The Forgetting of Aesthetics: Individuation, Technology, and Aesthetics in the Work of Bernard Stiegler

By Ieven, Bram | New Formations, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Forgetting of Aesthetics: Individuation, Technology, and Aesthetics in the Work of Bernard Stiegler


Ieven, Bram, New Formations


Abstract Thh essay discusses the role of aesthetics in Bernard Stiegler's work in its relation to individuation and technology. It argues that Stiegler understands aesthetics as the sensuous experience of space and time, which he sees as the ground for the individuation of individuaL· and groups. The article shows how Stiegler's particular understanding of aesthetics is based in his reading of Immanuel Kant's 'transcendental aesthetics' in the Critique of Pure Reason. However, by making thL· aesthetics dependent on technology Stiegler undermines the transcendental nature of Kant's aesthetics. As a result, technology now intervenes directly into the organisation of our sensuous experience of space and time. This in turn has dire consequences for the process ofindividuation. This article discusses these consequences (aesthetic malaise, hyper-synchronization and a loss ofindividuation) and concludes by questioning Stiegler's take on aesthetics.

Keywords aesthetics, technology, individuation, community, capitalism, industrialisation, immaterial labour

THE TURN TOWARD AESTHETICS

While Stiegler's early work focuses mainly on the technical conditioning of time as memory, his recent work makes the shift toward a more rudimentary (but also more flexible) focus on time as rhythm. Technics and Time, 1. The Fault of Epimetheus, makes virtually no mentioning of rhythm.1 Yet in Technics and Time, 2. Disorientation, the concept acquires a central place. Accordingly, aesthetics is only introduced in Technics and Time, 2. Disorientation, but it immediately begins to fulfil a significant role in Stiegler's work. It is the turn toward aesthetics diat motivates Stiegler's shift from memory to rhythm. The 'notion of aesthetics', he observes, 'requires a typological description of programs and rhythms even more than as memories'.2 Stiegler's claim that aesthetics requires a concept and description of rhythms indicates that he takes aesthetics to be more than a theory of the beautiful. He divides aesthetics into different parts, the interplay of which will constitute an aesthetic program that defines an entire society. There is a sensuous or physiological part, a technical or technological part, and a symbolic or figurative part. The interplay between these three should be seen as an interlacing of different rhythms: biological or physiological rhythms, the manipulation of those rhythms with technology, and finally cultural rhythms that are based both on the biological and technological conditions. If we can understand how these rhythms rework one anoüier, we can begin to understand how communities and individuals are constituted, how they acquire their own singular characteristics, and how cultural changes within these communities are invoked by technological or biological transmutations. Aesthetics, then, would be the ground (or better yet rhythm) on which all of this is based.

In his recent work Stiegler has presented a rather grim image of contemporary society. Our society, he contends, finds itself in an 'aesthetically sinister zone'.3 We are caught in an aesthetic situation in which individuation of both individual and community is no longer possible. To understand why this is so, Stiegler contends, we need to understand what happened to the interplay of biological, technical, and cultural rhythms during the last 1 50 years or so, starting with the emergence of technical media and the impact of the industrial revolution. A process of media-technological industrialisation has led to a technological and economic appropriation of the aesthetic rhythms that is now jeopardising the individuation of bodi communities and individuals. This appropriation of aesthetics by a technological and economic constellation is what Stiegler calls hyperindustrial society.

In this article I will focus on how Stiegler sees the interplay between technology and aesthetics. This interplay, as we will see, only comes into full view when we understand the pivotal role individuation plays in the constitution of individuals (and individual consciousness) and societies (and their cultural specificity).

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