Conscience manifests itself as the call of care: the caller is Dasein, which, in its throwness (in its Being-already-in), is anxious about its potentiality-for-Being. The one to whom the appeal is made is this very same Dasein, summoned to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being (ahead of itself...). Dasein is falling into the “they” (in Being-already-alongside the world of its concern), and it is summoned out of this falling by the appeal. The call of conscience . . . has its ontological possibility in the fact that Dasein, in the very basis of its Being, is care.
—Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
You see I can’t get away from the old measure of care.
—Charles Olson, “Letter 5,”
The Maximus Poems
Martin Heidegger’s philosophical thought has been a guiding presence on the European continent for half a century, having influenced virtually every area of the human sciences from psychology to art in what must be called a revolutionary way. And, yet, a meaningful understanding of the enormous importance of his thinking, especially of his unmethodical methodological impulse, which informs the more immediately appealing “existential analytic’’ in Being and Time (Sein und Zeit, 1927) and his later ontological meditations in such texts as Holzwege (1936-46), Vorträge und Aufsätze (1936-53), Gelassenheit (1944-55), and Unterwegs zur Sprache (1950-59), is still limited in the United States and England to a small community of philosophers who have responded to the crisis of the human sciences. This is the case despite the important ground broken by the American schools of theology, above all by Union Theological Seminary during the postwar (Tillichean) period, and, more recently, by publishers such as Harper and Row and Northwestern University Press, which have made translations of this work and commentary on it available to Anglo-American scholars.
It is true, of course, that along with the recent emergence of a sense of the crisis of knowledge, Heidegger’s presence is now coming to be felt, however tentatively, by some American scholars professing the other humanities, especially literary studies. But this Heidegger, by and large, is the one appropriated, by way of Friedrich Nietzsche, by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and the Belgian literary critic Paul de Man and their followers — critics such as J. Hillis Miller, Joseph N. Riddel, Eugenio Donato, Samuel Weber, among others. He is, in other words, the deconstructed Heidegger, “saved” from the metaphysics that, according to them, it was his project to de-center and surpass, but which he failed to accomplish. He is the “post-Structuralist” Heidegger, who, finally, points the way to deconstructive literary criticism, the free-play of a de-centered écriture against the logocentric parole. However viable this appropriation of Heideggerian thought may be — and the essays by Joseph N. Riddel, Frances C. Ferguson, Donald G. Marshall, and Stanley Corngold suggest that it is indeed viable — thefact remains that Heidegger’s work itself has not “spoken” to American literary critics directly. It is, therefore, the purpose of this “gathering” of essays not only to introduce Heidegger’s destructive hermeneutic thinking as it pertains to the question of literary interpretation and criticism to the serious writers, readers, interpreters, and critics of literature in the English-speaking world, but also to suggest, by way of example, some of the significant aspects of the problematic distinction — not yet made explicit as far as I know— between the phenomenological Heidegger and the post-Structuralist Heidegger, that is, between the “destructive” and “deconstructive” possibilities for literary hermeneutics that his thought has opened up.
But the purposes of this gathering go deeper than merely to introduce to the Anglo-American literary community another provocative voice contributing to the current dialogue on the philosophy of literature. Heidegger’s Destruktion of what he has called the Western onto-theo-logical tradition as it developed from his masterpiece Being and Time to his later meditations on poetic language as the saying of being was, despite the well-known problematic “turn” (Kehre) after Being and Time, a continuing explorative effort to overcome what Husserl, before him, called the “crisis of European thought,” generated by the hardening of ontological inquiry. For in fulfilling its informing imperative to perceive meta-ta-physica (from after or beyond or above things-as-they-are) or, to use the significantly analogous rhetoric valorized by Modernist literary criticism, to spatialize temporality, the metaphysical tradition “comes to its end” in the modern period—the time of the world picture (Weltbild), as Heidegger aptly calls our de-temporalized age of technology in the essay that introduces this volume. More specifically, in fulfilling its historical mission in the triumph of technological method, that is, in succeeding by way of re-presentation (Vorstellung) to Enframe (ge-stellen) physis and thus virtually to transform the earth (die Erde) into standing reserve (Bestand), metaphysics finally succeeds in imposing its will to power over being or rather the be-ing of being.1 To adapt Michel Foucault’s useful rhetoric to Heidegger’s project, in initially assuming the privileged status of the en-compassing eye in the pursuit of truth, metaphysics finally becomes in the modern period a self-generating, in-clusive, and monolithic discourse that does not simply over-look the “truth” of temporal process but, in fact, super-vises panoptically, as it were, the difference generated by the temporality of being and thus coerces the “text” of existence into an abiding Identity or Presence.2 Metaphysics as discourse or, in Gadamer’s term, as method, thus comes “full circle.” It “achieves” the re-collective — and recuperative— dream of Western philosophers from Plato through Augustine to Descartes, Hegel, and Bentham: the forgetting of being (die Seinsvergessensheit) — and the “accomplishment” of what Heidegger, alluding to the logocentric myth inscribed in all the supplements of the ontotheological tradition, refers to as Western man’s “spirit of revenge” against the “transience of [fallen] time.”3
In thus remembering the be-ing of being that a recollective panoptic metaphysics “forgets” or, to use another important Heideggerian metaphor, in dis-covering the be-ing of being from the oblivion in which a fulfilled metaphysics and its calculative measure has buried it, Heidegger’s destructive/projective thought appears more and more, we are beginning to recognize, like a Copernician Revolution. It is in this sense that his paradoxical hermeneutic project “to surpass” (überwinden) the metaphysical tradition by way of a demystification of the logos and retrieval or repetition (Wiederholung) of ontological beginnings (not as “absolute origin” but in the sense of “in-the-midst,” of “occasion,” as it were) can be called postmodern.
As such, it seems to me — and, in various degrees of explicitness, to all the other contributors to this volume — Heidegger’s thought, especially on human understanding and linguistic interpretation, constitutes a remarkable parallel in recent philosophical inquiry to the essential formal activity of contemporary, or what is now coming to be called, however problematically, “postmodern,” literature. I am referring, of course — to name only the most obvious — to fiction such as Samuel Beckett’s Watt, Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father; to plays such as Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Eugène lonesco’s Victims of Duty, Jean Genet’s The Blacks, Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, Tom Stoppa rd’s Rosencrantzand Guildenstern Are Dead; and to poetry such as Wallace Stevens’s “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems, Robert Creeley’s Pieces, Edward Dorn’s Gunslinger, and A. R. Ammons’s Tape for the Turn of the Year. For, like Heidegger’s destructive hermeneutics, this is, in the phrase Wallace Stevens appropriates from Simone Weil, a “decreative” literature.4 It is a literature, in other words, that simultaneously destroys the received forms (and their rhetorics) inherited from the Tradition — forms that are recognized as agencies of the general will to power deeply inscribed in the Western mind — and, in the process, dis-closes or opens up projective possibilities for a “new” poetics, a poetics of and for our occasion.
As in the case of Heidegger’s thought, the emergent “measure” of this “postmodern” poetics is not, as it is in the poetics of the tradition, modeled on a music that has its ultimate source in a centered universe. It is not, for example, the stately, ceremonial, and predictable measure of the Elizabethan poet Sir John Davies:
Dancing, bright Lady, then began to be,
When the first seeds, whereof the world did spring,
The fire, air, earth, and water did agree,
By Love’s persuasions nature’s mighty king,
To leave their first disorder’d combating,
And in a dance such measure to observe
As all the world their motions should preserve.
Nor is it the nostalgic and distancing “Byzantine” measure of the Modern poet W. B. Yeats — the ego-centric measure, that is, of the polis of Art that becomes the supplément of the old logocentric measure of the Civitas Dei:
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
(“Sailing to Byzantium”)
It is, rather, the de-centered and generous measure enacted in the following passage from Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems — a measure that, like Heidegger’s (as the allusion to Heraclitus suggests), “owes” much to the pre-Socratics:
I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
Even at sea I was slow, to get the hand out, or to cross
a wet deck.
The sea was not, finally, my trade.
But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged
from that which was most familiar . . . .
I have made dialogues,
have discussed ancient texts,
have thrown what light I could, offered
But the known?
This, I have had to be given,
a life, love, and from one man
But sitting here
I look out as a wind
and water man, testing
some proof. . . .
It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
from my feet
(“Maximus, to himself”)
In a phrase of Robert Creeley’s that echoes Wallace Stevens, its measure is “the measure of its occasion.”5 That is, as the etymology suggests — from occasus (“the setting of the sun”), which, with the word “case,” ultimately derives from the ablative form of cadere (“to fall,” “to drop,” as of the setting of heavenly bodies, and “to fall,” “to perish,” “to die”) — it is, whether it takes the form of the periplus of Olson’s poetry or the “free-play” of Beckett’s prose, the ec-centric measure of mortality or, in Heidegger’s rhetoric, of “dwelling” in the context of mortality:
Poetry is presumably a high and special kind of measuring. But there is more. Perhaps we have to pronounce the sentence, “Poetry is a measuring,” with a different stress. “Poetry is a measuring.” In poetry there takes place what all measuring is in the ground of its being. Hence it is necessary to pay heed to the basic act of measuring. That consists in man’s first of all taking the measure which then is applied in every measuring act. In poetry the taking of measure occurs. To write poetry is measure-taking, understood in the strict sense of the word, by which man first receives the measure for the breadth of his being. Man exists as a mortal. He is called mortal because he can die. To be able to die means: to be capable of death as death. Only man dies — and indeed continually, so long as he stays on this earth, so long as he dwells. His dwelling, however, rests on the poetic. Hölderlin sees the nature of the “poetic” in the taking of the measure by which the measure-taking of human being is accomplished.6
As such, it is the primordial measure of the West, of the Abendland — a westering measure, as it were — gradually forgotten since Homer and Heraclitus (according to both Heidegger and Olson, postmodern thinker and poet) in the hardening process that has characterized the history of the ontotheological tradition. (Derrida, it should be pointed out, does not subscribe to this projective “step back” to the pre-Socratics, claiming that they — and thus Heidegger — are “within the lineage of the logos” insofar as they posit the “original and essential link” between logos and phone [voice].7 This is, of course, the basis of a crucial difference between a Derridean deconstructive and a Heideggerian destructive interpretive stance toward literary texts, the problematics of which are clearly suggested in the following essays.) For another etymological root of “occasion” is, of course, the cognate occidere (which “means” both “to fall,” especially “to set” or “to wester,” as in the case of the “movement” of the sun, and “to die,” “to perish”) from the present participle of which (occidens) the English word “occident” derives.8
Given, therefore, the continuing authority of the formalist interpretive orientation of the New Criticism in literary studies and broader semiotic contexts — an authority in the process of being, not superseded as it is misleadingly claimed, but theoretically shored up by Structuralist poetics9— Heidegger’s project, as these essays variously suggest, has much to teach contemporary literary critics who are responding positively to the crisis of criticism. What it offers is not simply an interpretation of understanding and a rhetoric capable of suggesting what the New Criticism is driven by its enclosed horizon, by the blindness of its insight, as it were, to condemn as manifestations of the “fallacy of imitative form”: the experiments in open, or, as I prefer to call them, “dis-closive” or “de-structive,” forms of much of the most dynamic and powerful contemporary writing; forms whose mastered irony assigns us as readers to ourselves and activates rather than nullifies consciousness of being-in-the-world as our case. As these essays suggest, Heidegger’s project also, and perhaps even more importantly, points to modalities of literary hermeneutics capable, in their willingness to remain “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reading after fact and reason,”10 of leading criticism out of the impasse into which the will to power of the metaphysical tradition has driven it. Indeed it promises a re-vitalization of the literary tradition, which, in having become reified, has transformed the originary explorative and/or playful activity of understanding into a secondary or derivative and finally coercive methodological confirmation of unexamined formal and ontological logocentric presuppositions. In Ezra Pound’s misunderstood formulation of the postmodern imperative, these essays suggest that Heidegger’s destructive/projective hermeneutics promises to “make it [the tradition] new.”
For explicitly or implicitly most of the contributors to this volume — whether Heideggerian or Derridean in approach — feel that Western literature or, at least, Western literary criticism, if it has not already come to its end, is moving toward closure as it comes increasingly, like Western philosophy, to assert its will to power over the being of the “text,” that is, to fulfill the formalist imperatives of its determining logos, the imperatives of a hermeneutics in which Form (Being) is ontologically prior to temporality, Identity to difference, the Word to words. Like Heidegger, therefore, they feel that the time has long since come to call into question — to dis-cover — what Heideggerians call the unexamined privileged status of “metaphysical” or “spatial” presuppositions and Derrideans, the “nostalgic” and “recuperative” logocentric assumptions that silently guide traditional hermeneutics. For they recognize, each in their own way, that these unjustified “givens” have increasingly informed the reading and interpretation of literary texts and the “text” of Western literary history in behalf of the certainty of Identity ever since Aristotle, on the model of his Metaphysics, affirmed the plot — the beginning, middle, and determining end (telos) — as the primary constitutive element (“the soul, as it were”) of the highest form of poetic discourse, and repose — the annulment of the kinetics of anxiety about difference (catharsis) — as the end of these recuperative teleological formal strategies.
Put positively, these essayists feel that such an interrogation of the ontological priority of form over temporality — and its innocent rhetoric of closure — in the hermeneutic process, will suggest “new” hermeneutic modalities that are capable of dis-closing and preserving the mystery of the Earth, or in Derrida’s brilliant adaptation, the différance, which is contained or closed off and annulled within the logocentric circle.11 For this, it is becoming increasingly clear, is the essential imperative of the de-centered world that, to adapt Heidegger’s seminal rhetoric from Being and Time, the breaking of the Western epistemological hammer has left postmodern man heir to.
The following essays certainly go far in clarifying the “crisis of criticism” and in dis-closing the disabling lack of logocentric interpretive methodology. In thus interrogating the “tradition,” they also suggest, however tentatively, at least two broad ways, “grounded” in a care-ful (as opposed to dis-interested or objective) phenomenological intentionally, by which its logocentrism may be surpassed: the Heideggerian De-struction that retrieves the infinitely open-ended Seinsfrage, and the Derridean De-construction that activates the Nietzschean free-play in the void of absence. It must be emphasized that the essays that represent these modalities do not by any means constitute completely developed postmodern hermeneutic strategies. As I understand the examples included in this volume, each has its particular limitation. On the one hand, the Heideggerian destructive mode, as the Derrideans insistently remind us, is always in danger of recuperating the metaphysical logos in its tendency to read texts temporally. On the other, the Derridean deconstructive mode, as the Heideggerians insistently imply, is always threatening to recuperate the logos of Modernist aestheticism in its tendency to read texts spatially. That is to say, these essays are or should be approached as being “on the way,” “forwardings,” to borrow, perhaps presumptuously, a phrase the American poet Charles Olson uses to define his own de-centered postmodern voyage of exploration — his periplus — in the first of The Maximus Poems, “I, Maximus, to You”:
(o my lady of good voyage
in whose arm, whose left arm rests
no boy but a carefully carved wood, a painted face, a schooner!
a delicate mast, or bow-spirit for
(“I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You”)
As such, they should, like Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology, contribute in a significant way to the emergent postmodern dialogue on poetics, hermeneutics, and literary history that the closure of the Western literary tradition has made a necessity of our time.
This preface, it must be borne in mind, is not intended as an authoritative summary statement of the essential “truth” that informs the apparent diversity of the essays gathered in this volume on Heidegger and the question of literature. Seen as summary — as prefaces to scholarly books usually are— it becomes, in fact, a postface, a vicious re-view that is thus inevitably and necessarily guilty of over-looking precisely those differences that make this text the explorative — and provocative— process it essentially is. It is intended, rather, to interest the reader whose understanding of the crisis of literary criticism is not explicit. It is intended, that is, as a plunge in the midst: not to inform, but simply to provide a point of departure for an access into the “open” hermeneutic circle. As such, it is, of course, itself subjectto destruction. It will be seen (I put this word under erasure here), in other words, that these essays themselves play freely around the preface, always interrogating its assertions, always breaking open its abstractions to disclose what has been left unsaid, always, “finally” dis-covering other possibilities concealed inside its bounding line. To adapt a phrase from Ben Jonson, it will be seen by the engaged reader that they “stirre the mould about the ‘root’ of the Question . . .” that the preface — and the text at large — poses.
This volume of essays had its origins in the fall of 1973, when I was on a sabbatical leave in Lyons, France, working on a book on hermeneutics. I then suggested to my co-editor, Robert Kroetsch, that we follow up several recent numbers of boundary 2 devoted in large part to seminal efforts to define the “post-modernism” of postmodern literature with a special issue exploring the implications of Heidegger’s post-metaphysical thought for literary studies. Although I was certain of the need for such an inquiry, I was far from sure at that time that I would be able to find American philosophers who could address themselves to immediate literary issues or, further, literary critics who could (or would) address themselves to immediate philosophical issues in the light of the crisis of literary criticism. The search for such authors was, in fact, a long, but happily successful one, because it culminated in a gathering of a richly diverse community of articulate and deeply committed students of Heideggerian thinking who were also aware of the resulting volume’s seminal significance for other areas of the human sciences. As editor, I wish to thank all my colleagues who contributed to this project for their generosity in the face of severe pressures I imposed on them while the issue was in the making. I attribute this generosity before the emerging text — this Gelassenheit, to appropriate, to en-own, Heidegger’s beautiful and good word — not to academic exigencies but to the dignity and worth of the questions this explorative text asks.
I was also far from certain at the time I proposed it that such an interdisciplinary project would find a receptive audience within a literary community nurtured by the New Criticism, especially by its dogmatic commitment to the autonomy of the work of art, which, in one of its aspects, insisted on the sequestration of literary texts from the alien ambience of philosophical thought. With the publication of this issue (vol. IV, 2) in the winter of 1976, I was pleasantly surprised by the powerful impact (if modest in numbers) that it immediately made, thus corroborating my intuition of the felt need in the literary community of precisely what this volume had to offer. I thus also lamented the limited print run we had decided on. When it became clear that the growing demand for the issue was in excess of our supply, I made inquiries at Indiana University Press about the possibility of reprinting it in a hardback format. The response was prompt and enthusiastic. I want, therefore, to acknowledge my gratitude to the Press for its faith in the importance of the issue the text confronts.
I want especially to thank William Overstreet for his acute sense of decorum as copy editor; Marian Madden, whose organizational genius kept a wayward vessel more or less on course; and, above all, Paul Bove, my former student, who, in the process, has become my teacher, and Robert Kroetsch, my co-editor and dear friend, whose support, as always, involved a lot more than the mere expense of valuable time and energy he could have better devoted to his writing.
Finally, in another context — and once more — I want to express my deepest gratitude to my wife, Margaret, above all, for her maddening — and always generative — resistance.
WILLIAM V. SPANOS
January 30, 1979
1 Martin Heidegger, “The Question of Technology,” The Question of Technology and Other Essays, trans, with Introduction by William Lovitt (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), pp. 14-17.
2 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 195-227. Originally titled Surveillir et Punir: Naissance de la prison (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1975).
3 Martin Heidegger, “Who Is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, ed. David B. Allison (New York: Dell, 1977), p. 73.
4 Wallace Stevens, “The Relations between Poetry and Painting,” The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (New York: Vintage Books, 1951), p. 174.
5 William V. Spanos, “Talking with Robert Creeley,” tr., Robert Creeley: A Gathering, a special issue of boundary 2 (Vol. VI, 3; VII, 1 Spring/Fall 1978) ed. William V. Spanos, pp. 19-20. See also Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” Collected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964): “The Poem is the cry of its occasion,/ Part of the res itself and not about it” (p. 473).
6 Martin Heidegger, “. . . Poetically Man Dwells . ..’,” Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 221-22. See also “Building Dwelling Thinking,” pp. 146-61.
7 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 10.
8 See William V. Spanos, “Postmodern Literature and The Hermeneutic Crisis,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 (Winter 1979).
9 See Robert Scholes, Structuralism in Literature: An Introduction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); and Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975).
10 Letters of John Keats, ed. M. B. Forman (London: Oxford University Press, 1935): letter to George and Thomas Keats, December 21, 1817, p. 72.
11 Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” Speech and Phenomenon and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973): “The verb ‘to differ’ [différer] seems to differ from itself. On the one hand, it indicates difference as distinction, inequality, or discernibility; on the other, it expresses the interposition of delay, the interval of a spacing and temporalizing, that puts off until ‘later’ what is presently denied, the possible that is presently impossible. . . . In the one case “to differ” signifies nonidentity; in the other case it signifies the order of the same. Yet there must be a common, although entirely différant [différante], root within the sphere that relates the two movements of differing to one another. We provisionally give the name differance to this sameness which is not identical: by the silent writing of its a, it has the desired advantage of referring to differing, both as spacing/ temporalizing and as the movement that structures every dissociation” (pp. 129-30).