Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-12-05 - 2:14 p.m.
Saturday, I took myself off to the Warwick U bookshop on a whim - I had the feeling that I was beginning to understand where Latour and BC Smith are heading, especially the latter. For example, ‘registration’ is an important concept for BCS. His suggestion is that we can register something as an entity separate from ourselves - without registering it as anything.; that is - without literally representing it - without re-presenting it or taking it within some interpretational frame which may (or mat not) in some way correspond to the thing and probably isn‘t a perfect match. We register something as some thing - another thing in the sense that we ourselves have some thingyness about us.
BCS links this to a very concise take on the nature of mathematics - which starts with countables in sets (the Frege/Russell/Whitehead approach) - things we register as separate. BCS suggests in putting together he is doing metaphysics - a kind of post-postmodernism. This is really quite a big claim not least in terms of where Heidegger comes from.
In the bookshop, I went for Heidegger - I was very lucky to bump into a new book by Iain Thompson about the grounding of H’s antipathy to technology - how it is rooted in what he sees a decisive break with the evolution of the metaphysics of being - an end to the succession of epoches that has lasted over 2500 years. With this break in metaphysics, technology proliferates - not as a will-to-power, but as a ‘will to will’.
Thompson devotes his first chapter to H,s account of the start of metaphysics - something that took place in Miletus - (a place we visited nearly twenty odd years ago when hitched up with James from Dydima when he was only three years old.) It was there that the first philosophers tried to explain the grounding of world in two ways - firstly in terms of a prime matter and also in terms of dependence on a supreme being. At this point Western thought started to get anxious about the co-existence of flux and presence in things out there.
H believed that Nietzsche had set the basic frame of modern-times - as the fifth great philosopher to shift the presuppositions of western thought after the Milesians. In this last shift everything is seen as a potential resource to be exploited - as fodder for technology. The ground of a thing’s being becomes the thing’s quantitative potential - what it can be transformed into in quantitative terms. Transformation is what technology does.
This way of seeing entities has spread throughout the modern world - and indeed H is concerned that this technological perspective would displace all other viewpoints. Any other basis for meaningful existence could become lost to culture and the real threat is that we have turned this idea of being on ourselves - we see ourselves only as quantitative potential.
To escape the embrace of technology we have to move beyond the viewpoint that things are resources for technological transformation. (This is the kind of ‘modernisation’ that G Brown believes I - the process he thinks it is essential that we all accelerate.)
Thompson engages directly with Feenberg - and his book Questioning Technology , where F ties to identify a way round technological domination - a way of getting technology back to a libration agenda. Presemably Feenberg will soon be publishing a response to Thomson.
At Warwick I also got David Nye’s book on the American Technological Sublime - which promises to be a cracker - very much at the other extreme. The sublime is the experience that energises our moral will in Kant’s scheme . The suggestion seems to be that at some point - maybe 1850-1950 - the culture became increasingly energised by the role of technology in conquering the sublime wilderness - Hoover Dam etc.