I came across this fascinating interview with Massumi on Simondon when looking for information on when the new translations are to be released. Massumi remarks:
The problem was that the dominant currents of thought were hobbled by the very moves that had enabled them to reach that juncture, and in ways that excluded Simondon’s approach gaining any purchase. Speaking very generally, the overall orientation was constructivist. Constructivism does connote becoming. Its posture is that things can’t be taken as givens, rather they come to be. Up to that point at least, the constructivism of this period was not incompatible with Simondon. But the constructivism of the period played out in ways that radically diverge from the direction he indicates. What was considered to come into being was less things than new social or cultural takes on them. What is constructed are fundamentally perspectives or paradigms, and the corresponding subject positions. Within the 1990s constructivist model these were understood in terms of signifying structures or coding, typically applying models derived from linguistics and rhetoric. This telescoped becoming onto the human plane. At the same time, it reduced the constitution of the human plane to the question of the human subject (if not its effective construction, then the impossibility of it, or if not exactly that, its subversion). A vicious circle results. The only conceptual tools available are pre-humanized by virtue of the models they derive from. But becoming-human only makes sense in relation to a nonhuman phase-shifting into it. And becoming-posthuman only makes sense in terms of the human phase-shifting out of itself, back into a nonhuman. If the nonhuman phases in and phases out, it is conceivable that it phases through–which raises the issue of the immanence of the nonhuman to all of the vicissitudes of the human. Constructivism does not have the resources even to effectively articulate the issue of the nonhuman necessarily raised by ontogenesis, let alone begin to resolve it. All the less so in that the figure of the nonhuman is ultimately that of matter, and the question of matter that of nature–which is radically bracketed by constructivism for fear of falling into a “naive realism”. In other words, for fear of attributing an ontological status to what lies “outside” of social and cultural constructs. Ontology, several generations of theorists were taught, was the enemy. Epistemology, which always carries ontological presuppositions of one kind or another, was at best a false friend. Finding a path to ontogenesis by unabashedly bringing the two together again, albeit in a new way, was simply inconceivable.
Had it been conceivable, bringing them together on a level with matter, as part of what, as a result, could only be considered a nature philosophy, would be scandalous. To do that while purporting to make the resulting nature philosophy coextensive with a theory of information, would be downright absurd. Information, on a level with matter, would be a-signifying, making signification… what ? “An invention”, Simondon would not hesitate to answer. And not just in the technical sense. Already in relation to the nonhuman, with the individuations of the physical and biological planes. For Simondon’s thought to resonate, constructivism has to make room for an integral inventivism (if such a word exists). An inventivism that is not afraid of nature, and its creativity.
I couldn’t have said it better himself. What Massumi says here is very much the same situation that speculative realism and object-oriented ontology has encountered. Nearly all of the debates that have occurred surrounding SR and OOO have unfolded in this context. What Massumi describes here avant le lettre is the primacy of the semiotic, linguistic, and representational turn that I’m always blathering about and that many seem to doubt has been a central axiom of the last thirty or so years of theory. The form of constructivism that he’s here criticizing is the most pervasive version of correlationism. It’s also still alive and well as Morton discovered last week at Rutgers during the Q&A to his talk. You can read the rest of the interview here.