Tag: Heidegger

What it means when it feels as if things are plotting against you…

Today I’ve had one of those days when things seem to be just being naughty.

I dropped my money in Costa Coffee, my bag kept falling off my shoulder as I walked around Waitrose looking for six Cornish pasties, six Cornish pasties fell out of the oven and dribbled pastry all over the floor, I bumped into a lamppost while scooting home with pasties in my bag, I tripped over a kerb and Excel crashed causing me to lose an hour’s work. I’ve felt cross and upset at things. I’ve been close to tears (the pasty disaster was pretty bad). I’ve been grumpy and sulky. I’ve withdrawn into my introspective world of negative thoughts. Why? Because six pasties fell on the floor, and the rest.

Now the day is ending and thinking back to my annoying day with the benefit of hindsight, I like the idea that inanimate objects can have such a strong influence on my emotional state. They don’t mean to upset me. They are just stuff. They aren’t really conspiring against me. There isn’t ‘something in the air’. I didn’t ‘get out of bed the wrong side’ (I got out of bed the same side as I always do). It is just what it is. It is what it is. It’s all a big coincidence. But it feels as if there is a purpose to the stubbornness of things. It really does feel as if they have been conspiring and laughing in a Mutley hissy toothy way.

A couple of years ago I came across the Object Oriented Ontology school of thought. This is the idea that things aren’t just things and we are superior to things; things have agency. They have just as much right as we, organic beings, to existence.  They deserve our respect. This idea was influenced by the mighty Heidegger who was big on ‘things’, their interconnectedness and what they mean to us.

Heidegger described this ‘annoyance’ I describe at objects, or the feeling we get when an object causes us distress, as: ‘the being just present at hand, and no more something present to hand’ (Bakewell, 2016, p. 69). In simpler words ‘the way we focus our troubles on the object that has let us down’. We focus on the object that has caused us annoyance rather than the action we were trying to perform with the object. It is the object’s fault in our eyes. And that failure is symbolic.

Martin Heidegger

When an object fails us, the world is no longer running smoothly. Rather, it is in a state of flux and chaos. We see this failure and flux as a metaphor for our personal failures and negative issues with our life’s path. Imagine the day, a ‘bad hair’ day, when things just keep betraying you. Suddenly, your life is awful, your job is awful, your marriage is a sham! Of course it isn’t really. It’s just normal. The empty stapler and the jamming photocopier didn’t cause your life to crumble. They just happened. Your life is ok.

I like this idea because to me it proves that objects have agency in our minds even if we don’t think about this very often and even if in reality they are just objects. They influence our emotional state even if that sounds nuts. Don’t look at this logically; you won’t like what you see. If you look at it from the perspective of experience, it isn’t at all weird. It happens all the time.

A random pile of annoying stuff

We live in language

The one good thing about having to drive to Wolverhampton and back instead of taking the train is that I get to listen to Radio 4. I love Radio 4. I grew up listening to Radio 4. Radio 4 is my comfort blanket. I was put to sleep with Radio 4.

But despite its soporific effects on me, Radio 4 is great for encouraging thinking. In the mornings on my way to Wolverhampton, I get to hear all sorts of interesting stuff about science, politics, philosophy and current debate. In the evenings, I generally get to catch up on the news. The mornings are the best.

This morning Melvin Bragg kept me company as I sailed down the M54 talking to a random woman about Hannah Arendt. I knew very little about Hannah Arendt before today. I had heard of her. I was aware that she was a writer and political theorist / philosopher but that is as far as my knowledge of her went. I now know a lot more about her thanks to Radio 4 and that is Not A Bad Thing.

Hannah Arendt was actually a very influential political philosopher. She was born in Germany but fled to Paris in 1933 and then emigrated to the US eight years later. She became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York (lucky cow, she was). She wrote a number of relatively well-known philosophy books but also lots of essays. She was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy but she was also a fan of Heidegger, and more than a fan at times too. I am also a bit of a Heidegger fan for some of his thoughts on ‘stuff’ and philosophy as I am a little bit obsessed with ‘stuff’.

Hannah Arendt with her cat

Hannah Arendt with her cat

One thing that was mentioned on the radio today though that struck me as particularly interesting about Hannah Arendt is that she argued that ‘we live in language’. She was very interested in the internal dialogue that we have in our heads when we are thinking, as were the Greeks. I like this idea. I agree; we do ‘live in language’. Language is all we have in our heads. It is what keeps us awake. It is what stops us from sleeping. It forms our dreams so it is still there as we sleep. Equally, as well as internal to us, language is everywhere around us: whether it be a visual language or a spoken / written language.

Language is also so much about interpretation. We read something, someone says something to us, we say something to someone, there will be an interpretation of that spoken or written communication which may or may not match the intent. Language is omnipresent. We cannot escape it. It informs our emotions, our reactions, our beliefs and our culture. If we’re not reading it, listening to it, speaking it or writing it, we are thinking it. What it must be like to live without language? But I would argue that if there is no language, the mind creates a form of language that does not use words, images or gestures. Language just evolves from whatever resources there are. Perhaps that might be sound, touch or raw emotion.

Philosophy has a lot to say about thinking and how we think, what we use to think and language. So this is a topic that I could think, talk and write about for hours. But I won’t.

I’m going to think about lunch instead.