biology, daybreak, irreversibility, language, Politics, Serres

New Serres in English: Biogea from Univocal

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“Always the same. This history could make a rock cry from boredom and death. How sad that history seems when faced with the crystalline and floral diversity of things; how often human history seems monotonous in comparison to the enchanting adventures of the world.” (Michel Serres, Biogea)

The presses at Univocal have caught fire lately. This first English translation (thanks to Randolph Burks) of a major work of Michel Serres, the Biogea, thunders with the authors’ fierce ingenuity and glows with his gentle wisdom. Michel Serres always versifies, but in the rhapsodic Biogea, this spontaneous musicality becomes symphonic: stories and theories slowly develop their singular contours in high-tension counterpoint. Fabulations and memories pass into theories and critique; celestial and rapturous encomia to the Biogea flow from the most severe of warnings about a biosphere on the verge of irreversible catastrophe.

The essence of the work is profoundly multiple; the Biogea hums and resonates with both intimate and radically alien languages. In prose that openly fabulates and mythologizes, Serres gives immersive voice to a series of critical memories — cautiously re-entering the serpentine fluidity of the waters of his youth on the sea or rehearsing a terrible symphony of wind, wolves and human cries on a dangerous trek up Mount Everest — enveloping these delicate arias within elegant theoretical formulae.

Biogea is an animated, joyous, spiritual work; a new sculpture of Venus rising from chaotic seas. Serres becomes a many-tongued artist of pure mutation; our Joyce, prophet of fire for the hypertext era, here close in spirit to Deleuze. Artaud said the violent blows of Van Gogh’s brush knocked even rivers off their course; suffice perhaps to say the joyous ellipses traced in this work could not help but shift time, life, the world around us from their former trajectory. Biogea is joy: hence a future and untimely book, even a dangerous book, written in vigorous defiance of a melancholy history.

The text is highly recommended to readers of Serres, who will undoubtedly luxuriate in the glowing pages of this powerful and delicate work. For those not yet familiar with Michel Serres, it may serve as a whirlwind introduction to the most urgent themes in his later work; and since to some degree it also provides a personal-critical intellectual history of the author, it might even be recommended before other major works such as the Parasite or Troubadour of Knowledge.

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biology, crystal, cybernetics, form, individuation, knowledge, machine, physics, psychology, Science / Mathematics / Technology, Simondon, structure, technology, tension

Simondon and the Machine: Technology, Individuation, Reality

Fractal Effervescence (2006), David April

 

Simondon and the Theory of Individuation

There is something eternal in a technical scheme… and it is that which is always present, and can be conserved in a thing.

Gilbert Simondon

Gilbert Simondon’s reformulation of information theory on the basis of a new philosophy of technology has, in comparison to earlier attempts, at least the following major advantages to its credit:

His thought introduces us to an entirely new way of understanding technology. His earliest work investigates the intrinsic nature of the machine. He asks about the conditions of the genesis of machines in the world, the essential nature of their concrescence from an abstract model.

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abstract machine, biology, cybernetics, form, information, model, ontology, structure, system, theory

Machinic Autopoesis

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Process

In Mechanism and Biological Explanation [Maturana 1970], Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela argue that machines and biological forms are very closely related — so closely, in fact, that biologists can reasonably claim living systems are machines. This is not meant merely as a pedagogical metaphor, but rather as a rigorous analogy, which emphasizes important symmetries, and even better, expresses concisely specific experimental and theoretical aims. In what sense, then, are living systems machines?

A machine is defined by a group of abstract operations, satisfying certain specific conditions. An abstract machine is this system of inter-relations which is itself independent of the actual components which ‘realize’ the machine. A fishing boat can be made from many kinds of wood, sailed on many bodies of water, used to store many species of fish; a game of tag can be played with an arbitrary number of arbitrary people in any suitable space. What matters is not the specificity of a given component but the specificity of its relationships. We can define living systems as specific groups of components and their inter-relations, according to both abstract structure and specific functionalities. But insofar as we are only considering their structure, living beings are isomorphic to collections of finite groups of abstract machines: biology considers micro- and macro-structure, whereas systems theory studies inter- and intra-relations.
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becoming, being, biology, equilibrium, flux, individuation, metastability, ontogenesis, ontology, Simondon, singularities

A Sketch of Gilbert Simondon

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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.

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biology, death, illusion, knowledge

Finitude

If we aim to start with that which we know even better than ourselves–are we not beginning at the end? After all, we know that we will die, possibly more certainly than we “know” anything else. Death and decay, the termination of biology and at once its first law—it is against these, indeed in resistance only, that we live. We live around death, amidst death, we live against, in defiance of this universal law; yet death is at once the furthest, most remote and ineffable figure. Around death, yes, but never WITH death. Since we really do have a firm certainty that we are going to die, but (for the most part) don’t know the time or the place– the question is not how or when, but why? And here, most of all, when our knowledge seems the most certain, does it not also seem the most paranoid, the most necessary of illusions to deconstruct since, after all, do our aim and our starting place not coincide?

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