Tag Archives: Bernard Stiegler

Being and Space

Sam Kinsley, former colleague and technophilia, now at Exeter Uni, recently published ‘The Matter of “Virtual” Geography’ in Progress in Human Geography. It gives a comprehensive overview of the history of formulations of virtual spaces and realities since the heady days of the 1990s articulations of cyberspace, up to recent approaches to ideas of coded and networked spatialities. Sam perceptively mobilises Stiegler’s work including his use of Simondon and Heidegger to propose a way of describing and analysing digitally enabled spatial and temporal refigurations of contemporary existence and sociality.

I wanted to add a gloss on this mobilisation of Stiegler’s notion of technicity, as a point that seemed to me to touch on an important element in Stiegler’s critical adoption of Heidegger’s Being and Time — hence the ‘Being and Space’ title. Sam has this to say about Stiegler’s positioning of humans as always already preceded by technics in a way:

“Culture”, he writes, “can accordingly be thought of as metastable systems of retention, of exteriorized thought: ‘A new born child arrives into a world in which tertiary retention [data, images, writing and so on] both precedes and awaits it, and which, precisely, constitutes the world as world’ (Stiegler, 2010a: 9, original emphasis). The ongoing creation of shared knowledge, and thus a shared memory and history, is in large part mediated by technology (with the notable exceptions of practices of oral history and storytelling).”

Absolutely, and here Stiegler’s take on and taking from Heidegger’ notion of Dasein’s ‘throwness’ is evident. Dasein, the being for whom its being is a question, ‘falls’ into time, and encounters a facticity already there. This paradoxical futurity of what precedes Dasein in a sense programmes (though this word is evocative much more of Stiegler’s Heidegger than Heidegger) the questioning of being that characterises Dasein, along with the tension between an intratemporal business with everyday things seeking to avoid the question and an authentic encounter with it via (in Heidegger) an assuming of the heritage of the collective past as pro-genitor and horizon of Dasein’s future possibilities.

In the latter part of Technics and Time 1 Stiegler ‘deals with’ Heidegger, identifying this notion of a throwness into an already existent facticity as his major insight, while also identifying quite precisely the point in Being and Time  (at a certain moment in the famous chapter on historicality and temporality) where Heidegger turns away from the implications of this constitutive factical technicity of Dasein and towards the more problematic notion of a history of being as expressed in the community of the volk  — the community — thought separately as a spiritual continuity, somehow transcendent from a facticity now relegated to the status of intratemporal covering over of the former. For Stiegler, as Sam’s account indicates, technics is an irreducible dimension of individual and collective being and any ‘authentic’ reflection or encounter with the question of one’s being, or of being in general (in philosophy, religion, politics etc) develops on the basis of and out of conditions that are factical, that pre-exist s/he reflecting, and that also make possible the transmission and communication of that reflecting to others to come after.

One more note: the oral history and storytelling that is part of the the “ongoing creation of shared knowledge” Sam describes is also mediated technically, if not ‘technologically’ (but perhaps today few instances of mediation passes completely to one side of the pervasive electronic media milieu). Oral transmission is always part of a linguistic technicity; it is always undertaken in conjunction with certain rituals and gestures associated with the cultural event of story recital; and often these will include the production of graphics of various kinds, rupestral, sand-painting, bodily inscription and so forth. That minds retain these forms and conventions and rites testifies to the profound interdependence of organic and non-organic spatial memory supports in the maintenance and evolution of individual and cultural identity.    

 

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Event-ization gloss

I recently posted about a symptomatic episode in the recent history of military drone R&D that involved the licensing of proprietary software developed by ESPN for its media coverage of American football (cited in Chamayou’s Theorie du drone) . I referred to Stiegler’s notion of ‘event-ization’ (événementialisation) there rather breezily, a term which deserves some further unpacking to explore its relevance to these developments in which a media coverage software system is being deployed in a different context. So, here goes…

I took the term from Technics and Time 2: Disorientation, where it is discussed in ch 3 on the ‘industrialization of memory’ (cf p. 100, and p. 115ff). It resembles similar formulations (Derrida, Virilio, Baudrillard, McLuhan, come immediately to mind) concerning the way that mass, industrial technological mediation has affected the production of ‘historical reality’ through both the speed of electronic transmission of events and, secondly, the extent to which many events are ‘co-produced’ to be media at the same time as they are ‘events’ covered by media. In terms of the first aspect, the collapse of the delay between the event and its mediated reproduction as ‘story’, report, analysis and record is what characterises the industrial, electronic media’s impact on the production of experience. The reduction of the delay between event and its representation and interpretation in some kind of media (oral account, print, newsreel, radio and tv news, to blogging, live coverage and tweets) challenges thought to comprehend the event as something that can be placed in an individual’s or collective’s memory in a way that enables it to contribute to the understanding of reality, and the evolution of one’s historical/cultural identity. Instead, events seem to appear today as already consigned a significance and an impact via their immediate processing in and as a composed, selectively synthesized mediated transmission. Stiegler calls this a ‘short-circuiting’ of the ‘transindividuation’ that otherwise passes (in longer circuits) between individuals in the collective negotiation of significance, value, identity etc.

In terms of the latter aspect of co-production of event/media coverage, sporting events assume something of an exemplary status inasmuch as those pro-sports that are heavily mediated become thoroughly permeated (in terms of rules, scheduling, ‘monetisation’ of talent, merchandising, audience, player and fan culture, etc) by commercial media logics and prerogatives. But also, since Walter Benjamin’s acute analysis of the fascist aestheticization of politics, the mediatization of parliamentary and presidential democratic politics has increasingly imposed itself as a question and a crisis of ‘liberal democracy’. And so it goes for much of social and cultural ‘experience’ which today is subject to ever-increasing and ever more pervasive industrial mediation.

What makes Stiegler’s account of event-ization different is his characterization of this media-overlapping and preemption of experience (here I would refer you to my book Gameplay Mode which develops this theme of pre-emption) as a singular transformation of what is the very basis of human spatio-temporal experience in the production and interpretation of exterior memory supports. In Stieger’s view spatiotemporality is historically and culturally conditioned, which is also to say, technically conditioned. It is always already a technically mediated (from flint stone to cave or sand graphics to play, book, radio, video to computer) processing of an always already exteriorised memory–exterior forms being co-constitutive of what we like to understand is our species specific interior consciousness.

Let me say 2 things then about how ‘eventization’ which is about mainstream media’s impact on lived culture/experience relates here to the military adoption of a mainstream media programming of sporting eventfulness. 1. The ‘audience’ is initially here restricted to the military drone operator/command and personnel and those reviewing it in the field or higher up in the military-political complex (even if these videos and ones simulating them also populate video-sharing sites; something which certainly needs to be addressed as a further aspect of the transformation of eventfulness, that is of historical reality and the production of its political significance…but not for this post…). So this eventization may not be the production of war as media in any general, propagandistic manner initially, but it is about accumulating ‘audience credit’ for what is a major military-industrial business. Drones in operation are always also part of what are major R&D cycles of testing and improvement, maximising the enormous capitalization advantages provided by the government investment in these automatic weapons systems. ‘Audience credit’ is what Stiegler identifies as the lynchpin of contemporary commercial eventization; securing attention and belief of the minds of consumers (and in this case innovators and tech speculators) is at the heart of the unprecedented and problematic domination of the mediation of eventfulness by capitalist (and here militaro-corporate) interests today in Stiegler’s analysis. (We should add without developing this further here that this also has routes into major military-entertainment leverage potential in virtual entertainments of all kinds–to go with the military-entertainment dimensions of the drone developments in general.)

2. What Stiegler characterizes as the ‘forceful recounting’ of the event in contemporary electronic, realtime eventization–by which events are forcefully produced according to the logics of audience capture/management noted above–takes on a particular sense with drone eventizing of the overflown territory. And this is one which insists with lethal force on its pre-interpretation of human activity subject to surveillance and action as counter-insurgent/counter-terrorist instance. This has effects on the lives not only of those targeted–and this is not even to get into the hotly contested arguments about the numbers of ‘civilian’ vs ‘insurgent’ or ‘terrorist’ casualties– but operates as a powerful determinant of the experience of living under the permanent and would-be ubiquitous surveillance that requires the mobilization of such an eventization software package so well suited to the pro football arena. The ‘experiential costs’ of the thoroughgoing mediatization of the ‘arena’ are more difficult to quantify but no less significant for people who must live with the forceful eventizing of their existence as one coming within ‘insurgent’ or terrorist inhabited battle arena. See for instance, this story publicising a recent visit to the US congress by civilian victims of a drone strike in Pakistan sponsored by politicians sympathetic to human rights initiatives against drone use.

Drones, sport and ‘eventization’

This post is to start some ideas circulating from work I am increasingly becoming preoccupied with concerning military robotics and AI, as a particular (and also particularly important, in many ways) case of automatizing technologies emerging today. This is a big topic attracting an increasing amount of critical attention, notably from people like Derek Gregory (whose Geographical Imaginations blog is a treasure trove of insights, lines of inquiry and links on much of the work going on round this topic), and Lucy Suchman who is part of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and brings a critical STS perspective to drones and robotics on her Robot Futures blog.

NFL

I’m reading French CNRS researcher Gregoire Chamayou’s Théorie du drone, a book which has made a powerful start on the task of philosophically (as he has it) interrogating the introduction of these new weapons systems which are transforming the conduct, conceptualisation and horizon of war, politics and the technocultural global future today. Many riches in there, but I just read (p. 61) that the U.S. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, looking for ways to deal with the oceans of video data collected by drones constantly overflying territory with unblinking eyes, obtaianed a version of software developed by ESPN and used in their coverage of American football. The software provides for the selection and indexing of clips from the multiple camera coverage of football games to enable their rapid recall and use in the analysis of plays which (as anyone who watches NFL or College football coverage knows takes up much more time than the play itself in any given broadcast). The software is able to archive footage (from the current or previous games) in a manner that makes it immediately available to the program director in compiling material for comparative analysis, illustration of player performance or tactical/strategic traits of a team, etc. The player and the key play can be systematically broken down, tracked in time, identified as exceptional or part of a broader play style, and so forth.

These capacities are precisely what makes the software desirable to the US Air Force inasmuch as the strategic development of drone operations deals with effectively the same analytical problem: the player and the key play, the insurgent/terrorist and the key act (IED, ambush, etc).  The masses of video surveillance of the vast ‘gridded’ space of battlespace, a vast ‘arena’ similarly zoned in precisely measurable slices (but in 3D) must be selectable, taggable and recoverable in such a way to be usable in the review of drone operations. And the logic (or logistic as Virilio would immediately gloss it) of this treatment of ‘battlespace’ is realised in what has recently emerged unofficially from the Obama administration-Pentagon interface as the emerging strategic deployment of drones by the CIA (which runs a significant and un-reported proportion of drone operations globally). This targeting strategy is based precisely on pattern analysis both in tracking known suspected enemies of the state and in identifying what are called ‘signature targets’ (the signature referring to a ‘data signature’ of otherwise unidentified individuals, one that matches the movements and associations of a known insurgent/terrorist — see Gregory’s post on this in Geographic Imaginations ).

The ethical and juridical-political dimensions of this strategy are coming under increasing and much-needed scrutiny (more to come on this). As a media/games theorist, the striking thing about this felicitous mutuality of affordances between pro sport mediatisation technics and those in development for the conduct of drone operations is the reorientation to space it not only metaphorically suggests (war, become game now steering the metaphoric vehicle back in the other direction) but enacts through an ‘eventization’ (Stiegler) operating in the very constitution of the ‘event’ of war or counter-insurgency (or what James Der Derian called ‘post war warring’) . While there are many complicit actors benefiting from the profitable mediatized evolution of American football into a protracted, advertising friendly broadcast, no such ‘partnership’ exists between key players ‘on the ground’ and those re-processing their data trails.