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Seerveld's Hineinlebenshaltung

A Christian Critique of Art and Literature

Gregory Baus

In this essay I intend to explain Calvin Seerveld's notion of Hineinlebenshaltung in the context of his broader Dooyeweerdian aesthetic theory. In order to understand Seerveld's approach to theorizing about aesthetics, it may be helpful to first consider Herman Dooyeweerd's description of theorizing. For Dooyeweerd, there are two general "attitudes" or orientations in experience. One orientation is called "nave." This is an everyday, wholistic, and primary orientation. Nave experience is characterized by the subject-object relation. That is, objects of experience may appear in some degree of distinction from each other and the experiencing subject, but not in an abstracted manner. Objects in nave experience retain their wholeness.

The other orientation is called theoretical. This is a reflective, abstracting, and secondary orientation. Theorizing is characterized by the 'Gegenstand' relation. That is, some particular modality (a "how" or way of being) of experience becomes an intentional object of cognition. The intentional object, or Gegenstand, is isolated from the whole. It is artificially abstracted from its integral coherence in nave experience. This abstracting is made possible by the analytic modality in concrete acts of thought. It is in the theoretical orientation that the analytic mode specially qualifies thought. In the nave orientation all the modalities of experience remain in an undistinguished, non-isolated, coherency.

Aspects

However, when one abstractively reflects on experience certain irreducible modalities of experience can be distinguished. Dooyeweerd and his colleagues eventually posited fifteen such irreducible modalities, and Seerveld orders them from "earlier" to "later" in this fashion: [Note the different place of the aesthetic compared to the standard suite of aspects, and also its different kernel meaning. Ed.]

The parenthetical terms describe the central meaning of the respective modalities. These modalities are said to be irreducible in that one modality cannot be ultimately explained in terms of any other. Each of these "ways of being" has its own distinct central meaning.

While these various modalities cohere in nave experience, they can be analytically distinguished by abstraction. However, there is a sort of proper integrity displayed in each modality that limits abstraction beyond these modal meanings. And while each modality is analogically related to the others (via "retroflection" or "anticipation" as Seerveld holds) their central meanings resist theoretical conflation.

The Aesthetic Aspect

For Seerveld, the aesthetic modality has its central meaning in "suggestion," or what he often calls "allusivity." He rejects the idea of beauty or harmony as central to the aesthetic [Harmony is what Dooyeweerd believed the kernel meaning of aesthetics to be. Ed.]. Allusivity, rather, is that quality of making-allusions, or having-nuances. Allusivity is fundamental to Seerveld's notion of symbol.

Symbol must be clearly distinguished from sign. Seerveld holds that "there is a structural modal difference between lingual signification and pre-lingual symbolification." Signs, in Seerveld's understanding, have a "fixed" meaning. The clarity proper to the lingual modality involves a sort of definiteness or precision in a sign. Symbols, however, are characterized by "increased subtlety" and ambiguity (89). The connection between symbol and allusivity is that symbols are specially qualified by this allusion-making quality. Symbols are suggestive of things and do not precisely "stand for" those things as signs do.

Seerveld illustrates his point in reference to two objects: a Confederate flag and a Christian cross. The former was once a sign for "certain southern American states at war with the northern federal government" (90). Now, "the Confederate flag is defunct as a signal, but it remains [for many] an eloquent symbol of an ill-starred civilized life." The latter, was once symbolic of "horrible death and Christ's triumph." Now, a cross "around a young person's neck... [may be] a kind of one-sentence sign which says "bearer adheres to Christian faith" (91).

For Seerveld, aesthetic symbolification requires what he calls imagination. Now it is reasonable to ask what relation this imagination has to Dooyeweerd's two basic orientations in experience. Is imagination nave in its orientation, experiencing things without reflective abstraction in their wholeness? Or is imagination theoretical in its orientation, reflecting upon experience abstractively?

Hineinlebenshaltung

It is here that Seerveld introduces his term Hineinlebenshaltung. Hineinlebenshaltung is, for Seerveld, a genuine third basic orientation in experience. He translates the term as "a living-into-it attitude"(84).

One might relate this notion of Hineinlebenshaltung to eisegesis or "reading-into" something. For instance, I might be said to be "reading-into" the actions of an acquaintance whom I suspect has ill feelings towards me if I opined that the person's (perhaps innocent and blank) stare was an attempt to give me the evil eye. As a point of contrast, I could hardly be said to be "reading-into" the same acquaintance flashing me their middle finger; a definite sign of disapproval. In the case of the stare, I would have been engaged in "symbologizing" their actions, reading-into it a "world of meaning."

This mode of consciousness, or orientation in experience, which Seerveld calls Hineinlebenshaltung is an intentional "living-into" (hineingelebt) "exaggeration," in which the "medium is strained, intensified, concentrated with as much correlative meaning as it can symbolically bear." It is non-theoretical, but like the theoretical orientation, "the imaginative carriage disrupts the primary subject-object relation" given in the nave orientation (85). That is, Hineinlebenshaltung is secondary, but unlike the theoretical it does not abstract from primary nave experience in order to isolate and analyze. Rather, such an orientation, taking the primary nave experience as given,

"works at apprehending it in a certain facet which eclipses yet collocates all the other modal complexities of the object. A person who is imaginatively busy tries to live into a given object's multiple meanings, peripheral nuances and tributary connections, and catch all these meanings symbolically together "esemplastically""(84).

So what difference does it make to Seerveld's aesthetic theory, that he should posit this genuine third basic orientation in experience? For Seerveld it seems to distinguish, as it were, the "reality" of aesthetic objects. Seerveld illustrates this point by Matisse's apt response to a would-be critic. A lady once remarked, seeing Matisse's work, ""I never saw a woman like that." "Madame," said Matisse, "It is not a woman; it is a painting!"" (87).

Seerveld's concern is for "the art work's mode of being there the painting, not the paint... the art work's special Dasein is one of symbolical objectification of imaginatively grasped meaning." In reference to Matisse's nude, Seerveld affirms that it "lacks flesh and blood that spills, but the ichor in [its] veins carries a heavy load of meaning and therefore, in my terms, reality." So, "the difference between Matisse's composed colors and a painted barn... is not one between fantasy and fact but one between meaningful real aesthetically qualified objects and meaningful real things not qualified so" (87).

It is the Hineinlebenshaltung that, for Seerveld, enables one to engage in such aesthetically qualified (allusive) symbolic objectification.


For more, see The Aesthetic Aspect, The Lingual Aspect, Gregory Baus on 'What defines art', and a general discussion of aesthetics.

Editor's Comment

Whether the aesthetic aspect is as Seerveld suggests or not (see discussion that supports Dooyeweerd's version), the notion of Hineinlebenshaltung is very interesting. It sounds very like interpretation, the seeing something meaningful in some way, and this needs to be before the lingual aspect.
Copyright (c) Gregory Baus, 2004. Editted by Andrew Basden.

This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

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Created: 7 April 2004. Last updated: 7 January 2013 unet, links to aesthetic, lingual aspects, baus.art, 'aesthetics' and various in-text links.