Monday, June 24, 2013

Wisdom from 1919

Letter from Edith Stein to Fritz Kaufmann, October 3, 1919:
If this letter reaches you after you get to Freiburg, then you need not read any further. Otherwise, I would like you calmly to weigh the following concern with me. It had already occurred to me on former occasions, but more intensely in connection with your last letter.
I am worried at seeing how, for months, you have avoided doing purely philosophical work, and am gradually beginning to wonder whether your "profession" should not lie in a different direction. Please do not take this as a vote of "no confidence" or as doubting your ability. I only mean that one should not use force to make the centre of one's life anything that fails to give one the right kind of satisfaction.
If you are convinced you have not set out on a wrong path but this is only a depressive phase that temporarily makes any strenuous effort impossible, then do not let my question divert you but rather, wait patiently -- without violent exertion, which would only aggravate the situation -- until the mood to work returns. But should you have had reflections similar to those I have had, then probably it would be time to face them seriously.
-- Letter included in "Edith Stein, Self Portrait in Letters 1916-1942." V. 5 of her "Collected Works" published by the Institute of Carmelite Studies, and translated by Josephine Koeppel.  (With many thanks to my friend A.B.)
[Interesting side-note:  A.B. tells me that Kaufmann had reached Freiburg to be Husserl's assistant, and chose to stay in academia, so must have decided that the funk Stein noticed was only temporary and that he was on the right path.  Stein, on the other hand, eventually left academia to be a nun.  I think her wonderful observation that "one should not use force to make the centre of one's life anything that fails to give one the right kind of satisfaction" was prescient of her eventual departure from an academic life.  I appreciate that she had that life philosophy and seriously followed through on it when she realised that she couldn't force academic lecturing into the centre of her life, and that she had another calling.]

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