Stiegler on “The Pre-individual Eye”

From a really interesting essay in which Stiegler offers an engagement with aesthetics:

[p. 231]V. The Pre-individual Eye

Manet, facing the rejection of his painting by the academicism of the Sec- ond Empire, said one day: “Their eye will yield” [se fera]. This phrase came back to me one day when I visited the Prado Museum in Madrid–in that great collection of Western painting wherein one of its major traits is brought to view: we see Spanish painting develop between Islamic culture and what would become Flemish painting. At the Prado, we see the eye yield through space and time; we see it open, constitute itself, and deploy itself: we realize that the eye is a milieu.

We see through a milieu. Aristotle called the milieu of vision the di- aphanous. But the diaphanous of the noetic eye is symbolic: over-saturated by history–by a History of the eye–it constitutes what Simondon calls a pre-individual milieu, the pre-individual foundation of vision, which is to say, of the eye that is not in the eye socket, but rather like that which consti- tutes the symbolic process of transindividuation giving us to see the visible as it has never been seen. This trans-formation of the eye–always already projected outside the eye socket just as the tongue in the mouth projects itself between the ears–is called the history of art. And this transformation occurs under organological conditions.

Symbolic milieus must be analyzed along three organological levels. What makes possible the transformation of the retinal eye into a noetic eye is the possibility for the body of the sensitive soul to organize itself and to reach noetic activity by assembling its organs (including its memory and therefore its brain) through inanimate beings such as carved flints, pigments of paint, earth, ash, which thus become organic (I have called this, else- where, the organized inorganic) and form the organs for the transindividuation of the eye as milieu, whose history is also that of art.

[p. 232]

How did the men of Lascaux paint? They transformed matter that they sublimated, and this sublimation is the transindividuation of the eye as the milieu of the visible, of which the history of art is the diachronic display of sediments. Every museum gives us to see this condition of seeing, and at the same time a genealogy of the eye that regards and is regarded–like its paleontology–even while it teaches the eye to see that to which it has yet to open.

This transformation, which is the enlargening of the body by non-living organs that form a noetic and associated milieu, produces organa, artifices, works as well as tools and things (which are all, always, tools in some man- ner).4 These artifices hold together bodies and put them in relation (the first among them is the transitional object discovered by Winnicott) and form along with them, as a linkage pervaded by the energy of the circuits of transindividuation, the symbolic milieu, the milieu wherein appear those symbols constitutive of the human that are works, traces of a passage to action in the noetic world. In this mesotès, which is a symbolic system– to once again appropriate and divert one of Aristotle’s terms–thus appear three organological levels:

the natural organs of the body,
the organs that are artifices (materials, tools, things, works),
the social organizations that give access, by forming social rules that enable the transmission and writing of the history of psychic and collective individuation and transindividuation.

Aesthetics is then the constitution of a milieu, or as James Ash has it an atmosphere, which Stiegler argues is constituted organologically, that is to say it is formulated in forms of technicity which are the mutually constituting ‘extensions’ of the human/technical, in three veins, described above. Furthermore, aesthetics is (per)formed in the actualisation of the potentials that are present in the eye (in combination with what the eye sees), as always already projected beyond the eye socket: the gaze of the artist is contemplative but that contemplation is enabled and nurtured by that which is contemplated and then shared in the medium of expression (oil on canvas and so on):

Our eye does not spontaneously see the noetic [ which is to say intellectual, spiritual, contemplative –sk] milieu it weaves when, seeing by that noetic act that is “to see” for, say, a painter, it brings to sight what it has seen, making visible the very motifs of seeing. [p. 228-229]

In this way, we can read Steigler as arguing that aesthetics fundamentally consists in our processes of being-with, of becoming together – of transindividuation.

Worth a read if you can get a copy”¦ (happy to help 😉

Full reference:

Stiegler, Bernard, 2011 “The Tongue of the Eye: What ‘Art History’ Means”. trans. Arthur, T., in: Khalip, J., Mitchell, R. (Eds.) Releasing the Image: From Literature to New Media. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, pp. 222-236.

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