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Interview With Bernard Stiegler

Bernard Stiegler is the director of the department of cultural development at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, also a professor at the University of Technology of Compiègne where he teaches philosophy. Before taking up the post at the Pompidou Center, he was program director at the International College of Philosophy, Deputy Director General of the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, then Director General at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM). Professor Stiegler has published numerous books and articles on philosophy, technology, digitization, capitalism, consumer culture, etc. Among his writings, his three volumes of La technique et le temps (English Translation: Technics and Time), two volumes of De la misère symbolique, three volumes of Mécréance et Discrédit and two volumes Constituer l'Europe are particularly well known. Professor Stiegler is one of the founders of the political group Ars Industrialis based in Paris, which calls for an industrial politics of spirit, by exploring the possibilities of the technology of spirit, to bring forth a new "life of the mind". He published extensively on the problem of individuation in consumer capitalism, and he is working on the new possibility of an economy of contribution.

French philosopher Bernard Stiegler will participate in the "Futures of the Book" event in San Francisco and will give a talk at the "Creating Minds" conference at University of California, Berkeley. Bernard Stiegler has answered a few questions on the changes we face in the digital era, in order to present his soon to come intervention.

To what extent would you say that the standardization of behaviors and lifestyles, boosted by the digital technologies, impacts the diversity of cultures?

Bernard Stiegler: It is a huge transformation of what falls under what I call a grammatisation process and besides, it is not simply a standardization process: it is an automation one, that is to say a massive transfer of the psychical, mental and social functions towards machines and industrial devices, which radically modifies what Simondon called the psychic and collective individuation. And since the question is, at every new stage of the grammatisation process (which, as an exteriorisation and a formalisation of the mental contents, starts as soon as the Upper Paleolithic), to know how the deficit effects (thus entropic), as far as idiomatic differentiation (in the broad sense) are concerned, can or cannot be balanced by new forms (thus negentropic) of individuation.
In your opinion, how do the digital technologies transform our access to knowledge?

Bernard Stiegler: For now, they mostly tend to reduce knowledge to information, which is totally different. Information is the “raw material” for knowledge and knowledge is the trans-formation of this raw material into individuation and idiomatic differentiation (in the broad sense, as suggested in my previous reply) which transforms the subject of knowledge itself in a manner that is not adaptive but rather singular (by increasing his singularity) and which sometimes produces bifurcation within the disciplines themselves, that it to say within the transindividuation circuits in which they consist. At the moment, the web is organized in such a way that it makes it more and more difficult for the individuation to happen, because the norms it implements have become leveling: in particular, they do not allow the tracing of the polemics, controversies and hermeneutic activities that constitute the ordinary reality of the evolution of knowledge. Consequently, the web tends to reinforce the analytic powers of the understanding (I’m speaking here of the understanding and of reason as Kant thought them). This can and must change: it will be the main subject of my communication in Berkeley.
How does this ongoing mutation redefine the writing practices, both in private and social spheres?

Bernard Stiegler: I will answer this without separating the questions of writing and reading and start with a reminder that reading on the web, firstly, is structurally different from the so-called deep reading which characterizes the literate mind that according to Walter ong appeared with Ancient Greece. Kate Hayles and I will be addressing this and one must read Maryanne Wolf here. As for the practices of writing on the web, they should first translate into annotation activities (in the sense of a glossing process) in the course of the reading, which is not yet the case, even if, and it is very important, since the first appearance of what has been called web 2.0, the production of metadata by the readers of the web has become the very basis of the data economy. But for the time being, neither do metadata lead to a production of glosses nor to the tracing of the controversies and interpretation conflicts that are generally generated by glosses and that are generally at the origin of great works within the various fields of lettered knowledge. The writing of these works stems from the hermeneutics in which the mental activity that deep attention is always consists. The current organization of the web has become antagonistic with the very possibility of such hermeneutics. I believe this can and must change with the appearance of new graphic languages which will allow the appearance of a new critic within the academic field as well as within society – let us call it the digital age of critic.