Martin Heidegger

The Eye & the Word

By Joanna Walsh.

The eighteenth century philosopher, Johann Georg Hamann, whose double nns stagger through Heidegger’s essay, ‘Language’ (in Poetry, Language, Thought) is, ‘still waiting for the angel with the key to this abyss.’ The abyss, says Heidegger, is something that opens when Hamann asks, ‘how do I know reason from language?’ (or maybe he’s asking, ‘why is one like the other?’). Even sitting in front of my screen, folded into this thing with hands on that perhaps contains what I have to say (or maybe it doesn’t), I can see there are some problems here. Since when did an abyss have a key, so that it can be locked and unlocked? Surely Hamann should have waited for something more practical, like a writing desk, which he could have stood on to climb out of the abyss, if it wasn’t too deep, or which, with the help of a handsaw, he could have made into something that functioned as a ladder, or a bridge. Or maybe he should have asked for the help of a hawk or a raven which, if he had been very light, or if they were very big, might, like the chicken, have been able to get him to the other side. Instead, he waits hopelessly for something that will unlock the rock door of his very solid prison.