Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading Heidegger

In "Science and Reflection", Heidegger tells us that "science is the theory of the real." But he is quick to assure us that it is not the task of philosophy to tell us that. In fact, it tells us very little. It is, at bottom, a question; and it is the task of philosophy to interrogate such definitions, not make them.

I think that is basically right. More generally, I think it is the task of philosophers to describe specific knowledge claims (scientific moments, if you will) in terms of "the theory of the real". That is, Heidegger's definition gives us a guide for how to proceed.

One important feature of the definition, to my mind, is the tension between "theory" and "the real". Science is not a description of reality but a theory of the real. There is an implicit sense of brute reality, on the one hand, and a "mere" theory of it, on the other. That is, science is an approximation of the real, an approach to it. Philosophy exists in the tension of that proximity.

My concern, as always, is what this means for poetry. We begin (I've done this before) by saying that politics is the practice of the ideal. Again, there is a tension between pristine ideality on the one hand and "mere" practice on the other. Practical matters seem somehow degenerate. But politics is precisely the dirty business of approximating the ideal without ever reaching it. If science is our (theoretical) approach to reality, politics is our (practical) approach to ideality.

(Here one might stop to read Borges' "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim".)

Poetry works the tension between our practices and the ideals they approximate. It resides, not in the proximity of either politics or ideality, but, rather, in their proximity to each other. Again, I find Kasey Mohammad's notion of "ethical stickiness" useful.

In philosophy, there is a corresponding epistemic stickiness.


Javiera said...

I'm glad to see strangers out there with philosophical inclinations.

I had read Borges' The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim almost literally, without giving further thought to its applications to the theory of reality. It's the eternal problem of the young reader. (If you read those same passages in your late-twenties, you underlie them on a different color.)

My first and only attempt to read Heidegger's "Being and Time" failed catastrophically - I dropped back to Nietzsche for a reality check and never made it back. But short essays like Sience and Reflection may catapult me into a new attempt.

You post made this morning quite enjoyable.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks. Yes, on the surface Borges can seem like simply a (very good) science fiction writer. But then you notice the complexity of the distances and spaces he covers.

Michael said...


Way back when, I found Heidegger's _Introduction to Metaphysics_ a better (more successful) entryway into his work than B & T. Likewise, from a poet's perspective, _Poetry, Language, Thought_. For what it's worth.


Thomas Basbøll said...

I like IM, too, but I find Heideggers explicit ideas about art a bit tiresome. I much prefer to let him an authority on the phenomenology of experience and draw my own conclusions about poetry.

I dip into BT with that aim in mind and return to passages again and again. You might like this post, which is an indication of the sorts of things I find.

I haven't read "Poetry, Language, Thought", but may now do so.