Heidegger's example of the broken hammer can be looked at in two ways; first we have to deal with the hammer in its normal form fully working and able to push nails into a piece of wood. In its normal state hammer is just an object which we can either pick it up and use it, or at a distance whilst it's still in a draw, tool-kit or hung on the wall, we can just think of it as an object. When the hammer is ready to be used to drive a nail, and assuming that we know how to use it, Heidegger calls this object something that is "ready to hand". In the second case, when we're just contemplating the object being a hammer and whilst we're trying to make sense of it as an object or entity or as a tool we are thinking of it intellectually. We know that it is present in the universe but we don't really know it's true being, unless that is we see somebody using it, we simply looking at a piece of metal connected to a shaft of wood. This object Heidegger calls "present at hand".
From my point of view, (and perhaps from anybody else's thoughts), when we are actually using a hammer to drive a nail into the word, the focus of our attention seems to transfer onto the head of the nail itself, and the hammer becomes an extension of our own hand. In a sense the object that is the hammer is no longer in our own conscious perception, because we now thinking so deeply about the task in hand (i.e. the head of the nail being driven into the wood). It's only when something distracts us perhaps in that deep attention is interrupted and we whack our thumb, that things start to break down. Heidegger calls this a state of "breakdown"....
... Our immediate reaction quite often, is to throw the hammer, which is reappeared in our own focus of attention, and come out with some expletive! (Ouch!!). This seems to be an instant transition from concentration on the end of the nail back to our perception of the hammer itself.
If we now turn our attention to thinking about something that is "ready to hand" or alternatively "present at hand", Heidegger talks about the ready to hand objects in three different ways. He investigates the ready to hand object as;
- A, Conspicuousness;
- B, Obtrusiveness;
- and C, Obstinacy.
Dealing with the last one first so that this can be explained clearly, Heidegger's third example of 'obstinacy' is really about where something else has got in the way of completing whatever the job was at-hand. It might be possible that the interruption is because my workshop is cluttered all up, or perhaps say, the head of the hammer is very loose in its wooden shaft, and I therefore need to soak it in a bucket of water to swell the wood, to stop the head from falling off, - before I can actually use it. This is the concept that Heidegger calls obstinacy. My task has been interupted because of an outside situation to the task at hand.
But to get to the nitty gritty of his theory, I interpret that second state, "Obtrusiveness" as the example that is so critical to the point that Heidegger explains. This is that point in time when my hammer is 'missing'. (Or whatever other tool I might choose to use). In other words there is a gap where the object used to be and it is no longer present.
- This second idea of obtrusiveness, or presence of being, is really what I'm interested in my own work in reflection of death and grief, but moreover, in my exploration of something left behind. When something is left behind it is taking a space up somewhere that I know not where. However the space that it once occupied, which is in my mind and is most clearly recalled during the last time that I used the object, or saw or touched or smelt or even tasted the entity, or a combination of all of these things, is what brings me into the connection with Heidegger and my own theory of things left behind.
Finally, for completeness, Heidegger describes how he thinks of an object that is "ready to hand" as 'conspicuousness'. This concept is rather hard to grasp at first because what it actually relates to is our perception of the object disappearing whilst we are actually using it. It is that moment when the hammer becomes an extension of the self and all our focus is put onto the head of the nail. It's kind of linked with the idea that we've taken something for grated and dont actually think of it as an entity in itself. This thought can be applied to one of our freinds or relatives or any person or sentient being too. We see something regularly to such an extent we dont concoiusly think of it necessarily as an entity in itself, it is just 'there'.
This is best explained by direct quote from Heidegger's book Of Time and Being (1962) page 102.
"When we concern ourselves with something, the entities which are most closely "ready to hand" may be met as something unuseable, not properly adapted for the use we have decided upon… We discover its un-usability, however, not by looking at it and establishing its properties, but rather by the circumspection of the dealings in which we use it." (Heidegger 'Time and Being' (1962) page 102.)In reflection of an extract from a talk by the Swedenborg Society, London, May 2013 which was organised by the architecture exchange as part of a series of works exploring Graham Harman entitled "Is There an Object Oriented Architecture?" The authors Joseph Bedford and Jessica Reynolds of Princeton University discussed the book by Dreyfus, "Being in the World: a Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division 1": Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT Press, (1991).
In that extract, the speaker summed up three ways in which objects be said to withdraw from a conscious awareness:
1) by always transcending or exceeding any attempt we might make to grasp them completely in perception or representation (whether in use or in language). This is a concept that is what Graham Harman talks in terms of an objects "being in itself" and Harman describes this as "the shadow weeks of to rainy and depths" and of which the objects being for us is just one particular partial version.
2) by withdrawing into the background of our awareness when we are concerned with something else,-i.e. something becoming just another component of the "life world" of objects that form the ever present backdrop to our current activity. This is the interesting part that I too am concerned with in relation to things being taken for granted and left behind, and equally the concept of grief and loss.
3) as the tool through which I am experiencing the world "right now" in the fulfilment of a specific task. I.e., the object as an extension of my own body that recedes from my consciousness and awareness when I'm focused instead on the "task in hand" this is specifically the "ready to hand" of Heidegger's tool analysis that remains constantly on the edge of "breakdown", while still continually being monitored through a kind of habitual or background awareness, which is what Merlot Ponty calls bodily intentionality.
This third point of being continually in our minds, but only just, is a sort of half state of existence, which could be likened to a memory of a presence, we are aware of it but we do not think about it. I want to explore this in terms of things left behind, in both intellectual sense and through artistic representation which can only be in a physical sense. The object is there, but it isn't there. The language is too difficult to explain verbally through words.