Writing and Technology

Writing is not merely grapheme. Writing is a technology (techne, τέχνη). This technology is not exterior to being human. It expresses an essence of human. As Maurice Blanchot describes, writing is the universal scene of death. It is absolutely powerlessness. It is timeless. It reminds me of what Levinas refers to as the il ya, the ‘there is’. Writing is sheer ‘isness’ without exterior. It is empty and void. Only when it is taken up into a ‘regional’ sense, a living human, can it rise from its eternal death and empower and animate itself as meaning and truth. As ‘regional’ it must iterate. It must seek once again the drama of replay. Its greatest and most riveting scene is one of origin. The notion of origin is one of authorizing. Authorization asserts rule. It arouses power and vitality. This is the essence of technology.

According to Heidegger, technology ontologically understands being as standing reserve. It pre-cognitively and already allows being to show itself as awaiting use. Techne, the Greek root of technology, was according to Socrates an art. For Socrates it was the art of creating new kinds being from the midst of beings. Perhaps in a more Aristotelian frame, it brought potentials of being into actuality. The art consisted in a special kind of knowledge of matter (hyle) coupled with a telos, a fulfillment or culmination.

While this dynamic is already at work in some sense in modern technology, it has engendered a historical sense, not based on the artisan, that matter reduces to use-value. Over thousands of years of iterations and more and more massive productions, iterations, history acquires an ontologically reinforced showing of being as stuff for convenience and consumption, as disposable raw materials. In many iterations of knowing/thinking the environment as use-value, the dynamis of being gets lost in stuff, empty and devoid of everything but use-value reduced to a living death. Just as the scene of writing is universal death, technology has stripped and reduced the openness of being to an empty and monstrous repetition of the death of being. Only in use does being rouse itself but not as mystery, wonder, disturbance or dread for example but as zombie, devoid of everything except capital, an economy of abstract gazes in comfort, titillation, feeding on the meat of numbness. As in Levinas’ il ya, this setting invokes a perpetual swarming buzz of sheer isness. In this way, the ontology of technology is like the scene of universal writing, archi-writing as Derrida thinks it.

It is important to understand that writing is not an activity we participate in for example. Technology is not air-conditioning for example. The relationship to writing and technology is more like the long lost Greek middle voice. It is not being acted on or acting on something. It is a reciprocity, a interaction which is not passive or active. Writing and technology thought this way is who we are not something we relate to as objects or things. It conditions objects and things before we realize it or are explicitly aware of it as something, as this or that. Writing and technology tell us something about ourselves, about how we see, orient and understand. Writing and technology inform us before we ask the question. Writing as origin, as arche, pieces together sheer isness into value, meaning and truth, as me here now. Technology as the perpetuation of stuff to be used animates thing and substance to utility. This gathering together as the ‘there of being’ (dasein) takes hold of universal meaninglessness, mere a-temporal differences, and regionalizes, animates, particularizes as life, existence, me. As re-enactment we think, we believe, we love, we hate, we set the stage for desire and passion. Perhaps, momentarily, we burst forth from reductive, historical ontologies, iterations of origin and use and have the possibility for breathing fresh air, exteriority, not-me, not consumed in universality but novel, new, not yet codified – otherwise than being.