Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading Heidegger II: while these machines are to us

There is a grammatical asymmetry in Heidegger's "Age of the World Picture". He defines the modern age in terms of two related events: the world becomes picture and man becomes subject (subiectum, in fact). It would be more precise (for those who care about such things) to say that modernity is constituted by the world becoming an object and history becoming a subject. But what, then, to do with this "picture" and this "man"?

We need to find something in the world to correspond with man in history. Heidegger provides a clue in invoking anthropology. After all, the pangrammatical homology of anthropology is metaphysics, just as the pangrammatical homology of ethnography is ontology. We can reinterpret "man" as "people", then, and can oppose them with "things". Thus, things become objects just as people becomes a subjects.

Now, the conversion of the experience into a picture (of the world) is certainly part of the process of objectification. Heidegger is not wrong to say that a "world picture" is an essential modern notion. But if things in the world are getting pictured as objects, then people in history are getting (what?) as subjects? If the world/thing is becoming a picture, then what is history/people becoming?

The answer, I think, is a machine. Modernity is the division of experience into, on the one hand, a series of images ordered into one comprehensive "world picture" and, on the other, a series of devices ordered into one comprehensive "historical machine".

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