Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Adam Kirsch on Heidegger

There is a great essay by Adam Kirsch in the latest poetry magazine about Heidegger's conception of language and poetry.

Only poetry in this larger sense—only the art of language—makes possible a full understanding of an artwork's "world." Language, the distinctively human possession, is what allows "stone, plant, and animal" to be fully perceived, in a way that they can't perceive themselves. "Where there is no language . . . there is also no openness of what is," Heidegger writes. "Language, by naming beings for the first time, first brings beings to word and to appearance." Only by talking and writing about something can we really understand what it is and what it means.

I am obviously not well-read enough, but it seems to me to be an extreme position - the idea that language is central to any conception of consciousness i.e only when you name things that they come into being in your head.

Anybody knows a good introductory book on the subject? Apart from Heidegger or Philosophical Investigations of course?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Try (and I may have got this title slightly wrong)....
"The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes - it's actually an easier read than the title might suggest.

And yes, basically it says that without language, conscious thought just doesn't exist.

Roxana Ghita said...

It might be a radical conception (which I don't actually believe it to be), but it is not only about "things come into being in your head when you name it" - it has to do with the whole idea of being and openness (aletheia) that one has to grasp precisely in the way Heidegger uses those concepts to avoid misunderstanding. Only language, and most of all poetical language, can disclose the real essence of things, can bring forth the truth. I find Heidegger's essays on Trakl and Hoelderlin to be among the most beautiful and powerful texts ever written on the nature of poetry. And of course the best introduction to these two magnificent poets.

Alok said...

anon: thanks, i hadn't heard of it. Will try to find out more and see if i can find it.

roxana: I have seen and read parts of his essays collected in the volume Poetry, Language and Thought. I found it a little difficult initially and then didn't try much because I didn't have time. I will pick it up again and see if I understand a bit more this time. That collection also has an essay on Rilke.

The hawk said...

There is an essay by Walter Benjamin, 'On language as such' in which he quites takes the other view about how by naming these objects, we destroy the god given name etc. It is another extreme view, but given the nature of benjamin, it is quite understandable. Might be worth reading.

km said...

Interesting. (Though the Buddhist view of knowledge is that knowledge or re-cognition comes in way of perceiving things directly, which, IMHO, is essential for poetry.)

Alok said...

hawk: Thanks for the Benjamin reference. I will try to see if I can find it. I don't know if it is there in the "Illuminations" collection because I remember reading some parts of it but never came across this particular one you mention. I suspect I will sympathise more with Benjamin... There is something inherently alienating in language, at least in its common day-to-day conception.

km: I find myself agreeing to this idea more and more these days. It is a common feeling I think. Most of us quite often feel that words make it difficult to be-in-the-world. The reverse side is that the objective knowledge you can gather only by alienating yourself, by keeping yourself apart from the external world... lots of abstruse thoughts.