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    paths and heights
Life becomes an allegory

gary e. davis
  August 6, 2015

Heidegger’s literal path in youth was through a Messkirch clearing (photo; that’s Heidegger in the picture). During 1947-48
, nearing 60 years of age and feeling very serene, he wrote about that path, “Feldweg,” “Pathway” (PDF here).

His view of the Todtnauberg valley from his famous Hut was another world, to say the least. Getting to the Hut (photo) was a steep climb, I guess.

There are no literally-steep climbs on his literal pathway in Messkirch (low hills, evidently), but his allegory is indeed about difficult pathmaking that has found serenity in heights—beyond phenomenology, apparently (“My Way to Phenomenology” [PDF], 1963, from Time and Being [PDF of the entire book]).

When he was “called to Berlin,” early 1934, after resigning the “charade” of the rectorship, he refused Berlin and wrote from the Hut “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” That’s quite kindred in spirit with “Pathway.”

Then, that summer of 1934, he finalized his lecture course on Hölderlin’s “Germania” and “The Rhine.” In a “Recollection” (1957), he noted that the poetry of Hölderlin and Rilke were among the small number of influences by 1909 (age 20) that provided “everything that was to be of lasting value.” Remarkable to me here is not only that he cites a very small number of works—philosophical and literary—but that he’s expressing that by age 20, he feels at age 68, the prevailing influences were clear. This not only attests implicitly to his surmise that what he’s done feels still largely unprecedented, in the evening of his life, but that the small number of prevailing influences were literary—or literary philosophical—more than academically or professionally philosophical.

Such an evening view coheres with his insistence elsewhere that the so-called “poetic thinking” of his later years was already working in his earlier years, including the period leading to Being and Time.

I didn’t realize this when I was led to concentrate on his later work, via English translation, before concentrating on Being and Time—led by the choices that Heidegger made in the 1960s for translation into English. But the effect was prevailing for my understanding of Heidegger, and I see that I have been a student of his indeed.

When I first posted the photo of Heidegger’s little path, I wrote (a little pretentiously): Welcoming difficult issues for working-through can be like ascending from a clearing through a steep climb that calls for persisting higher in order to gain a new kind of clearing.

That thought coheres with the spirit of Being and Time. It coheres with his sense of Rilke and tragic Trakl. It coheres with his career and a humility toward hope for one’s legacy. The Point, though, belongs to the horizon, the future, the living.

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