I. Heidegger as Postmodern?
Why discuss the “postmodernity” of Heidegger? There is good reason: for many American readers Heidegger appears as regressive, as a mystic or a crank. His interpretations of poetic texts are often taken as ideosyncratic exercises which would merit no attention at all were they not by a man whose major accomplishments were “in philosophy.” His imitators and literary disciples do not come off as well; their efforts are viewed by establishmentarians as bypassing the rigors of exegesis for abstruse musings about “the happening of Truth” and “the e-mergence of Being.” Hermeneutics is mistaken to be a new and wrong way to go about the task of interpreting texts, a “dangerous tendency” that may tempt the unwary student away from the text and into strictly hypothetical musings about the nature of language which do not rightly deserve the name either of philosophy or of literary interpretation.1
Others, more continentally inclined, hold that French structuralist thought has “superseded” Heidegger’s views on language, and that his poetical and “expressionistic” exegeses have little to do with the disciplined procedures and fine distinctions one finds in structuralism. The range of disciplines touched by the implications of structuralism would seem to be much greater than what could be affected by reflections on poems by Hölderlin, Trakl, or Rilke, which can only be properly appreciated in the German original in any case. Moreover, Jacques Derrida has assertedly shown the entrapment of Heidegger in metaphysics, in that he seems to assume a fixed origin that could be recovered through hermeneutical reflection; whereas the more radical view is that language contains within itself the resources for endless variations and depths of meaning, and that there is no fixed, original, and “real” meaning that can be recovered.2
Is it really proper, therefore, to refer to Heidegger as a “postmodern” thinker at all? Such a question already contains within itself the problem of defining the “postmodern” or perhaps the assumption that one already can define this elastic and suggestive term. Does it move toward a “New Gnosticism” — an unmediated contact with a “universal consciousness,” as Hassan has recently argued?3 Or is postmodernity really a matter of venturing with Derrida to the other side of that rupture which occurred in the late nineteenth century in which structure was perceived as an interpretive creation of language without anchor in any logos or firm principle outside of language itself — i.e. beyond ‘‘metaphysics”?4 Is perhaps language-centeredness and an awareness of interpretive matrix without subject or object the essence of the postmodern? What happens to the arcadian, technophobic rejection of modernity?5 Or the movement to a more radical psychology as evidenced in the impact of existentialism and phenomenology and more recently the move to a transpersonal psychology?6
The attempt to fit Heidegger to one of these prior definitions of postmodern would be misguided and insulting. It would wrongly subordinate the contribution of Heidegger to the issue of the definition of the postmodern, when the more significant question is rather Heidegger’s contribution to the postmodern. By asking what Heidegger contributes to a “postmodern interpretive self-awareness,” however, one can leave in abeyance (1) the problem of defining the postmodern (since what is at issue is Heidegger’s contribution to a new interpretive awareness, however defined) and (2) the question of whether Heidegger may properly be classified as “postmodern” (since he could contribute to a postmodern interpretive self-awareness whether or not he were classified as a “postmodern” thinker). The real issue, of course, is not one of categories and classifications but rather the character of Heidegger’s contribution.
A major problem in the American reception of Heidegger’s contribution is the need to make clear its radicality. Heidegger’s significance does not lie in contributing a new technique or method to literary interpretation; this makes it very easy to pass off Heidegger’s explications as one style among others. Rather, Heidegger calls into question the underlying view of language, the model of knowing and interpretation, the character and goals of thinking, and the definitions of truth that literary critics are assuming as axiomatic. It is not permissable, therefore, to pass Heidegger off as a mystic or a crank; his arguments regarding language, interpretation, and truth must be met by a direct defense of the conceptions of language, interpretation, and truth one presupposes. It is our general thesis that Heidegger’s contribution to literary interpretation lies not so much in providing a style or “approach” that can be taken over (or rejected) by journeyman interpreters of literature who refuse to inspect their own presuppositions; rather, it involves a fundamental, reflexive criticism of the interpretive mindset — the presuppositions about interpretation itself — that are at work in the interpreter’s interaction with a poem, play, or novel. Heidegger’s contribution lies, in other words, in the direction of a new hermeneutical self-awareness.7
II. The Problem of Beginnings
But where does one begin in trying to articulate the hermeneutical significance — the significance for a new interpretive self-awareness — of Heidegger’s thought? This dilemma is itself illustrative of the problem, for Heidegger confronts us with a thinking so radical that it resists being taken up into our (modern) conceptualities; it resists all easy integration, so foreign is it to prevailing ways of thought. Four possible avenues of approach suggest themselves, of which we shall choose the fourth.
The first approach would be to list the “beyonds” that one finds in Heidegger and to explicate the significance of each. For instance, Heidegger takes thinking resolutely beyond humanism; as he explains in his famous “Letter on Humanism,” the very concept is freighted with prior conceptions of man as “rational animal” possessing language, and with a conception of man in relation to the world, which Heidegger rejects.8 Heidegger’s thought is beyond metaphysics; that is, beyond every logos-centered conception that there is a reality-substratum, a Hinterwelt (world behind our world) that is the foundation for our fleeting phenomenal world.9 It is beyond the conceptualities of transcendental philosophy, Heidegger discovered that even his innovative vocabulary in Being and Time still pulled his thought back into the modes of transcendental philosophy.10 It is beyond the modes of calculative thinking; for Heidegger makes a clear distinction between a kind of thinking that merely calculates with what already is and another kind of thinking that brings things into being.11 It is beyond the will to power; Heidegger criticizes technological thinking as expressing the inner thrust of a desire for mastery. It is beyond modern subjecticity, that is, it does not make the willing, feeling, evaluating subject the center of reference for thought.12 It is beyond presentational thinking;13 Heidegger raises profound questions as to the ground for modern conceptualities. And it is, in ways fairly difficult to articulate, beyond phenomenology.14 These “beyonds” tend to form a chain and to hinge on each other: the profundity of what being “beyond humanism” means only emerges when one understands the way in which Heidegger moves “beyond metaphysics” and “beyond subjecticity,” the way in which the later Heidegger moves into a language-oriented thought centered in “Ereignis” (the event of coming into one’s own), and his critique of technological thinking itself.15 This approach of listing the negations, the “beyonds,” would have the advantage that it clarifies his critique of modernity. Thus it would be one way of articulating the “postmodernity” of Heidegger.
A second approach could set forth and explain a series of “redefinitions” that Heidegger’s thought demands: of time, truth, language, being, history, art, thinking, experience, understanding, interpretation, communication, etc. As with the series of “beyonds,” these radical new conceptions form a chain (or hermeneutical circle), so that going into any one term in depth will involve the others. This would be a thematic approach, and would involve the corpus of his works, for the subject of time is discussed as the temporality of being in Being and Time and elsewhere;16 truth in a half-dozen major essays;17 art especially in his “Origin of the Work of Art”;18 and language throughout the later works, such as the famous “Letter on Humanism”19 and On the Way to Language.20 Again the issue of postmodernity arises, in that the prevailing “modern” conceptions are again and again placed in the radical context of Heidegger’s post-metaphysical, post-subjectist quest for the meaning of being. The issue would seem to be not whether Heidegger is postmodern or not but rather the acceptance of Heidegger as a version of postmodernity.
A third sort of approach could take its bearings from a clarification of Heidegger’s relation to Nietzsche. It would require some elucidation of Nietzsche’s contribution to modern and postmodern thought and then demonstration of the way in which Heidegger builds on Nietzsche.21 This would involve three major parts:
— What Heidegger holds in common with Nietzsche: a lifelong radical stance, with global rejection of modernity; a grounding in philology (both are humanists, which has significance in understanding Heidegger’s difference from Husserl, whose academic grounding was in mathematics and logic); a rejection of Cartesian subject-centered consciousness centered philosophy (again in contrast to Husserl); a sense of man as the historically self-creating and self-transcending being; decentrism and the project of going definitively beyond metaphysics (which links Heidegger and Nietzsche with contemporary structuralist and poststructuralist thinking).
— Heidegger’s critique of Nietzsche. Heidegger is not the slavish disciple of Nietzsche but rather admires Nietzsche as a “thinker” (in Heidegger’s special sense of the word as one who creatively articulates matters). Heidegger argues in the “Letter on Humanism” that Nietzsche does not go beyond metaphysics but remains trapped by his antithesis to it;22 he goes perceptively into Nietzsche’s philosophy of art as the highest manifestation of the will to power;23 he finds that Nietzsche falls back into a conception of truth that relies on correspondence and thus implies the very metaphysics from which he is trying to free himself;24 and finally Heidegger rejects Nietzsche’s biologism and the self-assertion of the will-to-power as only the culmination of Western philosophies of will that trace themselves back to the human subject (Descartes, Leibnitz, Kant, Schelling, Schopenhauer; i.e., a philosophy of will is still a philosophy of consciousness and subjectivity), and thus argues that Nietzsche does not overcome metaphysics but is, on the contrary, the last great metaphysical thinker of the West.25
— Elements in Heidegger not present in Nietzsche. The themes of time and being play little role in Nietzsche compared to their centrality in Heidegger. The energetic Dionysianism of Nietzsche becomes an orphic serenity in Heidegger, although one still senses a common commitment to “life” as a force deeper than logic: the way in which the “little reason” of the mind is surpassed by the “great reason” of the body in Nietzsche26 is paralleled in Heidegger’s Being and Time by the way in which the fabric of the lifeworld in pre-articulated understanding is antecedent to every articulated understanding in interpretation.27 The priority of the life-force in Nietzsche becomes in Heidegger the priority of the “call of being,” and thus the importance of an attitude of “listening” and receptivity. Although the “sacred” is certainly not missing in Nietzsche, in Heidegger the feeling for the “near,” the call of “destiny,” the demand that man wait (“only wait”) in Gelassenheit,28 and the image of man as “shepherd of being” (as he is called in the “Letter on Humanism”) all provide the starkest contrast (at least externally) with Zarathustra. The definition of being as “physis,”29 truth as “aletheia,”30 and language as the house in which being dwells and emerges; the reverent openness to poetry; the focus on the centrality of language as the site for the eventing of being — all contrast with Nietzsche. Another way of putting this is to recall that Heidegger’s thinking is oriented to the recovery of a forgotten concept of being — an ontological problematic — and it circles round the “ontological difference”; Nietzsche’s thought, on the other hand, takes as its goal a new, higher man. For this purpose, Nietzsche seeks to break free from the thought-forms of modernity and thus be able to articulate the nature and conditions for the overman. Preoccupied with nihilism, Nietzsche seeks to define a mode of existence that is positive and creative — both beyond nihilism and beyond the chains of “good and evil.” The radicality of such thinking is certainly suited to the purposes of Heidegger, who wants to think the problem of “being” in a way that breaks free of the context of metaphysics. But Heidegger’s quest has been more narrowly focussed than Nietzsche’s, for his lifelong project has remained the quest for the meaning of being. Heidegger ventures to believe that the word “being” might contain within its meaning “the spiritual destiny of the West.”31 The significance of this for the question of postmodernity lies in its tendency to define the problem of modernity in ontological terms: the transition from “modern” to “postmodern” is the transition from the metaphysical definitions of truth and being to the postmetaphysical conceptions of aletheia and physis (or Ereignis). Postmodern thinking would be thinking that takes its bearings from a postmetaphysical conception of being.
The fourth approach is hermeneutical, both in theme and method. It will select a half dozen texts and through careful unfolding of their meaning attempt to capture a sense of Heidegger on the path of thought. In this way it will try to bring the reader closer to the texture of Heidegger’s thought and suggest the contribution his reflections can make to a postmodern interpretive self-awareness.
III. Six Texts of Heidegger
From the many sides of Heidegger’s contribution to modern or postmodern thought, we choose six texts that have special hermeneutical significance. One is from Being and Time and the others from various later writings. Each contains a principal idea or theme which is distinctly Heideggerian and a part of what he contributes to a postmodern interpretive self-awareness. This selection of passages is not intended as exhaustive but as a beginning.
1. The hermeneutical and apophantic “as.”
The “as” makes up the structure of the expressability of what is understood — it constitutes the interpretation (Auslegung). Circumspective and interpreting intercourse with what is at hand in one’s world — which “sees” this as dish, door, carriage, bridge — does not necessarily also need the circumspectively interpreted thing to be laid out in a determining assertion. All prepredicative simple seeing of what is at hand is in itself already understanding-interpretation. . . . The leveling of the original “as” of circumspective interpretation to the “as” as the determination of something merely on hand is the advantage of assertion. Only so does it gain the possibility of a mere pointing designation.
So the assertion cannot deny its ancestry in an understanding interpretation. The original “as” of circumspectively understanding interpretation (hermeneia) we call the existential-hermeneutical “as” in contrast with the apophantic “as” of assertion.32
The key to this passage is the assertion that all prepredicative simple seeing is already interpretive. In the same section (“Understanding and Interpretation”), Heidegger goes to some trouble to explain that this prepredicative seeing already contains within it a prior way of having what is seen, and thus a prior view of the thing seen, and is directed by a prior conceptuality in the very process of the seeing. Only on the foundation of this implicit understanding (or preunderstanding) does seeing take place, and only on the basis of such interpretive seeing can there be an interpretive articulation in words. Thus, “interpretation is never a presuppositionless grasp of a pregiven thing.”33 Rather, “All interpretation is grounded in understanding.”34
The priority of understanding over its articulated form in interpretation (Auslegung) parallels and is the basis for the priority of interpretation over specific assertions. Assertions are therefore a “derivative” mode.35 That is, they could not exist at all without the prior context of understanding. Heidegger then makes a distinction between two kinds of interpretation: that which arises out of a direct, prereflective, immediate, and yet interpretive intercourse with the world and that which merely points to something through constructing a proposition. The latter steps out of the original full and complex relationship into another kind of relationship which merely points. The former sees the dish or door in a familiar way, a way that does not have to bring that relationship to articulation, although it sees the door “as” door; this is the way of the “existential-hermeneutical as.” The latter, however, does not relate to the door except in a way that points; it refrains from any kind of relationship other than that of true or false designation. This is the “apophantic as.” Both see the door “as” door, but in radically different ways.
The significance of this basic distinction for interpretive self-awareness lies first in the reflexivity about interpretive relationship which it involves, and secondly, in the ontological status that is accorded to understanding. Understanding is grounded in the fabric of relationships we have as we exist. To exist, we understand; and understanding is a basic mode of existing. Understanding is a way of describing what being is and does; yet one can understand in a shallowly related way or with a depth rooted in the prereflexive and never fully articulated realm out of which all meanings, and all “as” ‘s come. Thus, the interpreter who is fully reflexive realizes that his seeing (and hearing) is rooted in prior ways of having, viewing, and conceiving, on the character and depth of which will depend what he sees. The “as” may already, in its shallow form as “apophantic as,” wall him away from seeing something as it might appear in the existential-hermeneutical relationship.
Certain aspects of the formulation of this distinction reflect the stage of earlier Heideggerian thinking. The impetus and decision between the two forms of relation to the world seem implicitly to lie in the human subject, and thus the discussion has the appearance of speaking about the subjectivity of a subject although its actual purpose is the explication of ontological structures. Language is not seen as the “house of being” but more as a medium which “already hides within itself a developed conceptualiy.”36 Yet there is within this early formulation a critical reflexivity which is the foundation of genuine interpretive self-awareness. Also in this formulation, the depth of what is hidden and can never be rendered explicit is reflected, giving interpretation a foundation not in the process of pointing and designating but in the impenetrable flesh of existence. This has the advantage of retaining the sense of the depths and mystery of life and furnishes a formidable barrier to the presumptions of technological rationalists. Logic is also assigned a derivative place as the mere manipulation of propositions, and is not accorded honor and centrality.37 Existence, not a metaphysical logos, is made the ground for interpretation. Already the basis is laid for a philosophy that rests on a sense of the reality of what is “concealed,” a philosophy which attempts to go “beyond metaphysics.” Already Heidegger can deal satirically with assertions of “objective validity” and with “value theory” as confused and unclear about their own foundations.38
One feels in the critical attack on conceptions of objectivity, of language, of understanding and interpretation, a definitive leap beyond the context of presuppositions of modern thought. Heidegger, in Being and Time, clearly felt the global character of his new standpoint as placing everything in a different light. It is clear from his tone that he feels himself to be a postmodern thinker. This sense of outsideness and aheadness has remained with him through his life.
2. The “step back.”
For Hegel, the conversation with the earlier history of philosophy has the character of Aufhebung, that is, of the mediating concept in the sense of an absolute foundation.
For us, the character of the conversation with the history of thinking is no longer Aufhebung, but the step back.
Aufhebung leads to the heightening and gathering area of truth posited as absolute, truth in the sense of the completely developed certainty of self-knowing knowledge.
The step back points to the realm which until now has been skipped over, and from which the essence of truth becomes first of all worthy of thought. . . .
The term “step back” suggests various misinterpretations. “Step back” does not mean an isolated step of thought, but rather means the manner in which thinking moves, a long path. Since the step back determines the character of our conversation with the history of Western thinking, our thinking in a way leads us away from what has been thought so far in philosophy. Thinking recedes before its matter, Being, and thus brings what is thought into a confrontation in which we behold the whole of this history — behold it with respect to what constitutes the source of this entire thinking, because it alone establishes and prepares for this thinking in the area of its abode. . . . We speak of the difference between Being and beings. The step back goes from what is unthought, from the difference as such, into what gives us thought, which is the forgottenness of the difference. The forgottenness here to be thought is the veiling of the difference as such, thought in terms of lethe (concealment). . . .
The difference between beings and Being is the area within which metaphysics, Western thinking in its entire nature, can be what it is. The step back thus moves out of metaphysics into the essential nature of metaphysics.39
This text brings a number of themes together: the “step back,” the forgottenness of “being,” the status of the ontological difference, and the effort to move beyond metaphysics. It occurs as the third in a series of three contrasts between Hegel’s thought and his own, and it helps make clear the relationship of the ontological difference to the effort to overcome metaphysics.
The “step back” is, as Heidegger says, not a particular move of thought but a movement of thinking in which he seeks to leap (or step) out of metaphysical thinking — that is, a thinking that is grounded in a fixed logos — and to find a standpoint that can think the ontological difference between Being and beings as a difference. As in Being and Time, the ground of thought is not sought in absolute thought but in what one might call a “groundless” ground — the ontological difference as such. Instead of moving “upward” as is implied in the word Aufhebung, Heidegger moves downward toward what is unthought, what is concealed.
Such a quest has its consequences for interpretation. In the first place, there is no absolute truth that can be the object of the philosophical quest, and truth is not a matter of thought but of something prior to thought. The “step back” is a step outside a whole form of thinking, away from the body of Western thought. What Heidegger is seeking is not some accidental fact that has nothing to do with interpretation and interpretive awareness; it is rather an effort to uncover a fundamental turn in language reference, in what is meant by “being.”
Finally, the nature of Heidegger’s quest poses peculiar difficulties in that it does not have a goal lying in a direction clearly indicated in advance. Like Hegel, he seeks to enter into the force of earlier thinking, but with the difference that “we do not seek that force in what has already been thought: we seek it in something that has not been thought, and from which what has been thought receives its essential space.”40 The oblivion or forgottenness from which Being is being rescued is not present in the manifest content of what earlier thinkers have thought but instead in what was hidden from them. It is a combination of blindness and insight; interpretation has to penetrate to what the earlier thinker himself was blind to, but which was the essential determination of his thinking. Interpretation is not destructive but deconstructive; it seeks for what is behind the manifest content of thought. Again, this is a general characteristic of the hermeneutical — it discloses the hidden — which is a central trait of the Heideggerian path. The quest is the harder when one doesn’t know what one is looking for, and this is the case with Heidegger, since his thought does not have a specific goal known in advance but rather seeks to recover a lost sense of Being.
3. The unsaid in the said.
Heidegger (about Heraclitus): We have said we are not going to interpret a text metaphysically that is itself not yet metaphysical. Is the no-longer-metaphysical already contained in the not-yet-metaphysical?
Eugen Fink: That would be Heraclitus interpreted through Heidegger.
Heidegger: The important thing here is not interpreting Heraclitus through Heidegger but working out the impulse behind your interpretation. We are both agreed that when we would speak with a thinker, we must pay attention to the unspoken in the spoken. The question is only which way leads to this and of what kind is the foundation for such an interpretive step.41
In this text, dating from 1966, Heidegger again takes as his theme the overcoming of metaphysics. This time he is in dialogue with Fink about Heraclitus and attempting to interpret him without projecting a subsequent ontology onto him or seeing him through the eyes of Parmenides or Plato.
Heraclitus, standing at the beginning of Greek philosophy, offers the possibility of recovering another conception of being prior to the fateful turn in Plato toward a metaphysical conception of Being as ground, as logos, and truth as correspondence. At the end of the Heraclitus seminar, Heidegger is explicit about the importance of his task: “What if there be in the Greeks something unthought, and what if precisely this unthought thing be what determines their thinking and what is thought down through history?”42 To which Fink asks: “But how do we gain the viewpoint for this unthought? Perhaps this viewpoint will be generated only out of our late situation.”43 Heidegger’s reply, tentative as always, is a suggestion that “aletheia as unconcealment moves in the direction of what a ‘clearing’ is”:
For me it was a matter of experiencing unconcealment as clearing. That is the thing that is unthought in the whole history of thought. In Hegel there existed the need for a pacification through what was thought. For me on the other hand there was the pressure of the unthought in the thought.44
Heidegger is here speaking retrospectively, now in his late seventies, and singles out the word “aletheia” — “There is nothing in the whole of Greek philosophy about aletheia as aletheia. . . . This has nothing to do with “truth” but means unconcealment.”45
Aletheia — disclosure — is the regular Greek word for truth, but Heidegger’s point here is not truth but the process of emergence from concealment. About the nature of this emergence as emergence, Heidegger finds little in Greek philosophy. It remained unthought, and perhaps precisely this unthought emergence process more adequately describes being than the conception of being in terms of a principle, idea, or causal ground; this latter would tend to make the difference between Being and beings the difference between a static, unchanging principle, a kind of inner logos, and the world of change and becoming. In other words, it would constitute the basis for metaphysics.
4. Truth as poetic.
Truth, as the clearing and also the covering up of what-is, happens in being gedichtet — composed like a poem. All art is, as the letting-happen of the arrival of the truth of what-is as such, by nature poetry. The nature of art, by which both artist and work are governed, is the self-setting of truth into a work. . . . Language first brings a being into the open as a being. Where no language is (west), as in the being of stone, plant, or animal, there is also no realm of openness of the extant thing (des Seienden) and consequently none for the nonextantness and the empty. Language for the first time names the extant thing, and such naming brings the thing to word and appearance for the first time. This naming names the thing to its being and from it. Such “saying” (Sagen) is a kind of projecting of the light in which the thing is to be taken, the light wherein is announced what the thing will come into the open as. . . .
The founding-projecting (entwerfende) Saying is poetry: the Saying of world and of earth, the Saying of the Spielraum (arena) of its struggle and therewith of the place in which the gods will be near or remote. Poetry is the Saying of the unconcealment of the extant thing.46
Poetry, then, as the saying of the unconcealment, is a defining of the unconcealment. It can define the light in which a thing is seen in such a way that the gods are near, or such that the gods remain far away. The concept of truth, then, is not a matter of correspondence to an already perceived nature of a thing; it is a matter of placing that thing in the light of understanding for the first time. Saying does not have unlimited rights to distort the meaning of a thing when it takes it from the inarticulate depths of “earth” up into the openness of “world.” Thus the loving struggle between earth and world, realms of darkness and light, hiddenness and disclosure. “Saying” is the bridge between the hiddenness of earth and the disclosedness of world, and this projective saying is the essence or nature of poetry.
The significance of this view of language, poetry, and truth is that it gives poetry an ontological function, and it makes language not the unproblematical medium in which a thing already understood is conveyed to another person who will understand it because he already has perceived it in some universally same way, but rather the projective “saying-structure” that presents things to us in a certain light, a clearing. It is also not accidental that Heidegger mentions the gods, since again it is language which can hold things in nearness to the divine or in remoteness from all sacredness. The moment of “translation” is made into the essential function of language and not the moment of communicating the thing translated once it has been placed in a certain light. It is of course evident that language does convey meaning to others, but the more significant and founding function is its articulation — its “saying” — of meaning, its placing the thing known in a certain light.
This emphasis on the first transition, on “saying,” is of highest importance in overcoming the shallow technological view of language as mere vehicle of communication, as if language were a mere vehicle in the way a truck is a vehicle for carrying fruit. For interpretive self-awareness, it urges a view of language as a shaping, projecting, light-shedding structure in which every extant thing is “announced” in a certain way as it is “seen.” Heidegger had already said something similar but in less poetic terms in Being and Time when he noted that language always contains within itself a certain conceptuality, an already shaped way of seeing.47 One might describe the project of Heidegger as an effort to show the way in which metaphysics operates as a hidden shaper of our seeing, such that it is our fate, the fate of the West, to exist within the horizon of technology. Language itself contains other possibilities and could reveal the world in a quite different way, but it requires the work of thinker and poet to bring this about.
Truth contains both the realm of clearness (the clearing) and also the realm of concealment of what is. Truth discloses in a certain light. Art, as the letting happen of truth, as the placing of a truth (disclosure) in the medium of a work — letting it shine through earth’s gifts of shininess in metal, colorfulness in color, timbre in sound, and in structures of tension and interrelationships — is poetical: it constructs, builds, articulates, lets emerge. As Heidegger says elsewhere, “Poetically man dwells on this earth.”48 He is continually bringing things into the open.
Ontologically stated, what a thing is, it is through the openness of language. Being is inseparable from the operation by which language causes earth to shine forth “in a certain light.” Language is therefore the “house of being”:49 it is there that being will be found; being resides in language; being, as the process by which language brings things into the open, is linguistic in its nature.
5. “Nearness” versus objectivity.
What and how the jug is as this jug-thing, is something we can never learn — let alone think properly — by looking at the outward appearance, the idea. That is why Plato, who conceives of the presence of what is present in terms of the outward appearance, had no more understanding of the nature of the thing than did Aristotle and all subsequent thinkers. Rather, Plato experienced (decisively, indeed, for the sequel) everything present as an object of making. Instead of “object” — as that which stands before, over against, opposite us — we use the more precise expression “what stands forth. . . .”
Science’s knowledge, which is compelling within its own sphere, the sphere of objects, already had annihilated things as things long before the atom bomb exploded. The bomb’s explosion is only the grossest of all gross confirmations of the long-since-accomplished annihilation of the thing: the confirmation that the thing as a thing remains nil. The thingness of the thing remains concealed, forgotten. The nature of the thing never comes to light, that is, it never gets a hearing. This is the meaning of our talk about the annihilation of the thing. . . .
Today everything present is equally near and equally far. The distanceless prevails. But no abridging or abolishing of distances brings nearness. What is nearness? To discover the nature of nearness, we gave thought to the jug near by. We have sought the nature of nearness and found the nature of the jug as a thing. But in this discovery we also catch sight of the nature of nearness. The thing things. In thinging, it stays earth and sky, divinities and mortals. Staying, the thing brings the four, in their remoteness, near to one another. This bringing-near is nearing. Nearing is the presencing of nearness. ...
Mortals are who they are as mortals, present in the shelter of Being. They are the presencing relation to Being as Being.
Metaphysics, by contrast, thinks of man as animal, as a living being. Even when ratio pervades animalitas, man’s being remains defined by life and life-experience. Rational living beings must first become mortals.50
In this essay, “The Thing,” Heidegger differentiates sharply between object and thing. The object is not near but in a distanceless region lacking all nearness. The scientific revolution has robbed things of their thinghood, has brought about the annihilation of “things.” Here, more than in other essays, Heidegger is explicit about the consequences of the scientific stance as a way of seeing. Heidegger is not attacking science as useless to accomplish what it seeks; he is trying to make very clear the starkness of the kind of relationship scientific objectivity involves. It is a way of seeing and a way of relating, one might say a way of “being-toward” things. It reduces things to objects and strips them of their depth and suggestiveness: “The nature of the thing never comes to light, that is, it never gets a hearing.”
This text is also of hermeneutical interest in that it relates this contrast of object and thing to metaphysics and the thinking of man as a mortal. Metaphysics looks for “causes” and “grounds,” but “the inexplicable and unfathomable character of the world’s worlding lies in this, that causes and grounds remain unsuitable for the world’s worlding.”51 They also remain unsuitable for explaining man as mortal being. Heidegger is suggesting a medium of relating to the world in which things no longer appear in the same “light” as they do in metaphysical seeing. In this new light they are no longer man’s objects, the objects of man’s judging consciousness, but things that step forth in their being through the saying of language. For this reason one must learn to listen carefully to language.
A way of stating this contrasting mode of relating is by reference to the Kehre — reversal — in Heidegger. This turn, this transformation, did not abandon the quest for the meaning of being but it altered the mode of receptivity to it. It attempted to affirm the priority of being and the interpretive obligation to listen, respond, allow being to be. This is a departure from all humanism and from the “metaphysical” perspective; and it is a “step back” from metaphysical thinking. Typical of post -Kehre Heidegger is the assertion that things do not appear as things by virtue of human making:
When and in what way do things appear as things? They do not appear by means of human making. But neither do they appear without the vigilance of mortals. The first step toward such vigilance is the step back from the thinking that merely represents — that is, explains — to the thinking that responds and recalls.
The step back from the one thinking to the other is no mere shift of attitude. It can never be any such thing for this reason alone: that all attitudes, including the ways in which they shift, remain committed to the precincts of representational thinking. The step back does, indeed, depart from the sphere of mere attitudes. The step back takes up its residence in a co-responding which, appealed to in the world’s being by the world’s being, answers within itself to that appeal.52
The step back is given an added dimension: it is the step back from “representational thinking” as such. It is placed in the pos\-Kehre context of man not as center of the universe but as the shepherd of being, the responder who responds to the appeal of the world’s being.
6. Man’s hermeneutical relation to beings: man as messenger.
Heidegger: In the source of appearance, something comes toward man that holds the two-fold of presence and present beings.
Japanese: That two-fold has always already offered itself to man, although its nature remained veiled.
Heidegger: Man, to the extent he is man, listens to this message. . . . Man is used for hearing the message.
Japanese: This you called a while ago: man stands in a relation.
Heidegger: And the relation is called hermeneutical because it brings the tidings of that message.
Japanese: This message makes the claim on man that he respond to it. . .
Heidegger: ... to listen and belong to it as man.
Japanese: And this is what you call being human, if you still admit the word ‘being.”
Heidegger: Man is the message-bearer of the message which the two-fold’s unconcealment speaks to him.
. . . .
Japanese: I believe I now see more clearly the full import of the fact that hermeneutics and language belong together.
Heidegger: The full import in what direction?
Japanese: Toward a transformation of thinking — a transformation which, however, cannot be established as readily as a ship can alter its course, and even less can be established as the consequence of an accumulation of the results of philosophical research.
Heidegger: The transformation occurs as a passage . . .
Japanese: ... in which one site is left behind in favor of another...
Heidegger: . . . and that requires that the sites be placed in discussion.
Japanese: One site is metaphysics.
Heidegger: And the other? We leave it without a name.53
In this famous passage from the later works, Heidegger returns to the hermeneutical phenomenon to explain his effort to “overcome metaphysics” (“neither a destruction nor even a denial of metaphysics”54), and to try to “place” his thinking. The goal of his early thought under the impetus of phenomenology was to rethink the question of the being of beings (das Sein des Seienden) “no longer in the way of metaphysics but in such a way that Being itself comes to appear. Being itself — this says: the presence of the present being, i.e. the twofoldness of both out of their unity. This is the thing to whose nature men are responsible.”55 It was this quest for the meaning of being that led him to the hermeneutical phenomenon and the growing sense that “language is the dominant and sustaining element in the relation of the being of man to the twofold. Language determines the hermeneutical relation.”56 The term hermeneutical goes with the language-centeredness of the relationship of man to the two-fold.
But more than this, the hermeneutical (being a term not so freighted with metaphysical tradition) also suggests “a transformation of thinking” by which man moves from one “site” to another — the first being that which has been the clearing for Western man since Plato, and the other which — “We leave it without a name.” This namelessness is significant not only because it attempts to avoid the over-simplification that comes with slogans but also because in a deeper sense the roots of Heidegger’s thought remain in the nameless, the unsaid, the unthought. One could almost say that the thrust of Heidegger’s thought is to preserve the significance of this area of indeterminacy for interpretation: interpretation is not simply the manipulation of what is already manifest, it is pre-eminently the bringing of a certain light to bear on what is.
One finds in this late text the overwhelming priority of the Saying over the human process of interpretation. The dialogue is one between the two-fold, into which man fits himself as the consciously hermeneutical being. This priority of being over the human being, so typical of post-Kehre Heidegger, offers the starkest contrast to the hubris of modern ego-centric thought. The step back from metaphysical thinking is also a step back from representational thought as such and also from any representable (rational logos) center for such thought. The problem is that of penetrating, or retaining a sense of being guided by, what is indefinable, a stillness prior to all articulate sound.
Japanese: Are we not attempting the impossible?
Heidegger: Indeed — so long as man has not yet been given the pure gift of the messenger’s course that the message needs which grants to man the unconcealment of the two-fold.
Japanese: To call forth this messenger’s course, and still more to go forward on it, seems to me incomparably more difficult than to discuss the nature of lki.
Heidegger: Surely. For something would have to come about by which that vast distance in which the nature of Saying assumes its radiance, opened itself to the messenger’s course and shone upon it.
Japanese: A stilling would have to come about that quiets the breath of the vastness into the structure of Saying which calls out to the messenger.
Heidegger: The veiled relation of message and messenger’s course plays everywhere.57
IV. The Postmodern Contribution of Heidegger
The “postmodernity” of Heidegger is of a special kind, for his is a thought and a path that resists categories, so that he himself wishes to leave it in the nameless. Yet he has left some suggestive articulations of that path of thought: the step back from metaphysical thinking, the search for the unthought within the thought, the between-character of man’s existence, the importance of co-responding to the Saying of language, and so on. The “turn” in Heidegger’s thought suggests a principle and an issue of highest importance for a postmodern interpretive awareness, for it attacks the conception of man as the king and center of the world of interpretations, the inventor and user of language, the holder of tremendous technological power. Heidegger’s critique of the abstractness, distancelessness, and one-dimensionality of scientific objectivity is not unique in twentieth century thought, but his vivid articulation of that critique in terms of metaphysics cuts a level deeper than most merely sociological criticism. And his presentation of “nearness” as a way of being toward things comprises an important alternative possibility and image of what is lost. When one has explored in some detail the way in which Heidegger’s thinking moves beyond objectivity, beyond “humanism,” beyond technological rationality, beyond traditional concepts of language, truth, and thinking as such, one cannot escape the sense that this is a path resolutely outside and beyond the general horizons of modern thought. In fact, an understanding in depth simply of what Heidegger meant by the “overcoming (Uberwindung) of metaphysics” already points to a new “site” for thinking, and toward a postmodern interpretive awareness.
1 See Campbell Tatham, “High-Altitude Hermeneutics,” in Diacritics 3 (Summer 1973), 23.
2 See Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” in Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, eds., The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1970), pp. 247-48. Of interest in this regard is the recent book by Joseph N. Riddel, The Inverted Bell: Modernism and the Counterpoetics of William Carlos Williams (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), and the review of it by J. Hillis Miller, who discusses the contrast between Derrida and Heidegger on origins, “Deconstructing the Deconstructers,” Diacritics 5 (Summer 1975), 24-31.
3 See “The New Gnosticism: Speculations on an Aspect of the Postmodern Mind,” essay No. 6 in his Paracriticisms (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975).
4 See the Derrida article cited above.
5 See Hassan, Paracriticisms, pp. 124-26, as well as the final essay, “Models of Transformation: Ideology, Utopia, and Fantasy in America,” pp. 151-76.
6 I have in mind especially “third force” psychology, the work of Rollo May, R. D. Laing, Maslow, Erikson, Rogers, and others, as well as the more radical Jacques Lacan, and the “fourth force” psychology that explores mystical experiences, bliss, awe, wonder, synergy, and compassion. I have in manuscript an essay, “Some Versions of Postmodern,” in which I suggest ten non-Heideggerian versions of postmodern; one section is devoted to psychology and postmodernity.
7 This theme is explored in my paper, “Heidegger’s Contribution to a Postmodern Interpretive Self-Awareness,” presented at the annual meeting of the Heidegger Circle, May 17, 1975. The meeting was hosted by the Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada, whose director, Professor José Huertas-Jourda, will edit the proceedings for possible publication. The three parts of my paper were: “The Postmodern Turn,” “Nietzsche’s Negations,” and “Heidegger’s Contribution.”
8 See the “Humanismusbrief” in Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit: Mit einem Brief uber den “Humanismus” (Bern: A. Francke, 1947), pp. 53-119.
9 Among other writings, this point is made especially clear in the essay, “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” in Identity and Difference (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).
10 See Heidegger’s letter to Father William J. Richardson, published as the preface to his book, Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963), p. xix, and the “Letter on Humanism.”
11 See the famous Epilogue to Was ist Metaphysik?, in which Heidegger discusses “das wesentliche Denken” (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1949), the opening essays in Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen: Günther Neske, 1954), and the discussion of Text No. 5 below.
12 This is especially clear in “Die Zeit des Weltbildes,” Holzwege (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1950), pp. 69-104.
13 See Holzwege, pp. 69-104, as well as the discussion of the “step back” later in this essay.
14 See Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, p. 623. Father Richardson’s argument is that “the method characteristic of Heidegger II is the process of thought, of Heidegger I the process of phenomenology.” A paper with the title “Heidegger and Phenomenology” by Walter Biemel was presented to the Heidegger Circle meeting in May, 1975, and will undoubtedly be published shortly, either in the proceedings of the meeting or elsewhere.
15 See “Die Frage nach der Technik,” in Vorträge und Aufsätze, pp. 13-44.
16 In the introduction to Was is Metaphysik?, written in 1949, Heidegger calls time the “first name” (Vorname) of Being. In On Time and Being (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), time is the “realm of the open,” is what “gives” Being; in this latter essay Heidegger proposes to go back to “what determines both time and Being” — the Ereignis, “the event or process of coming into one’s own” (translated by Joan Stambaugh as “the event of Appropriation”).
17 See pre-eminently Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1943), translated in Existence and Being, ed. Werner Brock (Chicago: Regnery, 1949), pp. 292-324, and Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit, cited above.
18 Translated by Albert Hofstadter in Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 17-87. Subsequent references to this book will be abbreviated as: PLT.
19 “Language is the house of Being,” p. 53 in Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit, cited above.
20 Trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).
21 This was the general strategy I followed in my paper cited in note 7 above.
22 Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit, p. 85.
23 Nietzsche (Pfullingen: Günther Neske, 1961), I, 11-254.
24 Also at greater length in “Nietzsches Metaphysik,” Nietzsche, II, 257-333.
25 “With Nietzsche’s metaphysics, philosophy is completed. That means: It has gone through the sphere of prefigured possibilities. Completed metaphysics, which is the ground for the planetary manner of thinking, gives the scaffolding for an order of the earth which will supposedly last for a long time. The order no longer needs philosophy because philosophy is already its foundation. But with the end of philosophy, thinking is not also at its end, but in transition to another beginning.” The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 95-96; Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 83.
26 See “On the Despisers of the Body,” in Book I of Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “Your little reason, which you call ‘Geist,’ is the tool and plaything of your great reason (the body).” Werke, ed. Karl Schlechta (Munich: Hanser, 1966), II, 300.
27 See especially Sections 31 and 32 in Being and Time.
28 Translated as Discourse on Thinking by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York: Harper & Row, 1966). See especially the second part, “Conversation on a Country Path.”
29 E.g., as discussed in An Introduction to Metaphysics (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1961), pp. 11-14.
30 See note 17 above.
31 As in Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 31: “Is ‘being’ a mere word and its meaning a vapor or is it the spiritual destiny of the Western world? . . . From a metaphysical point of view, Russia and America are the same; the same dreary technological frenzy, the same unrestricted organization of the average man. . . . The spiritual decline of the earth is so far advanced that the nations are in danger of losing the last bit of spiritual energy that makes it possible to see the decline (taken in relation to the history of ‘being’), and to appraise it as such. . . . For the darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the transformation of men into a mass, the hatred and suspicion of everything free and creative, have assumed such proportions throughout the earth that such childish categories as pessimism and optimism have long since become absurd.”
32 Sein und Zeit, 10th ed. (Tübingen: M. Niemeyer Verlag, 1963), pp. 149 and 158. My translation. When the primary footnote reference is to the German, the translation is my own. Subsequent references abbreviated as: SZ.
33 SZ, p. 150: “Auslegung ist nie ein voraussetzungsloses Erfassen eines Vorgegebenen.”
34 SZ, p. 153: “Alle Auslegung gründet im Verstehen.”
35 As indicated in the heading of Section 33 of SZ: “Assertion as derivative (abkünftiger) mode of interpretation.”
36 SZ, p. 157: “die Sprache je schon eine ausgebildete Begrifflichkeit in sich birgt.”
37 SZ, pp. 158-60.
38 SZ, pp. 154-56.
39 Identity and Difference, pp. 49-51. I follow the Stambaugh translation, in general, although I render Vergessenheit as “forgottenness” rather than “oblivion.” Subsequent references abbreviated as: ID.
40 ID, p. 48.
41 Martin Heidegger, Eugen Fink, Heraklit: Seminar Wintersemester 1966/67 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1970), p. 111. Subsequent references abbreviated as: H.
42 H, p. 259.
43 H, p. 259.
44 H, p. 260.
45 H, p. 259.
46 Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes, introd. Hans-Georg Gadamer (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1965), pp. 82-83. See the excellent English translation by Albert Hofstadter in PLT, pp. 72-74.
47 See note 37 above. Also: “Alles vorprädikative schlichte Sehen des Zuhandenen ist an ihm selbst schon verstehend-auslegend . . .” (SZ, p. 149).
48 Vorträge und Aufsätze, pp. 187-204; PLT, pp. 213-29.
49 Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit, p. 53. (This is from the first page of the “Humanismusbrief.”)
50 PLT, pp. 168, 170, 177, 179.
51 PLT, p. 180.
52 PLT, pp. 181-82.
53 “A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer,” On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 40, 42. Subsequent references abbreviated as: OWL.
54 OWL, p. 20.
55 OWL, p. 30; Unterwegs zur Sprache (Pfullingen: Günther Neske, 1959), p. 122. My translation.
56 OWL, p. 30; Unterwegs zur Sprache, p. 122.
57 OWL, p. 53.