the West. But the beginning is indestructible. America’s entering this planetary war is not an entering into history but already constitutes the last American act of ahistoricality and self destruction. For this act is the repudiation of what is beginning and a decision for undoing the beginning.

The hidden spirit of the original in the West does not look upon this process of the self-destruction of those without beginnings with contempt, but out of the equanimity (gelassenheit) of the originary it awaits its auspicious hour.

– Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”, 1942 (13)

Clip this out, stick it on cardboard, and you could take it to the next anti-globalisation happening. With what seems like reckless optimism, Heidegger makes an extraordinary claim here, and one that as an American, I cannot help but taking as a compliment: America is a nihilistic singularity, a country without history, beyond morality, etc. We had dug our own grave. It was up to the “spirit of the original” to help us fill it. Americans, simple cretins that we are, thought that Hitler and Imperial Japan were the nihilists that were out to destroy civilisation. Our mistake. Hitler was the bulwark, defending culture and Being against the double technologist assault of Communism and Americanism.

One is tempted to think: poor Heidegger, he’s lost his mind. This sounds like 1933 vintage stuff. Didn’t he know any better than this? Perhaps he did. More curious still, if you read to the end of the lecture, he seems to be completely repudiating this statement. Which is the true lie?

“The Ister” lecture takes place in a highly charged historical moment, and Heidegger is feeling the heat from the heart of the heartless state. The optimism and excitement of the ’30s has faded. Heidegger suspects he is being audited by the Gestapo. Hölderlin seems like a safe choice for a summer lecture in 1942. By the end of the year, Zhukov would have Paulus trapped at Stalingrad, and Rommel would be fighting for his life in Tunisia. And at Wannsee, the fatal climax to the vexing question of the Other who had brought the German people into Being’s threshold, had been decided upon: Endlösung. Heidegger was not physically present in the room, but some of the ideas he had tended and set free were in the air. According to Karl Löwith, Heidegger had told the students at Freiburg: “Instead, Dasein must create its enemy for itself in order that it not remain impassive” (14). If you can “create” your enemy, well, then…surely you can send him back from whence he came.

Carl Schmitt, an influential fascist, emphasised this same battlefield ontology. To meet an enemy on the field of battle is an existential event – because he is “strange” to you, therefore helps “settle” who you are. As Phil Ochs once sang: “I kill, therefore I am.” This is a fairly common idea, that can be found in the anthropology of Levi-Strauss, where more than a few peoples call themselves “the human beings” and their neighbours “the enemy” or worse, and in a more currently relevant fashion in The Cure’s “Killing an Arab”.

The Ister

This brings into relief the most salient feature of the Shoah (often overlooked in commentary, recognised only in an inverse way by the deniers) is the pathological need to hide the evidence of this crime. In other words, if you value the terms of your rhetoric, if you are ridding the world of civilisation’s great enemy, why not proudly build a monument to this monumental achievement?

The Ister quotes Syberberg’s filmic enactment of this crucial secretiveness. In a scene from Hitler: A Film from Germany, Himmler, swearing his underlings to secrecy, says: “It (the Final Solution) has been accomplished, and, I believe I can say, accomplished without harming the souls of our men or our Führer” (15). An extermination carried out with the unique object of avoiding the bloodying of hands and spiritual damage. This is something new in history. The first genocide carried out by “sensitive artists”.

Can we imagine the Romans feeling this delicate when they overran an Iberian village? “Death for the men and slavery and rape for the women” was the essence of Roman civilisation. Can you conceive the Achaean host wincing when Hector’s infant child was hurled from the walls? Or Chivington’s US Cavalry massacring at Sand Creek? They weren’t existentialists.

How can you murder someone, in a way that they don’t die.
I didn’t want to kill him, that would be suicide.

– Loudon Wainwright III, “Surviving Twin” (16)

Is this, then, the existential fallacy? If you recognise that your enemy-other has brought you into being, an unpayable debt is created, how do you ever thank it without bringing a fatal dependency into the light?

The Nazis’ relentless racist biologism comes out of this attempt to paper over that existential fallacy. It is a necessary consequence of the existential nature of the German-Jewish predicament. Merely applying the Dasein analytic to a nation (as Heidegger and others did) gives you the worst kind of racism. I don’t quite understand how Heidegger can logically repudiate Nazist racism without seeing it as an existential phenomenon. He cannot blame metaphysics, here. It’s not some platonic form. There is no “ideal German” or “ideal Jew” floating up in outer space, right?

Heidegger, blindly following his philosophy, thought that German Dasein would only arise out of conflict with enemies without other nations, discrete entities. But Hitler knew better. Blitzkrieg would take care of them. The real threat to the Völk was closer to home. Hitler was more heideggerian than Heidegger. The final solution is Hitler’s political reading of Being and Time.

“It’s us or them!!” Hitler was always screaming. These statements have rarely been taken ontologically, always focusing on the hazy monetarist fictions of Jewish banking conspiracies. What is unique about the Nazi scam is how integral existential thinking is to its ideas. Having “the Jew” or “the Communist” in your midst precipitates an existential opportunity and a crisis. If the Nazis saw their enemy in a “simple” way, as the Romans did, then the problem of conquering and assimilating (in the case of the German Jews) an extremely willing minority to the larger culture quickly vanishes. But that does nothing for the Dasein of a nation. That is just existential muddling.

Spengler once wrote the post-human credo:

Man as such, in the sense of the blabbering philosophers, does not exist. There exist only men of a determinate time, in a determined place, of a determined race, with personal characteristics, men who rise or fall in the struggle against a given world, while the whole universe around them remains still, in god-like indifference (17).

What if there were a people that supposedly violated this idea with its very nature, history and philosophy? The exception that proves the rule. Wouldn’t that throw a wrench in the works of human destiny? The “International Jew” is what the rabid wheelmaker Ford called this creature. George Steiner takes this idea existentially in his essay “Our Homeland, The Text”. This being without national spirit, the eternal witness, the existential cosmopolitan, whose essence is not in the intangible fictions of Heimat, but in the real presences of Torah scroll and tabernacle that he carries with him. For Steiner, the Jews’ Dasein is to remain eternally Other. We come then to two immovable objects of chosenness. The Existential German Dasein which wants to be the Nation of Nations, and the God-hounded Dasein of “Israel”, which says there is no Nation but God. An untenable situation.

Afterwards

Heidegger’s brother-shaman shot himself and his new bride in the Führerbunker in May of 1945. As exalted examples of “standing reserve”, the bodies were doused in gasoline and set afire. We’ve been huffing that gas for kicks ever since. Heidegger was baffled – his prophecy of the advent of Being had not come to pass. Had he misheard its call? Like any prophet disappointed by history, he had to find the precise reason the gospel was delayed. Some sin or error had crept into the scheme without his noticing. He would try to make to sure the sin was not his.

Heidegger found the spectacle of de-Nazification horrifying. He would not cut his conscience to fit the fashion of the times. After preaching for years the idea of decisive resolution, of throwing oneself into authentic Dasein, he would not make a mockery of the idea by licking the Allied boot with glee. As he writes to Marcuse: “…a confession after 1945 was impossible for me, because the Nazi partisans announced their change of allegiance in the most loathsome way; and I however had nothing in common with them” (18). This much is clear: he is not a “sunshine” Nazi, but at the same time he has nothing in common with “them”. One is reminded of Winifred Wagner’s acid observation in Syberberg’s film (19) that she was the only person left in Germany who would “confess” that she was a Nazi. Heidegger’s little derridance of equivocation would have made her laugh.

Heidegger once said privately that he would express remorse about his Nazism, if and when Hitler came back and apologised to him. Why? I think it bothered him profoundly that Hitler had committed suicide, which to Heidegger was tantamount to turning his back on Being. Heidegger was left holding sheepishly the bag filled with his speeches of 1933, and suddenly that thing (the person of Adolf Hitler) that gave it all meaning and context, had become invisible, lost in the woodwork of Being.

And of course, from his eternally supple point of view, Heidegger was right. Why should he apologise? He had warned against the double danger of Communist and American aggression, and there it was. The heart – the home, the soul – of Europe, of being itself, tragi-comically split between the two barbaric “technological” powers.

The Allies’ division of Germany, which so pained Heidegger, served to create a dangerous and secret myth, that Germany whole, indivisible, is not something that can be reckoned with – an idea ripe for future madness. Meanwhile, Heidegger would cast himself not as Antigone, but as a Cassandra. In his later view, the Nazis rejected him, putting their faith in technology and wonder weapons, and went to their doom by rejecting the “spiritual truth” of National Socialism.

“From now on, every single thing demands decision and every action responsibility.” These careless words to the students would blow back in the wind to haunt him, and he wasted no time in trying to shift the blame. “Someone else’s fault” is a shockingly recurrent theme in Heidegger’s life. Suddenly, the rectorship was thrust upon him, as if he were a common ordinary das-man, a functionary in the great cog of the university, and who, to gild the lily, was also trying to preserve its individuality and save something of its “essence” in the face of the Nazi takeover. Do you have Kleenex at your side? It’s hard not to weep at this display of nobility.

Karl Jaspers, an estranged colleague and friend, testified that Heidegger was always dangerous, and even more so in this crucial post-war period where impressionable minds needed to be weaned away from the fascist magic:

Heidegger’s mode of thinking, which seems to me fundamentally unfree, dictatorial and uncommunicative, would have a very damaging effect on students at the present time…Until such time as a genuine rebirth takes place within him, and is seen to be at work within him, I think it would be quite wrong to turn such a teacher loose on the young people of today, who are psychologically extremely vulnerable (20).

Jaspers seems to be describing a fiendish cult leader, a mesmeric “lowercase h” hitler, not a harmless philosopher. Heidegger’s personal charisma is perhaps the hardest aspect to glean only from his writings. The cultish features of the rhetoric, the repetitions, the hammerings, the labyrinthine twists, the violent banalities, are all there like death-stones in an old church, but there must have been something else. Maybe it was the killer baby-blues. After all he’d seen, he never tore those out of his head…

What a Bridge Means

Moving further spatially upriver, and in the same way in Time, the alien Roman empire comes to the Ister with its program of civilisation through tekhné and Trajan builds a bridge to facilitate the subjection of the Dacian natives. Their King, Decebalus, agrees to a treaty, but soon goes on an offensive he cannot win. He cuts his throat so the Romans cannot parade him as a symbol of incorporation. So to spite him, Trajan has his head cut off and sets it on the bridge as a garnish, for all to see. So just as the bridge begins to make the river invisible, the skull of Decebalus over time begins to make the bridge invisible, and eventually it too becomes a ruin. And the filmmakers then show us a wonder, the rebel king, but with his head now re-attached by the monumentalising power of Art. This sequence introduces in the most dramatic way possible, the two central tekhné images of the film, which will be replayed in countless forms: The Bridge and the Monument.

The bridge makes us forget. The monument demands we remember.

We drive on upriver to Novi Sad. It is a town with a bridge problem. The city’s three bridges across the Danube, were destroyed during the laudable NATO humanitarian bombing campaign of 1999, “Operation Bubba Lightnin’”.

…when men gathered in communities they injured one another for lack of political skill, and so scattered again and continued to be devoured. Zeus, fearing the total destruction of our species, sent Hermes to give to men the qualities of respect for others and a sense of justice, so as to bring order into our cities and create a bond of friendship and union.

– Plato, Protagoras (21)

Towards the end of the 20th century, whenever we needed to reinforce these eternal values, we sent not swift Hermes, but his surrogate – the Tomahawk missile, which possesses capacities for revelation undreamed by the old Greeks.

Early on in Being and Time, Heidegger introduces a deceptively simple idea that takes on a profound resonance in his thinking. You could almost say the rest of Heidegger is the brutal repetition and exercise of this antinomy until we see it inflected in every possible context. Being, he says, comes in two basic modes, and he explains them in a celebrated (at least by drunken heideggerians) example, which is called somewhat deceptively “the tool analysis”. Heidegger’s unfortunate choice of homely metaphor in this case backfires, and makes the idea less clear than it ought to be. There are a bunch of people walking around the world who think that the “tool analysis” applies only to manipulable objects, or worse, just to tools. Listen…

Suppose you are fortunate in having a wife. She is beautiful, kind and filled with qualities that you like and admire. You are many years married, and you have settled into a profound routine. Without noticing it, your thoughts about her, on those occasions when you think of her at all, have begun to wear paths in your mind. You think of her as an equipment for occasional carnality, the mother of your children, the laundress of your socks, or as someone to listen to your tedious little stories about work. And she thinks, with exceptions for bourgeois gender mores, the same of you. In a way, in this unitary mode of being, having integrated her into you, you have “become” your “wife”.

One day, you discover, in the most candid way imaginable, that she’s having an affair with your “best friend”. What happens in that moment? Your wife suddenly appears in her full radiance, in the mysterious and defiant character of the person that you courted with violence and abandon back in the day. This in itself is remarkable. But what else? Your “best friend” who you were in the habit of regarding as mere Equipment-to-watch-the-Super-Bowl-with suddenly acquires some parallel radiance of his own, and the bed which you once saw as a vehicle for intimacies and whispers of all kinds, now seems radiantly sordid, and you can taste the colour of the carpet on the stairs you ascended the moment before, and the dress you bought her on that summer trip to Italy, which is now bundled at your feet, and also notice your hands which are blazing hot and itching for murder, and over on the dresser both you and your wife look with horror at the framed photograph of your smiling children, seeing them as if for the first time, and so on ad infinitum depending on the range and wealth of your imagination. This is the world worlding you.

In the first instance, Heidegger would say the old lady is Zuhanden, or “Ready-to-hand”, and once your little world had crumbled around you, she would be Vorhanden, or “Present-at-hand”. Each has its virtues. Congratulations, buddy, you’ve broken through to the secret heart of Being.

ZUHANDENHEIT
CONCERNFUL UTENSILITY
“Ready-to-hand”
VORHANDENHEIT
DEFIANT RADIANCE
“Present-at-hand”

What strikes one immediately about the “tool analysis” when taken out of its hardware store context, is that this is exactly how somebody with an aggressively malignant narcissism (think OJ Simpson or your average movie star) sees the world. It’s a sociopath’s idea of Other Relations, and an unforgiving dualism. People and Objects are either invisible equipment for your will, or, insofar as they have something of their own, they are in your way, a fundamental existential obstacle.

The downed bridges of Novi Sad provide another evocative example of the two modes of being. When the bridges were extant, they were invisible both to the people who used them to travel back and forth over the Danube, and to the Istrian sailors who travelled obliviously under them to deliver their cargo. The NATO targeting command, by selecting them for humanitarian destruction for still obscure reasons, gave them, in effect, a brief new lease on life, as the people of Novi Sad suddenly flocked to the bridges in a futile attempt to celebrate them as nationalist symbols of civic pride before the sinister Tomahawks blew them, with some unexpected difficulty, into memory. For this selfless act of revelation, the trigger-happy minions of Wesley Clark were branded by the ungrateful locals as NATO “criminal aggressors”.

Once down, the bridges became Vorhanden to everybody, especially to Noam Chomsky and the European countries that now depended on the bottlenecked barges on both sides of the mess. In addition, the Kaiser canal, forgotten since the days of Gavril Prinzip, momentarily became Vorhanden, as it was the only way for cargo to bypass the wrecks. As any good Dalmatian gangster would, Milosevic hurried to use the traffic impasse as a way to blackmail some hard currency out of the West and punish his neighbours for sucking up to NATO.

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Foundation of the “Gestapolis”

The Ister

Every foundational act of a polis requires a legitimisation of some type. In the mythological age, cultures would buttress their mundane evolution with a god-founder (or several) who was the source of the goodness of the civilisation. Democracies were a more dicey affair. Because men have a false humility, an insecurity, where their own works are concerned, such governments require the pretence of a self-legitimation. Our fellow canoeer, Jean-Luc Nancy, famed connoisseur and exegete of the literature of Fascism, tells us so. “The West begins with the long line of people who commit tyrannicide: the tyrannicide-hero.” The one “who says I am legitimate because I have killed the tyrant” (22).

All revolution seems to follow this template, but one. Nazism is the absolute inversion of this Western thesis. Hitler is the hero “as” tyrant, who comes to slay not another tyrant, but democracy itself, but paradoxically – in the name of the people themselves. But let’s leave the particular case of the Gestapolis aside for a moment to follow the argument further upriver.

Meanwhile, in the polis of the demos, Justice becomes the measure of all things. State power is legitimate as long as it participates in diké, or justice. And what form must this Justice take: “Hermes asked Zeus in what manner he was to bestow these gifts on men…Zeus responded: ‘To all. Let all have their share. There could never be cities if only a few shared in these virtues, as is the case with the arts. Moreover you must lay it down as my law, that if anyone is incapable of acquiring his share of respect and justice, he shall be put to death as a plague to the city’” (23).

There is an essentially conservative ethos hidden in this myth. All-seeing Zeus draws a hard line between tekhné (the arts) and the political virtues (meagre but equal) of Justice and Respect. The “revolutionary”, the one who demands a larger portion of justice and respect for his own, is thus the plague of the city.

Barison and Ross take us to Dunaujvaros, a Hungarian city created in 1949 out of nothing on the banks of the Danube, which presents us with something that would have been unfathomable to Zeus. A city founded by revolutionaries, whose raison d’être is a steel works, a massive imitation of Heiphaistos’ shop in the bowels of Olympus. This city reverses the god’s dictum: the arts (the means of production) belong to all, and Justice belongs only to the State.

Nancy: “What does tekhné mean? It means knowing how to obtain from phusis, nature, what it does not offer of itself” (24).

Knowing in the biblical sense, that is, the Rape of Nature. Heidegger once naively believed in this violence too. Like Hitler, he was in love with old Heraclitus’ saying that Strife (polemos) is the father of all things. In Heidegger’s contribution to the militarisation of the Reich, his Introduction to Metaphysics, he rants on in the mode of the Futurist Marinetti, setting siege to metaphysics in the name of Being. Violence is uncovered as a philosophical principle. The Veil of Metaphysics must prepare for Blitzkrieg. It is this fundamental fury that has been lost in the tepid modern term, deconstruction.

As the ’30s grind on, under the influence of Hölderlin, Heidegger overthrows his own corrupt definition of tekhné as Scientia, and begins to revive the old Greek “crafty” idea of tekhné as Art. Art then becomes the “ideal” of the places where Truth alights. An idea whose “time” had come. And one very consonant with the “artistic” pretensions of the National Socialist regime. Goebbels thought of politicians as the highest form of artist. The inevitable corollary is something unique in history – the state as Gesamtkunstwerk. The polis as a locus of Art, not even for the sake or its people, or of justice, but for its own sake: The Gestapolis. This is, of course, the central idea in Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitlerfilm.

Syberberg’s expressive reading of Nazism consists of a simple technique. He does what others are reluctant to do: he takes Hitler and the rest seriously. He admits that these ideas have power, for they are connected to deep longings. People at every level participated in the National Socialist phenomenon as a “truth event”, that is to say, a tragedy without masks, which is wholly congruent with Heidegger’s conception of Art. With music by Wagner, conducted by Fürtwangler, the words of Hölderlin, exhortations by Heidegger, plebiscites by the German Masses, mise en scène by Riefenstahl, costumes by Himmler, sets by Todt and Speer, and adapted from Mein Kampf and The International Jew by Henry Ford.

We might even wonder whether he did not merely organize Nuremberg for Leni Riefenstahl, as certain elements lead us to suppose, and taking the argument a little further, whether the whole of the Second World War…was not indeed conducted as a big budget war film, solely put on so it could be projected as newsreel, so it could be projected as newsreel each evening in his bunker…the artistic organization of these mass ceremonies, recorded on celluloid, and even the organization of the final collapse, were part of the overall programme of this movement (25).

Some were able to see through the tinsel. Remember Spengler’s bitchy response to the rise of Hitler: “Germany needs a hero, not a heroic tenor.” Heidegger later insisted that he never read Mein Kampf. Some believe him. It’s hard for me to swallow that someone who searches out and find textual clues to being in nearly everything, wouldn’t be intrigued by Hitler’s use of language. He probably never heard Hitler talk on the radio either. If that is the case, his performance in 1933, his profound historical/hysterical consciousness of the founding act of the Gestapolis is even more remarkable. He knew the aria from start to finish. We don’t often know what Being brings, but Heidegger did, and he was freed from indeterminacy for one giddy season.

Eleven years later (and it all went by so fast), Heidegger found himself labelled “not essential” (Being’s little joke at his expense) to the Reich, and marching in the winter mud (1944 vintage) with the little kids and other geezers in the Völkssturm to make a last stand against Leclerc’s Shermans. Whenever I feel too cross with Heidegger, I like to think of him like this, with a heavy woollen coat, Mauser rifle in hand, trying to keep left straight from right, and hearken to being and his Sergeant at the same time.

“Everything great stands in the storm”, Heidegger had promised the University in 1933. Hurricane Hitler was winding down. The ruin of the “world’s greatest artwork™” and the pitiful kathartic spectacle of a “good man brought to ruin” through hubris, and despite the beautiful sacrifice of an entire people’s desperate struggle to continue the show, under a barrage of bombs and insults from its protagonist, made one thing certain after the smoke had cleared. The German people had failed their Führer.

Muthos vs Logos

In order to proceed up the river, we must now accept something that seems at least on the level of common sense, quite hard to take. This is the transformation of the naming power of logos, which was once understood as our human nature, becoming identified with the arrival of certain tekhné, such as navigation, writing and counting. This mis-taking of appearance for essence, which Plato warned us about, creates a new epoch. The brave new world of this new monstrous hybrid tekhné/logos, which, according to Jean-Luc Nancy, lays waste to the old world of myth, results in a split where tekhné shears away from Nature. This ruthless dialectic severance has existential consequences.

Stiegler:

The animal, the zebra, the gazelle of which I spoke a moment ago, the cow, the lion, they have no question to pose concerning ‘Who are we?’ It’s not a question for an animal. But for man, it’s an eternal question. Who are we? Should we develop computers? Should we land on the moon? Raze that forest? Build that dam on Hölderlin’s river? Should we do that? Technics is the question (26).

Stiegler’s conception of tekhné as our posing, questioning self is perhaps more ideal than our experience teaches. If these questions are asked at all, they are rhetorical. We live in a world of dominated by a technological imperative: If something can be done, it invariably means, it will be done. This is perhaps what pious Heidegger means when he says that technology is now the deciding power that answers the question of Being: why there is something rather than nothing.

Thanks to Epimetheus’ or Prometheus’ blunder, the human is supposedly without qualities. We are forever undecided. Our “nature” is always in question. This is what Javier Zubiri calls humanity’s “open essence”. Zubiri ties this to the mystery of our freedom and the deeper and most mysterious dynamism of reality itself. As soon as philosophers successfully “lock down” our essence, reality itself seems to rebel, and mental barbarities (if one is merely lucky) ensue.

Heidegger stumbled mightily around this dialectic of Being and Essence but at some point had to historically freeze-dry our essence too. As soon as he did, he was presented with the bitter question of Technology. Now we in our turn choose to inherit the question of Heidegger’s futural past. It seems to be a fate that philosophy is always solving the leftover problems of the previous generation. Ideas that once flowed incandescent like lava are passed on as blocks of lifeless basalt. Why does this happen again and again? If Philosophy is worth anything, it should solve that mystery.

Lacoue-Labarthe and the Unfathomable “Word” of Bremen

Just after the intermission, after 102 minutes getting well and deep into the ground of “The Ister” lecture, and as the river journey moves into Austria, Barison and Ross query the chain-smoking French philosopher, Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, about what they describe as “Heidegger’s most provocative statement concerning technology”. This serves as the film’s cunning introduction to Heidegger’s Nazism.

Here is the quote:

Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, in essence the same as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination camps, the same thing as the blockade and starvation of the countryside, the same as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs (27).

Post-heideggerians speak of his “unfortunate” “lapse”, and the regrettable crudity of his formulation, but for me this is the essence of how Heidegger thinks; perhaps his children do not like to see it so nakedly. And it has always struck me as absurd that their attempt to fumigate Heidegger from his Nazism is truly, profoundly un-heideggerian. The idea that his philosophy is somehow distinct from its nasty time would find Heidegger’s ghost chuckling.

The Ister

Lacoue-Labarthe, after suggesting that on its surface the statement is “absolutely scandalous”, then reads the statement as expressing Heidegger’s response to a new technological way of process-killing without being implicated. Since machines or processes do the “work”, no or few men are used.

The vertigo induced by this sequence is manipulated by a disturbing stylistic choice made by Barison and Ross. As they approach the Mathausen camp, they begin to flash the images in a constant pulse of fades-to-white. The intention is unclear. Why “fog” these images of the death chambers in particular? I can’t really decide. Are we headed into morally foggy territory, or are they falling into symbolism, trying to “represent” something they are ambivalent about representing. It’s the one moment that seemed to me like a betrayal of the premise that philosophy can be done with a camera. This section is “philosophy” with Final Cut Pro.

Lacoue-Labarthe refers to the Himmler passage I quoted earlier in the Syberberg Film. Himmler acknowledges the enormity of the task they have been assigned, but says that those with this duty will be given the resources to carry it out. And thus, their souls are to be left spotless. As I was watching this, and following this feeble “deconstruction” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Lacoue-Labarthe hasn’t even bothered to dance-remix his ideas from La Fiction du politique.

Heidegger’s basic premise fails to draw even the slightest questioning from Lacoue-Labarthe. Of course, it’s a “machine process”, blah, blah, blah. So clean, so rational, such a consequence of the bad old Enlightenment. All the while ignoring the sick genius of the Nazi extermination scheme: THE INMATES DO THE LABOUR!! They build the Lager, they lead the doomed to the gas chambers, they clean the chambers, and work the crematoria, and dispose of the bodies. It is only a “machine” process, if you persist in thinking of the people as machines or as negligible.

Lacoue-Labarthe himself commits this Freudian slip when he tells us that “Stalin still had to use men. Hitler, ultimately can dispense with them, except for organizing the convoys, the trains, the communications, the logistics, constructing the gas chambers, and the faux-abattoirs to eliminate the bodies” (28). Remember the line from Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be (1942): “We do the concentrating and the Poles do the camping.” (Or the “Kampfing…”). Lacoue-Labarthe, perhaps unconsciously, uses the same mental dichotomy as Concentration-Camp Erhardt and Himmler: The Master Race does the organisational – the “brain” work – and the rest is nebulously left to the mysterious inhuman “body” – the machine. Lacoue-Labarthe makes the inmate labour of Auschwitz zuhanden. Heidegger, too, asks us to learn to see these victims of Nazism as equipment, as a werkzeug that helped the German people essence into it-self.

“Arbeit Macht Frei” was the legend at Auschwitz. Why is that specifically on the gate? Technically, it is a vicious lie; one of many at the camps. Just as the showers made no one clean, Work made no one free at Auschwitz. But it also the most important “idea” – the motivational force that maintained the false glimmer of hope necessary for the extermination to proceed. The camp was built on these lies, lies that one had to both accept and reject at the same time to remain sane. That is the very meaning of Orwell’s term “double-think”. I don’t know of a single machine that runs on lies. Therefore the death camp is a polis of death, and it’s the necessary companion to the Gestapolis. No big surprise here. If the polis is where the “truth” comes to dwell, there must be a comparable place for lies.

What Lacoue-Labarthe finds objectionable about Heidegger’s statement is the equivalence of three incommensurables: The Shoah, the blockade and starvation of the German countryside in the years after the war, and the production of Hydrogen Bombs.

Here, Lacoue-Labarthe, too slavishly following the Himmler/Heidegger thought thus can only condemn, not the heart of the idea, but its particular expression or rhetorical form. As if he were not deeply enough into la merde, he then makes this additional statement: “I don’t want to stupidly accuse Heidegger of being a Nazi, etc – obviously, he wasn’t the only one – and politically, up to a certain point, it’s as much a mistake to have been a Stalinist, or in my case a Leninist, or even a Trotskyist” (29). Am I wrong to point out that this is exactly the same “comparison of incommensurables” gambit that Lacoue-Labarthe just condemned Heidegger for using? The fault here is the habit of mind, the addiction of these people (the Derrida axis) to equivocation for its own sake. Dialectical banality. This endless equivocation has the character of a disease. There are times when it is immoral to do so. And this might be one of those times. I’m certain that their tendency to focus on this particular line is nothing but a clever misdirection.

Here is another less “famous” but more interestingly lucid quote where Heidegger references the death camps:

Hundreds of thousands die in masse. Do they die? They perish. They are cut down. They become items of material available for the manufacture of corpses. Do they die? Hardly noticed, they are liquidated in extermination camps. And even apart from that, in China millions now perish of hunger (30).

Occurring in both passages, this chilling and heartless phrase, “the production (or manufacture) of corpses” – tells us Heidegger conceives the extermination camps essentially as a specific kind of techno-abattoir; Of necessity, Dasein does not go there to “die”, no one would choose to die under such conditions – it is the place for “human” cattle. A “perishing” is not a death. It does not satisfy the Master’s criteria. It does not engage being. Once more, with feeling:

How can you murder someone, in a way that they don’t die.
I didn’t want to kill him, that would be suicide.

– Loudon Wainwright III, “Surviving Twin”

Auschwitz is a machine where human-machines are inserted so as to produce corpses. Heidegger often tends to think in a magical manner about machines. When he talks so loosely, one is tempted to think that he has no idea how they really work. They are just his all-purpose metaphor for maximal efficiency, and thus the inevitable consequence of 2000 years of metaphysical thinking. Trans-Europe Express Plato-Auschwitz, no detours and no stops in between. There’s no need to worry about ready-to-hand details like the “insecticide” Zyklon B, the Kapos, or the screams of terror, and naked people trampling each other in a final crush. These are incidental details – extermination is “essentially” a “machine” process. That’s all we need to know about it.

This is undoubtedly a denial of the very mortality (in the heideggerian sense) of the victims of Nazi Germany. Heidegger has no way in his thinking to meaningfully discuss the death (and more germanely, the murder) of others. Two words which represent a moral chasm: Sterben (To Die) and Verenden (To Perish). Heidegger uses Verenden to suggest that Death itself (the supposed guarantor of existential liberty in Being and Time) has become corrupt, in its essence has become a technological process. Hence his repetition of the phrase “Do they die?” Which must be answered with a no, for Heidegger. But if that is the case, what on earth does “existentialism” mean? No one can die/murder for me, unless there is a technology involved, in which case, I perish/get away with it? And what if we ask the question, did Hitler, in his turn, successfully “die” or did he too, perish? What then would Heidegger answer?

To desire from Heidegger a conventional humanist response in this instance is to completely misunderstand the brutal and ugly nature of his philosophy. What is Heidegger to do? – his hands are tied by his higher understanding of the technological advent. It is as if he is shrugging thus: “Blame Plato, I tried to warn you this would happen.” It is at moments like this that Heidegger’s dogged insistence on revealing the essence of things seems to fail us. Aren’t we missing something “essential” here in this relentless and perverse essentialising? This is the paradox of Heidegger’s analytic. The Devil is the platonic details. But he is surely hiding in the essence of things too.

But a reader of the two (above) passages who was unaware that Heidegger had written them after living through – in – the twelve years of Nazi rule might reasonably infer that their author had inhabited a distant land in another age, that he possessed at most second or third hand knowledge of events he refers to, and that because of this he would care only academically about their histories (31).

Berel Lang is dead-on here. The Heidegger of 1949 is not the Heidegger of 1933 or even 1942. He is living in a different age and time – a different cosmos – and Being and Time‘s non-continuous conception of the Subject gives him the license to do so. Think Chris Nolan’s Memento, again. Now turn that into an ethical system. In Heidegger, one’s “duty” is only to have an “authentic” response to one’s time. If a Hitler happens to enter your historical frame, one can hardly help that. Doesn’t Heidegger have a vested interest in not looking too closely at these matters? Isn’t this one moment where Heidegger should try at least to live his lived past? For me, here’s where the whole thing starts seeming like a second-rate Phillip K. Dick novel: it’s as if he built himself a time machine back in 1927 with Being and Time, that he knew he would have to use in 1946 to get himself back to the future, where the post-heideggerians could find instructions and a concept of time that would help him escape responsibility. Uncanny, isn’t it?

The Missing Antigone

Perhaps, there is a missing hour in The Ister. The filmmakers seem unable (perhaps for practical reasons of length alone) to address what is really the obscure heart of Heidegger’s lecture: the meaning of Antigone for the Polis. In the film, Antigone makes only a brief appearance in the figure of Agnes Bernauer, drowned in the Danube in 1435 on the orders of her father-in-law, the local duke. A nice local legend turned into a Hegelian parable of state power. But the story is a little too prosaic for my taste, worlds away from the kind of Antigone that Heidegger has in mind. In his 1942 lecture, Heidegger devotes a long reading to a famous first line from the absurdly named “ode to man” chorus of Antigone:

Πολλα τα δεινα, κ΄ουδεν ανθροπου δεινοτερον πελει

Polla ta deina, k’ouden anthropou deinoteron pelei.

Many the Dreads, but not one more Dreadful than Man (32).

What follows in Sophocles is a catalog of man’s unfrightened mastery first over land and storms of sea, taking the beasts that are found there with his snares, and finally taming them and putting them to work with his machines and arts. The human is deinos because he knows no master on earth. So the dominant image of the first section of the ode is fleeing – man’s ability to flee all his fates but one: Death.

I won’t waste a word on Heidegger’s infamous translations. In his hands, Sophocles’ harsh asymmetric fatalisms turn into weird new age affirmations. Heidegger translates deinos in his own peculiar way as unheimlich, uncanny, and deinoteron as most uncanny. This allows him to interplay unheimlich with unheimich, unhomely, which is the word he wants to get to, anyway. Then he tells us that among the most uncanny, there is one who is herself “the most uncanny” of all – Antigone.

The most uncanny, and thus the most unhomely. Perhaps it is the cult of individuality and advertising (Just Do It, Antigone!) that hides her, but today, it’s hard to read Antigone and see how she is deinos in the way Heidegger intends.

What is an Antigone? It’s a being whose nature is so foreign to the Polis that the place is rocked to the foundation. To “be” in the fullest sense of the word for Heidegger is to radiate with such determination that the world gives way around one, and is forever altered. A willing-to-be Vorhanden rather than Zuhanden. Not just passively wearing “the color of the fate in which we arose”, but changing the colour of the fate around us. Integration through opposition. The integration doesn’t have to be tragic. That depends of the individual’s sense of home.

“The Ister” lecture is notably the site of another one of Heidegger’s conditional, contextual definitions of Being:

Being is not some thing that is actual but that which determines what is actual in its potential for being, and determines especially for human beings the potential; that potentiality for being in which the being of humans is fulfilled: being unhomely in becoming homely (33).

Being unhomely in becoming homely; what does this “antigonal” quality mean?

At a certain point towards the end of the film, Stiegler mentions in passing that while he was Husserl’s assistant, Heidegger was writing Being and Time as he is editing Husserl’s own thought in association with an “Edith Stein”. I thought for a moment: “Aha…I know where this is going.” But having raised this ghostly presence, there is no further mention of her. A brief digression for the fable of Husserl’s two assistants.

Born on the day of Yom Kippur to a devout Jewish family of Breslau, Edith Stein was by all accounts one of the most brilliant women of her time. Husserl was extremely fond of her, calling her the best doctoral candidate he had ever known. When he became a professor at Freiburg, Stein became his assistant. In this capacity, she edited Husserl’s works for publication. Having precociously declared herself as an atheist at the age of 15, Stein was increasingly drawn to the circle of Christianised Jews around Husserl.

Whereas the sexton’s son, Heidegger, had decided that the life of philosophy was incompatible with the dogmatic system of the Church, Stein was led by phenomenological study to God. And unlike Rosenzweig, whose own Star of Redemption (34) fixed the Jew centrally and magnificently inside the Christian cosmos, and resolved him with the extraordinary heart-cry: “Therefore, I remain a Jew!”, Edith Stein became a Catholic convert, but unlike most Conversos of her time, she did not banish her Jewishness. To the contrary, she became more emphatic in her identification as a Jew. She saw herself as doubly bound to Christ – by faith and by blood.

Edith Stein’s conviction that Christ’s love actualised and forced her deeper into her Jewish soul than the tradition itself, made her almost unique, as David Novak suggests:

Jews have been able to dismiss most modern Jewish converts to Christianity as people motivated by social or professional ambition, self-hatred, ignorance, or mental imbalance. But anyone who knew Edith Stein or who knows anything about her life would have to admit that none of these categories applies to her. Indeed, Edith Stein comes across as sui generis. She might be the most uniquely problematic Jew for us since Saul of Tarsus (35).

Edith Stein presents problems for everyone, and chief among them, is the simple fact that almost at the moment of Hitler’s rise, this phenomenologist had an unheimlich mystical apprehension of the fate of the Jews in Europe, and an equally strong consciousness that she would wholeheartedly share their fate – but in an extraordinary way: as a conscious human sacrifice. April 1933:

I spoke to our Savior and told Him that I knew that it was His Cross that was now being laid on the Jewish people. Most did not understand it, but those who did understand must accept it willingly in the name of all. I wanted to do that, let Him only show me how. When the service was over I had an interior conviction that I had been heard. But in what the bearing of the Cross was to consist I did not yet know. I was almost relieved to find myself now involved in the common fate of my people (36).

The logic of the argument is deinos, horrendous. You could call this certainty madness. The chosen people are again “chosen” to shoulder the weight of the cross, that hideous symbol of terror and pogroms. And that Jews and Christians alike do not see what will happen as a re-ligious event, something that will bind back Humanity to God. By virtue of her janus-faced identity as Jew and Christian, she, almost wholly alone, can accept the burden willingly in the name of the others.

When we consider that Edith Stein, who is wholly ignorant of the details of mechanised agriculture and the hydrogen bombs, who perhaps, as matter of her faith, doesn’t care about the details (which, after all, are locked away safe from view, in the secret chambers of the souls of Heydrich, Himmler and Hitler, and hidden in plain sight in the dead words of Mein Kampf) waiting for actualisation in the fatal decision at Wannsee, but who already understands that something enormous is at stake, and that she has somehow made that round-trip to her death that authentic Dasein must make in order to be resolved in the present and also more fantastically integrated the truth of her birth as a Jew to that same present – I don’t think we can pass over this wonder lightly.

Edith Stein became a Carmelite nun soon afterwards, causing her family much pain. Her mother in particular thought that her conversion and vows were an acute betrayal of Judaism itself, in its moment of greatest need. Even so, Stein continued to on occasion attend the synagogue with her mother as long as such a thing were possible. Again and again, and always, Unhomely.

The philosophically minded Karol Wojtyla has an unusually deep connection to the phenomenologist-apostate. Long before anybody had heard of her, someone innocently asked the Pope if he had had occasion to hear of Edith Stein. Wojtyla answered: “Know her…? I pray to her every day.” Less than 50 years after her death, with a remarkable speed, Edith Stein was beatified and canonised as St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce by John Paul II. Her canonisation predictably created a storm of protest where the Vatican was accused of triumphalism, “Christianising” the Shoah, and whitewashing its own temporal accommodation of the Nazis, by the humble means of Edith Stein. The irony is that the thorough process of canonisation brought to light the painful historical truth of the Church’s own “Heidegger moment”, thanks in great part to Edith Stein’s resolute Dasein.

While Heidegger is ecstatically declaring that the Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law, Edith Stein, not yet a Carmelite nun, is writing the Pope concerning a subject that was more present-to-hand than Heidegger or the average German could see. Here is part of her letter to Pope Pius XI, written in March or April of 1933, and buried in the Vatican archives soon afterward:

Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself “Christian”. For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn’t the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? And isn’t this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation? (37)

She then turns prophet, a better one than Heidegger ever was…

We all, who are faithful children of the Church and who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer. We are convinced that this silence will not be able in the long run to purchase peace with the present German government. For the time being, the fight against Catholicism will be conducted quietly and less brutally than against Jewry, but no less systematically. It won’t take long before no Catholic will be able to hold office in Germany unless he dedicates himself unconditionally to the new course of action (38).

It’s funny how, trapped within a humanist maze of “values” and residual Christian metaphysics, a dogmatic prisoner like Edith Stein can see more clearly than the “authentic” Dasein of Heidegger, or her own Church hierarchy. Is she not truly the most unhomely and antigonal of all the storm-wrecked unhomely beings of the Gestapolis?

And another coincidence, which probably means nothing: while Heidegger is lecturing the future sons and daughters of the thousand-year-reich about the coming of being manifest in Hölderlin and the dichtung of Antigone, Edith Stein is attending to her “perishing” in the gas chamber at Auschwitz.

A last irony: Stein’s 1916 dissertation for Husserl was a phenomenological analysis of intersubjectivity – that is – how these little monads come to know each other in the world. The title: “The Problem of Empathy”.

Syberberg: The River is Lost to Us

Here is what I will call Syberberg’s most provocative statement concerning “Jewish Moral Hegemony”:

After Auschwitz, the Jewish position was a moral one, which developed over time into a kind of moral hegemony: it eventually engenders resentment on the part of the weaker player. People don’t like to be told over and over that they are morally inferior. They bear it for a certain time, but then there comes a point when the children refuse to continue paying their fathers’ debts. European culture has reached this breaking point. Not the intellectuals, of course. They are professionals at maintaining their equanimity. But that is not the case in the streets. The rebellion does not come from the head, but from the gut, and in all countries of Europe. It is a rebellion of the Erinyes – ugly, brutal. The Greeks depicted them in mythical images as something barbaric.

– Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1993 (39)

The Ister

When asked about the rising neo-Nazi and anti-foreigner movement in Germany, this was his strange response. I don’t quite get what he means. Whether he is speaking in Gramscian or Kantian terms, the idea is laughable. Jew-hatred is the state theosophy of countless millions of Arabs (whose techno-craze-oriented idea of “submission” manifestly excludes the historical Mohammedan curatorial tolerance of the People of the Book) and their smiling fellow travellers in Europe and America. The blasphemous and lethal dream of supersession has moved from the guilty demoralised west to the un-conflicted east. It has found new lodging, new life, in a world anxious about globalisation’s erasure of local culture. I can understand that Europeans are more than happy to pass the problem of the “final solution” to the Arab world and Israel. But Syberberg’s frame of reference is too narcissistic, and provincial. Trauma has made him, psychologically, a Palestinian.

The “moral hegemony” of the Jews, if such a thing exists outside of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, doesn’t have anything to do with the temporal phenomenon of the Shoah. It was underwritten long ago by the character of the Jewish people as eternal witnesses (martyrs) to God’s covenant with humanity. You cannot commit Nietzsche’s god-murder and leave witnesses, or rather by killing the witnesses you terminate the contract, forcing God to abdicate the sphere of human affairs by the terms of his own deal. Let’s call it the Edith Stein clause of the covenant. Her consciousness of this was profound. She gave her life to express this idea.

Antigone:

I knew however that I should have to die.
Why not? I should even, had you not said so
(40).

Starting with the Hitler film, and after reunification, when he wrote On The Fortune and Misfortune of Art in Germany Since the Last War, Syberberg has been marginalised as a pathetic figure of the reactionary “new” right. His manifesto made the claim that “German Art” had been held hostage to the influence of “Jews” and “Leftists”, who forced it to habitually re-enact a pseudo-guilt and culpability over the Shoah as ritual for the voyeuristic delectation of the whole world. This freakshow, for Syberberg, makes real atonement impossible:

What also stalked art in Germany after the last war was the curse of guilt that was used as a tool of intimidation by the Left, since the Left viewed itself as innocent and because Hitler had persecuted the Jews. Now, up to the point of boredom and of lies that paralyzed all cultural life, an unholy alliance of Jewish and left-wing aesthetics opposed the guilty, with the result that guilt was able to become a business that killed the imagination, inhibiting as opposed to inspiring in its capacity as a criterion of producing for the masses and of the mass audience. In a Europe of the West, the apparently fortunate liberation from dictatorship needed the Left from the side of the Jews and the Jews from the side of the Left. [...] Whoever went along with the Jews and with the Left climbed the career ladder, and did not necessarily encounter love or understanding or even affection. How were the Jews able to endure this, unless power was all they wanted? (41)

When reading this, one has to do a quick time check. Are we in a beer hall in Munich in 1925…? To be fair, Syberberg’s outrageous statement is made in the context of a parochial battle over aesthetics with the ghost of Adorno and the depressed communists of the Frankfurt School. His quondam comrades on the barricades of postmodernism. But isn’t this mournful state of affairs (if his characterisation of the German “scene” is accurate) a precise consequence of Syberberg’s own crushing success at Trauerarbeit (Mourning-Work)?

Syberberg’s art is all about actualising what is not permissible. “Taboos. This show is all about taboos.” says the barker in the Hitlerfilm. After the war, the unspeakable question was Hitler. Now in 2004, above all because of Syberberg’s heroic labour, Berndt Eichinger (who produced the earlier film) can make a movie that shows Hitler “as a human being” vulnerable, wandering, be-ruined in his being-towards-death. And Günter Grass and Sebald can now raise the dangerous and narcissistically loaded issue of German wartime suffering. As Syberberg comments: “Fifty years after Hitler, a whole new generation has taken the stage. They behave differently than their guilt-ridden parents. They don’t see the young Jew as a victim. They see in him someone like themselves” (42). Wait a minute! I thought every German had an imaginary rabbi perched on the shoulder of their conscience. So much for moral hegemony. The Germans are officially “over” Hitler. Cool. Let’s put him on a t-shirt!! One is tempted to wonder, is Katharsis so cheap these days?

Let’s ask: Did the Germans take on this “curse of guilt” because they were honestly remorseful, or just because guilt is their vice, and they wanted to please their conquerors? Is the spectacle of German guilt a colossal sham, another rickety Gesamtkunstwerk? Is Syberberg the Leni Riefenstahl of the sequel? Is Hitler still running the whole show from his base in Asunción? It is Syberberg himself who demands I ask these questions.

Today, Syberberg says that the Taboo that matters is the German heart. Germans are permitted world citizenry and excel in all manner of calculative tekhné, but their aesthetic tradition (but obviously not their philosophic one) is looked upon as inherently dangerous.

When Adorno says that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric, it is in some way an autobiographical reflection about the uselessness of his generation of German anti-fascists, and not the dogma it has become. The kommissars of our future say: “If art and culture had failed before the war to stop Hitler, then it should have no rights after it.” Throw that baby out with the bathwater! Jawohl. I have never quite understood how the man who – in his most unguarded moment – could praise the songs of Muntzel and Baldur Von Schirach’s little Hitler ditties, how this guy is considered a world authority on “Poetry” or its absence. In contrast, Syberberg is resolved in perversely following Emil Fackenheim’s famous “new” commandment: “Thou shalt not grant Hitler any posthumous victories.”

There has been a certain demonization of the purely aesthetic as something tainted by fascism. This, of course, is part of Hitler’s legacy. His aesthetic, which was a reaction against the German expressionist art of the prewar period, celebrated German myth and glorified rural life as the embodiment of German blood and soil. In effect, Hitler co-opted the beauty of German myth and history. Part of Hitler’s blood and soil aesthetic is also his curse of scorched earth, which he wanted to leave behind. And that has been tragically accomplished in the burned out hearts of my generation (43).

Adorno is content to let Hitler have this one. Who is right here? As far as I’m concerned, the world is probably safe as long as people do not elect Artists or Philosophers (Vaclav Havel, this means you!) as their leaders.

Syberberg is now (partly out of economic necessity) making his art in small, artisanal batches, using bare stages and the strange, protean presence of the actress Edith Clever. He adapts and stages the works of Kleist, Hölderlin and Nietzsche. He feels that the only way he sees to break the “death-grip” of German and Jew, this abhorrent historical monstrosity, is by presenting those German things like some kind of ammonia salt that will bring the German Spirit out its faint. “Wake up, fräulein, it was only a dream…” On the surface, Syberberg’s quest seems utterly futile, and nearly incomprehensible.

After the Hitler film, I focused my attention on the heart of things German, and especially things Prussian – with the works of Kleist at the center…whose interpretation, for me, has become much clearer since the war. I have wanted to use him to find a way back to our spiritual home. But the road is strewn with a lot of pain, ugliness and contaminated imagery (44).

Now, I don’t want to “stupidly accuse” Syberberg of being a hater of Jews and a völkisch idiot etc. – obviously, he wasn’t the only one…, but I do think that his identification as a Prussian is curiously subversive. Syberberg talks about Germany as a heartless country. Where is its heart…? To identify himself as a Prussian is to say that he is, in effect, a man without a country (a psychological Palestinian) but more so, a citizen of its lost heart. And then he goes on to make an even more curious comparison:

I have felt in this project like Antigone, who invited death upon herself by defying an edict that consigned her brother’s body to the ravages of dogs and vultures. Germany has been left in the postwar world to be picked at by vultures – both internally and abroad (45).

Not her again. Antigone, the antagonist of the polis. Is this Syberberg’s own version of “being unhomely in becoming homely”? Forcing the polis to eat its bloody heart and remember itself. If that means that people must decide for themselves what their culture, this problematic culture, ultimately means to them, we should not wonder why they wish to kill the messenger. But is Syberberg really so dangerous today? There is nothing in what he says today that is not already present in Ludwig – Requiem for a Virgin King (1972), Karl May (1974), the Hitlerfilm or in Parsifal (1982). Or is it the people themselves who have grown more dangerous?

It is here that Syberberg has a lone ally for his project. It is the Slovenian provocateurs Laibach and the art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst. As Slavoj Zizek reports:

In the process of disintegration of socialism in Slovenia, they staged an aggressive inconsistent mixture of Stalinism, Nazism, and Blut und Boden ideology. The first reaction of the enlightened Leftist critics was to conceive of Laibach as the ironic imitation of totalitarian rituals; however, their support of Laibach was always accompanied by an uneasy feeling: “What if they really mean it? What if they truly identify with the totalitarian ritual?” – or, a more cunning version of it, transferring one’s own doubt onto the other: “What if Laibach overestimates their public? What if the public takes seriously what Laibach mockingly imitates, so that Laibach actually strengthens what it purports to undermine?” This uneasy feeling is fed on the assumption that ironic distance is automatically a subversive attitude. What if, on the contrary, the dominant attitude of the contemporary “postideological” universe is precisely the cynical distance toward public values? What if this distance, far from posing any threat to the system, designates the supreme form of conformism, since the normal function of the system requires cynical distance? (46)

Let’s take Zizek’s fiendish idea a little further. If a goose-stepping ironie in all matters of public values is now an element of state control, then the ultimate weapon against the state is a profoundly ambiguous and possibly reactionary, radical “sincerity”.

Syberberg tells in the preface to the book that would be his public hara-kiri, that upon reading his manuscript, well-meaning friends and the publisher had demanded (with the thundering voice of Creon) that he should “…wholeheartedly and unmistakably denounce H. as a mass murderer, and declare that everything the latter had ever carried out or brought about in history and art was wrong in its very foundations” (47).

Seems sensible enough. Who wouldn’t agree to that? This is what Syberberg wrote instead: “I consider him (Hitler) to be a brilliant medium of the universal spirit, in a demonic interest of this technical century of mass movements” (48). Hitler as the daimon of perfect democracy? Germany as its stinking, picked over sacrificial corpse? Doesn’t this have something of the aura of Antigone’s cheeky suicidal refusal to acknowledge the violence in Creon’s arguments? Heidegger would be proud.

Zizek on Laibach:

The ultimate expedient of Laibach is their deft manipulation of transference: their public (especially intellectuals) is obsessed with the “desire of the Other” – what is Laibach’s actual position, are they truly totalitarians or not? – i.e. they address Laibach with a question and expect from them an answer, failing to notice that Laibach itself does not function as an answer but a question. By means of the elusive character of their desire, of the indecidability as to “where they actually stand”, Laibach compels us to take up our position and decide upon our desire (49).

In the ultimate slow-motion Brechtian spectacle, Syberberg keeps saying he comes to bury Germany (that is, Democracy), not to praise it. As he works to “bury” the corpse, a thimbleful at a time, he pauses in eloquent lamentation, as if waiting for someone, anyone, to stop him. Why don’t they come…? Why isn’t the tragic set into motion…? The audience wonders, what the hell is this old goat doing? And, inevitably, “what if he really means it?”

It is important to get some indication of what the trickster Syberberg is up to, because he gets the last word in The Ister, and rightly so. He might otherwise seem like some kindly nostalgia-clotted grandfather. Or worse, a fool of some kind.

Syberberg, who wields the tragic sense that Heidegger lacks, tells us in The Ister that for all intents and purposes, the river we have just travelled on by means of our technological canoe, has no power over us, any longer. It is no longer the subject of art or of thought: “…they have no poetical power today, I think. These big ones of Hölderlin. Because of how we have gone up from them. Today they are very far from some kind of warmness, or personal or mythical impact. They are really part of our day-life machine, of life” (50).

Here, the filmmakers cut to another bridge, with its river of traffic suggestively flowing over the old absenting river. The river is both a journeying and a locale. Its nature is paradoxical. This is ultimately the river’s lesson; what Heidegger’s “Hölderlin” wants us to see. But technology is now the locality of our journeying. That road and its myriad incarnations is where we meet, where we “find ourselves”. It is our destiny. It has colonised our imagination. The river has gone back to Being.

And not just the river. Greece is gone. And King Ludwig’s holy temple of culture, Walhalla, is just an empty shell, filled with the severed heads of ancient rebels. There will be no communion of Sultry Isthmus and Dark Forest. And more disturbing, still, Germany, the source, itself is gone:

You took away our sunsets, sunsets by Caspar David Friedrich. You are to blame that we can no longer look at a field of grain without thinking of you. You made old Germany kitschy with your simplifying words and peasant pictures…the wretched artist as hangman degenerating into a politician, voluntarily cheered as no man ever before. How can I make this clear to us and to me, and me and all the children and grandchildren who didn’t know all this, this previous life which they have all forgotten by now, corrupted by the new legacy of your time. The new old philistine… all this , all this has been made impossible. The words “magic” and “myth” and “serving” and “ruling” “führer”, “authority”, are ruined, are gone, exiled to eternal time. And we are snuffed out. Nothing more will grow here. An entire nation stopped existing, in the diaspora of the mind and elite (51).

No source, then no river. The whole journey we have taken up the Danube is revealed as an illusion.

Another odd thing happened. The river and everything I remembered about it became a possession to me, a personal private possession, as nothing else in my life ever had. Now it ran nowhere but in my head, but there it ran as though immortally. I could feel it – I can feel it – on different places on my body. It pleases me in some curious way that the river does not exist, and that I have it. In me it is still, and will be until I die, green, rocky, deep, fast, slow, and beautiful beyond reality. I had a friend in there who in a way had died for me, and my enemy was there.

– James Dickey, Deliverance (52)

There are films about place, and films about time. In Sokurov’s nationalist infomercial Russian Ark (2002), the Narrator finally recognises the Hermitage as the theatre space of the dialectical comedy of Russian and European identity, and finally as the vessel that has kept the temporal deluge of history at bay. A hermetic thesis locked in a hermetic place. After the ballroom scene, I had to wonder, where the hell are they all going – the sun deck? When the melancholy show is finally over, the waxed results belong to theatre.

It is a thousand times more risky to follow a river. I have had to spend too much space talking “plot”, but that is not to say The Ister is a cinematic failure. Because of its subject, The Ister is much more purely filmic, and I have to say more ambitious than Sokurov’s stunt. To make a film about a place may be difficult, but not impossible. The place after all, has nowhere to go. The river, on the other hand, is always moving away from the camera. This film is a chronicle of the many ways a river can disappear, and not just in some banal ecological sense, and a record of the often futile effort it takes to “make us see”.

The phrase Human Geography is not one we hear much or understand anymore, but it applies with a vengeance to The Ister. Barison and Ross show us again and again that river life is scaled to the river. The river gives its humans context and meaning. There is nothing bleaker for us, more bitter, than a ruin by a parched river bed or a dead sea. It is the sign of disaster.

Postcryptum

The Ister

Heidegger is often seen as a simplistic opponent of technology, but in “The Ister” lecture we find this surprising statement concerning that new river upon whose banks we have chosen to settle upon: “Modern Machine technology is spirit, and as such is a decision concerning the actuality of everything actual. And because such a decision is essentially historical, machine technology as spirit will also decide this: that nothing of the historical world will hitherto return…” (53)

It’s hard not to think of this as the heart of Heidegger’s famous “turn”. The fever of Romanticism has broken in him, and now he can see the new world for what it is. He then continues: “…It is just as childish to wish for a return to previous states of the world as it is to think that human beings could overcome metaphysics by denying it. All that remains is to unconditionally actualize this spirit so we simultaneously come to know the essence of its truth” (54).

Heidegger warns that if you think this sounds like fatalism, he demands that you think again. Technology is the new colour of our fate. It is a danger and an opportunity. Technology demands new Antigones. This is his final response to Nietzsche and Spengler. There is no eternal return. It is a fatal illusion. The river of Being is a locality and journeying. Hitler was once our destiny. But that was in another life. Let’s move on, dudes. Reality is like the I-Ching, the Book of Changes. Should we throw down those coins once more…? I was almost ready to do it.

But then I thought a little more. What is “the truth” of Technology? Is it something that is real? Isn’t Technology itself the long deferred return of myth, the only myth suitable to our jaded ears. And what does this myth represent?

The ultimate ideal of technology is to become indistinguishable from nature; that technology “ape” natural characteristics and that Nature “synthesise” technological characteristics. The belated second marriage of tekhné/phusis. A Turing Test, if you will, where both sides are fooled. A technological nature promises to be eminently manageable, and eminently marketable: The final symphonic coda to that din of “god as engineer” metaphors depends on the axiom’s long-augured reversability. Our journey from pathetic, humbled “creatures”, to “orphans” of randomness, to self-authored, autogenic machine-beings, they tell us, is almost over.

What exactly would we lose if we stopped being hopeless amateurs at blasphemy and told our already insipidly credulous children that we had made the river, the mountains, and the stars ourselves, no less than Heidegger’s ski hut, the poems of Hölderlin, and the stitches in Being and Time? After all, if they had not been there, given the time, surely we would have developed the technology to make them. Why live with such an irritating ambiguity? Let’s be resolutely futural. Why not take Heidegger’s wager (so named because it was the one he would not take himself) that man is not only the measure of all things, but the cause of all things?

What? Are you…chicken?

Endnotes

  1. André Bazin (1945), “L’Ontologie de l’image photographique”, Qu’est-ce que le cinema?, Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1958, p. 9.
  2. Blaise Pascal, pensée #40 in “Vanity”, Pensées, trans. A.J. Krailsheimer, Penguin Classics Edition, New York, 1995, p. 8.
  3. Plato, Phaedrus, from Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (eds), Collected Dialogues of Plato, trans. R. Hackforth, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1989, p. 520.
  4. George Steiner, Martin Heidegger, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978, p. 64.
  5. Friedrich Hölderlin, quoted in Charlie Louth, Hölderlin and the Dynamics of Translation, Legenda (European Humanities Research Centre and the British Comparative Literature Association), Oxford, 1998, p. 72.
  6. Sir Isaiah Berlin in Henry Hardy (ed.), The Roots of Romanticism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2001, p. 101.
  7. Marianne Weber, quoted in Domenico Losurdo, Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Community, Death, and the West, trans. Marella and Jon Morris, Humanity Books, Amherst, NY, 2001, p. 59.
  8. Walter Kaufmann and Ivan Soll, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Buber, Discovering the Mind Volume 2, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1980.
  9. Martin Heidegger, speech of November 3, 1933, quoted in Richard Wolin (ed.), The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader, Columbia University Press, New York, 1991, pp. 46–47.
  10. Jurgen Habermas, quoted in Wolin, p. 189.
  11. Rüdiger Safranski, Between Good and Evil, trans. by Ewald Osers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1998, p. 268.
  12. Safranski, p. 267.
  13. Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”, quoted in Victor Farias (ed.), Heidegger and Nazism, edited, with a foreword, by Joseph Margolis and Tom Rockmore, trans. Gabriel R. Ricci, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1989, pp. 276–277.
  14. Karl Löwith, Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, ed. by Richard Wolin, Columbia University Press, New York, 1995, p. 165. Löwith tends to be kind of loose with quotes as a general matter. It’s not clear to me from the context whether Löwith is paraphrasing something he heard Heidegger actually say in a lecture or whether he is polemically characterising Heidegger’s thought to grind an axe. Choose your own adventure.
  15. From a clip from Hitler: A Film from Germany quoted in The Ister. I believe Himmler really did say this stuff, but that hardly matters. We’re all postmodern grown-ups, right?
  16. Loudon Wainwright III, “Surviving Twin”, from Last Man on Earth, audio CD, 2001. Loudon’s brilliant riff on the Oedipus complex. Sure you want to kill your father and marry your mother, but you turn Hamlet because as you age, you recognise you are really his twin, a “…roman numeral with his name”.
  17. Oswald Spengler, quoted in Losurdo, p. 77.
  18. Martin Heidegger, letter to Herbert Marcuse, quoted in Farias, p. 285.
  19. Banned in Germany as the public statement of a top collaborator, and a laugh-free version of “Springtime for Hitler”, Winifred Wagner und die Geschichte des Hauses Wahnfried 1914-1975 (Confessions of Winifred Wagner) (1975) is Syberberg’s five-hour interview with the English-born matriarch of the Wagner clan. Syberberg alone found the only witness willing to talk without reservation in the old language. And unlike spear-carriers like Speer or Riefenstahl, Winifred was crucial to the whole thing. She sent him the paper and sausages to write Mein Kampf. Forget Geli Raubal and Eva Braun. Every artist needs a muse or two, and since she was raised from childhood to be the ideal wagnerian companion, Winifred was above all Hitler’s perfect muse. She whispered: “Dare to Dream.” The result: The Third Reich, with love from “Wolf”.
  20. Safranski, p. 341.
  21. Plato, Protagoras, quoted onscreen in The Ister.
  22. Jean-Luc Nancy, interviewed in The Ister.
  23. Plato, Protagoras, quoted onscreen in The Ister.
  24. Jean-Luc Nancy, interviewed in The Ister.
  25. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, from Die freudlose Gesellschaft: Notizen aus den letzten Jahren and quoted in Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art, and Politics: The Fiction of the Political, trans. Chris Turner, Basil Blackwell, New York, 1990, p. 63, a translation of La Fiction du politique. And here is Heidegger in the same wagnerian vein, in the late ’30s, after he has “supposedly” stopped swooning over the Nazis, “With reference to the historic position of art, the effort to produce the ‘collective art work’ (gesamtkunstwerk) remains essential. The very name is demonstrative. For one thing, it means that these arts would no longer be realized apart from one another, but that they should be conjoined in one work. But beyond such sheer qualitative unification, the art work should be a celebration of the völksgemeinschaft: it should be the religion.” Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche and the Will to Power as Art, trans. D.F. Krell, Harper and Row, New York, 1979, pp. 85–86.
  26. Bernard Stiegler, interviewed in The Ister.
  27. Martin Heidegger, from a 1949 lecture in Bremen, quoted in The Ister.
  28. Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, interviewed in The Ister.
  29. Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, interviewed in The Ister.
  30. Martin Heidegger, quoted in Berel Lang, Heidegger’s Silence, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, p. 19.
  31. Lang, pp. 16–17.
  32. This crude and slightly rastafarian translation is my approximation of the sophoclean music in English. We might profitably translate Heidegger’s “unheimlich” these days as “wack”. Thus: “Manifold is the wack, but there be no thing wackest than Man”.
  33. Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”. Heidegger doesn’t hand these “Being-Definitions” out like candy on Halloween, so we’d better pay attention. Here, Heidegger is probably thinking specifically of his old schoolmate Schlageter, proto-fascist martyr, whom he effusively eulogised in one of the Nazi speeches of 1933. It is the pointlessness of Schlageter’s sacrifice, his utter loneliness in the face of his destiny, that Heidegger finds most moving. For more examples, see also the characters of Pvt. Witt (Jim Caviezel) and Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas) in Terry Malick’s heideggerian epic, The Thin Red Line (1998).
  34. Of course, there ain’t no room in the “star” for Islam. A posterboy for Orientalism, Franz Rosenzweig notoriously compared the Islamic deity to an Oriental Despot, whose revelation through the Prophet Mohammed establishes a hegemonic universe to which the only option is a kneeling “submission” or else. For Rosenzweig, the human freedom and respect evidenced by the Old Testament and Covenant was the essence of our relation to God. Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption, a dense, massively idiosyncratic theosophy, has to be one of the most unique books in the history of philosophy. Like Nathan Bedford Forrest, Rosenzweig got there “fustest with the mostest”. Published in the early ’20s, a hidden doppelganger to Being and Time, one can think of it as Heidegger with the theological scaffolding intact and on view for inspection. Rosenzweig’s aesthetics and theory of art in particular seems to eerily connect with the later Heidegger.
  35. Another truly wack “antigonal” being, Wilhelm Reich exiled himself simultaneously from the Nazis and the Communists by publishing his famous, and famously unread, sex-economic analysis The Mass Psychology of Fascism in 1933. In it, he argues quite cogently that the sexual repressive character of the Patriarchal Religions and their state support systems, creates “masses” that are ripe and slavering for fascist manipulation. Perhaps this may apply for a garden-variety of “you’re going to hell” sexual repression, but is Orgastic Potency the only way to healthy individuation? What if the masses are not repressed efficiently “enough”..? I present the problematic Edith Stein, whom Reich would regard as a dangerously repressed delusional erotic mystic, as an notable counter-example. Is there a kind of meta “Orgastic Potency” in Christ? What if “Orgone Energy” has nothing essentially to do with sex…? Has an Orgone box ever been used on a nun or a buddhist monk…? David Novak, “Edith Stein: Apostate Saint” originally in First Things, no. 96, October 1999, pp. 15–17, accessed at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9910/opinion/novak.html.
  36. Edith Stein, from Edith Stein: Her Road to Sanctity, an annotated chronology of Stein’s life put together by Inside the Vatican staff. Compiled from the following sources: Sister Teresia de Spiritu Sancto, O.C.D., Edith Stein, trans. Cecily Hastings and Donald Nicholl, Sheed and Ward, N.Y., 1952; Writings of Edith Stein, trans. Hilda Graef, The Newman Press, Westminster, MD., 1956; Waltraud Herbstrith, Edith Stein: A Biography, trans. Father Barnard Bonowitz, OCSO, Harper and Row, Cambridge, 1971; and three volumes from: The Collected Works of Edith Stein: Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D. C.: Vol. 1: Life in a Jewish Family, ed. Dr. L. Gerber and Romaeus Leuven, O.C.D., trans. Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D., ICS, 1986; Vol 2: Essays On Women, trans, Freda M. Oben, Ph.D.; Vol. 5: Self-Portrait in Letters: 1916–1942, translated by Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D., ICS, 1993. Accessed at http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum=802.
  37. Edith Stein, Letter to Pope Pius XI, trans. Sr. Suzanne Batzdorff, Josephine Koeppel, and the Rev. Dr. John Sullivan, ocd, 1933. Accessed at http://www.geocities.com/baltimorecarmel/stein/1933let.html.
  38. Stein, Letter to Pope Pius XI.
  39. Quotations are from “Germany’s Heart: The Modern Taboo”, a lengthy 1993 Syberberg interview in NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly, accessed at http://www.digitalnpq.org/archive/1993_winter/germanys_heart.html.
  40. Sophocles, and Friedrich Hölderlin, Hölderlin’s Sophocles: Oedipus and Antigone, trans. David Constantin, German translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, Bloodaxe, Tarset Northumberland, 2001, p. 84.
  41. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, quoted in Inke Arns, Prelude, Interlude, Afterlude. Spotlights on German Debates: From the “causal nexus” of the Historians’ Dispute (1986) to “German defining culture” (2000). The English quotes are taken from Syberberg’s book: Vom Unglück und Glück der Kunst in Deutschland nach dem letzten Kriege (Of the Misfortune and Good Fortune of Art in Germany after the Last War), 1990, and translated by Arns, accessed at http://www.v2.nl/~arns/Texts/leitkultur-e.html.
  42. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, NPQ interview.
  43. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, NPQ interview.
  44. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, NPQ interview.
  45. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, NPQ interview.
  46. Slavoj Zizek, “Why are Laibach and NSK not Fascists?”, originally published in 1993 in M’ARS, Ljubljana, Moderna Galerija, vol. 3–4, accessed at http://www.nskstate.com/athens/appendix/whyarelaibach.asp
  47. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Vom Unglück und Glück der Kunst in Deutschland nach dem letzten Kriege, as above
  48. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Vom Unglück und Glück der Kunst in Deutschland nach dem letzten Kriege, as above.
  49. Zizek, Why are Laibach and NSK not Fascists?
  50. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg interviewed in The Ister.
  51. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler: A Film from Germany, published screenplay, preface by Susan Sontag, trans. Joachim Neugroschel, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, 1982, p. 242.
  52. James Dickey, Deliverance, Dell Publishing Company, New York, 1994, originally published 1970, p. 275.
  53. Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”, pp. 53–54.
  54. Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”, pp. 53–54.