Academic journal article
By Neumarkt, Paul
Journal of Evolutionary Psychology
If he [the man] lifts himself upwards and touches the stars with his forhead, the soles of his feet dangle in mid-air, and he becomes a plaything of the clouds and the winds. Johan Wolfgang von Goethe: "Grenzen der Menschheit" `(Limits of Humanity.Transl. my own).
Martin Heidegger, the "eminent "German philosopher of our time, was a great admirer of Goethe. This fusion of the philosophical mind with the poetical and psychological orientation of the poet turns out to be a terrible "con-fusion". In the poem cited above, Goethe's appeal is not to the "Volksgeist" i.e. the collective psyche, but rather to the individual thinker who rises so high that his head touches the sky while his feet "dangle" footloose as a plaything of the clouds and the winds. Goethe's warning is not only the load-star of Nietzsche's "over-man" in the figure of Zarathustra, but also the guiding principle of modern psychology. Both Goethe and Nietzsche steer clear of a transcendence of the individual towards the "Volksgeist" (Collective unconscious), and modern psychology equally stresses that the problem of the human psyche cannot be overcome by a total immersion of the individual in the collective psyche. Freud, Jung and others agree that dissension in the human psyche can be overcome only by the effort of the individual to restore the psychic balance by summoning the chaotic contents of the unconscious psyche in a meaningful symbiosis with the conscious aspirations of the rational psyche.
That Goethe did not think of elevating the "Volksgeist" in any undue manner is expressed in his "Venetianische Epigramme" (Venetian Epigrams) where he states: "Works of the mind and of art are not created for the masses." (Translation my own). The fact of the matter is that Heidegger was motivated by the "Volksgeist" (collective psyche) or the "Volksseele" (collective soul), and having lost himself in the clouds of philosophical abstractions, brushed aside the psychological aspect of Goethe's classical rejection of mass mentality in a tour de force which finally ended in Heidegger's "Con-Fusion".
In order to clarify this point further, let me briefly mention here the painting of the German artist Spitzweg. In this well-known painting, the scholar stands on the top of a ladder facing the book shelves. He holds one book in his left hand, another book in his right hand, a third book under his arm, pressed to his body, and a fourth book between his knees. It is apparent that this scholar is so steeped in his studies that he will forget his precarious position on the top of the ladder, and will any moment step away from his narrow platform and fall to his death,--a familiar version of the "Humpty" rhyme.
In this short paper, it is not my aim to diminish the essence of Martin Heidegger's philosophy per se. My attempt here is to confront the highly intellectual profile of Heidegger's potential with the incredibly immature residue of the same philosopher's personality. Heidegger's premise is his indefatigable harping on the theme of the "Volksgeist" or "Volksseele" by elevating these concepts to the sanctified level of apotheosis. In so doing he fell victim to the inherent allusion of Germany's cultural superiority which is expressed in the well known German national anthem, "Deutschland uber alles!" (Germany above all). It is precisely at this crossroad of Heidegger's development that this gifted philosopher was waylaid and overcome by an onslaught of unresolved psychological conflicts that catapulted him to assume the clownlike role of the Humpty-Dumpty figure.
To claim that Heidegger was unaware of Goethe's classical orientation is probably far-fetched. Goethe's appeal is to the conscious individual that is able to recognize human limitations and emerge on the apex of a psychological symbiosis of divergent psychic trends. It would not suprise me to find out that Spitzweg's painting depicts the dilemma of Goethe's footlose thinker whose head is in the clouds. …