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  • An Introduction to the World of Tools (1969)
  • Ekuan Kenji (bio)
    Translated by Frank Feltens

The word dōgu—tools—is utterly familiar to the Japanese. With every new era, this word has followed in our shadow and never ceased to be a part of us. When the bond between a parent and child is severed, when siblings become estranged and couples separate, tools still stand firmly at people's sides. They transcend sorrow and joy and are just like the second hand of a watch that ticks away without pause. The history of tools, beginning with objects in clay and stone, can be said to constitute none other than human history itself. The history of tools, objects unable to speak for themselves, trails the history of mankind like a shadow; man and tools emerged on this earth together. When the shadow stops moving, human history comes to its end. The different kinds of tools lined up in museum galleries are reenactments of the drama of their times. They are human landmarks and the thumbprints of mankind. Tools are quiet at first glance, yet they are adamant and bind themselves to human life. This way, though lacking a mouth to speak, tools gain eloquence; without ears, they somehow listen; without eyes, they possess the power of observation; and, without feet, they seem to run. The variety and quantity of tools by far exceed those of living beings, and tools multiply year by year, time and time again. Just as the aspirations of man have no limits, the world of tools grows without bounds.

The world of tools impacts human beings from the inside out, by reaching deep into our internal psyche, into our joys, fears, longings, and pleasure. In the process, otherwise invisible forces assume a range of shapes and materialize as features of human life. Individuals, families, societies, peoples, nations—there is no entity that is not impacted by tools: from binoculars and electron microscopes that vastly surpass human eyesight, to microphones that increase a voice's volume; from bikes and cars that carry us faster than our legs, to axes, hoes, hammers, bulldozers, or presses that expedite the strength of arms, countless tools upsurge the capabilities of human individuals. Through tools, humans have also become aware of a hitherto hidden power. The concentrated force [End Page 169] of intellect brings about a plethora of harmful impacts on humans. Theft and murder have become commonplace, and the human impetus to ever increase their possessions fosters a destruction of the self. Human beings have made this struggle the basis of their power relationships with each other, revealing how joy can give birth to anger. While the introduction of tools has allowed for an increasingly efficient life at home—where families spend a significant part of the day—tools also disintegrate homes. Houses become oceans of tools and, eventually, we exist to serve and sustain its tools. We cannot, therefore, simply be thankful to the world of tools. Because they have emerged in this world imbued with a special power, it is necessary to consider how the world of tools provides a strategy for independence, in order to raise our standard of living.

The same holds true for society as a whole. Cities give tangible shape to human society, yet by coming into contact with the world of tools, cities are themselves dramatically transformed. The emergence of superior tools has changed the very structure of urban life. Although we might think a single tool does not pose a big problem, a small telephone here and a car there have triggered violent changes that have astonished human beings. The delay in introducing a philosophy of tools has reduced the orderly development of cities, and tools have gradually disintegrated them. We must consider the merits and demerits of tools. The world of tools that exists in cities will always impact other regions, too. The fact that tools have been introduced into the habitats of individuals and families means that we must fully account for them. When ruminating on the benefits of tools to individuals, families, and societies, our preconceived notions naturally crumble and we uncover a new, different process of creation.

And yet...


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pp. 169-176
Launched on MUSE
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