Our daily life is influenced deeply and massively by technical devices, while their effects on our economic, social or even political behaviour are largely unknown. It seems obvious that we are not yet at the end of the story regarding technology but rather at the very beginning of an unforeseeable change, a downright revolution whose real import only the future will show. Given that technologies always had a crucial impact on human mindsets we have now entered a new realm of reality in terms of a global digitization. What determines this new era as truly new relates to intricate challenges on every field of human activity or thought, touching upon our very self-image as human beings. Can we still take for granted that we only change our equipment without, in turn, being equally changed by it? How can we cope with this new situation? And how can we develop a proper understanding of what is going on around us – or even with us?
In this state of affairs Heidegger’s reflections on technology and his equally famous and opaque notion “das Gestell” have gained renewed attention. For addressing our current situation on an “ontological”, or to be precise: a “seinsgeschichtlichen” level, his approach provides the reader with deeper “insights in that what is” than a mere description of surface phenomena. Philosophically speaking, we are dealing with a technical mode of unconcealing that not only transforms both our practical and theoretical encounters with a mostly concealed world. For in doing so it increases the same concealment to an extent such that we even forget about its very “nature” or “essence” (“Wesen”, or rather “Unwesen” in this case). According to this setting the expectations run high where a publication like the present “Heidegger on Technology” is concerned, which not only lays claim to clarifying Heidegger’s relation to technology but even engages in a broader discussion, following the editor’s appeal “to apply Heidegger’s analysis of technology to some of the most pressing ethical and political problems we confront today.” (8)
“Heidegger on Technology” contains instructive contributions that provide its readers with plenty of insights concerning Heidegger’s development of thought, whether it be its breaks or its continuities. Like any other companion it offers useful hints, much needed clarifications, even congenial interpretations; but also mere recapitulations of already prominent ideas. The book contains 17 articles, starting with a former presentation by Mark A. Wrathall, first given at the University of Sussex in 2016 which is representative for the inner tension between “Gestell” and “Gelassenheit” (“releasement”) both in the outline of the volume and of our time in general.
In The Task of Thinking in an Technological Age Wrathall argues for a reconfiguration of the academic curricula based on a late Heideggerian approach which abandons homogenisation, forgetfulness, and efficacy in favour of what Heidegger calls “thinking”. Wrathall advocates a certain “sensibility” (“Besinnung”, 31) towards contingency and whatever is questionable in our lifeworld, a kind of sense for possibilities and options that we are to choose for the purpose of an alternative way of life: “to accomplish Heidegger’s purposes, an education in history needs to highlight the discontinuities in style, and emphasize the breaks and ruptures between worlds which show those worlds to be lacking in determinate foundations.” (33)
It is worth mentioning, however, that Wrathall does not stop at this point. May teaching first be conceptualized as a close collaboration of learning subjects (which finds an echo in Iain Thomson’s article)[i], he hereafter goes deeper into a “apprenticeship in skilful behaviour” (34) by stating: “All of this suggests that an education in thinking requires a curriculum that includes fostering bodily skills, even if–especially if–those skills have no ready value in the global economy. For instance, the inclusion of sports in educational curricula […] should not be on training a few athletes to play a role in the entertainment industry”. (36) Should “releasement” from the Gestell finally lead to sports in terms of a “non-calculable” flow, representing “the surprising, the genuinely risky, the open-ended”? (36)
In fact there is some evidence that this is indeed a genuinely Heideggerian line of thought, considering his affections for the former German team leader Franz Beckenbauer but also his attempts during his rectorship to militarize the academic curriculum. The latter rather foils Wrathall intentions but at the same time it sheds some light on the inherent dialectics of this case: playfulness seems to be an essential condition of releasement but when it comes to a normative structuring for the purpose of social engagement, like in the case of an academic schedule, the Gestell comes nearer and, finally, the game could be over before it begins. In other words: Unless we are not willing to serve the Gestell, could Gelassenheit remain something else than an end in itself? For taken as a means, instead, we have been already caught in the trap of gamification, understood as the post-industrial revenge of the Gestell, instrumentalizing creativity, inspiration, flow etc. for its own ends. From this perspective the question whether there could be other ways to (re)interpret Heidegger’s notion of releasement, and what they should look like becomes crucial.
Bret W. Davis’ reading of the Country Path Conversations appears to offer such a way: Heidegger’s Realeasement From the Technological Will. In a well-informed recapitulation of Heidegger’s intellectual development since Being and Time Davis shows that the concept of the will plays a central role during all periods. For the will is already literally present in the “umwillen” of Dasein’s care-structure, and thus marks an episode directly leading into Heidegger’s commitment to National socialism.[ii] But it was only after Heidegger resigned from his rectorship and his deeper study of Hölderlin and Nietzsche that he saw clearer: his own existential voluntarism had in a way imitated the ‘will to will’, carried out to its devastating consequences in WWII especially by the Nazis but also by the Communists or even the ‘Americans’. According to this late insight Davis states a “second turn”: “Heidegger’s thought-path also underwent a ‘second turn’ around 1940, a turn from a tendency to think the relation between human being and being (beyng) in terms of will, and a turn to a sustained attempt to think this relation in terms of a non-willing releasement and letting-be.” (136) This willing, however, exhibits a well-known dialectic: the “willing to/of non-willing”, in order to be successful, requires a releasement from quasi any “to”. And while releasement “to” is not under the dictate of being or a result of our mute obedience, every releasement “to” remains a willing, even in the case of a “non-willing” and is therefore no proper releasement (We will come back to this point later).
Following the Country Path Conversations, Tobias Keiling compellingly demonstrates that only in respect to particular beings a ‘will to thinking’ in terms of generalising subsumptions can be overcome. In his radical reading of Heidegger’s “Seinsgeschichte” the notion of “being” itself tends to occupy the horizons of possible interpretations when it comes to singular beings. By presupposing that there is one final horizon of all horizons, we fail to recognize (the basic insight of set theory) that the plurality of things is accompanied by a plurality of ontologies (108), settled in a strictly open “horizon”, and, therefore, open to a transfinite series of encounters. We only get in touch with “things for themselves”, instead of “things in themselves”, or things for us, if we learn to let things be in such a way that we cease our ontological commitment (104). Releasement in this sense means letting, not even letting be – and thus enables, in turn, the freeing of thinking from its own will to think only for itself. Correspondingly, one could say, released thinking is letting things be ends in themselves, and what is more: a thinking on behalf of things.
So far, so good. But does this apply only to a released thinking in Heidegger’s sense or also to a released thinking of the Gestell itself – a thinking that thinks on behalf of the Gestell by letting it be for itself? Looking for an answer, one of the first things that comes to mind could be the reply: Like science, the Gestell doesn’t think. But like in science, there is still a calculative intelligence at work, even if Heidegger is not willing to call it thinking. But then “was heißt denken”? Heidegger’s general answer amounts to letting beings be as well as thinking led by being. Now, Technology is a mode of disclosure, and the Gestell is the very “Wesen” of technology, a “Wesen” of being, thus even if the Gestell itself does not think, it lets think for itself by leading our thoughts (into itself). So, the question arises: Must we distinguish a ‘good’ from a ‘bad’ thinking – as two modes of being’s disclosure?
In fact it is not Gelassenheit whose opponent is the Gestell, but the “Geviert”. And so releasement turns out to be a mere vehicle of transition on the way from Gestell to Geviert. According to this characteristic of Gelassenheit, as a vehicle or device, it shows striking resemblance to Husserl’s epoché, understood as the enabling condition of a phenomo-logic. As Christos Hadjioannou reconstructs in his text Heidegger’s Critique of Techno-science as a Critique of Husserl’s Reductive Method Heidegger’s early notion of a “formal indication” lays ground to his critique of a so-called “care about certainty” (66) in Husserl’s concept of phenomenology as transcendental science: “So, formal indication lets everything stand as is, without referring, without imposing on things any pre-judged order. By indicating phenomena, it unassumingly releases them into the open, allowing them to show themselves from themselves. Thus, with ‘formal indication’, Heidegger attempts to replace Husserlian phenomenological analysis with a hermeneutic praxis that does not objectify, that does not posit any sort of order or classification, that does not assume an indifferent stance towards the content of phenomena, hiding the enactmental character of the philosophical praxis, and that does not slip into an attitudinal/theoretical comportment.” (71)
Sounds familiar. But here we see now that Heidegger, right from the beginning, is engaged in the methodological question of how to let things be, in order to let them show themselves. “Hermeneutical praxis” in this sense shall overcome “phenomenological analysis” by giving things a voice in the conversation of being, whereas Husserlian phenomenology seems to objectify things by quasi scrutinizing them only in respect of its own ‘worldview’. In other words: Heidegger’s methodological ground (or unground) is language, rather than the supposed ocularcentrism of Husserlian phenomenology. Therefore, Heidegger’s own philosophical praxis approaches poetry. Until this reversement from scientific classifications to the inner heart of the named holy, the Geviert, is executed, there will be no releasement from the Gestell according to Heidegger.
A deeper discussion of this relation is found in Susanne Claxton’s Poetry and the Gods. From Gestell to Gelassenheit, and here again, the emphasis lies on Gelassenheit. While not being wrong, this constitutes only one half of the way towards Heiddegger’s language as a phenomenology of poetry. As Claxton herself knows, Heidegger’s evoking of gods, the mortals, sky, and earth within the Geviert is not metaphorical in a pejorative sense. Instead, he truly believes in gods that rise to speak through their prayer-like addressing by mortals. As Claxton puts it: “For myths are not explanations, but rather ways of creatively conceptualizing experiences, experiences felt and perceived by mortals to be encounters with something outside themselves, something that has force.” (238) And later: “A given god, as such, can feel nothing in himself; the god needs a mortal to feel for him. Understood in this way, divinities may be seen as affective powers intending toward manifestations via mortals as embodied expressions thus experienced. In the coming together of mortal and divinity, fullness of experience is achieved.” (239) In other words: What is to be saved from the Gestell are certain extraordinary “feelings” (“Stimmungen”) that are conveyed, articulated, and experienced through a quasi-divine poetical language. These “Stimmungen” need “Stimmen” (“voices”) in order to not be ignored and forgotten. And so, it is not only for the sake of the gods that “Dasein” shall listen attentively to what ‘his’ experiences tell him.
Yet as we have already heard, gods are not the only ones who “need” or “use” (“brauchen”) Dasein as a kind of resonator. Moreover, the question seems to be whether gods simply do not feel or whether they do not think either. If the latter, there could very well be other gods than the mythological ones – for instance, technical ones or what we tend to call artificial intelligences. Without going too much into detail here, it seems quite obvious that they (still) need and are (already) using (“brauchen”) us, as well. Whereas the Geviert, in Heidegger’s view, stands for the holy shrine of the mystery (“Geheimnis”), the Gestell could turn out to be the secular shrine of the “need of needlessness” (“Not der Notlosigkeit”)[iii]. To put it another way: Are we still in need (and use) of Heidegger’s gods? – I’m not sure. Maybe in need and use of others? But why call them gods any longer?
Moving on from the gods some of the contributions to the volume rightly stress the point that there is still a lot to concerning big issues of our time such as the need for a new ecology (Michael E. Zimmerman and Trish Glazebrook) or the outcomes of an “audit society” (Denis McManus). In all the three cases Heidegger’s notion of the Gestell (or its forerunner “Machenschaft”) functions like a guideline to conceptualize what is going wrong, even if there might be no complot or genius malignus behind the scenes. Especially in the case of the audit society we are facing developments that foil the intended results: “So despite audit’s ‘promise of accountability and visibility’ (Power 1997, 127)[iv], there is reason to think it makes it significantly harder to see where power actually lies.” (277) If we cede our powers of decision to anonymous evaluation systems or even algorithms we get lost in our own lifeworld when it comes to human politics.
To be clear on this point, I do not deny that it is crucial to engage in such critiques as supported by Heidegger’s conceptual framework. Releasement is fine and I acknowledge the policy of emphasizing this notion in place of the Geviert. Yet I side with McManus here when he asks at the end of his chapter: “even if we accept that Heidegger’s diagnosis of our contemporary situation sheds light on the phenomena that Power describes, is it the best diagnosis?” I think it is one of the best, and two out of four names which McManus mentions subsequently even based their own diagnosis on Heidegger’s (Foucault and Arendt, while Marx and Weber undergo Heidegger’s critique). The only question I am asking here is, how far one can get, sticking to Heidegger original attempt. Of course, there are still points to be made, for instance, against Habermas, when Julian Young points out that a Habermasian communicative rationality ignores a certain “need for dwelling” (205 et passim). Or when Aaron James Wendland shows that the Kuhnian concept of “paradigm shifts” still emphasizes assimilation tendencies after the break where Heidegger rightly sees a needful release (297). And even when Taylor Carman, regarding the controversy between Heidegger and Heisenberg, argues that ‘science still doesn’t think’ because of its reductionist concept of “physis” (309 et passim). But does this lead to Heidegger’s final insight that only a god can save us–a god of poetry and a poetry of gods?
I am afraid it does, but only if we accept that Hölderlin is the greatest poet and that dwelling means to ensconce oneself in Heidegger’s ‘house of being’, viz. in his private language of thinking under the advice of being, including his idiosyncrasies, wrong etymologies, and ‘mystery’ lecture performances. Then we might believe that we live in times of the “Not der Notlosigkeit” in an era of a self-accomplishing forgetfulness of being, of self-deceit, which manages to ignore its own need to be saved. And even today there are still several believers among Heidegger’s readers. But maybe (according to Heidegger’s late reticence) there will be no saving needed anymore. Not because everything is just fine, but because the Gestell, along with its essence, the “danger” (“Gefahr”), could be in itself already the saving (“Rettung”)–not the saving from it, but the saving for itself. In other words: Could there be a saving of the Gestell by letting it be (for itself)? Having said this, what would this actually mean?
There is one moment in his Bremen Lectures where Heidegger comes close to this point: “Das Wesen der Technik ist das Seyn selber in der Wesensgestalt des Ge-Stells. Das Wesen des Ge-Stells aber ist die Gefahr. […] Die Gefahr ist das Ge-Stell nicht als Technik, sondern als das Seyn. Das Wesende der Gefahr ist das Seyn selbst, insofern es der Wahrheit seines Wesens mit der Vergesslichkeit dieses Wesens nachstellt.“ (GA 79, 62)
Can being be forgotten, or even forget itself? In this passage Heidegger reflects on the essence not only of the Gestell and on what is meant to be the Gefahr, but also on the essence (or ‘the essenceing’ = “das Wesende”) of the Gefahr: “das Seyn” being after itself (“nachstellen”), and in so doing, disguising (‘verstellen’) itself with the “Ge-Stell”. Hence, the danger is, according to Heidegger, that there seems to be no danger. Like the “need of needlessness”, Heidegger conceives of a danger of “safety” (“Gefahrlosigkeit”, literally ‘dangerlessness’). According to its own dialectics, the essence of danger is un-essence (“Unwesen”), an essence (“Wesen”) that denies itself and in doing so finally would become the ‘essencelessness’ (= “Wesenlosigkeit”) of being, if it is not recalled by Dasein anymore as the danger of being or the threat of its own forgetfulness.
To let the Gestell be for itself would therefore mean not to ignore the danger of forgetting, but to recognize the danger of forgetting as that what it truly is: our fear of death, angst. The real danger seems to be that not even danger will remain when we are gone. But that is probably going to happen. In contrast, the inherent ‘nihilism’ of the Gestell reminds us not of death, but of the forgetfulness of death (expressed through the loss of angst). As a result, the threat to Heidegger’s own thinking, as a permeant contemplation of the meaning of death, is simply that it could be pointless–because of the meaninglessness of death. This, in turn, doesn’t mean that there is no being and yet it means that the meaning of being is not necessarily the being of meaning, or what Heidegger would call the “Ereignis” of meaningfulness.
To conclude I return to the Country Path Conversations and listen to what Steven Crowell has to say about the correlation between “Sein” and “Dasein” in his chapter: The Challenge of Heidegger’s Approach to Technology. A Phenomenological Reading: “The first thing to note is that Heidegger’s attempt to overcome representational thinking does not abandon correlationism […]. Heidegger is quite clear about this: ‘das Seyn braucht den Menschen’ (GA 65: 261), the worlding of world requires the thinking being (GA 77: 147). But one might wonder whether Heidegger’s late notion of thinking as the ‘indwelling releasement to the worlding of world’ retains the feature of the care-structure that […] is the phenomenological ground of meaning–namely, trying to be (Worumwillen). Is the ‘relation to the essence of the human being’ that allows the Open ‘to be as it is [wesen…wie es west]’ (GA 77: 146), a relation that involves my being at issue in trying to be a thinker?” (89)
In the last sentence before this passage Crowell added an endnote. In this endnote Crowell replies to Quentin Meillassoux in defence of Heidegger’s correlationism: “Calling something an arche-fossil or a hammer or an electron–or a jug or a Gegnet or a Geviert, for that matter–has a determinate meaning only in a normative context grounded in the speaker’s commitment. The ‘realism’ which opposes this is perfectly suited to Ge-stell since, by denying the correlational conditions of meaning, it does away with meaning altogether and bottoms out in nihilism.” (94)
This punchline is remarkable, not primarily, however, as a critique but rather in the sense that Crowell laudably clarifies the relation (or correlation?) between a so-called “speculative realism” (or in the case of Meillassoux: speculative materialism) and the prevailing Gestell. Indeed, we are living in the Gestell, and Meillassoux somehow approves this insight by transcending every correlationism stemming from an anthropocentric vision of thinking. Now, is there a contradiction implied in what Crowell refers to? So far as I can see, none that Meillassoux hasn’t already dealt with elsewhere. Instead, there are consequences that concern not least the Heideggerian concept of releasement. Whereas Heidegger tries to free thought from the Gestell in order to gain a free relation to technology, speculative realism takes the opposite view: the freeing of thought from “Dasein”.
There still might be “the correlational conditions of meaning” but only for us as a species which cannot cease to make sense of everything, even nothing. But unfortunately that does not guarantee that beyond human comprehension meaning exists at all. Instead, we are today facing a situation wherein an intelligent form of calculation takes command without any proper understanding of its own agenda. And the same holds for philosophical speculations on the necessity of contingency, necessitating us to think the end of thinking as a possible, although unthinkable event (or rather “Enteignis”). Therefore, to talk about releasement under present conditions points, if anything, to a releasement into “nihilism” – according to our human, all-to-human presuppositions and expectations. Even though this does not mean that meaning does not mean anything to us, we find ourselves alone, surrounded by silicon and silence.
The German term “Gelassenheit” has its Latin equivalent in the Christian notion of “resignatio”. What in English still echoes the expression “resignation” or “resign” is translated into German as “Entlassung” – another, often unmentioned morphological derivation of “lassen”. Could it be that Heidegger’s own “releasement” from onto-theo-technology only renamed his resigning, his resignation by the Gestell, seine Entlassung durch die Seinsgeschichte? In this case he would have been the first and last thinker of the complete “Enteignis”: ‘The end of philosophy and the task/capitulation (“Aufgabe”) of thinking’ within the Gestell…a releasement from a self-annihilating being (“Sein”), and into a new substantial commitment with beings (“Seienden”)…the reversal from resigning to designing?
[i]See Technology, Ontotheology, Education, p. 185: “At the heart of Heidegger’s reontologization of education is a rethinking of what is called ‘learning,’ in which teaching itself becomes ‘the highest form of learning,’ an exemplary art of ‘learning-in-public,’ from which students learn how to learn by example, and learning comes to stand higher than being learned or knowing. (In what I have called ‘the pedagogical truth event,’ teachers learn to come into their own as teachers by showing students how to disclose the being of entities creatively, responsively, and responsibly, thereby helping students, things, and being all come into their own together.)” This “pedagogical truth event”, as Thomson calls it, seems to be already a common praxis, especially in demographic societies where youthfulness represents a rare good, whereas maturity is believed to be a kind of sale out.
[ii]For a closer reading of Heidegger’s thinking having an affair with National Socialism see Aaron James Wendland contribution to the present volume: Heidegger’s New Beginning. History, Technology, and National Socialism.
[iii]The German expression “Not” has also the connotation of “misery”.
[iv]McManus is quoting the inventor of the term “Audit Society” Michael Power in his book: The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997.
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.