On the steep slope of a wide mountain valley in the southern Black Forest, at an elevation of 1, 150 meters, there stands a small skit hut. The floor plan measures six meters by seven. The low-hanging roof covers three rooms: the kitchen which is also the living room, a bed-room and a study. Scatterd at wide intervals throughout the narrow base of the valley and on the equally steep slope opposite, lie the farmhouse with their large overhanging roofs. Higher up the slope the meadows and pasture lands lead to the woods with its dark fir-trees, old and towering. Over everything there stands a clear summer sky, and in its radian expanse two dark hawks glide around in wide circles.
This is my word-world – seen with the eye of an observer: the guest or summer vacationer. Strictly speaking I myself never observe the landscape. I experience its hourly changes, day and night, in the great comings and goings of the season. The gravity if the mountains and the hardness of their primeval rock, the slow and deliberate growth of the fir-trees, the brilliant, simple splendor of the meadows in bloom, the rush of the mountain brook in the long autumn night, the stern simplicity of the flatlands covered with snow – all of this moves and flows through and penetrates daily existence up there, and not in forced moments of “aesthetic” immersion or artificial empathy, but only when one´s own existence stands in its work. It is the work alone that opens ip space for the reality that is these mountains. The course of the work remains embedded in what happens in the region.
On a deep winter’s night when a wild, pounding snowstorm rages around the cabin and veils and covers everything, that is the perfect time for philosophy. Then its questions must become simple and essential. Working through each thought can only be tough and rigorous. The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.
And this philosophical work does not take its course like the aloof studies of some eccentric. It belongs right in the middle of the peasants’ work. When the young farmboy drags his heavy sled up the slope and guides it, plied high with beech logs, down the dangerous descent to his house, when the herdsman, lost in thought and slow of step, drives his cattle up the slope, when the farmer in his shed gets the countless shingles ready for his roof, my work is of the same sort. It is intimately rooted in and related to the life of the peasants.
A city-dweller thinks he has gone “out among the people” as soon as he condescends to have a long conversation with a peasant. But in the evening during a work-break, when I sit with the peasants by the fire or at the table in the “Lord’s Corner”, we mostly say nothing at all. We smoke our pipes in silence. Now and again someone might say that the woodcutting in the forest is finishing up, that a marten broke intro the hen-house last night, that one of the cows will probably calf in the morning, that someone’s uncle suffered a stroke, that the weather will soon “turn”. The inner relationship of my own work to the Black Forest and its people comes from a centuries-long and irreplaceable rootedness in the Alemannian-Swabian soil.
At most, a city-dweller gets “stimulated” by a so-called stay in the country. But my whole work is sustained and guided by the world of these mountains and their people. Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted for long stretches by conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg. But as soon as I go back up there, even in the first few hours of being at the cabin, the whole world of previous questions force itself upon me in the very form in which I left it. I simply am transported into the work’s own kind of rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not at all in command of its hidden law. People in the city often wonder whether one gets lonely up in the mountains among the peasants for such a long and monotonous periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness, it is solitude. In large cities one can easily be as lonely as almost nowhere else. But one can never be in solitude there. Solitude has the peculiar and original power not of isolating us but of projecting our whole existence out into the vast nearness of the presence [Wesen] of all things.
In the public world one can be made a “celebrity” overnight by the newspapers and journals. That always remains the surest way to have one’s ownmost intentions get misinterpreted and quickly and thoroughly forgotten. In contrast, the memory of the peasant has its simple and sure fidelity which never forgets. Recently and old peasant woman up there was approaching death. She liked to chat with me frequently, and she told me many old stories of the village. In her robust language, full of images, she still preserved many old words and various sayings which have become unintelligible to the village youth today and hence are lost to the spoken language. Very often in the past year when I lived alone in the cabin for weeks on end, this peasant woman with her 83 years would still come climbing up the slope to visit me She wanted to look in from time to time, as she put it, to see whether I was still there or whether “someone” had stolen me off unawares. She spent the night of her death in conversation with her family. Just an hour and a half before the end she sent her greetings to the “Professor”. Such a memory is worth incomparably more than the most astute report by any international newspaper about my alleged philosophy.
The world of the city runs the risk of falling into a destructive error. A very loud and very active and very fashionable obtrusiveness often passes itself off as concern for the world and existence of the peasant. But this goes exactly contrary to the one and only thing that now needs to be done, namely, to keep one’s distance from the life of the peasant, to leave their existence more then ever to its own law, to keep hands off lest it be dragged into the literati’s dishonest chatter about “folk-character” and “rootedness in the soil”. The peasant doesn’t need and doesn’t want this citified officiousness. What he needs and wants is quite reserve with regard to his own way of being and its independence. But nowdays many people from the city, the kind who know their way around and not least of all the skiers, often behave in the village or at a farmer’s house in the same way they “have fun” at their recreation centers in the city. Such going-on destroy more in one evening than centuries of scholarly teaching about folk-character and folklore could ever hope to promote.
Let us stop all this condescending familiarity and sham concern for “folk-character” and let us learn to take seriously that simple, rough existence up there. Only then will it speak to us once more. Recently I got a second invitation to teach at the University of Berlin. On that occasion I left Freiburg and withdrew to the cabin. I listened to what the mountains and the forest and the farmlands were saying, and I went to see an old friend of mine, a 75-year old farmer. He had read about the call to Berlin in the newspapers. What would he say? Slowly he fixed the sure gaze of his clear eyes on mine, and keeping his mouth tightly shut, he thoughtfully put his faithful hand on my shoulder. Ever so slightly he shook his head. That meant: absolutely no!