Idle Talk

In talk, what-is-said-in-the-talk is drawn from what-the-talk-is-about. Idle talk is talk that has lost, or is remote from, its actual basis in what-the-talk-is-about.

This is commentary on Being and Time §35.

Idle talk is what we do most of the time when we are speaking with one another, and engaging with our personal monologue. It is the everyday talk for human beings. Talk that is not idle is an unusual occurrence.

We are going to look at three specific parts of Talk that are part of idle talk: what-is-said-in-the-talkwhat-the-talk-is-about, and communication. Talk is discussed in another post.

In our ordinary speaking there is an average intelligibility in the community, based on what-is-said-in-the-talk, the actual words that are used. We already have a common understanding of what is said. Usually we personally don’t have a primary relationship with what-is-talked-about-in-the talk.  We might call this being-towards what is talked about. Instead it is usually something like: “I’ve heard something about it, or I know enough about it to have an opinion.” People jabber about stuff they have little or no direct knowledge of.  But even though we have only remote access to what-is-talked-about, we are  still engaged in the talk. At the same time, we do have a relationship of being-with the people with whom we are talking and because of them, we are concerned for what-is-said-in-the-talk. This relationship we have with the speaker, stands for the genuineness of what-is-said. And we can obviously make some sense of what they are saying!

I’m not saying that communication doesn’t actually occur at all, where what-is-talked-about isn’t directly accessible to the listener. Idle talk is not all bad. Even in concern with just what is said, there can be considerable understanding; idle talk is not nonsense; it’s not intentionally deceptive. But on the other hand it’s not fully expressively sharing what you have direct experience of.

In some cases it is possible for a listener to have a primordial relationship to what is talked about, that even the speaker doesn’t have. We’ll talk about this in the page about Ambiguity.

Example: “Armstrong’s walk on the moon was faked”. (probably totally groundless idle talk – the speaker wasn’t at the studio when they filmed it.)

Example: “My friend Edna said she had a tough time with gall bladder surgery.” (garden variety idle talk)

Example: “I had to change a flat tire. At night! In the rain!!” (probably not idle talk – You have some personal access to ‘flat tire’.  To some extent you also share in my being-towards it. You “get” what I’m talking about.

As what is said and repeated, idle talk gets passed along endlessly. It communicates by just “passing the word” along to others in hearsay. In this process, there is a possibility that it can totally lose it’s primary relationship to what-is-talked-about. It no longer communicates in a way that what-is-talked-about can be encountered directly.

This is the verbal environment we mostly live in, most of us, most of the time.  Idle talk gets passed along in writing too. In our age blogging and superficial reading. And it gets passed from parent to child, and teacher to student.  Always with the possibility of becoming groundless. After 60 generations, can we even “get” what Aristotle was talking about? Or even early Christians?

Idle talk is pernicious in that it pretends to have done, what it leaves undone. All talk is presumed to be about something. Idle talk violates Talk’s service to “keep being-in-the-world open for us in an articulated understanding, and instead closes it off and covers up entities within the world.” (H169)

If we just recognize that idle talk has lost it relationship to what the talk was about originally, we would have the chance of reclaiming it. We could then plainly say, “I don’t see what you are talking about here.” We have been socialized to jabber along with idle talk.

Idle talk is what everybody knows, what everybody talks about. It’s the average understanding of how the world works, how things can matter to us, and even what human beings are. “They”, the everybody, know everything about everything, and are not even interested in facts. “They” already know it. Most of us, most of the time, we are “They”.

This way things have already been interpreted in idle talk is already established in our way of being and there is no escaping it. “In it, from it, and against its background all genuine understanding, interpreting, and communicating, all rediscovering, and appropriating anew are performed.” It is the very air we breathe.

“Yet the obviousness and self-assurance of the average ways in which things have been interpreted, are such that while the particular Dasein drifts along towards and ever increasing groundlessness as it floats, the uncanniness of this floating remains hidden from it under their protecting shelter. Being and Time (H170)

related linksRectification of Names


Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers are sitting in a bar.

Jaspers: My wife: she talks and talks and talks!

Heidegger: So, What does she talk about?

Jaspers: That she never says!

Heidegger: Yes, but isn’t it always this way?

Pretty sure this if from Albert Hofstadter.


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