Tekhnema 4 / "The Temporal Object"/ Spring 1998

Towards a Critical Culture of the Image – J. Derrida and B. Stiegler, Echographies de la télévision. Entretiens filmés, Galilée-INA, Paris: 1996

Richard Beardsworth

Four thousand years of linear writing have accustomed us to separating art from writing. André Leroi-Gourhan

Beginning to write without the line. Jacques Derrida

One of the most evident effects of the increasingly explicit technicization of the world is the predominance of the image – or, more often, "tele-" image – in ever broader but converging domains of experience. For many, the subordination of experience to the image has come to represent best the cultural fate of modern technology. The judgment is not fortuitous. Since human consciousness is more immediately implicated in the effects of the image than of those of other processes of technicization, the image has become a major collective site of reflection upon technics. This is also not fortuitous. The predominance of the image in contemporary actuality is due, precisely, to its ability to affect us quasi-immediately. This quasi-immediacy is a consequence of at least three factors: digitalization, what is called "real time," and the present sway held by economic "logic" over political and cultural processes. Inextricably linked, these factors form part of a technico-economic complex that has made the image into the prevalent contemporary vehicle of human communication, identification and symbolization at a world level. This complex is explicitly transforming traditional and modern forms of organization (economic, social, political and cultural) as well as the terms in which reflection and judgment (political, cultural and ethical) upon such transformation are to be articulated. The tele-image, together with the complex which makes it possible, have thus become the site of negotiation for the future of culture as such.

In the last few years critical reflection upon the increasing predominance of the image within society has as a whole tended to be reactive (in the Nietzschean sense). For it has been pitched in terms of "resistance" to the image and to the poverty of indifferentiation that has accompanied its socio-cultural growth. Such critiques – at times profound and welcome with regard to their adversary, the politically empty neo-liberal affirmation of contemporary technical processes1 – have often come from radically heterogeneous cultural formations (both religions and secular, ethnic and cosmopolitan, the Left and the Right of the political spectrum), as if the process of indifferentiation that accompany the image’s rule has until now also oriented critical reaction to it. This is at least the case in Europe.

It is in this context that Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler’s Echographies de la télévision. Entretiens filmés is an important and welcome book. Made up of a long interview with Derrida, conducted by Stiegler, on the contemporary teletechnologies, flanked by two individual pieces by each philosopher (respectively "Artefactualités" and "L'image discrète"), Echographies constitutes a reflective intervention in the field of the tele-image, and the teletechnologies in general, that has important implications for both our understanding of the image and our relation to it. For Echographies sets the terms for a critical relation to the image which re-inscribes the above positions of economic "affirmation" and cultural/intellectual "resistance" within an economy that exceeds their pertinence. It does this by situating the image within its present technical and economic actuality as well as by relating this actuality to wider questions of inscription, time and space. This is the first importance of the volume; other reasons for its interest emerge from it.

It is, for example, to the credit of Bernard Stiegler to have arranged such an interview given that its axes of reflection carefully foreground the political pertinence of Derridean deconstruction today: not only in terms of its specific reflection upon technics but also, and more importantly, in terms of its more general reflection upon the relations holding between contemporary technics, time, space, politics, and thinking or reflection as such. The very nature of the conversation between Stiegler and Derrida gives Derrida occasion to be precise about how his own thought appraises and responds to contemporary actuality in political, ethical and critical terms. At a time when the political credentials of deconstruction are often still suspected, Echographies serves, therefore, as a sharp reminder of the general importance of Derridean thought to innovative political reflection of the future.

Echographies is, however, not just a mise au point of Derrida’s philosophy. This is because Derrida’s interviewer, Bernard Stiegler, has himself a very powerful and original philosophical position regarding the teletechnologies. As a result the interview not only borders on a true exchange of ideas, it also bears witness to an important intellectual tension between the two men concerning the relation between philosophy, technology and politics. As we shall see, the tension concerns ultimately the relation between determination and the future. Now if Echographies is all the more interesting a text for not just being an interview, it is at the same time disappointing for this very reason. For the tension between Derrida and Stiegler is never properly articulated given that their conversation remains in form and diction precisely too much of an interview. Stiegler’s thoughts are as a result cramped, and Derrida’s responses to his questions and interventions remain too much within the ambit and terms of his own philosophy. Having read both the interview and the separate pieces from each philosopher, the reader is consequently left at the end with the sense that an important articulation between technology, politics and reflection has been entered upon but not brought to a satisfactory intellectual conclusion (be it one where the lines of disagreement are simply made clear).

In the following I will be concerned with these three aspects of the book: Derrida’s important elaboration of a critical relation to the image, Stiegler’s own dense response to the question of the contemporary teletechnologies and, finally, the nature of the tension between the two that Echographies articulates and yet only organizes at a symptomatic level.


Near the beginning of the interview, having pointed out that, for deconstruction, writing is already a teletechnology, Stiegler asks Derrida in what "specificity" contemporary teletechnologies lie. The question returns under many guises throughout the interview, a return that suggests both the strategic importance of the question and a certain sense of dissatisfaction on Stiegler’s part with Derrida’s answer (one which will serve us later as guide to Stiegler’s own preoccupations with this specificity and to what the interview does not articulate in its regard). Derrida’s response is both highly consistent with his thinking upon writing and arche-writing since Of Grammatology and permits him to rehearse the ethico-political implications of this thinking that have explicitly come forward in work from the 1980s. It thus threads together, in a prudent and impressively economic manner, the relations holding between the trace, writing, technology and the ethico-political purchase of the absolute future – what he has theorized since the middle 1980s in terms of the "promise" or the "messianic."2

Derrida's response to the question of the "specificity" of the contemporary teletechnologies is twofold. On the one hand, he stresses the fact that there is nothing new, that is, that

whatever this specificity, it does not suddenly replace a natural or immediate speech with prosthesis, teletechnology, etc. There have always been, there always are such machines, even in the age of handwriting, even in the course of a so-called live conversation. (p. 47)

On the other hand, he emphasizes that their singularity lies in the fact that

the greatest compatibility, the greatest coordination, the liveliest possible affinity appears to be imposing itself today between what seems the most alive, live, and différance or delay, the delay in the exploitation or diffusion of the living. (ibid.)

With this dual response, Derrida tackles the "today" of the tele-image as a new epoch of "writing" (rather than of an image in distinction to writing) through which moves, and is to be articulated as such, the general movement of différance, discreteness and spacing. The tele-image is accordingly approached theoretically qua a singular synthesis of time and space (one that "appears" immediate), which singularity is nevertheless analyzed and understood from within a differential movement of synthesis (an economy) that includes all types of marks. This major point carries several implications which I will group together for reasons of clarity although they are deployed by Derrida over the time of the interview as a whole as well as in his separate piece "Artefactualités."
- First: any opposition of the image to the written word – together with the cultural and political stakes accompanying such an opposition – is seen to be untenable. For both the image and the written word are effects of what Of Grammatology called "arche-writing" (a differential structure of discrete marks, or spacing) which includes the digital image as much as the ideogrammatic, pictographic, phonetic or alphabetic mark. This means that just as one cannot oppose the image to the word, so, also, one cannot not think the contemporary technologies in relatively specific terms. It is consequently from the backdrop, as it were, of arche-writing that Derrida constantly resists seeing the teletechnological as something "absolutely" specific: I will come back to this later when developing Stiegler’s own response to the terms of this specificity.
- Second: Derrida analyzes the above spacing of the tele-image in terms of the spacing between temporal ecstases that the immediacy of the image in real time appears to flatten out. With the teletechnologies, the near and far are brought together in such a way that the "spacing" of time and space is radically reduced. For Derrida, it is this reduction which characterizes the "specificity" of contemporary actuality. Thus critical reflection upon the tele-image is placed within a more broad thinking of the spacing of time and space.
- Third: for Derrida, just as this reduction of time and space carries crucial and urgent ethical and political connotations, so it is here that the task of philosophy in relation to actuality is located (see especially, pp. 13, 19 and 28 of his "Artefactualités"). For if the end of totalitarian regimes was due more to the pervasiveness of the teletechnologies than to human rights, the post-Cold War world is one in which time and place are now foregrounded as immediately ethical and political issues. The ethico-political cannot, that is, be thought today either without reflecting upon time and space as such or without articulating the relations between the spacing of time and space, on the one hand, and technics, on the other (the most contemporary form of which are the "teletechnologies"). In foregrounding so decisively the political nature of time and space today, Echographies makes an important contribution to the terms in which political reflection is to be rethought after the demise of the traditional Left.
- Fourth: concomitant with the twofoldness of the above response to teletechnological specificity, Derrida understands this reflection throughout the interview in aporetic terms. If the image takes one to questions of time and space, to reflect upon it critically is not to argue for a particular temporal ecstasis – for example, the past of traditionalism the present of metaphysical thinking (including that of consumerism) or the future of avant-gardism – against de-temporalization. Nor is it to argue for a particular locality or example (ethnic, national or cultural) against de-localization. In this sense, Derrida is immediately concerned in Echographies with political reflection, but never with the elaboration of a particular politics (see, especially, pp. 75-76). His thinking of the political is made in terms of aporia. As I have argued at length elsewhere, aporetic thinking does not take Derrida away from the political, it is at the very heart of his understanding of political invention.3 Echographies gives a clear example of this "logic" with regard to the teletechnological.

Several times in the interview, for example, Stiegler brings to the foreground of the conversation the issue of the "cultural exception" in the 1993 GATT talks, considering it as an important, if in itself problematic, example of a political response to the risk of indifferentiation that accompanies the technico-economic complex informing the tele-image. To recall briefly its history: during the GATT talks the American negotiators attempted to make cinema part of the trade negotiations. The attempt failed due to a concerted refusal on the part of the French, and then Europe in general, to lift its quotas on American products, in particular, and audiovisual material, in general; quotas with which the French state supports its own cinema industry. Now, Derrida responds to this example with the argument that, in the context he would indeed argue for the state’s regulation of the markets (pp. 92-98, especially p. 98). The "cultural exception" is one important strategy at a world level of resisting both economic short-term calculation and the latter’s profound complicity with the temporality of "real time." Conversely, Derrida argues that as soon as a states resistance to the market inhibits the very flexibility of consumption, and productivity of consumption, that the markets also nourish, the market should be affirmed, reminding his audience that the historical emergence of democracy from out of the market precludes one from making any axiomatic opposition between the values of democracy and those of the market (pp. 95-100). Neither for the state nor against it, neither for the particular nor against it, Derrida deploys here a reflective logic in relation to a particular politics of the image (the neo-liberalism of the Hollywood lobby) that is predicated on the impossible "experience" of aporia. His inscription of the tele-image within "arche-writing" leads Derrida, consequently to show how this inscription works at the same time towards a quasi-politics of aporia according to which the impossibility of aporia is the condition of political invention. In the context of the progression of this argument, Echographies provides, again, a succinct rehearsal of Derridean themes regarding the immediate and actual.
- The above point takes us to the two most profound conclusions that come out of Derrida’s initial response. We recall that, for Derrida, the immediacy of real time and the tele-image is only ever an apparent immediate synthesis of time and space since they are inscribed within arche-writing. This means that the spacing of time is irreducible to technicization. As a result of this irreducibility, "real time" is never real, but is only ever a technical "artifact." The inscription of the tele-image within arche-writing takes us to the first conclusion, then, that a critical practice of selection is possible in the name of something like the "contingency" of the technical. It is within the radical (that is, constitutively "unfillable") opening between processes of technicization and the irreducible spacing of time and space that a critical relation to the image is always possible. For Derrida, whether it be theoretical or practical, philosophical or artistic, reflection upon the image inevitably situates itself in this "between" between, on the one hand, the spacing or différance of time and, on the other, the technical synthesis of "real time." This "between" allows one, in turn, to evaluate and re-organize what and how real time selects to be "live," allowing thereby for the deconstruction of the "artifactuality" of the image that presents itself to consciousness as apparently "real" at the same time as the necessary possibility that there are always other selections (see the chapter "Artefactualité, homohégémonie," pp. 51-65, and pp. 144-5).

Opening up this divergence, reflecting upon it in terms of the différance of time and space does not offer, for Derrida, other rules of selection contra those of short-term profit that permits economic hegemony over the image in contemporary society (the so-called globalization of "Hollywood"). For we have just seen that Derrida’s relation to any determinate invention (like state intervention) is aporetic. These rules are to be found: they come, that is, from the future. Hence – second conclusion – with regard to the contemporary teletechnologies Derrida places stress throughout Echographies on something like the ethical horizon of the future, an absolute horizon that translates in "temporal" terms the radical opening above. This future is not to be thought of as a future present (a teleological horizon to come) but as the absolute futurity of time, described by Derrida with reference to his work in Specters of Marx, in terms of the "promise" and the "messianic" (pp. 140-3). In Echographies this radical future orients deconstruction’s critical relation to the teletechnological reduction of time and space, giving a further clear ethico-political dimension to the above experience of aporia. As Derrida puts it, the "imperative" is

to leave the future to the future, to leave it or make it come, in any case to leave open the possibility of the future and, therefore, to negotiate between rhythms in order that, at the very least, this opening is not saturated. (p. 98)

Or in the words of the earlier piece "Artefactualités,"

the coming of the event is what one cannot, nor must not prevent, another name for the future itself. Not that it is good, good in itself, that everything or anything happens; not that one must give up preventing certain things happening (there would be no decision, no responsibility – ethical, political or other), but one only ever opposes events which one thinks bar the future or bring death, events which put an end to the possibility of the event, to the affirmative opening for the coming of the other. (p. 19)

It is in these terms of absolute futurity that Derrida’s above aporetic reflection upon the state and the market makes political sense. The following comment on the part of Derrida can be understood in this context:

[regarding the French resistance to the inclusion of cinema within the GATT talks] it was in a sense a question of using an exemplary exception to loosen the grip pertaining to one kind of domination and act in such a way that, following usage, time was given to time, that all opportunities for a certain type of invention, innovation or creation in the cinema were not muffled in advance, including for the Americans themselves. (p. 99)

Derrida’s resistance to Hollywood hegemony is thus ultimately made in terms of a radical "ethics" of time.

Bringing the above six points together, we can see that, for Derrida, critical reflection upon the image re-inscribes it within the spacing of time and space. This spacing leads in turn to an aporetic reflection upon political determination which is itself governed by – or, inversely, itself releases – something like a "categorical imperative" of the event, one of "guarding" the futurity of the future [l’à-venir de l'avenir]. As a result, Derrida’s responses in Echographies stress two major concerns regarding the relation between reflection and technical actuality: i) in response to the de-localizing and de-temporalizing effects of the contemporary teletechnologies, there can be no more pertinent and inventive a thinking than that of letting time happen/take place (celle de laisser avoir lieu le temps), and that, therefore, the issue today of a critical culture of the image is that of the multiplicity of time/space, the localities and singularities, that is, accompanying the taking-place of time; and ii) that this response is "political" if one understands by political imagination the reinvention of a critical relation to actuality, and yet other than political if one understands by the "political" a gesture of organization and decision shaped by a particular territory, by a particular temporality, by a particular subject or by particular rules. Bringing these points together so economically, Stiegler’s interview with Derrida in Echographies allows one a clear and careful appreciation of the major importance of Derridean thought to future negotiations with our times.


By presenting Derrida’s response in isolation from the exchange with Stiegler, this review has so far not conveyed the fact that much of what Derrida says is partly in resistance to, or out of a seeming wish to qualify Stiegler’s own appreciation of the specificity of the contemporary teletechnologies, as well as the ethical and political consequences ensuing therefrom. The above distinction, for example, between the political and the "other than political" nature of reflection upon technical actuality is one that Derrida makes all the more precise (again, see especially p. 75) when Stiegler’s own position during the interview comes to stress the elaboration of "a politics of memory" and a concomitant desire for "a political will" (p. 56, p. 62, p. 67, p. 71, and, more broadly, pp. 85-97 and pp. 115-120). Given that Stiegler is much more than a passive interviewer in this book and that both the quality and the concreteness of the exchange between Derrida and himself is due in part to the profundity of his own interventions, it is important to elaborate his own appreciation of the specificity of the contemporary teletechnologies. Once we have done this, we can then situate the tension which, in my opening comments, I argued ultimately marked the overall rhythms of the book and, unarticulated, made it a disappointing text at the very moment of its interest.

Stiegler’s response to this specificity shares much with that of Derrida. He is indeed the first to recognize his debt to the Derridean concept of "arche-writing" in the elaboration of what is progressively becoming a highly articulate philosophy of technology.4 It is in this very debt, however, that a difference is struck: the nature of all of Stiegler’s questions and, progressively, interventions in Echographies bear this out. Given that the interview format allows Stiegler poor occasion to develop his theses properly (his interventions are consequently often too dense, if not at times, rather turgid), I will first give a brief background to the nature of his participation in Echographies in order to give these interventions appropriate weight.

Informing Stiegler’s initial question concerning the specificity of the contemporary teletechnologies is his express wish, going back more than a decade, to pursue the Derridean logic of supplementarity (formulated at length in "Plato’s Pharmacy" and the sections on Rousseau in Of Grammatology5) in terms of the history of technics. Put simply, Stiegler wishes to articulate the "logic" of Derridean quasi-transcendentals with (the history of) technical supplementarity. As I have argued in this journal and elsewhere, Stiegler’s move is complex increasingly so, and does not simply reduce différance to empirical historicity (although there are moments in Technics and Time which give one the occasion to think this). This reduction, as Stiegler knows, would have no purchase on Derrida’s thinking.6 What he is rather arguing through this articulation is that technics is the constitutive condition of thought and of our relation to the temporal ecstases as such. It is with this thesis (what Stiegler best calls, I believe, "tertiary memory") that the originality of his move lies, constituting, from out of Derrida’s quasi-transcendental problematic of arche- writing, a major and indisputable move into, and advance within, the fields of twentieth century Continental philosophy: most particularly, phenomenology, hermeneutics and deconstruction.7 It is where Stiegler has begun to re-articulate both modern and contemporary concerns with time and space (since the transcendental aesthetic and analytic of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason) with the history of human organization. This articulation presents at the same time an impressive, often more than impressive, politico-philosophical address to the disciplines of philosophy, the human sciences, the life and cognitive sciences and the arts.

In other words, for Stiegler, if technics is the originary supplement to all forms of life (all life is in this sense pro-grammatic, inscribed within "arche-writing"), this supplementarity appears as such within the human species qua the technical specificity of the human. As a result, technics is neither a means nor an instrument (as the metaphysical tradition has always conceived it), but the way in which life lives. For Stiegler, consequently, the Derridean problematic of "arche-writing" must always be historically differentiated since it is nothing but its differentiations. This is what is lying behind his question to Derrida in Echographies that concerns the "specificity" of the contemporary teletechnologies (p. 48). Given the originary technical complexity of time and consciousness, a change in the technical support means both a change in intelligibility and a change in relation to time and space. For Stiegler, the contemporary technologies constitute as much a break with the past as they do a supplementation of arche-writing. Derrida would, of course, agree: it is the very logic of supplementarity. For Stiegler, however, stress must be consequently placed as much on the break as on the continuity.

It is here that Stiegler’s emphasis upon the specificity of the contemporary teletechnologies becomes clear. This specificity is to be found in the particular way in which technics and time are today organized around each other. I said above that, for Stiegler, given the temporally constitutive role of technics, a change in technical supports will fundamentally alter the way in which we relate to time, that is, the way in which we synthesize the past, present and future ecstases. We have seen that, for Derrida, "real time" is a technical artifact that is so rapid in relation to human perception that it appears to hide its syntheses – this is real time’s "artifactuality." A critical relation to the image is seen to emerge, accordingly, in the analysis of real time’s processes of selection, an analysis whose horizon is the future. Stiegler is in agreement with Derrida on the overall orientation of this reasoning. That said, his argument around tertiary memory, its evolution and the differences within technical constitutivity lead him to stress something within that specificity that Derrida’s own emphasis on the différance of the tele-image does not take into account. At several points during the dialogue he implies that the specificity of contemporary technicity lies in the coincidence between the flux of the object (for Stiegler, image or sound: what he has come to call, following Husserl, the "temporal object"8) and the flux of (living) consciousness. Without becoming embroiled in the niceties of the argument,9 I want to stress here that, for Stiegler, contemporary modalities of archiving are an "absolutely" (p. 48) specific form of inscription since there is today – a specific stage of human organization – no distinction possible, at a phenomenological level, between the temporal flux of the technical object and the temporal flux of consciousness. The effects of "real time" are in this sense to be analyzed in strict relation to the temporal nature and effects of cinema.

Thus, briefly put, the technical object used at earlier stages of the history of technical supplementarity to supplement the finitude of human memory (the silex of the Zinjanthropus to the writing of the protogeometrician), this object, now itself temporalized, has become coincidental with (the flux of) memory itself. In Stiegler-Husserlian terms, "tertiary memory" (the support of the technical object inscribing our memory beyond our life: a past that has never been present to us) now introduces "secondary memory" (recollection of ours or others’ past presents) into "primary memory" (the way in which we temporalize time now, unify our retentions and pretensions). As a result, the relation between perception and imagination that Derrida was the first to deconstruct in Voice and Phenomena10 has become so entwined, Stiegler argues, that a reflective reaction to the passage of time, and therefore events within it, risks being radically reduced. This reduction risks, in turn, reducing the possibility of the future ecstasis. According to Stiegler, "real time" represents the example of this threat.

From the above it is clear why digitalization both effects a radical change of intelligibility and precipitates the danger that this intelligibility could be stultified as our relation to the ecstases of time are foreshortened by the tele-image’s syntheses of time and space. If the indifferentiation of reflection today is a necessary risk of the tele-image (one presently blocking the passage of the future more than it is opening it), then, for Stiegler, a more determinate response is needed than Derrida countenances in his above responses. The specificity of contemporary teletechnology calls, in his terms, for a "politics of memory" or, more generally, a "political will" (p. 56, p. 62, p. 67, p. 71, etc.). During one intervention in the penultimate chapter of Echographies, "Phonographies: Meaning – from Heritage to Horizon," Stiegler says for example:

If it is true, on the one hand, that there is a congruence between the exactitude of orthothetic writing and a certain form of temporality, and if it is true, on the other, that the new modalities of archiving are modalities of recording that one could say are in a certain manner more exact, the paradox [of today] would be that the present development of exactitude is inscribing in the streets the slogan "no future." Beyond the production of this slogan, initially limited to the margins of the industrial communities, entire regions, whole countries, whole classes, or people excluded from every social class are saying today: "No future." Moreover, all those who feel politically impotent understand this slogan. The question, then, is how the exactitude of the modern modalities of archiving is likely to bring about, not a form of reflexivity which would simply be the pursuit and development of the reflexivity linked to writing, but new forms of intelligibility. (p. 117)

Stiegler’s constant call to a politics of memory is to be understood in relation to the release of this new form of reflexivity.11 For Stiegler, given that there is no absolute distinction between writing and the image, the intelligibility forged by new forms of technical supports, specifically the analogico-digital image, could be more interesting than reflexivity specific to writing. The fact, however, that economic terms of selection hold sway over the general production and dissemination of images and tele-images means that the possible terms of this intelligibility – that is, our relation to the past, the present and the future – are curtailed. Whether it be the predominance of Hollywood production in the "globalization" of the cinema industry or the increasing commercialization of Internet (an uncritical congruence between the flux of capital and the flux of real time), the economic organization of the relation between technics and our opening to the temporal ecstases is blocking the release of new forms of intelligibility and experimentation. Calculation according to short term profit has little interest, for example, in slowing the flux of images down. It promotes, rather, narratives that give a unilinear direction to the flux, ones that are closed to their own contingency and temporality. These narratives are all the more stultifying and possibly debilitating given the coincidence between the flux of the technical object (the image) and that of our consciousness that is afforded by the temporalization of the former object. In this radically specific context Stiegler considers it urgent to develop "a political will" that can counter this economic hegemony in such a way that new forms of intelligibility springing from the teletechnologies can flourish. For Stiegler, there is at the same time nothing new about this need to double up politically on the technico-economic. Technical processes are constitutively always in advance upon political and cultural processes: a straightforward Marxist thesis. What is new is the speed at which this advance is taking place today given the historically specific congruence, since the gradual amalgamation of the sciences, technics and the economy from the seventeenth century onwards, between technology and the economic regime of capital. The stake today is to invent, therefore, at an international level, a politics of memory, in response to the "economic" and "phenomenological" specificity of the contemporary teletechnologies that allows for the future to take place in a manner that is more than less interesting, itself more than less promoting of the future.

Given this, the question of the cultural exception in the 1993 GATT talks will necessarily carry for Stiegler more symbolic purchase than it would seem to have in Derrida’s aporetic response to it: hence Stiegler’s recurrent recourse to it in the context of a politics of memory (see especially pp. 51-54 and pp. 80-93), a recourse that might otherwise seem exaggerated or unnecessary. For the question of the cultural exception is an example of the kind of politics needed to slow these processes down (p. 97). Thus, while always careful to demarcate himself from the protectionism and nationalism that could easily be associated with a politics of cultural exceptionality, Stiegler opposes such a politics to the criteria informing the economic selection of images that maintain the opposition between production and consumption (on these terms, see "L’image discrète," pp. 177-183).12 Such a slowing-down would be one important condition of that intelligibility that these same technologies could bring about if they were less subordinate to the ideology of short-term economic interest. Read from out of the particular context of the GATT talks, a politics of exceptionality anticipates, then, a politics of idiomaticity which would work toward, the mobilization of what is already potentially there in the teletechnologies but which is at present reduced by economic domination (p. 163, and "L’image discrète," pp. 182-3). Political mobilization is, consequently, for Stiegler, one important condition of reflection and invention upon the movement of différance and spacing that constitute the teletechnologies in the first place, a movement of which these same technologies, in alliance with the economic, are reducing rather than increasing consciousness.

It is here that the tension between the two philosophers exists, although it is never articulated as such by either one of them. I said at the beginning of this review that this tension actually provided the rhythm of Echographies as a whole: one can now see retrospectively why. Derrida’s emphasis throughout the interview on the movement of différance within the teletechnologies, his aporetic relation to the political, and his location of the image within the spacing of time and space – all point to his inscription of contemporary technology within arche-writing and to his articulation of the relation between reflection and contemporary actuality within its terms. In this articulation, the question of the future is the issue of contemporary reflection, but this question must necessarily be both political and other than political. Stiegler’s greater emphasis on the radical specificity of the contemporary teletechnologies, as well as the particular terms in which he casts such specificity, make him stress the political instance more. For he sees within that instance the very means to facilitate the release of an intelligibility appropriate to the new forms of writing, one at present stymied by the historical confluence between the technical and the economic. According to these two ways of stressing the relations between différance and technics and reflection and actuality, the tension can be couched in the following terms. Both philosophers are concerned with the incalculability of the future, its continued "taking place" with regard to processes of technicization. Each, however, think determination and calculation differently in relation to it, and, thereby, situate the political and thinking (la pensée) differently as well.
- For Stiegler, in distinction to Heidegger’s understanding of the relation between thinking and technics, calculation does not necessarily fill the future in. Here his argument on the technical constitution of temporalization remains crucial for present concerns in continental philosophy regarding the "logics" of invention. For Stiegler, then, calculation opens up the future, releases the contingent, as did technics from the very beginnings of hominization. One form of calculation is thus set against another (the political against the economic), or doubles up on the other (the political appropriates the technico-economic) in order to enlarge the "horizon" of future time. This "horizon" is, precisely, one of disappropriation – the fact that there is a future – and not one of appropriation or mastery. Without political calculation, the cultural – for Stiegler, the incalculable which is the very value of the cultural – risks remaining subordinate to the economic hegemony that holds over technical processes: in this case, there is, and would be "No future." A voluntarist gesture of "acculturation" (p. 56, p. 89, p. 98) testifies in this sense – but only in this sense – to an "avant-gardist" political philosophy.13
- For Derrida, the "categorical imperative" (p. 19 and p. 20) of any decision is, as for Stiegler, to act in such a way that the future is not barred. Letting this alterity come also means negotiating between tendencies of acceleration and stasis in the constant awareness, however, that an invention that would promote the incalculable is itself impossible to calculate. Thus, for Derrida, waiting to see what happens, placing the focus of thinking on the active affirmation of leaving the opening to the future open, constitutes an acknowledgment that the terms of negotiation cannot be fully anticipated, that they are also already taking place and that, therefore, it is to be seen what philosophy can say or not say. Here, Derrida distinguishes philosophy qua thinking from politics, arguing that the différance of the technical, together with the aporias it engenders, always already deliver the political over to an unknown future the respect of which thinking guards.
- Thus, where Stiegler looks for political determination between différance and the technical, for the future to remain open, given that determination opens up the future as much as it may close it, with this same horizon in mind, Derrida both looks to political determination and takes distance from the political instance, leaving the future of the technical to be decided, given that, for him, anticipation always runs the risk of filling the future in.


Derrida and Stiegler both have strong arguments and a powerful repertoire of discursive strategies to enforce their points. Derrida is right to stress the irreducibility of différance to technics, the political prudence that must ensue and the undecidable relation between thinking and actuality that follows. Stiegler’s theory of tertiary memory represents a profound and pertinent intervention in the concerns of contemporary philosophy, one that offers, from out of Derridean problematics, an original purchase upon technical actuality. He is therefore right to place emphasis on a certain specificity to the new teletechnologies, to stress the technical reduction of différance, and to argue for the political implications of this reduction with the industrialization of memory. It is nevertheless clear that the two positions are from the first irreconcilable with regard to the relation between determination and the future. Given the above difference, it is clear for example, that for Derrida Stiegler’s call to the political appropriation of the economic risks filling in the future at the very moment that he wishes to facilitate its release. In this sense Stiegler’s call for a politics always runs the risk of bringing the openness of the political to an end. From Stiegler’s recurrent insistence upon the need for a politics of memory, one can equally surmise that, for Stiegler, the imperative of "letting the other be other" runs the risk, conversely, of leaving actuality as it is, and that if calculation is needed for the future not to be anticipated, too great a stress on the need to take a distance to the political (where Derrida is both political and other than political) can itself end up condoning one particular politics, one particular actuality rather than another. Here Stiegler’s wish to stress the historical differentiations of arche-writing is at the same time, further down the line, a wish to underscore the necessarily political dimension to the imperative of absolute futurity. Since the difference between the two positions is one of stress, but since the stakes that this stress carries are at the same time of considerable import, its lack of articulation can only leave the reader with a sense of missed opportunity. For what is most important within the interview is left unsaid. The theses of the two separate pieces, "Artefactualités" and "L’image discrète" do nothing from this perspective but reinforce this sense of a missed opportunity. Echographies remains a disappointing text as a result. Let me end this review with three examples of what I mean. The first two concern where Derrida does not engage with Stiegler, the third where Stiegler does not engage with Derrida.

The first comes around the question of the rule (pp. 52-65, especially p. 60). Derrida maintains that the question of the rule is that of the criteria of selection which inform the choice and disposition of images that stand as "real time." In analyzing the rules of this selection, a critical relation to the image is elaborated. From here Derrida goes on to argue forcefully that it is at the same time not the role of the philosopher to pose a rule against the rule of the market, but to invite invention of other rules. In so arguing, he clearly suspects that Stiegler’s call to a "politics of memory" could precisely fall into such a trap, all the time aware that Stiegler is as concerned as he is with the invitation to the invention of other rules. As we have seen, Stiegler’s call for a politics of memory is made in the belief that this invitation needs indeed political work. Now, with this argument Stiegler is stressing the fact that the rule (of selection) has already been given by technology itself qua the historical congruence between the new rules of perception, emerging from the tele-image, and the markets of short-term profit. The rule for Stiegler is, in other words, not one of one "criterion" of selection against another, as Derrida gives us to understand. It is an actual state of matter, one with which we have to negotiate. Stiegler’s description of the political "doubling-up" of the technico-economic follows from this sense that history gives the rule. Thus, what I called above a shift of stress between the participants is seen here to be actually articulating a major difference of approach concerning the relation between reflection and matter and philosophy and history. Echographies suffers from the fact that this difference is kept by the two participants in the wings of the interview.

The other two examples of a missed opportunity emerge in an important chapter of the interview "Phonographies: Meaning – from Heritage to Horizon."

After his comments concerning the general possibility of "no future" quoted above, Stiegler makes the point that the greater the exactitude of inscription that comes with digitalization, the greater the discreteness of the inscription, and, therefore, the greater the possibility of breaking down and analyzing its rules of composition. The point is part of his argument for elaborating a forum within which new forms of intelligibility particular to this exactitude are facilitated. Derrida, agreeing with Stiegler, makes the following response,

Meaning and intelligibility can only open out – in relation to what you have called the "discrete," the spacing of the discrete – by multiplying what forms the condition of this very discretization, namely spacing, non-sense, the blank, the interval, everything which borders in a sense the meaning of non-meaning, exceeds it or fissures it. The origin of meaning has no meaning. This is not a negative or nihilist statement. What carries intelligibility is not intelligible. From this point of view technics is not intelligible: which is not to say that it is irrational or obscure. (p. 121)

To which Stiegler interjects:

[Technics] constitutes meaning if it participates in its construction.

And Derrida continues:

Yes, but what constitutes meaning is deprived of meaning. The origin of reason and the history of reason is not rational. When one says that one is quickly accused of irrationalism which is stupid, ridiculous even. Whoever poses a question concerning the origin of meaning, the origin of reason, the origin of the law, the origin of humanity, and in view of posing the question, must go to the edge of what he is questioning: the condition of the question does not belong to the field it questions. To accuse those who pose questions concerning the subject of man, of reason, etc., of being inhuman or irrational is a primitive reflex, a primitive instance of fright. (ibid.)

Derrida’s comments are, to say the least, odd in response to Stiegler’s concerns, both at a juncture of the interview when the two men are acquainted with each other’s preoccupations and, more importantly, at a moment in cultural history when the terms of philosophical reflection upon the real are shifting. As we have seen, Stiegler’s interest lies, precisely, in the historical differentiation of this "other" of reason and meaning together with the political implications of the articulation of this "other." To respond by reiterating a series of propositions that are well-known from within and around the thought of deconstruction and post-structuralism, but that do not engage as such with the explicit wish on Stiegler’s part to genealogize, after the last twenty years thinking, what lies prior to the opposition between reason and unreason, meaning and unmeaning is intellectually and culturally dissatisfying. A clear occasion for discussion of, and engagement with the relation between history, the quasi-transcendental structure of spacing and the ethico-political purchase of the future in its relation to determination is, very simply, missed.
Conversely, when Stiegler argues in the same chapter (especially p. 143) that orthographic writing constitutes "deferred time," and as a result a greater sense of discontinuity, in comparison to the pictographic or ideogrammatic, he is knowingly demarcating himself from the Derridean thesis of Of Grammatology that alphabetic writing follows the linearity of the flux of speech and constitutes the concept of the present with which the epoch of metaphysics is instituted. Since this demarcation makes him consider the contemporary teletechnologies in terms of a "general crisis" (p. 180) – a term that, for many, after the last twenty years of thought is too Marxist in its temporality – it would have been interesting for the reader to see Stiegler debate this difference in the appreciation of writing with Derrida more. The stakes are, to say the least, important, and yet discussion of the point is minimal.
It is these types of lacunae in the dialogue that make of Echographies a structurally uneven and unfinished exchange – Derrida’s responses to Stiegler's question concerning the specificity of today point eloquently to the need for multiple strategies across the social spectrum, one that includes a more positive appreciation of the markets than Stiegler seems willing to accept. They point in consequence to the possible paradoxes of elaborating a politics of memory with regard to the stake of the future and to the need, always, to think of a culture of the image "from below." That said, Derrida does not engage with Stiegler around the thesis of tertiary memory nor, consequently, with the kinds of historico-technical determinations that Stiegler is looking for within, but also beyond the present deconstructions of metaphysical logic. Stiegler points, on the other hand, with great precision and conviction to the urgency of the questions that haunt technical actuality and, as the appended article "L’image discrète" signals better than his actual interventions within the interview, has a fine eye for the relations between matter and consciousness, one intimating a relation between reflection and matter beyond the present terms of deconstruction. On the other hand, pushing Derrida on the place of the technical and political within deconstruction, he tends at the same time to equate the problematic of différance with technical supplementarity, risking, thereby, to think différance in exclusively technical terms: a risk which qualifies in part the intellectual originality of his thesis. Echographies is the record of this tension, rather than its articulation. In this respect it both covers an enormous amount of ground concerning a critical relation between reflection and the contemporary teletechnologies – for which many will be grateful – and signals, in its very ellipses, where further work awaits.


1 The work of Paul Virilio has been especially important in this respect. See, for example, his recent Cybermonde, la politique du pire, Paris: Les éditions Textuel, 1996.
2 The radical structure of the promise is first developed by Derrida in relation to negative theology in "Comment ne pas parler: dénégations" in Psyché (Paris: Galilée, 1987, pp. 555-596), to the Heideggerian problematics of debt and engagement in De l'esprit. Heidegger et la question (Paris: Galilée, 1987, noe1: pp. 147-154), Eng. trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby, Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989, note 2: pp. 129-136), and to Paul de Man's reading of Rousseau's Social Contract in J. Derrida, Mémoires for Paul de Man, trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler and Eudardo Cadava (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986). The distinction between the "messianic" and messianism in the context of the promise is first fully developed in relation to Marxian thought and its modern and contemporary fates in J. Derrida, Spectres de Marx (Paris: Galilée, 1994: esp. p. 56, pp.111-2, 124-6 and 265-268); Eng. trans. by Peggy Kamuf, Specters of Marx: the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (London and New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 28; pp. 65-6, pp. 73-5 pp. 167-169). The relation between the promise, the messianic, religion and technology with which Spectres de Marx closes has been since elaborated in detail in Derrida's profound "Foi et savoir: les deux sources de la 'religion' aux limites de la simple raison" in La religion, Ed. by Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 1996, pp. 9-86); Eng. trans. by Samuel Weber, Stanford University Press: forthcoming.
3 See my Derrida and the political (London and New York: Routledge, 1996) for an elaboration of this thesis.
4 See B. Stiegler, La technique et le temps. Tome 1: Le faute d'Epiméthée, Paris: Galilée, 1994 (Eng. trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins, Technics and Time: Vol. 1. The Fault of Epimetheus, Stanford: Stanford University Press, Spring 1998) and B. Stiegler, La technique et le temps. Tome II La désorientation, Paris: Galilée, 1996 (Eng. trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins, Stanford University Press, forthcoming).
5 In J. Derrida, La dissémination. Seuil, 1972: pp. 69-198 (Eng. trans. Barbara Johnson, Dissemination, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981, pp. 61-172) and J. Derrida, De la grammatologie, Paris, Minuit, 1967: pp. 203-378 (Eng. trans. Gayatri Spivak, Of Grammatology, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976, pp. 141-268).
6 See particularly his "Fidelity at the limits of deconstruction and the prostheses of faith," Eng. trans. Richard Beardsworth, in a collective volume on Jacques Derrida, ed. Tom Cohen, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming. Stiegler's equation between différance and technical supplementarity in this latter text, Echographies and the two volumes of La technique et le temps is nevertheless highly problematic. That said, I wish to stress here, as elsewhere, the equation's positive aspects in the desire to elaborate further, with others, the terms of present philosophical culture. It seems to me important in this respect, and at this point, to see where Stiegler is going than to criticize him in terms of what he has until now partly underestimated.
7 See especially Chapters 2 and 3 of Part II of La technique et le temps. Tome I: la faute d'Epiméthée (pp. 211-278) and Chapter 4 of La technique et le temps. Tome II. La désorientation. See also B. Steigler, "Persephone, Oedipus, Epimetheus," trans. R. Beardsworth, in Tekhnema, Issue 3, pp. 69-112, esp. pp. 83-76 and, again, his "Fidelity at the limits of deconstruction and the prostheses of faith," ibid.
8 See B. Stiegier, "Persephone, Oedipus, Epimetheus," Tekhnema, Issue 3, p. 84.
9 The argument is best made in "L'image discrète," pp. 165-183. See, also, Stiegler's article in this issue of Tekhnema, "The Time of Cinema," trans. George Collins, pp. 62-110, esp. p.
10 J. Derrida, La voix et le phénomène: introduction au problème du signe dans
la phénoménologie de Husserl, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967. Eng. trans. David B. Allison, Speech and Phenomena, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.
11 That the passage could be criticized for its "apocalyptic" tone (especially from a Derridean perspective) would, I think in this context, be to miss the interest of Stiegler's argument.
12 That said, the simple ease with which French examples appear in Stiegler's interventions in Echographies, together with the ease with which he can generalize remarks concerning the United States, suggests, at a deep level perhaps, a resistance to a non-exemplary logic.
13 In this sense, Stiegler remains faithful to the political imperative of determination emerging out of Hegelian Marxism while elaborating theses on technical constitutivity that re-organize and transform the Hegelian and Marxian corpuses (most importantly Hegel's understandings of reflection and spirit and Marx's understanding of the relation between matter and consciousness).