Die Lichtung and the Forest

In Heidegger, the open, or das Offen, is not a space of dispersal and unlimited boundaries, of no borders and non-existent frontiers.  It is, instead, a space cleared, illumined. It is, according to Heidegger, the enlightened space that shelters.  This is a concept I have often had trouble with; a space which shelters, and in the sheltering covers, conceals, but never distorts, perverts, and in the end allows to un-coneal. I finally found a way in (to the space, to the clearing, the open) through Joan Stambaugh’s The Finitude of Being in which she writes that das Offene was later almost entirely replaced by die Lichtung. Die Lichtung would normally be translated as the lighting, the illumination, but which Heidegger takes great pains to disassociate from actual physical lighting, actual illumination (from a light off-stage say). (Because this would require the lighting from outside, the illumination from a source which would inevitably be metaphysical.) Heidegger writes that “only by virtue of light, i.e., through brightness, can what shines show itself, that is, radiate.” He has no problem with this, it would seem, but in the next sentence, he takes issue with the source of the light.  He writes, “But brightness in its turn rests upon something open, something free which it might illuminate here and there, now and then. Brightness plays in the open and wars with darkness.” So in true Heideggarian fasion, Heidegger returns to the etymological source of lichtung and explains that while, in a modern context, the verb liecht does indeed mean light, it is the adjective licht which means “open” that concerns Heidegger.  And so this Open, though closely filled with connotations of light, in fact means just an opening, a sheltered space. It is the flip side of the illumination by light; it is a space cleared to receive light which is important, not the source of light itself.  It is the opposite of shining a torch at the night sky in which the beam disappears into the murk; instead the light is pointed at a clearing which receives the light. And as it reveals, it conceals in order to protect, like, in Heidegger word’s, the forest clearing which is not only “free for brightness and darkness, but also for resonance and echo, for sounding and diminishing sound.  The clearing is the open for everything that is present and absent.”

This clearing then is a space for alethia (as it must be then for lethe) but it remains illumined and obscured in the center of the forest.  What then for the forest, the murk of trees? What exists beyond the forest?  Or does that in fact, in the end, matter?  Heidegger seems only concerned with the clearing, with die Lichtung, which works only in the clearing.  There is that feeling of walking on the land behind my house, emerging from a grove of maple and fir, to a space inexplicably opened and the calmness that rests there.  If we clear cut the forest to expand that clearing, it would of course disappear.  In the harsh light of broad daylight on a big plain, without a windbreak, nothing can survive for long, especially nothing as delicate as the ephemeral alethia. But again, what of the rest of the forest? This is a point where Heidegger takes a step back from the soteriological.  It seems, if only for now, that the rest of the darkness, the un-illumined, doesn’t matter.  It is enough that there exists a place, if only for a moment, like some sort of prussian satori where the unconcealed can remain concealed, where the true emerging of Being is hidden for as long as necessary.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Die Lichtung and the Forest

  1. Glad to read this, Nico!
    It gets me thinking about that phrase, “to die from exposure.” So, there must be some amount of enclosure from the elements in order for the organism to continue to do as it will; but to be over exposed would mean to dissolve completely into the elements. As such, thinking as we might understand it ceases to be, but befinlichkeit (how we find ourselves, our attunement) has become in(de)terminable.

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