In this article, I analyze Heidegger’s marginalia in his personal copy of the 1946 Zurich edition of poems by Georg Trakl, which I discovered several years ago while conducting research in the castle of Heidegger’s hometown of Meßkirch. Although Heidegger’s marginalia in this volume are not extensive, they are significant for three reasons: they provide valuable insight into his reading of the spirit of Trakl’s poetic work and into the place in which Heidegger situates it; they frequently shed light on topics often left in the shadows by Heidegger and his expositors, topics such as (auto)biography, sexual difference, and Christianity; and they bear on Heidegger’s lifelong engagement with the status of being and even, at times, seem to call into question his published positions on it.
Tucked1 away in a locked, secluded library of the Meßkirch Castle, without any label to distinguish it, is a precious item that only a few people have ever set eyes on – indeed, until my recent announcement of its existence, no one had ever even mentioned this uncatalogued item in print.2 I am referring to Martin Heidegger’s personal, annotated copy of the poet Georg Trakl’s Die Dichtungen (Zurich: Die Arche, 1946). Although Heidegger’s marginalia in this volume are not extensive, they provide valuable insight into his reading of the spirit of Trakl’s poetic work and into the place in which Heidegger situates it. In the process, they also shed light on Heidegger’s understanding of topics such as biography, Christianity, sexual difference, and the relation between being and language. Additionally, his markings in the volume’s appendix reveal his acquaintance with – and aversion to – traditional ways of reading Trakl, especially by the authors affiliated with the journal Der Brenner, in which many of Trakl’s poems first appeared. For these reasons, and because of the recent resurgence of interest in Heidegger’s relation to Trakl due to the 2018 publication of Jacques Derrida’s seminar sessions on Heidegger’s reading of the poet,3 I have decided to offer an account of Heidegger’s marginalia in this article.
I will begin by providing some background on the source and status of the marginalia (§1). Next, I will examine Heidegger’s annotations to the reports about Trakl in the appendix of Die Dichtungen (§2), before turning to his marginalia to Trakl’s poems “Grodek” (§3), “Gesang des Abgeschiedenen” (“Song of the Departed One”) (§4), and “Nachtergebung” (“Surrender to the Night”) (§5).
§1 Philological Background
Admittedly, Heidegger never actually cites from this edition of his personal copy of Trakl’s poems, which the actor and theater director Kurt Horwitz edited and published with the Zurich-based press Die Arche in 1946. Heidegger preferred instead to cite from his “workshop volume,”4 namely, the first of a three-volume edition published in Salzburg by Otto Müller Press.5 (Incidentally, this latter volume also bears the title Die Dichtungen and, with the exceptions of a preface and no appendix, seems to be identical to the Zurich version.) It is nevertheless noteworthy that, in both of his essays on Trakl (“Language” and “Language in the Poem,” originally delivered as lectures in 1950 and 1952, respectively), Heidegger mentions the Zurich edition (GA 12: 15, 36n1). While this does not necessarily prove that he owned or even consulted a copy while composing his essays, on both occasions he tells the reader to compare the Zurich edition, which would be surprising had he not done so himself. He also used several different writing utensils (blue pen, black pen, and lead pencil) when making his marginalia, which suggests that he may have returned to the Zurich edition multiple times. Unfortunately, unlike in some of his other volumes, Heidegger’s personal copy bears no date of acquisition.
Inside this copy is a loose, typewritten sheet folded into quarters. In addition to containing a partial, conjectural transcription of the marginalia with emendations in blue pen, at the top of the page there is the explanation (in German) that the copy was “found at the home of Thomas (Sept. 2011),” and contains “handwritten annotations by MH.” “MH” stands for Martin Heidegger, and “Thomas” refers to Heidegger’s nephew. As a different nephew of the philosopher, Heinrich Heidegger, explained to me in a letter, he (Heinrich H.) is the author of the typewritten transcription.6 He provides further details about the possible history of the volume:
You write that the name ‘Heidegger’ is on the cover page, evidently without any further information. / My suspicion: because Medard Boss, in Zurich, had been in contact with my uncle [Martin H.] […], he had the book sent to him; shortly after the war it was difficult for us to get anything from Switzerland. / How did the book come to Meßkirch? […] [E]ver since 1938, my father [Fritz Heidegger] had transcribed many of his brother’s [Martin H.’s] manuscripts […]. I suspect that my uncle gave him the Trakl-book as a token of thanks; because there is no dedication, it was presumably delivered personally, perhaps during one of their meetings in Hüfingen, where their sister Maria Oschwald lived, and where they would meet regularly around the 11th and 12th of November (St. Martin’s Day on 11 November, and 12 November was the birthday of my aunt Marie (* 1891–† 1956)). / After the death of my father († 26 June 1980), we rented the house; only the so-called ‘Study Room’ remained untouched. Yet my brother [Thomas H.] took the most important books regarding Heidegger with him to Bonndorf i. Schw. […]; he had more room than I did (at the time in St. Blasien). Around 2010–2011, he moved with his wife into a smaller place in Neustadt i. Schw.; thus, it was necessary to clear things out again. Because, after my retirement, I had moved into my relatively small family home [in Meßkirch], we decided – because of how little room we had; I after all had my own books – to give the valuable books to the Heidegger-Archive.7
As for the dating of the marginalia, the annotations to “Surrender to the Night” stem from 1958 or later, since this is the year in which some of the manuscript variations of the different versions of the poem – variations that Heidegger reproduces in part in his marginalia – first became available to the public in an essay by Walther Killy.8 Since Heidegger mentions this essay in December 1958,9 it seems likely that he made his annotations to “Surrender to the Night” around this time. One annotation in “Song of the Departed One” might also point to Heidegger’s reading of variations in this poem, which, to my knowledge, were made public only in 1969 (HKA 2: 262–263). Regarding the other marginalia, all I can say definitively is that they were composed in or after 1946, when the Zurich edition appeared in print. In any case, it does not necessarily follow that Heidegger gave his brother his personal copy after 1958 or 1969, since he would make use of his brother’s library when visiting him in Meßkirch over the years, including in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
§2 Annotating Trakl’s Readers
Heidegger’s marginalia in the appendix of the Zurich edition are significant, because they shed light on how Heidegger’s reading is situated in, or rather against, the general reception of Trakl’s work, especially by those who knew Trakl during his lifetime and had some connection with Der Brenner (The Burner), the periodical for avant-garde literature and cultural critique edited by Trakl’s patron and friend Ludwig von Ficker. It is unclear whether Heidegger wrote these marginalia before or after he composed his two essays on Trakl. Even if he did so afterward, this does not mean he was unacquainted with some of the contents of the Zurich edition before then. Most simply, this acquaintance could have come from reading the Zurich edition earlier on, which he refers to in both of his essays on Trakl, even singling out the appendix in “Language in the Poem” (GA 12: 15, 36n1). Another possibility is that Heidegger had read some of this material elsewhere. The first nine texts of the appendix are taken, as a whole or in part, from the first edition of Ficker’s pious memorial to the poet, the edited collection Erinnerung an Georg Trakl (Innsbruck: Brenner, 1926):
Ludwig von Ficker, “Lebensdaten” (“Biographical Dates”).
Karl Kraus, “Zum Dank für den ‘Psalm’” (“With Thanks for the ‘Psalm’”).
Rainer Maria Rilke, “Aus den Briefen, die er im Februar 1915 an den Herausgeber des ‘Brenner’ richtete” (“From the Letters That He Sent to the Editor of Der Brenner in February 1915”).
Erwin Mahrholdt, “Aus einer Studie über Georg Trakl” (“From a Study on Georg Trakl”).
Karl Borromäus Heinrich, “Die Erscheinung Georg Trakls” (“The Phenomenon of Georg Trakl”).
Hans Limbach, “Begegnung mit Georg Trakl” (“Encounter with Georg Trakl”).
Ludwig von Ficker, “Die letzte Begegnung mit Georg Trakl” (“The Last Encounter with Georg Trakl”).
“Brief des Bergarbeiters Matthias Roth aus Hallstatt zum Tode seines Herrn” (“Letter from the Miner Matthias Roth from Hallstatt on the Death of His Master”).
Josef Leitgeb: “Am Grabe Georg Trakls: Ein Gedicht, gesprochen anlässlich der Beisetzung der Gebeine des Dichters auf dem Friedhof von Mühlau am 7. Oktober 1925” (“At the Grave of Georg Trakl: A Poem, Spoken on the Occasion of the Burial of the Bones of the Poet at the Mühlau Cemetery on 7 October 1925”).
The Zurich edition also contains:
Emil Barth: “Zu Trakls letztem Gedicht: ‘Grodek’: Schlusswort einer Schrift zum Gedächtnis von Trakls 50. Geburtstag am 3. Februar 1937” (“On Trakl’s Last Poem: ‘Grodek’: Concluding Words of a Text in Memory of Trakl’s Fiftieth Birthday on 3 February 1937”).
Ludwig von Ficker, “Aus einem Brief vom 12. Juni 1945 an den Herausgeber” (“From a Letter to the Editor from 12 June 1945”).
Kurt Horwitz, “Nachwort” (“Afterword”).
At any rate, whether the marginalia date from before or after his essays, they can help us better to appreciate the distinctiveness of Heidegger’s reading of Trakl, especially as regards the topics of Christianity, Geschlecht (“gender,” “generation,” “tribe,” “species”), and the interplay of biography, autobiography, and hagiography.
Let’s begin at the end of the volume, with editor Kurt Horwitz’s afterword. Horwitz explains that his goal in compiling the texts that comprise the appendix was twofold: he wanted “to let the image of a poet more clearly come to the fore,” and he wanted “to point to the existentially Christian dimension in Georg Trakl’s essence, a dimension that distinguishes him essentially from the highly celebrated poets of his epoch – Rilke, Hofmannsthal, and George” (DD: 229). It is significant that these two objectives are precisely what Heidegger resists in his reading of Trakl. Heidegger actively opposes the value of biographical depiction (GA 12: 15, 33), and at nearly every turn he tries to undermine or, at best, underpin the Christian(-Platonic) reading by recourse to an ontological one (GA 12: 25, 35–36, 41, 54–55, 72–73). It should therefore come as little surprise when Heidegger draws a large question mark next to Horwitz’s interpretive justification for his editorial focus:
[Trakl] has answered the decisive question of the Gospel clearly and distinctly: “What do you all hold about Christ? Whose son is He?” [Matthew 22:42] In his poems, bread and wine and the angels do not merely show up as sweet and beautiful images. His melancholy, his solitude, and his despair are absolutely conditioned [bedingt] by Christianity. (DD: 229)
Heidegger underlined the word bedingt (“conditioned”) here, apparently because, on his reading, Christianity is not the condition for the possibility of understanding the place of the poetic work; rather, if there is a Christian element in Trakl’s oeuvre, it is intelligible only on the basis of a prior, and therefore pre-Christian, determination of the place of the poetry. “Trakl’s melancholy, his solitude, homelessness, and despair,” are not, as Horwitz claims, “that of an essentially Christian poet in an un-Christian age” (DD: 230); Christianity, or, at best, Christendom, for Heidegger, is rather of a piece with the machinations and mendacity of the metaphysical age.
We can interpret another marginalium in the appendix in a similar fashion. The fourth text in the appendix is an excerpt from what one scholar has called the “most striking” representation of the image of Trakl projected by the Brenner Circle, namely, Erwin Mahrholdt’s substantial study “Der Mensch und Dichter Georg Trakl” (“The Man and Poet Georg Trakl”) (1925).10 In contrast to Heidegger’s anti-Platonic interpretation, Mahrholdt contends that Trakl’s profound Christian suffering led him to espouse a dualistic metaphysics of good versus evil, heaven versus earth. Experiencing these oppositions within his own person,
[h]is watchword was to purify oneself and bear oneself up to God […]. To tell people what they no longer knew: that their soul is something foreign on earth [ein Fremdes auf Erden], is something divine, worthy of the highest care, and to sing to them of its golden stillness. (DD: 202–203)
Heidegger drew a line in the margin next to Mahrholdt’s interpretation of the soul as something foreign or strange on earth, no doubt because of its diametrical opposition to Heidegger’s own interpretation of Trakl’s verse (“Es ist die Seele ein Fremdes auf Erden”) in his second essay on the poet. Heidegger reads fremd, not as “foreign to,” but as Old High German fram, “on the way to,” the earth (GA 12: 37). Heidegger’s articulation of the standard approach to this verse reads like an ironic gloss on Mahrholdt’s account. Heidegger writes:
Suddenly, with this sentence, we find ourselves in the midst of a commonplace notion. This notion presents us with the earth as the terrestrial, in the sense of the transitory. The soul, in contrast, is considered to be what is intransitory, supra-terrestrial. Ever since Plato’s doctrine, the soul has belonged to the super-sensuous. If, however, it appears within the sensuous, then it is only as something that has been cast out [verschlagen] into it. Here, “on earth,” it does not have the right cast [Schlag – a word related to Geschlecht]. It does not belong on the earth. Here, the soul is “something foreign.” The body is a prisoner of the soul, if not something worse. Thus, there apparently remains no other prospect for the soul than to leave behind the realm of the sensuous as soon as possible, a realm that, seen from a Platonic perspective, is not truly existent and is only decay. (GA 12: 35–36)
In the next paragraph of Mahrholdt’s study alone, there are five additional moments that sharply contrast with Heidegger’s hermeneutics. Mahrholdt writes:
Looming alongside this Christian submission and cloistral, inner detachment [Abgeschiedenheit] is the most terrible fear that [Trakl’s] beloved human race [Menschengeschlecht] could at some point completely perish [untergehen]. Just as the boy hated the relentlessly forward-rushing and all-devouring times and threw himself in the path of furiously hurrying people and animals, so, in the midst of the absurdity [Wahnwitz] of the war and of the greedy destruction, the poet plaintively exclaims: the icy wave of eternity would gobble up the golden image of Man. (DD: 203)
First, Mahrholdt reads Abgeschiedenheit in its religious sense, as involving both disconnectedness from earthly decay and departure toward heavenly restoration, not, like Heidegger, in the sense of setting out in the direction of a new earthly homeland.11 Second, Mahrholdt emphasizes Trakl’s concomitant compassion for the world he wishes to flee (see the poem “Grodek”), whereas Heidegger scandalously claims that Trakl would have jubilated over the deaths that checked the propagation of the degenerate race (GA 12: 61–62).12 Third, Mahrholdt uses the word untergehen in the catastrophic sense of extinction, not, as Heidegger does, in the sense of ‘going (back) down’ into a realm that precedes the putrescent Geschlecht and awaits the unborn (GA 12: 38, 50–51, 70). Fourth, Mahrholdt reads Trakl’s late poem “Klage” (“Lament”), from which he takes the words “the icy wave of eternity would gobble up the golden image of Man,” as though spoken from the mouth of a prophet; it is a jeremiad, quite compatible with Christianity or at least its older testament. Heidegger, however, asserts that the “icy wave of eternity” is not only non-Christian – “it is not even Christian despair” (GA 12: 72). Finally, here, as well as in the very title of his study, “The Man and Poet Georg Trakl,” Mahrholdt follows the maxim, “like person, like poetry,” while Heidegger gives primacy and pride of place to the poem itself.
Mahrholdt’s biographical approach is exemplified in another passage annotated by Heidegger:
Trakl bore within himself both of the dangers of genius that Weininger speaks of, those of crime and madness:13 he subdued the criminal element early on, even if it often reared up in his severe and, as it were, petrified face and scared people off; to the death, however, he feared falling entirely into madness, which had already at times grabbed hold of the infinitely melancholic one. Blooming behind this slag was a truly benevolent and faithful human being, recognizable in his mildness and purity only through the untarnished reflection of his essence, the poetry [das ungetrübte Abbild seines Wesens, die Dichtung]. (DD: 200–201)
Heidegger underlined the phrase ungetrübte Abbild seines Wesens (“untarnished reflection of his essence”), and drew a question mark next to it in the margin. Again, what Heidegger is opposing is the idea that poetry reflects the person, whether purified or not.
Despite this, Heidegger shows particular interest in the person of Trakl. He drew lines in the margins next to Mahrholdt’s comments that Trakl’s “head was somewhat bent by the torture of his blinding consciousness” and that “[t]he senseless spirit of power and commerce that wrecked Germany was foreign to him, together with the West’s idealism about sports and its craving for happiness” (DD: 200–201). Heidegger did the same for a passage from a 1926 text by Trakl’s friend Karl Borromäus Heinrich, the dedicatee of the poems “Song of the Departed One” and “Untergang” (“Downfall”). Heinrich relates “that gloom and madness [Wahnsinn] did not speak from [Trakl’s] countenance, but rather love, compassion, unspeakable suffering, in addition the mighty stillness of the gazing human being” (DD: 207). And, in Hans Limbach’s 1914 recollection of his encounter with Trakl, Heidegger took note of passages in which Limbach emphasizes Trakl’s reticence:
Trakl responded only briefly and seemingly unwillingly, and when one of the questions appeared to come too close, he shrank back in a timid and almost hostile way. […] [B]y all appearances, it was embarrassing for him to have to justify himself. […] Trakl’s essence was characterized by the profoundest reticence. (DD: 210)
To be sure, Heidegger takes up many of these themes in his writings on Trakl, including the importance of silence and stillness (especially GA 12: 26–30, 75); Wahnsinn, not as “madness,” but as “being without (wana) modern sensibility (Sinn)” (GA 12: 49, 67, 76); and compassion, or rather, contra Heinrich, its opposite, a certain disdain (GA 12: 61–62). But he is also interested in the way Trakl does or does not embody them.14
There is perhaps something more at play here than biographical fascination. Derrida notes that Heidegger’s reading of Trakl bears Heidegger’s own signature or distinctive mark: as Trakl’s Fremder (“foreigner,” “stranger”) has a determinate trajectory and destination, so too does Heidegger in his interpretation; indeed, it is one and the same destination, that of the Abend-Land, the “land of evening” that is more primordial and futural than all notions of the West or Occident (GA 12: 73–77).15 Derrida hesitates to call this reading autobiographical in any conventional sense of the term, but I wonder whether Heidegger did not see aspects of himself – or aspects of how he would have liked to have seen himself – in the poet: reticence; reluctance to justify oneself; aversion to mass culture and its pursuit of happiness; having, as Hölderlin said of Oedipus and Heidegger said of Hölderlin, “one eye too many, perhaps” (GA 4: 47).
Moreover, we might wonder about Heidegger’s stance on the hagiographic tendencies (and tendentiousness) of the Brenner Circle when it came to Trakl.16 Heidegger would presumably balk at the biographical justification for sainthood, its attractiveness notwithstanding. But Heidegger does not hesitate to include Trakl in his own heterodox canon of the blessed. Trakl is a “great poet,” and great poets poetize only from out of one single unspoken poem (GA 12: 33). This poem, like the parables of Jesus, is audible only to those “with ears to hear” (Matthew 13:9, etc.).
Earlier I suggested that, at best, Heidegger might be critiquing Christendom and not Christianity as such. This reading would require a large helping of hermeneutic charity, but it would not be wholly baseless. Heidegger does seem to be open to the possibility of an emplacement of the Christian dimension; it’s just that such an emplacement would be derivative of Heidegger’s prior ontological emplacement, and – if this is even possible – it wouldn’t be able use “the concepts of metaphysical theology or those of ecclesiastical theology” (GA 12: 72). As Heidegger said around the time when he was preparing “Language in the Poem”: “If I were to write another theology, as I am sometimes tempted to do, the word ‘being’ would not be allowed to appear in it” (GA 15: 437). Another prohibited word would, presumably, be “transcendence,” which Heidegger is reported to have addressed during a discussion the day after the delivery of “Language in the Poem”: Heidegger granted the importance of the question concerning Trakl’s relation to Christianity, but, he said, transcendence “would no longer be necessary here, since ‘God is indeed present,’” “‘God is there!’ (In Trakl’s poem).”17 In any case, Limbach’s report, which Heidegger marked up extensively, would be an important source for any effort to rehabilitate Trakl’s Christianity.
In a diary entry reproduced in part in the appendix of the Zürich edition, Limbach relates that, on 13 January 1914, he had gone with the author Carl Dallago to the home of Ficker, on which occasion Limbach first met Trakl. That evening, before turning to the subject of religion, the outspoken Dallago had been grilling Trakl with a host of disparate questions, completely insensitive to Trakl’s reserved, even detached nature. In Limbach’s words, which Heidegger drew an arrow next to, “D. had no sense for [Trakl’s] way of being and laid into him more and more” (DD: 210).
Noting similarities in their poetry, Dallago asked Trakl about Walt Whitman, whom Trakl said he found to be pernicious. This surprised Dallago and led to another barrage of questions. Ficker intervened, noting a major opposition between the two poets: whereas Whitman affirms life in all its complexity, “Trakl is a pessimist through and through” (DD: 210). Yet Dallago would not relent. He asked whether Trakl didn’t, after all, have any “joy in life,” whether his creative work didn’t bring him any “satisfaction.” “‘Certainly,’” Trakl responded, “‘it’s just that one must be mistrustful of such satisfaction’” (DD: 210–211). We now arrive at the turning point in the conversation, in which Trakl’s faith comes to the fore. In his marginalia, Heidegger drew an arrow to mark off what comes next:
Extremely astonished, D. leaned back in his chair.
“Why don’t you simply enter a cloister, then?,” he asked finally, after a short silence.
“I’m a Protestant,” Trakl answered in a muffled tone.18
“Pro-te-stant?,” asked D. slowly – “I certainly wouldn’t have thought that! – You should at least not live in the city, then, but in the country, where you would be farther removed from the hustle and bustle of people and closer to nature!”
“I have no right to escape from Hell,” Trakl retorted.
“But Christ escaped from it.”
“Christ is God’s Son!” answered the former.
D. hardly knew how to contain himself.
“So then you also believe that all salvation comes from him? You understand ‘God’s Son’ in the proper sense of the word?”
“I’m a Christian” – answered Trakl.
“Okay,” – continued the former – “then how do you explain such non-Christian phenomena as the Buddha or the Chinese sages?”
“They, too, received their light from Christ.” (DD: 211)
The spirit in which Heidegger took note of this report is difficult to ascertain, although Trakl’s replies do bear a certain noble simplicity and immanent orientation. In any event, Trakl’s god is hardly the transcendent causa sui of the theologians (see GA 11: 77).
Trakl grew even more weary and withdrawn as the conversation went on. Dallago asked about the decline of humanity since the age of the ancient Greeks, suggesting thereby that that age had marked the pinnacle of human achievement. Trakl replied by resetting the parameters: humanity had never, and could never have, sunk so low as since the appearance of Christ. Limbach relates that, at this point in the exchange, Dallago, refusing to consider Trakl’s mood, “brought up Nietzsche as a final trump” (DD: 211). Heidegger drew two lines in the margin next to this. Limbach does not report what exactly Dallago said, but it was such as to elicit a brusque response from Trakl: “‘Nietzsche was mad [wahnsinnig]!’” (DD: 211). When Dallago asked for clarification, all Trakl could bring himself to do was to chalk it up to the same sickness from which Maupassant suffered, namely, syphilis. Trakl said this even though, according to Limbach, “the demon of falsehood seemed to glisten in [Trakl’s] eyes” (DD: 211). Outraged, Dallago rejected Trakl’s contention outright, exclaiming that Trakl had to know there was more to Nietzsche’s madness than the mere pathophysiology of a sexually transmitted infection. Trakl fell silent. A while later, he turned back to Christ, touching on the relation of the sexes and the possibility, not of the “O n e Geschlecht” of the lovers in Trakl’s poem “Abendländisches Lied” (“Occidental Song”), which Heidegger comments on – although without mentioning the lovers (GA 12: 40, 74) – but of the “one flesh” from Genesis (2:24) and Jesus’s gloss on it (Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:5–9):
“It is unheard of” – [Trakl] began – “how Christ solves the deepest questions of humanity with every simple word! Can the questions regarding the community between Man and Woman [Mann und Weib] be solved more completely than through the command: They shall be One Flesh?” (DD: 212)19
Later in the evening, Trakl spoke with Limbach about Dostoevsky and Russia, where Limbach had been living for the past couple years. Trakl must have still been thinking about the relation between Man and Woman, since, with respect to the character Sonja from Crime and Punishment,
[Trakl] uttered the beautiful words – again with wildly glistening eyes – “The hounds who assert that Woman only seeks sensual pleasure should be struck dead! Woman seeks her justice [or righteousness, Gerechtigkeit] as well as each of us do.” (DD: 212)
There are, to conclude this section, a couple things worth noting about this passage, which Heidegger marked with two lines in the margin and a ‘>’-shaped figure, perhaps thereby signaling its special significance for him. First, this passage, together with the one from Genesis above, displays Trakl’s opposition to the hugely influential book by Otto Weininger from 1903, Geschlecht und Charakter – so influential, in fact, that no intellectual in the Austro-Hungarian empire writing in the years before the onset of World War One could theorize Geschlecht without having been affected, however indirectly, by this work. In contrast to Trakl, Weininger deprecated women’s inherent lack of justice – they were, for him, a symbol of totipotent nothingness – and advocated celibacy as a means to escape their corrupting influence on men’s moral ascent.20 However, even if there is discord between the sexes in the present age, the solution is not to dissolve difference or transcend it for a third, androgynous self, as Weininger claims; rather, what is needed, according to Heidegger, is a thinking that would do justice to a gentler sexual difference. Remarkably, Heidegger moves in this direction in his second essay on Trakl (GA 12: 41, 46, 63, 74). But, and this is the second point I would like to make, to do justice to this topic requires a consideration of justice, Gerechtigkeit, itself. Or, if we are to take the Christian dimension seriously, it requires a consideration of righteousness (another possible rendering of Gerechtigkeit; compare the Greek dikaiosunē). Despite a possible moment of recognition in his marginal note here, Heidegger effectively ignores this theme in his reading of Trakl, as he does the theme of love. These themes are nevertheless crucial for Trakl, as we can hear in the following words from one of his letters to Ficker:
Too little love, too little Gerechtigkeit and mercy, and always too little love; all too much hardness, haughtiness, and all sorts of criminality – that is what I am. I am certain that I refrain from evil only out of weakness and cowardice and thereby further defile my malice. I yearn for the day when the soul will no longer want and be able to dwell in this unholy, soulless body that is tainted with melancholy; when the soul will leave behind this figure of derision that is made of excrement and putrefaction and is but an all-too-faithful reflection of a godless, accursed century. / God, only a small spark of pure joy – and one would be saved; love – and one would be redeemed. (HKA 1: 301)
§3 Geist as Gelassenheit, Geist as Aufruhr: Marginalia to “Grodek”
Earlier I mentioned a certain tone-deafness in Heidegger’s appreciation of Trakl. Where others hear a compassionate lament for the soldiers who died at the Battle of Grodek and for their unborn descendants, Heidegger hears hope for a race yet to come. Where others hear a rending pain that would soon drive Trakl to a lethal overdose, Heidegger hears a gentle pain that would serve the spirit of gathering. Heidegger’s marginalia in his personal copy of the Zurich edition do little to counter this reading, but they do provide further insight into his onto-historical interpretation of Trakl’s poetry. Here is the last poem Trakl ever wrote:
Heidegger divided the poem into four parts, each ending with a period. His marginalia pertain to the last two parts.
Regarding the line, “And softly in the reeds the dark flutes of autumn resound,” Heidegger wrote on the black space of the facing page of his copy: “‘Geistliche Dämmerung’ –: die sanften Flöten des Herbstes.” This is a reference to Trakl’s poem “Spiritual Twilight,” where Trakl sings, not of the dark, but of “the gentle flutes of autumn,” which “keep silent in the reeds” (DD: 131; emphasis added). Although, in “Grodek,” the dark flutes resound softly, Heidegger seems to want to mark a contrast between darkness and gentleness, between plaintive foreboding and collected silence.
Whatever the case may be, his next marginal note demarcates an even more fundamental opposition. At the center of spirit – nay, not at the center, for there is no center; Geist, like fire, is inherently outside of itself (gheis) – in the eccentric, ecstatic movement of spirit, there is a tendency toward gentleness, but there is also a tendency toward uprising and upheaval. Remarkably, Heidegger’s annotation links gentleness with the term d’art of his later thought, Gelassenheit (“releasement”), a word that Heidegger seems at pains to avoid in “Language in the Poem,” despite the fact that Meister Eckhart used it as a synonym of Abgeschiedenheit, as Heidegger well knew. Across from Trakl’s line, “The hot flame of spirit is nourished today by a mighty pain,” Heidegger wrote:
Around the time he composed his second Trakl-essay, Heidegger was elsewhere trying to understand being and the appropriative event in terms of releasement (GA 99: passim); later, he would even say that “the deepest sense of being is letting [Lassen]” (GA 15: 363). What is interesting about the marginal note, however, is its implication that releasement is only one fold of an intrinsically riven origin. Heidegger does, to be sure, suggest something similar in his essay: “Geist, understood in this way [as Gothic gheis], holds sway [west] in the possibility of the gentle and the destructive” (GA 12: 56). But, like Schelling, to whom he is indebted on this point, he hopes for, even prophesizes, a new sort of golden age, an eschaton, in which gentleness would permanently gather up and harness the destructive trait of spirit.22
The annotation suggests otherwise. It suggests that insurrection is intrinsic to the sway of spirit. If we were to speak of a self-purging or self-containment, of spiritual progress on the part of Geist, then it would be hard to make sense of the claim that spirit is, as such, outside of itself, and that being-outside-of-oneself entails revolt. Heidegger tries to insulate his interpretation against the metaphysics of Platonism and Christianity, but his annotation compels us to ask whether there isn’t something metaphysical about his aspirations for a purified homeland and a purified Geschlecht. How much gathering can there be before the incalculable freedom of being is rendered null? The quelling of its rage and the softening of its pain may sound nice, but isn’t this ultimately a fantasy on par with the grandest of the metaphysical tradition? Don’t such fantasies blind us to insuperable malice and thereby only fuel its flames? By recognizing an intractable impulse toward insurrection in the hot flame of Geist, Heidegger’s annotation embodies the spirit of “Grodek” more faithfully than his essay does.
Heidegger’s final marginalium to “Grodek” pertains to the last line of the poem, “The unborn grandchildren.” After it he referred to Trakl’s “Gesang des Abgeschiedenen” by name, and then provided a page reference to this poem’s appearance earlier in the Zurich edition.
§4 Fromm, Fremd, and the Departed One(s): Marginalia to “Gesang des Abgeschiedenen”
Heidegger referred to “Gesang des Abgeschiedenen” no doubt because of its own reference to an Enkel (“grandson” or “descendant”) in the last line of the fourth stanza.23 Using two symbols (“>” and “<”), Heidegger marked off this line, together with the next two lines in the fifth. For orientation, here are these stanzas, as well as the sixth, final one:
There are many moments in these stanzas that could have struck Heidegger and led him to make connections to his reading of Trakl in “Language” and “Language in the Poem.” These include the petrified threshold, Wahnsinn (“madness” or “lacking the sensibility of the putrescent Geschlecht”), and Geschlecht itself (which I have rendered here as “lineage,” but which also refers to gender and species, among other things). What I would like to focus on, however, are two additional annotations Heidegger made. He partially underlined the word fromm (“piously”), and he crossed out the “r” in the plural genitive article of the final syntagm (der Abgeschiedenen, “of the departed ones”) and replaced it with an “s” in the margin, thus making it des Abgeschiedenen (“of the departed one”). I will address each of these in turn.
Why, of all the words in the poem, might Heidegger have shown particular interest in the word fromm (“piously”)? Two explanations come to mind. First, fromm might have made Heidegger think of fremd (“foreign”) and its obsolete etonym fram (“on the way to”). Fromm and fram are, after all, not just morphologically similar. They both derive from the same roots.24 This reading finds support in the verb from Trakl’s verse, “That now piously passes on [hingeht] in the solitary grandson.” Hingeht suggests “dying” – Trakl at one point considered the verb hinstirbt (HKA 2: 263) – but literally means “going thither.” Whether Trakl understands this to mean that a great Geschlecht is on the way toward the earth, going forth toward a new birth, is another matter.
Second, and relatedly, Heidegger could be thinking of his occasional association of fromm (“pious”) with fügsam (“compliant”). As he puts it, rather cryptically, in “Language in the Poem”:
Detachment pulls hearing into its harmonious sound beforehand, in order that this sound might resound throughout the saying in which it echoes. The lunar coolness of the spiritual night’s holy blueness rings and shines throughout all gazing and saying. The language of the latter thus becomes something that speaks after and in accordance with this [nachsagenden], it becomes: poetry. […] The saying that is called into hearing, the saying that is after and in accordance, thereby becomes “more pious [frömmer],” i.e., more compliant [fügsamer] with the exhortation [Zuspruch] of the path on which the foreigner goes out in advance, moving from the darkness of childhood into the stiller, brighter earliness. (GA 12: 67; see also GA 7: 35; GA 55: 145)
Although fromm and fügsam are unrelated etymologically, there is a semantic overlap. For instance, in German one can speak of a frommes Pferd, ‘a compliant horse,’ and the Modern German verb frommen has the sense of ‘being of use.’ Heidegger can accordingly understand the piety of thought as compliantly serving the exhortation of being, even before all questioning (GA 12: 165; see also GA 7: 36). Unsurprisingly, he finds a similar piety, a companion piety of poetizing, in Trakl’s poetic work.
This particular poem bears the title “Gesang des Abgeschiedenen” (“Song of the Departed One”), although it ends with a reference to the “lunar paths of the departed ones.” Heidegger, as mentioned, changed the latter in his personal copy to read, “lunar paths of the departed one.” Now, it seems doubtful he believed he was correcting the editor, as his workshop volume also has the plural, and Heidegger even cites this phrase from the poem in the plural in “Language in the Poem” (GA 12: 48). Perhaps Heidegger wanted to note the inconsistency between the title of the poem and the poem’s final line. Or perhaps he was marking the fact that, in earlier versions of the poem, Trakl had the singular article des (HKA 2: 263).25 Whatever the case may be on the factual level, philosophically and exegetically Heidegger is interested in singularity. The poem names the departed ones, and yet, Heidegger claims, it “aims specifically at the ‘departed one’ [eigens dem “Abgeschiedenen” gilt]” (GA 12: 48; emphasis added). The foreigner may have followers, who may in turn become detached and foreign, too; indeed, their trajectory may lead to fraternity, not just with the foreigner, but with the sister of the foreigner (or possibly to proper fraternity with their own sisters) (GA 12: 64, 66). Nonetheless, on Heidegger’s reading, it is he, the masculine singular one, who leads the way. The sister, the feminine as such, remains secondary – when, that is, she is not silenced altogether.26 Strange, then, that Heidegger’s remaining annotations in his personal copy are to Trakl’s late, metric poem “Surrender to the Night,” in which a traditionally masculine figure becomes a feminine guide.
§5 Nighttime Monkess and the Rose of God: Marginalia to “Surrender to the Night”
In a couple of the many versions of “Surrender to the Night,”27 the narrator oxymoronically invokes a female monk and beseeches her to embrace him. The final, published version of the poem, which Heidegger never refers to in his published writings, reads:
Here it is a woman who takes the lead. She is the all-encompassing night into which the narrator would like to dissolve. Her mountains (Gebirge) are less a range of large elevations of the earth than a primordial gathering (Ge-) and harboring (Bergen) of all that is – the dark background of concealment against which anything can come to stand out as bright and manifest (see GA 12: 40–41). Heidegger drew an ‘x’ next to the first verse of this poem, and then jotted down an earlier variation on it from the fourth version of “Surrender to the Night”: “Nymph, draw me into your darkness” (HKA 1: 230). Perhaps ‘nymph’ brought to mind for him the title of an earlier version of Hölderlin’s hymn “Mnemosyne,” the goddess of memory and mother of the muses (see GA 7: 135; GA 8: 12).
In any event, despite Heidegger’s possible appreciation for the female here, he never takes note of another Hölderlinian term that Trakl considered in lieu of “Mooncloud” and that he uses in his prose-poem “Offenbarung und Untergang” (“Revelation and Downfall”), namely, the word Fremdlingin or ‘foreigness.’28 The foreigner is male or, at best, neuter in “Language in the Poem.” Instead, Heidegger wrote down the variations “Blue cloud! [Blaue wolke!]” and “Rose of God [Gottes Rose]” (see HKA 1: 230 and HKA 2: 309). One might wonder whether a divine rose didn’t make him think of Silesius’s distich on living without why and its source in Eckhartian detachment (see the epigraph to this section and GA 10: 56; GA 81: 187). Even if Heidegger is right to resist conventional Christian readings of Trakl, it would have behooved him to develop the unorthodox, even anarchic Christian elements in Trakl’s song.
Heidegger’s final marginalia to “Surrender to the Night” pertain to earlier variations on the final two lines of the poem. Heidegger copied out two of these variations, both from the second version of “Surrender to the Night.” The first variation he noted reads: “Child, at your blue seam / I must mutely make my pilgrimage” (HKA 1: 229; HKA 2: 308). Only, following Walther Killy’s initial transcription in “Gedichte im Gedicht,” Heidegger wrote “stets” (“always”) instead of “stumm” (“mutely”). Incidentally, by perpetuating the journey, stets accords more with Heidegger’s resistance to Christian redemption.
The second variation Heidegger noted reads: “Derelict seam of a city / Blazes, and the fire bells resound” (HKA 2: 308). Heidegger had long been interested in the serene mystery of old town bells (GA 13: 113–116 et passim; GA 81: 88; GA 98: 191). We can readily hear this in his reading of the first stanza of Trakl’s “Ein Winterabend” (“A Winter Evening”) in the essay “Language” (GA 12: 18–19) This manuscript variation on “Surrender to the Night” is especially striking, however, because it evokes the sound of alarm. Trakl’s bells do not just embody the gentle spirit of Gelassenheit. They also signal the all-consuming fire.
Sometimes an item of seemingly marginal significance – a philosopher’s personal copy of a rare edition of poems by a somewhat marginalized poet, say – can have central implications. In this article I have shown that Heidegger’s rather sparse marginalia to the Zurich edition of Trakl’s oeuvre not only shed light on topics Heidegger and his interlocutors often leave in the shadows, topics such as (auto)biography, sexual difference, and Christianity; Heidegger’s marginalia also bear on his lifelong engagement with the status of being, and they even, at times, seem to call into question his published positions on it.
In what follows, ‘DD’ stands for Georg Trakl, Die Dichtungen. Gesamtausgabe, mit einem Anhang Zeugnisse und Erinnerungen, ed. Kurt Horwitz (Zurich: Die Arche, 1946); ‘GA’ for Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1975–); and ‘HKA’ for Georg Trakl, Dichtungen und Briefe. Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, 2 vols., ed. Walther Killy and Hans Szklenar (vol. 1, 3rd ed.: Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1974; vol. 2: Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1969). All translations throughout are my own. My thanks to Alfred Denker and Peter Trawny for their philological assistance, and to Karl von der Luft for his comments on an earlier draft.
First announced in Ian Alexander Moore, “Rapport sur le fonds d’archives Martin Heidegger de la ville de Meßkirch,” trans. Christophe Perrin, Bulletin heideggérien 8 (2018): 5; and then in English as “A Report on the Holdings of the Martin-Heidegger-Archiv der Stadt Meßkirch,” Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual 8 (2018): 82.
Geschlecht III. Sexe, race, nation, humanité, ed. Geoffrey Bennington, Katie Chenoweth, and Rodrigo Therezo (Paris: Seuil, 2018).
Martin Heidegger and Ludwig von Ficker, Briefwechsel 1952–1967, ed. Matthias Flatscher (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2004), 49.
In “Language in the Poem,” Heidegger cites from the sixth edition of the Salzburg version, published in 1938 (see GA 12: 36n1). I hope to access and analyze all of Heidegger’s marginalia in his personal copy of this edition on another occasion. For now, I will mention only a few of his numerous annotations to “In ein altes Stammbuch” (“Into an Old Family Register”) (p. 55), which were on display in 2016 at the Literaturmuseum der Moderne in Marbach, Germany. The page is covered in Arabic numerals referring to other pages in the volume. Many words are underlined. At the top of the page, Heidegger wrote, “das Buch des Geschlechts u. seines Wesens!” (“the book of the Geschlecht and its essence!”). In the middle of the blank space after the poem, he appears to have written: “Mit-Leiden u. | Schmerz |” (“sym-pathizing and | pain |”), likely in reference to the verses “Wieder kehrt die Nacht und klagt ein Sterbliches / Und es leidet ein anderes mit” (“Again the night returns and something mortal laments / And another thing suffers in sympathy.”)
I have made use of this document in my transcriptions, although I have deviated from or supplemented it when appropriate.
Letter to the author (originally in German), 12 December 2019.
“Gedichte im Gedicht. Beschäftigung mit Trakl-Handschriften,” Merkur 12, no. 12 (130) (December 1958): 1114–1115, on which Heidegger is doubtless drawing, since the editors of HKA 2, from 1969, read Trakl’s handwriting in the variations differently: rather than Gottes Rose, one finds Gottes Rosen; rather than stets, one finds stumm (308–309).
Heidegger and Ficker, Briefwechsel, 65.
Quotation from Laura A. McLary, “The Incestuous Sister or the Trouble with Grete,” Modern Austrian Literature 33, no. 1 (2000): 29–65 (30).
For more on the prominent but strange role of Abgeschiedenheit (‘detachment,’ ‘departedness’) in Heidegger’s reading of Trakl, see Ian Alexander Moore, “For the Love of Detachment: Trakl, Heidegger, and Derrida’s Geschlecht III,” International Yearbook for Hermeneutics 18 (2019): 233–256.
For a powerful critique of Heidegger’s claim, “the most unnerving of his entire corpus, even more disconcerting than all his silences,” see David Farrell Krell, Lunar Voices: Of Tragedy, Poetry, Fiction, and Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 94.
Here Mahrholdt is referring to Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter. Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung, which I will cite from the 10th edition (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1908); see especially chapter VIII (“Ich-Problem und Genialität”).
Given Heidegger’s apparent lack of interest in biography, perhaps the most puzzling thing about his correspondence with Ficker, which I do not have space to discuss here, is how interested Heidegger is in learning from Ficker about “our poet” Trakl. See Heidegger and Ficker, Briefwechsel (quotation on p. 49). For more on the status of madness in Heidegger and Trakl, see “Georg Trakl’s Poem ‘Hölderlin,’” with commentaries by Ian Alexander Moore and Hans Weichselbaum, Journal of Continental Philosophy 1, no. 2 (forthcoming).
Derrida, Geschlecht III, 87, 89.
For more on these tendencies, see McLary, “The Incestuous Sister or the Trouble with Grete”; and Hermann Zwerschina, “‘Erinnerungen’ an Georg Trakl und ‘Erinnerungslücken.’ Probleme ihrer Edition,” in Edition von autobiographischen Schriften und Zeugnissen zur Biographie, ed. Jochen Golz (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1995), 264–276.
Reports by Alfred Focke, in Georg Trakl. Liebe und Tod (Vienna: Herold, 1955), 179, and Ruth Horwitz, in Ludwig von Ficker, Briefwechsel 1940–1967, ed. Martin Alber et al. (Innsbruck: Haymon, 1996), 244. These are nearly identical to the report of the discussion provided in the three typescripts of Heidegger’s lecture located in the Research Institute Brenner-Archiv at the University of Innsbruck under call number 65/33–1.
Heidegger underlined the word dumpf (“muffled,” “dull,” “apathetic”) here and drew an exclamation mark next to it in the margin. I have rendered it in accordance with Limbach’s report about Trakl’s reticence and reserve, but Heidegger’s surprise might come from hearing an element of perfunctoriness in it. Earlier in the report, Limbach writes: “[Trakl] once said, ‘I was indeed only half-born!,’ and claimed to have up until his twentieth year noticed nothing at all of his environment except water. His autobiographical sketch ‘Traum und Umnachtung’ [‘Dream and Derangement’] […] wonderfully reproduces this dumpfen, agonizing state” (DD: 210).
Limbach capitalizes the indefinite article. The command is even written gesperrt (spaced out) for emphasis in DD: 212: “S i e s o l l e n E i n F l e i s c h s e i n.” Compare GA 12: 74, and DD: 134.
Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 265, 403, chapter XIV, and 566.
One might expect the Gothic gheis here (see GA 12: 56); however, Heidegger typically does not use Sütterlinschrift, in which the word in the annotation seems to be written, for foreign or archaic German terms, and in either case it is difficult to discern how the letters could form gheis. I am therefore inclined to read it as shorthand for geistlich, even though Heidegger clearly has the etymon in mind.
I discuss this further in Ian Alexander Moore, “The Promise of Pain: (Di)spiriting the Geist of Heidegger’s Trakl,” Política común 14 (forthcoming 2020).
As David Farrell Krell notes, it is peculiar that, of all the poems by Trakl that deal with the figure of the Enkel, Heidegger here refers only to “Song of the Departed One,” with its aura of piety. A more extensive survey paints a bleaker picture. See Krell, “Derrida, Heidegger, and the Magnetism of the Trakl House,” Philosophy Today 64, no. 2 (2020): 301–302n23, 303n29, and 303n31, for this and other comments on Heidegger’s marginalia.
Hermann Paul, Deutsches Wörterbuch (Halle: Niemeyer, 1897), s.v. fremd.
If true, this latter possibility would support a terminus post quem of 1969 for this marginalium, the year in which HKA appeared. Since this marginalium is in blue pen, whereas the others to “Song of the Departed One” are in pencil, perhaps he made them at different time periods.
For more on this “manhandling,” see David Farrell Krell, Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida’s Geschlecht (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2015), 235–236.
Heidegger’s marginalia are based on Killy’s 1958 article “Gedichte im Gedicht,” 1114–1115, although starting in 1969 Heidegger could have consulted the second volume of HKA as well, which he refers to in a letter to Jean-Michel Palmier (in L’Herne: Martin Heidegger, ed. Michel Haar [Paris: Éditions de l’Herne, 1983], 118) and in the facsimile (located in the unprocessed collection of the Martin-Heidegger-Archiv der Stadt Meßkirch) of his description of how he acquired the manuscript of Trakl’s “Afra.” In the interim, he might have come across the five versions of the poem published, among other places, in Walther Killy, “Georg Trakl ‘Nachtergebung’: Fünf Fassungen eines Gedichtes, aus den Handschriften mitgeteilt,” in Gratulatio. Festschrift für Christian Wegner (Hamburg: Christian Wegner, 1963), 244–246. Cf. HKA 1: 93, 229–230.
Heidegger, to my knowledge, never discusses this figure in his numerous commentaries on Hölderlin, either, despite its occurrence in works such as “Am Quell der Donau,” “Brot und Wein,” Hyperion, and Der Tod des Empedokles. He mentions it only in passing in GA 75: 205.