I argue thus. If it be true that painting employs wholly different signs or means of imitation from poetry, — the one using forms and colors in space, the other articulate sounds in time, — and if signs must unquestionably stand in convenient relation with the thing signified, then signs arranged side by side can represent only objects existing side by side, or whose parts so exist, while consecutive signs can express only objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other, in time.
Objects which exist side by side, or whose parts so exist, are called bodies. Consequently bodies with their visible properties are the peculiar subjects of painting.
Objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other in time, are actions. Consequently actions are the peculiar subjects of poetry.
— Gotthold Lessing, Laocoön
The “Being-true” of the λɔγοç as αληθϵύϵιυ means that in λέγϵιυ [to talk] as ‘αποϕαίυϵοθαι [letting-something-be-seen] the entities of which one is talking must be taken out of their hiddenness; one must let them be seen as something unhidden (αληθϵç); that is# they must be discovered.
— Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
The following constitutes the second (and more or less autonomous) section of a long two-part essay attempting to articulate a post Modern literary hermeneutics — a hermeneutics of discovery in the sense of dis-closure — grounded in Martin Heidegger’s destruction of the Western onto-theo-logical tradition and on the phenomenological/existential analytic of Being and Time. In the first part, I attempt to show that “Modernism” in Western literature — and the New Critical and, more recently, Structuralist hermeneutics it has given rise to — is grounded in a strategy that spatializes the temporal process of existence. It is, in other words, a strategy that is subject to a vicious circularity that doses off the phenomenological/existential understanding of the temporal being of existence, and, analogously, of the temporal being — the sequence of words — of the literary text. It is no accident that the autotelic and in-clusive circle, that is, the circle as image or icon, is the essential symbol of high Modernism — for Proust (the recollection of things past) ; for Yeats (the unity of being in the cyclical theory of time) ; for Eliot (the mythical method) — and of the New Criticism and Structuralism. This attempt to “surpass” Modernism, then, is analogous to Heidegger’s call for the surpassing of Western metaphysics — the traditional perception of Being meta-ta-phusika (beyond and thus from above the things themselves: all at once) which, Heidegger claims, in “achieving” its fulfillment in modern times, has forgotten the being of Being, i.e., has “come to its end”: has become “the time of the world picture.” The surpassing of criticism, like the surpassing of metaphysics, begins not in presence but in the temporality grounded in Nothing, the temporality of Dasein. This temporal, as opposed to spatial, orientation is the key not only to reading a literary text but to the discovery of a new literary history.
Having re-established the ontological priority of temporality in human understanding by way of Heidegger’s existential analytic of Dasein, we can now introduce explicitly into the hermeneutic process the concept of Being (or, to orient the discussion towards the literary argument, the concept of “the whole,” of “form”), which, in fact, has always been present, but has been held in abeyance until now. Indeed, the reader has no doubt already remarked that an existential-ontological hermeneutics in the sense of its function as dis-covery or dis-closure implies that being is somehow already known in advance by the interpreter, just as the being (or form) of a text that can be read again is known, and thus that the process is ultimately circular. Indeed, this is precisely and explicitly what Heidegger says about the hermeneutics of Being and Time’. “Inquiry, as a kind of seeking, must be guided beforehand by what is sought. So the meaning of Being must already be available to us in some way.”1 And again: “Any interpretation which is to contribute understanding, must already have understood what is to be interpreted” (BT, 32, 194; SZ, 152). Hermeneutics, that is, does not discover anything radically new as such. It dis-covers what the interpreter (the inquirer) by his very nature as Dasein already has as a whole (“a totality of involvements”) in advance, but is unaware of until the traditional interpretive instrument breaks down, i.e., until a rupture occurs in the referential surface, at which point the “as structure” (the something as something) that one has in advance but has “forgotten” begins to achieve exp/icitness (BT, 16, 104-107; SZ, 75-76).2 “Whenever something is interpreted as something,” Heidegger writes, “the interpretation will be founded essentially upon fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception. An interpretation is never [despite those committed to objectivity, including Husserl] a presuppositionless apprehending of something presented to us” (BT, 32, 191-92; SZ, 150).3Does this admission, indeed, this affirmation of circularity, therefore justify leaping to the conclusion that the hermeneutics of Being and Time is ultimately no different from that of metaphysics — and by extension, of the New Criticism and Structuralism? It should be clear from Heidegger’s equation of circularity and the positional forestructure of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world as well as from the previous argument as a whole (that the existential analysis of Dasein guides the ontological quest) that the answer is an emphatic no. For Heidegger’s temporal hermeneutics in Being and Time does not begin from the whole in the same way — from the whole seen as telos or presence — that the spatial hermeneutics of the metaphysical and New Critical or Structuralist standpoint does.
In the last analysis, according to Heidegger, all human inquiry is circular. Indeed, as the passages quoted above suggest, the very notion of inquiry presupposes it. For the lack of a prior “awareness” of “what is sought” precludes the possibility of questioning. It is, in fact, precisely this argument that Heidegger presents at the outset of Being and Time (in the introductory section called “The Formal Structure of the Question of Being”) as the ground for asking the question of what it means to be: “Thus to work out the question of Being adequately, we must make an entity — the inquirer — transparent in his own Being. The very asking of this question is an entity’s mode of Being’, and as such it gets its essential character from what is inquired about — namely Being” (BT, 2, 27; SZ, 7). The effort to avoid the hermeneutic circle, to achieve objectivity, a presuppositionless stance, therefore, is not only a futile gesture; it also does violence to the truth by way of concealing that which it is supposed to reveal. “What is decisive,” Heidegger reiterates, “is not to get out of the circle but to come into it in the right way.”4 And the right way, as I have tried to suggest, is through the existential Dasein, the Dasein as being-in-the-world: “This circle of understanding is not an orbit in which any random kind of knowledge may move” — in other words, this is not the closed or spatial circle of the metaphysical standpoint, in which everything, including human beings, is simply an object present-at-hand. It is rather “the expression of the existential fore-structure of Dasein itself. It is not to be reduced to the level of a vicious circle, or even of a circle which is merely tolerated. In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing” (BT, 32, 195; SZ, 153). Heidegger’s culminating reaffirmation of the existential nature of the hermeneutic circle is presented not only as a refutation of the Husserlian charge that, because it is not “pre-suppositionless,” the process is a vicious circle. In the process, he also implies a countercharge that, despite its claims to objectivity — its desire to protect the autonomy of the object of investigation — the metaphysical standpoint that makes the charge (“common sense,” i.e. “public understanding,” in the following quotation) becomes itself guilty of vicious circularity in being blind to its derivative status. Heidegger’s interpretation of the hermeneutic circle is at the very heart of his version of the phenomenological return “to the things themselves,” to origins as “groundless ground,” and is crucial to a final understanding of the distinction I wish to draw between an existential/temporal literary hermeneutics and the metaphysical/spatial interpretive methodology of Modernist criticism. This culminating passage, therefore, deserves quotation at length. In answering the charge of circularity made from the standpoint of “common sense,” Heidegger first differentiates between the “presuppositions” of his existential analytic and the “propositions” of logic:
When it is objected that the existential Interpretation is “circular,” it is said that we have “presupposed” the idea of existence and of Being in general, and that Dasein gets Interpreted “accordingly,” so that the idea of Being may be obtained from it. But what does “presupposition” signify? In positing the idea of existence, do we also posit some proposition from which we deduce further propositions about the Being of Dasein, in accordance with formal rules of consistency? Or does this pre-supposing have the character of an understanding projection, in such a manner indeed that the Interpretation by which such an understanding gets developed, will let that which is to be interpreted [Dasein] put itself into words for the first time, so that it may decide of its own accord whether, as the entity which it is, it has that state of Being for which it has been disclosed in the projection with regard to its formal aspects? Is there any other way at all by which an entity can put itself into words with regard to its Being? (BT, 63, 362-63; SZ, 314-15)
After thus implying that the hermeneutic circle, despite beginning with a presupposition, is not ontologically spatial, does not begin with derived propositions (public knowledge) but concretely and temporally (my-ownly, as it were), Heidegger then goes on to assert that “circularity” in research is unavoidable and that the effort on the part of “common sense” to avoid it, to be “objective,” is an implicit strategy to negate Care, the existential intentionality which, as he makes emphatically clear, is the basic structure of the inquirer and has its source in his temporality:
We cannot ever “avoid” a “circular” proof in the existential analytic, because such an analytic does not do any proving at all by the rules of the “logic of consistency.” What common sense wishes to eliminate in avoiding the “circle,” on the supposition that it is measuring up to the loftiest rigour of scientific investigation, is nothing less than the basic structure of care. Because it is primordially constituted by care, any Dasein is already ahead of itself. As being, it has in every case already projected itself upon definite possibilities of its existence; and in such existentiell projections [i.e., on the level of ontic (or ordinary) as opposed to ontological being] it has, in a pre-ontological manner, also projected something like existence and Being. Like all research, the research which wants to develop and conceptualize that kind of Being which belongs to existence, is itself a kind of Being which disdosive Dasein possesses; can such research be denied this projecting which is essential to Dasein? (BT, 63, 363; SZ, 315)
In fact, according to Heidegger, referring again to the strategy of “common sense” to annul Care and the understanding it discloses, the “disinterestedness” of common sense is itself an interested point of view:
Yet the “charge of circularity” itself comes from a kind of Being which belongs to Dasein. . . . Common sense [which is grounded in “our concernful absorption” in the “they” (das Man), which interprets things as they are publically] concerns itself, whether “theoretically” or “practically,” only with entities which can be surveyed at a glance circumspectively [i.e. spatially]. What is distinctive in common sense is that it has in view only the experiencing of “factual” entities, in order that it may be able to rid itself of an understanding of Being [my emphasis]. It fails to recognize that entities can be experienced “factually” only when Being is already understood, even if it has not been conceptualized. [This is a reference to the derivative nature of propositional understanding as opposed to the originative nature of hermeneutic understanding.] Common sense misunderstands understanding. And therefore common sense must necessarily pass off as “violent” anything that lies beyond the reach of its understanding, or any attempt to go out so far. (BT, 63, 363; SZ, 315)
Thus, in his summation, Heidegger concludes:
When one talks of the “circle” in understanding, one expresses a failure to recognize two things: (1) that understanding as such makes up a basic kind of Dasein’s Being, and (2) that this Being is constituted as care. To deny the circle, to make a secret of it [as “common sense” or, more philosophically, the metaphysical standpoint does], or even to want to overcome it, means finally to reinforce this failure. We must rather endeavor to leap into the “circle” primordially and wholly, so that even at the start of the analysis of Dasein we make sure that we have a full view of Dasein’s circular Being [my emphasis] .5(BT, 63, 363; SZ, 315-16)
What Heidegger implies throughout Being and Time is that, in beginning “omnisciently” from the end — disinterestedly or care-lessly, as it were — the radically logocentric metaphysical standpoint (whether in its naturalistic or its idealistic manifestation) “rids itself of” Dasein’s authentic being by “closing off” his temporal existence. It thus generates the vicious circle. And in the process, the interpreter — like Kierkegaard’s aesthetes, Dostoevsky’s “straightforward” gentlemen in Notes from Underground, T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Tiresias, Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon and Belacqua, lonesco’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith in The Bald Soprano, and the various aesthetes and “The Whole Sick Crew” (whose yo-yoing is a motion towards inanimateness) in Thomas Pynchon’s V. — imprisons himself and eventually forgets his being inside its erosive bounding line. On the other hand, in “leaping into the ‘circle,’ primordially and wholly,” in beginning consciously in the limited and contextual temporal standpoint of being-in-the-world, the interpreter as ek-static and interested or Care ful Dasein “understands” being beforehand, not as a derived conceptual proposition, as finalized and spatial totality in which all “entities . . . can be surveyed at a glance,” but only in a vague, a dim way, as that which has been “covered up” or “forgotten.” The being “presupposed” in the forestructure of existential-ontological understanding is not a closed and static structure or form, a temporal existence re-collected in tranquillity, but, as we have seen, an open and freely expanding horizon. Thus, whereas the metaphysical perspective tends to understand or rather “misunderstand” being (and understanding) by interestedly negating the originary interest of the interpreter “on the supposition that it is measuring up to the loftiest rigour of scientific investigation,” the existential/ontological standpoint of phenomenology is “guided and regulated” (BT, 63, 359; SZ, 312) by this vague primordial understanding of being, which, in belonging “to the essential constitution of Dasein itself” (BT, 2,28; SZ, 8), makes “the idea of existence [temporal be-ing] . . . our clue [to] an ontologically clarified idea of Being” (BT, 63, 362; SZ, 314). In other words, phenomenological inquiry moves carefully and interestedly through time, “destroying” the metaphysical standpoint (disclosing its blindness, its impulse to spatialize time) and simultaneously thematizing — bringing out into the open — that which, to appropriate T.S. Eliot, “flickers in the corner of [our] eye”6 — the vague and indefinite primordial understanding of being covered over and forgotten in the tradition. Ultimately, as I have suggested, it discovers that being resides in the temporal process itself, that what it means to be is be-ing. The hermeneutic circle is thus not a vicious circle, despite its presuppositions about being. For at the “end” of the temporal process of interpretive disclosure the “whole,” the “form,” it discovers, to put it mildly, is quite different from the whole, the form, as object of the beginning. It turns out, that is, to be “endless” — historical: not simply a fuller but a more problematic and dynamic experience: the concealing/unconcealing, truth/error process of being. What Heidegger says about the hermeneutic circle in the language of phenomenology, it is worth pointing out, is echoed in a remarkable way by A.R. Ammons in the language of postmodern poetry, a poetry that attempts to “surpass” the formalism, the closed or iconic form of Modernism in the seminal analogy of the Poundian periplus:
the walk liberating, I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends
I allow myself eddies of meaning:
yield to a direction of significance
like a stream through the geography of my work:
you can find
in my sayings
swerves of action
like the inlet’s cutting edge:
there are dunes of motion
organizations of grass, white sandy paths of remembrance
in the overall wandering of mirroring mind:
but Overall is beyond me: is the sum of these events
I cannot draw, the ledger I cannot keep, the accounting
beyond the account. . . .7
As in Heidegger’s Being and Time, time, in Ammon’s circle of interpretation, is ontologically prior to being or form (the “Overall”), but not different from it.8
To put it positively, the hermeneutic circle is, paradoxically, a liberating movement; an opening towards being. It is finally, to use the important term that Heidegger borrows from Kierkegaard, a “repetition” or “retrieval” (Wiederholen)9 a process of dis-covering and re-membering the primordial temporality of being and thus of the truth as a-letheia (un-hiddenness), which metaphysical understanding and interpretation (representation or, to anticipate, re-collection), in dosing time off — in coercing temporality into spatial icon (the circle) — and hardening this closure into “tradition,” covers over and forgets. The full significance for literary hermeneutics of the Kierkegaardian movement will be developed shortly. Here it will suffice merely to point, by way of orientation, to its ground in existential Care and to the paradoxical forwarding of remembrance. Retrieval or repetition, that is, is neither a process of re-cognizing a (historical) text in the tradition for its own sake; nor is it a process of re-collecting an absolute or privileged origin (logos as presence) as agency of judging a text in the tradition. It is rather a discovering of beginnings in the sense of rendering the present interpreter, as in the case of Ammons, a homo viator, of bringing him into an original, a careful explorative (open) relationship (a relationship of “anticipatory resoluteness”) with the being of a text in the tradition. The hermeneutic circle as repetition, in short, involves the abandonment of a coercive methodology in favor of an unmethodical and generous dialogue: the my-ownly (eigentliche) “speech” act undertaken by the interpreter in Negative Capability or, in Heidegger’s term, Gelassenheit, which lets the being of a text be, which lets it say how it stands with being. It is, in short, dialogic.
Heidegger does not explicitly apply the distinction between the hermeneutic circle of phenomenology and the vicious circle of metaphysics to literary creation or to literary exegesis as such in Being and Time. But that it is absolutely applicable is made clear by briefly recalling the fundamental, though too often overlooked, Kierkegaardian category I have just referred to: the existential concept of “Repetition,” which he opposes to the Greek concept of “Recollection.” This seminal distinction, which, along with Schleiermacher’s and Dilthey’s versions of the hermeneutic circle,10 clearly influenced Heidegger’s thinking about hermeneutics in a decisive way, sheds important light on the significance of the hermeneutics of Being and Time for aesthetics and, more specifically, for literature. Kierkegaard’s distinction goes back as far as his important but neglected Master’s dissertation, The Concept of Irony,11 to which I will return. But it is given its fullest and, for my purposes, most accessible formulation in Repetition, his strange, “indecisive” novella about the violent — Jobian — dislodgement of a young man from the “aesthetic stage” into something like authentic existence (the “ethico-religious stage”). Thus the pseudonymous author Constantine Constantius, the “constant” and “steady” detached observer, who, therefore, despite his sympathy, cannot undergo repetition, writes near the beginning of his account of the young man’s experience, perhaps better than he knows: “Repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions; for what is recollection has been, is repeated backwards, whereas repetition properly so called is recollected forwards.”12 Somewhat later, in a remarkable prevision not only of Mircea Eliade’s analysis of the myth and metaphysics of the eternal return13 but also of the Postmodern critique of the doctrine of ironic inclusiveness, the fundamental structural principle of Modernist poetics, he “amplifies” this distinction, equating recollection with “the pagan life view” and ultimately with Greek — especially Platonic (and Hegelian) — metaphysics, and repetition with the “new,” the existential, movement in philosophy:
The dialectic of repetition is easy; for what is repeated has been, otherwise it could not be repeated, but precisely the fact that it has been gives to repetition the character of novelty. When the Greeks said that all knowledge is recollection [the reference is clearly to Plato’s logocentric concept of the préexistent soul] they affirmed that all that is has been; when one says that life is a repetition one affirms that existence which has been now becomes. When one does not possess the categories of recollection or of repetition the whole of life is resolved into a void and empty noise. Recollection is the pagan life-view, repetition is the modern life-view; repetition is the interest of metaphysics, and at the same time the interest upon which metaphysics founders; repetition is the solution contained in every ethical view, repetition is a conditio sine qua non of every dogmatic problem.14
The difficulty of these passages resides in the unfamiliarity to the Western mind — tending as it does towards spatial form (or Being as substantive) and thus towards the absolute epistemological value of disinterestedness — of Kierkegaard’s usage of the italicized word “interest” in the last sentence. Kierkegaard understood this word — which he emphasizes to distinguish it from metaphysical disinterestedness — in its etymological sense. “Reflection [‘knowledge’ in the above quotation] is the possibility of relationship,” he says elsewhere. “This can also be stated thus: Reflection is disinterested. Consciousness [‘life’ in the above quotation] is relationship, and it brings with it interest or concern; a duality which is perfectly expressed with pregnant double meaning by the word ‘interest’ (Latin interesse, meaning (i) ‘to be between’, (ii) ‘to be a matter of concern’).”15 Kierkegaard’s “interest,” in other words, in making a difference is fundamentally similar to the existential/ontological “Care” (Sorge) of Heidegger’s Dasein as being-in-the-world. When the term is understood in this way, the apparently difficult passage from Repetition — indeed, the whole apparently unintelligible novel itself (which Constantius writes “like Clemens Alexandrinus in such a way that the heretics cannot understand what he writes”16) — becomes manifestly clear. The distinction Kierkegaard is making between recollection and repetition is, if we secularize his “eternity” as Heidegger’s being (Sein), precisely the distinction that Heidegger articulates between logos as Word or Presence and logos as legein (Rede: speech); metaphysics and phenomenological/existential ontology; the hermeneutic circle of the temporal or existential consciousness and the vicious circle of the spatial or essentialist consciousness. There must be a prior “understanding” — a presupposition — of being, since, if there were not, “the whole of life” would resolve “into a void and empty noise,” a sound and fury signifying nothing. As in Heidegger, what is of primary importance, however, is how one enters and remains in the circle. In fact, recollection and repetition are both grounded in interest, i.e., the primordial need of the individual, the existential man, for continuity and meaning. But in “recollecting backward” — in recalling in the sense of re-collecting the unique temporal experience from the point of view of an already fully established concept of Being as realm of ideal Forms (as in Plato) or as ideal System (as in Hegel) that is prior to the contingent experience, the recollection resolves the contradictions and annuls the very interest that originally generates the metaphysical question of what it means to be. In thus achieving “dis-interestedness” (“objectivity” or in-difference), recollection finds repose or, to use a favorite Modernist term, stasis, but it finally mistakes a distanced knowledge about (possibility) for authentic understanding. That is, it loses sight of, blinds itself to, the essential clue to the true meaning of being: the existence (ek-sistence) of the interpreter. It is in thus achieving the perspective sub specie aeternitatis or, as Kierkegaard puts it, aeterno modo, by “aesthetically” reconciling opposites in the inclusive whole of possibility and neutralizing the existential imperative to “choose” resolutely in situation, that metaphysics founders on interest. “Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will also regret that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the sum and substance of all philosophy. It is not only at certain moments that I view everything aeterno modo, as Spinoza says, but I live constantly aeterno modo”: this is how the desperate metaphysical aesthete of Diapsaimata who will outdo Spinoza puts his “triumphant” transcendence of the ethical-existential either/or of temporal existence.17Aesthetic recollection, in other words, like the circularity of assertion in Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics, is paradoxically a willful forgetting of being.
On the other hand, in “recollecting forward,” repetition relies precisely on the interest, the intentionality of inter esse, of the unique, the existential individual as being-in-the-world, for its access into the meaning of being. It is not an objective mode, a contemplative act from without aeterno modo. It is, rather, a “subjective,” a Care-ful, mode, in which the singular or, in Kierkegaard’s preferred term, the exceptional interpreter (as opposed to a universal observer like Constantius himself) is guided beyond the present by the intimation of spirit (the primordial question of being) residing in his “memory.” As such, repetition is both a mnemonic and an anticipatory — i.e. a de-structive and ek-static — movement. Though it presupposes being, it does so not tautologically but in such a way as to ground authentic understanding in “novelty,” in “becoming,” that is, in openness and anxious freedom, which is to say, in temporality. Thus, in a passage from the appended letter of explanation to “this book’s real reader” that recalls Heidegger’s hermeneutic quest for being in and through Dasein, Kierkegaard, speaking in his own voice (though retaining the pseudonym), writes:
The exception thinks also the universal [read: the question of being] when it thinks itself, it labors also for the universal when it elaborates itself, it explains the universal when it explains itself. If one would study the universal thoroughly, one has only to look for the justified exception, which manifests everything more clearly than does the universal itself. . . . There are exceptions. If one cannot explain them, neither can one explain the universal. Commonly one does not notice the difficulty because one does not think even the universal with passion but with an easygoing superficiality. On the other hand, the exception thinks the universal with serious passion.18
In thus entering the circle in the right way, leaping into it “primordially and wholly,” Kierkegaard’s repetition, like Heidegger’s presuppositional hermeneutics, becomes, in the last analysis, a remembering as dis-covering. This, in fact, is precisely how Kierkegaard puts it in his unpublished polemic against the Hegelian J.L. Heiberg, who, in praise of Repetition in a review of the book, had utterly and, given his “metaphysical” perspective, his thinking about the universal with “an easygoing superficiality,” inevitably misunderstood the italicized “interest”: “So step by step [the young man] discovers repetition, being educated by existence.”19
My reason for invoking Kierkegaard’s distinction between recollection and repetition is not, however, simply to draw attention to a supporting parallel with Heidegger’s distinction between the hermeneutic and the vicious circle. In Being and Time, Heidegger restricts his overt discussion of the distinction to the level of philosophical discourse and the critique of the vicious circularity of traditional Western thought primarily, if not exclusively, to “common sense,” i.e. the scientific tradition. As Vigilius Haufniensis’s equation of the “disinterestedness” of metaphysics and Kantian aesthetics in the extended quotation from Repetition in The Concept of Dread suggests, Kierkegaard, on the other hand, explicitly subsumes the philosophical distinction under the broader and more radical category of the creative imagination. In so doing, he also subsumes the critique of the vicious circularity of “common sense” under the more radical category of metaphysics, which, in turn, is subsumed under the even more radical category of aestheticism. Thus in Kierkegaard the literary implications of the distinction between recollection and repetition, which in Heidegger would seem on the surface to point to a critique restricted to the well-made plot, the map structure of “positivistic” literature, include, indeed focus explicitly on, a critique of the iconic form of “Romantic” or Symbolist, i.e. Modernist, literature. It is this subsuming of metaphysics under aesthetics and the consequent recognition of the applicability of the de-struction to both phases of metaphysics, to idealism as well as to science, and analogously to Symbolist as well as to Realist literature, that, for purposes of literary hermeneutics, is important in the Kierkegaardian parallel with Heidegger. For it reminds us that despite its disarming critique of positivism and positivistic literary theory, the New Criticism — especially in its doctrine of ironic inclusiveness and its spatial exegetical methodology — is no less in the metaphysical tradition that it is the business of a Heideggerian phenomenological hermeneutics to “surpass.”
Thus, as both volumes of Either/Or make especially clear, recollection, whether it takes the form of metaphysics or the literature of Romantic irony (i.e. Symbolism), is fundamentally the hermeneutic mode of the “aesthetic” stage. In contradistinction to the “ethical” and “religious” stages on life’s way, the aesthetic, we recall, is the perspective aeterno modo, the perspective based, as Kierkegaard knew from his own experience as an artist, on the all too human impulse to neutralize the dread of existential time in the totalized present, the timeless moment, the epiphany, as it were:
The life in recollection [the aesthete A observes in one of his Diapsalmata — the irony with which Kierkegaard infuses every word should not be overlooked] is the most complete life conceivable, recollection satisfies more richly than all reality, and has a security that no reality possesses. A recollected life-relation has already passed into eternity and has no more temporal interest.20
Or again, this time in the words of the aesthete William Afham of Stages on Lifes Way, who Louis Mackey calls “the most explicit champion ... [of recollection] — its theorist, so to speak”:21 “Memory is immediacy . .. whereas recollection comes only by reflection. Hence it is an art to recollect.” It “seeks to assert man’s eternal continuity in life and to insure that his earthly existence shall be uno tenore, one breath, and capable of being expressed in one word” — which is, of course, the logos as the Word, the Omega — and thus, “consists in removing, putting at a distance” the immediate and contingent existence that is recalled. Thus “recollection is ideality.”22 Like Hegelian metaphysics, the art of recollection, in other words, is a logocentric art that purifies reflectively the existential reality, transforming the erratic and open-ended process of temporal events into a unified and inclusive spatial image. For, to bestow this “consecrating” ideality on existence and to achieve the distance it affords, the art of recollection must begin from the end. Beginning any other way, from the Alpha in the sense of inter esse, is the rock, so to speak, upon which ideality founders. “Properly speaking,” Afham writes,
only the essential is the object of recollection. . . . The essential is not simply essential in itself, but it is such by reason of the relation it has to the person concerned. He who has broken with the idea cannot act essentially, cannot undertake anything essential. . . . Outward criteria notwithstanding, everything he does is unessential.23
These representative passages on the underlying aestheticism of recollection, freighted with echoes of the logocentric philosophies of presence extending from Plato through Spinoza to Kant and Hegel and pointing even to Nietzsche’s Will to Power, recall the primary hermeneutic thrust of the entire history of metaphysics as Heidegger discloses it in his de-struction of the onto-theo-logical tradition. But they also allude to Sophocles’ Oedipus, to Aristotle’s Poetics,24 to Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde, and perhaps even to Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” — and point prophetically to the strategic spatial principle of recollection that “arrests,” generates “stasis” or “repose” (circularity) in Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy, in T.E. Hulme’s “Modern Art,” in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, in Yeats’ poetry of A Vision, in Joyce’s Ulysses, in Eliot’s “mythical method,” indeed, in Symbolist Modernism at large. In so doing, they also lay bare the essential hermeneutic thrust of the whole history of Western literary criticism — especially of its highly self-conscious and “reflective” culmination in the ironic/inclusive mode of the “Neo-Kantian” modern critical tradition (and its extensions in the myth criticism of Northrop Frye and in the structuralist imperatives of Levi-Strauss: its defining impulse to objectify and thus annul the dread of being-in-the-world that has no-thing as its object or, to put it in another way, to spatialize time in order to gain aesthetic distance from it.25 Commenting on Kierkegaard’s analysis of recollection as the essential aesthetic category in a section entitled “Aesthetic Rest vs. Existential Movement” of a brilliant essay on Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writing, Stephen Crites observes in words that strike familiar Symbolist chords:
The ideality bodied forth in a work of art is always an abstraction from experience. It arises out of the temporality of experience, but it achieves a purified form as a self-contained possibility, free of temporality. That is why both artist and his audience are able to come to rest in it. At least for this ideal moment of experience a man achieves integration, his consciousness drawn together by its concentration on a single purified possibility. Kierkegaard speaks of this moment of repose in ideal possibility as a recollection, in a sense of the term derived from Plato: here temporal reality is recollected, assimilated to atemporal forms that are logically prior to it. The recollected possibilities are logically prior in the sense that they give intelligible meaning to the reality of experience.
This important function of art is also performed by other operations of the mind and the imagination. Therefore Kierkegaard sometimes employs the term “aesthetic” in an extended sense that includes science and philosophy as well as art. For the cognitive grasp of an object, whether a purified object of experience or an ideal, logico-mathematical object, also enables consciousness to suspend its bewildering temporal peregrinations and to come to a satisfying moment of clarity: All knowledge is recollection.26
As the reference to Plato suggests, the “aesthete,” or what for Kierkegaard is the same thing, the ironist who “lives poetically,”27 achieves “rest” by irrealizing temporal existence, by transforming experiential time into cyclical space, that is, by entering into an inclusive and in-closed circle from the beginning. In this passage Crites is simply defining aesthetic recollection. What is left out of his account of Kierkegaard’s analysis of the ironic transcendence of time or, as he usually puts it, of actuality is his insistence on the terrible consequences of this kind of circularity. As we see everywhere in the pseudonymous works, far from achieving an authentically liberating stasis, the aesthete, who by definition enters a completed circle from the beginning, enters an inexorable erosive process the deadliness of which not only estranges him from existence but eventually brings on despair and melancholy, that accidia or spiritual sloth in which rest is defined by an achieved timelessness that has atrophied the bodily and spiritual will to move, i.e. the existential self, or, rather, the memory of being. (This, of course, is a more radical version of Heidegger’s Seinsvergessenheit the oblivion of being.) Kierkegaard makes this point especially clear in his stunning portraits of the aesthetes in Either/Or: “How terrible tedium is — terribly tedious,” A writes in Diapsalmata, “I know no stronger expression, none truer, for only the like is known by the like. If only there were some higher, stronger expression, then there would be at least a movement. I lie stretched out, inactive; the only thing I see is emptiness, the only thing I move about in is emptiness. I do not even suffer pain. The vulture constantly devoured Prometheus’ liver; the poison constantly dripped down on Loki; that was at least an interruption, even though a monotonous one. Even pain has lost its refreshment for me.”28 But it receives its most significant expression, at least for our purposes, in his attack on Friedrich Schlegel’s Künstlerroman, Lucinde, which, according to his description of its essential formal characteristics, makes it exactly a forerunner of the Modernist (poetic) novel of spatial form. “At the very outset,” Kierkegaard observes,
Julian [the narrator] explains that along with the other conventions of reason and ethics he has also dispensed with chronology. He then adds: “For me and for this book, for my love of it and for its internal formulation, there is no purpose more purposive than that right at the start I begin by abolishing what we call order, keep myself aloof from it, and appropriate to myself in word and deed the right to a charming confusion.” With this he seeks to attain what is truly poetical. .. .29
After thus describing the novel in terms that might apply equally to any number of “de-temporalized” Modernist novels from Huysman’s A Rebours to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves — Kierkegaard is not unaware, of course, that what is “confusion” to the vulgar is the aesthetic order of the eternal imagination — he comments witheringly: “When the imagination is allowed to rule in this way it prostrates and anesthetizes the soul, robs it of all moral tension, and makes of life a dream. Yet this is exactly what Lucinde seeks to accomplish. . . .”30 And again, after his brilliant analysis of the character of the “poetical” and melancholic Lisette, who (like young Stencil in Pynchon’s V — the postmodern heir of Henry Adams) objectifies and distances her dread of life by referring to herself in the third person, Kierkegaard condemns the spatial mode of the aesthetic perspective: “Throughout the whole of Lucinde, however, it is this lapsing into an aesthetic stupor which appears as the designation for what it is to live poetically, and which, since it lulls the deeper ego into a somnambulant state, permits the arbitrary ego free latitude in ironic self-satisfaction.”31
In thus tracing the “moral” history of circularity as recollection in the fate of the “ironic” — the inclusive — aesthete, Kierkegaard also prophecies the essential “moral” history of circularity as recollection not only in modern philosophy (from Nietzsche’s annunciation of the saving eternal return to Heidegger’s rejection of it), but also, and primarily, in modern literature, at least as this history is read by the main thrust of the contemporary avant-garde. (Though there has been a resurgence of cyclicalism in the structural anthropology of Levi-Strauss and in the poetry of a number of important contemporary American poets such as Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and even Charles Olson, this new cyclicalism, with the exception of certain followers of Levi-Strauss, is at pains to acknowledge the priority of temporality by way of the priority of the body.) It is precisely this devastating “progression” we experience, for example, in the transition — generated by the foundering of metaphysics (and its aesthetic counterpart) on the rock of contemporary history — from W.B. Yeats’s celebration of urobouric time to Samuel Beckett’s grim recognition of its erosive horror. For the “Modern” Yeats, we recall, the epiphanic moment — when time has come around full circle (become space) — “integrates” or, to use his own vocabulary, unifies being, transforms the existential self into image and history, into Byzantium, the timeless Polis of Art:
Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon,
The soul begins to tremble into stillness,
To die into the labyrinth of itself!
. . . .
All thought becomes an image and the soul
Becomes a body: that body and that soul
Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,
Too lonely for the traffic of the world:
Body and soul cast out and cast away
Beyond the world.32
And again — the contrast with Kierkegaard, which is manifest even in the language, is startling in its absoluteness:
The smithies break the flood,
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.33
For the postmodern Beckett, on the other hand, Yeats’s aesthetic metaphysical circle of perfection has become Clov’s “zero zone,” which, far from being a place of fulfillment, is where, as Gogo and Didi despairingly observe, there is “Nothing to be done.”34 Having “achieved” aesthetic stasis, the Belacqua figure of More Pricks than Kicks, of Murphy, of the Molloy novels — who is invariably a (Modern) artist and/or metaphysician — is thus doomed to wallow eternally, like “Sloth our own brother,” in his willessness (his “freedom” from the desire and loathing, as it were, that Yeats and Joyce [in Portrait ] want to transcend): “Being by nature sinfully indolent, bogged in indolence [Belacqua asked] nothing better than to stay put. . . .”35 And despite their “art,” the ground-down tramps of Waiting for Godot are doomed to “move” in endless circles until the entropie process, in running its course, utterly annuls their memory of being:
|Estragon:||Well, shall we go?|
|Vladimir:||Yes, let’s go.|
|They do not move|
[Curtain, Act I]
|. . . .|
|Vladimir:||Well, shall we go?|
|Estragon:||Yes, let’s go.|
|They do not move|
[Curtain, Act II]36
On the other hand, Kierkegaard does not, indeed, deliberately refuses to, define and systematically analyze the literary significance of the existential movement of repetition. And the reason for this is fundamental: whereas recollection is a mode of knowledge and thus accessible to the methodical language of analysis or “aesthetics,” repetition is essentially a mode of existential “action,” of uniquely human being. But, in fact, Kierkegaard does suggest, however indirectly, the implications of repetition for literary form and for literary hermeneutics in the very method of indirect communication of his pseudonymous works — and it turns out to be remarkably like Heidegger’s in Being and Time. I mean his revolutionary transformation of a traditional literature of recollection, in which language as tautology stills temporal motion and thus neutralizes the selfhood of both author and reader, into a literature of “action,” in which a language as dialectical movement (repetition) activates time, moves and thus generates the selfhood of, i.e. dialogue between, author and reader. In the pseudonymous works, in other words, Kierkegaard abandons the traditional sense of an ending, the poetic or ironic principle of closure. More specifically, the great ironist refuses to resolve the either/or of the existential situation into the neither/nor — what I.A. Richards would call the “inclusiveness” and Cleanth Brooks and W.K. Wimsatt the “ironic equilibrium” and Northrop Frye the “mythic total structure” — of the aesthetic perspective, the perspective aeterno modo.
As Stephen Crites observes, the creative process in Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous works — it is, I take it, the process of an authentic, a “mastered irony”37 — takes the form of a “dialectic of revocation,”38 a rupturing of the referential surface, as Heidegger would put it, or in terms of this essay, an icon-breaking act, in which an existential movement collides irreconcilably with the “aesthetic” frame of the book (the “spatial form” recollected from the “aesthetic” angle of vision) and disintegrates or, better, destroys its “objective” and conclusive authority. Thus, for example, in Repetition, where Kierkegaard’s strategy is most representative,
There are occasional hints about the meaning of repetition, but we are never permitted to see the movement itself [as it is “made” by the young man] except in the distorting mirror of the aesthetic. Constantine [the “objective” author, who recollects the story aeterno modo] speaks of the affair as a “wrestling match” or a “breaking” (brydning): “the universal breaks with the exception, breaks with it in strife, and strengthens it [the exception] by this breaking.” This break is what we are permitted to see in the book, but as it occurs the young man breaks out of the aesthetic frame of the book as well, and is lost from view. . . . The pseudonym and his book constitute a mirror reflecting from its angle and within its frame the existential movement as it breaks away... . The aesthetic medium is purely dialectic: it is simultaneously presented and obliterated.39
In thus destroying the aesthetic frame, the existential movement also breaks the reader’s (interpreter’s) privileged logocentric perspective. That is, it undermines his certain expectation of an aesthetic resolution — that “awaiting” (Gewärtigens) for an “end” which, according to Heidegger, unlike “anticipatory resoluteness,” manifests itself psychologically as a calculative impulse to suspend the temporal process, to transform it into “a pure sequence of ‘nows’ ” (BT, 65, 377; SZ, 329 and BT, 68, 389; SZ, 339), thus annulling the selfhood — and leaves him unaccomodated, “alone with the existential movement itself and whatever claim it may make on him.”40 The resolution, if there is to be one at all, must be achieved by the reader himself in an existential decision of his own. In “Guilty/Not Guilty?,” the diary of a young man who has undergone something like an existential movement in the process of a love affair in which, like Kierkegaard, he abandons his beloved, the diarist expresses his utter uncertainty about the meaning of his act. He writes:
I have never been able to understand it in any other way than this, that every man is essentially assigned to himself, and that apart from this there is either an authority such as that of an apostle — the dialectical determination of which I cannot comprehend, and meanwhile out of respect for what has been handed down to me as holy I refrain from concluding anything from non-understanding — or there is chatter.”41
Commenting on this crucial passage, Crites concludes about Kierkegaard’s narrative method:
That, in the end, represents the standpoint of Kierkegaard’s authorship as a whole . . . the pseudonymous writings are designed to throw every reader back on his own resources. There is not even an actual author to lay claim on him. They assign him to himself.
The pseudonymous works present their life-possibilities in this elusive form in order to evoke in the reader a movement that is entirely his own. They are not cookbooks that he could follow in concocting a novel but pretested pattern for life. .. . But each work is in its own way designed to create a quiet crisis in the life of a reader that can be resolved by his own decision.42
Precisely, though I would add to the “cookbook” the “icon” that annuls the imperative to engage oneself with the voice of the text and, by extension, with the world. Any effort, according to Kierkegaard, to explain the existential movement in discursive language or to “re-present” it in a literary art grounded in the traditional Western strategy of recollection is doomed to negate it. Given his commitment to the existential structures, it was inevitable that he should make the effort to assert the ontological priority of temporality in language. Thus for Kierkegaard literature, in the last analysis, becomes “anti-literature” in the same way that Heideggerian phenomenology is anti-metaphysical, an effort to surpass Western philosophy. To put it in terms of the hermeneutic argument of this essay, Kierkegaard withstands the enormous pressure of —and the security offered by — the Western metaphysical/aesthetic tradition to write author-ially (from a privileged origin) about existence, and chooses rather to write, with all the risks it entails, within the human — the temporal — situation of openness and uncertainty. Unlike his aesthetes (who, as we have seen, in their comportment towards the real world, bear a remarkable resemblance to the fin de siècle Symbolists in France and England) — and, in another way, with the aesthetic metaphysician par excellence, G.W.F. Hegel — Kierkegaard writes in temporali modo: exploratively or, what is the same thing, dialogically. He writes, that is, in such a way as to transform the reader’s (interpreter’s) impulse to objectivity into an interest (Care) that engages him dialogically with the text and with the ambiguous and anxiety provoking either/or of the temporal existence the text is exploring. Thus this “dialectic of revocation” or, as I prefer to call it, this iconoclastic strategy, in which the universal, far from “breaking” the “bitter furies of complexity .. . that gong-tormented sea,” “breaks with the exception” in strife, becomes for aesthetics what, we recall, repetition, “the interest on which metaphysics founders,” is for reflective thought.
In thus exploring the dialogic (and the “ethical”) possibilities of an open, temporal, and existential form (as opposed to the distancing aestheticism of a closed, a spatial, form), Kierkegaard, of course, takes his place along with the Dostoevsky of Notes from Underground, the Pirandello of Six Characters in Search of an Author, and the Kafka of The Trial as one of the most important immediate literary forebears of postmodern literature. For, as I have suggested, postmodern literature not only thematizes time in the breakdown of metaphysics following the “death of God” (or at any rate the death of God as Omega), but also makes the “medium” itself the “message” in the sense that its function is to perform a Heideggerian “de-struction” of the traditional metaphysical frame of reference, that is, to accomplish the phenomenological reduction of the spatial perspective by formal violence, thus, like Kierkegaard, leaving the reader interesse — a naked and unaccommodated being-in-the-world, a Dasein in the place of origins, where time is ontologically prior to being.43 In other words, Kierkegaard’s formal experiments, like Heidegger’s experimental philosophy in Being and Time, is ultimately grounded in a profound intuition that, as Wallace Stevens puts it,
we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves44
and, therefore, that everything — the spiritual health of man — depends “not on [getting] out of the circle but [coming] into it in the right way,” that is, hermeneutically.
It is true, of course — to return once more to Heidegger — that the Kierkegaardian repetition is a fictional strategy to engage the reader “ethically,” not a theory of textual interpretation. But the difference is simply (if we bracket the religious dimension) that whereas Kierkegaard feels compelled to adopt a narrative strategy of hermeneutic violence against an age still “innocent” about metaphysics, a Heideggerian feels that “the rupture of the referential surface” of the metaphysical World Picture has taken or is taking place and thus that the modern reader has been prepared historically to accept this originative stance as a hermeneutic imperative (has “come of age,” as it were). Seen in the light of the foregoing discussion, then, the relationship of Kierkegaard’s repetition to a Heideggerian literary hermeneutics based on the phenomeno logical/existential analytic of Being and Time should now be obvious. What it suggests is that the Heideggerian hermeneutic circle as repetition or retrieval (Wiederholen) is finally a de-mystifying of the Modernist, especially the New Critical understanding of the hermeneutic situation. It is, in other words, an undermining of the privileged status of the interpreter, which, grounded as it is on the unexamined (derived) assumption that End is ontologically prior to process, justifies in the name of disinterestedness (and the autonomy of the text) the transformation of the be-ing of a text into a spatial form, a circle which, in the last analysis, becomes a circulus vitiosus, a circle that closes off temporality and thus “erodes” one’s memory of the being of the text and, ultimately, in so far as language is the house of being, of being itself. Just as Kierkegaard’s narrative strategy of repetition is a “dialectics of revocation”, which in denying the reader an author-ial ground breaks the “metaphysical” circle of interpretation and “assigns him to himself”, so a Heideggerian hermeneutic circle is a process of de-struction, of dis-closing, which dismantles the reader’s metaphysical/spatial frame of reference and assigns the interpreter to himself, makes him a historical Dasein, a temporal being-in-the-world, in original and care-ful, i.e. in dialogic, relationship to the being of the text and ultimately to being itself. Just as the Kierkegaardian repetition is “the interest on which metaphysics founders,” so the Heideggerian hermeneutic circle is the Care on which Spatial Form founders. Finally, as with Kierkegaard, for the Heideggerian interpreter repetition (unlike recollection [the vicious circle], which is “repeated backwards”) is “recollected forwards.” Although Heidegger, in the following passage, is referring to the history of the Western philosophical tradition, what he says about retrieval applies equally to the encounter with a particular literary text, since, as Lessing’s distinction between the verbal and the plastic arts suggests, a literary text, by virtue of the temporality of words, is itself a “history” in little. Indeed, it is, I submit as a crucial point of contention against the Derridean deconstructors, this original temporal encounter with the literary text that generates the process of repetition on the larger level of the “text” of the tradition:
To ask “How does it stand with being?” means nothing less than to recapture, to repeat (wieder-holen), the beginning of our historical-spiritual existence, in order to transform it into a new beginning. This is possible. It is indeed the crucial form of history, because it begins in the fundamental event. But we do not repeat a beginning by reducing it to something past and now known, which need merely be initiated; no, the beginning must be begun again, more radically, with all the strangeness, darkness, insecurity that attend a true beginning. Repetition as we understand it is anything but an improved continuation with the old method of what has been up to now.45
It is, finally, in the “Kierkegaardian” sense of the hermeneutic circle that we are to understand the phenomenological hermeneutics of Heidegger’s existential analytic as lending itself to a literary hermeneutics of discovery or, what is the same thing though more explicit, of disclosure. I mean a literary hermeneutics which is simultaneously a dis-covering or dis-closing (present) of what has been covered over or closed-off and forgotten by the meta-physical imagination (past), and a Care-ful exploration of or opening oneself to terra incognita (future): or, more literally, a hermeneutics which makes the interpreter a being-in-the-world in dialogic relationship simultaneously with a particular literary text and, since the text enters history on being written, with the “text” of literary history, and, beyond that, with the “text” of the history of Western man. It is, further, in this sense of the hermeneutic circle that we are to understand the new literary hermeneutics of dis-closure to be post-Modern and thus postmodern.
In the epigraph of this essay, it will be recalled, I invoked Gotthold Lessing’s famous distinction between poetry and painting in the Laocoön by way of orienting the reader towards the analogy I wish to develop between the literary text and the phenomenological/existential analytic of Being and Time. I also was implying that in defining the limits of poetry in terms of its temporal medium and the limits of painting in terms of its spatial medium, Lessing was sowing the seeds of an enormously important, if still to be fulfilled, development in literary criticism. Since the justification of this view depends on perceiving the transformation of meanings that it has undergone in the process of the ensuing discussion, the passage bears repeating:
If it be true that painting employs wholly different signs or means of imitation from poetry, — the one using forms and colors in space, the other articulate sounds in time, — and if signs must unquestionably stand in convenient relation with the thing signified, then signs arranged side by side can represent only objects existing side by side, or whose parts so exist, while consecutive signs can express only objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other, in time.
Objects which exist side by side, or whose parts so exist, are called bodies. Consequently bodies with their visible properties are the peculiar subjects of painting.
Objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other in time, are actions. Consequently actions are the peculiar subjects of poetry.46
In the light of the foregoing interpretation of Heidegger’s version of Husserl ‘s phenomenological call to return “Zu den Sachen selbst,” it can now be seen, I think, why Lessing’s distinction (which Joseph Frank in his influential essays on spatial form in modern literature dismisses as a critical judgment in favor of its importance “solely as instrument of analysis”47) is in fact a seminal insight. However at odds his existential intuition was with his conscious classical intentions, Lessing was engaged in an act of hermeneutic “de-struction” bent on recovering the ontological priority of temporality in the understanding of literature from the derivative — and spatial — metaphysical critical consciousness. To use the original and more precise terms of this discussion of hermeneutics, he was engaged in an act of iconoclasm intended to dis-cover the logos as legein (Rede) buried deeply and eventually forgotten by the Western spatial imagination when it interpreted man, the ζῷov λóγov, έxov, as “rational animal.” In insisting that words as temporal phenomena (“sounds in time”) are the media of the expression of human actions (“objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other, in time”), Lessing was ultimately saying that the essential existential structure of human life is language as human speech — or, to recall Heidegger’s terminology, that “Dasein, man’s Being, is ‘defined’ as . .. that living thing whose Being is essentially determined by the potentiality for discourse” (BT, 6, 41; SZ, 20; see also BT, 7, 55; SZ, 32). And in so doing, he was reasserting against the grain of Western culture, and his own neoclassical inclinations, that, though literature is not life, it is, as radical medium, equiprimordial with the temporal existence of Dasein (Befindlichkeit) and the ek-static understanding of that existence (Verstehen).
In reading Lessing’s aesthetic distinction in the light of Heidegger’s phenomenological/existential hermeneutics, a postmodern generation awakens, with the shock of recognition (for it is, after all, a “commonplace”), to the fact that a literary work cannot, despite its repeatability, simply be in the sense that Archibald MacLeish speaks of it in “Ars Poetica” and the New Critics, and the Structuralists after them, deal with it in their brilliantly superficial (ontic as opposed to ontological) exegeses. Such a way of putting it, we can now see, betrays the fatal spatial prejudice that lies behind the crisis of Western man: that it reads logos not as legein — the “act of an instant,” as the postmodern American poet Charles Olson puts it48 — but as the Word and thus sees Form as Western metaphysics sees the Being of existence, i.e., as object, as image, in-dosing time within the bounding line of space. To put it another way, what we discover is that modern literary criticism has concealed the primordial essence of literature: that it uses words not pigments to articulate experience and that words, “as consecutive signs,” are radically temporal, at least in their authentic form, when they are “the act of an instant.” In thus covering over the existential nature of language, it has also forgotten that, if a poem must “be,” as the New Critics insist, it must “be” in the way that Heidegger’s phenomenology dis-closes (opens up what has been in-closed) Being to be: as be-ing, as temporal process.49
If, therefore, the analogy that Lessing and Heidegger jointly suggest in giving parallel and equiprimordial status to Existence (Befindlichkeit), Understanding (Verstehen), and Speech (Rede) is allowed, the phenomenological stance demands a reorientation of perception in the reading process and thus a revision of the interpretive act similar to and as radical as that which Heidegger calls for in Being and Time in the encounter with existence. For if a literary text is fundamentally a temporal phenomenon, if, that is, this temporality is ontologically prior to the Form of a text, then literary hermeneutics must abandon, or, more accurately, perhaps, must disengage, the prevailing and by now culturally ingrained habit of suspending the temporal dimension and its concurrent attitude of dis-interest in favor of the ontologically prior dynamic process conveyed by words in sequence. Literary interpretation, that is, must lay itself bare before the experience of language, the ongoing instants that, in following one another in rapid, if not always causal, succession, engage the reader’s interest as Care — and in so doing constantly modify his temporal perception, his expectation of the future and understanding of the past, and, at the same time, always threaten his understanding of his own historical existence and being as he lives it in his mind and in his body or, as Merleau-Ponty would say, in his fingertips. To put it in another way, a postmodern interpreter must bracket the arrogant anthropomorphic frame of reference of the metaphysical imagination, the Wille zum Willen, and its synchronic perspective in favor of a “situated” or historical imagination and its diachronic standpoint, the standpoint of the ek-static Dasein. To return to the term that finally emerges as the inevitable definition of the hermeneutic act, the postmodern literary interpreter must become an explorer, a Homo Viator, in the place of origins. Here the author and the world of the literary text — whether it is Homer’s Odyssey or Dante’s Divine Comedy or Shakespeare’s King Lear or Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” or Pound’s Cantos or Beckett’s Malone or Olson’s Maximus — undergo a profound metamorphosis. The god indifferently “paring his fingernails” is transformed into a dialogic partner, a sharer. And what was conceived as an artifact to be read from a printed page, an image to be looked at from a distance, an It to be mastered, becomes “oral speech” to be heard immediately in time, a Thou. When we ask the question of its being in Care, the work of literature becomes in turn a voice that asks us the question of being. In the place of origins, as Hans-Georg Gadamer has persuasively reminded us, literature, ancient and modern, once more becomes fraught with risk — and possibility.50
1 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), Sect. 2, p. 25. Further references to Being and Time will be incorporated in the text in parentheses and will include the abbreviation BT, the section number, the page number. Since the translation is notoriously problematic, I will also include abbreviated references to the original German version, Sein und Zeit, 7th ed.(Tübingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1953), as, for example: BT, 2, 25; SZ, 5. While “Being” is consistently capitalized in the translation, and therefore in all quotations from Being and Time, in my use I distinguish between being (or be-ing), when I mean to refer to its verbal (and new) sense, and Being when I refer to its nominative (traditional) sense.
2 See W.B. Macomber, The Anatomy of Disillusion: Martin Heidegger’s Notion of Truth (Evanston, III.: Northwestern University Press, 1967), pp. 44 ff. The phrase is important for my purposes because its reference to inauthentic reality in spatial terms (map/icon) points to the causal relationship between the spatialization of time and the covering up and forgetting of being.
3 See also BT, 32,188-92; SZ, 149-51. Specifically, the forestructure of the Dasein as interpreter consists of fore-having (Vorhaben) ’, fore-sight or point of view (Vorsicht), which “ ‘takes the first cut’ out of what has been taken into our fore-having, and . . . does so with a view to a definite way in which this can be interpreted”; and fore-conception (Vorgriff), the conceptualizability of that which “is held in our fore-having and toward which we set our sights ‘foresightedly’ ” (BT, 32,191; SZ, 150). The “fore-structure,” that is, is another way of referring to the ek-static or temporal character of Dasein. The crucial point, as Michael Gelven points out, “is that the fore-structure comes from Dasein’s involvement in the world as ready-to-hand; not as purely calculative function of the present-at-hand.” A Commentary on Heidegger’s “Being and Time” (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970), p. 95.
4 For another version of this crucial movement, see Heidegger’s definition of the “leap” in An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Manheim (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1961), p. 5.
5 The great importance that Heidegger attributes to the hermeneutic circle is suggested by the fact that he invokes it as a governing concept of his theory of interpretation in an increasingly fuller way at least three times in Being and Time : BT, 5, 27-28; SZ, 7-8; BT, 32, 192-95; SZ, 151-53; and BT, 63, 362-63; SZ, 314-15.
6 T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950, (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1952), p. 250.
7 A.R. Ammons, “Corsons Inlet,” Collected Poems, 1951-1971, (New York: Norton, 1972), p. 148.
8 As Paul de Man puts it in an important conversion of Heidegger’s hermeneutics of understanding into literary interpretation:
Literary “form” is the result of the dialectic interplay between the prefigurative structure of the foreknowledge and the intent at totality of the interpretative process. This dialectic is difficult to grasp. The idea of totality suggests closed forms that strive for ordered and consistent systems and have an almost irresistible tendency to transform themselves into objective structures. Yet, the temporal factor, so persistently forgotten, should remind us that the form is never anything but a process on the way to its completion. The completed form never exists as a concrete aspect of the work that could coincide with a sensorial or semantic dimension of the language. It is constituted in the mind of the interpreter as the work discloses itself in response to his questioning. But this dialogue between work and interpreter is endless. The hermeneutic understanding is always, by its very nature, lagging behind: to understand something is to realize that one had always known it, but, at the same time, to face the mystery of this hidden knowledge. Understanding can be called complete only when it becomes aware of its own temporal predicament and realizes that the horizon within which the totalization can take place is time itself. The act of understanding is a temporal act that has its own history, but this history forever eludes totalization.
“Form and Intent in the American New Criticism,” Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 31-32. See also Stanley Romaine Hopper, “Introduction,” Interpretation: The Poetry of Meaning, ed. Hopperand David L. Miller (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967), pp. xv-xvi. For another valuable account of Heidegger’s version of the hermeneutic circle, see Gelven’s A Commentary on Heidegger’s “Being and Time,” pp. 176-81. In justifying the conclusion that the hermeneutic circle is not a vicious circle, however, Gelven invokes the analogy of the cumulative enrichment of meaning that comes with repeated listening to a Beethoven sonata. In so doing, he fails to point to the kind of temporality that is prior to the temporality of incremental repetition: the temporal process of listening to the sonata itself.
9 The translators of Being and Time, Macquarrie and Robinson, translate “Wiederholen” as “Repetition” (others, as “Retrieval”) and add in a footnote:
this English word is hardly adequate to express Heidegger’s meaning. Etymologically, “wiederholen” means “to fetch again;” in modern German usage, however, this is expressed by the cognate separable verb “wieder . . . holen,” while “wiederholen” means simply “to repeat” or “do over again.” Heidegger departs from both these meanings, as he is careful to point out. For him, “wiederholen” does not mean either a mere mechanical repetition or an attempt to reconstitute the physical past; it means rather an attempt to go back to the past and retrieve former possibilities, which are thus “explicitly handed down” or “transmitted.” (BT, 74, 437)
Neither they nor, as far as I know, his commentators refer to Heidegger’s source as Kierkegaard. As a result a crucial dimension of the meaning of this important term is left out.
10 See Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleier mach er, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer (Evanston, III.: Northwestern University Press, 1969), pp. 86-88, 118-21, 130-32. For the importance of Kierkegaard’s critique of the aesthetic consciousness for Hans-Georg Gadamer’s dialogic hermeneutics, see Gadamer’s Truth and Method (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975), pp. 85 ff. and 112 ff.
11 Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, With Constant Reference to Socrates, trans, with “Introduction” by Lee M. Capel (London: Collins, 1966), pp. 154-55.
12 Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology, trans, with “Introduction” and “Notes” by Walter Lowrie (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964), p. 33. See also Søren Kierkegaard, Johannes Climacus or De Omnibus Dubitandum Est and A Sermon, trans, with an “Assessment” by T.H. Croxall (Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 1958). In distinguishing between the Cartesian/Hegelian methodology of systematic doubt and existential doubt (and extending this distinction to include that between disinterestedness and interest and between recollection and repetition), Kierkegaard in this seminal work (unpublished in his lifetime) remarkably prefigures Husserl’s and especially Heidegger’s interpretations of the phenomenological reduction, the principle of intentionality (Care), and the hermeneutic circle. See especially pp. 151-55.
13 See especially Eliade’s account of the development of the primitive cyclical perspective, and its return to the timeless time (in i/lo tempore), into Plato’s essentialist philosophy of Forms. Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, trans. Willard Trask (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), pp. 34-35, 120-22.
14 Repetition, pp. 52-53. The emphasis is mine except for Kierkegaard’s telling italicizing of both references to the word “interest.”
15 Johannes Climacus, pp. 151-52. T. H. Croxall misses the connection with Heidegger’s Dasein in his otherwise helpful introductory commentary on Kierkegaard’s “interest”:
Philosophy “abstracts” life from factuality in order to think about it, and in doing so it pushes its way into the abstract sphere of “possibility” (the opposite of actuality). True philosophy uses both the term “possible” and “actual,” but the actuality it deals with is really false because its content has been removed or “annulled.” It is merely treated as something to be thought about idealistically and in the abstract. Such thinking is a dispassionate, disinterested process, involving no more than the Latin interesse in its root meaning of “being between,” or being there. The “existing individual,” on the other hand, is interested in the other sense of the Latin word, i.e. “being concerned.” (p. 88)
16 Repetition, p. 131.
17 Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, trans. David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1946), 1,31.
18 Repetition, pp. 133-34. The transitive use of the verb to think should not be overlooked.
19 “Editor’s Introduction,” Repetition, p. 4. The central importance that Kierkegaard attaches to the term “interest” (as opposed to “disinterest”) and thus to the existential concept of repetition is made eminently clear not only in the polemic against Professor Heiberg’s misunderstanding, which “occupies ... 55 pages in Kierkegaard’s Papers” (the crucial passage of which Walter Lowrie has translated and quoted at length in his introduction), but also in The Concept of Dread (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957). In the latter Vigilius Haufniensis, the pseudonymous author, quotes the crucial passage from Repetition — and comments on the significance that Heiberg fails to understand — to lend authority to his thesis that “Sin [an existential category] belongs to ethics [in this case a universal category] only in so far as upon this concept it [ethics] founders. . . .”:
“Repetition is the interest of metaphysics and at the same time the interest upon which metaphysics founders. Repetition is the solution in every ethical view [in this case an existential category]; repetition is a conditio sine qua non of every dogmatic problem.” The first sentence [in Repetition all this is one sentence] contains an allusion to the thesis that metaphysics is disinterested, as Kant affirmed of aesthetics. As soon as the interest emerges, metaphysics steps to one side. For this reason the word interest is italicized. The whole interest of subjectivity [the existential self] emerges in real life, and then metaphysics founders. In case repetition is not posited, ethics [like metaphysics] remains a binding power [a principle that objectifies and determines existence] ; presumably it is for this reason he [Constantius] says that “it is the solution in every ethical view... .” In the sphere of spirit . . . the problem is to transform repetition into something inward, into the proper task of freedom, into freedom’s highest interest, as to whether, while everything changes, it can actually realize repetition. ... All this Professor Heiberg has failed to observe. . . . (pp. 16-17)
20 Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, trans. David F. Swenson, Lilliam M. Swenson, and Walter Lowrie, with revisions by Howard A. Johnson (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1959), I, 31-32. The identity of metaphysics and aestheticism assumes even greater significance when one considers the relationship between A’s definition of recollection and Hegel’s term aufgehoben , which Kierkegaard interprets as one of the central concepts of the System. The word means “raised” or “taken up” but, as Robert Bretall points out in a note on its use by William Afham, the aesthete of Kierkegaard’s Stages on Life’s Way, “to render precisely its philosophical significance, we should have to say ‘cancelled as a separate entity while preserved as part of a larger whole.’ ” A Kierkegaard Anthology (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951), p. 189.
21 Louis Mackey, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 1971), p. 17.
22 Søren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way, trans. Walter Lowrie (New York: Schocken Books, 1967). The quotations have been drawn from “The Prefatory Note” to “In Vino Veritas: A Recollection,” pp. 27-36. My emphasis.
23 Stages on Life’s Way, p. 29.
24 According to Kierkegaard, Greek (Aristotelian) tragedy is one of the purest forms of aesthetic recollection. This is why, in a number of places in his work, notably in Fear and Trembling, he conceives it as a literary form that, like metaphysics, must be surpassed. In this he is at one with the postmodern literary imagination, which rejects tragedy on the grounds that its evasive circularity (i.e. spatial form) is an especially virulent form of humanistic anthropomorphism that gains distance from death and finitude — the principle of Nothingness itself — by imposing a human order on and thus justifying in the teleology of form what is in fact meaningless. This is implicit in the drama of the absurd, but receives theoretical expression in Robbe-Grillet, “Nature, Humanism, Tragedy,” For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press, 1963), pp. 49-75. This essay itself is an amplification of the following Brechtian epigraph from Roland Barthes: “Tragedy is merely a means of ‘recovering’ human misery, of subsuming and thereby justifying it in the form of necessity, a wisdom or a purification: to refuse this recuperation and to investigate the techniques of not treacherously succumbing to it (nothing is more insidious than tragedy) is today a necessary enterprise” (p. 49).
25 See my essays “Modern Literary Criticism and the Spatialization of Time: An Existential Critique,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism , 29 (Fall 1970), 87-104; “‘Wanna Go Home, Baby?’: Sweeney Agonistes as Drama of the Absurd,” PMLA 85 (January 1970), 8-20; “Modern Drama and the Aristotelian Tradition: The Formal Imperatives of Absurd Time,” Contemporary Literature, 12 (Summer 1971), 345-73; “The Detective and the Boundary: Some Notes on the Postmodern Literary Imagination,” boundary 2, 1 (Fall 1972), 147-68.
26 Stephen Crites, “Pseudonymous Authorship as Art and as Act,” in Josiah Thompson, ed., Kierkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1972), p. 210.
27 The Concept of Irony: “Irony is free .. . from all cares of actuality .. . when one is free in this way, only then does one live poetically, and it is well-known that irony’s great demand was that one should live poetically” (pp. 296-97).
28 Either/Or (Princeton edition), I, 29. Note the similarity between the state of mind of Kierkegaard’s aesthete (who spatializes according to an idealistic model) and that of Dostoevsky’s “straightforward Gentlemen” in Notes from Underground (who spatialize according to a positivistic model).
29 The Concept of Irony, p. 308.
30 The Concept of Irony, p. 308.
31 The Concept of Irony, pp. 311-12.
32 W.B. Yeats, “The Phases of the Moon,” Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1956), p. 162.
33 “Byzantium,” Collected Poems, p. 244. I read the last three lines of this stanza to be parallel with the preceding clause which has the expressive word “Break” as its predicate. The smithies and the marbles (the aesthetic recollection) thus “break” not only “bitter furies of complexity” (the imbalance of body and soul that is the source of “motion,” i.e. the existential or ek-sistential self), but also “begotten” images and “that dolphin torn, that gong-tormented sea,” i.e. generative life in time.
34 Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (New York: Grove Press, 1954), p. 7. This phrase constitutes the first speech of the play and occurs repeatedly throughout at precisely and ironically the point where the circular process returns to its starting point, in illo tempore, as it were.
35 Samuel Beckett, “Ding-Dong,” More Pricks than Kicks (New York: Grove Press, 1972), p. 31. The previous quotation is from Purgatorio, Canto IV, trans. Dorothy Sayers (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955). Dante finds Belacqua on the second ledge of Anti-Purgatory sitting in a foetus position under the shade of a massive boulder:
“Oh good my lord,” said I, “pray look at this
Bone-lazy lad, content to sit and settle
Like sloth’s own brother taking of his ease!”
Then he gave heed, and turning just a little
only his face upon his thigh, he grunted:
“Go up then, thou, thou mighty man of mettle.”
Dante recognizes him as Belacqua by “the grudging speech, and slow/ Gestures,” and asks him “why dost thou resignedly/ Sit there?” Belacqua answers in words that betray his indolent nature:
“Brother,” said he, “what use to go up?
He’d not admit me to the cleansing pain,
That bird of God who perches at the gate.
My lifetime long the heavens must wheel again
Round me, that to my parting hour put off
My healing sighs; and I meanwhile remain
Outside, unless prayer hastens my remove —
Prayer from a heart in grace; for who sets store
By other kinds, which are not heard above?”
Though Belacqua is in Anti-Purgatory, the reference to Sloth suggests that Bekcett also has in mind Virgil’s discourse on Love — the true agency of motion — in which Sloth is the fourth of the seven evil modes of love, exactly between the triad of hate (pride, envy, wrath) — the active absence of love — and the triad of excessive love of that which is good (avarice, gluttony, lust). Thus Sloth is definable as the neutralization of motion.
36 The “transitional” voice in this “moral” history of circularity in the modern period is the “existential” T.S. Eliot. See especially “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Sweeney Agonistes, and above all the figure of Tiresias in The Waste Land.
37 See Josiah Thompson, “The Master of Irony,” Keirkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays :
The task of the ironist, Kierkegaard suggests, is to master irony, indeed to overcome it [just as the task of the phenomenologist for Heidegger is to “overcome” metaphysics]. And this stage of mastered irony is described in the final section of the dissertation as a stage where actuality is again actualized. “Actuality will therefore not be rejected,” Kierkegaard writes, “and longing shall be a healthy love, not a kittenish ruse for sneaking out of the world.” (p. 120)
The quotation from The Concept of Irony occurs on p. 341.
38 “Pseudonymous Authorship as Art and as Act,” p. 221. The phrase itself derives from the significantly titled Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), in which the pseudonymous Johannes Climacus, in an appendix (“For an Understanding with the Reader”), writes that “everything [in the book] is so to be understood that it is understood to be revoked, and this book has not only a Conclusion but a Revocation” (p. 547). See also p. 548.
39 “Pseudonymous Authorship as Act and as Art,” pp. 217-18. The quotation from Kierkegaard occurs in Repetition, p. 133. Like Pirandello’s Manager in Six Characters in Search of an Author (another work that prefigures postmodernism), Constantine Constantius, the psychologist-observer, and other Kierkegaardian aesthetes, especially Johannes, the author of “Diary of the Seducer,” take great pains to “arrange,” to “plot,” the unique and contingent lives of others into their recollections, their fictions orchestrated from the end. Kierkegaard also observes, in The Concept of Irony, the “poetic” Lisette’s habit (in Schlegel’s Lucinde) of referring to herself in the third person (which is equivalent to her furnishing her luxurious room with mirrors that reflect her image from every angle) to objectify her “unmanageable” life:
When referring to her own person she usually called herself “Lisette,” and often said that were she able to write she would then treat her story as though it were another’s, although preferring to speak of herself in third person. This, evidently, was not because her earthly exploits were as world historical as a Caesar’s. ... It was simply because the weight of this vita ante acta was too heavy for her to bear. To come to herself concerning it, to allow its menacing shapes to pass judgment upon her, this would indeed be too serious to be poetical, (p. 311)
It is precisely this aesthetic impulse to objectify absurd existence that Beckett and Pynchon, for example, raise havoc with in their postmodern novels. This ob-jectivization is, of course, the aesthetic equivalent of Heidegger’s analysis of the metaphysical Vorstellung. See “The Age of the World View,” trans. Marjorie Greene, Measure, 2 (1951), 269-84; reprinted in this issue of boundary 2.
40 “Pseudonymous Authorship as Art and as Act,” p. 218. My emphasis.
41 Søren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945), p. 314.
42 “Pseudonymous Authorship as Art and as Act,” pp. 223-24.
43 This fundamental characteristic of Kierkegaard’s “art” is virtually missed by Edith Kern in her study of his “existential fiction” in Existential Thought and Fictional Techniques: Kierkegaard, Sartre, Beckett (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970). Despite her valuable discussion of Kierkegaard’s elaborate use of personae to achieve distance from his characters, she fails to perceive the full implications of his disavowal of their views — especially of the views of his artists — which, as Josiah Thompson observes in “The Master of Irony,” Kierkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays, “if anything, ... are the views he has outlived or outthought” (p. 112). She fails, in other words, to attend to Kierkegaard’s avowal at the end of The Concept of Dread that irony must be mastered in behalf of the recovery of “actuality.” Thus she sees his work as imperfect versions of the Kunstlerroman of the German Romantic tradition, in which the artist-hero transcends the messiness of temporal existence through the discovery of aesthetic form, i.e. an inclusive irony. In so doing, she makes Kierkegaard, despite the imperfection of his form, a precursor of the “epiphanic” Modernist novel, of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, of Gide’s The Counterfeiters, of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and even of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, i.e., what I have called the novel of spatial form. One cannot help feeling that Ms. Kern has read Kierkegaard (and Sartre, for that matter) more from a Symbolist than from an existential point of view.
44 Wallace Stevens, “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction,” Collected Poems, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1961), p. 383.
45 An Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 32. For Heidegger’s version of “repetition” as an aspect of the existential analytic (and for its dialogic implication for hermeneutics), see especially BT, 73, 432; SZ, 380-81.
46 Gotthold Lessing, Laocoön: An Essay upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. Ellen Frothingham (New York: Noonday Press, 1957), p. 91.
47 Joseph Frank, “Spatial Form in Modern Literature,” Sewanee Review, 53 (Spring, Summer, Autumn 1945), 221-40, 433-45, 643-65; reprinted in The Widening Gyre: Crisis and Mastery in Modern Literature (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1963), pp. 3-62. The quotation from Lessing occurs on page 7 of the latter.
48 Charles Olson, “The Human Universe,” Selected Writings, ed. with introd. Robert Creeley (New York: New Directions, 1966), p. 54. The passage is worth quoting in full to suggest the remarkable parallel between the “postmodernism” of Heidegger and of the contemporary poet:
We have lived long in a generalizing time, at least since 450 B.C. And it has had its effects on the best of men, on the best of things. Logos, or discourse [he means the derivative language of assertion], for example, has, in that time, so worked its abstractions into our concept and use of language that language’s other function, speech, seems so in need of restoration that several of us go back to hieroglyphics or to ideograms to right the balance. (The distinction here is between language as the act of the instant and language as the act of thought about the instant.)
49 Here, of course, I am taking exception to Jacques Derrida’s and Paul de Man’s interpretation of the historical relationship between speech (parole) and writing (écriture). Where they find presence (a privileged origin) — and the model of Western literature — essentially in the speech act, I find presence (in the sense of spatializing time) — and the model of Western literary art — in writing, at least up until the present time. Thus whereas they call for the “free play” of écriture as the agency of surpassing metaphysics and metaphysical literature, I am suggesting with Heidegger in Being and Time and poets like Charles Olson that a postmodern literature and hermeneutics must ground itself in free speech, the speech which is the “act of an instant” of a being-in-the-world. Unlike the orality of, say, tribal ritual poetry, this kind of speech act, it must be emphasized, has its source not in presence (a substantial self), but, as Heidegger insists in Being and Time, in Nothingness, a groundless ground. I have, of course, vastly oversimplified a very complex issue — an issue that demands and hopefully will get fuller treatment soon. I refer to this issue here simply to point out that Derrida’s and de Man’s Heidegger is not the Heidegger of Being and Time but a Heidegger interpreted (or deconstructed) through post-Structuralist eyes.
50 Truth and Method, see esp. pp. 330 ff., 344 ff., 487 ff. Indeed, this is the fundamental thesis of Gadamer’s ironically entitled book. See also Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics, p. 168. It is especially the existential theologians — Barth, Bultmann, Fuchs, Ebeling, etc. — who have developed Heidegger’s concept of Care into a dialogic hermeneutics. See, for example, James Robinson, “Hermeneutics since Barth,” The New Hermeneutic, New Frontiers in Theology, II (New York: Harper and Row, 1964): With the development of hermeneutics from Karl Barth’s Romans to Bultmann’s “demythologizing,”
the flow of the traditional relation between subject and object, in which the subject interrogates the object, and, if he masters it, obtains from it his answer, has been significantly reversed. For it is now the object — which should henceforth be called the subject matter — that puts the subject in question. This is true not simply at the formal level, in inquiring as to whether he understands himself aright, i.e., is serious, but also at the material level, in inquiring as to whether the text’s answers illumine him. (pp. 23-24)
One of the most suggestive “theological” accounts of the “phenomenology of dialogue” is to be found in Heinrich Ott, “Hermeneutics and Personhood,” in Interpretation: The Poetry of Meaning, pp. 14-33. Based on his “reading” of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ott’s essay also presents the hermeneutic situation generated by the transformation of picture into voice as risk:
It is not that I simply “consume” his thought. ... In this case I simply would not yet have understood. Rather, my notions change and are forced open, my presuppositions are modified and my horizon widened; I gain new dimensions of understanding and expression. It is precisely by putting at stake what I bring with me into the encounter that I myself am changed and am lifted above what I bring as my own. (pp. 23-24)