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January 31, 2016

Where Heidegger talks about “world” he will often appear to be talking about a pervasive interpretation or point of view which we bring to the things of the world. This, in any case, has been the view of many commentators. But there is little sense in speaking of “a point of view” here since precisely what Heidegger wants to indicate with the concept is that none other is possible. And there is no more sense in speaking of an interpretation when, instead of an interpretation, the “world” is meant to be that which can keep us from seeing, or force us to see, that what we have is one. Heidegger’s concept is quite like Kierkegaard’s “sphere of existence” and Wittgenstein’s “form of life,” and, as with them, it enters his inquiry only at its limits, when a problem moves out of his depth, or jurisdiction.

“Translator’s Introduction” by Terrence Malick, in The Essence of Reasons, Martin Heidegger, Evanston, Northwestern University, 1969, p. xv.

Discussions about the philosophical dimensions of Terrence Malick’s films often mention the translation he made of Martin Heidegger’s Vom Wesen Des Grundes (1929, GA9), The Essence of Reasons, which was published in the United-States in 1969 (another translation, this time by William McNeil, is included in Pathmarks, published in 1998).

What is somehow less often discussed are the “Translator’s Introduction” and “Critical Notes” Malick offered alongside his translation. The “Critical Notes” are especially interesting as they further explain key concepts of Heidegger’s philosophy and provide further references and contextual information.

The story of Malick’s translation is well known. In the mid-1960s, he studied philosophy at Harvard with Stanley Cavell. He graduated in 1965 and then took opportunity of a fellowship award to continue his studies in philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford, under the supervision of Gilbert Ryle. The relationship apparently wasn’t fruitful and Malick quit in order to work as a journalist (he was sent by The New Yorker to Bolivia to cover the trial of Regis Debray, but never completed the piece). In 1968, he taught philosophy as a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but didn’t quite like the experience. His translation of Heidegger’s Vom Wesen Des Grundes appeared in 1969 (for all this and more, see Terrence Malick. Film and Philosophy, ed. by Thomas Dean Tucker and Stuart Kendall, New York: Continuum, 2011, p. 5).

According to various testimonies, Malick visited Heidegger in Germany. All the accounts I could find about this are gathered in One Big Soul: An Oral History of Terrence Malick.

STANLEY CAVELL– […] Malick had taken a semester in Germany to attend Heidegger’s classes, and he knew, and we discusses the facts before he began writing, both that he had read and studied more Heidegger than I had and at the same time that I was the only member of the philosophy faculty at that time who respected and had studied any at all of Heidegger’s work […] (One Big Soul: An Oral History of Terrence Malick, 3rd Edition, by Paul Maher Jr., Lulu.com, 2014, p. 31)

SAM TODD–At some point he traveled to southern Germany’s Black Forest to find Heidegger’s cabin which he never told me about, but has since become popular knowledge. (Ibid., p. 33)

SIMON CRITCHLEY– […] Martin Heidegger’s famous cabin rests amid fields of eyebright and arnica. Malick’s pilgrimage to the philosopher wasn’t unique; many students and philosophers trekked to the region for private discourses with Heidegger. Possibly, Malick sought Heidegger’s blessing to begin translating a lecture of his into English. (Ibid.)

PAUL LEE–Terry located him in his famous Heidegger Hut in the Black Forest which a friend of mine and I tried to find and failed years later. I don’t know what went down when he got there, but Heidegger gave him an autograph and Terry then gave it to me and I kept it in my copy of Being and Time and some fucking student stole it. I do not know what transpired at the hut, he never told me. (Ibid.).

First page of Terrence Malick’s “Translator’s Introduction” for ‘The Essence of Reasons’ by Martin Heidegger.
First page of Terrence Malick’s “Translator’s Introduction” for ‘The Essence of Reasons’ by Martin Heidegger.

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