Assemblages of (Im)mobility

two battered upright walkers

one chain attaching them to a scaffolding

one folding chair

one empty can of an energy drink

one huge crack in the pavement

one bicycle, also attached to the scaffolding

As Jane Bennett would call them, these “debris” not only compose my ecology but also are, in relation to themselves and one another, a vibrant matter (Bennett 4). The vitality of materialities that constitute it supports their agentic capacities as a part of an assemblage of things. All these bodies are therefore responsible for their affect onto one another as well as the vitalities surrounding them, including people who live right above. As Teresa Brennan writes in The Transmission of Affect, energetic affects of these “external” parts of the environment enter one’s body and change it structurally on a biological level beyond a simple emotional reaction (Brennan 8).

Let us consider an example of a pavement crack. As I have found out from Issy, a

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A pavement crack that had caused a woman to fall and Issy angrily talking about it.

woman who works in the assisted living facility in front of which this crack had situated itself, it caused an elderly woman with mobility issues to trip over and injure herself just a day before. This way, it had directly entered the woman’s body and affected her at the moment when it occurred. But as Brennan would argue, this unwanted affect had been immediately transmitted around the area, for instance to those who found out about the accident (10). The transmission generated a reaction falling into two categories, people becoming alike or causing them to take opposing positions (9). An example of an affective thread falling into the first category would be a subconscious sense of fear, lack of safety and trust. An example of an opposing affect could be illustrated by Issy’s reaction that consisted of anger and outrage or even attempt to interfere with the crack’s existence when she tried to fix it herself.

Here, the crack could be seen as an actant that interfered and took away from the agency of other actants, i.e. individuals whose own energy was altered by its mere presence in the immediate area. Even though all these affects were transmitted by this single non-human actant, every other materiality I have originally mentioned gets to “experience” the impacts too – and this is where Brennan’s and Bennett’s theories tie-up with one another. An upright walker suddenly stops presenting a reliable idea of mobility, as its interaction with the crack and the walking woman was what caused the assemblage to be altered, to begin with. A bicycle’s material independence (that was the case before the situation) is now in jeopardy because it attracts attention as something that can cause dangerous tripping too: it is situated between the door of the facility and the main part of the sidewalk. Someone with visual impairment would not be able to see it.

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A man in a wheelchair had spent 2 hours next to the subway station observing people getting in and out.

Brennan’s notion of the atmosphere as something where “the environment literally gets into the individual” (1) can explain the feeling of forced quietness and immobility on the streets of Harlem. With the constant affect of fear and lack of trust, many of the neighborhood’s residents are bound to spend their days on benches and wheelchairs next to the sources of public transportation like buses and trains but never taking them. This, of course, happens because of the whole set of actants even outside of an immediate geographic scope, like elevators that broke this morning at the only station with accessibility features in a radius of 10 blocks and bus drivers who refused to kneel their bus because they were running behind their schedules. These two affects had caused a young woman I talked with to endure a walk up on her crutches, horrible interaction with a driver and consequently a fit of anger she would spread in a community center she was going to for her rehabilitation.

It is interesting to observe how every single part of the assemblage gets differently affected in the situations I have described. For humans, Brennan would claim, it is a matter of foundational fantasies and imagination (16); she also used a concept of “feminine beings” that carry negative effects for other (15), such as would be the case for Issy and the young woman from a latter example. Jane Bennett, in her turn, would point at both instances as perfect examples of huge human-nonhuman assemblages spanning time and place and spreading the affects unevenly.

By Sasha S.

 

Works Cited:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press, 2004.

~ by Sasha Solovyeva on September 28, 2019.

6 Responses to “Assemblages of (Im)mobility”

  1. This blog post was the most informative to me due to the way you directly engage with and follow the framework laid out in Vibrant Matter. I love that you start with a list of physical objects, or “debris,” initially void of any context or synthesis. This led me to consider the ways that the nonhuman world around us is imbued energy and narrative, just as Bennett describes.

  2. Most Engaging: I found the post the most engaging for two reasons. The first reason is the way the post began by citing specific elements observed during the research. The second reason is shedding light on the specific story coming from talking to Issy and how it related to the overall research and ecology.

  3. I found this to be the most engaging because of the captions from the pictures. They describe the scene and make the post more realistic and visual.

  4. MOST AFFECTIVE – The images in this post work because the author explains their relevance. The image of the “man in the wheelchair” is strong and it stays with the reader, compelling the reader to know more about the ecology being discussed. We are introduced to Issy in the post, and then we see an image of her angrily talking about something.

  5. I found that the blog posted titled “Assemblages of Immobility” was the most engaging information for me to comprehend while also making me understand the reading even more. The writer opened up her blog post with a direct passage from Bennett which described the debris that most of us would easily recognize when viewing them. The writer notes that the “debris” that she had found in her ecology are related in the idea of Bennett’s theory of vibrant matter, in that their subject/object relations are raised in an equal level together and both share a commonality in the structures of their vibrant matters. She uses Bennett’s argument to visually place us in her ecology, where she uncovered a pavement crack where an elderly woman tripped and injured herself the day before. She also uses an idea from Brennan which explains the notion that “the environment literally gets into the individual.” The crack affected the elderly woman and transmitted negative affects onto the woman. By using this analogy and how things that we consider “debris” can in fact be in the same level of matter as us and can transmit negative emotions, I was able to understand both theoretical principles.

  6. Most Engaging: I really enjoyed how you told your story coming from a particular moment – interaction between a woman and a crack, to draw our attention to the bigger issue and discussing accessibility and mobility in general. Your piece really engaged me!

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