By Bernard Radloff. From Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory, ed. Irena Makaryk. (U of Toronto Press, 1993).
HEIDEGGER, Martin. (b. Germany, 1889-d. 1976). Philosopher. A student of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger emerged from and transformed the phenomenological movement and the hermeneutic tradition of continental philosophy. He taught at Marburg (1923-8) and Freiburg im Breisgau (1928-44) and was briefly rector of Freiburg University (1933-4). Heidegger's work has influenced much contemporary thought: existentialists (Jean-Paul Sartre), Marxists and poststructuralists (Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard) have taken up his critique of modern society, technology and the 'logocentrism' of metaphysics. Ontological hermeneutics (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricœur) owes much to Heidegger's understanding of language and history. See also phenomenological criticism, Marxist criticism, post-structuralism).
Heidegger's first studies were theological and through many transformations the question of the relation of the logos to the divine remained central to all his work. By his own account, the central question of Heidegger's thought is the question of being: what does it mean to say that a human being, a thing, a work is, each in its own way in being? Heidegger's investigation of this question—which is both 'systematic' and 'historical'—calls for the radical dismantling and recovery on a more primordial ground of the entire metaphysical tradition, from its Greek beginnings to its consummation in and dissolution into the technological practices and metadiscourses of our time. The question of art, in turn, is implicated in the being-question and Heidegger thus calls for the abandonment of the metaphysical premises of aesthetics.
One may distinguish at least six major phases in his thought directly or indirectly pertinent to an exploration of the arts: (1) Sein und Zeit [Being and Time 1927] and the lectures on mood —Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik (1929-30)—the first remains the starting point for any reflection on a 'Heideggerian' literary theory: (2) 'The Origin of the Literary Work of Art' (1936) and the Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis 1936-38), its systematic context; (3) the Hölderlin lectures (volumes 39, 52 and 53 in the complete edition); (4) Heidegger's recovery of Friedrich Nietzsche's aesthetics (The Will to Power as Art 1936-7); (5) the late essays on language and poetry collected in On the Way to Language (1959); (6) essays on technology and the fate of art and thought in the in technological era (Discourse on Thinking 1959; 'The Question Concerning Technology' 1953). The question of art as it is posed within the horizon of technology is the essential source of Heidegger's reflection on art. The arts, in Heidegger's estimate, have the potential of bringing to light and 'in-corporating' the dynamic event of the arrival and departure of beings into being in the face of a technological modelling of all that is as static, 'finished' products on line and on call.
Sein und Zeit (1927), Heidegger's first major work, has as its goal the analysis of the structure of human being taken as a clue to the investigation of the meaning—the different possible senses—of being. Human being, or Da-sein, is understood as openness-to-being: Dasein is the site where beings manifest themselves. The analysis of language, truth and 'emotion' carried out in this work, while far removed from the specific concerns of literary theory, nonetheless offers the bassi for a radical reappraisal of literature (Corngold; Marshall). The language of poetry has traditionally been regarded as being without 'truth value'. In the formulation of I.A. Richards, it is composed of 'pseudo-statements' which are parasitical (J.L. Austin) upon 'normal' language use: given that poetic devices have a merely decorative function without cognitive insight, the chief 'value' of poetry finally resolves itself into its ability to communicate sincerely the emotion of the speaker. This account rests on the assumptions that the pre-eminent form of language use is the propositional schema of the statement and that truth is a property of the proposition.
In deconstructing this metaphysical doctrine, Heidegger allows that the origin of truth is not the proposition but the disclosure of the things themselves (See *deconstruction). For in order for a statement to say truely or falsely about something, thus corresponding or failing to correspond to it, the thins must already be manifest. Truth as the openness of manifestation, as the 'unhidenness' of beings (the Greek aletheia), is the condition of the 'truth' of the statement. The statement, moreover, is just one, derivative way in which things can be disclosed and thus become meaningful. What Heidegger calls *discourse (die Rede)—understood as the articulation or 'jointedness' of the meaningfulness of Dasein's being in the word—articulates itself more primordially in other forms of disclosure—for example, in action, in silence and in art works. The power of literature to disclose, therefore, cannot be judged by the criterion of the proposition. The truth of the artwork ultimately rests on its power to found a structure of meaning or 'world'. Propositional language-use makes statements about aspects of the alreayd founded and is in this sense less primordial than the linguistic work.
Inasmuch as Heidegger deconstructs the metaphysics of subjectivity he also distances himself from the long-standing aesthetic problems associated with the concept of 'aesthetic emotions' and attempts to ground the nature of 'emotion' in the fundamental structure of Dasein. Human being is always open—and at the same time closed—to beings; we are always already prereflectively disposed to our being in the world as a whole. Disposition (die Befindlichkeit), which opens the whole of what is to us to disclose and conceal our world, expresses itself through different ways of being attuned (die Stimmung) to and at one with things. Emotions arise out of our being attuned, out of the rhythm of our involvement with things. Heidegger argues that the 'subject' in its self-consciousness and the 'objective' world of 'facts' are equally derivative abstractions from the unitary structure of a given rhythm. In Heidegger's estimation, literary works (as well as other art forms) play an essential role in communicationg attunements or moods. The work discloses the meaningful whole of a set of relations. In effect, it manifests the possibilities for being of a fictional world by giving expression to the governing moods which modulate the work to attune the different modes of being presented in it—the being of humans, of nature, of the diviniti3es—to each other. The modes of attunement of the 'chain of being', as presented in a literary work, would correspond in some respect to the traditional plot forms which developed in the course of literary history. By the same measure, tropes articulate the interconnectedness and mutual sympathy of different modes of being on the microlevel of the work: hence, Dylan Thomas's 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, / Drives my green age' gathers the human, organic and inorganic into one articulated whole.
In later works (in his Hölderlin lectures), Heidegger argues that artworks have the potential to inaugurate, as well as to structure and communicate, fundamental attunements; their disclosive power is therefore more primordial than that of rational discourse, for reason always operates within a horizon of disclosure opened up by an attunement. Every attunement is historical, not merely in that a certain 'Zeitgeist' agitates an era, but that the basic, prereflective understanding inherent in an attunement establishes the rhythm of the interrelatedness of beings, the how of their manifestation, and that this rhythm of manifestation inaugurates what we call a 'period' of history. 'Renaissance melancholy', 'Romantic agony', and the stylistic period of art history, for example, may thus be read as conceptualizations of an attunement to beings as a whole. The same goes for current attempts to define *postmodernism by describing its characteristic mood (is it boredom? or panic?).
Heidegger's 'The Origin of the Work of Art' (1936), his ifrst major essay dedicated entirely to the question of art, is central to his development of the question of being, die Seinsfrage. While the 'Origin' does not deal with the issue of the meaning of technology, it is within the horizon of this question that the essay has to be understood to be made fruitful for us. Two key questions are posed. (1) Why art? What necessity for this kind of event and this kind of being in the technological epoch? (2) Why the artwork? What 'originates' the work and in what sense is the work itself an origin?
In his analysis of 'world' in Sein und Zeit, Heidegger begins with a consideration of equipment and its use. The being of equipment, of a tool such as a hammer, for example, is circumscribed by its serviceability and fulfils this being when it unobstrusively 'disappears' into the work-context where it is serviceable. The particular world, moreover, which gives the use of the tool in its immediate work-context its 'rationale', also withdraws from view as long as tools function without breakdown. As Heidegger's late discussions of technology will propose, the smooth frictionless functioning of equipment totalities is the telos of the technological ordering of the modern 'world'. By 'world,' however, Heidegger ultimately understands the event, the open horizon of meaningfulness which constitutes the wherefore and why of technological mastery. 'World' in this dynamic sense is dissimulated by the functioning of the system of production because it aims at presenting all that is as available (or unavailable) stock. Whereas equipment disappears into its functioning, and becomes the function of an equipmental context, art has the power to 'save' the phenomena by allowing each thing to come into its own and shine forth as that which it is. The artwork acts as a kind of midwife to manifestation, which is to say, to the emergence of truth; its truth-potential is greater than that of equipment in the rank order of beings because it allows the things to be—to come into their own—more fully. In the late essays collected in On the Way to Language Heidegger allows that it is ultimately the essence of language as 'saying' (die Sage) which calls upon things to show, to 'own' themselves as that which they are. The structure of the artwork, moreover, manifests the world-as-event, bringing it out of the concealment into which it is cast by the opacity of technological functioning. In this way, by bringing a world to light, and by saving the phenomena from becoming transparent functions and weightless simulacra of themselves, art becomes necessary to the manifestation of the being of beings.
The artwork comprehends the structure of an event which includes the artist (who comes into being through the work) and the 'audience' (die Bewharenden—the 'preservers')—which 'preserves' the work by letting the work happen, put itself to work, in their lives. Only in a derivative sense, therefore, is the work an object of aesthetic contemplatin defined by its formal qualities. In Heidegger's estimation, the object-being of art, which is inscribed by cultural critique, institutionalization and the economics of the art industry, is a relatively static representation and derivation of its work-being. But neither is the literary work, for example, a '*text' understood as a subsystem of signifiers fading away at the edges, as it were, into the context of 'writing in general'. (See *signified/signifier/signification.) The work has its own, unique self-subsistence and shines forth without the limits set by its form. The self-subsistence of the work, which withdraws it from the grasp of conceptuality, is what Heidegger calls 'earth.' The work unites in a fruitful strife the intelligibility of a world and the self-seclusion and withdrawal of earth. The ways in which a historical earth and world are attuned to each other gives the work its unique structure. It is precisely as this unique 'thing' that the work works and it works by enacting and incorporating the event of the emergence of beings. But emergence into manifestation is itself the primordial sense of 'truth.' Hence the origin of the work is the happening of truth, inasmuch as it incrporates itself in a being. With this incorporation, the work itself becomes an origin: for just as a sculpture, one of Henry Moore's 'Reclining Figures' for example, creates its own space, so the work opens up a new site, and new possibilities for being emerge from the rhythm it establishes in the midst of beings. The work 'legislates' by setting the measure for beings by overthrowing conventional ways of seeing to found a new law.
Broadly speaking, Heidegger's explication and 'mystical' reflections on Hölderlin may be considered as a more concrete working out of the conditions of authentic community and historicity first broached in Being in Time. The lectures devoted to this poet mark a crucial turning in Heidegger's thought: for example, the potential of art will be unrealized and the work remain a truncated fragment as long as the earth does not become a homeland (Heimat) to its peoples. The homeland has nothing to do with the modern nation-state, for this collective entity is conditioned by the metaphysical tradition beyond which Heidegger seeks to go. The homeland rather is as the healing whole of the mutual attunement of a people and their earth. This attunement realizes itself in the festival when the wholeness of the homeland sends itself to humanity in the guise of the messengers (the gods) of the holy. The poet receives these messengers and incorporates their message in the work ('Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry').
The seemingly hermetic character of Heidegger's encounter with Hölderlin apparently offers no way, no methodology, which might guide us toward the 'same' goal or insight. Hence the frustration of many commentators (de Man, Fynsk). Yet Heidegger would argue that his approach to Hölderlin is as rigorously phenomenological (although in a transformed sense) as his description of Dasein in Sein und Zeit. In fact, it can be argued that Heidegger's way to the things themselves, inlcuding the poem, cannot be a methodology. In section 77 of the Beiträge, entitled 'Sätze über "die Wissenschaft"' ('Statements Concerning Science'), Heidegger takes issue with the premises of the modern sciences (die Wissenschaft includes the human as well as the natural sciences). Heidegger does not consider science—and thus also literary theory and criticism to the extent that they aspire to formulate a methodology and become systematic—as a form of knowledge, but rather as the derivative institutionalization of a knowledge of of the truth (the manifestation) of beings. Hence every attempt to formulate a methodological approach to poetry would exclude itself from the truth of poetry (which does not mean that a methodology could not ascertain much that is correct). Literary theory predetermines the totality of its object area or field as already known in advance. Its investigations amount to determinations of the correctness or incorrectness of statements within the field of the given. It is precisely this presupposition, that poetry belongs to the already-given, which Heidegger questions (poetry is rather the radical overthrown of the given if it 'is'—in being [as origin]—at all). Confirmed in its object-being, on the other hand, poetry ceases to be poetry and becomes 'literature'; but with the progressive triumph and pre-eminence of methodology ('theory') over its subject area, even the object-being of the work implodes—it becomes 'text.' Defined as a cultural object or an ideological structure, as an expression of the artist or as a formal system, the work is not in being as a work but merely makes itself available in some derivative objectification or function of itself and the general economy which circumscribes it. A 'reform' of method, moreover, cannot change this state of affairs, because what counts methodologically is the production of results, not the essential truth of its subject. A turn in our relation to poetry, Heidegger maintains, is only possible within the horizon of a fundamentally new attunement to the whole of what is: only when we cease to think primarily in categories of production and consumption can poetry come into its own again. While we cannot will such a turn to come about, a turn in our attunement to beings can 'overcome' us insofar as we are open to the mystery of the withdrawal of beings—which postmodernism experiences as the implosion of phenomena—from the vice-grip of technological calculation.
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