Theory, or the Technics of the Unthought

θεωρεω: to look at, view, behold, inspect, review;
to consider, contemplate, observe; to see
θεωρημα: that which is looked at, viewed, a sight, spectacle;
a principle thereby arrived at, a rule, praeceptum, a theorem
θεωρος: spectator; an ambassador sent to consult an oracle

• 1 •
Insofar as it remains bound by an epistemological relation, “theory” will always have presupposed an ideological attitude towards its objects precisely by way of their attributed “representability” according to a given set of paradoxically discursive and normative conditions, paradigms or forms. That is to say, “the what that always propels thought towards its reification.”_1 Historically, this view stems in large part from Plato’s interpretation of Being as “idea” and the precept of “forms of things” and “forms of properties” – mappedout in the Republic, Phaedo, Timaeus and elsewhere – and the relation of these ideal forms to states describable within the phenomenal world, but above all to the means and intentionality by which such states are affected: their “advent,” or event of becoming, as what W. B. Yeats called “a ghostly paradigm of things.”

Since Plato, western metaphysics has subscribed to an increasingly procedural conception of agency – between causal intention vested in the archï (?ρχη), on the one hand, and the “means” of any becoming, on the other; its technē (τεχνη), phronēsis (φρονησις), or praxis (πρ?ξις). Such a conception presumes that the epistemological field is constituted by rational actors operating under the sign of an ideal Reason. Broadly speaking, this development has gone hand in hand with the segmentation of epistemology in terms of series of dialectical or binary oppositions founded upon a doctrine of autonomous actionand its subsequent representation in ideological form, being itself founded upon an ideology of representation or mimēsis (μιμησις). Hence it may also be said that theory is in some sense bound to a particular crisis in the representation and relation of epistemological forms. That this relation will have always been a formal relation only supposes that theory itself operates a certain mimetic paradigm: that, in effect, theory machinates a relation to the assumed paradeigmata (παραδειγματα) of epistemology – those being nothing less than the revealed ideological forms of its assumed a priori knowledge. What would it mean, then, to refigure this epistemic relation in terms of a technē of pre-presentation: of the speculativity of theory as a teletechnology, as a form of “seeing at a distance” and, in this sense, “in advance” of itself the very “self” of epistemic knowing? Which is another way of saying, of agency – as the exact “paradigm” of technology.

What does it mean, then, to speak of technological agency? Is it not already the case that the qualifying adjective ”technological” describes a fundamental redundancy, if not in fact a tautology, in the way in which we conceive of agency as such? For, in the final analysis, is not agency itself “always already” technological? Such is the general nature of the question anticipated in part 1 of Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time, which seeks to address the possibility of a technology that would also be a theory of technics.

Bernard Stiegler’s question, posed in the context of a critique of the “artificial separation” of technē and ēpistēmē within the western metaphysical tradition, presupposes precisely a modality of speculation – of looking at or seeing, but also of apprehending in the sense of theorising – which raises the issue of an “essence” of technology (as a theory of technics) even as it supposes that we look beyond a “metaphysics of technology” towards the technological condition of metaphysics itself. (According to B. Stiegler it is Marx who, in the Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie [1857–61], first envisages a “technology that would constitute a theory of the evolution of technics” according to which the metaphysics of being becomes subject to a materialist critique that finds its most radical – if also its most opaque and paradoxical – expression in the later writings of Heidegger, for whom (in B. Stiegler’s view) “the history of being is nothing but its inscription in technicity.”) _2

Approached otherwise, Bernard Stiegler’s question asks about a certain technology, or rather “possibility of technology,” cognate with a “theory of technics,” describing a fourfold relation of equivalence across these otherwise contiguous terms – thereby claiming a relation of homology between a conception of possibility and one of theory; between technology and technics; and between two ambivalent modes of the genitive, each reflected and reified in the other. Moreover, it asks us to consider the “possibility” of a certain reflexivity, exercised on behalf of technology, with regard to what amounts to its own metonymic recursion. In other words, it asks about the possibility of what we might call technological agency.

It is clear, in any case, that Bernard Stiegler’s question points towards the problem of how technology may be said to theorise, and what it means to treat such a problem so that the term “theory” is not to be reduced to a merely rhetorical or metaphorical dimension (i.e. as merely a set of propositions about a general state of affairs concerning “technics,” and according to which technology would somehow be made to assume the mantle of subjectivity, i.e. of a transitive relation to its objects; a technology that “theorises”). Considered another way, this question asks how we may effectively distinguish between a purely descriptive register and what might be thought of as a generalised programme, according to which technology would be regarded as “actively” underwriting the very operations of theōria (as its horizon of possibility; or “event-horizon”). The issue would then be to what extent we may begin to regard this recursive programmatic relation as one constitutive of agency – in the form of a metonymic forethrow and metaphoric incorporation of the technological within a generalised theōria – and this requires, among other things, that we define what is meant by the word “agency” (as what, between technē and theory, it is that thinks).

• 2 •
An idea of agency emerges from a classical philosophy grounded in a way of thinking and perceiving the world that links the initiation of actions to classifiable intentions. In its earliest traditions this idea is bound up with notions of auto-mobility and auto-poiēsis (ποιησις) – characteristics according to which mind, the will, and reason have been linked to concepts of soul, and according to which they have acquired a quasi-divine aspect. The mysterious quality of agency, rarefied into a singularly human attribute (and subsequently into an attribute of individuation), subsequently became the basis of all further metaphysics, in which man – promoted via the singular agency of the divine – might grasp the cosmos as the matter and formal expression of thought itself. While this view has acquired an armature of logical necessity, its logic has always been based upon the need to shore up the prior claims of man over the lesser species and over the base materiality of the universe at large.

Elegance of symmetry in the view that poses the intelligible against the merely sensible, and each against the insensible, devolves more or less solely upon what John Ruskin in 1856 termed the “pathetic fallacy”: the ascription of human aspirations and beliefs to the otherwise inanimate._3 In other words, the ascription of agency not to the “purely mechanical” or inanimate, but rather via the metaphysical as a universal principle to which all things otherwise mechanical and inanimate must be subject “in the image of man.” This “human exception” fails, however, if instead of ascribing agency based upon a conception of will, we ascribe a general, material characteristic to the notion of agency itself (only exemplified, for instance, in the phenomenon of consciousness), such that human agency – as Freud and others have already suggested–can be seen as contingent upon a broadly “technological” condition. (This is one reason why religion, for instance – and religious fundamentalism in particular – has always seen in technology a threat posed to the hegemonic structures of its belief systems: whether in terms of doctrinal truth, morality, law, or claims for political sovereignty.)

However this may be, it is important for any discussion of the possibility of technology as a theory of technics to discover a means of thinking “theory” other than metaphorically – in the sense of something that sees – and to discover a way of understanding theory’s “regard” as a movement of reflexivity (or teletechnology) with which seeing, apprehension, etc. are structurally contiguous. Put otherwise, this would have to do with a certain materiality of “perception,” and of how – for example – what is called a subject may be said to perceive its objects (itself as object, or others). Such a materiality suggests that by subject we mean nothing other than a trope of reflexivity: a discursive mechanism, in effect, operating the means of representation – its theōria – as itself an “object of theory,” as a “technological object,” or as a “system of relations.” What, elsewhere, Jacques Lacan refers to as the “unconscious subjacency” of every discourse._4 And insofar as this entails a solicitation of agency as fundamentally technological, then we may indeed speak of a crisis of representation – as that which gives representation its possibility “in the first place.”

Another way of approaching this problem would be to examine the means by which epistemology – as the discourse or science of knowing – is said to represent its objects to itself as objects of knowledge. That is to say, as the knowable. For epistemology will have always been tied to its objects by a certain claim to prior possibility in the logic of the “paradigm” – i.e. that which formally orientates epistemology as a discourse of. This assumed priority will also have affected the logic of apprehension – the technē of seeing by which theory is characterised as Tudory – as a relation between apprehension, knowledge, and speculation. In a very important respect, the epistemological paradigm corresponds to “that which can be known,” as a function of the possibility of the knowable, calculated – as it were – in advance as the very horizon of knowledge. The forms of the knowable, in other words, are ascribed an a priori status – and yet it remains a question as to how this status is anticipated or recognised, and thus how this status is “raised” to objecthood within the epistemological field.

Essentially this question has to do with the instigative or determining aspect of such paradigms and with the recognition that the socalled objects of knowledge in fact shape the discourse of knowledge within which, and by means of which, they are anticipated and thereby re-cognised. How to account, then, for the failure of such self-evidence in the structure of epistemology? Indeed, how to account for epistemology itself as anything other than a prosthesis of the knowable by way of a fundamentally “missed” recognition: a recognition that occupies the place of a “non-essential” addition, a supplement of an originary cognition?

• 3 •
The question of technology takes us beyond “epistemological transformations” to the very condition of epistemology itself; to the question of a technics or technē of thought vested in a logic of origins and of an originary ambivalence and undecidability. This apparent contradiction resides in mistaking the structural ambivalence of the “origin” as a moment of inauguration, of incision or inscription, and the assumption of reflexivity as a trope of “self-consciousness” and “selfcausality.” That is to say, in the contradictory orientation of “the subject” in terms of what Leibniz termed a mathēsis universalis. While fulfilling the role of assumed historical actor, the initiatives of this “subject” are nevertheless little more than an index of accumulations unconsciously mediated: its subscription to the idea of universal consciousness remains an action only on the level of instruction and of mathēsis or “education” (as abeing-led).

Nevertheless, the critique of the metaphysics of knowing and of being, as a technological project, extends to the very core of what it means to act, and to the technical underpinnings of the ideology of mimēsis that links action to something like a categorical imperative (Kant) or transcendental paradigm (Plato). Responding to Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein and the deconstructive motif in Heidegger’s later writings, Stiegler suggests that: “If it is true that the metaphysical side of philosophy culminates in the projection of a mathēsis universalis that encourages a subject to establish itself ‘as the master and possessor of nature,’ where the essence of reason ends up as calculation, then this turning of metaphysics forms an entrance to the technical age of philosophical thought, as a result of which technics in its modern guise brings subjectivity to its completion as objectivity.”_5 Such is the assumption of a type of reification of the technological as an “end,” and yet the inclination remains to project something like a technological subject capable not only of initiating actions on “its own” behalf, but of undertaking the career of rational actor, as it were, by virtue of a decision “at the origin,” and which might even be expressed in terms of the formula “mathematics is ontology.”_6 Yet, once we relinquish this idea, the necessity arises of accounting for so-called acts of decision upon the basis of a fundamental ambivalence. Indeed, the very logic of decision comes to seem like an artifice or strategy in the deferral of an ultimate undecidability – or of what, in Leibnizean calculus, is termed “enumeration.” Accordingly, decision implies a transcriptive system linked to a general representability – not of “objects of thought,” but of the assumed possibility of a decision ever taking place: this possibility thus equates to a “pre-presentation” or paradigm of the decision “itself.”

As a binary calculus, the symbolisation of “decision” and “enumeration” represents a probabilistic, structural ambivalence in the distribution of its terms, between and about which “decision” and “enumeration” thus become precisely symbolic functions. These symbols, “devoid of any arithmetic value,” as Friedrich Kittler argues, “assume strictly strategic ones.”_7 According to this formula, agency is always somehow proto-paradigmatic – it assumes the recursive structure of a forethrow of possibility that bothconditions it and remains anterior to it – as both origin and horizon. (Consequently, “undecidability” describes a fundamental state within any symbolic system, to which no “event” of decision corresponds other than arbitrarily.) Hence, between the one and the other – “decision” and “enumeration”; ambivalence and undecidability – agency stands as the vanishing point of two modes of the technological: what Stiegler terms the “unthought” and what Heidegger characterises as “the will to will.”

Heidegger’s conception of the “technical” as redoubled-will, is attributed to the structure of eternal recurrence in Nietzsche and the possibility of thought and decision as devolving upon a certain “crisis” of the propriative event (Ereignis). On the one hand, this recursive logic of (un)decidability as redoubled-will invokes the spectre of what Kittler designates as a “totally programmable world,” where, in effect, what we call the world is always already “programmed” – is, indeed, the programme. On the other, it implies a certain impossibility of decision as the very condition of its interminable circuit of “decidability.” The world in this sense is nothing more than a series of event-states: what Kittler terms “a combinatorial matrix of strategies”_8 and what Jean-Joseph Goux calls “the still unthought thought of the network, a polynodal, nonrepresentative organisation, a thought about the text…”_9

To the extent that epistemology represents a “system of thought,” we may say that it remains subject to the injunction that any system must be in some sense “programmable,” or else it is not a system. While at the same time, every system may also be said to be “haunted by the real” – in that a system always assumes the form of an operation within certain material constraints – or what Andrei Markoff refers to as transitional probabilities – taken to function as agents or “strategies of the real,” as Kittler says._10 By way of reduction: there is no system (of meaning) in vacuo; no translatable sense that is not itself a programmatic function already within the system to which it supposedly adds or contributes its terms. This consequently leads to the notion that the real “corresponds” to something like a figure of an “embedded controller” – something like the Freudian agent of repression and mnemonic inscription – which is in fact no thing but rather a system of relations. As Lacan has pointed out: something “functions in the real, independently of any subjectivity.”_11 What functions, we might say, is the “operation itself” of decision upon the undecidable; the technics of the unthought in the agency of the real.

• 4 •
As we have seen, Stiegler’s question regarding the possibility of a technology as a “theory” of technics – posed in the context of a critique of the “artificial separation” of technē and ēpistēmē within the western metaphysical tradition – implies a conception of “agency” as a paradigm of the technological. Insofar as epistemology is concerned with the knowable, and the truth or verification of the knowable, this requires us to think a relationship between the knowable, theōria and agency somehow circumscribed within a relation of technology to technics – that is to say, within the operations of technē. According to Stiegler, this rethinking of epistemology necessarily involves us in a revaluing of philosophical discourse, since: “At its very origin, and up until now, philosophy has repressed technics as an object of thought. Technics is the unthought.”_12

However, such a revaluing cannot simply proceed according to epistemological method, for two reasons – firstly, any relation of thought to the unthought or to the unthinkable, as Nietzsche argu es, announces the necessity of viewing any so-called “historical decision” as “a crisis,”_13 and so any critique of the history of philosophy in these terms must account for a certain solicitation of “crisis” in place of any paradigm of truth upon which any such “decision” could be made; while secondly, the invocation of a “theory of the unthought” in place of epistemological method entails a possible contradiction, of the order of that identified by Jacques Derrida in Michel Foucault’s assumption of madness (or the unthinkable) as a paradigm for a critique of the history of rationalism and rationalist discourse. If the unthinkable is that which is necessarily excluded from a system of thought, then it cannot be represented according to the logic of that system. Hence, as Derrida argues, “the revolution against reason, from the moment it is articulated, can operate only within reason.” In consequence: “A history… against reason doubtless cannot be written, for, despite all appearances to the contrary, the concept of history has always been a rational one.”_14

The question of technology as a theory of technics, that is to say of the “unthought,” thus presents us with a number of problems that need to be overcome if we are to credit Stiegler’s programme. Several possibilities appear to present themselves at this point, involving the relation of technics to a techno-logos – or what we might calls a “technological reason” – and the speculative relation of theory to a discourse of truth and to the “revelation” of its objects. Moreover, if we are to credit the notion that “agency” may figure as a paradigm of such a technology, we need to consider the implications of this for a general conception of agency on the one hand – and of paradigmatice – and for the implied relation of agency, therefore, to a “theory of the unthought.” This at least is one implication of Heidegger’s 1924–5 seminar on Plato, to which we will return, wherein technē is described as a mode of knowledge or know-how that guides poiēsis, and consequently is identified with ēpistēmē (?πιστημη)._15

If epistemology treats of the knowable, then what is in fact the status of its objects? If theory treats of a certain speculativity, can we say that its “objects” are in any sense knowable? Let us consider for a moment the well-known argument put forward in Walter Benjamin’s essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In this essay, Benjamin draws a distinction between what is presented in a work of art, or – for example – in the person of an actor on stage, and what is presented in a photograph or cinematic image. Here, the live presence of an actor on stage involves itself in what Benjamin terms “aura” – “that unique phenomena of a distance, however close [an object] may be”_16 – a paradoxical effect of what Paul Ricoeur subsequently terms a distanciation that is diminished, or which withers, in mechanical reproduction (just as it does in memory)._17 In its place, we might say, something else emerges, which in reference to Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life has been termed an “optical unconscious.” The camera, for example, is able to record and show that which remains invisible to the naked eye – of which, in other words, remain unconscious – and thus render it in its “true immediacy,” on the one hand, and in its “unpresentability” as an object of direct human apprehension, on the other. This optical verity represents, therefore, a type of double-blind, corresponding to the diminution of aura as a critical distanciation within the “present itself.”

Benjamin’s aura, this halo-effect of a certain authenticating presence, plays itself out against the technological extension of the image and of the technics of perception – or what Derrida calls “the spectral spiritualisation that is at work in any technē”_18 – and of the relation between perception and the spectacle of a certain unique event (that manifests itself not by way of any-thing, but as the event, precisely, of this aura itself). The question that predominates here is that of authenticity. Pursuing a well-established line of argument, Benjamin elaborates upon the relationship of the idea of authenticity and aura, to the ideology of mimēsis: of presence-to-representation – evoking as he does so a particular hegemonic structure founded upon a rhetoric of crisis, devolving upon the question of technology. “The presence of the original,” Benjamin states, “is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity,” such that necessarily: “The whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical – and, of course, not only technical – reproducibility.”_19 It is this un-reproducibility of authenticity that Benjamin locates as aura, but it is technical reproducibility above all else that is taken to pose a threat to this aura, despite the fact that – for the purposes of this rhetorical positron – “The whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical … reproducibility.”

• 5 •
It may be instructive to interrupt this line of argument and ask instead about the nature of this relation of aura to the unpresentable – what we might otherwise term the “unthought.” Benjamin’s aura seems, at least on one level, to be bound up with a certain structure of theōria, or looking, beholding, and in a sense apprehending. But this theōria is not an apprehending of a thing-in-itself – as, for example, an “object of knowledge” – but rather its aura, which both accompanies “it” and yet also takes its place as a type of metonymic substitute. We might then say that this aura serves the function of a type of speculative screen, whereas in the “eye” of the camera, this screen evaporates and a certain mechanical truth is made to appear in its stead, as though revealed. If, as Lacan does, we say that the camera affects – insofar as it involves the “assumption of an image” – a phenomenon of consciousness,_20 that is to say of agency, can we therefore say that the camera theorises? Or, in its revelations of an “optical unconscious,” as the ēpistēmē of a certain discourse of truth, of facticity and of verification – does the camera represent an impossibility of theory? For does not this optical unconscious signify precisely what, of theory, can never be verified – precisely, the inverse relation of so-called aura to truth? If the camera here is taken as attesting to a certain truth, what is there that may attest to the truth of what the camera “sees”?

Insofar as the “whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical… reproducibility,” according to Benjamin (who is, after all, merely repeating a Platonistic truism), then this incompatability of truth to aura goes to the very heart of the meaning of theōria, and of the presupposition that “seeing” requires some thing that is seen – something to which seeing may atest – that the event of seeing is directly bound to the facticity of a certain state-of-affairs, something verifiable, possessing duration, objecthood, and so on and so forth (just as, for example, we might speak of the mutual exclusion – indeed the contradiction – of testimony and evidence, as Derrida say)._21 Jean-Michel Rabaté has posed this problem in terms of “understanding” – that “there cannot be a theory without an experience, without a subjective discovery, without a dynamic ‘understanding.’”_22 If we say that, for example, the camera “sees,” can we also say that it affects some form of understanding? Or are these terms functioning her merelymetaphorically? If agency presupposes a reflection-effect or reflexivity, can we not speak of a camera as possessing agency? And if so, is this agency – automatic, mechanistic, technological – not bound precisely to a certain unconsciousness (an optical unconscious, even) as the unthought? Subsequently, might we not say that all theory, essentially, is a theory of the unthought, since it directs its gaze elsewhere – towards an horizon of verifiability, of truth, of the knowable that remains spekulative – in that whatever theory directs itself towards is ultimately a locus of ambivalence, a lability between the one and the other; authenticity or truth, and according to which each is constantly deferred by way of the other.

If it is the case, then, that “there cannot be a theory without an experience, without a subjective discovery, without a dynamic ‘understanding,’” what is it that can be said to constitute here a subjective discover, a dynamic understanding or an experience as such? Another way of posing this question is: what is the relation between experience and thought, or experience and the unthought? Is “dynamic understanding,” for example, an epistemic or ontological condition? If we return to the problem of a theory of the unthought, and the relation of agency (that which acts, or dynamically “understands”) to technics, we might say that – as with Benjamin’s figure of aura – understanding corresponds to a certain mimetic logic of the paradigm: a formal pre-presentation at the origin of the representable, the thinkable, the knowable. But if we are to take agency as a “paradigm” of technology, then we need to consider that agency here occupies the position of the unpresentable itself – not as a model of some thing to be revealed, but as the very mechanism of “revelation,” which is to say “representation.” Seeing and knowing, as Derridasays, are incommensurable here._23 (Hence, the camera might be said to theorise to the extent that what it presents to us is no object as such – or even a series of truth statements about an object – but rather the reflexive, spectral character of “truth statements” as such, and thus of epistemology, reason, etc., in the form of a type of revenance or writing as photographē.)

Bernard Stiegler’s formulation might then appear to tend in the direction of Heidegger’s later seminars at Le Thor in 1969. Towards the end of the seminar of 2 September, Heidegger re-poses his earlier question concerning technology, not as a fundamental condition, but as a “ground itself” and “horizon” of what might otherwise be characterised as the production of discourse (Heidegger’s commodity critique here, vis-à-vis “economic standing-reserves” – a potentiality that is both anterior to the commodity function and integral to it – is ostensibly a critique of sign operations in general). “Only modern technology,” according to Heidegger, “makes possible” this production – the particular “modernity” of this technology being based upon its discursive character, even as this discursivity is “grounded” in the technological – so that: “What stands in question is that modern man finds himself henceforth in a fundamentally new relation to being – AND THAT HE KNOWS NOTHING OF IT.”_24 For Stiegler, this new relation to being, as a technical relation, is understood as a relation to the “unthought” (that in which man finds himself, and in which he “understands” himself as being, but of which he knows nothing). Is this not then the essence of the relationship of technology and the unthought as the very “experience” of theory?

• 6 •
Elsewhere Heidegger explicitly relates the experience of the unthought to a certain unconcealment of truth, through an etymological play upon the Greek term ?ληθεια (alētheia), to which he also relates the root of theōria._25 According to Heidegger, the Greek word alētheia (truth, unconcealment, adæquatio) can also be read as a-lētheia – so that the privative alpha is taken to indicate that concealment (lēthē) always accompanies unconcealment._26 There is something about Heidegger’s etymological method that suggests a paradigmatic relation between the object or horizon of derivation, and a type of essentialism that is posited, though never arrived at. A relation, in other words, that simultaneously invests and exposes the “interior” relation of the presentation of a concealment to the verity of true presence in alētheia. According to Heidegger’s interpretation, “self-concealing, concealment,” belongs to a-lētheia, not just as an addition, not as “the shadow of light,” but rather as the heart of a(lēthe)ia._27 Hence Platonic alētheia is shown to belong to that which persists within it, as lēthē, and which gives rise to it through a movement of self-negation – a movement which nevertheless both preserves and affirms the word’s “originary” sense of concealing-forgetfulness.

In an important corollary, Heidegger links this two-fold movement of concealing forgetfulness with technology: “Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where alētheia, truth, happens.”_28 Consequently, for Heidegger, truth assumes the form of an almost Nietzschean “double negative” or unconcealment, linked to the “coming to presence” of technology. That is to say, a coming to presence of that by which presence itself is mediated or concealed, just as what is revealed in alētheia is already a forgetfulness attached to the paradigmatic status of its “truth.” This ambivalence, of a-lētheia, thus already involves a certain reflexivity (symbolised in the hyphenated, privative alpha), a mechanism of unconcealment or theōria. As Heidegger argues, alētheia “is a particular character of the Being of beings insofar as beings stand in a relation to a regard aimed at them, to a disclosure circumspecting them, to a knowing.”_29 In other words, the revealed technē of onticontological difference in which alētheia is vested, is mediated by way of the relation of a certain theōria as phronēsis (circumspection) and ēpistēmē. Elsewhere Heidegger relates alētheia to the figure of Mnemosyne, or memory, which is in turn described as “the gathering of thought”:_30

Memory – from Latin memor, mindful – has in mind something that is in the mind, thought. But when it is the name of the Mother of the Muses, “Memory” does not just mean any thought of anything that can be thought. Memory is the gathering and convergence of thought upon what everywhere demands to be thought about first of all. Memory is the gathering of recollection, thinking back. It safely keeps and keeps concealed within it that to which at each given time thought must be given before all else, in everything that essentially is, everything that appeals to us as what has being and has been in being._31

“It is plain,” Martin Heidegger says, “that the word means something more than merely the psychologically demonstrable ability to retain mental representation, an idea of something which is past.”_32 The technics of memory, as a gathering of thought and a “thinking back,” a reflection and an “archaeology” – in which the archē assumes the form of an horizon of the unthought – draws the unconcealment of alētheia towards a situation in which everything is held in the balance, as it were, and in which truth assumes a foundation in a radical ambivalence, as a gathering of thinking in the unthought. “What must be thought, turns away from man. It withdraws from him. But how can we have the least knowledge of something that withdraws from the beginning, how can we give it a name?”_33 This technological condition – of a mechanical lability and iteration of the unconcealment of alētheia in the gathering of memory and the withdrawal of thought – is likewise involved in an entire metaphorics of seeing or not-seeing, of representation, repetition, attestation and disavowal. Indeed, on a certain level, the question of knowledge of the unnameability of the “unthought” provides a structural homology to the echo of the name of the river Lethe within a-lētheia, calling to attention the otherwise unattended relation between concealment and attesting in the oracular station of the dead, who are summoned in order, precisely, to atest – like Hamlet’s host – to that which is not visible in the realm of the living (i.e. the truth). The signal reality of the ghost, the spectre, the revenant, thus describing what of the unthought (the Real) accedes to thought by way of a certain symbolic perturbation – and insofar as the symbolic function is here linked to a technics of re-presentation, so too we might say that this perturbation does not correspond to an epistemological rupture, but rather to that crisis in which epistemology is called forth.

• 7 •
Lethe (ληθη; forgetting, forgetful; Lt. oblivio, “a place of oblivion in the lower world,” as Liddell and Scott have it) is the name given to the River of Forgetfulness in Hades – often the counterpart of the River of Memory, or Mnemosyne. At the shrine of Trophonius in Boeotia, for example, there were two revers – Lethe and Mnemosyne – from which worshippers would drink before making oracular consultations with the divinity. Similarly, the word theōria is related to θεωρις, a sacred ship which carried the θεωροι (theoroi) – the ambassadors sent to consult an oracle – to their destination. Importantly, it also served as a metaphor for Charon’s barque, used to ferry the dead to their final destination in Hades across the river Styx (Στυξ, the Hateful, “by which the gods in Homer swore their most sacred oaths,” according to Liddell and Scott). It is across the river Styx that Virgil’s Aeneas journeys in order to attest to a certain “future” of Rome and the decent of the Iulii, by way of an interview with the dead and a prevision of the “to come.” Virgil places the entrance to Hades at Avernus, the formally volcanic lake and home of the Cumaean Sibyl, in whom “the Delian god of prophesy / Inspires uncanny powers.”_34 And by turns, a passage from book VII of the Æneid comes to furnish the epigraph to Freud’s theory of “dreamwork”: “Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo,” describing something of the paradoxical relationship between attestation and death; memory, desire and the unconscious; consciousness and the unthought.

This curious proximity of memory and forgetting; the living voice and the dead – brought about through an etymological or paradigmatic ambivalence – brings into view the question of the relatedness of theory to attestation, testimony and evidence. This apparent dichotomy obtains between, on the one hand, a stance of speculation and scepticism, and, on the other, a stance of knowing, of assurity; of faith and of belief. And it is the ambivalent or apparent nature of this dichotomy (its non-symmetrical, non-oppositional character, as irreducibly linked and yet tensile) in which epistemology is revealed to be what Stiegler has called “a device for the administration of evidence.”_35 Hence, in Heidegger’s reading of a-lētheia we encounter something like a mechanism of reflexivity, between the etym and ēpistēmē – doubling the reflexive iterations of concealed-unconcealment by which the device of epistemology anticipates and “reveals” itself as technē. Moreover, by drawing together these various associations we might then say that it is in fact a characteristic of epistemology that it ostensibly testifies not to the truth of its object, but to the underwriting technicity of testifying as such; not to rememoration or representation, but to that “forgetting” upon which the logic of the presentable is founded.

Nevertheless, as Derrida has pointed out, “technical reproducibility” has always been “excluded from testimony,” since the logic of testimony – that of Benjamin’s aura – requires “the presence of the live voice in the first person.”_36 In the theatre of attestation, the theorōs (the witness) is called upon to testify not simply as a delegate, ambassador or metonymic substitute (of the state, for example), but of and for the very thing to or for which he is required to testify. Not only must the theorōs play witness to the pronouncement of the oracle, but he must also transmit it, or transport it (translate it, in fact); and in transmitting it, he must also transmit his attestation to the veracity of the word: thus reprising the ambivalence of the living presence of the oracle and the occultations of the oracular voice in the figure of the theorōs – i.e. as a metaphorics of truth by way of its absence in that which attests.

Through a movement of reflexivity, or indeed of a certain détournement, the “act” of attestation of the theorōs fulfils the ambivalent gesture in which testimony and evidence substitute and displace one another, as a kind of deus ex machina of the “real presence”: the unpresentable paradigm or the impossible attestations of the “unthought” (it is, after all, nothing but an effect of staging; and it is no accident that the word theoretērion designates a seat in the theatre, or that the theatre itself is the etymological and logical counterpart of the theorōs, the place of the spectator being situated and circumscribed by the mechanics of the spectacle – both Greek terms deriving from the root θε?). “This theatre of vision,” as Rabaté says, “is where presence shows itself in its eidos, so that it is then known.”

The presencing of that which is then “known” corresponds, effectively, to its concealment through the operations of knowing. What is known withdraws from its apprehension; had already in fact withdrawn in its representation: the representation of presence “in its eidos,” or the prepresentation of the present itself. As with the Heideggerean metaphorics of a-lētheia, the closeproximity of the discourse of truth, presence and the living voice (in the investment of attestation and evidence in the real), to a spectography of the spirit realm (the ghostly paradigms of the mechanical image), points to a particular status in the relation of “memory” to the “unthought” in which the reflexive apprehension of the one in the other assumes the character of a rebus. As a mode of anticipation and decipherment, theōria combines the occult character of what is concealed from it and awaits revealing, and what in revealing is “concealed” by it. Thus what attests in theōria could be said to be a certain mark of erasure that simultaneously functions as mnemo-technic. We may liken this to the trope of attestation in dreams, in which the theorōs is recursively bound up in the spectacle that “he” himself projects while at the same time being projected by and within it. Consequently, “when we remember a dream, do we really remember something which we could speak of as if it were a thought, since we don’t know, after all, whether it isn’t the very quintessence of the illusion of memory?”_37

The criterion of verification is here revealed to be bound up with the very ambivalence of what it means to verify. The complementary relationship of verification to Tudory – the relation of a mode of anticipation to the promise, as it were, of a future advent – devolves upon a fundamental distanciation, whereby theory cedes to the unthought at the very moment it verges upon the “knowable.” A distanciation within the structure of equivalence; of iteration and contiguity within the structure of verification; inscribing the very technē of memory, of recognition, of representation. Moreover, this technē designates not only an apprehension at a remove, in the sense of belatedness, but that element of knowing vested in a “repetition of/at the origin,” or pre-presentation. As Heidegger notes, “usually knowledge refers to a way of access and of a way of relating which disclose … and take possession of what is disclosed.”_38 This “way of access,” or know-how, is both a technē and ēpistēmē, as well as a phenomenon of serving as a point of departure or “pre-possession.” Technē – which “has to do with things that first have to be made and which are not yet what they will be”_39 – thus describes a particular relation to the paradoxical futurity and paradigmatic status of whatever is to be unconcealed; i.e., its “truth.”

We might then say that technicity is in fact a mode of a-lētheia insofar as it discloses the relation of disclosure to the archē of its prepresentation. “An ?ρχη,” Heidegger writes, “is itself no longer something we can speak of as some-thing. The appropriate speaking of an ?ρχη cannot be carried out by λογος,” it “can only be grasped for itself and not as something else.”_40 This archē, which Heidegger identifies as the “action itself” of unconcealment, retains the character of the unpresentable, and hence of the unrepresentable as such. Its status in the epistemological schema is of an “unthought,” which nevertheless stands in a relation of a pre-presentation of thought and of its mode of access – of a particular circumspection, regard, or theōria, which is that of the action of disclosure itself “characterised by its various moments,” its spatio-temporalised situation or event-state. Hence we may identify a certain tele-technology as the “essence” of theory, according to which technology itself – as a distanciation “at the origin” – is evoked simultaneously as an underwriting “epistemology” and as a “theory of the unthought.”

Prague, February–May 2006


Bernard Stiegler: Technics and Time. Volume I: The Fault of Epimetheus. Stanford University Press, Stanford 1998, p. 275. Trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins.

Stiegler: Technics and Time, p. 4.

John Ruskin: Of the Pathetic Fallacy, Modern Painters. Knopf, New York 1988 [1856], III. §5: “It will appear also, on consideration of the matter, that this fallacy is of two principal kinds. Either … it is the fallacy of wilful fancy, which involves no real expectation that it will be believed; or else it is a fallacy caused by an excited state of the feelings, making us, for the time, more or less irrational … The state of mind which attributes to it these characters of a living creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief. All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the ‘Pathetic Fallacy.’”

Jacques Lacan: Homeostasis and Insistence, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954–1955. Cambridge University Press, London 1988, p. 54. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli.

Stiegler: Technics and Time, p. 6.

Cf. Alain Badiou: Being and Event. Continuum, London 2005. Trans. Oliver Feltham.

Friedrich Kittler: Literature, Media, Information Systems. Ed. John Johnston. OPA, Amsterdam 1997, p. 120.

Kittler: Literature, Media, Information Systems, p. 143.

Jean-Joseph Goux: Numismatiques II. Tel Quel 36, 1969, p. 59.

Kittler: Literature, Media, Information Systems, p. 129.

Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and Cybernetics, or On the Nature of Language. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954–1955. Cambridge University Press, London 1988, p. 300. Trans. S. Tomaselli.

Stiegler: Technics and Time, p. ix.

Martin Heidegger: Nietzsche. Ed. David Farrell Krell. Harper, San Francisco 1991, II, p. 164.

Jacques Derrida: Cogito and the History of Madness. Writing and Difference. Routledge, London 1978, p. 36. Trans. Alan Bass.

Martin Heidegger: Plato’s Sophist. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis 2003, p. 21. Trans. Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer.

Walter Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Illuminations. Fontana, London 1995, p. 222. Trans. Harry Zohn.

Paul Ricoeur: Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1981, pp. 112–113. Trans. John B. Thompson. Ricoeur coins the expression “distanciation” to express the distance and relation between subject and object in the orientation of the hermeneutic quest.

Jacques Derrida: Spectres of Marx. Routledge, London 1994, p. 97. Trans. Peggy Kamuf.

Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, pp. 221; 220.

Jacques Lacan: A Materialist Definition of the Phenomenon of Consciousness. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II, p. 43.

Jacques Derrida-Bernard Steigler: The Archive Market: Truth, Testimony, Evidence, Echographies of Television. Polity, Cambridge 2002, 82ff. Trans. Jennifer Bayorek.

Jean-Michel Rabaté: Jacques Lacan. Palgrave, New York 2001, p. 4.

Derrida-Steigler: Spectographies. Echographies of Television, p. 117.

Martin Heidegger: Four Seminars. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2003, p. 62. Trans. Andrew Mitchell and Franćois Raffoul.

See Martin Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Harper and Row, New York 1977. Trans. William Lovitt.

Martin Heidegger: On the Essence of Truth. Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. Rev. ed. Routledge, London 1993, p. 132. Trans. John Sallis. Heidegger’s interpretation of alētheia here draws upon an earlier reading of a fragment of Parmenides. See Heidegger’s Vorträge und Aufsätze. Neske, Pfullingen 1954, p. 26.

Heidegger: What Calls for Thinking? Basic Writings, p. 390. Trans. Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray.

Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology. Basic Writings, p. 319.

Heidegger: Plato’s Sophist, p. 11.

Martin Heidegger: What is Called Thinking? Harper & Row, London 1968, p. 3. Trans. Fred D. Wieck and John G. Gray.

Heidegger: What is Called Thinking?, 11.

Heidegger: What is Called Thinking?, p. 11.

Heidegger: What is Called Thinking?, p. 8.

Virgil: Æneid. Vintage, New York 1990, vi. 17–18. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald.

Derrida-Stiegler: Echographies of Television, p. 93.

Jacques Derrida–Maurice Blanchot: Demeure. Fiction and Testimony. Stanford University Press, Stanford 2000, pp. 41–2. Trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg.

Jacques Lacan: Censorship is not Resistance. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II, p. 125.

Heidegger: Plato’s Sophist, p. 10.

Heidegger: Plato’s Sophist, p. 20.

Heidegger: Plato’s Sophist, pp. 100–1.