Academic journal article The Australian Feminist Law Journal

An Egg Shaped Bowl: Law, Invention, Technology

Academic journal article The Australian Feminist Law Journal

An Egg Shaped Bowl: Law, Invention, Technology

Article excerpt


Heideggerean theory read through Foucault would situate law itself as a form of technology, a framing that subjectifies and which (for Foucault) implies an ethical response. A productive complication is added to this picture by certain new approaches that develop law's anthropological aspects; in this essay the exemplar is the work of Alain Pottage which deals with the regulation of new genetic technologies and which opens up the question of distinctions between 'persons' and 'things'. Pushing the law/anthropology relationship further (staying close to the body and the themes of self-invention/invention of self) reveals potential for re-ordering (counter-invention) using the insights and concepts of Lewis Mumford and Luce Irigaray.

1.0 Introduction

In The Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger traced an etymological pathway to re-formulate 'technology' as a mode or way of revealing.1 In his argument techne as a concept in classical Greek related to the idea of gathering together the series of causes that can be refined out in relation to an end product (material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, final cause; the Aristotelian shuffle) in order to reveal the essence of the thing produced.2 Techne was the gathering in order to reveal the essence of. In pre-modern times (again his reference was classical Greece) techne had the quality, was a mode of, poiesis, the revealing of truth into or as beauty (a sense which is retained in our idea of 'poetry' but which was vastly wider in that time when language had not yet strayed far from the home of Being - think perhaps of 'poetry in motion' and extrapolate to 'poetry' as an apt description of any perfectly achieved endeavour). In Modern times however, where for Heidegger the passage to modern technological consciousness was marked by the early seventeenth century shift (blame Gallileo...) to atomistic, experimental science, the mode of revealing had altered to a challenging forth or enframing of the world as a standing reserve, as a pit of resources.3 The essence was no longer a garnering to reveal the thingness of thing, the quiddity, the treeness of trees (in one example mat he offers) but rather was a gathering to reveal the potential of the thing for further manipulation and exploitation - the furniture of trees, the tourist potential of landscape, the hydroelectric power of a river, the consumer base in a classroom of students. From that point forward nothing could ever rest easy in itself, as everything fell prey to a viciously circular logic of transformation. Modern technology, in other words, is instrumentally to do with machines but essentially more to do with a relationship to the world that figures the world and everything in it as a site standing ready to be exploited, as something whose function is to be useful. The world stands indebted to humanity which continually and repeatedly claims its' due. Humans, to stretch the point into a contemporary resonance, are the creatures that, feeling the pain of their existence or rather feeling their existence as pain, continually sue the world for wrongful birth. Aside from the obvious dangers of the exhaustion of the world, Heidegger identifies another danger here that he states as follows:

The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted man in his essence. The rule of enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth.4

Here the suggestion is that mankind is trapped into a circular pattern of becoming the creature that stands ready to exploit the world even as the world is reduced to that which stands ready to be exploited. In this cycle, mankind is equally degraded as the world, and in a kind of variant on the Hobbesian 'man is wolf to man' which legitimates and necessitates the Social Contract, man becomes accountant or actuary to man, constantly measuring and evaluating worth, utility, credit and deficit. …

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