Roots of German Philosophy, Part Five: Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
October 14, 2008
Martin Heidegger loved pickles. He loved them so much, he became known as the Pickle Philosopher. And everywhere he went in Freiburg, a lovely city known for its ducks, geese, and swans, the people would point to him and say, “Dere be dat Martin Heidegger! He be de Pickle Man! He gwine to be de big Pickle Philosopher of Germany! He be gettin’ down! He bad!” (Of course, I can only approximate how they talk in Freiburg.) His family was in the pickle business, of course, but not sweet pickles, only sour pickles. No one in Germany eats sweet pickles. Sweet pickles are for wimpy Canadians, who just sit there and say, “Oh, dear!” if someone is being beheaded on a Greyhound bus. Heidegger thought about pickles deeply and developed his philosophy from them. Before the pickle existed, the cucumber existed, as did the brine and spices needed to turn the cucumber into a pickle. So the essence of the pickle preceded the existence of the pickle. This was Heidegger’s Sauregurkenprinzip, or “pickle principle,” which was expounded in Being and Time (1927). So now you know where “essence precedes existence” comes from (which we all used to say in the 60’s, even if we didn’t understand it). And then the existential philosophers told Heidegger, “Hey, you’re one of us! Join the party!” Heidegger not only joined the party, he joined the National Socialist Party, and then he got invited by all the top Nazis to their parties, where good sour pickles were served. Hitler liked Heidegger a lot because he told funny jokes. Here’s his best one: two guys. First guy says, “I’m so sick and tired of people not understanding what I’m talking about!” Second guy replies, “What do you mean?” All the Nazis loved that one! Heidegger’s Sauregurkenphilosophie (“pickle philosophy”) basically obviated everything from Plato onward, because everybody who was a dead philosopher assumed that “being” was self-explanatory and that existence automatically preceded essence (and two blocks away from me in the housing project they still believe that, so no wonder their kids are all on drugs). It was Heidegger who posed the question “Who is the one for whom being matters?” And this led to the famous Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first, What’s on second…” Now you know. Heidegger taught people how to think with Sauregurkenueberlegung, or “pickle reasoning,” and he created the term Sauregurkendasein, or “pickle thereness.” (The latter term now refers to a variety of dwarf gherkins packed by Heinz, which, in my opinion, are nicely crisp but a bit lacking in the spices.) Heidegger also taught us that man must confront nothingness by resolute decision, and he showed he was a man of his word when he became the first philosopher to ride in an airship in 1937, which was the same year the Hindenburg crashed, but luckily he was on a different one. Heidegger had a little cottage at Todtnauberg in the Black Forest (known for its ham and chocolate cake), where he invited friends to barbecues. It was here that he got to know the top Nazis socially. It should be said that Heidegger did not approve of some of the Nazi extremes, like the Holocaust, but at these social occasions he avoided politics, as we all should. During the war, Hitler absorbed the principle that “essence precedes existence” and used it to move non-existent divisions around on a table. Heidegger, solidly in Hitler’s good favor, was given a safe job behind a desk, typing weather reports for the Luftwaffe. After the war, Heidegger got into poetry, technology, and farming, his reputation as a philosopher already firmly entrenched. He wrote lots of books — mostly westerns and action novels — which sold well, and he became a big fan of American football. In fact, he created some of the hand signals used by referees in the NFL. Walt Disney, who was a big fan of Heidegger, created Bambi after reading Heidegger’s charming book A Day In The Black Forest (1950). Groucho Marx was also deeply influenced by Heidegger, if you are old enough to remember the game show You Bet Your Life. The secret word on one show was “pickle.” Heidegger also designed a board game called Sauregurkenkraft (“Pickle Power”), which is the basis for the popular video game Warcraft. Now you know. Heidegger has been the subject of much intellectual argument by other philosophers. Hans-Georg Gadamer said that Heidegger was not as influenced by Wilhelm Dilthey as others believed, but Theodore Kisiel and David Farrell Kress (the famous “Singing Philosophers” of England) disagree, calling Gadamer an “idiot.” Robert J. Dostal insists that Heidegger was greatly influenced by Edmund Husserl, but Gadamer says Paul Yorck von Wartenburg was more influential, a view supported by Casey Stengel. Jacques Derrida, the famous deconstructionist, found that Heidegger’s works came apart easily but were just as easy to put back together. The so-called Farias debates, which were held in a dairy barn near Nuremberg, were intended to deal with the relationship between Heidegger’s philosophy and his Nazi associations, but because of the mooing of the cows, the debates never reached a conclusion. Heidegger died in 1976 and has not been seen anywhere since. The Heidegger Pickle Company is run by his descendants, and all the labels show his picture. Heidegger has been falsely credited with growing the largest zucchini ever grown in Germany. Those sources should be ashamed of themselves for disseminating false information, and I will not mention them here. Heidegger’s zucchini was very big, but it was not the biggest.
1. Astounding Pickle Stories, by Max Erewhonian, 1986, Climax Books.
2. Hermeneutics and Phenomenology — The Bottomless Quagmire, by Wayne Gretzky, 2002, Univ. of Wollongong Press.
3. Banshees of the Black Forest, by Myrna Zlotny, 1980, Harpy Press.
Copyright@ 2008 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org