Dr W Large


Seeing things

23 February 2007



It is important to set OW in its political context. Are we to see this essay as retreat from H's political misadventure with National Socialism and a rejection of science and technology for aesthetic romantic solipsism?


The way that we view art in our own culture is one of representation. But don't we also argue about art beyond the simple question of realism. Don't we want art also to be edifying or spiritual which reflects the author's intentions and insight


We take art be an expression of subjectivity - this is how H begins the OW. But even if we accept that it is about the author's intentions, this does not stop us argue about the values that are expressed in the WA, even those that might not be directly visible to the artist himself - thus the discussion always comes back to a question of value.


Then we might be asking about the whether the film actually tells us something about our world. Thus we can see that the film does not just represent something. In this sense truth happens in the WA.


Is H simply reversing the order of polarity between the subject and the object, such that it is the WA that now takes precedence over the artist? What is at issue for him is something much more fundamental than a simple reversal. It is a question of what it means to perceive or represent anything at all - what is at work in the WA. And this comes down to how we always see the world as some world or other - in other words there is always some kind of evaluation.


If Heidegger want to reject the artist centred approach to art, why then does he choose Van Gogh who is probably the representative of the most extreme 'creator artist'? Perhaps because in the sense by taking what is thought of as the most subjective of art work, he can show that even in this case it is not really a question of the artist intentions.


H's object of critique is twofold


  1. That art is simply about representations
  1. That art is simply about subjective intentions.


However in making this move from these two common held positions, it seem that H first of turns toward the object at hand, i.e. the work of art. In one sense, this is to turn away from the spiritualisation of art, and to remind the readers that after all they are all things even if we imagine that they are animated by a mysterious aesthetic value.


What then is a thing? H list 3 ways that we thing about things in the West


  1. Bearer of properties which is reflected in our propositional language
  1. That the object is merely an immediate correlate of sensation which then in a second moment is unified into an object
  1. Formed matter



Heidegger want to reject all these ways of thinking because they do violence to the experience of the thing - the first because the language of propositions does not seem to respond to our we encounter things, the second because we never experience things in the raw but they are already meaningful for us and the third is related to the usefulness of things - what H call equipment - but he wants to say do the concepts of matter and form really make sense of our relation to equipment?


The issue of art is, therefore, is there any other way of looking at the world that scientifically and technologically. Has the world been transformed into a resource that is just there to be used up?


We have to remind ourselves again that H is a phenomenologist - the issue is not to come up with a better concept of a thing, but to allow the thing to shine forward as it in itself.


What is important in H analysis of the picture is that he precisely does not see it as a representation - thus it does not matter whether it is a picture of the woman's peasant shoes or not. Rather he wants to argue that painting reveals the equipmentality of equipment in a way that the person who uses that equipment (whether it is Van Gogh or the peasant woman) cannot see.


It is not an issue here of choosing the painting on the one side or the peasant shoes on the other - if we stay with the painting, then we are left with the two aesthetic positions that Heidegger rejects, and if we stay with the peasant's experience then the equipmentality of the equipment still remains invisible.


What then does H give us - a new phenomenological description, and what we see is a new categorical intuition or schema which is earth and world.


For what we see here are in fact the beginnings of a whole new schema of fundamental ontological categories, the first of which are earth and world.


What is revealed in the work of art is the world of the piece of equipment - it is not a thing that is represented, but a world that is disclosed.


This revelation is not a projection as in the case of mathematics - in other words it does not predetermine what the things in the world are, rather it allows the world to appear, to shine forth as what it is.


This does mean that the WA creates the world - that the world did not exist if there were not WA, rather it discloses or reveals this world in a way that for the participants in that world, in their daily activity, this world is not revealed at all.



But what is really different from the revealing power of art and science, it that in the disclosure of the world there is accepted what cannot be revealed, what remains hidden and withdrawn and this remains integral to our experience of the world.


Thus the world struggles to release itself from the earth, but also it always falling back into the earth - the light and the dark - art is the sets the scene for such a strife.