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From Cognition to Being

Henry Davis McHenry

Part II: Ontology

5. Our listening with language

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  • 1 On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper and Row Perennial Library, 1971), (...)

To say and to speak are not identical. A man may speak, speak endlessly, and all the time say nothing. Another man may remain silent, not speak at all and yet, without speaking, say a great deal.

  • 2 Journal, 1840.

It is the man determines what is said, not the words.

  • 3 See Thomas Sheehan, “A Normal Nazi,” in The New York Review of Books, January 14, 1993, 30-5. For (...)

1Perhaps at the outset of this chapter I should acknowledge a certain embarassment. At the current stage of scholarship on Heidegger, it seems clear that he was not only personally but also academically committed to the program for German national greatness or “restoration,” which developed into the Nazi regime. Apparently he was guilty, as rector of the University of Freiburg during the thirties, of acts that might have supported anti-Semitism; and while debate is continuing about the degree to which Heidegger’s philosophical position is implicated in his politics, and about whether or not his politics changed as the full horror of the “final solution” became apparent during the war, his involvement with Nazism remains troubling.3

  • 4 In R. Wolin, ed., The Heidegger Controversy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 148.

2I have nothing to add to this debate. I am using Heidegger’s words to say what I want to say, and insofar as Heidegger the man determines what the words say, I may be in dangerous proximity to him. But if I gather passages from Heidegger for footholds, it should be clear that I am climbing a different mountain than he was in the Germany of mid-century, not resting my case on his philosophical position but bringing what he says into the service of a different matter altogether, the matter of our encounters with our community’s children. Karl Jaspers assessed Heidegger as “a significant potency, not through the content of a philosophical worldview, but in the manipulation of speculative tools.”4 Scholars continue to find humanity in Heidegger’s writings; I hear in them the passionate commitment to a renewal of spirit. Honoring our commitment to our students, to our children, we can, I hope, listen for the possibility of rekindling as distinct from the wish for restoration.

3When I have had occasion to present a fact or an observation or a plan to my child, it has gone sometimes well and sometimes badly. I may, for instance, have the pleasure of announcing to him that Mom has just finished fixing him a treat: “Dus, you know what? There’s a surprise in the kitchen for you.” Or the message may be less pleasing: “Dus, you know what? You need to learn not to interrupt us when we’re talking.” I can structure the message in similar ways, but what I think I see is that the structure of what I say does not matter much in the message I see him get, in what he does after my speaking. The content matters more, I think—treat works better than admonition. Not surprising. But what matters most seems to be just this: the way I am being when I speak to the child. And that would seem to depend on the immediate occasion for my speaking to him (what he has just been doing or has failed to do), what I have been preoccupied with today, and so on. There is no easy way to figure out what incidents, thoughts, feelings, etc. may have shaped the way my manner comes across to Dustin at a given instant, and may thus be shaping our encounter for good or ill.

4But is it these pieces of the day’s experience that make the admonition into something he shies away from, if he does? Why doesn’t he see how hard it will be for him to maintain amicable relationships if he doesn’t let others talk sometimes? Isn’t the admonition a blessing with a thin disguise, like spinach? So what is it that makes my speaking ill-received? Is it that he doesn’t know the concept “amicable relationships” or its five-year-old equivalent? Why does he sometimes accept an invitation to eat spinach? What makes it taste good to him? What makes a treat a treat?

5Now, notice something: what is the automatic answer to the question “What makes a treat a treat?” Does it presume something like a structure of meaning, associated with a structure of experience? “He doesn’t like the taste of spinach!” Answers give closure; they finalize structures of meaning, the spokes of the already invented wheel. Most of the time we listen not only for answers; we listen from answers. To re-invent the wheel—for I claim that as our calling—let us listen from re-opened questions.

6Remember, first, Heidegger’s assertion (quoted in Chapter One) that listening is not the opposite of speaking. Here is that passage again, with more of its context this time. It may not seem to you on first reading that this passage has much to do with getting a treat, but listen, as you re-read it, for the faint, as yet unspoken hint of a relationship between language and freedom.

  • 5 On the Way to Language, 123.

Speaking is known as the articulated vocalization of thought by means of the organs of speech. But speaking is at the same time also listening. It is the custom to put speaking and listening in opposition: one man speaks, the other listens. But listening accompanies and surrounds not only such speaking as takes place in conversation. The simultaneousness of speaking and listening has a larger meaning. Speaking is of itself a listening. Speaking is listening to the language which we speak. Thus, it is a listening not while but before we are speaking. This listening to language also comes before all the kinds of listening that we know, in a most inconspicuous manner. We do not merely speak the language—we speak by way of it. We can do so solely because we always have already listened to the language. What do we hear there? We hear language speaking.5

7There are a lot of uphill twists in the trail in that passage. Let us go back over them slowly, trying to become a little more familiar with the topography. As I add more passages from Heidegger to this one, hoping to enrich the background listening that we can bring to all of them, it may happen that you begin to ask yourself: What are we to make of all this? Indeed, these passages, like Bohr’s lectures, may be taken as guides for inquiry rather than as formulations of truth. (They must be so taken if we are to honor Heidegger’s wishes.) We are to make something of them, not at random or carelessly, but intentionally, designedly. So how can we make these almost cryptic passages useful for ourselves as teachers? How do Heidegger’s words... I almost said, how do they illuminate our experience? As if on automatic pilot, my discourse flies through the transparent paradigm of visualized structure. What Heidegger would say is, how do these passages shift the listening we bring to our experience?

8On purpose, Heidegger begins by blurring the ordinary conceptual separation between speaking and listening, teasing out a replacement for those two values. He invites us to notice the ordinary way of conceiving what speech is: giving voice to thought, changing thought into sound with the mouth. As it is “known” by us, the salient thing about speaking is physiological, an act of production by which, we would say, the stored contents of one mind are transmitted into another. The customary picture of human communication is encoding and decoding messages. Is this the wrong picture? Instead of proposing a more accurate picture, Heidegger suggests a picture with “larger meaning” to supplant this oscillation between speaking and listening as encoding and decoding: rather than alternating, discrete activities, perhaps speaking and listening should be seen as simultaneous. Or even more strongly, and strangely: perhaps they are the same thing.

9Here Heidegger seems to combine two distinct values into one, a molecule instead of two separate atoms. If these two values were fused into a single place in a re-invented system, we might give it the name “speaking/listening,” except that the relationship signified by the “/” is more than mere reciprocity, as in “throw/catch” or “I sigh/you sympathize.” But the name of the molecule is not just “language.” It is a curious new compound, made up of speakinglistening and two new components: “saying” and “showing.” In several places in his work Heidegger dilates, sometimes briefly and always abstrusely, on what “Saying,” or “Showing of Saying,” or “showing saying” means. Heidegger’s philosophical vocabulary may take some getting used to. If you will, read through these passages a couple of times.

  • 6 On the Way to Language, 124.

Language speaks by saying, this is, by showing... We, accordingly, listen to language in this way, that we let it say its Saying to us. No matter in what way we may listen besides, whenever we are listening to something we are letting something be said to us, and all perception and conception is already contained in that act. In our speaking, as a listening to language, we say again the Saying we have heard.6

  • 7 On the Way to Language, 126.

Saying is showing. In everything that speaks to us, in everything that touches us by being spoken and spoken about, in everything that gives itself to us in speaking, but also in the speaking that we do ourselves, there prevails Showing which causes to appear what is present and to fade from appearance what is absent. Saying is in no way the linguistic expression added to the phenomena after they have appeared—rather, all radiant appearance and all fading away is grounded in the showing Saying. Saying sets all present beings free into their given presence, and brings what is absent into their absence.7

  • 8 On the Way to Language, 93.

“To say,” related to the Old Norse “saga,” means to show: to make appear, set free, that is, to offer and extend what we call world, lighting and concealing it. This lighting and hiding proffer of the world is the essential being of Saying.”8

10Whenever Dustin says anything lately, his voice sounds like some horrific cartoon character, giving raucous orders, demanding capitulation, pronouncing doom. Desperately I ask him to “talk regular, please,” and sometimes, briefly, he does. During most of his time, though, he is engaged in making up his own games, imitating characters he sees on television or singing the songs he learns at school. My dictionary gives little help with this: the Latin verb from which “imitate” comes is imitari, to copy, mimic, counterfeit. No surprises there. The school songs are always pleasant to hear, but when what he chooses to imitate is already a mutant of a counterfeit of a superhero, I wince, or worse. Likewise when he aims a gun at me, even if it’s the gun I made for him out of two sticks of wood. Is his pointing the gun a kind of speaking? And if his speaking is also my listening, and if, as Heidegger suggests, we are giving being to a world in our speakinglistening, then what is really going on here?

11In one respect, what is going on seems to be that Dustin is making up the rules of his games—he invents after what he has already encountered, says after the Saying he has heard, makes up a world to play in. “OK, Daddy, you say “Oh no you don’t,” and I’ll be the bad guy.” He actually scripts what I should say next; and when I say it, even halfheartedly, my interests tending elsewhere, it works to create a real game for Dustin. Instead of what looks to me like a dull mechanical repetition, what he gets is the opportunity for full participation. And when I do engage in his reinvention by following his rules, letting him say his saying to me, he positively lights up. Where could this have come from, this way of being?

12It is a way that starkly contrasts what happens sometimes when he is called upon, say, to add “please” after a request, or to change an order (now his usual mode of addressing us) into a request. In these cases, he can be perfectly dull and mechanical, repeating the words hollowly, his attention riveted to the television. Here, he is following my rules but there is no engagement between us; neither of us is really present to the other. This second way of being might be called mocking, and it makes me feel as if I were being paid with counterfeit money. The way I be with Dustin when he is imitating is worlds apart from the way I can be when he is engaged in re-inventing. When he re-invents a request instead of counterfeiting it, two things happen: he looks for eye contact, and I am free to respond appropriately, rather than parroting a script of my own. “No, you’ll ruin your dinner” sounds altogether different in the two worlds: if we are imitating, he may frown or cry; if we are re-inventing, he may say brightly, “OK, Daddy!” (and come back in a few minutes with a different stategem). Now, I am participating with Dustin in both cases: whether we are re-inventing or mocking, what we say and how we be arise together as we speaklisten our world into being moment by moment. I cannot usually distinguish one thing I have said or done as the cause of the world whose effects and affects show up in the encounter with Dustin. Instead, there arises in our interaction a field, an arena in which and by virtue of which our play proceeds. What interests me now is the difference between these two arenas—really, these two kinds of arena. For in the arena of inventing, we get to play, to dance with one another. We get to share ourselves.

13Is all this—Heidegger’s abstruseness followed by my appropriation of it for family life—a fancy way of recommending for teachers the old-fashioned show-and-tell time? You show what you’ve got and tell what it is, say something about it. Here is the candle, here is how the wax drips when you light it! We may be entranced, enchanted by the wonder of the presence of the candle, the object, in the child’s imagination; his showing and saying may bring the object alive for us as for him. I think this is part of what Heidegger is getting at; but his saying in these passages is showing us something more besides.

  • 9 Locke, Essay, IV.xii.6.

14He says it in three slightly different ways: things speak to us; things touch us by being spoken about; and things give themselves to us in speaking. What happens with speaking, Heidegger says, is that a whole world appears, its constituents announcing their presence and its non-constituents fading into absence. What happens with speaking, he says, is a “lighting and hiding” of the world. Is that a contradiction in terms? How can something cast light and hide what it casts light on at the same time? Well, how are we listening to Heidegger’s formulation? If we listen with Locke for language to describe things, we cannot quite make sense of speaking as a “lighting and hiding,” nor can we understand it as a cause of phenomena, a giving, a setting free. For language as description would be language that reveals, that illuminates; words would represent things (re-present them) rather than offering or giving them to us. And words certainly shouldn’t work to hide things. Dustin’s task would be, as Locke puts it, “to get and fix in [his mind] clear, distinct, and complete ideas”—by which he means solid sense impressions, gained in experiments on objects—“and to annex to them proper and constant names”9—by which he means unambiguous, consistently used terms. When Dustin is seriously engaged with the world, learning its ways and its constituents, he should be storing up and cataloguing descriptions. He should be amassing cultural literacy.

15But before we describe and catalogue, we are listening, Heidegger says, not only to our interlocutor, and not only while he is speaking, but to our language, before we begin a conversation and all the while it lasts and afterward. Speaking by way of our language, our cultural conversation, our semiological system of values, we may listen for and hear only what it can provide. Trees, Poems, Streets, Windows, Hats, Coats, Structure...—our language sets forth for us, like an abacus with its wired beads, the items and combinations of items, the configurations of values that make sense among us, that add up to meaningful discourse. And, as the merchant tallies his sales at the end of the day, his fingers zipping the beads back and forth absently, fluently, so with the calculator we use to transact our business: the language is transparent (“inconspicuous”) while we are using it. While we are engaged in conversation in this way, the medium goes unnoticed; indeed, it would hinder us to take notice of its structure, of its structuring. Our fingers would get tangled, we would lose track of the sum. Without even a first thought, I Judge that they Are Men (to capitalize the names of some beads) Because of their Hats, their Coats, and the Way they Move in the Street We let our language (our system of values) say its saying to us, and our thoughts and actions grow, accustomed in that saying. Where is the freedom in that? you may ask.

16For it seems that in our listening to our cultural language, participating in its conversation, whipping the beads back and forth on their wires like electrons without stopping to inspect the instrument, we may be committed willy-nilly to an act of being—we are “letting something be said to us” that foreordains what we see and think. “In that act,” Heidegger says, “all perception and conception is already contained.” Seeing, feeling, and acting in concert with the saying, we be that beads combine into sums, that electrons are part of the structure of reality, that Aptitude and Motivation (along with Basic Skills, Study Habits, and Attitude) combine to produce good or bad grades. In saying again the Saying we have heard, we are being in a particular way, too. If the Saying we educators have been hearing is a speaking of and listening for structure and its correlates, then we have been being given a particular way of interacting in the world of our classrooms, a certain mode of being with our students. Our cultural conversation has prescribed a set of procedures which, it Says, are required for education to take place. We have become a system of categories, wired with the beads of the abacus.

17What practices and processes in your classes can you see as having derived from, or as meshing with, the paradigm of structured knowledge? Can you characterize a way of being toward or being with your students that fits with these activities? In my case the way of being was something like: “This that I’m trying to teach is sophisticated, tough stuff, and I probably won’t be able to have everyone get it. But it is important for them all to get it if they can, and to struggle with it even if they cannot get it.” My typical practice was to hand out the material—cleverly arranged, I thought—in small dittoed chunks, to be discussed in class that day, and perhaps followed up in homework assignments. And often, in spite of my best intentions, I would find myself standing in front of the room and talking. (Sometimes, all that was exactly appropriate, and it worked: the question, of course, is why did it work on those occasions and not on others?) If you will take a minute or two—or more—at this point to write down what you see in response to the questions about classroom practices and ways of being with students, we will use the record of your inquiry later on. Teach a class or two with the questions in the back of your mind; then return to consider them head-on again. Ask your students what they see in your teaching. After another philosophical excursion—a fairly long and difficult one—we will return to these practices. The purpose of the philosophy is to make it possible to re-invent them.

18If the abacus-language of referentiality, the language of structured knowledge, articulates the activities and the ways of being you have just examined and listed, what other language, or languaging, is there? Let us listen for one. While the merchant may count himself fortunate at the end of a day of high sales, when he goes home smiling to share his good fortune with his family he is no longer tallying. His way of being with the facts of his day’s sales shifts. Now he has a different prospect ahead of him, and now his knowledge of the facts about his sales that day becomes something else. Can you hear his pleasure as he tells his wife that he made enough today for...? When he gets home what he will do is proffer his success to his family; he puts it forward as a sacrament of their lives together.

19How has this transformation occurred? What gives the merchant this different way of being? What happens when a teacher comes home to her family after a hard but rewarding day, a day on which she has clearly made a difference with her students? Is there excitement about the prospect of grading papers? Does she be with her family more fully, sharing her experiences and theirs in ways that embody their love for each other? What arenas occur?

20Somehow one of the customs little boys bring with them seems to be reliance on knives and firearms for fun. Moments free of the womb, Dustin raised his arm over his head in a gesture that I gladly took to foretell a career as a great symphony conductor. It now appears that it was only the flourish prefatory to aiming a pistol or stabbing a “bad guy.” My saying about what was possible in his case—said before he could understand or respond to it—was soon supplanted by the cartoon vocabulary of shoot-em-up, which he seems to have understood perfectly and immediately. He and I now run around wildly in the front yard, spraying each other with bullets from our “whistle-guns” (Dustin’s word for the sound we make to imitate muzzle blast) and laughing as we collapse in agony of mortal wounds. This is his saying, his vocabulary, absorbed from television cartoons, playmates, or wherever, and re-invented on the spot. (Whoever heard of whistle-guns?) Once I take it up as a material, a form of sharing, a possibility for sharing, rather than as a structured description, a representation of an occurrence, it is a saying that can give voice to our spirit, our love, shaping our relatedness as a font shapes the poured water. Its shaping saying now becomes a sacrament of our being together. Sometimes—is it just luck?—Dustin’s saying, his scripting of possibilities, sets a world free, rather than corresponding to the world or imitating it. When I am presented with a world he has “set free,” when I take it up as a participant, I can be co-inventor with him: I am free as well. Is this phenomenon related to the merchant’s return to his family?

21With Heidegger, and with Dustin’s help, I want to propose another re-invention—indeed, not only to propose it, but (with your help) to carry it out. Like Heidegger, I do not intend to throw out referential language and replace it with something else. We could not do that even if the argument here required it. The immense edifice of represented knowledge, structured concepts, and all the apparatus that goes with them, will still be available after this re-invention of language. The merchant will still use the abacus to tally his sales. But he will have, after this re-invention, that other possibility of sharing with his family more fully. The teacher will still grade her papers, but she may find that her family has expanded along with the possibility of parenting her students, bringing forth, with them, education. She may begin to have access to another arena.

22Let us start our re-inventing of language, then, by listening from this other idea of what language is: instead of description, what if language, as Saying, is creation? Cogito ergo sum, we heard Descartes saying. I am thinking, therefore I am. How could cogito give not only self but also world: self and world arising together as something like intertissued veils? What if, in the beginning, veiled, is the word?

  • 10 “Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry,” in Existence and Being (London: Vision Press, 1956), 304.

The poet names the gods and names all things in that which they are. This naming does not consist merely in something already known being supplied with a name; it is rather that when the poet speaks the essential word, the existent is by this naming nominated as what it is. So it becomes known as existent. Poetry is the establishing of being by means of the word.10

  • 11 In my re-inventing of Heidegger, I am disregarding any differences between “early,” “middle,” and (...)

23To listen from this new idea of what language is, we are led back figuratively to Adam, and to that naming which is said to be his God-given prerogative. As we proceed along Heidegger’s path,11 we will be keeping to the question “what is naming?” What if naming has something intimate and crucial to do with Adam’s, and thus our, being?

  • 12 Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry, 305.

24For Heidegger, what the Old Testament figured as Adam’s naming would be a kind of poetry. Indeed, made in the image of a creating God, Adam expresses his nature by naming not only the animals, but the gods themselves, as if he had created them! To consolidate this turning of the tables, Heidegger says that “being and essence of things can never be calculated and derived from what is present,” but instead must be “freely created, laid down and given.”12 So naming is a special kind of poetry; it makes something that never existed before, not composing it out of materials already available but laying down the materials, giving what there is to build with. We hear in Heidegger’s words the echo of Saussure’s idea of the arbitrariness of language, and this combines with an echo of the scriptural account. Neither Heidegger nor Saussure, of course, is necessarily concerned that his account square with the Biblical story—philosopher and linguist, neither is a Judeo-Christian apologist, nor a proponent of any theology. But why should there be such a persistently recurring echo? Is there something about what it is to live a human life, some antenna that tunes in these faint signals that we usually fail to notice? Since our standard notion of man as a sole subject coincides with our notion of man as confronting and receiving an already structured objective world, perhaps we will be rewarded with an insight into the ways we regard ourselves, what we take to be our place and function, if we explore Heidegger’s contrary account in conjunction with this piece of Biblical myth. And it may happen that as we inquire into what naming is, we will find ourselves being in the classroom with more power.

25In what Heidegger has to say about being-in-the-world there is not a little specialized terminology and usage. Having already encountered some of his vocabulary, you may be acclimatizing already—perhaps we can adjust to unfamiliar ways of speaking as our bodies do to high altitude. Here, as in mountaineering, tire key is to pace oneself. If you have a child, or some students, with whom you can spend time between reading the paragraphs of this book, please do so. Create for yourself a route up to the higher base camps, including several return trips.

  • 13 The Concept of Time, 6E.

26Heidegger’s central term, the focus and goal of much of his philosophy, is “Dasein”—literally, “there-being” or “thereness.” Heidegger uses the term Dasein to mean, approximately, the human way of being. As distinct from animals (presumably) and stones, the way humans be is in a world. For us, a world is “there”; and to say one perceives a world is to say one is in it. That is to say, each of us is Dasein or has Dasein in us, exactly when a fundamental assertion occurs: “By Dasein we mean... the entity that we each ourselves are, which each of us finds in the fundamental assertion: I am.”13 So in exploring Dasein we are dealing with an assertion, a piece of language—and a particular kind of assertion, at that.

27Most of our assertions are predications; they say something like “x is y.” For such an assertion to be valid, there must be some evidence that x is indeed y—that the category or thing called “x” is coterminous or coincident with the category or thing called “y.” The maker of such an assertion is, willy-nilly, in the position of supplying that evidence if it is not already apparent For me to assert that the sun is shining, or that I am standing in the sunshine, I have to be there beforehand to decide that I want to make that assertion, on the basis of available evidence. If I assert that Light cannot Escape from Black Holes, I am speaking on behalf of a structure of inter-related facts and theories, relying on the correspondence of this amalgam with a structure of observations. I am expecting you to say “Yes, and...” or “Not so, because...” The point of my assertion is to tie into an ever wider correspondence, strengthening its consistency. Such an assertion calls for investigation and proof, or rebuttal. Our usual way of using and dealing with assertions, making them and defending them, contains Descartes’ distinction between subject and object, and involves us in a characteristic stance vis-à-vis reality. But the assertion “I am,” we said, is one that “occurs.” We find Dasein in it, says Heidegger.

28It is odd to say an assertion “occurs,” but we cannot follow Heidegger out of the Cartesian-Lockean ocean of subjects confronting objects unless we see that until this assertion is present, there is no one and nothing there to make it. Of course, this defies common sense. How can an assertion be made, or “occur” even, without anyone to make it? But this common sense throws us right back into the water—for it merely repeats the background assumption that for anything to happen, something must be there to make it happen.

  • 14 The theses are published as part of The Concept of Time, tr. Wm. McNeil (Cambridge: Blackwell, 199 (...)
  • 15 The Concept of Time, 6E.

29Now this assumption, this pattern of thinking, is essentially circular—it amounts to saying that if anything is there, something must be there. Thus it shuffles off the question of ontology; it takes thereness for granted. Heidegger’s project is to get us up out of that water. He asks: where did the something come from in the first place? What is it to be? He begins to make a new dwelling for us in a sequence of eight theses (of which we will use only the first three), which he delivered in a lecture to the Marburg Theological Society three years before Being and Time was published.14 To introduce these, he has begun with that definition of the human way of being: “The authentic assertion of Being pertaining to the Dasein of man,” he repeats, is “the assertion ‘I am.’”15 What is this special assertion “I am,” then? There, now, is a question worthy of thinking—like the question “what makes a treat a treat?” Maybe the answers are related: maybe what makes a treat is the possibility it presents of saying “I am,” not referring to a thing, but speaking Being.

30So what is it when the assertion “I am” occurs? Heidegger answers, first, by denying that what occurs is the isolation of a subject from objects. Here is the first thesis, in which he relegates the cogito to the realm of metaphysical legerdemain:

  • 16 The Concept of Time, 7E.

Human life is not some subject that has to perform some trick in order to enter the world. Dasein as being-in-the-world means…dealing with the world; tarrying alongside it in the manner of performing, effecting and completing, but also contemplating, interrogating, and determining by way of contemplation and comparison.16

31Here there is no focus on the “structure” or “essence” of contemplation, on the grammatical form of questions or the rhetorical form of comparison. Instead, Heidegger brings into view a body of distinctions, as between contemplating and interrogating. He is concerned not with language, but with languaging. The concern with distinctions-in-practice—the focus on languaging—extends also into the physical world of what we would call objects:

  • 17 Being and Time, 154.

When, for example, we walk along the edge of a field but “outside it,” the field shows itself as belonging to such-and-such a person, and decently kept up by him; the book we have used was bought at So-and-so’s shop and given by such-and-such a person, and so forth. The boat anchored at the shore is assigned in its Being-in-itself to an acquaintance who undertakes voyages with it...17

  • 18 The Concept of Time, 8E, 25.

32So when the assertion “I am” occurs, concerned subjects and objects of concern arise together, in everyday activities—“performing,” “effecting,” “interrogating,” making coffee, etc.—held apart from each other by and in a design that relates them. For us (or with us or in us), he says, as we engage in our normal everyday activities, system arises. We simply find ourselves in a world, an articulation, a network where jointed parts, like the boat, its owner, and their voyages, arise together. Mea res agitur, Heidegger adds: “I am what is being enacted,” or “I am that which concerns me.”18

  • 19 Being and Time, 171.

33Now what does this sound like? Sure enough, in my speakingthinking here I have merged again with the saying of Saussure. For it now appears that Heidegger, in his re-inventing of language, is speaking Saussurean. But unlike Saussure, Heidegger is speaking not just about language, but about our way of being: Dasein. What human being is, then, is the springing-to-clarity of a world in and with a system of distinctions, as between “contemplating” and “interrogating,” or between decently kept fields and shabby ones, the coffee and the coffee pot and the kitchen. A system of distinctions is embodied in language, and that embodiment is us. (Is it hard to think of language as an embodiment—as a body? Doesn’t that difficulty arise when we look at everything through Locke’s subject/object/mind/world window?) Elsewhere Heidegger says that words “shelter” beings; his most famous dictum—“Language is the house of Being”—says the same. So we have come full circle—but of course, in a way, we started out full-circle, too, with the notion of language as articulation, the arising-together of reciprocally delimiting values along with the valuation of those values—their presence in and as our form of life. Heidegger is saying that world and language arise together, for us. “Language is the primordial poetry in which a people speaks being.”19 Here we have arrived at a base camp. In a primordial poetry, people speak being. Rest here.

  • 20 On the Way to Language, 96.

34We remember that Locke had defined his project as clearing away the terminological rubble, eliminating old systems, the received doctrines of his day. While Heidegger in his turn disapproves of the consequences that follow from the received subject/object epistemology, his philosophy is not a firebrand call to revolution. He does not reject the tradition, for the “tradition is rich in truth.”20 But he does raise the question of what ocean the boat is sailing. Is it true, he asks, that all there is are subjects and objects? Or is there another intuition about our situation here that, while perhaps not yet as clear and distinct as a visual sense-impression, hints at another ocean altogether? Here is the second thesis:

  • 21 The Concept of Time, 7E.

As this being-in-the-world, Dasein is, together with [this dealing with the world in ordinary actions], being-with-one-another, being with Others: having the same world there with Others, encountering one another, being with one another in the manner of being-for-one-another.21

35So “being-in-the-world” and “being with Others” happen in conjunction. What could it mean that Dasein exists, not as a subject against objects, but as a “being-for-one-another”? How is being-for-one-another the same as that fundamental assertion of Dasein, I am? Part of Heidegger’s point is this: when we say “I am,” in our ordinary conversations, asserting our own existence, we do not mean that others and a world are too, arising commutually. Or rather, if we ever said “I am,” if we ever felt it necessary to assert our own existence, we would not intend that commutual kind of being; we would be referring to our Cartesian self. That is to say, what we hear in that fundamental assertion is isolated subject against pre-existent structured objective world. What Heidegger would have us hear in it, instead, is “Mitsein”—with-being. We arise together as aspects of each other. Only then does speakinglistening make individuals from a manifold, dividing the workman from his tools.

36In re-directing our attention to the commutual character of what we would hear as a Cartesian declaration of the subject’s independence, Heidegger wants us, first, to begin to hear this silent assertion that we take for granted; and then to hear it in a different way. In the hearing it, we are opened to the possibility of hearing it newly. So in the present book we have already heard the echo of Saussure’s idea of “arbitrariness” in language; now comes an echo of his idea of a sociality at the heart of language: Heidegger says there is a mutuality at the heart of being. How are we to hear this? As teachers, we want to explore the possibility of an ocean of mutuality, as it were behind the beginning of things.

37Is Adam on his own, a single entity in a world of other single entities with no names yet? Heidegger says not. Rather, it is that along with Adam, along with naming, comes that lighting and hiding “proffer” of the world. Our world, the one we live in, arises together with Adam’s naming, and not beforehand. How? How do people speak being? What is poetic creation, “originary” speaking, as Heidegger calls it? Saussure insisted that language depends on human intercourse, dwells in sociality. If we see Adam on his own in a world alien to him until he names its components, we miss what Heidegger might be saying here. For if sociality is of the essence of the being of language, of naming, of poetry, then there is no poet without soobschenie, mutuality, being together. Here, Heidegger says, I am = being-for-one-another.

38What are we to make, then, of Adam’s solitude, a feature apparently designed into the scriptural account of the creation of world? For it would seem to contradict Heidegger’s notion of original mutuality. Well, how does Heidegger think this mutuality that his second thesis invokes? Is it like commerce (individuals trading beads or currency or ideas with one another); or like diplomacy (the “art of letting another have your way”); or like politics (the “art” of compromise); or like statecraft (individual nations forming alliances and bargaining with other nations); or like another kind of billiard-ball mutuality on the subject/object table? What is “being-for-one-another”? We are listening, of course, for something bearing on what it is to teach—or better, to engage in teachinglearning. For in the prevalent subject/object paradigm, isn’t a teacher an individual over against the students and over against the facts and ideas to be taught?

39In Being and Time, Heidegger expands his thinking of mutuality, clarifying and making more distinct the related values he calls “being-in-the-world” and “being-with.” Against our ordinary common-sense understanding of what another person is—a separate individual—Heidegger distinguishes another sense in which we can encounter Others:

  • 22 Being and Time, 154-5.

By “Others” we do not mean everyone else but me—those over against whom the “I” stands out. They are rather those from whom, from the most part, one does not distinguish oneself—those among whom one is too... By reason of this with-like Being-in-the-world, the world is always the one that I share with Others. The world of Dasein is a with-world. Being-in is Being-with Others.22

40When I watch a basketball game on television, I can get a sense of what Heidegger might mean here. Perhaps because of a deficiency in my own background, I cannot see individuals interacting as individuals on the court. What I see is more like the flow of the ball and the players back and forth. It looks miasmal to me, or rather miasmal-distillant (to borrow one of Faulkner’s astounding coinages), colorful and active, but not designed to illuminate individual persons’ colors or actions. I have heard about the amazing feats of individual players, and hard as it is for me to focus attention on one player in the maelstrom, I can sometimes see individual performances. But they always dissolve back into the totality of what is happening on the court. Individuals cannot be-in a basketball game without being-with others. What I see for the most part is not individuals at all but team, maybe even just a “with-world” of teams in play.

  • 23 Being and Time, 156.

41But Heidegger is saying more than this. It is not only that we cannot play life alone, as individuals; not only that the individual player cannot shine without his team around him, feeding him passes. It is that we are each other. “Dasein in itself,” Heidegger says, “is essentially Being-with.”23 Human being is being with others. Miasmal-distillant, we arise together. Am I not sitting here alone in my study writing this, then? What could be more indubitable? No. I apprehend my audience, I imagine readers’ responses, I hear the muffled sounds of my children playing outside, I wonder where my wife has gone... There is no such thing as a me apart from these conversations. I exist when I am thinking of my wife and children, Descartes had said. What “thinking” means here, Heidegger says in his turn, is “language occurring.” Try that exact substitution: I exist when I am language occurring. Language is the house of Being. It is not that I exist only when I am “communicating” with others, as Descartes recognized. But it is also not that I exist apart from others or from the world. The circumference of a circle does not exist apart from its radius; the front and back of a sheet of paper come along with each other. They are distinct but not separable. Same goes for a teacher and his students, a teacher and other teachers, the members of a family.

42But since, in the subject/object paradigm of being, “communication” between “individuals” in a group is still of utmost concern for teachers, let us return now to see how Heidegger deals with the issue of communication. In the terms of his alternate paradigm, languaging—Saying—is being-for-one-another. If we grant, as before, that speaking and listening are not opposite, reciprocal processes, then

  • 24 Being and Time, 205.

Communication is never anything like a conveying of experiences, such as opinions or wishes, from the interior of one subject into the interior of another.24

  • 25 Being and Time, 205.

43What is communication, then, in Heidegger’s paradigm? It is of a “more general kind” than the informative assertion or the expression of feelings, paradigmatic cases of what the subject/object paradigm calls communication. For Heidegger, communication is the “Articulation of Being with one another understanding”: “Through [this more general kind of communication] a co-state-of-mind gets ‘shared,’ and so does the understanding of Being-with.”25 Let’s say that Heidegger is pointing here to the classes we have all taught, ones where we would say that “channels were open,” where the kids were listening and “getting” the material, where we could speak in “anticipation of an active responsive understanding” (Bakhtin’s phrase), where the room was lit up with participation in ideas. In that kind of communication, Heidegger says, “Dasein-with is already essentially manifest in a co-state-of-mind and a co-understanding.” The kids are with it, the teacher can be with the kids where they are.

44When a magic “co-state-of-mind” or “co-understanding” is present in the classroom, what is that? For we have all taught the other kind of class, too, where all our assertions were correct, perhaps where we even expressed our passion about the subject, and all eyes were glazed, nobody was home (or worse, where inattention and disruption were in charge of the class). The co-understanding present at those times (for this too is a form of Being-with) would be called something like boredom, maybe, or defiance. Heidegger distinguishes between several different ways in which “Being-with” can develop in our colloquy, ways not unfamiliar to a teacher:

  • 26 Being and Time, 206-7.

Being-with develops in listening to one another, which can be done in several ways: following, going along with, and the privative modes of not-hearing, resisting, defying, and turning away.26

  • 27 Gemma Corradi Fiumara says that the listening “impinges on the person who is speaking and thus ult (...)
  • 28 On the Way to Language, 129.

45When students are following the lesson, going along with the program of the class, there may be in the classroom a “listening” to one another that is working. But what is your reaction, ordinarily, when students resist, defy, or turn away from the lesson? If you are like me, you go away in the other direction—you clam up, too. “All right, I’m doing my part; y’all do yours! Shut up and pay attention!” Heidegger directs our attention not only to what teachers say and do, but to the listening present in the classroom. He would not ask us to change our behaviors, but to notice, first, the listening that is giving the behavior (and to notice it as the listening, not students’ listening or teacher’s listening.) Communication as the articulation of Being-together will occur according to the listening present in the room, welling up moment by moment, feeding the discourse of teacher and students, giving them what they say and how they be, determining how the class shows up, its “feel.”27 Defiance is a mode of listening to one another, as is rapt attention. If human Being is essentially Being-with, and what we call the world arises in Being-with, then listening is poetic. Listening is not reception. It is action. In Cartesian terms, remember, the intuition that gives us the data of sensation, constituting our world, is “cameropoetic,” not a representing function but a making of the articulated room in which we dwell together. Here in Heidegger’s formulation we are not, as teachers, the ones who know about the room and tell: we are speaking listening, listening that speaks. “The encountering saying of mortals is answering. Every spoken word is already an answer: counter-saying, coming to the encounter, listening Saying.”28 Our listening gives students the world they live in. And vice versa, of course. Our common world is an encounter, says Heidegger. Being-with develops as we listen the possibility of sharing as the primordial poetry. Here is the next base camp. By all means, you should rest here overnight, then return to the lower camps to ferry some gear up to this higher elevation.

46We are each other, Heidegger says. How is that? How are we to think that? Here is the third thesis:

  • 29 The Concept of Time, 8E.

Being with one another in the world, having this world as being with one another, has a distinctive ontological determination. The fundamental way of the Dasein of world, namely, having world there with one another, is speaking. It is predominantly in speaking that man’s being-in-the-world takes place.29

47We are each other in speaking (what he means, of course, is speakinglistening). That is why Adam, the namer and the naming, dancer and dance, is pictured as alone. His solitude, in the Bible, marks the distinctness of man’s way of being. What Bakhtin had called “utterance in anticipation of an active responsive understanding,” what we have from time to time been calling languaging, becomes in Heidegger the speakinglistening that is Dasein.

48In our epistemology of subject and object, I find I can barely hear the subtlety of Heidegger’s point here. “The word gives being,” he says. How are we to hear that? Again the original German contains a clue: “gibt das Wort: das Sein.” The colon makes it seem that Heidegger wants the “giving” of Word to be not preliminary to the event of Being, not the precondition or origin of Being, but co-eval with it. Word and Being arise together, not like cause and effect, and not even like soul and body, but like address and acknowledgment. When you are addressed, your being is acknowledged. In our presence to one another there arises the possibility of mutual conference, and that is a mutual conferring of Being. In the moment of Word, the moment when this mutual giving becomes possible, the moment of becoming together—that is when the kids turn to the teacher, the child to the parent, knowing each other in and as the possibility of giving Being, bringing forth. This is no solicitation by things of named classes, but a being-in-one-another, the “living We,” as Buber calls it, that fulfills the present. This is the moment when Dustin and I make what we would ordinarily call “eye contact.” Perhaps my reading of Heidegger gets a bit overenthusiastic here. As I did with Descartes, I may have put words in his mouth that he would not endorse. And even with “Mitsein,” Heidegger does not quite capture the sense of freshness, of possibility, of vitality, of celebratory presence in those moments of sharing that make parenting such a treat and teaching such an exalted calling. For this we can look forward to Martin Buber.

49World, thereness, and perception, “subjects” and “objects,” arise together, in mutual support, like a system, a sailboat. Dasein exists in system, or better, in systeming. For not only do we make up systems, like mathematics, to explore and describe—here comes the crucial step, the one which fulfills that hint of freedom alluded to earlier—we are that making-up. We are inventing. That is what the assertion “I am” is: it is Adam’s naming, an inventing of Being, not only of my own but of others and of our world. Being, for humans, is inventing being. Languaging is the house of being because it bears the possibility of inventing being, of co-poiesis. And this is not only something that happened in the dim past, like a linguistic Big Bang. It happens, according to Heidegger, moment by moment as we speak with each other:

  • 30 The Concept of Time, 8E.

In the manner in which Dasein in its world speaks about its way of dealing with its world, a self-interpretation of Dasein is also given. It states how Dasein specifically understands itself, what it takes itself to be. In speaking with one another, in what one thus spreads around in speaking, there lies the specific self-interpretation of the present, which maintains itself in this dialogue.30

50In our dialogue in the teachers’ lounge or the faculty meeting, then, we are not describing the facts about students or about school, just as in our classrooms we are not describing structures of facts. We are making up and maintaining the world in which our students and their school experiences (and ours) are occurring. We are stating how we understand ourselves, what we take ourselves to be—though I think Heidegger would say that the mode of this “statement” is more inference and implication, unsaid, like those declarations and assertions that were present in my responsewwhen Dustin interrupted with his urge to play. Spreading a world around in our speakinglistening, we are inventing the context for our common experience. Adam is responsible: in our speaking together we promise, pledge, and warrant a self-interpretation of the present.

51Has language created the world we live in? Yes and no. What we call physical reality might or might not have some mode of being if there were no people to talk about it, to speak it. For us, though, it is languaging that embodies, manifests, realizes our being-together-in-a-world. Language lives as the trace, the spoor of our sharing. Language, including rules of grammar, syntax, putative deep structure, and all the rest, is what is left over after languaging, sharing, has given us being. “Language is fossil poetry,” said Emerson. Languaging, establishing being—for us and among us—is the same as poetry. I am not an object, not my body; nor am I a subject, a res cogitans, a thinking thing. I exist in speakinglistening; we are in naming, languaging, systeming, distinctioning. Languaging is never left over; it is always with us, preparing the future by giving us world, self, selves, selvesworld.


1 On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper and Row Perennial Library, 1971), 122.

2 Journal, 1840.

3 See Thomas Sheehan, “A Normal Nazi,” in The New York Review of Books, January 14, 1993, 30-5. For another way of listening to Heidegger, see Heinrich W. Petzet, Encounters & Dialogues with Martin Heidegger, 1929-1976, trans. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993). This book may not have been out by the time Sheehan wrote his damning article; in any case he does not refer to it.

4 In R. Wolin, ed., The Heidegger Controversy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 148.

5 On the Way to Language, 123.

6 On the Way to Language, 124.

7 On the Way to Language, 126.

8 On the Way to Language, 93.

9 Locke, Essay, IV.xii.6.

10 “Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry,” in Existence and Being (London: Vision Press, 1956), 304.

11 In my re-inventing of Heidegger, I am disregarding any differences between “early,” “middle,” and “late” periods. For a thorough discrimination of these stages, see Gerald L. Brims, Heidegger’s Estrangements: Language, Truth and Poetry in the Later Writings (Yale University Press, 1989).

12 Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry, 305.

13 The Concept of Time, 6E.

14 The theses are published as part of The Concept of Time, tr. Wm. McNeil (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992).

15 The Concept of Time, 6E.

16 The Concept of Time, 7E.

17 Being and Time, 154.

18 The Concept of Time, 8E, 25.

19 Being and Time, 171.

20 On the Way to Language, 96.

21 The Concept of Time, 7E.

22 Being and Time, 154-5.

23 Being and Time, 156.

24 Being and Time, 205.

25 Being and Time, 205.

26 Being and Time, 206-7.

27 Gemma Corradi Fiumara says that the listening “impinges on the person who is speaking and thus ultimately reshapes the physiognomy of the context underlying the dialogue.” (The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening, trans. Charles Lambert [London and New York: Routledge, 1997], 145.)

28 On the Way to Language, 129.

29 The Concept of Time, 8E.

30 The Concept of Time, 8E.

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