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Heidegger and Language

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The essays collected in this volume take a new look at the role of language in the thought of Martin Heidegger to reassess its significance for contemporary philosophy. They consider such topics as Heidegger’s engagement with the Greeks, expression in language, poetry, the language of art and politics, and the question of truth. Heidegger left his unique stamp on language, giving it its own force and shape, especially with reference to concepts such as Dasein, understanding, and attunement, which have a distinctive place in his philosophy.

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14 Chapters

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One: Heidegger’s Ontological Analysis of Language



Heidegger’s Ontological Analysis of Language

Daniel O. Dahlstrom

Language occupies a central position in Heidegger’s later thinking, from his controversial yet telling pronouncements that “language speaks” and “language is the house of being” to his insistence on thinking through the language of poets, sensitive to how our very access to things hangs on our words.1 Much attention is thus rightly devoted to the interpretation of Heidegger’s mature views of language. Yet already in Sein und Zeit Heidegger gives a complex and compelling if frustratingly truncated account of language. On the one hand, it is possible to see if not the anticipation then at least the seeds of his mature views in that account. On the other hand, the early account is abbreviated to a fault, a sure sign that his views at the time are less than full formed. Precisely in this respect, interpretation is faced here with the familiar Herculean task of being generous, critical, and reflexive. The interpretation must find its own words to supplement Heidegger’s remarks, with a view to examining the meaning of language for his thinking, both early and late. In other words, the interpretation must think and speak for itself as it attempts to say not simply what is unsaid by Heidegger himself about language but what he was or, better, should have been trying to say.


Two: Listening to the Silence: Reticence and the Call of Conscience in Heidegger’s Philosophy



Listening to the Silence: Reticence and the Call of Conscience in Heidegger’s Philosophy

Walter Brogan

In the sections of Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit on being-towards-death that seem more and more to me to speak of mortal community, the passages on anticipation (Vorlaufen) are particularly telling. Heidegger says: “Anticipation discloses to existence that its extreme inmost possibility lies in giving itself up, and thus it shatters all one’s clinging to whatever existence one has reached.”1 Being-towards-death teaches us not to hold on to ourselves. But in doing so, Heidegger says, it also frees us from the grasp of others and frees others from our grasp. Not holding on to others does not mean being out of touch with them. Thus Heidegger continues: “As the non-relational possibility, death individualizes, but only, as the possibility not-to-be-bypassed, in order to make Dasein as being-with understand the potentialities-of-being of the others.”2 Dasein is not a reified or pre-fixed subject who in being-towards-death isolates itself within itself. In fact, at least according to this statement, it is quite the opposite. The character of Dasein’s self is such that it is for itself always apart from itself, ahead of itself in such a way that it shatters any possibility of closing itself off from what is other than itself, even from its own otherness.


Three: In Force of Language: Language and Desire in Heidegger’s Reading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ



In Force of Language: Language and Desire in Heidegger’s Reading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ

William McNeill

In the summer semester of 1931, Heidegger presented a lecture course devoted to an intensive and textually focused reading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ, dealing with the essence and actuality of force, or dunamis. Not only does this course limit itself to what appears to be a restricted and localized textual question, of interest perhaps mainly to Aristotle specialists; it also appears that Heidegger’s reading did not get very far: his interpretation barely makes it to the end of chapter 3 of Metaphysics Θ, and thus does not even approach the decisive chapters 6 through 10, where dunamis and energeia are most incisively analyzed in their own right. Nevertheless, the significance of this interpretation should not be underestimated, for it marks, I would argue, the beginnings of a transition to the focus on techn—on art, poetizing, and technicity—that would dominate the work of the 1930s and beyond; it provides the resources for the critical engagement with Nietzsche’s thought of will to power in the mid-1930s, and for the analyses of power and technicity in the Beiträge; and it prepares the way both for the later thought of a destining of Being and for the question of “the way to language,” a phrase that appears in this course perhaps for the first time.


Four: The Secret Homeland of Speech: Heidegger on Language, 1933–1934



The Secret Homeland of Speech: Heidegger on Language, 1933–1934

Richard Polt

I keep silent in my thinking—not just since 1927, since the publication of Being and Time, but in that book itself, and constantly before then.1

In the fall of 1933, Professor and Rector Martin Heidegger announces to his students that he has overturned his former understanding of language and silence. Whereas Being and Time described speaking and keeping silent as two modes of discourse, Heidegger now sees speech and discourse themselves as founded on a deep silence in which the world is disclosed.

Heidegger’s next course, his first after stepping down as rector, is explicitly devoted to “logic as the question concerning the essence of language,” which he links to the essence of the Volk. But many issues here remain implicit and unspoken. In particular, Heidegger draws no connections between his reflections on silence in the first lecture-course and his reflections on community in the second. As regards the political dimension of silence, Heidegger keeps silent.


Five: The Logic of Thinking



The Logic of Thinking

John Sallis

From the beginning logic is conceived as the logic of thinking. Already in Greek thought logic is assigned the task of identifying, formulating, and formalizing the laws of thinking. Thus logic is obliged to investigate the ways in which concepts, judgments or propositions, and arguments in the shape of syllogisms are formed. What distinguishes logic from other cognitive disciplines, from other kinds of or science, is that logic considers these various constructions only with respect to their form, that is, without any regard for their content. Thus, whether a syllogism is properly constructed so that the conclusion follows from the premises is purely a matter of the form of the constituent propositions and of the formal relation between them; the validity of the argument has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the propositions, with what they are about. Because of this disregard or abstraction from content, formalization is already implicit in the very idea of logic. To this extent the modern mathematization of logic represents merely the fulfillment of a tendency that was in force from the beginning.


Six: Giving Its Word: Event (as) Language



Giving Its Word: Event (as) Language

Krzysztof Ziarek

“What is the word? The soundless voice/tune of beyng. What is called voice here? Not ‘sound’ but the tuning, that is, letting ex-perience.” Das Ereignis, 283

Language is not simply one of the topics or issues in Heidegger’s vast work. Rather it is the issue of Heidegger’s work in the literal sense: Heidegger’s thinking issues from language, from the way-making of language and its signature trait of having always already arrived into signs, into speech and writing, into poetry (Dichten) and thinking (Denken), as though there has only been nothing before words. Language sets the tone (Stimmung) for Heidegger’s work, lets its experience unfold, lending it its idiomatic non-metaphysical voice (Stimme), at once challenging and annoying to our metaphysically well-trained ears. What English translation of these terms cannot capture is precisely the way in which the tonality of Heidegger’s thought—its idiomatic rendering of being and its event question-worthy (Fragwürdig)—in short, its Stimmung, issues into the specific “voice” associated with his texts, especially those after the “turn,” from Contributions to Philosophy onward. As Heidegger himself repeatedly underscores, it is only from the tonality of thinking that what is at issue in it can be determined (bestimmt). Understanding in the sense of conceptual grasp, the determination of the matter at hand and reflection upon it, takes place well only when it happens in tune with the tonality of thinking: Bestimmung needs to be in tune with the Stimmung. Only then can one say that the text’s voice (Stimme) is own, proper (eigen) to the thinking.


Seven: Heidegger’s Poietic Writings: From Contributions to Philosophy to Das Ereignis



Heidegger’s Poietic Writings: From Contributions to Philosophy to Das Ereignis

Daniela Vallega-Neu

With Heidegger’s failure to complete the project of Being and Time1 and the subsequent turn in his thinking began a relentless quest for words and ways of thinking and speaking that brought the issue of language to the forefront of his concerns. This failure in the project of Being and Time—Heidegger calls it a “Versagen” in the “Letter on Humanism”2—already bears in it this relation to language, since Ver-sagen literally means the failure to say, the denying of words. In its common sense, it means the inability to fulfill a demand. For Heidegger, both—the demand to think and say as well as the inability to say what demands to be thought and said—are rooted in the way being itself occurs historically, namely, as a lack, as withdrawal. Because of this historical determination of thinking, Heidegger speaks of the latter, in Contributions of Philosophy3 and the volumes following it, as “seynsgeschichtliches Denken,” as a thinking of (belonging to) being in its historicality. These volumes contain Heidegger’s most radical attempts not to speak about being but rather to speak in a way that lets being itself in its historicality eventuate out of the very refusal characterizing its essence. These “works” (I will refer to them as Heidegger’s poietic writings4) were not written with a specific reader in mind; they contain sections that are dense like poetry, others that are more discursive and somewhat explanatory, while some sections are sketches of themes. We may think of much of what happens in these volumes as meditative exercises, thought experiments, notes, and/or sketches for future elaborations. One may argue (as it has been done) that Contributions to Philosophy and the volumes following it5 are simply personal notebooks that should not be taken too seriously. But I believe that despite the fact that they are difficult to read and at times perhaps incomprehensible, they should not be dismissed as being less important than his more public writings, since they give us access to the main domains as well as to the core activity of Heidegger’s thinking. This includes especially Heidegger’s struggle with language. It is in his poietic writings that Heidegger develops his thought of Ereignis (event), to which he keeps alluding in writings published during his lifetime.


Eight: Poets as Prophets and as Painters: Heidegger’s Turn to Language and the Hölderlinian Turn in Context



Poets as Prophets and as Painters: Heidegger’s Turn to Language and the Hölderlinian Turn in Context

Robert Bernasconi

Heidegger’s approach to language from the 1930s onward was dominated by his relation to poetry, and his relation to poetry was dominated by one poet, Friedrich Hölderlin. Indeed, the model for the much vaunted dialogue between thinkers and poets was his reading of Hölderlin, and it was in the course of this reading that his own thinking took the decisive turn that is marked by the difference between Being and Time and, for example, On the Way to Language, a difference that divides the early Heidegger, who has now been admitted into the mainstream of philosophy, from the Heidegger of the 1950s, who has not. In this essay I will focus on his reading of Hölderlin’s poem “Andenken” in an effort to show that what was at stake for Heidegger in this path to language through Hölderlin had already been indicated by him at the end of “The Origin of the Work of Art” when he described Hölderlin as “the poet whose work still stands before the Germans as a test.”1 Hölderlin was for Heidegger the poet who, if the Germans decided in his favor by listening to the language of his poetry, could lead them to another place, a place where Western metaphysics no longer held sway. This is why Hölderlin was for Heidegger not one poet among others but a destiny for philosophy.2


Nine: Truth Be Told: Homer, Plato, and Heidegger



Truth Be Told: Homer, Plato, and Heidegger

Dennis J. Schmidt

The question that I want to ask concerns what Aristotle called the the basic movement of life. More precisely, I want to ask how we might speak of this movement without losing its elemental unity and its dynamic character. An assumption that I will make, but not defend, is that the language of philosophy—that is, the language of the concept—is poor at following this movement since such language aims at capturing and grasping this movement. But I want to suggest that one finds an interesting answer to this question of the proper way of speaking of this movement of life when one turns to Heidegger’s reading of Homer, since in Homer’s language Heidegger finds a way of following this movement, this movement of all appearance, that is closed to the less agile, conceptual language of philosophy. What Homer offers that is foreclosed to our philosophical habits—habits that are amplified by the habits of understanding characterizing modernity—is a way of speaking of the real struggle defining this movement of life; namely, that life both shows and hides itself in its movement.


Ten: The Way to Heidegger’s “Way to Language”



The Way to Heidegger’s “Way to Language”

Jeffrey L. Powell

The final installment to Heidegger’s long encounter with the thinking of language is illuminating, influential, and an experiment with another kind of thinking. The shock that precedes this experiment is prepared for by what is called the turning, a turning that results in the attempt to speak from out of beyng. This attempt at such a speaking is thus also an experiment with language, and for Heidegger an experiment that requires undergoing an experience with language. However, the shock that preceded the experiment was not entirely unprecedented, and Heidegger provides us with slightly more than a hint as to where to look for such a precedent. Perhaps we would have been better prepared for the hint had we first read Novalis, had we first read Novalis in the absence of Heidegger. Had we done so, we would have at least been prepared for a bit of the uncustomary and unfamiliar, or at least a different version of it. Heidegger’s concern for the experiment as it relates to the question of language culminates in his final essay concerning language, “The Way to Language.” While Heidegger’s concern throughout “The Way to Language” is to enter into the ways of language, an entrance that is prepared through an appeal to Novalis, my concern here will be to trace Heidegger’s way to “The Way to Language” beginning with Being and Time and passing through the writings of the late 1930s.


Eleven: Is There a Heidegger—or, for That Matter, a Lacan—Beyond All Gathering?



Is There a Heidegger—or, for That Matter, a Lacan—Beyond All Gathering?

διαφερóμενον in Heidegger’s “Logos: Heraclitus B 50” as a Possible Response to Derrida’s Disquiet

David Farrell Krell

Is there a Heidegger beyond the seemingly omnipresent gesture of gathering? Is there a Heidegger who resists the unifying force of the One, τò, and who acknowledges the disseminating force of the many, A number of Heidegger’s translators have suggested that there is indeed such a Heidegger. Yet let it be said at the outset: translators of Heidegger, and especially of Heidegger’s “Logos” article, are a mad bunch at best, and are certainly not to be trusted. I am thinking of course of Jacques Lacan, who translated the “Logos” article of Heidegger into French decades ago.1

One wonders what could have drawn Lacan to such a text. Perhaps he was attracted to Heidegger’s “Logos” by its early remarks on reason and unreason, the rational and irrational, both of which our tradition, according to Heidegger, equally neglects in their essential provenance: irraison and déraison would be, as it were, Lacan’s home territory in the Heideggerian landscape; the relation of these words to raison could constitute the very ethics, or at least the ethos, of psychoanalysis, which takes the book of reason so seriously that it attempts to swallow it whole.2 Or could Lacan have been excited by the notion of an irresistible gathering that occurs in and through language, a Versammlung in and through a unique unifying One—the of Heraclitus’s fragment B 50, as read by Heidegger? Or, quite to the contrary, could he have espied in Heidegger’s reading, in spite of the unique-unifying-One, a force of resistance or interruption that disrupts all gathering of the In any case, must not Jacques Derrida have been troubled by Lacan’s attraction to this essay, inasmuch as almost everything in Lacan and a great deal of what is in Heidegger—above all, the insistence on gathering, versammeln—disquieted him? Perhaps Derrida felt that Lacan’s translation of Heidegger’s “Logos” was just another case of the psychoanalytic postman gathering up the truth of desire and conducting it to its final destination, delivering the logos to the door of the École Freudienne? For even if, in Lacan’s view, the truth of desire is unconscious, is not the unconscious structured as a language? Everyone, it seems, except for Derrida, knows what language is.


Twelve: Heidegger and the Question of the “Essence” of Language



Heidegger and the Question of the “Essence” of Language

Françoise Dastur

Logik als Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache: such is the title of Heidegger’s lecture-course from the summer semester 1934,1 in which Wesen should be understood in the new meaning that Heidegger gave to it in the mid-1930s. As he explained in 1936–1938 in Contributions to Philosophy, this word should no longer be taken in the generic meaning of koinon or genos but understood rather as “the happening of the truth of Being” (Geschehnis der Wahrheit des Seins),2 and as he emphasized once more in his 1953 lectures on The Question of Technology and Science and Meditation, the word Wesen should now be understood on the basis of the old verb wesen, which is the same word as währen, to last.3 Wesen should therefore no longer be considered as the expression of the permanence or invariability of an eidos and be taken in a nominal sense as the “essence” or “quiddity” of something, but in the sense of the old verb wesen, as the temporal unfolding of the being of something.


Thirteen: Dark Celebration: Heidegger’s Silent Music



Dark Celebration: Heidegger’s Silent Music

Peter Hanly

You mustn’t cry

Says the music.






We shall begin with a letter. It dates from the winter months of 1950 and is addressed from Heidegger to Hannah Arendt.1 The letter reflects, as such a letter might, on the passage of time, on renewed affections, on political circumstances. But at the top of the letter, before it is even begun, before its addressee’s name is inscribed, are the following words:

Beethoven, op. 111, Adagio, Conclusion.

Just that, no more: then, the letter itself. It is almost as if the music, summoned by its inscription, were hovering over the discourse of the letter. As if the music might enclose the words that are to be thought. Beyond and before those words, the music might be both their source and their destination—a presence both silent and resounding, enfolding everything that is spoken. From out of this possibility, a question looms up: a question about music itself, about the kinds of connections it might maintain with language. More specifically still, we might find a way to pose a question regarding the status of music in Heidegger’s discourse, of its presence or absence, its elision or its inclusion.2


Fourteen: Heidegger with Blanchot: On the Way to Fragmentation



Heidegger with Blanchot: On the Way to Fragmentation

Christopher Fynsk

Maurice Blanchot never masked the importance of Heidegger’s thought for his own trajectory of thinking and writing. Nor did he dwell on a relation that grew increasingly indirect in the later years, and whose public face was devoted to questioning regarding Heidegger’s debt to the metaphysical tradition and an even more severe condemnation of Heidegger’s political and ethical compromises. Taken in the context of an almost obligatory distancing of French thinkers from their Heideggerian legacy over the past three decades, this overt resistance has perhaps had the general effect of inhibiting sustained attention to Blanchot’s relation to Heidegger and to the question of how Blanchot’s thought of “le neutre” interrupts the Heideggerian motif of Ereignis and sends his thinking on a profoundly divergent path. How do we assess that divergence and to what exigencies for thought does it introduce us? The questions remain vital, and they are immense.



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