In 2015, at
I posted a note about what then appeared to be the impending construction of a great astronomical telescope atop Hawaii’s 14,000-foot Mauna Kea. The construction was opposed with chants and picket lines by native Hawaiian shamans and University of Hawaii theoreticians interested in laying cultural groundwork for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but Barack Obama was President and I was optimistic. Optimistically, I illustrated my note with this fantasy of the telescope towering over the Black Forest ski hut where Martin Heidegger dressed up in peasant garb and went shrooming for the Authentic.
Two years later, it’s obvious that my Photoshopped optimism was incoherent. I had appropriated an architect’s rendering of the telescope in its rightful elemental night, but during the hours of his waking Martin Heidegger oversaw from the windows of his squat sturdy hut a mountain landscape brimming with illumined fog. Because I had left the night unmodified as a single layer of dark around the telescope, the image I manipulated couldn’t withstand the next two years. Image-fogging light overspread, innuendos of divinity took effect, and as of 2017 the sky has repopulated itself with horoscopic cartoons and there is a real possibility that the telescope never will be built.
But Photoshop offers everyone who sees an image the opportunity to resee it. Accepting the second chance, I will try to reimagine the telescope as if seen at sunset, when the shamans retire to watch Fox News. As dark flows up the flank of the mountain, the dome beginning its nightly labor of vision may serve thought as an emblem of hope: an eye opening to receive light from a not yet visible star.
Can anticipating sight and a star help us navigate a way of our own through the dark?
Visible only in the tropics – that is, in the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn – this is the zenith passage or Lahaina noon: the moment when the sun is directly overhead and an object standing vertically will cast no shadow. In the tropics it comes twice a year: when the sun is on its way north to the Tropic of Cancer (which it will reach at the summer solstice) and when it is on its way back south to the Tropic of Capricorn (which it will reach at the winter solstice). In Hawaii, where I took this picture today, the dates are in May and July.
And the picture’s title comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson, “I had been hungry all the years.”
Ostensibly a work of modern non-fiction, Martin Heidegger’s autobiographical essay “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” (text below) is written in the language of a pastoral genre that had been popular in Germany since the nineteenth century: the novel of blood and soil (Blut und Boden), “which idealized its subject and painted the mythology of peasant life, far from the crossroads of the world” (Mosse 138). During the Third Reich the genre was cultivated like an agribusiness crop, and as its formulas became part of the vocabulary of the state they acquired a derisive nickname, Blubo. Heidegger himself disliked the term Blut und Boden, but the narrator of his essay speaks its language like a native.
“Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” was published in 1934. As of 2015, many wars and a holocaust later, an international consortium of astronomers is attempting to build a great telescope atop Hawaii’s 14,000-foot extinct volcano Mauna Kea, one of the world’s premier sites for an observatory. However, the road to the construction site is being intermittently blocked by a group of native Hawaiian cultural practitioners who claim that to build anything atop Mauna Kea except altars to the volcano goddess is (as their media releases put it) a desecration. Speaking of desecration, Heidegger’s great object of hate René Descartes wrote a theory of the telescope, and I’m sure that if Heidegger were in Hawaii now he’d be up there at the roadblocks himself.
As he raised his voice in a chant of protest, he’d be joined by some of my post-colonialist colleagues from the University of Hawaii. For them and for Heidegger, then, this collegial contribution in the rational language of Descartes and Photoshop. It depicts the mountain hut where Martin Heidegger grew his deep thoughts out of the Boden. One peak higher, goddess willing, will arise the Thirty Meter Telescope.
George Mosse, ed. Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1966.
Click the link to access Heidegger’s “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?”
“Life consists / Of propositions about life.”
[Hawaii moon; 300-mm lens; cloud; chromatic aberration magnified by the cloud.
Click to enlarge.]