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.

Gilbert Simondon’s Genetic ‘Mecanology’ and the Understanding of Laws of Technical Evolution

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.

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.