Just read this in a book of interviews Stiegler did with Phillip Petit and Vincent Bontems. It struck me as a rather provocative challenge to (some) cultural studies work to think again about what culture is, in keeping with the activist critical stance Stiegler pursues.
This is a rough translation from a brief but powerful description of culture that Stiegler offers in response to the commodification of culture (and implicitly, its acceptance by a certain mode of cultural criticism and analysis):
pp 51-52 from Economie de l’hypermatériel et psychopourvoir: Entretiens avec Phillippe Petit et Vincent Bontems (Paris: Mille et une nuits, 2008)
P.P. [Phillippe Petit]:
We are living in an epoch of terrible doubt, about works of art, scientific discoveries, religious feelings… These doubts are expressed across a cultural recycling that is so swollen that its precise form escapes us. Cults and disciplines of all kind seem to spread out in a terrible indistinction.
B.S. [Bernard Stiegler]:
You could also talk here about political and economic workings. It is happening like this because belief must make an object of a care or service, a cult (religious or secular), of a culture and of a training in the sense that the Greeks spoke of gumnasia (of which the German teaching institutions have preserved this usage). There isn’t any religion without rituals because religious belief must be trained, just like all forms of belief. But this is true of all forms of otium and of all the knowledges of the forms of otium.* Personally, I read and write every morning, and I practice this like a cult—and as a battle against myself, against what is a kind of ‘minority’ within me, caused by what Kant would call my laziness and passivity.** Today we dare not call this culture, identifying it with what Moses Mendelssohn has taught us belongs (as Kultur) to Bildung [education], that is, to a formation of the mind/spirit [l’esprit], and in this sense, to a cult. We dare not speak of it in this way anymore because the word ‘culture’ has been so folded into the consumerist and behavioural modes through which it is constituted in the culture industry—what Michel Deguy rightly calls ‘the cultural’—that in the end we have forgotten this necessity.
* otium is an Ancient Greek word that Stiegler takes up, following Foucault’s analysis of ‘care’ and the techniques of the self (of self-development and improvement) that are opposed to the necessary activities of working to survive—negotium—as what what can be done to make life more ‘existing’ than merely ‘subsisting’. See eg. Stiegler, Taking Care.
** The reference here is to Kant’s ‘What is Enlightenment?’ essay, and the opposition of minority (immaturity, dependence, passivity) to majority (maturity, independence, responsibility and agency).