Heidegger’s Peasant Shoes?

While doing laundry at Central Coffee, I ran into a passage in “The Origin of the Work of Art” by Heidegger.

He compared peasant shoes with a well-known painting by Van Gogh of peasant shoes. He wrote of the shoes (and not the painting), “Everyone is acquainted with them.” (p. 32, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Poetry, Language, Thought) For my part, I had never seen peasant shoes, until I googled them:

peasant shoes

Then I took a look at Van Gogh’s famous paintings at these shoes:

shoes from 1887

Although I can see similarities between the peasant shoes from google and Van Gogh’s peasant shoes, I was surprised to learn that Van Gogh’s shoes were probably a pair of peddler’s shoes.

What are peasant shoes? Has anyone seen them since – at least in the English speaking world – there haven’t been any peasants for centuries?

Philosophy is difficult in a world without pith and constancy.

Update 18 July 2014 Thanks to a reader who goes by the moniker, Peasant Painter, for updating me and letting me know that the shoes below aren’t peasant shoes but ones used for Chinese foot binding.

foot binding shoes

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4 Comments

  1. this image is in reverse. See the signature on the bottom left which should be on the bottom right. The picture needs to be flipped Left to Right.

  2. The first image is not of peasant shoes, but of fancy Chinese shoes for a woman with bound feet. In China, peasant shoes would be hand-sewn flat ones, woven sandles, or in the twentieth century ‘liberation shoes’ which are army surplus sneakers. Moreover, it doesn’t matter that these particular Van Gogh shoes may be belong to a peddler, he painted many shoes, some of which were surely peasant shoes. They were certainly all working class shoes, which I think is the point. Anyway, there is not such a difference between a peasant or a peddler’s shoe. It’s just a practical sturdy boot.

    I have a little collection of peasant shoes… including Chinese ones…

    Also, I’m surprised you think that ‘there haven’t been peasants for centuries’. Apart from the fact Van Gogh was painting in the late 19th century, my research in Sweden and Spain has found there were people living very much a ‘peasant’ life style (collecting water from a well, out door latrines, small holdings supplemented with labouring) up until the 1960s. I agree that the UK industrialised a lot earlier, but I’m sure if you went to more isolated areas of the British Isles earlier in the 20th century, you’d find even there people living what might be called a ‘peasant life style’. Still, it is curious that in English the word ‘peasant’ implies something far in the past, and also an insult. Obviously I can’t vouch for all the languages in the world, but in the languages I know well (Swedish and Spanish) the word for ‘peasant’ can be used to describe a farmer or farm worker now (there is no sense of the past) and it doesn’t imply an insult. It just means what it means. Perhaps this is something to bear in mind when Heidegger is writing about peasants, and peasant shoes – he is writing in German after all.

  3. Hi, thanks for bringing this to my attention. There’s so much in the way of figuring out what peasant shoes look like. When I googled peasant shoes years ago, Google gave me the wrong shoes. Thanks for correcting me. I hope the above are peasant shoes.

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