Rojcewicz (Technology) – Confronto Técnica e Arte

Because the essence of technology is nothing technological, an essential determination of technology and a decisive confrontation with it must occur in a realm that, in relation to technology, is of a kindred essence on the one hand, and yet, on the other hand, is of a fundamentally different essence.

Such a realm is art — always provided that our approach to art is not sealed off from the constellation of truth, concerning which we are questioning. (FT, 35-36/34-35)1)

(Metaphysical) aesthetics versus (ontological) philosophy of art

The fundamental distinction at play in this passage on art is a typically Heideggerian one. It is the distinction between a humanistic and an ontological view of art. The former makes humanity the measure of art: i.e., art arises out of human creativity and exists to elevate human experience. [187] Humans are thus the beginning and end of art. Versus this, the ontological view, to put it in a preliminary way, sees Being, the gods, at work in art.

The humanistic understanding of art goes by the name of “aesthetics.” Today aesthetics is the predominant, not to say exclusive, philosophy of art. Everyone today thinks of art in aesthetic terms, which is to say in human terms, in terms of the effect of art on human sense-experience (aisthesis). We expose ourselves to art for the sake of a deepening of our experience. Art takes us out of our shallow, everyday world and expands the horizons of our experience, making us broader, deeper, more refined human beings.

This humanistic, aesthetic approach to art is nothing but the technological outlook: art is a disposable. We ourselves (or at least the artists among us) place artworks at our disposal, and we experience these creations precisely for what we can get out of them.

In Heidegger’s view, however, aesthetics is not the only theory of art. It is merely the theory motivated by the second epoch in the history of Being: aesthetics arises when Being withdraws and is supplanted by human subjectivity. The original Greek attitude toward art was not a matter of aesthetics. The Greeks did not surround themselves with art for subjective reasons, i.e., for the sake of an elevation of their experience. The Greeks did not “appreciate” art, at least not in the etymological sense of valuing it for that which it brings “in return.” Art was not something that brought returns; it had a higher provenance than human creativity and a higher function than refinement or culture. If art is there merely to be appreciated, then it has been debased, brought down to the human, subjective level. For Heidegger, in the first epoch of history humanity is not the measure of art; Being is. Art is under the sway of the self-disclosure of Being. Art in the first epoch is “pious,” submissive to Being, not submissive to humans. That, in very broad strokes, characterizes the Greek approach to art as ontological rather than humanistic.

Heidegger expresses the difference between the ancient and the modern attitude toward art in three epigrammatic propositions, which we need to draw out. First of all: “The arts did not issue from artistry” (FT, 35/34). Heidegger employs here the ordinary German term for “arts,” die Künste. What I have translated as “artistry” is an unrelated, nongenuine German word, das Artistische. That word is a borrowing from Latin, which is a strong clue that Heidegger means it in a pejorative sense. And the pejorative sense for him is the subjective sense. Thus the term refers to the artistic ability or creativity of the individual artist. Das Artistische, “artistry,” should then be understood here in the sense of an artist’s skill, dexterity, ingenuity, originality. What the proposition expresses is that a human being, the subject, human genius, was not taken to be the source of art. Artworks were not viewed as human creations. As a result, art for the ancient Greeks was not a tribute to the creativity of [188] the human artist. For the Greeks, humanity is not the beginning of art, and in viewing art we do not perceive evidence of human creative powers. Art, in the first epoch, is not meant to edify us by displaying the genius of our congeners, whose achievements we would all share vicariously. In the second, current, epoch, however, the humanistic view of art does most definitely include the sentiment that art is a paean to human genius.

The humanistic appreciation of art is an instance of the technological outlook, which is precisely the attitude of appreciating, i.e., looking upon things in terms of the returns they offer us humans. Artworks offer personal, not practical, returns. Yet, as Sartre writes, technological things, as well, can be taken personally:

Humanism can refer to a theory which posits man as the end and as the supreme value. Humanism in this sense is visible in Cocteau’s story, “Around the world in eighty hours.” There a character, while flying over mountains in an airplane, declares, “Man is wonderful!” This means that I, who have not built airplanes, nevertheless receive personal returns from these particular inventions; i.e., I, inasmuch as I am a man, can consider myself personally responsible for, and honored by, the particular acts of some men. This presupposes that a value can be assigned to man on the basis of the highest acts of certain individuals. This sort of humanism is absurd, because only dogs or horses could make such a sweeping judgment about man and declare that man is wonderful, which they are careful not to do, at least not to my knowledge. (L’existentialisme est un humanisme, 90-91.)

Sartre is here expressing, and pillorying, an additional sense in which technological things are disposables. They not only benefit us in our practical tasks, such as our need to get over mountains as quickly as possible, but they also yield us personal returns. That is, technological things are at our disposal in the additional sense that they raise us in stature precisely as persons, as human beings. We can all take pride in technological achievements, since they show that humans are wonderful. We can all feel honored by the achievements of technological humanity, since we all share the same faculties that produced those achievements. Technology, like art, is a paean to humanity. That is to say, technological things, like artworks, are subject to humanistic appreciation. But if this humanism is absurd in the case of technology, it is no less so with regard to art. In other words, dogs and horses, as least to my knowledge, are careful not to declare that humans are wonderful — on the basis of either airplanes or masterpieces of art.

To return to Heidegger, what he means, most basically, by asserting that art did not issue from artistry is that the original Greeks did not relate art to the human subject. Heidegger says the same in the second of [189] the three statements, this time with regard to the end of art instead of the beginning: “Artworks were not enjoyed aesthetically” (FT, 35/34). Elsewhere, Heidegger expresses this thought by claiming that the Greeks were fortunate in that they did not have lived experiences2. He does not mean that the Greeks were blase or that they lacked deep feelings. Indeed, perhaps the Greeks’ experiences were deeper and more lively than are ours today. What the Greeks did not do, however, is to search deliberately for experiences. The Greeks did not measure their lives according to the variety and intensity of their experiences. The very notion of subjective experience was foreign to the original Greeks. That is what Heidegger means by saying they did not have lived experiences: they did not understand their experience in terms of its effect on a subject, in terms of how a subject lives through the experience. The original Greeks did not think in terms of lived experience, and they were not trying to enrich their lives with experiences. That is why they were fortunate; something higher than the human subject revealed itself to them. The Greeks were occupied with something that transcended their experience. For Heidegger, it is precisely when this “something” withdraws that human subjectivity supplants it and humans become preoccupied with themselves, with their own experience.

Since the Greeks were not seeking enriching experiences, they did not relate art to themselves as subjects. The Greeks did not have art for the sake of more intense or broader experiences. These experiences of art are called aesthetic enjoyment, whether they are pleasurable or not. Thus when Heidegger says, “Artworks were not enjoyed aesthetically,” he means that for the original Greeks the end of art was not its effect on the human subject, whether that effect be pleasure, pain, or any other lived experience. This again does not mean that the Greeks were blase toward art or that art had a weak effect on their souls. On the contrary, precisely because they were not seeking to be affected, art may have aroused in the Greeks deeper feelings than the ones we today purposely seek out. What Heidegger does mean is that in the first epoch art had a higher function than the humanistic or aesthetic one of deepening the subject’s experience. Art did not, as it were, point toward humans but away from them. The Greek attitude was not “Art for the sake of experience,” or even “Art for the sake of art,” but, rather, to put it in a still preliminary way, “Art for the sake of what it means to be.” Being, not humanity, was the end of art, just as Being, not humanity, was its beginning. That is how, in a way we yet need to clarify, the Greek approach to art was a matter of ontology, not aesthetics.

We come now to the third proposition in which Heidegger says explicitly what the Greek attitude toward art was not: “Art was not one among other cultural creations” (FT, 35/34). This does not mean that art [190] was a preeminent cultural creation, rather than just one among others. It means that art was not considered in terms of culture at all. Art, for the Greeks. was not a cultural asset; art was not intended as an expression of culture, and its purpose was not to make people cultured — i.e., cultivated, refined, more humane. Today, however, art is indeed closely connected with culture. Arts programs are instituted in the schools for the sake of “cultural enrichment,” art museums justify themselves as “bastions of culture,” and life without art is disdained as brutality.

Thus Heidegger’s three propositions all say the same: art in the first epoch was not understood in relation to the human subject. Art was not understood as stemming from the creativity of some subject, and its end was not to delight or shock or purge or acculturate human subjects. In other words, the original attitude toward art was not aesthetics. Aesthetics is the attitude that does relate art to humanity. It is our attitude today, the attitude motivated by the second epoch of history, the epoch in which humanity fills the vacuum left by the withdrawing of Being, in which humanism supplants ontology. Our epoch can also be called the age of metaphysics, i.e., the age that takes humanity as the subject of metaphysics, that makes the meaning of Being dependent on human subjective faculties rather than on Being’s own self-disclosure. Accordingly, Heidegger elsewhere identifies aesthetics with metaphysical thinking:

I am intending the essence of art here, and indeed not in general and vaguely, and to be sure not as an “expression” of culture or as “testimony” to the creative potential of man. My focus is how the work of art itself lets Being appear and brings Being into unconcealedness. This kind of questioning is far removed from metaphysical thinking about art, for the latter thinks “aesthetically.” That means the work is considered with regard to its effect on man and on his lived experience. To the extent that the work itself comes to be considered, it is looked upon as the product of a creating, as a creation in which a “lived urge” comes to expression. Thus even if the work of art is considered for itself, it is taken as the “object” or “product” of a creative or imitative lived experience; that is to say, it is conceived entirely and constantly on the basis of human perception as a subjective act (άίσφησις) [aisthesis]. The aesthetic consideration of art and of the work of art commences precisely (by essential necessity) with the inception of metaphysics. That means the aesthetic attitude toward art begins at the moment the essence of aletheia is transformed into ὁμοίωσις [homoiosis, “assimilation”], into the conformity and correctness of perceiving, presenting, and representing. The transformation begins in Plato’s metaphysics. (Parmenides. Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1982 (GA54). Translated by Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz as Parmenides. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992, 170-71/115)


  1. FT “Die Frage nach der Technik.” Originally published in Die Künste im technischen Zeitalter. München: R. Oldenbourg, 1954. Republished, in slightly modified form, in Martin Heidegger, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Pfullingen: G. Neske, 1954, and in Martin Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, Pfullingen: G. Neske, 1963. (In 1967 Neske also issued Vorträge und Aufsätze in three volumes. “Die Frage nach der Technik” is found in Volume I.) The definitive, improved text (which I will cite) includes Heidegger’s marginalia from earlier editions and is published under the aegis of the Gesamtausgabe in Vorträge und Aufsätze. Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2000 (GA7). Translated (from the first Vorträge und Aufsätze edition) by William Lovitt as “The Question Concerning Technology,” in Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. NY: Harper and Row, 1977. Republished in modified form in Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings. NY: Harper & Row, 1977. (I will provide page numbers of the original edition of the translation. 

  2. Nietzsche: Der Wille zur Macht als Kunst. Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1985, 93/80