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  • Stiegler Reading Derrida: The Prosthesis of Deconstruction in Technics
  • Ben Roberts (bio)

This essay examines the relationship between Derrida's work and that of Bernard Stiegler. Stiegler's thinking can be seen as a radicalization of the idea of the supplement in Derrida. Stiegler differentiates his thinking about technics from Derrida's thinking around the supplement by arguing that, whereas Derrida is interested in a logic of supplementarity, he is interested in the historical differentiations of the technical supplement. Having established the basic terrain of Stiegler's argument in the first volume of Technics and Time, the essay discusses the relationship of that argument to Derrida's work. It exposes various problems with Stiegler's use of what he seems fairly determined to regard as the concept of différance. Stiegler himself sees a problem in the relation between his analysis of technics and Derrida's thinking in that the latter doesn't have an account of the emergence of the human as the point at which the "living articulates itself upon the non-living." Here the essay elucidates this difference with reference to Derrida's own responses to Stiegler in the interviews between the two published as Echographies of Television.

Between Derrida and Stiegler

In his massive multi-volume work, Technics and Time, Bernard Stiegler explores a history of technics as epiphylogenesis—the preservation in technical objects of epigenetic experience. Epiphylogenesis marks for Stiegler a break with genetic evolution (which cannot preserve the lessons of experience), a break which also constitutes the “invention” of the human. As Stiegler puts it in the general introduction to Technics and Time, “as a ‘process of exteriorization,’ technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life” (17).

Since the “human” is constituted through its exteriorization in tools, its origin is neither biological (a particular arrangement of cells) nor transcendental (to be found in something like consciousness). The origin of the human as the prosthesis of the living is therefore fundamentally aporetic: one should speak, for Stiegler, of a non-origin or default of origin.1 Stiegler develops these arguments through a reading of Rousseau and Leroi-Gourhan, showing on the one hand how the empirical approach of the paleo-anthropologist cannot avoid the transcendental question of origin and, on the other, how Rousseau’s transcendental account of the question of origin inscribes inside its account, despite itself, the thought of the human as contingent or accidental (Technics 82–133).

I will not expand on Stiegler’s reading of Leroi-Gourhan and Rousseau here. What I intend to discuss is rather the relationship between Stiegler’s work and that of Jacques Derrida. In particular I will examine Stiegler’s discussion of Derrida in the latter half of the first volume of Technics and Time and then move on to discuss the interviews between the two men gathered in the Echographies collection. I will demonstrate significant differences in their respective theoretical approaches and show how these arise in part from problems in Stiegler’s reading of Derrida.

The context of Stiegler’s disagreement with Derrida in the first volume of Technics and Time is the discussion in chapter 3 of the paleo-anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan and the “invention of the human.” At the opening of the chapter Stiegler argues:

We are considering a passage: a passage to what is called the human. Its “birth,” if there is one . . . . To ask the question of the birth of the human is to pose the question of the “birth of death” or of the relation to death. But at stake here will be the attempt to think, instead of the birth of the human qua entity relating to its end, rather its invention or even its embryonic fabrication or conception, and to attempt this independently of all anthropologism.


Here then is the place of Leroi-Gourhan in Stiegler: the chance to understand the emergence of the human in a non-“anthropologistic” manner. The key to this approach is the role Leroi-Gourhan assigns to technics in the evolution of the human. For Leroi-Gourhan, the evolution of the human—unlike that of animals—is not only a question of the evolution of a biological...

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