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Stiegler defines what he calls ‘grammatisation’ as the ‘technical history of memory, in which hypomnesic memory continually reintroduces the constitution of a tension within anamnesic memory’ (CPE, 31). He draws this distinction between anamnesic memory and hypomnesic memory from Jacques Derrida’s essay ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ in which Derrida develops his deconstruction of metaphysics based on his reading of Plato’s Phaedrus.

To Derrida, Plato’s dialogue outlines the distinction between philosophical anamnesis which is ‘the remembrance of the truth of being’ (CPE, 29) and sophistic hypomnesis which is ‘to mnemotechnics, and in particular to writing as a fabricator of illusion and a technique for the manipulation of minds’ (CPE, 29). He argues that this reading provides an impossibility; it is impossible to oppose the interior (mneme) and the exterior (hypomnesis); we cannot separate our own living memory from the dead memory of the hypomnematon i.e. epiphylogenetic memory 1 

Indeed for Stiegler, the metaphysical theorising through which Plato formulates his theory of Forms (or Ideas) is only accessible through ‘the abstract thought process that writing makes possible’ (Howells and Moore, 2013, 7). In other words, the philosophical anamnesis Socrates advocates in the Phaedrus is in fact reliant on the abstraction of thought that is brought about by hypomnesic externalities (i.e. writing). The impossibility is thus that the ‘remembrance of the truth of being’ is not possible without the mnemotechnical supports that are considered by Socrates to be the ‘fabricator of illusion’. So, as we have seen, the exteriorisation of memory into technics cannot be looked at as separate from our own memory but must be seen as merely memory of a different kind: primary, secondary, and tertiary retentions are all part of our human memory yet they constitute each other in different ways.

Grammatisation, then, is the flow of this process through history, it is ‘the process through which flows and continuities which weave our existences are discretized: writing, as the discretization of the flow of speech, is a stage of grammatisation’ (CPE, 31-32). What Stiegler is aiming to show here is that grammatisation is the process of an abstraction or discretization of a continuum. In the course of the transfiguration from speech to writing, speech itself has taken on a new character; it is no longer merely stored in the ever fading biological memory of our internal brains (mneme) but endures through writing as an external memory support. Writing thus constitutes a new stage of grammatisation in which speech loses its evanescent character but gains the power of exact replication; it can provide a dialogue between reader and author that persists and endures throughout time (something that is not possible with communication pre-writing).

The key aspect of grammatisation is therefore not only the individual exteriorisation of memory but the discretization of the flow of memory in general; it is concerned with the repeatable, reproducible nature of mnemotechnics as a whole. Thus, we can begin to see then how this process of grammatisation both improves memory through hypomnesis yet can potentially damage the anamnesic memory that Socrates defends in the Phaedrus; it is this dual ability of grammatisation that interests Stiegler. What he proclaims is that this formalisation of human behaviour into repeatable symbols, such as words, writing and most recently computer code, opens up the question of pharmacology, the question of how the hypomnesic or the mnometechical is a pharmakon in that it is: ‘at once poison and remedy’ (CPE, 29).

1 The externalization of our memory in tools is, for the human, a ‘third kind’ of memory that is separate from the internal, individually acquired memory of our brain (epigenetic) and the biological evolutionary memory that is inherited from our ancestors (phylogenetic); this Stiegler calls epiphylogenetic memory or epiphylogenesis. We are therefore defined by this process of epiphylogenesis, we are defined by a past that we ourselves, as individuals, have not lived; this past is brought to us through culture which is the amalgamation of the ‘technical objects that embody the knowledge of our ancestors, tools that we adopt to transform our environment’ (Howells and Moore, 2013, 3).

Sources

Howells, Christina and Gerald, Moore (2013), Stiegler and Technics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Stiegler, Bernard (2013), For a New Critique of Political Economy. Trans. Daniel Ross. Polity: Cambridge.

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6 thoughts on “Stiegler and Derrida: The Technical History of Memory

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