Arendt, Stiegler en die lewe van die gees

Roodt, Vasti
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Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns
Bernard Stiegler en die ondertekenaars van die Ars Industrialis-manifes verbind hulself tot die bevryding van die menslike gees van die logika van die kapitalisme. Die manifes maak dit duidelik dat die begrip “gees” aan die hand van Hannah Arendt se opvatting van die “lewe van die gees” (“life of the mind”) verstaan moet word. Die doel van hierdie artikel is om die opvatting van “gees” wat Stiegler et al. aan Arendt toedig, te bevraagteken. Ek toon eerstens aan dat Stiegler nie erns maak met Arendt se onderskeid tussen gees (“mind”) en siel (“psyche”/”soul”) nie, waarna ek die drie aspekte van die lewe van die gees wat sy van mekaar onderskei, naamlik denke, wil en oordeel, op ’n sistematiese wyse ondersoek. Hierdie ondersoek lei dan tot die insig dat Arendt, anders as Stiegler, hierdie geestesvermoëns as vrye, self-refleksiewe aktiwiteite van die bewussyn verstaan, en nie as funksies van interne psigiese prosesse of van ’n eksterne ekonomiese- of politieke orde nie. Ek kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat, alhoewel Stiegler se sosiale kritiek ongetwyfeld van waarde is, sy argument in hierdie verband nie berus op ’n begrip van die lewe van die gees wat hy aan Arendt ontleen nie.
The founding manifesto of Ars Industrialis commits the members of the association to a new “industrial politics of the spirit”. The manifesto makes it clear that “spirit” is meant to refer to Hannah Arendt’s conception of “mind”, and that Ars Industrialis is concerned with the worldwide threat to what Arendt calls “the life of the mind”. This threat is formulated in terms of Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy of technology. According to Stiegler, the emergence of new technologies, particularly the digital media, has delivered the spirit over to the oppressive power of global capitalism. These technologies have come to direct and ultimately fabricate human desire, or “libidinal energy”, towards consumer products, so as to maintain the capitalist system of production and consumption. Since individuals and groups singularise themselves in and through the working of their libidinal energy, the fabrication of desire by means of technology entails the fabrication of false singularities. The possibilities for individual and social existence are therefore reduced to a limited set of predetermined possibilities. However, while technology mediates our co-ordination within global consumer society, Stiegler also considers technology to be the means of our liberation from the capitalist logic of consumption. This liberation would entail the creative design of new techniques for the constitution of objects of desire that lie outside the demands of the market. In this way, our libidinal energy would be free to manifest itself in new experiences of singularity, and hence new forms of individual and social existence. These new forms of existence would entail a new politics of the spirit that is able to resist the oppressive forces of consumer society. In this article, I take issue with Stiegler’s assumption that such a new politics of the spirit would indeed be the realisation or at least an enhancement of what Arendt understands under “the life of the mind”. My claim is that Stiegler’s conception of the life of the spirit – at least as it is presented in the Ars Industrialis manifesto – does not accord with Arendt’s conception of the free activity of the mind, and that Stiegler’s vision of political, economic and spiritual liberation cannot be reconciled with either Arendt’s view of mind or her conception of political action. I do not deny that there are points of overlap between these two thinkers, nor do I intend to prove Stiegler’s entire project wrong. My aim is simply to demonstrate that one of the underlying assumptions of this project – that the new politics of the spirit would entail the liberation of the life of the mind in Arendt’s sense – does not hold. To this end, I undertake a systematic inquiry into Arendt’s understanding of the life of the mind. I begin by analysing her distinction between mind and psyche, or soul, which reveals one of the fundamental differences between her work and that of Stiegler. I show that, while Stiegler equates mind with “libidinal energy”, Arendt explicitly and consistently distinguishes the free activity of mind from our libidinal life, and criticises attempts to derive the former from the latter. Having set out the differences between Arendt and Stiegler on this point, I then turn to Arendt’s treatment of the three mental activities that together constitute the life of the mind, namely thinking, willing and judging. I show that she conceives of each of these as a self-reflexive mental activity that is neither a function of our libidinal life nor of an external political or economic order. In light of this analysis, I argue that Stiegler’s views are clearly opposed to those of Arendt in a number of ways. First, to the extent that Stiegler equates “mind” with the “libidinal energy”, he denies Arendt’s distinction between mind and psyche. Second, to the extent that he advocates the liberation of the mind from the domination of market forces, he understands the freedom of the mind (or its absence) as a function of economic forces. Finally, he assumes a direct relationship between the activity of mind/ spirit and political action. That is to say, he assumes that the liberation of the mind – understood as libido – would lead to new forms of individual and social existence. Against this, Arendt insists on the distinction between the free activity of the mind and the political freedom that only comes into being in and through collective action. Stated more strongly: she considers political action as free precisely in so far as it is not the necessary outcome of mental operations. I therefore conclude that, while Stiegler’s analysis of technology, his critique of the logic of consumption and his call for renewed care for the world should not be discarded out of hand, the conception of the life of the mind that underlies these arguments does not derive from Arendt.
CITATION: Roodt, V. 2012. Arendt, Stiegler en die lewe van die gees. Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, 52(1):5-18.
The original publication is available at
Roodt, V. 2012. Arendt, Stiegler en die lewe van die gees. Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, 52(1):5-18.