Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Equipmental Totality

When I first started jogging, a few years ago, a colleague gave me some good advice. He told me to get myself some good shoes. They might seem outrageously expensive, he said, but cheap shoes will make my legs hurt. And if my legs hurt I'm not likely to keep running. Good shoes, therefore, foster discipline.

This advice can be transferred to writing. Writers should make sure that they have a writing instrument that does not cause them discomfort every time they write. If you write at a computer, as most people do these days, make sure that it runs properly when you want it to. If it takes ten minutes to start up, as many computers do these days, don't wait until your writing session starts to turn it on. Turn it on well in advance so that the machine is ready for you when you want to start.

There is an expensive solution to this problem, of course. Get yourself a Mac. But often a little thought is all it will take. Clean up your disk space regularly, and organize your files in a way that makes sense to you. Don't accept the usual sources of irritation. Set up your word processor so that the all the tools you need are within each. Find out how to customize its layout. Keep it simple, so that it works for you. Even Mac users need to think a little bit about how to arrange their workspace.

The craftsman must keep the workshop in order. Heidegger tells us that our experience of "what there is" is implicated in an "equipmental contexture" (Zeugzusammenhang). Our proximal relationship to the world is established by a totality of equipment, i.e., things that can be used for specific purposes. In a perfect world, everything around you would be straightforwardly "useful", and you would immediately experience them as such. You would see their relation to your aims at a glance. You'd pick them up and they'd be exactly what you need.

"How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, seems to me all the uses of this world," says Hamlet. He has been alienated from his contexture, "a father killed, a mother stained, Aggravation of [his] reason and [his] blood." As he also puts it, "the time is out of joint". For most of us, the reasons for our alienation are less dramatic than Hamlet's, but the feeling is often comparable. What we need to do is find those moments when everything around us "works". This takes some discipline, to be sure, but it is possible to arrange a proper workshop to engage with, let us say, all the usage of the words.


Andrew Shields said...

What possible reason could there be to translate the coinage "Zeugzusammenhang" (with its two relatively straightforward components) as "equipmental contexture" (with its two relatively unstraightforward compoments).

"Zeug" can be seen as "equipment," okay, but "Zusammenhang" as "contexture" instead of "context"? I don't even need to see the "Zusammenhang" of the word to know that this is terrible. "Equipment context"? Not good, but better than inventing words.

What is the context, by the way? :-)

Thomas said...

It's Albert Hofstadter's translation of Basic Problems of Phenomenology.