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Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil * Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0674387104)

The original German is called Heidegger und sein Zeit (‘Heidegger and his time’), which is a reference to his main-work Sein und Zeit (‘being and time’), in English this little joke cannot be made, but we can in Dutch.

However Heidegger (1889-1976) was the most recent of the three philosophers that Safranski wrote biographies off, Safraski wrote his second philosophical biography about him. I read it as third, to keep the chronology. Heidegger is a rather controversial philosopher, because for some time he sympatised with the national-socialist revolution in Germany. For this reason Heidegger is still ‘not done’ to some, but philosophers and universities have little problems with the man and regard him as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. This is mostly due to his original ideas that made him populair in Germany and abroad even when living. Also he had a descent career as professor until about WWII when he got problems with the regime and later because he used to sympathise with some of its ideas. Safranski managed to write a neutral biography, but still Heidegger does not appear very sympathetic. He used people and situations for his own benefit.

Philosophically we get to know Heidegger as being in the line of the “existentialists” Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and for example in his own time Jaspers and Sartre. Existentialists make the “I” a central point and everything around it. Heideggers favourite subjects were “being”, thinking and metaphysics.
A nice book again and really between the very biographical Schopenhauer book and the philosophical Nietzsche book and therewith the second most interesting of Safranski’s philosophical biographies.

Nietzsche, a philosophical biography * Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0393323803)

This is the third philosophers-biography from the hand of Safranski, but because Nietzsche lived between Schophauer and Heidegger, I read this book as the second of these three. The subtitle says: “a biography of his thinking” and this is absolutely what this book is. In contradiction to the Schopenhauer biography, Safranski doesn’t give a whole lot of details of the life of Nietzsche, but people who are interested will be delighted with the chronology of Nietzsches life at the end. Reading the book you will get to learn a young pessimistic man who starts to write at an early age. He studies philology (investigator of languages and cultures) and even becomes professor. Rebelling against his colleagues -especially after the discovery of the writings of Schopenhauer-, Nietzsche developes towards being philosopher. Writing different books at the same time, he especially developes his ideas of ‘power through will’. His famous idea of the death of god is only treated shortly when Safrasnki speaks about the “übermensch” (‘overman’). Reading further you will learn about Nietzsches ideas about everyday things and more ‘elevated matters’. The German philosopher is treated more or less chronological, but information comes from all kinds of books, letters, etc. all through eachother and lacking an index (!) this book isn’t much of a reference work.

Safranski writes all through to Nietzsches nervous-breakdown after which follows the long and final chapter about what happened after Nietzsches breakdown and his influence in later times. His sister brought out a strange and negative image of her brother and different people misused the philophy of Nietzsche.

“Nietzsche” is a more interesting book than the Schopenhauer biography. You will learn about what Nietzsche had to say more than about details of his life. Still, lacking an index and a structure of chapters by subject, this book is not one to have on your bookshell to use as Nietzsche reference book. Still Safranski writes understandable and his displays a great understanding of the man, his philosophy and philosophy in general. He doesn’t need about six years per book for nothing!

The Orator’s Education * Quintilian (isbn 0674995929)

I got the very luxery Dutch translation of this book which (in contradiction to the English translation) comes in one book of 750+ pages. Quintilian, a writer that lived around the year 40. This fact makes this text older than the New Testament! Still, reading the book it could have been written rather 20 than 2000 years ago. Quintilian wrote the book in only a few months, but Piet Gerbandy (1958) needed 12 years to make the Dutch translation! And a very good translation too, with a glossarium and extensive index.

The book is a course in rethorics, it teaches you how to become a good spokeman. This is mainly focused on the juridical-court (and a little politics), but can also be applied to other specialities. In the beginning you will learn how to raise your child to become a good rethor, how to choose the schools, demands for teachers, etc. Then higher forms of education and after this more specific information about language (very technical), language, mimics, humour, the art of memory and much, much more.

Literally and figuratively a classic.

Schopenhauer and the wild years of philosophy – Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0674792769)

This is the first of three biographies of philosophers by the German writer Safranski. I got all three (this one, Nietzsche en Heidegger) to review, the other two I have yet to read. I hoped to learn more about the philosophy of the pessimistic German philosopher Schopenhauer (1799-1860), but this thick book (+500 pages) is mostly filled with biographical information. Schopenhauers early years, the relation with his mother, sister, the philosopher Goethe (a friend of his mothers), love-affairs; how Arthur (and Safranski usually refers to him) was an original, but underrated (yet over-self-confident) philosopher who only in the later years of his life got the success that he longed for. Before he really got used to that, Arthur died at a respectable age. The main themes of Schopenhauers philosophy I got from an encyclopedia of philosophers, but knowing them, they are can also be found in the book of Safranski. They are the (superhuman) “will” which is the cause of all and the rest is “imagination”, as in the Eastern doctrine of “maya” (“illusion”).

All in all a nice read, but only if you are mainly interested in biographical information and not for people (like myself) who want to learn about the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Safranski does display himself a wellread philosopher who totally understands Schopenhauer, because in a few chapters he not only speaks about Schopenhauers contemporaries and influences in depth, but he also explains parts of their and Arthurs philosophy in understandable terms. Still, you can’t use this book for reference, since the index has only names… A biography, not much more, but certainly nothing less.

The Temptation To Exist * Emil M. Cioran (isbn 0226106756)

Cioran (1911-1995) I only knew from a long anounced compilation project that is dedicated to this man and so far still not released. When I got the change to get a Dutch translation of him for review, I didn’t wait to take it, so now I have one of the five works of this Romenian philosopher that is available in my native language. This little book is released by the ‘historic publisher’ (“Historische Uitgeverij”) and the only Cioran text from this company. The other four are released by ‘laborer press’ (“Arbeiderspers”) from Belgium. The present book, La Tentation d’Exister consists of 11 essays that were released together in 1956 and in Dutch in 2001.

Cioran suffered from chronic depressions that were sometimes eased by mystic peaks. However Cioran never became fond of philosophy, he remained more of a philosopher than a mystic himself. Also his depressions have the upper hand in this bundle, all texts are totally splenetic. This depressed view on life also had its stamp on Ciorans view of the world. The world -but especially Europe- is falling apart in its misery. A small ‘point of light’ was the upcoming of fascism, of course with Hitler, but in Ciorans case especially in the form of the Iron Guard of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938). For a time, Cioran felt attracted to Codreanus legion. For this reason Cioran is one of these philosophers that are ‘not done’. But what do you find of this temporary interest of fascism in the reviewed book? Not much, but Cioran in general is difficult and it is hard to find out what he really thought. A good (or rather a very bad?) example in this respect is the article “a people of self contained” which is about the Jews. Cioran displays a love-hate relationship and I don’t know what his sentiments were when he wrote the article. The same goes for other things Cioran describes, but the overall tone is a severe pessimism. But because everything is written in a very bombastic style I frequently had to laugh of what Cioran has to say. I don’t know if this goes for everyone, the opening article -for example- is a punch in the face of the eclectic (New Age) thinker and other views could cause people to feel attacked as well.

All in all I enjoyed reading this little book and Cioran is (at least in my eyes) unique with his strange mixture of philosophy and mysticism and his descriptions of philosophy, history, cultures, literature and poetry. A well-read pessimist!

De wereld Als Kunstwerk * Marsilio Ficino (isbn: 9025954987 * 2005)

It has been a while since I studied Ficino. This was part of my series of articles about the Renaissance. At the time I mostly focussed on the esoteric side of the man. Later I reviewed Dutch translations of letters of Ficino and now just released is a Dutch translation of Ficino’s introduction to the Platonic theology. Ficino was writing a massive text of several books about the Platonic theology and he was so smart to make a short text for less specialised readers. This little book is introduced and translated by Rijk Schipper and comes in a very nice booklet. Schipper gives a nice introduction to Renaissance humanism, tells a bit about the life and thought of Ficino and then gives the contence of this book in a few alineas. After this the translation follows. The text is well readable, but not always fully clear to me. Since they are explanations of Plato in a (neo-)Platonic way, the book is very philosophical. Interesting, but not always my kind of literature. The introduction is very helpfull for sure. Ficino speaks about the soul, God, etc. and proves himself a child of him time. Yet, we owe it to Ficino (and almost to Ficino alone) that Plato came back in to the attention of man. More information about the man in my articles.