‘Realtime Synthesis’ and the Différance of the Body: Technocultural Studies in the Wake of Deconstruction – Mark Hansen

Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time (published in three volumes over the period from 1994-2001, with two further volumes promised) marks an important chance for deconstruction — a chance for it to (re)enter the terrain marked out by cultural studies. More exactly, Stiegler’s work marks the chance for deconstruction (understood, for the moment at least, as a thinking of the aporia of the origin) to put forth its rightful claim to be the necessary — and now explicitly necessary — ‘ground’ for cultural studies.

In analyses ranging over mythology and paleontology, contemporary technoscience and phenomenology, Stiegler has developed a highly original philosophy of technology, the central premise of which is that the human has always been technological. Drawing on the perspective of French paleontologist Andre Leroi-Gourhan, who argues for the coincidence of tool use and the appearance of the human, Stiegler claims that the human can be specified as that being who evolves through means other than life, through a coupling with the independent ‘exterior’ evolution of technological objects. This insistence on the correlation of the human subject (the ‘who’) and the technical object (‘the what’) informs Stiegler’s rereading of Heidegger in volume 1 of Technics and Time as well as his divergences from Derrida’s retooling of Heidegger in Of Spirit and related works. Resurrecting Heidegger’s analysis in an early lecture from 1924 on time (‘The Concept of Time’), Stiegler shows that the emphasis Heidegger places on the opposition between ecstatic, transcendental temporality and mundane temporality is misplaced, since there can be no access to time, indeed no experience of time whatsoever, without the prior inscription of time in worldly form. Thus Dasein is irreducibly dependent on the technical giving of time. This analysis furnishes an alternative to Derrida’s own deconstruction of Heidegger and, as we shall see, a variant path toward thinking the possibility of the future. Whereas Derrida undoes the Heideggerian opposition only to rediscover and reemphasize the radical alterity of time (which forms the basis for the ‘promise’ in his more recent ethico-religious perspective), Stiegler refuses to bracket the technical. As we will see, this difference ultimately concerns the role respectively accorded the empirical-transcendental divide by the two philosophers.

For the moment, however, what needs to be stressed is the promise Stiegler’s insistence on the irreducibility of the technical holds for (re)discovering deconstruction within cultural studies. This promise concerns the privilege he accords the empirical manifestation of différance. If time is only given through concrete technical inscriptions, as Stiegler maintains, then technics would necessarily possess a determining agency over the materialization of différance at this or that specific historical moment. There would furthermore necessarily be a history of différance, and this history would be inseparable from — indeed, nothing other than — the history of the supplement.

Despite garnering accusations from certain (Derridian) detractors that his position positivizes différance,1 it is in fact precisely because it runs the risk of positivism that Stiegler’s work can aid us in (re)discovering deconstruction within cultural studies. Stiegler’s work, as I see it, forges a much needed position between positivism and abstraction — between the various strategies for positivizing différance that one finds in contemporary cultural studies (for example, in the ‘radical empiricism’ of audience research studies (Ang, 1996: 251) and more generally in the ubiquitious call for explorations of heterogeneity as a ‘positive’, that is, concrete phenomenon)2 and the retreat to a pretechnical, precultural quasi-politics of the promise that Derrida has recently articulated. What distinguishes Stiegler from the former is precisely his appreciation for the aporia of the origin: for if the origin is never (simply) given, then what conditions experience at any concrete moment cannot be situated exclusively at the level of the empirical. On the flip side, what distinguishes Stiegler from Derrida is the manner in which he conceptualizes the aporia: for Stiegler, the aporia is not a logical principle whose sway is exercised prior to and independently of the empirical, but rather the rigorous consequence of the givenness of time (différance) through concrete technical objects. The dependence of the human on the technical object marks an excess over the empirical that, however, remains inseparable from the empirical — that, as he will say, only appears as its ‘après-coup’.

The ultimate consequence of Stiegler’s correlation of the human and the technical is the claim — a claim for which I shall argue in what follows — that the (re)discovery of deconstruction within cultural studies has the consequence of transforming cultural studies into technocultural studies. While it evinces much resonance with contemporary cultural studies of media and technology, Stiegler’s work can thus be understood to call into question some of the fundamental principles of cultural studies as such. In the first place, it questions the very privilege of culture itself from a post-Marxist perspective aligned with the techno-economic conditions of globalization.3 Its distinctive merit here is the specificity it introduces into such questioning: in a world where culture (understood by Stiegler, perhaps too narrowly, as the ‘adoption’ or reproduction of the tradition) is made possible by technics (the various archival technologies from phonography up to today’s teletechnologies), the effort to examine how technics simultaneously enables and constrains cultural production takes precedence, and indeed becomes the condition for, cultural studies proper. As one important consequence of this questioning of the cultural, Stiegler’s perspective presents a vastly different model for understanding the subject’s relation with the transnational media system. To put it schematically, whereas cultural studies’ approach to the media, from Stuart Hall’s ‘decoder-encoder’ model to the audience research studies of Ien Ang and Janice Radway, positions the viewer and media technology as extrinsic in relation to one another, Stiegler’s work conceptualizes the correlation of the two as intrinsic. Thus, where cultural studies speaks (a variously inflected) rhetoric of viewer empowerment, Stiegler’s work begins from a premise that enjoins him from investing in any simple politics of subjective agency. For if consciousness is constituted through technics, and if the conditions for such constitution today (what Stiegler calls the ‘real time’ ‘technical synthesis’) function to industrialize consciousness (i.e. make it a ‘product’ of the global televisual system), then it makes little sense to seek emancipation in counter-hegemonic reception practices.4 Rather, in keeping with the ‘originary prostheticity’ of consciousness, emancipation can only come from technics itself, from a technical intervention that can change the reception situation — from, for example, the possibilities for (a very different) decoding and encoding offered by the digital discretization of the continuous, ‘real time’ image. What this means, ultimately, is that emancipation can only come through technogenesis, that is, through an ‘evolution’ of consciousness itself via its intrinsic correlation with technics. On this understanding, emancipation would never be from a dominant ideology disseminated by the media, but on the contrary, could only ever be the effect of a new configuration of the subjective and technical syntheses.

At the most general level, what brings Stiegler’s work into affinity with cultural studies is a common effort to anchor theoretical analysis in the concrete. In the end, however, Stiegler’s commitment to the technical specificity of différance yields a very different concept of the empirical than that championed by practitioners of cultural studies (e.g. Ang’s call for a ‘radical empiricism’ in the face of a ‘transnational media system [that] is an irreversible process that cannot be structurally transcended, only negotiated in concrete cultural contexts’ (1995: 251)). Rather than the locus for a cultural specification of a technoeconomic reality, Stiegler’s empirical is the technical condition for the appearance of différance, for the gift of time, in the world today. As such, it is always in excess of itself, shot through with the contingency that, far from ratifying a media system by configuring it in a ‘local’ perspective, serves to open the possibility of the future. In the end, Stiegler’s concept of the empirical marks the privileging of the technical over the cultural, a fact that can be seen, for example, in his analysis of the suspension of the ethnic (in favor of technics itself) as the agent of collective individuation. It would be hard to imagine a position more at odds with an agenda (like that of Ang) that embraces ethnography as one of its fundamental tools.

What Stiegler’s work affords, then, is an opportunity to transform cultural studies into technocultural practice. My effort to perform this transformation here will unfold in two sections. In the first, I propose to rehearse Stiegler’s transformative appropriation of Derrida’s early conceptualization of différance, the trace, and archi-writing with the purpose primarily of laying bare the salient differences between their respective philosophies, and specificially, their divergent embrace of technics. This analysis will culminate in the question regarding today’s realtime global media system where the stakes of their differences are (in my opinion) most consequential. By exploring the conceptual différend informing their 1993 televised debate concerning media, I shall restage the discussion, as it were, in terms of the crucial difference between their respective negotiations of the empirical-transcendental divide. Not only will we thus see how their quite divergent appreciation for the threat that realtime media poses to différance stems from more basic philosophical commitments, but we will find ourselves in a position to assess this threat itself and its implications for technocultural studies today.

In the second, I shall perform my own transformative appropriation of Stiegler’s work. I shall argue, specifically, that his insight into the eclipse of différance enacted by the technical synthesis of realtime media calls for a reevaluation of his privileging of the technical over the anthropological. For it is precisely at the moment when the materialization of différance in inscription technologies no longer supports phenomenological experience that the correlation of différance with human embodiment must be (re)affirmed, that its irreducible correlation with the time of the body will appear most originary. Put somewhat differently, the realtime condition lays bare what, with philosopher Gilbert Simondon, we will theorize as the pre-anthropological source out of which the transduction of the human and technics arises. Accordingly, I will posit a further consequence of the (re)discovery of deconstruction within cultural studies: the rehabilitation of bodily time as the medium for sustaining différance in the face of the perpetual present of realtime media.

(I) From the Genealogy of Matter to the Realtime Synthesis

Let me begin by simply describing the nature of Stiegler’s intervention into Derrida’s original grammatological project. Stiegler’s conception of the ‘originary prostheticity’ of the human, of its co-emergence with tool use, performs a certain displacement of deconstruction that has the effect of specifying, against Derrida’s own conception, the constitutive technicity of arche-writing. By differentiating arche-writing (or writing in general) from any historical system of writing (including speech), Derrida inaugurates the thinking of deconstruction as a thinking of an aporia of the origin that is prior to technics. That is the reason he can say, as he does in Of Grammatology, that ‘a certain sort of question about the meaning and origin of writing precedes, or at least merges with, a certain type of question about the meaning and origin of technics. That is why the notion of technique can never simply clarify the notion of writing’ (Derrida, 1974: 8). For Stiegler, this thinking must be amended in such a way that the aporia can be preserved but in a form that is not separable from its givenness in a concrete technical inscription system. Thus he contends:

If arche-writing and the logic of the supplement are to be distinguished from the history of empirical supplements, it is primarily because an absolute past constitutes the impossibility of approaching the trace in terms of a mark, the impossibility of folding arche-writing back upon its irreducible empiricity. . . The tertiary trace refers to the arche-trace, older than any empirical or meta-empirical trace; it refers to the absolute past. But the absolute past only constitutes itself ‘as such’ through this referral. It is why a logic of the supplement, without ever simply being such a history, must also be a history of the supplement and its epochs, epochs that are each time singular and must each time form the object of a technical history constantly renewed. (Stiegler, 2001a: 255, 263)

The ultimate payoff of this difference, as I have already suggested, concerns the conceptualization of the transcendental-empirical divide: whereas for Derrida transcendence is given by the aporia of the origin, for Stiegler it is constituted through technics as the support for the inscription of memory. Technics, or ‘organized inorganic matter’, forms the condition for the givenness of time in any concrete situation, and thus (since time is, following Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics, the basis for transcendence) the concrete condition for the transcendental gesture that is constitutive of the human. As the being of ‘originary prostheticity’, the human suspends (or transcends) its genetic program by exteriorizing its memory into matter, thereby pursuing life through means other than life. The correlation of différance and organized inanimate matter (the technical object) involves a crucial aporia that is, interestingly and significantly, different from Derrida’s aporia of time: simply put, the technical object is both the condition for transcendence and the mark of its impossibility. It both makes consciousness possible as such by opening up the dimension of exteriorization (of the pursuit of life by extragenetic means) and levels transcendence through its absolute resistance to transcendental reduction. Thus, whereas Derrida retreats into an aporia between time and its empirical appearance as technicity or calculability, Stiegler dwells within the paradox created by the primacy of inscription itself, the fact that time must be technically inscribed for it to exist.5

This analysis calls on us to foreground what we might call the responsibility of deconstruction to technics: deconstruction must accept the consequences of its necessary — and constitutive — encounter with technics. Most fundamentally, this means that arche-writing must, in every instance, be correlated with a concrete technical inscription system that does not so much give its condition of possibility, as generate it après coup. Arche-writing and inscription appear in a single configuration, through a movement of co-constitution that Stiegler, following the philosopher Gilbert Simondon, calls transduction (defined as a relation between terms neither of which precedes or exists outside the relation). Yet as a result of this transductive correlation with specific technical systems of inscription, arche-writing cannot appear outside of the history of technical differentiations which define what Stiegler calls a ‘genealogy of matter’.

Stiegler’s project, then, may be understood as an effort to take seriously Derrida’s claim (in Of Grammatology) that différance is technics. If this effort forms the covert agenda of The Fault of Epimetheus (volume 1 of Technics and Time), it comes to the fore in volume 2, La Désorientation, and particularly in volume 3, Le Temps du cinéma, where Stiegler is concerned with assessing the specificity of contemporary technics, which range from global media and digitization to genetic engineering and which can be grouped under the rubric ‘teletechnologies’. It is in the analyses of contemporary technics that the claim informing the ‘General Introduction’ to the project takes concrete form. There, Stiegler puts forth the suggestion that time and space, far from determining (and placing some absolute limit on) speed, are in fact determined by it. Asking what it would mean (following Maurice Blanchot) to conceive our age as one in the process of breaking the ‘time barrier’, Stiegler invokes the concept of shock:

What would be the breaking of a time barrier if this meant going faster than time? What shock would be provoked by a device going quicker than its ‘own time’? Such a shock would in fact mean that speed is older than time. For either time, with space, determines speed, and there could be no question of breaking the time barrier in this sense, or else time, like space, is only thinkable in terms of speed (which remains unthought). (Stiegler, 1998: 15)

Older than time and space, speed is older than différance, or perhaps more precisely, speed is différance, the condition for all deferral and delay.6

Yet speed can hardly be a general condition for différance, since its impact refers to a particular state of technics. The above reflection on speed, Stiegler is quick to point out, is generated not by ‘the development of technics in general’, but by ‘certain effects of technical development, . . . namely, those that in computing one calls “real time” and in the media “live” — effects that distort profoundly, if not radically, what could be called “event-ization” [événementalisation] as such, that is to say, the taking place of time as much as the taking place of space’ (Stiegler, 1998: 16). When we turn to volume 2, we learn that the technical specificity attached to the concept of speed harbors a threat to différance as such. This is what Stiegler conceptualizes as the industrialization of time called ‘real time’, in which speed itself appropriates on the side of the technical ‘what’ the operation of delay formerly reserved for the human ‘who’:

The contemporary what has often been specified by its speed. If speed, as the in advance [comme avance], has always been an attribute proper to technics, in the epoch of the letter it facilitated the experience of delay as deferred time. Today, the speed of technics takes this delay upon itself. . .. As if technics integrated in itself the delay which seemed until now to constitute the who on the side [Ã l’écart] of the what, according it thereby its consistency. This displacement is what we refer to as real time. (Stiegler, 1996: 77)

It is absolutely crucial that we grasp just what Stiegler is arguing here, just what claim he is making on behalf of real time. Is he suggesting that real time eliminates delay as such, as we might be given to understand from his claim (on the page following the above citation) that ‘real time is not time’ but is rather the ‘detemporalization of time, or its occultation’? (78). Or is his argument rather (as the above passage would seem to suggest) that real time effaces the gap upon which the phenomenalization of time depends, the gap between the who and the what, consciousness and the technical inscription of time? In short: does real time mark an objective eclipse of différance, an absolute acceleration, or does it rather mark a transition across (or beneath) the temporal threshold of consciousness, a passage to a technical inscription of différance that would simply not give itself to or in phenomenal experience? Since this is precisely the question at issue in the Stiegler-Derrida debate, let us reserve further discussion until we have laid out Stiegler’s investment in cinema as the paradigm for contemporary time consciousness.

In his essay ‘The Time of Cinema’, and more expansively in volume 3 of Technics and Time (Le temps du cinéma), Stiegler seeks to substantiate his argument for the necessity of specifying différance by turning to the cinema as a form of inscription fundamentally distinct from (alphabetic) writing. Thus Stiegler characterizes cinema as a ‘writing of life’ that is in the process of displacing the epoch of linguistic grammatization:

. . .one must not place language and cinema on the same plane. . . . I place speech and life on the same plane, I place life (de anima) in the position of speech, and say that cinema is the writing of life. Just as, . . .through reproduction of speech there was the invention of language and grammar which transformed this speech, there is today cinema as the writing of the movement of life — and what is interesting is seeing why and how it transforms life. (Stiegler, 1998a: 94)

Yet it is what differentiates cinema from writing that is most significant: cinematic grammatization arises on the basis of a specific technical instantiation of archi-writing or différance. This is why, when Stiegler speaks about ‘cinema’ — and, specifically, when he claims cinema to be the exemplary contemporary technical object or form of the what, what he really seeks to foreground is the inscription of a double tendency of technics: on one hand, to collapse the delay between the who and the what, consciousness and the technical object, in opening up the black hole of the ‘live’; and on the other, to inaugurate a new form of grammatization (and not simply a new epoch of grammatology or archiwriting) informed by the potential digitization affords to discretize the continuous realtime cinematic flux. As a successor to the grammatological epoch, what the ‘cinematic’ epoch would designate is less the specific apparatus we know as cinema than the entire era of technical recording that began with the invention of phonography and photography and that is still in full swing today.7 We might better call it the audiovisual epoch, as Stiegler himself does when he grants digitization a certain priority as the technical accomplishment that discretizes technical recording, and thus accords it its proper specificity as the grammatization of life: the ‘grammatical operator [of the audiovisual revolution] is . . . technology itself: the discretization of the “continuity” of the image-object is going to be carried out in relation to technoscientific opportunity (the discovery of this or that algorithm of form recognition, for example), and not on the basis of a decision made by a “grammarian”‘ (Stiegler, 2002: 161).

Yet if this epochal understanding is right, how are we to make sense of Stiegler’s undeniable investment in the cinema as a concrete apparatus and in ‘cinema’ as the name for our technically-specified epoch? Or, to put it another, simpler way, what can Stiegler possibly get from his investment in cinema? What he gets is the paradigm for the experience of the self, for self-consciousness, for what philosophers call ‘self-affection’ (Kant) or ‘internal time-consciousness’ (Husserl), as it takes shape in the world today. More than any other technology (and certainly more than literature), it is cinema in its contemporary form as global television that frames time for us and gives us a surrogate temporal object in whose reflection we become privy to the flux of our own consciousness. At the same time, by opening consciousness onto the past, onto the non-lived of tradition or historicality, onto otherness of that which does not belong to the experience of consciousness, cinema qua temporal object captures the contemporary manifestation of the interdependence of the who and the what, of the human subject and the technical other. Put bluntly, we become who we are by inheriting a past destined to us through . . . cinema!8

Let us pause to remark on the significance of Stiegler’s investment in cinema with respect to contemporary technocultural studies. In stark contrast to the position of German ‘media scientist’ Friedrich Kittler, who triumphantly announces the obsolescence of the human in the face of contemporary digital convergence, Stiegler’s consideration of cinema, precisely because it foregrounds the irreducible coupling of technics with the human, serves to insure the continued centrality of the correlation of consciousness and technical temporal object as we move into an era of digitization (or the digital phase of our audiovisual era) that would seem to threaten its effacement. For this reason, as we shall see, Stiegler’s work obtains a crucial ethical dimension: specifically, it will allow us to retain a human perspective even when the time of the human seems to be radically eclipsed by realtime computing and live media. (And, importantly, it will do so without any recourse to a transcendental or quasi-transcendental principle.) Indeed, as a corollary of his insistence on the irreducible coupling of the human and technics, this ethical dimension drives a wedge between these two manifestations of digitization — realtime computing and live media — that, unfortunately, remain undifferentiated in Stiegler’s work,9 and that are, in fact, conflated in Kittler’s.10 The former operates at a timescale that is, in principle, beyond the threshold of human perception, and thus represents an acceleration that is properly inhuman (without however being absolute): realtime computing – what Stiegler (following Virilio) calls ‘light time’ – comprises a technical materialization of différance at the microphysical level. So-called live or realtime media, by contrast, operate at a timescale entirely compatible with consciousness; it is only for purely contingent reasons (e.g. the identity of registration and broadcasting in contemporary media) that the différance constitutive of the time of the human would seem to be eliminated. While this is a powerful effect of our contemporary realtime televisual system that, as Stiegler articulates at length in Le temps du cinéma, leads to the industrialization of consciousness on a global scale and the global domination of the ‘American way of life’, the very fact that it operates at the same time scale as the human preserves its openness to critical intervention, to a politics of deceleration and discretization itself made possible by digital technologies.11

It is precisely because Stiegler insists on the correlation of the who and the what, of consciousness and the (technical) temporal object, that the ‘real time’ synthesis poses a problem: by rendering registration and broadcasting simultaneous, it threatens simply to conflate consciousness and the temporal object that otherwise, following the Husserlian analysis Stiegler appropriates,12 would allow consciousness to reflect on itself. Without this temporal difference between consciousness and temporal object, there can be no foothold for différance in the empirical, which is to say that it cannot then emerge as the après coup of the technical inscription of time (as Stiegler insists it must). Now this is precisely the scenario Stiegler presents when he describes the shortcircuiting of the past, of memory, in contemporary realtime media:

. . . the two coincidences proper to the televisual epoch of cinema (direct transmission and live production of images) engenders a temporal object of a new kind, such that what occurs is immediately formatted photographically and registered as a ‘just past’ ‘it has been’, that is, as a primary retention collectively and massively retained via this tertiary retention which the telediffused program indubitably and immediately already is. In these temporal objects which news programs are, it becomes impossible to distinguish between the primary memory ‘just past’ and image consciousness, since what occurs occurs immediately by the image consciousness. The lived experience of this news is a temporal object which is irreducibly an image consciousness. The present tends to present itself in no other form than that of the temporal object. (Stiegler, 1998a: 106, emphasis added)

This conflation of consciousness and temporal object, this coincidence of tertiary memory and primary retention (the ‘just past’ ‘it has been’), is precisely what, for Stiegler, specifies the ‘live’, and also what differentiates it from real time computing or ‘light-time’.

Clearly, then, to return to the questions posed above concerning ‘real time’, Stiegler does not see ‘real time’ as it appears in ‘cinema’ (again, as distinct from real time computing) as an objective eclipse of différance, an absolute acceleration. Rather, like Derrida, he understands it to be an ‘artifactuality’, a contingent technical calculation of time that is so rapid it evades the scope of phenomenological consciousness.13 Accordingly, the focus of their debate in Echographies of Television (2002) is not whether real time is artifactual but, rather, what its implications are for the possibility of maintaining an ‘outside’ of the empirical. Because he thinks that différance simply is more originary than technics, Derrida can take for granted the possibility for a critical relationship to teletechnologies, albeit one that (in today’s real time scenario) is necessarily deferred to the future. For Stiegler, on the other hand, there can be no such transcendental solution, since the possibility for transcendence is itself transductively correlated with technics. That is why Echographies, as Beardsworth has astutely noted, witnesses Stiegler repeatedly returning to the question of specificity only to be given the same answer by Derrida: real time teletechnologies are and are not specific; they demarcate a new epoch of writing that is, however, made possible by the movement of (a singular) différance.14 From Stiegler’s perspective, Derrida will thus always already have reduced the threat of the live, of real time, by encompassing teletechnologies within archi-writing.15

To get a concrete sense of just how differently Derrida and Stiegler understand the stakes of the artifactuality of real time, let us turn to their respective efforts to think together the contingency of the technical inscription of time and its phenomenological effacement. For Derrida, the contingency of technical inscription (what Stiegler describes as a great opportunity, une grande chance)16 becomes the basis for an argument against originary technicity. Specifically, the contingency of the technical underscores the irreducibility of temporalization (the spacing of time) to its concrete technical inscription, and thus opens what Richard Beardsworth has called the ‘aporia of time’, the originarity of time and the ‘promise’ in Derrida’s work since 1994 (Beardsworth, 1996). This is why Derrida conceives the possibility for a critical reflection on today’s teletechnologies in terms of an ethical injunction: the injunction to preserve the ontological difference between the technical synthesis of time and différance as the quasi-transcendental condition of possibility for time at the precise moment when that difference is effaced phenomenologically. For Derrida, in other words, the unbridgeable gap between technicization and temporalization insures that a critical relation to teletechnologies is in principle always possible, even though, in the face of the artifactuality of real time, it must be referred to a future moment.17

That such a quasi-politics of the promise remains far too formal for Stiegler’s taste can be discerned in his sustained call, in response to Derrida’s articulations, for a ‘politics of memory’ that would directly contest the stranglehold imposed on the technical inscription of time by short-term economic interest. At the core of this politics of memory is an experimental program for deploying digital discretization in order to interrupt the identity of registration and broadcast (the realtime technical synthesis ) informing the contemporary industrialization of consciousness. That is why Stiegler contends in ‘The Discrete Image’ (2002), that the digital image holds forth the promise of a ‘more knowing belief,’ of new forms of ‘objective analysis’ and of ‘subjective synthesis’ of the visible precisely because it allows us unprecedented flexibility to intervene in the technical synthesis. With its capacity to interrupt the machinic flow of the realtime broadcast, digital technology promises to expose the determining role of the technical synthesis, and, more importantly still, to open it up to unprecedented forms of experimentation. By discretizing image flows that seem to us to be continuous, digitization will allow us ‘to submit the this was to a decomposing analysis’ and to add to the synthetic dimension of ‘the spectator’s relation to the image . . . an analytic relation’ (Stiegler, 2002: 157-8). Digitization will thus alter the conditions under which the spectator ‘intentionalizes the spectrum [of the image] as having been’, by bringing her own agency in selection to the fore at the expense of the automaticity of the realtime televisual apparatus. As a means of intervening in the technical synthesis, digitization thus constitutes the technical opportunity (or contingency) upon which a politics of memory can be erected. In stark contrast to Derrida, this technical opportunity is precisely what holds forth the possibility of (re)discovering a critical relation to contemporary teletechnologies, of (re)discovering différance within the artifactuality of real time, and — crucially — of finding the possibility of the future in the present, that is, within the contemporary technical inscription of time itself.

In his review of Echographies, Richard Beardsworth (1998) has underscored the failure of the two philosophers to engage at the level of their consequential philosophical differences. For my purposes, what is most important about the fundamental philosophical différend haunting the debate is that it gives rise to vastly divergent conceptualizations of the technical synthesis. For Stiegler, who draws directly on Roland Barthes’s analysis of photography in Camera Lucida, the technical synthesis holds a clear priority over the spectatorial synthesis in today’s real time, televisual cinema: because it inscribes time and makes it available to consciousness, the technical synthesis literally dictates the terms for the subjective synthesis, and it does so in a way that contaminates the latter, that renders it irreducibly technical. For Derrida, by contrast, the technical synthesis simply has no bearing on différance, only on its empirical manifestation; by restricting the impact of technics to the artifactuality of time (the technical synthesis), Derrida is able in principle to preserve an outside of the empirical and, with it, the purity of différance.

If we hope to move the analysis of real time media beyond the impasse of the Derrida-Stiegler debate, we must grasp clearly how these evaluations of the technical synthesis are both wrong yet nevertheless reflect the logic of each philosopher’s position. They are both wrong in being too extreme: Stiegler overvalues the technical synthesis at the expense of the agency of the human; Derrida undervalues it in order to preserve the abstract openness of the future. Neither can do otherwise, however, and for reasons of the most fundamental philosophical import: faced with the eclipse of the phenomenological experience of difference, and enjoined (by his fundamental philosophical commitments) from localizing différance in relation to any technical inscription of time, Derrida can only retreat to a quasi-transcendental conception of the ‘aporia of time’; faced with the same eclipse, and enjoined (by his fundamental philosophical commitments) from invoking any transcendence of the technical, Stiegler can only localize différance as the transductive correlate of a technical possibility inherent in digital technology underlying the realtime technical synthesis. By way of anticipating my argument in the next section, let me suggest that both positions enact a massive impoverishment of the resources of embodied human agency, for in both cases it is the conviction that the phenomenological experience of différance has been effaced that motivates the respective valuations of the technical synthesis. Yet if différance can be maintained through what I shall call the differential of the body, then the technical need not pose the threat it appears to pose equally, though differently, to Stiegler and Derrida. To counter their common impoverishment of embodiment, we would thus do well to play their respective positions off of one another. Let me then close this section by proposing the following reckoning: that Stiegler is right about the need for technical specificity but that he errs in granting too much agency to the technical synthesis; and that Derrida is right to view différance as marking a certain separation of the human from the technical but wrong to accord this separation ontological significance.

II Technics and Continuity

Jean-Michel Salanskis concludes his enthusiastic and thoughtful review of the first two volumes of Stiegler’s project by raising an important objection. According to Salanskis, Stiegler privileges the discrete over the continuous. Because of his (misguided) allegiance to the ‘postHeideggerian doxa‘, Stiegler, despite his efforts to bring together the two main strands in post-war French thinking, the epistemological-scientific and the phenomenological, ends by subordinating the former to the latter. More specifically, he falls victim to the confusion, both ‘philosophical’ and ‘axiological’, between a Hegelian conception of the continuous as self-identical and a ‘mathematico-substantive’ conception of the continuous as differential and thus constitutive of the discontinuous.18 According to Salanskis, only the latter can yield a thinking of the discontinuous (the heterogeneous), for the discrete will have always already excluded the discontinuous in opposing itself to the continuous or in incorporating the continuous as the self-identical. Thus Salanskis asks a crucial question: doesn’t Stiegler’s effort to found time in technical inscription make the error of ‘committing us to the order of the discrete, an order that is insufficient for thinking the heterogeneous and the dynamic, precisely what was his project at the beginning?’ (Salanskis, 2000: 277).

For Salanskis, the most important and immediate consequence of this privileging is that it compels Stiegler to misrecognize the fundamental function of the retention of the just-past in Husserl’s analysis, namely ‘to prescribe [prescrire] the constitution of a continuous time’ (275). According to Salanskis, this function is, first and foremost, mathematical: Husserl’s emphasis is on the ‘continua of retentions’ and his analysis is supported by a ‘geometric figuration referring . . . to mathematical continuity’ (275). Attending to the mathematical basis of Husserl’s concept has significant consequences for our understanding of retention:

Everything indicates that retention is a sort of infinitesimal operator capable of giving us, by the path of a dynamic production, the linear continuum. As such, retention is a paradoxical concept, because the referential form of retention would seem to express [dire] the discrete polarity of a retaining and a retained [d’un retenir et d’un retenu], while it is a question of qualifying, not the intentional content [la visée] of a past that is discrete from the present, but that of an adherent past. Otherwise put, the concept of retention reintegrates into itself [reprend à son comte] the paradoxicality which could have been that of the Leibnizian infinitessimal dx. (Salanskis, 2000: 275)

Before it comes to refer to the content of a just passing present (if indeed it ever does), retention is the operation that holds or ‘glues’ the past together: the intentional content [la visée] of an adherent past. Accordingly, it is fundamentally nondiscrete and almost certainly nonconscious (beneath the threshold of what can be experienced phenomenologically).

For our purposes, the crucial implication of Salanskis’s criticism is that Stiegler’s (radicalization of Derrida’s) deconstruction of Husserl’s conceptualization of time-consciousness simply does not have any bearing on primary retention, or perhaps more exactly, on the primary function of primary retention (to give the linear continuum). In his argument for the priority of tertiary memory over secondary memory and primary retention, what Stiegler forgets is that primary retention is not simply constituted by but is also constitutive of time: it is simultaneously constituted and constituting.19 It is this constituted-constituting distinction that stands behind Salanskis’s differentiation of a referential and an adherent form of primary retention, for once constituted, retention (like secondary memory) belongs to the realm of the discrete. That is why, in the place of Husserl’s opposition of impression and imagination which forms the focus of Derrida’s (and, by implication, Stiegler’s) deconstruction, Salanskis proposes to differentiate primary retention (proper) from secondary memory by way of the distinction between the continuous and the discrete: ‘what permits the Husserlian conception of time, notably in the distinction it proposes and institutes between primary memory and secondary memory, is the heterogeneous thematization of the continuous and the discrete: if retention is the infinitessimal operator that produces the continuous, secondary memory is the second modality that takes piecemeal [prélève] and manipulates the phases each of which becomes discrete in relation to others, and thereby repeatable’ (276). Such an understanding furnishes precisely the phenomenological distinction Derrida calls for, since it allows (indeed requires) primary retention to be differential, that is, open to the absence at the heart of presence, while still managing to differentiate it categorically from secondary memory.

It is because Stiegler makes no such differentiation — and indeed, destroys the very possibility of making any such differentiation — that he finds himself able (perhaps even compelled) to hang everything on the technical synthesis. For without the time-constituting function of retention (retention as productive of the linear continuum), where else can he turn to account for the giving of time but to the technical inscription of time? Bluntly put, Stiegler’s overvaluation of the technical synthesis correlates directly with his forgetting of the time-constituting function of retention. What happens, however, when we restore the primary function of primary retention to produce the continuum of time? Can and how can we do so while continuing to maintain, with Stiegler, the originary technicity of time?

These questions return us to the point we reached at the end of Section I. Inserted into the final reckoning we offered there, Salanskis’s critique gives us the conceptual distinction we need to maintain a separation of the human and the technical (following Derrida’s injunction) — and thus to ward off the assimilation of the spectatorial into the technical synthesis — while nonetheless embracing the necessity for specificity or the technical contamination of différance and the ensuing eclipse of the phenomenological (following Stiegler). From the perspective opened by Salanskis’s distinction, in short, the phenomenological indistinction of technically-inscribed and spectatorial time constitutive of the artifactuality of real time (precisely what is responsible both for the industrialization of consciousness and the eclipse of phenomenology), has no impact whatsoever on the nonconscious and nondiscrete operation of primary retention (the production of the continuum of time). What this means, of course, is that primary retention would continue to function differentially even when its operation is constrained by the contemporary technical specification of différance (the realtime synthesis).

With the determination of primary retention as an infinitesimal operation, we arrive at a solution to the impasse underlying the Derrida-Stiegler debate: for we can now see that the effacement of the phenomenological actually designates the fact that différance no longer appears as discrete.20 Yet because retention, as an infinitesimal operation, is something that cannot be effaced, it must operate, as we have already said it does, beneath the threshold of phenomenological consciousness. And because it operates beneath the threshold of the discrete, in the continuous, primary retention becomes all the more central in its function in a culture, like that of our audiovisual or ‘cinematic’ epoch, that institutionalizes the discrete. In this sense, the threatened collapse of the distinction between human and technical syntheses turns out to be a red herring, the forestalling of which does not require a quasi-transcendental leap into the aporia of time or even an experimental program of digital discretization. Instead, the non-identification of these syntheses is guaranteed by the infinitesimal operation of primary retention — an operation which, in addition to being non-discrete and non-conscious, is grounded in the differential of the body, in a kind of ‘transcendental sensibility’, to invoke Deleuze’s important and difficult concept, that would mark the very impossibility of transcendence (Deleuze, 1994).

By way of unpacking this understanding of primary retention as the differential of the body, I want now to offer an alternative conception of the transduction of the who and the what, consciousness and technics, that would find its source in the continuous, which is to say, there where technics enters into — and can be seen to be co-constititive of — the infinitesimal operation of bodily temporalizing. In the context of my topic here, this conception will allow me to specify more precisely how the confrontation with deconstruction transforms cultural studies into technocultural studies, for it will show how culture is produced through the transduction of technics and embodiment that is constitutive of time.

Let us return to the topic of the specificity of our ‘cinematic’ epoch and recall what, on Stiegler’s analysis, differentiates it qualitatively, categorically, from the linguistic epoch: namely, the capacity to inscribe the movement of life, the movement constitutive of life, indeed, life itself. While this capacity informs the entirety of the phenomenon of technical recording from photography and phonography onward, it is in today’s digital teletechnologies that it comes to full fruition. Because they permit the technical discretization of movement, digital technologies inscribe it in a way that can be analyzed and technically manipulated. At the same time, however, digital technologies fundamentally transform the relation between bodily life and its technical inscription: for whereas analog technical recording inscribed an actual impression of the body itself, digital technologies convert bodily movement into digital code. Technical inscription no longer constitutes a ‘carnal medium’, as Barthes characterized photography in Camera Lucida; there, remember, he famously claimed that ‘the photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. For from a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here. . . . A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed’ (Barthes, 1981: 80-81). Yet even as it suspends this carnal link with the referent, digital recording of movement brings to the fore the more complex correlation of bodily activity and technical object that was, in effect, repressed so long as the apparatus of technical recording functioned to enframe the image.21 Thus, at the same time as it gives the possibility to analyze movement, digital discretization also brings into relief the bodily basis of the synthesis of movement, that is, precisely what makes the bodily experience of (recorded) movement qualitatively different from discretization. This irreducibility of bodily synthesis to discrete analysis finds corroboration in the difficulties facing the establishment of a ‘science of gesturology’.

As the philosopher José Gil has pointed out in his important study Metamorphoses of the Body, the failure of all efforts to grammatize gesture should convince us of the irreducible and indispensible bodily basis of the experience of movement: ‘every gesture can have multiple meanings by itself. . .. In other words, each unit, each ‘gesteme’ brings into play each time all the gestemes of the langue as well as language itself as the unit of all the units (the body). This is reason enough for it to be prevented from taking on the role of linguistic model for any future “gesturology”‘ (Gil, 1998: 114-115). The problem, to put it bluntly, is that no gestural unity can be isolated, and the comparison of a potential ‘gesturology’ with linguistics suggests at least three reasons why: first, the gestural continuum, unlike that of sound in the case of articulated language, ‘presupposes articulation of heterogeneous elements, some imbricated in each other: phalanges, fingers, forearms, arms, and so on’; second, the ‘natural language’ of the body defines ‘a polysemic space’; and third, one can only separate signifier from signified, in the case of signs of the body, ‘at the price of gathering up and ordering these signs in a determined language, a corporeal language like that of dance or mime’ (113). What gets reduced as a consequence — which is equally to say, what remains outside the grasp of any possible gesturology — are precisely the body’s own system of signs, the ‘signifier units [of the body] which in themselves remain nonsignifying’ (113). That is why, ultimately, any notational system whatsoever, including those ‘advanced notation systems’ that have been so useful in ethnological descriptions of gesture, involve a ‘strange paradox: setting out to translate all the movements of the body through a determinate code’ (112). The effort to reduce the range of gesture to any specific notational system (as in dance or mime) necessarily overlooks what Gil calls the ‘infralinguistic’ capacity of the body to translate among various codes or notational systems in relation to which it is ‘more originary’ (113).

If Gil is right that there can be no ‘corporeal language’, no grammatization of movement, because the body is itself an infralanguage, a crossroads of multiple codings, then the technical capacity afforded by digital technology to analyze movement into discrete units supports an experimental program significantly different from the one proposed by Stiegler: rather than transforming the spectatorial synthesis by means of a conscious knowledge of its technical conditions, the digital inscription of movement must be understood to be a vehicle for the expanded agency of the body, for the becoming-creative of the bodily synthesis of movement. Can it be fortuitous that Stiegler himself seems to acknowledge as much when he considers how the process of digital analysis reenters the bodily synthesis of movement?

. . . because synthesis is double, the gain in new analytic capacities is also a gain in new synthetic capacities. . . . new image-objects are going to engender new mental images, as well as another intelligence of movement, for it is essentially a question of animated images. The intelligence I’m talking about here is not the intelligence of what I called the new knowledges of the image. It designates techno-intuitive knowledges — intentions in the Barthesian sense — of a new kind. . .. (Stiegler, 2002: 159, 162)

This differentiation of analytic and synthetic capacities highlights precisely the non-coincidence of the technical inscription that analyses movement into discrete components and the subjective synthesis that operates at the level of the continuity characteristic of bodily life. With this redirection of the experimental program facilitated by digitization, we are thus returned once again to Derrida’s ethical insistence on maintaining a distinction between technical conditions and phenomenological experience, only now through an infraempirical, rather than transcendental, path. Here, what prevents the subjective synthesis from collapsing into the technical synthesis is its basis in a temporal continuum that is produced by the spatializing and temporalizing of the body as an infinitesimal operation. Accordingly, whatever creative potential discretization may in fact hold simply cannot be separated from the distinct process of bodily synthesis that functions to actualize it, to bring it to bear on experience.

Now, as I see it, this infraempirical distinction between technical and spectatorial synthesis opens up a distinction between two levels at which technics impacts on the constitution of time: the level of memory and that of embodiment. Putting it quite schematically, we might say that the former is characterized by a priority of the technical, whereas the latter displays a priority of the spectatorial (or better, of the bodily). Thus we can see that this distinction crosscuts Stiegler’s work in the sense that the former, mnemotechnical constitution of time correlates with cinematic continuity (and finds its exemplary instance in the realtime synthesis), whereas the latter, corporo-technical constitution of time aligns (following our suggested transformations) with digital discretization. In the former instance, the synthesis of consciousness is passive and finds its content dictated by the industrialized technical flux, whereas in the latter, the bodily synthesis of movement is catalyzed and potentially expanded by the technical capacity for analysis.

It cannot come as a total surprise, then, that Stiegler introduces something vaguely akin to the distinction between the memorial and the embodied impact of technics in the very center of his analysis, in Le temps du cinéma, of ‘the American politics of adoption’:

The question to which the force of America bears witness and that Europe doesn’t know how to pose is the question concerning what links adoption and technics [technique] — a link that America has always known how to make, that is to say, to exploit. What makes the force of the United States is displayed by the fact that it has a true politics of mnemotechnical development that is its politics of adoption insofar as it has served for decades a culture of commerce in all its forms. . .. Adoption yields [donne] invention because the necessity of adopting a past that has not been lived is indissociable from the necessity of adopting technologies [techniques]. (Stiegler, 2001: 179-180, last emphasis added)

At this point in his argument, Stiegler appears to be coupling his concept of tertiary memory (and all that goes along with it under the name of ‘epiphylogenesis’) with a quite different concept of adoption: one that, at least potentially, would foreground the impact of technology at the level of embodied life. Here (in contrast to the account given in ‘The Time of the Cinema’) the force of the American way of life is explained not simply by its monopoly over the global realtime cinema system, but by its capacity to control the dissemination of technics itself. However, whatever potential this distinction might have to open Stiegler’s analysis of technics to a corporeal axiomatic will have always already been compromised by his general assimilation, manifest in the passage just cited, of technics to mnemotechnics.22 As we will see, from the moment that this assimilation comes into play, technics can only impact time as discrete, which is to say, in the form of tertiary memory, of a content whose adoption functions to ground (but also to reduce) the operation of primary retention. We will further see how this constitutes a massive impoverishment of the function of technics and, thus, of the technogenesis of the human.

Stiegler’s critics have criticized this priority accorded mnemotechnics as a fundamental reduction of Heidegger’s concept of Zuhandenheit [‘readiness-to-hand’]. Geoffrey Bennington, for example, accuses Stiegler of employing ‘too restrictive a definition of what Heidegger calls equipment: even taking it to mean primarily tools, it is clear that a tool is not just a sort of memory’ (Bennington, 1996: 212, n.34).23 It is, however, to Husserl that we must return in order to properly differentiate these two models of technical impact. This is because the salient distinction at issue is precisely that between the continuous and the discrete and thus between the two types of retention categorically distinguished by Salanskis: the impact of technics on embodied life can only take place within primary retention understood as an infinitesimal operation, whereas its impact on memory involves a ‘referential form’ of retention that introduces a ‘discrete polarity’ between a retaining and a retained. Whether we understand this latter as a form of retention proper (Salanskis, for his part, considers it part of the ‘paradoxical concept’ of retention), it is clear that it shares with secondary memory the form of the discrete. On this understanding, then, Stiegler’s mnemotechnical reduction can be specified as the assimilation of the continuous into the discrete.

Indeed, it is precisely this assimilation that Stiegler’s concept of tertiary memory carries out: insofar as tertiary memory (the recording of traces never lived by present consciousness) gives access to the tradition or the past, it not only impacts on the selection constitutive of primary retention, but constitutes the very possibility of discovering that primary retention is selective, which is to say (following Stiegler), essentially cinematographic. From Stiegler’s perspective, this means that Derrida’s deconstruction of primary retention actually requires the concept of tertiary memory: for it is only the experience of hearing (or viewing) the same melody (or scene) more than once — an experience made possible by technical recording (tertiary memory) — that reveals the contamination of primary retention by secondary memory. For our purposes, what is most interesting about this argument is how it transforms primary retention into something essentially discrete:

I listen for the first time to a melody recorded on a phonographic, analog or digital support. I listen again to the same melody, later, on the same record. To all intents and purposes, in the new audition, the tone just now past, in so far as it constitutes a primary retention to which other primary retentions are tacked on, in so far as it passes, no longer passes and no longer occurs in exactly the same way as in the course of the first audition. Otherwise, I would hear nothing other than what I heard during the first audition. The tone just now past, attached to other tones just past before it, and this time that passes differently than the first, owes something, in its very passage, to the previous passage, apparently effaced, of the previous audition: its modification (passing, the retention is modified and thereby becomes past: retention qua passage is essentially modification of itself) is rooted in the secondary memory of the first audition. What I hear in the course of the second audition proceeds in act from what I have already heard, in the past. (Stiegler, 1998a: 72)

By conceiving primary retention as a process of selection, Stiegler conflates the experience of the flux of time-consciousness itself with the temporal object that (within the Husserlian model) comprises its necessary supplement. Recalling our above discussion, we can now see that this theoretical conflation underlies and perhaps overdetermines the conflation of consciousness and temporal object constitutive of the artifactuality of real time. And since the temporal object (more precisely: the difference between temporal objects, between a first and subsequent auditions of a melody) can only be understood to be the result of selection, he thereby effectively determines primary retention as discrete. Yet, as I have argued elsewhere, this is to ignore the double intentionality of primary retention: its simultaneous existence as the consciousness of the temporal object and of the temporal flux itself (Hansen, 2004a). Mobilizing Salanskis’s articulation of the paradox of retention, I can now be more precise about this: Stiegler’s position ignores the difference between retention as referential and as adherent, which is to say, between retention as a discrete intentional act of consciousness and retention as a nonconscious, bodily production of the continuous. If consciousness is cinematographic in the former case, this is only possible on the basis of the infinitesimal operation of the bodily differential.

What ultimately informs Stiegler’s mnemotechnical reduction of primary retention to selection is his general overvaluation of technics, his desire to ground time exclusively in technical inscription or registration. Having rejected Derrida’s recourse to the quasi-transcendental in favor of a genealogy of matter, Stiegler nonetheless finds himself swayed by Derrida’s insistence on thinking the origin as aporetic, as never simply given. This is why he finds himself compelled, most centrally in The Fault of Epimetheus, to criticize the anthropological commitments of Leroi-Gourhan’s and Simondon’s work:in both cases the fundamental correlation of anticipation with the human risks compromising the concept of ‘originary prostheticity’ (the concept that would replace the quasi-transcendental). This criticism appears most decisively in the concluding lines of Part I of The Fault of Epimetheus, where Stiegler cites Simondon’s foregrounding of the irreducible role of human intelligence in creating a ‘technogeographic milieu’ between humanity and nature. This creation, argues Simondon, ‘demands the use of an inventive function of anticipation found neither in nature nor in already constituted technical objects’ (Simondon, 1958: 57). In his comment on the passage, Stiegler goes on to credit Simondon with opening ‘the question at the heart of our treatise’, though in a purely negative sense: ‘We shall seek to show here that this capacity of anticipation [that Simondon would reserve for the “human qua efficient cause of the technical object”] itself supposes the technical object, and no more precedes it than does form matter’ (Stiegler, 1998: 81).

Viewed from the perspective presented above, the opposition Stiegler institutes between the anthropological and the technical simply dissolves. This is because the infinitesimal operation of primary retention can only ever produce infraempirical difference (bodily excess) through its actual concrete correlation with technical objects at a given moment in the coevolution of the human and technics. The necessity here simply is not (and cannot be) of the order of the transcendental or quasi-transcendental. That is why, at a more general level, the infraempirical conception of the differential of the body requires us to distinguish the technical from the anthropological at the same time as it recognizes their essential correlation in a transduction that is constitutive of time.

Precisely such a differentiation and co-functioning of the anthropological and the technical lies at the core of the concept of ‘organized inorganic matter’, which Stiegler introduces (as a gloss on Simondon’s understanding of technology) to account for the autonomy of the ‘what’. We must insist on the specificity of this concept of technics: organized inorganic matter forms a third category of being in-between the animate and the inanimate and is distinguished by a quasi-biological tendency toward concreteness: ‘the concrete technical object . . . converges with the mode of existence of natural objects; it tends toward internal coherence, toward the closure of the system of causes and effects which functions circularly on the inside of its borders [Ã l’interieur de son enceinte], and moreover, it incorporates a part of the natural world which intervenes as a condition of its functioning. . .. This object, in evolving, loses its artificial character’ (Simondon, 1958: 46), which is to say, its dependence on the intervention of human beings to preserve its existence and protect it from the natural world. While maintaining a distinction from living beings, which are always given as concrete individuals even as they continue to be individuated, the technical object operates through self-conditioning, which in its case, is necessary to prevent it from falling victim to the tendency to hypertelia and disadaptation.24 Simondon calls the mechanism for such self-conditioning ‘adaptation-concretization’, defined as a process that conditions the birth of a milieu rather than being conditioned by an already given milieu:

The evolution of technical objects can only become progressive in so far as they are free in their evolution and not bound by necessity in the sense of a fatal hypertelia. For this to be possible, the evolution of technical objects must be constructive, which is to say, it must lead to the creation of this third techno-geographic milieu, each modification of which is self-conditioned. It is not, in effect, a question of a progression conceived as a march in a direction fixed in advanced; nor is it a question of a humanization of nature. This process could just as easily appear as a naturalization of the human; between the human and nature, a techno-geographic milieu is in effect created that is only possible through human intelligence: the self-conditioning of a schema by the result of its functioning requires an inventive function of anticipation which can be found neither in nature nor in already constituted technical objects. It is a work of life to make such a jump above given reality and its actual system toward new forms that preserve themselves only because they exist all together as a constituted system. When a new organ appears in an evolutionary series, it preserves itself only if it achieves a systematic and plurifunctional convergence. The organ is the condition of itself. It is in a similar manner that the geographic world and the world of already existent technical objects are put into relation [rapport] in a concretization that is organic and is defined by its relational function. (1958: 56)

Now, contra Stiegler, what is at issue here is not a subordination of technics to the ‘human qua efficient force’, but rather, as Simondon says, a ‘naturalization of the human’ via its exteriorization in the ‘techno-geographic milieu’. Whatever ‘possibility of anticipation’ originally informed the evolution of technical objects has therefore passed into the technical system itself; this, quite simply, is the condition of possiblity for the system to become ‘organic’, that is, generative of a new milieu and of technical objects that are not already constituted. Not insignificantly, it is also the condition of possibility for the techno-geographic milieu to evolve, as Stiegler suggests it has with today’s real time technologies, by encompassing ‘human geography’.25 Which is to say, at the limit, to evolve beyond the ethnic, beyond culture.

What Simondon depicts then is a co-evolution between two independently-evolving domains, the technical and the human, each of which possesses its own proper capacity for anticipation. If this co-evolution facilitates an exteriorization of the human, its evolution by means other than life (following Stiegler’s important concept of ‘epiphylogenesis’), it does so in a manner fundamentally different from Stiegler’s conception of tertiary memory. For technical objects are not simply ‘mediations’ that are ‘detachable from the individual who produces and thinks them’. Rather, they form the very medium for a ‘convertibility of the human and nature’ (Simondon, 1958: 245). Technical objects put individuals in relation to the ‘preindividual’ dimension of nature that is associated with them. In this way, they make possible the constitution of what Simondon calls ‘transindividuation’, a form of collective individuation that draws precisely on the constitutive incompleteness of the individual, the very source of anticipation and of the creation of the new:

. . .the technical world offers an indefinite availability [disponibilité] of groupings and connections. For it is the result of a liberation of human reality crystallized in the technical object. To construct a technical object is to prepare an availability. . . . beyond the interindividual relation which is not maintained through an operational activity, a mental and practical universe of technicity is instituted, in which human beings communicate through what they invent. The technical object understood according to its essence — the technical object such that it has been invented, conceived and desired, and taken up by a human subject — becomes the support and the symbol of that relation we want to call transindividual. . . . By the intermediary of the technical object, an interhuman relation is thus created that forms the very model of transindividuality. What is meant by this is a relation that does not place individuals into relation by means of their already constituted individuality. . ., nor by means of what is identical in every human subject, . . . but by means of the charge of preindividual reality, of this charge of nature that is conserved with the individual being and that contains potentials and virtuality. (1958: 246-248)

Far from constituting a prosthetic exteriorization of the human, the technical object forms something like a depositary for the preindividual. That is why it offers a means for the human individual to draw on the very source of its own ongoing individuation. The crucial point here is that the collective individuation which results from the human experience of its own impropriety or excess — transindividuation — is fundamentally inseparable from technics. Accordingly, the capacity for anticipation that Stiegler would have Simondon reserve for the human operator can now be seen to be rooted in a correlation with technics that is pre-anthropological: ‘The object yielded by technical invention carries with it some part of the being who produced it, expresses what in this being is least attached to a hic et nunc; one could say that there is human nature in the technical being in the sense that the word nature can be employed to designate that which remains from the original, anterior even to the humanity constituted in the human. The human invents by putting to work its own natural support, this apeiron which remains attached to each individual being’ (248, emphasis added). Technics is the invention of the human, as Stiegler says, but in a far more fundamental sense than he recognizes: for technics is the means for the human to draw on its preindividual, natural support, which is to say, to persist as an ongoing individuation and to participate in collective transindividuation. Technics thus brokers the experience of the aporia of the origin as a continuous, infraempirical interaction with the ‘potentials and virtuality’ of being itself.

That transindividuation marks a technical expansion of the infraempirical differential of the body can be seen by way of contrast with Stiegler’s interpretation of the ‘preindividual’ in Le temps du cinéma. There, not surprisingly, he defines the preindividual as tertiary memory: ‘This “charge of preindividual reality” is a potential for adoption. The process of individuation results from an irreducible inadequation at the heart of the individual, in so far as it is unfinished [inachevé], but also as a play of “preindividual forces” in the individual, that is to say, of interiorized and interpretable tertiary retentions that are equally at play in social individuation. . .. The preindividual thus interpreted (which does not conform to Simondon’s interpretation) is what we have called the already-there. . .’ (Stiegler, 2001: 148-149).26 When he likens the preindividual to the already-there or tertiary memory, Stiegler effectively transforms something fundamentally continuous into something discrete, preindividual ‘forces’ or ‘potentials’ into constituted contents. In so doing, he severs the ‘convertibility’ of the human and nature that, on Simondon’s account, marks the pre-anthropological correlation of the human and technics.

As I see it, this pre-anthropological correlation is precisely what makes Simondon’s work valuable for the (techno)cultural theorist: for what it ultimately posits is a cofunctioning of the embodied human and technics in the production of the temporal continuum that forms the basis for life as such, from the biological to the cultural. Here technics is nothing other than the human experience of the differential origin of life as such. On this account, transindividuation would be the basis for culture, that is, for a culture that does not institute itself by opposing the human and the technical, but that, following Simondon’s concept of ‘mechanology’, emerges from their transduction. If such a transindividual culture is characterized by a technical expansion of the infinitesimal operation of primary retention, its primary function cannot be to transmit the past on the basis of tertiary memory, but rather to create the new, the future, by drawing on that dimension of being which is prior to the human and to technics. In the wake of this thinking, the task of the (techno)cultural theorist must be, first and foremost, to find ways to participate in transindividuation, to become together with technics, to engage in mediations by and with technical objects that place the human in relation to the inhuman, the improper, the preindividual. . .


Let me close by simply enumerating two fundamental consequences of my transformation of Stiegler’s work for the analysis of media culture.

First, analysis will have to move beyond the ethnic and/or ethnographic and culture will have to be rethought as a product of technics, with all the attendent modifications to its conceptualization. The collective individuation Simondon calls ‘transindividuation’ operates through the technical mobilization of that in us which is impersonal, which exceeds the human and the forms of life that we might think of as ethnic or cultural. This is one of the crucial conclusions at stake in Stiegler’s reading of Leroi-Gourhan:

We can ask whether today the technical groups still belong to the ethnic group, or if they may not extend well beyond it, to the point of calling its unity into question. . .. It is as if the technical groups tended to become autonomous with respect to the ethnic groups, owing to the very fact that techno-industrial units have become worldwide. . . . the technical group then gains an advance with respect to the ethnic group to the extent that, as is the case today — with technical evolution accelerating and becoming too fast for the possibilities of appropriation by the ‘other systems’ — one must wonder if we might not be in the presence of a separation and progressive opposition between, on the one hand, cultures, or an ensemble of interior milieus, and on the other hand technologies, which are no longer only a subgroup of the technical milieu but the external milieu become worldwide technology: the dilution of the interior milieu into the exterior milieu has become essentially technical, firstly as an environment totally mediated by telecommunications, by modes of transportation as well as by television and radio, computer networks, and so on, whereby distances are annuled, but secondly as a system of planet-scale industrial production. (Stiegler, 1998: 62)

This perspective opens up a fundamentally new task for the analyst of the ‘transnational media system’: for once media technology has usurped the role formerly held by culture of providing the common, the global media system can no longer be localized and specified through its cultural configuration or use. Rather, it can form the very ground for new, to-be-invented forms of collective life precisely because of its resistance to the kinds of empirical specification championed by today’s cultural studies practitioners.

Second and more generally, analysis will have to become performance, a creative experimentation with the possibilities for our future technogenesis. For if the adoption of technologies and the technical expansion of primary retention becomes central, then technologies cannot be restricted to the status of things that we deploy or even to that of a repository for tradition (tertiary memory). Rather, insofar as they directly expand our embodied capacities to act on ourselves, on others, and on the world, technologies can only be adequately ‘understood’ in their very exercise as transductive correlates of human becoming. What this means, however, is that cultural studies must become embodied experimentation.


1 Most prominently from Geoffrey Bennington:

Stiegler differs from Derrida in that he thinks that technics is the proper name for the newness already there at the origin (for the emergency) — as we shall see, this leads him to a principled and argued difference of opinion with Derrida which, however, commits Stiegler . . . to a positivism (about techno-science) and a humanism (about ‘us’) which loses the very urgency it urges, and loses it through the very fact of urging it on a totalised ‘us’ as the totalisation of urgency itself. (Bennington, 1996: 182)

According to Beardsworth, there are moments when Stiegler’s work seems to fall into positivism, but these are more lapses in rigor than conceptual entailments of his work (Beardsworth, 1995).

2 See Hansen (2000), Introduction, for a critique of the positivization of deconstruction in cultural studies.

3 While it would be a mistake to oversimplify the role of Marxism for cultural studies, it can be affirmed, I think, that cultural studies operates a certain inversion of the priority of the economic over the cultural in Marx. While this would seem to be true for cultural studies in general (a blanket term now embracing many different projects), it appears most clearly when cultural studies practitioners address the topic of Marxism directly. Thus Stuart Hall:

. . .the encounter between British cultural studies and Marxism has first to be understood as the engagement with a problem — not a theory, not even a problematic. It begins, and develops through the critique of a certain reductionism and economism, which I think is not extrinsic but intrinsic to Marxism; a contestation with the model of base and superstructure, through which sophisticated and vulgar Marxism alike had tried to think the relationships between society, economy, and culture. (Hall, 1992: 279)

4 As, for example, Ang does: ‘What a critical ethnography of media audiences needs to ferret out, then, is the unrecognized, unconscious and contradictory effectivity of the hegemonic within the popular, the relations of power that are inscribed within the texture of reception practices’ (Ang, 1996: 245).

5 For discussion of this paradox, see Beardsworth (1995: 4). Beardsworth’s paper focuses on the first volume of Stiegler’s project and should be consulted for readers interested in his appropriations of Leroi-Gourhan and Rousseau and, more generally, in the philosophical infrastructure of his project. My analysis here treats the material from volume one only insofar as it bears on the problematic of realtime media.

6 Stiegler makes this equation explicit later in his analysis: ‘It would be necessary, moreover, to analyze the relation of différance to speed: différance is itself also a conjunction of space and time more originary than their separation. It is in this sense, then, that différance will, perhaps, have to be though as speed’ (1998: 146).

7 While this becomes clear from the range of Stiegler’s analysis, it is unfortunately belied by the often narrow focus on cinema as a concrete apparatus.

8 Stiegler’s argument here is complex and involves a crucial transformation of Husserl’s theory of time-consciousness. Extending Derrida’s own deconstruction of Husserl’s distinction between primary retention and recollection (or secondary retention), Stiegler introduces a distinction between these two interdependent memories and what he calls ‘tertiary memory’ (a gloss on Husserl’s ‘image-consciousness’): just as Derrida undermines the opposition between perception and imagination in Husserl’s conception, and with it, the opposition of presence to absence, Stiegler undermines the opposition between that which has been lived by a subject and that which has not. As he sees it, tertiary memories — meaning, basically, all experience that has been recorded and is reproducible — represent our means of inheriting the past, the prosthetic already-there, and, for this reason, actually condition the other two forms of memory. Stiegler emphasizes the technical specificity of tertiary memory, for it is only once consciousness has the capacity to experience the exact same recorded experience more than once that we can appreciate how secondary retention (the memory of the first or earlier experience(s)) influences a subsequent primary retention. In the context of Husserl’s analysis of time-consciousness, the philosophical payoff of Stiegler’s analysis is thus to level any absolute distinctions between primary retention, secondary memory, and tertiary memory and in fact to invert the hierarchy proposed by Husserl such that it istertiary memory that introduces secondary memory into primary retention. This move involves two specific critical ‘corrections’ of Husserl’s analysis, which are themselves conjugated together in Stiegler’s analysis of contemporary media technology. (Here Stiegler follows and, as we shall see, extends in a crucial manner, Derrida’s analysis in Speech and Phenomenon). On the one hand, Stiegler contests the fundamental opposition of perception and imagination on which Husserl’s important differentiation of primary retention from secondary memory (or recollection) is rooted. On the other hand, Stiegler contests Husserl’s blanket exclusion of ‘image-consciousness’ (tertiary memory) from time-consciousness. (Here, Stiegler follows Derrida’s analysis in Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, which to an extent — but only to an extent — converges with the evolution of Husserl’s own thinking.) In both cases, Stiegler’s criticisms involve a questioning of the primacy accorded the category of the lived [vecu] in Husserl’s analysis. Moreover, the two corrections are, not surprisingly, themselves intrinsically correlated, since it is precisely in virtue of the absolute distinction between perception and imagination that Husserl is able to exclude image-consciousness from the phenomenon of time-consciousness.

9 Jean-Michel Salanskis makes this point in his generous review of Stiegler’s project:

I wonder if the analysis of light-time and of its effects would not have gained from being differentiated according to its contexts: there is an impact of light-time on the financial sector or on nuclear disuasion that is not the same as its impact on communication, on the television, telephone and informatics. A part of the picture that Stiegler proposes rings false to my ears because he transposes to the world of communicational exchange, a world largely hierarchized but free and concerned with the freedom of the Who?, a vision that is forged in relation to the financial economy and war, those vast and complex functions that are fundamentally not concerned with us. (Salanskis, 2000: 274)

Failure to recognize this difference has resulted in misunderstandings (understandable given Stiegler’s own failure to mark the difference) concerning the sense of ‘realtime’. See Wills (unpublished).

10 For a critique of Kittler’s technodeterminism, see Hansen (2002).

11 On Kittler’s account, by contrast, everything is subsumed into realtime computing with the result that human sense perception, human consciousness, and subjectivity become a ‘dependent variable’ of digital information processing, mere epiphenomena or ‘eyewash’ attesting to the continued economic viability of entertainment rather than to any fundamental correlation of the human and technics (Kittler, 1999: Introduction). The comparison with Kittler helps specify the crucial correlation Stiegler introduces between storage media and memory. Whereas Kittler views technical media reductively as mere storage vehicles for information, Stiegler interweaves the history of storage media (of the what) with the evolution of consciousness (the who). Rather than achieving the kind of autonomy projected in Hollywood fantasies like The Matrix, storage media co-evolve with the human precisely because they represent the means of access to the tradition, the very vehicle for the human to evolve through means other than life, which is to say, for the human to become human.

12 On the Husserlian model, time-consciousness, that is, consciousness of the self existing in time, can only occur indirectly, through the mediation of a special kind of technical object, what Husserl calls a temporal object. A temporal object — Husserl’s preferred example is a melody — is an object that does not simply exist in time but that is constituted from time itself. By updating Husserl’s analysis and transposing its focus from a melody heard by a single consciousness in private to a cinematic flux experienced by a local or global collectivity, Stiegler gives it a geopolitical inflection, one that correlates with his argument for the technical specificity of the ‘cinematic’ era.

13 In the course of his debate with Stiegler, Derrida links artifactuality to the nature of time itself, which can only (and ever) be differential:

. . .there is never an absolutely real time. What we call real time . . . is in fact never pure. What we call real time is simply an extremely reduced ‘différance,’ but there is no purely real time because temporalization itself is structured by a play of retention or of protention and, consequently, of traces: the condition of possibility of the living, absolutely real present is already memory, anticipation, in other words, a play of traces. The real-time effect is itself a particular effect of différance’. (Derrida & Stiegler, 2002: 129)

14 Here is a typical passage, indeed one where Derrida formulates his aporetic thinking concerning specificity:

This specificity, whatever it may be, does not all of a sudden substitute the prosthesis, teletechnology, etc., for immediate or natural speech. These machines have always been there, they are always there, even when we wrote by hand, even during so-called live conversation. And yet, the greatest compatibility, the greatest coordination, the most vivid of possible affinities seems to be asserting itself, today, between what appears to be most alive, most live [in English in the original], and the différance or delay, the time it takes to exploit, broadcast or distribute it. (Derrida & Stiegler, 2002: 38)

15 On this point, I am in full agreement with Stiegler. Defined so broadly and abstractly, writing forms an empirical correlate to différance that paradoxically preserves the latter’s quasi-transcendentality, and not insignificantly, guards it against technical contamination: since only its empirical proxy, writing, is infected by technicity, différance can remain pure. For my critique of this abstract, singular conception of différance, see Hansen (2000), Chapter 4.

16 In a passage where he finds it necessary to supplement Derrida’s insistence that real time marks the ‘possibility of a quasi-infinite yet finite delay’ with a crucial (phenomenological) corollary:

in another and almost opposite respect, real time nullifies delays. Everything happens as if there were both an extraordinary opening of delay — and one would tend to think that this is an extraordinary opportunity [une grande chance] — and at the same time, a telescoping of all delay, an annulment, which gives the general sense, from which it seems to me that no one can escape, that the very possibility of reflexivity is compromised. (Derrida & Stiegler, 2002: 90)

17 This becomes explicit when Derrida, in response to a question about the politics of the ‘cultural exception,’ invokes the ‘categorical imperative . . . to let the future have a future, to let or make it come, or in any case, to leave the possibility of the future open’ (Derrida & Stiegler, 2002: 85).

18 Marking this distinction is the particular contribution of Gilles Deleuze, whose work clearly stands behind Salanskis’s analysis here and, in a less direct way, behind the appropriation-correction of Stiegler that I shall go on to offer here. See Deleuze (1994), Chapter 2.

19 This, incidentally, marks a fundamental difference between Stiegler’s retooling of Husserl’s temporal object and Derrida’s deconstruction of time consciousness in Speech and Phenomena: for Derrida, the salient point is that Husserl’s distinction of perception [impression] and imagination [memory] cannot hold up to scrutiny, since the living present is shot through with absence, i.e., retentions and protentions. Unlike Stiegler’s more radical criticism, Derrida’s does not challenge or displace the priority of primary retention as the operator of the spacing of time; it simply complicates the operation — or, put another way, renders it coherent — by opening it to the absence without which time could not continue to flow. Evidence for this difference can be found in Derrida’s insistence that, despite the deconstruction of the perception-memory divide, there is still an important phenomenological difference between primary and secondary retention. (On this point see Hansen (2004a).)

20 This, incidentally, is precisely what Salanskis means when he asks whether ‘one can, in effect, correctly interpret the phenomena of speed without reference to the continuous?’ (2000: 277). If, to return to our above discussion, speed is différance today, that is because it has taken us beyond the threshold of the discrete.

21 This difference lies at the heart of my argument in New Philosophy for New Media (Hansen, 2004).

22 In the chapter immediately following in Le temps du cinéma, he makes this point explicitly:

. . .this independence of mnemotechnics from the technical system of production no longer exists today: in becoming planetary, the technical system is now also, and even foremost, a global mnemotechnical system. In a sense, a fusion between the technical system, the mnemotechnical system and globalisation has occurred. . . . If history can, and must, essentially be analysed as the relation between the evolution of technical systems and that of other social systems, what constitutes the problem of adjustment is that the analysis of mnemotechnics shows that the latter always overdetermines the conditions of this adjustment: namely, the process of adoption. . . . The global technical system has basically become a mnemotechnical system for the industrial production of tertiary retentions, and thus for criteria of retentional selection, of the flux of consciousness inscribed into the processes of adoption. (Stiegler, 2003: non-pag.)

23 This reduction is particularly paradoxical given that Zuhandenheit is the privileged Heideggerian category for Stiegler, as Beardsworth has pointed out:

Completely underestimated by Heidegger in his desire to understand the ‘there’ in terms of Dasein’s self-affection, the ‘ready-to-hand’ actually forms the originary relation between the human and the nonhuman prior to all metaphysical oppositions between the human and the technical (including that of Being and Time). It also articulates the ‘facticity’ and ‘nullity’ of Dasein in terms of originary prostheticity. In other words, for Stiegler, the ‘there’ to which Dasein is ‘called back’ should be articulated in terms of the originary relation between the human and the technical. (Beardsworth, 1996: 152)

24 Simondon understands the autonomy of technics in this sense: the margin of indetermination that is necessary to allow a given technology to enter into different ensembles and thus continue to evolve.

25 ‘This ecological phenomenon [of the coupling of technical object and milieu] may be observed in the informational dimension of present-day technics, where it allows for the development of a generalized performativity (for example in the apparatuses of live transmission and of data processing in real time. . .) — but it is then essentially the human milieu, that is, human geography, and not physical geography, that is found to be incorporated into a process of concretization that should no longer be thought on the scale of the object, but also not on the scale of the system’ (Stiegler, 1998: 80).

26 Stiegler’s interpretation is developed more extensively in Stiegler (1998b).


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