Wednesday, October 25, 2006
This excerpt from Joanna Hodge's book links history, the Ereignis event and the Augenblick moment, with language.
In his essay on Hölderlin, "Hölderlin and the essence of poetry", given in Rome in 1936 as a public lecture, Heidegger writes of human beings as distinct from all other creatures. He asks: "Who is humanity?" and responds: "That which must bear witness to what is". He continues: "Being a witness as a belonging together with entities as a whole occurs as history. In order that history should be possible human beings are given language." Heidegger then expands this thought about language: "However, the essence of language is not exhausted is being a means of communication for human beings. With this determination its essence is not yet touched on. Only a consequence of its essence has been elaborated." Already in this paper, language is not to be conceived of as subordinated to human intention: "Language is not just a tool which human beings possess along with others. Language preserves the possibility of standing in the openness of entities. Only where there is language is there a world." To which Heidegger then adds: "Only where there is world is there history." Conversely, where there is no world, there can no longer be history; and Heidegger's analyses of the world reveal that in the age of technology human beings lose the possibility of conceiving of the world and with that they lose any sense of history. Heidegger goes on to add: "Language is not some tool to be applied, but that very event [Ereignis] that prevails over the highest possibility of human beings." The impoverishment of language so as to appear to be only a tool is one sign of the extreme withdrawal of being that characterises the age of technology.

In the next section Heidegger claims: "We, human beings, are a conversation. The being of human beings grounds in language; but this occurs genuinely as conversation." He then develops this notion of conversation, which he finds in Hölderlin's sketch for his poem Friedensfeir ("Celebration of Peace"). Heidegger writes of a moment at which conservation and a separation of time into past, present and future become simultaneously possible:
For there to be a single conversation, an essential expression must remain connected to a "one and the same." Without this connection even, indeed especially, conflictual conversation is impossible. This one and the same can only come in view of something remaining and permanent. Permanence and remaining come to appearance only when persistence and the present are made evident.
Heidegger then makes a connection to a quite specific experience and structure of temporality: to the emergence of history and of the entity human being which has become historical:
This, however, occurs only at that moment [Augenblick] when time opens itself out into its extensions. Since human beings have set something up as remaining in the present, since then they have first set up something as changing, as coming and going; for only what is persisting can change. Only since "rending time" rent itself into present, past and future, has there been the possibility of uniting oneself with something which remains. We have been a single conversation since the time there has been time. Only since time has emerged and been brought to a stand, since then we have become historical. Both: being a conversation and being historical--are the same age and belong together and are the same.
For time to emerge it is necessary to bring it to a standstill in a separation of past, present and future in the moment [Augenblick] of thought. At this moment, the possibility of history and of speaking emerge simultaneously. This is a moment of originary time, which does not take place within history, within chronological process, but makes both of these possible. Heidegger goes on to claim: "Since we have been a conversation, human beings have experienced much and named the gods in many ways. Since language became conversation, the gods have come to expression and the world has appeared." When the possibility of naming the gods is withdrawn and the world disappears, then history also withdraws and our relation to language is impoverished. Heidegger seems to suggest that it is our attempt to take control of language which reduces the productiveness of our relation to language. Being historical, but no longer having a sense of history, would change the relation to language from this stance of responsiveness.

Pp. 123-5
The Heidegger bits all come from GA 4.
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