Homo Faber

By Zhang, Peter | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Homo Faber


Zhang, Peter, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


  Full of merit, and yet poetically, dwells
  Man on this earth.
  --Friedrich Holderlin (1)

A primordial appropriation of "poetically" in this context necessitates the 1a retrieval of poiesis (the art and act of making) and also the notion of homo fabcrman the maker, man the "poet." In a nutshell, man makes things, makes an anthropomorphic world in the image of himself, and thereby makes himself.

The Heideggerian line "Language is the house of being" is simply a particular way of stating the more general idea that "A medium is an environment," which configures and shapes everything in it, or, better still, of its making, including man the dweller. (2) Man dwells in his poems, his "fabulations" (Deleuze's term), his media (technological environment, including linguistic environment). (3) Marshall McLuhan emphasizes that technologies are human through and through, rather than alien to humans. (4) He goes so far as to say that "[t]he most human thing about us is our technology." (5) For him, technologies are humans' outerings and titterings, which in turn refashions and remakes humans. (6) We are back to square one: man makes things (language, poems, images, gadgets, machines, robots, clothes, highways, bombs, coins, catheters, maps ...) and thereby makes himself. This is a sentiment echoed by Richard Sennett in The Craftsman. Sennett points out, "people can learn about themselves through the things they make." (7)

Kenneth Burke points out that man is "separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making." (8) That is to say, man does not inhabit the Korzybskian territory; instead, he dwells primarily in his maps, his tabulations. The recalcitrance of the territory forces him to remake his maps now and then to keep them serviceable. Man has since busied himself with maps and second-order maps--maps about maps. This "busyness" is a sure indicator of his evolving (E. M. Cioran might say "increasingly degraded") humanness. (9)

Language is a mass medium, "in which the 'message1 is not directed at an audience but through an audience. The audience is both show and the Message.... [As a mass medium, language] includes all who use it as part of the medium itself." (10) In the last analysis, language is by the audience, for the audience, of the audience, and about the audience. The individual poet is simply a "medium" (as in the movie Ghost) for this "collective enunciation." (11) There's a fundamental oneness between language and audience, or medium and audience in general, in the same way the archer, bow, arrow, mark. …

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