Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness

By Babich, Babette | Shofar, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness


Babich, Babette, Shofar


Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, by Daniel Maier-Katkin. New York: W W Norton & Co., 2010. 384 pp. $26.95.

It is Hannah Arendt who gives herself the title of a "girl from afar," "Mädchen aus dem Fremde" claiming Schillers words for her own. And Heidegger echoed this claim, writing a poem for her, as only Heidegger could and as only Arendt would be able to hear: "Stranger from abroad, du, / may you live in the beginning" (p. 22),

Daniel Maier-Katkin's Stranger from Abroad tells the story of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger not only as a love-affair but as a friendship, which, given the peculiar resistances of Heidegger's character, means that Maier-Katkin writes about forgiveness. This latter dual emphasis makes this book as profound a contribution as it is to the debate on Arendt and Heidegger, but this profundity will doubtless make the book difficult reading for those who turn to such a book just to read of their love-affair, perhaps for the frisson that such a common fact of academic life can still exert, or else to wonder at the durability of any love and any friendship that lasted until Arendt died in 1975, half a year before Heidegger in 1976.

And yet there are few things that are so commonly mistrusted as the story of a friendship. Thus we suspect Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Schiller and Goethe, Adorno and Benjamin. Even in the age of Facebook, where the one or two or four or six friends in the course of a lifetime (and that only for some lucky souls) routinely morphs into hundreds (more for younger users), we tend to wonder about friendship, its basis, its truth. Were Arendt and Heidegger really friends? Better to ask, what kind of love-affair was it that they shared? Are there details? And again, and above all, how did it manage to last?

Like friendship, love is always needing to beg forgiveness, even as it "keeps no record of wrongs. ... It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13). Thus, like Aristotle, we count as real or true only those friendships and loves that outlast utility or survive the fading of sensual fancy (and of this Elfriede was never sure). At the same time, it says something about Heidegger that in spite of his character, transparent as he was to his friends, as Karl Jaspers tells Arendt (". . . here we are, the two best friends he has, and we see right through him" [p. 175]), he had friends like Jaspers and especially like Arendt.

That Maier-Katkin traces the nature of such a love and friendship means that he does not offer a full biography. Nor do we learn very much about Heidegger (as if one needed to ask) or Jaspers or even very much about Arendts two husbands, Günther Stern (later Anders), whom she married in 1929 and divorced in 1937 and Heinrich Blücher, whom she married in 1940. MaierKatkin does tell us that Heidegger did not hold Anders in high esteem "and in the end neither did Hannah" (p. 52). We do read of Anders' beauty and athleticism, significant of course as a German Jew at the time but also significant for what it tells us about Arendt. And there is more: unlike Heinrich Blücher, who was not formally educated, Anders sought to complete his habilitation in Frankfurt under a committee including Tillich, Horkheimer, Adorno, Wertheimer, and Mannheim. Maier-Katkin blames Adorno for blocking Anders as insufficiently Marxist. But Anders himself, who never courted the academy on its own terms, told a different but recognizable story: as a Jew, he would be given the academically common "run-around" by his superiors in the 30s:"We just have to let the Nazis go through for a year or so, then you can be habilitated. …

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