Anatoly passes on this delightful snatch of conversation overheard in the Moscow radical/intellectual bookstore Falanster (i.e., Phalanstère); the Russian is below the cut:

Customer to saleswoman: “Happy Heidegger’s birthday!”
Saleswoman (with eyes opened wide and doubt in her voice): “But that’s tomorrow!”
Another customer, leafing through books: “Not tomorrow, the day after.”

There’s a brief description of the store here (it had to move to the other side of Tverskoy Boulevard after someone lobbed a hand grenade into it!), and you can see a video of the store and its owner here (it starts on the street and walks you up the stairs and into the store, examining the displays lovingly—I wish there were videos like that for every bookstore worth visiting). Toward the end, the proprietor, Boris Kupriyanov, actually opens a book and sniffs it, something I do with embarrassing frequency. If I ever visit Moscow again, this will be one of my first stops.

Disclaimers: Yes, radical intellectuals can be tiresome, and yes, Heidegger was a Nazi. Having gotten that out of the way, here’s the Russian:

Покупатель продавщице: Поздравляю с днем рождения Хайдеггера!
Продавщица (с широко раскрытыми глазами и недоумением в голосе): Так он же завтра!
Еще один покупатель, листающий книгу у полки: Не завтра, а послезавтра.


  1. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who sniffs books. I’ve got some very odd looks for doing that.

  2. Well, what else is there to do with books, other than sniffing them?

  3. j. del col says

    Book sniffing? It’s probably illegal in Alabama.

  4. michael farris says

    “It’s probably illegal in Alabama.”
    …the theory being that it might lead to dancing.

  5. popular past time in Foyles
    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
    Sir Francis Bacon

  6. Dancing, yes. At night. And in stormy weather.

  7. Here’s a little video I made about a favourite bookshop of mine in Santiago de Compostela. It’s at

  8. This reminds me of a conversation I once overheard at a street book fair:
    Potential customer: I’m looking for a book about the guy who assassinated JFK, John Wilkes Booth?
    Woman standing nearby: No, that was Jack Ruby.
    Guy browsing at next stall: No, no, no. It’s Sirhan Sirhan.

  9. Spoiler: They all did it together!

  10. Jack Wilkes Sirhan Sirhan.

  11. Not so sure Heidegger was a Nazi; he survived under the Nazi regime in an academic post, to be sure, but kept a low profile.
    But what is this book sniffing of which everyone speaks? If someone uninitiated wanted to experiment with sniffing (with their own bookshelves of course), where would they start, with a particular century, genre, language, type of binding…and what do you sniff for–incense in biblical commentary and sulfur in Cabala? And is any specific type of sniffing off-limits, say, juvenile fiction?

  12. Heidegger was elected rector of the University on April 21, 1933, and joined the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party on May 1. In his inaugural address as rector on May 27, and in political speeches and articles from the same year, he expressed his support for the Nazi cause and its leader, Adolf Hitler. He resigned the rectorate in April 1934, but remained a member of the Nazi party until 1945.” You can look this stuff up, you know.

  13. You can look this stuff up, you know.
    My Heidegger books are in storage, it’s raining pitchforks and hammerhandles, and I don’t feel like going over there to look it up. Besides, I might have sold them already, I don’t remember. But what they said was basically that a person who joined the Party back then was not necessarily someone who ran around shooting people, it was necessary for survival, especially for someone on Heidegger’s level (you think we don’t have that kind of politics in today’s educational systems?), that Heidegger was considerably less enthusiastic about Hitler than he should have been for someone in his position, that this led to his demotion, some say cleverly planned by him in a sort of Peter Principle move, and led to him basically digging ditches for the duration of the war. So he got out of whatever he could, did unenthusiastically what he couldn’t get out of, and unlike some others, lived. As far as the linked article’s fawning over Heidegger’s supposed crucial influence on philosophy, theology, the humanities, and the world as we know it, I’ve heard otherwise. That’s what I remember; you can judge for yourself whether my memory on this is as accurate as my memory of whether I still possess the books.
    Sniffing books, indeed.

  14. Actually, book sniffing is so respectable there has been at least one academic work devoted to it, or so I remember from teenage rummages through my local library.

  15. My Heidegger books are in storage, it’s raining pitchforks and hammerhandles, and I don’t feel like going over there to look it up.
    But you could have gone to Wikipedia or googled “heidegger nazi.” It just seems odd to me to say something like “Not so sure Heidegger was a Nazi” without bothering to do even minimal checking. It is very well known by now that Heidegger was a Nazi, and no, it wasn’t “necessary for survival” — lots and lots of people managed to survive without becoming party members. If of course by “survive” you mean “continue to enjoy the perks and respect you take as your right,” then yeah, maybe he had to join the party, but that’s not what most people consider a valid standard for survival.
    I continue to fail to understand the extreme unwillingness on the part of many people to come to terms with this unpleasant but undeniable fact. I love Pound’s poetry, but I don’t try to wriggle out of confronting his fascism. If you’re curious about the facts of both Heidegger’s Nazism and the reaction to it, you can read Adam Kirsch (“The philosopher, it is now clear, was a committed National Socialist for many years, an admirer of Hitler who purged Jewish colleagues, presided over a book-burning (though it seems rain may have prevented any books from actually being burned) and — unlike genuine dissidents — continued to teach, publish and travel throughout the Nazi period”), Alex Steiner (“The long-standing myopia in the case of Heidegger can be directly ascribed to a systematic cover-up that was perpetrated by Heidegger himself during and after his Nazi period, and carried on by his students and apologists to this day”), Carlin Romano (“How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger…, still regarded by some as Germany’s greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack?”), or any of innumerable other people. Note that I did not have to leave the comfort of my office to find anything.

  16. j. del col says

    Heidegger had the very odd idea that he would become the Nazi’s resident philosopher. It was then made clear to him that they had no use for an official bourgeois academic philosopher. They already had Der Fuhrer–no one else need apply.

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, reasonable people could perhaps disagree about how much weight should be given to the opinions of Carlin Romano on people better-known and more widely-read than he is (especially here where all he’s really doing is cheerleading for the argument of a book someone else wrote), but I had never heard of this Alex Steiner fellow. The brief moment’s googling that nijma was faulted for not doing on Heidegger reveals that Steiner’s . . . a communist. A real communist. A frickin’ Trotskyite. Not as a youthful indiscretion, but right now in 2010. He has a site called (top hit when you google his name) at which he posts jargon-filled screeds attacking his factional rivals for betraying the true revolutionary principles of Marxism and Trotskyism. (Those factional rivals, for their own part, accuse Steiner, at the 3d hit you find when googling his name, of attempting to “to infiltrate the disoriented anti-Marxist pseudo-utopianism of Wilhelm Reich, Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse into the Fourth International.” As is usually the case with schisms among unsavory kooks, it sounds like they deserve each other.) Now, I’m certainly very open to the argument that Heidegger was even more politically unsavory than the minimum implied by the undisputed facts his fervent supporters have to admit. But I wouldn’t fault nijma for not taking Alex Steiner’s word for it. Wouldn’t it have been equally credible for our distinguished host to cite the anti-Heideggerian arguments of that distinguished intellectual historian Helga Zepp-LaRouche (wife of Lyndon), which can be read here: ?

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Um, only the second occurrence of “distinguished” in the last sentence of prior comment was supposed to be sarcastic. Should have thesaurusized, or thesaurinated, whichever is the better word.

  19. I think we can distinguish between them.

  20. Yeah, I could have found a more credible witness than Steiner, granted, but I wasn’t about to devote my entire day to proving something that should be taken for granted by now. A little googling and you can find as many sources as you like. The dude was a Nazi, pure and simple. I’m not competent to judge his philosophy.

  21. The Heidegger/Nazi meme has been around a long time. The philosophy department of a local fairly liberal Catholic university doesn’t seem to give it much credence, and religious scholars do pay attention to that kind of thing. It would take more than assertions to convince me. Not everyone can be Dietrich Bonhoeffer and get martyred or Karl Bart and get deported back to your native Switzerland, although you have to admire their type of courage. I have no idea what I myself would be capable of under a regime like that, I’m certainly not going to be the one to cast the first stone.

  22. From a review of Faye, Emmanuel (2009) Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935, (translated by Michael B. Smith). New Haven: Yale UP:

    it is followed by nearly eight chapters of textual exposition in which Faye lays before us a great variety of pro-Nazi texts by Heidegger. Most of these are from speeches and seminars the philosopher delivered during 1933-34, the period of his tenure as rector at Freiburg University. Some of these speeches are well known; others remain unpublished. It is important to note that with this documentation Faye has put to rest any remaining questions about the extent of Heidegger’s political involvement with National Socialism. The cumulative effect of reading through all of this material (from which Faye quotes at great length) confirms one thing beyond any doubt: Heidegger was deeply convinced, politically and philosophically, that the founding of the Third Reich heralded a glorious future for Germany. What this evidence does not prove, however, is that “Heideggerian philosophy” is somehow nothing more than an ideological smokescreen for Nazism (…)

    In the winter semester of 1933-34, during his period of academic tenure as rector, Heidegger taught a seminar entitled On the Essence and Concepts of Nature, History, and State. The seminar does not as yet appear in Heidegger’s collected works, and, according to Faye, there are no current plans to include it in the collected works in the future. This is perhaps unsurprising, since the contents of this seminar are nothing less than grotesque. At one point Heidegger justifies the Nazi ideal of Lebensraum but observes that the concept is only intelligible to those who belong to the German nation: “The nature of our German space would surely be apparent to a Slavic people in a different manner than to us,” Heidegger notes; “to a Semitic nomad, it may never be apparent”

    The reviewer is adamant that nothing about this impairs the value of Heideggerian philosophy (which I distinctly remember to be a self-complacent mishmash of platitudes and prejudices from my early days as a Philosophy undergrad, but of course that’s a matter largely unrelated to his politics), but that “the evidence of Heidegger’s Nazi-commitments is incontrovertible”.
    I don’t have Faye’s book, as I’ve been satisfied with the evidence for Heidegger’s Nazism for quite a while now.

  23. Thanks, Alon. None so blind as those who will not see.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    You can tell from Gordon’s interesting review linked by Alon that he thinks Faye’s views of the *consequences* of Heidegger’s misbehavior are extreme, intemperate, intolerant and crackpottish, a take which seems confirmed by coverage of Faye’s book elsewhere in venues such as the N.Y. Times not known for being soft on Nazis. What I found interesting is that Gordon nonetheless appears to treat Faye as an entirely trustworthy source on these damning but hitherto apparently unknown/overlooked Heidegger texts. I’m not sure I would do that, w/o knowing more than Gordon’s review give me. Now, Alon is probably quite right that whatever Faye adds is simply cumulative to the preexisting mountain of evidence of Heidegger’s indefensible conduct in the 33-35 timeframe, but I again find it curious that the anti-Heideggerian banner is being vigorously carried by characters who themselves seem quite dubious.
    But I also think that I’m with Hat in that I would rather read Pound than Heidegger any day of the week, and can do so without airbrushing away Pound’s unsavory side.

  25. John Emerson says

    There’s never been any doubt about Heidegger’s Nazi affiliation. He didn’t even renounce it after the war. His philosophy was formed before he became a Nazi, however. Hannah Arendt, Sartre, and other anti-Nazis respected and drew on his philosophy.
    Heidegger’s philosophy and writing style are not at all to my taste, but Alon’s characterization is ignorant.
    I do like the Nazi Knut Hamsun’s novels, though he wrote the good ones 30+ years before he affiliated with the Nazis.
    LH is very ill-suited to political debate, however veiled.

  26. No, I’m very ill suited to philosophical debate.

  27. Has anyone written a good book on Heidegger (and the Belgian guy from Yale, what’s his name?), Hamsun, Pound etc and the relation of politics to their work?

  28. Paul de Man.

  29. j. del col says

    Thomas Bernhard has a very funny send-up of Heidegger in his novel –Old Masters.–

  30. I was looking for something that discusses the subject in depth, because it’s potentially quite interesting; I can only think of platitudes like “don’t judge the work by the man”.
    I bet Grumbly would know.

  31. The Seduction of Unreason might be that book. (I’ve only read Heidegger’s Children.)

  32. So, a proposed statement of consensus on Heidegger:
    1) He was a member of the Nazi party.
    2) He published his agreement with Nazi doctrine on many occasions, more than was necessary to keep his job.
    3) He never repudiated his Nazi opinions.
    4) His philosophy, whatever its merit, is unaffected by 1-3.
    5) What parts of Nazi doctrine he believed in inneren Herzen is unknown to anyone but his Maker.
    6) He is not to be confused with Husserl, Habermas, Hayek, Horkheimer, Hegel, Hacking, Hume, or Hat.
    Any disagreements?

  33. Wow, spooky. That sounds exactly like The Book, M. He even seems to write well. Thank you very much, I’ll get it. (I don’t think Hannah Arendt would be what I’m after.)

  34. From Amazon, on Heidegger’s Children:

    Wolin doesn’t want to understand Heidegger so don’t waste your time unless you only want tendentious material in order to fuel your own polemics. For genuinely critical insight the ones to read are Derrida, Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe, Janicaud, Krell, Sallis, Haar, de Beistegui, and Schurmann. This book is the dilettantes alternative; the intellectual equivalent of the ‘National Enquirer’.

    That’s me: a dilettante. Give me the National Enquirer any day.

  35. j. del col says

    Derrida,Nancy… Sounds like a meeting of Obfuscators ‘R’ Us.

  36. Any disagreements?
    I would add a codicil that people are allowed to confuse Heidegger with one, but only one, of Husserl, Habermas, Hayek, Horkheimer, Hegel, and Hacking. Hume and Hat are right out.

  37. proposed statement of consensus on Heidegger
    Almost for sure:
    1) He was a member of National Socialist German Workers Party, probably from May 1, 1933, a week after becoming rector of the University of Freiburg (and the same year Hitler became chancellor of Germany) to 1945 (the year Hitler died.)
    As for the rest of John Cohen’s points, Emerson’s observation about veiled political debate looks like it’s spot on. Galloping across the intertubes one can find a flurry of unsupported factoids, the murky and unsupported type that show up whenever there is a well established quarrel between factions that outsiders will find impossible to follow.
    For instance you can find such things as
    2) He made statements such as “The German people must choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer.” This reminds me a bit of the line from I Claudius where Caligula asks Claudius if it’s true that he is mad, as people are saying behind his back, and Derek Jacobi as Claudius stutters something like “Your Majesty, you set the standard for sanity for the empire.” Maybe in German it is more resounding but in English it’s more like “damning with faint praise.”
    3) Heidegger did not keep his job, but was forced to resign after less than a year, however he was not executed or forced to flee the country.
    4) He probably got a Jewish girlfriend out of the country.
    5) He probably prevented anti-Jewish signs from being displayed at the university.
    6) He either prevented or instigated a book burning. The person who says he instigated the book-burning (from one of Hat’s links) cites it as proof of his naziness and reason for his books to be banned (!).
    7) He either did or did not provide information to the denazification committee considering his case and was later permitted to work in Germany. He either did or did not hide information from them about his politics.
    8) It was never clear what his opinion of the Final Solution was, or if he knew about it at the time.
    9) His most famous philosophy was done in 1927, well before the advent of Nazism, however you might define it (and no one has, they have only discussed personalities–good clue there), but he did continue to write and lecture into the 50s and some claim his entire work is tainted and should be banned.
    For anyone who is still interested, and I find myself getting less and less interested the more I find out ( a good trick for someone who started out with almost zero interest in Heidegger), there are some good comments from insiders at the Amazon reviews for the Faye book (where it is not recommended). I had thought, based on some comment above about the NYT, that the political squabble was over religion, but apparently it’s a philosophy quarrel, something about “the cogito” and “Cartesians”.
    How about a nice cup of tea.

  38. Nijma: Cowan, please. Ikh bin der goy der stets bejaht.
    Hat: Why does Hacking, who is Canadian and not even AFAIK of German origin, get a pass? (At one time, the computers were named after philosophers: the first of them was, for example. I suggested that if the domain ever got a development machine, it should be named Nothing came of this, alas.)
    I should perhaps add that I know nothing about Horkheimer. I picked him off a list of philosophers for reasons of alliteration and sentence rhythm.

  39. I picked him off a list of philosophers for reasons of alliteration and sentence rhythm.
    I made my choice on similar grounds. Hume and Hat, after all, are monosyllables.

  40. Nijma: Cowan, please.
    Oh, good heavens, how did I manage to do that? *blush* (Ich ouch.) I think I was doing something with the immortal Leonard Cohen’s take on Lorca’s La casada infiel elsewhere.

  41. It seems that Hume was originally named Home, and changed it to Hume so the English wouldn’t mispronounce it so badly. Does that mean he should be pronounced /hum/? If so, I must unlearn my /hjum/ of forty years’ standing.

  42. The name Hume was, of course, spelled all kinds of ways, like Heume and Hewme and Hoome. Hume was the most common until around the Restoration, when Home took over, but still pronounced the same.
    Alec Douglas-Home, the Tory PM, was /hjum/, wasn’t he? His brother, William, who wrote The Reluctant Debutante, and who had been jailed near the end of the War for acquiring pacifist tendencies about flame throwers and French civilians, wrote an autobiography, Mr. Home Pronounced Hume.

  43. @John Emerson: I realise this post is long past its prime, and I’m actually surprised comments are still open, but I wish you would provide some substance for your claim that my view of Heidegger is ‘ignorant’.
    I’ve never pretended to be a Heidegger scholar, but I’ve had more than enough exposure to his writing to form an opinion. The early works still show the influence of Husserl, who was an unimpeachable thinker, and one who was acutely aware of the complicated relationship between scientific and philosophical thought. Later ones (Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes being a favourite example) increasingly isolate themselves from any possibility of rational examination, decreeing that the subjectivity of the Meister auf Deutschland is “deeper” by simple fiat.

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