Week 5 – Technology and Anthropology pt.2

Stiegler continues to investigate the concept of the ‘origin’; yet, while discerning this origin is not deemed to be a matter of great importance by Stiegler, he is very much interested in asking why it inevitably seems to be so for humanity. Most of this week’s session was spent discussing the idea of the ‘fall’, a ‘second’ origin that recurs in different forms throughout the chapter. In the Phaedrus the spirit ‘falls’ into its fleshly form and, in doing so, undergoes a ‘forgetting’ of the transcendental knowledge that pre-exists humanity and which it is the task of anamnesis to recover. In Genesis, man ‘falls’ from purity into sin as a result of eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge, a state in which it is the task of Christianity’s subjects to open themselves to God and achieve holy (re-)union through redemption and, ultimately, salvation. In both cases there is a movement from a state of naïve unity and equality (what Rousseau calls the ‘state of nature’) into a state of differentiation and social inequality, in which progression (i.e. a transcendence of this state) seems to imply a kind of return, recollection, or rediscovery – the latter idea, by now, strongly recalling the Heideggerian conception of technics as revealing. However, there seems to be a key distinction between the two accounts, whereby the Platonic fall implies a loss of original knowledge while Genesis narrates the story of its acquisition. Stiegler does not seem to mark this differentiation – yet we wondered whether it was an implicit strategy for demonstrating the pharmacological (i.e. duplicitous) relation between technics and epistemology.

At this point we are still talking anthropologically and archaeologically but the question was raised as to whether the fall (into knowledge, into consciousness, into the social) might also be considered from the perspective of developmental psychology. To me at least, Lacan seemed to be a silent voice here, particularly (pp.128-129) when the affective aspects of Rousseau are emphasised: pity, suffering, disgust, empathy and love as the motors of recognition and differentiation amongst the species. Coupled with an invocation of an originary narcissism, the elements of the mirror-stage seem to be present and correct. Stiegler is almost certainly aware of the thesis that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and, considering his more recent emphasis on neuro- and psycho-power, it does not seem an unlikely connection for him to make, even if it is implicit at this point.

So we asked in what way the fall was a necessary expression of the technical tendency. The tendency was described by one of the group as a will for life to increase in complexity (and we might investigate this definition as we proceed). Using the language of Michel Serres (in Genesis), what is the relation between the disaggregated multiplicity (the many bounded individuals) to the coherent unity (the bound collective)? The tendency would suggest a motion from one to the other. For Serres, the rational mind seeks unitary knowledge but is forced, unwillingly, to think the two together. Stiegler seems to be mapping a method for doing so, perhaps thinking the tendency as ways in which the multiple comes to replace the unit, even as it tries to achieve reconciliation with unity. Local knowledge (i.e. concretisation) merely illustrates and nuances this relation; we are told that it is only transcendental knowledge that can think the human qua tendency.

Hence why Stiegler reaches for Rousseau. Yet this raises a question mark over the degree to which such an analysis can be deployed in the service of a viable political project. To talk of transcendental knowledge, or of human nature (which are closely connected), is to suggest a narrative that is not easily reconciled with a materialist politics (though see Norman Geras on this point of tension or, more controversially, Jon Elster’s rational choice Marxism). We might find further resonance with Serres here, who writes that, ‘to believe that class struggle is the driving force of history is, with exemplary rigour, to remain an Aristotelian’ (Genesis, 84), a designation from which Stiegler is keen to distance himself. This belief, alongside a belief in a particular future formation of human social being (indeed, any anticipation of a human past or future), is understood as a particular kind of second origin; as a constituting component of technical ontology; as a means of reaching outside the boundaries of the self and the now; and hence as inherently pharmacological. But to what extent does this formulation play into liberal-conservative narratives of reform?

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