Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed

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.

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.