Search results for "present-at-hand "

Surface

Author: joe

Wednesday, 24 November, 2010 - 23:51

- on the excess in the image-world.

... there is an absolute gulf between Heidegger's readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand. No real passage between them is possible, since the tool as a brutal subterranean energy and as a shining, tangible surface are utterly incommensurable ... it should be clear that every entity is ready-to-hand ... in the primary sense of "in the act of being", of unleashing itself upon the environment ... All of reality ... lies in a state of "metabolism" between the unchecked fury of tool-beings and the alluring facades through which we alone encounter them. (The Theory of Objects in Heidegger and Whitehead)
 
I always find myself deployed amidst a specific geography of objects, each of them withdrawing from view into a dark primal integrity that neither our theories nor our practices can ever exhaust. (A Fresh Look at Zuhandenheit)
 
If an object is always a vast surplus beyond its relations of the moment, it has to be asked how those as-yet unexpressed qualities are stored up for the future ... I am convinced that objects far exceed their interactions with other objects, and the question is what this excess is, and where it is. (The Revival of Metaphysics in Continental Philosophy)
 
Towards Speculative Realism by Graham Harman

I'm not attempting (or competent, not being a philosopher) to address the what and where of the excess of Harman's objects. I'm initially interested in Harman's way of characterising the presence of objects, and how different it is to Heidegger's attitude to Vorhandenheit. Where the latter denigrates the coming-to-presence of things in the world (as Harman notes, through the insistent epithet, 'mere'), the latter is always keen to celebrate it. Surfaces shine, sparkle and glitter; they are volatile, luminous, phosphorescent, radiant, resonant, dazzling; with faces, haloes, auras. This is not to say that he is less complimentary towards the withdrawing, strife-filled unleashing of the ready-to-hand, volcanic, turbulent, violent, primal tool-beings as they surge and thrust into the world.

Indeed this rich and exuberant world-surface constantly coming into action and awareness - the sensuous menagerie of the equally-footed animate and inanimate entities that jostle and strew the ground of the universe - seems to me to be just as excess-bearing as the long withdrawing surplus borne by the irreducible and unreachable inner core of real objects. That image world is right there, burning incessantly, coming about its business, hurtling out of the future rather than left over from the inertia of the past.

So I wonder then, what if we took the same steps with Harman's take on the "Heideggerian drama of revealed and concealed" as we took with Goffman's front and back personae: what the revealed hides is not a concealed substance, but its absence. Can we remove the 'effects' part of 'surface-effects', since there is now no causal agent hidden from view? Can the performance of the image be what facilitates the existence of the executant reality?

I realise of course that I'm veering away from Harman's specific arguments here, toward either Husserl's magical intentional objects which bleed sensual qualities without decohering, or toward re-instating a Kantian a priori apparatus which provides the form for the world's inhabitants to take up. But I'm not equipped to argue these points. Rather I just want to dispel hidden realities which betray their appearances, or illusory facades which belie some more authentic realm. Perhaps it is the same impulse which makes me recoil from the psychoanalytical requirement of a furniture of the mind - an unconscious which structures the conscious without permitting access to it. I don't want to bridge the abyss: I want to obviate the need for the bridge by unconjuring the abyss - closing the gap.

Thus I'm willing to concede I'm master of nothing, just as long as I can also say that friends who may turn out to be backstabbing machinators and sophists made themselves so not out of an inevitable and inscrutable essence, but because of the actions and interactions that they and I perform and enact - hence leaving the door open for such outcomes to be inverted: should we present alternative images, then we should unfold alternative executions in the world.

Categories: Graham Harman, Martin Heidegger, vorhandenheit, zuhandenheit, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, surface, image, executant, world, being, gap,
Comments: 5

Butterfly

Author: joe

Thursday, 18 November, 2010 - 22:39

- on the fleeting image.

Let us attribute to our dreams, before reading, in a garden, the attention demanded by some white butterfly, this one that is everywhere at once, nowhere, it vanishes; but not before an acute and ingenious trifle, to which I reduce the subject, had, a moment ago, passed and repassed, insistently, before my astonished eyes.
 
The Book, Spiritual Instrument by Stephane Mallarmé

Mallarmé skating over a split ontology.

The world of revelation: things becoming present, the objects of attention, the visible surfaces. Far from being muffled, or doomed, or spent - worthless - the traces of the world to which we have access are dancing, butterfly-like, fleeting: astonishing. At once everywhere and nowhere, present-at-hand, and ready-to-hand - torn. The readiness is everywhere, the presence, nowhere. The image - insistent, acute, ingenious; the executant - dreaming, garden-grounded.

Despite this, the flashing, dancing life of the present, the image, the surface effects eternally divorced from their subterranean being - these are also passing, once - twice - repeating, but always passing, into trifles, disappearing, forgotten. There is no shame or tragedy in the constant fleeing and forgetting of the glittering, minded surfaces of things, despite the attendant, comforting melancholia of all those endings. Mourn, but also celebrate, the brevity of the vanishing flashes of presence.

Categories: Stephan Mallarmé, image, executant, fleeting, butterfly, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, split,
Comments: 0

Sources and Translations

Author: joe

Monday, 08 November, 2010 - 22:31

- on the withdrawal of the text.

The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect [intention] upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. This is a feature of translation which basically differentiates it from the poet's work, because the effort of the latter is never directed at the language as such, at its totality, but solely and immediately at specific linguistic contextual aspects. Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at the single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one. Not only does the aim of translation differ from that of a literary work-it intends language as a whole, taking an individual work in an alien language as a point of departure - but it is a different effort altogether. The intention of the poet is spontaneous, primary, graphic; that of the translator is derivative, ultimate, ideational. For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work. This language is one in which the independent sentences, works of literature, critical judgments, will never communicate - for they remain dependent on translation; but in it the languages themselves, supplemented and reconciled in their mode of signification, harmonize. If there is such a thing as a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate truth which all thought strives for, then this language of truth is - the true language. And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in concentrated fashion in translations.
 
The Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin

Re-reading this passage again recently for a lecture plan, I saw for the first time new significances in Benjamin's articulation of the work at stake in translation. The texts themselves - sources and translations - are split not only in their causal relationships as either originals and derivatives, but also in their modes. The original is the outcome of spontaneity, "primary, graphic", while the derived text is "utlimate, ideational". The existence of the original can be found, is specific, and tied to contexts, while the translation aims at "totality".

This essay is often read as an exploration of the angst of searching for the "intention' of the author - the author, who must later die at the hands of Barthes, even as Foucault stands by with Frankenstein's resuscitator. But I can't help but read these lines now with a different compiler at work in my brain. This "ultimate, ideational" text must appeal to a text we cannot access - written as it is in "pure language", the "language of truth". It is perhaps a writerly text, the reading that is written at every encounter with a reader. But perhaps it is also a withdrawn text, ready-to-hand, invisible.

Levy Bryant recently wrote an interesting discussion on what an object-oriented literary criticism would look like. Following his ontological plan of understanding objects as fundamentally split, he suggests that any given text is split between its local manifestation and its withdrawn and inaccessible dimensions.

Insofar as the virtual proper being of a text is necessarily withdrawn, this dimension of texts could only ever be sensed in traces indicating or suggesting another dimension at work in the manifest dimension of a text. Based on the "logic" of these traces, the literary critic might seek to form a "diagram" (always partial and incomplete) of the virtual text that haunts a manifest text.
 
Notes Towards an Object-Oriented Literary Criticism by Levy Bryant

Yet the withdrawn text that we cannot access is invisible only because it is ready-to-hand, zuhanden, in action, tooling and thinging, everywhere; meanwhile the manifest text we encounter is empty, present, vorhanden. The "true language" is everywhere, in action, at work. Our fixings of it, in sources and, vicariously, in translations, are brittle instances, frozen, delicate, unable to bear the demands we place on them.

Categories: text, translation, language, truth, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, source, original, writerly, author,
Comments: 0

Making ghosts

Author: joe

Wednesday, 27 October, 2010 - 22:42

- on the abyss inside everything.

Ortega holds that the inwardness of things is a depth that can absolutely never be fathomed, insofar as it is not interchangeable with any sum of its attributes ... The growth of knowledge is a process of digging away at this inwardness of things and attempting the ultimately hopeless task of bringing it to light. "This," says Ortega, "is the task of language, but language merely alludes to inwardness - it never shows it." In more melancholic terms, "a narrative makes everything a ghost of itself, placing it a distance, pushing it beyond the horizon of the here and now." The fate of language, as of perception and ... of all relation, is forever to translate the dark and inward into the tangible and outward, a task at which it always comes up short given the infinite depth of things.
 
Guerilla Metaphysics by Graham Harman

Hopeless, melancholic, ghost. As Romanyshyn's mourning wells within the gap between saying and being, so Harman's lonely doom for the split object, sundered between the sensuous and the real - what is revealed and what always withdraws.

I like Ortega y Gasset's distinction between executant and image - the former grasping towards the fullness of being, the latter faltering short of adequacy. I'm reminded of Arnold's verdict on Shelley - "a beautiful but ineffectual angel". I especially enjoy the irony of the connection of execution to being - how close the ending of life is to the presence of life; how narrow is that gap. Are there no fleeting moments when it closes? When the inward representation of experience and the uncompromising nowness of being fuse? Harman says:

To observe something, no matter how closely, is not to be it; to look at a thing is not the same thing as to stand in its place and undergo its fate, even if what we are observing is our own psychic lives.

... so there is no closing the gap here. But still I wonder if there might be? Transcendental meditation? Praxis? Being 'in the moment'? Laughter? Thoughtlessness when lost in smiling eyes? Dialogue? In the sincerity of experience?

Categories: Graham Harman, split, object, Ortega y Gasset, being, Zuhandenheit, Vorhandenheit, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, knowledge,
Comments: 0

Being and Knowing: World as Diegesis

Author: joe

Tuesday, 14 July, 2009 - 22:52

Another conversation, this time with Shaun, and more thinking through, thinking aloud, thinking thought. Shaun attended all the first year media theory lectures over the last academic year, including the six part series I delivered on narrative. So, he got to hear me rework and reiterate impressionistically over the same endless themes of diegesis and artifice, story and plot, world and representation which I surreptitiously pretended was an overview of narrative theory.

So I was attempting to explain how that period of intense focus on ideas about narrative and, in particular, the phenomenon of diegesis, had since inflected my thought. The diegesis is the storyscape - the integrity of the imaginary theatre we accept when we give over to a narrator the suspension of our disbelief. The diegesis is the internally coherent world of the story - and 'world' is the key word here, since the idea of a 'world' is one of the ways in which I'm trying to muscle into an understanding of Heidegger which I think is going to be central to my PhD thesis. If you are going to read on here, put your Kafkaesque reading hat on and read it all as subjunctive: "I would, God-willing, understand in this way..."

Using a combination of Graham Harman's lucid writing on Heidegger, Timothy Clark's valiant exposition of Heidegger's thought, Hubert Dreyfus' concordance and commentary on 'Being and Time', and the dense source text itself, I've been trying to work towards an understanding Heidegger's concepts of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit, theoria and praxis, not to mention Dasein, being there, and being a 'thing that things'. The concept of 'world' in this realm of thought seems helpful to me. Clark says that Heidegger's use of the term 'world',

"is close to the common meaning of the term when we talk about the 'world' of the Bible, or the 'world' of the modern Chinese or modern English - i.e.the fundamental understanding within which individual things, people, history, texts, buildings, projects cohere together within a shared horizon of significances, purposes and connotations. [...] the more fundamental shared disclosure of things within which [we] find [ourselves] in all [our] thoughts, practices and beliefs, providing the basis even of [our] self-conceptions and suppositions."


- all of which seems to be a perfect definition of diegesis if understood as pertaining not only to the fictional worlds we muster, but also the fields of meaning we conjure in every aspect of what we still call 'real life'. In the tool analysis, Heidegger's hammer [makes sense | obtains | is grasped] as part of the world of equipment, which [makes sense | obtains | is grasped] as part of the world of human action. These realms cohere diegetically - they belong to, define and co-constitute each other. In action, we grasp the hammer as a tool, we extend our limbs and 'be' our intentional 'being' in the praxis of carpentry, and by extension, the praxis of existence. We act, and as we do, we are attuned to the world of action and meaning we inhabit: we experience the world holistically - we cease to be figures, and recede into the ground of the diegesis. Praxis is the means whereby we live and dwell - believe - in the diegesis.

The hammer when it breaks, shatters the diegesis: we are no longer engaged in praxis, but in the comprehension of material objects divorced from their diegetic meaning: an extreme Brechtian 'Verfremdung', or alienation from the essence of the hammer. A broken hammer is no hammer: it is a residue, a fragment, a memory, a concept, an idea, an object, a construct, a prop, revealed and separated from its function in the diegesis: a corpse in the theatrical sense - a moment in which the illusion is shattered, the figure of artifice processes and emerges from the ground of the theatre, and we are appalled enough by the shattering of the illusion to be compelled to laugh uncontrollably in the face of the futility of pretence. The broken hammer is an object of our reflective thought, which we diagnose in its symptomatic failure; it is seen as though from above, outside, from nowhere, divorced as it is from the field of praxis. Our consciousness of the broken hammer is the kind of consciousness we simply relinquish in the midst of being. It is empty, shell-like, valueless, objective. It is the transcendental knowledge to which the academy, science, Western materialist thought aspires - and as in the perennial cliche, it pins the butterfly to a board in order to comprehend it even as it dies.

Following Harman, I understand the fate of the broken hammer not to be merely an event in the life of a lone doomed tool, but to be caught up in the being of all things that do their 'being' - the 'thinging' of things, people, starfish and coconuts - the dichotomy between Vorhandenheit (presence-at-hand) and Zuhandenheit (readiness-to-hand). All things which are capable of submitting to the gaze of other things and being translated into the intentional objects of contemplation are uncovered - as are figures processing and emerging from the ground of their diegetic existence - as lifted out of their being, their dwelling in the multiplicities of the interlacing diegeses to which they belong. The object of my reflection is a shadow of its being - the prehensile presence-at-hand of a thing, behind which all its indestructible being - the inexhaustibly rich readiness-to-hand of a thing - withdraws.

In this way, anything we care to articulate or speak of, any 'thing' to which we care to give edges through the process of signification, and by which we mediate a representation of that 'thing' to another, is reduced to a presence-at-hand - a mere one amongst its infinite resource of arbitrarily graspable facets - a reduction; a theory. Thus all representation, articulation and signification is work in the realm of artifice, mimesis - or presence-at-hand; a reductive distinguishing of a facet of an object from the ground of its diegesis - the world of its Romantic potential, its being, its participation in praxis. The insertion of the stethoscope between the healer and patient is no less than a conversion of the human subject into an object of instrumentation, a reduction of the being to one amongst its many facets: a mediated, rythmic, booming pulse stands in for the beating heart of a living being. The sound is a metonymic reduction of the living being of the beating heart.

***

A short recap then: praxis is the unification of human action and knowing - holistic. Theoria (and hence conceptual, reflective, objective knowledge) is the distantiation of the world from the experience of that world. This distanced, alienated knowledge, extracted from the diegesis of its being, is a projection, a paper-thin shell, a shadow - a presence-at-hand, available to our consciousness as no more than a facet of the fullness of being. Being itself never emerges from the ground of diegesis - the integral, coherent, self-consistent, co-constitutive storyscape of the world in which we un-self-consciously dwell.

From these thoughts flow other problematisations, to be dealt with another time, of impartial academic enterprises, traditional doctoral theses, and the very nature of the attempt to document the research process.

Categories: Martin-Heidegger, phenomenology, phd, working-through, Dasein, being, Zuhandenheit, Vorhandenheit, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, knowledge, objectivity, research, praxis, diegesis, narrative, world,
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stethoscope - fragment

Author: joe

Monday, 06 July, 2009 - 23:44

In discussion with Fran - we were going through a box of old and antiquated medical instruments he'd collected, objects of curiosity, memory and history - we noted how the stethoscope serves not only to provide a 'virtual world' as Jonathan Sterne puts it (an acoustical representation), but acts as a sort of 'distantiation device' - a prop which helps the doctor to adopt a role and enter into the performance in which the human body is objectified.

Placing a mediating device between two human beings facilitates the creation of a subject who manipulates an object. We parcel off the problem-of-the-body into an objectified, if not objective, realm which we believe is transcended by the physical theatre of the stethoscope itself, and the disembodied, privileged knowledge of the physician. We defer our formal discomfort by effacing our embodied being.

I imagine a time-lapse evolution depicting the history of the stethoscope: play it in reverse and the long looping cord shortens and hardens into a trumpet; the forceps-like earpieces exit the ear, fuse and widen into the mouth of a horn; the bell and diaphragm device contrived for human contact simplifies into a chest piece with a hole. Then, finally, the whole instrument disappears and the physicians ear falls onto the patient's chest in a tight human embrace.

Categories: stethoscope, technology, distantiation, present-at-hand, Martin Heidegger, Jonathan Sterne, embodiment, performance,
Comments: 1