Building, Dwelling, Coding

Over the past week, I’ve become rather occupied with customizing Sublime Text 2, the editor in which I’ve been writing code. I’ve been adding packages to make it work more efficiently, to cut down on the number of keystrokes, to make it so my fingers rarely have to leave the keyboard. With Jeremy’s help, I created a symbolic link between the terminal and Sublime, so I can open files in Sublime from the terminal itself. I’ve spent several hours watching workflow videos, trying to figure out what habits I need to cultivate to write better code more efficiently. And some it is wonderful. Why write vendor prefixes yourself when you can run your CSS through Prefixr with a simple keyboard shortcut? Why type out the basic html structure, when you can use Emmet, type !, and just hit tab to have it created? There are so many shortcuts to take advantage of, built in to Sublime and through the rich environment of plugins available, so many ways to be that much more efficient.

In his well-known 1951 essay, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking,” Martin Heidegger, with a mix of etymological work and analysis of everyday life, draws our attention to the fundamental interconnection of the spaces we create through building and the way in which those built spaces reflect and determine how we exist and think within those spaces. Without stepping into the long-running and difficult debate on what precisely Heidegger means by the fourfold, the gods, mortals, earth, and sky, we can still take a few quick lessons from Heidegger’s insights.

In acts of building, we affect and determine spaces themselves, physically and semantically. We intervene creatively in our landscape, adding material objects which become part of the web of meaning that any person enters when existing within that space. Taking the space itself as a phenomenon, we could say that acts of building alter the structure of the phenomenon, such that it presences differently and its semantic field is shifted. As we enter into this built space, we exist correspondingly within it, and if we can dwell, if we can let be what is, giving that which is the case the space in which to be, our own existence will be shaped toward allowing the freedom of all that is.

If this seems a bit mystical, it is. Much of Heidegger’s late work, especially on Gelassenheit, bears the trace of Meister Eckhart and other Christian mystics, so focused on a type of being and thinking that runs counter to what will later be called the dominating subjectivity of the transcendental ego. It must be remembered, though, that Heidegger, from the beginning to the end, set out to describe concrete human existence.

Whenever I’ve taught, especially working in constructive theology and in ethics, I’ve encouraged my students to take time to think, to give thinking time, as much time as it takes, and to keep giving the thought time as it shows itself in writing. My philosophical and theological heritage is one of thinkers who tended to have one really good thought that they remained with for decades, describing its contours and connections again and again, circling back around repeatedly, building an ever thicker description of some fundamental reality. I’ve taken the first step on that road myself, for over a year now trying to think one thought about vulnerability as a fundamental structure, ontic and ontological, in human existence.


In modifying Sublime Text differently this week, building out the structure itself and learning the new signs of this environment, this place, I have been building a space that allows one to dwell in it through the quick tapping of a few keys. A space that encourages a form of dwelling suited more to the finishing of a product, toward thinking that thinks in short deadlines, in concrete results, in operability. We are, in Praxis, building a tool to be used after all. It is also a space, though, that will hopefully become something more like a home, something like Heidegger’s Black Forest hut, in which he found himself free, with the space to let himself be himself. It is hopefully the case that the careful habituation of fingers to keyboard shortcuts, the learned muscle memory that navigates the signs of this built space, will give me space and freedom to write code simply as myself, to let myself think in code, and, as an upcoming conference here at the Scholars’ Lab puts it, to let myself speak in code.

If this does turn out to be the case, as I’m sure I’ll report on some months down the road, then it will have been the case that these two forms of dwelling, these two forms of thinking, will not have been so very different after all.

I am a digital humanities developer in the Scholars' Lab and a Ph.D. candidate in philosophical theology, writing a dissertation examining vulnerability at the intersection of theological anthropology and neuroscience. After years working heavily in theological ontology and metaphysics, I have a burgeoning interest in Javascript application frameworks, the role of the humanities in public discourse,…

5 Tweets

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>