Bernard Stiegler: Eris and Technics

Technics, art, facticity can harbor madness: the prosthesis is a danger, that of artifacts, and artifacts can destroy what gathers within an effective and active being-together. Being-together is constantly threatened by its own activity. Animals are in essence not in danger, unless with mortals: if they perish individually, their species do not destroy themselves. Mortals, because they are prosthetic in their very being, are self-destructive.

 —Bernard Stiegler

This is actually a commentary on both Hesiod and Protagoras’s appropriation of the Epimetheus and Prometheus myth in which through forgetfulness and an addition (technics) humans were the creatures who were an afterthought, a forgotten species. One that had to be compensated for its nakedness and its lack of power within itself, so that it was given the gift of art (technics and artifice) to which it has been a slave ever since. Humans (mortals in the Greek conceptions) were the exception not by design but rather through the dark instigation of a tale told by an idiot (Epimetheus) and a thief (Prometheus) so that the human is the fruit of a dark and terrible truth. Mythology is but the mirror of  Reason in its stage of fear and trepidation, the causal links attributed to the gods (Concepts) to speak of that which had no meaning in itself. Humans in their terrible plight invented themselves out of this lack, externalized their apprehensions, their foibles, their darkness in the light of warring gods. In the secular age we would reduce the gods to concepts depleted of their personalities, paraded as linguistic attributes and properties of the mind’s own dark house of Reason and Affect. What has this given us? Only this: instead of the gods warring with each other on Mount Olympus, we’ve seen these very dark progenitors descend into the streets, nations, worlds of us mortals and take up residence as Eris: the love of war and competition. We call this new estate, global capitalism.

In Hesiod’s Works and Days 11–24, two different goddesses named Eris are distinguished:

So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honor due.

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night (Nyx), and the son of Cronus who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.

Nietzsche would turn this into his well known notions of nihilism: passive and active. The philosophers haven’t truly improved on the myths, all they’ve done is reduce the gods to conceptual and abstract machines. War and competition replace the two goddesses, but the truth of both myth and secular adaptation remains in the nuances. The passive nihilist will through bitterness and cowardice make war on his own kind, take from him that which is not his to take, live in the shadows of that darkening hive of thievery and cunning. The active nihilist is a producer, a creature who is at once a riddle and a solution, one who forgets himself even as he works while building that which is itself an artifact of technics in him. Man is the power of technics as parasite freeing itself of the very being that is its host. In our age we are becoming obsolesced even as we invent our successors: our technological children who have always been closer to us than we imagine, and distant and away as the gifts of gods we term concepts. Technological being is the concrete manifestation of a god on earth, a concept literally become machinic, a Third Order of Being. Artifacts of ingenuity and craft, the prosthetic gods will rule the earth as technics last instance.

As Stiegler describes the mythos of the Greeks:

Promêtheia is the anticipation of the future, that is, of clanger, foresight, prudence, and an essential disquiet: somebody who is promethes is someone who is worried in advance. Epimêtheia equally means prudence, being-sensible, a sort of wisdom, whereas Epimetheus himself is “the one who is not particularly sensible,” the forgetful one, the bemused, the idiot, the unthinking one: this ambiguity forms the hollow of the gap [le creux de l’écart] in which thought alone can take place; and it comes to mind after the event, in delay, because preceded by a past that could never be anything but a failure and an act of forgetting. Prometheus and Epimetheus, inseparable, form together the reflection particular to mortals that partake of the divine lot: it is a reflection qua ecstasis, “in” time, that is, in mortality, which is anticipation and différance; it is reflection as time and time as reflection: in advance from the Promethean side as well as in delay from the side of Epimetheus—never at peace, which is the exclusive privilege of immortal beings. (Technics and Time, vol. 1, p. 217)

Addendum:

At the end of an essay on Beckett, ‘Beckett with Lacan’ by Slavoj Žižek, Zizek relates an anecdote:

What hap­pens here is struc­tur­ally sim­il­ar to one of the most dis­turb­ing TV epis­odes of Alfred Hitch­cock Presents, “The Glass Eye” (the open­ing epis­ode of the third year). Jes­sica Tandy (again – the very act­ress who was the ori­gin­al Mouth!) plays here a lone woman who falls for a hand­some vent­ri­lo­quist, Max Col­lodi (a ref­er­ence to the author of Pinoc­chio); when she gath­ers the cour­age to approach him alone in his quar­ters, she declares her love for him and steps for­ward to embrace him, only to find that she is hold­ing in her hands a wooden dummy’s head; after she with­draws in hor­ror, the “dummy” stands up and pulls off its mask, and we see the face of a sad older dwarf who start to jump des­per­ately on the table, ask­ing the woman to go away… the vent­ri­lo­quist is in fact the dummy, while the hideous dummy is the actu­al vent­ri­lo­quist. Is this not the per­fect ren­der­ing of an “organ without bod­ies”? It is the detach­able “dead” organ, the par­tial object, which is effect­ively alive, and whose dead pup­pet the “real” per­son is: the “real” per­son is merely alive, a sur­viv­al machine, a “human anim­al,” while the appar­ently “dead” sup­ple­ment is the focus of excess­ive Life.

Strangely in that we discover a closeness to Stiegler’s notion of the supplement borrowed via Heidegger/Derrida of technics as the gift of the Epimetheia (forgetfulness) and Prometheia (thievery). That our technology, our artifices are more alive than we are, that we are mere dead things while technology has all along played us for fools, as mere supplements in their bid for autonomy. A last bid that is this excess of horror in discovering that we are the dead things in service to our technology. Above all that in our time the true horror is that we are being overtaken and replaced by this artificial other, this alterity, this alien power that was at the core of our own lack, or emptiness, our inhuman truth externalized at last in our successors.

The question is: How do we (who is doing the resisting?) resist what in truth we are (and, Who are ‘we‘?)? How choose when the truth is that we’ve immanently attached ourselves to a process that began in the very moment of attaining accidental consciousness? How in filling in the gaps and cracks of our being with the fantasias of art (technics) we’ve invented the movement of this process that will succeed us? Is there even a choice? Was the Promethean gift of fire (intellect) actually Pandora’s box of plagues after all? Have we not accrued the end game of this process as exemplum of those in-between creatures whose purpose was purposelessness itself, a mere parasitic relation to our inner inhuman core? And, like Beckett’s Old Hag we will utter affectively the logorrhea of unfounded verbiage till the end?

 

5 thoughts on “Bernard Stiegler: Eris and Technics

  1. I love it, but what does it really mean?

    I wish I had a sort of human USB cord in which I could plug into your head and gather all the information that you have in there into my computer and then pick that shit out ; I would probably end up wtitting two or 300 book before I died because I have so much information to work with, so much detail and terms that other people used . Lol

    My problem is that I read so slow have to end up developing my own terms if I’m going to say anything , and yet have an infinite amount of information that somehow I need to coalesce because I don’t have other people’s terms ready at hand by which to inscribe real meaning.
    My problem is my stream , my bandwidth one can say , of information is so small and my time is so limited that even the book that I’m writing right now I’m feeling will probably take about another year or two before I finish it. Even though I already know what I’m going to say , albeit contingent of the information that passes through my station over that time as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll admit that the world of literature, poetry, philosophy, history, etc. only came to me after coming back from Viet Nam. Before that I was a failure in early schooling, an average C student, and athlete who never cracked a book unless I was forced too. Brought up in a culture of peer pressure that frowned on books and nerds, etc. It was only after my confrontation with the senselessness of war and our national pastime of madness in military pursuits in service to the rich and powerful that I began to read in earnest.

      So I plundered the world of books and libraries without any academic know-how or even where to begin or end. My schooling was self-taught didactic hound who learned from the Great Readers of the Past the literary critics like Samuel Johnson, Hazlitt, Emerson, and so many others who taught us not what to read but in how to attain the best in what we did read. So I early on confronted Snow’s two-cultures of the Sciences and Humanities and delved heavily into both on my own time. I sacrificed many relationships to my pursuit of wisdom and understanding, rather than knowledge. That was key, the pursuit of wisdom was always the truth of philosophy. Whether I’ve attained any wisdom or not is yet to be decided. I’m not the one to ask, I’m still that naïve and open reader in pursuit of those who say they know…

      And, yes, my memory for good or ill is expansive and mercilessly holds a world in its cathedral. I studied the memory systems of the ancients early on and took to heart much of this old path of information theory before it was termed that. The brain’s own databank systems are quite trainable if we would master these simple technics of art and imagination the old one’s developed.

      Liked by 1 person

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