Stiegler and gesture

Cut and pasted from my own blog, posted on 30th March

From this week’s reading for the Stiegler reading group (intro to For a New Critique of Political Economy), gesture, like speech, is

a retentional flow, that is, as a continuous chain [enchainement] of gestures, and the learning [apprentissage] of a craft consists in producing gestural secondary retentions, whereas the discretization and the spatialized reproduction of the time of gestures constitutes technical automation, but where it is no longer the logos of the soul but rather the gestures of the body that become analytically reproducible as tertiary retention. (p.10)

As language (as a retentional flux) was ‘discretized’ into the tertiary retentions of writing and numeration (and thereby making available, or making possible, its analysis), so too gesture. Gesture,

was given concrete expression with the application of Jacques de Vaucanson’s automation technology to the Jacquard loom, and became more specialized in the form of the industrial revolution. (p.10)

Two initial thoughts: firstly, whilst contemporary gestural game systems may shrink in significance if, as Stiegler’s discussion might suggest, the embodied culture of the industrial era is characterised by this wholesale discretization and industrialization of human movement (and physical expertise), they at least highlight both the continuities of this aspect of the industrial era in contemporary digital culture, and trace this machinic discretization into everyday life, the home, media culture, and pleasure.

Is this concept of ‘discretization’ (and, grammatization) adequate for this augmentation, industrialisation, or massive acceleration and mutational transduction of gesture from the weird charm of Vaucanson’s duck to the operations of production line robots? Perhaps there is something reassuringly anthropocentric in this account, its anxiety about the relationship between human and nonhuman ‘gesture’ masking the machinic phylum?


4 thoughts on “Stiegler and gesture

  1. I don’t think it’s a reassuring anthropocentrism. Stiegler’s work I wouldn’t call ‘anthropocentric’ in the usual sense of defining everything in terms of the human. His whole project has been to undermine an easy assumption that ‘human’ means anything essential or apriori. it is, however, focussed on thinking about human becoming, and for quite political/ethical reasons. The interview he did in Angelaki with Sean Gaston is very good on this vol 8:2, 2003; as other commentators have noted, the ‘human’ as western tradition has it is unlikely to survive much longer, so if you think it has qualities worth preserving/promoting etc. then you have to argue for the ‘human’ (as for eg. creative, worthy of certain universal rights, able to ‘elevate’ itself culturally, etc.)…
    There is a difference here definitely to someone like Deleuze (and G) in their more post-human materialism. Stiegler is ‘doing’ Deleuze in a forthcoming book so that should be interesting.

  2. The work on gesture is really interesting in Stiegler. We will see how it connects up to Leroi-Gourhan’s work in gesture and speech. Gesture has been something of a hot topic lately; eg. a little essay by Giorgio Agamben on gesture and editing has been influential. I think it could profitably be rerun through Stiegler much more rigorous thinking of the gesture.

  3. Bart’s been reading Agamben in relation to his own thinking on gesture. I’ll see if I can get him to contribute some thoughts.

  4. Great!
    Agamben talks about the generalised loss of gestures associated with industrial modernisation. he’s a bit vague about it but it seems to mean when labour becomes proletarianised and people lose authorship of their gestures as it were. this is similar to Stiegler, but S elaborates this far more rigorously and productively for carrying forward this observation, imho.

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