Some closing comments

This research blog comprises my annotated bibliography, as part of my PhD at SIAT. I'm no longer updating this blog (which is probably obvious), however I find that it is useful to leave it up, as a number of people have contacted me over the years to correct issues, provide feedback, and ask questions. Having this online also allows me to use a growing number of tools for analysis popular in the digital humanities and elsewhere. 

However, I'm not a slave to the digital. I use a variety of methods and practices to "think" through the research. I thought I'd close out the blog with just a couple of images documenting a the analog version of my process. I used a mind-mapping software tool to create a map of the artifacts in this blog (journal articles, chapters, books, and artworks) and then color-coded them by hand. It was a good opportunity to review everything in here and really consider the body of knowledge I had assembled. It's a useful exercise and I recommend trying it out. Now, back to writing the dissertation....

Cellular Decision Making and Biological Noise: From Microbes to Mammals

Gábor Balázsi, Alexander van Oudenaarden, and James J. Collins Balázsi, Gábor, Alexander van Oudenaarden, and James J. Collins. 2011. “Cellular Decision Making and Biological Noise: From Microbes to Mammals.” Cell 144 (6) (March 18): 910–925. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2011.01.030.

In this review article, the authors discuss a range of research about cellular decision making, "whereby cells assume different, functionally important and heritable fates without an associated genetic or environmental difference" (910). While not well understood, the authors explain that cells from viruses, bacteria, yeast, plants, and mammals all respond dynamically to environmental cues. This includes a variation of cellular response within the same environment, thus stochastic response would also be driven by biological noise. Their consideration of viruses suggests that the term cellular response is a "misnomer," where "decisions are taken by more or less autonomous replicating systems that reside inside and manipulate the behavior of carrier cells" (912). The crux of their argument is that cellular decision making is a fundamental biological property that is highly dynamic and dependent on both the cell's environment and "intrinsic molecular noise" (922). The authors identify cellular decision making, along with "environmental sensing and cell-cell communication" as one of the "three key processes underlying pattern formation and development from microbes to mammals" (922).

This article offers a relational understanding of underlying cellular processes common to all creatures. It is an understanding that challenges strict DNA-as-code understandings of biological life. That these processes are relational and dynamic to the cell's environment would suggest a certain correlation with Simondon's individual-milieu dyad, one which is materially and situationally specific. However, the phrase “decision making” is arguably too closely aligned with cognition. I will use this essay, along with other essays on the dynamics of life in nonhuman entities to further arguments of Simondon's concept of individuation and his individual-milieu dyad.

Insect Media

Jussi Parikka In this book, Parikka examines insects, and our relationships to them, through the lens of media theory. Doing so, he claims, "reveals a whole new world of sensations, perceptions, movements, stratagems and patterns of organization that work much beyond the confines of the human world" (ix). Using what he terms as a neo-materialist approach, Parikka leverages the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Gilbert Simondon, Eugene Thacker, and Jacob Uexküll (among others) to examine the ways in which insects have inspired approaches to new media experiences in film, robotics, computing, animation, and art.

For instance, robotics offers an interesting ethological approach between robots and their environment, computer networking and graphics display different models and techniques of swarming, while artists have used insects not just as inspiration for creating new material experiences for their audiences, but also as subjects of study, and inspiration of alternative logics from which to make work. Parikka's approach brings to the fore the different ways that insects are interwoven into our cultural media practices. Art, biological sciences, computing sciences, cultural theory seem not different disciplines so much as an orchestrated movement—a swarm of interconnected workers moving toward the same goal.

Parikka's work holds a significant position within my own research. First, it is a model of analysis of a specific class of nonhuman entities, specifically focusing on the experiential components of insects in relation to an interdisciplinary understanding of media. Second, Parikka mobilizes arguments from a number of the theorists that I see important in my dissertation. Both his approach of an insect understanding of media and his analysis of critical theory offer tools through which I can approach my research to nonhuman experience.

Cyborg Manifesto

Donna Haraway In this pivotal text Haraway argues for an "ironic myth" of the cyborg as a way to dismantle distinct categories, which is enabled by late twentieth century technologies. She argues that these categories—masculine, feminine, human, machine, physical, non-physical, etc.—are made ambiguous through the technologies of the twentieth century. Haraway argues for a hybrid view of the world and identity built upon both science fiction and social realities. She offers her cyborg myth as a substitute for outdated, exclusionary, masculine narratives. The inorganic cyborg opens new conceptions of being that avoid traditional categories of domination. Even though computers and machinery emerge from epistemologies of code and control, Haraway finds potential for a new, liberating politics enabled by technology and hybridity. Hybridity combats hegemonic dualities, and opens new forms of being. Though somewhat dated, this essay still carries the potential of identity reformation through a consideration of relations as key in the individuating process. There is room for debate on whether or not the technologies of late twentieth century have enabled greater hybridity amongst individuals or more control by existing power structures. No doubt, examples of both instances can be found. However, the strength of the essay is the political potential Haraway finds in the inorganic affecting bodies taken up by society and individuals. I will use this text to describe the potential of technology's role in culture. While Simondon also writes of technological culture, his work comes before global movements of feminism, civil rights and queer theory (to name only a few important political movements). Simondon's ethics must be updated to include issues surrounding race, gender, sexuality and class biases. Haraway's continuing attempts to move away from dualism and into an era of the cyborg are continued in her more recent work and are, I believe, in line with Simondon's theories of individual, milieu and collective.

What is Posthumanism?

Carey Wolfe Wolfe, Cary. 2010. What Is Posthumanism? Posthumanities 8. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

In this book, Wolfe uses systems theory, animal studies, disability studies and artworks to argue that posthumanism is a means of overturning Enlightenment humanism, which privileges a subject endowed with rights. The legal status of this subject, originally biased toward the able-bodied, male human has gradually been expanded to include women, people of color, disabled individuals, and more recently some have even suggested that animals should receive similar, or the same, rights. Wolfe acknowledges the pragmatic need to expand the legal definition of the subject through the law, though he portrays it as an ill-conceived process. Instead, he suggests that we should consider the ways in which embodiment "bring[s] forth a world" (xxv).  All creatures bring forth worlds through the capacities of their bodies, which Wolfe uses as an argument to combat the anthropocentrism (and sexism, racism, abled-body-isms) inherent to humanism. Ultimately, we share with animals an embodied finitude. Wolfe insists embodiment as a way to consider others, both human and nonhuman, as it elides arguments of human superiority to other animals on the basis of language or cognition. Embodiment is an attempt to understand the living, and leads Wolfe, following Jeremy Bentham, to argue that suffering is the key ethical question when relating to nonhuman animals. Suffering, and embodied reality, elides the legal distinction of a rights-holding subject, suggesting that relief from suffering is the ultimate right, and should be shared by all creatures.

Wolfe's book offers a strong vision of non anthropocentric philosophy through which one can consider nonhumans. In so doing, he touches on many subjects germane to my research area, including bioethics, shared experiences between species, and art. He analyzes several individual works of art, architecture, film and music in the last half of his book. Wolfe's work, however, is limited in the strange assertion that interdisciplinary studies are flawed. In his adherence to Luhmann's systems theory, he claims that it is only an outside observer who can recognize the flaws of a system. Therefore, we must be multidisciplinary, for it requires practitioners of one discipline to critique practitioners of another, and this cannot be done through synthesis. The emphasis here is too much on critique, and not on the powerful ways in which practices, when brought together, can create their own energies and potentials to be actualized in new ways.

Interactive Environments as Fields of Transduction

Christoph Brunner and Jonas Fritch Brunner and Fritch call for a Simondonian practice in designing interactive environments, using two pieces of interactive art. They weave together Simondon's concepts of invention, affect, transduction and individuation to articulate a vision of interactive technology that highlights a relation between direct human experience and (interactive) technology. Brunner and Fritch pull Simondon's philosophy into the present day through their consideration of interactive environments, however, as an analysis of design practice they avoid a key Simondonian concept—concretization. This physical consideration of the technology is key in developing a design practice, and is more than a simple adoption of a mindset. It is an understanding of "technical mentality" whereby the inventor, to use Simondon's terminology, understands what the technology does within the environment in ways that go beyond human-use values. I will use this article to help apply Simondon’s ideas of invention and transduction to forming a praxis.

On Techno-Aesthetics

Gilbert Simondon Writing to Jacques Derrida in 1982 to express his support in the foundation of a new college for philosophy in France, Simondon describes the "intercategorial fusion" of techno-aesthetics. Techno-aesthetics revolve around the object's beauty as well as its function, something primarily experienced through use rather than in contemplation. Simondon describes a number of handheld tools that one may derive an aesthetic pleasure by using them. Key to this text, for my own research, is his assertion that aesthetics is not about the "consumer" of the work of art", but more so "the set of sensations" of the artists. "[I]t's about a certain contact with matter that is being transformed through work" (4). Simondon claims that there is a continuum from aesthetics to technics—a claim that would seem to counter his assertion that aesthetics sit at a neutral mid-point between religion and technics at the end of The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (see entry for part III). Finally, Simondon turns to "industrial aesthetics" which he applies to the mediation of naturally occurring phenomena humans cannot perceive, like electricity, through a technical apparatus, such as an oscilloscope. Deriving aesthetic pleasure from such an object is a diversion "from its function," using it in ways it was not designed for—such latitude of use exists around all technical objects.

The brief letter opens new avenues of thought for the consideration of what is now called "new media" art. Simondon's focus on the ways to shift a technical object from function to aesthetic pleasure and his focus on the aesthetic experiences of making things through technology will be key in my consideration of new media works and research into praxis.

Machine Cinematography

Henning Schmidgen Henning Schmidgen. “Machine Cinematography.” Inflexions 5, “Simondon: Milieu, Techniques, Aesthetics” (March 2012). 130-147.

Schmidgen examines the photographs used in The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, arguing that they form a cinematographic understanding of technical evolution. Focusing on two examples, the combustion engine and vacuum tubes, Schmidgen argues that Simondon offers a "quasi-inductive manner" of understanding technological evolution highlighting the nonlinear processes of technical evolution (141). It is a shift in thinking analogous to the shift from linear sequences to montage in cinematography, a shift aided through Simondon's meticulous photographs. Schmidgen's argument is that Simondon, then, focuses both on seriality and discontinuous breaks with such seriality in his discussions of concretization and invention. However, the full strength of Simondon's concept of invention is not taken up in the photographs, but in the body of his text. Invention is "linked to the presence and the use of already existing technical objects;" invention brings about a bifurcation of the available technical materiality, individuating new technical objects that can be "reproduced, varied and selected" (145). For his attention to the serialization of concretization and discontinuous schisms of invention that engender new forms of serialization, Schmidgen calls Simondon as a "cinematographer of machines" (145).

Schmidgen's essay is one of the few that even alludes to the visual components of his argument, and provides fertile ground for considering the role of visual practices in individuation in Simondon's philosophy. Foregrounding, for instance, the ways in which art provokes individuations, which is how I intend to incorporate Schmidgen's argument. However, there are certain blind spots within this argument as well. Schmidgen does not discuss Simondon's aesthetics, technical or otherwise, nor his concepts of form and ground, through which Simondon critiques certain gestalt approaches. Given that Schmidgen links a "quasi-inductive" understanding to Simondon's photographs, it goes to reason that this tension would be acknowledged, if not oriented toward a resolution.

Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed

Adrian MacKenzie MacKenzie, Adrian. 2002. Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Adrian MacKenzie's book is one of the only sustained inquiries into Gilbert Simondon's concepts in English, this alone makes it an important work, especially with the gaining popularity of Simondon. Also notable is MacKenzie  engagement with the concept of transduction through a range of tools and objects—including forays into hand-axes and nuclear bombs, pendulums and atomic clocks, Stelarc's Ping Body, video games and biotechnologies. It is a wide-ranging consideration of the implications of transduction, time and speed in contemporary society. MacKenzie details technologies in a Simondonian method, examining the functioning technology behind internet protocols powering Ping Body, for example. As such, MacKenzie is able to expand upon Simondon's twentieth century mechanistic view of technologies. This allows MacKenzie to examine the role of technology on the body, the ways in which specific relations allow technologies to mediate experience and to question disembodying narratives of technological supremacy. Following Simondon, MacKenzie problematizes dualistic considerations of technology. He suggests that such readings are reductive and we must consider the multiple ways in which technologies structure society and culture, rearticulate notions of embodied experience, and transform experiences of time. Each informs the other and eschews simple categorization of technical experience.

MacKenzie is clear to bring out the affective and cultural aspects of technology, which is one of Simondon's main critiques of the perceived split between humans and technology. Technology is part of culture for Simondon, and technology carries with it human aspects of a preindividual state, engendering new individuations through its mediation of nature. MacKenzie does not address this directly, nor does he address the explicit ethics Simondon describes in his work. Aesthetics, religion, science and ethics, all part of the last section of On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, are not explicitly addressed by MacKenzie either. However, his attention to the concept of transduction is key, and will assist my research into the transductive capacities of technologies used in art, especially those chapters dealing with bioart and radical contingencies based on embodiment.

The Strange Meshing of Impersonal and Personal Forces in Technological Action

Adrian Mackenzie Mackenzie, Adrian. 2006. “The Strange Meshing of Impersonal and Personal Forces in Technological Action.” Culture, Theory and Critique 47 (2): 197–212. doi:10.1080/14735780600961775.

Adrian Mackenzie picks up on his book, Transductions (see entry this section), examining contemporary forms of technological engagement, or action, through a specific Simondonian lens. Examining computer modding, botnets, Google desktop and other technologies, he proposes a corrective to understandings of technology as a deficit to human culture and critical theory. Instead, he suggests that technology is an important aspect of collective life, an excess of the individual that provides potentials and tensions from which individuals and collectives individuate. For example, Google Desktop, a software add-on that allows one to use Google's search algorithms to index and search one's desktop computer, shifting one's experience of personal information to an impersonal relationship: "[personal information] becomes something an individual searches like the Web, a space populated in principle by others" (199). That the software is open to development through others through Google's API (advanced programming interface), means that the software is "open to ongoing development by anyone" (ibid). Combined with the fact that one might have so much digital information on one's computer that search is the only way to find information, means that Google Desktop is a "problematization of information" (ibid). In other words, it is a problem open to individual and societal power relations; technology  carries within it sets of relations that overflow individuals and society simultaneously, producing new tensions, new problems, which require responses, or individuations. These individuations are not just material changes to our environment, new mediations between humans and the world, but also individuations of thought. Technology is part of culture, containing within it certain, human, preindividual aspects, but also bringing forth new forms in excess to that which is human—forms engendering new ideas.

Mackenzie work is important, as he is one of the few thinkers to analyze contemporary technologies through Simondon's ontology. Mackenzie shows how Simondon, who primarily focused on mechanical technologies, is still relevant today. Perhaps even more so, when considering the ways in which technology is relevant to collective individuation in society.  Mackenzie's essay does not examine invention, which is a primary way that Simondon discussed human individuation with technology. This leaves open serious tensions within contemporary technological culture, whose focus on innovation, rather than invention, is arguably at odds with Simondon's philosophy. I will use Mackenzie's work to examine the role of technology in new media artwork and the specific tensions, potentials these works engender.

The Aesthetics of Gilbert Simondon: Anticipation of the Contemporary Aesthetic Experience

Yves Michaud Michaud suggests that the theory of aesthetics Simondon presents at the end of The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects foregrounds popular aesthetic experience of today. Aesthetics, like religion and technics, and other human systems of being in the world, engenders certain kinds of individuation in the ways in which they allow resolutions of metastable states. Simondon's argument is that aesthetics harkens back to a "magical phase" where humans directly experienced the world without separation between subject and object. Religion and technics created processes of mediation of this direct experience, objectivizing and mobilizing previously geographically bound key-points of power. Michaud, following Simondon, argues that the aesthetic object is defined by its "insertion" in the world, "and not the fact that it is an imitation of whatever there is," yet one necessarily caught up in technical processes (125). This insertion, found in fashion, turns of phrase, parks, and the modulation of voice, is local and situated, dependent upon "the gesture of placing, inscribing, inserting, a mark in the natural or technical or religious world" (125). Michaud argues that it is Simondon's emphasis on aesthetics, rather than on art, that is of most importance. It allows consideration of any experience in the world as aesthetic experience. Simondon's argument is one that vaporizes an aesthetics of the banal, according to Michaud. At the end of his essay, Michaud claims that Simondon's aesthetics can be expressed in “three keywords”: "aesthetic impression (rather than aesthetic object), techno-aesthetics (rather than natural aesthetics), and aesthetic attractors (rather than masterpieces)” (131).

Michaud's interpretation of Simondon's aesthetics adds great nuance to an argument that can sound anachronistic and out of touch with the affective potential of contemporary art of its day. In true Simondon fashion, he resolves tensions within the original argument pointing us to new areas of aesthetic potential. However, in many ways this is a generous reading of Simondon’s aesthetics. The disconnect between Simondon and contemporary art is a point of tension, in my reading, which reifies traditional forms of beauty and experiences therein, without considering the affective potential of the artworks to engender new individuations at both individuation and collective levels. I will use Michaud’s essay to consider the ways in which art made with living entities might exemplify a co-mingling of the above three key-words, specifically in relation to living and non-living nonhumans.

The Individuation of Nature in Gilbert Simondon's Philosophy and the Problematic Nature of the Technological Object

Anne Lefebvre Lefebvre, Anne. 2011. “The Individuation of Nature in Gilbert Simondon’s Philosophy and the Problematic Nature of the Technological Object.” Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 15 (1) (July 12): 1–15.

Lefebvre provides a detailed synthesis of Simondon’s major writings: Individuation in the Light of the Notions of Form and Information, The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, and Imagination and Invention, a collection of course lectures from the mid 1960's where he expanded upon his previous discussions of invention. Lefebvre's work is important for its attention to Simondon's work as a cohesive philosophical system, as opposed to only paying attention to individuation or technology, as a number of works do. Lefebvre makes clear that Simondon's goal is to bring a philosophical consideration of how technology functions—how it encounters a "techno-geographical milieu" (8). His work on individuation does not form a flat ontological structure, but considers the specific relations engendering ontogenetic formations across biological, physical, and psycho-social realms. Lefebvre argues that within each realm, within each individuation, there is a specific actualization which is linked to its material and affective relations. Technology has similar limitations, and Simondon's interest on the function of technology is in its physicochemical interaction with a specific milieu. "The technological individual, rather than being conditioned by its milieu, creates its associated milieu" (9). Lefebvre focuses on invention in Simondon's philosophy, noting that invention recruits "unexpected effects at the heart of nature as potentials," "[invention] exceeds the level of the individual and comes to reorganize the relation the individual entertains with its milieu, via the mediation of the created object" (11). Invention is a mediation of the environment, and Lefebvre claims that Simondon looks to animals who create objects, such as birds and their nests, as a form of invention. She argues that he challenges the distinction between animal-created objects and culturally-created objects (13).

Incorporating Imagination and Invention (not yet translated in English) into her reading of Simondon, Lefebvre challenges a number of humanist readings of his work. However, she does not challenge some of Simondon's more problematic assertions, such as the artificiality of flowers within a greenhouse environment, in fact she defends this (see Mitchell, Simondon and Bioart…). Nonetheless, this is one of the more sophisticated analyses of Simondon and will be useful in my research of art with living entities, invention and its relation to praxis, and a focus on the tensions between use and function within technological art.

On the Effects of a Fictitious Encounter between Alfred North Whitehead and Gilbert Simondon

Deroo examines the similarities between Gilbert Simondon’s relational ontology and Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy to explore new areas within “contemporary process ontology” (295). She examines certain alignments within their respective philosophies, such as a concentration on becoming over being: Simondon’s individuation and Whitehead’s process. Both philosophers, she argues, asserted that there “are no absolute ontological differences between physical and vital individuation” (298). Deroo also states that they both also attempted to “[build] a uniterary, non-anthropocentric mode of explanation, which entails applicability to a multiplicity of modes of existence” (300). This, she suggests, leads each philosopher to forming a system of “ontological dynamic categories” that form structural processes of becoming across multiple levels of experience. Deroo distinguishes important difference between the two, such as for Whitehead singularity is defined in “regard to its particular characteristics” where for Simondon, singularity is based on “its function beyond itself” (307). Deroo’s article is not just a comparison essay, instead she attempts to foreground the role of structure in each ontological system, where actualization of potential is not based upon any individual, or singularity, but through the structuring encounters (milieus and prehensile nexus) that form ongoing individuations. Deroo’s essay is only a cursory discussion of Simondon and Whitehead, and leaves a great number of details out. Neither philosopher is given their due credit in this short analysis, and yet it is one of the only essays considering the two that I have found. Her essay makes a valuable bridge between Simondon’s relational ontology and Whitehead’s focus on experience as available to all (actual) entities, which I will use in consideration of aesthetic experience of art and in consideration of nonhumans.

The Genesis of the Individual

Simondon, Gilbert. "The Genesis of the Individual," in Jonathan Crary & Sanford Kwinter (eds.), Incorporations (New York: Zone Books, 1992): 297–319. This introduction to Simondon's L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (Physico-Biological Genesis of the Individual) provides an overview to his main work on individuation. Simondon states that philosophies considering individuation have done so from two main positions, either substantialist or hylomorphic. Both of which attempt to define a principle of individuation from fully formed individuals—providing "ontological principal to the already constituted individual" (297). Instead, Simondon claims that a principle of individuation must be sought for at a point before the individual, which he calls the preindividual state, or being. Such a state is metastable, a system rich in “potential energy,” and from this potential emerges both individual and milieu. He describes this transition as a being’s capacity to “[fall] out of step with itself" (300). Living beings continue to individuate over time, carrying forth potentials and energies from the preindividual state within themselves, much as their associated milieus do. In contrast, physical individuation continues until energy has been exhausted. He lays out supporting concepts to his philosophy, primarily information and transduction, which instigate and materially structure individuation respectively. Transduction can be considered as the transfer of energy from one system to the next, but it can also operate across psychic and social systems.

Simondon's concern is more ontogenesis than ontology, and he offers a relational understanding of how things and beings come to be. It resonates with a number of contemporary theoretical texts that consider the importance of technology, living nonhumans, and the environment as key in human individuation. That Simondon laid out a philosophy of individuation considering the different ways that biological, physical, social, and technological systems individuate makes his work especially useful when considering new media art that incorporates living entities and will form a framework for my research. Simondon's philosophy has a tendency to focus on human beings, and this needs to be tempered in consideration of artworks specifically focusing on nonhuman-human relations. At the same time, it must be remembered that such works are also made for human institutions and human audiences. For these reasons, I will attempt to model Simondon's attention to specific relations that influence and modulate the individuation of the specific entities I create and consider as part of my research.

Gilbert Simondon’s Genetic ‘Mecanology’ and the Understanding of Laws of Technical Evolution

Bontems, V. “Gilbert Simondon’s Genetic ‘Mecanology’ and the Understanding of Laws of Technical Evolution.” Techné: 13(1):1-12. 2009. Bontems describes Simondon's concretization of technical objects as a system of technical evolution that contains its own laws, laws which have little to no relation to capitalistic systems or "customer demand" (2). Concretization is a process of solving specific functional problems through structural reconfiguration of the machine. Bontems points out that Simondon stakes his claim of avoiding use of machines in his analysis because electric, gas, steam and spring engines can all provide power to accomplish the same task, but the task does not help consider the machine's relationship with its environment. As such, user-based capitalistic systems, including aesthetic designs, do not help delineate the evolution or functioning of a machine. Bontems contrasts between invention and innovation, where innovation is caught up in market-driven concerns. Simondon's focus on the relationship between machine and environment traces back to cybernetic systems, though Simondon shows recurrent causality and information are important considerations for all machines, not just cybernetic ones. In the industrial era, standardization allows technical subsystems to undergo a form of concretization through the proliferation of technical elements (tools or components) via networks; it creates a "historicity" of technical reality by saturating the network with available parts.

Bontems's essay highlights the importance of function over use for Simondon and articulates an understanding of machines outside of capitalist power structures. However, Bontems only examines a small part of Simondon's philosophy and does not examine the explicit ethics inherent to Simondon's mecanology, technology's mediation of nature, nor the call for technology to be considered part of culture through its affective forces. This is important, especially when evaluating Simondon's claims that true technological progress lies outside of capitalist structures, more to the point, adopting a "technical mentality" is itself an ethical call on the part of Simondon. Bontems provides an excellent discussion of concretization and links it with other engineering theories, highlighting Simondon's  importance within the philosophy of technology, which will be useful in my discussion of contemporary technology within art.

Science and Ontology

Beistegui, Miguel de. 2005. “Science and Ontology.” Angelaki 10 (2): 109–122. doi:10.1080/09697250500417316. Miguel de Beistegui argues for philosophy's need to take science into account science in its epistemologies and ontologies. He praises the different approaches of Merleau-Ponty and Simondon as exemplars of productive encounters between philosophy and science. Beistegui quotes Merleau-Ponty: "Modern science often criticizes itself and its own ontology" (112). Beistegui claims science inspires a shift in Merleau-Ponty's philosophy to areas beyond the object—a focus on the "excess" to what is apparent in "organized and fully differentiated reality" (119). Beistegui argues that Simondon's rejection of ontologies of form, matter and substance originate with Merleau-Ponty's attempts to overcome these ontologies. For Simondon, phenomenology already begins with constituted beings and forms, and instead one must look to a preindividual state from which an individual and its milieu (sites of phenomenological perception) emerge. Simondon focuses on processes, systems and structures, language pulled from science according to Beistegui. Similarly, Simondon's ontology is based upon physical and biological individuation as described by science, as such it is a philosophical system created in dialogue with science.

Beistegui's general point is that philosophers must be in constant dialogue with contemporary science to move philosophical systems of understanding forward. For philosophy "remains philosophy to the extent that it develops an eye for what science itself cannot see, and yet discloses" (121). However, Simondon's interest was not just science and technology. He also wrote about aesthetics, affects, and technics—which he clearly distinguishes from science. As such, Beistegui privileges science too much and does not bring it back into a full dialogue with culture via philosophy—which I believe Simondon would object to. I will use this article, along with others, to situate Simondon's work within a broader philosophical discourse. It is important to keep in mind Simondon's focus on philosophy as a system for individuating thought.

Individuation, Relationality, Affect: Rethinking the Human in Relation to the Living

Venn, Couze. 2010. “Individuation, Relationality, Affect: Rethinking the Human in Relation to the Living.” Body & Society 16 (1) (March 1): 129–161. doi:10.1177/1357034X09354770. Venn delves into Simondon's ontogenetic philosophy to consider the implications of ongoing metastable individuation for humans, individually and collectively. Venn sums up three interrelated areas within Simondon's oeuvre: an ontology of individual-collective affective relations; an imbrication of the human within "nested networks" of all living beings; and a politics formed through overlapping "technical and psychic" structures. Together, these three strands reveal the need for a "rethinking of ontology and ethics, thus politics" (154).

Venn describes affect as a relational force through which the individual relates to the collective, or transindividual, within Simondon's philosophy. It is multidirectional force, that is both individual and transindividual emerge through affects, but at different scales. Similarly, Venn argues that Simondon's philosophy leads to an expanded view of the collective, where humans maintain relations to all living entities—paralleling Haraway's "naturecultures" (157). Such entities comprise human milieus and are fundamental in the formation of new metastabilities to which individuals must respond. Finally, Venn claims that Simondon's adhesion to material and historical facets align with Foucault's dispositif, or "power, knowledges, strategies, assemblages" that bring specific forces, tensions and energies together. The importance here is an attention to the specificity of relations that create super-saturated areas of potential.

Venn's essay brings to light the ethics produced by Simondon's commitment to concrete elements of relation. However, he does not discuss Simondon's technics, the ways in which technologies affect the transindividual and mediate between humans and nature—which relates to his three areas of concern listed above. In fact, Venn critiques Simondon for "neglecting…the effects of technics or a technical apparatus inscribed in a material world…in the co-contitution of specific individuals and the group" (149). This is an uncharitable reading of Simondon, and avoids Simondon's urgent demand that technics be considered as part of culture and to develop a form of technical mentality based on the function of technology rather than its use. However, even with this oversight, the essay offers a number of viable links to my own research, most especially his discussion of affective relations between individual and collective and the link to nonhuman living beings.

Humans and Machines

Thomas Lamarre. “Humans and Machines.” Inflexions 5, “Simondon: Milieu, 29 Techniques, Aesthetics” (March 2012). 29-67. Also published as the afterword to Muriel Combes’s Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, in this essay Lamarre focuses on the political stakes within Simondon's philosophy, using Foucault and Rancière as touchstones in his argument. Lamarre argues that Foucault and Simondon share an approach to understanding modernity "in terms of overlapping fields of rationality…with their specific potential for resistance" (50). Lamarre draws out the "politics of knowledge" evident in Simondon's approach to bringing forth a technical mentality (see Technical Mentality). However, such a move is spurred by Simondon's goals of a technical equality between humans and machines, which, Lamarre argues, links him to Rancière's aesthetic equality. Technical equality "may not guarantee political equality or democracy but surely conditions it" (53). This allows Lamarre, following Combes, to think through the counters to technical determination and subjugation within Simondon's philosophy. At the heart of this is both the adoption of a technical mentality and the participation on the part of humans with a "non-linear and discontinuous" process of technical evolution where both humans and machines are considered active agents.

Lamarre's essay connects Simondon with a number of thinkers, highlighting different resonances with not just Foucault and Rancière, but also Whitehead, Latour, Stengers, Deleuze and Guattari. His essay brings to light the potential in Simondon's work, while also tempering some of the elements glossed over by other commentators and the utopian qualities within Simondon's philosophy. If anything, the essay may attempt too much and not make clear connections between certain ideas, for instance the concepts of minor and major within Simondon and Deleuze and Guattari. Additionally, the article focuses on the politics of Simondon's philosophy of technology, but does not consider the politics inherent to the rest of Simondon's philosophy (information, transduction, individuation, transindividual, etc.). I will use Lamarre's arguments to further my own considerations of the relations between aesthetics, technology, information and praxis within Simondon's philosophy.

What New Humanism Today?

Jean-Hugues Barthélémy
Barthélémy, Jean-Hugues. 2010. “What New Humanism Today?” Cultural Politics 6 (2) (July 1): 237–252. doi:10.2752/175174310X12672016548441.

Barthélémy argues for a new form of humanism based on the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon. He calls for an encyclopedic humanism open to the development by science, technology and culture. He calls this a "difficult humanism" inspired by Simondon's critique of "facile humanism," which does not see technology as part of culture. It is a humanism borne out of Simondon's relational ontology. Barthélémy argues that The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects must be read in relation to  L'indviduation psychique et collective, where Simondon argues that human reality is psycho-social. The psycho-social is the actualization, or "individuation," of potential within living beings "without there being any alleged “anthropological break” between human beings and other" (241). Combined with Simondon's insistence on a technical mentality (see Simondon, Technical Mentality), Simondon's philosophy is "capable, on the one hand, of deriving man from living matter and, on the other, of integrating technology into culture" (244). Barthélémy argues that viewing Simondon's major works cohesively allows us to see Simondon's project as an update to humanism. "A humanism, then, that would involve neither the “anthropological break” between man and animal, nor the – equally anthropological – reduction of technology to a mere set of means for humanity’s use" (244). This destabilizes a series of oppositions: culture vs. technology, culture vs. nature, and ultimately nature vs. technology. In short, Barthélémy describes a Simondonian philosophy that aligns with what we currently call posthumanism.

Barthélémy pulls together a number of arguments from Simondon's major works to highlight a dynamic humanism that focuses on a constant relationship between nature, technology and culture. However he avoids some of the more human-centric arguments within Simondon that other authors note. Furthermore, some claims Simondon makes regarding artificiality and aesthetics in The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects problematize Barthélémy's claim of a humanism entirely inclusive of nonhumans, living or not, as well as certain universalizing claims that undercut the dynamic and plastic views Barthélémy discusses. For my research, this essay is a linchpin in my argument that there is a connection between Simondon's philosophy and current posthumanism. It helps make the case that a relational ontology is at the heart of posthumanism and will help form the central theory of my art praxis.

Technical Mentality Revisited: Brian Massumi on Gilbert Simondon

Massumi, Brian. ""Technical Mentality" Revisited: Brian Massumi on Gilbert Simondon." Parrhesia, Number 7, 2009, 36-45. In this article Brian Massumi explains the relevance of Simondon to contemporary thought and specifically to posthuman theories. Using the article Technical Mentality (see Simondon, Technical Mentality), Massumi shows Simondon’s care and attention to nonhuman potential as a constituting factor in the emergence, or ontogenesis, of new realities. Simondon refers to such emergence as individuation. Massumi links Simondon’s philosophy of individuation to his philosophy of technology, which he argues is necessary to fully gauge the impact of Simondon. For instance, technical invention is the act of bringing together diverse elements on the part of the human inventor, aligning and operating them based on a cognitive schema that allows for the technical object to produce a new, causally recurrent realm of reality only made possible by the latent potentials within the elements themselves. The most famous example of this is the multifunctional potential of water and oil within the Guimbal turbine (see The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects).  The actualization of these potentials is, according to Massumi, the creative agency of nonhuman elements that individuate analogously to the mental state of the inventor. That is to say, once this new reality emerges the inventor must understand what has happened, and must explain the process, which was impossible to do before the new reality emerged.

This is a wide-ranging discussion of the importance of Simondon. It aligns Simondon to contemporary thought and previous philosophers like Whitehead, helps move past Simondon’s anachronistic language, and highlights key ideas within Simondon’s philosophy. However, lacking citations and references from Simondon's range of work, it does not point the reader to the specific resources that allow one to dig into the theory, avoiding fully fleshed out arguments, such as nonhuman, noncognitive agency and becoming within Simondon. It only glosses important themes within Simondon, such as the role of the network in technical mentality. The essay will be useful in applying the ideas around invention, plurifunctional potential, and emergence to similar ideas around praxis and nonhuman experience in my own research.