By Erin Johannesen, M.A., M.D.
Erin Johannesen, M.A., M.D. , Writer
In his book, Engaging Heidegger, author Richard Capobianco lets slip through his fingers the immediate knowing of Heidegger’s die Lichtung [the light]. The experiential aspects of ‘the light’ are gleaned, but left unembraced. In reading the chapter entitled “Lichtung: The Early Lighting,” I become aware of the author’s struggle to make sense of Heidegger’s use of the term. And in the wake of this struggle, Capobianco, while delineating well the linguistic and historical contexts of die Lichtung, loses the aliveness of ‘the light’. He struggles with longing to define the term once and for all, and in his doing so, one feels an uncomfortable (caught in thought and overly effortful) pinning of his misunderstanding that undermines and ultimately narrows or dims ‘the light’ and concretizes it into a realm of meaning that forecloses the very essence of die Lichtung.
Die Lichtung is both ‘the light’ and ‘the lighting’. It is noun and noun-ness becoming itself. As a grammatical gerund [or verbal noun], it inherently carries, with no effort, a full and exquisitely beautiful agency or action complete within itself…a self-agency that illumines, that illuminates within, through, and beyond itself.
And this illumination shone through in earlier centuries. The ancient phrase ‘logos’ becomes the medievalist’s ‘substance’ that becomes the modern phenomenologist’s ‘subject’ that takes first flight in the realm of Heidegger’s ‘Lichtung’. And all of these phrases, including Heidegger’s phrase, are the creative and playful spontaneity of natural light infusing and informing knowingness.
In this way, Lichtung is Winnicott’s transitional space and is so much more than light as lux, for now ‘light’ is shining-through as glade and clearing and openness; it is light as the infusion of the Being of light. Heidegger’s phrase, die Lichtung is simultaneously both the experiential and more than the experiential essence of all these things, for Lichtung as ‘lighting’ is a luminous display of forming, becoming, and being all at once.
Lichtung, however, with its staid noun-ness as emphasized by its suffix ‘-ung,’ underscores a felt heaviness as it pulls forth, or evokes, a more elementally earthbound, physical sense, or aspect, of light.
I am told that, rather than using the more modern phrase of die Lichtung, Heidegger, writing in his native German, chooses at times to use a more antiquated form, die Lichte, as his word for ‘the light’ or ‘the lighting’. Even in its sound as it is spoken, die Lichte feels lighter, more filled with space and possibility, than is felt in hearing the more stout and earth-born alternative of Lichtung. With Lichte, languaged light deepens into poetry, and light may come now also like a soft wind carrying a scent through air. Lichte, actually die Lichte, is feminine, while its contemporary form,das Licht, is neuter. By using the older form, die Lichte, in his writing, Heidegger re-infuses light with its given feminine roots of receptivity and resonance – dynamic alive and flowing – and so light carries again these reawakened qualities.