Daring to Disturb the Universe: Heidegger's Authenticity and the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock/Die Heelal Durf Versteur: Outentisiteit by Heidegger En in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Article excerpt


In Heidegger's "Being and time" certain concepts are discussed which are central to the ontological constitution of "Dasein" This article demonstrates the interesting way in which some of these concepts can be used in a reading of T.S. Eliot's "The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock". A comparative analysis is performed, explicating the relevant Heideggerian terms and then relating them to Eliot's poem. In this way strong parallels are revealed between the two men's respective thoughts and distinct modernist sensibilities. Prufrock, the protagonist of the poem, and the world he inhabits illustrate poetically concepts such as authenticity, inauthenticity, the "they", idle talk and angst, which Heidegger develops in "Being and time".


In "Being and time" bespreek Heidegger sekere konsepte wat sentraal staan tot die ontwikkeling van sy idees rondom "Dasein". Hierdie artikel ontleed die ontheemde manier waarop sommige van hierdie konsepte gebruik kan word in 'n interpretasie van T.S. Eliot se werk "The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock" In 'n vergelykende studie word die betrokke Heideggeriaanse terme eers uiteengesit en daarna in verband gebring met Eliot se gedig. Op hierdie wyse word sterk parallelle getrek tussen Heidegger en Eliot se denke en bepaalde modernistiese kwessies. Prufrock, die protagonis van die gedig, en die wereld wat hy bewoon bied 'n illustrasie van konsepte soos outentisiteit, inoutentisiteit, die "hulle" ("they" of "das Man"), ydele geklets en angs, wat Heidegger in "Being and time" ontwikkel.

1. Introduction

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) occupy profoundly important positions in twentieth-century literature and philosophy. For both, great poetry is the highest form of human endeavour. Eliot abandoned a possible career as perhaps a minor but talented philosopher at Harvard University in favour of the uncertain struggle to attain recognition as a poet in London. This he achieved beyond measure and his poetry and critical prose have become firmly established in the canon of great Western literature. Heidegger dabbled a little in poetry, but it is his philosophical insights into the relationship between language and poetry and the philosophical dialogues he maintained with Rilke, Celan, Trakl and especially Holderlin that demonstrate his high regard for poetry. Holderlin remained his favourite and the poet's phrase "poetically man dwells" (Heidegger, 2001:211) is arguably the cornerstone to Heidegger's later philosophy. This shared concern for poetry is one of the many ideas Heidegger and Eliot have in common and has its roots in both men's thorough immersion in mastery of the history of philosophy, their disillusionment with modernity, and the fact that they lived through the same tumultuous period of history. Though neither directly influenced the other, a fruitful and largely unexplored dialogue between Eliot and Heidegger in terms of echoed sentiments is possible. The aim of this article is to explore one such sentiment.

Eliot and Heidegger never met one another, although Eliot, in 1932, writes the following in one of his commentaries in his journal The criterion:

It is greatly to the credit of the intellectuals of post-War Germany, living in a country which has been more politics-ridden than any other of Western Europe, and in an atmosphere which one might suppose most discouraging to dispassionate thought, that they have been able to produce so much that is first rate. It is a pity that work of this kind finds little appreciation in England; the spring comes slowly up our way, and modern Germany is only known by some of its novels and by a few books of topical interest. Writers of more permanent importance than Spengler are unknown. Such names as those of Heidegger in philosophy and Heim in theology are known to only a handful; Friedrich Gundolf and Max Scheler are slightly known to some of our readers. …