Representation and Poiesis: The Imagination in the Later Heidegger

By Krummel, John W. M. | Philosophy Today, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Representation and Poiesis: The Imagination in the Later Heidegger


Krummel, John W. M., Philosophy Today


Those who have studied Heidegger's relationship to Kant are familiar with his ontological broadening of the significance of the imagination (Einbildung, Einbildungskraft). But what about Heidegger's view of the imagination in his later works from the 1930s on? In the Kant-reading of the 1920s, especially in his famous "Kant-book" (Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik) of 1929, Heidegger certainly did not limit the imagination to its more traditional understanding as a faculty of images (Bild, Bilder) (or representations) but rather broadened and deepened it, making its sense coincide with his own notions of the ontological opening of man's being-(t)here (Dasein). The assumption was that the imagination, identified with this ontological opening, is the originary unity from out of which the separate faculties of the cognizing subject, its spontaneity and its receptivity, sprout. This was in reaction to the Neo-Kantian hylo-morphic prioritization of form over matter in cognition. To bridge the gap between form and matter, subject and object, Heidegger looked to the imagination in Kant's placement of it between conceptual understanding and receptive sensibility. In Kant's epistemological system, however, the imagination is a faculty of intuition and of synthesis. That is to say that in its transcendental-formative role, despite its positioning between sensation and understanding, the imagination, strictly speaking, belongs to the stem of spontaneity as opposed to receptivity (to which is relegated raw sense-data). One might then say that the equation of the imagination in Kant with the originary unity of the stems qua ontological opening was founded upon Heidegger's (mis-)taking of one of the stems, intentionally or not, for their deep uniting root.

If one takes a look at another work from 1929, Vom Wesen des Grundes, one could also say that this reading of Kantian imagination was based upon the inseparability Heidegger discerned between the "thrownness" (Geworfenheit) and the "projection" (Entwurf) of human existence in "transcendence" (Transzendenz).] On the one hand, we always already find ourselves finitized by a whole set of environing conditions, i.e., the world into which we are thus "thrown," and on the other hand, we comport ourselves to things in view of a picture or image of the world (Welt-Bild) that we project and that gives meaning to the situation wherein we find ourselves. These two aspects of our being-in-the-world are united in what Heidegger calls "transcendence," the fact that in dealing with beings, we are always simultaneously moving-beyond ("transcending") them toward being itself in the assumption of the very meaningfulness (or "sense," Sinn) of being underlying those very beings that we are comporting to. In that case, although Heidegger broadens the imagination and equates it with that ontological opening of our being-in-the-world designated as transcendence, Kantian imagination itself in the strict epistemological-representational sense then would itself have to be grounded in that very ontological opening that unites projection and thrownness and that would make the harmonious fitting of spontaneity and receptivity in cognition possible. In his subsequent works-which I would suggest also moves beyond the mere relegation of the sense of being to time as our ontologically finitizing mortality-Heidegger names that opening event of being, Ereignis among other names.

My focus in this essay lies in Heidegger's attitudes toward the imagination subsequent to his initial Kant reading in Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik of 1929.2 A certain shift (Wendung) in his thinking becomes noticeable in the 1930s. In the following decades he turns away from his previous attempt to understand being through an analysis of human existence that makes use of the terminology of transcendence and the horizon of projection, and toward being itself in its historical-epochal unfoldings and as the world-opening "enowning event" (Ereignis) whereby human existence is itself opened and shaped. …

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