Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thoughts Sitting Down

How do we discover that a chair is for sitting? To understand that we don't need to see the chair in other aspects, or to learn what its material substance is. Rather, we adopt a certain posture, concrete and practical. We know it's a chair if we can sit on it. It is primordially a pragma, a tool. Its thinginess is defined by how we practically relate to it.

Patočka holds that no pragma is isolated, that its meaning as a thing is always part of context of other things, a world of pragmata (Body, Community, Language. World,, p. 115; It's not clear to me if this is Patočka's own idea, or his explication of Heidegger, but no matter). Superficially that seems wrong. I can move a chair from the desk to the table. I can sit in the open and play guitar. I can take it out on the deck and watch the stars. In each case, my posture is different, but the chair is the same. The truth of Patočka's claim is this: the chair pertains to world where things are elevated to a certain height. The chair thus implies a plane of activity, and the activities one does while sitting at a chair, say writing or eating, imply a field of other pragmata.

I know of worlds in which such a plane does not exist, at least not at the level of a chair, worlds of pillows and mats instead of chairs. I don't really know how to move through such worlds, how to kneel or squat or sit properly without a chair. It would take some effort to learn to sit without a chair, though surely in principle it could be learned.

So what kind of primordial understanding is this understanding of a chair really? Isn't it really just a posture?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:53 AM.


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