115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hölderlin’s Continental Romanticism: A “Tragic Union” of Subject and Object Der Tod des Empedokles

James Donelan, University of California, Santa Barbara

Hölderlin’s play, Der Tod des Empedokles, along with the essays he wrote about it, posit a  “tragic union” of word and deed that synthesizes many key issues in German Idealism and later continental philosophy

Proposal: 

Friedrich Hölderlin’s life and works have long been the study of continental philosophers in search of a starting point, a passage, or even a phrase to provide the occasion for investigations into the nature of dialectics, ontology, aesthetics, and epistemology. Nevertheless, the unity of poetry and philosophy represented by this author, whose works included important philosophical essays as well as poems, a novel, and a play, remains elusive. I will argue that Hölderlin’s play, Der Tod des Empedokles, along with the essays he wrote about it, posit that unity in what Hölderlin calls the “tragic union” of word and deed. Consequently, the version of Hölderlin’s poetics described by twentieth-century philosopher/critics such as Adorno, Heidegger, and Szondi, transforms itself slightly, revealing a synthesis of the Hegelian unity of art and religion with the tragic unity of word and deed implied by Empedocles’ death in the fires of Mt. Etna. In this final moment, the observing philosophical subject—the man who created the first analytic of the four elements—becomes one with the elements themselves, collapsing subject and object in the course of dramatic narrative.