Heidegger and the Poetic Body. (Stus-2)

DSC_6340

(Photo Mykola Swarnyk)

This is especially for Кость Москалець and Оксана Максимчук – were it not for you two, I would have never posted this anywhere.

This is an unfinished draft of a paper, and was actually delivered as a conference presentation in 2006. Again, it is not finished, so should only be seen as a draft, a sketch, Auf-Riß, but also as a demonstration of the how the body hermeneutics method can work for poetry.

Heidegger and the Poetic Body.

This paper is a dialogue between Heidegger’s textual hermeneutics as exemplified in his work on Hölderlin, and “body hermeneutics,” a technique developed by Sam Mallin based primarily on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. Body hermeneutics is a method that describes and reflects on the lived body in a concrete situation: dealing with everyday concerns, institutions, people, nature, art. Particular strength of body hermeneutics is that it does not limit the method to working with primarily cognitive sphere, but focuses on different “regions” of lived body: perceptual, motor-practical, social-affective, cognitive; body hermeneutics describes how lived body responds to a concrete situation through its different “regions”. In this paper I focus on the lived body in a situation of listening and responding to poetry.

When a dialogue between Mallin’s body hermeneutics and Heidegger’s hermeneutics of poetry occurs, the outcome is two-fold. On one hand, I explore the possibility of “thinking” or “reflecting” on poetry through a fuller bodily understanding, thus enriching and deepening a traditional practice of textual hermeneutics. On the other hand, I adapt and develop Mallin’s method itself to a more specific use: doing body hermeneutics of poetic language. Heidegger’s insights on the nature of poetry, as well as the insights of poets themselves bring the method of body hermeneutics to a new level of understanding language and its bodily character, and of the poetics of the body itself. Thus, in this paper I am showing that not only is poetry bodily, but also that the body is poetic.

Introduction

The two main notions (?) of this paper are body and poetry. At this age, the connection between them seems far from obvious. While the body seems to be seen as raw matter, hard reality, the subject of so many “empirical sciences”, that which is the most graspable, the most “objective” … the poetry, as Heidegger suggests, seems to be often associated with the sphere of the imaginary, the most elusive, and “illusionary”, the most “flaky”, the least real.

For us, phenomenologists, however, this status quo in understanding both the body, and the poety, has been shaken a while ago. We do not see the body as for, example, physiology sees it, neither do we limit our view of poetry to that of linguistics. How do we see them then? It is an ongoing task of phenomenology to constantly formulate, clarify, thus deepen and widen our notions and to figure out, how they relate to each other. This is what I will attempt to do in this paper – I will try to clarify the notions of “body” and “poetry”, putting them side by side. Hopefully both will become clearer and shine at least a bit brighter by the end of this hour.

The Method

Let me first tell you about the method I have been using in my work. It is called body hermeneutics, it has been developed by Sam Mallin (York University). Similarly to traditional textual hermeneutics, the goal of the method is to describe, to clarify, to interpret, to elucidate what one is working on. However, both the “toolbox” and the “field” of what the method can be applied to is much broader. Body hermeneutics is carried out by the whole body (that is, not only by cognition, but also by other “faculties” of the body, like emotions, sense perception, motility, and so on). At the same time, body hermeneutics can be applied not only to texts (in fact, so far is has been applied to texts quite rarely), usually it is applied to all kinds of artworks, or even to everyday situations we all constantly find ourselves to be involved in.

How does it work? When we are in a situation, or in front of an artwork, we try to purposely and systematically feel it out, paying attention to the different aspects of our body, or as Mallin calls them, following Merleau-Ponty, “bodily regions” – sense perception, motor-practical region, social-affective, and cognitive. We describe an artwork or a situation, we pay attention to how it attunes different “sides” of our body, how it makes us move, or feel, how our eyes see the colors and shapes in it, how does it change the space, what emotions it brings out in us, what it calls for in terms of practice and action, how do we breathe, and so on.

This process has, so to say, two sides of it: on one hand we describe what happens  “out there” – in an artwork or in a situation; we describe that which is felt out by our body. On the other hand, we pay attention to how our body does this sensing out – how do the eyes see and the ears hear, how do the limbs move or stiffen, how do the passions feel, or how do the affects highjack us, how do the thoughts form and flow or stumble, and so on. It is similar to Husserls “intentional ark” with its noema and noesis, but unlike for Husserl, it is not just cognitive, rather it involves all sides of our body, with which, or rather through which we are in the world, through which we are in touch with things and others. I should note right away, that this pointing out of the two sides of the process should in no way be seen as a revival of a subject-object dichotomy. Quite to the contrary, the more one works with this method of description, the more one becomes aware that they are indeed two sides of the same process, that the holding can not be there without the held, and the other way around (to mention the favorite example of Merleau-Ponty’s). In fact, the whole method would not work, if what we feel and sense with our body was not indeed what and how it really is… It is still useful to pay attention to both sides, as sometimes what happens in an artwork or a situation is literally “mirrored” by the body (for example, something like a downward tendency, or excitement, or something like a sense of fragmentation or dispersion, which is taken on by the body), while other times it happens rather in a complementary way (as, for example, when something “attacks” us, and thus makes us shrink).

And so we “circle” describing different aspects of being in touch with that what we work with. Just like with traditional “textual” hermeneutics, we do not merely make the same circle over and over again, but somehow we start going deeper, our descriptions become sharper, different sides and aspects start confirming each other, the things we are describing become fuller and thicker, they show themselves better than before, they become nearer, using Heidegger’s terms, we start feeling and understanding them better than before, we learn something about them, about how to be with them, and about ourselves too.

So, this is, briefly, the method. Let me come back to the theme now, back to body and poetry. I take a poem and I start working on it.

The Spatiality of a poem

The first thing which strikes when approaching a poem and getting used to it, is something that could be called an “inner space” of the poem. One gets to know a poem not unlike one finds one’s way in a new apartment. At first the poem is strange, even though the words are familiar, the meaning does not sound yet. The poem is more like a question, there is an emptiness to it, a void.

It all starts with rhythm and rhyming. They are almost like the general color field for a visual artwork, or like a mood for a lived situation. The rythm is there, quite indeterminate still, we don’t know yet what it means, and where it will eventually take us, however, at this first stage it provides a solid enough entry point to start the process of description – the rhythm of the poem – whether flowing or pacing, whether clear and even or broken down and shaky – it is so bodily, that it quickly attunes the body to the poem, and makes it possible to go further. (add about going beyond cognitive preconceptions. may be add a section on “why body” somewhere at the beginning)

Eventually, the contours start appearing, something like a “structure” of the poem begins to show, (I use this rather clumsy term for a lack of a better word) – no wonder Heidegger often starts with highlighting quickly the main “parts” of the poem. It is as if there are several “places” in the poem, or, to go back to the metaphor of an “apartment” – different rooms. Each of them, not unlike the usual “physical” places, attunes us in a different way. While reading the poem, while listening to it, we are as if lead through these places, we are invited to feel out the shifts in-between them, the contrast which is created, the tension that often builds up and provides an excellent ground for reflection (even in a poem as short as four lines, there can be very distinct shifts from one “place” to another, and, so from one “state” to another).

Let me now tell you about how it happens in the poem I was working on.

The morning was similar to a cherry at the dawn,

so roundly was blackening dried blood

of these long alerts, these years-long waitings,

which were sharply piercing the cover

of the hell here, of the paradise there.

The world is ripening like an after-night cherry.

You know – you don’t know, sometimes I call out,

sometimes I forget, ‘cause thickens the ice

of silence and loss, of separation and fate,

of hope and sorrow, of love and tears.

She stretched out the hands, out of the nightgown,

over there, where the “car” is spaced out (into the sky).

Vasyl Stus (1938-1985)

 

Things and gestures

When one gets used to the poem, one starts feeling at leas two (and may be even three, depending on how one looks at it) very distinct “places” in this poem. Each is “defined”, if I can say so, by a thing – the first one by the ripening cherry, the second one by the thickening ice. The third one, the female figure with the hands outstretched into the sky, is still more concealed than first two. Heidegger mentions in Language, that things in a poem condition us. Each of them creates a place, into which we are invited to enter. Even after a short while, the poem becomes fleshy, suddenly the things, which are named in the poem bring out colors, forms and textures – thick and round reddish-black blood-like cherry; sharp piercing through it; thickening and cold block of ice – still transparent, but limiting. And then the openness of the night sky with its stars, the hands outstretched into it out of the sleeves of a white nightgown.

Yes, it is so that, even though still mysterious, the metaphors already start sounding and making sense, the connections are already starting to appear, and not on the level of cognitive abstractions, but rather on the perceptual level – these couple of words, which are naming concrete things – they as if start filling the whole poem with reality. Somehow they manage to do it much more successfully so, than the rhythm of the poem – as if the rhythm does not have enough flesh in it, as if it is still too abstract (however, later on the rhythm starts making sense too). Not only do they, these things, appear sensuously, they also relate to each other, as if highlighting each other, and as if contrasting with each other. They as if lighten up, the “structure” of the poem, they fill it with flesh – with color, form, temperature and texture, but also they as if wake up my senses, I start feeling the redness of the cherry and the coldness of the ice in me quite clearly, just as the coolness of the open sky in the night.

The Ripening Cherry

And so, how does the first “place”, the place of the cherry, make me feel? When I start feeling out the beginning of this poem, the blackening redness of the cherry, the dried blood with its metallic taste, the alerts, and longing, and waiting, and the hell, quite soon the body responds very strongly in an emotional way. It is an extreme sadness, almost to the point of sorrow, a sense of hopelessness and tiredness, a sense of being enclosed within the limits of the here, almost like the flesh of the cherry is enclosed by its skin. It is an extreme loneliness, and the feeling of being permanently cut off. There is a vague sense of something else – that “paradise there”, but it feels so far and so unreachable, that is almost does not seem to exist any more. It is pressing, and depressing, in fact, the more one stays with it, the more one is inclined to lay down, one becomes unbearably sleepy (yes, these long alerts, these years-long waitings).

The heaviness of the “hell here” is even more accentuated by the rhythm of the poem, which is very clear and definite in its monotonous running – almost train-like, or horse-like? This rhythm has a quality of taking you over, and almost over-shadowing all the other features. It clocks in my head over and over. The fragments of expressions, especially the stressed words at the end of each line – they come up, arise, and then move on and disappear, but everything else seems to be in the mist of the rhythm, in the mist of this monotonous tiredness. It is some kind of dispersion, but at the same time one feels limited and helpless… This state is so heavy, and thick, and sour, to the point of feeling an actual heartache (yes, the piercing? it pierces right through). It is very unpleasant, I must say, but there is something very human in it.

If we were to relate it to Heidegger of Being and Time, we would undoubtedly think of thrownness, in fact it is about the past indeed. Perhaps not even the past, but rather the present, which on one hand is still desperately longing for what has been, and has been lost – “the paradise there”, yet on the other hand already feels the hard and merciless impossibility or returning to that paradise, and the painful sadness with which it fills the poet. Add a note on temporality.

Let me step aside for a moment, and see what is happening here on the level language.

The morning was similar to a cherry at the dawn,

so roundly was blackening dried blood

of these long alerts, these years-long waitings,

which were sharply piercing the cover

of the hell here, of the paradise there.

The metaphor the poet is using, seems at the first time almost too complicated to be held together, and yet, when one lets it speak, it is slowly showing and eventually starts making sense. It is almost surprising to note, that the word has it’s whole “region of meanings”, and not only one cognitive meaning – the cherry here has roundness and color. The poet helps us, he mentions the roundness himself, thus pointing it out to us. He also helps to see to the color by naming dried blood – both redness and the blackening of this redness are there – and also aging, receding into the past. The cherry has the taste – sharp-sour, even though that taste is not mentioned anywhere expressly, but it seems to be echoed by the sharp and piercing longings and waitings named by the poet… The cherry has this quality of ripening, surrounding and holding together the inside – the flesh and the juice… In the poem, it brings together both the temporality (morning and dawn), and spatiality (hell here and paradise there)… And the ripening, maturing of course… This cherry seems to hold together all these qualities, all these webs of meanings, it is almost no wonder that in the next line poet says, the world is ripening, like that cherry.

It is in this ability to shine with the fleshiness of things, to create the places around the things named, to hold together in space and through time, that poetry manifests itself as bodily. At the same time, precisely because it is bodily, the poetry can speak to us in a bodily way, affect our bodies, call for certain gestures on our part. Heidegger, in one of those places where he sounds almost Merleau-Pontian, says about the taking of measure in poetry: “if only our hands do not grip, but are guided by the gestures, which respond to the measure, that is to be taken here.”[1] This responding with one’s gestures (with one’s posture, or general bodily attitude), this adjusting to the “gestures” of what is spoken in the poem, echoes Merleau-Ponty on the understanding of gestures. We do not understand others, Merleau-Ponty says, by figuring out cognitively what they are about to do, we understand others, because our body lets itself to be taken by the gestures it encounters, it “lends itself” to another body, it “recaptures” those gestures responding with the gestures of its own, and only thus it understands them in its own bodily way.[2] Why is it necessary to make a metaphor? Because the experience is unsayable, because the everyday language is not adequate? It would seem, that the poet is feeling something very complex, something very deep – too deep to be called by one word – like pity or sorrow or loneliness, or tightness in the chest, or pressure, or something like that… And also, it is not just about “inner” state of the poet… or is it? Yes, this poet is very introspective, but perhaps the poem is not just about “his experience”, perhaps it is more generally about life?

The thickening ice

Let us now move on to the second part of the poem. It reads:

You know – you don’t know, sometimes I call out,

sometimes I forget, ‘cause thickens the ice

of silence and loss, of separation and fate,

of hope and sorrow, of love and tears.

She stretched out the hands, out of the nightgown,

over there, where the “car” is spaced out (into the sky).

At first this it seems, that this part of the poem is not much different from the previous one. The same sense of separation and loss, same sorrow and tears. However one needs to spend just a while listening to it, and the body immediately starts sensing the difference. After struggling with heavy sleepiness when working on the previous part, suddenly it wakes up.  It’s not that the senses become active, in fact, it is even strange, how silencing this poem is, how it makes you become quiet and stay still. However, I am clearly awake now… This sense of horizontality of the previous part, which was inclining me to lay down, as if to just melt and spread, is completely gone now.

This awakening somehow stresses a vertical dimension in me, it holds me upright, and I don’t have to force myself to stay vertical, it just happens on its own… I am as if elongating upwards with this poem… The words also become clearer when I’m reading it, they are no longer sinking into the gray and misty mass, which was enveloping me just a while ago…

And yet I am not compelled to get into the poem and into the meanings of the words… It is as if I just want to enjoy it on a general level, without digging into it, without plunging into it. I am as if staying aside from the poem, not really involved. It is not that I am afraid or something else, rather, this poem calls for such distance and detachment. There is almost a sense in which it makes me feel very clearly the poet as other than me, and even the poet’s counterpart – someone whom the poet is speaking – as other than me… I am not “in” this poem neither as the one who is speaking, nor as the one to whom the speaking is addressed. My role is the witness. I don’t feel unwelcome though, quite to the contrary, it almost feels like that would be the only proper role – just as a witness of this intimacy of the poet – nothing more, but nothing less as well.

(And so I ask myself: what does it mean to be a witness? Is that what we do in hermeneutics too – it seems we need to keep the distance in order to “reflect”, in order to “record” what is going on – otherwise, it seems, we would jump into the experience and “forget” to pay attention to it. Yet, it seems strange how this division between action and reflection is still so powerful – is it perhaps just another one of our Western prejudice? At the same time, Heidegger too very clearly sees our role very differently from the role of the poet… We are not the poet, we are only supposed to receive what he says, and to hold it, to take care of it.)

The mood too is not so “hopeless” and tired as in the previous part – there is a sense of acceptance on a wider scale. In spite of naming separation, sorrow and tears,  this part of the poem is not affective at all. (Here I am referring to the distinction between affect, passion and mood, which Heidegger writes about in the first volume of Nietzsche lectures.) It does not rip you out of yourself, like an affect does, it does not attack you, even though it is painful, the acceptance of what is, saturates this part of the poem… It is indeed the pain that has matured, that became life, that became as if normal, that stopped being out-of-ordinary. Even the word “feeling” is too strong here – because of the distance (and poets own distance to the feeling too), because of the ripening and maturing, because of the quiet acceptance – this poem seems to demand the feelings that have matured and calmed down… And so, this tiredness and quietness, which at the beginning of the poem appears as lethargy, and puts one to sleep, here must change into something quite the opposite – something powerful, the sense of acceptance and taking on what is given, like Heidegger’s notion of destiny, Geschick which when taken on becomes freedom. Perhaps also that is why there is this sense of upward direction – of freedom and openness to rise and grow vertically, instead of spreading horizontally. This enclosedness, this limitation seen in the first part of the poem in the tension and ripening of the cherry, does not leave any other way, so it seems, beside this vertical growing into the sky – somewhere beyond the limitations one has been thrown into. This same kind of overcoming is confirmed by the tension, which arises between the monotonous rhythm, so dominant in the first part of the poem, and the meaning of the sentences, that are not cut off at the end of the line, where the rhythm so abruptly stops, but in fact they here they overflow into the next line, the intonation, instead of dropping at the end of the line is in fact raising and continuing on. There in a sense in which the melodic sound overcomes the rhythm, the acceptance and the strength acquired with it raise above the dull depression of feeling locked up and limited.

So… (instead of a conclusion)

Yes, this poem is so dual, it is so paired up, so contrasted – this almost vegetative sleepiness so contrasted with this verticality, with this sense of being human, with this freedom… What is it then to be human? Where is that measure? May be precisely in that contrast, in that tension between succumbing and falling asleep, being will-less and horizontal, being passive on the one hand, and then being straight and awake, being gathered together, being concentrated on the other hand – may be precisely in that difference there is a measure taken – at least a measure between the vegetative and the human. It is very clear that this vegetative is also a part of being human, perhaps even the larger part. And yet this verticality, this dimension, which would be so unpopular with us postmodernists – perhaps that is precisely what measures us out. And so that ice which is thickening – there is something dead about it, and yet at the same time, there seems to be that hardness, and clarity, precisely that verticality to it –that which helps the poet to stand – as opposed to that ripening and ripened, but at the same time also rotting cherry, that vegetative and submissive, that merely organic, that which just succumbs to the laws of nature, that which just hangs, and cannot possibly stand…

In a way, this poem, especially the second part makes you silent. The ice of silence is thickening indeed, and so I too feel like staying silent, instead of doing my work, that is, describing the poem and what it does to my body… There is something in this poem, that is stopping, slowing down, as if freezing, but somehow without the feeling of actual coldness, rather, hardening, making into stone… Perhaps it similar to the pain which turned the threshold to stone in Trakl’s poem Heidegger is writing about. Here too, the ice, which is this barrier between here and there, is thickening, and dividing the poem, shielding away the first half, which is still emotional, still about this world, still about what matters, still about the dimension of pain which is somehow human, which is still sensed on a human level, by which one is still moved and with regard to which one can still see the “here” as the hell, one can still burn and feel it, one is still somehow alive, and life, as this human life, and the quality of it, the pains and the sorrows – all this still matters, yes, still horizontal we could say that again… The ripening of the cherry, which will inevitably become rotting – unless it freezes, one wants to suggest looking into the second part of the poem… Whereas this second part is about solid standing, about thickening of ice, about the vanishing of fire and life. It is enduring, but enduring already removed. It is already directed into a different dimension. It somehow moves beyond the “here”, beyond the visible, that is, the particular. It seems to just grow into the solid ground and stretch into the sky. Yes, enduring is the word for it, but also grounding, cooling…

And so, with these colorful metaphors – the poet as if indeed says something, that is hardly even possible to say in a conceptual way. We could call the ripening of the cherry “life”, but would we say by that something about what and how that life is? We could even call the thickening of the ice “ground”, or to be even more risky we could call it “being”, but thus we would say nothing, we would just habitually repeat the name, but it would be flat, it would not sound, there would be no life in it, no tension, nothing “real”, so to say… it would not belong to the language that speaks, that measures, that takes something we know, something concrete and visible, and then puts it aside something else, makes it stretch to something else, makes it shift, makes it appear in some new way, makes something else appear through that stretching, which would not be there otherwise, were we just to call it habitually, were we to construct an abstract sentence, instead of bringing in bodily thick “things”, that are in fact never unambiguous, that always have many sides, that never appear completely, but always hold that potential for creating the tension, which enables the saying to move out of the sphere of the definite, clear and everydaily, into the sphere of the hidden…


[1] “wenn nun unsere Hände nicht greifen, sondern durch Gebärden geleitet sind, die dem Maß entsprechen, das hier zu nehmen ist.” (“… dichterisch wohnet der Mensch ”, 192. or Engl. 221)

[2] Phenomenology of Perception, 184-186.

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12 thoughts on “Heidegger and the Poetic Body. (Stus-2)

  1. Оригінал вірша:
    Поранок був схожий на вишню досвітню –
    так кругло чорніла запечена кров
    цих сполохів довгих, чекань многолітніх,
    котрі гострожало вражали покров
    тутешнього пекла, тамтешнього раю.
    Як понічна вишня, тужавіє світ.
    Ти знаєш – не знаєш, коли накликаю,
    коли забуваю, бо грубшає лід
    мовчання і втрати, розлуки і долі,
    надії і горя, любові і сліз.
    Простерла долоні – з дитячої льолі –
    аж ген, де Чумацький просториться віз.

    Like

    1. Я сподіваюся, це простіше читатиметься ніж попередній. 🙂 ну от же ж кара ти читаєш якось – так що не прибідняйся 😉

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        1. Та ну, Костику, – цей текс зовсім не скаднішою англійською написаний, ніж кар, і ти все тут зрозумієш 🙂

          Like

          1. Але то не спішно, звичайно, тому давай добивай свою роботу, а потім колись поговоримо про це – краса вордпреса на відміну від всіх решта – його тотальна неспішність – нічо нікуди не втікає, все лежить на місці, нічого не треба шукати 🙂

            Like

            1. поговоримо обов’язково! добиваю; якщо вона мене не доб’є, то десь у 20 числах березня вже буду вільний.. дивно, що я цього Стусового вірша взагалі не пам’ятаю..

              Like

              1. Я цим віршем завдячую Андруховичу. Ну а тим першим, про свічечку – Андрієві Водічеву з театру Курбаса (але то я вже раніше казала).

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          2. справді, значно легше і ясніше за першу частину! лишилося навчити тебе писати українською – і я можу спокійно повертатися в ноосферу 😉 добрий текст, направду, кажу без компліментів зайвих і лайків…

            Like

            1. Ггг, куди розігнався? Я ж писала десь раніше, що всю цю ідею на тему “писати про стуса” закинула – зараз, думаю, вже б не змогла про це так писати взагалі, ну і цей текст застряг, і так і не дописався.

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  2. Reblogged this on Блоґ Костянтина Москальця and commented:
    “This paper is a dialogue between Heidegger’s textual hermeneutics as exemplified in his work on Hölderlin, and “body hermeneutics,” a technique developed by Sam Mallin based primarily on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. Body hermeneutics is a method that describes and reflects on the lived body in a concrete situation: dealing with everyday concerns, institutions, people, nature, art. Particular strength of body hermeneutics is that it does not limit the method to working with primarily cognitive sphere, but focuses on different “regions” of lived body: perceptual, motor-practical, social-affective, cognitive; body hermeneutics describes how lived body responds to a concrete situation through its different “regions”. In this paper I focus on the lived body in a situation of listening and responding to poetry”.

    Like

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