18 June 2009

their logic and intonation

As the title of his essay ['Is Technological Civilization Decadent, and Why?'] indicates, Patočka asks why technological civilization is in decline. The answer seems clear: this fall into inauthenticity indicates a return of the orgiastic or demonic. Contrary to what is normally thought, technological modernity doesn't neutralize anything; it causes a certain form of the demonic to re-emerge. Of course, it does neutralize also, through indifference and boredom, but because of that, and precisely to the same extent, it allows the return of the demonic. There is an affinity, or at least a synchrony, between a culture of boredom and an orgiastic one. The domination of technology encourages demonic irresponsibility, and the sexual force of the latter does not need to be emphasized. All that occurs against the background of this boredom, that acts in concert with a technological leveling effect. Technological civilization produces a heightening of mobilization of the orgiastic, with the familiar accompanying effects of aestheticism and individualism, but only to the extent that it also produces boredom, for it "levels" or neutralizes the mysterious or irreplaceable uniqueness of the responsible self. The individualism of technological civilization relies precisely on a misunderstanding of the unique self. It is the individualism of a role and not of a person. In other words it might be called the individualism of a masque or persona, a character [personnage] and not a person. Patočka reminds us of interpretations&#151especially that of Burckhardt&#151according to which modern individualism, as it has developed since the Renaissance, concerns itself with the role that is played rather than with this unique person whose secret remains hidden behind the social mask.
&#160 The alternatives are confused: individualism becomes socialism or collectivism, it simulates an ethics or politics of singularity, liberalism joins socialism, democracy joins totalitarianism, and all these figures share the same indifference concerning anything but the objectivity of the role. Equality for all, the slogan of bourgeois revolution, becomes the objective or quantifiable equality of roles, not of persons.
&#160 This critique of the mask clearly harks back to a tradition, especially when it is part of a denunciation of technology in the name of an originary authenticity. Patočka is doubtless somewhat insensitive to how consistent a tradition it is, its logic seeming to continue unperturbed from Plato to Heidegger. And just as the role played hides the authenticity of the irreplaceable self behind a social mask, so the civilization of boredom produced by a techno-scientific objectivity hides mystery: "The most sophisticated inventions are boring if they do not lead to an exacerbation of the Mystery concealed by what we discover, what is revealed to us."
&#160 Let us outline the logic of this discourse. It criticizes an inauthentic dissimulation (that is the sense common to technology, role-playing, individualism, and boredom) not in the name of a revelation or truth as unveiling, but in the name of another dissimulation that, in what it holds back, keeps the mystery veiled. Inauthentic dissimulation, that of the masked role, bores to the extent that it claims to unveil, show, expose, exhibit, and excite curiosity. By unveiling everything, it hides that whose essence resides in its remaining hidden, namely the authentic mystery of the person. Authentic mystery must remain mysterious, and we should approach it only by letting it be what it is in truth, namely veiled, withdrawn, dissimulated. Authentic dissimulation is inauthentically dissimulated by the violence of unveiling. The words "mystery" or "fundamental mystery" appear a number of times in the final pages of the article, and their logic and intonation, at least, seem more and more Heideggerian.
&#160 Yet another concept could well represent the most decisive recourse here, that of force. Everything Patočka tends to discredit&#151inauthenticity, technology, boredom, individualism, masks, roles&#151derives from a "metaphysics of force." Force has become the modern figure of being. Being has allowed itself to be determined as a calculable force; and man, instead of relating to the being that is hidden under this figure of force, represents himself as quantifiable power. Patočka describes this definition of being as force by means of a schema that is analogous to that employed by Heidegger in his texts on technology:

Humans have ceased to be a relation to Being and have become a force, a mighty one, one of the mightiest [This superlative (jednou z nejmocnějších) indeed signifies that man has placed himself in a homogeneous relation with the forces of the world, but simply as the strongest among those forces.] Especially in their social being, they became a gigantic transformer, releasing cosmic forces accumulated and bound over the eons. It seems as if humans have become a grand energy accumulator in a world of sheer forces, on the one hand making use of those forces to exist and multiply, yet on the other hand themselves integrated into the same process, accumulated, calculated, utilized, and manipulated like any other state of energy.

This description might at first seem Heideggerian, as do a number of other formulations such as "Hidden within force there is Being" or "Thus force manifests itself as the highest concealment of Being." The same can be said for the interpretation of the dissimulation of being as force, and the dissimulation of being in the entity. One might say that Patočka doesn't shy away from such a reading even if the only explicit reference to Heidegger takes a strangely encrypted form. Heidegger is merely alluded to as though, for one reason or another, he is not to be named (whereas others like Hannah Arendt are named, in the same context and to make a similar point). For example: "A great contemporary thinker presented this vision of being absorbed in what is in his work without being trusted or noted." Heidegger is there, but he is not paid any attention. He is visible but not seen. Heidegger is there like a purloined letter, he seems to say, although not in so many words.

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death (2008: 36-39)