- From Technology to Machinism
Rethinking Technologies is a collection of twelve essays inspired (at least nominally so) by Miami University’s 1990 colloquium “Questioning Technologies.” The volume is dedicated in memoriam to Felix Guattari, whose writings on technology and ecology the editors single out as specifically inspirational for much of the work it contains. Guattari’s thought is represented by his essay “Machine Heterogenesis,” perhaps the most difficult in the volume, in which he seeks to go beyond Heidegger by showing how machines manifest not Being but “multitudes of ontological components” (26). We humans, according to Guattari, participate in this “ontological reconversion” merely by accepting what it is that the machines offer us.
The majority of the essays in the volume relate directly or indirectly to Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology”; some refer also to other of his works. Ingrid Scheibler’s “Heidegger and the Rhetoric of Submission” focuses almost exclusively on a defense of Heidegger’s work against criticism it has endured from Jurgen Habermas. Heidegger’s major contribution to the discourse of technology was to ask that we think of technology not in terms of applied science but instead in terms of a representational “enframing” that prevents us from encountering the Being of beings; editor Conley suggests that “it may be possible to rethink technologies in terms other than enframing” (xi). Conley sees the collection of essays that make up Rethinking Technologies as an attempt to go both “through” and “beyond” Heidegger, a move required primarily by two late twentieth-century developments: global ecological crisis and the “transformation of subjectivities” (xiii) brought about by the proliferation of communication technologies.
The essays are nominally organized into four groups: “Questioning Technologies,” “Technology and the Environment,” “Technology and the Arts,” and “Technology and Cyberspace.” These groupings, intended as “markers for the reader” (x) are largely specious. Francoise Gaillard’s essay “Technical Performance: Postmodernism, Angst or Agony of Modernism” seeks the roots of the apparent political anemia of the arts under late capitalism, all but ignoring technology in the process. Three other essays, Scott Durham’s “The Technology of Death and Its Limits: The Problem of the Simulation Model,” Alberto Moreiras’s “The Leap and the Lapse: Hacking a Private Site in Cyberspace,” and Avital Ronell’s “Our Narcotic Modernity,” look to literature for advice on the problems posed by the clash of the human and the technological, yet only Durham’s is grouped under the banner of “Arts.” The only case in which there is a productive dialogue between the grouping and the interior of the essay is that of Teresa Brennan’s “Age of Paranoia.” Brennan’s essay traces a metaphorical connection between the urge, in the infant, for control of the mother’s breast and modernity’s overstress of the visual and tendency to commodify (and, implicitly, degrade) the earth as a source of life.
Presented with such a motley collection of ideas, one can proceed in either of two ways: take only what is useful to one’s own field of study and dismiss the rest, or labour to make connections between the pieces that (hopefully) result in further insight, which may be still more heterogeneous with regard to the original collection. There is also the possibility that the latter approach may result in nothing but a headache and a subsequent recoiling to the safety of a good novel. At the risk of sounding disrespectfully flip, I suggest that this state of affairs may have been the founding moment of the three “appeals to literature” described above. It ought to go without saying that there is nothing dishonourable about such a move, in which art ceases to be mere illustration for theory and begins also to motivate and to define it.
In terms of the hard-core theory exemplified by contributors Guattari and Virilio, the three “appeals to literature” may appear marginal. I prefer to see them as the epitome of the “interplay” which Conley feels we ought to find within Rethinking Technologies. I take the bold step of forming my own provisional groupings for the purposes...