as if / Layers / Philosophy



I am packing. The book shelves have been dismantled. While normally, they function without being thought about, being part of a complex of actions and interactions, now, after removing the books and taking them apart, the layer below that normal function has become visible. Pieces of wood and metal. They are no longer functional, they have weight, wood textures never perceived consciously. The books have been packed into boxes. They are now cubes of heavy matter, no longer sources of ideas. Bit by bit, the apartment is being transformed from a system of living, a web of functions and services, into a heap of material objects. The boxes have wholes where one can grab them. They are designed to be carried away. The complex of interactions of everyday life has been replaced by that of transportation. All the many things have been transformed into standard sized cuboids with grip wholes. The way of interacting with the things changes, the language, the terms used, the concepts of perception.

The walls are becoming visible. They are visible all of the time but they are normally hidden behind perceptive habits. They don’t enter consciousness most of the time. But after taking the drawings and paintings from the wall and removing the furniture, they suddenly reappear. There is the wall paper that soon will have to be painted; there are holes where nails and screws used to be. The materiality of the wall reappears. The inner model of the apartment that develops in the mind after living in a place for some time no longer matches reality. It collapses. Perception is thrown back into the level below, the material system that our habit and perception took for the apartment.

The richness of little features of this material system is coming into view. The irregular fibers in the ingrain wallpaper, little cracks, imperfections in the paint, dust. Most of these features did not have any function in that “apartment as used” and “apartment as perceived”, so although many of them where visible, they were overlooked all of the time. Now, after stepping out of that fiction, I can suddenly see them.

But I am still at the surface. Behind the wallpaper, there is concrete and bricks. There are tubes and cables. There are concrete reinforcements somewhere, there are sand grains and these in turn have their own microstructure. From my point of view, all that is not there. The house is still conceptually a house, although below its description as a house, it is a pile of steel and bricks and concrete and some other stuff. I have left an inner bubble of nested fictions, the bookshelf has been turned into a pile of wooden parts, the books and other things have been turned into boxes. The outer bubble of viewing the house as a house is still there. The door is still a door.

Soon we are going to take the boxes and the boards of the book shelf, the chairs and tables, and carry them through that door.

(The picture is from

31 thoughts on “Packing

    • I am moving to Hannover. In fact, we have moved there already but a lot of our stuff is still here in Cologne since our daughter will be staying here. However, she is moving into another (smaller) appartment, in the same house. So part of the moving is just upstairs, the other part is to another city. But Germany is small, compared to Brazil, so it is not really far.

  1. This reminds me of a sentence in a book I read some time ago where characters were talking after the death of a third person, and they were packing up the possessions, reflecting that one day, you are alive and all your things together constitute a home; the next, you are gone and suddenly it’s all just fodder for a garage sale.

    • Its like that, indeed. The unity of these things is generated by the mind of the person living there. When that person has died, its like a book written in a forgotten language. The letters or glyphs are still there but we don’t know what they meant and how they are connected.

  2. Strange how things become part of the background, not noticed until they are changed. Earlier this year I cleaned up, throwing things away, and was astounded by all the junk I had on hand that I hadn’t used in years. It had become part of the background not noticed on a day by day basis.

    Good luck with the move.

    • Thanks. Actually, a lot of what I am doing at the moment is not packing, but sorting out things and throwing a lot of stuff away.

    • Thats the ones I have, of course. The Roepke2000 boxes are the best there are and I ordered some. The problem is that I don’t have a camera at the moment and I had to use something that is in the open domain. If not for copyright, I would have used exactly that picture.
      Back in the 1980s, I used to buy my boxes from Mr. Roepke personally. After he had died, some company bought the rights (I think he had a patent) and continued producing these ingeniously constructed boxes, so they are still available. My problem at the moment is that I underestimated the number I would need. I am running out of boxes and have to order more.

        • Since the 1980s, I have been using those “Roepke2000” boxes. I used to live near his place in Hamburg, thats how I discovered them. They are extremely stable and ingeniously constructed. Absolutely unsurpassed. You can load them full with books or other heavy things and it will never happen that they open at the bottom. I used to by them from Mr. Roepke himself, who had invented them but was never a very good at doing business. After he died, the patent was bought by some company who expanded the business. One can now order them on the internet.

          • I’ve never heard of those boxes. I know what you mean about having the good ones that don’t open at the bottom. When we moved here, we ordered a pod and did the moving ourselves. We carefully packed all 2000+ books (maybe 3000?) into boxes and loaded them into the pod to be shipped to our new home. When the pod arrived, we found the boxes didn’t hold up, and books were scattered everywhere. What a nightmare that was.

            I really like wardrobe boxes. They make life so much easier if you hang your clothes up in a closet. With those, all you have to do is hang your clothes in the box and you’re done. Super invention.

  3. It’s amazing how much our stuff reflects not just our lives, but our liveliness, and how much it transforms a place. I’m always surprised at how small a room looks when all of its furniture has been taken out!

  4. I really like this post.
    You are very intelligent, and i am at a loss many times to follow you completely. I have expressed this before.
    I like this … poetic…post.

  5. Sounds like you’re doing phenomenology, my friend! The transition from readiness-to-hand to present-at-hand as you dismantle your bookshelf…

    I know that feeling of seeing the underbelly of your home. It’s a bit uncomfortable and fascinating at the same time. When you’re moving, there’s a sense of loss as you take things apart, at least for me. Seeing the bareness of the house—now a house, not a home—makes you realize that “house-ness” has been there all along, behind the meaningful things, but you haven’t noticed.

    We’re replacing furniture right now, and I’m learning what lurks behind these pieces. Just yesterday we removed a headboard to our bed and found that we couldn’t push the bed up against the wall, so now there’s an enormous gap (we have to wait for our new bed to arrive and let the movers do the lifting). In Tucson we have this fine, white dust that settles on everything in no time. If I were to dust my black piano right now, I could come back in an hour and see that more dust has settled there. Anyways, in this gap behind the bed there’s a layer of dust covering the wall, which I found out in the middle of the night when my black pillow fell in the gap. The dust is so white I could see it in the middle of the night against my black pillowcase, but in the daytime I couldn’t see it. So now I’m going around dusting the walls. The walls! This is something I wish I hadn’t discovered. It would’ve been better if this detail had remained in the background of perception forever.

    • Yes, maybe this is some kind of phenomenology. However, I see the mind as something changing that is embedded into the world, and the phenomena as something that is not fixed. They are constructed and changing, so there is no “Wesensschau” possible. The phenomena are emulated out of the stuff of some underlying system, by means of some process (of perception and action). This has been a topic on this blog right from the beginning (see the very first articles on this blog, for example, my first stumbling steps in the blogosphere, here and
      It is possible there is an indirect influence from Heidegger. When I was 14, I read a history of philosophy from our school’s library. There was something on Heidegger there. I don’t remember much (its more than 40 years ago). I do remember that I found it strange. It might have influenced the development of my own ideas, but I don’t know. The stronger influence is from computer science (the concept of emulation, for example), and from my study of Kurt Ammon’s ideas.
      What I have found behind furniture are little ecosystems, with spiders as top predators. I found several cocoons with spider eggs under my book shelf.

      • “I see the mind as something changing that is embedded into the world, and the phenomena as something that is not fixed. They are constructed and changing, so there is no “Wesensschau” possible.”

        I think you’re describing some components of phenomenology. Heidegger definitely didn’t care much for essences (if that’s the right interpretation of Wesensschau?) Husserl did, but they weren’t something “out there” or taken in the usual historical sense.

        Spiders. Ew. I hope they weren’t black widows. We have those all over the place here. Luckily, none have been found inside the house…only scorpions. Still, I prefer scorpions for some odd reason. I can smash those without screaming too much.

        • There are no dangerous spiders native to Germany. There are only two species able to bite a human, but they are not really dangerous. New species are being introduced through trade and warmer climates might cause some of them to hang on, so the situation might be changing. I heard there are black widows in southern Europe, but as far as I know, they are not yet here. The normal house spiders are absolutely harmless and I leave them in piece since they help a bit against insects. I have seen scorpions only in the zoo.
          I think dry hot desert areas tend to have more poisonous animals. I guess that pray is rare there, so once you find one, you have to make sure to get it, and if you meet an enemy, you have to make sure to win the fight. So there probably is some selection pressure towards being poisonous. So you have all kinds of dangerous snakes, scorpions, spiders etc. in such areas.

          • Luckily I can tell by looking at the web which one hides a black widow. They have very irregular webs, but they’re easy to spot.

            The desert really does bring out the poison. It seems like every plant has some sort of thorny disposition as well, including those that don’t look thorny from a distance. Geordie’s learned to avoid cacti, but sometimes he’ll poke his nose in something that looks perfectly harmless and I’ll yank him back and say, “Pokey!” He knows what that means now. He’s constantly getting “pokies” in his paw, which he’ll sometimes allow me to pull out.

            It’s not all bad, though. Some of this fight to survive is what makes the desert so beautiful.

            • The disadvantage of areas like Germany (or Vermont) is that they are sometimes cold and sometimes rainy. But I think I prefer that. I think Tacitus once remarked that the Germans must obviously be the original inhabitants of Germania since nobody would voluntarily move there. I must be one of those original inhabitants since I like it here. Hot areas are nice for a visit, but I don’t think I would like to live there. 🙂

              • I grew up in Oklahoma, so maybe I’m used to seeing the sunshine on a regular basis. Vermont bothered me because of the lack of sunshine more than anything…the rain didn’t help. Is it very rainy in Germany? In Vermont, I felt like the sky was constantly blotted out, except on those really cold winter days. I didn’t like the closed-in feeling of a forest either. I prefer open spaces where you can see far away (once again, maybe Oklahoma?)

                Definitely visit Arizona if you get a chance. It’s a special place. There’s way more to see than the grand canyon, especially if you like to discover strange places and unusual beauty. But yeah, come in the winter. 🙂

    • After writing “Packing”, I collected some articles into a “Layers” category ( These are the articles containing this “phenomenological” thread. Some of it can also be found in other articles, but I think these are the ones that contain this line of thought most obviously ( I would like to work this out a little bit better, but as always, time is the limiting factor.

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