Notes from Graham Harman’s ‘Tool-being’

I will write a short review soon, but here are the notes I made while reading his book. I prefer to write notes in the form of aphoristic sound bites and not paragraphs as they’re easier to remember.

Chapter 1

*the as-structure argument of Heidegger = everything is in strife between revealed and concealed being: the world object encountered ‘as’ something or other.

*H privileges modes of seeing that see ‘as’ structures better or worse. Such as the phenomenologist above the scientist and human beings who sees more than the animal.

*H is still within metaphysics because there is a world outside our own we do not have access to, the withdrawn endo-relations of objects. This is their ready-to-hand (RTH).

*Objects themselves are always more than their presence-at-hand (PAT). H says that human Dasein gives objects their ontological status. Harman disagree with this correlationism.

*ontic viewing is its profile ‘as-structure’, as PAT. Ontological viewing is ontologically deeper, the objects RTH, its hidden depths.

*For H objects are their worlded relations.

*an objects RTH is its subterranean being.

*reference object vanish to reveal their equipmentality: redefining meaning through two separate modes of being:

-refer = objects point to something beyond them (always in relation to something else)

-withdraw = objects are not signs or symbols but something which is always hidden when it is at work

*To be is to mean (as mean = refer)

*Sinn (meaning = sein (being). Therefore, “the question of the meaning of being” is a reverse tautology → the answer is found only it equipment → meaning is equipmental not semiological.

*There is no such thing as a horizon. There are only beings and being.”

*The aim of Heidegger’s hermeneutics is not to go deeper and deeper, as some reading seem to suggest, but to overthrow PAT interpretations.

*Thinking Being apart from being is fruitless, as it is not beings we want to escape from but beings understood as PAT.

*RTH (ontological) //  PAT (ontic).

*All objects have being-in-the-world.

*Being ‘in’ qua PAT is one of the ontological characteristics we call ‘categorical’ (to say wine is in the bottle, is to approach it categorically).

*All entities can be approached categorically or existentially.

*Dasein is its there → It is what it is and is not a representation. Therefore, every entity is Dasein.

*All beings are broken equipment.

*Tool and broken tool are two dimensions of every object. Every entity is and is not present at hand.

*Every entity has place but not necessarily space.

*De-distanciation is the qualitative effect of objects in regards to their place in the contexture of the world (within a system of equipment).

*Space has no privileged relation to the ontological. Ontologically, place is the ground of everything. Directionality and De-distancing are the same thing: the site of entities regardless of space. Therefore, there is no theory of space in H.

*The fallenness of everyday language consists of taking spatiality and temporality as PAT.

*RTH time = rupturing ecstasis of the things themselves.

*Deployed in space objects occupy a place. Space makes things present as what they are, place is a qualitative de-distanciation of objects.

*Temporality consists in making objects present by retaining and awaiting → these are ontological structures which can be divorced from their ontic associations.

*Tools have horizonal depth in themselves.

*Time is the ecstasis of tools in a system of equipment. Temporal ecstasis takes place not in a distant horizon or my psyche

*H doesn’t deny time as now points, but he does deny understanding now points as PAT sequences directed by force outside itself.

*Bergson says a point in time can never be taken apart from the past and future → this has nothing to do with H. “Time cannot be viewed as a series of nows”: both H and B would agree, but for different reasons (for B, duration is vital, for H series cannot be seen as PAT).

*H has no theory of time

*tool and broken tool = tool and space = being and truth = being and time

*H was trying to develop a metontology = trying to see reality more than a tool or a broken tool (as a metabolism between being and being).

*benumbedness = structure of the animal world (profound boredom)

*semantic logos = referring to object

*apophantic logos = referent present as it is, and covers up RTH (this is impossible without semantic logos)

*life is a pure event (Ereignis) of significance – knowledge makes events into Vorgang (mere occurrence as objectivities), because of this life is always the shadow of Ereignis → knowledge requires de-living, de-distancing out of the authentic lived experience → Ereignis is the nearness of being. Representing objects via knowledge strips things of their nearness and takes away their non-objectable character.

*To say something ‘is’, is to give it as something in general, which is Ereignis: the being of this thing → this isness of beings is perceived by animals and humans alike.

*Moods and angst disclose different attunements to perception but have no higher ontological capacity to see the being of things.

*Ereignis (‘non-as’ something at all. It is…) and Vorgang (‘as’ something in particular. It is a hammer)

*Humans do not animate the world and bring it to life. Humans render things uni-dimensional, and therefore have the reverse capacity.

*All things exist as transcendence (some part of the object is always beyond reach)

*Attuned in angst, beings as whole slip away to sheer ‘something at all’. ‘Nothing’ should not be represented as a negative absence, but as ‘no particular thing’. Being is nothing = being is the ‘is’ before the ‘is’ is particularized.

*Angst as being-towards-death displays nothingness as nothingness → yet, the ‘as’ character of the whole is always already there in transcendence, which means no mood is better or worse for revealing beings as a whole.

*Truth is neither alethia nor adequatio – for both try and bring the being of being into view beyond being as nothing and thus always keep an aspect of being withdrawn.

*Truth is more an unlocking than unconcealing.

Chapter 2

*If B&T was read only for the tool analysis as applicable only to human life, then it would read more like a “profound human autobiography, the heart-warming story of Dasein superimposing a grid of human transcendence and temporality onto a colourless plateau of drowsy physical bulks” (103) – this view disregards anything that is revolutionary in H.

*seem to be two types of H tool analysis interpretation: pragmatism and Aristotelio-Heideggerians (looking at similarities between H and Aristotle’s poiesis/praxis distinction. Both groups define tool-being as strictly human praxis.

*Bernasconi analysis: Harman agrees with B that RTH and PAH are not mutually isolated realms, but operate in an ‘exchange of presence’. Tool and broken tool are caught up in a metabolic reversal. Harman disagrees with B’s syllogism which runs that 1) tool analysis can be phenomenological or historical, 2) H ‘knife and fork’ remark subverts phenomenological approach, 3) therefore, tool-being by way of Aristotle is the only approach → this is not the case, as H does not attack the phenomenological approach only the ontic approach of thinking tool-being is about everyday tools.

*tool-being ruptures the metaphysical notion of ground → RTH does serve as a new foundation for ontology (tool-being as an alternative to the metaphysics of presence).

*Greek philosophy = 1) a datable tradition which dates from Plato to Medieval though and possibly to Husserl and beyond, 2) the traditional privileging of vision, production, theoretical comportment, and PAH in general. H reviles this method of philosophy.

*philosophy a coup d’etat against PAH. This will prevent the blind repetition of the tradition of PAH.

*tool-analysis is not about the use of equipment.

*For H, poiesis is said to aim at an end that is distinct from its activity, while praxis is an end in itself. Aristotle tries to make poiesis subordinate to praxis, but this relationship is reversed: praxis ceases to be an end itself. Poiesis cannot be a PAH product, as praxis can never be present in its own right, but lies hidden from view, coming to light only as a ‘trace’.

*RTH has nothing to do with productive activity.

*Tools have no visible teleological structure, which lies as a trace in the tool broken equipmentality (its RTH).

*For Harman, poiesis and praxis are two dimensions of every entity.

*To take RTH as production (poiesis) is not what H wants. RTH is not production.

*Bernasconi reads H as staying within the confines of Greek ontology, as he think H reads tool-being in terms of production (poiesis) and not theoria. Bernasconi essentially says that the theoretical use of the hammer and its praxis are different, but both are forms of PAH. He thinks H’s priority to production mimics the movements of metaphysics to technological enframing which reduces being to PAH.

*Bernasconi basically says that RTH is production, production is teleology, teleology is PAH, PAH is metaphysics. Building (poiesis) = broken tool, dwelling (praxis) = tool, thinking (theoria) = the between that listens to what is granted in dwelling an unveils it in the thoughtful world of the thinker.   For B, tool-being is only regarded as a layer of human comportments and not as the structure of reality itself.

*The historicity of Dasein has no more to do with history as tool-being does with tools. The importance of history for philosophy should not be taken a priori. Anything phenomenological belongs to throwness, the Nicomanchean Ethics and the back side of coca cola cans. Scholars have prioritized the relation to Heidegger to all sorts of historical figures (and even developed this as a form of philosophy proper, such as Gadmerian hermeneutics).

*H tool-being is NOT pragmatism: Okrent’s book ‘Heidegger’s Pragmatism’ aims to bring H into the analytic world. Being = understanding, as understanding is omnipresent category not ontic event. Dasein understand s its own being, primarily. Dasein has ‘self-intending’ (which is not introspection), but something always already there with us. For Orkrent, when we see a car we see its practical usability, yet if we don’t know what a car is, we can see the car only because we understand ourselves firstly, which cam lead to a practical relationship with the car. Understanding is competence for Orkrent, but as we are not all that competent, most of our knowledge is only self-knowledge, even though some understanding occurs constantly for Dasein.

*This is wrong, as Verstechen or Verstandnis does not mean “knowing how tot do something, but unthematic ‘being-with’ that occurs in every moment for Dasein. Understanding becomes an ontological principle that includes the permanently stupid, who do not know how to use anything.

*For H, understanding underlies all conscious theory and manipulation: which is nothing human at all. Things exceed all theoretical and practical understanding. Being is being, not use.

*Heidegger reinforces Okrent’s analysis but as Harman once again repeats “Heidegger must not be regarded as the absolute authority” on his own ideas!

*For Orkrent, Heidegger is a transcendental pragmatist. Things are always withdrawn in some way but Dasein is restricted to his ‘conditions of possibility’ within the immanent sphere of engagement

*For Orkrent, H is a ‘verificationist’ = H reduces any entity to the way in which that entity manifest itself to Dasein at any given set of moments = pragmatic anti-realism (which amounts to a kind of instrumental solipsism, a mating between Dewey and Descartes). H does not decrease the distance between subjectivity and being but increases them beyond nothing seen before.

*deflationary realism (so called by Dreyfus) is the standard mode of philosophy of our time. The world of access is all that we should aim to analyse, all else is nieve scientific realism or idealism

*For Dreyfus, H has a robust realism, as H shows us that we can point to the things outside direct human awareness (formal indication), without being committed to descriptions of those things, which obviously appear only within human context. Similar to Kripke’s notion of ‘rigid designator’.

*H does say that broken tools are deworlded, and that tools are part of a world context. PAH is not what truly exists independent of me, but what seems independent. If I stare at a bridge, its occurring image is not independent on me, but the executant bridge is.

*there is no ontological fissure between conscious and unconscious human experience. My interaction is always relational and does not touch what is independently substantial to the thing.

*When we objectify any object, we de-live it, changing it from Ereignis to Vorgang.

*the Dreyfus way out of H’s own confusion over the categories of RTH and PAH is tool-being = world, and PAH is independent. Awareness can grasp things as independent (PAH), but unconscious practise grasps things an dependent (RTH) .

*being itself is RTH.

*H critique of Husserl is a critique of PAH in general not just the PAH of intentionality.

*By discrediting naturalist prejudice that objects are pre-existant units that drift accidentally into conscious view, Husserl isolates them in no other mode than that of their intentional givenness, their ‘isness’.

*Husserl focuses mainly on deliberate acts of bracketing, while H focuses on unintentional acts of bracketing (such as with broken tool and angst).

*It is not good enough to say that Husserl’s subject knows (noetic) and H’s projects/interprets.

*Husserl is interested in the things themselves as potential targets of consciousness (as phenomena: view A = hammer is present in tacit background, view B = hammer has emerged from background to figure), where as H is interested in the things themselves for themselves (tool-being).

*care is the unthematised background reality (ground) of concern.

*time has no isolated ground, it has no discrete existence or dimension apart from particular objects or events.

*the priority of the future as where temporality temporalizes itself shows H’s human flattery. Krell notes that the terminology of temporal ecstasis only came later and not earlier even though all the basic formulation were there. This is because it was never needed in the first place.

*Truth is not something originary where Dasein opens the possibility for truth through circumspective concern, which can then double truth via a confirmation of denial of the original concern.

*you will never be able to think entities out of existence.

*Schurmann talks of the event of presencing as why H is important, against Kant’s noumenal in-itself or raw sense data. This is an interpretation against transcendence but not against particularities (the event is, but not specially something, yet). However, it is not looking at the world as is, but how the world comes to be, its ‘ising’. The 20th century is hounded by a play of clearings: anarchy.

*The four of the fourfold are everywhere at all times. No strategy could be more foreign to H than listing types of being.

*H did not climb up a long mountain to the heights of Ereignis from his lowly Dasein analysis. He was talking of Ereignis back in 1919. It seemed he was moving from the event to the conditions which bring the event, but this constant tracking back obscures what essentially is the same thing.

*H theory of language is subordinate to his theory of objects

*Badiou says that this century has been ontological, which Is more essential than the linguistic turn.

*analytic philosophy wanted to remodel Kant’s a priori transcendental philosophy into a philosophy of language.

*language is top for 20th century phil, as experience was for Kant.

*Language limits the entire field of investigation (much like Kant’s spatio-temporal appearance).

*Kant fought conditions of ‘experiencability’. Philosophers of lang pursued conditions of ‘describability’.

*For Rorty, the history of philosophy depends on two type of entities:

-type A: entities are what they are part from all relation with anything else

-type B: require relations into order to be available.

*between atomism and holism

*the PAH of Richard Rorty is that he is dead, he was a professor, etc.

The RTH of Richard Rorty ‘is’, prior to any list of qualities that can be drawn up, Rorty exists as a reality.

*relations turn objects into PAH

*Dif-ference (Unterschied)is the inter (unter) between world and thing, between that which is taken PAH against the RTH. The dif-ference is the relation that is forever lost when a thing acts in relation as a being-in-the-world.

*holism does not free us from PAH but chains us to it: reducing the murky depths of object to a limited presented view of their relations, cuts down objects to PAH.

*a hammer exceeds all possible uses of it.

*context ontology = things exist for each other = PAH

(there is no political problem saying the world has an essence, there is a problem when we say one thing embodies an essence more than another (such as Germany over Russia, man over woman, etc).

*the left appeal to performative constructivism and the right to nature (p173) has interesting political implications for OOP

*’nothing without context’ has become driving paradigm of research.

*H not philosopher of language. He tells us nothing about language that is not also true of non-language. Language is not important as a specific phenomenon, but the interplay between world and thing. The speaking of language summons their differentiation, as the onefold of world and thing.

*analysis of equipment is not instrumental reason, as RTH is universal field.

*production in Greek is not a making but a form of knowing (techne linked with episteme). Technology is a mode of revealing: man is always already in the unconcealment /concealment

*does modern technology annihilate the depth dimensionality of being more than old technology did? Both reveal and conceal beings. Being can never to totally in the light. If modern technology is dreadful because it makes us thing that things are completely revealed to us, what about the alienation of modern landscapes, and the anxiety of unpredictable machines that could break, crash and malfunction at any time? What about scientists who seem to contradict old theories year after year or new technologies that make it impossible for the lay person to know how they work? There seems to be an intrinsic mystery/concealing within modern technology that doesn’t just disclose it as PAH, but is based upon a kind of wishful, magical thinking if things will work or not, while what makes them work is completely unknown.

*artwork brings forth strife as strife.

*fundamental ontology is one half of philosophy, metontology should be the other (metontology is the investigation of the subterranean being of objects).

*the world is not just polyvalent, a world of interconnection and relations, but is tetravalent, before it is interconnected.

*There is a difference between H’s ‘thing’ and Husserl’s ‘phenomena’. For Husserl the mailbox is primarily the object of intention. For Heidegger the mailbox is withdrawn in its mailbox-being and is primarily something autonomous from its use and conceptualization.

*the quadrate is not a taxonomy for types of being (if we take earth, sky, mortals, Gods as ontic criteria, then we end up with an ontic set of objects associated symbolically with the first). The fourfold are ontological categories and cannot be reduced to ontic entities.

*The fourfold / quadrate / das Geviert

→ sky = revealed processes and tangible forces to be reckoned within our lives. It reveals entities which are events unfolding as processes. It is an ontological category for ontic specific things.

→ earth = is the withdrawn serving-bearing (load bearer) of being

→ gods = come comes to presence in the absence of what is present (godhead is the concealed sway, the gods are the ‘hidden messengers’)

→ mortals = things capable of death as death, is a grasping the finitude of all that exists. Mortals means being as being.

*angst pays no attention to pencil or ice ball but cares only that beings as a whole are something at all rather than nothing.

*all modes of absorption must be ontologically identical: the same for Buddha and for New York lawyers and capitalists and Marxists It is impossible to try and differentiate ontologically ontic entities from the gap between their presence and absence.

*Zizek’s retroactive causation: the Real is not the real world outside the human sphere, but the very gap between appearing and non-appearing that is first posited by the fantasy of human subject

*for Harman, retroactive causation is a global ontological structure (I.e. the Real is that which is the gap between what is revealed and concealed by all objects where objects fantasize the what is’, of other objects in specific configurations, contrary to their unknown depths).

*objects cannot encounter reality itself only projections from other objects about what they are (Latour’s principle of abstraction)

*For Zizek, the interesting thing in Kant is between the gap of phenomenal and noumenal found in the structure of transcendental imagination.

*the Lacanian model of the subject that H missed is the subject not immersed into its life-world but is able to create a fissure in being and retroactively posit its own content. This ‘mad’ subject is partially torn from the fabric of reality.

*the problem with angst is that it points to a Real world of concealed being, instead of the pre-ontological gap of fantasy that surmounts all noumenal realisms.

*all objects constitute their surroundings retroactively – objects are retroviruses, injecting their DNA back into the nucleus of everything they encounter.

*Kripke: name as ‘rigid designator’ = (against descriptivist theory  of meaning where properties can be tabulated and used to define it)  an indicator to an inaccessible X that lies behind any description given to it (if we list all the properties of gold this is not what gold is, as gold has inaccessible properties and the properties of a thing can be overturned through new epistemic frameworks – substratum causes the properties of its being)

*For Zizek, reality is phantasmatic support for the symbolic realm.

*essentialists think there are a small number of properties which once everything else is stripped away, define what a thing is. Laclau’s anti-essentialism states that there is no minimum set. A realist would point to rigid designators to say that a thing is what it is before properties have even begun to be assessed or solidified into a permanent correspondence.

*the rigid designator is the quilting point  (point de capiton) that retroactively forms the Real in its own image: it is pure difference, a signifier without a signified. Harman is against this formulation.

*causality is just another form of as-structure.

*the reality of a fire is constituted retroactively by the entities encountering it (fire is not dangerous ‘in itself’ but only when I put my hand in it and give it the relation of danger as a property – I retroactively formulate its ‘isness’).

Chapter 3

*conscious awareness is no longer the basic orienting pole of reality.

*consciousness is not an epiphenomenon but an infraphenomenonon. To become aware of tool-being is not to rise above them but to make oneself more vulnerable to them.

*vacuous actuality, is when an object could exist in a vacuum prior to any relation.

*for H, meaning saturates every square inch of the world, yet for Harman, if tool-being is withdrawn from relation it can have no meaning. All things in relation is exactly what Whitehead believes, too.

*tool-being is a theory of vacuous causality.

*equipment should not be viewed as having potential (as this is potential for relation , which is PAH reduction).

*richer than relation is actuality. Actuality is richer than potentiality.

*when looking at substance, to place restriction of what is an object and what is a collection of objects, undermines the non-relational ontology of tool-being. As for Whitehead, he takes small objects but them presents them only within a larger relational superstructural network. H takes small objects and reveals their networked relations then restores their singularity

*For Levinas, the relation between an existent and its existence is a contract sealed in the space of a single instant. Temporality does not lie outside of any moment, it is internal to it.

*H situates the strife of reality between unified being and manifold specific beings. For Levinas, beings are the between.

*this means that for H, being is the clearing that brings  beings into the specific revealed/concealed being. For Levinas, there is no clearing space of being beyond the being itself. The being is the interplay between its specific being and non-specific being being. Ontology is therefore not that which is outside of entities (as desired by some Heideggerians who try and think being apart from beings). Ontology must be the study of beings in their being… it cannot be otherwise.

*il y a = being in general, but not exterior to beings. Such as insomnia, where beings are in general in their being, but one is detached from its contents and impersonal. Yet there is still presence. However this is not a total retreat like Heidegger’s anxiety, that reveals beings in their being, as it is still a mode of access, just a special kind.

*being in general for H throws beings into the nothing. For Levinas, the object is not against the nothing of being, it is its own nothing and something at all.

*two poles of objects: consistency (multiple features) and transcendental (the unity that encloses its qualities).

*an object has real notes and conceptual notes.

*For Whitehead and H a full system of relations is prior to any individual essence. Zubrini reverses this: essence of not essence for.

*Essence is entitative not operational. Its essence is its very act of being not being for or ability to act.

*chair is not a chair of-itself. The part comes before a world.

*temporality = all objects are 1) withdrawn (past), 2) make projections (future) 3) unifies these two moments (present)

For Zubrini, essence is withdrawn from all relation (even brute causal relation). This is something not claimed by H, Whitehead or Levinas.

*Every set of relations is also an entity.

*paranoia philosophies = everything effects everything (all things conspire, said Hippocrates).

*objects don’t posses notes but a note, a bulk package of quality.

*the visible world is both is at all (Angst) and is composed of numerous beings that have broken free from the system of being (ontological difference).

*H free us from the ontic and physical criterion for substantiality.

*tool-beings can be decomposable into further tool-beings. Infinite regress: there is no natural terminus.

*against the holistic empires of H and Whitehead, OOP has infinite number of tool-beings within tool—beings each a master of their own castle.

*the fourfold is still fundamental ontology, not metontology that H proposed.

*every new relation ipso facto is a new entity: things in relation for new machines, no matter how bizarre a collection (Popeye, mice, Gandalf, mitochondria, apes = together in this context are an  example machine!).

*there are no images only things.

*the being of beings is always a being, just not a PAH being.

*actuality is richer than potentiality.

*being is not a BwO but a kingdom of established localized districts.

*The clearing has now been abolished.

*the movement of philosophy is not an unveiling but a reverse engineering.


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