- The Technology of the Question and the Responsibility for Sense
What confronts us today is precisely the formal knowledge—the knowledge of non-knowledge, even—of the fact that every supreme signification always signifies, beyond itself, the responsibility for an ultimate irresponsibility of sense. In the last instance, we are accountants of the measureless...(Nancy, “Responding” 298)
1. The Technology of the Question
When Heidegger wrote “The Question Concerning Technology,” he was well aware that we are not in a situation to know what we are questioning when we question technology. For that reason, the very first sentence of his essay is: “In what follows we shall be questioning concerning technology” (Heidegger, “The Question” 3). And Heidegger even puts ‘questioning’ in italics to get his point across: the title of the essay should not be read as an indication—“The Question Concerning”—of a specific topic—“Technology.” Rather, it is altogether the topic. The essay is as much about the question as it is about technology. In fact, it is first of all about the question. And it is not about answering the question. Nor is it about determining the scope or content of the question as a preparation to such an answer. It is simply about posing the question. If anything is done in Heidegger’s essay, it is nothing other than this: “In what follows we shall be questioning...”
Having then abandoned all expectations of a theory of technology informing us what technology is; having abandoned all expectations of a preliminary investigation into the possibility for us to have such a theory—we are left simply with questioning. What does it mean to pose a question? How does one do it? As will be noticed, I just did it—twice even—but nevertheless I do not know. I cannot account for it. Therefore, in order to answer this question about the question we will need some orientation—and now we come to observe the title again. For it is not, as we should think at this point, just “The Question,” but indeed “Concerning Technology.” In the predicament of asking without knowing how, this addition to the question—or supplement, to anticipate Derrida’s intervention—approaches us as a piece of guidance. In this respect, the title is neither, as we first discovered, an indication of a specific topic, but [End Page 140] nor is it any longer a topic altogether. Instead of a topic, it is now a hint towards a certain topos—telling us where we are as questioners.
In order to hear this better, we will have to pay attention to the German title. The essay is called “Die Frage nach der Technik,” i.e., ‘the question after technology.’ What we are told, then, is that we, as questioners, come after technology. If we should have been under the impression that we have begun with a theoretical question concerning technology—and this will, of course, be the immediate suggestion of Heidegger’s title— what we will come to discover is that the very praxis of questioning is technological. Our question concerning technology therefore comes too late, in a certain sense. It is already technological before it can address technology.1 Accordingly, this question never really begins with us asking about technology. As questioners, we are not initiators but followers, following after technology. This is why we will always only be able to pose the question concerning technology ‘in the following’ (im folgenden)— again: “In what follows we shall be questioning concerning technology.”
So far, this amounts to little more than an idiosyncratic reading of a title. But—assuming that the reader will entertain the jest—let me take it one step further. What would it mean to say that the question comes after technology? A basic acquaintance with philosophy will in fact suffice to be familiar with the aporia we are beginning to detect here. It is articulated in Plato’s famous dialogue Meno and has haunted philosophy ever since. In this dialogue, the young politician Meno from Thesally encounters Socrates in a discourse on virtue: what it is and whether it can be taught. Meno, who has been educated by the sophist...