Literary and Critical Theory Bernard Stiegler
by
Patrick Crogan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0038

Introduction

Bernard Stiegler (b. 1 April 1952), officer of the Ordre des Artes et des Lettres (2016), is a French philosopher and cultural activist whose work on technology, media, and the modern world has gained prominence since the late 20th century. Founding director of the Pompidou Centre’s Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation and director and cofounder of Ars Industrialis, an independent association promoting a critical cultural politics, Stiegler’s activities span scholarly research and teaching, cultural-policy intervention, coordinating technological innovations in pedagogical and cultural activities, and contributing to public debate in various fora. He is the author of over fifty monographs and has coauthored books and numerous essays and lectures, many of which are available through an online school of philosophy, Pharmakon.fr. Philosophy became Stiegler’s vocation during a term in prison (1978–1983), something he has written about in Acting Out. Jacques Derrida became his mentor, and Stiegler’s work can be situated as emerging from post-structuralist theory. It includes substantial critical reevaluations of Derrida, Paul Virilio, Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and Michel Foucault. Stiegler’s philosophy and cultural politics proceed from the position that the question of technology should be appropriately incorporated in every domain of human endeavor from art to science to economics and politics. He is best described as a philosopher of technicity, by which term is meant the irremediably incomplete and contingent character of human being, a being who is always supplemented by technical prostheses. Besides those noted above, Stiegler develops his thought in dialogue with numerous sources, including Gilbert Simondon, Martin Heidegger, Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, Plato, and Aristotle. For Stiegler, human being is a matter of becoming, a becoming conjugated with the becoming of technics in a dynamic without essential or teleological character. It must be critically evaluated to maintain a future projection of this becoming as “non-inhuman.” He advances a “general organology” of the relationships among the organic biological body, organized technical forms, and social organizations that interact in psychic and collective individuation. For Stiegler, critical thinking in the early 21st century involves a “pharmacological” evaluation of the adoption of technological possibility by socioeconomic and political systems, at a time of the major destabilization of social and cultural programs by a capitalist globalization determining the course of the digital transformation of existence. Technology is our pharmakon, an inescapable poison that has curative potential, and culture is a therapeutics that must recover from its colonization by the digital-audiovisual processes of cognitive capitalism.

General Overviews

To date, the most-useful introductions to Stiegler’s work are found in journals, edited collections, or overviews of philosophy or developments in media theory. Barison and Ross 2004 is an exception; this experimental philosophical documentary has contributions from several philosophers and includes several segments of an interview with Stiegler that amount to a coherent and accessible introduction to his key claims concerning modern technology and the technicity of the human. Ekman 2007 has a substantial account of Stiegler as a post-structuralist philosopher taking up Paul Virilio’s key thematic of speed. Patrick Crogan’s introduction to a special issue of Cultural Politics on Stiegler provides an overview of Stiegler’s work up to around 2008 and assesses its value for reorienting cultural and media theory (Crogan 2010). In James 2010, the author analyzes Stiegler’s account of the role of technics in human history as central to his significance for modern critical philosophy. In the introduction to their edited collection on Stiegler, Christina Howells and Gerald Moore also assess the purport of Stiegler’s insistence on technicity both as what identifies him as a post-structuralist philosopher and what differentiates him from the broader project of figures such as Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-François Lyotard (Howells and Moore 2013).

  • Barison, David, and Daniel Ross, dirs. The Ister. DVD. Fitzroy, Australia: Black Box Sound and Image, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    By including several passages of an interview with Stiegler, this philosophical documentary about Martin Heidegger’s reading of Freidrich Holderlin’s poem The Ister serves as a valuable introduction to the major theses of Stiegler 1998 (cited under First Period), the first volume of the Technics and Time series. The film’s first part is particularly relevant in this regard, while Stiegler’s contributions to the second part provide more detail of his evaluation of Heidegger’s project.

  • Crogan, Patrick. “Bernard Stiegler: Philosophy, Technics, Activism.” In Special Issue: Bernard Stiegler. Edited by Patrick Crogan. Cultural Politics: An International Journal 6.2 (2010): 133–156.

    DOI: 10.2752/175174310X12672016548162E-mail Citation »

    Introducing a special issue on Stiegler, this essay gives an account of Stiegler’s Technics and Time series (Stiegler 1998, Stiegler 2009, and Stiegler 2011, all cited under First Period). It also discusses some of the work comprising the Culture and Politics section and surveys the early anglophone critical reception of Stiegler, including Beardsworth 1996, Bennington 1996, Wills 2006 (all cited under Relation to Deconstruction), Ekman 2007, and Hansen 2004 (cited under Film and Media Studies).

  • Ekman, Ulrik. “Of Transductive Speed—Stiegler.” Parallax 13.4 (2007): 46–63.

    DOI: 10.1080/13534640701682792E-mail Citation »

    Ekman situates Stiegler’s project in post-structuralist and media theory contexts. He sees a marked relation to Paul Virilio’s thematization of the speed of modern technics and reads Stiegler as following Virilio in oscillating between a post-human engagement with an autonomous technological development and one that returns to a more ethical and political set of concerns for the future of the human.

  • Howells, Christina, and Gerald Moore. “Introduction: Philosophy—the Repression of Technics.” In Stiegler and Technics. Edited by Christina Howells and Gerald Moore, 1–14. Critical Connections. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    The editors provide a concise introduction to Stiegler’s key claims concerning the technical, prosthetic character of human existence and its implications for philosophy. They position Stiegler as emerging from but decisively different than his post-structuralist interlocutors such as Derrida, Lyotard, and Deleuze. Howells and Moore then discuss his critical account of modern capitalist technoculture and characterize the major critical responses to his work, key instances of which are included in their anthology.

  • James, Ian. “Bernard Stiegler and the Time of Technics.” In Special Issue: Bernard Stiegler. Edited by Patrick Crogan. Cultural Politics: An International Journal 6.2 (2010): 207–228.

    DOI: 10.2752/175174310X12672016548360E-mail Citation »

    James analyzes what he calls Stiegler’s thought of the “time of technics” in Stiegler 1998 and Stiegler 2009 (both cited under First Period), assessing its contribution to philosophical and wider considerations of the modern state of globalized technological modernity. James unpacks and defends the rigor and legitimacy of Stiegler’s “transformative combination” of the propositions of Derrida, Heidegger, and André Leroi-Gourhan, through which he arrives at his philosophy of originary but not essential human technicity.

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