Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Divine Remembrance: Holderlin, Nancy, and the Finitude of Thought

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Divine Remembrance: Holderlin, Nancy, and the Finitude of Thought

Article excerpt

At the end of his "productive" life in the period 1801-04, Holderlin turns his attention to translating both Sophocles and Pindar. Often these translations and accompanying Remarks are interpreted as a retreat from the earlier attempts to articulate the complex relationship between the theoretical and aesthetic concerns of his age.' However, I shall argue that they can be read as the logical climax of the journey of intellectual discovery which Holderlin had embarked on eight years earlier. Writing to Schiller in 1795, he comments that

I want to develop the idea of an infinite progress of philosophy and I am attempting to prove that what must be continually demanded of any system, the union of subject and object in an Absolute I (or whatever name one wishes to give it) is undoubtedly possible on the aesthetic level in intellectual intuition, but not on the theoretical level except by means of an infinite approximation like that of the square of the circle. Immortality is just as necessary to realize a system of thought as it is to realize a system of action. (StA 6.1, 181)

When the "madness" of the Remarks2 and the translations which they accompany are placed next to the aspirations outlined in this letter, it would be easy to initially dismiss the possibility of making a link between these two texts. The eight years that separate them could be seen as marking nothing more than the decline of a once promising intellectual life. However, as I shall demonstrate, such interpretations are misplaced. Holderlin's desire to understand the nature of the Absolute is pursued relentlessly throughout his career. What alters in the intervening time is the sense of optimism and certainty contained in these early remarks. The ironic, perhaps almost jocular, references to the "Absolute I-or whatever name one wishes to give it" and the need for "immortality" are in retrospect eerily apposite, and for the present day reader take on a seriousness and foreboding unforeseen when these comments are first made. For it is precisely the problem of how the "unnameable" and incomprehensible "Absolute" is to be presented and theorized that Holderlin will pursue throughout his work, leading eventually to the elliptical Remarks that accompany the Sophocles translations. Thus, one of the intentions of this essay will be to trace the stages which evolve within Holderlin's thinking which take him from a position of optimism to near silence.

In undertaking this task I shall be guided by another set of elliptical remarks, namely those made by Jean-Luc Nancy in his short text Hyperion 's Joy.3 Written as a "continuation" to Holderlin's novel Hyperion, the text replies to Hyperion's epistolary interlocutor Bellarmin who is inquiring about the "silence" and "absence" of his companion. In answering, Nancy offers an explanation for this silence by linking it to Holderlin's failure to develop a systematic articulation of the nature of the Absolute as promised in the letter to Schiller. For Nancy, the heart of the problem lies in the question of how it is possible to articulate the unity of the Absolute. Throughout his work Holderlin returns to the question of how the One may be thought. This is perhaps not surprising for, as Nancy remarks, it is the question of the age: "it is the era of requirement of an unconditional unity"(HJ 61). However, unlike his companions (be they real or fictional: Hegel, Schelling, Bellarmin, or Hyperion), Holderlin does not seem to be able to think this question through to a satisfactory resolution. No sooner has Holderlin provided a response-"an answer"-than he moves on, attempting to re-articulate his thought in a different way.4

Why this uncertainty, this inability to "achieve," to complete the project? In thinking through this problem Nancy offers the following response. After quoting Hyperion's final words from the ending of Book Two of the novel "Like lovers' quarrels are the dissonances of the world. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.