Professor Hugh J. Silverman

Department of Philosophy

Stony Brook University

Fall Semester 2006

Tues& Thurs 5:20-6:40

Protocol # 6:

Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art - II

September 26, 2006

These notes are prepared by Mariya Norenberg and Arsalan Memon (Teaching Assistants).

These notes do not replace attendance in the class which is mandatory.

They are to serve as a reminder of what was discussed in class.

They are to assist students in understanding the readings and what is presented in class. (HJS)

Protocol by Mariya Norenberg and Arsalan Memon (revised by HJS)


       Heidegger’s essay, “The Origin if the Work of Art” was first presented in 1935 to 1936 (in Freiburg, Stuttgart, and then in Zurich). It was published in the collection of essays entitled Holzwege in 1951 and then in a Reclam edition (edited by Hans-Georg Gadamer) in 1956. The chain linked structure of the essay with its three main parts helps frame the hermeneutic motif of Heidegger’s thought. The essay is divided into an introductory section (effectively, a "Prologue"), “Thing and Work,” “Work and Truth,” “Truth and Art,” with an “Epilogue” and an “Addendum” at the end. This leads into the "aesthetic hermeneutic circle" with its three parts of artist-artwork-art. In the process of thinking (Denken) about this tripartite relation you are circling in the circle. In the Open or in the circling of the circle, Truth as Aletheia -- unforgetfulness, unconcealedness, disclosure happens.              

         This notion of truth is different from the traditional "correspondence" and "coherence" theories of truth. In the correspondence view of truth, truth corresponds to a fact or reality in the empirical world. We can say that something is true because it refers to something or an event in the outside world. The coherence theory of truth can be logically validated. An argument is coherent if all of the evidence fits together and does not contradict itself. And finally Heidegger’s disclosure theory of truth says that something is true if it reveals itself or shows itself. The truth comes out of hiding, concealedness. There is always an aspect of concealedness as well as unconcealedness in the disclosure theory. Nothing is ever completely unconcealed.  This is opposed to Hegel’s philosophy of Absolute Spirit, which led to his belief that truth has to be total and has to encompass everything. Heidegger, on the other hand focuses on individual events of disclosure.

          So what is the truth of the work of art? Heidegger uses examples of three different types of artworks to explain how truth as disclosure happens through the aesthetic hermeneutic circle. The three examples thus follow: (1) Van Gogh’s painting of the shoes, (2) the Greek Temple in Paestum (Italy), and (3) the Meyer poem about a Roman fountain. 

            (1) Van Gogh’s painting was completed between 1886 and 1888. Around this time, Van Gogh had moved to Paris and the painting of the shoes was probably painted there. “We choose as example a common sort of equipment-a pair of women’s shoes” (OWA 32). In looking at Van Gogh’s shoes, Heidegger looks at the equipmentality, usefulness of the shoes. Equipment (Zeug) has a functional quality to it. It is useful. According to Heidegger, there are two types of equipment – Zuhandenheit, equipment that is ready at hand and Vorhandenheit, equipment that is present to hand.  Vorhandenheit -- the tool is available before one, but is not currently in use. Zuhandenheit, equipment that is readily at hand and put into use.

           Heidegger says that the equipment-being of equipment, its essence is its reliability.       When a hammer no longer works, not only is its equipmentality gone, but also it is the first time that this equipmentality is noticed. Failed equipment loses its reliability.

         According to Heidegger, the particular shoes in Van Gogh’s painting belong to a peasant woman who works in the field. The equipmental quality of equipment, that is its reliability is brought out as the truth of the painting. This reliability lies in the fact that the peasant woman never thinks about the usefulness of the shoes. In fact, the more she thinks about them the less reliable they become and the more their equipmental character is lost.

           In this, the distinction between equipment that is ready at hand (Zuhandenheit) and equipment that is present to hand (Vorhandenheit) is visible. When the woman wears the shoes in the field, they are ready at hand and in her closet they are present to hand. The narrative description that Heidegger gives in the essay of the peasant woman and her shoes (OWA, 33) brings out the truth of the world of the peasant woman and her shoes. The happening of the truth is disclosed in this thought process, that is, the Denken of the peasant woman and the story of her shoes.

          This interpretation of the shoes is a perfect example of Heidegger’s aesthetic hermeneutic circle at work. However, it also should be noted here that there is in fact no woman in Van Gogh’s painting. Heidegger’s interpretation is open for contestation. Any one could be in the position of the interpreter and someone else might come up with a different interpretation. How does he get the world of the peasant woman from the painting of two shoes? According to Heidegger the peasant woman is part of the truth of the painting, because truth is disclosing itself while thinking the painting in the circling of the circle as an aesthetic hermeneutic circle.

         (2) In a similar fashion, Heidegger looks at the other example of the Greek Temple in Paestum, Italy. The location of a Greek Temple along the Mediterranean in Italy is surprising. It wasn’t uncommon for the Greeks to travel around the Mediterranean world and build temples, such as this one. This one in particular is dedicated to Hera, Zeus’ wife. There are three different types of Greek Temple columns: Doric, Ionian, and the most ornamental one, Corinthian. The temple in Paestum has the simplest Doric columns. Perhaps a more important characteristic of the temple and probably the reason why Heidegger chose it is that it is located in a vast open space. There is not much around it, except for piled stones. There is an open space inside as well in which the gods dwell and in which truth happens or takes place.

(3) The third example is the poem about a Roman fountain. When thinking about this Roman fountain (in the circling of the circle) a whole world of the fountain is disclosed. The truth of the fountain will present itself as truth.