a heideggerian reading of the philosophy of art of susanne langer

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A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne K. Langer with Special Reference to Architecture by Edward P. Donohue Marist College Poughkeepsie, NY Martin Heidegger is an ontologist; Susanne Langer is a logician. 1 The ways in which they ground their philosophies of art are fundamentally different. Heidegger seeks arts’ grounding in being and Langer in the biological organism to which she attributes the essential organic form of art. 2 Nonetheless many of the statements that they make about art are strikingly similar. They agree that art’s significance is in the art object and not the artist’s own experience of actual feeling or personal biography; that, though art is an object, it is not a “thing” and functions differently from things; that art is not only the creation of beauty but an expression of truth; that the truth of art is grasped through an intuitive, sentient immediacy rather than the structure of propositions; that propositions spoken

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Page 1: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer

A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne

K. Langer with Special Reference to Architecture

by Edward P. Donohue

Marist College

Poughkeepsie, NY

Martin Heidegger is an ontologist; Susanne Langer is a

logician.1 The ways in which they ground their

philosophies of art are fundamentally different. Heidegger

seeks arts’ grounding in being and Langer in the biological

organism to which she attributes the essential organic form

of art.2 Nonetheless many of the statements that they make

about art are strikingly similar. They agree that art’s

significance is in the art object and not the artist’s own

experience of actual feeling or personal biography; that,

though art is an object, it is not a “thing” and functions

differently from things; that art is not only the creation

of beauty but an expression of truth; that the truth of art

is grasped through an intuitive, sentient immediacy rather

than the structure of propositions; that propositions spoken

Page 2: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


in “everydayness” and through mathematical equations do not

articulate what art is; that artistic space is essentially

different from everyday space and mathematical space; that

intrinsically art has no utility; that architecture is the

creation of a human “world”. I am going to argue that a

logical principle that Langer proposes places her in a

compatible relation with Heidegger’s ontology that a

Heideggerian ontology would resolve ambiguities that are

inherent in her own theory or art and that their views on

architecture display both significant similarities as well

as dissimilarities in their conceptions of space.

In her major work on art, Feeling and Form, Langer

makes it clear, at the outset, that the essence of

philosophy is the logical clarification of ideas.3 She

claims that the logical principles of generalization and

fecundity, which drive philosophy, are both in the service

of the illumination of meaning.4 Since the philosophy of art

is indeed philosophy, it must be deliberated within this

logical context. Meaning in artistic literature, while rich

and diverse,5 is, in her view, mostly ambiguous, fragmentary

and in disarray6 She thinks that she can supply a principle

that is general enough to be applicable to all the arts and

whose fecundity can elucidate much of the confusion that

saturates statements about art. So, philosophy and the

philosophy of art are about the clarification of ideas and

Page 3: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


Langer’s contribution is to provide a concept that will

logically resolve many of the important ambiguities present

in writings about art.7 While purporting to remain within

the context of logic,8 the principle that she supplies has

implications for an ontological principle of Heidegger, puts

her into a relation of some concert with him9 and at some

distance from her fellow logicians.10

The original concept that pervades Langer’s

interpretation of art is her notion of the “non-discursive

symbol” or “presentational symbol.”11 When Langer claims

that all art is the symbol of feeling,12 or, more

specifically, art is the non-discursive symbol of sentient,

emotional life, she clearly distinguishes this symbol from

discursive symbols. 13

We need to highlight Langer’s meaning of the non-

discursive symbol, show how other logicians (as well as

aestheticians) think about art without this principle and

how this principle has ontological possibilities.

The Nature of Non-discursive Symbolism

To make the contrast between discursive and non-

discursive symbols, we should begin with Langer’s

distinction between symbol and signal.14 Language

essentially is a system of symbols.15 When language is

Page 4: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


being used symbolically (whether discursively or non-

discursively), it inevitably delivers insight. Insight is

directly related to form, structure and conceptualization.16

It does not require action or the anticipation of an actual

event.17 Neither does it need to provoke any special

emotional symptom in the beholder or user of the symbol.

The symbol differs from what Langer calls a “signal”,

“symptom” or “sign”.18 The name, Richard Nixon, may

provoke, in his dog, Checkers, the “tail-wagging” happy

anticipation of his owner’s immediate, anticipated presence.

For me, it evokes some insight into his Presidency without

expectation of his actual presence and without any

invariable, emotional symptom. This distinction between the

conceptual symbol and the signal operates within both

discursive and non-discursive symbolism.

Unlike non-discursive symbolism, discourse reports,

describes that which has happened, is happening or will

happen in the world.19 Non-discursive symbolism, the symbol

of art, (Langer includes ritual and religion here) does not

“report” or “describe” the actual world. Since it is a

symbolism, it delivers insight into feeling without

necessarily inciting it.20 Non-discursive symbolism results

in emotion understood rather than emotion actually

experienced.21 I can fully appreciate the artistic value of

say, a rhapsodic poem, even though I am cold, wet, and there

Page 5: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


is a unappetizing smell of brussel sprouts coming from the

kitchen. Here the experience of art is divorced from the

actual emotions of the artist and those that appreciate art.

Indeed, strong actual emotions may distort the artist’s or

the beholder’s insight. Very powerful emotion may not be

consonant with the envisioned symbolic form of the art

object and could easily result in unstructured, and thereby

inartistic emotional catharsis.22

There are several other points of distinction. The

elements of discourse have conventionally fixed meaning

while the elements of non-discursive, artistic symbolism are

difficult to identify and have no stable meaning. The

meaning of the elements of the work of art is bestowed by

the total art object, from the artistic gestalt. Until the

total artwork is envisioned or created specific elements

cannot be discerned. One cannot “build” a work of art in the

same manner as one can build a paragraph -- word by word.

Consequently, a discursive dictionary is possible with

translations into other languages feasible. This is not

possible with artistic symbolism which, without constant

referents, has no dictionary. Langer thus cautions us about

the use of the word, language, in relation to the arts

(language of the dance, language of music, etc.). The

implication here is that a book cannot be translated into a

film the way that a paragraph in English can be translated

Page 6: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


into French. The film and the book are two distinct

artistic media. While one may serve as a motif for the

other,23 there can be no literal translation of one into the

other. From this perspective, criticisms of films “made

from” books by subtlety or overtly imposing the standards of

one media on the other lose their legitimacy.

Langer argues that non-discursive symbolism, unlike

discourse, is unconsummated.24 An expression is consummated

when its affirmation includes a denial of its contradictory.

If I affirm that the moon is full, then I simultaneously

deny its contradictory: the moon is not full. The principle

that is operating here is the principle of non-

contradiction: a thing cannot both be and not be at the same

time and in the same way. Discursive statements are

consummated because the principle of non-contradiction is

assumed. Such statements are, in this sense, consumed or

complete. Allowing for the legitimacy of a denial within

every affirmation would render discourse impossible and all

attempts at speech would dissolve into babble. However,

non-discursive, artistic symbolism is not consummated in

this way. Art does not have the syntax of language and its

embedded principle of non-contradiction. While art is

expressive it does not affirm anything about the world and

so the concomitant denial of the opposite of the affirmed

becomes irrelevant. No one can discursively affirm the

Page 7: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


essential meaning of a piece of music or any other art

object in the sense that it is this and its opposite is

eliminated. Contradictories, polarities and ambiguities may

be quite compatible in art.

Since art is an articulation of human feelings that

may be essentially ambiguous and contradictory, it would be

important for artistic expression to transcend the

principle of non-contradiction. When we speak about art

objects, awkward contradictions are sometimes expressed:

love-hate, repulsively-attractive, sweet-sorrow and the

like. Language with its structural limitations does not

adequately express feelings.25 Since art is not bridled with

the non-contradictory principle, it can express these

ambiguities with facility.

Unlike discourse, there are no negations in artistic

expression. When negative words are used in artistic

literature, they always function to positively articulate

feeling. A musical rest is not the absence of music but, if

successful, integrated with the musical rhythm of the piece.

An unpainted area within the frame of a picture is not

negation but may justifiably contribute to the overall form

of the work.

When Langer discusses the non-discursive,

presentational symbol the ordinary meaning of the word,

Page 8: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


“symbol” is altered. Generally, the word, symbol, means a

representation. In common discourse, the term, symbol,

“stands for”, is a proxy for that which is symbolized: the

dove symbolizes peace, a heart stands for love. This is the

way in which symbols function in discourse. If a heart

stands for love, it cannot at the same time and in the same

way stand for “not-love”. Here the principle of non-

contradiction consummates the symbol. Since art is not

bound by that principle, then artistic symbolism (which is

all that art is) does not stand in a closed, literal

relationship with that which is symbolized.26 When Langer

speaks of the non-discursive symbolism, which constitutes

art she is not referring to, say, the bull as a symbol of

Spain in Picasso’s Guernica. Here, the bull is isolated

from the rest of the painting and is regarded as a literal

symbol in discourse about the painting.

In non-discursive symbolism, Langer is not referring to

fixed correlationships between symbol and symbolized. Her

emphasis is on the form that constitutes the symbol, which

is the symbol. Together with form comes a special way of

conceptualizing; a unique way of attaining insight. This is

what it means to “think in music”, to “think in paint”, to

“think in clay”.

Page 9: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


When a composer thinks in music, is there anything that

the music “stands for”? For Langer, the music stands for

the way that feelings move.27 Once again, this “stands for”

is not literal; it is not discursive. In order to avoid

confusing music with literal representation, it is better to

say that music is expressive of human feeling. Of course,

expression does not mean a symptomatic catharsis, which is

peculiar, not to symbolization but rather to signals and

symptoms. In music, expression means the articulation, the

illumination of feeling. It is only in this sense that all

art, not only music, is the symbol of human sentient,

emotional life.

The dichotomy between discursive, literal

representation and artistic expression affects the ways in

which we experience the symbols. In discourse, the tendency

is to look through the symbol. The symbol is proxy for

something other than itself. The entire reality of the

discursive symbol is exhausted in pointing to that which it

represents. When I say that the fruit dish is on the

kitchen counter, I am engaging an aspect of the world

through these spoken symbols. I am not at all interested in

the rhythm and texture of the sounds I make -- as I would be

in artistic literature, say, poetry. Here, I am interested

in the location of the fruit dish. The words are

Page 10: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


transparent in the sense that they become invisible like a

glass windshield through which I contact the world.

Since artistic symbolism is not literally

representative, the meaning of transparency differs.

Transparency no longer means to see a reality through a

symbolic vehicle because the discursive dichotomy between

symbol and symbolized does not apply. The artistic symbol

is not fundamentally a means through which something is

discursively known -- about which consummated statements

can be made. One does not look through the artistic symbol;

one looks at it.28 If the beholder is familiar with that

medium, the art object is entirely and immediately open to

her view. At an essential level nothing is “dissembled” in

art.29 It is in this sense that the artistic symbol is

transparent. Artistic symbolism is neither a means to make

statements about the actual world nor a means to stimulate

actual feeling in the beholder. Fundamentally there is no

intrinsic necessity to look through or beyond the immediacy

of the given art object. The artwork is itself articulate;

it is iridescent. Art’s symbolism does not point to anything

other than itself as expressive of human sentient, emotional


Langer’s Controversy with Other Logicians about Art

Page 11: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


Without the notion of the non-discursive,

presentational symbol, Langer observes that the Positivists

have at least a truncated, if not entirely flawed view of

art. Langer traces one of the roots of their position to

the assumption that anything that can be conceptualized must

be cast into symbolic form and that language is the

fundamental symbolic form.31 Since art is not language used

discursively, it falls outside the domain of the symbolic;

it is therefore not within the realm of the conceptual. It

is not an articulate expression. Art is indeed expressive

but for these logicians, it is an opaque manifestation of

emotion. In Langer’s words: “According to our logicians,

those structures are to be treated as ‘expressions’ in a

different sense namely as ‘expressions’ of emotions,

feelings, desires. They are not symbols for thought but

symptoms of the inner life, like tears and laughter,

crooning or profanity.”32 For such logicians, anything that

cannot be articulated through the proposition falls outside

the field of the rational and into the vividly felt but

rationally obscure category of human feeling. The

polarities are clear: either propositional clarity or

emotional impenetrability. Langer claims to come between

the horns of this dilemma through the rational character of

the non-discursive symbol.

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According to the epistemology that Langer finds

spurious, the nonlinguistic sensory stimuli that incite such

emotion may also have the capacity to be elevated to a

cognitive level. Here the theory is that the life of the

senses is originally in chaos. The senses are bombarded by

a welter of impressions that need to be sorted out if any

significance is to be made of them. These formless

impressions need to have form imposed on them. For these

logicians, it is the abstract activity of linguistic

structures that accomplishes this shaping of the sensory

data. The classification systems of vocabulary and the

logical structures inherent in syntax perform this

illuminating service. Sensory activity that resists this

structure remains ineffable.

Against this view, Langer argues that we do not

experience the sensory world as a chaotic datum, which

requires an abstract logical movement inherent in language

to sort it out. “Our merest sense-experience is a process of

formulation.”33 Even at a sensory level, we do not

encounter a formless world.34

A tendency to organize the sensory field

into groups and patterns of sense-data, to

perceive forms rather than a flux of

light-impressions, seems to be inherent in

our receptor apparatus just as much as in

Page 13: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


the higher nervous centers with which we

do arithmetic and logic.35

If our encounter with the material world began with

sheer sensory sensitivity, our initial experience of it

would be “blooming, buzzing confusion”.36 Langer finds it

difficult to understand how, out of this bedlam, our sense

organs would perceive “things” rather than “mere dissolving

sensa”.37 Unless the mind which primarily operates with

meanings has sensory organs that provide it basically with

forms, she “does not know how the hiatus between perception

and conception, sense-organ and mind-organ, chaotic stimulus

and logical response, is ever to be closed and welded.”38

Langer thinks that the senses grasp objects, not raw

data, and the object is a form “which is at once an

experienced individual thing and a symbol for the concept of

it, for this sort of thing.”39 “Seeing”, for example, is

not a passive, meaningless storing of impressions that wait

for the action of an organizing mind. “Our understanding of

the visible world begins in the eye.”40 Langer’s notion of

the non-discursive symbol allows her to illuminate this

sentient world of form that is also where art lives.

Langer is now in the position to point out that the

realm of the logician/mathematician does not exclude other

legitimate areas of cognitive life. With her introduction

of the non-discursive symbol to address the rational

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character of sensory life, the dichotomy of abstract

conception or non-rational sense/feeling breaks down. As

another cognitive area opens up, the assumption that the

world that is described by physics (and emulated by

positivistic logicians) is the only world that is capable of

rational articulation is wrong.

There is, in fact, no such thing as

the form of the “real” world;

physics is one pattern, which may be

found in it, and “appearance,” or

the pattern of things with their

qualities and characters, is another.

One construction may indeed preclude

the other; but to maintain that the

consistency and universality of the

one brands the other as false is a


Since discursive expression primarily comes through

language with its propositions, non-discursive expression is

not linguistic, not propositional yet still intelligible.

Its intelligibility is not mediated by language and the

logic of discursive propositions. It is immediately given

and directly perceived. The immediate, non-propositional

grasp of the world is entirely compatible with Heidegger’s

phenomenology of Dasein as “always already” in the world.

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Heidegger views propositional logic as grounded in


The Metaphysical Ground for Logical Truth

Heidegger insists that logic, even formal logic, must

have some reference to being and thereby requires some

clarification of the grounding of being -- an ontology. He

offers several reasons for the nexus between metaphysics and

logic. From the perspective of the history of philosophy,

logic has been tied to metaphysics. In his, The Metaphysical

Foundations of Logic, Heidegger points to Leibniz as one

important example of this connection.

Leibniz makes the distinction between necessary and

contingent truths. The paramount test for necessary truth

would be the reduction to identity. In a closed

mathematical system where truth is measured by internal

logical consistency and traceable to given mathematical

axioms/definitions reduction to identity is facilitated.

When Leibniz moves away from mathematics and the domain of

necessary truths to the realm of the contingent this

reduction to identity is not possible. The standard for the

truth of this kind of knowledge is a relation to identity

that Leibniz considers to be “adequate”. “In adequate

knowledge that which is known is the totum of the requisita

Page 16: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


i.e., that which, as a whole, constitutes the reality of a

thing”42 The identity here is not an empty sameness but a

unity understood as the compatibility or the coherency of

all the elements. “What is known in adequate knowledge is

the coherent connection of the things mutually compatible

determinations.”43 This appears to be the highest form of

contingent knowledge that human beings can achieve but it

falls short of the essence of real truth. The reason for

this, in Heidegger’s analysis, is that Leibniz tries to

deduce the integrations of adequate knowledge from the

abstract form of identity in necessary knowledge.44 This

standard for absolute truth, which humans can pursue but

never attain is related to Leibniz’s understanding of the

knowledge attributable to God. God is the eternal being

intuitively surveying, at once, the world of contingency in

an eternal present. This is the intuition that corresponds

to the grasp of formal identity. “Only now it becomes fully

clear how this concept of knowledge is connected with the

idea of what simply is and its being. Intuitus and

identitas, as essential characteristics of truth and

knowledge, the “logical” in the broadest sense, are derived

from the simplicitas Dei as guiding ideal of what, in the

genuine sense, is.45 Leibniz discussion of logic is driven

by a metaphysics of God.

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Although Heidegger points directly and at some length

to Leibniz’ monadology, he does not confine his remarks

solely to him. For Heidegger, an understanding of

philosophy and philosophical problems must take place within

historicity, the temporal evolution of philosophy itself.

This is consonant with Heidegger’s position that Dasein’s

understanding of the truth of being takes place within its

temporalization, which includes philosophy’s historicity.

In addition to the historical aspect of the problem,

Heidegger finds the metaphysical dimension in an analysis of

logic itself. He takes the word, logos, in its original

meaning of “statement”.46 Within the statement is found the

truth. The logical ground for the truth of the judgment has

been sought in logical principles such as the principle of

contradiction, the principle of identity and the principle

of sufficient reason. Since contradiction can be grounded

in identity, the latter has been used as the ground of

truth. That which can be grounded in identity is intuited as

the truth. Yet there is a more primordial level of being

than the proposition that seeks verification in logical


Using Heidegger’s illustration, when I make the

judgment that the board is black, I take the concept of

“board” and the concept of “black” and unite them with the

copula “is”. The unity between board and black presupposes a

Page 18: A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne Langer


bifurcation of them. Taken as two separate classificatory

concepts, I unite them with the copula.47 I do not

originally experience board and black separately. So this

conceptualizing activity together with its intentionality is

accomplished by the thinking subject or, more accurately for

Heidegger, by Dasein. Within the logic of the judgment,

there is present at its heart, Dasein. The truth of the

judgment cannot be grounded intrinsically with no reference

to this source. The ground for the truth of the judgment is

Dasein. Only in Dasein’s understanding of being can the

truth of logic be established.

This analysis can also be applied to Langer’s

statements about art. When she claims, for example, that

all art is symbolic, she is engaging in discourse. She is

describing what is. From the logician’s perspective,

symbolism is a concept that is included in the concept of

art. If the logician is Leibniz, then symbolic as well as

many other predicates are contained in, and coherently

unified with the concept of art. If the integration of

these predicates is complete then we have “adequate”

knowledge of art, which approaches, but necessarily falls

short of, the intuitive immediacy of God’s eternal vision of

art. For Heidegger, there is a more fundamental level of

being that undercuts and sustains this logical process.

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In Heidegger’s view, the concepts of art and symbolism

are not first experienced as separate and then subsequently

coupled with the word, “is”. Just as with Heidegger’s

“board” and “black”, Langer’s “art” and “symbolism” are

experienced together before they are conceived and expressed

linguistically. Prior to the classifications of art and its

properties together with their coupling in a proposition,

there is a more primordial experience of it and the world

because, for Heidegger, we are always already in the world.

“Always already” means that before and during our conceptual

constructs of the world with their linguistic rendering, we

are already “in” it as participants with it.48 Here is where

the epistemological model of knowing subject confronting an

objective world and logically/linguistically expressing the

truth about that world either breaks down or is shown to be

a truncated perspective.49 There is another meaning of world

which underlies this one and within which the fossilized

entities of subject/object and their relation dissolve.

Within the analysis of being-in-the-world, the metaphysical

ground for the truth of logic is revealed.

Being-in-the-world is a manifestation of the

transcendence of the human person, Dasein. It is the “there”

(“da”) of the human being that originally illuminates the

world and establishes its ground.50 The “there” of the human

person enlightens the world in the sense that without Dasein

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the world falls into darkness. There can be no human thought

or talk of what the world would be like without Dasein

because without Dasein, there can only be, so to speak, the

mute. With Dasein there is transcendence, which means to

surpass, to go beyond. Dasein surpasses ontic beings in

advance in the sense that the very being of the ontic, that

which makes it a being toward which Dasein can comport

itself is established by Dasein itself.51 Dasein does not

have the fixity of the ontic.52 Dasein is an existence, (ek-

stasis), a “standing out”.53 Dasein’s existence while

arriving out of a past is essentially a “thrownness” not

only toward a future but also toward a world.54 The essence

of Dasein’s existence is its freedom, which it does not have

but is. It is freedom in its caring that stands-out-toward

the world and thereby constitutes the world and Dasein as


Now we can see that the subject-object dichotomy in

propositional logic and between knowing subject and

objective world have been undercut in being transcended.

“Dasein, the ‘I’ that makes statements, is always already

‘among’ beings about which it makes statements.”56

The primordial transcendence of Dasein is the condition

of the possibility of the accessibility of an objective

world with which we may deal in a multiplicity of ways. The

logician’s mode of conceptualizing this world is just one

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way. “Insofar as Dasein exists, objects have already also

become accessible to Dasein, though the mode of possible

objectivity by which the objects are grasped is completely

left open and variable.”57

Although Langer is not an ontologist, Heidegger’s

metaphysical grounding of logic supports Langer’ contention

that art is not opaque and ineffable simply because it

cannot be projected into propositional form. Our ability to

grasp things does not require the intervention of the

abstractive powers of thought inherent in language. We do

not encounter an incoherent world at the sensory level and

wait for language to impose order on this chaos. Our being-

in-the-world is characterized by a fundamental immediacy.

Before the abstractive reflections which pull us away from

(ab-trahere) this immediacy, we are always already in the

world with things. Our immediate contact with things is

intelligible because, for Langer, they are grasped as

sensate forms. Form, structure, and intelligence (non-

discursive illumination) occur at the level of the sensate.

Her argument that, at the sensory level, the human being is

immediately and intuitively receptive to form is compatible

with Heidegger’s “being-in-the-world” as a primordial

condition of the human being. Langer’s “world” surely does

not coincide with Heidegger’s, but it is considerably closer

to Heidegger than the logicians with which she contends.

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Both Heidegger and Langer agree that art belongs to the

senses and not to propositional abstractions. That which is

artistically created is a sentient object. But what kind of

“thing” is this artistic product and what is its relation to

the creator, the artist?

Taking the second question first, the voices of

Heidegger and Langer are consonant. The essential

significance of art is found in the art object and not in

the artist. Heidegger thinks that the autonomy of the

artistic product is that which is sought by the artist

himself. “To gain access to the work, it would be necessary

to remove it from all relations to something other than

itself, in order to let it stand on its own for itself

alone. But the artist’s peculiar intention already aims in

this direction. The work is to be released by him to its

pure self-subsistence. It is precisely in great art --

and only such art is under consideration here -- that the

artist remains inconsequential as compared with the work,

almost like a passageway that destroys itself in the

creative process for the work to emerge."58 Langer also

decries the efforts of artistic literature that seeks to

understand art by attending to the artist, her moods, his

psychological disposition and her personal history. If art

is a symptom of the artist’s personal feelings, then this

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procedure would be appropriate. But if art is the

embodiment of an artistic idea, then the art object is

paramount and the psychology of art is irrelevant. So, both

Langer and Heidegger direct their question, not to the

artists but to the product: “What does art create?”59

Art creates a sentient object. But is this object a

“thing”? Heidegger attempts to respond to this question with

a brief history of the ontology of thing. He touches on a

theory espoused by some logicians and inadvertently refers

to Langer’s position. There is the theory that the thing is

that in which its properties inhere: substance and

accidents.60 Statement structure, (subject-predicate) is

said to mirror the thing structure (substance-properties).

For Heidegger, an important question emerges that casts

doubt on this arrangement. Does the propositional statement

merely reflect the disposition of the thing regarded as

substance and its properties or does the proposition itself

project itself on the disposition of the thing?61 Langer

thinks that her fellow logicians support the opinion that

language accounts for the intelligibility of the properties

that are first incoherently exposed to the senses. These

logicians view the language statement as structuring this

formless sensate experience so that the proposition mirrors

the thing. We have seen that Langer disagrees with this and

so does Heidegger. His critique is virtually identical with

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Langer’s. “We never really first perceive a throng of

sensations, e.g., tones and noises, in the appearance of

things -- as this thing-concept alleges; rather we hear

the storm whistling in the chimney, we hear the three-

motored plane, we hear the Mercedes in immediate distinction

from the Volkswagen.”62

Both Heidegger and Langer agree that the art object, in

as much as it is art, is not a thing. Heidegger

distinguishes between thing as equipment and the sentient

artistic object. Equipment is essentially utility.63 These

are things that exhaust their being in being useful. The

matter, the stuff, out of which these things are made

dissolves in the thing’s serviceableness. As long as the

instrument is effective in its usefulness, the material

becomes invisible: it is used up.64 I do not attend to the

material out of which my shoe is made as long as the shoe is

effective. “The abundance of an essential being of the

equipment” is reliability.65 If the shoe is abrasive and

raises blisters on my foot, it is no longer reliable. Only

then does the material of the shoe become visible. Since

equipment is consumed by its utility, it does not seem

appropriate to refer to any tool’s material as matter when

it is reliable.66

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Art objects are distinguished from use-things in terms

of art’s essential lack of utility. Of course, Heidegger is

aware that art, in fact, has many instrumental functions:

financial transactions between artist and dealer, art

auctions with their trappings, enhancement of reputations of

artist and owner and the like.67 However at a fundamental

level art objects are not mere use-things. Heidegger

distinguishes them from equipment by art’s resistance to the

dissolution of its material. The sculptor and architect

may use stone, wood, metal and the like. In the pictoral

arts, the artist will use pigment. The musician will use

sound; the poet, words. Unlike the utilitarian creations,

these art objects do not use up their materials. On the

contrary, that which is created is there for the eye and the

ear and does not recede into useful functions. “By contrast

the temple-work, in setting up a world, does not cause the

material to disappear, but rather causes it to come forth

for the very first time. . . . The rock comes to bear and

rest and so first becomes rock; metals come to glitter and

shimmer, colors to glow, tones to sing, the word to

speak.”68 With respect to the absence of utility in all of

art, Langer’s theory is consonant with that of Heidegger.

Langer also thinks that art objects are different from

other kinds of objects for very much the same reasons that

Heidegger offers. In the literature on art, she finds that

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art is often referred to as having an air of “otherness”,

“strangeness,” “semblance,” “illusion,” “transparency,”

“autonomy,” or “self-sufficiency.”69 Her explanation for

this “otherness” includes the notion that art objects are

distinguishable from objects with practical functions and

therefore experienced as “other.” Some art objects also

have utility, say, a vase or a building, but it is not the

practical function that makes them artistic. The appearance

of the vase which was originally designed to carry water may

be so striking that it arrests the observer and claims her

attention. In this case, the sheer appearance and not the

practical function may have artistic value. The appearance

is the semblance (Schein),70 the “showing” that is, in this

case, accessible only to the eye. The distinction between

appearance and reality are clarifying concepts here. For

art, there is no reality that underlies the appearance of

art objects. There is no hidden essence which accounts for

the art object’s reality and which can be articulated as a

conceptual generalization. This accounts for the uniqueness

of art objects. The destruction of a single chair does not

nihilate the reality of this instrument, which is its

essential definition. On the other hand, a vandal’s

alteration of, say, a painting’s appearance destroys its

total reality. For art, the appearance, the Schein, is the

reality.71 The two thinkers are in agreement here.

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Langer also supports her contention that art objects

are experienced differently from everyday and mathematical

realities through the sensate homogeneity of the artistic

experience. While the artistic experience, of space, for

example, is homogeneous, experienced through only one sense,

the everyday experience of space, is heterogeneous.72 It is

capable of being experienced through several senses. I

orientate myself in space through sight, hearing, smell and

touch. I plot my special world through the location of my

body (egocentricity) and through my feelings (an enemy is

too close and a beloved friend too far away even though they

are both, say, six feet away). My everyday experience of

space is complex, fragmentary, various and multifaceted.

From a pragmatic view, it is real and actual. On the other

hand, the special arts are homogeneous because they are

given essentially to one sense, vision.73 A painting, for

example, has only visual values. You can touch and smell the

paint but not the painting. When I encounter artistic

space, my sense of egocentricity, my current emotions and

all my senses other than sight are irrelevant. The plastic

arts, indeed, all the arts are disengaged from the reality

and truth of the everyday world and in this

sense, they are “illusory”.

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To stay with the special example, mathematical space is

also distinguished from the experience of artistic space

not because it is heterogeneous but because it is entirely

non-sensate and incapable of sentient imagery. The elements

of geometry are purely conceptual. When, for example,

Euclid defines a line as having length only and a point as

that which has no parts we are immediately transported into

a non-sentient world. A one-dimensional line cannot be

drawn on a two-dimensional plane nor can a point, which has

no actual physical dimensions. Such a line and such a point

cannot be conjured up even by the visual imagination. They

only exist as abstract concepts. Mathematical space is

similar to artistic space only because they are both

homogeneous. Their essential difference lies in the fact

that the plastic arts are homogeneously sensate and

mathematical space is homogeneously abstract. The truth

and reality of mathematics is uncontested by Langer. Since

artistic space is fundamentally different, she refers to it

as illusory.

For Langer, it is the symbolic character of the

artwork that divorces it from the status of the “thing” with

its claim to reality. The artwork, according to her, is a

sensuous symbol; it delivers insight into human feeling. It

is not a tool, not equipment (in Heidegger’s terminology)

and “not an artifact”.74 Yet it is an object that is

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accessible to my senses. It stands before me as though it

were any sensible thing. It is autonomous. Yet is unlike

other sensible things because it can be grasped

homogeneously, only through a single sense and because it is

indeed a symbol. If it is a symbol, can it be said to be a

thing? A discursive term, say, book, can be regarded as a

symbol of a thing, the actual book, but itself is not a

thing. Can a non-discursive symbol be similarly regarded?

Langer does not enter into a discussion of the possible

thing-character of the art object though she does raise the

issue. “The first crucial problem that finds solution is,

how a work of art may be at once a purely imaginative

creation, intrinsically different from an artifact -- not,

indeed, properly a physical ‘thing’ -- yet be not only

‘real,’ but objective. The concept of the created thing as

non-actual, i.e. illusory, but imaginatively and even

sensuously present, functioning as a symbol but not as a

physical datum, not only answers the immediate question.”75

For Langer, the created, symbolic, imaginative character of

the artwork removes it from the world of things into a

virtual world. Langer does not do the metaphysical analysis

of things that Heidegger does. She does not compare the

“thingly” character of art, as Heidegger does, with three

ontological theories of the thing: “the thing as a bearer of

traits, as the unity of a manifold of sensations, as formed

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matter.”76 Perhaps Langer realizes that the path that

Heidegger followed led him to the conclusion that the truth

of art cannot be found from an analysis of the work of art

as a thing.

A more concrete understanding of the similarities and

differences between the art theories of both Heidegger and

Langer is possible by comparing their analyses of a specfic

art form. Since “dwelling” is so ontologically fundamental

in Heidegger and the notion of “world” so essential to

Langer’s understanding of the master builder, their views on

architecture should clarify their dispositions toward one


The Notion of Architecture in Langer and Heidegger

Langer contends that architecture as art is, like

painting and sculpture, experienced homogeneously. That is,

it is given only to the eye. Of course, architecture can be

experienced through several senses when it is approached

from its non-artistic side. When architecture is encountered

through touch, smell, hearing, the egocentricity of the

viewer’s body location, the kinesthetic movement of the body

through it, architecture’s practical functions are revealed

and so it is experienced as “actual”. All art, including

architecture, is “virtual”. It is abstracted from the

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pragmatic functions of “everydayness” and eludes the

authenticating processes of scientific methods.

For Langer, architecture is a semblance, an appearance

given only to the eye. Of what is architecture an

appearance? It is a semblance, a domain that is essentially

distinguishable from the realm created by the pictoral arts

(virtual scene)77 and sculpture (virtual kinetic volume).78

Architecture is the semblance of a human world79, which

Langer also characterizes as virtual “ethnic domain”80

For Langer, there is a clear distinction between

domain, which she understands as an illusion, and space.

Space falls within the province of everyday actuality and

scientific reality. In the treatment of actual space,

architecture creates a virtual domain. “Domain is not a

‘thing’ among other ‘things’”81 It is rather a “sphere of

influence”82 that is created when buildings with their

practical functions are erected. That “sphere of influence”

is visibly made available through the architecture.

Architecture, as art, makes space visible by creating a

domain. The domain is a people’s sphere of influence made

visible. It is the overt, sensible manifestation of a

culture’s interlocking activities.83 A functional style of

interconnected, practical actions constitute a people’s

actual movement. There are individual, actual artifacts

that are associated with this movement but the systemic

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pattern itself is not visible.84 Here Langer distinguishes

between the ingredients of a culture and its image. It is

the task of the architect to supply the latter.85 The

architect does not merely fill a given space with buildings.

The given space is inevitably transformed into a new kind of

dimension. The architect while manipulating actual space

creates a place that is the image of a culture’s world: a

virtual ethnic domain.

Since Langer clearly affirms that all art is abstract

in the sense that it is discontinuous with practical

functions, the instrumentality of architecture is not

relevant for its artistic value. Of course, she does not

doubt that most buildings must serve practical purposes. It

is necessary that the buildings are technologically and

functionally sound but that does not sufficiently explain

the artistic character of the work.86

For Langer, architecture “is the special semblance of a

world”87 Architecture is the virtual appearance of a human

world. This world has been clearly separated from the world

of nature as well as from the actual, everyday world of

instrumentality, or, what Heidegger calls, “equipment.”

This world is not bound to a cosmological geography. The

image of very different worlds can be set on exactly the

same territorial coordinates.88 When a significant section

of architecture has been razed, the return of that human

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world to nature can be easily observed. The sky that was

once the canopy of that architecture is released from that

protective/alien relationship and becomes nature’s sky,

which is an actual (heterogeneously perceived) sky. The

land, which was shaped, into that architecture’s domain is

no longer part of that human world and returns to nature.

That sky and that land together recede to their shared

horizon in the actual observable cosmos.

Many of Langer’s concepts of architecture as human

domain are shared by Heidegger. With no direct reference to

architecture (or art for that matter) as virtual or

illusion, Heidegger does make several distinctions that are

reminiscent of Langer’s theory of architecture. In his

short treatise, “Building Dwelling Thinking”, Heidegger

argues that architecture is the unity of the fourfold of

gathering. Building is the gathering of earth, sky, human

mortals and divinities.89 The earth is not gathered with

bulldozers and earthmovers although these may or may not be

utilized in the construction of buildings. Like Langer, the

earth to which he refers is again, not the cosmological

earth. “What this word says is not to be associated with

the idea of a mass of matter deposited somewhere, or with

the merely astronomical idea of a planet.”90 The earth is

not a space easily accessible to the geometries and to

physics. It is rather a domain, which shares similarities

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with Langer’s notion of domain and architectural domain as a

“sphere of influence”.

In what sense can the earth be gathered in building?

Gathering is an arrangement that occurs with the building

and not prior to it. In the building (which necessarily

requires the mathematical/engineering conceptualizations of

the blueprint) a domain is created which is the gathering or

organizing into places. In Heidegger’s example, the

building of a bridge is not a solipsized event.91

Immediately, on either side of the bridge the earth emerges

as the bridge’s banks. Each of those banks organizes the

strips of land on either side. They are not mere strips of

land but bridge approaches and exits around which the land

is further developed. The water that is spanned by the

bridge is gathered toward it and then set free. The land,

the river, become domain. In Langer’s terms, the

architecture has created a sphere of influence.

Architecture is the gathering of mortals for their

dwelling, their protection, and their security. Heidegger’s

bridge, for example, does not only gather those who will

utilize a bridge crossing but will gather people who will

dwell on either side of it (merchants, river view residents,

human services personnel, etc.). The bridge, as building,

is not merely an isolated human location. It also suggests

other locations that are set in a relation to the bridge.92

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A network of buildings expressing these interrelationships

will be erected.93 For Langer, this is reminiscent of her

position that architecture is a visible manifestation of a

people’s interlocking activities.

Since we are located as dwellers on earth, Heidegger

claims that the sky is already gathered.94 The sky is that

canopy that preserves (or threatens) our dwelling. The sky

is organized around our architecture and is noticeably

altered when that architecture is significantly changed. Not

only the earth, but also the sky becomes, through

architecture, a human location, a domain. This view of

nature’s sky as specifically humanized through architecture

is shared with Langer. Commenting on the domain of the

temple she writes, “The temple really made their greater

world of space -- nature, the abode of gods and ghosts. The

heavenly bodies could be seen to rise and set in the frame

it defined.”95 For Langer also, the sky has been gathered.

Heidegger thinks that architecture also gathers the

divinities. “The divinities are the beckoning messengers of

the godhead.”96 They dwell with mortals in the hope for

“what is unhoped for”97. In so far as it is a hope the

divinities are at a distance but preserved in their

concealment. They dwell with mortals in their concealment;

they are “awaited”.98 The divinities are mortals’

expectancies. In her discussion of the temple, Langer

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recognizes it as the “abode of the gods”99. However, she

offers no analysis of the essence of divinities in

Heidegger’s terms of that which is awaited, that which is

expected. Nonetheless, with no explicit reference to

Heidegger, she implicitly refers to Heidegger’s fourfold and

its unity. “As it presented this space to popular thought

it unified earth and heaven, men and gods.”100

Both Heidegger and Langer make clear distinctions

between the abstract notion of geometric space and the

domain of human location. However, there is, for them, a

significant difference in which of the two is prior. This

difference is significant because it leads us to see the

explicit ontological thrust of Heidegger and the lack of an

explicit metaphysical task in Langer’s work.

We have seen that Langer makes clear distinctions among

the everyday experience of space, the

mathematical/scientific experience of space (both of which

are considered to be actual) and the virtual space created

by the plastic arts. We have seen her argue that

architecture is the creation of virtual space by treating

actual space. Her position appears to assume that before

the building can be erected there must first be an actual

space, perhaps referred to as the building site. This seems

to be consonant with our own experience of architecture.

Before a building is erected, a site must be chosen. If the

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selected site is already occupied with a building, then that

building must first be razed to “clear the site” for the new

building. The suitability of the proposed site must include

important engineering considerations. The architectural

engineer will bring the abstractions of mathematics to bear

upon this actual space, which is heterogeneously accessible

to the several senses. However, Heidegger thinks that this

vision of spatial reality is truncated. When seen from the

perspective of ontology, the reverse is the case.

For Heidegger, spaces receive their being from

locations and not from ‘space’.101 The meanings of “location”

and “space” here are in the context of Heidegger’s ontology.

A location does not precede a building. The location occurs

with the building.102 Heidegger’s bridge could occupy any

number of spots along the river but just “one of them proves

to be a location, and does so because of the bridge.”103

Locations are constructed with the architecture.

Locations allow for spaces to emerge. Doing an

etiological analysis of the word that designates space, in

German, Raum, Rum, Heidegger finds that the word originally

means a clearing: “something that has been made room for,

something that is cleared and free, namely within a

boundary.”104 So, at bottom, the meaning of space is that

for which room has been created.105 Room and its space are

created with the building. The space and its boundaries are

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“gathered” by the location, which is created by the

building. All other meanings of space follow upon this one.

The intervening distances between locations can be

regarded as “mere positions between which lies a measurable

distance”.106 Distances between myself and “mere positions”

and between and among locations considered as “mere

positions” can be understood as intervals of intervening

space.107 The anonymity of the building grows when it is

considered as bare position in its relation to other

positions. A further abstraction occurs when the

mathematics of position, i.e., the geometries, are taken

into account. Only extensio and its internal relations are

analyzed. Space as extension becomes, in Descartes’ phrase,

l’etendue intelligible, a purely intelligible dimension. It

is itself a spaceless space.

What these relations make room for is the

possibility of the purely mathematical

construction of manifolds with an arbitrary number

of dimensions. The space provided for in this

mathematical manner may be called ‘space,’ the

‘one’ space as such. But in this sense ‘the’

space, ‘space,’ contains no spaces and no places.

We never find in it any locations, that are things

of the kind the bridge is.108

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The condition of the possibility of mathematical

extension is the intervening space of simple position and

the latter’s possibility is the space created, and gathered

by architectural location. The primordial character of

Heidegger’s fundamental ontology becomes evident. To be

human is to be always already in a world as one who dwells.

Dwelling is a primordial, ontological condition of Dasein.

All other forms of space are related to and derived from

architectural space and not the converse.109

To be human is to always already participate in space

in a primordial way. From the “da” of Dasein, it is known

that the human being is fundamentally in relation to space.

A condition for an understanding of that which is far away

or near at hand is the presence of Dasein in all space.

Dasein radically pervades space. That which is spatially

remote is present to me by its remoteness (I know that it is

remote) and in this sense I pervade the space of the

remote.110 “When I go toward the door of the lecture hall, I

am already there, and I am never here only, as this

encapsulated body; rather, I am there, that is, I already

pervade the room and only thus can I go through it.”111

Summary of Comparisons between Langer’s and Heidegger’s

Notions of Architectural Space

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Langer’s notion of architectural space has important

similarities to Heidegger’s view. Langer’s description of

architectural domain as a sphere of influence and as the

creation of a human world is very similar to Heidegger’s

analysis of architecture. Neither philosopher thinks that

architectural space is fragmented. They agree that

architecture is not merely a collection of buildings each of

which has its own spatial autonomy.112 On the contrary,

Heidegger’s notion of “gathering” resembles Langer’s

description of architectural domain. Heidegger’s

architectural gathering of mortals, earth, sky and

divinities (for Langer, divinities occur in God dominated

cultures) is reflected in Langer’s creation of architectural

space into a human world -- a human sphere of influence.

Both thinkers clearly distinguish the space that is

created by architecture from other modes of space. Neither

thinker believes that architecture simply fills the space

that the physicist and mathematician describe and can be

entirely explained in terms of science and geometry. For

Heidegger, as we have seen, the space of physics and

mathematics are abstracted from the architectural space

of human dwelling which is ontologically primordial. Since

Langer has no systematic ontology of space, the space of

science and geometry are prior but not reducible to the

artistic space created by architecture.113 If a building is

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razed, Langer seems to think that its architectural space is

destroyed and the vacated spot reverts back to the

quantitative dimensions of the site. For Heidegger, the

vacated spot has a primordial spatial, dwelling relationship

with the rest of the human environment. The quantitative

aspects of the site are derivable from this fundamental

human location.

Langer’s treatment of architecture as a non-discursive,

presentational symbol whose immediacy plunges us into a

world allows her to describe architecture in terms of a non-

abstract “world”. In this, she is aligned with Heidegger.

Since she does not explicitly pursue the ontological

dimension of her logical position, her description of the

priority of space over domain does not coincide with

Heidegger’s priority of location over place. Nonetheless,

Heidegger’s notion of architecture as “gathering” is

consonant with Langer’s description of it as “sphere of


An important question for Langer is: How do we know

that architecture is an authentic expression of a culture’s

world? Putting it more broadly: How do we know that any

art is an adequate expression of human sentient, emotional

life? What is the truth of art?

The Truth of Art in Langer

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In what sense can we say that art reveals the truth?

Both Heidegger and Langer agree that the truth of art has

nothing to do with an artistic representation of the actual

things in the world. A painting is not “true” because it

resembles a model, a landscape or a bowl of fruit. The

adaequatio, the matching of art object with actual things in

the world does not account for the truth of art. Heidegger

asks, “With what nature of what thing should a Greek temple

agree? . . . What is pregiven to the poet, and how is it

given, so that it can then be regiven in the poem?114 Langer

has comparable, rhetorical questions. “Yet the idea of

copying nature is not even applicable to all the arts. What

does a building copy? On what given object does one model a

melody?”115 The questions remain: Does art have anything to

do with the truth and if so, what is the truth of art?

Langer’s conclusion is that art is the non-discursive

symbol of human sentient, emotional life. This serves as

her fundamental definition of art. An object will be

authentically artistic insofar as it falls within the scope

of this definition. In this sense, art has its truth

established by the definition. An object will be truly

artistic if it is a non-narrative, non-practical,

presentational articulation of human sense and feeling. It

appears that this notion of truth is grounded in the

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conformity of the art object with the conception (the


The verification of this conformity cannot, of course,

be achieved by the structures of propositional logic. The

immediacy of non-discursive forms cannot be mediated by the

language of discourse. Non-discursive symbols are not

consummated and, unlike discursive symbols, have no general

meaning, are not subject to the principle of non-

contradiction and do not affirm or deny anything. An art

object which is a non-discursive symbol cannot say something

about human sense life and thereby fall under the


Artistic truth is verified by that which is consonant

with sensate immediacy, by intuition. “Aesthetic intuition

seizes the greatest form, and therefore the main import, at

once; there is no need of working through lesser ideas and

serried implications first without a vision of the whole, as

in discursive reasoning, where the total intuition of

relatedness comes as the conclusion, like a prize.”116 Langer

thinks that intuition also occurs in discourse. When the

meaning of individual elements of the proposition is known

and when the syntax is discerned, the meaning of the

proposition is directly intuited. Unlike the aesthetic

intuition, the immediacy of logical intuition is preceded

and mediated by an understanding of the proposition’s

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elements. Since it is not only difficult to isolate the

elements of a work of art but also impossible to bestow

autonomous meaning on them, aesthetic intuition is directed

to the work as a whole. Where discourse builds toward

intuitions, “a work of art begins with an intuition of the

whole presented feeling.”117

In relegating the truth of art to intuition has Langer

left art’s authenticity in the undiscriminating hands of

both the individual artist and the particular beholder of

the art? On the contrary, Langer entrusts the truth of art

to the discerning insights of both. The intuitions that

have been prepared by an understanding of the artistic

medium with a thorough sensitizing experience with it can

claim some measure of legitimacy in determining whether this

work of art is true. The standard for this assessment still

remains whether or not the work of art is an appropriate

presentational symbol of human sentient, emotional life.

Art that does not meet that standard is bad art. It is “bad

because it is not true to what a candid envisagement would

have been.”118 Relative to her definition of art, bad art

lacks the candor required by her definition of art. It is

therefore corrupt art. Langer agrees with R. G.

Collingwood’s position that corrupt art cannot be properly

called “error” or “lie”, “because error arises only on the

higher level of ‘intellect’ (discursive thinking), and lying

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presupposes ‘knowing better’; but lack of candid vision

takes effect on the deep level of imagination.”119 Since it

is neither error, which can be corrected, nor lie, which can

be retracted, corrupt art can only be repudiated and


Langer’s definition of art contains an unresolved

ambiguity. She claims, on the one hand, that all art is

abstract in the sense that it is disengaged from any

practical, actual functions. On the other hand, her

definition states that art elucidates actual sentient,

emotional life. How can art, in truth, elucidate my actual

sentient, emotional life?121 However, in some places she

affirms that someone who has become sensitive to artistic

forms is in a position not only to understand our actual

inner life but also to shape our grasp of the external

world. “What Mr. Morgan says of drama may be said of any

work that confronts us as a major aesthetic experience: it

makes a revelation of our inner life. But it does more than

that -- it shapes our imagination of external reality

according to the rhythmic forms of life and sentience, and

so impregnates the world with aesthetic value.”122 The

logical relationships between the illusory world of art

which somehow “impregnates” the actuality of our actual

inner experiences as well as the actual external world need

clarification here.

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Some commentators have sought the clarification in

terms of the analogical status of the presentational

symbol.123 When Langer remarks that music sounds the way

feelings move, she is claiming that the insight is delivered

by the symbol through analogy and someone who is sensitive

to music can intuit this meaning. Someone who is not only

sensitive but also creative may project this understanding

through the composing of music. So, the presentational

symbol is virtual, and non-actual but nonetheless real. The

artistic image is illusion only in the sense that it does

not meet the requirements for actuality held by science and

common sense.124

The notion of analogy raises important questions for

Langer. If the element of “likeness” in the analogy is

through the formal structure of both feeling and

presentational symbol, where does the “form” inhere? Is the

form inherent in the symbol and intuited there by the

sensitive artist or beholder of art? Or is the “form” buried

in the raw feeling itself, immediately recognized by the

artist and creatively projected into the artistic image?

Randall Auxier argues that Langer’s reliance on scientific

verifiability and without a metaphysic, Langer cannot

suitably respond to these questions.125

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The ambiguity of artistic truth in Langer is the result

of articulating an actual content (actual feeling) through a

symbolism that is virtual, illusory and has nothing to do

with the actuality. Heidegger does not have this problem,

because art, which he agrees is pure appearance, is not

virtual but a manifestation of the truth of being.

Heidegger and the Truth of Art

In seeking the origin of art,126 Heidegger moves from

the work of art to the possibility that the artwork is a


Moving quickly through the metaphysical analyses of the

thing,127 he discovers that although the work of art is also

a thing, it is not its “thingness” that constitutes its

artistic nature. Together with the art work’s thingness is

its symbolic character. “The work of art is, to be sure, a

thing that is made, but it says something other than the

mere thing itself is, allo agoreuei. The work makes public

something other than itself; it manifests something other;

it is an allegory. In the work of art something other is

brought together with the thing made. To bring together is,

in Greek, sumballein. The work is a symbol.”128 While

acknowledging the symbolic character of art as a way for

its understanding, Heidegger does not directly pursue it.

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His work predates that of Langer and so he cannot comment on

the power of the non-discursive symbol as the distinguishing

feature of art and as a significant way of grasping art’s


Instead, Heidegger seeks an ontological foundation for

art, not through art’s “thingly” character but through an

analysis of the “work-being” of the work of art. Taking Van

Gogh’s painting of a pair of peasant shoes as his example,

Heidegger explains that the essence of the difference

between an actual pair of shoes and Van Gogh’s painting is

that the actual pair of shoes is equipmental. The being of

the shoes is “used up” in the reliability of their

equipmental function. The peasant does not attend to her

shoes unless their reliability becomes problematic. On the

contrary, the painted shoes are not used up. Without being

equipment, the painting shows the equipmental being of the

shoes. (In Langer’s terms, the sheer appearance -- the

Schein and not the practical utility -- of the shoes is

their reality). For Heidegger, the ontologist, the truth of

the being of the peasant shoes, is unconcealed by the

painting. “Art is truth setting itself to work.”129

Heidegger thinks that every revelation made by art is

also a concealment because, by themselves, the color, stone,

marble, etc. out of which the artwork is created are hidden

by the art precisely as art. Scientific or everyday ways of

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knowing these materials are not artistic and therefore not

shown and concealed by the art.

For Heidegger, any attempt to explicate art in abstract

conceptual terms actually conceals art. Art is sensate and

the effort to penetrate it with thought leads away from the

sensate into abstract constructs. For example, “Color

shines and wants only to shine. When we analyze it in

rational terms by measuring its wavelengths it is gone. It

shows itself only when it remains undisclosed and

unexplained.”130 Here art shows itself; its reality is found

in the appearance. The struggle to illuminate art with

theoretical reflection may lead to philosophy, psychology or

a science of art but it will hide art itself.

Art remains “undisclosed” to reflection and therefore shows

itself when it is unexplained

Art issues from the earth. The earth’s material,

indeed the earth itself, is set forth in the work of art

even as it hides itself. “The setting forth of the earth is

achieved by the work as it sets itself back into the

earth.”131 But the truth of art is not only this self-

concealing disclosure of the earth. With the setting forth

of the earth comes the opening of the world.

The world is not the world of cosmology.132 It is the

ontological world that is related primordially to Dasein.

The “being there” of Dasein opens up a spaciousness that is

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specifically related to Dasein’s work. “A work by being a

work, makes space for that spaciousness”133

It is through the work that a world is opened and sustained

in that openness. The temple, for example, is a work that

opens and sustains the world that addresses our being for we

are never beings without a world. The temple, as well as

any work, sets the “paths of birth and death, blessing and

curse [that] keep us transported into Being.”134 This world

is “never an object”135 that visibly stands before us. In

opening a world through the work, “all things gain their

lingering and hastening, their remoteness and nearness,

their scope and limits.”136 It is through the work of Dasein

that we live and move and have our being and through the

work we are always already in a world.

The truth of the artwork is found in the tension (the

rift)137 created by the earth and the world. The earth which

shelters and conceals even while it reveals and the world

which is the “clearing of openness”138 establishes the

wholesome rift in which truth plays itself out. Here is

where the truth of art: the truth of architecture, the

painting, the sculpture, the dance the poem, and the like,


Besides art, many forms of work establish themselves

and reside in the rift. How can art, which is not merely

made but created, be distinguished from these other

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artifacts? Heidegger’s response is simple. Some artifacts

are created but their being created does not inherently

define them. A special kind of hammer may be created but

its serviceability not its creativity is essentially

disclosed by the hammer. An artistically created object has

createdness as part of it.139 “But in the work, createdness

is expressly created into the created being, so that it

stands out from it, from the being thus brought forth, in an

expressly particular way.140 In art, we should experience the

createdness as intrinsic to the art object.

The special place of the artwork in relation to truth

is also unveiled in its distinction from the ordinary. In

this sense, the experience is “solitary”, that is,

disengaged from the routines of “everydayness”. “To submit

to this displacement means: to transform our accustomed

ties to world and to earth and henceforth to restrain all

usual doing and prizing, knowing and looking, in order to

stay within the truth that is happening in the work.”141

Although this statement falls within Heidegger’s ontological

explanation of the truth of art’s being, Langer’s experience

of art as “other” and “strange” is strikingly similar to

Heidegger’s. The decisive difference is that the

“otherness” that Langer recognizes in art is characterized

as non-actual and illusory while Heidegger views this

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“solitary” aspect of art as a special form revealing the

truth of being.

Without an ontology and relying on the verifiability of

the truth of the symbol, Langer must struggle with questions

about the truth of her presentational symbol. Heidegger

remaining within the historicity of the development of

ontology regards truth in the context of the Greeks’ notion

of the unveiling of the truth within being. Art, then is the

revelation of the truth of being. Again, “art is truth

setting itself to work.”

Langer’s analysis of art breaks away from logicians

such as Carnap and places her within reach of a Heideggerian

ontology. Indeed many of the statements that she makes

about art are, by themselves, endorsed by Heidegger. Of

course, unlike Heidegger, her statements are informed by

logical principles. Her allegiance to logical parameters

leads her into an essential paradox -- art’s illusion is

its greatest truth -- and prevents her from resolving it

in Heidegger’s truth of art’s being.

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Books Heidegger, Martin. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana University Press. 1982. _________________. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. San Francisco, Ca. Harper and Row. 1962, _________________. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. Translated by Michael Heim. Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana University Press. 1984. _________________. Discourse on Thinking. Translated by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York. Harper and Row. 1966. _________________. Poetry, Language, Thought. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York. Harper and Row. 1971. Langer, Susanne K. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling. 3 vols. The John Hopkins Press. Baltimore. 1967. _________________. Feeling and Form. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York. 1953. _________________. Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachussetts. 1979. Articles Auxier, Randall. “Susanne Langer on Symbols and Analogy: A Case of Misplaced Concreteness.” Process Studies. Vol 26, No 1-2, Spring-Summer, 1997. 86-107, Baffard, Samuel. “Susanne Langer’s Two Philosophies of Art,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol 31, Fall, 1972. 5-14.

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Berndtson, Arthur. “Aesthetics of Susanne Langer.” Journal Of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol 14, No. 4. 485-492. Lachmann, Rolf. “From Metaphysics to Art and Back: The Relevance of Susanne K. Langer for Progress Metaphysics.” Process Studies. Vol 26, No 1-2, Sring-Summer, 1997. 107-125.

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A Heideggerian Reading of the Philosophy of Art of Susanne K. Langer with Special Reference to Architecture

Although Martin Heidegger is an ontologist and Susanne Langer a logician, many statements that they make about art are strikingly similar. They agree that art’s significance is in the art object and not the artist’s own experience of actual feeling or personal biography; that, though art is an object, it is not a “thing” and functions differently from things; that art is not only the creation of beauty but an expression of truth; that the truth of art is grasped through an intuitive, sentient immediacy rather than the structure of propositions; that propositions spoken in “everydayness” and through mathematical equations do not articulate what art is; that artistic space is essentially different from everyday space and mathematical space; that intrinsically, art has no utility; that architecture is the creation of a human “world”. While clearly acknowledging the distinctive differences between a logical and ontological perspective, this paper argues that a logical principle Langer proposes places her in a compatible relation with Heidegger’s ontology, that a Heideggerian ontology would resolve ambiguities that are inherent in her own theory of art and that their views on architecture display both significant similarities as well as dissimilarities in their conceptions of space.

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1Langer never openly criticized metaphysics. It has been suggested that Whitehead’s metaphysics is implicit in her theory on signs and symbols. See Rolf Lachman, “From Metaphysics to Art and Back: The Relevance of Susanne K. Langer’s Philosophy for Process Metaphysics,” Process Studies 26:1-2 (Spring-Summer 1997): 119. That metaphysics is never exploited by Langer. She explicitly works in the philosophy of mind.

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2Langer’s discussion of decoration as the illusion of growth within the stability of the design is clearly based on the process within permanence of the biological organism. Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), 65-66. Hereafter referred to as FF. This organic structure of the several arts is constantly grounded in biological life throughout her Feeling and Form. 3FF. 3. 4FF. 9. 5FF. 15. 6FF. 12-15. 7FF. 22. 8”The recognition of presentational symbolism as a normal and prevalent vehicle of meaning widens our conception of rationality far beyond the traditional boundaries, yet never breaks faith with logic in the strictest sense.” FF. 97 9In neither of her two major works on art, Philosophy in a New Key and Feeling and Form, does Langer make any mention of Martin Heidegger. 10Langer explicitly includes Carnap, B. Russell and Wittgenstein here. Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1979): 83-84. Hereafter referred to as PNK 11NK. 97. 12FF. 40. 13NK. 94-97. 14NK. 30-31. 15FF. 30. 16FF. 18 and NK 72, 60-61. 17FF. 18. 18FF. 23 and note on same page. 19NK. 73 and 81-82.

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20NK. 92. 21 Langer does not deny that actual feeling may accompany the experience of art because art is given directly to the senses and so may easily evoke emotion. Her point is that stimulation of emotion is not necessary for a genuine experience of art. FF. 28. 22FF. 146-147. 23FF. 69. 24NK. 240-241. 25NK. 101. 26”This expression, moreover, is not symbolization in the usual sense of conventional or assigned meaning, but a presentation of a highly articulated form wherein the beholder recognizes, without conscious comparison and judgment but rather by direct recognition, the forms of human feeling: emotions, moods even sensations in their characteristic passage.” FF. 82. 27FF. 113. 28FF. 54. 29FF. 49. 30FF. 54. 31NK. 83. 32NK. 83. 33NK. 89. 34We shall see below that Heidegger fully supports this view. 35NK. 89. 36NK. 89.

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37NK. 89. 38NK. 90. 39NK. 89 40NK. 90 41NK. 91. 42Martin Heidegger, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, Translated by Michael Heim (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 68. Hereafter referred to a MFOL. 43MFOL. 68. 44MFOL. 69. 45MFOL. 69. 46MFOL. 216. 47MFOL. 101. 48MFOL. 127. 49MFOL. 143. 50MFOL. 135. 51MFOL. 166. 52MFOL. 127. 53MFOL. 127. 54”That towards which the subject transcends is what we call world.” MFOL. 166.

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55”Because this primordial being of Dasein, as surpassing, crosses over to a world, we characterize the basic phenomenon of Dasein’s transcendence with the expression being-in-the-world.” MFOL. 166. Italics in text. 56MFOL. 126. 57MFOL. 166. 58Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” in Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 40. Hereafter referred to as OWA. 59FF. 10. 60OWA. 23. 61”Or could it be that even the structure of the thing as thus envisaged is a projection of the framework of the sentence”? OWA. 24. 62OWA. 26. 63The utility of equipment’s “readiness-to-hand” is discussed in: Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, seventh edition (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1962), 96-99. Hereafter referred to as BT. 64OWA. 46. 65OWA. 34. 66”It even remains doubtful whether, in the essential definition of equipment, what the equipment consists of is properly described in its equipmental nature as matter.” OWA. 48. 67Heidegger explicitly recognizes how art can be regarded as being-on-hand as well as being present-to-hand: “The picture hangs on the wall like a rifle or a hat. A painting, e.g., the one by Van Gogh that represents a pair of peasant shoes, travels from one exhibition to another. Works of art are shipped like coal from the Ruhr and coal from the Black Forest. During the First World War, Holderlin’s hymns were packed in the soldier’s knapsack together with cleaning gear. Beethoven’s quartets lie in the storerooms of the publishing house like potatoes in a cellar.” OWA. 19. When treated as mere things with no regard for their significant form, the paintings are not are not treated as art and their reality can be conceptualized and universalized. But

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when they are regarded for their artistic value, both philosophers agree that their sensible appearance is their unique essence. 68OWA. 46. “To be sure, the sculptor uses stone just as the mason uses it, in his own way. But he does not use it up. That happens in a certain way only where the work miscarries. To be sure, the painter uses pigment but in such a way that color is not used up but only now comes to shine forth. To be sure the poet uses the word -- not however like ordinary speaker and writers who have to use them up but rather in such a way that the word only now becomes and remains truly a word. OWA. 47-48. 69FF. 46 70FF. 49. 71For Langer, this also explains the “unreality” of art or its distinction from non-artistic objects. “Herein lies the ‘unreality’ of art that tinges even perfectly real objects like pots, textiles and temples.” FF. 50. 72”The harmoniously organized space in a picture is not experiential space, known by sight and touch, by free motion and restraint, far and near sounds, voices lost or re-echoed. It is an entirely visual affair; for touch and hearing and muscular action it does not exist.” FF. 72. 73FF. 73. 74FF. 386. 75FF. 386. 76OWA. 30. 77FF. 86. 78FF. 89. 79FF. 97. 80FF. 95. 81FF. 95.

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82FF. 95. 83FF. 96. 84FF. 96. 85The architect creates its image: a physically present human environment that expresses the characteristic rhythmic functional patterns which constitute a culture. Such patterns are the alternations of sleep and waking, venture and safety, emotion and calm, austerity and abandon the tempo, the smoothness or abruptness of life; the simple forms of childhood and complexities of full moral stature, the sacramental and capricious moods that mark a social order, and that are repeated, though with characteristic selection, by every personal life springing from that order.” FF. 96. 86Here Langer entirely disagrees with Frank Lloyed Wright’s often-quoted phrase that “form follows function.” Functional efficiency does not sufficiently explain architecture’s artistic authenticity. FF. 93. 87FF. 97. 88FF. 95. 89Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 149-150. Hereafter referred to as BDT. 90OWA. 42. 91BDT. 152-153. 92BDT. 152-153 93What Langer says of architecture that has been inspired by strong religious communities, can easily be applied to a bridge in a bridge community. “. . . the building dominates the community, and its outward appearance organizes the site of the town.” FF. 98. 94”But ‘on the earth’ already means ‘under the sky’”. BDT. 149. 95FF. 97-98. 96BDT. 150.

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97BDT. 150. 98BDT. 151. 99FF. 90. 100FF. 98. Italics mine. 101BDT. 154. Italics in text. 102”The location is not already there before the bridge is.” BDT. 154. 103BDT. 154. Italics in text. 104BDT. 154. 105BDT. 154. 106BDT. 155. 107BDT. 155. 108BDT. 155. 109”It is not that there are men, and over and above them space; for when I say ‘a man,’ and in saying this word think of a being who exists in a human manner -- that is who dwells -- then by the name ‘man’ I already name the stay within the manifold of things.” BDT. 156. Italics in text. 110In Being and Time, the bringing to proximity of that which is remote is a phenomenon of spatial “deseverence”. This phenomenon is primordially related to the fundamental ontology of being-in-the-world. BT. 142. 111BDT. 157. 112”The world is not the mere collection of the countable or uncountable, familiar and unfamiliar things that are just there.” OWA. 44.

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113Langer’s distinctions among the abstract homogeneity of mathematical space, the heterogeneous experience of “everyday” space, and the sensate homogeneity of artistic space is a reflected abstraction from the primordial condition of Dasein as always already dwelling in space. To say that I orientate myself in space through sight, smell, touch and the like assumes that there is an empty space with which I become familiar in a heterogeneously sensate way. But this “empty space” is a conceptual construct abstracted from the primordial dwelling in space of the human being. 114OWA. 37. 115FF. 46. FF. 397. 117FF. 379. 118FF. 381. Italics in text. 119FF. 381. 120FF. 381. 121Langer generally emphasizes the non-actual, illusory character of all art. Each of the several arts has a primary illusion. Her language is often very emphatic about this point. For example, “the space in which we live and act is not what is treated in art at all.” FF. 72. And again, musical time “is something radically different from the time in which our public and practical life proceeds.” FF. 109. 122FF. 399. 123Randall Auxier, “Susanne Langer on Symbols and Analogy: A Case of Misplaced Concreteness?” Process Studies 26: 1-2 (Spring-Summer 1997): 86-105. 124All forces that cannot be scientifically established and measured must be regarded, from the philosophical standpoint, as illusory; if, therefore such forces appear to be part of our direct experience, they are ‘virtual,’ i.e. non-actual semblances” FF. 188. See also: “Illusion in art cancels the usual process of factual judgment and carries us beyond what is presented to our senses. Samuel Buffard, “Susanne Langer’s Two Philosophies of Art,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 31 (Fall 1972): 11.

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125Auxier. Ibid. 99, 102 126”that from and by which something is what it is” OWA. 17. 127OWA. 20-35. 128OWA. 19-20 129OWA. 39. 130OWA. 47. 131OWA. 47. 132OWA. 44. 133OWA. 45. 134OWA. 44. 135OWA. 44. 136OWA. 45. 137OWA. 63. 138OWA. 61. 139OWA. 64. 140OWA. 65. 141OWA. 66.