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Tue Aug 14, 2012 6:07 pm
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"The Internet age is one of hypomnesis constituting itself as an associated technical milieu." In his wide-ranging history of the concept of memory, Bernard Stiegler aims toward a moment-one that he suggests we are currently living-in which the "industrial model" of memory undergoes fundamental transformation. From Stiegler's vantage point, what is crucial about today's technical memory aids-iPods, smart phones, GPS navigators, and PDAs, not to mention the Internet-is their intimate articulation with anamnesis, a term Stiegler borrows from Plato and uses to designate the embodied act of remembering. Everything hinges on how hypomnesis, the technical exteriorization of memory, articulates with anamnesis, and Stiegler's history of memory can be understood as a history of the changing ecology of these terms. Today's computational technical memory aids-digital HYPOMNEMATA-differ from the industrial hypomnemata of technical recording (photography, phonography, cinematography) in that they create an "associated hypomnesic milieu" in which "receivers are placed in the position of senders." Rather than dissociating consumption from production, as did broadcast mass media (from phonography to global real-time television), today's microtechnologies and the social networking practices they facilitate connect them: if you can use these technologies to consume, Stiegler suggests, you can also use them to produce.

This is why Stiegler sees digital memory aids as instigators of an "ecology of associated hypomnesic milieus." And it is also why he thinks they have more in common with writing than they do with broadcast media like film and television. Just as the literate citizen learned to read and to write by embodying the practices of literacy through a more or less arduous process of formation, so too the digital citizen acquires facility in networked communication by embodying a procedural logic that views sending and receiving as symmetrical and complicated activities. In both cases, the payoff of the process of formation is a capacity to create, to use a standardized technicity for self-expression; this capacity, Stiegler suggests, stands in direct opposition to the mode of passive reception endemic to the broadcast media. The new ecology of associated hypomnesic milieus that Stiegler calls for would accordingly inaugurate a new conjugation of technics and memory that would succeed MNEMOTECHNIQUES (the artificial storage of individual memories that characterizes hypomnesis from ideogrammatic writing to the print revolution) and MNEMOTECHNOLOGIES (the embedding of memories within technological systems that systematically order memories according to their own logics). By renewing the possibility for self-expression, and hence for self-exteriorization, today's digital hypomnemata restore a positive dimension to our coevolution with technics. We might even say that they fuse mnemotechniques and mnemotechnologies, furnishing artificial supports for individual (and collective) memories that exist within and are nourished by a larger mnemotechnological milieu-the system of the Internet.

Stiegler's invocation of contemporary digital hypomnemata comes only at the end of a long interrogation of memory, and its constitutive relation to technics, in Western history. From his first book, Technics and Time, vol. 1, The Fault of Epimetheus (1994), to his latest work on Foucault's conception of "care" (Prendre Ie soin, vol. 1, 2008), Stiegler has concerned himself with the "essential" correlation of the human and technics. Drawing on the work of French paleontologist Andre Leroi-Gourhan, Stiegler interprets the coincidence of protohuman fossil remains and primitive flint tools to mean that the human is the species that evolves not simply genetically but extragenetically (or, as he puts it, EPIPHYLOGENETICALLY, "by means other than life"): the human evolves by exteriorizing itself in tools, artifacts, language, and technical memory banks. Technology on this account is not something external and contingent, but rather an essential-indeed, THE essential-dimension of the human. As Stiegler explains in his essay, this account of technics provides a necessary counterpart to that of Plato, which, despite its insight into the value of artificial memory (in the Meno), ultimately dismisses it as false (in the Phaedrus). It is this dismissal, Stiegler argues (following his teacher, Jacques Derrida), that informs the antipathy of Western philosophy to the theme of technics.

With respect to memory, this essential, protohistorical correlation of the human with technics appears in the form of "retentional finitude." It is because our memories are finite that we require artificial memory aids, and the ensuing ecology of "natural" and artificial memory, of anamnesis and hypomnesis, has, since its initial theorization by Plato, characterized the differing function and valuation of memory across our history. If we learn from Plato-or rather, from one side of Plato-that artificial memory is a PHARMAKON, a gift that is also a threat (since dependence on artificial memory makes the training of our own memory less imperative), we learn from Derrida that technical exteriorization or supplementation is an intrinsic, irreducible dimension of the logic and function of memory as such. It is this technical contamination of memory that allows the latter to be historicized, split into distinct epochs of what Stiegler, following Derrida (and the linguist Sylvain Auroux), calls "grammatization"; the exteriorization of memory in the form of discrete marks, traces, or GRAMMÉ that forms the hypomnesic milieu for anamnesis. As Stiegler notes, these epochs include those of the stone tool, of ideogrammatic writing, of the alphabet, of analog and digital recording, and now of digitization and the Internet. As different historically specific configurations of anamnesis with technics, these epochs individually and collectively demonstrate that there is no memory that is not hypomnesic. This, again, is why everything hinges on how hypomnesis is articulated with anamnesis.

The dependence of memory on artificial aids makes the question of technology an irreducibly political question. As Stiegler puts it, the hypomnesic milieu can either be "associated" with or "dissociated" from anamnesis (the embodied act of memory). When they are associated with anamnesis, hypomnemata facilitate the deployment of memory in the constitution of meaningful symbolic practices and communal formations; by contrast, when they are dissociated from anamnesis, they advance the interests of the culture industries (Adorno and Horkheimerl and of "control societies" (Deleuze), which work to transform human beings into mere consumers, passive recipients of prepackaged and standardized commodities and media fluxes who have no hope of becoming producers. Put more simply, reliance on artificial memory aids makes us vulnerable to manipulation if the technologies of memory are controlled by industries intent on exploiting our desire for their gain; yet on the other hand (and in accordance with their PHARMACOLOGICAL logic), these same memory aids hold the promise of expanding our capacity to produce meaning and to form communities open to the future (this is what Stiegler, following the philosopher Gilbert Simondon, means by "transindividuation"). Once again-and this comprises the fundamental message of Stiegler's complex and nuanced history of (technical) memory-everything hinges on how hypomnemata are articulated with anamnesis, and on the political struggles that must and can only be waged through the technologies that at once empower us and threaten our individual and collective agency. - INTRODUCTION by Mark B. N. Hansen to "MEMORY" by Bernard Stiegler in CRITICAL TERMS FOR MEDIA STUDIES, Edited by W. J. T. Mitchell and Mark B. N. Hansen, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, pp.64-66

BOB: I've capitalized all the words that were italicised in the original publication of the article.

Bob Dobbs
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