Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Ammon Allred
Dear Editor,

I appreciated the excellent essay by Adam Kirsch ["The Taste of Silence," January 2008] on the ways in which reading Heidegger helps us understand Modernist and contemporary poets. However, I do take exception with Kirsch's critique of the National Socialist themes implicit in Heidegger's essay. Kirsch's reference to the Iliad is telling here. It is important to note that for Heidegger a modern Iliad would be impossible. (Just think of the way in which Walcott's Omeros cannot simply present the world of the Caribbean, but also has to present the language through which it is written.) Although Heidegger sometimes seemed to wish for a German Homer, in his best theoretical writings he realizes this is impossible and undesirable.

Richard Wolin, whom Kirsch mentions in his article, tries to draw such a simplistic line between Heidegger and National Socialism. Although the truth may not be any kinder to Heidegger, it is certainly much more complex. Thinkers such as Jacques Derrida (particularly in Of Spirit...) and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (particularly in Heidegger, Art and Politics...) have dealt with this complexity more intelligently and honestly than Wolin. And as they do this, both of them self-consciously follow in the footsteps of a poet whose name is oddly not mentioned by Kirsch, a poet who lies on the cusp between Modernism and post-modernism, a poet who lived through the darkest experiences of National Socialism but who nonetheless drew on Heidegger throughout his poetry: Paul Celan.

Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Originally Published: May 16, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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