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 She offers her cyborg myth as a substitute for outdated, exclusionary, masculine narratives.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.
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.
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.
Henning Schmidgen Henning Schmidgen. “Machine Cinematography.” Inflexions 5, “Simondon: Milieu, Techniques, Aesthetics” (March 2012). 130-147. www.inflexions.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thomas Lamarre. “Humans and Machines.” Inflexions 5, “Simondon: Milieu, 29 Techniques, Aesthetics” (March 2012). 29-67. www.inflexions.org 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.
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.
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.