This post is the second part of an article about the first chapter of Gilbert Simondon‘s L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (1964), entitled Form and Matter.
After exploring the text itself and its critique of the Aristotelian hylomorphic (form/matter) scheme to think about objects, I would like to introduce a second architectural interpretation of Simondon’s essay. Indeed, not only the hylomorphic paradigm fails to describe materially the energy that operates within the fabrication of an object, but it also categorize the humans involved in this operation in two distinct categories: those who think the object and those who make the object. The former virtually impose an abstract form on a material while the latter, who have a deepen knowledge about the material itself, are forced to manipulate it to achieve more or less skilfully the thought form. The following excerpt is the way Simondon describes it through his interest for the individualization:
(my clumsy translation): What is kept in an object, is the matter; what makes it being itself, is the state in which its matter describes all the events that this object was subjected to; the form that is only a fabrication intention, a composition will, can neither grow old nor become; it is always the same as an intention, for the conscience of the one who thinks and gives the fabrication order; it is the same abstractly, he wants them to be all the same, of the same dimension and following the same geometry.
(original version): Ce qui se conserve dans un objet, c’est la matière ; ce qui le fait être lui-même, c’est que l’état dans lequel est sa matière résume tous les événements que cet objet a subis ; la forme qui n’est qu’intention fabricatrice, volonté de disposition, ne peut vieillir ni devenir ; elle est toujours la même, d’une fabrication a une autre ; elle est tout au moins la même en tant qu’intention, pour la conscience de celui qui pense et donne l’ordre de fabrication ; elle est la même abstraitement, il les souhaite toutes identiques, de la même dimension et selon la même figure géométrique.
“The one who thinks” the form abstractly is also described by Simondon as the one who stays “out of the workshop” and only see the output of the material transformation once the latter is over. Most architects won’t have too much trouble recognizing themselves in this description. The class struggle that could be legitimately seen in the past between the architect and the various workers and craftsmen does not seem so relevant anymore when one sees the processes of quasi-pauperization currently operation; however, architects still “suffer” from a fundamental lack of knowledge for the matter’s behavior and properties. That does not necessarily mean that each architect should also be a craftsman and a builder -although that could not be a bad thing!- but rather that the essence of the matter as well as the energy involved in its transformation should be fully integrated within the creative process. Simondon calls this scheme, allagmatic:
(my translation): Allagmatic : Allagma (from the verb allattein), in Greek signifies change, exchange, exchange operation or exchanged reality. Simondon calls “allagmatic” a “general theory of exchanges and states modifications”, a “general theory of transformations”.
(orignial version): Allagmatique: Allagma (de la famille du verbe allattein), en grec signifie le changement, l’échange, l’opération d’échange ou la réalité échangée. Simondon appelle « allagmatique » une « théorie générale des échanges et des modifications des états », une « théorie générale des transformations ».
Château, Jean-Yves, Le Vocabulaire de Simondon, Paris : Ellipses, 2008.
Simondon helps us imagining what a piece of design thought, and therefore fabricated, in an allagmatic way might be by briefly describing Odysseus’ bed. In fact, Homer describes Odysseus acting on an olive tree while it is growing, in such a way that, once the tree reached its optimum size, he could simply build his bedroom around it and make his bed in the tree. (Such narrative reminds me of a project I published five years ago when the blog (boiteaoutils) was still in French!)
Here, the technical operation hosts the living form and subverts it partially to its profit while letting to the vital spontaneity the care of accomplishing the positive work of growth.
Ici, l’opération technique accueille la forme vivante et la détourne partiellement à son profit, en laissant à la spontanéité vitale le soin d’accomplir l’ouvrage positif de croissance.
In definitive, the critique of the hylomorphic scheme is mostly a critique of the crystallization of objects when they are continuously involved into processes of transformation, even after their fabrication. The allagmatic scheme is therefore insisting on the process of exchanges between an object or a body and its environment (human and non-human). What is true materially, is also true socially. The individual is no longer a being, but an act that requires energy to exist. In this act, “the becoming of each molecule resounds on the becoming of all others.” (those two last sentences are extracted from my essay Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel, which was concluding with Simondon’s writings)