An introduction to futures

I’m having a read through Alexander Galloway’s pamphlet series ‘French Theory Today‘ (2010), that resulted from a set of seminars in New York. The series explores a number of contemporary French theorists – Catherine Malabou, Bernard Stiegler, Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, Quentin Meillassoux, and François Laruelle – who are relatively new for English speakers. I’ll admit that this is the first time I’ve come across Malabou or Kacem, but Meillassoux and Laruelle I know. I like to think I’ve got Stiegler fairly well covered too. The second pamphlet has a piece entitled ‘Bernard Stiegler, or Our Thoughts Are With Control’ by Galloway.

There’s a nice introduction to the Stiegler dictionary: grammatization, pharmacological, psychopower, transindividual, organology in there at the start (and in a glossary at the end), and then a conversation that brings in Deleuze and Guattari and finally some questions from participants. One question and answer struck me as notable (18-19):

[Participant 6] For Stiegler, it seems that machines, computers, and text messaging, for instance, are part of the culture industry, and as such, they are primarily negative in that they mechanize the moment of human interaction and recognition. I’m wondering if these machines are directly responsible for the waning of desire and its transformation into drive as he describes it? Moreover, why doesn’t he recognize the possibility that these machines might have the potential to produce something different?

[Galloway] For Stiegler, the relationship between us and our devices, us and techne, typically rests in equilibrium. At any given moment in history, humans will settle into balance with the many technical devices arrayed around them—even simple technologies like fabric (clothing), tools, media, writing materials (pencil, paper), or writing itself. But at certain points in history, the introduction of new devices so disrupts the equilibrium that a new balance cannot be established fast enough. That’s the answer in short. It’s a way to move beyond the problem of saying that certain technologies are normatively good, while others are normatively bad; pencils are good, but cell phones are bad. Instead, it’s an historical relationship. One hundred years from now, cell phones might be perfectly sewn in to the phenomenological life world of the human in a way that is not unhealthy, but by then, a different, negative influence will probably have emerged.

I find the moralistic tone of Stiegler that Galloway enlightens the reader with a little unsettling, although he admits this is difficult to hear in some of his more notable books (presumably Galloway means the Technics series). The issue really revolves around the attention of technology, and whether such an example cultivates rather than destroys attention. But this, for Stiegler (as Galloway points out) is a historical question, one that eludes a transcendental definition. Cell phones for Stiegler aren’t meant to be unendingly ‘bad’, just at a specific moment in time. I’d like to do some more reading  so I could ascertain whether Stiegler believes we can shackle this process into doing what we want it to, say, in re-settling the equilibrium faster than previous technological disruptions. His work on industrial time and our submission to technical systems of space-time suggest we might have some difficulty in doing so, at least individually. Also, Galloway answers another question (20) on what he thinks Stiegler’s response to hackers and open-source programming would be (I do love this kind of question, I mean, the guy’s alive for god sake, I’m sure he’s intimated his view on such a thing!), to which he supposes he wouldn’t a priori think it’s a good or bad thing, but would depend on whether it produces a ‘new subject position’ attentive to care and attention.

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