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P. Christopher Smith HEIDEGGER'S MISINTERPRETATION OF RILKE Certainly one of Heidegger's most important accomplishments is to have reminded us of the original unity of poetry and philosophy. The "metaphysical" philosophy which Heidegger calls into question is characterized by its sharp separation of itself from what it calls "unscientific" modes of discourse. But that, Heidegger shows, is a limitation which comes from its narrowed conception of itself as strict, methodical science, and one need only turn to Parmenides before the tradition of metaphysics or Nietzsche at the end of that tradition to see that in fact Heidegger is right: philosophy and poetry are not necessarily to be dissociated. Indeed, the former can and should grow out of the soil of the latter. The point here is one which Heidegger might be said to have learned by experience: he found that the poetry of Hölderlin opened a way for philosophy out of the cul de sac into which phenomenological science had led it. And of course not only Hölderlin: Rilke was obviously important too. In fact to some, myself included, it seems that certainly as much as Hölderlin and perhaps even more, Rilke is the poet who displays the pre-metaphysical unity of poetry and philosophy. But that is not how Heidegger views Rilke. In respect to its philosophical value, Rilke's poetry, we are told, is inferior to Hölderlin's. There is, I suggest, a most puzzling blend of attraction and suspicion in Heidegger's interpretation of Rilke. On the one hand, Heidegger, perhaps better than anyone, is able to make clear the philosophical importance of Rilke's poetry and yet, having done that and having shown thereby the greatest sympathy for Rilke's thought, Heidegger goes on to portray Rilke as "metaphysical" and to claim for that reason that he is not the poet Hölderlin is. Is that assessment valid? And how did Heidegger arrive at it? It is to these questions that the following study is addressed. On my reading of "Wozu Dichter"1 the charge that Rilke persists in "metaphysical" thought has three dimensions. To begin with, the overriding consideration in the whole of the essay is that, like all "metaphysicians," Rilke is oblivious to the Being event. There are in 4 Philosophy and Literature turn two consequences which follow from that obliviousness: first, Rilke grounds all of what is in some highest existent, namely nature taken as will, and second, in turning inwards to consciousness he re-presents the original presencing of existents. The theme of grounding in a highest existent is worked out from page 256 (p. 100) to page 281 (p. 126) and that of the re-presentation in consciousness, from page 281 (p. 126) to page 294 (p. 141). It will become evident, I think, that the discussions of two other apparently separate questions, that of the Open and that of saying and singing, fit respectively into each of these major sections of the essay. Let us now consider the aspects of the charge that Rilke is "metaphysical" one by one. Just what does obliviousness to Being mean? It means obliviousness to the clearing or lighting {Lichtung). Heidegger, it must be kept in mind, distinguishes between what is and the event in which what is comes to be displayed as such. He refers to the event itself as the lighting and it is only in the light of the lighting, he tells us, that what is can be. Obliviousness to Being is obliviousness, not to some highest existent or even to the whole of beings, but to the Being event, to the lighting. "Metaphysics," in seeking the ontos on, the being which in being most truly underlies all other existents, forgets the event in which any being, even the highest, comes to be. Consequently, instead of experiencing temporal presencing, arising out of non-presence, das Nichts, "metaphysics" reduces anything which comes to be to something which always is in steady presence. Obliviousness to Being is, if seen in this way, obliviousness to the nicht-ist, das Nichts from which any ist originates. That shows up in Rilke in that for him beings are not "dissolved in void...


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