It is now more than five months since I have posted the first part of my tribute to Heidegger, following my visit to his hometown and the mountain retreat in the Black Forest. It is time to continue with the second part, which focuses on two French friends who became very important for Heidegger after the Second World War. One is a philosopher, Jean Beufret, and the other is a poet, Rene Char. Until the 1970’s Heidegger had a major impact on French intellectual life and philosophy. His two French friends, in their own way, have played a major role in this.
The Philosopher Jean Beaufret
Jean Beaufret is the French philosopher who played a key role in introducing and developing Heidegger’s ideas in France. Heidegger’s ideas were introduced in France in the 20’s and 30’s, but became highly influencial only after the second world war. Heidegger and Beaufret met in 1946 in Todtnauberg. Beaufret introduced Heidegger to French existentialism, and posed to him some questions with regard to Sartre’s address “Existentialism is a Humanism”, given earlier in the year. Beaufret wrote the questions hastily on a piece of paper in a Paris cafe so as to be delivered by a friend ready to leave for Freiburg. Heidegger in response to these questions wrote the “Letter on Humanism” and dedicated it to Beaufret. It was written at a time of great personal struggle for Heidegger: he had just been indefinitely banned from teaching following the Nazi war-crimes hearings, and he had undergone a kind of emotional breakdown as a result.
Beaufret taught philosophy at the Ecole Nationale Superieure from 1946 to 1962 and was in the core of Parisian intellectual life, being friend with among others Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Lacan, and Louis Althusser. In 1955, with Kostas Axelos, a Greek philosopher who was teaching in Paris, Beaufret organized the conference “What is Philosophy?”, in which Heidegger was welcomed by the leading French Philosophers.
Beufret edited and published some of the letters he exchanged with Heidegger in four volumes of “Dialogue with Heidegger”. The first volume is on Greek Philosophy.
The Poet Rene Char
It is not an accident that two of Heidegger’s most celebrated acquaintances are poets: the French Rene Char and the Romanian – German – Jewish Paul Celan. As Heidegger observes in “Letter on Humanism”:
“Be[-ing], as what has come down <to us> which becomes truth, remains hidden. But the fate of the world is presaged in poetry, without its having as yet emerged as the history of be[-ing].”
In 1955, Jean Beaufret introduced Heidegger to the French poet Rene Char, during one of his to France. Prior to his arrival in France, Heidegger stated that the person he most wanted to meet was Char, whom he regarded as the most important contemporary thinker. They became friends and met many times in Provence, the birthplace of Char.
- Rene Char and Martin Heidegger
One of his “surrealist” poem collections, written in the 30’s is “The Hammer without a Master”. Some of its verses, were set to music by Pierre Boulez. Here is one of them.
The furious handicraft
The red caravan on the edge of the nail
And corpse in the basket
And plowhorses in the horseshoe
I dream my head on the point of my knife is Peru
“There are those who leave behind poisons while others leave remedies. Difficult to tell which is which. You have to taste.
The immediate yes or no is healthy in spite of the corrections that will follow.”
[Rene Char: In a crude mountain shelter, translated by Susanne Dubroff]
Char has influenced Heidegger deeply. As Michael Worton comments “…this friendship led Heidegger to write his Gedachtes sequence of poems, which are among his last writings and bear the marks of Char’s poetic practice of thinking-through-language”.
Heidegger was so captivated by the landscape in Thor, the place of residence of Char, that he organized philosophy seminars there in 1966, 1968, and 1969. In the mornings the participants would sit under the trees in front of the house and discuss the topic of the seminar, while in the afternoons they would visit the surroundings. One topic was young Hegel’s words: “A torn stocking is better than a darned one; not so self-consciousness”. Another one discussed Marx’s eleventh Feuerbach thesis: “The philosophers have merely interpreted the world. The issue is to change it.”