Friday, 1 December 2017

The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why: Part Three✦

4.  The Monstrous Site

The maitre of topologies is very good at disguising them – they are protean and polymorphous and more or less invisible in constant metamorphosis. A vortex of topologies or strategies and counter-strategies.  As he writes in Broken Hegemonies – how is one to live under the sign of Proteus? (Broken Hegemonies, Indiana University Press, 2003, p. 514)  But then proposes a detour – paraphrasing Heidegger: “Proteus alone can save us now.” (ibid., p. 513)  Proteus is one signature of the alchemical for Schürmann – he poses a whole series of similar questions of transformation as a means of flight, evasion and conversion: “Toward what, then, may man transmute himself?”  In the chapter on Meister Eckhart transmutation in “the great alchemical work” still means the old alchemical solve et coagula – where the human body and soul are regarded as a metal – capable of becoming liquefied and indistinct so as to be transformed into the noblest singular form of gold. (see ibid., p. 278, p. 280)
Isn’t Schürmann perpetually composing and decomposing his ‘an-archic self’ in his own Birth of Tragedy alias Broken Hegemonies – which he also calls “this monstrous site”?  

What is a ‘monstrous site’ – it appears to contain both archic and an-archic determinants which are at war with one another.  It is a post-diremptive state resembling a post-apocalyptic landscape.  Parts of the broken hegemony still pulse with quasi-life, while the flayed and withered limbs of other hegemonic carcasses are strewn about on the charred ground - the birth of the ‘new’ though is unfinished, nameless – still inchoate, formless hence monstrous.  The monstrous site is a warning against itself. It is the condition of being that the diremption of the modern hegemonic fantasm of self-consciousness reveals.
Schürmann following Heidegger also calls this condition simply “Übergang” or transition. It places us in transit - makes us into transitional beings.  But Schürmann cannot say in transit from where or where to – not even which transition it is. (Broken Hegemonies, ibid. p. 552)
The monstrous site has no fixed address – it breaks ‘normative principles’ and it is itself fractured time.  Schürmann suggests that within the breaking hegemony of consciousness another counter-fracturing takes place of time.

Whatever else it might be – the monstrosity has to do with Heidegger – and his flawed suspicious awakening with pain from a “failed uprising” or “the fault from which Heidegger awakened” (ibid., p. 277).
His pain rings out in the history of being like the cry of a wounded beast down until our own ‘fissured moment’ – the book in which Schürmann reads Heidegger as if it were an intimate confession of his political folly – Beiträge zur Philosophie: Vom Ereignis – is itself a “play of functions and dysfunctions, no longer in ancient or modern texts, but at the level of Heidegger’s utterance itself, (making) this utterance the most pathetic document of broken hegemony.” (ibid., p. 524) 
It is the vertiginous aspect of Schürmann’s text, its never coming to rest, its staying liquid – that  Schürmann-Heidegger stand both inside this shipwreck of broken Nazi hegemony and somewhere outside at an undisclosed other site or distant shore viewing the wreckage from multiple obscure angles.  This is Schürmann’s elaborate version of Sophocles’ tragic method  – amphinoein – or thinking from two sides.  Like the goddess enjoining Parmenides’ kouros – the chorus in tragedy urges the tragic hero: “Young man, hold disparates together (…)” (ibid., p. 38).   Schürmann discovers a similar vision in Virginia Woolf – “One thinks of the words of Virginia Woolf: It is fatal for anyone to be a man or woman pure and simple.  One must be woman-manly, or man-womanly.” (A Room of One’s Own, 1975, p. 108) (ibid., 639)  In everything see the shadow of its opposite:
“In day, see night; in the boy, the girl; in Solon, Alciabiades; in a democratic regime, tyranny; in the right, the left.” (ibid.) 
In the case of Heidegger – Schürmann himself acts in the manner of Parmenides as the “one that holds contrary beings together” (hen synechés)” (ibid., p. 67).
One may ask though: how does it come to pass that the long agony of modern consciousness, the history of being itself and its epochality suddenly hinge so exclusively upon one so-called Nazi uprising, its failure and Heidegger’s ensuing disenchantment?  Wouldn’t that be making history of being contingent on singular facts even philosophical facts of thinking, a move Schürmann otherwise condemns?

Could it be though that Heidegger’s brutal awakening is not from “having been duped” or from an error or errancy in his political aspirations – rather he awakens to the indifference of this uprising, its contingency, that it failed to interrupt or break into the history or condition of being – leaving this history untouched?  As such – at this point Schürmann’s text is riveted to its own inward turning double bind – or the tragic differend of his repulsion from and attraction to Heidegger’s folie de grandeur of errancy – isn’t the ‘monstrous site’ we’re supposedly riveted to - itself a fantasm? And if it is not a fantasm – then it alone in the history of being would be immortal – eluding the pull of the ultimates: the double binded Scylla and Charybdis of natality and mortality.  Hence Schürmann’s boast “of what other figure of our century can it be said that 1933 and its aftermath opened his eyes to what there is of being?…”  ( see Broken Hegemonies, ibid., p. 527) presumes what it would prove - that “1933 and its aftermath” affects or disrupts the history of being – begging the question if any other 20th century figure other than Heidegger would have had his eyes opened by it.
 Yet Schürmann’s ‘holding together’ of Heidegger is tenuous/ambiguous – one has the sensation – he could at any minute let him fall into the grand Abgrund of post-metaphysics. In an almost offhand manner he questions Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie: “Is so stripping Da-sein of its transcendental structure and singularizing it as ontic tantamount to taking a step back so as to leap further? Leaping onto some post-subjectivist terrain?  It seems doubtful.  No longer transcendental, phenomenology risks becoming merely descriptive.” (ibid., p. 521)
The parricide/‘destitution’/diremption Schürmann holds ready for Heidegger remains buried, locked in the text.  You can take Schürmann out of Heidegger but can you take Heidegger out of Schürmann?
Carmen Hendershott and the Author at Arnhold Hall, NYC, April 2017
Richard Bernstein is unequivocal when I ask him in his office in the New School philosophy department one floor down from Simon Critchley – do you consider Schürmann a Heideggerian?  “If you would have told Schürmann he is a Heideggerian he would have felt insulted.  He is not a Heideggerian, he’s a radical thinker.”  His radical project of an-archy undermines and attacks the anthropological urge for the ‘ground’, ‘the principle’ ‘the origins’, the natural metaphysician in us, the desire to hold on to a foundation.  
Richard Bernstein and the Author at the New School, NYC, May 2017
True to the law of the double bind though – the instrument with which Schürmann proposes to shatter the ground – Heidegger as a topological monstrous site – has itself become a ground, a principle, a foundation, and as such a hegemonic fantasm. Or as Schürmann writes: “No one is more solidly fixated on the figure of the father, the male, or of principles, than he who claims to have freed himself from it.” (Broken Hegemonies, ibid., p. 514) 

5.   Notes on “Film without Why”

Some philosophers knowingly strive to annihilate their predecessors.  Other philosophers bring them back to life. Modernity may see itself in a perpetual momentum of surpassing – but there is always a counter-movement of returning.  Schürmann is a philosopher of reversals and turnings and conversions and transmutations what he also refers to as errancy – a random/an-archic method of overcoming the need to surpass.   Coming back though is as powerful as surpassing. Deleuze and Guattari ask of those aliens in ancient Greece, the first philosophers known as sophists pouring into Athens from the east – “What sort of stranger is there within the philosopher, with his look of returning from the land of the dead?” – a look stamped on their features from a metanoia d’outre-tombe. (see What is Philosophy?, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 69)
Boris Groys and the Author at Hotel Malmaison, London, July 2017

There is no more powerful return than that.  In the ancient world it was only the physician god Æsculapius who could perform this cure of resurrection – as he does for Hippolytus in one version of the myth.

The Greek-American experimental filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos sets his film Twice a Man, his modern soteriological/homoerotic fable of Hippolytus, in the New York City of his day – a decade or so before Schürmann arrived.  
Markopoulos himself moved in the opposite direction to Schürmann – born in the US, a son of Greek immigrants he left the United States for his patrimony Greece never to return.  Both Schürmann and Markopoulos felt most at home in austere communion with the ancient sites of Greece.  
Markopoulos created Eniaios or the One, 22 cycles equaling 80 hours of film screened till this day only at a special outdoor site he called Temenos near his father’s birthplace Lyssaraia in the Peloponnesus.  Schürmann spent all his summers in a primitive house on the Greek island Amorgos where he wrote many of his works.
Reiner Schürmann's Chair in Madison, New Jersey

Markopoulos withdrew his films from the archives, restricted screenings to the ‘cult-site’ Temenos – it would seem – in the anachronistic attempt to reverse the ‘decay of aura’ Benjamin describes in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility.  Ideally his images should appear as unique cult-images only to the physically present spectator.
Reiner Schürmann also resisted the decay of aura – in his concept of ‘singularity’.  Aura is a function of distance. Even when the material cult object is spatially close - its cult-image is unapproachable.  As Benjamin writes: “In fact, Unapproachability is a major quality of the cult-image.” (“In der Tat, ist Unnahbarkeit eine Hauptqualitat des Kultbildes.”, Walter Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Walter Benjamin Gesammelte Schriften, I 2, Frankfurt, 1991, S. 480)
Assuming in himself – for his contemporaries – the inviolability of a cult-site – Schürmann is transmuted into his own unapproachable cult-image. 
Or in the words of Baudelaire – “J’ai pétri de la boue et j’en ai fait de l’or.  Glorifier le culte des images (ma grande, mon unique, ma primitive passion).”

The mythical figure of the god-physician becomes in Twice a Man the artist or filmmaker as physician. He brings Hippolytus back from Hades on the Staten Island Ferry – they become lovers.  Markopoulos’ rendering of this myth brings to mind Schürmann’s rite de passage in the New World – where he comes back to life in the New School for Social Research.  In Hippolytus and his artist-god lover I see Schürmann and Louis Comtois in their Manhattan bohemian ménage.  Lovelorn Phaedra is Hannah Arendt, Theseus, the cruel merciless father is Heidegger (‘the hidden king’) – both are transmuted in Broken Hegemonies into the mother-father pair of ultimates – natality–mortality.  Schürmann has his own methods for bringing back the dead.
Markopoulos’ simply expressed ontology is “film as film”. Although at least as ancient as Plato’s cave ‘film as film’ is not just a technological species of embalming or mummification – a kind of death mask, arising from an anthropological drive to preserve corporeal mementoes of the dead.

Whatever its form or quality – through the hallucinatory nature of its photographic base and its broken reversible registers of time (even more than in music) – film is inevitably a spectral theatre of the afterlife.  But in the hands of the filmmaker-demiurge it has the potential for resurrection.  
Film though is also the continuation of philosophy with other means.
It relates to philosophy like war in Clausewitz’s doctrine does to politics.  Philosophy is the sphere of linguistic discursive negotiation and a certain cacophony – similar to politics.  Film follows the laws of action, the sphere in which power is demonstrated – like war.  It subverts dialectics – what Nietzsche mocked as Socrates’ plebeian stratagems.  Although the spectator is not the enemy – in a certain sense film undermines his capacity to resist film.  In Schürmann’s words – it compels him to stop asking why.  Film without why – to borrow the vernacular – is itself a condition of being – and like being – it is time, duration, not just in succession, also in its ‘fissuring’.
Carmen Hendershott and the Author at La Maison du Croque Monsieur, NYC, April 2017

As bellicose action and real hallucination – film without why needs no other ground than itself – it is self-engendering and escapes the constraints of any metaphysics of causes. For all the wrong sentimental neo-communitarian reasons even Stanley Cavell in The World Viewed is convinced “(…) movies are inherently anarchic.” (World Viewed, Reflections on the Ontology of Film, Cambridge Mass./London, 1979,  p. 214)
How to see though philosophy (in film) not just verbally but eidetically –through the ‘thought-image’ – or the ‘thought-phantasm’? The Phantasmatic is that aspect of film which has expression but no substance.  The Real is that aspect which has substance but no expression. 
Film is the phantasmatic casing – in which the Real (the expressionless) and the chimera, (the expression)(or as Bazin says, the hallucinatory) together become actual – one with another.  Deleuze alludes to this as the ‘crystalline regime’: Like the dead white horse dangling over the river Neva from the raised drawbridge in Eisenstein’s October “(…) the real and the imaginary, the actual and the virtual, chase after another, exchange their roles and become indiscernible.” (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, London, 2000, p. 127)

In film – thought, image and sound (but affect as well) are fused in the cinema frame - and in the pores of this apparently indivisible frame lurk ‘the powers of the false’.  No film can tell you when to look away.  For every world viewed there is an equal and opposite world unviewed.
Film as such is an inimitable medium to theatricalize philosophy.  Even more in Schürmann's case – he dared to live a dramatic experimental life, as a ‘Byronic hero’: “among them, but not of them; in a shroud of thoughts which were not their thoughts (…)” (Childe Harold).  Or in what Nietzsche calls a “noble” (vornehm) fashion: “that one perpetually contradicts the many not through words but actions.”

Our film shows glimpses of the drifting shipwreck of Reiner Schürmann’s mystery – “partly destructive, partly ironic”.

✦ The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why (Parts 1-3) is an expanded version of our film project presentation and trailer premiere at the Reiner Schürmann Colloquium, Espace diaphanes, Berlin, November 2nd 2017.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Mark Theunissen, New School for Social Research, for his photographs of Broadway, Lower Manhattan and the Louis K. Meisel Gallery. Sources of the Reiner Schürmann photographs are and the Reiner Schürmann Papers in the New School Archives, NYC.  We are extremely grateful to the archivists Wendy Scheir and Jeanne Swadosh for their kind help and expert guidance through the maze of the Schürmann papers.
The 'Resurrection Screen' is from Jean Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Part 1.  Source of the historical photos of the German capitulation is Eva Berthold, Kriefsgefangene im Osten, Königstein/Ts., 1981
Lamarchefunèbre is from Libération: Livres, 1st February 2001.

We owe our deepest gratitude to our cast of fascinating interlocutors and profound thinkers.  They are the primary source of inspiration for our Film Without Why (in progress).

© Shannee Marks and Peer Wolfram, Ulysses Productions, November 2017

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why: Part Two✦

3.  The Beast: Schürmann - Penseur Maudit

“4. Dialogue

A. Was I ill? Have I recovered?
     Has my doctor been discovered?
     How have I forgotten all?
B. Now I know you have recovered:
    Healthy is he who can’t recall.”☟

Drawing on his experience of ‘zazen’ and Meister Eckhart, Schürmann is exceptional as a thinker in that one concept or conceptual persona or topological site – ‘loss of origin’ – seems to encompass what he is and what he thinks.  Loss of the origin refers both to his own natality which he denies and abandons – his German birth into a German people in its collapse, – and his anti-metaphysical an-archic onslaught against the First Cause or Principle or the One  – for which arche and telos are both ‘without why’.  Here he never ceases to follow Meister Eckhart:
“Leaving things, leaving God, living without why: these teaching of Meister Eckhart surely sound subversive.  Indeed they are literally a subversion, an overthrow (vertere) from the foundation (sub-).  (…) One imagines what happens to the scholastic constructions when unexpectedly a preacher comes along who unveils the nothingness of foundations; the scholastic mind is seized with dizziness.  The God whom this other way of thinking annihilates in his function of foundation is perhaps indeed the God of western Christianity.” (Loss of Origin in Soto Zen and Meister Eckhart, The Thomist, 42, 2, April, 1978, p. 309)
One can almost hear the novitiate Schürmann shocking, unnerving his Dominican teachers in Le Saulchoir with similar arguments and dialectic.
Befitting to someone who devoted his life to the “loss of the origin”, Schürmann’s writings abound with faces, masks, symbols and astral bodies.  One wonders if they are his esoteric avatars.  Is a part of him the Puma shaped Inca city in Le Principe d’Anarchie – symbol and type of a defunct empire without writing based on seemingly eternal non-corroding laws: the principium of arithmetic and the decimal system – an extreme articulation in the ‘new world’ of Horace’s ‘nos numerus sumus et fruge consumere nati’. (we are numbers, born but to consume resources.)  Though as with all defunct empires, something remains.  The Incas are gone but we still are numbers.
Gérard Granel in Untameable Singularity his tribute to Schürmann in the same In Memoriam Reiner Schürmann issue describes another mask:
„The kouros, the young man borne away by the mares, whom the Goddess firmly enjoins to hold the present and the absent together, is Schürmann himself.“ (Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, New School for Social Research Vol. 19 No 2-Vol. 20 No. 1, 1997, pp. 224-5)
Schürmann puts himself on stage in many guises and allegorical costumes:  In America, for example he lives,  “as a stranger, in the midst of the most ideologically brutal of Western people at the century’s end – of a people who equally brutally deny not only singularities but even their own ideological fantasms and maximizations.” (Broken Hegemonies, Indiana University Press, 2003, p. 638)

Or in imitation of Foucault – he constitutes himself an anarchistic transgressive subject.
Mehdi Belhaj Kacem at the Reiner Schürmann Colloquium, Berlin, Nov 2017
He even dons the mask of the rejected origin, “as a lost, yet immanent totality.” (Symbolic Praxis, in:In Memoriam Reiner Schürmann, ibidp. 63)
In Symbolic Difference and Symbolic Praxis – a pair of alchemical mystical texts – everything is on the verge of turning into its opposite, a permanent cum-vertere/conversion.
“The reversal of existence, brought about by conversion is the return of the existent to its origin (…)” (Symbolic DifferenceIn Memoriam Reiner Schürmann, ibidp. 30)

Instead of loss of origin, Schürmann surprisingly proposes its recovery - the symbol of wandering ‘peregrination’ awakens the romantic lure of the homeland: “the mystery is the homeland”, writes Schürmann the escapee.  The repertoire of German wandering such as Parsifal, the Grail, the blue flower, Angelus Silesius’ ‘rose without why’, Novalis, Christian eroticism, German romanticism is opposed to the feminine counter symbol of deceitful, unfathomable and threatening water – which can cleanse but mostly bewitches, tempting the wanderer to suicide or as the ally of Loreley blinding him to the rocks so he perishes in it.  
Water though is not just feminine – it is also Poseidon – avenger and father of Theseus – annihilator of Hippolytus.
But perhaps Schürmann is Oedipus who has one eye too many – at the entrance to Thebes?   Or the Sphinx – or the riddle – or all of these at once?  Solving himself he then flings himself from the rock.
His book Broken Hegemonies says Granel is one vast solution to the riddle.  Schürmann he implies is not just the Parmenidean kouros, he is Oedipus for the riddle of Europe’s history, its “deadly illness of temporality” (ibid.,p. 216).  Schürmann is an ‘Oedipal’ son of a disgraced defeated German father, whose shame and unnamed suspected complicity with the Nazi regime haunts his autobiographical work Les Origines.
For his contemporaries he seems to have the mystique of an Empedocles who plunging into  Mount Etna – leaves his bronze sandal behind.  Unlike many other thinkers – not just his work – his life – seems to pose a question to which he responds in advance – “without why”.   The thought of this life resembles that thinking which disappears back into itself – at the end of Adorno’s Negative Dialektik – the same thinking which ‘fraternizes with metaphysics at the moment of its fall’.
Emma Bianchi and the Author at NYU, New York City, April 2017
Schürmann as the self-sacrificing Agnus Dei, god-victim of his students’ killing – is just another spectral mask – a chimera.  The epochal reversals ablaze in Schürmann’s writings follow him into his own life where they spawn their duplicates/doubles and double binds.
Francesco Guercio at the Reiner Schürmann Colloquium, Berlin, Nov 2017
As Johannes Fritsche wrote me in February 2016 – there were other daggers under professional Heideggerian cloaks already lying in wait for Schürmann – perhaps he considered the knives of his students as so much sparring practice: “one must not forget that these Heideggerians (that is, Sallis etc.,) were of course envious: Reiner Schürmann was an extremely handsome man, there was, also because of his sexuality, a certain ruthlessness about him, his first book (about Heidegger, after the one on Meister Eckhart) is still by far the best book about Heidegger's history of Being, Broken Hegemonies is the only truly "original" and exciting history of Being - and it is a "beast" while their books are just bieder and betulich.”
Schürmann had a tense relationship with the regime he obsessively derides. “The great philosophical bureaucracy” performing the “corporate role of philosophy” is his bête noire – especially in its American manifestation. The breaking of the hegemonic phantasms also deposes the katechontic philosophical ‘caste’ which secures their continuing existence – those who Schürmann describes, quoting Husserl, as “the civil servants of humanity” or “the bureaucratized version of the philosopher-king”. (Broken Hegemonies, ibid. p. 8)

✦ The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why (Parts 1-3) is an expanded version of our film project presentation and trailer premiere at the Reiner Schürmann Colloquium, Espace diaphanes, Berlin, November 2nd 2017.

(from Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, “Joke, Cunning and Revenge”, Prelude in German Rhymes, Poems translated by Adrian del Caro, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 12)

© Shannee Marks and Peer Wolfram, Ulysses Productions, November 2017

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why: Part One✦

1.   Prologue: Flight

‘Life without why’ is Reiner Schürmann’s refrain – drawn from Meister Eckhart.

Schürmann’s own life is formed of such radical contingency. “Fuir. Je fuis.” he writes in Les Origines.  He fled his German birth – “ghosts (…) more tenaciously alive than the living” who “impose laws on us that hold longer than those made by states or ideologists.”, (Reiner Schürmann, Origins, Zürich-Berlin, 2016, p.5). But is not this flight itself prefigured in a German poetic unconscious? Hölderlin’s “flight of the Gods” destitutes the world.   Schürmann rarely mentions music – unlike Nietzsche through whose thought he tries to evade Heidegger.   But doesn’t the restless movement of Schürmann’s thinking and writing hide an almost Wagnerian musicality – the never resolving harmonies, the febrile suspensions of Tristan and Isolde – der Liebestod? Des hégémonies brisées – Schürmann's Geburt der Tragödie is also an epic of shattered love.
Schürmann’s other grand flight is when he leaves the priesthood. He was a novitiate in Paris during the ‘6os – a time of revolutionary upheaval and ‘doubt’ inside the Dominican order.  Out of this time of collective heresy he constitutes the “an-archic self”.  In New York Schürmann teaches his students like a Zen master to “kill the teacher”.

Film without Why traces Reiner Schürmann’s aura to some of his chiasmatic outposts in Paris, Greece and New York – like Wakis, the wandering priests of Japanese Noh Theatre we gather the enigmatic signs of his afterlife from former students, colleagues, interpreters, 
strangers, Dominicans, archives, hearsay, locations, ambiences, speculations and topologies.

2.  The Mirror of Dionysus

Killing the teacher is an an-archic method or transgressive way to the an-archic self.  Schürmann’s pedagogy is ancient, Hellenic, Socratic but there, at a site where it veers into the East of Zen.  For Schürmann Meister Eckhart is also Zen – as he writes in Loss of Origin in Soto Zen and Meister Eckhart: “The synthetic concept I wish to develop as standing at the core both of the experience in zazen and of Eckhart’s mysticism is the loss of the origin.” (in: The Thomist, 42, 2, April, 1978, p. 283)   He experienced the master-student relationship  with a Zen master at first hand “the only way to learn Zen” – time he spent in France with Master Deshimaru from Kyoto.  A typical Zen koan describes this relationship:  If you meet a holy man, kill him, if you meet a Buddha, kill him… 

Schürmann departs from the quasi axiom of contemporary philosophy – the self can only be conceived as a form of infinite obligation or near servitude to the specific Other (Derrida, Levinas) or any Other.  Instead Schürmann’s self emerges negatively, crawling out of consciousness in the form of its own an-archic other.
“The modern pathology places phenomena, and the self first of all, on disparate terrains, under the archic-anarchic double bind.  Within the subjectivist arena, the ego remains the other of the archic self. (…) A topic without a general topography places the self within the event of appropriation-expropriation and leads to the other as anarchic self.” (Broken Hegemonies, Indiana University Press, 2003, p. 533)

We meet Chris Long, Schürmann’s former student, at La Maison du Croque Monsieur, one of Schürmann’s haunts, around the corner from where the old graduate faculty building stood on east 13th street and 5th avenue.  Croque Monsieur is an old-fashioned tiny Parisian type café with an upstairs.  The walls are sepia coloured, dotted with cloudy gilt edged mirrors; at black bistro tables couples are wrapped in steamy embraces, next to students enthralled by laptops, huge pastries etc. 
Chris Long and the Author at La Maison du Croque Monsieur, NYC, April 2017
In a previous life the old graduate faculty building had been a pale relentlessly plain quadrangular Bauhaus/Neue Sachlichkeit type of department store for ladies’ hats.  When this enterprise failed the New School bought it cheaply and in 1968 revamped it for the Graduate Faculty.  They kept the escalator and the appearance of an austere commercial fortress. The Graduate Faculty building was torn down in 2011 to make way for the sparkling zeppelin shaped glass tower of the New School’s global fashion department.  Back to ladies’ hats… 
Schürmann spent most of the last 18 years of his life (1975-93) in or around this address, as self-contained as a couvent or a priory.  The Graduate Faculty was in walking distance of his big fifth floor loft apartment in Noho near Washington Square on Broadway and Bond Street, which he shared with his partner the artist Louis Comtois.  The ‘loft’ buildings of the area are ornate neoclassical monuments, relics from the gilded age of manufacturing and retail in Lower Manhattan.  Built in Greek Revival Style or Queen Anne style or Victorian eclectic the buildings are decorated with colonnades, their facades and filigree dazzle in deep red terra cotta, luminous white marble and ornamental cast iron.  By Schürmann’s time manufacturing and commerce had long since left for the suburbs and artists and their diverse undergrounds moved into the lofts.  Robert Mapplethorpe’s first studio was in a loft on Bond Street.  Louis K. Meisel Gallery where Louis Comtois exhibited his large colour field abstract paintings was nearby on Prince Street.  It’s still at the same address today.
On his way to work, Schürmann would have walked down Broadway through a dilapidated downtown Manhattan, in those days a bleak urban war zone, primed and blasted with graffiti.  Schürmann’s New York was still the junky and nark town of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, full of crumbling flophouses and peep shows, but already bleeding tax breaks into the high rent shell game of Donald Trump.   “Sometimes you can see maybe fifty ratty-looking junkies squealing sick, running along behind a boy with a harmonica, and there is The Man on a cane seat throwing bread to the swans, a fat drag queen walking his Afghan hound through the East Fifties, an old wino pissing against an El post, a radical Jewish student giving out leaflets in Washington Square, a tree surgeon, an exterminator, an advertising fruit in Nedick’s where he calls the counterman by his first name.” (William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, The Restored Text, London, 2005 p. 7)

By an uncanny coincidence our film shoot is on April 14th – the same date as Schürmann’s final lecture of his last spring course in 1993 – the subject was Heidegger’s Being and Time, the sections 48-50 on ‘being towards death’.  In the words of T S Elliot: “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land...” (The Wasteland)  It was Schürmann’s very last class on earth.  Finitude was palpable.  Chris Long was one of his teaching assistants for that final course.  Schürmann gave the lecture course that term in the Swayduck Memorial Auditorium, a large auditorium (of 225 seats) on the first floor of the Faculty named after Edward Swayduck, a labour union boss whose Amalgamated Lithographers of America Local One donated 25,000 dollars to the New School.  As expected attendance had packed the hall to the eaves, it was standing room only.  Everyone knew Schürmann was dying of Aids.

Schürmann was already in a state approaching ‘exination’, a neologism he formed from the Latin exinanio: to empty out, to exhaust or exinanitio: to void.  One almost longs for a scene similar to Kafka’s  Das Urteil – when the bedridden father suddenly rises in bed to his full height, shedding his old man blankets and covers and condemns the son who had tried to cover him up too soon to death by drowning.  But there would be no such return to the vigour of paterfamilias for Schürmann – instead his self-proclaimed ‘successors’ or ‘heirs’ flock to his final class, his last show on earth.  Schürmann does not disappoint them.
Stepping into the river (New York’s East, or the Hudson Bay) of Reiner Schürmann’s work – it is never the same, I seldom really know where I am. Sometimes I use Broken Hegemonies like an oracle – the way the Persians read a random page of Hafiz.  Burroughs comes to mind again – an unreliable Virgil: “ ‘Come back, kid!! Come back!!’ and follows his boy right into the East River, down through condoms and orange peels, mosaic of floating newspapers, down into the silent black ooze with gangsters in concrete, and pistols pounded flat to avoid the probing (pussy sm) finger of prurient ballistic experts.” (Naked Lunch, ibid. p. 5)

One time it is Kant who is washed to the surface – the Kant who “was undoubtedly the first to detect the work of desire in reason”,  just as Schürmann injects desire qua natality into the austere house of being.  (later abandoned for the so-called topology of being).  The desire Kant ‘detected’ in reason  - is the desire to know – too much – a transgressive knowledge/desire punished by the Fall.  The work of the philosopher of reason is to set barriers, limits – teach finitude in the thrust of reason, “keep in check that work and its accompanying megalomania: (RS implies that hegemonic thrust is within reason itself, not in epochs, regimes or their representatives)  “The life [of reason] is nothing but the faculty of desire in its minimal exercise.”  Kant sought to teach a minimizing sobriety to the maximizing thrust.  Reason always “wants to be satisfied.” But utter satisfaction is not useful.  “There is so much that I have absolutely no need to know.” (from Kant’s Reflexionen (Anthropologie) no 1034)  It was necessary to train reason in finitude, a task to be taken up ever anew.”  writes Schürmann at the beginning of Broken Hegemonies. (ibid. p. 12)   Here Kant is reminiscent of Socrates in the agora – there are so many things I don’t need – things and knowing are both acquisitions – there is a greed to know which one has to resist – Mehdi Belhaj Kacem calls this a pleonectic urge, pleonexia – the opposite of anorexia.

Perhaps the claims Schürmann’s students stake upon his teaching, his oracular counsel are pleonectic – the possessive reverence of the cult, showing a lack of Socratic restraint, of sophrosyne, phronesis.  Simon Critchley sees himself at the opposite end – “I don’t want a maitre – nor do I want to be one.”  In the subway, on the way to our film shoot I scribble down: “Question for Simon – do you also provide your students with knives to kill the teacher?”
Before I could even ask him (when we meet in his office on the 11th floor of the Albert and Vera List Academic Centre) what he thought of Schürmann’s Zen like imperative – of ‘knives against the teacher’ – he suddenly describes his own teaching as if reading my thoughts: “You have to set yourself up to be killed. Parricide is part of the philosophical tradition.  Aristotle killed Plato, Plato the tragic poets, the tragic poets killed myth and Homer etc.”
Simon Critchley and the Author at the New School, NYC, May 2017

Schürmann’s free floating auratic religiosity affects his students – inspires a sort of idol worship.  (Critchley refers to a death cult.) But the rule of “knives against the teacher” transforms the cult into a martyrology and quasi-parricide. Perhaps the parricide Critchley speaks of - the inevitable act of "setting oneself up to be killed" by the students - is another way of saying the students perform sparagmos on their orphic teacher?  A quasi-omophagic act immanent to the progress of philosophy?  Schürmann refers to the “mirror of Dionysus” in Broken Hegemonies citing Plotinus’ Enneads – as an “Orphic symbol of dismemberment” (ibid., footnote p. 649), another name for the bacchantic act of tearing apart the living god.  Is this also a ritual of rebirth - a species of 'natality'?
“(…) tragic truth arises from a desire that affirms life”, Schürmann writes in his typewritten Nietzsche lecture notes, continuing his thought in handwriting in the margin: “be it as disrupting as Dionysian dismemberment…” (Vol. 4 Lecture 3, Part 1, p. 20, Inventory established by Pierre Adler, January 1994 in List Center Library, New School, New York City)

One former student – who did not want to be ‘subjected’ to filming – passed on a koan like anecdote about Schürmann, which he had been saving up for some kind of use.

This student – call him KB – writes:
“I have only a short anecdote to contribute, namely:

The setting: Office hours.

KB: Professor Schürmann, I’ve come into some money. I’ll be able to sit out the summer either soaking my head in Heidegger or subjecting myself to the Greek course on offer at the Latin/Greek Institute. (—Or words to that effect.)

RS: If you study the Greek, you’ll be happy for the rest of your life. (—No disclaimer.)

I left. I did. I’ve been.

With this last flourish hinting at veni vidi vici – the author of the letter seems to suggest that he left – not Schürmann’s office, but Heidegger alias philosophy – which possibly had made him unhappy, enrolled in the Greek course and has spent the rest of his life being happy. Wittgenstein was known to have had the same magical-surgical effect on students of luring them away from philosophy - even years later. One Oxford don gave up philosophy to become a plumber – he collapsed and died on the way to a plumbing job.  Both Wittgenstein and Schürmann were pied pipers who didn’t really want anyone to follow them.
When I asked Vishwa Adluri, another former student, his reaction to this Schürmann apocrypha, he was moved.  He said the story was genuine; it made him feel “the presence of Reiner”.

For some of those witnessing his very public demise, Schürmann’s own figure, gradually merges with Socrates:  Vishwa imagines himself as Phaedrus walking with Schürmann-Socrates in the countryside outside Athens. Although emaciated and marked by the fatal illness – his eyes emit a brilliant light and his voice can still mesmerize his listeners. “Knowing Reiner in his last days was nothing more and nothing less than what walking with Socrates must have been for Phaedrus.” (from Vishwa Adluri, Parmenides, Plato and Moral Philosophy, London/New York, 2012, p. 5) Schürmann, he told me, saw philosophy and the work of a philosopher as a holy sacrifice – that a philosopher should give his life to his work.  St Francis and the monastic life of poverty remained his ideal.

Vishwa Adluri and the Author in Madison, New Jersey, April 2017
Johannes Fritsche, a colleague from the New School, too recalls though that Schürmann was known to espouse a pedagogy rooted in auto-destruction, self-sacrifice.  He writes in the In memoriam Reiner Schürmann issue of the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal:
“As Aaron Garrett  (another former student of Schürmann’s sm) mentioned once, Schürmann understood teaching as Socrates did and was convinced that a good teacher should provide the students with the knives to kill the teacher.” (New School for Social Research, Vol. 19 No 2-Vol. 20 No 1, 1997, p. 202)
Schürmann’s teaching sounds an acephalous note, an an-archic imperative.  He assigns his students the work of destroying him.  How successfully do they complete their assignment?  I asked Chris Long if he had also heard Schürmann speak of sharpening knives against the teacher.  He had.  Schürmann, he feels, gives him permission to undo some of the darkness of his thinking – move in a more ‘nuptial’ optimistic track rather than the direction of Schürmann’s tragic singularizing mortality. He wields his philosophical dagger bequeathed by Schürmann to act out a sort of ‘killing with kindness’.

In the essay Care of Death: On the Teaching of Reiner Schürmann (in Philosophy Today, online January 2017) he pays homage to Schürmann’s teaching on the cusp of his own death.  Schürmann like Socrates in the dialogue Phaedo - comforts and heals his disciples in his prison cell “on the prescribed day of his death” (ibid. p. 1).   He cites Agnes Heller, who in her speech at Schürmann’s memorial service similarly casts Schürmann as Socrates – except instead of dying for philosophy – he died for something better - for love.

Emma Bianchi who also attended that last class on Heidegger describes the hushed silence in the auditorium when Schürmann entered, leaning on his cane, wearing his long leather coat, walking with painful slowness to the lectern.  “He looked noble.  I drank the Kool-Aid,” she told me.

Reiner Schürmann in New York City
But how close was Schürmann really to the Socrates of Phaedo in his own ‘theatre of death’ – the last class on Being and Time?  And even more perplexing– is Socrates’ teaching in Phaedo comparable to Heidegger’s doctrines of being-toward-death and Dasein’s ontological attunement to finitude?  Schürmann emphasizes in the last sentence of the lecture notes for that spring term - not so much ‘care of death’ – but being-toward-death as an instrument or condition to retrieve the thought of being as time, Dasein’s temporality.   But this is Schürmann interpreting Heidegger – not his thinking sans phrase. Schürmann of Broken Hegemonies is not identical with the Heidegger of Being and Time: life without why is constituted by a topological double bind or differend structured as much by natality as it is by mortality – what he calls the ultimates.  But that still leaves Socrates of Phaedo and with him Schürmann dangling in a Heideggerian no man’s land of philosophical euthanasia. In Chris Long’s recollection, Schürmann’s last class sounds almost like a branch of Dignitas: “Schürmann, like Socrates, always urged us to follow close along with him in examining the logos.  So too, in that last lecture, he healed us well by directing us back to the text where we encounter the question of being and how we might cultivate practices of authentic care and devote our lives to the practice of philosophy as care of death.” (ibid., p. 11)

In the cosmological drama being played out in Schürmann’s last class  – Schürmann qua Socrates – the prototype of the philosopher condemned to death – prepares to die, whilst Heidegger the mortician looks on as the angel of death.

The subject of Phaedo though, Socrates’ last teachings, is not Dasein’s finitude or temporality nor being toward death – it’s the immortality of the soul.  He tells his pupils that he expects to ‘depart to some happy state of the blessed’, (Phaedo
trans. by Henry Cary, Everyman's Library, London/New York, 1913, p. 200), where he will be with better masters or gods – urging the poet Evenus ‘if he is a philosopher’ to follow him soon.   If Schürmann were the Socrates of Phaedo then he would have been similarly inviting his many listeners to that final course on Being and Time to follow him as soon as they can. 
(And yet … in an uncanny hint of ‘gallows humor’ Schürmann writes in the 1991 foreword to the English translation of Origins: “I often joked with Louis: were I to write more about us, the story would be entitled, “Follow Me If you Can”. (ibid.) )
Socrates himself is not physically ill –unless you regard the expectation of a violent sudden death as an illness.  He is a prisoner on death row.  His death is semi-voluntary; he probably could have escaped his ‘death sentence’ by going into exile to Megara or Bœotia. Socrates chooses to stay.  Schürmann has no choice. But death is death. Socrates’ mysterious last words, which so horrified Nietzsche (Gay Science, 340) – “Crito we owe a cock to Æsculapius, pay it therefore and do not neglect it” (Phaedo, ibid.) – imply that he saw life itself as the disease from which the hemlock cup was curing him.
As he says to Simmias: “because as long as we are encumbered with the body, and our soul is contaminated with such an evil, we can never fully attain to what we desire: and this, we say, is truth.” (Phaedo, ibid. p. 134).   Nietzsche on the other hand sees life as convalescence from Socrates’ other ‘disease’ –the disease of the West.  As Schürmann says in his lecture on Nietzsche: “Nietzsche’s thinking is preparatory – or, it is neither the language of sickness, not yet the language of great health, but the language of the convalescent.  (…) Nietzsche is still in the grips of the Western disease – willing truth at any cost – and already beyond it, “superficial out of profundity” (…)”  His philosophy is an ‘incipit’  – a beginning, says Schürmann, quoting Rene Char “Le poète, grand commenceur”. (ibid., p. 21) 
Nietzsche’s Fröhliche Wissenschaft as he writes in the preface, is his bacchantic, Dionysian release from premature infirmity/frailty – a “drunken revelry of convalescence” from the compulsion to know.  Instead we the convalescing knowing ones have learned to forget – we discover how good it is not to know – not as philosophers but as artists.  How could Schürmann – the ‘Nietzschean’ – not prefer Nietzsche’s euphoric convalescence from the archic disease, ‘the will to truth’, to Heidegger’s teleocratic/telic ‘care of death’? 
Or isn’t it Nietzsche who immunizes Schürmann against Heidegger’s later attempts in Beiträge zur Philosophie: Vom Ereignis to cast being as property or the act of appropriation-alienation (Ereignis), in which the self recursively cannibalises itself? 

The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why (Parts 1-3) is an expanded version of our film project presentation and trailer premiere at the Reiner Schürmann Colloquium, Espace diaphanes, Berlin, November 2nd 2017.

© Shannee Marks and Peer Wolfram, Ulysses Productions, November 2017