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Karsten Harries

In Search of Home


1Heidegger's lecture "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" invites consideration of that lecture's context, also of what separates us today from that context. Given on August 5, 1951, the lecture, was Heidegger's contribution to the second Darmstädter Gespräch. The chosen theme that year was "man and space." The preamble, carried also by the sign that introduced the accompanying exhibition commemorating the Darmstadt artists' colony of 1901, read: "Building is a fundamental activity of man -- Man builds, by joining spatial figures, thus shaping space -- Building, he responds to the spirit of the age -- Our age is the age of technology -- The plight of our age is homelessness." (33)1

2The conclusion of Heidegger's lecture called these propositions, especially the last assertion, into question. Heidegger invited his listeners to consider this homelessness. In 1951, to be sure, the word had an all too timely significance. In the form of a severe housing shortage the plight of dwelling was pressing indeed. But Heidegger would not have been Heidegger, had he contented himself with the seemingly obvious, had he not attempted to discover in this all too timely term an ontological significance: "The real plight of dwelling," he insisted, "is indeed older than the world wars with their destruction, older also than the increase in the world's population and the condition of the industrial workers. The real plight lies in this, that mortals ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell. What if man's homelessness consisted in this, that man does not even think the real plight of dwelling as the plight? Yet as soon as man gives thought to this homelessness, it is a misery no longer. Rightly considered and well kept in mind, it is the sole summons that calls mortals into their dwelling.2 (84).

3Heidegger here understands man as ever again having to seek the nature of dwelling, having to learn how to dwell. This plight of dwelling is more worthy of thought than the all too apparent housing shortage. But can it be the task of architecture to eliminate this plight, which, Heidegger here suggests, is bound up with the very essence of human being? Is the task not rather to understanding this plight in its ineliminable necessity? And might such understanding not lead to the only kind of homecoming that does not do violence to our being? Part of such a homecoming would be the renunciation of anything resembling a secure possession of home. To find the home which alone would allow for an authentic dwelling, must we not first learn that the home of which we sometimes dream and whose here and there encountered traces seem to promise some deeply longed-for happiness must always elude us?

4The conclusion of Heidegger's lecture should not have surprised a listener familiar with Being and Time. There already Heidegger had opposed to the "tranquilized self-assurance," to "'Being-at-home', with all its obviousness'' that the "publicness of the 'they'" carries into "the average everydayness of Dasein," an anxiety that lets such self-assured tranquillity disintegrate, that calls Dasein back into its essential homelessness, calls it back from the everyday world to which, first of all and most of the time, it has always already lost itself.3 In Being and Time Heidegger understands the call of conscience as the call in which the essentially homeless human being calls itself to its own freedom. Gaston Bachelard later was to challenge this claim: more primordial, he insisted, than this anxious sense of having been cast into an alien world is a sense of being sheltered by the world; when we return to the beginnings of our being we encounter cradle, house, home, paradise.4 In Being and Time, however, Heidegger places at the origin of Dasein an uncanny freedom. Freedom and home call us in opposite directions.

5To be sure, between Being and Time and "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" lies Heidegger's much discussed, if still ill understood Kehre or turning. Much in the lecture seems indeed closer to Bachelard than to Being and Time: not only the farmhouse in the Black Forest and the bridge in Heidelberg remind us of Bachelard's oneiric house, this metaphor of the lost paradise. And thus Heidegger and Bachelard are often joined today as representatives of a conservative, pre- rather than post-modern approach to architecture. But such a grouping is called into question by the just cited conclusion of Heidegger's lecture, which speaks of a plight of dwelling rooted in the very essence of the human being. As Heidegger understands the human being here, it is essentially underway, in search of the essence of dwelling, journeying home. Where are we going? asked Novalis: always home. We would betray ourselves, were we to think to have found this true home, to have finally arrived, to be really at home. Just this supposed homecoming would mean a more profound homelessness, for we would not be at home with what is most our own. A homesickness that will not be satisfied is part of our essence.

6The conclusion of Heidegger's lecture thus moves it in the vicinity of Ortega y Gasset, who spoke to the very same audience on "The Myth of the Man Behind Technology," spoke about the human being as the being that had fallen out of nature, that had lost its place in nature, the discontented misfit, the animal that had no home in nature, ever seeking things it had never had. This restless discontent Ortega compared to a love without the beloved, with a "pain, that we feel in limbs that we never had" (116). And this discontent Ortega called what is highest in the human being, just because it is a discontent, because it desires things it has never had (117). Technology has its origin in such discontent, which demands a new world, "because the real world does not fit us, because it has made us sick. This new world of technology is for us like a gigantic orthopedic apparatus, which you [he was addressing the architects present] want to create; and all of technology has this wonderful, but -- as everything about man -- dramatic dynamism and quality of being a fabulous, immense orthopedic creation" (117).

7But if there is indeed such a relationship between Heidegger and Ortega, how then are we to understand Heidegger's example of an 18th century Black Forest farmhouse, to which, to be sure -- Heidegger knows and he underscores this -- we cannot ever return, but which is yet supposed to show us, how "a dwelling that has been" once was able to build, thus showing us how building "receives its nature from dwelling" (83). Heidegger invites us to repeat this "dwelling that has been" in a manner in keeping with our own age, to repeat it in the sense of Being and Time as a resolute appropriation of our history. Indebted to our inheritance, such repetition reveals to us our destiny and thus points a way into the future. "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" seeks to give us a pointer how such a repetition might be thought. But does Heidegger's backward-looking determination of essential dwelling "as the fourfold preservation of the fourfold" not stand in the way of an understanding of the task of building in keeping with our age?


8Times have changed. The situation of Heidegger's lecture is no longer our own. Let us listen once more to the propositions on the sign that introduced the exhibition that accompanied this second Darmstädter Gespräch: "Building is a fundamental activity of man -- Man builds, by joining spatial figures, thus shaping space -- Building, he responds to the spirit of the age -- Our age is the age of technology -- The plight of our age is homelessness." Today such propositions would read differently, especially the last three: does our building still respond to the spirit of the age? Is our building not often conservative, carries into the age what is past and no longer belongs to it? For more than a hundred years modernism has battled such a conservatism, a battle renewed today by post-modernism's conservative wing. Not only technology belongs to this age, but also the discontent with technology that found in Heidegger such an eloquent spokesman, discontent that finds an expression in resistance to straight lines and right angles, to grid and enframing (an inadequate translation of Heidegger's Ge-stell), to a genuinely modern dwelling. From the very beginning such discontent with its own essence has accompanied the modern world. Our task is to understand this discontent.

9But what does it mean to respond with our buildings to the essence of our world? Of what help here is Heidegger's Black Forest farmhouse? The attempt to meet the plight of the age by returning to a seemingly more comfortable past threatens to leave us homeless in our own age.
The next to last proposition on the Darmstadt sign sought to determine the nature of the age: "Our age is the age of technology." That seems right, seems still right, although today we may want to speak not just of technology, but more specifically of, say, information technology. But our age, and we should not forget this, is not just the age of technology. The word "technology" names only one, perhaps dominant theme, but every identification of the age with technology threatens to cover up the relevant phenomena with overly simple constructions.

10More questionable still is the last proposition: "The plight of our age is homelessness," where the sequence of the propositions invites us to link the plight of our age to the way it has allowed itself to be dominated by technology. Heidegger, too, suggests such a link in countless places. Thus he understands the triumphal progress of science as a process that threatens to degrade human beings, too, to no more than material for technological organization and manipulation, a degradation that those caught up in this process often neither see nor comprehend.5 But just the reality of this threat makes it important to try to understand what is happening. -- But are we really less at home in our world than our ancestors were in theirs?

11The question had a different ring in 1951. That homelessness, and that was understood as both "bodily and spiritual homelessness" (85), should be overcome was a presupposition of this conversation. The chosen theme tied this presupposition to the question: what part can architecture play in meeting this challenge, where Heidegger may have been the only one to think of Black Forest farmhouse. More typical, more timely at any rate, were the words of Hans Schwippert, responsible for the 1948 transformation of what in 1930 had been built as a pedagogical academy into the Bundeshaus in Bonn: "Is it not remarkable," he observed, "that instead of building castles to which to retreat, good architects, all around the world, today build tents, light, open things; and does not this way of following an inner commandment stand in striking opposition to what common sense tends to demand of us ... If, to follow Heidegger, building forms itself from a sense of dwelling, and place forms itself from such building, and place gives birth to space, then this remarkable thing has happened to us, that our spaces demand openness, lightness, not the severe and hard boundaries of dark caves. It is as if in another and very genuine way we had comprehended, that we are underway,' not to say 'auf Fahrt'. Thus what is spatial determines itself, in keeping with our dwelling, as something bright and mobile, as a light and open sequence of spaces, and this is something that for some time now and ever more insistently asserts itself in these times which would really seem to mean something quite different" (86-87). Schwippert's rejection of the unyielding boundaries of dark caves, his invocation of the good tent-building architect, reminds one of Frank Lloyd Wright, who opposed to dark, cave-dwelling agrarians brighter hunters and warriors, dwelling in light tents, this in turn but a variation on the Biblical opposition of the dark, city-building Cain and his light, more mobile brother Abel, an opposition the American Wright understood as a figure of the opposition between European city-dwellers, still imprisoned by the past, by their grey walls, and democratic Americans, committed to freedom and open to the future. American democracy is here linked to a repudiation of the inherited image of the city.

12Such a repudiation has also been part of the progress of modernist architecture. From the very beginning part of modernism have been dreams, not just of readily moved tents, but of flying machines, of airships and airplanes, satellites and rockets, of a liberation of the human being from his bondage to the earth and of an architecture in which such liberation would find its visible expression: Ledoux's design of his spherical House of the Agricultural Guards and Montgolfier's first balloon flight in the year 1783 belong together, and not just in time. Both communicate the modern confidence, that the human being's path to himself has to free him ever more decisively from whatever binds him to the earth. "These balls of air are," as Helmut Reinicke observes, "the first discovery that is linked to the concept of a world revolution. The balloon rise into the sky, -- a sign that reason on earth is extending its sway. Such a revolution has this subjective dimension: that human beings want to find themselves, want to give themselves a human character; this subjectivity is the religious element of religion. The attack on religion is the greatest presumption and thereby liberation. The airship is such a practical presumption: the human being has demonstrated that he can pass over boundaries. With this he has caught up with the omnipotence of the world of the gods."6

1380 years later such hopes were to find striking expression in this recollection by Victor Hugo: "It was summer. A balloon that had risen from the Champ-de-Mars, went its way in the clouds above us. The setting sun gilded its roundness, which glowed majestically. I said to Arago [Arago was one of the great physicists and astronomers of the 19th century] : 'There floats the egg that waits for the bird; but the bird is within and will hatch.' Arago grasped my hands, looked at me with gleaming eyes and said: 'And from this day on Geo will be called Demos. The entire world will be a democracy.'"7 In the same spirit Theo van Doesburg demanded of modern architecture a floating, no longer earthbound look, while Tatlin und Le Corbusier found in the airplane a model. Part of the human being is this longing for more openness, greater freedom are dreams of journeys away from the earth. Today astronautics and computer technology feed such dreams.

14But does this longing for openness and freedom not run counter to the proposition that furnished this second Darmstädter Gespräch with its point of departure: "The plight of our age is homelessness." Just because this proposition spoke so readily to the situation of 1951, it threatened to cover up that essential homelessness on which Heidegger just touched towards the end of his lecture. As Dolf Sternberger said in his contribution to the symposium, "in an epoch of forced migrations, resettlements, camps, refugees, expatriations, displaced persons! In this age, where the wonderful freedom of movement guaranteed in our constitutions has almost become a joke, in view of all the millions that for ten years have been in transit, not at all because this was what they wanted, but yielding to force, in view also of the fact that often where shelter is to be found, the hunted find neither food nor work, and where there is work there is no place to live, in view of this situation the need for peace and security is ... so overpowering, that it is easy to succumb to the temptation to surrender this freedom of movement quite readily as not relevant to the present situation; and thus the concept of Heimat that we encountered before may return just in this desperate situation, namely Heimat as place of the final settledness of the human being with himself, the fortification in a home of one's own, settledness as rootedness in one's own soil and so forth, however modest the dimensions. But what I want to say ... is to warn of such a repetition of the horror moventis and the horror mobilitatis, and to warn of such an exaggerated estimation of paradisal bonds, despite the unfortunate fact that this is the age of resettlements, refugees, and expulsions, in which we unfortunately live" (127). With this Sternberger was thinking especially of what Heidegger had just said, not quite hearing the conclusion of his lecture. To Heidegger he opposed Ortega y Gasset: "The one, the ones -- no doubt there is a group -- think it possible for human beings to live in a paradise, in an ontological paradise of meaningful order, in an ontological paradise with all the Gemütlichkeit that belongs to it, with the Ur-Gemütlichkeit of paradise. The others remember and do not forget that the earth, this garden of Eden, does not exist, or at least, that one famous day we real human beings were chased from this garden" (124). Sternberger counts himself among the latter, begins with the thesis "that first of all the earth is -- I don't want to say absolutely uncomfortable, but at any rate not comfortable enough" (124).

15Times have changed. Compared with the situation of 1951 we are doing well, too well perhaps, terrifyingly, or should I say, suffocatingly well. I am thus tempted to turn Sternberger's assertion around: especially among the younger, has the desire for freedom, including freedom of movement, not grown in a way that tempts us to surrender, without giving the matter much thought, the comforts of home and Heimat. In his lecture Heidegger suggested that "Enough will have been gained if dwelling and building will have become worthy of questioning and thus have remained worthy of thought" (83). But has the post-modern discussion not questioned dwelling and building so decisively today that at times architecture itself threatens to drown in a sea of words? -- The still fashionable word "de-construction" has symptomatic significance, where I am thinking not just of that word's meaning, but also of the associated practice, of Tschumi and Eisenman, also of the rediscovery of Georges Bataille, who once suspected in every work of architecture a prison, custodian of an order that had to be destroyed, even if such destruction threatened chaos and bestiality.8 At bottom this is the same patten of thought that let Dostoyevski's Man From the Underground reject "twice two makes four" as an impudence and celebrate "twice two makes five" as refuge of a freedom that dreams of labyrinth und chaos. This thought pattern renders suspect all building that would grant us a sense of place and thus let us dwell, as it would render suspect the call of home, the call for home; suspect, too, a thinking that would edify; also an architecture that would edify. Once to be sure edification was part of all architecture worthy of its name. But if so, must freedom not fear an architecture that would edify?


16It is easy to understand that Sternberger, and he was not alone, should have paid little attention to the conclusion of Heidegger's lecture, that he should have understood him as another representative of the misguided attempt to overcome a homelessness that is constitutive of human being. That conclusion does indeed seem difficult to reconcile with the general tenor of his attempt to think the nature of building and dwelling. Seemingly already at the end of his lecture, Heidegger adds, almost as an afterthought, a few remarks to point beyond it: "The next step on this path would be to question: what is the state of dwelling in our precarious age." Briefly Heidegger mentions the existing housing shortage, but only to insist on the more fundamental importance of "the real plight of dwelling."

17The lecture itself had closed with the often cited, self-consciously untimely and still disturbing example of a farmhouse in the Black Forest. It is not too surprising that Heidegger should have been the only speaker not to be interrupted by applause, shouts, laughter or stamping. In respectful silence those present heard what he had to say. How were they to respond to the philosopher's invitation, "to bring dwelling to the fulness of its nature" (84), expressed in a language that at times bordered on Kitsch? Many no doubt mistrusted such claims to fulness. Here once more Heidegger's often cited words:

18"Let us think for a while of a farmhouse in the Black Forest which was built some two hundred years ago by the dwelling of peasants. Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals enter in simple oneness into things ordered the house. It placed the farm on the wind-sheltered mountain-slope looking south, among the meadows close to the spring. It gave it the wide overhanging shingle roof whose proper slope bears up under the burden of snow, and which, reaching deep down, shields the chambers against the storms of the long winter nights. It did not forget the altar corner behind the community table; it made room in its chamber for the hallowed places of childbed and the "tree of the dead" -- for that is what they call a coffin here: the Totenbaum -- and in this way it designed for the different generations under one roof the character of their journey through time. A craft which, itself sprung from dwelling, still uses its tools and frames as things, built the farmhouse" (83).

19"By a dwelling that has been" Heidegger wanted to show, "how it was able to build." Not only does building invite a certain dwelling, but always already it presupposes such a dwelling.

20How are we to reconcile the task, "to bring dwelling to the fulness of its nature," with the statement that introduces Heidegger's description of his farmhouse in the Black Forest and is then repeated, providing this description with a kind of frame: "Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build (83)". How is this seemingly so simple statement to be understood? The lecture gives only an ambiguous answer: on one hand it invites us to equate essential dwelling with the human being's being-in-the-world. Heidegger thus calls dwelling "the manner in which mortals are on the earth" (74), or the being of man (75), or "the basic character of Being in keeping with which mortals exist" (83). But so understood dwelling cannot be a task, for the simple reason that we cannot help but be in accord what is constitutive of our being. In this sense we cannot help but dwell.

21And yet again and again the lecture seems to call us to an essential dwelling. How else are we to understand propositions like the following: "Mortals dwell in so far as they save the earth," "receive the sky as sky," "await the divinities as divinities," are "capable of death as death." "In saving the earth, in receiving the sky, in awaiting the divinities, in initiating mortals, dwelling occurs as the fourfold preservation of the fourfold" (76). But first of all and most of the time we do not dwell in this sense; the spirit of this age of technology would seems to rule out such a dwelling.9 Heidegger's lecture invites us to understand it as cultural criticism.


22Heidegger's farmhouse so upset Dolf Sternberger that he changed the tenor of his remarks. Originally he had wanted to speak of what had been developed here in Darmstadt at the tun of the century and to warn of this idea of the home (125), of Henry van de Velde's vision of a city of the future, of this attempt "to conquer homelessness with the idea of home as an organism," the home that was to offer protection against the noise and confusion of industrial society" (125). In 1901, according to Sternberger, such an overcoming of homelessness had been literally realized in Darmstadt. Here "mobility was bound to the firm and stable. It was as if freedom of movement was to be abolished all at once ... This curious idea of an overcoming of homelessness sought to let human beings be entirely and definitively at home with themselves by providing them with the spaces that truly suited them (126). And did Heidegger not now, fifty years later, promise comparable protection, did he not call once again for an overcoming of homelessness through new bonds and invite the architects participating in this symposium to let their building serve such binding? Sternberger was thinking not just of what happened in Darmstadt in 1901, but also of National Socialism, well aware that there are also "very friendly varieties of totalitarianism." Presumably he was thinking also of Heidegger's Rectoral Address, of the philosopher's erstwhile receptivity to ideas of leader and leadership, of his former readiness to banish a long treasured "academic freedom" from the German university, putting in the place of this merely negative freedom the supposedly true, triply bound freedom of the German student: bound to the community of the people, to the honor and destiny of the nation, and to the people's spiritual mission. In 1951 such talk had become impossible. But did Heidegger not retain the fundamental idea of a bound freedom? To be sure, Heidegger now was speaking of dwelling. "Dwelling" (wohnen) , gothic wunian, means, according to Heidegger, to be at peace, to exist in it. The word peace (Friede), however means the free (das Freie, das Frye), "that safeguards each thing in its nature" (75). Dwelling in this sense, sparing and conserving the fourfold, the human being is truly free -- free, however in a sense very different from what Sternberger had in mind. In Heidegger's words Sternberger sensed something like a fear of freedom.

23Fear of freedom means also fear of the Enlightenment. Today to be sure post-modern thinkers like Lyotard once again call our inheritance from the Enlightenment into question, but in the name of freedom more radical than what Sternberger had in mind. But was the task in 1951 not to reclaim the inheritance of the Enlightenment, not to call it into question? And here in Darmstadt, did this not also mean to reclaim the inheritance of modern architecture?

24Fear of freedom was a presupposition of National Socialism. Hitler understood this fear when he promised to free human beings from the fear weighing on them: "Providence has destined me to become the greatest liberator of humanity. I free human beings from the coercion of a spirit that has taken itself for its end, from the dirty and humiliating self-tortures inflicted by a chimera called conscience and morality and from the demands of a freedom and personal autonomy only a very few were ever able to meet."10 Sternberger was afraid of the fear feeding the desire for home, which now seemed to find in Heidegger a seductive spokesman. He felt duty-bound to warn of all appeals to paradisal bonds: the human being is really at home with himself only when he makes room for freedom. And thus Sternberger insisted that traffic engineering and communications technology today are part of an overcoming of homelessness, "no less than the building and establishment of places to work. For the human being is no plant and the house no organism, and in order to see this more clearly even the luxurious recollection of 1901 may be of some use" (129).

25If "the house is no organism" was directed against van de Velde, "the human being is no plant" may have been directed against Heidegger, who in these years insisted ever more decisively on the way technology threatened to uproot human beings. A few years later, in his address on the 175th anniversary of the birth of the composer Conradin Kreutzer, also from Messkirch, Heidegger was to cite a line by Johann Peter Hebel: "We are plants, which -- whether we like to admit it or not -- have to rise with their roots out of the earth if they are to flower in the ether and to bear fruit."11 Heidegger repeated the line once more to conclude his address, finding in these words a pointer towards a new rootedness, adequate to this changed age. In similar fashion the rootedness that had become image in the Black Forest farmhouse was to point towards a new rootedness, adequate to this technological age.


26Heidegger knew that we cannot return to such a farmhouse. What he had said earlier of the temple in Paestum or the cathedral in Bamberg remains true in this case: "The world of the work that stands there has perished. World-withdrawal and world-decay can never be undone. The works are no longer what they once were. It is they themselves to be sure, that we encounter there, but they themselves are gone by."12 It would be irresponsible to build once again such farmhouses.

27But must the same not be said of the bondage to landscape and home that here has become image? Heidegger himself poses the question: "Is there still that quiet dwelling of man between earth and sky? Does the meditative spirit still preside over the land? Is the there still home that nourishes roots, in whose soil the human being ever stands, i. e., is rooted (bodenständig) ?"13 We may want to ask: should there be such rootedness? Again and again one senses in Heidegger a nostalgic longing for something lost, figured by field-path and bell-tower. Again and again such nostalgia is accompanied by a lament over the way things and the earth have been neglected or, worse, violated by technology and, connected with it, over the rootlessness of modern man. More homeless than those who were driven from home by the war, according to Heidegger, are those glued to radio and television -- today we would have to add the computer. "All the things with which modern communications technology constantly stimulates, assaults, and presses human beings are today already much closer to us than the field surrounding the farm, the sky over the land, the hourly passage of night and day, closer then habit and custom in the village, closer than the tradition of our native world."14 Today these sentences seem quite dated: who of us still lives on a farm, surrounded by its field?

28But suppose we admit that computer and television, car and airplane are much closer to us than field-path and bell-tower, that they help to determine the much more world-open way of our dwelling -- does this not mean that we become homeless in our world when we attempt to keep our distance from technology. More free, more mobile than our parents and grandparents, do we not have to embrace technology if we are to find the "new ground and soil on which we can stand and endure in this technological world, unthreatened by it"?15 Do we not have to agreed with the Frankfurt architect Hermann Mäckler, when he deplored at the Darmstadt symposium that so much building "even today, again and again, tries to create technology-free reservations, that there is this failure to recognize the shape of reality and where it is heading. Is it not in this that is the ground of our homelessness? Is our discomfort so difficult to explain? Is it thinkable and can it be justified that we should live forever in two worlds? Must the one world, which we ever again attempt to realize, not remain a phantom, since the other, the technological world, is reality?" (131) Mäckler's words recall an old dream, a dream not unknown to Francis Bacon und Descartes, these founders of modern science, dream of a recovery of paradise on the basis of technology. The conclusion of Heidegger's lecture warned of all such dreams: what matters is not to return home, but to long for home. "Is it thinkable and can it be justified that we should live forever in two worlds?" asked Mäckler. Heidegger on the other hand, seeks to understand our twofold life, divided against itself, in its necessity, a necessity that finds a first expression already in the traditional definitions of the human being as zoon logon echon or animal rationale. And is this not recognized by Hebel's words: "We are plants, which have to rise with their roots out of the earth if they are to flower in the ether and to bear fruit"? Our science is such a flower, our technology such a fruit. But what, to remain with the simile, would fruit and flower be without the nourishing earth?

29To be sure, that is only a simile. Why should technology not offer us a new soil? Is it really, as Heidegger asserts in his address commemorating Conradin Kreutzer, technology that threatens "the rootedness of man today in its innermost essence"?16 Should we agree with him, when he invites us to consider "that here, by means of technology, an attack on the life and the essence of the human being prepares itself, compared with which the explosion of the hydrogen bomb means little."17 Such discomfort with technology provides Heidegger's Darmstadt lecture with its background, is presupposed by the way he ties dwelling to a saving of the earth that neither wants to master, nor to exploit it, to a receiving of the sky that lets day be day, night night -- we sense Heidegger's unhappiness with the still rising flood of artificial light that makes it ever more difficult for today's urban crowds to see the stars.18 Many of those listening to Heidegger must have felt that he was saying what needed to be said, so e. g. the architect Rudolf Schwarz, who had spoken the preceding evening of the "grid" created by the human spirit to imprison itself (63). "What is," Schwarz asked, "the metropolis of the closing nineteenth century or, let us say, of the eighties or nineties, other than the completely adequate expression of this grid and prison?" (63) Despite applause, Schwarz met with challenge, so by Rudolf Steinbach, whom the lecture brought a sleepless night. Was this grid not really a wonderful inheritance to which we owe our world? "If it nevertheless can seem a grid that blocks a deeper understanding, then I," countered Steinbach, "may be allowed to answer professor Schwarz with a religious word. St. Augustine had this to say of the fall into original sin: 'Oh blessed guilt!' And I, too, would be tempted to say in the face of this grid we have built ourselves: 'Oh blessed guilt!' For I believe that the forces that here originated, while they may pose as danger, also include the possibility that in the end we will step before the Godhead higher, enlarged, and full of pure spaces" (109). Quite in the spirit of modern architecture the fall into sin is here given a positive interpretation, valued as a metaphor of a loss of home that first makes possible human freedom and responsibility. Not that human beings do not find such freedom difficult to bear. And therefore they seek, ever again to find substitutes for the lost paradise, are shadowed by the temptation to rid themselves of their own freedom. This gives the grid mentioned by Schwarz, related to Heidegger's Gestell, its essential ambiguity, invites us to keep it doubly open: open to that home we have always already lost, but open also to an ever endangered freedom .


30Once more I return to the words by the poet Hebel cited by Heidegger: Hebel calls human beings plants that have to rise out of the earth into the ether if they are to flower and bear fruit. The words recall what Heidegger had to say in his Rectoral Address about the origin of science in Greek philosophy: "for the first time western man stands up, empowered by his language, rising out a nationality, confronting beings in their entirety, questioning and comprehending them as the beings they are."19 The desire to understand things as they really are determines science. Presupposed by this desire is a standing up that raises human beings above whatever binds them to a particular people, a particular soil. Such understanding demands freedom from the prejudices bound up with our rootedness. Only such freedom promises a pure understanding, promises access to reality as it is, promises truth. But, and this is the other side, the purer our understanding, the more the world becomes a collection of objects, a mere picture before which the human knower stands, a mute other that does not claim him and points in no direction; and the more the human subject becomes a disinterested spectator. The loss of meaning requires no comment.

31First of all and most of the time our access to reality is bound to a particular point of view, particular perspectives, is in this sense rooted. How things present themselves to us depends on our situation, on the place nature, society, and history have always already assigned to us. Most of the time these perspectives remain unquestioned. But as soon as we understand such a perspective as a perspective, we are, at least in thought, already beyond its limits. Our thoughts are free. Freedom is part of responsible thinking and acting. Again and again such freedom will demand a freer access to things, forms of representation less bound to particular situations, will demand greater objectivity. What raises our science above its Aristotelian predecessor is the fact that its form of representation answers more fully to this demand. Implicit in the demand for truth, reflection on perspective and point of view leads necessarily to the idea of a subject that , free of all perspectives, sees things as they are. This idea reduces the reality that presents itself to our eyes or, more generally, to our senses to the mere appearance of an objective reality that no eye, no imagination can grasp, that can be comprehended only by rational thought. The understanding of reality as objectivity that is a presupposition of our science and technology is supported by the idea of this pure subject with which the human being raises himself beyond himself, a self-elevation that alone lets the human animal become a human being.

32The other side of this objectification of reality, which means also a derealization of reality, is that rootlessness of modern man lamented not only by Heidegger. It is a consequence of the way reality thus understood presupposes the idea of a pure subject. Thinking this idea, the human being inevitably transcends the situation that binds him to a particular place, a particular time, transcends whatever in him is still plant or animal, raises himself into a spirit. But as such he knows no roots and is homeless in the world. Not that the concretely existing human being experiences himself as such a spirit that casts no shadow. But again and again we measure our concrete being-in-the-world by the idea of a truly free subject. This idea lets us experience our own mode of existence as only possible, accidental, lets us dream of our never yet seen true home.

33One thing may not be overlooked here: the idea of such a subject provides our understanding with a measure, but we possess no intuition to correspond to this measure. We do not see like God. Our experience remains ever bound to particular situations, particular perspectives. From this it follows that our intuition will never satisfy our demand for truth. As Nietzsche put it, we have organ for the truth.20 We have to work for the truth. Only in the constructions of our own spirit does nature reveal to us her secrets.

34One could object that nature here is being confused with a mere construction: must that twofold reduction which I outlined not block access to the life-wold and thus lose all contact with what alone deserves to be called real? And can we not challenge and break this false hegemony of natural science by exhibiting the artificiality of its constructions? But when Descartes promised a practical philosophy that would allow us to understand nature's make-up and mode of operation just as a craftsman understands his own work, this was more than just an idle promise. To really understand something here means to be able to produce it. The model here is not Aristotle's idle spectator God, but the creator God of the Bible. The modern understanding of nature thus has to return to reality in the form of technology. This return carries also the presupposed loss of meaning into our reality, informs our work-world, our life-world, threatening to reduce human beings to mere human material. "That here" as Heidegger claims, "with the means of technology an attack on the life and the essence of the human being prepares itself," whose full consequences are impossible to survey, is difficult to deny. Technology threatens to deny our dwelling its needed soil.

35But why not simply accept this loss as the price of freedom, as the price of the greatness of the human beings, as Ortega y Gasset understood that greatness when he compared the new world of technology with a gigantic orthopedic apparatus that promised far more than just compensation for some lost home? But freedom alone is impotent to deliver on that promise. Without all bonds, freedom loses its direction and in the end itself. Freedom must be bound. Descartes thus thought that the spirit freely subjects itself to what it understands clearly and distinctly. In such recognition freedom perfects itself and comes to rest. Kant similarly sought the perfection of freedom in its submission to the law of reason.

36But is reason enough? "The rational being," so Kant, "must regard himself always as legislative in a realm of ends possible through the freedom of the will, whether he belongs to it as member or as sovereign."21 But the rational being that must so regard himself should not be identified with the embodied self in which a more radical freedom lives that renders even morality problematic and can refuse to recognize the authority of the law of reason. Kant would have called such a refusal evil. But the mere possibility of evil opens a gulf between freedom and reason, replaces Kantian autonomy with Heideggerian authenticity, which no longer knows a transcendent measure of the human being, neither God who is said to have created the human being in his image, nor Kant's practical reason. Does this more radical freedom then remain as the only possible ground of value and meaning? But as Kant recognized, and as Heidegger too had to acknowledge, unless bound by something that makes a claim on the individual, something that is not up to his freedom, freedom loses itself in arbitrary spontaneity and disintegrates. Presupposition of our finite freedom is such openness to what binds. The possibility of a greater, godlike freedom may lure us. But this is a temptation. We are not free to invent values. Otherwise every loss of meaning could be cureed just by a strenuous willing. Values cannot be willed, they must be discovered.

37Freedom must be bound. But what always already binds freedom is first of all the situated body which limits our possibilities as it limits our access to reality. The same is true of our reason: without the body's mediation its claim remains impotent. That holds also for Kant's ethics. His categorical imperative, to act in such a way that human beings are always treated as ends, never as means, would be empty and without application were we not able to recognize human beings as such. Such recognition is a presupposition of all moral responsibility. In this sense responsibility presupposes response-ability, the ability to respond. This may be a platitude, but it is sufficient to show that experience may not be reduced to a free subject confronted with a world of mute objects which receives meaning and value only form that subject. The same freedom that distances us from things and human beings, that threatens to replace the world that first of all and most of the time calls and claims us with the in its essence mute world of science and technology calls us back to what has been left behind, calls us back home.


38I would like to conclude with a few verses by Hölderlin that Heidegger liked to cite:22

For at home is the spirit

Not in the beginning, not at the source. Home wears on him.

Colony loves, and brave forgetting the spirit.

39To find itself the spirit must leave home, has to find its home abroad. Thus in his interpretation of Hölderlin's hymn "Der Ister" Heidegger calls the law of not being at home the law of coming to be at home.23 And yet home wears on us, does not leave us. And thus the sting of home stays with us, lets us seek, even abroad, in foreign parts, home. Is this not at bottom the same insight that let Ortega y Gasset compare technology with a fabulous orthopedic apparatus and demand of the architect, too, similar creations? We should not forget that the creation of such an orthopedic apparatus presupposes not only that dissatisfaction with our in so many ways less than perfect bodies emphasized by Ortega, but also knows about the body's indispensability. And similarly the spirit knows about the many imperfections, but also about the indispensability of home, knows about both. This is why it loves home even in the strange and unfamiliar, why it loves colony, the repetition of home in the foreign, but loves also the unexpected and never before seen that he is encountering in the new world he has now entered, knows that clinging to home stands in the way of such love and for this reason loves also brave forgetting. In this sense Heidegger can say that it is that home we have left behind and which yet does not let go of us, which calls us mortals into our dwelling. Centrifugal and centripetal tendencies war and compete in us human beings, in our dwelling -- should war and compete also in our building. Human beings would lose themselves were they not to remain on the way, in search of home.


1 Pagde references in the text are to Darmstädter Gespräch Mensch und Raum, ed. Otto Bartning (Darmstadt: Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt, 1952)

2 English translation of "Building Dwelling Thinking" by Albert Hofstadter, Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pp. 143-161.

3 Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, S. 188. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, Being and Time (San Francisco: Harper&Row, 1962).

4 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon, 1969), p. 7.

5 Martin Heidegger, Hölderlins Hymne "Der Ister", Gesamtausgabe, Band 54 (Frankfurt am Main: Klosterman, 1984), p. 54.

6 Ibid. , pp. 76-77.

7 In Helmut Reinicke, Aufstieg und Revolution. Über die Beförderung irdischer Freiheitsneigungen durch Ballonfahrt und Luftschwimmkunst (Berlin: Transit, 1988)

8 See Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille, trans. Betsy Wing (Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 1989).

9 Martin Heidegger, "Gelassenheit," Gelassenheit (Pfullingen: Neske, 1959), p. 18.

10 Conversation with Herman Rauschning, cited in Joseph Wulf, Die Bildenden Künste im Dritten Reich, Eine Dokumentation (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1966), p. 12.

11 Martin Heidegger, "Gelassenheit," Gelassenheit (Pfullingen: Neske, 1959), p. 17.

12 Martin Heidegger, "Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes," Holzwege (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1950), p. 30. Trans. Albert Hofstadter, Poetry, Language, Thouhgt (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pp. 17-87.

13 Gelassenheit,p. 17.

14 Ibid., p. 17.

15 Ibid., p. 26.

16 Ibid., p. 18.

17 Ibid., p. 22.

18 Cf. Hans Blumenberg, Die Vollzähligkeit der Sterne ( Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997), p. 33.

19 Martin Heidegger, Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität und Das Rektorat 1933/34. Tatsachen und Gedanken (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1983), p. 11.

20 Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, V, 154.

21 Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: The Library of Liberal Arts, 19590, p. 52.

22 Vgl. Martin Heidegger, "Andenken," Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung (Frankfurt am Main: Klosternmann,1971), p. 85-89; Hölderlins Hymne "Andenken", Gesamtausgabe, vol. 52 (Frankfurt am Main: Klosterman, 1982), pp. 189-191; Hölderlins Hymne "Der Ister", Gesamtausgabe, Band 54 (Frankfurt am Main: Klosterman, 1984), pp. 156-170.

23 Hölderlins Hymne "Der Ister", p. 166.