Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Tim Morton on objects as Temporary Autonomous Zones.
Life, and in particular human life, and in particular human politics, is well served by the usages of autonomy. What about the rest of reality, however? Should it be thought of, if it's even considered real and mind-independent, as pure stuff for the manipulation or decorative tastes of truly autonomous beings? We tend to think of things such as paperweights and iPhones as mere tools of human design and human use. To use them is to cause them to exist as fully and properly as they can. But according to Martin Heidegger, when a tool such as a paperweight is used, it disappears, or withdraws (Entzug). We are preoccupied with copying the page that the paperweight is holding down. We are concerned with an essay deadline, and the paperweight simply disappears into this general project. If the paperweight slips, or if the iPhone freezes, we might notice it. All of a sudden it becomes vorhanden (present-at-hand) rather than zuhanden (ready-to-hand).

Yet Heidegger is unable to draw a meaningful distinction between what happens to a paperweight when it slips from the book I'm copying from and what happens to the paperweight when it presses on the still resilient pages of the thick paperback itself. Further still and related to this point, even when I am using the paperweight as part of some general task, I am not using the entirety of the paperweight as such. My project itself selects a thin slice of paperweight-being for the purposes of holding down a book. Even when it is Zuhanden the paperweight is withdrawn. Graham Harman is the architect of this way of thinking. Harman discovered a gigantic coral reef of withdrawn entities beneath the Heideggerian submarine of Dasein, which itself is operating at an ontological depth way below the choppy surface of philosophy, beset by the winds of epistemology, and infested with the sharks of materialism, idealism, empiricism and most of the other isms that have defined what is and what isn't for the last several hundred years.
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