Martin Heidegger 1889–1976
German critic and philosopher.
Heidegger is considered by many critics the most original thinker to have emerged from modern European aesthetics. His entire oeuvre was devoted to the question of the meaning of Being in the universe. For humanity, Heidegger believed, Being is limited, because all who exist eventually die. His term for this life cycle was "Dasein," or "being there." Heidegger used his idea of "Dasein" to explain that existence is predicated on its negation, death.
Although Heidegger's concept of Being is philosophically oriented, he also used his theories to comment on both language and poetry. For Heidegger, language is fundamental to Being. Language is the foundation on which the entire idea of existence rests; as he said, "Only where there is language is there world." And, for Heidegger, the purpose of poetry is to define "the condition of man's existence as historical beings." In Was Heisst Danken? (What Is Called Thinking?), Heidegger declared that the supreme purpose of the poet is to combine his ideas with those of the philosopher to solidify the foundations of Being. Heidegger wrote important hermeneutical studies of Stefan George, Georg Trakl, and Rainer Maria Rilke, among other poets.
Heidegger's concept of "Dasein" was introduced in European philosophical circles around the same time as existentialism. Despite being associated by other philosophers with Jean-Paul Sartre, however, Heidegger denied any existentialist influence. He stated that he was concerned with Being as a concept, rather than emphasizing the human element of that concept, as Sartre did. Although Heidegger's influence in Germany has waned, his opinions are still considered extremely important by most philosophers due to his influence on Sartre, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, and Paul de Man.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84 and Vols. 65-68 [obituary].)
The mere fact that Heidegger has thought Trakl worthy of his particular form of exegesis, which combines what seems like close textual analysis with the most far-reaching philosophical deductions, implies one kind of affinity between Trakl and the other German poets—Hölderlin and Rilke—to whom Heidegger has devoted [studies similar to his Georg Trakl]; this affinity, of course, is one of perception, and it undoubtedly exists. But only a poet who uses words with the utmost precision, and with the utmost consistency as well, can be expected to bear the weight of Heidegger's exegesis; and Trakl's use of imagery, on which every interpretation of his poems must rest, was not consistent. (p. 250)
[It] is from Hölderlin that [Heidegger] derived many of his ideas about the function of poetry, and it is in the light of these ideas that he examines Trakl's work, inevitably linking it to Hölderlin's. Heidegger believes that the function of poets is "to name what is holy"; but this naming, he writes, "does not consist in merely giving a name to something already known, but only when the poet speaks the significant word is the existent nominated into what it is. Poetry is the institution in words of being." This view is not very different from Rilke's conception of poetry as affirmation and praise of the visible world, and its transformation in the poet's "inwardness" into pure significance. Heidegger goes further than Rilke only in...
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The influence, direct and indirect, of ["Being and Time" ("Sein und Zeit")], not only in philosophy but literature and psychology, has reached a point where its admirers characterize it as a work that has changed the intellectual map of the modern world. To this some of Heidegger's detractors agree, but add that he has changed the map of the world by overturning a bottle of ink on it. Numerous interpreters have tried to make sense of the blots produced, projecting naturally their own needs and interests into the reading of it.
The claims and counterclaims are both exaggerated. Heidegger has exercised a profound influence on European (and Japanese!) philosophers, on the existentialist school of psychoanalysis, and on theologians who have used his critique of reason to reinforce their leap of faith over the abyss of dread to which his thought leads. His influence on the literature and drama of the absurd has been mediated through Sartre. It would be far truer to say that Heidegger has given technical and elaborate expression to the sense of dislocation, strangeness, loneliness, and the cult of the arbitrary already manifest in modern literature than to assert he has inspired them.
Nor has Heidegger blotted out the map of the world. He has redrawn it to make the agony of man a part of its geography. Herein lies the clue to his influence. For Heidegger a voyage of discovery on the seas of being becomes an exploration of...
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If literature can accurately be said to capture and embody knowledge, it follows that it embodies "truth" or objective reality. The capacity of poetry to capture reality, in the highest sense, has in our day been most forcefully asserted by Martin Heidegger.
His aesthetics, which amounts to a theory of poetry, is of the greatest importance as an effort to argue the fulness of poetry. The argument is a dominant concern of his recent thought, and shows how much its author had profited from the experiences with Being which he had already dramatized in Sein und Zeit…. Like all his thought, Heidegger's aesthetics is intended for the initiate and demands participation. It rewards a good reading, though, with latent power for new experiences of art.
Heidegger claims that poetry, or art, is something real. This is the basic assertion of his aesthetics, if the word "real" is taken seriously. It is no mild assertion, for it distinguishes Heidegger from all unthorough apologists for poetry. The defense of poetry as an interpretation, or merely an imitation, of nature, is familiar. It is a commonplace in the history of aesthetics. It confirms us in our "reasonable" feeling that art is somehow real and somehow an illusion. Yet it does not oblige us to take our aesthetic experience seriously; as seriously, for example, as we have always been exhorted to take our inward "religious" awareness. This...
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L. L. Duroche
The influence of Martin Heidegger on recent German letters has so far outweighed that of any other contemporary German thinker and has had such a profound influence on so many aspects of contemporary German thought that it is only to be expected that German literary criticism and literary theory have also felt the impact of his thinking. Without a doubt, the contribution of Heidegger to modern philosophical thinking surpasses that of any other contemporary philosopher. His work represents in a very true sense a "Copernican turn"; especially significant and probably the most important direct (intended) contribution is Heidegger's "ex-centric" emphasis in the analysis of human existence, the phenomenological attempt to see man "amidst" all that-which-is (Seiendes), to see human Dasein from a perspective other than simply man, from a different "ground", and thereby to overcome the Cartesian subjectivity, the solipsism and the humanism that have been a sore point in Western philosophy since Descartes. Considering factors such as these, it would seem amiss not to focus our attention on the thinking of Heidegger. (pp. 68-9)
[What is my] evaluation of Heidegger's contribution to literary criticism and theory? Beginning with the concept of the "holy",… I would say the following: It is difficult to imagine that criticism which consistently asked the question "What actually did the poet, a past age, another civilization, find to...
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J. Glenn Gray
Some day the major significance of the existentialist movement may be seen to lie in the recovery of poetry (in the generic sense of imaginative literature and art) as a subject matter for philosophy. For many generations philosophers have looked to natural science for a model of philosophic method as well as for standards by which to judge the worth of philosophic effort. Anglo-Saxon philosophers have also used the findings of the sciences, social and natural, increasingly as the proper material for reflection—indeed as the very core of their discipline. In conceiving philosophy to be a criticism of culture, they have been impelled to pay more and more attention to science as the enterprise that has revolutionized the modern world.
Literature has inevitably suffered by philosophers' devotion to the sciences. (p. 93)
[However, poets] and philosophers have always been closely associated in Germany. It was Kant who insisted in his third Critique that for an adequate account of the world philosophers should investigate the ideas and visions of art and artists. As John Herman Randall has emphasized recently, it was Kant's Critique of Judgment that became a major source of inspiration for idealism and romanticism, which dominated the nineteenth century in Germany. This close alliance of poetry and thought reached a peak but did not end in Schelling's conception of "productive imagination" as the way to...
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I take it that one of the reasons Heidegger wrote [Discourse on Thinking] was to invite us to think. And if we are aware of the difficulties of reading and thinking, we might fairly assume that Heidegger was aware of them too. Indeed, we may assume he was more aware of them than most of us are. Further, if I or anyone else claims to be able to help us to read Heidegger, we need to discover some clues as to how to go about it and then pass these on. I say discover, rather than invent, because I believe Heidegger himself shows us how he is to be read.
Parts of Discourse on Thinking do not make obvious sense, but I contend that they do make sense. The book translated as Discourse on Thinking has two parts: a "Memorial Address" and a "Conversation on a Country Path About Thinking." I want to show that the book is reflexive: "MA" tells us how to read "C"; it provides us with pointers which help us to make our way through the conversation and to think along with the scholar, scientist, and teacher whose conversation it is. Note, I am not contending that "MA" only tells us how to read, or that "C" is merely raw material for the approach. No. But in addition to being more, they are at least this. And that is enough for my modest task. (pp. 83-4)
To begin, we need to examine our assumptions. For example, don't we expect Heidegger to be simple; aren't we annoyed when he isn't? However complex...
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Thinking about poetry is not the same as poetic thought, but such "thinking about" would certainly busy itself in a void if it cut itself loose entirely from its subject matter's imaginative intellection; and it is the alpha and omega of Heidegger's philosophy that poetry is thought, just as true thought—that is, thought concerned with the meaning of Being—partakes of the essence of poetry. Yes, the alpha too, although it is only in his writings after Being and Time that poetry, above all Hölderlin's, assumes the role of Being's authentic and most "thoughtful" messenger…. Heidegger says in the essay "Why be a Poet?," "that the making of poetry … is a matter of thinking." For the domain of poetry is language, and even in Being and Time it is said of discourse in language that it is "existentially equiprimordial with understanding": "If we have not heard 'aright'," Heidegger writes,—characteristically taking an idiomatic expression at its word: "Ich höre wohl nicht recht,"—"if we have not heard aright, it is not by accident that we say we have not 'understood'," and understanding involves thinking even if it is of a vestigial kind in our daily routines of comprehension. But quite apart from such explicit statements about the near-identity of language and understanding, it is the burden of Being and Time—in every respect the burden—that its philosophical idiom is fashioned by the desire, or even the felt...
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What has this Heidegger, the prophet of the Seinsfrage, to say to us? That is hard to assess. German philosophical thinking speaks a language doubly different from English: different not only in the language itself, but in its conception of language. British philosophers are haunted by Berkeley's distrust of words; yet distrusting words as guides, they limit themselves happily to the study of words as instruments. A German philosopher is much more inclined to trust to "the wisdom of language," to allow words to tell him their meaning, and guide him, beyond themselves, to an understanding of what they mean. For British philosophers, equivocal words are, philosophically, bad words. For German philosophers, and especially for Heidegger, who like all prophets, delights to puzzle and confound, they are the only words of interest—words to be cherished, caressed, submitted to in wonder and ecstasy. Can there be any communication across such a gulf? (pp. 61-2)
As philosopher, Heidegger's aim is, and has always been, to turn the human mind again to Being. That was the aim, in Sein und Zeit, of the phenomenological analysis of human being, and that is the intention of the prophecies with which for thirty years he has dominated the German philosophical scene. But this historic task—to turn the mind again to Being—is also, and first and foremost, in his view, the task of the poet. "Poetry is the primal language of a...
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WILLIAM BARRETT (Interview with BRYAN MAGEE)
[BRYAN MAGEE]: Professor Barrett, if you can imagine that I am somebody who knows absolutely nothing at all about the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, and you are going to set about giving me some basic idea, how would you begin?
PROFESSOR WILLIAM BARRETT: … I would start with the fundamental concept of 'being in the world'. You and I are together in the same world. You are not a mind attached to a body, and I am not a mind attached to a body; primarily, we are two human beings within the same world. The way in which average, ordinary (or extraordinary) human beings are concretely in the world—that is where we start from and that is where we begin to philosophise about it….
How does Heidegger then proceed?
Once you are planted in the world, the task of philosophy becomes primarily one of description. The philosopher aims to describe the various modes in which we exist within this world. In this respect, Heidegger's approach is a little different from some of the anti-Cartesian rebels in British philosophy—say, Broad or Wittgenstein—who start with very definite problems of knowledge and perception: 'How do we know the external world?' and so on. When you propose an epistemological question—a question of knowledge, perception, and so on—you are already in the world to propose it. Your ticket of admission to the ordinary world is not contingent upon your solving that puzzle....
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David A. White
Since Heidegger's discussion of language in any form nearly always originates from a consideration of poetic texts, his own hermeneutical techniques and those of literary critics are frequently at odds. But at the very outset of the fourth edition of the Hölderlin lectures, Heidegger clearly states his position with respect to literary criticism. His writings on Hölderlin are not intended to be contributions to "literary and historical research"; but are rather a series of reflections which arise from the needs of thinking (Denken). The assumption is warranted that this claim holds not only for the Hölderlin lectures but also for all Heidegger's discussions of poetic language. If so, then it is evident that when Heidegger ascribes a certain meaning to a word, phrase, line, or poem, this meaning should not be evaluated under the criteria of standard literary Wissenschaft. Heidegger himself provides a methodological distinction to describe the tenor of his technique. An "exposition" (Auslegung) possesses some, and perhaps all, of those factors considered necessary to "lay out" the elements of a poetic text in the accepted scholarly sense. An "illumination" (Erläuterung) is the development of an exposition so that the language of poetry yields insights into problems which belong to the special province of thinking…. If a given illumination is to approximate this end, then the content of the illumination is, as a rule,...
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[Literary] influences were not absent from Heidegger's early work. But it is only in the mid-1930s, under stress of public events and in the conviction that the language of Sein und Zeit had proved inadequate to its innovative, revolutionary purpose, that Heidegger turned fully to Hölderlin. The four readings of Hölderlin that Heidegger gave in the guise of lectures and essays between 1936 and 1944 make up one of the most disconcerting, spellbinding documents in the history of Western literary and linguistic sensibility. Spoken against a backdrop of deepening barbarism and national self-destruction, these commentaries on a number of Hölderlin's major hymns are nothing less than an endeavor to pierce, via a singular kind of textual and critical exegesis, to the last sanctuary of poetic invention, national identity, and human speech itself. As in the resplendent second chorus of Sophocles' Antigone, of which he has published an often arbitrary but profoundly suggestive interpretation, so Heidegger finds in Hölderlin one of those very rare, immeasurably important expressions of man's fallenness, of his ostracism from Being and the gods, and, simultaneously, a statement of this very condition whose truth and lyric power give assurance of rebirth.
It is in Hölderlin's "Heimkunft" and "Wie wenn am Feiertag …" that the hidden, occluded truth of Being literally reenters into the house of man. The theme of pilgrimage and...
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William V. Spanos
Martin Heidegger's philosophical thought has been a guiding presence on the European continent for half a century, having influenced virtually every area of the human sciences from psychology to art in what must be called a revolutionary way. And, yet, a meaningful understanding of the enormous importance of his thinking, especially of his unmethodical methodological impulse, which informs the more immediately appealing "existential analytic" in Being and Time (Sein und Zeit, 1927) and his later ontological meditations in such texts as Holzwege (1936–46), Vorträge und Aufsätze (1936–53), Gelassenheit (1944–55), and Unterwegs zur Sprache (1950–59), is still limited in the United States and England to a small community of philosophers who have responded to the crisis of the human sciences. This is the case despite the important ground broken by the American schools of theology, above all by Union Theological Seminary during the postwar (Tillichean) period, and, more recently, by publishers such as Harper and Row and Northwestern University Press, which have made translations of this work and commentary on it available to Anglo-American scholars.
It is true, of course, that along with the recent emergence of a sense of the crisis of knowledge, Heidegger's presence is now coming to be felt, however tentatively, by some American scholars professing the other humanities, especially literary...
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The evident impact of Heidegger's thought on modern critical theories has resulted from three aspects of his system: he replaces, first, in Sein und Zeit and in his later lectures, particularly in his reexamination of Nietzsche, the classical concept of thought by a modern notion of thinking, idea by process, Gedanke by Denken. Thinking is for Heidegger the act of giving "presence" to an object, to remain within the resonance of the object which offers itself to thinking in order to be "realized." The phenomenal world is for him not a fixed given to be reproduced in the act of reflection, but the result of a production, a "practice," in which the world is integrated into our consciousness of being. The origin of this view in Marx as well as in Nietzsche has often been demonstrated. Subject and object are not opposites, but constitute one another. In the critical systems that have taken cognizance of Heidegger, the search for ontological meaning has given way to attempts at developing functional theories of appropriate structures.
The second context of Heidegger's philosophy which, despite basic differences in other regards, is related to [Walter] Benjamin's thinking, is the preeminence of the historical experience as the condition of all reflection. Heidegger shares Nietzsche's belief that truth is not timeless or general; history alone gives shape to the absolute. However pervasive the energy and direction of this...
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