Language as Disclosure in Lyric Time—Heidegger, Heraclitus, and Unconcealment

Particularly the experience of language, then, and specifically of language as revealed by the reflexivity of the inner word, enables Dante to experience time as transcended. Dante discovers the essential origin of time— its “roots,” as Paradiso XXVII.118-19 suggests with reference to the Primum Mobile—as unconcealed in a dimension prior to the elapsing of time within worldly temporality. Language can recreate a temporality that is free from worldly time, which is linear, irreversible, and fallen. It thereby affords a glimpse of eternity. For that to happen, Dante’s use of language must be a means of letting language occur in its essence or, more specifically, manifest itself as divine Xoyot; (Logos), which is revealed as the underlying condition of all its merely human linguistic expressions.

Language’s transcendence of its normal, pragmatic referential use is elicited particularly from its function of connecting and binding. In the Conviuio, Dante defines the nature of poetic language as essentially a tying together of words (“legare parole,” In De vulgari eloquentia Il.i, Dante uses the rare words avieo, -ere (“to bind”) and avientes (“binders”) for “writing poetry” and “poets” respectively.

Heidegger’s discussion of Heraclitus’s Logos fragment (50) thinks through the nature of language as consisting in a verbal tying or binding (Xsysiv) that discloses things through their relations. The Logos fragment, as Heidegger reads it, shows that unconcealment (“Unverborgenheit”) can occur only as the “laying together before” of things in ordered arrangement. It is because things are gathered together that they can be unconcealed—each element in relation to others forming whole structures of significance. This gathering is not itself historical. Yet it must be let happen in history and by human action in order actually to take place at all. Heidegger insists on how “this unifying which occurs in the Xoyot; remains infinitely different from what we tend to represent as a connecting or binding together.” It cannot be properly represented—its unconcealing is constitutively concealed. Yet this “unifying-gathering”


Martin Heidegger, “Logos Fragment” in Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen: Neske, 1954), 207-29, trans. David Farrell Kreil and Frank A. Capuzzi in Martin Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 59-78. Citation, 71.

Language as Disclosure in Lyric Time 281 of Logos is the pre-condition of any historical happening. It operates a priori, prior to experience, like Vico’s ideal eternal history.

The entering into a gathering that discloses time and everything temporal and historical takes place through a submitting to determination by history rather than by turning away from history toward eternal ideals. Dante’s poem, too, is remarkable for its showing of language as emergent in the temporal: it reveals itself, in the apt description of Philippe Sollers, as “a text in process of being written” (“un texte en train de s’écrire ...”). Sollers grasps, furthermore, how this processual element of the poem’s language hangs together with its being bound and gathered in a totality that is not itself given in history, but which instead gives history its shape—a totality that is best symbolized as a book. He designates the Divine Comedy as “the first great book thought and integrally enacted as a book by its author” (“le premier grand livre pensé et agi intégralement comme livre par son auteur”).[1] The paradox here is that we, together with everything we make, must change and indeed perish in order to gesture toward the imperishable. As Saint Augustine perceived, our only permanence is in him without whom we are not, while he remaining the same as himself renews everything else (“si non manebo in illo, nec in me potero. Hie autem in / se manens innovât omnia,” Confessiones VII. xi.17). Dante echoes this idea and language in Paradiso XVII.139 (“pur rimanendo in sé uno,” etc.).

The creation of a self-enclosed lyric time—or rather (self-encircling) eternity—is the essential condition of the work of art—the “origin of the work of art” (“Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks”), to echo Heidegger’s equivocal title. Dante’s Divine Comedy is, in this respect, an apotheosis of the artwork. The idea of the artwork, and particularly of the poem, as defining a separate world and ordering time unto itself is widely represented and thought through in its speculative ramifications by the German Romantics. F. W. J. Schelling, in his Philosophie der Kunst, writes of the artwork as originating through severing the speech (“Absonderung der Rede”) of the artwork from the “totality of language” (“Totalität der Sprache”). The work’s own rhythmic lawfulness “has its time [or temporality] in itself” (“ihre Zeit in sich selbst hat”) and thus allows the work to have the separate “being-in-itself” (“in-sich-selbst-sein”) that makes it an “autonomous whole” (“unabhängigen Ganzen”).

We see this ideal of the self-sufficient, autonomous work operating already in Dante. He defines the canzone as comprehending everything

282 Self-Reflection, Speculation, Revelation

necessary for poetic art within itself (“in solis cantionibus ars tota comprehendatur,” De vulgari eloquentia II.iii.8). This condition stands as an image or imitation of God, who “measures himself with himself” (“sé con sé misura,” Paradiso XIX.51). This highest Good that has never changed from itself (“da sé, ch’é sommo Ben, mai non si mosse”) is “good in itself” (“da sé buono,” XIX.86-87). The ideal of self-related, selfengendering goodness and being governs the aesthetics and metaphysics of the Paradiso. In this respect, Dante is a faithful representative of a Christian theological ideal inherent in the very fabric of Christian, particularly Augustinian thinking about the entire Creation—and eminently about the Incarnation. Yet, this “revelation” is at the same time a re-veiling of the invisible God, whose completeness is concealed by anything finite.

One thing that Heidegger shows with matchless penetration about language as unconcealment is that the unconcealing itself is always concealed and even conceals itself.[2] Such an ambiguous valence can be discerned in the “veil of Isis” as expounded by exegetes from Plutarch of Athens to Friedrich Schiller. This is also Dante’s essential experience of language in the dialectic of veiling and unveiling—in “re-velation.” The Paradiso is about unconcealing concealment of the unsurpassable limit to revelation. The Divine Comedy's ascent to revelation and unveiling climaxes in the Purgatorio, whereas the Paradiso turns back again to focus on language as a veil over what it ostensibly discloses. Its central (apophatic) preoccupation, as its declarations of ineffability attest, becomes the concealing wrought by language even in revelation.

  • [1] Philippe Sollers, “Dante et la traversée de l’écriture,” Logiques (Paris: Seuil, 1968), 45. Sollers’s La Divine Comédie: entretiens avec Benoît Chantre (Paris: Desclée de Brower, 2000) expands voluminously on this idea, while his "Vers le Paradis (Paris: Desclée de Brower, 2010) condenses it to intensely personal “expérience.” 2 Confessions, ed. James J. O’Donnell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). 3 1960), 279ff. 4 F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophie der Kunst (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,
  • [2] Martin Heidegger, Vom Wesen der Wahrheit: Zu Platons Hohlengleichnis und Thedtet (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1988), trans. Ted Sadler as The Essence of Truth: On Plato’s Cave Allegory and Theaetetus (New York: Continuum, 2002). 2 Peter Hawkins, “Augustine, Dante, and the Dialectic of Ineffability,” in Dante’s Testaments: Essays in Scriptural Imagination (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), remarks that Scriptural allegory as apocalypse or “unveiling” ends here: “once the final apocalyptic scenes of the Purgatorio are behind us, Dante’s mimesis of Scripture seems to be complete” (214).
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