Thomas J. Harrison nietzsche, heidegger, and the language of contemporary italian poetry I. The Language of Philomela



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(28) But in Heidegger's understanding of the term, to create ( schaffen ) means "to fetch from the source ( schöpfen ). And to fetch from the source means to take up what springs forth and to bring back what has so been received." (29) The work of art creates Being by heeding the self-manifestation of Being. Poetic saying, then, depends upon a listening, upon an attentive harkening to the "soundless voice of Being." (30) For Nietzsche poetry is exactly the opposite: a vociferous self-­assertion, an imparting of words to mute absurdity.

      How important is this active/passive distinction regarding the act of creation? Even if we ignore the implications of Nietzsche's theory of inspiration (which would draw him closer to Heidegger), both speak of art as essentially the power to see things "as." Nietzsche sees that power as lying within man, Heidegger sees it more extensively as a self-showing of Being. The two views are not incompatible. Heidegger simply goes further in his analysis than Nietzsche. To begin with, unlike most interpreters of Nietzsche's work, Heidegger acknowledges that the will to power is much more than a subjectivistic doctrine. It understands "asness" or perspectivism as the basis for all processes of life, even those of the inanimate world. In Heidegger's paraphrase, "the 'physiological,' the sensuous-corporeal, in itself possesses this beyond-itself." (31) Beings are not discrete entities, they are [end p. 30] moments or aspects of relationships. In an unpublished note Nietzsche writes: "the properties of a thing are effects on other 'things'; if one removes other 'things,' then a thing has no properties, i.e., there is no thing without other things, i.e., there is no 'thing-in-itself.'" (32) Indeed, Heidegger is so aware of Nietzsche's proximity to his own way of thinking that the only criticism he offers in these first lectures on the will to power is the laconic remark we previously quoted. Heidegger's philosophical advance lies in his analysis of the ontological conditions for this textuality of being. Once Nietzsche had disintegrated metaphysical entities into innumerable relations, Heidegger's hermeneutic step was de rigueur . The philosophy of Dasein can be understood as a reinterpretation of the relational ec-stasy of the will to power.

      The fundamental divergence between Heidegger and Nietzsche would seem to lie in Heidegger's theory of the ontological difference. When Heidegger says that art is the origin of both the artist and the work, he means art as the event of truth which shows the tension between lighting and concealing. Art is a letting-come-to-presence ( An-wesen-lassen ) which also manifests the concealedness of things. It shows the "originary" occurence of sense. (33) It would seem that Nietzsche does not have such ontological unconcealment in mind when he speaks of poetry. Language merely objectifies things in words. Presuming to lift veils from Being, it only veils it once more. Nietzsche seems content to relegate the condition for actual language--Heidegger's Language, Saying, or Showing--to the veiled dimension of Being. Hence he would not share the Heideggerian thesis that language reveals the originary ontological difference from which it springs. Or would he? His own practice suggests otherwise.

      Nietzsche readily admits that his own saying is partial and strictly speaking mendacious. Truth can only be masked, even and above all by art. However, while respecting the evolution from the young [end p. 31] philologist to the older monument razer, we cite two sentences from Nietzsche's Ueber Demokrit (1868) which signal a hinge in the theory: "With scepticism we dig a grave for tradition; with the consequence of scepticism we ferret the concealed truth out of its burrow.... So a Hegelian might say we were trying to convey truth through the negation of negation." (34) If art negates truth, Nietzsche's art negates that negation.

      "We no longer believe that truth remains truth when the veils are withdrawn," he declares. (35) Paradoxically, this vision is an outcome of that traditional quest compelling philosophers "to descend into our ultimate depths, and to put aside all trust, everything good-natured, everything that would interpose a veil ." (36) But it is no paradox. It is an arduous change of perspectives which is the philosopher's wisdom (malice and art). The wisdom which rescues Nietzsche from his reticence is an art of difference: He lifts the veils veiling the veiledness of Being and at the same time veils the indecency of naked "truths" (turning nihilism into a source of vision). Every veil that is lifted leaves another in its place (so that Being unveiled as will to power is truth veiled in metaphysical constructs). Yet every veiling of "Baubo"--the personification of truth as the female genitalia--also allows a new possibility for life.



      "Logos is in itself and at the same time a revealing and a concealing," writes Heidegger. (37) Nietzsche agrees. Truth is art after all--not because it is freely invented, but because it resides in the difference between the said and the unsaid of the artistic word. Man can know neither the "thing-in-itself" nor even that it is unknowable. He can only "know," and show in his art, that as Dasein he is a bridge suspended between the manifestness and hiddenness of things. [end p. 32]

      Artistic discovery, or "creation," is legein : the gathering of new contexts, new "hows" of meaning. (We have dismissed the question of where the responsibility for the creation lies, whether inside the poet or outside him--it is him, neither within nor without since as Dasein he is both.) If logos did not reveal legein , it would confront us from an unbreachable distance like some impenetrable foreign word. Nietzsche's logos is indistinguishable from his legein . "The most valuable insights are gained last of all, but the most valuable insights are the methods ," he claims. (38) And then he boasts: "I have the most multifarious art of style that has ever been at the disposal of a single man." (39) Critique, apothegm, parable, lyric, myth (not to mention the service he puts them to): one hesitates to dissent. But the danger, a danger by his own reckoning, is that such variability will lead to no gathering but only to a dispersal of vision. "What is the sign of every literary decadence ?" he asks. "That life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at the expense of the whole--the whole is no longer a whole." (40) This is his attack upon Richard Wagner, who could not create from a totality, and "had to make patchwork, "motifs," gestures, formulas, doing things double and even a hundredfold." (41) Granted, it sounds like an appreciation of Nietzsche's own practice. One might even suspect that he struggled with the same problem his whole life. He too was a decadent; his work too was a patchwork. But Nietzsche was a "reformed" decadent, and presumably imparted a unity to his patchwork which the decadent could not. Nietzsche's plurality of method is itself a governing method. Establishing variable relations among [end p.33] separate utterances, it is in service of the vieldeutigen Character , the differential plurality, of existence. Within the motley patchwork the writing is firm, methodical, organizing, binding, spinning out its text as a context. Nietzsche's distance is that of a man who knows that nothing gives itself "as it is." " Alles ist Weg ," announces Heidegger: All is way. (42) The insight is already Nietzsche's. Not to keep silent about that whereof one cannot speak, he speaks with mobility, of existence as a context constituted by language.

IV. The Influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger on Contemporary Italian Poetry

      A partial backdrop to some of the contemporary revaluations of the nature of language and poetry, these considerations frame Nietzsche's favorite malice and the somewhat forbidding subtitle which accompanies it: "Ontology and Reference in Contemporary Italian Poetry." This formulation would have been unthinkable before Heidegger re-examined both the relation of Being to language and also the possibility of a dialogue between poetry and philosophy. The subtitle suggests that ontology, or discourse about Being, must be distinguished from reference, or discourse about things. Language is not a means of meaning but the advent of meaning, which first opens the way for linguistic reference. On the other hand, the "and" of the subtitle joins rather than separates the concepts of ontology and reference. Ontology and reference always imply each other, and thus the task is to determine the ontological status of referential language and the referential implications of any ontology.

      These questions take up a position within the vast Nietzschean and Heideggerian repertory adopted by literary studies in the last fifteen years. While critics have appropriated the Heideggerian lesson by deconstructing texts to locate the unsaid that underlies, and often belies, the said, poets have drawn upon Heidegger's meditations to expand the range of the words with which they [ end p.34] are working. In both cases, Heidegger has been received through the mediation of Nietzsche. Nietzsche is the passage point by which Heidegger's remarks on Sagen and the work of art meet up with the actual praxis of writing. He sets an example of the post-metaphysical fabbro, of the mastery of nihilism (silence) through the art of the word.

      The poetic move towards this pair has, as if by an inexorable logic, succeeded the inspiration of Saussurian linguistics. The consequence of the theory of the sign as subject to the signifier/ signified distinction was an immediate poetic liberation of signifiers. In Italy the major breakthrough along these lines occurred in 1961 with the publication of the five-poet anthology, I novissimi (two ex-members of which, Alfredo Giuliani and Antonio Porta, are represented herein). In an attempt to capture a richer "signified," the Novissimi embarked upon a kaleidescopic play of referentiality. (43) They disrupted the linguistic norm to enlarge its repertory. In 1966 Jean Cohen (following Samuel Levin) indeed claimed that the essence of poetic language consists in stylistic écart , in a semantic "impertinence" whereby the expectation of a certain sign is foiled by the presence of another more problematic sign. (44) But Gérard Genette responded to Cohen by observing that the arbitrariness of the signifier's tie with the signified--which it is poetry's job to "motivate"--cannot be overcome merely by deviating from the code. (45) We might say: the freer the play of signifiers, the more glaring the distance between them and their signifieds. A crisis of reference is immanent within the dichotomy itself (even if the "reference" is from morpheme to concept, [end p.35] since, as Emile Benveniste points out, reality is always the suppressed third term of the relation). (46) If a reassessment of the relation between language and reality was needed, Heidegger's philosophy was a natural place to look for it.

      In the l970's voices begin to be heard echoing Heidegger's call for a language of origins. Poets speak of the referential function of language as if it were merely derived from a deeper process of significance and to be banished from the writing of poetry. (47) Language is not a code but a horizon of sense, a horizon within which--and only within which--theoreticians may then, if they will, establish correspondences of signifier to signified. (Here we recall Heidegger's observation that the Showing of logos is later transformed into a conventional relation between a sign and its significance). Thus the revolutionary anthology of 1978, La parola innamorata , is inaugurated by a manifesto in which the editors proclaim a relentless "no to the imperialism of semiology," affirming that the poetry they offer aims to "exhibit a 'primal' (preceding and originary) truth." (48) This new poetry would present reality not in such a way that "everything vegetates in its proper place, every signified within its signifier (with some perceivable slippage)"--the parenthesis alluding to the Novis­simi --but rather in "the language of the origin" ( PI, pp. 11-­13). Giuseppe Conte, included in the anthology, says the same in a seminal manifesto in Il Verri : "Poetry ... takes us to the origins, to the essential." (49) Understanding this "original" or "essential" is problematic enough in Heidegger's own terms without bringing in the contentions of the post-Heideggerians. [end p.36]

Those least (or most) radical believe the origin is always implicit in history (even if concealed or forgotten), underlying and guiding each act or articulation. Others believe that it "is" only insofar as it is not, insofar as it is the forever absent "essence" of each thing (as in Lacan and Derrida). Most of the Italians are caught in between, pushing towards an articulation of the origin but not convinced that it can be done. Yet everyone seems to agree on one thing: The quest for the origin involves the "destruction of language as a system of established meanings.

      "The setting-into-work of truth thrusts up the unfamiliar and extraordinary and at the same time thrusts down the ordinary and what we believe to be such," says the thinker of the threshold. (50) Gianni Vattimo, Heidegger's most prominent interpreter in Italy, explains it as the simultaneously rooting and uprooting effect of authentic language (fondamento/sfondamento). Yet, like most of the post-Heideggerians, Vattimo stresses the second moment of the process (just as he argues, in the essay included here, that the inaugural character of the art work is [un]founded in being-unto-­death). To give rise to a new world, the poet must destruct the prevailing one. According to La parola innamorata (p. 13), he must break free of his "tautological universe" in which he can do no more than repeat what is dictated by the code. Jacques Garelli expands upon this aspect of the poetic operation that follows in the present volume: The particularity of the poem, he writes, lies in its



not being directed towards things of quotidian life--which would pertain to the realistic conception of linguistic reference--except by negating and destructuring them, by remodeling and recreating them, by retaining them only as terms erased from memory. (p. 110)

Vattimo furthers the argument by adducing Nietzsche. While Heidegger interpreted the aesthetic nature of the will to power as consisting in its drive for form, Vattimo argues that it is rather to be identified with the spirit of intoxication and "its essentially destructuring tendency." And this, he adds, "is the point where [end p.37] one should try to establish the link between Nietzsche and the literature and art of the twentieth century avant-garde, which certainly felt his influence and translated the lesson into creative terms." (51)

      Yet, as Garelli stresses, if poetry is a type of "ontological reference," it is because " par la puissance du verbe, quelque chose qui n'avait jamais été, surgit " (by the power of the word, something which never before was emerges, p. 113). This second, constructive operation of art is de-emphasized by many of the Italian readings of Heidegger in the Seventies (even if Vattimo claims it is just the opposite--namely, that too much emphasis is placed on the inauguration of a world through art). Like the critical deconstructionists, many contemporary poets tend to stress the lethe dimension of aletheia . Hence, according to Antonio Porta, Milo de Angelis' Somiglianze of 1976 testified to "the awareness that 'truth' was always elsewhere with respect to the discourse of poetry." (52) According to Porta, disclosure is even more problematic in Angelo Lumelli's Cosa bella cosa (1977), which is "dominated by [Being's] impermeability with regard to language, hence resistant to poetry which wants to 'open it,' to unveil it, and ends up defeated." (53) Whether the approach is to be ascribed to the books or just the reviewer, we need only note that although the terminology is Heidegger's there has been a significant shift away from the philosopher's basic vision of poetry as a-letheia .



      Generally, the retort of the post-Heideggerian poets to Heidegger is Nietzschean: "But is there something behind a mask which is not another mask? Is there an end and an aim to the unveiling which will bring us ... the horror or the wonder of truth?" (PI, p. 15). The answer, of course, is no. "Poetry has no unveilings, it has no truth to exhibit." It is "an impossible summons," an [end p.38] open-eyedness to original darkness, a blind journey "through the depths of an expanse that has no shelter ... through the excessiveness of a space that has no reason " (PI, pp. 9-13). The picture evokes Nietzsche's famous description of the death of God, in which the world has been unchained from its sun, in an act that leaves no backward, forward, up or down but only the cold breath of vertiginous space (The Gay Science , 125). We recall, however, that the picture describes not the epoch of the Übermensch --of the transvaluation of values--but the final epoch of nihilism--of the "last man"--which the Übermensch is to overcome. Once one has negated the metaphysical world one simply refuses to believe in a "true" world:

There is no comprehensive unity to the plurality of events: the character of existence is not "true," it's false ... one no longer has any reason to be convinced of a true world.... In short: we retract the categories of " goal ," " unity ," " Being ," through which we endowed the world with value.... (54)

It is in this epoch that La parola innamorata locates its work. Instead of a clearing, poetry occasions a "cruel bewilderment" (PI, p. 10). To be true to Being as a game of veils, poetry must join the game. Here is where the Dionysian element of Nietzsche's philosophy comes into play, along with its various expressive emblems: the dance, laughter, parody, and revelry in illusion. The poetic venture to discover Being turns out to be a one-way leap into the Abgrund . It is a taking sail on open seas, a daring walk along the icy precipices of mountain peaks. Once it discovers that Being is irretrievable, poetry becomes a play in surfaces, in "simulacra," as Gilles Deleuze calls them, in a denial of grounds. "The poetic word ... creates scorching disorientation" ( PI, p. 11); it is an ecstatic experiment and parody, a destruction of fictions and metaphysical truths. And "he who has nothing to say can [ end p.39] speak of nothing, of the absolute vacuum that makes the jaws of language gape" ( PI, p. 16). He can terrorize all attempts to make Being thinkable. This is the vision that governs La parola innamorata 's apology for a "mocking poetry" (p. 11) as well as Giuseppe Conte's programmatic essay, " Le istituzioni del desiderio ." Following Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche's "the creator is a legislator-dancer," Conte elaborates: "The poet is he who legislates upon the lack of laws (who institutes what cannot be instituted) and gives laws to his making while denying them, and his denial, tragic or parodic, is his dance." (56)

      Ultimately, the paradox comes down to this: The operation performed by poetry is Heideggerian--"it takes us to the origins, to the essential"--while the means of the operation are (neo) Nietzschean--"a liberation which is unhingedness and silence, irresponsibility and joy, an attainment, through loss, of the infinite simplicity of things." (57) Tragic pessimism is vanquished by the irresponsible joy of creation and the ultimate truth is exhibited by an art which has "no 'truth' to exhibit" (PI, p. 12). The poet sings Dionysos--not in the hope of recalling the gods (Heidegger) but to celebrate their absence (Nietzsche, read through Deleuze and Derrida).

      Rejecting the metaphysical conception of language as a duality of signifier/ signified, form and content, the "Dionysian" poets aspire to an indivisible oneness. Meaning will no longer be separate from surface; surface expression will resist a "decoding" of meaning. The move reflects the development Nietzsche alluded to with the abolition of the "real world" in The Twilight of the Idols : Once the apparent world is considered the only world, the question arises as to what that world is, that is, how to understand it. Once the signifier no longer comes equipped with a corresponding signified, language becomes irreducibly opaque. Analysis gives way to infinite intrepretation, interpretation which the text will always elude.

      That the apparent world is the only world, however, is only a partial [end p.40] step towards a revolution of poetry. The task, the same one which Heidegger faced in the wake of Nietzsche, is to locate the real world again in this apparent world. The "uncodifiable" play of signifers exasperates the deviance inaugurated by the Novissimi and leads poetry to a "post-metaphysical" discourse within a metaphysical setting. The real revolution would seem to lie in entirely rethinking the nature of language, so as to endow poetry once more with ontological status.



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