Arendt Meets Heidegger
A Play by Zsuzsanna Ardó
About The Hat
Play and opera libretto. New Century Writer Award, quarter-finalist. The play premiered at Harvard University, Dudley Short Play Festival. Published by Philosophy Now and Logos.
Opera, in collaboration with NY composer, Karen Siegel. Performed by Opera on Tap, New York.
endlessly clever and funny Trav S.D., Travalanche, NY
Context for the Text
Two outstanding intellects of the 20th century, Hannah Arendt, the political theorist (1906–1975), and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), the philosopher, met in 1924 at the University of Marburg, Germany.
They both went on to write major contributions to 20th century thinking. Arendt is most famous perhaps for her Origins of Totalitarianism, and The Banality of Evil; Heidegger for his Being and Time, among other works.
Their encounter – and the complex, controversial relationship that was born from that encounter – is documented by their correspondence. Their bond continued, on and off, until Arendt died in 1975. Heidegger followed her a mere five months later.
When they first met, Arendt was an 18-year-old philosophy student, writing her PhD on the concept of love in St. Augustine.
Heidegger was 35, married with two young sons. His philosophy lectures were unrivalled in popularity – he was the rising star of philosophy at Marburg University. Many of his students went on to became famous, influential thinkers in their own right, such as Arendt, Hans Jonas, Karl Löwith and Herbert Marcuse.
From their many letters and poems it transpires how they resonated with each other's ‚being‘: as lovers, as teacher-student, as colleagues, rivals and friends. Arendt and Heidegger interconnected at many levels, over many years, in many roles; yet they could not have come from – and depart to – more different contexts.
As a young child, Arendt is traumatised by the death of her father and grandfather, and by her mother’s sudden remarriage. The notion of death and departures, ‘being-towards-death’ resonates with her memories. She is from an assimilated, cosmopolitan, leftist, atheist German Jewish family of professionals. Heidegger is from a devout Catholic, peasant background, attached to the soil and nature, originally preparing to be a Catholic priest.
They are irresistibly drawn to each other, and embark on a passionate, clandestine affair.
However, history and their personal and political choices force them apart. Heidegger chooses the path of National Socialism. He becomes – and remains until 1945 – a card-carrying Nazi, an admirer of Hitler and his “wonderful hands”.
The anti-fascist Arendt works for the Zionists, gets arrested by Gestapo, spends years in France as a stateless person, almost ends up in concentration camp before she finally escapes to the US and become a US citizen in 1951.
And yet… and yet, they reconnect after the war and resume their bond until they die.
The Hat investigates the possible dynamics of the first meeting between Arendt and Heidegger. It explores their chemistry – the spark that generated enough intellectual, sexual, psychological, emotional energy to last two life times.
© Zsuzsanna Ardó
HANNAH Arendt – 18, philosophy student.
MARTIN Heidegger – 35, philosophy professor.
ANNE Mendelssohn – 18, philosophy student, HANNAH’s close friend.
PAUL McCarthy – 28, philosophy professor, ANNE’s husband.
PLACE AND TIME: Marburg, Germany, 1924
SCENE 1: HANNAH’S ATTIC ROOM.
Blackout. Crackling of a fire and ticking of a clock punctuate the silent darkness. As the lights come on, we see HANNAH blowing at the logs in the stove, resuscitating the flickering flames. Piles of books are on the table and the floor. ANNE stirs a pot of chocolate on the stove, dips in the ladle, blows at it, and offers it to HANNAH.
HANNAH (slurping from the ladle) Anne, I’m telling you… Darn, it’s burning… doesn’t taste like yours.
HANNAH ladles some more, they both blow at it, then offers it to ANNE.
ANNE (savouring) Umm… Perhaps the milk or the cocoa is not quite the same. It looks the same, but it’s different. (raptured) Like Paul.
HANNAH My, aren’t we smitten by this sweet American?
ANNE I have a sweet tooth, remember?
HANNAH Hot chocolate for some; hot Paul for others.
ANNE (offers another spoonful of hot chocolate to HANNAH) Perfect, wouldn’t you say?
HANNAH The real thing. Almost. How long has he been teaching here?
ANNE Two years. Superbly. The most popular professor. Except for Heidegger, of course.
HANNAH Not you too? I’m up to here with odes to the ‘greatest professor on earth’, Professor Heidegger. I don’t fall for his sporty philosopher image. Imagine, taking his skis to class!
ANNE Why not? Paul has skied with him many times. Brilliant skier, apparently. Loves giving ski lessons – not just philosophy.
HANNAH Brilliant skier, brilliant teacher, brilliant philosopher – anything else?
Energetic knock at the door while she speaks. ANNE hurries to answer it. PAUL tumbles in with a wicker basket, laughing.
PAUL Heidegger, Heidegger, Heidegger. (He kisses ANNE’s forehead tenderly, then hugs HANNAH.) You’ve been telling Hannah about the greatest star of modern philosophy, my love?
HANNAH Yes, we talked mostly about you, Paul. Did you get cinnamon and cream?
PAUL In the basket, with the challah. (He puts the shopping on the table by a piles of books, then slaps on HANNAH’s HAT and picks up some of the books.) Aristotle… Goethe… Thomas Mann… Beethoven… St Augustine… Kant… Hannah, is there anything at all you haven’t read?
ANNE snatches the HAT and slaps it on HANNAH’s head. PAUL lurches after her, but she throws the HAT back to ANNE. Finally PAUL snatches the HAT back and slaps it on himself.
Actors ad lib the playful chase of the HAT.
ANNE embraces PAUL from behind and snuggles her chin into his neck. HANNAH ladles the steaming chocolate into mugs.
ANNE (sniffing PAUL’s neck) Hmm. Delicious. You smell so –
ANNE Let me warm you up. ( ANNE buries her face in PAUL’s back and blows air into his jumper, resurfacing only to take another deep breath.)
HANNAH Careful, Anne. He’ll melt.
PAUL Seriously, Hannah, you too should have a taste of the ‘little magician of Messkirch’. Heidegger really is –
ANNE – mesmerizing.
HANNAH I much prefer hot chocolate to magic potions. Mmm… superb.
PAUL Students would kill to get into his class. Totally hooked, everybody. One of his students committed suicide.
ANNE She got entangled in one of his puzzles. Apparently.
HANNAH (lighting a cigarette) The magic potion… Hmm, deadly after all.
ANNE It may just be hearsay, you know. Accusation.
PAUL Malicious gossip. Quite possibly. You see –
HANNAH (to ANNE) A pinch of cinnamon? Mmm. That’ll do. Well, I’m here to learn. To think.
(She dishes dollops of cream into the mugs while dragging on her cigarette.) For myself. Not to get hooked on anything. Or anybody.
ANNE (savouring the drink, offering it to HANNAH) He is a taste worth acquiring though. You’d –
HANNAH – Appalling! Can’t you see? Can’t you see? Everybody is taken in by Heidegger. Everybody. (She slams the mug on the table, spilling chocolate on her books.) Darn! (cleaning the books, mopping up the mess) I’ve already had enough of him. Not to mention… that he teaches at the crack of dawn.
(She snatches the HAT from PAUL’s head, puts it on, looks at her small pocket mirror.) Out of the question.
SCENE 2: MARTIN’S OFFICE
Music fades out as the lights come on.
Piles of books on the floor, the desk and the chairs. There’s a painting of a tree on the wall, and a pair of skis by the door. MARTIN is up and down a ladder sorting his piles of books, putting them on shelves.
A hesitant knock on the door. A pause, then a more assertive knock. MARTIN steps off the book ladder, opens the door and admires his visitor for a while, finally inviting her in.
As HANNAH walks in, she bumps into his skis, trips, and the skis fall, hitting MARTIN on the head as he tries to protect her from falling, but can’t.
HANNAH’s books fall, and her HAT flies off her head.
HANNAH (shaking MARTIN’s helping hand) Oh, I’m so sorry… Professor Heidegger… erm… Sorry for being late. I’m… erm… Hannah Arendt. I… I was wondering –
MARTIN (extending one hand to help her up, while feeling a bump on his head with the other) Hmm. Always a good sign.
(They pick up the skis and lean them up against the wall. MARTIN picks up the HAT and twirls it.) For Kant, yes, every experience is first and foremost a human experience.
When we look at this hat, we cannot deny that we look at it in a peculiarly human way. Can we know what that hat is like, apart from our experience of it? No. Because we filter it through ourselves, like all our experience. We interpret it. Through ourselves. Through time and space. Time and space.
(Some of HANNAH’s books fall, cluttering the silence. MARTIN’s anger rising) If our perception of this hat – just like our conception of the world – is confined to our own experience – (looking at yet another book falling) which in turn is confined by time and space – how are we to make moral choices?
HANNAH (hardly audible, picking up her books) On the basis of – the Categorical Imperative. (Keeping his gaze to himself, MARTIN waits in silence for her to elaborate.) We must… we must act as if the principle we follow were to become a law which everyone has to follow.
MARTIN (sarcastically) Take the example of coming late.
HANNAHProfessor Heidegger, I –
MARTIN (harshly) – In Kantian terms, we can see the far-reaching implications of any choice – a choice like – coming late. Now. Back to the mystery of existence. The oldest mystery on earth. Let’s see some of the solutions to it.
(He goes to on one side of the ladder. HANNAH climbs higher and higher as they talk. He motions HANNAH to hand books down to him.) How did Plato see it?
HANNAH The world is… but a copy. A copy of a perfect realm.
MARTIN And Pythagoras?
HANNAH Mathematical. For him, the world is mathematics.
HANNAH The world is the product of our mental structures.
HANNAH The world is my will to power. A game of chaos and power.
HANNAH The world is a phenomenon of our existence.
MARTIN (softening) Phenomenal. (He helps HANNAH down.) And of course, what they all forget… What they all forget to even consider, is the fundamental mystery. The fundamental mystery… that something… exists. Rather than nothing. That the world IS.
(He scribbles ‘Being’ and ‘being’ on the blackboard.)
Being is the primordial condition for beings to exist. (He turns off the light. Silence, except for the fire crackling and clock ticking.) Without light… we can’t see. (He switches on the light.)
HANNAH Without light, we can’t see. Without Being, beings can’t be.
MARTIN And that’s where time comes in. As opposed to Being, each being – each of us – is temporal. We are time. We all go from Being to Nothingness.
HANNAH We all depart.
MARTIN Consequently… consequently…
HANNAH We must… we must face up to the… departures. To Nothingness. To death.
MARTIN We’re going to die – so we might as well take responsibility for the life we’re going to live. No one else is accountable for your life. Except you. Now –
HANNAH – if you live in the knowledge that your own being has to depart one day from Being into Nothingness –
MARTIN – if you live as a being-towards-death – then you make the most of your possibilities.
HANNAH We must.
MARTIN Then, and only then, can you live an authentic life. Then you Care. Then you start Caring about your world.
HANNAH The key to authentic existence then, is taking responsibility for our life. For our actions.
MARTIN (smiling) For being late.
HANNAH puts on her HAT , MARTIN helps her with her coat. The coat brushes against the skis. They fall again, hitting both of them this time.
Laughing, they pick up the skis together and lean them up against the wall, both nursing their own bumps on their head with one hand, and holding a ski with the other.
HANNAH (squishing the HAT) Professor Heidegger… My… My doctoral thesis is on the concept of… love in St Augustine. I was wondering… would you… would you supervise me?
Blackout. Fire crackling, clock ticking.
SCENE 3: HANNAH’S ATTIC ROOM
Storm raging outside. PAUL is studying a chessboard, HANNAH is trying to coax a mouse out of its hole in the wall, ANNE is making tea.
HANNAH Peek-a-boo… peek-a-boo… What’s got into her? I haven’t seen her all day today.
PAUL Hannah. Please. It’s just a mouse.
ANNE Just a mouse… because you choose to frame it in that way, remember? Hannah used to care for a little mouse in her grandfather’s tea warehouse. What was her name? She was a marzipan-addict, right, Hannah?
HANNAH (nodding distractedly and making a move on the chessboard) Where’s my hat?
PAUL You’re off? It’s pouring out there. The heavens have opened big time.
Lightning. Sound of thunder and rain pouring. Stars and music flood the room, the shadows of tree branches sprinkle it. ANNE and PAUL dance slowly in each other’s arms in the background.
HANNAH (in storytelling mode) And then the dwarf looked in the puddle. And what did she see?
ANNE (playing along) The rainbow? The clouds?
PAUL The trees? The leaves?
PAUL And she liked what she saw?
HANNAH (hesitant nod)
ANNE And then? What happened?
HANNAH Days, months, years went by. Then one night the sky opened wide and flooded the forest.
PAUL Hey, and the dwarf? What happened to her?
HANNAH She looked at the rainbow, and said “Peek-a-boo, rainbow, will you take me?” But the rainbow said no.
ANNE The rainbow said no?
PAUL It didn’t care? Why not?
HANNAH It said: “Oh dear me, what a big nose you have. I don’t know you.”
(PAUL and ANNE stop dancing.)
PAUL And the trees? Did they take her?
HANNAH She looked at them. They looked at her… and said “My, my, what a big nose you have. I don’t know you.” The dwarf leaned over the puddle, her nose poking into the muddy water.
Pitter-patter… pitter-patter… pitter-patter… the raindrops flopped into her mirror, and disappeared in the sea of tears. Still, she could see herself… and the gray sky gazing right back at her from the puddle… She stomped her feet and leaped off the ground. She flew through the leaves, the branches, through the lace of treetops, past the rainbow. Higher and higher.
Then… suddenly… thunder roared by her ears, lightning twisted and twirled her body, and plopped her panting on the clouds. (Panting) “Peek-a-boo, Clouds… will you take me? Will you?!” she asked. The clouds huddled together, and looked away: “Peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo. We don’t know you,” they said.
Tree shadows and music fade out. Silence, except for the thunder and lightning and clock ticking. HANNAH reaches for ANNE’s hand and stands up.
PAUL (makes a move on the chessboard) Checkmate, Hannah.
HANNAH (putting on her HAT , and scrutinising herself in her mirror) Heidegger has agreed to supervise me.
PAUL He took you? My! When did this happen?
ANNE And? And? What did he say?
HANNAH Hmm. Nothing. Nothing much.
ANNE Hannah! Hannah!
HANNAH You are right. Yes – thinking has come to life again. There exists a teacher. One can perhaps learn to think…
PAUL Well, what did he say?
HANNAH You see, passionate thinking – (glancing at watch) Oh, I’m late again!
HANNAH pulls the HAT over her face, closes St Augustine’s Confessions with a BANG.
SCENE 4: MARTIN’S OFFICE
Storm rages outside. MARTIN is flipping through St Augustine’s Confessions, glancing up at HANNAH furtively. MARTIN closes the book with a BANG , and slowly unwraps HANNAH from her long black coat, as if he was undressing her. HANNAH leans towards the stove. MARTIN stretches out his hand for HANNAH’s HAT , but she insists on keeping it on.
(HANNAH nods, still panting from running in the storm. Her face is dripping with rain. MARTIN wraps his own scarf around her neck and walks to the table, offering her several tea boxes with their lid off.) Well?
HANNAH (drying her face with the scarf, sniffing the teas but looking at him) Hmm… Difficult choice. (After some hesitation, she picks one.)
MARTIN We are so self-centered, aren’t we all? Human-centered philosophy, along with the history of mankind, is an egotistical affair. Let’s think about it for a moment. Is there any other being which believes that other beings exist for it?
HANNAH That all of Being exists for it?
MARTIN Remember Descartes?
HANNAH “Cogito ergo sum.”
MARTIN It’s ME. It’s me, me, me! I –
(They say ‘I’ at the same time, then, she finishes his sentence.)
HANNAH ‘I’ am the ultimate point of reference.
MARTIN (looking at the tree in a painting on the wall, then sorting books) Take the tree. How do we think of the tree?
HANNAH Well… Air… Oxygen… Its leaves transform carbon-dioxide into oxygen –
MARTIN (crouching at fire) – so that we can breathe. And hence, live.
HANNAH And the roots… the roots prevent erosion –
MARTIN – to hold the soil in place. So that we can inhabit the land.
HANNAH Its burning keeps us warm.
MARTIN And paper. Phenomenally… (admiring her) wonderful. Couldn’t possibly live without it.
HANNAH We can take a rest in its shade.
MARTIN (offering her an apple) Your hat can take a rest on its branch.
HANNAH (biting into the apple) It feeds us…
MARTIN Yes, yes, yes. All very useful. That is, if you take the technological attitude to life. Alarmingly useful. We only see the tree as… a standing reserve. It’s homogenous stock, existing –
HANNAH – for us. For us, the thinking things.
MARTIN You see… We ‘frame’ the tree. We frame it. We frame it for our use. (They chew their apples in unison, thinking together, wrapped in silence.)
HANNAH (hardly audible, biting in the apple) Well, how about –
MARTIN Mere putty. The world is but putty in our hands.
(Silence, except for the ticking of the clock.)
HANNAH How about its… beauty? It inspires us to create. Paintings. Poetry. Music.
MARTIN (staring at her HAT)* From a technological viewpoint, this is just an object. (Harshly) Just ‘stuff’. It can be measured, torn apart, made into something else. Or given a monetary value.
MARTIN’s hands reach towards HANNAH’s HAT. HANNAH steps back; MARTIN steps closer. They ad lib this dance across the stage until HANNAH backs into the stove.
HANNAH (burnt by the fire) OW!!!
MARTIN (holding the rim of the HAT as it sits on her head) Hmm… Let’s see. Size 12? Say, 35cm in diameter, the brim an extra 10. Well-worn, but I could get, say, four Marks for it.
(MARTIN takes off the HAT as if in slow motion. HANNAH shakes her hair.)
MARTIN Or I could tear off the rim and throw it in the rubbish.
HANNAH Herr Professor…
MARTIN Or I could use it as a curtain tieback.
HANNAH Professor Heidegger…
MARTIN (caressing the HAT on his chest) Or as a tie, of sorts.
(Turning the HAT upside down, he fills it with index cards.)
The rest could serve me as a container for my index cards.
(He takes out the cards, slowly and tenderly putting the HAT back on HANNAH ’s head.)
But for me this hat is different. I can see it in its context.
HANNAH It’s not just an object. It’s part of someone’s world.
MARTIN Your world. (Taking HANNAH’s hand into his hands, kissing it.) It has your history, Fraulein Arendt.
HANNAH By ‘Caring’, Professor Heidegger –
MARTIN (taking HANNAH’s other hand, kissing her fingers tenderly) Each speck of dust… every little dimple and wrinkle… on your hat… is an evidence of your whole existence.
HANNAH By ‘Caring’ you mean –
MARTIN (framing her head in his palms) I mean –
HANNAH – seeing everything… in its context.
MARTIN (whispering, leaning towards her) With its… historical significance.
(HANNAH pulls back. Clock ticking. HANNAH slowly takes off her HAT again, shakes her hair, and tilts her head.)
HANNAH Caring –
MARTIN Caring –
MARTIN (kissing HANNAH) – how everything is –
HANNAH (kissing back) – interconnected.
The two are fused in a passionate kiss. Clock ticking.
As HANNAH embraces MARTIN, the HAT falls to the ground.
© Zsuzsanna Ardó
Play. Writer, director, producer. New Century Writer Award, quarter-finalist. Premiered at Harvard University, Dudley Short Play Festival. Published by Philosophy Now.
Opera, in collaboration with NY composer, Karen Siegel. Performed by Opera on Tap, New York.
endlessly clever and funny Trav S.D., Travalanche, NY
About The Hat: Arendt Meets Heidegger by Zsuzsanna Ardó