The Big Leap: Heidegger, Nietzsche, Kafka
Deeply lost in the night. Just as one sometimes lowers one’s head to reflect, thus to be utterly lost in the night. All around people are asleep. It’s just play acting, and innocent self-deception, that they sleep in houses, in safe beds, under a safe roof, stretched out or curled up on mattresses, in sheets, under blankets; in reality they have flocked together as they had once upon a time and again later in a deserted region, a camp in the open, a countless number of men, an army, a people, under a cold sky on cold earth, collapsed where once they had stood, forehead pressed on the arm, face to the ground, breathing quietly. And you are watching, are one of the watchmen, you find the next one by brandishing a burning stick from the brushwood pile beside you. Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.
One of the defining characteristics of the later Heidegger is the concern for art and its place in humanity’s relation to Being. In his Nietzsche lectures, as in his lecture on the origin of the work of art, Heidegger constructs a hermeneutical picture of the world in which art, the artistic lifestyle and the image of the artist play an important role. The world itself, Heidegger presupposes, is merely a dynamic set of relations, properties and attributes which construes the entirety of human possibilities, thus, of human meanings and significances. As such, Heidegger claims, it is hidden and forgotten, undisclosed and unapproachable in its entirety, buried six feet under several layers of metaphysical misconstructions and religious anxieties. The world of art, on the other hand, offers resolution and disclosure. It reveals the basic fields of significance, which are otherwise repressed and ignored. Art and the way of the artist reveal not only the totality of meanings but also and mainly the mere possibility of meaning at all. A work of art, Heidegger argues, reveals the very event of disclosure – the disclosure-as-such – and not only the radical tension that specifically articulates the world of references and relations. Thus, Heidegger seeks to comprehend the meticulous way in which art itself as such discloses disclosure by revealing disclosure in the work of art.
In this paper I intend to apply Heidegger’s conception of art as the ultimate and utter disclosure of “being as a whole” to the work of two extraordinary thinkers: Nietzsche and Kafka. It seems at first glance that these two thinkers share no common ground. The former is a philosopher-artist, the teacher and creator of the Eternal Recurrence and the Will to Power, the mad watchman at the gateway of the artistic becoming and the barbaric destructor of nihilism. The latter, on the other hand, is an artist-philosopher, the creator of the Kafkaesque picture of the world that negates any possibility of becoming. Nietzsche gives birth to a new man at the moment’s gateway who rises out of the ashes of the nihilistic God-free world to create new laws and new ethics. Kafka, on the other hand, hopelessly tortures his protagonists, ridicules their naivety, mocks their beliefs, and aimlessly puts to them the Sisyphean task of charging their own gateways. Nietzsche’s protagonists can deify themselves and become supermen; Kafka’s protagonists will never enter the gate of law and will never reach the promised castle. Zarathustra, the most predominant Nietzschean artist, recreates himself and is finally consoled while disclosing life in its entirety; K., the wretched advocate of the Kafkaesque picture of the world, is doomed never to succeed, despite continuing and excruciating efforts, in any of his missions, and inevitably dies.
Despite the apparent abyss gaping between Nietzsche’s and Kafka’s worlds, the two seem to share one crucial idea.