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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Heidegger's Shadow

José Pablo Feinmann

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Heidegger's Shadow

Title: Heidegger's Shadow
Author: José Pablo Feinmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 125 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Heidegger's Shadow - US
La sombra de Heidegger - US
Heidegger's Shadow - UK
Heidegger's Shadow - Canada
L'ombra di Heidegger - Italia
La sombra de Heidegger - España
  • Spanish title: La sombra de Heidegger
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Joshua Price and María Constanza Guzmán

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Our Assessment:

B : solid if somewhat obvious attempt at a philosophical-historical novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Universo . 12/2/2006 Javier Ponce

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hay algo más que el retrato de Heidegger en la novela: el novelista tienta los límites entre la historia y la ficción; cuando aborda un personaje, una época y un país tan presentes en la historia contemporánea, el puente entre lo real y lo ficticio solo puede ser el delirio. Y ese es el caso de Hitler, al igual que lo fueron, para Feinmann, tantos momentos de la historia argentina que él convirtió en novelas." - Javier Ponce, El Universo

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The first of Heidegger's Shadow's two parts is in the form of a very long letter philosophy professor Dieter Müller writes to his fourteen-year-old son in 1948. He writes from his Argentine exile, but this letter, "which expresses my tragedy and the tragedy of the great nation of Germany", is written in German, the language of the culture, country, and philosophy that formed him. It is a last testament -- the Luger lies at the ready beside him ... --, an (attempted) explanation that is also a confession; Müller explains that he wants to take great care with setting it down, because he knows his son will re-read it many times, looking for answers; "Some day you will understand", he promises.
       What is there to explain ?
       Müller, a star-struck disciple of philosopher Martin Heidegger's -- "His ideas gave me life. They made me feel again that human intelligence has no limits" --, was present at Heidegger's (in)famous 'Rectorship Address', when the revered master assumed the position of head of the University of Freiburg in 1933, Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität [pdf] ('The Self-Assertion of the German University' [pdf]) and, despite having (wisely, as it turns out), parried a friend's earlier exhortations to join the SA Müller then found himself swept up in the rising movement:

     The day after -- impelled by a sense of certainty that I'd never had before -- I joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
     In short, my son, I became a Nazi.
       Heidegger's Shadow explores the question of why Martin Heidegger embraced the Nazi cause, and what his culpability is: Müller, for example, can claim -- to himself, at least -- that Heidegger turned him into a Nazi. But Müller is entranced by Heidegger's vision, which he never truly finds in the Nazi cause; what troubles him is that his master, who surely recognizes the same, nevertheless does not break with Hitler's gang, and, in his inaction, can only be seen as remaining supportive (even continuing to pay his party dues).
       Müller is never a very good Nazi -- yet also, in some ways, the ideal Nazi: he barely debates the issues (though he does question them), and, most importantly, he does as he is told, teaching a warped philosophy and ideology as dictated by the ludicrous intellectual masters who come to control the university. Intellectually -- philosophically -- Müller is completely compromised -- even more so, in some ways, than his idol, who can afford to stand a bit above and away from the fray (which also means removing himself from positions of power and official decision-making, the reason Heidegger quickly lay down his rectorship in 1934). Among the questions that still torture Müller as he writes his letter is why Heidegger was unwilling or unable to take a stronger stand, and indeed even remained a party member to the bitter end. Müller himself does flee before it is all over, his position eventually leading to the possibility of lecturing in still-occupied Paris, and then Spain, from where he goes into Argentine exile. His flight feels like a resigned desire to avoid what he sees as the inevitable coming catastrophe: arguably, he only jumps ship because he sees which way the wind is blowing (and bombs are falling), and that there's no future in and for Germany.
       Müller is completely spellbound by Heidegger's philosophy, and specifically the concepts of Being and Dasein. Early on he argues with a friend who maintains that Heidegger's magnum opus: "Being and Time does not deal with war", for example -- but Müller insists
     "There is nothing that Being and Time does not discuss.
       And for him it is true.
       Müller sees Heidegger's philosophy as ideal, rather than ideological. He maintains:
A disciple of Heidegger can't be racist. His subject is Being, not race, not biology.
       Müller is convinced that Nazism is merely a perversion of Heidegger's thought: "Little he said had any relation with the real National Socialism", he splutters. He defends his master:
If Nazism did not rise to his level, either because it didn't know how or because it couldn't, well, that's another story. If Nazism blinded itself in the racist biological texts of Rosenberg, Baeumler, and Goebbels, if it relied on a lost and mediocre version of Nietzsche, Heidegger was not to blame. In his course on metaphysics, he talked of the greatness and truth of National Socialism. And it was he who knew how to enunciate it.
       Müller is torn between airy ideals and the reality around him, but he's also unwilling to acknowledge the extent of Heidegger's culpability, or the insidious role his philosophy plays in upholding the horrific reality of Nazism as it unfolded.
       The much shorter final part of the book jumps ahead twenty years, to 1968, when Müller's son -- named Martin, after the master ... -- comes, Luger in hand, to confront Heidegger, and then to 1976. The three parts of this section consist of his account of his confrontation with Heidegger -- a monologue, practically, where only Heidegger's physical reactions are occasionally mentioned but where he has no say whatsoever -- and then his summing up of his own story, jumping then almost another decade ahead, when he steps into his father's footsteps, taking up what is essentially the same teaching position his father once held after fleeing Argentina.
       Müller's son assures Heidegger:
I promise you, I will not judge you. I didn't come to initiate a philosophical Nuremberg trial.
       Yet he remains accusatory, and is clearly disturbed that history -- personal and public -- seems to have been forgotten: "As of 1968, no one remembers your being a Nazi. [...] It's over. You've become a star again". Müller's son remembers -- and is also able to point to the history he has lived through, in Argentina, an effective reminder of how insidious 'thought' and abstract ideals can be, depending on how they are handled.
       Heidegger's Shadow is a philosophical novel, wrestling with philosophy and its consequences. Müller isn't won over by Sartre's Heidegger-variation, Being and Nothingness, but he's floored by Nausea:
     It was a great book.
     It was something I'd never encountered before.
     A philosophical novel. It was impossible to know where one discipline ended and the other began, what was literature, what was philosophy.
       The closing line -- "Tomorrow it will rain in Bouville" -- particularly impresses him, and Feinmann effectively closes his own novel with Müller's son back at home, observing: "Tomorrow it will rain in Freiburg".
       Such playful literary references are among the pleasures of the text, as Feinmann weaves the real, philosophical, and literary together in his novel in a fairly clever way. So, beside the obvious -- Hannah Arendt -- he also has Müller encounter the fictional Sally Bowles (from Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin and, eventually the stage and film adaptation, Cabaret). Other cameos range from Jürgen Habermas to a concealed -- recalled only as having "two last names connect with a 'y'" -- Ortega y Gasset, all of which Feinmann handles quite nicely.
       Among the novel's failings is any sort of realizing of the character of Müller as a parent: there's almost no sense of his fatherhood here, barely a mention of dealing with the child (whom he had to raise alone after the early death of his wife). Given that the novel is largely in the form of a father's letter to his son, and then a son's quest to find answers about his father, the absence of any real sense of their relation(ship) is regrettable, and feels like a lacuna.
       Heidegger's Shadow is an interesting and fairly successful approach to a fascinating philosophical and historical question, if not entirely successful as a novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 June 2018

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Heidegger's Shadow: Reviews: Martin Heidegger: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine philsopher and author José Pablo Feinmann was born in 1943.

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© 2018-2023 the complete review

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