One may approach Heidegger’s affinities with the National Socialism movement starting from the most evident/overtly expressions as in his rectoral address Self assertion of the German university and other so called political writings or discourses from 1933-1934, continuing with the now available Black Notebooks which offer some of Heidegger’s private insight regarding the intellectual foundation of his “spiritualized” Nazism (including the anti-Semitic dimension), and then start a thorough examination of Heidegger’s GA in order to find the proper philosophical justification for such abhorring political views. All of that has been done and will probably occupy or contaminate any future research even if it not conducted with a sole view on these specific topics. There are efforts trying to identify and to reconcile Heidegger’s more arid topics of being and historicity with his political views[i], while, on some part, Heidegger invites us to do so, by allowing and even imposing his ontology upon such things as the German state, soil, blood, Volk and its Führer.
The fact is that Heidegger tries not only to justify, but to ground National Socialism as the political-spiritual expression of his perpetual quest for authenticity, historicity, origin and other recurrent themes, within a world that blinds itself, forgetful of being. It is not clear what type of reflection would be able to clarify if Heidegger was a Nazi avant la lettre, or if he sought to take advantage of a position like the rector of Freiburg University in order to impose some of his views and try to reverse the German and the worldly spiritual decline. When he tries such a thing, he does it by an appeal which is always to be found within Heidegger’s seminars, namely an appeal to the root or the origin of Western thought, the Greek philosophy and its seminal connection with the German language and spirit.
What Adam Knowles does in his book, is to propose us a reflection about this rootedness of Heidegger’s affiliation with Nazi movement, which is to be found within the German-Greek exploitation of a phenomenon which does not allow a frontal confrontation if only because the object of research lies beneath and hides under any attempt at overtly expressing it, being it in writing, speaking, or artistic configurations.
The main constellations of terms and expressions configuring most themes within Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities are related to language (discourse or speech), rootedness and their counterparts, silence and uprootedness. There is a double play here between speech and silence exposed through the intervention of sigetics – a peculiar form of privation stemming from Aristotle and used here to suggest the absence of speech or the presence of absence of speech. When turning to Greek meaning of legein, Heidegger often relies on one of its originar meanings as gathering, while Knowles emphasizes this throughout his book in order to suggest that, progressively, Heidegger’s own use of language related expression come to determine more of an ontic placing of one’s attunement to being while, in opposition, the uprotedness brought by modern Machenshaft and Gestell (127) or even by the infamous “world Jewry” (7), is nothing but an attempt of a worldwide desewering making the ones caught in this turmoil a-topoi and a-logoi (147).
Against this background of an accelerated deterioration of an already fallen possibility of average language to express being, which is nonetheless a lack of a proper audience for him, Heidegger will employ a strategy of a disclosure which conceals what is most essential in order to preserve a space of authenticity which is not to be betrayed by complete silence (25). An entire “hermeneutics of reticence” (26) is thus deployed, underlying both public appearances and periods of complete silence, which is but “the core of Heidegger’s life, teaching, politics, and thinking” (26).
Arguably as it may seem, the above sentence turns the reader towards the ontic background and implication of Heidegger’s entire life’s interrogation addressing being and its various determinations, while it is mainly the politic dimension which may help us best understand this ontic exposure of both being and the one which is to be its keeper as Da-sein. As a politics of silence, which serves as a subtitle of this Knowles book, Heidegger seemed to see is as the possibility of a European spiritual renaissance appraised in terms of German-Greek congeniality, thus preserving a space of clearing for the historical disclosure of being, while we may count it as one of the most influential encounters, in terms of its impact and consequences for both parties, between philosophy and political regimes, wherefrom we may “draw larger conclusions about the response of the humanities to totalitarian regimes, and in particular about philosophy’s historical contribution to ethno-nationalist authoritarian regimes” (8).
Emphasizing sigetics in Heidegger’s work and speeches has no other ground than the fact that, in Knowles’ terms, it is “one of the branches of his philosophy most deeply saturated with anti-Semitic and völkisch affinities” (56). The latter are best depicted when reading Heidegger against a background of deeply anti-Semitic and nationalistic writings of some of Heidegger’s contemporaries, which, even if not so philosophically convincing, are more closely connected in both spirit and language, to a general trend in Weimar Germany.
Various instances of silence are also analyzed in terms of instituting a red wire connecting Greek Dasein and the Nordic-Germanic soul, while both are seen in their average comportment and even physiognomic features as being profoundly attuned to a space of silence and reticence. These are set against an enemy depicted as the rootles foreigner, being it the capitalist, the city dweller or even the world Jewry (40). The affinities between Heidegger and his more völkish contemporaries are found both their proximity of language visiting current themes and in Heidegger openly anti-Semitic and anti-modern passages of his writings, correspondence and speeches, of which the most notorious is his first speech as Rector of Freiburg University in 1933.
But sometimes Knowles falls prey to his own attempt of impregnating every instance of Heidegger’s silence with traces of National Socialism and anti-Semitism as when emphasizing one of the passages of SuZ within the existential analysis of Dasein as instantiating the above opposition between silence, reticence and rootless verbiage. In short, Knowles assimilates Heidegger’s famous discussion of one’s world’s intelligibility where the initial guidance is prompted by concern and circumspection and there is no need for sentential legein as things are firstly seen in their ready-to-hand dimension, with the peasantry understanding of handiwork which goes by without unnecessary verbiage such as to be found in one of Heidegger’s contemporaries (48). There is also no need for words between coworkers, in Heidegger’s passage, since they share the same understanding of their tools and of the work to be done (as being-in-the world and being-toward). But what Heidegger does within the lines emphasized by Knowles is to point out explicitation as a relative way of understanding and interpretation, while the latter usually go by in circumspective concern, that is without need of explicit wording, and the former lays out the explicit features of a thing making it suitable for logical assertion. It would require a biased hermeneutical travail to find in Heidegger’s own “without wasting words” which are to be found in SuZ 157, some political commitment being it National Socialism or some other.
Third and fourth chapters are the most philosophically intriguing and original ones, dealing with the transition Heidegger makes between a preliminary idea of silence tied to the existential dimension of discourse (rede) as seen in SuZ, and, through the intervention of nothing and notness in his What is Metaphysics?, a more thorough analysis of silence in connection to his interpretation of Aristotle from 1931. The hermeneutical effort of Knowles is here as its best, searching for clues to support his main thesis, for which these two chapters offer the red wire connecting Heidegger’s phenomenology with his political views, while setting the ontological on the way to its ontical promiscuity by means of a silence which will find its way to both world and word.
Mainly based on an original reading of chapter 34 of SuZ, the reader will find the third chapter to develop some of Heidegger’s less explicit intention, while his own reticence in finding an expression for the unspeakable will be translated by Knowles as a struggle “to develop a language adequate to the task of bringing silence to language as silence” (75). Heidegger’s analysis in chapter 34 of SuZ employs discourse as another existentiale of Dasein, alongside understanding and attunement, while language is the mean that discourse finds for its expression within the world. As vocalization of discourse (60), language will be then its worldly being or dimension, thus both the possibility and the completion of expression (as utterance and statement) rendering discourse to public disclosure within the averageness of the “they”, in the proximity of chatting and idle talk.
The nothing which silence brings through the call of conscience into the very meaning of discourse (73, 74) leaves the interrogation open since Heidegger does not yet render this nothingness to its ontological dimension (which will eventually happen in What is metaphysics?). SuZ works its way through the already established conceptual architecture of the Dasein‘s existential constitution as fully immersed in the everyday averageness, while Heidegger is not yet eager to employ the full scale ontological apparatus needed in order for Dasein to find its way back from the scattered world of das Man. Appraised in SuZ as a possibility belonging to discourse and rendered merely to an ontic opposition to fallen and scattered language, while reticence could only bring forth for Dasein the possibility of its withdrawal from the public sphere of chatting and idle talk (74), silence will finally insinuate within the existenzial-existenziell hiatus between discourse and language, merging them and contributing to the collapse of this difference.
As a clarification for the reader, the issue at stake here is to find a way to deliver the more authentic – existential dimension of discoursing to a language which is already fallen, but not only as silence and listening as these are the only possibilities belonging to “discoursing speech” (a transitional expression itself) listed in the 34th chapter of SuZ, but as and within a meaningful speech. “That is to say”, in Knowles’ words, “Heidegger cannot capture the possibility of speaking through silence until language becomes folded into silence to such a degree that it even requires silence.” (73) This would only happen few years later, when the analysis of silence will get a decisive clue from Aristotle’s idea of withdrawal within his opposition between dynamis and energeia.
The idea is to capture silence through and within legein, that is through a kind of “discoursive speech” which is no longer opposed to vocalization as a form of corrupted speech, but it makes way for steresis, understood as a type of privation that withdraws/robs (robbing) what essentially belongs to something or someone, as sickness is a privation of health or blindness is a privation of seeing. In the same vein, while in the SuZ the absence of overt utterance does not necessarily mean that interpretation or discourse are absent, here we may find that even in the presence of speaking there may be a form of silencing still active which does not mean the absence of words. The idea of steresis clears the path for the introduction of silence into the handicraft of writing (81), by means of altering, if not totally collapsing, the distinction between discourse and language. As a form of poiesis, it will guide one through the manifoldness of logos, according to a guiding meaning (96), working its way by means of separation and elimination of wrong paths, same way as the “sculptor hews away the marble to bring out a form” (99).
In his interpretations to Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ2, Heidegger takes model and form to be confronted with material as to bound what is initially unbounded, and this is the meaning of the opposition enacted by what the Greeks understood by enantia and enantiotes: “a lying opposites each other and confronting each other face to face (GA33, 119)[ii]. Within production, such a confrontation is always guided by the model, eidos, which is foreseen or re-presented, and will act like a catalyzing force within the producer’s soul, “by bringing into bounds of what belongs to a model” and it does it by means of ” a selective gathering of what belongs together” (GA33, 121). The assimilation of model with logos is now two-folded, once through the meaning of logos as gathering and again through the its more current meaning as discourse and language, when what is to be produces is addressed during its production as what is to be present later. When visiting these themes, alongside some of Heidegger’s public speeches and notes within his Black Notebooks, Knowles will emphasize the selective nature of logos (99, 100), since it works by means of progressive exclusions as during the production guided by eidos, the initial unbounded material will finally give way to what is to be produced. Selection and exclusion are re-instantiated through recalling various statements of Heidegger during the same period when he lectures about Aristotle’s Metaphysics, thus connecting them to some popular thesis among völkish movement and even, questionably indeed, with the Nazi language of eugenics (100).
With some help from Heidegger’s Black Notebooks starting from the early 1930s, what Knowles wants the reader to acknowledge is another dimension of Heidegger’s famous Kehre, in terms of an in-famous turn towards a more political history of being which will become more and more appraisable in terms of a destinal community between the Greek people and German Völk. While this transition usually revolves around stressing the inception of new understanding of the place of being as Ereignis (event), in order to emphasize Heidegger’s immersion in the proxy facticity of a Nazi Germany, Knowles focuses on the “steretic” dimension of Heidegger activity during those times, bringing together his public appearances, writings, public notes and letters.
There are two chapters (5 and 6) dealing with different instances of exclusion which may be found in Greek philosophy and literature, supposedly revived by Heidegger through his fascination with the Greek rooted inception of the long standing quest for being and manifold possibility of expressing it more or less adequate. As we expect, Greek philosophy, literature and politics have a lot to offer in terms of exclusion grounded on various traits starting from human physiognomy, gender, citizenship and social status. Focusing on the possibility of acquiring the proper measure for speaking, Knowles analysis starts by tracing the crudest, earliest forms of exclusion, the Pythagorean physiognomic human traits and gestures rendering one as (im)proper for philosophical training, in order to complete the first chapter with an interpretation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “especially in Aristotle’s concern with the proper amount of precision applicable to the analysis of the matter at hand”(104).
Regarding Aristotle, the whole of ethical inquiry involves the least of precision in terms of its status as a science, since it involves the least amount of generality, addressing one’s proper comportment within a particular situation. Aristotle’s analysis is carried on searching for proper means of acting within different situations, while the impossibility of an all encompassing cartography of the latter involves the impossibility of acquiring a standard set of resolutions which may grant us knowledge similar to that of logic, mathematics or physics. The one endowed with phronesis[iii], is said to be able to skillfully deliberate regarding the means for attaining the proper measure when facing a states of matter which could be ethically appraised. This time, having already in mind what is to be said about connecting Heidegger through his sigetics to Aristotle’s ethical inquiry, Knowles shortcuts a text which usually poses difficult problems for Aristotle’s scholars, in order to find that, since prudence is only acquirable through a certain length of time, it may also be a matter of disposition, making thereafter a peculiar transition to “one’s potential fitness or unfitness for philosophy” being “nonetheless a matter of one’s disposition, as indicated by the careful delineation of different types of character in the Nichomachean Ethics” (118, 119).
Not being in the position to deliver a lengthy discussion of Aristotle’s text, we must nevertheless remind the reader that the main question which drives Aristotle’s investigations in his Nicomachean Ethics is directed towards the chief good which may be obtained as a result of our actions, the own most possibility of the human being, his most desirable state or condition. Now, phronesis is that faculty of the soul through which it attains the truth in regard to things whose principles could be otherwise, namely the action which is ethically appraisable in terms of virtues and vices. Objects of prudence are matters of actions, therefore both universals and particulars, but mainly the latter (1141b 20). There is a difference between the acquiring of knowledge in mathematics or geometry and prudence, which reside in the fact that the former do not suppose an experience to be accumulated over the years (objects and principles come from abstraction in case of mathematics, 1142a 15), while these later fields are concerned with things like individuals or principles which mostly come from experience. Prudence is then a peculiar kind of a natural disposition of the soul, not of a kind to be born with, but a disposition which is acquired through experience, and which is said to be the prerequisite of skilful deliberation according to correct reasoning about issues the moral virtues are concerned with.
Wherefrom the moral virtues are usually attainable through experience and habit, and not through inner disposition, there is no philosophical formation required for Aristotle concerning the attaining of moral virtues, while it is sophia, the fifth and the highest capacity of the soul which will turn out to be the one that is best suited in terms of human happiness, being mostly connected to a such a intellectual formation. The reader may find Heidegger’s own interpretation of Aristotle’s phronesis in his Natorp Report[iv] and Sophist, in order to find out that his own emphasis of Aristotle’s term is more connected to Heidegger’s early analysis concerning the hermeneutics of facticity and temporality. Nevertheless, Knowles is perhaps too eager to provide us with his hermeneutical commitments when stating that “Heidegger’s lecture courses on Greek philosophy [thus] must be read as deeply political pedagogical acts intended to teach hearers how to better dwell within the proper place” (124). Place, which is a late theme in Heidegger’s thinking, is easier to connect with contemporary völkish themes and figures, following an already settled way of argumentation in Knowles which translates silence into sigetics and the latter into different form of exclusions, race or gender based.
Besides Aristotle’s general statement about the scientific deficit which essentially impacts the ethical inquiry, Knowles also emphasizes some of Aristotle’s worries about that type of discourse regarded by Heidegger in SuZ as chatter and idle talk, which may impeach virtuous reasoning and acting. An act of reticence and even silence is needed when feeling the danger of placing ourselves in situations that may be considered unworthy of a free man. We must remind the reader that what Aristotle does during his inquiry is to search for that middle ground between lack and excess and for the means of attaining it, while speaking and listening are actions both ethically appraisable in their selves but also deeds which may impact the means to achieve an ethical comportment. Instead, Knowles’ analysis revolves around the groundedness and groundlessness of legein which, stemming from its meaning as gathering, may facilitate the encounter and understanding of concerned matters, when properly used, or, contrary, it may sever the speaker from the things spoken about. This may be the case and there is here an undisputedly common ground between Aristotle and Heidegger, but the connection between prudence, silence, sigetics and what follows, namely the transition to Heidegger’s völkish themes fall short of being convincing.
What gathering means in terms of language is said to be a motif of Heidegger’s attunement to such gatherings as inward gathering and völkish gathering which may even be attained through serving in labor camps, militias and other para-military organizations (123, 124). Surely, Heidegger’s own scattered but nevertheless anti-modern and anti-Semitic nuances within his Black Notebooks during the 30s, invites us to such an interpretation, as Knowles remarks (124). If Heidegger seized the National Socialist revolution as a way to give political reality to his ideas[v], even if he later refutes the possibility of philosophy offering guidance for actual living[vi], the invitation to read Heidegger’s analysis of language in these terms would be similar to what Knowles has warned us against, namely to read Heidegger backwards.
Nevertheless, analyzing steresis in terms of different gestures of exclusion does right to Heidegger when inscribing him within a long standing philosophical tradition, while the privilege Heidegger contents to Greek philosophy maintains all of the latter’s forms of exclusion. The Black Notebooks translates these into various explicit ontic instances of denying access to authenticity, the history, event or the topology of being, as we traverse the development of Heidegger’s philosophy (125). As Jeff Malpas states when Assesing the significance of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in 2016, those subsequent gestures of exclusion would culminate in Heidegger remaining the only one being able to grasp the call of being.
Knowles interprets Heidegger’s later assumptions regarding a possible topology of being, namely the emergence of an explicit concern with place which will also translate in Machenshaft giving way to Gestell, as an adaptation of Greek make self-mastery stemming from one’s habituation within a polis (126). The latter determines the being-there (das Da) of the historical being in terms of both temporality and place, thus allowing a fully fledged coming into being of its gods, temples, priests and all other essential figures which populates the various Greek expressions of being (147). Being a-polis or a-topos, out of place, does not mean here an exclusion in terms of physical interdiction, but it characterizes a complex and seemingly paradoxical situation, of being at the same time within and without polis, which is best illustrated by the “measureless measure” of the feminine figure in Greek lyrical and philosophical compositions. The duplicitous figure of woman is said to be a-topos by mean of her being a-logos, thus not being granted with free speech while, at the same time, her silence being treated as essentially deceptive. In Knowles’ words, “Women possess logos in a manner of not-having that is not a full privation, for their very having is a not-having—a relationship best described as steretic” (147). This type of steresis is more of a dramatization of Aristotle’s concept, thus describing a kind of a structural privation, which is not yet full, but nevertheless essential.
When used in depicting Heidegger’s own use and analysis of instances of silences, steresis suggests a more voluntary use of silence and reticence in order to be able to come to terms with a more proper use of language or to conceal what one would consider that it would not be yet suitable to openly express due to historical and/or average means of understanding.
Before one starts dwelling into the multifaceted meaning and relevance of such an encounter, between the most preeminent/notable figure of the XXth Century philosophy and a criminal organization such as the NSDAP political party, one has to inquiry its own motivation for approaching and assessing that fact. The fact, in Thomas Sheehan’s words, may be simply stated as there is no compromise in saying that Heidegger was a “blatant anti-Semite” and a supporter of the Nazi movement. As member of the NSDAP party and rector of the University of Freiburg, he delivers speeches which, beside his perpetual verbose about the history and destiny of being, may be easily counted as political guidelines for Nazi members, supporters or even for the yet unconvinced. As to his anti-Semite worldview, it is supported by explicit evidence in his infamous marginalia known as the Black Notebooks.
The author of Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities writes after the initial shockwave of Heidegger’s now explicit mentioning of anti-Semitism has passed, and when we may be able to take stock of what has been achieved through consulting his most intimate notes, as to the relevance they may bring for phenomenological inquiry and for Heidegger’s scholars. Even if they are usually disregarded as to their philosophical insights, there are some private mentions made by Heidegger which may prove useful in philosophical key, especially regarding Heidegger’s turning points of the transition from one dimension of being, temporality, to others like event, logos or place. Another key aspect of the publication of the Notebooks, targeting a larger audience, is the possibility of providing some insights of a never-ending story concerning the possibility of assessing one’s opera per se, regardless or even in spite of his or her personal life-options.
Turning towards Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities, we may say that this is one of the most philosophically engaging works related to Heidegger’s political views, which unrolls/unravels as a meta-investigation of the polivocality of logos and legein, while the main interrogation addresses Heidegger’s ontological motivation for keeping his most striking worldly notes private. We call it a meta-investigation since it appears to be an investigation of Heidegger’s own inquiry about the possibility of keeping silent pertaining to and within language itself.
As to the place of the Black Notebooks within Heidegger’s work, it must be said that firstly they offer Heidegger a place where he may come back every time he considers that overtly discoursing is in danger to lose its rootedness and grounding, in other words, a place which may be seen as a reservoir of authenticity, where he may somehow overtly speak through silence without any compromise that may be needed in order to get published and/or promoted or even for the care of average comprehensibility. This is the ontological meaning of placing the Black Notebooks, but here is its ontical counterpart: placing authenticity and sigetics in their rooted, inherited tradition and land, that is placing them within the völkish, rural dimension of German landscape, and this means away from the corruption of urban areas infected with modern technology and idle talk, which aggressively disrupt and aggravate/hasten the fallenness of a language already fallen. Away from fallenness, this happens by a double folded gesture of exclusion mirroring the ontological-ontical dimension of placing the Black Notebooks. Namely, there will be an ontological exclusion of anything that may accelerate the oblivion of being which already characterizes western civilization, but also the ontic exclusion of anything and anyone who may threaten even more the proper housing of being within language. While in SuZ the average dimension of discourse which is language is looked upon especially as a proper technique for the existential analysis of being-in-the-world, starting with the 1930s, and especially in the Black Notebooks, Heidegger builds its own sigetic way of interrogation for delivering, as much as possible, the proper tools for speaking through silence.
How and where do we place Heidegger? But, maybe more important, where do we place ourselves as readers of the history of western civilization and philosophy? Are we situated as objective, neutral observers of some historical facts and figures of which we may dispose, with the means offered by the possibility of an objective confrontation? Thrashing Heidegger out of the history of philosophy or absolving him of any philosophical commitment to national socialism would have us granted with the above high seat of objectivity and connoisseurs of “what would have been, if”. Presumably, we are not granted such a thing. As Rorty, Gadamer and even Heidegger, especially during his hermeneutical period, often observe, historical observation is never free of prejudices and biases, as long as the very interpretation is historically situated and conditioned.
Thus, as Adam Knowles warns us, we have to resist the temptation of reading Heidegger’s involvement with the National Socialism backwards, namely as being already in the position to confront the totality of Nazi regime, meaning its policy of political, ethical and racial annihilation of anything and anyone not willing or not being able to conform to its world-view. This implies, in Knowles’ view, that any consideration of Heidegger’s political involvement which may be tempted to diminish the relevance of Heidegger’s public or private defense of such a regime when measured against the large scale murder machinery of the same regime, should inquire into the motivation of an already tenured philosophy professor, nonetheless a notable international figure, willing to offer his support to an already dictatorial and authoritarian political movement. The gaze should be turned upon Heidegger’s fully appropriation/embrace of Nazi themes during his rectorate but also after this period, through a throughout investigation of his work, since this encounter wasn’t born out of nothing or by a misfortune.
On the other part, our abhorrence when reading some passages of the Black Notebooks, Heidegger’s discourse a rector at Freiburg, other related political discourses or writings, but also his scare phrases connecting him to the ”inner greatness” of the Nazi movement, is fully comprehensible since we see them against the background of the totality of its atrocities. Arguably, we will never be in the position of absolving him as naive and apolitical, since, as Besancon observes in his Century of Horrors, the fully fledged extermination policy of National Socialism strikes us as something extra-ordinay, beyond human comprehension, thus benefiting of a long lasting placing within our memory, especially when compared to its more easily forgettable dizygotic twin, communism.
[i] See the controversy between Thomas Sheehan and Emmanuel Faye.
[ii] Pagination indicates the samen English translation Knowles uses.
[iii] The English version Knowles uses translates it as “prudence”.
[iv] “Phenomenological Interpretations in Connection with Aristotle: An Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation”
[v] According to Jeff Malpas “assessment of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks“.
[vi] Heidegger’s interview in Der Spiegel.
Jason W. Alvis’s new book, The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn, takes insights from Heidegger’s notion of eine phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren and applies them to the phenomenological study of religion and religious experience. Synthesizing Heidegger’s work with French philosophers who have made influential contributions to the theological turn in phenomenology, Alvis successfully develops an inconspicuous phenomenology which challenges the privileged forms of presentation that hinder our phenomenological and theological thinking. In addition to offering a compelling chronology of the history of 20th century phenomenology and its various twists and turns, this book fruitfully teases out the paradoxical, subversive, and transformative nature of religious experience.
Is God a spectacle? Do the various themes and experiences belonging to religious life subvert or confirm a duplicitous metaphysics of absence and presence? If phenomenology is concerned with phenomena as they appear, while the object of theology is inherently unknowable, then is a “phenomenology of religion” a contradiction in terms? The Inconspicuous God tackles these questions and more, offering a tour de force on the development of phenomenology in Husserl’s writings, Heidegger’s monumental reshaping of phenomenology, and through to the French and theological turns in the later 20th century. Central to Alvis’s project is an attempt to recover, fortify, and ultimately defend Heidegger’s notion of unscheinbarkeit (inconspicuousness) as a way to both breathe life into a phenomenological explanation of religious experience, as well as to challenge critics of phenomenology’s mingling with theology.
Chapter one brings Heidegger’s phenomenology of the inconspicuous into conversation with Jean-Luc Marion’s writings on the paradoxical nature of revelation. Challenging phenomenology’s privileging of precision and clarity, Heidegger observes that what is hidden or covered up is paradoxically integrated into what it is for a phenomenon to appear as a phenomenon. For example, if I’m walking quickly through a crowd I mustn’t focus on what stands right in front of me, for otherwise I would be overwhelmed with information and would be unable to conceive of the pathway to my destination. Instead, I must look to where I’m headed while still being aware of my surroundings enough to not bump into people. The people in the crowd thus become inconspicuously integrated into my frame of vision, presenting useful information while not being fully present to thought. This is brought to a head in Heidegger’s writings on Being—which remains hidden while always closest at hand—eventually leading to his reformulation of phenomenology as no longer loyal to Husserl’s method of unveiling phenomena clearly and distinctly, but now as deformalizing the very distinction between the veiled and the unveiled. For Heidegger, the paradoxical nature of appearance is not something for philosophy to overcome, but is rather something to recognize as irreducibly endemic to the lebenswelt itself.
For Marion, the epitome of paradox is revelation, which he understands as “a phenomenon that phenomenalizes by countering its own modes of givenness.” Similar to Heidegger’s insights into the paradoxical nature of appearing, Marion holds that revelation disrupts the very distinction between that which appears and that which is hidden. His work on saturated phenomena—revelation being the saturated phenomenon par excellence—is characterized by attempting to overcome the dialectic between the visible and the invisible, and as such shares Heidegger’s view that a reliance on this dialectic numbs thinking.
Alvis tries to take the work of these thinkers a step further by indicating two ways an inconspicuous revelation can avoid the dialectic between visibility and invisibility while also providing an opportunity for rich religious experience. First, revelation should be understood as intertwined within the banal fabric of everyday life, not as events that must shock and awe. “Revelation, if it truly is to be shocking, must take place in the most unexpected of places and ways: in the marginal, inconspicuous, and banal.” Second, revelation not only challenges the privileging of visibility over invisibility in presentation, but deformalizes the framing of this distinction itself.
In chapter two, Alvis takes a closer look at what Heidegger might mean by eine phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren. Drawing from the Zähringen and Parmenides seminars, Alvis attempts to systematize Heidegger’s notion of the inconspicuous and contextualize it with respect to his larger project. As opposed to being a lens through which all phenomena can be viewed or being construed as only a step in the process of phenomenalization, Alvis ultimately finds that the most fecund interpretation of this elusive topic to be that Heidegger had in mind distinct phenomena as being inconspicuous or as appearing inconspicuously. These particular phenomena require a particular phenomenology in order to make them intelligible: a phenomenology of the inconspicuous. While all phenomena can perhaps take on the character of inconspicuousness—as a builder’s hammer becomes inconspicuous in his habitual use of it—certain phenomena are more likely to appear as inconspicuous than others. Alvis’s intended contribution is to show how experiences located in the religious life can represent these distinct phenomena that have a special ability to appear inconspicuously.
Chapter three takes Michel Henry’s writings on “life” in conjunction with Heidegger’s thoughts on “world” in order to challenge the view that the world is a neutral theatre for subjective consciousness. For Heidegger, the world is neither a sum total of neutral data nor something to be overcome, but rather is something intrinsically yet mysteriously tied to the “being open” of Dasein as it lives and endures. The objects I encounter in the world do not merely convey neutral meanings available to all rational agents, but instead tell me something about myself, what I care about, my mood-as-lived, and thus my overall affective involvement in the world at large. Inconspicuousness comes into play as the oscillation between taking-an-object-as-such and taking-an-object-as-indicative-of-involvement-in-the-world. We can learn something about the world not by philosophizing in armchairs but by being affectively involved—living and dwelling—in the inconspicuous clearing opened by Dasein.
Henry takes up this thread of affectivity in his description of “life.” To be living in the world, for Henry, is to be an affective being. We come into the world only after being affectively involved with life. The world is studied by paying attention to the affective interactions that buffer the in-between spaces separating ourselves and the world. Although there is a worry that Henry reinstates a dichotomy between inside and outside—which both Heidegger and Husserl attempted to dispel—Alvis finds that he indeed successfully domesticates life in the immanent.
Combining Heidegger’s “world” with Henry’s “life,” Alvis locates the possibility of experience of the inconspicuous God in the oscillating interval between them. Jesus himself was characterized by a mode of living that was not of this world, teaching his followers the ways in which the ordinary and banal can teach us something about God. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples—in which the paradoxical in-the world/not-of-this-world relation is exemplified—teaches that a dwelling in the world allows participation with the inconspicuous God, while cutting against the invisible-visible paradigm.
Chapter four develops an inconspicuous liturgy alongside Jean-Yves Lacoste’s development of the nonexperience and nonplace of the Absolute. Alvis seeks to correct some of Lacoste’s misconstruals of Heidegger’s project and arrive at an inconspicuous liturgical reduction. For Lacoste, a liturgical reduction entails bracketing away the ‘thesis of the world’ in order to allow the presentation of God to be free from the modes of presentation that characterize our world. This allows the phenomenological appearance of God to be located in the strangely irreducible exterior of consciousness. The world must be put in suspension in order to experience the ‘nonexperience’ of the Absolute. By bracketing a totalizing thesis of the world away from the question of the experience of God, Lacoste allows God to appear as total but not as totalizing.
Alvis finds a similar theme running through Heidegger’s writings on the disclosure of Being to Dasein. Contrary to the early Greek and Husserlian notion of Being as a stable presence that can be ascertained by consciousness, Heidegger’s Being is first disclosed when one finds oneself thrown out into the world, which is the fundamental experience of Dasein. This thrown-openness which characterizes Heideggerian Being exceeds—or, rather, precedes—conscious experience, and as such it entails a fundamental relationship with the nonconscious or the nonexperienceable.
Instead of bracketing the world away completely—which destroys the way Dasein dwells as a ‘worlded’ being—Alvis suggests thinking the world as inconspicuous. Instead of looking for the Absolute by escaping from the world, we should view the world as harboring the potential nonplace and nonexperience about which Lacoste speaks. This allows the inconspicuous God to manifest in the marginalized, dormant, and inconspicuous ‘here’ within our world. The clearing or opening onto the nonplace and nonexperience of the Absolute is found in the uncanny and banal places that, inconspicuously, are most near and familiar to us. An inconspicuous liturgical reduction, therefore, suspends not the world but the spectacles of the world in favor of the Absolute’s indwelling in the inconspicuous and immanent ‘here.’
In chapter five, Alvis follows Jean-Luc Nancy’s investigations on Christian adoration in order to develop a way by which the inconspicuous God can be adored. Adoration is a reflexive activity whereby one sets apart that which is deemed worthy of praise from that which is not. But this can all too easily turn into an idolization of spectacles. What is worthy of praise and adoration, Nancy argues, is not the spectacle which is differentiated from the ordinary, but instead differentiation itself, as the abyss or opening which both appears and withdraws when we set things apart.
However, Alvis argues that a grafting of pure differentiation onto divinity can easily become an idolatrous discourse in our spectacle-dominated world. Divine differentiation, to which an inconspicuous adoration is directed, must be seamlessly incorporated into the marginal and everyday in order to avoid the idol-multiplying simulacrum of divinity that an adoration of pure differentiation creates. An inconspicuous adoration allows for the familiar and immanent around us to be an occasion for glimpsing the Absolute. We can learn something about the inconspicuous God by adoring what is forgotten and rejected as commonplace. What do we adore when we adore the inconspicuous God? Not difference-as-content but instead the non-idolatrous differentiation that overcomes the spectacle/ordinary dichotomy altogether.
Chapter six takes stock of Dominique Janicaud’s critique of Heidegger in order to pin down some of the methodological implications for how evidence should be construed in the context of an inconspicuous phenomenology of religion. A staunch critic of Heidegger, Janicaud thought his notion of unscheinbarkeit was the root of the bad theological turn in phenomenology, which was responsible for unnecessarily complicating phenomenological thinking. Heidegger eschewed Husserl’s privileging of clarity over absence, turned away from his intentionality-rich method, and integrated absence and withdrawal into the substrate of phenomenological thinking, all things Janicaud thought were poisoning phenomenology. But this is due, Alvis argues, to his misunderstanding of Heidegger’s unscheinbarkeit, which Janicaud seems to think means “inapparent” or “invisible.” Unscheinbarkeit instead should be translated as “inconspicuous,” “lacking in evidence,” or “lacking the ability to be spectacular.” Contra Janicaud, then, “phenomenology of religion” is not an oxymoronic attempt to solder together clarity with absence, but is instead, following Heidegger, the attempt to deformalize the very distinction between clarity and absence in order to allow religious experiences to present themselves in ways which exceed our worldly compartmentalizations.
Alvis then synthesizes the work of William Alston, Merold Westphal, and Anthony Steinbock in order to arrive at an inconspicuous construal of religious evidence. Alvis wants a description of evidence that avoids being reduced to epistemology, that avoids ushering in ontotheology, and finally that avoids ascribing legitimacy to any and all phenomena without explanation or defense. For Alvis, if “religion” refers to the being-open-to an essential relationship between Dasein and a meaning-giving potentiality; and if “experience” describes the process of grasping the particularities in consciousness which become meaningful-for-me; then “religious experience” describes the momentary latching onto intelligible data which is constitutive of the being-openness of Dasein to the meaning-giving potentiality of the Absolute.
Alvis then offers three reasons why the theme of inconspicuousness is keen to describe evidence for religious experiences construed as such. First, the religious experience is inconspicuously integrated into the whole of experience, thus being unable to be extracted from the totality of presentation. Second, religious experience isn’t straightforwardly “provable” because this would assume the Absolute can be wholly conjured when its evidence is offered. Third, the absoluteness or omnipotence of God—to which religious experience points—resists being brought into full clarity, remaining inconspicuous in our attempts to do so.
Chapter seven investigates the merits of understanding faith through the lens of inconspicuousness. By considering the thought of both Heidegger and Jean-Louis Chrétien, Alvis develops three ways the theme of forgetting supports an inconspicuous faith. First, forgetting as denoticing, which includes a double movement in which one is open to the new while simultaneously recognizing the disclosure of the new in the old that endures. Second, forgetting as counternoticing reincorporates the remembered into a novel context, which allows for a new type of knowledge to manifest. Third, forgetting as covering-over, which includes laminating over that which is remembered, not as anti-remembrance but as counter-remembrance.
Alvis argues that an inconspicuous faith must recognize the importance of forgetting which resists a totalizing grasp onto the object of faith. Instead of a faith in, we should embrace a faith with, which recognizes the interpersonal aspect to religious experience and phenomenological thinking. The inconspicuous God is the most ‘unforgettable’ because it is paradoxically that which most uniquely resists being contained within memory’s grasp, always residing in the inconspicuous peripheries of thought.
In chapter eight, Alvis investigates the aboutness of the inconspicuous God, which includes bracketing away the metaphysical questions “is there a God?” and “what is God’s essential nature” while instead focusing on the phenomenological questions “how is God given?” and “to what forms of presentation does God relate?” Alvis finds Emmanuel Levinas to be an ally in describing how God can be described in a way that doesn’t idolize incomprehensibility while also avoiding the temptation to draw God out into the full clarity of daylight. Levinas negotiates these obstacles by locating God’s incarnate infinity in the multitudinous faces of the inconspicuous others that surround us. We share ethical and social relationships with the foreign faces around us without ever grasping them directly. God’s intelligibility is thus gestured toward through our immanent relationships with others which avoid a totalizing conceptualization.
Keeping in theme with the preceding chapters, Alvis argues that inconspicuousness offers a key to subverting the dichotomies which obfuscate a description of the givenness of God. The intelligibility of God comes about not through locating God in a single pole of light/dark, clear/obscure, presence/withdrawal, but instead by recognizing the unique way in which an experience of the Absolute subverts these categories altogether. Inconspicuous phenomena instead can be given through hiding, surrogating, screening, or being present-at-hand by proxy. To recognize God as inconspicuous entails paying closer attention to the common and marginal, as opportunities for a glimpse into the Absolute which incites wonder. To seek the inconspicuous God is not to search after a hidden essence, but is instead a call to action for paying closer attention to our immanent relationships with the ordinary and with others. A phenomenology of the inconspicuous, at the very least, obliges one to rethink the temptation to quarantine God into either incomprehensibility or a blinding clarity, and instead to become open to the potential for an experience that oscillates between them.
Now I’d like return to the questions that were posed at the beginning of this review in order to expound on how they can be illuminated following some of the insights gained from Alvis’s project. Is God a spectacle? The answer is a clear no for Alvis. God understood as a spectacle—as well as the inversion of this: God understood as pure incomprehensibility—relies upon the assumption that the phenomenality of God must operate according to a dazzling clarity. Associating divinity with spectacularity is to invoke the multiple duplicities—absence/presence, clarity/withdrawal, light/dark—that facilitate an idolatrous obsession with grasping the totality of the Absolute in its infinity.
A phenomenology of the spectacle—which operates according to a privileging of presence and a repression of absence—is problematic for a number of reasons. Spectacles have a shelf life, so a philosophy that idolizes spectacularity soon becomes a discourse of addiction which eventually colonizes all facets of life. By privileging clarity and a totalizing intelligibility, a phenomenology of the spectacle teaches that what is good is that which does not resist domination and what is bad is what avoids conceptualization. This betrays an epistemological pathology that seeks certainty and absolute precision as the ends of philosophical thinking, which thinkers ranging from Nietzsche to Derrida have thoroughly critiqued. Applied to theology, God becomes the greatest spectacle of all and by proxy that which is most able to be domesticated by thought. As all the great thinkers of classical theology knew to be true, a God that can be domesticated by thought is no God at all, but is only a “god”: a powerful yet finite being among beings.
Jesus himself was hardly spectacular in his life. He was a lowly Jewish preacher who disavowed the power of state and sword, lived in a shared community with his disciples, and taught pacifism and tolerance in the face of violence. Those whose faith relies primarily on the mythical spectacles associated with Jesus—miraculous healings and his resurrection—often miss the importance of his life and teachings, as Nietzsche knew to be true. To isolate the spectacle of miracles or resurrections as the core of Christian theology is to necessarily relegate Jesus’s social and political teachings to second-order phenomena, when in fact the reverse is an eminently more faithful portrayal of the Good News brought by Jesus Christ. The force of the New Testament relies not on cheap tricks but on a transformative vision about what humans can become and how they can live as oriented toward a primordial Goodness that shines forth in all things. As Nietzsche knew, an ascetic devotion to metaphysical platitudes—and we should include here the worshipping of divinity-as-spectacle—inevitably tends to turn our heads away from the banalities endemic to worldly being and toward a maddening denial of life.
Instead, the God of a phenomenology of the inconspicuous avoids the totalizing gaze of clarity, while also resisting the void of pure incomprehensibility. God ought to be understood as harboring a potential to be disclosed in the ordinary and banal, among those disavowed and disenfranchised by society. We can glimpse something of the infinite in that which is paradoxically closest to us. An inconspicuous phenomenology thus tarries with the paradoxical nature by which phenomena are disclosed to us. There is always something hidden in a phenomenon’s being presented. Contrariwise, that which most resists conceptualization can be the nearest at hand. The inconspicuous nature of divine phenomenality allows for an experience of the Absolute which paradoxically is revealed through the ordinary and every day.
Do the various themes and experiences belonging to religious life subvert or confirm a duplicitous metaphysics of absence and presence? In considering revelation, the religious lifeworld, liturgy, adoration, evidence, and faith, Alvis consistently finds that these theological themes are animated by a phenomenology that disavows the duplicitous metaphysical categorization by which one would separate phenomena into polarizing categories. The Absolute is paradoxically revealed through the ordinary. Recognizing the affective dwelling of Dasein in the lifeworld resists the polarizing oppositions of inside/outside. An inconspicuous liturgical reduction suspends the spectacles of the world in order to allow for the nonexperience of the infinite in the immanent. By lingering with the rejected and forgotten, we can cultivate an inconspicuous adoration that overcomes the clarity/withdrawal dichotomy. An inconspicuous evidence must recognize the impossibility of bringing divinity into full clarity, and instead must allow God to blend inconspicuously into the entire field of experience. Faith in the inconspicuous God is directed toward that which is unforgettable precisely because it paradoxically resists memory’s grasp. In each case, Alvis shows how invoking a polarizing metaphysics of presence and absence numbs theological thinking, and instead we should recognize the ways in which an experience of the Absolute deformalizes and thus subverts these sorts of distinctions.
Is “phenomenology of religion” an oxymoron? As already alluded to in the summary of chapter six, this phrase only becomes an oxymoron if one adopts a duplicitous metaphysical perspective whereby phenomenology is assumed to be a method of grasping objects with absolute clarity, while religion is assumed to be a discourse directed toward unknowable phenomena. Setting the stage as such certainly would cause problems for how God, as hidden or unknowable, could be brought into the light using a method that privileges clarity. However, following Heidegger, Alvis seeks to deformalize the distinction between clarity and absence that undergirds this problematic.
This confusion in terms also stems back to the misunderstanding of the meaning of Heidegger’s unscheinbarkeit. As Alvis repeatedly has shown in his book, this word does not mean “absent” or “invisible,” which Heidegger addressed early on in his career. It needs to be understood rather as that which slips conscious grasping while still presenting itself intelligibly. An inconspicuous phenomenology cuts against phenomenality itself and the conditions of experience we typically rely on, paying attention to the ways a phenomenon incorporates absence into its appearance while recognizing the way those phenomena that are ontologically furthest away are paradoxically nearest to us.
I’d like to now pivot into some more critical remarks that hopefully spark further dialogue and academic interest into this fascinating topic. One cannot help but to draw a comparison between a phenomenology of the inconspicuous and the analogia entis (analogy of being) as described in the classical Christian tradition. Both methods seek to accomplish similar goals. The phenomenology of the inconspicuous seeks to offer ways to describe religious experiences that privilege neither clarity nor absence, but instead subvert this distinction altogether. Similarly, the analogia entis seeks to offer ways to understand the relationship between God and creation, which is done by drawing an analogy between the two that eschews both equivocal and univocal predication. While phenomenologists would likely have problems with the analogia entis understood as a totalizing metaphysical system, this largely isn’t what Aquinas and others had in mind when writing about it. Instead, it was a method to temper our knowledge of God and God’s relationship to humanity and to usher in humility before that which escapes complete conceptualization yet is revealed through the immanent.
Similar to the phenomenology of the inconspicuous, the analogia entis seeks to navigate a path between a rationalist philosophy disconnected from history and tradition that seeks to bring everything out into the clarity of light and an individualistic voluntarism that can identify no rational norms nor universal intelligibilities, which ultimately culminates in a nihilistic historicism and relativism. Both also seek to show how something of the infinite Absolute can be gestured at by paying more attention to the immanent and ordinary. Erich Przywara’s celebrated book on the analogia entis endeavored to bring the ancient doctrine into conversation with 20th century phenomenology, especially Heidegger and Husserl. More attention needs to brought to the contact point between this classical doctrine of Christian theology and modern attempts to rethink religious principles in ways like Alvis does in his book.
If nothing else, a phenomenology of the inconspicuous can utilize the scholarship surrounding the analogia entis for understanding how God became understood as a spectacle in the first place, since this was not always the case. As recent commenters like Gavin Hyman have argued, God becomes associated with spectacularity once a univocity of being is adopted in order to understand the relationship between God and man. In order to counteract God or religious experience being understood as spectacles that must shock and awe us, we must learn how the move from analogy to univocity occurred in history and apply this to our current philosophies to safeguard them from hiding a repressed tendency toward idolatrous spectacularity.
In conclusion, Alvis’s book successfully accomplishes its stated goals and is a must read for those interested in both the phenomenological and theological traditions, as well as the ways in which these two traditions can benefit from dialoguing with each other. Alvis provides new avenues for thinking about God and religious precepts which pay homage to Heidegger’s innovations in phenomenology while being true to the salvific story of Jesus. Most of all, Alvis correctly identifies the problems associated with a phenomenology of religion that privileges clarity over other types of presentation. Perhaps Alvis’s greatest lesson is to teach humility before the mundane and ordinary, for the experience of God is revealed through a transformative potentiality present in those overlooked and ordinary phenomena that are closest at hand.
Alvis, Jason W. 2018. The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Hyman, Gavin. 2010. A Short History of Atheism. London: I. B. Tauris.
Przywara, Erich. 2014. Analogia Entis: Metaphysics: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Company.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Edited by Walter Kaufmann and RJ Hollingdale. New York, NY: Random House.
 Jason W. Alvis. 2018. The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 33.
 Alvis, The Inconspicuous God, 49.
 Friedrich Nietzsche. 1967. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, ed. Walter Kaufmann and RJ Hollingdale. New York, NY: Random House, 108.
 Erich Przywara. 2014. Analogia Entis: Metaphysics: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Company.
 Gavin Hyman. 2010. A Short History of Atheism. London: I. B. Tauris, 49.
The English translation of Martin Heidegger’s 1943-44 Freiburg lectures on Heraclitus makes this important text available to a much broader audience than before. Appearing as the 55th volume of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, the lectures exemplify his finest analytical vigor and philosophical insight. The work is particularly important for Heidegger research, as his understanding of the ancient Greek world and interpretation of pre-Platonic thinkers constitute the backbone of his oeuvre. Specifically, the book represents the concluding piece of Heidegger’s Freiburg lectures (1928-44), and thus presents a unique stylistic maturity. In addition, the range of covered issues and concepts is so vast that the lectures may shed light on both his earlier and later work. In terms of his prior work, the Heraclitus lectures might be seen as a fruit of endeavors that began with Beiträge zur Philosophie (GA 65) and the intensive Nietzsche readings of 1936-40, thereby in contrast to his thought preceding Beiträge. In relation to his later work, especially the second part of the book may be read as the foundation of his output for the late 1940s through the 1950s, and also as a springboard for his even later engagement with pre-Platonic thinking (cf. GA 15). What is even more noteworthy than the richness provided by the possibility of establishing such connections is the lectures’ ability to teach the way of thinking and reading by which Heidegger brings the word of Heraclitus into immediate relevance with the historical situation of modern humanity. The task remains, however, that we interpret that way ever anew.
The book consists of two parts, corresponding to two lecture courses. The first part, entitled “The Inception of Occidental Thinking” (1943 summer semester), is mostly concerned with getting a grasp of the ancient Greek experience of the terms φύσις (nature), ζωή (life), δύνειν (submerging), and πῦρ (fire) through an attentive reading of ten of Heraclitus’s fragments, thereby demonstrating the proper mode of approach to his sayings. The second part of the book, titled “Logic: Heraclitus’ Doctrine of the Logos” (1944 summer semester), proceeds from that background and is centered around an elaborate elucidation of what it means for the human to be essentially characterized as ζῷον λόγον ἔχον (the living being having a logos) and an attendant justification of such characterization. No command of the Greek language is necessary to follow the courses, and the laudable translation of Julia Assaiante and Montgomery Ewegen captures the essence of the textual flow. I would also like to maintain that no prior knowledge of Heidegger’s thought is required either. However, Heidegger assumes that his audience has sufficient understanding of Hegel and Nietzsche, which makes it possible to put the confrontations with those thinkers into context.
At the very beginning, Heidegger makes it clear that when he says ‘philosophy’, he means something which is essentially Occidental. The word translated as “Occidental” is abendländischen (3), which beckons a land of evening, that is, a region characterized by the sun’s having submerged. These expressions acquire sense as the book proceeds, but one does not find a definition for ‘Occident’ in its relation to a supposed opposite, ‘Orient’. Instead, Heidegger wishes to direct the reader’s attention to what he considers to be more originary and essential. Unexpectedly, though, he begins with recounting two seemingly irrelevant stories about Heraclitus. In one of them, a group of people visit someone whom they think to be an “exceptional” and “tantalizing” philosopher, and surprised by seeing Heraclitus warm himself at an oven, upon which he says: “Here, too, the gods are present” (6). In the other story, the thinker plays a dice game with children inside the temple of Artemis, and shouts at the crowd perplexed before the “inappropriate” behavior of the thinker: “What are you gaping at, you scoundrels? Or is it not better to do this than to work with you on behalf of the πόλις [city-state]?” (10). Far from being insignificant ornaments, the two stories define and constitute the inconspicuous central axis of the narrative, around which the rest of the lectures unfold. It would for now be enough to note that in both stories, Heraclitus baffles the crowd by challenging their presumptions about the relationship between the ordinary and the godly, for he seems to think that Artemis is closer to his everyday abode than she is to the temple bearing her own name. Moreover, just as he rejects conspicuous piety, he rejects conspicuous politics (“working with you on behalf of the πόλις”). Heidegger remarks, at this point, that Heraclitus’s avoidance of ‘politics’ cannot be interpreted as a kind of disinterested neutrality, and thus does not make him ‘apolitical’. To the contrary, Heraclitus is political in the true sense of the word (11-12). This is the only place in the book where a direct mention of ‘politics’ is made, and Heidegger points to fragment 121 as well as to his lecture course of the previous year, Parmenides (GA 54). It would here suffice to say that without a proper understanding of these references in regard to how πόλις is conceived and how its care is envisaged, any political inference would at best be incomplete. Returning to the stories, they also ground the book-long response to a widespread misunderstanding by which one is tempted to think that the issues taken up by Heidegger lie beyond the place where the urgencies of immediate reality reside. Despite the significance of the two stories, on the other hand, their nature is preparatory.
There is a particular difficulty in translating Heraclitus and getting a grasp of his word. That difficulty, which is experienced to its fullest extent through the course of Heidegger’s elucidations, stems from the millenia-old tradition of thinking which Heidegger simply calls ‘metaphysics’. To explain by way of a rough outline of Heidegger’s account of the history of Occidental thinking, it should first be noted that it begins with the self-opening of the essence of truth, which precedes ancient Greek thought but which nevertheless finds its first decisive expression in the words of the “inceptual thinkers,” namely, Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus. Metaphysics, although grounded in “inceptual thinking,” is characterized as the “self-rigidifying essence” which drives Occidental thinking away from its inception (31). Beginning with Plato until its consummation in Nietzsche’s thought, metaphysics not only transformed the word of Heraclitus through a series of interpretative translations but also determined, established, and secured the proper manner of approach to the fragments.
As a result, if one simply wishes to be “true to the word” (cf. 37) of Heraclitus without the disturbances of the long-standing tradition of metaphysics, their path must harbor or at least be open to and ready for a transformation of the path itself. Such transformation is called “learning” (cf. 190), which does not occur on a straight course of development. Rather, while approaching the sayings of Heraclitus through different angles, as if from afar to their essential core, Heidegger’s discourse also employs a stream of thought which turns toward the opposite direction, i.e., from core to afar. The spiraling of the two streams unfolds as a lasting encounter with the metaphysical tradition as every attempt at getting closer to the simplicity of the fragments is met with the voice of metaphysics, bending the discourse into its spiral course. What is learned as a result of this learning cannot be confined into any doctrinal content that replaces ‘false’ translations of φύσις, ζωή, etc. with ‘correct’ ones. Still, the manner and attitude of what Heidegger calls “essential thinking” remains distinguishable from conventional attempts at the thinker’s word.
First of all, Heidegger distances his way of thinking from historiography, which is defined as “the calculating and fundamentally technical relation to history,” whereby history is rendered as a sequence of bygone occurrences (69). As an example, the disciplines of anthropology and philology, on which an array of conventional interpretations of the world and the word of Heraclitus is based, are grounded in the historiographical manner of approach. Contrarily, Heidegger does not aim at lexicographical accuracy or etymological precision; he tries to reach a region of thought where the ‘decision’ for such accuracy and precision has not yet been made. Accordingly, for instance, the two stories recounted in the first lecture, even if they never actually happened, are considered to be worth more than a stockpile of correct biographical findings.
The emphasis on the aspect of ‘decision’ in translation might evoke the idea that words can take any meaning according to the ‘decisions’ of the interpreter, which constitutes the second manner of approach that Heidegger rejects. This idea may result in what might today be called ‘post-truth translation’, by which authority over meaning is surrendered to the arbitrariness of willing ‘decisions’ and individual perspectives. To be sure, ‘decision’ as understood by Heidegger in no way implies such a relativistic indifference to what the thinker’s word says. In fact, such a ‘post-truth translation’ is possible only on the basis of a prior, determinative decision regarding the essence of words in general. In this case, the decision pertains to the contemporary reality in which “[t]he machinegun, the camera, the ‘word’, and the billboard all have this same fundamental function of seizing and arresting the object” (71). In Heidegger’s reading, this state of affairs corresponds to the consummation of Occidental metaphysics, and is marked by the thought of Nietzsche.
The third manner of approach that Heidegger distances himself from involves interpreting the thinker’s word metaphorically. Heidegger explains in various places that Heraclitus’s sayings do not point to anything except what they simply say. To illustrate, the word ζωή is customarily translated as ‘life’, so ζῷον is taken to designate living beings in distinction to non-living beings. Therefore, if ζωή is somehow attributed to φύσις, it must be in a metaphorical way extrapolating the characteristics of living beings to the whole of beings. On this reading, Heraclitus may too easily be classified as a ‘primitive thinker’ in whose thought the lack of formal clarity and conceptual rigor is patched with metaphors (292). Nevertheless, Heidegger demonstrates through the text that if we “think-after the inceptual word,” there is a way to experience those words in their ‘inceptual sense’, although from a distance (85). Thinking-after the inceptual senses of ζωή and φύσις makes it possible even for the modern human to experience both of the words, in their respective ways, as the emerging-forth by which every being—e.g., gods, wars, algorithms—comes to presence, and not as a group of beings in distinction to others. Henceforth, the relationship between the two terms acquires a new character on the face of which hasty classifications of conventional thinking, together with the mindless application of the concept of metaphor, fall short. Of course, with this commentary, only a little insight into what is achieved by Heidegger’s phenomenological odyssey through the word of the inceptual thinker can be hinted at. It is essential to think-after Heidegger’s thinking-after, so that what it means to experience a word above all becomes clear.
If the proper manner of approach to the fragments can depend neither on historiography nor on the unrestricted will of the beholder, and furthermore if we cannot either accept that the thinker says one thing and means another by way of metaphors, then conventional thinking resorts to the suspicion that “an empty sorcery with words is being practiced here” (59). On that matter, Heidegger seems to be very well aware of the danger of falling into empty chatter, so he differentiates between “an empty play on words” and “the concealed play of the word” (138). How is this concealedness to be understood? Does the thinker’s word enclose a meaning in the same way a seed contains genetic information? These questions bring us to the fourth difference, which is also one of the central issues of the book, and which can be read as an encounter with “dialectical thinking.” Dialectics is defined as “the thinking of opposites together in a higher unity,” and is said to begin with Plato (34). Since being itself is determined as ἰδέα (appearance/look) by Plato, ‘truth’ gained its metaphysical characterization as the actuation of appearing (φαίνεσθαι) in assertion (κατηγορία) in accordance with the thing. In other words, the true in the metaphysical sense consists in re-presenting that which presents itself manifestly (cf. 40, 255, 385). Taken in its dialectical history from Plato to Hegel, the re-presentation of what there is in its totality, i.e., of beings as a whole, moves from a murky self-externalization of Spirit into its deciphered union with itself from out of its will to appearance. Accordingly, understanding Heraclitus would consist in resolving the lack of clarity by comprehending his word with respect to this manifest history. This point of view, however complete its mastery over concepts is, comes to a “stand-still” when it is confronted with what Heidegger calls the “irreconcilable” (117), which consists in the idea that Heraclitus’s thought is “not incomprehensible because it is too complicated, but rather because it is too simple” (149). ‘Simple obscurity’, which not only describes Heraclitus’s fragments but also is itself a cardinal part of the original experience of many ancient Greek words, is irreconcilable with dialectics, because absolute cognition can cognize ‘obscurity’ in its unity with ‘clarity’ only after the two are essentially separated. In other words, dialectics is not capable of attributing obscurity to the “essence of things” rather than to the “eyes of the human” (140). Therefore, “the concealed play of the word” is not in the sense that the word envelops a meaning to be unlocked, but instead it refers to the simple obscurity of the word concealed by the tradition of dialectics in general.
The fifth and last differentiation may be thought of as a continuation of the previous point. As the thinker’s word resists being viewed in terms of the metaphysical ideal of manifest explicitness, it becomes relevant to ask whether Heidegger’s way is akin to a kind of mysticism. However, that is not true either. It is clearly maintained that the truth in inceptual saying is “decisively divorced . . . from the hollow dizziness of a mystical profundity” (176). For Heidegger, it seems, the ‘mystical’ is associated with the experiential reckoning of a futile darkness that can never be brought into word. Summing up,
[t]he true in the inceptual sense of the unconcealed does not have the nature of mere clarity of explication and explicability. To the same degree, the true is not the unclear in the sense of an inexplicable and ciphered profundity. The true is neither the one-dimensionality of mere arithmetic nor the ‘profound’ dimensions hidden behind a theatre’s curtain. (180)
Right after these renunciations, Heidegger gives his own account with a very compendious expression whose succinctness I will not adulterate by attempting to unravel: “The true is the unsaid that remains the unsaid only in what is strictly and properly said” (Ibid.).
The above five points outline Heidegger’s manner of approach in a negative way, that is, by pointing at the inapparent, whereas indeed the progression of the lectures is principally driven by a positive exploration into the thinker’s sayings. In particular, it is the “foundational words” (Grundwortes) which are thought-after, the words that define the domain of inceptual thinking. What is named by each of those words (‘emerging,’ ‘submerging,’ ‘life,’ ‘fire,’ etc.) is also that which is named by “the foundational word of all thinking—namely, the word ‘being’” (90-1). It must be noted, though, that in none of the elucidated fragments does Heraclitus explicitly ask “τί τὸ ὄν” – “what is being?” This shows, before everything, that Heidegger’s persistent prioritization of the question of being is not about making the name ‘being’ explicit in inquiry, even less about research into linguistic copula. More importantly, this also shows that those words name the be-ing of beings in the ways that the words themselves open. As such, they cannot be thought of in terms of anything that comes before them, and it is in this way that they are inceptual.
What is more, this inception itself is brought into word by Heraclitus as πῦρ, which is delineated as the enflaming fire whose light makes possible all appearing, and also as the origin-creating, sudden strike of lightning which separates the light and the dark in the first place by flashing into the unlit (cf. 161-2). Such a lightning must have separated the Occident from its other and placed forth the two toward one another at the moment of inception in the original saying. It is here crucial to note that whatever comes thereafter, i.e., history, is not seen as a dialogue between two poles, but rather as an enduring conversation with the inception, ensuring that the decision regarding the inception remains both in having-been and in future. The proper characterization of the human’s standing within all these relations depends on how the human itself stands out among beings, which in turn depends on the inceptual sense of another foundational word, λόγος. The central achievement of the second part of the book comprises the elucidation of this term and its history from logos to ratio, reason, and finally, to will to power.
Like other foundational words, logos has undergone severe transformations throughout the history of Occidental thinking. In pre-Platonic thought, logos had not yet acquired its status as an object of inquiry. To be sure, this is not a lack whatsoever on logos’s part, for it was rather seen as the proper ground and region of every inquiry. Even then, logos meant ‘speaking’ and ‘saying’ along with ‘gathering’ and ‘harvesting.’ The most decisive determination of the term occurred with the beginning of metaphysics, where λόγος, φύσις, and ἦθος were taken as the three directions of inquiry into beings as a whole. Accordingly, logic, physics, and ethics, which correspond to those directions respectively, became the disciplines comprising philosophy. At that moment, philosophy was given its distinctive position in relation to other forms of knowledge—that of astronomy, mathematics, etc. To be more specific, by establishing itself as the highest science, philosophy has rendered itself a science among others, a science whose program of research is designated by the tripartite departmentalization of knowledge. In fact, an image of this three-fold division is visible even in today’s commonly accepted classification of scientific branches as formal, natural, and social sciences. Returning to logic, it defines logos as ‘assertion’ or ‘judgment’, and is by the same token defined as the doctrine of valid inference, which results in what Heidegger calls the “dominance of discipline over the matter” (233) in the sense that the original richness of the inceptual word is first trimmed for the sake of researchability, and then the resulting research is given the authority over the meaning of the word in its entirety. In this way, “what is more originary than every kind of science,” i.e., logos, is gauged by “what has first arisen from out of this origin” (227), i.e., logic.
The history of logos after this decisive turning point gets more intricate with the development of Koine Greek, the emergence of Hellenistic Judaism, and the ecclesiastical determination of the term as ‘the Word’ (Verbum), the second personage of the Christian deity. The resulting worldview, which was further modified by the Arabic influence, culminates in its conclusive form with the advent of modern metaphysics from Descartes to Nietzsche. Heidegger claims that in none of these transformations was Occidental thought able to return to its essential ground within the original unity of ἐπιστήμη. On the contrary, it continuously rigidified the metaphysical conception by generalizing its methodological apparatus according to an ideal of universality in order to gain technical mastery over its subject matter (cf. 74, 192, 209, 228, 331). In consideration of all these, it is ultimately critical to avoid accounting this history solely in terms of its intellectual component, as if the determination of logos was merely an issue that we happen to see in the books of logicians. What is at stake here is by no means confined to how ‘logos’ as a technical term is defined. Rather, the conversation over logos is the one between the historical human and its history, however inconspicuously it takes place. In this conversation, ‘subjectivity’ is the final response of Christian theology to the question of the essence of the human, which paves the way for the modern restatement of this response as ratio and reason. When Heidegger implies—in 1944 in Freiburg—that it is the inability of Christian church to justify these responses which caused the two world wars (209), his discursive play reminds one of the dice game at the temple. It seems that both thinkers have a tendency to do “inappropriate things” (11) when it comes to temples and churches.
In the end, what can be said about the pre-Platonic logos, and how do these lectures respond to its call? To begin with, according to fragment 50, one cannot attain “rigorous knowledge” (σοφόν) by merely attending to the word of Heraclitus; rather, it is necessary that we turn toward that which already addresses us (259-60). ‘That which already addresses us’ is called the Logos, and the human essence is characterized by having a logos responding to the Logos. Logos, as a foundational word, can be approached in as many ways as being itself. But the most straightforward way to think of it would be through its sense of ‘gathering’. Accordingly, it is the gathering of beings, which shelters every doing and every saying along with every seeing and every listening. On the one hand, metaphysics interprets this gathering as the most universal of all beings, thereby at the same time retaining the godly as the “universal world-ground” (cf. 13). The persistence of this interpretation harbors the danger of interpreting these lectures themselves from the Christian or anti-Christian perspective. The common denominator of all such perspectives is to ab-cise the godly from the earthly abode of this very thinking, and by the same stroke, to separate the discipline from the matter. On the other hand, in this very thinking, we are thinking after Heidegger, who says after Heraclitus’s sayings: Do not merely listen to these words, but rather attend to the originary Logos (325). In the thinkers’ pointing out our relation to the Logos, there appears to be a resistance against the “dominance of discipline over the matter,” which compels us to ponder our decision between turning toward the script (i.e., merely toward the words) and turning toward the Logos itself.
In the former case, the script is considered strictly with regard to what is said in it. So, for instance, Heidegger’s warning against conceiving the Logos—“the One that unifies all beings” (292)—in terms of “any notions of Spirit, personhood, godhood, or providence” (396) might get particularly important, because in this way the Logos is posited as yet another such concept in distinction to the others, making possible an entire area of research on the conceptual-structural relationships between the ‘One’ of Heraclitus and those warned-against concepts. It may even be possible as a result to upgrade those concepts and have an even superior providence. Consequently, we might have multiple truths instead of the sole truth of the all-uniting One. However undeniable the significance of these possible attainments is, the danger persists as long as the human’s standing among those truths is left unexamined. Be that as it may, in the latter case, that is, when one turns toward the Logos itself, the issue is precisely the human’s standing among those truths. Because, as the gathering, the Logos is that which “for-gathers” (cf. 364) all scripts and scriptures so that they greet the human with their claim, and it is also that which must have already addressed the human—the ‘you’—before any of those multiple truths and before any commandment. “The Λόγος is not the word: it is, as the foreword to any language, more originary than the word” (383). In view of this, if one really has to employ the idea of commandment, one should not expect anything further than the command ‘be’, as there is no doubt on Heidegger’s part that it is the address of being which precedes all (323).
Being, however, is not ‘something’ that lies hidden in some supersensory place and in the heights of some vast soaring speculation. As the little word ‘is’ makes clear to us each time it appears, being ‘is’ the nearest of the near. Yet, because the human being troubles himself first and foremost only with what comes next, he constantly avoids the nearest, particularly since he appears to know very little about the near and its essence. (103-4)
All in all, one will find in this book a rigorous restatement of the question of being on the basis of Heraclitus’s doctrine of the Logos, and Heidegger’s response to many possible ‘post-Heideggerian’ approaches at ontotheology. To me, what is most valuable in the book lies in the fact that it somehow teaches, or at least attempts to teach, what one could expect from a lecture course on logic to teach—how to think. The discipline of logic, while setting out rules and methods of making correct use of reason, can hardly say a word on how to think. Here, on the other hand, how to approach a thinker’s word is demonstrated with authentic care toward what is cared by the thinker. Only by way of such care can we learn from the thinker, and only through authentic turning-towards can we remain in thinking.
 The parenthetical translations are provided only as labels and should not be assumed to convey the meaning of the Greek words.
 All page references are to GA 55. Pagination of the German text is used.
 Lin Ma’s Heidegger on East-West Dialogue: Anticipating the Event (Routledge, 2009) remains to be a scholarly gem in the field.
This text originates in a lecture course Heidegger gave at the University of Freiburg in the winter semester of 1941-42. This course preceded a second course, on Hölderlin’s “The Ister,” which Heidegger later gave in Summer 1942. As reported in the Editor’s Afterword, Heidegger originally conceived these courses as a single course covering the poetry of Hölderlin, but ended up using the entire winter 1941-42 semester to develop his reading of “Remembrance.” This work comes seven years after an earlier course Heidegger gave on Hölderlin, in winter 1934-35, on the hymns “Germania” and “The Rhine.” This very readable translation of Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance” furnished by eminent Heidegger scholars McNeill and Ireland completes the English translation of the entirety of Heidegger’s Hölderlin courses, the others having appeared intermittently over the last several years.
The majority of this lecture course shows Heidegger providing a very close reading of Hölderlin’s important hymn “Remembrance,” often dissecting it line by line and word by word. However, equally important are the introductory sections, which comprise a significant portion of the course and which engage at length the correct mode of access for reading a poet such as Hölderlin. The correct way into understanding Hölderlin, Heidegger says, is not to focus on Hölderlin the person, or his life and times, or even his mental illness. Nor does the task involve getting a grip on the images or content of Hölderlin’s poetry, as if the primary obstacle is simply to understand what the poems are about. (Throughout the course, it will be clear to the reader that constructing a “correct” reading of the poem is not of significant interest for Heidegger.) He asks rhetorically on this note, are we sure that the content of the poem “coincides with what this poetizing poeticizes” (19)? Heidegger emphasizes instead that in order to comprehend Hölderlin’s poetry, one must “think into the poetizing word” (22) encountered in the poem. One cannot appropriate the meaning of Hölderlin’s poetry without entering into the proper hearing of what has come to language in the poet’s work. The task involves appreciating the poetized moments, the disclosures of being that were occasioned to the poet and which gave themselves to expression in words. In a way, then, Heidegger’s point here about comprehending what has been poeticized echoes the methodological claims one also finds in his writings on ancient thinkers such as Heraclitus and Parmenides from the same period, to wit, that there is no understanding to be gained of the thought at hand solely through an analysis of the philosopher’s words alone. Instead, the task calls for appreciating the matter of thought [das Zu-Denkende] – the disclosure under whose sway the thinker operates – or in the present case, the poeticizing of what has been poetized. Much of the territory explored in Heidegger’s reading of “Remembrance” has its focus in this approach.
On Heidegger’s reading of “Remembrance” proper: Heidegger suggests at the outset that Hölderlin’s hymn thematizes the concept of thinking [Denken] just as much as it connotes a notion of commemoration or memory. Heidegger highlights the root word at work in the poem’s title: “Remembrance” in German is An-denken. For Heidegger this entails an overlap in the notions of thinking and poetry; “thinking” [Denken] in the genuine sense involves tracing the poetic disclosure and movement of being. He says in a passage well into the text: “Poetizing and thinking is authentic seeking” (114), where seeking is questioning, with the poet’s vocation to question the holy.
While the ins and outs of Heidegger’s analysis of “Remembrance” are too complex for me to summarize in a short space, in what follows I will highlight some of the principal themes and contours of Heidegger’s reading. I begin at the end of the course, in view of his claim that the last lines of the hymn connect it with its beginning and reinforce its message. Overall, as Heidegger reads it, “Remembrance” is a description of the poet’s experience as a poet. The hymn’s last words read “Yet what remains the poets found” (18). As Heidegger reads this line, the poets preserve and keep alive the time-space of the historical being of the human, the things that have come to pass and those that remain to be borne (165). Heidegger interprets the hymn as poeticizing a narrative of the poet’s sojourn and homecoming, such that the hymn illustrates the poet’s experience as one of figuratively departing from one’s own land, and then returning to it. (On this score Heidegger observes the correspondence between the hymn’s travel narrative and Hölderlin’s own return to Germany, on foot, after a period in Bordeaux.) The poet is the one who can appropriate this very crossing from the foreign to the homely, recognizing the foreign and the homely in their own right. Heidegger highlights several images in the poem that articulate metaphorically the poet’s sojourn: the northeasterly wind’s promise of the sun’s return; the turning of the equinox; a footbridge crossing a narrow valley (from France to Germany, and more distantly, Germany to Greece); the Garonne river of France joining the Dordogne and spreading to the sea.
Heidegger does not spend much time in this lecture course discussing what the poem means. The reader should not expect that Heidegger’s analysis will enhance their understanding of what Hölderlin was trying to say, or of the metaphorical allusions Hölderlin gives to the various places and phenomena mentioned in the hymn. Heidegger’s interest is much more to isolate the poeticizing, historically significant moments that phenomenologically condition the poem’s principal images and overall composition. In other words, Heidegger attempts to highlight within specific concepts and themes of “Remembrance” the primordial disclosures that were poeticized for Hölderlin and which received some voice in his poetry. One such theme is that of the “festival” or “holiday,” and the relation of these to the more fundamental notion of the “holy.” As Heidegger describes it, the festival constitutes a commemoration of a momentous event in the past, a celebration of a god’s presence in and consecration of the human domain. In its original instantiation, “[t]he festival is the event in which gods and humans come to encounter one another” (62). For Heidegger, this commemorated moment originates with the dawn of history in Greece and the advent of the Greek gods. Accordingly, the festival and the holiday occasioning it are a reflection of the presence of the holy in the historical being of the present. Phenomenologically speaking, Heidegger’s meaning seems to be this: the existence of the festival as articulated by the poet is significant because the festival and its holiday illustrate the extraordinary quality of certain days and times by which they command celebration, revealing their own consecration. More broadly, Heidegger interprets the festival and holiday to commemorate historical being itself, including the circle of life to which human beings belong as the receivers of this being.
Another theme for which Heidegger gives a rather idiosyncratic, yet ostensibly phenomenological account is that of dreams. This treatment is noteworthy given that dreams are a subject that does not figure prominently in many other texts of Heidegger’s corpus. He takes up dreams here in the course of discussing the ending lines of the second strophe of “Remembrance.” These lines read “And over slow footbridges/Heavy with golden dreams/Lulling breezes draw.” In the wider context of this citation, Heidegger interprets this image as a reference to the poet crossing over to the homeland, where “golden dreams” convey the slumbering but still extant, “lulling” presence of ancient Greek culture (103ff). However, Heidegger gives a deeper analysis of how dreams are to be understood in their own right and outside the framework of modern psychology. He emphasizes that we should consider dreams “nonscientifically,” an approach that stands to be “more scientific” than traditional science by virtue of interpreting dreams outside of any standard point of reference. Heidegger offers a phenomenological description of dreams, citing for illustration two passages from the Greek poet Pindar, whom he identifies as an ancient counterpart of Hölderlin. In the first cited passage, taken from Pindar’s eighth “Pythian Ode,” the key phrase reads: “Shadows’ dream are human beings” (95). Human beings are the dream of shadows. Heidegger interprets this phrase to portray dreams as a vanishing within an appearing, but an appearing which itself is constituted by a darkening, a shadow-character. In Heidegger’s words:
Pindar wants to say that the dream is the way in which whatever is itself in a certain way already lightless, absences: the dream as the most extreme absencing into the lightless, and yet nevertheless not nothing, but in this way too still an appearing: this vanishing itself still an appearing, the appearing of a passing away into that which is altogether devoid of radiance, which no longer illuminates (98).
So Heidegger’s account of dreams sets about attempting to describe the underlying phenomenological character of dreaming, particularly as dreams are characterized by an evanescent but nonetheless definite, illuminating appearance from a hidden source. In claiming that he aims to give a nonscientific account, Heidegger’s emphasis seems to rest in the fact that dreams are first-person experiences. As such, the most one can provide in a genuinely philosophical reckoning must be formulated on the basis of how dreaming presents itself.
On the relation Pindar’s ode sketches between the dream and the human being (“Shadows’ dream are human beings”), Heidegger goes on to comment as follows:
The shadow’s dream is the fading presence of that which is faded, lightless; by no means a nothing; to the contrary, perhaps even that which is real – that which alone is admitted as real where the human being is stuck only with that which is constantly vanishing, the daily aspect of the everyday, insofar as the latter counts as the only thing that life knows as proximate and real (Ibid.).
Heidegger offers something profound here in his citation of Pindar. He casts dreams more broadly as reflecting the vanishing of the original illumination that constitutes the open of human being itself (100). Dreams echo the original, yet always withdrawn presence of being. The evanescent character of dreams simply is the character of the human experience of meaningful intelligibility, and of everyday human life. This observation yields at once a metaphysical sketch of everyday human being, and a cloaked criticism of modern culture, on the ground that every moment of life is a fleeting instantaneous juxtaposition of consciousness and forgetting. Heidegger concludes that dreams reflect the presence-in-absence constitutive of human being itself: “And so it is that what the human being is, as presencing in the manner of a shadow, he is not in the manner of mere presence and cropping up…. That which presences stretches itself as such…in accordance with its essence – into absencing” (100). In sum, to call human beings the dream of shadows is a way of sketching the temporally stretched, yet self-negating character of human existence. While this interpretation stands on its own and greatly fills in the opaque meaning of Pindar’s words, Heidegger also explains the significance of this excursus for Hölderlin’s mention of “golden dreams.” Here Heidegger cites a fragment from Hölderlin’s philosophical treatise “Becoming in Dissolution,” where Hölderlin describes the freedom realized in the creation of art as a terrifying yet divine dream, straddling the line between being and nonbeing, possible and real, and actual and ideal. Heidegger explains: “the dreamlike concerns the becoming real of the possible in the becoming ideal of the actual” (103). As Heidegger writes elsewhere in his own accounts of the origin of art, art’s creation articulates the interplay of one’s own place and time with the presence of the divine. Thus, the “golden dreams” of the “lulling breezes” blowing across the footbridge convey the historical presence of Greece’s golden age, which in turn also represents the dawn of historical meaning occasioned in the advent of art, poetry, and language. So while Heidegger provides an exhaustive hermeneutic analysis of dreams and their presence in human being, he also interprets Hölderlin’s lines regarding the lulling breeze crossing the footbridge to express at once the poet’s experience of straddling the homely and foreign, and more broadly, the essence and meaning of the existence of art.
On a related note, another example of Heidegger’s preoccupation with the phenomenological disclosure bound up with the birth of poetry and art is visible with his highlighting of Hölderlin’s emphases in “Remembrance” of phenomena as they occur to him. In the first strophe, Hölderlin describes the “northeasterly” as the most beloved of winds “to me” (16). A few lines after, he invites the reader to “go now and greet/The beautiful Garonne” (Ibid.). And in the second strophe, Hölderlin says “Still it thinks its way to me” [Noch denket das mir wohl] (17), suggesting a notion of being reminded, of having a thought occasioned from outside oneself. For Heidegger, Hölderlin’s use of these locutions indicates that the poetic experience involves heeding moments that disclose themselves, rather than actively seeking out words that describe experiences. In this light, the northeasterly wind, or the Garonne, are poeticized phenomena that self-present, as it were. They are not discovered by the human agent’s searching or cataloguing of geography or atmospheric patterns, or finding aesthetically pleasing ways to describe these.
What results from Heidegger’s often tangential explorations in this lecture course are as penetrating and exhaustive discussions as one will find in his oeuvre on the nature of poetry and particularly, what it means for disclosures of being to be “poeticized.” This book will make a fine companion to Heidegger’s other writings on poetry such as On the Way to Language, “Poetically Man Dwells,” and “The Origin of the Work of Art.” Also noteworthy in this volume, several early sections of the course address at length the biography and legacy of Norbert Von Hellingrath, the young Hölderlin scholar who, before his untimely death in the first World War, collected the edition of Hölderlin’s poems Heidegger deems essential. Although many of Heidegger’s other writings of this period, especially those on Hölderlin, exhibit a nationalistic streak, the presence of this dimension in Heidegger’s analysis of “Remembrance” is for the most part rather muted. In this vein, Heidegger primarily takes his cues from Hölderlin’s historical conceptions of Germania and does not develop much material from out of his own voice. These topics feature most prominently in Part Three of the text, which is entitled “The Search for the Free Use of One’s Own.” I do not believe this text will provide a major contribution for understanding themes of nationalism in Heidegger’s work.
I will finish by highlighting one last issue to which Heidegger gives attention in this lecture course that I believe is very interesting vis-à-vis his treatments of art and poetry elsewhere. Heidegger gives repeated attention to the concept of images [Bild], particularly in the context of the visual representations one experiences in reading and hearing poetry. In these passages, Heidegger emphasizes that the images evoked by poetry cannot function as a vehicle for understanding what is poeticized. Similarly, he argues that images are not simply the visible counterpart of an unspoken, invisible form or essence comprising the real truth of the poem, as if the poem were some kind of derivative, lesser version of a true reality not possible to capture in words (29-30). As Heidegger describes, images have this limitation because what is poeticized transcends the poem altogether. What is poeticized is not something the poem represents or symbolizes. Thus, the fact that a piece of poetry contributes to the formation of images in the hearer has no bearing on a poem’s meaning or the disclosure of being that occasioned the poem’s composition. Interestingly, Heidegger does not speak here of the actual ontology of images, or of the human capacity for image consciousness. Nor does he comment on the western tradition of privileging visual perception among the sources of knowledge, as he does more critically elsewhere in writings such as “The Age of the World Picture” and “The Origin of the Work of Art.” In those works, Heidegger’s position is that artworks (which, as he says, have their origin in poetry) do not merely represent; art in the genuine sense does not simply re-produce a subject by placing it in front of the viewer in the manner of a copy. Instead, artworks have the function of preserving the eventuation of historical truth for a particular time, place, and culture. Artworks wrest truth from oblivion and bring it into light, albeit not permanently. In view of his comments on images in the course on “Remembrance,” I believe one can take issue slightly with the dichotomy Heidegger draws between the images occasioned through poetry, and the question of whether such images represent a more original meaning or not. In other words, Heidegger’s suggestion that images are merely representative, and not reflective of a deeper disclosure, is perhaps overly restrictive. As Karen Gover has written on this topic, Heidegger perhaps ought to say that art and poetry do in fact represent their subjects (in the manner of re-presenting), but in a way that goes deeper than merely copying their subjects. Maybe the key is that they simply represent in a more originary way, and not that they do not represent at all. In the case of Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s “Remembrance,” Heidegger would seem to allow that the hymn re-enacts some trace of the primordial disclosure that was given to the poet; one simply needs to be in the correct mode of hearing to appreciate the offering of this disclosure. On the other hand, the equally decisive point emerging from Heidegger’s interpretive framework in the lecture course seems to be that the images Hölderlin’s hymn affords us must not distract us from the fact that poetry’s origins transcend both images and words; poetry (or poeticizing) is the moment of being coming into language. Understanding Hölderlin’s hymn therefore concerns heeding the eventuation of being that precedes both the poem and its images.
Gover, K. “The Overlooked Work of Art in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art.’” International Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2) (2008): 143-53.