In Configurations 18 (3) Fall (2010). There’s a mention of Latour within:
Latour is a high-ranking philosophy professor [agrégé de philosophie], a philosopher, but he is in a state of philosophical denial [une dénégation philosophique]. For example, he will not put up with phenomenology, he will not bear transcendental questions, etcetera. He asserts an empiricism, an associationism, which is certainly something very efficient and very fruitful. But at the same time, I always have the impression, because of this denial, that there is a certain blindness, a certain naïveté even, in Latour’s reasoning process, a certain cynicism. (463-464)
Stiegler finds interest in Latour’s focus on the ‘banal “thingness” of the thing’ (464) that he thinks philosophy has had a tendency to pass by. Ultimately though it seems he’s a little put off by Latour’s distaste for phenomenology and transcendentalism that I think Stiegler still sees as being the experiential seeds of life (albeit an already technical one). Latour believes this is a narrowing of the world to mere human experience (whether or not this is a technical one). Presumably, then, Latour and Stiegler are going to contest whether the ‘thingness’ of the thing is separate from our conception of it – or whether the human subject’s access to the thing is thus the only way to conceive of the thing. Latour doesn’t think so; Stiegler does (?).
In another passage he discusses Simondon and his theory of individuation:
He shows that psychic individuation is never purely psychic; it is always already social. I believe that if psychic individuation is always already collective, it is because it is also a technical individuation. I have tried to show, drawing on Simondon, that psychic individuation attains social individuation by means of technical individuation, and by interiorizing technical individuation. And this is what I call the phenomenon of transindividuation—it’s a phenomenon of selection. (466)
It’s this psychic as collective that’s so important to Stiegler’s (political) project. Moreover, it’s that the psychic individuation as already collective individuation is courtesy of/via technical individuation that enables Stiegler to focus on the technicity of human life and it’s wiring through technical objects. Again though I think Stiegler has a tendency to not only downplay the autonomy of technical objects but also to assume a uni-directional role (technology writing/scripting/defining humans). His enduring aim is to re-evaluate the constitution of humanity through technology, and that as memory aids, technical objects structure human life from within that life (or, ‘stabilizes a repetition’ – 462).
Latour’s (1996 – Aramis) notion of ‘quasi-objects’ moves two degrees beyond Stiegler, I think. Not just that this is a bi-directional process (technology writing/scripting/defining humans and humans w/s/d technology) like a game of table tennis, but that this is an already human-technical collective/assemblage (albeit with kernels of human and object withdrawn – like Graham Harman might suggest). Thus I think Stiegler doesn’t pay enough attention to the ‘event’. That is, the instances, moments or situations in which this techno-human life is played out, when one can maybe pull apart, interrogate, unravel etc. the human and non-human – however difficult this may prove. Rather, he too quickly assumes a generalized ‘we have always been technical’ thesis.
I’m going to read another interview with Stiegler in Theory, Culture & Society tomorrow and will go through ‘Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon’ (2012) at Culture Machine too. I’ll post if anything sparks my interest.
4 thoughts on “Stiegler interviewed by O’Gorman”
I think that Stiegler’s comment on Latour may be more complex than your translation into a differend over “the human subject’s access to the thing” allows. I think that such talk of “access” is misleading: knowledge is not access, neither for Latour nor for Stiegler, nor for any significant philosopher of the last 100 years. If one had to theorize the debate in those terms it is clear that Stiegler thinks that Latour is still stuck in access because he is stuck in “empiricism”. At first sight this is a somewhat surprising accusation to make against Latour, but I think it can be substantiated. Latour has a double empiricism: that of networks, that one has just to trace and follow, and that of modes of existence that one has to describe and prevent from imposing their felicity conditions on another mode.
The accusation of “denial” of philosophy is double-pronged. In many ways Latour’s ideas are just ordinary extensions and applications of Deleuze and Guattari’s or of Michel Serres’ ideas. Let us not forget that the notion of quasi-object derives from Serres. Stiegler is quite up front about the influences on his ideas and the need to re-read such philosophical sources with new eyes, ie. in relation to contemporary events. Stiegler has his own theoretical ressources for thinking through the notion of networks and assemblages in what he calls “long circuits of transindividuation”. Latour acknowledges that there may be philosophical ancestors to his ideas, but distinguishes his contribution as based on his scientific research. Here again his empiricism enters, with a covert scientism, as if this empirical research gave superior credence to his ideas. So basically Latour is sophisticated and ironic about other people’s ideas, and naive about his own. So the denial of philosophy exists at this level of not taking into account his own enunciative position.
An interesting example of this denegation is in Latour’s referencing and resurrection of Etienne Souriau’s work on modes of existence. This is pure misdirection to avoid the anamnesis of his debt to Deleuze’s work on modes of existence. The co-author of the long preface that Latour wrote to Souriau’s work is Isabelle Stengers, who is not in phiosophical denial and who has always made clear her affiliation to Deleuze’s philosophy.
Stiegler situates the human in relation to an originary “default of origin”, in both the objective and subjective senses of the genitive: there is something defective at the origin, and the origin is absent.