Simondon


The always intrepid Ian Bogost responds to yesterday’s Speculative Realism Roundup, remarking that,

Just for kicks, a possible objection to my own claim that the digital comfort of SR is an accident of timing more than a property of its positions:

As this very post illustrates, one of the demands of effective networked discourse is speed; online exchanges happen quickly or they disappear, lost in the noise of novelty. Another is tentativeness. One must be comfortable putting forward thoughts in gestation, in transition, knowing that they will shift and revise over time.

One might say that both speed and tentativeness are unappealing demands for both the analytic and continental traditions, the former thanks to its affinity for the precision of logic and mathematics, the latter thanks to its affinity for of discourse and language. Both efforts strive for a sort of perfect rendering of things, whether as friction-free Wittgensteinian proof or an exquisitely baroque Derridean lyric.

Is it possible that among SR advocates, whatever inner sense finds a rejection of correlationism appealing also makes no qualms about the rapid, experimental outpouring of possible notions given form in logic and language? Writing is still serious business for the speculative realist, to be sure, but so is the tea that steeps, the trousers that wrinkle, or — for that matter — the keyboard keys that depress while such writing takes place.

I really don’t have much to say in response to Ian’s thought here beyond free associations. One of the things I’ve noticed among many of my colleagues in recent years is a sort of outright hostility to the internet, text messaging, etc. The lament always has the form “these kids today…” and spirals into a diatribe about how they are unable to read, how they lack a knowledge of history, science, and are unable to write etc., etc., etc. I am always a bit shocked when I hear these diatribes, while nonetheless sympathizing with them on the writing end (grading these essays can be a miserable experience), because these diatribes are coming from the same folks that are intimately familiar with Plato’s Phaedrus. In other words, they sounds remarkably like Plato’s critique of the evils of writing. Thinkers like Walter Ong with his Orality and Literacy and Friedrich Kittler with his Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, have, of course, introduced us to the thesis that communications technologies are not simply tools that leave the content of communication unaffected, but rather have a morphogenetic effect on the nature of that communication as well as cognitive structure. McLuhan makes similar observations in The Gutenburg Galaxy, and thinkers such as Simondon and more recently Stiegler in Time and Technics call into question the notion of τέχνη simply taking on form from human beings. Indeed, Marx had already observed the manner in which the factory had a morphogenetic effect on human bodies, generating a new type of subjectivity.

Simply put, the thesis would run that the person individuated within an oral culture thinks and experiences the world differently than a person individuated within a textual culture. Here there would be different structures of embodiment, cognition, affectivity, and so on. Likewise, it takes no great leap to conclude that perhaps similar differences emerge with respect to digital cultures. In this respect, it wouldn’t be that students are “stupid”, but rather that given this milieu of individuation, they have a different sort of cognitive, affective, and embodied relationship to the world. While this different structure makes reading Spinoza’s Ethics with them tough going as the Ethics requires a very different sort of cognitive temporality than the affective temporality prominent in our current visual and digital culture which is more rhizomatic and associative than deductive, it does not entail that these new forms of subjectivity are somehow less skilled or intelligent. Indeed, it is possible that the sort of affective-temporal structures of text-based structure are actually an impediment to thriving in visual-digital culture as they require a “keeping time” that simply is not available in the zipping technological space Ian alludes to. Rather than the mathematician or the scholar pouring over a text or problem for years or decades, the model of visual-digital culture is something closer to Jackie Chan who, like Charlie Chaplin, is able to make use of whatever environment he is thrown into at the time.

The new technologies thus pose all sorts of questions about the nature of contemporary discourse, thought, dialogue, affectivity, subjectivity, and interpersonal relations. Will we reach a point where we find reading a book every bit as difficult as reciting all of Homer’s Illiad? Yet here again, I think we find a case where correlationism comes up woefully short in providing us with the sorts of conceptual tools to explain the sort of world we live in. In its focus on the mind-world correlate, in its focus on how mind actively gives form to the world, it has a very difficult time theorizing how these sorts of milieus give form to various forms of embodiment, affectivity, temporality, subjectivity, and all the rest. Similarly, it is not clear that correlationist approaches have much of significance to say with respect to technology beyond reactionary, luddite platitudes about how it is corrupting us (perhaps, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s here). As Stiegler and Simondon argue, technology has taken on a sort of autonomy of its own, evolving and developing at its own pace and with respect to its own internal logic, in a way that can no longer be properly theorized in terms of human aims and intentions. In the absence of a clear understanding of that autonomy and its dynamics it’s very difficult to develop strategies for responding to this new world.

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As is so often the case during breaks, my brain has all but fallen out of my ear and I’ve been in a bit of a dark malaise. I’ve spent the last week reading Badiou’s Logics of Worlds, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (I’m about halfway through at the part where Half-Cocked Jack and Eliza meet Leibniz), sleeping in, eating, and doing a whole lot of nothing. I really have to get myself in action this week and start getting things done.

DSC01129Malaise aside, I have been getting some nice gardening done. The other day I turned over all the soil so roots could grow better, and, in my ongoing battle with wabbits, I put in a ring of marigolds about the perimeter to drive them away. So far this strategy seems to be working as I haven’t seen any hanging out in my backyard since.DSC01130 In addition to keeping the wabbits out, I think they look terrific as well.

DSC01131My tomatoes are beginning to come in which is very exciting. In addition to that my four cucumber plants are beginning to flower like crazy, so there’s a good chance I’ll be inundated with cukes. The situation is much the same with my pepper plants. I planted about seven different varieties of peppers, using both seeds and pre-grown plants.

Much to my surprise between seventeen and twenty plants popped out of the ground, so with any luck I’ll be crushed under the weight of habaneros, jalapenos, poblanos, serranos, a couple varieties of bells, cherry peppers and who knows what else. Who knew that you could just put plants in the ground and they’d start producing stuff?DSC01132 If you look carefully– I know the pictures are fuzzy –you can see a couple of tomatoes on one of my plants.

DSC01133I even have a nice harvest of lettuce and herbs that are just about ready, and my very first pepper (a cherry pepper) has appeared (visible at the very bottom of the page)! I have no idea what non-pickled cherry peppers might taste like, but I’m keen to find out.DSC01134

Perhaps I should give up this philosophy and theory stuff altogether and just open a vegetable stand along the side of the road somewhere. After all, being the great fan I am of Epicurus and Lucretius it seems like a good idea to follow their advice of tending to ones garden. Of course, that’ll never happen.

If I find the time and motivation this week I’d like to write a post on the role that the concept of chaos plays in the history of philosophy and contemporary thought and another post on Badiou’s Logics of Worlds. Whether we are speaking of the creation myth in the Bible, the myth of the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus, or chaos in Deleuze, Badiou, and any number of phenomenologists, there seems to be a marked tendency of thought to conceive the materiality of matter as a sort of pure chaotic flux without any internal structuring– or as Graham has put it “formatting” –principle within it. Following an Aristotlean protocol– though a protocol already present in the thought of Plato and perhaps even Parmenides –it seems as if matter is ineluctably conceived only in its negative, as the absence of form. This generates the entire problem or question of how form is generated or how matter comes to be “form-atted”. And, of course, because matter has already been conceived as formlessness, as the un-form-atted, as that which is without in-form-ation, the principle of form must come from elsewhere or outside of matter.

Just as we have the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper in the domain of stellar phenomena, where the question of in-form-ation emerges, we inevitably get either the Big Demiurge or the Little Demiurge as the principle or source of form. In other words, this model of matter or the materiality of matter comes to require reference to a transcendence to account for the genesis of form. In the case of the Big Demiurge, this would, of course, be the theological conception of God imposing order on the pure chaotic materiality of being. In the case of the Little Demiurge, this source of in-form-ation would be a subject of some sort, whether of the Kantian variety, the Husserlian variety, the Sartrean variety or some other sort. Matter itself is treated as being without its own structuring principle or as being without its own ordering principle. As Gilbert Simondon observed, this way of thinking most likely arises as a consequence of technocratic thought where humans impose form on a matter that is thought or conceived of as a passive recipient of structuration.

However, it is not difficult to discern this move as already necessitated by the Parmenidean declaration. Here the whole problem emerges in relation to Parmenides’ declaration that being is and non-being is not. Now, if being is and non-being is not, we very quickly run into the problem of difference. For if to differ is to be what something is not, then it follows that differences are not for as we know being is. Yet if differences are not, then it follows as a consequence that entities are not, for to be an entity is to differ.

Perhaps it would be no exaggeration to say that an entire destiny of Western thought already lies within Parmenides’ fateful decision. Here the issue would lie not with the declaration that being is, but rather with the identification of difference with negativity. For in identifying difference with negativity, Parmenides insures that the principle by which being is form-atted requires an exteriority, another agency, another principle through which difference is introduced. We thereby get the interminable story of the Big and Little Demiurge imposing form on the world. However, in identifying difference with the power of negativity, has not Parminedes fallen into what Roy Bhaskar calls the “Epistemic Fallacy” or the conflation of the epistemic and the ontological? Between difference as it functions in representation, recognition, or the cognitive activity of identification and difference as it is ontologically, there is a massive chasm. I say “This is a cherry pepper”, thereby identifying the pepper and distinguishing it from other types of peppers and plants. But it would be a mistake to suggest that the pepper itself, in being a cherry pepper, proceeds by way of negation in establishing or acting its being. The differences that compose the ongoing adventure of the pepper are absolutely positive, affirmative, and without any sort of negation. What is required in overcoming the Parmenidean consequence is a purely positive conception of difference that is not based on negation or negativity.

scotland-ezine-may2005-francis-bacon-imageIn a very nice response to my post on Schizoanalysis and Psychoanalysis, Ian writes,

Point taken, I hope my response was not taken too strongly, perhaps my wording of it was poor. I agree with you that portraying lack as simply a production of the analyst is inadequate and the remarks on fascism in Anti-Oedipus would seem to suggest that Deleuze and Guattari would agree. But I can’t help but wonder, and this is a personal thought, that the absence of any real mechanical discussion concerning the production of castrated subjects is not a low-point on the part of Deleuze and Guattari, but is rather their resistance towards any kind of metapsychology. No doubt they play some favor towards a kind of transcendental field, but, at least in Anti-Oedipus, I’m not as convinced that this transcendental field exists apart from the social field in any defined sense; the transcendental field (say, the body-without-organs) does not transcend the social field created from it. I would be very skeptical towards the idea that Deleuze and Guattari are after some kind of reinvigorated Plato or Kant.

That said, and possibly this is in part due to personal bias, I don’t see it as any fault of Deleuze and Guattari that this metapsychology is not accounted for; I think it rather a strength. Much of Guattari’s “clinical” work is based around stripping from analysis any kind of metapsychology that would give instruction as to the manner within which affirmative desires are coded into repressive desires, instead being concerned with how to provided an arena for the expressions of desire as political action. I would guess (and this is always dangerous) that Deleuze and Guattari would hastily resist any kind of metapsychology of this process or interaction between analysand and analyst, as if to finally diagnose the real problem. Thus my question, do you think the metapsychology or ‘transcendental analysis’ you are looking for can contain the intersection between Deleuze and Guattari and Lacan that you wrote about, or might it, rather, “cross out” the ‘avec’ between schizoanalysis and psychoanalysis? Could this transcendental analysis of the creation of castrated subjects in fact be a recoding attempting to produce a universal trajectory for a process that has formally the same outcome, but might always takes place in highly “individualized,” contextualized means?

Despite this all, I think you’re on to something and my personal biases towards the aims of the book shouldn’t detract from admitting its shortcomings. Even suggesting that castration could be intimately contextual still sidesteps the question of the mechanics of that production. Very interested in your thoughts.

I suppose, for the sake of clarity, I should explain just what I mean by the transcendental, just so it’s clear that we’re talk about the same thing. The great enemy of Deleuze’s thought, of course, was the transcendent. In his earliest work, this can be seen in his critique of anything resembling Platonic form or unchanging essences, but also of his critique of the self-identical subject as in the case of Descartes’ cogito. Deleuze’s thought begins from the position that, on the one hand, all being is becoming and therefore is the result of a production or a process of individuation. In Difference and Repetition he will perpetually emphasize that individuation is not the individual insofar as individuation is the differential process by which the individual is produced. Likewise, he will staunchly oppose any position that begins from an unchanging identity whether in the form of the subject or God, as well as any position that posits invariant and ahistorical forms. Deleuze is, above all, a process philosopher.

However, the transcendental is not the transcendent. Rather, the transcendental, following Kant, refers to a set of conditions thoroughly immanent to being. While it is certainly the case that Kant is one of Deleuze’s philosophical enemies, there is nonetheless a deep Kantian inspiration or influence in Deleuze’s thought. However, Deleuze radicalizes or transforms the Kantian position in three ways: First, where Kant’s transcendental merely conditions the field of sensibility, imposing a priori (and invariant) forms on the matter of sensation, Deleuze’s transcendental conditions are genetic conditions. As Deleuze will emphasizes endlessly, the virtual or transcendental, unlike Kant’s transcendental, does not resemble the actual, but instead as a set of genetic potentials that produces something entirely new in the course of being actualized. Deleuze will take Kant and many other transcendental philosophers to task for “tracing the transcendental from the empirical”, which amounts to both a circular argument (the conditions are supposed to account for the conditioned, yet we arrive at the condition by tracing them from the conditioned), and to arriving at the transcendental based on its resemblance to the actual or the condition. fractal_4-blueThus we get a strange sort of operation where we begin with the actualized object of experience, trace its abstract form from this object, and then treat this abstract form as an a priori, invariant, ahistorical necessity, effectively covering over any process of production, becoming, or genesis and treating philosophy as an apologetics for the status quo. Only a genetic account of the relation between the transcendental and the field of material being can, according to Deleuze, break out of this vicious circle. In this connection, the transcendental will share no resemblance to individuated entities.

Second, where Kant locks the transcendental or condition in a transcendental subject (the ultimate form of identity), Deleuze instead theorizes the existence of a transcendental field where, as you rightly point out, subjects are actualized, individuated, or produced, rather than presiding over actualization emerging from subject’s as in the case of Kant. The transcendental field is something anterior to the subject and far more extensive than the domain of the subject. If, as Meillassoux argues in After Finitude, correlationism is intrinsically tied to a subject of some sort such that the world would not exist were there not a subject, Deleuze’s transcendental fields would exist regardless of whether there were any humans or living entities. Finally third, and in a closely related vein, Deleuze’s transcendental genetic conditions (the virtual) are not a product of mind, but rather belong to being or existence itself (I develop this thesis in greater detail in my forthcoming article “Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism: Notes Towards a Transcendental Materialism” in Thinking Between Deleuze and Kant: A Strange Encounter with Continuum, edited by Edward Willat and Matt Lee). You can find a more thorough development of Deleuze’s transcendental field and the difference between the transcendent and the transcendental in my book Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, Northwestern University Press.

venus-in-furs01An excellent example of the necessity of the transcendental and the transcendental field can be found in Deleuze’s essay on Masoch and Sade, Coldness and Cruelty. There, Deleuze, like Lacan (Lacan actually praises this book as the finest study of sadism and masochism yet to be written in seminar 13 or 14), rigorously argues against the thesis that the sadist and the masochist are complementary, such that the perfect partner for any masochist is the sadist and the perfect partner for any sadist is a masochist. Deleuze skillfully demonstrates that sadism and masochism are completely different assemblages and have entirely different geneses through which they are actualized. However, here’s the key point: So long as we remain at the level of actualized entities– at the level of what Deleuze had referred to as “species, parts, and qualities” in Difference and Repetition –this is impossible to see or understand. When we look at the sadist and masochist we will note that the one likes giving pain and the other likes receiving it (empiricist positivism), and will therefore conclude that the structure of the two is complementary. Based on their spatialized resemblances to one another– that they both appear to belong to the common species “human” –we will assume they belong to the same relational network, embody the same singularities, and embody the same differential relations. It is only when we reach the dimension of the virtual or transcendental field, the dimension of singularities (potentials) and their differential relations, that we can begin to discern that these two forms of life and desire are entirely different assemblages with very different organizations that are in no way complementary.

fig181If beginning with the actualized entities leads to this impasse, then this is because, as Deleuze had carefully argued in chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition (and elsewhere), difference erases or veils itself in the process of being actualized, such that we’re left with species, parts, and qualities (the end results of the process of indi-different/ciation), rather than the process of individuation or differentiation through which these elements are formed. Another way of putting this would be to say that we fall into spatialized difference or multiplicities, where everything resembles everything else. Deleuze consistently charges Kant (as well as a number of the phenomenologists), with tracing the transcendental from the empirical and then finding resemblances where there are none. Only the virtual, he argues, can save us from this fate. What is revealed in his study of Sacher-Masoch and Sade is that the two occupy entirely different topological spaces. This is part, I think, of what interests Deleuze in Francis Bacon in texts like The Logic of Sensation. It could be said that Bacon attempts to directly paint the virtual field of forces and singularities rather than the empirical objects among which we dwell.

blue-velvet-earWith this caveats in mind, I would argue that Deleuze and Guattari’s Deleuze’s three synthesis– the syntheses of connection, disjunction, and conjunction –constitute the beginnings of a transcendental analysis. Indeed, these syntheses Kant’s three syntheses of apprehension, reproduction, and recognition in the “A” edition of the Deduction in the Critique of Pure Reason, however, beginning from difference rather than identity. Moreover, where Kant’s syntheses pertain to operations of the mind, Deleuze and Guattari’s three syntheses belong to being as such. It is on the ground of these distinctions that Deleuze and Guattari are able to unfold their critique in the five paralogisms, for each of these paralogisms pertains to an illicit tracing of the transcendental from the empirical, where fully actualized objects are projected back into the machinic unconscious as forms. Deleuze and Guattari, by contrast, will show how desiring-machines only operate on partial objects, not fully formed persons, thereby undercutting a number of claims from orthodox psychoanalysis. In this regard, Deleuze and Guattari enact their own “return to Freud”, though one which certainly transforms Freud. As Freud had argued, the unconscious knows no negation, contradiction, opposition, or objects, but instead only knows connections and productions. This was the surprising result he had already attained in his early unpublished Project essay, where the functioning of the primary process becomes unmoored from any sort of representational realism or instinctual and natural relation to sexuality. Yet somehow all of this falls apart with the introduction of the Oedipus where, instead of relating to partial objects and flows, the primary attachment becomes an attachment to fully formed objects (the father, mother, brother, sister, etc.). Nonetheless, Deleuze and Guattari do not give much in the way of an analysis of just how these paralogisms are possible from the standpoint of active and affirmative desire. Here we would need to look to Nietzsche and Philosophy, as well as, I believe, the work of Lacan. We can thus think of the relationship between schizoanalysis and Lacanian psychoanalysis as being like two sides of a severed egg. The latter explores the domain of the actual and all of its illusions, coupled with their genesis and strategies for escaping these sad passions premised on an installed lack and castration (for Lacan it was always a question of moving beyond these things as I argue in my post on the Borromean knots), whereas Deleuze and Guattari explore the productive realm of the unconscious and its desiring-machines perpetually manufacturing the real.

I happened to come across Deleuze’s review of Simondon’s L’individuation online (another translation can also be found in Desert Islands and Other Texts). It is interesting to observe how many of the key themes that will make up his later work are already pre-figured here: his critique of the false alternative between formless chaos and supreme individuation, the distinction between singularities and individuals, the role of irreducible inequalities in the actualization of beings, the idea of the individual as a product or result, resonance between divergent series, and so on. This should not, of course, come as a surprise as these themes were already central to Nietzsche & Philosophy (especially the all important sections on quantity and quality in the second chapter), and this review was written in 1966 when Deleuze would have been composing Difference and Repetition (these themes figure heavily in chapter five, “The Assymetrical Synthesis of the Sensible”). At some point I hope we see a translation of Simondon’s L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information. I’ve been working through it for some time, but it’s very slow going as Simondon draws heavily on a variety of different sciences, working with their various vocabularies. Out of frustration I’ve even thought about paying someone to translate it, though it would cost a fortune. Being the crass American that I am, my French just isn’t that strong. I have little doubt that this book would have a tremendous impact on English speaking work on Deleuze as well as a variety of other disciplines. Fractal Ontology has been kind enough to translate portions of L’individuation for those who are interested. Be sure to check out their translations of Ruyer as well (Joseph and Taylor, you two really ought to be perfecting your translations and publishing them, not throwing them out into the blogosphere… Though we’re all grateful to you for your work). In addition to these sources, Shaviro of The Pinocchio Theory has a couple of excellent posts working through Simondon’s L’individuation (here, here, and here). The third of these posts is the most interesting for me in relation to my own work. It was these posts that first motivated me to start my own blog, as they were the first writings from the “theory blogosphere” I came across, showing me an entirely new medium of academic engagement and interaction. In addition to this, Nick, of The Accursed Share, has been kind enough to post the first half of Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects.