Between Derrida and Stiegler
- In his massive multi-volume work, Technics and Time, Bernard Stiegler explores a
of technics as epiphylogenesis--the preservation in technical objects of epigenetic experience.
Epiphylogenesis marks for Stiegler a break with genetic evolution (which cannot preserve the lessons
of experience), a break which also constitutes the "invention" of the human. As Stiegler puts it in
the general introduction to Technics and Time, "as a 'process of exteriorization,'
technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life" (17).
Since the "human" is constituted through its exteriorization in tools, its origin is neither
biological (a particular arrangement of cells) nor transcendental (to be found in something like
consciousness). The origin of the human as the prosthesis of the living is therefore fundamentally
aporetic: one should speak, for Stiegler, of a non-origin or default of origin. Stiegler develops these arguments through a reading of Rousseau
and Leroi-Gourhan, showing on the one hand how the empirical approach of the paleo-anthropologist
cannot avoid the transcendental question of origin and, on the other, how Rousseau's transcendental
account of the question of origin inscribes inside its account, despite itself, the thought of the
human as contingent or accidental (Technics 82-133).
I will not expand on Stiegler's reading of Leroi-Gourhan and Rousseau here. What I intend to discuss
is rather the relationship between Stiegler's work and that of Jacques Derrida. In particular I will examine Stiegler's discussion of Derrida in
the latter half of the first volume of Technics and Time and then move
on to discuss the interviews between the two men gathered in the
Echographies collection. I will demonstrate significant differences in
their respective theoretical approaches and show how these arise in part
from problems in Stiegler's reading of Derrida.
The context of Stiegler's disagreement with Derrida in the first volume of Technics and
Time is the discussion in chapter 3 of the paleo-anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan and the
"invention of the human." At the opening of the chapter Stiegler argues:
We are considering a passage: a passage to what is called the human. Its "birth," if there is one .
. . . To ask the question of the birth of the human is to pose the question of the "birth of death"
or of the relation to death. But at stake here will be the attempt to think, instead of the birth of
the human qua entity relating to its end, rather its invention or even its embryonic
fabrication or conception, and to attempt this independently of all anthropologism.
Here then is the place of Leroi-Gourhan in Stiegler: the chance to understand the emergence of the
human in a non-"anthropologistic" manner. The key to this approach is the role Leroi-Gourhan assigns
to technics in the evolution of the human. For Leroi-Gourhan, the evolution of the human--unlike
that of animals--is not only a question of the evolution of a biological entity but also, crucially
for Stiegler, the evolution of technical objects (or "organized inorganic matter" as Stiegler has
it). Thus Leroi-Gourhan opens up the possibility of an understanding of the human as no longer simply either a
biological entity or a biological entity with
some transcendental quality (consciousness, free will, etc.) added to it. Unfortunately, for
Stiegler, Leroi-Gourhan cannot quite deliver on the promise of a non-anthropologistic
or non-anthropocentric account of the human. For although Leroi-Gourhan has an account of the
process of hominization as the exteriorization of the human in its tools, he still requires what
Stiegler calls the "artifice of a second origin" in order to account for the passage from
"technical" to "creative" consciousness.
What lies behind this failure is an inability to understand the origin of the human not merely as obscure but
as fundamentally aporetic. For the
exteriorization of the human into technics--writing, tools and so on--raises a fundamental
aporia of origin: "The paradox is to have to speak of an exteriorization without a
preceding interior: the interior is constituted in exteriorization" (Technics 141). It
is at this point, in order to elucidate this aporetic structure, that Stiegler calls on Derridean différance:
The ambiguity of the invention of the human, that which holds together the who and the
what, binding them while keeping them apart, is différance . . . Différance
is neither the who nor the what, but their co-possibility, the movement of their
mutual coming-to-be, of their coming into convention. The who is nothing without the
what and conversely. Différance is below and beyond the who and the
what; it poses them together, a composition engendering the illusion of an opposition. The
passage is a mirage: the passage of the cortex into flint, like a mirror proto-stage.
For Stiegler only différance as a structure of differing and deferral
without origin can describe this aporetic relationship between interior and exterior
that is the "human." Différance, here the co-possibility of the who and the
what, is what makes possible the who and the what, "below and beyond"
them as Stiegler puts it, and as such is what make possible the non-origin or what he calls here the
"proto-mirage" of the human. However, the status of
this passage is problematic, and it is what is at stake in Stiegler's dispute with Derrida. On
the one hand, this emergence or passage is a "mirage," "aporetic" or "paradoxical." The tool, the
"work in flint," is no more an effect or product of the human being than the human is an effect or
product of the appearance of flint tools. On the other hand, something, however "aporetic" it may
be, happens, "is accomplished" or commences, and is this "beginning of 'exteriorization.'" Put otherwise: what happens, what is suspended inside these quotation marks may
remain paradoxical or aporetic, but that it happens, that there is a "passage" is
not in question. For Stiegler this passage is crucial because it marks the emergence of what
he calls from the beginning of Technics and Time "organized inorganic matter,"
"the prosthesis of the human" or what he will later call, in relation to the discussion of Husserl,
"tertiary memory." It is precisely this passage that, for Stiegler, is "remaining to be thought" in
This point seems to be demonstrated most clearly for Stiegler in Derrida's own
reading of Leroi-Gourhan in the chapter of Of Grammatology entitled "Of Grammatology as
a Positive Science," and in particular in the following passage, which, since it seems to mark such a
crucial point of distinction between Stiegler and Derrida, I quote at length:
Leroi-Gourhan no longer describes the unity of man and the human adventure thus by the simple
possibility of the graphie in general; rather as a stage or an articulation in the history
of life--of what I have called différance--as the history of the grammè.
Instead of having recourse to the concepts that habitually serve to distinguish man from other
living beings (instinct and intelligence, absence or presence of speech, of society, of economy,
etc. etc.), the notion of program is invoked. It must of course be understood in the
cybernetic sense, but cybernetics is itself intelligible only in terms of a history of the
possibilities of the trace as the unity of a double movement of protention and retention. This
movement goes far beyond the possibilities of the "intentional consciousness." It is an emergence that
makes the grammè appear as such (that is to say according to a new structure of
nonpresence) and undoubtably makes possible the emergence of systems of writing in the narrow sense.
Since "genetic inscription" and the "short programmatic chains" regulating the behaviour of the
amoeba or the annelid up to the passage beyond alphabetic writing to the orders of the logos and of
a certain homo sapiens, the possibility of the grammè structures the movement of
its history according to rigorously original levels, types and rhythms. But one cannot think them
without the most general concept of the grammè. That is irreducible and impregnable. If the
expression ventured by Leroi-Gourhan is accepted, one could speak of a "liberation of memory," of an
exteriorization always already begun but always larger than the trace which, beginning from the
elementary programs of so-called "instinctive" behaviour up to the constitution of electronic
card-indexes and reading machines, enlarges différance and the possibility of putting in
reserve: it at once and in the same movement constitutes and effaces so-called conscious
subjectivity, its logos, and its theoretical attributes. (84)
Now, from Stiegler's point of view, the important point here in Derrida's reading of Leroi-Gourhan
is that the exteriorization of the human into tools or graphical marks is only a stage in
différance as the "history of life" in general. Thus Derrida emphasizes the continuity of the "notion of
program" from "genetic inscription" up to and beyond
alphabetic writing. The possibility of the gramme as program is prior to any particular
type of program, be it genetic or nongenetic, and even if one must pay attention in the history of
the gramme to "rigorously original levels, types and rhythms," Derrida insists that "one
cannot think them without the most general concept of the gramme. That is irreducible and
- Stiegler's response seems to be as follows:
Différance is the history of life in general, in which an articulation is produced, a stage
of différance out of which emerges the possibility of making the gramme as such,
that is, "consciousness," appear. The task here will be to specify that stage . . . . The passage
from the genetic to the nongenetic is the appearance of a new type of gramme and/or
program. If the issue is no longer that of founding anthropos in the pure origin of itself,
the origin of its type must still be found. (Technics 137-38)
Thus even if Derrida is right in thinking that the notion of program in Leroi-Gourhan challenges all
the traditional distinctions that mark the difference and origin of the human, of
anthropos, it is nonetheless the case that with the human we see the emergence of a new
type of program, and that new type of program is exactly what Technics and Time, in its
understanding of technics as the prosthesis of the human, is concerned with. For Stiegler it is
crucial therefore to distinguish genetic evolution from the non-genetic evolution which he calls
epiphylogenesis and which involves the evolution not of the biological entity which is the human being, but of
the technical supports in which the human's epigenetic experience is preserved and accumulated.
For Stiegler it is the significance of epiphylogenesis, or the fact that Dasein "becomes singular in
the history of the living," that Derrida fails to think. This is not simply because
différance, which Stiegler establishes, on the basis of the quote from Of
Grammatology, as the "history of life in general" is not developed far enough to have an
account of the specificity of epiphylogensis which Stiegler is outlining, but also, curiously,
because Derrida's arguments about différance are for Steigler in some sense inconsistent with
themselves. After quoting at length the passage from the essay "Différance" on the
temporal and spatial dimensions of the French verb différer, Stiegler comments as
All of this points primarily to life in general: there is time from the moment there is life,
whereas Derrida also writes, just before the Leroi-Gourhan quotation [i.e., the passage from
Of Grammatology cited above], that "the trace is the différance that
opens appearing and the signification (which articulates) the living onto the non-living in general,
(which is) the origin of all repetition." To articulate the living onto the nonliving, is that not
already a gesture from after the rupture when you are already no longer in pure phusis?
There is something of an indecision about différance: it is the history of life in general,
but this history is (only) given (as) (dating from) after the rupture, whereas the rupture is, if
not nothing, then at least much less than what the classic divide between humanity and animality
signifies. The whole problem is that of the economy of life in general, and the sense of death as
the economy of life once the rupture has taken place: life is, after the rupture, the economy of
death. The question of différance is death. (139, translation slightly modified)
In other words, it is incoherent for différance to constitute both "the history of
life in general" and the specific stage in the history of life--which Stiegler associates with the
invention of the human and technics as epiphylogenesis--when the living is articulated upon "the
non-living in general," i.e., upon inorganic organized matter.
- However, one might wonder if it is not
because Stiegler is himself operating from within such a rigorous distinction between
phusis and tekhne that he is able to convince himself that it is only after the
"rupture" of the technical that death is the economy of life. For Stiegler it is only after such a
rupture, i.e., "the invention of the human," that the trace articulates the living on the non-living
in general. It is only at this point that the evolution of a particular living being (the human)
becomes bound up with the evolution of something that is not living, that is, what Stiegler calls
"inorganic organized matter," in the form of tools, writing and so on. But there is no reason to
suppose that Derrida is working with the same set of assumptions when he talks of the possibility of
the gramme embracing not only alphabetic writing but also "genetic inscription." Indeed it
seems to be clearly the case that Derrida is precisely challenging such a classical set of
distinctions (which is what they are, for the opposition between epigenesis and
epiphylogenesis only reproduces in a different form the more traditional opposition between nature
and culture). It would seem perfectly reasonable for Derrida to argue that genetic inscription is a species of the
gramme precisely because genetics does
indeed articulate the living upon the non-living in general: the DNA of a biological entity
binds it to its non-living ancestors just as much as their written or technical legacy; genetic
codes preserve the legacy of the nonliving in the living in a way that is analogous to (though
obviously not the same as) alphabetic writing. Moreover it is not immediately obvious why genetic
evolution should be regarded simply as an "economy of life," when death and genetic non-survival are in part the
criteria of selection: genetics, it might be argued, is equiprimordially an economy of
life and an economy of death. It is only if one thinks, like Stiegler, that there is first an
economy of life, then a rupture that coincides with the arrival of the human, and that then, as he
argues above, "life is, after the rupture, the economy of death," that one is forced to regard
genetic inscription as in some way rigorously distinct from all later forms of--no doubt,
In part the problem here is Stiegler's attachment to the category of "organized inorganic matter"
and to the assumption that the organic/inorganic distinction maps in a straightforward, unproblematic
manner onto the distinction between living and nonliving that Derrida invokes with respect to the
trace. In fact, Stiegler often takes inorganic (inorganique) and non-living
(non-vivant) to be simply synonymous. In other words, he
reads the "non-living in general" of the passage from Of Grammatology as solely
consisting of a very specific form of non-living he associates with inorganic matter.
Having construed Derrida's thinking of the trace in this manner, Stiegler is then puzzled why Derrida isn't more interested in the relationship between organic and inorganic
matter (living and non-living), and more specifically why he isn't more interested in the "rupture"
of the human which Stiegler understands, as we have seen, as the point at which the evolution of the
living becomes bound up with a relation to the non-living in the form of tools. Stiegler therefore
makes the mistake of assuming that the trace requires one to think of this new category of
organized inorganic matter when in fact the trace challenges (without erasing) the very
categorical distinctions on which Stiegler is relying. Indeed precisely what makes the trace, or the idea
of the gramme as program, radical is that it exists on either side of Stiegler's imagined
rupture and therefore challenges both the opposition between nature and culture and "the name of
man." As Beardsworth comments:
The risk Stiegler runs in differentiating the historical epochs of arche-writing, and in thinking
them in terms of technical supplementarity, is precisely that of considering technicity in the
exclusively exteriorized terms of technics which befit the process of hominization . . .
The major theses in Technics and Time according to which the technical object
represents a third kind of being . . . that hominization emerges through the technical suspension
of genetic, and that, therefore, the human lives through means other than life . . . all such
theses, while brilliantly articulated by Stiegler in their own terms, end up having the following
somewhat ironic consequence: biological life prior to, or in its difference from anthropogenesis is
removed from the structure of originary technicity; as a result biology is naturalized and the
differentiation of technicity qua technics is only considered in its exteriorized form in
relation to processes of hominization. ("Thinking Technicity" 81)
It might seem that it is not so much Derrida's account of différance
that is confused as Stiegler's reading of it. This point can be illustrated by Stiegler's reading of
a different passage about différance, a passage this time drawn from the essay
Thus one could consider all the pairs of opposites on which philosophy is constructed and on which
our discourse lives, not in order to see opposition erase itself but to see what indicates that each
of the terms must appear as the différance of the other, as the other different and deferred
in the economy of the same (the intelligible as differing-deferring the sensible, as the sensible
different and deferred; the concept as different and deferred, differing-deferring intuition;
culture as nature different and deferred, differing-deferring; all the others of
physis-tekhne, nomos, thesis, society, freedom, history, mind
etc.--as physis different and deferred, or as physis differing and deferring.
Physis in différance . . . ). (Margins 17)
Having cited a section of this passage, Stiegler comments: "Now phusis as life was already
différance. There is an indecision, a passage remaining to be thought"
(Technics 139). What he seems to mean is that différance cannot
be simultaneously "the history of life in general" (the definition from Of Grammatology
which Stiegler is taking here to be synonymous with "the history of phusis in general") and the differing-deferring of phusis and
tekhne which Stiegler assumes can only be the case after the "rupture" of the technical.
But it is clear from this passage that Derrida sees the thought of
différance as that which first of all challenges the philosophical opposition
between phusis and tekhne, establishing them as "different and deferred in the
economy of the same." It is not surprising therefore that Derrida does not have an account of the
invention of the human as a "rupture" in différance, because this rupture would seem
to risk affirming on a different level the very philosophical oppositions that such a
différance disrupts. For, to reiterate, it is difficult not to see in Stiegler's opposition
of phylogenesis and epiphylogenesis a reproduction of a most classical opposition between nature and
culture, where the "nature" of phylogenetic evolution, which can never preserve the experience of
the individual entity, is opposed to the "culture" of epiphylogenetic evolution which would
preserve such epigenetic experience in its exteriorized prostheses (tools, writing and so on). On this reading, Stiegler would add to this traditional division
the twist that such a culture would no longer be understood as the product of the human but
as that which invents the human in an exteriorization of the organic living being into
inorganic technical objects.
Of course, Stiegler would not agree with the suggestion that the
phylogenesis/epiphylogenesis divide or "rupture" simply reproduces the opposition between nature and
culture; such a resistance would probably center around his linking the idea of epiphylogenesis to
différance. The role that différance plays in
Stiegler's theoretical setup--especially in the first volume of Technics and Time--is
to show that as soon as there is anything like epiphylogenesis--i.e., culture--there is a
différance, that is, a differing deferral without origin. It is exactly on this point, after all, that Stiegler sees himself as
deviating from Rousseau and Leroi-Gourhan, who must both ultimately rely on the artifice of a second
origin or coup in order to explain the deviation from nature (Rousseau) or the arrival of "symbolic
consciousness" (Leroi-Gourhan). Epiphylogenesis as différance, on the other hand,
allows for a new non-anthropocentric concept of the human and of "culture." Such a concept would
displace the question of the origin of the human and of culture, whether that question is framed in
transcendental or biological terms. Indeed this seems to be exactly how Stiegler understands
Derrida's own reading of Leroi-Gourhan, as is evident from this (as we shall see, rather imprecise)
précis of the passage from Of Grammatology previously cited:
In other words, Leroi-Gourhan's anthropology can be thought from within an essentially
non-anthropocentric concept that does not take for granted the usual divides between animality and
humanity. Derrida bases his own thought of différance as a general history of life, that is,
as a general history of the gramme, on the concept of program insofar as it can be found on
both sides of such divides. Since the gramme is older than the specifically human written
forms, and because the letter is nothing without it, the conceptual unity that différance is
contests the opposition animal/human and, in the same move, the opposition nature/culture.
"Intentional consciousness" finds the origin of its possibility before the human; it is nothing but
"the emergence that has the gramme appearing as such." We are left with the
question of determining what the conditions of such an emergence of the "gramme as such" are, and
the consequences as to the general history of life and/or of the gramme. This will be our
question. (137, emphasis original)
- For many readers of Derrida, this must seem like a rather strange way of understanding
différance. For it is not easy to understand how a Derridean understanding of
différance would allow one to oppose a "non-anthropocentric concept of the human" to
an anthropocentric one, or to contest the opposition of concepts such as nature and culture by
referring them to the "conceptual unity" of différance. Derrida says, both in the essay
"différance" and elsewhere, that différance is not a concept, "neither a word nor a concept," a
point that is repeated several times in the essay "Différance." Moreover, such remarks are not mere qualifications, caveats, or platitudes
which Derrida attaches to an otherwise orthodox semantic exposition of what
différance is: they are rather at the heart of his argument.
Différance is not a concept because it is "the possibility of conceptuality, of a
conceptual process and system in general," and "as what makes possible the presentation of the
being-present, it is never presented as such" (Margins 6,11). Deconstruction can
therefore never proceed by opposing différance as a new concept to a series of old
metaphysical concepts, for example, by opposing a "non-anthropocentric" concept of the human to an
anthropocentric one. It is also for this reason, as Derrida also makes abundantly clear, that one
can never simply think différance as naming some kind of conceptual unity which
would be prior to all conceptual oppositions. Since that which makes conceptuality possible can
never in itself be made present as a concept, it is in principle "unnameable" (and this is the sense
of "différance" being "neither a word nor a concept): indeed the choice of the term
différance is, as Derrida points out, only a strategic or provisional one, which, as
he also points out, does not mean that a better term (for example, "technics," or
"epiphylogenesis"), or a real name, is waiting in the wings. Far from a conceptual or nominal unity, Derrida's choice of the
neographism "différance" is motivated not by a desire to unite the two meanings of
the verb différer but by that of maintaining it as being "immediately and
irreducibly polesemic" (8).
The problem then with Stiegler's argument is, as Geoff Bennington has argued, Stiegler's desire to think technics in both
quasi-transcendental and positivistic terms. There is a question about the
relationship between historical or theoretical understanding of
technics and the argument that Stiegler also wants to advance about technics as a
quasi-transcendental structure (what Bennington calls "originary technicity"). This problem
concerning the relationship between positive knowledge about technology and the quasi-transcendental
understanding of technics also arises in the series of interviews between Stiegler and
Derrida presented in Echographies:
The origin of sense makes no sense. This is not a negative or nihilistic statement. That which bears
intelligibility, that which increases intelligibility, is not intelligible--by definition, by virtue
of its topological structure. From this standpoint, technics is not intelligible. This does not mean
that it is a source of irrationality, that it is irrational or that it is obscure. It means that it
does not belong, by definition, by virtue of its situation, to the field of that which it makes
possible. Hence a machine is, in essence, not intelligible. (108)
It is difficult not to read this as a direct challenge to the logic of Technics and
Time. For what is Stiegler's project if it is not to make technics visible and
Stiegler responds to Derrida at this point: "It [technics] constitutes sense if it participates in its construction"
(109), to which Derrida responds, reiterating:
Yes, but that which constitutes sense is senseless. This is a general structure. The origin of
reason and of the history of reason is not rational. (109)
In his own reading of this interview--an interview which he admits he finds "disappointing" since
"Derrida's responses to [Stiegler's] questions and interventions remain too much within the ambit
and terms of his own philosophy"--Richard Beardsworth formulates the following reading of this
exchange between Stiegler and Derrida:
Derrida's comments are, to say the least, odd in response to Stiegler's concerns, both at a juncture
of the interview when the two men are acquainted with each other's preoccupations and, more
importantly, at a moment in cultural history when the terms of philosophical reflection upon the
real are shifting. As we have seen, Stiegler's interest lies, precisely, in the historical
differentiation of this "other" of reason and meaning together with the political implications of
the articulation of this "other." To respond by reiterating a series of propositions that are
well-known from within and around the thought of deconstruction and post-structuralism, but that do
not engage as such with the explicit wish on Stiegler's part to genealogize, after the last twenty
years thinking, what lies prior to the opposition between reason and unreason, meaning and unmeaning
is intellectually and culturally dissatisfying. ("Towards" 138)
But it is surely not Derrida who fails to engage with Stiegler but vice versa: as we
have seen above, Stiegler fails to respond to the basic problem being outlined here, however many
ways Derrida formulates it, which one might formulate again and put as follows: "How is theoretical
and historical knowledge of "technics" possible, given that, as you yourself argue, technics is first
of all what makes theory and history possible?" Stiegler never really responds to this question,
neither in Echographies nor in the two first volumes of La technique et le
temps. In his general introduction to the multi-volume work, he doesn't even offer the
genealogical explanation that Richard Beardsworth provides for him in his reading of
Echographies. Moreover this response, i.e. to assert the possibility of a genealogy of
technics, couldn't be more problematic. One can provide a genealogy of a concept, showing how that
concept is inherited through a determinate history. But we are concerned here with the genealogy
of that which makes conceptualization possible. Moreover--and here, in a sense, is the very
strangest aspect of the deployment of the term "genealogy" here--as Stiegler has already shown us,
technics as epiphylogenesis or tertiary memory is the condition of inheritance itself. A genealogy
of technics would be a genealogy of genealogy itself, an exercise that would seem rendered
impossible by the "topological" structure that Derrida mentions in relation to
Following the "topological" logic that Derrida outlines, if technics is the condition of
memory it can't possibly be made present, rendered intelligible, dissected, theorized, historicized
and, in general, remembered or made present to consciousness. Stiegler
assumes that technics is not only the condition of knowledge, but is in itself
knowable. However, as soon as prosthesis or technicity in general is the condition of knowledge,
of what is sayable or thinkable, what can be positively known or said about the prosthesis
qua prosthesis is necessarily limited. To not recognize this limit is to risk confusing insights into the
empirical history of technology as prosthesis with arguments
concerning technics as a transcendental condition of
knowledge. At a later point in the interview Derrida
reformulates this idea in the terms of Specters of Marx on inheritance. Derrida comments on the
necessary dissymmetry which inhabits this relation to the spectral quality of the technical object:
One has a tendency to treat what we've been talking about here under the names of image,
teletechnology, television screen, archive, as if all these things were on display: a collection of
objects, things we see, spectacles in front of us, devices we might use, much as we might use a
"teleprompter" we had ourselves written or prescribed. But wherever there are these specters, we are
being watched, we sense or think we are being watched. This dissymmetry complicates everything. The
law, the injunction, the order, the performative wins out over the theoretical, the constative,
knowledge, calculation and the programmable. (Derrida and Steigler 122)
For both Stiegler and Derrida the question of technics is closely linked to the question of
inheritance: for Stiegler, as we have seen, it is because the technical object is the condition of
my access to the "past I have not lived" that technics is constitutive of temporality; for Derrida,
"to be is to inherit," that is, to be is to be inhabited by a certain spectral inheritance. However,
for Derrida what is crucial about the structure of inheritance is what he calls in Specters of
Marx the "visor effect"--the reference being to the
suit of armour worn by Hamlet's ghost--which means that we cannot see the specter, even as "we sense
or think we are being watched." As Derrida reaffirms in Echographies: "The specter is
not simply the visible invisible that I can see, it is someone who watches or concerns me without
any possible reciprocity, and who therefore makes the law when I am blind, blind by situation"
(121). Thus even if "to be is to inherit," there is a certain impossibility about knowing the terms
of that inheritance. What this means in the context of Derrida's discussion with Stiegler,
and this is the sense of the passage we have just cited, is that if technicity is the condition of
inheritance, such a technicity can't in itself become the object of theoretical knowledge. The
dissymmetry which Derrida remarks here is clearly linked to the topological structure we have seen him bring out in relation to intelligibility: that which bears the inheritance can't in itself
become visible within that inheritance. Thus whereas in Technics and Time Stiegler
could be seen constructing a (highly cogent) theory of inheritance as epiphylogenesis, for
Derrida the structure of inheritance exceeds and makes possible theoretical knowledge, without
itself becoming the object of a theoretical knowledge. It is in this sense that "the law, the
injunction, the order, the performative wins out over the theoretical, the constative, knowledge,
calculation and the programmable."
The question of the dissymmetry of this topological structure differentiates Stiegler's
theoretical account of technics from the thought of arche-writing in Of Grammatology. Technics
and Time never explicitly asks how the theory of technics or a
history of the supplement is possible, or, put differently, how, given a general structure in which everyone has
forgotten Epimetheus, it is possible for Stiegler to remember him. Stiegler inclines toward a simpler and more
traditional type of theoretical work in which one imagines that what can supersede philosophy
in its repression of technics (or even Heideggerian thinking) is just a "better" theory, one that in this case makes possible a new thinking about the political or
what Stiegler calls a "politics of memory," as he outlines toward the end of the first volume of
Technics and Time:
The irreducible relation of the who to the what is nothing but the expression of
retentional finitude (that of its memory. Today memory is the object of an industrial
exploitation that is also a war of speed: from the computer to program industries in general, via
the cognitive sciences, the technics of virtual reality and telepresence together with the
biotechnologies . . . There is therefore a pressing need for a politics of memory. This politics
would be nothing but a thinking of technics . . . ) (Technics 276)
- It might well seem therefore that Stiegler's desire in the first volume of Technics and
Time to think
technics on the basis of différance (and therefore to resist the various pitfalls which he finds in Leroi-Gourhan and
in Simondon) is at odds both with the specifics of Derrida's own account of différance--this much is
clear from the reading
in The Fault of Epimetheus--and with deconstruction in general to the extent that Stiegler in
Time is concerned with the construction of a new theoretical account of technics that is
capable of displacing philosophical and, to a certain extent, traditional scientific accounts. At the stage of the "Fault of
Epimetheus" Stiegler tends toward a theory of what one might call, using Richard Beardsworth's terminology, "technics as time."
theory would draw on deconstruction in a straightforward way as a continuation of the arguments that Derrida opens up
in the chapter entitled "Of Grammatology as a Positive Science" in Of Grammatology--while correcting, for example,
Derrida's failure to understand the significance of the emergence of the human (which we addressed above).
In later work,
Stiegler seems to advance a subtle distinction between his work and that of Derrida. Whereas Derrida is primarily concerned (in
Of Grammatology) with a "logic" of the supplement, Stiegler is concerned
with the "history" of the supplement. This distinction can be observed in the paper "Discrétiser le temps," where Stiegler argues
for a history of the supplement "of which . . . Derrida has unfortunately never really explored the conditions." Even if Stiegler believes, as he states in the introduction to volume two of La technique et le
temps ("La désorientation"), that the logic of the supplement is "always already" the history of the supplement, it is
clear that he believes that Derrida has in some sense neglected this history of the supplement or failed to recognize its importance.
This question is explicitly raised in La technique et le temps in the discussion of phonetic writing
in the chapter in volume 2 entitled "L'époque orthographique":
The stakes here
concern the specificity of linear writing in the history of arche-writing, ortho-graphic writing which is also
phono-logic, always understood from the beginning as such, and of which Derrida often seems to blur, if not deny the
specificity of in the history of the trace.
- Here Stiegler insists on the term "orthographic" writing in preference to "phonetic" or "phonologic" writing.
Stiegler argues, via a reading of Jean Bottero, that what is distinctively different about such writing is not that it is closer to the
sounds of speech, but rather that it is capable of breaking with the context of its inscription in a way that "pictographic" signs are
"Proper writing" (l'écriture proprement dite) is what is readable as a result of us having at our disposal the recording "code."
It is orthothetic recording. Pictographic tables remain unreadable for us even when we have the code at our disposal: one must also
have knowledge of the context. Without this, the signification escapes. In order to accede fully to the signification of a
pictographic inscription, one must have lived the event of which it holds the record.
Therefore for Stiegler the specificity of orthographic writing is not that it is closer to speech but that it represents a different
type of "recording" (enregistrement). Derrida's own account of "phonologocentrism" seeks to show that (i) the philosophical
account of language always prefers speech to writing ; (ii) it therefore prefers phonetic writing to any other kind since, being
closest to speech, it is something like the "least worse" form of writing. The deconstruction of such phonologocentrism involves
showing, on the one hand, how the characteristics that philosophy ascribes to writing are always already at work in language in general
(including speech). To this extent Stiegler is quite happy to go along with Derrida's account. He finds a problem when, on the other
hand, Derrida argues that as soon as one removes the phonetic privilege, an axiomatic distinction between phonetic or orthographic
writing and non-phonetic writing becomes impossible to sustain. Stiegler finds it problematic that Derrida can on the one
hand argue in the opening Exergue of Of Grammatology that the phoneticization of writing is "the historical origin and
structural possibility of philosophy as of science" and yet on the other hand write in a later chapter, "Of Grammatology as a
Science" that "phoneticization . . . has always already begun" and that "[the] cuneiform, for example, is at the same time
ideogrammatic and phonetic" (4, 89). Stiegler comments:
Grammatology elaborates a logic of the supplement where the accidentality of the supplementary is originary. It is concerned
with taking the history of the supplement as accidental history from which would result a becoming essential of the
accident--but one must therefore also talk of a becoming accidental of the essence. By most often blurring the specificity of
phonologic writing, by suggesting for the most part that nearly all that develops therein was already there before, by
therefore not making this specificity a central question (and doesn't all grammatology come in a certain manner necessarily to
relegate such a question?) doesn't one weaken in advance the grammatological project?
One has to understand this move in the context of Stiegler's overall project in Technics and Time. The deconstruction of
speech and writing is crucial to Stiegler's argument because it appears to show that the technical supplement (writing), far
from being an exterior accident that befalls an originally full speech, is actually at the heart of language proper. It therefore
deconstructs the opposition between the contingent, "accidental" exteriority of the technical supplement and language as essence or
necessity. But for Stiegler this move is, as it were, only a first step. One must go beyond what he sees as a mere
logic of the supplement--the deconstructive move that locates the contingent accidentality of the supplement within and not outside the
essence of language--to what he wants to think of as the "history of the supplement." The point is that Derrida's deconstructive move
here ought to lead him not only to the deconstruction of the relationship between the accidental and the essential but also to be more
interested in the "accidental" in itself, in the history of the technical supplement, i.e. technics. It ought to lead him to thinking,
as Stiegler puts it here, the "becoming accidental of the essence," which involves rethinking the essence of the human as technical
accidentality--essentially Stiegler's project in Technics and Time. One ought to be less interested in the written
supplement in general as an avenue for the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence and more interested in the "specificity" of
given written supplements.
Beardsworth's Two "Derrideanisms"
- In the conclusion to his influential book, Derrida and the Political, Richard Beardsworth develops a "loose
speculation" about "two possible futures of Derrida's philosophy":
The first would be what one may call within classical concepts of the political a "left-wing Derrideanism." It would foreground
Derrida's analysis of originary technicity, "avoiding" the risk of freezing quasi-transcendental logic by developing the trace in terms
of the mediations between human and the technical (the very process of hominization). In order to think future "spectralization" and
establish a dialogue between philosophy, the human sciences, the arts and the technosciences, this future of Derrida's philosophy would
return to the earlier texts of Derrida which read metaphysical logic in terms of the disavowal of techne.
The second could be called, similarly, a "right-wing Derrideanism." It would pursue Derrida's untying of the aporia of time from both
logic and technics, maintaining that even if there is only access to time through technics, what must be thought, articulated and
witnessed is the passage of time. To do so, this Derrideanism would mobilize religious discourse and prioritize, for example, the
radically "passive" nature of the arts, following up on more recent work of Derrida on the absolute originarity of the promise and of
his reorganization of religious discourse to think and describe it. (156)
Even if immediately after this passage Beardsworth makes clear that there is in fact "no answer and no choice"
between these opposed "futures" of what he calls here "Derrideanism," it is clear from the rest
of this concluding chapter to Derrida and the Political that the speculative choice he presents here responds to or
formulates what seems to be for Beardsworth a real duality in Derrida's thought. Even if
Beardsworth retreats rather quickly from the reality of this choice, the terms in which he formulates it already demand at
least two questions, or sets of questions: firstly about the possibility of making a distinction between, on the one hand, a thinking of
deconstruction in terms of technics (which Beardsworth associates here, as elsewhere, with the work of Stiegler) and, on the other, a
sort of literary or "religious" deconstruction; secondly, about the legitimacy of ascribing to these two "schools" a
right- or a left-wing political orientation. Moreover, while Beardsworth seems to retreat from the "choice" at the end of
and the Political, his later article "Thinking Technicity" offers a similar analysis of "good" and "bad"
deconstruction. In this essay the first (good) form of deconstruction is to be tied to Derrida's early work and is again concerned with
thinking, via the analysis of arche-writing, an originary technicity as the "radical exteriority of any interiority" ("Thinking
Technicity" 77). The second form of deconstruction is to be found, for Beardsworth, in Derrida's work around "Levinasian ethics,
negative theology and the Platonic conception of the khôra and is formulated here as thinking 'an excess' that precedes and
conditions all determinations" (77). Beardsworth comments as follows:
For Derrida, arche-writing and this excess of determination are necessarily the same, even though each reveals a series of singular
traits particular to the context from which they are thought. I would nevertheless argue at this juncture that, despite their sameness
they necessarily have different effects. These effects reveal that there is a tension between them, one which concerns the kind of work
that they bring about on metaphysical thinking, and its limits. The one (that of excess) has arrested within the culture of
contemporary philosophy further articulation of what lies behind the institution of metaphysical thought, while the other, if
situated beyond the immediate question of language and writing, can be considered to invite further differentiations. The one has given
rise to the "theological" turn to deconstruction in the 1980s (together with the sense of its apolitical nature) while the other, if
articulated through its differentiations, allows us to continue thinking the past and future of metaphysics in terms of
technical supplementarity, one that allows us to advance all the more interestingly the political dimension of contemporary thought.
("Thinking Technicity" 78)
- These two forms of deconstruction don't seem in principle very
from the "left-wing" and "right-wing" Derrideanisms that Beardsworth has talked of earlier, and here the "choice" between them is not
immediately withdrawn but rather confidently affirmed. Indeed the opposition between thinking technical supplementarity and
thinking the "excess" beyond all determination therefore refigures here the two forms of alterity that Beardsworth outlines in the
conclusion of Derrida and the Political--the two forms of radical alterity:
There are . . . "two" instances of "radical alterity" here which need articulation and whose relation demands to be developed: the
radical alterity of the promise and the radical alterity of the other prior to the ego of which one modality (and increasingly so in
the coming years) is the technical other. (155)
- Beardsworth goes on to argue that Derrida has hitherto failed to "articulate" these two forms of alterity; his
failure to do so is explicitly tied to his avoidance of the question of technicity in Derrida's reading of Heidegger in Of
Spirit. Derrida's failure to articulate these two forms of alterity leads Beardsworth to imagine the two future forms of
Derrideanism we have just mentioned.
At this point it is worth explicating further these two forms of alterity. The first form of alterity--what I will
call "technical alterity"--is formulated by Beardsworth in terms of a relation to the "nonhumanity" of matter.
Beardsworth ties this alterity to Derrida's early thinking about arche-writing and the question of originary technicity. This
alterity or originary technicity is then developed, as we have seen, by Stiegler into a theory of technics. Technics understands
originary technicity as an "Epimethean" prosthesis of the human, where the human is figured through the "default of origin," constituted
only in its prosthesis. It is not clear that Stiegler's thinking of technics as the
prosthesis of the human is entirely consistent with a thought of technical alterity or originary technicity. Indeed although in
Derrida and the Political and in "From a Genealogy of Matter to a Politics of Memory" Beardsworth seems fairly clear
Stiegler's technics is consistent with the idea of articulating the relation of matter to the "nonhuman" (or technical
alterity), in his later article Beardsworth distances himself from Stiegler:
The risk Stiegler runs in differentiating the historical epochs of arche-writing, and in thinking them in terms of technical
supplementarity, is precisely that of considering technicity in the exclusively exteriorized terms of technics which befit the
process of hominization. In other words, the wish to differentiate further what lies behind metaphysics in terms of technics, if
the model of technics remains that of the "technical object," always runs the risk of re-anthropologizing the very thing that one
wishes to dehumanise. The major theses in Technics and Time . . . while brilliantly articulated by Stiegler in their own
terms, end up having the following somewhat ironic consequence: biological life prior to, or in its difference from anthropogenesis is
removed from the structure of originary technicity; as a result biology is naturalized and the differentiation of technicity
qua technics is only considered in its exteriorized form in relation to the process of hominization. ("Thinking Technicity" 81)
- This argument underlines the problematic nature of Stiegler's reading of Derrida. For Stiegler, as we have seen, it
is only with the human that life is pursued by means other than life. Hence the human marks a break in the history of
différance as the history of life. The origin of technics as organized inorganic matter therefore constitutes the
aporetic non-origin of the human. But as Beardsworth points out here, this leaves the relationship between organic life and inorganic
life undisturbed and ends up reaffirming the singularity of the human (as that which is invented through the
emergence of technics). Stiegler's thinking of technics therefore risks undermining an originary technicity that is not tied to the
specific emergence of the human, which is what Derrida seems to be thinking under the rubric of the trace and
of différance as the "history of life in general." Stiegler's "technical
alterity," on this reading, ends up losing the alterity of the nonhuman which
we have seen espoused in Derrida and the Political.
The second form of "radical alterity" that Beardsworth outlines in Derrida and the Political is the "alterity of
the promise." In the conclusion to Derrida and the Political, Beardsworth shows
this Derridean thought of the promise at work in Specters of Marx. Beardsworth quotes the following passage:
Even beyond the regulating idea in its classic form, the idea, if that is still what it is, of
democracy to come, its "idea" as event of a pledged injunction that orders one to summon the very thing that will never present
the form of full presence, is the opening of this gap between an infinite promise . . . and the determined, necessary, but also
necessarily inadequate forms of what has to be measured against this promise. To this extent, the effectivity or actuality of the
democratic promise, like that of the communist promise, will always keep within it, and it must do so, this absolutely undetermined
messianic hope at its heart, this eschatological relation to the to-come of an event and of a
singularity, of an alterity that cannot be anticipated. Awaiting without horizon of the wait, awaiting what one does not expect yet or
any longer, hospitality without reserve, welcoming salutation accorded in advance to the absolute surprise of the arrivant
from whom or from which one will not ask anything in return . . . just opening which renounces any right to property, any
right in general,
messianic opening to what is coming, that is, to the event that cannot be awaited as such, or recognized in advance.
(Specters of Marx 65)
As is made clear here, Derrida is situating the political, in the form of the democratic or communist promise, in terms of a
"messianic" structure of the event which Beardsworth calls the "absolute future that informs all political organizations"
(Derrida and the Political 146). The thought of the political requires that one hold on to the idea of an indeterminate
future, or an unanticipatable event. If the future
were either in principle or practice entirely knowable, then the political would become superfluous. The political must therefore
the event in its absolute alterity, awaiting it without horizon of anticipation (attente sans attente)--for to anticipate the
event would already be in some sense to determine it, to know something about it, to anticipate the unanticipatable.
messianic structure around the event is to be distinguished by Derrida from any determinate messianism of a biblical
However, this "dry" messianic structure of the event is not simply a structure that would underpin any determinate messianism as it
would underpin any determinate politics. Nor is it a limit that, as Derrida puts it in "Force of Law," "defines either an infinite
progress or a waiting and awaiting" (Acts of Religion 255), because the political relationship to the "absolute future"
also requires that one act, that one make political decisions. Derrida formulates this argument in relation to justice in "Force of Law":
Ascesis strips the messianic hope of all biblical forms, and even all determinable figures of the wait or expectation . . . . One may
always take the quasi-atheistic dryness of the messianic to be the condition of the religions of the Book, a desert that was not
even theirs (but the earth is always borrowed, on loan from God, it is never possessed by the occupier, says precisely
[justement] the Old Testament whose injunction one would also have to hear); one may always recognize there the arid soil in
which grew, and passed away, the living figures of all the messiahs, whether they were announced, recognized, or still awaited.
(Specters of Marx 168)
justice, however unpresentable it remains, does not wait. It is that which must not wait. To be direct, simple and brief, let us say
this: a just decision is always required immediately, right away, as quickly as possible. It cannot provide itself with the
infinite information and the unlimited knowledge of conditions, rules or hypothetical imperatives that could justify it. And even if it
did have all that at its disposal, even if it did give itself the time, all the time and all the necessary knowledge about the matter,
well then, the moment of decision as such, what must be just, must [il faut] always remain a
finite moment of urgency
and precipitation; it must [doit] not be the consequence or the effect of this theoretical or historical knowledge, of this
reflection or this deliberation, since the decision always marks the interruption of the juridico-, ethico-, or politico-cognitive
deliberation that precedes it, that must [doit] precede it. (Acts of Religion 255)
This messianic structure which Beardsworth associates with the promise and thinks of as Derrida's second form of alterity is therefore
marked by what Derrida calls later in Specters of Marx an "irreducible paradox" (168). For
it is both a "waiting without horizon of expectation" and also "urgency, imminence" (168). One can never therefore be entirely happy
with the division that Beardsworth makes at the end of Derrida and the Political when he associates this second form of
alterity straightforwardly as "a reorganization of religious discourse" (156). It is never simply the case, for Derrida, that "what
must be thought, articulated and witnessed is the passage of time" (156). That is only one step, one side, or one hand and, as
Beardsworth reminds us elsewhere, with Derrida "it is always a question of hands" ("Deconstruction and Tradition" 287). For this
reorganization of religious discourse is always also--via the thinking of urgency, imminence or the necessity of decision--a rethinking
of political or juridical discourse. Nowhere could this point be clearer than in Specters of Marx, where Derrida very
precisely associates the urgency or imminence of this messianic structure with Marxism. As Derrida puts it there: "No
differance without alterity, no alterity without singularity, no singularity without here-now" (31). The linking of
differance to the singularity of the here-now is an indication that what is being thought around the
political injunction is not completely new in Derrida's thinking. Indeed in an earlier interview about Marx, Derrida
explicitly links the singularity of the political injunction to the theme of iterability developed in "Signature Event Context"
Friendship" 228). This argument around iterability will help us to show that Derrida in fact from his earliest writing thinks
Beardsworth's two forms of alterity together.
As Derrida reminds us in "Signature Event Context":
My "written communication" must, if you will, remain legible despite the absolute disappearance of every determined addressee in
general for it to function as writing, that is, for it to be legible. It must be repeatable--iterable--in the absolute absence of the
addressee or the empirically determinable set of addresses. This iterability (iter, once again, comes from itara, other in
Sanskrit, and everything that follows may be read as the exploitation of the logic which links repetition to alterity), structures the
mark of writing itself, and does so moreover for no matter what type of writing (pictographic, hieroglyphic, ideographic, phonetic,
alphabetic, to use the old categories). (Margins of Philosophy 315)
So the iterability of the written mark constitutes a "logic which links repetition to
alterity." In On Being With Others, Simon Glendinning gives a particularly clear account of this moment in
Paradoxical as it may seem, what has to be acknowledged here is that Derrida's appeal here to the concept of iterability is made not
only because of its connection with the idea of sameness and identity but also because of its (improbable, etymological) connection
with alterity, otherness and difference. Roughly, what Derrida aims to show is that alterity and difference--i.e., what is
traditionally conceived as bearing on features which are essentially "accidental" or "external" to "ideal identities"--are, in fact and
in principle, a necessary and universal feature of all idealisation as such. Thus, Derrida will argue that the recognisability of the
"same word" is, in fact and in principle, possible only "in, through, and even in view of its alteration." (112,
citing Derrida, Limited Inc 53)
In other words, what guarantees the sign in its identity, that is, its iterability, is already constituted through a relationship with
alterity. Here this alterity is not simply that of original technicity, relation to exteriority, or the alterity of the "nonhuman." It
is always already also a relation to temporal alterity and alterity in general. Now this is clearly a very significant point in
relation to Stiegler's attempt to develop the thought of originary technicity in Derrida's early work on arche-writing into a general
theory of technics. For Stiegler's argument is, as we have seen, that the technical object in general constitutes the relationship to
time, the condition of access to the undetermined future (and the privileged example of this is what he calls orthographic writing,
what Derrida calls "phonetic" writing). Yet the argument around iterability makes it clear that for Derrida the "orthographic" mark is
already itself constituted by a relation to alterity--the repeatable identity of the mark is only constituted through a
relation to its temporal alteration and to alterity in general. There are in effect two sides to the argument around the trace. On the
one hand, "articulating the living on the non-living in general," the trace is a moment of exteriorization, binding idealization
indissolubly to the mark (Of Grammatology 65). On the other hand ("it is always a question of hands"), the mark
is never simply material: it is only constituted as the mark that it is through a relation with alterity. Iterability can
never mean simply "possibility of repetition" because in that case what guaranteed the identity of the mark would have to be
constituted as a possibility prior to the actual repetitions it made possible--this structure of an ideal form and its real copies
would then reconstitute a logocentric and idealist understanding of language. The trace therefore can never simply constitute the
technical possibility of a relationship to alterity, which it is already constituted itself through a relationship with
alterity. The technical organization of time is always already the temporal organization of technics.
The necessary relationship between technicity and alterity in relation to the sign is underlined in Derrida's later work
on the commodity. For Derrida, the spectral quality that Marx locates in exchange-value--that is, that an exterior thing be the
bearer of an idealized value--is already at work in use-value. For the use-value of the ordinary useful thing is never simply
a material property, or constituted simply through an imminent relation of a human subject to the thing, but is always constituted
through "the possibility of being used by the other or being used another time . . . . in its originary
iterability, a use-value is in advance promised, promised to exchange and beyond exchange"
(Specters of Marx 162). What this makes clear once again is that for Derrida iterability, the identity of the technical
object, or what Stiegler wants to think of as the organization of "organised inorganic matter" can't simply be thought of as constitutive of temporalization because it is first of all constituted by and through a relation to an
alterity that is both spatial and temporal (here figured precisely in terms of the promise that Beardsworth would like to oppose to it).
On the one hand this problematises the whole project of Technics and Time in as much at it wants to relate the history of
the supplement--thought of as the history of organized inorganic matter or technics--as the prosthesis that invents the human in its
relationship to time. For the relationship to time cannot be simply derived from the technical object if, as Derrida's argument around
iterability makes clear; the technical object is already constituted in part by that relationship with time. On the other hand it
also renders extremely problematic the division Beardsworth is trying to demonstrate in his conclusion to Derrida and the
Political between two forms of alterity. To recall the terms of Beardsworth's argument:
in the context of the theme of originary technicity of man . . . there is indeed a shift which Derrida has not expounded. In
Grammatology the trace was said to "connect with the same possibility . . . the structure of relationship to the other, the
movement of temporalization, and language as writing" . . . In "The violence of the letter: from Lévi-Strauss to Rousseau"
Derrida maintained that "arche-writing" was the origin of morality as of immorality. The non-ethical opening of ethics. A violent
opening." This opening is rewritten as the promise in Specters of Marx. And yet, if time is from the first technically
organized, if access to the experience of time is only possible through technics, then the "promise" must be more originary
than "originary technicity." Even if they are inseparable--and what else is the law of contamination but this inextricability?--they
are not on the same "ontological" level. There are, consequently, "two" instances of "radical alterity" here which need articulation
and whose relation demands to be developed: the radical alterity of the promise and the radical alterity of the other prior to the ego
of which one modality (and increasingly so in the coming years) is the technical other. (Derrida and the Political 155)
- In our context it becomes clear what Beardsworth's problem here is. He wants to
regard Derrida's early work as concerned with an originary technicity in the form of the trace that would be constitutive of both
temporalization and the relationship to the other, and therefore constitute the "nonethical opening of ethics." The priority
would be not to think alterity but rather to think that which is constitutive of alterity, i.e., the "technical other,"
exteriority, and the relation to the nonhuman--in short, "technics." But with the thinking of the "promise" in Specters of
Marx the alterity that appeared to be constituted by technics in the early work is seen to be more
originary than technics. The relation to temporal alterity in the form of the event would have to be thought prior to the
technical "organization" of time. This leads Beardsworth to conclude that there must indeed be two forms of alterity at work in
Derrida, "which need articulation and whose relation demands to be developed."
But the analysis we have just made makes it clear that for Derrida the "technicity" of the sign, i.e.
is already constituted through a relation to the other. It is not a question of simply constituting or making possible a relation to
temporal alterity. The problem here is Beardsworth's assumption in the phrase "And yet, if time is from the first technically
organized . . . ." For that
implies that technical organization is to be thought prior to the temporalization to which it gives access. (Indeed this sounds
more like Stiegler than like Derrida.) As Derrida puts it in Of Grammatology, the very text from which Beardsworth is
The "unmotivatedness" of the sign requires a synthesis in which the absolutely other is announced as such--without any simplicity, any
identity, any resemblance or continuity--within what is not it . . . . The trace, where the relationship with the other is
marked, articulates its possibility in the entire field of the entity [étant]. (47;
translation modified, emphasis added)
The relation to the other is not constituted by some, technical, for example, "synthesis" that precedes it: alterity is rather already
inscribed within the synthesis that constitutes the trace. Originary technicity in the form of the trace is here quite clearly the
opening to alterity, to the "event," to the "promise" which Beardsworth thinks must come along later and therefore constitute "a shift
which Derrida has not expounded." But there is no shift in Derrida here that has not been expounded. If there is a shift to be
"expounded" it is between Derrida's understanding of originary technicity in the trace and Stiegler's thinking of technics as the
technical organization or determination of time.
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JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS.
1. On the aporia of the origin of the human in
relation to the work of Leroi-Gourhan, see particularly Technics and Time 141-12. Stiegler
develops the argument around the "default of origin" (défaut d'origine) through a
reading of the "fault" of Epimetheus in Plato's Protagoras, concluding that "[humans] only occur
through their being forgotten; they only appear in disappearing" (Technics and Time
188). See also Bennington and Beardsworth's exposition of this argument in Stiegler, "Emergencies"
180-81; "From a Genealogy of Matter to a Politics of Memory" 95n16.
2. This can be seen in the following definition of the
organized inorganic from Stiegler's article "Leroi-Gourhan: l'inorganique organisé":
"Leroi-Gourhan fournit les concepts fondamentaux, et à partir desquels il est possible de
faire apparaître un troisième Règne, à côté des
deux règnes reconnus depuis longtemps des êtres inertes et des êtres organiques.
Ce nouveau règne, qui a été ignoré aussi bien par la philosophie que par
les sciences, c'est le règne de ce que j'appelle les êtres inorganiques
(non-vivants) organisés (instrumentaux)" (188-89).
3. See Bennington's comments on the problematic nature of
this equation of phusis and "life" (189).
4. This clean separation between
phylogenetic and epiphylogenetic evolution is challenged for Stiegler by modern technology in the
form of genetic manipulation: "Dès lors que la biologie molèculaire rend possible une
manipulation du germen par l'intervention de la main, le programme reçoit une
leçon de l'expérience. La loi même de la vie s'en trouve purement et simplement
suspendue." ("Quand faire c'est dire" 272). See also La technique et le temps II
5."Différance is literally neither a word
nor a concept"; "différance is neither a word nor a concept";
"différance, which is not a concept" (Margins 3, 7, 11).
6. Bennington criticizes Stiegler for his "confident
identification of 'technics' as the name for a problem which he also recognizes
goes far beyond any traditional determination of that concept" (190).
7."'Older' than Being itself, such a différance has
no name in our language. But we 'already know' that if it is unnameable, it is not provisionally so,
not because our language has not yet found or received this name, or because we would have
to seek it in another language, outside the finite system of our own. It is rather because there is
no name for it at all, not even the name of essence or of Being, not even that of
"différance," which is not a name, which is not a pure nominal unity, and
unceasingly dislocates itself in a chain of differing and deferring substitutions" (Derrida,
8."[Stiegler's] compelling, and at times brilliant account
of originary technicity is presented in tandem with a set of claims about technics
and even techno-science as though all these claims happened at the same level. This
mechanism makes of Stiegler's book perhaps the most refined example to date of the confusion of the
quasi-transcendental (originary technicity) and transcendental contraband
(technics)" ("Emergencies" 190).
9."To feel ourselves seen by a look that it will always be
impossible to cross, that is the visor effect on the basis of which we inherit from the
law" (Derrida, Specters 7).
10. This is essentially the argument Bennington makes
in his reading of Stiegler: "'Technics' is a philosophical concept, and to
that extent can never
provide the means to criticise philosophy. Failing to register this point (which is now
very familiar as the principle of all of Derrida's analyses of the human sciences in Writing
and Difference and Margins) condemns one to a certain positivism, itself
grounded in the mechanism of transcendental contraband whereby the term supposed to do the critical
work on philosophy (here tekhn) is simply elevated into a transcendental explanatory
position whence it is supposed to criticise philosophy, while all the time exploiting without
knowing it a philosophical structure par excellence" (184).
11. I am drawing here on Richard Beardsworth's account of Stiegler's work: "La technique
et le temps therefore thinks technics firstly within time (in terms of its own historical dynamic), secondly with
time (in terms of the impossibility of the origin), and thirdly as time (as the impure, retrospective constitution of the
apophantic 'as such,' or consciousness)" ("From a Genealogy" 96).
12. For example in Stiegler, "Derrida and Technology."
13. "Histoire [du supplément] dont je pense que Derrida n'a malheureusement jamais
réellement exploré les conditions" ("Discrétiser le temps" 117n6).
14. "L'enjeu porte sur la spécificité de l'écriture
linéaire dans l'histoire de l'archi-écriture, écriture ortho-graphique qui est aussi
phono-logique, toujours comprise d'abord comme telle, et dont Derrida parâit souvent éstomper, sinon
dénier, la spécificité dans l'histoire de la trace" (La technique II 41).
15. "L'écriture proprement dite est ce qui nous est lisible pourvu que nous
disposions du code d'enregistrement. C'est l'enregistrement orthothétique. Les tablettes pictographiques nous restent illisibles
même lorsque nous disposons du code: il faut avoir aussi conaissance du contexte. Sans lui, la signification
échappe. Pour accéder pleinement à la signification d'une inscripiton pictographique, il faut avoir
vécu l'évenement dont elle tient registre" (La technique II 68-9).
16. "La grammatologie élabore une logique du supplément où
l'accidentalité supplémentaire est originaire. Il s'agit de prendre l'histoire du supplément en
considération commehistoire accidentelle gauche dont résulterait un devenir-essential de l'accident--mais il
faudrait alors parler aussi d'un devenir accidentelle de l'essence. En estompant le plus souvent la spécificité
de l'écriture phonologique, en suggérant que la plupart du temps presque tout ce qui s'y développe
était déjà là avant, en ne faisant donc pas de cette spécificité une question centrale (et
toute la grammatologie n'en vient-elle pas d'une certaine manière nécessairement à reléguer une
telle question?), n'affaiblit-on pas par avance le projet grammatologique?" (La technique II 43).
17. Bennington cites this passage from Beardsworth and then comments: "Beardsworth's gesture
in proposing this scenario only immediately to refuse it really might be described by the operator of disavowal" ("Emergencies"
214n47). Bennington is alluding here to Beardsworth's frequent usage of the term disavowal to describe gestures of philosophical
exclusion. (To take a few examples from an extremely rich field: in
Chapter 2, "[in] Hegelian logic, the very logic of
contradiction ends up also disavowing time" (Derrida and the Political 91); in Chapter 3, "Heidegger's
interpretation of Aristotle with respect to an opposition between vulgar and primordial time is Iitself a disavowal of time" (109); in
the conclusion, "does Derrida's thinking of the 'there' in terms
of the promise disavow in turn the originary
relation between the human and the nonhuman?" (152). In general in
Beardsworth one either "articulates" or "negotiates," on the one
hand, or "disavows" on the other.) Bennington comments on this "operator
of disavowal" in Beardsworth's book: "Beardsworth's
understanding is that Derrida takes 'metaphysics' to do with a 'disavowal' of time . . . he uses the term within mild
scare-quotes at first, but soon stops and never thinks through the difficult implications there may be in relying on a
psychoanalytically determined concept to describe this situation" ("Emergencies" 197). It should be pointed out, however, that
Beardsworth does offer the following (albeit short) justification in a footnote to his introduction: "[I use] 'Disavows' in the Freudian
sense, that is in the sense of a refusal to perceive a fact which impinges from the outside. Freud's example in his use of the term is
the denial of a woman's absence of penis . . . The term is, however, appropriate for the way in which the tradition of philosophy has
'denied' finitude. The concept will be used frequently in my argument" (Derrida and the Political 158n2).
18. The argument that Beardsworth makes here is similar to the one made by Bennington in his
earlier essay "Emergencies," which may well have influenced Beardsworth's thinking. Bennington argues: "Stiegler wants to force the
whole philosophical argumentation of Derrida through the 'passage' of the emergence of mankind: the fact that he then goes on
to characterise that 'passage' in terms of an originary technicity which is very close to Derrida's own thinking does not alter the
fact that his first gesture commits him to a certain positivism about difference, and this leads to his confident identification
of 'technics' as the name for a problem which he also recognises goes far beyond any traditional determination of
that concept" (190).
19. In a remarkable
conversation between Beardsworth and Derrida entitled "Nietzsche and the
Machine," Derrida provides the following
extended analysis of why the "idea" of "democracy to come" is different from the Kantian Idea: "Where the Idea in the Kantian sense
leaves me dissatisfied is precisely around its principle of infinity: firstly, it refers to an infinite in the very place what I call
différance implies the here and now, implies urgency and imminence . . . secondly, the Kantian Idea refers to an
infinity which constitutes a horizon. The horizon is, as the Greek word says, a limit forming a backdrop against which one can know,
against which one can see what's coming. The Idea has already anticipated the future before it arrives. So the idea is both too
futural, in the sense that it is unable to think the deferral of difference in terms of 'now', and it is not 'futural' enough, in the
sense that it already knows what tomorrow should be" (49-50).
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