Seminar in Le Thor 1969 [88–90]

First, what is required for such an inner illumination to occur? Answer: that being itself announces itself, or otherwise put, that the Dasein unfolds what Being and Time termed an “understanding of being.” The posing of the question of being as being in Being and Time amounts to such a transformation of the understanding of being that it at once calls for a renewal of language. But the language of Being and Time, Heidegger says, lacks assurance. For the most part, it still speaks in expressions borrowed from metaphysics and seeks to present what it wants to say with the help of new coinings, creating new words. Jean Beaufret mentions that in 1959 Hans-Georg Gadamer said of his teacher: “Hölderlin first set his tongue loose.” Heidegger now says, more precisely, that through Hölderlin he came to understand how useless it is to coin new words; only after Being and Time was the necessity of a return to the essential simplicity of language clear to him.

Second, in respect to the “favorable conditions,” two grave processes must now be examined:

a) The decline and impoverishment of language itself, which is entirely obvious if one compares the neediness of spoken language today with the riches of language still recorded by the brothers Grimm in the previous century.

b) This triggers a reverse movement that aims at setting the standard of language in the possibilities of computer calculation. The danger here lies in the fixing of language outside its natural possibilities of growth.

Roger Munier remarked that it is already a basic characteristic of the language of information science that, by a reductive analysis of all data, it sets up a new and entirely bare structure which henceforth is to function as the essence of language for all technological undertakings. In this way, language is robbed of its proper laws and immediately rendered conformable to machines. Obviously, the relation to language that makes possible such a process is determined by the conception of language as a mere instrument of information.

As far as one may surmise, the external conditions today are unfavorable. Between philosophy and this interpretation of language there is no longer the slightest common ground for dialogue.

What practical consequences are to be drawn from this state of affairs? In other words: what remains for the thinker to do?

The current seminar already presents a kind of response, and, Heidegger says, “that is why I am here.” It is a matter for a few of us to untiringly work outside of all publicness to keep alive a thinking that is attentive to being, knowing that this work must concern itself with laying the foundation, for a distant future, of a possibility of tradition—since obviously one cannot settle a two millennia heritage in ten or twenty years.