Friday, July 11, 2008
Scott McLemee reintroduces Kenneth Burke's thinking on the cleavage between earth and man. The fantasy movie WALL-E serves as an analogy for that thinking.
Furthermore, Burke now thought that the wasteful imperative was subsumed under what he called hypertechnologism — the tendency for technology to develop its own momentum, and to reshape the world on its own terms. We had created machines to control and transform nature. But now they were controlling and transforming us. Our desires and attitudes tended to be the products of the latest innovations, rather than vice versa. (And to think that Burke died well before the rise of today’s market in consumer electronics.)

This wasn’t just a function of the economic system. It seemed to be part of the unfolding of our destiny as human beings. Borrowing a term from Aristotle, Burke referred to it as a manifestation of entelechy — the tendency of a potential to realize itself. “Once human genius got implemented, or channelized, in terms of technological proliferation,” wrote Burke in 1974, “how [could we] turn back?
In the movie, WALL-E the robot is the messiah who leaps across the abyss from Earth to the space station, and there calls the humans back to planet Earth, but the humans only return because that's what was planned into the system that runs their lives. The station is named the Axiom, and the plant triggers the calculation of a proposition. The robot is the dasein - for whom things shine - in the movie. The viewer identifies with and is emotionally invested in the robot and not with the humans.

Heidegger explains the station's name:
What "axiom" could mean when taken on its own lacks objective meaning. The axiomatic form of scientific thinking that lacks an object in this sense today stands for unforeseeable possibilities. This axiomatic thinking already circulates without our noticing it or fathoming its import in so changing human thinking that it adapts itself to the essence of modern technology.

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