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· vii · Foreword Bernard Stiegler Translated by Daniel Ross This book by Yuk Hui is an exceptional work in many ways, foremost thanks to the scope of the author’s questions and the resources he manages to incorporate into his thinking, which he does with unusual rigor and an invaluable openness of mind and spirit. Ouverture d’esprit should in this case be taken literally: Yuk Hui practices this openness that is the life of the mind, and he does so methodically, via notions of relations of scale and orders of magnitude. He convokes analytical and continental philosophy, cognitivism and phenomenology, and computational theory alongside the human and social sciences, showing that the relations and nonrelations between them are to a large extent the result of unconceptualized questions of scale. His is a most generous form of thinking: situating philosophies and theorems on scales that relate them in terms of order of magnitude allows room for hospitality toward all manner of rigorous and original thinking. One might be tempted to see in such a project of rationally ordering the archipelago of contemporary knowledge an outdated desire for systematicity . One would be wrong. The system may indeed be a question for Yuk Hui, but his thinking of orders of magnitude, ordered in terms of their relations, goes far beyond this: it becomes instead a question of milieux . The sciences and technologies of automation and automatism—in their movement from Ludwig von Bertalanffy to big data and passing through cybernetics, information theory, and open systems theory, and by reactivating and transforming the questions of thermodynamics and biology—do indeed, in the broadest sense, lead back to and renew systemic questions. And to the extent that such systems form the production viii FOREWORD apparatus of globalized capitalism, they do lead to an expansion of the questions opened by Marx in the Grundrisse, in his “Fragment on Machines.” Hence it is also from within this economico-political horizon that we must read the present work. But with the concept of the digital object, Yuk Hui shows that, in the dynamic systems that continuously reconfigure the artifacts emerging from industrial innovation, new relativities of scale form and deform, and from this arise improbabilities that are always in dynamic excess over and above the systems whence they derive. In this context, the system must be understood not just as a system but above all as a preindividual milieu. From out of the preindividual, there forms what Gilbert Simondon called an associated milieu (a term with more than one meaning). Hence Yuk Hui passes through Simondon. But he also revisits Heidegger and stages a reciprocal confrontation between them—and we should not forget that Heidegger was himself a reader of Jakob von Uexküll, for whom the question of milieu became that of the Umwelt, which then contributed to the formation of the concept of world in the existential analytic of Sein und Zeit. Understanding contemporary automated systems on the basis of the concept of the digital object, then, means redefining them in a way that passes through the concepts of preindividual milieu, individuation, world, being-in-the-world, Zuhandenheit and its associated milieu—which may in addition provide new resources with which to interpret the notions of Gestell and Ereignis, through which Heidegger explored the cybernetic age. In this light, the analysis of the system that Heidegger conducts in his course on Schelling perhaps merits reinterpretation.1 The twentieth century would then have been that of systems theory in a sense entirely different from what the philosophies of modernity have generated out of the “system of idealism” that crystallized around Kant. If, as Heidegger argued, the concept of system is for Schelling inseparable from the question of the freedom of spirit (and of spirit as openness), then conversely, the question of the system, which arises in a new way in the Gestell of the cybernetic age, must be redefined with Simondon in terms of a realism of relations and an analysis of processes of individuation that are woven as relations of scale and orders of magnitude: such are the conjectures with which On the Existence of Digital Objects may inspire us. The industrial milieu—which is here the stake—first began to emerge during that epoch that saw the young Hegel, Hölderlin, and Schelling all debating Kantian idealism. The scientific concepts that arose at that time FOREWORD ix (including those of thermodynamics) then become central to the various systems theories formulated in the course of the...


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