Today I received the following thing from Amazon in the mail.  It was addressed to me, yet I didn’t order it.  It didn’t appear in my order history, nor was I charged for it.  When I opened it I had no idea what it was.  I had to look it up by it’s ISBN number.  Apparently it has something to do with synthetic rope.  Perhaps mountain climbing?

It is strange, even uncanny, when such things happen.  They create a minor rupture in your world.  My thoughts were led to Heidegger.  Heidegger challenged a very long-running tradition of conceiving our relationship to the world in terms of representational knowledge.  That tradition assumed the position of the passive observer or the scientist who wishes to know the truth; to know reality.  In division one of Being and Time, Heidegger said “no, we are not passive observers of the world, but rather engaged, concerned agents!”  We are people that engage in tasks for the sake of this or that.  We live in a world of “meaning”, structured by projects.  And in engaging with that world, we do so through equipment.  There is not an equipment, said Heidegger, because equipment always belongs to relations, to a network, with other bits of equipment for the sake of some task.  The stove refers to the pan which refers to the food to be cooked, which ultimately refers to sustenance.  When equipment is functioning correctly, when it’s doing its task, it’s invisible.  However, when something breaks or doesn’t work, the network suddenly becomes visible and we notice how all of these things relate to one another and rely on one another in our concernful dealings.

Well the appearance of this thing in my world is an experience like that broken tool.  Yet phenomenologically it’s different.  It’s the appearance of something uncanny.  Like the broken tool, it has the effect of mildly decomposing a world and bringing that network into relief or visibility.  Yet unlike the broken tool, it seems to speak to alterity as something that perpetually haunts worldhood.  Something can always strike from without.  This strange thing appeared in my world from nowhere, challenging the meaningfulness of that world.  Was it sent by a friend as a gift, meant to express some sort of message?  What would that message be?  Perhaps that I should climb mountains?  Was it merely a mistake on the part of Amazon?  How does that happen?  Has a mountain climber stolen my identity and made a mistake when ordering things under my name?  This thing that has appeared in my world is something without a place, something that doesn’t belong, something that isn’t of the regime of appearance that governs my world, yet here it is.  It arrived nonetheless.  And in appearing in my world– in the fullness of its senselessness or mysteryit performs the difference between the world and the earth, bringing the earth as that which is other than the world into relief, causing the ground to rise to the surface, revealing that the systems of meaning that constitute the worldhood of the world is not all…  That there is this fundamental alterity at the heart of the meaning of being that might be called existence.  What I encountered in this strange little bit of postage– and I can’t help but think of Derrida’s Glas here –was a little bit of the real in its subtle uncanniness.  I encountered something that called my own identity and world into question.

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