Some Notes on Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology (Limitations and Similarities with Baudrillard)
Why – ultimately – does Heidegger seem so closed-minded to the possibility that modern technology and standing-reserve, its mode of enframing, can have a positive potential? All he appears to offer, despite his vague assertion that the enframing of modern technology contains a ‘saving-power’, is a yearning for something pre-Modern, something pre-technological.
The saving-power that Heidegger has in mind might be located in the realm of the pre-Modern, in the secluded pastoral Black Forest that he romanticizes as anathema to the modernization and rationalization of the world.
Despite the fact that Heidegger’s comparisons of techne and technology, of the Greek subject and the contemporary Cartesian subject, of the way matter and world was regarded for the ancients and the way we regard it, are entirely – in my opinion – spot on, he makes a grave error: In his infatuation with the truthfulness of techne, the ancient Greek mode of revealing, he forecloses even the possibility of entertaining the notion that the contemporary mode of revealing can be equally as truthful, or truthful in its own right.
He privileges the ancient mode so highly that the potentiality of standing-reserve becomes vilified without the ability for any, let alone proper, consideration. In other words, Heidegger’s arguments seem to be tainted by his allegiance to an authentic Being.
Heidegger, and, to some extent Baudrillard, share this tendency to foreclose the possibility of engaging with the potentials of modern technology.
Here is Heidegger’s sense of the ‘saving-power’ of Enframing: Enframing “…threatens to sweep man away into ordering as the supposed single way of revealing” and also toward modes of thinking that are discontinuous with the destructive possibilities of modern technology’s mode of Enframing.
Thus, Heidegger reminds the reader that the poet Holderlin not only tells us that:
“…where the danger is, grows
The saving power also.”
“…poetically dwells man upon this earth”.
Enframing puts us into a new relationship with the world. In this new configuration we might re-discover a poetic mode of dwelling upon the earth. Heidegger’s saving-power, as the above makes clear, is marked by what appears to be a Conservative stain.
Notice the similarity in approach between Heidegger’s call for a poetic mode of dwelling discontinuous with Enframing and this passage from Baudrillard:
It is more difficult for us to imagine the real, History, the depth of time, or three-dimensional space, just as before it was difficult from our real world perspective to imagine a virtual universe or the fourth-dimension. The simulacra will be ahead of us everywhere. The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none. Since the world is on a delusional course, we must adopt a delusional standpoint towards the world.
Baudrillard’s refusal to engage with modern technology and consider its possibilities, finds him shipwrecked on the same nihilistic and/or conservative rock that Heidegger seems caught on.
Firstly, Baudrillard and Heidegger never come down to ground level when engaging with technology. Heidegger’s arguments, Andrew Feenberg suggests, are “…developed at such a high degree of abstraction [that] he literally cannot discriminate between electricity and atom bombs, agricultural techniques and the holocaust.” For this reason Baudrillard cannot adequately distinguish between the nightmare of Artificial Intelligence and a websites linking activist groups across cyberspace.
Secondly, Baudrillard’s call for the adoption of a ‘delusional standpoint’ sounds suspiciously like Heidegger’s call for a ‘poetic’ sensibility. While Baudrillard certainly does not believe in returning to some pre-Modern revealing as poesis, a pre-Modern streak does seem to run through his corpus, especially beginning with Symbolic Exchange and Death, where – drawing on Lacan, Bataille, Nietzsche and Mauss – he imagines a resistance to the simulacra that is discontinuous with it: death. Baudrillard turns backwards rather than engages forwardly – he turns to a host of sources including Bataille’s notion of a ‘solar economy’ and the Native American pot-latch ceremony to formulate the idea of a ‘symbolic exchange’, an exchange capable of disrupting the ‘generalized exchange’ that rules in the simulacra. Again, this is a functioning that is discontinuous with the functioning of the simulacra – its intention is to inject some sense of the real into the hyper-real. Heidegger’s ‘saving-power’, his poetic intervention, might be understood along the same lines, as restoring the truthfulness of bringing-forth, of poesis, into a system that challenges nature as standing-reserve.
While Heidegger’s and Baudrillard’s respective diagnoses of modern technology are masterful, it is their prognoses that, in the forms they present them, prohibit viable treatment. Insofar as Baudrillard and Heidegger refuse to adequately consider the productive qualities of contemporary technologies, their critiques – in and of themselves – are of limited use.