Context for the Text
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.
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
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.
HANNAH Arendt - 18, philosophy student.
MARTIN Heidegger - 35, philosophy professor.
philosophy student, HANNAH's close friend
philosophy professor, ANNE's husband
PLACE AND TIME:
Marburg, Germany, 1923.
SCENE 1: HANNAH'S
Crackling of fire and ticking of clock punctuates the silent
darkness. Then soft klezmer music fades in. As the lights
come on, we see
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.
(slurping from the ladle) Anne, I’m telling you…
darn, it’s burning… doesn’t taste like yours.
some more, they both blow at it, then HANNAH offers
it to 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.
My, aren’t we smitten by this sweet American.
(laughing) I have a sweet tooth, remember?
Hot chocolate for some, hot Paul for others.
(offers a spoonful of hot chocolate to HANNAH)
Perfect, wouldn’t you say?
(savoring) The real thing. Almost. How long has he
been teaching here?
(peeling an apple) Two years. Superbly. The most
popular professor. Except for Heidegger of course.
Not you too.
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
Why not? Paul skied with him many times. Brilliant skier,
apparently. Loves giving ski lessons – not just
Brilliant skier, brilliant teacher, brilliant philosopher
– anything else?
at the door while she speaks.
ANNE bolts out
of the chair, hurries to answer it.
in with a wicker basket, laughing.)
Heidegger, Heidegger, Heidegger.
( kisses ANNE’s forehead tenderly, then hugs
HANNAH. To ANNE) You’ve been telling Hannah
about the greatest star of modern philosophy, my love?
Yes, we talked mostly about you, Paul. Did you get cinnamon
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.)
(looking through the books) Aristotle... Goethe...
Thomas Mann... Beethoven... St Augustine... Kant. Hannah, is
there anything at all you haven’t read?
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.
him from behind and snuggles her chin into his neck.
HANNAH ladles the steaming chocolate into the mugs.)
neck) Hmm. Delicious. You smell so--
(kissing his shivering neck) Let me warm you up.
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.)
Careful, Anne. He’ll melt.
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.)
(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--
(feeding PAUL a slice of apple)
(poking her fingers into the cream, then licking them)
I much prefer hot chocolate to magic potions. Mm…
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.
(feeding PAUL) She got entangled in one of his
(lighting a cigarette) The magic potion…
(sarcastically) hm, deadly after all.
It may just be hearsay, you know. (kissing PAUL
Malicious gossip. (kissing her arm) Quite possibly.
(to ANNE) --A pinch of cinnamon?
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.
(savoring the drink, offering it to HANNAH)
He is a taste worth acquiring though. You’d--
(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.
music fades in.
SCENE 2: MARTIN'S
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
Hesitant knock on
the door. Pause. Then a more assertive knock.
off the ladder, opens the door and admires his visitor
standing in the door for a while, finally inviting her in.
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. )
(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—
(extending one hand to help her up, while feeling a bump on
his head with the other)
Hm. Always a good
(They pick up the
skis and lean them up against the wall.
around and penetrates HANNAH with his glance.
HANNAH is taking off her coat while…)
(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)
(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?
(hardly audible, picking up her books) On the basis
of --the Categorical Imperative.
(Keeping his gaze
in silence for her to elaborate.)
We must… we
must act as if the principle we follow were to become a law
which everyone had to follow.
Take the example of coming late.
(trying to explain) Professor Heidegger, I…
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?
(tentatively, handing over a book) The world is...
but a copy . A copy of a perfect realm.
Mathematical. For him, the world is mathematics.
Cogito ergo sum. The world is the result of our
The world is the product of our mental structures.
Will to power. A game of chaos and power.
The world is a phenomenon of our existence.
(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.)
Without light, we can't see. Without BEING, beings can't be.
(taking in the mesmerized
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.
We all depart.
We must... We must face up to the... departures. To
Nothingness. (Beat.) To death.
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. --
--If you live in the knowledge that your own being has to…
depart one day from Being into Nothingness--
--if you live as a being-towards-death – then you make the
most of your possibilities.
Then, and only then, you live an authentic life. Then you
CARE. Then you start CARING about your world.
key to authentic existence then is taking responsibility for
our life. --For our actions.
(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
(squishing the hat)
Heidegger... My... My doctoral thesis is on the concept of
... love in St Augustine. I was wondering… would you...
would you supervise me?
Ticking of clock, then Klezmer music.)
SCENE 3: HANNAH'S
The sound of
then the lights come on.
studying the chessboard, HANNAH is trying to coax a
mouse out of its hole in the wall, ANNE is making
Peek-a-boo… peek-a-boo…What got into her? I haven’t seen her
all day today.
(wrapped up in deciding his next move) Hannah.
Please. It’s just a mouse.
(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?
distractedly and making a move on the chessboard)
Where’s my hat?
(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
PAUL dance slowly in each other's arms in the
(in storytelling mode) And then the dwarf looked in
the puddle. And what did she see?
along) The rainbow? The clouds?
The trees? The leaves?
And she liked what she saw?
And then? What happened?
Days, months, years went by. Then one night the sky opened
wide and flooded the forest.
Hey, and the dwarf? What happened with her?
She looked at
the rainbow, and said “Peek-a-boo, rainbow, will you take
me?” (Beat) But the rainbow said no.
The rainbow said no?
It didn’t care? Why not?
“Oh dear me, what big nose you have. I don’t know you.”
and ANNE stop dancing.)
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
leaves and the music fade out, the magic is gone. Silence,
except for the thunder and lighting, and the clock ticking.
puts her hands on HANNAH’s shoulders, she reaches
for her hand and stands up)
(makes a move on the chessboard, then, victoriously)
(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.)
(putting her HAT on, and putting on some makeup)
Heidegger has agreed to supervise me.
He took you? My! When did this happen?
And? And? What did he say?
(getting ready to leave) Hmm. Nothing. Nothing much.
(slapping PAUL’s hands impatiently) Hannah!
(licking her finger, smoothing out her eyebrows in the
You are right.
Yes, thinking has come to life again. There
exists a teacher; one can perhaps learn to think...
Well, what did he say?
You see, passionate thinking-- (glancing at watch)
Oh, I’m late again!
the HAT over her face, closes St Augustine’s
Confessions with a BANG .
Klezmer music fading in, then fading into the sounds of a
SCENE 4: MARTIN'S
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,
towards the stove.
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.)
(blowing at the embers) Tea?
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.)
(handing her his scarf) Well?
(drying her face with the scarf, sniffing the teas but
looking at him) Hmm... Difficult choice.
hesitation, she picks one of them.
off his jacket and wraps her in it as he talks.)
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?
That all of Being exists for it?
Cogito ergo sum.
It's ME. It's me, me, me! I— (they say ‘I’ at the same
time, then she finishes his sentence)
‘I’ am the ultimate point of reference.
at a tree in a painting on the wall, then sorting books.)
the tree. How do we think of the tree?
Well… Air... Oxygen... Its leaves transform carbon-dioxide
(crouching at the fire)--so that we can breathe. And
And the roots... the roots prevent erosion--
--to hold the soil in place. So that we can inhabit it.
(the burning logs, looking down at him, flirting)
Keeps us warm.
(looking up, slowly standing up) And paper.
Phenomenally... (admiring her) wonderful.
moves away. )
live without it.
We can take a rest in its shade.
(offering her an APPLE) Your hat can take a
rest on its branch.
yes... All very useful. That is, if you take the
technological attitude to life. (Beat.
himself as eating the apple)
Alarmingly useful. We only see the tree as... standing
reserve. It's homogenous stock, existing--
–for us. Us, the thinking things.
You see... We ‘frame’ the tree. We frame it. We frame it for
chew on the apple in unison, thinking in silence.)
(hardly audible, biting in the apple) Well, how
(cutting her off) Mere putty. The world is but
putty in our hands.
for the ticking of the clock. They chew their apple in
(shy but determined) How about its... beauty?
Inspires us to create. Paintings. Poetry. Music.
(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.
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.)
(burnt by the stove)
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
(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.
takes off the HAT as if in slow motion. HANNAH
shakes her hair.)
Or I could tear off the rim and throw that in the rubbish.
Or I could use it as a curtain tieback.
throws off his jacket)
(caressing the hat on his chest) Or... as a tie of
(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
adjusts her hat.)
(taking her hand into his hands, kissing it) It has
your history, Fraulein Arendt.
By 'Caring’, Professor Heidegger --
(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.
(framing her head in his palms) I mean--
--seeing everything... in its context.
(whispering, leaning towards her) With its...
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. )
(brushing his cheeks against hers) Caring--
(turning her other cheek) --is to experience--
(kissing her) --how everything is--
The two are
fused in a passionate kiss. Clock ticking, rain falling. As
embraces him, the HAT falls from her grip to the
ground. Blackout. Klezmer music fades in.
Zsuzsanna Ardó (www.ardo.org)
is a writer, photographer, editor and
translator. Her books include How to Be a European,
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’
London. The Hat: Arendt Meets Heidegger, her play,
was premiered at Harvard. Its illustrated edition can be
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.