The Simile of the Wax Mass

Assume then, by way of simile, that our souls contain something like a wax mass, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, sometimes purer, sometimes more impure, sometimes harder, sometimes softer, and sometimes of just the right quality. [Everything that we immediately perceive, and also everything that we take in and comprehend, is imprinted upon it] … This wax mass, we say, is a gift of the mother of the Muses. (210)

Heidegger’s Interpretation
The soul is a wax mass, into which all experiences are imprinted, its capacity to receive these impressions varies with the individual: “sometimes larger, sometimes smaller…” We can draw upon the impressions contained in this wax mass, in order to hold before ourselves that which is no longer present, or we are no longer with. We have a “connection of being” to what is absent, in the same way that an artist can “visualise and freely form their work in its entire fullness, prior to and without the help of any outline.” i.e. without a body being present. This capacity is the gift of the mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, which belongs to the essence of the soul as a “primordial dowry.” (210)

Heidegger says this gift of Mnemosyne is not recollection but the faculty of “mindfulness,” the capacity of the soul to make-present that which is not physically there. In making-present that which is absent, we do not orient ourselves towards an inwardly stored image, but outwards towards the thing itself in its full appearance, which we “betake” ourselves to “without removing ourselves from our factual location.” (212) Since we do not have the thing itself before us from which to draw its eidos, its look, we orient ourselves to its eidolon, its “look-alike” [also simulacrum] stored in the wax mass of the soul.

The comportment towards these beings made-present is one of holding; “we hold ourselves before beings by simultaneously holding ourselves to them.” Holding is meant in the same way as holding to someone, not giving up on them, a constant concerned relationship towards. We hold ourselves towards all beings, because not all beings can be bodily present. Yet as we know, our relationship to what we retain can change, we can forget, or the thing we keep-in-mind may itself change so that our knowledge of it becomes distorted.

Further understandings of the faculty of mindfulness are explored in the simile of the aviary, in which the capacity for something to be present and absent is set out.

Next post: The Simile of the Aviary          Previous post: What Lies Between

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