R is for Ready to Hand

| May 1, 2014

In his essay ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ Heidegger sets up a tension to articulate the difference between the historical, realized, referenced world and all its uncaptured, unrealized, hidden being beneath. I believe it is the same tension described by Ranciere that allows for the pensive image. For Heidegger, as I think for Ranciere (though he’d probably disagree) our primary means of awakening and heightening our awareness of the tension inherent in our realities, is art. As Heidegger says, “while metaphysics and science remain trapped on the surface-world of presence…Poetry is greater than science because poetry hints into the depths, and as we have seen already, hinting is the only way to approach these depths.”

Heidegger explains that when we invent a new tool, we rupture the fabric of the present world by pulling something from the hidden depths, we ‘world’ a bit of ‘earth’. We invent, and in doing so, change both our world and the possibilities of self along with it. When we make art however, there is a desire for the material to resist perishing in the artwork, a paradoxical ambition to illuminate the shadow, to hold on to the persistence of its darkness:

The sculptor uses stone just as the mason uses it, in his own way. But he does not use it up…the painter also uses pigment, but in such a way that colour is not used up but rather only now comes to shine forth. To be sure, the poet also uses the word – not, however, like ordinary speakers and writers who have to use them up, but rather in such a way that the word only now becomes and remains truly a word.[2]

Like making tools, making art is a worlding act. But unlike a tool, the work “does not cause the material to disappear, but rather causes it to come forth for the very first time and to come into the Open of the work’s world.”

Aesthetic expression that veers too close to an instrumental agenda represents a morphing of art into tool. In contrast, art made in the spirit of learning, of exploration, takes on a responsive posture in search of the hidden depths to a thing’s being.

Heidegger’s distinction between tools and art is that a tool is self-evident, pointing only to itself, its utility, purpose, function etc. The tool does not send the imagination into a space of possibility, it orients users to the task at hand, sealing them tightly into a particular world.  Art, however, while it does designate some specificity, always points to a larger incompleteness for Heidegger, a world beyond its reference, evoked but not overly defined by the experience it offers.

This video MIGHT make more sense or give a good summary: