"Eternity, from Afar into Intimacy": Time and History in the Letters of Martin Heidegger to Hannah Arendt

By Caldarone, Rosaria | Philosophy Today, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

"Eternity, from Afar into Intimacy": Time and History in the Letters of Martin Heidegger to Hannah Arendt


Caldarone, Rosaria, Philosophy Today


"The work is reflected in the letters-or is it rather the reverse?" -Martin Heidegger to Hannah Arendt, September 29,1967

"And yet it often seems to me as if what has been [das Gewesene] converges on a single moment [einen einzigen Augenblick] that salvages what can last [der das Bleibende birgt]."-Martin Heidegger to Hannah Arendt, October 6,1966

As known, the criticism of a linear view of history-as a succession of facts that finds its truth in the end or in view of the end is, in Heidegger, the result of a unique way of experiencing the role and the ontological thickness of temporality. Like temporality, historicity also refers to the way being is being, and it is in this dislocation of the "historic" that the new thought of ''event" unfolds. However, such a turn, as fruitful for all of the philosophical twentieth century as it may be, could not remain immune to ambiguities and contradictions, especially if questioned in the inevitable cross with some events that have marked most intimately and most dramatically the life and times of its protagonist: thus in the difference between the dimension of the event and the advent, between destination and destiny there might be room for a messianism of the "truth" that has something inscrutable and sacral, and today, for us, insane.

The following pages aim to some extent to counteract such a suspicion in light of the consideration of the link between time and history that emerges in Heidegger's letters to Hannah Arendt. That link, in fact, does not stretch out its constitutive and insurmountable phenomenological texture: in the configuration of the event what it is about is the phenomenon, the phenomenon that "phenomenolizes" itself, which comes to itself, to its own self-manifestation, in the effectivity of life. What emerges, then, is "another genesis" of the relationship between time, history, destiny and event, whose connection is to be made by the phenomenon of love. In this new "assumption of a burden" it happens that the "event" awaits history and originates from it, as an exercise of its memory, and not that history awaits the "event"-a fatal error which Heidegger, after having taught us to avoid it, perhaps made himself. Revealing the truth of time, love does not constrain history.

1.The well-known lecture on "Der Begriff der Zeit" held by Heidegger in 1924 in front of the Marburg theologians starts with a concession:

If time finds its meaning in eternity, then it must be understood starting from eternity. The point of departure and path of this inquiry are thereby indicated in advance: from eternity to time. This way of posing the question is fine, provided that we have the aforementioned point of departure at our disposal, that is, that we are acquainted with eternity and adequately understand it. If eternity were something other than the empty state of perpetual being, the àel, if God were eternity, then the way of contemplating time initially suggested would necessarily remain in a state of perplexity so long as it knows nothing of God, and fails to understand the inquiry concerning him.1

and continues with a refusal:

The philosopher does not believe. If the philosopher asks about time, then he has resolved to understand time in terms of time or in terms of the àel, which looks like eternity but proves to be a mere derivative of being temporal.2

Nevertheless, from this preliminary theoretical disposition there does not follow a definitive separation between philosophy and theology, in that the treatment of time also continues to be susceptible of being read from a theological point of view, though not being of a theological nature; and since the peculiarity of the theological point of view is to start from eternity, the treatment of time ends up including the latter, though residually, in its horizon. This minimal reception in which the non-indifference of philosophy is expressed in relation to the perspective characterizing theology certainly contains a confutative character ("The philosopher does not have faith"), but if we look carefully it is a confutation that preserves the aim of posing the problem of eternity in another way, and does not turn destructively towards the object in itself; hence eternity is not rejected, as this passage in the text admits:

The following considerations are not theological. …

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