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The Question Concerning Technology, and…

The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays (edition 1977)

by Martin Heidegger

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624323,521 (4.13)2
Title:The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays
Authors:Martin Heidegger
Info:Harper Torchbooks (1977), Paperback, 224 pages
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The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays by Martin Heidegger



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Many people who seem to be considered and insightful have expressed respect for the work of Martin Heidegger. But I have found the "Heideggerian" theorists I've read to be invested in what seemed to be painfully obscure jargon, and I decided that I wouldn't make much headway without reading some of Heidegger's own writings. This relatively slim volume looked optimal, in that it is trained on topics both important to Heidegger's larger project and interesting to me. In particular, the idea of "technology" as a fundamental aspect of human thought and an examination of Nietzsche as an epochal thinker were more-than-tempting attractions.

Alas, I doubt that I will return to Heidegger after this experience. As I read, I constantly felt like I was getting a snow job. How else should I react to this sort of prose?

"Reality means, then, when thought sufficiently broadly: that which, brought forth hither into presencing, lies before; it means the presencing, consummated in itself, of self-bringing-forth." (160)

Is the translator William Lovitt to blame? Well, Lovitt has labored mightily to make his work transparent; the book is littered with long footnotes discussing his translation choices and analyzing the polyvalence and connotative shades of Heidegger's German diction. In his introduction to the volume Lovitt heaps adulation on Heidegger as a thinker and a stylist, but the texts at hand did not justify the praise from where I sit. Lovitt writes:

"Above all, the reader must not grow deaf to Heidegger's words; he must not let their continual repetition or their appearance in all but identical phrases lull him into gliding effortlessly on, oblivious to the subtle shifts and gatherings of meaning that are constantly taking place." (xxiii)

But I can only conclude that such a numbed trance is exactly the effect Heidegger is after with his incantations. These essays are obscurantist sermons: "philosophy" in the pontifical vein, rather than the critical. To the extent that there were worthwhile ideas here, I have seen them treated more usefully by post-structuralists who had doubtless read their Heidegger. But I will not accept Heidegger's notion of "metaphysics," nor will I be suckered by his "Being as distinct from that which is."
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Oct 11, 2015 |
Whatever you think about Heidegger the title essay is a "must read".
  johnredmond | Mar 20, 2010 |
Elegance is king. At a vulgar-relationistic level, Heidegger is just making the same argument re technology here that Foucault makes re sex in The History of Sexuality--disciplining injunctions of the centre, etc. etc., you know. But he does it in such a graceful way, with prose that not only has to communicate the argument but also carry the implicit weight of Heidegger's conceptual universe--Dasein and Gestell and all the rest. He is a brilliant stylist.

With a brilliant argument! I said "disciplining" injunctions, but that really is more appropriate to Foucault and sex--Heidegger sees post-industrial technology functioning more as a regulatory, enframing, interpellating world-system, no longer materiel or practices open to instrumental use by humans, interacting with them in an instrumental or knowledgeable or artisanal way, but an ideological demand to lay the world open as a standing reserve, immediate potential wealth or energy or whatever, from the airplane always on the runway to the electricity always available at the flick of a switch--and then to keep it open. He contrasts the pre-modern woodsman, interacting with the forest in a sensual, craftsmanlike way that requires immersion in a body of knowledge and practices--a forestness--and the modern, industrial stripping of a hillside. He contrasts the poet Hoelderlin's (allegedly) authentic, numinous experience of the Rhine with the modern relationship--we worship the river god by tending the hydroelectric dam that enchains him according to the procedures in the manual; by viewing Hoelderlin's perch as part of a tour group. It's a bureaucratized technology, death by a thousand paper cuts. You know.

And he doesn't explicitly contrast it with art, at least not here, but I suspect Heidegger would not quibble with the idea that we need to bring a little art to technological civilization--or more specifically, that science is to technology as arts are to crafts, and that to deny that is to deny a facet of our humanity, the Dasein transfixing itself in an internally reproduced and too too restrictive Gestell. We need to "enclear" the mystery of ourselves and our practices, bring the magic into the light, stop it from receding in front of a growing cleared, laid-open space, but entice and foster it into a non-totalizing Lichtung, a temple.

Can I put it in everyday 2010 terms for you like this? How much time every day do you spend checking your Facebook, shopping for shit on Amazon, reading stuff three link-degrees away from what you started on where once you would have skimmed the finite paper over coffee, even fighting with the bank because their online system fucked up your mortgage payment, or with the insurance people because THEIR automated phone system sent you into an endless purgatorial loop . . . . And then--perhaps--you spend your work day servicing some part of this system too, in some way, or you know someone who does, yeah?

And useful and fascinating and bracing and empowering as that all is, it also enrages me. Heidegger talks about how he's not reaching backward to an idealized preindustrial state, but "looking forward to the dawn". But he is absolutely looking back! All this woodsman stuff, and you can't help but remark the glaring lack at the centre of his argument--not once does he mention capital. If we're the yeomen of the laying-open, Marty Mart, who is setting us to it? Technology is regulation of the human. I get that. But it's also the means of wealth creation--the two blend seamlessly into each other, in fact, reserve capability, reserve production, reserve funds. How much money have you spent on all that computer and ipod and cellphone junk this year? Twenty years ago that figure would have been close to zero.

And Heidegger elides, and evokes a mythic past. And eventually you can't escape his Naziness, not in that cheap rhetorical "his politics invalidate his philosophy" way, but he is a reactionary! And it is, in fact, that much-maligned and allegedly outdated ol' Karl Marx who talked about this stuff, a hundred years earlier, in terms of the alienation of the worker from his labour, the monetization of everything, and the capitalist social order. Heidegger ignores that, and he is not ignorant, and I think that makes him dishonest, and given his politics, that makes him terrifying. This is a great read, both for its ideas and to see the virtuosity with which Heidegger pulls off his sleazeball fascist move. ( )
4 vote MeditationesMartini | Mar 7, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061319694, Paperback)

"To read Heidegger is to set out on an adventure. The essays in this volume--intriguing, challenging, and often baffling to the reader--call him always to abandon all superficial scanning and to enter wholeheartedly into the serious pursuit of thinking....

"Heidegger is not a 'primitive' or a 'romanitic.' He is not one who seeks escape from the burdens and responsibilities of contemporary life into serenity, either through the re-creating of some idyllic past or through the exalting of some simple experience. Finally, Heidegger is not a foe of technology and science. He neither disdains nor rejects them as though they were only destructive of human life.

"The roots of Heidegger's hinking lie deep in the Western philosophical tradition. Yet that thinking is unique in many of its aspects, in its language, and in its leterary expression. In the development of this thought Heidegger has been taught chiefly by the Greeks, by German idealism, by phenomenology, and by the scholastic theological tradition. In him these and other elements have been fused by his genius of sensitivity and intellect into a very individual philosophical expression." --William Lovitt, from the Introduction

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:29 -0400)

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