Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 9/18

From time to time the name “Martin Heidegger” has popped up in posts on this blog, usually followed by a statement to the effect of “but I don’t really feel like getting into Heidegger at the moment.” I’m certainly no expert on Heidegger, whose thought was as profound as his life was reprehensible, but I’m enough of an admirer from the sidelines that I feel relatively guilt-free discussing a few of his ideas that have had a formative role in determining how I personally perceive this loud, silly world in which we find ourselves thrown.

Heidegger’s philosophy is by no means infallible (though I’m sure many Heidegger scholars would lead you to believe otherwise), but ever since I was introduced to Heidegger’s work through reading “The Question Concerning Technology” a couple years ago for a philosophy course, I’ve found his ideas pretty damn useful in making sense of all sorts of stuff I’ve encountered. And what have I encountered more often than works of art?

Luckily for me, Heidegger confronted art head-on in the latter stages of his life, writing the very worthwhile (and very obtuse) “The Origin of the Work of Art”, which can be found in a collection of his writings entitled Poetry, Language, Thought. For Heidegger, as for many other art theorists, the essential function of art has something or other to do with truth, with creating or beholding an object which somehow relates to something else in the world. Of course, Heidegger had a very different conception of truth than what most people are familiar with: for Heidegger, truth is aletheia, the unveiling of something concealed, the process by which something in the shadowy shadows of the ready-to-hand (the realm of stuff which we’re not really conscious of or aren’t directly related to but which nevertheless must be there in order for the world to be what it is) moves into the bright sunny light of the present-at-hand (just the opposite of the ready-to-hand, that is to say, the realm of stuff that humans can consciously access).

For Heidegger, then, it logically follows that art is a mode of aletheia, a process by which something concealed is revealed to the spectator. The work of art is the vehicle that transports something dwelling in the darkness (the subject of a work of art) into the light of human access. This process is described in the first paragraph of the passage I’ve quoted below.

The second paragraph deals with the phenomenon I brought up the other day: the general lack of reflectiveness amongst folks my age. Now, people have been complaining about unreflectiveness since forever ago; but Heidegger interestingly linked unreflectiveness to artistic discourse, specifically in the case of the tendency to label a work of art “a masterpiece” or “a classic” or anything to that effect. For Heidegger, employing such language is the easy way out: it’s a means of deflecting the responsibility of really coming to grips with what a work of arts stands for and what a work of art does. I empathize with this sentiment, though I’m obviously guilty of using those unthoughtful words myself.

Thinking about art, as Heidegger explains, is an imperative task so long as art exists as something for humans to encounter. If we follow this path, it then becomes the task of the critic to think about and try to come to grips with works of art without employing language which makes the task easier than it ought to be. This is partly why in my film reviews you’ll almost never see me summarize a film’s story or declare that it’s some sort of transcendent masterpiece: these are fine ways of getting around the real job of the critic, which is to take a work of art and actually try to do something meaningful with it. Besides, I’m too forgetful to retain most of the events that make up your run-of-the-mill cinematic narrative.

Art, as the setting-into-work of truth, is poetry. Not only the creation of the work is poetic, but equally poetic, though in its own way, is the preserving of the work; for a work is in actual effect as a work only when we remove ourselves from our commonplace routine and move into what is disclosed by the work, so as to bring our own nature itself to take a stand in the truth of what is.

[…] To be sure, people speak of immortal works of art and of art as an eternal value. Speaking this way means using that language which does not trouble with precision in all essential matters, for fear that in the end to be precise would call for—thinking. And is there any greater fear today than that of thinking? Does this talk about immortal works and the eternal value of art have any content or substance? Or are these merely the half-baked clichés of an age when great art, together with its nature, has departed from among men?

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