Volume 1, 2011
The Transitional Breakdown of the Word
Heidegger and Stefan George’s Encounter with Language
The paper studies Heidegger's reading of the poet Stefan George (1868-1933), particularly of his poem "Das Wort" (1928), in the context of Heidegger's narrative of the history of metaphysics. Heidegger reads George's poem as expressing certain experiences with language. First, it voices an experience of the constitutive role of language, of naming and discursive determination, in granting things stable identities. Second, it expresses an encounter with the unnameable and indeterminable character of language itself as a meaning-constituting process, and a subsequent insight into the human being's dependency on language and her incapacity to master it subjectively. Heidegger characterizes these experiences as "transitional" (übergänglich). It is shown that in Heidegger's historical narrative, this places George's poem within the framework of the ongoing transition (Übergang) from the Hegelian and Nietzschean end of metaphysics to a forthcoming "other beginning" of thinking.