Biography of Gilbert Simondon

[Reposted from my personal blog]

Jussi Parikka has highlighted the translation of a biography of the philosopher Gilbert Simondon [the original was written by Nathalie Simondon], who was a key influence, of course, on the work of Bernard Stiegler and also Gilles Deleuze. In his post, Parikka highlights the hands-on nature of Simondon’s practice – the fact that he built a television in the basement of his school – and the resonances with Friedrich Kittler’s building of a synthesiser. This is also a link, as Phillipe Petit highlights in his introduction to the book of interviews Économie de l’hypermatériel et psychopouvoir, with Bernard Stiegler, whose father worked for Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, the French national broadcaster between 1939-64, and built their first TV. Parikka picks out the neologism of ‘thinkerer’ (commingling ‘tinkerer’ and ‘thinker’) coined by Erkki Huhtamo to describe Simondon, a term that might also be applied to Stiegler for his various means of practising philosophy.

The biography demonstrates what an extraordinary, and, sadly, relatively short, career Simondon had, including a fairly meteoric rise from teaching at a lycée in Tours (1953-55) to being appointed Chair of Psychology B at the Sorbonne (1965). Simondon worked with Barchelard and Hyppolite, as a postgraduate, and his thesis was examined by Jean Hyppolite, Raymond Aron, Georges Canguilhem, Paul Ricoeur and Paul Fraisse. Quite something!

The biography also includes very interesting quotes from letters to Bachelard and Hyppolite as well as fantastic summaries of Simondon’s key works. The experimental spirit of Simondon’s work is strongly evoked throughout, with a clear commitment to a collaborative methodology (across and between science and philosophy):

[He] chose a path of reflection where philosophy might inform science. Such collaboration between science and philosophy, he wrote in 1954 to his future supervisor [Hyppolite], must be carried out not in the results, which would be “an invasion of thought by unworthy followers, as shown in scientistic time,” but in the method: “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.”

The biography makes for essential reading for those interested not only in the philosophy of technology and technics, but also for those with a broader interest in the history of ideas, in particular related to the development of what we call continental philosophy.

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