I have just been presented with the English translation of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (Being and Time). I have long had in mind, vaguely, a reading of Heidegger as 'one of the things I must do before I die'; but hitherto, not knowing German, it has been an unfulfilled ambition. Now, however, I have already made a start on it, but if my ambition is to be fulfilled I must read another three hundred fifty rather tough pages before I swallow the cyanide or reach for the razor.
Actually, it's extremely stimulating. Up to now my knowledge of Heidegger has been derived from short summaries and other writers' comments, and particularly through the refractive medium of Sartre's philosophy, and I am beginning to see that he (H) is a better thinker than I had been led to believe. I accepted Sartre's criticisms of him in good faith,[d] and in several places where I couldn't quite make out what Sartre was talking about I gave him (S) the benefit of the doubt—if Sartre was obscure, that was because I had failed to understand, not because Sartre was mistaken. But now I find that Sartre's criticisms and obscurities arise from (in my view) seriously wrong ideas—where Sartre differs from Heidegger, and it is where he differs from Heidegger that he is obscure, Heidegger is in the right. Anyway, apart from his formidable array of technical terms in 'the Awful German Language'—and not improved by translation—Heidegger is beautifully perspicuous—hardly a philosophical opacity anywhere. But I think I should hardly have found this so had I not first sweated over Sartre. And Sartre still gives you a great deal that you don't get from Heidegger.
I am sending you a book with the snappy little title, A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs Willett's Mediumship, and of the Statements of the Communicators concerning Process by Gerald William Earl of Balfour, P.C., LL.D. The book contains an account of some extremely high quality 'communications' purporting to come from the deceased members of the Society for Psychical Research (Henry Sidgwick, F. W. H. Myers, E. Gurney, S. H. Butcher, A. W. Verrall, William James) and addressed to Oliver Lodge and Gerald Balfour (the author). The book does not discuss the question of survival at all but accepts for the nonce the 'communications' at their face value—i.e. as actually coming from the (late) individuals that they claim to come from—and then, with this assumption, proceeds to discuss how the messages were transmitted and the actual contents of the messages—but the contents of the messages are themselves actually a discussion of how they were transmitted.
Anyway, I found the book of remarkable interest from several points of view; and I thought that you might like to see it. I know that some people find such books (i.e. on mediumistic communications) extremely distasteful, and I shall not press it upon you. In any case it is not to be regarded as anattempt to 'prove re-birth' to you (re-birth, anyway, cannot be proved as one 'proves Pythagoras'; whether one accepts—or rejects, as the case may be—the account of some event as 'evidence' for re-birth depends upon one's temperament and one's presuppositions): I merely remark that since, as you know, I accept re-birth as a matter of course, I found no antecedent obstacle opposing my taking part (by way of marginal comments) in the Myers-Gurney-Balfour controversy about the divisibility of the self. But, whether you read the book or not, would it be too much if I were to ask you if you could possibly get the book bound for me? I think it is worth preserving, and it will not last long with only paper cover.
Heidegger considers the human condition coldly and announces that existence is humiliated. The only reality is "anxiety" in the whole chain of being. To the man lost in the world and its diversions this anxiety is a brief, fleeting fear. But if that fear becomes conscious of itself, it becomes anguish, the perpetual climate of the lucid man "in whom existence is concentrated." This professor of philosophy writes without trembling and in the most abstract language in the world that "the finite and limited character of human existence is more primordial than man himself." His interest in Kant extends only to recognizing the restricted character of his "pure Reason." This is to conclude at the end of his analyses that "the world can no longer offer anything to the man filled with anguish." This anxiety seems to him so much more important than all the categories in the world that he thinks and talks only of it. He enumerates its aspects: boredom when the ordinary man strives to quash it in him and benumb it; terror when the mind contemplates death. He too does not separate consciousness from the absurd. The consciousness of death is the call of anxiety and "existence then delivers itself its own summons through the intermediary of consciousness." It is the very voice of anguish and it adjures existence "to return from its loss in the anonymous They." For him, too, one must not sleep, but must keep alert until the consummation. He stands in this absurd world and points out its ephemeral character. He seeks his way amid these ruins. (Myth, p. 18)
[141.b] I have to admit, though, that under the pressure of unrelieved satyriasis I rather like the idea of having the girls tied up ready for me—perhaps this will explain certain ambiguities in my attitude towards le deuxième sexe: a satyr is much too hard pressed to have time to be a feminist. [Back to text]
[141.c] Is not the Pill the eucharist of the New Morality? [Back to text]
[141.d] In one place (B&N, p. 249) Sartre refers to Heidegger's views as 'une sorte de psychologisme empiriocriticiste'. I don't quite know what this means, but it sounds to me like pretty severe philosophical abuse—almost as bad, when applied to a philosopher, as insinuating that his parents weren't properly married. [Back to text]
[141.1] de Beauvoir: 'Two separate beings, placed in different situations, facing each other in their freedom and seeking, one through the other, the justification of existence, will always live an adventure full of risks and promises.' The line has not been traced. [Back to text]