Week 9 – Already There

Stiegler spends much of this section reiterating the previous chapter using a Heideggerian vocabulary, in order to move towards a critique of the latter philosopher (via an unlikely ally in Johnny Rotten). It is a long chapter and we did not make it all the way to the end. I’ve summarised below as much as we did manage.

The ‘originary de-fault of origin’ which Epimetheus represents forms the ground of an ‘already-there’: even if we have a selective relation to this ground (Epimetheia engendering a simultaneous forgetting and reflection in this regard), we nonetheless form an understanding of ourselves through our relation to each other, which itself is constituted through our relation to our past. Dasein is temporal: it is being-in-the-world insofar as it is being-with-each-other; it is through others that we inherit that which is ‘already there’ before us (a social tradition, technologically founded), with and against which we are constituted. The question, as Stiegler asks, is ‘that of addressing the modalities of instrumentality as such’ against this ‘already there’ – modalities which harbour three conditions: ‘the condition of idiomatic instrumentality’; of ‘massive indifferentiation’; and ‘the instrumental condition’ (p.206). That is, it is a question of excising the relations which are specific to particular technical objects and, in each case, of reconciling the determining factors of our inherited past with the potential produced by it, and of clarifying the subject-object relation (between the who and the what).

Stiegler is clear: the problem with Heidegger is not that he has a pejorative opinion of the relationship between humans and technics – contrary to several commentators’ beliefs he does not. Indeed, he gets this exactly right. It is not the philosophical task to choose to ‘oppose’ or ‘promote’ technology (as Hubert Dreyfus writes) but to ‘open oneself to it’, to allow it to ‘reveal’ itself – to reflect on its ‘already there’-ness. We have already heard this in Stiegler’s call for a reinstatement of the Epimetheus’ significance in the Protagorean myth.

Two types of time are distinguished – phenomenological time (the time of the who: Dasein) and technological time (the time of the what: clock-time). To get to grips with the latter is important, considering firstly that we are arguing that it constitutes the former, while secondly, acknowledging that technologies of recording (elaboration, conservation and transmission – that is, of historicity and facticity, of knowledge qua tradition) are undergoing radical change. So it is not time per se that we are investigating, but different ‘times’ (different modes of time). The clock allows us to measure time, to discretise it, in ways that also imply a knowledge of calendrical time, and of seasonal time (based on planetary cycles); we distinguish between the ‘now’ (the discrete moment) and cyclical movement (the endless return – cf. Prometheus’ eternal punishment). This ‘program’ (a technical system of temporality) is taken up by the ‘program industries’ (Stiegler’s take on the culture industry), which similarly play with the capturing of the now (in ‘real time’ broadcasting) and cyclical time (scheduling/programming).

Dasein, for Heidegger, is ‘improbable’ – non-determined, unpredictable, unprogrammable. We are individuals, individuated by our own experience of being-toward-death – that is, of being distinctly aware of both the imminence of death and also of never having the possibility of experiencing our own death. But we cannot live each moment in this knowledge; we retreat from it, putting it off so that we are able to function in life. This is replicated in our uncanny experience of technology, we retreat from the fact that it reminds us of our own Epimethean deficiency – our reliance on technical prostheticity ‘amounts to an immersion in the knowledge of nonknowing’ (219). So this difference (between who and what) is not ontological (subject and object); it is a exactly matter of différance: we are differentiated through this knowledge of death that is always deferred.

The authentic being of Dasein (in its futural anticipation, i.e. its possibility of self-determination) is lost in the (punk) ‘generation of today’s “time”’, who declare there to be ‘no future’, and refer to themselves as the ‘blank generation’ (the generation at the end of history) – Heidegger wondered if this would be the fate of those who live in the ‘real time’ of broadcasting that was just beginning to emerge with radio; Stiegler responds that this possibility is always held within techné, which produces (or constitutes) the phenomenology of time qua différance. The early Heidegger, at least, does not allow that technology might hold this constitutive property (even though he does insist on the human’s thrown-ness into a world already constituted for him); he always privileges the subject, the ‘who’. On the contrary, Stiegler says that mnemo-technologies of recording and transmission (those which create a tradition) ‘fix’ the past for us, even if they do not determine it (Heidegger does not grasp this distinction); they create the possibilities for individuation.

The clock effaces as it measures, as does writing – the latter, in fixing a tradition, being a way of marking time. Something is lost in the discretisation of clock-writing – that which is unrepresentable, or ‘improbable’. Experience being rendered as data, we lose the sense of différance, of lived anticipation and memory, and so become increasingly present-focused. This concretises in the real-time of live broadcast (‘breaking’) news, and election fever, for instance, or the phonographic voice of the Führer: the program industries as failure of tradition to make futurity manifest; that is the triumph of homogeneity over individuation.

The ‘individual’ is thus not the subject: it is a confluence of temporally motivated subject-object relations. It is the citizen within the community, gaining a sense of aido and diké from its socio-technical situatedness. It is a ‘belonging to an isonomy in and through which an autonomy is affirmed’ (230).

[A brief aside: on Saturday I went to London Zoo. If you still struggle with the concept of the fault of Epimetheus, I heartily recommend spending fifteen minutes in the company of a caged gorilla, watching it watch you, noting its immense brute force coupled with its serene incapacity, and feeling the unheimlich combination of fascination and shame well up at the same time that it is reflected back (a reflection that is, of course, a projection). Stay there long enough so that, when it does inevitably approach the glass, you feel your muscles unwillingly contract in preparatory retreat and reflect on the genetic determination that locks us together with the animal, yet allows us to walk free of the enclosure, leaving it to its frozen existence in a technical system it cannot confront. To do so is not to learn the meaning of our originary de-fault but to remember it as it reveals itself experientially, and is, I think, wholly in the spirit of the book.]

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