Internal Resonance, or Three Steps Towards a Non-Viral Becoming – Mark Hansen

In the first of his dialogues with Claire Parnet, Gilles Deleuze describes what he calls the ‘pick-me-up’ or ‘pick-up’ procedure, ‘a procedure of drawing lots or a single chance which combines the heterogeneous elements’ (Deleuze 1987, 11). Deleuze insists on differentiating this procedure from the cut-up method of William Burroughs to which it clearly owes some debt: in the pick-up, Deleuze suggests, ‘there is no cutting, folding, or turning down, but multiplications according to the growing dimensions’ (18). In his description, Deleuze goes on to underscore two elements of Burroughs’s cut-up that distinguish it from the pick-up, and not incidentally, mark the fundamental limitations of the cut-up as technique of invention or source of creativity: first, it is a method of probabilities rather than a game of chance; and second, it happens between persons rather than between ideas. Together, Deleuze contends, these limitations prevent the cut-up from carrying out a ‘double theft’ or ‘a-parallel evolution,’ involving two (or more) terms, ‘each one being deterritorialized in the other, following a line or lines which are neither in one nor the other, and which carry off a ‘bloc” (18).

Not insignificantly, these two limitations just happen to coincide with the boundaries of what has come to be called cybernetics: in Claude Shannon’s original mathematical theory of communication, and also in developments of Shannon’s theory beyond the narrow technical domain, communication or information exchange became quantifiable through the probabilistic definition of information (likelihood of a message being inversely related to its rarity or information value) and the informational exchange was theorized as involving two (in Shannon’s case, admittedly thin) persons or ‘person-positions,’ a sender and a recipient.[2] Insofar as they open up this general coincidence, Deleuze’s objections serve to expose and untangle several interconnected elements animating Burroughs’ cut-up (and related fascination with organic viral theories) – and also, per force, his own biophilosophy (both alone and with Guattari) – that bear on the nexus of energy, information, and bodies which will be the focus of this paper. These elements include: 1) the complicity, whether intended or accidental, of Burroughs’ method (and the virology to which it is closely tied) with Shannon’s information theory; 2) the possibility, implied in Deleuze’s critique of Burroughs, for a theory of becoming that is, in some important sense, post-cybernetic; 3) the necessity (or non-necessity) of the body as the site for becoming; 4) the articulation of information with entropy (and its correlative dis-articulation with meaning); and 5) the systems-theoretical or recursive basis of agency (re)conceptualized as process or emergence.

In what follows, these elements will be variously recombined in a cumulative processing aimed at generating a model of endosymbiotic becoming that I shall call (appropriating philosopher Gilbert Simondon’s term) ‘internal resonance.’ This model, it is important to state at the outset, breaks with Burroughs’ and Deleuze’s virology (at least) to the extent that it foregrounds the body (though in a sense that remains to be determined) as central to a systemic or recursive ontogenetic process which correlates, in the philosophical register, to what Simondon has conceptualized as ‘mediation’ or ‘individuation’ and, in the biological register, to what Lynn Margulis has theorized as ‘symbiogenesis.’ The processural articulation of this model will proceed through three major recombinations and will, in each case, explore a dominant problematic. These are: 1) an analysis of Burroughs’ conceptualization of language as virus aimed at explaining why Burroughs finds himself compelled, by the informational basis he reads into the organic theories he appropriates, to pathologize the virus; 2) an exploration of Deleuze’s (and D+G’s) theorization of a viral becoming centered on demonstrating how their positing of an autonomous domain of molecular involution allows them to de-pathologize the virus and transform it into a privileged agent of molecular becoming; and 3) an exposition of Simondon’s conception of individuation designed to counter D+G’s viral becoming by foregrounding the systemic correlation of divergent orders of magnitude (the molecular, the molar, and the in-between) that operates the process of individuation as an actualization of a metastable tension. Animating the in-between connecting these three major recombinations are two minor recombinations, or, perhaps more precisely, two recombinatory-movements, one concerning what we will call the ‘body,’ the other, what we will call ‘internal resonance.’ These movements, respectively, are from an actual, either-or viral fatalism to a virtual, both-and symbiogenesis, and from a lethal association of information with thermodynamic entropy to a generative or self-organizing coupling of information with metastability.

I. Virus as Anti-Information: William Burroughs

Latent in Deleuze’s two criticisms of the cut-up is a suggestion that Burroughs’ method founders on a double bind: either it isn’t sufficiently systemic or else it isn’t truly molecular. To the extent that it takes place between persons, it potentially involves the complexity of a bio-existential (or what Maturana and Varela call a ‘structural’) coupling[3]; but to achieve this complexity, it must validate the level of organization, and thus compromise the flexibility or transversality of the molecular becoming. To the extent that it concerns probabilities, it potentially recognizes the force of molecular processes (although in a manner that remains, by definition, ignorant of particular microstates[4]); but in the process, it functionalizes chance in a way that compromises, from the start, the possibility for any real becoming or creative involution between the two (or more) systems it couples.

Far from being a merely external imposition of one philosophy on another, this trade-off between systematicity and molecularity can be said to shape the development of Burroughs’ conceptualization of the virus from his early (pre-1959) appropriation of the organic theories of Count Korzybski and Wilhelm Reich to his later (post-1959) engagement with the cellular menace that is L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetic Demon’ and the larger ‘Reactive Mind’ whose viral agent it is.[5] In his brilliantly nuanced account of this development, Douglas Kahn differentiates these two phases in terms of the specific viral forms they generate: the usurper virus, in the former case; the mutated virus, in the latter.

According to Kahn, the usurper virus was associated with – or more exactly, resulted from – the fusion of two bodies, both equally resonant with the General Semantics of Korzybski and the orgone theory of Reich.[6] The first body was the protoplasmic body: the ‘largely undifferentiated gelatinous body derived from . . . colloidal, protoplasmic, and amebic figures’ (Kahn 1999, 294). Central to this body was its simultaneous existence at various levels: subperceptual or cellular, corporeal, and societal. In it, as in the theories from which it derives, ‘discrete materiality and boundaries between and among inorganic and organic matter, between sites of physiological and psychological functioning, a body and its cellular constituents, bodies and their environment, were diminished by the pervasive flow and exchange of energies and the consequent prioritization of function over location’ (294-5). The second body emerged from the cross-fertilization of this first body with the ‘functional energies of the organism . . . driven purely by need’ and, no doubt, all too familiar to Burroughs from his own experience with heroin addiction.[7] The resulting schlupping body was the product of this cross-fertilization, the ‘total osmotic ingestion or fusion of one body by another,’ and also, incidentally, the initial source of the virus as a governing metaphor in Burroughs’s work. Initially figured in the ideal of homosexual love – ‘a desire to merge with a love,’ to ‘be the other person'[8] – schlupping quickly became pathologized as it took on the role of viral infection: the role, that is, of ingesting (and thus annihilating) the protoplasmic host.

Itself the product of viral mutation – of language as virus and, more immediately, of the viral ‘memetology’ of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics – the mutated virus transforms the viral metaphor into a literal viralogy, introducing into Burroughs’ thought both the virus proper and the proper domain of the viral. ‘[F]rom its generally undifferentiated state and mode of functioning,’ Kahn notes, the virus ‘quickly became highly differentiated, technically determinant, increasingly virulent, and widespread. It operated through particular actions; its transmission could be produced articulately through the contagion of actual communication, not just ingestion. Its usurpative functions ceased to mimic schlupping bodies and instead were deployed at the microbial scale that was the proper site of the virus all along‘ (295, emphasis added). Kahn notes an accumulation of concomitant causes – Burroughs’ shift from struggling writer to full-fledged literary professional, his engagement with Hubbard’s work (and specifically Hubbard’s pathologization of Korzybski’s theory), ‘background radiation from atomic and nuclear detonation,’ and the proliferation of communications technologies – all of which support, and indeed overdetermine, a shift from ‘the sex and junk associations of the usurper virus to the language-based proclivities of the mutated virus’ (296). But what is most striking about this smorgasbord of filiative causes is the association between the molecularization of the virus and the linguistic ontology that it yields: Burroughs appears to have grasped the deep interrelation of molecular processes and coding that has since become the basis of contemporary biology and genetics.[9]

That Burroughs made this connection at least a decade before the molecular revolution testifies at least as much to the influence of his cultural milieu (what Kahn refers to as his marked interest in the ‘culture of fact'[10]) as it does to his personal pathology and what we might still call his literary genius. Specifically, I want to suggest, it reveals a certain conceptual or theoretical debt to first-wave cybernetics, and most proximately, to Claude Shannon’s mathematical theory of information.[11] This debt is, at best, only obliquely signaled in Kahn’s synopsis of Burroughs’s shifting virology:On this newly broadened basis of disease [i.e., Hubbard’s Dianetics] Burroughs’s virus began to function through specific means, returning to operate at its appropriate miniature scale and developing the capacity for language, one lodged securely within a relationship with communications technologies. Most important, whereas the usurper virus could render another entity nonexistent by ingestion into one body or circumvent otherness altogether by reproducing external replicants, the mutated virus existed parasitically as another body inside the organism . . . . (296)

What these references to ‘communications technologies’ and ‘reproducing external replicants’ obliquely signal – the understanding of the virus as internal replication – needs to be brought to light and correlated with its implicit, culturally-sedimented source in Shannon’s technical theory of information.

Everything we need to bring out this correlation can be found in a remarkable passage from Nova Express, ‘Technical Disposition of the Virus Power.’ Here Burroughs (or rather, Burroughs-Sommerville[12]) sketches a viral theory of information, introduced as a Nova strategy to parasite human beings, that is significant for several reasons, not least of which is its role in effecting Burroughs’s molecularization of the virus:We first took our image and put it into code. A technical code developed by the information theorists. This code was written at the molecular level to save space, when it was found that the image material was not dead matter, but exhibited the same life cycle as the virus. This virus released upon the world would infect the entire population and turn them into our replicas, it was not safe to release the virus until we could be sure that the last groups to go replica would not notice. To this end we invented variety in many forms, variety that is of information content in a molecule, which, enfin, is always a permutation of the existing material. Information speeded up, slowed down, permutated, changed at random by radiating the virus material with high energy rays from cyclotrons, in short we have created an infinity of variety at the information level, sufficient to keep so-called scientists busy for ever exploring the ‘richness of nature.’ It was important all this time that the possibility of a human ever conceiving of being without a body should not arise. Remember that the variety we invented was permutation of the electromagnetic structure of matter energy interactions which are not the raw material of nonbody experience. (Burroughs 1964, 49, all but final emphases added)

In this passage – a veritable tour de force of pseudo-scientific quasi-science – Burroughs advances three (at least partially) incompatible theses that bear directly on the ‘nature’ of information.

First, Burroughs viralizes what is, at bottom, a technical or mathematical definition of communication: with his fiction of a technical code for image written at the molecular level and possessed of viral, or self-replicating, power, Burroughs reproduces or perpetuates the formalism of Shannon’s understanding of information as a function of the probability distribution of message elements.[13] It is for this reason that the capacity for the information virus ‘to infect the entire population and turn them into . . . replicas’ does not depend on anything other than its code: just as information defined as inversely proportional to its probability of occurrence[14] depends only on the ensemble of possible messages within a closed system, the virus has the power to self-replicate everywhere irregardless of the structure of the host (or, in the informational paradigm, the receiver). More simply put, in the case of the virus as in the case of technical information (in Shannon’s sense), what is at issue is a closed circuit of communication; in this closed circuit, the transmission of a message from sender to receiver (virus to host) is exclusively a technical affair culminating in the replication of the message sent in the mind of the receiver (which means, in effect, that a presumption of its success is always already written into it).[15] It is for this reason that Burroughs can identify human beings with recording machines of various sorts, from magnetic-tape recorders to film cameras.[16] Thus, the first thesis: viral contagion is simply the communication of information defined in the technical sense of Shannon, with the proviso that in replicating itself in the receiver-host, it replaces (and hence destroys) a part of that host.[17]

By generalizing this transformative appropriation of the technical definition of information, Burroughs goes on to adopt what amounts to a heretical position on the fraught issue of the correlation between information and entropy – a position that will generate his second and third theses on information. This heretical position can be discerned from what he has to say regarding ‘variety’ in the passage cited above. As he defines it, variety results from the conversion of energy into information: it is by ‘radiating the virus material with high energy rays from cyclotrons’ that informational variety is generated. While it is clear thatthis position correlates information with energy, in order to understand exactly how it does so – and thus, why I have characterized it as ‘heretical’ – we need to turn to debates internal to the history of information theory, and specifically to the debate about the function of noise within the communicational circuit.

As Hayles reminds us, in his commentary on Shannon’s famous paper – a commentary designed in part to open Shannon’s technical dimension to issues of semantics and efficacy – Warren Weaver proposes to supplement Shannon’s circuit diagram with several ‘minor additions,’ one of which is the imposition of a box labelled ‘semantic noise’ between the information source and the transmitter.[18] This imposition underscores Weaver’s insight that, as Hayles recounts, the maximum quantity of information is conveyed by a message able to balance between the expected and the unexpected, the probable and the improbable. In other words, Weaver saw that noise could, if balanced against redundancy, become a valuable and important source of information. Here, as Hayles points out, Weaver’s interests parted company with Shannon’s in a way that would become significant for the subsequent development of ‘semantic noise’: whereas Shannon’s engineering focus restricted his model to factors intrinsic to the communicational circuit, Weaver’s concerns dictated that the receiver’s knowledge be introduced as a factor in communication. Accordingly, Weaver was compelled to reinterpret the role of ‘noise’ beyond its limited and purely formal function within Shannon’s circuit. To do so, he transformed Shannon’s understanding of noise as information unintended by the sender – or what Shannon called ‘equivocation’ – into a (potentially) productive addition to the message.[19] What for Shannon was an unequivocally undesirable structural by-product of the communication circuit became, in some instances at least, a desirable or positive source of information.

This potentially productive role of noise was theorized by the French information scientist Henri Atlan in terms of a distinction between systemic levels. Atlan realized that Shannon’s ‘expression for ambiquity in a channel’ (i.e., equivocation) ‘has two different meanings according to whether one is interested in the information transmitted in the channel or in the information transmitted to the observer from a whole system in which the channel is part of a redundant communication network’ (Atlan 1974, 295, emphasis added). This distinction led Atlan to differentiate between two opposed effects of noise on the information content of a system or, more concisely, between two sides of ambiguity (equivocation): ‘destructive’ and ‘autonomy-producing,’ leading to decrease and increase in information content, respectively. Destructive ambiguity interferes negatively with a message in the channel while autonomy-producing ambiguity catalyzes self-organization of a larger system of which this channel is a part. Hayles captures the intrinsic complicity or parallelism between these two sides of ambiguity in her invocation of different observational perspectives[20]: ‘How an ‘autonomy-producing’ equivocation is seen depends on where the observer is stationed. If she is inside the channel, the equivocation is an interference, for within this frame of reference one is interested only in the message. If she is outside the channel, however, she can see the effect on the system as a whole’ (56).

Now to get back to the point at hand here – Burroughs’s heretical correlation of information and entropy – we need to understand how Atlan’s work itself articulates Shannon’s positive (though metaphoric) correlation of information and entropy[21] with the thermodynamic understanding of entropy, and how in the process Leon Brillouin’s non-metaphoric correlation (information = the opposite of thermodynamic entropy) is both affirmed and submitted to a fundamental inversion (his negative correlation transformed into a positive correlation) .[22] Schematically put, Atlan reworks the balance constitutive of information within the circuit – a balance between maximum redundancy and maximum information content (or, simply, redundancy and variety) – in a way that situates it in the broader context of biological development in a world governed by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. In this way, Shannon’s notion of informational content (H) and his definition of redundancy (R) can be expressed in a single equation that defines the organization of a system as a function of its correlation with a larger environment: ‘a single equation for dH/dt is proposed to define organization on the basis of a kinetics of change of information content of a system under the effects of environmental noise-producing factors accumulated in time’ (295). Because it expresses both destructive and autonomy-producing effects, this equation captures the underlying balance or economy between them: these two effects, understood as functions of a single system formulated in a single equation, are said to ‘express the overall organization of the system, both structural and functional’ (Atlan 1974, 299). What is crucial here is the notion of a balance or economy between the destructive effects of noise within the system (yielding a destruction of informational content) and the autonomy-producing effects of noise outside the system (yielding an increase in informational content). By correlating the balance of redundancy and informational-content (noise) with self-organization outside the communication circuit, and by correlating such self-organization with destructive effects within the system, Atlan’s work would appear (at least implicitly) to reconcile information with the 2nd law of thermodynamics and to posit a positive, and productive, correlation of information with entropy. On the one hand, to paraphrase the formulation of Leon Brillouin (see footnote 21), the increase in information outside the system might be understood as being paid for by the destruction of information within the system. On the other, the net increase in complexity posited by Atlan’s theory[23] connects it with recent work in nonlinear dynamics where the fundamental identity of informational destruction and entropic dissipation is laid bare.[24]

Indeed, it is only when Atlan’s economy of destructive and self-organizing noise (or information[25]) is correlated explicitly with the revised 2nd law (which now calls for a constant increase in entropy except at equilibrium, as I explained in footnote 23) that we can begin to grasp the meaning of Burroughs’s own position on the correlation of information and entropy. Bluntly stated, Burroughs’s correlation is heretical because it combines aspects of various positions that do not belong together. In schematic terms, we can say that Burroughs follows Shannon in restricting the function of noise to the closed circuit of communication while nonetheless granting it a power – to proliferate or replicate beyond the closed circuit – that is akin, in some respects, to the autonomy-producing effect of noise on Atlan’s account. It is this ‘impossible’ amalgam that is expressed in Burroughs’s notion of variety as a superfluous ruse designed to prevent humans from realizing, before the point of total infection (or nova), that the virus works by replication, i.e., by turning everything into the same thing (itself)[26]: ‘ . . . it was not safe to release the virus until we could be sure that the last groups to go replica would not notice. To this end we inventedvariety in many forms, variety that is of information content in a molecule, which, enfin, is always a permutation of the existing material’ (49, all but final emphasis added). What is striking about this notion of variety is the fact that Burroughs explicitly identifies it with redundancy: within the closed viral circuit, variety is really pseudo-variety or the mere semblance of difference – nothing but the ‘permutation of existing material.'[27] By thus identifying variety (informational content) with replication (redundancy), Burroughs effectively collapses the distinction that informs Atlan’s economy of destructive and autonomy-producing noise,[28] foreclosing in the process any possibility for self-organization (or entropic expansion). It is for this reason, in fact, that the production of variety on Burroughs’s account requires an absolutely external energy source[29]: ‘Information speeded up, slowed down, permutated, changed at random by radiating the virus material with high energy rays from cyclotrons, in short we have created an infinity of variety at the information level, sufficient to keep so-called scientists busy for ever exploring the ‘richness of nature” (49).

However, if the energy required to generate variety must come from outside the system (i.e., the virus), the virus itself is nonetheless possessed of a form of energy (what we might call ‘neg-energy’) – the capacity to infect, replicate and destroy – that is distinguished by its vampirism and allegiance with death: it marks the virus as a ‘quasi-life’ or ‘death-in-life’ that simply transfers the (thermodynamically) entropic (or thanatological) basis of Burroughs’s usurper virus (rooted in physical addiction) to the domain of language.[30] It is this very postulation of a difference between the paradoxical ‘aliveness’ of the virus itself [31] and the external radioactive energy needed to generate (pseudo-)variety that is pathological: whereas for Atlan, the (relatively) external environmental factor catalyzes ‘life’ (self-organization) in the system, for Burroughs the two work at cross-purposes, with the appearance of variety masking the fatal self-replication of the horrifically vampiric virus.

We are now in a position to formulate Burroughs’s second and third theses concerning the ‘nature’ of information. The second thesis maintains that, despite the superficial appearance of a positive correlation between information and entropy (radiation generating variety), the terms are in fact negatively correlated: the more information proliferates (i.e., replicates itself virally), the more redundancy is achieved, until finally the virus will have replaced everything with itself (at which point there would occur something like an inverse of the heat death predicted by 19th century physics: a maximum dissipative state, equivalent to maximum redundancy, that would foreclose all possibility for any difference whatsoever). In one sense, the third thesis simply adumbrates this point by bringing it into explicit correlation with the first thesis, and yet it is also perhaps the most radical, and certainly the most opaque, of Burroughs’s claims. According to this thesis, it is the molecularization of information that facilitates both the semblance of variety and the deadly, technical replication that this semblance serves to mask: on the one hand, ‘ . . . it was found that the binary information could be written at the molecular level, and our entire image could be contained within a grain of sand’; and on the other, that ‘variety’ is produced solely by means of the ‘information content in a molecule.’

The evolution of Burroughs’s virology after 1959, following his encounter with L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of the mutated virus, takes shape as an effort to develop this molecularization of information into a theory of becoming proper – and indeed, into what we might well think of as a theory of becoming to end all theories of becoming: becoming as the viral dissolution of the body as such. For his part, Kahn ascribes at least part of Burroughs’s affinity for Hubbard’s dianetic demon to the way it molecularizes the very organic theories – of Korzybski and Reich – that were so fundamental for the earlier phases of his virology.[32] In this respect, what was crucial about Hubbard’s refunctionalization of the ‘engram’ – the product of a literal recording of experience by the body[33] – was its insistent demarcation from the domain of consciousness and of ‘memory that takes place within the brain’ (Kahn 313). The engram results from a recording of injurious or painful ‘experiences’ directly in the structure of the body, which is to say, at the cellular or molecular level: in Hubbard’s own words, the engram can be said to lay down a ‘definite and permanent trace left by a stimulus on the protoplasm of a tissue . . . a cellular trace of recordings impinged deeply into the very structure of the body itself‘ (Hubbard, cited in Kahn 313). The accumulation of engrams in the cellular or molecular structure of the body yields what Hubbard calls the ‘Reactive Mind’: a purely passive, inscriptional level of bodily life that, as the basis for Hubbard’s expanded therapy-(and money-)generating regime, becomes the site for a massive generalized pathologization.

Kahn is very nearly right to suggest that Hubbard’s Reactive Mind gives Burroughs everything he needs to develop his theory of viral (un)becoming: as against the symbiotic figures from the earlier phase of his virology, which function (only) by appropriating the language of the host, the reactive mind has language and agency of its own, and thus can, in the terms of the famous ‘Other Half’ passage from The Ticket that Exploded, take the ‘short step’ from ‘symbiosis to parasitism.'[34] As Kahn explains, ‘the reactive mind has both a concrete corporeal existence and language. It also acts like the Other Half in the way that it exists submerged, in the modulations of consciousness and unconsciousness. The reactive mind builds itself up within its host during the absence of the agency of the host, the analytic mind, and thus is an oddly ephemeral parasite. But it can function just as well, as we shall see, on its own accord, animating the individual without announcing its own role, making it speak. In this way, the reactive mind can move well past parasitism’ (318).

Left out of this account, however, is any consideration of the variant uses to which Burroughs and Hubbard put the generalized pathologization of the body: whereas Hubbard seeks to generate business for a therapeutic regime aimed at restoring the healthy body, Burroughs desires to do away with the body as such. Consequently we must add one final ingredient to all that Hubbard does offer Burroughs: what we have already encountered in the pathologized version of the technical definition of information. It is only by crossing Hubbard’s Reactive Mind with pathologized technical information that Burroughs is able to produce his viral theory of (un)becoming: for it is only through the replication function of technical information that the virus can dissolve the body.

This crossing is made most explicit in Burroughs’s comments on Hubbard in occasional writings like ‘Journey Through Space-Time’ and ‘Electronic Revolution’ and also, of course, in his farewell to Scientology, Ali’s Smile, Naked Scientology. In these texts, the Reactive Mind is figured as an automatic communicational circuit, a circuit which could well have been modeled on the closed technical circuit of information flow:The R.M. [Reactive Mind] consists of consequential, sequential and contradictory propositions that have command value at the automatic level of behavior, quite as automatic and involuntary as the metabolic commands that regulate rate of heartbeats, digestion, balance of chemical constituents in the blood stream, brain waves. The regulatory center of the autonomic nervous system which controls bodily processes and metabolism is the hypothalamus in the back brain. Undoubtedly the hypothalamus is the neurological intersection point where the R.M. is implanted. The R.M. may be described as an artificially constructed and highly disadvantageous regulatory system grafted onto the natural regulatory center. (Burroughs 1969, 42)

If the Reactive Mind is ‘highly disadvantageous,’ it is precisely because it forms a virus at the molecular level, by attacking, through its command value, the healthy cellular regulatory mechanisms, and replicating itself in their place. Consider, for example, the scenario Burroughs presents in the following critical reflection[35] on Hubbard from Electronic Revolution:Now . . . try using some of Mr. Hubbard’s reactive mind phrases which are supposed in themselves to produce illness. To be me, to be you, to stay here, to stay there, to be a body, to be bodies, to be stay present, to stay past. Now . . . scramble all this in together and show it to the subject. Could seeing and hearing this sound and image track, scrambled down to very small units, bring about an attack of cold virus? If such a cold tape does actually produce an attack of cold virus we cannot say that we have created a virus, perhaps we have merely activated a latent virus. Many viruses, as you know, are latent in the body and may be activated. . . . we may [however] be in a position to [create a virus]. Is a virus perhaps simply very small units of sound and image? Remember the only image a virus has is the image and sound track it can impose on you. . . . the scrambled words and tape act like a virus in that they force something on the subject against his will. More to the point would be to discover how the old scanning patterns could be altered so that the subject liberates his own spontaneous scanning pattern. (Burroughs 1971, 135-36)

What becomes clear from these occasional remarks is just how the crossing of Hubbard’s Reactive Mind with the technical definition of information allowed Burroughs to specify the mechanism of its function well beyond what he found (or didn’t find) in Hubbard[36]: the Reactive Mind manages to disfunctionalize the body because it is able to hijack the body’s agency, replicating itself in the latter’s place. The Reactive Mind functions, therefore, not by turning the body into a tape recorder (or revealing that it has always only been a tape recorder[37]), but rather by introducing the virus as alien agent capable of replicating its message everywhere where healthy bodily agency used to be.

Such a distinction is crucial, I think, for demarcating Burroughs’s theory of viral (un)becoming from Hubbard’s therapeutic regime, and in particular, for appreciating the significance of a certain reversal Burroughs operates on Hubbard’s account of the ontogenesis of the Reactive Mind. Once again, Kahn lays out the terrain for us: ‘The reactive mind meets the virus in Hubbard’s assertion that ‘it is fairly well accepted in these times that life in all forms evolved from the basic building blocks: the virus and the cell.’ Viruses may in fact have played a part in the electrical and cognitive functioning of an individual because ‘even neurons exist in embryo in the zygote, and neurons do not themselves divide but are like organisms (and may have the virus as their basic building block)’ [citing Dianetics]. Burroughs’s version simply reverses the order; neurons do not have a virus in their collective past, but instead the healthy

neural cell mutates into the virus that is language’ (Kahn 318). While Hubbard’s account, once certain allowances are made, largely squares with scientifically respectable (if not mainstream) views concerning the origin of organic life forms,[38] Burroughs’s ‘reversal’ introduces what we might think of as an informational supplement to biology, and one that postulates the autonomy of the virus in relation to the embodied (organic) materiality of the host.[39]

What is at stake here, then, is no simple reversal, but in fact a wholesale transformative appropriation. What Burroughs finds in Hubbard is, for all intents and purposes, just another organic theory ripe for parasiting, and what Burroughs does in reversing the chronological or bio-evolutionary correlation between the virus and organic form is precisely to viralize the organic, to transform the organic from a product of the ‘taming’ or the suspension of the viral[40] into a defenseless site, a literal breeding ground, for the replication of viral information.[41] It is in this sense that we can legitimately speak of a shift in Burroughs’s technological paradigm: for if the body-as-tape-recorder foregrounds the interruption and selective materialization of data flow,[42] the virus-as-replicator inverts the direction of this process, taking root in (and indeed from) materialized bodies and gradually but inexorably replicating its looped, closed-circuit message until the point of total dematerialization (which, incidentally, furnishes yet another gloss on Burroughs’s ‘nova’). In accord with this inversion (which, like all reversals in Burroughs, is no simple inversion), the Reactive Mind can no longer be understood as a ‘part’ or ‘level’ of bodily life, one that submits the body to a static repetition, but must be seen as an alien agent hell bent on replacing the body. Thus Burroughs’s inversion can be said more generally to mark a decisive break with the holistic energetics that had been effectively inscribed into his theory via the succession of organic theories he had up to this point so felicitously appropriated: whereas the focus for Korzybski, Reich, and Hubbard alike concerned a question of thermodynamic equilibrium – how to get the ‘energy’ of the body back into sync with the energy of the world (hence the importance of Reich’s ‘orgone box’ or Hubbard’s ‘E-meter’) – for Burroughs the problem was the existence of a source of energy (the virus) that did not belong to or within any larger, encompassing macrocosm: what we above glossed as a ‘quasi-life’ or ‘life-in-death’ on account of its equation of noise (informational content) with redundancy. Able to produce only itself, this ‘source’ of energy opens a domain of neg-energetics that is simply without relation to the thermodynamic universe (whether described by Newton or Prigogine), even though it threatens it with a kind of inverse heat death, the dissolution of difference into a state of maximum redundancy.

Burroughs’s hostility to the body must be understood to be the necessary corollary of this fatal energetics that substitutes replication of the same for the expanding self-organization postulated by Atlan and Prigogine. Because it is the site of viral contamination – the host for the replication of the same – the body can no longer be figured as a fundamental element of thermodynamic expansion, as it is, for example, in Bergson’s Creative Evolution, where the body played the role of ‘obstacle’ that absorbed energy and prevented ‘life’ from remaining purely ‘spiritual,’ or, alternatively, in Lynn Margulis’s symbiogenesis where it contains bacterial forms in a sustaining post-bacterial or organic economy. And once this fundamental connection to energy and life has been lost, the body is not simply rendered superfluous, but becomes a liability: raw material vulnerable to takeover by the Reactive Mind and, indeed, what we might think of as the performative effect of one of its fundamental commands: ‘to be body’ (see Burroughs 1969, 42; 1971, 143, 144, 153, 155). Hence Burroughs’s fatal endgame: to appropriate the viral techniques in order to do away with the body before it can be replicated and used against us.[43]

II. Virus De-pathologized: Deleuze and Guattari’s Molecular Becoming

If the ‘transcendence’ of the body remains a goal (perhaps the goal) of Burroughs’s virology, it is more or less assumed by Deleuze and Guattari in a version of virology that goes under the name of ‘becoming.’ As I have suggested elsewhere, D+G’s model of becoming is ‘post-organic’ to the precise extent that it is (exclusively) molecular (Hansen 2000b). Molecular becoming takes place between or among particles and involves relations between terms or bodies; it simply cannot be predicated of or situated within bodies. If molecular becoming can be described as viral, it is precisely in a this post-organic sense.

As I have argued (following Keith Ansell Pearson), D+G’s biophilosophy can be understood as a molecularization of neo-Darwinism: eschewing Darwin’s subordination of difference to organism (or natural selection), D+G argue that selection operates directly at the molecular domain, which means that this latter enjoys an independent ‘evolution’ or what D+G rechristen a ‘creative involution.’ Precisely such an autonomization of molecular processes lies behind their embrace of viral processes as the operators of becoming:… fragments of code may be transferred from the cells of one species to those of another, Man and Mouse, Monkey and Cat, by viruses or through other procedures. This involves not translation between codes (viruses are not translators) but a singular phenomenon we call surplus value of code, or side-communication. We will have occasion to discuss this further, for it is essential to all becomings-animal. Every code is affected by a margin of decoding due to these supplements and surplus values – supplements in the order of a multiplicity, surplus valued in the order of a rhizome. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 53)

For D+G, viruses thus replace organisms as the mechanisms for selective change: insofar as they allow for transversal connections across species boundaries and without regard to molar (organic) organization, viruses allow molecular particles to assume the driver’s seat in involutionary processes. Moreover, to the extent that they operate in a domain that exceeds the (molar) organization of the organism or body, the destructive impact of viruses is effectively suspended: far from destroying the bodies of their hosts, viruses forge new ‘bodies’ (in the Spinozist sense of body adopted by D+G) – that is, new assemblages of molecular particles, singularities, and haecceities.

As far as I know, D+G nowhere cite Burroughs’s virology as predecessor for their deployment of the virus as the model mechanism for molecular becoming.[44] Moreover, they develop their fundamental concept of the ‘body-without-organs’ (BwO) through a quite different (literary) tradition (Artaud). In fact, if we were to contrast the two conceptions, we would have to admit the following crucial difference (already implicit in what I have said thus far): whereas Burroughs correlates the virus (language) with a host (the body, affective life) without which it could not survive (being itself only quasi-alive), D+G decorporealize the virus, decoupling it from any host and granting it an autonomy and agency to produce new connections, new bodies, and in fact, what D+G felicitously call ‘nonorganic life.’ By wresting the virus from its molar correlation with a host body and setting it free within the domain of the molecular (the plane of immanence), D+G are thus able to depathologize the virus.

Nonetheless, despite this crucial difference and despite the lack of any specific reference to Burroughs’s virus, the fact remains that there are extensive correlations between D+G’s viral conception of molecular becoming and Burroughs’s virology. [These correlations are significant, from my perspective, because they suggest the subterranean existence of certain constraints that limit the scope of the practically limitless potential D+G attribute to molecular becoming.] Beneath the variant conceptions of the virus’s autonomy and domain of operation, there lies a strikingly similar motivation: a desire on the part of Burroughs and of D+G to supplement what is perceived to be an incomplete or inadequate model of energetics. It is this desire that informs the molecularizations both positions introduce: of information and of evolution, respectively.

We have already observed this desire at work in Burroughs: the molecularization of information (thesis 3 above) allows Burroughs to divorce true ‘variety’ (informational content) from redundancy in a way that effectively collapses the distinction (Atlan’s) between destructive and autonomy-producing noise, or rather reduces the latter (the source for true variety) to the former and thus substitutes a false or pseudo-variety for true variety (the production of new information at a higher organizational level). For Burroughs, in short, molecularization is what allows ‘our image’ to be captured as information and hence made vulnerable to the invading replication of the virus;[45] and it is, at the same time, what explains the ‘quasi-life’ of the virus. Though our conclusions could only be speculative, we suggested that Burroughs’s motivation here concerned his own dissatisfaction with the organicism and energetics of equilibrium inherent to the theories that he parasited: what Burroughs could not fathom – and what led him to separate out a rogue ‘viral energy’ beyond thermodynamic entropy – was the notion that this molecular demon could be recontained within the balance or equilibrium figured by a cosmic energetics.

Compare this rationale with Deleuze’s critique of thermodynamics and his conception of an ‘energy in general’:When we seek to define energy in general, either we take account of the extensive and qualified factors of extensity – in which case we are reduced to saying ‘there is something which remains constant,’ thereby formulating the great but flat tautology of the Identical – or, on the contrary, we consider pure intensity insofar as it is implicated in that deep region where no quality is developed, or any extensity deployed. In this case, we define energy in terms of the difference buried in this pure intensity and it is the formula of ‘difference of intensity’ which bears the tautology, but this time the beautiful and profound tautology of the Different. Energy in general will not then be confused with a uniform energy at rest, which would render any transformation impossible. Only a particular form of empirical energy, qualified in extensity, can be at rest, which would render any transformation impossible. Only a particular form of empirical energy, qualified in extensity, can be at rest; one in which the difference in intensity is already cancelled because it is drawn outside itself and distributed among the elements of the system. However, energy in general or intensive quantity is the spatium, the theater of all metamorphosis or difference in itself which envelops all its degrees in the production of each. In this sense, energy or intensive quantity is a transcendental principle, not a scientific concept. (Deleuze 1994, 240-41)

Like Burroughs’s ‘viral energy,’ Deleuze’s ‘energy in general’ proceeds from a dissatisfaction with scientific conceptions of energy (thermodynamic entropy). Thermodynamics is inadequate because it conflates a particular domain governed by a principle (the thermodynamic universe) with the principle itself (intensity); as a result, it subordinates intensity to the qualities which fill extensity[46] and thus effaces its own transcendental condition. For this reason, Deleuze argues, thermodynamics was ‘the powerful furnace of [the] alloy’ between science, good sense and philosophy at the end of the 19th century: ‘A system of basic definitions was established which satisfied everybody, including a certain Kantianism: the given as diverse; reason as a process of identification and equalisation tending towards identity; the absurd or irrational as resistance of the diverse to that identificatory reason. The words ‘the real is rational’ found there a new sense, for diversity tended to be reduced in Nature no less than in reason’ (1994, 223-34). The concept of thermodynamic entropy, that is, allowed for Nature to become the object of prediction and to be placed under the governance of ‘good sense’ which ‘ensures the distribution of . . . difference in such a manner that it tends to be cancelled in the object’ and ‘provides a rule according to which . . . different objects tend to equalise themselves and the different Selves tend to become uniform’ (226).

Unlike Burroughs’s ‘rogue viral energy,’ however, Deleuze’s ‘energy in general’ is not outside of or independent from thermodynamic entropy, but is, rather, its transcendental condition. As Deleuze sees it, entropy is a paradoxical concept, one that can be defined in two ways: either as ‘explicated in extensity’ or as ‘implicated in intensity.’ While the scientific tradition (thermodynamics) follows the first line, ending in the dead end just discussed, a philosophical conceptualization of entropy can follow the second line and thus expose the transcendental illusion constitutive of thermodynamics. The vision of ‘heat death’ so central to the 19th century thermodynamic imagination is thus an illusion: ‘It is therefore unnecessary , in order to save the universe from heat death . . . to imagine highly ‘improbable’ extensive mechanisms supposedly capable of restoring difference. For difference has never ceased to be in itself, to be implicated in itself even while it is explicated outside itself’ (228). Accordingly, all that is necessary is to think the ‘paradox of entropy’: ‘entropy is an extensive factor but, unlike all other extensive factors, it is an extension or ‘explication’ which is implicated as such in intensity, which does not exist outside the implication or except as implicated, and this is because it has the function of making possible the general movement by which that which is implicated explicates itself or is extended. There is thus a transcendental illusion essentially tied to the qualitas, Heat, and to the extension, Entropy’ (229).

Though Deleuze claims that thinking this paradox demarcates a properly philosophical concept of intensity (or entropy) against a scientific one, it is striking how very similar Deleuze’s account is to the work of scientists like Atlan and Prigogine who also seek to counter the ‘extensive’ concept of thermodynamic entropy with what we could well gloss as ‘intensive’ concepts (autonomy-producing noise and dissipative systems, respectively). For this reason, I think we can legitimately advance a criticism of Deleuze’s critique of thermodynamics that parallels my criticism of Deleuze’s critique of neo-Darwinism in ‘Becoming as Creative Involution?’ (Hansen 2000b): just as the need to introduce intensity as a philosophical concept of (biological) difference stems from limitations of Deleuze’s understanding of biology (and in part – but only in part – from developments subsequent to his articulations), so too does the function of intensity as a philosophical concept of entropy reflect limitations in his understanding of thermodynamics (once again, in part – though only in part – due to subsequent developments[47]). Let me be quite clear here. Deleuze is not wrong to demarcate two ‘sides’ of entropy and to differentiate these as extensity and intensity, respectively; nor does he err in suggesting the necessity for a transcendental perspective capable of accounting for the origin of difference. Where he goes astray, at least from the perspective of an Atlan or a Prigogine, is in separating the transcendental dimension, categorically and absolutely, from the empirical field where both Atlan and Prigogine situate the emergence of complexity (self-organization at a higher level or increase in local order).

One way to make sense of this différend between science and philosophy (or rather, between what are in fact scientific and philosophical views of the relation between science and philosophy) is to return to the role of the organism. Effectively, Deleuze is driven to his radical position – separating intensity (as the transcendental principle of energy or ‘energy in general’) from all extensive processes or extensive differentiation – because of his desire to develop a theory of life capable of breaking with or escaping (what he sees to be) the twin error of Bergson’s ‘Creative Evolution’: on the one hand, Bergson’s embrace of (extensive) thermodynamic entropy (or, alternatively, his subsumption of intensity into quality and extension, differences in kind and degree); and on the other, the operative role Bergson is thus compelled to accord organisms (that of forming obstacles to the flow of time, storage containers of energy that resist inexorable entropic decline).[48] Ansell Pearson sums up this desire when he attributes Deleuze’s shift to thinking difference as intensity[49] to ‘the need to produce a critique of thermodynamic thinking (whether in philosophy or science). If ‘intensity’ was not allowed as the transcendental principle (the ‘being’ of the sensible) which supports ‘quality,’ then, the only kind of duration that we could attribute to quality would be a thermodynamic ‘race to the grave,’ a thirst for the annihilation of difference in a corresponding extensity . . . , a race that will also produce . . . a uniformization of the qualities themselves’ (1999, 75). Though we have seen that the thermodynamic ‘race to the grave’ is not even really a problem for Deleuze (since entropy is always also intensity), this passage helps underscore the correlation of his philosophical thesis with the limitations in his understanding of thermodynamics. Once we introduce the work of Prigogine, for example, we would no longer be able to limit the available positions to two: either transcendental intensity or entropic race to the grave. Rather, we would have available another (or other) option(s): namely, the production of intensity as a result of and ‘within’ extensive entropic processes, including the process of morphogenesis that governs the creation of organisms like human beings. Thus we can properly distinguish science and philosophy here, not indeed according to Deleuze’s division between extensity and intensity, but as two variant accounts of intensity: whereas Deleuze insists on a transcendental domain of intensity that is simply and absolutely separate from empirical extensions (what will become the ‘plane of immanence’ in his later work), Prigogine introduces a transcendental function (or level) of intensity which simply cannot be separated from the specific processes informing the emergence of a concrete empirical domain of extensity, even though it does not appear in the empirical (i.e., from the standpoint of the ‘local order’ that emerges through entropic or informational dissipation).[50] Though organic form is not the focus of Prigogine’s work (or, for that matter, of Atlan’s), clearly their visions of the emergence of complexity would go hand-in-hand with the work of complexity theorists like Brian Goodwin and Stuart Kauffman on morphogenesis – work that I have, not incidentally, characterized as neo-Bergsonist (see Hansen 2000b, paragraph 4).

What explains the difference between Prigogine and Deleuze (science and philosophy) concerning the ‘nature’ of intensity might very well turn out to be nothing less than the concept of information. For while the conceptual flexibility afforded by this concept is central to the division Prigogine introduces between global and local entropy (as it is, of course, to Atlan’s distinction between destructive and autonomy-producing noise), it is the absence of any (similar) division between levels of organization (and orders of function) ‘within’ the empirical that compels Deleuze’s theorization of intensity as a transcendental domain absolutely separate from empirical extensity. Information, Gilbert Simondon helps us understand, is ‘never something that is just given,’ but always functions as an ‘instigation to individuation’; for this reason, it renders individuation inseparable from the empirical order to which it gives rise (Simondon 1992, 311).

Given this conspicuous absence of the concept of information in Deleuze, we can, I think, usefully liken D+G’s transformative appropriation of Bergson’s ‘creative evolution’ to Burroughs’s parasitic transformation of Hubbard’s Dianetics (as discussed above). In both cases, a similar pattern is at work: the ‘hijacking’ or ‘suspension’ of the level of organic function is made necessary because of a failure or short-circuit in the two-sided operativity of information. As we have seen, it is a disconnection of destructive noise (redundancy) from autonomy-producing noise (instigation to self-organization at a higher level) that allows (or compels) Burroughs to transform the virus from a precursor or basic building block of the organism (on Hubbard’s more or less scientifically legitimate speculation) into something that invades it from the outside. In other words, because he has no mechanism (information as two-sided operativity) to move from the virus upward to a higher level of organization (the organism), Burroughs has no choice but to polarize the two in an endgame that, as we have already seen, cannot but be fatal to the body. Similarly, it is the radical disjunction between extensity (within one level of a system) and intensity (at a higher level) that allows (or compels) D+G to transform the organism from a fundamental element or building block of life in a thermodynamic universe into a mere epiphenomenon of autonomous molecular processes. Because they have no mechanism (information as two-sided operativity) to move between the organism as organized (or individuated) and what Simondon conceptualizes as the on-going individuation of the organism, D+G have no choice but to shift the locus of ‘life’ to the domain of preindividual singularities, and thus to liberate an autonomous domain of molecular becoming whose fundamental mechanism is, not incidentally, the virus.

III. Metastability and Transductive Becoming: Gilbert Simondon

We can now grasp the fundamental complicity between Deleuze’s absolute separation of intensity from the extensive field and D+G’s effort to develop a model of viral becoming that would take place exclusively at the molecular level: both are components in a model of ‘evolution’ – what they call ‘creative involution’ and what Ansell Pearson dubs ‘germinal life’ – that eschews any role on the part of the organism and the plane of organization to which it belongs. We have just seen how this eschewal (and also the model it supports) is made necessary (or possible) by a refusal (or failure) on Deleuze’s part to engage with the concept of information.

That Deleuze’s refusal (or failure) is something more than a simple critical mistake or oversight is made clear from the fact that he cites Simondon as the source for both of these components, despite Simondon’s own avowed commitment to the concept of information. Ansell Pearson has persuasively demonstrated how Simondon forms the source for Deleuze’s molecularization of neo-Darwinism. Specifically, Deleuze invokes Simondon’s concept of individuation as a demonstration that differentiation presupposes individuation; consequently, individuation cannot be reduced to determination of species but must be correlated with preindividual singularities that both constitute and dissolve individuals (see Ansell Pearson 1999, 90-92):The individual is neither a quality nor an extension. The individual is neither a qualification nor a partition, neither an organization nor a determination of species. The individual is no more an infima species than it is composed of parts. . . . The determination of qualities and species presupposes individuals to be qualified, while extensive parts are relative to an individual rather than the reverse. It is not sufficient, however, to mark a difference in kind between individuation and differenciation in general. This difference in kind remains unintelligible so long as we do not accept the necessary consequence: that individuation precedes differenciation in principle, that every differenciation presupposes a prior intense field of individuation. It is because of the action of the field of individuation that such and such differential relations and such and such distinctive points (pre-individual fields) are actualized – in other words, organized within intuition along lines differenciated in relation to other lines. As a result, they then form the quality, number, species and parts of an individual[,] in short, its generality. (Deleuze 1994, 247, emphasis added)

Deleuze’s aim here (i.e., in Difference and Repetition) is to portray Darwin not simply as the inventor of natural selection but also, and far more consequentially, as the inaugurator of the ‘thought of individual difference’ (i.e., of differences that are ‘unconnected or free-floating’ prior to the actualization or differenciation they undergo in the process of producing individuals).[51] Once, however, this notion of individual difference is decoupled from sexual selection and linked to non-genetic factors (viruses), as it is in the appropriation of neo-Darwinism in A Thousand Plateaus, it becomes possible for Deleuze (or rather D+G) to argue that the preindividual domain (the domain of individual difference) ‘enjoy[s] an independent evolution’ (as Ansell Pearson puts it [92]), i.e., an autonomous evolution entirely unconnected with the role of actualization or individuation in organic forms.[52] Insofar as this argument informs the viral molecularization of becoming that is in question here, we will need to insist on the difference between Deleuze’s invocation of the concept of individuation and Simondon’s own development of it as the basis for a theory of systemic (recursive or multi-leveled) becoming.

In order to contextualize this crucial difference, we must first, however, address another dimension of Deleuze’s appropriation of Simondon that bears more directly on his refusal (or failure) to engage the concept of information. Underlying the invocation of individuation in relation to Darwin is a more general invocation of individuation as the ‘essential process of intensive quantities,’ i.e., as the process whereby intensity creates qualities and extensities:Intensity is individuating, and intensive qualities are individuating factors. . . . All individuality is intensive, and therefore serial, stepped and communicating, comprising and affirming in itself the difference in intensities by which it is constituted. Gilbert Simondon has shown recently that individuation presupposes a prior metastable state – in other words, the existence of a ‘disparateness’ such as at least two orders of magnitude or two scales of heterogeneous reality between which potentials are distributed. Such a pre-individual state nevertheless does not lack singularities: the distinctive or singular points are defined by the existence and distribution of potentials. An ‘objective’ problematic field thus appears, determined by the distance between two heterogeneous orders. Individuation emerges like the act of solving such a problem, or – what amounts to the same thing – like the actualisation of a potential and the establishing of a communication between disparates. The act of individuation consists not in suppressing the problem, but in integrating the elements of the disparateness into a state of coupling which ensures its internal resonance. The individual thus finds itself attached to a pre-individual half which is not the impersonal within it so much as the reservoir of its singularities. In all these respects, we believe that individuation is essentially intensive, and that the pre-individual field is a virtual-ideal field, made up of differential relations. . . . Individuation is the act by which intensity determines differential relations to become actualised, along the lines of differenciation and within the qualities and extensities it creates. (1994, 246, emphasis added)

As my added emphases are meant to highlight, Deleuze appears here to endorse Simondon’s notion of ‘metastability’ and the concept of potential energy that it deploys. (This endorsement finds separate ‘confirmation,’ as it were, in Deleuze’s derivation of the Event, in Logic of Sense, from the notion of metastability.[53]) As the mediation that distributes potential energy into disparate orders of magnitude or heterogeneous scales of reality, individuation would appear capable of explaining the ‘paradox of entropy,’ the fact that entropy is an extensive factor which, unlike all other extensive factors, does not exist outside its implication in intensity.

I want to suggest, however, that (Deleuze’s endorsement notwithstanding) there is a deep incompatibility between his philosophical conceptualization of intensity as a transcendental condition and Simondon’s philosophical mediation of what is and remains, in some significant sense, a scientific concept.[54] To do so, we will have to develop certain elements of Simondon’s conception of individuation that are not explicitly addressed by Deleuze. Most important, perhaps, is the general manner in which Simondon himself redefines individuation in order to distinguish it from the hylomorphist and substantialist viewpoints[55]: not only can individuation not be reduced to something that preexists this same individuation (form and matter or substance), since that would restrict analysis to already individuated being and obscure the process of ontogenesis, but – perhaps more importantly still – individuation cannot be limited to the process of producing individuals, since in individuation ‘other things [are] produced’ as well (Simondon 1992, 299). Simondon’s goal is, accordingly, ‘ . . . to grasp the entire unfolding of ontogenesis in all its variety, and to understand the individual from the perspective of the process of individuation rather than the process of individuation by means of the individual‘ (300). ‘The process of individuation,’ he continues,must be considered primordial, for it is this process that at once brings the individual into being and determines all the distinguishing characteristics of its development, organization and modalities. Thus, the individual is to be understood as having a relative reality, occupying only a certain phase of the whole being in question – a phase that therefore carries the implication of a preceding preindividual state, and that, even after individuation, does not exist in isolation, since individuation does not exhaust in the single act of its appearance all the potentials embedded in the preindividual state. Individuation, moreover, not only brings the individual to light but also the individual-milieu dyad. In this way, the individual possesses only a relative existence in two senses: because it does not represent the totality of the being, and because it is merely the result of a phase in the being’s development during which it existed neither in the form of an individual nor as the principle of individuation. (300)

Just as the individual does not fully encompass or exhaust a process of which it is only one phase (or rather, the mere result of one phase), this process (individuation) is only one phase of a still larger process. Individuation, stresses Simondon, must be considered to form ‘only one part of an ontogenetic process in the development of the larger entity.’ Nonetheless, neither individuation nor the individual can be abstracted away as mere epiphenomena. Both are necessary elements in this ontogenetic process insofar as they comprise temporary ‘resolutions’ of the metastability that informs it: ‘Individuation must therefore be thought of as a partial and relative resolution manifested in a system that contains latent potentials and harbors a certain incompatibility with itself, an incompatibility due at once to forces in tension as well as to the impossibility of interaction between terms of extremely disparate dimensions’ (300).

This vision of an economy between the domains of intensity (metastability) and extensity (actualizations of latent potentials), itself highly reminiscent of Bergson’s economy of matter and consciousness (see note 48),[56] diverges from Deleuze’s transcendental conceptualization in two significant ways. First, Simondon’s concept of individuation does not introduce a division between a molecular domain (intensity) and a molar one (extensity) so much as it mediates between such domains: ‘ . . . individuation is not to be thought of as the meeting of a previous form and matter existing as already constituted and separate terms, but a resolution taking place in the heart of a metastable system rich in potentials . . . . The true principle of individuation is mediation, which generally presumes the existence of the original duality of the orders of magnitude and the initial absence of interactive communication between them, followed by a subsequent communication between orders of magnitude and stabilization’ (304). Not only does individuation thus mediate or place into communication the two orders of magnitude central to Deleuze’s transcendental conceptualization (the molecular or intensity and the molar or extensity), but it also introduces a third order of magnitude between them: ‘At the same time that a quantity of potential energy (the necessary condition for a higher order of magnitude) is actualized, a portion of matter is organized and distributed (the necessary condition for a lower order of magnitude) into structured individuals of a middle order of magnitude, developing by a mediate process of amplification’ (304). Accordingly, far from forming an autonomous domain that enjoys an independent ‘evolution,’ the molecular (or presingular) can be said to undergo an actualization of its own that is, in an important sense, homologous with the (distinct) actualization of matter at the molar level. What this means is that the organization of matter into the organism (Bergson’s ‘obstacle’ to the flow of life) is, in effect, doubled by an actualization of the potential energy (the presingular) that defines the metastability of the system.

From this it follows that, second, Simondon’s understanding of individuation is not so much transcendental as it is systemic and recursive; or rather, it is transcendental only because it is systemic and recursive. Rather than forming an (abstract) condition of possibility for the production of individuated entities (i.e., quality and extensity), individuation is an activity that is actively performed by individuated living beings: there is, Simondon specifies, ‘a perpetual individuation that is life itself following the fundamental mode of becoming: the living being conserves in itself an activity of permanent individuation. It is not only the result of individuation, like the crystal or the molecule, but is a veritable theater of individuation‘ (305, last emphasis added).[57] Although this conception is very similar to Deleuze’s discussion of embryology in Difference and Repetition,[58] there is one crucial difference (that is, perhaps, less a difference in substance than in emphasis): whereas Deleuze foregrounds the virtuality of the embryo in relation to its epigenetic actualization,[59] Simondon stresses the on-going and cumulative co-evolution of the living being and the process of individuation. Far from being a level of potential that stands outside or beneath the developmental processes constitutive of the (living) individual (‘energy in general [as] the spatium, the theater of all metamorphosis’ [Deleuze 1994, 240]), individuation cannot be separated from these processes. What this means is that, with every new stage in an on-going (living) individuation, the metastability (or virtuality) of the system is itself transformed in parallel with the evolution of the living being/individuation couple, such that certain potentials are inescapably closed off as others are necessarily opened up.[60]

We are now in a position to appreciate exactly how Deleuze’s appropriation of Simondon to underwrite his development of an autonomous domain of (viral) molecular becoming contravenes Simondon’s own theorization of individuation: in the place of Simondon’s systemic economy of orders of magnitude, Deleuze substitutes a transcendental notion of intensity that conditions actualization from the outside (even if it can be said to be immanent). We can also now see how the necessity (or possibility) for such a substitution correlates with his refusal (failure) to engage the concept of information, as I have repeatedly claimed: like thermodynamic entropy, information would fall under the category of extensity (even if it were likewise ‘paradoxical’), and hence would comprise a ‘transcendental illusion’ in need of philosophical (i.e., transcendental) clarification.[61] This correlation becomes most clear, I think, in The Logic of Sense where Deleuze ties Simondon’s crucial notion of internal resonance (characteristic of the individuation of the living) with the category of sense: the ‘world of sense . . . requires a receptive apparatus capable of bringing about a successive superimposition of surface planes in accordance with another dimension. . . . this world of sense, with its events-singularities . . . hovers over the actualizations of its energy as potential energy, that is, the realization of its events, which may be internal as well as external . . . , according to the contact surface or the neutral surface-limit which transcends distances and assures the continuity on both its sides’ (Deleuze 1990, 104). Given Deleuze’s invocation of individuation as a ‘new conception of the transcendental’ (344, n. 3), I would be tempted to understand the rehabilitation of the category of ‘sense’ that it might be said to govern (i.e., The Logic of Sense) to be Deleuze’s philosophical alternative not simply to structuralism but, more generally and more profoundly, to the concept of information so dominant at the time.[62]

Once again, however, Deleuze’s appropriation flies in the face of Simondon’s own development of individuation, in this case on three separate (though interconnected) grounds. Together these differences help to articulate Simondon’s own systemic and recursive conception of becoming and also to establish what I take to be its decided advantages over D+G’s molecular virology.

First, Deleuze’s transformation of ‘internal resonance’ bears little resemblance to Simondon’s concept. On Deleuze’s account, internal resonance gets whittled away until it names nothing more than ‘a process of auto-unification’ that ‘traverses the series [of singularities] and makes them resonate, enveloping the corresponding singular points in a single aleatory point and all the emissions, all dice throws, in a single cast’ (1990, 103). What a contrast between this aleatory function and Simondon’s rich notion[63]:. . . the entire activity of the living being is not, like that of the physical individual, concentrated at its boundary with the outside world. There exists within the being a more complete regime of internal resonance requiring permanent communication and maintaining a metastability that is the precondition of life. . . The living individual is a system of individuation, an individuating system and also a system that individuates itself. The internal resonance and the translation of its relation to itself into information are all contained in the living being’s system. . . . In the domain of the living being, [internal resonance] becomes the criterion of any individual qua individual. It exists in the system of the individual and not only in that which is formed by the individual vis-à-vis its milieu. . . . the living individual . . . possess[es] a genuine interiority, because individuation does indeed take place within it. In the living individual, . . . the interior plays a constitutive role . . . (Simondon 1992, 305, last emphasis added)

It is only on this account – only because internal resonance itself contributes to the on-going individuation that produces it – that Simondon can affirm the ‘germinal contemporaneity’ of the living individual: unlike the ‘physical individual, with contains a past that is radically ‘past,’ . . . [t]he living individual is its own contemporary with regard to each one of its elements’ (306). And, as if that weren’t enough to distinguish his concept from the abstract virtuality invoked in D+G’s notion of germinal contemporaneity,[64] Simondon goes on to correlate this claim directly with his understanding of the living being as an informational system: ‘The living being can be considered to be a node of information that is being transmitted inside itself – it is a system within a system, containing within itself a mediation between two different orders of magnitude’ (306). The reason why living beings are contemporaneous with their elements (and thus with the metastability underlying the individuation of which they are components) is precisely because they can recursively correlate different orders of magnitude as a difference internal to their organization: they can, in short, modify themselves through the ‘invention of new internal structures’ (305). ‘Internal resonance,’ Simondon concludes, ‘is the most primitive form of communication between realities of different orders. It is composed of a double process of amplification and condensation’ (318, n. 12).

Given Simondon’s aim of reconciling becoming with a refunctionalized information theory, it is hardly surprising that internal resonance is put forth as a form of information resistant to the cybernetic reduction: internal resonance ‘cannot be seen as an automaton that maintains a certain number of equilibria or that seeks to find compatibilities between its various requirements . . . . The living being is also the being that results from an initial individuation and amplifies this individuation, not at all the machine to which it is assimilated functionally by the model of cybernetic mechanism. In the living being, individuation is brought about by the individual itself, and it is not simply a functioning object that results from an individuation previously accomplished, comparable to the product of a manufacturing process’ (305).[65] This correlation of internal resonance and information thus forms a second ground for differentiating his theory from that of Deleuze. Specifically, it reveals how the living being as ‘a node of information . . . transmitted inside itself’ is itself correlated with the larger metastability underlying the individuation that produces it. The crucial point here is that the living being plays a necessary role in this individuation:. . . a piece of information is never relative to a unique and homogeneous reality, but rather to two orders that are in the process of ‘disparition.’ . . . It is the tension between two disparate realities, it is the signification that emerges when a process of individuation reveals the dimension through which two disparate realities together become a system. If this is the case, then the piece of information acts in fact as an instigation to individuation, a necessity to individuate; it is never something that is just given. Unity and identity are not inherent in the information because the information is itself not a term. For there to be information presupposes that there is a tension in the system of the being: the information must be inherent in a problematic, since it represents that by which the incompatibility within the unresolved system becomes an organizing dimension in its resolution. The information implies a change of phase in the system because it implies the existence of a primitive preindividual state that is individuated according to the dictates of the emerging organization. The information provides the formula that is followed by individuation, and so the formula could not possibly preexist this individuation. (310-11)

As a ‘double process of amplification and condensation,’ the internal resonance constitutive of living being can thus be said to create information via a kind of ontological performativity: as the instigation to individuate, the information brings about the individuation that in turn transmits the information within itself, thus creating information in the sense of mediating between the disparate orders of magnitude and realizing a temporary resolution to a tension in the metastable equilibrium of the system.

third ground for differentiating Simondon’s informational model of becoming as internal resonance from D+G’s molecular virology can be found in the crucial notion of transduction. Simondon introduces transduction to furnish a principle of non-identical unity – or unity as ‘nonidentity of the being with itself’ (312) – that would be adequate to the notions of metastability and individuation. Transduction ‘denotes a process – be it physical, biological, mental or social – in which an activity gradually sets itself in motion, propagating within a given area, through a structuration of the different zones of the area over which it operates. Each region of the structure that is constituted in this way then serves to constitute the next one to such an extent that at the very time this structuration is effected there is a progressive modification taking place in tandem with it’ (313). In the domain of the living, transduction designates the process of becoming: ‘[i]ts dynamism derives from the primitive tension of the heterogeneous being’s system, which moves out of step with itself and develops further dimensions upon which it bases its structure’ (313). What is most crucial about transduction in relation to D+G is the way it articulates becoming with the energy problematic that has oriented our discussion.[66] As the capacity of a being to fall out of step with itself and to resolve itself by the very act of falling out of step, transduction opens up a dimension of becoming within the domain of being, as one of its dimensions; in this sense, it can be understood as the catalyst for individuation: ‘ . . . becoming is not a framework in which the being exists; it is one of the dimensions of the being, a mode of resolving an initial incompatibility that was rife with potentials. Individuation corresponds to the appearance of stages in the being, which are the stages of the being. . . . in a certain sense, it could be said that the sole principle by which we can be guided is that of the conservation of being through becoming. This conservation is effected by means of the exchanges made between structure and process, proceding by quantum leaps through a series of successive equilibria’ (301). Far from opening an autonomous domain of molecular processes that counter the form-giving and stabilizing functions of being (at least as it has been conceived in Western philosophy), transductive becoming forms the privileged mechanism of being, insofar as this latter can be understood as a metastable equilibrium which, because of its liability to fall out of step with itself (i.e., to undergo transduction), must continuously individuate itself in a spiraling recursivity, generative, at ensuing systemic levels, of individuation and of individuals, both living and inanimate.

Together, these three differences characteristic of Simondon’s model of becoming – internal resonance, information, and transduction – call for a refunctionalization of information theory ‘beyond cybernetics.’ At the heart of this refunctionalization lies the substitution of the notion of information for that of form, and the rationale motivating this substitution is the necessity to understand metastability. Not incidentally, it is at this point that Simondon sounds most like Prigogine: ‘I wish to consider the Theory of form anew and, by introducing a quantum precondition, show that the problems presented by the Theory of Form can be directly resolves – not by using the notion of stable equilibrium, but only by using that of metastable equilibrium. The True Form, then, is not the simple form, the pregnant geometric form, but the significant form, that is, the one that establishes a transductive order within a system of reality replete with potentials. This True form is the one that maintains the energy level of the system, sustaining its potentials by making them compatible. It is the structure of compatibility and viability, it is the invented dimensionality following which there is compatibility without degradation’ (316). Like Atlan and Prigogine after him, what Simondon proposes, then, is a model of autonomy-producing noise or self-organization that understands information to be the source of becoming. Unlike Burroughs, who aligns information with redundancy and thus cuts off its transductive potential (which is reserved for the virus), and unlike D+G, who align information with extensity and thus deny it any transductive potential (which is reserved for the transcendental function of intensity and later for autonomous molecular becoming), Simondon offers an integrated picture of becoming rooted in information as positively entropic. Far from cutting off the potential for becoming, information is, on his account, precisely what preserves the metastability that is (eternally) generative of the new.

Coda on Endosymbiogenisis

In ‘Metametazoa: Biology and Multiplicity,’ Dorion Sagan indicts recent psychoanalytic and phenomenological critiques of mind for their failure to disturb the ‘monolithic notion of ‘the’ body’ (Sagan 1992, 363). Following a ‘deconstructive’ line that would encompass and target virology from Burroughs to D+G, Sagan shows how the classical medical model of the ‘body-as-unity-to-be-preserved’ is itself preserved, forming, as it does, the enabling mechanism of such critiques: ‘Cancer, paradigmatically, but other diseases as well, are discussed with the rhetoric of war: the body is ‘attacked’ and ‘invaded,’ it puts out ‘defenses’ and fights’ back’ (363). Shifting registers, Sagan suggests that we look to another domain entirely to discover an alternate model of the body: ‘a radical re-rendering of the body,’ he suggests, is already ‘underway in accordance with three models from the new biology, namely, symbiosis, Gaia and prokaryotic sex.’ (363).

Without rehearsing these models in any detail, other than to identify them with biologist Lynn Margulis and chemist James Lovelock,[67] I want to put forth Sagan’s ‘radical re-rendering’ as an alternate conception of the body that resonates with Simondon’s integrated picture of becoming.[68] Viewed through the lens of the new biology, the body is nothing other than a (temporary) resolution of what we might be tempted to call a bacterial metastability: ‘The human body,’ Sagan notes,’ is an architectonic compilation of millions of agencies of chimerical cells. Each cell in the hand typing this sentence comes from two, maybe three, kinds of bacteria. These cells themselves appear to represent the latter-day result, the fearful symmetry, of microbial communities so consolidated, so tightly organized and histologically orchestrated, that they have been selected together, one for all and all for one, as societies in the shape of organisms’ (367-68). Noting too that the wastes of these microbial communities form part of a ‘general economy’ (an ‘individuation’ that produces more than the individual), Sagan portrays the ‘brain-body’ as a ‘multiple being’ (rather than a substance or hylomorphism) whose problematic is less that of defending a unity that maintaining a balance or ‘ecology’ among its bacterial constituents: ‘Whereas the zoocentric model causally ascribes diseases to organisms, the emerging biocentric model of the new biology recognizes that many putative agents – such as streptococcus bacteria and Candida albicans fungi – are normally present in the human biological system’ (369). What is more, tensions in this ‘metastable’ ecology function as triggers for re-organization or (further) individuation: ‘ . . . disturbances of the body’s normal microbial ecology do not, properly speaking, signal sickness so much as the emergence of difference and novelty’ (369). Accordingly, the new symbiogenetic model makes the body part of a larger process of being or ontogenesis, ‘a sort of ornately elaborated mosaic of microbes in various states of symbiosis’ (369).

The mechanism for this symbiogenesis is ‘bacterial omnisexuality’ which effectively supersedes the functions of sexual reproduction, mutation, and viral transmission.[69] From Margulis and Sagan’s perspective, the becoming that yields human organisms can only be understood on the basis of bacterial ‘endosymbiosis’:Eukaryotic cells evolved through a process known as endosymbiosis. Perhaps the simplest model of endosymbiosis is for one organism to swallow another without digesting it. In microbes especially, thanks to their lack of an immune system, organisms may be eaten that are likely to survive within their hosts. A more complex form of endosymbiosis is bacterial ingestion: in this case, too, death does not ensue but, rather, the invading organisms successfully reproduce inside, and in some cases may even become absolutely required by, their hosts. Not only the origin of new species but the origin of the metakingdom Eukaryote as well, comprising all nonbacterial organisms, occurred not through gradual accumulation of mutations but through endosymbiosis: we may owe our very existence to the ancient ‘failure’ of Lilliputian vampires, oxygen-respiring bacteria similar to modern-day Bdellovibrio, to kill the hosts whose bodies they had invaded. This was of course a Pyrrhic victory, since these organelles now energize our entire bodies. (377-78, emphasis added)

Notwithstanding the surprising homology of this complexification with the stages of Burroughs’s virus, it must be stressed that endosymbiogenesis forms a counter to virology – a model of becoming that encompasses viruses as nothing more than ‘pieces’ of an expanded and ever-expanding self, an open self that literally incorporates parts of its environment.[70] The catalytic role played by viruses, as part of a more general bacterial endosymbiogenesis, testifies to the flexibility and potentiality of this new systemic understanding of the body (and also of the cosmos[71]): ‘Ostensibly, human bodies are integrating newly evolved and evolving viruses, only some of them, such as HIV, identifiable due to their pathogenicity. The majority of viruses and bacteria circulate around the biosphere and technosphere harmless and unnoticed, joining together genetic fragments in jamais-vu combinations’ (380). What can we say but this: we’ve come a long way, William Burroughs!


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[1] “Three Steps Towards a Non-Viral Becoming” was originally a footnote but was added to the final title. I want to thank Dave Boothroyd for inviting me to think through the problematic of virology.

[2] For a discussion of Shannon’s theory, see Hayles 1999, 51-54 and 63. Also see Winthrop-Young 2000, 408 and Hayles 1990, Chapter 2. I have addressed Shannon in relation to these accounts in Hansen 2002.

[3] See Maturana and Varela 1987.

[4] Since the very function of probability derives from the lack of specific information concerning a system’s microstates. For a discussion of the function of probability in the development of thermodynamics, see Hayles 1990, Chapter 2.

[5] Douglas Kahn gives an excellent sketch of this evolution in ‘Two Sounds of the Virus: William Burroughs’s Pure Meat Method’ (Kahn 1999, Chapter 11). My understanding of the correlation of Burroughs’s evolving conception of the virus with his engagement with the organic theories of Korzybski, Reich and Hubbard is indebted to Kahn, as is my exposition of it here.

[6] Korzybski’s General Semantics taught that philosophy (specifically the philosophy of Aristotle) could produce illness; Reich’s orgone theory postulated the existence of a basic unit of matter-energy – the orgone – which was concentrated in sexual orgasm and whose balance, both within the individual and in the resonance of the individual and the cosmos, was crucial to health.

[7] On Burroughs’ theory of addiction, see the Appendix to Naked Lunch.

[8] The first phrase, like the term ‘schlupp,’ is Allen Ginsburg’s (quoted in Kahn 298); the second is Burroughs’s (from Burroughs’s 1980 conversation with Victor Bockris, A Report from the Bunker with William Burroughs, cited in Kahn 298).

[9] Kahn makes a similar point: ‘ . . . although Burroughs’s virus was not generated at this time from a model of genetic code, the idea of inscriptive processes and language occurring at the cellular level was amply expressed through other means’ (296). However, Kahn tends to overstate the significance of this homology when he claims that ‘Burroughs had developed viral tropes of genetic mutation, genetic algorithms, artificial life, binary code as genetic information of the human organism, and computer viruses’ (297). While it is undeniable that Burroughs anticipates all of these concepts from molecular biology and more recent developments such as artificial life and complexity, the thanatology that animates his genealogy of the virus contrasts markedly with the emphasis on self-organizing, or at least life-expressing, processes that marks recent biology. This is one account of the argument that I am in the process of processing.

[10] Burroughs’s ‘own work was deeply informed by a variety of scientific and quasi-scientific theories – and by an obsession with fact, as he was quick to say. It was within this culture of fact that his notion of the virus grew . . . .’ (293).

[11] For an account of this first phase of cybernetics, see Hayles 1999, Chapter 3. Shannon’s theory was published in 1948 in an essay entitled ‘The Mathematical Theory of Communication’ (in Shannon and Weaver 1949).

[12] According to Burroughs’s ‘Foreward Note,’ this passage, like the other technical notes in the ‘Chinese Laundry’ section of Nova Express, was the contributions of Mr. Ian Sommerville, a young mathematician and Burroughs’s partner at the time. (see Burroughs 1964, ‘Foreward Note,’ unpaginated). Nonetheless, because it is contained within a novel that was written by Burroughs, I shall in what follows refer to the author of this technical note as Burroughs.

[13] I borrow this last phrase from Hayles 1990, 52.

[14] Another way of phrasing Shannon’s definition.

[15] The closure of the circuit and the separation of its technical elements (or what Weaver calls Level A) from its potential semantic and behavioural consequences (Levels B and C respectively) is at the heart of Shannon’s decision to divorce technical information from meaning. Donald MacKay develops a variant and roughly contemporaneous model of information that both underscores the narrow parameters of Shannon’s definition and seeks to include it in a larger ‘whole theory of information.’ For MacKay, meaning is an essential element of such a theory insofar as it is inseparable from the goal of communication: to alter the state of what MacKay calls the receiver’s ‘conditional-probability matrix’ (or CPM) which includes everything – from explicit beliefs to hormonal balances – that defines the organization of the receiver. Obviously, for MacKay, the formalism and closure of Shannon’s communicational circuit and – importantly for what will follow – the circumscription of noise within that circuit (and not also within the internal reception of the message by the receiver) present limitations on our understanding of communication. See MacKay 1956 (reprinted in MacKay 1969). See also my discussion of MacKay in Hansen 2002, Section 3 (available on-line at HYPERLINK “”

[16] Kahn, 296, 297, 313, 315, 321; Hayles discusses Burroughs’s understanding of human beings as tape recorders at the end of a chapter on ‘The Materiality of Informatics,’ Hayles 1999, Chapter 8. See also the excellent discussion in Lydenberg 1992. Burroughs himself discusses tape-recording technology in relation to the cut-up method in Burroughs 1982. Examples of Burroughs’s tape-recording experiments can be found at HYPERLINK “” Burroughs also addresses the identification of body and tape recorder in many places in his fiction; for a particularly revealing example, see his discussion of the ‘processing of Winkhorst’ in Nova Express (35-42). Incidentally, this example underscores the affinity of Burroughs’s viral theory of information with German media ‘scientist’ Friedrich Kittler’s concept of the materialization of bodies on the basis of storage media (Kittler 1999, ‘Introduction’). I return to this affinity below.

[17] As we will see, this means that Burroughs effectively forecloses any possibility for the receiver (host) to assume an active role in the communicational process. While MacKay develops an argument that moves between the poles of passive replication on the one hand and the active production of an internal symbol by the receiver on the other, Burroughs concentrates all agency in the viral code itself. See MacKay 1969, 48-53 and Hansen 2002.

[18] See Weaver 1949, 26. Weaver’s argument is discussed in Hayles 1990, 55. I discuss Weaver’s supplementation and contrast it with MacKay’s argument for the irreducibility of meaning in Hansen 2002.

[19] Hayles underscores the significance of Shannon’s theorization of noise when she correlates it with the necessarily mediated status of any message: Shannon’s ‘schematic of the communication situation . . . made clear that there is no such thing as an unmediated message. By dividing the communication situation into a sender, an encoder, a channel, a decoder, and a receiver, Shannon demonstrated that any message is always subject to the intrusion of ‘noise” (55). In this way, Hayles subtly acknowledges Shannon’s role as an important theorist of mediation (or what Bolter and Grusin have recently called ‘remediation’) and foregrounds the affinities of his formal definition of information with Friedrich Kittler’s evolutionary history of communications media: ‘Noise can be anything that interferes with the reception of the message the sender sent – misprints in a book, lines in a TV image, static on a radio, coding errors in a telegram, mispronunciations in speech. Noise is measured in the same units as information; indeed it is information, but information not intended by the sender. The amount of information contributed by noise is the ‘equivocation” (55-6). I discuss what I see as Kittler’s fatal debt to Shannon in Hansen 2002, Section 2 (available on-line at HYPERLINK “”

[20] Though this invocation is certainly justified by Atlan’s own appeal to the term ‘observer,’ it is not one that is presented as such by Atlan. Nonetheless, insofar as Atlan views the stimulus for re-organization as necessarily external to the system (that is, the larger system containing the particular communication network), an observational epistemology (like that developed by Maturana and, following him, by Luhmann) seems entirely fitting. Though this takes us beyond our concerns here, I have distinguished such observational epistemology from an operational epistemology (developed through the later work of Maturana and Varela) in a way that would bear critically on Atlan’s theory. See Hansen, ‘Unity without Representation?: Reconsidering the Organism through Autopoiesis?,’ unpublished ms (available on-line at HYPERLINK

[21] As Hayles notes, for Shannon ‘information and entropy were not opposites. They were identical’ (49). Indeed, Shannon ‘chose to call the quantity calculated by the [probability function that he identified with information] the ‘entropy’ of a message’ (49). It is important to stress, as Hayles does (and incidentally as Pynchon does in The Crying of Lot 49) that this identification remains metaphoric: i.e., that, information functions in a way that is like thermodynamic entropy in that it dissipates [closes off] the potential energy of a system. Hayles goes on to note the similarity in Shannon’s equation for information and Boltzmann’s equation for entropy, but suggests that this does not go very far in explaining the metaphoric connection.

[22] Brillouin argues that information and (thermodynamic) entropy are opposites, since information introduces order and thus decreases a system’s entropy. Brillouin based his argument on an analysis of Maxwell’s Demon and specifically, as Hayles recounts, on a ‘solution’ to the problematic posed by the Demon, i.e., its alleged violation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Brillouin resurrected Leo Szilard’s argument that the Demon would need to remember where the fast and slow molecules were stored, contending that this memory could be identified with information. Pointing out that the Demon would need a source of light to see molecules within the black box, Brillouin argued that ‘the absorption of this radiation by the system increases the system’s entropy more than the Demon’s sorting decreases it. Thus information gathered by the Demon is ‘paid for’ by an increase in entropy. This result resolves the conundrum [posed by Maxwell’s Demon] by showing that for the system as a whole, the second law is not violated‘ (45). Hayles concludes her discussion by observing the importance of Brillouin’s intuition that entropy and information are connected: ‘More important than saving the second law (a quixotic adventure, since it was not in jeopardy) . . . [t]his insight led directly to Brillouin’s conclusion that information is defined by the corresponding amount of negative entropy’ (45).

[23] ‘ . . . self-organization appears as a continuous disorganization constantly followed by reorganization with more complexity and less redundancy’ (300).

[24] We might compare Atlan’s economy with the reformulation of entropic production in the work of Ilya Prigogine. As Hayles reconstructs it, Prigogine’s novelty was to divide the term for total entropy into two parts: the first describing exchanges between the system and the outside world (global entropy); the second the production of entropy within the system itself (local entropy). In accordance with his understanding of the 2nd law as requiring the sum of these parts to be positive (i.e., to yield a net increase in entropy) except at equilibrium (where it would be zero), it makes sense that in conditions far from equilibrium, the first term (global entropy) will be ‘so overwhelmingly positive that even if the second term is negative, the sum can still be positive. This means that, without violating the second law, systems far from equilibrium can experience a local entropy decrease’ (Hayles 1990, 94). We might also mention in this regard that Prigogine reformulates the 2nd law in a way that seeks, in the broadest sense, to bridge the gap between classical reversibility (the physics of systems in equilibrium) and thermodynamic irreversibility (physics of systems far from equilibrium) and, more specifically, to reconcile the physics-based position that the universe is heading inexorably toward heat death and the biology-based view that dissipation yields a spontaneous increase of organization in living organisms. Reconceptualized in these contexts, the second law (which implies time reversibility) is delimited in its scope such that it can be said to apply only to closed systems (systems at equilibrium). Prigogine thus proposes what amounts to a new, updated and more flexible version of the 2nd law – the law that the total entropy of a system must increase except at equilibrium (where, in line with Newton’s law, it must be preserved). Although Atlan’s ‘economy’ can be said to obey (and also to imply the necessity for) such a law – and saying so is the point of this comparison – his development of self-organization diverges from Prigogine’s in a fundamental way (I mention this here in anticipation of what I shall say regarding Simondon’s notion of metastability). For Atlan the ‘source’ catalyzing self-organization is necessarily external to the system, a fact made explicit in his definition of self-organization as ‘a process where the change in organization with increased efficiency, although it is induced by the environment, is not directed by a programme but occurs under the effects of random environmental factors. According to this view, a self-organizing system is a system redundant enough and functioning in such a way that it can sustain a decrease in redundancy under the effects of error-producing factors without ceasing to function’ (1974, 300). (In a later revision, Atlan specifies the reason for this external catalyst to be the fact that the re-organization concerns the organization of the system itself: ‘ . . . the only changes capable of impacting [qui puissent concerner] the organization itself – and not simply the changes of the states of the system which comprise part of an on-going organization [organisation constante] – must be the products of something outside the system [d’en dehors du système]. . . . that is possible in two different ways: either a specified program [un programme précis], injected in the system by a programmer, determines the successive changes of f; or else these changes are determined, still from the exterior, but by aleatory factors in which no law prefiguring an organization can be established, nor any patternpermitting the discernment of a program. It is in this case that one can speak of self-organization [auto-organisation], even if it is not in the proper sense of the term [ce n’est pas au sens strict]’ [Atlan 1979, 44].) By contrast, Prigogine is interested in the local entropy decrease of systems far from equilibrium, a decrease that, as Hayles notes, ‘manifests itself as a dramatic increase in internal organization’ (94). Thus, rather than moving from a closed system (where noise acts destructively) to a larger system (where noise forms an ‘external’ catalyst for self-re-organization), Prigogine sees the production of order internal to a local system (or local systems) as the corollary of the massive increase in entropy of the global system. That is to say, Prigogine’s ‘economy’ of local and global entropy is the exact inversion of Atlan’s ‘economy’ between destructive and autonomy-producing noise (or entropy): where organization on Atlan’s model always occurs through a transcendence of the system (exposure to an external catalyst) and reorganization at a higher or more inclusive level, for Prigogine self-organization is more like a process of actualization that occurs when entropic proliferation reaches a critical point and generates a spontaneous increase in the internalorganization of a local system. On Prigogine’s account, global and local entropy cannot be differentiated via the proliferation of observational perspectives; rather, they fit together as the actual and virtual ‘sides’ of a single process (what Simondon will call ‘metastability’). As Hayles astutely observes, Prigogine highlighted this imbrication of local self-organizing processes and global entropy production by naming the reactions catalyzing self-organization ‘dissipative systems.’

[25] To the extent that Weaver’s and Atlan’s work demonstrates the necessity to conceive of information as a balance between noise and redundancy, the terms ‘noise’ and ‘information’ converge and, in fact, become interchangeable.

[26] On this point, Burroughs’s position is similar in striking ways to Kittler’s argument concerning entertainment and the disempowering/anesthetizing effects of software. Like biological variety in Burroughs, both entertainment and software function to distract human attention from the fact that it is information itself which is, increasingly, in control: ‘The Pentagon is engaged in farsighted planning: only the substitution of optical fibers for metal cables can accommodate the enormous rates and volumes of bits required, spent, and celebrated by electronic warfare. . . . In the meantime, pleasure is produced as a by-product: people are free to channel-surf among entertainment media. . . . Within the spectrum of the general data flow, television, radio, cinema, and the postal service constitute individual and limited windows for people’s sense perceptions. Infrared radiations or the radio echoes of approaching missiles are still transmitted through other channels, unlike the optical fiber networks of the future. Our media systems merely distribute the words, noises, and images people can transmit and receive. But they do not compute these data. They do not produce an output that, under computer control, transforms any algorithm into any interface effect, to the point where people take leave of their senses. At this point, the only thing being computed is the transmission quality of storage media, which appear in the media links as the content of the media. A compromise between engineers and salespeople regulates how poor the sound from a TV set can be, how fuzzy movie images can be, or how much a beloved voice on the telephone can be filtered. Out sense perceptions are the dependent variable of this compromise’ (Kittler 1999, 1-2). For a discussion of Kittler’s fatal debt to information theory and specifically to Shannon, see Hansen 2002, Section 2 ( HYPERLINK “”

[27] Perhaps because of his desire to cast Burroughs as a precursor to contemporary theories of genetic mutation and artificial life, Kahn overlooks this crucial point. He is, in a sense, fooled by Burroughs’s text (or rather, by his own convictions regarding its prophetic scope), just as humans were fooled by the appearance of variety. Consider his commentary on the part of ‘Technical Disposition of the Virus Power’ that identifies the virus’s homology with ‘information molecules [that] exhibited a capacity for life’: ‘Preventing this mathematical virus from endlessly replicating the same exact image was achieved by ‘radiating the virus material with high energy rays from cyclotrons,’ creating a variety that would have ‘scientists busy for ever exploring the ‘richness of nature” (Kahn 297). Needless to say, recognizing the irony in Burroughs’s passage would complicate any effort to draw linear affiliations between his virology and contemporary developments.

[28] Atlan’s use of the term variety in describing the ‘optimization process’ underlying organization makes this point even more salient: ‘any optimum organization would,’ he notes, ‘correspond to a compromise between maximum information content (i.e., maximum variety) and maximum redundancy . . . ‘ (1974, 296, emphasis added).

[29] That is, as distinct from the externality of the catalyst for self-organization on Atlan’s account, which remains relative, that is defined in terms of a distinction between system levels or system and environment.

[30] The thanatological overtones of Burroughs’s usurper virus are made evident in a famous passage from Naked Lunch: ‘It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another – the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter’ (Burroughs 1959, 134). Kahn reiterates this association in his account of ‘Burroughs’s Fall’ as a fall into a ‘viral interregnum’: ‘ . . . the dead, inorganic, chemical nature of junk is the driving force behind the complete pathologization of drives and the quick fall of the schlupp, and through its personification as a junkie spans the dead-live, inorganic-organic divide that is the most salient feature of the virus. . . . The junkie is a fallen body doing nothing. When necessary, it comes alive to find a fix or a host, but it does not live in life. The junkie preys on its host society only to produce the immediate conditions for its own survival, just as junk lives within the junkie, just as a virus comes to life only with a host. That is why they are not just any parasite, for most parasites go from life to life’ (302).

[31] ‘[T]hese information molecules were not dead matter but exhibited a capacity for life which is found elsewhere in the form of virus’ (49).

[32] This process of molecularization was already apparent in Burroughs’s shift from Korzyski to Reich, as Kahn suggests: ‘ . . . the site of pathology, being fairly dispersed and nondescript in Korzybski’s thought, became located at an explicitly microbial level in the figures of Reich’s cancerous cells and at the microscopic scene of inorganic matter coming to life once charged by the blue spark of orgone energy. Pathogenics, therefore, became situated at a protoplasmic and colloidal scale appropriate to actual viruses. In other words, Reichian cancer pathologized the usurpative functioning of Korzybskian protoplasm and colloidal behavior and thereby fortified the already existing ability for cancer to usurp the very being of individuals and societies through acts of metaphoricity’ (307).

[33] The notion of the engram was central to 19th century conceptions of memory and was developed most systematically by Richard Semon in The Mneme (Semon 1921).

[34] See Burroughs 1962, 49-50. Kahn discusses this passage on 317.

[35] Burroughs allegedly broke with Scientology and Hubbard in 1968. In this text, as in the passages on Hubbard from ‘Journey Through Space-Time,’ one can discern elements of a critique centered on the passivity and resignation endemic to Hubbard’s conceptualization of the Reactive Mind. That said, Burroughs’s own therapeutic model of (un)becoming continues to owe much (and, I am suggesting, too much) to the more general framework of Hubbard’s Reactive Mind.

[36] In ‘Journey Through Space-Time,’ after citing scientific evidence that animals can learn to control certain aspects of their autonomic nervous systems, Burroughs accuses Hubbard of turning the Reactive Mind into a black box: ‘Mr. Hubbard’s overtly fascist utterances . . . (China is the real danger to world peace, Scientology is protecting the home, the church, the family, decent morals . . . (no wife swapping) . . . national boundaries, the concept of RIGHT AND WRONG.) against evil free-thinking psychiatrists can hardly recommend him to the militant students. Certainly it is time for Scientology to come out in plain English on one side or the other if they expect the trust and support of young people. Which side are you on Hubbard which side are you on?’ (1969, 47-8).

[37] As, for example, Kittler’s theory might suggest. For further discussion of the correlation between the body and the tape recorder in Burroughs, see Hayles 1999, Chapter 8 and Lydenberg 1992.

[38] In particular, the work of Lynn Margulis, who argues that organic forms evolved from bacteria, and indeed are dependent on a non-viral symbiogenesis. I return to Margulis below.

[39] In this sense, it displays the ideology of disembodiment that Kate Hayles has so persuasively located in the evolution of cybernetics, from its initial formulation in the post-war Macy conferences up to and including much of today’s artificial life research. See Hayles 1999, Chapters 3, 6, and 9.

[40] See Margulis and Sagan 1986 and Sagan 1992 and ‘Coda’ below.

[41] Nonetheless, it is important to underscore how different Burroughs’s view is from the biological view of viruses as destroyers of organic form. What remains the limit case – e.g., something that occurs when the body is weak or old – becomes, for Burroughs, the norm. Compare Burroughs here with the position of biologist Robert Axelrod: ‘These mechanisms [to monitor stability of reciprocal cooperation] could operate even at the microbial. Any symbiont that still has a chance to spread to other hosts by some process of infection would be expected to shift from mutualism to parasitism when the probability of continued interaction with the original host lessened. In the more parasitic phase, it could exploit the host more severely by producing more of the forms able to disperse and infect. This phase would be expected when the host is severely injured, has contracted some other wholly parasitic infection that threatens death, or when it manifests signs of age. In fact, bacteria that are normal and seemingly harmless or even beneficial in the gut can be found contributing to sepsis in the body when the gut is perforated, implying a severe wound. And normal inhabitants of the body surface (like Candida albicans) can become invasive and dangerous in either sick or elderly persons. It is possible also that this argument has some bearing on the causes of cancer, insofar as it turns out to be due to viruses potentially latent in the genome. Cancers do tend to have their onset at ages when the chances of transmission from one generation to the next are rapidly declining (Axelrod in Barlow 1991, 143).

[42] Once again, Burroughs’s conceptualization is reminiscent of Kittler’s subordination of the body to recording media. See Kittler 1999, Introduction and note 26 above.

[43] This fatal endgame variously informs Burroughs’s authorship. On the one hand, it can be seen as the ‘mission’ of his literary ‘vision’: ‘(1964, 74). On the other hand, it represents the express function of his art: ‘The hope lies in the development of non-body experience and eventually getting away from the body itself, away from three-dimensional coordinates and concomitant animal reactions of fear and flight, which lead inevitably to tribal feuds and dissention’ (‘The Art of Fiction,’ cited in Nelson 131). Although it develops a very different (i.e, positive) understanding of Burroughs’s contempt for the body than that presented here, Cary Nelson’s ‘The End of the Body: Radical Space in Burroughs’ is well worth consulting. Nelson links Burroughs’s celebration of the end of the body to his crucial insight regarding the limitations it imposes on thought and creativity: ‘The self for Burroughs, like the planet, maintains its sense of historical continuity through the body’s influence. Our bodies keep us imprisoned in time. ‘All out of time,’ he writes, ‘and into space.’ Burroughs perhaps uses more images of body life and internal physical processes than any other author, but his violent imagery does not make us at home in our bodies. His radical space destroys the self as a structure continuous in time by ravaging and irreversibly transforming our biologic existence. . . . Burroughs rejoices in the end of the body. As inexplicable and intolerable as this statement will be to his readers, he literally intends the end of the human body as we know it. . . . To his own vision of infinite space, Burroughs deliberately opposes the need to enclose radical experience in protective frames’ (131). Nelson’s argument also underscores why Kahn’s account is so crucial: Kahn counters the trend, initiated by Burroughs himself, to transcend or dissolve the body or to think Burroughs’s engagement with organic theories as following some inexorable teleology culminating in such a dissolution.

[44] There are four (actually three, since one is to William Burroughs, Jr.) references to Burroughs in all of A Thousand Plateaus. One (p. 6) to the cut-up method (in relation to the ‘rhizome’); another (p. 152) to Speed by William Burroughs, Jr. (to illustrate the ‘paranoid BwO’); and two citations from Naked Lunch (pps. 150 and 153, to characterize the ‘schizo body’ and the flexibility of organs, respectively). There are no references to Burroughs in Difference and RepetitionLogic of Sense, or What is Philosophy?

[45] To the extent that molecularization is blamed by Burroughs for making ‘our image’ (our body) replicable, there remains a significant division between information and the body that does, at certain points in Burroughs’s work, translate into some sort of positive understanding of the body. In general, these moments attest to the activity of the body in ‘welcoming’ the virus – i.e., responding to it (even if toward negative ends) – and thus amplify the implications of Burroughs’s insistence that the virus requires a host (e.g., that the host is thus given some irreducible role, etc.). One such moment can be found in Burroughs’s description of how the Reactive Mind functions as a virus: ‘ (1969, 42).

[46] ‘Energetics defined a particular energy by the combination of two factors, one intensive and one extensive (for example, force and distance for linear energy, surface tension and surface area for surface energy, pressure and volume for volume energy, height and weight for gravitational energy, temperature and entropy for thermal energy . . . ). It turns out that, in experience, intensio (intension) is inseparable from an extensio (extension) which relates it to the extensum (extensity). In these conditions, intensity itself is subordinated to the qualities which fill extensity (primary physical qualities or qualitas, and secondary perceptible qualities or quale). In short, we know intensity only as already developed within an extensity, and as covered over by qualities’ (1994, 223).

[47] It would be better to say that, in both cases, subsequent developments expose conceptual problems or limitations in Deleuze’s philosophical perspective and indeed suggest the necessity of undoing the strict demarcation of philosophy and science that is, in fact, constitutive of Deleuze’s thinking. In the spirit of this suggestion, I would be tempted to read D+G’s shift in position regarding the correlation of entropy and intensity in What is Philosophy? to be the result of their adjustment to developments like the work of Prigogine, which can be seen precisely to chip away at the distinction (transcendental-empirical) that D+G make between philosophy and science. How else are we to understand the following passage, which would seem to go back on the entire trajectory of Deleuze’s thinking of ‘energy-in-general’ in Difference and Repetition?: ‘The concept is an incorporeal, even though it is incarnated or effectuated in bodies. But, in fact, it is not mixed up with the state of affairs in which it is effectuated. It does not have spatiotemporal coordinates, only intensive ordinates. It has no energy, only intensity; it is anenergetic (energy is not intensity but rather the way in which the latter is deployed and nullified in an intensive state of affairs). The concept speaks the event, not the essence of the thing – pure Event, a hecceity, an entity . . . ‘ (D+G 1994, 21, emphasis added). From the perspective of the argument to follow, this shift (and the transcendental reserve to which it submits thinking or the concept) makes D+G look oddly and troublingly like new-fangled idealists! See also the discussion of the figure of the demon (from Maxwell to Heisenberg) and subjectivist interpretations of thermodynamics, 129ff. Although it would take some mediation, the suggestion that ‘partial observers’ belong to the world itself can be shown to resonate with what Prigogine has to say about the time irreversibility of the cosmos.

[48] ‘The life that evolves on the surface of our planet is indeed attached to matter. If it were pure consciousness, a fortiori if it were supraconsciousness, it would be pure creative activity. In fact, it is riveted to an organism that subjects it to the general laws of inert matter. … Incapable of stopping the course of material changes downwards, [life] succeeds in retarding it. The evolution of life really continues, as we have shown, an initial impulsion: this impulsion, which has determined the development of the chlorophyllian function in the plant and of the sensori-motor system in the animal, brings life to more and more efficient acts by the fabrication and use of more and more powerful explosives’ (Bergson 1998, 245-46).

[49] As against his earlier Bergsonism, where difference was thought as the difference between difference in kind and difference in degree. On this shift in Deleuze’s Bergsonism, see Ansell Pearson 1999, 74-5. My reading in ‘Becoming as Creative Involution?’ largely follows Ansell Pearson’s (see Hansen 2000b, paragraphs 15-19).

[50] This difference is largely analogous to the two kinds of virtuality I distinguished in relation to Deleuze’s bio-philosophy: whereas Deleuze’s virtual ‘exists’ in a domain wholly separate from concrete actualizations that are always on-going and cumulative (e.g., the way an organism develops gradually and cumulatively), the biological notion of virtuality advanced by notions of morphogenesis in complexity theory remains bound to the concrete specificity of the organism undergoing morphogenesis.

[51] ‘Darwin’s great novelty, perhaps, was that of inaugurating the thought of individual difference. The leitmotiv of The Origin of Species is: we do not know what individual difference is capable of! We do not know how far it can go, assuming that we add it to natural selection. Darwin’s problem is posed in terms rather similar to those employed by Freud on another occasion: it is a question of knowing under what conditions small, unconnected or free-floating differences become appreciable, connected and fixed differences. . . . For Darwin, no doubt, individual difference does not yet have a clear status, to the extent that it is considered for itself and as primary matter of selection or differenciation: understood as free-floating or unconnected difference, it is not distinguished from an indeterminate variability. That is why [19th century biologist August] Weissmann makes an essential contribution to Darwinism when he shows how individual difference finds a natural cause in sexed reproduction: sexed reproduction as the principle of the ‘incessant production of varied individual differences.’ To the extent that sexual differenciation itself results from sexed reproduction, we see that the three great biological differenciations – that of species, that of organic parts and that of the sexes – turn around individual difference, not vice versa. These are the three figures of the Copernican Revolution of Darwinism. The first concerns the differenciation of individual differences in the form of the divergence of characteristics and the determination of groups. The second concerns the connection of differences in the form of the co-ordination of characteristics within the same group. The third concerns the production of differences as the continuous matter of differenciation and connection’ (1994, 248-49).

[52] On this point, I would disagree with Ansell Pearson to the extent that the ‘independent evolution’ of the presingular domain cannot be asserted on the basis of Deleuze’s reading of Darwin in Difference and Repetition (as Ansell Pearson claims), but requires the concept of the plane of immanence and the absolute separation of the molecular from the molar that only become fully articulated in A Thousand Plateaus.

[53] ‘ . . . singularities-events correspond to heterogeneous series, which are organized into a system which is neither stable nor unstable, but rather ‘metastable,’ endowed with a potential energy wherein the differences between series are distributed. (Potential energy is the energy of the pure event, whereas forms of actualization correspond to the realization of the event.)’ (Deleuze 1990, 103).

[54] In this respect, Simondon’s position, rather than upholding the scientific perspective against the philosophical (in what would be a mere inversion of Deleuze’s hierarchy), makes common cause with the work of Prigogine in, effectively, seeking to break down the distinctions between the philosophical and the scientific.

[55] While D+G do address Simondon’s critique of hylomorphism in A Thousand Plateaus (though in the form it takes in his book on technology), their remarks do not bear on the redefinition of individuation that Simondon pursues in his study devoted specifically to it.

[56] On the relation between Simondon and Bergson, one would have to take into consideration the explicit criticism Simondon offers of Bergson. This criticism is aimed at demonstrating that the living being, through the internal resonance constitutive of it (or better, of the individuation to which it is irreducibly coupled), has a certain agency over time, a capacity to determine its experience of time, which corresponds to the topology of its mediation of inside and outside. Thus, from Simondon’s perspective, Bergson’s notion of duration as monistic and continuous is insufficient, as is his view of the past as virtual, i.e., as a fully preserved or ‘absolute’ past: ‘The living being does not only interiorize in assimilating; it condenses and presents all that it has elaborated in the successive: this function of individuation is spatio-temporal; it is necessary to define, in addition to a topology of the living, a chronology of the living associated with this topology, as elementary as it and also as different from the physical form of time as topology is different from the structure of Euclidean space. Just as, in topology, distances do not exist, so too, in chronology, there is no quantity of time. This does not in any way signify that the time of vital individuation is continuous, as Bergson affirms; continuity is one of the possible chronological schemas, but it is not the only one; schemas of discontinuity, contiguity, envelopment, can be defined in chronology as in topology. Though Euclidean space and physical time doe not coincide, the schemas of chronology and of topology apply themselves one to the other; they are not distinct, and form the first dimensionality of the living being: every topological characteristic has a chronological correlate, and vice versa; thus, the fact, for the living substance, of being at the interior of the selective polarized membrane signifies that this substance has been caught up in the condensed past [a été prise dans le passé condensé]. The fact that a substance is in the milieu of exteriority signifies that this substance can happen in the future [peut advenir], can be proposed for assimilation . . . : it is to come [à venir]. At the level of the polarized membrane the interior past and the exterior future confront one another: this confrontation in the operation of selective assimilation is the present of the lived, which is made of this polarity of passage and of refusal, between substances that are past and those that are to come, present one to the other through the operation of individuation; the present is this metastability of the relation between interior and exterior, past and future . . . ‘ (Simondon 1995, 226). Also, see the criticism of Raymond Ruyer (Ruyer 1937, 4-10). Ruyer argues that Bergson’s two-fold differentiation of matter and memory must be doubled by a parallelism between what we might well describe as the ‘interiority’ of the living and the ‘exteriority’ of the environment; only the resulting four-pole model allows us to explain the active role of consciousness in ontogenesis (what Simondon develops as the bi-polarity of internal resonance). Although I allied my defense of a ‘biological notion of differentiation’ with Bergson’s understanding of organic forms as ‘obstacles’ to the flow of life in ‘Becoming as Creative Involution?’ (Hansen 2000b, paragraph 12), I now believe that Simondon’s systemic understanding of individuation forms a superior basis to make this same point. In particular, Simondon’s concept of individuation allows for a biological notion of differentiation that would deploy itself at different levels or ‘orders of magnitude’; in other words, Simondon’s concept is able to reconcile the virtuality of biological differentiation (a concrete virtuality or virtuality of the milieu that preexists and co-evolves with an organism) with its actuality.

[57] Here we can see clearly where Simondon diverges from Bergson: whereas for Bergson, living organisms function as ‘obstacles’ or ‘hindrances’ which interrupt the flow of consciousness or life, for Simondon such organisms are themselves agents of individuation, that is, creative producers of life.

[58] Especially where Deleuze makes it a point to distinguish the specificity of the singularities, i.e., their correlation with particular process of individuation, as in the following passages. ‘The highest generalities of life, therefore, point beyond species and genus, but point beyond them in the direction of the individual and pre-individual singularities rather than towards an impersonal abstraction’ (1994, 249). ‘ . . . the embryo is the individual as such directly caught up in the field of its individuation. Sexed reproduction defines this very field: if it is accompanied in the product by an all the more precocious apparition of the specific form, this is because the very notion of the species depends first upon sexed reproduction, which accelerates the movement of the unfolding of actualisation by individuation (the egg itself is already the site of the first developments). The embryo is a sort of phantasm of its parents; every embryo is a chimera, capable of functioning as a sketch and of living that which it unlivable for the adult of every species. . . . The vital egg is nevertheless a field of individuation, and the embryo is a pure individual . . . ‘ (250). ‘In order to plumb the intensive depths or the spatium of an egg, the directions and distances, the dynamisms and dramas, the potentials and potentialities must be multiplied. The world is an egg. Moreover, the egg, in effect, provides us with a model for the order of reasons: (organic and species related) differentiation-individuation-dramatisation-differenciation. We think that difference of intensity, as this is implicated in the egg, expresses first the differential relations or virtual matter to be organised. This intensive field of individuation determines the relations that it expresses to be incarnated in spatio-temporal dynamisms (dramatisation), in species which correspond to these relations (specific differenciation), and in organic parts which correspond to the distinctive points in these relations (organic differenciation). Individuation always governs actualisation: the organic parts are induced only on the basis of the gradients of their intensive environment; the types determined in their species only by virtue of the individuating intensity. Throughout, intensity is primary in relation to organic extensions and to species qualities. . . . The nucleus and the genes designate only the differentiated matter – in other words, the differential relations which constitute the pre-individual field to be actualised; but their actualisation is determined only by the cytoplasm, with its gradients and its fields of individuation’ (251).

[59] This difference in emphasis becomes a difference in substance at the moment when Deleuze (or D+G) generalize embryology and take it as a model for the body-without-organs: ‘The BwO is the egg. . . . The egg is the milieu of pure intensity, spatium not extension. . . . There is a fundamental convergence between science and myth, embryology and mythology, the biological egg and the psychic or cosmic egg: the egg always designates this intensive reality, which is not undifferentiated, but is where things and organs are distinguished solely by gradients, migrations, zones of proximity. The egg is the BwO’ (D+G 1987, 164). As I have argued, this assertion of a homology between embyology and ‘mythology’ construes both as an abstract virtuality or transcendental domain that is no longer correlated with any specific individuation: ‘From both biological and cosmic perspectives, the egg comprises a domain of virtual potential that is prior to any actualization, any production of developmentally-constrained forms of life. Just as the flexible potential of the embryo remains inherent in the developed individual, so too does the limitless virtual repertoire of the BwO lie dormant within any concrete organism that it spawns. In this sense, D+G suggest, the biological egg, no less than the cosmic egg, is coterminous with the plane of immanence or consistency. Rather than forming a flexible field of potential that is developmentally prior to morphogenesis and that loses its flexibility through developmental fixation (as it does for complexity theory), embryology in its deterritorialized form comprises what amounts to an atemporal condition of possibility which not only does not disappear or undergo constraining alterations following developmental fixation but remains in force as a virtual reservoir conditioning subsequent movements of becoming. Embryology thus plays a role in D+G’s philosophy analogous to that of Spinoza’s substance: it defines a cosmic field of virtual potential that gets expressed in the particular forms which are selected for actualization’ (Hansen 2000b, paragraph 56).

[60] ‘ . . . it is fair to assume that the process of individuation does not exhaust everything that came before (the preindividual), and that a metastable regime is not only maintained by the individual, but is actually borne by it, to such an extent that the finally constituted individual carries with it a certain inheritance associated with its preindividual reality, one animated by all the potentials that characterize it. Individuation, then, is a relative phenomenon, like an alteration in the structure of a physical system. There is a certain level of potential that remains, meaning that further individuations are still possible. The preindividual nature, which remains associated with the individual, is a source of future metastable states from which new individuations could eventuate. . . . The living being, which is simultaneously more and less than a unity, possesses an internal problematic and is capable of being an element in a problematic that has a wider scope than itself. As far as the individual is concerned, participation here means being an element in a much larger process of individuation by means of the inheritance of preindividual reality that the individual contains – that is, due to the potentials it has retained‘ (Simondon 1992, 306, shorter emphases added). As my added emphases are meant to convey, Simondon stresses the fact that metastability is always correlated with the on-going development of the system; it is not something given once and for all, something abstract and unchanging.

[61] This would be the case, moreover, even if information were like entropy in being an extensity that does not exist outside the intensity in which it is implicated.

[62] For an alternate philosophical scenario that lends indirect support to such a speculation, consider the ‘deconstruction’ of information or cybernetics that forms such a central part of Derrida’s Of Grammatology. For a critical account of this deconstruction, see Hansen 2000a, Chapter 3. One might also mention the influence on Deleuze of Raymond Ruyer’s La Cybernétique et l’origine de l’information where a different affirmative ‘deconstruction’ of information is at work. For a discussion of Ruyer’s argument and its relation with Deleuze’s understanding of cinema, see Hansen 2002, Section 4 (currently available on-line at HYPERLINK “”

[63] For this reason alone, I would contest Deleuze’s own view of his relation to Simondon. Citing the ‘special importance’ of Simondon’s L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique for his understanding of the transcendental field, Deleuze claims to ‘part company [with Simondon] only in drawing conclusions’ (1990, 344, n. 3). As I see it, by contrast, Deleuze employs Simondon’s conception of individuation in the service of a transcendental analysis that has little in common with his own effort to develop individuation (including its transcendental functions) on the basis of a fundamental revision of information theory.

[64] I criticize this notion in Hansen 2000b, paragraph 57.

[65] The similarities between this distinction and Ruyer’s distinction between technical machines, machines within the living organism, and consciousness as beyond the machine are striking. See Ruyer 1954, Chapters 2-3 and Hansen 2002, Section 4.

[66] My treatment of transduction here thus only begins to do justice to one aspect of it. To get an idea of the central importance transduction plays in Simondon’s work, consider the following passage: ‘Transduction corresponds to the presence of those relations created when the preindividual being becomes individuated. It expresses individuation and allows us to understand its workings, showing that it is at once a metaphysical and also a logical notion. While it may be applied to ontogenesis, it is also ontogenesis itself. Objectively, it allows us to comprehend the systematic preconditions of individuation, internal resonance and the psychic problematic. Logically, it can be used as the foundation for a new species of analogical paradigms so as to enable us to pass from physical individuation to organic individuation, from organic individuation to psychic individuation, and from psychic individuation to the subjective and objective level of the transindividual that forms the basis of our investigation’ (314).

[67] For Margulis, see Symbiosis in Cell Evolution and Margulis and Sagan, Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution; for Lovelock, see The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. See also Vernadsky, The Biosphere and Sagan, Biospheres: The Metamorphosis of Planet Earth.

[68] I do, however, want to underscore one concrete homology between Simondon and Margulis: namely the role of transduction. ‘In the process known as transduction, a fragment of the bacterium’s DNA or any other small replicon present can be taken up into the protein case and travel to other bacteria. . . . [Together with conjugation,] transduction [is] the bacterial world’s chief method of sharing immunity to drugs’ (Sagan and Margulis 1986, 90).

[69] As my above discussion of D+G’s appropriation of viral transmission and symbiosis should make clear, the role of bacterial omnisexuality has far-reaching consequences for their effort to ‘appropriate’ Margulis’s work. On this point, it is not without consequence that bacterial omnisexuality, at least on Sagan’s account, almost literally corresponds to D+G’s description of becoming: ‘If eukaryotes could trade genes as fluidly as do bacteria, it would be a small matter for dandelions to sprout butterfly wings, collide with a bee, exchange genes again and soon be seeing with compound insect eyes. Bacteria are able to trade variable quantities of genes with virtually no regard for species barriers. Indeed, despite a lingering Linnaean nomenclature, bacteria are so genetically promiscuous, their bodies are so genetically open, that the very concept of species falsifies their character as a unique life form’ (378). Needless to say, this correspondence serves to check the excesses of D+G’s claims, and not (as their effort to appropriate Margulis’s work would have it) to support their model of becoming.

[70] In Microcosmos, Margulis and Sagan describe viruses as a mechanism of bacterial omnisexuality: ‘Sex, in the biological sense, . . . means simply the union of genetic material from more than one source to produce a new individual. It has nothing to do with copulation, nor is it intrinsically related to reproduction or to gender. According to this strict definition, the passing of nucleic acid into a cell from a virus, bacterium, or any other source is sex. The transfer of genetic particles such a viruses among different bacteria is sex. Even the infection of humans by an influenza virus is a sexual act in that genetic material inserts itself in our cells’ (1986, 156; on viruses, see also 52, 90). For the record, another position – that of Richard Dawkins – would furnish a picture of viruses far more conducive to Burroughs’s pathogenic vision: as Marcello Malpighi suggests, ‘[v]iruses too can be viewed as support for Dawkins’ theory. They are the closest thing to simple, naked replicators that can be found on the planet today. Indeed, there is some dispute as to whether viruses should even be deemed alive. The simplest bacterium is extraordinarily more complex than a virus, which is no more than a strand of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) covered by a protective coat. A virus is the ultimate parasite because outside of a host cell it can do absolutely nothing. But once inside, it hijacks the cell’s own metabolic machinery for the purpose of producing more strands of the viral genes. Production of viral genes goes on unimpeded until the volume of product is so great that the cell walls burst and thus release thousands or millions of copies of the virus into the surrounding tissues or bloodstream to begin the process anew. Viruses, therefore, do none of the usual things we associate with living organisms. They don’t eat; they don’t breathe; they don’t grow. All they do is replicate. There is no doubt that from a virus’s point of view the entire meaning of life is replication’ (in Barlow 1991, 224). With his notion of the meme, Dawkins himself advocates something like an extension of viral replication to ideas and culture: ‘The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator . . . . Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which . . . can be called imitation. As my colleague N. K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter: ‘Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. For more than three thousand million years, DNA has been the only replicator worth talking about in the world. But it does not necessarily hold these monopoly rights for all time. Whenever conditions arise in which a new kind of replicator can make copies of itself, the new replicators will tend to take over, and start a new kind of evolution of their own. Once this new evolution begins, it will in no necessary sense be subservient to the old. The old gene-selected evolution, by making brains, provided the ‘soup’ in which the first memes arose. Once self-copying memes had arisen, their own, much faster, kind of evolution took off. We biologists have assimilated the idea of genetic evolution so deeply that we tend to forget that it is only one of many possible kinds of evolution’ (in Barlow 1991, 219). Given the lessons we have (hopefully) learned from Burroughs (and D+G), it seems to me that the utmost caution is needed as we try to develop this notion along positive lines, into something like an endosymbiogenesis at a higher level. For an interesting, and to my mind, altogether devastating critique of Dawkins’s selfish genetics and the memetology he derives from it (one that, moreover, aligns him with D+G), see Hayles, forthcoming.

[71] Given my claims for its resonance with Simondon’s individuation, it is significant that Sagan correlates endosymbiogenesis with the concept of information and with thermodynamic entropy. Thus what is said to demarcate the bacterial ‘concept of the individual’ from the ‘encased self’ of zoocentrism is the role of ‘interference patterns generated by a series of symbiotically living forms’ – patterns, that is, which comprise information inside the organism and catalyze processes of re-organization. And what fuels the continuity of life as on-going symbiogenesis is the sun: ‘Life, according to Margulis, is bacterial. And this bacterial world, according to Lovelock, has a lifespan. The biggest challenge to life over the long run has little to do with paltry meanderings of human beings. It comes rather from the source of all life, the sun’ (380). Incidentally, both Simondon and Ruyer demarcate their affirmative refunctionalizations of information theory in a way that distances the concept of information from the virus: ‘ . . . transduction,’ Simondon argues, ‘derives the resolving structure from the tensions themselves within the domain . . . and not through the help of some foreign body‘ (1992, 315); and Ruyer speaks of a difference between inventive and reproduced information: ‘inventive information in the atomic and microphysical domain is necessarily . . . of a very different genre from that of information at the level of ‘secondary’ laws and macroscopic phenomena. The ‘natura non nisi parendo vincitur‘ cannot be applied in the same way to the manner in which a molecule-virus finds the means to repair and reproduce itself, by capturing [en captant] more simple molecules, and to the manner in which the animal uses water or air to breath by canalizing it in branches or lungs, or to the manner in which the human being [l’homme] uses a currant of water to make a mill run, or an ejection of particles to make a explosion happen. There are no true pipelines [vrais tuyaux], no true membranes [vraies membranes] in a virus which is hardly even a molecule’ (1954, 230).

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