Since the publication of Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus and subsequent Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation (1998; 2009), “exteriorization” has become a widely discussed buzzword within media studies. Stiegler’s assertion that human existence entails the exteriorization of memory into matter finds easy consonance with McLuhan’s notion of man’s extensions into prosthetics. Stiegler’s analysis of exteriorization, furthermore, branches into phenomenological questions raised in Merleau-Ponty and the textual question of exteriority discussed in Derrida and Foucault.
The term “exteriorization” finds its root in the word “exterior,” which the Oxford English Dictionary defines both in the general sense of being “situated or lying outside…as pertaining to the outside or outer portion of anything” and in the particular anatomical sense of “lying outside the surface of the body.” Comprised of the prefix “ex,” meaning “out of” and “ter,” associated with “territory,” “terrain,” “terror,” and even “terminal,” exteriorization might be thought of as the act or process of placing something into the outer territory or landscape or of altering something’s internal status into an external one. The phonetic commonality of “ter” in “external,” “exterior,” “territory,” and “term” cannot be overstated. “Term” develops from the Latin word “terminus” meaning “end, or boundary line.” The term exists where the chain of signification terminates. The “term” is placed at the “external” end of the outer “territory” (i.e. the place where the chain terminates) in such a way that maximizes the capacity of the signifier to produce meaningful difference with what remains interior to the exteriorizing agent.
For Stiegler, the placing of the term into the exterior creates the metaphysical function of memory since memory retrieves the term to its interior referent; for Derrida the term’s location at the extremity of the signifying chain gives language its representative status. For Stiegler, the exterior exists outside the human performing the exteriorization but the exteriorizing impulse plays an essential interior function. Since an ontology of human nature, for Steigler, must account for the sense in which “technics and humanity, the artificial and the human, are inseparable and fundamentally co-dependent” (Lebedeva, 81), to exteriorize must imply that the externalization of cognitive functions is indeed a kind of mediation of these functions—that in some sense they remain internal to the externalizer.
Interpreting Rousseau, Derrida argues that the status of interiority itself entails reference to an exterior. He explains that the experience of understanding oneself speaking [s’entendre-parler] “lives and proclaims itself as the exclusion of writing , that is to say of the invoking of an ‘exterior,’ ‘sensible,’ ‘spatial’ signifier interrupting self-presence” (98). Like Stiegler, Derrida approaches subjectivity through the interior/exterior binary in asserting that “language is born out of the process of its own degeneration” (242). It is only in mediating mental processes in reference to an absent exteriority that language comes to attain interior status, and therefore, being. Language comes into being only when what language signifies can be held exterior to it. Exteriority of the linguistic content to language underlies its representative function. Without this possibility to represent, to stand in for the exterior, language has no interior identity as language.
As a process, exteriorization cannot be separated from its role in individuation and identity formation. In this sense, Lebedeva is right to emphasize the territorial aspect of externalization in her review of Stiegler’s Technics and Time, 2. She explains, “The question here is thus ultimately about the technically orchestrated territorialization of the pulsation of human life. (Lebedeva 82). “Exteriorize” can designate, according to its entry in the OED, not only to blandly “make exterior” but also “to realize (a conception) in outward form” or “to attribute an external existence to (e.g. states of consciousness). Exteriorization, then, constitutes both a process and an ontology since in the process of pushing something into the outer territory, of placing a term in its terminal position, the extent of the interior, its limits, become transparent and constitutive of being. To understand that “exteriorization” into the unknown outer territory involves a process that becomes a pursuit, therefore, suffices as a schematization of it as an action, but leaves undefined the nature of the exteriorized content. Does the exteriorized object constitute, for example, the unspoken symbolic and linguistic content of the psyche, or does it involve content-less process or pattern, or, better yet, the interchange of content and process which can be mediated only in exteriorization? It would be wrong to argue that the union of content and process could have an exclusively interior or exterior location. The concept of exteriorization, in other words, invites us to consider how the binary of interior and exterior exists as a medium in which content becomes process and process becomes content.
Media theory has turned to the concept of exteriorization to argue against the reductionist’s definition of media as a series of discrete mechanical operations. W.J.T. Mitchell and Mark B.N. Hansen emphasize, “It is important that we stress just how much this conceptualization of media as an environment differs from the conceptions of medium/media as a narrowly technical entity or system. Before it becomes available to designate any technically specific form of mediation, linked to a concrete medium, media names an ontological condition of humanization—the constitutive operation of exteriorization and invention” (xiii). To the extent that exteriorization “names the ontological condition of humanization,” the term connects media studies with phenomenology in its attempt to interpret the necessary conditions for a certain mode (namely, human) of existence and the subjectivity implicit in this mode. In the preface of Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty establishes a link between phenomenology and the exterior. He writes, “I must be the exterior that I present to others, and the body of the other must be the other himself” (xiii). Exteriorization has figured into debates within phenomenology in which the author wishes to dispute the notion of the sovereign self, defined without relation to an external world of meaning. A notion of the exterior allows Merleau-Ponty to assert perception may be primary even to a notion of the body as the starting point for phenomenology. Jean Hyppolite’s critique of Hegel’s idealization constitutes another appearance of exteriorization in phenomenology: “Language is the house [la demeure] of being as sense. The Logos is the primordial, originary voice [verbe] that is truly an exteriorization, and exteriorization which, as such, disappears as soon as it appears” (215). Like Steigler and Hayles, Hyppolite sees the moment of exteriorization as “originary” in that it constitutes the beginnings of our world of outer meaning by which we individuate and establish, against this exterior, our most rudimentary notions of identity.
Jurgen Habermas examines this issue of exteriorization and individuation in terms of political acculturation, explaining, “In the process of growing up, the child is able to form the interior of a consciously experienced life only through simultaneous externalization vis-à-vis other participants in communication and interaction” (4). In Habermas, we see how the role of exteriority in the formation of identity can indeed be a social function. The exteriority of one’s community to oneself provides the social condition for individuation. Whereas Hyppolite emphasizes the spectral appearance and disappearance of the exteriorized content, Habermas emphasizes the exchange of interior and exterior proscribed in the act. In this sense, Habermas understands the role of exteriorization in individuation reciprocally whereas Hyppolite anticipates the dissolution of exteriorized language and McLuhan emphasizes that “Self amputation forbids self recognition” (43). Hyppolite’s description of “language [as] the house of being as sense” is much like the inevitability of narcissistic man in McLuhan.
If we can see the co-origination of identity and exteriorization in Hegel, we can understand the inevitability and inescapability of exteriority in Derrida and Foucault. In The Order Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault sifts out the relationship between exteriority and the interpretive act: “the analysis of statements treats them in the systematic form of exteriority. Usually, the historical description of things said is shot through with the opposition of interior and exterior; and wholly directed by a move from the exterior” (120-21). Whereas Foucault, like Stiegler, embraces the idea that human existence requires an exterior field, Foucault says less about the act of exteriorization itself. For Foucault the tension between interior and exterior drives the signification process, but it is not the case that interpretation constitutes an exteriorization so much as that the act of interpretation assumes the existence of a stable interior space. This assumption deserves scrutiny. Jeffrey T. Nealon, in his article “Exteriority and Appropriation” argues, in fact, that Derrida and Foucault’s essential compatibility rests on their common impulse to scrutinize this assumed interior field of criticism. He writes, “Derrida’s notion of text, then, seems to have at least this much in common with Foucault’s notion of the exteriority of a network of statements: both posit a discursive field or network in which no term can rule from a privileged place of interiority” (103). Derrida and Foucault make evident that interiority and exteriority are always intertwined.
Stiegler argues that man has always been a prosthetic being and has always differed from the animal world in his use of technics: the use of tools to make other tools. The use of technics requires the exteriorization of certain aspects of the memory and consciousness. Stiegler explains this prosthetic origin of man in the first volume of Technics and Time: “The prosthesis is not a mere extension of the human body; it is the constitution of this body qua “human” (152-153). Like Stiegler, Katherine Hayles, in How We Became Posthuman, asserts that something in the origins of man explains his exteriorizing impulse. She writes, “The posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a continuation of a process that began before we were born” (3). In their notion of exteriorization as prosthetic enactment, Stiegler and Hayles follow in the tradition of Marshall McLuhan, Hans Selye, and Adolphe Jonas in regarding the extension of the human sensory apparatus as a simultaneous autoamputation in which the ratios of perception are recalibrated. Exteriorization refers to the act that forms technics, and therefore to the act that constitutes the moment in which man becomes man, but also to the act that creates the necessary condition for a particular kind of experience that we understand to be human. Within this human mode of experience, individuation itself relies on reciprocity between exteriorization and interiorization. Lebedeva explains, “Thought, insofar as it is reflexive or able to return to itself, is grounded in the worldly materiality around it, in the sense that it recoils from something other than itself, and it is in this recoil that it is constituted as what it is” (83). Stiegler and Hayles suggest that the human mode of existence necessary entails the exteriorizing act, but from this suggestion it does not follow that the formations of technics cannot come to constitute a threat to this very mode of existence entailing it.
On this issue, Stiegler and Hayles point our attention to the industrial revolution’s effect of maximizing the rate and extent of exteriorization. If technics were once the source of our human experience, the industrial revolution has created a splinter between life and technics forcing a reconsideration, or new praxis, by which we navigate a means of preserving our exteriorizing nature without allowing it to bring about our obsolescence. Mark Hansen articulates the challenge of this praxis:
The very hope for a viable future, the hope of keeping open the future, requires a struggle with today’s culture industries and with the media artifacts that they produce; and this struggle is a struggle for control over the source that is living singularity, which is to say, the source of the very transductive dialective—between the living and technics—that constitutes the being of the human” (“Media Theory,” 305).
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. (1970). New York: Vintage, 1994.
Habermas, Jurgen. “Public space and political public sphere—the biographical roots of two motifs in my thought.” Kyoto, Japan. 11 Nov. 2004. Commemorative Lecture.
Hansen, Mark B.N. “Media Theory.” Theory Culture Society No. 23 (2006): 297-306.
Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Hyppolite, Jean. Logic and Existence. Albany: State University of Albany Press, 1997.
Lebedeva, Kristina. “Review Article: Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation.” Parrhesia No. 7 (2009): 81-85.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 1964. Cambridge: MIT
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. (1945). New York: Routledge, 2002.
Mitchell, W.J.T. and Hansen, Mark B. N. (ed.). Critical Terms for Media Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Morra, Joanne and Smith, Marquard (ed.). The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.
Nealon, Jeffrey T. “Exteriority and Appropriation: Foucault, Derrida, and the Discipline of Literary Criticism.” Cultural Critique No. 21 (1992): 97-119.
Stiegler, Bernard. Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998.
Stiegler, Bernard. Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009.