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Stanton Peele

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Sleeping With Your Guru

Posted: 11/11/09 12:01 PM ET

Brilliant, talented, successful women sacrifice their lives and dignity to male mentors. What are they thinking?

The specter of screwing your guru has arisen again recently around the debate over the philosopher Martin Heidegger. In brief, Heidegger was the father of existential philosophy, proposing that we must liberate our thinking from the blinders imposed by modern technological society. His students included the political philosopher Herbert Marcuse, the sociologist Theodor Adorno, and the beacon of modern existentialism Jean-Paul Sartre - all of whom were strongly leftist.

But Heidegger himself went from being mildly anti-Semitic to becoming a leading Nazi collaborator and puppet - for example, he enthusiastically removed all Jewish faculty from his University. And, here is the rub. After the War, Heidegger's greatest defender was Hannah Arendt, a distinguished Jewish philosopher, the author of Eichmann in Jerusalem and a student of Heidegger's. She was also his lover over a period of forty years, before and after World War II.

What could possibly move a brilliant Jewess to defend a man who had been an active Nazi? It sprang from a combination of love and admiration - adoration - for an esteemed professor Arendt met when she was 19. Arendt justified her mentor by imagining that his belief in the limitations of modernity was shanghaied by the Nazis, and Heidegger himself duped. Oh, and Arendt threw in the manipulative Mrs. Heidegger, out of loyalty to whom he had ceased his initial affair with Arendt.

After Arendt - who, escaping the Nazis, now lived in the United States - assisted Heidegger in his "de-Nazification," they rekindled their romance. But Arendt was never to be satisfied. Heidegger, whose reputation was permanently damaged, was deeply jealous of his protegee, and participated in their affair only reluctantly. Thus, the most distinguished Jewish philosopher of her era threw herself at an ex-Nazi, continuing their romance over a period of 40 years, while he barely tolerated her!

Arendt never wrote of the affair. But Amy Wallace wrote Sorcerers Apprentice about her 27-year-relationship with Carlos Castaneda, whom she met with her father - best-selling author Irving - when she was 16. Castenada was - along with Timothy Leary - the guru of expanded consciousness through hallucinogens. But the parallel stops there. Castaneda wrote a series of enormous best sellers detailing his mystical journeys and apprenticeship to an Indian shaman.

Castaneda maintained a sequestered life, but gathered a group of acolytes whom he manipulated viciously - Wallace chief among them. The group was a cult - Castaenda convinced the women they shared the magical powers he had developed through having sex with him. He belittled them mercilessly, and he refused to allow Wallace and the other women to have any other intimacy, even when their own sexual relationship ended.

Why would anyone - especially an intelligent, privileged woman - put up with this mishegas for 27 years? Like Heidegger, Castaneda was not a prepossessing lover in terms of physical appearance or prowess, or seductive skills. Wallace had to suggest to the clearly anxious man during their first tryst that perhaps they could begin by kissing.

But Wallace thought the object of her desires was a true visionary and genius, even as she eventually realized he was a cruel, soul-crushing sadist. For her part, Arendt never saw the Nazi beneath the surface that all of Heidegger's other students came to recognize. Rather than accepting this view, Arendt turned on former colleagues and friends. Thus both women subjugated themselves to mentors they met at formative ages and tolerated unending cruelty and manipulation - remaining in love until death did them part.

Draw your own conclusions.

 
 
 

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