Walter Biemel
The Happenings of Truth

It is a miracle that this museum island exists. It was not possible to predict what is happening here, and so it is equally difficult to describe or grasp it. First of all, the extraordinary thing is that something was not simply founded and established here, but that a process was brought to life, that the island is a place where spiritual life is born.

But what is a place where spiritual life is born? Heidegger reflected about the nature of place, in various essays. A place is not a certain point in space, but a place is something that makes the space possible. To understand place and its meaning we have to know what it means that man is the being that can dwell. Place is where man is at home. Place is a rare thing.

Men and women are homeless. One sign of this is increasing violence. People think they can make room for themselves on earth by force. But force does not bestow a place, it destroys the possibility of living in a place. It is devastating to see how violence is constantly increasing on earth and that its destructive force is growing. Violence cannot be overcome by violence. The outlook for the future is grim in violent times. People live against each other, instead of together. The struggle of all against all takes various forms. The desire to outdo is not just the motor

of competitive thinking in commerce, the struggle for power in politics, the thrust towards new things in art. It leads to increasing isolation at the same time. Everyone tries to cut himself off, and has eyes only for the territory that he wants to dominate.

Why does all that have to be said? What has it to do with the island? Apparently nothing, in reality everything. For the island is a space transformed, in other words the place where human dwelling is sought, where it is prepared. Without a place man loses his being. Alright, he vegetates along, but he is not actually living. He is subsumed in the constant struggle to assert himself. And he sees gaining power and force as the form this self-assertion takes.

Why do we need the island? Because it bestows a place on us; because through it we can experience what it means to have a place where we can dwell, where we are at home. Heidegger’s statement about the nature of place, when discussing Trakl, helps us to understand the island better. “ The place assembles to itself, supremely and extremely. This assembling power penetrates and permeates everything. The place, the assembling power, draws in to itself, preserves what has been drawn in, but not like an enclosing capsule, but in such a way that it shines through and illuminates the assembling collecting power, thus first releasing it into its nature.” (Unterwegs zur Sprache, Pfullingen 1959, p. 37)

We must understand the island as an assembly of this kind. That is its task, its meaning, the thing that distinguishes it. But it acquires this significance only through the people who belong to this place, who make up this place.

Being at home involves being intimate. Being intimate with nature, with one’s fellow human beings, with the things that surround us, with the super-human, and also being familiar with things that are un-homely. For there is no life without death. The island is the place for being intimate. Here nature is not exploited and exhausted by man, but tended by him, with care addressed to things that grow and flourish. It is loving care. The changing seasons are particularly visible here.

But however important this relationship with nature is, however much it forms the basis of our life, it does not exhaust our existence. Human life also needs a relationship with art. What happens in art? It liberates us from the constraints of the usable and useful, and opens up man’s basic ability to relate to fellow-humans and the superhuman. The island does not just open up contacts with the works of art, but also contact with the artists themselves. We can participate in their creative work, whether this is in the realms of fine art, or music, or poetry.

Being close to artists enriches us, opens us up to the happenings within art. These are the happenings of truth. We are used to seeing truth as a statement conforming with a state of affairs. That is incorrect. For such a conformity to be possible, man has to be open to the things encountering him. Heidegger calls this Offenständigkeit – a state of openness. And the thing that is showing itself to us must be accessible, and so must also be in the open. Art involves a release – not just of what is, but of man’s relation to what is. We do not usually see this relation, but only whatever it makes accessible. This relation is not fixed once and for all, but has to keep unfolding anew. And it is in this unfolding that our world becomes accessible to us.

Today we are so fascinated by the way in which science and technology with their wonderful inventions and results grasp and control nature that we ignore the fact that such a domination also carries the risk of destroying nature, but we still know little about the transformation imposed upon the man who has to live with this attitude. And art is the very thing that can teach us something about this. I once said that we live like blinded blind men who do not know that they are blind. Art, and philosophy as well, are in a position to enlighten us. The island is the place where people being together, living together, working together can redeem us from our hectic days and thus allow us to distance ourselves from everything that compels and pressures us, and that also means, restricts us. For the island is open to the great diversity of all possible human relations. It is a place for creating, for contemplating, for meditating. Here it is possible for a conversation to be held between seekers who are following their own paths, but who need to come to terms, without the compulsion of duties and tasks. Promoting young talents and offering outstanding performances is also part of the island’s approach – so that a sense of art can unfold for increasingly wide circles. We all need this unfolding.

Here there is life without violence, here there is the joy of true meetings. As this place, the island thrusts into our world like an “island” in the hectic hurly-burly of our lives. We must all be grateful for this and happy to be members of this place, able to take part in the island life.

The place has a particular atmosphere, a particular mood – and it is this mood that leads to the unfolding of openness. What is the mood of the island? It is freedom for those things that make our lives happy, inspired, moved. And it is also stillness – keeping away everything that disturbs, and thus allowing us. to find ourselves, precisely as we are responding to what others are doing, saying to us, showing us. Thus the island becomes a place of “conversation”. We learn to listen to each other. And it is in this ability to hear that the assembly mentioned above takes place, the assembly that makes the place distinct and creates friendship. For the island is a place of friendship.

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