Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler on Virtualization of the world

In “University without Condition,” Jacques Derrida argues that place and nature of university work is disrupted by “a certain delocalizing, virtualization of the space of communication, discussion, publication, archivization” (210). More importantly, what has been most upset by this “virtualization” of the world is “the topology of the event, the experience of the singular taking place” (210). Derrida goes on to ask a crucial question: “What happens, then, when the place itself becomes virtual, freed from its territorial (and thus national) rootedness, and when it becomes subject to the modality of an ‘as if’?” (213). What happens to the event (or its (im)possibility) when place is virtualized and it is difficult to find the “real?”

Bernard Stiegler is addressing a similar issue in Technics and Time 3, except that he does not want to use the term “virtual”:

Rather than virtual space, we should more accurately speak of a new digital system of retentions affecting the intuiting of both space and time, a system no more nor less virtual than all other forms of tertiary retention. (137)

Although Derrida uses the word “virtual,” it seems that he, too, does not see this virtualization is not different in kind from the past, “for as soon as there is a trace, there is virtualization,” but the newness stems from “the acceleration of the rhythm, the extent, and the powers of capitalization of such a virtuality” (210). In Stiegler’s temporal terms, we could understand “virtualization” as another word for the “synchronization” of time (or perhaps to return to Derrida’s terms “asynchrony”). If there is greater synchronization, then societies, according to Stiegler, are not “societies of invention” but rather ‘mimetic and adaptive” (101). Synchronization happens in all societies, but in our society it has lost synchronization as a “moment of exception.” Stiegler writes,
This synchronization is the arrival through these very media of a generalized loss of individuation and a swallowing up of exceptional moments in the continuous event-ful flux the programming industries unleash on the hypermasses of consciousness. (100)

As Derrida writes, the topology of the event, which is the “experience of the singular taking place” is disrupted through what he calls “virtualization.” I think Stiegler does not want to use the term “virtualization” because it implies somehow that it is “immaterial” or has no effect on the world. In this sense, I do not find Stiegler and Derrida departing from one another on the question of the “virtual.”

For Stiegler, this synchronization, this hyperindustrial society leads us to re-think the role of technoscience. This leads him to his critique of Kant, a critique that Derrida has also leveled, namely, that for Kant, “science” is separate from techne. “Science” is a describing of ‘what-is’ rather than its creation. This presupposes the idea that science is merely “constative” rather than performative knowledge. The age of technoscience has revealed that this is not the case—that there is no pure constative: “Contrary to the ideal of pure, classical scientific constativity, the essence of technology as the producer of technoscience and whose purpose is invention is in fact always performative” (203).

Thus, science and technology have a different relationship than we once thought. Science used to believe it described “the real” so that the possible (what we can “find” as scientists) is a modality of the real. But technoscience reveals that the real is always a modality of the possible. For example, the kind of experiments we have been doing with genetic codes. Thus, technology is not an “application” of science, but rather science is and application of technology! “Technoscience is not applied science, and even less explicated science; it is implicated science” (Stiegler 207).

If the real has only become a modality of the possible, then Derrida’s notion of the “event” as the impossible to-come now makes more sense: “The event belongs to a perhaps that is in keeping not with the possible but with the impossible. And its force is therefore irreducible to the force or the power of a performative, even if it gives to the performative itself, to what is called the force of the performance its chance and its effectiveness” (Derrida 235). The event is not something we (as individuals) can bring out--the event is always the decision of the other.

Does Stiegler rest in the perhaps of the event? In Technics and Time 3 Stiegler seems to be more interested in a more “Kantian” solution, using the term “criteria.” In the place of event (perhaps?), Stiegler calls for a new critique. We have to ask ourselves what would be “the principle of subjective differentiation in an age of technoscience,” which would be a “faculty capable of judging the quality of technoscientific fictions” (199). That is, the ability to judge which fictions, which possibles that technoscience reveals are worth our pursuing—it is a question of what we want to become as human beings.

I am still trying to figure out what Stiegler means by “subjective principle of differentiation” (which, by the way, we cannot “discover” but which we have to make). He implies at one point that we used to think it as the ontological difference (of Heidegger) between being and beings and all that it implied. Is Stiegler simply articulating a fact that we all know: we need to decide how far we want science to go?

Our selection, what we choose to adopt, and our principl of subjective differentiation, all seem to be tied up in what Stiegler calls “tertiary retentions,” which is everything that pre and conserves human memory outside of the life of a singular individual. All of this is related to technics. Stiegler argues that we only have access to our “already-there” (is this what Derrida calls “the Faktum” in “Faith and Knowledge”?) through these tertiary retentions. This “pre-original” understanding is only possible on the condition that we get it from our tertiary retentions. Thus, there is no pure and original “revealing of being” because the meaning of being always has a history and that history is preserved in our tertiary retentions. What does Stiegler mean when he argues that the new critique is a “thinking of selection as the very heart of the primordial question of retention, and thus through a general epistemological re-evaluation”? (156).

Indeed, this seems to be what he calls our educational institutions to do. Is this different (or can we make a difference) between this and the project Derrida outlines for the New Humanities in “University without Condition”? Is this somehow different from thinking the institutions history and the history of what is “proper” to man? Is the subjective principle of differentiation what will allow us to know “what, currently and to come, creates the distinction between best and worst” (155). is this a call for a critique that takes into account a shaky ethics (but not an ethical system) in the way that Haraway calls for in When Species Meet? In which “the crucial ethical issues now in human cloning are the biological matters [. . .] The ethics is in the whole ontological apparatus, in the thick complexity, in the naturecultures of being in technoculture that join cells and people in a dance of becoming”? (Haraway 137-38) But is Stiegler’s a question of ethics? Is not any sort of question of what ought to be done a question of ethics?
I am not able to answer these questions. I can only hope they are productive questions to ask.

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