The Philosophical Pathos of Susan Taubes
Between Nihilism and Hope
Elliot R. Wolfson



Memory and Heeding the Murmuring of the Israelites

Pain is one of the keys to unlock man’s innermost being as well as the world. Whenever one approaches the points where man proves himself to be equal or superior to pain, one gains access to the sources of his power and the secret hidden behind his dominion. Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!

—Ernst Jünger, “On Pain”

But the more joyful the joy, the more pure the sadness slumbering within it. The deeper the sadness, the more summoning the joy resting within it. Sadness and joy play into each other. The play itself which attunes the two by letting the remote be near and the near be remote is pain. This is why both, highest joy and deepest sadness, are painful each in its way.

—Martin Heidegger, “Words”

And the price the soul pays for its errors is always a spiritual price; their sin is their own punishment.

—Susan Taubes, Letter to Jacob Taubes, September 29, 1950

Susan Taubes (née Judit Zsuzánna Feldmann) was born in Budapest in 1928 and died by her own hand on November 6, 1969, in East Hampton, New York.1 It is surely prudent to circumvent reductionism when assessing a person’s life, but much can be ascertained about Susan’s psychological profile and intellectual temperament by noting that her grandfather Mózes Feldmann (1860–1927) was the grand rabbi of Budapest, and her father Sándor Feldmann (1889–1972) was a leading Freudian psychoanalyst. Departing from the two disparate orthodoxies, Susan forged a way that nevertheless emerged from these patriarchal figures, a trail marked by both a relentless quest to recover the spiritual vitality of Judaism as practiced by her grandfather as well as a ruthless obsession to uncover the root by a radical thinking apposite to the orientation of her father.

In 1939, Susan emigrated with her father to the United States, her mother eventually making her way at a later date. They went first to Pittsburgh, and then Susan moved with her father to Rochester, New York, while her mother settled in Manhattan.2 Susan’s letters to Jacob Taubes confirm that she shuffled back and forth between her parents, but she clearly had a preference to be with her father, and over time the relationship with her mother completely deteriorated.3 Thus, in her letter from November 5–6, 1950, Susan wrote that the situation with her mother had become “very unhealthy.” She goes on to describe her as “a dragon and a pitiful and neurotic dragon at that—so one could not become a ‘hero’ slaying her. I can’t get tangled up in old case histories, also if one ‘kills’ one should do it with a sharp knife, so I shall break relations with her altogether. . . . It is true, everything she touches turns to bad luck—and though I pity her I fear her too much to be able to be kind to her.”4 The continuation of the letter reveals the tensions between her parents to the point that her father not only refused to live with her mother but also forbade her from visiting Rochester. Susan reiterated the desire to cut relations with her mother entirely because she was deemed to be too dangerous.5 The magnitude of the discord and the distance between mother and daughter is fictionalized in the following exchange in Divorcing between Kamilla and Sophie Blind:

“I don’t know why I’m sitting here,” Kamilla says, “We have nothing to do with each other, do we?” . . . “I called you because father asked me on the phone if I know how you are. I didn’t even know you were back in New York. You don’t write me. We haven’t been on speaking terms for years. I have accepted that I don’t have a daughter. . . . You are a stranger to me. I am a stranger to you.”6

In late 1948, Susan met Jacob Taubes in New York, and they were married on June 5, 1949, at a time when she was an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr College, majoring in philosophy.7 Her honors thesis, entitled “Myth and Logos in Heidegger’s Philosophy,” was written under the direction of Isabel Stearns.8 In the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (Summer 1951), Susan was praised as “brilliant,” “mature,” “professional,” and her thesis was acclaimed as being on a par with the work of “an excellent Ph.D. candidate.”9 Upon graduating in 1951, she received the Bryn Mawr European Fellowship, which afforded her the opportunity to continue her studies at the Sorbonne. After spending some time in Paris, she joined Jacob in Jerusalem and took courses at the Hebrew University. Subsequently, Susan returned to the United States and pursued graduate study at Harvard University, serving as the Josiah Royce Fellow in Radcliffe College. To the best of my knowledge, Susan was the first woman to receive a doctorate in the history and philosophy of religion from that institution. The original topic for her doctoral dissertation was the mythical and theological elements in Heidegger’s philosophy, but this plan was never brought to fruition, and instead the topic of the thesis, supervised by Paul Tillich and completed in 1956, was “The Absent God: A Study of Simone Weil.”10

Susan and Jacob had a son Ethan and a daughter Tanaquil, born respectively in 1953 and 1957. In 1960, Susan began teaching at Columbia University, where she was also curator of the Bush Collection of Religion and Culture. During the 1960s, she was a member of the experimental Open Theater ensemble, and in addition, she edited African Myths and Tales and a book of Native American myths called The Storytelling Stone. She also advanced her own creative writing by publishing a dozen short stories, and she wrote two novels: Divorcing, which appeared on November 2, 1969, four days before her suicide by drowning in the Atlantic Ocean, and the novella A Lament for Julia, which has appeared in German translation, but the original English is still unpublished.11 It is noteworthy that on the day of the release of Divorcing, there was a scathing review by Hugh Kenner in the New York Times. Susan Sontag, the close companion of Susan Taubes about whom she wrote in her diary on July 21, 1972, that she was her double,12 was the one who identified her deceased body.13 Sontag was of the opinion that the proximate cause of her friend’s demise may have been the bad reviews of the book, and especially the one by Kenner, although it should be noted that a short time before her death, Susan had written in her diary that she would be drowning herself in about two weeks.14

Of late there has been increasing interest in Susan Taubes prompted by the publication of several works by the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin, including translations into German of literary and philosophical works originally composed in English, under the guidance by Sigrid Weigel, as well as two volumes of correspondence with Jacob from the years 1950–1952, edited and annotated by Christina Pareigis. These volumes are a treasure trove of wide-ranging intellectual exchanges—Susan’s letters, in particular, read like pages from philosophical diaries, Denktagebücher, which display remarkable analytic perspicacity and critical sophistication. The epistolic give-and-take also provides the reader with access to some of the intricacies of their private relationship. Susan effusively communicated her unwavering love for Jacob on many occasions, a love that encompassed in her own words both logos and eros,15 or, as she put it elsewhere, a love that rests on trust that cannot be thwarted by either logos or eros.16 Understanding her commitment to Jacob in scriptural terms gave Susan a linguistic medium to express the intertwining of the erotic and the spiritual threads. The obvious choice of Song of Songs, for instance, is signaled out in Susan’s letter to Jacob, written on May 3, 1952, as the looking glass through which to imagine and to verbalize her fervent craving:

Last night I put my nose into a bunch of lilies-of-the valley + the sudden whiff of fragrance made me sick with love and longing for you. I tried to remember passages from the Song of Songs; I couldn’t all the way; So I knocked on the door of my English neighbour Chippenfield + borrowed his Bible and read + thought of you.17

Noteworthy is the fact that the olfactory served as the catalyst for Susan to moor her sensual longing in scripture. The biblical verse enlivens the scent of the roses even as the scent of the roses enlivens the biblical verse. Hermeneutically, we can speak of a double mirroring, the textual mirror mirroring the tactile experience and the tactile experience mirroring the textual mirror. As Susan conveyed the matter of her yearning in the letter to Jacob, written at 1:30 in the morning on November 16, 1950, “I think of you and think over how we met and what happened to us and how the reading of the Hosea was prophetic not only in relation to our personal fates but in that we too are ceaselessly living the analogy of the covenant of marriage to the covenant of God + his people.”18 For his part, Jacob, too, thought of their relationship in biblical proportions, and thus he affirmed that his carnal desire for Susan intersected with the spiritual, as we see in the following outpouring of passion: “Love you my animal, my dear animal very very much. If I want to know or to express to my self what holy means I see you and I feel a deep trembling of joy and extasy in you.”19

The letters provide the reader with insight into Susan’s emotional loneliness when separated from Jacob,20 her ardent pining to be with him physically and psychically to the point of experiencing actual discomfort in their separation.21 Typical of the despair Susan felt is the following remark in the letter she wrote to Jacob on September 26, 1950, “I begin to feel like a sleep walker through the world—very efficient and quite dreamless but a sleep walker and in the gray hues of this sleep I can taste the blackness of death.”22 Repeating the motif of the deprivation of passing away to express her anguish of not being together with Jacob, Susan lamented to Jacob in the letter from October 28, 1950, that going to bed without him “is like going into the grave each night.”23 The letters also attest to Susan’s insecurity about Jacob’s willingness to reciprocate her abiding affection, leading her to ask after declaring her unconditional loyalty to him, “do you love me?”24 Additionally, the letters give voice to the intellectual respect that Susan harbored for Jacob as an original thinker, even extolling his “good genius” and referring to his “bold and beautiful daimon.”25 On October 21, 1950, she addressed Jacob as her “Bodhisattva,” which she glossed as the one “whose being is enlightenment.”26 Susan’s admiration of Jacob is idealized in the letter written on February 16–17, 1951, “Ah but it is sad without you. Everybody is soooo stupid—you are the only clever being I know—and everybody else bores me.”27

However, there is ample evidence that Susan was capable of being critical of Jacob. One of clearest examples is in the letter of March 6, 1952, where Susan offered her comments on Jacob’s essay “The Development of the Ontological Question in Recent German Philosophy,”28 to which she refers as “Q”:

What you are driving at is important; the insight is creative and demonic, the language is still inadequate . . . even in the german. The source of the inadequacy is partly in the natural difficulty of penetrating a new abyss, but it is also due to a curious slavishness to the “historical evolution of the idea”. . . . Continuity cannot be denied, but you must establish it from your point and not from Husserl’s or Cohen. It is a problem to adopt, adapt, transform revolutionize the old language. Often you make it more difficult for yourself by playing with the old terminology. . . . Say what you mean and then refer to what is called x or y by another school. You have a tendency to develop your thought by playing around with titles. Take the harder way of articulating your own thought; these algebraic shortcuts are very questionable. There are the most dubious pretensions behind Heidegger’s thinking style and unless you are willing to go along the way of a clandestine Geistesgeschichtemystik I would advise you to learn rather from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (who understood the fitting style if one doesn’t want to get entangled with history.)29

There is much in this passage that necessitates a more careful scrutiny, including the comparison of Jacob’s style to a surreptitious intellectual history of mysticism deducible from Heidegger as well,30 but for our immediate purposes it is sufficient to take note of the acuity of Susan’s critical interventions.

Let me note finally that the letters also indicate that Susan was agonizingly aware of Jacob’s dark side, corroborated, for example, in the fact that she refers to him occasionally as the “devil boy” (Teufelsknabe).31 One might argue that affixing this title to Jacob is done in a teasing or an endearing manner, but it is evident that at times it is used to mark undesirable qualities that are deserving of admonishment. The complexity of her concomitant attraction to and repulsion from Jacob is exhibited glaringly in the conclusion of the letter from April 11, 1952, where Susan communicated her desire to embrace her husband but also to beat him.32 The thorny convolution of Susan’s emotions can be seen in the antiromantic ideal of love communicated in her letter of April 26, 1952, “I hate you lovingly. I send an angel to beat you in my name.”33 As is well known, the matrimonial difficulties were fictionalized in Divorcing, reissued in 2020 with an introduction by David Rieff, the son of Susan Sontag and Philip Rieff. Notably, the title suggests that the process of divorce is unending, and it is not a matter that can ever be finalized. The republication of this work has occasioned a number of journalistic reviews and, in some cases, a reassessment of the relationship as well as of the merit and relevance of Susan’s thought. Both of these topics have been greatly enhanced by Christina Pareigis’s intellectual biography of Susan, which appeared in November 2020.34 This monograph should be commended not only for the lucidity of expression but for the author’s meticulous scholarship and documentation based on published and archival material.

My first serious engagement with Susan Taubes was reading the 1954 essay “The Gnostic Foundations of Heidegger’s Nihilism.” Being struck by the profundity of her discursive skill, I proceeded to read more of her scholarly writings, and when I was invited to contribute to a volume on Jacob Taubes, I decided to compare and contrast their respective interpretations of Heidegger. The fruits of that labor can be found in the essay “Gnosis and the Covert Theology of Antitheology: Heidegger, Apocalypticism, and Gnosticism in Susan and Jacob Taubes,”35 a revised version of which appears in the third chapter of this book. Susan’s letters proved to be a major repository of philosophical reflections, and in particular they illustrate that her understanding of Heidegger, while in some cases indebted to exchanges with Jacob,36 far exceeded him in discernment and depth, even though she intermittently appropriated a misogynist defamation of her own worth by alleging that she is nothing—symbolized by the Greek omega (Ω)—but a conduit to transmit ideas she received from Jacob.37

I note, parenthetically, that there is a strong parallel between what I set out to accomplish in Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiēsis (2019) and the position taken by Susan Taubes. The significant difference is that I emphasized the Jewish mystical underpinning of some of the distinctive aspects of Heidegger’s thought, which likely reached him through secondary channels like Böhme and Schelling, and less the extent to which it is a hidden Christian tradition. It must be noted, however, that Susan did postulate that the surreptitious tradition originated as a Jewish heresy. If we assume that Christian esotericism was informed by Jewish gnosis with roots in Late Antiquity but most fully developed in medieval kabbalah, then it is important to lay claim to the Jewish wellspring of Heidegger’s esoteric and heretical Christian tradition. And this, in good Heideggerian fashion, should embolden us to give thought to what is unthought.38 Susan did comment in a few passing remarks on the affinity between Heidegger and Jewish esotericism and in one context even coined the phrase “Heidegerian Kabbala.”39 Be that as it may, the mutual interest in Heidegger drew me to Susan’s essay, and this became the catalyst to engage in working on a monograph with the hope of showing that she should be taken seriously as a thinker who has contributed not only generally to the study of philosophy and religion but particularly to Jewish philosophy in the period right after the dreadful upheaval of the Holocaust and the momentous establishment of the modern state of Israel. While others have contributed to a reassessment of Susan’s literary talents and theoretical acumen, I wish to make a case for the relevance of her writings to Jewish religious thought.

To prevent misunderstanding, let me state unequivocally that my analysis is not prosopographic in nature as I am not interested in an exhaustive investigation of the biographical question of Susan’s Jewish upbringing. Furthermore, the attempt to reclaim the legacy of this extraordinary figure for the history of Judaism should not be construed parochially as a flaunting of ethnic pride. As will become abundantly clear in the ensuing chapters, Susan vehemently opposed such a narrowminded portrayal of Jewish religion and culture. The letters to Jacob and other writings, especially her novel Divorcing, demonstrate beyond question that she considered problematic the emphasis on Jewish particularity when specularized through an ethnocentric lens. Thus, from the specific example of the Passover seder, Susan extrapolated her more general discontent with the implicit ethnocentrism of the halakhah:

That symbols and festivals are more permanent than ideology is also my conviction; but this is my war with Judaism. Must every gesture serve for the glorification of the jewish people and the condemnation of the others? The satisfaction obtained from heaping plagues of frogs, vermin etc. on others is hardly redeeming. Is it not from spite, misunderstanding and hatred that we want to be redeemed?40

Despite such unambiguous statements, it cannot be denied that her Jewishness persisted as an Archimedean point whence she was oriented—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say disoriented—in the world.41 The struggle to let go of her devotion to a religious-cultural heritage, which she could neither possess nor dispossess, is beautifully articulated in the following interchange on the nature of recollection cast in neurophysiological terms between Sophie and Kate in Divorcing:

“Memory, we discover, is stored in a glutenous protein substance—mucopolysaccharides—a cell glue. Fuzz collects around the neurons. Now, in studying brain waves it turns out that there is a best fit pattern in which a wave closely resembles the one where the original information is stored. The waves are whispering together.”

“So that’s what it is. The chorus of murmuring! Old Israelites in my cells.”

“Correct, and its time they shut up. We’re going to dissolve that old glue. One whiff and you’ve got a clean slate.” . . .

“Admit it, you can’t live without those murmuring Israelites. ‘May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem!’42

“But of course, to part is painful, to part with an old rag, even a tumor. It’s part of human nature to love one’s tumor.”43

Judaism is the tumor that tormented Susan, but a torment that she nonetheless treasured. Her memory was saturated with the murmuring of the Israelites that could not be silenced all the days of her short-lived sojourn on this planet. Like the heroine of Divorcing, Susan was a refugee exiled from her native land, who was never able to find another home in the foreign country to which she relocated. The homeland she could discover was in exile,44 but in such a homeland, one finds one’s place only by being displaced. As she put in the letter to Jacob written on October 7, 1950, “But I am walking ‘the ways of the world’ walking through the connecting paths of nomads, wanderers, exiles.”45 Elaborating on this theme in the letter written the next day, Susan ruminated:

And I begin to grow into my life of wandering + migration even as the peasant grows into the climates of the land, and even as the peasant after a while learns to love the hoe whereon he breaks his back, the lands of his sweat and the stubborn seasons—so the wanderer, the uprooted, learns to love the dusty routes, the trunks, the warehouses, freight trucks and ticket-booths, the packing and unpacking. One grows into a familiarity with all the strange faces of Fate—slowly a pattern lights through the daily toil and redeems the sweat, backache and anxiety. The moment comes when the exile also celebrates his fate.46

Revisiting the point in Divorcing, Susan wrote about Sophie, who “had been travelling all her life,” that her way to deal with things was to “pack and unpack and pack again.”47

Susan’s exaltation of itinerancy and uprootedness related to her Jewish pedigree and poetic disposition reminds one of the following lines from the “Poem of the End” by Marina Tsvetaeva:

Still. We are. Outside town.

Beyond it! Understand? Outside!

That means we’ve passed the walls.

Life is a place where it’s forbidden

to live. Like the Hebrew quarter.

And isn’t it more worthy to

become an eternal Jew?

Anyone not a reptile

suffers the same pogrom. . . .

Ghetto of the chosen. Beyond this

Ditch. No mercy

In this most Christian of worlds

all poets are Jews.48

The dislocation from any physical location—to cross the divide and to be beyond the town limit—is a manner of demarcating life as a place in which no one can live, a condition typified by the Jewish ghetto but not limited to it, since anyone who is not reptilian experiences the anguish of an equivalent pogrom and is thus subject to the eternal misfortune of the wandering Jew. From the specific case of the dislodgment of the Jews, the Russian poet elicits a claim about the nomadic status of the human predicament. The ghetto of the chosen unquestionably signifies the alienation of the Jew, but the image is also rendered symbolically to delineate the existential forsakenness of humankind.


1. In order to avoid confusion, I refer to Susan and Jacob Taubes either by their full names or by their respective first names. Admittedly, the latter choice is a departure from scholarly convention, but it preempts the cumbersome task of repeating the praenomen and the patronym in every instance.

2. Christina Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths of Nomads, Wanderers, Exiles. Stationen einer Korrespondenz,” in Susan Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, edited and commentary by Christina Pareigis (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2011), pp. 262–264; and in much more detail in Christina Pareigis, Susan Taubes: Eine intellektuelle Biographie (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2020), pp. 79–120.

3. See the letter from September 26, 1950, in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §6, p. 26: “In my separation from you I need almost more privacy than a pair of lovers and I suffer to be with the ‘Parents’ with ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ although not alone with Father because he is also a good and wise man.” See, by contrast, the fictionalized account of Sophie’s relationship to her father in Susan Taubes, Divorcing, introduction by David Rieff (New York: New York Review of Books, 2020), p. 126:

Sophie still hadn’t found any way to disagree with her father openly, except to blurt out her feelings like a child. This did not work. In her father’s universe, emotion, tears, rage discredited you. She retreated into silence. There was only one course left to her, refusal to enter into argument. His premises may be fine for his patients. She had others. No, she was not interested in what motivated people. She didn’t “reject” Freud. She just did not find it as interesting as works of literature. No, she was not interested in explaining people or anything. He persisted in questioning her interests, aims, ambitions. She answered evasively. It was as painful for him to disavow her as for her to be disavowed.

The curtain separating fact and fiction is very thin, if it is indeed appropriate to speak of any curtain at all. Consider Sophie’s response, ibid., pp. 131–132, to her father’s question about what kind of book she was writing: “‘It’s not really fiction,’ she is trying to explain to him, ‘it should please you—’ . . . ‘What kind of book are you writing?’ he asks, as they continue walking. ‘Can you explain to me what kind of book this is?’” On a different note, it is worth pondering the comment attributed to Sophie’s father at the trial of her divorce from Ezra, ibid., p. 144: “How can a jury evaluate my daughter’s character without even touching on the crucial factors of her infantile sexual development? The fact is that a woman’s success as a wife depends entirely on how she has resolved her oedipal conflicts.”

4. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §29, p. 81. See the pejorative depiction of Sophie’s mother in Taubes, Divorcing, p. 135: “There is a commotion as KAMILLA DE VITHEZY, Sophie’s mother, enters, making her way to the coffin carrying a fur coat on each arm. Everyone is scandalized. The rabbis and their wives jeer with disgust at her perfume, jewelry and the fur coats” (emphasis in original).

5. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §29, p. 82. Compare the description of the relationship between Sophie’s parents in Taubes, Divorcing, pp. 128–129:

In 1951 her mother came to settle in America, perhaps longing for a reconciliation with her former husband. Nothing of the sort materialized. Her father, while solicitous for her welfare, could not tolerate her manner, and she in turn could not take his chronic annoyance and picking her apart. He did not permit her to visit him in Garfield. Ritual meetings, and then only long-distance calls once or twice a year, were still maintained. But he was pained by the estrangement between mother and daughter. He was anxious that Sophie be on at least civil terms with her mother.

Compare the words of Aunt Olga to Sophie in ibid., p. 148: “As for your mother—forget about her. You two have nothing in common.”

6. Ibid., p. 175.

7. Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths,” pp. 264–272; idem, Susan Taubes, pp. 123–152. For a detailed account of the early relationship of Jacob and Susan leading to their marriage, see Jerry Z. Muller, Professor of Apocalypse: The Many Lives of Jacob Taubes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022), pp. 134–140.

8. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §4, p. 23; §6, p. 25; §7, p. 31; §29, p. 82; §65, p. 162; §66, p. 164; §82, pp. 189–190; §91, p. 207; §92, p. 209; §94, p. 211; §96, p. 214; §99, p. 218; Susan Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, edited and commentary by Christina Pareigis (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2014), §202, pp. 145–146. Evidence for the difficulty of Susan’s relation to Stearns may be drawn from disparaging comments found in a number of the letters. See Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §8, p. 34: “Miss Stearns is very queer—we talk + talk but don’t really bite into anything.” See ibid., §24, p. 70: “The great ἔρος you have wakened in me passes into ἔργα I work hard on my thesis; and have no one to talk to; and my intellections have no beginning, middle or end, my mind resembles my sex I am an O. (But even that is better than being like a Miss Stearns. [)]” And ibid., §44, p. 119: “The talk with Stearns on Heidegger was very good—she understands quite a lot the poor being and I will go ahead to write a nice paper on the Heideggerian myth.” And ibid., §94, p. 211: “It was a ghostly time talking to Stearns.” On the Whiteheadian influence on Stearns and its impact on Susan, see Pareigis, Susan Taubes, p. 141.

9. Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths,” pp. 286–287; idem, Susan Taubes, pp. 223–224.

10. Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths,” p. 288; idem, Susan Taubes, pp. 282–283. According to the language of Susan’s letter to Jacob written on July 17, 1954, from North Haven, Maine, preserved in the personal archives of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann in the National Library of Israel, she was “finishing off a little book on Simone Weil—a critique of ‘mystical atheism’.” The passage is cited by Pareigis, Susan Taubes, p. 285, who points out that the “little book” evolved into her doctoral thesis encompassing 436 pages. For more on the change in the dissertation topic, see ch. 3 n. 5.

11. Susan Taubes, Prosaschriften, edited and commentary by Christina Pareigis, translated by Werner Richter (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2015), pp. 113–231. Since I do not have access to the original English, in this book, I have availed myself of the German translation and have on occasion translated the text back into English. For an analysis of this work, see Pareigis, Susan Taubes, pp. 57–58, 189–190, 350–354. It is worth noting that on January 25, 1966, Susan performed a reading from A Lament for Julia at the Bunting Institute Seminars hosted by Radcliffe College. See repositories/8/archival_objects/1738704

12. Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journal and Notebooks 1964–1980, edited by David Rieff (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 336: “Susan [Taubes]: same name as me, ma sosie [‘my double’], also unassimilable” (emphasis in original). The comment is made in the context of Sontag noting the two deaths in her life: the death of her father in 1938 and the death of Susan Taubes in 1969. On the impact of Susan Taubes’s suicide, see also the entry from July 25, 1974, ibid., p. 375: “All my life I have been thinking about death, + it is a subject I am now getting a little tired of. Not, I think, because I am closer to my own death—but because death has finally become real. (> Death of Susan [Taubes]).”

13. Ibid., p. 108. In the entry written on May 25, 1970, ibid., p. 299, Sontag records her intent to write a “philosophical dialogue” called “Reasons for Being,” which she further describes as a “meditation on suicide, inspired by Susan [Taubes]’s death.”

14. Taubes, Divorcing, p. viii. It is noteworthy, as Rieff recounts, that the working title of Divorcing was To America and Back in a Coffin.

15. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §24, p. 71: “I need not be ashamed to say about my husband that he is a person without whom my own self is inconceivable, that he is more daemon than man and in whom λόγος and ἔρος find their deepest identity.” See ibid., §33, p. 92: “Oh I am so deeply in love, all my spirit, all my logos and eros reaches out to you, opens to you and is full of you.” Consider also the observation of Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths,” p. 260: “Die Universitätsöffentlichkeit nahm das Paar als faszinierende Verbindung von Intellekt und Eros wahr.”

16. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §28, p. 80, where Susan wrote to Jacob: “I trust you utterly—a poor and prostituted word this ‘trust’—but it was this boundless, terrifying trust I felt when I went on my knees before you and I pray, neither the ‘wisdoms’ of logos nor of eros should ever confound this trust.” Compare Susan’s reflections in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §141, p. 33: “In Paris eros plays a decisive role for one’s philosophy—I mean the young couples I’ve met who love are quite disinterested in existentialism: And—for one who sleeps alone Paris is just a lonely big city. If the heart is aching, Paris, like wine, increases the sadness.”

17. Ibid., §237, pp. 213–214. On another possible echo of the language of Song of Songs, see Susan’s letter to Jacob cited in ch. 5 at n. 7. And compare the image of the lilies of the Galilee in Susan’s lyric cited in ch. 2 at n. 56. See also the passage from Divorcing cited in ch. 1 at n. 211.

18. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §35, p. 99. Compare the words spoken by Ezra in Taubes, Divorcing, p. 138:

Sophie was raised by an atheist father. She read the books of Moses for the first time in a literature course at Bryn Mawr. . . . She was a virgin. I read to her the book of prophets Hosea: the parable of the sacred marriage between God and Israel, spoke of the sanctification of life, explained to her the paradox of the law Credo quia absurdum.

19. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §158, p. 68. It is of interest to consider if Jacob’s referring to Susan as “his animal” reflects a paradisiacal understanding of animality that was expressed more overtly by Susan. See ch. 1 at n. 80. For a more denigrating use of the term “animal” to denote untoward human sexual behavior, see the passage from Divorcing cited in ch. 1 n. 145.

20. A somewhat humorous expression of Susan’s sadness in being separated from Jacob appears in the letter written on November 3, 1950, in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §28, p. 78: “Your last letter was so beautiful, full of strength and good cheer—and I am ashamed that for days I miss you so passionately and without peace or comfort that the Indian sages on the way to Nirvana would look at me with scorn.”

21. See the letter to Jacob written on October 30, 1950, ibid., §26, p. 75: “Jacob, every word you write is such a blessing and healing. Like in prolonged physical starvation—absence of you begins to have effects—my soul just aches, like a hungry stomach or a beaten back. Oh my dear, my undefiled one I love you, cherish yourself! your S.” On Susan’s desire and dreaming of being in bed with Jacob, see ibid., §41, p. 113 and §49, p. 133. And compare the letter from February 28, 1952, in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §187, p. 114, cited in ch. 5 at n. 11.

22. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §6, p. 25.

23. Ibid., §19, p. 60.

24. See Susan’s letter to Jacob written on October 11, 1950, in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §13, p. 47: “Beloved one, so far so secret—do you love me? How do you love me? Oh tell me how!” See as well Susan’s letter to Jacob written on January 9, 1952, in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §141, p. 35: “I love you very deeply and long for you. But time is rushing and Paris is very good for me. Goodnight my beloved child. Do you love me? A little?” And in her letter from May 4, 1952, ibid., §237, p. 215: “I love you, yes! and I suffer without you. Do write me what you think about my coming. Write at least that you love me—at least 2 lines.” See also the letter from May 21, 1952, ibid., §246, p. 231: “I long for you so much; sometimes it’s agony and always it’s sad. I’ll take my poor body to the sea. Write to me sometimes that you love me a little.” And in Susan’s letter from May 26–27, 1952, ibid., §249, p. 235: “I count the days till July. Do you love me?” Susan’s insecurity notwithstanding, Jacob is less inhibited about expressing his love and longing for her in some of his letters. See, for instance, ibid., §212, p. 164: “Ach ich sehne mich schon sehr nach dir, die Tage rinnen so leer und freudenlos dahin.” But, on the whole, Jacob is far more reserved about sharing feelings and romantic desires in his letters, a point made by Gregor Dotzauer, “Meine schöner Teufelsknabe. Pariser Erleuchtungen anno 1952: Susan Taubes schreibt Jacob Taubes,” Der Tagesspiegel (February 16, 2014), philosophie-mein-schoener-teufelsknabe/9488286.html

25. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §112, p. 234. On the depiction of Jacob as “more daemon than man,” see the letter cited above, n. 15. The use of the expression “good genius” to refer to Jacob appears in several of Susan’s letters. See ibid., §8, p. 35; §11, p. 42; §15, p. 54; §16, p. 55; §33, p. 91; §51, p. 136; §83, p. 191; §101, p. 221.

26. Ibid., §18, p. 59.

27. Ibid., §115, p. 242.

28. Jacob Taubes, “The Development of the Ontological Question in Recent German Philosophy,” Review of Metaphysics 6 (1953): 651–664. It is noteworthy that Susan translated this essay. See the comments of Pareigis in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §130, p. 13 n. 5, and Susan’s remarks in ibid., §181, p. 105 and §193, pp. 130–131. There are allusions to the essay in other letters. See ibid., §240, p. 218 and §243, p. 225. On Jacob’s producing a Hebrew translation of the essay, see his comments in the letter to Susan from January 14, 1952, in ibid., §145, p. 42. The German version “Die Entwicklung der ontologischen Frage in der jüngeren deutschen Philosophie,” translated from the English by Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink, is printed in Jacob Taubes, Apokalypse und Politik: Aufsätze, Kritiken und kleinere Schriften, edited by Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink and Martin Treml, with the collaboration of Theresia Heuer and Anja Schipke (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2017), pp. 52–66.

29. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §193, pp. 130–131.

30. On Heidegger’s “tortured historical mysticism,” see ibid., §150, p. 54, cited in ch. 2 at n. 75.

31. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §134, p. 19; §149, p. 51; §150, p. 53; §155, p. 61; §186, p. 113. Jacob appropriates the term Teufelsknabe to refer to himself in the letter from December 7, 1951, ibid., §140, p. 32. This locution juxtaposes two ostensibly disparate terms, “Teufel,” which denotes the devil, and “Knabe,” which denotes a young and presumably innocent boy. It seems that Susan was trying to communicate that Jacob embodied simultaneously the qualities of boyishness and devilishness. Compare ibid., §178, p. 100: “I love you terribly, my Jacob, my scheming one, my demonic one. Live at your level and don’t be a schmuli.” On occasion, Susan uses other deprecating terms to poke fun at Jacob, but one can imagine she does so as a gesture of endearment. See, for instance, Susan’s referring to Jacob as a blockhead (dummkopf) in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §33, p. 91. The same term is applied to Kierkegaard, ibid., §32, p. 87, and to herself, ibid., §77, p. 182. And see the use of the term Schnackerl in Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §170, p. 87 and §171, p. 89.

32. Ibid., §225, p. 190.

33. Ibid., §235, p. 210.

34. Pareigis, Susan Taubes. The monograph is an expansion of Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths.”

35. Elliot R. Wolfson, “Gnosis and the Covert Theology of Antitheology: Heidegger, Apocalypticism, and Gnosticism in Susan and Jacob Taubes,” in Depeche Mode: Jacob Taubes Between Politics, Philosophy, and Religion, edited by Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink and Hartmut von Sass (Leiden: Brill, 2022), pp. 151–202.

36. To cite one example of Susan’s indebtedness to Jacob, see Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §245, p. 228: “Your two letters on Heidegger came this morning. It is marvelous how you sum up the new Heidegger in a few points* [*which I shall use with your permission].” On Jacob’s somewhat distinctive interest in Heidegger during the early years when he was in Jerusalem, and it was not fashionable to engage with this philosopher given his links to National Socialism, see Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths,” p. 278; idem, Susan Taubes, pp. 204–205. And see now the section “Apotheosis and Fall—Heidegger’s Ambivalence in Taubes’s Thought” in Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink, “The Boredom of ‘Pure Philosophy’: Jacob Taubes, Academic Philosophy, and the Challenge of Theologico-Philosophical Intervention,” in Depeche Mode, pp. 85–89.

37. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §33, p. 92, cited in this volume, ch. 1 n. 173. A striking example of Jacob’s misogyny is found in a letter he wrote to Tamara Fuchs on September 24, 1955, cited by Pareigis, Susan Taubes, p. 285:

Susan Anima works frantically on her PhD-thesis . . . on Simone Weil, all exams behind her. I marvel the discipline of the “weaker” sex. Taking care of Ethan Josiah would wear me out. But Susan Anima is able to concentrate the minute Ethan Josiah goes out of the house. He stays for three hours in a nursery school.

Admittedly, Jacob praises Susan, but he does so within the context of labeling her part of the weaker sex! For a fictionalized description of Susan’s attending to her two young children, see Taubes, Divorcing, p. 35.

38. The structure of my argument, of course, is reminiscent of the analysis in Marlène Zarader, La Dette impensée: Heidegger et l’héritage hébraïque (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1990), which explores the manner in which the Hebraic heritage influenced Heidegger’s thought, principally in his appropriation of biblical faith through the medium of Christianity, which, together with Greek thought, comprise the foundations of occidental culture. For the English version, see Marlène Zarader, The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage, translated by Bettina Bergo (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). The unthought in Heidegger’s thought that I have emphasized is related more specifically to traces of medieval kabbalistic ideas. It should be noted, however, that Zarader, The Unthought Debt, pp. 130–138, does compare Heidegger’s conception of nothingness and the domain of being’s withdrawal to kabbalistic speculation on ṣimṣum, the contraction of infinity to create the vacuum within the plenum. For discussion and additional references, see Elliot R. Wolfson, Heidegger and Kabbalah: Hidden Gnosis and the Path of Poiēsis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019), pp. 1–9 and the accompanying footnotes.

39. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1952, §141, p. 34. See ch. 5 n. 185.

40. Ibid., §236, p. 211. A sarcastic rebuke of ethnocentrism on the part of Orthodox Jews can be discerned in the following passage about Sophie’s paternal great-grandfather, Reb Simon of Nyitra, in Taubes, Divorcing, p. 111:

When disciples came to ask him what a man needed in order to be happy he answered, “A yid soll man sein und appetit soll man haben.” (One should be a Jew and one should have a good appetite.) He used to say that he couldn’t understand how a goy can be happy: he does not eat kosher food and does not apply tefillin (phylacteries).

See ibid., p. 133, where Sophie’s father, Rudolf Landsmann, gives the name of his grandfather as Reb Smuel of Nyitra.

41. It is of interest to think about Susan’s negotiating her Jewishness in light of this remark of Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks 1947–1963, edited by David Rieff (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), p. 214: “Impress of Judaism on my character, my tastes, my intellectual persuasions, the very posture of my personality. The continuing effort to justify being Jewish.”

42. Based on Psalms 137:5–6.

43. Taubes, Divorcing, pp. 89–90.

44. The expression “Heimat im Exil” is coined by Pareigis, “The Conflicting Paths,” pp. 282–283. The theme of radical not-belonging (radikal nicht-zugehörig) and being in exile everywhere (überall im Exil) is accentuated by Johanna-Charlotte Horst, “Überall im Exil: Christina Pareigis’ Biografie von Susan Taubes,” Süddeutsche Zeitung (March 3, 2021).

45. Taubes, Die Korrespondenz mit Jacob Taubes 1950–1951, §11, p. 41.

46. Ibid., p. 42.

47. Taubes, Divorcing, p. 14.

48. Marina Tsvetaeva, Selected Poems, translated and introduced by Elaine Feinstein (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), pp. 86–87. For a different rendering, see Marina Tsvetaeva, “Poem of the End,” translated by Mary Jane White, The Hudson Review 61 (2009): 713: