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Heidegger and “Dwelling”

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Mapping Home in Contemporary Narratives

Part of the book series: Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies ((GSLS))

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I begin with Martin Heidegger’s postwar essay, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” in order to explore the metaphysical idea that he uses to define humans as, first and foremost, dwellers. My main objectives are to demonstrate the possibilities of what Heidegger calls poetic dwelling in the twenty-first century (liquid modern times) and examine the significance of imagining home as a means of inclusion and renewal in personal as well as globally situated contexts.

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  1. 1.

    For instance, Blunt and Dowling (2006 ), Morley (2000), and Young (1990) all draw on the essay.

  2. 2.

    In German Dasein underscores the role of place more so than the common English translation by combing the verb “sein” (to be) with the adverb “da” (there). Malpas, for instance, highlights this nuance by translating Dasein as “being-there” instead of Being.

  3. 3.

    Heidegger offers an example of such objectified life when quoting from a letter by Rainer Maria Rilke about the shift in our relation to objects from “infinitely more intimate” to “empty indifferent things, sham things, dummies of life” (110–11, original emphasis, cf Breife aus Muzot 335), and this example is particularly relevant for a relation to home spaces as either “intimate” and personally meaningful or increasingly “indifferent” products.

  4. 4.

    Other critics have read dwelling as a static concept. Emily Johansen , for instance, refers to a “Heideggerian vision of an eternal and unchanging sense of place” (24) and “Heideggerian representations of space that posit the rural homogeneous and essentialized site of a cultural imaginary that is relatively unchanging” (135). In my reading, dwelling need not be further defined by Heidegger’s own preferences or nostalgias but remains a broad philosophical idea that can be adapted for all humans as dwellers.

  5. 5.

    Heidegger himself is explicit when he explains that his “reference to the Black Forest farm in no way means that we should or could go back to building such houses; rather, it illustrates by dwelling that has been how it was able to build” (“Building Dwelling Thinking” 158, original emphasis). The idea that poetic dwelling was possible does not indicate that we should or could attempt to replicate this. Thomas Barrie compares Heidegger’s hut with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, concluding that “the examples were singular and personal, and their builders had little interest in envisioning improved houses, and homes, for others” (109). The notion of dwelling is where we might find Heidegger’s interest in “improving” home.

  6. 6.

    Leach is critical of a speech called “Homeland” that Heidegger gave for the seventh centenary of his hometown of Messkirch, but abstract belonging and a smaller region to which Heidegger feels an affinity are the foci of the speech. Heidegger’s highly problematic connection to the Nazi Party can, of course, insert nationalistic meanings to “roots” and “home.” I address some of the serious problems of social constructions of home which oppress or seek to replace and control personal constructions of home when I turn to politics and the social scale of home in Part III.

  7. 7.

    Importantly, Heidegger does not vilify technology through its potentially dehumanizing automation. In “Question Concerning Technology” he suggests that we neither “push on blindly with technology” nor “curse it as the work of the devil” (330). What he does is champion poetic dwelling while remaining suspicious of an immersion in technologically influenced or conditioned thinking.

  8. 8.

    Translated as “The Uncanny,” Freud’s essay draws heavily on literary analysis and the fantastic, yet is concerned with familiarity in general rather than the familiarity of home.

  9. 9.

    Borgmann similarly argues that “Heidegger points us to the kinship of centering practices in a sacred world” (141).

  10. 10.

    The essay’s title is taken from a line in a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin : “Full of merit, yet poetically, man / Dwells on this earth” (216). For Heidegger the “on this earth” is significant because, as he explains, “[p]oetic dwelling flies fantastically above reality” (215) but is also always rooted in our experience or a means of understanding reality. Consequently, fantastical or otherwise alien representations can offer grounded insights into contemporary dwelling.

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Correspondence to Aleksandra Bida .

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Bida, A. (2018). Heidegger and “Dwelling”. In: Mapping Home in Contemporary Narratives. Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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