Technics beyond the temporal object

Autumn 2012

This essay focuses on the phenomenological origins and limitations of Bernard Stiegler’s media philosophy. No critic has more thoroughly and convincingly laid bare the deep correlation of human life and technical culture: from the first volume of his Technics and Time to his recent study of attention and technics (Taking Care), Stiegler has explored the co-evolution of technics and life and has managed to articulate a powerful neo-phenomenological model of media centered around the adaptation of the Husserlian figure of time-consciousness for thinking contemporary “technical temporal objects” and their role in mediating our subjectivity.  With his contention that technics impacts human life first and foremost by contaminating the innermost intimacy of human time-consciousness, Stiegler retains a crucial commitment to the integrity of human agency: while he does recognize the specificity of twenty-first century media - its operation at levels beneath that of consciousness - Stiegler focuses his attention on how interaction with microtemporal technics impacts higher-order human experience. This focus forms both the strength and the weakness of Stiegler’s work. With his appreciation for the specificity of contemporary digital technics, Stiegler is in principle ready and able to recognize the necessity for rethinking human agency along the lines suggested above: namely, as a hybrid composition of overlapping processes - of which consciousness is simply one among others - operating at different timescales and levels of complexity. And yet he is prevented from doing so because of his overly narrow conception of time-consciousness, which is equally to say, because of his fidelity to a certain Husserl: the orthodox Husserl of the phenomenological epoche. There is, in other words, a fundamental tension at the core of Stiegler’s position: while his analysis of technics pinpoints its operation beyond the grasp of consciousness, his argument for technical contamination retains consciousness as the exclusive scope for thinking technics.

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NF 77 Bernard Stiegler: Technics, Politics, Individuation