The Essence of Language in View of Death

  • Johannes Achill Niederhauser


In his later work Heidegger provides several, seemingly disparate determinations of the essence of language. In the Letter on Humanism, henceforth Letter, he calls language the “house of being” (GA 9: 313/239). In the Conversation, Heidegger bemoans this notion as clumsy (cf. GA 12: 85/5). He also points out that the house of being is not a philosophical concept that subsumes other definitions of language (cf. GA 12: 108). In the same conversation Heidegger thinks after the Japanese word for language, koto ba, in order to determine the essence of language. Heidegger translates koto as “waltendes Ereignen”, as “happening holding sway.” (GA 12: 136/47) Ba means “petals”. Thus, language as koto ba is essentially nothing linguistic in the ordinary sense, but language is rather petals or leaves that prevail and eventuate, i.e., occur and self-withdraw. In other places, like The Essence of Language and the Way to Language Heidegger, however, determines the essence of language as die Sage, saying (cf. GA 12: 202; 224). Moreover, silence continues to play an important role for the determination of the essence of language as Sage. Silence, of course, is also already important in Being and Time. In this chapter I shall provide a synthesis of Heidegger’s apparently disparate determinations of the “essence” of language. In Part III I have argued that Heidegger understands essence in the context of technology as a realm or dimensionality within and thanks to which beings unfold in a certain manner. This is also how Heidegger understands essence in On the Way to Language. Essence is not the timeless whatness of language. Heidegger understands essence, as Dastur notes, “in the sense of the old verb wesen, as the temporal unfolding of the being of something.” (Dastur 2013: 224) Essence refers to the ways in which something essentially occurs rather than what something is. The mentioned “essences” of language are thus not metaphysical quiddities at odds with one another. In my view, we are to think these “essences” of language as unfolding out of the thinking of the event. The question is how, or if at all, it is possible to unify these ways of unfolding. This possibility shall be the focus of this chapter.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Johannes Achill Niederhauser
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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