For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing. (James 1: 23-25)
The Consumer Product and the Non-Object of Technology
The last post focused on the way Heidegger modified the classical philosophical notion of the object in response to the discursive demands the age of technology imposed on thinking. He performed a monumental shift from the classical object to the Thing (das Ding). All natural sciences still work with the classical definition of the object and are yet to shift their theoretical focus to the Thing. Richard Feynman (https://books.google.de/books?id=2OCKrF6YNKEC&redir_esc=y) began introducing theoretical sophistication in the natural sciences, but his success remained short-lived. The mass production of science, that is, the huge increase in the numbers of global “scientists,” required mass education for the new class of blue-color science workers. The massification of science enabled the perpetuation of an outdated philosophical format, which continues to dominate not only basic scientific principles, but also the way we perceive them, make policies about them, and organise the scientific traffic of information. Outdated practices of scientific research and publication in turn influence the decisions made by giant bio-technological concerns like Bayer and Monsanto, which format the health practices and wellbeing of an increasingly global, that is, controllable, humanity. Philosophers like Michel Serres (https://dlcl.stanford.edu/people/michel-serres; http://mas.caad.arch.ethz.ch/mas1011/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/The-Origin-of-Geometry.pdf) are still producing entire libraries in defence of the classical Greek notion of the object despite enormous evidence that humanity has long since moved on.
Thankfully technology continues to develop and progress without or even despite the philosophical anachronisms that dominate academic science. The classical object is simply something that confronts the subject and exists independently of his will or action. Heidegger’s Germanic-etymological definition of the Thing introduced not only time, but also action to the concept of the object. He noticed quite simply that an object of technology is very different from classical objects, because its essence, its mode of being, depends on its potential for action and on its ability to store energy for this potential action. For example, the airplane is not like a shoe, which can be used in specific settings and for specific purposes, because it enables the subject to move well beyond its immediate objective limitations. The airplane has an engine and a storage of energy. It stands in reserve (the infamous Gestell), which makes it quite different from the shoe, which is moved by the subject’s own energy and engine. By the same token, the existence of the airplane changed the way we think to such an extent that perceiving the shoe as an object vis-a-vis the airplane, made it an object of art worthy of lengthy philosophical contemplation (http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/filmphilology/heideggerworkofart.pdf). In other words, van Gogh’s work is only conceivable in the industrial frame of object relations.
The potential for fulfilling human will beyond its physical, objective limitations is intricately related to the phenomenon of interiority where fantasies of reaching beyond material limits originate. The valuation of this immaterial fantasy world was made possible by Christian teaching and sacramental practice.
Though Heidegger claimed his philosophy returned to the pre-Socratic roots of classical Greek philosophy, because he found it closer to language, his pan-linguistic and pan-nationalistic shift was not of that nature. He found the definition of the Thing not so much in language (in German etymology Thing (Ding) means stretch in time, dehnen, which implies action), but in his groundbreaking, and to this day unsurpassed, philosophical reflection on the being of technology (http://simondon.ocular-witness.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/question_concerning_technology.pdf). What Heidegger forgot, however, was the immense historical change Christian sacramental practice introduced in Germanic cultures, languages, and human psychology. The German language and its modern literary history are like an open book on the subject, because they experienced the most recent historical modification caused by Christian thought and practice as a result of the introduction of Luther’s translation of the Bible. Luther made the word of God available to every literate German speaker. This enormous change in the function of language was coincidental with — or directly responsible for — the initiation of the technological industrial age.
We’ve been told humanity has outlived the industrial age and is currently living in the information age. That may be true, if we consider the shift from object to thing Heidegger documented, but the production of information is an industry as well, which probably means the industrial age is not about to go anywhere, least of all disappear into the dustbins of history. We can never reflect wholly and intelligently on the information age, if we don’t understand the beginnings of industrialisation. The shift from production of objects to production of information as the ultimate consumer good, which is characteristic of the information age, is also about to make another transition and morph into a hybrid of the two, the so-called internet of things. Technologies like three-dimensional printing and drone delivery will likely bring the industrial consumer product and its ‘age’ back, but this time in a way that requires its wrapping in information, which is known as “content marketing” in current web retail lingo.
Beholding the non-object in the mirror frame
Not to lose sight of the main goal of iCulture therapy, reclaiming the interior, building meaningful consumer practices, and collecting objects that matter, let’s refocus on the self-image. A relationship to mere objects that carry no meaning for the interior world of the individual, which is how consumer products are perceived by the natural and human sciences today, is “like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror” and immediately forgetting what he beheld. Our goal here is to create, build and design an internal mirror that establishes an intimate relationship to the objects, things, actions, events, and energy sources that make up reality: the world we share with others. An individual cannot have an autonomous relationship to the world unless he is able to exercise a degree of control over it that allows him to change it. Every human breath sends a ripple of change into the physical world. Likewise, every movement in the interior is capable of affecting a lasting change in the world that potentially benefits everyone. Strengthening the individual identity cannot be separated from Christian practice, because the sacraments guarantee the functionality of the individual from birth and baptism through maturation, marriage, illness, and unto death. We experience our contribution to the world, through which we design an interior that is memorable and significant, as discomfort, if not illness, because the difference that we bring into the world does not initially harmonise with its order, because the objective order of the world has no place for it. It is our responsibility, through our interaction with the world, through words and objects, to bring an initially painful perception to harmonise with the world and to re-create it.
David Hockney’s 1965 lithograph in color Picture of Melrose Avenue in an Ornate Gold Frame represents an externalisation of an inner mirror containing the traffic of high quality goods, synonymous with Melrose Avenue. The street or a website, an airport or a railway, as well as the collections of books, information technology gadgets, artworks, knickknacks, ornaments, and furniture that make up our dwelling spaces can be termed Melrose Avenue collectively. They become one’s own, however, not so much through purchase or legal ownership, but through a framing mechanism that makes them parts of the internal mirror. Antidepressants do little to help us cultivate an elaborate mechanism of collecting and re-creating, because they repress the most creative and unique part of ourselves, the symptom, disharmony, and difference we harbor inside. Our difference, our disharmony with the world constitute the only engine of creativity we will ever possess. Tarrying with one’s difference and understanding its potential for action in the world is what therapeutic and intelligent consumer practice should enable.
Without an active relationship to God, the experience of one’s absolutely individual symptom is doomed to remain encapsulated inside or follow prescribed mechanisms of action that are not its own. The saving grace of the word of God, given to us in the Bible, has been growing active in the makeup of our internal world through the generations formed by Christian sacrament and teachings. The sacraments and rich teachings represent the ultimate container for internal experience and the only architect of the ornate gold frame that holds the mirror within intact. The traffic of goods and people that fills our private Melrose Avenues is engineered by the word of the Bible and contained by our individual frames as dwelling places for the Lord. The source imbuing our interiors with meaning is Christ and His word. Meaning originates in Him, but has multiple and infinite outlets enabling us to leave a legacy in the world. We can only harmonise with the world if we know its history and design, which is why the liberal arts and humanities, heirs of the classical Greco-Roman civilisation, remain central to the endeavour of a doer who works. The man blessed in his work and doings introduces new technological non-objects in the world, not mere objects, but objects that carry the individual imprint of his internal difference. The internet of things offers an incredible new opportunity for binging the interior of non-objects and the classical object world together on the same page of symptom-design. The next post will walk us through the relationship between action and tragic action. Stay tuned.