respectful attention

Poets and artists ‘let things be’, but they also let things come out and show themselves. They help to ease things into ‘unconcealment’ (Unverborgenheit), which is Heidegger’s rendition of the Greek term alētheia, usually translated as ‘truth’. This is a deeper kind of truth than mere correspondence of a statement to reality, as when we say ‘The cat is on the mat’ and point to a mat with a cat on it. Long before we can do this, both cat and mat must ‘stand forth out of concealedness’. They must un-hide themselves.

Enabling things to un-hide themselves is what human do: it is our distinctive contribution. We are a ‘clearing’, a Lichtung, a sort of open, bright forest glade into which beings can shyly steep forward like a deer from the trees…It would be simplistic to identify the clearing with human consciousness, but this is more or less the idea. We help things to emerge into the light by being conscious of them, and we are conscious of them poetically, which means that we pay respectful attention and allow them to show themselves as they are, rather than bending them to our will.

—Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café (Other Press, 2016)


Joseph Hutchison said...

"Enabling things to un-hide themselves is what human[s] do: it is our distinctive contribution."

Since I'm unsure of the context here, I don't want to impugn Ms. Bakewell. But I do want to point out that the view she puts forward is simply a way of patting ourselves on the back. As if the things of this world need un-hiding—are somehow "less than" until we, with our godlike consciousness, grant them our attention. As if poetry were written for them! This is silly. We are the ones who need to un-hide things, which are opaque only to ourselves until we stumble upon the completely sufficient reality of them. When that happens, some of us create art to alert others in the tribe. Poetic consciousness enables us to see the world as is. As Basho puts it (in Robert Bly's translation):

The morning glory
another thing
that will never be my friend

JforJames said...

I see what you're saying, Joe...but I think she's just giving us her notion of Heidegger's 'clearing' of consciousness. In a certain sense the 'morning glory' doesn't exist without out attention, our seeing, even our name for it.

Joseph Hutchison said...

"In a certain sense the 'morning glory' doesn't exist without our attention"

Can you define that "certain sense" without which the morning glory doesn't exist?

It seems we're trapped in an absurd tautology created by our own arrogance, the "special power" of being human. Certainly being human is a unique way of being, but to privilege it by saying that other ways of being are somehow dependent on it is simple hubris.