Switch ContentsQuestions Concerning Music Technology

by Agostino Di Scipio

5. Artists prepare a free relation to technology

According to Heidegger, once we see that technology is our latest understanding of being, one of many forms of understanding, we have already stepped out from it "for we then see that what is most important in our lives is not subject to efficient enhancement" [Dreyfus, 1995, p.102]. In Gelassenheit (= releasement) the philosopher wrote: "we can utilize technical tools and, at the same time, remain free from them [...] we can say 'yes' to the inevitable utilization of the products of technology and, at the same time, we can say 'no' to them, so that they don't deform, puzzle and devastate our being [...] I would call this comportment which says 'yes' and 'no' to technology with an old world: releasement towards things" [1959/1984, p.58 (my translation)]. This would be the way to gain a free relationship to technology and "to keep thought alive" [ibid., p.59].

In other writings Heidegger puts forth what we would regard, today, as a thoroughly humanistic view of art: the function of art would be that of keeping thought alive by giving context to a free relation to technology and limiting the primacy of techno-scientific reasoning [Heidegger, 1971]. Describing Heidegger's view, Dreyfus writes: "just preserving pre-technical practices [...] would not give us what we need. [They] no longer add up to a shared sense of reality and one cannot legislate a new understanding of being [...] This function can be performed by what [Heidegger] calls a work of art" [Dreyfus, 1995, p.105].

In my mind, the interesting point here is that art can take this salvaging function upon itself since in fact it shares something with tÈchne. Both artistic creation and the invention of tools and tecniques are methods by which poiesis - man's faculties of imagining and creating - is revealed. To explain the separation of poiesis as revealed by the process of art and as revealed by the technical development Heidegger draws on a particular case, that of poetry [Heidegger, 1950]: To the poet (the artist) the language (her/his material) tells, while to others it serves. The poet qualifies language by putting it into question - s/he shows its limitations and eventually enriches it by transforming it. That who is not a poet utilizes language within already existing boundaries, being spoken by language rather than speaking it. This is in fact a powerful metaphor with implications I shall discuss later. In passing, however, I would notice that Heidegger says nothing about how the difference is made between speaking the language and being spoken by language, i.e. what makes it possible to follow the one or the other path of poiesis.

To summarize: What is needed to prepare a free relation to technology is an ability to say simultaneously yes and no to it, i.e. to let it penetrate the pragmatical aspects of our lives and yet not penetrate our innermost being. Art can contribute significantly to keeping non-technological forms of understanding alive and to gaining the necessary releasement towards the world of technology.