In this essay I will summarize the article Anamnesis and Hypomnesis of Bernard Stiegler, French philosopher, about the question of anamnesis and hypomnesis related to the technological milieus which define our modern societies. By doing that I will give my own interpretation of the meaning of the article using the vocabulary that Stielger uses, or invents, in order to explain his investigation. For example, I will maintain the word ‘originary’ instead of the more common ‘original’ to indicate the essential first condition. Finally, even though adding an introductive paragraph for every section, I will keep the same structure of the article used by the philosopher in order not to modify the layout of the investigation.

When it comes to Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy the main problem is decoding his message. Fun fact, a big chunk of his philosophy is, indeed, related to code and decode languages, or technologies, or systems. In this essay, I aim to simplify his theories and explain, in my words, a possible interpretation to the essay Anamnesis and Hypomnesis.

I apologies in advance if the language is not considered adequate to a Stieglerian audience. On the other hand, my apologies to whom are not ready to read Stielger yet and they will find the essay complicated. I believe we all have our unique skills and languages and I believe to cover an intermediate position in between advanced users and beginners of philosophical language.

Please do not hesitate to contact me back in case of any question, tip, clarification, and suggestion.

Enjoy your reading.

Anamnesis and Hypomnesis

Plato as the first thinker of proletarianization

❶The industrial exteriorization of memory

In this first section Stielger introduces the main characteristic of technical memory, the element that distinguishes human beings from animals. According to Stiegler, the most important part of memory is the technical one, which is described as the product of exteriorization. Moreover, the crucial point introduced by Stiegler is the industrialization of memory that makes schematizing memory possible, as well as reproducing, controlling and modifying it.

In everyday experience we rely for part of our memory on external objects: although limited, part of our memory is outside us. This condition represents an originary condition because our memory has to be considered as technical from the very beginning. However, from the very first product of exteriorization, a lithic tool, we must wait the invention of mnemo-technics in the explicit sense of the term, in the time of Neolithic, to consider the product of exteriorization as explicitly made to store memory.[1] In fact, it is only with the advent of the writing that we can explicitly state our desire to store, retain and share experiences.

Nowadays, we may speak about mnemo-technologies because the passage from mnemo-techniques to mnemo-technologies due to the adoption of an applied alphabet’s apparatus also implies a switch of meaning of the content. Anyway, memory which is constantly expression of knowledge is subject to the constant peril of the loss of knowledge. In fact, when we organize material memories in order to transmit them, we transform mere memory in technology and, by doing that, we put memory in a constant and dangerous situation.

Nevertheless, today memory occupies the role of “major element in industrial development”[2] because the objects we use in our quotidian life represent more and more the support of objective memory. When we analyze the relation between memory and knowledge, we detect that our societies are founded on knowledge and that cognitive technologies represent the key to understand and implement it. These two elements, nowadays, are intrinsically related and they symbolize the greater part of our memory.

However, because of their form, they embody the practical risk of losing memory and knowledge. For example, if we lose our telephone we may lose part of our memory (and everything is stored in the support: number of telephones, addresses, etc.). On the other hand, the easiness to control knowledge emerges and creates the necessary requirements to open up to the question of the political control of the societies. In fact, if we are able to master the memory of this apparatus, we are also able to control and modify it.

❷The question of hypomnesis

Exteriorization of memory is possible because of the hypomnemata, the objects. In this section the opposition between live and dead memory and the fragile equilibrium between the two emerges. In fact, if it is true that the immensity of human memory is stored on dead tools (hypomnemata). Therefore, we must admit that it is necessary to use them in order to re-activate the living part of memory (anamnesic act).

We (as human beings) constantly delegate memory and knowledge to the supports and to the industry from which they are created. Consequently, the latter can create, control and formalize what we have delegated. Hence, the more we rely on these systems, the more we become vain. We do not only lose knowledge, but also the know-how of human being itself. We become obsolete, impotent,[3] because we lose what defines our condition. Here the issue of proletarianization, that is crucial in Stiegler thinking, emerges. Also, it appears how the proletarianization phase is not only related to the skills but also to the nature of human beings (otherwise we would talk of alienation, instead of forgetting).

Also, it is impossible to oppose living memory to dead memory, as to say the internal and the external. Hence, in order to take into account the relationship between the exteriorization process and the creation of an interior, Stiegler recalls Derrida’s work on pharmacology[4] to explain the thorny question from a Platonic point of view in which the opposition between anamnesis and hypomnesis emerges.

In fact, this old opposition between the sophistic issue of the hypomnesis against the Platonic philosophic notion of anamnesis, helps us to understand how this relation, nowadays, causes us a loss of memory and knowledge. In other words, it is useful to observe that this juxtaposition compares two different styles: the one that directly uses the support as memory’s storage and the one who aim to reactivate memory to recall everything. This opposite positions give us an idea about the consideration on memory in every era, but, above all, help us to remark how much we rely on the technological one.

Furthermore, the question of hypomnesis will become the spark of an important political question. Today the challenge is to create a sustainable hypomnesic milieu in which the immensity of human memory[5] could not only be stored, but could also be accessible and re-activable. Hence, the process of re-activation becomes the only way to de-proletarianize the human being: the way in which the hypomnemata stimulates the anamnesic act of thinking.

❸Grammatisation as the history of the supplement

Here Stiegler introduces the important notion of grammatisation. Once he has introduced the crucial role of technical memory (stored on hypomnemata), he starts talking about the history of the evolution of the supplement. In fact, like human beings, the supplements have their own evolution. Grammatisation is the term used to indicate the technical history of memory and, at the same time, it gives us the criteria to understand that the supplement is something more than an object and that its evolution is doubly connected to the evolution of human beings.

How did we reach this thorny situation? Clearly, the history of human memory is the history of grammatisation, that is, the history of hypomnemata in which we store our memory. Stiegler, in order to explain this evolutionary process, uses Simondon’s expression “associated milieu” of individuation to express the notion of memory. In fact, he needs to give to memory a different meaning than the external object that store information.

From here, the process of exteriorization introduced by Leroi-Gourhan as a constant process of displacing itself[6] enters in a new phase in which the process of exteriorization will be enhanced by the process of individuation. Hence, individuation through psychical individuals and collective ones will give a new definition to external memory.

This collective process is precisely the one of grammatisation because it represents the history of technical memory in which “hypomnesic memory repeatedly re-launches the constitution of an anamnesic tension of memory”.[7] In other words, the tension that characterizes anamnesic memory has to exteriorize itself in order to form the work of the spirit, the entire knowledge, the history of human beings. Therefore, we recognize different levels of grammatisation: the one of the language wherein writing and speech are different stages; and the one of gesture which is, for example, used by Marx to introduce the advent of proletarianization of the know-how.

Hence, grammatisation embodies every kind of exteriorization of memory; from the logos sphere, to the bodily one (for example the DNA that today is also grammatized). Now, once we have recognized the universality of the process of grammatisation, we should open to a new general organology[8] useful to understand the articulation of all the elements that constitute the totality of the human being. Moreover, we may restage the question of hypomnesis that represents the very first version of a thinking of proletarianization; it has to be addressed with the purpose to examine the question of technical memory.

In fact, with the advent of the proletarian, the equilibrium between human being and its memory is definitely changed. The proletarian has no longer to know about, but to serve; this memory has already passed to the instrument. As an analogy, the consumer as proletarian is deprived of his memory and knowledge; he just uses (that is why he is called user). Hence, the new investigation of anamnesis is necessary to overcome Marx’s forgetfulness of anamnesic nature of man and to definitely overcome the scope of hypomnesis in Plato in order to re-think a philosophy where the main stakes are in technics, the hypomnesic part of memory.

❹Human memory as epiphylogenesis

Stiegler critiques Plato’s idea of thinking based on anamnesic practice. Doing that, once he has defined the thinking sphere as a mere technical affair, he introduces the notion of epiphylogenesis because the term embodies his theory on thinking. Recalling the work of Leroi-Gourhan, Stiegler considers tools as vectors of human memory. In fact, the memory of animals is ‘epigenetic’, as to say, inscribed into the genes. However, some habits are inscribed outside the genes, in a collective memory that is called ‘phylogenetic’, as to say, the memory of the species. Human memory is also constituted by these two, but it has an extension: the supplement. Hence, human memory is based on epyphilogenetic supports; external vectors of memory.   

Going back to Plato, Stigler wants to understand the first question of memory, conceived as anamnesis, as the epoch of grammatisation. This interpretation gives to philosophy[9] the following matter: the prevailing of the anamnesis on the sophistic practice of the writing (as hypomnesis practice), put technics on a level of pseudo-knowledge, because of their lack of need in the sphere of real philosophy (real thinking, anamnesis).

In this opposition there is no place for the process of grammatisation, because this opposition between logos and tekhnè, immortality and mortality, represents the opposite condition for grammatisation. We have to overcome the opposition between hypomnesis and anamnesis because we need to consider technicity as the constitutive part element of life ex-sistence and of philosophical thinking. Ex-sistence because they work together and, in this view, they allow us to consider the process of hominization as characterized by the appearance of epiphylogenetic memory: a hypomnesic memory that was already there at the origin of philosophical thinking.

In fact, Stiegler uses the interpretation of Leroi-Gourhan about the process of hominization, to explain that the exteriorization of the living characterizes a life that is no longer a bio-logical one (in fact, according to Stiegler’s interpretation, human life is a mere technical life). Stiegler, re-thinking the notion of technics as vector of memory, wants to show that exteriorization constitutes the third layer of memory of human beings.

Technical memory is sustained by epiphylogenetic objects. And, vice versa, inorganic matter receives information when it is shaped by technician’s gesture and then it becomes a support constituting the cultural phylum of the species. Hence, by becoming the process of grammatisation, the process of epiphylogenesis engenders the mnemotechnics (and the mnemotechnologies); as to say, every inorganic organized beings.

❺From writing to digitalization

The history of the supplement is connected to the one of human beings. In the sphere of the process of grammatisation there are some decisive steps. The invention of the alphabet and the conjunct birth of the writing gave to human beings the possibility to access and share every kind of knowledge that was only present at the interior level. But the recent history of grammatisation opens up a completely new scenario in which the writing is destined to occupy a subordinate role.

Technics constitute the milieu of epiphylogenetic memory, but not all the objects are mnemotechnical objects. Only during the late Paleolithic era these mnemo-technics appeared. However, it is only within the Neolithic era in which the conditions of the development of this technologies came to light.

Now, it is necessary to analyze the collective characteristic of the grammatisation phase. Stiegler talks about social memory because the advent of the alphabet permitted everybody to share and participate immediately about everything. For the first time we adopted a system of cardinality that was the landmark for communication and the sharing of knowledge. Also, the alphabet represents the very first orthothetic mnemotechnic example in nature: it means that, with the alphabet, exactitude is now the essential characteristic to this support, which embodies memory and historiality.

Retrace the history of this supplement means to investigate the development of the technologies which have expanded the efficacy of the tool. The printing press, the advent of the analogical technologies (for example radio, television and cinema) are the examples of the changing of our societies. In fact, in order to understand the evolution of the process we have to recognize the different approach that human beings have had with tools during the different eras.

The orthothetic support presupposes that the producer and the consumer would have been able to code and decode the product itself. However, after the industrial revolution, we noticed the beginning of a neat separation between producers and consumers. We are no more needed as decoder of information, but as servant. The behaviors of the citizens of the industrial societies have to change; from the behavior of a citizen to the one of the consumer. In other words, the process of adoption of technical milieus is radically transformed by the drive of the industrial society.

Therefore, since we are always less requested to decode the meaning of the different products (for example, decode, read, a book), but we are slowly brought to consume images and adapt ourselves to a permanent process of consumable novelty, we are now experiencing the transformation of our orthothetic tool in a new digital one.

However, according to Stiegler, these tools came out of the information industries in a moment wherein the commodity of information is constituting a new system of cardinality.

❻Memory and information

In this section Stiegler uses the juxtaposition between memory and information to show how, in our era, the information industries are the main responsible drivers of a process that he calls “desublimation”. In fact, we are no more able to decode knowledge from information as it was in a system based on writing. Nowadays, the information we constantly receive in our life is present in every moment of our existence. Information is no more bearer of knowledge but it is becoming a commodity whose value is only linked with time and ‘freshness’.

Industry of communication and industry of information are a product of the modern era. The production of memory in a permanent real time condition brings a transformation of the events that characterizes our societies.

In fact, it is necessary to cover (with a massive presence of mass media) an event in order to give it the necessary importance, to identify it as a ‘real’ event. Furthermore, the question of freshness of the same event emerges. As soon as we consider these events as covered by instant information we must recognize that we need more events in order to define (re-define) ourselves (our knowledge) and the events.

Now, the difference between the digital and question of writing emerges. In the writing system the event precedes its draft, but in the digital system, in the daily account of the news, the notion of time, historiality, has been totally twisted. Nonetheless, a new investigation of memory is necessary because also the criteria of selection are rapidly changing. Selection as conservation of memory, of the memorable, is always related to the elaboration of “what” has happened. It is never the exact repetition of the fact. Yet, nowadays the elimination of the deferred time creates a “process of desublimation”[10], that is, the consequence of the de-individuation in such these events.

Despite this, another consequence comes to light: the loss of knowledge in the era of industrial information is reduced to the efficacy of the event (in terms of consume, number of viewers, etc.). However, industrial drivers of these industries do not limit themselves to co-produce events (in the sense that they cover the event) but they also want to create new events. Afterwards, for the very first time the loss of knowledge is accompanied by an incessant bombardment of events that should increase knowledge as such. Hyper production and loss of knowledge are now related to one another.

However, this switch makes the transformation of the drive (the information industry in this case) into a desire possible. Thus, from the situation in which the question of selection was suitable to the creation of a hypothetic super ego (because of the specific selection of idealized events), we reached a new situation in which the desublimation of the events makes possible that every energy can be now directed to create a social energy.

❼The ecology of hypomnesis: the time of associated milieus

The last section starts with a description of dissociated milieus in which there is no more interlocution between producer and final user because the industrial communication created in the last phase of grammatisation is no more participative. However, the very last product of grammatisation, the internet, represents a hope for a new shared and ecological equilibrium between hypomnesic milieus.

The end-user of literal synthesis has been required to have some rudiments, as to read and to write, in order to be able to code and decode the content of the information. By contrast, with the analog and the digital technologies, we totally delegate these functions to the machines: sender and receiver are no longer encoder and decoder.

Hence, the process of industrialization of memory, fed by an actual consumerism of memory and more determined by technical tendency, transforms memory in a commodity. However, the consequence of this change organizes the loss of knowledge by industrial hypomnesis. The industrialization of the symbolic produces a situation that separates the society into two groups: the one of the producers and the one of the consumers.

In the play of this dichotomy the entire associated anamnesic milieu allows the constitution and the expression of singularities. In fact, a symbolic and dialogical exchange occurs at every level of communication: for example, when we speak we produce a process of individuation as well as participate in the transformation of language itself. This process is in its essence both psychical and collective; it represents a generalized individuation process. However, as soon as we recognize that the life of language is in interlocution, we note that the audiovisual mass media is destroying the language sphere simply because there is no more interlocution between the subjects.

Also, this situation becomes possible because the industrial communication milieu is no more participative. Again, this service economy of which media are the main sector, deprives its users from every opportunity of participation and bases its own essence on a systematic short-circuiting of their knowledge.

However, the advent of internet modified this situation; internet represents the possibility of a renovated participative hypomnesic milieu. A new role for the consumer (user, citizen) emerges: there is a necessity to participate in this project and to turn back to the condition of the coder-decoder of information. Moreover, internet represents the associated technical milieu of different hypomnesic milieus, that is, a new world in which the position of the user is no more connected with the code-decoder situation, but it represents a new form in which the users can become sender and receiver of participated phases of individuation.

In addition, the industrial hypomnesic memory has become the heart of contemporary societies and, by becoming communicative, it is bringing objects of daily use that were not participative (as telephones, GPS navigators, Ipod, etc.) in a new transformation.

Now, in order to complete the transformation, we must change the industrial model that supports the milieu. Only with this change we will definitely transform digital technologies in the service of individuation. Thus, through the adoption of new hypomnesic supports, a new hypomnesic equilibrium is created, that Stiegler calls “an ecology of associated hypomnesic milieus”.[11]

[1] Anamnesis and Hypomnesis, 1

[2] Ibid., 1

[3] Ibid., 2

[4] Derrida, Plato’s Pharmacy

[5] Anamnesis and Hypomnesis, 2

[6] Ibid., 2

[7] Ibid., 2

[8] Ibid., 2

[9] Ibid., 3

[10] Ibid., 8

[11] Ibid. 11

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