The hermeneutic circle in finding the meaning of art.1
As necessarily as the artist is the origin of the work in a different way than the work is the origin of the artist, so it is equally certain that, in a still different way, art is the origin of both artist and work. But can art be an origin at all? Where and how does art occur? Art – this is nothing more than a word to which nothing real any longer corresponds. (pg. 17)
What is art, really?
What art is should be inferable from the work. What the work of is we can come to know only from the nature of art. Anyone can easily see that we are moving in a circle. Ordinary understanding demands that this circle be avoided because it violates logic…we are compelled to follow the circle…to enter upon this path is the strength of thought, to continue on it is the feast of thought, assuming that thinking is a craft. (pg. 18)
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Can we ever get to the answer? Conventional logic wants straightforward answers; therefore, the circle is avoided. (How about asking, what is a chicken, what is an egg?) How can we get to the answer without the work of asking the questions and thinking of the truth behind the questions?
All works have this thingly character…There is something stony in a work of architecture, wooden in a carving, colored in a painting, spoken in a linguistic work, sonorous in a musical composition. The thingly element is so irremovably present in the art work that we are compelled rather to say conversely that the architectural work is in stone, the carving is in wood, the painting in color, the linguistic work in speech, the musical composition in sound…But what is this self-evidently thingly element in the work of art? (pg. 19)
If there is a thingly-ness to created work, what is the thingy-ness of art?
Obviously a thing is not merely an aggregate of traits, nor an accumulation of properties by which that aggregate arises. A thing, as everyone thinks he knows, is that around which the properties have assembled. We speak in this connection of a core of things. (pg. 22)
A thing is more than traits or properties. It is a connection or an assemblage. But of what?
That which gives things their constancy and pith but is also at the same time the source of their particular mode of sensuous pressure – colored, resonant, hard, massive – is the matter in things. In this analysis of the thing as matter (hule), form (morphe) is already coposited. (pg. 26)
Things appeal to the senses and have form.
The work, therefore, is not the reproduction of some particular entity that happens to be present at any given time; it is, on the contrary, the reproduction of the things’ general essence. But then where and how is this general essence, so that art works are able to agree with it? (pg. 36)
Work creates things. In fact, work reproduces a thing’s essence. How does the work in art reproduce the essence of art?
What truth is happening in the work? Can truth happen at all and thus be historical? Yet truth, people say, is something timeless and supertemporal. (pg. 37)
Art is not the reproduction of an object, but a truth is put into the work. What then is truth?
What matters is a first opening of our vision to the fact that what is workly in the work, equipmental in equipment, and thingly in the thing comes closer to us only when we think the Being of beings. (pg. 38)
We can only understand the essence of work (workly-ness), the essence of equipment (equipmental-ness), the essence to a thing (thingly-ness), when we consider the essence of being (Being).
The art work opens up in its own way the Being of beings. This opening up, i.e., this deconcealing, i.e., the truth of beings, happens in the work. In the art work, the truth of what is has set itself to work. Art is truth setting itself to work. (pg. 38)
Art sets up a truth (of Being, i.e. the essence of being or existence) through work.
In the midst of beings as a whole an open place occurs. There is a clearing, a lighting. Thought of in reference to what is, to beings, this clearing is in a greater degree than are beings. This open enter is therefore surrounded by what is; rather, the lighting centre itself encircles all that is, like the Nothing which we scarcely know. (pg. 51)
Truth is deconcealing, or finding ourselves in a clearing.
Truth, as the clearing and concealing of what is, happens in being composed, as a poet composes a poem. All art, as the letting happen of the advent of the truth of what is, is, as such, essentially poetry. The nature of art, on which both the art work and the artist depend, is the setting-itself-into-work of truth. (pg. 70)
Art is the deconcealing of truth (of Being/of being in the world) through work. That in essence is poetry.
The foregoing reflections are concerned with the riddle of art, the riddle that art itself is. They are far from claiming to solve the riddle. The task is to see the riddle. (pg. 77)
Here we have seen Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle on the origin of the work of art. The hermeneutic circle is not about solving the riddle, but rather seeing the riddle and asking the questions.
Perhaps solving problems isn’t all about getting answers; perhaps it’s about seeing the truth to the problem and asking the right questions???
1. Martin Heidegger, Poetry. Language, Thought, trans. by Albert Hofstadter, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1971). ↩