‘We suffer more often in imagination than in reality’



The horizon of all the possibilities is technical[1]. That gives the idea of a new role of technics in our existence as technical being. Technics, according to Stiegler, is the word referred to the technical domain or to the technical practice as a whole[2]. Thus, technics is not a fact, but a result of a specialization of ‘technics’ object to which we refer to give a solution about the question concerning our history. In our days, we are experiencing the result of a hyper-industrialization, which is every day faster, and that is conditioning the creation and the adaptation of the technical systems in which humanity designates its own memory since the dawn of time.

However, this process of adaptation is necessitated due to a process of technical exteriorization: the first step, the origin, towards the conquest of mobility. Effectively, the creation of a binary connection like the relation between technical objects and humanity is the beginning of the identification of the dynamic process of what we can call the world of the ‘organized inorganic beings’. This relation, which can be said as transductive also explains the dynamic of the ‘who’ (human), that is impossible to consider without the ‘what’ (technics). In other words, objects have their own evolution intertwined with human evolution and it is exactly in this conception in which we find the premise of a new role of technics. The relation is a transductive connection in which the relata, in order to exist, are defined in the relation itself and cannot have an existence outside this contest.

The past is the imprint of present and in every ‘present moment’ humanity has to designate a memory, which can function as a possible base for the future, composed by mnemotechnical witnesses. All products are technical products but, in the opinion of Stiegler, not all technics are mnemo-technics. This means that all technical are implicitly mnemotechnics systems but not all of them in an explicit sense, i.e., specifically intended as artificial memories. To underline this distinction the French philosopher uses the term ‘epiphylogenetic’ memory, used to indicate the tertiary memory, which is in fact the memory of the human being inscribed in the non-living bodies of technical artefacts.

What is the destiny of our history? We can play an active role and restrict the dominance of tools or we can play a passive role continuing to lose our imagination. Humanity has an ambiguous position: critically select the mnemotechnics on which to build a possible future or try to follow, and uncritically adapt itself, to the evolution of technology that proceeds, by then, with a ‘quasi-automatic’ movement.

The question of memory

We are called for a new consideration of ‘technicity’, indeed, we have to recognize that the nonorganic organization of matter has its own evolution and its own dynamism. There is today a new and stronger situation of disorientation in which we confuse our nature with our evolution. How was the invention of this situation possible? According to Stiegler, life is the conquest of mobility[3]. This process is achievable thanks to an exteriorization wherein man is destined to become. In fact the man at the origin was a man with no qualities; man can only talk about his evolution as a human after the beginning of this relationship between itself and technology[4].

There is no origin of human nature which is then deviated from; the human, the mortal, is deviation itself. Unlike animals, who are each allotted essential characteristics or powers, the human is originally nothing. The origin of the human is thus constituted by a défault. One more time, in the words of Stiegler “there will have been nothing at the origin but the fault, a fault that is nothing but the de-fault of origin or the origin as de-fault”[5]. So, recognizing the dimension of the real nature of man, the condition of a prosthetic being that is no more only a biological being. The history of the human is therefore no longer in the realm of genetic evolution but that of technical evolution (or the evolution of ‘organized inorganic beings’) in which it is impossible to separate the living being from its external prosthetic technical support. Stiegler distinguishes, for this reason, this technical evolution from biological evolution (phylogenesis) by calling it epiphylogenesis.

This transductive relation determines the gait of the human evolution on the one hand, and the originally constitutive role of technics on the other hand.

Thus, it is becoming clear that in observing human history, always in movement, we have to keep in mind that the witnesses of our past are the base, the premise, of our future. Memory tends to be like the retention, in the sense of ‘act of retaining’, and in memory we look for the individuation: the process in which through perception we try to accept ourselves as a dynamic subject. So, memory becomes the moment where we grasp our nature and where we store our knowledge.

Stiegler takes from Simondon and Gilles[6] the notions of individuation and technical systems respectively and he uses these terms, more or less, with their original meaning, but Stiegler argues with Husserl when he tries to work on the definition of memory. Husserl distinguishes two different types of memory: the first (also called primary) and the second (also called secondary) under which the first is the form of retention that belongs to perception, that is constitutive of consciousness as temporal phenomenon and without witch there would not be perception of a temporal phenomenon. Then there is what is called second step of retention, which as the selective memory of a previous experience is already derivative and not constitutive of experience. This is the moment that Husserl calls ‘image-consciousness’, because the secondary memory is a reactivation of the first as an image and this situation creates the strong connection among image and consciousness.

Stiegler, conversely, individuates a difference between the primary and the secondary retention because if the first one is something useful for the perception, the second one is something that refers back to anything we already have perceived. From this point the French philosopher sees in this process what he calls ‘tertiary memory’ that is ultimately constitutive of both the primary and the secondary and not derivative of them.

Again, and better, he uses Husserl’s analysis of a melody to explain the notion he will use as tertiary memory: “the retentional tone is not a present tone but precisely a tone ‘primarily remembered’ in the now: it is not really on hand in the retentional consciousness. But neither can the tonal moment that belongs to this consciousness be a different tone that is really on hand; it cannot even be a very weak tone equivalent in quality (such as an echo) a present tone can indeed ‘remind’ one of a past tone, exemplify it, pictorialize it; but that already presupposes another representation of the past. The intuition of the past cannot itself be a pictorialization. It is an originary consciousness… the echoing itself and after images of any sort left behind by the stronger data of sensation, far from having to be ascribed necessarily to the essence of retention, have nothing at all to do with it.”[7]

Hence, tertiary memories gather together the perception and the retention of the same. We are now allowed to introduce the notion of imagination, according to a new point of view. We said that life is the conquest of mobility; now we quote that imagination is a kind of mobility.


The past is the mark of the present and the present is becoming future in order determined by our selections of objects, tools, which represent a systematic evolution. Every time we try to exteriorize, we look into the past to recognize what we should, or we want, bring with us in the path. These objects on which we rely are called by Stiegler ‘mnemotechnics’ that is more specifically a term which describes a transitional object with the task of memorize its dynamic evolution.

What is an object? When we look into the past we are looking for images to recognize but, according to Stiegler “the image in general does not exist. What is called a mental image and what I will here call the image-object, always inscribed in a history, and even a technical history, are two sides of one and the same phenomenon in which it is no longer possible to separate the signified and the signifier that in the past would have defined the two faces of the linguistic sign.”[8] Another important thing to bear in mind is that the content of our discussion, the mental image, is always a temporal object.

So, man works throughout a rational imagination wherein the act of thinking presupposes to have experience of the created image which is also the trace of the imagination. Thus, imagination has its own exteriorization process defining its own schema.

The experience of perceiving the same temporal object, that is, twice reveals again that the temporal object cannot be simply constituted through primary retention. Moreover, and here the theme of technics reasserts itself, the very experience of perceiving the same temporal object twice is possible only by virtue of the prosthetic memory support (for example CD, DVD and mp3, etc.). Furthermore with the advent of new technologies the repeatability of the temporal object becomes possible and this process creates new ways of interpretation.

Hence, memory and imagination, throughout repetition, constitute the entire knowledge of humanity. Specifically, there is no imagination without the relation object-images, that is, without tertiary retention. Memory is the starting point of our projection towards the future, which is nothing more than the desiring projection of the imagination[9].

Loss of knowledge: the event of proletarianization

Tertiary retention is something possible to store and to recall when we need. Exteriorization is the practice of the prosthetic being that should be repeated in every moment of our existence. That is to say, we are doomed to repetition. This repetition that is more properly a constant re-education is an infinite process that brought us towards a dependence, in which the intercourse with the heteronomy is stronger day by day. On the one hand, at the beginning of our history, thanks to the exteriorization we grasped the notion (and the procedure) of autonomy, but nowadays the action of the interminable process is submitting us to the drives, that is, to the technics.

“In other words, the two tendencies of the pharmakon are the two tendencies of the libidinal economy: these are, pharmacologically, when on the one hand it produces long circuits through which it becomes care, entering into the service of the libido orientated through sublimation, and when on the other hand it produces short-circuits; and it thus submitted to the drives, short-circuiting and by passing sublimation, that is, the binding of the drives.”[10]

The loss of knowledge, according to Stiegler, is the result of a generalized proletarianization which is more specifically a massive process of disapprenticeship or unlearning [11] and thus the annihilation of the spirit. In our days the destruction of local knowledge is engendered by standardization. This path, generated due to adaptation to the ‘technical milieu’, makes the transmission of the knowledge on which we base our social systems impossible.

Hence, it is clear what happened to us: moving towards the technical world -referring to it- we were deprived from our ‘natural’ function: selection and transmission. Industry gives us services, the first one is to schematize everything. So, if we are no more able to schematize the product of cultural industry we accept to surrender ourselves to a unifying imagination ruled by industry itself.

Hyper-industrialization and consequences on memory

Stiegler quotes: “If there can be an industrial schematism, it is because the schematics are originarily, in their very structure, industrializable: they are functions of tertiary retention; that is, through technics, technology and today, industry.”[12]

We saw that, progressively, man tends to be submitted to technical tools. In our days this process is more evident than in the past. The evolution of tools, particularly the mnemotechnics ones, is now at a quasi-autonomous point: indeed industry for the first time in its history is becoming totally uncontrollable. This quasi-automatic movement forces man to continuous adaptation wherein we lose our function of ‘natural’ selector of the images which create our imagination. This regression affects also the transmission of the knowledge, which is, as we said before, the early role of imagination.

The proletarianization of the theoretical imagination creates a disruption which is separating what is linked with its milieu and in few time will no longer permit to individuate these constitutive elements of our condition of human beings, or better of prosthetic beings. For example, as Adorno and Horkheimer quote “It is no longer possible to distinguish real life from film”[13].

We now have to analyze how, in the words of Stiegler, this process of adaptation finishes to dissolve itself in a confused in-distinction. In the words of the French thinker: “Reality is always a construct of the imagination and thus perceived only on condition of being fictional, irreducibly haunted by phantasms, then we would finally be forced to conclude that perception is subordinated to-is in a transductive relationship with-the imagination; that is, there would be no perception outside imagination, and vice versa, perception then being the imagination’s projection screen”[14].

Again, when we create a connection with a temporal object, we move our consciousness into this object interiorizing every moment of its passage as retention. This retention is not properly possession of one individual but is, indeed, something we can share with the others beneficiary (consumer). In the example of cinema is more understandable the process that characterized this common sharing of perception. This is the first step of what we called unifying imagination because is exactly about this situation that, today, the cultural industries are working on.

In fact, across all the forms of recording the tertiary memory designates our individual consciousness of image which is, for us, the ‘real reality’. According to this interpretation, the systematic production of our mind operates exactly as cinema does.

Industry is the ‘litmus test’ of our technical system, indeed it is involved in a process of permanent innovation that give us the perception of what we call progress; and progress, is nothing but a systematic ‘pushing back in the past’ of obsolete structures. In other words, progress can be considered as the acknowledgment of the obsolete, the outdated. Actually, it seems that the role of mnemotechnics we brought from the past of which is now passed itself. In other words, industry becomes the permanent representation of tools that are permanent only in their own existence.

Stiegler keeps on this point: “The 20th century is the century of the industrialization, the conservation and the transmission – that is, the selection – of memory. This industrialization becomes concretized in the generalization of the production of industrial temporal objects (phonograms, films, radio and television programs, etc.), with the consequences to be drawn concerning the fact that millions, hundreds of millions of consciousnesses are every day the consciousnesses, at the same time of the same temporal objects”[15].

We live in the phase of a hyper-industrialization of products and this hyper production also concerns what can be considered as witness of our past. But the goal of humanity is not located in the past. We must look ahead and the only thing we know is that this procedure is also a technical one.

Indeed we assert that the horizon of all the possibilities is technical, this means that the imagination, understood as a projection of desire, is a product of a selection in which what is called mental image that carries the meaning of technical history and in which it is no longer possible to separate the signified from the signifier. The relation image-object, constitutive of the tertiary retention, is also the spectrum of the possibilities of the inscription of a permanent representation.

The problem is that this spectrum of possibilities is nowadays a ‘blur’ of temporary objects which bomb our imagination through a permanent solicitation.

A new imagination

Industrialization was, and is, a process inevitable in our society and so it was, and it is, the procedure of the industrialization of memory. The accumulation of knowledge during the epochs of our existence forced the man to delegate his memory to objects. This phenomenon of ‘prosthetization’ evolved, day by day, thanks to what the human calls progress and created a transductive relationship which is nowadays more related to technics in general.

This connection, on the one hand, mainly bound ourselves to the ‘technical milieu’ and on the other hand bring us to a new consideration of technicity. Indeed, we live in a new epoch wherein imagination and memory have a new role.

Again, in the opinion of Stiegler: “The initial effect of the imagination’s exteriorization is the setting up of media as programmatic industries. Industries of information and of programs (together forming the communication industry) are the concretization of the nervous system’s and the imagination’s exteriorization, and (along with the technical interiorization at work in genetic substrata) constitute the industrialization of memory at all of its levels.”[16]

Our system is based on different strata: the psychic, the social and the technical; between those organs there is a libidinal energy that flows with no stop and orients the evolution of man. It seems obvious that the situation today leans to the technical sphere, but the re-organization process is always in becoming. In this time, the exposure of the creation and the consumption of a number of mnemotechnics which has no equal term to the past, brings us to a renewed position of selector.

According to this, the new criteria of selection will be important and so will be for the new method of storage, but above all there is space for a new imagination. New forms of temporal repetition open a fresh way to the event-ization[17]; and eventization means selection. All events are inscribed in a memory and event-ization is memory’s functioning. We have to collect them from our memory but the risk of make mistakes during this gathering is linked to the process of industrialization which is becoming, nowadays, limitless. Probably, this production with no control increases our disorientation. The myth of progress, and its condition of permanent research, is the father of our loss of control: we live in an unstable ‘laboratory’ founded in becoming.

Now more than ever we need an imagination supported by the value of inventio. We have to take care of our memory if we want to create a solid future for the next generation.


Bernard Stiegler

1998: Technics and Time 1, The fault of Epimetheus, Stanford University Press, Stanford California

2002: Echographies of Television: Filmed interviews, Polity Press, Cambridge (With Jacques Derrida)

2009: Acting Out, Stanford University Press, Stanford California

Technics and Time 2, Disorientation, Stanford University Press, Stanford California

2010: Taking care of youth and the generations, Stanford University Press, Stanford California

2011: Technics and Time 3, Cinematic Time and the question of Malaise, Stanford University Press, Stanford California

2013: Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals, Polity Press, Cambridge

What makes life worth living: On Pharmacology, Polity Press, Cambridge


[1] Stiegler 1998, ix

[2] Stiegler 1998, 280-281

[3] Stiegler 1998, 17

[4] “As a process of exteriorization, technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life”: Stiegler 1998, 17

[5] Stiegler 1998, 188

[6] See especially Stiegler 1998 and Stiegler 2009

[7] Stiegler 2008, 246

[8] Stiegler and Derrida, 2002, 147

[9] Stiegler 2010, 79

[10] Stiegler 2013, 25

[11] Stiegler 2013, 30

[12] Stiegler 2011, 41

[13] Adorno and Horkheimer 1974, 133

[14] Stiegler 2011, 17

[15] Stiegler 2011, 106

[16] Stiegler 2011, 98-99

[17] Stiegler 2009, 100

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