Stiegler reading group 4 notes on Technics and Time 1 ch 1

Here are some comments on the last part of ch 1 of TT1 that we looked at in our last meeting before adjourning for the summer. It covers Stiegler’s turning to Simondon from Leroi-Gourhan to complete his picture of the key issues and potential approaches to thinking contemporary technics drawn from the work done before he found most relevant (ie. from Gilles, to L-G to Simondon).


L-G’s work tended to fall short of thinking the implications of the industrial revolution for his model of technical development as ethnically mediated variations on a universal technical tendency. The industrial challenges the ethnic via its rapid and global transformation of production that tends to make ethnic political, etc systems fall into line. (Still, and the late L-G seemed to get this, this is in keeping with the idea of universal technical tendency; only it is its exacerbation. So it is less for Stiegler (like L-G) a quesiton of a western cultural ‘superiority’ imposing itself than of a radical boost in the dynamic of technical development to ‘cut across’ ethnic, cultural, geographical, limits and filters.

This is where Stiegler turns to Simondon as a better thinker of the industrial process of technological development. Individuation is key here, as a thought of composed, ‘tranductive’ reciprocally implied becoming between elements in an ensemble. for Simondon this is a kind of quasi-evolutionary process that explains technical development of complex industrial systems. The ‘technical individual’ is however a becoming and not like the biological individual, a concrete, ‘realised’ entity. For Simondon’s ‘mechanology’, the task is to better understand this individuation process, the better to learn how the human relates to it, can compose themselves with it, and learn to live in the ‘associated milieu’ industrial technics composes/reinvents out of the natural milieu and its own environment-making complexity.

some important elements discussed here: a definition of the machine (p69): as something that synthesizes a function: in two senses: in incorporates a function (this is the process of concretisation of particular machines in Simondon), and it reproduces it in the place of its earlier concretisation. Stiegler; reproduction is the engine of differentiation.


p69-70. Concretisation is the history of the development of specific objects conceived from the perspective on function, on procedure. this is more relevant, and less anthropological than thinking of and classifying objects in terms of human use (eg. sword, pistol, club as weapons covers over the procedural differences between a sword and a club and a pistol; whereas the functional resemblance between the machine gun and the proto-cinematic devices of Marey, Muybridge has been noted by another simondon-influenced thinker, Virilio; the function of intermittent drive travelled and cross-pollinated different domains of technical objects. the dynamic of ‘chaotic’ and systemic interchanges in technical development is more determining of the quasi-genetic becoming of technical ensembles than human inventors thinking up ideas for new tools.

Indetermination is key: and of course digital computer technology is the system of maximal indetermination and potential possible lines of concretisations. Here Stiegler reprises and ‘concludes’ the thematic of technological determinism vs cutural/human agency conducted thoughout the chapter. in simondon the human becomes more the ‘operator’ than the origin/destination of technical development. But as Stiegler shows toward the end of the chapter this is not nothing. in fact, the human is essential supplement to technical development which has no ‘agency’ or motive (desire) without the human operator, even if Simondon’s project has been to turn the tables on the human-centred conception of technology as a series of forms expressing human ideas/ideals/desires.

Human anticipation is identified as the key element of this engine of technical becoming (in a quote from Simondon, p81). Stiegler indicates his way ahead by saying that if that is the case, then it is necessary to show how this anticipation has always already been conditioned by, composed with and out of, a relation to technics. Human technicity–human as technically supplemented– is irreducible, originary. A (better, more critical, politically less naive) mechanology would have to think this through carefully.

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