70 • On the Grammar and Etymology of “Being”

For the Greeks “Being” says constancy in a twofold sense:

1. standing-in-itself as arising and standing forth (φύσις);

2. but, as such, “constantly,” that is, enduringly, abiding (οὐσία). [49|68]

Not-to-be accordingly means to step out of such constancy that has stood-forth in itself: εξίστασθαι—“existence,” “to exist” means, for the Greeks, precisely not-to-be. The thoughtlessness and vapidity with which one uses the words “existence” and “to exist” as designations for Being offer fresh evidence of our alienation from Being and from an originally powerful and definite interpretation of it.

Πτῶσις and ἔγκλισις mean to fall, to incline, that is, nothing other than to depart from the constancy of the stand and thus to deviate from it. We are posing the question of why these two particular terms came into use in the study of language. The meaning of the words πτῶσις and ἔγκλισις presupposes the notion of an upright stand. We said that language, too, is conceived by the Greeks as something in being and thereby as something in keeping with the sense of their understanding of Being. What is in being is what is constant, and as such, it is something that exhibits itself, something that appears. This shows itself primarily to seeing. The Greeks examine language optically in a certain broad sense, namely, from the point of view of the written word. In writing, what is spoken comes to a stand. Language is—that is, it stands in the written image of the word, in the written signs, in the letters, γράμματα. This is why it is grammar that represents language as something in being, whereas through the flow of talk, language drains away into the impermanent. And so the theory of language has been interpreted grammatically up to our time. The Greeks, however, also knew about the oral character of language, the φωνή. They founded rhetoric and poetics. [Yet all of this did not in itself lead to an adequate definition of the essence of language.]10

10. In parentheses in the 1953 edition.

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