Louis Armand, Event States

Review by Davin Heckman

[1] From a reviewer's perspective, Louis Armand's Event States is a potential disaster. Centered on a provocative subject matter, the intersection of technics and being, it is absolutely the kind of book that begs to be read by people who like theory. Furthermore, Event States is a follow-up to Armand's earlier Literate Technologies (Litteraria Pragensia, 2006), which focused more squarely on the intersection between language and materiality. But Event States' execution absolutely resists being "reviewed" in a timely, comprehensive, and ultimately adequate fashion—it is over 300 pages long, it is segmented into ten chapters derived from lectures that could easily be standalone articles, and it delves deeply into the work of many challenging philosophers. Readers looking for reassurances will be disappointed by Armand's high wire act between being and nothingness. But for those who don't mind working with a text for long hours only to finish feeling unsettled, Event States is exhilarating.

[2] After ranging slowly over the heady text, foraging on bits and pieces over the course of the year, I now find myself trying to cram the remains into my maw, in the hope that I can provide an adequately digested take on what I can only comfortably call an achievement. It will take a couple of years before I form a more detailed opinion on this book. Yet daily I find bits of this book slipping into my comments, conversations and projects.

[3] To be fair, Armand is upfront about the excessive nature of his project. Rather than present readers with a tightly wound philosophical argument, which ticks along methodically and keeps a tidy schedule, Event States is like a clock unsprung that was turned one time too many, and which has now exploded into a widening radius of gears and hands and numbers—which is why its title is an appropriate description, not only of its contents, but of its very construction. Armand employs what he calls "inflationary syncretism" (vii), a free-wheeling philosophizing which is less concerned with doing justice to particular philosophers than it is with doing justice to thinking itself. The result is a rough ride through agency, consciousness, cybernetics, discourse, guilt, reflexivity, structure, technics, thought, and time on the backs of Marx, Freud, Derrida, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, and Stiegler (to name a few) in the direction of being. If there is a common theme running through the essays, it is the idea that, though Armand is taking us in the direction of being, we never actually get there. The idea of the "event state" then functions as a placeholder for a "theoretical portrait ... of the human stereotype as it appears in the beginning of the twenty-first century" (vii), as a signifier which is a "way of being" (state) comprised of "being" as an act in progress (event).

[4] While I cannot summarize Armand's inflationary text through point-by-point argument, I can highlight what I feel are two of the text's most significant points. I do not care to designate Armand as a "humanist" or a "post-humanist," rather, I would like to identify what can only be described as humane post-humanism—a critique of humanism that does not dehumanize. Armand writes:

Consequently, the "end of man"—as the end of humanist ideology in general, its "event horizon"—does not inscribe a future within or as the void, but rather a hegemonic relation to ends, as both determinate and determining (between a certain status and a certain schema); of a consciousness vested in a materiality that is more than merely an animation of the flesh (309).

Ripping through this work, with its cybernetic preoccupations and post-structuralist rigor, is a strong countercurrent that leaves room for the human, even as it disenchants humanism. In this way, Armand is both brutally honest and charmingly hopeful.

[5] A second strength of this work is that it highlights the relationship of technics and ontology. Steering between the Scylla of speculative empiricism (which imagines that all human phenomena will be accounted for at some future technological end) and Charybdis of techno-utopianism (which imagines that we can transcend humanity by becoming technological), Armand, following Stiegler, argues for a humanity that is essentially inessential, that has always been technical.

[6] Together these strengths allow for an account of being which can at times be "human being" (in the sense that it consciously pursues techniques of being) and "being human" (in the sense that it forgets the aforementioned techniques of being). Thus, this being is both temporal (concerned with the past, planning for the future) and atemporal (immersed only in the present). Yet here with these two distinct states of being comes a calculation of being as probability—neither strictly technical nor strictly organic, but "a substitutive, supplemental, or indeed sacrificial logic" (290), which opens a horizon of possibilities between the space of 1 and 0 in the "event state."

[7] The result is a book that brings us to the edge and leaves us there to enjoy the breathtaking view.