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Thinking with the Camera, from Astruc to Stiegler

Sam Ishii-Gonzales


  The fundamental problem of the cinema is how to express thought.
– Alexandre Astruc (1)
  1. Alexandre Astruc, ‘The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Caméra-Stylo’ in Peter Graham (ed.), The New Wave: Critical Landmarks (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968), p. 20.

Alexandre Astruc’s canonical essay, ‘The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Caméra-Stylo’ (1948), is considered a key precursor in the study of cinematic authorship. But it takes on fresh importance when placed in dialogue with recent developments in film and media theory, from the film-philosophy movement of the past decade to the work on technics by Bernard Stiegler and others. The latter development is particularly important in that it allows us to foreground an element of Astruc’s essay that has been largely ignored or undervalued, for the new epoch in filmmaking that he envisions is the result of a more direct contact between filmmaker and camera – in other words, between human and technology or human and machine. It is exactly this contact, according to Astruc, that allows us to discuss cinema not simply in terms of art but also philosophy: cinema as an instrument or vehicle for thought. Bringing Astruc and Stiegler together can help foreground the importance of understanding the fundamental co-dependency of technology, artistry and industry in the evolution of the cinematic medium.




Astruc begins his essay by suggesting that something qualitatively new is happening in the cinema. Film, he writes, ‘is quite simply becoming a means of expression, just as all the other arts have been before it, and in particular painting and the novel’. (2) Despite his reference here to painters, Astruc’s primary focus, evident in the analogy he will shortly draw between the camera and the pen, is on the relation between the filmmaker and the writer. The latter to be understood in a number of ways: novelist, essayist, philosopher. Astruc directly mentions the work of such contemporaries as Albert Camus, André Malraux and Jean-Paul Sartre, each of whom was working at the intersection of a number of genres or styles, expanding the meaning of a novel, an essay or a work of philosophy. (3) He continues:





2. Ibid., p. 17.  

3. Astruc (born 1923, now 92) had already published a first novel (Les Vacances, 1945) when he wrote this essay. He would return to his literary beginnings in the 1970s, writing a series of novels even as he continued to develop film and television projects. In 1976, he co-directed Sartre par lui-meme (‘Sartre by himself’), a feature-length documentary about the philosopher. He is also the co-writer of Raúl Ruiz’s Les âmes fortes (Savage Souls, 2001). His collected essays appeared in 1992 as Du stylo à la caméra et de la caméra au stylo: Écrits (1942–1984) (Éditions de l’Archipel) – ‘from pen to camera and from camera to pen’.

  After having been successively a fairground attraction, an amusement analogous to boulevard theatre, or a means of preserving the images of an era, [film] is gradually becoming a language. By language, I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel. This is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of caméra-stylo (camera pen). This metaphor has a very precise sense. By it I mean that the cinema will gradually break free from the tyranny of the visual, from the image for its own sake, from the immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language. (4)  



4. Ibid., pp. 17-18.

What is typically emphasised when discussing this passage is Astruc’s reference to cinema becoming a means through which the filmmaker-artist can ‘express his thoughts’ and ‘translate his obsessions’. This emphasis is not a mistake. Astruc, who aspired to become a filmmaker himself, was clearly interested in this aspect of ‘the age of caméra-stylo’: as he sees it, this new epoch allows the filmmaker to attain a new intimacy with the camera; the filmmaker is now able to create ideas directly with the camera, rather than use the medium to illustrate ideas originally developed elsewhere.


This is what leads him to his strongest auteurist claim, a few pages later: in the new cinematic age which he envisions there is no longer, he says, a ‘scriptwriter’ because ‘the distinction between author and director loses all meaning’: ‘Direction is no longer a means of illustrating or presenting a scene, but a true act of writing. The film-maker/author writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen’. (5)


Astruc’s argument here dovetails well with the one made by François Truffaut in ‘A Certain Tendency in French Cinema’, in which Truffaut argues against a tradition in French cinema that believes that the director’s role is to be faithful to a text that preexists the shooting of the film. The sign of quality, in this tradition, is located outside the film, in the use of reputable literary sources and/or the work of respected screenwriters. Truffaut refers to these works as ‘scenarist’s films’: ‘When they [the screenwriters] hand in the script, the film is done’. (6) The scenarist’s role is to serve the source material, usually literary in nature, and the role of the director is to serve the script; in either case, the filmmaker’s role is at the service of material that had been fully realised in another medium; moreover, as words on a page.


For an auteur, according to Truffaut’s argument, it is during the production process that a film comes into being. Or, at the very least, that the shooting stage should be understood as the true starting point of cinematographic writing, with post-production editing and sound as the final stages in the generation of emotions and ideas. Cinematographic writing begins when the camera is brought into play, when it is brought into proximity with a set of pro-filmic elements – and a film is allowed to form of this encounter. We could say, in this context, that Truffaut offers his readers a useful reminder of the etymology of the term cinematography itself: cinema as a writing with movement, just as photography means writing with light.




5. Ibid., p. 22.  




6. François Truffaut, ‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’ in Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods: An Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 233.  

The link between Astruc and Truffaut can be taken further. Not only did Truffaut share, with Astruc, an interest in making films (as we know, he would succeed in this desire more than Astruc), but he also had – as Astruc did at the time he wrote his essay – a close relationship with André Bazin. As Dudley Andrew notes, Astruc and Bazin were quite intimate during the immediate postwar years. Astruc frequently met with Bazin while the latter prepared lecture material for the meetings of his ciné-club, and there seems little doubt that Bazin’s general ideas on film at the time, including his call for a diversification in types of film production and the development of a ‘more personal cinema’, would resonate with Astruc. (7) More specifically, we can find traces of Astruc’s argument in such writings as Bazin’s ‘The Technique of Citizen Kane’, published in Les Temps Modernes in 1947. In this essay, Bazin praises Welles’ use of the cinematic language and his development of a distinctive formal style. ‘His way of “writing” a film’, Bazin states, ‘is undoubtedly his own’. (8) Just as novelists such as Camus, John Dos Passos and André Gide can be shown to create their own distinct use of literary language, so too can this claim be made for Welles via his use of the expressive techniques of the cinematic medium. Bazin concludes his article by suggesting that Citizen Kane was made possible because of the unprecedented freedom Welles had in the composition of the film, ‘beyond the standardised, transparent cinema of the studio system, in an arena where no more resistance is offered to the artist’s intention than to the novelist’s pen’. (9)


Welles is also valorised in Astruc’s article, as are Robert Bresson and Jean Renoir. (All three filmmakers are essential figures for Bazin as well.) What Astruc’s reference to these three filmmakers – whom he considers exemplars of la caméra-stylo – makes clear is the extent to which his arguments can be understood in metaphoric terms, since none of these aforementioned filmmakers literally shot their own works. (Astruc explicitly refers to la caméra-stylo as a ‘metaphor’ in his essay.) To the extent that this notion of the camera-pen is a metaphor, Astruc can be seen to be making a very similar – in fact, interchangeable – argument with Bazin in his piece on Welles and Citizen Kane. But Astruc does not stop there. Although his specific examples are all feature-length narrative films, shot on 35mm, he also mentions the proliferation, in the post-WWII period, of 16mm cameras, and how this increased availability of film cameras can facilitate the continued growth of the new mode of cinematic writing. In this way, Astruc’s article can be considered prescient not only in terms of the auteurist debates of the 1950s, but also for the way it prophesises the emergence, in America and elsewhere, of a flourishing experimental/underground film scene. For the work of filmmakers including Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage was made possible precisely because of the wider accessibility of 16mm cameras manufactured during WWII and then sold in second-hand shops at discounted rates in the 1950s.


In the future, Astruc believes, not only will more people have access to cameras, but they will also have more flexibility in how they screen a film. He envisions a future


7. Dudley Andrew, André Bazin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 86-87.  

8. André Bazin (trans. Alain Piette and Bert Cardullo), ‘The Technique of Citizen Kane’ in Cardullo (ed.), Bazin at Work (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), p. 233.  

9. Ibid., p. 237.  










  when everyone will possess a projector, will go to the local bookstore and hire films written on any subject, of any form, from literary criticism and novels to mathematics, history, and general science. From that moment on, it will no longer be possible to speak of the cinema. There will be several cinemas just as today there are several literatures, for the cinema, like literature, is not so much a particular art as a language which can express any sphere of thought. (10)  



10. Astruc, ‘The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Caméra-Stylo’, p. 19.  

This prediction not only evokes our recent past, when we used to go to video shops to rent, first, VHS tapes, and then DVDs and Blu-Rays, but also the present, where cinema has lost its singular meaning. In a similar vein, we can easily extend his comments on 16mm film to the emergence of digital video cameras, which now make it easier than ever for individuals to write with the camera – literally so. But beyond its predictive power, beyond its valorisation of ‘a different and individual kind of film-making’, (11) there is another dimension that remains virtually untapped in his essay – and this has to do with the emphasis Astruc places on the relationship between cinema and thought.




Astruc begins with a quote from Orson Welles: ‘What interests me in the cinema is abstraction’. (12) This strange (and unsourced) epigraph becomes less so as soon as we begin to focus on those aspects of his essay that tend to go unnoticed or unremarked. It becomes clear that Astruc relates abstraction to language – and language to thinking. How so? Language is a mode of abstraction since it converts our everyday perceptions into concepts or signs. These concepts or signs allow us to reflect upon our experiences, to come to a new understanding of their meaning and relevance. In these terms, to say that language is an abstraction should not be understood exclusively in negative terms, for abstraction is not simply a subtraction, extraction or reduction of experience. It also has an productive (even creative) function: our own relation to the perceptual world is changed or modified by the language we utilise as a means to access and describe – or think – our experience.


For Astruc, it is in this direction, toward language and abstraction, that cinema has evolved; so much so that filmmakers will soon be equipped to ‘tackle any subject, any genre’:


11. Ibid., p. 21.  




12. Ibid., p. 17.  








  The most philosophical meditations on human production, psychology, metaphysics, ideas, and passions lie within its province. I will even go so far as to say that contemporary ideas and philosophies of life are such that only the cinema can do justice to them. (13)  


13. Ibid., pp. 18-19.  

When Astruc discusses thinking and language, he does not mean that filmmakers should transport linguistic ideas or linguistic signs into cinema. To the contrary, cinema must continue to develop its own non-linguistic form of language, which does not necessarily discount speech or the written word (as if this were possible), but neither does it rely on speech or words as the primary source of cognitive engagement and understanding.


The epistemological possibilities of film are directly tied to the temporal status of cinematographic images, their dynamic or dialectical qualities – although Astruc objects to the way Sergei Eisenstein equates dialectical thinking with montage. Ideas are created not simply through the juxtaposition of shots but in the relations established, within a single shot, between the various figures distributed across the frame, human or otherwise. Films allow us to comprehend not only one person’s relation to another, but their relation to the world; it can also allows us to contemplate an image of the world without humans, to envision a world before, or after, the human. It is through the way the filmmaker handles the camera, and orchestrates the material they have captured with the camera, that she or he can be said to elaborate ‘a philosophy of life’. (14) This leads Astruc to his most extreme claim, in which he repeats and modifies a statement by Maurice Nadeau: if Descartes were alive today (in 1948) he would be a novelist (presumably Nadeau has in mind here someone like Sartre, who wrote novels and plays alongside his philosophy texts). Astruc responds:










14. Ibid., p. 22.

  With all due respect to Nadeau, a Descartes of today would already have shut himself up in his bedroom with a 16mm camera and some film, and would write his philosophy on film: for his Discours de la Méthode would today be of such a kind that only the cinema could express it satisfactorily. (15)  


15. Ibid., p. 19.  

Astruc spends little time actually clarifying what he means by this or similar statements to the effect that contemporary film bypasses the ‘tyranny of the visual’ to become a true ‘vehicle for thought’. (16) In my view, their interest is tied directly to an understanding of la caméra-stylo as something more than a metaphor. Astruc’s various remarks about thought and thinking take on a new relevance at the very point we conceive la caméra-stylo as a description of what results from the actual encounter between filmmaker and film technology. As soon as we engage with la caméra-stylo in non-metaphorical terms, we also need to acknowledge that, in the cinema, the filmmaker engages minimally with two technologies: camera and editing table (or, more recently, non-linear digital editing software), not to mention sound recording/editing/mixing equipment. But a similar kind of progression occurs in most forms of writing, between the initial formulation of words on a page and the subsequent attempt to clarify, expand, perhaps even transform one’s original ideas. What is different between the two processes is that, in traditional writing, the same instruments are used at each stage of composition; whereas film involves different instruments or tools, each of which has its own range of potentials, and its own way of influencing the course of action to be taken.





Born in 1952, Bernard Stiegler studied philosophy with Jacques Derrida, whose influence is evident in his writing style, his attraction to neologisms, as well as in his skills at deconstructing the texts of other philosophers. (17) Stiegler’s training in philosophy was, however, anything but typical. He was incarcerated for five years (1978-1983) for armed robbery. It was while he was in prison that he began studying and practicing philosophy through a series of ascetic reading and writing exercises. This is how Stiegler initially trained for a life in philosophy. He defended his dissertation in 1992, and, since then, has published more than a dozen books – a number of them organised around a common theme, as in the three-volume Technics and Time series, published in France between 1994 and 2001.


In this series, Stiegler reflects on the encounter, or non-encounter, between philosophy and technology. From the beginning, philosophy has ignored or repressed technics, a consideration of which is deemed to be outside the purview of philosophy. Stiegler suggests that this is a mistake, since mankind itself must be understood vis-à-vis its relation to technology. The evolution of mankind over a 200,000 year period does not occur despite technology but because of it. Therefore, the attempt to answer such philosophical questions as ‘what does it mean to be human?’ or ‘what is the nature of human knowledge?’ must be understood as intimately bound up with the problem of technology. According to Ben Roberts:


16. Ibid., p. 18, 20.  




17. There is a similar methodology on display in the work of both philosophers: just as Derrida attempts to show how the work of each philosopher he engages ends up relying, to some extent, on a concept which his philosophical system outwardly excludes, so too does Stiegler demonstrate the ways philosophers broach topics that directly implicate technics even as they studiously avoid addressing the topic. In the case of Technics and Time 3, it is Husserl’s concept of a temporal object, which duplicates the flux of consciousness and hence plays a privileged role in allowing us to reflect upon the workings of consciousness itself. To this notion, Stiegler adds a discussion of the new time-based media of the 19th and 20th centuries (the phonograph, cinema), which not only duplicate the flux of consciousness but also – because of their mechanical reproducibility – have the ability to repeat it. Such a consideration, Stiegler suggests, would have challenged Husserl to refine his ideas on temporal objects and the challenges faced by the phenomenological subject in the twentieth century.

  the origin of the human is to be found not in some essence of the human being itself, whether biological or transcendental, but rather in a new relation between the living and the non-living, or a new process of exteriorization whereby the ‘interior’ of the living being becomes inextricably bound up with the ‘exterior’ realm of tools or of inscription. (18)   18. Ben Roberts, ‘Cinema as Mnemotechnics: Bernard Stiegler and the “Industrialization of Memory”’, Angelaki, Vol. 11, no. 1 (April 2006), p. 56.

Stiegler’s views on this topic were heavily influenced by the paleo-anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan, who argues in such works as Gesture and Speech (published in two volumes in 1964 and 1965), that ‘what constitutes the humanity of the human – the crucial break in the history of life – is the process of the exteriorization of the living’. (19) What distinguishes man from other animals is the ability to create externalised aids that assist the development of man’s cognitive development or evolution. Leroi-Gourhan's thesis is that while the cortical system of the human brain has remained largely unchanged since the Neanderthal period, the human being has continued to evolve because of the relationship he develops with technics. So, in the case of the human, biological evolution and technical evolution are necessarily intertwined. For Leroi-Gourhan, what is central to the development of the human species is an ‘erect posture’, a ‘short face’ and a ‘free hand’: man’s physical bearing allows for the liberation of the hand (no longer required for such basic animal needs as locomotion) and this encourages the creation of a series of instruments or tools as prosthetic devices. (20) As the human species develops increasingly more sophisticated means to engage with and control the external world, so too does it allow the internal workings of the human to evolve. ‘In the progression of the brain and the body, at every stage the former is but a chapter in the story of the latter’s advances’. (21)


It is such bodily advances that lead to the development of speech and language, both of which are made possible by the peculiar features of human anatomy. Leroi-Gourhan’s rejection of the Cartesian dualism of mind and body is not remarkable in and of itself; he is just one of many 20th century philosophers and scientists who no longer accept the idea that mind and body are independent of one another. (22) What makes Leroi-Gourhan’s argument unusual – and hence relevant for Stiegler – is the emphasis he places on the role played by technics, instruments and tools, in the particular evolution of the human species. In fact, this evolution of mind, body and technics is true of all organisms; the difference between humans and other animals is that the latter are more or less limited to utilising their own bodies as technical objects; once technical objects are no longer constrained by the ‘structure of the body’, (23) evolution can continue along a different route, through the process of exteriorisation. (24) In this sense, Leroi-Gourhan can be understood as proposing a materialist history of mankind in which mind, body and technics each play a decisive role.


Technics are not only fundamental in the development of human knowledge, but are also significant in the creation of a non-biological form of memory. In ‘The Industrial Exteriorization of Memory’, Stiegler ingeniously suggests that we rethink Kant's a priori coordinates of understanding in relation to technology. Whereas Kant proposes that the a priori coordinates of understanding are somehow innate, Stiegler argues otherwise: these coordinates are social and exterior; they are part of an inheritance, that comes from outside, and which comes to be experienced as our deepest interiority. This inheritance is the result of technics that allow for the preservation and dissemination of cultural memory. As Stiegler notes, ‘for the first time in the history of life’ we find ‘the possibility of transmitting individually acquired knowledge in a non-biological way’. (25) This transmission occurs through the ability of the human being to store knowledge and pass it on from generation to generation, and not genetically or biologically but through the use of exteriorised instruments or tools. This is why it is possible to say that while most organisms are constituted by two layers of memory – genetic and individual – humans have ‘a third layer of memory’ that is ‘supported and constituted by technics’, or what Stiegler calls ‘tertiary memories’. (26) The study of technical evolution would show the development of ever more sophisticated forms of memory storage, from chalk marks in a cave, to the development of the alphabet, to the invention of a printing press, to the emergence of analogue techniques of memory inscription: the photograph, the phonograph, the cinema. The shift is from technics that facilitate memory to those that store it.


19. Bernard Stiegler, ‘The Industrial Exteriorization of Memory’ in W.J.T. Mitchell and Mark B.N. Hansen (eds), Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 73.  

20. André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, trans. Anna Bostock Berger (Cambridge, MA and London, UK: The MIT Press, 1993), p. 19. Stiegler’s primary discussion of Leroi-Gourhan is found in part one (‘The Invention of the Human’) of the first volume of Technics and Time. For more, see Bernard Stiegler (trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins), Technics and Time Vol. 1: The Fault of Epimetheus (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 21-179.  

21. Ibid., p. 47.  

22. In this context, Astruc’s argument that a twentieth century Descartes would have been a filmmaker rather than a philosopher is improbable at best; after all, Descartes viewed the body as an unnecessary appendage for a thinking consciousness. Descartes, we could say, had an instrumentalist view in regards to technology: a pen allows him to write, but plays no role in the production of thought. When I write a piece such as this one, I come to it with certain ideas ‘in my head’; but the actual writing – with pen and paper, or the keyboard on my laptop – always develops in a way that I cannot entirely predict; something emerges through the act of writing that would not have occurred without the physical effort itself.  

23. Ibid., p. 70.  

24. For a useful review of Leroi-Gourhan’s arguments and his influence on Stiegler, see Christopher Johnson, ‘The Prehistory of Technology: On the Contribution of Leroi-Gourhan’ in Christina Howells and Gerald Moore (eds.), Stiegler and Technics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).  

25. Stiegler, ‘The Industrial Exteriorization of Memory’, p. 74.  

26. Ibid., p. 73.  

In either case, we have a clear example of the way technics not only facilitates knowledge, but also allows for its extension and transformation. To ignore the conjunction of human and technology is thus not only to leave unremarked an essential component in man's evolution, but also to leave technology in the hands of technocrats and industrialists. They develop technology for their own purposes, to suit their own specific economic needs or interests versus how it might have developed otherwise, had philosophers seen technology as a philosophical concern, directly related to ethics, aesthetics and questions of knowledge. Stiegler attempts to rectify this error.


What he makes clear is the extent to which even the work of Gilles Deleuze largely ignores this dimension of the medium: the status of cinema as a technology, a technology that also happens to develop into an art form in its own right. I would go further: much of the writing in film studies, including the works of the film-philosophy movement, also commits this error or oversight. Either the emphasis is placed on the auteur or on the film-as-text or on the historical and technical history of the medium; but what rarely occurs is the attempt to think through these topics in relation to one another; to see these elements as inter-dependent and co-constitutive, the result of an encounter between a number of elements, human and non-human, technical and industrial.


Oddly enough, a similar thing happens in Stiegler, for even as he promises to address cinema in volume three of Technics and Time, his focus is less on films or filmmakers, or on the aesthetic potential of the medium, than on developing a sophisticated, but also largely negative, argument about cinema as an emblematic instance of the capture of modern technics by forces of power and control. (27) These forces work to homogenise experience, producing a false collectivity, a false humanity; the process of individuation, through which the individual emerges, becomes fixed or programmed. Hence, the subtitle of volume three: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise. The possibility of an individual response, the expression of a true individuality, becomes increasingly rare. Instead, there is a bland uniformity, a complacency, a conformity. This is directly related to the fact that most filmgoers and television viewers have no access to equipment, and no ability to participate in these media except as spectators. At the same time, the temporal images produced for films and television become the foundation, the memory bank or archive, for future generations of mankind – thus allowing for the replication of the same ideas and beliefs, and the same debased notions of community and individuality. (28)


Stiegler is not wrong to suggest that film and other related media technologies have troubling components; after all, cinema does evolve into big business that attempts to maximise profits through a set of principles or rules that function to delimit the uses to which the technology might be put. But the history of cinema is not as singular as Stiegler suggests. What is important to stress about the famous quip from Louis Lumière – that cinema is ‘an invention without a future’ – is not simply that he was wrong, but that there was no way for him to know in what sense he would be wrong. This unpredictability is the result of a number of factors, and they are not all part of the same industrialisation or corporatisation of the medium. The Cahiers du cinéma critics, with their insistence on the centrality of the auteur, which they managed not only to write about but to also put into practice (as key figures of the Nouvelle Vague), are one example of an alternative form of cinema that comes to play a significant role in the evolution of the medium. The existence of the Nouvelle Vague (to cite just one example), and its continued ability to inspire future generations of filmmakers, belies the claim that cinema develops along a single course, with everything assimilated into a single, hegemonic form. There are, and have always been, alternative practices of cinema, and these practices utilise the medium otherwise, pursuing a path that Stiegler does not seriously consider in Technics and Time. It is this alternative tradition that Astruc is addressing in his essay on la caméra-stylo, for what he proposes – at a non-metaphoric level – is that developments in film technology will allow for new relationships to be established between filmmaker and camera, and these new relationships (in which the camera functions as an instrument or tool, in a way that is akin to the pen for the writer-philosopher) will allow for the generation of new ideas, new ways of thinking and being.


27. A subsequent, somewhat differently inflected, and essentially more optimistic account by Stiegler of the cinematic heritage in provided in ‘The Organology of Dreams and Arche-Cinema’, trans. Daniel Ross, Screening the Past, issue 36 (June 2013),  



28. Kant acknowledges the subjective nature of human experience while also providing it with an objective basis, since this subjective experience is objectively true of all humans. Objectivity is thus relocated in us rather than in the world. Stiegler, by contrast, argues that our shared subjective experience is largely the result of a cultural memory that is preserved and disseminated; our subjective experience is objective. But as soon as we acknowledge this fact, we also have to acknowledge the tendentious nature of these cultural memories. We have to ask: who had (or has) access to these mediums of preservation and who had (or has) access to their dissemination?



Stiegler, in his more recent writings, has taken a somewhat more positive view on the question of technics related to the rise of new technologies (digital, the Internet) that provide new opportunities for consumers to become producers; to utilise technics such as video cameras for their own education and edification. (Let us not forget, in this context, that the Technics and Time series was written in the 1990s.)


This is not to say that the majority of works produced in the past ten years have attempted to utilise technics in such a fashion; quite the contrary, for the most part, the majority of users simply wish to replicate the cinematic and televisual forms that they are familiar with, and which they recognise (however falsely) as their own. The majority of users will do nothing special with these technologies, their lives will carry on more or less the same; but what is important is the transformative value these technics may have for one person, for one individual, who transforms the device, allows it to evolve, while also transforming themselves – as well as those who come into contact with their work in the near or distant future. Is this not exactly what occurred in Stiegler’s own case? The majority of prisoners do not transform their life, or (like him) become philosophers. But there was the possibility that this might occur, through this individual encounter with technics. It is through his encounter with a series of technical instruments – the alphabet (which gave him access to words and language), pen and paper (which allowed him to articulate his ideas in an exteriorised form) – that Stiegler was able to develop his thoughts and transform himself from a convict into a philosopher. It is this kind of singular experience that sets the stage for true individuation, one whose outcome cannot be known in advance. This kind of individuation is also potentially available to digital and new media artists/producers, and at the very point when they begin to actively engage with the tools at their disposal – which also means allowing the tools to serve, at points, as an opening or guide into new areas of research and learning, new domains of thought and feeling.




The strength of Astruc’s article is related to its polemical force, not its intellectual rigour. But there is a time and place for polemics. There was a time and place for it in 1948, and there is a time and place for it in 2015, in the age of digital and the Internet. What we need, more than ever, are individuals who do not passively accept the technologies of their day, but work to transform them from within and, in the process, expand the possibilities of what can be said and what can be thought for the next generation. With this in mind, and as a final homage to Astruc, let me end the same way he ended his piece 67 years ago:


  The cinema cannot but develop. It is an art that cannot live by looking back over the past … Already it is looking to the future; for the future, in the cinema as elsewhere, is the only thing that matters. (29)   29. Astruc, ‘The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Caméra-Stylo’, pp. 22-23

from Issue 6: Distances


© Sam Ishii-Gonzales & LOLA, December 2015.
Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.