Blesok no. 92, September-October, 2013
Martin Heidegger on Poetic Dwelling
The text …Poetically Man Dwells… (dichterisch wohnet der Mensch) was first delivered as a lecture on 6th of October1951. It complements Building Dwelling Thinking delivered same year. Together, the two texts make a unified whole. While in the first text less attention was dedicated to thinking, in this one the “injustice” is corrected. Special consideration here is given to the relationship between thought and language. Language manifests itself, according to Heidegger, in all its glory through poetry. So he treats together poetry and thinking.
The title of this text is taken from a poem by the late Hölderlin. From thence Heidegger draws the central theme of the essay, namely, poetic dwelling. At the very outset of this essay, Heidegger asks the questions: “how is a man – and this means every man and all the time-supposed to dwell poetically?” and “does not all dwelling remain incompatible with the poetic?” (Heidegger 2001, 211). Heidegger sets these issues given the crisis of housing in post-war Germany. This lecture was given immediately after the Second World War, which led to an incomprehensible scale of destruction and massive shortage of homes. The increasing speed of life was another problem, the struggle for profit and success, as well as the expansion of the recreational industry. In a technological age, poetry was thus reduced to literature or dismissed as unnecessary dreaming. Along those lines, Heidegger criticizes Western technological understanding and the search for efficiency and effectiveness, for which, poetry is a waste of time. The phrase “poetically man dwells” is taken from the poem of the poet who, as Heidegger says: “himself was unable to cope with life” (2001: 212). Heidegger emphasizes that poetry is “the way of poets to shut their eyes to actuality. Instead of acting, they dream. What they make is merely imagined. The things of imagination are merely made” (2001: 212). Here, he complements on the notion of making which in Greek is called ποίησις. The main question is: how can a human dwelling be called poetic?
Heidegger continues the interpretation of the Hölderlin`s poem. The main focus is the interpretation of the phrase “…poetically man dwells…” He tries to interpret the meaning of this enigmatic phrase. Heidegger thinks that this statement “speaks of man’s dwelling. (…) [Hölderlin] does not describe today’s dwelling conditions. Above all, [he] does not assert that to dwell means to occupy a house, a dwelling place”(2001: 212). For Heidegger, poetic dwelling is much deeper than ordinary living in an apartment, thus he says: “when Hölderlin speaks of dwelling, he has before his eyes the basic character of human existence. He sees the “poetic,” moreover, by way of its relation to this dwelling, thus understood essentially” (2001: 213). In other words, the notion “dwelling” enters a special relationship with poetry, i.e., “poetry first causes dwelling to be dwelling. Poetry is what really lets us dwell “(2001: 213). For Heidegger, dwelling rests on poetic creation. And this is achieved, he thinks, through building. Thus, Heidegger concludes: “poetic creation, which lets us dwell, is a kind of building” (2001: 213).
Furthermore, Heidegger finds this particular kind of a building in the poetic creation. He thinks that we are facing a double claim. On the one hand, he stresses to deal with exploring the essence of dwelling, while on the other, the essence of poetic creation as letting dwell. However, he goes one step further, by saying that the essence of dwelling is a “distinctive kind of building” (2001: 213). The research of the essence of poetic creation, it seems, will lead us to the essence of dwelling.
One of the distinctive elements in Heidegger’s writing is the digging of the depths of language. Seeking the essence of dwelling and poetic creation, Heidegger comes to language. He thinks that the essence of a thing can be included, understood only as receiving. This receiving occurs as a result of listening to the speaking of language. As a mortal, one must be open to the speaking of language and have respect for the essence of this speech. Heidegger uncovers inversion of this relationship in the modern condition. It is the inversion of the primacy between language and man. He says: “man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man” (2001: 213). Namely, language is always first and highest in his primacy and then comes man. When this natural order is reversed, we come to a strange situation in which language is considered only as a means of expression, as secondary actor and mere medium. Heidegger says that this “error” with the loss of the primacy of language will not escape his thinking. Primacy of language is so important that even man “first speaks when, and only when, he responds to language by listening to its appeal” (2001: 214). Man is not in any state of a passive listener, but an active element. His task is to be open to the call of the language. This call is far from the technological ordering and much closer to poetic creation and the expectation of the Muses for the call to the poet to extract poetry from him, or rather, through him. The call of language, for Heidegger, refers to poetic creation and thinking. So he says that language directs us to the essence of a thing:
Poetic saying, it seems, has access to a deeper reality to the being itself. Language as a “house of being” calls us, and, it is up to us to respond. Namely, it depends on us whether we are open to the call, whether we are listening to/for it. For Heidegger, this listening creates a circle. It constantly reinforces the attitude of listening and responding to the call. The response to the call of language through poetic creation opens a place for us in freedom. Here also it is opened the place of truth understood in its fullness, not only in the usual meaning as simple accuracy or inaccuracy.
Dwells on this earth. (Heidegger 2001, 214)
The merits refer to human dwelling on Earth. Man dwells by fostering the growing things of the earth and through the rise of other things that do not grow bythemselves. Heidegger speaks of two kinds of building: one is of a nurturing and caring type (colere, cultura), as a way of bringing forth things that grow by themselves, while the other references raising, construction (aedificare), as a way of building, something distinctive for the modern age. For these two types of building, a man is “full of merit.” These merits, however, “can never fill out the nature of dwelling” (2001: 215). For Heidegger, these types of building are just a consequence of the essence of dwelling. They are “not its ground, let alone its grounding” (2001: 215). The grounding, Heidegger thinks, must come from a different kind of building. These two types of building are common, therefore we think they are the only kinds of building. They give merits to man.
For Heidegger, between building and dwellingthere is an essential relationship. He says: “man is capable of dwelling only if he has already built, is building, and remains disposed to build, in another way” (2001: 215). This raises more questions than it provides answers for Heidegger’s notion of poetic dwelling and building. From this statement we see that, for him, poetic dwelling refers not only to poets, but to all people at all the times. So, poetic dwelling is not only characteristic of the builders. It is a prerequisite for all dwelling! For Heidegger, only if a man “built, builds or will build” of this particular kind, only then is he capable of dwelling.
b. “on this earth”
Heidegger continues the interpretation of Hölderlin’s verses, stopping at individual words. For him the context is very important. Therefore, he interprets the expression “on this earth.” For Heidegger, an important fact is that it is “this” and not the earth in general. The poetic separates us from the earth, it makes us “fly in the clouds” and get into the realm of the fantastic. But Heidegger thinks this is a feature of poetry that can be labelled “distorted”. A “real” poetry strengthens us on Earth, and on “this earth” in particular. Heidegger says:
It can be concluded that for Heidegger, the essence of poetic creation is intimately tied to “this earth”. Precisely poetry, understood in terms of ποίησις, poetic creation, sets man upon the earth. From this the questionarises: “do we know now why man dwells poetically?” (2001: 216). Of course the answer is a clear – no!
c. Thinking and ποίησις
Heidegger is quite clear that there is a difference between his thinking and Hölderlin’s poetizing. He writes: “Hölderlin does not speak of poetic dwelling as our own thinking does. Despite all this, we are thinking the same thing that Hölderlin is saying poetically “(2001: 216). There is a difference between the same and the equal. This applies both to poetry and thought, and to Hölderlin’s poetry and Heidegger’s thinking.
Here, once again, we can recognize Heidegger’s critique of modern, technological world view, as opposed to the poetic. On the one hand, technological worldview sees things through the prism of their identity or difference. Therefore, there is a mass production of identical units. Against the technological paradigm stands the poetic. According to it, no work of poetic creation is identical. for each has a certain element of diversity. And Heidegger uses this premise to emphasize that his thinking is not identical to that of Hölderlin, although it is same in its essence.
The poetic measuring represents a central theme of the text …Poetically Man Dwells… Man stays on earth between it and the sky. He also stands between his own essence as mortal and the immortals. Heidegger continues:
In this section, Heidegger seems to goes back to the ideas of The Origin of the Work of Art (Heidegger 2001, 17–86). Especially about the opposition between the heaven and the earth. Perhaps this opposition refers to the playing between concealed and unconcealed, tangible and incomprehensible. Man lives on earth but looking up. The technological worldview is measured against the eternal ordering, versus nothingness. Heidegger’s poetic dwelling, however, is focused on the beyond. However, he does not turn to theology. Heidegger is looking to the divine as such. Here he introduces the ontological difference: for Heidegger, it seems, the ontical aspect of divinity is not as important as the ontological aspect. Divine as such is the basis of all divinity. The measurement between heaven and earth, it seems, refers to measurement between ontical and ontological.
a. The Between (das Zwischen)
The between (das Zwischen) refers to the tension of the ontological difference (see Schalow and Denker, 2010, 72-73). It is a tension between Being and beings. It extends the clearing where Being both shows and conceals itself. Thus, the between represents the open, where the concealed and the unconcealed meet. On the one hand, the earth is the one that conceals itself, and on the other, the Sky expresses the unconcealment, the clearing. The between these two open the space of the open. Thus, the role of dimension consists of this span between. Heidegger says:
Heidegger uses “between” as a noun. Rather, it should be translated as “the betweeness”. In Being and time (1978), he uses it to indicate the distance between a chair and the wall (1978, 55; Inwood, 1999, 33). Dasein as being-in-the-world is “the between.” This “between” refers to the place of man between birth and death. Man (Dasein) “stretches” between birth and death. In Being and time, he says:
This recollection of being and it is time in order to lighten the importance of the “between” for Heidegger. From this quote at least two ideas may be drawn that are useful for the research of latter thinking of Heidegger. The first is the relationship with death and mortality. The ‘between’ refers to stretched between birth and death, between the arrival and the departure. On the other hand, there is the care (Sorge). For Heidegger, the care is characteristic of poetic dwelling. The schism between poetic and non-poetic dwelling, between the technological a way of revealing and the poetic, lies precisely in the care. Man does not care for technological disclosure. For the poetic, on the contrary, the care is the key factor self-understanding of the mortal and the historical people. He cares for being taking care of things for their thinging.
Furthermore, in What is a thing (Heidegger, 1967, 243; Inwood, 1999, 34), Heidegger refers to Kant’s thought of the ability to comprehend things that we have not make. In this respect, Heidegger thinks that we should neither focus on objects nor on our physical experience, nor on both. He thinks that we need to recognize and know:
1. that we must always move in the between, between man and the thing;
2. that this between exists only as we move into it;
3. that this between is not as a rope stretching from the thing to man, but as this between as an anticipation (Vorgriff) reaches beyond the thing and equally behind us. Reaching-front (Vor-griff) means being thrown back (Rück-wurf). (1967, 243)
This short digression should help us in reaching the meaning of the expression “between” has for Heidegger.
The measure, of which Heidegger speaks, according to the poem of Hölderlin, is a measure that is not only about the earth. He says that earth in Greek is γη. Hence, the word geometry. This measuring not only refers to the earth but also to heaven (ουρανος). Measure-taking “gauges the between, which brings the two, heaven and earth, to one another. This measure-taking has its own metron, and thus its own metric.” (Heidegger 2001, 219). This measure “is the poetic in the dwelling” (Heidegger 2001, 219). Heidegger continues of measurement:
Heidegger here draws emphasis on poetic creation. He says that any poetic creation means taking measure. But man is measured against divine. Therefore, this measure is not “normal”. It is a measuring against the beyond. The measure that man receives is in terms of his essence as a mortal. Heidegger continues:
Again the emphasis is put on human mortality. This “constant dying” of man doesn’t refer to the ending of life, but a much deeper experience as a mortal , dwelling with constant awareness of mortality and death as death. Dwelling in the “between”. Continuous dying does not refer nor to Plato’s concept of philosophy as the practice of dying. For Plato, the death in this sense bears an epistemological character. The philosopher dies so as to be separated from the world of creation and thus get closer to the world of forms. Constant death of Plato’s some kind of practice, probably something like yoga, designed to separate the subject from the object of knowledge. For Heidegger death means the exact opposite! Mortality is the essence of man. The man exists as a man only as mortal. Continuous dying, for Heidegger, it seems, refers to the continuous validation of its own essence as a mortal.
c. Measuring against the godhead
The man poetically dwells, according to Heidegger, only if measured against the divinity. The essence of divinity lies in his concealment (Verborgenheit). But the essence of measuring lies precisely in the opposite – unconcealment. In order for man to measure something, he should take measure against something else that is tangible, measurable. Measuring against the divinity is unusual, because God is the one who is mysterious. Alike the mystical wisdom teachings of the ancient times, Heidegger seeksthe hidden God in his disclosure. He says:
As a mortal, man is measured against the immortals. Thus, the paradox lies in that according to poetic measuring, the measure of a man is the hidden god. Though hidden, he is manifested. Heidegger asks, whatis the measure of measurement. The answer is given in almost a Slavic antithesis, wondering whether it is God, is it the sky or the manifestness of the sky. For each of these questions, the answer is – no. Heidegger thinks that the measure is in:
This measure for Heidegger is some kind of a “strange measure.” He emphasizes that it is peculiar for everyday petty-bourgeois opinion. In its insolence, it positions itself as a standard to all thinking. Heidegger builds on scientific thinking that also imposed itself as almighty and positions itself as the measure of reality as a whole. He stresses that for the scientific worldview, a common measure is a twine, or a ruler with tallies, denoting a particular unit of measurement. Measurement in this sense is about stretching the ruler and counting the tallies. Heidegger writes: “by the use of something known-measuring rods and their number-something unknown is stepped off and thus made known, and so is confined within a quantity and order which can always be determined at a glance.” (2001: 222). It can be said that poetic measuring is exactly the opposite. It is using something unfamiliar (god), to measure the familiar. Heidegger believes that “only this measure gauges the very nature of man, since man dwells by spanning the “on the earth” and the “beneath the sky.” This “on” and “beneath” belong together. Their interplay is the span that man traverses at every moment insofar as he is as an earthly being” (2001: 221). These two kinds of measurement are essentially different. Here again comes to light the ontological difference. Heidegger wonders about the essence of measuring and the difference between the essence of number with the number:
d. What is god?
This measure is measuring against god. Heidegger asks the question: “What is God?” The Poetry of Hölderlin certainly concludes that god is foreign to man just as man is foreign to the deity. There is a schism between the two sides. What is foreign to god is known to man. And it is “[E]verything 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 fells silent, pales and darkens. Into this, which is intimate to man but alien to the god, the unknown imparts himself, in order to remain guarded within it as the unknown” (2001: 223). The role of the poet is not simply to describe it, but, something deeper. We can say, even a kind of Gnostic understanding of reality! The poet, for Heidegger, describes the hidden and the invisible. To this, he arrives through the visible and the known. Describing everyday events, the poet speaks of profound and hidden truths. The visible becomes a symbol of the invisible. Heidegger continues: “The poet makes poetry only when he takes the measure, by saying the sights of heaven in such a way that he submits to its appearances as to the alien element to which the unknown god has “yielded.” Our current name for the sight and appearance of something is “image.” The nature ofthe image is to let something be seen” (2001: 223).
Heidegger considered that the poet uses the most appropriate tool for this expression of the invisible through the visible, the image. He considers that poetry speaks in images because:
The poetic image it can be added, nor is meteorological description of weather, nor some journalistic coverage of an event or place. The poet takes the event and turns it into an inner image of reality, into icon of the unspeakable. The man is an image of the divine. The man is an icon of the Deity! Thus arises their coming together. Furthermore, interpreting the poem, Heidegger says:
Is there a measure on earth?
And he must reply: “There is none.” Why? Because what we signify when we say “on the earth” exists only insofar as man dwells on the earth and in his dwelling lets the earth be as earth. (2001: 224)
Blueness here that Heidegger introduces refers to a feature of the evening skyas a member the fourfold (see Davis, 2010, 213). Heidegger, it seems, wants to emphasize that there is noabsolute day, nor night. For him the sky “names an inviting space of neither presence nor absence” (Ibid.). Heidegger specifically deals with the concept the blueness of sky in On the way to language (1971, 164-168). Blueness of the sky for Heidegger, it seems, is “between” the darkness of night and the light of the dawn. He says:
Furthermore, in On the way the language, Heidegger writes
For Heidegger, this blueness of the sky is a reflection of the conflicted human essence. Of course, the essence of man is mortality. From these examples of On the way the language is seen that for Heidegger, blue is not just an adjective like so dumped the pages of this text. For Heidegger not a word is in vain!
The authentic dwelling of man on Earth is possible only if he takes the “measure of all measures.” Poetic creation is the original kind of building. According to Heidegger “poetry is the original creation of housing allowance” (Heidegger 2001, 225). For him, building and dwelling are essentially related, “man dwells if he builds.” Authentic dwelling is only possible if we already built, not in the usual sense, but a poetic one. Heidegger believes that “man is capable of such building only if he already builds in the sense ofthe poetic taking of measure. Authentic building occurs so for as there are poets, such poets as take the measure for architecture, the structure of dwelling” (2001: 225).
a. Poetic dwelling
Poetic creation and dwelling are essentially tied. Heidegger says: “Poetry builds up the very nature of dwelling. Poetry and dwelling not only do not exclude each other; on the contrary, poetry and dwelling belong together, each calling for the other” (2001: 225). Poetic creation, poetic building is foundation of the poetic dwelling. But, according to the statement of the poet …Poetically Man Dwells…, the question arises: does man really dwell poetically? Of course response Heidegger’s is no! Man dwells opposite of the poetic dwelling. Man, says Heidegger, dwells unpoetic! The question is whether the poet tells untruth. Heidegger believes that it is not the case. He says:
Hence our dwelling is non-poetic precisely because dwelling is essentially poetic. Therefore, we notice this gap in our existence, the lack of the poetic in our dwelling. Heidegger refers to the same poem by Hölderlin which sings of “the measure of all measures.” He concludes: “Thus it might be that our unpoetic dwelling, its incapacity to take the measure, derives from a curious excess of frantic measuring and calculating” (2001: 225-226). Again, we see here the critique of modern technology and its essence. Heidegger criticizes frenzy hysterical measurement and measurement that is completely contrary to the essence of the measurement of the poetic measure. Similar to The Question Concerning Technology (Heidegger 1977), Heidegger here finds the saving power exactly where the greatest danger lies. The word Danger Here we consider not as a threat but as that danger, as the greatest danger. The turning of the unpoetic dwelling in poetic can be achieved only if you stick to poetic creation as a paradigm of creation. Heidegger concludes: “poetic creation e basic human power of housing” (2001: 226). The poetic creation is authentic or unauthentic if man accepts the divine call.
Heidegger finishes the text …Poetically Man Dwells…, with the answer to the question for authentic poetic creation. Once again he draws the keyword from the poem of Hölderlin. It is the grace. This corresponds to the Greek word χάρις, according to a verse of the Sophocle’s Ajax:
χάριςχάρινγάρέστιν ἡ τίκτους’ άεί
(For kindness it is, that ever calls forth kindness.)
Heidegger continues the interpretation Hölderlin’s verses: “As long as Kindness, the Pure, still stays with his heart ….” This “his heart”, Heidegger interpreted in a way that “it has come to the dwelling being of man, come as the claim and appeal of the measure to the heart in such a way that the heart turns to give heed to the measure.” (2001: 227). This is the point of Heidegger’s interpretation the poetic dwelling and poetic creation that man should dwell with the heart and not just with reason.
But what is “heart” for Heidegger? In the 1942 summer semester lectures, published as Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister” (Hölderlin;s Hymne “der Ister”), Heidegger says:
Heart, it seems, may be understood both as a human heart as well as the hearth a house. They complement each other. The heart of the home, the fireplace is the heart of the human life. There, man is being home. When the things are thinging, they gather the fourfold. It happens most strongly in the heart, around the fireplace. Here all things shine and open a world. In this world, gathered around the heart, around the hearth, a man understands himself in his mortality as a man, and that means as a mortal. The fire is again associated with instability, with mortality. Fire fades, as the heart fades. But only in death the pure presence is possible. Only measuring that the heart takes can provide dwelling and shelter. Only then are we filled with grace and only then we create poetry. Heidegger concludes:
Dreyfus, Hubert L., and Charles Spinosa. 1999. “Coping with Things-in-themselves: A Practice-Based Phenomenological Argument for Realism.” Inquiry 42 (1): 49–78. doi:Article.
Dreyfus, Hubert L., M.A. Wrathall, and J.E. Malpas. 2000. Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus: Heidegger, Coping, and Cognitive Science. Cambridge, M.; London: MIT Press.
Froment-Meurice, M. 1998. That Is to Say: Heidegger’s Poetics. Stanford, Ca, USA: Stanford University Press.
Heidegger, Martin. 1971. On the Way to Language. Translated by Peter D. Hertz. New York: HarperCollins.
———. 1977. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York; London: Garland Pub.
———. 1978. Being and Time. Oxford: Blackwell.
———. 1996. Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister”. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
———. 2001. Poetry, Language, Thought. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Perennical Classics.
Schalow, Frank, and Alfred Denker. 2010. Historical Dictionary of Heidegger’s Philosophy. Scarecrow Press.
1. TRUTH (Wahrheit). “According to Heidegger, the original meaning of truth is unconcealment, alètheia. Truth is the belonging together of being and thinking. The belonging together is language. Language is the house of being. From this basic structure Heidegger derives two different concepts of truth: ontic truth of entities and ontological truth of being, as such. Being reveals itself in the presence of entities and at the same time withdraws and thus conceals itself.” (Schalow and Denker 2010, 277–278)
2. i.e. truth – “UNCONCEALMENT (Unverborgenheit). Unconcealment is the term that Heidegger uses to translate word for truth, alètheia. It is the unfolding of the self-revealing-concealing of being. Being reveals itself in the presence of entities, while simultaneously withdrawing into the beingness of entities and concealing itself in the process.” (Schalow and Denker 2010, 282)
3. THING (Ding). “The unique dynamic of a thing is its “thinging,” that is, bringing into nearness of the fourfold. A thing gathers the four, earth and sky, divinities and mortals, into the light of their mutual belonging. In its thinging, the thing gathers and unites the fourfold and thus also things the world. Things appears as things out of the ringing of the world’s mirror-play.” (Schalow and Denker 2010, 269)