Monday, August 15, 2011

To Philosophize with a Broken Hammer: A Brief Remark on a Familiar Discussion

The interference of φύσις, in the sense in which it is made accessible within Sein und Zeit's tentative schematic of possible innerweltliches Seiendes, might be understood according to two, seemingly mutually exclusive possibilities. The first of these is the obstinacy of nature, in which something natural is zuhanden in a deficient mode: the rock that you stumble on while hiking, the snow that prevents your flight to Boston from leaving on time, etc.  The deficiency here in view, namely that which yields obstinacy, is in principle the same, albeit in a manifestation less extreme, as that of the all too underscored "broken tool" of Sein und Zeit. What is characteristic of this interference of nature is that it is an interference at all by virtue of its modal deficiency; it remains totally comprehended by the phenomenal realm of zuhandenheit precisely as a negative phenomenon --one which receives its negative character only to the extent that it has been freed a priori as something zuhanden.  But this negative interference seems also to coincide, and even perhaps necessarily, with a positive interference; the zuhandenheit of nature seems also to require the possibility of, if I may venture this use of the word, a physiology of zuhandenheit. When, in the course of hammering the nail which will hold up the canvas and frame whereby the rustic summer house cottage room will be illuminated anew by Van Gogh's Peasant Shoes, the metal of the hammer snaps at the thinnest part of the neck, not only has the referential totality (within which the hammer already resided and by virtue of which alone it was capable of being used) lit up as such, but nature, hidden in the hammer, has conspicuously announced itself. The lighting up of the one and the announcing of the other coincided, but they are not at all identical. What nature here announces itself in this positive interference of nature? Such nature is, to be sure, not a Naturding; even less is it any "ding an sich" in the sense of a de-worlded vorhanden ding, an individuated res extensa. Thus, the classical understanding of the artificial substance as a thing possessed of a natural substratum reasserts itself here --yet in a way in which neither that artificial thing nor nature can any longer be confused with what is vorhanden, which confusion is precisely what definitively characterized the classical understanding. Thus the "broken tool" is not simply the occasion of a loss of world that lights up what is thus lost; it is also the very assertion of φύσις itself -- its interference is the intrusive reminder of a forgotten world, or of a forgotten 'part' of the very world which has been lit up as the worin of the referential totality.
This is of interest to me because, as I have already tried to emphasize, it is not that nature has ceased to be zuhanden in the broken tool or the airport delay. Whether we trip over a hidden tree stump, catch sun-glare on the windshield while driving to an appointment we are late for, snap a screw-driver in the midst of a last minute fix, or get attacked by a bear while trying to survey some wooded forest land, nature not only asserts itself and interferes, but it does so only within and through a world in terms of which, for example, we might disclose ourselves through panic, and our 'world' might go to pieces. 

     So the point is: the broken tool is not only a sign of the illuminating retraction of, but also the assertion of world. We would almost want to speak of two worlds passing by each other and intersecting on the way, were it not for the phenomenal evidence before us: the worlds are not so radically different as to not be understood as the singular world of In-der-Welt-Sein, and these retractions and assertions, it must at least be provisionally conceded, have as their common ontic site innerweltlich Seiendes. Thus the question is, how does one account for the paradoxical interference of φύσις in which world is at once asserted and rescinded? Again, one cannot say that this is reducible to the traditional distinction between nature and artifice for many reasons, but perhaps the obvious and most persistent one is the one we have already indicated: nature and artifice are not to be distinguished according to vor- and zu-handenheit. Nature is already zuhanden,  but zuhandenheit is already natural --and yet not at all because there are natural things -- a collection of individual substances or 'objects' in the 'great outdoors'. The plane that you can't take to Boston might very well have frustrated your future and thus lit up the 'fact' that the world you are in also lies ahead of you, but it has done so just as much through a startling assertion of the world which I would now, imputing a different sense to the word, want to call a physiological assertion. However, the physiological assertion enacts itself just as much as it is already contained in the world, the same world capable of illuminating retraction: the sudden snowstorm not only disrupts, it also surprises.