Felix Heidenreich: Politische Metaphorologie: Hans Blumenberg heute

Politische Metaphorologie: Hans Blumenberg heute Book Cover Politische Metaphorologie: Hans Blumenberg heute
Felix Heidenreich
J.B. Metzler
2020
Softcover 17,99 €
VI, 135

Reviewed by: Nel van den Haak

While Adorno and others maintained that, after the Second World War, poetry and philosophy are impossible, Blumenberg belonged to that group of post-war, German philosophers committed to exploring what would be possible in and with philosophy. Did Blumenberg succeed in this endeavour, and is that why some today find his work inspiring?

This new volume by Felix Heidenreich examines the operation of the work of Blumenberg, focusing on the operation of his metaphorology as political metaphorology. Yet he does not merely inquire into Blumenberg’s metaphorology. Indeed, there is a certain ambiguity in the title Politische Metaphorologie Hans Blumenberg heute. Hans Blumenberg heute is surely a more expansive topic than his metapho­rology. What is the book about?

The book is structured as follows. In chapters 1-6 the author approaches metaphorology as philosophy, or more broadly as thought movement, thinking style. Chapter 6, on myth, is transitional, with chapters 7 and 8 being explicitly about political metaphorology. In chapter 9 the relationship of politics, morals, and truth is the central theme, with a focus on the political character of metaphorology. Chapter 10, the closing chapter, returns to the core question: What can we do with or make of Blumenberg’s philosophy and with his metaphorology?

The first chapter elaborates the core question: What is the operation of Blumenberg’s work? Thus it is clear that the book will not be an introduction to Blumenberg’s work (enough manuals are already available) nor an argument for a single thesis. Rather, it is a search for an answer to the question of what we are able to make of Blumenberg. Instead of a doxography, the author prioritizes investigation as a style of thinking. He wants to offer something other than the usual perspective, moving away from the question “What does Blumenberg say?” and towards the questions, “How does Blumenberg operate?” and “Is it possible to continue this operation?” By investigating these questions as paradigms, as examples of a working style and thinking style, the book attempts to contribute to the self-understanding of philosophy, as well.

The second chapter focuses on Die Legitimität der Neuzeit (1965), the book that made Blumenberg famous. Blumenberg examines Euro­pean intel­lec­tual history, arguing that the modern representation of the self-assertion of the human, the representation that the human uses to take his fate into his own hands, is that by which he can and must transform his world. European modernity is thus not opposed to the Christian world, but procreated by it. The author refers to Anselm Haverkamp, who argues that Blumenberg at the end of the 1960s was conceived as left or progressive philosopher not least because of this book. In Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, the concept of rearrangement is important. Blumenberg’s conception of rearrangement suggests that themes and argu­ments exist in a functional coherence, in which separate elements can be exchanged and altered, but that there is no absolute “point zero,” an originary place from which new interpretations spring. Since every new idea arises from combinations of existing narratives, concepts, and metaphors, intellectual history becomes a series of changes, rearran­gements, and bricolages.

In the third chapter the central question is whether there are any constants in innovation dynamics. What connects the contemporary person to the human being of the Middle Ages, to the ancients, or even to primitive times? Classically, philosophical anthropology gives the answers here. For instance, Kant’s question, “What is man?”, establishes a telos of the human being: Man is substantially social, substantially seeking knowledge, substantially gifted with reason. But according to Blumenberg, this essential determination cannot be continued today. As opposed to the essentialism of traditional European philosophy, he asks the question of man in his own, narrative way. The author points to two strategies in this context. First, in Blumenberg’s narrative philo­sophy, in place of attributions of being come stories and histories; second, there is Blumenberg’s plea for the generation and use of descriptive categories. In stories and descriptions, Blumenberg’s goal is also to produce distance, not a vision of the absoluteness of reality. He aims for an integration of the phenomenological, first-person-perspective on the one hand and natural-anthropological, third-person perspective on the other. In doing so, his descriptions are strongly bound to histo­ri­cal and personal circumstances, so that culture becomes a shield against the absolutism of reality. To describe this project, Blumenberg uses the metaphor of “caves” that are not built of stone, but of histo­ries, texts, theories woven into houses. Thus, in his last major monograph, Höhlenausgänge (1989), the history of European philosophy becomes a series of cave metaphors. Yet, in contrast to Blumenberg’s emphasis on distance, Heidenreich argues that man is a being who alternates between distance and intimacy, and aligns one with the other.

In the fourth chapter the author discusses the relationship between culture and technology in Blumenberg’s anthropological variations. Not only do humans have means to anticipate danger and to prevent it, but animals also have rudimentary forms of technology: they build nests, commu­ni­cate, and reap the benefits of their labour. Technology does not contrast with the world, but comes from it. The author applies Blumenberg’s concepts to phenomena that Blumenberg himself never described: digitisation, the Internet, development of self-learning machines. What do these technologies mean for people? They affect us by transforming us into data-producers and consumers. So, here, there appears to be a fruitful way to build on Blumenberg’s anthropological approach to technology.

In the fifth chapter the author points out something more explicitly about Blumenberg’s approach to anthro­pology and to rhetoric. Anthropological arguments always carry the danger of a certain reduc­tionism. How does Blumenberg face this danger? As already indicated, for Blumenberg, description constants replace essence determinations. And while Blumenberg follows Kant in directing his thinking against a certain pathos of reason, his more powerful contribution is to rehabilitate a justification for rhetoric. Such rehabilitation is necessary because rhetoric has for too long been perceived primarily as an art of seduction. In contract, for Blumenberg, rhetoric is a technique of delay, a substitute for violence. Blumenberg is not so much interested in the rationality of rhetoric as he is in its formalising, delaying, and deflecting effect. In this context, Blumenberg’s understanding of education or Bildung as a kind of distancing or refusal to be impulsive is important. For Blumenberg, political education is not about rhetoric as display or framing, but about rhetoric as a kind of exercise in slowness and thoughtfulness. Nevertheless, rhetoric and metaphor do not always slow down, but can make things more complex, confuse, enthuse, but also oversimplify, leading to questionable cognitive “shortening.”

Criticism of an “essentializing anthropology”, which is based on a given being of man, cannot neglect to hold on to description constants, as already indicated. Chapter 6 starts with Blumenberg’s central thesis of the complexity reduction via narrative by man: Man likes to keep the world off the body and live with the things he experiences by telling himself and others a history. In this view, anthro­po­logy is systematically intertwined with myth. The foundational hypothesis here is that man as a narrative, myth-forming,  myth-gathering being can never fully outgrow the premodern techniques of world-conquering. From chapter 6 onwards, the book moves towards Blumenberg’s political metaphorology. This chapter, not yet explicit about this, functions as a transition.

In German-language post-war philosophy, myth is a major field of study, and Blumenberg plays a central role in the intense struggle concerning how to understand myth and its function (the origins of this discussion are found in Carl Schmitt, Ernst Cassirer, and Albert Camus). According to Blumenberg, myths organize chaos. The first detailed and explicit presentation of the theme of myth theory can be found in Blumenberg’s contribution to the band on Probleme der Mythenrezeption (1968) under the title “Wirklichkeitsbegriff und Wirkungs­potential des Mythos”, on how myth production and myth reception relate to each other.  Yet it is Blumenberg’s monograph Arbeit am Mythos (1979) that dogma becomes central, and with it a questioning of the Christian tradition. Unlike Plato, Blumenberg does not pit myth against logos, but instead opposes it to dogma. In particular, he conceives myth as liberal and open in the face of the closedness and authoritarian character of dogma. At the end of the 1960s, this view produced the Blumenberg –Taubes controversy. Whereas Jacob Taubes stressed that the myth can also become anti-liberal, even becoming a means of spreading terror, Blumenberg has no plausible reply. He does write about the Hitler myth, but simply assumes that myth must be ambiguity-tolerant and ambiguous. Nevertheless, even ambiguity can be dangerous, as evidenced by the ideological promiscuity of the national socialist elite. Heidenreich concludes, I think quite rightly, that the outlining the form of thought and presentation of myth does not yet say anything about its content, a point Blumenberg largely missed.

In the seventh chapter, Blumenberg’s investigation of metaphor, as developed in his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphor (1960), takes centre stage. Indeed, Paradigms is Blumenberg’s methodically most important text, and perhaps the one for which he is most famous. Heidenreich argues that with this text Blumenberg opened up an entire field of research within philosophy, its important offshoot emerging, for example, in Ralf Konersmann’s Wörterbuch der philosophischen Metaphern (2007).

What is the core of metaphorology? The author indicates that this question is not easy to answer. The term suggests that it is a scientific treatment of metaphors, so that metaphorology relates to metaphor formation as a kind of reflexive science. But the significance of the project only becomes clear when it is placed in relation to the history of understanding, something that Blumenberg himself never accomplished. When concepts shape our thinking, the historically informed handling of these concepts becomes a requirement of controlled thinking. I think this implicitly shows a focus on the content of metaphors, but that is not yet an answer to the question of what metaphorology is. So, the question arises again: is metaphorology just the history of metaphors (akin to the history of concepts, which includes the history of their content) or a theory of metaphor and its function?

Another important question arises in this connection: Are metaphors ornaments or are they more fundamental? The view that metaphors should be understood not as an appendage but as a foundation of human language, is usually traced back to Nietzsche’s text Über Lüge und Wahrheit im aussermoralischen Sinne (1896). This is a central question about metaphor, but is it addressed by metaphorology? Blumenberg refers to Nietzsche, but offers no extended discussion, nor is Heidenreich clear on this point.

Heidenreich does point out that Blumenberg’s metaphorological texts have been compared to topos research. A classic objection to topos research is its associative character. One jumps among text types, eras, and reception contexts, to compare similar usage modes. But this purely associative linking counters Blumenberg’s approach, which looks to a structuring background narrative, as in Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit (1957). The decisive distinction between a metaphor-collecting topos-research and a metaphorological study is the presence in the latter of an historical thesis, which organizes the material. The concept of “Leitfossile” (leading fossils) is significant here. It means that metaphorology must assume significant cases in any given period, without which it would become a collection of bare materials.

The detection of analogies itself leads to thinking in analogies, for Blumenberg. Thus, the question arises: do people constitute metaphors or do metaphors constitute people? For Blumenberg, the study of metaphor shows that texts know more than their writers, since reality speaks through them. According to Heidenreich, this observation means that people do not have ideas, but ideas have people. But this leads to a methodological difficulty concerning the capacity of metaphorology to oversee the context of its research objects. This question about the relationship of metaphors and people, which appears in various places, seems to be a blind spot in the book, since the author never makes it thematic nor takes any real position on it.

Chapter 8 raises the key issue: what is political metaphorology? In Blumenberg, the word com­bi­nation of political metaphorology does not occur. Heidenreich wants to investigate how metaphors themselves become political, and hence to understand how metaphors exercise power. His concern is not so much about metaphors within the history of ideas as it is about intellectual martial art, which keeps out questionable ideas. But it seems to me that one need not choose between the polemical function of metaphors, and metaphors as guiding fossils. Again, as far as I am concerned, the author does not offer a lucid treatment of this ambiguity in the functions of metaphor.

The author points out that the dimension of power in Blumenberg’s metaphorology remains implicit, but the next chapter considers political, military, and violent metaphors in the work of Blumenberg and of his pupils. It has long been acknowledged that such metaphors can lead from the point of view of theoretical knowledge. But, then, why is this discussion of violent metaphor necessary? Do these metaphors have depth, or do they serve as merely collective concepts? The same question can be asked about the author’s digressions about Brexit and about the French yellow jackets. Heidenreich even says that metaphors can at once be deadly and guiding. But the point of this observation eludes me. Perhaps we are once again asking whether metaphors form us or whether we form metaphors, but the discussion here does not gain any clarity on that question.

Though they do not resolve this crucial question, the author mentions several valuable features of Blumenberg’s ap­proach. First, Blumenberg’s work clarifies the great relevance of cultural contexts and historical conno­tations to understanding metaphor: as a phenomenologist, Blumenberg knows that we always “see more than we see.” Second, Blumenberg’s approach makes it possible to consider the mixing of metaphors and myths. Indeed, metaphors can be understood as “micro-myths” insofar as they already have a narrative structure and are in many cases woven into larger narrative, which may even have its own mythical connections. Third, we learn something from Blumenberg about the dynamics of realignment.

The author then elaborates on the metaphorology of “the ship of state” and the question of the democratic “captain,” following Blumenberg’s Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer (1979). Here he refers in passing to Blumenberg’s analyses of the nautical metaphors that unfold in a Bundestag debate. The discussion of this example shows mainly how difficult a good political metaphor can be to unpack.

The author raises another methodically decisive question in this context: do these metaphors guide political relationships ornamentally, or do they have a real, channeling effect? How exactly should the relationship between expression and the expressed be understood here? Metaphors are plastic, so even the limited image of the state ship branches into a variety of theories and themes. Do metaphors really form our thought and action, or do we form metaphors as ornaments to our pre-existing ideologies and decisions? Could it be that metaphors are not deep guide fossils but rather a kind of surface foam?

The author tends somewhat towards the surface foam view. He holds, in a stronger way than Blumenberg himself, that one must assume the incoherence of human metaphor use. Blumenberg imagines that leading metaphors fundamentally pre-structure our view of the world, of which we ourselves are parts. In this view, metaphors are incoherent in the sense that they do not push our thinking through a single compelling channel, but rather through a complex network as in Venice, with side arms, dead-ends, main and side canals. Modernisation also contributes to this pluralisation, since in the absence of an absolute metaphor, there is rather a horizon of meanings, that terminate in one another. Our use of metaphors, including those that form political communication, is a bricolage.

For Heidenreich, the toolbox of Blumenberg’s political metaphor, unlike its pure framing analysis, provides an historically grounded analysis of primary philosophical leading metaphors. Against this back­ground, the author indicates what he believes an integrative political metaphorology should look like. He makes a attempt at systematization, guided by a maxims of political metaphorology:

  • Analyse the entire network of image fields! Metaphors are semantic compactions, or nets of concepts that refer to one other. For instance, consider the field of architectural metaphors such as buildings and houses, foundations, pillars or struts, and so on. Each metaphor in the network is constituted as a member of a metaphor family, the members of which, in Wittgenstein’s sense, bear a certain family resemblance to one another.
  • Familiarize yourself with important matters! A broadening of the metapho­ro­logical programme concerns the exposure of technical historical and social contexts. For example, light can become a metaphor for truth because people see in light but not in the dark. When Blumenberg analyses the ‘Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit’, this analysis gains depth by examining the history of the luminous agent at the same time.
  • Ignore media boundaries! This is not Blumenberg’s, though today it is trivial. It is precisely the manifes­tations of metaphor in the mass media that have the greatest political effect.
  • Specify the character of the metaphor’s leadership! The most difficult step in political metaphorology is to show that there is not only strategic use of ornamental metaphors, but also a leading function in metaphor itself.  Yet, according to Heidenreich, even Blumenberg often fails to show this.

In the end, the author also stresses that a political metaphor in the continuation of Blumenberg’s work has a deconstructive character: Metaphorology is hardly focused on the question of whether metaphor is “correct”, but will only make explicit what connotations and implications are built in; the metaphors of people in the struggle for the appropriate expression must be understood analytically.

Chapter 9 focuses on the relationship between politics, morality, and truth, based on Hannah Arendt’s writing on the Eichmann trial. The question of truth here is focused on the truth of the existence of evil, while Arendt emphasizes the banality of evil. Though it takes effort to see what relevance this has to metaphorology, the link seems to be that political metaphorology must be guided in terms of power and democracy, and therefore also in terms of good and evil. Blumenberg blames Hannah Arendt for creating the myth of everyday – and thus innocent –  evil, by portraying Eichmann as a stupid pawn. I will not go into the discussion between Blumenberg and Arendt about Eichmann, because recent research on Eichmann has shed new light on her assessment of the man and his crimes.

What is important is how we value myth-making. According to Blumenberg, collective myths can have a function. The unsustainability of their imagination does not have to be presented to the weak. As a means of defensive self-confidence, community-forming myths can be legitimate. Myths and truth thus become pharmaka, substances whose use presupposes a context-related clarity. But how can myth distinguish between right and wrong? When is a political myth useful for self-defence and when does it become hegemonic? Blumenberg lacks an answer to these questions, according to Heidenreich, for principled reasons. These questions depend on common sense and practical experience that is indicated in traditional philosophy with the concept of phronesis or prudentia. Because these are eminently practical questions, there is no rule that can be used to answer them. So, Heidenreich argues, there is no moral philosophy in Blumenberg, or at least nothing that solves these practical questions. But if that’s right, does this disqualify Blumenberg’s metaphoro­logy from being political?

Chapter 10 turns to a key question in Blumenberg’s thinking: Where can philo­sophy still be practiced? As Heidenreich portrays it, Blumenberg gets rid of hard dividing lines of classical philosophy: the image of rhetoric as the enemy of philosophy disappears, myth is no longer directly opposed to reason. Blumenberg is taken as a representative of a soft, empathetic, deconstructive philosophy that allows authors, theories, and perspectives to manifest their metaphorical, time-bound and literary assumptions. But what does Blumenberg have to say about the mission of academic philosophy? Does philosophy disappear into scholarly writing, argument and insight into essayistic commentary?

For Blumenberg himself, it was internal philosophical doubt that makes a certain representation of the profession questionable. He is also clear in his rejection of the usefulness or applicability of philosophy. Heidenreich agrees that the current culture puts research projects under heavy time pressure, a problem already stressed by Blumenberg. Blumenberg opposed the instrumentalization of philosophy by industry, its economization. But since for him, theory was already form of praxis, he also saw little interest in the left-wing thinkers’ demand for the coherence of theory and revolutionary political praxis. The idea that theory could produce solutions to social problems, must have struck him as naïve.

One problem that presents itself in interpreting Blumenberg is that he left few programmatic texts in that set out his intentions. Yet Blumenberg clearly has a narrative style intended to allow one to consider objects from different perspectives, to explore detours and side roads, and to slow down and to express doubts. He allows for impressions to be processed in freedom without immediately reaching a judgment. Blumenberg is therefore very much in a phenomenological tradition. But according to Heidenreich, this narrative style is not dialogical, so the reader is left wondering how any statement could be contradicted or corrected. Perhaps narrative and dialogical philosophy could indeed develop further together, without contradiction, but for further answers about Blumenberg’s philosophy, a lot of research is needed.

But could Blumenberg’s ideas nevertheless help us understand the leading metaphors of the present day? According to Heidenreich, the great potential of Blumenberg’s approach lies in the careful deconstructive effect of a consistent survey of unselec­ted background metaphors and narrative structures, and the apparent plasticity of meanings within that structure. Analysis should focus not only on dramatic metaphors, such as “struggle” but also on less conspicuous metaphors. With Blumenberg, we can initiate the questioning of those images, which in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words “hold us captive.” Metaphorology is thus at once a  cultural techniques and a reflective approach to meaning that may ultimately be more than a deconstructive act.

Although the book contains much of interest, its investigation of the main question, about the politics of Blumenberg’s metaphorology, makes no real reference to Blumenberg’s own conception of politics. The author writes as if Blumenberg approached politics as a necessary evil, about which philosophy does not have to make much of a fuss. And to be sure, we rarely find an explicit discussion of the political in Blumenberg. It does arise, however, in his discussions of political theology, in which he questions traditional views on human nature. Similarly, in his posthumous book Beschreibung des Menschen (2007) (Description of the Human), he treats the state not so much as representing the citizens, but as prevailing over them. That’s a little different than seeing the politics as a necessary evil. Perhaps Blumenberg does politicize philosophy, just in a very different way than Heidenreich would like.

A few other criticisms I made in passing can also be made more explicit. First, no clear definition of metaphor is offered. Since metapho­rology is a reflection on metaphors, this makes it a little difficult to grasp what the book is reflecting on. More importantly, in Heidenreich’s argument, metaphor and metaphorology are often mixed, which leads to ambiguities, particularly when he asks about the political operation of metaphor. In many places in the book, he wants to draw on the politically operational nature of metaphors as understood by Blumenberg. But a politically operative metaphor need not depend on politically-opera­tional metaphorology, nor would a non-politically-operational metaphor detract from a politically-operational meta­pho­rology. By the end of the book, the author seems to agree with Blumenberg’s broad understanding of the political dimensions of metaphor, as thinking routines. But since this emerges only at the end of the book, much of the earlier discussion remains ambiguous.

Another criticism is that the author is not always sharp about which point he wants to make, especially when he asks whether we form metaphors or whether metaphors form us. This question is regularly run together with the question of whether a metaphor is a superficial ornament or a guiding or channeling idea, e.g.

The methodically decisive question now is: do these metaphors guide purely orna­mental world and political relationships or do they actually have a channeling effect? How exactly should the relationship between expression and the expressed be under­stood here? …… Do metaphors really channel or do we form metaphors? (90)

We see that the author shifts to the second question, without the first question being answered. But whether a metaphor is ornamental or channelling, does not seem to bear on whether man determines it.

If humans are creators of language, they can produce both superficial metaphors and channeling ideas. But perhaps the author has a different view, and he believes that a metaphor can be a guiding idea, only if man is guided, and not creative himself. The author could have offered a clearer argument by drawing on the extensive French philosophical discourse on this subject (e.g. the work of Lacan, Kristeva, and Ricoeur).

Ultimately, it could be the case that Heidenreich fails to find unity in Blumenberg’s work simply because it is not there. Blumenberg hardly mentions metaphorology in his later work, perhaps because Gadamer in Wahrheid und Methode (1960) has sharply worked out this theme. Blumenberg moved on to myth and incomprehensibility, themes that mark a deepening of his pheno­me­nology. The connection with the earlier work is increasingly loose and unclear, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see the political significance in his later work. Never­theless, despite these concerns, with Politische Metaphorology: Hans Blumenberg Heute, Heidenreich has produced a rich book that provides a welcome, fresh look at Blumenberg’s work.

Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Eds.): Philosophers and Their Poets

Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant Book Cover Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Eds.)
SUNY Press
2019
Hardback $95.00
282

Reviewed by: Sarah Fayad (Emory University)

It is somewhat easy to forget that philosophy has not always, or in every case, been conducted through the medium of writing. For the most part, we expect philosophy to be written.  But the written-ness of philosophy is contingent, and so too is its suspension in the written: in literature, media, interview, and of course poetry. Socrates and Plato, or instance, did not make much use of citation and Plato especially elevated philosophy at the expense of poetry and drama. And, indeed, this contingency is all the more difficult for philosophers to fathom, because the written word is usually the trade-mechanism by which we philosophize, and through which we think. The experienced phenomena of reading and writing are the basic instruments of philosophy, as we practice it. Writing is not merely the way we convey and transmit ideas, born and nurtured in the mind. Rather, when we look at the phenomena of reading and writing, we see the ebb and flow of epiphany, of doubt, of enlightenment and invention. Writing is quite often how we philosophize at all.

The primordial disciplinary decision to move the vague shapes and shadows of our ideas from their mental and social obscurity (and incompletion) to the written word—a decision which none of us living had any hand in making— itself has philosophical ramifications. That is to say that the presupposition of philosophy’s written-ness, is shot through with questions: questions about the truth, as well as metaphilosophical questions about the place of philosophy within the universal/Borgesian «Library of Babel» it has chosen for itself, about the necessity of writing philosophy and the necessity of philosophy regarding other kinds of written works, about the relationship between philosophical, literary, journalistic, and poetical styles to reality, truth, clarity, and that part of the human spirit to which philosophy wants to appeal.

Charles Bambach’s and Theodore George’s anthology, Philosophers and Their Poets lights upon these fundamental questions of philosophy-as-word, as speech, and as our connection to one another and to the real through a series of serious, considered, and illuminating papers examining the relationship of philosophers to art, style, and of course poetry. I see these papers as being divided into four more-or-less distinguishable subject-categories: 1) papers dealing with German idealist discourse around the role and status of art, poetry, and beauty in what they regard as a burgeoning philosophical and rational world, 2) analyses of Nietzsche’s philosophy of art as it serves as a kind of hinge—indeed serves as itself a revealing poem—between idealism and more phenomenological and existential traditions, 3) those dealing with Heidegger’s encounters with poetry as a revolutionary force in meaning-making, and 4) those which proceed from the poems themselves to philosophical analyses.

The first three chapters of this collection take us through the foundations of these questions of style and artistry in the German idealist tradition. The first essay by Maria de Rosario Acosta Lopez analyses a historical controversy between Schiller and Fichte over philosophical style and the part of the human being to which philosophy must speak. This is followed by Chapter 2, which presents us with a very clear and compelling translation of the very letters exchanged between Schiller and Fichte, regarding philosophical style. These first chapters elucidate a possible ambiguity between reason and feeling, which gives way to a possible ambiguity between philosophy and poetry. This ambiguity leads Hegel’s intuitions, both conceptually and historically. Theodore George argues in Chapter 3 that philosophy and art have a similar purpose in the creation of world-historical meaning, for Hegel. We see a transition from any concern about the purity of philosophy in Fichte to an embrace of its meaning-founding affinities with religion and art in the later work of Hegel.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with Nietzsche, whose philosophy marks a kind of transition between German idealism and the phenomenological and existential (represented by thinkers like Heidegger and Gadamer), which will occupy the four of the volume’s remaining chapters. In Chapter 4, Babette Babich analyses Nietzsche’s relationship to ancient Greek tragic poetry, to its lost poets, and to their time-silenced songs in the interest of revealing what are indisputable contributions to philosophy itself, contra an extant tradition in the literature which more or less excludes him from the field. The fifth Chapter by Kalliopi Nikolopoulou investigates Nietzsche’s attachment to the heroic in Greek tragedy. Nietzsche saw ancient heroes and the poets who sung their tales as perhaps doubly heroic, she argues, since they might remedy Modern nihilism.

Chapters 5, 7, and 8 all deal with Heidegger’s encounters with poetry—as both the truth and the promise of philosophy. Like Schiller, Hegel, and Nietzsche Heidegger sees poetry as revealing a fuller truth than that accessible by reason alone. But it is only with Hegel that Heidegger shares this concept of the promise of poetry; both Heidegger and Hegel think art has (or once had) the power to inaugurate worlds and imbue them with meaning. Charles Bambach’s sixth Chapter for this volume begins at the interstices of aesthetics and ethics, mired in this Heideggerian meaning-making power/promise of the poem. He finds that the poem—in granting us access to our humanity in full—promises an originary ethics of our place, and (I’ll say) perfection, which is utterly opaque to us without the poetic disclosure. In the seventh Chapter, «Remains,» William McNeill addresses the futurity any concept of a promise must take for granted. He argues that Heidegger’s confrontations with Hölderlin’s poetry open up novel relations and meanings for us by altering the medium of time. Hölderlin’s works according to McNeill demonstrate a substratum of ambiguity in time wherein the greeting and remembrance are indistinct. Thus, the poem’s novel horizonality inaugurates a new world by possibilizing new projects, new relations to one another, and even new relations to the dead. Chapter 8 is likewise about the time of the poem, but it looks to its momentum, to the cadence of thought. Such poietic momentum, Krystof Ziarek argues, is experienced as rhythm and even texture. When philosophy takes on this cadence, it transcends the mere transmission of information and exceeds the possibilities of the argument: demonstrating in this excess new possibilities for thought itself.

Chapters 9, 10, and 11 emerge from analyses of poets and poetic works, rather than from within the philosophical theories which have taken them up. This provides what I think is a novel opportunity for philosophers who might not themselves read much poetry. It is a strange admission to make here, I suppose, that I have likely read more philosophical works which abstract from and selectively cite poems than I have poems themselves. To the question, «Is poetry true?» Chapter nine of Philosophers and Their Poets poses a kind of phenomenological/experimental response; «In order to answer this question maybe no extensive conceptual discussion of truth is needed…just attention to a particular poem led by the question how such a poem can be read and understood.»[1] To this end, Gunther Figal looks to Burnt Norton» by T.S. Eliot. Chapter 10, by Gert-Jan van der Heiden, which I discuss in some greater detail below, looks to the somewhat revolutionary poetry of Célan, which render in poetic verse that promise of a different world, or of new meanings, of new homes—out of the silence, the nothingness, that must follow the decay of status-quo intelligibility, in the rests, and breaths that keep familiar meaning from crossing living lips. In Chapter 11, Max Kommerell (who has been translated here by Christopher D. Merwin and Margot Wielgus) provides an analysis of Hölderlin’s Empedocles poem, which demonstrates his distinctiveness. In particular, this analysis lays bare Hölderlin’s perhaps utterly unique poetic «ear,» which attunes him to cosmic harmonies and truths, and places what is revealed in his writing always-already outside the grasp of our concepts; «…in accord with his talent, Hölderlin could experience what, for us, lies at an ungraspable distance and is a hardly thinkable event as the real history of his soul.»[2]

Because of its historical breadth, this anthology might serve as a kind of introduction to the specific questions that arise from continental philosophy’s various encounters with poetry. But the book would only be an appropriate introduction for somewhat advanced students of philosophy, familiar with continental thought, and its historical movements. It is therefore I think primarily suited to philosophers already researching some of the questions outlined in my introduction. These would also be invaluable secondary sources for interdisciplinary researchers. I would readily recommend the volume, for example, to anyone writing at the interstices of philosophy or art and aesthetics with ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, and metaphysics. This recommendation is in no small part because the authors in this volume have done an excellent job bringing the stakes of philosophy of art to the surface.

Art, especially as poetry, has had an inescapable influence on philosophical thinking throughout its 2000+ years of development. If the bare written-ness of philosophy opens up as many questions as it does, then what does its ready and intimate relationship to poetry mean for us? What does it say about philosophy itself: its veracity, its trustworthiness? And, perhaps more promisingly: What does it say about poetry, about its kind of truth? Bambach and George introduce the works in this anthology by way of a kind of conclusion:

What we find in poetry is the unfolding of the very momentum of language as an originary opening up and emergence that does not fit into the metaphysical encasements of presence and representation… Against the propositional language of statements, poetic language invites us to heed the pauses, the interruptions, and the caesurae that call us to attend to what is not said or can never be said in language.[3]

They find that poetry invites that part of the human spirit which can attend to the immutable mysteries of our existence and of Being, in general, to attend to these mysteries, in spite of their inherent obscurity. Poetry, in short, invites us to philosophize. We come up against this indistinction between the philosophical and the poetic, as we read the essays collected in Philosophers and Their Poets, again and again. The philosophical—which has, in many of its iterations attempted to void itself of the poetic, to let beauty die of neglect—is shot through with the poetic. The poetic is unavoidably philosophical: so much so that we might call any promise of truth philosophy might make, at all, the «poetic.»

We cannot help but ask here, where ordinary categories fail; Who are the philosophers and who the poets of Philosophers and Their Poets? Some thinkers examined within the volume trouble themselves with the differences, while others embrace, and even invest fully in the similarities. (Although, the indistinction between the poetic and the philosophical may, in the end, be why we feel compelled to draw such a distinction in the first place, rendering both derivative).

Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez’s analysis of a confrontation between Schiller and Fichte begins the essays in the collection and does so as an inauguration of the very questions with which we have been tarrying. Most importantly, the argument between these Modern titans lays bare a very basic metaphilosophical point I had not ever before considered: that all writing, all discourse, and all philosophy must speak either to the whole of the human being or to some part of her. Philosophy might, therefore, have a different audience than does poetry, news, or fiction even within the same enfleshed and living reader. Fichte presupposes that philosophy must solicit only some part of the subject. He argues that philosophical writing must be as logical as possible, using examples in such a way that they shore up arguments rather than evoke the sensible and imaginative capacities. This is because, on his view, philosophy takes aim at the Understanding alone. Other capacities of the subject are not relevant, on this view, to the philosophical pursuit of truth. Such a pursuit can, therefore, only be successful if it is confined to this valence of subjectivity.

But, is such a well-fortified compartmentalization of subjective parts, regions, and capacities even possible for more contemporary thinkers? Doesn’t Continental Philosophy’s «phenomenological turn» render anathema the very idea that philosophy might reach something like the tower-bound understanding—especially without dirtying itself in the more immanent ground of evoking and implicating imagination, sensation, and body? Indeed I think many of us would agree that philosophy might not be able to find and transmit truth if it does not consider and speak to the whole human being. Rosario Acosta Lopez shows that Schiller’s evocations of imagination insert «…in the heart of human action the elements of contingency, finitude and a permanent and necessary dialog with a world that is never entirely in our power to control.» Contra Fichte, Schiller’s more poetical and evocative style is veridical: showing us the world in its more awe-inspiring and challenging true-light.[4]

My continual tendency, aside from the inquiry itself, is to employ the ensemble of emotional forces and to the extent that it is possible to affect all of them. I thus do not wish merely to make my thoughts clear to others, but at the same time to transmit my entire soul to them, and to influence bother their sensuous and intellectual powers.[5]

Schiller makes an epistemological, existential, and ontological point with his imaginative and sensuous writing style. He also makes a metaphilosophical one, which proceeds naturally from undermining the understanding’s epistemic monopoly; «[T]he discussion reflects on philosophy itself, inviting us to understand the boundaries of thought, and the very rich possibilities that come along [sic] the recognition of these boundaries.»[6] The understanding has boundaries precisely with regard to the philosophical and cannot philosophize without pooling resources with something like the integrated-and-whole embodied subject.

This more phenomenologically salient, existential understanding of the poetic nature of philosophical writing (and of the philosophical nature of poetic writing, as well) seems to prevail in the context of the anthology as it deals with authors like Heidegger and Gadamer. Poetic writing, as it reaches the whole human being and casts its creeping, seeking, tendrils even into the most obscure and mysterious depths of the soil of our Being, and our Becoming.

Hegel might seem an odd-man-out in terms of this generalization since he does not affirm the indistinct boundaries between philosophy and art. His infamous and oft-misunderstood argument for the «end of art» and the primacy of philosophy is a testament to this. Yet, Theodore George shows Hegel nonetheless sees art as serving a similar function to philosophy in the founding and transmission of meaning, even in the Modern world. This function unsurprisingly has to do with truth. Art, religion, and philosophy allow «a society…to take a good look at itself, to make explicit its deepest context of meaning, the context that otherwise remains merely tacit even as it shapes, orients and grants legitimacy to all further meanings within that society.»

On George’s account in this volume, Hegel should be read as saying that between art and philosophy as well as between Classical and Romantic art, there are no differences in kind. Rather there are differences in context, which yield differences in the magnitude of their respective world-founding forces. Hegel thinks that Classical artworks originarily founded, grounded, and justified Greek culture. Everything in this period—including the first works of philosophy— derives from and makes sense in reference to this founding. Within the modern period, however, art bears no such promise and philosophy must provide our social foundations. The ancient context gave art a greater share of the inauguration, transmission, and preservation of its truth. The modern era by necessity gives it less.

On this view, the nascent philosophy of the ancient world could not but be derivative of its more originary sculptural founding, and thus will be supplanted by modern philosophy: the first philosophy to successfully found and ground a world-historical epoch. Hegel argues that modernity is, in essence, a revaluation, whereby philosophy accrues a greater degree of veridical force. This changing of worlds, the promise of new meanings and truths—the world-historical dawn in which Hegel feels himself bathed—this is the promise of philosophy as poetic and of poetry as philosophical, which comes to dominate Philosophers and Their Poets. Inchoate in language are new worlds.

Babette Babich’s search for Nietzsche’s all-but-lost poet, Archilochus, lays bare the tension with which humanity is suspended upon the Earth. The truth of tragedy is a musical truth, she concludes. But what is music within the Nietzschean paradigm other than «the becoming human of dissonance?»[7] In music, we take up into the body our irresolute difference from the world and its entities: a tension that cannot be resolved so long as we are of this world. Such a tension as that between the world and its dominant species is perfectly thought as musical dissonance; dissonance heard arises from the proximity of one note with the other, the greatest dissonance from the greatest similarity, proximity, intimacy.

This is what distinguishes us as the exception among beings, that we both inhabit and are inhabited by an inescapable uncanniness that pervades our ethos.[8]

This tension between the «possible nearness and necessary remoteness of all things» to us is the foundation of Heidegger’s philosophy, especially his philosophy of poetry and art. That strangeness and disquiet that emerges most strongly, most sustained, from the smallest margins of difference, from the tightest chasms of intimacy. We seek the resolution, like any listener, any composer. But the resolution cannot happen here, within our fraught intimacy with a world that cannot harmonize with us; a world that—through Modernity, mechanization, and technologization—we have mistakenly set to sing a different song from us, altogether. Philosophers and Their Poets allows us to tarry with the major philosophical insight that there are however possible—that is, horizonal, not-yet-actual/arrived—worlds, with which we could harmonize.

Such worlds, on Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s accounts, seem to exist just beyond the concepts that make up our reality:  possibilities invisible to us because we have a faith in the world, which could perhaps shatter upon rocks of the right philosophical or poetic work. William McNeill argues that Heidegger’s encounters with poetry reveal the limits of phenomenology, and therefore of the truth-telling capacity of our very experience. Poetry reveals those limits of our world which serve as its conditions of possibility (time), and thus what is real beyond our comprehension, or our apprehension, through the structures of meaning in which we are presently enmeshed.[9] Bambach argues that the poet sings the philosopher his longing for his «own home amid the experience of expulsion,» in an uncanny home, in an intelligibility which fails to make sense of the philosopher and indeed each of us, an intelligibility that thus desacralizes us, flattens and debases us. But the poet’s hymn is a heralding hymn, which points «ahead to the futural coming of the gods.» Gods, of course, found worlds. And perhaps the poet can sing the eventual creation of a home that protects our dignity, sanctifies us, and sets us forever free of the old intelligibility.[10]

The anthology presents oscillations and refinements of this insight throughout the history of Western thought—from Nietzsche’s conception of world-revolutionary «revaluation,» to Heidegger’s alethic revelation of (extant and real) values, the existential progressivism of so-called ontological and ethical «ambiguity,» and Gadamer’s «subdued hope…» The notes that harmonize with our being, hum imperceptibly all around us; we just need philosophy and art to amplify them, and finally to change the song of the world.

With new worlds, of course, come new ethics, new values, new ways of being with one another, and even new entities. The works collected in Philosophers and Their Poets confront the abyss of the as-of-yet inchoate possibilities of this new world—hidden in the bare written-ness of philosophy—and they do so with an eye to what’s at stake in such questions for denizens of the present world. We should, I think, desire new answers to the question, «Who are we?”[11] While I am reticent to add much of anything extra-textual to such a rich volume, I will say I feel we cannot but look at our current world in mourning, in longing. The coming of another means the terrifying demise of the world. But it might finally mean the embrace of the Other, of one another, no matter how strange we’ve been to each other:

Language gives us shelter… by deconstructing word and language the poem sets free another horizon, namely the horizon of the unfamiliar… the horizon of heaven.[12]

The stranger, in her approach through the medium of the poem; The strange in its approach through the medium of the poem; Both approach with their arms outstretched, and paradise in their hands, according to Célan.

I do not believe a poem alone can save us (unless our definition of «poetry» becomes so diffuse as to lose all meaning). After all, the horrors of this world have easily survived any beauty in it. I therefore even have to regard the destructive power Célan grants poetry with some skepticism. Nonetheless, I do think that (poetic) beauty has its place, as we attempt to turn the world over and reveal its other side. Alongside Schiller, I feel poetic language might help to engage the entire human being in the work of making a way for new meanings. As social and political creatures we are, of course, embodied and intercorporeal, only partially rational. If poetry is world-transitional in the ways Heidegger and Célan argue, it is in part because we cannot migrate to a new world by virtue of our rationality alone. Beauty as justice, as long-awaited relief, as burgeoning post-revolutionary responsibilities to one another, even as forgiveness, as absolution: this is the medium of revolutionary beauty, which might both carry us to a new world as well as compose this world in its meter, its tone, and its colors (as the paint carries us to the world of the painting, by the very act of creating that world). Such a medium perhaps makes possible—even beckons—the revolutionary poem. And thus we might be called to the selfless, futural, heartache of revolutionary beauty by the poets of our current, decaying, world as well. A poem alone may not be able to save us, but I am inclined to take what help there is.


[1] Günter Figal, “Learning from Poetry: On Philosophy, Poetry, and T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 204.

[2] Max Kommerell, “An ‘Almost Imperceptible Breathturn’: Gadamer on Célan,» Translated by C. Merwin and M. Wielgus, in Philosophers and Their Poets, 260.

[3] Charles Bambach and Theodore George. 2019. Philosophers and Their Poets. Albany: State University of New York Press, 5-6.

[4]  Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez, “On the Poetical Nature of Philosophical Writing: A Controversy over Style Between Schiller and Fichte,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 37.

[5] “Fichte and Schiller Correspondence, from Fichte’s Werke, Vol. 8 (De Gruyter).”  Translated by Christopher Turner, in Philosophers and Their Poets, 56.

[6]  Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez, “On the Poetical Nature of Philosophical Writing: A Controversy over Style Between Schiller and Fichte,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 37.

[7] Babette Babich, “Who is Nietzsche’s Archilochus? Rhythm and the Problem of the Subject,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 103.

[8] Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’ Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 146.

[9] William McNeill, “Remains: Heidegger and Hölderlin amid the Ruins of Time,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 179.

[10] Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’s Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 152.

[11] Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’s Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 145.

[12] Gert-Jan van der Heiden, “An ‘Almost Imperceptible Breathturn’: Gadamer on Célan,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 226.

Mahon O’Brien: Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy

Heidegger's Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy Book Cover Heidegger's Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy
Mahon O'Brien
Rowman & Littlefield International
2020
Paperback $19.99
140

Reviewed by: Christos Hadjioannou (University of Cyprus)

Introductions are historical pieces of work conditioned by the tendencies and urgencies of the moment, and that means they need to be rewritten again and again. Still, one might be excused for thinking that the world doesn’t need another introduction to Heidegger. After reading O’Brien’s excellent book, though, one will be convinced otherwise. Accessible and intellectually honest, this critical introduction to Heidegger’s life and works is a timely contribution to the field, which I recommend highly to beginners as well as specialists.

Today, undergraduates and other first-time readers of Heidegger do not come to his works empty-handed. We can assume that most of them have been exposed to “the Heidegger controversy.” Preserving Heidegger’s legacy requires addressing that controversy. O’Brien is therefore wise not to bypass it, but instead tell the story of Heidegger’s thought partly against that political backdrop. Nor does the book pretend to offer a guide to Heideggerian philosophical concepts from a “neutral standpoint.” It is a polemical introduction, taking a stand on the political issues as well as important interpretive questions that haunt Heidegger scholarship.

In his preface, O’Brien clarifies what he takes to be uncontroversial about Heidegger’s works, and what remains contentious to this day. Instead of painting a sacrosanct picture, he thematizes the controversies and presents a nuanced picture—one that cancels out neither the controversies and weaknesses in Heidegger’s thought, nor the immense value of Heidegger’s philosophical insights.

O’Brien identifies two extreme positions in Heidegger interpretation and rejects the squabble between them as a false dilemma. One position holds that Heidegger is “the greatest scourge to have afflicted academic philosophy,” while to the other, he is “the most important philosopher to have emerged from the Western tradition since Hegel” (ix). O’Brien offers an interpretation that accepts a version of both positions. He argues that while it is undeniable that Heidegger’s association with National Socialism was neither brief not incidental to his thought, and that his commitment to it was based on some of the core elements of his magnum opus, Being and Time (BT), this does not justify “the extirpation of Heidegger’s thought from the canon” (ibid.). Heidegger’s impact remains profound, and striking him from the canon obliterates his intellectual achievements and makes it impossible to explain the origin of subsequent thinkers, who were influenced by him. But O’Brien also warns against the extreme devotion displayed by some commentators, who are “guilty of all kinds of intellectual acrobatics and apologetics in an attempt to rehabilitate Heidegger’s image” (xi). He vows to avoid such misplaced loyalty, which risks alienating prospective readers of Heidegger “who will eventually learn for themselves that Heidegger was a Nazi and a selfish, arrogant egomaniac to boot” (ibid.).

In Chapter One, entitled “Ways Not Works,” O’Brien addresses Heidegger’s methodology and influences, and takes a clear stand on the Kehre debate, which concerns the relationship between the early and later works. Although this issue is decisive in determining what narrative is offered not only regarding the late works but most crucially regarding BT, it is often set aside in introductory texts. O’Brien warns against the two extremes that see either radically disjointed efforts over the course of his oeuvre or an overt systematicity. Instead, he supports the so-called “continuity thesis,” which finds unity across the Heidegger corpus. Thus he sees Heidegger’s work as “a continuous, evolving, if not entirely seamless, enterprise” (xi). Invoking Heidegger’s maxim “ways not works”, O’Brien presents his oeuvre as a series of attempts at thematizing the question of the meaning of being (2-3), which question he addressed most rigorously in BT. This approach helps us appreciate the reasons why Heidegger moved beyond that central work without ever actually rejecting it. O’Brien’s narrative thus rejects a distinction between “Heidegger I” and “Heidegger II,” and counters the assumption that the later works are incompatible with the earlier (5).

O’Brien also does a fine job in this chapter of acknowledging the most important influences on Heidegger’s work without giving a reductive account that denies his philosophical originality. As he argues, Heidegger’s work cannot be categorized under any of the movements that influenced him. Nonetheless, O’Brien identifies Husserl’s phenomenology as having exerted the most influence on his early thought.

Chapter 2, “Early Life,” covers the most significant biographical information with bearing on Heidegger’s philosophical ideas (and is actually not confined only to his early years), including his attempts at a political philosophy. What is crucial to take away from this chapter is the connection between Heidegger’s philosophical confrontation with modernism and his sense of belonging to his native region and its heritage. O’Brien argues that Heidegger himself made it “very clear that the biographical details of his own life […] were crucial to an understanding of the manner in which his thinking developed” (8). Accordingly, he relates the basic facts about Heidegger’s upbringing and family: his father’s vocational connection to the Catholic Church, and his many ties to the countryside and peasant communities, including his mother’s farming background. Thus he contextualizes Heidegger’s distrust of city life and cosmopolitanism (9), which he associated with inauthenticity.

O’Brien draws attention to the interpretive difficulty that hampers any serious attempt to distinguish between those of Heidegger’s philosophical discoveries that resulted from honest thinking, and ideas he espoused disingenuously, ad hoc, in order to justify his private proclivities. It is challenging to identify and appreciate some of Heidegger’s important philosophical ideas on their own merit when he himself attaches them to ridiculous personal views. As a result, some interpreters end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater (12), allowing these associations to discredit profound insights.

In the chapter, O’Brien does not shy away from commenting on Heidegger’s bad personality traits, such as his feigned humility, his extraordinary arrogance and pretentiousness, his serious messiah complex, as well as his philandering (12). The chapter closes with references to his wife Elfride’s antisemitism and nationalism, and shows that also Heidegger himself was fiercely nationalistic (14).

Chapter 3, “Rumours of the Hidden King,” tracks Heidegger’s intellectual development from the early Freiburg period, when he served as Husserl’s teaching assistant, to his years lecturing at Marburg, in the early 1920s. Once he took up employment at Marburg, Heidegger begun formulating his own ideas and themes, moving away from neo-Kantianism and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, and recognizing “the importance of time as history for the philosophical project he wished to inaugurate” (21).

One topic stands out in this chapter: Heidegger’s break from Husserlian phenomenology. Here the book’s characterizations of Heidegger’s person are again harsh: O’Brien claims that while Heidegger was indeed at one point deeply inspired by Husserl, nevertheless he “carefully choreographed” the impression that Husserl was his mentor, dedicating BT to him as part of a “calculated piece of manipulation designed to win the favour of one of the most important and influential philosophical voices in Germany at the time” (19).

Chapter 4, “The Hidden King Returns to Freiburg,” is the longest and most important chapter of the book. Here, O’Brien discusses BT and tries to properly contextualize its main arguments in relation to the entire corpus. Discussing the structure of BT, O’Brien analyzes its incompleteness in terms of both philosophical motivations and purely professional-strategic ones. He finds a deep consistency between the projected (missing) second part of BT with the work of his later period. Proponents of the discontinuity thesis, he argues, misinterpret the idea of a “turn” (Kehre), supposing that the new approach and language characteristic of Heidegger’s later texts represent a “reversal,” a “turning away from” and thus a repudiation of BT. But on the contrary, O’Brien points out, the later works constantly invoke BT in order to explain key developments. Heidegger himself recommended that the 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics (IM), be read “as a companion piece to Being and Time” (30). While the later works are not reducible to the earlier, still “Heidegger never fully relinquishes some of the key ideas that he was developing in Being and Time” (28).

Having made his case for continuity, O’Brien is free to turn to important texts that postdate BT in order to clarify some of the latter’s central arguments. Interpreting BT as a book that tries to address the ontologically suppressed interplay of presence and absence, O’Brien refers to the 1949 introduction to “What Is Metaphysics?” (WM) (1929) in order to clarify the purpose that animates BT, which is none other than “to prepare an overcoming of metaphysics” (33). According to Heidegger, the meaning of being as traditionally understood in philosophy privileges presence, something which O’Brien says “distorts the nature of reality for us and indeed our own self-understanding” (30). Part of what Heidegger tries to do is challenge the prejudice that the word “being” and its cognates mean that something exists or is present (ibid.). In fact, when we say that things “are,” “it is not clear that that means that they exist as fully present or actualised before us” (32).

In WM, Heidegger would blame this “metaphysics of presence” for misrepresenting the way we actually experience the world (33). WM’s discussion of nothingness targets the principle of non-contradiction, O’Brien says—a principle “routinely invoked to dismiss all talk of the nothing as simply wrong-headed, illogical, unscientific, in short, as contradictory” (34). The tradition has decided in advance that being reduces to presence and that it itself is not nothing. According to O’Brien, this treatment of nothingness is anticipated early on in BT, specifically in the account of moods as the site which throws open the interplay of presence and absence (34). “Heidegger returns to and defends this idea in 1929, in 1935 and again in his 1940’s introduction and postscript to the 1929 lecture [WM]” (ibid.). Heidegger, O’Brien writes, is trying to show that “traditional approaches miss out on all of the possibilities inherent in what we ‘mean’ when we say that a [an entity] is here, or there, or is something or other” (39). Being means possibility—a multiplicity of possibilities—and although beings stand in Being, they never overcome the possibility of not-Being, something that the philosophical tradition has missed by conceiving being in terms of continuous presence. As O’Brien explains, “[w]hat is suppressed is the role that absence or nothingness plays in our experience and how most of our experience involves a constant interplay of presence and absence” (40).

O’Brien concedes that the existential analytic of Dasein does tend toward anthropocentrism or an excessive prioritization of human subjectivity, but he draws attention to the methodological reasons that led Heidegger to begin with Dasein. Heidegger was convinced that “a new brand of phenomenology, unencumbered with the transcendental baggage of the later Husserl, was the appropriate method, while recognizing that time (or temporality) should be central to any attempt to begin to investigate the meaning of being” (42). Rather than “beginning with some abstract theory or idea, Heidegger insisted that we should begin with ordinary, everyday existence, before any abstractions” (ibid.).

In the same chapter, O’Brien also critically responds to realist readings of Heidegger’s late work, which—as he convincingly argues—rely on a misreading of BT. Without attributing to Heidegger the view that Dasein actively creates meaning, O’Brien disagrees that the meaning of being subsists in the absence of Dasein. He clarifies that Heidegger does not deny that entities exist “out there,” only that their meaning (i.e. the phenomenological “world”) exists independently of Dasein. Here the analysis would benefit from a reference to Taylor Carman’s work, whose use of the term “ontic realism” could help O’Brien consolidate his position further.[1]

In the rest of the chapter, O’Brien offers an eloquent explication of the basic structures of Dasein as presented in BT, without ever becoming tiresome or overly technical. Thus he explains how “understanding” works in terms of projects and possibilities, how “affectivity” (Befindlichkeit) works in terms of moods in which we already find ourselves, and how “falling” works in terms of understanding being as presence.

As regards the focus on death in BT, O’Brien argues that Heidegger is not interested in the actual event of death per se, but rather in the fact that our manner of understanding everything in the world around us is conditioned by our own finitude (47). Heidegger wants to move from the metaphysics of presence to an ontology which reckons with the role that absence or nothingness plays in the meaning of a thing’s being (48).

Chapter 5 is entitled “The 1930s – Politics, Art and Poetry.” The chapter begins with Heidegger’s so-called “linguistic turn,” in which the poetic use of language in particular emerged as a key concern. While some commentators see Heidegger’s focus on language, and particularly his preoccupation with Hölderlin’s poetry during the 1930s and 40s, as a shift away from the project of BT, O’Brien argues that if we remain faithful to the fact that BT is about the meaning of Being, then there’s no surprise in the linguistic turn. In my opinion, O’Brien’s thesis here would benefit from a reference to Heidegger’s early notion of “formal indication,” which is also a precursor to poetic language.

Next O’Brien turns to Heidegger’s linguistic chauvinism, which he argues contributed to shaping his political views. Heidegger believed that German and Ancient Greek were philosophically superior languages that could grasp the world in the origin of its being, and that other languages, such as French and English, were philosophically destitute (57). O’Brien brings up the worrisome recurrence of Heidegger’s prejudice about a supposed inner affinity between Germany and Ancient Greece. He also discusses Heidegger’s intense criticism of “everything in the Western tradition that has led to modernity and eventually the age of technology” (60). It is in this context, argues O’Brien, that Judaism is thrown “into the melting pot along with everything else that he sees as a consequence of the history of the metaphysics of presence, a metaphysics which he believes the German people alone can overcome” (ibid.).

One of the most interesting moments in the book comes when O’Brien questions whether Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity is really as unique as we have been taught to think. Thus he calls for an excavation and identification of the sinister and at times disappointingly derivative motivations behind ideas that many have taken to be unique features of Heidegger’s critique (60-61). Some aspects of Heidegger’s critique of modernity, O’Brien says, are but “a variant on what were ultimately a series of stock antisemitic prejudices that proliferated in Germany from the late 1700s onwards” (59). In some of the most nationalistic and antisemitic remarks to be found in the 1933-1934 seminar Nature, History, State, Heidegger argues that for Slavic people, German space would be revealed differently from the way it is revealed to Germans, and that to “Semitic nomads” it would “perhaps never be revealed at all” (62). O’Brien argues that these attempts to relate philosophical views to a renewal of German spiritual and cultural life under National Socialism can be registered under a certain tradition to which also Fichte belonged (ibid.). Yet Heidegger’s conviction that this “revolution” must be based on key elements of his own philosophical vision, i.e. the attempt to overcome the metaphysics of presence and the inauguration of a new beginning which was specifically tied to the destiny of the German people, makes him stand out in this tradition. Heidegger was “as naïve as he was megalomaniacal” (63), O’Brien says, while reminding us not to dismiss the philosophy just because of the political ends the philosopher thought it could serve.

The final part of the chapter turns to the topic of art and follows Heidegger’s engagement with Hölderlin’s poetry in his 1934 lectures, as well as his 1935-1936 essay “The Origin of the Work of Art.” According to O’Brien, Heidegger was keen to distance his discussion of the origin of art from any conventional aesthetics, and previous analyses of this work have overlooked how Heidegger situates his treatment of art within his larger political vision. Invoking the unique destiny of the German people, Heidegger identifies Hölderlin as the poet the Germans must heed in order to foster an authentic happening, a new political and cultural beginning (65).

In chapter 6, “The Nazi Rector,” O’Brien addresses the apogee of the “Heidegger controversy”: his involvement with Nazi politics and his rectorship at the University of Freiburg. His appointment as rector came as a complete surprise to his students, the Jewish ones included, because as far as they were concerned, “there had been nothing in his demeanor or attitude to that point to suggest that he might be sympathetic to Nazism” (71). On the other hand, argues O’Brien, it’s unlikely that Heidegger happened upon his political allegiances overnight in 1933 (71). He draws attention to the fact that Heidegger reportedly read and was impressed by Mein Kampf, and that he held  antisemitic and reactionary views from early on (ibid.). Thus on O’Brien’s view, the Black Notebooks only confirm previously available evidence that Heidegger was an antisemite who thought he could articulate antisemitic views from within his own philosophical framework.

The whole controversy, argues O’Brien, “should have and could have been dealt with comprehensively and exhaustively a long time ago” (74). He identifies two key factors that contributed to the unnecessary protraction of the whole issue: firstly, the drip-feeding of problematic texts, which created the impression that further revelations, which might complicate the picture, were continuously underway; secondly, the fact that the most critical voices were philosophically weak or obviously biased, resulting in a superficiality that “managed to conceal the deep underlying philosophical questions which must be put to Heidegger’s thought” (ibid.). The chapter offers a critical review of the most influential books on Heidegger’s Nazism, analyzing their scope and breadth and ideological bents, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Here, O’Brien shows his prowess, and demonstrates an excellent grasp of the topic.

As regards the political philosophy, O’Brien argues that Heidegger was not a bloodthirsty biological racist, but an archconservative and traditionalist “prone to some rather bizarre provincialist notions which he sought to justify philosophically” (74). Heidegger unsuccessfully tried to marry his own provincialism with a philosophical antimodernism and ethnic chauvinism, thinking this political philosophy was the way to resist the growing dominion of technology (74-75). O’Brien’s verdict is that Heidegger failed to articulate a coherent political philosophy, “owing in part to the fact that his philosophy doesn’t really admit to being employed in the manner in which he wants to use it” (75). O’Brien also finds that Heidegger’s flawed character must have played a role in his stint with National Socialism (76).

Chapter 7, “Return from Syracuse,” covers the period following his banishment from teaching after the denazification proceedings, especially his philosophical output of the 40s, 50s and 60s. It discusses Heidegger’s musings on language, poetry and technology, specifically his analysis of technology, of releasement (Gelassenheit) and the notion of “appropriation/enownment” (Ereignis) (79). While in chapter 5, O’Brien argued that some aspects of Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity might not be as original as initially thought, here he argues against a reductionist misapprehension that his work on technology is simply a symptom of his antimodernism (80). Instead, he says, Heidegger’s essay on technology stands today as the single most important philosophical work on some of the issues concerning the philosophical age we live in (81).

Turning to the Bremen lectures, O’Brien offers a nuanced analysis of the infamous “Agriculture Remark.” The point of the remark, he argues, is not to liken the Holocaust with the harvesting of grain, as some commentators have suggested, nor is Heidegger arguing that agricultural methods are morally equivalent to genocide. What interests him is the role that the essence of technology (Enframing) has figured into everything that has taken place in the twentieth century, including genocide, war and agriculture (82).

Next O’Brien discusses “The Question Concerning Technology”—a good text for a first-time reader of Heidegger to begin with, he says, because in this essay Heidegger touches upon most of his fundamental concepts and views, such as “equipmentality,” “publicness”, das Man, etc. (83). Here, O’Brien’s continuity thesis is on full display, as he argues that Heidegger’s worries about technology are already hinted at in BT: “it is clear that Heidegger’s thinking about technology was there in embryonic form in Being and Time” (85).

O’Brien interprets Heidegger’s critique of (the essence of) technology as a critique of eliminativism, i.e. a critique of positivist approaches that posit that classes of entities which do not fall within the horizon of their investigation do not exist (89). The problem of Enframing is its eliminative character, namely that it is a mode of revealing that governs the way beings come to presence. Other forms of revealing, like poetry, are necessary in order to “allow people to see things coming to presence in ways other than what is rather aggressively demanded by Enframing” (93). O’Brien then discusses “releasement” (Gelassenheit) as the appropriate comportment of human beings that will enable such a non-eliminative, pluralist disclosure of beings, and closes the chapter by contextualizing Enframing in the history of Being (94). Acquainted as I am with O’Brien’s earlier books,[2] I think he could have spent a few more paragraphs elaborating in greater detail how Gelassenheit relates to Entschlossenheit and the project of dismantling of the ontology of presence.

Chapter 8 is entitled “Heidegger ‘Abroad’.” This is a rather short chapter that breaks up into three sections. The first covers Heidegger’s remarkable success on the French intellectual scene, especially among the existentialists, and gives some historical context to that success. The second concerns Heidegger’s relation to Eastern thought and covers his interactions with a number of Eastern intellectuals, briefly also referring to the body of secondary literature devoted to the intersection between Heidegger’s philosophy and Eastern traditions. The third section covers the impact his thought has had in the United States.

Chapter 9, “The Final Years,” is only three pages long, and provides biographical details of the peaceful and happy years at the end of Heidegger’s life. It notes that he faced his own death with a certain “grace and serenity” (109), and that in the end he arranged a Christian burial for himself after all.

In the tenth and final chapter, “Heidegger’s Legacy,” O’Brien sums up his verdict as regards the “Heidegger controversy.” The recent publication of the Black Notebooks refuelled the controversy, O’Brien says, because it discredited Heidegger’s own “official story” about his association with National Socialism. Heidegger was a committed Nazi and an antisemite who “tried zealously to use some of his core elements of his thought to articulate a philosophy of National Socialism, for a period of time at least” (111). However, Heidegger’s own “political vision was ultimately at quite a remove from historical National Socialism, and he clearly became more and more disillusioned with the regime from the mid-1930s onwards” (ibid.). O’Brien reiterates his own position against other interpretations, insisting that despite claims made even by Heidegger himself, he did try to offer a political philosophy, and deep inside believed “he could be the spiritual and philosophical Führer of an awakening in Germany that would change the course of history in Europe and the Western world in general” (112).

In addition to the political controversy, Heidegger’s legacy is entangled in another controversy, argues O’Brien, namely the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. In analytic circles, “Heidegger is often portrayed as the arch-villain for having led philosophy astray through his promotion of ambiguity, imprecision, a lack of rigour and the proliferation of jargon, mysticism and bad poetry masquerading as philosophical profundity” (114). O’Brien defends Heidegger’s writing style, arguing that the subject itself demanded such a style, but lambasts those “disciples” who try to imitate Heidegger’s style simply because they themselves are unable to write more clearly.

O’Brien ends the book by reflecting on the future of Heidegger studies, saying that it is difficult to foretell what course it will take. He believes that the Heidegger controversy “is only truly beginning, as scholars face squarely the question of how to read the texts of a thinker whose work, while not reducible to National Socialism, was nevertheless twisted and manipulated in various ways owing to his own belief that a happy union could be forged between his own thought and the new awakening in Germany which he initially saw as an underlying possibility of National Socialism” (115).

References

Carman, Taylor. 2003. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2011. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2015. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2020. Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy. London and New   York: Rowman & Littlefield.


[1] See Carman, Taylor. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

[2] See O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum, 2011; O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Rochelle Tobias (Ed.): Hölderlin’s Philosophy of Nature, Edinburgh University Press, 2020

Hölderlin's Philosophy of Nature Book Cover Hölderlin's Philosophy of Nature
New Perspectives in Ontology
Rochelle Tobias (Ed.)
Edinburgh University Press
2020
Hardback £80.00
272

Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Eds.): Philosophers and Their Poets, SUNY Press, 2019

Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant Book Cover Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Eds.)
SUNY Press
2019
Paperback $28.95
282

Günter Figal, Diego D’Angelo, Tobias Keiling and Guang Yang (Eds.): Paths in Heidegger’s Later Thought, Indiana University Press, 2020

Paths in Heidegger's Later Thought Book Cover Paths in Heidegger's Later Thought
Studies in Continental Thought
Günter Figal, Diego D'Angelo, Tobias Keiling and Guang Yang (Eds.)
Indiana University Press
2020
Hardback $95.00
314

Ranjan Ghosh (Ed.): Philosophy and Poetry: Continental Perspectives, Columbia University Press, 2019

Philosophy and Poetry: Continental Perspectives Book Cover Philosophy and Poetry: Continental Perspectives
Ranjan Ghosh (Ed.)
Columbia University Press
2019
Hardback $75.00£58.00
344

Marius Johan Geertsema: Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being

Heidegger's Poetic Projection of Being Book Cover Heidegger's Poetic Projection of Being
Marius Geertsema
Palgrave Macmillan
2018
Hardback 93,59 €
VIII, 288

Reviewed by: BB Bieganski (University of South Florida)

In his 2018 book, Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being (henceforth HPPB) Marius Johan Geertsema demonstrates that in Heidegger’s oeuvre, Being is essentially dialogical with the poetic. The poetic is not to be understood as strictly tethered to poems, but as a type of thinking which contrasts the worrisome technocratic with thinking combatted by Adorno, Foucault, Ortega y Gasset, and Heidegger himself. The poetic refers to the intimation of the future that shapes human thought and behavior in light of our finitude. Geertsema’s reading of Heidegger describes Being as a relation to a sort of hermeneutical receptivity that is found in poetic thinking—that is, an attunement towards nature, ourselves, and each other.

HPPB divides into three sections: an overview and explication of Heidegger’s philosophy, followed by Geertsema’s argument for Heidegger’s onto-poetology, and last a conclusion and implication section.

The first section of HPPB is dedicated to a discussion of Heidegger’s corpus which includes all the juicy aspects for any serious Heidegger scholar. This includes an elucidation of both the early Heidegger (including work prior to the publication of Being and Time) and the late Heidegger, along with a discussion of the Kehre—Heidegger’s turn from Dasein toward Being. Geertsema recontextualizes each phase of Heidegger’s work in light of the others, and even though he subtly offers his interpretation of the rupture between the early and late Heidegger, the first section of HPPB is primarily focused on outlining the different philosophies of early, middle, and late Heidegger.

The next 150 pages or so of HPPB are Geertsema’s own analysis of how Heidegger treats poetry, and its important role in Heidegger’s philosophy. In this section, Geertsema discusses the relationship between Being (that is, the world of experience) and poetry, and how Heidegger illuminates the role of language in our understanding of the world. Geertsema does an excellent job of citing textual evidence for Heidegger’s analysis of the intricate relationship of language and thought. It’s not surprising then, that Geertsema thinks that Being and poetics are intimately linked and that the way we interpret the world will be enmeshed in the way we discourse.

Geertsema takes great care in combing through Heidegger’s work: even in the areas that seemingly contradict the relationship between language and thought, Geertsema finds textual evidence that the discrepancy between thought and language isn’t so wide. For example, in the postscript to What is Metaphysics? Heidegger mentions that the poet and the thinker live on separate peaks of two mountaintops, which seems as though he views philosophical and scientific thinking as inconsistent with poetry and art. But Geertsema points out that in Anaximander’s Saying, Heidegger asserts that thinking grounds poetry and poetry grounds thinking, suggesting that Heidegger doesn’t think them as strictly incommensurable. And even though it seems as though Heidegger is inconsistent on the topic, Geertsema finds a way to bridge these ideas into a consistent overarching narrative in Heidegger’s thought.

Another impressive aspect to note in this section is that Geertsema tackles the dreaded Fourfold that flummoxes even the most well-read Heideggerian scholars, arguing that the Fourfold is a projection of a realm of thought that only poets can think. The Fourfold, which has two poles—the earth-sky pole and the mortal-divinity pole—can only be comprehended by poets, or “demigods”: those who exist “between” humans and gods and are receptive to the world around them as they project a type of thinking that anticipates and prepares for the future. Because poets are receptive to the world while understanding the boundaries that shape their understanding, poetry, or poetical thinking is able to get out of calculative, instrumental thinking. Metaphysicians, on the other hand, are concerned solely with how to explain reality, which opens up the question of technocratic domination. Poetry is dwelling, says Geertsema’s Heidegger: a sort of becoming comfortable with one’s own situation and context, where humans must realize their place according to their own boundaries. Thus, as poetry constitutes dwelling, it is the poet rather than the metaphysicians who understands the Fourfold as mode of thinking which grants us a way of navigating and understanding the world.

The final section, which concludes and examines the implications of the thesis laid out by Geertsema, unfortunately lasts only 4 pages. Here Geertsema introduces his own thoughts on the matter, which is the most interesting part of the book. Geertsema points out several worries for Heidegger, if Being is tied to the poetic (for example, Geertsema questions why should poetry be privileged—can’t architecture or a ballet also unite a people the same way poetry does?). Moreover, here Geertsema also considers certain secondary figures who have problematized Heidegger’s affinity for poetry, whereas in the bulk of the text such secondary exegesis is absent. Perhaps in a future book Geertsema will unearth these implications more in detail, as his worries seem to be problematic for Heidegger, if not outright lethal.

 The greatest virtue of HPPB is that Geertsema has clearly done his homework. Every exegetical claim made in the book is backed up by a quote or citation from Heidegger. Moreover, Geertsema doesn’t examine only the early or the late Heidegger, but the whole of Heidegger’s work, including lectures and biographical anecdotes. Scholars who focus on one period of Heidegger’s thought might come away from Geertsema having a better grip of Heidegger’s entire project because of how well Geertsema integrates every Heidegger—early, middle, and late—into one cohesive text.

However, there are limits to HPPB. Anyone who has little to no experience with Heidegger will effectively drown in the Heideggerese that Geertsema presents. Take for example: “To put it simply, Being can, according to Heidegger, only be what it is, in as far as it is appropriate at all to assert that Being ‘is’, when Being grants the human being the experience of Being, not only as the presencing of Being, but also as concealment; that is, the oblivion of Being as oblivion yielding from Being” (p. 52). Anyone without a sufficient background in phenomenology or Heidegger would find this passage to be mere nonsense, or some kind of unfunny joke. On the opposite end, those who are well-researched Heideggerian specialists might find swaths of HPPB uninteresting, uninformative, or uninspired. Experts studying a particular epoch of Heidegger might pass over sections of HPPB in order to reach their own area of interest. Since Geertsema offers expositions of Heidegger’s philosophy rather than a radical or novel reinterpretation of it, there is a risk of such inquisitive experts coming away only to be empty-handed. The primary audience that might get the most out of HPPB would be those who have read Heidegger but don’t understand him well enough yet. In other words, to use Geertsema’s nomenclature, HPPB is a book for demi-Heideggarians.

Another odd aspect of HPPB is that some of Geertsema’s claims are either wrong or open to easy misinterpretation. For instance, Geertsema claims that “Heidegger never took an interest in poetry and literature incidentally” (p. 9), which is either wrong (Heidegger wrote several poems, most of which are clumsily bad), or oddly-worded (Geertsema actually quotes some of Heidegger’s poetry, calling it “ugly,” p. 110). Or, for another oddity: “We will therefore examine = now [sic] the truth of the Being in relation to the phenomenon” (p. 103). Is the equal symbol supposed to represent that the concept of the ‘now’ to be examined? Or is it a weird typo that was maybe overlooked in the proofreading process (there are a few throughout the book, such as ‘Being a Time’ instead of ‘Being and Time’, p. 50). Or, in one of the rare instances in which Geertsema invokes secondary literature on Heidegger, he cites Thomas Sheehan’s work, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift (2015), asserting that Sheehan gripes about the translation of “Ereignis” as “event”, but we should “pay attention to the use of the term by an author [Heidegger], instead of assuming a rigid frame of reference of the reader [Sheehan]…” (p. 38). However, Sheehan points out in several places in which Heidegger himself refused the interpretation of Ereignis as an event (as early as page xvii in the foreword of Making Sense of Heidegger, and which Sheehan explicitly tackles in chapter 8). These issues are mostly just distracting, but if this book is being recommended to scholars who are interested in learning more about Heidegger but are not yet experts, more could be at stake than simply getting one or two tenets of Heidegger’s philosophy wrong.

Lastly, and most pedantically, Geertsema tries his hand at Heideggerian etymology which turns out merely decorative rather than argumentative or explanatory. Those of us who don’t find the etymology interesting or informative have to sit through Geertsema’s own attempt at it. For example, Geertsema proffers that every seeing is a saying, and points out that both the English word ‘saying’ and German word ‘sagen’ come from the Indo-European ‘seku’, which means to ‘scent’ or ‘smell’, meaning to follow the trace of something (in Latin, to ‘tell’ or to ‘sequence’ is a following, ‘inseque’), which is also where the English word ‘seeing’ and the German word ‘sehen’ come from (p. 113-4). Heidegger would often analyze etymology to make a point about the relatedness of two ideas, but Geertsema’s own analysis is hardly elucidating or argumentative.

Despite some issues, Geertsema’s HPPB is a fantastic resource for Heidegger scholars who are interested in getting a stronger handle on Heidegger’s own thought. And while Geertsema doesn’t offer much of his own thinking here, the ideas that he offers will be suggestive to anyone who has an interest in Heideggerian phenomenology or continental philosophy of language.

 

References:

Geertsema, M. J. 2018. Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sheehan, T. 2015. Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift. New York, NY: Rowman &   Littlefield International Ltd.

Martin Heidegger: Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance”

Hölderlin's Hymn "Remembrance" Book Cover Hölderlin's Hymn "Remembrance"
Studies in Continental Thought
Martin Heidegger, translated by William McNeill and Julia Ireland
Indiana University Press
2018
Hardback $50.00
187

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

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.

Works Cited:

Gover, K.  “The Overlooked Work of Art in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art.’”  International Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2) (2008): 143-53.

Kevin Hart: Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry

Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry Book Cover Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry
Kevin Hart
Bloomsbury Academic
2017
Hardback £76.50
344

Reviewed by: Jacob McGuinn (University of London)

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

Psalm 119:18

Kevin Hart’s attention moves from what he calls his “native tongue,” (10) phenomenology, towards theology. His work is consistently concerned with attending to the theological in the phenomenological. This turning to theology has manifested through readings of modern philosophy, most particularly, and perhaps surprisingly, in reading Maurice Blanchot, whose concerns with the impossibilities of literature have lead Hart towards the parallel impossibilities of the sacred. In Poetry and Revelation, Hart resumes these themes: the religious constructions of philosophy, and poetry’s difficult role in shaping and articulating those constructions.

Poetry and Revelation is explicitly concerned with phenomenology, and with developing a phenomenology of reading poetry. Such a project is certainly aligned with contemporary trends in poetics, many of which are favourable to religious experience. Here, for Hart, the shape and structure of this phenomenology is itself afforded by the theological experience of reading. Reading is already theologically inflected, and so is any phenomenology. So while Hart is concerned with the experience of reading poetry, he is at the same time concerned with the ways such reading shapes our sense of phenomenology, and thereby with a theological inflection to phenomenology. Reading modern religious poetry – Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, first of all, and then other Australian and European voices – means responding to the range of Christian theology which frames that poetry, and in to the ways this reading frames a version of phenomenology. If there is a religious ‘experience’ of poetry, then it is attuned to the world under the revelation of faith. This is the world experienced as ‘created’, in which that creation is given. And if there is any phenomenological bracketing of the world, it is through a capacity to register shifts in representation framed by this religious experience. The book is therefore a meshing of specifically Christian experience of modern religious poetry with the phenomenological apprehension of that experience; and the two, for Hart, are mutually inflecting. Religious revelation can be subject to phenomenology, “a ‘religious’ experience” where “the speaker has been converted to see things from a new perspective” (54). And this ‘conversion’ of revelation, for Hart, mirrors the epochē of phenomenological bracketing. But it also exceeds phenomenal appearance – and here is Hart’s problem. If there is a religious, revelatory experience, it is of something that transcends the given, because “the phenomenon of divine revelation, centered in Incarnation, saturates our intentional horizon” (59). If we are to speak of a phenomenology of revelation, then, we must do so attentive to this “saturation,” whether disabling of the resources of phenomenology or not.

Poetry can offer new resources for such a phenomenology, and this is the connection Hart is concerned with excavating. Husserl’s injunction that we return our thinking to appearance is, for Hart, “as valuable to a philosopher as to a poet: one must learn how to attend to phenomena, and not merely inherit a sense of the ‘poetic’.” (151) From Husserl, then, Hart’s modernity inherits a double demand: both to think about appearance, and to write it. This twinning shapes his book. The question of ‘phenomena’ in poetry collides with the question of the ‘phenomenological’ reading of it. Both, Hart suggests, are modes of ‘revelation’, and both are therefore channelled through religious experience and writing. Religious poetry, attentive as it is, for Hart, to phenomenal appearance as ‘revelatory’ of religious truth, can span these two poles: its concern with its own poetic ‘phenomena’ models a ‘phenomenology’ of its appearance as poetry. Poetry, in this way, cooperates with phenomenology, defined by Hart as an “attentive response to what is given” (77) – poetry is both response to the world’s phenomena and doing its own phenomenological work. Hart’s Husserlian poet is already involved in a bracketing of experience, an epochē, because a poem’s strategies of manifestation in language already include not merely the questions ‘what’ or ‘why’, but also ‘how’ something appears (156). The artist is “someone wakeful” (157). But “Art is not attention; it is a change in the quality of attention so that we can see that we have already been in contact with what we see.” (157) If the poet is phenomenologist, that phenomenology is articulated in the vocabulary of poetry, and its consequences are registered in a poem.

We are in the orbit of a poetics of phenomenology, here, with, in Part I, Eliot distinguishing between a poetry written in the language of philosophy, and a philosophy articulated through the language of poetry. We favour the latter. Hart’s Eliot is “concerned with how one thinks in verse, not how one translates philosophy into poetry,” (45) and Hart traces his question through poetic encounters, letting these reading encounters shape his articulation of phenomenology. Part I develops a close reading of religious poetry as a phenomenological theology. Hart reads Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot as poets of religious revelation. In Part II, this attention shifts to the limits of religious poetry, described by Geoffrey Hill, and the limits of poetic revelation, rather than of the poetry of revelation. Parts III-V then retrace these two positions – revelation and its limits – through Australian, and then French, Italian, and American, poetries. This poetic scope is matched by a philosophical scope, asking after the limits of phenomenology from Husserl to Derrida, Heidegger, Michel Henry, and Jean-Luc Marion, but also with Levinas and Blanchot, in particular. And Hart brings each of these discourses into a further conversation with Christian theology, ranging from Patristic thinking forwards.

Hart’s methodology is, to use his own metaphor, ‘triangular’ (and no doubt Trinitarian), triangulating poetry with theology and phenomenology. The work of the book is in plotting this triangulation, and this plotting is subject to its own transcendental scrutiny: what kind of experience could account for the conflation, or at least the coincidence, of these distinct modes in the act of reading? In Part I, in close reading Hopkins’s poems (themselves acts of close reading the world), this act of getting reading right is itself theological, and this seems to be Hart’s central point: exegesis can be revealed as intum legere, reading from the inside, in which interpretation is not a determination of experience but its phenomenological revelation. There is certainly a phenomenological shaping of reading experience. The more obvious reference point is Jean-Luc Marion, and his sense of the limits of intuitive experience, but Hart poses the question directly to Husserl. The epochē is resituated as a theological bracketing (22-24). But this in turn resituates theological experience, more explicitly making its transcendent claims part of an experience of immanence. Revelation is the key to this conversation. Under revelation, the phenomenological sense of the world’s unfolding takes on theological dimensions – as one mode of creation, and of faith – as much as theological experience undergoes a phenomenological reading.

A revelatory experience of the world, immanent or not, requires an epochal shift in our sense of the world. Hart is attempting to uproot the theological assumptions in such a bracketing, and to imply that the representational shift of dimensions involved in it are coincident with a ‘revelatory’ Christian tradition. The triangulation of theology and phenomenology with religious poetry is therefore an attempt to demonstrate that shift. Reading such poetry compels us to recognise the revelatory as at once a phenomenological bracketing, and an epochal shift in representation of the world. So Christianity adds to phenomenology “another protocol that does not change it but clarifies its range” (23). Faith opens experience to new intentional horizons. Religious poetry emerges from a contemplation of the world through this faithful bracketing: a sensual imagination of the world as ‘instressed’, to use a word of Hopkins, by faith. For the poem, attuned to faith, the world appears as revelatory: through a phenomenologically guided shift in representation (28-34). “There is no special revelation, only a conversion of the gaze that intensifies the meaning of general, public revelation for the poet.” (34) Hopkins is here participating in a revealed world, not revealing it. Reading a poem, then, means assuming a phenomenological position towards the text: just as the poem is already bracketed from normative experience (here Hart follows Jean-Luc Marion closely, for whom certain experiences are ‘saturated’ with intuition which exceeds any concept invoked (15)), so too a reader of a religious poem is bracketed from expected objects of experience. The poem is ‘of’ revelation to the extent that it is ‘revealed’ (and “reveiled” (10)) through being read.

The question, then, is how much, or in what way, poetic revelation coincides with or collaborates with phenomenological reading. Hart seems to shift his emphasis with each momentary reading of a poem. In Part I, with Eliot, we are explicitly concerned with philosophy articulated in the language of poetry, and not with the poetic adornment of philosophical truths. As suggested, Hart’s Eliot is “concerned with how one thinks in verse, not how one translates philosophy into poetry.” (45) But as we proceed through the book – starting in part II with Hill – religion shifts from being a phenomenological mode of poetic writing to a mode of poetic reading. Hart reads the poems through religion, in a sense suggesting that exegesis is one of the poetic modes of articulation these religious poems inhabit. We shift, then, from the poetic experience of revelation to the revelation of poetic experience. This shift is important, because it opens up one of the ambiguities of this work. To what extent is the articulation of experience something poems do, and to what extent is articulation itself something by which poems are experienced? Do we ‘experience’ revelation in a poem, do we witness, as attuned readers, the revelatory experience poems themselves articulate, or is ‘revelation’ one of the experiences readers can bring to a poem? Is this poetry as revelation, or poetry for revelation? How are these two modes aligned in reading and writing about poetry?

In Part III, describing the saturated sensuality of A.D. Hope’s poem “The Double Looking Glass”, Hart remarks that, “What we see of Susannah in the poem has not all been seen before; it was never so visible.” (138) The poem, here, is exposing the reader to an experience of saturation, and is making visible phenomena which would not otherwise be so. In the poem, “the story [of Susannah] becomes a visionary narrative, a poem in which sensuality and transcendence cooperate rather than compete” (139). In this ‘visionary’ work of making visible, the poem combines the revelations of religious transcendence with the revelations of phenomenal sensuality. The revelatory ‘vision’ of the poem is in making this combination, and cooperation, visible. In part IV, Hart turns explicitly to the idea of poetry’s experience – poetry of, or as, experience – and the congruence of such experience with religious experience. Again, Hart marks poetry as, and not about, experience; but as such, structuring or making visible certain experience. “I am not thinking poetry as Erlebnis, lived experience, but as Erfahrung.” (194) The question raised here by religious poetry is of the experience of transcendence. Such ‘experience’, however, is complicated by the way that poetry draws upon an impossibility of experience. Hart’s point of contact here is the Italian poet Eugenio Montale. There is an inconceivability to this poetry, because of the inconceivable – unthinkable – range of possibilities both inscribed and erased from the poems. Such poetic experience is therefore both ‘impossible’ experience and an experience of ‘impossibility’. Here Hart draws upon Blanchot, and thinks of the ways poetry can configure ‘impossible’ experience itself through its presentation of language: “the poem brings into meaning something that refuses to settle into a definite meaning”. (196)

The ‘impossible’ also signifies the space left for poetry after the ‘departure’ of the Gods (here Hart is after Hölderlin): after a symbolically meaningful religious experience of the world, poetry presents the impossibility of such meaning so that, in such saturation, meaning might be preserved (205-6). Hart’s question, however, is not of a post-Christian experience, but rather, “In a reality held to be finite what sense, if any, can be made of transcendence?” (206). Hart’s thinking about the poetic image in Jaccottet and about poetry’s experience in Montale thus resolves into a question about poetry’s transcendence, or not, of possible experience. The terms of a Husserlian ‘bracketing’ of experience are thereby channelled through a poetic claim that “one cannot simply suspend reference to transcendence in the case of a text, literary or not. One can at best fold that reference.” (207) The ‘transcendence’ Hart has in mind is, of course, religious, and revelatory: an experience, such as Hopkins’s, of the transcendence of the world itself, rather than of any world beyond it. This question is “skewed in advance” by an insistence that modernity is “co-ordinate with the finite” (208). In such insistence, “we distance transcendence from experience at the cost of rendering transcendence unintelligible.” (209) Hart’s task, here, is a reintegration of religious transcendence to our sense of finitude through poetry’s Erfahrung.

Section V leads us to the work, implicitly assigned to poetry throughout, of imagination: that poetry’s invocation of images does not merely ‘present’ a world, but also ‘contemplates’ it, contemplation historically indexed by Catholic devotion to Mary. The picturing of the world in contemplation, as in poetry, reveals the world as not just materially inert, but immanent with poetry’s revelation of meaning. The question of such contemplation is phenomenological: how, we ask in contemplating Mary, does the incarnation happen? How does transcendence happen? In this way, contemplation of Mary and poetry parallel a (more overtly Protestant) Hegelian ‘concretion’: “the particular ways in which the dialectic gathers all that there is and makes it into an ever more concrete reality.” (229) The poetic contemplation of Mary, asking ‘How’ Mary becomes meaningful, thereby also makes the transcendent concrete (242); and in doing so, despite its transcendent object, invokes a phenomenology. Hart’s final question, then, comes into focus here: the question of revelation is the question of ‘how’ the world becomes meaningful, and in a religious sense ‘transcendent’; and as such, the question of poetic revelation exposes us to a phenomenology of the transcendent which other versions of phenomenology might conceal. Religious poetry invokes a bracketing of experience in order to present the transcendent as the ‘impossible’ – sacred or silent, but still one intentional horizon in which the world becomes meaningful. In reading poetry this way, for Hart, we employ a phenomenology. And in this employment, phenomenology is exposed to a religious intentionality it might otherwise conceal, or have concealed. This is not just a compatibility of religious experience with phenomenology, but their coordination.

This coordination amounts to an intervention in our conception of phenomenology – the intervention of theology which, as Hart has repeatedly suggested in his career, is not in an intervention so much as an anamnetic recovery of revelation. In the final chapter, Hart attempts to describe this intervention. Without mentioning recent work on Derrida’s theology, Hart plays deconstruction against this kinds of ‘negative theology’ he has been detailing. Deconstruction takes différance to be a quasi-transcendental condition for the play of meaning between text and context, whereas in negative theology the transcendent idea of God yields multiple meanings in experience of the world. In this situation, however, the two are “back to back,” and in fact, “deconstruction can only ever be the ghost of apophatic theology precisely because it answers to a structure of transcendence and not a divine transascendence” (259). Derrida’s exemplary readings yield a silence behind their texts. Hart asks whether ‘other’ silences might be read, too, and this is where theology becomes operative. Husserl’s presupposed exclusion of the transcendence of God from phenomenology would in such a reading be exposed to a different version of appearance. “In uncovering this presupposition we may ask ourselves what happens if we do not limit our phenomenality at all, restricting it neither to objects (Husserl) nor being (Heidegger), and instead granting everything the right and the power to manifest itself in whatever way is appropriate to it.” (259) For Hart this attitude is indexed through the theological tradition of engaging with the world in its revelation, and articulated by a religious poetry concerned with what the word might reveal (or not) in the world. Undertaking the phenomenology of reading such poetry would only be to rediscover a phenomenological attitude concealed in the Husserlian bracketing of the transcendent from the transcendental. Religious revelation, as religious poetry shows us, is the manifestation of its own transcendent mode of showing, and theology is its shaping construction. After all, “Every prayer is an epochē that can make the writing of theology possible, and theology only begins when we are led back from the world we master and that tries to master us to a created world” (260). And religious poetry is attuned to such creation, the “morning knowledge” of “the way of knowing granted when things are seen as created, invisibly tied to God” (260).