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A Personal Note Away : Bernard Stiegler

 

Noel Fitzpatrick and Bernard Stiegler, 18th of Dec 2013

Noel Fitzpatrick and Bernard Stiegler, 18th of Dec 2013

 

I first came across the work of Bernard Stiegler in 2009 thanks to my son Oshinn who was studying at the Université technologique de Compiègne at that time. I was fascinated to come across an engineering school in France which had a central pillar on all its programmes of Philosophy and Sociology. In one way it was like discovering a burst of fresh air and a new way of philosophizing; philosophy as a public engagement with societal issues that included questions of technology.  In the Dublin Institute of Technology I had been struggling to find a way of thinking through questions of aesthetics and technology. Bernard Stiegler was the first contemporary philosopher I came across who brought aspects together : the expansion of an understandings of technics and technology to processes of becoming human, of becoming thinking beings (noetic souls) was and still is highly original. Bernard Stiegler was bringing to the fore questions of attention and memory and the impact of Digital technologies. I was literally blown away by pharmakon.fr, his online open to the public School, it was an extra-ordinary teaching tool but also as way of opening philosophy to the problematics of today – the problematics of attention, aesthetics and technologies. The question of addiction and technology were beginning to come to the fore and there was a need for the technophilia of the time to be tempered. I began to follow the Pharmakon seminars online and started to appreciate Bernard as a teacher, he had a clear ability to profess and to explicate complex issues clearly. The annual summer school in his country village of Epineuil also became legendary at this time 2011 ,2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  In 2011 we started a new journal in critical theory in the Dublin School of Creative Arts Im|print. At the height of the banking crisis we had asked could we translate a section from Mécréance et Discrédit into English, the text itself was arduous but hugely stimulating in relation to the political economy;  he wrote back to me promptly stating that he thought it was already being translated but I suggested that we could come to give a lecture in Dubln. In the mean time I had become the Dean of GradCAM and was given a platform for the exploration of artistic research and practice and as GradCAM was running a series of lecturers I offered Bernard an open invitation, which we managed to arrange about a year later in Dec 2013.

I met Bernard for the first time in Dec 2013 when he came to give a lecture for GradCAM on ‘image, text and language’  to a packed lecture theatre in Mountjoy Square. The week of the 18th Dec 2013 Ireland exited the banking bail and Bernard arrived in Dublin :  it was truly symbolic that he came to speak that week. I went to collect him at the airport, as it was near Christmas time there was the usual fuss at Dublin airport, with a range of choral singers welcoming mostly recent immigrants back home for the festivities. As we met he smiled and asked if I had organized this singing welcoming committee for him with a wry smile. We spent the afternoon together with some of the GradCAM PhD students, he was very generous with his time and the discussions were lively. He agreed to be interviewed by them and later the interview was published in the im|print review. Afterwards as we took the short walk from the College to Shelbourne hotel he asked me what I was working on at the moment and I said ‘him’, he thought that was amusing. We discussed Ricoeur, Derrida and pharmacology as we searched for a pharmacy to buy him ear plugs, he told me he was slightly deaf on one side and that he had difficulty sleeping. I had mentioned to him a passage where Ricoeur also gives an analysis of the Pharmakon and so our collaboration and friendship began. We discussed Aesthetics and Artistic Research. At one point he touched me on the shoulder and said ‘je pense qu’on va faire des choses ensemble’ (I think we are going to do things together) and indeed we did. At the dinner later, which had been organized with the French Embassy  and the cultural attaché Hadrien LaRoche, we discovered that all three us had attended Jacques Derrida’s seminars in the early 90s.

Over the years I became a regular speaker at the annual conference Entretiens pour un Nouveau Monde Industriel (ENMI) at the Pompidou and Bernard participated in the GradCAM events in Dublin, 2015 Digital Studies Seminar, 2018 EARN conference in Dublin, and the biennale in Venice in 2017, in 2019 The Archipeligic Thinking Conference in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He always made a point of mentioning GradCAM as a doctoral school when he introduced me at the various conferences and seminars. The question of aesthetics and Art was always at the centre of our discussions, over the last three years the questions focused on how artistic research could also be considered as a form of contributory research, how we could re-invent Beuys’ project of social sculpture. In the collective project inter|nation the fact that it started out in the artistic context of the Work Marathon at the Sereptine Gallery in London was important not just symbolically, but gave an Artistic context for what we were doing. This project then became the inter|nation which brought us to the United Nations on the 10th of Jan 2020. The event in Geneva was extra-ordinary from a number of perspectives, the group itself included extension rebellion and youth for climate activists, the press conference itself and place of the United Nations, the overall reception to the memorandum of understanding was very positive. Bernard was particularly anxious about this event because of the publicness of trying to intervene in the United Nations. This is turn led to the development of the book which is also a collective miracle. The collective book Bifurquer : Il n’y pas d’alternative was published in July 2020 soon to be published in Italian, Polish and English. We had recently returned to the question of Aesthetics and Digital studies in an interview with me in May 2020, this was to compliment an interview we did in Dec 2018 and is to be published shortly in Digital Studies, Aesthetics and Bernard Stiegler. We had spoken about a volume of technics and time that would focus on the idiom and the neganthropocene, perhaps this is the direction I will take now to try to stand on my own two feet as a philosopher. We also worked together on the development of Digital Studies as on over-arching project and within which we were successful in obtaining Marie-Curie funding. The Real Smart Cities (realsms.eu) project enabled us to explore the impact of digital technologies on the city (urban) and then later to expand the questions to include what we are now calling Ecologically Smart Territories. I was particularly pleased with our success in funding (Phd students and Staff) and my last conversation with him a week before he left us was in relation to giving talks in Croatia and Arles at the end of August 2020. In relation to the latest Marie-Curie application (Networking Ecologically Smart Territories) he was anxious to know when we would find out if the project was funded. This project had been a struggle to pull together, Sara Baranzoni, Paolo Vignola had been working the proposal for months and it was deeply embedded in the collective work of the Bifurquer book, but Bernard wanted to change tack two weeks before the final deadline, as a group we to had to pull together and get it over the line. The NesT MSCA RISE was awarded funding at the beginning of September 2020 and we now have a new research platform to enable us to continue working together as a group. As part of our final conversation he was very keen that to continue to work on doctoral education and wanted us to build further the international doctoral school that we had spoken about on numerous occasions and this will be the next research project.

I learnt about his untimely death in a technological muddle that he would have appreciated.  I had been walking in the Black Valley in the mountains of County Kerry where there are black spots of phone and internet coverage. We had just completed a very long walk of about 20k and in the evening there was no phone or internet coverage in the house we were staying in. The next morning I switched on my phone and walked to place where I could find a signal and my phone began to ping, whattsapp, missed calls and text messages of condolences coming through, my mind could not quite match up what was happening. A moment of confusion, where the technological means of communication had run far ahead of my own ability to process what was happening. A moment later the phone rang and it was Vincent Puig the director of IRI who told me that Bernard had passed away.

Bernard Stiegler always encouraged me to stand on my own two feet and to say “Je suis Philosophe” whilst struggling to hold my balance as I stand on the shoulders of giants. It is in a certain sense more acceptable to say ‘Je suis philosophe’ where philosophy is understood not simply as something taught but also form of doing, engaging in the contemporary. Philosophy always arrives too late but does not negate responsibility of the present. ‘Ceci n’est pas un secte’, (this is not a sect) he told me on one occasion and that is the mark of a mentor, enabling others, bringing others to fruition. Allowing for ‘controverse’ and disagreements but holding the course. The brilliance of his ideas (concepts) and his generosity of spirit is what he leaves for us to build on.

Professor of Philosophy Noel Fitzpatrick

 

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