Heidegger Among the Sculptors: Body, Space, and the Art of Dwelling

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $39.02
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 21%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (6) from $39.02   
  • New (4) from $39.02   
  • Used (2) from $44.31   


In the 1950s and 60s, Martin Heidegger turned to sculpture to rethink the relationship between bodies and space and the role of art in our lives. In his texts on the subject—a catalog contribution for an Ernst Barlach exhibition, a speech at a gallery opening for Bernhard Heiliger, a lecture on bas-relief depictions of Athena, and a collaboration with Eduardo Chillida—he formulates his later aesthetic theory, a thinking of relationality. Against a traditional view of space as an empty container for discrete bodies, these writings understand the body as already beyond itself in a world of relations and conceive of space as a material medium of relational contact. Sculpture shows us how we belong to the world, a world in the midst of a technological process of uprooting and homelessness. Heidegger suggests how we can still find room to dwell therein. Filled with illustrations of works that Heidegger encountered or considered, Heidegger Among the Sculptors makes a singular contribution to the philosophy of sculpture.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Heidegger Among the Sculptors is an insightful exploration of the role sculpture plays in Heidegger's thinking of the interrelationship between corporeality and space."—Sculpture Journal

"This is a truly exceptional book: beautifully written, carefully argued, and deploying a detailed knowledge of Heidegger's oeuvre with a light touch. It is the first to be written on Heidegger and art that concentrates on sculpture and looks at the specific sculptural works discussed by Heidegger. Mitchell's achievement in this area is truly significant. Not only will this book appeal to Heidegger scholars, it will be of genuine interest to anyone who studies or is moved by sculpture."—Andrew Benjamin, Monash University

"In Heidegger Among the Sculptors, Andrew Mitchell offers an abundance of detailed information, as well as subtle and insightful reflections. His book is interspersed with extremely well-chosen images of works of sculpture. Throughout his discussions, Mitchell is attentive to the works and their specific character, and yet he never loses sight of the major philosophical questions that inform his reflections. This is a work of absolutely first-rate scholarship, of acute artistic sensitivity, and of philosophical profundity."—John Sallis, Boston College

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804770224
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/16/2010
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew J. Mitchell is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. He is co-translator of Heidegger's Four Seminars (2003).
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................ix
List of Abbreviations....................xv
Introduction: A Material Space of Radiance....................1
1 Ernst Barlach: Materiality and Production....................20
2 Bernhard Heiliger: The Erosion of Being....................36
3 Excursus on the Goddess Athena....................58
4 Eduardo Chillida: The Art of Dwelling....................66
Conclusion: The Taste of Us....................92
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Heidegger Among the Sculptors

By Andrew J. Mitchell


Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7022-4

Chapter One


Articulation 1: Degeneracy

The great German expressionist and antiwar sculptor Ernst Barlach enjoyed increasing popularity after the First World War, only to suffer its loss with the National Socialist rise to power. His less than finished forms were at odds with the Nazi ideology of realistic (and totally realized) formation, and his "primitivism" drew the ire of party officials. Hundreds of his works were subsequently removed from display, confiscated, and destroyed. As early as 1934, the head of the Nazi Party in Mecklenburg, Friedrich Hildebrandt, argued in a party rally keynote address that "the artist's guild has the duty to comprehend the German in his simple honesty, as God created him," that is, as complete and finished in form. "Ernst Barlach may be an artist," he continued, "but German nature is alien to him." Tellingly enough, a year later a volume of Barlach's drawings was banned by the Reichsbeauftragter für Formgebung (literally, the Reich's Commissioner for Bestowal of Form). And in 1937, cementing his reputation as "degenerate," Barlach's work was included in the infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit in Munich. Hounded by the Nazis and driven into isolation, Barlach died of heart failure in 1938.

When Egon Vietta edited the catalog for a 1951 retrospective exhibition of Barlach's sculptures and drawings in Darmstadt, he asked Heidegger for a contribution. Controversy still lingered around Barlach, and the 1951 Darmstadt exhibition was by no means guaranteed an approving reception. Heideg ger complied and "The Abandonment of Being and Errancy," Heideg ger's first publication to explicitly address the Second World War, appeared in the catalog. In it, Heidegger offers his most vitriolic assessment of contemporary life in a state dominated by technology and National Socialism. Heidegger's remarks on the impotence of all leaders (Führer), the metaphysical inseparability between the superhuman (Übermensch) and the subhuman (Untermensch), and the science behind planned breeding, philosophically contextualize the plight of this sculptor who died under Nazi scrutiny. As Vietta writes in introducing the piece, "We publish this contribution because we believe ourselves to see a hidden connection between the inclinations of the dramaturge Ernst Barlach and the thinker Martin Heidegger. 'Where, however, there is danger, the saving power also grows' (Hölderlin)" (EB 5). While Heidegger does not explicitly discuss Barlach in his piece, the "hidden connection" between the two (between Heidegger and the sculptor Barlach) hangs on an understanding of what Heidegger terms the "abandonment" of being. The abandonment of being presents a vision of beings as harboring a constitutive insufficiency that surrenders them wholly to the world, an insufficiency embodied in the plastic works of Barlach.

Abandonment is a way to think being as neither wholly present (it has abandoned beings) nor wholly absent (abandonment is noted, it leaves its mark on beings). Beings bear the abandonment of being, and it is only in-or as-beings that abandonment is found (abandonment is never without a trace). Abandonment of being should not be thought as separate from the beings, but as a relation that stretches beings into the world to the point of their dissolution. Abandoned beings are not without being, nor is being somehow absent in abandonment. Instead, abandonment names the way in which the being appears in an inextricable relation with beings. What the abandonment of being names, in other words, is a way of experiencing beings such that they are no longer construed as self-contained and discrete objects but as already opened and spilled into the world. Being lies beyond the being, calling out to it that it come forth. The idea of an abandonment of being keeps us from imagining being as inhering in the thing; it names the way in which the particular being is always stretched into a context as essentially relational. This "worldly" manner of existence has consistently been overlooked (forgotten) across the history of philosophy, from the objects of modern philosophy (moments of presence in a void of absence), to the circulation and replacement of modern technology's standing reserve (Bestand). Being takes place between presence and absence, at the surface where the being extends beyond itself and enters the world. Being takes place at the limit of the thing-understanding limit as Heidegger does, not as where something ends but where it begins.

In Barlach's sculptures the sharp defining boundary is blurred. The tension between articulation and ground figures prominently. The only surfaces of distinction are the chiseled faces and finely hewn hands or feet, the extremities of the body. They often seem the culminating blossoms of an emergent material gesture. The indistinct matter in Barlach's sculpture fails to achieve the full determination and stamping of form requisite for classificatory certainty. Barlach's figures ultimately are degenerate, but they are degenerate in an unworking of the generative power of the creator, sculptor god. The degenerate forms of Barlach no longer display the finishedness and distinction of the ens creatum. In a letter addressing the biblical account of God's six days of creation and seventh day of rest, Barlach writes against the ideal of finished creation, "But I fear that that Sunday was followed by a hungover Monday and a new week's labor; and so it continues until today; in short, creation has no end, and ultimately creator and creation are one."

Production Without End

Contemporary production is determined by a drive to production that is impossible to satisfy. Production today is limitless production or production without end. Heidegger reads contemporary society as determined by a Nietzschean will to power, augmented in its scope and focus by an ever advancing technology. The Nietzschean response to a void is creation, that is, proliferation and profusion. These voids prod life further. Nietzschean overcoming requires these encounters with the void as the achieving of one's own limits, in order for the creative act that oversteps these limits to assert itself and utter its holy yes. The will to power secures its own position while simultaneously increasing its domain of control in subsequent acts of appropriation and self-overcoming. In this way it creates order out of the void, out of what Heidegger calls the "emptiness" of being (GA 7: 94 /EP 107). When production becomes a matter of life or death, when everything is at the disposal of and serves production (when everything is "mobilized," to use the language of Ernst Jünger), when production is all-consuming, it becomes consumption, everything is consumed for production:

The consumption of all materials ... for the unconditional possibility of the production of everything is determined in a concealed way by the complete emptiness in which beings, the materials of what is real, are suspended. This emptiness has to be filled up. But since the emptiness of Being can never be filled up by the fullness of beings, especially when this emptiness cannot be experienced as such, the only escape from this emptiness that remains is the incessant arranging of beings in line with the constant possibility of an ordering that takes the form of a securing of aimless activity. (GA 7: 94 /EP 106-7; tm)

Emptiness is required so that there might be space into which we could overstep the given. Emptiness in this sense is a condition of growth, the space we would grow into in a Nietzschean movement of self-overcoming in the face of this void. Expansion requires room to grow. But emptiness likewise determines the consumption of all materials, it needs to be filled. This need arises as a result of the putting into play of the opposition between presence and absence. A strange logic operates at the root of metaphysical oppositions, for in the antagonistic division of terms, each is defined against the other, but at the same time proffered as independent and distinct. For the distinction to hold cleanly, without contamination, the terms must no longer need each other. And this can only lead to the destruction of one by the other, as one can never prove itself "pure" enough (and to share the same space with the opponent is already compromising). The onset of metaphysical oppositions culminates in the vigorous conflict and eventual collapse of these oppositions (the privilege that Nietzsche holds for Heidegger is rooted in his collapsing of the inaugural oppositions of Platonic metaphysics). For this reason, then, emptiness requires filling up and determines the consumption of beings that seeks to fill it up.

But the abandoned character of beings, their inherent openness and insufficiency, keeps them from filling up this space like so many bricks in a wall. Instead, in an era of high technology, growth culminates in the arranging of networks for the ordering and delivery of goods, whereby the emptiness is masked by supply chains and circulatory networks that strive toward omnipresence. The circulating beings, too, are no longer pieces of modernist objective presence, but completely beholden to these networks for their existence (they are part of the standing reserve [Bestand], though it does anything but stand). In this way, the will continues. The will has no other goal than to create conditions that will allow it to will further, ultimately to will only itself insofar as what it wills is the appropriation of what is other (to will that it become stronger). As such, its activity is "aimless," striving for nothing outside or apart from itself.

The maximization of production through these networks of circulation includes ultimately the production of not only replaceable objects but objects that are already en route to replacement. To exist within these networks is to be diffused along their paths, to be everywhere at once and nowhere ever wholly. What is present here is likewise present in a storeroom awaiting the call for delivery, already on its way to delivery, surging along the circuitry. In such conditions, the apotheosis of production is attained. Production spurs production, as it produces only the ersatz and no longer the thing itself: "The 'substitute' and the mass production of ersatz things is not a temporary device, but the only possible form in which the will to will, the 'all-inclusive' guarantee of the planning of order, keeps itself going and can thus be 'itself' as the 'subject' of everything" (GA 7: 94 /EP 107). The finishedness of medieval production is overcome in the limitless production of the ersatz.

Earthly Ambiguity

A recurrent theme in the Nazi denigration of Barlach was the earthbound character of his sculptures. A 1932 issue of the party newspaper Völkische Beobachter (People's Observer) attacks the idea of Barlach as a Nordic or even Christian artist in just these terms. Instead, the author writes, Barlach's sculptures evince an Eastern character: "Barlach shapes the Russian person, sometimes even the subhuman, in his full bondage to the earth and dullness. His humans, even when they sway or hurry or move themselves hastily, are all so horribly heavy, they cling to the ground, to the everyday, they are not at all capable of once raising themselves above it." Alfred Rosenberg continues the thought a year later in a Munich newspaper, when, after praising Barlach's technique, he writes, "But what he shapes of humans is foreign, utterly foreign: earth-enslaved massiveness and joy at the impact of heaviness and the material."

The National Socialist objection to the earthen nature of Barlach's work is an objection to its unformed massiveness. The earth stands for material that has yet to be taken up and spiritualized. This spiritualization is an assumption of meaning on the unformed and meaningless. Meaning is marking, forming, and the bestowal of meaning is life itself. The healthy life is one that grows ever more definite and meaningful in a meaningful world, growing into the full realization of its purpose. The healthy individual is a productive member of the state.

The idea of endless production ultimately says nothing other than this. When production achieves "endlessness," it becomes indistinguishable from consumption. Everything is enlisted or mobilized in the production process and consumed for its ends. Even at the level of the particular thing, all of it must be completely given over to the purpose of mobilization (mobilization would not be "total" without this). Every bit of the thing must be deployed and used, which is to say marked and determined in its destination, registered into production. This is the health of the economy and of the body.

Examining the work of National Socialist-approved sculptors like Arno Breker or Josef Thorak confirms the meaning of health to be the bearing of meaning, and this is expressed in two ways. First, their bodies typically possess an unusually detailed articulation of the musculature (chiseled abdomens seem a specialty). No part of the form is left untouched, all is worked over by the sculptor to make present a body that itself reflects an utter infusion of will and discipline. The meaning of the body is in its finely muscled articulation. Or a second tact is taken and the bodies give up some of their detailing to achieve a higher symbolic value. They lose the minutiae of musculature for a suffusion of allegorical meaning. They are giant characters in the alphabet of the state, enlisted to convey the meaning of vitality, nobility, contest, life. They surrender their muscle for this other form of overdetermination.

Not so Barlach. His earthy figures are glaringly undefined, comfortably reposed in their inarticulate massiveness. Rather than bear a preconfigured, self-asserted meaning, rather than wear the uniform of the state to stand at the ready, they fail at such univocity, finding their meaning in relation to the indeterminate. Barlach's sculptures await the determination of a God in prayer. They hold themselves back from terrible sights in panic. But at the same time that they pull their faces away, or lower their gaze in prayer, they thrust their earthy bulk forward, offering it up to contact and touch. Barlach's figures surrender their self-assertion, take off the armor of determination, and stand naked before us, clothed in the indeterminacy of earthly life.

In the notebooks concurrent with "The Abandonment of Being and Errancy," approximately one year after the "Degenerate Art" exhibition and the inauguration of the annual "Great German Art Exhibition" of National Socialist-approved art in Munich, Heidegger comments on the contemporary art scene: "What still counts as 'art' today, be it 'good' or 'bad,' we must take like those shriveled leaves, lifeless and fallen away from the force of the roots, that are whirled about by the wind and thus show signs of a 'movement' that simulates life" (GA 67: 108). Full determination is death, not life, we might say. Heidegger's condemnation speaks from a perspective of life as did the National Socialists. But life differs. Life is never life.

Barlach, the sculptor reviled as un-German by the National Socialists, is thoroughly concerned with his belonging to the soil of the homeland. A 1937 text by Barlach, first published in 1949, entitled "As I Was Threatened with a Ban on Exercising My Profession," states: "I feel with my increasing years ever more an indissoluble bond with the soil of the homeland. I know, that I only belong there where I hitherto have worked and lived, and since one slanders me as being foreign, I proclaim a better, stronger, and thoroughly deeper native belonging, a belonging formed more out of history and experience, indeed a hearkening to my birth land." Barlach and the National Socialists speak of homeland. But the homeland differs. Homeland is never homeland.

It was just such ambiguities that the Nazis abhorred. Against a standard of total definition, they called it "degeneracy." But "generosity" is the better name, the bodily offering of earthly existence-indeterminacy as a giving to the other.


Excerpted from Heidegger Among the Sculptors by Andrew J. Mitchell Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)