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The Art of Truth

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In The Truth in Painting, Derrida insists that Heidegger’s treatment of “a famous picture by Van Gogh” marks “a moment of pathetic collapse.” While we would agree, we would insist that this example does not render Heidegger’s entire philosophy of art suspect. Instead, if his reading of Van Gogh’s painting is “derisory and symptomatic,” it is nonetheless “significant,” if only insofar as it provides an indication of Heidegger’s underestimation of the plastic arts in favor of the elevation of poetry—an underestimation that may be corrected in light of what we might regard as his true philosophy of art. Our aim, then, is to see (with some help from Derrida) what Heidegger could have seen in looking at Van Gogh’s Old Shoes were the work not reduced to an illustration in a presentation whose destination is poetry, not painting. What, in other words, would Van Gogh’s painting look like were we to view it in light of “The Origin of the Work of Art,” assuming that the latter does not require insistence on the priority of linguistic work but on the creation of a truth that belongs to the Earth, in the case in point, as the ground of painting?

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