Ontological difference, presence-at-hand and ready-to-hand

Heidegger’s rejection of the presence-at-hand (Vorhandenheit) as the predominant mode of being that Dasein encounters in its being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) – its spatiality of being-in (In-sein) – has a deep implication for the integration of hermeneutics into philosophy. This is because Dasein is, by its very definition, a being that has comportment towards being (Seinsverh√§ltnis). Dasein simply cannot exist in isolation and in indifference. Unlike Husserl before him, Heidegger reinterprets “intentionality” in terms of the spatio-temporality of Dasein‘s being-in, namely in its fundamental relatedness to the “worlding” (Welten) of the world. Worlding is what makes the world being, and not nothing. It is a fundamental-ontological form of clearing (Lichtung) of being in that it discloses in an irreducibly primordial way how and what being is: being-in.

It is in this light that Heidegger’s contrasting of presence-at-hand with ready-to-hand (Zuhandenheit) is to be understood. Instead of advocating an instrumentalist theory of existence, what Heidegger wants to achieve is to demonstrate that Dasein fundamentally relates to beings in ways that it can relate to them. In other words, to be confounded by a being is a sign that Dasein cannot relate to that being. Dasein relates through understanding, which is enabled by interpretation, i.e., making sense of something or making something intelligible, in an unceasing movement between the part and the whole that constitutes the hermeneutic circle of the fundamental phenomenon of understanding (Verstehen). In essence, ready-to-hand makes possible what Gadamer describes as prejudice (Vorurteil) in understanding and as something not to be methodologically rejected. Coincidentally, or perhaps synchronistically, this is also the position of quantum physics, which holds that time makes any methodological ignoring of the input of the observer as nonsensical. That Heidegger was in fact drawn to the contemporary advances in quantum physics only serves to illustrate the fundamental affinity between the hermeneutic thinking of phenomenological philosophers and the quantum insights of the new generation of scientists. Indeed the phenomenological turn in philosophy during the early 20th century heralded a holism of human thought never before seen in the long Western tradition of metaphysics: the being-in of the possibility of thinking as such.

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Queer space in light of Lefebvre

Between the late 1990s and the early 2000s queer theorists in the West increasingly turned towards Lefebvre in order to understand the social production of queer space in Western society. Queer bodies do not exist in neutral space, but in a space that they produce through the performativity of their queerness in the temporality of their being-in-the-world. This is a fundamental theory that takes queerness as a human phenomenon in its own right, independent of any value judgement concerning “normality” or “perversity”. Through assimilating Lefebvre’s insights on the multiplicity of human orientations and performances in the primordial stratum of everyday life, queer theorists are able to demonstrate that queerness is part and parcel of society in its totality, regardless of what beliefs and opinions that the majority or the mainstream in any society may have about sexual identity and practice outside the heterosexual norm. Where ther is oppression against the queer minority, Lefebvre’s emancipatory notion of spatial justice¬†becomes immediately relevant.

It is not until after the first decade of the 2000s that queer theory of space directs its attention to non-Western homosexual communities living in non-Western countries. This is markedly different from analysis of non-Western queer communities in Western society. Here the theoretical point of departure draws its strength from case studies of queer minorities living in their native society where it is not their non-Western ethnicities that place them in the position of a minority, but their queerness.

Unlike America (Rushbrook 2002), for example, queerness in China is striking in its relative invisibility. For mainstream society anywhere, to be not seen means not to exist – being out-of-sight is tantamount to relegation to nothingness.

The reorganisation of sexuality purely along the lines of what Kristeva calls jouissance – the full spectrum of bliss, joy and pleasure only possible for a sexual being – is predicted by scientists to be possible by the year 2050, when human reproduction can be achieved on a societal scale simply through IVF. The stigma of the “sinfulness” of queerness in the eyes of religion because of its non-reproductive nature will become totally irrelevant. What matters is not whether babies can be produced through sex, but whether the pleasure of the human erogenous zones can be enjoyed at its optimum level. Sex, once it stops being socially conceived as being necessary to the reproduction or perpetuation of the human species, becomes pure intimacy and pleasure. Through science, nature as the distribution and mapping of erogeneity on the human body can be harnessed in the social production of jouissance.