Heidegger and the Ecology of Knowing

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Levi Bryant has a interesting post up on Heidegger (here), wherein he moves from a damn fine summary of ‘equipmentality’ to a discussion of cognitive blindness (although without reference to the massive amounts of empirical research being done in this area outside of the humanities), to a powerful statement about the need to think and write against the biases and shortcomings of distinction-making or symbolic differentiation, to an important statement about the use and limits of reflexivity.
What I enjoyed most about Bryant’s post is how well he drove home the point about the selectivity of human awareness, and how more integrative (cross-disciplinary and multi-methodological) approaches to knowing and considering are required if we want to have adequate understandings of particular social and political situations. If we are to activate a practical awareness of complex dynamics we have to attend to as many causally implicated systems and processes at the various scales as are available to us. ‘Availability’, thus, being an issue of how our cognitive-sensory capacities encounter things and how our instruments and theoretical tools help us disclose the myriad of objects, assemblages, systems and flows existing within the field/context of our inquiry. Enter Heidegger.
Of course, much of what Bryant suggests in his post is typical of what you will find circulating within most developed anthropology programs. There has been much ado in anthro about Donna Haraway’s work on “situated knowledges” and Clifford Geertz’s work on the need for “thick description”, among other theoretical advances that attempt to traverse categorical purity and methodological fetishes, and anthropology generally attempts to offer a “4-field approach” to knowledge generation that makes ample use of linguistic, materialist, cognitive, and historical methods in the search for comprehensive descriptions and analytical insight. What is important, then, in terms of Bryant’s post, is that he is specifically addressing philosophers. By marshalling the pragmaticist aspects of Heidegger’s thought Bryant successfully contrasts the tendency of so-called “detached philosophers” to get caught up/distracted in categorical concerns and contemplative specularity at the expense of appreciating the “everydayness” and practical engagements of our being-in-the-world. Initial disclosure of an ontological world is always a non-thetic and “pre-reflective” disclosure (as first-order ‘structural’ relation). And I argue, in a related sense, that contemplative ‘specularity’ (as second-order ‘epistemic’ relation) is, as Laruelle and others have suggested, a key feature of the philosophical miscontrual of radical immanence. In other words, philosophical speculation has a tendency to gloss over the practical situatedness (dare I say ecological materiality?) of being and knowing in favor of creating marked and highly abstract distinctions leading to a variety of metaphysical confusions. Enter Wittgenstein.
Moreover, it seems to me the effect of working from an appreciation of situated knowing (viz. fundamental ecologicality or radical immanence) would be substantial for those pursuing speculative thought. From a worldly and embedded, or what I have called elsewhere creaturely, praxis-oriented philosophical approach scientific/empirical knowing (as mode) and knowledge (as product) can be recognized for what it is: an extension of a more general human ‘know-how’, but also for how it is enacted, co-constructed and socially/ecologically generated. Human knowledge is produced from embodied and embedded ‘know-how’, and is at its core about pragmatic coping (‘coping-with’) in the wider field of beings, forces, powers and becomings.
To be sure, I don’t follow Heidegger in everything he had to say about “at-handedness”, preferring instead to appreciate and emphasize the autonomy of entities endowed with capacities to affect, intervene, interfere and “appear” in the co-disclosing enactment of ‘worlds’ or situations (with our ‘being-with’ as fundamental), but his more pragmatic leanings are highly instructive. As human beings, our involvement in the world is not initially ours, because these everyday activities, or ways of understanding, are always already part of a shared way of going about everyday life. And knowing takes place in this context: it emerges from background conditions, or the plane of consistent and structured practical action. ‘Being’ is only insofar as contingency is produced as cosmos, as a wilderness teeming with flora, fauna and all sorts of mutant assemblages thereof.

3 responses to “Heidegger and the Ecology of Knowing

  1. Pingback: The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory (2001) | synthetic_zero·

  2. What about the blindness of using the philosophical model at all?

    What if using our prefrontral cortex as the basis for all understanding is the essential blindness? Although he challenges his own bias, his previous love of heidegger and his new ideas, he still remains within the realm of “western philosopher” and fails to understand the true nature of nontheoretical coping activities (which are 99% of our lives).

  3. Unless you are advocating lobotomy as praxis I’m not sure we can totally avoid intellectual interpretation. I agree re: “nontheoretical coping”, and I personally advocate a methodical return to embodied wisdom viz attenuation to flesh and sensation (see the work of Tom Sparrow here), but ‘understanding’ entails associative memory and cognition coding and so is by definaition and function ‘intellectual’. They key, imo, is not to rid ourselves of philosophy but to reorient thetic performance (intelligibility) within the always already experience of non-thetic (sensibility). Coping-with must be multi-dimensional because the world is multi-dimensional.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s