Digital Caricature

A new article by Stephen Turner and me about the digitas published in DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly (link):

For Vilém Flusser, philosopher of technology, the advent of photography heralded the return of the image from its subjection to the linearity of written language. Here we extend his concept of the “techno-image” (successor of the pre-historical hand-drawn image and the historical printed word), to consider the digital image-text that today dominates reading and writing. Our question: Can we reader-writers think the digitas, or are we doomed to perform its functions in an “automati[c]” or “robotiz[ed]” fashion, as Flusser put it, so that, if anything, the digitas now “thinks” us? The short answer to our question is as follows: we can think the digitas, but only if we consider it, firstly, as a kind of writing (“digital orthography”) and, secondly, as a caricature of thinking, both impoverished and, dare we say it, funny (“digital caricature”).

Sommer, E. "Portrait Vilém Flusser". Vilém Flusser Archive. 2012. Reproduced by permission of Ed Sommer.

Sommer, E. “Portrait Vilém Flusser”. Vilém Flusser Archive. 2012. Reproduced by permission of Ed Sommer.


Whitehead and Heidegger — Beyond Objectivity

The creativity of the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into a new transcendent fact. It is the flying dart, of which Lucretius speaks, hurled beyond the bounds of the world.

Here we’re talking A. N. Whitehead’s “Objects and Subjects” (1931, in Adventures of Ideas [New York, NY: MacMillan, 1933] 177-92, ch. 11), an excellent introduction to his somewhat non-intuitive theory of the role of “intuition” in experience. [See my edit Whitehead – Objects and Subjects (Annotated).]

(Cf. Bergson on intellect as “cinematographical” [Creative Evolution 322-23] — static, i.e., taking “snapshots” of states of “reality” — and intuition as “creative” — dynamic, in “sympathy” with “life” “making itself” [CI 362-63].)

Whitehead’s insistence on the fundamentally “affective tone” of experience — and the parasitic nature of subjectivity — mirrors Heidegger.

[Western philosophy’s “appeal to clarity and distinction”] presupposes that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience. I agree with this presupposition, but not in the sense in which subject-object is identified with knower-known. I contend that the notion of mere knowledge is a high abstraction, and that conscious discrimination itself is [177]
 a variable factor only present in the more elaborate examples of occasions of experience. The basis of experience is emotional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an affective tone originating from things whose relevance is given.

For Heidegger on affect, see “Being there [Da-sein] as State-of-Mind [Befindlichkeit],” Being and Time, trans. Macquarrie and Robinson (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1962) 172-79 (sec. 29; 1.5: “The Existential Constitution of the ‘There'”):

A mood makes manifest “how one is, and how ones is faring” [“wie einem ist und wird”]. In this “how one is,” having a mood brings Being to its ‘there.’ (173)

For Heidegger on subjectivity, see BT 86-90 (sec. 13; 1.2: “A founded mode in which Being-in is exemplified. Knowing the world”). He makes much more of the subject-object relation in his later more developed critique of metaphysics. See, amongst other places,

  1. “Overcoming Metaphysics” [1936/46] (orig. “Überwindung der Metaphysik,” Vortrage und Aufsätze [Pfüllingen: Neske, 1954]), trans. Joan Stambaugh, The End of Philosophy (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1973) 84-110 [pdf]. Also in The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader, ed. Richard Wolin (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1993) 67-90.
  2. “Introduction to ‘What is Metaphysics?'” [1949], trans. Walter Kaufmann, Pathmarks, ed. T. E. Klein and W. E. Pohl (Cambridge, UK: CUP, 1998) 277-90.


N.B. On Gilles Deleuze’s debt to Whitehead, see Steven Shaviro, “Deleuze’s Encounter with Whitehead,”, 19 May 2007,

Teaching as Letting Learn: What Heidegger Can Tell Us about One-to-Ones

Here’s a paper on Heidegger and one-to-one teaching: Teaching as Letting-Learn: What Heidegger Can Tell Us about One-to-Ones (from the ATLAANZ Proceedings).

Students learn on the basis of what they know but don’t know that they know: the “unknown knowns” of their learning situation, as it were . . . [to quote Donald Rumsfeld — see Žižek, Organs without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences 95]

Teaching as Letting-Learn: Heidegger on Pedagogy

Paideia (παιδεία)

In What Is Called Thinking? (1951-52), Martin Heidegger seems to foreshadow what we teachers know as “co-construction” in the classroom. He calls it “letting-learn”:

Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than — learning.

The teacher teaches learners how to learn — though they might not get it:

Their conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we properly learn nothing from him [or her], if by “learning” we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information.

But the teacher also learns from teaching; he or she learns how to let learn:

The teacher is ahead of his [or her] students in this alone, that he [or she] has still far more to learn than they — he [or she] has to learn to let them learn.


The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the students. The teacher is far less assured of his [or her] ground than those who learn are of theirs. (WCT 15)

This “teachable moment,” when the teacher becomes the taught and their own teaching comes into question, entails risk, courage, trust . . . questioning (Havinghurst 5). Not for nothing is Socrates’ paradox “I know that I know nothing” the principle of pedagogy for Heidegger. But this revaluation of teaching also brings research into question, as Heidegger argues elsewhere:

Hitherto it was thought that teaching had to arise out of research—but the boundlessness of research has made teaching aimless. Not research—and thereby also teaching, but rather teaching—and in teaching—researching. [. . .] Only out of teaching does genuine research, that is, research that knows its limits and responsibilities arise again. (“GU” 305-06)

Teaching is not the poor relation of research: teaching is research. This is the deeper lesson of letting-learn.


Robert J. Havighurst. Human Development and Education. New York: Longmans Green, 1952.

Martin Heidegger. “The German University” (1934). Trans. the author. Gesamtausgabe 16: Reden und Andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges, 1910-76. Ed. Hermann Heidegger. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000. 285-307.

—. What Is Called Thinking? (1951-52). Trans. Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray (slightly amended by the author). New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

For Heidegger on teaching, see also:

[Heidegger on] the Art of Teaching” (1945). Trans. Valerie Allen and Ares D. Axiotis. Heidegger, Education, and Modernity. Ed. Michael A. Peters. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 27-45.

Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics” (1962). Basic Writings. Ed. D. F. Krell. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. 249-54 (247-82). Excerpt from What Is a Thing? Trans. W.B. Barton and Vera Deutsch. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967. 66-108.

Plato’s Doctrine [or: Teaching] of Truth” (1947). Trans. Thomas Sheehan. Pathmarks. Ed. William A. McNeill. Cambridge: CUP, 1998. 155-82.

“Traditional Language and Technological Language” (1962). Trans. Wanda Torres Gregory. Journal of Philosophical Research 23 (1998): 129-45. [See Gregory’s “Heidegger On Traditional Language And Technological Language.”]

tà mathémata: we can only learn what we already know

“Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here!” (inscription above the entrance to Plato’s Academy)

In his essay “Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics” (1962; from Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell [San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1977] 247–82, an excerpt from “What is a Thing?” [1967; Chicago: Regnery, 1969] 66-108), Heidegger wrote:

In its formation the word mathematical stems from the Greek expression tà mathémata, which means what can be learned and thus, at the same time, what can be taught; manthanein means to learn, mathésis the teaching, and this is a twofold sense. First, it means studing and learning; then it means the doctrine taught. (249-50)

  • mathésis: teaching and learning
  • tà mathémata: what is teachable or learnable

Learning is a kind of grasping and appropriating. But not every taking is a learning. [. . .] To take means in some way to take possession of a thing and have disposal over it. Now, what kind of taking is learning? Mathémata—things, insofar as we learn them. . . .

The mathémata are the things insofar as we take cognizance of them as what we already know them to be in advance, the body as the bodily, the plant-like of the plant, the animal-like of the animal, the thingness of the thing, and so on [verbatim from “The Age of the World-Picture“]. This genuine learning is therefore an extremely peculiar taking, a taking where he who takes only takes what he basically already has. Teaching corresponds to this learning. Teaching is a giving, an offering; but what is offered in teaching is not the learnable, for the student is merely instructed to take for himself what he already has. If the student only takes over something that is offered he does not learn. He comes to learn only when he experiences what he takes as something he himself really already has. True learning occurs only where the taking of what one already has is a self-giving and is experienced as such. Teaching therefore does not mean anything else than to let the others learn, that is, to bring one another to learning. (251)

Heidegger continues:

Teaching is more difficult than learning; for only he who can truly learn . . . can truly teach. The genuine teacher differs from the pupil only in that he can learn better and that he more genuinely wants to learn. In all teaching, the teacher learns the most. (251-52)

I’m reminded of Plato’s discussion of amamnesis, of learning as remembering in the Meno and Phaedo—though Heidegger most often employs this characterisation of ta mathémata in his critique of the pseudo-circular nature of modern scientific research, which is almost tautological in its foreclosure of knowledge by its use of deductive or hypothetico-deductive method and its pursuit of objectivity.

In “The Age of the World-Picture,” he argues that scientific research is a type of rigorous knowledge (Erkennen, a.k.a. “judgement”) that relies on a procedure (Vorgehen, a.k.a., “priority, lead”) that establishes its field of operation by the projection (Entwurf, “design, project, plan, outline”) in advance of a ground-plan (Grundriss, a.k.a, “framework”): projection → procedure → knowledge.

But for him, to speak in the most general terms,

[t]he mathémata, the mathematical, is that “about” things which we really already know. Therefore we do not first get it out of things, but, in a certain way, we bring it already with us. (252)

Take Care of Everything (Our Duty of Care)

Annibale Carracci, Pan (c. 1592)

The saying μελέτη τὸ πᾶν [melete to pan] has been attributed to Periander, Second Tyrant of Corinth (c. 628-588).

It has sometimes been mistranslated as “practice makes perfect” (melete “care, practice, exercise”), but it is better translated “take care of everything.”

It is the motto of Heidegger’s Mindfulness (1997; 2006, 3, likewise in Nietzsche vol. 3 [1989; 1991] and the Heraclitus seminar [1970; 1979]), which he translates into German as “Habe das Ganze im Sinn“: “take into care beings as a whole” (to pan “the all, the whole,” i.e. beings as a whole). But, more importantly, the saying drives his reading of the relation of human beings to being in Basic Concepts (1981; 1993). It prefaces his “Elucidation of the title of the lecture ‘Basic Concepts,'” in particular, his discussion of the claim (Anspruch) of such basic or “ground-concepts” (Grund-Begriffe) upon us . . .

From the time when the essential configuration of Western history . . . begins to unfold, a saying is handed down to us that goes μελέτη τὸ πᾶν, “Take into care beings as a whole” [das Seiende im Ganzen]—that means, consider that everything depends upon the whole of beings, upon what addresses [anspricht] humanity from there. Always consider the essential, first and last, and assume the attitude that matures us for such reflection. Like everything essential, this attitude must be simple, and the suggestion that intimates this attitude (which is a knowing) to us must be simple as well. It suffices for this suggestion to distinguish what humanity, having come to itself, must attend to. (3)

. . . and it drives his “Discussion of the ‘Is,’ of Beings as a Whole” (21ff.), broadly, that

if we attempt to think the whole of beings at once, then we think . . . that the whole of beings “is,” and we consider what it “is.” We think the whole of beings, everything that is, in its being.

He argues that to what “is” belongs the currently actual, the not actual or possible, and the necessary. “Taking into care beings as a whole” requires that we must acknowledge all three aspects.

But there is another threesome at work here: Meletē (Μελέτη, “Care”) was one of the original three Boeotian Muses, along with Mnēmē “Remembrance” and Aoidē “Song” the essential aspects of poetry—or the “saying of being” for Heidegger (Pausanias, The Description of Greece 9.29, sec. 2). As Gary E. Aylesworth suggests in his introduction to Basic Concepts,

Melete has been interpreted as the discipline or practice necessary to learn the art, Mneme as the retention required for recitation and improvisation, and Aoide as the poetic song itself, the culmination of the other two aspects. In the earliest tradition of Greek thinking, care, remembrance, and song were understood as religious powers. (xii)

Three aspects of saying: care, remembrance and song, of which more later . . .