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.