05 September 2006

Interactive Individuation and the Relational Being of Individuals (UPDATED)

The further I get in Toscano's Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation Between Kant and Deleuze, the more excited I find myself becoming. This certainly has to be one of the finest books on Deleuze's account of actualization and it's central importance to a differential ontology (though it's about far more than that, ranging widely over Kant, Nietzsche, Peirce, interactionist theories of biological and cognitive development, Simondon, autopoiesis, systems theory, evolutionary theory, relational ontology, Simondon, etc), and benefits from an absence of the sort of superior and celebratory tone that marks so much scholarship on Deleuze (in this regard, it belongs to a tradition of work on Deleuze embodied in figures such as de Beistegui, Daniel W. Smith, DeLanda, Badiou, and Hallward that all creatively work with Deleuze in their own ways without strictly being Deleuzians or atrophying themselves in the Deleuzian corpus; nor is this text yet another repetitive dictionary of Deleuzian concepts such as "nomad", "multiplicity", "line of flight", that fetishize a particular lexicon without genuinely working through a problem. All of these thinkers write on Deleuze in a workmanly fashion not simply to give a scholarly account of his thought, or be Deleuzians, but critically and so as to pose a specific set of problems, thinking with Deleuze rather than being dogmatic Deleuzians). Although Toscano's prose is often turged and dense (the book really should have been four times its length and spent far more time defining terms and issues he's drawing from various philosophers and debates, nor do I think these issues are purely stylistic), Toscano nonetheless does an excellent job formulating the importance of the problem of individuation, and clarifies a number of issues I've obsessively been revolving around.

The central problem that Toscano grapples with is that of how the actualization of individuals is possible from a preindividual field, which requires us to draw a rigorous distinction between the individuation (that accounts for the process of this emergence) and the constituted individual. Drawing on a spatial metaphor (which isn't a very good idea with Deleuze), a preindividual field should be thought somewhat literally as a field. That is, the preindividual is not thinglike, nor an object, but is a field of potentialities that come to be actualized in the individual but which share no resemblance to the individual. Deleuze will refer to such a field as a problem, multiplicity, or Idea, and the individual is the resolution of this problem. Potentialities do not belong to individuals, but rather individuals belong to the field of potentialities out of which they emerge (like the wine that expresses all of the different elements in the ground, the weather, the rain, the air, etc., that produced its grapes).

The battle cry here is that the individual is not the individuation, and that if we focus on the individual in seeking a principle of individuation, we are doomed to miss it as we will look at innate or constitutional elements in the thing itself, not the process by which it emerged through resolving a series of disparities and tensions in the preindividual field (insofar as the genetic conditions of an individual-- it's field or "theatre" of production do not resemble the individual itself). In thinking individuation is a "theatre", we are invited to draw our attention away from atomistic or isolated individuals with innate tendencies and qualities defining dispositions, but rather the stage of a play where disparate elements interact and are problematized in relation to one another. Deleuze often uses the term "complication" to describe these syntheses of disparity and their resolutions, which evokes, in my mind, the pseudo-homonym co-implication. Indeed, Deleuze and Toscano both argue that being emerges from disparity, inequality, or difference in itself, and that the actualized individual is a synthesis and resolution of these inequalities in new qualities, species, and parts.

On the one hand, this problematic allows us to depart from the old hylemorphic model of individuation, that sees the individual as a synthesis of matter and form, but which prevents us from seeing what precisely matter contributes to this individuation and which leads us to look at the properties of an actualized individual as innate dispositions in the individual itself rather than results of interaction with a field (Deleuze will argue that individuals of all kinds are signal-sign systems in that they maintain relations of resonance to their field of preindividual potentiality as a source of new individuations and the environment or field in which they emerge, thereby perpetually "communicating" in their process of unfolding individuation); while on the other hand, this approach allows us to see individuals, beings, or entities as a ongoing, processual, creative solutions to a positively defined problematic field, or what Toscano calls a "theatre of production", emphasizing the interactive and relational nature of the process of individuation, or how it cannot be thought in atomistic terms. From the standpoint of differential ontology (Deleuze, Badiou), such an account is necessary in that, beginning from the stance of multiplicity as ontologically primitive, we require some account of how we can get from multiplicity to actuality such that unified beings are seen as effects, products, or results, rather than origins. That is, we are invited to see the individual or unity as emerging from difference, rather than the same. Toscano will use the beautiful expression hetero kath hetero, rather than auto kath auto, to signify this shift... Difference producing difference rather than the same producing the same (as in the case of the form of the Good producing instances of the good).

One of the major results of Toscano's account of individuation, is that individuals are no longer to be conceived as independent atoms, but as complex networks of relations. As Toscano puts it,
When Peirce objects that Scotus remains too nominalistic, he is referring precisely to the way that the processual character of habit allows us to bridge and dissolve the distinction between universals and their singular instantiations, by considering these universals as nothing more than large-scale regularities and their 'instantiations' as nested regularities, themselves held together by networks of habitual relations. In the final analysis, laws or universals are but the evolutionary results of the stabilization of relations, and individuals the hardened-- but nevertheless provisional --nodes of these relations. ...[I]f we consider individuals themselves as habitual systems or relational nodes, as opposed to discrete atomized entities, we can see how their potentiality, while constrained by relation, can never be delimited. In other words, potentiality cannot be removed from the becoming of the relations which make up the irreversable and continuous dynamics of cosmogony. (128)
Individuals are thus not to be thought in isolation, but as developing in a field that exceeds them and of which they are local resolutions. Nor is there one thing, Laws/Universals, and another thing, Individuals, of which the latter are instances of the former, individuated only by matter. Rather, in a manner reminiscent of DeLanda's arguments about biological kinds, there are only individuals of larger and smaller scales, where natural kinds or demes such as a species are just largescale individuals defined by population inter-relations that could undergo subsequent differentiation through geographical separation or other events. A Law is just a largescale habit that lesser scaled individuals happen to be interwoven with, but which could change given the right circumstances. Put in terms of category theory (here and here), individuals are to be thought as bundles of "arrows" presiding over processes of continuous and ongoing individuation.

According to Toscano, the relational nature of processes of individuation are to be thought along four axes: 1) the non-relation of dispartion or energetic and material tensions between incompatable tendencies (an entity or individual is a resolution or equalization of these local tensions, which preside over the process of actualization as pre-individual potentialities functioning as a sort of motor or engine of individuation), 2) the relation between an individuation and its environment, which makes every individuation double or co-individuation (there is no individuation apart from an environment, which problematizes some major theses of systems and autopoietic theory, as while autopoietic theory acknowledges that the system/environment distinction is fundamental, it argues that the system unilaterally constitutes its own environment, rather than accounting for how the two emerge together and how we cannot locate determination unilaterally in one or the other-- pace autpoietic theory's fetish for the internal organization of systems or their closure), 3) the internal relation between an individual and its preindividual component, those unresolved differences that it carries along with it and which are periodically resolved by its continual individualization, and 4) the processual relation between a structured germ of individuality and the metastable domain which it structures by propogating or transducing itself (frankly I'm a bit unclear as to how 1, 3, and 4 differ from one another, as they all strike me as variations on the same point) (140). In light of these claims, the individual is not to be conceived as a fixed thing (as the representational view would have it in approaching the individual from the outside and the standpoint of demands made by cognition), but rather as an event and ongoing process between. As such, we must think the between of ongoing process in thinking what appears as unity and separation. For instance, the fundamental fantasy in psychoanalysis might be thought as the way in which a subject perpetually reproduces itself by relating to the Other in a specific way, as in the case of "self-fulfilling processes", where our expectations about the Other come to be confirmed by provoking the Other to relate to us in a particular way.

Later on Toscano goes on to argue compare this account of individuation with a position in biological theory referred to as "constructivist interactionism". As Hendriks-Jansen puts it,

Dynamical systems theory has made it possible to conceive of complex behaviour as arising interactively from the structure of the environment in conjunction with the creatures internal dynamics. We no longer need heirarchically organized planning systems to explain intricate temporal structure. A natural creature's behaviour does not need to be preplanned. It does not have to exist as an abstract internal representation in the creature's head before it is 'executed'. The complex structure can emerge as and when it happens from the dynamic coupling between an organism and its environment. (quoted in Toscano, 148)

Situated in terms of the so-called nature/nurture debate, the thesis here is that the specific nature of the individual is not a result of its genetic blueprint or internal constitution, nor of its environment, but of an interaction between the two, producing a result that couldn't be anticipated by examining one or the other alone or in isolation and that always has a creative dimension of novelty. For instance, there is no specific gene that transforms one into a serial killer; rather one and the same gene could just as easily produce a merciless corporate businessman. It is the interaction of these elements that is continuously produced in ongoing processual interactions, entailing that individuation doesn't have an ongoing result but is perpetually ongoing. Similar claims could be made about oppositional binaries such as the relation between the individual and society, or in Lacanian terms the subject and the Other. As Toscano puts it, "[t]he interactionist position affirms instead that the modelling of the operations of individuation, and of the manner in which each and every time they bring hetereogeneous interactants together, means that any single condition of individuation-- for instance, the gene within biological development --is necessary but necessarily not sufficient" (149).

I find the thesis of interactionism extremely attractive as it promises to undermine any sort of heirachical accounts of morphogenesis, functioning from the "top-down" or the "bottom-up", such as we find in organicism (where the organism as a whole determines its parts), genetic determinism, Lacanian or Althusserian determinism in and through the determinism of the signifier or ideology, Platonic realism, Aristotlean hylemorphism, etc. Rather, interactionism instead offers an account where we're invited to think elements and individuals producing themselves creatively and in unexpected ways in and through their ongoing interaction, without their being isolable terms dominating other terms. We are here invited to think a universal co-implicatio of immanent horizontal relations, perpetually resolving new individuations and actualizations. However, it seems to me that such interactionism suggests an account of individuation different from that presented by Deleuze and Simondon in their discussions of the relationship between pre-individual fields and actualized individuals. If we can think individuals as ongoing processes of interaction within one another where they're simultaneously producing and being co-produced by those terms with which they relate, why do we need the preindividual or virtual at all? Might we not just think of individuals as being produced through their (inter)activity as ongoing processes in a perpetual presence, without making reference to the preindividual? What is it that the preindividual adds to this account?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks for yet another fascinating post, Levi.

I can easily share your enthusism about the theory of constructivist interactionism in the whole discussion about individuation. This is indeed not only an appealing thought process but also an observable one.

You are also right in asking:

Might we not just think of individuals as being produced through their (inter)activity as ongoing processes in a perpetual presence, without making reference to the preindividual? What is it that the preindividual adds to this account?

What the preindividual adds, I suppose, is the satisfaction (or need) of vertical causality. Bottom-up thinking. Like a plant.

But have you thought about the similarity between constructivist interactionism and Deleuze's concept of the machine?

His "machine" = life is nothing more than its connections, it is not made by anything, is not for anything and has no closed identity. It continually creates itself only through its connections with other machines.

That was my first association. Can you help me out here and discuss it further?

Thanks again,

Orla Schantz

September 05, 2006 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How might time factor? I am thinking of the concept of states - an individual being a specific state definition during a process of becoming/evolving/moving over and through time.

A simple example: infant, childhood, adolescence, adult - these are individuation states - yes, there is no point in time where we clearly state "this is now an adult". Does it make sense to say pre-child, pre-adult, etc., as a way of identifying characteristics expected at certain point?

In this way (as Orla mentions) preindividual is teleologic - the state is already determined - but is there an aspect of non-determination or a potential to become something different?

Again, as a function of time, if you get too close to the state it is predetermined, if you go too far away there are too many alternatives, there is some point in between where potential lies.

September 05, 2006 12:49 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Orla, Yusef makes a similar suggestion below in his most recent response to my post on "Deleuze's Two Conceptions of the Virtual", pointing out that Deleuze doesn't evoke the category of the virtual in _A Thousand Plateau_. Although Deleuze continues to employ the category of the virtual after ATP, I'm nonetheless highly sympathetic to his suggestion and am moving in a similar direction myself. Deleuze's discussion of the orchid and the wasp, for instance, seems to allude to a form of machinic synthesis that is interactive and which emerges only in the actual. This is the direction that I would like to go in. The one caveat is that I would like to avoid the claim that everything is a system, taking into account the findings of complexity theory that help us to conceptualize an emergence from the a-systematic to the systematic (as in the work of Stuart Kauffman in biology).

I take it that Deleuze sees the category of the virtual as vital for two reasons: 1) In order to explain creative evolution, we need to demonstrate how matter possesses the dimension of *memory* so as to preserve forms of relation that can then be built upon. This is the only way to explain recursive evolution (where new emergences become elements that must also be adapted to) and avoid mechanistic materialism (where we are left unable to explain how an organization maintains itself across time). Can we explain this preservation in memory along the lines of the purely actual, in terms of systems that perpetually reproduce themselves from moment to moment?

2) The virtual names the category of potentiality. Matter contains forms of potential energy that while not active, can nonetheless be activated under the right conditions, leading to new individuations. Freud, for instance, discusses an idea similar to this in relation to his concept of "nachtraglichkeit" or retroactive causality. According to Freud, events in and of themselves are not traumatic, but only retroactively become traumatic in terms of a second event that activates the first event. Here Freud gives the example of a very young girl fondled by a shop owner. This initial experience doesn't create the trauma and subsequent phobia. Rather, it's not until the girl experiences a similar event in a store while going through puberty, that the prior event becomes activated in the psychic system and generates her phobia of going into shops alone. How are we to explain something like a potentiality that is present in a system without being active? Virtuality names this dimension. We might also think of something like potential energy as an energy that is latent in a system, like a pine cones in the American southwest that require fire to activate their individuating potentials that preside over the individuation of new pine trees in the wake of a forest fire.

Pebird, I think this partially responds to your questions. The preindividual refers to a field of potentials that aren't deterministic, but which can be actualized in a variety of different ways depending on the fields in which they're activated. The categories you refer to (infant, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc) would be rejected by the interactionist, as the path an individuation takes no longer depends on the entity alone, but on the entity in an interactive field or set of relations with the world around it. As a result, entities that have one and the same internal constitution can be individuated in radically different way depending on the problematic field to which they belong and with which they relate. At some point I'm going to have to give a more precise discussion of the idea of "problematic field", as there's a tendency to raise these questions in terms of atomistic individuals, and not individuals in complex sets of relations.

September 05, 2006 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to "INTERACTIONIST theories of biological and cognitive development" there's also the INTERACTIVIST manifesto of Mark Bickhard and others. They prefer INTERACTIVIST because INTERACTIONIST has too many medieval connotations. Bickard has a wealth of high-quality texts available at http://www.lehigh.edu/~mhb0/pubspage.html

Glad to hear that Toscano has worked Peirce and Deleuze together. Talk about ridiculous book prices. I just ordered Samuel Butler's LIFE & HABIT for $16 (published by Kessinger in 2004) while IndyPublish.com (2006) is trying to sell a paperback version of this 196-page book for $50 and a hard-cover version for nearly $100!

September 06, 2006 7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi Levi,

i've been thinking about the virtual some more, while at the same time working my way through badiou's _being and event_, and, with set theory on my mind, came up with a few ideas. (these might appear somewhat naive considering that badiou has written a book on deleuze and i haven't read it).

first of all, let's posit that the virtual is a logical category. following deleuze, the elementary symbol of this category is that of 'dx', which we can call a function of the variable 'x'. we can assume any of the standard languages of first-order logic here and remark that the variable, but not the function, is primitive in the vocabulary of this language.

next, given that the symbol 'dx' purportedly denotes an infinitely minute portion of 'x', a set-theoretical based semantics of the virtual must depend on the axiom of infinity. without this axiom we would have no recourse to affirming that the category of the virtual means something or that there is a 'there is' or reality to the virtual. furthermore, insofar as an infinite set is distinct from a finite set, the virtual is indeed distinct from the local, finite numberings of its actualizations.

an infinite set is not an individual, but rather contains--virtually contains--any number of individuals or possible individuations. so it is non-individual. is it pre-individual? that is to say, does the infinite 'precede' the finite numberings or individuations within it? in a sense, yes, because the only other existential axiom of set theory besides that of infinity, the axiom of the void-set, can actually be derived from the axiom of infinity. that is to say, when the axiom of infinity is assumed we have the means to construct any ordinal sequence whatsoever. in other words, actualization derives from the virtual, and can be understood as actualization *of* the virtual.

so when you ask whether the virtual or pre-individual 'adds' anything to the deleuzian account, i would say YES, it adds everything!

September 06, 2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks for the links, Mark! Things are a bit hectic here and I'm in the midsts of writing an article on Badiou and Zizek, so I haven't been able to get to your articles yet. I hope to soon.

Bobo, interesting remarks. The Badiou book on Deleuze is short and well worth the read. Generally Badiou is strongly hostile to Deleuze's concept of the virtual (he provides a very different account of how consistent multiplicities are formed, which I find to be deeply inadequate), but he also tends to equate the virtual with Bergson's cone of memory, ignoring Deleuze's discussions of preindividual singularities. Toscano proposes the following in response: "...if we are concerned with looking
beyond the constituted individualities which are the
province of represention to the productive tendencies that they express, we cannot rest content with a turn towards an abstract impersonal ground. Instead we need to focus on individuations and preindividual singularities, on the speeds and affects that dramatize the virtual ideas and produce actual entities and their correlative space-times. Univocity should accordingly be recast in terms of a concept of ontogenesis that refuses any transcendence, emancipated from its excessive dependence on the abstract postulate of a virtual totality that both enfolds and neutralizes the production of actualities. It is THIS concept of THE Virtual (and not of ideas as virtual multiplicities) that results in the derealization or indetermination of the actual identified by Badiou" (194).

I'm entirely in agreement with his strategy of severing Deleuze's concept of the virtual from Bergson's account of the virtual and seeking to present a genesis of temporal rhythms and spatial extensities themselves on the basis of the virtual (which is a direction Deleuze himself already moves towards in chapter five of DR anyway). Not only does such a move undermine Badiou's criticisms of the incoherence of the virtual, but it has the advantage of avoiding the Eckhartian/Plotinusian mysticism Deleuze sometimes moves in when discussing the virtual whole of memory-- "the philosopher and the pig, the criminal and the saint all contribute to one and the same indivisible song. Each one chooses his pitch or his tone, perhaps his words, but the tune is certainly the same, and under all the words, in every possible tone, and in every pitch, the same tra-la-la" (DR, 83-4). It's impossible not to hear the mystics in passages such as these.

September 07, 2006 6:45 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Bobo, It's also worth pointing out that unlike Deleuze's intensive multiplicities, there's nothing qualitative about Badiou's inconsistent multiplicities, which makes it difficult to think them together with Deleuze's preindividual fields. I tried to get at this in my discussion of Hegel's dialectic of quantum, with regard to intensive (Deleuze) and extensive magnitudes (Badiou), though without a great deal of clarity. I find Badiou's account of inconsistent multiplicities productive in thinking being as infinite dissemination without One, which I see as following from Nietzsche's death of God or Lacan's proclamation that the big Other does not exist, and as giving a formal demonstration of this principle via the power-set axiom, and Cantor's and Russell's paradoxes.

September 07, 2006 6:51 AM  
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