Tekhnema 2 / "Technics and Finitude"/ Spring 1995

The Melancholy of Technology

Adrian Harding

During the pain Mnemosyne upheld
Her arms as one who prophesied.
Keats, "The Fall of Hyperion"

That the phrase "the melancholy of technology" should evoke familiar dualisms of thought and matter, the human and the inhuman, subject and object, sentir and savoir, is quite to the point here. Such dualistic thinking is ostensibly outmoded, in the same way as the diode has been replaced by the transistor. Yet the very phenomenon of philosophical "progress", the critical sloughing off of less efficient forms of thinking, such as one finds, for example, in Jacques Derrida’s progressive criticism of metaphysics since his essay on Husserl’s "The Origin of Geometry" in 1962, is based on an ambivalent, antithetical notion of freedom, whether freedom from archaic subjectivity or from logocentric authority. The denial of progress may also be a function of progressive thinking. This freedom from—which is a process, not a substance—is ironically symmetrical with the mythical freedom from historicity experienced in defeat by Saturn and the Titans, who lost out to the technologically more efficient Olympians of Zeus’s complex programming. The struggle, and the Saturnine melancholy that resulted, are recounted in Keats’s "The Fall of Hyperion": the victorious but anxious Apollo, father of poetic technique, is informed by Mnemosyne, Memory, of the way to the future through the ironic pain of the acquisition of power. The poem may be read, as the critic Geoffrey Hartman pointed out in Beyond Formalism (1970), as the "Fall" (i.e. failure) of Keats’s earlier epic attempt, "Hyperion". In other words, the event of supersession, rather than the terms constitutive of the supersession, is the locus of meaning—this word being taken to refer to the consequential value of information. This is not to disregard the extraordinary power of the two poems themselves.

To seek to escape the historical burden of metaphysical thinking and language, to move technologically from intransitive to transitive uses of the verb to think, and to feel the melancholy of being defeated and left irredeemably other by history—the origin of humanist anxiety in the Machine Age—both leave in place (or rather, in no-place) the absence of a temporality by which the human is inscribed in the inhuman, and the inhuman in the human. Owing to its failure to reconcile information and meaning in technique, so-called Postmodernism is riddled with the dualisms which were evoked at the outset, and which grow out of this absence of a transactive relatedness to events in time. This paper will initially invoke two somewhat neglected conceptualizations of such relatedness, the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead and the "mechanology" of Gilbert Simondon. From ostensibly antipodean positions on the question of transcendence, they both focus on the process of change and becoming as the event-structure subsuming the "categories" of the human and the inhuman. Out of this process the definition of the simultaneous singularity and multivalence, the Janus-faces, of the inscriptive, technical event may be attempted.

The distinction here between technique and technology is made substantially in relation to the notion of the event-nexus as the occasion of encounter, on a specific spatio-temporal ground, of the actual and the non-actual. In Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1929) events are taken to interact in the process of "the becoming of actual entities, also termed ‘actual occasions’", which he terms "concrescence": "…in the becoming of an actual entity, the potential unity of many entities in disjunctive diversity—actual and non-actual—acquires the real unity of the one actual entity; so that the actual entity is the real concrescence of many potentials" (page 25). Concrescence is a process of constant supersession of the virtual by the actual, and its constant grounding in the creation of different occasions: "…each entity in the universe of a given concrescence can, so far as its own nature is concerned, be implicated in that concrescence in one or other of many modes; but in fact it is implicated only in one mode." (25). Provisionally, in Whitehead’s terms, technique is here taken as a function of the "prehensions" or "concrete facts of relatedness" arising with what he terms "concrescences". The consequences of Whitehead’s scheme will be returned to below.

The technological side of a distinction based on different qualities of becoming, on different types of "concrescence", can be seen in Simondon’s lucid and sober description of technological genealogy, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (1958), which defines several pertinent components of the temporality of technology, and requires a rather more extended exposition. He distinguishes between three types of technical object: the element, the individual, and the ensemble (for example, a needle, a sewing-machine, and a cotton mill). Particularly relevant to the present discussion are his notions of technicity, the degree of technological efficiency of an object; concretization, by which the technicity of a technical object develops towards ("concresces in") the refinement and coherence of its function (technicity is the degree of concretization of the object); the milieu associé, being the environment which a technical object creates around itself in order to be able to function (the important point here being that it is the object that creates the environment, and not the other way round; his prime example is the hydraulic turbine, which requires a first envelope of oil and a second of water, both of which function as both cooling and alimentary environments); and the law of relaxation, by which a historically defined technical ensemble (e.g. a tooling workshop) produces a technical element which will allow a new ensemble to be developed (e.g. the development of new technologies from the concretization of a machine tool). According to this law, outmoded ensembles collapse in producing new elements to allow the genesis of new ensembles in a continual "saw-tooth" movement of catastrophe and satisfaction of the process of technological development. In the present day, Simondon sees the advent of cybernetics and information technology as enabling human beings to escape the alienation to which their position as technical individuals in this series has historically condemned them.

For Simondon, only technical elements have the power to transmit technicity, in a form which is effected, accomplished and materialized in a result, from one age to another, in the process of transduction. This is an important point, for it leads to an archaeology of technology as the foundation of our knowledge of the techniques of human culture, since the technical element, at certain moments of evolution, has a meaning in itself, and is "depository [dépositaire] of technicity". There is thus installed at the heart of Simondon’s argument a retroactive dynamic of meaning, symmetrical with the pro-active dynamic of technological progress, which, he claims, does not itself possess a component of negativity, owing to the recurrent causality animating the law of relaxation: something is always being produced, even in the very supersession of ensemble, element, and new ensemble.

We have therefore an argument of exemplary rigor directed not towards a universalizing liberation of humanity from material enslavement, of the kind that characterized Enlightenment thinking, but rather towards a mediation, the "rationalization of the forces that situate man by giving him meaning in a human and natural ensemble." What cybernetics and information technology do liberate humanity from is the unconditional prestige of the idea of finality, by giving access not to freedom per se but to authority in the sense of creative strength. Freedom is freedom from, a virtual rather than an actual condition; or rather, a condition of being rather than a form of being. It is this ambivalent notion of freedom, conditioned by its necessary and redemptive creativity (i.e. its power over historical necessity), allied to the archaeology of knowledge transmitted in the meaning of technicity itself, which creates an unexpected conceptual dichotomy here. For if the dynamic of recurrent causality creates the milieu associé for the pro-active transmission of information essential to the liberating mediation of human individuals, the cultural value of this informational development is dependent upon the continued retrieval of meaning from the temporal ground of technicity itself. Technological culture thus looks forward to its necessary futurity and back to its essential genesis in history.

The apparent paradox is similar to that of Husserl in "The Origin of Geometry", where the central concept of the re-activation of originary knowledge—when we understand something about the world we are re-activating the experience of the original knower—is at the heart of the phenomenology of self-presence, by which human beings inhabit their life-world. Where Simondon differs from Husserl is in his use of creative information distinct from cultural meaning: in the same way as he wishes to bring individual nature back into the human domain by refusing the status of conflict or value hitherto assigned to technological objects in themselves, so he wishes to transform the essentially melancholy hermeneutics of Husserl (for whom the subject transcends his temporality in re-activating historical knowledge) into a mode of creativity directed towards the future. The past is repository of a genealogy of technology, not of its repeated genesis.

This ambivalent structure of creativity—the content of Whitehead’s concrescence and Simondon’s concretization—does not permit an ethical or conceptual antithesis between technique and technology. Theoretically, the difference derives entirely from the relation to the unique occasion of the event as being the ground of meaning whose becoming is coincidental with the event itself. In this sense the difference is one of extension beyond the occasion: technology surpasses any notion of the ontology of the local event, whereas technique is a continually repeated ekstasis of local events. This is not to attribute the two terms to archaic categories of universal and particular. On the contrary, both derive precisely from the meaning generated by the experience of the event: technology is a systematic investment—in every sense of the term—in the reduction of the event-nexus to the status of an element of a future extension; whereas technique is such an investment experienced unsystematically as generated by the event itself. Whitehead’s definition of what he calls "the principle of relativity" must be seen, at this stage, as applicable potentially to both technology and technique, as long as the virtual and the actual remain distinct: "That the potential for being an element in a real concrescence of many entities into one actuality is the one general metaphysical character attaching to all entities, actual and non-actual; and that every item in its universe is involved in each concrescence." Both technology and technique are thus experientially open-ended terms; both are conditions of suspended or virtual futurity. Where the distinction will here be made is in their actual relation to temporality.

If the melancholy of Saturn is a kind of paroxysm of the transcendental ego of Husserl’s phenomenology, its historically ironic apotheosis, the melancholy of Simondon’s informational culture lies ironically in its creative supersession of the transcendental or alienated human subject. In the privileging of mediation he posits a field of information whose mobility, extendedness and mutability are co-terminous with its value, since it is inhabited by human beings not seeking value beyond it in metaphysical notions of freedom. Field is synonymous with event-structure, since the genealogy of events is consigned to a history which can only be archeological; the value created by technology in use is not the same as the value deposited in past technical elements, whose use is over. The human attitude towards these objects is thus either one of technical drama or of mourning, since the consciousness involved cannot be identical in each case, but must experience its own difference in the difference between temporality and historicity. In either case, the refusal of contemporary status to the historical object, and the impossibility of experiencing the historicity of the new, recreate the dualism of presence and absence whose affect is one of mourning and melancholy.

If I have gone on at some length into summarizing Simondon’s arguments, it is with a view to defining the notion of temporal technique as distinct from historical technicity, in such a way as to overcome the dualism of which melancholy is a symptom. Technique cannot be hypostatized as atemporal, in the same way as, for Whitehead, determination is a function of continuity, and ultimately of history, since it is dynamic: "...to ‘function’ means to contribute determination to the actual entities in the nexus of some actual world. Thus the determinateness and self-identity of one entity cannot be abstracted from the community of the diverse functionings of all entities".

Walter Benjamin’s description of the angel of history, facing backwards as civilizations crash in ruins at its feet, is perhaps the last expression of the failure to reconcile historicity and temporality outside of Romantic narcissism. Heidegger’s mise-en-scène, in "The Origin of the Work of Art," of world and earth, sees techne as both the substance and condition of creating a world standing within the rift of the earth’s discovering: the world brought into being by the technical object, or the art work, finds its sanction in the earth which is beyond and before all technique. Heidegger’s "world" is the conceptual equivalent of Simondon’s milieu associé, a function of the creative desire for the compossibility of the present and the future. But while the world needs the earth, the earth does not need the world, even though the two are functionally inseparable, like affects of ambivalence; hence the enormous value Heidegger attaches to what amounts to an essential melancholy of poetry, the purpose of whose technique is to recreate a world which, in the poet Hölderlin’s words, quoted by Heidegger, has not existed "since we have been a conversation [or discourse]" ("Versöhnender, der du nimmergeglaubt…"). The defeat of Saturn and the chthonic Titans by the airborne Olympians, and their consignment to the earth to rot in their melancholy, is the inverted projection of a change in technical economies: the melancholy of the Olympians, repressed in the satisfaction of their technical liberation from the earth, is split off and projected as inhering in those defeated by the catastrophe of change. Because the Titans do not possess the new technology, they cannot be of the same nature; and while they are enslaved to a single emotional condition, that of alienation and defeat, the Olympians can enjoy the disputes of their different technical competencies and the dramatic neuroses which they inform.

Heidegger’s scheme involves the same inversion, because of the hypostatizing of the earth within semantics as both substantive and horizonal: it becomes a finality of precisely the kind from which Simondon’s information culture is supposed to liberate us. This is because technique is considered as being on this side of the earth, which is compossible with the technical object or the artwork only as a rift, and ultimately as the ineffable "presence" of death. The earth cannot be used, because it would revert to its irreducible status as the ground of the real of human experience. Heidegger’s earth is the measure of our imagination of the real as it becomes the only thing it can become, the world. The earth is here the analog of Whitehead’s Process, as Reality is the analog of the world. These terms are not hypostases, but functions of the event- structure of process; unless, that is, they are sanctified (which is Henri Meschonnic’s criticism of Heidegger in Le Signe et le poème). Where Simondon’s technical consciousness is split between retroactive and pro-active dynamics, Heidegger’s is split ontologically on the question of the negative; hence his recourse to what Adorno called "the jargon of authenticity". Again, the dualism arises from the positing of world and earth as linguistically transcendent: they are substantives beyond substantiality, fields whose essential being is atemporal (since between them, and only between them, they transcend the temporality of meaning), disposed within and around experience as the products of temporal events. The earth is depository of death, as for Simondon the historical object is depository of technicity. Indeed, it could not be any other way, in this scheme of things: for to ascribe to the technical act the power of "recovering" time (and thereby eluding it) in the manner of Husserl’s hermeneutical/technical re-activation would be to ignore the difference and the threat of techne, to counter which Heidegger erects the shadow of the earth. In this sense Husserl’s is a Romantic philosophy, while Heidegger’s partakes of Modernist dislocation: Husserl’s re-activation abolishes effective temporality, while Heidegger’s uses transcendent earth-time against factitious world-time. In the first case technique is the meaning-bearing form of subjectivity; in the second it leads up to meaning without being able to bear meaning itself, which is always to be uncovered in the concealment of the earth (which is beyond technique).

Although it may appear a less than rigorous procedure, one can usefully see the flight from Husserl’s transcendental re-activation of technique in the divorce between information and meaning in what is loosely known as Postmodern culture. For if the definition of meaning as the consequential value of information holds absolutely in the cases of Husserl and Heidegger (both of whom, in different ways, wrestle with the phenomenology of temporal inference), it is clearly an a posteriori argument to trace the fates of information and meaning from the manifestations of Postmodernism. The "-ism" is as vague as any other, and in any case the relations between a cultural trend and society are fraught with conflicts and contradictions. Modernism is as much a rejection of the Machine Age as a celebration of it; and the life of its works lies elsewhere. Postmodernist "technique" privileges information above meaning, since the latter is seen as burdened with historical melancholy; this is a form of piety typical of all crypto-theologies. From the architecture of Charles Jencks and Philip Johnson to the novels of Don DeLillo and American "Language" poetry the effort is the same: to treat forms and signs as divested of transcendent meaning, as de-historicized information which, when juxtaposed, will create new, redemptive meaning divorced from the burden of association and the genealogy of ethical and aesthetic values. The art work becomes a mediation between the putative consciousness of the present and the cultural/technical body of information used as a field: the relation between forms and objects of culture is purely paradigmatic, the syntagmatic process being consigned precisely to the projection of the paradigmatic as creative by definition. The appearance of a Greek capital on a skyscraper is a citation without historical consciousness—and not, therefore, the type of citation intrinsic to culture as described by Roland Barthes. The Greek capital might as well be anything else; what counts above all is its place within a paradigm of possible choices. In other words, the historical object is treated as pure information without significant or axiological consequence. What is obliterated is the milieu associé which the object creates from within its own process of becoming, what Heidegger called the world. The Greek capital creates nothing but the complacency of a culture that has escaped the neuroses inherited from history. Simultaneously—although such an observation is not strictly necessary here—the informational gesture of the Postmodern, signaled as being no homage to the past, also obliterates the Heideggerian sanction of the earth, split off and projected into the negative as being that from which contemporary culture has freed itself.

Like the complicated (and not complex) ludic accretions of information which characterize Postmodern literature (information which is often self-canceling, so that it produces minimal as well as maximal extension in the work), the privileging of the informational sign or signal— the equating of artistic technique with the manipulation of information —avoids entirely the question of historicity as a continuously polyvalent multiplicity of series of events by disposing it as an informational field. Yet what is most efficiently significant is not the element as depository of technicity, but the technicity of which it is depository, and which, as the mortality of technique, is the value of the catastrophe which brought the element into being. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz has written that French writers see the world as a spectacle, whereas Anglo-Saxons see it as an event. Whatever the merit of Paz’s observation, the distinction is a useful one here. Technique, technicity and meaning are functions, that is, determined and determining parts of an extended multiplicity of events; they cannot be fixed as spectacles. Whitehead’s "principle of relativity" sees no absolute distinction between events "in" consciousness (such as meaning) and events "outside" it (such as Simondon’s concretization of the technical object). To divorce information from meaning is to reduce acts performed upon and within the world to spectacles, of which technique is the sign and technology the ground. This is inevitable once the control of information (and the ironic relinquishing of control to the technology of information that one sees in the development of Artificial Intelligence) becomes the horizon of human freedom—again, freedom from, as information is information about. Technology here becomes an extension of Enlightenment encyclopaedism, by which the human subject gains access to every known technique, not as practice or experience, but as pure information divorced from meaning.

For Simondon, the artisan culture, in which the subject is initiated into a secret knowledge which is the effective form of his relation to the world, is limited because it is not open to change and development. The artisan’s technique locks him into nature, into the earth and into death, since it refuses the temporality of the material world by taking refuge in its own status as a living archaeology of knowledge. In a sense, the artisan lives in an eternal past, bound religiously in a worship of the dead whose presence is a transparition in the material objects produced. Simondon inverts Heidegger’s primacy of the artisan by ascribing value to continuous futurity as the other of the artisan’s practice, where for Heidegger such practice is valuable precisely because of its being turned towards its own mortality. The intermediate position of the artisan as technical individual, between the element and the ensemble, is for Simondon a human defeat, since man is there enslaved to the status of a machine whose tools are perverse extensions of the body. The advent of technological instruments which allow perceiving to extend over the domain of doing, so that perceiving progressively supplements and subsumes doing, is seen as a step on the way to control, to liberated authority and creativity; perceiving becomes a transvalued mode of doing.

Again, this view of technique, married to the archaisms of factive enslavement in the middle of a technical field, takes no account of the event-structure of the technical act, its multivalence within structures of consciousness and irony which operate from within it, through multiple concrescences. Simondon’s is not a hermeneutics of culture, if that term is taken to refer to the position of the other as free from the historicity read back into the past from a present of "increased" know-ledge. A human being enslaved to work in the position of the technical individual is not alienated by the mere fact of that position, but by the structures of power and meaning that operate contemporaneously with it. When the power structure of industrial capitalism or of feudal societies locked human beings into such positions, the psychic and existential economies involved were open to other futurities than just the technological; for example, the religious and the political. That such futurities no longer exist—or no longer bear the same meaning—does not mean that they were not real; indeed, Simondon’s claim to indicate the direction of cultural and social progress through a new dispensation of the technological, in spite of its nobility in ascribing integrity to past manifestations, and in desiring the unification of the social, cultural and technological fields in a different order of possibility, relies upon a model of past blindness and present insight which is in itself historically circumscribed: "History is […] not a duration (durée) but a multiplicity of durations which interlock and envelop each other. We must therefore substitute for the old notion of time the notion of multiple durations" (Michel Foucault, Dits et écrits, II. 279). Whitehead’s tensile structure of interlocking concrescences releases human acts from technological determinism into an unpredictable and polyvalent creativity. If there is a multiplicity of durations, there is also a multiplicity of futurities.

If technique is the event of creation whose paradigms in history have been lost (paradigms of value and belief, as well as more specifically material paradigms of existence whose effects are unknowable since they are particular to individual experience), technology is the ideology of power divorced from the ethical, precisely because it excludes negativity, specifically the negativity of its own blindness. Technology always defines itself as insightful, in that it claims to give access to creativity. Yet it always requires an ethical adjunct: Simondon in particular rejects the fear of the omnipotent robot by arguing that machines are always going to be in the service of man. This assurance comes not from within technology, since it requires a consciousness of the negative even if only to reject it as unreal.

Technology is industrialized power; information technology, as in Simondon’s argument, seeks mediation as the supreme value, thereby occluding the problem of the economic hegemony exercised in the world by those economies which control technology. By claiming a mediating role, by situating the idea of finality within an outmoded metaphysics, technology projects negativity into the non-technological in exactly the same way as the Olympian power structure projected melancholy into the existential field of the Titans, creatures of the earth.

The conflict between industrialization and what is known as Basic Needs technology in economic planning for the Third World highlights the role of technological finitude which the ideology of power can never admit. It is not sufficient to argue that technology creates its own values within an ever-expanding horizon of development; that resembles the spurious argument that the market economy is free of ethical values. In the current global economy, all the values of technology are created under the sign of power; this is an ironic sedimentation of Whitehead’s "principle of relativity", by which each actual entity "in its universe is involved in each concrescence". Conversely, this power precipitates what was only ever of virtual significance, and applicable to technology as well: namely, that all the values of technique are created under the sign of mortality. Technology, in its use and in the meaning derived from that use, is now the material form of immortality, of a reality which is becoming more and more virtual as it distances itself from the irreducible negativity of human experience. What is unassuaged is our desire for antithetical forms of mortality, for perceptible forms ("actual entities") which can entertain a relation with technology, since illness, failure and decrepitude lie outside the semantics of the technological. There is no opposition to be made here between technology and technique, since both lie before the process of mortality; perhaps the only technique is the technique of mortality itself.

Uncertainty is an essential part of technique: there is no assurance that a technical act will succeed, whether in the fabrication of an object or the creation of an art work, in social negotiation or in political planning, in the phenomenology of individual experience or in the exploration of intersubjectivity. The difficulty of this experience of uncertainty can be seen in the twentieth century artistic and philosophical taste for aporia, which has become a major cultural virtue, whether in the philosophy of Derrida, the psychoanalysis of Lacan or the fiction of Beckett. The Dionysian aphorism of Nietzsche became the evidence of finitude in the aphorisms of Wittgenstein and the paratactic maneuvers of post-Modernist poetry; mutatis mutandis, one need only compare the aphorisms of La Rochefoucauld with those of Wittgenstein (or of Wallace Stevens) to see the evaporation of cultural identity forming their background. The occlusion of metaphysical horizons (which also occluded horizons of cultural and ethical value) is what limits the informational citations of Postmodernist architecture to the status of aporetic informational forms.

Technique is what inhabits and informs the head of Janus, technologically evacuated by the renunciation of archaic notions of the unified self; but that is a self available as spectacle, as object, whereas any useful notion of the self must be on the ground of an event-structure, unable to posit its mortality and negativity in even a putative field such as that of Heidegger’s earth. Technique is the confrontation of mourning and melancholy in exactly the same way as language, in psychoanalysis, is most "efficient" when it speaks the subject’s mourning. The subject’s language is never in the place of the subject, which can only be approached antithetically and asymptotically; language is symptomatic, and bears the same relation to reality as technique does to the material world. If efficiency is to have any meaning it must take into account the compossibility of success and failure in the technical act; to claim that the human is to be considered (i.e. thought, spoken or written about) outside of language is illogical, and language is the language of failure. Success as access to expandedness and futurity may occur thanks to language, but not wholly within it. This parallelism is one of the features both of Postmodernism (in the juxtaposition of statement and quotation) and of information technology (in the so-called multivector or multitask processors, which use several micro-processors in parallel), but it is in both cases a positivist parallelism. Postmodernist "technique" denies the reactivation of the past as active memory, preferring to repeat certain gestures informationally, and to project the creative act outside of subjectivity while retaining complete subjective control over the organization of the technical elements. For the Other can never be interjected into consciousness; ironically, Postmodernism retains the same archaic notion of the subject which it claims to deny, because it cannot relinquish the desire for control, even the control of its own ironic historicity. Contemporary Northern culture, underpinned by technology, has a hankering for the unacknowledged complacencies of Romantic irony.

Of course, it would be naive simply to equate Postmodernism with technology. Yet Postmodernism, if that generic term can be allowed to stand, and technology are analogous in their relation to memory, which they use as always voluntary: either memory serves to increase the power of the machine, or else it is obliterated to increase the "freedom from" of the present. Involuntary memory (e.g. Proust’s famous madeleine biscuit in A la recherche du temps perdu) is itself the living form of Janus, in that it splits the "field" of the lived present into an event. The act of tasting the madeleine throws Marcel back involuntarily into memories of the past, and experientially into the past. The functioning of microprocessors is limited by the limitations on their memory, since their experiential dynamic is entirely pro-active: memory is for use. This dichotomy is perfectly illustrated by Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape. The aged Krapp is listening to a tape he made at the age of thirty-nine, on which he is declaring the happiness he has found in love and his consequent decision to cease recording, since there will no longer be any need for it. The old man listens over and over again to the lyrical speech of his younger self now become unbearably poignant in his loneliness and decrepitude. The tape’s memory and the man’s memory belong to two different worlds which can never be reconciled except in the desperate shuttling back and forth of rewind. Krapp exists, if anywhere, in this catastrophic movement which is nothing but the event-structure, the concrescence, of his mortality. The machine, once a solace and a pleasure, has become an instrument of torture, not because it has the inhuman power of automatism but because it consigns him to the melancholy of defeat. There is no mediation possible except in a continuous dislocation and dismemberment of subjectivity. The imagination of mortality and affect of mourning shadow the efficient memory of the machine from which Krapp is excluded by the mere fact of his difference.

This leads us to the observation that real technology and virtual technology are of different natures, if real and virtual are taken to refer to the degree to which mortality composes the experiential field of their operation. The first involves conflictual meaning and the second non-conflictual meaning (i.e. the assumption that there is pure information which has a value per se). It could be argued that this is a false distinction, since all technology becomes real as it becomes past: the Gothic cathedral, the great iron structures of the nineteenth century and the super-computer are all the real solutions to virtual problems. The difference lies in the excess of means which characterized those earlier technologies: the cathedral or the bridge employ more strength than is necessary for the weight to be borne, the technical means exceeding the effective end. The supplement is a supplement of the human imagination unsure as to the response of the material: the structure is a priori so threatened by mortality that excessive means must be used to guarantee its survival. In information technology, on the other hand, there is a convergence of means and ends. It uses the information it generates as its own material: it is the apotheosis of subjectivity projected into the domain of the material, which thereby becomes virtual (subjective-in-itself).

Furthermore, information technology, like all advanced technologies, is surrounded by a financial and political network which constitutes its true technical ensemble and is already, to continue Simondon’s terminology, its milieu associé. Electronic fund management is a fusion of the financial and the technological to the point where they become synonymous. Such technology has transformed the South into our Titans: our memory is no longer chthonic but ecological. We need a fundamental reappraisal of the creative event as the consequential value of language and act reinvested in the precarity of the human situation. Failure—including the "failure" of the South to be as efficient as the North—is an essential part of creation, having value when it re-activates the memory of time and the experience of mortality. Failure in technology has no such effect on technology, which is and always will be deprived of the transhistorical genetic function which consciousness is. The sinking of the Titanic, the explosion of the American space shuttle Challenger, the failure of a transplant operation, are perceived as tragedy and as technical problem on two different registers, the human and the inhuman. Technological failure destroys the mediation between these two domains, where the failure of technique, the creative event under the sign of mortality, reinforces it. Deaths due to technological failure are instantly expelled from the technological sphere, which cannot admit of mortality.

The artist is the mediator between the conceptual North of technology and the conceptual South of mortality. Artists are only the most obvious example, not the only one. The American poet Ezra Pound described them, with some justification, as "the antennae of the race". For the technological to recover meaning it must confront the ethical realities which consign the majority of the earth’s population to economic enslavement, and precisely bar their access to Simondon’s "authority". The patronizing attempts to "respect cultural diversity" on the part of the technologically powerful economies is an operation designed to reduce the other to the status of information; witness the hegemony of certain television companies in the diffusion of so-called alternative youth music. The videos of rock groups carry only an image of difference; they are denied the possibility of creating a counterculture by the power of finance and technology, whatever the manifestations of their culture away from the screen. Technology has raised information to the status of a cultural object by its inability to admit the subjective side of the catastrophe inherent in Simondon’s law of relaxation, applied both globally to the culture as a whole and individually to the evolution of the subject in his acquisition of knowledge about the world and his acts within and upon it. We are elements, individuals and ensembles interacting polyvalently with the human and the inhuman in a series of creative and catastrophic events alternately within and outside our control. We are transductive of all of these things as both inherited knowledge and inherited ignorance, both of which inform the technical acts of our purchase on the real.

The speed of technological change is a function of contemporary desire to escape from the stasis of melancholy to the dream of virtual reality as permanent supersession. Subjectivity is the inhabiting of a complex of actual occasions, a nexus of events which is unique in its temporal occurrence, no matter how much it is a function of repetitive structures or subject to what Whitehead calls the "ingressions" of the non-actual (for example, the recurrent causality of technical progress or the serial law of neurosis). In that sense the subject is a function of belief, not as the object of desire but as a mode of desiring, principally desiring to be conscious of the material reality of mortality. Hence the antithetical dualisms which riddle our thinking and our culture: as Beckett writes in The Unnameable, "the role of objects is to restore silence." The role of technology has become one of abolishing silence as the belief in the reality of the object has been eroded. Yet, again, the object is no more an object of belief than belief itself is an object of thought: they are complex events seized in the spatialized time of meaning, the putative unity of finite experience. Both cultural and technical objects, whether element, individual or ensemble, are events like entering a skyscraper, reading a poem, overcoming the fear of flying, learning how to use a computer or mourning the death of a parent. All these situations can comprise elements of melancholy, anxiety or freedom inscribed within their temporal occurrence. We are born into authority; from many it is stolen, but none needs technology to gain access to it.

The human subject is at one remove from the technological subject because the authority of the former precedes that of the latter by virtue of the instability of the dynamics of consciousness. Creativity is multidirectional: Janus has many faces, some of which are forever hidden from knowledge. Meaning occurs at the interface of what exists and what does not yet exist, the one infinitely regressive, the other infinitely progressive; hence, for example, the ambivalence of art in relation to the past, and the determining function of memory in thought. Technique is what inscribes the subject in the world astride what Hölderlin called the caesura of the present, where melancholy and creativity are the reciprocal conditions of the event itself, rather than of the subject. Technique is the sanction of the finite subject, because it brings to bear a multiplicity of constitutive energies upon a circumscribed occasion of meaning. This is the creative, non-transcendent obverse of Husserl’s re-activation of the past: what is more urgent is to find the value of the activation of the present, its precariously creative plenitude and catastrophic self-evacuation, its paradoxical status as both temporal process and atemporal form, its inability to be either identical to itself or different from itself. The irony is that such value can only ever be performed, not thought; and this is precisely the motive of technology. Nobody’s hands are on the future.