A term that I continually come across in my readings recently is topographic. Specifically, it is used by Simondon and the authors writing about his ideas, most notably individuation and relation. Simondon's writings focus on ontogenesis and the relation between an individual and its milieu (environment). Simondon is interested in how the individual is formed in relation to its surroundings. It's quite fascinating, and will make up several posts in the future, but as I've been reading his work and works about him I've noticed the use of the term topographic. It is used as a way to describe relations...they are topographic. Now I understand that on the one hand, this is to say that relations have specific shape and form, yet I feel that there is more beneath the surface here (excuse the pun). The word beckons to be understood, and I am only just beginning to get my head around it, yet it seems key.
Intensities, flows and affects are also key terms in Simondon's writing. Flows and topography. Luckily, my wife is a landscape designer, and she's helped me see the idea of a ground plane that shapes the flow of water - this is the problem with covering the city with asphalt and concrete, by flattening out the plane the water flows faster, it isn't absorbed by the earth and plants, and delivers toxins directly to wherever it is routed by municipalities.
This is a good example to see the way that the topography of a relation can be used to trace its flows, and as we build cities we can find ways to shape them in ways to enhance the kinds of flows we want/need - permeable concrete and grasscrete, for instance, can allow water to be absorbed before sending it immediately to the sewer.
This much, I get, and it sounds easy enough, when put into terms of ground plane and water. Yet, what is the topography of the Internet? What shapes the flows between my ipad and my fingers? What is the topography of human-bacteria relations? Is it truly a concept that we can abstract usefully? It comes back to one of the questions I have about posthuman relations: how is the relation felt, how is it experienced, how can we locate it if the topography is microscopic or beneath our affective threshold?
This is related, to me at least, to the question of where and how does one locate relations. How can they be traced, followed and measured? Intensity, flow, affect seem to be the answer, but these too have abstract difficulties attached...