Stiegler after Derrida: On a Return of History

Michael Lewis

The hypothesis we wish to test is that, to correctly understand the present, we have to be able to show that it is the outcome of a single history and amounts to the lowest point of that history. This might be taken to be one of the preconditions for thinking of the present as a ‘catastrophe’.

And yet, if Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger, provide models of this kind of history, two of the most crucial post-Hegelian, post-Nietzschean, post-Heideggerian thinkers in contemporary philosophy, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, seem unwilling to provide us with such an understanding of history. Derrida’s deconstruction is for the most part critical of the notion of history as such, as if history could only be understood as a single history, with a single beginning and a single end (‘archae-teleology’), so that often it seems as if the very concept of history is irredeemably ‘metaphysical’, while Foucault’s thought attempts to present a new vision of history opposed to Hegel and Heidegger (while indebted to the latter), that would multiply a supposedly unified and uni-directional history, and produce, in contrast to Derrida, a positive theory of history that would be utterly non-metaphysical.

Are we then able to discover, between deconstruction’s near-elision of history and Foucault’s post-metaphysical history, a form of history that would allow us to speak of a single uni-directional history in the sense that Hegel and Heidegger intended, but without ignoring Derrida and Foucault’s intervention? This is to say, rather than simply taking the usual, frequently doctrinaire dialectical materialist, Marxist theory of history and bypassing these thinkers altogether, we aim to take them absolutely seriously and to test the hypothesis that French philosopher, Bernard Stiegler’s work, produced from out of a confrontation with Derrida’s, offers us one possible way to do this.

We are in general interested in a set of discourses (of which we pick just one here) which allow certain concepts that have long been presumed deconstructed to return to philosophy, but without simply regressing to a point prior to this deconstruction. In particular, these are the oppositions between nature and culture (or, as Stiegler has it, ‘technics’), nature and humanity, the animal and the human.