15 October 2009

Waking #1: On the Spatiality of Equipment

Description: I am making my morning espresso. I pull out the hopper full of ground coffee, put in the scoop, fill it to heaping, pull it out, reach for the spatula to level it off. The phone rings. I rest the scoop in the hopper, and go to answer the phone. I have a five minute conversation.

I go back to the counter and espresso machine, pull the scoop out of the hopper. I cannot find the spatula. Where is it? Eventually I see that it is right where it always is when I reach for it in the morning, on the flat top of the espresso machine. Why can't I see it, even though it is right there where it always is, where I usually look for it?

Observation: When I usually reach for the spatula, I am not reaching for it ‘where it is’, either in the sense of: where it is as located in such and such a measurable position, or: where it is in the sense of: in its own spot. It has its location in the overall movement pattern of: using scoop and spatula together in getting the espresso made. (The last phrase should be hyphenated: its one overall thing.) The activity and situation set up a space of relative location through rhythmed movement, etc. This is disrupted by the phone call. It is because I cannot locate it within my movement pattern that I cannot find the spatula. Likely, I do not really look for it where it is locatively (in terms of objective locations) when I reach for it in my usual routines. I may see it locatively, that may be part of the overall phenomenon; but that is not what guides my hand to it. Where it is for my right hand is likely already part of the movement of my left hand toward the scoop. Of course, this is not always so: it wasn't when I was learning to do this; it only is this way when it becomes routine.

This is adding a bodily/spatial aspect to Heidegger's points about the totality of equipment. And it is telling us something about how a spatiality beyond us yet in relation to us is ingredient in our learning to do what we do.

Meta-observation: I have the above observation, an epiphany, almost at the moment when I find/see the scoop. What would it be like to be in this situation without having that sort of epiphany which offers some account of why it is that the spatula could not be found? Would it be unsettling, like having a chasm crack open within one's sense of things, memory, self? Certainly there was some element of that in the initial phenomenon. Not only could I not find the spatula; I knew I ought to know where it is, that something wasn't right. Also, this epiphany, I think, depended on cultivating habits of phenomenological reflection. How might we otherwise cultivate such epiphany noticing habits? How many epiphany noticing moments pass us by?

1 comment:

  1. i would like to hear more from you on the phenomenology of pulling espresso, and i mean that not as a request but as an expression of interest in your thoughts.
    i find pulling espresso to be one of the most relaxing and contenting of activities. pulling espresso and serving to friends, or drinking it myself, is one of the most deeply spiritually calming experiences that i've had. hence my current existential 'what am i going to do with my life [in terms of work which is rewarding but also pays the bills]' crisis: do i pursue humanitarian work, or do i focus on deepening relationships through good coffee?