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Thinkerer Simondon Builds a TV

There is a very nice brief biography of Gilbert Simondon online now. Besides shedding light on some aspects of his life, I was struck by this wonderful nugget of information. “In a technology workshop he created a television receiver in the basement of the school, which existed from 1953 to 1955.” We dont know if it worked, or to what channel Simondon tuned into but perhaps that is less of a concern.

What makes the case Simondon even more interesting is this involvement with hands-on tinkering. This was during his period as a teacher Lycée Descartes in Tours, where besides philosophy the thinker of individuation seemed to be interested in getting the channels in proper receiving order. What’s fascinating – and surely a good research topic for someone media archaeologically inclined – is this entanglement of philosophy with concrete technological practice in some thinkers’ lives. It was a surprise to some that Friedrich Kittler had built his own synthetiser in the 1970s but even more so one would imagine this piece of information about Simondon and TV.

With a bit of meditation, of course this is not so surprising. He was interested and researching various scientific topics, such as psychophysiology. He knew his mechanics and thermodynamics. And as we know, his philosophy is so centrally about technics. His research encompassed also more scientific aspects and he was able to install an electrocardiogram by himself. And yet, it was not that he was all completely about scientism. Quite the contrary, when you consider this lovely quote from him:

“At the level of method, science is never a feudal lord ruling over a vassal philosophy; rather, it is a relation between the spontaneous and the reflective. The spontaneous governs the reflective, as in scientism, only when the reflective activity is not contemporaneous with the spontaneous activity.”

But of course in the light of debates about knowledge and practice, we need to think what forms of alternative “philosophy” such experiments in technology could be. Can we think of extending philosophical investigations into practices of engineering and technology — with media archaeological inspiration for modern day critical engineers and circuit benders to be found in such philosophical tinkerers?  Besides the focus on individuation as a key, leading theme of his writing, this attitude can also lead to insights on how to think technology. In his later research Simondon was engaged in laboratory work, where also issues of how to understand technology popped up. Besides his own extensive writings on the topic, consider then how the Lab definition of the term might be seen as a creative way of orienting ones thoughts:

““(…) This topic has been proposed for reflection by the members of the seminar to try to reach a logic of technology that is neither an empirical technique or a science, but an understanding of normal and accidental functional relationships.”

Perhaps there is something there already — in the idea of variation hidden inside that definition. Perhaps there is something in the logic of technology that resonates with the immanent conditioning forces of technology in relation to capacities of perception, sensation and memory – a whole field of interest not only the media archaeologist but also to the analyst of cultural techniques of cognitive capitalism.

Erkki Huhtamo once referred to Paul Demarinis as a thinkerer – a neologism that combines tinkering and thinking. I think the term could be broadened out to figures such as Simondon too: a thinkerer-media theorist.

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  1. July 11, 2013 at 11:08 am

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