Techne and Poesis

Martin Heidegger, in “The Question Concerning Technology,” discusses techne and poesis at length.  He says, that techne “reveals whatever does not bring itself forth and does not yet lie here before us” (295).  He gives the example of a chalice – a silversmith reveals the vessel from its state as just metal.  “It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is bringing forth” (295).

However, “The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such” (296, emphasis added).  This kind of unconcealment orders everything to stand by, to be ready at hand, to be rendered as “standing-reserve,” and that which exists as standing-reserve, something to be set-upon, no longer exists as that thing.

Heidegger says that through technology, the Rhine can be seen in one way — as a source for a hydroelectric plant.  However, the Rhine is also a beautiful river, a magnificent feature of the landscape that has been captured in poetry, such as in Hoelderlin’s “The Rhine.”  So, through technology, the Rhine has been revealed as standing-reserve, specifically as a source for hydroelectric power.  Therefore, it ceases to be simply a river.

This assertion, that once an object, revealed as standing-reserve through technology, can no longer be simply that object again, applies to humans as well.  People are too in danger of becoming standing-reserve, can be set-upon by technology.  There are those who would argue this has already happened, in an industrial-capitalist society which sees people merely as resources (zum beispiel Human Resources) or supplies.  “The forester who measures the felled timber in the woods and who to all appearances walks the forest path in the same way his grandfather did is today ordered [set-upon, challenged] by the industry that produces commercial woods, whether he knows it or not.  He is made subordinate to the oderability [chance for revelation as standing-reserve] of cellulose” (299).

This danger brought about by techne is countered by “the saving-power” – poesis.  “There was a time when it was not technology alone that bore the name techne.  Once that revealing which brings forth truth into the splendor of radiant appearance was also called techne” (315).  The difference is that poesis (creativity, poetic thought) reveals things in their essence, while techne reveals things as standing-reserve. 

That crash course in Heideggerian theory leads up to the question that, if we buy Heidegger’s argument about the capacity of technology to render things as standing-reserve, does this elit act as poesis?  It is certainly steeped in technology more than print-books, though these of course are produced technologically as well.  But to create these things one has to have a certain amount of know-how and to engage directly with technology (computers) which actively revealing other things (a process which does not occur with a book).  Elit is undeniably creative, it is still art, just new and different.  The extent to which it demands an interaction with and control over technology puts its poesis-value, Heideggerianly speaking, into question.

Zack Manko


Heidegger, Martin.  “The Question Concerning Technology.”  Basic Writings.  Ed. David Farrell Krell.  San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1978.  283-317.


~ by gottgeist501 on February 28, 2010.

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