Séminaire 2011/2012 – séance 4 – 17 mai 2012

traduction anglaise par Terence Blake :

Pharmakon.fr – Bernard Stiegler

Fourth class of seminar 2012 part 1

17 mai 2012

(translated by Terence Blake)

At the end of the last class I said that if Plato abandons therapeia in the sense of épimeleia, ie of tekhnè tou biou, and thus the dialogical dialogos dialogique of the duel, it is because in these questions, it is a matter of the devil (diable) – who will have a great destiny in the West: it is a matter of the diabolic, i.e. of diabelein, which is precisely the problem of the REPUBLIC.

The diabolic, i.e. also the diachronic, is what Plato would like to reduce with the dia of the dialectic become the dia of analysis and control, by the dia of discretisation and of the creation of a synchronic order mastering completely the dia – which is not possible.

Last year I tried to show that Plato questions in the context of a preindividual retentional reserve which, being the object of a covert grammatisation, neither recognised nor seen, and even less conceived as such, gives rise to questions – is at the very origin of the question in the sense in which it presents itself as such in philosophy.

This grammatisation is not simply synchronising, but also diachronising, and it reactivates collective traumatypes which trigger a diachronic tempest – of which the political problems of Athens are the effects (political problems at the heart of which Plato’s family and Plato himself are implicated). This is what the REPUBLIC is engaged against.


These questions must be re-examined in our time, ie: in the age of a neuropower in the process of emerging: they must be re-examined by way of the question of neurology, and by taking very seriously

1. on the one hand what Plato says here about the soul:

«But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness» (PHAEDRUS, translation Benjamin Jowett).

Note that this text signifies that using the dialectic, ie a manner of dialoguing as well as of writing that conforms to Socrates’ previous prescriptions in the PHAEDRUS, when he said that one can speak well or write well if one submits speaking as well as writing to the dialectic insofar as, as we saw in the last class, it is double – both analysis and synthesis – , one can and one must inscribe, ie plant and sow, make grow, in other words, directly in the soul, which is a sort of garden, of fertile terrain, where shoots are produced, where ideas grow, one can plant and harvest there something which, in reality, we shall now see, is literally a writing, ie the cultivation of a reading brain.

2. on the other hand and as a consequence, by taking seriously what Nicholas Carr says and by basing ourselves on Maryanne Wolf and on various specialists in reading analysed from the point of view of the neurosciences: their analyses pose questions which belong to a general organology, by way of which and by which alone is it possible to think a positive pharmacology.

This is why general organology is the principal subject of this seminar insofar as it tries to surmount the blockage produced in the beginnings of the history of philosophy (which thus became «metaphysics») with the REPUBLIC, ie after the voyage to Sicily.

Positive pharmacology both is and is not the point of view of Plato himself:

. it is his point of view to the extent that he affirms that a good practice of writing is possible,

. it isn’t to the extent that writing here is no longer a pharmakon, a two-faced, double sided, being– in another sense than that which designates the economy of Google (but here we would need to produce a pharmacology of this double-sided economy typical of the pre-contributive models created by Google and others – perhaps we will return to this subject in the Summer Academy with Alain Giffard): here, Plato considers writing as a technical means whose poisonous side has been reduced by the dialectic, which was designed precisely for that – and it is precisely for that reason that it is a thought by oppositions.

Let us now read the beginning analyses of Maryanne Wolf; and let us see ON WHAT CONDITIONS this pharmacology is POSITIVE in what it first does to the brain, and how it can be nonetheless negative, and even how and why it is always first of all negative. We will thus add a counterpart to the thesis that I developed in CE QUI FAIT QUE LA VIE VAUT LA PEINE D’ETRE VECUE (Flammarion, 2010) concerning the question of the question, ie concerning the techno-logical calling into question, what I call the first blow of the double epokhal reversal, and which ETATS DE CHOC (Mille et une nuits, 2012) completed precisely by proposing a philosophy of shock;

But we shall see in this week’s class – and this will also be the subject of my interventions this year in the Summer Academy – that from now on, the shock strategy must be thought in terms of a general organology based on and by way of the recurrent states of shock, which are always translated at the level of the CNS in particular of the neocortex. But in our time, this can be short-circuited, and that leads us to assert that

. a general organology must integrate the biological, geographical and geophysical systems in its investigations at the moment of the passage to the limits described by Meadows, Passet, etc.

. the CNS becomes the manipulatable organ of a neuropower, which must lead us to pursue the analysis of the passage from biopower to psychopower then to neuropower where bio- and psycho-powers are synthetised in relation to a power over the organs and the organisations conferred by the generalised grammatisation which translates itself as a generalised automatisation.

We shall see that all this leads to the central question of automatisation for which we shall reread Plato from this point of view.


Maryanne Wolf begins Proust and the squid by affirming that «we were never born to read». She shows that the appearance of this invention of writing comes to be written or inscribed in the brain itself, if one may say, and above all comes to modify its functioning – in a sense obviously different from what Plato imagines should be the writing directly in the soul of the prescriptions resulting from the new dialectic, in a sense which, as it is precisely formulated by Maryanne Wolf, renders this hope perfectly illusory, except by submitting precisely this writing to this dialectic conceived as technologY OF grammatisation OF neuronal LIFE (WHICH TAKES ITSELF TO BE AN ONTOLOGY), ie: except by doing exactLY what he accuses the Sophists of doing, but with much more efficient means.

Before going further in this double reading in the soul according to Plato and in the brain according to Wolf (and also according to Dehaene who she relies on, as well as to Changeux who supports Dehaene), I would like to draw your attention to a question that Wolf does not pose, but that I will pose soon in reading Dehaene, who she cites in several places.

One must in effect pose here the question of the modification of the brain in two completely different senses:

. on the one hand, as organological transformation of the brain in the course of its corticalisation (2 million years) and as constitution of the cortical zones and of the afferent subcortical zones – on the preindividual vital reserve of the primary layers, including the «reptilian brain»,

. on the other hand, all that concerns what is called cerebral plasticity, insofar as it leads to the metastabilising of the cerebral organisations which are to that extent historical and social.

In both cases, technology is at play in and with biology and neurology, but the two must not be confused, and above all, we shall see why, we must not avoid the immense question of the epistemology of life which is posed with the co-emergence of the cortex and of the silex.

Pharmakon.fr – Bernard Stiegler Fourth class of seminar 2012 part 2 17 mai 2012 (translated by Terence Blake)
In highlighting the parallel between cortical evolution and lithic evolution, I maintained in TECHNICS AND TIME 1 that in the paleolithic corticalisation, and during most of the process of hominisation, the brain was trans-formed by its relation to the matter it exteriorised itself into via its hand just as much as it interiorised the hand, for when its hand works, what it inscribes in matter is inscribed also in its matter: in its «grey matter», in its brain. And this induces a progressive exit from the situation described by Darwin – namely evolution according to the simple conditions of the struggle for life.
The question of the soul, in that it is not reduced to the brain, no more than to being the animation of the animal or of the plant, is that of the passage from the struggle for life to the struggle for existence, of which the struggle for recognition described by Hegel then by Kojève is one version, but which they do not manage to veritably think because they do not think the consequences of the Hegelian thought of exteriorisation as techno-logical – and it is because she does not see this that Catherine Malabou does not draw all the consequences of her own analyses.
When the cartography of the cortical zones seems «written», ie completed, technical objects play the rôle of epiphylogenetic memory, ie of vectors of intergenerational transmissions which go beyond the CNS, so that the epiphylogenetic memory becomes the principal evolutive factor – by way of the first occurrences of R3 (tertiary retentions) «in the strong sense» ie such that in their becoming they autonomise themselves totally from the genetic drift.
With grammatisation properly speaking, which I think began in the Upper Paleolithic with the rupestral inscriptions (this is what I elaborated on in the W3C Summit in Lyon) as spatialisations and materialisations of mental content, something establishes itself which constitutes the technological process of psychic and collective individuation in which we recognize ourselves (the reason why we can say «WE» or «US» in looking at these works – on this subject cf. TECHNICS AND TIME 3).
Today we see that functionnal neuro-imagery renders all that observable, analysable, experimentable and theorisable on a new basis – and it is in this new context that we shall try to reply to the questions posed by Wolf, Carr and a few others concerning the double epokhal reversal provoked by digital technologies.
Maryanne Wolf describes how the shock of writing totally reorganised certain cerebral zones, in the first place of course those devoted to vision and the hand but also equally and obviously those for language (PROUST AND THE SQUID,p3):
This re-organisation is what in DE LA MISERE SYMBOLIQUE 2, I described as a process of defunctionalisation and of refunctionalisation in the course of an organogenesis that I presented as well as a genealogy of the sensible, in the sense of both Nietzche and Foucault.
I must tell you that I inscribe all these questions in the horizon of what I call digital studies, which are in my opinion the epistemo-technological framework of the question posed by the neurophysiologist Maryanne Wolf – since she says that she questions all that because of the technocerebral mutation which affects her children.
As we have just seen, to apprehend the effects of writing and more generally of technology on cerebral evolution we should distinguish two great types evolutions:
. properly neurophysiological evolutions which participate for example in the opening of the cortical spectrum, as Leroi-Gourhan said,
. «circuitry» as Wolf calls it, insofar as it belongs to the formation and the metastabilsiation of knowledge by means of an organological assemblage such that circuits are formed linking psychic apparatuses (and processes of individuation) to social apparatuses (and to collective individuations) by means of technical apparatuses (which are technical individuations), and this WITH THE AIM OF PRODUCING CIRCUITS OF TRANSINDIVIDUATON.
I remind you that I read the REPUBLIC as a grand discourse on transindividuation – on a transindividuaton founded on the short-circuit of the diachronic potentialities of noetic souls.
The REPUBLIC is the result of the state of shock of a mutation which was produced in the brains, and not only in the souls, and consequently, in the society which leads to this reaction: it is a reactionary text in this sense, but this «reacticity» (in the sense of Deleuze discussing Nietzsche) is what is provoked by a neuropolitical mutation.
Similarly, it is in a context of radical transformation of the conditions of production of the retentions, protentions and attentions which constitute the history of the processes of adoption (or processes of individuation), and such that WE may be passing from the literal R3 to the digital R3 (I do not say «numérique», the usual French translation of «digital», so as not to reduce the digital to the question of number or of numeration, even if precisely this question must be posed: what is the place of numeration in the digital, from what new status of number does the digital proceed?), it is in this context that Wolf poses all these questions, which worry her, and at the same time give her hope for her son and more generally for children (PROUST AND THE SQUID, p4):
The question, she says, is to know what it is important to preserve to the extent that the adoption of a «new circuitry» can lead to the destruction of preceeding circuitries.
This constitutes very precisely a question of pharmacology such as can be posed by a general organology, ie by a systematc study of the relations between living, technical, and social organs – and here we should read Canguilhem’s «LA CONNAISSANCE DE LA VIE», but I don’t have time to discuss it here.

Citing Joseph Epstein, Wolf gives us the scope of the question at stake by affirming that we, ie reading brains, or again those that I have elsewhere called the natives of the letter (and behind all the neuroscience of reading there is the question of technological nativity which has not been posed and which leads to an organology of the intergenerational which is of major importance for our time), we are what we read (and I will come back to this question in a future book devoted to The figure in the carpet by Henry James and to The act of reading by Wolfgang Iser):

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