my tools for this Simondon week
After the “Deleuze week” in June 2011, the “Foucault week” in June 2012, and the “Spinoza week” in March 2013, I am now very happy to start the “Simondon week” that will attempt to present the work of French philosopher Gilbert Simondon (1924-1989) who remains relatively unknown — although this is changing fast — despite the power of his concepts and the range of its influence on other thinkers like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. This first episode (originally written for Tracés) is dedicated to Simondon’s critique of the Aristotelian paradigm of hylomorphism since it constituted my entrance door to his work as I have been exposing it before in the following articles:
– Form & Matter: Gilbert Simondon’s Critique of the Hylomorphic Scheme Part 1
– Form & Matter: Gilbert Simondon’s Critique of the Hylomorphic Scheme Part 2
– Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel for LOG 25
The following text can therefore be used both as a synthesis to these articles and as a way to first approach Simondon’s ‘conceptology’ that this week will more thoroughly unfold (politics, matter, technique, milieu, dance etc.). Please note that all along the week I will try to always ‘bold‘ the terminology that Simondon develops in his books in order to allow further research to be made.
FOR AN ALLAGMATIC ARCHITECTURE : Introduction to the work of Gilbert Simondon ///
(originally written in French for Swiss magazine Tracés)
We can observe a recent interest for the work of Gilbert Simondon. I am happy to participate to it here as his texts are so much able to offer a rich philosophical and political interpretation of the milieu in which we live. Through this short text, I will attempt to show how his philosophy can “resonate” – I use the Simondonian terminology here – in the practice of architectural conception.
The main concept invented by Simondon is the one of the individuation. It is fundamental to observe that, by definition, such a concept is more attached to the notion of process rather than the one of finished product. He is not interested by the individual but rather, by the technical or/and psychic operation that allows to form an individual. In this regard, it seems difficult to imagine that his work would not have had a great influence on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari when they were thinking their concept of becoming. The latter is indeed the process in which an individual or a group of individuals are dedicated to politically and creatively affirming their minor dimension within the instituted relationships of power (becoming woman, becoming revolutionary, becoming animal etc.).
In his book L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (Éditions Jérôme Millon, 1995), Gilbert Simondon uses the extensive description of a specific case to illustrate in which extents we can consider the formation of a body, whichever it might be, by reducing it to the simplistic association of a form and a matter like the Aristolian paradigm of hylomorphism does it. Through the microphysical description of the formation of a brick, from “inside the cast,” Simondon defines his own paradigm that he calls allagmatic. Following the latter, the achieved object/body (of course, the word “achieved” is strictly anthropocentric) is understood as the result of an energetic process of the formation of matter. Simondon blames the hylomorphic model to consider form as a real element, when it is actually an abstract idea that will necessities to materialize always imperfectly into a scaffolding or a mold to really exist.
He then continues his critique by defining the hylomorphic model as the one in which “the free man” – who imagines the forms in its abstract perfection – order to “the slave” – who knows the craftsmanship techniques – the construction of this object. Isn’t it exactly the same scheme than the one in which an architect and his/her abstract lines order to the workers to construct the building that (s)he has imagined? The architect’s plan, just like an utopian vision of society, is a particular form of representation since it does not represent an achieved state but, on the contrary, an object that does not yet exist. According to this paradigm, one will therefore enforce the correspondence between this virtual object and the real one in a retrospective operation that carries a certain violence. Let us take an architectural example: whether we speak about the Corbusean modulor or about any other ideal or standard body – paradoxically ideal and standard mean the same thing here – the will to adapt architecture to this type of body – almost always male, healthy and white – represents a veritably physical violence for any body that would not correspond to it. In order to suppress this violence, we should attempt not to chronologize the elaboration of a form and its materialization, but rather, to make them correspond simultaneously while considering the necessary energy for this operation: this is the principle of the allagmatic model that Simondon talks about.
Within this text, Simondon does not tell us what a political application of the allagmatic model would look like, but we can probably imagine it for him at a societal level as well as at the architectural practice level. From his point of view, energy is what allows a matter to form a body, an individual, but also what allows bodies to form a corporal collective that he names transindividual. Transindividuation, the process in which individuals become a transindividual, i.e. a group that constitutes more than the sum of its parts, is the political process par excellence. To consider the political act in its constructivism, i.e. in which it contributes to produce, is a way to be attached to its corporal matter – which is probably not the same one than the ideal standard one considered above – but also to the energetic process that effectuated it. From an architectural point of view, the effectuating allagmatic level can be understood as a simultaneous tendency of the conception with the construction as well as of its actors. Of course, it seems difficult to imagine that such a model could be applied literally in any other context than the one of a small building. However, a deep understanding of the energetic processes implied in an architecture’s construction during its conception would already constitutes an important starting point towards a properly allagmatic architecture.