I've been reflecting on the verb to call for the past two weeks. It started (and continues) with my reading of Heidegger's lecture series, What is called thinking? and was brought up again in a conversation with Luke last night, and in a series of blog posts he made. Luke has long struggled with the possibility, or nature of encounter in so called electronic relationships, via the web. He speaks primarily in terms of the face to face:
his invitation certainly creates in me the desire to meet these others face to face, but I wonder whether a moment of the face to face has not occurred already [ed. online].
Where Luke speaks of encounter as being a face to face experience (I know he means this more broadly than through a pure physical encounter, but focusing on the word face), I am immediately put in mind of Heidegger's ideas on the call. While I can't pretend to sum up his thinking perfectly, allow me to give some sense of why this is so by examining what he says in Part II Lecture I.
Heidegger begins to look at the verb to call as he encounters it in the question that occupies his lectures, namely, "what is called thinking?" For Heidegger, this question is not a simple one, and conceals several other questions. He deals with four primary questions, but the fourth becomes the most important, or the other three also ask the fourth:
...what is it that calls us, as it were, commands us to think? What is it that calls us into thinking?...what is it that directs us into thought, and gives us directions for thinking?
The question is addressed to us directly--we are, as he says, "put in the question by the question." The movement from the more obvious question "what is it we call thinking? What does the word signify?" to "What calls us into thinking?" happens because of a play on the verb to call.
The verb to call might be understood in this second way as meaning "invite, demand, instruct, direct." He traces it further back, and notes other less familiar meanings of the verb such as "allow to reach, get on the way, convey, provide with a way." Even in its most recognizable meaning (e.g., "to name"), the verb to call really means something like "to commend, entrust, give into safe-keeping, keep safely."
He argues that we can listen only to the common use if we wish (and this is often done), but that if we hear "what language really says when it speaks" we may get "more truly to the matter that is expressed." We have to be careful, as the common meaning of the word cannot simply be pushed aside in favour of rarer ones. However, the common meaning is still connected with the others. He explains:
This town is called Freiburg. It is so named because that is what it has been called. This means: the town has been called to assume this name. Henceforth it is at the call of this name to which it has been commended. To call is not originally to name, but the other way around: naming is a kind of call, in the original sense of demanding and commending...Every call implies an approach, and thus, of course, the possibility of giving a name. We might call a guest welcome. This does not mean we attach to him the name 'Welcome,' but that we call him to come in and complete his arrival as a welcome friend. In that way, the welcome-call of the invitation to come in is nonetheless also an act of naming, a calling which makes the newcomer what we call a guest whom we are glad to see.
His example of the stranger called welcome is not accidental. The ideas of directedness, an invitation, welcoming, the opening of an abode, the home (as an origin) itself, are all central:
The calling stems from the place to which the call goes out. The calling is informed by an original outreach toward...This alone is why the call can make a demand. The mere cry dies away and collapses. It can offer no lasting abode...The call, by contrast, is a reaching, even if it is neither heard nor answered. Calling offers an abode...The call is the directive which, in calling to and calling upon, in reaching out and inviting, directs us toward...The calling is not a call that has gone by, but one that has gone out and as such is still calling and inviting; it calls even it if makes no sound.
So many of his ideas map beautifully onto the electronic or web encounter, from the ability of the call to operate even without making sound, to the asynchronous nature of the call, which goes out and "is still calling and inviting."
What is described in this, but never dealt with fully, and which interests me most, is the possibility of response to the call, of being welcomed, of coming into the abode, of friendship: "we call him to come in and complete his arrival as a welcome friend." What it demands and requires is the willingness to respond, to reach back, to change direction, to move toward and face the other, to become close enough for the "possibility of giving a name."