Heidegger on Thinking 1.2

hAgain I find myself somewhat repelled, though perhaps with less justification than in the previous lecture. The second lecture opens with the pronouncement that “we modern men presumably have not the slightest notion how thoughtfully the Greeks experienced their lofty poetry, their works of art – no, not experienced, but let them stand there in the presence of their radiant appearance” (pg 19). However I do see the importance of what he is saying is lost here. As he puts it, “we are compelled to let the poetic word stand in its truth, in beauty” (pg 19). He cites Holderlin to elaborate upon this point:

Who the deepest has thought, loves what is most alive,
Who have looked at the world, understands youth at its height,
And wise men in the end
Often incline towards beauty.

What I understand him to be saying is that aesthetic response involves a relatedness analogous to that enjoyed by the cabinet maker in relation to the shapes ‘slumbering within the wood’. It is only through an attentiveness in our engagement with the object (the deepness of thought) that we can be alive to its reality, responding to it as it ‘stands in its truth’. Heidegger claims that “what the line tells us we can fathom only when we are capable of thinking” (pg 21). We can only learn through doing:

We shall never learn what ‘is called’ swimming, for example, or what it ‘calls for,’ by reading a treatise on swimming. Only the leap into the river tells us what is called swimming. The question ‘what is called thinking?’ can never be answered by proposing a definition of the concept thinking, and then diligently explaining what is contained in that definition. In what follows, we shall not think about what thinking is. We remain outside that mere reflection which makes thinking its object. (pg 21)

This ‘mere reflection’ precludes the relatedness necessary to let an object ‘stand in its truth’. I think this is something akin to the Buddhist notion of Tathatā (“thusness”) which I’ve always understood, perhaps incorrectly, to gesture towards the reality of an object beyond symbolisation. We rarely encounter this quiddity because of our propensity for ‘mere reflection’: we encounter partial aspects, mediated through our intellectualised concepts and past experience, rather than the thusness of the object. But if we do encounter the reality of the object, its ‘reality’ as an object immediately reveals itself as a function of symbolisation. If we really encounter an object in its thusnessit simply stands in its reality in relation to other existents rather than as something independently self-subsistent.

Is ‘thinking’ in Heidegger’s sense a matter of cultivating attentiveness to things and our relation to them? Or am I simply misreading Heidegger through what might very well be a longstanding misreading of Buddhism on my part? I’m aware as I’m writing this (in fact I’m thinking about it) that textual analysis of this sort engenders a feeling of intellectual insecurity in me which runs completely contrary to my considered views about the point of analysing texts. I’m deliberately throwing myself into this book without consulting secondary texts and I’m aware that the insecurity would likely vanish if I were not doing this. But this strategy actually seems deeply appropriate to the book now that I’ve got started. Given I’m not, nor have any aspiration to be, a continental philosopher, perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I read the book ‘correctly’. Though does that mean I’m treating it as a resource to be mined* for insights? I hope not. I think there’s a middle ground between the two but I’m less than sure about what it is exactly and how to articulate it.

Another motivation for engaging with this text was my interest in Heidegger’s account of technology, which he begins to discuss in this lecture. However I’m confused by the distinction between technology and the essence of technology. I understand his argument that industrialisation destroys craft, in so far as that it preludes “the relatedness to such things as the shapes slumbering within wood” (pg 23). In so far as thinking necessitates an attentiveness to this relatedness then modernity will tend to preclude thought. But I don’t understand what he means when he says that “our age is not a technological age because it is the age of the machine; it is an age of the machine because it is the technological age” (pg 24). Presumably part of this distinction rests on his sense that we must avoid conflating the instances of technology (machines) with technology as such for risk that a preoccupation with the former obscures the nature of the latter. But what is the ‘essence of technology’? What is the ‘core of the matter’ which is not reached by the “economic, social, political, moral, and even religious questions” concerning technological labour?

I’m confused but intrigued by the prospect that we might “attain relatedness to what is most thought-provoking” (pg 25). The “listening closely” necessary for this means we must rid ourselves of the habit of “one-track thinking”: “track has to do with rails, and rails with technology” (pg 26). This one-track thinking is “one of those unsuspected and inconspicuous forms, mentioned earlier, in which the essence of technology assumes dominion”. But what is it?

Previous post about lecture 1.1 here.

*I originally typed ‘minded’ here. As Freudian slips go that was an interesting one.

10 responses to “Heidegger on Thinking 1.2”

  1. When reflecting upon moral responsibility, the duality of evil (incarnated in this case as the essence of technology, 20th century warfare, environmental destruction, hydroelectric projects) and man’s will to resist, is a thrilling philosophical game. But ultimately it takes us no further than Christianity.

  2. it’s way too early in the book for me to know whether or not i agree with you that this is what he’s saying!

  3. plus I’d got the impression that christianity had become weirdly fashionable in some strands of recent continental philosophy…

  4. Your thoughts on Heidegger and Sennett would be interesting, once you have got a feel for the ideational grain of the matter, with all its knotty textures and resistances.

    I once rode across the hydro electric power plant on the Rhine that Heidegger got so upset about (Question Concerning Technology). I can’t see what’s so bad about it! Especially when in the context of the attempted annihilation of an entire race, and the subsequent near total destruction of European civilisation.

    It’s hard not to read Heidegger in the historical context. Interestingly, when I asked people in Freiburg what they know about him, I was met with blank looks.

  5. The popularity of AN Whitehead’s process philosophy amongst theologians in the US, which has interesting parallels with Deleuze, is partly responsible for the Continentalist-christian mutation.

  6. Ah I was wondering what on earth* that trend was about. I’ve had a zizek book about it on my shelf for ages.

    *I originally wrote ‘what the hell’ then thought better of it.

  7. I suspect he’d question the way you assess something “not being so bad”!

    I’m on campus next wednesday btw if you’re free for lunch or a coffee?

  8. You’ve also reminded me that I never finished De Landa’s book despite being quite taken with it at the outset.

  9. The word ‘techne’ in ancient Greek referred to “art, handicraft.” Heidegger said Greek was the most beautiful of languages and he was big on etymology as well. So, “our age is not a technological age because it is the age of the machine; it is an age of the machine because it is the technological age” might be translated as, “our age is not an age of art/handicrafts (techne) because it is the age of the machine; it is an age of the machine because it is the technological age” (an age only made possible by the arts/handicrafts — techne — but handicrafts now subsumed by modern machine efficiencies).

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