COMPS 7: Heidegger's "The Thing"

Heidegger, Martin. “The Thing.” Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.

“The thing” is Heidegger’s effort to explore what is lost in an age of increasing technology. He sets up a terrain he terms “distanceless”: a world where the television, film and planes have brought people together across space, but ironically, have not necessarily increased the feeling of being near. It is through nearness, and its relationship to a world were distance has no meaning (or is non-existent), that Heidegger begins his exploration of The Thing. Heidegger explores The Thing in order to ask/answer what nearness is: he turns to a jug that sit ‘near’ by. In his exploration of the jug he goes down many paths, to come to a few conclusions: First, that we live in a world were the thing does not exists as object, word, or scientific case study. Second, through the thing, we can access a larger concept of earth, sky, mortals and divinities; in other words, through the thing we can access human experience in the world. And finally it is only by attending to the thing non-intellectually, and rather through the presence and action of the thing (the thinging of the thing) that we as mortals may access larger ideas of the world, and related human experience.

Despite the benefits of Heidegger’s reading of material culture,—one that anticipates, perhaps, phenomenology and embodiment, and works toward a rejection of a representation as well as a cartesian mind/body divide (“The first step towards [mortals’] vigilance is to step back from the thinking that merely represents— that is, explains— to the thinking that responds and recalls” (181))— there are still limitations to Heidegger’s reading. Primarily, Heidegger still places things in a hierarchical relationship with humans, one where humans are, unsurprisingly, superior. “Men alone, as mortals, by dwelling attain to the world as world. Only what conjoins itself out of world becomes a thing” (182). However, his work is useful in understanding and unpacking what he terms as ‘presence’ or ‘action’ of things: 

The jug is a thing insofar as it things. The presence of something present such as a jug comes into its own, appropriately manifests and determines itself, only from the thinging of the thing… The thing things. In thinging, it stays earth, and sky, divinity and mortals. Staying, the thing brings the four, in their remoteness, near to one another.” (177)

In attending to the thing, and how it things, we also attend to assumed experiences of the world, that we may have taken for granted. The thing— in its presencing, in it’s thinging, in it’s unpretentious access to the world as thing, to the thing as thing, to the uncomplicated, yet dense presence of our material world—it has the capacity to speak to human experience in a way that intellectualism cannot. This focus on prescence, and dare I say, performance, is something that speaks to human experience, to the divinities, to the world in such a way that defies language, denies science, and buries itself instead in the world of lived experience.