Introduction by : Pierre Petiot
I heard about Bernard Stiegler at meetings of the Copyleft Attitude group, a group of French artists who created the Licence Art Libre (Free Art License), an equivalent of free software licenses, but for artworks. At the time, it was the first of such licenses. Creative Commons licenses came later. Bernard Stiegler was at this moment the only true philosopher of Free Software in France and more generally the only serious philosopher of digital technologies and the Internet. He was creating new thoughts on what was in the process of happening. I read him immediately. And I quickly realized that Stiegler was much more broadly a philosopher of technology. A rare species 1, because Culture – not only the so said “Western Culture” – was and remains heir to Plato, ignores and despises technology as well as its main users, i.e. the workers. From its beginnings in ancient Greece, philosophy has been a class thought, a thought of slavers. With a few exceptions, including Karl Marx but not only, it has largely remained so.
Stiegler saw digital technologies as as important as the invention of speech and writing. But he had inherited from the ancient Greeks the notion of pharmaka, that is to say things which, depending on how they are used, may be poisons or remedies 2 . At the time, the WWW essentially appeared as a remedy, and far from being the kind of technology marvel as the journalists were singing, it was first of all a wonderful global collaboration where millions of people had joined, spontaneously and free of charge, to create content in all areas of knowledge. There had already been network computing experiences 3 but they had developed little because nothing is sadder than an empty network.
But of course, digital technologies are pharmaka, and the masters of the world immediately set about turning the WWW into poison. They appropriated what a few technicians had offered to the people, to Mankind as a whole, to transform it into a power of oppression. This theft was first called Web 2.0, then “social networks”, then Amazon, then Uber and a thousand other traps, highly harmful to the freedom and mental sanity of human beings.
The world has never lacked prophets of doom shouting at any time that “this will all end badly 4“. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st have largely illustrated this universal rule, and faced with the installation of the disaster that they themselves had announced, the prophets of doom have, as usual, illustrated themselves by their total inaction, their complete absence of the smallest support 5 to those who nevertheless were fighting the private appropriation of a common good of Humanity by Capitalism 6.
This was not the case with Stiegler who, on the contrary, through his work and many books attempted to analyze in detail the process of planned generalized stupidity inaugurated by the printed press, then continued by radio, television, and finally by means of digital technologies …
Thinking and books hence, but not only. Because Stiegler is obviously not only a philosopher but a man of action too, since he began his philosophical career with a hold-up of the very bank which had refused him a loan to operate the Jazz club he had created 7. As a consequence of this adventure and a of couple of similar others, he spent 5 years in prison 8, which gave him food for thought and enabled him to obtain a PhD in philosophy in 1993.
From 1984 to 2006 he held, in various public French institutions, several positions of director of research and studies in the area of digital technologies implementation in the public domain, then that of deputy director of the National Audio-visual Institute 10, director of the Institute for Acoustic / Music Research and Coordination 11, director of cultural development of the Pompidou Center, member of the National Digital Council, etc.
As soon as one gets to know Stiegler a little, one realizes that the different positions where he happened to work essentially constituted for him means of acting and transforming the world.
Well… I shall have to be forgiven for having had to briefly recall Bernard Stiegler’s biography, but the notice devoted to him in English Wikipedia (August 2020) being appallingly poor, I hence had no other choice. However, the list of works by Stiegler provided in this English wikipedia notice is valuable.
Let us now come to Stiegler’s text that this introduction aims to present. This text is taken from the final pages of the afterword to Stiegler’s seminal book, La Technique et le Temps (Technology and Time). Stiegler never stopped adding to this book all his life long, and this afterword dates from March 2017.
As I often approach books by their end, I first (and still only) read the last 3 pages and I immediately found several references to surrealism. This was very unusual. I was strongly struck by the fact that this man, of whom I after all happened to read a dozen books, this man who never ceased to fight programmed stupidity and ignorance, finally concludes that the only possible (intellectual) way out of the ongoing disaster, is surrealism.
More exactly A surrealism, a technically armed surrealism, an encyclopedic surrealism, open to technology, to its risks and its struggles, a surrealism determined to not only dream, but just as much to realize its dreams. A surrealism determined to work the world. To transform it.
Bernard Stiegler died on August 5, 2020 with the clarity of suicide. He was 15 days younger than I. I sometimes happened to chat with him, without boredom on either side. The only title that I ever mentionned about myself when approaching him was “surrealist”.
Given the loathsome jargon of postmodernists of which Stiegler was a pupil, I took Stiegler’s text in its original “Postmodernist French” version, translated it into ordinary French in the form of footnotes, then translated the whole thing into English. I hope that one will nevertheless perceive in it, the mixture of immense despair and hope that Stiegler reveals to those who can read it under the ugly and tortured arabesques of postmodernist language.
1 Other examples are André Leroi-Gourhan, Gilbert Simondon and of course, Karl Marx.
2 This is obviously the case with drugs, hence the word pharmacy.
3 For example the Minitel in France, and to, some extent, the Internet itself before the WWW.
4 And it is true that everything ends badly because in the end we die.
5 Not to more simply say their direct and fierce opposition
6 Unfortunately it must be noted a good number of surrealists did not even notice what was happening and did not move a finger to oppose it..
7 He previously had worked in quite a number of various trades such as agricultural worker, waiter, goat breeder, restaurant owner, etc.
8 From 1978 to 1983
9 Under the direction of Jacques Derrida
10 Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), the national institute responsible for archiving audio and visual works in France.
11 Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique-Musique, (IRCAM) created by Pierre Boulez and other musicians.
Three pages of La Technique et le Temps, translation and notes by : pierre petiot
The noetic loop, its flavors 1 and absolute non-knowledge as fixed capital
Unlike the sensorimotor loop that the tick’s circuit is, the noetic loop is a whorl: it forms the spiral of ubris where the exosomatic 2 drift occurs, which is a trans-formation of the world and of living environments through organological 3 – and not only organic – production which reveals a new type of diversification by artificial selection, constituting not only a local differance 4 of entropy, that is to say a negentropy 5, but an exorganologically located neganthropy.
Organological 6 neganthropy 7 is not a negentropy: it is not produced by the living, but by the non-living placed at the service of the living being, that is in turn placed at its service: clothing, tools, artificial organs, paths, roads , dwellings, cities, engrammages 8, mail, computers, networks … everything that makes up the world is made up of such pharmaka 9, where social relations of obligation and domination are established, that are more or less functional and dysfunctional. Neganthropy therefore always produces an increase in the rate of entropy, for example through the dissipation of energy and the destruction of living environments and of organisms themselves during what geographers describe as anthropization.
But organological transformation (exosomatic organogenesis 10) is also what produces neganthropy. Neganthropology and its neganthropic production, which results from exosomatization, only materialize through the knowledge that they require, and which, in so far as they take care of the pharmaka in order to intensify their neganthropic possibilities, are therapeutics 11. This knowledge produces flavors, that is to say differences, noodiversified 12 nuances by which the exosomatic being 13 constantly rises towards a noesis which is more than human, which is always super-human – like the cosmos is always sur-realistic: the cosmos, which is not only the Universe, is made up of places from which arise improbable possibilities, surreal 14 in that.
This tendency contained in the exosomatization is however and perpetually destroyed by the opposite, anthropic 15, homogeneous tendency, dictating to the very great noetic diversity forming the noodiversity, the obligations to which it is forced to adapt, in particular since capitalism has seized the Western knowledge to make it a production function and an economic domination power by means of calculation.
Thus, the episteme of capitalism is formed which, having become the purely and simply computational fixed capital, tends to transform knowledge into information systems since the appearance of digital tertiary retention 16, concretizing what Marx’s “Fragment on machines” described as an automation achieved by the integration and total absorption of knowledge into this fixed capital – which in reality leads to the disintegration of knowledge in, through, and as, absolute non-knowledge 17.
The question is therefore to cultivate the possibility of a neganthropological bifurcation 18 directly on and from the computational exosomatization, and as its prescriptive therapy, which requires the organological invention of new data architectures designed in close relation with academic organizations revisiting, in the era of digital, the computational and reticular tertiary retentions, what Kant already described as a conflict of faculties 19.
1 “Flavors” in French is “saveurs” and has the same origin as “savoir” (Eng. “knowledge”)
2 The word “exosomatic” denominates the external extensions of men’s bodies usually called “tools”.
3 In Stiegler’s view, tools are seen as external organs. Their study is therefore called “organology”.
4 Having never read anything by Postmodernist authors, I shall not discuss about what the French term “différance” means in their writtings. It would probably be too long anyway. The word différance has been coined by Jacques Derrida because he noted that “différer” has two meanings in French. The most frequent one is “to be different from”, just like in English. A less frequent meaning but quite used too is “to occur with some delay” such as in “l’opération a dû être différée” which in English would be “the operation had to be postponed”. As there was no noun corresponding to this second meaning in French, Derrida created the word “différance”. In this case the meaning is that the increase of entropy has been locally delayed or postponed.
5 Entropy is a complex and somewhat slippery notion that has often been equated with disorder, So negentropy relates to the order spontaneously created by open systems (among which living beings), that is, systems that are exchanging matter and energy with the outside world. Negentropy has sometimes been equated with the notion of information due to a high similarity between the mathematical expression for Entropy and Claude Shannon’s definition of Information..
6 Since tools and techniques are external organs, the associated corpus of knowledge is an organology
7 I must say at this point in my reading, I am still not yet sure what the term neganthropy means in Stiegler’s thought.. But that will become clearer later on
8 “Engrammage” is anything recorded in some kind of memory. Mostly, but not only, graphical forms of memory, like writing or the equivalents of writing in digital or electronic technologies.
9 “Pharmaka” is the plural of the Greek word “pharmakon”. With the ancient Greeks and with Stiegler a pharmakon is something which can be both poison and remedy. In Stiegler’s view, this is the case with all tools and technologies. To which I would personally add the theories, ideas, etc.
10 As a first approximation, “exosomatic organogenesis” is more simply the process of technological evolution.
11 At this point of the reading, perhaps we may make the following approximation: Neganthropy would be as regards men the equivalent of what negentropy is more generally for living beings, i.e. the capacity to produce order from disorder . But in the case of human beings, due to the use of tools and energies external to the living human body, neganthropy includes a part of entropy increase and hence also produces disorder (physical and also human and-or social disorders in particular). Yet, taking care of tools and techniques, that is to say enhancing the “remedy” side associated with these pharmaka that tools always are, by identifying their “poison” sides, makes it possible to reduce this production of entropy (of disorder – again, social disorders among others.). What must then be taken care of, is not only tools and techniques as such, but more particularly, and even especially, the relations which are built between the human beings and their tools, as well as the transformations that tools and technologies induce in humans, whether at the physical level (e.g. Cancer) or at the mental and intellectual level. Neganthropy according to Stiegler therefore includes the specific sort of knowledge which makes it possible to make a non-toxic use of tools. This is why Stiegler says that neganthropy is a kind of therapeutics.
12 “Noo” denominates thought and “Noo-diversified” thus designates diverse, varied thoughts. An equivalent as regards thought of biodiversity in Biology.
13 In other words Man
14 This is one of two sentences where Stiegler refers to surrealism and it is not trivial. Although I do not like the term “surreal” at all, its use here seems – for once – justified.
Realism – scientific or not – is a reductionism. It claims to describe the Cosmos as it is. But it only describes what it is by systematically “forgeting” what it can become at any moment. Realism as opposed to SUR-realism, claims to eradicate the possible, the unexpected, from the description of the Universe. But when considered from the human world, the Cosmos also includes what the Universe can become, it includes the spontaneous transformations of the Universe as well as the transformations that human activity produces within the Universe. Transformations as opposed to interpretations alone, as Marx said when he said that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world and it is now a question of transforming it”. We may note that in a similar way, the physicist Ilya Prigogine writes that, from now on, science is no longer reduced to describing what is, but according to Prigogine’s own expression “designates (indicates) possibilities“.
15 Stiegler’s thought is here built on an analogy, the couple anthropy-neganthropy is the analog of the couple entropy-negentropy. Entropy-Neguentropy is a couple of opposites that apply to the physico-chemical domain (biology included) while the couple anthropy-neganthropy applies to the human and social domain. Anthropy is something like an equivalent of “human mess and human induced mess”.
16 As first approximation, retention means memory. But a memory which is not necessarily stored in a memory, but just anywhere in tools, habits, traditions, in any of the material of non material artifacts created by human activity.
17 Stiegler extended Marx’s proletarianization concept, that is to say the permanent tendency of Capitalism to integrate human knowledge within the production systems (i.e. machines and much more) which globally constitute, for Marx as for other economists, “fixed capital”.
Technical knowledge was previously created and maintained by craftsmen. It is easy to understand the interest, both economic and political, for Capitalism in doing without craftmen and workers know-how that it has to pay for and, on the contrary, to have low paid operatives who no longer know anything.
But in this process, knowledge itself, once integrated into machines disappears from the global social knowledge (and in this the technophobes and their contempt of any technical knowledge can be considered as precious auxiliaries of Capitalism).
I can testify because I happened to have lived it directly that the deployment of the old “Artificial Intelligence”, that of “expert systems” explicitly consisted in extracting the know-how of executants who were taking advantage of some specific knowledge (i.e. Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers) in order to incorporate their knowledge into databases and exploit this knowledge through algorithms and logic browsing these databases so as to “answer questions”, “solve problems” and “produce solutions”.
Current Artificial Intelligence goes much further in the sense that it now allows – through the use of neural networks and so-called “deep learning” – to directly produce knowledge, without using human brains. For a (so-called) machine, to learn is one thing, but what it has learned is opaque, totally inaccessible to human brains and is no longer known at all to anyone. Literally speaking in the course of this process, human knowledge has totally disappeared.
Moreover, Stiegler very early on extended Marx’s concept of proletarianization – the loss of know-how – to other areas, such as the loss of know-how-to-live (i.e. for instance, the French “savoir vivre“, the art of refining and increasing pleasures) and the loss of know-how-to-know, in other words the loss of the very conditions and knowledge required by the production of any knowledge whatsoever.
18 The term bifurcation here most probably constitutes a reference (obviously metaphorical!) to the mathematical and physical meaning of the word in the bifurcation theory which is a part of the theory of dynamic systems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bifurcation_theory.
Very roughly ; in dynamic systems, a very slight change sometimes drives the system to take a completely different behavioral path, in a way that may not really be predicted.
This is also true of open systems and hence of living beings.”.
19 Never having read Kant, I cannot say anything of the “conflict of faculties”. But what Stiegler is proposing here is that the University (and more generally society as a whole) seize on digital technologies and transform them in such a way as to incorporate or add to them the knowledge which would constitute remedies intended for annihilating or reducing their toxicity. It is the fact of seizing and using for a completely different purpose what is there, that the expression “directly on and from the computational exosomatization” emphasizes. This in situationist terms would be called “détournement“.
One may be surprised at the hopes that Stiegler always placed in the University. But I remember hearing Stiegler calling for the constitution of “knowledge co-operatives” – what surrealism could be if it wanted to care – but historically the University was created as a knowledge co-operative, and although in a much lesser extent, university remains such a co-operative.
Thinking as a critique of political economy: learning storytelling 20
This conflict is also and first of all a conflict of functions in exosomatization itself – and insofar as these functions are mathematizable. We must heal 21 this conflict of functions (and faculties) in order to reorient exorganisms towards their negative anthropological destiny through a new macroeconomics bringing the Neganthropocene 22 to existence, where the microeconomically differentiated economy through relations of noodiversified scales 23 is made necessary by exosomatization in that, from the start, this requires the establishment of an economy that is substituted to biology – but which can only do so by always being both a general economy in Bataille’s meaning and a libidinal economy in the sense of the second Freudian topic 24.
Such an economy is and must remain political in that it is above all a science of criteria for artificial selection beyond the calculable, that is to say beyond the market 25. It would be necessary here to revisit and requalify the great politics, the politics of memory and great health from the transvaluation of the Nietzschean transvaluation. Such a politics, which is also a general and libidinal economy, supposes giving a new meaning to The German Ideology, as well as to Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. Through such a rereading, where the question would be to interpret the interpretation as a transformation of the world 26, it is not first of all a question of finding an alternative to capitalism, but of spawning an alternative to anthropy from anthropy itself 27, and this, not through the dialectic of the power of the negative, which only leads to the impotence of resentment 28 , but as an economy of the irreducibly pharmacological tendencies of neganthropy – without any possible relief.
The state of emergency that has become the state of affairs of capital as smart and soft totalitarianism requires a new rule of law cultivated according to the realities of contemporary exosomatization as they can and must give rise to a new knowledge, which, because it is not simply calculable, requires mobilizing the function of reason according to possibilities and impossibilities opened and closed by automated understanding. The function of this new reason can only be a new criticism. As a capacity for bifurcation and decision, it activates and reactivates (in the sense of Husserl) the data supplied by high-performance computing to interpretation as the power to bifurcate, that is to say as the power to act – to trans-form.
Such a problematic presupposes digital studies devoted to redesigning data architectures from the manufacturing functions of fingers such as, in exosomatization, the “digits” at the same time manufacture, count and tell stories. “Digital” here designates what ties calculation to fabrication and fabrication to storytelling. In other terms to the nocturnal and diurnal dream, which always supposes going beyond calculation. That is to say, precisely, the power to bifurcate, such as only knowledge, insofar as it takes care of the pharmakon by fictionalization, thus going beyond the anthropic dimension of exosomatic organs and their organization, is capable of reopening sur-real perspectives of a future.
In these new perspectives, the duty of the thrifty beings that we must be is no longer simply moral: it is economic in Nietzsche’s meaning, which also means that it is cosmic. Based on the noetic power to dream and to realize one’s dreams , which is the condition for exosomatization beyond reality, it must put itself at the service of a surrealist and serendipitous cosmology, using any possible available means to reach its goals : quasi-causal.
Bernard Stiegler – March 2017
20 In French “compter” (Eng. To count) sounds exactly as “conter”(Eng.; To tell stories)
21 Here is a French play on words between “penser “(to think) and “panser” (to heal).
22 The Neganthropocene is the type of human organization that must allow us to emerge from the Anthropocene, that is to say from this geological era when man has become a geological force – somewhat destructive it is true.
23 Stiegler is referring here to the type of socio-economic organization that he tried to implement through the “Plaine Commune” project, bringing together the means and efforts of a number of municipalities in the northern suburbs of Paris.
24 I am quite uneducated both as regards “the general economy of Georges Bataille” and as regards the second Freudian topic.
However, I observe that Stiegler perseveres in the traditional separation between Nature and Culture, which in my opinion is very bad, in that it perpetuates the Platonic and assimilable visions and also the religious conceptions of the Abrahamic religions which led us to the ongoing ecological disaster. It is true that, as it was often noted by critics remarks during his lectures, the thought of ecology is not his strong point.
Perhaps he simply missed having noticed that all living things are technical in the sense that the slightest virus knows how to do what it needs to do, and that it is not ridiculous – but correct – to think that the any virus uses the cell it infects as a tool, so that the slightest virus also has exosomatic capacities, even if they are of course, unconscious.
We may say things differently, although less profoundly: like all other human capacities, technical capacities percolate and increase in all living things down to man. Either we assume that they are radically human and therefore come from we know only too well which sky, or we recognize their origins, traces, mechanisms, inventions, tricks and evolution through the whole evolutionary process of life. Between God and Darwin one has to choose.
25 “A science of criteria for artificial selection beyond the calculable” refers to the ideas that Stiegler has been developing in recent years, namely about going beyond the limits of the calculable (ideas based for instance on reflections by Alan Turing – and other theoricists of mathematics and computing – on computability) and about the art and way of going beyond the limits of calculation.
What is at stake is hence selection criteria (for data, tools and architectures – IT or others) that would directly emerge from beyond calculation itself and lead us in a different cultural path.
The question here is quite simply the question of preserving human freedom as it is now faced with its destruction by the unleashed computerized market forces. Moreover, obviously, the Bourgeoisie is in essence the class which calculates and which counts.
26 It is not easy to understand the phrase “to interpret the interpretation as a transformation of the world” in the context of Stiegler’s thought. On the one hand, we may imagine that Stiegler is speaking here of the power of transformation which also resides in the interpretation of the world. This would cover the use of the word “interpretation” itself. But on the other hand the use of the word “to interpret” in the expression “to interpret the interpretation as a transformation of the world” may refer to the musical field since Stiegler was for some years director of IRCAM (Institute of Research and Coordination for Acoustics / Music) near the Pompidou Center in Paris. In this case, the noetic loop would be of the type Transformation → Interpretation → Interpretation (“physical”) of the interpretation, that is to say the effective implementation of the imaginary in the real, hereby transforming the real. Which seems consistent with the rest of this text.
Assuming that imagination is based on randomness, what is here suggested by Stiegler is similar to the project of Muad’Dib the God-Emperor of Dune in the novel series by Frank Herbert : make mankind’s behavior random enough so that it may escape any threats based on computable predictions.
I would like to add that Marx’s project is literally an alchemical project in the sense that Alchemy, far from the highly secret and mysterious esoteric and symbolic kind of sauces to which it has so often been reduced, is essentially a project of transformation of Man through the practical as well as the intellectual experience of the transformation of matter. When the alchemist works to refine matter, he is working, in the same process and more fundamentally, in refining and transforming himself. In other words, alchemical thought is essentially a thought of work. Besides, Alchemy is originally very probably the offspring of craftsmen knowledge. It is therefore not very surprising to find some scents of Alchemy in the context of the workers emancipation movement. The above remark about the transformation of man through the alchemical work is central and appears to be valid in both “Western” Alchemy and “Muslim” Alchemy, although it is more readily tinted with mysticism in the latter case. In the traditional view of Alchemy, the alchemical experience is assumed to be an individual, solitary experience. In Marx’s view the solitary alchemist is replaced by the whole of human society.
27 Anthropy is hence entropy of human origin, in other words the disorder (social and intellectual disorder too) resulting from human activities as long as they are not mitigated or corrected by neguanthropy, that is to say by healing and correcting, within human activities, the various forms of toxicity that may result from the unbridled use of technologies.
28 What Stiegler is proposing here is action, action here and now – or to put it more simply and more radically, the establishment of a form of production based on the imagination – instead of the cries and wailings of most WW2 Parisian surrealists generation (Vinvent Bounoure and a number of others excluded) and of many other people, alas, instead of the lazy expectations of a revolutionary “big night” too. It should be noted that the traditional attitudes of “absolute revolt” which are more pose than action also consist, as usual, in interpreting the world instead of transforming it, thus reducing any active revolt to some sort of religious passivity. This, in opposition and in total contradiction with “the real movement which abolishes the current state” referred to in Marx’s German Ideology.
It should be noted too that a production form based on the imagination is very near to Bounoure’s and Effenberger’s vision and proposals in La Civilisation Surréaliste (1976)..
The originality of Stiegler here is to put the emphasis on work, that is to say to suggest to work here and now, “right into and from the existing society”. This is reminiscent too of the importance of the word “work” in Debord’s sentence relating to “prosituationists”: “in the work of the negative, they hate the negative and also the work“.