Heidegger in a destitute time
Thursday, 9 Apr 2020
In the final sections of Being and Time, Heidegger first sees Dasein as being potentially integrated in a positive sense into a community.
He saw in the political events of the 1920s and 30s as an opportunity to bring this integration to fruition in the future.
Forcing his philosophy into the cultural politics of the time by taking up the post of Rector in 1933, Heidegger thought he would remove the blockers to his philosophical ambition on a cultural front, thus complementing the action of the German government on the economic and military fronts.
He believed his philosophical ambition was of world historical importance and inexorably linked to the fate of Germany. He thought he was saving the West from Spenglerian decline, inathenticity and decadence, as well as Platonism and Judaism with their distortions of being over millennia.
We shall find it [the ground of the new philosophy] and, at the same time,the vocation of the German in Occidental history only when we expose ourselves to Being itself in a new mode of experiencing and assimilating it. Thus I experience the present purely in terms of the future. (Letter to Elisabeth Blochmann 1933)
Heidegger’sfailure to become führer to the Führer, i.e. transform the political revolution of 1933 into the philosophical revolution of Being and Time, did not deter him from pursuing the new authentic future.
The vacuum left by his disengagement from politics and resignation from the rectorship was filled by an engagement with literature, in particular the poetry of Hölderlin. With Germany’s defeat, this literary engagement was intensified.
In 1946, Heidegger opened his reflection entitled What Are Poets For? with the following quote from Hölderlin’s ‘Bread and Wine’:
…and what are poets for in a destitute time? …[when] 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 divine radiance has become extinguished in the world’s history.
Such a default means that the world is bereft of a ‘ground that grounds it,’ and is left in the abyss.
‘It is necessary that there be those who reach into the abyss', argues Heidegger and for him it is one mortal above the others, namely the poet, who is able to:
…sense the trace of the fugitive gods, stay on the god’s tracks, and so trace for their kindred mortals the way toward the turning. The ultimate destiny of the poet ‘in a destitute time’ is to reach out to the god who will save us.
The god stands for the Being and Time philosophy, the future authenticity of being that Heidegger had once hoped would be ushered in, under his personal cultural guidance, by a German victory in the war.
In the famous Der Spiegel interview of 1966, Heidegger said that ‘only a god can still save us’.
He added later in the interview:
I think Hölderlin is the poet who points toward the future, who expects the god, and who therefore cannot remain simply a subject for Hölderlin research in the literary historical imagination.© John Dunn.