I resonate a lot with Martin Heidegger’s philosophy because he recognized the connections between time, existence, and being human. Therefore, he has been my go-to philosopher for existential phenomenology. Although Heidegger’s association with Nazism can be controversial for some people, I don’t really have a problem with it. This is because what we resonate with has more to do with ourselves than the author of the material. For me, the wisdom in his writings comes from a greater source outside of his human self. This wisdom brings us back to the root of being human. Certain passages in Heidegger’s essays are quite inspirational. So in this 3-part blog post series, I will use quotes from Poetry, Language, Thought to present some key messages about our collective human existence.
Note: This post is an updated version of a blog post from my old site poignantlandscapes.wordpress.com (Original date: Aug. 28, 2017).
What does it mean to be poetic?
If you have read my About Page, you would know that my Chinese name means “rhyming poem.” However, I’m not much of a literary poet. Other than the few poems I wrote a couple years back as a way to get myself out of feeling “stuck”, I don’t remember writing poetry since elementary school. But I don’t think being poetic is about writing poems.
I believe that being poetic is an attitude towards life. It is a way to see the world. There are many places where poetry resides. And for me, landscapes are a kind of poetry. Heidegger’s essays “What are poets for?” and “…Poetically man dwells…” address the essence of being poetic. I share the optimism of the essays’ conclusion: that we are are all capable of dwelling poetically because it is part of being human.
So here I wish everyone inspiration to live poetically!
“The default of God means that no god any longer gathers men and things unto himself, visibly and unequivocally, and by such gathering disposes the world’s history and man’s sojourn in it.
The default of God forebodes something grimmer, however. Not only have the gods and the god fled, but the divine radiance has become extinguished in the world’s history. The time of the world’s night is the destitute of time, because it becomes ever more destitute. It has already grown so destitute, it can no longer discern the default of God as a default.” (p. 89)
The loss of faith is the end of humanity’s spiritual connection to the cosmos, which is what gathers us all together.
“For generally the utilization of machinery and the manufacture of machines is not yet technology itself – it is only an instrument concordant with technology, whereby the nature of technology is established in the objective character of its raw materials. Even this, that man becomes the subject and the world the object, is a consequence of technology’s nature establishing itself, and not the other way around.” (p. 110)
Technology has allowed humans to objectify the world. This means that rather than using technology as tools, technology has assumed its control over us.
“Modern man, however, is called the one who wills. The more venturesome will more strongly in that they will in a different way from the purposeful self-assertion of the objectifying of the world. Their willing wills nothing of this kind.” (p. 138)
Through objectification, modern humans will their way through life. Yet, there are those who will differently and more courageously.
“Poets who are of the more venturesome kind are under way on the track of the holy because they experience the unholy as such. Their song over the land hallows. Their singing hails the integrity of the globe of Beings.” (p. 138)
These courageous people are the poets. Even without God, they can still find the holy in the unholy of everyday modernity.
“We would reflect on language itself, and on language only. Language itself is – language and nothing else besides. Language itself is language.” (p. 188)
Poets understand language as language. There is language to language.
“What does it mean to speak?
The current view declares that speech is the activation of the organs for sounding and hearing. Speech is the audible expression and communication of human feelings. These feelings are accompanied by thoughts.” (p. 190)
We usually think of speaking as scientific bodily process—a sound made by the vocal organs. Through this process, feelings and thoughts are expressed.
“We still give too little consideration, however, to the singular role of these correct ideas about language. They hold sway, as if unshakable, over the whole field of the varied scientific perspectives on language. The have their roots in an ancient tradition. Yet they ignore completely the oldest natural cast of language.” (p. 191)
But there is more to speech and language. Language has ancient wisdom.
“…in the between of world and thing, in their inter, division prevails: a dif-ference.” (p. 199)
“The dif-ference is neither distinction nor relation. The difference is, at most, dimension for world and thing…The dif-ference is the dimension, insofar as it measures out, apportions, world and thing, each to its own.” (p. 200)
Something exists between a thing and its world. This something exists in a dimension of its own.
“The calling of the dif-ference is the double stilling. The gathered bidding, the command, in the form of which the dif-ference calls world and things, is the peal of stillness. Language speaks that the command of the dif-ference calls world and things into the simple onefold of their intimacy.” (p. 205)
Language can call forth this something between world and thing, and bring world and thing together. Language helps us dwell poetically.
“But how is ‘man’– and this means every man and all the time – supposed to dwell poetically? Does not all dwelling remain incompatible with the poetic? Our dwelling is harassed by the housing shortage. Even if that were not so, our dwelling today is harassed by work, made insecure by the hunt for gain and success, bewitched by the entertainment and recreation industry.” (p. 211)
But with a modern lifestyle, do we dwell poetically? Can we dwell poetically?
“Man, as man, has always measured himself with and against something heavenly.” (p. 218)
“The measure consists in the way in which the god who remains unknown, is revealed as such by the sky.” (p. 220)
As humans, we use the sky to gauge our own sense of divinity. What does the state of our skies tell us about ourselves?
“What remains alien to the god, the sight of the sky – this is what is familiar to man. And what is that? Everything that shimmers and blooms in the sky and thus under the sky and thus on earth, everything that sounds and is fragrant, rises and comes – but also everything that goes and stumbles, moans and falls silent, pales and darkens…
But the poet calls all the brightness of the sights of the sky and every sound of its courses and breezes into the singing word and there makes them shine and ring again…
The poet calls, in the sights of the sky, that which in its very self-disclosure causes the appearance of that which conceals itself, and indeed as that which conceals itself. In the familiar appearances, the poet calls the alien as that to which the invisible imparts itself in order to remain what it is – unknown.” (p. 223)
The poet can call forth the heavenly through language. The poet can make the invisible visible and make things appear from what was once concealed.
“But poetry, as the authentic gauging of the dimension of dwelling, is the primal form of building. Poetry first of all admits man’s dwelling into its very nature, its presencing being. Poetry is the original admission of dwelling.” (p. 224)
Poetry is the essence of dwelling in our existence.
“Do we dwell poetically? Presumably we dwell altogether unpoetically.” (p. 225)
“That we dwell unpoetically, and in what way, we can in any case learn only if we know the poetic.” (p. 226)
“The poetic is the basic capacity for human dwelling. But man is capable of poetry at any time only to the degree which his being is appropriate to that which itself has a liking for man and therefore needs his presence. Poetry is authentic or inauthentic according to the degree of this appropriation.” (p. 226)
If we know that we are dwelling unpoetically, then we must know what it means to dwell poetically by default.
We are all capable of being poetic by dwelling authentically.
What does it mean to dwell authentically? See part-2 on the poetry of things.
Heidegger, Martin. 1971. Poetry. Language, Thought. Trans. by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper Perennial.