Rethinking Williams Thinking

The following essay is a Heideggerian reading of William Carlos Williams’ In the American Grain. In Appendix A I point out explicitly some of Heidegger’s insights that I am finding among Williams’ insights here.


Of course Williams was anti-intellectual.

But who [he baited the critics], if he chose, could not touch the bottom of thought? The poet does not, however, permit himself to go beyond the thought to be discovered in the context of that with which he is dealing: no ideas but in things. The poet thinks with his poem…. (Williams, The Autobiography1)

But from the beginning most scholars, among them distinguished intellectuals,2 remarked Williams’ failure of intellect. That failure is part of the portrait the century has produced of him. Authors even as they point out complexities of Williams’ thought disparage his careless or clumsy intellection. At worst: “‘No ideas but in things’ … reveals a pompous, bigoted mind, not merely anti-intellectual in attitude, but dedicated to the principle of non-intelligence.”3 But I submit that the conflict may be semantic and historic, involving the meanings of “intellect” and “thinking.” If we carry these terms with their traditional meanings as measuring instruments into Williams’ work, his intellect and his thinking will fall short or long. His intellect is contaminated with esthetic and moral influences, and his thinking is not strictly or essentially rational. Yet I shall read Williams’ In the American Grain4 as an experiment in radical thinking, a reading more readily granted to his poetry; see, for example, J. Hillis Miller’s general assessment of Williams in Poets of Reality, as going farther than any other twentieth century poet past the boundaries of the tradition. (See also Miller’s reading of IAG in his “Presidential Address 1986,” with which my study is in general accord,5 and Joseph N. Riddel’s Heideggerian-to-Derridean reading of Williams in The Inverted Bell.6) My thesis is not that writing poetry and thinking are the same, though I do urge Heidegger’s contention (and Williams’ Poe’s in IAG, below) that each involves the other essentially, but I claim that Williams writes these essays, as they have been called, for the purpose of proving (in the sense of “proving” in the Poe chapter, 230) a thesis, that art serves thinking in this work and not the other way around, and that he proves (“shows”) himself as thinker as he proves (“shows”) not his conclusions but his “method” of thinking.

It is true that “thought” conceived as a purely logical, purely mental activity was never the end of Williams’ work. Such thought not only evinced no positive value in terms of the thinking he preferred, but it was immoral—in its source, its activity, and its effect. His concept of thinking was larger, more inclusive, involving more, indeed all, of the human faculties and more still. He quotes, for example, Poe’s argument that “the calculating faculties” and “the ideal” [the “poetical” faculties] “are never to be found in perfection apart. The highest order of the imaginative intellect is always preeminently mathematical; and the converse” (218). But it is more than that for Williams, more particular and plural than two categories, than even these two, can express. Two categories Williams prefers in IAG are the moral and the aesthetic, both fleshed out in characterizations that enlarge and invigorate their traditional definitions. His moral and aesthetic admonition and challenge issue not from ideological ground, but from the ground of the very ground, an actual and particular place (America, here), solid and yet impermanent, “frail,” losable, a place to which one may, indeed must, give oneself (Rasles, Boone), in which one must submerge, bury oneself (Houston), declare, risk, lose oneself (Burr), in order to arise “from under,” “through a dead layer,” to proceed “from the center out” in an originating (“fresh”) thrust toward: method (Poe section). Such a dense formulation requires elaboration.

To locate Williams’ and our post-Williams entry into the argument, in a phrase: philosophically (after Aristotle) we in the West called man the thinking (rational) animal until we learned to assign “thinking” to subjectivity, subjectivity to consciousness, and consciousness to the insensible but traceable tyranny of the unconscious, namely desire; in these (rational) transformations thinking loses its authority without surrendering its office. Now Williams, ignoring or deriding ideas in themselves, chose rather to see, sense, touch, “marry,” than to think or know; driving ignorantly, critics agree, over or past or through whatever subjectivity or consciousness might be, in a sort of blazing immediacy. “This is writing that by a Jacob’s wrestle with words gets down what happens,” writes Hugh Kenner.7 Yet these IAG essays delineate not only thinking and desire, but a hierarchy within each and a relationship of necessity that holds them together and commands them.

Desire, associated with the unconscious as a pre- or non-linguistic impulse or energy, resists linguistic definition, lends itself, unsuccessfully as yet, to the logic of physics (this temptation to pure objectivity is moderated in Lacan) or to the self-erasing, privative language of Derrida and others. We may say that something like Freudian desire appears to be the grounding, driving force in IAG, citing the sensuous, murderous, voluptuous Cain element that drives the lusty conquerors in the early sections, and the driving, playful, flaming forcing that forces onto love in the Poe section (see above). But in order to write this list of Freudian characteristics I have had to cut apart, cut up, cut parts out of the IAG ground and force (to analyze rationally, to select parts and order them rationally), while ignoring the seeing-knowing character of these same elements and performing the inhuman, immoral denial of what is here before me that the author rejects in, for example, the Puritans.

For in Williams’ work this force, this forcing, does not (as we have detailed above) precede the sensible, seeing, recognizing faculty that belongs to the linguistic; nor is it independent of or at variance with it; nor does language satisfy, supplement or complement the driving energy. Indeed, the business of being human involves at every point a complexity of features deprived of their essence and function (a brutalizing and dehumanizing bereavement) when they are separated from each other analytically. We may be accustomed to distinguish and separate out “that obscene flesh” from “the sensitive mind” or “the spirit”; but they and perhaps other discernible but undiscerned aspects of being human are inseparable, undissociable, here. “That obscene flesh,” mass of undifferentiated “life,” is not physical drive or negativity (and not Sartre’s nauseous objectivity), but is that “in which we dig for all our good, man and woman alike” (207). The actual world that the author urges upon the senses feeds the spirit as well as the flesh: “The world is made to eat, not leave, that the spirit may be full, not empty” (205). We may fault Williams, as we usually fault poets (and they reciprocate; we enjoy an ancient antagonistic symbiosis) for his incapacity to distinguish and isolate the elements in the mass, or we must entertain the possibility of a credible non-analytical thinking (“conception,” “[study],” “heed,” “intelligent investigation,” 109): the “method” which is the study and the exercise of this work.

In fact, the relationship of particle to mass, represented in an unconventional and provocative way, is a salient point in Williams’ argument and will serve to launch us into the text. The Puritans’ “magnificent logic” is “[disproportionate]” to the “flamboyant mass of savagery” about them. Applying the parts-to-whole principle, we may say that the problem is misappropriation: the Protestant colony’s thinking belongs to Europe and is inappropriate in America. The theme is basic, as we know, to Williams’ argument. Or the problem may be analyzed as the inadequacy of language (logic) to fulfill its purpose; it falls short, is not sufficient to account for “savagery.” Or perhaps the correlation between language and life is flawed from the outset, logic and reality essentially estranged. But the discrepancy, disagreement, that the author describes is not rational but moral. The particle and the mass are not analyzed in terms of their common essence or structural unity, but they are evaluated in terms of original relationship. Puritanism, the particle, is incapable of “recognizing” the too-large “mass,” the Indian and his world. The discrepancy is not lack of recognition, but lack of recognizing; morality is not an abstraction but a relation;8 and not due to the weakness of logic but to the abuse of it. The problem does not inhere in the form of the logic but in the forming; that is, the formal aspect is flawed in two ways. (1) This logic developed in Europe, not America—not that the logic applied to Europe but that it was grounded there. A logic belongs actively to its own ground. The Puritans have moved to a new ground retaining the logic of the old. (2) This logic is no longer forming; it is a hardened, rigid, dry form. The very purity of its form occasions its “[blindness] to every contingency, mashing Indian, child and matron into one safe mold” (112). The problem is moral and it inheres in a source, i.e., “their religion,” an “immoral concept,” and in its “brutalizing” effect, which is to isolate each individual in a separate religious experience and to blind him to the world and to his ground. (This isolation reappears in the end as the Puritans’ legacy to the milieu that Poe contended against, inside and out, their contribution to his tragedy, 232-3.) Further, the immorality of the immoral concept lies in its conception—not in conceptualizing per se, but in this conception: this “thinking,” we offer tentatively; this “method,” we may say with assurance after the Poe chapter.

The author articulates the problem: the Puritans did not dare to think as they did not dare to see (“All that they saw they lived by but denied,” 112). Their “magnificent logic,” dwarfed by “the flamboyant mass of savagery” that surrounded them, served them as a hard, dry protective covering, its rigidity their strength and sharp cutting edge, weapon and pathfinder. Holding fast to the form (“fixed … formula”) of their dogma, they held at bay the terror. Meanwhile this concept, which postponed “blossoming” to Eternity, emptied the world of not merely significance or reality, but of the Indian, his existence, his actual ground. (“The immorality of such a concept, the inhumanity, the brutalizing effect upon their own minds, on their SPIRITS …’” 113; Williams is rewriting Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals.) The Puritan religion which provided that concept is “an IMMORAL source” (113) and its “flower,” Cotton Mather’s books, repeats its “brutality, inhumanity, cruel amputations” (111). The charge, in short, is that notwithstanding the ground “all blossoming about them—under their noses” the Puritans systematically denied, opposed, and destroyed the Indian and his world and implanted the (Elizabethan) seed of the puritanism that infects America today, “an immorality that IS America” (114), an immorality which the author will attempt to extricate from the New World, from history, from himself, and to isolate: in order to annihilate.

The thematic is reiterated, this time positively. Against the Puritans’ insular, rigid, confrontational method of dealing with the New World the author sets for contrast Pere Rasles’ “recognition”: “It is a living flame compared to their dead ash” (120). Instead of “[stating]” to the Indians “the chief articles of the Christian religion,” as the English Protestants would do (and from some distance; the minister “would not suffer the contrite Indians to lay their hands upon him,” 119), Rasles “lived thirty-four years, … with his beloved savages, drawing their sweet like honey, TOUCHING them every day” (120). Where is this Jesuit priest’s “logic”? In heaven, or in Rome, where the author is only relatively pleased that the Catholics have placed it, with the advantage at least that the priest’s hands are freed for embraces (120, 128-9). Instead of Mather’s chilling accounts of witch trials we have the letters Rasles wrote, “a moral source not reckoned with, peculiarly sensitive and daring in its close embrace of native things” (121). The language in this passage entangles what we have traditionally separated as the physical and the mental: “His sensitive mind. For everything his fine sense, blossoming, thriving, opening, reviving—not shutting out—was tuned….” (121).

Shall we conclude that “logic,” that particle, is an evil in itself? The Poe chapter will clarify the issue. In the Rasles example, as in the Puritans, the major issue is ground—not as an idea or a principle, but as an original (moral) source. The Puritans refuse to touch the ground of the New World; Rasles is “absorbed” into it. The human condition is grounded and local for Williams. Culture is cultivation (224-5). Morality originates from the ground; that is, what issues from the ground is moral. As we shall see in the Poe chapter, “method” itself emerges from a lostness in massiness. There is no alternative to going under.9

It is the Indian that Rasles loves, touches, marries, and “releases” into “emergence.” “He exists, he is—it is an AFFIRMATION, it is alive” (121). “It,” the affirming sensitive attunement (“For everything his fine sense … was tuned” 121) of Rasles’ recognition, which grants to the Indian in his world his very ontological ground, “is alive.” The living of the affirmation admits no rational or biological explanation. But we note that just as in the case of the Indian, and in the case of morality, of particles and mass, of ground, so in the case of history, above, of fact and words, eventually of method; in the case also of what transpires from and through these, and of the unfixed, unformed “open” into which they issue; in all cases where the actuality of things is indicated, this living “freshness” may be descried. Note also that Williams’ “ignoring” of philosophy in order to “recognize” what is under his nose, his “recognizing” which “releases into existence,” is radical ontology.10 As Rasles releases the Indian into existence, Poe will release the American ground, and the author will release Poe (226).

The principle of originality is delineated further in the Franklin essay. Briefly, Franklin was imbued with two qualities of the New World: “[1] a bulky, crude energy, something in proportion to the continent, and [2] a colossal restraint equalizing it” (153-4). He played the two against each other. “Franklin is the full development of the timidity, the strength that denies itself” (155). His relationship to his ground registers on our continuum somewhere between the Puritans’ and Rasles’; he neither ignores it nor marries it, but uses it, handles it, “in a ‘practical’ way.”11

The character they had (our pioneer statesmen, etc.) was that of giving their fine energy, as they must have done, to the smaller, narrower, protective thing and not to the great New World. Yet they cannot quite leave hands off it but must TOUCH it, in a “practical” way, that is a joking, shy, nasty way, using “science” etc., not with the generosity of the savage or scientist but in a shameful manner. The sweep of the force was too horrible to them; it would have swept them into chaos. They HAD to do as they could but it can be no offense that their quality should be named. They could have been inspired by the new QUALITY about them to yield to loveliness in a fresh spirit.

It is the placing of his enthusiasm that characterizes the man. (157)

Franklin placed his enthusiasm in “his wits.”

Do something, anything, to keep the fingers busy—not to realize—the lightning. Be industrious, let money and comfort increase; ….

His mighty answer to the New World’s offer of a great embrace was THRIFT. Work night and day, build up, penny by penny, a wall against that which is threatening, the terror of life, poverty. Make a fort to be secure in. (156)

The issue is immorality, deliberately or shyly or slyly not looking at, not seeing, and touching in a “nasty” way what is about; blinding oneself, cutting oneself off to protect oneself by means of the (mis-)appropriation of logic—dogma or practical axiom—as fortress or palliative against actuality. The positive aspect of the issue is the disclosure (releasement) of morality: “recognition,” in a word. Of interest for our rumination on Williams’ thinking is the interassociation of seeing and knowing, and their subsumption of thinking. Ignorance—of the Indian, of the ground, of loveliness, of history—is ignoring. Ignoring “denies,” and denying denies existence. In this schema the mind or the mental is often invoked, never precluded, but thinking per se as logic or adage enters into the equation only as a temptation to delay, defer, the impact of experience. But we have as yet only a preliminary sketch of Williams’ project.

The essay is more than a history lesson. Williams in the persona of himself is looking at, seeing, penetrating, his own ground. America “IS” “an immorality” (114) because …

Because the fools do not believe that they have sprung from anything: bone, thought and action. They will not see that what they are is growing on these roots. They will not look. They float without question. Their history is to them an enigma. (113)

“Because …. They will not see …. They will not look,” this time not at the ground as the Indian’s world but at the ground as their own history. Seeing, looking at, the Indian’s ground means living with the Indian, at his side like Rasles, on the trail, on the warpath. Seeing, looking at, their own ground means reading records, questioning the enigma of their own history. But though the second looking looks to books and even to Europe, to nothing under the feet and palpable, it nevertheless looks for something present and living. Here not merely “facts” of history but the meaning of “history” is being rewritten. Just as Burr will be spoken of later as belonging to history and history as belonging “in me” (the author of the history), “and so I dig through lies to resurrect him” (197), so in this case this “puritanism” is a living, breathing “‘thing’” that “sallies” out from the books of Mather from time to time “to strike terror through the land” (115); it is a stench “all about you” in America; indeed Larbaud observes that the author himself is “brimming” with that and other similarly historical influences. Seeing history, looking at it, “understanding [it] aright” means “to make it SHOW itself” (116). To understand means again to release into appearing, to see, and to see means nothing passive or static or ocular.

Meanwhile the particle to mass relationship is rearranging itself. The author smells the stench of the puritanism which is part of the character of Americans now and attempts to extricate it and to “isolate” it in order to “annihilate” it. We discovered isolation as an anti-life principle in the doctrine of the Puritans, above. Isolation means disconnectedness from ground, means non-originality, immorality. Life lives in massiness. But massiness is what recognition frees things from: for annihilation or for disclosure. In the account of the event which we are following here we can expose a double image: annihilation is working at least twice.

The author is tracking the source of the offensive smell, searching through history. Meanwhile he is looking at, seeing, history—releasing it into existence. One effect of this facing, releasing, is that the concept of history as the bound content of books is “annihilated.” The brash young American angrily casts aside “history, that lie” for “what is in [the books]”—a “freshness; if it exist” (109). His interest in history is not Valery Larbaud’s “taste for books,” the first indication of “a civilized interest in the world,” but an urgent salvage operation to recoup history “as a living thing, something moving, undecided, swaying” (192), which “lives in us practically day by day” (187).

That of the dead which exists in our imaginations has as much fact as have we ourselves. The premise that serves to fix us fixes also that part of them which we remember. (189)

And so on. Annihilation of puritanism will occur in a similar looking, seeing; annihilation of the unoriginal and releasement of the original. And this must not be the end of the annihilation. There must be a total sweeping out.

However hopeless it may seem, we have no other choice: we must go back to the beginning; it must all be done over; everything that is must be destroyed. (215)

The author’s gesture anticipates Poe’s: “a movement first and last to clear the GROUND” (216)—to clear the ground for “a beginning” (217).12

I think we can agree that this tracking, this looking, seeing, is or involves thinking if not analysis. The particle to mass ratio is, in the author’s figure, a blossom to ground, water to spring, relationship. The terms are not literal and not rational, with objective entities objectively analyzable as to components or elements and to physical cause. The terms, freshly defined, are moral and esthetic and derive from a new definition of “origin”: what is true or legitimate is original; what is false is not original, is “copied” or imported. The point is essential in the working of this work, essential also to our inquiry into Williams’ thinking. A related point is that we usually take thinking to involve the martialing of evidence; these essays present an obliging procession of figures and events from American history. But we note that in the annihilation of “history,” “fact” becomes a doubtful, detached, elementary particle, all that remains of “truth” (189-90). With the annihilation of “history,” evidential, inductive “thinking” is decimated (transformed) as well. We have seen above what “props” Williams’ (Poe’s) “deductive” logic will admit. We have seen also how his “method” works to reconstruct history from such elementary particles as these “facts.”

In the “annihilation” of “history” we see the moral-esthetic way (method) to address “things non-metaphysical” (222), beginning with a descent into the ground and then from that “basis,” “from under” or “from the center out,” touching-marrying-releasing original things into existence or isolating-annihilating things not-original—puritanism, e.g., “history”: everything that is no longer beginning. The Indian or history is released into actuality by recognition; by recognition American puritanism is annihilated. The disclosure of original ground and the annihilation of non-original “impedimenta” seem to be two functions of the same “recognition,” at the same time a sensible and a mental activity, at the same time the essence of the esthetical and the moral (109).

“Recognition” seems to be an activity of the understanding in large, the seeing made possible by looking, the releasing by giving that allows things to declare themselves. There is no separate organ or instrument of understanding. Thinking as mental activity and as reason is a particle to the mass of gross flesh/fine mind human character, if particles are participant and integral, not elements or components.

In the Poe chapter we find “method” described explicitly. We have read in the sequential stories of conquerors, explorers, and national fathers one continuing story of outsiders, Europeans, resisting and opposing or accepting and penetrating the ground of America. Poe’s is a different story; it begins on that “flamboyant mass” of American ground; yet he too must “go down and wrestle with [local] conditions” (225). “His greatness is in that he turned his back and faced inland, to originality, with the identical gesture of a Boone” (226).

… insistence upon primary distinctions, that seems coldly academic, was in this case no more than evidence of a strong impulse to begin at the beginning. (217)

In the earlier chapters we were spectators to the “emerging” of Puritans, Indians, into existence; we watched alongside Rasles and the author as they released them; but in Poe’s section we follow the emerging from the inside out. This birth that wills itself an immaculate conception is a birth of a self; we may compare it to (if we are willing to risk the annihilation of) self-consciousness. In this chapter the author too is facing inward; the text enacts and in its language mirrors and repeats the experience of Poe.

But we must clear some ground ourselves. Is not this compulsion to destroy everything a puritanic motive, or worse—not ignoring or fending off, but annihilating “blossoms” underfoot? The very notion of immaculate conception is theological, and the impulse “to detach a ‘method’ from the smear of common usage” (221) is contemptuous of the local, and isolationist in principle. Add the self-serving use of logic “to hold the [“hated”] loose-strung mass off.” Recall Rasles’ absorption and compare Poe’s “standing off to SEE instead of forcing himself too close” (229), his “refusing” to “handle” “the contamination of the UNFORMED LUMP” (228) which Hawthorne faithfully represented.

Riposte: Poe does not violate the principles established earlier, but refines them while he completes or continues the author’s project of revealing the function of original, originating ground. Poe’s impulse to clear the ground for a beginning is the essence of morality in this work: relatedness to ground. The notion of immaculate conception is a fresh one here, replacing as it annihilates puritanical idealism. “Conception” is cleansed of idea, of content, released into a purity of “intent,” the intention of original genius: of self (“to find a way to tell his soul”), of ground (to “express” itself). The Puritans appropriated logic as a closed system, not as method. The immorality of their logic obtained not in its artificiality but in its camouflage, not in its opposition to the mass but in its inappropriateness, disproportion, to this mass. Poe’s holding off the mass, standing back to see, his approach from above, “adopting a more elevated mien” (229), does not contradict the necessity of going under; it follows it, follows after his “facing inland,” is the continuing trajectory of his emergence from the center out. (The possibility of seeing originally and of forging an original method follows after grounded self-conception.)13 Now Poe appears as the first original American author, expressing, not representing, the original thrust of the “re-awakened genius” of the New World (216). As for Hawthorne, Poe faults him, as the author has faulted Franklin, for “handling” what he was refusing to “touch, marry,” for “copying” the American “scene” in the European style instead of rebuilding it from the American ground.

The paradigm or, better, “method” that “emerges” in the Poe chapter can be sketched as follows. The first and dominant character of IAG is the ground. Although the ground has the character that we have called the “massy” (“the generous bulk of its animal crudity”), yet the mass, as we have seen, has a genius of its own, “genius of place,” the “sullen, volcanic inevitability of the place.” It may be sardonic, hot, angry; it smiles; “in its lusts’ eye” is a “purpose” (213). This ground as a peculiar mass with a peculiar genius is something like the man this work recommends (Burr): “Burr knew what a democracy must liberate…. Men intact—with all their senses waking” (206), a combination of what the author calls the esthetic and the moral: waking senses and original genius in one self-asserting sensibility. Indeed the flesh and the ground seem to be the same thing: the “physical,” informed like the Greeks’ phusis with the psychic as well:14 the very event of the emerging of what is living.

This genius of ground rises through the genius of the poet, Poe, as the felt need to clear the ground, an impetus to beginning. Now a second local factor impresses itself upon and into the poet’s “emerging”—in Poe’s case the ostracizing, embittering opposition of the sentimental, loveless public. This second local influence is not secondary, it seems, though in this case it is not original, since it is disconnected from and opposing the ground. Local environment, one’s historical time and place (in Williams’ sense, as living, moving)—“the mass of impedimenta which is the world”—infiltrates a poet’s self and expression, supports or thwarts it, assists to determine and shape it.15 In spite of the difficulty of his passage Poe “emerges” as the first original American author, this author claims, and his work founds a genuinely American literature (226). “[Poe] had the sense within him of a locality of his own, capable of cultivation”:

…Culture is still the effect of cultivation, to work with a thing until it be rare; as a golden dome among the mustard fields. It implies a solidity capable of cultivation. Its effects are marble blocks that lie perfectly fitted and aligned to express by isolate distinction the rising lusts which threw them off, regulated, in moving through the mass of impedimenta which is the world.

This is culture; in mastering them, to burst through the peculiarities of an environment. (224-5)

The gold dome and the regular marble blocks are not natural organic outgrowths or products of the ground. They are thrown off by the power of lusts moving against local impedimenta. There seems to be a tendency in freshness to become stale, to harden; freshness depends upon fresh rising—of lusts from the ground. The fresh lusts break up the accumulating impedimenta. Regular marble blocks are altogether different from a mass of impedimenta. Like gold domes they have been made rare through work, the work of cultivators—selves, poets. The origin of the works of culture is the ground, its lusts rising, but the works of cultivating—artificial, of enduring substance, regular—belong to selves, poets; like Poe’s perfect Gold Bug, or Murders in the Rue Morgue, they seem to be monuments to moments of equilibrium achieved between the rising and the working. (They do not “betray” the “deeper intent” that drove them from the beginning and could drive them over the edge, as less successful works do, the “lesser Tales,” 229).

We note that this image of gold dome and marble slabs, reminiscent of the Laocoön, the Grecian urn, Byzantium, refers in IAG not to the work of art but to the work of culture, as though the work of art were first of all the work of culture, cultivation of ground.16 When the poet clears the ground for a new beginning, he does not enter into a nature-culture opposition but submerges in, becomes one with (marries), a ground which is a “basis” for “satisfaction.” Nature per se is not a consideration at all. What cultivation opposes is not nature but the local mass of impedimenta. “In all he says there is a sense of him surrounded by his time, tearing at it, ever with more rancor, but always at battle, taking hold” (226).

In sum, the genius of place rising through the genius of the poet rises through the impedimenta of the local, expressing the peculiarities of the local as it works its way up through them. In the Poe section this impulse driving through the poet or the self is described at length and in detail. The impulse (“desire”) in the poet, in Poe’s case the necessity to begin, requires opposition: differing from, separating from, fighting against, the local milieu through which it ascends. The process is a self-defining, self-insisting “method” of “composition.” It is, as we have noted, the birth of a self, an immaculate conception of two original parents: its mother is the ground, the New World; it fathers itself (216-22).17 The sometimes religious terminology recalls the traditional (European) drive to truth, but compared to either religious or secular tradition Williams’ truth and the drive that conceives and delivers it is essentially different: it is neither ideal nor ideological; it is actual, historical, contingent (on ground and local conditions). Nor is the method “natural”; its necessity precedes any concept of physical law. The originality of the method is active; origin means originating; the ground is actual and active in and throughout the emerging of the poet’s genius. The end of original method is its own composition, which is not an ending but a performing; thus method declares, proves, itself, or, as in Poe’s case, it does not; it collapses. The original intention is to tell the soul, to express itself; in its “telling,” i.e., “building” (trying to find a way to tell) itself, the New World and the period emerge too, express themselves too (231, 233). The end of the tale is truth only if truth means free self-expressing; it proves not its conclusions but its actuality, its potency.

The nature and function of language is new here commensurate with the original nature and function of composition and telling. Language is comprised of “authentic particles” (231); the unit is original “names” (226), or words:

With Poe, words were not hung by usage with associations, the pleasing wraiths of former masteries, this is the sentimental trap-door to beginnings. With Poe words were figures; an old language truly, but one from which he carried over only the most elemental qualities to his new purpose; which was, to find a way to tell his soul. Sometimes he used words so playfully his sentences seem to fly away from sense, the destructive! with the conserving abandon, foreshadowed, of a Gertrude Stein. The particles of language must be clear as sand. (See Diddling.) (221)

The originality of language springs from the originality of the poet or the self, “originality that presupposes an intrinsic WORTH in the reasoner ….” The poet or the self is grounded: “Unwilling to concede the necessity for any prop to his logical constructions, save the locality upon which originality is rested” (224).

We may consider this linguistic method of self-conception and self-expression in terms of the particle-mass relation. The one thing that Poe detaches from the mass of “common usage” is already something; logic is not a thing that Poe creates. In fact, he does not even choose it but is forced by the conditions of his place into that field. Thus, as we have seen, the method is the outcropping of a genius of place in the genius of the poet, emerging into and ascending through a locality. It begins, continues, and supports itself throughout as one part of a schism within the mass, an internal self-contradiction undertaken not for the sake of isolation and annihilation of the “crude” portion of itself but for mastery, and mastery not to oppress but to express: the genius of self, the genius of place, the impulse rising, driving; to express not as stating or achieving an anterior “meaning” but as performing itself.

The original impulse appears in Poe’s case to be the driving force of his critical theory, the impulse “to sweep all worthless chaff aside…. to clear the GROUND (116). This point gives priority to thinking or the intent to think over art, as though the desire for purity, cleanness, for method (for language) were a primary reaction against the undifferentiated—a primordial human desire to differentiate. It is interesting too that the method that will detach the one thing from the mass is not analytical and not representational; it will not sort out the elements that compose the mass so that the mass is now discovered in its essential organization. It detaches one thing in order to oppose the rest, thereby declaring itself. Method is a mode of assertion, not proposition but self-assertion, working according to a principle of opposition. And there is an implication that there is no one generally correct or true method, but that there is in each case a particular, needed (forced), available one. Poe’s use of”cold logic" is not necessary to “method” but only necessary to the particular opposition demanded here, against the “gluey imagination” of the public.

But in this notion of method, is there no conflict between the possibility of play and pure self-assertion on the one hand and the possibility of understanding and of grounded “authentic particles” that are the “fibre” of the method (229) on the other? “Understanding” has traditionally implied thematic truth; “ground” and “authenticity” some original or final cause, authority. The difficulty here is in suspending these meanings long enough to get a sense of Williams’ fresh meanings. Understanding and authenticity have been transferred in this work from truth and authority to ground—the original, originating genius of place and of self. Self-assertion too has derived from that active source. But what of “play”? Here play is not unrelatedness or arbitrariness, but freedom and jouissance. Both play and ground operate in the method of Poe, and we may examine them in an explicit description.

“The significance and the secret” of the method as it operates in the tales is, the author explains: “the method” itself (231), i.e., the way it does what it does:

…authentic particles, a thousand of which spring to the mind for quotation, taken apart and reknit with a view to emphasize, enforce and make evident, the method. Their quality of skill in observation, their heat, local verity, being overshadowed only by the detached, the abstract, the cold philosophy of their joining together; a method springing so freshly from the local conditions which determine it, by their emphasis of firm crudity and lack of coordinated structure, as to be worthy of most painstaking study— The whole period, America 1840, could be rebuilt, psychologically (phrenologically) from Poe’s “method.” (231)

The “authentic particles,” which the method takes apart and rejoins for its own sake, seem to belong to the mass the method opposes. The “quality of skill in observation” seems to inhere in these particles, not in the method or in Poe. Their “heat, local verity” seem to indicate their lively, essential participation in their actual locality. Again, in the stuff of this method, the things it takes up to its purpose, we find the same animated mass, a non-metaphysical thingness; the virtu that stands in metaphysics behind or beyond entities is incorporated in them here. Everywhere we find the living, active ground. But what of freedom? We find freedom in the method of the poet or the self, which reorders or composes these particles for its own purpose, i.e., to conceive and to express itself, the method springing, however, like the particles, from the locality. Freedom is the “preposterous” “extreme” of the play of Poe’s inventions predicted, to be sure, by “a [deeper], logical enjoyment, in keeping with his own seriousness,” but limited only by the limit of his power to “[make] them WORK” (230). “And by the very extreme of their play, by so much the more do they hold up the actuality of that which he conceives”: his self.

Everywhere in this work, but especially in the last climactic pages, the “method” is presented in psychological terms or figures. The author deconstructs Poe’s texts, selecting for his purpose the less serious, less polished tales, in which “numerous illuminating faults” betray “what Poe is driving at in his tales,” the underlying “original fibre” which is their motivation. In the context of current post-Nietzschean and post-Freudian notions of play and of desire, Williams’ thematic is provocative.18 The “authentic particles” (“words,” “logical constructions”) have been disassembled from their traditional assembly and reassembled in “extreme,” fantastic, new assemblies, designed to “go,” “[to] prove him potent.” The new linguistic inventions (the tales) assert no truths except the actuality of what they “show”: method, in and by way of which the poet or the self emerges and asserts and sustains itself, a show of will to power, “mastery” by “understanding” (232), Nietzschean even in its psychological aspect, i.e., the “prop” of an originality in “its legitimate sense of solidity which goes back to the ground, a conviction that he [Poe] can judge within himself” (216). This solidity, this conviction, like the “satisfaction” that is the motivation of the self, the poet, is the author’s anti-metaphysical ground for an actuality which is simply the human performance of free invention—the “expression” of the genius of a place and a self or poet; “expression” not as thematic statement but as psychological building, arranging, holding in arrangement (232).

There is a density of Freudian elements at play in the author’s method here. The name of massiness when it is recognized in its blinding, terror-striking radiance, as that against which Poe’s method contends, into which it dissolves when it can no longer hold onto itself, its “arrangement,” is “love.” The “desire” which impelled the poet, the “enjoyment” and the for-the-sake-of-satisfaction that drives him, seem to be all of a piece: this mass, love. It was touching, marrying, we recall, that rendered Rasles’ esthetic-moral recognition of the Indians, for example; Burr’s trust of “that gross flesh” that engendered his authenticity. Williams seems to be writing a Freudian interpretation not only of Poe’s texts but of the artist, of the period, of all that is, the world. When he writes that Poe’s desire bursts through the poem that would master it and finds itself revealed to itself as this nonlinguistic, overpowering love, he seems to reinvent or appropriate the essence of the Freudian paradigm—except that in Williams the desire, the lust, is the very locus or essence of “genius,” something we generally think apart from “gross flesh.” Here is the genius of America: the “shy and wild and frail, the loveliest, to be cherished only by the most keen, courageous and sensitive” (214); the genius of Burr: “His profound refinement, his sense of the deeper forces working in his world that demanded freedom” (195).

And Williams’ “satisfaction” cannot be reduced to something physical or to a principle of contradiction, must leave behind or open up and multiply our notion of sexuality: “A poet is one related to a basis of material, aesthetic, spiritual, hypothetical, abnormal—satisfaction ….”(213-14). Further, Williams takes desire too far and informs the universe with it. The “love” which emerges under the pressure of “desire” in the Poe section is the very “freshness” that has informed every thing that has emerged in the entire work: the ground, the local, history, things anti-metaphysical. It does not seem sufficient to name this massiness “desire” in a Freudian sense (though Lacan has given that potentiality a complexity beyond a physical or material impulse). It contains after all that imbedded fineness. If “desire” is a human quality, then everything in IAG, even chaotic massiness, is human; since that suggestion makes the term “human” meaningless, we must say instead that desire seems to be a quality of the chaotic, the undifferentiated, and pertains to the world as to man. What is significant, it seems to me, is Williams’ “mastering” (understanding) of this potentiality, not by rational reduction or by representation, but by his “method,” which in its driven play proves the actuality of what emerges thereby into existence, mass and particles. Williams is something of a deconstructionist in unraveling (“seeing,” looking at“) linguistic inventions that have dominated what is not invented, in annihilating closed logical systems, and also in setting free the stuff against which invention contends—the mass of the ground and the human. (There is much grist for a Marxist mill in this text, but again Williams goes too far. The ground [original basis, not fact but place and self], the local [milieu of time and place], and the human or artist—all have the undifferentiable sense-sensibility character. A material principle cannot be dissociated.)

There is a prophetic aspect to the notions in IAG: the suggestion that a method that must work in opposition to the local is always a circumstance of history—one marble slab—and that the cultivation of a locality could render it more receptive to inevitable “love.” There is a vision of “careless truth” free of system, free to design (206) “in the open.” Such freedom is already possible in a democracy, already manifest in “the directness of ‘common people’” (206)—but harder “to maintain … up through the scale,” impossible so far in an aristocracy or among “the great rulers of the world” (206). This possibility is expressed in the accusations against the locality which in its lack of originality and of love isolated, embittered, and destroyed Poe: “Had he lived in a world where love throve, his poems might have grown differently” (233). The notion of “method” illustrated in the work offers new possibilities of invention via language, “arrangement” versus “mass,” in which living things might be released from old interpretations. Indeed, it is the announced intention of IAG: “to re-name the things seen, now lost in chaos of borrowed titles, many of them inappropriate, under which the true character lies hid” (note before text, paperbook edition).

It is this element of positive potentiality that leads some critics to call Williams sentimental or romantic or Platonic19 in spite of his aversion to “gluey imagination” and to metaphysics. But if Williams is nostalgic, his revised sense of history redirects the meaning of nostalgia, for in IAG the past is present (“[history] lives in us practically day by day”) and futural (“our greatest well of inspiration, our greatest hope of freedom,” 189). I am claiming that hope which originates from such a ground as this work declares and manifests—ground-breaking for the intellect and for thinking—may be worthy of reexamination for what “strange phosphorus” it may release into existence.

Finally a caveat: Though I find what I have called a radical ontology expressed emphatically here in this text, yet I “recognize” in the text no explicit break with traditional ontology as such. Williams’ intellectual terminology is conventional and does not contend against the conventional. Williams escapes the tradition by for the most part avoiding intellectual terminology, writing about what professed, professional intellectuals write about, but “directly,” i.e., in everyday or in poetic terms and figures. But though he has not argued philosophy “in the smart language” (215), and thus has not unseated it, has not submerged in it in order to rise through and against it, re-originating it or annihilating it (the project of Nietzsche and Heidegger), he has subverted it nevertheless—and by virtue of his thinking.

Appendix A: Heideggerian Insights

There is no such thing as an empty word [ein leeres Wort]; at most a word is worn out [ein vernutztes], though still filled with meaning [das ein erfülltes bleibt]. The name “being” retains its appellative force [behält seine Nennkraft]. “Away from this empty word ‘being’; go to the particular essents” proves to be not only a hasty but also a highly questionable counsel.

(Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics 79)

The misinterpretation of thought and the abuse to which it leads can be overcome only by authentic thinking that goes back to the roots [ein echtes und ursprüngliches Denken]—and by nothing else…. To surpass the traditional logic does not mean elimination of thought and the domination of sheer feeling; it means more radical, stricter thinking, a thinking that is part and parcel of being [ursprünglicheres, strengeres, dem Sein zugehöriges Denken].

(Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics 122)

Williams’ turn to “things themselves”—“no ideas but in things”—appears to be hasty counsel. There is a seeming naivety in Williams’ impatient immediacy. For example, in In the American Grain Williams’ avatars practice a “recognition” of things that “releases” them into their actual, essential existence. Here “essentiality” removes from its Platonic superstructure, its Aristotelian substrata, casts off all pretension to truth as well as objectivity, and becomes an open question. The thing itself must answer. It does. It breaks in to experience with such immediacy and essentiality that there is little need for, room for, the mediation of a “word”—unless we count in “phosphorus.” Williams’ turn to “things themselves” returns to them their “strange phosphorus,” their essential character (“being”) all but buried under a history of linguistic uses and abuses.20 Let us count in “phosphorus,” and also Williams’ word IAG, as intercessors. We must do so. In such language Williams stakes his claims to “things themselves.”

Heidegger’s “language” makes a similar claim. The word as “it gives” gives not itself but Being/being. And Heidegger also remarked the tendency for language to lose or withdraw its efficacy, as he too prescribed and commenced the task of discounting received language, of opening thinking up to “what calls for thinking,” i.e., letting things be in their Being, and of establishing Being in the word that will hold a place for it (Being) to happen.

When Williams resituates “essence” in things as they are, essentiality retains a kind of integrity, but its purity is compromised. On the whole it appears the richer—and more disturbing. There is a comparable transformation when Heidegger destructs and recovers the same word. We find it from the first page of Being and Time, where Heidegger is already evoking the work as a whole. In his description of one “existentiale” of Dasein, for example, he is (but not explicitly) surrounding it with and imbedding it in all the others, not yet described “in themselves.” The ontic is never absent from the ontological, for example, nor mood from understanding, nor falling from authenticity. Here as elsewhere we find that Nietzsche’s unsettling inclination not to cut asunder whatever always appears or occurs together is fundamental in Heidegger’s thought. And it is fundamental in Williams’ study of American history above. Whether it be Red Eric or blossoms underfoot, the character of the Indian or the character of morality or of history, the facts, factors, and concepts Williams assembles prove themselves to be living entities—else they are exposed as imposters and ousted from the work. As living entities they are inscribed as they appear or occur, without regard for rational justification.

Another fundamental concern Williams shares with Heidegger is what Heidegger calls, for example, “being-in-the-world” and “dwelling.” These words connect being and dwelling (and building and preserving)—not just etymologically, Heidegger insists, but in language essentially and in history. (Both Heidegger and Williams reinscribe the life-giving event of language and the meaning of historicity.21) We can compare Williams’ notions of “ground” and of “culture” as “cultivation,” though of course there are profound differences in the temper, the emphases, and the effects, as well as the magnitude and scope of the thinking in each case. Another comparison of interest is the sense of ground as particular, regional. In Williams the ground itself in its particular and local genius provides the “moral” ground of human character and action and history; indeed, this grounding gives “morality” its meaning in IAG. Contrariwise, for Heidegger a locale receives its character in relation to human building and dwelling.22 While “historical destiny” is a prominent Heideggerian theme, the redefinition of both “history” and “destiny” (see, e.g., Being and Time, Section V, esp. H. 382-87) relieves the phrase of its former metaphysical freight and brings human choice to the fore (resoluteness), as well as human being in its character of care and in its historicity and temporality.

Neither is Williams’ “ground” Heidegger’s “it gives” (in language, poetry, art), giving whatever-is; for this giving given is not “ground,” even less “earth,” is no thing, and it is not regionally differentiated.23 Language is the free (groundless) establishing of ground. The most important comparison in the two thinkers’ conceptions is their nonmetaphysical reconceptualization of ground: this very ground for Williams (though something essential inhabits and emanates from it), the groundless grounding of language for Heidegger.

Williams makes much of “relation” as the arbiter of morality. Relation is fundamental in Heidegger as well: the Being-in-the-world structures of Dasein, the creative strife of world/earth, the nature of language—i.e., of the open itself, of Saying, of the word as gathering and as giving—and of the oneness of the fourfold.24 Heidegger’s violent, mutually belonging-to “relation” (language) also compares (and contrasts) in its operation with Williams’ oppositional self-conception (a “method” of “composition”) in the Poe section.

Like the other American authors in this study, Williams is “Heideggerian” in his assumption and elaboration of a radical ontology. Like the others, Williams brings a renewal of a Heideggerian sense of phusis in the actuality of things and of relationship in human experience; of complexity, multiplexity, and contradiction inhering in such “actuality,” such “relationship.” Williams alone, however, dramatizes a particularly Heideggerian change-of-point-of-view: the vantage of the (tautological) circle. For nineteen chapters Williams presents figures from American history, redefining and reinforming that history, those figures; the presentation is situated as from the sideline of history or in the aftermath. But in the twentieth chapter the perspective shifts, and Poe is presented as from the inside of history; that is, the narrator follows Poe’s “emergence” from the center/ground out. His “way” can be described as: self-assertion via contradiction. This shift of perspective enacts, it seems to me, something like Heidegger’s shift of philosophy from the site of spectator to that of participant, not solving the problem of the blindness of insight (or the anxiety of influence) but accepting the dilemma as one’s place, looking out from it, through it. Everything from that view is changed.


  1. William Carlos Williams, Autobiography, quoted in note before Paterson (New York: New Directions, 1963).

  2. R. P. Blackmur, for example, “John Wheelwright and Dr. Williams,” Language as Gesture; Essays in Poetry, 1935 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952); and Kenneth Burke, “Heaven’s First Law,” rev. of Sour Grapes, The Dial 72 (1922): 197-200; “Subjective History,” rev. of In the American Grain; New York Herald Tribune Books (14 March 1926); “William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963,” The New York Review of Books 1.2 (1963): 45-47.

  3. Joseph Bennett, “The Lyre and the Sledgehammer,” Hudson Review, 5 (1952): 300.

  4. In the American Grain (New York: New Directions, 1933).

  5. “Presidential Address 1986. The Triumph of Theory, the Resistance to Reading, and the Question of the Material Base,” PMLA 102.3 (May 1987): 281-91.

  6. The Inverted Bell: Modernism and the Counterpoetics of William Carlos Williams (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1974). Compare especially Chapter 1, the most Heideggerian section of the book, in which Riddel discusses beginnings, the self, descent, the local, play or dance, and art as preservation of opposition, in Williams’ work as a whole, as I have discussed them above in IAG, which Riddel did not treat in detail.

  7. Poetry (Aug. 1952): 276.

  8. Relation is fundamental to existence in Heidegger’s thought. From the contextuality and directionality of Being-in-the-world and Care, to the notions of neighborhood and region on to the Open and the oneness of the fourfold, Dasein and the rest “are” in and according to relation. In fact, what “relation” entails outstrips existence (Being-toward death, e.g., the trace of the unthinkable in presencing, etc.). Relation per se is discussed in “The Nature of Language” where the word, bringing an entity into existence and holding it there, “is the relation itself” (83, “das Wort stünde nicht nur in einem Verhältnis zum Ding, sondern das Wort ‘sei’ selber dasjenige, was das Ding als Ding hält und verhält, sei als dieses Verhaltende: das Verhältnis selber”) and in What Is Called Thinking? in terms of thinking and facing, vorstellen (79f., 85f., 97f., e.g.).

  9. Bernhard Radloff offers a Heideggerian “poetics of the local” drawn from or applied to four Williams poems, more faithful to Heidegger than to Williams, perhaps, which describes not the ground that I am finding in Williams but something like the Heideggerian ground from which I myself approach Williams’ “design.” “Name and Site: A Heideggerian Approach to the Local in the Poetry of William Carlos Williams.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 28.2 (1986): 140-63.

  10. Compare Heidegger’s notion of the participation of Dasein in the appearing of beings and world; compare the importance of letting-be. His early works are especially resonant here.

  11. Compare Heidegger’s discussion of “handling,” his distinction between “proper use [eigentliche Brauchen]” and “mere utilizing [bloßes Benützen]” in What Is Called Thinking? 186-87.

  12. From his call for the destruction of the “hardened…traditional content of ancient ontology” (Being and Time 44), the problem of beginnings is treated in all of Heidegger’s works. A couple of passages will indicate the Williams resonance: “A beginning … always contains the undisclosed abundance of the unfamiliar and extraordinary [die unerschlossene Fülle des Ungeheuren], which means that it also contains strife with the familiar and ordinary [des Streites mit dem Geheuren]” (“The Origin” 76); “A beginning [Der Anfang] can never directly preserve its full momentum; the only possible way to preserve its force is to repeat, to draw once again more deeply than ever from its source [daß es in seiner Ursprünglichkeit ursprünglicher wieder-holt wird]. And it is only by repetitive thinking [denkende Wieder-holung] that we can deal appropriately with the beginning and the breakdown of the truth” (An Introduction 191).

  13. Compare Heidegger’s discussion of Zarathustra’s “downgoing [Untergang]” as Nietzsche’s “Moment [der Augenblick]” in Nietzsche, Vol. II: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same, trans. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984) 59ff, 67. See Dasein’s authentic Being-towards-death and resoluteness in Being and Time, Division Two, I and II, as well as the “moment of vision [Augenblick],” H. 328, 338.

  14. “We oppose the psychic, the animated [das Seelische], the living, to the ‘physical.’ But for the Greeks all this belonged to physis and continued to do so even after Aristotle” (Heidegger, An Introduction 16).

  15. Compare Heidegger’s notion of Dasein’s intrinsic entanglement in the everyday “they,” Being and Time 435: “The authentic existentiell understanding is so far from extricating itself from the way of interpreting Dasein which has come down to us, that in each case it is in terms of this interpretation, against it, and yet again for it [je aus ihr und gegen sie und doch wieder für sie], that any possibility one has chosen is seized upon in one’s resolution.” In Nietzsche, Vol. II, discussing Nietzsche’s attempt to prevent philosophy from humanizing its objects: “the Da is the sole possible site for the necessary location of [Dasein’s] Being at any given time [der mögliche Ort für den je notwendigen Standort seines Seins]. From this essential connection we also derive the insight that humanization becomes proportionately less destructive of truth as human beings relate themselves more originally to the location of their essential corner [den Standort einer wesentlichen Ecke], that is to say, as they recognize and ground Da-sein as such.” But, again, the “location” of this “corner” is ontological, not geographical: “Yet the essentiality of the corner is defined by the originality and the breadth in which being as a whole is experienced and grasped—with a view to its sole decisive aspect, that of Being [nach der allein entscheidenden Hinsicht, nämlich der des Seins]” (119).

  16. Though Heidegger usually disparages “culture [Kultur]” (e.g., An Introduction 47-8), he describes an essential, essentially poetic reciprocity between the human and the earth comparable to Williams’ in, e.g., “Building Dwelling Thinking” 325ff. and in “… Poetically Man Dwells …,” Poetry, Language, Thought 211-29. For “cultivating [Pflegen]” as “genuine building [eigentliche Bauen]” see “Building” 147ff. and “… Poetically” 217ff. For discussion of art as founding and preserving and of its relationship with history, see “The Origin.”

  17. “Self” in Heidegger, not an “I [ein ’Ich’],” not a “we [ein ‘Wir’]” (An Introduction 143-44), can be differentiated from the “they” by a decision for authentic resoluteness (Being and Time, Section IV). The primary and ineluctable opposition of the “they-self” is comparable to Williams’ “impedimenta” here; compare, e.g, Being and Time 167-68.

  18. The tragedy of language exceeding itself in the Poe chapter is the very dramatization of Kristeva’s linguistic theory in Revolution in Poetic Language except in the essential nature of the characters in the drama, particularly in the nature of ground.

  19. For example, Carl Rapp, “William Carlos Williams and the Modern Myth of the Fall,” Southern Review 20.1 (1984): 82-90.

  20. Note before text, IAG.

  21. See “Building Dwelling Thinking” 355-359 and Being and Time H. 53-4, e.g. For discussion of historicity as “authentic resoluteness [eigentlichen Entschlossenheit] … in which Dasein hands itself down to itself, free for death, in a possibility which it has inherited and yet has chosen” (435), see Being and Time H. 382-87.

  22. It is difficult or impossible to read Heidegger’s language, given its own historical context, according to his own transformed “meanings,” ignoring the common interpretations of such terms as “fate,” “destiny,” and “historical destiny,” or to grant him immunity from the moral, political, and historical implications and effects of using such language as he did over the next few years, but that is an issue outside the scope of this study that cannot be addressed in parenthesis.

  23. In Schelling’s Treatise, written at the period and in the language of the Rectorship Address, Heidegger writes that the mechanical thinking of the Western countries should be opposed not by a German thinking but by a tougher, more rigorous, “more primordial and correct thinking.” He quotes Schelling: “‘Truly universal philosophy cannot possibly be the property of a single nation [das Eigenthum einer einzelnen Nation]. As long as a philosophy does not go beyond the limits of an individual people [eines einzelnen Volks], one can confidently assume that it is not yet the true philosophy although it may be on its way’” (90). The question of Heidegger’s nationalism remains outstanding, of course. His statements regarding German destiny deserve special study. See for example “Remembrance of the Poet,” trans. Douglas Scott, Existence and Being 233-69.

  24. See for example “The Nature of Language”: “Language is, as world-moving Saying, the relation of all relations [als die Welt-bewëgende Sage das Verhältnis aller Verhältnisse]” (107). For the oppositional nature of language see for example “The Origin” 168ff.; An Introduction 167ff.


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