This paper considers Bernard Stiegler's contribution to contemporary critical theory. Stiegler's singular understanding of technology widens critical debate on the specificity of contemporary society and prolongs, in a novel manner, remaining commitments of recent French philosophy to the Marxist analysis of capitalism, underpinned by Freudian libidinal economy. I argue that the originality of Stiegler's work lies in his understanding of retentional finitude: what he calls “tertiary memory.” This understanding provides him with critical purchase on contemporary capitalist forms. It has allowed him most recently to develop an embryonic critique of political economy, focused on technological and libidinal practices of consumerism. His technological analysis of contemporary reality, buttressed by “technological” readings of Marx and Freud, are important in this context. I suggest, however, that neither reading is ultimately convincing for the critical-philosophical purpose in hand. For, they do not provide the non-technological detail and distinctions needed to further transformative reflection on our contemporary economic condition. Without such distinctions, Stiegler's work simplifies complex modern society and ends up in an unmediated politics of education. The article expounds thereby the Janus-faced nature of Stiegler's engagements: an excellent philosophical reflection on contemporary technology, on the one hand, a technologically determinist (and rather apocalyptic) analysis of the economy, society, and culture, on the other.
Technology and Politics: A Response to Bernard Stiegler
RICHARD BEARDSWORTH IS PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AT THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF PARIS AND IS DIRECTOR OF ITS RESEARCH CENTER (INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND PUBLIC POLICY). HE WAS FOUNDER AND GENERAL EDITOR OF TEKHNEMA: JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY AND TECHNOLOGY (1993– 2001) AND TRANSLATED B. STIEGLER IN THE 1990S. HIS FORTHCOMING BOOK COSMOPOLITANISM AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY IS PUBLISHED BY POLITY (2010).