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Monday, 9 December 2013

The abundance of representations

One way of critiquing the view of knowledge as building an image of something already there is to criticize representations. In fact, the point of view according to which a subject tries to attain an object that pre-exists it is hostage to the Kantian image of a subject that can be fully cut off from the world. The monadological perspective contrasts with that not because it appeals to no representations, but rather because it postulates many of them. They are everywhere - there is no being without a representation attached to it. I believe this is also the case in Simondon's monadology without monads: a collection of relations account for a subject while another collection of relations account for an object. These relations host (and eventually perform) transductions. Information flow is such that the overall representation is no more than the assemblage of all the small representations, each relata does - like a string reflecting what is around it without taking into consideration the big picture emerging. Transduction is also an issue in calibration: living being, at least, are able to tune to the information flow so that they capture what they can and improve to get better at this. The evolution of the species is, according to Simondon, a giant endeavor in transduction. In fact, transduction is capture and not clausure - and it occupies the place of pre-established harmony in Leibniz's monadology. It is transduction that connects the different bits of the universe together - and they are all representation-rich.

I was thinking of Latour's picture that non-humans are brought in to a community by being (scientifically) researched. It is not about looking for a representation (let alone looking for the representation). It is rather about assembling the many representations that come together with actants that are either among humans or among non-humans. The assemblage of representation is capture - it is post-established harmony, as Latour says in Irréductions. So, science is not looking for an image but rather crafting deals and alliances among a plurality of representation devices. This abundance of representation could look weird if the monadological view is read in Deleuzian eyes, and indeed Deleuze's take was to actually completely dilute the notion of representation by emphasizing repetition and other elements that are also reminiscent of Simondon's transduction. But Latour, I take, gets his monadology from Tarde. Science, therefore, is looking at the best possible agreement between the actants - in terms of truth, correspondence meets consensus if we consider the non-human elements of the community. Within this community, it is a matter of what is politically possible.

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