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The Hat: Arendt Meets Heidegger – a short play

by
Zsuzsanna Ardó


 

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 traumatized 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.

***

CHARACTERS:

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, 1923.

 

SCENE 1: HANNAH'S ATTIC ROOM. 

Blackout. Crackling of fire and ticking of clock punctuates the silent darkness. Then soft klezmer music fades in. As the lights come on, we see HANNAH blowing at the logs in the stove, resuscitating the flickering flames. Piles of books on the table and on 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 (savoring)  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  (laughing) I have a sweet tooth, remember? 

HANNAH  Hot chocolate for some, hot Paul for others.

ANNE (offers a spoonful of hot chocolate to HANNAH) Perfect, wouldn’t you say? 

HANNAH (savoring) The real thing. Almost. How long has he been teaching here?

ANNE (peeling an apple) Two years. Superbly. The most popular professor. Except for Heidegger of course.

HANNAH Oh. 

ANNE What?

HANNAH Not you too.

HANNAH  I’m up to here with odes to the ‘greatest professor on earth’, Professor Heidegger. I don’t fall for this sporty philosopher image. (Beat.)  Imagine, taking his skis to class!

ANNE  Why not? Paul 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 bolts out of the chair, hurries to answer it.

(PAUL tumbles in with a wicker basket, laughing.)

PAUL  Heidegger, Heidegger, Heidegger. 

PAUL ( kisses ANNE’s forehead tenderly, then hugs HANNAH. To ANNE) 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 and slaps on HANNAH’s HAT. He picks up some of the books – Greek titles, Goethe, a book on Beethoven.)

PAUL (looking through the books) Aristotle... Goethe... Thomas Mann... Beethoven... St Augustine... Kant. Hannah, is there anything at all you haven’t read?

(ANNE snatches the HAT, slaps it on HANNAH, PAUL lurches after her, but she throws it back to ANNE. Finally PAUL snatches it back and slaps it on himself.  Actors ad lib the playful chase.

(ANNE embraces him from behind and snuggles her chin into his neck. HANNAH ladles the steaming chocolate into the mugs.) 

ANNE (sniffing PAUL’s neck)  Hmm. Delicious. You smell so-- 

HANNAH  --sweet?

ANNE (kissing his shivering neck)  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. Watching them, HANNAH whips the cream energetically, walking towards them.)

HANNAH  Careful, Anne. He’ll melt.

(Elated by ANNE’s ‘heating operations’, PAUL tilts his cheek up against ANNE’s, and intertwines his arms with hers. HANNAH continues to whip the cream energetically.)

PAUL (sitting down, ANNE snugly nestling in his lap) Seriously, Hannah, you too should have a taste of the ‘little magician of Messkirch’. Heidegger really is-- 

ANNE (feeding PAUL a slice of apple)  -- mesmerizing.

HANNAH (poking her fingers into the cream, then licking them)  I much prefer hot chocolate to magic potions. Mm… superb.

PAUL  Students would kill to get into his class. (tightening his arms around ANNE, caressing her thigh) Totally hooked, everybody. (kissing ANNE) --One of his students committed suicide. 

ANNE  (feeding  PAUL) She got entangled in one of his puzzles --apparently.

(HANNAH stops whipping.)

HANNAH (lighting a cigarette) The magic potion… (sarcastically) hm, deadly after all.

ANNE It may just be hearsay, you know. (kissing PAUL tenderly) Accusation.

PAUL Malicious gossip. (kissing her arm) Quite possibly.  You see--

HANNAH (to ANNE) --A pinch of cinnamon?

HANNAH  Mm. That’ll do. Well, I’m here to learn. --To think. (dishing dollops of cream into the mugs while dragging on her cigarette as she speaks) For myself. Not to get hooked on anything. Or anybody.

ANNE (savoring the drink, offering it to HANNAH) He is a taste worth acquiring though. You’d-- 

HANNAH (slurping) --Appalling! Can’t you see? Can't you see? Everybody is taken in by Heidegger.  Everybody. (slamming 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.

Blackout. Klezmer music fades in.

 

SCENE 2: MARTIN'S OFFICE

Music fades out as the lights come on. Large piles of books on the floor, the desk and the chairs. There's a large  painting of a tree on the wall, and a pair of skis by the door. A wooden ladder by the shelves. MARTIN is sorting his piles of books, putting them on the shelf, occasionally stepping on the chair or the ladder to reach a higher shelf.

Hesitant knock on the door. Pause. Then a more assertive knock. MARTIN  steps off the ladder, opens the door and admires his visitor standing in the door for a while, finally inviting her in.

As HANNAH walks in her long black coat, elegant HAT pulled over her face, her books under her arm,  she bumps into his SKIS. HANNAH trips, the skis  fall, hitting MARTIN on the head as he tries to protect her from falling – but can’t. HANNAH's books fall, her HAT flies off her head. ) 

HANNAH (shaking his helping hand, kneeling from the fall) Oh, I'm so sorry... Professor Heidegger… em… Sorry for being late. I’m... em...  Hannah Arendt. I… I was wondering— 

MARTIN (extending one hand to help her up, while feeling a bump on his head with the other) Hm. Always a good sign.

(They pick up the skis and lean them up against the wall. MARTIN  turns around and penetrates HANNAH with his glance. HANNAH is taking off her coat while…)

MARTIN (is  picking up the HAT and twirling 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. (sizing her up) 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. (Beat.) Time and Space.

(Some of HANNAH's books fall down, cluttering the silence) 

MARTIN  (anger rising) If our perception of this hat – just like our conception of the world – is confined by our own experience –  (looking at yet another book falling, angry) which in turn is confined by Time and Space (to HANNAH)  – 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.)

HANNAH We must… we must act as if the principle we follow were to become a law which everyone had to follow. 

MARTIN ( sarcastically) Take the example of coming late. 

HANNAH (trying to explain) Professor Heidegger, I… 

MARTIN (harshly) In Kantian terms, we can see the far-reaching implications of any choice -- a choice like --coming late. (Turning his back on her, he starts pacing up and down.) Now. Back to the mystery of existence. The oldest mystery on earth. Let’s see some of the solutions to it.  (He continues sorting his books. He stands on one side of the ladder, motioning HANNAH to hand certain books to him, then places them on the shelf while putting her on the spot mercilessly. She climbs higher and higher on the other side of the ladder as they talk.) How did Plato see it?

HANNAH (tentatively, handing over a book) The world is... but a copy .  A copy of a perfect realm.

MARTIN And Pythagoras? 

HANNAH  Mathematical.  For him, the world is mathematics.

MARTIN  Descartes?

HANNAH  Cogito ergo sum. The world is the result of our thinking. 

MARTIN  Kant?

HANNAH  The world is the product of our mental structures.

MARTIN  Nietzsche?

HANNAH  Will to power. A game of chaos and power.

MARTIN  Husserl?

HANNAH  The world is a phenomenon of our existence.

MARTIN (softening)  Phenomenal. (stepping down from the ladder, helping HANNAH down) And of course what they ALL forget... What they all forget  to even consider is the fundamental mystery. (Beat.) The fundamental mystery... that something... exists. Rather than nothing. (Beat.) That the world IS. (As he scribbles ‘Being’ and ‘being’ on the blackboard)  BEING is the primordial condition for beings to exist. (He turns off the light. Silent darkness 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 (taking in the mesmerized HANNAH) 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. (Beat.) To death.

MARTIN  We're going to die – so 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, 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.

(Softened for a second, his hands shoot into the air to speak with renewed energy. She puts on her HAT, he helps her with her coat. The coat brushes against the skis, they fall again, hitting both MARTIN and HANNAH 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. Ticking of clock, then Klezmer music.)

 

SCENE 3: HANNAH'S ATTIC ROOM

The sound of relentless STORM outside, then the lights come on.

PAUL is studying the 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 got into her? I haven’t seen her all day today.

PAUL (wrapped up in deciding his next move)  Hannah. Please. It’s just a mouse.

ANNE  (pouring PAUL  tea) Just a mouse… Because you choose to frame it so, 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 (sipping his tea) You are off? It’s pouring out there. The heavens opened big time.

(Sound of thunder and lighting, rain pouring. Stars and music (Bartók’s “Divertimento”)  flood the room, the shadow of tree leaves sprinkle them. A sense of magic, surreal fairy tale, time suspended. 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?

HANNAH  Herself.

PAUL And she liked what she saw?

HANNAH (nodding)

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 with her?

HANNAH She looked at the rainbow, and said “Peek-a-boo, rainbow, will you take me?” (Beat) But the rainbow said no.

ANNE  The rainbow said no?

PAUL It didn’t care? Why not?

HANNAH “Oh dear me, what 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 big nose you have. I don’t know you.” The dwarf leaned over the puddle, her nose poked into the muddy water. Pitter-patter... pitter-patter... pitter-patter... the raindrops flopped in 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… a thunder roared by her ears, a lightening twisted and twirled her body, and plopped her panting on the clouds. (panting) "Peek-a-boo, Clouds… will you take me? Will you?!" The clouds huddled together, and looked away: "Peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo. We don't know you."

 (The tree leaves  and the music fade out, the magic is gone. Silence, except for the thunder and lighting, and the clock ticking. ANNE puts her hands on HANNAH’s shoulders, she reaches for her hand and stands up)

PAUL (makes a move on the chessboard, then, victoriously) Checkmate, Hannah.

(He sits down, ANNE stands behind him. He reaches up with his hands for her hands. Their hands play with each other as they speak.)

HANNAH (putting her HAT on, and putting on some makeup) Heidegger has agreed to supervise me.

PAUL  He took you? My! When did this happen?

ANNE  And? And? What did he say?

HANNAH (getting ready to leave)  Hmm. Nothing. Nothing much.

ANNE  (slapping PAUL’s hands impatiently) Hannah! Hannah!

HANNAH  (licking her finger, smoothing out her eyebrows in the mirror) 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. Klezmer music fading in, then fading into the sounds of a violent storm.)

 

SCENE 4: MARTIN'S OFFICE
Violent storm rages outside.
MARTIN is flipping  through St Augustine’s Confessions, glancing up at HANNAH furtively. She is stretching her arms  for warmth towards the fire, glances back at him. Their glance interconnect. He closes the book with a BANG.

He slowly unwraps her from her long, black coat as if he was undressing her. Shivering in her green dress, HANNAH leans towards the stove. 

MARTIN stretches out his hand for her HAT too, but she insists on keeping it on, pulling it further down, over her face. He kneels beside her and stokes the fire.)

MARTIN  (blowing at the embers)  Tea?

(HANNAH nods, still panting from running in the storm.  Her face is dripping with rain. MARTIN blows at the fire vigorously, looks up at her, stands up, wraps his own scarf around her neck and walks to the table, offers her several tea boxes with their lid off.)

MARTIN  (handing her his scarf) Well?

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 takes off  his jacket and wraps her in it as he talks.)

MARTIN We are so self-centered, aren't we all? Human-centered philosophy, along with  the history of mankind, is an egotistical affair. (motioning her to sit down) Let's think about it for a moment. (pouring her tea) Is there any other being which believes 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 a 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 the 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 it.

HANNAH (the burning logs, looking down at him, flirting)  Keeps us warm.

 

MARTIN (looking up, slowly standing up) And paper. Phenomenally... (admiring her) wonderful.

(She almost moves away. )  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 in the apple) It feeds us…

 

MARTIN Yes, yes, yes... All very useful. That is, if you take the technological attitude to life. (Beat.

talking to himself as eating the apple) Alarmingly useful. We only see the tree as... standing reserve. It's homogenous stock, existing--

 

HANNAH –for us. Us, the thinking things.

 

MARTIN You see... We ‘frame’ the tree. We frame it. We frame it for our  use. 

(They both chew on the apple in unison, thinking in silence.)

HANNAH (hardly audible, biting in the apple) Well, how about--

MARTIN (cutting her off) Mere putty. The world is but putty in our hands.

(Silence except for the ticking of the clock. They chew their apple in unison.) 

HANNAH (shy but determined) How about its...  beauty? Inspires us to create. Paintings. Poetry. Music.

MARTIN (staring at her hat) --From a technological viewpoint, this is just an object.  (harshly) Just ‘stuff’. (Backing her into the fire. Matter-of-factly:) 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) OOOOOH!!!

(MARTIN steps closer to  check if she is all right. His hands reach towards her face again, hesitate around her cheek, then reach for her HAT. The erotic tension between the two is palpable.)

MARTIN (holding the rim of the HAT on her head, dispassionately) Hmm… Let’s see. Size 12? Say, 35cm in diameter, the brim an extra 10. Well-worn but I could get, say, four marks out of 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 that in the rubbish.

HANNAH Herr Professor…

MARTIN Or I could use it as a curtain tieback.

HANNAH  (she throws off his jacket) 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. As he puts the HAT back on her head, slowly and tenderly:)  But for me this...  hat is different. (while putting the hat on her head gently) I can see it in its context.

HANNAH It's not just an object. It's part of someone’s world.

MARTIN (His face almost softens as he admires hers.) Your world.

(HANNAH adjusts her hat.)

MARTIN (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. In silence, they are locked in each other’s eyes. Clock ticking. Then HANNAH takes off her HAT, shakes her hair and tilts her head, nesting it back into his palms. His fingers buried in her tousled hair. )

 

HANNAH (leaning towards him) Caring--

 

MARTIN (brushing his cheeks against hers) Caring--

 

HANNAH (turning her other cheek) --is to experience--

 

MARTIN (kissing her) --how everything is--

HANNAH (kissing back) --interconnected.

The two are fused in a passionate kiss. Clock ticking, rain falling. As HANNAH embraces him, the HAT falls from her grip to the ground. Blackout. Klezmer music fades in.

 

THE END

Zsuzsanna Ardó (www.ardo.org) is a writer, photographer, editor and translator. Her books include How to Be a European, Love Blues: Hungarian Rhapsodies, and Culture Shock! Hungary. She has translated over a hundred films. Allegro Barbaro, the film she wrote and directed to Béla Bartók's music, is featured at the Summerfest festival by the Danube in August to celebrate the 125th Bartók anniversary this year. As the founding chairman, she runs the Hampstead Authors’ Society (www.hasweb.org) in London. The Hat: Arendt Meets Heidegger, her play, was premiered at Harvard. Its illustrated edition can be viewed here: http://www.zsu.f2s.com/thehatbook. This summer she has been invited back for a second term as the Photographer in Residence at the André Kertész Museum.

 


Logos 5.2 - spring/summer 2006
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