9/18 – The Machine of the New Soul

In Uncategorized on September 19, 2008 at 2:13 am

Reading: Technics & Time

Presentations: Crystal Starkey on Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual

Discussed: Blanchot; Dasein; Merlin Donald; Electracy; Everything Bad is Good for You; The First Sophistic; Genesis, Heidegger; Kant; The Man Without Qualities; Meno; No Future; Rotary Phones; Brian Rotman; Rousseau; Gilbert Simondon; The Superfold; Techne; White Noise; Norbert Wiener

Tekhne and Episteme: At the beginning of its history philosophy separates tekhne from episteme, a distinction that had not yet been made in Homeric times. The separation is determined by a political context, one in which the philosopher accuses the Sophist of instrumentalizing the logos as rhetoric and logography, that is, as both an instrument of power and a renunication of knowledge (Chatelet 1965, 60-61). It is in the inheritance of this conflict – in which the philosophical episteme is pitched against the sophistic tekhne, whereby all technical knowledge is devalued – that the essence of technical entities in general is concieved. (1)

A Radical Mechanology: The relation of functional overdetermination is  a relation of objective implication – coming from the object itself – through the solidarity of the constitutive elements of the object. This is not a logical implication: it is not imposed in the immanence of the experience. The evolution of technical objects thus does not stem from the nontechnical environment of “other systems.” There is obviously a common dynamic to all systems: “there is a convergence of economic constraints (matter, labor, energy) and properly technical demands.” But the technical system, and above all the technical object in its proper dynamic within the technical system “prevails in evolution” (Simondon 1958, 26). The analyses by Gille and Leroi-Gourhan of technical evolution must be radicalized. The technical system, the universal tendency that it carries, are no longer the partners of the “other systems”; the technical object lays down the law that is its own, it affirms an auto-nomy with regard to which, in the industrial age, the other layers of society must regulate themselves, with an actual possibility of negotiation. (73)

Which “Nature”?: …genetic manipulations undoubtedly constitute the most striking technological development, giving rise to the most disarming discourses: worse than the possibility of sheer destruction of humanity, they make imaginable the possible fabrication of a “new humanity,” or of a pseudo-humanity, and without even having to dive into science-fiction nightmares, one can see that even their simple current applications destroy the oldest ideas that humanity has of itself – and this, at the very moment when psychoanalysis and anthropology are exhuming the constitutive dimension of these ideas, as much for the psyche as for the social body [le faire-corps social], begining with the ideas concerning kinship relations. […] This is the age when vast, horrific traffic in human organs is conducted with impunity on homeless children of third-world megalopolises, kidnapped and emptied of their livers, kidneys, hearts, their very entrails. This is all taking place at a moment when a new Orphism is moved to indignation by medical experimentation on animals (however problematic), at a moment when a vast DNA research program aims at technoscientific “productions” capable of making profits upon receiving copyright, at a moment when genetic manipulations are directly affecting the organzation of the human individual body, its specific memory and therefore its genetic prospects, its most “natural” “substratum,” in a word, its nature. (87)

Machinic Evolution: The emergence of this being – producer, constructor, if not conceiver – begins then in a process of neurolgical evolution. However, on the one hand, it is no longer strictly a matter of zoological phenomenon: the most archaic technical evolution is already no longer “genetically programmed”; on the other hand, beyond the Neanthropian, this process continues as pure technological evolution, the organization of the cortex being generally stabilized. […] One must first ask what mirage of the cortex is experiences [seprouve], a pathbreaking, in the hardness of flint; what plasticity of gray matter corresponds to the flake of mineral matter; what proto-stage of the mirror is thus installed. One must then ask what the closure of the coritical evolution of the human implies from the vantage of a general history of life, the closure of cortical evolution of the human, and therefore the pursuit of the evolution of the living by other means than life – which is what the history of technics consists in, from the first flaked pebbles to today, a history that is also the history of humanity – a statement that will lead us to the unusual concept of “epiphylogenesis.” (134-135)

Externalized Memory and Techno-logic: Differentiation is only possible inasmuch as the memory of the group, when human, is “external.” But from the moment it is external, group memory is no longer species specific, for from that moment it is technological, the technical and the logical (or linked to “language”) being only two aspects of the same property. (155)

Instrumental Maieutics: Exteriorization means that genetic memory and its transformation do not coincide with the memory of the stereotype and its transformation. It seems obvious that the memory of the stereotype is influenced by the transformations of genetic memory. it is no less the case that another memory is set up. The question then becomes: where is the memory of the stereotype kept, if not in the material trace of the stereotype in which the preexisting tool itself consists, repeated, duplicated by its “maker” and guiding the latter much more than being guided by him or her? In this sense, the archaic cortex and equipment are codetermined in a structural coupling of a particular sort. The issue is to know the kind of repetition at work in the duplication of stereotypes down through generations of archaic humans, how it is distinguished from genetic duplication, in way differences play and are inscribed in the duplication, and where they come from. (158)

The De-Fault Origin: Discovery, insight, invention, imagination are all, according to the narrative of the myth, characteristic of a de-fault. Animals are already marked by a de-fault (in relation to being as it is and as it endures through change, and in relation to the gods): they perish. one must understand “de-fault” here in relation to what is, that is, a flaw in being. And yet, whereas animals are positively endowed with qualities, it is tekhne that forms the lot of humans, and tekhne is prosthetic; that is, in any case a positive gift of the gods: a predestination. The gift made to humanity is not positive: it is there to compensate. Humanity is without qualities, without predestination: it must invent, realize, produce qualities, and nothing indicates that, once produced, these qualities will bring about humanity, that they will become its qualities; for they may rather become those of technics. (193-94)

No Future: The Dasein that comes to be in anticipation – in differance – is not given its being through the clock; rather, it loses itself in the clock. Its temporality is its future. The generation of today’s “time,” our Geschlecht, says flatly: no future. What is affirmed here at the same time as it is refused? Does this slogan mean that there is no differance or no longer any differance in the extrapolation of the present as Gegenwart – that in “real time,” which is nothing but this extrapolation, there can be no future?

  1. In my response to Stiegler’s Technics and Time, 1, I will not attempt to convince anyone that I actually understood it. All I will say is that I read every page of it, or at least my eyes registered that there was type on every page—make of that what you will. However, I will attempt, at least, to interpret some of the passages that I feel I did understand in the context of my research interests and in keeping with the persona of the Pseuo-neo-Luddite that I adopted for last week’s response. The more I read about “New Media,” I think this will be the case more often than not. My jumping-off points for this response are passages found on pages 85 and 135–136 respectively: “… we shall examine a paradox of contemporary technics in which it reveals itself at one and the same time as human power [puissance] and as the power for the self-destruction of humanity” (85), and “… this would mean considering with the utmost seriousness this other question: ‘And if we already were no longer humans?’” (135–136).
    As my interests lie in the realm of studying how people learn to read and write and how these literacy and composition skills are developed and nurtured through life, I can only help but think about the power of technology to both advance and destroy in relationship to how written language is generated and interpreted by those developing rudimentary literacy skills. In this sense, I share in the concern expressed in the text, albeit one that has been kicked around for generations, that: “Countless problems are being engendered by the expansion of technical equipment … the growing paucity of “messages,” illiteracy, isolation, the distancing of people from one another, the extenuation of identity, the destruction of territorial boundaries; unemployment … In this regard, for example, everyone is concerned about the effects of the mini calculator on the arithmetical skills of future generations, or automatic spelling correctors, but the problem now extends to more complicated and “skillful” apparatus: data banks, expert systems, knowledge-based systems, computer-assisted decision making and so forth” (86).
    The question is, then: Is the evolution of the technology of writing creating something other than writing? Can how literacy learners, from this point on, interpret, create and engage with texts—with a virtually unlimited ability to manipulate the text they generate in a multimedia environment—still be considered what we call “writing” today? If the actual, physical act of writing as we know it goes away, communication becomes predominantly word or data processing, and all need for memory storage becomes externalized, what happens if the computer, this ultimate digital prosthesis, ceases to be available or functional?
    The analogy I keep coming back to is that of the microwave. It has completely changed how we deal with the heating of food (faster, more efficient), but it is still a one to one replacement … I can still do everything on a stove that I can do in a microwave, it just takes longer and is a little more difficult. CDs replaced cassettes, DVDs replaced VHS, cable TV replaced how my grandma watches TV … all in a more or less one to one transaction.
    However, the computer is much more than a one to one replacement for a lot of things. It can be a TV, a phone, a business tool, a checkbook, a writing pad, a camera. Typewriters made writing faster and more efficient, electric typewriters made typewriters faster and more efficient, word processors made the electric typewriter faster and more efficient … computers allow for word processing, formatting, design, multimedia presentations, transmission of information, and a myriad other ways to manipulate and disseminate text … is this the creation of something new? A new form of what we would consider “composition” in a traditional sense?
    Also, when I go to my parents’ house and try to use their rotary dial phone, it takes me about 5 tries to successfully dial a number, because I am used to push buttons … in other words, I have lost the skill to use a rotary dial phone, more or less, and although I could relearn the skill, without easy access to the outmoded technology, I will never again become proficient at it. Does this mean, that as writing moves more toward a more digital realm, the physical skill to write as we know it today will be a lost skill? At this point in the technological evolution of writing, we still possess the ability to return to prior modes of mechanical production for the production and dissemination of text. We still know how to operate a pen and we still have a functioning mail system. However, if the process becomes wholly technical, the non-functioning of the digital realm would necessitate a technical devolution in order for communication to continue, which according to Stiegler, is an impossibility.
    Therefore, if the question can be raised as to whether, because of the nature of technics and humanity, we are still human, the same question could be raised as to whether or not we still write. Or does a new term need to be developed to describe what we, and future generations, are doing?

  2. If, as Steigler argues in Technics and Time the temporality of human existence is irreducibly technical, and, if, in fact the technicity of the world reveals the world in its facticity, people with High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (HFA/AS)—a cognitive diversity marked for poor social skills but often genius-like factual absorption, memorization and focus—may be much more the ‘norm’ (at least in philosophical theory) than non-aspie’s. Pulling from the work of Bernanrd Gille, Steigler argues there continues to be an ongoing divorce between the rhythms of cultural and technical evolution, as technics evolves more quickly than culture (15). I’d like to examine this thought, again, alongside HFA/AS in that those grappling with the condition are often criticized for paying little to no attention to body language or facial expressions. For people with HFA/AS certain aspects of communication such as body language and facial expressions are superfluous, “extras” even; serving only as distractions from the “real” and “actual” vital message of what is being said. If this were true—that is, if what people literally said was the only message that counted during communication—indeed, business, relationships, conversations, etc. (what we might, for our purposes here call culture) would progress much faster. This could occur, one could argue, because the non-verbal, highly subjective, individual, and interpretive aspects of of culture would have become more structured, defined, even technical—allowing culture, perhaps, to have become more simplified.

    Further, Steigler argues that difference is the composition of the “who” and the “what” (141-142) in that walking erect has freed the face from grasping, allowing instead for the hand to grasp things and the mouth to grasp language (145-146). The brain, then, becomes the critical thinking agency benefiting from the erect walking. If society was less inclined to classify, simplify, and normify (dude, is this even a word?) the ways in which the erect body works, runs, etc. (I’m thinking here of the often cited awkwardness with which those with HFA/AS are associated with) we might be more open to variations (though in the social model of disability variations are usually cast as deviations) of the brain and cognitive diversities might be cast as advantageous rather than as disabilities.

    In addition, Steigler argues expression is always and already the possibility of generalization—intellectual anticipation (168). Here we can see that students with HFA/ AS atruggle to generalize in nearly every setting. So, the fact that another aspect of their condition means that they also, often, struggle to feel much less communicate emotions through expressions (remember, for these students expressions just aren’t important), then those with HFA/AS are often thought to have decreased intellect. Let me be more clecar: Steigler argues that expression is part of generalization, which is connected (and, perhaps leads to) intellectual anticipation. Thus, students who are virtually unable to generalize AND who also struggle with feeling and expressing emotions are perceived to have a decreased intellectual ability.

    In Part II: The Fault of Epimethus, Steigler notes that Promethus makes no sense on his own; he must be doubled by Epimethus. It would seem then that we must have the anti-thesis to truly understand the thesis. My question then (along the lines of the point I discussed earlier regarding did the “who” come first and create the “what,” or vice versa, and are humans the Who or the What?) is, which, comes first—the anti-thesis or the thesis? And, who decides which is the thesis (the acceptable to society) and which is the anti-thesis (the black sheep?).

  3. In what immediately follows, I try to make some sense of the logic of Steigler’s argument which, even on this, my second reading, I find unusually hard to follow. I focus here largely on the development of his argument in “Prometheus’s Liver” and “Already There” from the second section of the book (“The Fault of Epimetheus”).

    So: Steigler’s argument here is dependent, it appears, on an analogical form. Starting from the Protagorean myth of Epimetheus and Prometheus (187-8; 200-1), Steigler’s argument seems to proceed in a fashion similar to this:

    Prometheus’s gifts (fire and knowledge of arts—tekhne—which lead to speech and names and, in turn, writing) are given to compensate for an originary lack of qualities (193); this is the titular fault of Epimetheus in leaving humans unprovided for. In effect, Steigler argues, originary humans had no qualities of their own. Prometheus’s gifts—prosthetic, compensatory—become the qualities which define humankind. So, from the originary lack, humankind establishes its own qualities as something other than animal or god, but only through artificiality, prosthesis, and the supplement. This is redoubled in the second part of the Epimetheus tale in which Hermes brings justice and respect from Zeus to humanity. That is, the prosthesis of the secondary origin of man is itself inadequate; man becomes twice removed from origin and originary lack through the addition of political technics.
    Steigler’s next move dramatically shifts registers and begins establishing the analogic form of the argument. Considering Heidegger, Steigler shows that one of the fundamental characteristics of Being (as Dasein) is being-toward-the-end; that is, what makes Dasein unique as being is its own anticipation of its end. Thus, what defines Dasien is something not of itself but that which both incompletes Dasein (establishes it as “perpetually incomplete” since death, in its essentiality, remains beyond being-in-the-world) and supplements Dasein (in that death is the necessary supplement that establishes Dasein as being-toward-the end—see 214). Anticipation of death, being-toward-the-end embeds Dasein in temporality, in time; as Steigler notes at several points, Dasein is time qua the deferral of death, qua differánce, the incomplete, the supplement.
    Thus, Steigler arrives at the crux of the analogy between myth and philosophy. In both, that which defines human (or Dasein) is prosthetic, the supplement to originary lack. The invention of the human resides in differánce, differing, deferral—that is, the what qua techne is invented by humans but/and is necessary to invent the who qua human as a category of being, Dasein.

    What Steigler traces then, in myth and philosophy as well as the anthropologic work of Leroi-Gourhan, is the emergence of the human qua epiphylogenesis: “If the individual is organic organized matter, then its relation to its environment . . . , when it is a question of a who, is mediated by the organized but inorganic matter of the organon, the tool with its instructive role. . . , the what. It is in this sense that the what invents the who just as much as it is invented by it” (177).

    Having made some sense of Steigler’s logic, I remain stuck behind two questions: Who cares? So what? This isn’t to be flippant, so much as I wonder whether I’m looking for an angle on the text that will make its difficulty more justifiable. Much earlier in this volume, Steigler contends of Leroi-Gourhan’s anthropology that it “cannot be constituted otherwise than as a technology” (91). The consequence of this is that such a techno-anthropological stance “undermines . . . categorial oppositions [Steigler offers ends/means, subjects/objects, nature/culture as examples] and perhaps makes them obsolete”. Thus, I might suggest, Steigler’s book has a theoretical value in that the model of humanity offered here works to trouble these oppositions in ways consistent with the project of postmodern, deconsructive theory.

    Yet, although I take this to be a significant intervention in its own right, it seems paltry reward for finding one’s way through a text as demanding as Steigler’s. My concern rests on what work this book might be said to do on a practical scale: how can we use it? I ask this even while remaining open to the possibility that Steigler’s book can be understood as critical or at least wary of technoscience and its insistence on “useful finalities” (94). As Steigler asks,

    If technology, which for a long time has been synonymous with progress, is no longer necessarily perceived as such, or rather, it is is no longer obvious that progress is tantamount to benefit for the human race, a feeling found deep in the multifarious reactions of resistance to development, can it still be affirmed that technoscience submits theory to useful finalities—usefulness still being understood as usefulness-for-humanity?

    So, maybe the question is not how we use this book but whether we “use” it? That is, is Steigler’s argument anti-technology or, rather, anti-instrumentality—the insistence (we might say) that everything must have a use? This, we could argue, is a critique that might be politically valuable insofar as it is part of the logic of capital: How can we use this, which leads to How can we sell this?

  4. The predominant thrust of Stiegler’s Technics and Time is, as the title suggests, an attempt to organize a conceptual model for technical development as it relates to temporal progression. Here, Stiegler approaches technological innovation from a system of interlinking and interdependent systems dispersed through the temporal bounds of human existence (94).

    Part of the utility of this text, is that it promotes a dramatic reconsideration of more traditional modes of assessing technical innovation and development. In direct contradiction to the popular rhetoric of machinic transformation, Stiegler denies the importance of the individual to technological advancement. He argues that, “there is no ‘genius of peoples’ at the origin of the phenomenon,” because this type of analysis denies more profound determinisms, and can’t account for evidence of universal technical tendencies. Furthermore, following on the work of Leroi-Gourhan, he argues that there is no validity to the supposition that technical innovation derives from high culture, or that it radiates, “in concentric circles of cultural influence” (53).

    To quite a different end, Stiegler argues for a model that emphasizes geography as opposed to the ethnic, the individual, or the cultural. Here, citing Leroi-Gourhan pretty exhaustively, Stiegler proposes the example of the “central-Asiatic hub.” Between Great Britain and Japan civilization materializes in general proximity to an axis. This population density, as Stiegler illustrates, results from the climatic benefits that people experience along this axis. Essentially, Stiegler is working to develop a theory of Technics that correlates to “human geography” (55).

    Though older technologies and historical patterns of technological development affirm Stiegler’s suppositions concerning innovation before the twenty-first century, his theories don’t quite hold in consideration of more contemporary technologies and patterns of development. This, of course, results partially from a diffusion of the materials/resources necessary to the evolution and production of certain technologies. This also results from the nature of technical innovation as it relates to the virtual realm. Arguably, the crucial difference between contemporary technological innovation and that of past millennia is that whereas older technological changes were affected by dramatic shifts in the physical, contemporary developments occur through transformations in encoded information. The difference, following on Katherine Hayles lead in the Digital Dialectic, is between the physical and non-presence.

    To illustrate the validity of this reconsideration one need look no further than the greatest source of technological innovation in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; the digital. Although significant developments occur in relationship to the physical mechanics of the computer – such as increases in operating speed, and memory – some of the most notable developments occur in the virtual realm. Considering the centrality of the virtual to technical innovation, two important considerations become apparent:

    First, returning to Stiegler, should we concede that geographical locale is not nearly as significant as it was to developments of the past? If we allow that the proliferation of the computer, its ubiquity globally, has freed it of any particular locale, might it be time to move beyond geography? Of course, this creates other problems. Heeding Stiegler’s warnings about ethno and individual-centered explanations of technical development, how might we be able to establish an appropriate taxonomy of innovation as it relates to the temporal present?

    The second series of questions/suggestions are also relevant to Stiegler’s emphasis on geography. Perhaps, it would be better to read that the computer produces geographies of its own; that the computer can act as host to a variety of worlds where technical development occurs. Though this seems to affirm Stiegler’s emphasis on geography as opposed to ethnicity, it remains to be seen if the geographical differences have any effect on Stiegler’s suppositions.

  5. I must begin this week’s reading by admitting it took me several attempts through the Technics and Time text before I understood the material. I even downloaded an analysis of Technics from Wikipedia, highlighted points that I thought were important, and I still didn’t understand. I came to class last week with a profound ignorance of the theorists and message Stiegler was trying to install. Then sometime on Friday morning, I got it: Technics is the study of how we became technical. Since I have a Christian upbringing, I never thought about the various mechanisms within our psyche that the philosophers within the text examine. This text had me thinking of creation in a new manner.

    In the beginning of the book, Stieger hypothesizes that “between the inorganic beings of the physical sciences and the organized beings of biology, there does indeed exist a third genre of ‘being’: ‘inorganic organized beings,’ or technical objects” (17). By focusing on the works of Bertrand Gille, Andre Leroi-Gourhan, and Gilbert Simondon he furthers the argument that humans had to have been created with technical knowledge in order to invent tools and in order to have the skills including politeness and elegance. However, it was the creation of the human which Stiegler emphasized in a portion of the text that intrigues me. In a circumlocutory example of writing, Stiegler says the “whole discourse of origin is enigmatic and old” tied into the fall into the sublunary world (96) elaborating on ideas first posed by Aristotle and Plato. Stiegler calls into question the “extreme audacity” of theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s supposition from the Holy Scripture that man always walked on two feet (111). Then through Leroi-Gourhan denounces Charles Darwin’s evolution theory as an error to directly link the gorilla to man (145). Leroi-Gourhan proposes a new form of evolution based on the skeletons Zinjanthropian discovered in 1959 that was accompanied with a stone implement. Stiegler then concluded the text with philosophical belief that humans originate from the Gods of Greek mythology.

    I found myself Googling each topic and realized there are many theories and/or myths as to the creation of humans including Scientology which has man created tens of trillions of years ago from extraterrestrial civilizations. Scientology founder Ron Hubbard also believes man is born with past knowledge in the form of “implants” from these extraterrestrials. I can certainly see why Stiegler omits Scientology from his text; however, I mention this because it’s another theory used in context today regarding the evolution of man, and theories are meant to be debated. My religious upbringing taught me to believe there is a God who created man in his image, and I believe it is this man who was created with the technical knowledge Stiegler speaks of. It’s quite ironic that this Sunday’s sermon in my Christian church was “Genesis 1: God’s Involvement in Creation and Human History.” The sermon briefly skimmed over the story of Adam and Eve then digressed to the world becoming so evil that God eliminated everyone except for Noah’s family and pair of animals on the famous ark. However, our sermon focused on the fact that “God wrote His law into the human heart;” thereby, man would instantly know His laws. Isn’t this similar to Stiegler’s assumption in the first few pages that humans were created with technics—skills like honor and obey from God’s Laws certainly have to be related to politeness and elegance? A secondary question I have is: If God thought man was so evil with man-made implements, what would he think of the world today and the evil technology has brought?

  6. Stiegler’s Technics and Time captured the significance of writing as a deeply political act. The transmission of knowledge, the technological forms that record knowledge, and access to these technological forms serve as the primary conditions under which a democratic space can plunder or thrive, depending on the level that each citizen can actively engage with techne and share in the process or interpreting and expressing ‘hermeneutical knowledge.’ For Stiegler, the Greek myths of Epimetheus and Prometheus describe the condition of humanity in relation to the concept of prosthesis. But rather than regard prosthesis as a supplement for loss, Stiegler notes that “a pros-thesis is what is placed in front, that is, what is outside, outside what it is placed in front of” (193). Therefore, prosthesis is a condition in which something is added. Our ability to invent, imagine, and discover are qualities of techne that produce the human condition, but with the capacity for self-destruction.
    According to Greek myth, Zeus feared humanity’s tendency towards self-destruction and ordered Hermes “to impart men [with] the qualities of respect for others (modesty, respect, shame, finitude) and a sense of justice, so as to bring order into our cities and create a bond of friendship and union” (200). These qualities were given to all humans and meant to be shared by all. With the popular spread of alphabetic writing in Greece, the techne of writing was no longer unevenly distributed simply among specialists: “It is not the philosopher, the sophist says, who will lead the city, but the city itself through its coming together. What brings this togetherness about is the feeling of shame, that is of finitude” (201). Although humans are gifted with the qualities of respect for others and a sense of justice, the method in which these qualities must be achieved is through active decision-making, interpreting, and translating of hermeneutical knowledge. One cannot be forced to participate, but rather, it should be meaningful and decided by all involved in a gathering — with the willingness to repeat the decision-making time and time again.
    “The pressing need for a politics of memory,” as Stiegler suggests, would place technics in the forefront of understanding and reflecting upon the human condition, especially through his equation of tools with memory and their function as image-consciousness: “the tool refers in principle to an already-there, to a fore-having of something that the who has not itself necessarily lived, but which comes under it in its concern” (255). Writing — as tool, as memory, as image-consciousness — is techne that allows one “to forget the self, to let one’s other be — but an other who is not a self, nor one’s own, but quite other…it is not a return to self but a moving-outside into effects (of writing), a moving toward the world” (265-66). By being outside of the self through the act of writing, humans achieve the reflection necessary to understand time, finitude, and the possibilities available through the prostheses around us. How will writing in the digital age – “what is true of a person who writes is true of humanity in general qua an organism that invents and produces” (264) – contribute to this politics of memory, especially since Stiegler claims that writing is “nothing but a radicalization of that of the memory of the human,” (265) and how will issues of access to technology affect this politics of memory?

  7. A complex theoretical work, Technics and Time, presented this reader a significant challenge. I feel that it may take me a lifetime to sort through all of the complex theories that Bernard Stiegler masterfully wove into his first instillation of his trilogy of texts on technical rhetoric. After studying the work considerably, I feel more baffled then when I began and because of this have written far more than I should have (so – I beg you, dear reader, to forgive me). What I have gotten from the text is the hum of ideas and thoughts about technical evolution and philosophical inquiry that may or may not have an answer. It certainly has me fretting in new ways (often in the middle of the night) about the relationship that man has with the machine.
    The text starts innocently enough comparing teckne and episteme, or technical and empirical knowledge. The history of these terms and the issues of technical evolution begin with an ancient feud born between the sophists and a rival philosopher. The philosopher accused the sophists of the instrumentation of logos “as rhetoric and logography…both an instrument of power and renunciation of knowledge” (1). What came from this was a “devaluing of technical knowledge” and the idea that the technical fails to maintain dynamic power or the ability to change. Physical bodies were later divided into subcategories, the organic and the inorganic, or biology and mechanics. Biological life was thought able to evolve where mechanical remained static. Centuries later, Karl Marx took this idea and began to bat around the idea of an evolution of technics through the use of the tool and the hand (2). Later philosophers began to branch off of this idea and during the heat of the Industrial Revolution new ideas were brought out about the relationship of biology and the mechanical. The lines between the two began to steadily blur and with it the birth of the technical being, a hybrid of the biological and the mechanical worlds.

    The first part of the text examines the relationship that Marx first observes between man and the tool. Heidegger stretched the boundaries of that initial relationship and invents the idea of Gestell, an idea that machines have replaced man as the masters of nature (23-4). In this new reality, man becomes the assistant of the machine.

    What interests me the most is where Stiegler begins to look at the relationship between invention and the technical object in the second chapter. The technical evolution, he and others theorize, is thought to occur independent of mankind and thus alienating mankind. He examines the work of Leroi-Gourhan , who we learn earlier did work on the history of life in which he considered from technical terms. He examined the ethnicity of mankind and how the divisions of geography that maintained the purity of ethnicity have eroded through the introduction of greater technical evolution (55-58). The membrane separating the ethnicities made possible through geographical separation grows thin and permeates, changing the structure of ethnicity. What results is a mega-ethnic group as the ethnicities merge as they become connected through the technological bridge (61-5). Technology’s advancement brings man together thus erasing his ethnicity more rapidly and creating something foreign. This all occurs seemingly beyond the control of mankind.

    Like ethnicity, the advancements of technology seem to mutate the nature of man in other areas. Steigler cites the work of Maurice Blanchot who examined the advancements of harnessing nuclear power and the changes this has brought to man. Man, he believes, is becoming “astral” and thus dehumanized and denaturalized(90). He makes us question not if the “nature of man is threatened” but if “mankind ever was in nature (88).”
    It is this argument that leads me to revisit a text I read some years ago by Brian Swimme, a Ph.D. specializing in mathematical cosmology and director of the Center for the Story of the Universe and instructor at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. His book, The Universe is a Green Dragon, examines the nature of man and his relation to the universe in which he (man) is a part of. In his book he states:

    “Most amazing is this realization that everything in the universe came from a common origin. The material of your body and the material of my body are intrinsically related because they emerged from and are caught up in a single energetic event. Our ancestry stretches back through the life forms and into the stars, back to the primeval fireball. This universe is a single multiform energetic unfolding of matter, mind, intelligence, and life. And all of this is new. None of the great figures of human history were aware of this. Not Plato, or Aristotle, or the Hebrew Prophets, or Confucius, or Thomas Aquinas, or Leibniz, or Newton, or any other world-maker. We are the first generation to live with the empirical view of the origin of the universe. We are the first humans to look into the night sky and see the birth of the stars, the birth of the galaxies, the birth of the cosmos as a whole. Our future will be forged with this new story of the world.” (28-9)

    According to Swimme, we are all stardust, as is the inorganic material around us. We are all the same matter and thus part of one another. I can’t help but hold onto this idea as I read Stiegler. I do not believe that the evolutionary strides made in technology nor the alterations it helps to manifest in the evolution of mankind, despite how exponential, are unnatural. I think back to the idea of the relationship of man and the tool that Marx discusses. I believe that technology is but an extension of mankind. It is not the master of mankind, but part of it. The cyberfication of man does not make him less human, but simply changes the context of his form. If indeed man is able to extend himself beyond the perameters of his form and inject himself into the stars of cyberspace, is he not still a man? Of course, this leads us back to what the definition of man is. If man is stardust and everything else around him is made of the same stardust, then man and the universe are one in the same. If the tool in our hand is also stardust, then if we use it, is it not also part of man and the universe it is within? Humanity is relative and how one defines it changes with how one sees the universe and the expansion of time. If the expansion of the universe is the expansion of time, we cannot separate the two. Evolution of any kind is natural because it is simply a physical alteration happening with the same material. A pile of sticks and a home are both made of wood and the alteration of the physical form does not change that. The physical change of man brought on through the technology he manipulates may change the physical form of man but not the man himself. The astral man is still a man, and thus natural. It is all in the atoms.

    Works Cited
    Stiegler, Bernard. Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth & George Collins, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998
    Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon. New Mexico: Bear and Company, 1984

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: