Reading elements of the later Heidegger as myth

Phronimon 8 (2):25-34 (2007)
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The aim of this paper is to read Martin Heidegger’s later philosophy in terms of the assertion that themes such as the fourfold (das Geviert) and poetic dwelling could be interpreted as mythical elements within his writing. Heidegger’s later thought is often construed as challenging and difficult due to its quasi-mystical nature. However, this paper aims to illustrate that if one approaches his later thought from the perspective of myth, a different dimension of Heidegger’s thinking is revealed which is perhaps more tenable than attempting to address his later thought purely from a philosophical position. In brief, Heidegger’s concept of the fourfold involves the following entities: mortals, divinities, the sky and the earth. His argument is that for mortals to dwell poetically (implying the living of a meaningful, holistic life) they must recognise and assume the guardianship of Being (which is inclusive of all the elements of the fourfold). Heidegger argues that our guardianship of Being will be a natural extension of our existence, once we realise the holiness or sacred nature of Being as such. Thus, the concept of the fourfold represents the possibility of existing in a harmonious, caring (or saving), relationship with Being. However, following Heidegger this holistic (and, arguably mythical) depiction of our existence is extremely unlikely due to the rampant nature of technological enframing (Gestell) that dictates the use of human and natural resources. Conceptually though, if this holistic depiction is approached taking into account Ricoeur’s argument regarding myth then it becomes tenable. Ricoeur writes that myth has a symbolic function in terms of its power of discovery and revelation and this implies that myth has a projected horizon. This horizon, Ricoeur writes, is a ‘disclosure of unprecedented worlds, an opening on to other possible worlds which transcend the established limits of our actual world’ (1997: 8). Thus, applying these characterisations of myth to elements of Heidegger’s later philosophy will reveal a justifiable and coherent interpretation of his concept of the fourfold from a mythical perspective. Such a reading demonstrates the centrality of the fourfold in Heidegger’s later thought, which more strictly philosophical approaches may undervalue. In closing this paper suggests the usefulness of a mythological approach to the later Heidegger, and demonstrates the continued vitality of myth, as a profoundly human paradigm which, as Heidegger recognised, can simultaneously complement and transcend our more restricted rational endeavours.
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