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.

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.

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.