Martin Heidegger, “The Age of World Picture,” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays,
translated by William Lovitt, New York; Harper and Row, 1977:115-54.
annotation by Jeehee Hong (Theories of Media, Winter 2003)

This article addresses the metaphysical ground of modern science. Reflecting on the essential phenomena of the modern age, Heidegger deals with the relations between human subjects and sciences in the modern period. The sense of “in-ness” of temporality is crucial throughout the article in understanding the peculiarity of the modern human subjects and the science. By characterizing the modern sciences as a process of “research,” as opposed to that of “knowing,” in which open-ended “ongoing activity” occurs, Heidegger suggests that the modern sciences come to experience an unprecedented ontology that is determined by their existence within a dual temporality: existing before coming into being in the modern world. This ontology is encapsulated in the term subiectu m as described as “that-which-lies-before,” which is doubly articulated by its ongoing activity and its implied spatial setting of the “world.” The notion of the “world” is further interrogated by its relationship to the notion of “picture.” Heidegger's “world picture” connotes the world conceived and grasped as picture, rather than a picture of the world; it is a system that stands before subjects, in which all things belong to and all things stand together. What makes human subjects the equivalent of modern beings is their position in the midst of this picture, which becomes possible due to their capability of measuring and executing, for the purpose of gaining mastery over that which is whole. The historicity of the modern age is emphasized through this transformation of the world into picture, of human into subiectum . Further, when a human being experiences her/himself as subiectum, and this has precedence over other centers of relationship, the world becomes picture. Heidegger finds the most salient example of this phenomenon in the ubiquity of “the gigantic,” and its self-reflexity as a modern phenomenon. Capturing “the gigantic's” tendency towards the increasingly small, Heidegger suggests that this largeness is something through which the quantitative becomes a special quality. Thus, it is a remarkable kind of greatness, which entails the transformation of the ever-calculable into the utterly incalculable. This transformation exists around all things everywhere, when a human being has been transformed into subiectum and the world into picture.

Framed as a metaphysical reflection on modern sciences, this article grasps the complexity of the modern technology as a new medium. On the one hand, highly influenced by Hegelian historicism, Heidegger's view of modern technology reveals the unmistakable modernity of technology and its historical ontology that are sharply contrasted with the sciences of the previous ages. On the other hand, Heidegger relies on somewhat contradictory assumptions that there have been perennial existences of media throughout human history and that the human subjects have always experienced them as a process in which the very media was constructed. Although Heidegger never refuses to confine the modern sciences within the historicity of the modern, the realization of this latent continuity underlying the modern media is worth noting in relation to theories of media, i.e. McLuhan's characterization of media as a sort of paradigm. Yet, the weight of the modernity in Heidegger exceeds the slightly nuanced possibility of the continuous aspect of media. In this sense, Heidegger's insight into the historicity of modern technology appears to be a prelude to Kittler's statement that some medium “ceased not to write itself” in the modern era. In the context of Heidegger's recognition of the continuity of media, Kittler's statement can also be read as presupposing the condition that media has continuously tended to write itself, yet only in the modern era was it actualized. This complexity is especially useful in thinking of the discourse on “newness” of the media in modern and post-modern eras. For example, it is interesting to find the parallel discourse between Heidegger and Manovich in describing the newness of media in a given time. Although different in emphasis, both grasp the point where human culture and technology converge “for the first time in history.” Thus, trapped by the overwhelming self-awareness of the modernity, Heidegger overemphasizes the uniqueness of the modern sciences.