Notes on Poiesis | Techne | Praxis

For the ancient Greeks, poiesis (from poiein, create) was “to pro-duce”, as in “bringing into being”. (Agamben: 68). “The possibilities for the translation of the Greek term poiesis are “making”, “fabrication” and “production”, as well as “poetry” and “poem”.” (Heikkila: 210) Poiesis is a productive process, a process of creation. But unlike the word creation that for us can still designate both the process and the thing created, the “bringing into being” indicated by poiesis had already become differentiated in antiquity. Plato refers to the production of things as techne, while for him poiesis means the “readily available products,” as Marta Heikkila states in At the Limits of Presentation: coming-into-presence and its aesthetic relevance in Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy. (Heikkila: 211)

Writing about the plurality of the arts in The Muses, Jean-Luc Nancy refers to the division of art (into art and ‘technics’) as separating poiesis (“the name of the product”) from techne (“the name of the process or mode of production”). (Nancy: 6)

Heikkila writes: “For Heidegger techne is also what guides poiesis.” (Heikkila: 210) His argument was “that art, as techne, brought about poiesis (ποίησις) for man, parallel to the poiesis that occurs in nature. For Heidegger, poiesis is the event of truth or aletheia…”, an unconcealedness. “The act of expressing the truth of one’s being in an art form is referred to by Heidegger as “poiesis”. This act “makes present”, a “presencing” that comprises both disclosure and concealment.” (Heikkila: 207)

In The Technique of the Present, an essay on On Kawara, Nancy indicates that art is “the productive technique of presence”. And presence for him is not intrinsic to the thing, but rather it is “the act by which the thing is put forward: prae-est”.

According to Agamben: “The Greeks ……  made a clear distinction between poiesis and praxis (poiein “to pro-duce” in the sense of bringing into being) and praxis (prattein, “to do” in the sense of acting). Central to praxis was the idea of the will that finds its immediate expression in an act, while, by contrast, central to poiesis  was the experience of pro-duction into presence, the fact that something passed from non being to being, from concealment into the full light of the work.” (Agamben: 68-69)


Giorgio Agamben, ‘Poiesis and Praxis’, The Man Without Content (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).

Martta Heikkila, At the limits of presentation: coming-into-presence and its aesthetic relevance in Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2008).

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996).

—-The Technique of the Present, lecture given in January 1997 at the Nouveau Musée during On Kawara’s exhibition Whole and Parts — 1964-1995 (originally published in French as Technique du présent).

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