As Holderlin recognizes, the coming of the world’s night also brings about that which saves humanity from the world’s night. Art and the artist can lead society out of the world’s night but not without this destitute time first being experienced and endured. As Heidegger says, “in the age of the world’s night, the abyss of the world must be experienced and endured. But for this it is necessary that there be those who reach into the abyss.”
Even though the world’s night must be experience and endured, the poet is able to reach into this abyss and pursue the gods who have left and plunged us into the world’s night, “the fugitive gods.”
What does it mean to be a poet in a destitute time? Heidegger answers, “To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.”
This means the poet utters both that which is set apart for sanctified use and that which will save society.
This is why, in Holderlin’s language, “the world’s night is the holy night.”The poet is that individual that is able to reach into the abyss and pull society through the world’s night. The poet allows society to endure the world’s night. The poet in a destitute time, then, gives chase to the fugitive gods, the ones that have left and in their leaving they leave behind an abyss. The poet does not hope to fill this abyss; but, rather, the poet hopes to pull us through this abyss, conquer the world’s night, and end this nihilistic age.
The poet confronts the symptoms of the nihilistic age and also counters the nihilistic age itself. In order for the aesthetic turn to counter and confront the problem of nihilism sufficiently it must speak to the three direct implications from the rise of the technological age. These three implications are also the three symptoms of our nihilistic age.
The poet confronts the effects of the nihilistic age by confronting these three implications or symptoms. The poet is capable of confronting the symptoms of the nihilistic age because the poet can break the hold of technological enframing, transformthings from standing reserve, and the poet can renew religious sensibilities.
The poet can also counter the nihilistic age itself because of the very nature and character of art.
If we are to accept the Heidegger’s diagnosis of the problem, then there are a couple of ways to approaching the problem that are not accessible to us. These kinds of particular paths are from an aporia. For example, this problem cannot be corrected simply by resurrecting religious sensibilities. Rather, the poet replaces religion’s suprasensory sway over the hearts of human beings within the work of art. This replacement is similar because both the suprasensory and art are external to the individual and hold sway over the hearts of human beings. Heidegger, in “The Word of Nietzsche,” points out that the declaration, “God is dead,” forbids the individual abstraction to the suprasensory world.
Though the poet’s poetry is not suprasensory, it still renews that which is significant of the suprasensory, the ability to sway the hearts of human beings. The ability to sway the hearts of human beings renews religious sensibilities.
Art and the artist are able to counteract the effects of the death of God in two ways. One, as stated above, the poet during the world’s night utters the holy, where holy is understood as that which saves society and also that which sanctified. The poet is the one speaking of the fugitive gods in such a ways as to lead to a holy night. It is still a destitute time because it is still a night; however, because artists give chase to the fugitive gods their words are set apart as holy. Two, art renews the beneficial aspects of the suprasensory without referring to something abstract. The beneficial aspect of thesuprasensory was the sway that it held over the hearts of human beings. The work of art has this sway over the hearts of human beings. Poetry and art affect us as people; they sway society. Art is something external to us so, when we come into contact with it, it affords us the opportunity to interact within something that affects and sways us. The very reason that Plato exiles poetry from the ideal city is for the same reason that Heidegger reveres poetry. Poetry promises to sway the hearts of human beings. Though we are in the world’s night, the poet renews the aspects of the religion that sway the hearts of human beings.
The poet is that individual who is better equipped to escape the “enframing,” Gestell, created by the rise of the technological age. If art is anything, then art is a new perspective. This new perspective is exactly that which breaks the strict and stagnate structuring caused by enframing. Art is, essentially, the perspective of the artist. When one looks at a landscape painting one can not see lumber. The presentation of the artist presents objects as they are. When one looks at a painting the art speaks to the individual rather than the individual imposing their enframed view to the painting.
Poetry shakes one from technological enframing by bringing forth an event of truth. As will be shown, Heidegger describes this event of truth in his “Origin of the Work of Art” as the interplay or tension of the earth and the world.
This tension breaks enframing because of the event of truth. Enframing is a stillness and art is a shifting, a shaking, and a moving of being.
The last way that art counteracts the effects of the nihilism brought about by the world’s night is the transformation of things away from standing reserve. Enframing, we have said, gives rise to a perspective of objects simply as standing reserve. Art is able to counteract this standing reserve by shifting our view of objects from stagnate objects to objects that are and appear as objects in themselves; this way in which objects present themselves Heidegger calls a “thing thinging.”
When one looks at a painting of someone in the forest, the individual is forced to ask “what is going on here?” This inquiry into the painting prohibits one to then revert back to viewing the trees simply as lumber. The individual views the person in the forest as the artist wants the individual to view the forest. When one looks at the Peasant’s Shoes by Van Gogh, one is unable to look at the shoes and only remark “I wonder if those shoes would look good on me.”
Because of the way in which the shoes are presented, one is unable to see the shoes only as potentially useful to them. One must see something much more fundamental, namely the interplay of earth and world. Heidegger says, “Truth happens in Van Gogh’s painting. This does not mean that something is correctly portrayed, but rather that in the revelation of the equipmental being of the shoes, that which is whole—world and earth in their counterplay—attains to unconcealedness”.
This unconcealedness of the being of the shoes as is that which is more fundamental.
Someone who views the world as standing reserve has a vain view of the world; the world’s objects are only for his or her use. When someone stands before a greatwork of art, it reverses the order of priority such that it dwarfs the individual in the face of the work’s magnificence. When this order of priority is reversed a vain view of the world is impossible; and, consequently, seeing the world only in terms of standing reserve is impossible. When someone stands before Michelangelo’s David, one is unable to simply say “I wonder if he could do something for me.”
The artist, then, confronts the symptoms of this destitute time in each of the three ways. The artist renews religious sensibilities by providing something exterior to ourselves that sways the hearts of humankind. The artist removes technological enframing by providing us with alternative points of view, opening ourselves up to new possibilities, and bringing forth an event of truth. And, finally, the artist removes enframing’s standing reserve by providing something whose magnificence stands over us, which breaks our vain view of objects.
The foregoing considerations have concerned experiencing and enduring the world’s night, but the artist is also able to turn or lead society out of the world’s night.
In what way does the artist help the world come out of this destitute time? The poet is able to lead society out of the world’s night for a very specific reason. Heidegger says, “The time remains destitute not only because God is dead, but because mortals are hardly aware and capable even of their own mortality.”The poet, then, teaches us of our own mortality.
The work of art informs the individual. This informing is a kind of teaching.
This teaching is important. As indicated above, Heidegger says that the world’s nightwill not end until mortals are able to grasp their mortality. The work of art teaches the individual of his or her mortality. As Patricia Johnson puts it, “The most immediate reality of the work of art is not that it is a thing, but that it is an event of truth.”This event of truth has a very specific structure. This event of truth of the work of art is a tension. It is by way of this tension that one confronts one’s own mortality. This tensionis a play between what Heidegger calls, in “The Origin of the Work of Art,” the earth and the world. The world is understood as the realm of total unconcealedness and the total disclosed. The earth is the realm that is presented to us, but it is also more that that.
The earth is, for Heidegger, the realm of the materials. The earth is concealed in so far as rocks do not teach.In explication of Heidegger’s conception of earth Patricia Johnson points to Heidegger’s example of the Greek Temple. She says, “The temple is certainly made of stone. But it is not about the stone. It is about religious experience and the human relationship to the divine.”Where the stones of the temple represent the earth, the world represents the meaning behind it. The event of truth comes about through this tension between the earth and world. The work of art perfectly represents this conflict, tension, or strife between the concealed and the cleared, between earth and world. Heidegger says, “Earth juts through the world and world grounds itself on the earth only so far as truth happens as the primal conflict between clearing and concealing.”
The work of art is a shifting tension between these two. No work of art is simply one or another but a playing between the two. It is through this strife ortension that truth happens. This is why the work of art is an event of truth. Heidegger says, “Truth establishes itself as strife within a being that is to be brought forth only in such a way that the strife opens up in this being; that is, this being is itself brought into the rift.This event of truth teaches us of our mortality.
If we return to Michelangelo’s David, this tension might better be illustrated.
When one stands in front of Michelangelo’s David one can not help but notice the desire for David to leap to life. People surrounding Michelangelo’s masterpiece normally and casually remark “he is so lifelike” or “he looks so real.” The tension between earth and world is this realization. This realization is the tension between realizing the lifelike aspects, the apparent realness of the sculpture, and conceding that this realness is still encased in stone. The encased movement of the David looks as though at any moment he will free himself from his podium; however, one still knows that the King of Israel remains encased in stone. This is the play between stone and life, between world and earth, and between the concealed and the unconcealed.
Patricia Johnson says of sculptures that “these figures reach towards a world of openness, but at the same time ]are not free from the stone. They show us the tension of our historical experience.”
This teaching of the historical experience shows us our finitude. When one confronts the finiteness and the finality in the tension of their historical experience, one is confronted with his or her own mortality. This is because one cannot see the tension of one’s historical experience without noticing his or her radical temporality. When one confronts this finiteness, one understands that there was a time when he or she did notexist and there will be a time when he or she will exist no more. This is their confrontation with their mortality. This confrontation with our own mortality leads us out of this destitute time of the world’s night.
Since the work of art creates a tension between the earth and the world, it gives rise to this experienced strife. This strife shows us the tension of our historical experience. Since this historical experience cannot be experience apart from being confronted with one’s radical temporality, the work or art teaches one of his or her finality and finitude. Because of this artist is, through art, able to lead society out of the destitute time of the world’s night.
Where does humanity go once the world’s night has been experienced, endured, and eventually escaped? Since society cannot simply regress to the days of the gods and cannot go back into the grasp of modern technology’s enframing, where must society gofrom here in order to prevent relapse and to secure a proper and nutritious life outside of this nihilistic age? The answer I would like to pose is that for a proper and healthy escape from nihilism the burden of responsibility must shift from the poet to the individual. The way in which I hope to motivate this shift is through John Dewey’s notion of experience and the aesthetic life.