Saturday, November 26, 2011
Julian Young on the uncanny in Antigone, from "Poets and Rivers: Heidegger on Hölderlin's 'Der Ister'".
According to Heidegger, the First Chorus of Antigone presents a vision of the essence of man, of man in relation to the cosmos, a vision that “resonates” within Hölderlin’s poetry. This vision is encapsulated in the word deinon, which occurs at the beginning of the chorus: “Manifold is the uncanny, yet nothing/more uncanny towers or stirs beyond the human being.” Unheimlich--“uncanny”-—is Heidegger’s, as he recognizes, unexpected translation of deinon, the “fundamental word of this tragedy and even of Greek antiquity itself”.

What does this crucial word mean? Its meaning is, suggests Heidegger, “manifold”. It is ambiguous, ambivalent, Janus-faced, an ambivalence that revolves around four polarities. With respect to each, one pole represents human nobility, the other a “counter turning,” a tragic turning of the human being against its own essence. The first polarity is between fear and awe; the “uncanny” may be be the object of either. Second, while the uncanny one may be merely “violent” (das Gewaltätige), she may also be “powerful” (das Geswaltige), as a river or a mountain may be spoken of as powerful or mighty. As the latter, but only as the latter, the uncanny “can be something that towers above us and then it approaches what is worthy of honour.” As the violent, it is merely “frightful”. The third polarity is a matter of being “inhabitual” (ungewöhnlich). This may be a matter of being merely exceptionally skilled within the sphere of the ordinary—-skill being a matter of one kind of world “mastery” or another--or else of being genuinely extraordinary. (Schopenhauer calls this a distinction between “talent” and “genius.”) The final polarity Heidegger introduces via a German pun: “unheimlich” (uncanny) is, he suggests, equivalent to “unheimisch” (unhomely). So, the uncanny one is one who is not at home. Yet this notion, too, contains a polarity; one may be “unhomely” either in relation to beings or to Being.

P. 94
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