13th October 2004

PHI 347

Class notes


Derrida’s passing - 8th Oct. See The Work of Mourning, Brault and Naas, ed. (Collection of essays or talks by Derrida on friends and colleagues who had died.) A lot of Derrida’s work in recent years has been on life and death and what these notions mean (cf. The Gift of Death and see Derrida’s essay on borderlines in his Deconstruction and Criticism (Continuum). See IPL website for obituaries, especially the obituary by Atridge and Baldwin: Derrida’s work “challenged academic norms and sometimes common sense,” and covered “language, meaning, identity, ethical decisions and aesthetic values.For next meeting (Oct 20): Read the first part, book one, of Of Grammatology – all the stuff up to when book two begins.

                                                    Student Protocols:

*Truth appears in the open space.

*The English word ‘truth’ is a translation of the Greek alethia. The German word for truth is [die Wahrheit] in French is la verite.

You have the artist, artwork, and art. In the circling/opening, truth happens. Truth means unconcealedness. What is truth? Truth is coming out of concealment, coming out of a state of being hidden, and this can only happen in the circling of the circle when interpretation takes place. The artwork per se is not the place of truth, nor the artist nor art per se. If you only talk about one of these you won’t get truth. It’s only by considering all three of these in relation to one another and trying to figure out how all three together produce a space in which one can talk about the truth of the artwork – meaning, the truth of this relationality.

 What we’re trying to do in hermeneutics is to have interpretation that is not “spin,” which takes prejudice and imposes it on what is said, a prejudicial reading of something. This is opposed to letting it happen in its own terms, letting the true being/truth appear, so that it’s not something that’s imposed from outside. So, hermeneutics as interpretation deals with truth; it doesn’t deal with spin.

 “What’s the truth?” is a question that plagued Heidegger for a long time. How do we get at it? The truth is not “knowledge.” I can know that the Van Gogh shoes painting was done in 1886 – this is a piece of information, data, associated with the artwork, as is the fact that it was painted by Van Gogh in Paris. <— this is knowledge. Interpretation is about bringing out the world of the artwork, not just the data or knowledge about it (as you’d find in an encyclopedia – “inert ideas” [Whitehead]).

 It’s only in virtue of the hermeneutic circle that you’ll get truth.

There is no such thing as objectivity – or subjectivity. (As we’ll see in deconstruction, they are binary pairs which are opposed to each other. ) Truth doesn’t get imposed or generated from a subjectivity. But truth is also not objectivity, because in effect objectivity means there’s subjectivity (its counterpart). Objectivity is ontic because it has to do with beings.

The hermeneutic circle of beings - Being - Dasein is also a hermeneutic circle. In Being and Time and Elucidations, the question is: “what is the Being of beings?” What is the difference of Being and beings? Truth happens in the place of difference. Truth, as disclosure, can only come out of its concealment when the hermeneutic circle is put into action. Without the hermeneutic circle disclosure can’t happen.

See how something discloses itself and interpret it. The meaning comes out of the manifest evidence.

                                           <end of student protocols>


Discussion of “What Are Poets For?” from Poetry, Language, Thought (p. 89/91).

Heidegger begins this essay by quoting Holderlin (19th-century Romantic poet), a statement from Holderlin’s poem “Bread and Wine”: What are poets for in a destitute time? What kind of time or times is this? Heidegger uses the expression “the gods.” (Recall when we spoke last time about the Italian temple and the four-fold — earth/sky, gods/humans.) Heidegger mentions three gods, “the united three”: Heracles, Dionysus, Christ. “The default of God”: No god any longer gathers men together, etc. Nobody is being taken care of by the god, gods, God. There’s this sense that individuals are left alone. “. . . the gods have fled” and left humans there, and “the divine radiance is extinguished” – i.e., light, goodness, have vanished and we have darkness.

God has defaulted; it’s a destitute time; there’s darkness. All of the gods who had been celebrated are gone. “Because of this default, there fails to appear to the world the ground that grounds it” (p. 90). What does this mean? When you’re grounded you’re tied to a particular place, tied to home. There’s a claim – it’s like your parents saying “you’re grounded” without any reason for it; a grounding without grounds. Grounding means roots, basis, reason. An abyss [Abgrund] means an away-from-the-ground. When the gods have fled that which should be a ground, basis, foundation, is not a foundation because the gods aren’t there. There is nothing to hang your hat on, nothing to believe in. The ground has become an abgrund, an abyss, because the gods are gone. We think of the ground as a basis or foundation that makes all the rest possible. “Grounding” is something like giving reasons: the reasons and the ground from which those reasons derive. The hermeneutic circle demonstrates that there’s nothing there; there’s no truth. In the circling of the circle, when we ask about the ground we see that there is no ground: what is disclosed is an absence of ground. Why? Because circling is an interpretation.

“The heavenly powers cannot do all things. It’s the mortals who reach sooner into the abyss” (etc.) Holderlin is talking Heidegger talk. We have an abyss, an absence of ground, and it’s the mortals who have to reach into the abyss, experience it, feel it – feel the emptiness, lack of basis, lostness (feeling of being lost). The notion of the “turn” is very important because there is a turn that takes place with this notion of abyss. It may take a while, but the true will come to its own, will happen, will appear, will show itself. < sich ereignet> It “ereignet”-s (happens) itself. It comes into its own. The German word Eigen means “own,” one’s own. In “On Time and Being” the word is translated ‘Appropriation’. Why does Stambaugh translate the word as ‘Appropriation’? If you appropriate – e.g. if the federal gov’t puts a tax lien on your house they’re making it their own – you make something you own. ‘Proper’, the right thing. In French le propre means one’s own, as in one’s proper name. We have that sense in English of ‘proper’ as one’s own. Appropriation has the sense of the proper, of one’s own, and appropriation also the sense of making one’s own, gathering together unto oneself. There is a making of one’s own – not “yours” or “mine,” but making it ownness, proper, appropriate. Bringing into one’s own, making proper, are senses of ‘appropriation.’ There is also a temporal sense of happening: coming into its own means it happens, takes place.

Think of the ap [ab] as the complete absence of the ground. There is a ground without a ground. Can the world turn away from the abyss? Can there be a way of turning away from the abyss? getting away from this absence of ground the gods have created by leaving? There have to be mortals who reach into the abyss so as to understand it. How could the gods do their thing if their hadn’t been mortals who set things up, prepared for the gods? Mortals need to prepare for the gods to come back. How could there be a place for God or the gods if there weren’t already a place established by us? There is a “right time,” a moment, a time which is appropriate for the gods to come back (and here we have the notion of “appropriate” again), i.e., if there has been a turn of men in the right way. “Memory” by Holderlin, in which Holderlin is saying that it’s the mortals, humans who reach into the abyss (intellectually) so that the return of the gods can happen. There is an abode prepared for the gods by the poets. The poets are preparing the ground – like Holderlin who is indicating that the abyss is there and it takes mortals to come and reach into the abyss so that the gods can return. The poet in relation to what has been written is saying this. The poet - poem - poetry relation is illustrated here.

If you get stuck, go back and read the essay (“What Are Poets For?”) and see what Heidegger does with poetry. “Long is the destitute time of the world’s night,” says Holderlin. Heidegger writes that “the destitute time is no longer able to experience its own destitution.” Why does Heidegger say this? It’s a circle, in a way, a self-enclosed world. He’s not talking about somebody’s destitution but the time’s destitution. There is something about the time that is so bad that it can’t get out of itself. It is such that it closes in on itself and it doesn’t seem as though there is any way out of it. How do we get out of this time? What’s going to get us out of this destitute time? Heidegger has created this account of an abyss, a destitute time, through his reading of this poem, and the question is going to be: How do you get out of it? There is a sense of need, a need to be met, but it doesn’t know just what the need is that needs to be met. We yet must think of the world’s night as a destiny that is this side of pessimism and optimism (it’s neither; these are just attitudes that people have, whereas the whole time is the problem). The world’s night is a destiny [Geschik. Schik is to send, so there’s a sending; Geschik is the past participle: that which is sent.] There is a sense of sending - but not active sending but – having been sent. Your destiny has been sent. The sense of sending is built into this whole notion of appropriation, of having been sent, of destiny. The time doesn’t actively choose it’s destiny: it’s been sent. Somehow time has gotten into its destiny and that’s where it is. A time of terror is a time that is felt, experienced, not by people but it belongs to the time: there is no way to get out of it because it is everywhere. There is no way to get out of the terror, seemingly. But there’s a turn. The notion of the possibility of a turn is very big in Heidegger. The notion of a Kehre, which means a turn, a turning, a different way of thinking. If only there could be a shift like this, a turn. Heidegger appeals to a nature [Wesen], core, essence. That nature lies in that mortals reach into the abyss sooner than the gods do. Somehow, for mortals to reach into the abyss to provide a basis for the gods to come back would be to turn. Mortals are preparing the house. They are touched by presence, the ancient name of Being.

Presence [Anwesenheit] An = toward; Wesen = nature; thus: coming toward something’s nature. Presence means coming toward the nature of something, toward the essence of something. The opposite of this is absence Abwesen, away from the essence. The problem is one of presence, and how it is possible for the time to be touched by presence. You have a state of absence. The mortals are in the state of absence (in the destitute time). But mortals are able to reach into this abyss and bring out the essence, bring out the nature. Bringing out the nature means bringing out the essence that has absented itself (disappeared, gone away). Between Anwesenheit and Abwesenheit a turn has to take place between absence and presence, and mortals can effect this change. The ancient name for presence, Anwesenheit, is Being. But it’s not really being as such, for Heidegger. It’s a presence of being in relation to beings. In a world of things, the ontic, you just have presence – there is no absence; there is no question of the relation to Being. So what is called for is a turn to bring out the being of beings, to bring out the presencing of being in relation to being. It’s a question of trying to bring out, through this turn, the truth that has been absent in this abyss.

Presence conceals itself, hides, is unavailable: what is present in this destitute time is not present, it’s absent. Our time is terror, for example. What needs to be present, isn’t: all you’ve got is absence. “Thus, the abyss holds and remarks everything.” Everything is held together in this absence in this time of terror and absence. Holderlin says that the abyss (in another poem) is “all-perceiving.” The task is to know, for certain mortals, the marks that are remarked. It’s a task of noting that there are marks in this abyss of what’s gone, not present, hidden. The task is to remark them, note them, identify them, call upon them, bring them – try to bring them – to presence.

           Crucial statement: “For the poet, these are the traces [Spurren] of the fugitive gods.” The gods are absent, fugitive, gone – but they’ve left traces. (‘Trace’ [Spur] is a crucial word in Derrida. [Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles is one of his books] Keep this word in mind.) A trace is a footprint. The footprint is a trace of something that’s absent. The footprint is present but the abominable snowman (for example) is missing. But if you’re a “good detective” maybe you can, from the traces of the fugitive gods, say something about those gods. Maybe from the traces that are here in the destitute time, in the abyss, etc., there are traces of something. Dionysus is the wine god, who brings the trace down to the darkness. “The wedding feast of men and gods”: the wedding feast is a time of celebration, inebriation, but also one in which the gods are present. Heidegger mentions the poets again and asks what are they good for in this time of absence, abyss, destitution? What he’s trying to do is to say that there are poets who are the ones who are going to help us get out, to provide a way for this turn to happen. The poets are the ones who are able to make this turn happen in the abyss so that the fugitive gods become present. The traces are recognized by the poets; the marks are remarked. A turn is being called for. Heidegger talks about how you can have a turn out of a state that is a bad state. Licht =light; Lichtung = clearing, lighting. In this open there is a lighting that’s happening, a clearing [of being] that the poets are able to bring. “Thinking into a dialogue with poetry.” Denken (thinking) and Dichtung (poetizing). Poetizing can help make the clearing happen, make it come into its own, make it an appropriation, event. Ereigness is an event, happening (see “On Time and Being”) that happens in the clearing in which there is a making present, a presencing of that which was absent. This is what the poets are for.

Heidegger then turns to Rilke (who wrote around turn of 20th century) and shows that this poet is able to take the next step and talks about what Heidegger wants to happen. In the open is where the truth happens, and it comes out of concealment, hiddenness, the abyss, and into truth. We need poets to show the way out of the abyss. Poets can show the way, make present the true that has been hidden: poets can disclose. Poets are able to bring the truth out, show the way out of the destitute time – the time of terror, etc. – so that there can be made present that which has been hidden and that which will allow the turn to happen.