This is a giant volume of essays and I have only read one of them. I ordered this book from the library because it contains a translation of an essay by Gilbert Simondon entitled "The Genesis of the Individual", which is really the introduction to Simondon's two volume work on individuation. Gilbert Simondon's work on individuation was a huge influence on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and this is the only English translation of Simondon's work on individuation that is available so far. So this volume is worth getting for Simondon's essay alone. It is dense, but a pretty good summary of Simondon's theory of individuation. My review will consist of a review of Simondon's essay, and then a list of the table of contents of this volume. That way, interested readers can see what essays are contained in this volume.
So, first, Simondon's essay. Simondon is developing a theory of individuation and he believes that previous theories of individuation have been unsuccessful because they attempt to understand the processes of individuation beginning from the fully constituted individual. This leads to the search for a "principle of individuation"; that will be capable of explaining the individual as a fully constituted, and self-identical, individual. Simondon thinks it is necessary to reverse this. Rather than understanding the processes of individuation beginning from the individual, we should attempt to understand the individual starting from the processes of individuation. So what changes in our philosophical account when we follow Simondon's advice and begin with individuation rather than the fully constituted individual?
Well, I can only give a brief summary in this review, but there are a number of very interesting implications of Simondon's new point of view. First, the individuated being is no longer considered to be a self-identical substance. The processes of individuation operate by bringing two orders of magnitude into communication. So, for example, a plant uses solar energy to organize chemical elements. This means that the process of individuation does not just produce a fully constituted individual, but produces an individual-milieu dyad. The plant has a milieu that is particular to it (think of Uexkull's animal worlds or environments). The plant is also in what Simondon calls a meta-stable equilibrium, which means it still contains potential energy that is capable of producing further transformations and further individuations. Meta-stable equilibrium is a concept that has been lacking in Western philosophy. Western philosophy has operated with dualities like instability and stability or motion and rest. Individuals were, therefore, conceived to be in a state of stable equilibrium. But systems in stable equilibrium lack any potential for change since they exist in the lowest possible state of potential energy.
Simondon has a nice little formulation that I think captures the notion of meta-stable equilibrium, he says that it is the "conservation of being by becoming";. We tend to treat the plant, for example, as a fully individuated and constituted being, but the plant only exists as a mediation between orders of magnitude. It needs continued energy from the sun to continue to synthesize the chemicals it needs for its continued existence. The maintenance of the plant's being, therefore, requires continual becoming. This also means that becoming is part of the being itself. As Simondon says "becoming is a dimension of the being, not something that happens to it following a succession of events that affect a being already and originally given and substantial" (311). I think we could say that beings are time. Time is not something external to beings. Beings are not in time, or subject to time, as if they existed as fully constituted individuals first, and then were made subject to time in an external way.
We can also say that the individuated being is purely relative in at least two senses. The being is relative in the sense that it is only one of the phases of a process of becoming, and it is relative in the sense that it is only part of a larger individual-milieu whole that is the real product of the processes of individuation. The individual is also more than identity because it contains potentials that are in tension with one another and drive further processes of individuation. In other words, the individuated being encompasses identity and non-identity. This is important for understanding Deleuze since when we read Deleuze claiming that individuals are really multiplicities there is a tendency to read this in a reductionist way as if Deleuze were saying: individuals are less than what you take them to be (i.e. they do not possess the identity you attribute to them). What Simondon is saying is that beings are MORE than identities, not LESS, and I believe the same can be said of Deleuze. It is not, for example, that I, as a multiplicity, am less than the unity I take myself to be, I am more, which means, I can become other. I have potentials in myself for further transformations and individuations. I would like to quickly point out that Simondon's rejection of self-identity as a ground, his notion that individuals are relative, and his claim that becoming belongs intrinsically to beings, brings a great deal of his thought in line with Buddhism. Also, Simondon claims that we cannot know individuation, we can only individuate. This parallels Nishida Kitaro's claim that we cannot know God (or the unifying principle of reality) we can only become it.
Simondon goes onto to describe briefly how individuation operates at the physical, biological, psychical, and collective (social) levels. There is one point I want to make about individuation at the collective level before bringing this overly long summary to a close. Simondon argues that the processes of individuation that are responsible for producing the social are resolutions of individual problematics. As Simondon says "what we consider to be a relation, due to the substantialization of the reality of the individual, in fact forms a dimension of the process of individuation by which the individual becomes" (307-308). So why do I think this is important? Well, first, I believe that Simondon's notion of the social is able to chart a middle path between two extremes in theories of society and political philosophy. On the one hand, we have views that take the individual (the already constituted individual) as a starting point. They place the positive in the individual (rights) and limitations in the collective (laws, etc.). This, taken to an extreme, leads to libertarianism. On the other hand, we have views that begin from the collective and make the individual merely a cog in the wheel of the collective. Taken to an extreme the second view leads to totalitarianism.
Simondon's view overcomes both of these (what I take to be) deficient views. Simondon achieves this because he views the individual in terms of the transindividual processes of individuation that constitute it. The individual is able to participate in the collective because it is already connected to a preindividual reality. It is already more than just an individual, and the social is a part of its own individuation, without itself becoming merely a cog in the individuation of the social. This also fits with Deleuze's notion that the collective is a creative response to problems and needs at the individual level. In other words, the collective does not simply negate the individual. The collective is a part of the individual's own becoming. I think this notion could potentially resolve a lot of long-standing dilemmas in political philosophy.
Alright, while there is more that could be said about Simondon's essay, I will leave it at that, and let the interested reader read Simondon's essay for themselves. I will say that anyone interested in a good secondary work on Gilbert Simondon would do well to look at Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual (Technologies of Lived Abstraction) by Muriel Combes. Now I will provide the table of contents of this volume for anyone who is interested.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword - Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter
Regimes, Pathways, Subjects - Felix Guattari
When Man ((tm)) is On the Menu - Donna Haraway
Machine and Organism - Georges Canguilhelm
Torque: The New Kinaesthetic of the Twentieth-Century - Hillel Schwart
Nonorganic Life - Manuel DeLanda
Angular Momentum - Ana Barrado
Neurasthenia and Modernity - Anson Rabinach
Radiography, Cinematography and the Decline of the Lens - Lisa Cartwright and Brian Goldfarb
The Living Machine: Psychology as Organology - Didier Deleule
Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality - Paul Rabinow
War and Medicinema - Victor Bouillion
Tadeusz Kantor - Heidi Gilpin
Circles, Lines, and Bits - Klaus Theweleit
Horror Autotoxicus - John O'Neill
Project for a Glossary of the 20th Century - J.G. Ballard
Mediators - Gilles Deleuze
The Genesis of the Individual - Gilbert Simondon
The Reenchantment of the Concrete - Francisco Varela
Arbeit Medaillion - Elaine Scarry
Case No. 00-17163 - Diller and Scolfidio
Metametazoa: Biology and Multiplicity - Dorion Sagan
Intentionality - Jean-Paul Sartre
The Construction of Perception - Leif Finkel
Biology and Beauty - Frederick Turner
Unfolding Events - Peter Eisenman
Full Metal Jacket - Bill Krohn
Robocop - Mark Poster
Performance - Nina Rosenblatt
Aliens - Paul Virilio
My Crasy Life - Jean-Pierre Gorin
Techniques of the Body - Marcel Mauss
Spine, City, Form - Peter Fend
Dancing Bodies - Susan Foster
Hygiene, Cuisine and the Product World - Ellen Lupton and J.A. Miller
Toward a Biopsychiatry - Francois Dagognet
The Influencing Machine - Victor Tausk
Mappings: A Chronology of Remote Sensing - Judith Barry
Biological Ramparts - Ronald Jones
Epidemics of the Will - Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Passio Perpetuae - Leone and Macdonald
Virtual Systems - Allucquere Roseanne Stone
The Myth of the Clean War - Paul Rogers
Ethology: Spinoza and Us - Gilles Deleuze