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August 11, 2020

Bernard Stiegler (1952–2020)

PARIS, FRANCE—Bernard Stiegler, the prolific French philosopher and theorist of “technicity” who insisted on the constitutive role of technology in culture, society, and human existence, has died at age sixty-eight. Paris’s Collège international de philosophie (Ciph) announced his death in a social media post on August 6, mourning the loss of a “singular and strong voice, an extraordinary thinker of technology and the contemporary, who sought to invent a new language and new subversions.”

Born in Villebon-sur-Yvette, Stiegler was drawn to leftist politics from an early age, participating in the student protests of May ’68 at the age of sixteen. He joined the French Communist Party, but defected in 1976, alienated by its hard Stalinist line. Throughout his twenties, Stiegler worked as a farmer, a store clerk, and in various other jobs before opening a jazz club in Toulouse. Financial troubles compelled him to carry out a series of armed robberies, for which he was arrested in 1978 and sentenced to five years in prison. While incarcerated, he studied philosophy at the Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail (now the Université de Toulouse-Jean Jaurès), undergoing a three-week hunger strike to earn the right to read alone in his cell.

In 1987, Stiegler cocurated, with Catherine Counot, “Mémoires du futur. Bibliothèques et technologies.” (Memories of the Future. Libraries and Technologies) at the Centre Pompidou, an exhibition exploring how computers, digital databases, and electronic reading had transformed cultural memory. Five years later, he defended his thesis at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales under the supervision of Jacques Derrida and went on to publish more than thirty books. His most influential work, the three-volume Technics and Time (1994–2010), challenged philosophy’s categorical opposition between epistēmē and tékhnē, arguing that humanity and technology, subject and object, are mutually imbricated. More recent titles, including Automatic Society: The Future of Work (2016), The Neganthropocene (2018), and The Age of Disruption: Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism (2019) address urgent challenges posed by artificial intelligence, the Anthropocene, and the algorithmization of everyday life. In 2018, Stiegler helped conceive the twelve-hour “Work Marathon” at London’s Serpentine Galleries, where dozens of thinkers—among them David Adjay, Anne Imhof, Eyal Weizman, Yoko Ono, and Lynette Yadom-Boayke—convened to collectively author a manifesto confronting labor and the climate crisis; it was sent to the United Nations this January.

Stiegler held many academic and institutional appointments, including, most recently, director of the department of cultural development at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In conjunction with that museum, he established the Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI), devoted to the study of the cultural and cognitive effects of new digital technologies, in 2006. Stiegler also founded Ars Industrialis, which advances an “industrial politics of spirit,” in 2005, and pharmakon.fr, a school of philosophy in Épineuil-le-Fleuriel, in 2010.

In an article published in Le Monde this April, Stiegler reflected on the intellectual and emotional possibilities opened by isolation in the midst of a global pandemic. “The current confinement should be the occasion for a very large-scale reflection on the possibility and the need to change our lives, he wrote. “It should be an opportunity to revalue the silence, the rhythms that we give ourselves…”

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