CriticaLink | Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology | Overview
Heidegger presented an early version of this essay as a series of lectures at the Bremen Club in late 1949. In 1953, he delivered a lecture entitled "The Question Concerning Technology" to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, and the piece appeared in print in the following year in a collection of Heidegger's lectures and essays.
"The Question Concerning Technology" is not a long text, but it probably isn't one that you can read in two or three hours before class. Give yourself enough time so that you can break up your reading into smaller sections. Heidegger's argument builds upon itself quite logically, and it's possible to stop and start again without getting terribly lost so long as you keep track of what he has been saying. The sections of this guide correspond roughly to steps of the discussion.
The essay is difficult for a number of reasons. Although Heidegger does not assume that his audience has a strong background in philosophy, he tends to explain philosophical concepts in a quick and condensed manner. Additionally, his method of argumentation is so dependent upon etymology--tracing the historical development of the meanings of words--that his text sometimes becomes peppered with intimidating foreign terms. Terms gives brief explanations of how Heidegger is applying these German, Greek, and Latin words.
These difficulties are not that much of problem--they just require patience and a willingness to learn a few new words and concepts. A more profound difficulty in understanding Heidegger lies in his style, which at times can appear unbelievably elusive, or like a parody of "philosophical discourse." To a certain extent, we need to change our expectations of the essay in order to "get" more of what Heidegger is saying (and don't think that you have to "get" every sentence--not many people do). Try reading the particularly dense passages in the essay in the way that you would read a poem or listen to the lyrics of a song--does a particular pattern emerge from the words? Do the words suggest a particular image or set of images to you? If you can keep track of how the basic themes of the essay build upon each other, it's possible to follow Heidegger through the maze of his sentences without completely losing your sense of what's going on.
In some respects, Heidegger's essay makes its argument on the level of the reader's experience of reading it as well as on the level of its logic and rhetoric. Heidegger's style challenges our own "instrumental" attitude about language. If in your frustration you say, for example, "what good is this dense, elliptical discussion of technology?" you show that have already succumbed to the "enframing" orientation to the world that Heidegger is criticizing. In its difficulty, Heidegger's language offers another occasion to confront ourselves and our assumptions. And that, as we all know, is never easy