Origins of Techne

Some light in an essay by Michael Shumate ©1996

In earlier cultures, before writing had been “taken in and become a habit of mind” (Bolter 1991, 36), considering it a technology was not so difficult. The Greek root techne included not only crafts we would immediately see as technological–masonry, carpentry, pottery–but also art, epic poetry, sports and other fields requiring specialized, developed skills (cf. Bolter 1991, 35-7, and Mitcham and Casey, 36-7). It should come as no surprise, then, that tracing techne back to its Indo-European root, tekth–variously defined as to put in hand, to weave, to build (of wood)–reveals that technology springs from the same source as words for not only such tangible things as textile and texture, but also such seeming abstractions as text and technique (Cf. both Barnhart and Partridge). Both halves of the vague, airy “creative writing” have settled back to earth so that some actual work can begin. As I said above, to write is not to create ex nihilo, but to form and shape materials at hand, to make texts with technology and technique. Mark L. Greenberg and Lance Schachterle, in a discussion of the etymology of technology as developed by Eric Partridge, state it thus:

“Literature conveys not concepts existing in a void, but concepts worked over to present a richness of felt experience. As Partridge’s Origins suggest, ‘texts’ in literature ‘put’ ideas ‘in hand,’ as it were, to frame knowledge within the dramatic fabric of experience, even as the technology of books and book production literally brings ideas ‘to hand'” (Greenberg and Schachterle, 16).

From Heidegger: introductory notes for the class

techne “The word stems from the Greek. Technikon means that which belongs to techne. We must observe two things with respect to the meaning of this word. One is that techne is the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman, but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts. techne belongs to bringing-forth, to poesis; it is something created.

Brian Lake discusses the origins of the term thoroughly in Defining Technology Thesis available here Defining Technology (note, I saved the Word version). As it happens he also has a review of Castells there.

Leave a Reply