Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Tool-Being and Its Reversal

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Tool-Being and Its Reversal

Article excerpt

TOOL-BEING AND ITS REVERSAL

Whether he succeeds or fails, the main difference between Heidegger and most contemporary philosophers is that he at least tries to talk about real jugs and bridges.'

In each case, the proper question is not "what did Heidegger think?" but "what does his analysis require1?"2

Graham Harman's Tool-Being is a thoroughly readable, provocative analysis of Being and Time and Heidegger's legacy. He begins by reading the sections on equipmentality in Being and Time "against the grain," then analyzes the later fourfold, and ends with an outline of an "object-oriented philosophy," which includes aspects of Alfred North Whitehead, Emmanuel Levinas, and Xavier Zubiri, plus a dash of Saul Kripke, all offset against the positions of Aristotle and Leibniz. In-between, Harman does his best to make himself unpopular with every major Heidegger scholar by laying out, chapter and verse, what he believes are the deficiencies of their readings of Heidegger. This work is at least a useful tonic, not only against overly pragmatist and existentialist readings of Being and Time, but, also, against the modern obsession with the transcendental subject together with twentieth century's linguistic turn. Harman wants his book to do nothing less than herald the dawn of a new philosophical era in the twenty-first century, a return to philosophy's true vocation, discussing reality, where the line in the sand is drawn, not between the transcendental realm of the subject and things, but between being itself and the web of interrelated beings.

Some will undoubtedly find Harman's ardent style off-putting and his central thesis that man is irrelevant to Dasein will strike many as misguided, if not downright bizarre. However, even if some of his arguments are flawed and his system requires some modification-which will inevitably bring it closer to traditional readings of Heidegger-his approach is basically sound. His book needs to be taken seriously because, while Harman's metaphysics of objects still needs work and at precisely the juncture where one might be tempted to opt for a more traditional reading of Heidegger, it is those readings that, in fact, need to be retooled. To this end, my critical remarks will concentrate on supplementing his work, rather than on propping up more traditional readings of Heidegger over and against his, because I do not wish to encourage the belief that such readings are satisfactory. Even if they can be made so, they need to be rethought from the ground up bearing in mind Harman's points. Thus, despite its faults, Harman's book merits our attention both because it provides a point from where we can start to develop a new metaphysics of objects and because it provides us with a vantage point from where we can rethink our interpretations of Heidegger.

Iconoclasm and a wry sense of humor permeates his work, cover to cover, including, presumably, the title itself, "Tool-Being," which is Harman's term forZuhandenheit. On the back cover, instead of the usual dreary academic biography, we are informed that Harman "supported himself through part of graduate school as a Chicago sportswriter, in which capacity he interviewed such figures as Sammy Sosa and Bobby Knight," which undoubtedly explains not only Harman's iconoclasm but also the fact that the book is a pleasure to read.

To get a sense of Harman's tone, one only has to read the acknowledgements page, called a "note to the reader," which turns out to acknowledge no one. Rather, it roundly condemns the practice of stuffing the names of prestigious people, institutions, and fellowships like a "Praetorian guard" at the start of a book, which, Harman claims, has the unintended consequence of silencing uncredentialed readers-although I'm not sure why this doesn't apply even more to the blurb on the back cover. Harman wishes to address his readers "directly, rather than through the medium of any institutional machinery. …

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