Heideggerian "play": an approximation

There's nothing like being a learning partner to make you learn things fast so you can try and explain them. This week it was Heidegger. Klemm's studies on hermeneutics gave us a piece on being and meaning from Sein und Zeit and a piece on language that I think came from On the Way to Language. So first up was being and meaning, vis a vis the Kantian distinctions of noumenal/phenomenal and a priority. Second up was a question about "Spielen," and damned if I could find a solid explanation beyond A Heidegger Dictionary on "play and games." So I went crazy, and did heavier exploration, and came around to the derivation of the sous rature practice, I think. Whoever is out there reading and knows better than I or has hints to offer, I'd appreciate them. Here's what I've got:

I did a bit of looking for Spielen in his writings, and it seems like you can only get to an understanding of it in Being and Time from the German, where the root word and its related words are visible. Translation hides Heidegger's interest in playing with words, in what we call "puns" in English. So instead, I'm going to try and explain how it works in his method, rather than his own definition, which I can't seem to track down.

The definition [in A Heidegger Dictionary] mentions the idea that "we don't play because there are games; there are games because we play." For Heidegger, language is not something that can be defined simply. This relates to what we said on Tuesday about Being belonging to persons, and not things, and things having meaning only when interpreted by a Being. This meaning is not something that can be grasped firmly and definitively, but rather, for Heidegger, must be felt out, walked around, explored -- "played with." Language is a game, and it exists because we play with meaning. It is in the nature of our Being that we play with language. One of the methods he uses in his writings to explain meaning in language is dialogue. He writes dialogues, real or imagined, to rhetorically present this process of linguistic play. Allow me to recommend his book, On the Way to Language, which starts with one of these dialogues.

One of the reasons, I think, that it is so hard to read and understand Heidegger is that he is always walking around what he wants to understand, and so his sentences also walk around the topic. If he defines meaning too definitely, he loses his focus on meaning as something done by Dasein, as a product of Being, its situation, and its understanding of the world. So part of his use of Spielen is in Spielraum, "play" as in the slack of a rope, or a loose grip. Spielen is a way that Heidegger leaves space for meaning to be subordinate to Dasein, but also a way that he refuses to over-commit himself. Making one meaning too definite, or even absolute, destroys our ability to access the reality under that meaning. Heidegger develops a strategy that Jacques Derrida will use after him, of questioning and even crossing out words to generate exactly this kind of "play," this Spielraum, and to enable Being to reach beyond the assertion of one particular meaning and perform its own interpretation.


I haven't gotten to how this relates to Wittgenstein and his concept of Sprachspielen yet, but I can feel it present in the room. Still much work to do, but this is at least a clue into it.