The reason we know very much about Hölderlin isn't from Schelling or Hegel who actually knew him, but from Heidegger, many years after his death, to help fill out the nature of art in his ontology. Over the years, though, I've heard many people smarter than I am say that Heidegger's interpretation of Hölderlin was deeply flawed.

Now, granted, Heidegger and Hölderlin focused on very different things, but I've never been able to get a clear and concise sense of what Heidegger got wrong about his Hölderlin lectures. Does anyone understand it well enough to condense it down to a few paragraphs?

  • with "we know very much about Holderlin" are you speaking about "understanding", I think (and not about biography). Clearly, Heidegger's is an interpretation, and thus it is debatable (as any). May 7, 2018 at 17:07
  • See Höllderlin : "Hölderlin was also a thinker who wrote, fragmentarily, on poetic theory and philosophical matters. His theoretical works, such as the essays "Das Werden im Vergehen" ("Becoming in Dissolution") and "Urteil und Sein" ("Judgement and Being") are insightful and important if somewhat tortuous and difficult to parse. 1/2 May 7, 2018 at 17:18
  • They raise many of the key problems also addressed by his Tübingen roommates Hegel and Schelling, and, though his poetry was never "theory-driven", the interpretation and exegesis of some of his more difficult poems has given rise to profound philosophical speculation by thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Alain Badiou." 2/2 May 7, 2018 at 17:18
  • See also Hölderlin : "we must note that Heidegger saw in Hölderlin a prophetic figure, but it was Hölderlin the poet, not the philosopher, whom Heidegger had in mind. In Being and Time, Heidegger first introduces his key idea of the forgetting of the question of Being. His later thought develops this idea which leads to the thought that poetry announces a new clearing of Being. This echoes Hölderlin’s privileging of poetry with respect to conceptual thought. 1/2 May 7, 2018 at 17:20
  • We note that Heidegger’s interpretation is controversial and has been criticised, in particular by Henrich (1992, 1997), for whom Hölderlin is a “recollective” poet. For Henrich, Hölderlin’s work is turned to the past, and to our longings, both for a sense of original unity and for the freedom of the self." 2/2 May 7, 2018 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


Long story short: This has already been done by scholars, but...

See e.g. (and for further reading and sources) Gosetti-Ferencei, Jennifer Anna. Heidegger, Hölderlin, and the subject of poetic language: Toward a new poetics of Dasein. Fordham Univ Press, 2004:

It has been pointed out that Heidegger both comes closer to Hölderlin than any other reader ever has to any poet, and, at the same time, that "Hölderlin says exactly the opposite of what Heidegger makes him say" (Paul de Alan) - that "Hölderlin's poetry is turned into its opposite by the use Heidegger makes of it" (Otto Pöggeler). Derrida has suggested that Heidegger's interpretations are a "catastrophe", and the reader who takes note of the political undercurrents in Heidegger's interpretations - particularly in the lecture courses on Hölderlin - is puzzled in comparing Heidegger's political gestures to Hölderlin's largely ignored - and in Heidegger's reading almost entirely silenced - political thinking (p. 8)

In essence, the criticism is detailed and spread over a couple of works. It is quite impossible to nail it down in a few paragraphs in its entirety without losing much of the good content produced over the decades on that topic.

One of the more detailed ones with both acceptable length and detail can be found in form of the title-giving essay of Henrich, D., & Förster, E. (1997). The Course of Remembrance and Other Essays on Hölderlin. Stanford University Press :

"The Course of Remembrance” contains perhaps the most detailed account of Henrich’s multifaceted and complex critique of Heidegger, who himself had devoted a lecture course and an influential essay to the interpretation of this poem (p. 10)

The sources I read on the topic agree on that Heidegger is actively making Hölderlin "his" Hölderlin, i.e. uses him for what he himself wants to say instead of even considering what Hölderlin himself has actually thought or meant. He even straight out denied the relevance or need of understanding Hölderlin's philosophical and historical setting, which he justified by his own take on how philosophy (or rather it's destruction) should look like. This encompasses especially the political and theoretical thinking of Hölderlin.

Regarding the theoretical thinking, one must bear in mind that Judgment and Being - Hölderlin's most important fragment on theoretical philosophy, having had great impact in the interpretation of Hölderlin's poetical work as well - had not been published before 1970 and one would be misguided to criticise Heidegger for not taking it into consideration - apart from his methodological reasons for not doing so anyway - though.

This little fragment and its impact could be an additional reason why people think Heidegger got it all the more wrong - from a contemporary perspective. But in general, the interpretating Heidegger did not even want to understand Hölderlin himself, despite the reciting Heidegger showing his magnificent knowledge of Hölderlin's poetry.

  • 2
    Seems it was a habit with Heidegger, his 1929 "interpretation" of Kant was also rejected by most scholars, starting with Cassirer.
    – Conifold
    May 8, 2018 at 1:28

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