Introduction to the Simondon Workshop:Why Simondon? Why digital Culture?


Simondon and Digital Culture

Thank you very much for coming the Workshop “Simondon and Digital Culture”, I am very happy to see all of you here. I think for many of you, it is the first time of coming to Lüneburg, and it could be a bit of a surprise when you firt heard of this workshop: Lüneburg and Simondon? Where is Lüneburg? You may have heard of Lüneburg because of Niklas Luhmann who was born here, or because of Heinrich Heiner who called Lüneburg „Residenz der Langeweile“ (residence of boredom). I hope in this introduction, we can tell you more about this place. But I am not in the best position to make such an introduction, I would like to present my colleague Mercedez Bunz, the project leader of the Hybrid Publishing Lab here in the Center for Digital Cultures to give a short introduction, then we will continue with the introduction of the workshop.

Why Simondon?

The idea didn’t only come because here it is called Center for Digital Cultures, but also because of my own engagement since a while ago with the thought of Simondon and digital. I encoutnered the work of Simondon many years ago when I was a student of computer engineering in Hong Kong, and I found a collection of interviews translated into chinese under the title The Empire of Techics (l’empire des techniques), and there was a guy talking about Simondon and technical objects. I was really impressed, I remembered the name Simondon but I forgot the person who talked about. Years later, I found out that this person was actually Bernard Stiegler who I worked with. Last year I was invited to Bochum by Erich to give a talk, and then I talked about organising a workshop on Simondon together, so we decided to do it together, then we also invited Jeremy Gilbert with whom we have discussed about doing a special issue of the New Formations on Simondon.

As far as I know, Simondon didn’t write about the digital. Simondon wrote about technical objects, individuations, imaginations, inventions and many other concepts, while the question of the digital, a question that we encounter today, seems to be absent in his thoughts. Simondon did talk a lot about information, but information is not necessarily digital. While it seems to me that fundamentally the digital is present even though he didn’t use the word digital. Since if we agree with Simondon that technical invention is in search of a resolution of a social and technical incomparability, as he says in the course Imagination and Invention, and the history of technology could be read as such, then we can position the digital at the same time as a resolution to a technical history before it; as well as a problematic that has to be resolved. That is to say, the digital is only one stage of invention, technically speaking it presents at the same time as a solution and a problem.

While we must recognize that it is not the digital technologies as such are presented as a problem for the social, but rather the social problem is at the same time technological and vice versa. And here if we can talk about a digital culture, it is no longer a separation between the digital and the culture. Simondon talked about the opposition between technology and culture present in our society, and he proposed to grasp culture fundamentally in technics. Especially when Simondon talked about the genesis of technical objects, we can observe that technics is the fundamental to cultural development, or if we follow Bernard Stiegler here, that the first philosophical question is the one concerns technics; philosophy is a system of thought concerning the technics. Thinking in this way digital culture is not only one of the phenomenon of a larger culture, or digital and culture are not in a part and whole relation, but rather we witness  fundamental changes happened  social structures, access of knowledges, scientific method, artistic creations.

Why Digital Culture?

In this perspective, we can understand why in an response to Raymond Ruyer’s article The Limit of Human Progress published in the Revue de métaphysique et de morale in 1958, Simondon resisted to think about the cycle of saturation of technology likes one can think of language and religion. This reluctance also lies on the fact that Simondon wants to locate in technology what he calls a technological humanism. A technological humanism is not an humanism that Heidegger criticized in his response to Jean-Paul Sartre in his Letter on Humanism, since Sartre said “précisément nous sommes sur un plan où il y a seulement des hommes”. For Simondon the problem of alienation is due to the misunderstanding of technology and machines, since culture sees the technics as a stranger or even an intruder. By forgetting technics, culture turns against itself and move towards self-destruction. The forgetting of technics could be read in parallel with Heidegger’s critique of the forget of Being. Lets remind that for Heidegger the fault of western metaphysics is the forgetting of Being, which he calls the Seinsfrage. But then isn’t forgetting Being and forgetting Technik the same question? Maybe Die Frage nach der Technik could be read otherwise?

And if we talk about a technological humanism, can we make a link to the current discussion on digital humanities? I am saying so not simply because digital humanities are getting much more funding than researches on Simondon, but also if digital humanities is the response to the digitisation in our time, what does it responds to, and what does it want to propose besides of being demanded as an academic discipline? Heidegger already saw this, when he criticised humanism “(But) the market of public opinion continually demands new ones. We are always prepared to supply the demand”. I think that a conversation between Simondon and current digital humanities will be essential. While I believe that our speakers and participants here have different agenda concerning the work of Simondon, and I will give the stage to you. I hope that this workshop can serve to open up systematically the thought of Gilbert Simondon in the context of the digital, ranging from topics such as individuation, object, sociality, participation, ecology, politics, etc, too many to be exhausted.

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