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In Memoriam: Arnold Heidsieck, 72

The philosophy professor and lead authority on writer Franz Kafka had been with USC College for 34 years.

Arnold Heidsieck, professor of philosophy in USC College, wrote a seminal book about writer Franz Kafka, <em>The Intellectual Contexts of Kafka's Fictions: Philosophy, Law and Religion</em> (Camden House, 1994).  Photo courtesy of Vera Wheeler.
Arnold Heidsieck, professor of philosophy in USC College, wrote a seminal book about writer Franz Kafka, The Intellectual Contexts of Kafka's Fictions: Philosophy, Law and Religion (Camden House, 1994). Photo courtesy of Vera Wheeler.

Arnold Heidsieck, professor of philosophy in USC College, preeminent scholar in German and European intellectual history and literature, particularly Jewish Prague-born 20th-century writer Franz Kafka, has died. He was 72.

Heidsieck died after battling cancer on September 23 in the Venice, Calif., home of his companion, Kay Hammer.

“Arnold was a very proud, independent person,” said Vera Wheeler, a 35-year family friend, who was also with him when he died. “He had strong opinions and set high standards for himself and his colleagues.”

Cornelius Schnauber, emeritus associate professor of German, hired Heidsieck as an assistant professor in 1975, then four years later backed his tenure and promotion to associate professor. He later became professor.

“Arnold was very friendly, but when it came to scholarly discussions during departmental meetings, he could be a fighter,” Schnauber said. “He was very strong in his beliefs.”

Schnauber said Heidsieck was extremely knowledgeable in secondary literature, dissecting the works of acclaimed authors. He wrote scholarly books and essays in English and German.

In Heidsieck’s seminal book, The Intellectual Contexts of Kafka’s Fictions: Philosophy, Law and Religion (Camden House, 1994), he illustrates how the modernist innovations in Kafka’s fiction were formed by non-literary influences in the areas of cognitive psychology, philosophy, jurisprudence and theology.

“This is an important and carefully-researched study which adds to our understanding of Kafka as a historical person whose imaginative writings are rooted in the intellectual and social climate of his time,” asserted W.J. Dodd in the Journal of European Studies.

Among many papers studying Holocaust literature and memory, Heidsieck wrote about Jakob Littner’s Journey Through the Night, examining how the eyewitness account of a Holocaust survivor had been published as fiction for about five decades until finally being reissued as a memoir in 2000.

“When it comes to the Holocaust, factuality and fictionality are divided by more than just a line,” Heidsieck wrote in 2002. “They may in fact be divided by infinite space. Perhaps the ever-increasing historical distance from the event is narrowing down this space.”

He also critiqued German writer Martin Walser’s views on German and Jewish memory of the Holocaust, calling them paradoxical: “Walser’s playing with alternative pasts demonstrates his difficulty accepting the actual German history,” Heidsieck wrote.

One of eight children, Heidsieck was born in Leipzig, Germany, February 20, 1937, and grew up in Breslau, now Wroclaw, Poland.

Heidsieck came from a long line of scholars. His maternal grandfather, Arnold Meyer, was a protestant theologian and president of the University of Zurich in Switzerland. His uncle, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, was a reigning classics scholar at the University in Tübingen, Germany.

He studied theology at the University of Tübingen before earning his Ph.D. in 1966 at the Free University of Berlin, where he studied under German literary scholar Wilhelm Emerich.

In 1967, he came to the United States to teach languages and literature at New York University, where he stayed for seven years before teaching for a short time at Stanford University.

He joined USC College in 1975 and later served as chair of the Department of German. He had been looking forward to teaching a course on Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx in the School of Philosophy when he fell ill.

“He really loved USC and loved the community at USC,” said Marjorie Heidsieck, of West Hollywood, who was married to Heidsieck in the 1970s. “He loved his job, loved teaching and was privileged to be a USC professor.”

Heidsieck, who remained good friends with her former husband, said he particularly enjoyed being on examination committees for Ph.D. candidates in philosophy.

Friends remembered Heidsieck’s dedication to staying physically fit. He lived in Venice Beach across the street from the ocean for 30 years. Until he became too ill, he would swim in the ocean each day. He also practiced karate and once climbed the Grand Canyon.

“Arnold had a lot of energy,” said Paul Lerner, associate professor of history, a friend for a decade. “I’ll always picture him rushing around campus with a leather bag around his shoulder, in a good mood, with a spring in his step.”

Heidsieck was preceded in death by brothers Alfred and Werner Heidsieck. He is survived by brothers Günter, Erich and Cordt Heidsieck, sisters Imme Schuler and Gesine Jäger, and many nieces and nephews, all of Germany.

There will be no funeral. Two memorial services will take place.

The first is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, at Gates, Kingsley & Gates Smith-Salsbury Funeral Home, 4220 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City.

The second is set for 5 p.m., Wednesday, October 7, at USC, The Reverend Thomas Kilgore, Jr. Chapel of the Cross located in the University Religious Center, 835 W. 34th St.

Donations may be made to USC Norris Cancer Center. For more information, e-mail Vera Wheeler at