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A short play by Zsuzsanna Ardó.
Hannah Arendt: 18, philosophy student.
Martin Heidegger: 35, philosophy professor.
Anne Mendelssohn: 18, philosophy student, Hannah’s close friend.
Paul McCarthy: 28, American philosophy professor, Anne’s husband.
PLACE AND TIME: Marburg, Germany, 1925.
Scenes 1 and 3: Hannah Arendt’s attic room in Marburg.
Scenes 2 and 4: Martin Heidegger’s office, Marburg University.
Scene 1: HANNAH’S ATTIC ROOM.
The crackling of a fire and the 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 Hannah offers it to Anne.)
Anne: Umm… Perhaps the milk or the cocoa is not quite the same. It looks the same, but it’s different. 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 it back to Anne. Finally Paul snatches it back and slaps it on himself. Anne embraces him 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 –
Hannah: – sweet?
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 hot chocolate, offering it to Hannah) He is a taste worth acquiring though. You’d –
Hannah: It’s 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) It’s out of the question.
Scene 2: MARTIN’S OFFICE
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: (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.
(Martin waits in silence for her to elaborate.)
Hannah: 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.
Hannah: Professor 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 the 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.
(She puts on her hat, he 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. The crackling of the fire and the ticking of the clock.)
Scene 3: HANNAH’S ATTIC ROOM
The sound of a storm 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 Bartók’sDivertimentoflood 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?
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.
(The tree shadows and music fade out. Silence, except for the thunder and lightning and the clock ticking. Anne puts her hands on Hannah’s shoulders. Hannah reaches for her hand and stands up.)
Paul: (makes a move on the chessboard) Checkmate, Hannah.
Hannah: (putting her hat on, and then some make-up) 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.)
(Blackout. The sound of a violent storm.)
Scene 4: MARTIN’S OFFICE
The violent storm rages outside. Martin is flipping through St Augustine’s Confessions, glancing up at Hannah furtively. Their gazes interconnect. He closes the book with a BANG.
He slowly unwraps her from her long black coat, as if he was undressing her. Hannah leans towards the stove. Martin stretches out his hand for her hat too, 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.)
Hannah: (drying her face with the scarf, sniffing the teas but looking at him) Hmm… Difficult choice.
(After some hesitation, she picks one of them.)
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: (looking down and flirting) 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 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 face. She steps back; he steps closer. They continue this dance across the stage until Hannah backs into the stove.)
Hannah: (burnt by the stove) 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 her 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 her hand into his hands, kissing it.) It has your history, Fraulein Arendt.
Hannah: By ‘Caring’, Professor Heidegger –
Martin: (taking her 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. The clock ticks. Then Hannah again takes off her hat, shakes her hair, and tilts her head.)
Hannah: Caring –
Martin: Caring –
Hannah: – is to experience –
Martin: (kissing her) – how everything is –
Hannah: (kissing back) – interconnected.
(The two are fused in a passionate kiss. The clock ticks, the rain falls. As Hannah embraces Martin, the hat falls to the ground. Blackout.)
© Zsuzsanna Ardó 2009
Zsuzsanna Ardó is a writer and photographer. She is a member of the British Film Academy (BAFTA) and the founding Chairman of the Hampstead Authors’ Society. www.ardo.org
• The Hat premiered at the Dudley Short Play Festival at Harvard University. If you are interested in staging this play, please contact Zsuzsanna Ardó at email@example.com.
Arendt and Heidegger
Two outstanding intellects of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt, the political theorist (1906-1975), and Martin Heidegger, the philosopher (1889-1976), met in 1925 at the University of Marburg, Germany. They both went on to write major contributions to twentieth century thinking. Arendt is perhaps most famous 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. Heidegger was 35, married with two young sons. His lectures were unrivalled in popularity – he was the rising star of philosophy at Marburg University. Many of his students went on to became influential thinkers in their own right, including Hans Jonas, Karl Löwith and Herbert Marcuse.
From their many letters and poems we can see how each resonated with the 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. As a young child, Arendt was traumatized by the death of her father and grandfather, and by her mother’s sudden remarriage. Heidegger’s notion of death and departures, ‘being-towards-death’ resonated with her memories. Yet they couldn’t have come from – and departed to – more different contexts. She was from an assimilated, cosmopolitan, leftist, atheist German Jewish family of professionals. Heidegger was 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 the Gestapo, spends years stateless in France, and almost ends up in concentration camp before she finally escapes to the US, to become a US citizen in 1951. And yet they reconnect after the war and resume their bond until her death.