Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Differences in Becoming: Gilbert Simondon and Gilles Deleuze on Individuation

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Differences in Becoming: Gilbert Simondon and Gilles Deleuze on Individuation

Article excerpt

In the last years, it has become fashionable, especially in the Anglo-American world, to summarize a certain generation of French philosophers coming after structuralism as philosophers of difference. What this generation has undoubtedly in common is a rejection of stable and substantial identities, but also of a mechanism of difference which owes its existence to dialectical opposition. Yet, beyond a certain rejection of dialectical Hegelianism such as is incarnated by Sartre1 and the all too binary notion of difference in the structuralist movement, the label 'philosophies of difference' embraces positions as diverse as those of Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Kristeva, or Baudrillard. More recently, a new name has been added to that list, as his work did not have the same fortune at the time, and its relevance in the poststructuralist generation is now finally being acknowledged: that of Gilbert Simondon.

"The conditions are right," Brian Massumi stated back in 2012, "for Simondon to have a major impact"2 Among the reasons Massumi lists is the fact that "modes of thought more comprehensively and suggestively in dialogue with Simondon's have left their mark," among which, quite prominently, is that of Gilles Deleuze.3 Indeed, Deleuze was among the very few who recognized Simondon's importance from the outset, and this is certainly not by accident, since, just as Massumi emphasizes, a deep kinship connects both strains of thought. For a long time, Simondon was first and foremost perceived as a philosopher of technology. While his Du mode d'existence des objets techniques (On the mode of existence of technical objects)4 was immediately recognized as an important contribution to the problem of technology, and was reprinted various times, it suffered from a disconnection from the rest of Simondon's work. However, among the very few who discerned the wide-ranging implications of Simondon's thinking at large there was another philosopher, who drew significantly on his ontology of difference: Gilles Deleuze.

Simondon was inspirational for Deleuze on many points, and indeed, as stressed by David Scott, "in nearly all of Deleuze's published works . . . Simondon's theses or concepts can be implicitly detected or explicitly identified"5 Prima facie, where both Simondon and Deleuze depart from some of the other anti-dialectical and post-structuralist French thinkers of difference is when (in a way that even made them suspicious to many of their contemporaries) they theorize difference not so much as an infinite play of meaning but in terms of a vital dynamism. As such, their theories of this difference are inseparable from their visions of life, understood as differential, modulatory becoming. Nevertheless, the fact that Deleuze's reading of Simondon prepared the grounds for the current rediscovery of his work, which is documented in numerous works of recent scholarship,6 comes as both a blessing and a curse. As it happens, by seeing Simondon only as a forerunner, a kind of "dark precursor" of Deleuze's philosophy of difference, one misses the difference between these two thoughts. Despite their incontestable proximities, there are also a certain number of points on which Simondon's and Deleuze's philosophies diverge (ultimately, even in their different degrees of vitalism). While the task of a critical disentanglement of both philosophies has just begun (an important special issue of the journal Pli has to be mentioned here7), we want to suggest that both of them provide different, and ultimately incompatible accounts of what individuation is. Among the many thinkers associated with the so-called 'philosophies of difference,' what Simondon and Deleuze share is that their concept of difference is steeped in a theorization of individuation. Each criticizes what would be an infatuation with diversity (difference is not diversity, as both of them underline) in order to break from a traditional static ontology.

"Being is never One" Deleuze writes in his comment on Simondon,8 and this is a statement on which both authors agree. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.