Reviving Martin Heidegger’s Dasein – Be-ing | Cassandra Voices

Reviving Martin Heidegger’s Dasein – Be-ing


Before a recent online poetry reading I was invited to meet with other international participants. I assumed the purpose was to gain a little insight into the other writers’ work. In fact, one of the main reasons – I was informed by our overtly gracious American host – was to establish which pronouns we would feel happiest to have ourselves described with.

It was the first time that I had experienced first-hand the increasingly bizarre world of contemporary gender politics. While the subsequent exchange of pronouns went on its way, I couldn’t help thinking of Martin Heidegger’s radical alternative to Descartes cogito.

Shortly after the reading I took down again my English translation, a first edition, of Beiträge zur Philosophie ( Vom Ereignis ), written between 1936 and 1938, though not appearing in print in Germany until 1989 – at Heidegger’s insistence thirteen years after his death – and Contributions to Philosophy ( From Enowning ), which was also published posthumously in 1999.

For the purposes of the present essay, I would like to contrast some of my findings on From Enowning, also known as Of the Event due to a later translation by Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu (2012), with those of Charles Bambach, who published a book called Heidegger’s Roots; Nietzsche, National Socialism, and the Greeks (Cornell University Press, 2003). I believe this may be useful in the context of identity politics today – as illustrated in the anecdote above.

As I see it, Heidegger’s ideas on Be-ing, along with other useful insights, have been completely railroaded through the excesses of so-called Woke culture. These ideas could have profound implications as we confront contemporary challenges, including climate change.

Peter O’Neill. Image (c) Victor Dragomiretchi.

Nazism and Wider Work

Among the most sinister aspects of contemporary academia is a declining rigor in argument. Thus, for example Heidegger’s undoubted Nazism is being used to undermine all aspects of his work which are simply unparalleled in the context of modern philosophical ideas is. As his former, Jewish, student Hannah Arendt put it:

The gale that blows through Heidegger’s thinking – like that which still, after thousands of years, blows to us from Plato’s work – is not of our century. It comes from the primordial, and what it leaves behind is something perfect which, like everything perfect, falls back to the primordial.

In Heidegger’s Roots[1], however, Charles Bambach attempts to demonstrate that the political ideology of the Nazis infects all of Heidegger’s thought, and so, by implication, this thinker can have very little to contribute to society. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I take the case of Bambach here in this essay, but he is just one of many over the last few years who have jumped on the “Heidegger was a Nazi” bandwagon, which may be located within the context of woke ‘cancel culture.’ Against this I argue that if one reads the books Heidegger wrote during the 1930’s – and indeed also during the war – you find his thought has actually nothing to do with Nazi ideology.

I will be making this case based on two books here, one written in the mid- to late- 1930’s, which I will be referring to as Vom Ereignis/From Enowning[2]; and another from the early 1940’s, at the height of the war as the fate of Stalingrad was being decided, written on the subject of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.[3]

But let us begin with Bambach in Heidegger’s Roots, who discusses Heidegger’s now infamous Rectoral Address at Freiberg University in 1933, after he had been appointed to the position with the support of the Nazi party. Bambach states that unlike other academics he will actually read the text as a serious piece of philosophical writing, wholly consistent with his Heidegger’s overall contribution to philosophy.

This is the substance of Bambach’s book: that Heidegger’s politics is an intimate extension of his entire philosophical outlook and that one cannot distinguish between the Nazis and his thought, as they come from the same source. This is a very interesting idea, and Bambach puts up a meticulous case, at least when it comes to this very questionable period in Heidegger’s life and thought.

Under the Influence

Even as late as 1935, with the publication of Introduction to Metaphysics[4],  there are still pro-Nazi passages, deeply shocking to read today, revealing the extent to which Heidegger was under the influence of Nazi ideology, and how he tried to use it to promote his own ideas.

I remember putting this particular book down, despite having been excited by Heidegger’s notions on early Greek thinkers, such as Heraclitus. I simply found the cheap Nazi sentiment really difficult to stomach.

Bambach is very good when explaining the mood of the times, and the extent to which Heidegger was carried along by Hitler being made Chancellor of Germany, thus legitimating the Nazis as the most powerful party in all of Germany, an idea unthinkable in the 1920’s.

If other Germans responded to the National Socialist takeover with “a widely held feeling of redemption and liberation from democracy”and felt relief that an incompetent and petty-minded government would no longer be left to solve the profound crisis of the times, Heidegger concerned himself with greater issues. He interpreted the events of early 1933 not as a political transfer of power, but as an epochal shift within being itself, a radical awakening from the slumbers of Weimar politics as usual.[5]

Two years later, in the summer of 1935, still as Rector of the University of Freiburg, Heidegger, while offering an interpretation of Heraclitus’s fragment number 59 – generally translated as ‘War/conflict is the Father and King of all,’ – claims that ‘along with the German language, Greek (in regard to the possibilities of thinking) is at once the most powerful and the most spiritual of languages.’

This is just one quote among many peppering a text written in the context of German rearmament that would culminate in World War II, which makes for very unsavoury reading, particularly when considering his standing in German academia.[6]

Heidegger in 1960.

Change of Track

One year later, however, after the Introduction to Metaphysics, in 1936, one meets a radically different text: Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning).

It is as if the book is written by a different author altogether. Gone is the hyperbole. The very register and tone are completely different. But, most importantly, there is no mention of German supremacy. There is no mention of Germany at all!

Along with Sein und Zeit (1926) or Being and Time, Vom Ereignis or From Enowning (1936) this is the most important of all Heidegger’s texts and the one that he considered the most important of all his books.[7]

Ten years earlier in Being and Time Heidegger claimed that his task was to ‘destroy’ the history of Ontology, or Western metaphysics as we know it; in other words Descartes cogito  by replacing it with Dasein or Be-ing, in Vom Ereignis/ from enowning/ of the Event. Here Heidegger sets out, for the first time, a philosophical structure in six parts, in which he attempts, using the concept of Be-ing/ Dasein, to return to inceptual Greek thinking.

This will become the most important concept for Heidegger to put down in writing. Bambach actually acknowledges this shift , but with nothing like the emphasis it deserves.

The contents of Vom Ereignis/From Enowning/Of the Event retains real significance for us today, particularly considering our current environmental crisis – a crisis even more severe than the one that Heidegger confronted in the 1930s in Nazi Germany; given today we face actual extinction if we do not radically change the way we live as a species (Dasein) on planet Earth.


One of Heidegger’s central concerns with the world of men he expresses in Vom Ereignis is machination. In part two of the book Echo, Heidegger attempts to grasp inceptual historic thinking originating from the Greeks.

This involves an attempt at recuperating Be-ing which has been abandoned as he sees it, as opposed to following cause and effect metaphysics, which are the result of Christian thinking.

There are whole passages in this text which are profoundly at odds with Nazi German policy at the time of the book’s composition, and which, frankly, apart from a mere sentence acknowledging this fact, Bambach largely ignores in this his most fundamental work. It is, after all, referred to as ‘the turn’ or the seminal event in his thinking, in which he decisively takes his own path in philosophical thinking, which remains completely unparalleled today.

One is accustomed to calling the epoch of “civilisation” one of dis-enchantment, and this seems for its part exclusively to be the same as the total lack of questioning. However, it is exactly the opposite. One has only to know from where the enchantment comes. The answer: from the unrestrained domination of machination.[8]

Notably, at the time of writing, in March and in June 1936, the German army had marched into the Rhineland, and were also supplying General Franco with ‘several formations of Junkers 52’s’.[9]

The German military was to become one of the most technologically advanced armies in the world. Heidegger was not only critical of this particular phenomenon, but in the same passage, he continues:

The bewitchment by technicity and its constantly self-surpassing progress are only one sign of this enchantment, by virtue of which everything presses forth into calculation, usage, breeding, manageability, and regulation. Even “taste” now becomes a matter for this regulation, and everything depends on a “good ambiance”.[10]

Joseph Goebbels views the Degenerate Art Exhibition.

Degenerate Art

The Degenerate Art Exhibition (Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst ) took place from July to November of 1937, while Heidegger was working on his masterwork Vom Ereignis – From Enowning – Of the Event.

Heidegger’s use of the term ‘bewitchment’ is interesting considering the mesmeric effect Hitler had on the masses at Nurnberg. During the same year, 1937, the ‘Rally of Labour’ was held (Reichsparteitag der Arbeit) in which masses of people converged on the city.

In the Pathé newsreels of the time you can see the machination of people converging in the stadium. They are marching just like machines. Heidegger repeats the phrase again, even placing it in italics in the text: ‘the epoch of total lack of questioning of all things and of all machinations.’[11] Heidegger did not allow the book to be published for fifty years after its composition. So far, it has been translated into English twice. It is the most extraordinary testament to Martin Heidegger’s thought, as it is a complete break with Western metaphysical thinking.

Regenerative Ideas

Having begun this essay with a discussion of the use of pronouns today, in terms of gender identity, I now consider Heidegger’s concept of Dasein or Be-ing in English as an alternative designator for the subject.

Heidegger is an Aristotelian in his thinking, who views the multiple in the One, Be-ing as representative of all living creatures, regardless of race, sex etc. It is a wonderfully free and natural idea, totally revolutionary in concept, and here is the thing: the majority of people living in the world today have absolutely no sense of the existence of such a rich philosophical idea

People are far more interested in banging on about an extremely regrettable period in the German thinker’s career. But if we are really serious as a species, in other words if we are really serious about surviving as opposed to going extinct, we had better put such petty notions of self aside, and concentrate instead on regenerative ideas on the way we perceive one another as Dasein.

Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia – Heraclitus (believed to be Democritus) 1652-53 – Luca Giordano


As stated in the introduction, I want to speak about two of Heidegger’s works. The second book that I turn to is Heraclitus: The Inception of Occidental Thinking and Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos[12] which was originally written at a point when the Wehrmacht met disaster at Stalingrad in 1943.

One of the first things I noticed was, again, the register or tone of the book. Especially considering when it was written, it is a miraculously peaceful work. None of the posturing that appeared in Introduction to Metaphysics is on display in this book.

Bambach does not refer to this work as it was only published in English for the first time in 2018. So a period of fifteen years separates the publication of his 2003 book and this second posthumous work.

My focus here is Heidegger’s beautiful meditation on a god so synonymous with Heraclitus, who is of course Artemis, goddess of the hunt.

Heidegger refers to fragment number 51 which he translates as, ‘The jointure (namely, the self differentiating) unfolds drawing – back, as shows itself in the image of the bow and lyre.’

This meditation is taken from the first section of the book, whose title is The Inception of Occidental Thinking. This point is important to underline as it forms a continuum with Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning).

Heidegger sets out in the former work the six ways to inceptual thinking (1. Preview, 2. Echo, 3. Playing Forth, 4. Leap, 5. Grounding and finally 6. The Last God.). He rejects all causality in place of what he defines as inceptual Greek thinking. In other words, pre-Platonic.

Nietzsche had already made this distinction in his lectures from Basel in the 1870s,[13] so Heidegger was following his former master in many respects. For Heidegger, the elegance of this fragment, contrasting the bow and the lyre, is emblematic of all of Heraclitus’s essential doctrine of unity in opposites.

Drawing on the laws of attraction, Heidegger uses the terms ‘submerging’ and ‘emerging’ to remarkable effect. He draws out the subtlety of Heraclitus’s thought in his own very particular way through the idea of unconcealment, which for Heidegger is the essence of authentic Greek thinking before Plato.

At that point truth was emerging from the abiding sway of Be-ing and could only be perceived in the clearing of the mind momentarily, before being obscured again. There is something profoundly sensual about Heidegger’s engagement with the Artemis fragment, and it is a testament to the translators who have managed to capture the wonderful poetry of the meditation throughout the entire work.

Therefore, she roams, as the huntress, the entirety of what we call ‘nature’. We certainly must not think about the essence of ‘tension’ in modern dynamical and quantitative terms, but rather as the lightened apartness of an expanse that is, at the same time, held together. In emerging, emerging receives the self-concealing in itself, because it can emerge as emerging only out of self-concealing: it draws back into this. [14]

Again, as in Contributions to Philosophy ( From Enowning ), in Hercalitus, Heidegger departs from the twentieth century and all of its woes – its abandonment of Dasein Be-ing – in order to return to historic thought.

Image Daniel Idini (c)

The Turn

Such is ‘the Turn’ – at least what has become known as ‘the Turn’ – in his thinking. When Heidegger abandoned not only Nazi ideology, at least in the thinking expressed in these books, but also Western metaphysics from Plato to Nietzsche. The results are simply extraordinary.

This is why I feel compelled, living in a world that seems to have abandoned all sense, to critique writers like Charles Bambach, who focus myopically on the very negative elements in Heidegger’s work, but which seems to me much more a part of the man, the lesser part, as distinct from the essential work.

[1] Bambach, Charles: Heidegger’s Roots – Nietzsche, National Socialism, and the Greeks, Cornell University Press, London, 2003.

[2] Heidegger, Martin: Contributions from Philosophy ( From Enowning ), Translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly, Indiana University Press, 1999.

[3] Heidegger, Martin: Heraclitus – The Inception of Occidental Thinking and Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos, Translated by Julia Assaiante and S. Montgomery Ewegen, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2018.

[4] Heidegger, Martin: Introduction to Metaphysics, New Translation by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt, Yale Nota Bene, Yale University Press, 2000.

[5] Bambach, Charles: Heidegger’s Roots; Nietzsche, National Socialism, and the Greeks, Cornell University Press, 2003, p.70.

[6] The German TV miniseries Generation War ( Unsere Mütter, unsere Vätter ) has one of the leading characters mention the possibility of attending a lecture by Heidegger when he gets his leave and he can return to Germany from the Eastern Front. Once can only imagine the very powerful feelings generated in the minds of young Germans who were exposed to such very powerful and interesting ideas, yet which were put to the service of National Socialism.

[7] In a marginal note of Letter on Humanism, the Editor F.-W. von Hermann notes, that Heidegger wrote the following; “enowning” has been since 1936 the guiding word of my thinking’.

Heidegger, Martin: Contributions to Philosophy ( From Enowning ) – p.364.

[8] Heidegger, Martin: Contributions From Philosophy ( From Enowning ), Translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly, Indiana University Press, 1999, p.86.

[9] Fest, Joachim C.: Hitler, Penguin, Classic Biography, Penguin Books, London, p.500.

[10] Heidegger, Martin: Contributions From Philosophy ( From Enowning ), Translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly, Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 87.

[11] Ibid, p.86

[12] Heidegger, Martin: Heraclitus, Translated by Julia Goesser Assainte and S. Montgomery Ewegen, Bloomsbury, London, 2018, p.115.

[13] Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, Translated from the German and Edited, with an Introduction and Commentary, by Greg Whitlock, University of Illinois Press, First Paperback Edition, 2006.

[14] Heidegger, Martin: Heraclitus, Translated by Julia Goesser Assainte and S. Montgomery Ewegen, Bloomsbury, London, 2018, p.116.

Feature Image: German POWs at Stalingrad


About Author

Peter O’Neill is the author of five collections of poetry.  The Exquisite Cadaver is taken from The Enemy – Transversions from Charles Baudelaire ( Lapwing, 2015). His sixth collection of poetry, a bilingual collection translated into French by Yan Kouton, Henry Street Arcade, is to be published by Éditions du Pont de l’Europe and will be launched on the 8th April, 2021, as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Charles Baudelaire which will be hosted by the Alliance Francaise in Dublin.

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