Rachel Coventry: Are the sunglasses a metaphor? Some Heideggerian Considerations of the Essence of Sunglasses

This is one of the papers from our 2017 Annual Conference. Information and the full conference booklet can be found at www.britishphenomenology.org.uk

In The Origin of the Work of Art, Heidegger moves from the example of van Gogh’s painting of the peasant’s shoes to Meyer’s poem Roman Fountain. We are told that the painting is not merely a faithful representation of something present at hand but rather it reproduces the shoes in their essence. Next, Heidegger considers Meyer’s poem. He points out that although the poem is a fairly straightforward poetic description, it is not “a reproduction of the general essence of the Roman fountain.” It would seem that, in the poem, truth is set to work symbolically or metaphorically. However, for Heidegger, great poetry cannot be considered metaphoric because it transcends the sensuous/nonsensous dichotomy at the heart of Western metaphysics. Instead, we must say that the fountain in the poem ‘things’ or opens up the fourfold in a way that is different to the peasants shoes. Heidegger claims that in the technological age truth withdraws or things stop ‘thinging.’ Despite this, a good deal of contemporary poetry is preoccupied with things as metaphors, perhaps demonstrating Heidegger’s thesis that in the technological age the possibility of great art is threatened. This paper will show how Heidegger’s account can bring us towards a new understanding of contemporary poetry. This is worked out in terms of a pair of sunglasses as an example of a ‘thingless’ consumer object. If Heidegger’s account of technology warrants serious consideration, the question becomes do such objects have essences and if not how are contemporary poets to respond to them? The paper will consider the poem american sunglasses by Sam Riviere. It can be argued that sunglasses are enframed in the poem as there are no other options are open to the poet. In other words, what is the role of the poet in a time where essences withdraw?

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