I read this book for a graduate seminar on philosophy of art. Martin Heidegger's Poetry, Language, and Thought," is his treatise on how humans "see" art and is connected to his he deconstruction of phenomenology. His kind of phenomenology has to do with the idea of phenomenon, which means something that appears and shows itself. His criticism of traditional philosophy is that it gets started with categories, concepts, and notions, departing from the way human comprehension of this world first shows itself. This is Aristotelian and Aristotle is an enormous influence on Heidegger.
Yet, there is something very radical going on here, and that is the idea of "being" is connected to meaning and negativity. In the history of philosophy, being has a positive concept, something that "is" thus, the opposite of being is none being. Heidegger wants to show how the meaning of being is distorted by this understanding of being as a purely positive concept, as a "thing" a full present entity. He also very much critiques in modern art, the modern conception of objectivity, the world is transformed into an object independent of art, of its significance, its meaning, or interest in it. This was due in large part because of modern science, and its strong sense of objectification converting nature into a set of mere objects, time, and space that are measurable and analyzable through scientific means.
So, when we come across the world, first and foremost it is not a mere object that is standing apart from us or our mind, but rather it has significant elements of our environment that fit into our lives. Some things are significant, or they are useful, or dangerous, or satisfying, etc. What Heidegger wants to say in his phenomenology is we have to pay attention to this way of being. So, first and foremost he says "being" matters, it matters to us. "Being" is a significance, it is not just a bare object or a bare fact. Notice right away, when we get to the idea of art, he is going to have the same disposition toward art. Art isn't something that is just a bare object that is outside of us, nor is it a subjective interior experience it is rather, part of our world. You wouldn't want to classify art in ways that would assume certain categories ahead of time, like "it isn't a natural object therefore, it must be an expression of human emotion." That would be a very typical modern concept. Heidegger would critique this because, since he doesn't accept this idea of subject on one side and object on the other side, that means that when humans have their understanding of the world, it is not just a human projection, it is not just a human construction. It is a revealing way of seeing; it is world disclosive. The meaning of the world wouldn't happen without us, because we are the ones that find it meaningful.
For Heidegger, he says that paintings are, the phrase he uses is, "being immortal." We are not just a subject apart from the world, but are "in it." In it not just in the spatial sense like a marble in a box, but in it in the sense of involved with it. These experiences Heidegger thinks is part of what we understand about being. A lot of this doesn't have to do with the art aspect of his work. But important to know that Heidegger primarily wants to say that the meaning of being, is something that humans are involved with in a significant meaningful way, and it can't be either subjective or objective, those two ideas he says are polarizations that both account for how the world matters to us. The fact that it matters to us means it can't be a pure objective thing. Secondly, the fact that what matters to us is our world not just our opinions and our inner dispositions mean it can't be just a subjective thing. We are absorbed in the world; we are caught up in it. Phenomenology wants to give voice to these notions rather than start with the modern categories of subjectivity and objectivity. He wants to say that before all that there are other ways of seeming As far as the art aspect is concerned the kind of phenomenology of art in other words he wants to say, "well, art can't just be a "thing." He is setting up certain traditional concepts what it means to be a thing, so he asks, "what is an artwork"? Normally one answers an artwork is a thing, it is there. Well, if that is never going to be adequate to understanding the "being" of an artwork. That is where that torturous analysis of different kinds of concepts of "thinghood" comes out. He says none of these is going to fit. Right away, you see then that Heidegger completely rejects the modern art analysis of artworks as something that is to be understood as human subjective items.
When Heidegger talks about Van Gogh's painting of peasant shoes and the Greek Temple, what he is trying to do there is to say, "Well what would it mean to respond to these works in a way that doesn't just see them as merely subjective responses to art. These responses are world disclosive, they open up something about the world not just human dispositions. His meditations on these two artworks, the shoes and the temple, are in the sense, he is obviously giving an interpretation, he is trying to get into the spirit of the work to see how it opens up a world. In early periods of art prior to modern periods, where art became aesthetic, and aesthetic became ways of human expression, rather than world disclosure. Then the modern world of art became a kind of designated area of culture, so you have things like museums and concerts and so on. Prior to this period art, what we called art was an experience into the way of the world and peoples. For example, a cathedral which can be seen as an art object, or as a living place for the religious person. Aesthetic terms broaden it, but a cathedral is a world. Thus, for Heidegger, to understand the Greek temple is to understand more then architecture. The artwork matters for Heidegger unlike the expression theory.
Heidegger's interpretation leads to the idea of the hermeneutic circle. Humans don't come to something in a fresh new way, we bring baggage with us, like our culture and education, thus it shapes us in how we see art a circle of knowledge. Another way of saying you can't put the subject on one side and the object on the other side. The subject can't divorce itself from one way of thinking and say to look at the object all by itself. Anything we come across in the world will always be partly influenced by things we bring to it already; such as our upbringing, culture, expectations, etc. No such thing as what some philosophers term "a view from nowhere." This is a circle; interpretation is not just a subjective thing. This circle is a circulation between things and us; Hatab thinks the idea of a foreign language interpreter is the best metaphor because a language interpreter is standing in between the speaker and the audience.
Heidegger's phenomenology says how do we approach art on its own terms. Just respond to the work. He concedes the way we approach art isn't going to have a correct answer, it is going to be a responsiveness, and he is going to try to embody that in his essay. A key idea for Heidegger is art is world disclosive not just subjective expression. He uses Van Gogh's painting of peasant shoes to evoke out of the painting elements of the world of someone who wears these shoes. This is Heidegger's method. Just as Heidegger would say there are different kinds of phenomena; there are different kinds of truths. For Heidegger scientific truth can't be the only measure or only arbiter of what counts as truth, so there can be truth in an artwork. More original idea of truth is unconcealment = Greek "alçtheia" = uncovering, or unhidden. He thinks there is something in this word prior to its philosophical baggage that could be revealing. Rather then saying that truth is something that is the matching of the subjective state with an objective fact, it is a way of uncovering the way the world appears, unconcealing it. Before we see truth, it is concealed. This flexibility is a way art can act as unconcealing. How much truth is in a great novel, which is fiction? A tragic drama isn't just a work of fiction. Greeks knew that it was fiction but also it contained truths. For Heidegger, they are world disclosive. Novel and fiction, these words have modern biases for us. Aristotle in poetics wrote that poetry taught universal truths. It shows something about our existence.
In Greek world, myth, and poetry was pre philosophical world. It was already on the scene powerfully influencing Greeks on how to understand their world. Philosophers when they came on the scene, not surprisingly, found themselves as contestants with the poets. Because, the philosophers' are trying to do something different like categories and concepts. Poetry was simply inspired meaningful works of expression and stories that illuminated us. Heidegger talks about pre-philosophical experience and our ordinary ways of dealing with the world, but then he could talk about pre-philosophical cultural experience, which is where poetry and myth come in. All cultures have mythical poetic beginnings; they don't begin rationally and objectively. Myth and poetry is found in all human cultures. Myth and poetry elevated understanding beyond the everyday practices to something significant, something larger. However, it seemed evident to many philosophers, Plato especially, that poets were not only contestants they were obstacles to philosophy to do what it does. In a way that is true, because philosophy is something different, but they had to fight it out, that is why Plato wants to banish poets. However, Heidegger says that it is important that human understanding have this mythical basis. Because the thing about myth is that, it is not this abstract, reflexive and analytical, and argumentative. It is expressive with living meaning and so on, it is responsive in a very visceral way. Thus, Heidegger seems to think that philosophy itself needs to honor pre-philosophical experience and pre-philosophical cultural formations like myth and poetry. To do a philosophy of art, to press it into pre conceived philosophical structures is to already to of lost it. Greeks respond to myth the way Christians respond to the New Testament, it is a world disclosive text.
Heidegger finds that art shakes us out of our complacency. Tragedy is a disturbing truth. Experience of wonder is primal. This is also truth as Heidegger sees it; art is a form of truth, an unconcealment it is experience of a deep understanding of our world like Van Gogh's painting of peasant shoes and the Greek temple he talked about. Heidegger adds one other item to the circular artworld notion of artwork, artist, audience, artworld that is the idea that art is world disclosive. Moral ruin is part of Greek tragedy. Heidegger says what is going on in art is this circulation between the work and the audience, and his third category of preserver (another way of saying artworld, and audience). Heidegger's concept of the preservers is the fact that art is not just made by artists and viewed by audiences, but that art is preserved in a culture in institutional ways and all these things go together.
I recommend this work for anyone interested in philosophy, epistemology, ontology, philosophy of art, art history, and Greek culture.
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