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].)