Heidegger and Mnemosyne

Mnemosyne, daughter of heaven and earth, bride of Zeus, in nine nights becomes the mother of the nine Muses. Drama and music, dance and poetry are of the womb of Mnemosyne, Dame Memory. It is plain that the word means something else than merely the psychologically demonstrable ability to retain a mental representation, an idea, of something which is past. Memory – from Latin memor- mindful- has in mind something that is in the mind- thought. But when it is the name of the Mother of the Muses; “Memory” does not mean just any thought of anything that can be thought. Memory is the gathering and convergence of thought upon what everywhere demands to be thought about first of all. Memory is the gathering of recollection, thinking back. It safely keeps and keeps concealed within it that to which at each given time thought must be given before all else, in everything that essentially is, everything that appeals to us as what has being and has been in being. Memory, Mother of the Muses – the thinking back to what is to be thought – is the source and ground of poesy (Martin Heideger, Basic Writings).
In this passage from an essay entitled, What Calls for Thinking?, Heidegger very clearly includes the realm of Mnemosyne, Mother of the Muses, in what we call “thinking.” The Western intellectual mindset of our day assumes that the scientific method is the direct path for thinking to take. Heidegger is saying that poetry, myth, music, etc. (the realm of the Muses), “everything that appeals to us as what has Being and has been in Being,” must be included when talking about thinking. A place must be given to mythos as well as logos.
Plato was the first to disparage poetry and the arts in favor of what he believed to be Philosophy. According to Socrates, poets were unacceptable in his ideal Republic. Apparently, the emotions evoked by poetry and the arts were unhealthy for the ideal citizen. Sounds a lot like the Satanic rock music scare in the 1980’s.The point I would like to make, however, is that Heidegger is absolutely right. Thinking must not consider myth, poetry, music, plays, movies, dreams, etc. as non-reality. They are just as real as this keyboard I am using. Prior to Plato and his teacher, Socrates, and perhaps a few others, they were included; there was no distinction in thinking between mythos and logos. Western culture took a two-thousand-year detour at the expense of Soul. Sure, we’ve got exciting technology which is very useful, but at what price? Is there a way for us to get back on the path? Perhaps the Fates deemed it necessary we go down the road of technology for a time. Finally, here is something I wrote some years ago, which I believe is pertinent concerning Goethe and his ideas on thinking:
Faust believes that in the macrocosm one can discover truth concerning the microcosm. Hence, when one attempts to sense Nature as it is in itself, one gains self-knowledge, which, in my opinion, is what Faust really wants. Faust believes that Nature and man are one, thus allowing man to learn about himself through Nature. Nature is not to be studied so we can stuff computer hard-drives full of scientific data, analyze it, sift through it, and catalog it. Rather, Goethe believes that Nature should be studied so we may gain self-knowledge. Furthermore, the basis of Faust’s frustration stems from his inability to derive self-knowledge from discursive reasoning alone. I believe Goethe is telling us we need to transcend discursive reasoning, not jettison it altogether, and to unite it with a higher order of perception, which comes when we truly attempt to see Nature as it is.
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Humans are hard-wired to suffer. To be truly human, suffering is necessary. I think we miss the point, however, when we think there is some Omega Point to it all, some teleological reason to explain it. Life is as it is. We are thrown into the world, to borrow from Heidegger, and it is how we deal with this thrownness that is important.

At this point in my life, I suppose my purpose, or reason to get up every morning, is to remember who I really am. I feel like a man who has awakened to find he has no real memory, an amnesiac. Here and there, I get fleeting glimpses, memories of the real me, but they fade quickly and I am overshadowed by black melancholia.

The few moments of remembrance, however, are incredible! If one could somehow sustain such experiences! If I could only hold the moment in eternity!

I sense these voices and images within all of us are natural ways for us to remember. We try to repress them with so-called education and cultural inculcation, but they are always there. If ignored and repressed, they reveal themselves as devils; if embraced, they are gods, willing to share with us the universe.

Fleeting glimpses are probably all we will ever have. We are so mired in this world and its trappings that it’s very difficult to remember accurately.  Alas, for this we suffer.

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