Centenary of Passchendaele

Today, 31 July 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. This morning descendants, dignitaries, and royalty gathered to mark the occasion of a battle that lasted 103 days and while the exact number of total casualties is still debated we can surmise it was over 400,000 (see G. Sheffield, and R. Prior & T. Wilson).

Reinach was at Passchendaele, fighting as a soldier in the field artillery of 185th Regiment. It would be his last battle, he died 6 days after it ended. There are no letters from him during this time to Husserl or his best friends, the Conrads, so we don’t have a record of his experience or feelings from this battle.  However, the one glimpse we do have into his state of mind comes when we look at the philosophy he was writing during Passchendaele: specifically, rough notes under the heading Bruchstück einer religionsphilosophischen Ausführung (Fragment of a Treatise on the Philosophy of Religion) titled Das Absolute (the Absolute), Struktur des Erlebnisses (Structure of Experience), and Skeptische Erwägungen (Skeptical Considerations) (Sept/October 1917).  I will also note that he expressed a desire to lecture on this topic, the philosophy of religion, when he returned from the war. In summary, Reinach explores and describes phenomenologically the feeling and the knowing of the presence of God, what the structure of that experience might resemble, and how to respond to those who doubt the validity of the experience.

I will return to these notes in greater detail in a later blog post, since I am working with them at the moment for an article on Reinach and Gerda Walther, but I have to admit that I have wondered if he possibly had a mystical experience on the field (there are plenty of ghost stories and uncanny experiences documented by soldiers), or if the horrors and brutality of WWI (and particularly the blood-and-mud of Passchendaele) were weighing very heavily on his mind. In 1916 he converted to Protestantism with his wife, Anna, so considerations about God and religion were already active in his thinking. But the timing of these notes is very telling, I think. The tone of these notes is also very special in that they are very phenomenologically poetic and deeply moving. Reinach is, as usual, the skilled phenomenologist in his descriptions, but there’s something more going on. When I read them, I see a man who is searching for joy and beauty in a world that is exploding in front of him, and, at the same time, rekindling the creative spark of a profoundly meaningful life endeavour that he had before enlistment — doing phenomenology.  He once told Conrad-Martius that he believed phenomenology was what the new Germany and the new Europe needed after the war ended (letter dated 10 September 1915).  Phenomenology was a saving grace for him, and for the continent. In these final fragments it is clear that ‘Reinach the soldier’ would always and forever be ‘Reinach the realist phenomenologist’.

To begin to understand what Reinach witnessed and participated in, I would like to include in this post some videos.  As you watch, think to yourself what it would have been like to be an academic like Reinach, or many of his Munich and Göttingen colleagues who enlisted, fighting in a war as a soldier far away from your desk and classroom. What impact would this have on your philosophy?

Happy Birthday, Adolf Reinach!

Today in 1883 Adolf Bernhard Philipp Reinach was born.

According to Edith Stein, in her unfinished autobiography Life In A Jewish Family: 1891-1916, Reinach came home to Göttingen on furlough for Christmas of 1915 and arrived in time to celebrate his 32nd birthday. Pauline Reinach, Adolf’s sister, wrote Stein a letter inviting her to visit and celebrate the two occasions. Stein of course happily accepted, exclaiming to herself: “Furlough! That possibility had never even occurred to me. So far ‘seeing Reinach again’ had been synonymous, always with ‘peace at war’s end.’ It was almost too good to be true.” (pgs. 377-378) She arrived in Göttingen on the 22nd of December with a birthday gift in hand – a good timely book – and made her way to the Reinachs’ home. After seeing Adolf Reinach for the first time in over a year, Stein writes: “Reinach had grown broad and strong; military service agreed with him. It was on this occasion that I truly got to know Frau Reinach. Formerly my visits to their home had been mostly on a student-to-teacher basis. But now I belonged to the most intimate circle, to the ‘mourners of the first rank’ as Reinach once facetiously put it when he imagined how things might go should he be killed.” (pg. 379) This circle consisted of his wife Anna, his sister Pauline, and then Stein and Erika Gothe. This comment of Reinach’s, while made in jest, turned out to be rather prophetic since he was killed on the battlefield in 1917 and this circle of friends came together to mourn. Stein and Anna Reinach became very close friends, and it was Stein who helped put Adolf’s philosophical writings in order after his death.

It’s rather interesting to think that 100 years ago today Reinach was alive and at home celebrating his birthday with his friends and family. Stein’s notes on the joyous occasion are brief but her deep fondness for the Reinachs’ is alive in her descriptions.

So rather than focus on Reinach’s death, let us think of his life and legacy. Today a major figure of both the Munich and Göttingen phenomenology circles was born; a philosopher and realist phenomenologist who inspired the great minds of Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Winthrop Bell, Edith Stein, and many others.

Happy 132nd Birthday, Adolf Reinach!