The Assertive Self, part two
All Western institutions were reshaped by the assertive self. We have discussed the ideology’s revision of art; now, this writer will consider its transformation of science. Before the early modern period, most scientists in the West were Aristotelian in method. These people sought knowledge—generally as an end in itself—of the essence and telos of every natural entity. Experimentation was rare because of Aristotle’s belief that artificial conditions obscured the truth of nature. As the assertive self took hold of Western culture, the Aristotelian method was displaced by a new science whose goal was not speculative but practical: the prediction and control of the natural world.
“In the context of the interlocking processes pertaining to the orderly disposition of electrical energy, even the Rhine itself appears as something at our command. The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment the contrast that speaks out of the two titles, “The Rhine” as dammed up into the power works, and “The Rhine” as uttered out of the art work, in Hölderlin’s hymn by that name. But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.”
Taken from “The Question Concerning Technology” (1953) by Martin Heidegger. Translated into English by William Lovitt.
“Now listen! Can’t you see that when the language was new — as it was with Chaucer and Homer — the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there? He could say “O moon,” “O sea,” “O love” and the moon and the sea and love were really there. And can’t you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written, he could call on those words and find that they were just worn-out literary words? The excitingness of pure being had withdrawn from them; they were just rather stale literary words. Now the poet has to work in the excitingness of pure being; he has to get back that intensity into the language. We all know that it’s hard to write poetry in a late age; and we know that you have to put some strangeness, something unexpected, into the structure of the sentence in order to bring back vitality to the noun. Now it’s not enough to be bizarre; the strangeness in the sentence structure has to come from the poetic gift, too. That’s why it’s doubly hard to be a poet in a late age.”
Taken from a speech by Gertrude Stein at the University of Chicago. Recorded by Thornton Wilder in the introduction to Four in America (1947).
Destruktion and deconstruction
The theory of deconstruction developed by Jacques Derrida has been enormously influential. In brief, it calls for the subversion and dismantlement of philosophical and social structures, hierarchies and oppositions, in order to avoid “violence”. But the concept was not original to Derrida: its core was borrowed from Martin Heidegger’s idea of destruktion, the end result of that thinker’s large-scale critique of Western metaphysics. Derrida removed destruktion from its original context and expanded it beyond Heidegger’s intentions, which arguably weakened it. Deconstruction is fatally Eurocentric and self-contradictory. However, Heidegger’s less ambitious project of destruktion, while ultimately flawed, is not prone to these same failings.