02 Apr '11 The inscrutable empire of equipment

Everywhere, the world is divided into these two opposed poles: tool and broken tool, invisible action and obtrusive presence... This does not hold true only for those relatively rare cases in which objects literally "break". For Heidegger, the same reversal is found wherever objects are perceived, revealed by theoretical investigation, or simply located in a specific region of space. In each of these cases, he says, the veiled reality of equipment-in-action is torn loose from the all-devouring system of the world, and set on display "as" what it is.

But the very term "tool" can be seriously misleading. For it has led most interpreters to suppose that Heidegger is talking about one limited kind of object among others: as if the analysis held good only of hammers, drills, keys, and windows, and not for other objects with a less utilitarian status. But in fact equipment in Heidegger's sense is global; beings are tool-beings. To refer to an object as a "tool-being" is not to say that it is brutally exploited as means to an end, but only that it is torn apart by the universal duel between the silent execution of an object's reality and the glistening aura of its tangible surface. In short, the tool isn't "used"; it is. What saves the bridge from being a mere pile of iron and asphalt is not the fact that people find it convenient, but the fact that any pile of anything exerts some sort of reality in the cosmos, altering the landscape of being in some distinct way. If this reality happens to be useful for people, so much the better. But natural mountain passes and other obstacles have no less equipmentality than an artificial tunnel.

Withdrawing into its cryptic efficacy, equipment neccessarily remains to a large degree a mystery, hidden from the crusading theorist and the tinkering civil engineer to an equal degree. Tool-being cannot be clarified by human-praxis, which always relies upon it or is embedded in it. The key to tool-analysis is not that it undermines the notion of solid Newtonian blocks with a people-centered analysis of plans and projections. The key is that it shows us that descriptions of the object as solid material and descriptions of it as functionally useful are derivative. More fundamental than both of these is the inscrutable empire of equipment from which all individual beings emerge. This empire is loaded with surprises.

Graham Harman, Towards Speculative Realism, p 97-98, Zero Books.