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Bernard Stiegler: An Introduction

Lecturer: Daniel Ross

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2017

With his first book, Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus (originally published in 1994), French philosopher Bernard Stiegler announced the grand scale of his ambitions by echoing the title of Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus. This volume staged an encounter with, and offered a critique of, Heidegger’s account of temporality, but also Derrida’s fundamental notion of différance, the philosophies of technology of Gilbert Simondon and Bertrand Gille, the account of the exteriorization of memory elaborated by André Leroi-Gourhan, and the myth of Prometheus and Epimtheus. With this volume, Stiegler set up a powerful and original account of the history of Western thought as founded on a repression: not of being, but of ‘technics’.

Technics and Time, 1 remains Stiegler’s best known work, yet in the 23 years since he has published more than thirty books: in addition to the second and third volumes of Technics and Time (respectively developing a profound rereading of Husserl and an account of the ‘cinematic construction of consciousness’), Stiegler has pursued his ‘pharmacological’ understanding of the relationship of technics and desire, in order to undertake a highly original political and cultural critique of the basis and fate of consumerist capitalism. Stiegler’s concern with the relationship between the libidinal economy and the productive economy has resulted in a powerful account of ‘proletarianization’ as the exhaustion of desire and destruction of intergenerational knowledge and relations that occurred throughout the twentieth century, continuing in the twenty-first via an attack on ‘reason’ (understood in all its senses) as such. This has led him to reflect, in particular, on the toxic and curative potential contained in the so-called ‘digital turn’. Most recently, he has turned towards the questions of automation, environmental destruction and the nihilism of contemporary politics, re-inscribing his entire philosophical apparatus into new terms and values, founded on a rereading of the concepts of entropy, anthropology and Anthropocene, asking under what conditions we can imagine, and invent, a way out of the current destructive path.

Stiegler’s work can be daunting, both because he assumes understanding of a large set of philosophical and other texts, and because his own monumental theoretical edifice can seem difficult to penetrate. Yet once the keys to this construction are supplied, the contours and spirals of his thought can be opened up to reveal a pathway towards addressing the profound questions and problems of contemporary existence that are today almost universally suffered and felt, if often in the mode of denial. This lecture series will provide those keys in a rigorous yet accessible way, making the shape of Stiegler’s thought comprehensible in a manner that will be of interest to students of philosophy and ‘theory’, but also to all those engaged with questions of technology, art, politics and culture, and with the nexus of questions surrounding climate change, technological change and the current turn to populism in the age of ‘post-truth’.

Lecture plan:

  1. Introduction to the thinker: composing Stiegler’s singular path of care
  2. The way in: Epimetheus, exteriorization and différance
  3. The individuation of Dasein: rereading Simondon and Heidegger
  4. From Simondon to Cleisthenes: individuation and adoption
  5. Three kinds of souls and the question of consistence
  6. From Socrates to Marx: the pharmakon and proletarianization
  7. From Husserl to cinema: retention and protention
  8. From Freud to Marcuse: desublimation and TV
  9. From the conservative revolution to the digital turn
  10. Automatic society: the meaning and fate of work
  11. Neganthropy: towards a speculative cosmology
  12. Beyond the Trumpocene and concluding remarks


Evening Sem 2 2017