I first came across the term “idle chatter” in a seminar about German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time led by the only man I have ever really considered a mentor, Professor Johannes Fritsche. We picked our way through the book sentence by sentence: Fritsche — in his charcoal suits, fingers to his pursed lips — tried to show us exactly what Heidegger was up to and was determined, finally, not to let him get away with it. It was mental labor, and it sunk down into the core of me where it now swims alongside my most formative memories, feelings, and ideas.

It turns out that Heidegger was not a big fan of idle chatter. He ultimately preferred conversation that was mute and mysterious, dusted with poetry and allusive of the greater conundrums of existence. He delighted in saying things like, “Language is the house of the truth of… More…