Transforming the Sensible: Dilthey and Heidegger on Art

My dissertation explores the role art plays in shaping our perception and understanding of the world by tracing the relation between factical life and art in Dilthey’s and Heidegger’s philosophical works. For Dilthey and Heidegger, philosophy must be grounded in the “standpoint of life,” i.e. the felt, living perspective of the individual shaped by the plurality of contexts that form the world. I argue that philosophizing from the standpoint of life leads both thinkers to take up art because art preserves the complex relations that form life and makes their significance more vivid. Through art we become aware of how we perceive the world, which opens up the possibility of transforming that perception.

The first chapter reinterprets Heidegger’s ‘appropriation’ (Aneignung) of Dilthey in his lectures prior to Being and Time (1919 – 1926) by demonstrating how Dilthey’s emphasis on art’s significance for philosophy prefigures Heidegger’s turn to art in the 1930’s. The next chapter provides an overview of Dilthey’s aesthetics, which describes art as a metamorphosis of life because it renders the implicit meaning of everyday experience more explicit through artistic expression. The third chapter analyzes Heidegger’s concept of art as transfiguration, i.e, as revealing what is extraordinary in the ordinary things we take for granted, and connects this idea back to his early concerns with the incommensurability of factical life. The following chapter develops an account of poetic space and time in Dilthey’s and Heidegger’s writings on Hölderlin’s poetry to illustrate how art transforms ordinary perception. Instead of relating to space and time as calculative measures, poetry exposes space and time as our particular “thereness” in the world, i.e., as the interweaving of subjectivity and objectivity that forms the concrete world that is there for us. The last chapter addresses the significance of Dilthey’s and Heidegger’s concepts of artistic transformation for aesthetic theory and contemporary continental thought. Namely, since art responds to the world in its concrete particularity, art acts as a way of returning to the things. Art emerges as a phenomenological practice that develops an ethos, or way of being in the world.

In addition to contributing to current debates in aesthetics, my dissertation re-appropriates Dilthey to provide a new interpretation of Heidegger’s “turn” (Kehre) to art. Since Heidegger’s Dilthey-period precedes his turn to art, scholars rarely compare these thinkers’ aesthetics. Bringing Dilthey’s aesthetics into dialogue with Heidegger’s philosophy of art thus offers a new perspective of Heidegger’s development as a thinker and highlights Dilthey’s contributions to continental philosophy.

Committee: Dr. Rudolf Makkreel (director), Dr. David Carr, Dr. Andrew Mitchell