Technology and Culture Reading Group

TCRG – School of Culture and Communication – University of Melbourne

Month: April, 2014

April 29: The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis (Simondon part 2a)

by lukevanryn

Weather, social traditions and locked doors prevented us from meeting last week, so we will repeat the reading this week.

Photo Credit: Paul's Lab via Compfight cc

[via @smwarkIn this week’s continuing engagement with the work of Gilbert Simondon, TCRG reads ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’, a translation of part of the introduction to the second half of Simondon’s doctoral thesis, ‘L’individuation psychic et collective‘. Following on from last week’s engagement with Simondon’s METO, this extract introduces Simondon’s critical engagement with being, or ontology, and becoming, or individuation.

In this extract Simondon develops the central tenet of his philosophy: that being is becoming, or that ontology needs to be replaced by ontogenesis. This philosophical position emerges from a critique of two central models of being and becoming, the monist/substantialist model and the form/matter or hylomorphic model. Simondon argues that these two philosophical approaches to the individual are fundamentally flawed. This is because both models “presuppose the existence of a principle of individuation that is anterior to the individuation itself” (4). To presuppose a principle of individuation is to presuppose the existence of an individual that develops in a particular way, foreclosing the novelty and contingency of individuation, of becoming, itself. For Simondon, the individual should be grasped

“as a relative reality, a certain phase of being that supposes a preindividual reality, and that, even after individuation, does not exist on its own, because individuation does not exhaust with one stroke the potentials of preindividual reality” (5).

Or: the individual should be known through its individuation, which emerges from fields of potential that are immanent to it, rather than through transcendent principles that guide its becoming.

By providing us with a wide-ranging introduction to Simondon’s critique of substantialism and hylomprhism, this extract also introduces us to the terminology Simondon uses throughout his philosophy. This constellation of critiques and concepts is a key influence on the work of subsequent French philosophers: the preindividual milieu on Gilles Deleuze’s virtual; individuation on Bernard Stiegler’s understanding of the relationship between technology and the human; Bruno Latour’s recent engagements with technology as a mode of being in AIME. It also fits within a new materialist lineage of philosophies of becoming that have become increasingly influential (see, for instance, Jussi Parikka’s engagements with new materialism in Fibreculture). Yet as Stiegler’s work in particular shows, this terminology can also be used to develop insightful engagements with contemporary media and technology.

[PDF] Gilbert Simondon, ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’ trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia no. 7, 2009: 4-16. A useful glossary of Simondon’s terms can also be found here.

We meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, at 5pm.

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April 22: The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis (Simondon part 2)

by lukevanryn

Photo Credit: Paul's Lab via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Paul’s Lab via Compfight cc

[via @smwarkIn this week’s continuing engagement with the work of Gilbert Simondon, TCRG reads ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’, a translation of part of the introduction to the second half of Simondon’s doctoral thesis, ‘L’individuation psychic et collective‘. Following on from last week’s engagement with Simondon’s METO, this extract introduces Simondon’s critical engagement with being, or ontology, and becoming, or individuation.

In this extract Simondon develops the central tenet of his philosophy: that being is becoming, or that ontology needs to be replaced by ontogenesis. This philosophical position emerges from a critique of two central models of being and becoming, the monist/substantialist model and the form/matter or hylomorphic model. Simondon argues that these two philosophical approaches to the individual are fundamentally flawed. This is because both models “presuppose the existence of a principle of individuation that is anterior to the individuation itself” (4). To presuppose a principle of individuation is to presuppose the existence of an individual that develops in a particular way, foreclosing the novelty and contingency of individuation, of becoming, itself. For Simondon, the individual should be grasped

“as a relative reality, a certain phase of being that supposes a preindividual reality, and that, even after individuation, does not exist on its own, because individuation does not exhaust with one stroke the potentials of preindividual reality” (5).

Or: the individual should be known through its individuation, which emerges from fields of potential that are immanent to it, rather than through transcendent principles that guide its becoming.

By providing us with a wide-ranging introduction to Simondon’s critique of substantialism and hylomprhism, this extract also introduces us to the terminology Simondon uses throughout his philosophy. This constellation of critiques and concepts is a key influence on the work of subsequent French philosophers: the preindividual milieu on Gilles Deleuze’s virtual; individuation on Bernard Stiegler’s understanding of the relationship between technology and the human; Bruno Latour’s recent engagements with technology as a mode of being in AIME. It also fits within a new materialist lineage of philosophies of becoming that have become increasingly influential (see, for instance, Jussi Parikka’s engagements with new materialism in Fibreculture). Yet as Stiegler’s work in particular shows, this terminology can also be used to develop insightful engagements with contemporary media and technology.

[PDF] Gilbert Simondon, ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’ trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia no. 7, 2009: 4-16. A useful glossary of Simondon’s terms can also be found here.

We meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, at 5pm.

April 15: Simondon part 1: On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects

by lukevanryn

Over the next few weeks the TCRG explores the work and influence of Gilbert Simondon (1924 – 1989). We will be led through this difficult terrain by Tom and Scott, who are editing an upcoming special issue on Simondon for Platform.

Image

Photo Credit: Tinkerbots via Compfight cc

Our reading this week is taken from Simondon’s first major publication: Du mode d’existence des objets techniques [On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects], first published in France in 1958. This book was based upon the complementary thesis to his main doctoral dissertation, L’individuation à la lumière des notions de Forme et d’Information, which would later be published as two separate books – L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique [The Individual and Its Physico-Biological Genesis] (1964) and L’individuation psychique et collective [Individuation Psychic and Collective] (1989) – and had an immediate and decisive effect upon subsequent French philosophy of technology. Unfortunately, like all of Simondon’s major works, there is no official English translation of this book available; unlike the two other aforementioned books, however, there is a partial translation by Ninian Mellamphy available, which is what we’re using this week.

Simondon argues that we are not alienated from technology because it is somehow external to human culture or values, but rather, because we have increasingly failed to recognize the human essence of the technical object. In this he is implicitly following Lewis Mumford, whose 1934 Technics and Civilization (essential reading!) puts forward the contention that technics ‘are the result of human choices and aptitudes and strivings, deliberate as well as unconscious… even when they are uncontrollable they are not external’, Our response to the problem of technical objects, Simondon suggests, is contradictory: on the one hand, we treat them as merely tools or instruments subordinated to human purposes; on the other hand, though, we simultaneously treat them as an autonomous threat to human nature (as ‘robots’), and as a consequence, try as hard as possible to preserve the former character in order to prevent the second – that is, we reduce the machine to the position of a slave.

‘Human reality,’ Simondon declares, ‘resides in machines as human actions fixed and crystalized [sic] in functioning structures’. What we need, therefore, is to understand the nature of the machine, and its intertwined relationship with humanity; we need to avoid turn back the specialization that has more and more dominated our understanding of machines, and embrace a ‘general culture’ wherein technical objects are once again included as a fundamental component of human culture, rather than merely a means to its continued existence. In the final section of this reading – the first section of chapter one – Simondon begins to outline such a project through a description of the genesis of the technical object.

We meet as usual in the Pierre Gorman Room, 5pm. All are welcome.

[PDF] Simondon, G. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (trans. Mellamphy, N.)

April 8: Professional and Amateur (Said)

by robbiefordyce

 

deal_with_it

 

Edward Said’s presentations of the Reith Lectures in 1993 were broadcast over the BBC. Later these lectures would be republished as the volume The Representations of the Intellectual. Said’s lectures covered a broad range of concerns for what might be considered an ethics for the organic intellectual. Many aspects of academic life are served up for interrogation, and the chapter on Exile is particularly engaging. For this week, we will address a different chapter – “Professionals and Amateurs”,

Around 1968 intellectuals largely deserted their publishers’ fold; instead they flocked to the mass media–as journalists, talk-show guests and hosts, advisers, managers and so on. […] Every intellectual has an audience and a constituency. The issue is whether that audience is there to be satisfied, and hence a client to be kept happy, or whether it is there to be challenged, and hence stirred into outright opposition or mobilized into greater democratic participation in the society.

We meet, once again, on April 8th in the Gorman Room of the 1888 building, at 5pm.

[PDF] Said, E. (1994) “Professional and Amateur” in Representations of the Intellectual.

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