The Assemblage Speaks

We are an assemblage. We are people, bodies, coffee, paper, texts, music (some of it bad), insistent bladders and friends waiting at the airport. We are posting this in the spirit of experimentation and invention, and part of that is trying to figure out a way to talk about texts with one voice.

Maybe we should come up with a theme to tie everything together. One thing these all have in common is the way they are reframing materiality, trying to create a series of bridges: between the humanities and sciences, between materiality and discourse, between the “human” and “nonhuman,” all in the interest of what Massumi calls “[c]reative contagion” (19).

But what are we doing by seeking out a “theme”? Is this an example of what Deleuze and Guattari would call “root-logic”? Are we merely trying to “trace” a predetermined path through a totalizing system that we presume these texts make up? What would it look like to think “rhizomatically” and to “map” relationships between concepts “oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (12)?

What if instead we take a concept that “vibrates” for us in each of these texts and consider them in terms of their “connectibility” but not their pre-given “connections” (Massumi 20)? Let’s do that.

So, what are these concepts? In Bennett: “vital materiality.” In Deleuze and Guattari: “assemblage” (surprise!). In Massumi: “qualitative change.” In Barad: “intra-action.” In Brennan: “smell” (yes, “smell”).

Maybe we should start with assemblage. Assemblage frames all of these things, because thinking of things in terms of assemblages rather than discrete boundaries, allows us to start thinking about movement and relationality between human and non-human bodies.  The concept of intra-activity seems central – here, wait, not central, that’s root logic talking  – seems enabling in allowing us to get our heads around the messiness of the “soup” in object-oriented philosophy, to think about how objects become intelligible to each other not through their pre-existing discreteness, but through a kind of discreteness produced as a result of their relationship.

So what can we do with this in relation to Brennan’s concept of smell, which is interesting to us because it takes us away from Bergson’s “images”, as it brings forth material, biophysical exchanges between permeable bodies? In a way, if as Brennan suggests, “the transmission of affect, if only for an instant, alters the biochemistry and neurology of the subject” (1), then perhaps we can think about this in terms of Massumi’s concept of “qualitative change.”  If bodies are defined by simultaneously moving and feeling, then can we frame the material exchange of affect between the porous boundaries of bodies as a kind of movement-feeling?

That leaves us with Bennett’s “vital materiality,” which is perhaps what we found most compelling in this assemblage of concepts. It’s something that resonates not only with the other texts we’ve read so far but that also vibrates within itself to open up new ways of framing ethics and accountability in a material sense. (As a sidenote, we were all equally curious about her next move in chapter 3: the vitality – and ethics? – of “Edible Matter”!) On one hand, while Bennett is doing something very similar to Bergson and Harman in putting “humans” on the same level as “non-human matter,” she does so in a contrary fashion. Instead of asking to see ourselves as objects among objects, which has problematic political-ethical implications, she asks us to consider that all matter might be “vibrant” and relationally “agential.”

Bennett’s notion that “the ethical responsibility of an individual human now resides in one’s response to the assemblages in which one finds oneself participating” (37), then, brings us back to Delueze and Guattari’s assemblage. Whew. We’ve come “full-circle” in a way, but not a closed one. What have we created or invented through this experiment? The intra-action-of-smell-as-vital-materiality-and-qualitative change-as-assemblage assemblage? Hmm… It’s certainly not root-logic, but what can we do with it? “Edible matter” for thought…

Postscript: We wanted to talk about a princess, fishing tackle experience when one of us was young but we couldn’t find a way to do it as a collaborative multiplicity of voice(s). Two people never saw vibrant matter as part of fishing tackle. For someone it might have been a cotton ball, for another it was a cup that wasn’t just used for drinking, so it’s hanging out here, a stranded tuber. Is Deleuze and Guattari’s model for collaborative writing welcoming of personal experience beyond eloquent abstraction?

Steev, Erin, Ieva, coffee, lots of coffee


~ by steevgillies on September 25, 2010.

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