Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Julian Young explains special things, in "The Fourfold".
But what, to repeat, is a "thing"? Heidegger’s paradigm is the simple peasant jug that is used to pour out wine for the gathering of friends around the Stammtisch (table reserved for regulars) in the village pub, somewhere in Southwest Germany. In the wine — the wine of the region, of course — are “gathered” the local earth and sky — the terroir, as French wine makers call it. And in the gathering of “mortals,” deeply rooted in the richness of their tradition or “heritage,” are gathered, too, the gods. Hence, “in the gift (Schenk, from schenken, which means both to give and to pour) of the outpouring dwells the simple singlefold of the four” (PLT 173).

Let me try to translate this into something closer to Anglo-Saxon experience: the Christmas dinner, focused around the turkey. Outside, the already dimming light of the Yorkshire afternoon is reflected off the snow through the low-set, mullioned windows and onto the faces and the walls. The family is gathered round the table. In the small silence that descends before the carving of the turkey begins, suddenly, in a way that is “inexplicable and unfathomable” (PLT 180), one experiences an epiphany, is visited by a profound sense of being in place, being in the right place, of belonging to a unique and indissoluble unity of earth, sky, divinities and mortals. One’s world “worlds” which is the same as saying that the “thing things” (PLT pp. 180—1).

In Heidegger's Philosophy of Art, since the account of “the artwork” offered in “The Origin of the Work of Art” is heavily focused on Greece, I call that account “the Greek paradigm.” Things which “thing” in the above manner one might call “mini-Greek-paradigm artworks.” Though they do not gather an entire culture in the manner of the Greek temple or medieval cathedral (the manner the Bayreuth Festival and the Nuremberg rally attempted to revive) the context in which world rises out of background inconspicuousness into radiant salience is one of communal gathering.

At the end of “The Thing,” however, Heidegger makes it clear that anything at all, no matter how “unpretentious” (PLT 182), can come to “thing” that any occasion, whether communal or solitary, can be an occasion of “thinging”: “the jug and the bench, the footbridge and the plough. . . tree and pond, brook and hill. . heron and roe, deer, horse and bull, ... clasp, hook and picture, crown and cross,” “each in its own way. . . thinging from time to time,” are all “things” (PLT 182). In Greece and the Middle Ages, “things” gathered the fourfold to presence for an entire culture. In the modern ages they can still gather for an us, though for a smaller, more private “us” than in the past. But things can also gather just for me.

Pp. 385-6
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