MURDER WAS THE HISTORY HE WROTE
Heidegger provides an antidote,
Milosz declared, to the Hegelian bite,
Ignoring, it would seem
The Heideggerian beam,
Which he’d applaud as mote, unflawed and right,
Murder being history he wrote.
Inspired by an article (“Out of the Desert, ” TLS,8/2/13) on the Polish philosopher Krzysztof Michalski by Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale:
Michalski was a Catholic whose philosophical passions were Heidegger and Nietzsche. He was a close friend of the philosopherpriest Józef Tischner, chaplain of Polish Solidarity, and of Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II. Earlier Michalski had been a student of Leszek Kolakowski. That was in the 1960s, when Warsaw University’s philosophy department had been among the best in Europe. Michalski had lived in, oliborz, a neighbourhood a few miles north of the university still permeated by the legacy of the pre-war Polish Socialist Party. At the university Michalski had friends from his own neighbourhood, and also other friends, like Adam Michnik, Barbara Toru±czyk, and Irena Grudzi±ska, who were the children of Communists and lived in the centre of Warsaw, in large apartments where they would throw parties when their parents were away.
Then in March 1968, it all changed. Communist censors prematurely shut down performances of Adam Mickiewicz’s nationally minded Romantic drama Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) . Students protested against the closing of the play. In response, the Polish United Workers’ Party (Poland’s Communist party) blamed the student protests on “Zionist conspirators”, using the demonstrations against censorship as a pretext to unleash an anti-Semitic campaign. Communists propagated fantastical accusations of a Nazi-Zionist conspiracy against Poland.
Many of Michalski’s friends went to prison. Michalski did not. He was not at the centre of the student protests, he was only a sympathizer – because he was absorbed in philosophy, because, he believed, he was not as courageous as his friends. When they did get out of prison, many of those friends, together with Kolakowski and others among their professors, left Poland. Altogether, after March 1968, some 13,000 Polish citizens, most but by no means all “of Jewish origin”, gave up their Polish passports in exchange for exit visas. Forty years later, it still felt to Michalski as if it had been just yesterday: the emigration of his friends. The closing of the philosophy department. The end of everything. A catastrophe for his generation, he described it, and for all of Polish intellectual life. “Afterwards, ” he said in an interview, “we lived its consequences, on ruins.”…
Michalski was the rare intellectual with a talent for organization. Yet he remained devoted to philosophy. Among Patocka’s remarkable accomplishments had been a translation of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit into Czech. Patocka, though, was not a Hegelian. On the contrary, he remained so passionate about Heidegger’s philosophy because, he believed, it was Heidegger who provided an antidote to what Milosz called “the Hegelian bite”. This was the intuitive conviction Patocka and Michalski shared, which had brought them together: Heidegger’s philosophy as a means of extricating oneself from all totalizing schemata of history which reduced the individual to a distant observer, gazing on history as if upon an already determinate or to-be-made-determinate object.
Like Hegel, Heidegger was a profoundly historical thinker for whom meaning was only possible in time. Yet in Heidegger’s philosophy, Michalski explained, we do not look at history from the outside, as already finished, as already whole or to be completed in some determinate way, but rather from the inside. We are “always already” thrown into the world, into history, always already bound up in it, open to the unknown that is life. There is no place apart from the world to stand at a distance and contemplate it. We are in the world, Heidegger argued, not in the way that a bird is in a cage or a cookie is in a jar, not in such a way that we could in principle be detached.
Heidegger became for Michalski the thinker who provided a point of departure for answering the answers that kept him awake at night: yes, there can be meaning without totality, without an Archimedean point outside of history and outside of oneself.