The Ister

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The Ister är en essäfilm från 2004, skriven, regisserad och producerad av David Barison och Daniel Ross. Speltiden är 189 minuter.

Filmen är inspirerad av en föreläsning som Martin Heidegger gav 1942 om den tyska poeten Friedrich Hölderlins hymn Der Ister. Barison och Ross följer Donaufloden från Donaudeltat vid Svarta havet i Rumänien till dess källa och under filmens gång diskuterar de intervjuade Heidegger, Hölderlin, filosofi, tid, poesi, teknologi, krig, myter, politik, nazism och Förintelsen, bland mycket annat.

Intervjuobjekten är de franska filosoferna Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy och Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, och den tyska filmskaparen Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. Andra som intervjuas är en brokonstruktör (Nemanja Calic), en amatörbotanist (Tobias Maier) och en rumänsk arkeolog (Alexandru Suceveanu).

Filmen är uppdelad i fem kapitel plus en prolog och en epilog:

  • Prologue. The myth of Prometheus, or The birth of technics. Bernard Stiegler talar om myten om Prometheus.
  • Chapter 1. Now come fire! Stiegler talar om teknologi och tid, hur de relaterar till varandra.
  • Chapter 2. Here we wish to build. Jean-Luc Nancy talar om politik.
  • Chapter 3. When the trial has passed. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe diskuterar Heideggers nazism, uttalanden om teknologi och Förintelsen.
  • Chapter 4. The rock has need of cuts. Bernard Stiegler fortsätter fördjupa sig i teknologi, minne och historia.
  • Chapter 5. What that river does, no-one knows. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg talar om floden och om att dess kraft för poesin har förlorats.
  • Epilogue. Heidegger reads Hölderlin. Heidegger läser Hölderlins hymn "Der Ister."


Transkriberade utdrag

Steigler berättar myten om Prometeus

One day Zeus said to Prometheus, ’the time has come for you, for us gods, to bring into the day the non-immortals.’ The non-immortals being animals and men. Prometheus, who is put in charge of this task, has a twin brother named Epimetheus. Epimetheus resembles Prometheus; he is his double. But in fact Epimetheus is his brother’s opposite. Epimetheus is the god of the fault of forgetting. Prometheus is a figure of knowledge, of absolute mastery, total memory. Prometheus forgets nothing, Epimetheus forgets everything. Epimetheus says to his brother: ’Zeus has given you this task - I want to do it! Me me me! I’ll take care of it.’ Epimetheus is a rather simple-minded brother, and Prometheus is fond of him. He dares not refuse and says, ’OK, you take care of it.’ So Epimetheus distributes the qualities. He will give the gazelle its speed, for example. [...] He distributes the qualities in equilibrium. Epimetheus’ distribution of the qualities describes the ecological balance of nature. [...] Now, as Epimetheus is distributing the qualities, he suddenly notices something... [...] ’There are no qualities left! I forgot to save a quality for man!’ [...] ’I still have to bring mankind, mortals, into the day.’ [...] but there are no qualities left to give him a form. So Prometheus goes to the workshop of the god Hephaestus, to steal fire. Fire, whick is obviously the symbol of technics, but which is also the symbol of the power of god. Zeus.

Steigler om teknik och tid

First, what permits me to say that today technics develops faster than culture? What I state in my work is that man and technics are indissociable. The phenomenon of hominization is the phenomenon of the technicisation of the living. Man is nothing other than technical life. But, for thousands and even millions of years, man did not sense this technical dimension, which constitutes his life and existence, which makes of him a singular and original living being in the kingdom of living beings. Over a very long period of time, man has not felt this difference, inasmuch as technics has evolved with man, more or less in harmony with him. Until the industrial revolution at the start of the 19th century, man lives in a technical milieu which is normally stable, but which is transformed from time to time. The historian Bertrand Gille calls these periods of ’technological rupture.’ There have been technological ruptures since the beginning of humanity. Initially they are very far apart. Many hundreds of thousands of years apart, I think, in prehistory. Then in the proto-historic epoch, from the Neolithic period onwards, the gap between technological ruptures is thousands of years, and from the Greeks onwards the gap is in the hundreds of years. Then, starting from the classical period, the gaps become dozens of years. The great industrial revolution of the steam engine begins in 1780. This provokes great transformations in manufacturing activity. Indeed this transformation constitutes the industrial revolution.

Now, two things happen in the industrial revolution. First, the duration of technical systems becomes shorter and shorter. They become so contracted that there is almost no stability in technical systems. Until the 18th century, science on the one hand, which includes philosophy, and technics on the other, are two worlds which barely communicate. It is necessary to wait for the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, for the arrival of industry, before a new relation between science and technics is constituted, a relation which completely upsets the philosophical order established since Plato and Socrates. Greek science, Greek philosophy, say fundamentally that technics has no ontological depth, no ontological meaning. Technics is nothing other than artifactuality, making it necessary to distinguish artifice from ontology, from being. Appearance must be separated from essence. Becoming must be isolated from being. From then on, science and technics are fundamentally separate. At the end of the 18th century this relation will change. And what was a relation of opposition between science and technics becomes a relation of composition. The result is a new dynamism in technics. Which leads to what I call ’permanent innovation,’ whereby technics tends to transform itself continually. And where, moreover, in the industrial realm, competition will arise between enterprises. This competition will lead to a process of globalisation, with the development of railways and shipping, opening up enormous new markets. Thus we leave the national sphere. We pass quickly into a process of competition, fought essentially through technical innovation, that is, through the optimisation of machine productivity. And this economic war will translate into techno-scientific war.

Now, this poses a problem of divorce between social organisation, spiritual organisation, linguistic, political, economic, religious, epistemic, or epistemological, legal, metaphysical, biological even. All these spheres are systems, and in one fell swoop they are struck, overturned, exploaded, by the technical system through the dynamism of electronics and the internet. This process began in the 19th century. But now we experience it with an extraordinary, brutal force. It began in the 19th century because at that time there arose a new process, whereby industry, in its economic struggle, needed to create new objects every day, to open new markets for new objects. [...] And this is an enormous change for society. Enormous because until the 18th and 19th centuries, for most people, the world remained always the same. Always stable. Most people thought the world had always been the way it was in their time, and that it will always remain the same. They didn’t understand that they lived in historic time.

Steigler om historisk tid, historiskt medvetande och minne

They didn’t understand that they lived in historic time. Which is what Hegel says. Historical consciousness appeared in the 19th century with Hegel. Before Hegel there was no historical consciousness. A consciousness belived it was living in a world always identical to itself. A stable world, the world of being. And for this consciousness, ’becoming’ is exceptional and monstrous. All Western philosophy until the 19th century thought that stability was the essence of reality. Change, revolution, was quite accidental. Absolutely accidental.


In the 19th century, suddenly one says no: actually stability is the exception. It is change that is normal. This is Marx. It is Marx via industry, via technics. Nietzsche will then say the same thing. Nietzsche says, in Human, All Too Human: ’Man still has no historical consciousness. The philosopher still has no historical consciousness. He thinks the mind has always been what it is...’ He speaks here of Rousseau and Kant. But Nietzsche says we now discover prehistoric men, fossils, and we realise man has not always been what he is, and that the process of becoming is fundamentally what must be thought. Reality is becoming, says Nietzsche. But if Nietzsche can say that, it’s because he is at the end of the 19th century, and he is witnessing before his eyes the growth of technology, and already he understands that man will be carried away by this technological growth. At the same time something is in the process of developing around the world, through archaeology, through palaeontology, through all these sciences which study traces, fossils. And what is discovered by science in the West and then globally, is that technics has evolved over time, as have animals and plants, and thus technics is caught up in the evolutionary process. Which leads Marx to say in Das Kapital that we must elaborate a theory of technical evolution, just as Darwin elaborated a theory of the evolution of living beings. This takes me back to what I was saying at the start. Earlier I said that man is an essentially technical living being, and that the becoming of man and technics are the same thing. It’s true. But at the same time between man and human production (technics) there’s a perpetual risk of divorce. Because technics forms a system, and this system has its own dynamic, which leads us to say today: ’We must do away with jobs so that technology can develop.’ In Europe this is often said. So we’re forced to put people on the dole. The historian Bertrand Gille names this phenomenon ’disjointedness.’ Which relates to what Shakespeare called... ’Time out of joint.’ Disjointedness. Sometimes time comes off its hinges. Fundamentally because of a process of technical becoming. This is the great difficulty for thought: man is fundamentally a technical being, and yet technics is always unsettling man, who like all other living beings seeks to conserve himself, to conserve himself as he is. Life is fundamentally conservative. But at the same time, life is negentropy, transformation, becoming. So life is fundamentally conservative, yet it is also negentropic. In other words: transformation, becoming, alteration.

Insofar as man is a technical being who, in order to survive, must fabricate prostheses, artificial apparatuses of defense and attack, an apparatus of prostheses [...] All this forms a system which upsets nature, which transforms nature, and which leads us to ask today: ’Well, what is nature?’ Does nature exists? Physis. Natura. What is that? [...]

Be that as it may, prehistoric man develops prostheses which lead to systems, to an enormous global industrial system. Globalisation is the globalisation of technics. But what is essential about this process is that technics, as it develops, gives rise to a third kind of memory for living beings.


When a prehistoric man cuts a flint [...] obviously he doesn’t cut the flint to preserve his memory. But the act of cutting the flint preserves in the stone the gesture of cutting, permitting the inscription of his gestures on the flint and in fact constitutes a new memory-support for the living being, man. Until man, life rests on the combination of two systems of memory: genetic memory, DNA, and on the other hand, the memory of the individual, in the nervous system, the brain, etc. These two memories, which exists in all superior, sexed, vertebrate beings endowed with a nervous system... these two memories do not communicate with each other. [...] In other words when the living beings dies, all the experiences it has accumulated individually are lost by the species.

In contrast, after technics appears, very limited transmission is made possible, of vital acts, of tool fabrication. And then increasingly vast dimensions of memory develop, dimensions of memory which through technics become transmissible from generation to generation. And that camera which is recording me now is a system of memorisation: the latest development, the latest avatar of a system which begins with the first carved flint, and which allows life to preserve the trace of its individual experience, and to transmit that trace between generations. This is the appearance of what we call culture.

And obviously this i also the beginning of the possibility of conserving the past of a social group, through ’supports,’ supports of all kinds. [...] In essence: technics is memory-support. And this means technics is the condition of the constitution of the relation to the past.

So we men, as living beings, can have a relation to a past which is not simply our past, which is not simply my past, the one belonging to me, Bernard Stiegler, born 48 years ago. It is also my past insofar as my past is not only [my past]. My past is the past of Robert Stiegler, my father. The past of my grandfather is my past. But my grandfather himself had a grandfather, who himself had a grandfather. All these people, all these fathers, grandfather, etc, that is my past. I have not lived that past. I have never lived it and yet it belongs to me. I am responsible for it. For example, I have a German name. Stiegler. As a carrier of that German name, I am a carrier of the past of the Germans. The Shoah. Auschwitz. I am responsible for that past. [...] At the same time, I am French. What I mean by this is that my past is complex.

My past is at the same time German, French. It is also American, because now everything is American. It is Greek. Because all the past is Greek. Even for a Japanese. [...] The past is Greek. Because technics is Greek.

My past is inherited. For me to inherit a past, that past must be preserved and recorded in technical supports. If I can say I have a great-great-great-grandfather, Mr Stiegler, it is because there are archives which preserve the trace, and which permit him to pass on his name. [...] In saying I inherit the past of my father and grandfather and of the Germans and so on, I have adopted my name. [...] The family is necessary an adoption. I want to say that [the] human is essentially a process of adoption, of the past, and of technics. And it is the same. We need always to adopt technics, always new technics. Technics is always new. We must always adopt it. We are fundamentally caught in a process of adoption. And this is why we can change nationality, for example. I have a German name, but I am French. [..] We adopt without end. We must. Technics, the past of our parents, the name of our parents. Sometimes we can’t adopt the name of our father. That is the question of Oedipus. The question of Oedipus, of Sophocles, is precisely this question. When Oedipus killed his father is was the question of adoption, and the difficulty of adoption.

Stiegler om frågandet

Why then have I turned towards Prometheus and Epimetheus? Well, if we want to understand the question of technics, as it poses itself to us today as men of the 21st century, we must go back to ancient Greek mythology, not only to philosophy, but the tragic mythology of the ancient Greeks. This ancient Greek mythology poses the problem precisely and correctly, in mythological terms of course, and in terms of primitive Greek religion, of tragic religion. But, incredibly, it poses the question as it must be posed.

So, Prometheus will steal fire, in other words technics, and also the intelligence of Athena. And man will be a mortal living being condemned to fabricate prostheses. In other words he has no qualities. He is obliged to endlessly equip himself with new artifices for survival. And since they have no quality defined in advance men enter into conflict with one another, to decide on their quality, on their future. Some say ’we should do this’, others say ’no, we should do that.’ The animal [...] they have no question to pose concerning ’Who are we?’ But for man, it’s an eternal question. [...] Technics if the question. As soon as I am technical, I am questioning. This is why Zeus is forced to send Hermes.

Zeus sends Hermes

In Plato’s dialogue, Protagoras, the sophist Protagoras retells the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus, while engaged in a discussion with Socrates:

Prometheus, being at a loss to provide any salvation for man, stole from Hephaestus and Athena the gifts of technical knowledge, and of fire, and bestowed them upon man.
With these gifts he knew enought to survive, but he lacked politics.
So men lived at first in scattered groups; there were no cities. Consequently they were devoured by wild beasts, since they were in every respect weaker.
They sought to save themselves by coming together and founding cities, but when men gathered in communities they injured one another for lack of political skill, and so scattered again and continued to be devoured.
Zeus, fearing the total destruction of our species, sent Hermes to give to men the qualities of respect for others and a sense of justice, so at to bring order into our cities and create an bond of friendship and union.
Hermes asked Zeus in what manner he was to bestow these gifts on men... Zeus responded: ”To all. Let all have their share. There could never be cities if only a few shared in these virtues, as is the case with the arts.”
”Moreover you must lay it down as my law, that if anyone is incapable of acquiring his share of respect and justice, he shall be put to death as a plague to the city.”

Steigler om minne och rättvisa

...Zeus is forced to send Hermes. Because men want to make war against each other. They ask themselves questions [and] they don’t agree on the answers. So they massacre one another. Thus the famous civil war which inspires so much fear in the Greeks. What the Greeks called stasis. And it’s an historical fact. At the time when Plato retells the myth, through the mouth of Protagoras, the Greeks are in the middle of the Peloponnesian war; the war between all Greeks. I was saying earlier that man is a being who adopts: new technics, new names, new ideas, new art works, without end. Adoption is war. The possibility of adoption is the risk of war. Without end. Protagoras recounts that Zeus will send Hermes, the knowledge of dike, justice, to prevent men from annihilating one another.


But for dike to become necessary there must first be technics. Technics, the prosthesis, the artifice, which permits men to survive against their predators, as the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus recounts. But technics is also the support of memory: books. Books are a support of memory, a prosthesis, which will also allow Hermes to write the law.

In the ancient Greek world, Prometheus and Epimetheus are gods who belong to the tragic epoch of Greece, when the Greeks didn’t believe in the immortal soul. In the tragic epoch of Greece there in no immortal soul. There is a conception of the soul which as a spirit wanders in the realm of the dead. But it is not immortal. This is important. It means that the thought of Prometheus and Epimetheus is a pre-Christian thought, prior to Christianity and prior to Platonism. It’s Plato who introduces the idea of the immortality of the soul, preparing for the later appropriation of Greek thought be Saint Paul. Before Plato no-one in Greece thought the soul was immortal. It was thought the soul, or man, or consciousness, or the ego, but let’s say the mortal, was exactly that: mortal.

What does it mean, that man is mortal? It means he is condemned to anticipate his own death. His own end. Man is always restless, in perpetual anxiety about his end. What Heidegger calls Angst. Anxiety about death. [...] The myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus tells the story of this fundamental anxiety, of a being who is fundamentally mortal. A being for whom there is no way of escaping death. But who, on the other hand, is in charge of his own destiny: Geschick. This means that the myth retells in a pre-metaphysical version, before Plato’s metaphysics, the articulation between Geschick (destiny), time, and technics. Because the question is indissociably that of memory, of forgetting: ’I forgot!’ (Epimetheus). This problematisation of technics as memory, as time, as forgetting and as destiny, is opened up by Protagoras who draws on Aeschylus and Hesiod. And this opens up the question of the political.

Från Heideggers Hölderlin’s Hymn ’The Ister’

To the polis there belong the gods and the temples, the festivals and games, the governors and council of elders, the people’s assembly and the armed forces, the ships and the field marshals, the poets and the thinkers.

Yet we are never to think all these according to the civil state of the nineteenth century. None of these are merely pieces of embellishment for some state ordinance that puts value on producing ”cultural achievements.”

Rather, from out of the relation to the gods, out of the kind of festivals and the possibility of celebration, out of the relationship between master and slave, out of a relation to sacrifice and battle, out of a relationship to honor and glory, out of the relationship between these relationships and from out of the grounds of their unity, there prevails what is called the polis.

For this very reason the polis remains what is properly worthy of question, that which, on account of such worthiness, prevails in permeating all essential activity and every stance adopted by human beings.

Nancy om politikens grundande, mythos försvinnande och Dichtung

First I want to say something quite removed from Heidegger, and later perhaps I’ll come back to him. Because it’s very important, if we properly pose the question of foundation, of commencement, not only historically, but if we pose it as a question of foundation as such, of institution as such, it’s important to consider how these questions have an origin and a beginning themselves. That is, the beginning of the West is also the beginning of a question of institution, or of foundation. These questions have appeared ...several times in the history of the West. At least three times. The first time is the foundation of the city as democracy. The second is the foundation of absolute monarchy. And the third is the foundation of modern democracy, the social contract. In these three cases there is a problem, a question of foundation or institution. It’s not something self-evident. Now this question of foundation arises as a question at the moment when foundations have vanished. That is, when foundations which were clear, as in most empires... And I mean empires prior to the West, Egyptian, Assyrian, Assyrio-Babylonian, and prior to them the Hittite empire. These empires have clearly given foundations. They always have their foundations behind them. They are founded by the gods. They have always been there, and their order is established for all time. An empire’s foundation is thus superimposed upon the whole empire.


The beginning of the West is the beginning of the vanishing of these foundations. And it’s a foundation which appears explicitly as auto-foundation. Democracy says, ’Voila, I found myself, I appear. I appear as a rising up of the people, free men, against tyranny.’ Democracy always appears against tyranny. Obviously Greek democracy presents itself as auto-foundation. It has no myths behind it. It says: ’I myself perform the act of founding.’ There is no going back to myth or the sacred. Rather, one looks back to the great lawgiver ancestors, the founders of the law. That is, back to Dracon, Solon, to a human institution of law. Simultaneously this auto-foundation indicates the impossibility of fixing the origin. One asks: what did the first lawgiver have behind him? And who instituted the first lawgiver? So, on the one hand, you have a kind of regress ad infinitum. On the other hand there is, obviously, an immediate relation to violence. And with ’the other.’ Because there is a violent other, the tyrant. We have to topple the tyrant. The West begins with the long line of people who commit tyrannicide: the tyrannicide-hero. And, at the same time, the tyrannicide is also itself violence. A legitimate violence, an act of violence where we might find the first auto-legitimation. ’I’m legitimate because I killed the tyrant.’ But I must already have devided that the tyrant is not legitimate.

So this knot of questions corresponds to what? I think it corresponds to the vanishing of mythology as foundation. What makes mythologies vanish? In what context do they disappear? They disappear in the same context in which human sacrifice disappears. That is, roughly between the 12th and 8th centuries BC. I believe this disappearance occurs at the same time as the appearance of a certain number of techniques: the techniques of alphabetic writing and all the techniques linked to commerce. Because writing itself begins with commerce, with the cuneiform writing of the Assyrians, which is initially a form of commercial bookkeeping. With commerce arrive techniques of economics, calculation and trade, accompanied by techniques of navigation, of transport on land and on the sea. And at a certain moment in this world of intense technical transformation, in the 9th or 8th century BC, there also emerges the ’sophistic’ techniques. This sophistic technique is a technique of logos, and thus of the word. But ’word’ in a specific sense: as discourse, as argument, as a means of power and persuasion.

The word becomes the object of a technique, or of a ’technology’, as in English. And then philosophy emerges from sophistic technology. Philosophy then immediately presents itself as the good sophism, which has in view the good foundation of the good city, etc.

What’s important in all this is the question: What is proper to these techniques? Sophistic, philosophical, and political techniques (in the sense of the polis)? What is proper to them is that these techniques do not replace one given with another. It’s not a matter of replacing one mythology with another. It consists precisely in substituting mythos with logos. Now, if one has logos in the place of mythos, this does not mean you have a new mythos, but a withdrawal, a disappearance of mythos, and a promotion of tekhne. What does tekhne mean? Tekhne means knowledge, know-how, as Heidegger often says. Knowing how to obtain from physis, nature, what it does not offer of itself. In the world of mythos, there is no separation between physis and tekhne. In the world of logos, physis and tekhne are separated. And tekhne, essentially, is that which has no end. It’s know-how directed at a goal, but that goal is not given. It must be produced.


And perhaps the entire history of the West, as the history of technics, is the history of an infinite end. Of the infinitie production of new ends. But that also means the absence of ends.

From the start, the West is caught in a double-movement, to define what is the end, the goal, the true man, the true polis, etc. And at the same time the impossibility of setting this end. This is why philosophy starts as a competition between philosophies, firstly between philosophers and sophists, but then it quickly turns into a competition between philosophers. For example, what Plato calls ’gigantomachy,’ between ’the friends of the earth’ and the ’friends of ideas.’ Everything rapidly descends into conflict and competition because the end is not set, is not given. This is where I see the relation between tekhne and Dichtung. And I think Heidegger grasped something profound through Dichtung. Dichtung is the setting-to-work, as he says in ’The Origin of the Work of Art.’ But the setting-to-work means the formation, the configuration, the elaboration of the thing which is not given in the first place. The most important characteristic of Dichtung according to Heidegger is that in setting the truth in the work, it produces the truth. The truth is not there in the first place for a poet to come along and interpret, to ’play’ it with an instrument or with musical poetry. He makes it: Dichtung is production.


The world of tekhne and the world of Dichtung are in fact the same world, because they are both the world of the production of ends. It is the world of the production of the ends towards which our efforts are directed. Alternately: it is the world of the production of ’one’s own.’ In the mythological world, one’s own is a given. Whereas in the logical world, in the non-mythological world, one’s own is not a given. Rather it must be produced. For this reason, the production of one’s own is a production with an aporia of violence behind it, and ahead of it a confrontation with total or absolute foreignness. What Heidegger calls das Unheimliche or das Unheimische. Voila: that’s how I see things. This means that with the West, and with philosophical technology, if you like, politico-philosophical technology, there appears an institution which is the search, the infinite demand for one’s own, which only ever presents itself through a foreignness to itself.

Steigler om dödlighet och tid

In Heidegger’s thought mortality is determined in many ways but what Heidegger calls mortality is first of all (besides the fact that nobody else can die in my place, that my death is always in each case mine), -- Apart from that, mortality is what I cannot foresee. It’s what I know most profoundly, just as originarily as I know ontological difference, just as I know being. When I speak, I speak of being, I speak the language of being. Spontaneously, immediately. It’s a primordial and originary knowledge. This knowledge of being is primordial and originary because even if I don’t ask myself ’what is being?’ I still use the verb ’being,’ as Heidegger says. As soon as I speak, the verb ’to be’ is already there. When I say ’I walk,’ in fact I say ’I am walking.’ The verb ’to be’ is always already in all verbs. Similarly, as soon as I am living, I am dying. I know that I am dying. Alongside life, there is always already the knowledge that I am on the path towards death. It’s an absolutely originary knowledge. But it’s a knowledge like ontological difference, like the knowledge of being, which presents itself as a non-knowledge, as a forgetting. Heidegger says being presents itself in forgetting itself, in absenting itself. And he says, in the same manner, the relation I have to death is one of forgetting. I block it out. That’s not to say I don’t know it. On the contrary, the more I forget it, the more it governs and commands me. The forgetting in question here is related just as much to being as it is to death. That is, to time, since what links being and death is temporality. Death is the temporality of being, in a certain sense. Mortality is the temporality of being, insofar as mortals are the ones charged with the question of being, as the question of the meaning of being. And for mortals, this question presents itself as the question of one’s mortality. That is to say, of one’s indeterminacy.


Now, there are many other aspects one should submit as evidence, to understand what Heidegger means by the mortality of Da-sein. Da-sein is the one who, being mortal, seeks always to postpone his own death. In the attempt to defer death, he differentiates himself. He ’subjectivizes’ himself from other people. (This is not Heidegger’s vocabulary.) Let’s say he individuates himself. This means that he singularizes himself through what is his own, insofar as he is an individual who is not another individual.


This is the structure of being-towards-death, keeping in mind one never knows when it will arrive. And so the life of Da-sein is hit right away with a principle of indetermination. And so Da-sein has a tendency to flee its destiny, as Heidegger says. He will seek to determine, to calculate, and hence to flee his own death, his unique destiny, by diving into and joining das Man, the ’They,’ common time, and also the time of intra-temporality, inauthentic time. Technical time. Which means the time of the clock, the time of the calendar, the time of the media, of television, of radio, etc. Now, I have brutally, schematically summarised Heidegger’s discourse on the relation between death, time, and the ’They.’ And calculation, and thus technology, because the time of the ’They,’ the time of media, and the time of the calendar are the time of technology, of calculation. Now, the calculation which seeks to calculate the incalculable, the indeterminate, seeks to flee originary time. Therefore, in a sense, it’s the time of non-time, the time of the elimination of time, the time of metaphysics.

Now, for my part I hold to a different discourse, even if it’s very close to Heidegger’s. This makes me a lot of enemies, because Heideggerians generally defend Heidegger against my reading, and anti-Heideggerians accuse me of being a Heideggerian. So I am in the indeterminacy and solitude of Da-sein. I am not in the Heideggerian ’They.’ There is a large Heideggerian ’They.’ I am not in the anti-Heideggerian ’They’ either, I am alone in another ’They.’ What is radically different in my reading of the question is that I say, yes of course, Heidegger is right in saying that technology permits one to calculate the indeterminate, but technology also makes it possible to undergo the experience of mortality. So technology is the condition of the experience of mortality.

Steigler om Da-sein, döden, det förflutna och tekniken

In fact, to properly clear up this very difficult question -- in my view this is the most difficult question -- the question of time, we must consider the background to Being and time, and Heidegger’s relation to Husserl. This is very important. In my opinion, if one does not contextualise Being and Time in the difficult dialogue between Husserl and Heidegger, one cannot really understand the questions in play.


One must never forget that Being and Time was published in 1927, that Heidegger had finished writing it by 1926, that it contains an inscription to Husserl for his 67th birthday, and in that same year, Edith Stein and Heidegger together publish Husserl’s lectures on time. This is key. [...] If one does not keep in mind that while Heidegger is writing Being and Time, he is also preparing Husserl’s lecture on time for publication, one doesn’t really understand what is going on. It’s obvious that Being and Time is an argument with Husserl. It’s obviously an argument with Kant, with Hegel, and with other philosophical authorities, Greek and German, but above all it’s an argument with Husserl. Who is practically never named. And in this argument with Husserl, one thing is key. Heidegger proposes in his introduction that the past of Da-sein does not follow him, but has always already preceded him. And this past (he calls it the past of Da-sein, that is, historiality, the Geschichtlichkeit of Da-sein) this is not the past lived by Da-sein. Rather, it’s the historial past, in the Hölderlinian sense, which is not at all Husserlian. Hölderlin has absolutely nothing to do with Husserl’s thought. Hölderlin cannot enter into Husserl’s philosophy. Husserl is far too rational. Hölderlin is a figure who can only enter philosophy through Heidegger. Hölderlin is the figure of the facticity of the past which I inherit. Da-sein is mortal insofar as he has inherited. This is crusial.


And this is also the link with Epimetheus. Epimetheus is the one who makes mistakes. And he reflects on these mistakes after the fact. In reflecting on them, he develops wisdom. This wisdom is the accumulation of reflections on past mistakes. What is the history of being? It’s the history of misinterpretations of the question of being. Epimetheus is a figure of accumulation, for the reason I have just stated, but also because he carries the prostheses which permit the inscription of the past. I was speaking before about Heidegger, and I said that mortality according to Heidegger is what makes my time mine such that it cannot be shared with another -- nobody can die in my place -- and such that it is totally indeterminate. This wil lead Heidegger to say that time must be thought from the perspective of the future.

My death always remains ’still to come.’ And hence a magnificent paradox: my death is the sole event I will never live. When my death arrives, I won’t be there to live it. Death will therefore never happen to me. It’s both what will never happen to me, and yet it’s the only thing which can really happen to me. Because, say you catch a flu, or you fall in love with the man or woman you love... then they leave, all this happens. Nothing is ever quite irremediable, so nothing ever happens conclusively, inasmuch as the only things that are conclusive are the irremediable things. Nothing is really irremediable, exept death. It’s only death which conclusively happens to you. The problem is that it won’t really happen either. So it’s nothing but a phantom. It has never been and it will never arrive. There are nothing but phantasms. I will come back to this in later questions. But phantasm is not a Heideggerian word. In my view Heidegger is incapable of thinking the phantasm. He challenged the phantasm which is the precise reason why he moved away from Prometheus, to turn towards Antigone and Oedipus.

I was saying before that the mortal is the one who is thrown into indeterminacy, and this indeterminacy is an indeterminacy to come. It’s the indeterminacy of his future. But this future, according to Heidegger, is also and above all a relation to the past. That is, I have no future other than via the possibilities I may inherit from a past, which is itself full of possibilities. And this past may be inherited from a myriad of possibilities, insofar as it’s not my past. It’s the past of the Greeks, it’s the past of Hölderlin, it’s the past of the French revolutionaries, of the English colonies in Australia, etc. But it’s not my past. It’s a past I have not lived. It’s a factical past, from that point of view. And this is the fundamental rupture with Husserl. Because Husserl has a conception of time as the articulation of the present, of ’retention’, and of ’protention’, which Heidegger knows extremely well since he’s in the process of writing these parts of Being and Time. And he’s also in the process of publishing Husserl’s text, which he possibly knows better than Husserl himself, with a certain objectivity, a distance. And he knows perfectly well that in Husserl a past that is not lived has no meaning. For a phenomenologist like Husserl, nothing counts other than ’the lived.’ We might call this Heidegger’s romanticism, which introduces the dimension of history. Whereas, for Husserl there is nothing but the mind in its absolute intimacy. And the experience of the living present.

And, according to Heidegger, the present is not living. It is mortified, haunted by the phantoms of the non-lived past. But here I add, for my part, that this haunting, which is a legacy of the dead who have lived before me but who remain in my consciousness, in my spirit, in my soul, call it what you will, in my existence, if you want to speak Heidegger’s language, the dead remain, because they are still present in the world. They are still present in the world through the prostheses they have left behind.

These prostheses being the hypomneses, for example the biblion, the book, denounced by Plato, the statues sculpted by Phidias, the house my grandfather built at the back of the garden, which still stands. All the things which surround us, no matter what, are in fact relics. They are immediately relics. Always. This is what archaeology teaches. The archaeologist exhumes this archival, funerary, thanatological dimension, of each and every fabricated object. Heidegger gave me this to think. It’s Heidegger who makes it thinkable. Yet it’s also what he pushed away. He pushed it away because it would mean placing technology in a manner almost unilaterally on the side of calculation, which happens with Heidegger, increasingly. Over time he leans more and more to that view of technology, and it’s an option that doesn’t take the existential analytic to its logical conclusion, in my view. And I have the cheek, as we say in French, to affirm that it’s because of this question, that Heidegger did not finish Being and Time. This is why he finds himself, I think, contradicting himself on the question of technology. On the one hand he made evident that without technical supports the facticity of the past I have not lived couldn’t have reached me. From this point of view technics constitutes originary temporality. However he also said that the time of technics is the time of calculation, and therefore the time of the loss of originary time. Of what he calls Besorgen, care. Which is the time of work. And one must never forget that Hegel, Marx, Freud, all said that the time of work is also the time of death. There is no question of work in Heidegger, unfortunately. I think at this point the great questions of the relation between mortality and technicity become knotted.