Filmen är inspirerad av en föreläsning som Martin Heidegger gav 1942 om den tyska poeten Friedrich Hölderlins hymn Der Ister. Barison och Ross följer Donaufloden från Donaudeltat vid Svarta havet i Rumänien till dess källa och under filmens gång diskuterar de intervjuade Heidegger, Hölderlin, filosofi, tid, poesi, teknologi, krig, myter, politik, nazism och Förintelsen, bland mycket annat.
Intervjuobjekten är de franska filosoferna Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy och Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, och den tyska filmskaparen Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. Andra som intervjuas är en brokonstruktör (Nemanja Calic), en amatörbotanist (Tobias Maier) och en rumänsk arkeolog (Alexandru Suceveanu).
Filmen är uppdelad i fem kapitel plus en prolog och en epilog:
- Prologue. The myth of Prometheus, or The birth of technics. Bernard Stiegler talar om myten om Prometheus.
- Chapter 1. Now come fire! Stiegler talar om teknologi och tid, hur de relaterar till varandra.
- Chapter 2. Here we wish to build. Jean-Luc Nancy talar om politik.
- Chapter 3. When the trial has passed. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe diskuterar Heideggers nazism, uttalanden om teknologi och Förintelsen.
- Chapter 4. The rock has need of cuts. Bernard Stiegler fortsätter fördjupa sig i teknologi, minne och historia.
- Chapter 5. What that river does, no-one knows. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg talar om floden och om att dess kraft för poesin har förlorats.
- Epilogue. Heidegger reads Hölderlin. Heidegger läser Hölderlins hymn "Der Ister."
- Officiell sida: www.theister.com
- Wikipedia: The Ister (Har flera länkar till recensioner och essäer.)
- Draggin' The River: The Ister, av Carloss James Chamberlin
Steigler berättar myten om Prometeus
One day Zeus said to Prometheus, ’the time has come for you, for us gods, to bring into the day the non-immortals.’ The non-immortals being animals and men. Prometheus, who is put in charge of this task, has a twin brother named Epimetheus. Epimetheus resembles Prometheus; he is his double. But in fact Epimetheus is his brother’s opposite. Epimetheus is the god of the fault of forgetting. Prometheus is a figure of knowledge, of absolute mastery, total memory. Prometheus forgets nothing, Epimetheus forgets everything. Epimetheus says to his brother: ’Zeus has given you this task - I want to do it! Me me me! I’ll take care of it.’ Epimetheus is a rather simple-minded brother, and Prometheus is fond of him. He dares not refuse and says, ’OK, you take care of it.’ So Epimetheus distributes the qualities. He will give the gazelle its speed, for example. [...] He distributes the qualities in equilibrium. Epimetheus’ distribution of the qualities describes the ecological balance of nature. [...] Now, as Epimetheus is distributing the qualities, he suddenly notices something... [...] ’There are no qualities left! I forgot to save a quality for man!’ [...] ’I still have to bring mankind, mortals, into the day.’ [...] but there are no qualities left to give him a form. So Prometheus goes to the workshop of the god Hephaestus, to steal fire. Fire, whick is obviously the symbol of technics, but which is also the symbol of the power of god. Zeus.
Steigler om teknik och tid
First, what permits me to say that today technics develops faster than culture? What I state in my work is that man and technics are indissociable. The phenomenon of hominization is the phenomenon of the technicisation of the living. Man is nothing other than technical life. But, for thousands and even millions of years, man did not sense this technical dimension, which constitutes his life and existence, which makes of him a singular and original living being in the kingdom of living beings. Over a very long period of time, man has not felt this difference, inasmuch as technics has evolved with man, more or less in harmony with him. Until the industrial revolution at the start of the 19th century, man lives in a technical milieu which is normally stable, but which is transformed from time to time. The historian Bertrand Gille calls these periods of ’technological rupture.’ There have been technological ruptures since the beginning of humanity. Initially they are very far apart. Many hundreds of thousands of years apart, I think, in prehistory. Then in the proto-historic epoch, from the Neolithic period onwards, the gap between technological ruptures is thousands of years, and from the Greeks onwards the gap is in the hundreds of years. Then, starting from the classical period, the gaps become dozens of years. The great industrial revolution of the steam engine begins in 1780. This provokes great transformations in manufacturing activity. Indeed this transformation constitutes the industrial revolution.
Now, two things happen in the industrial revolution. First, the duration of technical systems becomes shorter and shorter. They become so contracted that there is almost no stability in technical systems. Until the 18th century, science on the one hand, which includes philosophy, and technics on the other, are two worlds which barely communicate. It is necessary to wait for the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, for the arrival of industry, before a new relation between science and technics is constituted, a relation which completely upsets the philosophical order established since Plato and Socrates. Greek science, Greek philosophy, say fundamentally that technics has no ontological depth, no ontological meaning. Technics is nothing other than artifactuality, making it necessary to distinguish artifice from ontology, from being. Appearance must be separated from essence. Becoming must be isolated from being. From then on, science and technics are fundamentally separate. At the end of the 18th century this relation will change. And what was a relation of opposition between science and technics becomes a relation of composition. The result is a new dynamism in technics. Which leads to what I call ’permanent innovation,’ whereby technics tends to transform itself continually. And where, moreover, in the industrial realm, competition will arise between enterprises. This competition will lead to a process of globalisation, with the development of railways and shipping, opening up enormous new markets. Thus we leave the national sphere. We pass quickly into a process of competition, fought essentially through technical innovation, that is, through the optimisation of machine productivity. And this economic war will translate into techno-scientific war.
Now, this poses a problem of divorce between social organisation, spiritual organisation, linguistic, political, economic, religious, epistemic, or epistemological, legal, metaphysical, biological even. All these spheres are systems, and in one fell swoop they are struck, overturned, exploaded, by the technical system through the dynamism of electronics and the internet. This process began in the 19th century. But now we experience it with an extraordinary, brutal force. It began in the 19th century because at that time there arose a new process, whereby industry, in its economic struggle, needed to create new objects every day, to open new markets for new objects. [...] And this is an enormous change for society. Enormous because until the 18th and 19th centuries, for most people, the world remained always the same. Always stable. Most people thought the world had always been the way it was in their time, and that it will always remain the same. They didn’t understand that they lived in historic time.
Steigler om historisk tid, historiskt medvetande och minne
They didn’t understand that they lived in historic time. Which is what Hegel says. Historical consciousness appeared in the 19th century with Hegel. Before Hegel there was no historical consciousness. A consciousness belived it was living in a world always identical to itself. A stable world, the world of being. And for this consciousness, ’becoming’ is exceptional and monstrous. All Western philosophy until the 19th century thought that stability was the essence of reality. Change, revolution, was quite accidental. Absolutely accidental.
In the 19th century, suddenly one says no: actually stability is the exception. It is change that is normal. This is Marx. It is Marx via industry, via technics. Nietzsche will then say the same thing. Nietzsche says, in Human, All Too Human: ’Man still has no historical consciousness. The philosopher still has no historical consciousness. He thinks the mind has always been what it is...’ He speaks here of Rousseau and Kant. But Nietzsche says we now discover prehistoric men, fossils, and we realise man has not always been what he is, and that the process of becoming is fundamentally what must be thought. Reality is becoming, says Nietzsche. But if Nietzsche can say that, it’s because he is at the end of the 19th century, and he is witnessing before his eyes the growth of technology, and already he understands that man will be carried away by this technological growth. At the same time something is in the process of developing around the world, through archaeology, through palaeontology, through all these sciences which study traces, fossils. And what is discovered by science in the West and then globally, is that technics has evolved over time, as have animals and plants, and thus technics is caught up in the evolutionary process. Which leads Marx to say in Das Kapital that we must elaborate a theory of technical evolution, just as Darwin elaborated a theory of the evolution of living beings. This takes me back to what I was saying at the start. Earlier I said that man is an essentially technical living being, and that the becoming of man and technics are the same thing. It’s true. But at the same time between man and human production (technics) there’s a perpetual risk of divorce. Because technics forms a system, and this system has its own dynamic, which leads us to say today: ’We must do away with jobs so that technology can develop.’ In Europe this is often said. So we’re forced to put people on the dole. The historian Bertrand Gille names this phenomenon ’disjointedness.’ Which relates to what Shakespeare called... ’Time out of joint.’ Disjointedness. Sometimes time comes off its hinges. Fundamentally because of a process of technical becoming. This is the great difficulty for thought: man is fundamentally a technical being, and yet technics is always unsettling man, who like all other living beings seeks to conserve himself, to conserve himself as he is. Life is fundamentally conservative. But at the same time, life is negentropy, transformation, becoming. So life is fundamentally conservative, yet it is also negentropic. In other words: transformation, becoming, alteration.
Insofar as man is a technical being who, in order to survive, must fabricate prostheses, artificial apparatuses of defense and attack, an apparatus of prostheses [...] All this forms a system which upsets nature, which transforms nature, and which leads us to ask today: ’Well, what is nature?’ Does nature exists? Physis. Natura. What is that? [...]
Be that as it may, prehistoric man develops prostheses which lead to systems, to an enormous global industrial system. Globalisation is the globalisation of technics. But what is essential about this process is that technics, as it develops, gives rise to a third kind of memory for living beings.
When a prehistoric man cuts a flint [...] obviously he doesn’t cut the flint to preserve his memory. But the act of cutting the flint preserves in the stone the gesture of cutting, permitting the inscription of his gestures on the flint and in fact constitutes a new memory-support for the living being, man. Until man, life rests on the combination of two systems of memory: genetic memory, DNA, and on the other hand, the memory of the individual, in the nervous system, the brain, etc. These two memories, which exists in all superior, sexed, vertebrate beings endowed with a nervous system... these two memories do not communicate with each other. [...] In other words when the living beings dies, all the experiences it has accumulated individually are lost by the species.
In contrast, after technics appears, very limited transmission is made possible, of vital acts, of tool fabrication. And then increasingly vast dimensions of memory develop, dimensions of memory which through technics become transmissible from generation to generation. And that camera which is recording me now is a system of memorisation: the latest development, the latest avatar of a system which begins with the first carved flint, and which allows life to preserve the trace of its individual experience, and to transmit that trace between generations. This is the appearance of what we call culture.
And obviously this i also the beginning of the possibility of conserving the past of a social group, through ’supports,’ supports of all kinds. [...] In essence: technics is memory-support. And this means technics is the condition of the constitution of the relation to the past.
So we men, as living beings, can have a relation to a past which is not simply our past, which is not simply my past, the one belonging to me, Bernard Stiegler, born 48 years ago. It is also my past insofar as my past is not only [my past]. My past is the past of Robert Stiegler, my father. The past of my grandfather is my past. But my grandfather himself had a grandfather, who himself had a grandfather. All these people, all these fathers, grandfather, etc, that is my past. I have not lived that past. I have never lived it and yet it belongs to me. I am responsible for it. For example, I have a German name. Stiegler. As a carrier of that German name, I am a carrier of the past of the Germans. The Shoah. Auschwitz. I am responsible for that past. [...] At the same time, I am French. What I mean by this is that my past is complex.
My past is at the same time German, French. It is also American, because now everything is American. It is Greek. Because all the past is Greek. Even for a Japanese. [...] The past is Greek. Because technics is Greek.
My past is inherited. For me to inherit a past, that past must be preserved and recorded in technical supports. If I can say I have a great-great-great-grandfather, Mr Stiegler, it is because there are archives which preserve the trace, and which permit him to pass on his name. [...] In saying I inherit the past of my father and grandfather and of the Germans and so on, I have adopted my name. [...] The family is necessary an adoption. I want to say that [the] human is essentially a process of adoption, of the past, and of technics. And it is the same. We need always to adopt technics, always new technics. Technics is always new. We must always adopt it. We are fundamentally caught in a process of adoption. And this is why we can change nationality, for example. I have a German name, but I am French. [..] We adopt without end. We must. Technics, the past of our parents, the name of our parents. Sometimes we can’t adopt the name of our father. That is the question of Oedipus. The question of Oedipus, of Sophocles, is precisely this question. When Oedipus killed his father is was the question of adoption, and the difficulty of adoption.
Stiegler om frågandet
Why then have I turned towards Prometheus and Epimetheus? Well, if we want to understand the question of technics, as it poses itself to us today as men of the 21st century, we must go back to ancient Greek mythology, not only to philosophy, but the tragic mythology of the ancient Greeks. This ancient Greek mythology poses the problem precisely and correctly, in mythological terms of course, and in terms of primitive Greek religion, of tragic religion. But, incredibly, it poses the question as it must be posed.
So, Prometheus will steal fire, in other words technics, and also the intelligence of Athena. And man will be a mortal living being condemned to fabricate prostheses. In other words he has no qualities. He is obliged to endlessly equip himself with new artifices for survival. And since they have no quality defined in advance men enter into conflict with one another, to decide on their quality, on their future. Some say ’we should do this’, others say ’no, we should do that.’ The animal [...] they have no question to pose concerning ’Who are we?’ But for man, it’s an eternal question. [...] Technics if the question. As soon as I am technical, I am questioning. This is why Zeus is forced to send Hermes.
Zeus sends Hermes
In Plato’s dialogue, Protagoras, the sophist Protagoras retells the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus, while engaged in a discussion with Socrates:
- Prometheus, being at a loss to provide any salvation for man, stole from Hephaestus and Athena the gifts of technical knowledge, and of fire, and bestowed them upon man.
- With these gifts he knew enought to survive, but he lacked politics.
- So men lived at first in scattered groups; there were no cities. Consequently they were devoured by wild beasts, since they were in every respect weaker.
- They sought to save themselves by coming together and founding cities, but when men gathered in communities they injured one another for lack of political skill, and so scattered again and continued to be devoured.
- Zeus, fearing the total destruction of our species, sent Hermes to give to men the qualities of respect for others and a sense of justice, so at to bring order into our cities and create an bond of friendship and union.
- Hermes asked Zeus in what manner he was to bestow these gifts on men... Zeus responded: ”To all. Let all have their share. There could never be cities if only a few shared in these virtues, as is the case with the arts.”
- ”Moreover you must lay it down as my law, that if anyone is incapable of acquiring his share of respect and justice, he shall be put to death as a plague to the city.”