Individuation and the Object

Diego Chamy read the last post, which was me trying to draw out some ethical axioms from Object Oriented Ontology, and recommended Gilbert Simondon's L'individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d'information which he said might help "loosen up OOO's concept of the object".

I liked that idea, and though L'individuation à la lumière... is not translated (and, also, is a dissertation sized text), I found the introduction in translated form as The Genesis of the Individual.

Here is the pdf if you'd like to read it.

I thought I'd write my notes up here. Mainly so I can throw away the print outs on which I made the notes. If I'm not careful, all the flat surfaces in my life become covered in printed out pdfs so I run a pretty brutal regime re: physical texts.

But also, it might be interesting for anyone who read the last post, or, actually, anyone who feels like OOO might just be a reaction to the linguistic turn, or some kind of failure of imagination on the part of those involved.

(Which is to say, as a kind of concluding introduction, that I read The Genesis of the Individual through my reading of OOO, and found little problem integrating most of the ideas, but that might be because I am misreading it. And misreading OOO. But then I would say that is the only type of reading to do.)

Also, one little thing. I read the text context-blind, i.e., I did not know that it was originally written in the 60s (though not translated until 1992), and I did not know that Simondon's theory of individuation was an inspiration for Gilles Deleuze and more recently Bruno Latour.


Simondon points out that any theory of the individual that begins with an individual that already exists is going to have some problems. The process by which a thing becomes individual is the source of its haecceity (which can roughly be thought of as its specificity - its "this-ness").

His theory of individuation is a rejection of atomism and hylomorphism. Atomism as in, "things are simple or complex, and complex things are made of simple things which are without smaller parts". And Hylomorphism as in, "things are a combination of matter and form, or matter in a certain form".

Similar (in my eyes) to Heidegger's recognition that presence has traditionally been prioritised over absence in philosophy, Simondon believes that the theory of individuals has prioritised the already constituted individual over... well, I guess that's what he ends up describing. (Actually, to jump ahead a bit, my feeling is that he removes the possibility of there ever being an already constituted individual - individuals here are always in the individuation process - always incomplete, always unstable. Similar to OOO, this is a theory that necessitates becoming - a state of constant change.)

Simondon uses a term I really enjoy, 'a capacity beings have of falling out of step with themselves' (and here the English text shows you the French word "dephaser", which is lovely). He keeps returning to this phrase throughout the text. For me, and maybe for OOO, this is the essential idea. Beings (or objects or individuals or whatever) are out of step with themselves, always, infinitely. Withdrawal is this out-of-stepness for OOO. Objects are what they are not, and are not what they are. It seems as if for Simondon this is just a part of individuation, but I would say that it is the basis for OOO's idea of the object. And the object is parallel in meaning to Simondon's individual in this respect.

Sometimes in this essay, fallacies like stability or unity are taken apart, but then they keep coming back as if Simondon had forgotten that he'd already dismantled them. Probably it is because I'm reading the introduction to a longer piece, but also, it does feel like he needs to keep them around because otherwise old metaphysical "problems" of causation and infinity might pop up. I just kept writing "infinite regress?" next to things, because accepting it (as OOO does) would resolve things (resolve is the wrong word, but you know what I mean) if only he would let it.

He writes about the process of individuation resolving and preserving preliminary tensions. That's great. A redefinition of the idea of resolution to mean holding on to contradictions, rather than getting rid of them. (Later he makes this explicit in his use of the term transduction.)

Metastability is an idea that makes complete sense with OOO, a temporary stability formed through tension and potential energy, rather than some dead equilibrium. There is no stability of this dead sort. This stability (I think) is the stability of a dead universe, or the stability of a collapsed space-time. This sort of stability can be nothing to us other than an abstraction. Sleep when you're dead - or, in philosophical terms, become stable when the universe is at a point of total entropy.

Simondon writes about quanta and wave mechanics, and how they might explain the pre-individual, but then he rejects this and writes that they only express individuated reality. For me, there is no pre-individual reality, once you introduce infinite regress, objects/individuals just keep going through space-time. There's no need for there to be any pre-anything.

He uses the contrasting ideas of the milieu and the individual a lot, and necessarily I'm caricaturing his argument here (it is only the introduction to a long piece of writing after all), but it feels like he is stuck right there in the correlationist trap of human and world, figure and ground, subject and object. There is no world, there is no ground, there is no subject. (Or, if you want, just flip it. There is no human, there is no figure, there is no object.)

He writes about 'the living being' (again, a bit of a correlationist issue for me - no need for ontology to distinguish between living things and "physical" things. We don't need a dualism) conserving itself in an activity of permanent individuation. This linked up some ideas I've been having about the abject and the object. For me, the human horror at the abject comes about because the abject is the nearest we can get to the base reality of the object (the abject forces us to recognise objects as a class that includes humans). The fact that we cannot bear to be near the in-between state of the abject is the unconscious recognition that there is no "real separation" between us and the world. This maintenance of borders is paradoxical. We are, or we produce, the things we must reject in order to remain ourselves.

'Individuation in its collective aspect makes a group individual'. This stuff is great, I read it in terms of nested objects (objects remaining as objects even though they are part of a bigger object) - though again, accepting infinite regress would make it so much easier for Simondon. No metaphysical buck stopper. No God and no "pre-individual".

'When we consider individuation to be life itself' - Yes! Of course, but not just life itself - being itself. Living and non living objects are always in that process.

I made loads of notes here and did lots of underlining. Simondon is great at presenting thought as glimpsing individuation as a process from within. There is no way out of individuation, we can't step out and look at it - it is the very nature of our being, of our thought processes. I think OOO's heavy rejection of Kant and correlationism can be read as though they are claiming to be outside of themselves, looking down on humans as objects. But I don't think that's quite right. What they are rejecting is that humans and objects have any special relationship with the world - everything is caught up in its misapprehension of other things, nothing is outside of anything. OOO goes through correlationism and pops its little head out the other end. Things (including humans) are always already withdrawing from all other things. This could be the Kantian basis for OOO. A universal correlationism.

For Simondon, classical logic cannot be used to understand individuation, only transduction has the power to maintain all the contradictory tensions that are involved in understanding individuation. And, for Simondon, transduction is 'an individuation in progress'. So, understanding individuation is only possible through a process of individuation. Or, in a way, it is the process of individuation in thought.

'Transduction cannot be presented as a logical procedure terminating in a conclusive proof.'

'Individuation is not synthesis, a return to unity, but rather the being passing out of step with itself.'

He says that time 'comes from the pre-individual', but as I've mentioned, I don't see the need for that. Time and space can come from objects (or individuals). In fact, as far as I can tell, Simondon has already attributed time to the process of individuation (as in, individuation is time - or at least an experience of time), so why then attribute it to the pre-individual?

I don't quite get the idea of form as information. But I was reading this in the sun with a glass of wine so I'm not going to worry too much. It seemed cool. If anyone can help me out here then much appreciated.

I love this bit, about multiple logics. 'If many types of individuation existed, similarly there ought to be many types of logic.' Pluralising logic is a nice idea, and a very sensible one. Multiple, contradictory logics, applicable in different contexts.