Our Ailing Educational Institutions – Bernard Stiegler

Translated by Stefan Herbrechter

The global mnemotechnical system

Humans die but their histories remain — this is the big difference between mankind and other life forms. Among these traces most have in fact not been produced with a view to transmitting memories: a piece of pottery or a tool were not made to transmit any memory but they do so nevertheless, spontaneously. Which is why archaeologists are looking for them: they are often the only witnesses of the most ancient episodes. Other traces are specifically devoted to the transmission of memory: for example, writing, photography, phonography and cinematography. The latter even makes an industry out of producing and transmitting these traces we call retentions.2

It will be my claim that technics is always a memory aid — this is what we mean by epiphylogenesis. But not every technics is a mnemo-technics. The first mnemotechnical systems appear after the Neolithic period. They form what will later become the kind of writing we are still using today.

This means that technical systems precede mnemotechnical systems and that one should not confuse the two. Every civilisation constitutes itself around a technical system, defined as a stabilising element within the technical evolution based on previous achievements, and a dominant technology peculiar to this system. All technics together form a system with relations of interdependence. This system changes when the dominant technology around which it first constituted itself changes.3

A technical system thus understood has an area of distribution and duration. Analysis shows that over time it tends to spread out while its duration shortens. It undergoes evolutionary trends and regularly hits upon crises which lead to breaks within the system. In these periods of crisis the system evolves at great speed, which causes ‘dis-adjustments’ with the other social systems — law, economy, education, religion, political representation, etc. Stability (which is always relative, i.e. a meta-stability) returns as soon as these ‘other systems’ have adopted the new technical system.

The industrial technical system whose beginnings took root in England at the end of the eighteenth century has today been globalised. It has entered an epoch of permanent innovation and can be said to be fundamentally unstable. Its area cannot be further extended, unless it spreads beyond the planet itself, and its duration cannot be further reduced. Technological stability, strictly speaking, is no longer possible. One can therefore no longer speak of an Asian, European or American technical system; one has to refer to a single planetary set-up [dispositif], which has been deployed with regional specialisations. It is this system which organises the industrial division of labour according to geographical appropriateness or political contingencies, defined from the point of view of investors. It has been, to a great extent, information and communication technologies that have enabled this development to take place: by increasing the ability to organise the automation and control of remote production and distribution; by making it possible to circulate capital internationally in real time; and through the opening up intercontinental markets in order to reach ‘hypermasses’ of consumers.

All this is well known. It has, however, been significantly less well noted that this inscription of information technologies at the heart of the industrial set-up also constitutes a never before experienced break in the history of technical systems – in the sense that, until now, mnemotechnics have always constituted a singular field in relation to the technical systems that followed one another over time. In fact, while the technical systems of material transformation followed one another – that of the Greeks giving way to that of the Romans and ‘their successors’ (other co-existing systems, in other regions, within the same historical periods: namely, those referred to as ‘blocked systems’ [systèmes bloqués]), through the Middle Ages to Classicism and the first Industrial Revolution – alphabetical writing, the foremost device of the tertiary retentions on which the theological-political power of the scholar is based, has formed a mnemotechnical system that has been stable for over 25 centuries. Even though this system has known different periods – among them the age of print whose far-reaching consequences I will examine below – neither its knowledge base and its know how, nor its general and formal principles of speech reproduction, have changed.

However, this independence of mnemotechics 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. This transformation first started taking place during the nineteenth century (which nevertheless still constitutes a transitional period), with the appearance of the first communication, information and signal-processing technologies. Over the course of the twentieth century, however, communication and information industries have become the centre of the technical system responsible for the production of material goods. What I previously described as ‘convergence’ between computer, audio-visual and tele-technologies also seems to refer to a convergence between the technical system of material transformation and the technologies of memorisation.

But this is not all. Until the nineteenth century, the life span of mnemotechnical systems could exceed that of technical systems because retentional mechanisms were under theological-political control. This began to change with the Industrial Revolution — the time when the death of God became a possibility. 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. As communication technologies they control the relations between individuals and communities. What’s more, within these communities they also control the relations between the systems which organise them.

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 processes of adoption. This means that the conditions of adjustment also, and at the same time, experience an enormous upheaval. This can be plainly seen through an analysis of the first legal or fiscal consequences: of the development of the IP network, for example. Here, one observes not only how a technical system can totally disrupt the other social systems at the centre of which it deploys itself — a classical phenomenon even though, in this case, of exceptional proportion; but also how, in a sense, it becomes a competitor of these social systems and pretends to be such a system all by itself — an absolutely new phenomenon which is a consequence of the fusion between the technical system and the mnemotechnical system.

This interoperable network, which at this very moment becomes the benchmark for producers of digital audiovisual programmes, represents the decisive element in the globalisation of the technical system. Through it, mnemotechnology effectively becomes the centrepiece of this system. And it does so by integratingcalendarity and cardinality, which constitute the primordial interlinking elements of societies. Calendarity and cardinality form the retentional systems that determine space and time relations and can thus never be separated from religious, spiritual and metaphysical questions. They inevitably refer to the origin and the end, to limits and boundaries, to the deepest perspectives of projection devices of all sorts. Today, calendarity and cardinality are profoundly disturbed. Night and day become interchangeable through artificial electric light and computer screens. The distance and the delay between circulating messages and information nullify each other and the behavioural programmes become correlatively globalised, which is experienced as a kind of cultural entropy, the destruction of life. For reasons I will return to in more detail later, people everywhere live their cultural singularity as proof of their vitality (of negentropy). As already seen, satellite-tracking and electronic tagging are dissociated from national territoriality; and as will be seen, geo-information and info-mobility take over, on an industrial level, individual and communal movements and exploit space and space relations as new possibilities for investment.4

This upheaval of the retentional systems that regulate common access to space and time (calendarity and cardinality) took place on a large scale after the Second World War. However, it which witnessed an extreme intensification as a result of the stunning progress of digital technologies and currently creates an immense sense of disorientation. Failing to acknowledge this disorientation, and the depth of the questions it raises, would risk provoking enormous resistance – as indicated by the rise in fundamentalism, nationalism, neo-fascism and many other regressive phenomena. The heart of cultures and societies is at stake; their most intimate relations to the world, their memories and their identities. To ignore or downplay this could have the most tragic consequences. Because calendarity and cardinality form the elementary tissue of our vital rhythms, belief systems and relations to the past and to the future, to control the future mechanisms of orientation will be to control the global imaginary.

There is no doubt that a veritable conflict between cultures is looming: namely, a fight over the imposition of behavioural models, communal programmes aimed at dominating the markets. For this is what is really at stake behind all these developments: a global commercial war without precedent and without mercy, in which the digital networks are already, and will become more and more, weapons to conquer global trade — of both goods and ideas. But one will be forgiven to point out a serious contradiction in the logic of this new trade: the source of a loss of reason, or a loss of motive, or of capacities of projection.

The digital reproduction of territories and geo-information

An increase in the number of contacts and devices of communication between groups of humans tends to lead to a decrease in their ability to resist the concretisation of technical trends (i.e. to the adoption of new life styles). In The Fault of Epimetheus (1998: 56), I questioned whether the trend towards greater permeability does not also lead to the increasing dissolution of the ‘interior milieu’, which constitutes a social group, into the ‘exterior milieu’, which delimits a social group. The increase in the number of contacts between various interior milieus, accentuating the general permeability of social groups with regard to technical trends (i.e. entropy), would seem to lead towards the tendency to dissolve the internal milieus within the ‘exterior milieu’ of the market.5

These ‘points of contact’, which used to be first of all goods and people, then images, money, books, telegraphic messages and phone calls, are now becoming permanent and universal. They are no longer ‘points’ strictly speaking, but rather form a radiophonic and televisual flux — what I called interlacings and synchronisations. This flux will eventually integrate, completely, with the digital information networks in order to give access to supplies which now become accessible through mobile devices — whether they be telephonic, televisual or interactive — at any moment and under any circumstances. It remains to be seen how this will modify, support and complicate the organisation in flux.

This intensification of contacts, their transformation into a flux and the resulting transactions (global commerce in all its forms), requires the digital electronic industries to produce new techniques to assist with orientation. These techniques are needed to help us navigate, no longer through past experience handed down by history, but through the real time of information events that occur on this planet, by the hundreds of millions, with every second that passes, in the ‘virtual space’ of data.

This last phrase is in inverted commas because it is used as a metaphor that might otherwise eclipse the real dynamic behind this ongoing process. What is here called ‘virtual space’ refers to retentional collections of data which are physically stored on digital media: retentional collections which cannot be accessed except via the mediating processes of the devices that represent this information; and which construct an intuitive image that allows us (through the use of interfaces), to represent and manipulate these otherwise illegible material forms to, and for, an otherwise non-equipped consciousness. It is therefore far from being an ‘immateriality’ — a completely void notion that is currently so much gossiped about.

In so far as these electronic data spaces can also serve as surfaces of projection for actions, carried out in real time, through networks and central servers, and projected onto computer screens as images that are themselves happening in real time, one can talk of the construction of a ‘virtual’ or ‘cyberspace’, as if these images could constitute a space other than ‘real’ space. But even if the phenomenon of digital reproduction is very important and demands in-depth analysis, the current rather vacuous discourse on the subject hides what is at stake by focusing merely on superficial effects that appear on a more or less tactile screen. It thus serves itself as a screen, and contributes to the general loss of understanding of what is actually taking place.

What is really at stake are the radically new possibilities of projection that are offered by digital devices of tertiary retention. If what we are dealing with is nothing else but real space, it must be an extension of the device by which the world projects as double. It does so with exceptional efficiency and originality and creates a new horizon of imagination which opens up, at the same time, new perspectives for a ‘we’ — as much as a dissolution of any ‘we’ into an impersonal ‘one’ — and for an era of formidable illusion: a new cinemato-graphy.

The specific capacity of projection that informs the phantasm of ‘virtuality’, even though it is the wrong approach to the problematic, seems to constitute, in return, a major break within the history of adopting calendary and cardinal devices. One could say that with this new device of dissemination/retention, as Heidegger wrote in 1926 with reference to the ‘radio’:

Dasein. . . today performs, in its existential sense, a not yet fully determinable Ent-fernung [é-loignement] of the ‘world’, by extending and destroying the everyday environment. (Heidegger, 1927a: 105)6

But as will be seen, if spatiality is really affected, it is so only in the sense of a modality of ‘being-in-the-world’, or in the sense that it is generally overdetermined by the system of tertiary retention of which this world consists — which can, in no way, constitute an ‘other’ space.

Rather than talking about ‘virtual space’ one would have to refer to a new, digital, retentional system: a system which affects institutions of space and time, and which is no more and no less virtual than any other form of tertiary retention equally involving space and time, calendarity and cardinality. And even if time is always virtual, instantly and presently seized between a horizon of a virtual past and a virtual future, this applies only in so far as a tertiary retention — which is always at once spatial and temporal,7whether electronic or not — remains virtual only as long as it does not take part in an act of selection of secondary and primary retentions within an event of an actual consciousness.

There is therefore no ‘virtual space’. What is, however, currently being deployed is an electronic reproducibility of places, countries and geographical regions. It is not yet very advanced, but it already opens up immense perspectives. It promises a digitalisation of territories and living space relying on nomadic objects (e.g. mobile phones) and their infrastructures (UMTS [Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service] networks in particular), global tracking systems (GPS — Global Position System), receiving devices (e.g. webcams), geo-referential databases (e.g. urban, military, demographic, economic, logistic, meteorological, etc.), geographical information systems (GIS), satellites and navigation systems, etc., through which a process of re-territorialisation within and through networks has begun, and which creates hitherto unknown perspectives for the ‘information society’ as far as the redistribution of geopolitical stakes is concerned.8

The digital interweaving and representation of territories is already underway, and the general installation of infrastructures that guarantee local information transmission is now witnessing the implementation of the ‘second generation’ of digital navigation technologies: namely, those of geo-information. The digitalisation of territories in fact concerns both: navigation systems relying on geo-referential data on smart cards that include photographs, video recordings, reproductions all kinds of objects and indicators; and tracking devices for telecommunication, orientation and more generally the operating service of mobile devices, nomadic objects and any kind of vehicle. This means, however, that the user also becomes data,9 travelling through ‘data landscapes’ – that is, through electronic data that is physically located and situated on the interfaces simulating territorial space. Geoinformation thus invests territories with a technical navigation function just as, according to Simondon, the ocean is turned into an ‘associated milieu’, a technical function of Guimbal’s turbine, with which tidal-powered factories are fitted. This means that a territory, as a natural milieu, itself becomes integrated into the ‘process of concretisation’, and is thus functionally overdetermined by the milieu that essentially has become techno-geographical (Stiegler, 1994: 67-9).

Transmission industries and educational systems — consciousness and substratum: summary and further developments

The new epiphylogenetic stage – induced by mnemotechnological evolution as a result of the fusion between industries of computation, the production and telecommunication of symbols – in which it is no longer possible to distinguish between the industrial technical system and the mnemotechnical system, is attained through the installation of a globally integrated industry of transmission. Transmission is the function of the retentional device that constitutes the social bond, or psychological and communal individuation.

However, adoption is not the same as transmission. The latter relies on the set-up [dispositif] of a legacy, while the former is the assumption of an heritage. But no adoption can take place without a legacy set-up, which in turn can of course fail to be adopted and thus break down.

This new epiphylogenetic stage requires the implementation of a form of calendarity and cardinality that is itself globally integrated. The oldest cardinal and calendary systems found a shared means of projecting their origins and boundaries in cosmic programmes and celestial visions. The shift between night and day, the waxing and waning of the moon, and seasonal change are the most universal experiences of calendarity. Through mnemotechnics, calendarity is later enriched by the recording of star positions in the ephemerides and astronomical calculations. After sundials and hydraulic watches, the eighteenth century introduces the mechanical measurement of time which permits the objectification and computation of time through motorised artefacts.10 This leads, through the ringing of church bells, to the synchronisation of social life, and thus creates the first instances of appointments for which one has to ‘be on time’: namely, religious worship, work, school, etc. Husserl takes bell ringing as an example of a temporal object (Husserl, 1964). The skies, which are an immense spectacle through which humanity learns the art of contemplation — theory — form at once the source of cardinality and permit:

To orientate oneself, in the proper sense of the word, [which] means to use a given direction — and we divide the horizon into four of these — in order to find the others, in particular that of sunrise [the orient]. (Kant, 1991: 238)

Orientation presupposes this division, which is certainly not a given, of the immediate experience of the skies; neither is the calendary computation of the ephemeris a given, even if the latter is rooted in ‘[being] able to feel the difference. . . namely that between my right and left hands’ (Kant, 1991: 238).

This ‘feeling’ to which I shall return in my reading of Heidegger’s radical critique, can only begin to define itself and draw out [s’écarteler] into so-called cardinal points (‘we divide the horizon into four directions’) when space becomes manifest in the material form of the representational and schematic support we call a ‘map’ (e.g. of the sky). In his L’Empire des cartes, Christian Jacob suggests that ‘space does not exist before its mapping’ (1992: 50). There is no space without orientation; no orientation without a bodily support of the feeling of a difference between right and left; no orientating body without substratum of anticipation and reconstitution of an itinerary on a mental map which internalises some tertiary cardinality. There always seems to be some topographical planning and recording device, spaces of abstract toponymical distribution, while the map as such always seems to be prefigured by a proto-map of the Neolithic: for example, that of the Bedolina Rock, which is situated above a plane whose representation is carved into the rock. In front of this proto-map, which is also the arch-map, one is in the same exceptional position, above the mapped territory, suspended, in an epokhè of the world that is also the condition of the world’s formation. This exceptional place shows how the map makes orientation possible: as a process of reduction, selection and symbolisation, in which the space on the map contracts the territorial space in the same way as we see life-time contracted by cinema-time. It is through the contraction of the map in the rock, rather than by a view from the rock itself across the whole of the represented space below, that one gains access to a vision of this territory (which is literally geo-graphical) which is human or a component of an ‘absolute gaze’ — a gaze inscribed within the centre of the system of cardinal points.11

Cardinality and calendarity – which establish themselves, on a primitive level, in the immediate vastness of the skies in order to deploy themselves more fully with the appearance of mnemotechnics employing measuring devices and devices of abstract representation – open up the relation to the world, and are constitutive of the world, as world space and world time. It is impossible to gain access to the space or time of the world outside of these systems, in which of course not only calendars and maps, but also watches and compasses, partake, as well as everything that contributes to communal rhythms and social bonding. These are retentional devices of a higher level, or meta-retentions, which organise the general access to retentions and their sharing, or their adoption.

As synthetic substratum of the flux of internal meaning, and of the spatial orientation that corresponds to this flux and through which external meaning operates, these devices support the three syntheses by which the diversity that appears in intuitive spatial and temporal forms is unified as a concept in apperception and projected as a schema.

The ongoing globalisation, which is often experienced as the imminent ‘end of the world’ (not so much for economic reasons but rather due to the imminent spiritual, civilisational and existential collapse), or as a global disease, only reaches its full dimension in the current implementation of a planetary calendarity and cardinality. The marketing campaign launched by the US around Halloween — the feast of the dead — would invite some in-depth analysis in this context.

The fact that the Critique of Pure Reason does not take into account a fourth synthesis, makes a thinking of calendary and cardinal devices, as a means of organising the space and time of the ‘we’, or politics proper, impossible. It was Heidegger who investigated these devices, or at least touched upon them under different names (‘datability’ [Datierbarkeit], publicness [Öffentlichkeit], orientation [Bedeutsamkeit], tension [Gespanntheit]), but his retreat from the question of ‘Weltgeschichtlichkeit’ prevented him from proceeding any further (Heidegger, 1975: 369).

I ended the previous chapter of La technique et le temps 3, le temps du cinéma (Stiegler, 2001) (the book from which this essay is taken), by suggesting that the global commodification of education (which is the precondition for the formation of a homogeneous globality), is the result of the control that transnational programming industries exercise over adoption technologies. This makes the question of retentional and meta-retentional devices even more important, since educational systems are, above all, the places where calendary and cardinal devices are learned and interiorised. Additionally, in the West, they were conceived as devices that allow the acquisition of the scientific and philosophical foundations of the individual and collective experience of space and time: namely, as history of the mind [histoire de l’esprit, Geistesgeschichte], in so far as the mind [esprit, Geist] represents a ‘we’, which encompasses ‘us’, that is vaster than the actual and factual we, and which opens up a perspective of a universal time and space for us that lies beyond its physical expressions.

The techno-logical synthesis of tertiary retention supersedes the syntheses of consciousness. This fourth level of synthesis, by conditioning the synthesis of recognition, supports and articulates, at the same time, all the other three levels of syntheses of consciousness. It may thus be called the ‘retention of synthesis’, in the same sense that the artificial reproduction of a prosthesis can be called synthetic. Even though this may go against traditional thinking, one could thus speak of an a priori prosthetics. A priori synthetic judgement would be supported by an ‘a priori’ prosthetic synthesis — an ‘a priori’ which nevertheless has to remain in inverted commas because, upon closer inspection, the a priori of synthetic judgement of consciousness takes place after the event [après-coup], after a prosthetic synthesis, and thus a posteriori (empirically, it pre-cedes this consciousness in time as the possibility of its already-there). But at the same time it also partakes in the a priori of the synthesis of judgement that it only makes possible — in a somewhat mythical, performative and foundational après-coup — and which, in being a precondition for any possible experience based on recognition, is ‘transcendental’, even though it only exists under the a posteriori conditions imposed by the history of technical inventions. I therefore call this situation ‘a-transcendental’.

I have thus pointed out that the understanding that leads to digitalisation is the interiorisation of an operation that consists, first of all, in a mobility of external meaning that is synchronised with internal meaning. This conjunction of internal and external meaning presupposes a technical system of digitalisation which forms the substratum, elaborated through the various stages within the history of consciousness, that allows for the preservation of traces left by the flux of time and for the stabilisation of such a flux.12

In a much more general way, however, the literal synthesis of the flux of consciousness is also that which makes the invention of a principle of contradiction possible. I use the word ‘invention’ in its old sense of ‘exhuming’ [exhumation] (as in ‘the invention of the holy cross’).13 The principle of contradiction is neither discovered, nor invented, in the sense of ‘manufactured’. Every consciousness has immediate access to it, and in this sense it is not a discovery. But not every consciousness operates it successfully: namely, when the device that controls the unity of the flux fails to take it into account. So, although it is not ‘manufactured’ it is ‘invented’, in the sense that there is a point in time at which is formulated as such and is ‘produced’ as one ‘produces’ evidence before a court. This ‘as such’ presupposes a device that allows for its projection.

It is the ‘as such’ of the principle of contradiction that defines the thesis or the thetic statement, the typical position of expression of apodictic reasoning as well as the publication of the founding law of the polis. Only when it becomes public does the principle of contradiction formally impose itself. Even if this principle of contradiction overdetermines the projective activity of all consciousness, it is not apodictically conquered as long as there is no possibility to make a literal recording of a logical statement that transcribes a flux of consciousness. As a result, consciousness is subordinate to retentional finitude, and this prevents it from apprehending the temporal flux in its entirety (i.e. to unify it), whatever this flux may consist of.

This is why any consciousness, overdetermined by this principle as it may be, can and must suffer as the result of the fact that it is in contradiction with itself, that it is ‘within and for itself’ antithetical. It nevertheless always ends up judging, i.e. deciding and resolving through establishing a ‘synthesis’ of any particular existential situation. This experience is a permanent trial of existence without escape. Whatever self-evidence may lie in this principle, there is temporality — spread out between the forever irretrievable past and the inconceivable future. This is understood as a horizon of not yet existing possibilities, which forms the contradictory experience of not-being. Without experience, Paul Valéry claims, there is no future, while no future is conceivable unless it projects at the same time the final resolution of the principle, and thus the unification of, on the one hand, the flux of lived experience within a horizon in which ‘metaphysical opposites are at peace with each other'(Granel, 1968), and, on the other hand, that of the universal flux of an ideal ‘we’.

Also, even if consciousness in general fulfils the conditions of what, in the Critique of Pure Reason is called the analogies of experience — permanence (substance), production (succession), community (simultaneity) — not every consciousness has reflexive or thetic access to those a priori rules which determine the relations of all phenomena between themselves at any one time, and which are established by these analogies. The principle of analogy rests on:

. . .the necessary unity of apperception with regard to all possible empirical consciousness (of perception) at every time, consequently, since that is an a priori ground, it rests on the synthetic unity of all appearances according to their relations in time. For the original apperception is related to the inner sense (the sum of all representations), and indeed related a priori to its form, i.e., the relation of the manifold empirical consciousness in time. (Kant, 1998: 296-7)

But not every consciousness is ‘conscious’ of what consciousness is: namely, a unity of a flux that puts such rules to work. Their formulation presupposes the inspection of the flux itself, its fixation and spatialisation.

Mathematical judgments, which are all synthetic, presuppose prosthetic synthesis and, a posteriori, the geometrical unity of apperception as consciousness of an ideal ‘we’. This ‘we’ appears to itself après-coup as a priori, in the après-coup of experience of this a-posteriority (which is the experience of a thinking of necessity that becomes the more necessary the further it inscribes itself [s’engrammer], while geometrical thought on the other hand imagines and inscribes its own reasoning). This is so even if the discovery of mathematical judgements is undoubtedly a discovery of synthetic a priori judgements which entail a ‘necessity. . . which cannot be derived from experience’ (Kant, 1998: 143-4).

But there are two meanings of experience at work here. One is the experience of that which is permanent as the space of phenomena that are accessible to the external senses. The other is the experience of what is fluid, but nevertheless ideally unifiable, in apprehension, reproduction and recognition; and which, in the internal sense, can rely on permanent representations that can always vary, but whose inscription within permanent tertiary retention (which belongs to both internal and external meaning) allows for stability by synchronising internal and external meaning at the same time. When we return to the question of grammar we will see that this is also the case for other categories.

It is in this extreme sense that the techno-logical synthesis of tertiary retention originally superimposes itself on syntheses of consciousness. This is why I referred previously to the industrial synthesis of retentional finitude. This means, however, that this industrial synthesis directly challenges consciousness as such, in so far as it may have been able to apprehend itself during an era of thought which is precisely the era of consciousness – also called philosophical modernity.14

The possibility of this ‘challenge’ means that the flux of consciousness only takes place according to the substrata that lay out the possibilities for its occurrence. Consciousness is a flux that engenders vortexes that form out of what I will refer to, in the last volume of La technique et le temps, as the phenomenon of recurrence. It is made up of swirling micro-fluxes. Within these fluxes historical entities are formed that are always at once smaller and greater than the flux of consciousness itself. Thus, the history of geometry is greater than that of the geometer. And, at the same time, a geometer is always more than just a geometer. In this respect, geometry is also ‘smaller’ than the geometer.

We have seen that a flux of consciousness is an assembly of receptions [captations], grafts, mixtures and post-production which results in a phenomenon of adoption: namely, the one that gives projective unity to the flux. Receptions, grafts, mixtures, post-production and assembly presuppose retentional instruments which the course of a flux has to respect, and by which it is ‘seized’. These obligations put at stake the three syntheses, which are themselves techno-logically conditioned by the substrata of tertiary retentions that determine the course of the flux through their durability.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century a ‘new consciousness’ prevails, a consciousness that had appeared in the eighteenth century as the ‘I Think‘, a hundred and fifty years after the discovery of America and the invention of printing. It expands as its substrata are interiorised on a large scale through schooling and the creation of the book industry. State schooling, provided by national education, forms the national organisation of the internalisation (and thus naturalisation) of the ‘a priori‘ prosthetic synthesis.

It will be seen that this period of implementation of consciousness, which lasts from the first print book and the beginning of colonialism to Jules Ferry, also corresponds to a spiritual and techno-logical battle about grammar (what Sylvain Auroux calls ‘grammatisation’), through which Western Europe tried to impose its theological-political model. This war about typography, which imposes itself everywhere as a colonial system and in the idea of the ‘république des letters‘, is very much a war of minds.

The ‘I think’ becomes more palpable and generalised in the 19th century during the first industrial revolution through an ongoing mass-internalisation of its conditioning substrata.15 The number of children provided with schooling rises from 1,939,000 in 1832 to 5,526,000 in 1886-87, and from 47.5% of the school-age population in 1850 to 93% in 1896 (Furet & Ozouf, 1977: 275-6). The internalisation is systematised through the generalisation of an educational system based on literacy, numeracy and the promotion of universal ideas — what in German would be called Bildung, a ‘training’ which also comprises the projection of an image (Bild).

This national literal projection is a synchronisation that forms the unity of a democratic industrialised ‘we’, but which also aims towards a diachronisation by acquiring a faculty of judgement (and synthesising contradictions).16 Or, more precisely, since the invention of this faculty has already occurred, it asks, just like the principle of contradiction, to be expressed in public usage, ‘before the entire reading public’, and thus practised. This public usage forms the public space, a res publica, whose institution is the school. Literal projection is the space and the screen of the res publica, and ever since Ancient Greece, also of the polis. But it is only after the standardisation of typography, as will be seen, that both the invention of the conscious subject and modern republican space become possible.

At the same time as state education develops, the popular press emerges. At first it remains strongly influenced by the independent press [presse d’opinion], which had opened up the space for the exchange of ideas a century earlier. One should not belittle the fact that this new consciousness occurs in the wake of the revolutionary spirit of the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment, and in particular that of Rousseau, Kant and Condorcet, and is an essential aspect in the adoption process called modernity, which follows on from the industrial revolution. Both inevitably constitute the meaning of what is referred to as compulsory state education.

Today, when automated understanding and a certain schematisation of the cultural industries are beginning to converge, this educational system with its nineteenth-century roots — a system inspired by seventeenth- and eighteenth-Century ideas and used as a device for internalising the prostheses that form the history of knowledge and of the ‘we’ (understood as universal consciousness distinct from national histories) — is challenged by the transformation of the technical system into a planetary industrialised mnemotechnical system of retention.. And with it ‘consciousness’ (as such) is challenged. The international programming industries are gradually replacing national educational systems and their national institutional programmes which, as a result, no longer seem compatible with the transmission imperatives defined by the planetary industrial and mnemotechnical system. This evolution is a veritable war of minds, which is today led by the US, but who (as will be seen), are only continuing the pursuit of a campaign begun by Western Europe. This possibility was, from the beginning, inscribed into the process of adoption that characterises any form of socialisation.


1 Translator’s Note [TN]: This is a translation of chapter 4 in Bernard Stiegler’s third volume of La technique et le temps, vol. 3, le temps du cinema (Stiegler, 2001). Volume 1: la faute d’Épimethée (Stiegler, 1994), has been translated by Richard Beardsworth and George Collins as Technics and Time, vol.1, The Fault of Epimetheus (Stiegler, 1998). A translation of La Technique et le temps, vol.2, la désorientation (Stiegler, 1996a), has been announced by Stanford University Press.

2 [TN]: Stiegler uses the term ‘retention’ in its Husserlian sense. In Technics and Time vol.1, The Fault of Epimetheus, he refers to Husserl’s analysis of temporal objects in which he differentiates between ‘primary, secondary, and tertiary retention (I call tertiary retention what Husserl designates by “image-consciousness”‘ (Stiegler, 1998: 17).

3 I put forward this theory by Bertrand Gille in Stiegler (1994: 29).

4 As demonstrated by a call for proposals by the European Commission in Brussels, dated 19 September 2000, during an open day of CPA (‘Cross Program Action’) with the intriguing title ‘Systems of info-mobility and of intelligent and omnipresent geographical information’ — a problematic I myself developed in a report lodged with the Secrétariat Général of the French Government on 31 March 2000 (‘Note prospective sur l’évolution des conditions d’aménagement du territoire dans le contexte de la société de l’information et dans le domaine culturel [Notes on the future conditions of national and regional development with regard to the information society and culture]’).

5 This seems to coincide with what Simondon calls the techno-geographic milieu, which has essentially become mnemotechnical and, as such, represents the place of the exchange of goods without being a public space. See Simondon (2001), and also Stiegler (1998: 56-63).

6 TN: I have decided not to use John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson’s translation of Being and Time (Heidegger, 1927b). Their translation of this passage changes the original beyond recognition (see Heidegger, 1927b: 140). Neither does Macquarrie and Robinson’s suggestion of ‘de-severance’ for the Heideggerian Ent-fernung (in French é-loignement) seem particularly helpful here. Heidegger, just above the cited passages, gives the following justification for his special usage of Entfernung (which normally corresponds to the English ‘distance’): ‘We use the expression Entfernung in an active and transitive sense. It refers to a mode of Dasein for which the distancing of something, or its removal, is only one specific, factual aspect. Entfernen means to make disappear the distance, make disappear the distance of something, or approximation [Näherung]. Dasein is essentially a disappearing of distance [entfernend]; it allows every Being [das Seiende] to be encountered as a Being [das je Seiende], in proximity.’

7 Cf. chapter 2 of Stiegler (2001: §§ 9, 10 and 12).

8 One should not make the mistake, however, to perceive this ‘reterritorialisation’ as the inversion of a trend. It rather represents a reinforcement of the trend towards deterritorialisation. As I explained in La désorientation (Stiegler, 1996), a territory safeguards its extension and prosperity by multiplying its internal and external points of contact. From this point of view there is only territorialisation — namely a growth within the influence of the inhabitants on their space — if there is also at the same time deterritorialisation — namely the emancipation from actual local determination. This is exactly what is happening in the process referred to above as ‘reterritorialisation’.

9 This is also the reason why there are plans to attribute a definitive and universal number to each user and to phase out the multiple subscription numbers related to (stationary or mobile) devices. This would end the multiplicity of call numbers and would facilitate the geo-referencing of the user as data.

10 This is referred to by David Saul Landes as ‘time-keeping’ (garde-temps) (Landes, 1987: 43).

11 I tried to develop some of the phenomenological consequences of Christian Jacob’s analysis in Stiegler (1996b).

12 In this context I would like to refer to my analysis of geometry. This demonstrates that the literal retentional synthesis, in its function to supplement the retentional finitude of the proto-geometrical consciousness, is presupposed by any geometrical reasoning, as Husserl understands it, and it allows the formation of the ‘we‘ of the geometrical community, as well as the opening towards the infinite horizon of geometrical science as projection screen of this infinity — and there is no infinity without screen (Stiegler, 1996a: 57-62; 269-275).

13 Following Gérard Granel’s ‘L’invention de l’âme [The invention of the soul]’ — a paper on Phaedrus and Phaedo given at the University of Toulouse in 1980.

14 This distinction may be used to avoid a possible misunderstanding: I speak of modernity, in this context, in a different sense than the one derived from the analysis of the industrial revolution (Stiegler, 2001: paragraph 3, chapter 3). The kind of modernity to which I refer is characteristic of a philosophical era and conditions the appearance of industrial modernity. However, it is not the same as the historical, social, economic and political reality of this modernity, which instead requires a new process of adoption. This latter has been referred to by Jean-François Lyotard as ‘post-modernity’, because ‘post-modernity’ is merely a variant [avatar] of industrial modernity, a deceptive period within modernity during which industrial change inverts its sign because it is no longer progress that projects the ‘we’. One should rather speak of hyper- or ultra-modernity in which, far from entering a supposedly ‘post-industrial’ society, we instead are witnessing a process of hyper-industrialisation: namely, the submission of all retentional devices, including biological ones, to industrial exploitation; and thus the submission of conscious time and its bodily support to the new markets opened up by technoscientific developments. To announce a post-modernity that implies the exit from modernity would mean to overestimate the philosophical power to define and periodise modernity, and to underestimate the immense rupturing effect that the industrial revolution represents. The distance between Rousseau and Marx is infinitely greater than the distance between Nietzsche and us. This does not mean that ‘post-modernity’ is an empty concept — The Postmodern Condition (Lyotard, 1984) was an important book. However one should emphasise that its main interest lies precisely in its understanding of post-modernity as modernity in its deceptive stages.

15 On the complex relations between education and industrialisation, which show that, at least at the beginning, the latter seems to have slowed down the elimination of illiteracy, see Furet & Ozouf (1977: 259-269).

16 This also presupposes an institution, which raises the problem of legal epistemology, to follow Catherine Kintzler’s expression (Kintzler, 1984: 32).


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