Por: Steven Shaviro
Gilbert Simondon (1926-1987) is another obscure French philosopher championed by Gilles Deleuze. I’ve just finished reading his bookL’individu et sa genese physico-biologique. (The Individual and its Physico-biological Individuation; It doesn’t seem to have been translated into English, aside from the Introduction which appeared inZone 6: Incorporations). And once again, as with other forgotten thinkers recommended by Deleuze, Simondon has proved a revelation, both for his influence upon Deleuze, and for what his own thought suggests.
Simondon asks the question, What is an individual? That is to say, what is it that distinguishes one part of being from everything else, that allows something to be identified, or to have a distinct identity? His basic answer is that an “individual” is not an entity, but an ongoing process; that an individual is never given once and for all, but that it must become, and that in a certain sense it never stops becoming; that, therefore, we should speak of individuation, rather than of individuals as things existing once and for all. I was a fertilized egg, then an embryo, then a baby, then a child of various ages, before I became an adult; my individuality had to emerge out of something “preindividual”, and even as an adult I have not attained a final form of individuality, because I continue to change, and will so continue to change until I am dead, at which point I will no longer be an individual at all.
The consequences of such a view of individuation are numerous and profound. Obviously, it disqualifies all those classical philosophies, from Plato to Descartes to contemporary “common sense,” which assume the existence of fixed essences and substances. More subtly, Simondon’s arguments are directed against the belief (pervasive in Western culture) in hylomorphism, or the dualism of form and matter: the idea that matter is passive and inert, and that it gets shaped by a form that is imposed upon it, from above. This was Aristotle’s doctrine, of course; it is still arguably present in our contemporary ideas that software is totally distinct from hardware, and that the genes provide a blueprint which is simply imprinted upon our bodies and minds. But Simondon argues that this distinction is never total. Matter is not completely inert, for it always contains incipient structures, potentials for being formed in particular directions or ways. And form is never absolute, and never simply imposed from the outside, since it can only work by translating or “transducing” itself into a material, that is to say by a series of transformations that transmit energy, and thereby “inform” matter (using “inform” in the strong sense of “information” as not just a signal or message or series of bits, but as a process by which something is affected or modulatedby something else through a process of interchange and communication).
In addition, if the individual must be understood as an ongoing process of individuation, then the “individual” cannot be isolated from its surroundings, or from all other individuals. An individual can only be defined in relational terms, in contrast and connection to its “milieu,” or to what it is not, but from which it has emerged. That which allows us to distinguish an individual, to see it as separate from everything else, also forces us to link it to everything else. I cannot be an individual at all, without the presence of that which is not me, not my individuality. As a living being I need oxygen, water, and food, for instance; it is only my ability to continue to procure these things, to incorporate them from my environment, and to eject my waste products back into that environment, that allows me to develop the degree of individuality by which I am separate from (or not entirely confounded with) that environment. In this way, Simondon rejects both atomistic individualism, on the one hand, and the excessive holism which would not concede me any existence at all apart from the totality, on the other.
Simondon says that, rather than assuming states of stability or equilibrium (which is what most conventional science does), we should understand Being as metastable.
[Metastable: a state of stability that is barely stable. Metastable states may be easily stimulated to become unstable.]
An example of something metastable is a supersaturated solution; the right sort of perturbation will cause the dissolved substance to precipitate out of the solution. More generally, a metastable state is a state of tension, or “contradiction,” full of potential energy that, given the right sort of push, will be discharged, causing a transformation. For Simondon, this is how the process of individuation takes place: the unleashing of potential energy, in a “preindividual” metastable state, leads to a process of emergence, as the formerly preindividual substance is divided into a more-or-less structured individual, and the milieu that supports it and from which it distinguishes itself. But this process is never completed once and for all. Every individual is still metastable, rather than entirely stable, which is to say that it still contains undischarged potential energy, still contains a degree of the preindividual, which is available for new transformations, new processes of individuation.
I’m still only scratching the surface of a rich and profoundly suggestive book. Simondon doesn’t just argue his thesis in abstract, philosophical terms; he also makes his points through richly detailed discussions of such natural and technological processes (since he doesn’t really differentiate between the two) of such things as the molding of bricks, the formation of various sorts of crystals, embryonic development, and the varying degrees of individuality possessed by various sorts of “colonial” animals like sponges, jellyfish, and coral, as well as of symbiotes like lichen (composed of algae plus fungus).
This book was written in the 1950s, and is copyright 1964. One of the most remarkable things about it is the way it resonates with scientific developments that have only occurred in the years since it was published: the development of chaos and complexity theory and the science of self-organization, as well as certain strands of biological thought, most notably Developmental Systems Theory. Such developments, if anything, would seem to strengthen the force of SImondon’s arguments; while Simondon provides a philosophical framework that such theories need, and are mostly lacking. I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to pursue such thoughts; they are pursued, in part, in recent books of a Deleuzian bent by Manuel De Landa in one way, and by my old friend Brian Massumi in another. But I think there is still more here to consider; Simondon isn’t just a footnote to, or influence upon, Deleuze, but a powerful and original thinker in his own right.
Extraído de: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=219