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Machenschaft / maquinação / maquinación / machination

One of the key words in the Black Notebooks, which also appears frequently in Heidegger’s other writings from the same time, is Machenschaft, which is usually translated as “machination.” According to the Brothers Grimm’s etymological dictionary (the Deutsches Wörterbuch  ), in Southern Germany the word meant Gemachte – something that is produced. Heidegger maintained this connection. It can be said that in his works from this time, Machenschaft indicates manipulative domination, the new categorical imperative that frenetically ran through the world of technology, where there was no longer anything that could not   produce or be produced.

The leaden landscape of this planetary hustle and bustle was, as in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, an assembly line that had for some time gone beyond the gates of the factories to ensnare and meld to its own mechanism the streets as well, and above all the cities, those “gigantic factories” that, in their ceaseless, teeming activity, and in the incessant changing of their architectural tangle, “do not possess any form.”149 Machenschaft, for Heidegger, recalled the totale Mobilmachung, the “total mobilization” of Ernst   Jünger   – that pervasive, implacable discipline that even reaches the infant in its crib, that physics of traffic and that metaphysics of work, in which each person  , albeit with dismay, must recognize his or her own destiny as an Arbeiter  , a laborer, an operator of machinery, an employee of mechanization, who applies the mysterious law to which everything is inexorably consigned in the age of the masses and of machines.[Ernst Jünger, “Die Totale Mobilmachung,” in Zweite Abtheilung: Essays I, Sämtliche Werke 7 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2002), 119–42]

If there was no trace of a revolt, it was because, unlike those who, like Weber, had spoken of “disenchantment,” Heidegger perceived a refined enchantment in the power of mechanization, where, thanks to unlimited progress, nothing now appeared to be impossible. In fact, everything was revealed to be feasible, and feasibility, Machbarkeit – which distinguishes metaphysics, also indicating its perfect achievement – was the way in which entities were made available. In Greek terms, mechanization was the passage from physis   – Nature in the broad sense – to techne  , via poetic fabrication, poiesis  . Every entity, even if it was natural, appeared to be fabricated. If, in early Greek times, machination, which was always seen as being against Nature, did not reach a point of power, it did so in the “Judeo-Christian thought of creation.” [Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event), 100] The biblical idea   of a God as a creator changes the way of seeing a being, which always appears to be an ens creatum  . This would have thrown all of metaphysics off track, given that, the connection between cause and effect being implicit in creation, the being is always also caused. This accusation has a theological weight that should not be overlooked: in order to connect machination to the Jewish context, Heidegger attributed to biblical thinking his own Christian – and in fact scholastic – idea of creation, understood as a causal emanation, as well as his own idea of God as the Creator Being among beings; these were ideas that do not correspond to anything in the Torah, where creation is seen as a dialogic letting-be.

For Heidegger, the more that machination went on unfurling its own power, the more it concealed itself, leading to the extreme abandonment of Being during the age of technology, whereby beings, consigned to the blind grasp of doing-everything, subjected to unstoppable monetization, were reduced to the status of a replaceable part, a reserve, and, their possibilities dissolving, wore out, and were used up. It is not difficult to imagine that machination was not limited to making, to machen   in the sense of fabricating or producing something, but would also express itself in ausmachen, a tireless bringing to completion that is also a form of extinguishing. Thus, machination, while it seems to give life to beings, in reality constitutes the greatest danger for them, because, in making use of them, it exposes them to becoming nothing, to being used up. The force of machination is a power, Macht, that dominates by virtue of an ontological violence, a constitutive Gewalt   of the disposition of feasibility. There is no machination without violence. [On violence, see ibid., 222] And, given that physis has been violated over the centuries, metaphysics can be read as a history of violence in which machination is the ultimate outcome. How not to see, for that matter, the will to power that is manifested in that ironclad technical-media disposition in which even time is reduced to the repetition of what is always the same?

In Heidegger’s thought, there thus developed a political conflict between the dominance of machination, the Macht der Machenshaft, and the sovereignty of Being, the Herrschaft des Seyns. This conflict, alluded to by Heidegger in other works, became a recurring theme in the Black Notebooks, where, especially in the Ponderings from 1939–41, it took on increasingly extreme tones.

Although Heidegger maintained that “machination” indicated a way in which beings were presented, making use of feasibility, he nevertheless emphasized that, in its usual meaning, the term indicates a “furtive activity,” a “plotting,” referring to intrigue and conspiracy. This meaning, which refers to a despicable way for humans to behave, should be avoided, even if machination favors beings’ “evil essence,” their Unwesen. [Ibid., 99; Heidegger, The History of Beyng, 42] [DHJ]