Heidegger technology Stiegler draft…

Tried once again to crack the Heidegger essay on technology (first attempts were for UTS’s Vertigo and then for Sophie Watson’s “Postmodern Cities” conference, but that was aeons ago – circa 1991, then again in Rumour of Calcutta). This version for an edited book – and the weft of discussion meant drifting over to Bernard Stiegler’s stuff, after liking his birthday party scenario in Dan Ross’s (and David Bariston) film The Ister

Anyway, here is the concluding paragraph of the draft I have so far. A kind of promissory note to read Steigler more carefully:

What is Being now? Technological innovation does perhaps require us to re-evaluate how we imagine ourselves. The development of genetic science transforms life by raising questions about – and actually interfering in – DNA determination of identity and reproduction (of persons, and of plants). Medical breakthroughs permit organ transplants, in vitro birth, and soon, cloning and further extensions of life though prosthetics and bionics. Death too has been transformed though new drugs, new wars and new viral threats. Work, creativity and decision-making are now facilitated by machine. Even writing proceeds without pens, as I write with a stylus directly onto a screen, not to mention the impact of spell-check and format or grammar, or the possibility of instant publishing via website and blog. CGI in the realm of video destroys indexicality once and for all. There is much more about which we could go on, Stiegler makes a good effort at this in Technics and Time (1994/1498:86-87).

But all these changes were already underway. We had only not recognised them as already at work from, so to speak, the very beginning.

Chyya… this really needs more work…

5 thoughts on “Heidegger technology Stiegler draft…”

  1. How about reading Heidegger on technology with Alf Hornborg on machine fetishism (Man vol 27 no 1, 1992) and symbolic technologies (Anthro Theory Vol 1 no 4, 2001)? Hornborg, like Heidegger, is convinced we are not aware of the social mechanism that keeps our machines running. But unlike Heidegger, Hornborg relates this directly as one aspect of the (restricting) productivity of capital.


  2. Here is the draft sent in at last (minus the footnotes and thank-yous):

    Martin Heidegger goes to the Movies

    “Music is a weapon of mass destruction” – ADF

    Cinema and sound sync/mix technology seems to come and go in leaps and loops. Where once the screen image required accompaniment by a live performer at a piano, today, such a ‘throw back’ to the old black and white days of immediately present live sound is rare, even nostalgic. A calculated and curious staging renews our appreciation of the artifice of sync sound, although the piano is electric and the ‘live’ now requires mixing desks, digital precision, planned sequencing and programmed synthesisers. It requires all this, at least, in the case of recent performances over film by the drum and bass outfit Asian Dub Foundation (ADF), who have been filling cinema halls with new audiences for old films. I am impressed by this revival of a past format, and thinking about how this technology is used perhaps helps our understanding of the pursuit of innovative modes of political activism. So I want to approach this scene informed by a more nuanced notion of technology than is often required – taking my cue from an essay by Martin Heidegger, where technology is thought of as something more than mere instrumental tool. As culture crashes into the technological, I wonder what motivations might be heard when the echos of days gone by are radically reworked in this way.

    ADF screen movies with intent. For several years they had used the 1995 Kassowitz film La Haine as a vehicle for a cinema-music experiment, where the story of three youths caught up in suburban unrest (which is itself largely off screen), in the suburbs of Paris, is presented in performance with a new live ADF soundtrack. This film has particular relevance given events in the Paris suburbs in November 2005, but I do not want to focus upon representation and the repetition ‘in the real’ of the events ‘in the film’. Rather, I am more interested here in the scene of the screening of a French film replayed in Britain, a film which itself is very much alert to the politics of representation, to the reverberation of screens, such that when shown in the UK it is meant to evoke parallels and differences in terms of race, suburban alienation, and the politics of the imagination, especially with regard to thinking about technology and terror.

    La Haine begins with a Molotov cocktail, set across the background of a shot of the planet as seen from space. The incendiary device is falling, and spinning as it falls, towards the earth as pictured from afar. A voice recounts a story of someone who fell from a tall building, and as he passed each floor on the way down, he said aloud: ‘So far, so good, so far, so good’. Ash and Sanjay Sharma wrote perceptively on this film, suggesting that this ‘anxious repetition of assurance’ might be dubbed ‘the inner voice of liberal democracy’. The Sharma brothers link this reassurance to the critical scene of the journalists visiting the suburbs only to be confronted as intruders by the youth, chased with their television cameras back to the safer boulevards. When the three youth themselves are stranded in the centre of the city, caught without tickets to the metro, they see reports from the ‘riots’ on a public multi-screen, and learn of the death of one of their comrades.

    ADF want the film to provoke discussion. They screen it for new audiences and it is discussed in detail on the interactive activist/fan website that is part of the ADF Education Foundation (ADFED), itself an activist oriented youth politics forum. Workshops organised by ADFED included one by Sonia Mehta in 2003 involving Ash Sharma on the development of ADFED as a music technology training provider working with visual media and exploring the politics of sound. Discussion within ADFED and on the ADF chat site is not uncritical. For example, the politics of screening action cinema as entertainment is measured against questions about the best ways to organise, and politicize, the music industry, organisations like Rich Mix (an arts centre and venue for music, cinema, performance and training with which ADFED is associated ) and anti-racist campaigns. Concerns about street and police violence are aired and the testosterone-fuelled adventurism of the Paris uprisings are compared with events in the UK that echo those shown in La Haine. The film, as ADF intend, also articulates these concerns. The absence of women in the film is striking, but as the Sharma’s argue, the pathologizing of the suburbs is an old sociological, anthropological and Hollywood standard, where inner urban tradition demands alienation and decay, disaffection and lawlessness, reinforcing the racism, even as La Haine challenges these easy moves.

    In 2002 ADF initiated similar concert-screenings of another film, this time the revolutionary cinematic extravaganza of The Battle of Algiers, directed in 1964 by Gillo Pontecorvo (music by Ennio Morricone). This film tells the story of the clandestine resistance movement against the French occupation of Algeria and works well when screened for new audiences with a live ADF soundtrack. Bringing a new audience to an old film, a part of the third cinema movement, quite often overlooked by drum and bass fans, carries a powerful allegorical charge at a time when issues of colonial occupation – Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon – are prominent in the media.

    I am interested in what a British Asian music activist outfit, with a record of anti-racist, anti-imperialist organising, can achieve with the technology of sound and film as propaganda device. What does this tell us about activism, media, and the intended audience for ADF’s experiments at the movies? Some will of course say that the ADF update track for Battle of Algiers is no improvement upon Morricone’s score; some will quibble about the sanctity of creative work in the age of digital reproduction; some might suggest that ADF cash in with a radical pose, presenting themselves as advocates of any and every left cause going. It is of course possible to discuss these matters, but I think these are the wrong questions. To explain, I want to turn to a German philosopher who knew very little about this kind of drum and bass.

    Martin Heidegger, were he to come down from his mountain retreat, might have us examine the way our thinking about technology hands us over to a calculated, and so compromised, entrapment. Concerned that we may ‘have ears only for the noise of media’, Heidegger makes a distinction, in a 1955 address in his home town, between calculative and meditative thought. It is meditative thought that is lost in the modern world for Heidegger. Calculation well suits the opportunist mind-set of capitalism. He complains of those who ‘hourly and daily … are chained to radio and television’ and ‘week after week the movies carry them off into uncommon, but often merely common, realms of the imagination, and give the illusion of a world that is no world’. ‘…Picture magazines’ and ‘modern techniques of communication’ assail us.

    No doubt the mid-20th Century philosopher would have thought ADF noisy, and that they were gratuitously given over to calculation (of record sales, of internet hits on their website). So far as I know, he expressed no position on Algeria or on Pontocorvo’s film, if he ever saw it. But nevertheless it might be interestingly provocative to ask if he would have approved of ADF’s attempt to get the youth to question, to ‘meditate’ (not at all in the yogic sense) upon questions of politics, violence, resistance, and on alternate ways of viewing the world. Battle of Algiers, in Pontocorvo’s third cinema way, was already a moment of consciousness raising, which ADF now update according to their want. ADF are not sentimental, and they are never in denial about the culture industry as a sapping vortex of commercialisation, but their engagement with the media cannot be described simply as an issue of chains or noise.

    Given what we know (or think that we know ) of Heidegger’s declared politics, it may seem strange that I can imagine ADF at least agreeing with him when he says:

    The power concealed in modern technology determines the relation of man to that which exists. It rules the whole earth. Indeed, already man is beginning to advance beyond the earth into outer space…gigantic sources of power have become known through the discovery of atomic energy.

    Heidegger warns of a danger in calculative thinking’s triumph ‘in the sense that the approaching tide of technological revolution in the Atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile … that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practised as the only way of thinking’ (Heidegger 1955/2003:93).

    ADF would want to promote a revolutionary consciousness. I wonder if we can grant them the luxury of thinking so differently?

    ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ was first given as a talk in 1949 and expanded in 1954. In this essay, Heidegger advocates a questioning that concerns itself with technology in a particular, political, way. Since we are not free, but are caught in a mode of thinking where we are mostly unable to think in any other than a calculative way about technology, Heidegger takes great pains to explain his way of questioning concerning technology. He will work through various ideas – cause, bringing forth, revealing, enframing, standing reserve and clearing – to prepare the possibility of escaping from the dangerous trap of conventional thoughts about technology. To do this he first goes back to Greeks to think about the meaning of words, not about the technological. Here, as ever, Heidegger teaches etymologies like no other – he asks us to think of verstehen, understanding, knowledge. To properly think this he asks that we look at assumptions; for example about how we think of technology as an activity; as a way of doing something; and as means to an end – as an instrumental thing that we try to control, and how our attempts to control technology as a tool keeps us still firmly in the grip of unexamined instrumentalism. For Heidegger, it is a first step of questioning (itself a kind of technology) that we need to examine our assumptions in a rigorous way, and he does so through an examination of the roots of the notion of cause. There is a long exploration of Greek and Latin terms, and of the creative intentionality that lies behind bringing something or causing something to be. The discussion moves from how we get things done, through consideration of cause as bringing forth, to a notion of the revealing, or the presence, of something. Then Heidegger offers a discussion of techne – as manufacturing technique and art (poeisis) – as a kind of know-how – the art of doing that brings something to presence.

    Looking for parallels with the thinking behind the performances by ADF, I have in mind the ends of activism, including those more abstract ‘oppositional-creative’ aims of ADFED as educational foundation that reveal a kind of community activism and a politics itself. The built in radical charge of this makes me want to ask what might be added to our understanding of activism if this sort of evaluation and thinking were to become common practice?

    So – hypothetical and experimental as it is – what if we bring forward this multifaceted, Heideggerian understanding of techne to Pontecorvo’s film, insofar as it is brought forth into the sometimes discordant, sometimes lyrical, but overall creative context of an ADF screening performance? Perhaps in this way we can better understand something about what ADF’s rendition of Battle of Algiers achieves. The event is never simply the cause of bringing about a critical anti-colonialist consciousness in the youth that are attracted to ADF performances. Ostensibly this would be one of the simple planned, even calculated, ends, but no-one would be so foolish as to think there is a one-to-one equivalence between planned intention and effect. Indeed, there is no simple or singular intention possible when an audience, by definition, comes from a wide range of disparate positions. There are plenty of debates about ethics and motivation, even inspiration, in the literature on propaganda, promotion and politics. There is much to be said for difference and for multiple modes of thinking. ADFED itself is a broad ‘church’, open to many, and ADF have long pointed out their wide ‘consciousness raising’ orientation and commitment to diversity.

    Perhaps what ADF and Heidegger share then is not just any kind of politics, nor any greater or lesser disguised evangelical mission, but a common push towards a more fundamental form of thinking; the realisation that a limit to thinking, a narrowing, is a baleful consequence of an unexamined attachment to the silver screen. The jangling soundtrack ADF provides for La Haine or The Battle of Algiers is intended to provoke a meditation, a rethinking. To resist what comes to presence in conventional everyday chit-chat versions of media consumption requires provocation if it is to open up any chance of radical thinking. Heidegger elsewhere is contemptuous of idle-talk and rumour as a substitute for thought, and in many ways I hear this idea resonating in ADF’s politically motivated use of film.

    Unfortunately, this does not mean that film itself, with added live music, is by and by an automatic consciousness raising tool. One particular story drives this point home. In 2002 it was reported that Pontocorvo’s film was to be screened (with the original score) at the Pentagon as an instructional text for the generals of the low intensity warfare operations unit, with the intention of aiding the generals in their thinking about how to win the war in Iraq, and how to deal with a militant insurgency without losing the ‘battle for hearts and minds’, as the French so clearly did in Algeria. It seems the generals watched less than carefully. The point is not to suggest only that any text – film, event – can be turned to any politics whatsoever (though I am sometimes convinced that all things can be recuperated and co-opted to do service for capital) but that what is required to achieve a radical thinking is something more than the conventions of calculative thought that usually belong to technology, especially technology in the hands of the generals bombing Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq.

    It is here that things become complicated. Revealing – bringing forth – goes down a wrong path if we are in thrall to technology and do not question it. I do not want to simply say that the film is a technology, to be given over to a certain view and fixed, or simply that it is something to be interpreted by whatever group – ADF or the Pentagon – that wants to make use of it. Sure, the figure of Martin Heidegger is not unlike the film – the old Nazi philosopher can be provocative as material support for left and right wing ends – that is not the point, the point is to watch over the calculation machine and see where it leaves us; thinking or stuck.

    ADF use technology to make us think, not simply consume. In this, they are, I feel, an advance insofar as they do more than simply offer a critical note against colonialism, revealing some of the truths about colonial history; rather, revealing plus an activism that militates for critical thinking. It is no accident that ADF called an earlier EP Militant Science. They explain:

    “Whatever anyone says about ADF’s so called ‘political’ lyrics, no one would have taken any notice if it wasn’t for ADF’s sound and its inherent energy: ragga-jungle propulsion, indo-dub basslines, distorted sitar-like guitars and samples of more ‘traditional’ Asian sounds”

    When Heidegger moves to the conclusion of his essay, he tries to clarify the relationship between two opposing orientations contained within what he calls Gestell or enframing, where enframing means something like a framework through which we look towards the world (we might remember here the opening scene in La Haine which pictures the world). Thus, for Heidegger, questioning concerning technology reveals both ordering and revealing as parts of our understanding of technology. But revealing is in danger and may be lost if questioning does not stay alert to this danger and in questioning provoke us to watch out for ways revealing might become limited to or reduced only to ordering. It is not enough to know the facts of Afghanistan, Iraq or Lebanon (indeed, the generals know so much more, and no doubt hide more, than the rest of us), the danger is in how knowing is used. What do the Generals do with their facts (their ‘intelligence, and counter-intelligence)? Clearly, knowledge is not neutral.

    When ADF, by their efforts, enframe activism and resistance within the same screen format that houses the propaganda effort of the evening news, the pentagon private screenings and the third cinema aesthetic tradition, then can we be sure that a common instrumentalisation has not captured all perspectives?

    Heidegger expresses his concern that humanity’s effort to ‘bring order to the globe’ is in vain so long as the language of what he calls ‘the pathway’ is not heard. But this is where Heidegger gets too rustic. Something that would be anathema to drum and bass militant rhythm scientists like ADF. Against the calculative, Heidegger would privilege crafts, and technologies like a water wheel that does not store up energy, does not dam the river (he learnt a river obsession from Holderin – see The Ister ). This rustic sleepy village scenario is one that ADF abhor since it buys into the entire romantic pre-colonial fantasy that keeps three quarters of the world in underdevelopment. On their album Rafi’s Revenge, ADF offer a lyric that condemns those who imagine India remains a ‘mass of sleeping villages’ – as such imagery fixes the idea of India in a rustic nostalgia, automatically or naturally excluded form modern development; homogenised and historicised as a manifestation of a eurocentric past.

    All of which raises the question of whether we can think outside this frame. Is it right to try to do so by going ‘back’ to techniques that do not store up and count? Can we think outside an instrumental mode, i.e. can we commit to a mode of thinking that does not calculate the world and us in it, in terms of use, that makes us and our world simply standing reserve, available, only in this way? The very possibility of asking this question is the critical hermeneutic. The danger would be that we confirm that we are merely standing reserve, and so we will be denied a more fundamental revealing of our world. We would instead be lost in worrying about control, controlling technology that gets out of control – but we would never have the critical perspective and possibility of thinking outside of the frame that would be needed to comprehend the essence of technology.

    “The threat does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already affected man in his essence. The rule of enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth”

    But if we are to reject the rustic pathway, this truth would be what? Would it be that technology, sound and film is not a necessary forever unidirectional or fixed, received wisdom, but can be tampered with by militant science, by a political consciousness that disrupts every received verity? Be it the sanctity of the original motion picture (those that criticised ADF for spoiling Pontercorvo’s film and displacing Morricone’s soundtrack) or be it the Leftist purists who would dare not use Heidegger to make an anti-colonial point, thus closing their ears to ideas in favour of blind narrowness.

    That Heidegger and ADF use questioning or noise to provoke us towards the possibility of thinking in a way not merely caught in repletion of our received and ordered enframing is all important. Maybe then we should feel uncomfortable, since the essence of technology shows us the (dangerous) way in which a technology, or technology in general, frames the world for us. Our responsibility will be to watch over this revealing so as to always seek – catch sight of – a more primordial revealing – of that which technology does, and that which we might do with technology, a soundtrack for instance. And so, to ask if questioning is enough may be the important question. The one that motivates a deeper thinking? It would not be wrong to ask if the danger of falling for enframing is greater than the physically existing lethal machines. Yet, is questioning enough? Is dancing in the aisles to Pontocorvo’s images of Algeria radical enough? In the face of the war of terror, what is?


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