Ambiguities of the Human Condition
Philosophy is a critically reflective and continual process of distilling knowledge into an extensive, comprehensive, and most coherent experience construct. Truth, spirit, and associated strife are three main theoretical ideas positioning subjectivity within essential existential understanding. In its combination of novelty and control, an artistic impulse reconciles relationships between these concepts in an organic progression of indirect, oblique unconcealment. As explained by Heidegger “in the work of art the truth of beings has set itself to work” (162). In his view, truth happens in the artwork event. Humans interrogate the incomprehensible, as existence exists in two domains, the objective real and subjective mental. Ultimately, as Heraclitus reminds us, “things come into being and pass away through strife” (Russell 42). Knowledge comes from perceptional appearance integrated through conception. Heidegger complicates this oppositional model as one of world and earth in strife. He tells us “in essential strife, the opponents raise each other into the self-assertion of their essential natures” (174). In this conflict, “world” is defined as the structural whole of significant relationships humans can possibly experience, while “earth” occurs essentially as the sheltering agent. So it is that “the [art] work moves the earth itself into the open region of a world and keeps it there” (Heidegger 172). The historical narrative indicates that one side of this divide can never be completely reduced to the other, because clearing and concealing struggle outside the field of human reason. Thus, the concealed earth is unconcealed in the temporally contingent world.
Identified as sapient beings, Dasein is conscious of its existence and selfhood. Consciousness must be a matter of emergence, the organization of which is a profound cognitive mystery. Being ephemeral and immaterial, thinking and thoughts are spiritual. Heidegger elucidates this spirituality as “being and its structure transcend[ing] every being and every possible existent determination of a being. Being is the transcendens pure and simple. The transcendence of the being of Da-sein is a distinctive one since in it lies the possibility and necessity of the most radical individuation” (85). Within a comprehensive fixed continuum, many particular alternatives influence the changing flux of existence, with frames of spiritual subjectivity isolating and defining individual entities. Known choices necessitate strife, as nothing is certain and error potential is always unknowingly present. Responding to our specific experience, we continually become what we think and how we act. Implicated in antiquity, Heraclitus explains that “the elemental fire carries within itself the tendency toward change, and thus pursuing the way down, it enters the strife and war of opposites which condition the birth of the world” (15). Moreover, Derrida updates this elemental conflagration understanding as spirit that “inflames itself, setting itself on fire, setting fire to itself” (84). As an integral primal energy comprising the essence of the universe, spirit resides both within and without you. This notion even finds its way into popular culture, when “we were talking about the space between us all/And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion/Never glimpse the truth” (George Harrison, Within and Without You (1-3). Hegel identifies spirit as “the rational and necessitated will .... the director of the events of the world’s history” (Russell 736). Subjects can never be objectively certain about exteriority, other than the certainty of exteriors very existence. Fuelling strife, quantum physics tells us that nothing is actually solid. In this spiritual model, everything is vibrating energy. The enveloping energy inferno is an attribute of objects and systems conserved in nature and more than just metaphorically symbolized as spiritual conflagration (Derrida 96). Along with everything around us, because our bodies are vibrating energy, we are entangled with each other and everything else.
Freud points out that “it would be unfair to reproach civilization with trying to eliminate strife and competition from human activity. These things are undoubtedly indispensable” (Gay 750). In fact, Heidegger identifies as Being fundamental the “primal strife,” (180) preceding any imposition of human interpretation. Shunning external criteria definition, consciousness and human subjectivity allow an evolution of formation recontextualization. The distinction between consciousness and its contents is elusive. As understanding remains dynamic, it is exceeded only by the inscrutability that in the universe there should be something rather than nothing. Indeed Heidegger asks, “why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?” (110). In this query, Heidegger primordially hopes that truth about Being can be uncovered by experiencing consciousness, at the same time recognizing the associated empirical limitations. Philosophy merges both emotional and cognitive mental dimensions. “Love of wisdom” simultaneously defines philosophy as a subjective philosopher relating to a philosophical objective. Yet Heidegger desires to deepen subject/object understanding far below superficial surfaces. Strife is striving to learn, a passionate craving, which always precedes knowledge, the object of love. “Love and strife were, for Empedocles, primitive substances on a level with earth, air, fire, and water” (Russell 55).The persistence of this striving seeks the essence of wisdom, as “Beings can be as beings only if they stand within and stand out within what is cleared in this clearing” (Heidegger 178). World and earth in the clearing reveal the symbiosis of their strife. Aesthetic wonderment is an inquiring modality rather than a particular kind of knowledge, as strife explains change, growth, and development.
Freud extended this search for the essence of subjectivity to unconscious mental processing potentially revealed through dreamwork analysis. As such, Freud examines the “manifest” dream content to learn significance concealed in “latent” content. He points out that “the work of analysis involves an art of interpretation, the successful handling of which may require tact and practice but which is not hard to acquire” (Gay 25). Here mediation is layered and complex as each subject must interpret their experience followed by the analyst interpreting that interpretation. According to Freud, “consciousness makes each of us aware only of his own state of mind,” (Gay 575) but the unconscious obliquely makes us wonder if other dissimilar states exist, resulting in permanent uncertainty and apprehension. This once again brings us back to strife, as “anxiety reveals the nothing” (Heidegger 100).
As Freud tells us, ‘”people who are receptive to the influence of art cannot set too high a value on it as a source of pleasure and consolation in life” (Gay 732). Along these lines, “could it be that the fine arts are called to poetic revealing?” (Heidegger 340). Indeed, language and all of the arts are essentially poetic, alluding to that which is veiled and thus indefinite. Understanding spirit as interpretive and dependent upon epistemological and ontological assumptions, Derrida deconstructs interdependent consciousness complexities in his reading of Heidegger. In this context, language and culture unavoidably mediate subjectivity, obscuring the view of an objective reality. Functioning in powerful ways, language itself operates as an art form, with terms ostensibly clearly defining yet simultaneously hiding their own ambiguity. Geist (mind, spirit, or ghost) is the ultimately real and fundamental object embodied in Hegel’s notion of the “Absolute.” In this philosophical vein, Derrida deeply probes the specific expression “Of Spirit” for its Heideggerian value. With universal significance, the principle underlying human experience of the absolute is the individual as a representative of humanity, not an incidental feature. Hegel tells us “that Spirit is the only reality and that it’s thought is reflected into itself by self-consciousness” (Russell 734). Furthermore, “this being emerges into the unconcealment of its Being” (Heidegger 161). From this we can infer that spirit defines Dasein historically and through its quintessence in the fabric of aesthetics and art, joins the underlying core of Being.
Problematizing spirits’ authenticity, Heidegger reveals that “enframing” dominates in the essence of modern existential understanding. Enclosed as we are within our enframed references, what can be done to save ourselves from the consequences of enframing? Aesthetics provides potential spiritual salvation from enframed subjective human conceptions, revealed as divergent perspectives on the identical substratum. For to have different perspectives, attitudes, or points of view, requires that the same fundamental, essential, shared thing be under interpretive investigation. Additionally, free will is the Dasein mechanism allowing for conflicting anthropocentric explanations of a concealed earth. Hegel identifies that “the essence of Spirit is Freedom” (Russell 736). Forever functioning within an unknowable manifold, humans seek a unified and knowable projection of clarification to render the inherent noumenal realm manageable. Poetically through creative order, an aesthetic framework provides structural form for spiritual attunements, placing them in the dialogical dialectic discourse. In the midst of the spiritual discussion, Derrida elucidates, “that’s the truth of what we have always said, heard, tried to make heard” (113). Likewise, Bergson finds the locus of spiritual reality in the phenomena of memory, which we may come into touch with experimentally (Russell 797). Building with echoes and then propagating disclosure, these chronicles work to locate Dasein (human subjects) as immaterial thoughts historically informed but potentially synthesized anew. Moreover, in this innovative synthesis Hegel identifies the “spirit is the one immutably homogeneous infinite” (Russell 666).
Derrida, Jacques. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.
Heidegger, Martin, and David F. Krell. Basic Writings: From Being and Time (1927) to the Task of Thinking (1964). San Francisco, Calif.: Harper San Francisco, 1993.
Heraclitus, and Brooks Haxton. Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. New York, N.Y: Simon and Schuster, 1972.