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.

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.

Humans and Machines

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.