Imaging Thought as Imaging Place in Heidegger

September 23, 2007

I just finished reading Heidegger’s What Is Called Thinking? and found it very interesting and, for the most part, accessible (they are transcriptions of lectures he delivered). Of interest to my “thinking about thinking” and the work done for the Imaging Place conference are Heidegger’s references to thinking as being on a journey or a path:

Thinking itself is a way. We respond to the way only by remaining underway. . . . In order to get underway, we do have to set out. This is meant in a double sense: for one thing, we have to open ourselves to the emerging prospect and direction of the way itself; and then, we must get on the way, that is, must take the steps by which alone the way becomes the way. . . . Only when we walk it, and in no other fashion, only, that is, by thoughtful questioning, are we on the move on the way.

He continues in this vein, invoking the quest-motif:

To answer the question ‘What is called thinking?’ is itself always to keep asking, so as to remain underway. This would seem easier than the intention to take a firm position; for adventurer-like, we roam away into the unknown. Nevertheless, if we are to remain underway we must first of all and constantly give attention to the way. The movement, step by step, is what is essential here. (168-170)

Later he writes of the “thinker’s quest”:

The wish to understand a thinker in his own terms is something else entirely than the attempt to take up a thinker’s quest and to pursue it to the core of his thought’s problematic. The first is and remains impossible. The second is rare, and of all things the most difficult. . . To speak of an ‘attempt at thinking’ is not an empty phrase meant to simulate humility. The term makes the claim that we are here taking a way of questioning, on which the problematic alone is accepted as the unique habitat and locus of thinking. (185)

In a different book, Heidegger invokes even more radically the notion of a region in which thinking occurs. In his Discourse on Thinking, according to its introduction, Heidegger speaks of two kinds of thinking–“calculating thinking” and “meditative thinking”–and in focusing on the latter he speaks of the horizon of consciousness, our field of awareness, calling this “the region” and “that-which-regions”:

In the opening of the region, its regioning, we have what supports and manifests itself in part as the opening of man, his meditative thinking … the nature of thinking [has] an origin prior to thought. And what is this origin? It is the nature of that-which-regions. (Introduction p. 30, 35)

This looks like challenging stuff, but I was immediately drawn to the conceptual metaphor of the Mind as a Body Moving Through Space that is in play in both books. Again and again this recurs, and I am once again curious about what it might mean, what might be the ultimate significance of such reliance upon bodily metaphors of navigating a three-dimensional space as the way that we are able to think abstractly (for is not thinking about thinking the most abstract that we can get?!).