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Bernard Stiegler and the 'de-proletarianisation' of knowledge

28 October 2010

Live blogging from the 11th ELIA Biennial, Nantes // Thought-provoking keynote by Bernard Stiegler calls for overcoming segregation, combating consumerism, and revisiting the avantgarde.

This morning, Bernard Stiegler made it clear that the stakes are high by stating that the aim of the arts in the present is the “de-proletarianisation” of knowledge. In an age of consumerism, sketched by Stiegler, we listen to music without knowing how to play an instrument, spend an average time of 42 seconds in front of a painting in a museum, don’t know how to drive a car without a GPS or how to bring up our kids; just as, on a larger scale, the bankers and politicians didn’t know how their system in crisis works. It would be all too convenient, in this situation, for artists to confine themselves to a “golden ghetto” in the creative economy. But in the face of ongoing segregation and the production of abundant waste in our societies, this would ultimately put a stop to creativity. A society whose welfare depends upon creativity and ideas, as Stiegler sees it, cannot abide by this segregation and the loss of knowledge it implies.

Stiegler’s message is that we have to go “back to conversation”. This means a different attitude towards creation, towards observation, and towards the instruments we use. In Bela Bartok’s phrase, we should only listen to music on the radio with the notes at hand – that is, we should be more patient observers, whose observation is also participation. And here there is an optimistic note: with the rise of new technologies, this form of observation is widely accessible indeed - for example, Stiegler can now record his own lecture with a cheap handycam for which he would have needed costly, unwieldy and complicated expert equipment a mere decade ago. Sure, Stiegler does not expect social networking and prosumerism to save us – but these new technologies and this new situation also create an opportunity to re-invent the avant-garde and develop a form of hyperlearning, giving new instruments to the public.

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