We had a conversation with actor Craig Mathers, who will be portraying Young Martin Heidegger in the U.S. Premiere of Savyon Liebrecht’s The Banality of Love (11/17 at Emerson College and 11/20 at the Goethe Institut), about Heidegger and philosophy…
(Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt – the subjects of The Banality of Love)
Why did you choose to study philosophy as an undergraduate?
I was drawn to it in a high school during a survey of philosophy course. I found it fascinating how each philosopher tried to answer the fundamental questions of life, or at least the questions that were relevant to that particular time. I also found it fascinating that each answer seemed to also bring on a new set of problems
What was your experience like as a philosophy student?
Reading, reading, reading! Lots of it, thru some very “thick” material. So I learned to read slowly and be very patient with each point the philosopher was making. I also found that certain philosophers wrote well -and even beautifully- Nietzsche for example (Heidegger too). And others, like Kant, were philosophical giants but not particularly clear as writers. Some of this could have to do with the translation from German into English but when I was in school it was generally understood that Kant was a nightmare for any translator to undertake because of his writing style.
Did you study any Heidegger?
I did study Heidegger. He is considered to be one of history’s most powerful thinkers and I found his approach to be nothing less than fascinating. He is generally understood to have single handedly saved philosophy from “Decartes’ problem”, which was a dilemma that had dogged western thought since the 1600’s.
We spent one semester reading his seminal work BEING AND TIME and it was from this experience that I came to understand the scope and depth of his thinking and writing. I remember being incredibly engrossed in his work, so much so that it changed the way I viewed myself and the world around me. It was exciting for me to be so engaged as a student because, as we all know, not every class a student takes will be transformative. And, admittedly, I wasn’t a particularly “engaged” student when I was an undergraduate so it was a great surprise to me when I became intensely interested in his writing.
What’s your relationship with Heidegger as a person?
Well, I knew very little about him. I do remember though, one early class where the instructor set aside time to talk about his relationship with Hitler’s government and the Nazi party. The professor said that Heidegger’s wife was a “card carrying” member of the party but that there was no indication that he himself was a Nazi. I remember wondering how could a deep-thinking, poetic person like Heidegger share his life with a Nazi? And how could anyone possibly do this without agreeing on some level with their spouse’s extreme views. It was disturbing but, as told to us, the guilty party seemed to be his wife so, as we wondered about their bizarre relationship, we also jumped into reading and trying to understand his work.
A clearer view of Heidegger now has emerged and points to his extreme views. I recently watched an incredible, jaw-dropping BBC documentary on his life, his philosophy and his political leanings and the proof is damning. He clearly turned his back on people and friends because they were Jews. He apparently thought he could, in the manner of a philosopher-king, “soften” Hitlers extreme views and policies yet, if this explanation is the case, he had to have been as big a megalomaniac as Hitler himself.
It’s simply stunning to me that one of the most brilliant minds to ever walk the planet could also be so deeply and completely void of the “milk of human kindness.” It’s chilling to me that this is even possible.
What appeals to you about Heidegger?
His writing was 1) powerful 2) innovative and 3) poetic.
What appeals to you about playing Heidegger?
Well, I don’t think it’s so much appealing as it is perhaps fascinating to live in the “contradiction of Heidegger” without curing it, explaining it or apologizing for it. It’s not an easy task because he says and does some horrible things but I think this play – and Heidegger’s journey – show us something about our humanity, in that it is not an entitlement guaranteed by birth. It’s something rather that we either earn or forfeit by the choices we make as we live our lives.