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.