Francesca Brencio will speak on Hillsdale’s campus about philosopher Martin Hei­degger. | Courtesy


Vis­iting from the Black Forest of Germany where 20th-century philosopher Martin Hei­degger once lived and wrote, Francesca Brencio will spend next week at Hillsdale deliv­ering public lec­tures on the enduring impor­tance of his thought.

Hillsdale is the first stop on her 22-day tour that also includes the Uni­versity of Madison at Wis­consin, the Italian Cul­tural Institute in Chicago, and the Uni­versity of Buffalo.

Brencio said she feels many emo­tions upon vis­iting the U.S. for the first time, including great joy and excitement to see the American natural land­scape.

“I felt this as a great priv­ilege, honor, and respon­si­bility as a human being and someone com­mitted to phi­losophy,” Brencio said.  

Brencio, who has a forth­coming book called “Martin Heidegger’s Black Note­books: Hermeneu­tical Pathways,” earned her doc­torate at the Uni­versity of Preugia in Italy, has research affil­i­a­tions with uni­ver­sities in Spain and England, and has taught at Western Sydney Uni­versity in Aus­tralia.

It all started when Pro­fessor of English Dutton Kearney, who had cor­re­sponded with her over her trans­lation of his essay on German the­ologian Karl Barth into Italian, con­nected her with Pro­fessor of Soci­ology Peter Blum, which spurred a year-long email chain that morphed into this four-part series.

“At the core of the four lec­tures — and each lecture is on a spe­cific topic — is a question: Why does Hei­degger matter today?” Brencio said. “Why do we have to get in dia­logue with Hei­degger? Does he still have some­thing worth­while to tell people?”

Brencio will give an overview of Heidegger’s life and thought; topical lec­tures on his infamous Black Note­books, unpub­lished until 2014, and con­taining some of the most damning evi­dence of his Nazy sym­pa­thies; his return to poetic lan­guage in his later thought; and his influ­ences from psy­chology.

The inter­dis­ci­plinary nature of the lec­tures brought inter­de­part­mental aca­demic and financial support from the depart­ments of English, rhetoric and public address, psy­chology, phi­losophy, phi­losophy and religion, as well as the program of soci­ology and social thought, Blum said.

Senior phi­losophy Andrew Kern said Blum told his phe­nom­e­nology class an amazing lecture series on con­ti­nental phi­losophy such as this one doesn’t happen at Hillsdale often. Thinking of lec­tures about which he’s most excited, Kern said he imme­di­ately thinks about the Black Note­books, and that he hopes she will be give lis­teners some insight, some details on his Nazi sym­pa­thies, and maybe a way to rec­oncile this with the fact he’s a philosopher worth reading.

Blum said some branches of con­ser­v­ative thought mis­un­der­stand Hei­degger — and con­ti­nental phi­losophy gen­erally  — and dismiss him as a post­mod­ernist. He said he hopes the lec­tures will will open up dis­cus­sions wherein people will realize he might be an important person to know about.

Brencio agrees. She said Hei­degger has been slapped with many labels that allow people to dismiss him, rather than seeking to under­stand him and later judge his per­sonal choices.

Brencio devoted the last three years to under­standing Heidegger’s Black Note­books, asking herself what kind of books they are, how to approach them, and how to put them within the frame of his other works.

“It was very important to put these notes in a rela­tionship with all of Heidegger’s med­i­tation,” Brencio said. “My intention has been, and still is, not to isolate these note­books from Heidegger’s med­i­tation in general.”

Blum poses these ques­tions, too, since Hei­degger is widely con­sidered the most influ­ential philosopher of the 20th century and has influ­enced his own thought.

“I worry about this: How do I think about the fact I’ve been influ­enced by Hei­degger and he’s a Nazi?” he asked, adding that despite pleas from stu­dents, some Jewish, Hei­degger never unam­bigu­ously con­demned the National Socialist Party and often offered only lame dis­missals regarding atroc­ities.

Brencio said her second lecture, on poetry, will discuss how Hei­degger turned to poetry when he found it could illu­minate philo­sophical pathways in ways that meta­physical lan­guage could not.

The final lecture, on psy­chology, will examine Heidegger’s friendship with Swiss psy­chi­a­trist Medard Boss. She will also discuss one of Heidegger’s most famous con­cepts, Dasein — which she describes as the way through which a human being has to be, and the most authentic way to choose to be oneself — and why anxiety is its most important feature.

While Brencio has pursued research where Hei­degger once taught, she doesn’t derive her inspi­ration to wade through old German and piece together his thought only from there. Rather, she looks out her studio windows to the gor­geous moun­tains and the Black Forest with its twisting pathways, a land that speaks to her about his rela­tionship with the place where he wrote his greatest works.

Kern, who has studied 20th century epis­te­mology, Hei­degger, and phe­nom­e­nology, said Brencio’s series will add a per­spective missing from Hillsdale lecture topics.

“Walking around, outside after Hei­degger, espe­cially if I’m looking at the leaves and the grass and the earth, this sense comes over me,” he said, “about the weight and reality of the world and that I can reach out and touch it, and it all flows in this beau­tiful, natural way that I’m a part of.”

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Jo Kroeker
Jo Kroeker is a junior from Fresno, California (no, it’s not Cali). She is the Opinions Editor of the Collegian, studies French and journalism, and writes for Hillsdale College’s marketing department. Her trademarks include oversized sweaters, experimental banana bread, and yoga. | twitter: @jobethkroeker
  • Hei­degger was not a “Nazi.”

    He had a sense of com­munal basis for region­alist pol­itics that he hoped would affect his region’s sense of “national socialism.” He joined the Party as admin­is­trator because it was nec­essary for con­structive engagement with local bureau­crats; and he kept his mem­bership after­wards because it was prudent. He was devoted to leading others’ thought beyond the foun­da­tions of “man­darin” academia that had been sup­portive of the Nazis, and he lived with the presence of Nazi “mon­itors” in his lec­tures, since he was always con­sidered sus­pi­cious by Nazi bureau­crats.

    His “black note­books” are full of disgust for the National Socialists (after 1933). The fol­lowing pro­vides author­i­tative resources on the matter: “Hei­degger and reading political times”
    ( )

    And the Facebook Page links to other dis­cus­sions and resources:

    Gary E. Davis

  • You see now how invalid views become “common sense.”