Listening to the grass grow

Wrathall, M (2005) How to read Heidegger, London: Granta, 106-118

Halfway through reading this I found myself so enamoured with it that I thrust a spare photocopy at Brendan and said ‘read this, it’s awesome’. I think he was fairly nonplussed… I’d like to talk to him about it, but he’s gone back to watching one of those science fiction TV programmes with a massive makeup budget. I don’t mind, though, because I am determined to allow him to to have his own essence rather than reducing him to a resource 😉

This chapter is from a book on reading Heidegger. I guess when people write books about how to read your books then you’ve definitely made it, right? This particular chapter is about Heidegger’s ideas on ‘dwelling’; learning to live in harmony with our particular, local world. It makes me want to go and lie in a field and listen to the grass growing.

grassI wrote in my last post about agreeing with David Lewin about us losing our control over machines and becoming compelled by them. I was a lot happier last summer when my old iPhone gave up the ghost and I decided to just keep going with my ‘festival phone’ for a few months. Being free from the compulsion to constantly check my e-mail, Facebook and Twitter was quite delightful. I missed having Google Maps in my pocket, but it did force me to ask directions from some interesting strangers. What eventually pushed me back onto the iThing was the labour of predictive text on push-buttons and a nagging ache at the base of my thumb that felt like the onset of osteoarthritis (I did try to call my friends instead but they never picked up). The experience made me aware of the extent of the hold the technology had on me, and hence more careful and disciplined about it. To the designers and owners of social apps, we are quite literally mere resources. I find it quite ridiculous that Heidegger was writing so far before the age of the internet; his ideas are so pertinent to the key developments of the last decade and the recent dramatic changes in our way of being in the world.

The emphasis on the local – the literally local – is particularly poignant. These days when we talk about online ‘spaces’, few of us would see this as metaphorical, but I seriously doubt Heidegger’s ‘fourfold’ of earth, sky, divinities and mortals would encompass the sky on my Facebook cover image and the mortals in my Twitter feed. I’m also pretty sure the ‘something genuinely divine’ we’re waiting for isn’t the iPhone 6.

What exactly is wrong with technology? How does it make us so bored and so boring, when it is supposed to free us up for more worthwhile pursuits? According to Heidegger the root of the issue is us not feeling ‘at home’ with the technological world. This results in a dissatisfaction with our own existence – a form of homesickness – which we try to deal with by filling the time; distracting ourselves with constant busyness. Heidegger argues for a return to our home; the finding of skills and dispositions more suited to our local fourfolds; saving the earth, receiving the sky, awaiting divinity, accompanying mortals and being receptive to our own mortality (i.e. not seeking instant gratification without discipline).

It all sounds very lovely. Particularly the autumn of life… (maybe I’m already in it).

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