Protocol # 2
PHI 610: Philosophy and the Arts after Derrida
Prepared by Karen Cantor
We continued our discussion of Heidegger, whose essay The Origin of the Work of Art establishes a framework for aesthetic theory in general, particularly the relationship between art, artist, and artwork.
Heidegger’s theorizing could be described as topological—a term that connotes both a rhetorical topic as well as a geographical place. The spatiality of Heidegger’s thinking is essential in understanding his conceptions of origin and truth.
Heidegger does something radical with the notion of origins: unlike Aristotle who believes that origins can be traced to a singular, historical moment (a diachronic mode of thinking that was further emphasized by A.O. Lovejoy and the “History of Ideas”), Heidegger suggests that there is no such thing as origins. Instead, his hermeneutic model has no beginning or end, but involves a “circling in the circle.”
Truth. It happens.
Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle delineates a space referred to as the Open. The Open has been compared to a clearing in the forest that one encounters when traveling down a path that doesn’t go anywhere. Light (Lichtung) shines into the clearing, serving to enlighten and to reveal truth. The Open is thus where truth occurs (sich ereignet). Truth is not a source and it is not an origin; truth is a disclosure, something that makes itself apparent.
Kinds of truth.
Conceiving of truth as disclosure is a radical notion that differs from traditional theories of truth:
Heidegger builds on these traditions with his
Truth and beauty
In the past, art did not have the same connotations as it has today. During classical times, what we now consider “art” was associated with techné (craft) and poesis (to make; how one makes things). The word “art” derives from the Latin ars, which combines aspects of both techné and poesis. Beauty was an adjective not commonly applied to art. Plato linked beauty to the good, and the true. Heidegger takes off from Plato, asserting that Beauty is one way in which truth occurs as unconcealedness (CAR 96). An artwork discloses the true nature of things, the work-Being of the work. The work is illuminated, and this is beautiful. (Heidegger does not address the question of good).
The peasant’s world
An artwork speaks; it lets us know what the work-being of the work is. To illustrate this idea, Heidegger takes as an example Van Gogh’s Shoes. Van Gogh’s painting is the disclosure of what the equipment, the pair of peasant shoes is in truth. By “equipment,” he means something that has a function/serves a purpose. Equipment is always ready-at-hand. In other words, one does not have to think about using equipment, one just does. The “equipmental being of equipment” is reliability. When equipment fails to function, it is reduced to an object. Thus, in order to access the truth of the work, the shoes must be considered as they are used.
By imagining this scenario—how the shoes would be used—the artwork allows us to see what the shoes are in truth. The artwork speaks to us, revealing the shoes’ essence, the truth of their being. Another way to put it is that a painting opens up a world, in this case the world of the peasant. Art is thus ontological in nature: it is about being, rather than just aesthetics*; it is a happening or event, rather than just an object (CAR 100). In the work of art the truth of an entity has set itself to work. ‘To set’ means here: to bring to a stand. Some particular entity, a pair of peasant shoes, come in the work to stand in the light of its being. The being (sic) of the being comes into the steadiness of its shining (CAR 88).
In an addendum to this essay, Heidegger discusses the Gestell or frame. Gestell derives from the verb stellen, which means to place or put. A work of art involves a putting forth and around that is the frame or Gestell. Thus, truth cannot be anything, but must be framed or contextualized.
Heidegger leaves us to ponder, what is the world of the artwork?
* “aesthetics” derives from the greek aesthesis and refers to a sensory experience of the world.