An Experience of Thought – Measure for Endurance

Ioana B. Jucan
I would like to propose “endurance” – the capacity of continuing through time in spite of change – as an alternative to the much used (perhaps overused) notion of sustainability. Sustainability and sustainable development, defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development 43), are key concepts in terms of which discourses on nature have been often framed in recent decades. Underlying such discourses has been a longstanding concern with the relation between nature and technology, premised upon an incompatibility between the two.

In one iteration of it, this concern takes the form of the argument regarding “the disenchantment of nature” – a term introduced by Max Weber – determined by technology. In the story of the disenchantment of nature, as Bronislaw Szerszynski explains (5), “as technology’s powers advance, those of nature withdraw.” Technology renders nature fully explainable – calculable and predictable. Disenchanted by technology, nature becomes “a standing reserve” (Heidegger 257) to be used (up) and, thus, in need of preservation. At stake here is the issue of rationality/reason, given that calculation is traditionally conceptualised as being the essence of reason.

It is precisely this link between rationality/reason and calculation that must be undone, according to Jacques Derrida. Derrida undertakes to rethink reason beyond teleology – beyond (and without) necessary determination and certainty. “A reason must let itself be reasoned with,” writes Derrida (159). Unlike Kant’s teleological reason, which annuls the eventfulness of what comes, “beginning with… the technoscientific invention that ‘finds’ what it seeks” (Derrida 128), a reason that lets itself be reasoned with makes possible the unconditioned event (contingency).

To build on Derrida’s thought, I suggest that reasoning with reason is linked to measure (rather than calculation) – to the performance of figuring out and keeping (the right) measure. “Measure” here means limit, proportion, and standard of comparison. It is the site on which – through the practice of care, of awareness – seemingly incompatible things and beings can be brought together and put in relation to one another in ways that make possible the emergence of the event. As such, measure becomes an aesthetic procedure that embraces unpredictability and a form of knowledge that grows from uncertainty, from a place of not (fully) understanding.

The right measure is a matter of figuring out what works for each person individually and in relation to the others. It materialises in a specific style of life – a life of care, an examined life. Socrates stated that the unexamined life is not worth living; perhaps there is value in this thought.

My claim is that reason – or reasoning with reason – can be an aid in this experiment of figuring out the right measure. More than this, I would like to propose – perhaps as an experience of thought – that reason/reasoning with reason potentially opens the way for another concept of technology, different from the modern one emphasising the power of technology to overcome contingency and to offer the certainty characteristic of teleological reason (as calculation). This concept would be closer to the one with which the classical thinkers (Plato and Aristotle, among others) operated. This is the concept according to which “technai” – “intrinsically uncertain and unpredictable in their outcomes” – “were activities involving the making of things in a way which was guided by logos, by reason” (Szerszynski 52). To be clear, in this formula, reason would be used in the non-teleological sense. At the interface between such a concept of technology and such a concept of nature the possibility of endurance potentially emerges.

Works cited

Derrida, Jacques. “The ‘World’ of the Enlightenment to Come (Exception, Calculation, Sovereignty).” In Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Ed. Werner Hamacher. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2005. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition: An Anthology. Eds. Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 2003. pp.252-265. Print.

Szerszynski, Bronislaw. Nature, Technology, and the Sacred. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 2005. Print.

World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.1987. Print.

 

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