Sublime Truth (Part 2


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

nlike the words of Moses, the statement of Isis is constative, not prescriptive. It speaks Mystery itself and has always been treated as a model esoteric statement. This is why it received such attention near that end of the Enlightenment which is marked by Masonic mysticism, from Hamann to Hegel or from Schlegel to the Novalis of The Disciplesof Sais. Abstracted from the basic metaphor that sustains it, this constative is a statement of truth: it speaks the truth, the essence of divinity, that which is unrevealable. It matters little that Kant gave it a "rationalist" interpretation, that he transformed it (Isis became "Mother Nature"), that he thus treated it like a sort of personification of nature: the stated truth remains fundamentally the same, its mystical import unaffected. Inscribed in the frontispiece of a book by Segner, it fills the reader "with such a holy awe as would dispose his mind to serious attention" (Kant 179). One can easily see how this mystery allowed Kant to hyperbolically associate Isis with the Biblical Law: the statement of Isis is similarly concerned with the unpresen-

? 1991 by Cultural Critique. 0882-4371 (Winter 1991-92). All rights reserved.



Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

tability of the metaphysical, understood as the truth or essence of philei: phusis phusis. It is an echo of Heraclitus's physis kruptesthai loves to conceal itself. It presents that there is something unpresentable. Nevertheless, and thus I come to the metaphor, if it is a metaphor,the unpresentable is here understood as unrevealable, and this makes a great difference. The difference is that the personification of the totality of nature, of the totality of being (it is the totality itself, the unity of all being, its Being, which is unrevealable), is also a personification of the truth. The statement of Isis is not only a statement of truth, it is a statement of truth about truth (in fact the entire speculative epoch understood it as such). It is, in other words, a statement of truth about the play of veiling and revealing, of presentation and the unrevealable. It is stated in the well-known form: Me, the truth, I speak. Me, the truth, I speak the truth about truth. And undoubtedly this is why the sentence is absolutely sublime, because it is purely and simply a contradictory sentence. It is the syntactic equivalent, if you will, of an oxymoron. What is it, then, to "speak the truth"? By a constraint that has been long forgotten (at least for those capable of philosophical memory), a constraint that is not at all a compulsion to speak in metaphor, to speak the truth is to unveil the truth. The telling-ofthe-truth, in this sense, is apophantic,as it has been since Aristotle (and as Heidegger reminds us [Being and Time 55]): it makes seen (or appear, phainesthai)emanating (apo) from that which it speaks. It renders manifest or obvious, it unveils. The telling-of-the-truth is logos alethes. Now what takes place in the statement of Isis (and this is probably why it is so fascinating) is that, while speaking the truth about itself, while speaking the truth about truth and unveiling itself as truth, the truth (the unveiling) unveils itself as the impossibility of the unveiling-or the necessity for the veiling of the finite, mortal being. Speaking of itself, unveiling itself, truth states that the essence of truth is nontruth-or that the essence of unveiling is veiling. Truth (the unveiling) reveals itself as veiling itself. Recall Hegel's jubilation when he bursts with joy in describthe journey (itself symbolic) from the symbolic and sublime ing world (the Orient, Egypt) to the world where the Spirit and self-

Sublime Truth


consciousness first emerge as such: Greece. The journey is double, made by the response by Oedipus (he who knows) to the riddle of the Sphinx,' but made also in a heliotrope, by the inscription by the goddess Neith on the sanctuary of Sais. The sun rises in the Orient and makes the stones of the statues in Memnon's temple sing. But in Egypt the sun or the Spirit is still enclosed in rock, despite the momentary appearance of a sun cult (which so captivated Freud). Greece, on the contrary, is the land of "high noon": the sun is at its zenith, the Spirit has escaped from the rocks, from tombstones and enigmatic inscriptions. The philosophical West begins with a flight from Egypt, an uprooting from the somber, stony empire of the dead. Hegel cites the inscription: "I am all that is, and that was, and that shall be." But he adds that the utterance is followed by: "the fruit which I have produced is Helios," the sun god. Then he comments: "This (solar) clarity is Spirit, the Son of Neith, the mysterious night-loving divinity. In the Egyptian Neith, truth is still a problem. The Greek Apollo is the solution; his utterance is 'Man, know thyself"' (Philosophyof History 220, translation modified). The truth of truth is a pure and simple unveiling, a simple flight from night brought on by a pure burst of the sun. It is the appearance of the Spirit basking in its own light, a subject conscious of itself. This is why Hegel can be filled with joy in deciphering the enigma. When Kant, on the contrary, pronounces the same sentence sublime, the enigma's "solution" is not Helios, even less so Apollo. No sun comes to remove the veil from the goddess, no selfconsciousness dissolves truth's contradictory discourse about itself. The sentence is left with its paradoxical enigma, which produces not jubilation but a "holy awe." Truth, in its nature, is untruth. This proposition-truth, in its nature, is untruth-figures in Heidegger's second meditation on "The Origin of the Work of Art." It comes shortly before Heidegger defines the beautiful as "this shining [Scheinen]joined in the work" and as the "means by which truth as unconcealedness displays itself in its essence." It sums up an analysis that has led Heidegger toward the contradictory structure of a-letheia and to the demonstration that "to the nature of truth as unconcealedness [Unverborgenheit]belongs a denial in the form of a double concealment [Verbergen]." Heideg-


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

ger understands concealment or "reserve" to be the essence of Lichtung, of clearing, clearance, the "open place," the Open, "where being comes to stand." "The clearing happens only as this double concealment," which means: the essence of aletheia is lethe (the essence of unveiling is veiling). The clearing itself, the unveiling of being, never takes place. In other words, the opening from which being appears and presents itself as such (this opening itself which, "thought beginning with being," as Heidegger says, is "more being" than being) does not present itself. It is not in the form of that which is. The opening, the clearing, has no being: "This open center is therefore not surrounded by what is; rather, the lighting center itself encircles all that is, like the Nothing which we scarcely know" ("Origin" 53-56 and passim, translation modified). This veiling of the unveiling, this "reserve" of the clearing, is double, says Heidegger. On the one hand, it is a dissembling [Verstellen] instability: "one being places itself in front of another being" and veils it, presents it as what it is not. This is the origin of appearance and error. This first reserve affects being in that which it is (Washeit,quidditas).But, on the other hand, it is above all and and it thus affects being in essentially a denial, a refusal [Versagen], its very being, in its "thatit is" (Dassheit,quodditas)."Beings refuse themselves to us down to that one and seemingly least feature which we touch upon most readily when we can say no more of beings than that they are" ("Origin" 53-54). This refusal is precisely what the statement of Isis pronounces: "no mortal hath raised my veil." If you will, it is finitude, but finitude understood as "not simply and only the limit of knowledge," in that it is also "the beginning of the clearing of what is lighted [der Anfang der Lichtung des Gelichteten]" ("Origin" 53-54). It is the condition for the very possibility of unveiling. This is why Heidegger can write: Concealmentcan be a refusal or merely a dissembling.Weare never fully certain whether it is the one or the other. Concealment conceals and dissembles itself. This means: the open place in the midst of beings, the clearing,is never a rigid stage with a permanentlyraised curtainon which the play of beings runs its course. Rather,the clearing happens only as this double concealment. ("Origin" 54)2

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Time will not fail us, it should show us how, from top to bottom, this whole development reinterprets transcendental aesthetics beginning with the coming-into-view of aletheia. This is because, in supposing that clearing is nothing but opening, a pure space without ontic localization ("this emptiness," he will later say), Heidegger immediately adds: "The unconcealedness of beingsthis is never a merely existent state, but a happening [Geschechnis]" ("Origin" 54),3 that is, pure temporality, pure historicity. What is this "happening," and where does it come from? The answer is self-evident: it comes from the clearing itself (aletheia),as the concealment and reserve of the essence of the unveiling itself. How then does this happening, this coming, distinguish itself? It in no way can be an appearance or presentation, since it exceeds all beings' modes of being. And yet it arrives, it takes place, it has place. It distinguishes itself by that which being, even in its own familiarity, suddenly finds to be "estranged." The happening, the coming, is the estrangement, the Un-geheuereor de-familiarization of being: in We believe we are at home [heimisch] the immediate circle of beings. That which is, is familiar, reliable, ordinary [geheuer].Nevertheless, the clearing is pervaded by a constant concealment, a perpetual reserve in the double form of refusal and dissembling. At bottom, the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extra-ordinary,strange. ("Origin"54, translation modified)4 One could argue that this is still a "negative presentation," but it is not at all. Heidegger prevents such a misinterpretation. A few lines later, after having stated that "the nature of truth is untruth," he explains, "the proposition, 'the nature of truth is untruth,' is not, however, intended to state that truth is at bottom falsehood. Nor does it mean that truth is never itself but, viewed dialectically, is always also its opposite" ("Origin" 55). The estrangement or defamiliarization of being is not a kind of "negative presentation" (one should not jump all over the "Un" of Ungeheuere, even less over the "Un" in Un-Wahrheit)for the simple reason that estrangement affects the presentedand, in an absolutely paradoxical fashion, simply because presentation itself (the "that there is presence") comes to "present" itself. Or rather, since


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the word presentation is inappropriate, presentation "happens." And this is Ereignis. Now, it is essentially the work of art which produces the event of clearing as concealing, the happening of a-letheia as the defamiliarization of being's familiar (unveiled) being. Such is the "thrust" or "shock" [Stoss] which it provokes. Mysteriously added to a given being, as a supplement or a surplus, the work of art has the conspicuous power to display itself as having been created, thereby indicating, in the same being that it is, that being is. In a work... this fact, that it is a work, is precisely what is unusual [das Ungewiihnliche].The event [Ereignis] of its being created does not simply reverberate through the work; rather, the work casts before itself the eventful fact that the work is as this work, and it has constantly this fact about itself. The more essentially the work opens itself, the more luminous [leuchtend] becomes the uniqueness of the fact that it is rather than is not. The more essentially this shock comes into the Open, the more and unique the work becomes. In the unsettling [befremdlich] of forth [Hervorbringen] the work there lies this offerbringing 'that it be.' . . . The more solitary the work, ing [Darbringen] fixed in the figure [festgestelltin die Gestalt],stands on its own and the more cleanly it seems to cut all ties to human beings, the more simply does the shock come into the Open that such a work is, and the more essentially is the extraordinary [das Ungeheure] thrust to the surface and the long-familiar thrust down. ("Origin" 65-66) Heidegger immediately adds that this shock is without violence:

The more purely the work is itself transported (or carried off, entriickist: this is one possible translation of the Greek [lanthanein]) into the openness of beings-an openness opened by itself-the more simply does it transport [einriicken] into this us and thus at the same time transport us out of the openness realm of the ordinary. To submit to this displacement [Verriickung]means: to transform our accustomed ties to world and to earth and henceforth to restrain [ansichhalten]all usual doing and prizing, knowing and looking, in order to stay within the truth that is happening in the work. ("Origin" 66)

Sublime Truth


Defamiliarity, deportation and derangement, shock, simplisubtraction or retraction, restraint: this is all the very recognizcity, able vocabulary of the sublime (as is obvious in das Ungeheuere), at or least its transcription into a Heideggerean idiom. But the similarity is obviously not a simple matter of semantics, especially since Heidegger was never unaware of his linguistic inheritance. What this text describes, in its own way and undoubtedly with a new level of profundity, is the sublime experience itself. This is precisely what Heidegger attributes to the ek-static behavior of Dasein and of ek-sistence when he is concerned elsewhere with anguish and being-at-death. The shock, the estrangement of being which the artwork produces, is just such an ecstasy or rapture. "The mind is hurried out of itself," as Burke says (62). From Longinus to Boileau and from Fenelon to Kant, it is this emotion or affect which has been described as sublime-on the condition, Heidegger would say, that this pathos is understood in its strictest meaning. What happens, then, in this experience and ordeal? What surely happens is that a being presents itself (it appears), which therein "estranges" the whole of being. By its own bursting forth, by its own radiance, being presents that there is being and not nothing. The artwork is this absolutely paradoxical being (this to "being being" as Heidegger would say [Introduction Metaphysics]) which an-nihil-ates being in order to bring being itself into the light of day, to let it shine and sparkle. The artwork opens the clearing, the luminous opening in which it remains as being, upon the (empty) base, the base without basis from which it manifests itself as being. The artwork presents a-letheia, the luminous nonbeing, this "obscure clarity" which "is"the being of that which is. And this is sublimity. In a certain sense, and by yet another paradox, Heidegger confirms the Hegelian definition of the sublime: the manifestation of the infinite annihilates manifestation itself. This is exactly what traverses these pages. Or rather: this would be the case if being could be called infinite (which is strictly impossible), and, above all, if Heidegger considered manifestation as the eidetic presentation of being, that is, if he defined manifestation according to the coming into account of Washeit,the quiddity of being. What defamiliarizes the artwork, what an-nihil-ates (and does not


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

annihilate) the presentation of presentation, is thus presented being, being as such, that which ontically presents itself and, in effect, never ceases to stand out from the background of being in general. Presented being, being in its Washeit,is never conceivable except as eidos. Presented being is always figured, always configures itself, constitutes itself with a shape. It creates a Gestalt. This is, moreover, how Heidegger conceives of the beingness of the artwork. But the work of art is not only of being (a conspicuous privilege it shares with Dasein). It is the opening of the "that there is being." In other words, from the moment that the Dassheit of being is at stake, presentation as configuration fades into the background. Prior to the coming forth of any particular being, prior even to what one might still imagine as the coming forth of being in general on the basis of nothingness (although nothingness is never a basis, and being in general does not come forth: there is no ontic coming forth), there is the "that there is being." This in effect is what the work of art offers, but this offering, this Darbringen, is for Heidegger an offering of pure appearance, pure Scheinen or phainesthai, a pure epiphany of being as such. What is, in its being, does not come forth but shines and dazzles in the night without darkness, in the beyond-night of nothingness, which is clarity itself. This is why, under the motif of lethe, of the concealed, reserved, retained, or retracted, there is no negativity. And this is why the "phantic" conception of the sublime does not immediately or finally give way to any dialecticization. It only means that the sublime is the presentation that there is something unpresentable, which is negative being. This does not postulate any "negative presentation"; it simply posits that the sublimeis the presentation that there is presentation.There is, if you will (although I still having misgivings about the term), an "affirmative" comprehension of the sublime, of "great art."

For Heidegger, it should be understood, all of this falls within the realm of the beautiful. The move from the was ist to the dass ist, from "what being is" to "that being is," signifies the shift from a

Sublime Truth


philosophical, eidetic-aesthetic determination of the beautiful to a more original determination. Once again, this sublime concept of the sublime5 knows nothing of the sublime. Nevertheless, there has always been maintained, within the concept of the sublime (or at least in one version of the sublime), the vague and half-forgotten trace of an understanding of the beautiful more original than its Platonic interpretation, which begins with eidos-idea.It is even worth considering whether the concept of the sublime (or again, at least one, if not the original, version of the sublime) is not born, or indeed reborn, in the desire to rediscover (or simply discover) in the beautiful that which is manifestly irreducible to its eidetic conception: this "je ne sais quoi" (without which the beautiful would be only beautiful), this epiphany, this bright light, the very brilliance of appearance, ekphanestaton. This is what occurs in Longinus's treatise On The Sublime, perhaps the first version of the concept of the sublime. This is true, however, only if we begin to read this text not as a work of rhetoric, poetics, or, as has been claimed, as a "critique" (although it is unarguably also these things), but as a philosophicalwork, unreadable without understanding the precise philosophical aim behind its fundamental statements-statements that are much more than an occasional rehash of some Stoic or antique banality.6 What is the philosophical aim of this work? It is an attempt to understand the essence of art beginning with the sublime, with greatness, that is. It seeks to determine the enabling conditions for artistic greatness. Longinus, moreover, is truly modern in his stance, as he considers his examples of "great art" (the Greek tragedies, Pindar, Sappho, Thucydides, Plato) as art that is forever gone, "finished." Very typical for a treatise of this genre, Longinus's initial question is in effect a narrow one, conforming perfectly to Socratic topoi. It asks whether or not the sublime stems from a particular techne, and whether or not it is subject to "technicalrules" (Longinus II). Answering his first question, Longinus understands techne in its narrow and weak sense, as "know-how." From the beginning we can expect to find the traditional collection of examples and formulas-of which, of course, this treatise is one-until Longinus directly announces his own thesis: yes, the sublime de-


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

rives from a techne,since the sublime is not innate. Thus Longinus breaks with all didactics, and shows us why. Quite simply, Longinus presents us with a quite different meaning of techne,since he relies from the outset on the opposition between innate and acquired. The innate is in effect phusei, a natural gift, the work of nature (ta phusika erga). Consequently, everything in art (in techne) stems from phusis itself. We are well acquainted with this problem: it is the problem of genius, of ingenium, which dominates the thematics of the sublime all the way through Kant and Nietzsche. For Kant, genius (that is, the sublime artist of the sublime) is defined as follows: "Genius is the talent (natural endowment) which gives the rule to art. Since talent, as an innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to nature, we may put it this way: Genius is the innate mental aptitude (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art" (168). In his own way, Longinus says nothing different. Not only is his definition of genius the same-he speaks of "great nature" (megala phusis or megalophuia), of extraordinary (deina) gifts or presents from heaven (IX, XXXIII, XXXIV)-but, above all, he creates exactly the same relationship between phusis and techne. What in effect does Longinus say? What is the meaning of his demonstration? How can he simultaneously claim that the sublime stems from phusis (from genius) and from techne?At bottom, how can he adhere to this oxymoron (an oxymoron which Kant proposes as well, embodied in the very title of the paragraph dedicated to genius in the third Critique, "Fine art is the art of genius")? Longinus proceeds in two directions: Let us look at the case in this way;Nature in her more sublime and passionate moods is without doubt a law unto herself and principal of all our productions, yet to determine the right degree and the right moment, and to contribute the precision of practiceand experience, is the peculiar province of method. The great geniuses, when left to their own blind and rash impulses without the control of discipline,are in the same danger as a ship let drive at random without ballast. Often they need the spur, but sometimes also the curb. (II, translationmodified)
[autonomon],yet is not wont to show herself utterly wayward and without method [amethodon].This natural gift is the base

Sublime Truth


Thus from the very first the argument runs: phusis is "autonomous" vis-a-vis the sublime, which is the same as saying that "it is a law unto itself," autonomon.It rules and regulates art from and by itself (as Kant will "translate" it), since, as Longinus states, it is certainly not "without method." The gift of nature is thus methodically regulated, and genius as such only receives its rules from "nature." This is why Longinus can say (and I transcribe literally) that phusis "constitutes itself in all things as the principal and the archetypal element of all birth [aut . . . proton ti kai ar(II). And this is chetupongeneseosstoicheionepi pant8n huphesteken]" he attributes to "method," as a form of techne,all that results why from the joyous and successful accomplishment of natural gifts: a sense of measure, a sense of the right moment, sureness in one's practice. All this is calculated and learned, as Holderlin says. One must know how to calculate, since there is a danger which threatens genius when left to itself, a threat of going overboard. But one can also see here that techne is conceived only as the regulator of natural abilities, a sort of controlling power. And it is only in this way, within these limits, that the art of the sublime stems from techne.7 But what more fundamental meaning can this have? The answer forms the second part of the demonstration: Demosthenes has remarked, with regard to human life in general, that the greatestof all blessingsis happiness, but next to that and equal in importance is to be well advised-for good fortune is utterlyruined by the absenceof good counsel. This may be applied to literature, [if we substitutegenius for fortune, and art for counsel. But the most important point of all is that the actualfact that there are some partsof literature which are in the power of naturalgenius alone, must be learnt from no other source than from art. These are the considerations which I submit to the unfavorablecritic of such useful studies. Perhaps they may induce him to alter his opinion as to the vanity and idleness of our present investigations]. (Longinus II) The editor considers the passage in brackets to be dubious: it appears in only one of the twelve more or less complete or correct manuscripts that remain, and in this manuscript (which is a copy from the fifteenth century, edited for the first time in 1964) the


Lacoue-Labarthe Philippe

text of Longinus is mixed with Problemesphysiques,attributed to Aristotle. Now, not only are the ideas presented here absolutely coherent, but they are certainly one of the surest interpretations of the Aristotelian theory of mimesis,the essentials of which can be found in the Physics (Book B: 194a). Demosthenes' adage, one of the "basic banalities" of antique wisdom, serves as an analogical starting point for Longinus's argument. There are two goods, he claims: the first and higher good is happiness (to eutuchein),which, as its Greek name indicates, does not depend on us. The second, which is no less high, is the wisdom of one's resolutions, sound judgment gained through experience. If the second is missing, the first is lacking as well. The structure of this formula is thus one of necessary all supplementarity: from god or nature, all favorable lots in life, are nothing gifts without good judgment. This same structure, says Longinus, regulates the relationship between phusis and techne.Remaining faithful to Aristotle, techne is conceived literally as the overgrowthof phusis, appearance, phainen, as a growth, blossoming or brightening (phuein) of light. Within the limits imposed by his genre (a sort of "theory of literature"), Longinus explains this conception in the following way: "our knowledge of the fact that there are some parts of literature which are in the power of natural genius alone, must be learnt from no other source than from art" (II). In another formula: only art (techne) is in a position to reveal nature (phusis). Or again: without techne, phusis disappears, since in its essence as phusis kruptesthai philei, it loves to conceal itself. This is not merely a recitation of Aristotle's Physics, since Longinus adds to him by stating that techne brings phusis to an end. But this is in fact precisely how we must understand Aristotle he when, in discussing poetry and poetic art (poietike), defines techne or mimesis as representation, as "presentification," rendering present: It is clear that the general origin of poetry was due to two Imitation[mimesthai] is causes, each of them natural[phusikai]. natural [sumphuton] man from childhood, one of his advanto tages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative [mimetikotaton] creature in the world, and produces his earliest knowledge [matheseis] imitation [dia [poieitai] by

Truth Sublime And it is also natural for all to delight in works of mimese6s]. Works imitation. (Complete 2318, translationmodified)


Techne(of which poetry is but one mode, although it is perhaps the highest mode, if we read this passage correctly) is the producThus one can understand why tion (poiesis)of knowledge (mathesis). it is not arbitrary that Heidegger insists on translating techne as Wissen,knowledge. This knowledge appears by means of mimesis,in which mimesisis the general faculty of rendering-present, the faculty of representing, which does not mean reproducing in the conventional sense, nor of duplication, even less of copying or mimicking, unless we stray wide of what we mean by knowledge. Rather, mimesismeans: to render present that which needs to be rendered present, that which would not be present as such without mimesis,but would remain concealed, "encrypted." Mimesis, representation, is the condition for the knowledge that there is being (and not nothing), a knowledge which then (and only then) can be used to obtain multiple knowledges of being. On this basis, and because mimesisdefines the relationship between knowledge and phusis, mimesis makes phusis appear, discloses it as such. Mimesis reveals phusis: this power is what Emmanuel Martineau rightly calls the "apophantic" essence of techne.8I believe Longinus echoes this when, concerned with what derives from phusis, he says that "our knowledge [ekmathein]of the fact that there are some parts of literature which are in the power of natural genius [phusis]alone, must be learnt from no other source than from art [techne]" (II). An ancient knowledge about mimesis, techne, and the essence of art endures in Longinus, just as it equally endures in Aristotle. What endures, in other words, is the Platonic interpretation of mimesis. It is on the basis of such mimetology that Longinus considers the sublime. But precisely for this reason his treatment of the sublime has an entirely different significance: he poses not only the question of great art here but, within the question of great art, he considers the possibility and essence of art. What this first and foremost explains is that, for Longinus (as well as for Kant), art's fundamental mystery is how genius is transmitted. This is the enigma of the history of art. If, on the one hand, there is little (or nothing essential) in the sublime that stems from didactics and from techne, in its restricted meaning, and if,


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

on the other hand, great art and the innate gift of the sublime are technein its wider sense (in the sense that techneis given by phusis to humans in order for phusis itself to appear), then how does genius arise? By what route (hodos)does one arrive at the sublime? And how does one achieve greatness? As with Kant, Longinus's answer is enigmatic. It explains little or nothing, it offers no new surprises: genius arises by the mimesis (but this time in its competitive sense) and zedltis(emulation) of the great poets of the past, who were themselves "inspired" by the past (in imitation of the Pythian priestess approaching the tripod at Delphi). From the genius of these poets, emanations ("divine vapors") are exhaled like those at the oracle of Delphi, penetrating the souls of their successors (Longinus XIII). The transmission and repetition of genius is thus effected by a sort of (mysterious) mimetic contagion, a contagion which is nonetheless not imitation. As Kant tries to explain, one does not use the great artworks of the past as models of imitation (Nachmachung)but as elements of an inheritance or heritage (Nachfolge).He adds, "the possibility of this is difficult to explain. The artist's ideas arouse like ideas on the part of his pupil, presuming nature to have visited him with a like proportion of the mental powers" (171). This works well for something like the oracle at Delphi, but not for more normal means of transmission (didactics), as Kant explains: the discipline that genius gives to art is untransmissible-for two reasons. First, this discipline or rule is not a concept (by definition, being concerned with the beautiful), and, second, a genius does not know what he or she is doing and, unlike a "brain"such as Newton, is incapable of showing how he or she works: "no Homer or Wieland can show how his ideas, so rich at once in fancy and in thought, enter and assemble themselves in his brain" (Kant 170). The rule thus needs to be "abstracted" from great works, contact with which awakens genius. By such "contact" Kant means: "going to the same sources for a creative work as those to which an exemplary creator went for his creations, and learning from one's predecessor no more than the mode of availing oneself of such sources" (Kant 138-39, translation modified). This contact, for Kant as much as for Longinus, never excludes a very rigorous and agonic competition, with its historic scenes and confrontations: what would Homer say, and what will posterity say (Longinus XIV)? Yet this mimetic rivalry

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entails no "pillage," and certainly not the least bit of envy or serious artist would stoop to play such games. In a jealousy-no manner which finds its roots in Plato, if there is mimesis,it is by made by an ethos,a means of the imprint or impression (apotupbsis) beautiful plastic artwork or a good performance (Longinus XIII). The enigmatic transmission of genius stems from a familiar typology: to be a genius is to be influenced by great art. From this, moreover (and still corresponding completely with Longinus), Kant extracts the idea of the classical in art: "The fact that we recommend the works of the ancients as models, and rightly too, and call their authors classical, as constituting a sort of nobility among writers that leads the way and thereby gives laws to the people, seems to indicate a posteriorisources of taste, and to contradict the autonomy of taste in each individual" (137-38). This clearly means that the ancients are in fact a priori models of art: there is a sort of transcendentality of the ancients. Their works conformed a priori to the universality of the judgment of taste. Yet this happened only once, among the ancients. And without doubt this is why art has reached its limit only once. If in science one can hope for infinite progress (since it is a matter of "brains"), in art one can have no such hope: Genius reaches a point at which art must make a halt, as there is a limit imposed upon it which it cannot transcend. This limit has in all probabilitybeen long since attained. In addition, such skill cannot be communicated, but requires to be bestowed directly from the hand of nature upon each individual, and so with him it dies, awaiting the day when nature once again endows another in the same way-one who needs no more than an example to set the talent of which he is conscious at work on similar lines. (Kant 170) This limit, however, is in no way an end of art-a difference within the Platonic-Hegelian interpretation of art. Genius can always renew itself. A genius will never surpass the ancients, but he or she can always be as great as them: Wieland was for Kant what Holderlin was for Heidegger. Or Trakl, or George. But much more importantly, from the moment when mimesis is considered fundamentally to be "apophantic," two apparently contradictory consequences ensue: (1) Although the sublime (and


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

great art) stem from techne, in its narrow sense, Longinus states that it is also necessary that technecome to the aid of phusis, that it
correct it:

It has been urged by one writer that we should not prefer the huge disproportioned Colossus [of Rhodes] to the Doryphorus of Polycletus. But (to give one out of many possible in answers) in art we admire exactness [toakribestaton], works of nature magnificence; and it is from nature that man derives the facultyof speech. Whereas,then, in statuarywe look to for close resemblance [to homoion] humanity,in literature we require something which transcendshumanity [tohuperairon ta anthr6pina]. Nevertheless, . . . since that success which consists in avoidance of error is usually the gift of art, . . . though unequal excellence is the attributeof genius, it is proper on all occasions to call in art as an ally to nature. (XXXVI) Thus it is necessary to moderate the excesses of the sublime. But this also obviously means that art, technein the narrow sense, of is only capable of akribestaton, exactness and perfection. In this sense mimesisis interpreted as homoiosis,resemblance. In statues, we look for human resemblances, to homoion.This in sum is what defines the beautiful as appearance, as aspect (as eidos) under the sign of resemblance. With the sublime (with great art), on the contrary, a quite different mimesisis at work. This is undoubtedly because, for Longinus, great art is primarily the art of logos, and because humans by nature are essentially logikon,speaking-beings. What is most sought after is the beyond-human, that which transcends human affairs: by definition, nothing which can be reproduced. Great art has nothing to do with eidos because in its essence, great art has nothing to do with the already-seen, the already-present; and (2) Art (techne) should efface itself in the sublime as such, in great art. This is what Longinus says, for example, regarding the hyperbaton, a figure which is "a transposition of words or thoughts from their usual order, bearing unmistakably the characteristic stamp of violent mental agitation": "Now the figure hyperbaton is the means which are employed by the best writers to imitate these signs of natural emotion. For art is then perfect when it seems to be nature, and

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nature, again, is most effective when pervaded by the unseen presence of art" (XXII). Literally translated, Longinus writes: "technereaches its end when its seems to be phusis, and phusis succeeds when it encloses technein concealing it from view [lanthanousan]."This proposition closes an argument in which Longinus has demonstrated that the hyperbaton, a syntactical transposition, is perfect for expressing such violent pathos as anger, fear, indignation, or jealousy. A disrupted logos reveals emotion and allows it to appear. In fulfilling its apophantic function, mimesisthus allows phusis itself to emerge as natural pathos. But in this revelation, this presenting or appearance of phusis, techne effaces itself: only phusis is revealed. In decrypting phusis, then, techne is encrypted: as Longinus describes it, this is the game of aletheia. This is why Longinus considers sublime logos to be the true logos: it unveils. This paradox of the self-effacement of techneis embodied in the oxymoron which defines genius as "natural art." It entails, furthermore, a hyperbolic logic:9 the more techne is realized, the less it is seen. The zenith of mimesisis when it is veiled and concealed. This is perhaps what Kant meant in claiming that the sublime was found in simplicity. And it is also what Holderlin probably meant by sobriety. Now how should techneefface itself? This is obviously a problem which preoccupies Longinus when addressing the disguising of figures (schema)which, he says, always gives rise to the sublime, and comes to its aid. This use of figures is always delicate, he writes: "the use of figures has a peculiar tendency to rouse a suspicion of dishonesty, and to create an impression of treachery." This is why "a figure is then most effectual when it appears in disguise [dialanthane]." It matters little that the example that Longinus uses here is from Demosthenes. The important thing is the question he asks: "What is it that hides [apekrupse]the figure here?" Equally important is his response: "It is obviously its own lustre [delon oti to photi auto]." And, finally, in order to show that this light or lustre is not an accident, he immediately adds: For as the fainter lustre of the stars is put out of sight by the all-encompassingrays of the sun, so when sublimitysheds its light all round the sophistries of rhetoric they become invis-


Lacoue-Labarthe Philippe

ible. A similarillusion is produced by the painter'sart. When light and shadow are represented in color, though they lie on the same surface side by side, it is the light which meets the not eye first, and appears [phainesthai] only more conspicuous but also much nearer. In the same manner passion and grandeur of language, lying nearer to our souls by reason both of a certain naturalaffinity and of their radiance [dialamproteta], always strike our mental eye before we become conscious of the figure, throwing its artificialcharacterinto the shade and hiding it as it were in a veil. (Longinus XVII) Longinus has chosen the example of light here not merely because of the aptness of its comparison with truth. Its use should be understood literally: this light is sublime, it is the sublime, from the moment when the truth of the sublime is conceived as unveiling, as the aletheia of that which is (phusis). Techne,mimesis,is the illumination ofphusis: this is the truth, literally and in all its senses, of great art. And this is precisely why great art can never be seen-the light it radiates casts itself into the shadows. Thus it can never come into presence, into any "form," "figure," or "schema." In absenting itself, it presents that there is being-present. And this brings astonishment. never stops shinThis light, this very lustre of ekphanestaton, and glistening in Longinus's text: "But a sublime thought, if ing happily timed, illumines an entire subject with the vividness of a lightning-flash" (I); "therefore, I say, by the noble qualities which [Demosthenes] does possess he remains supreme above all rivals, and throws a cloud over his failings, silencing by his thunders and blinding by his lightnings the orators of all ages. Yes, it would be easier to meet the lightning-stroke with steady eye than to gaze unmoved when his impassioned eloquence is sending out flash after flash" (Longinus XXXIV);10 "beautiful expressions are in reality the light of one's thoughts [phos idion tou nou] (IX)." Or again, he says of the aging Homer, the genius par excellence, that as he writes The Odysseyhe is like a setting sun (IX). One could easily multiply the examples. But perhaps the best expressions of the sublime as light and lustre are two notable passages, duly accorded their places within the aesthetic tradition. The first passage is the Fiat lux in Genesis, which remained

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famous all the way to Hegel. It is an example of the absolute performative statement, whose sole aim is to announce that it exists. God reveals himself to be the principle (the arche)of what is precisely logos apophantikos:the speaking of appearance, or pure epiphany. God is the light which appears as the source of all that is visible. The second passage is when Longinus, in what is seemingly a long digression opened by the just-mentioned tribute to Demosthenes ("silencing by his thunders..."), gathers together his theses on the sublime: the sublime's superiority over the beautiful depends on its being able to respond to "the true end of man's being" (XXXV). Phusis, says Longinus, does not think of humans as low and vile creatures but as beings destined for greatness: phusis brings "us into life, and into the whole universe, as into some great field of contest, that we should at once contemplate [theaomai]and rival her mighty deeds." Humans exist, in other words, so that the whole of being can be put on display. And, Longinus adds, this is why phuszs "implanted [enephusen]in our souls an invincible yearning [eros] for all that is great, all that is more divine (daimonioteron)than ourselves" (XXXV, translation modified). What does this invincible eros yearn for? It yearns, Longinus says, for that which goes beyond the whole of being. Eros is a yearning which the whole of being cannot satisfy, satiating neither the theoria nor dianoia of man: "not even the whole world [ho sumpas kosmos]is wide enough for the soaring range [epibole] of human theory and thought" (XXXV, translation modified). Humans are metaphysical beings, or more exactly (since Longinus thinks more highly of phusis, considering it in effect as Being), metacosmic beings, meta-ontic beings. And Longinus's definition of eros (which is mixed with agbn, with violence, not simply with emulation) is exactly how Heidegger defined the transcendence of Dasein. As Longinus puts it, human epinoiai, the thoughts that we project above and beyond ourselves, often "overleap the very bounds of space" that surround us (XXXV). And in this projection we recognize the reason for our birth. This, then, is the second light, or rather fire, which has burst forth, the fire of phusis:


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

And this is why nature [phusis] prompts us to be struck with astonishment, not by the clearness and usefulness of a little stream, but by the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, and much more so facing the Ocean; not to turn our wandering eyes from the heavenly fires, though often overtaken by obscurity, to the little flame kindled by human hands, however pure and

steady its light; not to think that tiny lamp more wondrous than the caverns of Aetna; from whose raging depths are hurled up stones and whole masses of rock, and torrents sometimes come pouring from earth's center of pure and living fire, obeying only laws of their own. (Longinus XXXV, translationmodified) itself-whose echo, I believe, we can see This is ekphanestaton in Holderlin. And so Longinus concludes: "whatever is useful or needful lies easily within man's reach; what men admire, on the other hand, is always the paradoxical [toparadoxon]"(XXXV, translation modified). To paradoxon: this is usually translated literally. However, I will translate it as das Unheimliche,obviously reflecting Heidegger's use of the term, but also reflecting Schelling's celebrated definition: "One terms unheimlich all that should remain secret, veiled, and yet appears."

Ekphanestaton,or at least a certain interpretation of ekphanestaton, is thus what has been at issue throughout the discourse on the sublime. Effected by some sort of beyond-memory of what has never been exactly said or thought, ekphanestaton been the has issue because we can now understand that this beyond-light (for this is one translation of ek-phanestaton)is the strange clarity of being itself. "Though often overtaken by obscurity," it dazzles in a night without darkness, symbolized by the lightning (but also by what Holderlin calls "sober clarity"). And ekphanestaton has been the stake of this discourse because it has been thought that "great art" beholdsit, which is to suppose that, in one way or another, one can sustain a view of it, although this has never been a simple

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matter of vision. Lichtung, the opening, the clearing of appearance, is beyond all light. This is exactly what a certain thinker, a contemporary of apparently similar to him in his theologicoHeidegger-and with a rare rigor. I conclude with a pasmetaphysics-expressed for many reasons, Heidegger must have sage from a text that, read, and with which "The Origin of the Work of Art" is so closely related as to be troubling. I speak of Walter Benjamin and his essay on Goethe's ElectiveAffinities. I have taken these few passages from their context, where all that needs to be said is said, and I simply leave them here to be read, or understood. To conclude: All that is fundamentally beautiful is tied in a constant and essential way to appearance, but in infinitely varyingdegrees. This connection reaches its highest point everywhere where life is most manifest, and here specifically[in Goethe'swork], it is manifest in the double aspect of a burst of light [Schein] that either triumphs or is extinguished. For no living being, even as his or her life grows more lofty, is far removed from the realm of essential beauty.And it is for this reason that he for or she most often displays his or her stature [Gestalt], the essence of beauty is appearance. ... without itself being appearance, the beautiful is only beautiful as long as it maintainsits link with appearance.This appearance is its veil, since its very essence demands that beauty only appear veiled. Beauty is not an appearance [Schein],it is not a veil which covers another reality. It is not a phenomenon [Erscheinung] but a pure essence, an essence which only remains, however, as long as it retains its veil. Everywhereelse, appearancescan be deceiving, but a beautiful appearance is a veil which hides that which by all means must be kept veiled. Unveiled, this object would remain indefinitely inconspicuous.... In the case of the beautiful, one should go further and say that the unveiling itself is impossible.... The beautiful is at bottom the only reality which is both veiling and veiled: the ontologicallydivine foundation of beautyresides in this mystery. In it, appearance is not at all a useless veil thrown over things


Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

in themselves, but more precisely a veil which is for us the essential clothing of things. Because in itself the veil and the veiled are one, the veil has essentially no value except where nudity and the veiling are but one, that is, in art and in purely natural phenomena. On the contrary, the more that this duality is expressed in an obvious fashion, one sees more and more how the very essence of beauty gives way in unveiled nudity and the naked human body reaches a level of existence which transcends all beauty: the level of the sublime. For this is not a work [Gebilde] of human hands, but indeed the work of the Creator. Only nature, God willing, retains its secret. It is in the essence of language that truth conceals itself. When the human body is stripped naked, it is a sign that humans themselves appear before God. (Benjamin 250-55 and passim) Translated by David Kuchta

1. I refer to my essay "Ledernier philosophe"in L'mitation modernes des (20325). of 2. The "metaphor" the stage curtain is not accidental. 3. In later editions, Heidegger replaced this Geschechnis Ereignis. with ist 4. "Das Geheure im Grundenichtgeheuer." The assured is at bottom not assured: it is not reassuringat all. 5. Here is the proper effect of the contaminationwhich is part of the concept of the sublime, as has been shown by Neil Hertz and Michel Deguy. Sublime poetry, writes Deguy, "does what it says"(209). 6. To my knowledge,only MichelDeguy,with his attentiveear for Greek, has noted his debt to the thought of Longinus. I owe, incidentally,the direction of this article to Deguy. 7. In considering the five sources of the sublime, Longinus uses the same logic somewhatlater: these five sources "presupposeoratorytalentas their common foundation, withoutwhich they would be nothing"(LonginusVIII). There an to is, more precisely,a proupokeimenon, ability(dunamis) speak, the faculty(or Kraft,in Kant'ssense) or power of speaking. This is what the gift of nature is. This is why it is necessaryto distinguish,among these five sourcesof the sublime, between those which stem from phusis(the tendency toward elevated thought and the tendency toward vehement and enthusiastic pathos) and those which stem from techne(the shaping of figures [schemata], noble diction [phrasis], and "witha view to the dignity and elevation of style").Lon[sunthesis] composition ginus is so firm on this point that much later he considersharmony(the principal

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element of sunthesis, in which the harmony of language-the arrangement of words-is modeled after musical harmony) to be innate in humans (Longinus XXXIX). This also explains the power of its effects: it touches the soul. 8. I unreservedly share the conclusions of Emmanuel Martineau in his "Mimesis dans la 'Po6tique': pour une solution phenomenologique." See also his essays on art in La Provenance des especes. I should also mention that, beyond Heidegger's reading in "The Origin of the Work of Art" and Jean Beaufret's article "Phusis et Techn," it was from the same phrase in Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics,cited in fine by Martineau, that I began to have access to the text of the Poetics. The phrase is: "Thus techne provides the basic trait of deinon, the is violent; for violence [Gewalt-tdtigkeit] the use of power [Gewalt-brauchen] against the overpowering [Uber-wiltigende]:through knowledge it wrests being from concealment into the manifest as the essent" (160). 9. I have investigated this in L'Imitationdes modernes. 10. Demosthenes is placed under the sign of Phoebus (Apollo): "But suddenly, as if animated by a divine breath, and in a way possessed by the spirit of Phoebus, he offers this sermon in the name of the heroes of Greece" (Longinus XVI, translation modified).

Works Cited
Aristotle. Aristotle's Physics. Trans. H. G. Apostle. Grinnell, IA: Peripatetic Press, 1980. . The CompleteWorksof Aristotle:The Revised Oxford Translation. 2 vols. Rev. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984. Beaufret, Jean. "Phusis et Techne."Aletheia 1-2 (January 1964): 14-21. Benjamin, Walter. "Les Affinites electives de Goethe." OeuvresI: Mytheet violence. Trans. Maurice de Gandillac. Paris: Denoel, 1971. 161-260. Burke, Edmund. A PhilosophicalEnquiry into the Origin of our-Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. New York: Columbia UP, 1958. Deguy, Michel. "Le Grand-Dire." Poetique 58 (April 1984): 197-214. . The Philosophyof History. Trans. J. Sibre. New York: Dover, 1956. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962. . An Introductionto Metaphysics.Trans. Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale UP, 1959. . "The Origin of the Work of Art." Poetry,Language, Thought.Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon, 1971. 17-87. Hertz, Neil. "Lecture de Longin." Poetique 15 (1973): 292-306. Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement. Trans. J. C. Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. "Le dernier philosophe." L'Imitation des modernes. Paris: Galilee, 1986. 203-225. Longinus. On the Sublime. Trans. H. L. Havell. New York: Dutton, 1963. Martineau, Emmanuel. "Mimesis dans la 'Poetique': pour une solution pheet nomenologique." Revue de Metaphysique de Morale 81.4 (October-December 1976): 438-66. .La Provenance des especes.Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1982.

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