Friday, April 01, 2016
Sarah Bakewell on Heidegger after the war.
Heidegger paid increasing attention to language, to Hölderlin and the Greeks, and to the role of poetry in thought. He also reflected on historical developments and on the rise of what he called Machenschaft (machination) or Technik (technology): modern ways of behaving towards Being which he contrasted with older traditions. By ‘machination’ he meant the making-machine-like of all things: the attitude that characterises factory automation, environmental exploitation, modern management and war. With this attitude, we brazenly challenge the earth to give up what we want from it, instead of patiently whittling or cajoling things forth as peasant smallholders or craftsmen do. We bully things into yielding up their goods. The most brutal example is in modern mining, where a piece of land is forced to surrender its coal or oil. Moreover, we rarely use what we take at once, but instead convert it to a form of abstract energy to be held in reserve in a generator or storehouse. In the 1940s and 1950s, even matter itself would be challenged in this way, as atomic technology produced energy to be held in reserve in power plants.
One might point out that a peasant who tills the land also challenges it to put forth grain, and then stores that grain. But Heidegger considered this activity quite different. As he argued in a lecture-essay first drafted in the late 1940s, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, a farmer ‘places the seed in the keeping of the forces of growth and watches over its increase’. Or rather, this is what farmers did until modern agricultural machinery came panting and chuffing along, promising ever greater productivity. In modern challenging-forth of this kind, nature’s energy is not sown, tended and harvested; it is unlocked and transformed, then stored in some different form before being distributed. Heidegger uses military images: ‘Everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering.’
It is a monstrous reversal — and for Heidegger humanity has become monstrous. Man is the terrible one: deinos in Greek (the word also featuring in the etymology of ‘dinosaur’, or ‘terrible lizard’). This was the word that Sophocles had used when he wrote his chorus about the strange or uncanny quality unique to man.
From At the existentialist café : freedom, being, and apricot cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and others.
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