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Gilbert Simondon’s Individuation in light of notions of form and information

Lecturer: Gus Hewlett

Originally Taught: Winter School 2022

This course aims to provide a thorough and critical overview of Simondon’s Individuation, his largest and most ambitious text. We will reflect on the ways in which the text can be read as a whole (or even a ‘whole philosophy’, as Deleuze suggests): Simondon’s claim that transduction pertains to ‘any situation’ of individuation and his division of the real according to domains of individuation – physical, vital, psychic, collective. We will also discuss the originality of Simondon’s conception of individuation, particularly his critique of atomism and hylemorphism and their replacement by transductive individuation; and the ways in which it attempts to meet the classical demands for individuality: namely, unity and singularity. Finally, we will attend to Simondon’s method and means for philosophising in Individuation, particularly his use of example, primarily taken from the natural sciences.

1. Introduction

After a brief introduction to Simondon’s work and life, we will turn to the Introduction to Individuation. We will focus on the critique of hylemorphism and atomism; the structure presented here for the book as a whole; and the ‘methods’ – paradigmatic and transductive for approaching individuation.

2. Physical individuation

Turning to ‘physical individuation’, we will discuss Simondon’s critique of hylemorphism through the example of brickmaking and its replacement by transduction, thought and presented through the first and most important (‘paradigmatic’) example of crystallisation.  We will then turn to Simondon’s critique of ancient atomism through Louis de Broglie’s ‘double solution’ to quantum mechanics. With this we will begin to develop a grasp of Simondon’s conceptions of energy and information, the temporality and relationality of transduction, and a flavour of the way in which it relates to multiplicity. 

3. The individuation of living beings (vital individuation 1)

We begin this session by discussing the first transition in the text, from physical to vital individuation, and the effects that this has on the development of transduction.

We will then turn to an account of the first section of vital individuation, guided by the problematic distinctions of growth and reproduction and interior and exterior milieux. Here multiplicity takes centre stage whilst information has a costume change; relation remains key, whilst temporality is surprisingly withdrawn. Elements of the science and philosophy of life will also be offered for critical context: Bergson, Bernard, Canguilhem, Darwin, Lamarck, Rabaud and Wiesmann. 

4. Psychic individuation (vital individuation 2)

In this session we approach the second transition of transduction, and the complexification of vital individuation, in the move from vital to psychical individuation. We will begin by discussing the relationship between non-psychical and psychical vital individuation, and the introduction of the concept of ‘individualisation’. We will then turn to the problem of perceptual unities, and then to the abilities for affection-emotion and sensation-perception. Relation here takes on Kantian and phenomenological tones, whilst the critique of atomism returns in a critique of Gestalt psychology.   

5. The collective and the foundations of the transindividual (vital individuation 3)

In the final session we will focus on the transindividual, paying particular attention to its relation to other vital individuations, and to Simondon’s criticism of ‘psychology’ and ‘sociology’. Multiplicity is again at the heart of the problem of this section, whilst temporality takes on a dimension which is both intra- and extra-individual, to the extent that the transindividual is a ‘new’ individuation which nonetheless depends on prior individuations. This session will also be an opportunity to look back at the text as a whole.