Saturday, October 04, 2008

Heidegger on Idle Talk

Relevant to Steve's complaint about blogging, which I linked in the previous post, something I came across in "Being and Time". Heidegger talks about how incessant chatter of culture and other public discourse harms and makes understanding difficult, because of its inauthenticity or "groundlessness", which he explains as talking about something "without previously making the thing one's own". At the same time he says that this mode of being is inescapably part of everyday reality for human beings. I couldn't find any commentary on it on internet but this gives a good overview.


The groundlessness of idle talk is no obstacle to its becoming public; instead it encourages this. Idle talk is the possibility of understanding everything without previously making the thing one's own. If this were done, idle talk would founder; and it already guards against such a danger. Idle talk is something which anyone can rake up; it not only releases one from the task of genuinely understanding, but develops an undifferentiated kind of intelligibility, for which nothing is closed off any longer.

Discourse, which belongs to the essential state of Dasein's Being and has a share in constituting Dasein's disclosedness, has the possibility of becoming idle talk. And when it does so, it serves not so much to keep Being-in-the-world open for us in an articulated understanding, as rather to close it off, and cover up the entities within-the-world. To do this, one need not aim to deceive. Idle talk does not have the kind of Being which belongs to consciously passing off something as something else. The fact that something has been said groundlessly, and then gets passed along in further retelling, amounts to perverting the act of disclosing [Erchliessen] into an act of closing off [Verschliessen]. For what is said is always understood proximally as 'saying' something - that is, an uncovering something. Thus, by its very nature idle talk is a closing-off, since to go back to the ground of what is talked about is something which it leaves undone.

This closing-off is aggravated afresh by the fact that an understanding of what is talked about is supposedly reached in idle talk. Because of this, idle talk discourages any new inquiry and any disputation, and in a peculiar way suppresses them and holds them back. [...]

Idle talk, which closes things off in the way we have designated, is the kind of Being which belongs to Dasein's understanding when that understanding has been uprooted. But idle talk does not occur as a condition which is present-at-hand in something present-at-hand: idle talk has been uprooted existentially, and this uprooting is constant. Ontologically this means that when Dasein maintains itself in idle talk it is - as Being-in-the-world - cut off from its primary and primordially genuine relationships-of-Being towards the world, towards Dasein-with, and towards its very Being-in. Such a Dasein keeps floating unattached [in einer Schwebe]; yet in so doing, it is always alongside the world, with Others, and towards itself. To be uprooted in this manner is a possibility-of-Being only for an entity whose disclosedness is constituted by discourse as characterized by understanding and states-of-mind - that is to say, for an entity whose disclosedness, in such an ontologically constitutive state, is its "there", its 'in-the-world'. Far from amounting to a "not-Being" of Dasein, this uprooting is rather Dasein's most everyday and most stubborn reality.

Yet the obviousness and self-assurance of the average ways in which things have been interpreted, are such that while the particular Dasein drifts along towards an ever-increasing groundlessness as it floats, the uncanniness of this floating remains hidden from it under their protecting shelter.

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