Sunday, February 12, 2012

Heidegger and Pound, Philosophy and Poetry

In Being and Time, Heidegger is sometimes quite diplomatic (if always resolute) about the relationship of philosophy (i.e., phenomenology) to other disciplines. For example: "Dasein's ways of behaviour, its capacities, powers, possibilities, and vicisitudes, have been studied with varying extent in philosophical psychology, in anthropology, ethics, and 'political science', in poetry, biography, and the writing of history, each in a different fashion. But the question remains whether these interpretations of Dasein have been carried through with a primordial existentiality comparable to whatever existentiell primordiality they may have possessed" (H. 16). Philosophy could presumably do the job right. In the Basic Problems of Phenomenology he makes the break with other sciences clearly: "The method of ontology, that is, of philosophy in general, is distinguished by the fact that ontology has nothing in common with any method of any of the other sciences, all of which as positive sciences deal with beings" (BP, p. 19).

I agree with Heidegger about the deficiency of other "sciences" in understanding human existence. But I'm not sure philosophy is any better. Notice first of all that Heidegger insists on calling philosophy a "science" and on attributing a "method" to it. This makes it natural to approach Dasein as a "object" (though, yes, Heidegger does his best to try to avoid misunderstandings here). In this sense, philosophy makes the same mistake as anthropology, history and "political science" (let's add sociology, "social science", too). I think Heidegger passes too quickly over poetry, at least in Being and Time. In Basic Problems he rightly says that "poetry, creative literature, is nothing but the elementary emergence into words, the becoming-uncovered, of existence as being-in-the-world" (BP, p. 171-2). And in his Introduction to Metaphysics he establishes the relationship of poetry and philosophy as follows:

Philosophy can never belong to the same order as the sciences. It belongs to a higher order, and not just "logically", as it were, or in a table of the system of the sciences. Philosophy stands in a completely different domain and rank of spiritual Dasein. Only poetry is of the same order as philosophical thinking, although thinking and poetry are not identical. (IM, p. 28 [20])

Here again I agree with Heidegger. Philosophy and poetry are of the same "order" (I don't have any need to call them "higher"). And what he says about poetry is true also of philosophy, it is an "elementary emergence into words", a making present. But I don't agree that both poetry and philosophy make the same thing present (Heidegger calls it Being or Life). I think it's quite simple. Poetry brings the subject to presence, philosophy the object. (I don't need to qualify them as "human" because objectivity and subjectivity are distinctly human experiences.)

And that's why philosophy must content itself with an "analytic of the Dasein" (an analysis of existence) that gives us only its facticity, its objectivity, its relationship to things. It can't get to our activity, our subjectivity, our relationship to people. A synthesis of the Dasein, if you will. Its becoming, not its being. Here history and biography, sociology and "political science", cover over the true "anthropology" revealed in poetry. But even poetry (like philosophy) can participate in the covering-over. And this brings us to Pound. After expressing his preference for Ovid over Virgil, he issues a challenge:

The lover of Virgil who wishes to bring a libel action against me would be well advised to begin his attack by separating the part of the Aeneid i which Virgil was directly interested (one might almost say, teh folk-lore element) for the parts he wrote chiefly because he was trying to write an epic poem. (ABC, p. 45)

And Pound's homage to Propertius was precisely focused on the renunciation of the "epic"—what Pound defined as poetry that contains history. Pound had epic ambitions (though he knew better). Heidegger likewise (and he also probably knew better).

Perhaps this is why Heidegger and Pound will always be "greater" (in the canon) than Wittgenstein and, say, Williams, though the latter more carefully "carried through with a primordial existentiality comparable to whatever existentiell primordiality they may have possessed," or something like that. They stuck to the matter at hand. They cultivated the recusatio.


Presskorn said...

All right, I won't argue with you about poetry. It strikes me as if you're generally right about poetry. It should make us "feel better".

And incidentially, I am also fond of quoting you for "Philosophy may be construed simply as the art of writing concepts down, of committing concepts to the page." (as you wrote somewhere in Likeness)

But I think you're overstating your case about philosophy here. A fundamental criticism would be that nothing gets left, if philsophy can't (shouldn't?) deal with "our activity, our subjectivity, our relationship to people."

Nothing, absolutely nothing, gets left of Heidegger or Wittgenstein, if we substract these things. You will say, that philosophy should be concerned with our "relationship to things". But if anything is a truely Heideggerian (or Wittgensteinian) point, then it is that our relationship to things is INTRINSICALLY bound to our relationship to people.

I might be misreading you, but I think it would an interesting puzzle would be to challenge you to name a few works of philosophy that meet your criteria.

Additional rule: You can't name the first critique as an example - it has to be a challenge, right? :-)...

Quine - totally prima facie - comes to my mind. He concerns himself only with facticity, objectivity and our relationship to things. But surely, even though Quine is a GREAT (not the slightest bit of irony here) philosopher, he can't exhaust your ideal for philosophy?

So, who can and in which works?

Thomas said...

I think when Heidegger writes about equipment (BP, p. 162ff., BT §15) he's getting it largely right and being mostly philosophical. I think he's a good case in point of someone in whom we must distinguish between the part that he was directly interested in (call it the "technical" element) and the parts he wrote because he was trying to write a philosophical treatise to supplant Hegel in the canon.

His essay on technology is excellent. "The Age of the World Picture" is also mostly fine, except when he waxes, well, "poetic". He should have let the subjectivity of the subiectum to someone like Pound. But Pound too would have gone overboard (in a different way). Which is why I say Wittgenstein and Williams are better examples in each case.

I don't think you're right that we give up all the important parts of Wittgenstein by leaving subjectivity out of it. Even the later Wittgenstein is exemplary, as I see it. But I would certainly posit the Tractatus as a work that confines itself to the proper task of philosophy (perhaps too narrowly).

Presskorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Presskorn said...

A rather lengthy response, but I came me opportunity to think out loud about a few things in Heidegger (whom I always feel uneasy about), so that was good:

I also think that what Heidegger writes about equiment is largely right. One important consequence is that we do not encounter Others as equiment, i.e. their mode of Being is not availabilty. So we can distinguish between how we relate to equipment/things and how we relate to Others. This is the very distinction, that underlies your argument. And I agree that it is an important distinction ( Presumably, you will now say: Heidegger, you should stick to one side of the distinction, namely to the side relating to things and equipment, and leave the other side to poetry.

And that would be fine, if it wasn’t for the fact, that Heidegger’s analysis of equipment shows that equipment cannot be thought without reference to Others. Dasein as such penetrated through and through with references to Others (BT §25-27): “[t]he world of Dasein is with-world [Mitwelt]”(BT, p. 155). This is so for a number of reasons: (1) Others are part of the existential structure of the environment, so that THINGS like your apartment are seen as YOUR apartment, and your neighbor’s house is seen as your neighbor’s house, even though no one is home. (2) Equipment is not only seen in terms of what I can do with it, but also in terms of what OTHERS can do with it. (3) Equipment is individuated through their normative functional roles (I know this is too analytically put for Heidegger’s taste, but I will insist that it is still correct, even as an interpretation). A pen, for instance, have norms govnerning its correct function. E.g. it is an inappropriate use of a pen to use it pick my nose. Not only would it be embarrassing to do in front of others, it would also not be a use of a pen AS a pen. Now who decides what is a correct use of equipment? No one in particular or what Heidegger calls “the One”. But this “the One” is intrinsically social.

I don’t see how much of Heidegger’s analysis of equipment could be left intact, if we subtract these things. But perhaps you’re fine with that analysis, as long as Heidegger is aiming to speak about things, but, as it were, cannot help to speak about people in process of talking about things?

Ad. late Wittgenstein. Yes, perhaps a great deal of the late Wittgenstein could be left intact if leave out subjectivity, but your original post said “our activity, our subjectivity, our relationship to people.” (and that’s I what call an overstatement). Language, after all, is an activity, a series of games played with other people. Also just think of an interpretation like Stanley Cavell’s, which I know you appreciate. Now what would be left of Cavell’s Wittgenstein, if we subtract “our activity, our subjectivity, our relationship to people”?

Ad. Tractatus. Yes, if wasn’t for the last ethical/poetic bit. Which Wittgenstein presumably thought was the important bit. But here I have to say that I disagree with Wittgenstein about his own work :-)

Thomas said...

I think there is an unavoidable residue, if you will, of being-with-others in the things of experience, which is brought to the fore in a phenomenological analysis. Like I say (in the post after this one), I agree with Heidegger that, in a slogan, "No World Without Dasein". But I do not agree that philosophy should offer us an "analytic of Dasein". Rather, it should offer us an adequate philosophical critique of the thinghood of things, which reveals their essential equipmentality and thus their relatedness to our aims.

Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics for example would be a much better (and much more defensible) work if he had abstained from all that epic bannerwaving about the German Volk and their lineage back to the Greeks (and all that bannerwaving about Greek "violence", etc.) He's sort of right about the importance of being "human" about everything but not at all about the importance of being German. He should have left it all alone and just told us about thinghood as such.

(Pound's epic tale from Odysseus to Mussolini of course has some of the same weaknesses in terms of defensibility. But I'm actually much more willing to grant the emotional precision of those cantos than the conceptual precision of Heidegger's anthropology.)

Presskorn said...

The first paragraph made me understand your point. And perhaps I agree - I'll have to think it over.

And of course you're right about the Volk-business.