NEWS | Studia Phaenomenologica

The Ocean of Forgetting: Alexandru Dragomir, A Romanian Phenomenologist

Publisher: Romanian Society for Phenomenology & Humanitas
Issue Coordinators: Paul Balogh & Cristian Ciocan
Size: 17cm*24cm / 296 pages
ISSN: 1582-5647
ISBN: 973-50-0979-X

The Ocean of Forgetting: Alexandru Dragomir, A Romanian Phenomenomenologist (1916-2002)


Until his death in 2002, we were aware of Alexandru Dragomir only as a strange figure who moved more or less mysteriously in Roman ­ian intellectual circles. Everything that we knew of him came from those who actually met him, because Dragomir never wanted to make himself known. Indeed he had a sort of aversion towards the idea of becom ­ing a public figure. It was known that back in the ’40s he had been a student of Heidegger’s, studying for a PhD degree in Freiburg. Those who had the chance to meet him during the last decades of his life said that he possessed a fabulous philosophical knowledge, that he was bril ­liant as a thinker, and had an insightful and lively mind. However, what greatly intrigued those around him was the fact that he never cared to publish a single page in his life. He always said that publication was of no importance to him, and all he was interested in was understanding. Hence he constantly refused to enter the cultural industry. Indeed no one knew if he ever wrote anything.
Walter Biemel remembers that Heidegger highly appreciated Dragomir’s sharp intelligence. Alexandru Dragomir took part in Hei ­degger’s private seminars and it is said that when the discussion came to a dead-end, Heidegger used to turn towards Dragomir asking: “Well, what do the Latins say?” At the end of 1943, Dragomir was forced to leave Freiburg and Heidegger’s seminars and to return to Romania for re ­cruitment. It was wartime. Although Heidegger insistently demanded that he should continue his studies, Dragomir was enrolled in the army. Twenty years later, Heidegger still recalled Dragomir very well and was asking for news about him.
In 1945, Romanian history took a terrible turn. The end of the Sec ­ond World War unfortunately coincided with the Russian occupation and the establishment of communism in Romania. Dragomir found him ­self confronted with the impossibility of continuing his studies with Heidegger. He quickly understood that his relationship with Germany could be a reason for political persecution and that his philosophical endeavours might very well result in his being imprisoned. Dragomir anticipated all this and understood that his life depended on being able to dissimulate his philosophical concerns and his connection with Ger ­many. Continuously covering the traces of his past, Dragomir worked variously as a welder, a vendor, a clerk or an accountant; he kept hav ­ing to change his job, as he was frequently as his inconvenient politi ­cal file led to frequent dismissal. He finally managed to work, until his retirement in 1976, as an economist in a company exporting timber.
Nothing related to philosophy. It might be tempting to say: “Behold a failed destiny!” But this would be far from the truth. For, in private, Dragomir never ceased to exercise his brilliant philosophical intelligence. For decades he lived a double life: his everyday social life on one hand and his life of solitary philosophical research on the other. He conti ­nued to work upon the fundamental texts of philosophy in Greek, Latin, German, French and English. Even when the political climate became, to some extent, more permissive, Dragomir remained unwilling to write and publish, in spite of all the proposals he received. After 1985, how ­ever, he agreed to make a “compromise” regarding the absolute silence of his philosophical activity: he decided to hold several private lectures and seminars, with Gabriel Liiceanu, Andrei Ple?u, Sorin Vieru and oth ­er prominent Romanian intellectuals as audience. It is probably thanks only to this breach that we are able to speak today of Dragomir, thus saving his name from total oblivion. At that time, Dragomir’s inter ­locutors, i.e. already well-known Romanian cultural personalities, were so amazed at his philosophical virtuosity, that they started recording and taking extended notes of his lectures. Dragomir’s name started to spread, as the hidden king of Romanian philosophy.
Dragomir could have remained for ever a brilliant Socratic spirit, with ­out a real, transmissible philosophical work. But soon after his death in 2002, more than one hundred notebooks were found in his apartment, containing notes, commentaries on classic philosophical texts, essays of phenomenological research and analysis, and very precise and insightful philosophical descriptions. And what is even more important, many of them are original texts, which have turned him from a legend or a myth ­ical figure of Romanian philosophy, into a philosopher whose work can be transmitted and shared. Most of these texts are phenomenological microanalyses or subtle and incisive clarifications of various concrete aspects of the world in which we live. One can find texts on the mir ­ror, on forgetfulness, on error, on how things get worn out, on wak ­ing up in the morning, on the spectrum of ugly and disgusting things, on attention, on making mistakes, on writing and speaking, on mak ­ing distinctions among things, on being unique, and so on. There are very different and heterogeneous topics, as though Dragomir watched the diversity of the world through his acute phenomenological lens, for the sole purpose of his own desire to understand. His genius was to dis ­cover within the banality of the everyday events of our lives, within the most concrete experiences we deal with daily, within those aspects which we deem to be the most self-evident and implicit, the profound layers of meaning and fundamental significance, which he then analyzed with a fascinating sharpness.
Yet, one topic remains constant: there are several notebooks, called Chronos, in which Dragomir thematically and systematically pursued the problem of time, over a period of several decades: the first notebook dates from 1948 and contains many notes written directly in German, while the last notebooks date from the ’80s and ’90s. It may be that the as yet unedited book on time will prove to represent Dragomir’s most important work. After the crucial discovery of Dragomir’s notebooks, it was possible to start recovering his work. The Humanitas Publishing House has already published one volume, Utter Metaphysical Banali ­ties, edited by Gabriel Liiceanu and Catalin Partenie. A second volume called Five Departures from the Present is in press. Six or seven further volumes await publication.
We have decided to dedicate the present issue of Studia Phaenom ­enologica to this enigmatic figure of Romanian phenomenology and thus to let the international public know about this unique destiny. We have invited to participate in this issue those few people who knew Alexan ­dru Dragomir in the various stages of his life. First of all, Walter Biemel, who, on his arrival in Freiburg from Bucharest in 1942, met Dragomir at Heidegger’s lectures. One year later, they made together the first trans ­lation into Romanian of “Was ist die Metaphysik?”, thus establishing a long friendship. We have also invited two of those who took part in Dragomir’s seminars in the ’80s and who contributed to the first volume of Dragomir’s work with their testimonies. Gabriel Liiceanu, his main editor, recounts Dragomir’s extraordinary biography and the discovery of his archive after his death. Andrei Ple?u paints Dragomir’s portrait by comparing him to Constantin Noica, another exceptional person ­ality of Romanian philosophy. Starting with the ’90s several other peo ­ple came to know Dragomir closely. Among them, we have invited Horia-Roman Patapievici, who remembers Dragomir’s brilliant knowl ­edge of Galileo; Virgil Ciomo?, a special interlocutor of Dragomir on phenomenological and Aristotelian issues, and Catalin Partenie, with whom Dragomir shared a passion for discussions on Plato.
We also publish here a series of documents. Among them are some care ­fully preserved pages containing Dragomir’s notes taken on 14th January 1943 at Heidegger’s seminar on Metaphysics, Book Q. Next, we publish a letter of Walter Biemel from 1946 (translated into English by Adina Bozga) and the original German letter exchange between Dragomir and Heidegger in 1947. Finally, the main part of this volume contains a se ­lection of Dragomir’s texts, translated into English, French and German. For the English translations are by James Christian Brown (lecturer in the English Department of the University of Bucharest), who kindly agreed to translate Dragomir’s often difficult texts with the generous accord of Sorin Antohi, editor at CEU Press (Budapest), where the Eng ­lish edition of Utter Metaphysical Banalities is soon to be published. The French translation is the work of Michelle Dobré, professor of sociolo ­gy at the University of Caen. The German translation of the first Chronos notebook was made by M?d?lina Diaconu, researcher at the Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna. We would like to thank all those mentioned above for their kind participation in this volume. We owe special thanks to those colleagues and friends who helped us in proofreading the ma ­terial: Adina Bozga, Julien Bretonnet, James Christian Brown, Aurélien Demars, Laurent Desplats, Servanne Jollivet, Adrian Ni??, Delia Popa, Tinca Prunea, Adrian Sandu, Marilena Vlad.

Paul BALOGH & Cristian CIOCAN





Walter Biemel, Erinnerungen an Dragomir

Abstract: This short autobiographical text evokes the atmosphere of the years which marked the beginning of my friendship with Alexandru Dragomir: i.e. our student years in Bucharest, the circle of Romanian students studying in the 40s in Freiburg i. Br. and the intellectual intensity of Martin Heidegger’s seminars and courses, which influenced both of us for the rest of our lives. From the 15 members of Heidegger’s Oberseminar (dedicated in this period to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit), three were from Romania: Alexandru Dragomir, Octavian Vuia and the author of these lines. The relationship between Dragomir and I became closer as we translated “Was ist Metaphysik?” into Romanian. Alexandru Dragomir was highly appreciated by Heidegger and beloved by other students for his penetrating spirit, for his spontaneity, but also for his sense of humor. After more than 30 years in which the history thrown us in parallel worlds, we had the joy to meet again in Bucharest. His texts, now published, present him as a brilliant and original thinker.



Gabriel Liiceanu, The Notebooks from Underground [trans. James Christian Brown]

Abstract: The article leads us through the life story of Alexandru Dragomir, starting from his early years as a student of Heidegger’s in Freiburg and all through the communist period, which for Dragomir meant the impossibility of openly practicing philosophy. However he never gave up his private endeavours with philosophy; instead he practiced it “underground”, revealing the results of his thinking to very few close friends. The second half of the article deals with Dragomir’s intellectual portrait: the Heideggerian heritage, the task of think ­ing, time. As he never actually published anything, it was only after his death that his friends discovered his notebooks, which are now being gradually pub ­lished at Humanitas Publishing House



Andrei Ple?u, Fragments of a Portrait [trans. James Christian Brown]

Abstract: The article conveys the portrait of a man for whom understanding was a matter of the highest spiritual intimacy, a man who continuously disre ­garded his possible engagement in the public life as a philosopher, finally a man whom we find, in the twilight of his life, concerned with the intricate tension between the “muteness” of philosophy (as being able “only” to double life by means of rational discourse) and religion. Alexandru Dragomir’s portrait is por ­trayed in comparison to another important Romanian philosopher, Constan ­tin Noica. The comparison is not accidental, since they both come to represent two paradigmatic ways of making philosophy: traditional ontology (centered around Descartes – Kant – Hegel) vs. modern phenomenology (centered around Husserl – Heidegger)



Horia-Roman Patapievici, The Lesson of Alexandru Dragomir [trans. Paul Balogh]

Abstract: The paper aims to clarify several key aspects of Alexandru Dragomir: his amazing “technique” of keeping his entire knowledge in perfect working condition, his exceptional precision of references finally his continuous disregard concerning writing. The root of all these peculiarities is traced back to Plato’s cognitive and moral arguments against writing, as expressed in Phaedrus and Seventh Letter. Finally, the article brings to light what seems to be the lesson of Dragomir’s life as a thinker: to rely only on the living thought, the one which is written “inside the soul”.



Virgil Ciomo?, Théorie et pratique de la phénoménologie. Une rencontre manquée

Abstract: In this article, the author recalls the circumstances when he first met Alexandru Dragomir, together with André Scrima and Mihai ?ora, with the occasion of a conference on the phenomenology of time at the New Europe College in Bucharest. Then, the author talks about his philosophical relationship with Alexandru Dragomir during the following years, insisting upon the phenomenological debates they had and upon the specific manner of Dragomir’s thinking.



Catalin Partenie, Archive relief. Dragomir’s Perspective

Abstract: Dragomir was not interested in writing philosophy, although his archive amounts to almost 100 notebooks, containing fragments, notes, essays and studies. This essay addresses Dragomir’s disregard for written philosophy and argues that his main message will lose its force in his posthumously published archive. His message, as it emerges from the way he lived his life, is, I argue, this: if we are to restore the lost harmony of our lives, philosophy, as essential as it may be, isn’t everything.

Alexandru Dragomir, The Protocol of Heidegger’s seminar of January 14, 1943 on Aristotle’s Metaphysics Book Theta
Walter Biemel, A letter to Alexandru Dragomir (1946) [trans. Adina Bozga]
Alexandru Dragomir, A letter to Martin Heidegger (1947)
Martin Heidegger, A letter to Alexandru Dragomir (1947)


Alexandru Dragomir, De l’unicité [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, De l’erreur [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, De l’usure [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Dans la contrée du laid-dégoutant [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Dit et non-dit [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Que signifie « distinguer » [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Utter metaphysical banalities [trans. James Christian Brown]
Alexandru Dragomir, About the ocean of forgetting [trans. James Christian Brown]
Alexandru Dragomir, About the world we live in [trans. James Christian Brown]
Alexandru Dragomir, De quelques manieres de se tromper soi-meme [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, L’attention et les cinq manieres de quitter le présent [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Du bien et du mal [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Sur le non-sens du passé et de l’avenir [trans. Michelle Dobre]
Alexandru Dragomir, Chronos Buch I