“This was, then, how I undertook to practice philosophy, as the experience of a silence in which a voice arose, as a soliloquy sustained by the hypomneses of writing, anamnesically reconstituting language as that which does not allow itself to be understood except through the trial of a cloistered asceticism and an absolute solitude, language that is rarely produced in the dialectic of a dialogue between tow, in the social dialectic, which has almost always become, today, unfortunately for us, pure chatter, if not a system of cretinization.” In the first lecture, Stiegler recounts how he was “called” to philosophy while serving a five year prison sentence (although he mentions an “act” that led to his incarceration and eventual philosophical “acting out,” he never names or discusses his crime). The lecture is a beautifully written account of how when deprived of exteriority (and therefore potentially of interiority), Stiegler used the bare minimum of mnemotechnologies in a disciplined routine of reading and writing to produce practices of signifying that would allow him to continue to individuate while in prison. The lecture makes it clear how deeply Stiegler’s work draws from Gilbert Simondon on individuation (and makes it evident how necessary an English translation of Simondon is at this time).
The second lecture puts forth Stiegler’s critique of contemporary mass media and capitalism. He argues that in order to achieve economies of scale, contemporary “hyperindustry” has aimed to “hypersynchronize” the flux of consciousness of the “we,” converting them into a “they,” an audience and target market. But “Mnemotechnologies put to work by cultural industries are nothing but the industrial exploitation of the fact that memory is always artifactually produced. In the twentieth century, memory becomes the object of systematic industrial exploitation because markets become accessible through the metamarket of consciousness.” Stiegler’s truly groundbreaking reading of Leroi-Gourhan and Heidegger in “Technics and Time” is deployed here to refine (I wouldn’t say revolutionize) the well known critique of the culture industry. Stiegler doesn’t name or engage with the thinkers of the culture industry one might expect him to (I believe Stiegler discuss Adorno elsewhere, but Virilio on the loss of horizon and Debord on pseudo-individuality in the spectacle are also looming influences, both theoretically and tonally. Oddly, the American sociologist Vance Packard is cited more often here.). This is rhetorically understandable, but it risks allowing an undervaluation of what he contributes to the critique as well as leaves him vulnerable to the numerous objections to the critique that have been set forth over the last few decades. Because the Simondon is not available in English, I’m not sure how Simondon positions his ideas about the individuation of the we in regards to Sartre’s work on practical multiplicities. When Stiegler, drawing directly from Simondon, claims the culture industry replaces the individuating “we” with the consumer “they,” he basically repeats Sartre on the group-in-fusion disintegrating and becoming a serial collective targeted by marketing (see the section in his “Critique of Dialectical Reason” on radio). I think there is a productive, but perhaps confusing, tension between the concepts of “totality” and “tendency” at work in the book. When describing hyperindustry, Stiegler often makes the strong claim about the total control of this industry, aligning himself with Adorno & Horkheimer at their most pessimistic points. But because he focuses on hyperindustry’s investment in memory, he provides a complex argument about the mass media providing mass secondary retentions that then create a “tendency” towards certain primary retensions, an “averaging” out of the differences between individuals. How one evaluates that gap between the totalizing aims of the system and the tendencies of the consciousnesses it produces would seem to be rather subjective. Stiegler is quite pessimistic, whereas those like Michel de Certeau might see in that gap a space for an everyday creativity and critique. Near the end of the lecture, Stiegler, like most media theorists, points to the internet as a “privileged terrain of combat,” a place to transform the synchronizing totality of the culture industries, though he notes that the internet is already being integrated into the “industrial retention system.” But if the culture industries are able to integrate the internet, it makes me wonder whether they are operating on different principles than those discussed in this book. Though he briefly mentions “just in time” production, Stiegler seems to be describing throughout a Fordist model of mass production based upon, as he explicitly points out, economies of scale (this was clearly Adorno’s concept of the culture industry’s mode of production). Even if one describes post-Fordist production as merely marketing “pseudo-distinctions” or relying on “pseudo-individualized” consumers, I’m not sure how well hypersynchronization describes the kind of splintering (both spatially and temporally) of both production and consumption one sees in it. Capitalism’s fluid ability to incorporate the internet would seem to indicate that industry is already operating on a much more minute, discrete, and ephemeral production of synchronizations. Hypersynchronization instead would be reserved for the global stock market. Some of the most innovative recent work on capitalism and temporality has focused on finance, not production and consumption, discussing not just the temporal linking of different economies but the production of real-time representations of the global market. How the time of finance links up with the time of industry and how both are dependent on information technologies is something I hope Stiegler examines elsewhere.