Monday 1 January 2024

‘Is the madman mentally ill? No.’ (Heidegger, 1953). Did Heidegger anticipate Szasz? Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 293 (15 September 2024)


‘Is the madman mentally ill? No.

(Heidegger, 1953)

Did Martin Heidegger anticipate Thomas Szasz’s

‘The Myth of Mental Illness’ by seven years?

Anthony Stadlen

conducts by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 293

Sunday 15 September 2024

10 a.m. to 5 p.m

Anton Webern
3 December 1883 – 15 September 1945
Georg Trakl
3 February 1887 – 3 November 1914
Martin Heidegger
26 September 1889 – 26 May 1976
Thomas Szasz
15 April 1920 – 8 September 2012
at his 90th-birthday seminar
13 June 2010 (Inner Circle Seminar No. 153)
Photograph copyright
Not to be used without permission

On 7 October 1950 the philosopher Martin Heidegger gave a lecture, Die Sprache’ (‘Language’), in Bühlerhöhe (near Baden Baden). The lecture focussed on a single poem by Georg TraklEin Winterabend’ (‘A winter evening’).
In 1953 Heidegger published an essay, ‘Georg Trakl: Eine Erörterung seines Gedichtes’ (‘Georg Trakl: An Elucidation of his Poetry’), in the journal Merkur (No. 61: pp. 226-258).
In 1959 Heidegger republished his 1950 lecture and 1953 essay as the first two chapters of his book Unterwegs zur Sprache (On the Way to Language), with the titles, respectively, ‘Die Sprache’ (‘Language’) and ‘Die Sprache im Gedicht: Eine Erörterung von Georg Trakls Gedicht’ (‘Language in Poetry: An Elucidation of Georg Trakl’s Poetry’). 
Trakl in his poetry mentions ‘der Wahnsinnige’ (‘the madman’) many times.
Heidegger asks in his second chapter (1953: p. 237; 1959: p. 53):
[...] der Wahnsinnige. Meint dies einen Geisteskranken?  Nein. Wahnsinn bedeutet nicht [...]
‘[...] the madman. Does this mean a mentally ill man? No. Madness does not mean [...]
The translator Peter D. Hertzin On the Way to Language (1982 [1971]: p. 173), translates these words of Heidegger’s thus:
‘[...] the madman. Does the word mean someone who is mentally ill? Madness here does not mean [...]
Readers could not divine from this translation that Heidegger had written:
(1) Nein’ (No) – he did not leave his own question unanswered;
(2) dies’ (‘this’) – he did not write ‘das Wort’ (‘the word’);
(3) Wahnsinn’ (‘Madness’) – he did not write Wahnsinn hier’ (‘Madness here’).
The French translators of this book, Jean Beaufret and Wolfgang Brockmeier, in Acheminement vers la parole (1976: p. 56), translate this passage:
[...] Le FarsenéLe mot désigne-t-il un aliéné? Non. La démence n'ést pas [...]
This is a little more faithful to Heidegger: an unequivocal ‘Non’ (‘No’); and ‘La démence’ (‘madness’), rather than merely ‘La démence ici’ (‘madness here’). But it also insists, without evidence, that Heidegger is discussing the ‘mot’ (‘word’) ‘madman’ or ‘madness’ rather than the madman himself or madness itself.
Do these details matter? Yes, if one wants to know what Heidegger is doing here.
Is he making a very limited statement about a particular ‘madman’ in one of Trakl’s poems?
Or is he making a somewhat more general statement about ‘the figure of the madman’ in Trakl’s poems?
Or is he making a much more general statement: anticipating in 1953 the comprehensive proposition of Thomas Szasz, in his 1960 paper The Myth of Mental Illness and his 1961 book The Myth of Mental Illness, that there is no ‘mental illness’?
This proposition of Szasz’s has the corollary that, in particular, if there be such a phenomenon as ‘madness’, then, whatever ‘madness’ is, it cannot be ‘mental illness’, nor can the ‘madman’, or anybody else, be ‘mentally ill’ – for the simple reason that ‘mental illness’ is a myth.
It seems unlikely that either Hertz in 1971 or Beaufret and Brockmeier in 1976 supposed that Heidegger in 1953 meant something quite so radical. But might they have felt the need to play down even what he did seem to be saying, lest it make Heidegger himself seem a bit mad?
That Heidegger himself may have thought of himself as Trakl’s ‘madman’ is suggested by Jacques Derrida in what he calls a lengthy ‘parenthesis’ in Geschlecht III, the recently reconstituted and posthumously published (2018) third part of his sustained four-part meditation, Geschlecht, on Heidegger’s 1953 Trakl essay.
Derrida specifies as possible instances of Heidegger’s possible ‘madness’ his constant skipping between different and apparently unrelated instances of the same word in different poems. Certainly Heidegger has been criticised for this by other authorities on Trakl, for instance Michael Hamburger.
But at the same time as engaging in this criticised and, to some, ‘mad’ approach, Heidegger claims to have discovered a powerful, indeed dominating, unity in the poems. 
What is this supposed unifying factor? Is it demonstrable, or is it Heidegger’s defence against the ‘madness’ of Trakl’s and Heidegger’s own  polysemy?
Heidegger points out that Trakl appears to emphasise (by spaced lettering) only one word, only once, in his entire poetical oeuvre: the word Ein’ (one’) in E i n Geschlecht’, where the meaning of Geschlecht’ is highly ambiguous, as discussed by DerridaHeidegger claims this E i n’ is the Grundton’ (keynote’) of Trakl’s entire oeuvre. 
But what justifies Heidegger’s assumption that there is a keynote, even of a single poem of Trakl’s, let alone of his poetry as a whole?
The Konkordanz zu den Dichtungen Georg Trakls (Heinz Wetzel, 1971) shows that the word Grundton’ (keynote’) appears nowhere in Trakls poetry, although Ton’ (tone) and its cognates appear many times.   
Trakl is said to have been interested in Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal music, and – although in the 1910s and early 1920s highly original but still tonal great music was still being composed, such as Béla Bartók’s string quartets, Leoš Janáček’s operas, Jean Sibelius’s later symphonies, and in particular Paul Hindemith’s song cycle Opus 23 (1922), a remarkable tonal setting of Trakl’s Die Junge MagdAnton Webern’s Opus 13 (1926) and Opus 14 (1924) atonal (though not yet serial or dodecaphonic) settings of seven of Trakl’s poems for soprano and, respectively, orchestra and instrumental ensemble, appear quite extraordinarily ‘in tune’ with this poetry. (Webern wrote to his friend Josef Humplik that they were ‘just about the most difficult in this field’ to rehearse and perform.)
No fewer than five of these seven poems set by Webern were discussed by Heidegger in his two essays on Trakl. Moreover, both the composer and the philosopher separated one Trakl poem, Ein Winterabend’, from the others they selected. It is the only Trakl song in Weberns Opus 13, of which it is the culmination, while Heidegger’s first chapter is also devoted to just this one poem. Heidegger’s second chapter, however, discusses, among many other Trakl poems, four of the six set by Webern in his Opus 14.
There seems to be an astonishing affinity up to a point – between Weberns and Heidegger’s intensely sensitive responses to Trakl. But Webern responded atonally, Heidegger tonally.  
It is highly improbable that Heidegger knew Webern’s songs when, more than thirty years later, he wrote his essays on Trakl. François Fédier noticed, years still later, that Heidegger had the first recording of Webern’s complete published works (a boxed set of LPs conducted by Robert Craft in the 1950s, after Heidegger wrote his Trakl essays). Heidegger told Fédier that someone had given it to him but that he had got little from it; and he presumably gave it away (as he did many books and records), as it was not among the LPs inherited from Heidegger by his son Hermann and, subsequently, by his granddaughter Gertrud. (Personal communications from the late François Fédier and Hermann Heidegger, and from Gertrud Heidegger). 
We shall compare Weberns composing with Heideggers thinking; and we shall ask whether Heidegger opened up a polysemous approach to Trakl’s polysemy only to close it off – just as in the Zollikon seminars he encouraged or at least tolerated Medard Bosss developing a Daseinsanalysis’ that remained medicalised and retained psychiatric diagnosis: in this and other ways making, in the words of the existential psychotherapist Martti Siirala, the violent’ and absolutist’ claim to unmediated access to phenomena’.
With the help of Francisco J. Gonzalezs book Plato and Heidegger: A Question of Dialogue (2009), we shall continue to explore Heidegger’s decades-long disparagement of dialectics, from his earliest Freiburg lectures in 1919 to his last seminar in his home in 1973, and how this appears to limit his and Bosss teaching in the Zollikon seminars and elsewhere. Might this be remedied by developing, as Heidegger himself never did, his fleeting reference in a 1919 lecture, reported by his student (who was to become the philosopher of ‘mathematical existence’) Oskar Becker, to diahermeneutics’?

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175reductions for combinations of seminars; some bursaries; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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