Learning the art of not-taking-for-granted

(More untidy, preliminary insights from reading Heidegger. )

Taking a thing for granted is complex. There is an art to not taking something for granted. Being in the world is firmly established, as we interact with other things, tools or technologies, in order to provide the balance needed to be alive, we don’t exactly sense ourselves doing this, it just happens; there is something a priori, a fore-knowing conditioned into how we go about being & interacting in & with the world. For Heidegger we fall prey to the world, & “falling prey to the world means being absorbed in being-with-one-another as it is guided by idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity.” (Being & Time) For Heidegger in order to be in the world we must be tranquilized with it to some extent, there must be barriers to staunch us so that in our everyday mode we function as a unit. “Idle talk and ambiguity, having-seen-everything and having-understood-everything, develop the supposition that the disclosedness of Dasein thus available and prevalent could guarantee to Dasein the certainty, genuineness, and fullness of all the possibilities of its being.” (Being & Time) What this means is that there must be a mechanism for a status quo to be maintained, a default mode of being, which is being ontically. Ontic being is a conditioned being, it is how we exist day by day, but it does not preclude other ways of being, it allows for them by being ontic, everyday. “This tranquillization in inauthentic being, however, does not seduce one into stagnation and inactivity, but drives one to uninhibited “busyness”. Being entangled in the “world” does not somehow come to rest.”  

Conditioning must be taught & learned, nevertheless (to varying degrees of proficiency owing to undeniably cultural factors, which I don’t wish to go into here) we assume someone is there for a new born child when they come into the world, to help them get started, as Father John Misty sings in Pure Comedy “we emerge half formed and hope who ever greets us on the other end, is kind enough, to fill us in” Although his error here is giving the agency of perception of hope to an unborn, who we can only assume has no such pre-established, potential bias. It may be that not asking for our births, not having to solicit parents, we inevitably become takers-for-granted. The system works, we are entangled & tranquillized in by our conditioning.

It is self-evident that we must eat, sleep, work, defecate, consume, procreate, watch TV, check Facebook, take selfies, talk with friends, love our family. This is being, ontically. The qualia of things, their inherent “handiness” (Heidegger) & shown-ness, their apophansis is something learned, but in essence, speaking from the stage in human development currently reached, taken for granted. But something incredible still happens regardless of how perceptive we are about that which is taken for granted.

We take them for granted up to a certain point: when things run smoothly & provide for us, we don’t need to think about why they are the way they are or how they do what they do. We take little note of our sewage system till a fatberg or concreteberg blocks them & we suffer blockages that interfere with our senses through stinks we are unaccustomed to. We understand the relevance of something in their failure. Knowing the relevance of something we confront the

substance it carries forward into our everyday. Heidegger says of relevance: “The totality of relevance reveals itself as the categorical whole of possibility of the connection of things at hand. But the “unity” too, of manifold presence, nature, is discoverable only on the basis of the disclosedness of one of its possibilities.” (Being & Time) The blockage of sewers alerts us to the excretive function of our being, which must be handled; just as the throw-away culture that leads to landfills is an ever present reminder of our waste potential. We see our nature come to the fore as a problem to be solved, for the course of which to be changed in the failure of something.

Ontological being is in no way superior to ontic being: “Being is always the being of a being.” (Heidegger) Ontic being takes a decent chunk of what it is about being that seems insignificant but which, once investigated, has a profound impact on what it means to be a being.

Biological processes happen to us, & we know instinctively that we must keep the body nourished & only when we note failures of the body, do we really note how our body feels; as in noting the failure of a structure that carries waste away we note that we waste. You are very aware of your head when you have a headache, but once it is gone, you return to taking your head for granted. We take a thing or process for granted because it works especially well.

Only that which works exceptionally well can be taken for granted. There is a wonderful irony to this: it is very difficult to appreciate something when you cannot perceive it for being too close to you. Heidegger explains:

The concept of meaning includes the formal framework of what necessarily belongs to what interpretation that understands articulates. Meaning, structured by fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception, is the upon which of the project in terms of which something becomes intelligible.

Heidegger Being & Time

“Meaning is that wherein the intelligibility of something maintains itself” (Being & Time)

Only we can be provided with a meaningful existence & provide that existence through our own efforts. Ontic being, being everyday, is certainly not so much less meaningful for not being ontological, but I would contest that it is not as intense. When we endeavor to develop our ontological sensation of the world, the attunement of our thoughts, perception, intuition & our proprioceptive responses become amplified because we are aware of awareness, & moreover, aware of the art of not-taking-for-granted. We perceive at once the necessary ontic functions while  we perform them.

Heidegger cannot begin to get into being without first qualifying that there are these distinctions that while not exactly apart, are distinct owing to the quality of experience that comes with choosing to look ontologically. To be ontological we must look beyond the a priori ontic mechanism that works well enough to in some regard pull the wool over our eyes, so that we do not reveal distinctions about ourselves, to ourselves. Heidegger, explaining Dasein (being presence):

Dasein is a being that does not simply occur among other beings. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that in its being this being is concerned about its very being. Thus it is constitutive of the being of Dasein to have, in its very being, a relation of being to this being. And this in turn means that Dasein understands itself in its being [Sein] in some way and with some explicitness. It is proper to this being that it be disclosed to itself with and through its being. Understanding of being is itself a determination of being of Dasein.

Heidegger, Being & Time

In tandem with ontic being is the inevitability of taking being one step further ahead of the ontic. In its preliminary development, ontology was religious, it was cave painting, hand prints in ochre. This nascent becoming aware of our being, like a baby first recognizing its own body in a mirror, became religious & then philosophical, scientific & so on (for the sake of brevity).

Psychology has gone some way to getting us to be more open with ourselves, to be ontologically mended through the thinking of our emotions. We take notes in real time to determine patterns of behavior that we might switch them at our will rather than leaving the switching to the ontic, instinctual whim.

There is an art to not taking things for granted. It is somehow becoming perceptive of that which is indivisible because it works so well, that we come to be experts in a field or create aesthetically. For ontic being, words are something spoken because we do so. But for ontological being, they can be used to express poems. The poet can never take words for granted, else how could they be poets? An architect cannot possibly take a material, or shape for granted. 

A poet must listen to language, in hearing language there is heard, more than revelations of the shape of sound, more than the significance of showing, more than intelligibility & access to meaning, even more than feeling, because all this & more coalesces, which is a whole not being greater than the sum of its parts, but each of the parts being greater than the sum of the whole (Morton); the intensity with which the distinctions of the parts are felt to be intrinsic to each other is the only way good poems can be written. It all must come meaningfully together to avoid the shortcomings of an ontic use of language, which while important, is just a tool. Language must mean more than expressiveness to a poet, or else poetry stagnates. We cannot have a poet like JH Prynne or Roy Fisher, even a poet like Michael Symmons Roberts, if poetry is to be only a matter of being perfectly intelligible. Language & the distinct necessities that constitute any artistic practice, must not take what allows for it in its manifest potential, for granted. There is no ontic art as such: as soon as we create anything we are immediately transferred into the ontological & what gorgeous intensities await us there. God should be proud & grateful to us for creating him, to paraphrase the poet Rawcliffe from Burgess’s Enderby novels.

Finally, the question stands: does the ontological become ontic, in that the everyday becomes experienced as purely ontological? Sort of. A pure ontological existence, I assume, would be too overwhelming & though I don’t believe society would collapse in any sense, it may, become something like the failure of the society of Alphas in Brave New World, where the difficultly became a matter of the orientation of people on the same wave length into a stable hierarchical order, so processes get done: we need people who perform functions that make society stable. But therein lies a conundrum. Who decides? Well we all can, if we choose to reconfigure how we perceive the efforts of people in different roles in society & how we compensate them. This is pretty obvious & telling when we consider how useless footballers are & how much they are paid compared to the team of men who must descend into a sewer to clear a fatberg, which is of an importance far in excess of a footballers role in society. The irony isn’t missed. A footballer has not taken the ball, nor their body or training for granted & yet it is likely the man who cleans the sewer would rather be anything other than the clearer of his own kinds’ detritus & ordure.

How can the man who cleans out the sewer be ontological about/in their role? Society’s habits as to scales of importance is in desperate need of an overall. With this switch of insight an inveterate ontological perceptiveness can arise & bring with it immense benefit to our sense of meaning & the purpose with which humanity goes forward.

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