Hannah Arendt “Heidegger and the Fox”
Heidegger says with great pride: “People say that Heidegger is a fox.” This is the true story of Heidegger the fox.
Once upon a time there was a fox who was so lacking in slyness that he not only kept getting caught in traps but I couldn’t even tell the difference between a trap and a non-trap. This fox suffered from another failing as well. There was something wrong with his fur. (…) in his shocking ignorance of the difference between traps and non-traps, despite his incredibly extensive experience with traps, he hit on on idea completely new and unheard of among foxes: he built a trap in his burrow. He set himself inside it, passed it off as a normal burrow–not out of cunning, but because he had always thought other’s traps were their burrows–and then decided to become sly in his own way and outfit for others the trap he had built himself and that suited only him. (…) why should a fox trap–especially one built by a fox with more experience of traps than any other–not be a match for traps of human beings and hunters? Obviously because this trap did not reveal itself clearly enough as the trap it was! And so it occurred to our fox to decorate his trap beautifully and to hang up unequivocal signs everywhere on it that quite clearly he said: “come here, everyone; this is a trap the most beautiful trap in the world.” From this point on it was clear that no fox could stray into this trap by mistake. Nevertheless many came. For this trap was our Fox’s burrow, and if you wanted to visit him where he was at home you had to step into his trap. Everyone except our fox could of course step out of it again. It was cut literally to his own measurement. But the fox who lived in the trap said proudly: “So many are visiting me in my trap that I have become the best of all foxes.” And there is some truth in that, too: Nobody knows the nature of traps better than the one who sits in a trap his whole life long.
Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding,. Translated by Robert and Rika Kimber. These Remarks come from Arendt’s personal Journal for 1953. republished in Peter Baehr ed., The Portable Hannah Arendt, (London Penguin, 2003). pp 543-544.