Skip to content

Heidegger’s GA


The volumes of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe look good. The paper is of high quality, typesetting consistent & careful, a well-known publisher – Klostermann – on the job. I never really even thought about the quality of the editions, assuming that everything is tip-top. So it was something of a surprise to notice that Theodore Kisiel has written an article called “Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe: An International Scandal of Scholarship,” [Philosophy Today 39:1 (Spring 1995): 3–15]

I read the article yesterday, and am quite amazed. There seem to be several problems with the GA and its editing process.

Heideggers Nachlass is in the hands of the family, and the family runs the publication of tha GA. Heidegger was working with von Herrmann on a set of guidelines for editing and publishing his work, but this work was left incomplete. In addition to the unfinished guidelines there exists, Kisiel tells us, a one-page hand-written set of instructions by Heidegger. The problem is that while the editors and translators are given directives based on these two documents, the documents themselves have not been made public. This, Kisiel insists, gives the family free hands to change the directives, even arbitrarily. I do agree that, for instance, the rules that forbid an interpretive foreword or translators’ index are quite counterproductive.

The biggest trouble seems to be the policy that the volumes of the GA are given as “editions of the last hand”, Ausgabe letzter Hand. This means that they are published in the appearance that Heidegger last left them. So, for instance, if there is a manuscript with later corrections, deletions and additions, it is published with them (the last of those, in case of different strata) without any indication that parts of the text may be from different times, sometimes even years apart.

The example Kisiel mentions (p. 5) concerns Sein und Zeit. The lectures of the summer 1925 are, in essence, a draft of SuZ. In the published GA volume of the lectures, we find the crucial term Existenz and its derivatives. Likewise in SuZ. But it turns out that all the instancs of the term in the published lecture course have been added later by Heidegger – in 1925 he did not use Exiztenz! Existenz pops up in 1926, just in time for the hasty publication in Husserl’s yearbook.

This means that there exists a manuscript (from 1925) for SuZ without any of the terms beginning with Existenz*. Wow. It is interesting to meditate on that for a while.

Kisiel goes on listing the mistakes, errors and problems with the GA, but already the case of the genealogy of SuZ goes to show that the editorial policy does a disservice to serious Heidegger scholarship.

The conclusion is, I’m afraid, that when we read the GA, we do not actually know what we are reading.

I should have known. In translating the Spiegel interview to Finnish I learned that the version in Antwort. Martin Heidegger im Gespräch – the version one, according to the copyright owners, has to use for the translation – is different from the interview published in Spiegel. Don’t take my word for it – go to the library and check out the Spiegel, it’s worth the while even just for the pictures. Two small sections have been deleted in the Antwort version. (And, according to the policy of “the last hand”, these deletions are not mentioned in Antwort.) Are the deleted sections important? Not very. Are they interesting? Yes. Do they have to do with politics? Yes.

Kisiel finds the family-run operation that relies on unpublished but authorative directives in blatant contrast with the post-modern, open, death-of-the-author times. He suggests (p. 12) a new check for errors and openness, “glasnost”, with regard to the guidelines by von Herrman/Heidegger and Heidegger. While these are good ideas I’m not sure I have such a big problem with the fact that the family is running the publishing, and has not relinquished the rights to, for instance, some public research institution. I don’t think Heidegger himself believed in the public’s (even the academic public’s) right to access over anything it itself deems important; at least I don’t believe in it and even less do I support a right to impose that right from the outside.

If the family decides on an editorial policy, if it changes it, and so on, it is their privilege. It is our privilege as researchers and scholars not to take any text at face value. When it comes to Heidegger’s political engagement – which is one of the big elephants in the room – it is not very hard to read that out from his texts and letters. The politics, too, changes as does the philosophy, for they are intertwined; as Heidegger says in the Spiegel interview, a crucial question for him is – and always was, I feel – “what kind of political system can be given to our technological age”.


  1. tpylkkö wrote:

    The question is interesting: what kinds of right should one have over ones own work. What is even “a work”? Many families own the rights to academic and artistic work, that is intellectual property. For instance, Moser and Joachim wanted to publish the Bach solo violin Sonatas and Partitas, containing their own edition and arrangement along with the J.S. Bach original, the family denied them the right. Which pissed of musicologists, music students etc. The denial was strange because Bach himself didn’t even seem to care that much about the authorship of the works (think about how he reused and recycled alot of material, the practice of sc. “parody” and music for the moment, like works that were written for the birthday of royalty… religious thought etc.), or how exactly people interpreted them, many works are not even composed for a certain instrument.

    The sort of neurotic and deranged scholarly attitude, of course accepts less of this kind of activity. I bet many pop culture artists and their heirs do similar things, releasing only digitally edited (bettered and censored) versions etc. but that doesn’t irritate anyone. One could contest this and say: “but that is different, since it is entertainment, and not academic writing. Yet, but at the same time Heidegger pretty much distanced himself from “the academic way”. So, what are Heidegger’s writings, do they belong in some sense of the word to the western global tradition of academic work?

    “Das Ende der Philosophie ist erreicht, wenn sie in den Wissenschaften aufgeht – das Denken geht weiter”

    I have read publications of Peirce’s wiritngs that have been editions which show changes he made to manuscripts. For example, some text is underlined to indicate later addition, other overlined to indicate later deletation. Thus one can compare the two editions, even though it is quite annoying and difficult. But what do you do if there are several versions? What do you do, if the author destroys the original manuscripts of some writings? What is a text? When exactly is it finished? Is the only criteria that once it was published somewhere it became “property”?

    Monday, June 4, 2007 at 2:40 am | Permalink
  2. gemini wrote:

    Technically of course. Even if I take a piece that’s old enoug that the copyright has passed – such as the Bach you mention – and perform it, the moment that it is printed on CD (or other similar media) it becomes “property”.

    Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 1:32 am | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *