In Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus (1994), Stiegler thinks through the questions of the origin and the nature of both technics and humans. Since Plato, Western philosophy has distinguished itself through an oppositional relationship with sophistry, holding that the metaphysical stance emerged through the ‘originary’ thesis, according to which the geneses of ‘the human’ and of ‘technology’ are separate (2013:18). Hume, Rousseau and Kant’s writings are permeated by a philosophical anthropology which ‘proceeds from metaphysics’ and represents ‘the development of the question of a priori (of the transcendental)’ (1994:102). Anthropology qua human science ‘suspends the question of the a priori’ and, using an empirico-deductive approach, wishes to ‘explain’ the nature of the human (1994:102). Rousseau, for instance, gives an ahistorical, transcendental account of the ‘origin’ as he argues that the human of pure origin (the transcendental) is a fiction which is supposed to precede and later be replaced by, the fallen (empirical) human (1994:104). The fall, according to this thesis, is conditioned by technics qua artifice which corrupts the soul, further distancing humans from their origin and creating inequality (1994:101-116).
Stiegler gives an account of, and critically builds his work upon Leroi-Gourhan, Simondon and Gille’s analyses of the relationship between the human and the technological. However, in Stiegler’s view, they too draw problematic distinctions. Distinctively, his approach favours compositional thinking, showing that oppositional distinctions only lead to resentment, inaction, impotence and surrender to the forces of control: ‘we have therefore lost our trust in thought for action – because we think, with reason, that an action always passes through a moment of opposition’ (Stiegler 2011a:98). This resentment creates a tendency of extremes, as an effort to eliminate the perceived opposite, rather than nourish a thinking of alternatives. As such, academic claims to knowledge of the human privilege humans over technics and reproduce false oppositions such as tekhne and episteme; the inert and the organic; objects and subjects; anamnesis and hypomnesis; otium and negotium; the humanities and the sciences; instruments and operators; means and ends (1994:66; 205). Conversely, Stiegler posits that all the elements of these false dualisms co-produce one another, while also preserving a certain distinctiveness. However, as will become clear through the dissertation, the femininity – masculinity dualism is not criticised, but rather reproduced by Stiegler, as he fails to think beyond this metaphysical construction which has been incorporated into technics and the civil society for millennia, the current digital era being no exception.
As a detour from the Western metaphysical tradition which rests upon the opposition between logos (reason) and tekhne (craft, art), Stiegler argues for the common genesis of humans and technics through a novel reading of the Myth of Prometheus as found in Plato’s Protagoras and Hesiod’s Theogony. In this myth he highlights the elements of the originary bond to be prostheticity, anticipation, mortality, forgetting and reflexivity (1994:184). The myth proceeds as follows. Zeus tasks Prometheus (the god of absolute memory) and Epimetheus (the god of the fault of forgetting) to create non-immortal beings. Epimetheus, after asking for permission from his brother, is allowed to distribute qualities among earthly beings; Prometheus would review his work later. As such, (the newly emerged) animal beings receive from Epimetheus the qualities of speed, strength and size, helping them maintain an equilibrium and survive as species according to the principle of compensation (i.e. small animals can escape from predators by running fast). Due to his unreflective attitude, however, Epimetheus only later realises that he had run out of qualities, having none left for humans. Consequently, humans, not yet emerged as such ‘from within the earth into the daylight’, find themselves naked, weak and in danger of becoming extinct as a species (1994:187).
Their mortality appears as a concern for Prometheus who decides to save them from it by compensating for Epimetheus’ mistake. Accordingly, Prometheus deviates from the equilibrium which characterises animal beings: he steals fire (a godly power) and arts (as knowledge) from Hephaestus and Athena, and gifts them to the beings who, upon receiving the gifts, emerge as humans (1994:188). So, for humans, fire and (by implication) technics, becomes the potential equivalent to animals’ qualities (as means for survival), although this potential is not a certainty (1994:194). Humans’ use of fire places them in-between gods and beasts, allowing them to partake of the divine, although death is the criterion which relates and divides humans and the gods at the same time (1994:195).
The ambiguity of fire (which is not humans’ property) can destroy the species, as they find themselves in conflict with one another, increasing once again the likelihood of their extinction (1994:189). Concerned, Zeus sends Hermes with the gifts of respect and justice as virtues to be imparted to everyone. These virtues become the law on the basis of which community and politics exist, with prosthetics as communal artifice. Through this law, humans come together through their desire for philia, that is, affection and love for others (1994:200-201). Therefore, violence is mediated through politics, and the political arises through technicity (1994:193).
I contend that patriarchal assumptions (as a system of domination and organisation of libidinal energies and gendered roles) are imbued within the myth. More precisely, the inextricability between Promethean advance (wisdom) and Epimethean withdrawal (irresponsible forgetting) brings Pandora into the scene – so the myth goes. Pandora, the first woman, appears as Zeus’ afterthought, that is, simply as an object of revenge created as a result of the quarrel between Zeus and his sons, due to their double faults. She is sent on Earth by Zeus, her role being defined by her bringing of pain to humans. When she opens a jar in which elpis (both fear and hope, or uncertainty) is placed, all the ills fly out, affecting humans. However, she closes hope inside. With Pandora, we find ‘the arrival of birth as the mirror of death’ (1994:196): we can be certain of our birth and death, although we cannot determine the arrival of the latter. In-between anticipation and the facticity of death there is temporality, and our relationship to it is marked by elpis (a being-toward-death) which represents an uncertain future (1994:197-198). Concurrently, the structure affirming ‘the unity of prometheia and epimetheia’ is care (1994:257), and the woman is assumed to be the one in charge of such a structure. It emerges that gendered roles are fixed through the way the protagonists act and what they are deemed to represent, and these roles permeate Stiegler’s work, for he engages with them uncritically. On the other hand, Stiegler’s work does allow for rethinking and transforming the technological milieu which imposes gendered essentialisms, thus intervening in the trajectory our own fate through the pharmakon.
Not only is Epimetheus the forgetful one, but he is also ‘the forgotten of metaphysics’, appearing as an afterthought, through his initial disappearance – however, ‘the figure of Prometheus […] makes no sense by itself’, that is, without Epimetheus (1994:186). Thus, the common genesis of the human and technics emerges as the concurrent fault of Epimetheus and Prometheus which made possible the technical ‘de-fault’. Humans, like Epimetheus, appear as such in their disappearance (and, by implication, death), in their condition of being forgotten by Epimetheus (who realises his fault only after the event, that is, too late), triggering his brother’s theft (1994:188). This is a double de-fault: by default, humans have always been technical: ‘there will have been nothing at the origin but the fault’ and nothing had happened before the fault (1994:188-189).
Stiegler’s originary technicity thesis reveals the notion that we are fated: the origin is the tool and the tool is the origin, and this precipitates the catastrophic fate. Thus, he encourages us to rethink Heidegger’s idea of Dasein qua the authentic solitary being. Stiegler claims that Dasein and care come not from being thrown into the world as a pure being separated from technology, but from being thrown into a world where technology is there from the start (1994:207; 2013:105). This is a matter of fate (1994:217). Indeed, Heidegger forgets that being and care are by default in-(dynamic)-prostheticity (1994:236), as technics mediates and is always part of memory, reflection, heritage, cooperation and mortality (1994:231-232). Contra Heidegger, the question of time reveals that the what (the clock) is constitutive of the who (Dasein) in its recording and revealing of the past (1994:212-213; 234). Dasein cannot, on its own, be time, for Dasein is determined by technological and historical conditions (1994:236). Indeed, ‘not only does Heidegger think the instrument; he thinks on the basis of it’ (1994:245), without acknowledging that tertiary retentions constitute the ‘already-there’ (2013:105).
The originary double (de)-fault thesis reconsiders technicity itself, showing that technics qua organised inorganic beings represents ‘the pursuit of life by means other than life’ (1994:17), that is, epiphylogenetically. So, factually, the human was revealed three million years ago, when epigenetics became combined with technics. Since then, technics has been humans’ ‘system of inheritance based not on the transmission of genes but of technical artefact’ (2011c:35). More explicitly, technics represents the exteriorisation of human memory as memory support, permeating all aspects of human life and condition, including time itself (1994:27). Furthermore, ‘the being of human kind is to be outside itself’ through technics and language (itself technical), meaning that the uniqueness of the human rests in the ability to put themselves outside of themselves through the adoption and invention of technics for the purpose of realising collective life (1994:193). Accordingly, gendered roles, desire and care emerge from, and concomitantly create technics.
The shortcomings of Plato’s confinement of autonomy to pure anamnesis (to dismiss technics as fraud) are now apparent: Plato does not think technics as a pharmakon, and does not see it as part of memory. Contrary to Plato’s belief, hypomnesis represents the condition of anamnesis (2013:18) – the question of technics and the human affirms the impossibility of the absence of one from the constitution of the other. Consequently, anamnesis (human memory) and hypomnesis (tertiary, externalised memory) are simply distinct parts of memory which is always technical. Knowledge, speech, skills, books, the law, politics, and survival: all emerge and maintain their futural possibility on the basis of the pre-metaphysical and epiphylogenetic default of humans and technics (1994:179), at once in Promethean anticipation and Epimethean delay (1994:202). Therefore, the myth encapsulates the limits of knowledge emerging from the origin, and the idea of what humans beings are in relationship to scientific knowledge.
Scientific knowledge arises from the relationship between humans to technological systems, as the ‘fate’ of human beings is always bound-up to technological programs and systems. Following Leroi-Gourhan, we find that technics is organised as interior milieu (memories and inherited pasts) and exterior milieu (technological systems surrounding us). With modernity, the two milieus have been split: the exterior milieu, after becoming detached from the interior milieu, created a tendency of overdetermining the development of knowledge as a form of innovation (following the logic of economic rationalisation) instead of invention (1994:60). Knowledge, thus, has been separated into different domains, science becoming detached from culture and determined by technology (1994:14). The technicisation of science, the emergence of ‘technoscience’, and the automation of calculation make anamnesic knowledge lose its meaning and creative dimensions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, science has been subjected to a ‘method that is metaphysical’, leading to instrumentalisation, proletarianisation and a diminishing of intuition (1994:3; 15; 2013:17). Reason, thus, has become replaced with calculation as rationalisation.
What we are and the way we evolve comes through technics and society, as part of a ‘general organology’ that consists in psychosomatic, technical and social organs ‘that are linked together as transductive relations, that is, relations the terms of which are constituted by the relation itself’ (2013:69). Importantly, although technics is ‘everywhere’, ‘nothing is ever reducible to technics’ (Stiegler 2016:4). Therefore, organological evolution co-exists with, and is related to the tendency towards the reduction of human beings to elements of a machinery or a programme. Two economies result from this evolution as ‘products of the same organs’: spiritual economy (reflected and sustained through otium) and material economy (negotium) (2013:12-13). The totalising tendencies and processes reproduced through negotium are necessarily counteracted and reinvented through the economy of spirit which always exceeds the imperatives of ratio. As such, spirit and its neutralisation occur at once, pharmacologically – irreducibly and concurrently poison and therapy.
Prometheus’ gift of fire represents both technics and desire, fire being the ‘pharmakon par excellence’ of the libido or the unconscious (2013:24). In light of this, Stiegler observes that technics has been theorised by Western philosophers simply in terms of its negative dimension – i.e. Adorno and Horkheimer did not think the pharmakon (2013:15-18). Instead, we must adopt the pharmakon as part of theory and practice, against the erasure of positive pharmacology. The pharmakon is a ‘support for the projection of fantasies’, meaning that it can create desires, but they can ‘regress to a purely drive-based stage’ (2013:23). So, technics-as-pharmakon is the basis for two tendencies: long-circuiting (forming care and desire) and short-circuiting (creating drives) (2013:24-25). Arguing against Marx’s materialist approach, Stiegler does not fall into idealism, but asserts the existence of (epiphylogenetic) materiality, adding that spirit arises and is elevated from it. So, the empirical and the transcendental are co-constituted (1994:84).
Through an organological analysis, prosthetics ‘constitutes human sensibility of perceptibility’ (2011b:153). Judgement, politics and aesthetics appear through, and are intertwined with technical and prosthetic possibilities opened up throughout the development and ‘civilisation’/’verticalisation’ of the human (2011b:154-155). We can here include the reproduction of social categories and relations such as gender, race, class, ability and sexuality: ‘the prosthetic dimension […] characterises the becoming of sexual difference’ (2011b:153). So, for Stiegler, social categories are technologically reproducible concepts whose relationship to politics is always at stake in the politics of sovereignty. Although the notion of ‘fate’ may, on the surface, imply a certain determinism and essentialism, Stiegler’s use of the pharmacological approach allows him to think about ways to intervene in the general organology to transform the civil society’s fate.