Chapter 2: Ancient technology as poiesis, modern technology as com-posing

As Rojcewicz clearly lays out, Heidegger distinguishes the essence of technology in two ways: the ancient way of poiesis and the modern way of com-posing.  Briefly, the ancient way of poiesis is rooted in the ancient understanding of causality as an “abetting” or a “nurturing” of something emerging from out of a process of change itself, much as a midwife or a counselor abets or facilitates the birth of a newborn from a mother or a new understanding in a client.  As abetting, ancient technology is intrinsically respectful.  By contrast, the modern way of com-posing is a “challenging” and an “imposition” that ravishes and wrests from beings (specifically nature) whatever it can in order to use what it hoards as disposables towards its own ends.  As a challenging imposition, modern technology is essentially hubris and intrinsically disrespectful.  Since Heidegger himself places so much emphasis on modern technology as a ‘com-posing imposition of disposables’ as opposed to the ancient way of respectful poiesis—even as he hopes to find in com-posing a glimmer of poiesis to be had—a closer look at these characterizations of ancient and modern technology is in order.  Again, Rojcewicz’s lead will be followed most closely throughout.


Heidegger only indicates, but Rojcewicz fleshes out, that the essence of ancient technology as poiesis should be seen in light of the ancient understanding of causality, specifically as that understanding is expressed in Aristotle’s fourfold sense of “cause.”  For both Heidegger and Rojcewicz, the key to understanding cause in Aristotle (and therefore the ancients as such) is the lack of what has commonly become known as the “efficient cause.”  For both, “efficient cause”—understood as the external force or compulsion that brings about the change—is in fact absent in Aristotle, and instead the “efficient cause” so-called is really only the ‘occasion’ or ‘opportunity’ for an end product—either natural or manufactured—to emerge from a process more like the ‘expression’ of something revealing itself than  an ‘imposition’ by an ‘outside’ force; that is, the “efficient cause” is more an abetting or a nurturing (Rojcewicz suggests “nurturing” or “nudging” cause) in which the ‘agent’ of causation is obliged to the process and product in a way not describable as an imposer of a force external to the process itself.[1]  This indication by Heidegger and elaboration by Rojcewicz itself needs further elaboration, one best illustrated using the analysis Rojcewicz offers.

To tease out the sense of nurturing causality in Aristotle, Rojcewicz examines where in the Physics Aristotle discussed causality, and from this examination he concludes that the craftsman example through which Aristotle has been traditionally understood (i.e. making a silver chalice) is in fact not the best way to capture Aristotle’s meaning of the “efficient” cause.  As Rojcewicz points out, Aristotle only makes one oblique reference to the craftsman when exemplifying this part of the fourfold root of causation, and instead he features as instances of the “efficient cause” the counselor, the father, the doctor and the sower of seeds—all processes which do not impose an external force on a process in order to bring about change, but instead nudge, nurture or otherwise abet and direct the process of change itself toward its own inherent ends.  The sower of seeds, for example, plants the seed in the ground and becomes in this sense the ‘occasion’ to let the elements and the weather and soil ‘bring the plant forth’ and let the growth ‘take its course,’ course that unfolds according to its own internal process.  The sower of seeds abets the change; she nudges it into the direction of ‘crops in the field’ by planting it but does not ‘force it’ to grow. Similarly, in ancient times, the doctor kept the body warm and applied medicines in order for the disease to take its course and the body to heal itself.  He did not stop the disease in its tracks by giving a medication that counter-acted it.  Similarly, a father or a counsellor doesn’t impose his views on his son or the counselled: instead both advise the process of autonomous development and decisions about courses of action.  And so on and so forth; the examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely.  In his analysis on behalf of Heidegger, Rojcewicz stresses that it is unlikely that Aristotle understood the “efficient cause” as an external imposition of force over the process of change when only one example he offers as an ‘efficient cause’ could in fact be construed that way, i.e. as a process of forcing a “form” onto “matter” exclusively according to the craftsman’s own lights and by his own efforts, in the sense of making the “silver chalice” from a plain lump of silver by ‘imposing’ a form onto it.

So what of this traditional interpretation of the craftsman in terms of the efficient cause, which Heidegger obliquely challenges and Rojcewicz specifically calls out?  How can that process of ‘change as manufacture’ be understood?  Since doctors, counsellors, fathers and farmers are not clear instances of technology per se—at least in the sense that manufactured artifacts are—how can what the craftsman does be understood in terms of an “abetting” or “nurturing” causality, as Heidegger indicates it can?  In what sense does making a sliver chalice, or a bronze bowl, or a marble statue, much less a piece of pottery, a water mill, or a plough, “abet” or “nurture” or “nudge” the final product into being out of a process in accord with, and in obligation to, the self-emergence of the product from that process itself?  How, in other words, can ancient technologies like the arts and crafts be poiesis?

As an example of how in principle the work of a craftsman can be understood in terms of technology as poiesis, Rojcewicz first offers Michelangelo’s description of how he ‘saw the statue in the marble’ and had only to ‘chip away the unnecessary pieces,’ then he fleshes out in detail what Michelangelo might have meant, using Heidegger’s own characterization of the classic “silver chalice” example to do so.  As Rojcewicz points out, even the craftsman making the silver chalice must first “uncover something that would remain hidden were it not for [her activities],”[2] and this uncovering—i.e. this letting something emerge into unconcealedness—amounts to “letting” the essence of a silver chalice—i.e. “that which makes any chalice one with all other chalices”—emerge in her mind, and in this emergence be seen as “the potential chalice in the silver.”[3]  As Rojcewicz elaborates, the silversmith sees “what the silver is pregnant with”; she sees the ‘form’ of the silver chalice within the material silver, and in this way, by casting the silver into the form she sees, the silver becomes a new product, the silver chalice.  For both Rojcewicz and Heidegger, the silversmith “must actively let the essence be revealed to her in advance,” and because of the priority of this “disclosive looking” and seeing the essence in creating the silver chalice—and by extension any artifact out of raw materials—in essence manufacturing artifacts, though a technology, is nevertheless still a matter of theory properly understood, i.e. theory as a ‘prior seeing’ rather than mere practical skill.[4]  The disclosure of the essence—letting the essence emerge in her mind, and therefore becoming visible in matter pregnant with that form—is primarily what makes ancient handcraft a “nurturing” or “abetting” or a “nudging” cause.[5]   By “allowing what is self-emergent to be self-emergent more fully, to become visible and unconcealed for everyone,”[6] the craftsman becomes the so-called “efficient cause” of the silver chalice from out of the apprehended form chalice in the material silver.  Recurring to the Michelangelo example and the form hidden in the marble, for both Heidegger and Rojcewicz, the craftsman partakes of the cause of the finished product because essentially there is no such thing as raw material; rather, matter is always pregnant with forms which can be taken up by an agent and turned into finished products through the causal process.   So like a midwife abets a birth, so the craftsman as causal agent abets the self-emergence of form into an artifact out of this ‘pregnant matter.’  As Rojcewicz summarizes for Heidegger:

“The four causes are not responsible for the things made in the sense of bringing about the existence of the thing, compelling it into existence, delivering it up ready-made.  The four causes offer nurture; they lie underneath the thing in the sense of making ready the ground, preparing the conditions, for the potentiality in the matter to actualize itself.  That is how, according to Heidegger, the ancients conceived of causality: not as imposition but as nurture.”[7]

With Heidegger’s conception of ancient causality in place, it is only but a short step to understanding the essence of ancient technology as poiesis, for Heidegger maintains that the ancient concept of cause is in fact poiesis, just one not clearly brought out in its essential nature because ancient handicrafts and technologies are not as obviously poiesis as are the natural processes of change that Aristotle mostly described in his Physics.[8]  But for Heidegger, the ambiguity of this difference is only apparent.  Despite the differences between the two processes—natural change and manufacturing—both process are essentially the same.  Both are poiesis in the sense of “bringing-forth” “something” out of “concealment into unconcealment,” with the only difference being the intermediating function of logos and nous (or “speaking” and “mind”) acting between the beginning and the end of the process.  In other words, unlike in natural processes, in handicrafts logos and nous are the nurturing  agencies partaking in the self-unfolding process.  What Heidegger adds to these ancient notions is a modern ontological clarification of their role in causality.  That is, for Heidegger nous is properly conceived in ontological terms as the understanding of Being that is Dasein’s disclosedness; as such it underlies the creation of artifacts and implements, for any such creation presupposes that Being is somehow disclosed in the first place.  So while ancient craftsmen certainly made their products through the exercise of practical and technical skill, prior to and more primordially, this practical skill was grounded in and guided by a disclosure of Being—a disclosure, according to Heidegger, as poiesis.  In other words, prior to engaging in the practical commerce with the implements usually described as technology (pots, waterwheels, mines, houses, etc.), the ancient Greeks exemplified the essence of technology as a way of disclosive looking, poiesis, i.e. they saw natural processes and manufacturing as abetting an end result through self-emergence on its own terms.  In other words, the ancient Greeks saw the world, themselves, and others in a ‘poetic’ way both before acting technologically and as a condition for the possibility of so acting.  As Dasein accepting the offering of Being, the ancients saw the world and their technology in the specific manner of the disclosive looking offered by Being, i.e. in light of poiesis, or self-emergence.  In essence, then, ancient Dasein was technological in a ‘poetic’ way, and part and parcel of this poetic way was their understanding of causality as such.

With this concept of disclosure as poiesis, as abetting causal emergence in mind, how does the essence modern technology differ from essence of ancient technology?  That is, if poiesis, as the essence of ancient technology, is an abetting causality that nurtures the self-emergence of end results from change—be that change natural or human-induced—what for Heidegger is the essence of modern technology?  What is modern technology’s manner of disclosive looking, and in what respect does that disclosive looking differ essentially from poiesis?


For Heidegger, unlike ‘poetic’ ancient technology that abets and nurtures, modern technology is essentially challenging and impositional; it is, to use Rojcewicz’s translation, com-posing,[9] with “com-posing” (again, following Rojcewicz) seen as composed of challenging, imposition, ravishment, and disposing.  Perhaps the best way both to introduce the idea of the essence of modern technology and to contrast it with the ancient is Rojcewicz’s comparison between a traditional windmill than grinds grain and a modern windmill that generates electricity.  In this comparison, what Heidegger sees as the essence of modern technology versus the essence of ancient technology is clearly expressed.

Borrowing from Heidegger’s own example, Rojcewicz differentiates between a windmill that grinds grain and one that generates electricity.  Regarding the former, he observes that while the traditional grain-grinding windmill harnesses the power of the wind in order to turn gears to grind grain—and therefore is admittedly designed to fulfill human purposes—it nevertheless fulfills these purposes that fundamentally respects nature.  That is, the traditional windmill respects the wind by using it only when the wind offers itself, from the direction from which it comes.   As he notes, like the gears that turn within its working, the windmill itself “merely gears into the wind”; it ‘takes’ from the wind only what the wind itself ‘offers,’ and in this sense it is respectful of the natural process it harnesses—if even so strong as word as “harness” can be used.[10]  In other words, the ancient windmill respectfully abets processing grain using wind power by being nothing more than an intermediary between what the wind offers (force) and the final product that the mill produces (ground grain).  It demands nothing from the wind beyond what the wind is willing to give, when it is ready to give it, for as Rojcewicz notes: “the gear works only while the wind is actually blowing,” and it must blow “above the threshold force needed to overcome the resistance of the gears,” to which he adds: the energy is “not stored but is immediately exhausted in turning the gears.”[11]  By waiting for the wind and then using it as abetting, “the old grain mill” exemplifies the self-emergence of poiesis.  Grain emerges from the grindstone of the mill simply by virtue of letting the force of the wind unfold when and how it unfolds, without any form if imposition on it—no imposition, that is, beyond the trivial sense of the “imposition” of asking of it a favor the granting of which will leave the miller obliged.   In this way, the windmill has nothing challenging, imposing, ravishing, or disposing about it.  It’s very existence discloses the wind as something that can bring about change only in so far as the wind ‘choses’ to blow, and only to the extent that is blows in its own way, on its own time.

Now contrast, as Rojcewicz describes, the ancient windmill with the modern windmill that generates electricity.  In the terms Rojcewicz uses, the modern windmill, with a “capacitor” instead of a gear, does not look to the wind solely for what it offers, when it offers it, how it offers it.  Rather, it takes from the wind what it can when it can and ‘stockpiles’ and ‘distributes’ the harnessed energy for use in “remote places for remote users.”[12] In this stockpiling and distribution, the modern windmill challenges nature to yield up something that it otherwise could not yield (stockpiled energy), and more than that, this challenging transforms what the wind does yield—“force in a certain direction”— into a different kind of ‘energy’ altogether (mechanical to electrical), one stored in the capacitor for use even when the wind is not blowing.  In this way, the modern windmill scarcely respects the wind simply for what it offers, if it respects it all, since “practically speaking, there is no threshold for a modern windmill; the slightest movement of air can be put to use.”[13]  So it is not wind that the modern windmill ‘sees’: it is energy as such, and the wind as moving air is merely a means to that energy.  As Rojcewicz (faithfully) summarizes on Heidegger’s behalf, “the modern windmill wrings out whatever energy it can from the wind”; it “ravishes the winds for its energy, and then hoards that energy” for uses the wind itself could not possibly provide.[14]  In this challenging imposition that ravishes and hoards merely for disposal use in human purposes, the modern windmill does not respect the wind by asking for what it might offer and accepting that offering on its own terms.  Rather it takes from the wind what it wants solely in terms imposed on the wind, terms that dictate to the wind what it will be—raw energy for any use that requires energy, not simply the uses to which the natural ‘force’ inherent in the wind can be put.

Now, never mind that modern windmills don’t store energy in capacitors for use in ‘remote places for remote users,’ or that the electricity from modern windmills is generated ‘on demand’ just like ancient windmills grind grain ‘on demand’ by using the force of the wind (the capacitors in modern windmills merely regulate the electricity generated within the windmill and protect its internal components; they don’t store it for use elsewhere).  And never mind as well that modern windmill gears have a moment of inertia just as ancient windmill gears do, and that therefore even “practically speaking” not just an moving air will do to turn a modern windmill (as with all moving bodies, the mechanical basis of the inertia is immaterial for the force required to overcome it).  Rojcewicz’s, and therefore Heidegger’s, underlying point about two different kinds of “seeing” between the two windmills can still be appreciated in its proper scope.   For as Rojcewicz notes, the fundamental difference between modern and ancient windmills is not simply their differing mechanisms.  Rather the difference hinges on answering: “What must be seen in the wind, i.e. under what aspect must the wind be disclosed, in order to “conceive of the possibility of the windmill” in the first place?[15] In other words, what manner of disclosive looking is operative in the ancient versus the modern windmill?

On this point both Heidegger and Rojcewicz are clear: the ancients understood the wind in its “natural” setting a “force in a certain direction,” [16] whereas moderns see the wind merely as “energy as such,”[17] independently of any natural setting or conditions in which it might occur.  This difference is critical enough to spell out in detail.

According to Heidegger, for the ancients the wind was understood as “useful” only on a windy day, and in this disclosive looking—in this poiesis—the wind was respected as what it naturally is, to wit, something that happens only on a windy day, something therefore pregnant with a natural form that can be abetted for use in human purposes only when and if it is blowing.   In seeing this “essence”—in seeing the ‘form’ of “force” in the wind in this way— the ancient windmill designers were able to construct a windmill guided by the natural essence of the wind.  And most importantly, the natural essence latent in the wind required no special conceptual mediation for its appreciation; it required no prior understanding of nature in some kind of conceptual scheme.  It could be apprehended simply by “taking a walk on a windy day and feeling the wind blowing in your face or at your back,”[18] and once it was apprehended in this way, seeing the form “force” in the ‘matter’ wind as something that could be abetted through an implement is a relatively simple step.  That is, in seeing the form “force pregnant within the material “wind,” the miller could see in this force the ability to do the work he needed done, if the intermediary of a windmill replaced him as the so-called ‘efficient cause’ of ground grain.  As an intermediary, the windmill would therefore act as what Rojcewicz, following Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle, calls the “abetting cause.”   As with the essence of the chalice emerging in the mind of the silver smith, who then sees that ‘form’ pregnant in the ‘matter’ of the silver and can thus transform that ‘potentially formed matter’ into a silver chalice, so “the entire windmill” taps “into and transfer[s] the natural directness of the wind toward motion,” thus turning the gears and the millstone, thereby producing ground grain[19].  To be sure, the intermediary steps are different in the two causal processes: in one nous assists, in the other a device, so instead of the silver smith ‘causing’ the transfer, the windmill ‘causes’ the transfer.  But in essence the two processes are alike, and more to Heidegger’s point, the ancient windmill itself couldn’t have even been conceived unless the processes were essentially the same.  In other words, the poiesis inherent in ancient technology is no less essentially poiesis for being embodied in a device, as opposed to occurring ‘through the mind’ or in natural world—or better stated in Heidegger’s terms, the poiesis can only be embodied in a device by first occurring as Dasein’s disclosedness, by first being seen in the wind.  As Heidegger indicated and Rojcewicz shows, the causality of producing grain from an ancient windmill partakes of poiesis first in the construction of the windmill itself and second in actually using the windmill to grind grain.  For in both the manual and the technological process, doing and using technology partake of the same essential process, poiesis, i.e. grinding grain by hand is abetted by the force in the miller’s hands, just as grinding grain with gears is abetted by the force pregnant in the wind; in both cases force causes grain to be ground.  For Heidegger, only through the ancient understanding of causal processes as poiesis can the natural force in the wind be disclosed, and this disclosure occurs prior to harnessing its natural ability to bring about change though embodiment in technological implement.  For him, the very creation of the technological implement like the ancient windmill requires an apriori seeing of the wind as a natural force usable only on its own terms.  Feeling the wind on a windy day, creating the windmill to harness that wind, and grinding grain through its mediation all require the same poiesis as abetting self-emergence. 

By contract, as Rojcewicz notes, Dasein in the modern era sees the wind not as a natural occurrence pregnant with a form like “force in a certain direction” but rather as raw “energy as such”—as a constant supply of usable energy solely to be put to use for human purposes, regardless of whether the wind ‘wants’ to yield up that energy or not for a specific use native to the natural powers within it (hence the significance for Heidegger of “hoarding,” “ravishing,” “relinquishing”[20])[21].  Since the actual process of designing a modern windmill is essentially the same as the process of designing an ancient one, in that both require a prior disclosive looking, the only salient difference for Heidegger’s distinction between modern versus ancient technology lies in the disclosive looking between the two, i.e. between the apprehended form of ‘force’ in the natural wind and the apprehended ‘form’ ‘in the wind’ as energy as such.

As Rojcewicz spells out from Heidegger’s less well-developed examples, to see the wind as raw energy as such requires taking the wind out of its natural context and imposing on it a notion of “anemo-pressure,” a notion totally foreign to “any wind with which we are familiar.”[22]  As such, wind as “anemo-pressure” represents an apriori abstract way of conceiving the wind, one that does not emerge from the experience of the wind itself.  Instead, this “imposition” represents a conceptual scheme imposed from “a foreign standpoint” that requires not simply appreciating the wind for what it is (a ‘force in a direction’); it is instead an imposition that fails to let the essence of the wind appear as such, i.e. fails to let the ‘form’ of force pregnant within the ‘matter’ wind to emerge through its natural disclosure.  To the moderns, this natural emergence is essentially foreclosed, and in its place the wind is pre-conceived as an indifferent potential for raw energy, energy that can be “extracted out of it for human needs and whims,”[23] energy that is “exploitable” on demand because it is “stockpiled” for use whenever, for whatever, and by whoever (though Rojcewicz gets the capacity wrong, even modern windmill electricity can be stored in batteries, and that this energy is stored in batteries then used in ‘remote places by remote users’ only emphasizes Heidegger’s point).  In short, within the disclosive looking essential to modern technology, matter pregnant with form is not disclosed to the designer of the modern windmill.  Rather the designers own pre-conceived conceptual scheme of wind as raw energy as such is seen.  In this disclosive seeing, the natural form “force” is not respected in the sense of letting it show itself from the wind; instead the so-called essence of wind, such as it is, disclosed as an already imposed idea.  Wind is seen as mere raw energy for use, and the windmill for the moderns is designed in advance through this disclosive looking that is intrinsically and unavoidably impositional.  The modern windmill can ravish the wind for energy to be stockpiled in batteries and then disposed of for whatever uses it is put to only because the wind is conceptually imposed upon as raw “energy as such” in the first place.  In this way, modern technology is essentially com-posing[24]; it is hubris; and it is both because as a disclosive looking given to Dasein by Being, modern technology can’t but “supply the idea of nature as something exploitable.” [25] As bound by this essential com-posing, whenever human Dasein in the modern age creates and uses technological implements, it can’t but exploit.  Like the ancients were essentially ‘poetic’ in their technology, modern Dasein is essentially com-posing in its.

Poiesis and com-posing as “Destinies of Being”

At this point, the account of Heidegger’s understanding of the essence of technology is nearly complete, though it remains to sum up the points discussed so far.  For him, a disclosive looking underlies, as a condition for its possibility, all commerce with and relationships to beings, whether those beings are the world, oneself, or one another.  This disclosive looking is so important for Dasein that Heidegger insists in both phases of his thought that Dasein is its disclosive looking.  In other words, to be Dasein is to be guided beforehand by a disclosive looking toward all beings, and even more important than its apriori necessity is its source.  Dasein’s dislcosedness is not a product of its own creation but is instead offered by Being.  Being discloses itself to human beings in as “Something” they can take up in order to be Dasein.  Thus for Heidegger Dasein is dependent on Being in a unique way, in that it cannot generate a manner of disclosive looking any more than it can generate its own body; its way of looking must be bestowed, and for Heidegger, Being must bestow it.  To complete this account of Heidegger’s conception of the essence of technology, then, this dependency of Dasein as disclosedness on Being’s offering needs to be examined in one crucial respect, namely, its manner of “disclosive looking” as being Dasein’s destiny.

As already noted, for Heidegger Being has historically disclosed itself in two ways: the abetting causality of ancient poiesis and the impositional challenging of modern com-posing.   As ways in which Dasein comports itself to all beings revealed within these manners of disclosive looking, these respective eras of technology are necessary for Dasein; they comprise the only manner in which human beings can see beings in the first place; only through these manners can Dasein then act on them or know them.  As such, as necessary characteristics of Dasein’s essence—or as seen before, as Dasein’s essence as dislcosedness—the relative manners of disclosive looking in poiesis and com-posing represent a destiny taken in the strict sense of the term, in that Dasein cannot avoid the manners of disclosedness and still be Dasein.  For in so far as Dasein is required to be a disclosive looking in order to be Dasein at all, and in so far as this disclosive looking is not a human fabrication but instead offered by Being, Dasein is destined to be either poetic or com-posing solely by virtue of being Dasein.  This is what Heidegger means by “the destining of Being,” and in this sense modern com-posing is an historical destiny of Being today, just as poiesis was an historical destiny in ancient times.  In other words, modern man can no less com-pose than ancient man could avoid poiesis, and vice versa—ancient man could no more com-pose than modern man can abet in poiesis.  This sense of “destiny of Being”—this sense in which Dasein’s essential comportment towards beings changes with the offering of Being—raises an important question, namely, if these manners of disclosive looking are necessary destinies, are they mutually exclusive as well?  That is, within an historical era of Being, can poiesis and com-posing co-exist together either in the same Dasein, or are they mutually exclusive manners of disclosedness?  Since this final point in Heidegger’s account of technology is critical for understanding his later thought, it needs to be developed in more detail in Heidegger’s own terms.

Heidegger is quite specific that com-posing and poiesis, as two epochs in the history of Being, cannot co-exist together, for he states: com-posing, as an epoch in the history of Being, is a “destiny” that “displaces every other possibility of disclosive looking.  Above all, com-posing conceals that disclosive looking which, in the sense of poiesis, lets things come forth into visibility.”[26]  Elaborating, Rojcewicz notes that because of this displacement, “the two kinds of disclosive looking do not exist concurrently,” and although both Heidegger and Rojcewicz stress how com-posing displaces poiesis by following after it and eclipsing it—and therefore it cannot co-exist with it—it follows just as well that poiesis precedes com-posing and cannot co-exist with it either.  Indeed, Heidegger even emphasizes this mutual exclusiveness by ruling out that poiesis and com-posing can exist concurrently as two instance of a single kind, “disclosive looking”, just as an ‘elm’ and an ‘oak’ can co-exist at the same time as two instances of a single kind, “tree”.  For again, he makes clear: poiesis and com-posing “are not kinds that fall under a concept of disclosive looking—i.e. fall under it side by side, concurrently.”[27]  In whatever sense, then, historical episodes, i.e. destinies, of Being are to be understood, they cannot be seen as instances of a single kind in the usual understanding of essence.  Instead, poiesis and com-posing are mutually exclusive kinds of disclosive looking, and as such they cannot exist concurrently within a given historical epoch of Being, much less as two possible instances in one and the same Dasein.  According to Heidegger’s own strict demarcation, Dasein’s dislcosedness is either poiesis or com-posing; it cannot be both.

With this final addition to Heidegger’s notion of the essence of technology, a summary statement of its essential elements can now be made.   Poiesis and com-posing are two mutually exclusive ways of disclosive looking characteristic of Dasein in two separate historical epochs of Being, the ancient and the modern.  As fundamental modes of disclosive looking, poiesis and com-posing therefore condition all commerce with and relationships to beings within their respective historical epochs.   Dasein, as its disclosive looking, cannot but be technological in the ways in which Being offers itself to be understood; therefore it cannot but be technological in either the ‘poetic’ way of the ancient world or the ‘com-posing’ way of the modern world.  It must be one or the other; it can’t be both; and this means that Dasein’s technological implements and the disclosive looking guiding them will always be characterized by the essence of the era in which Dasein lives.  As such—that is, because technology in a given era is determined exclusively by the prevailing manner of disclosive looking; because it is determined by Dasein’s disclosedness as bound to that era—there can be no variation in the kinds of technology within these two epics.  In other words, all technology within their respective eras will be either poiesis or com-posing, and it must be one or the other because Heidegger offers no third alternative, even as he excludes the concurrent existence of the two he describes.  Given that Dasein depends on Being’s proffered manner of disclosive looking (Dasein’s disclosedness is it not at all its own creation), and given that the essence of technology is bound to one of two mutually exclusive kinds of disclosedness offered by Being (poiesis and com-posing as two destinies of Being), for Heidegger Dasein as its disclosedness can have at any one time only one fundamental manner of being technological, meaning that Dasein is technological in that exclusive and determinate way.   In short, for Heidegger only one essence of technology can prevail at any one time, meaning that all technological things during that time must be characterized in terms of that essence.  From this it follows that all ancient technologies will be poiesis and all modern com-posing.  Given the way he lays out the conceptual terrain, there can simply be no third or combined option.

This final point, though implied but not emphasized by Heidegger as it has been emphasized here, opens Heidegger’s account to an avenue of potential investigation, one that doesn’t impose an external standard to his thought but instead emerges out of it as an essential question, the answer to which either casts doubt or supports Heidegger’s conception of the essence of technology, as that essence has been described here.  Specifically, it can be asked: in either era of technology (ancient or modern), do all technologies conform to the essence determinative of that era?  That is, in either ancient or modern times, does there exist a technology or technoligies requiring a different manner of disclosive looking than the one defining the given epoch, such that two different kinds of technology—poiesis or com-posing—co-exist concurrently?  If the answer is negative, then Heidegger’s understanding of the essence of technology is clearly supported, but if the answer is affirmative, then doubt will be cast on 1) whether or not Heidegger is right to characterize that epoch with the manner of disclosive looking that he does, or 2) whether or not Heidegger’s essential characterization is essential at all—i.e. it casts doubt on whether or not technology even has an essence in the sense Heidegger intends “essence.”   For it must be kept in mind: Heidegger is not describing an historical trend in two chronological periods of human history.  He claims to be apprehending the essence of two periods as disclosures of Being by Being itself, in historical epochs in a deeper sense than anything describable chronologically.  As such, any technology not characterized by that epoch calls either Heidegger’s characterization of the epoch or his characterization of technology into partitionable essences into question, or both.  In other words, if a technology requiring a manner of disclosive looking for its creation and implementation runs contrary to the essence of the given epoch, then Heidegger’s claims about Being, essence, and technology become suspect, and they become suspect of internal reasons, not for reasons externally imposed on his thought.  This point bears stressing.  That is, in pursuing this line of investigation, it should be kept in mind that this line of potential critique is opened up by Heidegger’s own stipulations; it is opened up because he himself stresses that technology is a question of essence, not a question of whether it may or may not have been incidentally used ‘poetically’ or ‘com-positionally.’  Instead, technology itself requires as its guiding light a manner of disclosive looking that is either ‘poetic’ or ‘com-posing,’  and it is either/or because of the essential relationship Heidegger maintains between the offering of Being, the kind of offerings Being has made, the identification of that offering with Dasein’s dislcosedness, and the identification of being technological with that disclosedness.  This emergent issue from within Heidegger’s own thought is potentially has far reaching consequences for his ‘argument’ in “The Question Concerning Technology,” so it is examined in detail in the next chapter.

As a guiding question for what follows, it is asked: do such mutually exclusive technologies co-exist within ancient Greek and/or modern times, such that technologies that are supposed to be poiesis are in fact com-posing, and technologies that are supposed to be com-posing are in fact poiesis?  Are there any technologies in the ancient world characteristic of com-posing instead of poiesis, and are there any technologies in the modern world characterized by poiesis instead of com-posing?  And not only that.  Are there technologies in either era that are neither poiesis nor com-posing?  Are there any technologies in the ancient or the modern world where it simply makes no sense to see them as either poiesis or com-posing but as some other fundamental mode of disclosure altogether?  On both questions hangs the persuasiveness of Heidegger’s answer to the question concerning the essence of technology.  If factual instances can be found which violate the possibilities and limits contained in the essence, then that essence can only be called into question.

[1] The Gods and Technology: A Reading of Heidegger, p.

[2] GT

[3] GT, emphasis added.

[4] This original meaning of theoria is glossed over here but is discussed extensively by Rojcewicz.  His discussion is critical for understand Heidegger’s main point, but since this aspect of Heidegger’s thought is not questioned or challenged here, the reader is referred to Rojcewicz himself for the exposition.

[5] Rojcewicz interpolates “pregnant” to capture Heidegger’s intent several times when describing matter as “pregnant” with form.  See   .  Hence the italics here, indicating that it is operating as a technical term carrying a crucial concept, on in fact essential to Rojcewicz’s and Heidegger’s argument.

[6] The Gods and Technology: A reading of Heidegger, p. 44.

[7] The Gods and Technology: A reading of Heidegger, p. 31.


[9] The sense in which com-posing is what describes it is not at all clear in translation, but the link among the concepts in Heidegger’s native German is discussed in detail by Rojcewicz.  The reader who wishes to see those links is referred there.

[10] 72

[11] 72

[12] 72

[13] 73


[15] 73

[16] GT 73

[17] QCT 6

[18] 73


[20] QCT 6

[21] GD 74


[23] 74

[24] Rojcewicz translates Gestell as “com-posing” to capture… summarize reason, cite to his description and justification.

[25] 75

[26] QCT  emphasis added.

[27] QCT

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