Saturday, November 10, 2007

Technology, Causality, der Bestand, der Gegenstand

In “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger shows that we fail in thinking of technology because we think of technology as an instrument (means) for our use. In order not merely to think of what technology does, but its essence (roughly speaking, what brings it to be what it is), Heidegger determines that we have to think about and question what is really meant by the word “cause” and the causal interpretation of occurrences under which we hastily try to view technology. Technology, then, precisely in its being adequately viewed, requires that “cause” be interpreted differently as something beyond causality in the common sense, as something more “originary” (ursprünglich). The result of this view will be a thinking of technology that considers it as being an instrument only in its derivativeness or deficiency.
Heidegger begins by asking what is common to the various ways causality can be understood, and determines that in each case something is responsible for something. This responsibility (Verschuldung) of something is misunderstood, according to Heidegger, either “moralistically as a lapse,” or through construing it “in terms of effecting” (9). Using his example of a silver chalice being caused by a silversmith, he determines that the sense in which causality is most causal lies not in the silversmith’s producing it, but in the more basic phenomenon of the silversmith’s being responsible for the appearance of the chalice there before us lying readily available (Bereitliegen) for our involvement with it. Causality understood as production or effectuation just makes something issue forth from something else, while in the more basic phenomenon of responsibility the accent is shifted onto how something is brought before us in its availability. Causation, then, really exists beyond commonly understood causality as a way (namely, a way of being responsible) that something can be brought into presence there before us. It is only in this way, as a “revealing” (Entbergung) or unconcealing of something such that its presence is brought forth, that technology can be understood (derivatively) as “an occasioning or an inducing to go forward”—i.e. as an instrument or means to an end that produces changes (9).
What all this means then is that “the possibility of all productive manufacturing”—if we understand this as a blanket-term for technology and for technological causation as responsibility—“lies in revealing” (12): that the essence of any thing that is deemed to be technology or technological (a coal mine, for example), does not lie in its production or effectuation of technologically manufactured material as such (processed coal), but in the way that anything it produces or effects possesses the possibility of revealing due to the technological process that it went through (the way the coal is processed rock able to be used as fuel). But of course if this definition of production as revealing characterizes technology, it would also characterize anything that is brought before us in its presence. This is why Heidegger does not specify the essence of technology specifically as revealing itself. Technology (techne) is a specific type of revealing, while revealing by itself is what Heidegger says is poiesis that is most proper to art. This is a letting into presence that lets something fully come into presence as itself.
If the essence of technology is a more specific type of revealing than poiesis, then, we can specify it as self-concealing or withdrawing in a particular way. For if poiesis is a revealing of something in its presence as itself, any other mode of revealing must somehow deflect or hinder the process of something’s coming into presence as itself. The material of technology must come to presence as other than itself, or, as Heidegger puts it, must be “set back” in its its being brought to presence of itself “with forgottenness” (“Die Kehre,” 68, my translation: “…mit der Vergessenheit nachstellt”). This process of self-concealing in presencing that will characterize technology specifically exists in how technology always brings something to presence (to its lying there ready before us) only as itself in its being regulated or ordered. Put differently, this means that what is revealed by technology cannot be brought forth as itself because its essence is seen to be in its readiness rather than in its being in presence in its lying before us. The technological is lying ready there before us as opposed to its lying ready there before us: the emphasis is placed on readiness, on its standing-ready, on its being a reserve, rather than on how it exists there. Indeed, the technological is so ready that this readiness is calculable and distributable—it is not just present somewhere or other, indeterminately. What is crucial to the essence of technology, however, is that this calculable readiness is all that the object is seen to be in its presence: as Heidegger puts it with the example of coal technologically extracted, “the coal that has been hauled out in some mining district has not been supplied in order that it may simply be present somewhere or other. It is stockpiled, that is, it is on call, ready to deliver the sun’s warmth that is stored in it” (15). In short, the coal is in its presence has its poeitic possibilities of revealing itself as belonging to a process foreclosed: it is never able even to seen as processed rock (as belonging to the process of its technological extraction from the mine) but always appears already as just a certain amount of fuel, as a reserve of energy. Similarly, The Rhine, as Heidegger says, comes to presence with its essence concealed, not as a river but as a “water power supplier” (15).
To put it a different way—a way to which we will have to return—even if what is created through poiesis is not determined as something that poesis effects (i.e. if it is not determined as issuing from causal instrumentality), it still “ends up” as something revealed. With technology, what gets revealed is, in a sense, the impossibility of ever fully revealing something—not because there will always be more to reveal about what gets revealed (here, coal as fuel), or that revealing always misses its proper end in the sense of purpose (Zweck), but because what is revealed by technology is always meant to be ready for further revealing or being brought into presence (mountain as fuel, fuel as energy, energy as light, etc.). This is what Heidegger means when he says that with revealing of technology, “revealing never simply comes to an end,” never expires, never runs off or peters out (16, “Dieses [entbergung] läuft jedoch nicht einfach ab”). What is revealed always lies there before us, not as something that has been revealed, but as what always has the possibility to further reveal how it can be newly unlocked, transformed, stored, distributed, or switched about—in short how many ways it can be brought again into presence (15). The interminable transformability characteristic of what technology reveals is like a stock of something always ready to be distributed somewhere. Heidegger accordingly calls what submits itself to technology and technological revealing “der Bestand,” the German word for a stock.
However, what is technological is not a stock in the sense that it is a stock of objects (Gegen-stände)—and it is here, by returning to objects, that we can see why Heidegger needed to go beyond causality as traditionally understood in order to define the essence of technology in terms of what it works on. A stock of objects is revealed not in its readiness at all, but precisely in how they conform to purposes or generate effects. If one looks at the technological as a set of objects, one does not look at it as a reserve for revealing, for further transformation and further presencing, but rather at its potential for further use for purposes. We may look at an airplane and see that it is a series of objects that cause the transportation of individuals, but does this really characterize the plane? Heidegger thinks these objects as objects do not reveal themselves as that transportation itself in its potentiality. The airplane, yes, is a series of pieces of metal. But these pieces of metal are not “used” for transportation, Heidegger thinks. The plane is more originally than any set of objects a people carrier, what just is there, on the runway, “ready for takeoff,” for bringing itself again into presence as a transporting (17). The “stock,” then, must be understood as something more like a resource, when we talk of coal or water or air as a “natural resource:” it is a reserve not of things but of a potential for converting itself into further presencing of itself, into fuel or energy. Put differently, for Heidegger what gets worked upon by technology cannot be looked at causally in the common understanding because we are dealing with a stock of stuff that is so destined for its particular effect that it cannot be said to be caused when it brings itself forth. What we are dealing with is a stock of objects that are always already their effect: to say that they are objects, then, or that something causes something to be brought about by means of them at bottom distorts the essence of this stock. We must give them a different type of being altogether: that which we designate by “resource.”

12 comments:

phiblógsopho said...

Hi Mike

Nice reflection. Maybe you don't quite ignore it, but the primal terminology you have reflected upon on your post resembles Heidegger's early dealings with Aristotle's philosophy. Namely, the Natorp-Bericht (1922) and his lecture entitled Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles.

As to what it's implied in revealability, one is directed toward the conceptual pair aletheuein/pseudesthai. The same with herstellen/poeisis, etc. There's also a very deep understanding of the "arché" in the Bericht from 22.

(I can't refer to the translations to English for I either read Heidegger in German or in Spanish...)

Anyway, just a passing musing.

Mike said...

Thanks for the directions--I've read the book on Aristotle but not the writing on Natorp, so I'll definitely check it out. I was just outlining things here basically for others to get interested in the way Heidegger thinks of technology--and also to look more into the being of what technology deals with according to Heidegger, rather than on technology's essence as Ge-stell, which I think is either ignored or poorly dealt with in America--so of course I had to fudge over the issues you so insightfully brought up.
The language of pimacy, primordiality, origin, etc. is indeed the most interesting to trace--when you're writing about Heidegger you don't even realize you're doing it as much as you are: at least this was the case with me. And it isn't necessarily because you think of what is ursprünglich in a simple, non-Heideggerian way. Perhaps the key question you brought up is how origins in particular can be unconcealed or revealed for Heidegger, or precisely how they operate in unconcealing. I know he gets at this a little in the course on metaphysics, but I'll definitely turn to the work on Natorp to see.
As for reading the work in Spanish, that has just got to be awesome!

Mike said...

One more thing--the commentary on Heidegger in America is much more interested in his "pragmatic" phenomenological analysis of beings than in his dealings with temporality (there are important exceptions to this, namely Blattner) and history. In short the emphasis is mostly on the first division of Being and Time. Part of the reason I don't get into Ge-stell is that (of course) it doesn't allow itself to be articulated like beings Being and Time. But hopefully this will allow people to see that Heidegger does this analysis of the being of what technology deals with precisely in his emphasis on the historical destiny of being as Ge-stell--in other words, that they aren't disconnected enterprises. This might sound all totally obvious, but it still isn't in American Heidegger scholarship, where people are just discovering Contributions to Philosophy. However, you can see that there is a real appreciation for "the phenomenon" and phenomenology in general--which I think is really healthy. As someone interested in the later Heidegger as well as the early stuff, you have to constantly emphasize the phenomenological connection to the earlier work--and though this is productive, it does make things sound a bit obvious to anyone who just knows what Heidegger is talking about. Its an interesting situation.

phiblógsopho said...

I'm a little aware of the Heidegger scholarship situation in America, for I myself am a reader of some American commentators. I think the situation has really improved, if one compares it to Dreyfus' commentary of Being and Time, first division. Like you said, a pragmatic approach which is not always happy.

But think of Kisiel, Van Buren, Sallis, Dahlstrom, Krell, Crowell, even Caputo... We are here in the presence of real Heidegger scholars. Kisiel's Genesis of Heidegger's Being and Time (1993) is a great work, even quoted by Germans (although a little old now, for we have the Gesamtausgabe volumes Kisiel consulted as manuscripts).

I know that John Sallis' work is very appreciated in Freiburg and that he has been working in connection to Günter Figal (who holds the phenomenological chair once held by Husserl and Heidegger).

So I think we're attending a phase where we really have to listen to what these American scholars have to say. And they have a lot to say !

phiblógsopho said...

By the way, I forgot to mention that the so called Natorp-Bericht (1922) was a report Heidegger wrote to opt for a philosophy chair in Marburg University, in which he let know of his phenomenological investigations on Aristotle. What we know as the philosophical treatise Sein und Zeit was originally meant as a work on Aristotle!

This is what Kisiel says on the Report for Natorp:

«In the midst of this linked pair of courses on 'Phenomenological Interpretations to Aristotle,' in January of 1922, word came from Marburg that Paul Natorp would be retiring shortly, that Nicolai Hartmann would be taking his place, and that as a result the junior position in philosophy would once again be vacant. Natorp had been impressed by Heidegger's book on Duns Scotus and, on the strength of this one publication, had considered Heidegger for this position in both 1917 and 1920. By 1922, Heidegger was renowned in university circles throughout Germany as an outstanding teacher. But he had published nothing since the Scotus book and, moreover, remarks Husserl in a letter to Natorp on February 1, 1922, 'does not want to publish yet,' audibly that this 'highly original personality' is still 'struggling, searching for himself and laboriously shaping his own unique style.' (We have already noted the 'turmoil of transition' evident in WS 1921-22.) But apparently in response not only to Natorp's interest in Heidegger for the chair at Marburg but also to a similar query from Georg Misch regarding Husserl's old chair at Göttingen, plans were soon initiated for Heidegger to publish a work on 'Phenomenological Interpretations to Aristotle' in a forthcoming issue of Husserl's Jahrbuch (vol. 7, 1924/1925). Even so, when Natorp wrote Husserl again in late September for at least a 'publishable manuscript' from Heidegger in support of his candidacy for associate professor (Extraordinarius) at Marburg, Heidegger was still struggling with the problem of how to introduce such a work. For the next three weeks, into mid-October, Heidegger labored over the manuscripts of his Aristotle courses in order to extract and distill from them an Introduction serving to found and develop the 'hermeneutic situation' in which Aristotle's texts were to be interpreted. To this Einleitung (28 pages of typescript), he added an Overview (Übersicht: 22 pages) of Part One of the projected book. On the strength of this typescript, essentially a 'private communication' addressed to his older peers at the two universities, Heidegger was appointed to the post at Marburg in the following year». The Genesis of Heidegger's Being and Time. Berkeley, University of Califormia Press, 1993 pp. 248-249.

First edition of the manuscript: 'Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Anzeige der hermeneutischen Situation' in: Dilthey-Jahrbruch für Philosophie und Geschichte der Geisteswissenschaften 6 (1989) pp. 237-274.

New edition: Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Ausarbeitung für die Marburger und die Göttinger Fakultät (1922), Stuttgart, Reclam, 2003.

First English translation: 'Phenomenological interpretations with respect to Aristotle. Indication of the hermeneutical situation' - Preface to and translation by Michael Baur, Man and World 25, 1992, pp. 355-393.

New English translation: Phenomenological interpretations in connection with Aristotle. An indication of the hermeneutical situation - in: Martin Heidegger Supplements. From the Earliest Essays to Being and Time and Beyond edited by John van Buren. New York, State University of New York Press, 2002, pp. 111-145.

The Reclam German edition contains the famous Gadamer essay: Heideggers »theologische« Jugendschrift.

Take a look at it!

Mike said...

Wow--you've given a lot for me to look at--I love reading Being and Time--especially Division I, literally as a reinterpretation of Aristotle (I have some posts below where I'm trying to figure out ), and I'm probably willing to say that you need to know Heidegger's interpretations of Aristotle at all to really understand the absolutely unbelievable magnitude of what is happening in Being and Time, but I didn't know the treatise itself was to actually be under the heading of an interpretation of Aristotle--wow. I'll definitely check out what Kisiel says--I've been meaning to read him for a while.
And to say that you know "a little" of the Heidegger situation in America is to be way too humble: you got it exactly right, and a group of younger scholars who have studied under Dreyfus, Krell, etc. are coming on the scene and really changing things--if you can, check out the work of Andrew Mitchell, who I think is at Stanford now, and who just wrote a great essay on Heidegger and terrorism.
The trouble I'm speaking of is not necessarily with the amount of great scholars here doing Heidegger as to what the American philosophical community does with these scholars. They all got put on the backburner in the 80's within the departments except for Dreyfus, who wrote on AI--and, well, who is just a genius by himself--and even though Dreyfus himself has an amazing influence, they still have gotten quashed by these analytic phil. mind guys who work with the neuroscientists and who just are there in greater numbers. That is, the threat to Heidegger scholarship in America, it seems to me, has always been that it could either be marginalized institutionally or that it could sell out to analytic stuff. What is looking great about this new generation is that they have so pervaded the market that Heidegger won't be able to be ignored in either way, and precisely the later Heidegger won't be able to be ignored. The old guard like Polt and Krell and Dreyfus have developed such a following because of the amazing quality of their work, and have done such a good job of pointing ahead with their work on the early Heidegger to the later Heidegger, that we can expect many more works on questions like the history of being. I'm not saying that hasn't happened yet--I'm just saying, watch out, because the real stuff is just about to happen, because institutionally it will not be able to be stopped.
But this is coming from someone who is of that generation--I'm just saying what I see from the inside (though of course from a bit of a distance there too, since I do literature)--and your characterization of things is probably more accurate than anything I can come up with... all I got to say is thank you for it.

phiblógsopho said...

It must be frustrating to be marginalized institutionally in such a way, above all when you have the answer to the so called AI problem: our brains are not Turing machines for what lies underneath is the worldly experience, which is so familiar ontically that for the same reason hides profoundly in the ontological aspects. Can you believe what is like to be mocked at by researches working on AI who think that thinking is tantamount to calculating or recursiveness? It is in such cases when Heidegger's saying that science does not think seems more appropiate.

I think the problem comes also from language. The "Geist", for instances, is not the "mind".

An American friend of mine working on his (Hegel) PhD dissertation at Stanford has told me what is like to be under the constant mocking of the analytics. At least here, at the department of Philosophy we're I'm currently delivering lectures on Heidegger's Sein und Zeit, analytics and continentals co-exist, although not necessarily in a peaceful way :)

But the job question is solved: there are jobs for continental scholars as well for analytic.

My Stanford friend still wonders if he'll get a job after he's finished with his Hegel dissertation... unbelievable...!

No wonder has continental philosophy pervaded literature departments, but it's necessary to get thought done where it's supposed to be: at philosophy departments.

phiblógsopho said...

I wanted to ask you, by the way, if you've read John Sallis (who is now at Boston College). He's very interesting for I would not call him a Heidegger scholar. He's a thinker in his own right. I think he may be labelled perhaps the first American continental thinker, or a thinker who thinks with the whole philosophical tradition as his basis.

Mike said...

Yeah--you are great in characterizing the state of stuff: things are not as bleak as I paint them--though they might be complex and (in your case, at least fun in its little tensions). I'm just still a bit bitter from all that bashing by those analytic guys: I got a heavy dose of it back in my Phil department as an undergrad and get a bit of it even here at Princeton from the distance of the English department!
Sallis I was going to say is unbelievably great--I'm glad you brought him up (its good to hear he's liked in Freiburg and by Figal too--who I think is great). I wouldn't say that he is the first "continental" person we've produced (maybe I might like to stick someone like Sontag or Spivak or Butler there--who indeed are not philosophers per se [I do agree with you that that Phil. departments need to really be the ones thinking about philosophers philosophically] but they do know their stuff when it comes to aesthetic questions and questions of subjectivitya and representation--and maybe for philosophers proper Krell might be here before Sallis), but I would say he's the first thoroughly "continental" person we've got, if you think of "continental" as requiring a particular style of demonstration, and I love him! I haven't read enough: his book Stone is amazing, Spacings is also a great text for what it does with Kant, and Echoes is on my bookshelf getting ready to be gone through as we speak! Though I do want him to come out with a book that doesn't just have one word for its title. He also does a lot of great work organizing and introducing certain texts--I was just reading Michel Haar's book and he has a great intro to it: he seems to be there wherever something interesting and rigorous is going on. His translations are really good too: Derrida's Psyche Volume II is coming out soon in English and it will probably have his translation of "Geschlecht" still in there, it was so good and so crucial for English-speaking thinkers to have access to.
But I still have not read enough of him: have you?Also, a course on Being and Time? How is that going? Geez--what a task! Dreyfus has his lecture this semester on B & T being podcast on the Berkeley site, and I don't know how he's able to explain the stuff, even with 20 or so years experience.

phiblógsopho said...

My lecture on Being and Time is going great. I've been listening to Dreyfus' lectures as well. I even made an anouncement of them in my blog and some of my students - the ones bilingual - have been following them too.

I'm translating a couple of Dreyfus' articles on Heideggerian AI and he has kindly granted permission for me to do it. I'm waiting for the editors' respond to have them published in Spanish in Latinamerican philosophy journals.

In my lecture I'm reading the text in depth. Now that I have four more weeks of lecturing ahead I'm thinking reading the whole text is too much for just a semester. But anyway, it's too late to reconsider. Reading and explaining the text in depth means drawing connections to Heidegger's conceptuality from his early Freiburg (1919-1923) and Marburg (1923-1928) lectures. For instance, the relation I mentioned between aletheia and Aristotle's philosophy, as well as the destruction of ontology in connection with Luther's 'destructio' of theology. This all in the context of what the young Heidegger called the hermeneutics of facticity, which draws back to his dissertation on Scotus, etc.

It's going pretty well at least for my own purposes.

From Sallis I've read a great deal of his work. Including his essays on Derrida, translation, Plato and Nietzsche. I consider him a great master of philosophy and am thinking in writing a couple of articles on his work, so I can introduce him to the Spanish speaking academia.

And now that I'm working on the project for my Phd dissertation on Heideggers Deutung des deutschen Idealismus (Schelling und Hegel) - which I pretend Figal to read and conduct at Freiburg - Krell's The tragic absolute: German Idealism and the languishing of God is being of great help.

Paul Ennis. said...

Interesting it is Sallis who has perhaps written the most significant book on the implications of Heidegger's later work Topographies. Although not American Jeff Malpas is also pushing out the boundaries in a analytic type environment. Great post, as for the plane he says elsewhere that planes and trains determine the possibilities of the age. The Ge-Stell is fascinating: the positing (Ge-) and then his talk of imperatives. Hard to adduce the practical implications somewhat.

Mike said...

I didn't say it, but the practical implications are precisely what the post is about: Harman has this crazy book called Tool-Being, whose analysis is bad but whose intention is good--he wants to find the being of tools and objects in Heidegger. Here, I wanted to be able to explain in a sense what goes without saying in all the talk of Ge-Stell and the essence of technology: that the phenomenology of the technological (the airplane, etc) itself in terms of its mechanical presence is the easy thing.
In a fuller version of this post, I had a footnote that said all this--and its here you can see the practical implications kind of:
Heidegger almost always talks about the essence of technology rather than technology itself. Because we are dealing with the material that gets worked upon by technology, however, we will be applying these statements about the essence of technology to the specific instances in which machine technology itself is employed. This does not mean that we are interpreting Heidegger’s analysis of the essence of technology as Ge-stell as referring only to machine technology itself, but rather that Heidegger’s analysis of technology is so thoroughly articulated within the sphere of its essence that it can account for the more limited phenomenon that Heidegger contrasts it with. We should note that this is Heidegger’s approach as well, as seen in his various examples of the essence of technology: airplanes, hydroelectric plants, coal being mined, etc. It would be a mistake on the part of interpreters of Heidegger’s reflections upon technology to insist upon the distinction between machine technology and the essence of technology to the extent that it seems that the latter is not precisely the only phenomenon that can explain the former in Heidegger’s view. Is not Heidegger’s fundamental thesis in “The Question Concerning Technology” that the being of technology itself makes us reinterpret what we mean by essence? How could this being, then, be so divorced from essence as to be just what “everyone knows,” as Michel Haar puts it—that is, what in its affinity to the “sedimentations of Selbstverständliches” that Heidegger “stripped clean” in his early phenomenology must also get removed a more radical (that is, being-historical) phenomenology of the essence of technology (Haar 79-80)?
I think the point about Haar is right, actually. Even though Haar points out that phenomenology of technology must, for Heidegger, really be an effort to incorporate an analysis of essence (which makes it different than the phenom. of Sein und Zeit), this doesn't mean there isn't a connection between the two and that technology itself can't have a being which can be described phenomenologically apart from Ge-stell, though of course the opposite of this is the real thrust of the essay on technology for Heidegger since he's trying to go beyond what he describes in Contributions as "mechanization."