David Mutschlecner, author most recently of Enigma and Light, lives in Los Alamos. He is a devoted reader of poetry and philosophy and a careful viewer of art. In “Martin Heidegger and Ezra Pound,” he links an existentialist philosopher and an American poet in a meditation on being, meaning and art.
Among the many questions lurking in the poem’s background is this question from Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art”: “Is art still an essential and necessary way in which that truth happens which is decisive for our historical existence?”
The prospects seem bleak at first when Heidegger’s central question about being—“what is the Being of [human] beings?”—is “taken down,” cut off, presumably, by this “age of epistemology,” in which we do not ask about being but instead interrogate the questions themselves and ask where knowledge comes from and how it is authorized.
The “isolation” of the lupin is mirrored in Heidegger’s isolation and the rock singer’s, who walks out on his own jetty. The singer seems to enact, in his public isolation, the existential dilemma. According to Heidegger, we find ourselves “thrown” into the world, already in a context in which we must try to construct a self. On the other hand, we must become “authentic” in private, since, for Heidegger, to accept the mass’s values is to fail. The singer is a “self-searcher: dasein,” which is Heidegger’s term for “the Being of human beings” or “the being for whom Being is a question.” The singer is “wireless, / without connection.” He is at the center of everything, but he is isolated, alone.
In stanza 10, Mutschlecner takes an ironic turn. “We have done our best,” he writes, to “severing being from meaning,” as if that were our task. By stanza 16, though, something survives. Alethia is a term adapted by Heidegger to mean revealingness (or unconcealedness). The poet’s job, according to Heidegger, is to use language to call things into revealingness, into a relationship with human beings, to enact “the undistorted /presencing of the thing.”
The flower that opens into unconcealedness leads us by association to the second figure behind the poem, the poet Ezra Pound, who wrote “In a Station of the Metro,” a two-line poem featuring its own flowers: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.”
By stanza 19, it’s dark. Presumably the speaker is returning from the concert. Mutschlecner asks us to imagine a “beginningless beginning.” Heidegger himself was fascinated by origins, whether “art can be an origin” or only “a cultural phenomenon that has become routine” (as in “the metal posture” that becomes “reflex”). This is where Heidegger joins hands with Pound’s “make it new.” The poem ends with “a far nub of thought / where late headlights turn over lupin.” The ending suggests that art can be “a nub of thought,” an origin. A “nub”—both a small protuberance suggesting growth and the crux of the matter.
Jon Davis is poet laureate for the city of Santa Fe and a teacher at the Institute for American Indian Arts. “Martin Heidegger and Ezra Pound” is reprinted from Enigma and Light (Ahsahta Press, 2012).