from Peak Libido by Dominic Pettman, an interpretation of Bernard Stiegler, from French Theory Today

I’m attracted to Stiegler’s ides because of his skepticism about convenience, as is discussed above, and his concern about the impact of near automatic self-archiving (driven by convenience and ubiquitous networks) on our memory and humanity. Stiegler argues that our capacity to desire things in the world is being oversated and exhausted by a capitalism engineered to exploit it, both to drive consumer consumption and to foster immaterial production (typically occurring simultaneously).

Traditional economists (and many optimistic types who may or may not have absorbed the economists’ worldview) think human desire is fundamentally inexhaustible and that more desire is just more of good thing: more energy in the world, making things happen, making for “dynamism.” (Virginia Postrel is a characteristic expounder of this view.)

But Stiegler wants to insist on a qualitative component of desire that capitalist analytics ordinarily suppress. Desire can degrade into “drive,” unrewarding compulsions to repeat, to seek superficial novelty and so on. So our libidinal energy (which, like attention, needs conservation and is not limitless) can be technologically harnessed and then systematically wasted.

My skepticism toward self-quantification is rooted in this kind of thinking; in Stiegler’s terms, it’s too harsh and abrupt an assimilation of technological potentialities; they upset the equilibrium we had established with earlier technologies, and the sort of self we experience phenomenologically with those technologies. It makes the “self” re-appear an alien tech-dependent construct, which makes us feel “enslaved to machines” instead of empowered to be fully human. Those who feel empowered by quantified-self procedures are arguably latching on to a diminished, dictated version of what it means to be human, taking the embrace of control by quantification as the essential human gesture, rather than the eluding of it.

But I realize this reference to a metaphysical, spiritual idea of “humanness” is pretty suspect too. Stiegler seems to think that loss of the capacity to become true individuals is the great threat we face — technology must be confronted because it it abets in capitalism’s reducing us to a pseudoindividualism. The problem seems less the loss of expressive potential than the existence of subordination and domination that pseudoindividualism becomes the alibi for. (As Pettmann points out, this is Marcuse’s notion of “repressive desublimation” — control through sexual freedom.)

Still, I agree with the idea in this paraphrase of Pettmann’s: “finally, we must rewire and recalibrate the global technical system so that it does not regulate our cultural memories for us, so that we regain the opportunity to know how to live in a mode of relative agency: so that life itself is understood on a collectively symbolic level, and not approached according to ‘operating instructions’ delivered from an anonymous beyond, like a giant, flimsy IKEA wardrobe.” Stop trusting apps and platforms not to mold and contort our subjectivity in ways that stifle it and control us. 

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