The Ecological Work of Art with Giovanbattista Tusa

by Adam Antonio Montoya, Cohort ’20

There is no doubt that close reading brings us into close relation with texts. This way of reading (and re-reading) is a hermeneutic engagement that fosters novel insights and pathways into and out of the work. It is important to acknowledge, however, that the vitalism at the heart of the work of hermeneutic reading is a reciprocal responsiveness; the close relationship between text and reader develop in relation to each other—in response to one another—that is, ecologically and alive. It is through this lens that Dr. Giovanbattista Tusa, in his recent lecture “Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art: An Ecological Interpretation,” presents such an engagement of the titular work. It is not only an interpretation that yields wider ecological implications from Heidegger’s text, but it is also itself an ‘ecological interpretation’ of the text that “blossoms” together with it, as he would say.

Tusa puts forth the Heideggerian work of art as a site wherein the work that is done is not towards a singular focus, in a singular direction, but rather that the work is a response in relation to its surroundings—again, ecologically. The work of art facilitates a site for a “blossoming” to occur that is akin to Heidegger’s recalling of the Greek alétheia as the action of the concealment and unconcealment of ‘truth’ (in the Heideggerian sense) as it is. Heidegger’s truth, Tusa reads, is a truth that is “constituent of a state of things […] as they are (emphasis added), and indeed, the state and manner through which things encounter one another is ecologically, in relation to each other, and not alone. For Tusa, the work of art catalyzes this relationality as physis, once again as a kind of flourishing or blossoming “emerging or rising in itself” (Heidegger 167) that is contingent, as Tusa points out, on the dynamic and relational “state of things as they are.” That is to say that in Heidegger’s example of a Greek temple, it is not merely a silent stack of stones when it is working as art, but rather it is a participant in an ecological state of things—at once beset by the raging storm above and also drawing up support from the rock below; in so doing it reciprocally makes possible the very manifestation of the violence of the storm and of the firmness of the supporting earth in its instantiation. Tusa likens this to a plant, who reaches as deeply into earth and high into sky as they in turn reach into it; none is more or less than their relation to each other within this instance. All come into presence together. Without this relationality—without this ecology—there is only death, only silence. In terms of the work of art, when the work of facilitating physis as blossoming is abandoned, the art in turn ceases to be “open” and “alive”; it ceases to be art. Likewise, when the gods flee the temple, it is rendered silent and empty.

Pietro Fabris. The discovery of the temple of Isis at Pompeii, buried under pumice and other volcanic matter. 1776. Image Credit: Wellcome Collection, Public Domain

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.