The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

What is a body, and why should there be a line drawn (a distinction made?) between mind and body? More to the point is dualism a tendency intrinsic to the thing we are or not? We’ve seen philosophers come to the conclusion that we do not exist, that this thing we are was a combination of cultural and social praxis, a project if you will. That with the birth of every new child a process begins that as Deleuze and Guattari would describe begins with the family, moves on to the academy ( education, etc.), then is absorbed in the wider frame of culture at large. Others in our time see that these Symbolic Orders are artificial and circumscribed within certain well defined limits, and that over time a society will construct defense mechanisms to disallow new cultures from breaching the barriers of its symbolic terrain.

Each culture is bound to its symbolic framework and references and will literally go to war to protect its systems of meaning. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari would show the inner workings of Western culture and civilization, its tendencies and defense systems. They would demarcate the distinctions that had produced the limit concepts and symbolic codes that have tied our mental and physical duality into a knot of protective security regimes that have guided and shaped this culture and its inhabitants for millennia. They were a beginning not an end, they began a process of disturbing the internal systems that hold the symbolic core of this system together and began to dismantle (or deconstruct) its codes from within. Others would carry on this process, both friends and enemies.

We’ve seen this sordid history within the rise of post-modern and post-humanist thought in both the sciences and humanities. We’ve seen the refusal of the human, a concept that has been central to the Western project for two millennia. Along with that was the illusive quest to dismantle the concept of identity, and destroy the individuation of the Subject. A process that came to a head during the critical phase of the late Enlightenment era we now term the Romantic revolt of Idealisms from Kant to Hegel and beyond. One might term this the “Subject’s Last Stand” of which the current shaper of this tradition is the dualistic materialist Slavoj Zizek in his strain of dialectical materialism. We’ve seen this play out within the divide over transcendence and immanence along with various variants in-between based on a battle between reductionist and irreductionist thought and action. I’ve spent years reading and wandering within both camps seeking from within to understand the defining characteristics that shape both stances and their defense systems. Mortals trapped within their systems are machines caught in the nexus of their own productions never seeing anything but their own gaze returning to them in echoes of bastardized thought. One must be strong to enter the abyss Nietzsche once told us, and even he was prone to other illusions. We all are, even I.

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The Terror of Being Human: Technicity and the Inhuman

For Bernard Stiegler the philosopher has from the beginning been a self-divided being at odds with himself and his time, a creature of crime and havoc, remedy and poison. The Sophist would stake her claim in the black holes of linguistic turpitude, relishing the intricacies of illusion as the art of life. The Sophist was an admirer of what we now term the social construction of reality, a magician of language constructing the fictions by which society blesses and curses itself. While the philosopher or ‘lover of wisdom’ – or as Aristotle was want to say, philia: the lover of togetherness otherwise known as politics, the bringing together the brotherly love of the other in communicity, or a gathering of solitudes. In Stiegler the truth is that the philosopher sought to hide himself from himself, to repress the truth of his lack and inhumanity. The truth that culture is a machine, a power, a technics that humans do not so much construct as are constructed. This dialectical reversal, the oscillating between interior / exterior was hidden rather than revealed. As Stiegler puts it:

“I do not consider myself as a “philosopher of technics”, but rather as a philosopher who tries to contribute, along with some others, to establishing that the philosophical question is, and is throughout, the endurance of a condition which I call techno-logical: at the same time technics and logic, from the beginning forged on the cross which language and the tool form, that is, which allow the human its exteriorization. In my work I try to show that, since its origin, philosophy has endured this technological condition, but as repression and denial and that is the entire difficulty of my undertaking—to show that philosophy begins with the repression of its proper question.”1

But then again what is philosophy’s proper (distinct/intrinsic) question? As Freud taught us and Lacan embellished repression is a defense system, a mechanism to hide from ourselves the terror of our own condition as (in)humans. A large part of Stiegler’s published work is dedicated to exploring how the ‘technological condition’, as he puts it above, is repressed in the work of philosophers such as Rousseau, Kant, Husserl and Heidegger.

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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?

 

Bernard Stiegler: The Third Order of Beings

Today, machines are the tool bearers, and the human is no longer a technical individual; the human becomes either the machine’s servant or its assembler: the human’s relation to the technical object proves to have profoundly changed.

—Bernard Stiegler

Bernard Stiegler in the introduction to the first volume of his trilogy Technics and Time will speak of a Third Order of beings in between the physical and biological: the technical being:

“…a theory of technical evolution permits the hypothesis that between the inorganic beings of the physical sciences and the organized beings of biology, there does indeed exist a third genre of “being”: “inorganic organized beings,” or technical objects. These nonorganic organizations of matter have their own dynamic when compared with that of either physical or biological beings, a dynamic, moreover, that cannot be reduced to the “aggregate” or “product” of these beings.” (31)

He will speak of the “ruptures in temporalization (event-ization) that this evolution provokes, and by the processes of deterritorialization accompanying it.” (Page 32). Already here is a notion of accelerationism and speed at the heart of techics and technology. In fact he will suggest that “organized inorganic beings are originarily … of temporality as well as spatiality, in quest of a speed “older” than time and space, which are the derivative decompositions of speed.” (32).

A speed older than ‘time and space’… “Life is the conquest of mobility. As a “process of exteriorization,” technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life.” (Page 32).

The notion that time is constituted by technicity and not the other way round. “We shall see how Simondon, with his analysis of psychic and collective individuation, allows one to conceive through the concept of “transduction” an originarily techno-logical constitutivity of temporality—” (33).

It’s as if the underlying forces that constitute our universe of things is neither wholly physical nor biological but organized under this third form and constitutes time and mobility (speed), as well as seeks to develop its own originary being in the cosmos fusing both physcial and organic forms through these very processes of exteriorization and objectivation. Strange the worlds Stiegler constructs out of his confrontation with ancient and modern thought. It’s as if among us is an alien order of being that we have been for too long in denial, and the rise of the machinic civilization we see around us is this strange mixture and hybrid world of technical objects that are overtaking us as the supposed pinnacle of intelligence on earth. A life by other means than life… an intelligence at once totally other and uncannily familiar.

Epiphylogenesis: On Becoming Machine

Epiphylogenesis: Bernard Stiegler – Memory and Prosthesis

Once you realize the human body was a migration ploy, a stop gap in a long process of migration technics using memory technology in a process of self-exteriorization, then you realize that becoming artificial and technological (robotic or AI) was immanent to the strange thing we are. Becoming robot are merging with our technologies isn’t really that far fetched after all, and that what we’ve been doing so for thousands if not millions of years is evolving new prosthesis step by step by step. This is at least part of what Bernard Stiegler admits to in his thesis of originary technicity or his theory of lack and supplement (ala Derrida): the supplement of technics is our way of exploiting this lack within the human condition. The human is a placeholder in a process in-between, a transition. The body we take for granted as the foundation of our humanity was never an end point, a static object at the end of some teleological assembly line, but was rather a project and program in an ongoing experimental process that has no foreseeable goal or end point, no design or designer. It can change form. We are not bound to this form, only temporary denizens in transition.

As is well-known, Bernard Stiegler articulates three different forms of memory: genetic memory (which is programmed into our DNA); epigenetic memory (which we acquire during our lifetime and is stored in the central nervous system) and, finally, epiphylogenetic memory (which is embodied in technical systems or artefacts). For Stiegler, then, epiphylogenesis represents a quasi-Lamarckian theory of “artificial selection” where successive epigenetic experiences are stored, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation in the form of technical objects. In this sense, as we will see in a moment, Stiegler argues that the birth of man represents an absolute break with biological life because it is the moment in the history of life where zoē begins to map itself epiphylogenetically onto technē: what we call the human is “a living being characterised in its forms of life by the non-living.”

In this scenario we’ve been exteriorizing ourselves all along through this tri-fold process of memory works; or, as he terms it: epiphylogenesis. For Stiegler, this account of the origin of man contains a crucial insight into the status of the human that will form the basis for his own philosophy: humanity is constituted by an originary lack of defining qualities— what he calls a “default” of origin [le défaut d’origine]— that must be supplemented from outside by technics. What Stiegler calls technics is in the Deleuze/Guattarian index the “machinic”. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the “labor” of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, “Machinic Heterogenesis”)

Some accuse Stiegler of remaining within an anthropocentric horizon, saying that his thought risks re-anthropologising technics even in the very act of insisting upon the originary technicity of the human: what expropriates the anthropos once again becomes “proper” to it as its defining mode of being. If Stiegler would undoubtedly reject this line of critique— the moral of the story of Epimetheus is clearly that nothing is proper to the human— his enduring focus on hominisation as the unique moment when the living begins to articulate itself through the non-living means that his philosophy arguably still remains within what we might call the penumbra of human self-constitution. The supposedly self-identical human being is put into a relation only in order for the relation itself to be ontologised as an exclusively “human” one: we are the only being that relates.1

In many ways we need to do away with the term “human” which has so many associations that it has become a term indefinable going forward. We’ve tried using terms like “post-human” to obviate this fact, speaking of transitional states. And, yet, much of the discourse surrounding this still deals with the cultural matrix of humanity itself while leaving out the non-human others among us that many now know have recourse to externalization technics as well. The point is that humans are not part of an exception, we are part of the life of this planet. One among other possible life-forms and trajectories taking place in complex of ecologies simultaneously.

David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human addresses just this telling us that what we need is a “theory of human– posthuman difference” (Roden: 105).2 As he surmises the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori – after the emergence of actual posthumans. The ethical implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. (Roden: 106) Catherine Hayles once argued in How We Became Posthuman that one of the key characteristics of the posthuman is that the body is treated as the “original prosthesis,” a prosthetic which contains the informatic pattern of posthuman subjects, but which is not integral to them.3 For Stiegler, this is only possible through a process of exteriorisation.  Our experience of being is therefore not merely a product of memory but is achieved through the processes of mnemotechnics: the ‘technical prostheses’ through which memory is recorded and transmitted across generations, and which is never limited to individual minds.  Without this sense of memory, Stiegler argues, the human would not be possible. The point here is that our bodies might be the last sacrosanct thing we will have to relinquish in this long road from animal to the post-human. For if Stiegler is correct it is our cultural memories and these technics of exteriorization that have for millennia become the project to which the human organic systems were moving, a process that has through the invention of computational machines and the rise of AI and Robotics only accelerated this process of self-exteriorization.

With this notion comes the transition from the terms of technics and machines to that of assemblages. As David Roden in his work will iterate:

The concept of assemblage was developed by the poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988). Its clearest expression, though, is in the work of the Deleuzean philosopher of science Manuel DeLanda. For DeLanda, an assemblage is an emergent but decomposable whole and belongs to the conceptual armory of the particularist “flat” ontology I will propose for SP in § 5.4. Assemblages are emergent wholes in that they exhibit powers and properties not attributable to their parts but which depend (or “supervene”) on those powers. Assemblages are also decomposable insofar as all the relations between their components are “external”: each part can be detached from the whole to exist independently (assemblages are thus opposed to “totalities” in an idealist or holist sense). This is the case even where the part is functionally necessary for the continuation of the whole (DeLanda 2006: 184; see § 6.5).(Roden: 111)

Is the future of the human-in-migration this becoming assemblage? As Roden continues biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets have powers that cannot be attributed to narrow humans but depend on them for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (Roden: 111)

This sense that we are already so coupled with our exterior memory systems that what we’re seeing in our time is a veritable hyperacceleration and migration out of the organic and into the artificial systems we’ve been so eagerly immersed in. As futurist Luciano Floridi reminds us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.4

Most of us hang onto that last bastion of the human, our body. For many the whole notion that we are not bound to this organic husk that has been the natural evolutionary experiment of millions of years seems utter tripe, and yet what if we are about to migrate into a new platform, an assemblage of plasticity and formlessness? What if the whole notion that we are stuck in this dying ember of organicist nature is just a myth, a myth that is keeping us from breaking through the barrier of becoming posthuman? What if the chains that tie us to this dead world of organic being is our religious, philosophical, and political prejudices, our exceptionalisms, our anthropologicisms? What if merging with our software and platforms is not only feasible but the motion and very movement we’ve been performing through this process of self-exteriorization all along? What if this is our way forward? What then?

One day we will quaintly look back upon organic life and the human body with a fondness that is only a memory, while we become pluralistic denizens of a million prismatic forms yet to be shaped by technics into the vast assemblages of the unbound universe. The question to ask yourself is: Will you see this as a worthy task or as a horror? If the former then you are already in migration into the assemblage, if the latter then you have become a problem for yourself and every other living thing on this planet.


  1. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 105). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  4. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

 

Ars Industrialis: Bernard Stiegler on Anamnesis and Hypomnesis

Discovered a site with a few online lectures and writings by Bernard Stiegler: Ars Industrialis… Only recently have I seen Stiegler’s name cropping up across the blogosphere. His focus on the intersection of power and technology and its implications for philosophy, along with the impact of control societies through such aspects as cognitive capitalism (Moulier Boutang) in such works as For a Critique of Political Economy are intriguing to say the least. I must admit that his early trilogy was a difficult and abstruse read, yet is was worth the effort even if I disagree with aspects of his project. Yet, some of his newer work dealing with memory and technology and the implications it has for the politics of global governance that seems to be arising within late capitalism should awaken us from our long sleep in false ideologies.  As knowlege economies seek control of us more and more using data mining and the externalization of memory technologies to broker its power relations, we need to develop better tools of critque as well as activist programs to confront such sleeper technologies in our midst.

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