Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Kitsch

In Apocryphal Lorca, Jonathan Mayhew argues that "the American duende [is] a reduction of Lorca's complexity into an easily digested concept. The duende, shocking to say, is the form taken by Lorquian kitsch." I feel exactly that way about Heidegger's Dasein.

An interesting thought occured to me while reading one of Jonathan's seminar papers. Wittgenstein's key concepts "language game" and "form of life" are standardly translated, i.e., they are known by those English labels, not "Sprachspiel" or "Lebensform". This may have saved Wittgenstein's concepts from being reduced to kitsch.

"Dasein" and "Ereignis" are, of course, standardly left untranslated in Heidegger.

Heidegger's rich understanding of what we might otherwise have called "presence" and "event" remain largely unavailable to English readers, and whatever does reach us is mired in (inexorably romantic) German idealism, simply because his followers refuse to translate him. It would have been very hard, I grant, to translate "Dasein" as "presence" in every instance in Being and Time, but I think understanding what he meant requires that we try. In fact, I suspect that the whole "postmodern" critique of "the metaphysics of presence" lacks a great deal of background in the "analytic of Dasein", which could be read, precisely, as the analytic of presence.

One difficulty lies in the fact that Heidegger does actually use the notion of "presence" separately. He uses the German word "Anwesenheit". Another lies in the standard translation of "Vorhandenheit" as "presence-at-hand". I think these problems are surmountable. The question here is whether it would have been possible to apply Heidegger's insights to experiences that are already named in the English language, rather than using German terms or inventing quasi-English ones.

Kitsch here arises in the insinuation that only Germans can really understand the truth of "man's ownmost being". Similarly, Lorca's duende, when used in translation (and itself left untranslated), grants a strange priority to Andalusian experience. Heidegger, and, it seems, Lorca, had considerably less local, less "provincial", ambitions when they raised the issue.


mongibeddu said...

I agree with this 95%. The 5% is pretty minor: I'd call Dasein as English term mystification rather than kitsch.

Great post!

Ben F.

Thomas said...

Thanks. I think there is a link between mystification and kitsch. "Duende" is no doubt also a mystification in English. So maybe I can put you down for 97.5%?

pensum said...

Why do you have a problem with "duende"? and what would you suggest as an english equivalent? i've always found the term quite clear and a welcome addition to the English language.

Your points on "dasein" and "ereignis" are rather interesting, and the comparison to translating Wittgentstein in particular.

thanks thomas.

Thomas said...

I defer to Jonathan on duende. I think he's right to say that by not translating it as, say, "genius of place", it was too open to being filled in with our Andalusian fantasies.

Z said...

The Chicago blog changed its links.

Thomas said...

Thanks. Fixed it.