In Conversation with Professor Capobianco
The eminent scholar discusses his latest book on philosopher Martin Heidegger and the search for stillness in our own lives.
Throughout his 36 years at Stonehill College, Professor of Philosophy Richard Capobianco has founded and directed the Moreau Honors Program, received the Louise F. Hegarty Award for Excellence in Teaching, and was named one of the nation’s top 300 professors by The Princeton Review. Reflecting on his time spent at Stonehill College, he says, “It’s gone by in the blink of an eye.”
As the eminent scholar on Martin Heidegger, one of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers, Capobianco is no stranger to the fleeting nature of time. He has dedicated his professional academic life to exploring Heidegger’s thinking on many themes, and especially on Being and the temporal nature of existence. His scholarship has received international recognition, and his books and articles have been translated into several other languages.
Recently, we sat down with the faculty member to learn more his latest book, Heidegger’s Being: The Shimmering Unfolding, and how to incorporate these notions into daily life.
How did you discover Heidegger and what led you to dedicate your scholarly work to his philosophical thinking?
One of Heidegger’s foremost students in the 20th century, Hans-Georg Gadamer, was a visiting scholar at Boston College where I was doing my doctoral work. He told these stories of how Heidegger would talk about Plato, Aristotle, and the Greek philosophers and bring their philosophical thinking alive in a powerful existential way. When I discovered Heidegger, I also discovered my own passion for a certain kind of philosophy and for teaching philosophy by bringing it alive for students and others, and to see the connections to our own lives.
What is central to Heidegger’s philosophical viewpoint?
His guiding question was the question of Being. What Heidegger was after was to get us to experience what “is” in a refreshed and revivified way—to appreciate this experience and to also experience things as they are temporally unfolding. Being for Heidegger is this extraordinary shining forth of things, how they linger, and pass way. This experience gives us perspective on our own lives.
You have edited one and authored three books on Heidegger. What did you hope to explore in your latest book, Heidegger’s Being: The Shimmering Unfolding?
I am concerned with rigorously elucidating his philosophy, but at the same time, I’m trying to use the language of poetry and literature to bring alive Heidegger’s own thinking to the reading audience. What Heidegger was doing by bringing the history of philosophy alive, I am trying to do for Heidegger’s thinking. In this way, we are not only studying a philosopher, but we are also studying someone who can help us understand better how to be human and how to understand and appreciate reality. All three books try to do this, but I think this latest book is perhaps the most personal in some ways and the most poetic.
In this book, you speak of returning to Walt Whitman’s birthplace in Huntington, New York, and how it reminded you of the connection between philosophers and poets alike trying to put into words the mystery of Being. You write, “There is a secret at the heart of things that is the source of joy for us.” Can you speak to incorporating more joy in everyday life?
I have these blocks in my office that spell “JOY” and they are a reminder of what Heidegger is bringing back into view. If we open ourselves, we can have an intuition of the joy that is at the heart of things. This joy can lift us above tragedy without denying it. It is not a denial of the pain and suffering of the world; it is a transcending of it. I think this goes to the heart of my interest in Heidegger’s thinking—it offers to readers, students, and people the possibility that if we can be open enough, we may be surprised by joy. And this experience is so deeply transformative.
You discuss Heidegger, Plato, and the imagery of light in the book. How would Heidegger interpret the College’s motto Lux et Spes (Light and Hope)?
This theme of light goes back even before Plato to Heraclitus’s sayings on a gleaming and shimmering “kosmos.” We can experience it if we are open to it. This is poetic language, but for Heidegger it conveys what cannot be said in any other way, namely, that there is something deeply mysterious at the heart of things. In both German and English, “light” can mean both “shining” and “lifting up”—lifting us up and giving us—and everything—more space and room to grow, to live, to be. Heidegger often uses the image of lifting an anchor off the bottom of the ocean. We want to lift the anchor up so we can enjoy the beauty and expanse of the open sea of life.
What steps can people take to incorporate more Being in their lives?
Heidegger calls us to release ourselves from the knotty complexities we face, especially in this modern technological age, and find stillness—to move from an exclusively “calculative” way of thinking to a “meditative” way of thinking. He says human existence is like walking down paths in the woods, and some of those paths come to an end and we can go no farther. The German word for such a path is “Holzweg,” and he loved that word. When we reach a “Holzweg” in our lives, we have to back up and find another path. We are always walking down a path in this life, but it’s a winding one. We must learn to be humble and patient and open to changing as we unfold ourselves.