This is the text of my relation at : “Going digital”, Nobel Symposium, 147 Session 3, Applications 1: Adding value for everyone Thursday 25 june 2009.

 First I must apologize for my english that is not so good you could expect and not bad enough to be completely incomprehensible. This median state is often irritating.

A few words to present you my entries on the digital questions. I have been the Computer and Information Technologies Director of the «TGB», Very Large Library, almost twenty years ago, and had to produce the design of the information system, and also of the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is known to day as Gallica. Furtherly, as the adviser of the minister of Culture for the society of information, I helped her about digitization of cultural heritage, and also about these new cultural practices. And when the french Prime minister asked me to organize something for the reduction of the digital gap, I was confronted with the question of digital literacy.

Three years ago, I have decided to give a more theoretical turn to my activities. And I am now director of the Scientific Group ” Digital Culture&Medias” Project. So I am much honoured by the invitation of the organizers of this Symposium, and much grateful to hear and meet so brilliant contributors.

My work is in general about digital culture and digitization of culture. More precisely it is about reading, future of reading, becoming of reading. In 2007, the ministry of culture has asked me a study about reading as a digital cultural practice. The main points of this study are presented in a book written with the philosopher Bernard Stiegler and Christian Fauré, published on last may, under the title «Des lectures industrielles», «About industrial readings».

To day, I shall focus on two points. First point is a proposal of a diagnosis or a balance, if you prefer this metaphor, of «digital reading». Second point is about the notion of «industrial readings» I advance. Industrial readings not only indicate the economical environment of digital reading as a cultural practice. It is also the main explanation why the technology of digital reading and the associated practice are what they are and not something else.

Digital reading

This approach looks at reading as a practice, not a simple consequence of digital text, digital medium, or computerization devices for reading.

Though we are mostly concerned here by the dilemmas of digitization in the field of humanities, scholarship and research, one must not forget that, under familiar and sometimes bombarding forms, digital reading is a public question, a question of the public. Peoples, parents, teachers ask: will the screen (the computer, the web) substitute to the book? Is digital reading a true reading? Will it succeed to the «classical» one? Children will they continue to read, to read like their parents, like the school tries to teach them? And if they read differently, how literacy and literature will be transmitted?

Digital reading is reading

So we may begin by this very simple and elementary question: is digital reading at less a certain form of reading?

I think the answer is yes. Digital reading is reading.

There is an important qualitative difference between reading before the web and reading on the web. So I propose to speak of «reading on a screen» for the first one, and «digital reading» for the second one.

Before the web, in the practice of reading on a screen, the text is not the objective of the reader. Rather is it a control reading, a certain way to decipher and survey the informations and operations of the computer. And reading is submitted to another activity that is the real goal. Credit card, word processor, phototypesetting are examples of such a «reading on a screen». Umberto Eco has said «word processor e una machina molto spirituale» but reading functionalities of word processor are not spirituals at all.

Reading on a screen has become a reality, a social practice with the invention of the personal computer, it means when computer has become a medium. It has become easier, more «user-friendly» according to the marketing jargon, but staid more difficult than reading on paper that was still its reference, as the “Wysiwyg” formula, “What You See Is What You Get” shows. Basically, text was lacking to this first form of reading with computer: a certain quantity, and if possible a certain quality of texts to create a true environment of reading.

The web has done it. HTML, the language of the web, has made digital texts exist on the basis of the internet. The web produces conditions of a textual environment on the screen consistent enough to arouse a regular and massive practice of reading. This point seems evident.

Less evident is the fact that digital reading is not only a consequence of digital texts, but also a condition of development of the web, and the basis of the emergence of a reading technology. There are a lot of examples, as the uses of hyperlinks by research motors. I like also to quote the origin of the word «blog» from “web-log”, reading log on the web, to “we-blog”.

Digital reading is reading; I shall not be longer on this first point, the other ones being more complex.

Technology of digital reading is a technology «by default»

Traditional technology of reading is human. It may be a method for the reader, as in the Didascalicon of Hugh of Saint Victor (XII cent), or it may be applied to the text itself or to the medium, as it is the case, for example, with the separated writing in the British Islands in the VII cent., studied by Paul Saenger precisely as a new way of reading.

In comparison, technology of digital reading is paradoxical. If you ask a request to Google on the word «reader» you will find a lot of machines, software, languages. It seems more difficult to find a reader man or woman. And really, browsers, «readers», e-books, research motors themselves – the robot of Google is a reading machine, there are a lot of techniques of reading.

But, on the other hand, there is no global technology of digital reading. The paradox is everywhere. We can have a medium whose the text is more and more visible, approaching the printed page. We can have a medium with all the potential of digital text, this sort of self-equipment and self-knowledge of the text. But we cannot have the two together in a simple way, I mean in a current activity of reading. We can have access to a great number of texts on the web. We can annotate, create personal paths of reading. But we cannot practice this sort of active reading on the whole web.

Only on the functional level, technology of digital reading lacks of unification, fullness, and integration. The digital reading act is complicate and difficult. Difficulties, underlined notably by the psychologists cogniticians are everywhere: visibility of the screen, typography and layout, up to the absence of unity, which prevents the reader to project his model of understanding of the text red. The reader has a certain idea of the text. He must replace it on each manipulation, but the launching and the execution of this new operation tends to make him forget the first version, the first idea of the text. Path of reading, le “fil de lecture”, is cut. The heaviness, the difficulty of manipulation creates a supplementary problem of attention. Cognitive overflow syndrome does not come only from the overloading of information in the text or about the text; fundamentally it is an operative overflow.

What I try to resume with this idea of a technology “by default” is simply the fact that digital reading technology is mostly oriented “reading machine” and not “reading man”.

Digital reading and reflexion

The most important point in the balance of digital reading is the type of effective reading it allows. And there is no way here to avoid the comparison with classical reading and reference to the history and philosophy of reading. The general meaning of reading practices is the key for their evaluation and critic as cultural practice.

I present my hypothesis with caution. It seems there is a risk, and sometimes more than a risk, of a convergence of the achievement of the act of reading, the sort of attention of the reader, the content of reading.

About the practice of browsing, we may speak of pre-reading, a notion that comes from Romans as praelectio. There are a lot of reasons that make necessary the preparation of reading: think about the difficulty to read a papyrus roll, or an unseparate word text. Browsing is this activity that produces the text to be red, and is a sort of digital prelectio. More generally, the act of digital reading seems in a state of unachievement as if different manipulations were to prepare a reading that doesn’t come.

Many commentators of digital practices insist about the question of attention. Katherine Hayles has opposed the hyper-attention, an attention that needs to be frequently activated, to deep attention, she sees as characteristic of the classic reading. Even if we do not agree with the idea of different generational cognitive styles, it seems quite reasonable to recognize that digital reading environment is not in favor of deep attention, and that it multiplies the occasions to lose one’s concentration.Difference is not between continuity and discontinuity, but between different types of continuity, and different types of discontinuity.

An american researcher, Ziming Liu has tried to explain the frequent junctions from screen to paper. He underlines the difficulty, with digital reading, to go further than a scanning reading towards a sustained reading, that is the difficulty to pass from an information reading to a studying reading.

Now studying reading has been constructed, in Western Culture, after silent reading, and around the link, imagined by Augustine, and systematically established by Hugh of Saint Victor, between reading and reflexion, lectio and meditatio. Studying reading, which implies deep attention, complete and sustained reading, is this one that prepares reflexion either on the text, or from the text, or from the subjective situation of the reader. This reading, I call here studying reading, is not more or less intensive, more or less active, more or less serious than the information reading. It has other finality. And here must be mentioned the conceptions of Michel Foucault on reading as «technology of the self», and of Brian Stock on reading as intellectual or spiritual exercise, askèsis.

It seems that convergence of hyper-attention rather than deep attention, pre-reading rather than complete reading, information reading rather than studying reading may create a situation where the link between reading and reflection, lectio and meditatio is no more established.

Reading and simulation of reading

Last point is about simulation. We have seen that technology of digital reading was mostly oriented machine. But this machine comes from the functionnalities of human activity. For example, if someone uses an automatic translator, he simulates the activity of a professional translating texts, through the software. But simulation is not knowledge transfert. If you use a research motor, you need, to qualify the results, three different skills: knowledge about the subject in general, knowledge about the subject as it is digitized, knowledge about the research motor. Of course the competence is not total – why you adress a request. But if the competences are not enough, the simulation is reversed – it becomes a simulacre- a pretense. At the end, it is the whole activity of reading that may be simulated in this way.

Industrial readings

Now I introduce the second part of the talk by this formula: What is becoming reading? An industry.

The notion of industrial readings is of course economical; but it is also political, as part of the question of the new public space what Robert Darnton has called «digital republic»; and it is also cultural, particularly about the know-to-read, the literacy. And it has appeared to me that this notion was an answer to two different questions: how improve the technology? and how the public of readers can manage with this situation?

Reading industries

Reading industries are a true novelty. History knows reading technologies, mostly human technologies, and if they where outside the man, they were inscribed in the medium as a part of the text. History knows also literary industries, the name Tocqueville gave to the book publishers in «Democracy in America». And Adorno in its essay on Kulturindustry describes Beethoven throwing away a book of Walter Scott and saying «this bloke writes for money». But we did not know until now reading industries.

A characteristic of the digital era is what Jeremy Rifkin has called the «access economy», and the place of access industries rather that content – a word I don’t like too much- industries. From this point of view, reading industries are access industries, and publishing industries are content industries.

Reading industries, whose Google is the most remarkable and brilliant example, appears on the crossing of information industry, cultural industry, and marketing industry.

They have three activities or three sectors of activities. First one is computerization of the means of reading, software, hardware, and also digitizing texts as an access activity and not a publisher activity. For example, the robot of Google is a reading machine: crawling is automatic reading, and indexation is a traditional activity of reading. An other activity is the production of reading acts and reading texts: that is exactly what does Google after a request. A reading text is a meta text, a text that has no signification if separated from a first one. It was the case for glosses that became a separated text after the production of a glossary. A Google result is such a context of reading. The third activity is the basis of the business model of most of the reading industries. It is trading of readings and trading of readers for marketing.

Reading industries transform the relationship between reader and text in what Edward Bernays, the inventor of marketing and nephew of Sigmund Freud, has called a public relation. The word «publicity» has here the two meanings: principle of publicity of the text, and publicity, language of economy through the marketing. Reading is decentered in a public space, a commercial public space and readers become consumers.

Statistic, calculation become the obsession of the actors of the web. Each reading act becomes a «hit». The association of statistical information to the recording of reading operations is at the heart of reading industries. I call its products: industrial readings.

Digital readers as a public

The space of industrial readings differs deeply from the anterior combination of public and private space as evocated for example by Kant around the principle of publicity, «Offenlichkeit». To be effective, the space of Kant, or the public space of Habermas, in our epoch, needs a public of readers; it needs school, transmission of literacy and, in the modern states, it has been one of the major realizations of public powers. But these public powers almost everywhere have disinterested themselves of their responsibilities on digital literacy, and digital reading knowledge.

So the space of industrial readings looks like a face-to-face of the reading industries with the public of readers. And this public of digital readers assumes a lot of big responsibilities, and, I should say, unusual responsibilities.

Responsibility on technology, to make this technology by default become effective and get a sort of provisional consistency.

Responsibility about the text: la «clôture du texte», the closure of text. The reader closes the text after browsing, assuming the traditional work of author and publisher.

Responsibility on his reading: how to pass to studying reading, and very simply, when decide to read out of the screen.

Responsibility about its own training and about the formation of a public, what is known as «social networks».


So, to conclude, one of the main problems of digital reading and industrial readings, which is also a general problem of the so-called information society or knowledge society, is: are the different readers prepared to such responsibilities?

The readers of the classical literacy have no problem individually if they agree to use a computer. They do not confound information reading and studying reading; they know how to associate reading and reflexion; if necessary, they turn to the paper; they don’t have the “Google-and-copy-and-paste syndrome”.

The situation is very different with young persons who are called «digital natives». The competition between book and other medias among the youth is not a new thing. In this room, I think that almost everybody has known something of this competition. But even to be a simple consumer, one has to know how to read, and, until now, classical reading, reading of the book was the reference. Today medias that compete with book and writing – the generationnal media- can find a relay in an other technology, an other practice, an other space of reading. And it is made at an age of the individual life when the link between reading and reflexion is not yet constructed.

I am not pessimistic. I do not believe in a cultural apocalypsis. But the scenario of a gap between the two types of reading -let us say to come back to the title of this symposium: the evolutionary type and the revolutionary type- is the most plausible.

Evolutionary type: a unified way of reading on book and digital text and medium; a new technology of digital reading; the preservation of the link between reading and reflexion. Revolutionary type: an opposition of digital reading to classic reading; no link between reading and reflexion; and all sorts of things we will see on/from young peoples who are now five to ten aged, before ours societies shake themselves out their torpor.

It’s time to debate.


Michel FOUCAULT, L’Herméneutique du sujet, Hautes Études, Gallimard Seuil, 2001.

Brian STOCK, Augustine the Reader: Meditation, Self-Knowledge, and the Ethics of Interpretation, Cambridge, Mass., 1996.

Alain GIFFARD, “Des lectures industrielles”, p 115-216, in Bernard STIEGLER, Alain GIFFARD et Christian FAURÉ, “Ars Industrialis”, Pour en finir avec la mécroissance, Flammarion, 2009.

Alain GIFFARD, “La lecture numérique à la Bibliothèque de France”, in Aurèle CRASSON (dir), L’Édition du manuscrit, Academia Bruylant, 2008.

Katherine HAYLES, “Hyper and deep-attention: the generational divide in cognitive modes”,, 2007.

Ziming LIU, “Reading behavior in the digital environment”, Journal of Documentation, vol.LXI, n°6, 2006.

MIALL and DOBSON, “Reading hypertext and the experience of literature”, Journal of Digital Information, 2-1, 2001.

Bernard STIEGLER, “Machines à écrire et matières à penser”, Genesis, Revue internationale de critique génétique, n°5, 1994.

Jacques VIRBEL, “Reading and managing texts on the BnF station”, in The Digital Word, P.Delany, G.Landow (eds), The MIT Press, 1993.

I give here the abstract of my talk to the “Going Digital” Nobel Symposium.

Digitizing includes digital texts, digitized books and digitized libraries and it poses the question of reading. Is there anything like digital reading? And is this digital reading able to succeed to “classical” reading?

This approach looks at reading as a practice, not as a simple consequence of digital text, digital medium and computerized devices for reading.

The web has created the environment for real reading practices. But questions are arising about: the consistency of technology, the sort of attention of the reader, the achievement of the reading act, and, at last, the type of reading.

Flimsy and intricate technology, hyper-attention rather than deep attention, pre-reading rather than complete reading, information reading rather than studying reading: all this tendencies may converge  towards a situation where the link between reading and reflection is no more established. Yet this association of reading and reflection, of lectio and meditatio, is the keystone of classical reading.

If this diagnostic is correct, the two following questions are: why technology is so poor? And: how the public of readers can manage with this situation?

The notion of “industrial readings space” is proposed as an answer to the two questions.

History knows reading technologies or “literary industries” but reading industries are a true novelty. Reading industries appear on the crossing of information industry, cultural industry and marketing industry. A characteristic of the digital era is the place of access industries rather than content industries. Reading industries are such access industries.

Reading industries have three activities: computerization of the means of reading; production of reading acts and reading texts; and – what is the basis of the business model – trading of readings and readers.

The industrial readings space differs deeply from the earlier combination of public and private space, as evoked for example by Kant around the principle of publicity, “Öffentlichkeit”. Mainly it is a face-to-face of the reading industries with the public of readers, without intervention of the public powers who have disinterested themselves of their responsibility on digital literacy, and digital reading knowledge.

So the readers face a lot of responsibilities: on technology, closing of the text, type of reading, auto-institution as public, and training.

One of the main problems of the industrial readings space, and of the so-called “society of information” is: are the different readers, including the “digital natives” prepared to such responsibilities?


The Center for history of science, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, together with the Uppsala University and the National Library of Sweden, organize the Nobel Symposium, 147 on “Going digital – Evolutionary and Revolutionary Aspects of Digitization” in Stockolm 23 – 26 June 2009.

In the committee: Emma Rothschild, Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer, Lisbet Rausing, Marco Beretta, M.P Bossenbroek.

My talk will be on ” Digital reading and industrial readings”.

The program is here:

The Maison Française d’Oxford has invited me to a symposium intitled “The dilemmas of digitization. How to digitize the humanities”?, 22/23/24nd May. Paolo d’Iorio (CNRS-ITEM), Anne Simonin (CNRS-MFO), Alexis Tadié (CNRS-MFO) and Paul Flather (Europaeum) were the organisers.

My speech took place in the second panel “Did they want what they have achieved?” (1). The organisers ask me to speak about “From the Très Grande Bibliothèque Numérique to Gallica”. (I have been in charge of the information system and digitisation program of the new national library in Paris, from 1989 to 1993).

Here are the oral notes, a little re-written, with some foot-notes I have omitted.
As an introduction, I would like to precise that the Très Grande Bibliothèque Numérique has never existed.

In the letter (2) of François Mitterrand, President de la République, letter which was known as the first program of the new library, it was said: “I should like to go further on in this domain, with the creation of  a “très grande bibliothèque”, a very large and great library, of an entirely new type”. The text said also: “this large library …will use the most modern information technologies, and will be connected, accessible from outside”.

La “très grande bibliothèque”, without capital letters, was to become, under the pen of journalists, la ” Très Grande Bibliothèque “, later on, “la TGB” . But there has never been any project of TGBN. We have begun with 500 000 digitized books, then, 200 000, to finish, for financial reasons with 100 000. 80 000 have been really digitised which was quite a big number for this date.

There is a sort of contradiction between the platitude of the words used by the letter to speak about technology and technological uses, and the pompous tone of the general scheme.

“Of an entirely new type” asks logical questions: does the text wanted to say ” an entirely new sub-type of library”, or “a library that would belong to an entirely new type of something that nobody knows and had no word on that moment”.

We have proposed this answer: “a library, a new one”. (3)

And this direction has had two related parts: digital library and digital reading. I forget the computerization of the activities of the library, an important part of the work, but not exactly the new one, and surely not entirely new.

1/ Digital library

Digital library was not, for this program, a data basis, nor an utility to supply digital information, or digitised documents, or even digitised books.

The basic idea of this program was to consider: (a) books as texts (not as information), remembering they were under the form of books (not “documents”); (b) library as a collection, remembering that choice and order of the collection are at the principle of the library. (4)

About the first point, let us remember that, in these times, the main point of view about the use of digitization in libraries was “electronic management of documents” including “on-demand publishing”. The readers would have chosen such pages, or such chapters and the library would have digitises them for him. And really, mostly in the field of scientific documentation, a lot of programs in the 90s were based on these economics. The program of digitized TGB was not.

In the same idea, we have decided to propose the books in image and in text mode. Text mode is necessary for all the works which call for computer activities. And image mode is also necessary, because in a humanistic and historic library, the materiality of the book is crucial for the reception of the text.

About the second point – library as a collection- we had to face two different tendencies that were as opposed to this idea that they were opposed together.

From a certain point of view, let call it conservative, or a little bit too professional, digitization was only the way to keep or to preserve books in bad conditions, like we do with microfilms. And of course the list of books in bad condition is not completely eclectic. But we don’t see in this sort of list the idea of collection. This point of view is still very present in the digital library programs (5).

The other point of view was presented as “dynamic management of library”, or “dynamic management of documents”, and was the leading perspective. Applied to the program of the French national library, it meant: “you will digitise the books that peoples want to read the most”. As you know, the other face of dynamic management is “weeding” the library, “désherbage” en français. I must recognise that we have been quite static, or, if you prefer, equally dynamically opposed to dynamic and conservative management.

And so we had this definition of the digitized collection: a humanistic and historical reference library. The digitised collection was itself a library or a corpus.

The program has encountered a lot of difficulties. But the main difficulty for a digitization program is: to choose the books, and to choose the peoples to choose the books. I think it’s still the case. I am not very confident with the programs of digitization full of technical and economical considerations, but curiously silent on the intellectual aspects.

This corpus has been digitised on such basis, up to 70.000 or 80.000 titles. In 1997, with the national initiative to develop internet in France, it has been asked that all these books should be on the web, accessible as the text of François Mitterrand had said from everywhere. That is what is known as Gallica.

Did we want what has been achieved?
For a large part, the answer is: yes. A bad decision has been taken when a drop in the budget stopped the process to pass in text mode. But the other points of the assessment are positive.

The prospective was good, if we accept the idea that what is confirmed by industry, trade and social uses is a figure of necessity. Since the beginning, success has been much bigger that expected (including by me). It is due to internet and, for a large part, it is due also to the idea of collection.

And we have not betrayed the true idea, the cultural idea of the library. I give you and example of use: for a work about the Gallic Hercules, I have found the first translation in French of the Lucian text (Geoffroy Tory), the second one, a very pleasant one of the Enlightment (Perrot d’Ablancourt), and an other one, more classic of the XX century (Eugène Talbot, 1912).

An other slightly different question is: “Do we still want what has been achieved?” My answer is also yes. It means basically that we have to consider digital libraries as libraries from an intellectual point of view, and their relations with digitised books and digital reading as the equivalent, as homothetic to the relations that the classical library has with the manuscripts and printed books and classical reading.

Digitising is not a utility; it is a symbolic gesture by which a community – a political one or scientific one or knowledge one –  says “these books are our books, we consider them as our living archives for memory, culture, art, science, etc”. Digitising library is a choice, a view, because doing a library is such a choice.

I do not want to speak about all the questions and I shall just point three figures.

About the European library: a portal of the digitised books of the different national libraries is useful but it is not a European library. A portal or a collective catalogue may be a sort of “virtual library”, but only if they are constituted on the basis of a coherent collection, virtually produced from the different libraries. For the same reason, the web is not a virtual library. The sum of national european libraries is not a european library because the criterium “what is European?” is not there. And it is no more a library, because the different digitisation programs do not use the same criteria. It is useful; it is not a European library.

Second figure: does a library whose all the books will be digitized will be a digital library? Well, it seems it will be, if we do not want to complicate the things by a too much formal approach. But it does not mean that total digitization is a sufficient answer. In fact, there are not many cases in which total digitization will be a sufficient answer. Because digitization will take a lot of time; during a long period, some books will be digitized and others not. Because some books will never be digitized, for example the copyright books, or will be digitized elsewhere. Because digitizing is not only image digitizing, as for the Bibliothèque Nationale de France; but it is no more only text digitizing, it will need, further on, text publishing, encoding (6), and probably, in the future, other works. Simply it is a process, a long time process – and long time process is the rule of libraries. If it is a long time process, it needs and order, a way by which the digital library is a library since the beginning and continues after. Maybe this process of long term digitisation will need a work on the model of the concrete library: what is its true unity? is it a sort of collection of collections?

Last figure: what about the places of the web texts in this digital library? Obviously, this question is very different with the general public access to internet in libraries which is not a specific utility. And it is different with the “critical approach” of the web, that is necessary to organise in libraries and other places. Digital libraries have to include or to bring closer their own digital texts some texts offered on the web. For example, I should have liked Gallica propose me at least a link on the original text of Lucian/Lykianos on the Gallic Hercules, and the latin translation of Erasmus.

For all these figures, and reasons, I propose to keep the idea of choice, selection, collection, and all the intellectual principles which are on the basis of libraries, and which have never been so useful than now.

2/ Digital reading

Just a few words about a question that is less known that the precedent one.

Since the beginning of the project, digital library of the TGB/ BdF/ BNF, was associated with a project of a reader, a computer assisted reading software (CARE was the acronym in English and PLAO in French).

This orientation was important from a prospective point of view. The idea was that not only the texts, and the books will be digitized, but also, that they will be read on a screen, with a computer. And so, the software necessary to practice this reading had to be designed. And it is still the case. 

I have asked to the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler to organise a group for the design of this humanistic scholar reading software. Two prototypes have been produced and tested by a group of readers on their reading from texts we had digitised (4). In 1993, this project has been given up.
About the question: “Did we want what has been achieved?”, the answer, here, is clearly: no. We did not want this sort of achievement, ie this surrender.

We meet now different softwares that turn around this idea of digital reading, for example, the “readers”. But digital reading includes also a lot of other softwares as research motors; the automatic production of reading acts; the link between marketing and reading, and many other aspects like the practice of reading as a simulation, and the publicity of reading acts (I mean that some are published (blogs) and also that a lot of readings are not secret, but public, including e-mail readings).

More generally we have entered the era of “industrial readings”. Since the web, digital reading has become a very large cultural practice, and we may ask if it is “of a new type” and what is this type. Questions are arising about: the attention of the reader in this sort of practice, the achievement of the reading act, the type of reading (information or reflection).

Libraries are not only places for the books. They are also places for the readers. And particularly humanities libraries must be a part of this research for example with the design of new devices of digital reading, including the practices of on line readers.

Reading industries are something amazing.

We have known reading technologies, as the art of reading of the Middle-Age (the Didascalicon of Hugh of Saint Victor).
We have known “literary industries” as said Tocqueville; they are the first example of the KulturIndustry of Adorno.

But what is characteristic of the digital era is more reading industries that literary industries, or, with the words of the moment, access industries that “content” ( a word I don’t like) industries.

These reading industries are at the crossing of information industry (soft, telecom), cultural industry and marketing industry.

Marketing, publicity is the language of economy. I can see that a lot of librarians and scholars want to speak the nice language of their century, as said Baudelaire. But do you think that this language is the best one to imagine the continuation of reading in the digital era?
(1) A view on this subject by a pioneer:

Roberto Busa, Concluding a life safari from punched cards to WWW in Actes du Congrès “Digital resources in Humanities”, Oxford, 1997.

(2)  In this letter (august 1988) to Michel Rocard, Premier minister, the Très Grande
 Bibliothèque is still separate from the Bibliothèque Nationale. In a posterior letter of the President (october 1990), when it was clear that TGB and BN were merged, it was said “the novelty will be in the possibility to use the most moderns computer technics for an access to catalogs and documents of la Bibliothèque de France”.

(3) For a general presentation of the program, see:
Gérald Grunberg and Alain Giffard, New orders of knowledge, new technologies of reading, in R.Howard Bloch and Carla Hesse (eds), “Future libraries”, originally published as a special issue of Representations, Spring 1993, n°42, and then by the University of California Press, 1995.

(4) This basic idea presents a clear proximity with the principles of “digital philologia” as explained by François Rastier. See, for example, “”resources linguistiques” ou corpus”, in the chapter “Philologie numérique” of Arts et sciences du texte, PUF, 2001.

(5) A mistake is frequently done, and still has been during the Oxford symposium, about digitization politics and sources of the digitised books. A collection politics may use certain books coming, for example, from microfilms which have been produced in a preservation purpose; but it must not be confused with a preservation-oriented digitization. Same argument for the rare books or texts.

(6) About encoding: Lou Burnard and C.M Sperberg-McQueen, TEI Lite: An introduction to Text Encoding for Interchange.

 (7) An English presentation of this software in:
a. Chahuneau F, Lecluse Ch, Stiegler B, Virbel J, Prototyping the ultimate tool for scholarly qualitative research on texts, Actes de la 8ème Conférence annuelle du New Oxford English dictionary,1992.
b. Virbel J, Reading and managing texts on the BnF station, in “The digital word”, P Delany, G Landow (eds), The MIT Press, 1993.
In French: Alain Giffard, La lecture numérique à la Bibliothèque de France, in Aurèle Crasson (dir.), ” L’édition du manuscrit “, Academia Bruylant, 2008, with a bibliography.
Other texts on :

 latin design

I have shown my precedent post to friends of Ars Industrialis. And Georges Collins has sent me the following text as an addition.

A very short addition to Alain Giffard’s take on the translation and meaning of the name of our site and association. When Alain says that the expression has never been translated into French or English or presumably any other language, he could have added that is cannot be translated with any information given in the Gaffiot Dictionary, which was at least up to now and to my knowledge the standard reference dictionary for the translation of Latin into French.

I have no competence in this domain, but I suspect the title is only possible in low latin, kitchen latin – In other words the translation problem comes very close to the historical problem with technology: it can only be lowly and ultimately vulgar; there is neither nobility nor sophistication in technology nor in Latin nor in industry.

Therein lies the genius of the name, for everything we are trying to do involves a transvaluation of these values, which everyone would agree with but which very few are willing to come to terms with in increments of energy, will-power and sustainability.

There is no problem with translating this title, this name, this programme as “for an industrial art”. But I personally feel that this gives short shrift to what we are trying to do, and to the sublime complexity of the stakes involved. I prefer to translate it like this: “thinking all polical questions from  an industrial vantage point, in an industrial manner.” Or, again, “for an industrial mannerism, for new industrial mannerisms.” Or, if I am not taxing your patience to an unwarranted degree this translation which suits me to a tee: “industrial articulation as the one we need and have not as yet been able to think and to capture.”

 West Coast Theory

Brye (USA) is asking, in a comment on this blog, for an “approximate meaning” of the term “Ars Industrialis”.

As you can see, “Ars Industrialis” is not translated, neither in french, nor in english, or any other language.

For me, the meaning of the term is well enlightened when compared with the formula of Adorno “Kulturindustrie”. In french, frequently, including the translation of Adorno, Kulturindustrie is translated by “industrie culturelle”, which is very bad, or worse, “les industries culturelles”, taking off all the critical potential of the expression.

Ars Industrialis is something like the opposite, the adverse direction of Kulturindustrie’s one, a direction that goes from art, spirit, culture toward industry, against the tendency and the world where industry submits them.

But Ars Industrialis, the association, insists on the importance of com-position with industry. Opposition is with this tendency of submission of spirit by industry, not with industry itself or in general. We must work with industry. From this other point of view, “Ars” keeps here its traditional meaning of technè. We are interested by technology, its cultural contents, and the way peoples socialize with.

That is an approximate answer. Surely other members would give a different explanation, but I don’t think to be too far of the central idea.

English language resources from Bernard Stiegler: 

 fresque dans le parking art et culture

 I was in Algiers last week end, in a delegation of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region (South East of France) invited by the Willaya and the Etablissement “Art et Culture”.

The subject was “Book and multimedia”, a cooperation being engaged between the two regions about local libraries and the spaces of public access to internet. My lecture was about ‘ the cultural adoption of information technologies”.

Speaking about the new situation of internet, Geert Lovinck has recently spoken of “balkanisation”. Balkanisation is depreciative and sounds like a regret. But the fact is clear: there is no more ONE Internet; we must speak of the internetS.

Lovinck says: ” Ordinary users just aren’t that obsessed with what is happening in the Anglo-Saxon part of the Net. Whereas, technically speaking, the Internet still is a global medium we see an increasing ‘Balkanization’ happening, centred around language clusters (and so much nation states). We’re talking about large, distinctive archipelagos with tens of millions of users. Just think of the Japanese and Korean cyberspaces. The vastest growing of them all, the Chinese Net, is literary walled. But how much do we know what’s going on there? …”.

And how much do we know about Algerian internet?

“Adoption” is the term coined by Bernard Stiegler. It means the user(s) makes a choice and this choice expresses a singularity. I like also the French word “appropriation”: “approprié” means “appropriate”, “relevant”, but “s’approprier” means “to steal”.

Digital singularity is quite clear (not so clear) in rich countries, when opposed to market-driven uses. I hope I have been clear about why the information technologies are and become more and more cultural ones. But I have no recipes about their adoption by groups or societies. And the necessary idea of a critic of digital practices is not easy to translate.

Passing from the Internet to the internets is an effect of the “global war”. Of course, The Internet, and “information society” and so on, were products of story telling, a not-so-subtle form of soft power. But the new story is worse. The information society must be defended for good principles as freedom, tolerance, open-mindedness. In any case, adoption means you choose something else.

Algiers is a splendid town and the reception of Redouane Mohammedi, Chafia Benelkadi and all the persons of Art et Culture  also was splendid.

I recommend the restaurant “Lous Pescadous”, in Ain Benian (La Madrague), for fishes of course.
Complete interview of Geert Lovinck for Liberation here:


This text is not exactly a translation of  “Pop. Cin. Contre le public du cinema”. Rather, it is an other version.


In 1964, Asger Jorn had entitled “Against cinema” the pamphlet which included the text (soundtrack) of the film of Debord Against separation.

In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni has this particularity of opening by a long and angry critic against the public of cinema. I will make no concessions to the public in this film is the first phrase. This prologue may be called “the tirade of the public”.

Guy Debord opposed this prologue – against the public- to the campaign of the minister of Culture in these years: “Quand on aime la vie, on va au cinema” (“People who love life go to the cinema”).

He had returned to the profane state of spectator this public of cinema, in that time consecrated, doubly and triply consecrated, as public, as public connoisseur of the “seventh art”, and as public that loved the life.


Class analysis

Class analysis was the favourite pass-time of petit-bourgeois in the 70 years. It was a frivolous sociology, with still much more resentment than the official one, what the singular of class was reputed to evocate powerfully.

What does interest the most the petit-bourgeois is himself. There was a professor who in these times taught to his followers the method for a subtle distinction between the inferior and the medium lays of the modern little bourgeoisie, itself conveniently distinguished with the ancient one.

Debord has parodied this class analysis in many texts, but never with such a malicious spirit than in this prelude of In girum.

He writes:” The movie-going public, which has never been very bourgeois and which is scarcely any longer working-class, is now recruited almost entirely from a single social stratum, though one that has been considerably enlarged – the stratum of low-level skilled employees in the various “service” occupations that are so necessary to the present production system: management, control, maintenance, research, teaching, propaganda, entertainment, and pseudocritique. Which suffices to give an idea of what they are.”.

Which suffices to give an idea. The so called question of social origins needs an expeditious treatment like this one. Then Debord compares successively these first rank wage earners with the slaves, the serfs and the proletarians, and – about the consumption on credit- with the system of “peonage”.

This arrival of peons is for me the signature of the technique of Debord. As the movie shows commercials with consumers-employees, the text diverts images of pampas, haciendas: true gauchos irrupt on historical theatre of wrongs, just as exited from cartoons of Glenn Baxter. These peons are minor figures of what Boris Donné calls paper-movie of Guy Debord, which imposes its images to the other.

And about the modernity of this new peons: “In other words, this is the first time that poor people have imagined themselves to be part of an economic elite, despite all the evidence to the contrary.”

That we may keep and adapt in this way: “In other words, this is the first time that illiterates have imagined themselves to be part of a cultural elite, despite all the evidence to the contrary.”


Their surplus of false consciousness and their purchase of two or three times as much of the miserable junk that constitutes virtually the entire market, beginning by movies, that is misery. The movie-going public is not rich, but, rather than poor, he is miserable.

This point is more unacceptable than the precedent; anyway it has not been accepted. And there is no probability that this truth of Debord has become more acceptable.

Nearly on the moment when Leibovici was programming In girum imus nocte, Cultural Studies (in France, the school of cultural practices) were diffusing the idea that, the uses being not completely definite by market, propaganda, procedure or institution, the users always keep a margin for “everyday invention”.

In the terms of the Situationnist International, the spectator was credited a priori with desire and capacity to create situations.

The prologue of In girum is simply irreconcilable with this idea. This film is difficult right from the start, which is not amiable.

The misfortune of the movie-going public, his misery, is not so mysterious as he believes, nor so complicated that social theories would like.

Every polemology of practices has to do with this so rough truth. And polemology of practices is the thing we need the most in this moment when the question of classes (new classes, of course…), or the question of subjectivities (new subjectivities, of course…) are reappearing.
NB: I have used the translation of Ken Knabb, however with some transformations.

See here the French version of this text, quite different, which has been published as a leaflet by blog&plec à Marseille, 2006.

Movies of Debord are on a good DVD by Carlotta films: here
Texts of the movies are in Oeuvres cinematographiques completes, Champ Libre, 1978.

English translation of In Girum on the site of Ken Knabb:


Here is the manifesto of Ars Industrialis, an association I belong to since the beginning (2005)


Motifs and motives in the creation of Ars Industrialis

1. Our age is facing the worldwide threat that the “life of the mind” (to cite the title of Hannah Arendt’s last work, a title which in German and French can also be translated and understood as “the life of the spirit”), will be entirely subjected to the demands and requirements of the market, to the law of rapid profits for firms exploiting the technologies of what have come to be known as the culture 
industries, program industries, media, telecommunications, and lastly the technologies of knowledge, or cognitive technologies.  All of these sectors, in the expansion made possible by digitisation, tend to integrate into what was referred to a decade ago already as the convergence of the audiovisual sector, telecommunications and information technologies.  This expanding, converging sector is that of what we will call the technologies of spirit.  If the process of 
integration leading to this convergence has hitherto essentially and brutally intensified the possibilities for the control of mind and spirit, we affirm that the technologies of spirit can and must become a new age of spirit, that they can spark a renewal of spirit and issue in a new “life of the mind”.

2. Now, such an industrial politics must also be an industrial ecology of spirit.  The submission of technologies of spirit to sole market criteria forces them to remain in a control function, in the service of “societies of control” (to use an expression forged by William Burroughs and later picked up by Gilles Deleuze).   This function would systematise the development of applications and uses of methods of calculation, communication and consumption to favor short-term financial investments and large profits in industrial enterprises.  This function 
blocks access to these technologies for any other finality, and in particular, it systematically forbids and impedes the development of new and original social practices which these technologies not encourage but call for as an essential requirement — that is our thesis: these technologies could become the base of a new epoch of civilisation and could conduct the neutralisation of the imminent threat of chaos everyone senses. 

3. These technologies of the “soul” and of “consciousness” on which are being grafted technologies of the body and other “living” technologies, aim today at the hegemonic control and shaping of individual and collective modes of existence at every stage on life’s way.  Now, this control of existence, which is a control and a manipulation of the desires of individuals and groups, leads to the destruction, for these individuals and groups, of the very possibilities of their existence, for to exist can only mean to exist as a singularity.  More precisely, this control destroys the desire of individuals and groups, what since Freud we call their libidinal energy.  Capitalism, in the 20th century, has marshaled libido as its main energy source, an energy that, channelled into commodities, allows excess industrial production to be absorbed, by means of the capture of libido, of desires shaped to 
conform to the requirements of profitable investment.  Today, however, this capture of libido has ended up destroying it, and this incontrovertible fact represents a huge threat for industrial civilisation: it leads, inevitably, to an unprecedented global crisis. 

4. This threat to desire threatens humanity as a whole: the ruin of desire is also the ruin of possibilities of sublimation and of the constitution of a super-ego, and it consequently produces, above and beyond the economic disturbances brought on by a model casting production and consumption as opposites, extremely alarming geopolitical, political, social and psychic disorders.  These dysfunctions, veritable plagues for humanity, represent the most recent manifestations of problems that an industrial ecology of spirit and desire must solve. 

5. Desire is constituted in symbolic practices sustained by symbolic techniques or technologies.  The objects of desire are instrinsically singular, and as such, are capable of intensifying the singularity of the desiring subject.  Now, the industrial fabrication of desire, which is made possible by information and communication technologies, consists in the categorisation of singularities, i.e., in rendering calculable that which, being incomparable (the singular is by defintion that for 
which there can be no comparison) is irreducibly incalculable.  For all that, singularities are in no respect to be seen as at a safe remove from technics or from calculation, but on the contrary, as founded in practices of techniques, technologies and calculations aiming to intensify the irreducible element in all calculation.  This is immediately brought forth in all forms of art, as in this from Claudel: “there must be in the poem a number that averts counting”. The fact is, 
however, that information and communication technologies are precisely,  spiritual technologies, and that also means that they are situated in the field of hypomnémata, whose sense Foucault pinpointed as that of a “technique of the writing of self.”  This was also the major question of Plato’s philosophy with its definition of writing as hypomnesis i.e., as technical memory.  Inasmuch as they are mnemo-technologies, the industrial technologies of spirit are a new form of hypomnémata.  And as was the case for the hypomnémata in Greece and Rome, and particularly in the Stoic and Epicurean schools, and also in ancient Roman Christianity, the industrial technologies of spirit conjure new practices, that is., in the final analysis, new social orgnaisations.  For the relations of mankind to these technologies can in no case continue to be limited to uses and usages as set out in user’s manuals are marketing campaigns, which tend to guarantee nothing other than immediat profit for share-holders who, according to reports, want “two-digit rates of return” on their investments, and where possible, never below 15%.

6. Such a politics is suicidal: this capitalism is self-destructive.  By affirming the possibility of an industrial politics of spirit, our association intends to organise a struggle against this self-destructive tendency, by contributing to the invention of practices of spiritual technologies that can reconstitute objects of desire and experiences of singularity.  We believe that the development of such practices is a fundamental condition for a peaceful future in the global industrial society. 

7. The political-economic issue looming over our industrial future is, then, one of giving a boost to desire, and not simply giving a boost to consumption, as is frenetically and obstinately attempted in countless technocratic and artificial measures and policies that only contribute, time and again, to the aggravation of the evils they are designed to alleviate.  The industries of spirit, which then already exist, but which are off-target and in a position to destroy society instead of contributing to the foundation of a new epoch, produce all sorts of ever-growing symbolic exchanges, whose development will continue into the decades to come, as is the case today with wifi connections, and as will be the case soon with the nano-technologies.  Now, these devices and services cannot be allowed to increase to the detriment of the social fabric and the general interest.  Insofar as the issue of general interest relates back to the question of the symbolic, the defintion of 
an industrial politics of spirit requires the invention of a new form of public power and agency, bringing together skills and k nowledge of all types and from all horizons: economic agents and public institutions, research foundations and associations, economists, artists, scientists, philosophers, investors and partners in the tasks of government at all echelons, etc.

8. Our association is situated in Paris, France, but defines itself above all as European.  We will seek to find interlocutors, partners and members throughout Europe, and to organise activities outside of France as often as possible.  This said, our association is not only European, but international in scope and aim.  We wish to project our thinking in the above-mentioned areas to the global level, which includes the areas of education, research, science, art, the media, the organisation of radio and television services, cultural industries and private program industries, as well as national and regional development programs.

Besides its partners and members in Europe and on other continents, Ars Industrialis will develop in French cities a network of meeting places and activities for and by its members and correspondants. 

The association will energise these networks through the use of all available means of communication, and will thus have to seek the support and sponsorship of public and private organisms and institutions.


The text of this manifesto has been signed by George Collins, philosopher and art critic, Marc Crépon, philosopher, Catherine Perret, philosopher and art critic, Bernard Stiegler, philosopher and director of IRCAM, Caroline Stiegler, jurist.


The Society of Spectacle has been published for the first time in november 1967. The publisher was Buchet Chastel. The book was re-published by Gérard Leibovici, at the Champ Libre Press in 1971.


Guy Debord had announced the book by having published the first chapter, La séparation achevée, (The achieved separation), in Bulletin de l’Internationale Situationniste, number 11, october 2007, so the last before the 1968 “events”.

The text has kept all his strength and flavour.

Just an example, one should use about criticism of cyberspace:


The spectacle is the ruling order’s nonstop discourse about itself, its never-ending monologue of self-praise, its self-portrait at the stage of totalitarian domination of all aspects of life. The fetishistic appearance of pure objectivity in spectacular relations conceals their true character as relations between people and between classes: a second Nature, with its own inescapable laws, seems to dominate our environment. But the spectacle is not the inevitable consequence of some supposedly natural technological development. On the contrary, the society of the spectacle is a form that chooses its own technological content. If the spectacle, considered in the limited sense of the “mass media” that are its most glaring superficial manifestation, seems to be invading society in the form of a mere 
technical apparatus, it should be understood that this apparatus is in no way neutral and that it has been developed in accordance with the spectacle’s internal dynamics. If the social needs of the age in which such technologies are developed can be met only through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact between people has become totally dependent on these means of instantaneous communication, it is because this “communication” is essentially unilateral. The concentration of these media thus amounts to concentrating in the hands of the administrators of the existing system the means that enable them to 
carry on this particular form of administration. The social separation reflected in the spectacle is inseparable from the modern state — the product of the social division of labor that is both the chief instrument of class rule and the concentrated expression of all social divisions.

(The Situationnist International had the texts published with an explicit anti-copyright notice which stated that “the writings may be freely reproduced, translated or adapted, without even indicating their origin”.) 

If you read french, I have written in 2005, about Memoires de G-E Debord, a text  entitled L’Ars Memoriae de Guy Debord, published by Cahier Critique de Poésie n°9. But the great man of this publication was Boris Donné, the impeccable author of [Pour Mémoires] published by Allia.

Always with Donné, a good souvenir is the Exhibition Guy Debord, Situationnists Documents, in the International Center of Poetry Marseille, in Mars 2006. I have proposed a reading of the prologue of In girum imus Nocte, entitled Pop. Cin. Against the public of the cinema. You can find all these texts on the french blog.

This evening in Marseille, it was the first time I have seen the splendid Critique de la séparation film of Debord.

All his films on a nice DVD, see some images here: Guy Debord cinéaste.


The achieved separation (english version)