Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Robert Gall on uncanny divinity.
The characterization of the divine as daimon is given further depth through Martin Heidegger's treatment of the saying from Heraclitus. Finding the usual translation more modern than Greek, he offers an alternative translation in his "Letter on Humanism": "man dwells, insofar as he is man, in the nearness of the god." He finds this translation confirmed in a story about Heraclitus told by Aristotle in which Heraclitus assures some visitors that the gods show themselves in his kitchen. Heidegger's point is that, according to Heraclitus, what is divine shows itself even in an ordinary, familiar [geheuer] place such as that kitchen. Thus he follows with a second translation: "The (familiar [geheure]) abode is for human beings the open region for the presencing of the god (the un-familiar one [des Ungeheuren])". Now Heidegger translates daimon as "the un-familiar one" or "the uncanny," recalling a discussion Heidegger had of daimon in his Parmenides course a few years earlier. There Heidegger's clarification of daimon starts by way Aristotle's use of daimonia in the Nicomachean Ethics as an all-encompassing word for what is excessive, astounding, and difficult. Thus, Heidegger chooses to translate to daimonion as das Un-geheur. It is a somewhat old-fashioned term he borrows from Hölderlin's translation of a choral ode in Antigone (332-75) that calls human beings to deinon (...), "the strangest." Suggesting "monster" or "the monstrous" (das Ungeheuere), Heidegger makes it clear in those lectures that Un-geheur means "the uncanny," "the unfamiliar," or "the extraordinary." Daimon is the uncanny because it presents itself in everything ordinary - and is hence the most natural - without being the ordinary. With the ancient Greeks, the daemonic appears not only through elements "inside" the self (the passions, the blood) as noted above, but also "outside" the self - through wind, rain, fire, animals. Socrates himself makes a point of this in Xenophon's Apology (12-13), noting that people take the sounds of birds to be omens from the gods. Continuing to elaborate on daimon, Heidegger notes its relation to daio (...), which Heidegger translates as "to present oneself in the sense of pointing and showing". This sense of pointing or showing relates to a significant characteristic of the Greek gods: they give signs and point. Heraclitus noted this as well (DK 93): "The Lord whose oracle is in Delphi [the god Apollo] neither speaks nor conceals but hints [winkt]" (...). Socrates knew this, which is why he was wise to question the oracle at Delphi (Apology 21b) rather than simply accept the answer of the oracle. In this way, recognizing and acknowledging what is divine, listening to "something divine," he acknowledged something strange and uncanny, what is questionable and question worthy - what calls for thinking. The astonishing being of the ordinary - what is strange and uncanny - takes name and figure and place in the work, as the god. The god is an indication, a sign, a hint, of how things are and who we are. As a result, daimonion points to being; daimon (and its cognates that acknowledge "the gods" or "divinity") indicates invisible and ungraspable being itself, whereby what is divine is manifest in the abyssal space of being itself. Such, according to Heidegger, is the fundamental Greek experience of what is divine.
Thank you for sharing this. It contains a lot of stimulating notions.

But the author's conclusion about a faith in doubt strikes me as undermined by its oxymoronic character, as does the slogan, "Doubt everything." Including doubt itself? Perhaps I am just a recalcitrant romantic who likes being in love, which can overcome doubt.

The brevity of the Heraclitean ethos anthropoi daimon has produced a wide range of translations. I defer to MH's because he has paid more attention to the problem of understanding the ancient Greek from its context than anyone else I know. Similarly, his "last god" has an ambiguity that provokes continual thought and revision.

Socrates' "unexamined life" is a faith in understanding life not doubting it. Add to understanding, MH's other components of care (mood and language) to complete the necessary wholesomeness of MH's thinking and give the last god three wings to fly past us. That life is brief does not deny its worthiness. That happens only when we kill time. The time of life is also the life of time, MH tells us. The wise spend it with care.

PS. Preview works great in IE10
I cannot seem to locate the citation at "Philosophy Today." Any ideas?
The link is to proquest.com. It demands a login I don't have.

I'm not familiar with Philosophy Today.

I haven't read that paper by Robert Gall, but I have his "Interrupting speculation: The thinking of Heidegger and Greek
Hang on.

The citation is the content, and Mark Fullmer is the blog. I'll update the post.
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