By Jose Rosales
– What is To Live and Think Like Pigs about?
[Châtelet:] It’s a book about the fabrication of individuals who operate a soft censorship on themselves…In them, humanity is reduced to a bubble of rights, not going beyond strict biological functions of the yum-yum-fart type. . .as well as the vroom-vroom and beep-beep of cybernetics and the suburbs. . .So people with entirely adequate IQs don’t become free individuals. . .instead they constitute what I call cyber-livestock […] All fresh meat, all fresh brains, must become quantifiable and marketable.
In the opening pages of his foreword to Gilles Châtelet’s To Live and Think Like Pigs, Alain Badiou repeatedly emphasizes the need for preparation on the part of the reader. In spite of Châtelet’s critical violence, poignant sarcasm, and general disenchantment with the present state of affairs, we readers must prepare ourselves for the encounter with that “rage to live,” which “animated Gilles Châtelet” (‘What is it to Live?’ 5). A rage whose urgency makes itself felt already in the books Preface. However, remarks Badiou, this was always a rage bound to and tempered by a melancholy felt in the face of the fact that more and more each day “we are solicited (and increasingly so) to live – and to think – ‘like pigs’” (5). What is more, adds Badiou, what is additionally exceptional and worthy of note is the fact that despite Châtelet being someone better known for his expertise in the history and theory of the sciences and the philosophy of mathematics, the fundamental commitment and impetus that guides his thought is better understood as one in which “every proposition on science [i.e. principle of Thought] can be converted into a maxim for life [i.e. principle of action].” Thus, if Châtelet is to be remembered, it will be as an individual whose life and thought will forever remain irreducible to the concerns of a pure epistemologist or professional academic. And for Badiou, Châtelet’s is a thought whose chief concern was always the question what does it mean to live? Now, to demonstrate why this is so, Badiou proposes the following five principles that are to serve as an introduction to, and outline of, the architectonic of Châtelet’s life and work as a whole: the principle of exteriority, the principle of interiority, the principle of determination, the principle of the indeterminacy of Being, and the principle of invention.
Principle of Exteriority: Thought is the unfolding of the space that does justice to your body
According to Badiou, if we were to identify the single theme that unifies Châtelet’s range of interests, which span from the arts and sciences to questions of revolution, it would be the idea that “thought is rooted in the body;” where body is “conceived of as dynamic spatiality” (5). What does it mean to say that thought is rooted in dynamic spatiality; that the grounds for thought is the body? It means that Thought finds its “origin” (this is Badiou’s formulation) in geometry whereby “all thought is the knotting together of a space and a gesture, the gestural unfolding of a space” (5). In other words, if Thought is rooted in the body or that what grounds Thought is a certain spatial dynamism, then ‘to think’ necessarily means to engender a particular act (gesture) within a particular organization of space (geometric plane) – Thought, says Châtelet, was never solely the domain of the mind and necessarily involves the conjugation of the points of one’s body with those of a plane. And it is this image of Thought as the conjugation of a body with a plane that leads Badiou to claim that Châtelet’s first maxim was as follows: ‘Unfold the space that does justice to your body’ (5). And it is this maxim of finding the space that does justice to one’s body that is the practical correlate to Châtelet’s own image of Thought as being founded upon a body (i.e. spatial dynamism): insofar as we are thinking and thus rooted in a body, we are simultaneously compelled to act in such a way that the conjugation of body and plane does justice to the body of Thought (the body which is the ground for Thought): “Châtelet’s love of partying obeyed this maxim. It is more ascetic than it might appear, for the construction of the nocturnal space of pleasure is at least as much of a duty as a passive assent. To be a pig is to understand nothing of this duty; it is to wallow in satisfaction without understanding what it really involves” (6).
Principle of Interiority: Solitude is the ‘Intimate Essence’ of Alterity
If Thought is rooted in the body and establishes the obligation of determining the space which does justice to one’s body, what we discover is that for every process of realisation there exists some, “virtuality of articulation that is its principle of deployment. Geometry is not a science of extrinsic extension…it is a resource for extraction and for thickening, a set of deformational gestures, a properly physical virtuality. So that we must think a sort of interiority of space, an intrinsic virtue of variation, which the thinking gesture at once instigate and accompanies”(6). In other words, the fact of Thought being grounded upon the body (as spatial dynamism) has as its necessary consequence the fact that the very function of any given process of realization (or actualization) can only be grasped by understanding its raison d’etre; by grasping why and how a given phenomena was able to be realized in the first place. That is to say, realization or actualization is a process that is not determined by that which it produces (i.e. the latent potential of any social phenomena can in no way serve as reason or cause for that which has been actualized). That said… how does Châtelet view this maxim of Thought as a maxim that also holds for the question of ‘what does it mean to live?’
According to Badiou, the fact that processes of actualization are determined by their virtual components are, for Châtelet, indicative of the fact that the process of extensive unfolding of (‘just’) space proceeds via gesture is repeated but this time with respect to what is intensive and belongs to interiority. For, as Badiou remarks, Thought is comprised of “a set of deformational gestures, a properly physical virtuality” (6), i,e. the deformation of a space that remains unjust vis-a-vis our body, and whose movements are guided not by the requirements of realisation but by what is virtually possible and/or impossible. It is in this way that Châtelet’s first principle (Thought is rooted in the body) gives rise to its second: just as the ‘deformational gesture’ is the developmental or extensive function of Thought (the pure function which is to be realised), so too is it the case that solitude as the ‘interiority of space’ and which harbors that ‘intrinsic virtue of variation,’ is Thought’s enveloping or intensive function. Thus Badiou can write that, “[I]n terms of life, this time is a matter of remarking that solitude and interiority are, alas, the intimate essence of alterity…Gilles Châtelet knew innumerable people, but in this apparent dissemination there was a considerable, and perhaps ultimately mortal, dose of solitude and withdrawal. It is from this point of bleak solitude, also, that he was able to judge the abject destiny of our supposedly ‘convivial’ societies” (6). And it is in this way, then, that in affirming the maxim of unfolding the space that does justice to our body; a space that also serves as the very ground for Thought as such; we discover that the development of ‘just’ space is only made possible by preserving the interiority of space for solitude and withdrawal. While embodiment may define the Being of Thought, it remains the case that it is through the solitude of interiority that Thought-as-gesture-of-deformation possesses any degree of determinacy. And in the absence of any interiority; lacking solitude as that “intimate essence of alterity and of the external world;” Thought becomes capable of nothing more than its passive assent to the nocturnal space of pleasure:
At this decades’ end, a veritable miracle of the Night takes place, enabling Money, Fashion, the Street, the Media, and even the University to get high together and pool their talents to bring about this paradox: a festive equilibrium, the cordial boudoir of the ‘tertiary service society’ which would very quickly become the society of boredom, of the spirit of imitation, of cowardice, and above all of the petty game of reciprocal envy – ‘first one to wake envies the others’. It’s one of those open secrets of Parisian life: every trendy frog, even a cloddish specimen, knows very well that when Tout-Paris swings, ‘civil society’ will soon start to groove. In particular, any sociologist with a little insight would have been able to observe with interest the slow putrefaction of liberatory optimism into libertarian cynicism, which would soon become right-hand man to the liberal Counter-Reformation that would follow; and the drift from ‘yeah man, y’know, like…’, a little adolescent-hippy but still likeable, into the ‘let’s not kid ourselves’ of the Sciences-Po freshman. (Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs, 8-9)
Principle of Determination: ‘Be the prince of your own unsuspected beauty’
Now, if it is the case that virtual solitude alone is capable of rendering Thought’s deformational gestures (gestures which unfold a ‘just’ space vis-a-vis the body as foundation for Thought as such), then the question necessarily arises: What is the criteria or measure by which Thought attains a discrete and determinate existence? If the virtual is what guides the process of actualisation, to what end does virtuality as such aspire? According to Badiou, the virtual determination of actualisation, appears in Châtelet’s text as a form of determination that is oriented toward the ‘latent’ and/or ‘temporal’ continuum. As Badiou writes, “[T]he latent continuum is always more important than the discontinuous cut […] For Châtelet, the history of thought is never ready-made, pre-periodised, already carved up. Thought is sleeping in the temporal continuum. There are only singularities awaiting reactivation, creative virtualities lodged in these folds of time, which the body can discover and accept (6). Now, just as the body is the ground for Thought, the latent continuum as that set of not-yet realised virtual-potentials provide the outline of that which the process of actualisation is to realise. To unfold the space that does justice to one’s body; to deform actual or realised space (i.e. to no longer passively assent to the present order of space); such that thought and gesture are explicated in accordance with everything that has not yet been given its actual and concrete form. Thus, Badiou concludes,
The maxim of life this time is: ‘Reactivate your dormant childhood, be the prince of your own unsuspected beauty. Activate your virtuality.’ In the order of existence, materialism might be called the desiccation of the virtual, and so Gilles sought to replace this materialism with the romantic idealism of the powers of childhood. To live and think like a pig is also to kill childhood within oneself, to imagine stupidly that one is a ‘responsible’ well-balanced adult: a nobody, in short. (Badiou, ‘What is it to Live?’ 6)
It is this latent continuity of the virtual that give form to Thought’s deforming gestures and render it as an act whose very significance is indexed to the not-yet realised potential of interiority. For if Thought is said to be disfiguring in its deeds it is precisely because what is realised are modes of being who remain in an asymmetrical relation to the currently existing order of things. Perhaps we could say that one of the inaugural gestures of Thinking is its disagreement with the structure, and thus reality, of the world which it confronts. Absent this disagreement, Thought confronts, once more, that passive assent which signals its imminent failure.
Principle of Indeterminate Being: ‘Love only that which overturns your order’
Now, while it is the case that Thought resides in the latent continuum of virtuality and orients its actualisation in accordance with ‘the prince of its own unsuspected beauty,’ it is also the case that Thought grasps Being only in moments of its indeterminacy. For Badiou, Being as indeterminate commits Châtelet to a certain “dialectical ambiguity” wherein “Being reveals itself to thought – whether scientific of philosophical, no matter – in ‘centres of indifference’ that bear within them the ambiguity of all possible separation” (6). For, as Châtelet writes, it is these “points of maximal ambiguity where a new pact between understanding and intuition is sealed” (7). However, one might ask, what does indifferent Being have to do with the virtual’s determination of actualisation? What is the relation between indeterminate Being and the determinations of Thought? For Châtelet, it is this confrontation of indeterminate Being and the determination of the virtual of Thought that acts as that propitious moment whereby the virtual acts upon the process of actualisation; for it is precisely in the absence of the self-evidence of determinate and definite space, which served as that which Thought passively believes to be “capable of orienting itself and fixing its path,” (7) that the virtual and the actual are drawn together to the point of their indistinction. Thus it is when Being is indeterminate (or ambiguous) that Thought increases its capacity of deforming space in the name of its body. Hence, says Badiou, this principle of indeterminate Being is given the following, practical, formulation: “‘Be the dandy of ambiguities. On pain of losing yourself, love only that which overturns your order.’ As for the pig, he wants to put everything definitively in its place, to reduce it to possible profit; he wants everything to be labelled and consumable” (7).
Principle of Invention: To live is to invent unknown dimensions of existing
Thus far we have seen how in beginning with the maxim of Thought as the unfolding of a space that does justice to the body as ground of Thinking, Châtelet goes on to develop the principle of interiority/solitude, which leads to the discovery that the virtual determines actualisation, and thereby obliging us to “love what overturns our order” insofar as Thought’s passive assent to a certain pre-established harmony of space is that which Thought must deform through its gestures. However, the question necessarily arises: is the logical outcome of Thought’s deformation of a predetermined space merely amount to the celebration of disorder pure and simple? As it approaches the limits of what it is capable of when confronted with indifferent/ambiguous Being, can Thought be something other than the discordant harmony of deformed space and the idealized continuum of time? To these questions, Châtelet’s response is strictly Bergsonian. Following Bergson’s insight that it would be false to treat disorder as the opposite of order (since ‘disorder’ is the term used for the discovery of an order we were not anticipating), Châtelet argues that not only is Thought something more than the multiplication of deformed space and ideal time; it is precisely when the preceding conditions, or maxims, of Thought have been satisfied that “the higher organisation of thought is…attained” (8). What is this higher order of Thought? Badiou’s answer to this question, as lengthy as it is moving, deserves to be quoted at length:
As we can see: a thought is that which masters, in the resolute gestural treatment of the most resistant lateralities, the engendering of the ‘continuously diverse.’ The grasping of being does not call for an averaging-out…it convokes…the irreducibility, the dialectical irreducibility, of dimensions. In this sense thought is never unilaterally destined to signifying organization…But this is not where the ultimate states of thought lie. They lie in a capacity to seize the dimension; and for this one must invent notations, which exceed the power of the letter. On this point, romantic idealism teaches us to seek not the meaning of our existence, but the exactitude of its dimensions. To live is to invent unknown dimensions of existing and thus, as Rimbaud said, to ‘define vertigo’. This, after all, is what we ought to retain from the life and the death of Gilles Châtelet: we need vertigo, but we also need form – that is to say, its definition. For vertigo is indeed what the romantic dialectic seeks to find at the centre of rationalist itself, insofar as rationality is invention, and therefore a fragment of natural force […] It is a matter of discerning, or retrieving, through polemical violence, in the contemporary commercial space, the resources of a temporalization; of knowing whether some gesture of the thought-body is still possible. In order not to live and think like pigs, let us be of the school of he for whom…only one questioned mattered in the end-an imperative question, a disquieting question: The question of the watchman who hears in space the rustling of a gesture, and calls our: ‘Who’s living?’ Gilles asked, and asked himself, the question: ‘Who’s living?’ We shall strive, so as to remain faithful to him, to choose. (Badiou, ‘What is it to Live?’ 7-8)
For Badiou, then, Châtelet never faltered in his commitment to Thought as deformational gestures which allow Thought to grasp diversity as such; to grasp the multiple as “the production of a deformation of the linear [the order enforced by the pig who wants to put everything in its place; the space of consumption and circulation] through laterality [the time of inventing new dimensions of existence determined by the latent continuum of the virtual]” (7). That is to say, in every deformed and mutilated act Thought is able to prise open the rigid organization of commercial space and re-establish its relation to those virtual images over-determining the realization of actual object. Thus, Châtelet conceives of the relationship between Thought’s deformational cut, which brings a new order and connection to those spaces of commerce and consumption. And much the same way as Deleuze understood the relationship of the actual to the virtual, so too does Châtelet maintain that the virtual image is contemporary with the actual object and serves as its double, “its ‘mirror image,’ as in The Lady from Shanghai, in which the mirror takes control of a character, engulfs him and leaves him as just a virtuality” (Dialogues II, 150). Hence Badiou can write that at the height of its powers, Thought undergoes a transformation and comes to establish a new “pact between understanding and intuition” such that “separative understanding and intuition fuse, in a paradoxical intensity of thought” (6-7). For it is this moment of Thought’s intensive functioning wherein what is given in our experience of the virtual finds itself without a corresponding actual phenomenal object. And in instances such as these, Thought is obliged to invent or discover the forms by which the temporalization of what is virtual within laterality achieves an intentional and determinate deformation of the axis of linearity. Only then does Thinking reach the highest degree of its power, which is its ability to expose the form or exact dimensions of existence, which will serve as the criteria for the reorganization of space (discrete, discontinuous).
Not to live and think like pigs, then. To remain faithful to everything that is at stake in the question of ‘What is it to live?’ and to always inquire into who among us are in fact living. As we have seen, any possible answer to these questions begin with a gesture that desecrates what is sacrosanct in cybernetic-capitalist terrestrial life. And perhaps from the present vantage point we are not too distant from the position Châtelet found himself; thinking and posing these questions – ‘what is it to live? and who among us are living?’ – in the shadow of neo-liberalism’s Counter-Reformation; that era, says Châtelet, which came to be defined by “the market’s Invisible Hand, which dons no kid gloves in order to starve and crush silently, and which is invincible because it applies its pressure everywhere and nowhere; but which nonetheless…has need of a voice. And the voice was right there waiting. The neo-liberal Counter-Reformation…would furnish the classic services of reactionary opinion, delivering a social alchemy to forge a political force out of everything that a middle class invariably ends up exuding-fear, envy, and conformity” (TLTLP, 18-19). And if we were to pose Châtelet’s question for our historical present, one would find an answer from Châtelet himself; an answer that is, however, a negative response:
“…here lies the whole imposture of the city-slicker narcissism…the claim to reestablish all the splendour of that nascent urbanism that, in the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, brings together talents, intensifying them in a new spacetime – whereas in fact all our new urbanists do is turn a profit from a placement, a double movement that pulverizes and compactifies spacetime so as to subordinate it to a socio-communicational space governed by the parking lot and the cellphone. From now on the spacetime of the city will be a matter of the econometric management of the stock of skills per cubic metre per second, and of the organization of the number of encounters of functional individuals, encounters that naturally will be promoted to the postmodern dignity of ‘events’ […] In any case, for the great majority of Turbo-Becassines and Cyber-Gideons, cosmopolitanism is above all a certain transcontinental way of staying at home and amongst their own by teleporting the predatory elegance that immediately distinguishes the urban monster as a bearer of hope…from the Gribouilles and the Petroleuses, afflicted with vegetative patience or saurian militancy.”
(Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs, 67-68)
by Ian Buchanan
Kevin Fletcher - ornamental low relief assemblage
II. ‘Returning’ to the Assemblage
Using some ‘real-world’ examples drawn from the work of the Australian policy ethnographer Tess Lea, I want to offer a different view of the assemblage, one that is drawn directly from the work of Deleuze and Guattari rather than secondary sources. Four key differences from Baker and McGuirk’s account of the assemblage will be apparent: ﬁrstly, the assemblage is not a thing in the world–it is assemblages that explain the existence of things in the world, not the other way round; secondly, assemblages are structured and structuring (not purely processual), that is one of their principal processes; thirdly, assemblages have a logic, an operational sense if you will, that can be mapped–one always knows what is possible and what is not possible within a given assemblage; and, lastly, assemblages always strive to persist in their being, to use a Spinozist turn of phrase–they are subject to forces of change, but ultimately they would always prefer not to change (this is why deterritorialisation is always immediately followed by reterritorialisation).
Infrastructure good and bad is the product of countless small decisions by many thousands of people over many decades. Those decisions, however well intentioned and well thought through, are not made in a vacuum. Of necessity, they are made in a context deﬁned by a set of constraints to do with cost, existing infrastructure, topography, trade agreements, and countless other factors too numerous to even at tempt to tabulate here, that ultimately blurs the line between the intended and the unintended, the fated and the accidental. The result is a curious state of affairs that is neither the product of deliberate, conscious design, nor the product of a sequence of random, ad hoc experiments, but somehow a combination of the two. It is, in this sense, a highly unstable object that requires a supple ontology to describe it. To begin with, and perhaps most importantly, we have to stop thinking of infrastructure and infrastructure policy in teleological terms because it has neither a clear-cut beginning nor a logical end point (Lea 2014:n.p.).This, in turn, challenges us to re-think the ontology of policy.
Rather than see policy as a blueprint, that is, as a static document or model which guides the construction of speciﬁc pieces of infrastructure, Lea argues that ‘policy is an organic–or as I prefer, a wild–force, a biota which thrives on the heralding of cataclysms and thus the cumulative need for policy beneﬁcence’ (Lea 2014: n.p.). I like this notion of wild policy, because of the impromptu, seat-of-the-pants, policy-on-the-ﬂy image it conjures up that goes well beyond the rather tame non-linear feedback loop model of ‘formulation–implementation–reformulation’ DeLanda suggests as a means of accommodating the widely acknowledged ‘gap’ between policy formulation and implementation. As he says, this model works–for his purposes–because it allows for ﬂuidity in the policy-implementation process but still retains the possibility of assessing outcomes (De Landa 2006: 85). Lea’s position is much more radical than this because she wants us to dispense with the fantasy (implicit in DeLanda’s formulation) that policy can be thought in systemic terms and evaluated by wiser critics after the fact, thus failing to think outside the logic of the system being critiqued. As Lea’s work demonstrates, the ‘formulation–implementation–reformulation’ model is intrinsic to policy’s own idea of itself (in Deleuzian terms, one could say it is policy’s ‘image of thought’ [Deleuze 1994: 131]). In its self-reﬂexive moments–such as so-called policy reviews–policy is sometimes willing to admit that things have not gone as planned, but even this is mere self-deception because the ‘idea of intentions gone awry pretends there was no foundational opacity within original policy forecasts’ (Lea 2014: n.p.).
However, as much as I like the image of ‘wild policy’ I want to set aside the organic model Lea uses to frame it because as several key critiques of organic models have amply demonstrated it returns us all too swiftly to the very thing we wanted to escape from in the ﬁrst place, that is, teleology. Instead I want to reimagine it in terms of ‘wild analysis’, which is Freud’s term for ‘apparently’ psychoanalytic diagnoses and treatments formulated by ‘untrained’ physicians. He is particularly wary of physicians who have a smattering of psychoanalytic knowledge, but have not mastered the subtleties of the actual practice of psychoanalysis itself, which despite its pretensions to scientiﬁcity was and remains an art form. In a way, though, the master himself was as much a practiser of ‘wild analysis’ as the lay practictioners he chastises because psychoanalysis itself is ‘wild’ as Nicholas Spice captures beautifully in this inspired description of the psychoanalytic‘scene’(i.e.the‘encounter’ between analyst and analysand):
Analyst and patient are two people who start to dance without knowing which dance it is that they are dancing or even if they share the same understanding of what a dance might be. But still they dance, and though in time they get used to each other’s steps they never do ﬁnd out which dance it is. So the patient has to give up his need to know what the analyst thinks about him, since there is no way he can ever ﬁnd this out, and the analyst must give up every ordinary human means to convince the patient that she really does have his best interests at heart. (Spice 2004: n.p.)
This, I think, better expresses the basic claim Lea wants to make about policy, namely that policy-making is (1) born in ignorance; (2) an adaption to circumstances rather than a rational solution to a speciﬁc problem; (3) subject to constant scepticism and suspicion; and (4) propped up by mutually agreed upon illusions of coherence. Wild analysis calls for the antidote of schizoanalysis (which is assemblage theory’s other name). Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage answers to a number of the issues raised by Lea, but we must be careful to distinguish it from the kinds of distorted versions of it elaborated above, which are all too often imbued with precisely the kind of artiﬁcial coherence Lea wants us to escape. There is no point in exchanging wild analysis for wild schizoanalysis. If policy is to be understood as an assemblage, as I want to suggest it should be, then we have to ﬁrst of all grasp that the assemblage is not a thing and it does not consist of things. I would even go so far as to say the assemblage does not have any content, it is a purely formal arrangement or ordering that functions as a mechanism of inclusion and exclusion (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 45). It does not consist of relations; rather, it is a relation, but of a very particular type.
To conceive of policy as an assemblage means seeing it purely in terms of the kinds of arrangements and orderings it makes possible and even more importantly the set of expectations it entails. To see it this way we need to separate ‘policy’ as a conceptual entity from its myriad iterations as this or that policy–for example, infrastructure policy, health policy, transport policy, and so on–but also from all sense of outcomes and outputs. We also have to see so-called policy decisions as components of the policy assemblage and not as some kind of climactic moment in the life of a policy. Policy decisions are part of the form of the policy assemblage, not the content. By questioning the very idea of policy Lea has enabled us to see it in a new light. As Lea shows, policy-making is rhizomatic, it takes place ‘in the middle of things’, but always pretends otherwise because it is locked into an image of itself as a special type of agency (assemblage) that deﬁnes and measures ‘progress’. When policy looks at itself it only sees beginnings and endings, starting points that lack intentionality (a situation that stands in need of rectiﬁcation) and ﬁnishing points that are fully intended (a changed situation). In the middle is action, and though policy claims to function as a guide to what happens it eschews all responsibility.
III. Assemblages and Actants
In spite of the fact that the concept of the assemblage quite explicitly takes its structure from the work of the Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev, the one Deleuze and Guattari describe as a ‘dark prince descended from Hamlet’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 43), assemblage theory consistently looks to science, particularly cybernetics, systems theory and complexity theory, as both the source of Deleuze and Guattari’s inspiration and the point of reference that gives the concept its meaning. For instance, in his two books devoted to assemblage theory (A New Philosophy of Society and Assemblage Theory) DeLanda does not mention Hjelmslev. Baker and McGuirk do not mention Hjelmslev either. Not only does this omission obscure the fact that Deleuze and Guattari drew upon a wide variety of non-scientiﬁc sources in their formulation of the concept of the assemblage, it also forgets that Deleuze and Guattari were quite explicit in saying that they were not interested in (re)producing science; they wanted their work to be thought of as nothing but philosophy. The concept, as Deleuze and Guattari would later write, has no referent (i.e. something in the ‘real’ world that it refers to and draws its meaning from), something else assemblage theorists of the ‘realist’ persuasion conveniently forget (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 22).
Of these other sources the most important insofar as the assemblage is concerned was structuralist linguistics, including its dark precursor Russian Formalism. Guattari, particularly, was an avid reader of Mikhail Bakhtin and his putative alter ego Valentin Vološinov, a fact reﬂected in dozens of footnotes throughout his work. Deleuze, too, was clearly inspired by their work, as can be seen in his cinema books (the sensory-motor-scheme is clearly narratological in inspiration).Ironically, the one scholar to emphasise this connection was the one person who might have been expected to and perhaps even forgiven for seeing only the science side of Deleuze and Guattari’s work, and that is Bruno Latour. Latour explicitly links his conception of agency–and hence the concept of the assemblage which he takes from Deleuze and Guattari and adapts to his own purposes–to Greimas’s narratological concept of the actant (Latour 2005: 54). I want to suggest that Latour’s insight that agency can and should be thought in narratological terms is helpful in deepening our understanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage. Not the least because it returns us all the more surely to Hjelmslev, a key inspiration for Greimas in any case. Greimas helps to put Hjelmslev back in his proper light as a structuralist linguist, which is important because it cuts through the illusory veil of scientiﬁcity that has been wrapped around the concept of the assemblage by many of its erstwhile admirers. As I will brieﬂy illustrate, Greimas’s concept is perfectly consistent with Deleuze and Guattari’s famous instruction that we should ask not what something means, but only how it works, for this is exactly Greimas’s question too.
The degree to which the two concepts–actant and assemblage–are congruent becomes apparent the moment their respective deﬁnitions are read side by side. Firstly, the actant:
If we recall that functions, in the traditional syntax, are but roles played by words–the subject being ‘the one who performs the action’, ‘the one who suffers it’, etc.–then according to such a conception the proposition as a whole becomes a spectacle to which homo loquens treats himself. (Greimas, quoted in Jameson 1972: 124)
And as Jameson points out, for Greimas ‘it is this underlying “dramatic” structure which is common to all forms of discourse, philosophical or literary, expository or affective’ (Jameson 1972: 124). This will need more detailed explication, which I will provide in a moment, but before I do that I want to quickly juxtapose it with a brief quote from Deleuze and Guattari just to make apparent the degree to which their thinking is inspired by the same concern to distinguish between superﬁcial appearances and deep structures of action:
A formation of power is much more than a tool; a regime of signs is much more than a language. Rather, they act as determining and selective agents, as much in the constitution of languages and tools as in their usages and mutual or respective diffusions and communications.(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:63 my emphasis)
The essential insight of the concept of the actant is that the organising structure of a text (in the broadest possible sense of that word, which can of course encompass both policy and the built environment, our two concerns here) is at once that which allows for maximum variation and that which itself resists all variation (Jameson 1972: 123–9). It is in this precise sense a singularity at the heart of a multiplicity. It has both an internal limit and an external limit, that is, boundaries which cannot be crossed without becoming something different from what it was. The internal limit refers to the sum total of possible variationsit can accommodate; while the external limit refers to the restrictions history itself places on the number of possible variations. Analysis consists of bringing these limits to light. It is important to remember, too, that the actant is a narratological concept. So it always refers to a process of transformation rather than a static situation, or, to put it another way, it is generative not descriptive. Lea’s ethnography of the debate that went on behind closed doors in the implementation phase of Australia’s Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) offers a real-world example of the actant as organising structure. Launched in 2009 with considerable fanfare and a seemingly bottomless well of money, SIHIP was supposed to ‘ﬁx’ once and for all (the echoes to be heard here of ‘ﬁnal solution’ are of course fully intended) the parlous state of indigenous housing in northern Australia. With a budget of almost $650 million, the programme was supposed to provide 750 new houses and refurbishment of a further 2,500 houses for Indigenous people in seventy-three communities across the Northern Territory. But almost from the beginning it ran into serious problems as cost overruns and blatant corruption on the part of ‘white’ building contractors turned the whole thing into a boondoggle of misused public funds. It was a public relations disaster, a virtual running sore that could not be remedied, because the constant rorting of the programme pushed up the unit cost of the individual houses being built to the point where ‘urban’ Australians (i.e. ‘white’ middle-class voting Australians) began to express resentment at the amount of money being spent on houses for ‘black’ people living in the ‘bush’. The build cost of houses in remote parts of Australia is so high that even modest homes are extremely expensive and by implication appear to be ‘luxurious’ and ‘undeserved’ to uneducated urban eyes.
I assume I need not comment here on the all too obvious undercurrent of racism fuelling the national outburst of ressentiment the SIHIP ﬁasco occasioned, but it should be clear–I hope–that not only is racism central to the political fall-out and response, but it also has a material dimension that, as Lea amply documents, ﬁnds its purest and most baleful expression in ontology. In order to bring costs down and get the whole mess out of the media spotlight, the politicians and senior bureaucrats charged with ‘ﬁxing’ things invited the building contractors who had hitherto ‘failed’ to deliver appropriately costed houses to reconsider the very meaning and actual substance of the concept of a house. Behind closed doors the builders were told ‘everything is on the table’:
With ... the invitation to ‘put it on the table,’ the discussion quickly turned to ways of building lower-cost houses at speed by lopping off such seemingly discretionary design features as louvered windows and sun hoods, internal ﬂashings for waterprooﬁng, or disabled access. In the ﬂurry of designing and then undoing the designs for appropriate housing, it was the sound of a built house falling apart in the non-speciﬁable future that could not compete with the noise of a threatened-and-defensive government in the here and now. (Lea 2014: n.p.)
As Lea argues, by putting ‘everything on the table’ the government effectively gave the builders a free hand to determine not only what constitutes the indigenous housing assemblage in the abstract or conceptual sense (thus redeﬁning its internal limits), but also what constitutes an appropriated welling for an Indigenous person in an actual material sense (thus redeﬁning its external limits). But, she asks, is a house still a house if–as was often the case with the houses built under the auspices of SIHIP–it is not connected to water? Is it still a house if it does not have adequate temperature control or any means of cooling it down in the year-round hot weather northern Australia experiences? Is it still a house if the sewage pipes are not connected to a sewage system? (Lea and Pholeros 2010: 187–190.) These are the internal limits of the housing assemblage, and under normal circumstances it would be impossible to ignore these limits and still call the result a house. But in this instance, with all the rules quite consciously suspended, a new assemblage was brought into being. But the more important assemblage-related question is: according to what criteria is it acceptable and legitimate to not only build houses of this materially substandard variety but also to expect the intended occupants to not only live in them but express gratitude for the ‘privilege’? This question cannot be answered unless we look further aﬁeld than the materials themselves. Lea uses the actual materiality of matter in the most literal and granular sense in a dialectical fashion to expose the fault lines in the expressive dimension. By examining in detail the properties of water, for example, and its implications for building houses in tropical locations, she exposes the critical shallowness of policy thinking which is more focused on ticking boxes in the expressive sphere than it is in creating enduring, live able houses in the material sphere. Material for Lea is akin to Jameson’s concept of the political unconscious, it points to an unthought dimension in policy formation; it also offers the occasion to write glorious sentences (which I willingly cite below). And in many ways these two operations–exposing an unthought, creating exciting new types of sentences–could be said to sum up (in a meta-commentary sense) the new materialist movement:
In monsoonal environments, walls suck in rainwater, forcing bricks and mortar to loosen their seemingly fast embrace, with each new striation forging a sweaty path for corrosion. Salt in mortar built with (substandard) building sand encourages water’s entry points. Water softens the muscularity of support beams; and when it dances on metal, shows itself to be an electrolyte, capable of strengthening its conductive properties by taking carbon dioxide from the air and creating carbonic acid, able to dissolve iron. Even better if the water is salt-loaded, be it from the liberation of salts in artesian waters as pastoralists and miners pull more and more liquid from the subterranean earth, or as spray from coastal waters. Salty water and acidiﬁed water are electrolytes on steroids, able to deconstruct the functionality of load-bearing steel frames at far greater speeds. (Lea 2015: 377)
As I have tried to indicate, there are two separate processes at work in this example: on the one hand, there is a set of questions about what constitutes a house in a material-semiotic sense, which corresponds to the internal limit of the actant; on the other hand, there is a set of questions about what constitutes an appropriate dwelling in an ethicopolitical sense, which corresponds to the external limit of the actant. By looking at the ‘house’ in this way, as an actant rather than an apparatus, our attention is directed in a very particular way: it asks us to reverse the usual way of seeing material–material is not, on this view of things, a condition of possibility, as it tends to be in most so-called new materialist accounts; rather, it is anything which can be interpolated and accommodated by the concept. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, drawing on Hjelmslev, material must always be produced; it does not simply exist (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 43–5). We have to resist the empiricist tendency to treat material as given and instead ask the more properly transcendental-empiricist question: how and under what conditions does matter become material?
In an Australian context, bricks, timber, pressed iron and ﬁbreboard all seem like ‘proper’ materials for house-building, whereas mud, straw, bark, plastic bottles and car bodies do not. But in fact there is no intrinsic reason why these ‘other’ materials should be excluded. Greimas’s question, then, which I want to suggest is also Deleuze and Guattari’s question, is: what are the limits to what can and cannot be counted as material for a particular actant and how are these limits decided?
Greimas’s implication is that one cannot look to the material itself to ﬁnd the answer; instead, one has to examine the actant–what are its requirements? What expectations does it create? This in turn leads us to the external limit and the role ‘history’ itself plays in shaping what can and cannot become the proper material of an actant. Now the issue is less what material is suitable for house-building and more what material is ‘ﬁtting’, where ‘ﬁtting’ is an ethico-political judgement about what kinds of houses people ‘ought’ to live in. These same two dimensions are to be found in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage and although they have different names their operation is almost exactly the same, but with one important twist: both the dimensions themselves and the relation between them are purely arbitrary (something else the new materialists and the realists neglect in their appropriation of Deleuze and Guattari). As Hjemslev puts it, the two dimensions ‘are deﬁned only by their mutual solidarity, and neither of them can be identiﬁed otherwise. They are deﬁned only oppositively and relatively, as mutually opposed functives of one and the same function’ (Hjelmslev, quoted in Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 45). The ﬁrst dimension (equivalent to the internal limit of the actant) is the form of content, but it is also known as the machinic assemblage of bodies; the second dimension is the form of expression, but it is also known as the collective assemblage of enunciation (88). At its most basic the assemblage combines ‘non-discursive multiplicities’ and ‘discursive multiplicities’–the combination is not total or exhaustive, one dimension does not map onto the other without remainder, something always escapes. This is because they are dimensions of an active, ongoing process, not a static entity. Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts are complex syntheses (meaning one can not trace back a pure line of derivation, there is always an inexplicable leap) of a range of ideas drawn from a wide variety of sources, so their names change as they evolve and take on board additional components. In this case the name change reﬂects the combination of Hjelmslev’s ideas (form/content) with that of the Stoics (bodies/attributes) and the work of Leroi-Gourhan (tools/signs) (63). These distinctions cannot be reduced to a simple opposition between things: ‘What should be opposed are distinct formalizations, in a state of unstable equilibrium or reciprocal presupposition’ (67).
Foucault’s analysis of prisons–itself inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s work, as Foucault remarks in an admiring note in the preface to Discipline and Punish–is an exemplary illustration of how this works in practice according to Deleuze and Guattari:
Take a thing like the prison: the prison is a form, the ‘prison-form’; it is a form of content on a stratum and is related to other forms of content (school, barracks, hospital, factory). This thing does not refer back to the word ‘prison’ but to entirely different words and concepts, such as ‘delinquent’ and ‘delinquency’, which express a new way of classifying, stating, translating and even committing criminal acts. ‘Delinquency’ is the form of expression in reciprocal presupposition with the form of content ‘prison’. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 66)
How should this model of thought be applied? The ‘preferred method’, Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘would be severely restrictive’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 67), by which they mean we should (1) seek to determine the speciﬁc conditions under which matter becomes material (i.e. how bricks, timber and steel are determined to be the proper material for housing as opposed to mud, straw and wrecked cars); and (2) seek to determine the speciﬁc conditions under which semiotic matter becomes expressive (i.e. how it is decided that a speciﬁc arrangement of materials is ‘ﬁtting’ for a person to live in and another arrangement is not). Here I must clarify that for Deleuze and Guattari, expression, or better yet ‘becoming expressive’, does not mean simply that something has acquired meaning(s) in the semiotic sense; rather, it refers to the fact it has acquired a performative function. In the example above, the label ‘delinquent’ is not merely symbolic, it frames a person as deserving the treatment he or she receives. It is clear that ‘indigenous’ functions in the same way–as Lea’s analyses make abundantly apparent, the assemblage ‘indigenous housing ’is very different in its formulation to what we might think of as ‘regular housing’ (a phrase I use purely for convenience without any wish to defend it).
That these two formalisations are arbitrary and mobile can be seen in the fact that both vary considerably from country to country and more especially from one class perspective to another. The modest suburban home is a mansion to the slum-dweller, and the slum-dweller’s shanty is a mansion to the rough-sleeping homeless person; by the same token, the suburban home is ‘ﬁtting’ for a middle-class ‘white’ person, just as the shanty is–in the eyes of that same middle-class ‘white’ person–‘ﬁtting’ for a poor person, particularly one living in a remote part of the country where he or she is literally out of sight and out of mind. Formalisation means there is a unity of composition, or, to put it another way, there is an underlying principle of inclusion and exclusion. But the principle of inclusion and exclusion for one dimension (content) can be and often is in conﬂict with the principle of inclusion and exclusion for the other dimension (expression). But what is of central importance–and the reason why the assemblage is such a powerful concept–is the issue of what it takes to yoke together these two dimensions in the ﬁrst place: this is what the assemblage does. We have to stop thinking of the concept of the assemblage as a way of describing a thing or situation and instead see it for what it was always intended to be: a way of analysing a thing or situation.
As Deleuze and Guattari say:
thinkers who do not renew the image of thought are not philosophers but functionaries who, enjoying a ready-made thought, are not even conscious of the problem and are unaware even of the efforts of those they claim to take as their models. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 51)
Concepts should bring about a new way of seeing something and not simply ﬁx a label to something we think we already know about. For Deleuze and Guattari, the critical analytic question is always: given a speciﬁc situation, what kind of assemblage would be required to produce it? As I have tried to indicate in the foregoing discussion of Lea’s analyses of indigenous housing policy in Australia, this question should be understood as having two interrelated dimensions: on the one hand, it asks: what are the material elements–bodies in the broadest possible sense–that consitute this ‘thing’, how are they arranged, what relations do they entail, what new arrangements and relations might they facilitate? On the other hand, it also asks: how is this arrangement of things justiﬁed and more importantly legitimated, what makes it seem right and proper? In this way it points to different kinds of entities, non-discursive and discursive (or better yet, performative) that have been yoked together. However, it must be emphasised here that the assemblage is the yoke, not the product of the yoke. This is why the comparison with Greimas’s concept of the actant is valuable: it helps us to see that the assemblage is a virtual entity with actual effects.
1. A key side effect of this detachment, which I am unable to pursue here, is the isolation of the assemblage from the concepts of the body without organs and the abstract machine which are in fact inseparable in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. See Buchanan 2015.
2. I use this analogy in my critique of Jane Bennett’s use of the concept of the assemblage. See Buchanan 2016
3. For example, see my discussion of Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of Little Hans in Buchanan 2013.
4. Although Deleuze was interested in the problem of genesis, it is not a central concern in his collaborative work with Guattari. The opposite is true. As their discussion of the Wolf Man makes clear, the problem they have with Freud is precisely that he insists on tracing all symptoms back to a point of origin rather than deal with them on their own terms (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 31).
Baker, Tom and Pauline McGuirk (2016) ‘Assemblage Thinking as Methodology: Commitments and Practices for Critical Policy Research’, Territory, Politics, Governance, DOI i0.1080/21622671.2016.1231631.
Buchanan, Ian (2013) ‘Little Hans Assemblage’, Visual Arts Research, 40, pp. 9–17.
Buchanan, Ian (2015) ‘Assemblage Theory and Its Discontents’, Deleuze Studies, 9:3, pp. 382–92. Buchanan, Ian (2016) ‘What Must We Do about Rubbish?’, Drain Magazine, 13:1, <http://drainmag.com/what-must-we-do-about-rubbish/>(accessed 17 April 2017).
DeLanda, Manuel (2006) A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, London: Continuum.
Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, London: Athlone Press. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1983) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1994) What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press.
Jameson, Fredric (1972) The Prison-House of Language, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lea, Tess (2014) “‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow”: The Unfurling of Wild Policy’, E-Flux, 58, <http://www.e-ﬂux.com/journal/58/61174/from-little things-big-things-grow-the-unfurling-of-wild-policy/>(accessed 17 April 2017).
Lea, Tess (2015) ‘What Has Water Got to Do with It? Indigenous Public Housing and Australian Settler–Colonial Relations’, Settler Colonial Studies, 5:4, pp. 375–86.
Lea, Tess and Paul Pholeros (2010) ‘This Is Not a Pipe: The Treacheries of Indigenous Housing’, Public Culture, 22:1, pp. 187–209.
Nail, Thomas (2017) ‘What is an Assemblage?’, Sub-Stance, 46:1, pp. 21–37.
Spice, Nicholas (2004) ‘I Must Be Mad’, London Review of Books, 26:1, <http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n01/nicholas-spice/i-must-be-mad>(accessed 17 April 2017).
by Ian Buchanan
Kevin Fletcher - ornamental low relief assemblage
If the development of assemblage theory does not need to be anchored in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, as increasingly seems to be the case in the social sciences, then cannot one say that the future of assemblage theory is an illusion? It is an illusion in the sense that it continues to act as though the concept was invented by Deleuze and Guattari, but because it does not feel obligated to draw on their work in its actual operation or development, it cannot lay claim to being authentic. That this does not trouble certain scholars in the social sciences is troubling to me. So in this paper I offer ﬁrst of all critique of this illusory synthetic version of the assemblage and accompany that with a short case study showing what can be gained by returning to Deleuze and Guattari.
Keywords: assemblage theory, ontology of policy, infrastructure policy, actant, agencement, indigenous housing
I. Assemblage as ‘Received Idea’
One cannot help but wonder how different the uptake of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of ‘agencement’ would be if it had not been translated as ‘assemblage’ and an alternate translation such as ‘arrangement’ (which is my preferred translation [Buchanan 2015: 383]) had become the standard? It may be that assemblage theory as we know it today would never have taken off, which would be a pity because the ﬁeld is enormously productive and it has brought into its orbit a huge range of questions and problematics that might otherwise never have been considered. But at least we would not be faced with the problem of how to ‘re-think’ a concept that has all but become a ‘received idea’ (as Flaubert put it), that is, an idea that is so well understood it no longer bears thinking about in any kind of critical way. Unfortunately, the consensus understanding of the concept has been shaped as much (if not more than) by a plain language understanding of the English word ‘assemblage’ as it has by any deep understanding of the work of Deleuze and Guattari. This is particularly evident in the social sciences where there is a strong and–I will argue–undue emphasis on the idea of ‘assembling’ as the core process of assemblages. This is compounded by an apparent consensus that assemblage theory is one of those concepts like deconstruction and postmodernism that no longer owes its development to a speciﬁc authorial source. While it is hard to fault the latter view in that one should be free to re-make concepts, its detachment from Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking has led to a considerable loss of clarity and cohesion in the concept.1
The fact that the English word ‘assemblage’ is not Deleuze and Guattari’s own word, but an artefact of translation, is rarely, if ever, brought into consideration, and where it is it tends to be dismissed as unimportant, which perhaps explains the emphasis on assembling as the central concern of assemblage theory. There are a number of problems with this view of things, not least the fact that assemblage in English does not mean the same thing as agencement in French. Not only that, it is itself a loan word from French, thus adding to the confusion. As Thomas Nail (among others) has shown, agencement derives from agencer, which according to Le Robert & Collins means ‘to arrange, to lay out, or to piece together’, whereas assemblage means ‘to join, to gather, to assemble’ (Nail 2017: 22; but see also Buchanan 2015: 383). The difference between these two deﬁnitions is perhaps subtle, but by no means inconsequential: we might say the former is a process of composition whereas the latter is one of compilation; the difference being that one works with a pre-existing set of entities and gives it a different order, whereas the latter starts from scratch and builds up to something that may or may not have order. A compilation may be a‘ heap of fragments’, where as a composition cannot be.2 The solution, however, is not as simple as insisting that Deleuze and Guattari should (or as some would have it, can) only be read in the ‘original’ French, which is not practical for all readers in any case, because, as I will show, this same plain language approach also applies to straightforward terms like ‘multiplicity’ and ‘territory’. The solution, in my view, is to ‘return’ to Deleuze and Guattari’s work.
I will take as my case in point an essay by two human geographers,Tom Baker and Pauline McGuirk, ‘Assemblage Thinking as Methodology: Commitments and Practices for Critical Policy Research’ (2016), one of the richest, most comprehensive and sophisticated accounts of assemblage theory as it is deployed in the social sciences yet written, and therefore a perfect and anything but ‘straw man’ example of the kind of work I am talking about. In spite of its considerable sophistication, it has completely detached the concept of assemblage from Deleuze and Guattari and replaced it with a synthetic accumulation of readings of readings of Deleuze and Guattari. Ironically, the kind of genealogical reading Baker and McGuirk say is part and parcel of assemblage thinking is completely absent from their own use of the concept. Instead of tracing the concept back to a point of origin, they pull together a heterogeneous ensemble of quotes about the concept of the assemblage from a vast trawl-through of the secondary literature. It is therefore unsurprising, but telling that in deﬁning the concept of Deleuze and Guattari, or DeLanda’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 15, n.1). Without any anchor in Deleuze and Guattari’s work the concept ﬂoats off into an alternate universe in which all contributions to the discussion are treated as equally valuable and there is no arbitration between the strong and the weak versions, never mind the accurate and the wrong versions.the assemblage Baker and McGuirk do not refer to the work of Deleuze and Guattari, which is mentioned but not cited. In a footnote they clarify that for their purposes ‘assemblage thinking refers to a diverse set of research accounts that may or may not engage directly with formal theories of assemblage, such as those of Deleuze and Guattari, or DeLanda’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 15, n.1). Without any anchor in Deleuze and Guattari’s work the concept ﬂoats off into an alternate universe in which all contributions to the discussion are treated as equally valuable and there is no arbitration between the strong and the weak versions, never mind the accurate and the wrong versions.
Baker and McGuirk deﬁne the ‘assemblage as a “gathering of heterogeneous elements consistently drawn together as an identiﬁable terrain of action and debate”’ (drawing on the work of Tanya Li), noting that its elements include ‘arrangements of humans, materials, technologies, organizations, techniques, procedures, norms, and events, all of which have the capacity for agency within and beyond the assemblage’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 4). They also say, citing J. Macgregor Wise, that the assemblage ‘claims a territory’, and that it ‘is realized through ongoing processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, such that assemblages are continually in the process of being made and remade’ (4). To which they add Colin McFarlane’s suggestion that the ‘popularity of assemblage results in large part from its understanding of the social as “materially heterogeneous, practice based, emergent and processual”’ (4).
For Baker and McGuirk the assemblage is primarily a ‘methodological-analytical framework’ so ‘its application demands an explicitly methodological discussion’, something which in their view is sorely lacking in the literature (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 4, 5). This is the most important (and frustrating) part about Baker and McGuirk’s project. While I do not agree with the particulars of their way of constructinga ‘ methodological-analytical framework ’ out of the concept of the assemblage, I nonetheless support very strongly the necessity of so doing.I would add that in my view explicitly methodological discussions of the assemblage are sorely lacking in the secondary Deleuze and Guattari literature too. It is to the particulars of Baker and McGuirk’s ‘methodological-analytical framework’ that I now want to turn. They write:
Assemblage methodologies are guided by epistemological commitments that signify a certain interrogative orientation toward the world. Though abstract, these commitments inform inclusions, priorities, and sensitivities, which together constitute the ﬁeld of vision brought to bear on empirical phenomena. Sifting through the substantial number of accounts using assemblage thinking [note again the fact they do not refer to Deleuze and Guattari], we can identify four commitments common to those using assemblage methodologically. These are commitments to revealing multiplicity, processuality, labour, and uncertainty. (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 6; my emphasis)
As I will show, the detachment from Deleuze and Guattari’s work seems to compel a plain language approach which, to borrow a term from translation studies, puts them at the mercy of several ‘false friends’, that is, words that look like they should mean one thing but in fact mean something else.
Commitment to multiplicity is, for Baker and McGuirk, an interpretive strategy for setting aside the presumption of coherence and determination that reigns in certain quarters of contemporary policy studies. It holds to the idea that all social and cultural phenomena are multiply determined and cannot be reduced to a single logic. More particularly, in a policy context, it points to ‘the practical coexistence of multiple political projects, modes of governance, practices and outcomes’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 6–7). This means policy outcomes cannot be linked in a linear way to a speciﬁc determination, but have to be treated as contingent, or, at any rate, indirect. There are three problems here: ﬁrstly, we have to be careful not to conﬂate the content (policy) with the form (assemblage) because however incoherent a policy formation may be in the eyes of its critics, as an assemblage it must as a matter of necessity tend towards coherence, that being one of its essential functions (the problem of unity and diversity is central to Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the assemblage [Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 43–5]). Secondly, the assemblage is a multiplicity, but this does not mean it is multiply determined. It refers to a state of being, not its actual process of composition, and there is no reason at all why it cannot have a single or singular logic.3 Thirdly, while it is true assemblages are contingent, their outputs are not. Indeed, what would be the point of the concept if this was the case? As Deleuze and Guattari say, given a certain effect, what kind of machine (assemblage) is capable of producing it? (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 3.)
The commitment to multiplicity is enacted via a second commitment to what they call processuality, which Baker and McGuirk deﬁne (again borrowing liberally from a diverse body of secondary literature) as what happens in an assemblage. At ﬁrst glance they seem to be saying assemblages assemble, that they draw together disparate elements and combine them in a provisional fashion; they may tend towards stabilisation, or not, but regardless exist in a state of constant ﬂux:
In methodological terms, a focus on the processes through which assemblages come into and out of being lends itself to careful genealogical tracing of how past alignments and associations have informed the present and how contemporary conditions and actants are crystallizing new conditions of possibility. (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 7)
But as this quote makes clear, something quite different is meant by processuality. It names, rather, a concern for genesis–but how something comes together and how it operates once it does are quite different issues (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 152). But that is not the only problem here. One wonders how this interpolation of what I assume is Foucault’s concept of genealogy (rather than Nietzsche’s, or even Deleuze’s version of Nietzsche) can be squared with the aforementioned commitment to non-linearity? More importantly, though, the whole idea of a genealogy of the assemblage stands in ﬂat contradiction of Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the assemblage, which is focused on the question ‘how does it work?’ and not ‘what does it mean?’ much less ‘where does it come from?’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 109).4
The commitment to revealing the labour needed to produce and maintain assemblages is said by Baker and McGuirk to echo Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘original term agencement–roughly meaning “putting together” or “arrangement”–later translated to assemblage’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016:7), but in fact it echoes the plain language understanding of assemblage as the putting together of things, as their subsequent clariﬁcations of this point make apparent. They go on to say, again borrowing widely, assemblages ‘are not accidental, but knowingly and unknowingly held together’ and they ‘are always coming apart as much as coming together, so their existence in particular conﬁgurations is something that must be continually worked at’ (7). Ultimately, what this commitment reveals is that ‘policy and policy-making [is] a laboured over achievement’ (8). Without wishing to dispute their conclusion here–there can be no doubt policy and policy-making is a laboured over achievement–I do want to say for the sake of understanding the concept of the assemblage that the labour required to sustain a particular instance of an assemblage is a kind of local area problem that should not be confused with the actual operation of the concept itself. The assemblage itself is, by deﬁnition, self-sustaining: it requires labour to actualise it, to be sure, but its existence does not depend on that labour. There is constant slippage between what we might call actually existing assemblages and the concept of the assemblage in Baker and McGuirk’s account such that the former tends to stand in the place of the latter and the difference between the two vanishes. When that happens the concept becomes adjectival rather than analytical, it describes rather than defamiliarises, which defeats the purpose of having the concept in the ﬁrst place.
The fourth and ﬁnal commitment is to uncertainty and the temptation to know too much. ‘Such a position involves accepting that, rather than producing Archimedean accounts of the world “as it is”, social research can only produce situated readings and, therefore, must make modest claims’(Baker and McGuirk 2016:8). Interestingly, this is not something Deleuze and Guattari advocated. In fact, they argued for precisely the opposite view: as they put it, the only problem with abstraction is that we are not abstract enough. One cannot arrive at the assemblage by means of a situated account because the contents of an assemblage do not necessarily disclose the form of an assemblage; similarly, we need to be wary of assigning every local variety of anassemblage an independent identity distinct from the abstract assemblage. Paradoxically, there is no surer way of winding up in the ‘knowing too much’ space that assemblage thinking is supposed to avoid than the approach Baker and McGuirk recommend because such self-limiting analyses presume to know in advance what knowing enough and therefore what knowing too much looks like. It is precisely this kind of analytic cul-de-sac that Deleuze and Guattari were trying to avoid by saying we need to be experimental in our approach. What many readers ﬁnd infuriating in their work is precisely their blatant refusal to stick to making modest claims.On the contrary, they make bold, global claims and in the process force us to think differently about the world.
to be continued ...
Just as the Renaissance refers to a cultural epoch of a certain kind and points to a departure from conception, the term Remothering * seems to designate opposite developments at the beginning of the 21st century. Demolition: the project of modernity and the Enlightenment is considered failed. As sentiment, it has been absorbed in the folklore of a post-modern cultural concept.
The postmodernism, which marks the age of repairs, yields to material-based, irreparable wear and tear and turns to new possibilities, or virtualities. After you have failed in the material, you are now looking for an intelligence that lives in programs. The code dissolves further from the material and this is increasingly transformed into description forms. From there one hopes via feedback another transfer: The intelligence should go back into the matter. Which concept of intelligence underlies this back and forth remains unclear.
The nice metaphor of the big brother, which is associated with the recent developments, refers to the derivation of another metaphor: The mother, a regressive need, which is in the projection of a big mother - Big Mother and back to the cuddly, comfortable , pleasant, comfortable, homey and against the evil out there in the world shows. This is also the basis of the claim to the all-inclusive package for all that one pretends to be able to fulfill to a large extent via algorithms.
The virtual mamma is the amniotic sac that is designed to ensure constant adaptation to the most sophisticated needs of highly organized living beings. The dream machine, which one entrusts itself to and promises the protection, where on the other side exclusively "evil" world exists, which can be mastered in the best case with their help in the feedback of an extended fruit bubble (lucky suit). The space is a tautological, a data space, which feeds from the impression of supposedly experienced realities and thus provides the necessary familiarity. Complexities are simplified where possible. Nobody should be scared. All needs are constantly fulfilled as well as permanently maintained. Only then does the symbiosis between the mother and what emerges from it emerge. It is redressed and automated. The mother is a pseudo-organism that feeds from the network of connected vending machines. The subject / objects of the remainder are ideally reduced to some properties as Turing machines. The ultimate goal is the automation of society. Ethical foundations are relevant only insofar as they serve the acceptance of necessary transformation. It is sufficient if illusion is perceived as reality. Once the goal is reached, these questions no longer play a role anyway. It is sufficient if illusion is perceived as reality. Once the goal is reached, these questions no longer play a role anyway. It is sufficient if illusion is perceived as reality. Once the goal is reached, these questions no longer play a role anyway.
Mother, you had me, but I never had you
I wanted you, you did not want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Father ... **
* Donald E. Cameron ** John Lennon
Future (um) 2 * / The Perfect Future: The key to artificial paradise, according to the psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner , is the insight that every human being is nothing but a bundle of behavioral patterns - an automaton with predictable and manipulable reactions to the environment. Thus, the only alternative to an anarchic future would be to turn the earth into a behavioral psychological laboratory, so calculated that "soft but insistent ethical sanctions" will keep the order once established ... **
China 2020, Radical Behaviorism and Behavioral Analysis: When the party's intended target is met, every step, every keystroke, every like or dislike, every social-media contact, every post is subject to state control and finds itself in the personal social rating system, that's artificial Paradise Spinner's become reality - in the gentle urging and pushing of others and the irresistible spur to confluency, in the sensors in her shirt and the lulling voice that answers your questions, the television that hears her, the house she knows, the bed that listens to your nocturnal whisper, the book she reads ... ***
... contented coexistence in a conflict-free society based on behavioral control technologies and, in particular, on the positive reinforcement of socially desired behaviors. ** The Algorithm - Procedure for Solving the Problems: It can be formulated in human language as well as implemented in computer programs. Determinism is the rhythm.
Machine (Deep) Learning: the algorithm learns through reward and punishment - teaching penalties how to avoid punishment - a tactic of how to act in potentially occurring situations to maximize the benefit of the agent ****. The key issue of automated humanity has always been "can it make us read minds?" The ability to control human behavior becomes more frightening than the control of nuclear reactions. Art Bachrach and Robert Oppenheimer were in agreement. As part of the Paperclip project, the US also recruited former concentration camp doctors who participated in the experiments (MKultra, Artichoke, etc.) to predict, control and control human behavior.
The novel (Futuru/ Walden 2) does not answer the question of who defines the social framework in the perfect future, or claims the right to define it, and thus determines the coexistence of the members of this society to the smallest detail, including their ethical norms. Skinner later says, "The guidelines of control must be designed by scientists." Analysis / Synthesis: Science shares its root in distinguishing, deciding, separating, and eliminating with another term. Machines change faster than we (ourselves, as well as the algorithms) "understand" (understanding). I want to be a machine - no pain no thought. **** Futility / Futurum 2 -: "I" will have been:
The mother comes and tears me. She tears me in by coming and looking (...) She walks right through the wall of stone. Oh, alas, my mother tears me ...
* German title by Walden2 / Futurum2 / Burrhus Frederic Skinner / FiFa Verlag Munich
** Spiegel vom 27.9.1971 / Soft Force / BFSkinner - Beyond Freedom and Dignity
*** Shoshuna Zuboff / sheets for German and international politics 11/18
**** denotes a computer program that is capable of specified standalone behavior. Depending on different states, certain implemented processing operations will take place without a start signal being given from outside or external control intervention during the process. / Wiki
***** Heiner Müller / Hamlet machine
****** RMRilke / My mother
“THIS WORLD OF WILD PRODUCTION AND EXPLOSIVE DESIRE” – THE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE FUTURE IN FELIX GUATTARI
by Stephen Zepke
… In the context of science fiction studies Guattari’s interest in Cyberpunk offers an alternative to Frederic Jameson’s dismissal of the genre as failing to offer anything more than an uncritical celebration of late-capitalism’s technological ubiquity. In fact Guattari offers hisown version of the theory of capitalist and cybernetic Accelerationism that would shortly after be developed by Nick Land and the group of young philosophers gathered around him at Warwick University. While on the one hand Guattari offers an aesthetic acceleration that takes us through capitalism to a point beyond the human, as Land does, he rejects the nihilist ethics Land took from early Lyotard, and privileged to the point of a total affirmation of capitalism’s death drive, as he called it. Guattari offers a radical aesthetic acceleration/deterritorialisation that remains avowedly anti-capitalist, and in this way perhaps offers an alternative to both Land’s alarming (provocatively so) affirmation of neo-liberalism and to the disappointing compromises of the recent Accelerationist Manifesto’s rational and revisionary social democracy …
Achim Szepanski - BAUDRILLARD: WHEN HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY BEGAN TO CIRCULATE LIKE OIL AND CAPITAL
Speculating Freedom: Addiction, Control and Rescriptive Subjectivity in the Work of William S. Burroughs
Joshua Carswell - EVALUATING DELEUZE’S “THE IMAGE OF THOUGHT” (1968) AS A PRECURSOR OF HYPERSTITION // PART 1
Joshua Carswell - Evaluating Deleuze’s “The Image of Thought” (1968) as a Precursor of Hyperstition // Part 2
Jose Rosales - ON THE END OF HISTORY & THE DEATH OF DESIRE (NOTES ON TIME AND NEGATIVITY IN BATAILLE’S ‘LETTRE Á X.’)
Jose Rosales - BERGSONIAN SCIENCE-FICTION: KODWO ESHUN, GILLES DELEUZE, & THINKING THE REALITY OF TIME
GILLES DELEUZE - Capitalism, flows, the decoding of flows, capitalism and schizophrenia, psychoanalysis, Spinoza.
Obsolete Capitalism - THE STRONG OF THE FUTURE. NIETZSCHE’S ACCELERATIONIST FRAGMENT IN DELEUZE AND GUATTARI’S ANTI-OEDIPUS
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 1)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 2)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 3)
Obsolete Capitalism - Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 4)
Obsolete Capitalism: Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-OEdipus (Part 5)
Stephen Zepke - “THIS WORLD OF WILD PRODUCTION AND EXPLOSIVE DESIRE” – THE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE FUTURE IN FELIX GUATTARI
Steven Craig Hickman - David Roden and the Posthuman Dilemma: Anti-Essentialism and the Question of Humanity
Steven Craig Hickman - The Intelligence of Capital: The Collapse of Politics in Contemporary Society
Steven Craig Hickman - The Carnival of Globalisation: Hyperstition, Surveillance, and the Empire of Reason
Steven Craig Hickman - Shaviro On The Neoliberal Strategy: Transgression and Accelerationist Aesthetics
Steven Craig Hickman - Hyperstition: Technorevisionism – Influencing, Modifying and Updating Reality
Terence Blake - CONCEPTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (2)
Terence Blake - GUATTARI’S LINES OF FLIGHT (2): transversal vs transferential approaches to the reading contract
Himanshu Damle - Games and Virtual Environments: Playing in the Dark. Could These be Havens for Criminal Networks?
Himanshu Damle - Hegelian Marxism of Lukács: Philosophy as Systematization of Ideology and Politics as Manipulation of Ideology.