Anna Kouppanou: Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger

Shawn Loht

Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times Book Cover Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times
Routledge International Studies in the Philosophy of Education
Anna Kouppanou
Hardback £105.00

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This study by junior scholar Anna Kouppanou proposes to recast Martin Heidegger’s conceptions of nearness, technology, and imagination in terms that show their interrelated phenomenological character as this speaks to the philosophy of education.  Drawing substantially on the work of Bernard Stiegler, as well as Jacques Derrida, her method of analysis is less oriented in a Heidegger-studies approach per se, and more geared toward re-directing Heideggerian themes in service of specific questions.  Kouppanou reads Heidegger from a persuasion such that the latter’s critique of technology is one-sided and negligent of considering how technology may overlap with other, more originary modes of being’s disclosure.  She entertains a number of provocative theses.  Among these theses are the following: nearness characterizes the event of truth and an essential aspect of education; technology affords nearness; imagination and temporality are co-constitutive; language, perception, and imagination are metaphorical; and the philosophy of education demands rethinking the interrelation of technology, imagination, language, and truth.  All in all this project is an ambitious one, but Kouppanou gracefully weaves together a number of Heideggerian concepts and gives us new insights for understanding the scope of Heidegger’s notion of technology.  I will say at the outset that I believe the study is actually much more effective on this score than it is on a philosophy of education front.  To my mind this book’s most significant and groundbreaking contribution is its inventive interpolation of the connection between imagination, nearness, language, and technology in Heidegger’s philosophy.  The concept of imagination in particular has historically been neglected in Heidegger studies, given Heidegger’s dismissal of imagination as a vestige of aesthetics and Cartesianism.  Kouppanou’s book should broaden current understanding of imagination in Heidegger, especially in its positive sense.

Kouppanou prefaces the study in the Introduction by raising the question of how the concept of technology might be reconciled with Heidegger’s notion of authentic nearness.  Kouppanou suggests that nearness ultimately concerns imagination, given that for something to be near entails that one sees it “as” this or that.  Or vice versa, to see something in a particular aspect is to have it phenomenologically near.  In other words, following Kant, the schematizing condition of perception is imaginative.  This notion restates the hermeneutic turn in Heidegger, that any state of human understanding, any state of meaning, is always already interpretive.  Kouppanou regards imagination (Einbildungskraft) as a core concept here because it unifies the schematization bound up in technology as Gestell with education conceived as Bildung (4).  In this light there is a connection between technology’s enabling of nearness and education’s model of culturation; a guiding idea Kouppanou borrows from Véronique Fóti is that Heideggerian Gestell possesses a formative character similar to education.  In other words, maybe there is not as sharp a distinction between Gestell and other, more originary manifestations of being as one may think.

The first chapter begins by addressing these issues further, taking up the concept of education from the critical standpoint of Heidegger’s concept of Gestell.  Kouppanou highlights the current trend in education to demand measurement in terms of assessment, outcomes, research outputs, and so forth.  The implicit notion is that, as “enframed” in a Heideggerian sense, education is removed of all freedom.  The human subject in this situation is understood according to a pre-defined set of conditions, and her education is directed toward predetermined measures for future productivity.  A text of focus for Kouppanou is Heidegger’s essay “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” particularly in its pertinence to Heidegger’s notion of education qua aletheia.  As a reader of this essay would know, Heidegger interprets Plato’s Cave allegory in terms of the precedence of aletheia, truth as discovery, in paideia, education.  According to this text, education means being brought into light from out of darkness.  Kouppanou emphasizes the equally decisive presence here of “nearness.”  The cave prisoners experience aletheia and enact paideia by being brought nearer to the real things they formerly saw in shadow form.  As the story relates, education has its apex when one’s intellection attains nearness to the original sources of sight and being.  Importantly in Kouppanou’s reading, this allegory introduces the distinction of truth as aletheia from truth as orthotes, or correct judgment, which is predicated on one being in the presence of the actual thing.  As Heidegger holds, this moment is the advent of metaphysics, and likewise of knowledge conceived as adequate representation modelled after the actual thing (13).  For Kouppanou, this distinction is emblematic of Heidegger’s accounts elsewhere of the epistemological commitments of “productionist metaphysics,” where the human being achieves knowledge by receiving and grasping the model.  Pre-given standards are contained in the model, rather than discovered in the nearness afforded by aletheia.  Another way to understand the phenomenon of nearness occurs in the later Heidegger, particularly in Heidegger’s accounts of the poetic image.  These accounts concern production that is not derived metaphysically (16).  This distinction is perhaps best borne out, as Kouppanou observes, in Heidegger’s notion of the work of art, where the work affords an originary instance of aletheia, not a mere copy of an externally existing thing (17).  As Chapter One concludes, a principal question for Kouppanou becomes that of a middle ground between originary presencing and subjective imagination; that is, are there modes in which human beings can conjure or fashion images which nonetheless emerge from out of the originary presence of things?  For Kouppanou, this is a question as to whether technologically-mediated images can afford nearness in a fashion akin to the nearness afforded by works of art (19).  Kouppanou writes:

The distinction between poetic and non-poetic image opens up a whole new discussion concerning types of images (Bild), types of forming (Bilden), their relation to imagination (Ein-Bildungskraft) – as the one being affected in receiving and producing forms of imagining, and ultimately their connection with Bildung as the very process concerned with human formation (19).

Employing a more expansive notion of this concept than Heidegger, the author understands “nearness” as a mode of knowing and connectedness to the world that allows the human being to participate in the unfolding of life through formative procedures (19-20).  Thus, she regards nearness as intimately bound up with education.

The second chapter explores these issues in relation to the dimensions of nearness afforded by Heidegger’s conception of phenomenology, especially the spirit of phenomenology’s dictum to allow the things to show themselves.  For Kourannou, this overlaps with the phenomenon of authentic temporality, by which one allows the voice of conscience to be heard.  This overlap is made evident in the temporal aspect in which everyday engagement with things derives from a temporal, historical origin.  As Heidegger observes in Being and Time, perception is grounded in “seeing-as.”  Nearness to things is predicated upon their presence “as” this or that.  Our everyday world-involvement is already interpretive, and this interpretation is typically framed by the historical reception of the given (25).  In other words, as Kouppanou describes, Heidegger’s brand of phenomenology “affirms an openness that lets beings be received” (25).  This as-structure works forwards as well as backwards in time.  Authentic temporality entails a seeing-as that frames what is to come, from out of the nearness of what is present.  Language is likewise a mode for Heidegger through which the nearness of things is gathered.  As Kouppanou highlights, a key distinction that emerges in Heidegger’s conception of language lay in language’s tie to phenomenology – language is the logos of the phaino.  Kouppanou cites a passage from Being and Time according to which discourse or logos in the guise of spoken language allows for things to be “sighted,” in the Greek, phone meta phantasias.  The term phantasia here is decisive for Kouppanou precisely because it at once entails the originary character of bona fide phenomena (through its root pha-, which refers to “appearing” and “showing”) while it also refers to the later Aristotelian notion of imagination, the more familiar brand of seeing-as (27-28).  This later notion of phantasia as imagination characterizes the way something appears to one, as when a blip on the horizon of a desert landscape is “imagined,” seen as an oasis.  The point Kouppanou leverages here is that the Greek conception of phantasia, understood as a microcosm for nearness and imaging, is at once passive and active.  On one hand, it characterizes the human capacity for receiving appearances from outside oneself – of having appearances show up – in the form of images.  On the other hand, phantasia is the capacity of image-formation, for imaginatively bringing an absent something near to one through one’s own constructive powers.  The challenge is to understand how Heidegger can regard the active dimension of phantasia in terms other than the representational, when he holds at the same time that phantasia comprises the “sighting” of what appears.  As Kouppanou describes this tension, the task for Heidegger is to “reimagine imagination in terms of a knowing that is transformative and yet responsive to things” (28).  To resolve this dilemma, Kouppanou cites Heidegger’s own engagement with Kant on the question of imagination’s relation with subjectivity.  The key to resolving the dilemma of phantasia conceived as representation versus phenomenological disclosure is the temporal nature of imagination, in the mould of Kant’s account in the first Critique.  Imagination not only figures into Kant’s account of the conditions for the possibility of experience in the First Critique’s A-Deduction; imagination also drives Kant’s account of schematism, the subjective component of perception by which one forms images while also deriving such formation from things.  Kouppanou cites John Sallis to emphasize that transcendental imagination is identical with originary time, writing “[i]magination thus lies at the heart of the unity of time, since temporality necessitates, above everything, connection and association” (32).  Another way to describe this structure, Kouppanou continues, is to understand nearness as coextensive with temporal experience as Heidegger understands the latter.  As Kouppanou puts it,

Taking this reorientation into account, image, formation, and imagination become indistinguishable from Heidegger’s temporality.  For Heidegger, time is the result of synthesis, an originary association that allows past, present, and future to come together and give time.  This original nearness of moments allows time consciousness and consciousness in general.  Without this bringing-near of past and present, and presence and absence, time cannot be formed (32).

So in this light, imagination (Einbildungskraft), education (or “formation,” Bildung), and image (Bild) consciousness are co-constituted through temporality.  Or what is the same, Heideggerian temporality is conditioned by the underlying synthesis or formation manifested in imagination, with nearness operating as a crucial component.  A question that remains to be taken up in the third chapter concerns the nature of future-directed imagination, or what Kouppanou calls “in advance formation.”  If imagination transcends mere subjective representation, then the question becomes one of how imagination’s future-oriented, schematizing mode avoids this limitation.  The question she poses is whether there are other structures involved that make this possible – and in particular – what is language’s role, insofar as it plays into the formation of originary poetic images?

The third chapter explores these issues in greater depth.  One aspect Kouppanou highlights in further analyzing the futural character of imagination is the moment of vision, the augenblick, as a poetic image.  Here she invokes the three ecstatic modes underlying temporality in Heidegger’s account from Division II of Being and Time.  The mode of futurity lay in Dasein’s character of being-ahead-of-itself, of projecting forward interpretively from one’s own factical state.  Yet, Dasein’s futural orientation also possesses an imaginative aspect insofar as it can be influenced by Dasein’s authentic acknowledgement of the voice of conscience.  Dasein’s potential for authentic temporality has its seat in allowing conscience to be heard and in wanting to respond to this voice.  Imagination would seem to be a crucial component here in that Dasein’s responding to the voice of conscience is necessarily a seeing-as, a hermeneutic moment of vision that is poetically gathered for one and disclosed in image form by virtue of Dasein’s self-understanding through heeding its own death.  Similarly, as was observed in the look at imagination in Kant, the notion is that the image-formation of authentic temporality does indeed stem from both a subjective foundation and one that responds to things.  As Kouppanou summarizes this point, authentic temporality instantiated in one’s owning of death is a process of bringing-near, to make present what is absent (38-39).  However, she also adds the rejoinder that nearness is not a concept that can be expressed propositionally.  “[N]earing, just like the originary image, is less of a designation and more of a metaphor, an irony, and a paradox” (39).  For “nearness” itself is a metaphorical idea.  It does not refer to an objective orientation in space or a property neatly predicable in a sentence.  Rather, it is an interpretive mode in which things appear to one.  In this light, Kouppanou suggests that the linguistic origin of the notion of nearness qua metaphor merits further discussion.  On one hand, metaphors are antithethical to Heidegger’s attempt to transcend metaphysics insofar as they postulate a divide between sensuous and nonsensuous reality.  On the other hand, as Kouppanou suggests, Heidegger’s accounts of perception in various texts suggest that he understands sensation (aisthesis) as subject to metaphorical transformation in perception.  This is to say, everyday human perception occurs through metaphorizing of sensation, given that all seeing is in fact seeing-as.  Kouppanou writes: “The world as phenomenon, as Heidegger seems to argue, is perceived with the assistance of both aisthesis (the senses) and phantasia (imagination), or better yet: aisthesis perceives imaginatively and through the modification of sense data” (42).  To say that perception metaphorizes the stuff of things is to regard perception as imaginative, as a kind of image formation.  (An aside Kouppanou hints at here is that language’s metaphorical character is likewise imaginative, based in image-formation, similar to Nietzsche’s account of metaphor.)  Kouppanou finishes out the chapter by again invoking the role of productive imagination by way of Kant.  If one concedes that perception is imaginative, this assumes that perception requires “exterior images” (44).  This is to say that, as concomitant with productive imagination, perception also engages the retentive aspect of time-consciousness by which images are frozen as schemas that inform future experience.  In brief, perception is imaginative reproduction.  In the chapter’s conclusion, the primary question asks whether nearness is confined to the relation of imaginative schematization and language, or whether there are other media in which nearness can occur.

Chapters Four, Five, and Six explore the concept of nearness according to its various treatments in the early, middle, and late periods of Heidegger’s thought, respectively.  Chapter Four takes up nearness as it is implicated in the early Heidegger’s concept of things “ready-to-hand.”  Chapter Five examines the role of nearness in Heidegger’s political thought, particularly as it pertains to Heidegger’s thought on homeland and native soil.  Chapter Six focuses on Heidegger’s perhaps best-known discussions of nearness, from the later writings on poetic experience and the life of the “thing” (Das Ding), where nearness is conceived as an alternative mode of dwelling to modern technology.  In what follows I will summarize these studies briefly before taking up the final two chapters of the book.

Chapter Four analyzes the early Heidegger’s account of nearness as revealed in things ready-to-hand (such as Being and Time’s tools) in order to better understand Heidegger’s attempt to “eliminate the technological aspects of being from his theorization of authentic time” (51).  Kouppanou suggests that Heidegger’s avoidance of emphasizing aspects of existence such as “materiality, embodiment, spatiality, and prostheticity” (51) in his accounts of perception and world are reflective of his disinclination to include technology in the sphere of authentic temporality.  Whereas, Kouppanou wants to suggest here that such a divide between the poetic or originary, and the technological, is artificial, given that technology is embedded in historicality.  Technological being informs the imaginative character of perception no less than the rooted and homely in Heidegger’s early account of Dasein’s being-in-the-world.

Chapter Five examines Heidegger’s notion of nearness in its guise as a “political scheme.”  The primary goal of Kouppanou’s focus here is to highlight Heidegger’s recasting of nearness into the political dimension of rootedness (76).  Technology is to blame, according to Heidegger, for creating a false sense of nearness that results in rootlessness.  Citing Stiegler, Kouppanou argues in contrast that technology does in fact have a constitutive role in the formation of the polis and the emergence of nearness; she emphasizes that “time cannot be a single destiny,” nor can time circumvent the mediation of technology (81).  Simply put, authentic temporality cannot occur outside the sway of technology.  Part of Heidegger’s error here, Kouppanou suggests, is to absolutize space as a metaphysical principle, whereas in Being and Time, he makes a stronger case that the nearness of space is a metaphor disclosed by Dasein.  Kouppanou comments: “Heidegger’s return to space [in the critique of technology] coincides with the distortion of the very process that his thinking attempts to become: the poetic image.  Instead of letting poetic imagery to be freely received, Heidegger imposes interpretations that temporalize space and emphasize the historicality of the homeland” (77).

Kouppanou transitions to Chapter Six by highlighting the later Heidegger’s move away from thinking nearness in terms of the futural, spiritual, and cultural.  In particular, she emphasizes Heidegger’s remark in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that the poetic can no longer be understood from the standpoint of the imagination, but instead relies on a freely-received letting-be of the historical manifested in the interplay of world and earth (84-85).  In other words, the later Heidegger seems to allow for historical being to occur as a disclosure of truth from without.  However, Kouppanou suggests that the concept of imagination remains in play for Heidegger by virtue of informing his position on the relation of truth, language, and art.  In particular, the function of metaphor as a proto-linguistic imaginative stuff underlying poetic experience suggests that imagination still figures into the primordial disclosures of being occasioned by art.  Thus, poetic experience can still be regarded as imaginative in its foundations.  In this vein Kouppanou writes:

While language is presented as the basic process that lets things be and affords nearness, Heidegger’s own metaphorical language says much more about the way nearness and the poetic realm unfold than his explicit argumentative language.  What’s more, his discussion concerning the work of art, as a site for truth, emphasizes the spatiotemporal dimensions of revealing and accounts for the material and embodied aspects of its unfolding.  This in turn provides us with an opportunity to reconsider poetic image as a mode of presencing that does not belong to language exclusively (90).

In the ending sections of Chapter Six, the final chapters of the book are previewed in some explorations of how Heidegger understands true nearness in the lived world of “things” (as in the essay “The Thing”) versus his view of the alienated state of being afforded by technology.  Kouppanou highlights the primacy of the human hand for Heidegger in the creation of works fostering true nearness, as the hand is integral to both traditional handicraft and originary language conceived as gesture.  Heidegger highlights this phenomenon when he contrasts the hand’s use in speaking and writing with the hand’s diminished capacity in these activities upon the advent of the typewriter.  A pervasive ambiguity Kouppanou identifies here in Heidegger is the equal role of the hand in making use of differentiated, external being.  It would be a mistake to claim, as Heidegger seems to suggest, that works of the hand constitute self-contained, holistic processes of creation.  As Kouppanou suggests, there appears not to be a sharp underlying divide between Heidegger’s notion of the lived experience associated with tools and “things” of handicraft, which are derivative upon metaphorizing imagination, and robust manifestations of modern technology.  Both make use of beings external to themselves in fostering their brands of nearness.  It is not sufficient to claim that modern technology is problematic simply because it maximizes nearness and totally removes distance.  The thrust of Kouppanou’s argumentation is that there seems not to be a fundamental difference between the imaginative disclosure afforded through, say, the hammer and the disclosure given through 21st-century computing.

The final two chapters of the book engage the findings of Chapters One through Six as they pertain to education and technology in current times.  Of particular emphasis for Kouppanou is the type of nearness fostered by the imaginative schematization prevalent in the World Wide Web and social media.  Kouppanou’s central argument in these final portions of the book rests on the claim that the nearness availed by modern technology is coextensive with Heidegger’s core assumptions about the relation of nearness, language, metaphor, and imagination.  She writes that “technology is always already constitutive for our ways of seeing-as,” and “[a]ll technology participate in our hermeneutical processes” (119).  In sum, “hermeneia is itself a material exterior and embodied metaphorical process unfolding through a twofold process of discretisation and synthesis instantiated through both language and technology” (Ibid.).  For Kouppanou, this last view is decisive because it drives home the imaginative, metaphorical basis equally latent within “gestures, tools, words, and stories.”  Metaphoricity is simply a constitutive element of things and their lived meaning (Ibid.).  Kouppanou then grafts this reasoning onto the digital being of the contemporary computerized world.  The digital world is not simply the alienated world of technology; for human Dasein the digital world is still being-in-the-world.  (This view has been developed by other Heideggerian philosophers including Michael Eldred.)  Online experience is coextensive with the worldhood of everyday, “real” experience.  The metaphorized images of online being are equally meaningful as the “real” world of meaning (123).  A core assumption of these passages is that the online experience fostered in media such as Facebook is always derivative from the meaning-structures embedded in intentionality.

In the final chapter, Kouppanou addresses these issues as they pertain to the philosophy of education.  The primary question concerns whether modern technology’s current manifestation fundamentally alters the outlook for education conceived in its original guise as Bildung, formation through images.  On one hand, she notes, the temporal form of “nowness” or constant immediacy created in online being would seem to encourage a pervasive lack of freedom.  Online experience in this light is one of the individual perpetually being formed or educated from without (145).  The danger Kouppanou sees here is the metaphorization or formation of the human latent in the pervasive reach of computing technology.  For, technology, like handicraft is not merely metaphorized being in its own right; technology also leads its user to become metaphorized.  This phenomenon has been documented in empirical science, as research has shown different types of media cause the human brain to rewire itself.  Therefore, Kouppanou’s position here argues that technology’s power to completely metaphorize and rewire the educational process risks undermining the processes of discovery, scaffolded learning, and above all, hermeneutical freedom that are integral to education (150).

This book is a very impressive piece of scholarship for an early-career researcher.  Its reassessment of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in terms of the concepts of nearness and imagination is especially fruitful.  Stylistically I believe the chapters proceed somewhat quickly at times, jumping from one dense source to another in often rapid fashion, when the author might in fact benefit from covering less material and proceeding more slowly.  The connections between the chapter topics also sometimes suffer from a similar feeling of disjointedness, where the inclusion of certain topics and subtopics comes off as unmotivated and ad hoc.  The fifth chapter on Heidegger’s political agenda struck me particularly strongly in this regard.  The first four chapters of the book, along with Chapter Six, come across much more cohesively in contrast.  However, these are all small caveats given the strong total contribution of the book.  As I noted at the beginning, the book’s principal shortcoming may be that its conclusions vis-à-vis the philosophy of education are relatively lukewarm and prefatory.  The final chapter in which education takes center stage reads somewhat more like an appendix, whereas the chapters dedicated to Heidegger are more focused on making sense of a complex line of inquiry in his thought.

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