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Between Word and Image: Heidegger, Klee, and Gadamer on Gesture and Genesis

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Engagement with the image has played a decisive role in the formulation of the very idea of philosophy since Plato. Identifying pivotal moments in the history of philosophy, Dennis J. Schmidt develops the question of philosophy's regard of the image in thinking by considering painting—where the image most clearly calls attention to itself as an image. Focusing on Heidegger and the work of Paul Klee, Schmidt pursues larger issues in the relationship between word, image, and truth. As he investigates alternative ways of thinking about truth through word and image, Schmidt shows how the form of art can indeed possess the capacity to change its viewers.

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Introduction - The Genesis of the Question

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Four sets of questions gave birth and shape to this book.

The proximate and most specific of these questions was occasioned by the publication of a large portion of Heidegger's “Notes on Klee.”1 Those fragmentary notes, which Heidegger made during a visit in 1956 to an exhibition of Paul Klee's paintings, express a great excitement about Klee's work. It was an excitement that seemed unbridled and that would last for some years. So, for instance, three years after that first encounter with Klee's work, Heidegger wrote a letter to his friend Heinrich Petzet in which he emphasized the originality and radicality of Klee's work: “Something which we all have not yet even glimpsed has come forward in [Klee's works].”2 And it is clear that Heidegger's enthusiasm for Klee had a great philosophical significance for him: he even spoke with friends of the need to revise or to write a “counterpart to” “The origin of the Work of Art” in light of what he saw in Klee, and in 1960 he promised a seminar on Klee, Heraclitus, Augustine, and Chuang-tzu.3 The impact upon Heidegger of discovering Klee's paintings and of reading his theoretical writings was great, and the consequences of this discovery were not simply to confirm Heidegger's own views but to change them. Indeed, Heidegger's acknowledgment of Klee's accomplishments constituted a reversal of his earlier sweeping condemnations of modern art as nothing more than the reflex of a technologically defined world. But it was not just Klee's painted works that gripped Heidegger; rather, Klee was a prolific writer, and his written texts were as esteemed by Heidegger as his painterly works. Just as Heidegger had found in Friedrich Hölderlin his poet, so too was it the case that during the years of his engagement with Klee he found his painter. Importantly, both Hölderlin and Klee were artists who were capable of theorizing the achievement of the work of art from out of the experience of that work. This capacity for theoretical reflection distinguishes most all of the artists to whom Heidegger turns in his discussion of the work of art and, as such, serves as a reminder not only that the work of art is worth attending to but also that there is a form of reflection that emerges out of the experience of the artist that is of genuine philosophical importance.4

 

Chapter 1 - Unfolding the Question: An Excentric History

ePub

As soon as one begins to speak about an image, one is entangled in complications. This is the case no matter how one approaches the image: critically, theoretically, appraisingly, admiringly, confusedly—it does not matter, since the problem is rooted in the difference between words and images. Philosophy is no exception and does not escape these complications. Quite the contrary, philosophy seems to have a special difficulty in confronting the image, since philosophy lives in and is oriented to and by the logos, by words, and since it tends to take the legitimacy of this orientation as self-evident. The authority of the logos defines the very idea of philosophy and, since it is invariably assumed that the logos cannot be grasped by an image, the superiority of the logos over the image also belongs to this definition of philosophy. The logos is understood, but never seen. Even if there is a sort of “seeing” involved in philosophy, this “look” to what we call the “idea” is not the same as the look to the image. Consequently, if one is self-conscious, if one is honest, then one must hesitate before this difference between the image and the word so that once one raises the question of the image from the perspective of philosophy, the peculiar presuppositions that govern and define the project of philosophy themselves come into question. The question of the image recoils back upon philosophy and its own presumptions. Once this happens, one learns that one needs to be careful about presuming that words and images translate into one another so that one can indeed speak of images and still do justice to them such that the nature of the image shines through the words. Despite this need for hesitation and self-reflection that should emerge right from the outset of any philosophical engagement with the question of the image, what is striking is just how easily the differences between words and images are effaced, how readily we are persuaded of the gifts of language and the power of language to articulate something true in what is said. This means that the first task of any effort to speak of images is to turn language back upon itself such that its own character begins to become a question. In order to begin, it is necessary to understand that the question of the image is not simply a question for philosophy but rather a question that goes straight to the heart of the very possibility and idea of philosophy. And yet, the “blindness” of language before itself remains its first and foremost trait: language is always poorest at speaking and articulating itself. This “blindness” of language, this poverty of its own nature, is what the encounter with the image can bring to light.

 

Chapter 2 - Heidegger and Klee: An Attempt at a New Beginning

ePub

Has the challenge of modern art, the new that it exposes, been addressed philosophically? To what extent have those who today work out of the tradition defined as moving from Kant to Nietzsche through Hegel—a tradition that, for the lack of a better word, we call “continental”—managed to take up the questions about art and the image, the questions about painting, posed by that tradition? To what extent has the hermeneutic situation of the present genuinely opened up the question of the relation of word and image in a way that allows the presumed authority of the logos to be interrogated? There are three promises, three outstanding questions, that define the legacy of this tradition and that need to be posed today if the question of the image and the challenge of the work of art is to be pursued.

First, does the work of art open up a path of thinking outside of the empire of the metaphysical assumptions that have defined philosophy since its inception? Since Plato, philosophical considerations of the work of art have tended either to regard such works as exiled from thinking or to credit them but only by subordinating their achievement to the authority of philosophy. To ask, as one today must ask, if art marks out a prospect for thinking apart from philosophy as it has long been defined is to risk opening thinking to fundamentally new possibilities that are not defined by philosophy as it has been. So, one would need to ask, What might philosophy become if it took its start and impulse from the experience that art opens?

 

Chapter 3 - On Word, Image, and Gesture: Another Attempt at a Beginning

ePub

Three texts published in 1960, the same year in which Heidegger largely abandoned the question of painting, proved to be among the most promising for opening up a new approach for the philosophical concern with painting. The first was the reissue of “The Origin of the Work of Art” (written and delivered as a lecture in 1935, first published in 1950, reissued as a separate text in 1960), which was published this time with an introduction by Gadamer and a new addendum by Heidegger. With the addition of these texts, one is led to see “The Origin of the Work of Art” in a new context and so read it in a new way. The second text of 1960 was “Eye and Mind,” a text in which Merleau-Ponty asks about the “fundamental of painting, [and hence] perhaps of all culture,”1 and which does this more rigorously from within the standpoint of the painter than perhaps any philosopher had yet accomplished. The third text of this year was Gadamer's Truth and Method, which, more systematically and more rigorously than any other text, draws together all of the historical strands that have defined the decisive moments in the history of philosophical approaches to artworks—especially with regard to painting.2 There were other texts from this period that pursued the question of art; among them, several would single out Klee's work as opening up new possibilities for painting. Adorno, Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard, Marcuse, Bloch, and, to some extent, Sartre, Blanchot, and Bataille all take up the question of the work of art, especially painting, as a central philosophical issue and not merely as an adjunct concern, and all turn to Klee as exemplary in addressing this question.3 In other words, precisely at the moment that Heidegger despairs of the possibilities of art in our times, precisely when he quietly retreats from the question of painting, art—painting above all—comes forward to define the central philosophical questions of this moment and in a variety of thinkers.

 

Afterword: The Question of Genesis for Now

ePub

So the promise of the work of art is the promise of understanding and belonging to the world. Today, however, everything about this promise is haunted by Heidegger's claim that ours is an era lacking art as a real possibility: in other words, that the bringing forth that is the defining trait and promise of the work of art has been usurped by the production and composition of the Gestell, which has foreclosed the space of free appearance. To use Heidegger's vocabulary, one might say that the claim, the worry, is that Machenschaft has overtaken Hervorbringen as the form in which we understand the character of making today. But Heidegger is not alone in giving voice to such a judgment that this historical present, this now, is defined by the closure of the space of appearance and the impoverishment of the world. With a similar sense of a foreclosure, Kommerell speaks of our time as one in which the sense for gesture has been lost. Describing the age of Jean Paul and the philosophy of German Idealism, Kommerell writes that this was the time in which a decline began since both “derive from the situation of the bourgeoisie in which the forms of life have lost their intimacy [Innigkeit] and simplicity [Einfalt]…. Completely unencumbered spirit is a consequence of the bourgeoisie that has lost its gestures.”%1 About this loss of gesture, Agamben remarks that “the more gestures lost their ease under the pressure of unknown powers, the more life became indecipherable. And once the simplest and most everyday gestures had become as foreign as the gesticulations of marionettes, humanity…was ready for massacre Precisely in this idea…[that] human beings, liberating themselves from all sacredness, communicate to each other their lack of secrets as their most proper gesture, Kommerell's criticism reaches the political dimension.”2 Finally, a different yet no less damning assessment of our historical moment is expressed by Roberto Calasso when he writes that

 

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