an in-depth review of and critical engagement with Heidegger's interpretations
of téchnê in Aristotle and his famous short essay, 'The Question
Concerning Technology'. Feenberg rightly notes at the outset that from
this essay and his similarly famous 'The Origin of the Work of Art', "one
cannot really gauge the depth of Heidegger's analysis of technê nor
understand fully how it differs from modern technology" and therefore devotes
the chapter to "these issues on the basis of a reading of Heidegger's various
lectures and essays on Aristotle", a most promising approach. One obvious
option when here taking on Feenberg's chapter would be merely to argue
with him over the correct interpretation of Heidegger's various writings
on Aristotle with the aim of defending what Heidegger thinks and "believes"
about te/xnh and technology, but such an aim
would not be particularly fruitful, remaining as it would within the horizon
laid out by Heidegger himself. Rather, crucial insights and issues in Heidegger's
thinking overlooked by Feenberg's interpretation are to be taken up here
and pointed in directions envisaged neither by Feenberg nor by Heidegger
Indeed, as one of the best known of today's so-called 'philosophers of technology', Feenberg has already circumscribed an horizon for his thinking, even and especially when pursuing his project of a "democratization of technology"(2) through which he seeks, as the book's title suggests, even a "redemption of history". Hence, when summarizing Heidegger's 'The Question Concerning Technology', Feenberg from the start goes along with Heidegger's equating te/xnh with poi/hsij, i.e. te/xnh with te/xnh poihtikh/ or the technical art of making, even though for the Greeks there is an entire gamut of various te/xnai, a crucial issue I have taken up elsewhere(3) that hangs together with the issue concerning productive power raised below. It is nevertheless to be welcomed that Feenberg 'crosses swords' with Heidegger's thinking on te/xnh and technology because Heidegger himself poses the question concerning technology at the philosophical, i.e. ontological level, where thinking can become crucial and upset all too well-worn paths of thinking, thus disclosing other historical possibilities.
Early in the piece, Feenberg raises a qualm: "One is left wondering if Heidegger's thought is based on Aristotle's or if Heidegger merely distorts the Aristotelian texts into a mirror of his own views." How to decide? The phenomena themselves must ultimately decide: Does Heidegger's phenomenological interpretation of Aristotle gell with an account of the simple phenomena, such as making, that are brought before the reader's mind? Heidegger's ground-breaking re-reading of Aristotle's texts in part recovers them insofar as they are true to the phenomena, in part reinterprets them in ways truer to the phenomena, and in part resituates Aristotle's phenomenologically apposite analyses in other contexts.
Heidegger noted in the early 1920s that the tacit sense of being for the Greeks was temporal, namely, presence. Only in this way does Heidegger come to the project of Being and Time, which accurately names the main concern of Heidegger's thinking from beginning to end, even when, in the 1940s, time is designated as the "Vorname" ("preliminary name" GA54:113) for truth, for a)lh/qeia as the clearing of self-concealment. For Heidegger, time does not remain conceived in the Greek, i.e. Aristotelean way, for which only the now properly is, the now (nu=n) that later will become the nunc stans, but rather, time, under Heidegger's hand and with the help of Husserl, becomes precisely three-dimensional, ecstatic, stretched. Such ecstatic time is a feature of Sein und Zeit and right through to the late, 1962 lecture Zeit und Sein. And the meaning of being itself is then thought from this 3D-time left unthought by the Greeks. By contrast, Aristotle thinks time as the number counted off movement, as clock-time, a conception of time subjected to critique in Being and Time. From within his horizon as technology-philosopher, Feenberg underestimates Heidegger, whose thinking opens a way to rethinking and re-experiencing time and being historically as the clearing of time-space.(4) how Aristotle unfolds his ontology of movement and time through his famous triad of concepts, du/namij, e)ne/rgeia and e)ntele/xeia, and Feenberg indeed discusses this triad. However, he confusedly conflates the meaning of the latter two concepts when he glosses the former as "signifying the 'ergon,' or finished work that stands before us in its completion". E)ne/rgeia is literally the at-work-ness of the du/namij or power underway toward to its end, when it will have-itself-in-its-end, the literal meaning of e)ntele/xeia. In other words, e)ne/rgeia is Aristotle's ontological concept for movement itself, signifying a twofold presence of both presence and lack. Because Aristotle takes te/xnh poihtikh/ or the know-how of making as the paradigm for his ontology of movement (covering four kinds of movement), this productivist paradigm enters into the deepest ontological concepts of movement, power and time which then unfold their fateful consequences throughout Western history, in a kind of deep-rooted productivist infection, up to the present day. (5) We must pose Heidegger the questions: What has happened to power in his casting of the fourfold (Geviert)? What is the relationship between power and letting-be (Gelassenheit)? Reposing the question concerning power necessarily brings the questions concerning the ontology of movement and time into (re)play. The critique of Heidegger's still productionist conception of power, however, applies also to Feenberg, whose project is that of a democratization of technology that is to give the power over technology to the people without ever posing the ghost of a question concerning the ontology of such a 'power of the people', or democracy. Instead, he wills and wants to become political, and takes conceptions of social and political power for granted — precisely conceptions that are most questionable in their granting and beg philosophical interrogation. It goes without saying — and this is disheartening to note eighty years after Being and Time was first published — that Heidegger's defenders against Feenberg do not see, and show themselves to be stubbornly resistant to seeing, the blind spots in Heidegger's thinking. Who said there's a label on Heidegger reading, 'Do not twist'?
Verwindung in Heidegger's thinking refers to the possibility of humankind 'getting over' metaphysical thinking that has culminated in the precalculative thinking of the set-up, to make room for another thinking in "the other beginning" (which Feenberg misquotes as "a new beginning"). In the German vernacular, we 'verwinden' or 'get over', for instance, the pain of losing a loved one, who nevertheless remains with us, whereas we 'überwinden' (overcome) obstacles that are thus left behind. When Heidegger asserts that thinking has the lead role to play vis-à-vis art in the transition to the other beginning,(6) he is insisting that the way an historical world opens up is cast first and foremost in philosophical thinking (and not in what Feenberg proposes to name simplifyingly with the nebulous term "culture"), just as the modern age was opened up and cast by a mathematico-scientific, precalculative thinking borne unbeknowns by an unbridled will to productive power over movement inherent in Western philosophy from the first beginning, starting with the motion of physical bodies (Newtonian mechanics) through to all kinds of movement amenable to a quantitative grasping. Verwinden is related to 'winden', to winding and entwining, writhing and twisting. We get over something by twisting free of it. A Verwindung in Western thinking implies a twisting, perhaps subtle, through which an alternative comes into view, through which the world is cast differently from another angle. This alternative cast of being enables also other ways of human acting and living to shape up in the light cast by this alternative. Such an alternative only becomes possible when all the cards are on the table, that is, when all the deepest ontological issues have been raised and thought through. From this perspective, Heidegger is not a final word; rather, the blind spots in his momentous thinking leave us with questions that in no way can be confined to a philosophy of technology. The question concerning power, comprising both productive power and the power play of social interplay, remains open after Heidegger.