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  • Bernard Stiegler, Philosophical Amateur, or, Individuation from Eros to Philia
  • Robert Hughes (bio)

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In Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise (2001), the third volume of his Technics and Time, the contemporary French philosopher Bernard Stiegler (b. 1952) concerns himself with what he describes as a contemporary crisis of mal-être. This mal-être is translated as “malaise” by Stephen Barker, but one might also hear in mal-être something like a “malady of being,” since the heart of Stiegler’s analysis of the present hypermediated moment is his claim that something fundamental, something important, is awry in the structure of human being: Western humanity is suffering, according to Stiegler, a loss of individuation and is suffering, therefore, a “quasi-inexistence.”1 One might even think of mal-être as “bad-being,” since there is also a kind of ethical thrust to Stiegler’s description of this crisis of individuation. Certainly, Stiegler sees a number of “bad” or unhappy consequences proceeding from it: he sees a kind of social atomization and a consequent stripping away of politics; he sees a loss of liberty for idiosyncratic thought in an ever-increasing synchronization with others; he sees an impoverishment of the conceptual apparatus as thought processes conform to the schemata of mass culture; he sees libidinal life turning machinic, saturating and finally enervating sensibility. These processes, in their ultimate tendency, threaten the annihilation of self-consciousness and the rise of “a world of automatons.”2 These would indeed be consequences to get excited about, if only one could be bothered to get properly excited about anything anymore—but the fact that this is not a given just signals another of Stiegler’s concerns about affect and participative action in the contemporary world.

This essay aims to consider in Stiegler’s work the one consequence of disindividuation that frames all the other consequences: namely, the exhaustion of desire and the threat to the possibility of love. This is a little surprising insofar as Stiegler rarely thematizes love per se, and never with the evident systematicity and philosophical care that, say, Alain Badiou and Jean-Luc Nancy do in their writings on love. Stiegler’s remarks on love and desire are scattered throughout Technics and Time 3, in an essay collected in Acting Out translated as “To Love, to Love Me, to Love Us” (2003), in Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals (2006), and in some recent work, such as the short piece “Amateur” (2012) on his ars industrialis website. At the same time, the matter of love and desire is never very far from Stiegler’s concerns. Love, as this essay will show, functions in Stiegler’s philosophy as an individuating libidinal energy, a countervailing force against the disindividuating, socially and politically atomizing tendencies of consumerist mass culture. This essay will first consider Stiegler’s description of an essentially narcissistic eros as it sustains the subject in relation to desire and temporality. Later parts of the essay will then consider a broadening out of eros in philia, which Stiegler conceives as offering a more political context—the We, the City—for generating individuation out of essential self-love. In this reading, individuation appears as the ultimate care of Stiegler’s philosophy, and love appears as its ultimate stake. As this essay brings together Stiegler’s thinking on love from its disparate sources and as it amplifies or elaborates on his writings concerning love, it tries to do so in a way consistent with his larger philosophy, even if it sidesteps some other important aspects of Stiegler’s philosophy. [End Page 47]

>> Desire and the Future

For continental philosophy, as for Stiegler in particular, the classic conceptualization of love comes from Plato’s Symposium. Some of the essential features of love in Stiegler’s philosophy are visible when Plato’s Socrates cross-examines the previous speaker, Agathon, who has just finished his own eulogy on love:

And does he desire whatever it is that he desires, and is he in love with it, when he’s got it, or when he hasn’t?

When he hasn’t got it, probably.

Then isn’t it probable, said Socrates, or rather isn...