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On Latour and Simondon’s Mode of Existence

– fragments of a fictional dialogue yet to come

Yuk Hui, intervention given in a Workshop on Latour@ Denkerei, 28 Jan,2013

This intervention from its outset searches a dialogue between Simondon and
Latour, a fictional dialogue, that nevertheless exists though it hasn’t happened.
It hasn’t happened, or should I say it was once about to happen, when Latour
praised Simondon’s Du Mode d’existence des objets techniques, and
commented that it is a work that didn’t yet find its successor. But it does exist,
this fictional dialogue, or at least we can talk about its mode of existence if you
prefer since being fictional is also a mode of existence. We cannot draw a
squared circle but we can think of a squared circle, it has meanings, this was an
example given by Edmund Husserl as a critique of formal logic. The secrete
philosopher of Bruno Latour, Étienne Souriau hold a similar idea in his Les
différents Modes d’existence. A fictional object or character doesn’t occur in
time and space as a physical object, or a historical event, but it does exists in
works, in the socio-psychological life and imaginations of their readers and
witness. Modes of existence is always plural, it doesn’t follow the rule of
contradiction, it is rather key to what Latour calls ontological pluralism.
The question of the mode of existence departs from the question
of Dasein posted by Martin Heidegger, and the meaning of Sein, eliminates
the Ontologische Differenz between Sein andSeienden in order to de-prioritize
certain mode of existence, with a kind of ontological politeness. Modes of
existence is a new organon to the analysis of modern life, and also one that

Morality. Technics. Fiction. the significance of the work of Simondon is that he has moved far beyond subject and object. The world became a bit populated: there is more vehicles moving in different forms”1. It is also this word “Mode of existence” on the one hand brings together Latour and Simondon to us since Simondon is a philosopher of the mode of existence instead of existence. among which we also find Reproduction. according to Latour one must employ a new dispostif called diplomatic. it allows us to go beyond the question of network in actor-network theory. network still seems to be the framework of the whole book2). while being polite and try to negotiate different terms. Reference. Instead it is necessary to re-articulate this specific mode of existence with other modes of existence. For Latour. of vehicle. Religion. Mode of Existences and Ontological Politeness How could one find an entrance to the question of “mode of existence”? Philosophy starts always with dialogue.revolt against the 20th century philosophy aiming a unified theory of existence. Now to enter the modes of existence. Politics. resisting esoteric temptations. Attachment. and Socrates has always been the model of such a tradition. for those who know the rest of my works. as Latour himself said in an interview with la vie des idées “what is complicated to understand. from . The task is no longer how “we have never been modern”. on the other hand. and more importantly when the like and dislike of Heidegger which still shadows the research in philosophy of technology. Hence Latour proposed to go back to an anthropology that starts with reflection on European modernity instead of starting with dialogues with others. but rather according to Latour it is an effort to complete the uniquely negative title – we have never been modern – “with a positive version this time of the same affirmation”3. meaning one should be aware of oneself. Latour wrote: “Simondon has grasped that the ontological question can be extracted from the search of substance. we want to ask what could this dialogue between Latour and Simondon be? How could us continue a fiction which was started by Latour? For Latour. it is that network is no longer the principle mode of driving.That is to say. Organization. maybe. network is only one mode of existence out of 15 different modes. Preposition and Double Click. Habit. Right. a project done 20 years ago. the most ancient mode of dialectics. Metamorphose. Now. Network can no longer alone monopolize the academic social research (by saying so. new position or preposition on the mode of existence allows us to open up the new field of philosophical investigation of the Moderns.

” Latour quoted a paragraph from Du Mode d’existence des objets techniques: This de-phasing of the mediation between figural characters and background characters translates the appearance of a distance between man and the world. instead of being a simple structuration of the universe.4 But then he continues abruptly: “yet Simondon remains a classical thinker. this commentary on Simondon is only a passage to the work of Étienne Souriau’s Les Différents modes d’existence. Simondon was trying to explain the relation between technics and religions. and the background reality expresses the power of nature.” Latour copied and pasted these paragraphs in numerous articles. then unfortunately fell back to the shadow of the “original unity and future unity”. and man a complete status as subject. it was Souriau but not Simondon who really showed us how can one affirm an ontological pluralism without falling back to the old and weak anthropological relativism and philosophical monism. In this passing [passe] in Latour’s own sense. But what does it really mean by this quote from Simondon? What does it mean by “this de-phasing of the mediation between figural characters and background characters translates the appearance of a distance between man and the world” and what would be the context of such a quote? If we allow ourselves a bit of patience. whereas before there was only the unity of the living thing and its milieu: objectivity and subjectivity appear between the living thing and its milieu. at a moment where the world does not yet have a full status as object. deducing his modes from each other in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Hegel…Multirealism turns out to be nothing more. Simondon was portrait as an original thinker who wasn’t able to break away from “classical philosophy”. making the technical object appear to be the primary object and divinity the primary subject.the fascination for particular knowledge. it becomes objective in the technical and subjective in religion. and be posed rather in terms of vector. in the end. The figural reality expresses the possibilities of human action in the world. Simondon was referring to the figure and background distinction as explained in Gestalt psychology. obsessed as he is by original unity and future unity. that originated from the incomparability between man and the world. between man and the world. takes on a certain density. figure and background were not fully . human world and nature. the seventh of the modes he sketched. And mediation itself. sees Simondon as the moment where subject and object. from the obsession for the bifurcation between subject and object. For Latour. than a long detour that brings him back to a philosophy of being. A society of magic.

What is indeed profound in Simondon’s concept of the mode of existence is that this tension or incompatibility has to be resolved constantly both in the process of individualization of technical objects. or his reading of Souriau. but a reality conditioned by many other factors. which is exactly dephasing in Simondon’s own vocabularies. industrial. while what signified by technical reality is not a single unity or a single phenomenon. Some commentators on Simondon such as Xavier Guchet sees the similarity of the approaches between Simondon and Souriau. If there is an unity in the thoughts of Simondon. As Guchet states for Simondon “unity of existence is not an unity of identity. god. or recollection. then biology. but rather “reality”. for Simondon. things. of unity composed of parts and united according to certain method of classification6. Simondon didn’t use often the word “realism”. of recollection from an situation of scattering[éparpillement]. especially the common word “modulation” they used to signify the internal transformation in being. without recurring to a phenomenological account. There is no unity of identity. there exists ‘espèce technique’. and quoted by Latour above. and what is human reality is actually always in tension with technical reality. it is rather more productively to think of analogies between different technical species. fictional beings. Any pursuit of stability is only an illusion.distinct. . It must revolt against the Kantian tradition and move towards a speculative realism without correlationism. and also individuation of living beings. though lets say such an illusion is also a mode of existence. It is also by the notion of incompatibility that one has to affirm the multiplicity of objects and their modes of existence. But it is also the result of the resolution of incomparability between human being and its milieu.We must recognize here that Simondon’s didn’t only talk about the mode of existence of technical objects. there is no peace for us. the unity described by Latour is only the possibility for incompatibility. the ontological pluralism/multi-realism must affirm the existence of phenomenon. Simondon doesn’t think that one can seize an object by its end. Indeed. and there hasn’t been a mode of existence called peace – the goal of some kind of all diplomatic activities. If it could be counted as the repetition of the gesture of classical philosophy in searching of an unity. For Latour. the theory of ontogenesis and individuation is also an inquiry into how different modes of existence interact with each other and and in constant process of evolution. physics and chemistry may also have to bear the same accusation. such as geographical. for example a pendulum clock and a cable winch 5. In other words. soul. an unity obtained by composition of part and according to a method of classification”7. then this unity is nothing other than tension and incompatibility.

etc. how can we think of the diode in your computer? Or lets take away the subject who speculates. and it is also rendered invisible by technical objects. we can find another commentary from Latour on Simondon. or leaving traces. the production of white boots and raincoats is conditioned by limitation of the research in material. except an abrupt assertion that seems a bit brutal. since on the one hand there is no technics without materialisation. And these modes of existences also account different level of visibility and invisibility. it is the heterogeneous actors in play with different values. . in fact they make technics opaque to us. In the book Enquête sur les Modes d’existence. which has been widely recognized in the study of technologies. proposed to look at the mode of existence of technics instead of the mode of existence of technical objects. Since technical objects don’t give us visibility. but at the same time. historical characters. especially the question of Besorgen. but he has to node his head anyway since there must be a politeness if one wants to be diplomatic. what we are using. Latour didn’t elaborate all these. etc. in which Latour praised Simondon. For example. and the profound structure of technicity. I would rather say compared to Latour’s proposal of going back to the “transcendence” of technics. you smile and say hi without shaking hand. One can probably find a similar concern from Heidegger. We are concernful beings and we always forget what is in front of us.Simondon shows a more concrete account of the levels of existence of technical objects: namely usage. Latour and Simondon are just like two acquaintances. on the other hand materialisation doesn’t assure visibility. especially Being which we are and in which we dwell: we are far away from what is closest to us. that is to say one cannot find identity or essence from eidos. The mode of existence of technics is only visible through technical objects. a diode that really exists in a black box even if you open the case of your computer and check every component? How can we think of Mercedes Benz. If we can translate into Latour’s own vocabularies. Latour thinks that it is impossible to find the technical mode of existence in objects themselves but rather technics itself. the visibility of certain colour in that environment.natural. how does the diode in your computer exist by itself. The section collected in the book is from his earlier article Prendre le Pli des techniques. For example. and it is the particular mode of existence of technical objects and technics. But this dialectic movement of visible and invisible seems to be a general tendency of all technical objects. and lack of ontological politeness – to certain extent. Latour was right that technics hides itself deeper than alétheia.

Harman further explained that this is certainly not the case for Latour.relation […]. it is one animated in advance by different ‘pre-individual’ zones that prevent the world from being purely homogeneous. Instead of a total lumpworld. without being reduced to question of transcendence and immanence? Be diplomatic without double-clicks Another Latourian commentary on Simondon comes indirectly from Graham Harman. that is one related to Deleuze. His actors are not blended together in a ‘continuous yet heterogeneous’ whole.individual’. defining a unified realm beneath experience that is not completely unified. his philosophy contains no such concept as ‘pre. In this way. it is the overlap between Reference and Network that bring forth this mode of existence: another fictional dialogue between Latour and Simondon in the regime of enunciation of Harman. and more specifically Simondon. if we can use Latour’s own vocabulary on the modes of existence. which takes place between heterogeneous dimensions.dividuated. maybe it is because Harman didn’t read Simondon since he relied on Alberto Toscano’s reading. Here we see another problem of not being . he hence has a rather vague idea of individuation. Among these monisms. Being is thus said to be more-than-one to the extent that all of its potentials cannot be actualized at once’. a world devoid of any specific realities at all8”. Speaking of the relational philosophy of Latour. but are basically cut off from one another. and this thankfully entails that his relationism is less radical than it is for philosophies of the virtual (note that Latour’s rare flirtations with monism seem to coincide with his equally rare flirtations with the term ‘virtual’). ‘whilst [preindividual being] is yet to be in. if we now count how much Deleuze has taken from the concept of individuation of Simondon.” As Alberto Toscano describes Simondon’s position. is nevertheless also a sort of non. In contrary to the single lump universe. Simondon like DeLanda wants the world to be both heterogeneous and not yet parcelled out into individuals. This preindividual relationality. [it] can already be regarded as affected by relationality. specific realities lead a sort of halfhearted existence somewhere between one and many9. this monism “try to enjoy the best of both worlds.dividual from the start. Harman compared it with kinds of monism that supposes “a single lump universe. forces or energetic tendencies. Harman found one peculiar one. since “his actors are fully in. There is no continuum for Latour despite his relationism.” In fact.the different models that nevertheless associate with the brand name Mercedes Benz? When are are visible to us and invisible to us.

didn’t Simondon and Latour walk in parallel? Now if Actor-Network theory has to be re-articulated according to the modes of existence of the modern according to Latour. the remaining task is to re-situate network in the broader framework of the modes of existence. we must pay attention to the translation that is not necessarily diplomatic but sincere. with the word traduction. For him. sociology of translation. without process. not to generate an unity. but to affirm different realisms without a double click? In other words. it is calledla sociologie de la traduction. since we have to be diplomatic and polite. which can only be studied through individuation. it is simply a jump from one process to another. the individual cannot be reduced to itself. since according to the annotation of Latour’s Ebook. But lets be a bit careful here. But maybe we need to pay attention that. how to become a professional diplomate as Latour suggests? The fact that there are always individuals for Simondon. that is due the disagreement of word without looking into the content. These negotiations may allow us to peek into a more profound investigation on the modes of existence of Moderns. Each individual is not individual in itself. But isn’t Latour and Harmon’s reading of Simondon also such a double click? I am not rejecting Latour and Harman due to their double clicks on a button called “Simondon”. Latour distinguish it from translation.diplomatic enough. and I feel like a more productive dialogue is possible if we are able to negotiate like diplomates who try to translation different terms and requests into conditions and agreements. as Latour himself suggests. according to Simondon is the problem of the substantialism of sociology and psychology. individuals cannot be reduced. but individuals didn’t disclose us anything of operation or process. The question for us is how can we negotiate different ontologies. We must also note that this notion of translation is so important in Actor-Network theory. but always accompanied by the pre-individual. which is the potential and energetic that provide the motivation for individuation: it is a transindividual rather than an individual. . a concept according to Latour needs to be renewed in the inquiry into the mode of existence. meaning without transformation. the particular mode of existence he calls “Double Click” is a translation without traduction. Actor-Network. Taking individual as isolable individual or as part of collective. who sees further than Harman. For Simondon. but for Simondon. as well as Latour. there are different style of being diplomatic. And if actor-network aims to look into the complexity and the process of social phenomenon.

he himself wants to dissolve network into the question of the mode of existence. We wouldn’t be able to go through all these pairs in details. some of you shaking head. the volume of my voice. but I am not an individual to you as a total other. but they are the pre-individual for me as a transindividual as Simondon proposed. it seems that one must not repeat what has happened in the history of the inquiry into existence. so that we can find ways to start a real negotiation – even though you may criticise this is also a double-click of some kind later.Note that it is a transindividual but not an individual. each individual exist. and for Simondon the milieu has to be socio-psychological and emo-affective. my ontologies. Of course. atransduction and not only a traduction. And I am observing you. What seems to me problematic is that actors as individuals – according to Harman – are too rigid. transduction is at the same time change and exchange that triggers transformation of structure. and we are thinking together. indeed 12+310 categories doesn’t seem to be much . at least you are thinking according to my voice. me. 2) Network – Milieu. 3)Relations – Affectivo-emotive/Socialpsychological. These are four pairs of beings: 1) Actor – Individual. Simondon is more persistent with trans-. some of you smiling. lets me outline a framework for such a dialogue. and here we can see again the possibility of reconstitute it in the concept of milieu. Instead of going into every mode of existence. many of you checking Facebook. This is not a simple defence for Simondon. like how Jorge Luis Borges made fun of Bishop John Wilkins’ ontology and the funny Chinese encyclopedia. since they deserve a work of its own. For an inquiry into the modes of existence is possible. There are many possibilities that is totally outside me. 4) Traduction – Transduction. I am speaking in front of you as an individual. You are listening to my demands. but in order to search the possibility of a dialogue that doesn’t dismiss each other in a double-click. and I must adjust my speech. We will see that how different modes of existences can hardly be classified into 15 categories and simple overlap between these categories could already bring us a lot of headaches. with your politeness. The network of Latour is too much into “international relations” due to its diplomatic nature. my tone. my perception of my speech and even myself. shows how Latour and Simondon’s interest in describing processes and operations can give us a synthetic reading of both. Latour. Here I can only offer a very brief detour. since it wouldn’t be fruitful to do so.Lets start and conclude with something lighter and more motivated and leave something heavier and more specific behind. it is also why Simondon was able to talk about an social-psychology of technicity. since you are listening to me.

477 . EMD. « Reflections on Etienne Souriau’s Les Modes d’existence ». Melbourne. Levi Bryant and Nick Srnicek The Speculative Turn Continental Materialism and Realism re.html 2Thanks to Jeremy James Lecomte and Markus Burkhardt for insisting on this point 3Latour.different from15 categories except when the “+” counts. de récollection à partir d’une situation d’éparpillement. une unité obtenue par composition de parties et selon une méthode de classification » 8Harman. www.fr/Le-diplomate-de-la-Terre. 23 4In Latour. but also style. EMO. Culture. then it is how a metaphysics departs from its history. MEOT (2012). 159 9ibid 10Latour. 35 7Ibid. p. pp. If we dare to take it a step further.press Australi. par Arnaud Esquerre & Jeanne Lazarus [18-09-2012]. 1Le diplomate de la Terre Entretien avec Bruno Latour.21 6Guchet. PUF. Aubier. not only in terms of content. technique et société dans la philosophie de Gilbert Simondon.laviedesidees. Australie 5Simondon. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. 304-333.2011. « l’unité de l’existence n’est pas une unité d’identité. Pour un humanisme technologique. in (edited by Graham Harman.