A Sketch of Gilbert Simondon

comment 1
becoming / being / biology / equilibrium / flux / individuation / metastability / ontogenesis / ontology / Simondon / singularities


Simondon, Gilbert. “The Genesis of the Individual.” Trans. Mark Cohen and Sanford Kwinter. Incorporations. Ed. Jonathan Crary. New York: Zone, 1992. 296-319.

At the same time that a quantity of potential energy (the necessary condition for a higher order of magnitude) is actualized, a portion of matter is organized and distributed (the necessary condition for a lower order of magnitude) into structured individuals of a middle order of magnitude, developing by a mediate process of amplification (304).

Simondon’s chapter in the Incorporations volume constitutes the introduction to his L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique. In his review on that book, Deleuze stresses that Simondon articulates a rigorous distinction between individuality and singularity due to an examination of the principle of individuation. Simondon begins with the problem of inferring a principle of individuation because current schools of thought tend to view the individual as a given. This confers an ontological privilege to an already constructed individual. But Simondon sees this view as a backwards approach, or what he terms reverse ontogenesis. In fact, because Simondon believes that individuation is merely one stage in the becoming of a being and thus is not the totality of a being, individuality falsely attributes a unity and identity to a heterogeneous milieu of forces from which the pre-individual nature of a being enters into communication with another order of magnitude. Thus, instead of focusing on the individual in order to infer the principle of individuation, Simondon asserts from the beginning that his project is to understand the individual in terms of individuation, which can be considered now as ontogenesis itself.

The milieu is swarming with potential energy. This flux forms the basis for the pre-individual singularities or quanta that will actualize the process of individuation. However, it is important to note that individuation does not exhaust the potentials embedded in a pre-individual state. Instead, the individual carries this pre-individual nature along with itself because the process of individuation is only a partial or relative resolution of the conflict within a being. Simondon refers to this as a process of doubling the pre-individual being so as to push the individual out of step with itself. This being-out-of-step is necessary insofar as metastable systems (as opposed to static equilibria) require a movement of disparity wherein entropy and order can correlate variably within different modes of becoming. Put another way, the metastability or potential energy within a system is the problem that becoming tries to resolve due to the tension between the determined forms an individuation takes and the indefinite amount of potential alternatives for the selection of a solution. Only if a being constantly throws itself out of step with itself will it ever allow for the disequilibrium necessary for the movement from a lower order to a higher with the aid of a definite quantum of energy.

–Taylor Adkins


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1 Comment

  1. Wonderful! I really enjoy your characterized of the preindividual as the pushing ‘out of step with itself’ which produces metastabilitiy. I’m curious about this mechanism — it seems to have analogues in mathematics and psychoanalysis…

    And how does this relate to Deleuze’s project? First, can we consider metastability as aproduction of a plane of consistency? Second, is selection the metastable ‘for what’ desire is produced? Finally, how does selection function here, how is it resolved — and how does a capacity for distinction emerge, how do tastes evolve?

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