Translation> Bernard Stiegler on holidays and the need to ‘deprogram’

Following on from the interview with the philosopher Bernard Stiegler about what he perceives to be the coming end of salaried employment, I spent some of the early hours of this morning (more baby-induced sleeplessness) reading and then translating a short interview with Stiegler about holidays and the need to deprogram. The interview appears on the website for Philosophie magazine.

In the interview, Stiegler argues (as he has elsewhere) that we are increasingly under pressure to ‘synchronise’ – to conform to particular patterns of thought and behaviour–especially consumerism – in the ongoing struggle of capitalism to find ever-more profit. This synchronisation, he says, is led by the ‘programme industries’ – mass media and so on – that want us to mindlessly submit to consumerism and commodification (through systems like Facebook). What is engendered is a form of ‘programming’, as an exercise of ‘psychopower’, which is something like the forms of ‘control’ envisaged by Deleuze (and drawn upon by Stiegler previously).

Stiegler’s answer to this is to identify the need to ‘deprogram’, using techniques of the self (following Foucault). He goes on to provide an example of what he does on holiday–which sounds suspiciously like work to me, but then its all about the otium, the pursuit of knowledge while free from the pressures of subsistence.

This is a fairly quick translation, so please read it as such. As usual clarifications and original French terms are in square brackets. All emphasis follows the original text.

Bernard Stiegler: “On holiday we attempt to rediscover the consistence in our existence”

The question of time extends throughout his body of work and through book after book, this philosopher sketches a picture of a society under the growing infleunce of the programme industries. The final stage of capitalism is the control and snychronisation of “available brain time”. This process in which the individual is standardised may cause a depression and violence without precedent, but philosophy can help to establish responses.


PM. What characterises the experience of time today?

B.S. Our era is characterised by synchronisation. The programme industries are attempting to synchronise all of our consciousnesses; a control over the life of the soul through television which establishes a pyschopower characteristic of our times. This process of synchronisation has its roots in the late 18th century, with the mechanical reproduction of the workers’ gestures through automation, in the service of what Michel Foucault described as biopower. Spread by the grand industrial revolution of the 19th century, synchronisation led to what Karl Marx describes as proletarianisation, the worker becomes proletarian. If a worker contributes to the creation of new forms of production, industrialisation makes work a form of slavery and establishes, instead, what Gilbert Simondon calls a loss of individuation for the worker. The movement that is individuation is no longer in the worker, Simondon says, but in the machine that replaces him as a “technical individual“. Wherever you go now, you have the same models of production and distribution. This globalisation comes at the price of a synchronisation of modes of life and thought. Today, this becoming is extended throughout all aspects of life and destroys the singularity of existence through consumerism, which liquidates life skills [savoir-vivre]. Within a decade, with a catastrophic evolution of television, the symbolic itself became an object of consumption and became un-symbolic: we no longer participate in the diachronisation of languages; we parrot Newspeak. The programme industries proletarianised symbolic production, and they destroyed singular and collective time.

PM. In this context, are holidays still possible?

BS. The latin term otium is often translated as “leisure”, it is what the Greeks called skholè, from which we get the work skoleion, which becomes “school”. School is for those who have been released from the obligation of providing for themselves and who can spend free time, without which no real expertise [connaissance véritable] is possible. Otium in Latin and skholè in Greek describe free-time for contemplation, through which we learn to live through a desire for truth: the possibility of reaching a time that is not given to subsistence (the time of slaves and proletarians), but which also is not given to existence (the time of the agora, of political debate). However, to establish lives [des existences], we must reach for what exceeds them and what I live to call consistencies [les consistances] – which the Greeks called idealities.

In this context, holidays must become an otium for the people. During a holiday, and holidays are a special case, we primarily try to deprogram – and to rediscover the consistency in our existence [la consistance dans son existence], for example through a change of scenery. However, human life is always programmed [programmée]. There are cosmic programmes, vital programmes, and socio-ethnic and symbolic programmes. These programmes are a condition of the social. But, these programmes can and should be reprogrammed, or suspended. Trigano, Disney and others have understood that this is a huge market, it is accordingly becoming more and more difficult to deprogram.

PM. How do you deprogram yourself?

BS. To deprogram oneself necessitates keeping to very specific schedules, which are what Foucault, once again, described as techniques of the self, echoing Seneca. Holidays are a moment to practice such programmes. Myself, I use relaxation as a form of deprogramming. When I go on holiday, I work early and write all morning. Then, I swim, a lot, until that state when physical exertion stimulates a rush–because the brain produces a lot of endorphins. Swimming thus becomes a journey within oneself, during the course of which I run back through my memory of everything I wrote several hours earlier. Then I lie in the sun, drained, and I let my mind empty, since this is how unlikely thoughts can arise: something un-programmed emerges from all of this. Then I return to writing: I note all that has arisen – first in the water, then in the sun – all through rereading and annotating what I wrote in the morning.

Under the sun, I sense that this mass of hydrogen that has been combusting for several billion years is a cosmic programme that intervenes in my physiological programmes – muscles, brain, various organs – and which, in this intervention, produces a difference, a change of programme which allows me to write another kind of programme: a book in which I comment generally on other books.

Books, when they are good, are thus deprogramming programmes, unlikely programmes, like poems, in which there must be, wrote Paul Claudel, “a number that prevents counting”.

Interview by Michel Eltchaninoff

SK–The sense in which ‘programme’ is used here plays on the double meaning of scheduling (of time, performance etc.) and codified instructions (for computers), but both have a sense of the rendering discrete the phenomena being programmed.


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