The Heidegger Syndrome
Adora Sein

What does it mean to be? Am I? In other words, do I be?

Innocent sounding words, yes? Seems like a harmless enough question. But beware. Don't be tricked into compliance. Pursuing such questions can lead to a little-known ailment that has severe consequences.

I have been studying the disease for some time. The first thing I learned was that the condition is relatively rare because it involves deep thinking. Thankfully, these days, fewer and fewer are affected.

Despite the increasing rarity of the ailment, it should be recognized for what it is, a pernicious neurological disorder that has devastating effects on any human than contracts it. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I have decided to call it the Heidegger Syndrome.

I have been carefully analyzing the symptoms of this affliction, investigating its causes and observing its progression while searching desperately for a cure. I am sorry to report, I have concluded there is no cure.

I have consulted with neurologists (those that would see me), but none have studied it (or so they claim). Most even deny it's very existence. Absurd! How can something so fundamental to human consciousness not exist? You might as well say irony doesn't exist.

I myself saw the devastating effects of this disease when Marty Heidegger, a guy I used to hang around with, contracted it. He suffered long from its disorienting and degrading effects, and eventually succumbed to it.

Let's look at his history of symptomatology. Analyzing his chart, I have determined that he probably suffered from the ailment since childhood. At an early age, he was diagnosed with a psychosomatic heart condition, but since his family could not afford expensive doctors he had to give her up and go to a Jesuit seminary. Sadly, no one saw where it all was leading.

When he entered the University of Freiburg, those close to him should have seen the handwriting on the wall: the disease was silently festering within his head.

At the university, he studied theology which of course in due time led to complete rejection of religion. You see? Even at that early age, the disease was slowly but surely taking him over. But at the time no one recognized the symptoms.

In time, he completed his studies and joined the faculty at the University of Marburg as a professor of philosophy. (We now know that particular German university was a breeding ground for the ailment: a disease cluster was discovered there in the late fifties.)

At the university, Heidegger began to suggest that no one but he understood what being was all about.

I rest my case. The disease had completely taken him over. It became even more obvious to his peers when he started going around saying that in 2,000 years of history not one human being had bothered to ask what "being" itself is. Now completely controlled by the disease, he hardly noticed that no one had the slightest idea of what he was talking about.

But those around him did see that there was something definitely wrong with him. Worried that it might be catching (it is), they avoided him. It is a known fact that after 1923, the year of his "being" pronouncement, he was not invited to a single cocktail party.

In 1927, unable to get anyone to pay attention to his pointing up at the cloudy skies of his reality, unable to get them to see what to him was obvious, he self-published a chapbook on Amazon titled Being and Time (subtitled with the catchy keywords, "History of Being in Human Beings") that suggested among other things that Husserl, being a Jew, was dead wrong (well, everybody already knew that, but we didn't have the heart to tell him). On and on his boring treatise went, insisting that things become intelligible only because they are already part of an individual's ontological world. Ha! Talk about redundant! It was clear he was overthinking it (overthinking is now known as a key symptom of the disease).

In 1933, trying to fight the disease, he joined the Nazi Party. For a while, he was all right. He became like all the others, drinking excessively large steins of beer while playing Trivial Pursuit, choosing to assume that all this talk about eugenics and the final solution was merely a new fad having to do with doing away with people named Gene.

But it was no use. He soon starting thinking again. He recanted his belief in beer and syncretic politics and went back to the university asylum, laughing off the Nazi-Party-joining escapade as a lark, only a temporary jaunt away from deep thinking. He claimed it was simply an investigation into what the "other" people were doing, a light-hearted safari into the silly pseudo-reality of watching TV soap operas and arguing about politics. He even gave up watching Fox news, saying it seemed biased.

Well, after that, if he had any friends left, they abandoned him. Lonely and in denial about his own disease, he took to wandering the moody back streets of Marburg, thinking, hatless and coatless, unaware of rain or snow or snowballs or the kids who followed him, taunting him, calling him "Mister Big Fat Brain."

Undeterred by their ridicule, he wandered through life doing little besides thinking, often forgetting to eat or find a bathroom, constantly mumbling something about meaning having to do with its context. As he stared at his clothes spinning around and around and around at the Laundromat, he was heard to whisper the word "Dasein" over and over. (To this day, no one knows who or what Dasein was.) When he wasn't thinking or doing his laundry, he was on the streets explaining to the parking meters that conditions of intelligibility depend on the type of houses we live in, the sort of clothes we wear, the very nature of the chairs we sit on. So sad. I shake my head and shed a bitter tear at the memory of it.

Now it was obvious to all: the disease of thinking had taken possession of his soul. He was deteriorating into pure thought.

To his credit, he continued to try to fight it. He became the Fuhrer's mistress (figuratively if not literally). He told people he was going to be the first Aryan to fly solo across the Atlantic. He took to dressing in black leather and built a prize-winning chopper that sported really tall hanger bars and a chrome skull instead of a headlight. He rode it flat out on the Autobahn without a helmet! But it was all to no avail. He was still a philosopher at heart. Once the disease gets you by the intellectual throat it never lets you go.

Even the war couldn't save him. He hoped that if he could join the Army and mindlessly follow orders like all the other soldiers, it might spring him from the trap; but no, when he tried to join up, yelling at the top of his lungs that he was ready and willing to kill the damn imperialist American intellectuals, the Army brass just laughed at him and threw him out. In desperation, he bought a tall red top hat and a silver cane and learned to tap dance. He frantically tap danced up and down the street preaching to the goose-stepping soldiers, saying the end is near, the Mormons are coming, we will all be taken away to the other side of a comet where a purely Aryan society will evolve and we will learn how to deconstruct everything from literature to Tinkertoy towns. But it was no use, you can't learn how to be dumb; you have to be born to it.

Little was heard from him after the defeat of the Third Reich, but one day a few of the other philosophers who were afflicted with the same disease noticed he was not out there on his usual street corner begging for alms and listeners. Inquiries were made. It turned out there was only one witnesses there that day, a bag lady who found it comforting to listen to his ramblings while she sat in the gutter sipping her fancy imported Gallo wine. She claimed he had simply disappeared into pure thought.

Derrida and Lyotard called for a symposium to debate the cause of the phenomenon, but there were doubters. Some of them insisted he had simply gone to South America to join Hitler. The UFO crowd was sure he really had ascended to a perfect deconstructionist world on the back side of that comet.

In the end, the symposium never came off because nobody cared enough to offer up their back yard to host it. Also, times were hard due to the bad economy and the fact that the damn conniving Lehman Brothers had run off with all the proceeds from the last symposium to join Hitler's hippie commune in the Falkland Islands. Besides, at the time, all attention was being directed to the coming election, and all the available tea was being gathered together to defeat the current damned "other side."

So there you have it. A truly sad case of excessive thinking that led inexorably to disaster. My hypothesis is that no matter what Derrida and Lyotard think, I believe in the end it was Heidegger's own brain that disintegrated him. One day he simply decided that if I don't think therefore I am not--and that was that.

Yes, a truly sad case indeed, but at least the man will now have his place in history as the original identified case of what will be forever be known as Heidegger Syndrome.

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I can only offer this simple postscript--a lesson, if you will--of what is to be learned from his unfortunate example: don't be tempted by the devil of conceptual thinking; there lies only isolation, loneliness, and comprehension.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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