The Word (Reading Heidegger)

I want to love you, but I know not, how;
To call your name – but is there such a name
That may become you? To the spheres above
I now entrust the knowledge of the same.
I barely hope and yet I almost fear,
They will have found the word, and then (alas!)
I will gain power over you to bear –
The power that no mortal ever has.

(English translation © Julia Shuvalova 2006)

(Хочу любить, но как – не знаю сам.
Хочу назвать тебя, но что за имя
Мне назовет тебя? Я небесам
Вверяю свое знание отныне,
Едва надеясь и почти боясь,
Что слово для тебя они мне явят,
И с этим словом обрету я власть
Над тем, чем я совсем не в силах править.

04 апреля 2006 г.

© Юлия Шувалова 2006)

While this poem probably reads as a love poem, it was, in fact, inspired by several essays by Martin Heidegger, particularly Wozu Dichter? (1946), translated into English as Why Poets? or What Are Poets For? The theme I picked upon was the immanent limitations of the language, which, however, remain unknown to people. It is through poetry as the most symbolic and historic genre that people can access the past and therefore establish a link between their time and the time-before-Time, i.e. eternity. It is thanks to this linguistic, poetic link that the mankind exists, although it is by no means close to understanding of the essence of things.

So, in my poem I attempted to look at my object of affection as if I was aware of these limitations. Because our world has reportedly begun with the Word, it is important that we find a -potentially – precise description for our object. It is all the more important, if we want to express our love for them, for apparently we want to underline the uniqueness of this person through a particular verbal expression. How can you possibly “boil” someone down to but one word? How can someone, being an individual and invariably a complex person, be pushed within the boundaries of a single word? Is there such word at all? The limitations of the language are the limitations of our knowledge, and if there is someone who may help us, they have to reside in the “spheres above”. In the original Russian text I use the word “the skies”, which can be interpreted as either Cosmos or God.

I entrust these spheres to return me the answer to my question. And then I am torn between the hope to receive the answer – for I want to be able to love this person, and so to name them, to describe them, – and the fear. Why fear? Because if such word is to be found, such will be what we would conventionally call the divine knowledge. Again, it can be called the secret knowledge or cosmic knowledge. Whatever we call it, this is something that doesn’t really belong to this world. The idea I express in the last two lines is that an individual carries a universe within themselves, which no other individual can rule or comprehend on a purely rational (in this context – mechanical) level (i.e. through a single word). Yet with such word we bring the universe down to a tiny particle, thus imagining that we have known and understood it. This is not possible, and therefore, if the spheres above do return me the answer, I will appear as if I have gained power over something, which in fact will always remain a mystery.

Some Heidegger links:
Ereignis – an excellent English-language source of articles and publications by and about Heidegger, plus useful links, collected by Pete.

Martin Heidegger – a German site, without the actual works, as I could gather, but with a full bibliography.

Heidegger.ru – in Russian, many texts available in Word format documents.

Martin Heidegger at Evene.fr
– in French.

Heidegger Association of Tokyo
– in Japanese.

The bibliographic details for the essay What Are Poets For? are:

Heidegger, Martin. “What are Poets For?” In Poetry, Language, Thought. Translated by
Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.

Wozu Dichter? – a full German text in a .PDF file.

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3 thoughts on “The Word (Reading Heidegger)”

  1. ”The theme I picked upon was the immanent limitations of the language, which, however, remain unknown to people. It is through poetry as the most symbolic and historic genre that people can access the past and therefore establish a link between their time and the time-before-Time, i.e. eternity. It is thanks to this linguistic, poetic link that the mankind exists, although it is by no means close to understanding of the essence of things.”Would Heidegger consider language as limited? Perhaps in the age of the Ge-Stell language is closed off to its utmost possibility. Yet it is poetry which is the ‘topography of being’ (The Thinker as Poet – same volume). I think that for Heidegger language is precisely the house of being because it is aligned with Da-Sein along (one for the animal lovers to critique). Being emerges with language because language articulates worldhood (one for the mutes to critique). Yet through etymology we retain the earlist encounters with being. Language is temporality. ‘How can someone, being an individual and invariably a complex person, be pushed within the boundaries of a single word?’That would be fixing somebody as an essence surely. A problematic thing for the ontologist. As to fear…ontic since it has its object. But I adore the closing lines:”The idea I express in the last two lines is that an individual carries a universe within themselves, which no other individual can rule or comprehend on a purely rational (in this context – mechanical) level (i.e. through a single word). Yet with such word we bring the universe down to a tiny particle, thus imagining that we have known and understood it. This is not possible, and therefore, if the spheres above do return me the answer, I will appear as if I have gained power over something, which in fact will always remain a mystery.”http://anotherheideggerblog.blogspot.com/

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