Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Gianni Vattimo's Media Philosophy and Its Relevance to Digital Media

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Gianni Vattimo's Media Philosophy and Its Relevance to Digital Media

Article excerpt

1.TECHNOLOGY AND THE QUESTION OF VIOLENCE: APPROACHING VATTIMO'S MEDIA PHILOSOPHY

Two lines of questioning led me to discover and appreciate the work of Gianni Vattimo, and eventually to complete a doctoral dissertation on him. Both these lines have marked the way in which I have read Vattimo, and I will briefly outline them. One set of questions resulted from my interest in the question of disarmament and what was called economic conversion (turning 'swords into ploughshares') in the 1990s. As is known, in the late 1980s the nuclear pile-up on both sides of the iron curtain had created a situation in which it was believed that a full-blown nuclear exchange would lead to total destruction. The only way of securing a cold peace was to maintain a balance of power by ensuring that destruction was mutually assured (Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD). A nuclear weapon, therefore, was a new type of technology: not only a weapon of mass destruction-a category matched by much older military technologies such as the biological agents used in WWI-but a technology without a real use. Because nuclear weapons systems were too destructive to be applied in an instrumental, purposeful fashion, destroying through their mere existence any purpose that might be given too them, they represented an incursion of irrationality at the very height of modern scientific achievement. Peter Sloterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason appeared in 1983, the year the German Bundestag agreed, amidst great controversy, to deploy NATO mid-range cruise missiles on West German territory in order to maintain a state of MAD with the Warsaw pact. Recognizing the challenge this historical situation represented to the western tradition of thought, Sloterdijk's book contained a "meditation on the bomb" in which he speaks of the atomic bomb as the "real Buddha of the west," resting in its silos as the "purest reality and purest possibility"1 Sloterdijk referred to an older German writer who developed a powerful philosophical critique of nuclear weapons: Günther Anders's essays on the nuclear question offered a phenomenological analysis of the Bomb that enquired into the ways in which human existence was challenged by this "purest reality and purest possibility," including the very ways the West has thought about morality and technology. Anders's critique was embedded in a larger philosophy of modern technology published in the two volumes of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Outdatedness of Human Beings).2 The first of these contained an extensive and philosophical critique of television that turned out to be remarkably prophetic.3 Although a critic of Heidegger in many ways, Anders was among the thinkers who applied Heidegger's philosophy of technology, according to which the "essence of technology is nothing technological" but lies in a mutual challenging between man and Being that he calls the Gestell (enframing), to our historical experience of technology.

While the danger originating in the Gestell was described by Heidegger as the metaphysical forgetting of Being, Anders was driven to draw historical conclusions of this forgetting in the context of the cold war, and in what he called the "third industrial revolution" that led to human beings' loss of control over the apparatuses they had themselves created.

I first read about Vattimo's interpretation of Heidegger's understanding of modern technology as the height of metaphysics in Hans-Martin SchönherrMann's book on the political philosophy of modern technology.4 It was in Vattimo's thinking that the proximity between the metaphysical forgetting of Being, manifest in modern technology, presented me with a method by which to critically interrogate media technologies. Finally, Rafael Capurro, who translated Vatttimo's Fine della modernità into German and is the founder of the International Center for Information Ethics, was key in helping me see the significance of negative hermeneutics in addressing ethical problems of information and communication technologies. …

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