Remembering Bernard Stiegler

I have been on an extended period of leave [if you read my last post you can surmise why] and so have not written for some time. Whilst on leave I heard some sad news. I found out a little while ago, and shared on twitter, that the philosopher Bernard Stiegler passed away on the 5th August. In spite of and perhaps superseding any criticism I have shared of Stiegler’s more recent work I think it is essential to note the importance of his work and his activities as a scholar and activist.

Technics and Time (especially volumes 1 & 2) is a profound work of philosophy that not only helps us to understand our relationship with (our) technology but also—perhaps more so—it teaches us something valuable about what it is to be human. In part this is about how we understand memory, memorialisation and remembering but it is also about sharing ideas, the nature of ‘culture’ and how we are always and already re-making and remembering what is to be human precisely through our mnemotechnical supports. There is no ‘human’ without technics.

From this insight comes all of the subsequent work around; the politics of disenfranchisement and the centrality of media to those issues; the ethics of intergenerational care and (especially) education/learning; the crisis of the ‘anthropocene’ and how we must urgently address it.

It would be easy, if perhaps tedious, to list off the concepts and ideas that are important here and how we might apply them. In some sense I think that would be simply to use the occasion of the death of a scholar to advance one’s own work through theirs. Rather I want to offer a recollection with the aid of my memory supports.

In 2010, very soon after submitting and defending my PhD thesis, I helped to facilitate a European Science Foundation- funded conference on the theme of attention, convened by my friend, and then colleague, Patrick Crogan. It is perhaps the best conference I have ever attended or participated in. We were holed up on the outskirts of Linköping in a hotel for a week, giving papers, listening and sharing ideas. There was time for discussion; time to get to know one another and time to engage with the ideas we explored together. We were very fortunate to have keynote papers from Tiziana Terranova, Michel Bauwens and Bernard Stiegler.

As many passengers on European airlines can attest, the French air traffic controllers can be rather militant in their strike action and it happened that a strike coincided with our conference. Thus we all arrived in Linköping at the start of the week, except Bernard Stiegler. Through emails and text messages with both Prof. Stiegler and his wife we ascertained that he had managed to get a seat on a plane after waiting in Paris airport for most of a night and he arrived, slightly dishevelled but in good humour late in the evening on our second day. Prof. Stiegler, Patrick and I polished off a bottle of house red and went to bed.

I was extremely nervous the following day – of ensuring that I hosted our esteemed key note speakers and of not looking a fool in front of a philosopher whose work I had only recently encountered but found captivating. I need not have worried. In contrast to stories other junior academics have related about the bade behaviour of senior and highly-regarded colleagues, Stiegler was kind, patient and generous. I remain impressed with the way he really listened and the way in which he did not presume people’s knowledge (of philosophy or his work), didn’t show off or try to belittle people but rather tried to meet them half-way (all in a second language – English). Over lunch I plucked up the courage to ask some (on reflection – naive) questions about how he theorised difference (and différance) that he patiently answered.

It is one of a few, perhaps too-few, occasions that I was shown a way of being a ‘good’ academic AND a good person. It has stuck with me and I have tried my best to emulate that spirit. In my limited experience, this is an ethos also embodied by participants in Ars Industrialis – the activist organisation that Stiegler was important in setting up.

Especially, but not only, in difficult times like the present, it seems to me, we can and should take inspiration from Stiegler’s message of taking care of each other, of ideas and of ‘culture’ and – I think – of hope for a world that can be otherwise.

There are a couple of other memorials of/to Stiegler online from those who actually knew him that are worth reading, linked here:

Yuk Hui – The Wind Rises: In memory of Bernard

Scott Lash – Technics of Memory & Life

Axel Andersson – To Inherent Thinking

Obituary in The Guardian

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