In this highly original book David Wills rethinks not only our nature before all technology but also what we understand to be technology. Rather than considering the human being as something natural that then develops technology, Wills argues, we should instead imagine an originary imbrication of nature and machine that begins with a dorsal turn-a turn that takes place behind our back, outside our field of vision.
With subtle and insightful readings, Wills pursues this sense of what lies behind our idea of the human by rescuing Heidegger’s thinking from a reductionist dismissal of technology, examining different angles on Lévinas’s face-to-face relation, and tracing a politics of friendship and sexuality in Derrida and Sade. He also analyzes versions of exile in Joyce’s rewriting of Homer and Broch’s rewriting of Virgil and discusses how Freud and Rimbaud exemplify the rhetoric of soil and blood that underlies every attempt to draw lines between nations and discriminate between peoples. In closing, Wills demonstrates the political force of rhetoric in a sophisticated analysis of Nietzsche’s oft-quoted declaration that “God is dead.”
Forward motion, Wills ultimately reveals, is an ideology through which we have favored the front-what can be seen-over the aspects of the human and technology that lie behind the back and in the spine-what can be sensed otherwise-and shows that this preference has had profound environmental, political, sexual, and ethical consequences.
David Wills is professor of French and English at the University of Albany (SUNY). He is the author of Prosthesis and Matchbook: Essays in Deconstruction as well as the translator of works by Jacques Derrida, including The Gift of Death.