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Picturing technology as φάρμακον


  1. φάρμακον
  2. Iconic augmentation

 φάρμακον    top

The late French philosopher Bernard Stiegler considered technology as φάρμακον, at once remedy and poison.

He begins by exploring what it means to be living in the Anthropocene, characterized by ‘the most recent period of geophysical evolution, in which the systemic and massively toxic character of contemporary organology comes to light’ (2018: 44-5). Organology refers to the transductive relation of physiological, psychic, artificial, and social tools or organizations.

He describes ‘practical organology’ as the automatic society ‘produced by the technology of automatism that is digital. Technics brings an acceleration of entropy through the combustion and dissipation of energy. Through the elimination of difference caused by industrial standardization (2018: 31), it brings a destruction of biodiversity, cultural diversity and the singularity of both psychic individuations and collective individuations. While it is possible for us to leap into a new value of values that is negentropy, this will involve the surprise of that which is above, or sur- prehension (2018: 38).

I have been thinking about ways in which the “convenience” of the digital tool is reduced to an effectively entropic form of passive consumption.


 Iconic augmentation    top

I will be working this idea out in the book I am writing, but wanted to share this idea here for now, especially as it contrasts so well with what hermeneuticist Paul Ricoeur wrote about iconic augmentation, which in turn coheres so well with the Steiglerian value of negentropy. I will quote two passages in full – the second is the most suggestive, and also indicates the ‘vector feeling’ of my book.
The thesis which I want to elaborate here, and incorporate within the problematic of fiction, is that images created by the talent of the artist are not less real but more real because they augment reality. It is here that Dagognet introduces the concept of iconic augmentation in order to characterize the power of the image to condense, spell out, and develop reality. He opposes the iconic augmentation to the simple function of reduplication in shadow-images. Resorting to the vocabulary of thermodynamics, he states that if shadows express the entropic tendency towards the equalization and effacement of energetic differences in the world, iconic activity merits the name ‘negentropic’ in so far as it stems the inclination to entropy and fights against the tendency to annul contrasts and differences in the universe. This remarkable way of putting new terms the ancient problem of the productive imagination only has meaning if one is able to defeat the Platonic argument. This one can do if one is able to juxtapose writing and painting for the purposes of mutual clarification, and if one apprehends the dialectic of externality that they have in common. Painting, in effect, keeps the analysis from turning its back on the classic problematic of the mental image conceived as an entity internal to the mind and of familiar character (1991: 130-1).
And on remaking reality:
The more imagination deviates from that which is called reality in ordinary language and vision, the more it approaches the heart of the reality which is no longer the world of manipulable objects, but the world into which we have been thrown by birth and within which we try to orient ourselves by projecting our innermost possibilities upon it, in order that we dwell there, in the strongest sense of that word. But this paradox is only sustainable if we happen to concede that we have to amend not only our ideas as to what an image is, but also our prejudices as to what reality is. Under the shock of fiction, reality becomes problematic. We attempt to elude this painful situation by putting beyond criticism a concept of reality according to which the ‘real’ is what our everyday interests project upon the horizon of the world. This prejudice is not displaced but reinforced by our scientific culture in that for science, reality is what science declares it to be; only scientific discourse denotes reality. Consequently, poetry and painting do not denote, but are content to display some subjective connotations totally lacking in truth-claims. It is this double prejudice of ordinary language and of the popular conception of science which the concept of iconic augmentation shatters (1991:133).

References not linked to:
Ricoeur, P. (1991). A Ricoeur reader: reflection and imagination. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.
Stiegler, B. (2018). The neganthropocene. London: Open Humanities Press.


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