Reviewed in the United States on 6 October 2020
In Assemblage Theory and Method, Ian Buchanan directs us to the "first principles" of Assemblage Theory (AT) embedded in the "Geology of Morals" plateau of A Thousand Plateaus. Deciphering this plateau has long been an interpretive mystery not previously well unveiled because the theory is so abstract, as Deleuze and Guattari intended. Buchanan's incisive and patient explication of AT raises scholarly understanding of the subject to a new level and accounts for why the book was so hard to write. He also tells the rich personal and philosophical stories of Deleuze and Guattari behind the theory itself which only a veteran in the field could provide.
For example: "Deleuze and Guattari only ever had one project--the invention of schizoanalysis." (p. 10) And "Deleuze wanted to talk to someone who worked with schizophrenics in order to test certain ideas he was developing about the language of schizophrenia and his former student suggested he get in touch with Guattari." (p. 11) Deleuze states about A Thousand Plateaus, that what holds it together is "the idea of an assemblage (which replaces the idea of desiring machines)." (p. 12) We are also reminded that Guattari continues to develop schizoanalysis and AT in his Machinic Unconscious after Deleuze stopped publishing.
Deleuze's meta-assemblage concepts ("given a specific situation what kind of assemblage would be required to produce it"):
1) AT replaces the idea of the "desiring machine." It is not just about things arranged together in a merely materialistic or mechanistic or materialistic order, but the problematic of identifying the conditions for what is happening in the happening (event), the ongoing process.
2) Deleuze states that he and Guattari "are trying to substitute the idea of the assemblage for the idea of behavior [the basis of which is desire]: whence the importance of ethology." (p. 13) Ethology then becomes not just about animal behavior, but a means by which to formulate the problem of desire in general, and is not limited to animalistic determinism characteristic of past ethological concepts.
3) The 'general logic' of assemblages includes the basis of chaos as ground zero for desire and the source of all creativity, and of all destruction. Also, one cannot start from a single assemblage, but must start "all at once."
The Problem of Strata:
Strata are a systemic way of problematizing appearances and are the processes over time at the heart of producing nature, whether geological, biological or alloplastic (techno-semiological, Buchanan's term), not just the thing itself. Each strata is composed of the double articulation of two quintessential variables , content and expression, which are in turn different for each strata. Like a three dimensional chess game, only the pieces at the top level (cultural, translation) can move across all planes (alloplastic) while the first (geological/induction) and second (biological, transduction) are homoplastic.
The dimension of the internal limit of the assemblage is the form of content (machinic assemblage of bodies) while the dimension of the external limit of assemblage is the form of expression (collective assemblage of enunciation). Content and expression (from Hjelmslev) interact reciprocally in resonance between two distinct and autonomous formalizations. The event occurs on the expressive side which resonates and bounces off the bodies on the content side. It is the abstract machine which is the event that gives a stratum its unity while the process of deterritorialization moves via affects which unite and disunite with bodies.
First principles of stratification:
1) Chaosmosis: "In the beginning, there is the chaos of unformed and unstable matters that flow freely as so many mad particles or intensities." (p. 35)
2) "Desire is a free flowing stream of intensities subject to processes of capture and coagulation which give rise to and constitute the entire world." (p. 38)
3) Stratification is a process of capture which works by means of coding and territorialization (the dual processes of the assemblage)." (p. 42).
4) The abstract machine "simultaneously constitutes the unity of composition of the stratum and constructs 'continuums of intensity' on the plane of consistency." (p. 44) It is a machine because it is pragmatic, i.e., influences our behavior, but it is abstract because it is not material or tangible.
Why the concept of stratification is needed:
1) Assemblages produce things other than themselves such as complex forms and objects which populate society and culture.
2) Stratification is needed to analyze and explain our otherwise unarticulated multi-layered lives.
3) Stratification locates events in periods and conceptualizes history as discontinuous.
4) Since subjects are produced, a process must be theorized capable of producing subjects and subjectivity as can be seen in the chapter of A Thousand Plateaus on the body without organs.
Deleuze and Guattari's ontology is the transcendental empiricism of an "organized transcendental plane sitting on top of an unorganized immanent plane." (p. 52)
Chapter Two: Desire and Machines.
The assemblage is desire in its machinic modality (not just Oedipal). "The body without organs is positioned here as an agency of the mind that determines when and how and under what conditions desire can flow." (p. 77) The Masochist Assemblage section is an explication of how sadism and masochism can be analyzed not by Freudian drive theory, but by AT.
Chapter Three: Territory
Territory is "chaos defined as an existential condition rather than a physical state of affairs. Chaos relentlessly activates processes of death, against which processes of life such as art, philosophy and science develop. "Territory is an act, a passage, not a space. It is the composition of one's own world." (p. 98)
D&G parse language as "the set of all order words, implicit presuppositions, or speech acts current in a language at a given moment." (p. 100) They focus on language, not as communication of a sign as information, but as a social phenomenon by which order-words impose order on human reality, the collective assemblage of enunciation. The performative as order-word is everywhere in language, where an act is connected to the expressed of a statement by the power of social obligation. (p. 102)
Chapter Four: Expressive Materialism (vs. new materialism or vital materialism)
This chapter is basically a critical review of Jane Bennet (Vibrant Matter) who makes the error of reducing assemblage to physical parts just added together, ignoring the dual dimension not only of the material (form of content, machinic assemblage) but also of the expressive (form of expression, collective assemblages of enunciation. Also ignored is the principle of unity (abstract machine) and the condition of any thing’s possibility (body without organs, plane of immanence, plane of consistency, etc.) (p. 121).
Buchanan also demonstrates the explanatory power of AT by reviewing a study of itinerant housing (Lea) and one of imprisonment (Wacquant) by AT standards.
Chapter Five: Control Assemblage--an insightful explication based on Deleuze's essay "Postscript on Control Societies" which adds nicely to the trajectory of AT.
Buchanan thus gives us a much needed redefinition and a boiling down of D&G's most abstract concepts into a pragmatic explication of AT and related concepts for the rest of us to use as touch points and stepping stones to more accurately implement their concepts with both consistency and creativity.
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