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Poetry, Language, Thought Paperback – 1975
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Heidegger ultimately argues that the purpose of art is to mark the boundary between things and being. The contemplation of what it is to Be is the defining characteristic of humanity. All things Are but only humans think about what it is or means to Be.
According to Heidegger, language is merely utilitarian unless it points to beingness. Without illuminating the gap between merely doing things and the awarenss of beingness, language is dead. Language speaks only when it demarks the boundary of the mystery of Being.
Because much poetry explicitly uses language to explore existence beyond the literal, it is the epitome of art - dancing in the gap between language and inarticulable consciousness.
The essays indicate a spiritual understanding of the profound humanness of consciousness of that which is beyond and engages with some poems in a way that tend to indicate a willingness to accept a literal embodiment of Heaven and Earth that strikes me as contrary to the understanding of the mystery of Being discussed outside the context of the specific poems.
Although Heidegger presents himself as a philosopher and a rational thinker, he cannot remain so in the context of this conversation. He is explicitly trying to use language to point out how language is used to illuminate the gap between concrete, objective facts and subjective understandings of the world, amd to do that, he is required to use language in exactly the poetic way he is describing. This is what makes him both so hard to comprehend rationally and so beautiful to read. He is writing poetically on the nature of poetic use of language.
As a reader of poetry and a writer and storyteller, there was nothing in these essays that I didn't already know from my experience working with language and art, but it was a pleasure to engage with a serious thinker thinking seriously about these ideas.
In the final essay in the collection, he makes an argument that Kindness is foundational for human being and awareness of the world that allows for understanding.
Although it is not addressed in this book, this final point about Kindness gets to the heart of the biggest intellectual problem with Heidegger for a modern audience - his anti-Semitic acts and his relationship with Nazism. In Heidegger's thinking, caring is fundamental for knowledge and because human beings are incapable of caring about everything, we cannot help living in a bubble of knowledge surrounded by ignorance. And, it is clear that in his life, his caring did not encompass politics enough for him to see what we now see about the world he lived in.
The editor of this 1971 volume states in the “References” section, “The present volume is composed, with Heidegger’s consent, of writings from various works, chosen because they fit together to bring out the main drift of his thinking that relates poetry, art, thought, and language to Being and to man’s existing as the mortal he is.”
Heidegger says, “The work makes public something other than itself; it manifests something other; it is an allegory. In the work of art something other is brought together with the thing that is made… The work is a symbol… Our aim is to arrive at the immediate and full reality of the work of art, for only in this way shall we discover real art also within it. Hence we must first bring to view the thingly element of the work. To this end it is necessary that we should know with sufficient clarity what a thing is. Only then can we say whether the art work is a thing, but a thing to which something else adheres; only then can we decide whether the work is at bottom something else and not a thing at all.” (Pg. 20)
He points out, “We never really first perceive a throng of sensations, e.g., tones and noises, in the appearance of things---as this thing-concept alleges; rather we hear the storm whistling in the chimney, we hear the three-motored plane, we hear the Mercedes in immediate distinction from the Volkswagen. Much closer to us than all sensations are the things themselves. We hear the door shut in the house and never hear acoustical sensations or even mere sounds. In order to hear a bare sound we have to listen away from things, divert our ear from them, i.e., listen abstractly.” (Pg. 26)
He states, “What seems easier than to let a being be just the being that it is? Or does this turn out to be the most difficult of tasks, particularly is such an intention---to let a being be as it is---represents the opposite of the indifference that simply turns its back upon the being itself in favor of an unexamined concept of being? We ought to turn toward the being, think about it in regard to its being, but by means of this thinking at the same time let it rest upon itself its very own being.” (Pg. 31)
He observes, “All things of earth, and the earth itself as a whole, flow together into a reciprocal accord. But this confluence is not a blurring of their outlines. Here there flows the stream, restful within itself, of the setting of sounds; which delimits everything present within its presence. Thus in each of the self-secluding things there is the same not-knowing-of-one-another. The earth is essentially self-secluding. To set forth the earth means to bring it into the Open as the self-secluding.” (Pg. 47)
He says, “Thus in the work is its truth, not only something true, that is at work. The picture that shows the peasant shoes, the poem that says the Roman fountain, do not just make manifest what this isolated being as such it---if indeed they manifest anything at all; rather, they make unconcealedness as such happen in regard to what is as a whole. The more simply and authentically the shoes are engrossed in their nature, the more plainly and purely the fountain is engrossed in its nature—the more directly and engagingly to all beings attain to a greater degree of being along with them. That is how self-concealing being is illuminated. Light of this kind joins its shining to and into the work. This shining, joined in the work, is the beautiful. Beauty is one way in which truth occurs as unconcealedness.” (Pg. 56)
He summarizes, “Thus art is: the creative preserving of truth in the work. Art then is the becoming and happening of truth… Truth is never gathered from objects that are present and ordinary. Rather, the opening up of the Open, and the clearing of what is, happens only as the openness is projected, sketched out, that makes its advent in thrownness.” (Pg. 71)
In the essay “What are Poets For?” he states: “But the default of God which Hölderlin experienced does not deny that the Christian relationship with God lives on in individuals and in churches; still less does it assess this relationship negatively. The default of God means that no god any longer gathers men and things unto himself, visibly and unequivocally, and by such gathering disposes the world’s history and man’s sojourn in it. The default of God forebodes something even grimmer, however. Not only have the gods and the god fled, but the divine radiance has become extinguished in the world’s history. The time of the world’s night is the destitute time, because it becomes ever more destitute. It has already grown so destitute, it can no longer discern the default of God as a default.” (Pg. 91)
He says in another essay, “technology itself prevents any experience of its nature. For while it is developing its own self to the full, it develops in the sciences a kind of knowing that is debarred from ever entering into the realm of the essential nature of technology, let alone retracing in thought that nature’s origin. The essence of technology comes to the light of day only slowly. This day is the world’s night, rearranged into merely technological day… The danger consists in the threat that assaults man’s nature in his relation to Being itself, and not in accidental perils. This danger is THE danger. It conceals itself in the abyss that underlies all beings. To see this danger and point it out, there must be mortals who reach sooner into the abyss.” (Pg. 117)
He asserts, “In the conversion of objective representation, the logic of the heart corresponds to the saying of the inner recall. In both realms, which are determined metaphysically, logic prevails, because the inner recalling is supposed to create a secureness, out of unshieldness itself and outside all shielding. This safekeeping is of concern to man as the being who has language… This is why the ‘logos’ … requires organization by logic. Only within metaphysics does logic exist.” (Pg. 133)
He contends, “Science’s knowledge, which is compelling within its own sphere, the sphere of objects, already had annihilated things as things long before the atom bomb exploded. The bomb’s explosion is only the grossest of all gross confirmations of the long-since-accomplished annihilation of the thing: the confirmation that the thing as a thing remains nil… That annihilation is so weird because it carries before it a twofold delusion: first, the notion that science is superior to all other experience in teaching the real in its reality, and second, the illusion that, notwithstanding the scientific investigation of reality, things could still be things, which would presuppose that they had once been in full possession of their thinghood.” (Pg. 170)
In the final essay, he observes, “dwelling occurs only when poetry comes to pass and is present, and indeed in the way whose nature we have now have some idea of, as taking a measure for all measuring… Nor is poetry building in the sense of raising and fitting buildings. But poetry, as the authentic gauging of the dimension of dwelling, is the primal form of building. Poetry first of all admits man’s dwelling into its very nature, its presencing being. Poetry is the original admission of dwelling.” (Pg. 227)
These essays reveal another side of Heidegger, which is not seen as clearly in his more “metaphysical” works. It will be of definite interest to anyone studying his thought.