The School of Philosophy of Épineuil le Fleuriel
A project of the Ars Industrialis association
In the following will be summarized in broad outline the project of creating a school of philosophy at the mill of Épineuil le Fleuriel, in the Centre region―south of the department of Cher, at the border of the Auvergne region.
The word “school” must be understood here in its original sense: a place of skhole, a skholeion, that is, a place in which is practiced a form of thinking which emerged for the first time in ancient Greece.
The function of the school rests on a threefold annual scheme of teaching and research:
- the philosophy course, held in the former school of Épineuil (where Alain-Fournier’s Le grand Meaulnes begins),
- the doctoral seminar, broadcast and conducted via videoconference from the mill of Épineuil,
- the summer school, which takes place at once at the school, the mill, and in the Noirlac Abbey, situated 25 kilometres from Épineuil, in the commune of Saint-Amand-Montrond.
The school of philosophy is aimed first of all at two publics:
the high school students of the local region, who attend in order to complete their preparation for the Baccalauréat,
doctoral candidates coming from the universities of several continents, undertaking research in an international doctoral school.
The school will run philosophy courses aimed at high school students on every second Saturday afternoon. This course will be devoted to Plato and, through this, to the birth of philosophy in the ancient Greek context.
It is not a final-year philosophy, but rather teaching which supports a preparation program for the Baccalauréat, as an introduction to Greek thinking and, at the same time, to philosophical thinking, that is, to the birth of the West.
Aiming in the first place at high school students, but also at students of the Institut universitaire de Technologie of Moulins, the courses will be open to all those who are interested, in particular the residents of the entire region. They will be filmed, and broadcast with open access on the Ars Industrialis website.
The seminar of the doctoral school will also take place every second week―on the alternate weeks than those on which the Saturday afternoon courses are held. For doctoral students who do not live in the area, the seminar will be provided by videoconference. Remote doctoral students will thus be able to contribute at the end of sessions through the internet.
The seminar of the doctoral school also welcomes the participation of the local general public, on the condition that they attend regularly, with priority being given during the discussions which follow to doctoral candidates. For those doctoral students who cannot take part in discussion electronically in real time, because time-lage prevents them from following the session live, they can still contribute in delayed time, the videoconference being recorded and placed online, like the courses. Those who subscribe to Ars Industrialis can also follow the work of the seminar through videoconferencing, but will be unable to contribute. They can, however, send messages to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The school is thus aimed at three publics―high school students, doctoral students, and citizens from the local region and elsewhere―who are invited to an encounter during certain sessions of the summer academy: those held at the Noirlac abbey.
The summer academy is an intensive residential seminar lasting six weeks. Each week includes three sessions, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays:
The Monday session is conducted by two doctoral candidates who each deliver a presentation prepared during the year, in relation to the themes explored in the seminar course in videoconference. This session takes place at the mill.
The Wednesday session is presented by an invited speaker. It is held at the Noirlac Abbey.
The Friday session is presented by Bernard Stiegler. It is held at the school of Épineuil.
During the summer academy, the doctoral students are lodged at the mill. Some meals will be taken together after the seminar sessions, and high school students who wish to are also invited to some of these occasions, as are those who regularly follow the course or the seminar sessions.
Doctoral and high school students are also invited during the six weeks to follow a reading program, and to share a rhythm of life conducive to sustained individual and collective reflection, for which, outside the three weekly sessions, meals will constitute privileged occasions. The summer academy is at once a period of encounter and of withdrawal.
In addition to the Wednesday sessions, at the end of the summer school, a symposium is organized at the Noirlac Abbey for all the regular participants of the course and of the seminar and for the summertime public of the Abbey and surroundings. Its goal is to ruminate on one question:
Why and how to philosophise today?
The courses as well as the seminar sessions are recorded, placed online at the Ars Industrialis website, and indexed, first individually, then collectively, by the high school students involved with the course, and by the doctoral students involved with the course as well as the seminar. The work of indexation is done between the sessions of the course and the seminar. The doctoral students may help the high school students with their individual or group work: the group work is done in part on the net outside sessions, and in part at the end of the course sessions or seminar sessions.
This work of indexation serves as the primary material for a personal work by the high school students as well as the doctoral students. It forces them first of all to see or listen again to the courses and seminars. Such repetition is the beginning of the experience of thinking: one thinks after the event, that is, this suggests already that in the “re” of reflection should be heard a re-turn, and that this is what Nietzsche called rumination.
Indexation adds to this repetition a formal constraint, from which a vocabulary emerges that one can also call a terminology, meaning a vocabulary the terms of which are conventionally and explicitly defined. The work asked of high school and doctoral students is to produce just such a terminology, that is, to propose key-words for indexing, and definitions for these key terms.
These definitions can, however, be accompanied by further glosses which make clear their infinite character, that is, the incomplete, indeed unfinishable, character of that which nevertheless pretends to be a definition. This further gloss is what makes clear―and as such what overcomes―the convetional and academic character of the definition.
The task of indexation invites high school and doctoral students to write in conventional forms―but also to surpass these forms―individually and collectively: the goal of these indexations is to lead to a collective reflection and to collective and explicit semantic decisions, opportunities for debate capable of engendering competing models of indexation. The goal is not to achieve a homogeneous vision, but rather to make explicit points of view which are then able to be opposed, but also composed.
This work produces what Ars Industrialis calls a process of transindividuation. This concept emerges from a development of the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon. This philosopher proposed that an individual only becomes who they are to the extent to which they participate in the becoming of a social group, this constituting what Simondon called collective individuation. The philosophy of Ars Industrialis is that collective individuation is the result of a co-individuation of psychic individuations which, in co-individuating, contribute to the emergence and metastabilisation of a process of transindividuation. Transindividuation is characterised by the fact that the individuals belonging to a social group are referred to their common and relatively stable horizon.
This relative stability is that which, in ancient Greece, constitute the horizon of the law. Let us call this relative stability “metastability”―a concept which comes from thermodynamics. Let us propose that a metastable state is a state of becoming. That it is relatively stable means that it is relatively unstable: it is stable in its general form, but unstable at its fringes, having has a consequence that its general form is maintained while being deformed―like a whirlpool in the river Cher.
Within any transindividuation process, two contradictory tendencies compose: a tendency toward movement and to transformation, which tends toward deformation, that is, to the destruction of form, and a tendency toward the fixation of form, to absolute, non-relative, stability, and which is opposed to transformation, that is, to movement and to individuation.
The principal thesis of Ars Industrialis in relation to psychic and collective individuation (that is, in relation to the most general conditions of existence) is threefold:
On the one hand, it proposes that the transindividuation process always presupposes technical mediations across the process through which individuals co-individuate and transindividuate according to regimes and diverse collective modalities of individuation―this diversity constituting the different forms of society and social organization.
On the other hand, it proposes that the conditions within which psychic individuation is translated into collective individuation, and, reciprocally, the conditions within which collective individuation makes possible psychic individuations (of singular existences), depends in an essential way on the techniques and technologies through which psychic individuals encounter one another, share with one another , and individuate and dis-individuate with one another.
Finally, it proposes that contemporary society is characterized by the fact that via digital networks industrial transindividuation technologies have developed―technologies for which indexation has become a central activity, materialized through the generation of metadata, at times produced in a non-intentional way by those engaged in network exchanges.
The individual and collective indexing of the courses and seminars of the philosophy school of Épineuil is done with the Lignes de temps software. This was designed by the Institut de recherche et d’innovation at the Centre Pompidou with the aim of enabling the collaborative indexation of audiovisual temporal documents. Lignes de temps is currently used by Ars Industrialis in order to access all the seminars and conferences that are recorded in audiovisual formats and placed online on its website.
The indexations carried out at the school are the object of a discussion forum between school students and doctoral students, and, as has been mentioned, lead to resolute arbitration at the end of each session of the doctoral seminar. The theory and practice of these indexations are at the heart of the questions explored by both the course and the seminar: the central thesis of the seminar consists in fact in proposing that Plato, insofar as he is the origin of ontology, is also the first thinker of indexation as the activity of the production of metadata.
Ontology was not, strictly speaking, thought by Plato. It is from Aristotle that we really speak of ontology, that is, the discourse on being, the essence being that which tries to establish (and define) that which in a being strictly speaking “is,” that is, maintains it as that which characterizes it. Ontology has since Aristotle become a primordial dimension of the philosophical discussion which until Kant was undertaken as a question of categorization in all its forms. And in the aftermath of this tradition we still often speak of ontology in the contemporary theory of digital metadata, and of what one calls the semantic web and the social web.
The goal of both the course and the seminar is in this regard to give high school and doctoral students a critical, individual and collective intelligence, in relation to the current issues involved with the development of digital networks and the transindividuation technologies of which they make use.
Recorded then indexed, the course for high school students constitutes one part of the corpus for the seminar, which relates to the work of Plato, as does the course: the seminar links to the course which constitutes for the doctoral students the preparatory material for their work during the seminar and the course for each of its sessions. The seminar adds the “esoteric” material of the seminar to the “exoteric” material of the course.
In the language of ancient philosophy, one calls exoteric that which is accessible to the whole world, and esoteric that which is accessibly only to the initiated. This difference is intrinsic to philosophy insofar as, like teaching, it is also a way of life. In this way of life, there is something of an individual experience which is not teachable. An exoteric relation to philosophy apprehends this as knowledge, whereas an esoteric relation makes of it an existence. It is not the degree of knowledge which defines the difference between exoteric and esoteric: it is the type of investment required.
A student of philosophy can have a purely cognitive relation to philosophy. A good student of philosophy, however, attains that which, in philosophy, does not merely amount to knowledge and teaching, but proceeds from that experience that Plato calls “thinking for oneself.” The student who reaches this thinking insofar as it is not mere knowledge, but an existence, is not merely a good student: they are a good citizen.
The philosophy school of Épineuil proposes that philosophy is before anything else a discipline of thinking which, insofar as it is a discursive modality of the form of psychic and collective individuation which appeared in ancient Greece, has the goal of forming citizens. It proposes as such that all citizens are philosophers in potential, if not in act. There is always, in the acts of citizens insofar as they are critical acts, that is, acts of decision (and of individuation in a critical mode as such), something which proceeds from philosophy.
Political action is the act of making a decision. And philosophy is that which, from out of an existential experience at the heart of a collectivity governed by a law, proposes criteria for making individual as well as collective decisions, but equally the concepts for critiquing these criteria, that is, their metastable and hence precarious character.
He or she who establishes an esoteric relation to philosophy makes of their life an interrogation of that specific modality of psychic and collective individuation that is life in a politeia, that is, in a critical society. In our time, for reasons which will be examined in the seminar, this modality is fundamentally threatened. In our time, philosophy is assigned a new, specific task, unprecedented in the history of philosophy: philosophical life consists essentially in reinventing the political way of life―that is, also, the philosophical way of life.
This reinvention is tied on the one hand to various factors largely related to political economy, and on the other hand tied to the evolution of technology insofar as it is becoming essentially reticulated and relational.
The principal aim of the school of Épineuil is to examine the stakes of philosophy as a way of life, and the relations of philosophy to citizenship insofar as it is itself a way of life inspired by the modality of life that is philosophy―that progressively disengages itself from the proto-philosophical existences of those one names the Presocratics, and who are the first founders of cities (nomothetes).
Philosophy is born out of a debate on nature, the obligations and conditions of citizenship, and this is what is taught at the school of Épineuil principally through the reading of Plato. This is also why the school reunites citizens, school students and doctoral students during the course of the summer school, which is held from the end of June to the beginning of August.
The first year of activity in the school will be devoted to the study of Plato’s Symposium.
This choice of this particular text was determined by the fact that in it philosophy is presented as the most sublime form of desire. Now, the school of Épineuil proposes as its first three propositions that:
1.Our epoch essentially suffers from the weakening of its desire and from the invasion of the drives,
2.Philosophy is above all a way of taking care of its desire, through a practice of the skhole (or of what in ancient Rome was called otium), but also, and at the same time, it is a way of taking care of the desire of others, thereby transforming the drives into social investments―in every sense of the word investment,
3.Philosophy is today more necessary than ever to the extent that desire is more threatened than ever, and with it, investment in all its forms, by the economic and moral crisis that we see today.
The planetary economic and moral crisis engendered by the globalisation of capitalism and of industrial society derives fundamentally from the fact that, in its consumerist form appearing in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, and extending to the entire world in the second half of that century, industrial society consisted in capturing and channelling desires in order to divert them towards commodities and the developmental imperatives of a permanent innovation incessantly stimulating economic activity―but inexorably destroying the structures through which desire is formed.
These structures constitute what Freud called a libidinal economy: their function is to form the psychic apparatus, which is itself sustained through those social instances that institutions incarnate. During the course of the 20th century, the industrial exploitation of the libidinal energy that in principle produces the psychosocial structures of this libidinal economy instead led to the exhaustion of these structures. Faced with the immense malaise that resulted from this state of affairs, a state of affairs which has become planetary, the reconstitution of a libidinal economy is the central question of the economic and political future. And the survival of a peaceful planetary society passes through this question.
This is also the essential issue in relation to the development of digital networks. This is why the school of Épineuil, in reading the Symposium in 2010, will study the question of desire as that which constitutes the origin of philosophy―as love of wisdom―through the use and practice of digital networks, and in particular indexation as the production of metadata. Desire as economy, and digital networks as possible technologies of a new libidinal will be studied theoretically and practically through this interpretation of the Symposium such that the indexation of the course and the seminar will realize this concretely.
The harnessing of the libidinal energy of consumers (of their desire, that is, of their attention), has been realized in the course of the 20th century through the intermediary of the culture industries and the audiovisual media―through Hertzian broadcast networks. The new digital and network media, however, which have appeared especially since the beginning of the 21st century, rest on server technology.
These networks of servers seem to incommensurably increase the possibility for harnessing attention, that is, the risks of the destruction of desire. And nevertheless, they also induce very profound behavioural and social ruptures, in such a way that even the very figure of the consumer, and with it, the consumerist organization in its totality, appears to be becoming outdated by this new technical reality.
Digital networks, as well as the analogue networks of the mass culture industries, are what Plato called pharmaka. A pharmakon is at the same time a poison and a remedy. The philosophy school of Épineuil is for this reason defined as a school of pharmacology. The pharmakon is its domain, and the pharmakon is becoming reticular. This is why the school is constituted on networks, and has taken the name pharmakon.fr for its domain name on the web.
A pharmakon is a poison which can become a remedy when it is practiced in a therapeutic fashion. The skhole and otium are such therapeutics, that the Greeks and the Romains practiced, faced with the pharmakon of their times, which was writing. These practices constituted schools of philosophy.
At the heart of these questions stands that of the connections between desire, on the one hand, and on the other hand the technics that conditions social relations, that is, what Aristotle called philia. At its birth, philosophy, which is a specific modality of philia, is constituted through its confrontation as desire with the technical pharmakon of writing, which, as sophistic, would prove poisonous as that which is destroys the desire of knowledge.
Philosophy is born out of a crisis of Athenian society. This was to a great extent induced by a series of social transformations provokes by the appearance of writing, as emphasized by Jean-Pierre Vernant. In the course of this crisis, philosophy is opposed to sophistic, which it accuses of misusing writing in order to capture the attention of the Athenian youth, and in order thus to abuse them.
Struggling against the Sophists, whom he always presents as merchants of deception, Socrates is the one who affirms by denying, and who conducts his questioning from out of this affirmative denial.
This negative affirmation is well-known. It consists of posing in principle that “the only thing that I know is that I do not know anything.” And the questioning which results from this negative affirmation always takes the following form:
This is translated as:
For example, such and such young Athenian starts on his way to listen to the class of a Sophist who is going to teach him―in exchange for payment―how to be virtuous. Socrates stops the young Athenian on his way by objecting that before pretending to teach (or to learn) how to be virtuous, if this is possible, it is necessary to pose the question of knowing what virtue is. We must ask: What is [ti esti] virtue?
This question, ti esti, is the origin of what only later comes to be called ontology.
It is with this great writer, Plato (Socrates’ best student), that the activity which consists in responding to the question “ti esti” becomes a way of indexing a word―of producing an annotation, what would in our time be called metadata. If this annotation is really a definition, then it contributes to the writing of a vocabulary or a philosophical dictionary. And yet, Plato is in all respects suspicious of writing―and through it, the definitive and stable character of all definition.
The course and the seminar of 2010–11 aims to show that for us it is a matter of desire, that is, of libidinal economy, and equally of political and industrial economy―that is, finally, of general economy in the epoch of networks and metadata.
It is clear that the school of philosophy of Épineuil defends a philosophical position. It is as such a school of philosophy in the ancient sense. Philosophy has always constituted schools, that is, at the same time places of teaching, places of experience of this attitude and of this way of living that is the skhole (which considers what Plato called eide), and of groups of philosophers who, sharing at once principles, axioms and practices, test them against one another and confront other currents of thought and other forms of experience.
The principal thesis of the philosophy school of Épineuil is that all philosophical questions can always be related to a question of pharmacology in the sense indicated in the preceding. For the year 2010–11, the school will address four research themes through the reading of Symposium and related texts. These themes are:
desire, and philosophy as modality of desire,
the relation between philosophy and psychoanalysis from Plato to Freud and beyond (that is, with Lacan and Winnicott, but also those others who will not be central references this year: we will reserve them for another year, perhaps 2011–12),
the question “ti esti,” both as a problem of ontology and as the first version of the question of metadata,
and finally, as a theme in a way preliminary and as subsidiary, the question of territory.
Why start this school at Épinueil? There are all sorts of motives, both accidental and essential, which explain this choice. Fundamentally, this localization of the school of philosophical pharmacology follows from the conviction that we at Ars Industrialis have come to that inour time, a new stage of economic, social and political development passes through a process of re-territorialization.
Why speak of re-territorialization―this term that can be understood in a sense where, in the context of the economic crisis, human communities and governments could be tempted to relocate all their economic activities, to close their borders, to “withdraw themselves,” to “seek their identity,” etc.?
It is not at all in an identitarian or regressive sense that we speak of re-territorialization: this word designates on the contrary the new phase of what, for several decades in French philosophy, singularly with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, one has called de-territorialization.
Re-territorialization is not what would bring de-territorialization to an end, not what would reverse the process. It is, on the contrary, that which constitutes the stage where de-territorialization must be achieved, in the sense that it must reach its full plenitude and, in the end, its true sense.
Before developing this point, we must be more precise about the history of networks, and in particular about the meaning of that reticularity implemented with digital networks, and which causes us to speak of reticular society―at once de-territorialized and re-territorializable by the very technologies enabling its de-territorialization.
The information and communication technologies of the 20th centuries, which were implemented through what we call the psychopower of marketing with the hegemonic and exclusive aim of constituting a consumer society, were massively and unilaterally de-territorializing: they constitute a communication and information process which, on the one hand, is uni-directional, but, on the other hand, is always centralized through industrial systems based on the opposition between centre and periphery.
All territories are affected by this becoming peripheral, and by finding themselves de-territorialized in a unilateral way, that is, by finding themselves emptied of their own existence, and condemned to receive industrially produced symbols but without the power themselves to exchange and as such de-territorialize their own symbolic lives with other territories, their lives as characteristic of singular modes of existence―multilateral exchange being the normal modality of symbolic life, the intensification of which we call civilization.
This has led to the progressive ruin of all forms of territorialities, whatever they were. In this regard, it is not merely traditional societies, such as Native American societies, that were destroyed by modernity and the way of life coming from the West. It is also the disenchantment of the Western world itself, as Max Weber described, and the death of villages, neighbourhoods, and, in the final reckoning, town centres themselves, in which one finds fewer and fewer cafés and shops other than those that are part of franchises. Some geographers have spoken of a “French desert” which combines its effects with this process short-circuiting territories, which Nietzsche himself described as desertification: “The desert grows.”
This desertification―which is the concrete geographical and historical, economic and social, political and civilizational expression of the exhaustion of desire, an extenuation from out of which the drives explode, and this drive-based de-linking is the realization of what Nietzsche called nihilism―this is what is being induced by the process of de-territorialization which is spread with networks, which begin before the culture industries, with networks of railways, steamships, the telegraph and the telephone.
It is even necessary to discuss the triggering aspect of that ancient information and communication technology that writing already was, that aspect which placed ancient Greece into crisis, but which also made it possible―that aspect being nothing other than its pharmacological character: in this regard de-territorialization is what opens the space for the freedom of thinking that philosophers claimed as the very space of the universal, becoming, by way of the Roman Empire and the Rome of Catholicism, the space of universal religion (catholou).
This process of de-territorialization is continued with the emergence of digital networks. But, unlike analogue networks, these are based on servers and radically transform the relation to the centre―which is no longer a centre, and this is a gigantic stake for the Centre region, heart of the French desert, in fact the central void: there is no longer a centre, but a grid or a network, that is, a network of servers making possible a network of actors.
Because these technologies also cause the barriers of access to networks to collapse in a spectacular way, in such a way that anyone at all, whether individuals or collectivities, can become contributors.
This literally revolutionary context (many things are found now to be past, révolues) constitutes for territories an absolutely fundamental issue. And a small village like Épineuil, or the town of Saint-Amand-Montrond, or the Centre region, France, Europe, and finally the entire Earth―which is the largest of territories, that is, the largest of spaces within which modes of existence are shared, a territory being a shared space, and as such one that is symbolized by those who inhabit it, circumscribed by the circle which makes them a unit, a territory most often being inscribed in another territory, with the exception of the entire Earth―all of these are concerned, each in their own level but also all together, by this issue.
This is why the school will meet with the regional school and with doctoral candidates from around the world.
Today, symbolic sharing, which is the condition of civilization, and which has been functionally and structurally destroyed by the culture industries and their networks, together forming the psychopower of marketing, can be re-territorialized across digital networks, by reason of their technological specificities. But it might also find itself still further de-territorialized without re-territorialization, and as such totally destroyed. If local and territorial collectivities cannot take hold of relational technologies and their social networks, then these will finally take hold of the territories, and end up annihilating what little symbolic life was remaining.
This is the fundamental issue of tomorrow’s society―which must be inscribed in the larger question of what we call the economy of contribution. And it is on this issue that the school of philosophical pharmacology of Épineuil will work.
It will thus try to form more lucid young citizens, more useful for their territory, and to give them the conviction that it is possible to live a stronger life through a new territorialization which does not reject de-territorialization, but which on the contrary achieves it by giving to its meaning, that is, as symbolic exchange with those who are close as well as those who are far away.
It will try to form through the doctoral school young philosophers capable of engaging in professional activities at the service of territorial development, and not condemned to remaining enclosed in a purely academic career.
Finally, we envisage adding to this a permanent activity of the formation of citizens, who would be led to reflect directly on these questions, and to implement territorialized experimentations.