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The Three Conversions of Bernard Stiegler: An Overview

Lecturer: Daniel Ross

Originally Taught: Summer School 2021

Bernard Stiegler died on 5 August 2020, an immeasurable loss whose significance remains for us still to measure. This task remains for us in part because Stiegler’s work involves a profound reconsideration of the whole task of philosophy itself, shaking up both its means and its assumptions, yet most of the philosophical world has not yet felt the force of this rumbling. In other words, in addition to the analytical novelty of Stiegler’s thought, and the critical power he manages to summon, his work also embodies an attempt to renew and reinitialize what it is to do philosophy, and what it is to do it in this difficult age, faced as we are with a critical situation in which all of our contemporary systems seem to be rushing headlong towards their threshold limits.

This Summer School Course aims to introduce the fundamental tenets and approach of Stiegler’s work, proposing that it can be divided into three phases, each of which follows what can be considered a kind of ‘conversion of the gaze’. The first of these conversions derives from the existential crisis into which Stiegler was thrown personally when he found himself incarcerated, and consists in asking himself the question of what constitutes the ‘element’ of what Aristotle called the noetic soul, leading to a critique of the place of technics and technical memory in Heidegger and Husserl. The second conversion stems from the consequences of 9/11 and other portentous events occurring around the same time, which made clear to Stiegler the depths of the consequences of having entered a ‘cinematic age’, and led to the formulation of a ‘general organology’ revising Simondon’s account of individuation, extending Auroux’s concept of grammatization, and generalizing Derrida’s reading of the duplicity of the pharmakon. The third conversion arose from the realization that the problems named geologically by the notion of a new epoch – the Anthropocene – send us into a paradoxical situation in which absolute urgency must be combined with profound reflection, leading to a reinscription of the history of philosophy in terms of a reconsideration of concepts of entropy, negentropy and anti-entropy, in light of the works of Vernadsky, Schrödinger, Georgescu-Roegen and especially Lotka, and in relation to a new critique of political economy on the scale of the biosphere-cum-technosphere.

The course is also intended to prepare the way for a Semester 1 course at MSCP that will build upon Stiegler’s thought in order to begin to strike out a path to be pursued in the aftermath of his massive contribution.

1. Introduction and Remembrance:

Who was Bernard Stiegler; tendency and counter-tendency; the question of the noetic soul

  • Reading 1: Bernard Stiegler, ‘How I Became a Philosopher’ (in Acting Out)
  • Reading 2: Daniel Ross, ‘Introduction’, in Stiegler, The Neganthropocene.
  • Reading 3: Stiegler, ‘Technics of Decision: An Interview’, Angelaki (2003).

2. Technics and Time, 1

Critique of Derrida’s différance, Heidegger’s temporality, Husserl’s retention

  • Reading 1: Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1, pp. 134–42.
  • Reading 2: Anne Alombert, ‘From Derrida’s Deconstruction to Stiegler’s Organology’, Derrida Today (2020).
  • Reading 3: Ross, ‘Tertiary Retention’, from Political Anaphylaxis (manuscript), pp. 113–41.

3. General Organology and Pharmacology

The three strands of individuation; grammatization and proletarianization

  • Reading 1: Stiegler, ‘Allegory of the Anthill’, Symbolic Misery, Volume 1, ch. 3.
  • Reading 2: Stiegler, For a New Critique of Political Economy, pp. 14–44.

4. Desire and Derive, and the Lost Spirit of Capitalism

Freud, Marcuse and the depletion of libidinal energy in consumerist capitalism

  • Reading 1: Stiegler, ‘Freud’s Repression’, Symbolic Misery, Volume 2, ch. 4.
  • Reading 2: Stiegler, ‘The Automatization of the Super-Ego’, The Lost Spirit of Capitalism, part 2.
  • Reading 3: Stiegler, ‘Introduction’, What Makes Life Worth Living.

5. Exorganology and Neganthropology

Anthropocene as Entropocene, the Internation, and the need for a major bifurcation

  • Reading 1: Stiegler, ‘The Anthropocene and Neganthropology’, The Neganthropocene.
  • Reading 2: Stiegler, ‘The New Conflict of the Faculties and Functions’, Qui Parle (2017).
  • Reading 3: Stiegler, ‘The Internation and Internationalism’, Alienocene (2019).
  • Reading 4: Stiegler, ‘Introduction: Decarbonization and Deproletarianization’, in Internation Collective, Bifurcate (forthcoming).