Grey Room

Technical Existence

Max Bense

Cover of Max Bense, Technische Existenz (1949).


The world that we inhabit is a technical world. It is the world of processes, functions, flight paths and station stops, the world of machines and calculations, of gears, noises, factories, and transmissions, the world of technicians, engineers, physicists, experts, specialists, professors, secretaries, and institute directors, the hardly fathomable world of unions, guilds, firms, laboratories, industries, canals, cities, mine shafts, depths, and heights, the world of timetables for trains and electrons, the world of the masses forever knocking at the gate—and the world of a calm intelligentsia [Intelligenz], encased by the thin but unyielding walls of responsibility for everything that belongs to this world, protected from any confusion that might disturb the creative process or infect the mind [Geist] with distrust. This world is no mere potentiality, and it is not a draft that can be revised and rejected, a sketch on a piece of paper. It is an undeniable reality; it is reality outright. In our time, being imposes itself on our interior and exterior existence neither in the shape of nature nor in that of culture. We inhabit not landscapes and gardens, not houses on sloping hills or in bright glades. We inhabit a network of visible and invisible functions and relations, structures and aggregates made of metal and artificial stone that have taken on names like towns, cities, countries, and continents. Technics [Technik] concerns us. We both love and hate its forms. They rile us up and calm us down. Technics affects us with the most acute harshness that reality is capable of; it never has an illusionistic effect like the old atmosphere of culture from sweet times past, and it never arouses such a feeling of the sublime as conveyed by the immeasurable ruthlessness of nature. No degree of isolation or withdrawal can prevent the impact of technics’ piercing reach. We are the captive guests of everything we have created, yet we endowed none of it with the mercy to let us go free.