The entanglement of things

Sunday, 12 February 2012

"... a certain gathering together of the threads of life. That is what I mean by a thing. In this I follow – albeit rather loosely – the argument classically advanced by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. In his celebrated essay on The Thing, Heidegger was at pains to figure out precisely what makes a thing different from an object. The object stands before us as a fait accompli, presenting its congealed, outer surfaces to our inspection. It is defined by its very ‘over-againstness’ in relation to the setting in which it is placed (Heidegger 1971: 167). The thing, by contrast, is a ‘going on’, or better, a place where several goings on become entwined. To observe a thing is not to be locked out but to be invited in to the gathering. We participate, as Heidegger rather enigmatically put it, in the thing’ thinging in a worlding world. There is of course a precedent for this view of the thing as a gathering in the ancient meaning of the word as a place where people would gather to resolve their affairs. If we think of every participant as following a particular way of life, threading a line through the world, then perhaps we could define the thing, as I have suggested elsewhere, as a ‘parliament of lines’ (Ingold 2007a: 5). Thus conceived, the thing has the character not of an externally bounded entity, set over and against the world, but of a knot whose constituent threads, far from being contained within it, trail beyond, only to become caught with other threads in other knots. Or in a word, things leak, forever discharging through the surfaces that form temporarily around them."

Tim Ingold
Department of Anthropology University of Aberdeen Aberdeen AB24 3QY Scotland
April 2008