Prologue, from the novel: Heidegger's glasses
In the ordinary winter of 1920, the philosopher Martin Heidegger saw his glasses and fell out of the familiar world. He was in his study at Freiburg, over one hundred and sixty kilometers south of Berlin, looking out the window at the thick bare branches of an elm tree. His wife was standing next to him, pouring a cup of coffee. Sunlight fell through the voile curtains, throwing stripes on her crown of blond braids, the dark table, and his white cup. All at once a starling crashed against the window and dropped to the ground. Heidegger reached for his glasses to look and as he leaned over, the coffee spilled. His wife cleaned the table with her apron while he cleaned the glasses with his handkerchief. And all at once, he looked at the thin gold earpieces and two round lenses and didn’t know what they were for. It was as though he’d never seen glasses or knew how they were used. And then the whole world became unfamiliar: The tree was a confusion of shapes, the blood-spattered window a floating oblong. And when another starling flew by, he saw only darkness in motion.
Martin Heidegger didn’t mention this to his wife. Together they cleaned and muttered. She brought more coffee and left the room. Heidegger waited for the world to fall back into place and eventually the ticking belonged to the clock again, the table became a table and the floor became something to walk on. Then he went to his desk and wrote about this moment to a fellow philosopher named Asher Englehardt. Even though they often met for coffee, they enjoyed writing to each other about tilted moments: The hammer that’s so loose its head flops like a bird. The picture that’s crooked and makes the room seem uncanny. The apple in the middle of the street that makes you forget what streets are for. The thing made close because it’s seen at a distance. The sense of not being at home. The world falling out of itself.
A few days later Asher Englehardt wrote back in his familiar, hurried script, chiding Heidegger for always acting as though the sensation were new. “There is nothing of substance to depend on, Martin,” he wrote. “All these cups and glasses and whatever else people have or do are props that shield us from a world that started long before anyone knew what glasses were for and will go on long after there’s no one left to remember them. It’s a strange world, Martin. But we can never fall out of it because we live in it all the time.”
Asher believed this resolutely and continued to believe it twenty years later, when he and his son were taken from their home in Freiburg and deported by cattle car to Auschwitz.
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