Monthly Archives: March 2023

Heidegger and the hermetic traditions

There is much to be said concerning “Heidegger and the Hermetic Traditions,” […] and we need to include the many different Western traditions of thinking that I broadly refer to as the Hermetic/Gnostic/Neoplatonic/Alchemical/Mystical traditions.

Of course, there are many such non-Western traditions as well, but for this note, I limit consideration to the traditions that no doubt influenced Heidegger—but about which he largely remained silent. These are, in name, “metaphysical” ways of thinking, but certainly not “onto-theological,” and this crucial distinction was often not made explicit by Heidegger. In fact, perhaps one of the weakest features of his “history” of “onto-theology” is how he sometimes could be dismissive of, for example, the long and rich Neoplatonic traditions of thinking as “onto-theology.”

For some reason, Heidegger refused to wrestle with the Neoplatonic “metaphysics” that was precisely not “onto-theological” insofar as it insisted that the One is beyond (epekeina) any such categories as substance, essence, subject—indeed, beyond all categorization.

We could say, perhaps, that Heidegger’s focus was on “overcoming” specifically dominant onto-theological ways of thinking, and especially the Aristotelian-Thomistic substance metaphysics and the Descartes to Husserl subject metaphysics. 

Nonetheless, we need to take a fresh look at Heidegger’s thought, and especially his later thought, in order to recognize major themes that revive or at least echo many of the themes of the heterodox and variant “metaphysical” and “spiritual” traditions. Thus, let us make a helpful list of such Heideggerian themes (not exhaustive, of course):

1. Being as the gleaming, shimmering Light that is the “Source” (Ursprung) of all lights and that shines “ungraspably” through all things. This is the Light (Clearing) of light and darkness.

2. Being as “gold” in his readings of Pindar’s Odes.

3. Being as “beyond” all beings, but yet the Source of all beings.

4. The thinking of Being not limited to “reason” and “logic” and even “the principle of non-contradiction.” Being as approachable in thought as a kind of coincidentia oppositorum.

5. Being as “mystery” (Geheimnis); Being as the “Source” that holds itself in “reserve”; Being as aletheia or A-letheia.

6. Being as “beyond” “God” and “the gods”—and instead Being as “the Holy,” “the Source,” “the Joyful One,” and even as the clearing of “the Godhead of God” (die Gottheit des Gottes).

7. Being as “invisible” and “inapparent” (aphanes) in relation to beings.

8. Being as ultimately beyond language and “inexpressible”—and inviting our “silence” as the highest response or “cor-respondence.”

 9. Being as “round” and as “circle” and “sphere.”

10. All beings “breathing” in and out in Being.

11. The emphasis on our human task to peel away the many layers of philosophical and theological thought-forms to allow for a radical openness and transparency and “hearkening” to Being.

12. The call for our “releasement” (Gelassenheit) from our ego-prisons of control in order to be “free” for the appeal of Being.

13. The boundless “depth” of the human “soul” (psyche) in relation to Being.

14. The “closeness” and “proximity” of Being to the human being—the “nearness” of Being that has been “forgotten.”

This list provides us with a starting point for a richer and deeper meditation on all the ways that the variant “metaphysical” and “spiritual” traditions of thinking influenced Heidegger’s own thinking of Being and his understanding of the “relation” of the human being (and all beings) to Being. 

And this list also raises for us the intriguing question of why Heidegger was mostly reticent about this influence. Could it be that he had also well-learned the Hermetic lesson that “The lips of wisdom are closed except to the ears of understanding”? Might this help us better understand why he always insisted that what he was saying about Being was “intimated by only a few”? Perhaps.

In any case, my suggestion is a simple and modest one: Let us follow this particular path of inquiry, and we may be surprised at what we find—and maybe also richly rewarded.

— Richard Capobianco, note (references removed; see also Ch. 15 of Capobianco, Heidegger’s Being: The Shimmering Unfolding)

The refusal to succeed

When a person, event or work meets with success or notoriety, it is generally found that the height reached by these modern substitutes for glory is in exact proportion to the vanity and impurity of their source. A scandal makes a greater sensation than an act of heroism, a boxer or film star attracts more attention than a great artist or a solitary philosopher, and, when fame does chance to descend upon true greatness, it is more than likely that there has been some misapprehension or mistake; either the greatness is not seen for what it is but triumphs under some disguise, or the ‘glory’ merely lights up that side of it which is showy, picturesque and, for that reason, superficial. Nietzsche said: ‘When a great truth triumphs in the market place, you may be sure that a great lie has contributed to its victory.’ That is the bitter and almost inevitable price of success. Who has written a book on ‘the refusal to succeed’?

— Perrin & Thibon, Simone Weil as We Knew Her (tr. Crauford)

Neppe have vi vel engang Forestilling om den Art Alvor

Ak, vi som dog kalde os Christne, vi er, christelig forstaaet, saa forkjaelede, saa langt fra at vaere, hvad Christendommen dog fordrer af dem, som ville kalde sig Christne, afdoede fra Verden, neppe have vi vel engang Forestilling om den Art Alvor; vi kunne endnu ikke undvaere, forsage det Kunstneriske og dets Formildelse, ikke taale det sande Indtryk af Virkelighed: nu, saa lader os idetmindste vaere oprigtige og tilstaa det.

— Kierkegaard, Til Selvproevelse, Samtiden Anbefalet

Mundens forsikkring er svigefuldt

Men Du, o Gud, Du lade mig aldrig glemme, at om jeg end ikke vandt et eneste Menneske — hvis mit Liv (thi Mundens „Forsikkring” er svigefuldt!) udtrykker, at jeg frygter Dig: at det er „Alt vundet!” Og derimod, om jeg vandt alle Mennesker — hvis mit Liv (thi Mundens „Forsikkring” er svigefuldt!) ikke udtrykker at jeg frygter Dig: at det er, Alt tabt”.

— Kierkegaard


Without language we’d be dumb animals, everyone knows that. We form and deform ourselves in our words. This blog is an example of it. There’s a dignity in being able to speak, to write. Something happens when words come out of people’s mouths. The simplest phrase can make things happen and all of a sudden history has a new score, as the poet said. But words can just as easily obscure everything, cover things over. We’re violent in our nature – we wouldn’t have wiped out all our humanoid rivals and come to dominate the planet otherwise – and our language, our habitual ways of speaking reflects it. So how to trust our own words when they’re by their nature self-serving?

A grain of sand

What did we find in Todtnauberg, A. and I? What we already knew. What were we expecting – us, a couple of middle-aged European men with all the usual baggage? Some sort of affirmation, revelation? We didn’t expect that: we’re too jaded, too guarded. So what were we looking for? Why go to all that trouble and expense? An interesting trip? A cultural experience? No, we’re looking for something ganz Anders, something truly outside ourselves. We’re the same in that way, A. and me, despite our many differences and despite the fact that we’re now in different countries. We have the same, almost impersonal longing. There’s still something childlike about us, which looks out at the world and needs something much more than what we already know to become whole.

Absolute awe before God: that’s what we need. We’re a little tired of all the rest. We’re tired of talking about ourselves. We’re tired of the world, of Being, of family, of politics, money, relationships, sex, booze, waking, sleeping, chatting, working, walking, shopping, living.

On the surface we look reasonably well put together, talk a good game, have our affairs more or less in order. But in secret – a secret only we know about each other – we want what we’ve always needed: we want God. 

We believe the world is a gift from God. We don’t take it for granted. But we also believe the world is next to nothing before God, a grain of sand. We speak metaphorically. We chat endlessly and say very little. We’re only too aware of how little we can say. We interpret the things around us, ourselves, in shifting symbols and signs, depending on what we’re confronted with. We change our views according to what happens to us. We barely understand anything. We only see God in glimpses. And yet God is everything. It’s all we really care about. How to make room for that thought, that longing, when we’re so ill-equipped? 

Flashes in the field of being

No one could be more reserved than me before any attempt to employ Being to think theologically about God. There’s nothing to expect from Being here. I believe that Being can never be thought as the ground and essence of God, but that nevertheless the experience of God and of his manifestedness, to the extent that the latter can indeed meet man, flashes in the field of Being, which in no way means that Being can be seen as a possible ground for God.

— Heidegger

Dating apps

My friends say to get on the dating apps, so I do. I enter a profile and scroll for a bit. At my age, most of them are divorcees with kids. I leave it out for a week, go back to it and realise you have to pay to be seen in the first place.

I play billiards in the pub S. and I used to live next to, with a friend who just got married. It’s particularly lonely to walk back to my house through shabbier streets. When I get home I scroll for a bit again. There’s a woman on the app who says, ‘Looking for a way out of the existential void’. I swipe left, then regret it. I try to swipe right to get back to her profile, but end up liking pictures of dynamic women with fake eyebrows and studied selfies who are looking for someone who can make them laugh. I google how to scroll back to someone, and it says you have to pay.

My payment settings are set to my old card, which has expired. I find Apple Pay settings and try to remove my old payment method. It says I can’t, since I have an active subscription on an expired card (an app that lets you identify flowers by taking a picture of them). I cancel the subscription, delete my old payment details and enter my new ones. I go back into the app, but it only lets you swipe back to the people you’d rejected after you’d paid. So she’s lost to me, The One! Now all kinds of things pop up on my phone: super swipes, spotlights, extends, unlimited rematches, backtracks, boosts, gold, platinum… I delete all of it and am ready once again to throw my phone out the window. But of course I don’t.


Last autumn I went to Todtnauberg in the Black Forest with a friend to see Heidegger’s hut. What to say about it? It seems an obvious thing to write about: one those trips you think about writing about while you’re doing it. Maybe that’s why I haven’t: it puts me off. So what to say about it, now that it’s popped into my head again?

It was an ordeal to get there in a rental car from Basel Airport. We drove across the border and around a roundabout three times before we got onto the right motorway. Then on to the mountains as it got dark. By the time we got to the hotel I’d booked – which, it turned out, was half an hour’s drive from where we were supposed to be – they’d stopped serving food and we’d fallen out. The receptionist was a little scared by our argument. We ate fruit and nuts and slept in the same room.

The next day we made it. There’s no information about Heidegger in the village, not even in the tourist office: a big building with old pictures of the region. This is a tourist destination now, a skiing resort in winter. No wonder they don’t advertise him, I say.

Most of the restaurants and BnBs are closed. We walk around until we find one of those pointed pathway signs that says Heidegger-Weg. The path appears to run along the hills and around the village, which lies in a valley and doesn’t seem to have changed too much since Heidegger’s time, judging from the pictures in the tourist centre. Beautiful, imposing landscape; you can start to see where he came from. It’s not my bag exactly – I prefer flatlands.

We pass a couple of signs. We end up near what looks like the hut from the cover of a book my friend is carrying. We’ve read it’s private land, but we go up anyway. This isn’t it, I say, the cover’s wrong, it’s not the same as on Google images. For once I’m right. It turns out the hut is round the hill, more hidden. A slightly shabby cabin in a faultless location, it makes sense. How did he get his books and things up here, I wonder, it’s steep. A carpenter has put a wooden star on the top of the well, a copy of the one on his grave in Messkirch.

On the way back we stop at a Gasthaus and ask an old-timer in overalls sitting on the porch if they have a room. He shouts for the landlady, who comes out and says it’s only available for a week at a time, mostly in the winter. She seems suspicious, as Germans often do. We get talking, and it turns out this man knew Heidegger and his family well, and that this house is where Heidegger wrote part of Being and Time. He goes in and a minute later brings outs a plastic folder with old newspaper clippings and letters written in Heidegger’s hand. We make our standard middle-class noises, but the man isn’t impressed. He was all right, Heidegger, he says, polite and part of the community, but as far as his Denken went, it was null. No one cared that he was a philosopher. The only odd thing about him was that he always wore a suit and got some foreign visitors. As my friend was taking pictures of the letters, the landlady popped her head out and told the man to be careful about showing people those documents. He didn’t seem to care. We went on our way and I found a place on Airbnb, a newbuild with a sauna, designed for people on skiing holidays.

What hidden works?

I meet a lot of people in the pubs and shops these days, hear a lot of stories; people are chatty here. It all seems random, but it isn’t. How many millions of things had to happen to bring us together? What hidden works of history and bodies? We only know a fraction of them. What is it that lets it all come together in the moment when we address each other, sit down to speak, drink a pint, play bar billiards?