J. A. Tillmann: Technologically Framed Landscape. Heidegger and Japan

We, Japanese are nowadays characterized by the state of enormous confusion…”

Tomio Tezuka: An Hour with Heidegger1

Tezuka formulated this sentence in the middle of the 1950s. Heidegger was induced by the meeting to write A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer.2 A few years before, he gave a lecture on modern technology, in which he presents its origin as a fateful consequence of Western metaphysics. The Question Concerning Technology, together with his essay on sciences, are fundamental texts for understanding modernity.

The work and the person of Heidegger have long been controversial. The release of his bequests in recent years have unveiled the dark sides of his personality as well as the brown tinges of his thoughts. Thereby, it is understandable why there is no trace of ethics to be found in his oeuvre consisting of a hundred volumes – since where there is no morality (where only amorality exists), there is no ethics.

Even if we would not want to become his pupil in the school of the art of living, his interpretations of technology and science are inevitable readings for contemporary self-understanding. For this reason, as John Durham Peters suggests, we have to decontaminate his philosophy: “I confess to finding myself reluctantly drawn into Heidegger’s orbit. Thanks to a small army of brilliant interpreters who’ve helped detoxify his thought, he is absolutely indispensable if you are interested in how φύσις (physis, nature) and τέχνη (technē, art, technology) intermingle.”3

The exotist – and his exoticism

The process of turning away or against modernism very often comes with aesthetic aversion and exoticism. In some cases, these could lead to critical or utopian concepts and social activism. Even though he writes about Americanism, etc., Heidegger’s antimodernism does not exhaust itself in cultural criticism. He wants to dig deep into the source, all the way to the origin, where the future has already been anticipated.

According to his interpretation, the crucial development of modernity is technology that he originates in the science of the modern era rooted in Ancient Greek metaphysics. Thus, technology is not an overarching “megamachine” (Lewis Mumford), but a pervasive way of thinking and viewing of things: a frame (das Gestell). “The essence of technology lies in Enframing.”4 It is the “extreme danger […] through which the real everywhere, more or less distinctly, becomes standing-reserve.”5 The technology-frame “challenges forth into the frenziedness of ordering”6 and “blocking all lighting-up of every revealing, all appearing of truth.”7 At the end, it does not mean that the “Enframing [is an] extreme danger”. It “hrusts man into the danger of the surrender of his free essence”8

As many of his contemporaries, he is also longing for far away, or backward to untouched lands, distant regions, to the archaic origin, and in philosophy further beyond the Classical, to the Pre-Socratics. His longing turns towards the Black Forest and its farmers.9 He reports about the force of attraction of this landscape and the archaic world that it represents in a pathetic and expressive manner.

The exoticism drives him towards Japan; as it is best shown in his fictitious conversation entitled A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer where he writes about his Japanese guest who occasionally came with his wife who “then wore festive Japanese garments. They made

the Eastasian world more luminously present…”10

The exoticism, however, does not exhaust itself in the mere appreciation of the scarcity and beauty of forms. His interest in the Other is deeper – as his Japanese protagonist argues: “For the possibility still always remains that, seen from the point of view of our Eastasian existence, the technical world which sweeps us along must confine itself to surface matters…”.11 Thereby, it creates the impression that Heidegger is not only familiar with the surface but also with the interior of the Japanese world. Moreover, it appears that he is certain about the resonance between Eastasian and his thinking.

In recent decades various studies have been published that have analyzed the impacts of Asian way of thinking on his philosophy. However, Heidegger was familiar with Chinese and Japanese texts, especially with the new translations of his time, and had many Japanese colleagues and students,12 hence these did not result in any penetrating effect; or at least nothing at all that would make his works compatible with Taoist or Zen Buddhist classics. Few similarities can be found as much as quasi-Buddhist traits in Meister Eckhart’s thinking are detectable.

Heidegger’s orientalising interpreters are passing by the fact that he has started his studies as a theologist, that his language and rhetoric had a theological (or even liturgical-evangelist) ductus. They moreover overlook the fact that the intonation of his lectures, as well as his writings, are less calibrated to lecture halls but more to churchly acoustics. The number of the sentences in his texts that are consistent with the Tao or Zen are incomparably fewer than the number of those that, only by changing the word of Being to God in them, could easily fit into the context of Jewish or Christian tracts or homilies.

Every translation is an interpretation at the same time – the more distant the languages and cultures from each other, all the more so. The works of François Jullien on Chinese or Japanese culture prove that beyond doubt. And it is not only valid for the philosophical or poetic, but also for the everyday usage of language. Starting with the simplest question in the manner of a language learning book for beginners: What is this thing? A question that in Chinese would literally sound like this: What is this East-West?

The magnitude of the difference, however, can rather be presented in the fact that in Chinese philosophy no terms can be found for I, being, God or Freedom.13 In the field of aesthetic thoughts, in turn, the problem is less terminological but rather categorical: the central category of the Chinese concept of beauty is the blandness.14

An American interpreter Graham Parkes claims that Heidegger has “more than any other European philosopher initiated dialogue between the West and the Far East.”15 Indeed, Heidegger’s staged conversation with the Japanese “simulates a successful discussion between the East and West”,16 that is nothing else but a monolog camouflaged as dialogue, remarks Arata Takeda, a Germanist knowledgeable in both cultures.

Therefore, the chance for a deeper encounter might not so much be in the increase of intercultural inquiries, but can rather be found in a certain aspiration about which Géza Ottlik writes with respect to the personal, but which can also be valid in spiritual-cultural context: “»Without it, all our endeavors would be in vain. Whereas we can […] do it, provided we heed the forces that rise perpendicularly to the surface, and which act upon that unknown dimension. For we can also visualize ourselves as members of convergent system of radiating lines starting from the same point; since the deeper we sink into ourselves, toward the common center of our loneliness, the closer we are to each other, even though on the spherical surface upon which we carve for ourselves private trajectories and beat out isolated conglomerations of points, we may never touch at all.«”17

Frame-World Japan18

By looking at today’s Japan – its cityscapes, everyday world, low- or highbrow culture – the conception of Heidegger appears to be a mere desired fantasy. Obviously, the technological world has not appeared only on the forefronts. Self-evidently, the Japan of the 1950s differs from present days. Nonetheless, the overstyled image of Heidegger has not evolved from the perspective of “being-historical” singularity [seingeschichtlichen Singularität], but from its unexampled historical isolation. (The island country had not been until World War II; until the USA, as a result of its military aggression in the Asian and Oceanian region, defeated and occupied it.)

The opening towards and appropriation of Western modernity went hand in hand with the adoption, customization, and enhancement of “alien” technology. However, modernity is somewhat genuinely European; the condition of rapid technological development originates from Japanese culture itself. It is particularly reflected in its relation to the body – both to the living, as well as to the artificial ones. The acceptance of anthropomorphic machines, robots, artificial humans, and animals only presents the tip of the iceberg. In depth of its culture, the animistic relation to nature and Shintoist tradition play a key role. It is no only palpable in sophisticated and complex technical forms, but also in rather transient and formless technological objects, just as the words of Adolf Muschg exemplify: “the fact that a construction site is not equivalent with nature, has only been made understand with the writer Tawada Yoko after her moving to Hamburg.”19

The formless contemporary Japan is not only far from the expectation of exotists but also shows a bright contrast with traditional Japanese aesthetics. In order to understand it, one might not need to deepen into the art of the island country, or into the book of Toshihiko Izutsu entitled The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan.20 The Japanese concept of beauty have already triggered the waves of Japonism a while ago, and the interest towards it appears to be long-lasting.21 Nonetheless, it appears obvious that the old Japanese concept of beauty could not become resistant vis-à-vis with modern technology and functionality. Not only the clutter of the forms and shapes but also the feudal and posthuman are part of the shadow of the rising sun.

Humans cannot be not technological: we have been raised as beings using tools, creating images, erecting monuments. Heidegger’s student, Hans Jonas derives our humanity from these characteristics.22

To some extent the beginning anticipates the ending: thus construes technology itself as destiny. Nevertheless, for Heidegger the reign of technology is not fatefully ultimate, but rather a means of an opportunity throughout which something with a frame itself happens: “[] then the rule of Enframing cannot exhaust itself solely in blocking all lighting-up of every revealing, all appearing of truth.”23 Something can occur beyond technology and poetics: the bare manifestation of being; the realization of the fact that the world, things, and humans exist.

Some ten years later, in his Greek travel diary, Heidegger sees the situation even gloomier.24 The possibility exists, however, that – via negativa – at a certain point of technological overwhelm with its sickening wastelands, colorful glares, beyond its furriness a new horizon will appear. However, the allegation of Hannes Böhringer seems to be rather realistic: “The ever faster circulation and transformation of energy, money, and information leading things ever faster towards disappearance. The modern and ever further modernized fury of disappearance is technology.”25

Translated by Zsolt Miklósvölgyi

PUBLISHED In Philip Widman: Der Sach-Verhalt (Zsolt Miklósvölgyi, Mario Nemes Z. ed.) Technologie & Unheimliche, Berlin, 2017.

COPYRIGHT Tillmann J. A.

1 Since Graham Parkess English translation of Reinhard Mays German version excludes the appendix text of Tezukas essay entitled Three Answers, I have translated the motto on the basis of the German edition.

2 Martin Heidegger, A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer, In. Martin Heidegger, One the Way to Language, HarperCollins, 1982.

3 John Durham Peters: The Marvelous Clouds. Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media, University of Chicago Press, 2015. 39.

4 Matin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, 1977.13.

5 Ibid. 12.

6 Ibid. 17.

7 Ibid. 15.

8 Ibid. 17.

9 Martin Heidegger, Why Do I Stay in the Provinces (Trans. Thomas Seehan), In. Thomas Seehan (Ed.), Heidegger the Man and the Thinker, Precedent Press, Chicago, 1981.

10 Martin Heidegger, A Dialogue on Language, (Trans. Peter D. Hertz), In. Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, (Trans. Peter D. Hertz), Harper & Row, New York, Toronto, 1982. 4.

11 Ibid. 3.

12 “The last few decades have seen an increasing number of studies devoted to comparisons of Heideggers ideas with ideas from the Asian traditions. To the extent that Heidegger was familiar with German translations of some of the central texts of the Chinese Daoist and Japanese Zen traditions, comparisons with such figures as Laozi, Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), Dōgen, Bashō, or Nishida—all of these potentially illuminating exercises—now have to be conducted with a somewhat different orientation.” Graham Parkes: Translator’ s preface, in: Reinhard May, Heidegger’s hidden sources, East Asian influences on his work, Routledge, London, 1996. VIII. o.

13 François Jullien, Detour and Access. Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece (Translated by Sophie Hawkes), Zone Books, 2000.

14 François Jullien, In Praise of Blandness. Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics Translated by Paula M. Varsano, Zone Books, 2004.

15 Graham Parkes, Heidegger and Asian Thought, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1987. 76.

16 Arata Takeda: Zwiegespräch oder Selbstgespräch? Probleme des interkulturellen Verstehens in Martin Heideggers Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache. Jahrbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache. 36. 2010. 229. (Quote translated by Zs. M.)

17 Géza Ottlik, School at the Frontier, (Translated by Kathleen Szasz), Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York, 1966. 370.

18 [Gestellwelt Japan]

19 Adolf Muschg, Die Insel, die Kolumbus nicht gefunden hat. Sieben Gesichter Japans. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/Main, 1995. 25.

20 Toshihiko Izutsu, The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan, Martinus Nijhoff Publiser, The Hague/Boston/London, 1981.

21 John Pawson, Minimum, Phaidon Press, London – New York, 1996.

22 Hans Jonas, Werkzeug, Bild und Grab. Vom Transanimalischen im Menschen, in Hans Jonas, Philosophische Untersuchungen, Insel, Frankfurt, 1992.

23 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, 1977. 15.

24 Martin Heidegger, Sojourns: The Journey to Greece (Translated by John Panteleimon Manoussakis), State University of New York Press, 2005.

25 Hannes Böhringer, Harte Bank, Merve, Berlin, 2004. 32.



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