Incomplete Intelligibility


‘In the language which is spoken when one expresses oneself, there lies an average intelligibility; and in accordance with this intelligibility the discourse which is communicated can be understood to a considerable extent, even if the hearer does not bring himself into such a kind of Being towards what the discourse is about as to have a primordial understanding of it. We do not so much understand the entities which are talked about; we already are listening only to what is said-in-the-talk as such. What is said-in-the-talk gets understood; but what the talk is about is understood only approximately and superficially. We have the same thing in view, because it is in the same averageness that we have a common understanding of what is said.’

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger, tr. John Macquerrie and Edward Robinson, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1962, I.5, §35 (H.167), p. 212

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Das Gerede


It isn’t just us who are so temporary—it is all living beings, all living things—the animals, the trees, the clouds. They, too, exist briefly against the background of nothingness. Once we are aware that we, and all living beings, share this fragile state, we might learn to identify more with them, to recognize our kinship with all living things and with the Earth itself. They are like us, briefly alive against the backdrop of nothingness.

However, Heidegger is very aware of the way in which we hide from confrontation with Being, escaping into the warm folds of daily life, of society, and of what he termed its endless chatter, Das Gerede. We can imagine Das Gerede as an enormous pancake-like dough layer that smothers our connection with Being. Chatter is everywhere—it comes in via the airwaves, the media, our social circle—and it seeks to reassure us that trivia actually matters, that our jobs count, that what we are doing and thinking has importance. It hides us from the nature of Being in a world of death. So the task of philosophy is to remove us from the doughy comfort of chatter and introduce us, systematically, to the bracing concept of Nothingness.

Heidegger wants to free us from the pull of chatter, so as to focus on the intensity of existence.

– Courtesy of brainpickings.org

Boredom According to Heidegger


According to Heidegger, boredom (Langweile) is the concealed fundamental mood of our era. Boredom is identified by Heidegger as “the concealed destination” of the era of modern science. Through boredom we gain access to the fundamental metaphysical concepts of ‘world’, ‘finitude’ and ‘solitude’.

Boredom has two structural interconnected moments: it manifests Dasein (our existence) as being held in limbo (Hingehaltenheit) and as being left empty (Leergelassenheit), being refused of things around us.

Both of the above structural moments are only possible because of the experience of dragging of time (zögernde Zeit), being bound to time. Ultimately, boredom is a distinct attunement to time; and through analysing boredom we are faced with the enigma of time.

“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Heidegger’s Geworfenheit


How do we find ourselves in the world, and how can find our freedom here?

As I already tried to show, Heidegger seeks to reawaken perplexity about the question of being, the basic issue of metaphysics. In Being and Time, he pursues this question through an analysis of the human being or what he calls Dasein. The being of Dasein is existence, understood as average everyday existence or our life in the world, discussed in the last entry. But how might we give some more content to this rather formal idea of existence?

Heidegger gives us a strong clue in Division 1, Chapter 5 of Being and Time, which is a long, difficult, but immensely rewarding chapter and where things really begin to get interesting. The central claim of this chapter – which is deepened in the remainder of Being and Time – is that Dasein is thrown projection (Dasein ist geworfener Entwurf). Let me try and unravel this thought.

Heidegger tends to advance his investigation in concept clusters. One cluster contains three concepts: state of mind, mood and thrownness. State of mind is a rather questionable rendering of Befindlichkeit, which William Richardson nicely translates as ‘already-having-found-oneself-there-ness’. OK, it’s not particularly elegant, but the thought is the human being is always already found or disclosed somewhere, namely in the ‘there’ of its being-in-the-world. This ‘there’ is the Da of Dasein.

Furthermore, I am always found in a mood, a Stimmung. This is mood in the strong Aristotelian sense of pathos, a passion of the soul or an affect, something befalls us and in which we find ourselves. The passions are not, for Heidegger, psychological colouring for an essentially rational agent. They are rather the fundamental ways in which we are attuned to the world. Indeed, musicologically, Stimmung is linked to tuning and pitch: one is attuned to the world firstly and mostly through moods. One of the compelling aspects of Heidegger’s work is his attempt to provide a phenomenology of moods, of the affects that make up our everyday life in the world.

This is another way of approaching his central insight: that we cannot exist independently of our relation to the world; and this relationship is a matter of mood and appetite, not rational contemplation.

Such moods disclose the human being as thrown into the ‘there’ of my being-in-the-world. As Jim Morrisson intoned many decades ago, ‘Into this world we’re thrown’. Thrownness (Geworfenheit) is the simple awareness that we always find ourselves somewhere, namely delivered over to a world with which we are fascinated, a world we share with others.

We are always caught up in our everyday life in the world, in the throw of various moods, whether fear, boredom, excitement or – as we will see in the next entry – anxiety.

But, Heidegger insists, Dasein is not just thrown into the world. Because it – we – are capable of understanding, we can also throw off our thrown condition. Understanding is, for Heidegger, a conception of activity. It is always understanding how to do something or how to operate something. Understanding is the possession of an ability (etwas können) and the authentic human is characterised by the ability or potentiality to be (Seinkönnen).

So, the human being is not just a being defined by being thrown into the world. It is also one who can throw off that thrown condition in a movement where it seizes hold of its possibilities, where it acts in a concrete situation. This movement is what Heidegger calls projection (Entwurf) and it is the very experience of what Heidegger will call, later in Being and Time, freedom. Freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept. It is the experience of the human being demonstrating its potential through acting in the world. To act in such a way is to be authentic.’

– Critchley. S. (2009, June 29) Being and Time, part 4: Thrown into this world The Guardian. Retrieved from The Guardian website.

The Happening of Truth


‘Heidegger believed that art was an alternative way of discovering the truth about the world and Nature.

[Heidegger]
“Art is the happening of Truth. It discloses Being without making it into a classifiable entity.”

In his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935). Heidegger turned to a painting of shoes by Van Gogh to explicate his point about art as “the happening of truth”:

“A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more. And yet – From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth … In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field.”

Heidegger’s argument is that Van Gogh’s painting re-creates the lived context of the peasant’s life. Because the painting achieves this, Heidegger concludes:

[Heidegger]
“Van Gogh’s painting is the disclosure of what the equipment, the pair of peasant shoes, is in Truth.”

Heidegger’s reading of Van Gogh’s painting is part of the tradition of hermeneutics, in which the work of art is seen as a clue or symptom for a wider sense of reality.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 98-100

Conversations: Art


Galene
Dear Lysandra, do you think there are things “we are aware of” about both ourselves and the outside world that are ‘unexpressable’ in terms of words or anything similarly conventional?

Lysandra
I think there are. It seems probable that these unexpressable things may only be expressed (or perhaps merely approximated) by something unconventional – something out of the ordinary, unique even.

Galene
Perhaps these things can be rightly called Art?

Lysandra
Quite, with this in mind I prefer Heidegger’s view “Art is the happening of truth”. That is to say, Art can establish that which is implicit; it is the disclosure of intelligibility in time.

See other: Philosophical Conversations

Lethe


A river in Hades whose waters caused forgetfulness. It was on the banks of another Underworld river called the Styx that the shades, or ghostly remains, of the dead congregated to seek passage to the Afterlife.

Unless they bribed Charon to ferry them across the stream, they wandered aimlessly on the near bank forever. But those who made it across the Styx did not have much more to anticipate. Once they had drunk from the waters of Lethe, they were left with nothing to reminisce about for eternity. The Lethe had therefore been dubbed the stream of oblivion; the others were the Styx, Akheron, Pyriphlegethon and Kokytos.

‘He [Aithalides, son of Hermes, gifted with unfailing memory] has long since been lost in the inexorable waters of the Akheron, yet even so, Lethe (Forgetfulness) has not overwhelmed his soul [ie unlike the other dead he remembers his past lives and retains his memory in the underworld].’

– Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1. 642 ff (trans. Rieu) (C3rd C.E.)

In modern philosophy, Martin Heidegger used the term lēthē to symbolize the “concealment of Being” or “forgetting of Being” that he saw as a major problem of modern philosophy. Examples are found in his books on Nietzsche and Parmenides.

A Philosophers’ Guide To Art


What did the world’s foremost western philosophers think about art?

Plato (428-348) Beauty as an ideal

What matters is a higher, perfect beauty; a harmony which we do not immediately appear to see. If you want to see a copy of reality, you might as well buy a mirror. We should strive to look for something of a higher nature instead of repeating the things we see.

Aristotle (384-322) Art as an organic unity

Works of art are an organic unity. The work is whole. It is, beginning, middle and ending, in itself complete. Works of art are artistic; that is to say, they express a perceivable harmony. Its elements are organised, and none of its parts can be replaced or removed without it losing its value.

Kant (1724-1804) Pointless purpose

It is important that art conveys a sense of order and harmony. Everything seems to be finely tuned. The internal coherence of the work of art is immensely close nit and complex, as if it was designed to serve a certain purpose. Like the parts of an organism are dependent upon the organism’s will to further exist. The work of art, however, possesses this strong coherence without any purpose whatsoever.

When the work of art has been created, we can see that it is good, but we could not have thought of any parameters or rules of design beforehand. The relations within the composition are only purposeful within itself and create a formal unity of universal beauty in which everything is carefully coordinated.

Hegel (1770-1831) Development of the self by means of estrangement of the self

Art is an absolute necessity. We learn about ourselves by means of the work of art. The artist is irrelevant; however, we can learn from the image which he provides. In doing so, that is, by expressing ourselves through a certain material, we learn more about ourselves. Consequently, the world becomes less and less peculiar.

Schopenhauer (1788-1860) Art as a haven in this heartless world

The work of art is a harmonious and selfless entity, and is heavily contrasted with the reality of human life. Happiness is unthinkable. The work of art is an escape from the chaos of everyday life. The acceptance of this is an ideal and the form it takes is art. In aesthetic bliss we can experience how joyful life should be; because when we behold and enjoy beauty, our soul is calmed and comforted. The work of art releases us from the world in which we live – art stops the wheels of time, she always achieves her purpose.

Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Art as an escape from life

Art reconciles us with life; however, this reconciliation is not perfect. When one gazes at art, one does not gaze at reality. We are allowed to have a haven, but we are not allowed to shy away from living. When one purposefully elevates one’s life, life becomes a work of art. And when life is beautiful, ethics and aesthetics become one. The work of art pleases us in a moment of elation – it makes life seem shorter.

Nietzsche (1844-1900) Life as work of art

Art is for art’s sake, that is, art justifies itself and has the quality of dispensing with a purpose – moral or rational – since only through the aesthetic production can the world be justified.

Art may well be said to be the bridge between Man and the superhuman, the übermensch, the bridge to perfection and eternity. Through art, Man transcends the confines of his own ego and secures oneness with the universe. Clearly, it is established: the role of art as means of self-transcendence.

Wittgenstein (1889-1951) The unsayable and the image

Art is intransitive. Aesthetics cannot be enunciated in a clear linguistic form. The work of art does not tell us anything and requires no further explanation; however, it shows the unsayable, and provides the right perspective.

Heidegger (1889-1976) The disclosure of the concealedness

Art has its place within the idea of the world and reality. Art concerns itself with truth and we should look for what it can show us. This disclosure in the face of concealedness is not a state but an event, it is something that happens. Disclosure also means that focus shifts. And since reality is not a total presence, reality is always more, the work of art shows us concealedness as concealedness.

“How does a body, a nonmental object, come to ‘embody’ or ‘express,’ for our aesthetic imagination, values which it does not literally contain? Why should colours and shapes and patterns, sounds and harmonies and rhythms, come to mean so very much more that they are?”

– Louis Arnauld Reid