Ars Industrialis

A few months ago, during my failed attempt to use this space to manage online media, I posted very briefly a link to the manifesto of an organization called Ars Industrialis, which was formed several years ago by Bernard Steigler, George Collins, Marc Crepon, Catherine Perret, Carloine Steigler, and some others. The manifesto essentially argues that technologies of knowledge, communication, and information, which it describes as technologies of spirit, are becoming centralized and subjected to market forces in ways that threaten the life of the mind. It maintains, however, that these technologies also have the potential to inaugurate a new era of the life of the mind.

I concur with the manifesto in several respects:

1. That the life of the mind is substantially threatened by the subjection of technologies of spirit to the requirements of the market;

2. That practices of technologies of spirit need to be developed that will actively resist the subjection of these technologies to the market; and

3. That these practices, to the extent that they are successful, hold the potential to invigorate and vitalize the life of the mind.

However, I am suspicious of the manifesto in several respects also:

1. That it idealizes a past epoch and a possible future epoch of the mind in simple opposition to a current less ideal epoch;

2. That it represents resistant practices of technologies of spirit simplistically as capable of neutralizing chaos and creating the conditions for a peaceful future; and

3. That it understands the intervention of new practises of technologies of spirit primarily in terms of stimulating desire, formulating these terms according to a Freudian terminology that is, in my opinion, both limited and limiting.

Beyond these concerns, the most central problem of the Ars Industrialis project is, however, that it remains content to write about new technologies rather than through them. Its proposed activities include traditional academic media almost exclusively: discussions, symposiums, work-groups, press, journals, books, studies, and experiments. Only once does the manifesto mention the actual use of new technologies, when it discusses publication on the internet, but it limits the scope of this kind of publication to the organization’s own website. At no other point does the possibility of conducting academic work through new technologies of spirit even arise, not in the entire manifesto. At all other times, new technologies of spirit remain objects for study only, this despite the assertion that these technologies hold the potential to usher in a new epoch of the mind.

This refusal of a particular academic community to conduct its work through the new technologies of spirit is symptomatic, I think, of the broader academic community’s general failure to make use of the technologies available to it in any real way, particularly in the kind of resistant and critical ways that are required if these technologies are not to become completely dominated by the influence of the market. It is necessary that there be a concerted and sustained effort from those who are concerned with the life of the mind to write and think and work in critical ways through the new technologies of spirit themselves. This is necessary, not only because it is the only way that the voice of the academy will regain a role of relevance to society more broadly, but also because this kind of critical intervention should be the primary role of the academic in every society in every era, no less now than ever.

  1. mum said:

    just thinking about new technologies of spirit and their relationship to the development of the new epoch of the mind…I readily acknowledge that these considerations are not the usual preoccupation of mind for a civil servant mired in research coordination and economic development, and therefore my cogitations on this might be a bit rusty.

    However, it seems to me that many of us who are ” in our mind” do not readily take up the new technologies of spirit because they do not allow for much integration of mind and senses. An old technology, like a book, allows one to feel the pages, smell the contributiuons of the books storage and past user environments (one particularly favourite book of mine reminds me of a man I knew simply because I smell his pipe tobacco when I turn the pages)and one can take the book to read or the notebook to write by the lake or in the park under a tree…it gives permission for one’s choice of reading and thinking context.

    Using the computer or any other new technological device requires some connection to a power source thus limiting mobility or at the best, limiting the time one may use a battery powered rechargeable unit. New technologies are usually used in a proscribed location, at a desk or work table in a building. One “hooks up” to them, bows to them as a servant to a master, whereas the physical and emotional posture of a reader to a book is more like a lover. New technologies require one to focus primarily on the coordination of the hand and the eye and provide no opportunity to feel, sense or smell in the user interaction. And in the physical process of creativity, the actual, physical act of texting or typing is far different than the manipulation of the hand in cursive writing.

    I personally agree that embracing and using the new technologies has potential for cultivating different ways of thinking and expression, and the observations given in the foregoing are not meant to diminish possibilities in that regard.

    For me, exploring the reasons for which people resist change are at least as interesting as the reasons for which people embrace change. In this case, I can’t help but think that people of my older era are more comfortable with a “technology” which allows for integration of as many of their “aspects of human consciousness” s possible when exercising mind. They would perhaps rather cradle the “technology” than be cradled by it.

  2. Mum,

    I would disagree that new technologies of spirit “do not allow for much integration of mind and senses,” since all the same senses are engaged while working on a computer that are engaged while reading a book. I would say, rather, that the sensations that are integrated with new technologies are perhaps not as comfortable or pleasant as the sensations associated with some older technologies of spirit. You prefer, for example, the feel of a paper book in your hand to the feel of plastic keys on your fingers, the smell of pipe smoke to the smell of a machine working. These are legitimate preferences (ones I happen to share), but they show, not that some technologies engage the senses in greater ways, but that all technologies engage the senses in different ways, and that we may prefer some to others.

    This is not to say that we cannot also draw some conclusions about the usefulness of a technology based upon what its particular sensual experiences produce, because I think that this sort of judgement is essential to any informed discussion of technology, even if it is too often absent. The question that needs to be posed is not about which technologies engage the senses the most. It is about how the particular sensual experiences of a technology form and inform the work of the mind and the life of the spirit.

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