From Living to Individuation


From Living to Individuation – reflection on a negative anthropology


[draft of an article to appear on the catalogue of the “Living as Form” nomadic exhibition (Hong Kong stop) Nov 3-18, 2012]

What is an artist? An artist is an exemplary figure of individuation — understood as process of psychic and collective individuation where a ‘I’ is only inside of a ‘we’, and where a ‘we’ is constituted at the same time by the saturated potential and strained by the pre-individual background that it supposes….it is an operator of trans-individuation of available pre-individual: it creates the works, that is to say the artefacts… which typically open up the future as the undetermined singularity by an access to the repressed which contrives the power of the noetic soul as its possibility — which is only by irregularity– of passing to acts.

-Bernard Stiegler, De la misère symbolique, tome 2 : La Catastrophe du sensible

§1. Individuation vs Form

Why should one subsume living to a form? To pose this question is not to remove form from living, but to question the very notion of form itself. Today politics is becoming bio-political – meaning the productivity of capitalism penetrates more and more into our livings, not simply by buying off our physical force, or make us to buy commodities as Marx analysed in Das Kapital, but controlling our tastes, gestures, habits, genetic information, etc – living can no longer retreat to its own term. If here living as form is to identify such a resistance or vital force in an affective manner, I would rather like to follow Gilbert Simondon and call it individuation. The problem of form doesn’t lie on form per se but its attachment to hylomorphism since the ancient Greeks, notably in the philosophy of Aristotle.

According to Aristotle things can be conceptualised in terms of sensible form and matter. Sensible form is concerned with “what kind of thing” something is, and matter concerns “what it is made of.” Aristotle proposed to decide which of the three elements, form, matter, or the composite of form and matter, can be called substance. He rejected matter and the composite of matter with form, the first because it can be a predicate of the subject, the second because it is “posterior in nature and familiar to sense” (1956). He decided that form is the sole understanding of substratum. The sensible form is nevertheless not a rigid form. In fact, Aristotle goes further than the Platonic idea/ideal and discover the conformation of matter to form a process that is pertinent to material, for example in brick making, the texture, moisture of clays affect the final products. Another theory of form emerged in 19th century following the “field theory” in physics, and actualized in the Gestalt psychology in the early 20th century(Simondon 2005). Gestalt psychology rejects the view that perception is made possible by association of different sense data, and proposes to see form as basic unit of perception. The psychologist Kurt Lewin further combined field theory, Gestalt psychology and Cybernetics to develop his social-psychology populated in the 40s and 50s in US.

Simondon’s theory of individuation was very much influenced by Kurt Lewin, while he also attempted to go a step further. Simondon contested the separation between individuals and collective in the studies of psychology and sociology, to simplify Simondon’s argument: psychology sees the collective as the extension of the individual, while sociology sees individuals as the products of the collective. For Simondon, individuation is always at the same time psychical and collective, that is to say, we cannot talk about individual but only about individuation. Kurt Lewin sees the social psychological individuation as a process in which an individual moves towards a certain goal by overcoming the resistance produced by its milieu as one sees in a field. Simondon doesn’t identify an opposition between two opposing forces, instead, he seems an immanent tension as the condition of individuation.

Simondon (2005) gives a visual metaphor of individuation, which is the crystallisation process of supersaturated solutions. During the crystallisation, tensions of different intensities are everywhere in the solution and they have to be resolved in favour of the propagation of energy. The tension is produced by the disparity (la disparation) of its constituents, that is to say a negative difference. Such a visual metaphor wouldn’t be sufficient to explain individuation, for it would be impossible to illustrate the individuation of living beings with an example of physical beings. The visual metaphor proposes to imagine an individuation process full of ruptures, tensions and quantum leaps. This differentiates itself from the common sense of what an individual is, meaning a human being who can always internalize its exteriority or create an identity relying on the collective. This view isn’t sufficient to explain individuation, a new language has to be developed.

§2. Antagonism and a Negative Anthropology

It is within the psychic and collective individuation, we find the possibility of re-imagining a negative anthropology. The term negative anthropology is proposed by the activists collective Tiqqun in L’Introduction à la guerre Civile(2006), in which they see confrontation and hostility as the necessary condition of a community. The production of form can be resulted from the resolution of tensions, but the repetition or imitation of forms can become mechanical, typological. Harmony is the repetition of a static form by reducing all the possibility of confrontation. In fact such a community of harmony doesn’t exist; even if it exists, it by no means bears a single sense of what we understand as community- la commune. Here we discovered two kinds of harmony, one enforced by the state as the highest principle of developments and patriotism; one comes from anthropological imaginations of a communal harmony which is facing its own decline. These two kinds of harmony are sometimes in conflicts with each other, and sometimes they come together hand in hand, the latter as we can see in Hong Kong, always merge and manifest in empty axioms: “peace, reason and non-violence”.

The problem with axioms is that they are always right, but they are poor of processes. The axioms necessarily constitute forms, and it is exactly what we observed during the Choi Yuen village protest(Lo Chun Yip- Days After N Coming ), or any confrontation between protesters and the government, it is not difficult to find out that antagonism is always undermined, while an imaginary future which doesn’t belong to anyone (not even the capitalists) become the Raison d’État. In these pacifications, we confront the poverty of form: emptiness, substance-less, and staticity. In order to exit such a situation, firstly one should reject harmony as default of communities, and the common believe that modern society is the gradual destruction of a mythical origin of communities; secondly, individuation can never be fully actualized in stable forms, rather it must be metastable. Metastability is a term introduced by Simondon to designate the constant individuation and repetition. This also suggests that tension can never be fully resolved, they always manifest in new formats.

How could we position art and artist in the process of individuation? As Bernard Stiegler showed in the opening quote, an artist is the exemplary of who individuates oneself by realising and exposing that the I is in the We, and the We is not outside the I. The artist individuates by using different apparatus, which we can see from the ancient craftsmen to today’s conceptual artists. We must also recognize that in the individuation of the self, there is also a We in him, which is never fully himself, the artist individuates himself at the same time individuate others. Such process of co-individuation was clearly present in Plato’s dialogues, where Socrates co-individuates with his interrogator through conflictual arguments. We find always in the dialogues the dramatical gestures and performative effects, for example in Symposium, the drunken Alchibiades entered the scene and confessed his love to Socrates. To retrieve (wiederholen in Heideggerian sense) the meaning of individuation, is necessarily an artistic act. As Wittgenstein (2003: §19) says to “imagine(vorstellen) a language is to imagine a form of life(Lebensform)”, the opposite is true that in order to imagine a form of life, it is necessary to reinvent a language, not necessarily one totally anew, but from the existing one. It is exactly at this point we find the connection between artists and living as form through his role in the psychic and collective individuation.

§3. Make one’s life a work of Art

Artists are not the author of individuations, but rather those who facilitate individuation like catalysts in chemical reactions. A catalyst is not an author, and it would be wrong to attribute a chemical reaction to its catalyst. Artists are those who recognize these confrontation and to transform them to a necessary and positive ones. This reminds me always of making one’s life a work of art proposed by Michel Foucault. We have to remind ourselves that this proposition of Foucault was influenced very much by the historian and philosopher Pierre Hadot. Hadot’s works on the spiritual practices in Hellenic and Roman history rediscovered philosophy as a way of life (la philosophie comme mode de vie). Here we may be able to assign the first philosophical question common to both occidental and oriental culture: take care of yourself. Foucault(2001)tried to show, in his reading of Plato’s Alcibiades, that taking care of the self is necessarily taking care of others. This brings us back to the psychic and collective individuation, for no individuation is possible without fulfilling both dimension. Once it fails, it leads to dis-individuation, meaning the self-destruction of the psychical apparatus, the “dis-individual” loses the ability to love (philia), like those who threw sulphuric acid to the over-crowded street in Hong Kong.

What would be this collective, if it is not an abstract term? The collective is only possible if we think in terms of the touchable bodies, desires, eros. Living is by no means a bare life, or matter, but forms of life, that affects each other, and confront each other. Eating organic food can be a contribution to an abstract collectivity by thinking that I am already contributing to the well being of human kind, but in fact, it is totally absorbed as a life style: the highest manifestation of consumerism. The collective is always the present which is forgotten in the capitalistic temporal structure. In anticipation of the future- money, power, sex, etc – we are actually nowhere but speeding toward a bitter future if not a destructive one. We can find the anamnesis by re-organizing aesthetic experiences, that is also to say by the re/distribution of the sensibles. During the Occupy Central movement, the occupation movement at the ground floor of the HSBC Headquarter, one of the main ideas is to allow people to enter freely, and experience two forms of life created by the inside and the outside, that is to say exposing the contradictions and antagonism and the forgetting of the present in order to re-constitute a collective.

Living is to individuate oneself and others. To individuate is at the same time to invest in terms of time, desire and love. I reproach the concept of form in order to show that it is necessary to politicize the very notion of “form”, also Simondon’s theory of individuation. Forms are delicate in repetition, we are not able to assert that whether it is that we lose sensitivity to forms or forms lose senses in their repetitions. When I was in the 7th Berlin Biennale, I was shocked by their imitation of an occupation movement inside a gallery: one that makes resistance a performance and renders it impotent by its pretentious gestures and flamboyant slogans. It is necessary for us to reflect on a negative anthropology in order to reach a more profound resistance today. To make one’s life a work of art, is not simply to become an Oscars Wilds type of Dandy but rather to dispossess oneself- this suggests a re-constitution of community. And art, seems to me is one of the best medium to render visible and sensible the contradictions and antagonism in our quotidian life, and serves as a catalyst that speeds up/slow down the pace and radicalise the process of individuation.


Aristotle (1956) Metaphysics. Edited and translated by John Marrington. London: Everyman’s Library

Foucault, M.(2001), Cours de Michel Foucault 1981-1982 L’Herméneutique du Sujet, Seuil

Hadot, P. (1995) Philosophy as a Way of Life, Oxford, Blackwell

Simondon, G. (2005) L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information, Jérôme Millon

Tiqqun (2006), L’Introduction à la guerre civile, éditions VLCP

Wittgenstein, L.(2003), Philosophische Untersuchungen, Suhrkamp Verlag; Auflage


文:許煜 / 譯:佩絃


—法國哲學家貝爾納‧斯蒂格勒(Bernard Stiegler)《論象徵的貧乏》

§1 個體化與形式的對決

為何我們要將生活置於形式之下?這個提問並不是要從生活中抹煞「形式」,而是質疑「形式」這個概念本身。時至今日,政治已逐漸演變成「生命政治」(biopolitics)─也即是說馬克思在《資本論》中對資本主義的生產模式的批判如消耗我們的體力、迫使我們購買更多商品已不太及時,資本主義更控制著我們的品味、外表、習慣、基因信息等越來越細微的東西。倘若「式者生存」就是在情感(affects)的層面上識別這種抵抗力或生命之力(vital force)[i],我偏向效法法國哲學家吉爾貝‧西蒙頓(Gilbert Simondon) 稱之為「個體化」(individuation)。形式的問題並不在「形式」本身,這從古希臘哲學,特別是亞里士多德(Aristotle)的《形質說》(hylomorphism)中可見一斑。

亞里士多德指出,所有事物均由可感知的「形式」與「質料」所組成。「形式」關注的是「這是什麼」,「質料」著重的是「這是由什麼構成的」。對亞里士多德(1956)而言,哪一種元素,才可稱之為「實體」(substance)呢?形式、質料、還是「形」與「質」的結合?亞里士多德最終的結論是形式決定一切,而我們只能從形式去理解實體。形式並非一成不變的(這分別了亞里士多德的形式以及柏拉圖的理型),以水泥磚的製作工序為例,泥的濕度與質地將直接影響其最終的製成品。另一有關形式的理論出現於十九世紀,繼有物理學上的「埸論」(Field Theory),並在二十世紀初的「形態心理學」(Gestalt psychology)之中得到延續。形態心理學認為形式才是知覺(perception)的最基本單位,而聯想(association)並非獲取資訊的唯一途徑。其後,德裔美國心理學家德庫爾特‧勒溫(Kurt Lewin)更進一步結合埸論、形態心理學與諾伯特‧維納(N. Wiener)的《模控學》[ii],發展出現代社會心理學,成為上世紀四五十年代的美國主流學說(Simondon, 2005)。


西蒙頓(2005)以飽和溶液的結晶過程這種圖像隱喻去形容個體化。在結晶過程當中,溶液中的張力已達至飽和程度,需要透過能量的轉移去化解張力。而張力的產生是源自結構上的差距—負值差距(negative difference)。當然,此類圖像隱喻不足以解釋個性化,因我們沒法以物質的例子充分說明生物的個體化;然而在另一方面,這個圖像隱喻假設個體化是個充滿張力的過程,同時具撕裂與躍遷的力量。這點與我們向來認為個體往往傾向將環境內在化或從群體當中找到身份認同的觀念大相逕庭。由於這種想法不足以解決個體化,我們需要一個新詞彙。

§2 敵對情緒與負值人類學

從個人與群體的個性化歷程當中,我們看到出現「負值人類學」的可能性。「負值人類學」的概念最先由法國組織Tiqqun[iii](2006) 提出,在《內戰導論》一書中,他們視對立與仇恨為社會的必然現象。形式的產生是張力被化解後的結果,但形式的復現亦可流於機械化、教條化。和諧是固有形態的延續,有助減低對立的可能性—然而,和諧社會並不存在,即使它確實存在,也不等於它就是我們一般所理解的社會—公社(la commune)。在這裡,我們可以發現和諧的狀態有兩種:一種是由國家強制執行的,並視之為愛國以及國家發展的最高原則;另一種則源自人類學對公社式和諧社會的想像,已漸漸式微。這兩種和諧狀況,時而互相抵觸,時而攜手合作—而後者,就我們於香港所見,很多時出現於「和平、理性、非暴力」這類空洞無物的「公理之談」當中。

公理(axiom)的問題在於它永遠是對的。然而,公理無助於理解過程。公理必定構成形式,這也是我們在菜園村衝突事件(盧鎮業的《那年春夏‧之後》)甚或是任何示威者與政府的衝突當中所看到的,我們不難發現敵對情緒往往被低估了,而那個並不屬於任何人的想像中的未來(即使是資本家)則成為最終的根據(Raison d’Etat)。在種種妥協之中,我們面對的是形式的貧乏:空洞、虛無與停滯不前。而為了逃離這種局面,首先,我們必須否定和諧就是社會基本要素這種想法,同時否定現代社會必須經歷文化源頭的沒落的說法;其次,人必須理解到個性化永遠無法在靜止形態中完全實現,其過程必然是亞穩的(Metastable)。「亞穩」這個觀念,也是由西蒙頓提出的,用以規範個性化的守恆與復現。這個概念同時指出,要完全排解張力是不可能的,因為張力可以透過另一種形式再現。

那麼,我們如何在個性化的過程當中理解藝術與藝術家呢?正如法國哲學家貝爾納‧斯蒂格勒(Bernard Stiegler)在本文的開場白中提到,藝術家堪作個性化的典範,而藝術家的能耐在於他們能夠察覺並揭示「我」是存在於「我們」之中,而「我們」則離不開「我」。從古代的工匠到現代的概念藝術家,藝術工作者透過不同的器具實現個性化,而在這個歷程當中,「我們」同時存在於藝術家之內—因為他們同時為自己與別人賦予個性。這種雙個體化(co-individuation)過程亦可見於柏拉圖(Plato)的對話錄之中就常常涉及蘇格拉底與其質詢者的爭論。同時在這些對話中,我們經常找到戲劇姿態與表演效果,例如:在 《饗宴篇》[iv]當中,醉酒的阿爾奇畢亞得斯進場,向蘇格拉底示愛。去重述或重取(wiederholen按德國哲學家海德格爾(Martin Heidegger)用法)個體化的意義顯然是一種藝術行為。維特根斯坦[v](Ludwig Wittgenstein)(2003)亦提到:「想像(vorstellen)一種語言也就是想像一種生活形式(Lebensform)。」與此同時,要想像一種生活形式,不一定要重新發明一種語言,也可以是建基在原有的用語之上。就是透過個體化,我們發現了藝術與「式者生存」之間的聯繫。

§3 活著就是藝術

與其說藝術工作者是賦予個體化者,倒不如說他們是促進者,就像引起化學作用的催化劑一樣。催化劑不同於始作者,將化學作用歸因於催化劑無疑是錯誤的。藝術工作者識別出這些對立面並使之轉化為生活中所需的、正面的東西。這令我想起法國哲學家米歇爾.傅柯(Michel Foucault)「活著就是藝術」的主張,我們不要忘記他的主張很大程度上是受到法國哲学史家培里‧哈多(Pierre Hadot) [vi]的影響。哈多透過研究希臘羅馬古典哲學的靈性操練方式,重新發現哲學就是生活之道(philosophy as a way of life)。如此看來,我們或許可以提出首個在東西方文化中同樣司空見慣的哲學問題:關懷自己。傅柯嘗試透過柏拉圖的《阿爾奇畢亞得斯》(Alcibiades)指出,關懷自己就是關懷別人。讓我們回到剛才有關個人與群體個體化的討論,若不同時符合這兩個條件,個體化是不可能的。而個體化的失敗則會導致精神結構(Psychical Apparatus)[vii]的自我毀滅,令人失去愛人的能力,就像那些在香港鬧市投下腐蝕性液體的狂徒。

如果集體個性化並非一種抽象概念,那會是甚麼? 我們如能從觸覺、渴望和慾望來體會生活,將發現生活不單止關乎生存的基本要素、物質,而是關乎生活模式,在在影響著人與人之間的互動與對立。例如進食有機食物對如此一個抽象概念也有建樹,原因是這對人類的整體福祉也有裨益。可是,就生活模式而言,進食有機食物也可被視為消費主意的最佳表述。集體化可說是在資本主義架構下,被遺忘的當下。展望將來—金錢、權力、性慾等—海德格爾或會說,這個未來是苦澀的,如若不是具毀滅性的話。記憶可以透過重組過往的審美經歷與實際體會而尋得。在「佔領中環行動」之中,參與者在他們設於滙豐銀行總行地下的營區當中,一方面可自由出入,另一方面可體驗到區內與區外兩種生活之間的矛盾與對立,藉忘記現在,重新建構集體生活模式。

活著是為自己與別人賦予個性。個體化就是投入時間、渴望和愛。我批評「形式」這個概念,為的是要藉此指出「形式」這個觀念與西蒙頓的個性化理論是必須被政治化的。形式是微妙的。我們永遠無法確定到底是我們失去了對形式的敏銳力,還是形式早已在年年月月的復現過程之中變得乏味。處身第七屆柏林雙年展,看到模仿佔領行動的作品,讓我感到十分震撼:這行動讓反抗成為一種表演,那自命不凡的行徑和炫耀的口號正正表述了這行動的軟弱無力。為了讓我們的抗爭行動更具影響力,反思人類學的負面價值是有必要的。要讓生活成為藝術,並非單單像奧斯卡‧王爾德(Oscar Wilde)般講究衣著和外表的丹第主義(Dandyism),而是為自己與群體賦予個性,重新建構一個社群。依我看來,藝術就是在尋常生活中呈現視覺與感知的矛盾對立的最佳媒介,也是個體化進程的重要催化劑。


Aristotle (1956) Metaphysics. Edited and translated by John Marrington. London: Everyman’s Library

Foucault, M.(2001), Cours de Michel Foucault 1981-1982 L’Herméneutique du Sujet, Seuil

Hadot, P. (1995) Philosophy as a Way of Life, Oxford, Blackwell

Simondon, G. (2005) L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information, Jérôme Millon

Tiqqun (2006), L’Introduction à la guerre civile, éditions VLCP

Wittgenstein, L.(2003), Philosophische Untersuchungen, Suhrkamp Verlag; Auflage.

[i] Vital Force的觀念源於《進化論》,假設有一種「生命之力」(vital force)的存在,而這種「生命之力」就是促成進化的創造力。

[ii] 可參考Norbert Wiener:Cybernetics. MIT Press,1965 (1948)。

[iii] Tiqqun成立於1999年,成員為法國作家及社會運動家,《內戰導論》(L’Introduction àla guerre Civile), 英譯“Introduction to Civil War”是他們其中一部著作。

[iv] 阿爾奇畢亞得斯是當時雅典城的一名神童,柏拉圖在以「愛神」(Eros)為討論主題的《饗宴篇》當中,提到蘇格拉底與阿爾奇畢亞得斯之間的一段「柏拉圖式愛情」。著名的警言”Know Thyself”就是出自柏拉圖的《阿爾奇畢亞得斯》(Alcibiades)。

[v] 路德維希‧維特根斯坦(1889-1951),出生於奧地利,後入英國籍,是語言哲學的奠基人,被喻為20世紀最具影響力的哲學家之一。

[vi] Pierre Hadot主張以哲學為生活方式,著有Philosophy as a way of life

[vii] 在佛洛伊德的精神分析學說當中,人的精神結構(Psychic Apparatus)包括本我(Id)、自我(Ego)及超我(Superego),三者構成了完整的人格。

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Chinese translation of ChatGPT, or the Eschatology of Machines (Voices of Photography, issue 35)

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