Out of the Woods


I wish I could write that I found something productive in the circuitous reasoning, dead-ends and restarts, rhetorical questions and etymological exercises of Heidegger’s “Thing” essay. But mostly I was just baffled by Heidegger’s completely un-nuanced or downright crude understanding of technology and the natural sciences. We might remind ourselves of Latour’s critical departure from Heidegger in the Pandora’s Hope essay: “[For Heidegger] technology is unique, insuperable, omnipresent, superior, a monster born in our midst which has already devoured its unwitting midwives.” And a bit earlier: “By rationalizing and stockpiling nature, science plays into the hands of technology, whose sole end is to rationalize and stockpile nature without end” (176). Having learned from Latour’s humans and non-human mediators, I have no problem agreeing with him that “Heidegger is mistaken.” The sort of omnipresent and uniform domination of nature that Heidegger attributes to science and technology enters into his “Thing” essay to demonstrate how this mastery leads only to illusions: the illusion of nearness with the annihilation of distance, the illusion of scientific representations of objects. Scientific knowledge and its technological culmination, the atomic bomb, have somehow annihilated the thing. But Heidegger gets me no nearer the thing than his caricature of scientific knowledge. I cannot read his discussion of the jug as anything other than an anti-modern, philosophical phantasm, set on resurrecting the spirit of antiquity in the forests outside of postwar Freiburg. Reading Heidegger with Latour, might we consider his jug a forced reconstruction of a long-gone hybrid? When talking about things, Heidegger seems to be looking in all the wrong places. Good that we can leave Heidegger’s hut for Latour’s lab.


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