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.