PROLEGOMENA TO A REVISABLE READING: Bernard Stiegler and the duplicity of jargon


The impression of lexical obfuscation that I describe comes after reading several of Stiegler’s books or after listening to several of his classes. One feels illuminated and inspired at first, but then the repetitious but un-illuminating use of an abstract jargon becomes the dominant impression.

In particular in the courses and seminars, a major part of the talk is is taken up by the task of reducing any other discussion to these abstract tokens, and repetitively tracing the connections between the tokens.


When I say that my criteria of satisfaction with a theorist as based on divergence rather than convergence, I am not talking about a theoretical satisfaction based on divergence within the text examined, but about divergence in my evaluations.

I am successively and/or simultaneously satisfied, dissatisfied, perplexed, by what I read. So you will never see satisfaction-convergence in my meditations. The thinkers and the ideas you love are also your traumas. That’s what pushes you to think, and not just to follow.


On the trinome of reduction: I do not accuse Stiegler of technological reductionism, nor of any mono-reductionism, I say explicitly the opposite. My point is his self-revendicated avoidance of technological reductionism is flawed, in that he falls into trinomic or triadic reductionism.


 Here I fully adhere to Stiegler’s self-defence. He admits to misreading his sources, but he reminds us that all these thinkers (Nietzsche, Foucault, Canguilhem, Simondon, Derrida, Deleuze) were in favour of individuation and thus of creative misreading. He argues that we must become the “quasi-causes” of our influences and not their banal retranscription.


I do not effectuate the standard moves of standard philosophy, with its dualisms and its unilateral valorisation of cognitive thought. This is one point where I wholeheartedly adopt Stiegler’s vocabulary: the substitution of “noesis” for “cognition” is no mere verbal tokenising, and it helps us avoid the reduction of thought to cognitive processes and the sterile contrast between emotional thought and cognition.


My own writing, like my talking, is neologistic in both French and English. My problem is not with Stiegler’s theoretical vocabulary resorting to neologistic tokenising, for we need its power of re-conceptualisation. There is also an abbreviating and time-saving quality to such a jargon, allowing us to go faster.

However this abbreviation-effect of idiolectal tokens can become mere stereotyping, and the speed-effect can move from acceleration (whether good or bad, vis-à-vis stereotypes) to time-wasting obsessive ritual retracing of connections between tokens.

Further, there is a temporality in thinking which means that one’s reflections belonging to a phase prior to serious engagement with an oeuvre, in this case Stiegler’s, need to be treated with prudence.


This prudence is associated with another of my satisfaction-criteria (in this case of my degree of satisfaction with my own analysis of a thinker’s work): immanence, including that basic form of immanence that is immersion in the oeuvre. Our first impressions do not satisfy that criterion of basic immersion, and so they can only be prolegomena.

I believe that prolegomena are not first principles, neither temporally nor logically, and that they must continually be revisable.

Note: I wish to thank Artxell Knaphni for a stimulating discussion, which helped me to clarify the ideas expressed in this post.

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Stiegler gets the notion of individuation from Simondon, who got it from Jung. However, I myself got it from Jung. This is my (unsystematic) precautionary criterion for adopting elements of Stiegler’s system: I adopt those aspects of thought and jargon that I can cross-validate with other thinkers I admire.

Simondon was a freer and more open thinker than Stiegler, as he did not get stuck inside the Freud-Lacan crystal palace. Simondon read Jung and was favourable to some of his ideas. Stiegler says Simondon didn’t understand Freud. I think rather that Stiegler doesn’t understand Jung.

On the question of Freud, as on other questions, Stiegler is halfway between Derrida and Deleuze, but still can’t quite get to Deleuze. The problem is more general: in France Jung is overshadowed by Freud. Stiegler shows no grand originality on that point.

However, Stiegler has been referencing and using Deleuze’s concept of “quasi-causality” quite a bit. He often discusses Deleuze or uses his concepts, and that for me is one of his most interesting aspect. My thought is not that “Stiegler should discuss Deleuze”, as he already does that. It is rather: reading Stiegler has transformed my reading of Deleuze in a far more useful and inspiring way than the Deleuzians and Deleuzian scholars have done. This enriching reading of Deleuze is accomplished despite Stiegler’s continuing recourse to Freud and reliance on him for his own theoretical basis.

The idea that Stiegler’s thought is halfway between Derrida and Deleuze is not so much a summary of his trajectory as my positioning of his thought in trying to explain both my enthusiasm and my dissatisfaction. I have been following Stiegler intensively for seven years, listening to all his online classes and seminars, and reading the books and articles he publishes in conjunction with them. So I am fascinated by his ideas and find therein much theoretical satisfaction, but I discuss his work only rarely and briefly.

I have trouble finding the language to talk about Stiegler’s work. I do not try to assimilate his thought to some implicit system of my own, but I do resist being assimilated by his thought and jargon, because this is a very real danger, as Stiegler himself admits and warns against.

Given that I find much to criticise in the thinkers I discuss one is entitled to ask what are my criteria of satisfaction-convergence. I have none. I do not seek convergence but divergence, multiple perspectives.

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THE STIEGLER PARADOX: old concepts in new jargon


Bernard Stiegler spends almost as much time setting out his own theoretical vocabulary as he does enouncing and arguing for theses in the terms of that vocabulary. I make use of those elements of Stiegler’s vocabulary that refer back to other theorists that I admire, and that I had already read before familiarising myself with his books, articles, talks, and videos.

For example (1) “individuation” in the sense of Jung. Jung made it quite clear that all individuation is both psychic and collective, (2) “noetic” as used by Deleuze (especially in his cinema seminars, which I attended) and Guattari in the characterisation of desiring machines, (3) “exo-somatic” as employed by Popper in his description of Third World entities (anticipating Stiegler’s theory of “tertiary retentions”). It is useful to bear in mind this semiotic horizon of Jung, Deleuze and Guattari, and Popper in reading Stiegler to de-obfuscate the jargon.


Stiegler would argue that he does not attribute an “essence” to technology, and that he does not fall into technological essentialism nor into technological reductionism. My impression is that he avoids such mono-essentialism and mono-reductionism only by instituting a triune essentialism and reductionism based on the trinome of individual-social-technological determination. This would account for the reductionist aura of his thought, despite his frequent protestations that he is not a scientistic or technological reductionist.


I do not think Stiegler is totally void of original content, but he has far less than he seems to think. If he were content to comment Deleuze and to highlight aspects of his thought that correspond to his own obsessions he would be a quite stimulating thinker. However, he wants to be more but without having the conceptual means to be so.

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FOUCAULT AND THE ONTOLOGICAL TURN: realism, materiality and the outside

Deleuze’s FOUCAULT is a crucial reference for situating, and for understanding in relation to contemporary philosophical concerns, Foucault’s posthumously published LES AVEUX DE LA CHAIR, the fourth volume in his history of sexuality project.

Foucault has often been seen as elaborating a form of historical epistemology, and this is certainly an important part of his work. He affirmed that the aim of his philosophical project was not to give the history of the differing forms taken by “sexuality” as a unitary essence. Rather, his project amounts to proposing a history of our experience of sexuality, insofar as that experience is constituted, articulated and transformed across successive or co-existing incommensurable assemblages.

Deleuze’s book showed that underlying Foucault’s manifest epistemological project, motivating and orienting it, lay a realist ontological research programme. It allows us to make sense of Foucault’s claim that his project is more akin to Heidegger’s approach to the relations between subject and truth than to Lacan’s.

Far from piloting the relativist turn to post-modern “correlationism”, Foucault’s research programme was tenaciously realist throughout its transformations. Two key realist dimensions of his analyses can be singled out: the material cause and the outside.

1) The material cause (called in his history of sexuality project the “ethical substance”) is a constant concern of Foucault’s work, embracing the materiality of the archives, of the technologies of power, and of the techniques of the self. It is strictly inseparable from the efficient cause consisting in rules, regulations, and prescriptions. Together they constitute the assemblages of bodies-languages within which our experience is formed.

2) The outside is a concept that Foucault and Deleuze share with Maurice Blanchot. Deleuze argues that Foucault gives this category of the outside a distinctively realist turn in his transformation of Blanchot’s affirmation that “speaking is not seeing”. For Deleuze, Foucault’s treatment of the epistemological divergence between the sayable and the visible, and the freeing of the visible from the domination of the sayable, institutes a second, realist, maxim: seeing is not speaking.

This constitution of a relative outside, and of a composite of seeing-speaking rejoins the first point concerning the material cause and the convergent or divergent composites of bodies-languages.

However, the category of the outside is not limited to these two dimensions, nor even to their divergence. The outside is what underlies both the convergence and the divergence of bodies and languages, and is the driving force of their transformations.

Deleuze’s reconstruction of Foucault’s ontological research programme is complex, but he succeeds in isolating a realist core that operates as a positive heuristic in the passage from phenomenology to epistemology and from epistemology to ontology.

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I think it is worthwhile unpacking Foucault’s concept of “triple determination” deployed at the beginning of LES AVEUX DE LA CHAIR because it may contain a useful key not only to the rest of his analysis but also to its contemporary relevance. Following an indication (page 104) of Deleuze’s eponymously titled FOUCAULT we can see at work in many of Foucault’s discussions analogies or variants of Aristotle’s four causes.

Unfortunately the English translation partially mangles this insight, but Deleuze points out that Foucault’s analyses of processes of subjectivation posit four ontological levels:

1) our material part – this corresponds to Aristotle’s material cause. For the Greeks this consists in bodies and their pleasures (aphrodisia), for the Christians it is the flesh and its desires.

This opposition bodies-pleasures/flesh-desires is still operative today. It is noteworthy that Deleuze finds Foucault to be a little too “Greek” in his preference for the concept of pleasure, and no doubt Foucault found Deleuze a little too “Christian” in his preference for the concept of desire.

2) moral precepts and prescriptions – this corresponds to Aristotle’s efficient cause. In his FOUCAULT Deleuze calls this the level of the “efficient rule” (in the French original, page 111), but the adjective “efficient” is omitted in the English translation (page 104).

Taken together these first two causes, material and efficient, correspond to Foucault’s first “determination”: rule-governed conduct. Deleuze remarks on the multiplicity of meaning encompassed by this level of analysis:

“certainly it is not the same thing if the efficient rule is natural, or divine, or rational, or aesthetic…” (FOUCAULT 104, translation modified).

This is the level of what Badiou calls “bodies-languages”, and his analysis of “democratic materialism” can be seen as a critique of the Greek regression embodied by Foucault. No doubt Foucault would have seen in Badiou’s return to the Lacanian concept of desire an even more acute case of Christian regression than the ambiguity he saw in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire.

3) reason or Logos – this corresponds to Aristotle’s formal cause. According to Deleuze this is the level of the relation between subject and truth, and of the subjectivation of truth and knowledge. This subjectivation of truth is equally its incarnation.

This level of truth and its subjectivation is radically weakened in our so-called “post-truth” world. It is clear that Foucault himself was in no way post-truth but that he gives us conceptual resources to analyse this new disposition.

4) union with God – this corresponds to Aristotle’s final cause. Deleuze calls this final level “waiting interiority”

it is from it that the subject waits for, in divers modes, immortality, or eternity, or salvation, or freedom, or death, detachment…” (FOUCAULT 104, translation modified).

This level of the final cause is even more weakened than the preceding level of truth and its subjectivation.

In sum, Foucault’s concept of triple determination is not just an instrument of historical analysis but also serves as part of the “ontology of the present”. The question of the status of the four causes today is still ongoing. The material cause is no longer limited to bodies or flesh, but has become cybernetic and biospheric. Its composition with the efficient cause of codes, rules, regulations and prescriptions has led to the twin dangers of de-regulation and identity politics. The formal cause of the relation of subjects to truth and of the subjectivation of knowledge is undergoing profound changes, of which one pole is the evolution towards a post-truth subject. Finally, the final cause of a shared teleological horizon (or “waiting interiority”) of subjectivation for our goals and expectations is still to be constituted.

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I will be summarising and commenting Les Aveux de la chair, Foucault’s fourth volume in the history of sexuality tetralogy philosophically. In this first substantial post I wish to show how the first few pages conform to the theses that can be extracted from the sketch for an introduction appended in Annex 1.

The book’s first, and longest, chapter has for title: “The formation of a new experience”, which situates it as a demonstration of the thesis of the mutability of experience.

This is at first sight an epistemological thesis (there is no “raw” experience), but we must not forget that it is also a political (prescriptions for conduct can be neither legitimated nor invalidated by an appeal to constituted experience) and an ontological one (Being scinds experience, rescinds its authority, and prescinds it from exteriority).

The title of the first part of the first chapter is “Creation, Procreation”. The book begins abruptly:

Thus it is non Christian philosophers and directors who formulated the regime of aphrodisia, defined in terms of marriage, of procreation, of the disqualification of pleasure and of a tie of respectful and intense sympathy between spouses (Les Aveux de la chair, 9, my translation, henceforth noted AC).

According to Foucault this same regime, first formulated by pagan philosophers, is to be found almost unchanged in the writings of the early Church Fathers. This is what I have called the thesis of prescriptive continuity.

The Christian moral prescriptions concerning the mastery of desire, the mistrust of pleasure, marriage, procreation, adultery, and continence are virtually identical to those of their immediate pagan predecessors. This prescriptive continuity allows the Church Fathers to refute charges of Christian immoralism and to emphasise that Christian belief in God and the after life constitutes a powerful motive to really put these precepts into practice.

A change of emphasis comes about towards the end of the Second Century, as seen in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. The bulk of part one of this chapter is devoted to a reading of Clement’s Paedogogus (also called The Instructor).

Foucault focuses on the new meaning given by Clement to the familiar precepts (thesis of meaning incommensurability), and cites this passage from the end of Chapter XIII:

And the end of piety is eternal rest in God. And the beginning of eternity is our end. The right operation of piety perfects duty by works; whence, according to just reasoning, duties consist in actions, not in sayings. And Christian conduct is the operation of the rational soul in accordance with a correct judgment and aspiration after the truth [Logos], which attains its destined end through the body, the soul’s consort and ally. Virtue is a will in conformity to God and Christ in life, rightly adjusted to life everlasting. For the life of Christians, in which we are now trained, is a system of reasonable actions — that is, of those things taught by the Word [Logos] — an unfailing energy which we have called faith. The system is the commandments of the Lord, which, being divine statues and spiritual counsels, have been written for ourselves, being adapted for ourselves and our neighbours.

The translation given here differs in many details from the French translation, but the essential point remains:

in these laws of everyday existence we must see the teaching of the Logos itself (AC, 11).

Foucault distinguishes three levels of prescriptivity (thesis of multiple embedding). One must recognise in such acts in conformity to the Logos a “triple determination” : fitting conducts in accord with Nature, that are founded in universal reason or Logos, and are conducive to eternal rest in God.

There is a fundamental difference in the prescriptions offered by Clement to those taught by the preceding philosophical schools despite their quasi-identity of content (thesis of epistemico-ethical reconfiguration):

the whole effort of Clement is to insert these well-known and familiar aphorisms in a complex weave of citations, references, or examples which make them appear as prescriptions of the Logos, whether it enounces itself in Nature, in human reason, or in the Word of God (AC, 16).

Thus the abrupt beginning embodies a set of theses that situate the book over and above its historical claims within a philosophical horizon.

Foucault is analysing the passage from pagan antiquity to Christian onto-theology, and the re-signification of the Stoic precepts within a new configuration dominated by an overarching transcendent instance.

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Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 4 – Les Aveux de la Chair: Contents

French contents page:


English Translation:



Introductory Notice by Frédéric Gros

I. The formation of a new experience

  1. Creation, procreation
  2. The painful baptism
  3. The second penance
  4. The art of arts

II. Being a virgin

  1. Virginity and continence
  2. Of the arts of virginity
  3. Virginity and self-knowledge

III. Being married

  1. The duty of spouses
  2. The good and the goods of marriage
  3. The libidinisation of sex

Annexes 1, 2, 3, 4

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