You are on page 1of 6

Notes on Stiegler’s Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation

(0) INTRODUCTION S begins by unpacking the “disorientation” of the title by contrasting the lives of humans two centuries ago versus those of today. Rather than keying in on any particular change between human experience now and then, he suggest it is the pace of change itself that is the determinative difference; whereas two centuries ago an individual could assume they would live in the same environment in which they were born, performing the same routines, having the same diet, by the nineteenth century “stability had become the exception and change the rule” (1). The primary causal factor for this shift, S tells us, is technics, which he will parse as both “technology and techno-science” (1.) The emphasis placed on the role of technics in cultural (and biological-material) change will not be new to readers of the first volume of T & T, which forwarded the thesis that the human (the human body, human culture) and the artificial (the inorganic and technological) have been co-dependent from the earliest stages of hominid development, with technics’ impact on human development predating that of sociality (“technogenesis” S writes, precedes “socio-genesis”). For S, the technics and the human (subject) are co-constitutive or, (using Gilbert Simondon’s term), “transductive”: what S calls the what of the inorganic and the who of the human subject can only appear in relation to each other (2). S spends significant time in the introduction rehearsing the central arguments of the earlier volume, but also makes clear the different approach taken in Disorientation. Perhaps most importantly, whereas T & T 1 focused on the fact that techno-genesis is prior to socio-genesis (or, as S writes, on establishing “why the analysis of temporal constitution must take into account the prosthetic specifics conditioning access to the already-there”), T & T 2 devotes its attention to the how of this process, the ways in which it has “taken place throughout modern history” (7). Another notable difference is the emphasis on space (and spatial thinking) in this volume; although, as the title suggest, “time” remains a central concept, S relies on spatial metaphors and the organization of objects and representations on spatial planes throughout the text, beginning with the introduction’s reference to the “cardinal points” we traditionally used to mark the difference between the present and the past as well as between technical systems and social organizations, between “public and private, profane and sacred, strange and familiar, and so on” (3). These markers are, S tells us, typically used to manage or occlude the traumatic effects of socio-technical changes, but the “speed of technical disorientation since the Industrial Revolution” has led us to a more fundamental and permanent state of disorientation: disorientation as implicit in the process of individuation itself (3).

(1) THE ORTHOGRAPHIC AGE The second chapter of T & T 2, as the title suggests, traces the “genesis” of this disorientation; but in the first chapter, S backs up to trace the evolution of photographic, cinematic, and alphabetic systems of representation and their role in “re-doubling” the relationship between both technics and the human and of human subjectivity itself. In this objective S is extending/ critiquing fundamental insights of the work of both Heidegger and Derrida. In regards to

Heidegger, S keys in on the positing of a “pre” or “trans-” historial being in Heidegger’s work, a relation between the subject and the world that predates human “history” and Platonic metaphysics (cf. Michel Farr’s Heidegger and the Essence of Man). For S, Heidegger neglects to analyze the larger conditions in which one could ask this question -- how to “account for the very the very possibility of accounting for it” -- the ways in which a historial being is able to enter into its own history or recognize its status as “historial” in the first place (12). S’s answer will be writing (or, more specifically, the “exact recording” of the written alphabet); writing and later representational systems that attempt writing’s specificity liberate “a new possibility of access to the past” that has become our understanding of “historical temporality” itself. In regards to Derrida, S here is attempting “to develop a history of the supplement” beyond the one provided in Of Grammatology (12). For Derrida, the supplement is that vector that seems secondary (an aid or adjunct) to a central object or process that plays the role of the “original” or “natural,” but in fact it turns out we cannot tell whether the supplement enriches, replaces, or is in a co-constitutive relation with the original vector. Given that writing is one of Derrida’s most important examples of the supplement (writing as supplement to speech) and more specifically of the “re-doubled” supplement (writing as, in Derrida’s words, the “sign of a sign” that “marks the place of the initial doubling” the supplement to speech, which is already itself a supplement [OG 281]), and S is interested both in writing and re-doubling of reference/ recording here, his turn in this direction is not surprising. Similarly, given Stiegler’s emphasis on the priority of technics, it makes sense that in this chapter he will allege that the very designation of the “supplement”--the positing of a vector of technics such as writing in this role-has already presumed that technics cannot play the role of the “primary”: even in Derrida’s heterodox reading of this relationship, the supplement can be “at best” a replacement, an adjunct, or a constitutive factor of a larger entity, paradoxically reinforcing the secondary status of technics even as it attempts to undermine it. S’s proclamation of an (in English) “orthographic age” engages multiple meanings of the key term; “orthography” can refer to: ● the technical aspects of the written language (not just spelling, but capitalization, punctuation, accents, etc.);

a visual technique in cartography that represents the earth “at an infinite distance,” i.e., as if it is being seen from space; and

a mapping schema in Euclidean geometry in which two-dimensional space attempts to represent three-dimensional space.

S at least implicitly takes up all of these connotations of the term (as well as linking it to others, such the concept of orthotes in antiquity), drawing connections between his focus on orientation and relation (the cartographic usage) with, for instance, Husserls’ “idealities” as portrayed in “Origins of Geometry” (and Derrida’s introduction to same), and various moments in the itinerary of recent philosophical thought taking place in and between phenomenology and structuralism and the “linguistic turn” and postructuralism. Rather than start with writing, S begins his analysis instead with the photographic image (more specifically, with Roland Barthes’ reading of the same in Camera Lucida) and then precedes to cinema, earlier technologies of visual reflection and representation (mirrors, diagrams), and then to writing (and, in particular, debates in evolutionary linguistics, classics, and anthropology about the emergence of writing systems). There is much of interest in S’s compartmentalized analyses of these genealogies of technics and representation, but the larger curve of the chapter is an argument for an “orthographic” rather than “phonologic” perspective on the relationship between technics and time. The latter emphasizes/measures “the exactitude of the recording of the voice,” the former would emphasize “the exactitude of the recording of the voice” (13); e.g., the “orthographic” perspective here is one that takes the technics of the process as primary, the

ways in which any doubts as to the fidelity of a recording are themselves only a result of the ability to “record” itself. Writing is important here for S, as it creates the pivotal moment in which fidelity is taken for granted; as S writes in his summary of this chapter in T & T 2’s introduction: “When I read Plato or Heidegger, I do not question the reliability of the alreadythere” (8). S’s specific selection of the individual who most famously questioned the fidelity of writing (Plato) and one who was obsessed with the category of the “already-there” might seem initially strange. These choices are likely, however, meant to underscore the ways that S will invert the priorities accorded Plato and Heidegger (and, importantly in this chapter, Derrida), to the relationship between both form/content and technics/time. S is not interested in the “cheap trick” of widening the circle of a hermeneutics of suspicion here (e.g., if Derrida thinks the “represented” of writing is so contingent and aleatory, how can we trust the cohesiveness of his own texts?), but rather in resetting the starting point of these considerations by taking the essential role of technics for granted. As S writes near the end of the chapter, “the essentially techno-logical dimension of temporality can no longer be ignored” (63); if the very “thought of” historiality or ideality is impossible prior to technics, then we search in vain for the “prior” to a time in which technics did not mediate reality/time/history. To put it another way, it may be reasonable to suggest that technics served as a “supplement” or adjunct to human cognitive limitations, as S does (particularly in the next chapter) in identifying the exteriorization of memory into non-organic realms (writing, recordings, computer “memory”) as an attempt to ameliorate the “retentional finitude” of the human body (the limits to biological memory). However, the “historial” (and in all its important qualities, “time” itself) are quite literally created through the intersection of the human and technics.

(2) THE GENESIS OF DISORIENTATION In this chapter, S draws heavily on Andre Leroi-Gourhan’s earlier thematization of memory as biological processes of “recording” and later vectors that function as the “outsourcing” or exteriorization of these biological capacities in non-organic realms. Treating memory in this way requires Leroi-Gourhan to apply the term (“memory”), which we typically take to be essentially tied to some concept of subjectivity or sociality (one “has” memories and “records” memories through their experiences), to processes that predate these phenomena. L-G identifies three primary types of memory, referenced here by S: 1. “Specific” memory: the “specific” here is meant to bring to mind “species”; this category describes how animal genetics functions can be taken as composed of “recorded” and “recording” material (such as in our contemporary references to DNA transmission as the passing on of “information” or a “blueprint” for genetic development), 2. “Individual” memory: despite what the (English) term might suggest, this category refers to a non-subjective, unconscious memory of the nervous system. 3. “Ethnic” memory: also referred to by Stielger as “techno-logical memory,” this is the category of memory that circulates through the amalgamation of language and technology/culture and technics (our abilities to “record” memories in writing, data storage in computers, etc.). Leroi-Gourhan also contrasted, at length, animal, human, and machine memory as distinct categories (the human contains animal memory but moves beyond; humans also outsource

their memory to machines, which have taken on their own memory systems). Leroi-Gourhan’s supposition that a fourth field of memory (a “machinic memory”) formed through the feedback loop of machine memory and “ethnic” memory, is the primary target of S in this chapter. The incipience of this fourth category, our location in a transitional stage in shifts of memory systems, is, for Stiegler, the cause of our contemporary disorientation.

(3) THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF MEMORY Much as he traced the genealogy of orthographic representation in chapter 1, here S tracks various developments in information technology and the impact of information technology on such realms as mass media, cognitive science, and, ultimately, geopolitics. “Informatics” (the control of the circulation of exteriorized memory and thus “the industrial exploitation of information’s value” [102]), “telematics” (a medialogical simultaneity that destroys both the distance between audiences that might experience an event and the time it takes for “news” to travel), and “networks” (“new linkages of private and public power” [107]) all herald our transition into a fourth stage of “mechanical memory.” In relation to S’s primary argument about the priority of technics, contemporary information technology, playing a role analogous to that of the introduction of writing in Greek Antiquity, allows to see the separation of technics from language/reason (and the privileging of the latter) as a mistake: “The question of the relationship of technics to language that structured philosophy’s relationship to sophistics appears in a new form: as the extreme classicism of a question that led us to conceive prostheticity as originary and occluded the traditional logos/technē divide” (110). On the political effects of “industrialized memory,” Stiegler singles out, in particular, how telematic media has led journalism and similar endeavors from the task of recording and revealing events to that of participating in “eventi-ization,” the creating of events whole cloth (the creation of an “event” purely through the means of its capture, recording, and distribution). “Event-ization” might be taken as synecdoche for the trend in media under review throughout this chapter: the more flexible and dynamic creation, intensification, and multiplication of the act of recording or referencing in ways that make any attempt to distinguish between the “reality” being represented and its (technic-al) recording or representation (other notable examples S takes up are the ways that biotechnology’s apparatus of “coding” the body simultaneously makes the genetic body something that can be manipulated, and the ways in which cognitive science has become invested in the idea of creating technologies that replicate the process of human thought while ignoring the human thought was already intertwined with, dependent on, technics). As a primary cause of contemporary “disorientation,” the ubiquity of “alpha-numeric” technologies of software transcription have, for S, eliminated the “participative aesthetic” that marked literate culture (133). The “minimal reciprocity that connected the reader of a text with its author, namely that they share a techno-logic competency (that of literal/literate technology), is severed” when one can “read” the outputs of informatic technologies without have any knowledge of how they are created (S calls this “decommunitization”) (130). As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to think the question “Who programs what or that programs who?” or to chart stable coordinates in the feedback loop between technics and the human


(4) TEMPORAL OBJECT AND RETENTIONAL FINITUDE In the final chapter, S pursues two primary arguments. Largely through engagement with Husserl’s writings on temporality he demonstrates the impossibility of cleaving any sense of either “human” or “transcendent/natural” time apart from technics. Secondly, in reference to Heidegger’s assertion that humans embrace technics in a futile attempt to deny their own finitude, S suggests that finitude (or recognition of same as such) is itself a product of our originary imbrication with technics. Taking these cases together, for S, human retentional finitude can be seen as having undergone an “industrial synthesis” (240): the explicitly artificial temporal objects of contemporary technics are no longer discernible from the process of consciousness itself.