First and second technologies

Prehistoric art made use of certain fixed notations in the service of magical practice. In some cases, these notations probably comprised the actual performing of magical acts (the carving of an ancestral figure is itself such an act); in others, they gave instructions for such procedures (the ancestral figure demonstrates a ritual posture); and in still others, they provided objects for magical contemplation (contemplation of an ancestral figure strengthens the occult powers of the beholder). The subjects for these notations were humans and their environment, which were depicted according to the requirements of a society whose technology existed only in fusion with ritual. Compared to that of the machine age, of course, this technology was undeveloped. But from a dialectical standpoint, the disparity is unimportant. What matters is the way the orientation and aims of that technology differ from those of ours. Whereas the former made the maximum possible use of human beings, the latter reduces their use to the minimum. The achievements of the first technology might be said to culminate in human sacrifice; those of the second, in the remote-controlled aircraft which needs no human crew. The results of the first technology are valid once and for all (it deals with irreparable lapse or sacrificial death, which holds good for eternity). The results of the second are wholly provisional (it operates by means of experiments and endlessly varied test procedures) [see the “essayist life” of Musil’s narrator]. The origin of the second technology lies at the point where, by an unconscious ruse, human beings first began to distance themselves from nature. It lies, in other words, in play.

Seriousness and play, rigor and license, are mingled in every work of art, though in very different proportions. This implies that art is linked to both the second and the first technologies. It should be noted, however, that to describe the goal of the second technology as “mastery over nature” is highly questionable, since this implies viewing the second technology from the standpoint of the first. The first technology really sought to master nature, whereas the second aims rather at an interplay between nature and humanity. The primary social function of art today is to rehearse that interplay. This applies especially to film. The function of film is to train human beings in the apperceptions and reactions needed to deal with a vast apparatus whose role in their lives in expanding almost daily. Dealing with this apparatus also teaches them that technology will release them from their enslavement to the powers of the apparatus only when humanity’s whole constitution has adapted itself to the new productive forces which the second technology has set free.


A different utopian will, moreover, is asserted in revolutions. For apart from the utopia of the second nature, there is a utopia of the first, and the former is closer to realization than the latter. The more widely the development of humanity ramifies, the more openly utopias based on the first nature (and especially the human body) will give place to those relating to society and technology. That this regression is provisional will be taken for granted. The problems of the second nature, the social and technological ones, must be very close to resolution before those of the first — love and death — can be distinguished even in outline. (To be sure, some of the most far-sighted minds of the bourgeois revolution refused to acknowledge this. Sade and Fourier envision the direct realization of hedonistic life. By contrast, this aspect of utopia is a second-order priority in Russia. Instead, the planning of collective existence is being combined with technical planning on a comprehensive, planetary scale.) (It is no accident that forays into the Arctic and the stratosphere were among the first great acts of the pacified Soviet Union.) If, in this context, one thinks of the slogan “blood and soil,” fascism can be seen as trying to block at one stroke the way to both utopias. “Blood” runs counter to the utopia of the first nature, which strives to make its medicine a playground for all microbes. “Soil” goes against the utopia of the second nature, which for fascism is realized only by the type of man who ascends into the stratosphere in order to drop bombs. …

It is the goal of revolutions to accelerate this: the body emancipated by the liquidation of the first technology [breaks off] …

Revolutions are innervations of the collective — attempts to dominate the second nature, in which mastery of elemental social forces has become a prerequisite for a higher technical mastery of elemental natural forces. Just as a child who has learned to grasp stretches out its hand for the moon as it would for a ball, so every revolution sets its sights as much on currently utopian goals as on goals within reach. But a twofold utopian will asserts itself in revolutions. For not only does the collective appropriate the second nature as its first in technology, which makes revolutionary demands, but those of a first, organic nature (primarily the bodily organism of the individual human being) are still far from fulfilled. These demands, however, will first have to displace the problems of the second nature in the process of humanity’s development … 3, 134-5