‘Thou art a scholar; speak to it…’: Digital Pharmakology and the Future of Academic Practice

Mark Dawson

Abstract

At no point in history has the education system been so intimately entwined with a globalised, market-driven, technical system. As Bernard Stiegler has argued, this synchronization of the education system's mnemotechnical capabilities with technical systems of production is unprecedented (Stiegler, Technics and Time, Vol.3, 2001). Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the figure of the scholar; a nexus of personal drives and social influence, public and private spheres, (mnemo)technology, educational institution and market influence. This paper argues that the confluence of these factors raises urgent questions as to the future of digital technology in education, and scholarship in general.

The paper will address these issues through two interrelated discourses: one which reads digital technology through the figure of the pharmakon (that which can be both poison and remedy), and the other which aligns the scholar ‘to come’ with a future it must remain impossible to pre-programme, predict or know in advance. Both strands of the paper follow the work of Jacques Derrida and — via the work of Donald Winnicott on the Transitional Object — Bernard Stiegler, but resituate their argument within the realms of academic practice and technology enhanced learning. It argues that Derrida's reading of the pharmakon in Plato’s Phaedrus (Derrida, La dissemination, 1972), in which he deconstructs Plato’s opposing of anamnesis and hypomnesis (between ‘originary’ knowledge and hypo-mnemetic writing as its technological and supplementary contamination), and Bernard Stiegler's repositioning of this through his reading of the technical/'transitional object' (Winnicott, Playing and Reality, 1971), suggests that the inherently 'pharmakological' nature of tekhnē gives us a framework to think through the position, application and impact of the digital upon academic scholarship. By reading this against Derrida’s distancing of ‘the future’ (le futur) from the ‘to come’ (l’avenir), however, we can also suggest how digital technology provides conditions for a scholarship ‘to come’; one which can look the radically ambiguous technological condition of the modern academic institution in the face and speak to it.

It begins, however, with Hamlet, and with the odd suggestion that only Horatio, the scholar, can speak to the spectre of a King who demands justice.

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ISSN: ISSN 2398-5836

Copyright (c) 2016 Mark Dawson