Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Northwestern University Press
Reviewed by: Sandro Herr (Bergischen Universität Wuppertal)
It is a unique quality shown in philosophical books, when they manage to treat topics which concern philosophy in a fundamental sense without falling prey to banal commonplaces or turmoil by endlessly adding relevant contexts. “A study in relation” (3), as Peter Hanly refers to his recent book Between Heidegger and Novalis, would precisely fulfil the criteria for such a topic. Yet, Hanly demonstrates stupendously well how to avoid said dilemma. His study is guided by a specific thinking of «between-ness» that “introduces a dynamic tension into the category of relation by conceiving it in terms of contradictory energies of separation, dispersion, pulling- apart, and gathering or converging” (3). Said between, as Hanly wants to show, comes from a heraclitean idea of harmonia which Heidegger and Novalis share as the common source for core elements of their thinking (7). The book is divided into two parts, eight chapters and an epilogue. Chapter transitions will be marked by the end of the paragraphs in the review at hand. Each part of Hanly’s study highlights an aspect of the between, the former its “Fertility” in Novalis and the latter “Pain” in Heidegger (16). Both parts explore these aspects in various philosophical areas, be they materialistic, idealistic, linguistic, or ontological, but also performative, rhetorical, or dramaturgical. Furthermore, by reconstructing historical and systematic contexts, Hanly gives insight into developments of both thinkers individually. In doing so, Hanly provides the reader not only with a vividly detailed depiction of each philosopher’s thinking regarding the question of between, but he also indirectly shows how the ambiguous relation of Heidegger and Novalis displays itself said between-ness. To outline the most important arguments of the book, I shall give a summary of both its parts followed by a few critical remarks at the end of the review.
Oftentimes, Novalis is neglected as an autonomous philosophical thinker. Heidegger, for example, illegitimately associates him with Hegel’s dialectical idealism (11) or merely uses him as authoritative reference (8). The first part of Hanly’s book makes it clear, among other things, that this view is not tenable. Quite the contrary, there is a highly original torsion of speculative philosophy and empirical naturalism in Novalis’ thinking.
The first context in which Hanly elaborates the notion of between is Novalis’ account on metaphor. Phrases such as “all is seed” (19) and the frequent use of terms like “dissolution”, “elasticity” or “fluidity” (22) demonstrate an affinity with the natural world that Novalis incorporates in his writings. For Novalis, however, metaphor is not simply an instrument that allows the illumination of abstract concepts. Much rather, it works as an “interweaving of registers such that a movement of exchange takes place, one in which the relations between concrete determination and ideational figuration seem to dissolve.” (24) Already here we find an implicit criticism of a hierarchical order between philosophy and poetry. Nonetheless, Hanly underlines that Novalis does not simply invert their relation. His understanding of metaphor derives itself from a philosophical endeavor, where philosophy becomes “the poem of the understanding” (26). To fully grasp the new fashion of this interpretation, one must trace back Novalis’ thinking to its roots in the early Fichte-Studies and, at the same time, not reduce his style of writing to an abstract ground (26). According to Hanly, the relation of I and not-I is the “crucible” (29) for Novalis. In Fichte there is the positing activity of the I which has already occurred in formalizations such as I = I or also I = not-I. This logic of activity or productivity becomes fragile for Novalis because the formalizations as such do not reveal any prioritization (29) and, counter to that, they explicitly stand for a limitation (33) that renders their relation less unilateral. While Fichte himself senses these problems, only Novalis shows the rigor to contest the recourse to an ultimate principle consequently. Instead, he keeps an “insistence on movement, on the motility of the exchange between I and not-I that governs their equivalence” (34). As Hanly underlines, abstraction from then on will be the transforming work of thought for Novalis, “effecting ‘logarithmic change’ upon both the obduracy of the sensible world and the ideality of the I” (36), where everything is unified or “chaos is transformed into a manifold world” (36) but unified only as free and self-determined beings. Novalis develops his very own “rigor of variation and combination” that he will retain throughout his oeuvre and most fully in his encyclopedic project Das Allgemeine Brouillon (59). Therein, abstraction becomes a specific task of the imagination. Other than just picturing things, imagination keeps various polarities in the state of hovering or, as Hanly puts it, of between (38).
The aforementioned philosophical consequence of Novalis becomes comprehensible if one understands where his thinking is initially situated. Reaching for a better understanding of the faculty of imagination and its hovering especially, Hanly addresses himself to Kant’s concept of «ideal» and Fichte’s «intellectual intuition» (39). Kant tries to understand the ideal as an Urbild without further instantiation that excludes any sort of oscillation which he then allocates to the so-called “schwebende Zeichnungen” (40). Whereas Fichte develops different models, circular and linear, to solve the problems of the oscillatory imagination that he himself recognizes. However, each of the models serves the purpose of banning the characteristic instability of the “hovering” by attributing a clear function to the faculty of imagination. It is only Novalis who unhinges the hovering of the between by revealing the inconsistencies of Fichte’s approach and by asking of the hovering: “What if we were really to take seriously its determinative instability, and orient our account around the effects that such an uncertainty introduces?” (47). Thus, I and not-I are not to be understood as “mutually determining poles, mediated by a “between” space” (50) but as markers, as words of coalescence which are the result of the perpetual movement of a between (52). But as Hanly carves out in several of Novalis’ writings, the overall approach goes further. By questioning why there are dichotomous oppositions everywhere (52), Novalis extends his criticism towards a primordiality of dichotomic relations in general. At last, this leads him to an “absolute sphere” of relation, of connectivity or of not-word (52) that synthesizes dichotomies (53). Based on this, the idea of an oscillatory movement between nodes (55) becomes predominant for Novalis. From “zones of visible and invisible, ideal and real” (56) or abstract and concrete, philosophy and poetry, Hanly lists the numerous nodes which are mutually exchangeable, involved in a constant reciprocal movement (56).
“Fragile and Fundamental” (56), as Hanly poses it, this between becomes the axis around which Novalis’ writing evolves. As an act of non-reductive mapping and intertwining, he ceaselessly advances to new territories. With his Encyclopaedia project, Novalis attempts a writing that abides by a “Combinationslehre” (62) about the scattering and dispersion of word-seeds and which at the same time gathers “into a totality” (61). In this regard, Hanly also finds Novalis’ “close involvement with the Schlegel brothers and with the sympraxis of the Athenaeum project” (68). But as demonstrated, he goes even one step further. In concordance with Blanchot’s criticism, Novalis does not only use the fragment in a way that the content works as “the mere illustration of a dynamics of the formal dance of writing.” (69) Much rather, he “pushes precisely towards a fusion of form and content” (70), where through the gathering of their between-space both mirror each other and dissolve their boundaries (72). As the overarching experience in the background of this phase, Hanly reconstructs the time Novalis spent at the Mining Academy under the influential presence of Abraham Gottlob Werner (74). Engaging with his studies, Novalis gains important insights in mineralogy and the natural sciences. For Werner, there is a “natural order” of description that “involves the coordination of a series of sensible traits with a certain kind of linguistic ordering” (75). While on the one hand Novalis shares the same kind of interest as Werner, he sharply criticizes him on the other. In analogy to his Fichte-Studies (79), Novalis spots a lack of engagement with the question of the between in Werner as he
fails to discern the possible transition — from the external characters to the inner constituents, or from symptomatics to chemistry, and yet this is the main approach for solving this problem. (78)
Just as minerals, stones and solid-state objects in general are exposed to transformative chemical processes, in his “Encyclopaedia” Novalis subjects the solidity of the word to liquefaction, to “fluid rhythms of gathering and dissolution” (80).
With that in mind, Hanly lastly turns to Novalis’ novel Die Lehrlinge von Saïs, which he says is best interpreted through the lens of Schelling’s First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature (82). Other than Kant, who constructs nature as an interaction of active and passive forces, Schelling tries to abolish this dichotomy by grasping nature as “determining itself in and through its activity” (83) and as a force that dissolves everything (86). Drawing inspiration from here, Novalis wants to realize this nature of between at the level of writing (88) and planned, as noted in a letter to Tieck, great transformations of his project (89). He died the following year and so Die Lehrlinge von Saïs was left unrealized in that respect. Nonetheless, Hanly sees the written word as explicitly responsible for the rhythm of natural liquefication here, because
like Schelling’s natural object, but seemingly intimately bound up with writing: each figure, emerging from the play of gathering, seems to “belong to that great cipher- script” [Chiffernschrift ] that we “glimpse” everywhere (92).
The sense of lost plenitude, of dispersion (95), introduces a longing into the world and can only ever be restored “in the form of new ‘mixings’, new bindings— new configurations of connectivity” (96). At the end of the first part, Hanly requires us to ask for the resonance that Novalis’ thinking might have in our own. For Hanly, turning back to the very motif of his study, it is a “poetics of materiality: poetry names the word insofar as it emerges from and as a zone of relation between the human and the natural world. Poetry, thought thus, is relation” (98).
In the second part of his study, Hanly starts off with Heidegger’s reflections on Trakl. The primary intention of this second part is to map out the subject of pain as another facet of between. In this regard, pain is “the tension of a play of belonging such that what is kept apart is joined in that very separation, and what is joined is kept apart in its very joining” (103). However, with pain, the tensioned between-space we found at the core of Novalis’ thinking “is possessed of an entirely different affectivity” (104). Thus, Hanly follows the path of Heidegger’s thoughts on pain and its “semantic complex” (106) starting off from its most explosive appearance in the Bremen Lectures from 1949, then back to texts from the seynsgeschichtliche phase such as Das Ereignis, and to its later occurrence in Unterwegs zur Sprache (106). Pain in Heidegger is the rift “— a rending or tearing, an opening, a gap —” (108) as a central possibility of the human. As a rift it exceeds the limits of how the human being is construed. This results from an “’opening’, in which the differential structure that Heidegger calls ‘the fourfold’ emerges as such” (108), as a grounding structure of the world. However, leaving aside this notion for a moment, Hanly initially focuses on the concealment that suffering brings about pain which actually “is closer to us, more intimate” (109). It has the capacity to expose this danger of concealing, thereby acknowledging its own “hidden proximity” or “nearness” (109). Other than in Sein und Zeit (112), as Hanly mentions, nearness here is not to be understood in spatial terms. The positioning of a coffin, for example, implies a different nearness because “what is effected in this nearing is the determination of a world that gathers itself around an absence” (113). With Hanly’s elaborations on the first two of the Bremen Lectures, the coffin is much rather a “thing” than an “oppositionally objective” (114). It “draws together like a net” (115) the different interrelations of the world to let them eventuate and thus manifests the same dynamic of between around which Hanly’s study revolves (116). The consonances in which Heidegger expresses this dynamic such as «das Dingen des Dinges» are not merely rhetorical according to Hanly (117). Instead, “the rhythm of their sounding” (118) tends towards an «Einklang» (117) or a concordance of thing and world. This concordance could dissolve any sense of difference which is why Heidegger himself in the Appendix begins to suspect a “collapse of ’nearness’” (118).
As opposed to the «thing», pain as the rift and rending will be “the insistent reinscription of difference” in the third lecture. For Hanly, this contrast corresponds with a language of pain “that both considers pain and makes it manifest” (120), and for which he seeks out first signs in Das Ereignis but that “first comes clearly to the fore” (122) in the texts of the 1950s. As already indicated in the Beiträge, the between will no longer be the thread that connects structural elements of the world and that in so doing “remains subordinate to the poles it conjoins, […] fixing and reinforcing their complementarity” (125). Instead, it will “be given a kind of priority, to speak in a voice that does not defer to the complexes it separates” (125). The locus of said between will then be Dasein itself, not in a spatial sense but because it is the between more strictly (126), e.g., between men and God as elements of worldliness. Hanly investigates the experience of pain in Dasein along different aspects. He shows that while Heidegger rejects the tendency of Jünger to reify pain as the object of a relation (128), he resonates with the ideas of Nietzsche as he interprets pain as the erratic betweenness or oneness of terror and bliss (130, 135). Affiliate notions of pain are also identified by Hanly in Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin. This especially concerns the Hyperion, where Hölderlin explores the subject of leave-taking both narratively and metaphorically (140) and what is then, as affective domain, brought into a connection with the thinking of difference or Unterschied by Heidegger (142). Furthermore, in this context, pain must be thought in its relation to Stimmung, that constitutes the possibility of «there» in Da-sein as it “hears the pain of its dislocation, and thus ‘accords’ with that pain” (133). As Stimmung belongs to Dasein, it is equally irreducible to oppositional poles and therefore to be understood as “a pulling-away from the stable orderings of sensible and intelligible and into the unstable domain of a between” (134). Having followed the path of Heidegger’s thinking through all these different stations, Hanly arrives at a question:
[W]hat, fundamentally, is the relation of pain and language […] The question, then, will be whether it is possible to hear in language the same tension of gathering and pulling apart, the same primal movement of a one always differentiated in itself that seemed to mark out the space of pain in Heidegger’s discourse (134).
The cited question is of major importance for the rest of his book but before arriving at this language of pain, Hanly wants to approach the subject of «inception» or «beginning». He does so in the so-called “seynsgeschichtlich project”, (144) which “is never far from the question of difference, of the pain of difference” (144). Apart from describing the «there» of Dasein as an “agonistic between-space” (145), Heidegger also offers another way to think it. In the seynsgeschichtlich treatises, “Dasein is the crisis between first and other beginnings” (145). But as Hanly underlines with regard to the Beiträge, the relation of «first» and «other» beginnings “must be seen to break out of the constraints a chronology would impose on them” (148). They are therefore beyond a metaphysical narrative of progression. The goal is to think another kind of confluence between being, event and inception, where «what is» no longer precedes «what occurs» (149). According to Hanly, the inception describing the there-ness of Dasein is a singularity which “must be given over to an original multiplicity.” This multiplicity consists in the fact that “in the ‘uniqueness of its incipience’, the inception is fractured, sundered” (152). Hanly then approaches this problem of inception from three different perspectives, “the thought of repetition, the thought of confrontation, and the thought of belonging” (153). Repetition signifies the inherent structure of inception. It means that inception is never just «the same», but it becomes itself by self-division, “it reaches ahead and thus encroaches differently each time on that which it itself initiates” (155). From the aspect of confrontation, it is important to note that neither are different inceptions opposed to one another in the sense of a counter-direction, nor does one of them sublate the other. Much rather, as Hanly puts it
Inception, we are told, is “assigned” or “allotted” (zugewiesen) to its other. The sense of this assignment seems to be that of an ineluctable and necessary gathering: Heidegger says indeed that the “other inception” “must be the only other” in relation to the uniqueness of the first beginning. (159)
Thirdly, the aspect of belonging is the other side of this specific form of non-oppositional negation. First and other belong together, because they are different, “but yet cannot be withdrawn from the fracture that binds them” and not resolved in the unicity of a whole (160). All three aspects undermine a logic of timely progression. In their light, and because of the multiple senses of the word «inception», Hanly says that “perhaps words themselves halt, reaching a kind of limit, a breaking-point in which a silence, a Sprachlosigkeit will come to dominance” (161).
For the last chapter of his book, Hanly elaborates more deeply on the relation of language and pain. To this end, Hanly argues for an “irruptive pain of the word” (163) that Heidegger foregrounds with a particular style of writing. A central influence here comes from Herder’s Treatise on the Origin of Language. In Herder’s thinking, it is crucial that human experience is unspecified, “his forces of soul [Seelenkräfte] are distributed over the world” (165). Hanly sketches out how this dispersion is linked to the origin of language, because “the word, for Herder, will be torn out of this dispersive field: a mark, scarring the indifferent surface of sensation” (165). However, this word or mark cannot simply be reduced to the acoustic. Hanly shows how, according to both Heidegger and Herder, there is a dimension of gathering between the multiplicity of the sensually given and the expressed sound. This dimension is the mark understood as hearing and thus hearing “is to be of the non-sonorous as much as of the sonorous” (168). Coming back to the subject of Dasein, the point is that it is itself the mark of hearing. The «there» of Dasein is thus a figure of between that avoids metaphysical opposition. It carries silence in and as breaking, in-between, being “precisely the index of this movement, the crossing that the mark effects” (169). Finally, this ambivalence of the mark, the word as joining and tearing apart becomes manifest in a new sense of system. With Heidegger’s view on Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom in mind, Hanly interprets the Beiträge as the execution of this systematicity. Hanly says that when Heidegger is writing “’a legitimate renunciation of system can only originate from an essential insight into it’ (GA 42: 46/24), what he is requiring of us is an experience that fully acknowledges the necessity of system before it can move beyond it” (172). Pursuant to the etymology of «sunistemi», which translates to “placing together”, system can mean two things: on the one hand, it merely means “accumulation and patchwork” of extrinsic, indiscriminate elements (173). On the other hand, it refers to the order, manner, or content according to which elements are intrinsically composed. What the Beiträge are purposefully exposing after Hanly is that at the very core, any gathering will produce both kinds of joinings, extrinsic and intrinsic (173). Regarding each gesture of thinking, Heidegger says that “they unfold, on the one hand, necessarily in sequence, each adding to the force, the urgency (Eindringlichkeit) of the others, while at the same time, each says always ‘the same of the same’” (174). This movement of thought in language is enabled by the fundamental attunement which is “in a tense relation with that “coming to word””(175), although there is no word for itself. The fundamental attunement hovers between verbal determinations, it is characterized by a principal namelessness, by a failing of the word which makes it “accessible only to a thinking that belongs in a primary way to silence” (175). Therefore, the style of this thinking is one of restraint, as only “Erschweigung, as Heidegger calls it, can play out fully the demands of the systematic” (176) as it circulates around silence, unfolding it each time anew. Only with this writing and its peculiar rigor the task of philosophy can be most fully realized.
In the epilogue, Hanly underlines for one last time the importance of the motif of harmonia in Heraclitus that guides his study time and time again. The join of harmonia appears in multiple different configurations, which explains the plenitude of contexts that Hanly references throughout his book (178). However, there is a danger that lurks precisely in this multiplicity, namely that the harmonia is “just another metaphysical structure, a form that underpins or overlays the multiple modes of its encounter: a schema, in other words” (178). But it implies a specific nothingness, as it is nothing but joining, only apparent in multiple concrete contexts without “coalescing into a uniform conceptual structure” (178). Also, Heidegger and Novalis are historical possibilities of its appearance and perhaps even the between of them, “the resonance of their work is best felt together, conjointly” (179). Through Hanly who, one could say, produces this resonance with his book, “it could be that, if we listen, we will hear it too” (181).
In conclusion, Hanly’s study is convincing in various respects. The abundance of the collected material, the depth of the connections made regarding the subject of between-ness and the original dramaturgy of the book as an indirect comparison being only some of them. From a critical perspective, there are nonetheless two objections that I want to raise in the following. The first concerns a programmatic issue. Although Hanly says that the relation between Novalis and Heidegger is itself manifold, he divides his book in respect of a very univocal claim towards their contrast (16). Novalis thinks the between as fertility, Heidegger thinks the between as pain. First and foremost, Hanly does not really treat fertility in Novalis as a concept of its own right, whereas regarding Heidegger he gives an in-depth reconstruction of an explicit line of thought that makes pain its subject, giving numerous explanations and references. This imbalance is further mirrored in the mere amount of mentions of “fertility” in the first part of the book on Novalis. Here, the reader finds the expression only three times (60, 98) and even the reason for its usage remains opaque. One time, Hanly links it to the motif of seed (60), which is used several times as a specific, non-reductive thought-image of the between (20, 36), and the other time he speaks of it is when it occurs together with notions such as generative force, increase, words that blossom, proliferation, germination, or explosion (96), appearing almost synonymously with them. Furthermore, the claimed divergence between fertility and pain does not really hold up to scrutiny. When I and not-I, for example, become the poles of a movement of exchange that is a “chaotic motility” (50) then it remains questionable why this chaotic character is particularly fertile and not equally well limiting or determining. The same applies when Hanly names the between a “zone of fragility” (56) that is characterized by “porosity” and “volatility” (56), or when he highlights the «word» as between-space that is “amid the fluid rhythms of gathering and dissolution” (80). All these aspects stand against the highlighting of the aspect of fertility because they speak just as much for the opposite side of pain. This is also true if we do not presuppose our own understanding of pain but that to which Hanly’s study itself relates to, namely Heidegger’s. Not only because Heidegger speaks of a “pain of inceptual separation” which is precisely between gathering and separation or fracture (136) but also vice versa, as the pain in Dasein always already implies bliss as well as it marks a point of transition in its «there» which hovers “between ‘recollective energies’ and the possibilities of an ‘other inception’” (174). Considering these things, the reader finds no clue why they are not exemplary aspects of fertility alike. For all these reasons, the claimed contrast between fertility and pain appears as if it would only serve dramaturgic purposes of the book and as a means of dividing it into parts, parts that by their content however deconstruct this very dramaturgy.
The second of my objections concerns a methodological problem. It appears repeatedly as if Hanly would presuppose the central thesis of his study as an implicit hermeneutic method. I will try to illuminate this by pointing out two examples, one concerning Novalis and one Heidegger. Firstly, while searching for the philosophical grounds of Novalis’ thinking, Hanly cites the fragment that goes: “like us, the stars hover alternatingly between illumination and darkening” (27). Without giving a reason in the same context, he says that this fragment must be seen as something different than just a poetic ornamentation of a philosophical ground. Afterwards, he suddenly generalizes the argument and says that regarding the thought of between, its philosophical ground is being forsaken and still must be considered (27). And then, lastly, from the same fragment it is said that it can be used as a passageway back to these philosophical grounds. Shortly after, the hovering of the fragment is itself the between and should moreover negotiate the relation of philosophy and poetry (37). Then, eventually, the hovering will be thematized all from Kant’s theory of drawing to Fichte’s thoughts on intellectual intuition and Novalis’ Fichte Studies. Here it turns out to be not just a passageway but the very core of Novalis’ speculations (55). My critique is not about right or wrong, but about the way in which Hanly creates his line of thought. He both gathers several contexts in which variations of his major thought appear and disjunctive as the steps therein are often mediated vaguely. With regard to Heidegger, one can perceive something similar. Heidegger says that inception retains a multiplicity of senses and only thereby keeps open its incipience, meaning the principal possibility of (new) inceptions. In the face of this, Hanly says that “perhaps words themselves halt” and that a speechlessness will be dominant (161). Although it is only ‘perhaps’ the case, Hanly proceeds to the next chapter of his book and assumes this premise categorically, so that he can now reflect on speechlessness. Then, referencing Heidegger who says “In the first inception: wonder. In the other inception: foreboding” (162), he links inceptions to fundamental attunements. Again, he leaps from ‘wonder’ and ‘foreboding’ to the gathering of terror and bliss (162) who are supposed to be analogous and map closely with each other. The reader does not find any other reason for this than the fact that Heidegger speaks of wonder and foreboding in terms of “recoil, of shock, of horror” (162). But neither is the analogy suitable, because bliss is not mentioned in this context at all, nor does speaking of something in the same words imply that the matter talked about is the same. Especially so, if the subject of gathering which is of central relevance for the relation of terror and bliss does not occur at all on the other side of the analogy. Nevertheless, this enables Hanly to move on to pain as a gathering of terror and bliss and finally to the question of a language of pain at which he aimed beforehand (134). Here, citing Heidegger’s saying that “pain has the word” (163), Hanly again categorically claims it would mean that the word itself is pain. He does not consider different interpretations, e.g., that pain has the word because as an attunement it discloses the understanding of the world in a certain manner. Hanly says that his remark is an iteration of an earlier passage, although he did not justify his interpretation even the first time (143). However, it allows him to equate pain with word and thereby proceed to the irruptive pain of the word that is “to be most clearly felt” (163) in the seynsgeschichtliche treatises. To put it briefly, oftentimes it seems as if Hanly would have his conclusion already in mind, whereupon he collects, not always justified, elements of Heidegger’s text that are suitable to arrive there. In other words, he conjuncts and separates textual material in the modus operandi of the very between-ness he wants to prove in these texts.