Sunday, January 08, 2006


"To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

William Blake
Auguries of Innocence


The World and the Earth

Heidegger, Sartre, and Levinas all consider the ontology of art and the different ways in which art and language create new perspectives on reality. Heidegger in his essay ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ claims that a work of art brings a world into view. He discusses art in terms of truth and his idea of disclosure. Heidegger’s draws upon the ancient Greek concept of truth as aletheia, which means ‘the unconcealedness of beings’. As a concept of truth, it is distinct from and logically prior to our conventional, Roman notion of truth as veritas or ‘correspondence with the facts’. For there to be any objects to make up states of affairs to which our statements can correspond, there must be the ‘truth’ which lets these objects first come to be.

Art is true, Heidegger claims, in that it lets us see the tension between concealment and disclosure. He calls this ‘the conflict of world and earth’: ‘world’ is used in the sense that any disclosure is the opening of a realm, e. g., the realm of sight, and ‘earth’ is the concealed domain from which the world emerges. The artwork ‘moves the earth itself into the Open of a world and keeps it there’. A Greek temple, Heidegger suggests, opens a world by creating a ‘relational context’, of ‘birth and death, disaster and blessing, victory and disgrace, endurance and decline’, and Van Gogh’s painting of a peasant’s shoes brings out the use-life which the shoes have for their owner, what Heidegger calls ‘the equipmentality of equipment’. We experience the aletheic truth of art as a form of ‘thatness’. We might not be able to say what it is about a work that impresses us, but that there is something there we are certain of. A sense of ‘thatness’ stands out, stops us in our tracks. This is consistent with Kant’s proposal that it is part of the experience of art for us to be motivated to find new words to describe the experience. Ultimately, for Heidegger, ‘the nature of art is poetry’. He proposes that art is truest, at its most aletheic, when it is poetic.
[From Cazeaux, Clive, Continental Aesthetics Reader, Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 2000]