Critical Reflections

the producibility and consumability of whatever we meet. This goes hand-in-hand with a virtually complete blindness to the mortal thrown-openness that makes everything possible, including this bankrupt mode of disclosure and its alienating way of being human. All of this is accounted for by the intrinsic hiddenness of that which has dispensed to us this destiny of Gestell, the world of exploitation and the epoché of technik.

How did Heidegger arrive at such an insight into the essence of the modern condition? What was the method that guided him in his analysis of Gestell? Heidegger does not like to use the term “method” and prefers to speak, with Aristotle, of μέθοδος, the “pursuit” of a subject matter. Glossing Physics III 1, 200b13, Heidegger writes:

μέθοδος: the step-by-step inquiry that pursues the subject matter, not our later “method” in the sense of a certain kind and manner of μέθοδος.39
But how to go about such a step-by-step inquiry into the state of the modern world? Socrates in the Phaedrus offers some guidelines:
In reflecting about the nature of anything, we should first decide whether the object that we want to know and communicate to others is simple or complex . . . and if it is complex, to enumerate its parts.40
Modern “technology,” whether in the form of the machines, the mind-set, or the world of meaning that those two inhabit, is indeed quite complex, and it seems Heidegger’s rough and ready description of the matter in “The Question of Technik” hardly does justice to the intricacies of the subject matter whose “essence” he purports to reveal. The lecture elides the multifaceted elements of this vast global phenomenon and reduces the issue to a Solzhenitsyn-like jeremiad against modernity au large and its intrusions on rural life. Can Heidegger the phenomenologist get away that easily? If nothing else, phenomenology is the promise of a rich and convincing description of the lived sensorium within which we relate to and are impacted by the phenomenon in question. Phenomenology challenges the natural attitude’s presumption that we simply have to “take a look” at things to know what’s going on, or that we are endowed with an intellectual X-ray vision for intuiting the essence of a phenomenon before its complexity has even been broached. Surely phenomenology, especially Heidegger’s own, knows that states of affairs are historical and come in contexts—not just personal but also economic, social, political, and cultural—that cannot be captured in thinned-out anecdotal “descriptions.”

39. GA 9: 271.10–12 = 207.19–21.
40. Phaedrus 270c10–d6. Note that what is translated as “to know” in this passage is the Greek εἶναι τεχνικοί, literally “to be skillful at,” hence “to be knowledgeable of.”