“As on the First Day”: The Struggle of Firsts in Heidegger’s “First Elaboration” of his “Origin of the Work of Art”

The primary thesis of this paper is that Heidegger’s “First Elaboration” of the thoughts that
would emerge as his essay on “The Origin of the Work of Art” provides a tantalizing brief index of an
insight into the work of art from which the later elaborations of the “Artwork” essay would progressively
retreat. The secondary thesis of this paper is that, even if its primary thesis appears as though it were
only a parody of the primary thesis Heidegger advances in Kant and the Problem of the Metaphysics, the
index in question is itself parodic. Specifically—and this is the tertiary thesis—Heidegger follows
Mephistopheles in parodying the angelic celebration of creation in the “Prologue in Heaven” with which
Goethe’s Faust begins. Returning repeatedly to the angelic phrase, “as on the first day” (wie am ersten
Tag), the paper asks, in short, why Heidegger for a moment adopts this phrase to capture the struggle
from which the work of art originates—and why, in turn, he erases it ever afterwards.

Peter Fenves, the Joan and Serapta Professor of Literature at Northwestern University is a professor of
German, Comparative Literary Studies, Jewish Studies, and Asian Languages and Cultures. He is the
author of several books, most recently Walter Benjamin entre los filósofos (Santiago and Buenos Aires),
The Messianic Reduction: Benjamin and the Shape of Time (Stanford), and Late Kant: Toward another
Law of the Earth (New York and London).