2008 - 2021

(…) le sujet prend conscience de lui-même comme sujet en train de s’angoisser, de se mettre en question, sans pourtant parvenir à s’unifier de façon réelle. L’angoisse se reprend toujours elle-même et n’avance pas, ni ne construit, mais elle sollicite profondément l’être et le fait devenir réciproque par rapport à lui-même. Dans l’angoisse, l’être est comme son propre objet, mais un objet aussi important que lui-même; on pourrait dire que le sujet devient objet et assiste à son propre étalement selon des dimensions qu’il ne peut assumer. […] Le sujet, dans l’angoisse, sent qu’il n’agit pas comme il devrait, qu’il s’écarte de plus en plus du centre et de la direction de l’action; l’émotion s’amplifie et s’intériorise; le sujet continue à être, et à opérer une modification permanente en lui, pourtant sans agir, sans s’insérer, sans participer à une individuation. Le sujet s’écarte de l’individuation encore ressentie comme possible; il parcourt les voies inverse de l’être; l’angoisse est comme le parcours inverse de l’ontogénèse; elle détisse ce qui a été tissé, elle va à rebours dans tous les sens. L’angoisse est renoncement à l’être individué submergé par l’être préindividuel, et qui accepte de traverser la destruction de l’individualité allant vers une autre individuation inconnue. Elle est départ de l’être.

L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information by Gilbert Simondon, Grenoble: Éditions Jérôme Millon, coll. Krisis, 2005, pp. 255, 257.

The two pages Simondon wrote under the subtitle “L’angoisse” are very rich. Among the things worth noting are the following two propositions:

  • With anxiety (“angoisse”: see below for Jon Roffe’s remarks about this translation) the subject becomes it’s own object, writes Simondon. What kind of object is this? Modern science face a similar problem (I’m not arguing it’s an identical problem): the knowing subject becomes the object of knowledge. Humans started studying humans: psychology, sociology, communication studies, etc.

  • Anxiety has to do with the fragmentation of the subject who is unable to maintain or attain a stable unity (through individuation). Anxiety fractures the subject, breaks him into fragments, burst him asunder. This is also a typically modern theme: the fragmentation of experience, attention, community, etc. (see recently, for example, Age of Fracture by Daniel T. Rodgers, 2011).

• • •

The excerpt quoted here in its original French comes from L’individuation psychique et collective which constitutes the second part of Simondon’s main thesis titled L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information. The first part –L’Individu est sa génèse physico-biologique― was first edited as a separate book in 1964 and re-edited in 1995. Although Simondon defended his doctoral dissertation in 1958, a complete edition of his thesis was only publish in 2005. An English translation of his thesis is supposed to be under way.

Even though a full English translation isn’t yet available, an essay about Simondon’s views on anxiety (as “angoisse” was translated) is available online: from Parrhesia no. 7, see “The question of anxiety in Gilbert Simondon” by Igor Krtolica, tr. by Jon Roffe (2009, pp. 68-80, PDF)

Jon Roffe’s note about the translation of the French word “angoisse” into “anxiety” is particularly interesting:

Throughout, the word ‘anxiety’ and its cognates translate the various forms of the French angoisse. This word has a complex place in twentieth century French thought, playing an important role in both psychoanalysis and existentialism. We should note, then, that it bears an analogous range to the German Angst, which is of course at the root of both the Sartrean use of angoisse (whose heritage is Heidegger’s Angst) and the Lacanian deployment of Freudian concepts (to recall the title of a famous text, the 1926 “Hemmung, Symptom und Angst” is translated as “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety”). Unfortunately, as these examples illustrate, there is no single word in English to convey the full scope of the French. Furthermore, Simondon’s interest in angoisse cannot be reduced to either of these two earlier bodies of work, both of which he reserves critical remarks for. In addition to these concerns, the choice of ‘anxiety’ is meant to avoid the maudlin connotations of the English ‘anguish’, and to keep in line with the forthcoming translations of Simondon’s work. At the very least, we should be wary of reducing ‘anxiety’ as it is treated here in terms of any superficial or secondary affect, a point amply attested to by the author in this piece.

• • •

Previously: Werner Herzog’s Lost Penguin, 2007, Gilbert Simondon – Entretien sur la mécanologie.

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