Heidegger: On the Way to Language

Not open for further replies.


Puritanboard Clerk
Heidegger, Martin. On the Way to Language. HarperCollins.

This book functions as a running commentary on Heidegger’s famous line: “Language is the house of being.” It begins with a 50 page dialogue between himself and a Japanese student on the limits of language. Quite fascinating, actually. Heidegger talks about his studies with Husserl and how Being and Time was received. It then examines some difficult (!) themes in Being and Time.

The problem: language itself rests upon a metaphysical distinction between the sensuous and the suprasensuous. There is sound and script and the signifier. How do the two relate? Heidegger offers tentative suggestions--nothing more--that words function more than simply signifiers. They are hints. Maybe we need a word stronger than “hint.”

One of the problems with “the house of Being” is that the “being” of language isn’t itself linguistic (24). Not yet, anyway. I think the Christian metaphysician has an angle on this: The Logos himself structures both being and language.

The two-fold of being. This is “Being” and “beings.”

“Our thinking today is to think what the Greeks thought in an even more Greek manner” (39). Is “to be present” the same thing as “appearance?” This is unconcealment, a clearing. Heidegger is trying to get beyond the subject-object duality into a manner of being that takes the objective back into the subjective. So what could be that “object?” At this point Heidegger suggests the message. As Christians we could see echoes of the Word speaking to us.


What does “Being” mean? There is a difference between “the Being of beings” and “Being” as “Being.” The latter means the “clearing” of Truth.

Heidegger never intended “nothingness” to function as a cipher for nihilism (19).

When Heidegger spoke of “overcoming metaphysics,” he wasn’t intending to do away with metaphysics. He simply wanted to place it within its own limits (Heidegger 20).

Experience refers the object back to the subject (36). We aren’t speaking about language; we are speaking from language. This makes the speaking a dialogue. Here we bring back the connection of hermeneutics, of the Messenger with the message. The messenger comes from the message (actually a very good explanation of the Christian kerygma).

The Nature of Language

To undergo an experience with language is to submit to the claims of that language (57). We must rid ourselves of the habit of always hearing what we already understand.

The older streams of analytic philosophy sought to make a technical super-language. Whether that’s feasible or not (it isn’t), knowing all the details about a language still leaves with one unknown: the very experiencing of the language. Yet this raises another question: can language give you everything about that language? It seems it cannot. It seems language is always holding back something. This is what gives rise to poetry: the poet seeks to point beyond himself.

Heidegger has some remarks on his earlier essay “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” To understand this--if we ever do--we need to know what Heidegger means by “nearness.” The World--the totality of things--has four regions: earth, sky, mortals, and “divinities” (not really gods, close to Platonic forms, but Heidegger wouldn’t dare say that). The “nearness” is a movement that holds the four regions together (104ff).

Nearness is a refusal for things to be “locked in” at “calculated distances.” What does that mean? The best way is to illustrate the ancient and medieval architecture that “moved with nature and landscapes” compared with the grisly horrors of Bauhaus architecture today. We are resisting the “reign of quantity,” to borrow a phrase from Rene Guenon.


The opening dialogue was fascinating. His essay “The Nature of Language” made interesting suggestions, but as is often the case with Heidegger, one wasn’t sure what his overall point was. His essay “Words” repeated a lot from “The Nature of Language.”
Not open for further replies.