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Philosophy and Literature 24.2 (2000) 312-326

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Heimat in Heidegger and Gadamer

Kai Hammermeister

The Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, taking up a formulation by Jürgen Habermas, once pointed out that Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics could under one perspective be understood as a complete linguistification of Martin Heidegger's concept of Being. 1 To be sure, for Heidegger Being always was related to language, but Gadamer declared that it is nothing but: "Being that can be understood is language." 2 This linguistification of a concept in Gadamer's reception of Heidegger can be applied not only to the concept of Being; the same claim can be made about the concept of Heimat.

Heimat, this untranslatable German term that oscillates between home and homeland and yet means neither, 3 has in recent years received much attention from literary scholars, historians, sociologists and anthropologists--though a study of its use as a philosophical term is still lacking. Maybe this is due to the fact that Heimat, even in the context of the German language, hardly sounds like a philosophical term and is often understood to mean exactly the opposite of philosophical reflection, namely something which precedes consciousness and thought. And yet, from Novalis who defined all philosophy as homesickness to Ernst Bloch for whom it was the "not yet," Heimat has been a relevant term in philosophical discourse. A sketch of the history of the philosophical use of this notion would clearly be beyond the scope of this paper and thus must be attempted elsewhere. However, I want to advance some thoughts on two instances of Heimat as a philosophical term as it pertains to the discussion of literature. The first instance is the concept of Heimat in the writings of Martin Heidegger who seems to be the first to employ the term for a poetological discussion. Heidegger, however, never abandoned the regional implications [End Page 312] of the term that refer back to a landscape and an environment. It was his student Hans-Georg Gadamer who stripped Heimat of most of its regionalist appeal and turned it into a signifier for procedures of understanding in general and encounters with fictional literature in particular.

In 1960, Heidegger gave a lecture with the title "Sprache und Heimat" ("Language and Heimat"), and in 1992 Hans-Georg Gadamer responded with a text titled "Heimat und Sprache." Both titles, however, are misnomers, if we assume that the first term of the conjunction takes precedence over the second. Whereas for Heidegger Heimat is still more than just language, for Gadamer particularly poetic language is Heimat. What begins with Heidegger and is completed by Gadamer is the process of employing an originally historico-political term for aesthetic purposes. Heimat, in short, becomes for the latter an aesthetically relevant notion, namely a hermeneutic category that is applicable to all encounters with fictional works. Heimat, as Gadamer initially explains it, is that secure territory that we leave behind in every reading of a literary work--Gadamer insists, after all, on the necessary initial moment of disturbance that emanates from all art--and to which we return in every understanding of what we have read. In a second conceptual step, Heimat then emerges as the fullness of poetic language that resists the use of language for merely informational purposes.

The first section of this paper looks at Heidegger's use of the term Heimat, the second at Gadamer's. The potential problems emerging from Gadamer's appropriation of this term, i.e. from the process of simultaneously expanding the term to include all encounters with poetic language and narrowing it down from its double reference to both region and language to a merely linguistic connotation will be addressed in the final section of the paper.


Martin Heidegger's use of the term Heimat has not yet found sufficient attention, though it clearly is a central term for much of his later thought. 4 From his interpretations of Hölderlin's poetry in the 1940s to his very last text, written a few days before his death in 1976 and ending...


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