In a local reading group this semester, we’ve been going through some of the key sections of Being and Time. Last weekend one of the sections we looked at was §35 on Gerede or “idle talk,” and I realized the extent to which I think that this section, as short as it is, is really one of the most crucial sections in Division One. At least, that is, insofar as the explication of Dasein in its average everydayness is supposed to be the starting point of the phenomenological project of Being and Time.
The reason for §35’s importance lies mainly in the way that it attempts to give an existential explanation of ordinary communication. Since the explosion of electronic media technologies (particularly, I would argue, first television and then the web), the kind of communication that Heidegger describes as idle talk has been given concrete form in increasingly ubiquitous structures. Not coincidentally, the couple of times I’ve taught Heidegger, I’ve found that this is perhaps the part that my students have had the easiest time understanding (is there a better example of “passing the word along” than the “Retweet” button?).
On the other hand, isn’t it the case that pointing to Twitter or Facebook or cable news (or respected newspapers, for that matter) as prime examples of forums for idle talk is also an example of idle talk? That is, Twitter is so trivial, cable news so superficial, that it practically announces its own inauthenticity. The interpretation of such media as only perpetuating idle talk is perhaps always already given along with the media themselves.
The question that arises for me, then, is this: can a deeper and more thorough critique of the ideology and structures of such media get past the level of idle talk, or does the anticipation by these media of kinds of critique that can be leveled against them preempt the efficacy of such critique? Is something other than critique required?
(He asks, on a blog…)
Related(?): thinking about this put me in mind of Paul Lansky’s More than Idle Chatter, which I haven’t heard in probably a decade. For your listening pleasure: