Gilbert Simondon : biography
Gilbert Simondon (2 October 1924 – 7 February 1989) was a French philosopher best known for his theory of individuation, a major source of inspiration for Gilles Deleuze and Bernard Stiegler.
Individuation and technology
In L'individuation psychique et collective, Simondon developed a theory of individual and collective individuation, in which the individual subject is considered as an effect of individuation, rather than as a cause. Thus the individual atom is replaced by the neverending process of individuation. Simondon also conceived of "pre-individual fields" as the funds making individuation itself possible. Individuation is an always incomplete process, always leaving a "pre-individual" left-over, itself making possible future individuations. Furthermore, individuation always creates both an individual and a collective subject, which individuate themselves together.
Gilbert Simondon criticized Norbert Wiener's theory of cybernetics, arguing that, "Right from the start, Cybernetics has accepted what all theory of technology must refuse: a classification of technological objects conducted by means of established criteria and following genera and species." Simondon aimed to overcome the shortcomings of cybernetics by developing a "general phenomenology" of machines.
Simondon's theory of individuation through transduction in a metastable environment was the most important influence on the thought of Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze recognized it in Logique du sens, and this major influence is explained by Alberto Gualandi in his book Deleuze (Paris, Editions Perrin, 2009), and developed by Anne Sauvagnargues in her recent Deleuze. L'empirisme transcendental (Paris, P.U.F., 2009).
Simondon's work has also been adopted by Bernard Stiegler, who places the theory of individuation at the very heart of his philosophical project. Stiegler nevertheless argues that, paradoxically, Simondon failed to think the constitutive role that technical individuation plays in psychic and collective individuation."What links the I with the we in this individuation is a preindividual milieu, which has positive conditions of effectivity, related to what I have called the retentional apparatuses. These retentional apparatuses are supported by the technical milieu, which is the condition of the meeting of the I and the we: the individuation of I and of we is equally in a sense the individuation of a technical system (this is what Simondon, strangely, didn’t see)." Stiegler, De la misère symbolique 1. L'époque hyperindustrielle (Paris: Galilée, 2004), p. 106.
Born in Saint-Étienne, Simondon was a student of philosopher of science Georges Canguilhem, philosopher Martial Guéroult, and phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Sorbonne. He defended his doctoral dissertations in 1958. His main thesis, L'individuation à la lumière des notions de Forme et d'Information (Individuation in the light of the notions of Form and Information), was published in two parts, the first in 1964 under the title L'individu et sa génèse physico-biologique (Individuation and its physical-biological genesis) at the Presses Universitaires de France, while it is only in 1989 that Aubier published the second part, L'individuation psychique et collective (Psychic and collective individuation). While his main thesis, which laid the foundations of his thinking, was not widely read until it was commented upon by Gilles Deleuze and, more recently, Bruno Latour and Bernard Stiegler, his complementary thesis, Du mode d'existence des objets techniques (On the mode of existence of technical objects) was published by Aubier immediately after being completed (in 1958) and had an instant impact on a wide audience. It was only in 2005 that Jérôme Millon published a complete edition of the main thesis.
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