Tekhnema 3 / "A Touch of Memory" / Spring 1996


Howard Caygill & George Collins

When Socrates solicited the geometrical problem from the memory of the slave-boy in the Meno he both secured and endangered the philosophical heritage.  The proof of anamnesis, the immortality of the soul and the eternal character of truth was accomplished by means of affect and techne.  On the one hand, the coaxing persuasion of the free man and the slave-boy’s willingness to please a master produced memory and truth; on the other hand, the production of this truth and of recollection was itself accomplished by means of techne, by drawing a geometrical figure in the sand.  Philosophy here approaches the condition of sophistry, using affect and techne to produce a scene of memory, truth and immortality — a scene which is at the same time forgotten by the philosophical tradition which the Meno helps to inaugurate.  This oblivion of the affective and technical condition of philosophy returns in the shape of aporias, notably around time, the body and identity.

In the Meno, techne is considered by Plato as the slave of the slave and affect the prerogative power of the philosopher: the latter directs the slave, who, in turn, uses techne with which to inscribe the figure.  What we could consider as the inseparability of affect and techne is here, in the inaugural gesture of philosophy, split.  With this split techne and affect separate out into individual (if related) instances.  And yet, from the beginning, techne and affect are working the double “slavery” that informs philosophy, not only securing it, but also allowing it to forget itself.  Hence techne dissembles itself and, in so doing, evacuates the affect inherent to the “master/slave” conflict that is evergiving within philosophy.  The unobtrusive service to philo-sophy rendered by techne, while paradoxically permitting it to pretend to live forever in contemplation of the eternal ideas, also announces philosophy’s death.  By remembering techne, philosophy jeopardizes its own mastery and loses what distinguished it from the affective arts of rhetoric and sophistry.  It re-invents through this “loss,” however, the inseparability of the affective and the technical; and it is within this inseparability that the chance of the future, as well as political invention, are promised.

Howard Caygill


The contributors to this issue of Tekhnema—dedicated to the theme “A Touch of Memory”—continue the working through of the philosophical heritage bequeathed by the Meno.  Through a variety of forms and employing a number of different approaches they attempt to reorganize relations holding between affect, techne and “truth” (whether this truth be that of science or of philosophy), each time taking into account the “touches” of memory, the connections in memory between inscription and affect.  The contributors situate these relations at a number of levels, in art, artificial intelligence and biology, as well as through a number of thinkers who have themselves organized the terms of philosophical succession—Plato, Nietzsche, Freud, Husserl.

Inheriting and reinscribing the tradition of painting in a dialectic of figure and ground, as well as in concepts of absolute abstract and concrete form (for which the abstract/figurative distinction is more than ever irrelevant), Greg Bright’s “From The Way to Paint” can be considered as a theoretical and practical negotiation with the inseparability of affect and techne.  Bright calls upon philosophy while painting it over in a masterly repetition of the Meno.  On the one hand, this repetition yields a drawing of the “end of the human” and, on the other, it issues in a style of affective rationality in paintings with which this “end” is in constant negotiation.  These responses to the question of painting in terms of the longevity of body are left unsynthesized.

In the next article by Jean Lassègue, “What Kind of Turing Test Did Turing Have in Mind?”, the link of affect to truth, together with its entailments, are explored in an intriguing questioning of the logic of the Turing test in artificial intelligence, one which, Lassègue argues, in turn puts in question some of the major presuppositions of AI.

The second group of articles by Bernard Stiegler, Richard Beardsworth and Howard Caygill attempt a working through of the philosophical tradition in terms of memory and affect, questioning and rethinking, in so doing, the norms by which memory is thought and legislated upon in the sciences and/or scientific culture.

Stiegler’s reading of Husserl, Plato and Freud, “Persephone, Oedipus, Epimetheus,” rewrites the figure of techne in philosophical memory, proposing, in a reinscription of the aporias of philosophy, a concept of “tertiary memory” that precedes and transforms the dilemmas posed by the Meno.  This memory, organized as “epiphylogenesis,” opens up a new figure of techne which exceeds, all the while underwriting, philosophy’s aporias together with the tradition of distinctions that congregate around them.  Stiegler’s reflection thereby actively affirms a “tragic” past forgotten in the Platonic aporia, opening up spaces of invention between philosophy, science and the humanities in terms of an originary “de-fault” inherent in the epiphylogenetic character and fate of human life.

Beardsworth’s article, “Nietzsche, Freud and the Complexity of the Human: Towards a Philosophy of Failed Digestion,” pleads for a more rather than less interesting organization of debate and exchange between the technosciences and the humanities.  The specificity and complexity of hominization now require that the retreat into humanism or the metaphysical constructs of the technosciences be relinquished for a finer focus on human and nonhuman organizations of energy.  To this end Beardsworth works with a theory of differential economies of energy which are inscribed.  This inscription with regard to processes of hominization arises from the originary dependence of the human, that is, in Beardsworth’s terms, its originary technicity and originary sexuality.  The touch of the genetic engineer, the touch of the mother or father in a recentered Freudian corpus, as well as the touch of spirit in a refigured Nietzsche, testify to the possibility of a non-prescriptive democratic future of political imagination.

Caygill’s article, “Drafts for a Metaphysics of the Gene,” reveals the metaphysical construct informing the contemporary popular culture of the gene.  The affect in the construct is, following Nietzsche, the fear and revenge of the slave and the open-ended aftermath of the death of God; and its techne is embodied in the philosopher physician’s unbounded, still pious faith in the powers of science.  The popular culture of genetics has, according to Caygill, inherited this faith.  However, in a re-reading of Plato, Caygill argues that the expulsion of the philosopher physician will ensue in his being recalled to legislate in a republic on the same grounds: i.e., for his technical abilities to overcome the tragic play of chance and necessity.  Caygill concludes to the undecidability and finitude of Platonic techne which, like contemporary popular culture, may collapse into hubris or re-open the tragic question: to what extent can techne influence the play of chance and necessity and be influenced by them?

After the tragic, this issue of Tekhnema concludes with a satyr play, Daniel Gunn’s “Pieces of Eight! Coquilles Saint-Jacques!  In this comedy and agon of the supplement, Gunn straps on David Wills’s Prosthesis (Stanford University Press: 1995) and decides, in the wake of this work’s prosthetic digressions, to digress himself onto Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  Travelling there in memory both confirms for Gunn the impact and heuristic force of Wills’s prosthetic artifact and nurtures a negative affect that leads him to a close, partly uncomprehending, often provocative reading of the author’s blending of theoretical and affective “styles” and interpretative tactics with regard to a literary and interdisciplinary elaboration of techne and affect.

The articles in this issue convene a rethinking of the relation between techne and the political which again returns to the scene of Meno as the originary site of the future of the human in terms of the conflicts and forgotten affinities between technicity, memory and affect.  Bright’s pain and reflection over the aporetic task of painting, Lassègue’s explosion of the Turing test under the sway of sexual affectivity, Stiegler’s recovery of the tragic in the siting of the eide, Caygill’s option for chance both within and without the tragic play of chance and necessity, Beardsworth’s argument for facilitations of energy which issue in a release of time, and Gunn’s ambivalent Auseinandersetzung with Wills can be read as coming together in a plea for a reinscription and reinvention of a politics of time in the aftermath of that mourning of the political that has organized the orientation of political memory and affect in the latter half of the twentieth century. 

George Collins