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.