Saturday, April 12, 2014

Of Minds and Personalities

Today's London Telegraph has an article by Michael Inwood, who teaches philosophy at Oxford, on the subject of Martin Heidegger's anti-Semitism. He seems to have a hard time with the personal prejudices of a man "lauded by his admirers as the greatest mind of the 20th century." Without wishing either to deny or to dismiss Heidegger's opinions about Jews, I have to say that I am beginning to tire of reading otherwise informed writers rake up these coals every time a new embarrassing text comes to light.

Those of us who take our music seriously were contending with this issue even before Heidegger's star began to rise. The best example is Richard Wagner. Yet, even in Wagner's own time, some of the most informed interpreters of his music were Jewish. Admittedly, some of them, like Gustav Mahler, converted for the sake of career advancement. After all, it was not just Bayreuth that did not tolerate Jews; it was also the Vienna Opera. In Heidegger's case it did not take the philosopher long to realize that the Nazis had no more taste for philosophical insights than Dion did when Plato tried to drum up a "consulting gig" in Syracuse.

There are two ways we can look for parallels between Wagner and Heidegger. One is to elaborate on their overt anti-Semitism. The other is that neither individual can be ignored by anyone seriously concerned with studying music or philosophy, respectively. I happened to be teaching computer science in Israel back when the performance of Wagner's music (both in concert halls and on the radio) was prohibited; and I simply could not grasp how those wishing to study music could manage under such impoverished conditions. (The answer quickly became obvious: They left the country.) Similarly, when it comes to questions of time-consciousness (initiated by Heidegger's teacher Edmund Husserl), we cannot ignore Heidegger. (For that matter, my own opinion is that we cannot think about either making music or listening to it without taking time-consciousness into account.) I see no reason why we cannot manage by concentrating on Heidegger's texts, acknowledging that less attractive context only when it seems necessary, just as any number of musicians can focus on Wagner's music without agonizing over his reprehensible lifestyle (in which anti-Semitism was but one element of the reprehensibility).

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