Earlier I discussed the possibility of technical fields as hyperobjects. Later in the first chapter of Technics and Time, Stiegler discusses the non-anthropomorphic dimension of technology as outlined by Simondon. Once again, my aim here is not so much to outline the nature of technology, but to unfold the nature of hyperobjects. As Stiegler writes,
In the explanation of technical evolution by the coupling of the human to matter, cut across by the technical tendency, an essential part of this tendency, coming from the ethnic interior milieu as intentions, remains anthropologically determined. Simondon has this interior milieu becoming diluted. The tendency no longer has an anthropological source. Technical evolution stemps completely from its own technical object. The human is no longer the intentional actor in this dynamic. It is its operator. (65 – 66)
Stiegler here contrasts the theories of technology proposed by Leroi-Gourhan and Simondon. Lou-Gourhan had argued that there are “technical tendencies” that, it seems, are shared by the entire human race. The concept of technical tendencies is deployed to account for how very similar technologies and techniques can appear in cultures that have no contact with one another.
“There are general tendencies that can give rise to identical techniques without being materially linked,” that is, without contact between the people where they occur, “and [there are] the facts that, whatever degree of geographical proximity they may have, are individual and unique” (Leroi-Gourhan 1943, 14). The technical objects that the fact consist in are diverse, even though they may belong to the same tendency. (47)
Technology unfolds in a sort of dialectic between these universal tendencies and an exterior milieu that particularlizes technology in a specific cultural form. Here, presumably, it is humans that are the carriers of these tendencies. Leroi-Gourhan distinguishes between exterior and interior milieus. As Stiegler articulates it,
With this concept of exterior milieu “is first apprehended everything materially surrounding the human: the geographical, climactic, animal, and vegetable milieu. The definition must be… extended to the material signs and ideas which may come from other groups” (Leroi-Gourhan 1945, 333). With the concept of interior milieu “is apprehended not what is proper to naked humans at birth, but, at each moment in time, in a (most often incomplete) circumscribed human mass, that which constitutes its intellectual capital, that is, an extremely complex pool of mental traditions” (334). The interior mileu is social memory, the shared past, that which is called “culture.” It is a nongenetic memory, which is exterior to the living organism qua individual, supported by the nonzoological collective organization of objects, but which functions and evolves as a quasi-biological milieu whose analysis reveals “used products, reserves, internal secretions, hormones issuing from other cells of the same organism, vitamins of external origin” (334). The exterior milieu is the natural, inert milieu, but also the one carrying “the objects and the ideas of different groups.” (57)
It is the interplay of these two milieus that generates what might be called technical specificity. In a number of passages, Stiegler will go on to speak of the geographical nature of the exterior milieu in terms that sound remarkably like Jared Diamond’s basic theory of why cultures take on the form they take.
The claim that Simondon diminishes the role played by the internal milieu in the development of technology is the claim that the human takes on a secondary role in technological development and nature, such that technology develops immanently and according to its own rhythms, independent of the human. As Stiegler will write, “[t]he human here has less a place in technogenesis than in Leroi-Gourhan’s ethnotechnology. In the industrial age, the human is not the intentional origin of separate technical individuals qua machines. It rather executes a quasi-intentionality of which the technical object is itself the carrier” (67).
Here the telos, the development of technology, the intention that animates technology, will reside not in humans that operate the technology, but rather in the technology itself. As a consequence, technology becomes a sphere of its own with its own internal and, as Stiegler puts it, “auto-nomos” development de-sutured from the human. This will entail no longer considering technology in terms of a means for human use. As Stiegler remarks,
This analysis goes further, in the affirmation of a technological dynamic, than does the thesis that the technical tendency overrides the will of individuals and groups, who are subject to rules of technical evolution proceeding both from laws of physics and from laws of a universal human intentionality that no longer has a purchase here. Accounting for the technical dynamic non-anthropologically, by means of the concept of “process,” means refusing to consider the technical object as a utensil, a means, but rather defining it “in itself.” [My emphasis] A utensil is characterized by intertia. But the inventiveness proper to the technical object is a process of concretization by functional overdetermination. This concretization is the history of the technical object; it gives the object “its consistency at the end of an evolution, proving that it cannot be considered as a mere utensil” (Simondon 1958, 15). The industrial technical object is not inert. It harbors a genetic logic that belongs to itself alone, and that is its “mode of existence.” It is not the result of human activity, nor is it a human disposition, only registering its lessons and executing them. The lessons of the machines are “inventions” in the ancient sense of the term: exhumations. (68)
Uses are, of course, found for the technical object or machine, but Simondon’s point is that these uses are secondary to the being and becoming of the technical machine. Rather it is the functional overdetermination and the concretization of the machine that constitutes the essence of the technology. This functional overdetermination is strictly immanent to the technical object itself, not human intentions. How are we to think this? What Stiegler is getting at is the manner in which the parts of a technical object must be fitted together in order to become an individual. As Stiegler will say, “[t]his inorganic matter organizes itself” (71). Quoting Simondon, “[t]he technical being evolves by convergence and adaptation to itself; it becomes unified interiorly according to a principle of internal resonance” (ibid.). This internal adaptation to itself is the progressive concretization of the technical object as it “tends towards a unity” (ibid.).
It is this internal adaptation to itself in the development of the technical object that renders the consideration of the technical objects in terms of human intentions, as a utensil, and as a means secondary to the being and becoming of the technical object. This concretization or adaptation to itself follows an immanent logic that can no longer be comprehended in terms of the uses humans make of the objects or the intentions that might have animated them to take up the production of the object. The process takes on a life of its own, producing surprising and aleatory results. And for its own part the technology “calls” to be developed in a particular direction.
However, it would be a mistake to suppose that the becoming of the technical object consists in this particular technical object here, such as, for example, my computer. Stiegler will say that “[t]here are technical elements, individuals, and ensembles. The elements are the tools, the separated organs; the individuals implement the elements; the ensembles coordinate the individuals” (68). In my language, particular instances of technology such as the computer upon which I’m now writing, are local manifestations of the technical object. By contrast, the technical object is the technical ensemble or hyperobject that coordinates these local manifestations. Just as Marx, and later Deleuze and Guattari, observed, there will thus be a sort of abstract machine particular to a particular historical age that defines the historical problematic (for technology) and the set of problems along which the process of concretecization takes place. There will be the age of the steam engine, the plow, the satellite, etc. These entities will be hyperobjects.
Along these lines, Stiegler will not hesitate to underline the emergence of a conflict between culture and technics. “With the machine, a discrepancy between technics and culture begins because the human is no longer a ‘tool bearer” (69). Because technology becomes a hyperobject structured according to its own internal logic, it is now capable of entering into conflict with that other hyperobject we know as culture. The aims of the two hyperobjects end up no longer being in accord with one another and the interior milieu of culture perpetually finds itself upset by that element of the exterior milieu, technology as a hyperobject, that is racing along according to its own immanent development.
Minimally, for now, we can say that in order for something to be characterized as a hyperobject it must be structured according to its own internal processes and development, independent of the intentions of other entities such as humans.