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Poetic Vision & The Present Time

Our discussion centers on poetic and phenomenological vision. Goethe’s way of seeing provides an example. Bortoft’s work also clarifies the issues at stake. We then finish with a look ahead, at what this project will encompass as we move into 2018.

I. Goethe’s phenomenological way of seeing

First, our discussion uses Goethe’s poem on the Metamorphosis of Plants to show how he sees nature. Poetry is closer to nature than to prose, according to Herder. Goethe’s poetry description shows a vision that is different from the ‘normal’ literal way of seeing. The poetic vision does not define, explain, or represent what it sees. It beholds the phenomena and experiences their presence. This vision is a participatory act.

With participatory thinking, there is always an element of interaction. The poet who thinks and sees in this way is consciously aware of his/her relationship to the content of the poem via the language. The poet’s language transports its audience into a world of relationships, as opposed to making discrete and/or syllogistic claims. In Goethe’s case, this poetic vision comes in the form of moving images of lifeforms. In this way, he is able to show the whole reflected in the parts.

Those unfamiliar with the previous discussion of Goethe and Bortoft might wish to listen episodes six and seven.

II. The importance of poetic vision in the world today

In a world in which the revelation of Being is increasingly flattened, the poetic faculty can see things differently. The prevailing calculative way of seeing is increasingly static and its thinking increasingly literal. The poet, through an engagement with language, can articulate a different way of seeing. The poet’s skill of articulation might show Being differently to others, and transport them into a different relationship with Being.

The power of poetic vision is not merely in its aesthetic beauty but in the vision that it presents. Shakespeare’s genius was not merely as a wordsmith but as one who broke the dramatic conventions. In so doing, he effectively ended the Aristotelian dominance of drama. He had the gift of showing the world in a different way and taking his audience with him.

III. The work of Wholly Orders moving forward

In the first 20 episodes, we have built toward an understanding of a poetic way of seeing. We have had the benefit of those before us who kept nondual thinking alive. Now we are intent upon going forward, to work toward a vision that is needed for the present and the future. In the face of the ‘flattening’ described by Dreyfus and Kelly, a poetic way of seeing for the present time is needed. Our focus is not anti-tech or anti-science, but instead on finding a vision that offers an alternative to the increasingly calculative viewpoint that dominates thought. As artificial intelligence and machine learning advance, the danger is that we might allow ourselves to reduce ‘thinking’ to algorithms. The ‘other thinking’ called for by Heidegger is necessary today. As human beings our Being as care demands it.

The episode ends with a first look at the upcoming aims and focus of Wholly Orders.


An excellent two-hour talk by Henri Bortoft covering J.G. Bennett, Goethe, and phenomenology.

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